The last of the short pieces i wrote for the Midrash class attempted to answer the question (gap) why are men in the old testament gathered to their people, while women are merely mourned? why the different treatments of their passing? Posted in Midrash
The conflict between Isaac & Ishmael is often used to excuse the grudges between Muslims and Christians. A different interpretation of the text provides a different picture, one where war in the Middle East is not perpetual, and where peace is indeed possible. Posted in Midrash
Please visit this page. Pages are displayed a the top of the blog. The idea of a page is to keep content on the “front page.” I haven’t figured out how to do the tags for the page, or how to separate posts, hence the link from he blog to the page. If any of you have the tech knowledge to make this easier, I’d welcome your input
This morning I looked up the Rolling Stone interview with Pete Townshend. I found it revealing & illuminating. Who’d have thought such things of a rock musician? Connections to eastern religions are often acknowledged. But understood as god working to salve the pain of humanity and rectify injustice, the interview casts writing & lyrics in a whole new way:
Pete Townshend is a seminal figure on the rock & roll scene. His band, The Who, have been around since the mid-1960s. I heard on the radio that Townshend told the Rolling Stone Magazine the song “Love Will Open Your Heart,” was conceived as Jesus singing to us. Consider the lyrics “There’s only one thing that’s going to set you free. That’s My love.” Rock & roll was often depicted as “the devil’s music.” Words, lyrics, can open us to different ways of being. In the following excerpt, Townshend speaks of the spiritual connection, background, and origin of several songs:
“A lot of the songs on the album—well, “Let My Love Open the Door” is just a ditty—but particularly “A Little Is Enough” and a couple of the others—“I Am an Animal,” I think—are getting close to what I feel I want to be writing: in terms of somebody who’s thirty-five writing a rock song, but one which isn’t in the George Jones-Willie Nelson tradition—“I’m a smashed-up f***** standing at the bar…” “Empty Glass” is a direct jump from Persian Sufi poetry. Hafiz—he was a poet in the fourteenth century—used to talk about God’s love being wine, and that we learn to be intoxicated, and that the heart is like an empty cup. You hold up the heart, and hope that God’s grace will fill your cup with his wine. You stand in the tavern, a useless soul waiting for the barman to give you a drink—the barman being God. It’s also Meher Baba talking about the fact that the heart is like a glass, and that God can’t fill it up with his love —if it’s already filled with love for yourself. I used those images deliberately. It was quite weird going to Germany and talking to people over there about it: “This ‘Empty Glass’—is that about you becoming an alcoholic?”
Poetry and song can allow us to address matters too far beyond the pale for society to swallow. This was true for the prophets, it is true today. Townshend continues:
“When you listen to the Sex Pistols, to “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “Bodies” and tracks like that, what immediately strikes you is that this is actually happening. This is a bloke, with a brain on his shoulders, who is actually saying something he sincerely believes is happening in the world, saying it with real venom, and real passion.
“It touches you, and it scares you—it makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s like somebody saying, “The Germans are coming! And there’s no way we’re gonna stop ’em!” That’s one of the reasons: a lot of new music is harder to listen to. So you get a band like the Clash, and they come out with a nifty little song like “Clampdown,” and you can’t hear the words, and they’ll play it on the radio in L.A. You read the f****g words, they scare the s*** out of you.
“Or the Pretenders—Chrissie Hynde’s got a sweet voice, but she writes in double-speak: she’s talking about getting laid by Hell’s Angels on her latest record! And raped. The words are full of the most brutal head-on feminism that has ever come out of any band, anywhere!
“And yet it’s only because it’s disguised that it’s getting played, and getting appreciated.”
I don’t necessarily aim to scare the hell out of anybody. Much of what I have to say may make others uncomfortable. The softening effect of music, poetry, and lyrics is a form of accommodation. Writing is, and has always been, a powerful tool for social change. Accommodation, as Townshend observes, allows otherwise unpalatable realities to be heard.
I’m standing in front of the fridge looking for the catsup. It will not show itself to me; I cannot see it. I call to Judy, my wife, “where’s the catsup?” “Third shelf, right side, in the back.” And sure enough there’s the catsup.
The lesson is about presence. God meets us where we are, whether that’s in the fridge (no, this is not a light box), in the garden, or (in my case) up a tree somewhere.
The lesson is about attitude: if you think the catsup is in there, it is more likely to show itself. It is about faith. If you believe the catsup is there, it is much easier to see. It is about the ubiquity and grace of God: God can speak to us through any medium She believes will reach us. If we understand the catsup as a metaphor for Truth, we are assured it’s “in there” even when we have given up hope. We pray “God, help me see the catsup.” The answers are often not what we expect. Grace overflows: we are not berated for not knowing or seeing. We are gently guided.
There’s a lot of stuff in the fridge besides the catsup, some of it bad, like that bit of 3-week old casserole that has become sentient, has “culcha” (culture pronounced with a Joisey (Jersey) accent) and will have linguistic ability if we leave it another week. Now it is the nature of prayer that we may start by asking God to show us the catsup, only to find that we really wanted the French dressing. It helps to be open to redirection. What we practice is discernment, whether we call it that or not.
In the “Am I a Preacher” essay, I discuss embedded (or intuitive) and deliberative theologies. Embedded “stuff” is largely absorbed passively. Deliberative stuff (for the idea applies to many things in our lives besides theology) requires us to be intentional in our pursuit of whatever. So, we stand in front of the fridge and passively practice discernment.
To actively (deliberatively) practice discernment requires us to take worship (understood as being in communication with whatever you call that which is beyond us) from the meetingroom (church) into the rest of our lives. We are easily confused. We think of our work as doing the chores or how we earn a living to keep body & soul together when in fact the actual work is to take worship from the nursery we call church into the gardens of our lives. We start by asking questions. The Bible is full of people questioning God, sometimes not so gently. Catsup, God? Really? Are you sure there’s not something else that would taste better? Or at least not give me bad breath? And so we ask questions. Clearness (the product of discernment) tells us that yes, indeed, catsup is the answer. Or not.
But how do we know? Some of the questions have to be about ethics, about rightness. Will our proposed course of action lead us towards (closer to) God or away from the Presence as the center of our lives? Does it help our neighbors (whether plants, animals or other humans)? Is it ethical? What do Scripture & other sources of wisdom & Truth have to say about it? By asking questions, we can hope to test the rightness of our actions. One of the places to ask questions is in community. The caveat is that we have to be willing to accept the answer when we reach clearness that the casserole is spoiled (evil) or that catsup is not the way forward.
We also need to be aware that some of the stuff in the fridge is not ours (or intended for us). Those messages are not for us. But sometimes, the burning truth is in some insignificant speck, as perhaps a fleck of jalapeno in the corner of our eye. Just as a weed is merely a plant out of place, evil can be misapplication of an otherwise good thing. Things just /are/, in the sense of absolute value they tried to teach us in math. The goodness or badness then goes back to those questions we asked earlier about ethics and direction in relation to us & God.
Remember all this next time you’re lost in the refrigerator.
In class on Wednesday, Sue asked “who is your embedded (or intuitive) preacher? Who is your deliberative preacher?” She borrowed the words embedded and deliberative from a book we used in class on theology, How to Think Theologically by Howard Stone & James Duke. In their book, they define the terms embedded & deliberative theology as follows:
“Embedded theology is the understanding of faith disseminated… and assimilated in [our] daily lives. Deliberative theology is a[n intentional] process of reflecting on multiple understandings of faith implicit in [our] life and witness in order to identify and/or develop the most adequate understanding possible.” (p. 18)
I have heard it said that if our minds don’t know how to make sense of information inputs, it will create a scenario that makes sense to it. So it is that in this case, the saying “Perception is reality” takes on a new, sometimes scary, meaning and import. This is the stuff of Greek Mythology. It is the source of urban legends today. It generates the stories which morph in the campfire game “Whisper down the Lane” where the message at the end of the line sounds nothing like the message at the start. It feeds pernicious rumor mills. Too often, it is the stuff of rhetoric and demagogues.
The problem with embedded things, whether theology or preachers, is that they’ve often never really been thought about. Who is your embedded preacher? In my case, my embedded preacher turned out to be a caricature. I considered the question. I responded “He (for my embedded preacher is always male) wears a long black robe and he stands at the front of the church on the stage, behind the lectern and gives some sort of boring exposition about some aspect of how we are to live. The speech usually has some connection to the bible or doctrine. The congregation is passive in this operation.” Smiles broke out on the faces of my classmates. They knew this person. Maybe you know him, too.
Wow! That’s not someone I really want to get out of bed to hear on a Sunday morning.
So who’s my deliberative preacher? Friends speak of the ministry of all believers. They speak of that of God in everyone. My own definition of preaching is “opening to others the Presence, the Joy, the Peace which is our inheritance. It is the work of helping ourselves and others to awaken, in a spiritual way.” In this sense, we are all preachers. Further, I have come to understand ministry as doing the work of God, here on earth. If we are willing to accept that work, it means that our entire lives can be understood as ministry. When we acknowledge that actions speak louder than words, we let our lives speak. That speaking is also a form of preaching, albeit often non-verbally. It helps to inform us and those we touch (consciously or unconsciously) of right relationship with the eternal.
What do they have in common, Sue asked. Not very much, if anything. I also had to admit that I was allowing my embedded preacher to overpower the deliberative one. It was if someone had turned a light on, or the way the air becomes clear after a thunderstorm passes. I realized that I’m already a preacher, whether I choose to acknowledge it or not. This horse has been led to water and finally awakened to the fact that it is thirsty. Let me share some of this water of life with you.
 Duke, Howard Stone and James. How to think Theologically, 3rd ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2013.