• Tag Archives faith
  • How Do We Open Ourselves to Mystery?

    Lughnasa                                      Waxing Back to School Moon

    A very busy three days with something in the evening each night plus events during the day, too.  Glad to get a chance to get back to the bees and the garden.

    Some autumn blooming bulbs came in the mail today, so I’ll get a chance to plant them over the weekend.  I need to get outdoors.  Fall bulb planting is one of my favorite garden chores.  Crisp weather and Folk Alley radio, sometimes the Andover Marching Band can be heard in the background.

    I’m still trying to come to grips with the unsettling experience I had at the seminary tonight.  I have no patience for the God talk, less for the elaborate hermeneutical dance that goes on in such settings.  I put myself in the room as a favor to Groveland and to Leslie, but I no longer feel like I belong there, a strange feeling after 15 years in the ministry.  These used to be my people; it is my seminary; but, I feel more like an outsider now than I did when I began back in 1970 and I was very outside the norm then.

    I hope I’ve not done Leslie a disservice by agreeing to do this.  I still respect the faith journey, the attempt to wrest some purpose out of life, to read the palimpsest of history and of nature, scraping away the latest scribbles to look even deeper, to find a way into the world of divinity, a trace of the sacred on the wind.  These represent the sweetest and the best of human endeavor, those moments when the human vessel becomes a vehicle for discernment.

    The institutional expressions of religion, the rationalization of charisma as Max Weber said, do little or nothing, indeed often obfuscate the journey with the insistent demands of institutional maintenance:  credentialing of clergy, fund raising, dogma protecting, seeking new members, building buildings, routinized worship.  Where is the ecstatic?  The mystic?  The awe-some?  Where is the deep calling unto deep?  Where is the fearless acceptance of the human condition?  Dangerous, lovely, cloying, sensual, heady, brutal, wild and untamed, even in the most civilized.  The Methodists and the Presbyterians and the United Church of Christ and the Baptists and even, for no God’s sake, the UU’s have fashioned clay towers with bright windows but no doors and no way outside.

    The journey happens at night as sleep comes, when a dream grabs you by the throat and won’t let go.  The journey proceeds as you walk to work, hold hands with a lover, dance in the rain, smile at the gorilla and the lion fish.  It goes forward along the ancientrails of art, literature, dance, music, theater.  Meditation?  Sure.  Quiet moments with fellow travelers?  Yes.  Finance committee meetings?  Don’t think so. Evangelism?  Nope.  The journey deepens when we become vulnerable to ourselves, to the world around us and I’m sorry, but I don’t see the support for that in the pews of any church I’ve ever attended.  Perhaps the monastery holds an echo of it.  The solitary parishioner at prayer.  The Jews at the wailing wall.  Muslims at the Kabah.  Maybe.

    But the weak tea I experienced tonight? Unlikely.  And I feel bad about that, sad.

  • Make Meadows, Not Lawns

    38  bar steep fall 29.49  2mph N  windchill 36   Samhain

    Full Moon of Long Nights

    Another TED video worth watching:  Where Have All the Bee’s Gone?  In it apiarist Dennis vanEnglesdorp gives a brief overview of the honeybee disappearances in the U.S.  We have lost about 1/3 of the total hives each year for at least the last two years.  Beekeepers have prevented this from reducing our total bee population by splitting hives and buying queens, but the price of doing this year after year will become prohibitive.

    Just this year I saw some honeybees in our garden for the first time since we’ve lived here.  They surprised me.

    At the end of the video he diagnoses the primary problem behind the bee disappearances as NDD:  Nature Deficit Disorder.  We have become, he says, too distanced from the natural world and no longer pay attention to how our lives influence the rest of the nature.  His solution?  Replace lawns with meadows.  Works for me.

    This is an example of the followers of the old faith.  Each beekeeper, amateur or professional, is in the community of the saints, necessary in large, large numbers for this old faith to survive.

  • An Old Faith Taking on New Raiment

    18  bar steep fall  1mph  SSW  windchill 18   Samhain

    Full Moon of Long Nights

    How do you stretch out the creative muscle, let the reins loose on the resources hidden somewhere beyond or under the rational wall?  When the Pegasus of new thought tries to rise from its tether inside the amygdala, the fear raiser of the brain, what can be done to smooth its way?  To calm the nakedness of the soul?

    There is, I am sure of it, an old faith taking on new raiment.  It says nothing new; it proclaims nothing that is not obvious; it offers no new wisdom.  It cares not for written texts, for prayers or priests, for churches or temples.  It does not require protection under the first amendment or any amendment of any laws of humankind, for its law is writ in the language of the stars.

    It has holy places.  Places we know by their Torii or their thick ropes.  Places we know by worn paths that lead us through forests, along rivers, up mountainsides, into the garden.  Places we know by the trembling sense of wonder they evoke in us.  A crashing waterfall.  An erupting volcano.  An opening tulip.  The birth of a howler monkey among the ruins of ancient Angkor.  Places we know by the care others have taken: paintings, poems, cairns and prayer ties.

    These holy places were not decreed in some council or by a guru or selected by a committee.  No, they were decreed by the hand of Pangea, sculpted by the artisans wind and water. They were discovered, not made.

    This old faith has so many followers, so many who take its truths with them into the fields, onto the lakes and oceans, alongside them in struggle, carried in wicker baskets into the flower and vegetable gardens.  So many followers.

    There is no common book, save the verdant field.  There is no common book, save the flowing stream.  There is no common book, save the vasty deeps.  There is no common book, save the azure sky.  There is no common book, save the dark night sky filled with stars.  And these are more than enough.

    If you are a member of this faith, you know it.  You need no congregation, you require no chant or hymn.  You need only a quiet moment beside a brook or a butterfly.

  • On What Ground Does Your Faith Stand?

    74  bar rises 29.92 1mph N dew-point 62    Summer, sunny and pleasant

    Full Thunder Moon

    “Think like a man of action and act like a man of thought.” – Henri Bergson

    I’ve not seen this quote before, but I like it.  I do know Bergson, however, a creative philosopher.  He proposed the snapshot theory of time.  Time precedes in discrete chunks, rather than a continuous flow.

    After sheepshead last night, Bill Schmidt and I talked outside Roy Wolfe’s house.  The air was warm and a bit stale, mosquitoes homed in on my bald head while we  talked about Chardin.  A new translation of Chardin’s phenomenon is out, Bill said, now called the Human Phenomenon.  Much better.  I said I’d look at it.

    We share a spirituality, a sense of our location in the universe, that has its roots in Christian experience, yet has long ago slipped the moorings of that more traditional way.  Both of us now search for ways to articulate this sense of wonder and awe founded not in words, but in lived experience.  Bill spoke of a moment when the trees outside his apartment came to him and he to them, “A moment, maybe.  A tenth of a second.  But I was with them, no boundary.”

    In my re-reading of Unitarian history in preparation for my UU history presentation it has become clear to me that the primary struggle in liberal religion, from the beginning down to the current day, is over what gives religion authority.  I could have seen it earlier, because I learned while a Presbyterian that all fights in the Christian community come to that, too.  In their case the issue was either biblical interpretation, the most common authority in the Protestant community, or the Catholic church’s claim that their magesterium grew from its apostolic authority in addition to scripture.

    At first, in the Unitarian movement, the new come-outers fought with the orthodox Calvinists over reason applied to Scripture.  The Unitarians said there was no warrant for the trinity in scripture, therefore they did not believe it.  But.  They did believe the scriptures had supernatural authority.  Jesus was still the Christ and miracles like the resurrection were the warrant for reasonable Christians in their faith.

    When Emerson, in his Harvard Divinity School Address, said that we should look to our own inspiration, our own revelation rather than that of the fathers what he put forward was, in fact, a new source of religious authority, personal experience.

    The  outflow from what then became the Transcendentalist Controversy was the subtle, at first, erosion of belief in the supernatural character of the scriptures, and therefore of Jesus, that proceeded pell mell to questions of the existence of God.

    Quelled in part by the accident of the Civil War just as it had begun to gather force, the whole controversy emerged again when, in the West, after the Civil War, the new Unitarian and Universalist communities began to veer away from Boston Unitarian orthodoxy and raise what would become the western controversy, that between theists and those who wanted more latitude.  The Free Religious Association, which carried the burden of those who did not want to be bound by any orthodoxy, gave a brief organizational expression to this movement.

    The result of all these questions was the gradual opening of more and more space within liberal religion for a range of perspectives from conservative liberal Christian Unitarianism to those who sought the foundation for their faith in human experience.

    This was roughly how things stood at the transition in to the 20th century.  At this point Minneapolis emerged, through the preaching of John Dietrich, as the center of a controversy, this time between the humanist message conveyed by Dietrich to audiences in the thousands and the theists of the liberal Christians.  This humanist-theist debate still resonates in 21st century UU congregations.  The content seems to be the issue, but it is not.

    As it has been from the beginning with William Ellery Channing in the early part of the 19th century, the issue is now this:  what authenticates your faith experience?  Is it some external authority:  a creed, a bible, a prelate; or, is it a matter of lived experience?

    Now we have come full circle back to Bill and me standing there on the street in St Paul, the mosquitoes buzzing and Roy coming out from his house to toss a can in the blue recycling bin.  We waved to Roy, concluded our talk and got in our cars to head home.

  • A Vivid Imagination

    59  bar steady  30.02  1mph WSW dewpoint 42  Beltane, sunny

                    Waxing Gibbous Hare Moon 

    “The more I study religions the more I am convinced that man never worshipped anything but himself.” – Sir R. F. Burton

    Burton is an interesting guy. He traveled the world and did a translation of the Arabian Nights.  He is, however, not much of a theologian.  His genes must have cascaded down to Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.  They, too, seem to believe that if you betray your ignorance loudly, then others will agree.   All faith traditions are far more subtle, more nuanced that mere projection.  Do they each have their problematics? Absolutely.  Do the problems justify the kind of reductionist argument deployed by religions cultured despisers (to borrow the phrase from Frederick Schleiermacher)? Not at all.

    The simplest argument against them is this.  Have you ever seen a love?  Have you ever smelled justice?  Yes, you have seen or smelled their physical manifestations, but have you seen the complex of emotions and judgment that produce them?  No.  Why not?  Because they are constructs of the mental world.  What constitutes the mental world?  Is it just the firing and stimulation of neurons?  Oh, how do you know?  Because the fMRI tells you so?  How does the fMRI tell you its information?  That’s right, through sight. 

    I’m with Kant here.  The ding an siche, the thing in itself, is unknown and unknowable due to the mediation of the senses.   Therefore how Dawkins and Harris can claim to reach beyond their sensorium and know a negative is beyond me.  Does the trashing of their fundamental argument make them wrong?  Unfortunately, no.

    By the by, if you’ve never read the Arabian Nights, The Thousand and One Nights, then you’ve missed something.  Find a complete edition because the Muslims who wrote it had a vivid imagination.  I mean, really vivid.


  • A Tradition Thousands of Years Old

    59  bar rises 29.84 1mph NE dewpoint 46 Spring

                 Full Moon of Growing

    Kate and I observed a tradition thousands of years old tonight.  We got out the Haggadh, put the horseradish, cilantro, haroset, boiled egg and lamb bone (we substituted a chicken leg.) on a Seder plate.  A small egg shaped cup held the salt water, the Elijah cup stood ready for his return.  We had matzoh and we hid the aphikomon for the dogs.  They were, as the passover ritual suggests, children unable to inquire.   We worked together within the limitations of our planning and availability of certain goods to produce a meal, to read the Seder ritual and retell the timeless story of enslavement and liberation, the Exodus.

    This Haggadh, the language and shape of the Seder laid out in book form, is hopeless.  It is sexist in the extreme; sexist where no law of faith requires it.  Kate suggested I write one of my own and I just might.

    It is a little strange for me, metaphysically speaking, to participate in this ritual with solemnity, which aspects of it requires.  Once I get in the flow of it though the ritual and the language and the songs blend together and become a hymn to the life of a people and their relationship with their highest and best sense of themselves.  It is a story which acknowledges human frailty as well as longing for the divine, bravery as well as fear.  It is their story, but also our story.  Bondage, liberation and the struggle for freedom belong not just to the Jews, but to everyone.

  • Matzo Located In Coon Rapids

    69!  bar steep fall 29.84 3mph ENE dewpoint 49 Spring

                         Full Moon of Growing

    Boy.  With the temps in the high 60’s the full moon of growing has matured during the right weather. 

    Good news.  There are Jews just across the city line into Coon Rapids.  Both Cub and Rainbow have many shelves with matzo meal, borscht, chicken bullion, matzo soup mix and potato pancake mix.  Bad news.  Manischewitz has back ordered passover approved matzo.  Bummer.  So, we will have to anoint the regular matzo as ok for passover.  It’s ok; I’m a minister, I can do that.  Not really, but what choice do we have?

    The world as a whole is miraculous and in its parts, too.  I put more seeds into small plugs of earth, readying them for life under the bright lights until the weather is congenial for their presence in the big show outside.  Each seed I handled, most very tiny, a few bigger, say half the size of a small pencil eraser, had all that was necessary to produce a beet, a morning glory, a cucumber, basil, rosemary.  All these mighty engines need is a bit of help.  Water.  Light.  Some nutrients later on, but in the beginning they carry their own food source, stored away from a plant long ago gone to seed, perhaps compost now, but it lives on in these small parcels.

    The imagery was impossible to not notice.  I took a pick-up (Adsons) and deposited the seeds into the crevice in the center of the small prepared plug of earth.  After I dropped in the seed, my role finished.  The rest is up to the seed and the things that nudge it into action.  Later, plants.  Food captured and processed, food made from light thanks to another miracle, photosynthesis.  Think of that:  food from light.  That’s what these living parcels can do.  Something we couldn’t do, ever.  No matter how learned and wise.  If not for photosynthesis, we’d starve to death in the midst of abundant energy.

  • This All Sounds a Bit Woo-Woo (OK, Maybe More Than a Bit)

    42  bar rises 29.99 2mph NNE dewpoint 41 Spring

                Full Moon of Growing

    “People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.” – Thomas Szasz

    I agree with Szasz (the anti-psychiatrist famous for his views about schizophrenia) that the self is not something one finds.  I agree with his critique of the notion of finding one’s self.  I disagree with his conclusion though, that the self is something one creates.  Over time I have developed a personal perspective on this issue, one related most closely to Carl Jung’s work, but a bit different from his, too.

    Intuition tells me that the Self of each living thing is unique and much larger (at least in potential, perhaps in size) than the always incomplete self we realize at any one point during life.  The Self is the harmonious and dynamic interaction of all that an individual life can become.  I imagine it as an incorporeal (don’t ask me about the physics) reality, a sort of etheric entity that stands taller and looms larger than I do.  It may, and I suspect it does,  connect us to a metaphysical plane, perhaps a realm of archetypes, where our individual, unique moment in the great stream of looping time feeds from the  purest and best of its manifold possibilities.

    This all sounds a bit woo-woo, I know.  I can only tell you that after many years of prayer, meditation and Jungian analysis this is the sense I have of who and what I am and could become.  This same process has led me to conclude that every grass plant, every daffodil, every oak tree, every yew also has a Self toward which it reaches, with more and less realization in a lifetime.  Dogs, lions, crawdads and centipedes, too.  This is why the Japanese indigenous religion of Shinto, an animist faith, and Taoism, a testament to the dynamic, connected and living nature of all there is appeal to me.  

    The empirical, western, enlightenment man within me only lets these thoughts surface when I’m alone lest I be perceived either as a lunatic or a throwback to some neo-Platonic dead end of philosophical speculation.  And I may be. 

    It is impossible, all the same, to deny what the heart knows to be true.  There is more to this, too.  I also believe in cyclic, not chronological time.  That is, I find the rhythms of the universe, the whole to which we are certainly connected by as intimate a link as the very atoms which constitute our bodies, to be those of repetition, seasonal and episodic.  What goes around comes around.  Whatever will be has been (to rephrase a canard).  This idea I find deeply reassuring since it suggests some reincarnation type possibility, not a one shot and extinct life.  I say this in spite of my almost deepest conviction, borne on an empirical and existentalist raft, that this one life is all we have.  In fact, though I live my life as if that were true, my heart, again, tells me otherwise.

    In the spirit though of plan for the worst, hope for the best, I do believe the existentialist, one shot and extinct, approach gives living the most buzz, the most vitality and engenders, too, a deep sense of responsibility for each other.  It is, therefore, to me, an optimal way of being even if we get, as I suspect, second, third and even gazillionth chances to realize our true Selves.

    OK.  That’s enough of that for the morning. I have to go buy potatoes, Matzoh and cake meal.

  • No Matzoh In Andover

    47  bar rises 29.95  3mph N dewpoint 40 Spring

                         Full Moon of Growing

    No matzoh at Festival in Andover.  No lamb.  The butcher said, “We only carry it for holidays.  Can’t push it any other time.”  Not many Jews in Andover either, apparently.  This is a big one for Jews all over the world, but not big enough to create a market for lamb at the local supermarket.  No matzoh cake meal either.  All this  means a trip to Byerly’s tomorrow.  Plenty of Jews in and around Maple Grove.  It’s all about the market.  Plenty of Hindu’s in Maple Grove, too.

    I don’t imagine there are many Parsi here either.  Oh, well.  It’s probably fair to say that I’m one of a handful of the Taoist inclined, too.  May be a few Chinese folks and me.

    Just finished the Saturday workout.  This one’s a bugger and my muscles can tell they’ve had hard use.  It’s the only way to make’em grow and the only way to compensate for age related loss of muscle mass.  It’s important, but it doesn’t make it easy.

    The world is a strange, big place.  While I did my resistance work, I listened to a program on the evolution of the planet.  The irregular catastrophic punctuations in her history gives me pause.  The Chixilub meteor, fissure eruptions, super volcanoes, snowball earth, a few ice ages here and there and pretty soon, as Evertt Dirksen used to say, you’re talking about real extinction events.  It may be that we have come on the scene in a period of Pax Terra; but, based on our history as a planet, I’d say it won’t last.

  • Masters of the Universe

    42  bar falls 30.14 6mph NNE dewpoint 31 Spring

                   Waxing Crescent Moon of Growing

    Some of this, some of that.  Reorganized a few books in the study.  Called the folks at NOW fitness to get a repair for the treadmill.  Surprise! It has a lifetime warranty.  Can you beat that?  I bought it 12 years ago and have used it 5-6 times a week since then.  Finished Spiderman III.  It got better at the end, but it was too adolsecent for my tastes in the middle, felt long.  Read about Cristina Sanchez, a late 1990’s matadora.  Looked her up on the Web.  She quit because of the sexism.  Can you imagine sexism in a bull-fighting culture?

    Talked to Kate.  Talked to Vanguard folks who won’t accept my lawyers letter with a medallion signature.  They need yet more paper.  Geez.  Sorted through several tour related snafus.  A nap.  Now a workout.

    Kate comes home tonight.  She went to the Asia Museum in San Francisco and on the way back (today) she encountered the heavily guarded Olympic torch and had to walk a whole block square to get back to her hotel.

    Oh, I also took the treadmill controls apart myself and cleaned them, looked for jammed parts.  The rest of the assembly is electronics and didn’t look accessible to my limited knowledge.  That’s when I called the shop.

    Tom Crane has the Woolly meeting in May.  He has asked us to think about mastery.  In particular he wondered if there was any special meaning behind references to Jesus as master.  I looked that up today and found, to my surprise, that each time you read master in the new testament, the word translated is the Greek word for teacher.  There’s a reason for this, but the dogs want to go out now.  Maybe I’ll get back to it later.