Thursday, September 15, 2011

Marilyn Nelson

Marilyn Nelson read some of her poetry tonight at the University of Bridgeport. As she described circumstances in which the poems were written and engaged in q/a, theological meanings and images were surfaced. I was especially intrigued by the interplay of themes around issues related to 'momma' (simultaneously girl, her mom, and God), body (we are not 'only' body but timelessly ensouled), and freedom and courage that exceeds the bounds with which others may try to yoke us.

Check out her bio and get to know her work.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Insights from Irene

Irene rolled into Connecticut by night. By morning (8:00 a.m. on my street), the lights were out. It would not be restored for days; some parts of the northeast had it far worse.

We had been waiting for the storm because contemporary metereology identifies the path of hurricanes early in their development. As we waited, I noted the following:

People vacillate between worrying for the worst and scoffing at the claims of danger. Maintaining a reasoned, balanced assessment of risk is difficult for most and impossible for many.

People don't want to go without water and bread. These were the two items that sold out at the grocery store in tbe days before Irene. Other food sold well, but bread and water sold out.

Some people like icecream so much that the threat of a power outage means nothing. In tbe grocery store, as I waited to check out with my $200 worth of crackers and other dry foods, a young couple ahead of me was paying for three half gallons of cookies and cream. It was so far removed from the coming storm that it seemed an almost perfect NT parable of the Kingdom of Heaven. I looked around for Jesus, but he was nowhere to be found. He was probably combing the store looking for water.

Speaking of the Kingdom and groceries: there were two types of end-timers. Those who refused to budge an inch, and those who yielded perfectly and completely to Irene. The non-budgers were buying items that go bad with a few hours loss of refrigeration. Sushi! Good anytime, assuming it's been kept cold. The yielders were not more anxious, I think. Many took delight in sharing dark stories of flood and peril. If this group was on Noah's ark, they'd have brought jars of peanuts.

After the storm struck, I noted a few other things:

Power is important to people. Electricity, digital connections, washers, dryers, stoves, refrigerators--it's hard to do without these things once expectations and assumptions are framed with their availability.

Warm food is healing. Whoever invented the use of fire to cook food, I propose, should be named Adam. (I am assuming that the first cooking was outside, and so fell to men. Only later, with intensified civilization, was it moved inside and remanded to women.) After a few days without warm food, a heated pop tart is tastier and more to be desired than salmon seviche.

Hot coffee is holy.

Our reliance on digital media has led to our ignoring of neighbors. Each night after work, we neighbors stood in our front yards and compared notes, worries, and complaints. These acts resonated deeply; they followed patterns that are hundreds of thousands of years old. But in the last decade, we have set much of that aside, because our attentions are drawn to the worlds of digital media. Something important has been lost.

Remembering lessons is hard; acting upon them is nigh impossible. The storm is gone. The power is back. What was all the fuss about?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Let us reason together

"Come now, let us reason together saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

Isa. 1:18, KJV

The first book of Isaiah contains some of the Hebrew Bible's most beautiful passages. There are worrisomely dark clouds of judgments and calls to repentance--a promise of redemption. At once threatening and consoling, the portrayal of God is remarkably textured and subtle.
Michelangelo's Isaiah
image courtesy of wikimedia

The texts are not primarily aimed to individuals, but to the people as a whole--to the nation.

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."

Isa. 9:6, KJV

Christians (for them, quite correctly) see this latter passage as prophecy of the Christ (Messiah), but the original sense was about God's redemption of Israel. The terms are striking and wonderful. "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light..." (9:2).

Apart from the original meanings (whatever they were) and from those Christianity found in these passages, these texts reverberate with 'divine' energy. They combine starker judgment than we modern liberals like to express, but they situate judgment in compassion and care that exceeds our imaginations.

Much current discussion about God is more certain--more strident--than can be supported by Isaiah's claims. These texts call us to a less certain and more dynamic sense of the divine.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Reality?

Thinkers and sages as various as Immanuel Kant, the Buddha, St. Paul, Sigmund Freud--and countless others--have argued or shown that we have a limited grasp of reality. Not only is reality cognitively mediated, it is reordered and construed by our interests, needs, desires, and fears. Much of the mind's power is dedicated to preventing our grasp of reality.

Then we also scrimp around and find substances, practices, or beliefs that further inhibit the mind's powers and clarity.

So what lies beneath the haze? That would be an interesting thing to know.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Prayer

A prayer is.
Doubt that.

What is the sound of one prayer praying
of one brick layer laying
of one child playing?
Hear that?

Either every dot is connected in the universe
or someone is (or many are) still seeking pencil-in-hand for the next number
and a prayer is, ahem, prodding him or her or them right-left-back-and/or-fro.

When all the dots are connected
one suspects the picture will be a tad underwhelming
but it will neither be a frown
nor evoke one from those holding pencils.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Abiding

Whether we find acceptance in grace--just as I am without one plea--or by encountering immanent sanctity in aging, each day we move closer to our last day and breath. We don't often ponder that.

The wall here reflects the glory of an unseen (and unseeable) divinity; it also is the work of men and women. Perhaps it is primarily for that reason it mirrors a divine presence. The mortality of our actions and life is a work in the face of an eternal tomorrow.

Once this structure was a drawing or an idea. Then it was produced, first in its individual elements (bricks, mortal, windows). After a period of energetic activity, it was a newly completed structure.

The story of this structure is unknown to me, but at some point (it appears) to have been decommissioned. Now it simply abides.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Essential

Important is what is known;
essential, the unknown.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Kingdom of God

All the changes afoot on the world stage commend a point of view about the Kingdom of God: it is not (mainly) within our souls, and it is more dangerous than we typically realize.

Beware, God is on the prowl.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Whither wishful thinking and origins of violence?

With a nod to St. Sigmund, and recognition of the need for St. Augustine...

In a reflection on the revolutions shaking North Africa, I cited Shakespeare's 'wish is father to the thought' motif over at RITN. In the compass of a few brief lines, the entry moved from wishing for Al Qaeda's marginalization to supporting a military intervention to lay Qaddafi low. Much is at stake in Libya, and violence is inescapable. Ignoring the Colonel's attacks on his own people is not viable, but it is worth pondering the origin of violent wishes and actions.

The reference to Henry IV points to parricidal rage, to deliberate ego/counter-ego (mis)representations, which simultaneously claim moral high ground and do the dirty work of history. Induced by desire for kingly glory, Hal wishes for the death of his father, but then turns against Falstaff ('I know thee not, old man'), the symbol of fulfilling desires, after his desires have been realized.

Moral polyvalence prevails in in the work of nations (witness the long-term US support of Mubarak and warming up to Qaddafi as a point against terrorists, and then also our turn against them when democratic 'values' required it) every bit as much as it does in the psyche. At least in part,Violence is an act against our own representations of the other and a not very veiled act of violence against our self in its ma/paternal origins.

Does violence spring from the sinews of our selves? If not, whence arises this wish to destroy? Augustine and Freud, taken together, only begin to answer these questions....

Friday, February 25, 2011

Over @ Creedible.com

Join me over at Creedible.com to discuss Cell phones and prayer. Make the call...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The take-aways and our dubious future

American politics nowadays is a spectacle of take-aways: especially resurgent are voices who wish to reduce the common life to a nullity.

Whatever one makes of it, early Christianity articulated a vision of the common life that possessed power to guide and direct Western (and world) civilizations for two millennia. Two hundred years ago, liberalism extracted from this vision of the common life a rationale--a needed one at the time, and still in many ways relevant--to restrict implications of this vision to 'religion'.

This religion over time has become increasingly psychologized, so that now discussing public notions of faith and values lead one to be regarded with suspicion. In the broader political and public discussion, conservatism, which itself is a powerful political philosophy, has been yoked to elements of psychologized religious liberalism. The result has little power to lead us forward together.

It remains to be seen whether someone can articulate a vision of our future that faces our real challenges and leads us to commit to securing a future together. In the current form, liberalism and conservatism are not up to this task.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gil Meche and $$$$

Back in December 2010, Cliff Lee turned down a big paycheck from the Yankees--running afoul we said of the American religion of money making. In today's news, Tyler Kepner reports for the New York Times that Gil Meche of the Kansas City Royals took it a step further. Injured, and feeling that he would not earn the $12 million he would be paid this year, Meche retired. Were he not a pitcher, we'd call this a home run.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

God, On Trial

Summons: you are herewith called to jury duty.

The defendant is God. The charges are many, but the most serious is ‘crimes against humanity.’ Discrete charges include genocide, hate mongering, inciting war, demonization of others, the rape and victimization of the innocent, and dehumanization (the destruction of human reason). A problem for the prosecution is that the defendant cannot be delivered to court, and there are serious doubts about his actual existence.

Some prosecutors thus invoke RICO, to show a broader pattern of corruption. Here, God is viewed as the Boss of a crime family, to be tried in absentia. God’s underboss, consigliere, capos and soldatos can be brought to trial, and indeed some have perpetrated terrible crimes—and are now doing time. On the other hand, intense investigation has revealed that some of the family members live profoundly good lives, as even the prosecutors recognize. Some spend their lives giving to others, seeking nothing for themselves.

In the long history of this crime family, even some underbosses have comported themselves in saintly fashion. Yet even these ‘good capos’ do the work of the Boss, and he is, so the case goes, the source of hellish malice. That he allows some good work to be done in the community—caring for the little old ladies once in awhile to maintain image—should not allow us to forget that he is a master criminal, intent on destroying all of his adversaries. He would be quite happy to use a WMD, if he gets his hands on one.

Defense attorneys have called character witnesses to show that God’s fundamental goodness is revealed in the making and staffing of hospitals, caring for the poor, championing justice, and the creating the dynamics that power civilizations. Parts of the trial have been marked by intense cross-examination, with images of brutal killing, dismemberment, and rape being countered by images of healing, love for enemies, and extraordinary compassion.

Yet another innovative defense strategy claims that God may not be tried, since he is creator of all, and thus surpasses justice. This legal brief claimed that only God’s own testimony could count as evidence of divine guilt. Some prosecutors have found old, hand written notes in which God does in fact express remorse and guilt. There’s even a curious recurring episode—found in three of the central families: the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic, where the Boss tries and in one case succeeds at having the underboss killed. Defense attorneys and prosecutors alike see this is probative evidence, but they differ in regard to its meaning. Prosecutors see it as evidence that the Boss is as morally corrupt as they have been alleging, but defense attorneys see it as evidence of the Boss’s moral goodness.

Image courtesy of Ondřej Žváček
via Wikimedia Commons
Some bystanders want the charges to be dismissed, but others continue to clamor for a trial. The prosecutors feel the pinch of political pressure and allure of glory. Thus, the trial continues. Defense attorneys have uncovered evidence that all is not well on the prosecutors side of the table. Indeed, some of the prosecutors themselves have committed acts that outrage the conscience. Some parts of the prosecutorial apparatus seem also amenable to RICO statute prosecution, but the prosecution is no more able to put itself on trial than God is. Fireworks related to these allegations distracted from the trial but did not mean much about the guilt or innocence of the Boss.

In light of these extraordinary circumstances, a world-wide jury has been convened to hear the case. It’s a sad fact that many jury members showed up to the trial with their minds already made up—some believing the Boss was guilty, and others believing that he was innocent. But not all. Some arrived to trial expecting to deliberate on the basis of evidence presented.

Join the trial. Court is in session.

Rated R Theological Analysis

Check it out, if you're cool with the Rated R quality of it...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Theology listens to Barber's Adagio for Strings

I am thinking tonight about Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, trying to comprehend its power. Its melancholy suits it perfectly to provide evocative background in film, and indeed this is frequently where I hear it. Why does the piece resonate so deeply?



It seems to convey simultaneous sadness and beauty, rooted in the experience of something that can’t be let go but can’t be kept, something that harms us to know and hold because its loss is unpreventable. This is a quintessential human experience. The highest moment, the most tender embrace, the deepest love, the newest unfolding—each of these, by definition,  is expected without realization and if experienced soon lost. The candle of infinity always flickers out.

Yet for all this, we can’t resist the pull and call of this deep connection, whether it’s love, feeling, beauty—their combination in procreation or vocation—or some other basic need.

Theology holds that this deep yearning is a call of the divine, which is not necessarily to say ‘God.’ But, forsaking caution, let us name this call ‘God,’ and with it invite the realization that our lives are fragmented and momentary—brief and wondrous. That also suggests ‘God’ does not solve this dilemma for us, but is rather a melancholic way of stating its invitation to and claim upon us.

The temptation is surrender to inurement and willful distraction, a refusal to experience possibility as a means of preventing the sting of loss. The tragedy of this approach is that it ensures a deeper loss, since it denies the possibility of gain. It forsakes life itself.

The Adagio for Strings is a hearing, a prayer of gain and its loss, of the sad beauty of life. 

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