29 December 2007
Yep, as I predicted, AvP:R sucked. Not too much worth saying about it. As I suspected, the filmmakers thought that "achieving the atmosphere of the classic films" meant "lots of rain". On the other hand - and thank God for this - they did discover and include the one thing these movies have sorely lacked all along: stupid horny teenagers. Not. (Well, the stupid horny teens were certainly there, but naturally all they did was make it seem even more like a run-of-the-mill B horror flick.)
They threw in some vaguely plausible never-before-seen Alien evolution as a plot device to ensure that there would be lots and lots of Alienses around, and the movie contained exactly one (1) Predator, who was utterly irrelevant to the plot, and not even particularly badass. The very final moments of the film did throw one nice bone to fans of the Alien franchise, though, so they get points for that.
I hope they let the franchises lay fallow for a while, now, until somebody comes up with an actual good idea for another movie. Alas, Tina and I were part of the problem by adding to the opening-weekend box office. But Alienseses make Tina happy, so we went. :-)
27 December 2007
I usually start any long post with disclaimers, so - here we go. First, I do believe this is my first attempt at a book review, so apologies if it sucks. (The review, that is - not the book.) Second, regarding the suckiness (or lack thereof) of the book - I have to say I was quite surprised. Not surprised that I enjoyed reading it - I expected that. Gary's one of the smartest guys I know, and has a way with words. I wasn't sure if he'd turn out to be gifted at storytelling and characterization, but I wasn't surprised to find out that he was. So, just to be clear, it was a great read. Hard to put down, a real page-turner, and, for you Da Vinci Code fans, short chapters! :-)
What did surprise me, though, was that overall, I was happy with the picture of Jesus that Gary paints. Quite frankly, I expected to be put off by it. I hesitate to characterize Gary's worldview based on our conversations, but suffice it to say that it's definitely not what most people would think of as "Christian". Gary can correct me if I'm wrong, but my impression of his outlook on life is this:
- Start by accepting the world as it is, life as it is, and people as they are.
- Trust reason and something like common sense as your guides to doing the right thing in this clearly-seen world with these OK-just-as-they-are people.
- Faith and religious practice might possibly be helpful if they operate within this framework, but chances are that they'll only distract or mislead you. Buddhist philosophy and meditation practices are probably the most helpful / least harmful.
Jesus the Tathagata
Gary's Jesus at the beginning of the story is a grieving recent widower. Not just grieving - wrecked. The loss of his beloved Anna has drained Jesus of almost everything he had or was. Almost - but not quite everything. He still has his sense of loss, and it still consumes him. After a short sojourn with his cousin John the Baptist and his disciples, Jesus enters the wilderness. Reduced to nothing but basic need - food when starving, water when dying of thirst, sleep when too exhausted to remain awake - Jesus has an experience of awakening, not while sitting under a tree like that other well-known awakened one, but while wading in the Dead Sea. He returns to civilization a changed man, begins (quite against his will) to accumulate disciples, has many adventures with them, and, in the end...well, I won't give it away, but he doesn't sail away with a pregnant Magdalene to found the Merovingian line of French kings.
So is this a story of Jesus the Buddha? Not quite, and this is where I was surprised. Like the Buddha, this Jesus has been utterly transformed by an experience of awakening - but this is still recognizably the Jesus of the canonical Gospels. This Jesus is a healer and an exorcist. This Jesus is a fearless practitioner of radical hospitality, friend and lover of tax collectors and prostitutes. He's a teacher in parables and a sayer of hard sayings that seem to glorify himself. He's a people person who would often give anything to escape the crowds (if he had anything to give). This Jesus sends his followers out to heal and teach and exorcise. This Jesus is a forgiver of sins.
In other words, pretty much like the Jesus of the Gospels. The difference is that, in Gary's story, all of this stems from Jesus' emptying of himself, and his awakening to a worldview much like the one I outline above: accept life as it is, accept people as they are, use common sense and reason from there. This Jesus isn't so much a theist (he does talk of God's kingdom, but never calls God "Father") as a pantheist, or perhaps a panentheist. Or perhaps he's just comfortable with mystery when it comes to these questions - quite a bit more comfortable, in fact, than I've previously thought my friend Gary to be! A late conversation with his brother, James, is priceless:
— But there is something about you, my brother. Something that makes you a stranger to me. Something — I don’t know what — I don’t know how to say it.
— Maybe there’s nothing.
— No! It’s there. Something very good.
— What do you think it is, James?
— Is it God?
— Not the God you’re looking for.
— There is only one God.
— How do you know?
— I’m a Jew!
— Is God?
— Are you?
— Before there were Jews, there is God. You’re looking for the God of your fathers, the God of the book, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Moses. You’re looking for other men’s Gods! Isn’t that idolatry? Isn’t that whoring after false Gods? The one God is the God of the living. Therefore look for God among the living. But when you look out at the world you don’t find that God here. What do you find? You find the living world, the living God. The real God in the real world. Right here and now. Right here!
Jesus tapped James on the chest.
James shook his head —
— I don’t understand how you can call this God.
— Do you think you can understand God? Beware the God of your understanding, brother! Beware the God that suits you. Isn’t a God as small as your understanding too small to make the whole world? Isn’t that also idolatry? Isn’t that also whoring after false Gods?
— How do you know this, brother? Didn’t we both grow up in Nazareth sons of Joseph and Mary? How can you sit here now and tell me with such authority that all that we learned at our father’s knee was idolatry?
— It wasn’t idolatry then. It became idolatry when I began to see.
— See what?
— See God.
— You see God?
— I’m looking at God now.
James was transfixed by his brother’s eyes. Jesus looked at him completely without fear — with no reservations — nothing held back. His eyes were full of sorrow and full of innocence at once. His gaze was absolutely accepting and utterly uncompromising. Tears came into James’s eyes. He didn’t even know why. He never had seen such fearlessness in any man. It was astonishing and wonderful.
I quite like this Jesus, overall - and I like Gary even more now after having read his story.
Jesus the Accepting Transformer
If I have a quibble with this Jesus, it's that his philosophy - so clear to him as to be invisible (he constantly denies that he has anything to teach) - doesn't quite make complete sense to me. The key, for this Jesus, seems to be to accept both the world, and each person in it, as they are. Yet, Jesus himself has changed utterly in the course of his life. I think Jesus would say that he didn't actually change - he just became who he really was - but how does one tell the difference? Jesus heals Jonas the demoniac and Caleb, a man with an unclean skin disease - among others. He gives brutal tongue-lashings to those who act out of unthinking prejudice or selfishness. Why didn't he accept all of these people as they were? I don't disagree with Jesus' actions - like I said, I like this Jesus - but I'm not sure I buy that the universe is quite as simple as he and Gary make it out to be. It didn't seem to me that Jesus, in this story, was faced with any really interesting ethical dilemmas. Consider this exchange between Jesus and his disciples James and John, the sons of Zebedee:
James said —
— Teacher, if this is how it is, then what is prayer? If God is in me and I in God, who is praying to who?
— That is a subtle question, James, my friend! Now look if God is in you and you are in God, and God is in me and I am in God, then when you and I speak to each other, who is speaking to who?
— I don’t know.
— Don’t you see that this too is just the way the world is made to be? Whether we question or accept, pray or keep silent, contend or embrace, deny or affirm — we are in all things expressing God’s creation. We are always in the will of God. It is impossible to deviate from the way things are.
John objected —
— Then why shouldn’t I turn to thieving and whoring and drinking and gambling?
— Wouldn’t you miss your wife and sons and daughters?
— Why don’t you?
— That life does not appeal to me. I am living the life that is given to me.
— Does it appeal to you?
Jesus laughed —
— Not always!
OK, but what if a live of thieving did appeal to Jesus? Would that then be acceptable? As long as that was who he truly was? Somehow I find this unlikely, in light of the compassionate, just Jesus portrayed elsewhere in the story. I think, in the end, that this Jesus would agree with the Jesus of the Gospels and the Buddha of the Sutras - not everything about us ought to be accepted. Some aspects of us - those that cause us in our greed or selfishness or anger to ignore the well-being of our fellow creatures - ought to be named sin or poison, and transformed.
Jesus Our Brother
In the end, I found Only Begotten to be a touching portrayal of a very human Jesus. A Jesus who, through suffering and awakening, became a man whose fearlessness and clarity and fullness of life were nearly impossible to resist. It's a portrait of a Jesus who is just like each of us, yet unlike any of us. A Jesus who is our brother, our healer, our teacher despite himself. Thanks, Gary, for this portrait.
Now, tell me how I misinterpreted it. :-)
P.S., While you're discovering Gary's brilliance, you must check out his photography on ShutterGlass.com. ZOMG, it's awesome stuff!
16 December 2007
(The photo of my friend Julie lighting a candle in our participatory Advent wreath is by USN&WR's Jim Lo Scalzo. Jim, let me know if you mind me using it; it's a great photo.)
OK. 15 minutes begins...now. :-)
15 December 2007
Many folks in groups who have been denied authority and prestige in the Church (women, minorities, gay folks, etc.) are quite rightly hurt and angered by the very real injustice of that denial. (They are also, quite rightly, hurt by the very real history of the church's lack of respect for them and valuing of their gifts. Let me state up-front: I don't think there's any room to question that the church needs to respect, value, and nurture the gifts of all God's people. But I'm drawing a distinction between respecting and valuing someone, and putting that person in a position of authority. Bear with me.)
The question that I think is being raised here (or, at any rate, the one that I'm raising), is this: Is there another way to resolve this injustice, apart from seeking to put those who have been disenfranchised into positions of authority and prestige? I think that there is, and it gives me a lot of hope.
The other option would be the creation of church communities (and organizations and networks) that aren't built around the concept of some followers having authority over others. Ones that are instead built around mutual servanthood and mutual submission. As Grace says,
The ultimate issue is whether we are ready and willing to embody mutual submission in all of our relationships with one another to the degree that we are even willing to address the structural systems of church and the use of power and position within those structures.
This raises all kinds of questions. What about folks (like many dear friends of mine) whose love of God's Church is inexorably bound up with their love of existing church structures (such as denominations, megachurches, publishing houses, mission organizations, etc.) which have dynamics of authority and prestige built into their very marrow? They may have no choice but to seek authority and prestige if they feel called to change those systems, as opposed to leaving them and seeking their own way. But I have to admit that I do share Sally's fear:
Whether male or female, our questions must ultimately move beyond power and equality to those of ecclesiastical integrity. As important as mutuality is in the kingdom of God, it is quite conceivable to be mutually and equally participating in a failing and misguided enterprise.
This is hard stuff. Another question: could this whole train of thought simply be a ruse on the part of straight, male WASPs like myself (and others who currently have "the upper hand") to pacify the oppressed and keep them under our heel while we hold tight to the reins of authority and prestige? Hellz, yeah! I have no doubt that this line of reasoning has been and will be used in that fashion. Maybe that's what I'm doing right now. Be vigilant.
Here's another question: Does an end to authority and prestige mean an end to leadership? I don't think so, but the question is begged: what would leadership look like in a world like this? Good question.
This leads to another important question: what consequences would this have for the shape and organization of communities and churches? Would they necessarily be small? Would the joining together of Christians communities necessarily be done through peer networks, not hierarchies?
Would this mean giving up some of the benefits that come with the existing authority-and-prestige-based systems? Salaries? Pensions? Book contracts? Would it be possible to opt out of the quest for power and fame, and still make (at least part of) a living from church-related work? (I think so, but these are hard questions.)
I'm certainly not saying that this is the only faithful path to pursue within God's Church. But I am saying that I think it's one faithful path, and it's one for which I have great hope in this postmodern, post-Christendom, post-authoritatian age that we might be entering.
Perhaps the issue is not that everyone can't be The Man. Perhaps it's that we don't need The Man in the first place. Maybe we should just wish him well and go follow Jesus.
13 December 2007
OK, I should warn you that this article contains naughty language, and so does this blog post. But if you're man enough or woman enough, please read the article. It is wise and true.
Cussing aside, some would find the ideas espoused far more offensive than the words chosen. But I just wanted to say, I agree with every word of it. (Except calling the stupid bitch on MSN a fat cow. That's not nice.)
As a culture, we have so thoroughly perverted what "giving" is supposed to mean that I'm afraid we need a bit of a detox. Christmas is about giving - this is true. It's celebrating the birth of the one who gave everything to be present to us, and to save us from ourselves. It's about giving (as Jesus did) our presence, our love, our healing, our reconciliation, and our good news. "Giving" is about presence. Not presents.
Good stuff, P3T3.
09 December 2007
Alien - Classic. Scary. Genre-defining.
Aliens - Possibly the most overrated sci-fi movie of all time; definitely the most overrated Alien movie. I can barely stand to watch this flick. Bill Paxton and Paul Reiser's characters annoy the living piss out of me. The thing looks ridiculously dated with its '80's fashion and big hair. The acting is abyssmal, and the tension is nill because you don't give a crap about any of the characters, with the exception of the little girl (cheap ploy), Ripley (whom you only care about because she was a badass in the previous flick), and the android, Bishop, who is this movie's one positive contribution to the franchise. OK - and I'll admit it's cool to see Ripley in the robotic exoskeleton taking on the alien queen.
Alien3 (aka Alienses) - The most underrated movie in the franchise. I like this one almost as much as the original. Tense writing, interesting characters, really impressive acting, and a willingness to buck Hollywood convention and expectations (in other words, it does things you don't expect - imagine that!)
Alien Resurrection (aka Alienseses) - Oh, Joss. Joss, Joss, Joss. It's hard to believe that this thing was written by my beloved Buffy creator. I'm pretty sure it was studio-ruined like the original BtVS movie, but still. It ends up being one of those guilty pleasure movies that's fun, but by no stretch of the imagination good.
Alien vs. Predator - This was a movie based on a comic book that looks like a video game. There've been a lot of movies like that in recent years. It's another guilty pleasure movie. It's fun. It's got some great moments. It's got Lance Henriksen. They're making a sequel. They seem to be really proud of the fact that there's a lot of rain in the sequel. I'm guessing it'll suck. But who knows?
There you have it. If you want to borrow the DVD's, let me know.
04 December 2007
I was thinking, as we slogged somewhat desperately through several different stores - looking for a small list of items, among a reasonable-sized crowd of friendly fellow-shoppers and clerks; this could have been worse! Anyway, I was thinking:
Shopping is evil. It's demonic. Here's why: If you're someone who likes shopping, then you'll spend lots of money because you enjoy doing so. And if you're someone (like Tina and me) who puts it only slightly this side of waterboarding on a scale of fun activities? You'll buy whatever it takes to make the job go away. Either way, they getcha. It's insidious. You've made a deal with a devil the moment you walk through that automatic sliding glass door into that brightly-lit shrine of consumption.
I'm with Rev. Billy.
P.S., Grocery shopping is exempted, mostly, from this diatribe. I like food.
02 December 2007
Want to wait with me? I'll make some hot chocolate. With marshmallows.
Let's see what God has in store.
26 November 2007
16 November 2007
In sadder news, Beloved Employer is laying some folks off. :-(
12 November 2007
If you're local (to the DC/NoVA area), don't miss these fun and faithy (faithiness is next to truthiness!) events this week:
TUESDAY: The DC Emergent Cohort will gather at the Front Page on Dupont Circle (right near the Dupont Metro stop), 7pm. Sara won't be there, so we can behave in an unseemly and embarrassing manner, if we so choose. ;-)
WEDNESDAY: It's Karaoke Night at The Lamb Center (Fairfax county's only daytime homeless shelter), from 6:30 - 8pm. Come join Lamb Center clients and teen and adult volunteers as we together seek and find our inner ham. And seek and find Christ, too. Maybe the two are related.
THURSDAY: It's MESH-a-rita's Tres: We'll be slurpin' 'ritas, wolfin' burritos and chattin' about life, the universe, and whatnot at Tequila Grande, (444 Maple Avenue West, Vienna VA 22180). Thursday, 15 November, 7pm SHARP(ish). Join us!
08 November 2007
1) I forgot to give a hat-tip to Randy for the Olbermann rant on the Bush administration and water-boarding.
2) Turns out Hillary's entourage did leave a tip. Maybe. Maybe it was on a credit card. Maybe it was cash. Maybe it didn't get shared among the staff like it was meant to.
Whatever. If I was wrong to believe that Sen. Clinton and her peeps neglected this, then I apologize. But my bucket is still pretty empty, and I'm sorry to say that my impression of the Senator led me to believe this pretty readily. :-(
Perhaps you've met the LOLrus. If not, allow me to introduce you to his tragic tale:
How am I like the LOLrus, you ask? Well, not in many ways, honestly. Very little has ever been taken from me. However, there is one thing I must admit that I miss - perhaps not as muct as LOLrus misses his bukkit, but acutely. Acutely.
I miss mah sense of hope and respect for US national politics. The Bush administration, it seems clear, is almost completely devoid of integrity. (I'm afraid I probably have to retract my earlier "I respect Dubya" post.) And as I look at the presidential election that's shaping up, my temptation to laugh about Christian Right leaders endorsing Republican candidates - who utterly fail to represent the values the Christian Right supposedly stand for - is more than dampened by the probability that I'll be forced to vote for Hillary Clinton instead. I really don't want to vote for Hillary. She so totally doesn't get it. :-(
I still have some hope. Not a bucketful, but some. Mostly in Obama. But quite honestly, the hope that can fill that particular bucket - politics - it probably always going to be pretty false, IMHO.
So, bye bye, bucket. I miss you. But in retrospect, you were always empty.
05 November 2007
Here's what I'm noodling about. I have some gut guesses about this procedure. I wouldn't be surprised if any or all of them are wrong, and that's not really my point, anyway. Here are my guesses:
1) This stuff really works.
2) It works because the patients believe it works, not because there's really an energy field around our bodies that can be manipulated by folks moving their hands over it.
3) It wouldn't work if the patients believed that it only works because they believe it works.
Again, these guesses are not really my point. I don't really want to debate their accuracy. They are, admittedly, just hunches; we're not going to determine truth regarding them via discussion.
My point, instead, is this: let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that I happen to be correct on all three counts. In that case: is there anything wrong with this sort of New Age placebo therapy, from an ethical/moral/spiritual point of view? Or put more bluntly and generally: can self-deception be a good thing if it relieves pain?
01 November 2007
Well, I sincerely doubt it. I'm not aware of any sizable hierarchical church system in which appalling crap occurs at a rate greatly less than I would expect if there weren't bishops (or whomever) "maintaining order". Definitions of "appalling crap" will, of course, differ, but I believe this statement to be true no matter where one stands on various political and theological spectra. You may find gay bishops appalling, or you may feel that way about the exclusion of gay folks from leadership. Or maybe you're scandalized by Druidic Eucharistic prayers. Or maybe you're shocked by sexual abuse of children by clergy. I sure as hell hope you're shocked by that last one. Well, all of these things (and much more!) have happened in just my own denomination in recent years, despite all its bishops keeping order - and your church system (if you have one) is no more immune to bad stuff, I assure you.
So I found this story both affirming and challenging to this smack I like to lay down regarding hierarchical accountability. On the one hand, it's an excellent example of hierarchical accountability working. Yay - nay, mega-yay - for Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, for kicking the episcopal ass of this dude who, if these allegations are true, should probably not be out of prison, much less in a church leadership position. ++Katharine's kung-fu is strong.
On the other hand - UCK! What the hell is wrong if this crap has been going on with these two brothers since the seventies, and they made this (accused) spineless worm - this (alleged) craven enabler of kids' lives being f**ked up for all time - a bishop?? I know no human organization is perfect, but dude, we are one seriously broken Body. Not news, I know. :-(
HT: Steve (among others)
31 October 2007
OK, this is two Makeesha-inspired posts in a row, but I didn't see any reason not to accept her challenge to link to an illuminating interview with Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB. Any summary would fail to do her justice, but: longtime Roman Catholic nun, Benedictine monastic, feminist, reconciler, peacemaker, scholar, teacher, leader. I've had (and loved) Sr. Joan's authoritative English translation of the Rule of St. Benedict for years, and she is definitely a voice worth listening to. So, give her a listen.
29 October 2007
What is Your World View?
created with QuizFarm.com
|You scored as Cultural Creative|
Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.
24 October 2007
The Bridge Builder
An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you a bridge at the eventide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.
“This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.”
22 October 2007
15 October 2007
I used to be a dues-paying member of the Skeptics' Society, which (IMHO) is made up of a lot of people who have really good and smart and helpful things to say, but who perhaps spend an inordinate amount of time being cynical and bitter. This sounds familiar - I think I know another group like this. Oh yeah - emerging Christians.
Anyway, when I was officially a skeptic, I bought and read an excellent book by the society's director, Michael Shermer. It's called How We Believe, and it explores the physiological, psychological, and sociological mechanisms behind religious belief and belief in other things that haven't been independently verified by the scientific method. One of the main things I remember from the book is that Shermer characterized human beings as "pattern-seeking animals". As we observe and interact with the world around us, we talking monkeys have a very deep need to make sense of the world in which we live. When we observe events or behaviors, we unconsciously and naturally try to discern order in those events - we seek to form a mental structure or pattern within which those observations fit. Once we've formed such a mental pattern, we naturally seek to fit future, similar observations into that framework. The pattern has become part of our apparatus for understanding and making sense of the world, and so we naturally seek to reinforce that pattern. It becomes easier for us to fit observations into our existing patterns than to modify our patterns to fit new observations, so we tend to err on the side of the former behavior.
In other words, scientific empiricism isn't really our natural mode. We like to think that as we observe the world and the behavior of our fellow humans, every new data point we take in contributes to our ever-changing understanding of the ways the world works and the story of our lives thus far. But very often this is far from the case, especially if we've developed a well-established mental pattern for understanding a particular situation, or a particular person. Very often, the question we unconsciously ask when someone we know acts in a particular way is not, "What does this behavior mean for my understanding of this person", but "How can I interpret this behavior in such a way that it harmonizes with my existing understanding of this person?" All too often, we more or less cease getting to know someone (or something) once a coherent pattern of understand for that person (or thing) has formed in our minds. This is, no doubt, a survival adaptation. It's great to keep an open mind about Groog, but eventually you really need to decide whether it's more likely that Groog has got your back, or that instead he's going to stab you in it with his flint knife - and act accordingly.
Here's the thing, though - sometimes we can really get way too attached to our patterns. You're familiar with the expression "story of my life." As in, "You drowned your cell phone AGAIN?" "Yep, story of my life." Well, sometimes the patterns we form really can become the story of our lives. Sometimes they can get so big and well-entrenched in our minds that they become the lens through which we interpret everything that happens to us. They can become the leitmotif that underlies every single chapter in the ongoing story of our lives (as told by ourselves, to ourselves).
I think this is probably inevitable. It certainly happens with our religious beliefs - or the equivalent. Whether we're Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, skeptics, Marxists or atheists, if we're serious about those thought-patterns, they'll color every interaction we have. This is the nature of such beliefs, and the nature of us humans. Same thing with other deeply-held beliefs: conservative? progressive? family values champion? green? feminist? pacifist? free-market capitalist? social justice activist? If you're committed enough to a pattern of beliefs for it to make a practical difference in your life, then you're committed enough to it to let it shape the story you tell about your life - and therefore to let it handicap your capacity for empirical observation. To let it close your mind, at least a little.
So I feel like I just used a crapload of words to state the obvious, and as my lovely wife reminded me just today, I have a real problem with GETTING TO THE DAMN POINT. Do I have a point? Yes, yes I do.
My point is this: we all have these patterns, and the best we can do, I think, is to be aware of them. Take a critical look at each of them, and ask, "Is this pattern generally contributing to the health and happiness of myself and those around me, or not? Is it just making me, and those I share my life with, miserable? Is it contributing to my ability to be a gift to other people, or is it only contributing to its own reinforcement?" Even if we judge a pattern generally worthy, we would do well to remain skeptical of it, as much as we can. George Box said, "All models are wrong; some models are useful," and as much as we love and need our patterns, I think the same goes for them, too. Even the useful ones are wrong. If we completely lose sight of that, then we're the proud creator of a newly minted graven image.
Turning it around, we may ask ourselves, "If I am unhappy, and I think it's because of an external pattern in my life - could it instead be an internal pattern? Is it possible that I've developed a relentless habit of fitting the events of my life into a mental framework that is not generative of the things that make life worth living?"
I know folks who seem to have got themselves in that kind of trap. I'm sure I do it too. And though I think there's probably no silver bullet for this kind of thing, I think the best hope we have is in friends who are loving and brave enough to help us question our patterns, even when we really, really don't want to. Because even if I spend a ton of time in self-reflection, I might never really question my patterns - even my destructive ones. They're the hills and valleys of my mental landscape. They're just there. They hide in plain sight.
So if you're my friend, and you've actually slogged through all of those words I just spewed into your poor, unsuspecting feed reader (I mean, you'd have to be my friend to have done that, right?) - then please, please, please, I beg you - help me to see and be critical of my patterns. I don't want to be stuck seeing the world - and the people in it - in calcified, distorted ways. Your caring honesty is my only real hope to avoid that fate. So, both in retrospect and in advance, I thank you for that honesty.
30 September 2007
29 September 2007
That's because of something that happened a little more than a year ago. I won't go into the details (I've talked a little about them before), but a set of events transpired that amounted to an institutional church system (my institutional church) running on autopilot - running according to rulebook and blind tradition, as opposed to pastoral compassion. The result of that didn't hurt me. It hurt some people I love very dearly, at a time when they were already in unbearable pain and in dire need of unconditional welcome. It's hard to make me angry, much less screaming, grudge-holding, fit-to-be-tied angry. But that'll do it - yes, indeed.
Now, it's important to point out two things. First, my dear friends were hurting so much to begin with that I think this hardly registered as a blip in their suffering - and as a result of what happened, another faith community did welcome them, which for a variety of reasons turned into much more of a blessing than "plan A" would have been. Even at the time, I could clearly see the hand of God in these events - but that didn't stop my feelings of anger and betrayal. Second, I never, ever have felt that my other dear friends who are a part of my Episcopal faith community failed me or my unwelcomed friends. I was angry with the system, the "institution" - not the people. (And my dear, amazing, hurting friends were never angry with anyone.) But with that institution, I was really, really, truly angry.
Shortly after these events, I sat down with my Rector, Fr. Rick, a dear friend of mine, and tearfully told him that I felt I had to separate myself from the Episcopal Church (TEC) - I couldn't see myself continuing to minister in a context in which this sort of thing happened. During that conversation, Rick+ gave me an incredible gift. (Actually, many - but one that was particularly significant to me.) He asked me not to come down hard on the question of "membership". No-one was asking me to say "I am a member of the TEC" or "I am not" - least of all him. Technically - "on the books" - I certainly was, but I felt like he was giving me permission to be agnostic about the question of whether, in my heart of hearts, I retained that membership.
This "permission to be agnostic" about membership was a huge help to me in getting over that initial intense rage, guilt, and feeling of betrayal. It let me push aside the huge emotional issues that this had raised for me, and not feel that I must resolve them, one way or the other. It let me go on with life and ministry, and heal.
And so it went, for about a year. The principle focus for my ministry, fellowship, and formation shifted from my Episcopal church to my little nondenominational "emerging-ish" community of friends, but I maintained connections to my Episcopal community, primarily through my Discipleship Group and my friendship with Susan, the newest priest in that community. Whenever anyone asked about my denominational affiliation, I would say "I'm an Anglican - for me, that's a part of my identity - but I don't know whether or not I'm an Episcopalian."
I think that, as healing processes go, this was perhaps relatively healthy. I dunno.
But a couple of things nagged at me:
- Before all this happened - beginning as far back as the previous winter - I'd felt strongly called to participate in youth ministry at my Episcopal church. At the time of these events, I had committed to playing a large role in Senior High Sunday school there - and it was heart-wrenching to me to realize - and tell the people I'd committed to - that I didn't feel like I could do that any more. And it continued to bug me, because it'd felt like a real call to me. Was my Spiritual discernment apparatus completely busted?
- Although I'm the sort of person who's comfortable with mystery, this "membership agnosticism" was, I think, always bound to be a temporary, liminal thing for me, though I didn't really recognize that for a long time.
And that was a huge gift. Because when I prayerfully looked in my heart, I realized that I do not feel called to division and divisiveness. I don't feel called to grudge-holding and bitter cynicism. (Well, cynicism maybe, but not the bitter kind. Not so much, anyway.) I felt called to reconciliation. And at a time when division and divisiveness are rending the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion - and at a time when I see my Episcopal community forming in new and wondrously inspiring ways, including a large internal community of adult youth ministers that has the potential to be real, deep, and transformational - I felt called to stand with my Episcopalian sisters and brothers, and let go of Rick's gift. To be able to say, "I'm an Episcopalian" once again.
This wasn't easy. It was hard because I'd grown to love that gift. That "membership agnosticism" had been key to healing me at a terribly painful time. But the gift was inherently temporary, and the healing was incomplete. To hold on to it would have been to make it into an idol - heck, it was already an idol. To let go of it was to open myself to the possibility of reconciliation. Letting go was painful, but I think it was what God was asking of me.
So what does this change? Not too much, except my heart. My primary place of ministry, fellowship, and formation remains my little unconventional church - but I'm going to be a mentor for one young man (I don't yet know whom) in the confirmation class at my Episcopal church this year. I'm excited, if a little nervous, about that challenge!
I don't particularly consider myself to be under the authority of any given clergycritter in the Anglican hierarchy - but that's not saying anything, because as far as I understand it, the only people who are particularly under "authority" of an Anglican cleric (bishop, archbishop, whatever) are: other Anglican clergy. Not really planning on becoming one of those. And since I believe strongly in mutual accountability in the Body of Christ, I sort of am under the authority of my clergy friends - as I am under the authority of my non-clergy friends.
And I remain deeply skeptical of a lot of concepts that are pretty ubiquitous in Anglicanism - including the perceived need for church buildings, canon law, ironclad tradition, large congregations, "discipleship optional, deep community optional" church culture, bishops, hierarchical leadership, clergy in general.... Etc. Lots of stuff. I break major Anglican rules on a weekly basis, and don't plan to discontinue that practice. But Anglicanism and TEC have never demanded conformity on nonessentials as a condition of membership. Really. (There are, however, varying lists of "essentials".)
So if TEC will have me - and I'm pretty sure they don't excommunicate much these days - then I'm ready, once again, to say, "I'm an Episcopalian." And it feels good, and right, and something to be thankful for. So, thanks be to God, and thank God for faithful friends bearing gifts. :-) Amen!
22 September 2007
My good friend Israel posted on his blog about two local governmental jurisdictions (the one where I live, and the one where he lives) and their respective attitudes toward immigrants who depend on day labor to survive.
This issue has been weighing on my heart, at least a little, for a while - at least since I moved to Herndon and started getting the free newspaper and reading the latest chapter of the saga of the day workers' center on the front page of each issue. Here are some random thoughts:
- Yay for the Arlington County Board, but I'm not sure that resolution is anything other than a show of support in principal, which says, "we resolve, by continuing our current policies, to not be quite as nasty as some other local governments we might mention". It doesn't actually say that that they plan on doing anything new for day workers - such as, for example, creating an official, funded site - and I suspect that if someone tried to do new stuff, they'd meet with opposition in Arlington, as anywhere. Call me cynical, but I sort of read this resolution as essentially an expression of the political POV of those who make up the majority of the Board at the moment, and not much more. So, yay for Arlington, and boo for Herndon - but we should remember that Herndon actually did something fairly revolutionary, and, somewhat unsurprisingly, the revolution was put down. If Arlington tried to turn its vague thumbs-up into something concrete and equally revolutionary, then believe me, the "send the scary brown people home" folks would come out in force there too - possibly in enough numbers to change the political make-up of the county council.
- That said, I'd love to be a part of something revolutionary in Arlington. So I says to Izzy, Izzy, I says, if you talk to las chicas de Chirilagua, please keep me in the loop on what they say.
- That said, I'd hate for people who care about folks who feed their families through day labor to say, "Oh well, Herndon screwed the pooch - tough noogies for immigrants in Herndon" and move on. So I'm thinking (and talking to my church's GNU Team - "Giving to Needs Unmet") about reaching out to Reston Interfaith / Project Hope and Harmony to find out how things are shaping up as they continue their efforts outside the context of the officially supported center.
17 September 2007
This Thursday, 7pm, at Tequila Grande in Vienna. We'll be discussing the theological / ecclesiological / missiological / tequiliological implications of Harry Potter Book Seven.
Be there, or be a Muggle. Not any Muggle, either, but an insufferable prat like the Dursleys.
See you then!
P.S., I am currently accepting compliments on my 31337 PhotoShop (actually, Windows Paint) skeelz.
I know, I know. You're not worthy. :-D
15 September 2007
My friend Jen is traveling to Tanzania in January, for six months, to teach elementary-age kids in a village there. This is a country of 35 million people, in which only about 15,000 graduated from high school last year. The need for education is real, and Jen is partnering with another organization, freealert.org (co-founded by another friend of ours), in hope of, in Israel's words, "send[ing] Jen off with more than just color crayons and poster paper!"
Here are three ways you can help:
1) If you're on Facebook (and wouldn't this be a good reason to join?), go here to vote for this project in a mini-grant contest being offered by Razoo SpeedGranting - Razoo will give $500 to the project that gets the most votes.
2) Put one of these thingies on your blog or website:
To get the code, click on the "Copy" tab in the widget above. (I've got a permanent one over on the left there. It doesn't quite fit, but it works OK.) This will allow folks to donate directly to the cause. If you have the means, and this speaks to you, then by all means donate yourself.
3) Spread the word! Tell all your friends! This is a real way to help meet a real need, through a real person (a very cool person I might add) who is really going to Africa to hand-deliver her love, compassion, talent, skills, and expertise. And, God willing, some laptops!
Does the argument of Caputo (to whom Ryan refers) help? Thinking of God as a "weak force" as opposed to the all-powerful (yet far from all-active) "magic hand from above" that most of us grew up with? I know it's helped my friend, at least a little, but it certainly does fly in the face of what we've been taught to expect from our Deity.
09 September 2007
It's too late (in the day) to start this blog post, and I'm too tired. There's too much to say, and I won't be able to say it tonight. So I'll be brief. Today I was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, by my dear friend, in the presence of my beloved community, including my beloved wife. Two other members of our community were baptized today as well. It was a joyful celebration of God's grace on a hot, sunny morning, and when we had shared the other major sacrament of the bread and the wine, the body and the blood, the service was brought to a close by many of us spontaneously jumping into the consecrated waters, fully clothed. :-) I find myself constantly amazed by how much I love these people. Thanks, God, for the unfathomable gift of each one of you, fellow Commoners.
I've been baptized before, as an infant. I've also been confirmed, and in 2003 I formally reaffirmed my (original) baptismal vows. I really want everyone to understand: I certainly don't want to minimize the beauty and value of any of these rites, whether in general or in my specific case. And I didn't have a long-standing plan to do this - in fact, the idea was first mentioned this past Tuesday, and only really became a sure thing on Friday. It was sort of a big surprise to everyone, including me. But in the back of my mind, I've wanted to do this for a long time.
I'm a sacramental kind of guy, and it just seems to me that this is the sacrament as experienced by everyone in the early church - heck, even Jesus himself: full-immersion, performed by someone deeply significant to one's spiritual formation, as a celebration of a free-will commitment of one's life to the way of God in Jesus. (Also, I'm in good company.) I can't begin to say how much this meant to me, to make that commitment, surrounded by my the love of my friends. To my friends and loved ones who couldn't be there (if only because I pretty much didn't tell anyone this was happening!), especially by family and my dear friends from my other beloved faith community - you were very much on my mind today, and with me in spirit as you have been along this journey that brought me to a suburban pool, listening to the symphony of gorgeous hymns and heartfelt words of faith combined with the drone of a neighbor's chainsaw, being dunked by my friend and vowing to keep walking this path with my Lord and with my friends. Amen, and amen, and thanks be to God.
02 September 2007
Today, my community worshiped God together through an ancient contemplative practice called the labyrinth. It's been used in Christian cathedrals and churches for centuries as a practice for prayerful meditation and centering oneself on God, and began as a safer alternative to pilgrimage to Jerusalem. My parents, who are visiting for the long holiday weekend, were with us, and they participated in the labyrinth walk too, as well as the picnic afterward celebrating our church's sixth anniversary. Between the labyrinth walk and the picnic, many of us shared some of what we experienced while walking and quietly praying together. I was surprised and deeply moved to hear my mom speak up during this time, and say how pleased and touched she was to see me being a part of such a community - such a group of loving friends. I really, really love my mom. :-)
This morning was also moving for me because of my own experience, journeying through the labyrinth. As I began, my thoughts and prayers were very, very heavy. Lately I've been feeling a lot of weight on my heart regarding a situation in which I've felt powerless, but at the same time felt that I shouldn't be powerless. The situation in question is a broken relationship, to which I am a party. I'm used to the concept of turning a situation over to God when there's clearly nothing I can do except pray. For example, if someone I know is suffering from cancer, there's no way I can cure that. All I can do in a case like that is rely on God.
I'm also used to asking God for help in a situation in which it seems clear that on my own, I could do little or nothing to help - but with God's help, maybe I could make a difference. I've gone around and around and around this particular situation in my mind and prayers, because this has seemed like one of those latter circumstances: this is a relationship issue, and I'm a party to the relationship. With God's help, if I'm any good at all, I should be able to do something to make the situation better, instead of worse, right? And I've gone around and around and around, and not been able to come up with a way to do that.
So I walked the path into the labyrinth, thinking and praying about the weight of this on all of us who have been hurt by it. I got to the center and sat down, still heavy. After a little time, my friend sat down next to me, and I served her the communion bread and wine that we'd put in the center, and then she served me. The sacrament felt like a great, beautiful gift to me, to an extent that it rarely has (sacramentally-inclined guy though I am). Just then, the music that the service planners had chosen to accompany our walk switched from a slower, contemplative tune to a joyful, funky, reggae song from the Hasidic reggae artist Matisyahu. Many of us started to smile. At least one of us started to dance, boogieing her way along the spiritual path in a contagiously joyful manner. That song, that dance, felt like great, beautiful gifts to me too, and as I began my journey back out from the center, I was weeping a little, but it was mostly tears of relief. I felt like God was saying something to me, and the weight was lifting a little more with each step.
What I felt like I was hearing was this: Mike, shut up. You think that if you're any good at all, you should be able to find a way to bring some healing to this situation, that you should be able to give that gift. Well (like all humans beings), apart from me, you aren't any good at all - but at the same time, you're my finest, most beloved creation. So shut up. Follow me. And I'll use you to give gifts. Maybe even some beautiful ones. But: you don't get to choose which ones you can give.
As I made my way into the prayer silo at the lovely Benedictine monastery where we were worshiping and picnicking, I was asking myself: am I OK with that? After some time, I lay down on the cool stone floor, looked up at the clear blue sky, and felt like it was OK with me.
I'm still going to pray for healing of this wound - probably every time I pray, as I have in the past. (Please don't read this to say that I pray with great frequency - my prayer life is not something I have reason to be proud of.) And I'll still pray for God, or the other people involved, to show or tell me some way that I could make it even a little better.
But I think I may stop obsessively churning my own brain cells, searching for such a way. I've felt like there must be an answer - even a tiny partial answer - that I can find, if I just try hard enough. But maybe for now the only answer I get is: wait on God. Rely on God. And I think I'm learning to be OK with that.
31 August 2007
28 August 2007
A few days ago, I got an email from another Mike Croghan. Here it is:
So, go ahead and click on that link, why don't you? Isn't that cool? So I asked Mike if there's any linguistic connection between "Cruachan" and "Croghan", and he replied:Just thought I would say hi.I was googling my name and came up with your site.Regards.Mike John Croghan.Cruachan Aí Heritage Centre,
Tulsk, Co. Roscommon,
Yes there is a connection between the two names. Cruachan is the gaelic for Croghan.The name Croghan is a west Roscommon east Longford name and in translation it means people of the conical mounds. In fact this area has hundreds of conical mounds as it is the ancient seat of the kings of Connacht.The fact that your ancestors came from Galway is no surprise as we are only about 30 minutes chariot ride from the Galway border.There are very few Croghans left so be proud of your heritage!!!
22 August 2007
...like my friend Elizabeth has. It would make getting around the corridors at work more fun.
- If I had them, I'd get even less exercise, and
- I don't think they're ideal for someone as vulnerable to gravity as I am.
15 August 2007
But then, in the intervening time, I became a Facebook addict, which undermined, somewhat, the soapbox upon which I'd intended to stand. (It's fun! Join up! Be my Facebook friend!)
So, thankfully, iPete came to my rescue, sending me a link to an awesome BBC News article by internet law professor Michael Geist. Instead of getting all boorish and philosophical like I would have done, Geist makes the case pretty concisely and compellingly, in terms of self-interest:
The irony of the current generation of online social networks is that although their premise is leveraging the internet to connect people, their own lack of interconnectedness is stifling their potential.Read the whole article if you're interested in this sort of thing, but I hope the social networking corporate decision makers are listening to Michael Geist.
Some services may believe that it is in their economic interest to stick to a walled garden approach; however, given the global divisions within the social networking world, the mix of language, user preferences, and network effects, it is unlikely that one or two services will capture the global marketplace. The better approach - for users and the sites themselves - would be to work towards a world of interoperable social networking
27 July 2007
19 July 2007
10 July 2007
Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
(John 13:34-35 - The Message)
[Yeah, I know, if you just want to read the Bible, you probably own one, and I just did this a few posts ago. Sorry; just didn't have anything to add, at least not until I've spent quite a bit more time meditating on this one myself. Shalom...]
06 July 2007
The Washington, DC Emergent Cohort is meeting on Monday evening, 16 July, 7pm, at a new place: The Front Page, right across from the Dupont Circle metro. Easier to get to than the Irish pub in Bethesda where we used to gather, blessed as it was with delicious Harp, Guinness, and fish and chips, but cursed as it was by Quiz Night loudness and, well, being in Bethesda. I don't think we're going to have an impressive guest speaker, but please come anyway - it's never been about the guest speakers (though we've had some fine ones) - it's about connecting with folks trying to make their way following Jesus in different area communities. More info on the Cohort blog.
Also, the little community called "mesh" is going to meet on Thursday the 19th at Tequila Grande in Vienna, also at 7pm. This month, we're giving up any pretense of being "about" anything - no book or movie to discuss; we're just going to have some margaritas and chips and salsa together and share what's going on in our lives. Again, it's all about the connecting. There's a theory that says this group is for "young adults", but I don't know what that means, nor am I certain that either word applies to me personally. If you're old enough to drink a margarita, and young enough to not disapprove of margaritas, you're invited. :-) More info on the mesh blog, including the fact that Susan and I are buying the first round of 'ritas.
Let me know if you want further info on either gathering. Peace!
04 July 2007
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn't amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't.
If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don't take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy; if you're put in charge, don't manipulate; if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.
Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down. Get along with each other; don't be stuckup. Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody.
Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you've got it in you, get along with everybody. Don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. "I'll do the judging," says God. "I'll take care of it."
Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he's thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don't let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.
It was written by this itinerant Palestinian church planter, but it was adapted for this language and culture by a seventysomething Presbyterian pastor/professor guy. Good stuff.
(Yes, you've probably read it before.) ;-)