Month: March 2008
Creationism- Stupiding Down the Bible
“Fossils are rather boring, because they’re piles of dead things.” (tour guide, BC Tours, leading a group of children through the Denver Natural History Museum.)
“BC,” in this case, as the children on the tour are forced to acknowledge- twice- stands for “Biblically Correct.” Working from a 6000 year old model of the earth’s age, these tour guides must cram scientifically verifiable facts about the earth’s formation and the evolution of life on the planet, into a space the size of their own brains. They ignore, for instance, a whole exhibit which explains the procedures and accuracy of radiometric carbon-dating, in favor of telling the children that the crafted depictions of dinosaurs and other animals which existed more than 6000 years ago are mere “artwork.” (Kind of like those pictures in their “Children’s Illustrated Bibles?”)
They drill the students to respond to evolutionist’s explanations of biology with the question “How do you know?” They do so in a mocking way, hoping- I guess- that those of whom the question is asked will be as stupid as they are about the “facts” they are presenting. I’m not using the adjective “stupid” loosely in connection with them, either. Watch their response to the interviewer’s questions about how many generations of humans with 800 year old life spans could fit into a 6000 year model. Ok..it may not be stupidity. I apologize for that. It could be flat-out lying.
It is beyond me why Creationists must make God fit into their own imaginations. And it is far, far beyond me why parents would hand their children over to adults who must take a jackhammer and cutting torch to God’s Creation in order to make sense of it. To me, it is like dynamiting the Sistine Chapel because it is impossible to take in all of Michelangelo’s masterpieces there at once. Or believing that France is not on the other side of the Atlantic ocean because you can’t see it from any shore in North America! (“How do you know?”)
The biblical account of Creation is not invalid; it is the best explanation available and understandable to persons of the Bronze Age about the origins of the universe. Telescopes, microscopes, the language of mathematics, and radiometric carbon-dating technologies have led to more elaborate and precise descriptions of those origins. In 4000 more years, there will be even more precise and calibrated methods of measurement available, too (if we don’t blow our own existence here away by continuing to believe God created the earth as a bottomless well of goodies for humans to luxuriate in).
Those, or any, new explanatory elaborations of geology, biology, physics, and astronomy will not invalidate today’s best observations. They will have been built upon them, exactly as the things we know today were built upon the ancient observations of genuinely curious and capable persons asking “why?” and “how?” Einstein will always have a revered place in the study of physics in general, and gravity in particular, just as the cave artists of Lascoux, France- 30,000 years ago- left behind a record of their observations which is still a valid part of present day biological studies.
To fear science because it might lead someone away from God is a genuine concern if one believes God must be able to be explained and understood by human minds. Personally, my understanding and appreciation and fascination with God expands with every snapshot taken from the Hubble telescope. Every time I bend over to pick up a 100 million year old ammonite fossil (of which there are millions in this area of Texas), I am struck again by the magnificence of, and my own ignorance of, God’s continuing, creating methodologies.
The Bible should be regarded as wonderful and intriguing words about God. When we turn it into literal dogma, as interpreted by tour guides who choose to ignore what they can’t understand, then we are insulting both God and future generations of curious children.
Baby Bible Bashers- Fear, in the name of Jesus
Wow! “Baby Bible Bashers,” produced by Firecracker Films, follows three child preachers. I’ve just watched all five Youtube segments and am depressed, angry, sad, and more committed than ever to speaking, writing, and living against this kind of foulness perpetuated in the name of Jesus.
These are little children being manipulated out of a childhood by zealous adults- adults who see their children as their own redemption from failure or- in the case of one daddy- an eternal meal ticket, along with the cars and homes appropriate to being the father of an empire-building “little man of God.” The kids have much more to say about hell than love, perhaps because that is what they know best.
Young Samuel, forced onto the streets of New York City while his daddy taunts homosexuals, is simply a heart-breaking figure. His parents have made him so afraid of “long worms in hell” that he must fight to be a little boy. And that, of course, is deemed to be rebellious and disobedient, which will no doubt earn him yet another spanking.
Honest to God, I feel right now like I need to vomit. Part 1 follows, Youtube will guide you to the other four segments:
Truth- Obama, Rev.Wright, and Fox News
It’s nebulous, for sure. And so easily manipulated for the 30-second sound bite crowd by the peddlers of fear.
Watch the whole sermon by Rev. Jeremiah Wright- especially beginning at 3:00, ending at 6:24. He’s reading an opinion by a white former Ambassador- Ambassador Edward Peck– made days after 9/11/01. Fox News (surprise!) did not choose to reveal those parameter’s in its presentation of “what Sen. Obama’s pastor believes and what Obama himself must, therefore, slavishly believe as well.”
Listen to whole sermon, and see if you can’t hear a lot of it.
Ready for a little more now? Try this next one. If you choose to miss what Rev. Wright is saying here, go back to Sean Hannity on Fox News, he’ll tell you what you want to know.
But if your ears are open, even if you disagree with what he says about George W. Bush (and you might, that’s OK), you’ll hear a perspective on the Bible that we must all hear.
America’s Open Wound
For those with open ears, open eyes, and open hearts, the bleeding wounds of racism in America are evident everyday- every hour and every minute for many. It is a complex, jagged, and deep wound which, because of neglect or intentional denial, has spread throughout the entire body of our country, and has been bending us for so long that few of us recognize the extent of deformation it has caused not only in our corporate body and mind, but within our American soul.
I am racist. I say that in the same way that I am honest about the fact that I have arthritis, or that I want- at some point everyday- to salve my ravenous emotions with the balm of Jim Beam. Those are just facts, realities about myself with which I must live and compensate for with the best of my awareness and abilities. I don’t know specifically where and when arthritis first began to grip my spine; nor do I know when the diseased defaults to racist attitudes began that I still am so easily able to display from time to time. Both of those things (along with the continuing desire- after fifteen years of abstinence- for an alcoholic fog to soften the day) are infestations I had no control over at the time they entered my being.
I’ve managed all of them, to an extent. I intentionally do not not drink and do what I can, with others, to keep Jim Beam and his sidekick, Bud, at bay. I swallow pills daily to keep my over-active anti-inflammatory systems in check. Racism, however, is probably the most difficult infection to deal with because of the daily reinforcements and affirmations that pour onto it, like gasoline on a fire. It flares at times, it sizzles often, and is always a (usually benign) ember that burns within me.
I don’t want it to be there. It is much, much smaller than it once was. And if I try to justify its presence based on a comparison of it to the hot coal which burns in others then, indeed, it was never very large. But it is there, and I hate that it is there. I want it gone.
I know the hope for its complete eradication is still generations away, for myself (i.e., my children and their children) and my country. I am not able to say I will die one day with nothing but a cold ash of racism within me. But I do hope, and will act on the possibilities of seeing that hope manifested as soon as possible in all the ways I can, whenever I can, wherever and however I can. My children are already less burdened (not only because of me, by any means!) of my various afflictions than I will ever be, thank God.
And I do thank God for that, and a whole long and glorious line of my fellow Americans who have been courageous enough to reveal the wounds of racism to be no mere reality which are harmful to some, but that are crippling, festering, killing wounds that are endemic to all of us. The blessing of being 58 years old in America is to have been alive in the same place, breathing the same air, as some of these past and present healers.
Two of them, of course, as they have been, are, and will be for so many Americans (and wounded people everywhere) are Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. In fact, the first piece of American literature that I would recommend to anyone- even above The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Grapes of Wrath– is King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Soon after that, I would urge anyone to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Alex Haley. Many people my age or older will remember Malcolm X in the fiery contexts of the early 60s, a time of frightening cultural change. Read him again, in the light of the forty years of history we have lived through since his death, and you will find yourself mourning his murder.
As of yesterday- and, yes, it is the reason I’m writing all of this in the first place- we heard a a speech by Senator Obama that may one day find itself in the same heady categories as the two pieces of literature mentioned above. Because of his unique cultural stance, he was able to elaborate on racism in America in a way that no one before him has personally been able to do. In black and white, African and American terms, his genetic voice and his intellectual honesty and wisdom have provided content for years of discussion and action and- most importantly- real social and soulful change. Whether a person is a supporter of his candidacy for president or not, this speech deserves to be read, studied, and pondered. In fact, I would urge those who are most opposed to that candidacy to read it most contemplatively.
And I say that not because it might change your vote, but because it might change you. I’ve overheard too many conversations about why someone is a Clinton or McCain supporter to not also have heard heart-breakingly racist statements being made in the guise of political or ideological language. Not all of those supportive statements for other candidates are racist, by any means, but enough are for anyone to know, if their eyes, ears, and hearts are open, that the blood and pus of racist wounds are still running fresh.
Read Senator Obama’s speech here.
Step 10 of the 12 Steps of AA:
“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”
We talked about this step last night at a meeting. Step 10 speaks of the necessity for the recovering addict (or anyone for that matter) to periodically step back from themselves, and examine which of the old habits, ideas, or self-misunderstandings which got them into trouble in the first place, may be re-forming themselves. Which of those old, easily-defaulted-to behaviors or thoughts might be ready to reach out and grab whatever weak link in one’s recovery might be revealing itself anew? It’s a good thing, obviously, to know about, and a group of like-minded others can help one to more ably do that.
Some of us were remembering incidents in which we were confronted by someone or something outside ourselves in a way that was self-revealing, sometimes jarringly so. I remembered two pieces of art, both seen when I was only 17-18 years old, that did that for me in a way that I can still remember. Michaelangelo’s Pieta, and Picasso’s Guernica shook my understandings of how the world might be perceived in ways that I had not known it was possible to perceive the world. They were both doors of discovery that I could not stop myself from entering, nor that I could make practical sense of once I had entered.
The Pieta, Michaelangelo, 1498-99, St.Peter’s Basilica, Rome
I saw this in the Vatican with a tour group in 1967. I was one of a few teenagers in a group of adult construction company owners and their wives who had gotten free trips to Europe for buying backhoes from a particular implement dealer in Ohio. Since 1972, the Pieta has been on display behind bullet-proof glass and must be viewed from twenty feet away, because of a hammer attack that year by a crazed man, Laszlo Toth. But in 1967, there was no protective glass, and the Pieta was there- ten feet in front of us.
I saw it and forgot who I was. It was not a spiritual experience in the sense that I was overwhelmed by Mary’s sorrow or Jesus’ death. It was an experience of encountering Beauty in a form I had not known was possible. This was marble, caressed into fingernails and upper lips. This was rock, tapped gently into folds of cloth, and pressed-upon skin. This was cold stone, fashioned into eyes brimming with tears, freshly pierced wounds, and pulsing veins.
The tour group continued on to whatever-it-was that was next be seen. I stayed because I had no choice. I saw tonnage that was ethereal and floating. I traced the edges of Mary’s robe with my eyes until I could see the cloth moving in her shudders. My eyes filled with tears that I didn’t understand and knew I would not be able to explain or share with anyone. (Not that I wanted to, anyway; this was the kind of brand new emotional reaction that I worked to hide even as I could not.)
It was a personal inventory that was forced upon me- a realization of something about myself that I have never (thank God) stopped getting used to. I learned that it is not the tour group that needs kept up with, it is what I am seeing and experiencing, right here and right now, that is the most important thing. It’s taken me all of the forty years since then to put that revelation into words, and I could regret those decades of inarticulation. Instead, I choose to be thankful for finally being able to understand why, in retrospect, I always felt apart from the crowd up ahead, and wanting- all the time- to know more, more, more about (it seems) everything I ever saw that reminded me of the way Michalengelo was able to make marble sing.
Cooties- It’s worse than you think!
I had them when I was a child; maybe you did, too. I’ve always felt too ashamed to admit it publicly, but now I must.
We all must.
For the children..
Truth (in a western sunrise)
(by Candy Shue, from The Rambler)
you read this morning.
The coffee you drank
while you were reading it.
The article about the couple
getting married at McDonald’s.
The toast you buttered
to eat with your coffee.
The knife you used
to butter it.
The truck that was double-parked
in your driveway.
The guy with the hand truck
who parked it there.
The smell of the cigarette
stuck in his mouth.
The music on the car radio
playing “Me and Mrs. Jones.”
It is all a part of you,
Even the strangers
standing next to you
at the post office
as you imagine what
you’re going to do
with your life
You’re alive, right here,
And here, right here.
Born in the bowels of early-19th Century religious fervor, the notion of imminent Rapture has diverted, and continues to divert the attention of many Christians from the presence of Jesus Right Now. A by-product of the Second Great Awakening in America, the Rapture cult is focused on what-is-about-to-happen, causing many to not only turn a blind eye to current events, but to even stand by anxiously, encouraging and applauding natural and human-caused catastrophes.
Rapture theology surfaced again this past week as one of the presidential candidates repudiated (or at least tempered) the endorsement of John Hagee, pastor of San Antonio’s Cornerstone Church and popular expositor of the Rapture and its meaning for the world. The whole Rapture theory is a complicated set of scriptural proof-texting and “special revelations” that Hagee is particularly and skillfully adept at translating into easily accessible, simplistic statements that bear the stamp of ancient authority.
In doing so, I believe Hagee also appeals to some of the worst instincts in human nature as well. I watched him several weeks ago. I took notes just after I heard him say the following because it epitomized everything that disgusts me about this Jesus-perverting teaching of Jesus’ soon-to-be arrival to rescue his beloved from the jaws of the Antichrist:
[After the Rapture] ..”we’ll have have front row seats as we watch the Valley of Armageddon fill with the blood of the enemy.”
Key words in that statement:”We” and “the enemy.”
The Rapture cult is all about ‘us’ and ‘them.’ That is one of the universal characteristics of ALL fundamentalist systems; i.e., there is an “us” on the inside, and a group of “them” outside the accepted orthodoxy, whatever brand of orthodoxy it is which is being espoused. This is something basic to the darker nature of humanity, it seems- the need to be counted among those who are saved and the ability to determine who is not saved. Sales organizations do it, some Muslim factions do it, many American Christian groups do it, and even towns do it during football games with their main rivals. Amway people are ready at a moment’s notice to point out the flawed ingredients used by Proctor and Gamble. Islamic Jihadists need “The Great Satan” in order to exist. And Springfield hates with a vengeance those cheaters from Smalltown who suck up to the the referees.
The need to identify an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ on the part of Hagee and the Rapture Ready cultists is an old and ancient tradition that has led to countless wars and much torture. The need for such separation among people does not arise from Christian impulses; it rises from the human ego- the need to be “better than” someone else. And the desire to see others- even the so-called ‘enemy’, swimming in their own blood- well, that comes from the most debased of human values.
All of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus have made the mistake from time to time of projecting our own personal characteristics onto the person of Jesus. It’s why Jesus is often unrecognizable when one tries to compare what they’ve learned about him with what the gospels say. Both capitalists and socialists can claim him as their own, just as slave-owners and abolitionists once did. Right now, it simply happens that many who are fearful of the modern world in which they find themselves, and who are having many old and traditional “truths” kicked out by science from underneath their clay feet, are retreating into the gnosis of the Rapture, as a means of ultimate escape.
So be it. They can be wrong with a host of others, beginning with the Apostle Paul, and extending now into the Rapture profiteers like Hagee and the Left Behind authors, and all the ancillary businesses that their mistaken beliefs have given rise to. They can keep their eyes aimed at future clouds in the East if they want to; I’m just afraid they might miss Jesus walking among them in the meantime. That’s the real tragedy of this dismal doctrine.
Here’s Hagee, explaining the Rapture as he sees it. Let me know if you hear anything about God’s grace during the presentation:
Death.. A Finch Takes Flight
When I went out front to get the paper and watch the sunrise this morning, I discovered this:
It’s a golden finch, frozen in lifelessness on the back of a lawn chair. Sometime yesterday afternoon or evening, it landed there, and died. It was not frozen to the back of the chair; it could have, had it chosen or been able to, gone elsewhere. But here, looking toward a live oak tree and a pile of firewood underneath, is where it landed, went to sleep, and died.
Yesterday, an unusual snowy day in this part of North Texas, was a feeding frenzy for finches in the front and back yards. I spread almost 25 lb. of sunflower seeds out during the day and all of it is gone this morning. The finches were joined by several cardinals in their hunger and inability to get at their usual fares of wild grass and thistle seeds, and the occasional mockingbird stopped by, too, though they prefer their meals warm and wiggly.
This is the first time I’ve seen a finch, or any bird, die this way. Had it been warmer, it may have landed, died, but then fallen to the ground in the grasp of gravity. But here, frozen in place, this one remains, eyes still open, stiff and posed in the posture of sleep.
I’m thinking, as I looked closely at it this morning: “What a great way to go!” I have no idea about the consciousness of death which a bird, or any animal, might have. I think we humans make the mistake of assuming that all animals besides ourselves go through their lives in a dull litany of pre-programmed instinctual behaviors that they have no control over, on their way to a death of which they are utterly unaware. Those assumptions, of course, are born in the prevailing human attitude that the universe, from microbes to galaxies, is a mechanistic, unthinking set of interrelated parts, adding up to a whole for the benefit of humans. Our own instinctual behaviors, in that worldview, are “negligible” in light of our “superior” abilities to evaluate, rationalize, and choose.
But I think, without a shred of scientific or spiritual data to back me up, that finches know a lot more about what they’re doing than we may have the calibrated instruments or divine revelations to even begin to understand. They certainly do not process, share, or make as many choices within that finch knowledge as our brains enable us to make. But their brains, like ours, have adequately developed for their needs now, in this particular epoch of relational life on earth. After all, this is the fourth spring in a row where some finches- not all of them!- have chosen to stop for awhile on their way north from Mexico, in this backyard, in this little town, on this little acre among the kabillion others in North Texas. Grandma and Grandpa finch must have had some information which they somehow passed along!?
And while finches may not have the ability to reflect on their own consciousness, they probably don’t spend an ink dot of time reflecting on the finitude of their lives either. Certainly, they do not live their lives in the obsessive dread of death that many of us do. Still, though, this finch chose to stay perched, on this chair, and wait in a way that it had never waited before. Without a single step to the left or right, it landed, sat still, slept, and died.
What did the finch know and when did it know?
What finch memories began to fade as the hours (or minutes) passed?
Is there a place within its flock that today is noticed by its absence?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I will come back to them for days. Join me in that speculation, if you’d like. Take a look once more at the pictures of that finch. In very real ways, I believe, it has taken flight once more.
And is flying around us all, right now.