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!)

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The Body of Christ, Redux

A response from Lyndon (here) to what I wrote a few days ago about Religion, caused me to go back and look at a piece of art and Christian history that I have loved: The Isenheim Altarpiece: 

111Jesus isenheim

Painted in about 1515 by Matthias Grunewald, the three part work sits on top of a painted altar. There is much to learn and understand about the painter and this  piece and Wikipedia is a far better place to begin more research than here. But, I want to look specifically at the middle section and even more specifically at the body of Christ, as Grunewald depicted it.

           isenheimaltarpiecedetail

The Isenheim Altarpiece was to be placed in the chapel of a sanitarium where patients with skin diseases were hospitalized. Grunewald painted this Christ as a suffering, contorted being with terrible lesions all over his body. Here was a Christ with whom the people of Isenheim could relate. This was a Jesus who was like them, suffered like them, and- they believed- died for them.

This was a Jesus with scars. This was a Jesus who died alone, unappreciated, unloved, shunned. This was a Jesus who who screamed in pain before he died. And amazingly, John the Baptist was painted to the right of the cross, pointing to Jesus and saying, “He must increase: I must decrease.” This was a suffering Christ, but a Christ who, according to the Baptist, should, could, and must be emulated.

So who is looking for this sacrificing Jesus today? Who is following this injured,bleeding, lashed and slashed Jesus anywhere? I turn the TV on and hear preachers talking about gay marriage and supporting Israel’s onslaught of Palestine. I read sermons extolling the virtues of teenage abstinence, the necessity of keeping “God” on coins, and laments about some clerk at Walmart who says “Happy Holiday.”

I watch “Christians” fussing at each other over the age of the earth, and the importance of using the right language regarding abortion (while doing nothing about it). I see clean, unbruised, never scarred church goers tsk-tsking over Sally’s bare shoulders, Timmy’s cruddy-looking tennis shoes, and..”Have you seen Bob with that new friend of his-Bill?”

Meanwhile, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are being pummeled by Israel with nary a whisper of protest from American Christians. Most of the world’s children end each day hungry. There are more slaves in the world than at any time in history. We (US) are spending $12 billion a month to fight a war over..what? I’ve forgotten. The high school drop out rate is higher than ever. We are the most incarcerating country on earth. And we (Christians) actually send money- lots of it!- to scriptural pimps who promise if we send more money to them, we can have bigger houses, shinier cars, better clothes, no cancer, great kids, vacations on Christian cruise ships, to Christian hotels, near Christian theme parks, after stopping at the mall to buy Christian CDs, Christian knick-knacks, bumper stickers, and jewelry, so that atheists and Muslims and Democrats and lesbians will know- without a doubt!- where we stand on the issues!

Unless the church begins to bleed, it will die. He must increase; we, fat and healthy and happy and lazy, must decrease.

The World is a "Dirty Gas Station Restroom.."

In October, I was banished (their word) from one of  the fundamentalist Christian,  Rapture-obsessed forums. This particular one is billed as “your prophecy resource for the end times.”

It was the end of October, 2008. I was banished for daring to ask in one of the forums, the following question: “Can we assume that the president we elect on November 4 is God’s answer to our prayers?” It seems an innocuous sort of question, doesn’t it? Actually, I knew these folks would have a hard time with it, which is why I asked. They overwhelmingly, of course, wanted McCain/Palin to win- they’re the Republicans and they used kind of language that would appeal to these fundamentalist, literalist “Christians.” There were many, many written prayers in the forums there pleading with God to make their victory happen. But the polls showed Obama/Biden ahead; thus, their dilemma. To answer my question affirmatively, and in the face of a possible Obama win, it would be evident that God was different than this Rapture-obsessed crowd had understood God to be. They knew, after all, that God (He) was conservative, Republican, against Muslims, for war, for capitalism, against gays, against illegal immigration, for McCain, and against everything that Obama stood for, including his middle name. So if Obama would win, it would mean their fundamentalist and oh-so-narrow view of everything, would be in the spiritual toilet.

Thus, my banishment, and this segue..

In 2005, I lifted this particular quote from one of their forums. I lifted and kept it because it captures so well the attitude of so many fundamentalists regarding our world, our planet, this great and shared part of Creation upon which we are all utterly dependent:

I think we Christians should look at this world as being a filthy restroom at a roadside gas station. Fate has brought us here, we try to touch as little of it as possible while doing our business, we hope to leave quickly, and we don’t ever plan on coming here again until it’s under better management.”

bathroom

Welcome to their world!

That’s not an isolated attitude; in fact, it’s pretty common. They feel separate from the world, not a part of it, not responsible for it:  in it, but not of it. The world, they will tell you, and most persons in it, belong to Satan, the bad guy to whom they ascribe almost-God-like powers. “This world is not my home,” is one of those phrases heard every Sunday in most of their churches, and the focus of their lives becomes the end of their lives. They will only live when they die. Only when they die will they be able to leave the filthy gas station restroom they are trapped inside of; only in death will they be able to walk out the door, across the street, and down the hill to the river where, if they look closely, they will see tiny little wild violets in the spring, hundreds of tadpoles in early summer, the gold/red/orange/burgundy blanket of fallen leaves in the autumn, and the diamond sun-reflections in the whiteness of a wintertime snowfall.

I mean, I guess that’s their back-asswards, crypto-eschatological, FUBAR-brained thinking. No wonder they pray every day for the Rapture to happen! They’re getting tired of the stink!

I am, too.

Today’s Scariest Headline

 

Ban on Political Endorsements by Pastors Targeted

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 8, 2008; A03

CHICAGO — Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.

The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”

If you read The First Morning with any regularity at all, you know I endorse and support Barak Obama for president. I do that as an individual who believes with deep conviction that the U.S. will find itself in desperate straits if we do not change our attitudes toward a number of important issues. Those issues include our lack of planning for energy independence, our enslavement by Washington lobbyists and corporations, and our increasing and collective resignation to Fear as the primary reason for so many of our military, political, and cultural decisions.

(FYI: I am still a registered Republican. I voted for George W. Bush for president twice! I personally consider those votes among my greatest mistakes.)

But my opinions are my opinions. I will write about them as an individual, and anyone can ask me (as an individual) at anytime about those political opinions and I will tell them. But don’t ask me about them in church. Don’t expect me to endorse anyone from the pulpit. You’ll hear lots of personal opinions from me in that role, and I will identify them as such. But I have no right- NONE- to formally confuse my voting preferences with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  

There is a (huge) strata in Christendom that hears their church’s leadership as if Jesus himself were speaking to them. Each year I receive a package of material from some “Christian Voter’s Education” outfit that attempts to show why voting for the most conservative Republicans on a given ticket will help make America a Christian nation, again (as if it once was, in their fantasies). And for years, even when I was voting in agreement with many of their positions, I would trash the whole pile of to-be-distributed materials.

I would do exactly the same thing if someone wanted me to distribute any “Obama=Jesus” handouts.  

The inherent problem is that many many churches understand their Pastor as “speaking for God.” They truly believe that opposing gay marriage, or laissez-faire healthcare, or more oil drilling, or less oil drilling- if the pastor endorses it- is tantamount to taking another step toward heaven. Many of the pastors who use the blind obedience of their congregants, are the same ones who drive luxury cars, have private jets, and dress in Armani suits because of the gravy-train which tax-exemption makes possible for them.  

And now they want it both ways. I’m sorry that the movement to have it both ways is originating in Arizona, too; that makes me suspicious. But even if the move is being made independently of any political influence, I believe it is a dangerous precedent. Churches are a place where hearts and minds can be changed, and I am very concerned about what a coordinated, intentional movement from within the churches could lead to logically over time.

We must not have anyone forcing their version of Jesus down the throats of anyone! When Jesus said “Follow me” he did not add, “to the downtown Republican or Democratic party offices.” He walked toward lepers, prostitutes, demoniacs, and people who were hungry, lonely, and left out of life’s mainstreams. And then he touched them, loved them, and gave them a model of hope.

I will never be a part of making Jesus any less than that. I will never pretend that he endorsed anything I might think or believe. I will always allow people to see him, to the best of my ability to help them do so, and let them decide the better way for themselves.

Desperately Seeking ‘Victim’ Status

The movie ““Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” opens in general release April 18th. Because of its anti-evolution stance, I have followed the movie’s pre-release marketing to the conservative Christian market with much interest. The premise of the movie is that scientists who entertain the Intelligent Design “theory” of Creation are systematically being discriminated against- expelled- by the larger scientific community.

While there apparently is no overt Christian content being promulgated by the film, there is little doubt that the conservative creationist Christian community is being targeted for the bulk of ticket sales. Piggy-backing on the remarkable success of the pre-release marketing of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, producers of “Expelled” have held special screenings across the country for conservative Christian leaders, school personnel, and others who they are confidant will create a “word of mouth” buzz about the movie. The producers have even created a method for Christian groups to use the movie as a fund raiser during the important opening weekends of the film.

The movie’s website makes much use of the word “Darwinism” as a synonym for evolutionary theory. This over-use of “Darwinism” is, in fact, one of the things which caught my interest concerning the motivations behind the movie. To describe evolutionary theory as “Darwinism” at this point is like describing gravitational theory as “Newtonianism.” (and, yes, the study of gravity still emanates from various theoretical positions. Theories are not, to paraphrase Isaac Asimov, crazy ideas thought up by groups of scientists after a night of drinking and carousing. They are fluid bases for connecting facts and ideas, subject to research and peer review- temporal and historical peer review wherein theories are modified, added to, and subject to sometimes scathing criticism.)

Theories begin when someone, somewhere puts ideas together in a laboratory beaker, in an archeological study,  or some other place of intellectual inquiry and curiosity. The results of combining curiosity with evidence usually results- during those first moments of observation and initial understanding- in an “Aha!” or, most often, in a “What the..?”

“Galileoism ” (Oops, I mean “Physics”) has grown from the publishing of a single paper in the 16th century which was condemned by the reigning Roman Catholic hierarchy of Europe, into a multi-faceted discipline of scientific inquiry that now comes up with far more questions than concrete answers. Which is what any good and valid theory will do! Stupid, baseless theories- Flat Earth theory, for instance- are shunted off to the cellars of intellectualism very quickly. They do not lead to new questions; they lead only to dead end answers based on easily reviewed facts. They remain valid only in the minds of crack-pots and those with Bronze Age axes to grind.

So, “Darwinism” is a buzz word, purely and simply. Darwin saw what he saw, with no knowledge of DNA or access to a electron microscope, and wrote down what he saw, and what he concluded about what he saw, in his 1859 classic The Origin of Species. It was a brilliant work, but it was only a beginning. Like all theories, parts of Darwin’s have held up through time, parts have been argued about and discarded, and parts of it remain open to continuing, complex, ever-increasing, and valid scientific inquiry. Darwin birthed questions by the 1000s, and a few good answers.

Intelligent Design is a compromise by creationists’s with the overwhelming evidence of evolution. It is their attempt to keep their definition of a humanly-imaginable, humanly-understandable, and a humanly-emotional and motivated god in the mix. Their definition of a watchmaker-god is part of the post-industrialist worldview that sees the universe as a collection of fitting-together pieces, rather than as a unified whole. They need answers to questions, rather than more questions, because they are afraid they will lose grasp of God, and be unable, therefore, to control what we know about God, otherwise.

It is shoddy, silly, and confusing “science.” And here is exactly the kind of “intellectual” discussion such goofiness leads to- from the official “Expelled” blog:

“Until the late 1980’s when the generic ‘President’s Day’ became the official holiday that subsumed them, America used to celebrate the birthdays of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

“As a result, “Darwin Day” has now supplanted Lincoln’s Birthday in the popular imagination; both men were born on February 12, 1809.

“We think that that is a shame.”

From a “scientific theory” to claims of victimization, in one utterly irrelevant rant. A challenge: find someone today, anywhere, for whom February 12 has “captured their imagination” as Darwin Day. But when they don’t have any verifiable, peer reviewable, honest and forthright facts to back up their silly ‘theories’ then they must resort to victimization. “They’re picking on me!” they cry to each other.

Yes, IDers, you are being picked on. For a reason: you’re wrong. You are trying to diminish God and you are clouding our children’s education. And, apparently, based on the reviews so far, you’ve made a really bad movie,too.

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: