Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sans Paroles

I encountered the phrase "guiding narrative," and I instantly recognized what I had jettisoned -- Christianity as the story through which to understand and lead my life. Christianity as the story that best reflects the life and times of the Cosmos and all that is therein.

As tired as I feel, sometimes, of stories, I recognize that we need them -- to hear them and to tell them. They are a kind of glue that binds us, a kind of food that feeds our empathy. There is a certain encouragement in hearing Ecclesiastes the preacher state "there is nothing new under the sun," or, as I might paraphrase it for my current purpose, "I have heard all the stories."

There is a strident, self-righteous atheist among my small cadre of randomly acquired Facebook "friends" -- a brilliant and accomplished musician -- who is given to posting what he must deem to be witty and incisive bits from the militant atheist blogosphere, bits that tend to extol the sophisticated genius of atheists at the same time as they depict all Christians as ignorant, bigoted, knuckle-dragging intellectual barbarians.

One of these consisted of a list of statements that paralleled Biblical text -- you were thirsty and I gave you water, you were hungry and I gave you food, etc. -- and the capping verse, as it were, was "I did this because it was right not because I wanted a reward or feared punishment."

I sighed at the predictable, shallow and tedious critique. I suppose there are Christians who act out of a worldview that operates on heavenly reward and hellish punishment. But there are also Christians who do good "because it is right" -- right comprising actions that increase the well-being of earth and its creatures -- and for whom "God" is a post-hoc metaphor that describes this moral landscape, and for whom Jesus is a symbol, incarnation, of a human being who exemplifies these moral qualities. A model for behavior, as it were.

And, needless to say, there are secular "rewards" for "doing right" that involve narcissistic puffing up of the self and the ego -- a variant, I suppose, of spiritual materialism.

One can certainly chuck the stories and the guiding narrative and keep the right action. Then all the complexities about Jesus as "God" and somehow cosmic and somehow involved in a moral transaction involving our sins simply fall away. It is an enormous relief, a liberation, a joy. It is an enormous relief not to feel sinful for my unsociability, not to be told that wanting more time by myself is "choosing death."

Let us posit, then, the "trailing narrative."

The narrative that follow one down the path like a trail of Hansel-and-Gretel breadcrumbs --

-- perfect food for hungry birds and wind.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Religion, I told myself, is like a long complicated poem, an intricate set of metaphors that can be contemplated, performed, and interpreted. Of course it's not simply that. It's rule book, history, lens and mirror; it's system, sort-of-science, a manner of seeing and speaking, a code, a language, a jargon, a creole. It's got passwords, privilege, initiations, hierarchies, schemas of power. And sanctions and rewards, things to emulate and things to revile. And magic, plenty of magic. Water into wine, wine into blood, chose your level of credulity, from full-faith to metaphor to simply playing-along. There have been, or so I am told, chalices that bleed bona fide type O. It is a long fall from admiring high-church aesthetics and claiming transubstatiation to wondering why it takes an ordained priest to preside over a symbolic meal, and why it takes an elaborate, expensive physical and bureacratic edifice to host it.

Never mind the Vatican.

But I also told myself that religion that is not rooted in reality is worthless. Now, I realize that "reality" may be as fraught a term as "God." But where "God" is a conversation stopper, a heavily-guarded linguistic border crossing, "reality" is an invitation. That's not entirely the case, of course. Karl Rahner, I have read, calls God the infinitely distant and receding horizon of everything.

Now, the idea of horizon --that beyond which we cannot see -- is interesting. Beyond it reside the eye that cannot see itself, the infinitely regressing watcher, the that there is something rather than nothing, our face before our parents' birth, and other sundry rogues and trolls.

But I like my horizons genderless, armless and legless, and, moreover, I prefer that they don't give a rat's ass about me and my queer and paltry and utterly improbable existence.

God loves you more than you shall ever know. God is crazy about you. God adores you.

Please stop saying that. No, really. Stop.

Considering Jesus a few months back -- specifically the notion of Jesus being a revelation of God, an icon of God -- I wondered whether Jesus should rather be construed as a revelation of an exemplary manner of relating to God. But then we'd still have the Abba thing, sometimes translated as the "Daddy" thing. I might be the only person who has ever cringed at the thought of Jesus calling God "Daddy." It's creepy.

I've just finished reading James Carroll's magisterial Constantine's Sword, a history of anti-semitism in Christianity. It was even more depressing than Diarmaid MacCulloch's The Reformation in its meticulous depiction of the utter historical and political contingency of the Church and its doctrines, and of rivers of blood that have flowed and still flow in its name. Why did I ever want to be part of something that has grown from such poisoned ground, a ground still tainted by superstition, misogyny, and heterosexism, and something that is still routinely dragged into the public square as explanation of or justification for whatever political expediency that can't fly on its own ? Hitch it to God, then.

Let us pray.

Please stop saying that. No, really. You might as well say:

Let us lob some Teddy bears at the sky.

With respect to my apostasy, several people have asked me, "What now ?" as if they expect me, on the rebound, to take up something else -- Wicca, Confucianism, hare krishna, gardening. I understand the question and have no answer.

But I did relish the comments that, after all, the world itself is my community, and that the idea(l) of a monastic asylum -- of sanctuary and retreat -- can likely be retrofitted to an unchurched version of me. I am unlikely to be found collaring clerics on airplanes claiming to be an SBNR who gets enough revelation from sunsets (or, in my case, weeds), but perhaps only because I've been forewarned by the snippy UCC Rev Daniels that it's her way (church, community) or the highway -- that road out of town dedicated to the intrinsically disordered asocial ones eternally consigned to outer darkness +/- gnashing of teeth.

There will be no surprise that my return to the muddy dark and endless Boulevard Noir feels like a homecoming.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

In Which I Go Over The Wall

The project was likely doomed from the start, despite wise counsel from the highest spiritual level, the Dalai Lama's words to Western seekers to look to your own tradition. But my tradition, alas, is not overmuch concerned with the great that there is something rather than nothing that has been the existential lodestone of my whole life. It is happy enough to tackle why is there something rather than nothing, providing some squishy answer about God loving all there is into being, as God in turn loves us -- which, I suppose, is as close as one can get to "answering" that philosophically meaningless but cognitively understandable question. Science, meanwhile, tackles how there is something rather than nothing which may better subsume the that there is something rather than nothing but it's the existential that that has been my hound of heaven-and-hell.

So the first thing one notices upon officially entering My Tradition is Jesus. Wherever you look, there he is in his gloriously scandalous particularity. Got God ? Not without Jesus, you don't. So my busy little rat-brain clicks into high translation mode -- Jesus is a symbol for the intersection of the divine and the human; after all, without a human brain to notice that there is something rather than nothing -- well, what sound does that tree falling in the forest make, anyway ? Where or what, for that matter, was "God" before humans named God ?

This, I fear, was the problem from the beginning. My conversion -- if it can be called that -- was more like agreeing to an arranged marriage with Jesus then hoping for the best rather than falling head-over-heels in love and beelining for the nearest wedding chapel and honeymoon suite. I picture us standing there in our stiff wedding garments, posing for a daguerrotype, suspicious smiles frozen on our faces as we try not to squirm. It was separate bedrooms from the start.

I had another secret paramour whom I was ogling from afar, over whom I'd mooned for decades: Rome. Those clouds of incense ascending, the heart-rending music, the Latin incantations, the monasteries, the liturgy of the hours -- these seemed to prescribe a stance before the great that there is something rather than nothing --awe and celebration and thanksgiving and longing and sorrow -- more viable than, say, Sartre's Roquentin puking on the root of a chestnut tree. It was enough to almost make me forget about -- Jesus.

Well I got over that soon enough, and the liturgical images that used to move me now seem repugnant -- men decked in lace and great slabs of brocade mobbing altars from which women are ontologically, eternally, quasi-infallibly forbidden. So forbidden, in fact, that the slightest clerical suggestion that the issue might be even discussed results in swift and awful punishment, swifter and more final that than any punishment for child rape and the cover-up thereof. Never mind that, as a divorced and remarried woman, I'd not even be permitted to go anywhere near the Eucharist, obviously a sin of greater cosmic weight than shuttling abusive priests from assignment to assignment to assignment.

So then there is Episcopalia, the arrondissement of my recent Christian sojourn. What's not to love ? Gender no obstacle to holy orders, pockets of smells and bells that out-Rome Rome, a life centered around the Prayer Book and common praxis, not around a tome-like catechism and shelves of Canon Law that purport to hold a Truth from which no deviation will tolerated. And, of course, Desmond Tutu.

But there's still the Jesus thing. The love-our-fundamentalist-heterosexist-brothers-and-sisters thing. The anthropomorphic language thing. The fellowship thing -- there is no solitary Christian ! And the endless, endless stories. Narratives. Parables. Metaphors. I am drowning in, choking on words, words, words !

(See ?)

(Cue my archnemeses, the snarky UCC Cleric, Rev Daniels, and the Presiding Bishop, who (in my solitariness) has me pegged as a Great Western Heretic.)

And there are all those committees, and all that managerial language, and so much big-hearted, world-saving busyness so that sometimes it seems that the awe-and/or-nausea-inducing that there is something rather than nothing gets relegated to an unlabeled box on a high sacristy shelf to a chorus ofwell, yes, there's that I suppose, let's get on with ministry and outreach !

So there you have it. I have gone over the wall. I have turned in my sacristy key and retired my altar guild pin. The strange objects that collect under the pews between services are no longer my concern. It's not a change of heart, for there was probably inadequate heart in it from the beginning, it's a change of head, a change of tongue. A Berlitz thing. I can no longer take the vertiginous that there is something rather than nothing and call it God. Jesus does not have a monopoly on solidarity with the marginalized, on pacifism, on non-retribution, on compassion, on forgiveness. I shall just have to let the mental ideal of the monastery-as-refuge fade away -- and with it an unspoken longing for a community that I can never achieve -- and replace it with the hermit's hut.

Ainsi-soit il.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Applesaucetasy & Herringsy

Milestones. Markers along the way. The way to where ? I don't know. I just know that the milestones are clicking off one after the other, just as new ones loom into view. For example ?

Well, I passed the Last Big Test™ and have one final project to complete before I've fulfilled the AbĂ®me's increasingly byzantine requirements for board recertification.

I was offered, and ultimately declined a new position at work, one that effectively obliterates the job I've had for 18 years and reconfigures it under another department to which I was to be "leased." This was a long process, not unexcruciating, not without its moments of black comedy, and I'm glad to have come to a decision with respect to participating. What next ? I don't know. Something newish with my current employer that does not involve being leased. Sometime in November.

What else ? The smoldering discontent of my metaphysical life, of course. I have been on the crazy-making cusp of jettisoning church for months and months and months. So is this a milestone ? Or a series of the same milestones that recur ad infinitum, like in the nightmare of long, arduous, wandering travel that brings one back to the Twilight Zone irony of the starting point. Or the TS Eliotian end-and-beginning thingamajiggy. Stay through the end of choir, stay through the summer, stay through the rector's autumn sabbatical, through Advent -- the liturgical year lacketh not for signposts and milestones.

And then there's tomorrow: the installation of DKs new bionic right knee. This has been the biggest peak in the mile-stoned mountain range of of-late, and here we finally are: base camp. Camp Dread, as it is sometimes called. The country beyond is overly milestoned, and full of awful turns and crossroads down which one dreads being shunted. I made the mistake of looking up photos of the procedure (there are many excellent reasons that I am not a surgeon, and squeamishness is one of them) -- quickly returning to the cool simplicity of schematics and the shadow land of xrays.

I thought back to the day we met, and of how a single point in time becomes, sometimes, over time, a cornucopia of blessings -- an every widening horn of plenty -- and like all horns, it opens on emptiness and silence -- and sounds and overspills for as long as it does and no longer.

So, yes, that's a milestone.

I planted sunflowers a month ago. Placed little fences around the sunflower beds. Watered them diligently. I was to be come the Mother of Sunflowers !

Then, one day, I noticed sunflower seed husks around my gardens. Birds had unearthed and gutted the seeds. Except in one small bed there was a cluster of shoots -- was that where I had dropped a handul of seeds ? Was I going to be Mother of Sunflowers after all ?

I visited my flowerbed daily with my green plastic watering pail. I watched the anonymous seedling grow, millimeter by millimeter -- picturing the "12 foot mammoth sunflowers" that would grace our front yard in late summer --

-- until I realized that these were not sunflower seedlings.

They were swallow-wort. Our yard's most ubiquitous weed, famous for completely overgrowing the chainlink fence, not without its charms, but enough is enough already, m'kay ?

So Mother of Swallow-wort trudges on to her next adventure, which will not -- I know this much at least -- involve sunflowers.