Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Belief

It's been weeks since I've posted, mostly because I've been under multiple deadlines for multiple things I've committed to so I always feel a touch guilty when I think about writing a post to my own blog. However, I'm also honestly getting sick of being victim to the Tyranny of the Urgent, so here I am again. Nice to be back.

So a friend posted a prophecy to my Facebook wall yesterday. Not something that happens everyday. My friend (who has been my friend for 15+ years, and is a very humble and Godly woman not necessarily prone to prophesying on Facebook) told me that God had laid me on her heart, and that she needed to tell me, basically, to batten down the hatches, cling to God, and be very sure what I'm about doctrinally. Obviously, I'm paraphrasing, but her message was clear: storm's a brewin' on the spiritual front, Moff. Get ready.

I love guidance from the Divine. I believe in continuing prophecy and revelation and I get very excited about it when I hear of prophets whose messages come true. I also pay very close attention because I'm not someone who knows a heck of a lot of people who say "the LORD told me to tell you X" (I'm glad for that, by the way. There really shouldn't be all that many people saying such things, IMHO, at least as I understand scripture's take on the matter... and the experience of people close to me).

I don't like warnings, though, for the obvious mundane reasons. The specific words she closed her prophecy with were "something is stirring..." which is awesome because it means God is on the move, but is also scary because for every move of God there is an equal and opposite move of That Which Opposes God... at least in the spiritual world as I was raised to see it.

So I prayed a lot of "ehhh so what do You want me to do, exactly?" prayers yesterday and wandered around doing this and that errand and task feeling fairly detached and like it was all a bit pointless when what I really wanted to do was go plunk myself down in a Blessed Sacrament chapel and pray like Hannah on the temple steps. I don't mean that I wanted to appear drunk, although getting drunk may have helped... but that I didn't feel prepared for someone to Drop Prophecy on me, and I felt like I could use a mental break from everything I have going. Inmediamente.

What I came up with, in lieu of a full mental break, was a small challenge to myself to try to explain my spiritual journey in a way that gives God His full due for what has been good about that and also acknowledges where I've f**ked up. I dunno that it all will, or should, go up on this blog, but I think that this might serve the purpose of clarifying what God has taught me to believe and to clear up what I definitely don't believe and why. Of course, it's not the first time I've done something like this. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called "This I Believe" (in response to my friend Andres' challenge that I write an essay for the NPR series of that name) where I wrote about the deep importance of forgiveness. A year later, I wrote a post called "A Chastened Epistemology" that consisted almost entirely of a post written by Liz Dyer summing up the value of humility in knowledge and how the emergent conversation has really exemplified that value for her.

So I guess I'll start with my Label. I tell people that I'm a Presby-Cathlo-Episcopa-Mennonite and sometimes they giggle. Sometimes they look bored... oh look, another Overly-Educated-Young-White-Woman-Who-Thinks-She's-Clever-YAWN. Of course, no one really takes me seriously when I say that. I'm not stating it in a serious manner... but I am actually being serious. What I'm trying to express is that *I* see a unity in those things and in the spiritual path God has led me on even if *YOU* don't. The events and decisions that were behind each switch of denomination are complex and largely mundane --it's not like I saw a vision telling me to leave the PCA and become Roman Catholic-- but they weren't wholly pragmatic and earthy, either. God has been behind my weird patchwork quilt of experiences.

Looking back over it, I used to tell people I kept looking for Jesus and kept finding people with a bunch of rules they used to beat each other. That sounds lofty and like I Alone Sought Christ, which is not what I intended to say. Truth is, I was a nerdy, lonely kid who prayed and read the Bible a lot, and I was looking for adults like me who were coming out of that sort of early desert-y experience of imperfectly (and somewhat narcissistic-ly) knowing and loving God as Father. Showing up on Sunday, dutifully sitting through a service and then talking about football and work afterwards just seemed utterly beside the point and a waste of time.

I should mention that as I've gotten older and remained Perpetually Single, I've come to see the value of social institutions like "church" for providing a network of friends and resources for folk. I continue to believe that this expression of "church" does not equal "Church" because it relies on a set of social norms and visible leader/archetypes to persist, and doesn't necessarily require spirituality as a discipline from most of the participants. In other words, it's like virtually any other social grouping, very useful and perhaps necessary for the maintenance of social order and the happiness of many individuals, but it's not necessarily the Body of Christ.

That was one layer that led me to ping around from place to place. Another layer was the very certain interior knowledge that I needed mentors in humility... and that frankly, I didn't trust any leader who I didn't believe in my gut had been really humbled by God. I've had various church-y leaders (almost all male) question my salvation and give me the stink-eye for years over things I've believed and blathered on about, and I know that underneath their criticism is the rock-solid conviction that I have a Problem With Authority. My conscience is clear on this point. What I have a problem with is idolatry. I will not submit to the authority of some guy in the pulpit simply because he is some guy in a pulpit (SGIAP). If Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us, then dagnabit, I'm listening to the Holy Spirit as well as I'm able. To listen to SGIAP as my stand-in for my own relationship with God and thereby fail to listen to the Spirit's witness is idolatry. I have enough problems with placing stuff and people in the way of my relationship with God, dude. Not even tempted to place you in that position.

But I'm drawn to humble leaders. The Best Writer I Personally Know won't like me saying this (and I've probably said it before on this very blog), but I stayed at Common Table initially because I believed in him (and in his wife, whom I don't talk about a lot but whom I internally refer to as The Warrior) because he kept refusing to be The Leader, and because he had suffered intensely in his personal life. That's a guy I'll follow, a guy who has learned through suffering, and who doesn't parade about all martyr-like but who tells you straight up that suffering SUCKS. Because it does, and because he's not trying to impress anyone with how virtuous (or frighteningly detached) he is.

I don't mean to be mean. I know a lot of people who follow Guys Who Freak Me Out with their, errrr, "leaderliness"? That's not the right word (it's not even a word), but I guess you know what I mean. Leaders who seem very comfortable and confident in the pulpit, who bound forth from personal affliction with a Battle Cry for the Cross. It may just be a matter of personal preference that I'm more drawn to the image of Martin Luther trembling, terrified to offer the Eucharist because of his realization of what it actually MEANT to be touching the Body of Christ, than I am of the image of him nailing the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Door. It may be an unimportant detail that I find the trend towards Hyper-Masculine Shock Pastors preaching against "wimpiness" to be nothing short of blasphemy, trampling on the reality of Christ's humbling Himself on the cross, beaten beyond recognition and bleeding to death.

Clearly, I don't think it is unimportant, and I refuse to get behind ecclesiastical structures that support the Ascendancy of the Naturally Dominant. I think the tendency to follow the "alpha male", the Guy Who's Got It All Figured Out, is basic to human nature, and it's gross. It's also the opposite of the Gospel. The Jews fully expected a leader who would lead them to military victory, not die on a cross. This is not an original thought nor is it rocket science, but I want a humble leader because I want a Christ-like leader... because I honestly don't need anyone else to teach me how to Think I'm the Shit. I'm human, so I've pretty much got that one down.

Anyway, so there's installment #1 of What I Believe 2010. I'll keep thinking and praying on this... because the storm's a brewin' and I guess I need to get ready.

Friday, January 1, 2010

do not go gentle...

I've had a couple of months of what I've been calling "blog exhaustion". Tired of sitting in front of a computer all day, yet required to do so by virtue of the work that I'm doing (both paid and volunteer), I simply couldn't be bothered to follow up on the network of blogs I normally read up on something like a monthly basis.
Image from Dead Air Space
I regret that now. On December 18, Thom Yorke did a day of posts on Dead Air Space (Radiohead's official blog) from the United Nations Global Climate Change Summit, where he'd gone with a good friend of his who used to head up an NGO called Friends of the Earth. He walked around throughout the day, and posted about the mood of the crowds, the rumors that were floating around about what was happening, and eventually about the pathetic bulls**t agreement that was the result of all that talking. He then did another post on December 24 that consists largely of the words of Ben Stewart from Greenpeace, but also some of his own reflection, which is actually about as positive as you could hope given what transpired at the Summit.

I know an awful lot of people who think that Global Climate Change is fiction, that the science behind it is rigged, and that all this talk about it is a waste of time and money. Every single one of those people is an American. I cannot think of one SINGLE person from another nation (and I know quite a few folks from all over the world due to the work I used to do) who has ever expressed the sentiment that they believe climate change to be anything other than fact. I know that the issue is complicated, and I'm sure there are some that do dispute it, but when you read about how the representatives of many of the Latin American countries walked out of the climate talks due in part to their perception of the incalcitrance of the U.S., it does give a bit of perspective.

I remember the weirdness of living in the UK and having the sense that the news had been flipped. By that I mean that the perspective given in the U.S. media bears almost no resemblance to European media... or even to Latin American and South Asian media that I've read online since the time I lived in the UK. I'm not saying that there's no bias in media outside the U.S., but I was struck by how very, very much about what goes on in the world doesn't hit major U.S. media but does hit media throughout the world. It is as though we are in a room that has been soundproofed. The only sounds we hear are ones from inside the room, and even they are significantly muffled by the layers and layers of padding that line the walls.

Thom Yorke is the kind of guy who will rip the padding off the walls. He also might express a desire to stuff it down your throat, but prophetic types are often a bit rough around the edges. I wish I'd been reading what he was saying during Copenhagen while he was saying it, because his words have the ring of truth about them. He wrote about what he thought and saw, without being restricted by political concerns because he honestly doesn't seem to give a crap what politicians think of him. I respect his utter intolerance for BS deeply, despite the fact that I understand it must cost him somewhat.

The title of this post is from "Do not go gentle into that good night", a villanelle written by Dylan Thomas and one of my favorite poems from high school. It's addressed to his dying father, but right now I'm thinking of it as being addressed to those who even now believe they are looking into the future and seeing the extinction of humanity due to pollution of the atmosphere through carbon emissions (I'm talking about activists, by the way, NOT about heads of state who use the climate change discussion as a way to rail against the U.S. while deflecting attention from their gross human rights abuses). Whether they are 100% right in their predictions is, to me, completely insignificant. They're defending good stewardship of the earth, and that is a Godly goal. Those who are their biggest opponents are those who will lose a great deal of money if environmentalists have their way. It just doesn't seem like rocket science to me which side is the better when one group is defending right stewardship of the earth and the other is defending their profit margins.

So. Here's Dylan Thomas' poem, dedicated to Thom Yorke and to the many, many people who are fighting for the care of God's earth. They are, whether they are intending to or not, obeying God's first command to Adam. I pray that they continue to rage against the dying of the light.

"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."