COMMUNION, COMMUNITY, AND AUTONOMY

We touch, talk, give and take to different degrees

Sacred, social, solitary, self-interested

Communion, camaraderie, cut-off, conceited

Bars, sports clubs, cocktails with co-workers

Church, sacred space, congregation, Communion with God

Caring, caritas, charity, spiritual love

All-giving, other-oriented, mutuality

Couples, partners, children, family

The afternoon card-party with a couple serene and sober

Nighttime in the club, the regulars, high and drunk

Broken dialogue, semblance of camaraderie

Familiarity, unhallowed ground, stabbings at connection

A handshake, a wave, watching out for one another

We meet, touch, talk, connect, care

Contingent on our commitment to community

Contingent on the levels of self: hallowed, hollow, sincere, serene, solipsistic

Ascending and descending the soul’s ladder within the social spectrum

A CIRCUIT OF CONNECTIONS

Love

Connection

Support, community

Parents, brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents

Home

When it all works

 

And then

 

Vocation, relocation, isolation

Alone, unknown in a strange town

The whole wide world

Strangers, business associates

Stabs at connection

Church, gyms, bars, gangs, the streets

Alcohol and drugs and one-night stands

Unaware

Screams at connection

 

And then

 

Incredibly good fortune,

or Providence

“O Lord thou pluckest me out”

Intimacy, soulmate, conjunction

Love

Mutual

Family again

Support

Connection

Home

After so much

A friend to the whole wide world

LIVING MY OWN LIFE

Existential isolation was

En vogue

When I was in school

(Probably still is)

To which I added drunken dissipation

Upon graduation I found sobriety

And was terribly alone

Outside the “we” program

Despising my loneliness

In an otherwise paradisaical climate

 

I no longer feel alone

Which begins with Carol and us

There is the small church

Sacred community

In a world that has no place for religion

Out of vogue

 

Trends

 

But I have Carol

I have the church

I have sacred community

Which means more than any trend

I live my own life

I pay the consequences, reap the rewards

And think very little about some social construct of vogue

IDENTITIES

We had been noticing them,

Carol and I

The regulars, but who seemed a little off

Dancing—

As if they were balancing on the edge of a cliff

Or swimming, teetering

Dancing in the same places on the floor

Night after night

We guessed about them,

But didn’t talk to them

 

And then I did.

Adoption, foster homes, homeless

High a lot

Flat affect, rarely smiling

Loving

Caring

Biblically literate

An artist

Single parent

Intelligence, intellect

Some talk of Swedenborg

 

I work so hard to attain

Degrees, my condo, car, career, my musical projects

Volunteer commitments

Affections for useful activities

Affections

Sobriety

Effort to learn right and wrong

True and false

And do

 

And yet . . .

The blues bar

Regulars

Night after night

A hang out

A home

Community

Church

Is Jesus’ Message Dead?

I can’t believe that Jesus’ message is dead.  I think that, rather, what Christian churches have done with it may be dead.  Churches and church services are not necessarily what Jesus’ message is all about.  I say this as a Christian minister.

I’ve recently been reading carefully the Gospel of Matthew, focusing on Jesus’ words.  Jesus is about looking at the heart.  Jesus is about spiritual values, not materialism.  Jesus is about forgiveness.  Jesus is about opening up to foreigners and outsiders.  Jesus is about helping those less fortunate.  Jesus is about healing.  Jesus is about love.  Jesus is about connection with God.  I can cite chapter and verse for these assertions.

Is our society opposed to these messages?  I don’t think so.  I think that society basically would agree with these ideas.

What kind of world would oppose ideas like this?  It would be, one by one, a society that doesn’t look at the heart, that only looks at outward acts, that wants only more and greater status symbols and material goods, that lives for revenge, that hates foreigners, that only cares about one’s friends and family and no one else, that cares nothing for the poor, weak, and orphaned, that hurts instead of healing, that hates, that disbelieves and cares only about self.  Is this the world we live in?  Maybe.  But I hope not.

It is true that the world sends us messages, largely through TV commercials that run counter to Jesus’ message.  Expensive car commercials show people who are superior to others, or are superior by some standards.  That is a dual message: 1) buy an expensive car; and 2) be better than everyone else.  There are many movies whose plots turn around revenge.  It’s not “good guys versus bad guys.”  Rather it’s more and more, “You killed a loved one so I’m going to get you.”  So there are messages in the world that run counter to Jesus’ message.

But driving around town, I see a lot of Hondas and Fords on the road, so it’s not true that the world is populated by ubermenschen driving expensive cars.  I think most of society is people living with a beloved partner, or a circle of friends, going to work and coming home and trying to do the right thing.  Then there’s the issue of God.

A lot of people, I think, don’t have much room for God.  It’s not that they disbelieve, it’s that they have no time for God, no need for God.  You can’t separate God from Jesus’ message.  Maybe that’s why it may look like Jesus’ message is dead.  It’s certainly true that self-sufficiency is a strong drug.  Making it on your own; self-made man or woman.  Top of the heap.  Number one.

Then there’s the issue of church.  I think about young people clubbing to those insipid songs with pounding rhythm, overpowering bass tones, monotonous melodies.  Then I think about the 17th and 19th century hymns that we typically sing on Sunday.  And the notion of sitting still for an hour listening to me pray, read from the Bible, and preach.  It’s not surprising that some people would have other things to do.  And none of that is a necessary part of the Jesus message.  It is true that Jesus taught in synagogues and read the Scriptures in them.  And I think that Biblical literacy is important.  But that doesn’t mean the traditional church services that have evolved over millennia.  Nor does Christianity mean the vocal, politically-motivated proselytizing, self-righteous right-wing form that seems to get all the attention and would define all Christianity by their own style.  Indeed, all religion.

I think that society has been shaped by Judeo-Christian values.  We think that soup kitchens, Habitat-for Humanity, health care, minimum wage, friendliness, doing a good turn daily are good things.  While there are counter-messages to the Jesus message, I think that a lot of people would be attracted to what Jesus says, if they read His words freshly and without the lens of tradition and church.  While some churches exclude unbelievers, Jesus included everyone He contacted.  He even dined with a Pharisee on at least one occasion.  While churches are dwindling, I still think that Jesus’ message lives.

Personal Transformation at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Over the dates November 1-7, I had the privilege of attending the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Canada—“The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation, and Change.”  I will be posting a series of blogs about my experiences there, which were extraordinary.  I am not the same Swedenborgian I was before the Parliament.  I understand my own tradition differently, understand religion differently, understand more fully all the richness that God’s world is.  I learned in general that encountering other religions is much more than intellectually inquiring about beliefs.  I learned much about many traditions and perspectives.  But it would be a mistake to think that one now understands a tradition that others have spent their lives growing into.  The Parliament of the World’s Religions is a taste, not a meal.

The seminars were divided into 10 categories: 1) Justice, 2) Women’s Dignity, 3) Global Ethic, 4) Next Generation, 5) Countering Hate and Violence, 6) Sacred Space, 7) Indigenous Peoples’ Program, 8) Climate Action, 9) Interfaith Understanding, 10) Science and Religion.  As is always the case at these kinds of gatherings, you can’t do everything.  There are several seminars going on at the same time.  It took me about an hour and a half to figure out how to read the program guide and to decide on the seminars I would attend.

Sometimes what happens in the hallways between seminars, at conferences like the Parliament, is as valuable as what happens in the seminars themselves.  Previous to the formal opening, I had delightful conversations with a few people in the convention centre lobby while we were all looking over the 380-page program guide.  One couple from Washington State told me that they were from the Unity tradition, among other interfaith groups.  I asked them how their church was doing.  “If by ‘church’ you mean what is tied to a building, that might be questionable; but if you mean ‘church’ as a movement, I’d say it’s doing wonderfully well.”  Already, I’d learned something.  From my own tradition, I thought about what the New Church really is.  We were joined by another couple who were interfaith ministers.  They said that their outlook on religion is “not ‘instead-of,’ but rather, ‘in addition to.’”  By that I understood varieties of religion to supplement each other, rather than compete with each other for who’s right is righter than who’s.  I was off to a good start.

Attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions was spiritually transforming for me.  Such a compressed, intense exposure to leaders of other faith traditions must have a powerful impact on a seeker with an open mind.  Nevertheless, reflecting on my experiences, I realize that however intense my exposure was, my grounding is in my own tradition.  My own understanding has been given a good jolt in a positive direction.  Areas of my own faith that weren’t working for me, have been adjusted by techniques from other religions that do work.  I am enjoying seeing the world differently than I saw it before the Parliament.  I am enjoying the world more than I had before the Parliament.  I am enjoying my fellows here on earth better than I did before the Parliament.  It will take some time before I fully integrate my experiences at the Parliament into my spiritual life.

I didn’t expect to be so moved by the Parliament.  I did expect to learn and celebrate, but not to be transformed.  I will share meaningful experiences from those remarkable seven days in the upcoming posts.  It is my story, but others may find meaning in it, and may find inspiration to further investigate truths from the traditions I experienced by their own methods of spiritual questing.

A Metaphor and a Reality

The Jordan River and the Ganges

Stink

No one cares what it means

To the people who drink their waters

To the planet

To church and temple

The Jordan River and the Ganges

Stink