Love Song 3

Thursday morning at a gas station on I-40 near Tucumcari, New Mexico:

“You quit touchin’ that stuff afore I knock you right out that door” the fat man in shorts, knee socks, and sandals says to the boy who looks down, down at whatever is down inside, that meets whatever is down on the floor where it is quiet for a moment..

where he paints in secret swirls, with imagined colors, circles on the dirty linoleum, a dusty mandala- intricate shapes of conjured dreams, where he is absorbed for while in the width and whorls of the soundlessness behind words, the protection of quiet. For a moment, a minute perhaps, the boy is without a name and the wheel on the floor is the fiery wheel of a chariot, and he breathes as it spins in emerald rainbows.

There is no fat man. There are no chains.

“This is my body, broken for you..”

“Get yer ass out to the car, boy”

“Do this remembrance of me..”

David Weber, 2010

Sea Shell Sin

I saw an author’s self-written blurb on the back of a recent book of his, and was struck (read: aghast!) at what it said. Read it, then I’ll tell you why I’m writing this.

The author (a well-known Christian preacher/teacher) wrote:

I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider this story from the February 1998 Reader’s Digest: A couple ‘took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells..’ Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy.”

The author, a second generation preacher, continues:

This book will warn you not to get caught up in a life that counts for nothing. It will challenge you to live and die boasting in the cross of Christ and making the glory of God your singular passion. If you believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain, read this, learn to live for Christ, and don’t waste your life.”

To have the audacity to be able to claim what constitutes a life “that counts for nothing” reveals a very large ego. I personally find that the larger a person’s ego is, the greater the chances are that it is also misshapen. Perhaps that audacity arises from the fact that the author is a preacher, and that his dad also was a preacher is not insignificant. Many preachers believe they are role models for how people should live their lives (just don’t come poking around in the cupboard under the sink: you might find some shells there, or other things).

They believe and teach, just like the main speaker at any pyramid sales event, that “Everyone is a prospect! Everyone needs what you have! Walk the walk, don’t take ‘No’ for an answer.” To be a real Christian, a true Christian, an on-your-way-to-heaven Christian, according to those listen-to-me preachers, you’ve got to tell everyone about Jesus. Everyone! Don’t miss an opportunity anywhere – at the bus stop, the restaurant, on an airplane, or at home! Hand out tracts, carry your biggest Bible, and wear necklaces, tie-tacs, lapel pins, tattoos, bumper stickers, or t-shirts that will let the world know that-

You. Are. A. Christian.

Christianity, after all, is about words- spoken, written, and memorized- right? It’s about getting that person at the bus stop (if you’re way lucky) to say a prayer, your prayer, the one printed right here on this tract, repeat after me: The Sinner’s Prayer, “God, I am a piece of worthless trash…” Etc.

Once you’ve said The Sinner’s Prayer, you’re in! Now you’ve got to tell other people the Good News, and to find what the Good News is, go to a church, maybe even our church. And don’t collect shells. They are a waste of time. As is everything except the speaking, writing, and memorizing of Bible words.  Softball? End that nonsense, too! And a 30-foot trawler??? That needs to be sold, right now, and the money- a tithe at least- given to a church, maybe even our church, almost certainly our church! (We did get you into heaven, right? And away from that sordid shell addiction? Also, we’re upgrading the air-conditioning at the parsonage, too, so we could use some extra help. God will bless you for that, indeed he will).

Feeling obligated to “save” the soul of every person you see, to tell your version of God’s love as revealed in Jesus Christ, and to try to keep up with the people who are running from you or turning a deaf ear toward you, is an exhausting process. It’s exhausting because you either are doing it, or not doing it, and when you’re not doing it you feel guilty or ashamed because you think you should be doing it. People will burn in hell just because you wanted to watch the Mavericks and the Spurs on TV tonight!

Here’s my opinion about what is revealed in that back-page blurb above. And do be aware, in fairness, that the author is also very adept and anxious to point out who is going to hell and why; he would no doubt include me, with glee, in the great majority army who will burn, baby, burn. C’est la vie. Or, rather, c’est la mort.

The author believes in beliefs. He is not alone. Believing in beliefs it is a plague, particularly in the U.S. Belief in belief reduces the majesty, grandeur, and mystery of God to a series of codified rules which are enforced by spiritual superiors, uncritically swallowed because of the fear of not swallowing, and which completely deny the Truths taught and lived by Jesus the Christ.

Belief is about knowledge- what you know- what you read, write, listen to, and memorize. In belief, you learn what to think, how to say it properly, and then are able to consider yourself to be special (elected, chosen, better) for having learned, memorized, and regurgitated the right beliefs- the orthodoxies of others. Faith, the faith lived by Jesus, plays only a very small role.

Faith is about not-knowing. It is about moving forward without knowing the right words, or the consequences. It is about stepping into the Mystery of God, and looking around. The chances are excellent that when you do that, you will feel the desire to learn more about the depth and width and timelessness of that Mystery and that is when you will hear- or, more likely- feel the words, “Follow me.”

When that happens, you might be led to a Jesus-attending dinner party of tax-collectors and sinners, or to a wedding party with more wine than you’ve ever seen in one place. You may be led to break the religious laws again and again because they were turned into legalities by tight-lipped, judgmental preachers. If Jesus is your companion on this journey you will be a revolutionary for real, unearned and unqualified Love; you will fall in love with the revealed Grace and Love of God, and then you’ll realize that the God that fit inside of your imagination for so long wanted you to experience the explosion of God’s continuing Creation. You’ll realize that Truth, real Truth, always leads to more questions. You’ll see the idols that people can make of their beliefs, the forts they build around them, and the defenses they will use to mask their fears.

There’s nothing wrong with belief; but it must be ready to bend, even ready to be thrown out when it no longer is valid- when a newer “truer” Truth takes its place. We can believe in God or have faith in God. The former tends to make God small, while latter tends to make us larger. It may cause us to want to be part of a community which plays..oh, I don’t know..maybe, softball? Or it may cause us to bend over, in increasing awe and always-growing Mystery, and see God’s perfect, evolving and creating Beauty..in a seashell.

What’s your real name, God?

image

Can You Imagine?

For example, what the trees do
not only in lightening storms
or the watery dark of a summer’s night
or under the white nets of winter
but now, and now, and now – whenever
we’re not looking.  Surely you can’t imagine
they don’t dance, from the root up, wishing
to travel a little, not cramped so much as wanting
a better view, or more sun, or just as avidly
more shade – surely you can’t imagine they just
stand there loving every
minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings
of the years slowly and without a sound
thickening, and nothing different unless the wind,
and then only in its own mood, comes
to visit, surely you can’t imagine
patience, and happiness, like that.

© Mary Oliver

Can you imagine beyond the words, into midrash? Can you imagine beyond Sabbath, into eternity? Can you imagine beyond law, into gospel? Can you imagine beyond what you think you know about God, into what you think you know about yourself?

And then, can you imagine, as Hafiz asks, begging Reason to come outside and play?

But trees can’t dance! I’m not like God! Flowers don’t bloom in winter! That’s just the way I was brought up! There’s nothing good comes out of Nazareth!

Close your eyes and discover the fields of color lying between the black and white boundaries to which you’ve confined yourself. Close your eyes and listen to the ten thousand songs being sung by your heart instead of the rules and regulations being recited and repeated by your intellect.  Stop keeping God in that rough little box that is so awkward to carry around; take the lid and say this,

“Play with me, God. You’re it! Run with me! Beat you to that tree! Rock, Paper, Scissors- ha! I win! You wanna go to the store with me and get a Coke? Where do you live anyway? Oh, look at that dog..and those cats..and the birds up in the air! What’s your real name, God?”

Close your eyes, now. And listen for the answers..

© David Weber

A Great (and Final) Poem

from “An Encounter”

I confessed that I am afraid to die

with poems left unsaid inside me,                         

and he said, “You will.                                      

You’ll die with a great poem in your heart          

that will never see paper.”

We were quiet then. A bee buzzed             

perilously close to my sweaty thigh,                     

and I heard it: I heard                                          

the danger and sweetness inside everything.

(“An Encounter” © Alison Luterman in The Sun, January, 2010)

We suffer, wanting to make our mark, leave our mark, and be remembered. We suffer, because we think we must know what we won’t know will no longer be able to know cannot know. We suffer- too often- simply because we are unable to say so.

So. And our words tumble, in unknown tongues.

So. We mumble through sighs and groans.

So. And then we are breathed upon and it becomes clear that we are that great poem, the greatest poem, and it is being written by Both of Us in  languages that can’t be counted and it will always be written and it will always be read..

© David Weber

The Rapture- if you’re reading this, you missed it..!

Whoops !

rapture

It really is easier to read a novel- or a series of novels – about the Rapture, than it is to read a critical history of Rapture theology. Just as it is easier to “believe” in Creationism than it is to study and understand Evolution. Just as it is easier to maintain a fatalistic view of every single thing that happens (“God did it!”) than it is to face the random nature of many (most?) human and physical events, or to accept an iota of personal responsibility when things go wrong. 

Faith has become a short cut around thinking. The words “I believe” have come to mean that whatever pronouncement follows those words is off-limits in terms of criticism. (Although you are allowed, encouraged even, to verbally punctuate such statements with a hearty “Amen!”)

But is being faithful, toward anything, a legitimate excuse for not thinking? Is thinking about faith a forbidden activity? Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t like dead ends in thought, where questions are no longer welcomed, because then the only thing left to do is to build a fort and be defensive about that arrived-at place of thinking.  And that’s also where Inquisitions and Jihads are conceived.

The theology of the rapture is relatively recent, beginning in the early 19th Century. It was an odd interpretation of scripture which found wide acceptance in the reactionary intellectual atmosphere of the time. Times were, in 19th century Great Britain (where the rapture story began), a’changing. Pastoral countrysides were seeing, with greater and greater frequency, the smokestacks of nearby cities rising in ugly industrial salute to the Coal and Iron being burned and formed in a revolution of manufacturing. Urban areas were growing, along with the attendant urban problems of bad housing, crime, and alcoholism. The rich grew richer as the poor grew poorer. As Charles Dickens wrote of what was happening, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Some people were feeling left out, and powerless, and in need of a “way out.”

And the Rapture is the ultimate Way Out! Every year for the past two centuries someone, somewhere has claimed that this is the year:  This is the year that the Lord returns for his own!  It’s an appealing hope for many people: it costs nothing, it could happen any moment, and it makes those who know they’re ‘going’ better than those who don’t know they’re not going!

The popularity of the Rapture grows wherever people feel out of control. It gives people who believe they will not be left behind, a sense of power- perhaps even, a sense of superiority, over those who will not make the cut. As the doctrine’s popularity has grown, it has become more complex. Schools of thinking have grown about when the rapture will occur in relation to perceived timetables they are able to find in the books of Daniel and Revelation.  On-line resources are available for wills to be read and messages to be sent to relatives and friends who are left here after the rapture to face the horrors of Armageddon, or not.

When Jesus said, on the cross, “It is finished,” little did he know that 1800 years later the rest of the story would be uncovered. Nor did he know it would all be over in 1992, or not.

God, Sex, Goliath, and Other Scary Things..

What’s wrong? Here’s the answer:

(These thoughts are complicatedly interrelated as most of the thoughts in all of our minds are. I admire deeply, though, those persons that are able to simplify in ways that I can’t. Bear with me. I promise some new ideas here that will affect the way some of you see the world from this point on. Really!)

Families, Bands, and Tribes

Our species evolved and spent most its communal history in bands of families and tribes of bands. Families bonded together for security and diversification of the gene pool, and crossed the difficult barriers of geography and suspicion to become bands. The people who lived on that side of the mountain needed to get at animals on the other side of the mountain and- “oh, by the way, while we’re over there hunting can we procreate with your people?”

(Trying my best to simplify- I trust you understand. This is cultural anthropology in the smallest nutshell it’s ever been crammed into.)

The bands became tribes. Not overnight and not automatically, but as populations increased and as climate changes (like ice melt), geographical episodes (like volcanoes), and animal migrations or extinctions occurred, the advantages of cooperation over competition were hard to ignore! Now, Americans, think Ojibway, Dakotah, Chipppewa, or Apache. Those are tribes– they lived in districts, many lived in smaller bands, they spread out over a geography, and sometimes at peace and sometimes at struggle with adjacent tribes. What united them was the geography, the resources they learned to share (Apaches and the earliest horses, for instance), language, and shared DNA. A member of a tribe knew they could move from valley to valley without harm, because that was tribal land. They also knew they might have problems on the other side of the valley, over the mountain, because that was the land of another tribe.

Stories

Stories evolve among any group of people over time and every tribe on earth was abundant with them. Stories informed those who heard them how to think, how to act, and what the tribe determined was important to know. The shared knowledge of tribes through the telling of stories is why we as humans are still vital (too vital from other species’ viewpoints!). The Dakotah had stories about the Cold and Buffalo, the Aleutians had stories about shifting ice and Walruses (is more than one Walrus, Walri?), the Aztec had stories Warm Seas and Fish, etc, etc, etc.

These stories were how children learned. They weren’t “made up” stories. They were truths that had been observed, or thought about; conclusions about the world around them were made, and those thoughts and conclusions were made memorable and interesting through stories. The stories contained the most current truths available.

Now, here’s the part that has everything to do with today: One way to make sure children in a tribe knew their place, understood their role, and knew to never go over that mountain was through fear. Fear works. Has, does, and will. It’s no accident that the purveyor of bad tidings in the Garden of Eden was a Serpent (hissss!) rather than a cow or a chicken (yum!). Nor, continuing with the familiar stories of the Hebrew tribe, was it surprising that the awful, horrible, sneaky Philistines had a secret weapon (Goliath) or that the loose-living, oft-married Samaritans were trash. Both were good reasons to keep the kids who were feeling their wild oats blooming, at home, where having no other gods before YHWH was much more manageable.

More To Come

OK, I’m going to continue with this tomorrow, and I will deal with these two ideas:

1. Humans lived in tribes a long, long, long time- longer than any of us have the ability to imagine. Ideas and concepts are as deeply a part of us as our physical structure or repertoire of emotions are, and as our abilities to stand erect and run evolved, so did our need for stories and the structure with which they were told. Stories are in us. We need them.

2. We live in a time, however, when we do not need to be afraid, out of ignorance, of the people who live on the other side of the mountain. Our tribe is global now. The separations no longer keep us alive by insuring our safety. The separations now, exacerbated by fools, are going to kill us. Our stories must be re-written.

God Stuff, Chapter # 8,004,897,254

I sit with a group of people every Wednesday night that help keep me focused on both the enemy and the Great Love. Enough said. If you want to know more, my email is around here somewhere.

stp We’ve been reading together from a book, Sought Through Prayer and Meditation, published by Hazelden. Last night, as we read, a phrase jumped from the page and began running around in my imagination. The phrase is running around there turning on lights, discovering new metaphors, writing poetry, and turning over dumpsters full of old, rancid, even carcinogenic dogma.

Here’s the sentence (found on page 15) in which the three word phrase appears: “The very moment I surrendered myself as completely and honestly as I could, the supernatural rush of the life of God invaded me.”

Life of God.

You may have to bear with me for awhile here, read the white spaces between words and lines, or maybe even allow my words and phrases loose in your imagination, to do there what they will. I promise I will only describe my reactions and thoughts in terms personal to me, without telling you how you must or should or are commanded to react or think for yourself about that phrase.

Because the life of God is different in me than it will ever be in you. The life of God is not a sometimes sharp-edged definition formulated by others and passed on over the centuries through dogmatic teachings, for which I am a modern agent who must somehow coerce you today into accepting this phrase in its ancient form and colors. In fact, I doubt that the life of God has colors which could be defined anyway; they’re probably off the rainbow somewhere in infrared or ultraviolet or gamma light where birds and insects and fish are swimming and flying through colors you and I have never seen (and will never see!). I’m almost certain that the life of God could never be honed or trimmed for the convenience of my linguistic limitations, from the light-year-spanning breadth and quark-deep-depth that the life of God must , among many other dimensions, occupy. I know for a fact and I am proving to you at this moment that the life of God is a force and a fact that cannot be written about, bought from any purveyor of abstract notions, or referenced in Google, history, the Bhagavad-gita, Quoran, or Bible.

The life of God is slippery, and not. It is big, and not. It full, empty, dark, light, complete and whole, partial and growing, Mysterious, and –if not Knowable- perceptible. And that is the word I’ve needed here: perceptible. The life of God is perceptible. But impossible to explain. And now I’m laughing so I’ve just confirmed that the life of God is funny, too.

It is the life of God which I want animating me, defining me, motivating me, and using me. I don’t want your definition of “God” no matter how good that definition is, doing those things. The word “God” in me has been learned. The life of God in me is giving birth:

To the Me with no name.

To the Creation without boundaries.

And to You, whether you know it or not.

(Which is why I’m laughing again, and why metaphors are searching for new homes, why dumpster spills need cleaned up, and why I’m trusting that the life of God has made the jump into your consciousness as well!)