Archive for January, 2009

Microwaved Metaphysics

January 7, 2009

It’s nothing new, really.  People are busy, and different Christian expressions attempt to meet people where they are at in their busy life. This is the article in a nutshell.  

Yes, people are busy.  Ironic, since technology was supposed to free us up for more leisure time.  Instead, not only do both spouses typically work – as opposed to just one spouse in 1960 –  they also work on average more hours a week – closing in on 60, from a 1960 average of just over 40.  
What’s wrong with this picture?  Lots.
I’m glad that people are reaching out to others in ways that are accessible.  Bite-sized Scripture or devotionals might be an improvement for a vast majority of people, and I won’t poo-poo this effort as a means for exposing people to ideas that might lead them to re-examine their priorities in life.  But I suspect that most of these devotionals and Scriptural morsels won’t be doing that.  Rather, they’ll be attempting to make people more happy and satisfied in the midst of the chaos that is consuming them.  Rather than challenging a culture that insists that we sacrifice our time on whatever altar is most expedient, I’m sure the goal all too often is just to boost people’s spirits, shortchanging them once again by lulling them into a sense of false security that everything is just fine and the exhaustion and frustration and burnout that they feel is just how life is supposed to be.
The Church’s role is not to accommodate, or to placate, or to medicate.  The Church’s role is to remind people what is important, what they claim to believe, and what that means in their daily lives.  As such, the Church’s role ought to be that of the culturally relevant prophet, continually calling people away from their current distractions and back to the faith that they claim to believe.  To modify a saying of Finley Peter Dunne,  the role of the Church is to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.   
I hope that these abbreviated approaches to a life of faith accomplish what  Tim Jordan, quoted in the article, claims – that these are not meant to “replace the Bible”, but to “whet the appetite.”  But I think that in a culture that teaches people that they can shortchange themselves in every area of life and somehow be better for it, I don’t think most people are going to feel like there’s any reason to change what they’re doing – including relying on bites of the Bible rather than a full meal.  

Rush – Heresy

January 6, 2009
All around that dull grey world
From Moscow to Berlin
People storm the barricades
Walls go tumbling in

The counter-revolution
People smiling through their tears
Who can give them back their lives
And all those wasted years?
All those precious wasted years
Who will pay?

All around that dull grey world
Of ideology
People storm the marketplace
And buy up fantasy

The counter-revolution
At the counter of a store
People buy the things they want
And borrow for a little more
All those wasted years
All those precious wasted years
Who will pay?

Do we have to be forgiving at last?
What else can we do?
Do we have to say goodbye to the past?
Yes I guess we do

All around this great big world
All the crap we had to take
Bombs and basement fallout shelters
All our lives at stake

The bloody revolution
All the warheads in its wake
All the fear and suffering
All a big mistake
All those wasted years
All those precious wasted years
Who will pay?

– Rush – “Heresy” – Roll the Bones (1991)

I’ve never been a big Rush fan.  Not for any easily definable reason, I just haven’t really listened to much of them.  I own only one album (CD to you whippersnappers, and collection of MP3s to you even younger whippersnappers) of theirs, the little bally-hooed Roll the Bones.  Not being a Rush fan, I never really made it past the first three songs on the album, each of which I enjoyed in various ways.  

Well, I’ve been listening to this album in totality for the past couple of days.  And I have to say it’s better than I thought it was at first listen.  If I were to give a reason to dislike Rush, I could list ideology or theology – but that’s not a reason not to listen to someone, whether they’re a talented group of musicians or the person in the next cubicle.  If anything, it’s a reason to listen closer.  So that’s what I’ve been doing.
The above song is nice both lyrically as well as instrumentally.  I like the bitter overtones of futility, of our true inability to control much of anything in our lives.  It’s an honest song, that sounds like it was almost wrenched unwillingly out of the singer.  Is this all we can do?  Is this our only option?  Is this the closest we can come to payment?  
No, we can’t repay anyone.  For anything, really, outside of a purely monetary exchange, and it could easily be argued that even that is inadequate and symbolic at best.  We have no recourse to  injustice within ourselves, other than attempting to stop the injustice, and punish the perpetrators in hopes that they – and others – won’t repeat the injustices.  But history shows that this is ineffective at best. Deterrence is apparently rather minimal.  
To think of all the years lost in slavery, whether to political and social repression, to material consumption, to fear – those years can never be regained, can never be handed back.  They are simply what they are.  Forgiveness is the only real option, because without forgiveness, we just spiral lower in our brutality towards those who have hurt us, which in turn spawns a new wave and generation of brutality.  We don’t have the capacity to repay the sorts of debts that we and others incur daily.  We can’t even really forgive, not on our own, not without help.  
I like it when people are honest with themselves, even if that honesty isn’t able to take into account a fuller perspective, a perspective that does provide hope, that does provide a source for forgiveness.  The honesty of despair is the first step towards honest hope.


January 3, 2009

While writing the previous post, I made a reference to our church’s foundings in the 1950’s.

I was going to write just the 50’s, but decided for the century prefix of 19 as well.  And I realized that, God-willing, in my lifetime it will be necessary to make century distinctions more and more frequently, which is something that people who span two centuries (not in physical age, duh, but in their lifetime) have to think about.  It’s kind of weird, and another pleasant reminder of the fact that I’m growing older.
Which, if nothing else, beats the alternative.  

Community Garden?

January 3, 2009

Our church sits on a sizable chunk of land in pretty much the center of town.  We have multiple buildings on that piece of land – a large sanctuary, a large, separate fellowship hall, an 8-classroom school building, an old A-frame building complex that was the original church back in the 1950’s, and two large parking lots.

We also have a pretty good amount of unused green space.  Bordered by trees and fencing, but otherwise open, and grassy in the Southern California-we-can’t-afford-to-water-it-but-if-God-does-we’ll-let-it-grow sort of way.  Since last June – when the public charter school that rented our school building & grounds from us for a year moved out to their own campus – I’ve toyed with the idea of using all that empty space for a community garden.  I’m poor at estimating, but perhaps there is half an acre of open land – perhaps more than that – which seems like it could be put to far better use.  At this point, any use would be better, but a use that could build bridges to the surrounding neighborhood and provide food in the middle of a huge economic meltdown seems to me like pretty much a no-brainer.  
I’ve started doing some research on how to go about this.  Some of it is common sense (like talk to your community to make sure this is something that they’re interested in doing).  Some of it is not so common sense (soil preparation?  What do you mean, it’s sitting right there!).  But we have a dear friend who is a botanical and gardening genius.  If he’ll get on board, then maybe we could line up some places like the local hardware stores to help donate fertilizer and composting bins and a day’s worth of rototillers and seeds or plantings.  
I just can’t make sense of a church not doing anything to acknowledge or respond to the situation our community and nation and world is tumbling into at the moment.  We don’t have much money or other resources, but we have some space.  I figure it belongs to God anyways, it only seems right to grow something that could help His people out.


January 1, 2009

In adolescence, I was forever praying for the clock to speed up.  Never certain for what reason, other than for something different.  For change.  For some sort of progression from the emotional and social moors I appeared perpetually mired in.   To better endure the dark midnights of the soul that ran consistently late for me, not arriving until two or three in the morning.  Anything was better than to endure the endless monotony and boredom of a mid-adolescent Sunday afternoon.  

So I would pray for the clock hands to move faster, for the seconds and minutes to tick away faster faster faster.  Always faster.  The prayers never appeared to be answered.  The seconds would exhale in slow motion, and the minute hands would crawl around the dial.  
But at some point, those prayers must have been answered.  Because now the seconds fly by before I can call them to mind.  A glance at a clock one moment and then a moment later shows that hours have gone by – or days.  Now that I appear to be where I’m supposed to be, I would love for the seconds to go back to their normal speed, for the clocks to resume their usual leisurely waltz.  But it appears to be too late.  Perhaps the prayers are answered only gradually, and so the prayers today for time to move slower won’t be answered for another twenty years or so.  
And by then, perhaps I’ll wish that they were moving faster again.

Stranger Than Fiction

January 1, 2009

I got a letter from a dear friend of mine

A story of a spiritual awakening.
She wrote of her love returning in kind
She let me know that she’d be waiting.
And I ought to be on my way right now.

– James Taylor –
Stranger Than Fiction
A man has a spiritual awakening.  Not that he recognizes it as such immediately.  But gradually he becomes aware that, despite what modern and postmodern philosophy (and all too often theology) has taught, he is not alone in his world.  There is an Other.  Apparently, an omniscient other.  An omniscient other who has revealed to the man that the man will soon die.   Unsure of what to do with this sudden revelation – and decidedly unsatisfied with the general content of the revelation –  he seeks advice.
He goes to Psychiatry.  But Psychiatry, convinced that there is no Other, insists that the issue must a problem with the Self.  The only reasonable solution is medication.  If one has come to believe that there is an Other, then by proper medication, that belief can be made to vanish.  It is not the Other that needs to be dealt with, but the Self.
But the man knows that this is not simply a matter of chemical imbalance.  He understands himself well enough to know when something that appears to be outside of himself (yet seems intricately and inexplicably within himself) is making itself known.  The insistence that he is crazy or delusional doesn’t hold water.  He isn’t crazy or delusional, he has just become aware of an Other.  It would seem to this man that Psychiatry itself must be rather crazy or delusional, if it cannot at least hypothesize the existence of an Other.
So the man seeks further help.  If there is an Other that seems to have some import to his life, he should go and seek out the advice of an expert in Otherness.  A medium.  The Church, let’s say.
The Church is not initially very convinced.  After all, a great deal of the Church has come to a similar conclusion to Psychiatry, and has in fact been replaced largely by Psychiatry, though the clothes and actions are changed soas not to cause alarm to those unaware of the differences.  An Other – if it exists (as the Church must say to a greater or lesser extent, or else it becomes fully Psychiatry and the change of clothes is undone) – is not likely to be communicating directly to the man.  And if an Other is, then it is necessary to determine what sort of Other the man might be dealing with.  Does it mean the man good or ill?  An investigation into the nature of Otherness ensues.  
At the prompting of the Church, the man examines himself and his life.  He sees the need for change.  He desires something better than what he has, in his relative ignorance, carved out for himself.  He pursues interests.  He relates to other people.  He opens himself to meaningful relationship to another person.  He gives and receives.  But the Other is still there – though less noticably now that the man is distracted with other things.
Eventually, it is revealed to the man who the Other is.  Ahhh, says The Church.  If *this* is your Other, then there is nothing for it but to accept the decree of the Other.  Nothing can be done to change the decisions of the Other.  Nothing *should* be done to change the decisions of the Other, because the Other has crafted an absolutely perfect set of circumstances, and nothing better or different can – or should – be imagined.  Accept your faith, the Church tells the man.  It is the will of the Other.
The man decides to confront the Other directly.  To communicate to the Other directly, to relate to the Other.  He asks the Other why.  Why must he die?  Must he die?  Isn’t there another alternative?  The Other appears unmoved (affected, but unmoved).  The Other directs the man to the sacred text of the Other.
The man is unwilling to read for himself this text though.  He seeks the interpretation and advice of The Church.  The verdict remains.  What the Other has ordained is good and right and perfect.  He needs to accept his fate.  The man, although trusting the basic interpretation of the sacred text, is still unwilling and unable to accept his lot.
 So the man goes directly to the revelation of the Other.  He reads the sacred text of the Other.  And he must admit, the Church seems right.  The text does explain everything rather well.  It does seem obvious that he should simply submit to the will of the Other.  The man resigns himself to this fact.  It is not what he wants, but he is only himself, and the Other knows far better, as evidenced by the sacred text.  The man prepares himself for his death.