Thursday, January 01, 2015


Confronting Rothko from
"The Conversion of Saul"

I quip that Pope Francis is trying to return Paul’s church to Jesus.  I hope he has better luck than Buddha did.  (The latter never quite succeeded in convincing people they should not worship HIM.)  What I’m saying in code is that Jesus was not “religious” in terms of institutions -- he had no institutions nor interest in starting one.  But Saul, who had a great transfiguration and was then Paul, kept more of the twisty stuff of institutions (chromosomes, if you like) and pushed what he knew from his previous life as a formal leader.  People who know the relevant documents and evidence will make fun of me, but I believe that it was Peter who was supposed to be the Rock on which to found a church.  It was Peter who tried to walk on water, who denied Jesus, etc. etc.  A much more human sort of guy.  This is all barnacles on the great ship of faith. It’s fun but I don’t take it seriously because it’s not the heart, the key, the root of being human.

For a little while I was in the business of founding and growing congregations.  It’s not very hard if you have a message that people really want and need.  If you don’t, nothing will work for very long.  

The next step, the building of networks among congregations until there’s a denomination -- a system big enough to have a name (nom) -- begins to feel a lot like advertising and corporations.  There must be a headquarters, a logo, and then someone issues formal materials, and no matter how democratic the elections, the leaders begin to think like Paul and tell all the little congregations what to do.  They might be right but piles of letters to this and that community takes the leadership out of the hands of locals and away from on-the-ground experience.  Once you get past the Gospels, that’s about all the New Testament is: letters from headquarters.  With a horror story (Revelations) tacked onto the end.  This is just the Middle Eastern kind of religion.  There have been dozens, not just three.

After all, I’m not very interested in religion.  I’m interested in human beings and their experience of the world and by world I mean something more like cosmic galaxies than like the United Nations.  It’s the “experience” part that I’ve been reading about in order to understand better how being human can be exuberant, creative, and thoughtful in a sharing way.  If a group comes together to be those kinds of things together, that’s fine.  If you want to call it “spiritual” or “worship”  or “ceremonial” and if you can resist Robert’s Rules of Order, then I am interested.  But I will maintain my solitude.

The Inter-Faith Chapel at the University of Nome by Robert Baldwin

Despite the necessity of the raw world and the cultivation of experiences contacted through exploration, some things are teddy bears -- familiar links to comfort.  But I wouldn’t want to attend a church where the pews are full of teddy bears.  Well, maybe once to see what it was like.  At the other extreme, I would avoid a church full of grizzly bears out of self-preservation.  The question is “what does it mean to attend a church full of humans?”  Or “what does it mean to attend a church at all?”  When is a theatre a church?  When is a circle of Blackfeet sitting on the ground, singing about the lives of familiar animals, actually a church?  

So is the definition of church in the content, the procedure, the nature of the attenders, the ecology of the community and the land where it is situated, the formal account the leaders can give of what’s happening, what a trained observer (anthropologist) might write about it -- ???   Jesus, Francis and Buddha might say it all depends on whether “God” is present.  So what makes the circle holy?  

I suggest three things:  1) Does it guide the people’s life-decisions?  2) Does it unite a community? and 3) Does it give life meaning?

Can a school be a church/can a church be a school?   Can a studio be a church/can a church be a studio?  I say yes, yes, yes.  Quoting Molly Bloom that way always made the older UU ministers (all male) laugh because to them it meant sex.  Can sex be a church/can a church be sex?  Yup.  (Molly Bloom as a cowgirl who gets the blues.)



And you see what I just did?  Linked to a literary canon, both citations a little bit scandalous.  Can church be a scandal?  Can a scandal be guiding, uniting, meaningful?  Yup.  Can a group of people holding candles in the snow around the site of a murder, whether a beaten child, an unarmed black man, an historical massacre of indigenous people, be a church?  Of course.  The holiness is not in the event, but in the response.  Candles and singing are not enough, but only the beginning.  Did it show empathy?  Did it prompt giving of time and energy to the future?  Could you feel the meaning?

I’m going to spend the rest of the day building a bibliography for those interested in what I’ve been reading and as a reminder for myself, because I need to reread some of this.  Not much there yet.

Gabor Maté, the MD who works with hard-core addicts in Vancouver, B.C., tries hard not to be arrogant or controlling.  In the interest of showing his vulnerability, he confesses that he is obsessive/compulsive.  (OCD or whatever) Luckily, his fetish is not chemically addictive in any obviously destructive way: it’s classical music, which he buys in complete sets of works, never satisfied, and not even listening to all of it because there’s not enough time in any day, though he performs his medical work, buys his CD’s, and then short-sheets his family despite their pleas and his promises to "pay" more attention to them.  By now he seems to have a bit more control over his obsession which he achieved by paying a fine to his wife and/or employer for each failure.  Money.  Hmmmm.  Merde.  Fertile if you have seeds.

Maté’s past is Jewish, haunted by WWII holocaust, and also affected by his relatively small size.  His first year was uncertain and chaotic, but then things got better.  (That infant is still in there somewhere.)  It seems clear that to him classical music is 1) civilization in the European style of mastery of intricate patterns, 2) high-brow, a sign of sophistication, 3) a sign that he is wealthy (superior) since he runs up bills in the thousands but doesn’t go into debt, 4) something that is just “his” -- not even anything to share with the family so long as he uses headphones, though his son said that as a kid he got tired of the blasting symphonies, 5) something that can go everywhere with him via iPods and car speakers, 6) basically a teddy bear, or speaking more formally, a “transitional object” that helps him maintain identity and safety in a world that constantly challenges all that.  It comforts him, distracts him, rewards him, which he needs given what he battles daily.  He was slow to realize that it was also an avoidance and hurting his family, but as soon as he saw that, he had the power to stand outside himself, make a diagnosis, and devise a cure -- the same as he would for anyone else.

In the end, that turns out to be what the rest of us should do as well.  It’s part of the Great Tango that is human life, an erotic dance with Hungry Ghosts and teddy bears. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow...I dont think I'm at home somewhere else. A place nothing can get me but anything can distract me. I cant keep up with all these thoughts, theres just too many. I think I might have read too many of your postings for too long but I really couldn't stop. Some of it made sense but some of it I honestly couldn't follow because I don't think I'm there yet, even if I want to be.