Yep, I got on the bandwagon and now have a phone that can do fancy things online, so here's the obligatory test post. :-)
You know that Jefferson Starship song "Find Your Way Back"? That's how I feel about so many things in life, but mainly about whatever the authentic spiritual connection is. It seems like that is where a lot of Christianity is - somehow some of us get lost and/or off track, and a lot of what being a Christian is, is remembering that source and getting back to the source as a community.
I hear things in music - not just in the lyrics, but in the notes themselves - the blend of them. I suspect that many people hear similar things and we're just not talking about it so much. More specifically, in the aforementioned song, it sounds to me like a yearning and a tension between what is "right now" and the promise of God's complete realm. That I chord is what sounds like authentic home to me (and within the Western musical tradition, we've been trained to recognize it as such, even those of us who've not had years and years of music theory), and so when the I chord or note is present but overlaid with something else, it DOES sound like a tension between what we know deep down and what we live with in the present. Which, when you think about it, is the tension that most of us live with on a daily basis in some capacity.
And the lyrics of that song - they talk about finding one's way back to a woman. But to me the song has always been about more than romantic love gone wrong and the yearning to make it right. It's about having some kind of heart knowledge and struggling with that heart knowledge in the midst of a jaded, unethical world, and the tension between knowing you are a person of God and living out that reality in one's own distinct embodiment of it.
And yes, I'm sure there's a bit of Platonic dualism in there - that place of ideals vs. reality. But we tend to live in the tension between the two.
Lately, more so than usual, I've felt the need to "find my way back" to something - the source of goodness, God, whatever it is that drives my search for always more and greater ultimate truth, for the "something missing" or "not quite here yet" of human existence.
I've read a few reviews on this book. Most people seem to really enjoy it. There're a fair amount of people, though, who get on Moore for using "frat boy" humor, a la Porky's, etc. To that end I'd say, "Geez, peeps! Have a friggin' sense of humor already!" Seriously. So much of what is said about Jesus/Christianity is so friggin' pious and platitudinal. Ugh. Like if anyone makes up funny stories about Jesus and/or God they're somehow being heretical or disrespectful. In my opinion, Christianity (and probably most other religions) needs more laughter. I don't always know how to bring it into religion, but am distinctly admiring of people who do.
So I like this book a lot - even if some of the humor might be a wee bit juvenile, even for me. It's the spirit of the whole thing - putting Jesus into a really human context, talking about all of those years that were lost in the Bible, and (omigod, not THIS!) making him REALLY human. I mean, he swears and says mean things sometimes and is a real person. It cracks me up and warms my heart. I can't relate to a Jesus who is solely the Son of God, etc. - you know, the one with all those fancy titles. Give me Jesus, the Jewish peasant boy, any day.
Some other stuff I like:
Moore has a generally easygoing writing style.
He's done some creative work about what Jesus did with the 20some years where we have no real historical factual idea what Jesus did. (I've always been fascinated by what happened during those years!)
The frat-boy humor: maybe more frat boys would become spiritually inclined were there something that spoke more to them in religious literature - perhaps this is a step in that direction!
Maybe one of these days I'll write a more detailed actual book-review-looking thing about this book, but seriously: if you need a little jaunt in your Jesus, find this book and read it. And The Secret Magdalene, too, while you're at it.
Just wanted to share with you a link to a tremendous interview. Most of us are aware of the controversy that has been drummed up over Barack Obama's pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Most of us have heard/seen the carefully-selected sound bytes that were plastered across the various national media, but in the chaos of media slant, a more balanced picture that is closer to reality has been difficult to find.
I happened to be home on Friday night and had PBS on when I saw that the next show up would be Bill Moyers' "Journal" show, and he'd be interviewing Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Let me tell you, this was one powerful interview. Thankfully, it is available online in case you weren't home watching TV on Friday night. (What? Not everyone does this? - LOL!) Anyhow, here is the link to the interview. The whole interview (at this link in two parts, I think) is about an hour long, but is well-worth your time.http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04252008/watch.html
Found in the Proceedings
of the 61st Annual Conference of ATLA, of all places. This little poem is one of a combination of things that got me thinking again about vocation and how we're all called. Enjoy!
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.*
*From Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God
, translation by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy (New York, Riverhead Books, 1996) p. 88
Is that not one of the most beautiful poems you've EVAR read? Made me friggin' cry with the joy and beauty of it. What gusto! On a level of Wendell Berry-ness in its beauty and striking honesty. Now, to find that book to read the rest of 'em...
A friend had this book lying around her apartment a few months ago, and I'd started reading it, but hadn't thought about it much until a couple of days ago, at which point I bought it and read it with the voraciousness it deserved.
The gist of the book is contained in the full title: Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith
. Barbara Brown Taylor authored it, and I have come to expect a very high quality of writing from her. She is still officially an Episcopal priest, but rather than serving a church as its priest, has found her vocation in teaching religious studies (and being the dept. chair of religion and philosophy) at Piedmont College in Georgia. She's known in Christian theological circles as an excellent preacher and writer.
It was slightly embarrassing to find myself breaking down in the middle of Barnes & Noble over passages such as this:
So of course when it came time to decide what to do with my life, I decided to go to seminary. What else do you do when you are in love with God? Even if ordination is the farthest thing from your mind, even if you cannot find a church big enough to hold all that you know to be true about God, what do you do with this strange attraction but go where other people go when they feel it too? [....] In my own time and place, I was not aware of so many options. When I put my strong sense of the Divine Presence together with my irresistible urge to help hurt things, seminary kept coming up as the next stop on my map. If I was drawn to God, then surely that meant I was drawn to religion, and if I was drawn to religion, then surely that meant I should go to seminary. (Taylor, Barbara Brown. Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006; 27-28.
The rest is much like that: the story of a woman who feels both called and trapped, and eventually liberated into greater faith that takes her while still ordained, outside of the parish.
It is my suspicion that many people, people who try to be good church people or are on the fringes, find themselves in this place. There are those of us who find many social justice activities distinctly lacking in specific spirituality, but eventually find deep inauthenticity in church life. The patriarchal, hierarchical structures of church that provide such comfort for many threaten to choke the spiritual lives of some church people.
One sees in Taylor's book a movement from acceptance of these structures as a kind of natural order, to a drawing away from them out of deep spiritual necessity, and the wondering of what could possibly come afterward.
I'm sure I've heard of this blog before - how could something this great not have been discussed within the various ministerial/theological realms? - but there was an interview today on NPR with the blog author, and it was a great reminder to check the blog out again.Beauty Tips for Ministers
This is a great example of practical theology, a place of more heaven and earth meeting than not - or phrased a bit differently, worldly and spiritual things coming together.
For a while I've believed that What Not to Wear ought to do some kind of seminarian makeover special (or something like that). With the continued influx of women into public ministry positions, there is new territory that is brought into being. The very presence of women in ordained positions changes the way that ordained ministry looks, feels, smells, talks, etc. The church is changed for good (I mean that in both senses of the word) with women in the pulpit. But there are definitely new spaces in which to navigate the already-perilous world of fashion.
How does one look up-to-date as female clergy (not frumpy) without either bowing to bad fashion trends or getting too sexy? (And in this new paradigm of women pulpiteers, perhaps it is time to work on this whole thing of where Jesus' church is in this realm of uberprofessional church-as-business models, as well. Do faithful Christians need to challenge certain patriarchal business formalities that have crept into the church?) And then, of course, what about fat women pastors? The intersection of fatness, fashion, and ordained pastoral ministry is even more of a new space.
PeaceBang, author of said blog, is providing a valuable service to the church and the world-at-large.
Last night as I meanderingly made my way around another round of the pentagrammatic shape going into yet another sweater (this is what sweater love is all about, folks), I noticed a bumblebee buzzing around the lampshade. After getting over my initial *aaaaaahyikesglurp* reaction, I decided that watchful waiting, as per usual, would be my way of dealing with the situation.
It buzzed and buzzed around the lamp and the shade, the kind of sound that sounds so angry to human ears. It was both interested and rather repelled by the light and the lampshade. What it was trying to get at, I am not sure. It is possible that it desired greater freedom than that presented within the domecile. It appeared to miss its natural habitat. Certainly the manufactured, inorganic materials within were worthy of less interest to it than things such as flowers and all the other vegetation outdoors.
It seemed to know what it was missing and that something was not right. It didn't really know where to go, though. In less-enclosed circumstances, it could easily fly the few feet it would take to get to the great outdoors, where the bee really belonged. I don't know how it got in, and it seems to have forgotten how it got in as well. It had no way, then, of making a way out.
I thought about the situation. On a purely logical level, it could be easy for me to help the bee back to where it belonged. This would involve somehow capturing the bee temporarily and then moving it back outdoors and letting it go. I could attempt to kill it. Either way could either take care of the issue with the possibility of things going badly and it trying (and maybe succeeding) to sting me. Success in killing it would solve my immediate problem and would obliterate any issues it had, while success in getting it back outdoors would be mutually beneficial.
So, what did I end up doing? Nothing. Nothing at all. The bee will likely die a long, slow, agonizing death away from friends and loved ones, and I will hope it doesn't sting me during its dying process.
There seems to be a metaphor in this as it applies to the human condition. Some things I thought about: how amazing it is that the bee is so close to actual freedom and doesn't realize it. The bee doesn't realize all of the openings that exist for it to flee. How possible it is for others to have an effect on the bee's condition, but they don't help out for fear of the bee hurting them - and how the bee will probably not realize that any aid given is help, but could very likely take it as an attack and react in that fashion.
One of the things that makes my life a little more worth living (if we had to quantify it, it wouldn't be too much, of course) is the fact that at 10 AM on Wed. mornings, the Montel Williams show comes on. Well, it comes on every weekday at 10, really. But Wednesdays are special because it's Sylvia Brown's day to come on! Woo-hoo! We get to explore some aspects of the New Age together, figure out "who really killed so-and-so's brother/friend/great-aunt twice removed," etc.
Let's get some things clear, first of all, about where I come from around the whole issue of psychics, anyway. I believe that there are events that appear extraordinary to us, probably because we haven't the science to explain them just yet. I also believe that there is great potential within humanity, within the earth, with every molecule and beyond. The state we're in now, we have yet to reach our potential, to discover what it means to be "truly human." So I believe in vast possibilities and in many unexplainable things. That's my theory.
Then, we hit reality. Are the psychics out there capable of doing what some of us would like them to do - give us answers to the questions that have caused us so much grief and pain and heartache? Can they give us factual answers to solve cases and such? I don't know; I haven't done any scientific studies, nor have I read any that exist.
I watch Sylvia on Montel with great interest, because what she does is so fascinating to me. It's not only that she's a psychic, she's also called to act as counselor, physician, confessor and pastor, to a certain degree. She answers the outward questions that people bring to her, but also works to answer their unasked, subtexted questions. "Do the dead that I grieve for so much still hear me? Am I a good person? Does God love me? Has my (dead) sister forgiven me? Am I known by the universe? Am I loved?" In seeking answers to the outward questions that one would ask a psychic, much of what one really seeks is the kind of knowledge that can only come from within and is generally hard-won.
It seems as if she takes her many roles seriously. As someone who does psychic readings (some would say cold readings), she is well-versed in talking to a great variety of people, in some sense prepared for any question that could come her way. (Of course, most of the questions that people ask her fall into about 3 or so categories.) The number of books she has written is a profound one, and as of late she has come out with a couple that go right into the territory of Christian theology.
I have read The Mystical Life of Jesus: An Uncommon Perspective on the Life of Christ
; it is of course a subject that I am very interested in. As I was reading through the book, I read it as a theologian might - with an eye toward critical scholarship. That might be too much to expect of a book written by a popular psychic, but ya never know, right? I was fascinated by it, of course. It was interesting to line up what she was saying with what I have learned in my own studies. I didn't recognize most of the theologians that she consulted in preparation of the book; I thought it could've benefitted with a little JD Crossan, or some other radical theologian. She makes some rather outlandish claims. As someone who has studied Christian history and theology, I am well aware that there are plenty of good reasons for making outlandish claims, but is it responsible to make those claims based upon what one's guide tells one, rather than perhaps spending more time with the history available?
Her very newest book, Father God: Co-creator to Mother God
was talked about on this morning's show. Of course, the title from the very beginning irked me. On the show, there was no mention of Mother God, and so I was appropriately pissed off. I'm slightly less irked, now that I see there is a "Mother God" in the title (and hopefully in the book) - what would someone who describes herself as "Gnostic Christian" be doing writing a book solely about Father God? ;-) I haven't read the book, but might find it interesting skimming material some bored night at Borders.
Anyone who is such a huge public figure like she is, I believe, has some kind of responsibility to uphold. Sure, people need to be able to have the ability to discern for themselves between right and wrong, good and bad, but in a culture that doesn't do a great job of teaching that, where do we learn the lessons, and who do we turn to as figure to look up to and teach us? I think that since Sylvia takes on the above-mentioned roles, it would do her well to receive real training for those roles. And if she's gonna try and be a biblical scholar, I think seminary, or some classes at seminary, would help.
This morning was the beginning of another "one of those days," another day in which hope seems to be in amazingly short supply for the holiday season. Sometimes there is the appearance of too much to do, and the proverbial not enough time to do it in, and other times there is just too much nothing, the endless array of my brain doing its incredible whirling dance of striped myriads of thoughts. They whirl around with not so much reason and even less rhyme sometimes, unless taken into structure and organized beautifully.
Anyway, that was rather this morning's mindset. Pressure sometimes builds and builds until the only outlet for it is tears and screaming. There was that last night, along with the all-too-usual these days suicidal thoughts. Most of us spend at least some time wondering what our purpose in life and on earth is, exactly, and when one gets so much time on one's hands with not enough real and worthwhile work to do, one may wonder too much about it, toward the purpose of fruitless mental meandering.
Yes, that was the morning's mindset. There was little to keep me from the endless self-barrage of purposeless and negative critique, along with some exercise to stay bodily and mentally a little more healthy. The latte, too - a morning must, with its beautiful caffeinated effects upon the nervous system. There I was on the couch, watching TV too much and enjoying the espresso, when I ran across a movie on - guess what! - the Lifetime Movie Network. Normally I avoid this channel like the plague, because one of the funny things about Lifetime is that for it being a channel that is for women, (which would theoretically make it full of fluff, romance, and home-baked cookies) it is the murder and mayhem channel, really - aside from the Golden Girls, Will & Grace, and Frasier. The movies tend to resemble what one might think of as light summer reading, and rarely light summer reading of a happy sort. It perplexes me, this obsession with obsession, murder, and mayhem. I spend some moments of life that I can never get back wondering what kind of person watches Lifetime channels on a regular basis for anything but the sitcoms.
It was a surprise, then, to see that a movie of the title Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story
was playing on LMN. Like the good radical Christian that I am, anything involving Dorothy Day had to be watched, especially if it was on the LMN. Who knew what kind of movie they would run about her?Dorothy Day
, if the name is not familiar, is a very important person to those people who are interested in the intersection of Christianity and social justice. She was the person who in 1933 co-founded and headed the Catholic Worker Movement
, a group of people who practiced more than they preached. There is so much more to be said about Day herself, so much more than I know (and that I want to learn).
Anyhow, back to the movie. It was a balm in Gilead, so to speak. One first sees a young and rather wild Day - a bohemian figure, really, in the early 1900s. She drinks, smokes, has sex outside of marriage (and even outside of an exclusive relationship!). She is also a writer, an educated woman, one who observes and is fascinated by life and its many twists.
One watches with fascination her own twists and turns through life (an abortion and the subsequent ending of the relationship with her impregnator, amongst other things) as she comes to terms with a growing spirituality which she recognizes as an essential part of her life. She discovers a practical Catholicism that feeds the people that it preaches to, a religion that she finds is possible to claim as her own with integrity.
While the movie doesn't cover every bit of her life, and mostly concerns only her early life in the Catholic Worker Movement, it portrays in honest tones a woman whose faith transforms her life and reaches out to those around her. It shows a strong woman - an example for girls of all ages to look up to - who lives life on her terms and isn't satisfied to be in someone else's shadow, all the while living out the courage of her convictions. However, that isn't the end of the story, either. Her spirit continues on in those who intermingle faith and politics, who continue to live in that spirit. As she said (and is also said in the movie), "When you feed the poor, they call you a saint. When you ask why they are poor, they call you a Communist. We are neither saints nor Communists."
These days I find it more helpful than ever to learn the complete stories of my heroes and sheras, to learn about their shadow sides as well as the light in which they lived. When we are able to see the people we deeply respect as really human, we can continue to work toward seeing the same beauty that we see in them in ourselves. Seeing some of Day's struggles enacted in this movie brought me to tears and got me up off the couch, pondering the idea that maybe this church thing has some relevance, still, after all.