A Religious New Year’s Resolution

I wish sometimes, I really do..I wish I could slip into a 24 hour emotional coma where Bowl Games were important to me, where I cared for just a little while about what kind of car I drive, or what Jennifer Anniston thinks about anything.

I would like to breathe, just for a little while- long enough to gather strength against the endless soul-bruising I feel condemned at times to live within- I would like to breathe the foreign air of “I just don’t give a damn.” I would like to be able knock a beer (as the phrase is put in hard-drinking, easy-thinking circles) and know that it would stop the world long enough for me to go to sleep one night without a single nagging needle of over-extended empathy jabbing at my heart.

I would like to experience a whole day someday, a day that would enable me to remember what it was like to not have stories like these from this day acid-raining on my parade:

For Kurdish Girls, An Ancient, Painful Ritual of Circumcision

and

Egyptian Girl Kept As Slave in California Home

These two headlines happen to be fueled by Islam. It would be just as easy on another day to find such stories of cruelty, intolerance, or mythologically-based stupidity rising from Christianity, Hinduism, or Judaism. (If you doubt that statement, and don’t have the ability or skills to go Googling for yourself, message me and I’ll send some examples your way. At this moment, I don’t have the emotional wherewithal to subject myself to more such UTTER, AWFUL, DEHUMANIZING, GODDAMNING, DESPICABLE crap being dispensed incessantly by those who keep the gods of their foul fantasies trapped in the uncritical, unthinking, and unevolved confines of their reptilian, always reactive imaginations.)

Despite overwhelming evidence indicating otherwise, each of us really do have the kingdom of heaven beating somewhere in our beings aching, wanting, striving to find expression in the environments, large and small, in which we each find ourselves.  I also believe that each of us has the ability to cause that kingdom-of -heaven reality to be present and evident for the benefit of ourselves and others when we are aware of its presence in us.

And I dislike to admit it, but I must: that presence may best be found and understood by examining that which makes us most uncomfortable. In other words- for me- it is the boundary-pushing kingdom of heaven in me that makes me want to retreat at times, from it. I’d rather watch a football game and be excited by it, than contemplate the horror of a nine-year-old girl being hacked on because..because.. because NOBODY KNOWS WHY!!!  (“We don’t know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it,” says the mother of a little girl whose clitoris has just been cut off.)

The only thing I know to do is to do something- something, anything, each day, in however many days I might have, to expose, fight, ridicule, or- God,help me-  stand between religious cruelty and its victims. I can bitch, whine, or tilt at windmills, or I can do something.  I can look the other way, pretend my wishes of paragraph #1 have been granted, or stop exposing myself to that which pains me most poignantly, or I can make some tiny difference which- like a seed- may grow.

Therefore, I choose (and promise), beginning today, to do one thing each day to chink at the foundations of religion. I’d rather spread Doubt, than Blind Obedience. I’d rather make an ass of myself doing some thing, than not be noticed at all, doing nothing at all, causing not a single fissure in the landscape of a world where, because of the misogynist dogma of  fear-created gods, there are still little girls..

screaming.

God, damn religion too. Amen.

Was Blind, But Now I See: Hope

I have no hope; I have no fear. I am free.” (Nikos Kazantzakis)

“Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.” (Derrick Johnson, Orion Magazine, May/June 2006)

I throw the word hope around quite easily and very often. Most preachers do:

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”
(Old hymn)

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

I have used the word and concept of hope most often as an antidote for some set of uncomfortable, unsettling, even fearful circumstances which exist in the present moment. Implicit in hope (as I have most often used it) is the looked-forward-to future absence of those difficult feelings being experienced right now.

I am wondering, though, if I have not merely been grabbing at the whole concept of hope in the same way I used to grab at a glassful of Jim Beam? Is it simply one more way to get outside of the present moment, and to justify inaction? Does pie-in-the-sky hope cause me and others to sit around and wait for future bliss while the muck and mire of the moment is rising over our shoes, our ankles, our knees ?!

Hope is an attempt to counterbalance Fear. We can control Fear by constructing an imagined scenario of No Fear. Or so it seems. To Not Be Afraid is a primary motivator used by advertisers, preachers, and politicians. They know their audience is afraid of not being pretty enough, of not going to heaven, or of being blown to bits in another 9/11 scenario. So they offer Hope: a new shade of Max Factor lipstick, a walk down the aisle for the absolution of sins, or a “Happy Days are Here Again” ballot choice.

And we, wanting desperately to escape the dread which weighs heavily on our shoulders, believe them. Again. And again. And again, again. We have believed them for so long, that it feels natural- human, we think- to hope for a better tomorrow. We shovel out money- usually, borrowed money- in the hope that a new car, a new entertainment center,  or a shiny new piece of bling-bling on our arm will finally, despite the $125,738 unsuccessfully spent on similar doo-dads in the past, make us happy.

We pray for miracles- supernatural interventions by God, Allah, or the personal guardian angels that over 50% of Americans believe are standing nearby in anxious desire to serve them- to alleviate the anxieties of today.  It’s sooo much easier to tell God what to do, than it is to ask “What can I do?” And, where two or more are gathered, it sounds a lot holier , too.

And, politicians? 9/11 and stories about inadequate health care are mantras for them. They know we fear violence and sickness because we are afraid, above all, of Death (another soon-topic in this series),  and so they work hard at keeping those fears in the forefronts of our present thinking, so that we may hope for an end to them by properly voting.

Hope, too often, nullifies, debases, and puts off Action or Acceptance. We are blinded to our own abilities to actively affect the difficult circumstances we can do something about, and to Accept those circumstances over which we have no control. To help a 16 year accept themselves as the unique person he or she already is, it seems to me, a far greater act than helping him buy steroids, or signing the permission papers for her to get a boob job. To visit a lonely invalid or prisoner is a much more satisfying way to follow Jesus (or Allah, or one of those angels) than waiting in miserable self-absorption for glory, yes? And certainly, get out and vote, but stop hoping that Big Brother (or Sister) will make our days happy ones. Only we can do that. And if we can’t do it for ourselves, helping others do it for themselves is an even more fulfilling, satisfying, and- dare I say?- happy substitute.

I cannot make myself say that Hope is bad thing. It’s nice to believe the sun will shine tomorrow. But, more often than not, we must simply open our eyes and see that the Light is, and has been, there anyway!  If we look for it, instead of hoping for it, we can experience Light flowing in on us from all kinds of cracks in formerly dark corners. And then we might even observe that while we had been waiting for pie in the sky, there was a big slice of chocolate cake, with ice cream melting beside it, in front of us, waiting to be eaten. 

Michael Moore’s "Letter to God"

I’m not the fan of Michael Moore, the documentary film maker, that you might expect me to be. Egomania and sarcasm are simply not the mix that holds my attention for very long. And despite his great editing and data retrieval skills, Moore’s focus on himself soon becomes (for me) grating.

But he sometimes has a twisted way of revealing truth that is hard to ignore, and this prayer, published yesterday, is one such revelation:

Sunday, August 31st, 2008
An Open Letter to God, from Michael Moore

Dear God,

The other night, the Rev. James Dobson’s ministry asked all believers to pray for a storm on Thursday night so that the Obama acceptance speech outdoors in Denver would have to be canceled.

I see that You have answered Rev. Dobson’s prayers — except the storm You have sent to earth is not over Denver, but on its way to New Orleans! In fact, You have scheduled it to hit Louisiana at exactly the moment that George W. Bush is to deliver his speech at the Republican National Convention.

Now, heavenly Father, we all know You have a great sense of humor and impeccable timing. To send a hurricane on the third anniversary of the Katrina disaster AND right at the beginning of the Republican Convention was, at first blush, a stroke of divine irony. I don’t blame You, I know You’re angry that the Republicans tried to blame YOU for Katrina by calling it an “Act of God” — when the truth was that the hurricane itself caused few casualties in New Orleans. Over a thousand people died because of the mistakes and neglect caused by humans, not You.

Some of us tried to help after Katrina hit, while Bush ate cake with McCain and twiddled his thumbs. I closed my office in New York and sent my entire staff down to New Orleans to help. I asked people on my website to contribute to the relief effort I organized — and I ended up sending over two million dollars in donations, food, water, and supplies (collected from thousands of fans) to New Orleans while Bush’s FEMA ice trucks were still driving around Maine three weeks later.

But this past Thursday night, the Washington Post reported that the Republicans had begun making plans to possibly postpone the convention. The AP had reported that there were no shelters set up in New Orleans for this storm, and that the levee repairs have not been adequate. In other words, as the great Ronald Reagan would say, “There you go again!”

So the last thing John McCain and the Republicans needed was to have a split-screen on TVs across America: one side with Bush and McCain partying in St. Paul, and on the other side of the screen, live footage of their Republican administration screwing up once again while New Orleans drowns.

So, yes, You have scared the Jesus, Mary and Joseph out of them, and more than a few million of your followers tip their hats to You.

But now it appears that You haven’t been having just a little fun with Bush & Co. It appears that Hurricane Gustav is truly heading to New Orleans and the Gulf coast. We hear You, O Lord, loud and clear, just as we did when Rev. Falwell said You made 9/11 happen because of all those gays and abortions. We beseech You, O Merciful One, not to punish us again as Pat Robertson said You did by giving us Katrina because of America’s “wholesale slaughter of unborn children.” His sentiments were echoed by other Republicans in 2005.

So this is my plea to you: Don’t do this to Louisiana again. The Republicans got your message. They are scrambling and doing the best they can to get planes, trains and buses to New Orleans so that everyone can get out. They haven’t sent the entire Louisiana National Guard to Iraq this time — they are already patrolling the city streets. And, in a nod to I don’t know what, Bush’s head of FEMA has named a man to help manage the federal government’s response. His name is W. Michael Moore. I kid you not, heavenly Father. They have sent a man with both my name AND W’s to help save the Gulf Coast.

So please God, let the storm die out at sea. It’s done enough damage already. If you do this one favor for me, I promise not to invoke your name again. I’ll leave that to the followers of Rev. Dobson and to those gathering this week in St. Paul.

Your faithful servant and former seminarian,

Michael Moore
MMFlint@aol.com
MichaelMoore.com

The Womb of God

(This was the message I gave last Sunday. I know it’s a long read, but new birth never happens all-of-a-sudden. I’ve decided to continue adding the occasional “message from Sunday.”)

(Update, October, 2014: Six years later, this still says what I mean,,)

The Womb of God

One of my favorite biblical authors is Abraham Heschel who, in 1962, wrote the definitive book on the prophets, called The Prophets. He described the time period around 400-500 B.C. when some of the great Old Testament prophets had begun to write and speak in alarming, revolutionary, and largely unlistened-to ways (I’m going to paraphrase just a little, because his words can be difficult at times):

Heschel wrote of that time- “Religion had declined not because it had been successfully argued against, but because it had become irrelevant, dull, oppressive, uninteresting. When faith is replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crises of today are ignored because of the remembered splendor of the past; when faith becomes an inherited heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority and rules rather than the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless.”

Part of my personality- my vision of the world, the universe, God, and all things and beings contained therein- is summarized in that statement. I listen to and read other preachers, so many other Christian teachers and thinkers, and I end up feeling lonely sometimes, embarrassed even because what I see and believe seems so different from what I hear being proclaimed as God’s Truth, God’s Word by almost everyone else, including many of my own denominational colleagues. And that sometimes leads to a kind of situational depression on my part. I wonder if I am wrong, and if I am even being fair in sharing some of my deepest insights and doubts and wonderings with you because they so often seem to run counter to what is considered orthodox and traditional in Christian thinking and doctrine.

That is this preacher’s burden. Robbie, primarily, and some others of you catch the brunt of that odd depression from time to time, maybe too often. But I hope all of you also hear and feel- underlying that confusion and what is a very real sadness at times- I hope you also hear a real hopefulness on my part. I don’t believe Jesus intended to lead us in circles around and around in 2000 year old cultural realities and perceptions. In fact, I think that following Jesus is God’s way of leading all people, in all times, out of the Bronze Age that religion had irrelevantly, dully, oppressively, and uninterestingly become stuck in, and into an always-being-made-new Creation.

~~

I sit by the ocean watching the waves in early morning moonlight and think about these things. I walk beside the evening’s incoming tide, watching the records of that Creation in the scampering of sandpipers and the 200 million year old ballet of pelicans. I stand on Carolinian sand dunes blown into existence by winds which blew across the continents of Africa and South America long before there was a human present to scratch boundaries of ownership across them. Around me are pairs of ragged claws, as T.S. Eliot called them, crabs scuttling in and out of their ancient habitats, in and out of holes dug among the tangle of vines, the cacti, the wildflowers, and the swaying salt marsh grasses.

One morning, as I am making what is for me a jaw-dropping discovery that the horizon is not a perfectly straight line, but a series of barely discernible ups and downs of tidal risings and forming waves, like letters, words, and sentences- a kind of oceanic story being written in circles around the globe, and on that morning that story is punctuated a mile offshore with two large spouts of water. A whale.

That same morning, a little later, dolphins- 3 of them- appear near my son and daughter and others, ten yards away, jumping from the water in perfect, almost friendly formation. Then, later that same day, two sharks- small ones- appear just beside the shore, gulping the small fish caught in a temporary lagoon caused by receding tides. Those who are swimming leave the water quickly, but are unable to stop watching this scene, an unchanging scene, a wild and eternal scene older even than the time of dinosaurs.

I watch episodes like these shoulder-deep in the water, or from my sandy seat atop a dune, or hunkered down beside the water’s edges where waves born in the meeting of Caribbean currents and sub-Saharan winds are wetting my feet as my toes curl into the million and millions of tiny worn shards of ancient shellfish, now grains of sand. Other shells lie all around me, saltwater shelters abandoned by ten thousands of mollusks and crabs, shells which one day, wave after wave after wave away, will also be pummeled into the granular debris of other beaches, other shores.

I am caught up again and again in the transcendence of moments and minutes, of time and eternities. All that is around me on this shore- on any shore, and on beyond these shores to the mountains far behind me and the plains and rivers and lakes and fields beyond; all that is around me, beside and behind me, over me and under me, from the verdant green of every flower, to the forests of trees beyond them in the Great Smoky mountains, from those creatures in the seas which are too small to be seen, to sharks and whales, to crabs and the pelicans, the gulls and sandpipers, to each and every animal that burrows, flies, swims, crawls, slithers, or hunkers down near the waves watching it all- all of it, all of them, emerged in their primary, first forms from the ocean. Life- all life- has been born in these salty wet depths. All life has surged upward and outward and forward from this womb of God, this birthplace of an always new Creation.

Above me, and I cannot look elsewhere now, the morning sun is rising between scattered gray, yellow, and white clouds moving from east to west in massive air currents I cannot feel, but only see. Clouds formed by the endless evaporation of water from the ocean’s surface in response to the 10 billion year old sun’s invitation to rise toward its light and warmth. Clouds which, when laden with the many tons of hydrogen and oxygen atoms formed into molecules of water, attracting each other, joining together and spilling in heavier-than-air raindrops on the lands over which they pass. Gentle spring rains or summertime deluges, the ocean pours through them onto lands beyond, where the grasses absorb them and grow. And then the oceans are eaten in their now green and leafy incarnations by cows. And dairy farmers gather the now milky white drops of the ocean together into pasteurization vats and stainless steel tank trucks, some of which, not far away, will be made into ice cream.

Lick the ice cream and savor the ocean’s journey onto your lips. Taste the ocean’s always new and endless Creation on your tongue. We are a part of it. It is a part of us. The boundaries of difference among living things are blurred and obscured by the commonalities of our origins. Our own saltwatery blood pulses in rhythms begun by the oceans and the moon in gravitational, tidal dances, and I am overcome, again. I put my earphones on and listen to the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah” as I watch and wonder in gratitude and humility and I raise my arms in the same form in which I earlier saw the whale’s spouts, and I listen, and I try to sing, because I must. I must.

It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

When I come back up to the house and onto the porch my son and his girlfriend are sitting there drinking coffee and Joshua asks me, with a tinge of worry, I can tell- “Daddy, what in the heck were you doing down there?” (I didn’t think anybody would be out of bed yet!) “What in the heck were you doing down there with your arms in the air?”

And I tell him, “Becoming sane.”

~~

Psalm 24:

1 The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof, and all who live in it;

2 for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.

I need those words. I need those words to wash over the curse of my own jabbering ego; I need those words to clean and scour the false priorities I schedule for myself constantly. I need those words, in waves crashing against my pride, I need those words to remind me that, at the bottom of everything I am nothing, but that me and you and every living thing are a part of the whole of everything. We are the intricately, intimately related parts of the earth’s fullness thereof. And we are loved very, very, very, very, very, very, very much.

Matthew 5 from ‘the Message’, verse 3: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4″You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5″You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6″You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7″You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

Here’s the truth the ocean was drowning me in that morning, and during those days there. Here’s what I can see so much more clearly now- what Jesus is able to lead me, and all of us toward, if we are following him.

Continuing in Matthew 5, verse 13: “David, Let me tell you why you are here. (No, my name is not really there. But there’s a white space there- insert your own name in it!) David, let me tell you why you are here. (Do it, let Jesus talk to you here) David, Joey, Sarah, Nancy, Manuel, let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

Verses14-16: “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

So, I cannot be quiet. I dare not be quiet. If I feel the saltwater kiss of God on my lips, what else can I do but share that caress in these ways available to me, with you? I must continue to shout that I can learn almost as much about God from a wildflower field as I can from the first chapter of John. I must admit without embarrassment that I learn as much about the active presence of Jesus in a roomful of sentenced-to-life convicts as I do from the letters of Paul.

And I must stop being ashamed or otherwise discombobulated, when I tell you or others, or even admit to myself that an hour beside the ocean, lost in the eternal mysteries of blue-green waters tinged with golden sunlight, is better than any sermon, any day. Even this one.

So, on a gray Friday morning a week ago, August 15, the day after Sarah and Travis’ wedding, I got up, almost as usual before everyone else, walked down the catwalk across the dunes, sat on the last step, and wrote what follows. I didn’t know then if I would ever share it with anyone. Having read these words of Jesus just now, though, I know that I must:

August 15, 2008, Holden Beach NC

Abba, Father..

Through the smallness of my words, I cannot explain to anyone, least of all to myself, who or what you are.

Through the inadequacies of language and grammar, whatever I write leaves so much unwritten that it might be better to tear this blank page into a thousand pieces, lift them to the wind and, as they are blown across the beach say “There, there is God.”

But if I don’t write something, right now, I might cease to breathe.

I know that Genesis says humans were created in the image of God, but I think we have done a much better job of recreating God in our own image. I would rather watch the image of God I see in these pelicans, or in these scampering sandpipers, than think about the image of God which fueled the hundreds of slave ships which crossed these waters in front of me.

My heart soars as I watch the image of God in this rising sun, and know what the ancient biblical writers could not have known: that this is one of a trillion sun-stars, and a fairly minor sized one at that. I see God better in the golden explosion of these early morning, sun-reflecting clouds better- infinitely better- than I do when I read the church-blessed history of the “godly” men who came to these shores 400 years ago with ships full of guns, germs, and plans to baptize and bless the “savages” who had lived here 6000 years on land they called “Father” near the waters they called “Mother.”

My heart aches as I think about the Japanese trawlers chasing down with high powered, 21st century harpoons the whale I saw yesterday, because a Japanese god wants whale oil burning in his temples. And my heart breaks when I think of the creature-killing weapons-testing happening beneath these waters because an American god says “My country, right or wrong, my country.”

It is the man-created images of God which infect my soul, not this billions year old image in front of me! The truest maps of creation are written on the backs of these seabirds, and in the God-writ words on the horizon. I can taste God here in the spray of saltwater. I can hear God in the symphonies of the sun and moon and the harmonies of the ceaseless waves. I can see God in paths of crabs and the nests of sea turtles. And I can touch God here, simply by lifting my hands.

Hallelujah!

God’s Love

My guess is that

God’s love better resembles a stack of pancakes with

slathered butter, and soaking in Aunt Jemima’s syrup,

than it does the

the horrible slaughter of his own daughter by Jephtha*,

or God’s allowing the ten children of Job to die,

just to win a bet. **

Pass the strawberry jam, please.

*Judges 11: 30-40

**Job 1

Starbuck’s War on Morality..(or something)

From Minneapolis Star-Tribunr, By PAUL WALSH

3starbucks

Seems that one person’s smut is another person’s morning latte.

A Christian group based in San Diego found grounds for outrage over the new retro-style logo for Starbucks Coffee.

The Resistance says the new image “has a naked woman on it with her legs spread like a prostitute,” Mark Dice, founder of the group, said in a news release. “Need I say more? It’s extremely poor taste, and the company might as well call themselves Slutbucks.”

Does not this observation by by Mark Dice of The Resistance speak far more loudly about his state of mind than it does about the moral fabric of Starbuck’s? If little tiny ink engraved nipples on the side of a coffee cup send Mr. Dice into an outrage, imagine what apoplexy a casual flip-through of this week’s TIME magazine must cause him. Or perhaps he is the type who takes a Sharpie pen to the library each month when the new National Geographics are delivered, to “protect the children” of course.

Thus, Chapter 8,397 in the continuing saga of the bending of the gospels into nothing more than a set of hare-brained, silly doctrinal stances, taken by whatever group wants to claim “Watchman on the Wall” status this week. There are so many such groups! This one- The Resistance claims 3000 members nationwide. Imagine being a person who is starved for the love Jesus can bring, and asking the only Christian in his/her vicinity for help..and it turns out to be a Resistance member with a big Bible in one hand and an empty Starbuck’s cup in the other!

I’d run from such nonsense. And I would urge anyone else to run, too. Because what they’re about to get pounded with is 21st century, American, Western, doctrinal Churchianity that seeks to bend human will into the image of whatever false idol that group has erected at the moment. They, no doubt, will hear much more about Satan than Jesus, and a whole lot more about God’s imminent and angry justice than about Jesus’ immediate and compassionate love.