TO EMBRACE THE SPIRITUAL

TO EMBRACE THE SPIRITUAL

Invocation.

            This poem can’t rhyme
            Held in rhetoric’s weak embrace
            I’m writing it in a casino
            Listening to the little ball
            Swirl around the roulette wheel
            Nobody is noticing me
            Except a Chinese lady’s glance
            I’d rather write in a dive
            Or a coffee shop that isn’t too hip
            Or a library
            But they’re all closed this time of night
            Still, this poem won’t be plastic

Recitative.

There is an outdated English word
An archaic notion that probably doesn’t mean much
Except to me, and maybe to the devout
I don’t experience it often, except

Sometimes from immigrants, or among students
In religious colleges;–it isn’t just they try to help me out
More, the pleasant way they go about it—almost cheerful
You can tell they wish well to me, to everyone, beyond the journals

It is pleasant to experience a good-natured person
Sincerity is part of it
It isn’t just getting along, nor someone who won’t ice you
But to actively promote the good

It’s not just the kind of thing that will keep you out of a bar fight
Or make someone next to you want to talk to you, drinking beer
Nor even refined social graces, though they’re close
One discovers the good when it is sought out, actively

It could be giving an airport bartender you’ll never see again a good tip
Maybe, more ambitious, learning to play a Bach fugue
Instead of indulging in Facebook
Venturing out of your echo-chamber to confront truth

I try to make Carol happy and it makes her happy when I try
You have to know someone, care, study to make them happy
Learn the kind of thing they like, living in both your worlds together
It’s not a matter of getting them to like what you like

Carol didn’t like Mozart’s Requiem, nor Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto
When I took her out on dates—you can’t talk in a concert, anyway
I don’t look at show homes with Carol, anymore
And tap on the walls, listening for the drum sound of thin drywall

She likes it that I like the things I like, and I, too, for her things
I listen to the plots of the stories Carol is reading
Carol likes me to read her the poems I write
We go on walks together in the park

I know the kind of funny quips that make Carol laugh
And when we need to talk seriously about life’s terms
Walk through the world’s unkind circumstances together
I’ll make a personal observation and Carol will listen

This good-nature, this embrace of the good
Which devout people are like
It’s a certain way to approach life, to regard other people
It’s all more than getting someone out of your face

Playing a Bach fugue does something to my soul
You can’t get hanging out in a bar
Making your fingers work through the harmonies rearranges synapses
Generates the peace I uniquely feel playing Bach or talking with Carol

Bach was a believer and even when he didn’t write church music
The peace is there in the harmonic structure
Like the secular Fugue V of The Well-Tempered Clavier
Which I’m learning, now.  Carol isn’t a musician

She grew up on a farm.  Her dad sang in the church choir
My encounters with Carol rearrange my brain synapses like Bach
It’s that quality of good, of good-nature, that realm I enter with Carol
Like reading the Bible, or writing a sermon, or leading worship

You don’t want to break up that mindset with cheap talk
Sometimes, when I venture out of the house, I use language
That brings into existence a caricature of my soul, cheapens who I am
It isn’t elitism, this aversion for ungracious word order

You read stories of Jesus hanging out with the disgraced
Yet his words stand through millennia
It’s not elitism, this want to live spiritually
More a love for the life words can give, the peace love can give

THEODICY

“Hey Laura!  Lookin’ hot!”  Jackie exclaimed at coffee hour after church
Broadcasting her own bisexuality, which struck me as attention-seeking
And I thought about her mother’s own attention-seeking behaviors
Of her childhood abuse she now struggles as an adult to survive
And her several marriages, separations
I wonder how many generations down
The iniquities of the fathers are visited
And I have to survive the iniquities my father visited upon me
Complicit with my mother’s silent abetting

Once riding with a Harvard friend in his boat off the coast of Atlantic Florida,
Which we were able to enjoy through his wife’s wealth,
We glimpsed the mansion visited upon the young Kennedys
—I think I saw a yacht moored in front of the Kennedy mansion—
And try to wrap my mind around why, from one perspective,
Some don’t seem to catch a break
The Aqualung types hanging around the convenience store down the street
Made something by Jethro Tull’s ‘70’s rock album, otherwise despised
And to discourage them from hanging around the convenience store
Scaring people by being who they are or were made to be
By iniquities of vague, distant Fathers
The cashiers won’t let me buy them a sandwich
Won’t let me practice Mi’kmaq Star Teachings
Won’t let me care

From one perspective, the fates spin an unjust thread
What a cheat life would be were that myth exclusive
A shade drawn on the glimpse through ultimate reality’s greater window
Vanishing lines that converge upon the perspective of conviction
That an ultimate equity may yet inhere here, inherited curses be confounded,
Or else redemption were a vacuous term,
Rebirth but a rabbinic dialogue written in a Sacred Text
Close the embossed leather covers and lock the words in silence
Yet were there another perspective, vanishing lines of inquiry pointing to
An unjust inquisition’s verdict denied, then there were another perspective.
Swedenborg said he saw it;–what if temporal goods matter
Only insofar as they remain eternally?  What if matters of soul matter
As much as material goods in this material world
And the Madonna of antiquity means more than a pop star
Even now relegated to antiquity
Then the ode to Jackie, her mother, the Aqualung types, and I is composed
in quite another key.  Overcoming the iniquities of the fathers,
The iniquities of vague, distant Fathers, we see the material of humanity
when our eyes meet, and belie Blake’s HUMAN ABSTRACT
Rise up in new birth, reform into new selves, new souls, Arise all Souls Arise

The vanishing lines of ultimate reality’s perspective converge on
The crucified One
I try to wrap my mind around how He just couldn’t seem to catch a break
And look where He ended up
Have I tried to squeeze the universe into a ball? 
To roll it to an overwhelming question I can scarce conceive:

Really, where did He end up?

MEDIA CHRISTIANS AND CHRISTMAS EVE

Today is Christmas Eve.  Christians celebrate Christmas.  I don’t wish to impose my holy day on the rest of the world, but it seems like that’s the way things are going, these days.  Nevertheless, I am grateful to live in a free society that allows me to celebrate according to my religious tradition, as I think all religions should.  I called tech support for my computer a while back and got a tech in India.  He turned down the volume on his end to dampen the background noise from the Durga-Puja festival which was going on in his neighborhood.  He and I had a wonderful conversation about Hinduism, which I had studied in grad school.  I even have a statuette of Sarasvati on my desk—the Goddess of learning, music, and poetry.

I self-identify as a Christian.  A Christian of the Swedenborgian Denomination.  Let’s establish that from the get-go.  Also, I am a Christian pastor.  But what does that mean?  What does that mean to you?  What does that mean to me?  It may very well be that what it means to me is not what it means to you.  The operative question is who gets to define what Christians are?

Unfortunately, I believe that the media get to define what Christians are.  News media tell stories about Christians—often in relation to politics.  And I think that a lot of people get their ideas about what Christians are from new stories.  However, we need to understand that the media are profit-driven enterprises.  Their reporting has to sell.  I’ve spoken with journalists who say that anger and outrage are good “hooks” to draw in viewers or readers.  If that is true, then the Christians we will encounter in media may well be Christians who generate outrage, are outrageous.  I hope that, as a Christian, I do not generate outrage.  At least I try not to.

Then there are Evangelicals.  I have issues with evangelism, itself.  I’m sure that Evangelicals are as sincere in their faith as am I, but I tend to resent people trying to make me think as they do.  I am a student of religions.  So I have a keen interest in others’ understandings of ultimate reality.  But I prefer to learn about others by inquiry, not by their imposition upon my free thought.  You can see Evangelicals on street corners yelling at people and shoving tracts at you.  Since this kind of Christian is loud and prominent, many define Christians by them.  My frustration with this is probably evident.  Also, there are televangelists.  Anybody can turn on their television and watch a program featuring a Christian preacher.  Often, perhaps usually, televangelists tend to be Evangelicals, which I am not.  I have a friend who owns a multi-million-dollar cigar company.  He always tells me that I should become a televangelist.  He says that that is where all the money is.  He also dated an Evangelical Christian for a while, and keeps telling me what he thinks Christians believe, though he is not a believer in any faith that I know of.  But I don’t hold to a lot of the tenets his former girlfriend held to, and I didn’t go into Christian ministry to make a lot of money.  My Christianity has little in common with televangelists.

For me, Christianity means living by Jesus’ teachings about love.  And I understand that to mean love for people inside and outside one’s own belief system.  The Good Samaritan was a Samaritan—a race despised by the Jewish Orthodoxy of which Jesus was a member, but not a strict follower.  This tells me that Jesus promoted religions other than His own, even religions despised by members of His own Jewish Orthodoxy.  So for me, Christian love extends to all peoples of good-will: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Jews, atheists, and peoples of good-will whom I haven’t mentioned.  And love seeks to establish friendships, and to promote good-will.  When I say that I am a Christian, sometimes I worry that people will understand that to mean I am a media Christian, who seem to get all the press, or an Evangelical.  Practicing Christianity for me means seeking to find good in every situation and to be an agent for that good.  But I practice quietly, privately, and some might even say in stealth mode.  My Muslim friends, my Jewish friends, my Zoroastrian friends, and my Hindu friends enjoy my company, I think, and I their company.  That kind of harmony is how I understand Christian love, is the kind of Christian I try to be.  I am a definition of Christianity as much as are televangelists, Evangelicals, Catholics, or media Christians.  Maybe that kind of Christian, and there are lots like me, doesn’t make for good news stories.  Any more than the moderate peace-loving Muslims I know make for good news stories.  But that’s no reason for me to stop calling myself Christian.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are times especially for me to relax and let love be, to let myself be an agent of love, and to remember and renew old friendships, to enjoy family.  As a Christian in this world, it is a time for me to reflect on Jesus’ friendship with Pharisees, tax collectors, prostitutes, rabbis, Samaritans, and Lebanese.  In a broken and fragmented world, Jesus yet has a message of healing and unity for Christians and/or others of good-will.   

BODHI DHARMA AND BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM

Bodhi Dharma meditated in front of a wall for nine years

I worry because I haven’t seen Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Nor am I current in some things that count; I have not what I should have

And what counted for Bodhi Dharma? What should he have had

In his meditation during nine years in front of a wall

OK, so his culture was different

And meditation counted, counted maybe as much as

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, a Lexus, what I should have

Bodhi Dharma aspired to a Shaolin Monastery, anyway

What Bodhi Dharma should have did not count to the Shaolin Monastery

I won’t say I want a life in which having does not count at all

But I will say I want a touchstone for our culture to scrape against

A touchstone to scrape against to evaluate our culture’s metal

I sure hope that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm will not scrape as gold

But I do fear that owning a Lexus would

Various and diverse ideologies coexist in the freedom our culture prizes

Meditation, a Lexus, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm coexist, compete as treasures of our hearts

Even in Christianity, having has infiltrated, called the prosperity gospel

With Jesus a mendicant and the gospel no one can serve God and mammon

And I am no mendicant, and I have not watched Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Episodic prayer and meditation, episodic piano, and episodic happiness on a good day, I have

DURGA PUJA

My laptop broke and tech support where I bought it wasn’t being helpful

So I called Hewlett-Packard on their direct tech support line

Of course, they routed my call to India, to a pleasant tech named Deepak

He apologized for the background noise on his end; the festival Durga Puja

Was being celebrated today this, the final of 10 days

I vaguely recalled Durga from a religion class 34 years ago

And I asked Deepak of he knew of the Goddess Sarasvati

She, the Goddess of music, learning, and language

I, a musician, scholar, and writer

Sarasvati gave India the Vedas, when religion was verse and verse, song

Deepak said he knew Sarasvati and She is the exact Goddess for a musician

I told Deepak I have a statuette of Sarasvati in my apartment

Across the miles and ocean, his soul touched mine, and tears welled up

In his eyes, Sarasvati is alive, and as he spoke, my statuette

Seemed to shine with an unearthly color and a strange light came over just my statuette

Only my eyes could see

Mother India, home of our western languages

Cradle of civilization unearthed at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa

Durga, the Mother who birthed all of creation

Mother to Sarasvati, not just a footnote in a religion class

Alive and real to him as is Jesus to me, his Durga Puja like my Christmas

He completed my service order and I wished him well

During the remainder of the Durga Puja Festival

Deepak said that he is sadly homebound due to COVID-19

And couldn’t celebrate with his family, and I

Don’t know if I can go without a computer for a week or so

I looked at my statuette of Sarasvati and the unearthly colors were gone

Science and Religion

The great thing about the virtual world is that it connects people of like and differing minds all over the planet.  I visited the site of a blogger who liked one of my posts.  He wrote about science and religion.  He said that he values science exclusive of religion.  Science will teach truth, he writes, religion is made up.  I would like to respectfully dissent from this view.  A few definitions need to be made.  Science doesn’t teach truth.  It teaches fact.  Religion teaches truth.  Facts are verifiable, but they are meaningless.  Truth may be disputed, but only truth has meaning.

There may be proof for the existence of quarks.  I don’t know; I’m not a scientist.  But as I watch television news programming about racial injustice in the US, a quark doesn’t matter all that much to me.  But the words of the Hebrew prophet Amos do, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:24).  The Big Bang occurred 13.7 billion years ago.  Fact.  But it doesn’t tell me how to treat my fellows like Jesus does, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).  Chemical salts are made by ionic bonds.  Fact and provable.  But that won’t tell me the nature of my own consciousness as do the Upanishads.  ” Whoever knows the self as “I am Brahman,” becomes all this universe” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10).  

I respect scientific inquiry and science explains the physical world–as far as it goes.  But in the realm of human relations, and in the matters that matter to me, I prefer religion.

 

TO RECAST A NARRATIVE

Outrage, grief, and pain pour forth from passion

From broken experiences of deep love

The other side of joy, ecstasy, and connection

Experiences of love fulfilled

Plato’s fear of passion nearly ended in renunciation of it all

He, Buddhists, the Hindu Sanyasis

Plato kept friendship, Buddhists kindness, Sanyasis peace

Into this Jesus was born with love

And recast the narrative

Giving place for grief, pain, and ecstasy

For sin, forgiveness, and new life

The great soul perfected in virtue recast

For a God who is near His children

Indifferent, diffident, vindictive Olympians recast

“That your joy may be complete.”

Magnanimity and Pop-Culture

Aristotle writes about magnanimity, or “high-minded” in Book IV.3 of the Nicomachean Ethics.  The Greek word is megalopsuchia–literally, “Great, or large soul.”  It is an elusive and difficult virtue to understand.  It is largely a quality of mind, or an attitude.  I take it to mean a mind that values high things and acts in a high manner.  Aristotle himself says that magnanimous persons can appear arrogant.  And a person who prizes great things can seem to be elitist, or a snob.  Yet I think that magnanimity is indeed a virtue to cultivate.  I have.

I have followed a course in my life that has been and continues to be dedicated to great things.  I spent large sums of money (student loans) educating myself–money I am still paying back even 25 years after graduation.  I have been exposed to great works of literature, philosophy, art, religion, and music.  I continue to pursue my quest to acquaint myself with great things.

I have been called a snob.  And it is beginning to appear as if the causes to which I have dedicated my life are fading in our culture.  Musically, I appreciate classical music, jazz, classic rock, and now I am trying to learn about East Indian music of the Sikhs and traditional sitar music.  I continue my reading in poetry and novels.  I am adding to my formal graduate education in religions by inquiring into the spirituality of First Nations.  I am progressing in my competence on piano, continuing to write poetry, and continue my reading in philosophy and great works of fiction.  As I acquire new competencies I continue to meditate and make my new learning my own.  It is a thankless task.  But the magnanimous soul is not concerned with monetary rewards or praise from the masses.  Virtue is its own reward.

I’m not sure that Aristotle’s great soul is compatible with Christian ethics.  Jesus’ way is one of humility, and indifference to the things of this world.  Still, the virtues of love, forgiveness, and solidarity with others are also included in Aristotle’s magnanimity.  And I believe that Aristotle’s great soul would revere the gods.

I think that the tension between Jesus and Aristotle is in the definition of great things.  Kierkegaard was suspicious of the aesthetic life.  I believe that it would truly take a great soul to aspire to great things, and also keep her or his feet grounded in humility.  Yet what I get from Bach or Beethoven is among the best things I treasure.  This does not conflict with what I get from the texts of Christianity.

Our most prestigious institutions of learning are now teaching pop-culture.  Pop-culture is fine for those who like it.  But I do not think that it deserves a place in university curricula.  We are in an age that seeks to destroy elitism and the works that have in the past been considered elite, like Bach or Beethoven.  I refuse to equate Bon Jovi in any way with Beethoven.  Beethoven wrote pop music for country bands to play.  But it was all in good fun; he never considered them on a par with his symphonies.

I can imagine how distressed my parents had been when the melodious sounds of Frank Sinatra clashed with the wailing guitar of Jimi Hendrix.  It must have looked as if the world was decaying.  Yet I appreciate Hendrix and Sinatra.  If the world is sinking in the bland currents of pop-culture, it looks like the world is decaying to me, too.  I wonder if contemporary culture will consider those well-versed in pop-culture great souls.  Or is the whole notion of great souls too elitist to persist in our world anymore?

25 YEARS

25 years largely lost

Doctors call it avolition

No will even to get up

Sleeping

Days, weekends

Those 25 years could have been:

Practice time

Gigging

Progressing

But . . .

25 years largely lost

 

Mind turned to fog

Memory shot

Which is an end to learning

Thought processes so slow

Which is an end to performance

Where I could have been

But . . .

25 years largely lost

 

I see my friends

Where they’re at

Where I could have been

But . . .

25 years largely lost

 

But then . . .

There’s the soul

“My kingdom is not of this world”

Spirituality

Humility, compassion, neighbor-love

“I do not give to you as the world gives”

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”

I could have come to worse

25 years of spiritual progress

Religious Post

Separating Good from Evil

Rev. David J. Fekete, Ph.D.

August 18, 2019

Jeremiah 23:23-29                              Luke 12:49-56                                                 Psalm 82

Our reading from Luke can’t be taken at face value.  It can’t be true as written.  Jesus didn’t come to break up families.  Jesus says,

they will be divided:

father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law (Luke 12:53).

Jesus must mean something other than father and son, mother and daughter, and mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.

Swedenborg teaches that the Bible is written in symbols.  He calls these symbols correspondences.  These symbols speak to human spiritual growth, the history of spirituality, and God’s spiritual development on earth, as the Human Jesus united fully with the Divine God, which was His soul.  The separation of family members refers to God separating different aspects of our personality.  It means a separation between our spiritual self from our worldly self.  Our worldly self is concerned only with what’s in it for me.  It is concerned only with what we can get out of a situation.  It means self-oriented self.  In its worst form, worldly self will rage against anyone who doesn’t favor him or her, serve him or her, or, in fact, worship him or her.  This self-oriented self is called proprium in Swedenborg.

But God teaches us to love God first, and our neighbor as our self.  These loves are opposed to self-oriented loves.  When we learn spiritual truths, we learn that self-oriented self needs to be sacrificed, denied, replaced with God-and-other-oriented self.

We begin our lives as self-oriented selves.  Spirituality is grafted onto the motives and drives of self-oriented self.  And our motives that are self-oriented need to change.  Our very selves change.  The emotions of self-interest are different than the motives of God and other interest.  The feelings are different.

Self-interest is like an animal instinct.  Self-interest will butt its way ahead in a passion to be first in line, first and foremost, be more important than anyone else.  This is hard to achieve.  So self-oriented people are often frustrated, mad, and vengeful over anyone ahead of them.  Think of a dog running to a food dish.

Spiritually-minded loves are peaceful, content, pacific, delightful, and joyful.  The spiritually-minded are in harmony with others.  They are interested in other people, and join in joyful cooperation with others.  Spiritually-minded people are also driven.  But they are not driven by self-interest.  They are driven by love for the projects they undertake.  They are driven by love for being of service, for being useful, for helping out, for finding ways to make others happy.

Since we start out self-oriented and we end up God and other oriented, we are in process.  There are many different ways in which we are changed from self to God and other orientation.  Sometimes hardships happen to us.  These hardships can break up our self-interest.  When we are prohibited from getting our own way, our ego drives are crushed.  Sometimes, we work on ourselves.  We learn the ways of spirituality.  We implement these teachings in our own life.  But however it happens, our ego-driven, self-oriented self needs to be separated from our spiritual self.  Another image that we find for this in the Bible is in the creation story.  On the second day of creation, the waters are separated.  God separates the waters above the heavens from the waters under the heavens.  Separating self-serving drives from heaven-serving loves.  That’s how we understand Jesus’ words, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51)

These are the words of true prophets.  Words that say that the members of one’s own household are the enemy.  Words that tell us to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  As we grow spiritually, we will know a new peace and tranquility.  But we will also know turmoil and struggle.  True prophets will tell us that we will know both states of mind.

But this society has false prophets, as we heard about in Jeremiah.  Many are the voices we hear that tell us to favor self, instead of overcoming self.  This is what Jeremiah is talking about, “Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart?” (Jeremiah 23:26).  The false prophets of our day massage our ego.  They tell us to get ahead.  Psychologists speak of self-affirmation, self-gratification, self-expression.  “They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal” (Jeremiah 23:27).  I grew up in the “Me-Movement.”  What is meant by this term is that we were taught just that—self-realization, self-expression, self-gratification, self, self, self.  “I me, mine; I me mine; I me mine.”  And the prophets then, and still today, preach that false message.  That would truly be forgetting God’s name for Baal.  God’s name is to deny self, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.  Love God; love others.

Let’s consider Jesus’ life compared with the false prophets of our day.  Jesus’ birth story begins with the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus.  Then, with the subject of Jesus’ birth, we are in a barn, then on a hillside with shepherds.  The contrast could hardly be sharper.  Jesus’ life was one of continual service and giving.  He taught, healed, he fed the multitudes.  He never wrote anything down, there is only one historian who mentions Him just once in passing, He lived in the countryside, not the bog cities, He died a common criminal.  Jesus was a loser, not a winner.  While Caesar Augustus was actually worshipped as a god, he isn’t now.  In fact, after his death, the next emperor was the god of the day and no one was worshipping Augustus any more.  His palace is now gone, he himself only one historical figure amid a myriad.  Yet the peasant born in a barn, who never wrote anything down, who died a common criminal is still worshipped and is still God.  Jesus said that the first would be last and the last would be first.  The ultimate winner, the Roman Emperor has been forgotten.  And the loser is remembered and worshipped still.

The true prophets preach the Jesus story.  This is the story of humility, of love, or service, of giving, of self-sacrifice.  The opposition between the Jesus story and the story of our false prophets is stark.  But the only way to be a real winner, is to follow the way of Jesus.

 

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