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Saturday, January 5, 2013


The counterproductivity of what I call our attempts to gloss over the things we don't understand in religion--both our own religion and those of others--occurs to me this morning. Such as the supposed immaculate conception of Mary, or any attempt to show that the young Jacob wasn't really what we'd call today an a**hole with brass b***s when he hornswoggled Esau out of both birthright and blessing, or the idea that Jesus wasn't really crucified, to name just three noteworthy examples.
Now that I've offended everybody, I intend to continue doing so--or, rather, to continue with shoot-from-the-hip truth and if anyone's offended, that's their problem. If anyone wants to argue any points--hey, let's get it on! Along with mulling this over, my explanation of the Trinity for those who struggle with it also pops up.
Go to your kitchen faucet and fill the following items with water: a glass, an ice tray, and a teapot. Now put the kettle on, as our cousins say, and put the filled tray in the freezer. Now you have, or shortly will have, three items: water, ice and steam. But the last two items are still molecularly identical to the first--something I hope everyone reading this knows! All three items are still H2O. In the same way but only infinitely more so, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all the same substance: God.
Now sip from the water in the glass. Then go to the freezer and get some ice cubes and drop them into the glass. Drink again. Chances are the water 'tastes' appreciably better with the ice in it, right? Well, when the Son is in the Father as the ice is in the water and we understand this in our hearts, the water (God) goes down into us all the easier--and yes, I know the Father is in the Son too. After all, the ice is still H2O. Remember?
Maybe some of us don't necessarily want God to 'go down easy' and we all need to watch out for what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called 'cheap grace'. Well, if you feel like the first, that's your right: you can drink your water neat, again as our cousins might say. As to the second, 'cheap grace' is basically the idea that all one has to do is 'sympathize' without actually doing much of anything, and that's not what any religious/spiritual leader has ever preached! No, we all must exercise our spiritual muscles by doing, including asking questions persistently.
And there are many who do ask questions that way and study and pray to find answers. I myself have found that the God I know asks me questions in the way we may remember our favorite teachers (the ones we wished all teachers were like) and for much the same reason: by helping me come to the answers, He makes sure that they will be engraved on my heart and mind. All of us, in every religious community, need to dig for such answers. But my experience has been that relating to God and through Christ is, truly, the express train to God. Not to say there aren't plenty of locals with the same final stop; there are. I think Christ is there especially for those who may not have time n/or the native talent for long study, and also for the least among us as God seeks to draw all Creation to Him from the bottom upwards.
We cannot comprehend how it is Christ can be both the road and the fuel for it, but do we need to? And how much do we know about how our cars work outside of how to drive them, to give an example?  Allow me to say that in relation to God, we're a lot more like toddlers at most as opposed to adults as well. And I could also be mistaken about the fuel; that could be the Holy Spirit--not that it matters a whole lot but it makes more sense in light of referring to God as 'Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer'. And indeed invoking God in that way can help many to whom the old formula is a stumbling block.
But back to incomprehensibility: how many of us would worship a God we could fully understand? This much I can say with some confidence: when we see the patterns in the things we can't comprehend they are patterns of love and that is Who God is-- Love to such an extent as we can barely comprehend when we can begin to comprehend it at all. The lesser 'incomprehensibles', such as why did God favor the sly young Jacob over his open and honest brother, have been in a way fuel for the journey as God has led me to at least some answers for such--well, maybe we should call them 'surface incomprehensibles'. The miracles may well fall into that category too.
For some of us (and this highlights the failures of all religion) our world expands when we believe there is no god. For some of us, including myself, faith in God expands the world immeasurably and so it should, and perhaps one day will be, for all of us as we move towards the God of (so far, to us) barely comprehensible Love. But to continue to do so means not glossing over but persistently seeking to understand, in and with our hearts as well as our minds, the surface incomprehensibilities--and let's understand that each of us will seek answers to different questions, too.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


I know that, coming from a liberal, this post will be a surprise and probably an unpleasant one to many who are old-style 'bleeding hearts' (especially 'Noble Savage' freaks) and/or those puffed up with self-righteous indignation about What White Men Did to my Sainted Ancestors. And I don't pretend to know who's who; I'll just say, if the shoe fits...
But it is to one of the latter to whom I owe the inspiration which produced at least this post's title. When Dr. Dyson either said, or quoted another person saying when he filled in for Big Eddie's show on MSNBC this past week, as saying Django Unchained needs to be seen with 'the masses', he included something on Mr. Spike Lee's reaction to it. I went and saw the movie this past Saturday and I don't know what seeing it in the middle of Brooklyn was like but my guess is it was a lot livelier than the suburban multiplex audience in whose 'company' (if one can call it that when no one even 'shares' after the film) I thrilled to it. In terms of my fellow viewers, I may as well have waited for xfinity to show it.
However, it is a consummate masterpiece and I think Mr. Lee is showing the symptoms of a condition all too common among those with whom I share a part of the political spectrum which I call being '21st century stoopid'. That to which I refer actually reflects, in a sort of fun-house way, more faith in the stated values of either the Western World, or Judeo-Christian civilization, than the right wing can certainly claim and maybe more than the 'center' as well; not sure about the latter.
Mr. Lee says he won't see it because of the frequency of use of a certain 'fighting word'. Well, sir, in 1858 that word was not so considered, not even to most of those who were called so. There are many things we in 21st century Judeo-Christian civilization consider abominations about which earlier epochs would have only shrugged at, if even that. As a film director, does Mr. Lee think Mr. Tarantino should sanitize his film for the sake of our oh-so-tender 21st century ears? Would Mr. Lee do that, were he making such a film about such dark matters past and/or present?
 And tell me: what sort of 'holocaust' is it when, out of 11,000,000 Africans brought to the Americas over 350 years multiply to the extent they have? Especially here on the North American mainland to which only 400,000 Africans were brought and whose descendants have multiplied nearly a hundredfold? Take a look at the eastward African slave trade if you want the real 'African holocaust' story--not to mention that slave traffic that way is still going on, as it has been for at least twelve centuries! I have sources I can share with you on request. Finally, your ancestors were bought from other Africans for the most part, not stolen. And twenty years ago, some of the descendants of the sellers had the chutzpa to ask for reparations!
In any case, the worldwide slave trade has existed almost since civilization began. Only within the last two and a half centuries did some Christians and Jews begin to have doubts about the rightness of the slave trade as practiced at all, never mind protecting one's own group from it. Only from our own revolution does the idea of my freedom being bound up with your freedom and your freedom being bound up with her freedom over there and so on all the way around the globe even begin! I dare you to find me any other example of a culture or civilization where that idea has taken native root and if so, to what extent? All right, not everyone here understands or believes that--not yet, anyhow. But where do more people actually believe and live that than do in North America? The Orient? Who are you kidding? The Middle East? What you smokin', man? India? Latin America? Europe? Definite 'maybes', all of 'em.
We can only judge a particular culture or civilization by how the rest of the world of that time is or was organized. And our common yardstick, courtesy of Jews, Christians and some Enlightenment skeptics, is how much freedom does anyone have to choose his/her lot in life, develop his/her conscience according to their own spirituality and to have his/her voice heard in the counsels of the realm? I know it's not just a legal matter; I'm quite well acquainted with the ways certain rich and powerful folks have of vitiating the laws and institutions which are supposed to facilitate greater freedom and 'upward mobility', thanks ever so.
Anyhow, while this might be addressed to one in particular, it's also to all those who share the condition outlined in this post. I should also say that seeing the wisdom other cultures have which we can share is in my opinion facilitated, not impeded, by a healthy knowledge and appreciation of the gifts of our own. Confidence comes from knowledge and confident cultures know how to borrow from others. Those who pretend the two to be mutually exclusive I call 19th century stoopid!
Look, boys and girls: we're supposed to be the smart people, so let's not fake it in this. Jefferson was not so much a hypocrite as he was a visionary with at least one foot in his own times, to use a prominent example. Let us all develop and cherish a respect for all who sought (and seek) to expand freedom for the least among us, even if they did (and do) so unevenly, tentatively and with concessions to their own times. Uneven (that is, human) visionaries are different from hypocrites, especially from those now in our legislatures. We can't go back to Eden;  if we try, we will soak the road with blood on a horrific scale. No, the only way out is forward and through. And while we're at it, remember that there are more things in heaven and on earth than you dream of in your philosophies.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


"For in a warm climate, no man will labor for himself when he can make another labor for him." Thomas Jefferson.
I don't know whether my Tarheel ancestors were able to buy slaves or not, but in any case they didn't buy them. Nor did they buy (at least I like to think they didn't) the whole plantation ethos. They were free farmers who actually did labor for themselves and knew they weren't 'trash' either, for all the planters' sneaky efforts to press them and their like down into the 'trash'!
This is something--homesteaders v. planters, say--which I see as a subtext of the Civil War. Lincoln himself, for all his legal work for the railroads, was a definite homesteader. Who else but a homesteader could or would say, "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. To me, this is the essence of democracy."? And Lincoln was rarely as prescient about what would follow the Civil War as he was in a letter to a Colonel Elkins dated November 22, 1864. In that letter he expressed his fears about corporations corrupting democracy after the war. Rarely was he more right.
The industrialists also believed in having others, yea, legions of others, labor for them. This has traditionally been a feature of societies dominated by hereditary privilege from the Roman Empire where a majority of the Empire's population were slaves of one kind or another through medieval times when the great majority of the people were serfs to our own South, both before and after the Civil War and e'en unto the present day.
And now the North is belatedly fighting against becoming, to use Fannie Lou Hamer's phrase, 'up South". The results of the last election help our fight, but to what extent is highly debatable. We can all be sure that our country, and democracy itself, has dodged a bullet but what more than that remains to be seen. But we are far less of an exception to that societal pattern than we once were. And I suggest that if American Exceptionalism is anything but an empty phrase used by bloodthirsty trench-dodgers to drum up wars to fill the pockets of crooked contractors, it means to be the exception from that ancient, sad pattern--and to encourage others who seek to change their societies' patterns too!
I see the stage set for yet another serious war between we homesteaders and planters. Be warned here: 1) Many planters have mastered the art of camouflaging themselves to appear as homesteaders, so be not deceived. Most of those doing so tend to mouth certain memes which they don't respect in their own lives. 2) To be rich does not necessarily mean to be a planter and not all 'planters' are rich. To be a 'planter' is a mindset more than anything else. I'd never call uncle Warren a 'planter', nor Steven Spielberg nor (probably) Bill Gates or even certain Rockefellers. On the other hand, your crazy uncle who lives in a trailer but won't stop mouthing Rush and/or Glenn even though he never earned more than sporadic hourly wages in his life and says rot like 'git the gubmint offa my Medicare!' very definitely is a 'planter' inasmuch as if he could, he'd be hiring 'slaves' to do his scut-work. And we all need to get away from delegating necessary work which we just don't want to do ourselves. And yes, there is a difference between this and hiring someone to help with a job they know better than you do. If and when we're honest, we know in our hearts which is which. Now is a time when such honesty is absolutely necessary. The coming confrontation need not have bullets flying, but if past experience is anything to go on sooner or later the 'planters' will, as they did in 1861, fire the first shots. Another trait of 'planters' is that most of them share a trait with the Bourbons: they forget nothing and learn nothing! Do we then need to buy military-grade weapons while we still can? I very, very much hope not!