Monday, December 24, 2007

A Child Is Given

Trust shows the way.

---Hildegard Of Bingen

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.

---Friedrich Nietzsche

The invariable mark of wisdom is seeing the miraculous in the common.

---Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was sitting yesterday morning in the balcony with the rest of the choir at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church. In our robes from there each Sunday we sing the Introit, then hustle downstairs to process with the first hymn. It was about 10:30. Marsha Reilly was concluding the second organ prelude, John Ferguson's particularly mysterioso setting of O Come, O Come Emmanuel. That would be our entrance hymn too on this 4th Sunday of Advent. Suddenly my wife appeared next to us up there, urgent but smiling. "You became a grandfather about half an hour ago," she whispered. In the service a bit later, a prayer of thanksgiving went up from our congregation for the birth of Nina Marie.

Winter Solstice and Karen's labor had arrived at the same time, a little after 1 AM Saturday. The Cold Moon was nearly full. When the couple was sure her body and the baby were in agreement about the hour of beginning, quiet helpers were called to their little home. Well, Nina was sort of in agreement about it. She would turn her back on the situation eventually, and require at the last a sure hand to go in and turn her gently around for the final slide into the birthing pool. They were in the water by then, 24 hours had passed, and contractions were in the hours of intensity. Karen said yesterday each exhalation was a battle cry.

Dana, Ilona and I entered their living room of peace and silence at mid-afternoon. Jeroch was in a large chair, holding the baby as you see them here. Karen walked in, radiant and welcoming as always. We felt worshipful here. These young people have matured with the months of the process, guiding us and each other with trusting hands of love. We grandparents had come to know each other quickly and better. Karen's mother, the children's book author Erica Magnus, had flown in from LA a couple weeks earlier. Already we had become friends with her father, David Thomas of the OU film department. Karen's sister and her partner are here from the world of New York theatre. Has there ever been such a wondrous Christmas for all of us!

On Wednesday Jeroch had written a message to their many friends. The due date was the previous Saturday, and I guess all of us were on the brink of a considerable energy of expectation. His came out this way, and he titled it "fire spells and ancient wisdoms." I know he approves if we thus shout it like a father from the rooftops~~~

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Wow! What a wonderfully excellent group of people to be writing to! Just thinking of all of your gorgeous smiles and huge hearts makes me so excited to have been part of your lives How have you all been since I have last seen you? New projects, endeavors, adventures, breakthroughs, unraveled any mysteries or conspiracy theories lately? Well I am sure you all have been doing all those things. What a brilliant group of people. So positive and progressive, it is just amazing. Thrilling to the core.

These are all reasons why I am so excited to help bring a new child onto this planet right now. Gathering the Cosmic light together to brighten the hearts of all beings on this planet. For those of you wondering, Nina Marie, our little daughter, has decided it has not been the absolute most perfect time in the Universe to be born as of yet. But we expect her in the next couple of days. We are prepared and ready to deliver her at our little cabin in the woods right outside of town. We share 70 acres with a couple of other families, so we have the easily accessible privacy and space we need. It is a relatively small town, so all of our friends and even folks we have never even met before will walk up to us wanting to know if the baby has been born yet. Her due date was December 15. Nope. She knows when it is time to come. It is sweet, but everyday 4 to 9 people call asking "when, when when" and it starts pretty early. Don't worry we tell them, we will call you when it happens. Nina Marie is already a popular item, and if she is as cute as I think she will be, the world isn't going to know what hit it. She is a comet of love.

I would love to send out thank yous again to anyone who has contributed anything at all, even a warm thought or prayer, it has all helped. Karen and I are so grateful, we really feel the love and appreciation. Karen is doing very well through all the trials and she is being so patient. She looks amazing and has been doing yoga and swimming and walking throughout the pregnancy. She is able to connect with her ancient Goddess wisdom and I deeply respect that. I am so proud of her. She is ready to have this baby. I send love out to all the Mothers out there, thank you for nurturing us so much and loving us unconditionally. We will do our best to pass the love along.

So as we wait for our bundle of joy we think about Christmas next week and the New Year coming soon. I hope you all have peaceful holidays and that love is the gift you give and receive the most of. Eat delicious foods and give hugs to your Grandmothers and sing carols about Angels. 2008 is going to be a most phenomenal year. A year with more responsibility for everyone. Helping to educate everyone on how to care for the planet and ourselves. As we clean the planet we feel more connection with the spirit and learn more about love. I hope I have the honor of working with some of you during this period of reclaiming Mother Earth.

I would love to hear about your lives and what you have been putting your energies towards. Feel free to write back or call my new cell phone, which I got to stay connected for the birth. Happy Solstice as well. The shortest day of the year and then the light returns to us. And with the light we walk hand in hand into the future. I will write again to let you all know what Nina Marie's Mayan glyph is and her astrological sign too. She might be right on the cusp.

So much love and respect to you and yours. I hope you all feel the Universal Love deeply right now, and if not call me, we will see what we can do.

Peace through cooperation.
Jeroch, soon to be papabear


jazzolog said...

Tu qui sedes in tenebris spe tua gaude: orta stella matutina, sol non tardabit.

You who sit in the darkness keeping your hope alive: the rise of the morning star, the sun shall not be slow.

--–Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (1961)

Follows the Christmas sermon, by Father Bill Carroll of Athens Good Shepherd Church, on Christmas Eve~~~

Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the whole earth...
Declare his glory among the nations
and his wonders among all peoples.

Tonight, we sing God’s new song. Tonight, earth trembles and the trees of the wood shout for joy. For tonight, light has overcome the dark, cold winter, and God is making all things new.

On this most holy night, we too have rushed to the City of David to behold a child. Like the shepherds before us, our ears too are ringing with a message of joy—and songs of praise. Glory to God, the angels sing, and peace on earth. HERE, in a manger, lies the newborn Son of God. He is the King of Angels and the Prince of Peace. And we have answered the angels’call to worship him. Throughout the world, God’s People are singing with joy: “O come, let us adore him. Christ, the Lord.”

Tonight, we eat God’s new bread. As our ancestors in the faith liked to point out, “Bethlehem” means House of Bread. They connected this fact to the detail in the story about the manger. After his birth, Jesus lies in a place meant for food. He is the living bread, who gives life to the world. He is our spiritual food. He is strength for our journey, given to us straight from the hands of God. Tonight, in the Eucharist—the Christ Mass—Jesus will come among us in the flesh. He will feed us with his own body, and renew us in his love.

Tonight, we sing the praises of God’s new and humble humanity. In Christ, divinity and humanity come together: heaven and earth are joined as one. In every generation, the saints are delighted by the poverty of the Son of God. We too are overcome with wonder by the lengths God goes to save us.

In one of his letters, Paul marvels that, though he was rich, Christ became poor for us. In another, he notes that Jesus laid aside the privileges of divinity and took on the form of a slave. Twelve centuries later, in a moving meditation on the mystery of Christmas, Francis of Assisi tells us that “On that day, the Lord sent mercy and song in the night…for to us is given the beloved child most holy, born for us along the way and placed in a manger, because there was no room for him at the inn.”

Beloved, the living GOD lies helpless in the manger. In a new and surprising way, God has entered the world in this poor and humble child. In the Christ child, God is placed at our mercy, so that we might learn to show mercy to others.

His birth is certainly humble. Mary and Joseph journey by night to comply with the emperor’s decree. They are a poor couple in Roman-occupied Judea, and they must be counted, in order to be taxed. Their hearts have already been set on fire by the strange promises of an angel, but they remain uncertain as to what these words might mean.

Then, Mary’s labor comes upon her, and, before long, there….he….IS. Her newborn son—the Son of God. When Jesus is born for us, he is not found in a royal palace or any other place of privilege—but rather in a stable. As he would be later, Jesus is found on the margins, among the poor and lowly. He is born outside the inn, just as he dies outside the city gate. Here, in the manger, lies a different kind of king.

If we want to find God, here is where to look. Here, among the little ones who amount to nothing in the eyes of the world. Here it is that Christ is found. The Nativity of Jesus dispels our fantasies about divine power. Too often, we cling to images of God based on ways we dominate one another. In so doing, we deny the flesh of the Word. By becoming flesh and blood, God renounces every form of power save that of vulnerable, self-giving love. In the Christ child, we meet a God we can trust. By becoming poor and vulnerable, God makes it possible for us to live as brothers and sisters.

In his fourth sermon on the Lord’s nativity, Bernard of Clairvaux, the great monk and spiritual teacher, urges us to remember the humility of Christ:

Today, he writes, how many altars are aglitter with gold and precious stones!…Do you think that the angels will get sidetracked to these and turn away from the tattered poor? If it were so, why did they appear to shepherds of sheep rather than to the kings of the earth or the priests of the temple?

A couple of weeks ago, in a sermon based on one of Isaiah’s prophecies about the Messiah, I suggested that, at Christmas, God would welcome us with the open arms of a child. I went on to say that this child would disarm us and make us capable of peace.

Well, here he IS. Tonight, we see Isaiah’s vision of endless peace fulfilled. Truly, the wolf lives with the lamb, and the leopard lies down with the kid. Predator and prey live together in harmony. Even the serpent is rendered harmless. And a little child leads them all.

This child fulfills the desire of the nations. This child breaks the rod of the oppressor. For, in him, God looks right at us with the fresh, newborn eyes of a baby. Beloved, Jesus has opened his arms and heart as wide as his eyes. He has come into our midst, because he likes us and loves us and wants to be with us—FOREVER. And there’s room for us all in his embrace.

As we well know, the astounding trust he places in us is unearned and poorly deserved, and yet this trust touches us profoundly. Here we feel something primal. We WANT to love this child back. We WANT to place our hope in him. Listen again to the words of the carol we just sang: Child, for us sinners, poor and in the manger, we would embrace thee with love and awe. Who would not love thee, loving us so dearly? The birth of Jesus, like that of any child, is filled with possibilities. His love breaks our hearts and makes us whole.

So this night, of all nights, we sing God’s new song. For we have been delivered from the bondage of sin and received power to become God’s children. Truly, the People who walked in darkness have seen a great light. And whatever separates us from God, whatever divides us from our neighbor, whatever enslaves us, whatever keeps us back or holds us down, ALL THESE have been overcome in the flesh of Christ our Savior.

Sing to the Lord a new song.

Nausicaa said...

What a beautiful sermon by Rev. Bill Carroll, here. Thank you for sharing:

"When Jesus is born for us, he is not found in a royal palace or any other place of privilege—but rather in a stable. As he would be later, Jesus is found on the margins, among the poor and lowly. He is born outside the inn, just as he dies outside the city gate. Here, in the manger, lies a different kind of king."

Buddhism has a very similar tradition:

He [Siddhartha] removed his jewelery and princely clothes and gave them to Channa to return to the king. Then the prince took his sword and cut his long hair, put on monks robes, took a begging bowl and told Channa to go back with Kanthaka to the palace.

The medium is the message. Even though, unlike the Jesus of the Christians, the Buddha was quintessentially human (not only was the Buddha not God, but there is, in his teaching, no concept of God---not in the Abrahamic sense anyway), there is a similar subjacent message:

Too often, we cling to images of God based on ways we dominate one another. In so doing, we deny the flesh of the Word. By becoming flesh and blood, God renounces every form of power save that of vulnerable, self-giving love. In the Christ child, we meet a God we can trust. By becoming poor and vulnerable, God makes it possible for us to live as brothers and sisters.

Bill Carroll said...

This is a helpful response, which points to some of the differences as well as similarities between Buddhism and Christianity. I think that the more we stress the divine kenosis (self-emptying) and negative, apophatic theology (theology which moves away from speech and stresses) what God is not, the closer we can come to some of the truths taught by the Buddha. Still, Christians believe in God, and Buddhists do not. Even the enduring self is an illusion. At the same time, the self-emptying of Christ points us to a similar practice. Buddhist compassion for all living things has a lot to teach Christians about the Way of Christ. I assume we have a lot to teach each other.

I do think that Christianity has always sought to maintain that Christ is quintescentially human. His hypostatic union with the eternal Son of God does not alter his humanity in any way, save the ways in which the humanity of every human being will be transformed (without being compromised or destroyed) by the divine love. Whether such a thing is possible is an interesting question, as is the question of whether the idea of God makes sense at all.

Eckhart's notion that "God does not exist," is an interesting point to foster dialogue. God does not exist, if by existing we mean being such and such a distinct creature. Eckhart also said that the world does not exist, if by exist we mean the pure indistinct manner of God's existing. Interesting to compare with Buddhist teaching on illusion.

I myself don't go all the way with Eckhart here. But it's useful if we want to think God from the perspective of self-emptying suggested by the story, rather than thinking God from the perspective of human forms of domination.

jazzolog said...

I've never had a problem believing in and celebrating the existence of God. Despite increasing astronomical evidence of a good deal of chaos and what humans might think of as rather messy disorder up, down, in and out there, the Universe is pretty impressive to me and I'm glad somehow I got to see it.

But I've never felt cozy and personal with God which, along with the ritual celebrations, is why I got involved in religions. I've tried to get as close to as many as I could---right up until somebody asks me to sign on the dotted line.

What I like most about Christ is a personal feeling with him...and the sense that here is an intermediary with God. I need that. I can pray, meditate, retreat and interact with society in his partnership and guidance.

What turns me off in religions is human hierarchy. If God wants to arrange his angels by rank, that's fine...but it really bugs me down here. Buddhists may not talk about God---which doesn't necessarily mean they don't believe---but from lamas and rinpoches and gurus on down to your meditation teacher, everybody wants allegiance. I like having been taught that bowing to another human doesn't have to be idolatry, but a journey of a thousand full-body prostrations to the guru's house is just too much.

I'm relentless about egomania in Christianity too. Somebody, responding to the Archbishop's Christmas message, asked, "Just how many changes of costume does a bishop need anyway?" Yeah. So here I am---a protestant I guess...and I really like how the Irish pronounce it: proTESTant.

Bill Carroll said...

I have made peace with exercising ministry in a Church that is much more hierarchical in structure than my own anarchistic inclinations. Here, Francis of Assisi shows us the way. Be open to the Spirit and the prompting of conscience, but be subject to the structures of the visible Church. Of course for him, that included "the Lord pope and his successors." This is why Franciscanism survived, whereas other radical reform movements did not. The risk here is being coopted. I think our bishop inhabits our Church structure well, and he often speaks of and encourages a "holy anarchy." At the same time, he is not afraid to put his foot down as a successor to the apostles.

I do prefer radical, reformed, and Catholic to Protestant.

Radical because we are rooted in Jesus who turned the world upside down. Reformed, because we are heirs of the 16th century reformation, including the radical reformation. Catholic in ritual and in Church order, but including democratic elements in Church government, because we are trying to live out a Gospel that is fundamentally egalitarian (this is the gift of the radical and reformed traditions to Catholicism). Catholic also because the faith is open to all people.

In my view, Protestant is too much about being against something. Radical, Reformed, and Catholic is about the things we are for. Evangelical is a good word too, though it has been corrupted in its meaning.

Quinty said...

Anomie anyone?

How ‘bout Dostoevsky? The more “modern” we become the more our primitive natures seep up through to the surface. Perhaps with modernity we have growing expectations. Our standards are higher. Nor have we dealt superstition a lethal blow. I would trade gargoyles for Walt Disney anytime.

It’s hard to wrap our little minds around the truth. That is: THE TRUTH. Whatever it is. Many of us also make the logical mistake of believing that simply because something is possible, even logical, it is therefore true.

Such as, let’s say, the existence of space men.

After all, does it make sense that in that whole wide universe there isn’t life out there somewhere too? Wouldn’t it be presumptuous of us to believe that in the whole wide universe we are it?

And then there are the conspiracy theorists who believe the government has to be covering up various sightings, abductions, the tell tale evidence of visits from other planets and stars. All buried under the gray salt flats of Utah. After all, government agencies do that kind of thing all the time. Who trusts the government?

But the truth is we simply do not know, no matter what the logic, odds, or numerous possibilities, known and unknown, may be. It takes courage not to know. Answers can be reassuring and comforting.

Death is another mystery.

Nobody should complain about death. For after all life is pure gravy. Inanimatecy is what makes sense. Physical objects in space bouncing around following Newton’s laws. It’s because life makes no sense that we believe in God. How else explain all this irrational excitement? This incredible mystery?

What is death? We simply don’t know what’s over there. My guess is that death is a simple snuffing out, that so far as each one of us is concerned that’s it. Finished. That’s my current position. (I wonder if I’ll chicken out toward the end and start believing in something a little more special?)

Should we care? How can we care if we’re not even aware we’re not here? No pain, no nothing. It doesn’t sound like that bad a deal to me. Since if there’s nothing we won’t be able to regret not being here. We fear death because we anticipate it. Once it’s come, though, there’s nothing to fret.

Perhaps the soul lingers on, we don’t know. Each one of us may be a part of a continuum which started somewhere way in the past (by God?) and when our bodies fall apart that spirit or soul continues on. And never truly vanishes. Perhaps there is such a thing as reincarnation? Perhaps ghosts and spirits exist. Perhaps we are surrounded by billions of spirits, of all the things that ever lived, just continuing on?

What are they doing? Dancing? Watching? Paying no attention to us? Exploring the stars?

Life is a mystery. We don’t know why we are here or how we got here. How should we know where we are going? But I do know nobody should complain because, as I said, life is pure gravy.

If there is any compensation in all this existential uncertainty we all, at least, share the same fate. Whatever happens to you will happen to me and everyone else. (Perhaps.) But if life is pure gravy, a mere second of being, consciousness, in a vast eternal darkness, should we complain?

Rejoice! Though we tremble in fear. We are, after all, so tiny and small. And a life without meaning is extremely difficult.

But just being here, isn’t that enough? Can we find a fellowship of meaning in all living things? In the beauty of the Earth and Stars?

Once it was easy to believe in Heaven and Hell. After all, most of us thought (there were exceptions) the world was flat. So Heaven was conveniently located above, among the clouds, somewhere up there in the beautiful sky.

And Hell was down below that wide flat earth we all walked on. (Now why our ancestors didn’t believe the oceans didn’t just pore off the edge and disappear is beyond me. Maybe they thought there was some kind of retaining wall out there. Maybe they thought God had just said: “The water stays put. I’m the Number One Guy here, the Top Honcho, and I say so.” No fooling.)

But nevertheless the Earth is still large enough so that there is plenty of space for Hell in the absolute center, especially if you believe the soul becomes tiny and compact after death, so that you can bunch several of them together in just a tiny space. And maybe the flame of a single match can burn thousands of souls at the same time. If that’s so, then there may still be a Hell deep down below us. And, what’s more, we know it’s also plenty hot down there. If we tap into the Earth’s core as a deep energy resource will we inadvertently set millions of souls loose?

Many things are possible in the imagination. It is when we take those belief so seriously that we take a sword to one another over them that the problems really begin.

If only we were kind to one another. “Man’s inhumanity to man.” Is there progress? I don’t know. Whatever men ever did they still do. Costumes change but human nature seems to remain the same. Will we make it?

As a North Beach painter and alcoholic I once knew once contemptuously said, three sheets to the wind: “Rules? Rules? There no rules.” Referring, of course, to the civilized world.

But none of this should keep us from rejoicing. At least I think so.

Nausicaa said...

"Can we find a fellowship of meaning in all living things? In the beauty of the Earth and Stars?"

This is a good question.

Mankind has a need to believe that its species is the center of the universe. Some religions address that. Mankind has a need to control its fate; some religions address that, at least in theory. Mankind wants certain things from the world, and so it create gods who'll deliver them. Mankind fear death, and so there are gods to administer its afterlife.

It is perhaps one of the redeeming values of Christianity (an I think that most religions share this, to one degree or another, especially insofar as various ecstatic traditions are concerned) that it offers an approach to "god" from the Holly Spirit rather than through Theology.

Or, as Thich Nhat Hanh put it:

"If we touch the holly spirit, we touch God, not as a concept, but as a living reality."

"Reality is free from all notion."

"When we see someone overflowing with love and understanding, someone who is keenly aware, we know that they are very close to the Buddha and to Jesus."

But... what business has Nausicaa talking about the Buddha or the Christian god?

Maybe I should just stick with the Greek gods? Like, say, Appolo and Dionysus, for example.

All too often, religion is primarily a search for security and not a search for truth.

John Shelby Spong, a retired bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA, would certainly have agreed with Quinty:

"Certainly is a vice not a virtue. Insecurity is something to be grasped and treasured. A true and healthy religious system will encourage each of these activities. A sick and fearful religious system will seek to remove them."

jazzolog said...

This little birth announcement certainly has taken on a life of its own. Guess that's appropriate. Thank you Nausicaa and Paul Quintanilla for coming in, and to Father Carroll too for your comments.

I believe it's often called the Protestant Reformation. If we follow Bill's definitions we may find ourselves stuck in wordplay, negative on the left and positive on the right.

On the other hand, I find nothing wrong with being negative. Sometimes there's a time for it...and certainly in the life of this republic, for instance, the time is now! I think Father Carroll is speaking as an American, and I must say Yanks have become paralyzed in our need for stuff that's "positive."

Critics are dismissed if they don't have an alternative proposal. Not only are they dismissed, but so are their arguments and evidence. Speaking of Disney, we've adopted the philosophy of Thumper's mother: If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all. In the lofty perch of that ethic sits George Bush and his band of pirates.

Americans feel we don't know how to fix foreign policy and have power to do so. As a result we do nothing, say nothing, and don't want to hear about it. We shut the hold, go below, and amuse ourselves somehow, never mind who's captaining the ship or where we're going.

The Protestants asked questions about corruption. They asked matters of theological import to church officials too weighed down in the furniture of their own hierarchy to think anymore. Did they know where they were going with this? Did they have a "roadmap?" Not much, but that's the courage of asserted negativity. We're leaving, we're out the door, this isn't working anymore. There's a time to do that.

And of course there's a time not to. There's a time for more negotiation and dialogue. If such conversation is valid and productive, let it continue. But I despair at hidden agendas, manipulation techniques, and frozen apathy.

When I was in high school I was on a champion debate team. We swept New York, including the Jesuits of Buffalo, and I went on to pick up a few trophies in college too. I was a Negative debater. The Affirmative team defended a resolution and usually presented a plan for change. All the Negative had to do was show there was no need for the resolution or the evidence for change was faulty or the plan was a mess. I don't know that it was easier to be Negative, but I do know we were training to be attorneys, most of us, and the courtroom is where much is decided. Is it so much better to be a Prosecutor?

Bill Carroll said...

Not as an American, but as a Christian. Denouncing sin and evil is fine, even necessary, especially today. It should be done with care, of course. Christians often get it wrong, especially when we are in power. Our best material was written for the catacombs, when all we could do was testify...

But we also need to announce God's liberating action. The Kingdom of God is near, says Jesus. ...We need to announce the Love that made the stars. The truth of universal communion. Something very like that in Jeroch's original letter, quite evident in the picture.

Revelation has its woes and seven seals but it also has the New Jerusalem descending to earth.

Nausicaa said...

Yes, indeed, very much so… “Gathering the Cosmic light together to brighten the hearts of all beings on this planet,” this is what Jeroch speaks of in his letter.

Jeroch also speaks of walking “hand in hand into the future”:

”A year with more responsibility for everyone... As we clean the planet we feel more connection with the spirit and learn more about love. I hope I have the honor of working with some of you during this period of reclaiming Mother Earth.”

I hear Reverend Bill Caroll, when folowing up on jazzolog's comment, he speaks of "denouncing sin and evil," but "denouncing sin and evil" is not quite exactly how I would have framed what jazzolog is speaking of, in his last comment above.

I don’t know, “denouncing sin and evil” has become too overly associated with preachers of “the hell fire and brimstone” confession.

“Denouncing sin and evil,” this is what the Christian Coalition does.

This is what Pat Robertson does:

Here: "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist. I can love the people who hold false opinions but I don't have to be nice to them."
---Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991

Or here (Talking about Planned Parenthood): "It is teaching kids to fornicate, teaching people to have adultery, every kind of bestiality, homosexuality, lesbianism-everything that the Bible condemns."
---Pat Robertson, "The 700 Club," 4/9/91

When you've got fundamentalist Christians preaching and "Amening" inflammatory nonsense like that---and I know it might be somewhat unfair to other Christians out there (but religions are often unfairly judged as a result of the actions of their most actively visible and vociferous followers – i.e. the fundamentalist and extremist element – look at Islam, for instance)---such expressions, like “denouncing sin and evil,” conjure, as a result, a picture that has become more evocative of Salem Witchcraft’s Trial and of Torquemada’s inquisition than it has of Jesus’ castigating the Pharisees or chasing the merchants out of the Temple.

There is no arguing with Reverend Bill Carroll, here, “Christians often get it wrong,” especially when they are in power. For all that talk of Love, sadly, History doesn’t point to a stellar record of Christians getting along so well with their non-Christians fellow human beings, let alone with other Christians.

Christians do not have a monopoly of human folly, to that regard.

Restating the Reverend’s words, let us just simply say:

“Humans often get it wrong.”

Although one can call it “denouncing sin and evil,” the part that struck my interest in what jazzolog was speaking of, very specifically, in his last comment, above, is the part about “asking questions.”

The question and answer tradition (aka dialogue) has roots that famously go back to the Greek, Socrates. And it definitely occupies an important place in the Christian and Buddhist traditions, too. I don’t think that it ever was in the spirit of either Jesus or Buddha that anyone passively accept dogmas unthinkingly. They both were spell-breakers, not spellbinders.

Jazzolog speaks of “the courage of asserted negativity,” I find myself agreeing with him that there is “nothing wrong with being negative”---not if you mean by that the ability to keep a spirit of healthy intellectual and emotional inquiry about everything.

I will go even further than jazzolog on this one. Some of the worst periods in Human history have been the direct result of an excess of “positive certainty.” Billions and billions of people live and die by their unquestioned “positive certainties” about themselves and the world, including, most importantly, a distorted, or co-opted understanding of the origin and depth of their own religious beliefs. There is “positive certainty” whenever it is positively asserted---i.e. with no doubt or any degree of nuance---that something either is or isn’t. “You are either with us, or you are against us.” It is characteristically a black and white world, which admits no nuance, no shade of gray, and no tolerance for divergent viewpoints.

This is not faith. It is blindness.

There is power in blind-faith.

"…for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you."
---Matthew 17:20

The problem is that faith is a power that can be easily corrupted or co-opted, if it is not also “enlightened faith.”

To that regard, the faith of the agnostic, which is the faith of “moving forward in doubt,” can transcend the faith of the dogmatically faithful. The latter is build on the foundation of a theistic theological structure of doctrine, dogmas and creeds, the former isn’t.

He whose desires have been throttled,
who is independent of root,
whose pasture is emptiness—
signless and free—
his path is as unknowable
as that of birds across heavens.
---Dhammapada (930)

Such faith, in its more exalted form, touches to the realm of the mystics where Christian and non-Christian alike meet. It is also the realm of Christian mysticism:

"Those who have wholly gone out of themselves, and who do not seek for what is theirs in anything, whatever it may be, great or little, who are not looking beneath themselves or above themselves or beside themselves or at themselves, who are not desiring possessions or honor or ease or pleasure or profit or inwardness or holiness or reward or the kingdom of heaven, and who have gone out from all this, from every thing that is theirs; these people pay honor to God, and they honor God properly, and they give him what is his."
---Meister Eckhart

Faith is good, but it is better when it is enlightened.

Buddhism speaks of “mindfulness.”

“The map is not the territory.”

This is not a quote from the Bible. Jesus never said that---not in this fashion anyway. And neither did the Buddha. The author of the quote is Alfred Korzybski.

It has been used to signify that individual people do not in general have access to absolute knowledge of reality, but only have access to a set of beliefs they have built up over time, about reality.

According to Korzybski, the central goal of General Semantics is to develop in its practitioners what he called "consciousness of abstracting," that is, an awareness of the map/territory distinction and of how much of reality is missed in the linguistic and other representations we use. General Semantics teaches that it is not sufficient to understand this sporadically and intellectually, but rather that we achieve full sanity only when consciousness of abstracting becomes constant and a matter of reflex.
Many General Semantics practitioners view its techniques as a kind of self-defense kit against manipulative semantic distortions routinely promulgated by advertising, politics, and religion, as well as those found in self-deception.

David Crawley, here, has an interesting and unusual Christian take on this:

Recently I came across this thought-provoking little phrase: the map is not the territory. In Gospel terms, talking about the kingdom, praying for its coming and proclaiming its nearness creates a vivid map of God’s intended order of transformation. This map is compelling, but it is not the territory… This was what drove Jesus in his mission. I suppose he could have set up a base in one place and from there taught about the kingdom and led people in prayer for its triumph on earth. A kind of Kingdom Information Centre, with maps available and bookings taken. Instead, Jesus demonstrated an urgency to engage with the territory, moving from village to village, interacting with real people in all their raw need. His representation of God’s liberating love was unique, personal and direct in each encounter. Think of the way he manifested this to the paralytic lowered through the roof, the woman caught in adultery, the rich ruler, Zacchaeus, Martha, Mary Magdalene, Simon the Pharisee or Herod.

By and large, one of the messages of Jesus is to speak the "truth in love." Accordingly, Christians have an obligation to be both loving AND truthful.

And truth comes from the freedom to ask questions and the ability to formulate them. The ability to hear and to listen, and see what needs asking.

When we are told that it is un-American, un-Patriotic, or un-Christian, to question, this is not the message of Christ. This is not the message of the Buddha. This is not the path of “truth in love.”

Jazzolog spoke of “hidden agendas, manipulation techniques, and frozen apathy.” He spoke here as a Christian AND an American:

"Americans feel we don't know how to fix foreign policy and have no power to do so. As a result we do nothing, say nothing, and don't want to hear about it. We shut the hold, go below, and amuse ourselves somehow, never mind who's captaining the ship or where we're going.

What jazzolog didn’t say (He didn’t say it, but I hear it all the same-----and, so, maybe it’s just me) is that Christianity has been used in this country, as it has been used in many lands before, not only to re-enforce that apathy, but to give it a moral or spiritual justification it doesn’t have. This is true of Buddhism too (it often takes arresting and penetrating events, such as the self-immolation of a figure like the Buddhist monk Thic Quang Duc) to shake people (some people) out of their torpor.)

Most of the time, people, as jazzolog put it, just “shut the hold, go below” and ignore what’s going on, not only in their lives, but in the world around them, and remain blissfully (willfully?) unaware of how the unthinking day-to-day humdrum of their life is impacting the planet and their fellow human beings.

Worse, there are those (sometimes encouraged by their Church, even), who take pride in “doing nothing,” “saying nothing,” and “hearing nothing.” They have been told that “it is always a fatal error to put one's trust in man instead of in God,” and so, to them, it is up to God and not man to “captain the ship.” They frown on any form of activism. They are not concerned about, say, Global warming, or the state of the environment, or massive species extinctions. They are told that this was foretold and that this is the will of God. So, there is very little they can or should do about it, other than waiting for the seven seals (there are those who do so with glee). To some, doing otherwise is seen as a “great presumption,” something unchristian, even.

The amazing thing about this, is that oftentimes the same institutions which preach activism, where “family values” are concerned (like in Pat Robertson’s quotes further above), and political engagement even, insofar as the Christian Right, which has been very active in that area, is concerned (see Republican Primaries), are also the same institutions which preach the virtues of “saying nothing” and “doing nothing” with regard to other issues that are studiously ignored. At a time when more than ever, the world is in need – using Jeroch’s words – of “peace through cooperation,” some of those very same people who have claimed to be “uniters”, and who claim Jesus as their spiritual guide have been pitting Christians against non-Christians, and Christians against Christians, and… Americans against Americans.

An attitude which goes back to the father, insofar as this presidency is concerned:

"No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God."
---George H. W. Bush (the father), 10/19/88

Jesus did not preach dogmatic sectarianism.

Jesus didn’t preach apathy either.

And neither did the Buddha.

Neither one preached “Family Values”--- not to the extreme the Christian right has carried it out in this country, and certainly not at the quasi-exclusion of any other values and issues, of which both Jesus and the Buddha spoke at great length.

In 1883, the Jewish poet Emma Lazarus was asked to contribute a sonnet, that is now engraved on a bronze plaque on a wall in the base of the Statue of Liberty:

Everyone knows the famous lines.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Marveling at the sonnet, Forrest Church, exclaimed: “Could not Isaiah himself, have said [those lines] when prompted by the Holy Spirit” – I quote:

No wonder that the Chinese students in Tiananmen Square, just shortly before they were routed and so many of them were massacred by government soldiers on June 10, 1989, erected their own replica of the Statue of Liberty, a 32-foot-high “freedom goddess,” and placed it in the center of the square. And no wonder that the songs they sang that day were religious hymns, spirituals, and anthems: “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”; “We Shall Overcome”; and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”
They didn’t just hum along, as we sometimes do. Whether with their voices or their spirits, they sang together in a single chorus, and knew exactly what the words meant, and how much they meant---even those among them who didn’t know a word of our language.
It shouldn’t be surprising. As Isaiah, Paul, or Abraham Lincoln could have told us, that is how the Holy Spirit works.

THIS is what jazzolog was speaking of in his last comment above.

(Or what I heard.)

Tom Bombadil said...

Hehe...what I am hearing is that Jeroch is a father and Richard a grandfather!

Congratulations, ya'll!!! ;-)

And welcome to the world Nina Marie!

It was a large room.
Full of people.
All kinds.
And they had all arrived at the same buidling at more or less the same time.
And they were all free.
And they were all asking themselves the same question:
What is behind that curtain?
You were born.
And so you're free.
So happy birthday.
—Laurie Anderson [youtube clip]

May this New Year symbolize the beginning of a better tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

All too often, religion is primarily a search for security and not a search for truth. John Shelby Spong, a retired bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA, would certainly have agreed with Quinty:
"A true and healthy religious system will encourage each of these activities. A sick and fearful religious system will seek to remove them."

What's that suppose to mean? I don't understand the quote.

jazzolog said...

Nausicaa was kind enough to attempt interpretation of one or two of my thoughts above, so perhaps I might intervene for her until she shows up. I think Bishop Spong has offered that a searching perspective is the sign of the growing and outgoing church. Where a questioning attitude is stifled, you have rigidity and slow death. Nausicaa brought this up, I believe, because she saw Father Carroll encouraging caution and care in asserting condemnation...and perhaps thought he went too far.

I spent this morning watching a shattering documentary called Deliver Us From Evil. It's about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church specifically, but by extension could include any religious organization. Wikipedia has an OK entry on the movie but the film's site itself has a very good preview . I need to say that after seeing it I'm hardly in the mood to pamper a church and its hierarchy. Perhaps the best line in it comes from Father Thomas Doyle, canon attorney and church historian: "Remember that the only time Christ ever got angry was when he went to church."

Nausicaa said...

Botched quotation: My mistake, I just realize that the John Shelby Spong quote in my comment didn't post as I had intended it to (the first sentence didn't post.)

Please read:

"People need to understand that questioning and doubting are healthy, human activities to be encouraged not to be feared. CERTAINTY IS A VICE NOT A VIRTUE. Insecurity is something to be grasped and treasured. A true and healthy religious system will encourage each of these activities. A sick and fearful religious system will seek to remove them."

(Emphasis mine.)

There is not much to add to what jazzolog has already said above. (Thank you for the follow through. )

My intention there was to echo one of the points in Quinty's earlier comment before mine, in which he was saying among other things that "it takes courage not to know," and that "answers can be reassuring and comforting." Quinty also had said that "it is when we take [our beliefs] so seriously that we take a sword to one another over them that the problems really begin."

The point I meant to make was that John Shelby Spong, a man of the cloth, had expressed a similar concern, observing that "Religion is what we so often use to bank the fires of our anxiety." And that when religion becomes "primarily a search for security and not a SEARCH for truth," (emphasis mine) this is when (I quote) "religion tends toward becoming excessive, neurotic, controlling and even evil."

Amy Berg's documentary "Deliver Us from Evil" of which jazzolog speaks in his comment above is a most fitting example.

jazzolog said...

Since Nausicaa mentions Deliver Us From Evil again, let me expand on it a little to encourage you to seek it out. This is not just an interview with a predatory priest and a review of his case. Eventually we are viewing the deposition of a bishop, who clearly is covering up the sodomy and rape of children and maybe lying as well to further his own career. Indeed ultimately we see such people elevated to cardinals and find ourselves with victims, a letter of appeal in hand, trying to communicate with Church officials at the very gates of the Vatican. Guards block the entrance and a hand goes over the camera lens. The Vatican never replies to the letter. As I said before I do not believe it is only the Catholic Church that operates this way. Nevertheless the celibacy requirement (mentioned where in scripture?) may produce a stunted sexual development in priests and nuns that contributes in this issue. And how many of them were abused in childhood?

In my own history, I had to deflect a ministerial touch to the privates from 2 of the ordained. One was when I was in college, a married Methodist minister with family, and the second in my adult years from a Lutheran pastor, also married with family. The college experience I kept quiet, not wanting to get the man, who was on the faculty, in trouble. He is deceased now. The second one I reported though. The pastor was relocated by his church, and I believe currently works with the elderly in Florida. Only one other time did anyone of either sex try to initiate interaction with me in this way, and fortunately in all 3 cases the perpetrator stopped as soon as I resisted.