Archive for May, 2008

Need to be Saved?

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

I was reading Psalm 78 today, remembering the people of Israel’s history. Then I looked at the hashkedim web site, remembering the days of old. We don’t much do that any more. The past has no place in a world oriented to instant gratification by advertising and marketing.

Psalm 78 tells the history of deliverance. Israel actively remembered the history of deliverance; it was central to its whole culture. If we know no history of deliverance, we cannot envision any deliverance. Without that, we cannot even imagine any change in our lives. We are stuck in an eternal present. Things will always be the same for ever and all we can do is veg out, be entertained, and avoid any knowledge of captivity. Think fleshpots of Egypt.

And how can we relate to what we hear and do in church, to what we hear in the Scriptures and in the Liturgy? The Passover Haggadah and its ritual Seder preserve the memory of past deliverance and open up the possibility for deliverance from whatever in our circumstances oppresses us and limits our action. But if we know no story of our own deliverance, how can we understand and participate in the Eucharist?

If there are no tales of deliverance, how shall we know our need for it, indeed for any change. Last Advent, our Adult Education program included a session entitled something like “What Kind of Savior Do We Need.” This topic was assigned to the Men’s Group to plan and lead. When they learned that I had suggested this topic, they came to me to try to understand what it meant. I really tried to explain what it might mean to need deliverance, but they never did get it. I think it must have been hard for these men to see that. They likely live in a business and professional culture where it is toxic to see themselves as needy. Perfection and omni-competence are the hallmarks of that culture. Their culture says they must save themselves.

What hell, to be totally responsible for your own salvation. What hell, to have no one to depend on except ourselves.
What hell never to be able to see yourself as victimized by forces outside yourself.

How shall we know our need for god, salvation, deliverance, etc without an awareness of our own and our groups’ escapes by the skin of our teeth. Actually I bet these men have some such awarenesses, but to what agencies do they refer their deliverances? Anything but God, anything but agencies outside their control. And there it is. Fear of the loss of control shapes the world of our culture.
So where can we in such a culture as this see God in our lives? Not to know our need, to think that we have it all under control is to leave no room for God there. What hell.

Erotic Religion

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Monday night, at the GLBT support group I attend, two of the people there were talking about some salacious poems disguised as religion, something about a dark night and sneaking out to a lover. They seemed to think that the talk of God was a disguise and implied that the poet was gay.

I immediately identified this as St John of the Cross and tried to talk about the circumstances of those poems and about mysticism. They were having none of that. They felt that the erotic tone did not fit with religion. I told them Mark might be sending me an actual relic of St John of the Cross.

So now I am reflecting on the erotic and religion. There is nothing wrong with the combination. If we were created in God’s image, male and female, sexual beings, then our sexualities are in the image of God’s sexuality.

I was also remembering my directee. After months of going back and forth, in which I said little more than, “did you hear you said should again?” she talked about a spiritual experience that she shouldn’t have had. “Why, Brother Robert,” she said, “it was almost . . . erotic.” And I said, “What’s wrong with that?” Then I was able to help her accept the experience as a gift from God, and to appropriate it.

There has been a discussion in the Magdalen list of contemporary church songs that people hated. One main complaint was that they are just love songs with the name of the beloved changed to the name of God. then someone cited the old hymn that I grew up with, “I Come to the Garden Alone,” and disliking it for the dame reasons. As a child I loved loved loved that song. It spoke to me of my personal experience of Jesus. He was my friend who loved me, when no one else did. And I did come to him in a private space, a kind of rose garden. If this was erotic, it was pre-pubescent eros.
These songs, sentimental or amorous, are part of the Christian mystical tradition. We should criticize them on the basis of taste, for sure, but not the theology.

And for damned sure, we should not let the anti-erotic bias of some religion hinder us from the love of God.


Saturday, May 10th, 2008

I see psychogeography primarily in the effect of a place or places on my psyche/spirit.

I am acutely aware of my need for exercise. I keep thinking I should just go for a walk a lot. But I find there is no place to walk to. This in spite of there being sidewalks and lots of housing developments. Why don’t I want to walk, or even bike, there? I think it is the spiritual burden that suburban geography loads down on me. I remember biking once through some housing in Durham NC; it seemed like a necropolis to me. The houses were all like monuments and there were no people present. Both scary and depressing. I didn’t want to be there. And I still don’t.

I didn’t find this kind of oppression in my urban walking. There was variety, there were people, there were things taking place. I once made Tom Shaw angry with me by remarking that what we saw in walks in “nature,” I saw in urban walks, looking in shop windows, looking at the great variety of things going on. He rejected the very idea. I guess he found the urban landscape as rebarbative as I find the suburban.

The other meaning of “no place to walk to” is that there is no destination to go. I like walking here when I have some place to go, some errand to run, some purpose in mind. In a city, I could take just random walks, exploring. Here there is nothing, no one, to explore except my purposive activities.

For me at least, a suburban drive is impossible.