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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Do It (Part 2 of a series)

It would seem that someone has stolen western spirituality, along with its God, and locked them in a church. Or, if we ignore what claims churches make on their own behalf and take a more global view, then God is locked in churches and temples of all stripes. We could go way out on a limb and say that every church or temple does, in fact, contain the presence of God and that most if not all of those churches and temples would like you to believe that the best place to find and talk with God is within their four walls. It's understandable. That belief sustained the churches and filled their collection plates for centuries. One problem is that it simply doesn't make sense that God could be confined in this or any way, and another problem is that such assertions - whether the reason offered is a divide between sacred and secular or something even more ridiculous - create the impression that a gulf exists between humanity and God which cannot be traversed without the help of a particular building and the officials found therein. To cap the whole thing off, churches have failed to offer practices which could help one connect with God while away from the building. A more cynical person might say that churches do this to maintain and grow their power and control, a strategy that is backfiring in a big way as people leave an increasingly irrelevant church, dropping in only when crisis hits. Find a person in crisis and you will find someone looking for a church building in which to pray. We see it clearly following any national disaster - the churches are full for a few weeks, mostly during special services to commemorate whatever has happened - and then it's back to normal.


One of the results of all this is that we have gotten in the habit of turning to spirituality only in times of crisis. It's like the old joke about the busy executive who is running late for a meeting at another office. He's struggling to find a parking place, and so he decided to pray. "God, please help me find a parking place," he exclaims just as he rounds a corner and turns into the next aisle where he sees an open parking space. "Never mind, God," he cries out, "I found one!" Of course, I don't believe that's the way the Divine works, but you see the point of the story - spirituality is a last resort, used primarily when nothing else works. I believe at least part of the reason for a spirituality of last resort is that we have been taught that God is only accessible in a church building, and those places don't even have drive through windows where we can quickly pick up an order of God when needed! The truth is that very few churches offer what I am going to call portable spirituality, which I will define as a transformative spiritual practice we can do away from that church building. You may be thinking that intercessory prayer is encouraged by churches, and you are correct. However, intercessory prayer is not a transformative process in and of itself. In short, contemporary Christianity offers us nothing to do and nowhere to do it - and that's made even more problematic by churches that are primarily entertainment venues wherein those in attendance sit back and watch a show. Could anything be more passive?

In the next post in this series, we will examine what an active, vital spirituality that actually impacts people's lives might look like. Stay tuned!




Monday, October 3, 2016

Our God Problem, Part 1

Allow me to begin with a disclaimer. If you are perfectly happy with your understanding of God, this article is not for you. Neither is it for you if you are a biblical literalist or other form of radicalized Christian or fundamentalist. If you comment on this post from those perspectives, I will simply delete the comment. Thank you.

For the rest of us, the truth is that we have a God problem. We are so mired in an antiquated understanding of God that any number of undesirable things have happened. The most significant of these is that people have been left with a spirituality that is so badly fractured that it isn't helpful to them in their daily lives. Nearly as significant is that many people have dismissed God out of hand, largely because they cannot buy into the view pushed upon us by those who shout the loudest and who get the most media attention, that zany collection of terrified simpletons that make up fundamentalism. It doesn't take a contemporary person who is capable of critical thought too long to realize that a large segment of Christianity worships a book rather than a God. Nor does it take that person long to wonder why any entity worthy of the Name God would be so ego maniacal that it would want to be worshiped.

While I haven't exhausted the problems with the popular understanding of God, I believe I have listed enough to support my premise that we have a God problem. The reason for the problem is that, in the case of Christianity, all of our God information from which the powers that be tell us what to believe is between two and five thousand years old! I do not believe there is any other aspect of human existence that we view the same way we did two thousand years ago. The reason is that humanity has grown substantially over that time period. In fact, most of that growth has occurred since the Industrial Revolution. How we understand our world and our reality has been turned on its head since 1900 C.E., but our religion is still mired in (at best) a 100 C.E. world view. I would like to propose some fairly radical changes, which I will list in bold below, followed by an elaboration on the point.

1. There is an important difference between spirituality and religion. The reason is that religion is about adhering to the doctrine, dogma, and practices of a particular sub-tradition within a larger tradition. In Christianity, these sub-traditions are most often called "denominations." Spirituality is about discovering truth wherever it exists, even if that truth transcends traditions. Therefore, it allows a more thorough investigation of that truth which we may call God - but could with equal validity attach any any number of names to this Truth. Healthy religion may be spiritual as well, but unhealthy religion never is.

2. Science is not the enemy of spirituality, it informs spirituality. Science investigates our world and, to the best of its ability, draws conclusions about our world and how it works. Science isn't perfect, and what is true today may be found to be inaccurate tomorrow, but neither is it opposed to spirituality. Science may be opposed to religion, but only if religion is attempting to keep its adherents uninformed about reality.

3. God is not an interventionist in human affairs. The reasoning is quite simple - no person claiming that God did something to or for them that avoided tragedy describes an event that could not have also been the product of random chance. Stated another way, God "journeys with" humanity rather than dragging it around kicking and screaming. When someone claims that God saved them from a disastrous event, what they are really saying is God loves them more than the victims of tragedy. That's nothing but pure ego, and ego is not a spiritual quality. It's also a pretty awful thing to say when people are suffering.

4. There is no hell except that which we create ourselves here on Earth. Let's dispel this popular behavior control technique that comes from Milton and not spirituality. Adolf Hitler tortured six million Jewish people until they died, and we quite rightly believe he is among the greatest despots in human history. Religion holds that God tortures countless people for eternity, which would make God a bigger despot that Hitler. If someone needs a God who is an abusive torturer, they have psychological problems rather than faith. Neither Jesus, nor God, nor any other figure can rightly be understood as a "Get Out of Hell Free" card, as if spirituality was a game of cosmic Monopoly.

5. Therefore, whatever salvation is, it isn't salvation from eternal damnation. Sorry, Charlie.

To be continued....

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Colin Kaepernick, the National Anthem, and Priorities

The truth is, as a football player, I don't have much use for Colin Kaepernick. The whole kissing his steroid enhanced bicep after a touchdown is a bit much for me. Why not just scream, "I love myself" while dropping your pants to show us how much? It might be more honest. What's more, I have always thought he was a flash in the pan, as most quarterbacks who can run really well usually are. I don't care how fast you are as a quarterback, professional football players and coaches will eventually find a way to defend against your running and force you to pass. Rare is the quarterback who can both run and pass extremely well.

However, as an example of what it is to be an American, I love Colin Kaepernick. I don't love him enough to kiss his steroid enhanced bicep, but don't let that deceive you, I love him for his courage and integrity. I support both his refusal to stand for the national anthem and his reasons for doing so. I have taken similar action regarding the flag and the pledge of allegiance for many years now. Of course, nobody really cares because I am not a professional football player, but nevertheless I have done so.

Probably around ten years ago as I sat at a Fourth of July parade, popping up and down as flag after flag passed, it suddenly occurred to me that this was nothing more than a litmus test of nationalism. At that point I decided that I would stand when a group of Veterans passed with a flag out of respect for the Veterans, but the rest of it was nonsense - the kind of nonsense that "my country right or wrong" nationalists just love. I believe a true patriot criticizes their country when they believe it is wrong in the hopes of bringing change, and I also believe America has failed to live up to its purported values for most of my life.

I believe Donald Trump does well in certain circles because a great number of people cannot tolerate ambiguity. The truth is that the less educated you are and the less intelligent you are, the more likely you will be unable to tolerate ambiguity. It will be much more comfortable for you if everyone looks the same, dresses the same, goes to the same church, and believes the same thing. Obviously, in a diverse society such a person is not going to do well at all. They will begin looking for reasons to exclude people who reflect the very diversity this nation was founded upon, and the more violently and permanently they can be excluded the happier these people will be. These are nationalists, and nationalists of every background and place of residence have always found narcissistic autocrats like Donald Trump appealing. Any responsible leader bearing even an ounce of integrity begins to get nervous upon realizing they are surrounded by sycophants, tyrants surround themselves with them.

In the city where I live there is no equal opportunity, there is no honest attempt to address social injustice, there is the greatest inequality in opportunity and income between blacks and whites in the nation, and the political hacks that run Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin believe the answer to the inevitable violence that arises from decades of refusing to redress issues of injustice is to add more police, arrest more people, and step harder on the necks of the people you are trying to keep down. Meanwhile, the whites sit in terrified and ignorant huddles, believing the nonsense they are fed by those in power and afraid to agitate for change that would make this city a better place for all people. Much as on the national level, the alternatives we are offered to the hacks in power are more of the same, or even worse - law and order candidates reminiscent of the 1960s.

National anthem? I'll be on my ass, thank you very much,

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Gangs and the Media: Violence and Healing

An outstanding piece on the state of things in Milwaukee - and around the country:

Gangs and the Media: Violence and Healing: I’ve had some thoughts on violence and healing. They are personal but also reflections on what has happened to my city this past month....

Friday, July 8, 2016

Tragedy in Dallas - and Across America

Those of us who go to bed a bit earlier than others awoke this morning to the news of tragedy in Dallas, as five police officers were killed by sniper fire. At least seven other officers and two civilians were wounded in the attack, which took place during a Black Lives Matter protest in response to police killings of two unarmed black men - one in Baton Rouge, LA and another in suburban St. Paul, MN - over the previous 48 hours.

Reactions to the news are largely predictable. Supporters of law enforcement, especially their families and friends, will rightly decry the attacks for the cowardly acts they were. Those outraged by the seemingly growing police misconduct across our country will rightly ask why the murder of these police officers receives more compassion from the community - especially the white community - than the murders of people of color by police officers. Hash tags and tempers will fly, posturing will abound, statements from the sublime to the ridiculous will be made, and little will change until we see that there can be more than one right answer to any question. The truth is that we need to move beyond dualistic thinking if we hope solve any complex problem we face. The answer isn't either-or, but rather both-and.

It is tragic when police officers kill unarmed people and it is tragic when police officers are killed. It is an absolutely cowardly act to kill people with sniper fire in a civilian setting and it is completely predictable that such a thing will happen when the society continues to ignore discrimination and lynching - and let's be clear, the murders of men of color in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and dozens of other places were nothing more than lynchings - at the hands of anyone, but most especially representatives of the government. Put more simply, you cannot legitimately be surprised when after throwing a number of lit matches onto a gasoline-soaked pile of wood it bursts into flames - yet that seems to be our reaction to tragedies like the Dallas sniper attacks!

Clearly, we need a new approach. We need to stop running as fast as we can to the two extremes put forth, that we either support police or support people of color, standing at those extremes and spitting vitriol at each other. We need to find a way to work together, but I don't believe that will happen until some of us take the first step. To be honest, I am not a fan of Black Lives Matter because the truth is that all people of color are the victims of police - and societal - discrimination. Don't Brown Lives Matter? Yellow Lives? Red Lives? Gay Lives? All those groups and more are the victims of the same discrimination that Black people face, and I believe that needs to be acknowledged. That being said, I believe it is a movement that isn't going to go away and that is probably a good thing because at some point even a movement based on a flawed concept is better than no movement at all. To be equally honest, I have occasion to regularly drive by a home with an "I support the badge" yard sign on display, and I find myself wondering why they don't just hang a confederate flag on their porch and a makeshift noose from their doorpost. One of the questions I haven't seen addressed, which doesn't mean nobody has addressed it, is when did it become acceptable for police to deploy robot bombs against civilians?

Have you ever seen a yard sign, bumper sticker, or hash tag that says, "I support a solution"? Of course you haven't, because America seems to be all about assigning blame rather than making substantive change. Once we can establish to our own satisfaction that we have identified who is to blame, we seem to feel no need to change anything. It is as if an arsonist burned our house down and we found the person responsible so we feel no need to rebuild our house! If that sounds absurd when talking about a building, why don't we seem to feel the need when it comes to our societal infrastructure and systems?

We obviously need substantive change, but to achieve that goal we are going to have to find a way to work together to make it happen. While we need to move forward just as fast as we can, we also need to acknowledge that change will not happen overnight. We will need to replace elected officials who don't see the need for change. We will need to protest, non-violently and continually, and agitate for change. We will need to demand justice. We will need to be relentless. One thing we cannot do is allow those in power to continually divide us into two opposing camps and thereby neutralize our power.