A Respite from the Muck and Mire of Fundamentalism

I find the whole subject of fundamentalism tortuous. But I also know that one of the best ways to eradicate bacteria and mold is to expose them to the Light. So I will continue doing that, but I needed a break, and Graciel offered me one today with “What Do You Love?”at her blog, Evenstar Art, which everyone should go read frequently. It’s an antidote for many things. She writes:

“Today, I want you to quiet your monkey-mind. The part of your mind that swings wildly from one illusion to another. From one worry to another. From one judgement to another. I want you to practice focusing the part of your mind that leads you into made-up trouble on something positive. Practice focusing for one minute. Yes, just one minute. I want you to think about what you love. Not who you love. That’s another minute. This minute, I want you to think about what you love. Because it takes a bit of concentration and the monkey-mind must come to a rest while thinking positive thoughts.”

So here is my own one minute (or so) list of things I love:

*the golden finches which devour the sunflower seeds I put out for them this time of year

*the two soaring pines in the neighbor’s yard and the two single-note wind chimes that hang from them

*Wednesday nights

*the vultures at the lake, so crazily beautiful in their bigness and boldness

*sitting outside when the coyotes across the highway begin their howling

*the house in Ohio where I grew up. I walk through it frequently in memory

*Salem and Lola (OK, I’m cheating- they are both who’s to me, but since they are dogs I’m passing them off here as what’s)

*pick a beach, any one where salt water is lapping will do

*van Gogh’s “Starry Night”

*Madonna singing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” (Yes, I know, odd. Deal with it.)

*thinking about and writing Sunday messages

*listening to stories that have never been told before

*Rumi

*the Moon, as it rises between those same two pine trees

*reading (again) Matthew 5- 7, and 25; John 1, 14, and 15; Genesis; and Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Revelation (the latter three because it’s just so strange for them to be in the Bible)

Yes, that took me more than a minute. You have my (and, I think, Graciel’s) permission to take more than a minute with your own list, too.

Fundamentalism: Jesus is "One of Us"

“Gooble gobble, gooble gobble, we accept her, we accept her, one of us, one of us!” (chant from closing scene of “Freaks”, the 1932 Ted Browning film)

Separation plays well in fundamentalist circles. The drawing of doctrinal lines in the shifting sands of culture, and the interpretation of those lines’ widths and exclusionary powers, makes the “them and us” game an especially appealing fundamentalist pastime.

Fundamentalist Characteristic #3: There is a “Them” and There is an “Us.”

I just read an article from last week’s Wall Street Journal about various Christian churches who have become re-involved with something they call “church discipline.” Church discipline involves privately confronting congregants with their perceived sinful behaviors, and then castigating, then shunning them publicly if they fail to repent. Sinful behavior, in the article, ranges from drunkenness to gossip about the pastor, with an emphasis, it seems, on the latter.

Unfortunately, local church separating practices only reflect larger, institutional blinders that are gleefully worn by those who know, without a doubt, that Jesus is on their side, and that they will have ringside seats in heaven when the bloodbath of Armageddon begins here on Earth.* It is so easy to hate others  from the center of the In Crowd, or to be absurdly defensive when one perceives the Out Crowd being discriminatory (Happy Holidays!).

It’s easy for US to declare war on Them. (irony noted) It’s easy to pass laws favoring US, protecting US, and institutionalizing US into a semi-permanence that cultural evolution would eventually destroy without the safeguards of law.

It makes those who are at the bottom of the economic and education barrel feel good to know that they are spiritually “better than” those high-falutin’, girl-getting, nice car-driving, good job-having, rich guys who are headed to hell in a handbasket! (heh, heh, heh, heh)

Listen to their selfish prayers for the Rapture to come quickly, even as they decry the millions of folks who are “unsaved.” What they are really saying with their “Come quickly, Lord Jesus” prayers is “the hell with them sinners. I’ve got mine; too bad you didn’t get yours!”

John 3:17 (from The Message, which I am purposely using because the fundies hate it!) “God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”

That, of course- actually helping someone– involves a little work. It might even involve sharing money, time, and- OMG!- love. But that’s more difficult than circling the wagons and singing self-congratulatory songs about the sweet by and by. Bottom line: it’s easier to follow church rules and doctrines than it is to move around the edges of society where Jesus said he would be most easily found. (Matthew 25)

Out there at the edges, you know, where there’s a lot of gray areas and where the US’s and THEM’s are not so easily discerned.

*actual scenario, which I heard salivatingly prophesied by John Hagee, one of the primo experts on who is them, and who is us.

Fundamentalism: The ‘Good Old Days’ of Jesus

Fundamentalist Characteristic #2: A Belief in the Supremacy of a Bygone Era

Question: How do you know you’re talking to a fundamentalist?

Answer: His mouth is pointing toward 1955.

Of course, if you’d have been talking to that same fellow in 1955, he would have been extolling the virtues of some pre-Roosevelt time frame-  before Big Government took over and the Welfare State had taken root, etc., etc., on back to whatever set of days upon which he could most comfortably project his own historical fantasies.

As Modernism began to push at the borders of ancient Israel, in the form of Babylonian hordes, the time and person of King David began to be touted as the pinnacle period of Jewish history. Everything good and worth preserving about Judaism was located in the reign of David, “a man after God’s own heart.” Oh yeah, Moses was still important, but King David was a fighter, a military man, a defender of the faith. And when encroachment is perceived at the borders, that’s the kind of leader who takes center stage in the hearts and memories of those who believe they are being encroached upon. 

The desire for America to “go back” to a time when prayers were rammed down the throats of schoolchildren, before Roe v’ed Wade, and when everyone went to church in real Sunday clothes, is one of the most prominent themes in fundamentalist preaching and political activity. The 1950s seems to be the magic time that those fearful of today’s perceived Modernism are pining for, although it’s easy to see that they really are speaking of a mythological time when you try to pin them down to specific years of their supposed Golden Era.

But, oh! The glorious memories of those days in the 1950s when we were still a Christian nation! Back when:

* African Americans still had to drink at special fountains, eat in the kitchens at restaurants, pay a poll tax, pass a literacy test to vote, go to separate and woefully unequal schools, and sit in the back seats of public transportation in most of the South.

*Women were at fault when their husbands beat them, had no control over their man’s urges to procreate, and were fed amphetamines  by family doctors to lose weight while they stayed at home working and waiting for their allowances.

*Men were not men unless they looked like every other man in gray flannel suits.

*Girls could look forward to being wives, nurses, or teachers.

*Boys had better be able to play football or baseball, or find a dark and lonely closet to hide in.

*J. Edgar Hoover could wear his tu-tu while he was ripping apart the careers and lives of countless thousands of people and casting aspersions and suspicions on hundreds of thousands more, while his Senatorial counterpart Joe McCarthy, was preparing the way of the Lord with sneering, drunken vengeance. 

Such a fat underbelly exists on any body of time, no matter how glorious the memory of that time may be. It is human, not prophetic or divinely inspired, to wax nostalgic. But it is evil to pretend that for one brief, shining moment Camelot was anywhere, or real , and then to legislatively, shamefully, and coercively force others into that fictional fantasy land.

The primary motivation of fundamentalists in this regard seems to me to hinge on their overuse, and blatant misuse of the word Christian. They love the adjective itself, while merely putting up with him from whom the word was derived. They have made Jesus, the Christ, into a caricature of their own dark selves: he is an Islam hating, W Bush supporting, moralizing, tight-assed and uptight prig in his present adjectival incarnation who is concerned above all else that is wrong with the world, that two people of the same gender might possibly be able to enjoy the legal benefits of a state-sanctioned, contractual marriage.

“Follow me,” Jesus said. When he said that, he could not have imagined the eventual transformation of his life into a set of rules, regulations, dogma, and doctrines preceded by the institutionally mandated imprimatur Christian. If he were here physically right now, I think he might even be looking about for a whip to drive the profit-loving, status-lusting, power-wanting, people-separating, science-ignorant, lust-suppressing , 1955 time travelers  from the portico of his Daddy’s Temple.

Which is what I think as many of us as possible to should be willing to help him do. You know- follow him for a while, instead of his self-appointed, self-righteous, self-perpetuating spokesmen.

Fundamentalism: The Perversion of Jesus

“If I speak in tongues of men or of angels, but have not love, then I am nothing more than a clanging gong or a resounding cymbal.” (1Corinthians 13:1)

And if I continue to speak in terms of tolerance and acceptance of the fundamentalist poison being pumped into the body of Christ, then I am actively participating in the death of the Word made flesh. I will no longer do that. I may not wield a weapon much more effective than a fly swatter in battling this many-headed parasite within our midst; nonetheless, I will swat and swat and swat at it. I am tired- sick and tired- of the loveless clanging I hear constantly coming from the back of the Church.

For me, the Gong Show is over.

Fundamentalism, within whatever culture or religion it begins to coalesce, does so in reaction to perceived Modernism. It is, by its very nature, a reactionary movement based on fear of that which is new, unknown, and uncomfortable. Just as the Church in Europe dug its Inquisitive heels into the backs of powerless peasants as the onslaught of Science and Art began to encroach on its once exclusive domain of cultural influence (read: power), so is modern day fundamentalism motivated by fear. And fear, fundamentalist leaders have found, is always a more powerful crowd-pleaser than love.

Fundamentalist Characteristic #1- Fear

Fundamentalists are afraid. They’ll deny that, but listen in on any television evangelist’s resounding message or- better yet- venture into a local, so-called, revival meeting. You’ll hear, for a little while, about God, about the sacrifice of his son, Jesus, and about the joy and peace that comes from knowing Jesus as Savior and Lord. But it will amount to not much more than mere lip service to the language being used to present the evening’s real Star of the Show- Satan!

People who choose to live in fear need an enemy to be afraid of, and Satan fits that bill. He is not omniscient nor omnipresent, but somehow seems to know (according to the fear-mongering preacher) exactly where you are and exactly what your weaknesses are! He is always ready to attack, always prepared to tempt you, always whispering sweet seductive siren songs into your ready-to-hear ears. Most importantly, he is there to be blamed every time you fall from, or wiggle out of, God’s grace.

He wants your soul in hell,to burn eternally with the millions, billions of others he has already claimed. And to do that job, Satan needs helpers: the demonic hordes which do his bidding. There are, according to any number of deliverance ministries which fill tents and television studios across the land, a legion of demons out there, some of which are probably in you already. Which is why you smoke, drink, lust, fail to tithe, wear lipstick, have wet dreams, think goddam when you hit your thumb with a hammer, get bored in church, miss church, watch anything but “Christian” television, have debts, vote Democratic, despise the military-industrial complex, or drive a better car than the preacher.

Demons are everywhere. They are to be feared. If you’re having fun, feeling free, laughing, healthy, or making a good living- watch out! Because they’re getting ready to pounce- down your gullet, into your eyeballs, through your fingertips, or absorbed by your imagination. You must- you MUST- claim  the blood of Jesus as it is being hustled by the speaker of the moment. Only tithes and offerings, and a walk to the front of that preacher’s altar will afford you protection from them! Do it tonight! Because you might be dead tomorrow! (And, if the fear-mongering preacher has learned how “properly” to do it, he/she will, at this point, begin to list the many ways you might be dead tomorrow!)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Who said that? Who’s that rabble-rouser trying to interrupt the meeting? Who dares to speak serenity; who is it that dares to bring talk of peace to this arena of fear we’ve been building tonight?

Oh, it’s Jesus..*

(More will follow. Everything about fundamentalism derives from fear, but the means by which fear is invoked are many and subtle. Unfortunately, the ramifications of lives lived in this inflicted fear are not so subtle. And so there is more to write. Much more.

But right now, I need to go wash my hands. They’re filthy.)

* John 14:27

 

 

Tao Te Ching 6

 

The Tao is called the Great Mother:
empty yet inexhaustible,
it gives birth to infinite worlds.
It is always present within you.
You can use it any way you want.

Nothing about us, not a single atom on us, in us, or around us, is new. Everything about us was born in the Great Radiance which set light, heat, and all matter into the eternal dance of the universe. It is our lot- yours and mine- to host, for a little while, some of the music in which that always- beginning dance is happening. And each of our songs is unique, but harmonically pitched in perfection with the Source of all music, and with each other’s music.

Hear it? The next note, part of an already building crescendo, is being born in you, even now. It will resound within the chords of an aria that is incomplete without you; an aria that- right now, this instant- is being sung and without which, the universe will be incomplete. Stifle those notes, and the smallest parts of the world will not miss them, even as the Tao does.

It is always our choice to sing, or to dance, or to search for the colors when the monotones of our circumstances seem to overwhelm the Tao’s infinite vibrancy. We can give birth to new creation; the Image of God in us is our womb that propels us toward doing so.

****

How can one be bored when there are pecans to be gathered, shelled, and eaten? Or when there are dogs and kittens who need a home?

How can anyone turn away from a sunset, a loon on the lake, or the old man who is walking toward you with stories he’s never told?

Or how is it possible to sit still and wait, when you own a set of colored pencils?

 

 

Texas Youth Livestock Auction

This could be called “Yet Another Reason I Love Texas.”

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The local livestock auction for young people of this county is being held today. The winners in the various categories (swine, beef, and goats) get to auction their animals off to local banks, car dealerships, oil drilling companies, and other companies which bid BIG for the winning animals.

Now livestock auctions are being held somewhere in America every day of the week. And, yes, I know (and even agree with) some of the criticism of the livestock and meat-packing industry. But this auction has a whole different flavor (pun intended) than many of those other ones. This auction is one of those places where the spotlights and attention are young people doing well. And, while there is a difficult reality to be faced by these young men and women as they say “good-bye” to their animals, they are also learning about relationships in life, and being an integral part of a community that is vital to this area.

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These animals have been raised for meat production since they were calves, kids, and piglets. They have been tended to daily by their young owners, and handled often so that they would “show” well when their time in the ring finally came. The animals are as clean and spiffy as their owners.

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You’ll note that there’s not a lot of jubilation evident in these faces of these youngsters, despite the fact that they are walking away with a whole lot more money than they spent on the raising of their animals. They’ve experienced that it is possible- impossible not to– love an animal. But they are also learning about the purpose and hard work involved in raising their livestock. The ones who continue in ranching will never lose that tension between the care of their animals and the purpose of their being raised in the first place. Some of the gentlest, kindest people I know are ranchers who discovered that dilemma early on, and continue to face it daily.

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Another thing I love about this Youth Auction is that the organizers realize that people really do like to eat other foods besides meat! So the opportunity exists for cookies, cakes, and pies to be a part of the judging and auctioning process, too. This little boy just sold a $750 cake to a local bank!

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These are the kids who ride horses, have dogs and cats, grow up understanding and respecting the land, and who get to spend part of each day hoping for rain or shading their eyes against a sunset. They will never eat a hamburg in blissful ignorance of where it came from or be able to tolerate the intentional abuse of any animal.

Or any other person. Just watch them as they grow up and you’ll see what I mean. The lessons you see being learned in these pictures don’t end today. They are part of lives now and those lessons will will benefit all of us.

The Virgin Mary Comes To Town!

Oh, happy day! The BVM has landed here, right here on the West Texas prairie, and here she is!

She left her mark this time in the scar of an old native pecan tree. You can see in the picture that the south fork of that tree split away from the trunk, and it was there that the BVM either immediately inscribed herself or was revealed to the world after being embedded within the tree for at least the past five or six decades.

I personally had a hard time seeing her at first, so I’m really just going on the word of those who have the God-given (?) power to see the Virgin in those many odd places she chooses to appear. Me? In my quest to see anything anthropomorphic in the tree, I could only vaguely see Bishop Sheen, as he would sweep from the doorway to the blackboard in his priestly cassock on his Sunday afternoon television show in the 1950s. But then, I kept looking and (what do I know?) I thought I could see Sister Kenny raising money to fight polio like she was also doing in the 1950s.

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Then I made the mistake of continuing to look, wanting desperately to join the throngs (see them?) who’ve made a sacred grotto of the tree. I was able to see a virtual parade of personages, including but not limited to: Joan Baez, Soupy Sales, my Aunt Emma, Jimi Hendrix, and a substitute teacher in the fifth grade whose name I forget.

So there went another potential Epiphany, right out the always open window of my imagination!

Channel 5 out of Fort Worth and Telemundo out of Dallas have already given the tree their pandering-to-the-masses Seal of Approval by televising live reports on the perceived phenomena. Sorry I can’t lend much credibility to their fine reporting, but I’m kind of a stick-in-mud when it comes to sightings of the Divine. I get stuck on little stuff like wildflowers and ants, and dogs licking my face even when I’m feeling like crap. Those things tell me much more about God than the scar of a tree.

*****

And, for the record,here’s Sister Kenny and Bishop Sheen:

sister kenny  Bishop Sheen