Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts

22 January, 2019

from Field Notes, 22 Jan 2019: Dreaming of Thora Birch

Nobody becomes depraved overnight. - Juvenal

After a long movie dream involving a caravan trapped in a collapsed cavern, an insane amount of stolen money, a sacred pool, an ancient evil, and Thora Birch, I woke up with this thought echoing in my head:

Things happen to people all the time that defy empirical explanation, and whether people believe the thing happened or not, it passes into our Collective Memory, our Collective Consciousness, and lives there.

To explain, a little: Miracles and horrors happen every day that resist empirical understanding. Not all things can be replicated in a laboratory and studied. Not every truth is extrapolated by being placed under a microscope. Some things are understood only by faith.  A tree falling in a forest does make a sound whether a pair of ready ears is there to hear it or not. The fact of the tree falling doesn't change, just our understanding of what that event means. 

Going Further:

I've read a great deal of discussion about the Covington Catholic incident from various sides of the issue ... and by sides I mean people or organizations with an emotional or personal stake in the outcome of how this event is interpreted, understood, and remembered. As a Catholic, I am saddened by the choice the boys made to wear MAGA hats, but that is their right. Throughout history, Catholics have, collectively and individually, both helped to support and helped to supplant tyrants. As a Catholic, I distance myself from the "Pro-Life" movement, especially the Northern Kentucky faction (which is so problematic that the national "Pro-Lifers" distance themselves from it). The politics of the issue are so divisive and so rhetorically charged on both sides that I find myself unable to have a reasonable discussion with anyone on any side. And for the record, so no one is confused -- I believe in the sanctity of all life. But I also believe the so-called "Pro-Life" movement is more politically than spiritually motivated. The same is true of the "Pro-Choice" movement. No political action will solve the heart of the problem. The problem is a spiritual one and so is the solution. I've seen enough in homeless outreach to tell you that our culture, in general, does not respect life. Only humanism, love, and compassion with a deep spiritual underpinning will solve any of this. 

Please note, I did not say "Christianity." I don't have the need to make everyone believe like me. But I also believe it's possible to come together on basic spiritual precepts that view humanity as fundamentally tied together in spiritual sense. It's got to do with that Collective Memory. It's got to do with the commonness of our experience that makes us all human. We are all born. We all breathe. We all die. What we do with and between those markers defines everything else about us individually and collectively.

Of course, the thing we're fighting ultimately is the nature we're born with. Evolutionarily speaking, we are monkeys with bigger brains. We're tribal critters by nature, clannish by inclination, and provincial by habit. The more religious among you might call this sin. The more empirically minded might simply call it nature. I tend towards thinking of it as nature, but in the presence of a supernatural possibility -- the possibility to transcend and be an inheritor of God's love -- I believe that nothing in our nature is necessarily written in stone. And even if it is, there is no stone that can stand unchanged against time, the wind, and the river. 

Now, back to this Covington Catholic issue, briefly. Regardless of what really happened... and please, spare me your interpretations because I've seen and read every possible permutation and believe me, there is nothing new under sun... the forces at work on all sides of this have a vested interest in keeping us fighting. I don't believe Nathan Phillips went to start a fight. I believe the fight was already there.  I don't believe the Catholic students went to start a fight, either, though they were probably riled up emotionally because of the "Pro-Life" march. That fight, too, was already there. The lines were already drawn. And in the end, there are only two people who really know what happened and the everyone else will believe what they want.

I read an interesting response to the Covington Catholic situation that addressed another truth about evolution: we do a lot of what we do because of social acceptance. And people on Facebook, isolated as most people are because of digital ideological segmentation, tend to post what they because it's accepted by their social in-group, which causes the brain to release dopamine.  The blackmarket marketeers have keyed into this and use it to sell us everything from political saviors to suppositories. Dopamine elects tyrants and lifts up heroes. This is buried in our nature and we are obliged by, if nothing else, the transcendence of the Collective Memory, to try and grow beyond it.

At the end of my movie dream, I'm standing in front of this monument to all those who have died in unknown tragedies, and so is Thora Birch. She turns to me and tells me that sometimes things happen to people, and whether everyone else believes it or not, the thing that happened is still a part of our Collective Memory whether we want it to be or not. Then I woke up.


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02 February, 2016

Working out: faith, floundering, and the limitations of mixaphors

 If any man make a vow to the Lord, or bind himself by an oath: he shall not make his word void but shall fulfill all that he promised. -- Numbers 30:3 (DR)

I want to live the real life/ I want to live my life close to the bone. - John Mellencamp, "The Real Life"

 When I was 14 I gave my life to God. It's important, for what comes next, to understand what I mean by that. I don't mean that I was baptized. Actually, I was dunked, by choice, at the age of 9. Church leadership was so skeptical of my sincerity and earnestness that I was required to participate in a series of tutorials with our minister, Dan Pence.

This experience isn't unusual; many protestant denominations require some kind of confirmation classes prior to being baptized. Though this process was never really explained to me, I've come to see it as one of those few, formalized echoes of a rite of passage -- something else I was never really told about and had to learn about through the books I read as a kid, through literature, and through my own study as a teenager and adult.*

The decision to go and be baptized, to make the confession of faith, was something I did with as much honesty and sincerity as I could -- though I later came to the conclusion that it was as much about finding a level of acceptance in some community or another rather than religious inspiration.**

When I was 14 I attended a Christ in Youth Conference in Tennessee with other kids in my church youth group. The experience was designed to be intense, focused, and, I think, intended to manipulate those attending to embrace a conservative style Christianity that has borne dangerous and distinctly unChristlike fruit.

The night I walked forward and committed my life to God, the sermon focused on Ephesians 6. They focused mostly on verse 13:

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (KJV)

Even then, I wasn't entirely sure that my reading and understanding of this man Jesus had any similarity to the medieval reflection I was being presented. Jesus the man I found in my own readings hung out with the botched and the despised*** -- with lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors -- with the same sort equanimity as he had with religious leaders and the powerful. The only sin he raised his hand to was greed, when he forced the money changers^ out of the Temple.

For me, the part of Ephesians 6 that stood out to me was not all the sword and armor metaphors -- but the previous verse:

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places (DR)

This made sense to me, and it seemed more like this man Jesus I was trying to emulate and learn about. He did not covet power. He did not want power. He questioned power. Central to his teachings was a code of behavior that included not only being kind to one another, but questioning those who claim to have a better idea of what's right and wrong than you do.

When I felt compelled to walk forward and commit my life to God, I was not entirely sure what it meant. But again, it was honest. And while I have rejected the formal religion of my childhood, I am finding myself more and more comfortable with calling myself a christian -- i.e., a follower of Christ. I'm increasingly less interested in worrying about the state of my soul than I am the state of the life I'm living and whether I'm doing anything of use to others, although I have had my own journeys and made my own mistakes and done more out of selfishness than any of the few little bits of hopefully good work I try to do.

That's not to say I'm embracing all the notions that often get attached to the label "christian." I disagree -- sometimes vehemently and with a lot of passion, cussing, and carousing -- with nearly all of the positions taken by mainstream conservative churches.  What resonates for me on this journey is this:  I am far more interested in the actions of the man Jesus than I am in praying for the salvation of my soul. My soul probably has too much demon in it^^ to bother, and anyway, I'm not interested in embracing a life of faith out of the same fear-based need for acceptance that, in part, drove me to baptism before I was ready for it.

 I am far more interested in trying to do good and have a positive impact on my world. I'm still trying to figure out how to do that. But I suspect that's the point.



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* Other than every Marvel/DC hero movie/TV show I watched as a kid, I was first really keyed into the notion of the hero's journey and other rites of passage by Stephen King's The Dark Tower books. After that I started seeing it everywhere and even recognized it in the imaginative play I engaged in when I was younger. Then I And then I found Joseph Campbell and was introduced to epic poetry like Gilgamesh and The Odyssey. And other than in narrative theory books, and in the occasional fiction workshop, it was not much discussed during my formal education.
**This proved to be a problem later when I found my own faith lacking in the absence of how I had come to think -- in very reflective ways -- about the nature of grace. It eventually led to my separating myself from formal religion entirely.
***The church I grew up in worried less about this man Jesus's humanity than whether the Methodists or Baptists were going stealing away future congregants. Yes, Blair Pride. I remember ye.
^Think credit cards -- where you borrow money and then pay it back at a high rate of return to the lender. Sometimes called usuary.  
^^One of the things I've learned is that I have to embrace that, too. If we really are made in the image of God, I suspect the likeness is more about the soul than God looking like Gandalf, the White Wizard. And if that's true, then God wrestles demons, too.

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