Long, geeky at times, but really insightful:
Long, geeky at times, but really insightful:
After my trip to Kansas City, I flew to the world of Mickey to join my brother & sister as we surprised my mom. My mom retired after 20 year with the McKenzie Institute, where she shepherded their annual meetings and helped coordinate certification exams.
Cathi, Bill & I were able to surprise at a party/roast the Institute was kind enough to host at Ragland Road Irish Pub - here is a photo of my mom, me & my bald spot:
It was so moving to see my mom in her tribe, with so many people talking about the personal impact she has had on their lives.
Undercover street artist JR has up pictures of his new large-scale photo installations in Cartagena, Spain. JR is best known for Face 2 Face a project "to make portraits of Palestinians and Israelis doing the same job and to post them face to face, in huge formats, in unavoidable places, on the Israeli and the Palestinian sides." And for his photo series Women Are Heros.
(Hat tip: Utne)
If you have not been tracking it, here is some background on the tragic shooting last week in Knoxville:
Knoxville Shooter Hated “Blacks, Gays, Anyone Different”
AFA Approved Comments: Knoxville Church Doing “Satan’s Work”
Knoxville Shooter Hated “Liberals,” Gays
Knoxville Shooter’s Manifesto Found
Gunman Opens Fire On Gay-Friendly Church, Two Killed
This type of violence makes no sense - hatred that intense is something I want to turn my eyes & mind away from.
If you can, please visit How you can help the Knoxville Unitarian Church victims.
Today in many Christians traditions, people remember Mary and Martha of Bethany, who were said to be sisters of Lazarus. These two women are discussed in the Gospel attributed to John & to Luke. In many storytelling constructs, Mary & Martha are set up as an either/or litmus test. Mary is often seen as the placeholder for people who are contemplative, more likely to quietly "take things in". Martha more often is seen as the placeholder for people who are action-oriented, prone to "make things happen".
This type of either/or - what academics call dualism - is a huge frame for how our modern world attempts to make sense of things. You are either a friend or a foe, either a conservative or a liberal, either a winner or a loser. Churchianity is deeply invested in this approach - you are either saved or fallen, either ordained or lay, either orthodox or apostate. These binaries are used to rule people out, used to set people against one another, used to confer power & resource, used to scapegoat & attack.
Last week, I spent 3 days smack dab in the middle of the U.S. with a group of modern-day people like Mary, Martha & Lazarus. We came together as strangers for the most part, so we spent some time telling our stories. Zack is right - this is an extrordinary group of Christians. As luck (or something else) would have it, our group of 11 was filled with either/or extremes: one person was once huge in the Moral Majority, another a former exec dir of MoveOn; one person is a teacher of contemplation, another a trainer of activist; one person a gay activist, another pastor of a church that left its denomination in reaction to ordainination of GLBTQ people. I must say, this meeting was a powerful social experiement about whether there is a centered space, safe enough for either/or extremes to exhale and breathe the same ruach in.
These dualisms hung over us at times, causing some tension and even discomfort. Churchianity is built on keeping these either/or as far apart as possible - one end of the pew as separate from the other end as the institution can bear. What we talked about - a festival around arts, activism & faith - was less important than we ethos we reached for - generosity, hospitality, a sense of possibility. It is a wild goose chase to hope for this type of festival, because common sense would remind us that evangelicals have their festival, conservatives their conventions, Catholics their liturgies, people on the edges their special interest groups.
In many faith setting, this hope is animated by shared worship, but worship is often the method used to foster this either/or separation in church settings. On the evening of our first night of meetings , we gathered on a platform in the middle of a field for worship, inspired by The Taizé Community. We chanted together Ubi caritas et amor ~ Ubi caritas; Deus ibi est , which is translated as:
Live in charity and steadfast love,
live in charity; God will dwell with you.
On our last morning, we gathered again for worship. While time was short, the room warm, time a'ticking - we stopped and sat together for 5 minutes of shared silence. We then had communion together, re-membering ourselves to the meal God Incarnate shared with the friends who followed him. It was a powerful end to our time together - tears were shed, the air heavy with a sense of holiness among us.
I am hopeful for where our shared work may end up, but I am still pondering whether there is something beyond this box we are so commited, this dualism that so permeates our American culture. Bill Bishop talks about this in his book The Big Sort, which he posted about last week:
Max Gluckman in the '50s wrote about African tribes where it was against custom to marry within the tribe. Intermarriage made societies more stable.
The saying was, "They are our enemies. We marry them."
Today, we've lost those cross-cutting relationships -- in our neighborhoods, churches, clubs, neighborhoods, even our marriages. (Opposites don't attract and match.com uses political similarity to put likely couples together.)
American Churchianity so often can not hold these cross-cutting relationships, can not move beyond the false choice of either/or. Enemies in American Churchianity are not married - no, they are villified, they are used to raise money & gain press - these enemies are in many ways central to the forces that hold people & institutions in power. If there is a dominating parable in, sadly it is typically The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18.
What makes me hopeful is the promise of and, the sense that there is a chance that people are hungry to move beyond the either/or trap. The life of following Jesus is about Mary and Martha and Lazarus - contemplation, action, friendship - all together bring new life. There is a chnace that this festival may be fragile & faithful enough to hold this new life, to be a celebration of and.
Here is my prayer for this festival of and:
O God, heavenly Father, whose Son Jesus Christ enjoyed rest and refreshment in the home of Mary and Martha of Bethany: Give us the will to love you and open our hearts to hear you and strengthen our hands to serve you in others for his sake; who lives and reigns with you and the Wild Goose - the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen
I bought an LP called My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne at Sound Warehouse, a record store near my house, when I was 17 years old. As a teenager growing up in suburbia, Byrne's group Talking Heads seemed exotic & unpredictable, with a beat you could dance to (or in my case, move somewhat arrythmically). I listened to My Life like some mysterious oracle from another world, enthralled by stuff I could not comprehend. I did not know it then, but it was the first time I ever heard Muslims or the Qu'ran. The 3 cuts on side 2 - "The Carrier", "A Secret Life", "Come With Us" - might be only 9 minutes in duration, but those sounds transported me to another world.
Over the last year, Eno & Byrne have been working on Everything That Happens Will Happen Today which features Byrne's lyrics and voice alongside Eno's various electronic tracks. The collection will be self-released as a stream/digital download on 8/18. I am so excited about this work, especially when I read this quote:
"When we started this work, we started to think we were making something like electronic gospel: a music where singing was the central event, but whose sonic landscapes were not the type normally associated with that way of singing," says Eno. "This thought tapped into my long love affair with gospel music, which, curiously, was inadvertently initiated by David and the Talking Heads."
One of the things that I find so stifling about modern churchianity is way in which it has attached itself to facts and models, setting itself in a mirror with science & reason. Left out of this battle for the minds of people is imagination - neither churchianity or ist twin, modernity, seems to care much for the arts, for things that animate the soul or captivate our bodies. Religion has too often become a series of declarative sentences, a formula that can be easily used to put people in boxes.
The impact on people of faith has been fairly destructive, at least from my POV. Successful pastors publish books that seem more like recipes, theologians seem to compete for who be the most disconnected from the practice of faith. Left outside, on the margins, are people who create art - painters, sculptors, songwriters, film makers, game writers. For me, this has rendered churchiniaty as somewhat akin to the world portrayed in Gary Ross's 1998 film Pleasantville:
I'll be spending the next few days in Kansas City, MO with a group of folks who yearn for the bright colors that following God in a Jesus way can bring. This effort - currently called Wild Goose - is inspired by the Greenbelt festival, which began in 1974. These 4 days of the Greenbelt festival are a time of gathering & sharing for thousands of people who are engaged in music, art, activism and faith.
Over the last 8-10 years, a number of groups have held the vision for a U.S. festival inspired by Greenbelt. The group gathering Kansas City - which we are affectionally calling a Gaggle - represent a fairly broad spectrum of faith backgrounds, as well as organizational affiliations. We'll spend time praying, listening, talking - even creating some art & worshipping together.
We hope to discern some critical decisions - whether, when, where - by the time we finish our meeting Saturday afternoon. If you are a person who prays, I ask you to hold us in prayer that we can listen for the still, small voice that God so often speaks in.
image from Kate's Eye
I depend on heroes in my media diet, even pretend ones, to embody hope and to point out a path for slaying the dragons (real & imaginary) that arise in my journey. Lisa, my wife, is a living, breathing hero of mine - she teaches me so many lessons about how dragons might not be so scary. People who compete in the Olympics have always been heroes of mine, ever since my mom & I watched the '72 Games in Munich. Artists are heroes of mine - the way they animate life and live in a rhythm that is their own.
Tara Hunt had a great post on what it means to be a hero, in which she lays out some of the attributes of heroes she groks:
#1, to be a hero is to be selfless
#2, to be a hero is to hold true to a code of ethics
#3, heroism requires action
#4 ability to be egolessness
#5, heroes don’t discriminate
That is a pretty high bar Tara sets - it is tempting to be cynical and not even try to meet that standard. But more & more, I am reminded that cynicism is a spear with fear at the tip, looking to pierce creation in all it's beauty. Even at age 44, I need heroes to stave off that cynicism, to fend off the spears.
I really resonated with Tara's point about another aspect that makes heroes so captivating:
They falter. They have times where they don’t want to be heroes. They want to be “normal”.
This is not what we expect of people in our lives - we do not expect friends to falter, we are thrown off when "heroes" want some time off, when they hunger to be normal.
This is particularly the case when faith is part of the equation. Pastors fall, soul friends are normal broken people, great artists or writers so often do not want to be great or heroic or ab-normal.
I thought of this again when I read Uncertainties About the Role of Doubt in Religion, in which Peter Steinfels asks a powerful question:
So what exactly does it mean that many contemporary believers will be living their faith “in a condition of doubt and uncertainty”?
So much of my cultural experience of faith is holding up the pretense of certainty, covering up the doubt. Just like the superhero outfits that Peter Parker or Princess Diana of Themyscira dress up in, I think of my faith as some "outfit" that I needcto pt on when things get dangerous.
The summer 2008 film season started pretty cynically for me, with a hero from my younger trotted out in a film that was just beneath the talents of all involved. But over the last few weeks, I have been lucky to sit in a dark room with hundreds of other people living in doubt & uncertainty, animated by the stories of two rogue robots and the narrative imagined by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finge.
This summer's gift from the folks at Pixar is WALL-E, conceptualized, written & directed by Andrew Stanton. A commentor I adore - Rod Dreher - has described this film as a "postmodern masterpiece ....one of the most subversive films I've ever seen", even going so far as to describe it as what would happen if "Wendell Berry made a sci-fi movie for kids". As proof of what a truly extraordinary work this is, a writter on the other end of the political spectrum - Frank Rich - writes in glowing terms about a movies that clings to "the fleeting green memory of the extinct miracle of photosynthesis is as dazzling and elusive as the emerald city of Oz."
In this interview, Stanton, a self-described Christian, unpacks some of the heroism that this work of art captures:
Well, what really interested me was the idea of the most human thing in the universe being a machine because it has more interest in finding out what the point of living is than actual people. The greatest commandment Christ gives us is to love, but that's not always our priority. So I came up with this premise that could demonstrate what I was trying to say--that irrational love defeats the world's programming. You've got these two robots that are trying to go above their basest directives, literally their programming, to experience love.
With the human characters I wanted to show that our programming is the routines and habits that distract us to the point that we're not really making connections to the people next to us. We're not engaging in relationships, which are the point of living--relationship with God and relationship with other people.
a crime drama, a jarring and frightening suspense movie, a meditation on good and evil, a challenge to beliefs and assumptions about order and chaos and human nature; it's a collection of psychological studies, a descent into despair, a call for hope, a horror movie with a mass murderer stalking citizens, a story of love and loyalty. and it's got kickass action. and brilliant, subtle, serious acting.
I was most struck by the tension between anarchy & order that Joker & Batman embody. The Joker challenges the conventions of a villain in that he has no inhibitions and refuses to adhere even to the ultra-basic moral code of criminal. The Joker traffics in terror, plays with the very nature of what being a hero means, makes a joke of the idea of good existing or triumphing. The climatic boat scene will no doubt be shown countless times as a sort of social experiment to test heroism among common folk.
I must say I have been somewhat haunted by how the film ends. Batman takes on a mantle of darkness, some we must hunt & attempt to capture. The community is now part of this heroism - it is no longer a single figure who holds hope.
Paul Fromont blogged recently about a book we both recently read - The Promise of Paradox: A Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Life. Parker Palmer is a hero of mine - an author, educator, and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change. He lives & writes in the world that Peter Steinfels captures - he also reaches for the type of hero that Tara Hunt captures. But his heroism, at least for me, comes in the way he talks openly about how he falters, his struggles with depression & pride, his very normal-ness.
Paul points to a section of Palmer's re-released book, which for me could easily fit into the stories of rogue robots and a dark knight:
“ …The capacity to embrace true paradoxes is more than an intellectual skill for holding complex thoughts. It is a life skill for holding complex experiences. Take for example our encounter with “the other,” with the person who sees a different reality from ours because he or she stands in a different place. To some extent, the other contradicts not only our thoughts but also our lives, and that can be threatening. If we lack the capacity to allow this to segue into a paradox – a both-and that has the potential to open our minds and hearts to something new – we will most likely fall back on our hard-wired “fight or flight” response. But if we understand the promise of paradox, our encounters with “the other” have the potential to make our world larger, more generous and more helpful…
If we are willing to “hang in there” with a country, a colleague… a child [or a fellow Christian with a different understanding of Biblical interpretation, sexual ethics, truth, and orthodoxy] – holding the unresolved tension between reality and possibility and inviting something new into being – we have a chance to participate in the evolution of a better reality..