Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Christmas cards already?!

Great Christmas card, eh?

I was stunned when I opened my first Christmas card of the season. No, I didn't receive the above card (its usually the one I send to several of my more fabulous friends). Instead, I received a very nice and Christmasy card from one of my parishoners on November 27th! Is it already that time of year again?! Well, it looks like I'd better get to planning for it then.Sometimes I've made my own Christmas cards, other times I have used a hobby of mine (stamping) to decorate my cards. Sometimes I've given out two different sets of Christmas cards- one set is the ones you can send to friends and family, the other set is a bit more fabulous, like this one. I used to send the card above because it was so angelic (it's actually their number one selling Christmas card.Hmm.. this year I have no idea what to do, or at least, I haven't spent any time thinking about it. I'll need to hurry though, I've got lots to send out this time.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Who's really responsible?

The Meet the Press discussion, with Falwell, Land, Wallis, and Sharpton is still going over in my head. There was one particular discussion about abortion that caught my attention. I was taken back by another discussion between Land and Russert:

MR. RUSSERT: If abortion is outlawed in the state and abortions are performed by a doctor in that state, who's prosecuted? The doctor?

DR. LAND: The doctor.

MR. RUSSERT: The mother?

DR. LAND: I see mothers as victims. I've worked in crisis pregnancy centers. I've counseled women who'd had post-abortion traumatic stress syndrome. When an abortion takes place, there are at least two victims, the mother and the unborn child. I would prosecute the doctors. And we're ready to battle that out in every state and let the people's elected representatives make those decisions, not people in black robes.

To me, as I try and get my head around the issues, I wonder that if its the mother who is going to get an abortion, wouldn't it make sense to the person advocating against abortion that she should be prosecuted too? The doctor is in a Kevorkian-like position, assisting in the murder. Surely the doctor should be prosecuted but what of the mother? Given how many conservatives favor the death penalty (I for one, do not), it doesn't seem like a far stretch then to wonder why the political conservatives haven't argued for sending mothers who get an abortion to the gas chamber? Maybe that wouldn't be as strong a selling point in the political arena, eh?

Honestly, I think this is what many feminists are afraid of: If we overturn Roe v. Wade, then women who get abortions may get prosecuted (or sent to the gas chamber) if it is discovered that by the authorities that they had one. And now with technology capable of maintaining all sorts of data, it probably should scare the crap of out advocates of abortion.

To me, as I try and find a consistency in the abortion debate, I find myself looking to the Catholic Church (gasp! I know.. I don't do this very often) and look at their position on pro-life. For many within the Catholic Church, the issue of life is of the utmost importance. Whether we're talking about abortions, the death penalty, euthenasia.. whatever it is, if we value life then we should work towards its betterment in all the arenas surrounding those who have abortions, murdering others, or end of life issues. What sort of environments contribute to these situations and how ought we to address them so that in the end, there are less murders, less abortions, and less reasons to "stop feeding dad so he can die peacefully."

Arguments aside, addressing the problems of abortion is a challenging issue. I think Wallis had something interesting to say when he said,

REV. WALLIS: Well, this is a conversation that we're having all across the country now. And it's again about symbols more than--I want solutions here. Pro-life and pro-choice people could unite together around working on teenage pregnancy, adoption reform, supporting low-income women. When you support them economically, the abortion rate falls. The abortion rate is way too high in America.

I remember watching a special on television a few weeks ago when a feminist theologian (can't remember her name at the moment) was explaining that conservative politicians aren't so much pro-life as they are pro-birth. If they were pro-life, they'd be concerned about issues surrounding the life of the birthed child: poverty, drug abuse, and child abuse. To her, the arguments about abortion are more about pro-birth and should be stated as such.

I would like to believe that the Republican and Democratic parties actually want to address this issue in a serious way to minimize abortions and actually do more work than talk. I'd like to think they'd work to create a support network that address all the issues of abortion. If they are serious, then I'd be in favor of advocating an alliance between both Republicans and Democrats to create and foster a program that speaks to all the challenges of unwanted pregnancies: poverty, child neglect, adoption reform, etc. But then, I wonder: is this just talk or is anyone really serious about addressing this issue outside of political platforms on early Sunday morning news talk shows?

Four people to NOT invite over for a dinner party...

...at least, not all at the same time. Can you imagine Jerry Falwell, Al Sharpton, Richard Land, and Jim Wallis sitting in your living room each trying to tell the other that God is on their side and not the others?

This Sunday all these ministers were on Meet the Press for a discussion on morality, the constitution, and the American Presidency. You can read the transcript here. You'll need to scroll down about a quarter of the way.

The discussion began on a friendly note, some bantering back and forth to the other in a nice playful sort of way. Falwell and Sharpton seem to have an odd comraderie and perhaps a secret friendship that sends shivers up my spine. And then, Tim Russert, the commentator for Meet the Press started asking his loaded questions and everything afterwards seemed to have digressed rather rapidly. Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics Commission seems to be getting more public in his self-presentation and really hammered out his religion while Wallis, the really nice and thoughtful editor from Sojourners, seemed a bit "too nice" asking over and over again amid the shouts and self-righteous indignations, "Can't we all just get along?"

You know Meet the Press did this for ratings- and, of course, that is why I stayed tuned in. It was a lively gathering but one that highlights for me the dangers of religion and why so many people are turned off to organized religion and religious leaders who think they speak for God. If I had to take my pick of a favorite, it'd prolly be Jim Wallis and I love his points about finding common ground and compromise.

To me the show was summed up early by a reference to a speech Abraham Lincoln said. Using the reference, Richard Land made a point about how God is involved in politics but it was Russert (who knew his history) that clarified Lands point (or at least, made Land clarify his point):

DR. LAND: ...it seems to me, is very much like Lincoln's posture when Lincoln said, you know, "In this war that we've been in, both sides think God's on their side. Both sides can't be right. Both sides may be wrong. This may be a judgment on the whole country because of slavery. But with malice toward none, with charity for all, we're going to go forward seeking to do the right as God gives us the light to see the right." The president believed that God wanted him to be president, but he was open to the possibility that wouldn't be true. How many people of religious faith who ever ran for president didn't think God wanted them to be president? Jimmy Carter certainly did.

MR. RUSSERT: But as Abraham Lincoln said, "The key, however, is make sure that we're on God's side, not claim that God is on our side."

I think this is the point with religion in politics, let's strive and hope we're on God's side rather than being confident because "God is on our side," in whatever we do. This difference is huge and it explains the difference between pursuing right relations and religious/political coercion.

The Word

I am really trying but for whatever reason I cannot seem to get into the book, The Word, by Irving Wallace. It is supposed to be another Dan Brown-like book about a secret manuscript that might undo two thousand years of religion. The problem is the book is too preachy and hasn't yet "got going". And, I am well over a hundred pages into the book. To me, this is a bad sign. I haven't yet decided if I am going to chunk the book. But, in the event I decide to, I went out and purchased, The Dante Club, by Matthew Pearl. Check out the word from the publisher on this one, it is a New York Times Bestseller:


"In 1865 Boston, the literary geniuses of the Dante Club - poets and Harvard professors Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, along with publisher J. T. Fields - are finishing America's first translation of The Divine Comedy and preparing to unveil Dante's remarkable visions to the New World. The powerful Boston Brahmins at Harvard College are fighting to keep Dante in obscurity, believing that the infiltration of foreign superstitions into American minds will prove as corrupting as the immigrants arriving at Boston Harbor." "The members of the Dante Club fight to keep a sacred literary cause alive, but their plans fall apart when a series of murders erupts through Boston and Cambridge. Only this small group of scholars realizes that the gruesome killings are modeled on the descriptions of Hell's punishments from Dante's Inferno. With the lives of the Boston elite and Dante's literary future in America at stake, the Dante Club members must find the killer before the authorities discover their secret." Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and an outcast police officer named Nicholas Rey, the first black member of the Boston police department, must place their careers on the line to end the terror. Together, they discover that the source of the murders lies closer to home than they ever could have imagined.

Regardless if I finish The Word, I know I'll read The Dante Club. I'll let you know how it (or either) turns out.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Thanksgiving Weekend

Well, its finally over... the Thanksgiving holidays. For whatever reason, the week leading up to and including the weekend of Thanksgiving is so frantic for me. And, the crazy thing is that I seldom ever go back home for it so its not like I have an excuse that I am spending time with my family.

Fortunately this year I chose not to participate in the madness of a Friday afternoon shopping spree (or, here in NYC, that madness begins at 6am). I don't think I could've taken the bajillion people within BestBuy or the loons at Macy's (that place is truly insane on the Friday after Thanksgiving).

Tonight's church service went very well. We kicked off a week-long art show showcasing South African artist Shui, who is one heck of an amazing artist. All the proceeds of the art sale are going to benefit the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, so that's really special to us.

And, the sermon was well received even if there were parts in it that I am still mulling over. I find it wild when I preach and the sermon speaks to me even as I preach it. This particular one focused on using hope as a motivator for obedience rather than the fear of being "left behind," when Jesus comes "like a thief in the night." I don't like using fear to draw folks into a relationship of faith with God--and the sermon gave me an opportunity to talk more about that. You can read it, if you're interested, by going to my church's website, and clicking the Sermons link. The title of the sermon is, "Must We Be Afraid?".

Tomorrow I am going to lay around the apartment, write more in my blog (most likely), and begin my Christmas shopping. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A Redbird Christmas

Okay, so I have found the perfect 'gift book' as a housewarming gift or to give to an older friend. The book is, A Redbird Christmas, by Fannie Flag. It is a charming book about a fellow from Chicago who moves to Lost River, a small town in Alabama. The book is a fast read, something a person could curl up to on a rainy afternoon and read completely through.

It is wonderfully heartwarming; a mixture of teary-eyed happenings that both soothe the heart and comfort the soul, in that folksy 'down-home grandpa telling a good story' kind of way.

One Heck of a Great Time

Well, Roy and I made it back safe and sound from Montreal, Canada. We were gone since last Friday and got back late last night (Monday). We stayed in a cheap hotel along St. Catherine in the Village area of Montreal. We ate like we could afford to do it (but will be paying for it for quite sometime, thank gawd for credit cards, eh?).

I took a lot of pictures but Roy's turned out a lot better than mine. I'll post his pictures as soon as he makes a cd for me. He has a kick-butt camera.

Montreal is an amazing city. The history of the city and the beautiful buildings made for an unbelievable site to behold. The people were among the friendliest I have ever met in any city I've traveled to- everyone, and I mean everyone were pleasant and amiable. And, its affordable. I shutter at the thought of what it would've cost us had we did everything in New York that we did in Montreal. Roy and I promised each other that we'd definately go back- (only this time we'll go in the summer.. this time it was a bit chilly (read: frickin' cold) with stabbingly frigid strong winds.

St. Joseph du Mont Royal in Montreal. This is the largest shrine in the world dedicated to Joseph, Jesus' dad.
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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Montreal Bound

Tomorrow, Friday, Roy and I are heading up to Montreal for a weekend getaway. We won't be back until Monday afternoon. Neither of us have ever been to Montreal and we're looking forward to a real treat.

I'll try and update my happenings while I am there (via the email your posts function of my blog host). If not, then I'll write about our trip when we return. By the way, I just experimented with the post via email function of the blog host and it works like a charm.

Our Faith in the Political Community

We Democrats sure don't like to talk about our very private religious convictions in public. Truth be told, our religious convictions are what motivate us to do what we do (those who are religious or spiritual anyway). When we don't talk about our faith or what compels us to do or vote our conscience, we miss the opportunity to show others, who also vote by their convictions, a different interpretation of the faith.

And so it went on November 2nd- conservatives voted their consciences and liberals voted theirs (read, ours). And yet, neither explained to the other what it meant to them; we only judged each other with vehemenance. Some good that did (continues to do).

I think before we liberals can convey how we believe our message reflects a fairer call to justice, we have to better articulate why we believe what we believe.. and do it in a Christian/religious context, if we are to convince other voters in the future that there is a better way to live out our faith in the political community.

Jim Wallis, editor at Sojourners, has written a piece conveying a similar call to Democrats while pointing out a newer post-election survey that contradicts the original flawed exit poll question that "sparked an enormous and important political debate in America" about the 22% figure reflecting that most Republicans cited their belief that moral values (e.g., abortion and gay marriage issues) were the primary reason for voting for President Bush. Check out the entire article, its a thought-provoking piece.

The reaction to that initial poll has underscored to our nation how important our religious beliefs are in relation to politics and how specifically we liberals have failed to communicate why its important to us. (Let me tell you, my anger totally blinded me to the reality that I too have failed to articulate how my faith speaks to Bush's lack of society concerns. Let our initial post-election reaction be our wake up call to get off our butts and get serious about our public faith.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Editting and re-editting.. and re-editting..

The post that follows this one was very tough to write, as you might imagine. One interesting thing about it though is that once I wrote it, I kept going back to edit it. And edit it. And edit it. In the late morning, I think I finished my edits and that while it does maintain a semblance of what I wrote earlier, it is also a bit different.

I guess thats the crazy thing about writing difficult words- you think it can always be better.. or worse.. or just different. Being a writer must really suck at times.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Another dilemma

There is this particular homeless guy who asked me if he could store 'his stuff' for a day so that he can get some personal issues dealt with. I had told him, "Sure, you can leave your stuff here for a day." Okay, so that was 2 weeks ago. He has been spotted coming in after I have already left to change clothes but leave his stuff here at the church. I saw him briefly last Friday and said, "You have to take your stuff now," but it was raining real hard and he said, "Oh please, its raining real hard, may I leave it for one more day?" The good ol' boy that I am said, "Sure."

Okay, so now I have to tell him, "Take your stuff, it can't stay here any longer," and do it in the nicest Oklahoma-speak and yet mixed with a bit of redneck authority. He's a really nice guy who is just down on his luck (for the past 10 years, I need to add). I hate being too mean to guys like this particular homeless person, not because he is so unfortunate but because being a successful homeless person means that you are also very tricky and sly. Just as soon as I become authoritative, he'll turn what I say into something else and, I'll get emotionally (spiritually) forced to let him keep his stuff just a bit longer here, and then I'll get all mad at myself later for letting him, 'do it to me again.' It's a cycle with me sometimes. Go figure.

Ministry is sometimes fun and sometimes very challenging. This particular dilemma is very challenging.

70's glam rock

You know how there are folks who have those unusual hobbies, like pine-cone shalacking and metal can sculpting? Well, I have an unusual hobbie (actually I have several) but the one in particular is my interest in 70's glam rock. I found this site today about one of the first out-gay rockers in the 70's named Jobriath and low and behold the old boy has his own fan club website(even though he's been dead for ages).

Monday, November 15, 2004

Yet another new subway book

Okay, so I am as happy as a pig in the mud. I found another subway book that I'll get to as soon as I finish A Redbird Christmas. The new book is called The Word, by Irving Wallace. Here is a brief synopsis:

In the Beginning, there was . . . The Word. The classic thriller of an ancient manuscript, a secret society committed to hiding an explosive truth, and the man who must uncover that truth--if he can stay alive long enough.

In the ruins of the ancient Roman seaport of Ostia Antica, an Italian archaeologist has discovered a first century papyrus, its faded text revealing a new gospel written by James, younger brother of Jesus. This discovery will show the world a new Jesus Christ, fill in the missing years of his ministry, contradict the existing accounts of his life--and potentially destroy the foundation of 2,000 years of Western civilization. First published in 1972, The Word remains a classic of brilliant storytelling, authentic detail and breathtaking narrative power.

Call me silly but I just love these spiritual conspiracy books. I still don't know exactly what you call this particular genre- which makes hunting for these books a particular challenge.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Remember that Subway book I was looking for?

I found a great book last night at Barnes and Nobles called, A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg (author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe). A Redbird Christmas is about a gentlement who goes to live in Southern Alabama following doctor's orders about the man's failing health.

With the same incomparable style and warm, inviting voice that have made her beloved by millions of readers far and wide, New York Times bestselling author Fannie Flagg has written an enchanting Christmas story of faith and hope for all ages that is sure to become a classic.
Deep in the southernmost part of Alabama, along the banks of a lazy winding river, lies the sleepy little community known as Lost River, a place that time itself seems to have forgotten. After a startling diagnosis from his doctor, Oswald T. Campbell leaves behind the cold and damp of the oncoming Chicago winter to spend what he believes will be his last Christmas in the warm and welcoming town of Lost River. There he meets the postman who delivers mail by boat, the store owner who nurses a broken heart, the ladies of the Mystic Order of the Royal Polka Dots Secret Society, who do clandestine good works. And he meets a little redbird named Jack, who is at the center of this tale of a magical Christmas when something so amazing happened that those who witnessed it have never forgotten it. Once you experience the wonder, you too will never forget, A Redbird Christmas.

The book, so far, is a real charmer. It's written in an old style grownup fairy tale kind of way and writes with the charm of your grandfather telling you about life when he was a boy. It's a short book; I'll probably be done with it in a few days, assuming I just don't curl up to it today and read the whole thing.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Seeking to Understand

I was over at Beliefnet this afternoon and discovered an interesting article about confusing the differences between liberals and conservatives. I was attracted to this article because a friend of mine wrote in his blog about this very issue. I think the article is a good read and might help enable a conservative to better understand a liberal (and vice versa). It's good to at least understand those with whom we speak- lest we just get so angry that whatever we say becomes offensive to the other.

The article is called, "Perverted, God-Hating Frenchies vs. Inbred, Sex-Obsessed Yokels Why Can't Liberals and Conservatives Get Along? Because They Fundamentally Misunderstand Each Other."

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Our Vanished Values

Michael Feingold, writing for the Village Voice, a New York City alternative paper (with a huge cirrculation) wrote this piece about our election and how he interprets his faith through it. Here is an excerpt.

"For make no mistake, this is the election in which American Christianity destroyed itself. Today the church is no longer a religion but a tacky political lobby, with an obsessive concentration on a minuscule number of social topics so irrelevant to questions of governance that they barely constitute political issues at all. These are the points of contention tied into what are blurrily referred to as "moral values," though they have almost nothing to do with the larger moral question of how one lives one's life, and everything to do with the fundamentally un-Christian and un-American idea of forcing others to live the way you believe they should. The displacement of faith involved is eerie, almost psychotic: Here are people willing to vote against their own well-being and their own children's future, just so they can compel someone else's daughter to bear an unwanted child and deprive someone else's son of the right to file a joint income tax return with his male partner."

You can read the whole article here.

Justice Scalia

Mr. Conservative says,

"Sexual orgies eliminate social tensions and ought to be encouraged." -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaking at Harvard University Sept. 29, according to The Harvard Crimson.

So he isn't against sex per say, just when gay people do it.

Cooler pictures

If you were to visit my office, you'd find it decorated with paintings (as opposed to pictures). Even at home, I have several paintings (either my own or one's I've purchased) hanging on my walls. So, with that theme in mind, I've changed the photos from long ended television shows and replaced them with artsy paintings. They all have religious/spiritual themes to them; even if you have to look "real close" to figure out what they are. Visit Sandy Frazier's online gallery to view and perhaps purchase you very own original artwork.

Larry Kramer's Speech at Cooper-Union

I had no idea Larry Kramer was giving this lecture until about 3pm the day of his speech, which was a Sunday no less. Although I couldn't make it, fortunately the text from this speech has made its way to the internet. Follow this link to read it.

I should caution you though: If you don't know who Larry Kramer is, then this speech may offend you mightily. Larry is one of the founding members of Gay Men's Health Crisis here in New York City. In his younger days, he was an avid and active member of Act-Up and his views on gay life seem to piss of both gay and straight folk alike. Now he is much older and although he isn't as prolific in his writings and speeches as in his early days, when he does say something its powerful.

I believe his voice is prophetic (even if what he says stings) and I encourage you to read his stuff. This speech is insanely long, so be patient.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Honoring the Memories

The following is from my sermon preached this past Sunday, November 7th for All Saints Day.

This past week, I was talking with a friend about the unique religious rites associated with All Saints Day. I told him about the sermon I was preaching tonight and the fascination from my research of the various religious ceremonies people have performed in honoring the dearly departed. For instance, in Japan, there is the Obon festival celebrated in July. In China, there is the celebration of the Moon of Hungry Ghosts. In ancient Rome, the ghosts of the ancestors were appeased during Lemuia on May 9th.

My friend and I talked about our perception that Americans seem to understand death with scary associations—both of us agreed that perhaps television, graphic novels, and gory movies are responsible for tainting our images of death. As a result, we surmised, some of us confuse
darkness with evil, and approach death with fear—thus the emphasis in American celebrations of Halloween with demons and ghosts, the gory and the grotesque.

My friend Ed is a psychiatrist here in New York City. He told me an interesting parallel to the celebration of death that he observed last year while visiting with friends in Guatemala. There death wasn’t scary—rather it was a celebration. On November 1st, Ed and his local friends participated in a ritual called the “Sweeping of the Graves.”

Each year, families would come together to go and visit each of the gravesites of their dearly departed mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, friends and lovers. As they arrived, they would first spend a time cleaning the gravesite. They would cut down the grasses surrounding the tombstones or markers. They would scrub off the dirt from the stones. Then, having brought food, drink, music and candles, they would sit down around the gravestone.

The food and drink they brought was the favorite food and drink of the person who died. The music they would play would be the favorite music of that person too. Lighting candles as they began, everyone would sit down and eat the food and drink the drink. They talked fondly and remembered the fun and joy of their dearly departed.

During the festivities, the family would then invoke the spirit of their family member or friend that the departed spirit might speak to them with words of wonder and enlightenment.

When they were finished eating and drinking, and talking with their ghosts, they would then visit other gravesites, mingling with those there who were eating and drinking and dancing to the music of their loved ones—each family telling the other about the love of the person they were celebrating. All the while, the spirits of the dead would be mingling and talking with each other and one another.

What an interesting contrast indeed...

You can read the rest of the sermon by going visiting my church's website.

Television that I grew up on

You'll now see some pictures of those old familiar reruns that many of us ol' farts grew up watching after school. You'll find the pictures of the Fonz (I was enamored with him as a boy), Welcome Back, Kotter, Gilligan's Island, Barney Miller, All in the Family, and the Munsters. How's that for being just way too silly? :)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

some new, some rearranged

If you've looked closely at my blog today, you'll notice I've done some minor updating and rearranging on the right side of the screen. I went through my links, checking to see which ones still worked and while "cleaning up a bit," I decided to add some new blog links.

I fiddled with 'my favorite links', added some and took others away. I wanted the list to be self-revealing and cool at the same time (this pairing seldom works in my life in other situations).

The blog roll call is somewhat divided into sections (although I probably should put the list in alphabetical order). I have listed the liberally-spiritual blogs first, then the postmodern ones, then some friends, and the last few are political in nature.

I also made the advertisements look cleaner, if that is at all possible. I will be adding some pictures to the right column sometime soon- I just first need to find some pictures with my personality spewed on them (I apologize if this particular mental image might make you feel a bit queazy.)

That's it for now, more later.

This is a county-by-county break down of which counties voted for whom in the Presidential election. Look at all that red!! We liberals need to rethink some things, eh?
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Monday, November 08, 2004

God is Still Speaking

I am so excited about the new television commercials about The United Church of Christ. These commercials are all part of our God is Still Speaking Campaign which begins on December 1st. To preview the new commercial, visit stillspeaking.com. Be sure to turn up your computer speakers. :)

New Reading List

I finally finished my subway book, The Magic Circle by Katherine Neville. It was one heck of a great read (if you like that sort of genre). I tend to enjoy those spiritual mysteries in the vein of The Da Vinci Code. I am presently out of ideas on what to read next from that genre so I am going to vear off a bit and look at two new books.

The first book is being read at church about Christian Hospitality. The book, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition is by Christine Pohl in which she rediscovers how churches in our historical past worked at being as hospitible as possible. We are trying to find new and old ways of being hospitible and from last night's first Book Club meeting, this book is going to be great.

The second book is supposed to be THE textbook on mysticism. Mysticism: The Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness by Evelyn Underhill is about the nature of spirituality and how a person might develop a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of God's spirit around us. Ms. Underhill's book was originally published in 1911 (and has been through many reprints and updates) and is considered to be the starting point for such discussions surrounding mysticism within pyschological, religious, and humanistic perspectives.

However, honestly.. I do need to find another subway book. I need one of those books I can zone out on the subway and read. I'll let you know if I find anything like that later.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Inspiration from a friend's Mom

A friend up in Wisconsin sent me this email that her mom sent to her family and friends about the election. In it, she calls for us all to think and rethink how we go about sharing our faith and how that faith may sound in the next four years. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Dear Ones,

Yes, the elections were a total bummer. Yes, I feel somewhat depressed and defeated. BUT (as always I have my Pollyanna "but"), it is now on Bush's plate - everything. I remind myself constantly of the fact that Kerry would have had such an awful time dealing with all Bush had done. Now Bush is totally responsible, and may the 2006 elections come tomorrow, because there is Iraq, there is the deficit, there is the country's split, there is healthcare, there is the
economy and social security, there is outsourcing, there is the environment, etc. etc. Bush is holding the bag now; let's let him hold it and be accountable. I truly in my good heart hopes he can deal with it. In my nasty heart I hope he has to stew in his own mismanaged soup.

But I do believe we must start taking back the moral high road. If that means taking back God and Love and Justice, let's start talking about it unashamably and forcefully. We must talk about Jesus' justice for the poor, the sick, the elderly, the widows, the disabled, the least among us, and show how that extends to the diverse, the minorities, the unemployed, the single moms, the inner city kids, those not like ourselves but always God's children, etc. Let's start talking, all of us, not just Jeanny (or our liberal ministers), how spirituality informs our lives, and go on to
encourage our embarrassed and reluctant friends to do the same. We need not be embarrassed. The Democractic party need not be embarrassed about talking about Love and Justice, Mercy and Freedom. Freedom, a la Bush, by itself means nothing. Just Anarchy. Freedom with Justice, Freedom with Mercy, Freedom with Love needs to be front and center in our conversations.

Democrats are reluctantly verbal about their spiritual committments. We need to become less reluctant and more verbal. Not so private and more forthcoming. Doing so seems to violate something in our private core, but we no longer have the luxury of tending to our privateness.
We need to frame our talk not in liberal Christian terms or New Age terms that appeal to the already convinced. We need to frame it terms of the cultural right, the Born-Agains, the fundamentalists. We need to show them we care about many of the same things they do, yet,
unlike many of their professed stands, we truly believe in the New Testament, ie the Love of God, the mercy of God, the forgiveness of God, the Joy of God. And we must start to say outloud and vociferously that we take Jesus at his word to go heal the sick, tend to the poor, raise the dead. We need to join our right wing compatriots in a new celebration of Life for everyone. Not just fetuses (because who knows when someone is ensouled), but those who survive birth with no suppport, babies with no families to care for them, youngsters with no insurance with desperate diseases, old people who cannot afford prescription drugs that would save their
lives, helping people with disastrous problems with science through research (like stem cell research. Ask them what are they going to do with those frozen embryos), death row inmates, the people of Iraq who are dying by the tens of thousands, the people of Darfur that we
totally neglect because they have nothing to offer us materially, the people in Haiti whom we have abandoned, the poor all over the country and world with no voice, the disenfranchised around the world, the girls and women sold into slavery, the plight of those living on minimum wage trying to raise a family. I could go on and on, but you know all the neglected peoples in the world and in this country. It's a horrendous situation and problem. To ignore it is totally
unChristian, inhumane, isolationist and selfish.

We must call attention to Greed. It is not Christian; it is not part of our spirituality; it's not part of our cultural beginnings, because we believe in sharing our gifts, be it time or money. We must
point out that Greed is a sin, or a dreadful mistake, and one that is consuming America. Greed is not Biblical. It is not spiritual. It's not in the Quantum Universe wherein something like greed devours emerging systems. It will absolutely be the downfall of this country. Charity, faith based iniatives, etc. will not overcome it. If Greed is our national doctrine, we will sink into the swamp of the Hell we deserve. We must speak this out loud and clear. And we must somehow equate this with the dreadful tax breaks for people like me.

And we must talk about the spiritual need, the God given command to include all peoples in our dialogue, all peoples in our community, even those most unlike ourselves. We must rejoice in the fact and declare it from the roof tops that we want all peoples to fall under the tent of our Constitution. We must state that we are not a white "Christian" America, but a fabulously diverse, multicultural, wonderfully constituted bunch of families of all kinds, that we honor
real love wherever we find it, including the love of David and Jonathan that was Biblically honored.

I urge you to rethink how you talk, how you present your positions, how you ask others to do the same to see if you cannot come up with more inclusive, more compelling dialogue that will reach across divisions, that will translate your vision to those who hold what seems a different vision.

I have always felt translation was the key to communication and now I think we need to translate, translate, more than ever. I think it the most important need in all those of us who wish to see a different America. We can no longer talk in the same old way, assume the same
old symbols or metaphors will work. We must come up with a new way of speaking, of framing the discourse in new terms, languages, dreams, and then learn to manage our new language publically and privately. Please learn to restate, think in different language, different words, so that we can reach across the horrible divide this country is experiencing. Step out of your normal language whether it be Christian, New Age, Coaching, Quantum this and that, or Secular Humanist, and find new ways to express yourself that will touch those who appear to be on some other side.

We can take the high road if we are creative and able to translate our values in to language that communicates, and therefore bring more of us together. God, or a supreme Power, Joy, Love, Caring, Mercy, Justice, Inclusiveness, Truth, Spirit, Freedom, Mind, Life, Principle, Soul, are all there to be imagined and put into language others can identify with. They are real words that identify real values. They are not abstract. They are the fabric of our being. They constitute
our humaness.

I now believe it is imperative for us to find a way to put these word, these symbols, these values into language that is translatable to all.

Go for it!
Love, Mom/Margo

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Dealing with the Frustration

The tragedy that befell us on Wednesday, when Kerry conceded the election to President Bush, has caused me to feel both ill and angry. Wrestling with the emotion that we're in for another 4 years of greed, self-righteousness, and hostility, I've been thinking a lot about how my faith can speak to such a time as this. And then God spoke to me through a friend.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was speaking with a friend while we were commenting on the results of the Presidential election. Trying to keep an optimistic eye on our future, yet worried that our country may experience greater challenges, my friend said that regardless of what happens, his and my hope are not on the citizenship we have in America; rather, our confidence rests on our citizenship with God in the life everlasting. What an inspiring and hopeful way this Christian responded to the despondency many of us felt early on Wednesday morning!

Called as Christians to be a beacon of hope to our world is the responsibility we all share. Whether in times of joy or long-suffering, the words that we use to encourage our brothers and sisters, strangers and friends can provide significant comfort and support. As Philippians 4:5 encourages us, “Let your forbearing spirit be known to all.” In this way, my friend echoed the Apostle Paul in that our words of comfort will show others a patient and controlled restraint as well as hope in perilous times. By honoring the faith and joy of hope we have in Christ, may we find the peace we need to sustain us and those that surround our life.

And yes, our faith confirms that it is still possible to find peace even in a world where George Bush is President.

Monday, November 01, 2004

When lots get done

Whew! I've had a pretty busy week. Mondays are generally my days off from church work, so I have taken advantage of the day by doing next to nothing..all day! I finally remembered that I had a weblog and am now updating it with whats been going on as well as posting a bit from my sermon from yesterday.

I've been spending much of my free time these last few weeks developing a new sermon preparation guide to help me bring some variety to the sermons I preach. I have had great help by rereading Thomas G. Long's The Witness of Preaching. It has been a wonderful aid to help me select particular forms within the sermon to preach the focus and function of the particular Scripture pericope that I am working on. Yesterday's sermon was the first one I've preached using my new prep guide. From what the church folk said it was not only one of my best sermons but it was also seamless (which is exactly what I've been trying to work on these last few months). Sorry for sounding all technical with the sermon thing, if you're used to only hearing a sermon, my kind of sermon prep-talk may sound a bit unspiritual to you. But you know, a lot goes into a sermon and it takes a lot of time preparing (or at least, I think it should).

On another completely different matter, I forgot to set my clock back one hour yesterday. I was supposed to go visit a friend's installation at her new church yesterday morning. Another friend was supposed to have called earlier than he did to let me know the train he was going to be riding (we were going to take a cab together from the train station, and since I didn't know exactly where the church was, I needed to go with him). However, when he did call (I might have been able to make it to the train station) I thought it was an hour later and was thinking, "This guy's nuts, he's going to be very late!" Since I would rather not go as opposed to being really late, I declined his invitation to join him on the train platform for the trip. Later in the early afternoon, I was talking with my brother and when he mentioned the time change, I slapped my forehead and exclaimed, "Holy Shit, I completely forgot about that!!" (Ministers can say, 'Holy Shit'-- it's a perk of the job.)

So that's been my week, well, that and a whole lot of meetings and parties. I've been coming home from late every night and going right to bed to only get up mighty early and going to work. I've enjoyed this lazy day and plan to spend the rest of it finishing the book, The Magic Circle. Sadly though, I don't have any fun book to replace it yet. I oughta go to the bookstore tomorrow and find something new and fun to read. I'll let you know what I find.

When Religion Goes Bad

This is a snippet of what I preached on yesterday. You can read the rest of the sermon by visiting my church's website at www.bwayucc.org/Sermons.html

Today our national leaders are standing behind their Christian faith to articulate an economic message that neglects the responsibility to those who were given much in order to care for those with less. When we cut educational programs for the poorest of children, or cut funding to medical hospitals who care for the aged, or we support a government that guts AIDS funding for the very sick in the name of God, we become like the Judeans who used their faith as a justification for their interpretation of divine economic entitlement.

Yet, that mentality is exactly what Isaiah is confronting. A religion that neglects to do good and seek justice for those who have received injustice is a sham. This sort of religious expression infuriates God. Those who use their religion as a justification for their inhospitability, their message is the complete antithesis of what God stands for. When such a mentality exists, when religion not only overlooks the poor but even more so, justifies doing so, then religion has gone bad and it is better for that religion to end than for it to continue. When religion neglects those to whom it is responsible, it is an alcoholic who doesn’t know its an addict.