Sunday, May 22, 2016


Meadville/Lombard Theological School

On my shelves are a set of two 3-ring binders labeled “The Scriver Seminary Saga.”  They are the collected one-page typed weekly reports to my home church (First Unitarian of Portland, OR) during my four year seminary education, including the summer of Clinicial Pastoral Education in Rockford, IL, and the year as an intern minister in Hartford, Connecticut.  (78-82)  Once I began to serve churches, their newsletters replaced the practice.

Firmly, I believe that anything closely examined over a period of time is worth preserving evidence from to look at again when one’s mind and being has evolved or cooled or caught on fire or whatever other change might happen.  I was very much impressed by a course with an historical bent that discussed a church record in Europe that was kept for centuries but had some mysterious gaps.  The point of the discussion was how powerful the gaps were once a person inquired into their cause:  like, for instance, the Black Death.

But there are no gaps in the Scriver Seminary Saga because in those days (and now) I considered one of my virtues to be consistency and tenacity, partly natural temperament and partly reinforced by marriage to Bob Scriver who also valued those characteristics since he was a musician and the way to Carnegie Hall is practise, practise, practise.  (He didn’t make it past the Montana Historical Society warehouse.)  But I haven’t gone back to see what I said or, as Kenner would put it, what it meant.  I have been discouraged by the collapsing of both seminary and denomination.  But maybe it’s time now.  There's been a gap.

A small part of the reason I left the ministry in 1988 turns out to be related to a big part of the UUA’s problems.  The Unitarian Universalist Association that so attracted me changed into something else and it was — in my eyes — ugly.  I didn’t realize until recently that others shared my opinion, at least in part.  This morning I stumbled upon “Regaining Balance” by Michael Werner, a monograph published by the American Humanist Association which is a kind of sibling to the UUA that is sometimes pulled in and sometimes pushed out.  It’s a history of the roller coaster ride both movements have been on for the last decades as the cultures surged around them. 

I can’t order the booklet at the moment because someone fraudulently used my VISA to order car parts (!) which was evidently detected immediately -- maybe because I only order books and cat food.  A “fraud specialist” called me to explain and to tell me to cut up my invalidated VISA.  A new one is on the way.  I gather that there are plenty of these cases, thus justifying a specialist, and I also gather that most of the fraudsters are amateurs, easily caught.  (Is this a clue to religion?)  

So to get the booklet, I went to the AHA to request a review copy.  All copies are Kindle via the Internet, so if they refuse, the delay will only be the time it takes to mail me a new VISA, not mailing the booklet, but the mail is entirely unpredictable these days.  I don’t know whether AHA will send a review copies since I'm only a blog.

"Starhawk" he's not.

So I read the part of the publication that’s on Google Books and was startled that it was so clear and that I am so much in agreement.  BUT it’s old-fashioned.  (Consider the source.) Or at least "old-school" which sounds a little better.  These days, everybody who is more than ten years behind on the avalanche of technical scientific discoveries is old-fashioned. Even "The Edge" is old-fashioned.  So are Aeon, TED, maybe not  They are ALL culture bound.  To the dominant culture.  Even Ozy.  Al Jezeera went under.  Indigenous equals invisible.

Anyway, why is it is that the American Humanist Association never takes on the current assault on the humanities?

The shifts (indeed, explosions!) in paradigms they (logically) demand, the radical revision of our cherished 19th century humanist and religious ideas, our tanglefooted integration of contradictions, and the necessary economic/governmental implications, require some working premises to anchor or center ourselves for the sake of sanity.

Many, as always, are finding that anchor to be a life in community, maybe simply growing where they are.  Ecology, IMHO, is the root of harmony.  Happily, the Internet means possible virtual community online.  My additional strategy is a rather ascetic private life (AKA poverty) in order to wring out enough time to think and to find sources beyond sensational media skewings and commodifications.  

Werner’s book is part of a series.  I would like to add to it the implications of the new science that I read about and that are so deeply suggestive.  The findings continue to unroll, so it’s not worth a bound book, but there's enough evidence to write something.

Here’s a partial list of what I mean:

1.  New understanding of how the human body works, what “thought” means in bodily terms, the evolution of the brain, the actions of neurons, the 200 specialized sense cells that are in our brain besides the familiar organs, how memory works (it’s complex), gut thinking, limbic thinking, and the capacity to share thought and feeling simply by looking at each other.  Why consciousness is not the key to survival.

2.  Instead of the bricolage interpretations of pluralistic “equal” religious tolerance, an environmentally informed deep understanding of metaphor drawn from living experience, and the dangers of institutional rigidity and “ownership” if it becomes dogma.

3.  The idea that a print-based culture, “People of the Book”, is better than all others;  how that suppresses the more basic speaking-only small-group cultures; and what iPhones means to them.  What many identify as a fall from grace because of agriculture with its walls and hoarding, it’s priests and lawyers and kings, might really be about the hegemony of writing: record keeping, laws, hierarchies.

4.  The slow realization that there is no such thing as “rationality” and logic, as opposed to deep feeling of the Sacred, because both emerge from the formation of basic theories of life when we are infants, structures of conviction that are nearly impossible to escape.  Both rationality and emotional responsiveness are part of it, always in conversation with each other.

5.  Humans, including the 200 estimated hominin species preceding us, cannot be defined as the end point of evolution or even the apex.  The march of life up the beach to the triumph of progressive humans is a broken metaphor.  Rather there is a surge, a sheet, a symphony of unfolding life that emerges from itself in surprising ways.  Salvation is not going to heaven, it's participating in the furor and ferment that we both receive and pass on.

6.  We need far better ways to balance resources with their uses.  Food, rare metals, energy, water, soil fertility, each other.

7.  People, some on the other side of the planet and some just down the street, are suffering terribly and being actively destroyed.  We cannot address this by making ourselves oblivious.  Instead we need to approach, to question, to sift through the shit, get dirty.

8.  Religious denominations are controlled by demographics and economics, much of it unconscious and propelling evil forces. They can stifle all progress and replace genuine responses and observations with whatever makes them feel good:  inclusion, therapy, economic safety, elitism.  They are not about beliefs.  They should not be controlled by political factions in the larger world.  The killer of both AHA and UUA is arrogance, privilege, entitlement.

My tenacity is still paying off.  Consistency is a lot tougher.  People who have not been keeping up with this new research don’t even understand what I’m talking about.  My seminary has literally been gutted, the library and faculty moved downtown.  But the building, now housing the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, IS addressing this new body of inquiry by supporting a series of scholars and lectures.  That’s nice and a good use of the building.

But “nice” is a very suspicious category.  If you think your church is “nice,” you are stuck in the past.  What IS a church anyway, but an institution?

Neubauer Collegium of Society and Culture

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