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

FOR EVERYTHING YOU ARE

I have been alone, but haven’t felt lonely

You have been single, but with a family

Now we are together, now my life is full

For everything you are, I am ever grateful

 

I am grateful, too, for all of your support

When I go through trials, you give me comfort

Your voice is always, “Yes;” you won’t allow me doubt

You assure me everything will all work out

 

I give thanks to God for everything that is you

In an uncertain world, you and your love is true

I just wanted you to know the way I feel

My love for you and faithfulness to you are real

You make my world complete through all you are and all you do

OUT THERE

What do you do with time

We shared, when we are no longer we

Those memories of us, photos of us

Places we went together

Time when we shared when we were we

 

How does an individual repair trust?

Broken trust, broken heart

What does an individual do with broken love

Innocence lost, admiring, trusting innocence

Echoes of expulsion from the Garden

 

I can hear blues even in The Ode to Joy

Guess I won’t be happy for a while

There is redemption with God,

Peace in religious systems

If feeling better isn’t cheating

 

I try not to get mad at everybody

They have done nothing to me

But from this place, place of downcast dour

I can’t find equanimity, the civil speech

I must maintain with everybody

 

And so I wait in the darkness

Without hope, for hope would be for the wrong thing

Without will, for desire would be misplaced

There is only the waiting and the darkness

Which shall be the darkness of God

A VANTAGE POINT

I don’t know if it was four days of Tylenol

Or fever

Or four days bedridden, . . .

But I saw my whole life in a vision

In a critique

God tried to touch me

I fear I don’t have the strength

To sustain God’s touch

Slipping back may have consequences

Too dire to contemplate

I had a glimpse

I have a vantage-point

I see where I have been

A part of me won’t be the same again

SOMEBODY OUGHT TO PAY

Who do I get mad at?

Ordinarily, somebody would pay

What it did to me

What I went through:

Uncontrollable tears

Whole week-ends spent in bed sleeping

Trying to work through sedating meds

Fighting to live, pay the bills

Someone ought to pay

 

But . . .

But did it break my contract with the world?

Point me to other import

Than making it to the top

Making it

Other matters do matter

Did it teach me that?

Break my ego

(Which is always a good thing)

Humility

Something I never knew

Until it happened

Did it teach me?

 

I’m more sound today

And I look back

To how I was

What I went through

How well I feel, now

Someone ought to pay

Or is there another way to see it?

God only knows

Truth, Fact, and Meaning

The things we are most certain of mean the least to us.  The things that mean the most to us, we are least certain of.  The difference is between fact and truth.  We are certain of facts, we believe truths.  A chemical redox equation can be duplicated anywhere, any time, and the results will be the same.  A redox equation is fact.  But does it mean anything to us how may electrons switch valences?  Of course, the batteries that depend on redox equations power our cars and cell phones, and they matter a great deal to us.  But the certainty of the equation itself doesn’t matter much to me.  On the other hand, the fact that there are eternal consequences to the way I live now matters a great deal to me.  The truth that there is a loving Creator watching over me, leading me, guiding me towards eternally lasting happiness matters a great deal to me.  But the existence of God is a belief, not a provable fact.  The reality of eternal life is also a belief, not a provable fact.

I grew up in a family that thought only science was truth.  Even art was devalued.  Math, engineering, chemistry, mechanics–these were the things that mattered.  These were the things they called truth.  The meaning a person finds in a poem, was not considered truth.  In fact, it wasn’t considered at all.  In the Turgenev novel I’m reading, the nihilist Bazarov deprecates belief, the arts, and aristocratic values.  He believes in nothing.  This abandonment of belief thrusts him into science.  He thinks that only science is certain.

But there is much truth in poems, like Robert Frost’s The Mending Wall.  “Something there is that does not love a wall.”  There is a feeling in us that wants connection among fellow humans and doesn’t love walls that come between us.  But Frost is an artist, not a scientist.  I don’t think it can be proven that there is a human antipathy to walls that come between us.  But I agree with Frost.  I believe he is correct.  The Mending Wall means more to me than the existence of quarks.  Quarks can be proved, Frosts truths can’t.  Neither can God’s love for humanity, nor the reality of afterlife.  But even if the things that matter most to me can’t be proven, my life is more fulfilling when I act upon the truths I believe.  I don’t see how science can direct me to a full and fulfilling life, even if the facts it discovers are provable.  The things that matter most to humans are not provable; the things that are provable hold least meaning to us.

What Happened to the Christian Message?

Christianity spread like wildfire in the first few centuries CE—when it was illegal and punishable by a horrible death.  Today, mainline churches are aging, shrinking, and dwindling.   What was it that caught on to such a phenomenal degree in the early Roman Empire?  What happened to the Christian message today?  What is the Christian message?

There is a story in Acts about an Ethiopian eunuch who heard the Christian message from Philip, while riding home in his chariot.  They even passed by some water in the desert, and the Ethiopian asked to be baptized in it.  What was Philip’s message that so impressed the Ethiopian?  All Acts says is that Philip told him the good news about Jesus.  The earliest Christian message was, “He is risen!”  And I doubt that much Christian doctrine had evolved by the time of Philip’s conversation with the Ethiopian.

We have lots of doctrine now.  Swedenborg wrote 30 volumes of doctrine.  Then there’s the Church Fathers, the Catholic History of doctrines which they call the Catholic Tradition, Luther’s body of writings, Calvin, Westley, and all sorts of other Christian theologians.

And consider the setting of the Acts story.  The conversion of the Ethiopian occurred while they were riding on a chariot in the desert.  They weren’t in a magnificent cathedral.  They weren’t in a simple chapel.  The conversation happened in the midst of their life situation.

Mainline churches and even Jewish synagogues do pretty close to the same thing.  There are Bible readings, prayers, and a sermon.  People mostly sit there and listen, while the priest, minister, or rabbi preaches to the congregation.  It’s all very passive.  True, people do sing hymns, and recite psalms.  But I wonder if the problem with contemporary Christianity is the form, and not the content.  The way church services go, rather than the message of Jesus.

I can’t imagine that people have changed that much since Roman times.  I can’t imagine that the message of Jesus isn’t relevant.  In ancient Rome, there were temples everywhere, and people even sacrificed to the “spirit” of things like road intersections, rivers and sacred places, woods, and the Roman gods.  I heard a scholar say that pretty nearly everywhere in ancient Rome was sacred—woods, temple grounds, rivers, roads, lakes, everything.  Were the ancient Romans more tuned to religion than we are now?

Maybe.  Science took over in the 19th and 20th centuries, including psychology.  Science gives us a world view that doesn’t need God.  This would be unthinkable in Roman times.  Even merchant ships sacrificed to Poseidon to give them safe travel.  Psychology has taken upon itself the task of legislating morality to us.  Psychology has taught us to be vulnerable, to be open, to express our anger, to seek self-gratification, self-expression, self-fulfillment, and also to love and work.  But psychology’s message doesn’t include God, says nothing about God as the grounding for morality, as a soft science, is not spiritual.  Then there is the legacy of the Enlightenment and Immanuel Kant.  The upshot of Kant’s philosophy is that we don’t need revealed scripture, or even God, or religions, because reason can lead us into moral behaviors.  All these forces have made the message of religion less relevant.

But there is still a large percentage of people today who call themselves spiritual but not religious.  Spirituality has not diminished even if religions have.  Why are spiritual people saying that they are not religious?  Maybe it is because what they think religion means.  On the simplest level, maybe religion conjures up images of sitting in a building listening to a preacher talking at you.  Then there are some of the doctrines that have evolved over the centuries and millennia.  Christians teach that God gets angry at humans, that God punishes, that God calls for genocide, that God murders unbelievers, that God casts the wicked into hell.  These are behaviors that we disapprove of in humans—in fact, these are behaviors that Christians teach believers not to do, and yet God does them.  If I believed these things, I wouldn’t be religious either.  But my God is loving, is all love, can do nothing but love, forgive, and seek to make humans happy.  Maybe my beliefs aren’t all that Biblical, but they are Swedenborgian.

The Christian message I hear, and I believe, is the message of love.  God loves, Jesus loves, and we are invited to love God and to love one another.  That message is in all the Gospels, which were written in the first century CE.  It is likely that that message was told to the Ethiopian.  This message of love was taught in a time when people were murdered in the Coliseum for entertainment.  A time when roads were lined with people being crucified.  When gladiators killed to entertain the masses.  This society heard the message of love and Christianity flourished as an underground movement.  If a society like that of ancient Rome responded to the Christian message of love, would an enlightened society like ours respond less?

I don’t think the message of love falls on deaf ears today.  I don’t think that science has rendered us dead to spirituality completely.  Though apathy is widespread today, I believe that people still care.  I think that the problem with Christianity today is that the original message has gotten buried under human thinking and church traditions.  Philip converted the Ethiopian on his chariot.  If Christianity can integrate with the workaday world, perhaps it will resurrect.  I don’t think the Christian message means sitting facing the altar listening to p preacher hold forth.  It can mean that, for those who like it, but doesn’t have to be.  Then there are all those messages of hate in the name of the church that turn people off.  I think the message of love is still relevant.  While churches are dwindling, I’m not sure that the Christian message is.

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