Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Jesus as the New Rambo?

When I was in Junior High, the family I lived with belonged to the Open Bible Standard Church, a Pentecostal denomination. My Uncle Dub was the pastor. On Wednesday nights, we went to the mid-week service, which was usually a lengthy teaching from Uncle Dub on either the book of Daniel or the Revelation to John.

I have fond memories of Uncle Dub. He had a passion for the Gospel, and a winsome style. It was not unusual for him to preach for more than an hour. Sometimes, in the middle of his sermon, he would start a hymn, and then sit in silence while we sang. By the end of the hymn, he had marshaled his thoughts, and we were off again for another thirty minutes of passionate rhetoric.

When the Left Behind series came out, I had parishioners who kept encouraging me to give it a read, as they were interested in my opinion. I resisted for some time, but eventually gave in, and read the first three volumes.

I got that far in the series by considering it as Uncle Dub would have understood it. For the most part, it is an accurate depiction of what many Christians who are preoccupied with the rapture believe.

At one point, there are terrible earthquakes and firestorms, resulting in thousands of casualties. Some of these disasters are described in vivid detail. One of the characters asks how God could allow such carnage. The response by one of the new Christians is to claim that these disasters are an expression of God's love. They are the way God is trying to get our attention. That was the end for me. I closed the book, and have never been tempted to reopen it since.

The last volume of the series is out, Glorious Appearing. Paul O'Donnell, writing for Beliefnet, gives us a taste of this Killer Ending:

Encountering the army of the Anti-Christ near the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, the Christ Triumphant announces, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and Last, the Beginning and the End, the Almighty." Upon hearing these words, the Anti-Christ's minions "fell dead, simply dropping where they stood, their bodies ripped open, blood pooling in great masses." Later, the Lord rides a white horse to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where he sits on his throne of judgment. As he approaches, the saved sing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."
I think that image of Christ would have even made Uncle Dub wince.

O'Donnell goes on to suggest that, especially since 9/11, this more macho "warrior Jesus" image has become quite popular. Does this bother anyone else?

It doesn't bother me because I am a pacifist. I've played with the idea of pacifism, but working as the director of a homeless shelter and the counselor of the adolescent unit of a treatment center, as well as too many years on the street, has made it clear to me that hesitation in the face of the threat of violence can get you killed. Sometimes force is the appropriate response, especially when confronted with a sick or wild animal that needs to be put in a cage. Maybe I'm wrong, but that is the stark reality my life has taught me.

What bothers me about this image of Jesus as Rambo is that I think it is not only seriously flawed, but the timing of its emergence could not be worse.

I think we are quickly approaching a critical moment in history, a moment that is too important for us to remain blind to some of the unconscious motives behind some of our actions. I think it is time to bring our dark side into the light, instead of denying it.

One way of understanding these unconscious motives is to use the model of the Hegelian Dialectic. A primary thesis creates its opposite, an antithesis. The synthesis of these two ideas creates a new third idea, which immediately creates a new antithesis, and the cycle starts once again.

The antithesis to capitalism was communism. With the fragmentation of the Soviet Union, capitalism appeared to have established itself once and for all as the dominant idea. What was not anticipated was the emergence of a new antithesis from a source no one had ever considered; Islam.

More and more, it looks to me that what we are seeing is Christianity (primarily capitalist, especially in its Protestant form) squaring off to take on Islam in a holy war (the ultimate oxymoron).

This has been building long before 9/11. Even though many Christians may not be conscious of it, in the back of our minds is the idea that some of us have been taught that on the last day, in the battle of Armageddon, the "good guys" will be on the side of Israel. Having identified the Israelis as the "good guys," the obvious next step is to identify the Arabs as the "bad guys." I suspect that is the real reason for the apparent pro-Israeli bias on the part of the US. 9/11 has brought this unconscious bias into the light, to some degree, although the denial that what is really happening is a showdown between the three Abrahamic faiths continues.

Our previous Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, has chosen this moment to add fuel to the fire. I have great respect for George Carey. I have facilitated studies of his excellent book, I Believe, which offers, among other things, a solid breakdown of five different models helpful in understanding atonement. His derogatory comments about Islam surprise me. They are not helpful in relieving the current global tensions.

What is helpful is the development of programs like the Interfaith Education Initiative, sponsored by the Episcopal Church. This program attempts to address the heightened suspicion and distrust among Christians towards Muslims by a process of education and dialogue.

Another group that has seen the steady march towards a self-destructive holy war and is attempting to turn it is the United Religions Initiative, initiated by Bishop Swing of California in 1996. Their goal is to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. There is no attempt by the URI to develop some generic, pluralistic theology. It is an attempt to encourage the religious leaders of the world to sit down together and begin to work towards common goals, such as world peace. They recognize that the root of many of the wars throughout history have been, both consciously and unconsciously, religious differences.

There are other signs of hope as well. Recently, leaders at an African inter-faith summit pledged to work together to curb the violence that plagues that continent.

What is not helpful is demonizing Muslims and planting images of Jesus as an avenging angel. We are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are rushing towards an "end time" of our own making, with the potential to destroy not only all of humanity, but this entire earth, our island home.


UPDATE: A letter in today's Independent:

Muslims and Christians must form a dialogue

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is to be thanked for her truthful and gently withering account of Christianity vis-à-vis Islam ("Is Christianity really better than Islam?", 29 March), following former Archbishop George Carey's recent speech about the problem with Islam today. Perhaps the following story can add to our interpretation of events.

Whilst a postgraduate student at Oxford I attended a lecture by an elderly Anglican cleric on "comparative religion", and something he said struck me like a thunderbolt. He predicted that the third world war would be brought about, not by the conflict between communism and capitalism, but by the collision of a "resurgent Islam" with the West. He added: "I can see the signs now". That was during the Michaelmas term 1955.

I have quoted him repeatedly over the intervening years, always noting that the clash that he predicted was not one between Islam and Christianity as such, but between Islam and the Western world.

It would seem that the Church, in its more reasonable and informed incarnation, has not been entirely blind to the approaching storm over the past half-century; and that, if a catastrophe is to be averted, what is needed more then ever is a reasonable and informed dialogue between these two world faiths on a basis of absolute equality.

So may I appeal to Dr Carey, whose courage and patient endurance as our archbishop was never in doubt, to allow his successor to get on with this task. For innumerable people, Rowan Willams - with his profound intellect and imagination, and his Christ-like openness of mind - represents our best hope of making the Christian faith meaningful and more effective in overcoming the dangers of our time.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here is the full text of Lord Carey's address, Christianity and Islam: Collision or Convergence? Viewed in context, his statements appear much less inflammatory, and offer some helpful insights (thanks for the nudge, Obadiah).

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Diocesan Actions Since General Convention

John Clinton Bradley has conducted a survey in which he received responses from 45 out of 112 dioceses regarding Diocesan Convention actions since Minneapolis. The results reveal that the negative reaction is much smaller than some would have us think.

Here are some of the conclusions:

Diocesan convention support for affiliating with Network of Anglican Communion Diocese and Parishes is extremely limited.

Diocesan convention support for withholding funds from the national church is also very small.

Diocesan convention support for authorizing development of a local policy on the blessing of same-sex relationships is inconclusive. Comments from several respondents indicate that this issue may be considered the domain of the diocesan bishop.

The outcome of other resolutions indicates that the majority of diocesan conventions support the actions of General Convention and GLBT issues. In classical Anglican form, many diocesan conventions affirmed a via media that seeks to maintain unity while recognizing diversity.

The overall ratio of positive to negative impacts resulting from diocesan convention resolutions is 2.2 to 1.
The specific breakdown of survey responses is quite revealing. Check it out.

The Every Voice Network also highlights a number of Karen's recent entries from The Heretic's Corner. If you haven't already, take a look at these insightful comments as well.


Monday, March 29, 2004

Questionable Virtue

Karen, on The Heretic's Corner and Mumcat, on The Cat's Cradle have both written excellent pieces reflecting on how to respond to the angry voices within the Episcopal Church in response to the decision of our General Convention to give consent to the diocese of New Hampshire's election of Gene Robinson as their bishop. What follows is an attempt to participate in this conversation, as well as sort out some of my own conflicted thoughts and feelings in regards to the current tensions within the Church.

The consents are understood to be a ratification that the election of a bishop was done properly and in order. A majority of the bishops and Standing Committees of all the dioceses of the Episcopal Church must give their consent to an election. The reality is that sometimes the consents are used as a second vote. An example of this would be James DeKoven, who was elected twice as bishop, once for Wisconsin and once for Illinois, but was never given the necessary consents, because he had the audacity to do such terrible things as put candles on the altar and wear a chasuble. He was never consecrated as bishop.

In that era, the "issue" was churchmanship. The tension was between the Protestants and the Catholics in the Episcopal Church. The specifics of that struggle seem absurd today. So what is "the issue" behind the consents given for Bishop Robinson? Not the way he celebrates the Eucharist. Not his abilities as a leader. The sole issue is that he is "openly" gay.

Bp. Robinson is not the first gay bishop. I say that as a fact, not speculation. He is, however, the first diocesan bishop to be open about his sexual orientation.

This has some in the Episcopal Church quite upset. Anyone who supports Bishop Robinson is labeled as "a revisionist," who has "thrown out the bible," and is "following Satan."

Regarding the bible and this "issue," much has been said elsewhere, and I find the argument tiring. If you want to read more on this, I suggest you start here. The bottom line, for me, is that I do not find any place in the bible where committed relationships, rooted in love, and manifesting for us all an outward sign of divine love, are condemned. Specific acts, motivated by lust without love, perhaps. But I do not see the pastoral issue confronting us today specifically addressed in scripture.

I do see a consistent theme of widening the circle of those we invite into the Kingdom. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). Consequently, I find it a personal affront to suggest that those of us who support Bp. Robinson have rejected the bible. Many of us daily "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the scriptures. The fact that God has revealed more than one message is not anything new. History is full of differences of opinion regarding the interpretation of sacred texts. The bible has been used to justify slavery and the subordination of women, among other things. To suggest that those who have heard a message that is contrary to what you have heard have "rejected the scriptures" and "are following Satan" is to demonize your opponent, in an attempt to force them into silence.

Regarding the tradition of the Church; let me say again, there have always been gay and lesbian Christians, some of whom have been ordained. As long as they stayed in the closet, no one made a big deal about it, although often it was common knowledge. Today, the Episcopal Church has decided to be honest. I am quite proud of us for doing this. The previous "don't ask, don't tell" policy was a mockery of the faith that we proclaim.

In most places in the Episcopal Church, Bp. Robinson is considered a new bishop, not an issue. These places have gone on with the work of the Church, and have ignored the angry voices from the fringe. For that, I am thankful.

But, there comes a point when I think these angry voices, who it has become clear desire nothing less than the destruction of the Episcopal Church, need to be held accountable.

Consequently, I am going to offer a recent post from David Virtue's site. I am offering it for a variety of reasons;

1. I don't want to provide a link to this site. If you really want to find it, Google is your friend.

2. He quotes from the House of Bishops and House of Deputies mailing list, a list on which each message contains this instruction; Unless this message is clearly in the public domain, e.g. a press release, it may not be redistributed without its author's permission. I think it is safe to surmise that Bp. Righter, the target of this piece, did not give permission. I guess that rules don't apply if you are an "orthodox" waging battle with "revisionists"? Following his lead, I assume that I am free to lift material from his site as well.

3. When I first read these comments on the list (which I read but do not post to, since I am neither a bishop...heaven forbid!...nor a deputy...thank God!) I wanted to quote Bp. Righter's comments, as I thought they were quite good. Now that Virtue has placed the bishop's remarks in the public domain, I can quote them. Thank you David.

4. I am also including a few of the comments, just so you can see for yourself that those who are troubled by the degree of anger and hate coming from the conservatives (specifically, the American Anglican Council; the AAC) are not making mountains out of molehills. There is good reason to be troubled, and to hold these folks accountable;


By David W. Virtue

Walter C. Righter, the former Bishop of Iowa and assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Newark, NJ who was tried and subsequently found not guilty for ordaining a non-celibate homosexual to the priesthood, says the five orthodox bishops who won't subscribe to ECUSA's canons and constitution should leave the Episcopal Church.

Writing on the House of Bishops/Deputies, listserv, an Online chat room, the revisionist bishop said, "if the continuing dissenters must go I say 'Go with God', and now let us get on with the work of the church."

The bishop was the central player of the now infamous 'Righter Trial' which declared the Episcopal Church had 'no core doctrine' when he ordained a noncelibate gay man to the diaconate in September 1990.

"How can the Bishops 'allow' what the canons and constitution do not allow? How can the Bishops 'cede control' that is not theirs to cede? Even if they wanted to, they cannot. If outfits like the AAC and the Network et al must have a plan cast in concrete, they are stuck with it."

Righter said the same thing happened at the House of Bishops when the House met right after his presentment. "My presenters acted as if they would negotiate. The PB appointed people to negotiate with them. When they met together it was clear there was only one way - the presenters way. No negotiation. So, Mary Adelia McLeod, acting on behalf of the committee appointed by the Presiding Bishop called everything off, saying there was no way a negotiation could occur. So it is now. If the continuing dissenters must go I say "Go with God", and now let us get on with the work of the church."

Righter said too much time has been lost because of people who seem to want the attention of the church focused on them, and who simply ignore mission, including the continuing urging of the church to enter into conversation with homosexual persons. Only in rare instances has that been organized and done thoroughly, even when urged by primates. Who are they kidding?

The bishop, who is retired, lives with his third wife in Maine.
He just couldn't resist that last line, could he? Let's not mention that Bp. Wantland, the retired bishop of Eu Clair who was the celebrant at the secret confirmations in Ohio is also divorced and remarried, or that David Rosenberg, another champion of the AAC cause, is as well. If we are going to use that criteria to judge the validity of the message, let's be consistent.

I was a diocesan trainer for the mandated human sexuality dialogues in the early 90s. What Bp. Righter stated is true to my experience. The conservative members of our diocese did not participate, and had no interest in any form of dialogue. They had already made up their minds.

Regarding Bp. Righter's comments about how bishops cannot allow what the constitions and canons do not allow, this is in regards to the recently released plan for congregations who disagree with their bishop to seek the pastoral care of another bishop. The conservative segment have rejected this plan. They want to choose their own bishop, who will have sole authority over them, withhold funds from the Episcopal Church, and still be granted voice and vote at Diocesan Convention and receive all the benefits those faithful to the Church are offered. It is a demand that cannot be met.

Now, a few of the comments:

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. -Prov 26:11

This schism is inevitable. We cannot reconcil the Gospel to the false and idolatrous doctrine of sexual salvation. The three legged stool has been "kicked to the curb" by ECUSA. Scripture and tradition have clearly been abandoned by the revisionists. The structure cannot stand on reason alone. These men and women believe in nothing more than the Playboy philosophy of Hugh Hefner, i.e. whatever two consenting adults chose to do is okay as long as nobody gets hurt. Let us shake the dust from our sandles and seek fellowship with the Primates of the Global South who still believe that salvation is by Christ alone.

(Note from Jake: These "Primates of the Global South" are the same ones who requested, and received, permission to allow converts in polygamous marriages to keep their wives, for "pastoral reasons," in 1998. When the Episcopal Church began addressing a pastoral concern of their own; same sex unions, these same bishops expressed outrage and disgust, referring to gay Christians as dogs, and have now broken communion with the Episcopal Church. So much for reciprocal grace in regards to the diverse pastoral care needs within our varied cultures.)

I agree with Righter. Far too much time has been lost because of people who seem to want the attention of the church focused on them. However, I see those people as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance and the Revisionists. They have hijacked ECUSA in order to use its "power" as further justification of their secular political agenda. It is time for us traditionalists to cut the ties, cut our losses, move on and get back to the very important things God has given us to do. Those things aren't getting done as we sit around and attempt to reconcile the unreconcilable differences with the revisionists who have changed the meaning of reconciliation just as they have changed the meaning of the Holy Scriptures.

Ah! This circuitous reasoning reminds me so of Satan. It works for them one way and then, when it needs to work the other way to protect them, it is the other way. The pot calls the kettle black. He was one who started this. Get thee behind me Satan.
Satanic gay dogs chasing Playboy bunnies. How lovely. These are just a few of the tamer comments found on this site.

I am still divided as to how to respond to all of this. I am thankful that this is a non-issue where I am currently serving. Yet, I don't think that means I can just consider this someone else's struggle. My Church is being torn apart, and people are being deeply hurt. The Lover in me wants to say, "Can't we all just get along?" The Warrior wants to unfurl his own banner and engage in this struggle. The Magician is sometimes inclined to put a pox on both their houses, and walk off into the desert. The King hesitates, and that is what concerns me.

Our Presiding Bishop, in a recent interview on Beliefnet, pointed out that the Church exists for the sake of the world. I think that needs to sink in a bit more. It resonates as the theological kernel in all of this somehow.

Maybe we have to let go; surrender. Not because the outraged conservative segment is right; but because we are called to be people of grace. Let them go. Let them take their property, their endowments, and their indignation, and go with God. Will the loss of these members be devastating? Most definately. Will this set a dangerous precedent that any congregation who disagrees with their bishop can leave the Episcopal Church? Maybe. Will this encourage an attitude of parochialism, congregationalism, in which my congregation is the only one that matters? Most likely. Will the vision of a community that is global and eternal, breaking the bonds of space and time, become dimmer? I think so. Will this destroy the Episcopal Church? It just might.

If it does, then I say we must die, and allow God to raise up something new from the ashes of our broken dreams.


Sunday, March 28, 2004

Technical Difficulties

I upgraded the Comments feature, and although I have an archive of all past comments, they are not appearing on the page.

Also, my entry archives seem all messed up.

I suspect the two problems are related.

Working on the meantime, new comments function, and current posts are fine, so it's all good, right?

For those interested in Walter Wink, specifically his work on the myth of redemptive violence, check out the discussions over at signposts.


Saturday, March 27, 2004

"These things take on a life of their own..."

I'm finishing up Orson Scott Card's fourth book of the Alvin Maker series, Alvin Journeyman, so I can begin Dow Mossman.

This morning I came across the following dialogue. The characters are Calvin, Alvin's dark younger brother, and his new friend, Honore, a poor novelist. The setting is Paris;

"And why would I need to impress you, Honore?"

"Because I am going to write you into a story someday, my friend. Remember that the ultimate power is mine. You may decide what you will do in this life, up to a point. But I will decide what others think of you, and not just now but long after you're dead."

"If anyone still reads your novels," said Calvin.

"You don't understand, my dear bumpkin. Whether they read my novels or not, my judgment of your life will stand. These things take on a life of their own. No one remembers the original source, or cares either."

"So people will only remember what you say about me - and you they won't remember at all."

Honore chuckled. "Oh, I don't know about that Calvin. I intend to be memorable. But then, do I care whether I'm remembered? I think not. I have lived without the affection of my own mother; why should I crave the affection of strangers not yet born?"

"It's not whether you're remembered," said Calvin. "It's whether you change the world..."

- Journeyman,
p. 376.

Honore's full name is Honore de Balzac.


A Nod for Shaman

Some days, while intently seeking one thing, I stumble across something else quite different. The disappointment of my failure to acquire what I sought is consoled by the surprise of discovering something new and wonderful. At least, that's what I tell myself. Maybe I'm just a well programmed consumer. If you can't buy the one you want, buy the one you find (a variation on CSN&Y, the capitalist version).

Imaginary Keith mentioned a film, Stone Reader, that I had to see. I ventured out last night to find it. It is not to be found in this small South Jersey town. I had one clerk look it up, correcting her twice regarding her insistence on adding an additional "d" to the title. It was not listed under either spelling.

On my way home, I stopped at two places seeking this illusive film. In both, I had to correct the clerks. The reader is not stoned, as far as I know. Of course, I haven't seen the film yet. The young men at my final stop snickered and gave me a knowing look, but failed to deliver the film. Disappointed, but determined to make some purchase (and to show the youngsters I wasn't as square as my black stormtrooper uniform made me look), I decided to browse through the CDs.

CDs are a rather new addition to my life. I can recall when 8-Track players first came out. Being set free from the domination of radio DJs, who all seemed to be poor imitations of the Wolfman, was a major liberation for those of us who spent most of our evening hours cruising (or, in my town, "dragging the gut"...a curious turn of phrase, but it was a curious town).

I eventually gave in, and switched to cassettes, primarily because 8-Tracks disappeared. I saw no great improvement in the technology, and some serious drawbacks. Right at the dramatic shift in tempo in "Free Bird," the tape stops. You pull it out, and a thread of thin tape remains bonded to some cog in the inner workings. You pull some more, and end up with chocolate spaghetti all over the front seat. Yet, it was cassettes or DJs. I learned to accept that this is not a perfect world, and to consider cassette recordings a disposable item. Which may have been the plan all along. Our worth is defined by how much we consume. Defective products result in more consumption. I needed to do my part to help the economy.

I had little faith on this new technology; miniature albums that played on one side. They looked much too shiny and delicate. But the selection of cassettes continued to dwindle. Last month, I compromised. I got one of those kits that makes your car cassete player into a CD player. It's a rather unusual piece of hardware; a cassette with a wire on it, which plugs into a portable CD player. The CD player runs off a jack plugged into the lighter. I like the appearance; the jumble of wires makes it look like some techie type has modified the console to do some new and marvelous thing.

So, I've been buying a few CDs. It may be good consumer brainwashing that leads me to the conclusion that the sound quality is better. Nevertheless, my perception is that I experience better music now. In the end, isn't it all about our perception of the experience that matters? Some would agree.

Until today, I had Joe Walsh, Steve Miller, Dave Matthews, Divine Discontent, Jethro Tull and U2. Today, I added Shaman, by Santana. "The Game of Love" with Michelle Branchi and "Nothing at All" with Musiq are superb.

I've ordered Stone Reader. Now it will come through the mail. Those who monitor such things will be alerted. The authorities will no doubt suspect that I am doing something illicit in the privacy of my home while I read obviously subversive literature. I need to remember not to play Santana in the house. That would leave no doubt in the minds of those sworn to protect us all from such devious behavior that I am a serious threat to the moral fiber of this great nation.

I think I'll retire to the basement to read for a while. Maybe I had better bar the doors. And use my headphones.


Thursday, March 25, 2004

"Stopping the World," the Sixth Definition

After a few years of being active in the Church, the rector of our parish encouraged me to speak to the bishop about going to seminary. I was more than a bit hesitant. My impression of Episcopal clergy was that of Ivy League types; a rather exclusive club.

Eventually, I did visit the bishop, and was ushered through the ordination process. He insisted I attend Nashotah House, the Anglo-Catholic seminary of the Episcopal Church. His explanation was that I knew how to be an Evangelical, and it was time I learned how to be a Catholic.

The House was wonderful and awful. It offered an excellent theological education and a deep grounding in the discipline of daily corporate prayer. The awful part was the politics. Nashotah remains the only seminary of the Episcopal Church that does not allow women to perform sacerdotal functions on the grounds. They will accept women students, but not women priests.

I was oblivious to the issue of women's ordination prior to arriving at the House. The degree of outrage and mean-spiritedness surrounding the issue was shocking.

During my senior year, I was elected president of the Jackson Kemper Missionary Society, which is as close as the House gets to having a student body president. In this capacity, I was able to travel to other seminaries as a representative of the House. Through discussions with others in the larger Church, I felt prepared to lobby the Board, alumni and the student body of Nashotah to rescind the restrictions on women. The board chose to affirm their previous policy. I resigned my office, as I could no longer represent the House in good conscience.

When graduation came around, I found it ironic that only three of my class graduated with honors; the only two women in the class, and me. I was the "token male." Imagine that.

I've served the Church for fourteen years now. It continues to be a love/hate relationship. I've resigned from a couple of positions, and worked as the director of a homeless shelter, and as a counselor for adolescents in a chemical dependency center. But for some reason, I find myself continuously drawn back to the Church.

Today, I understand that I will probably always be a priest, because God doesn't trust me as a layman! Daily, I am pulled from the pit of destruction by the collar of my priestly vows.

I serve as a part-time interim priest now (which is why I have so much time for my latest addiction...blogs!). It is a specialized role, involving going into a parish and accomplishing specific tasks as you prepare them for the calling of a new spiritual leader. When the work is done, you quietly fade away. Usually, the agreement is for about a year. I am about halfway through my current assignment. The parish that I am working with right now is the best community in which I have ever served. Walking away from this one is going to be tough. At the same time, having no idea where I will be serving this time next year is also quite exciting.

That more or less brings the story up to date. I do want to touch on my current understanding of "stopping the world" before I end this series.

The final definition I want to give this concept is that a form of stopping the world would be what is traditionally called "contemplative prayer." Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating, among others, have written extensively on this topic.

I am hesitant to say too much about specific techniques for contemplative prayer. I think a person finds their own methods. I see most children as natural contemplatives. I think that learning how to do it is more a matter of remembering than learning something new.

At its root is the desire to "be still and know that I am God." It is a recognition of the places inbetween; a recognition that "God" is often discovered in places behind, beyond, or hidden within all sensory data or intellectual conceptualizations. It is similar to the way a musician recognizes the importance of rests inbetween notes. The places of no-sound are essential to the composition.

Christian spirituality, and theology, can be seen as flowing from two paths; the apophatic way, the negative way (less is best), and the kataphatic way, the positive way (the more the better). Usually, a healthy spirituality is a combination of the two. I love a well done solemn high mass, with smells and bells and chant. But I also enjoy times of quiet contemplation. Neither way is "right" or "wrong." But recognizing our own personal inclinations can help us to allow our spirituality to flow naturally from our relationship with God, instead of being something for which we strive, and often fail.

Regarding the setting, this ends up being much like Carlos Castaneda finding his place on the porch; you keep trying different things until eventually you find your "spot." Some people like complete silence, with no distractions. Others like candles, crosses, incense, and even music. Some like to incorporate a bit of yoga; others prefer to walk, maybe using a labyrinth. There is no "wrong" way; but there is a way that will suit you best where you are right now in your spiritual journey. So, explore.

What is the purpose of contemplative prayer? My purpose is to be still. To get that dang committee in my head to shut up. And then to begin to be aware that I am in the presence of God. To spend some time in that place, just being, just loving and being loved.

Usually, I have to begin by relaxing my body. This begins as I focus on my breathing. This technique is taught in Lamaze classes, btw. It is an excellent way to calm the mind and relax the body. Usually, I have to tune into each part of the body, and coax the muscles into letting go of their tension and relax.

The breathing and body relaxation exercises help the mind to become quiet. They act as a distraction. Usually, I then begin focusing on a phrase or a word, maybe a verse of scripture, allowing it to fall into the rhythm of my breathing. There is an old prayer, called the Jesus prayer, that I particularly find helpful; "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Over the years, this has become like a song that is always being played in the back of my mind. In times of crises, or before stepping into a hospital room, it suddenly is there, offering a focal point.

Thoughts will come floating through, of course. I find that the more I strive to chase them away, the more rigidly they remain. For me, the most effective way to deal with distractive thoughts has been to note them, and then let them float away. Sometimes, these thoughts can be of a person, or a situation, that are worth noting, but are best not allowed to become the primary focus of the quiet time.

Usually, there will be a point when there is no-thing, no separation, no time. Just be-ing, with God. Sometimes it is for just a moment; sometimes for a few minutes.

I try to balance daily contemplative prayer with study and action. The ideal cycle is that a time of silence before God offers the assurance of grace, which will then allow the study of the scriptures or other spiritual writings to be more focused, and less biased by underlying fears or emotional baggage. The study then leads naturally to a plan of action, an expression of our vocation, our calling, our form of service to the world. We, the Church, exist for the sake of the world. Each action will initiate a new cycle of prayer, study, and evolve into a new action.

In summation; Letting go of regrets of the past and frets of the future, using the tools of a disciplined spiritual life, can "stop the world" by helping us stay in the eternal now. In this present moment, if we expect to see manifestations of God "rolling through" all things, we will remain open to the new thing God may be doing, and can choose to actively participate in God's ongoing act of creation. Eternity is found in the now. It is only in this present moment that we encounter the living God.


"Stopping the World," the Fifth Definition

While in the Navy, I continued to read voraciously. A new friend introduced me to Jack Kerouac, Herman Hesse, Alan Watts and Ram Das, among others.

I became involved in a small group who were attempting to synthesize Christianity, Eastern thought, and the Beats. It was led by a dynamic woman. We shared a house, and spent our time together studying and discussing various sacred texts. On the day the leader insisted on baptizing each of us in the Atlantic, I walked away. Another young woman walked away as well.

Six months later, this young woman and I were married. Within the next year, our first daughter was born. She was perfect in every way. In my eyes, she still is.

The depth of love I felt for this new creation was transformational. Making sure that she was safe and had everything she would ever need became the driving force of my life.

Another daughter was born, just as beautiful and perfect as the first. A son soon followed. My wife and I asked our priest when we might have him baptized. Getting the daughters "done" had been a rather simple affair, involving showing up at the church on a Saturday morning for the 30 minute ritual, and then having brunch with the family. This time, the priest said no. He told us that he saw no indication we intended to raise the child as a Christian, so he could not in good conscience perform the baptism.

I was livid. Who did this guy think he was? So we didn't go to church. We also refused to have a bank account. I did not trust any institution, and wanted nothing to do with them. But, for some reason that I didn't fully comprehend, having my children baptized was important. I was astounded by the arrogance of this man, especially in light of the fact that he was my father-in law; my son's grandfather.

My wife dug out a Book of Common Prayer, which I didn't even know she owned. We began discussing the Nicene Creed, to identify the specific difficulties we had with Christianity. Other than a few minor quibbles about a couple of words, we had no serious problems with this historic document. We agreed to get involved with the local Episcopal Church, for the sake of the children.

My parents were Episcopalian, of the C and E variety (Christmas and Easter). My father grew up as a Baptist, and my step-mother was Greek Orthodox. The compromise was the Episcopal Church. In my six years with them, I probably saw the inside of a church half a dozen times.

Having spent a few years active in a Pentecostal church, I had a pretty good idea what was supposed to happen on Sunday mornings. Consequently, I felt comfortable with the first half of the "service" at our local Episcopal church; songs, bible readings, a sermon and prayers. But the second half was a bit much. All that weird stuff up at the altar. But, I wanted my son baptized, so I went along with it and kept my mouth shut.

After a few months, I noticed a curious thing. The brief time of prayer in the pew after receiving communion became an intensely focused, yet peaceful moment. I noticed that others around me were having the same reaction. Eventually I had to accept that whatever they were doing up there at the altar, it seemed to be of God, as it was having a positive effect on me and all the participants. That is still the root of my understanding of Eucharist.

My wife wanted to go to a church-sponsored weekend that was popular at the time. In order to go, I had to agree to attend a similar weekend for men. A weekend with a bunch of men who drove Volvos and talked exclusively of football and irrigation systems? I knew that this was a vision of hell that even Dante had been spared. Besides, I didn't have time for such foolishness. I was working full time on the loading dock, and taking classes at the University full time at night. And now I was supposed to drop everything to sit around and sing "Kum Baya" with a bunch of yuppies?

At the same time, this interest in the spiritual life on the part of my wife was a new and positive development. We had been careful to avoid that aspect of our lives since we walked away from that synthesizing group. I went to the weekend, etching the marks of clawing fingernails the length of our driveway. Of course, I went for my wife. I knew I had no need for such drivel.

The event was actually worse than I expected. A series of long, boring talks interspersed with guitar music, clapping, laughter, and the periodic embrace of some weeping man declaring, "I love ya, man!"

Two nights later, a meditation was offered in the darkened church. The only light was a small spot shining on the altar cross. At its conclusion, the men wandered out into the hall, where ice cream was being served. I could hear the laughter and the back slapping. I decided that the only way I was going to avoid these happy huggers was to just stay in the church.

Soon, I was alone. I knew they would let me stay there for as long as I wanted, if it appeared I was having some kind of "spiritual experience." So, I got on my knees, gazed on the cross, and assumed an "attitude of prayer." After a few minutes, I decided that it would be a shame to waste this opportunity, so I might as well go ahead and actually pray. I started out with praise and adoration, as I had been taught to do during my Pentecostal days, telling God how wonderful he was, and how much I loved him.

Then suddenly I stopped. What was I saying? Why should I declare my love for God? God could care less if I lived or died. The ugliness of my life was evidence of that. It was time to be honest. I now knew something about love, through being a husband and a father. That experience made it clear to me that I did not love God, and saw no indication that God loved me.

I got off my knees and sat in the pew. I still had to stay in the church, of course. I could hear a sing-along starting up in the next room. So, I just sat there, letting my mind wander, enjoying the quiet peacefulness of the place. Suddenly, in my mind's eye, I saw a neighbor who had lived next door to us when I was quite young. I saw her holding me as I cried. There was a vague memory of falling off my tricycle, or something similar. I had not thought of this woman for 25 years. Yet, here she was, in a vivid memory, floating across the screen before my mind's eye. What a strange thing.

The image shifted. I now saw my grandparents. Then a teacher from grade school who used to talk to me after class. Various aunts and uncles paraded by. Then the man who took me in and fed me when I was homeless. Next, a counselor from reform school. A professor from the University. Finally, I saw my wife, my daughters, and my newborn son.

I was crying. I wasn't sure why. I was on my knees again, although I didn't remember moving. What were all these images about? I wasn't sure. They all drew from me a similar feeling, however. The feeling of being loved; of being loved unconditionally.

It felt as if I were being held and slowly rocked, as a voice whispered, "Shh, it's okay now. I've always been here, and I've always loved you. I know you've been hurt. And I tried to show you that I cried with you, that I so deeply loved you. I tried to show you through those you are remembering tonight."

I dared to believe this was real. This was a moment of transformation, equal to the encounters with the young buck and the frozen woman so many years before. I was loved. Even more importantly, I was worthy to be loved.

That was over twenty-five years ago, yet rarely does a day pass when I don't remember that night; the night I stopped fighting to survive, and began to live.

In summary; striving to stop the world is motivated by a seeking for that elusive "something more." The sign that points the way is not found in the external journey. It is discovered by looking within; by honestly answering the question, what is it you seek? Identifying your heart's deepest desire may just lead to a surprising discovery; that the thing for which you search has been right before you, traveling with you, from the beginning.

What is the heart's desire? To love, and to be loved. Nothing more, and nothing less, will satisfy.

Bishops Propose Plan

I must interrupt my terribly verbose definitions for a bit of news.

The House of Bishops have proposed a plan for delegated episcopal pastoral oversight.

I can't find the text on the net, so here it is;

Caring For All The Churches

A Response of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church to an expressed
need of the Church:

The church is the Body of Christ. Our life in this Body is a continuing
action of God's grace among us, by whose power alone we are "joined
together" in Christ and grow "into a holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:21).
Through the church's common life in Christ, God intends to signify to the
world the beginning of a new and reconciled creation.

We know the unity with God that Christ has won for humanity, he won through
the victory of his passion. We are mindful of the suffering of Jesus who, on
the Cross and through his resurrection, reaches into every corner of
alienated human life, reconciling and restoring to the household of God all
who come to him in faith. By God's grace the church is continually called,
in repentance and hope, to be a trustworthy sign to the world of this costly
reconciling power of God. We understand that, in obedience to Christ and
putting our whole trust in him, we may share in his unity with the Father
through the Holy Spirit. Communion in the Trinity is the salvation of the
world. The church, thus, exists for the sake of the world. Therefore, for
the sake of the world, we have been called "to serve before God day and
night in the ministry of reconciliation", (BCP, p.521) which is to be
carried out "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one
another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the
bond of peace." (Eph.4:2-3)

We as bishops are not of a common mind about issues concerning human
sexuality. Different points of view on these matters also exist within our
dioceses and congregations. In some instances there are significant
differences between congregation(s) and the bishop and few of our
congregations are themselves of one mind. As we exercise pastoral leadership
in our dioceses, we pledge ourselves to work always towards the fullest
relationship, seeking, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, "the
highest degree of communion." We are grateful for his leadership and share
the pastoral concerns expressed by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in
their statement of October 2003, "for those who in all conscience feel bound
to dissent from the teaching and practice of their province in such
matters." We have committed ourselves to living through this time of
disagreement in love and charity and with sensitivity to the pastoral needs
of all members of our church.

In the circumstance of disagreement regarding the actions of the 74th
General Convention on issues of human sexuality, we commit ourselves to
providing and to making provision for pastoral care for dissenting
congregations, and we recognize that there may be a need for a bishop to
delegate some pastoral oversight. Oversight means the episcopal acts
performed as part of a diocesan bishop's ministry either by the diocesan
bishop or by another bishop to whom such responsibility has been delegated
by the diocesan bishop. In other Anglican Provinces, the term "pastoral
oversight" signifies what we mean by "pastoral care." In our Episcopal
Church polity, "oversight" does not confer "jurisdiction." We are aware of
current examples of the delegation of pastoral oversight in the gracious
accommodations which have occurred in some dioceses.

As we together commit to a process for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral
Oversight, we also recognize the constitutional and canonical authority of
bishops and the integrity of diocesan boundaries. We are in accord with the
statement of the primates: "Whilst we affirm the teaching of successive
Lambeth Conferences that bishops must respect the autonomy and territorial
integrity of dioceses and provinces other than their own, we call on the
provinces concerned to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight of
dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care in consultation
with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates."

Sensitive pastoral care does not presuppose like-mindedness. Bishops and
congregations have frequently disagreed about particular articulations and
interpretations of scripture and the Creeds while being able to transcend
their differences through common prayer and celebration of the sacraments of
the new covenant. The notion that the bishop's views must be in accord with
those of a particular rector or congregation for the bishop to be received
as chief pastor opens the way to undermining the bishop's pastoral ministry,
which must embrace all and "support all baptized people in their gifts and
ministries." Our theology and practice hold that ordination and consecration
provide the gifts and grace necessary for the sacramental acts of a bishop
to be effectual. (See article XXVI of the Articles of Religion: Of the
Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the

As bishops we share a ministry of episcope as stewards of the mystery of
faith that none of us possesses alone. We believe it is our particular
charge to nourish, guard and represent in the church this "unity of the
Spirit in the bond of peace." We understand this to be for the sake of the
world and in fidelity to our Lord who gave his life to restore all to unity
with God. We recognize and repent of our failures of charity towards one
another in this shared ministry of episcope, and we pledge ourselves to a
sacrificial ministry with one another, valuing in each the presence of the
Crucified and Risen Christ. While our unity may be strained, we continue to
strive for godly union and concord. Our task requires humility, charity,
mutual respect and a willingness to make every effort to maintain the unity
of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

In March of 2002 the House of Bishops adopted the following covenant:

"We believe that the present Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church
are sufficient for dealing with questions of episcopal oversight,
supplemental episcopal pastoral care, and disputes that may arise between
the bishop and a congregation. We encourage that their provisions be used
wisely and in the spirit of charity."

"The provision of supplemental episcopal pastoral care shall be under the
direction of the bishop of the diocese, who shall invite the visitor and
remain in pastoral contact with the congregation. This is to be understood
as a temporary arrangement, the ultimate goal of which is the full
restoration of the relationship between the congregation and their bishop."

Expanding on this previous agreement, and working always towards "the
highest degree of communion," we offer the following recommendations in
order to provide Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight. We expect that the
first priority in a relationship between a diocesan bishop and congregation
is a striving for unity. As such, it is incumbent upon both the bishop and
the rector/congregation to meet together, with a consultant, if needed, to
find ways to work together. If for serious cause in the light of our current
disagreements on issues of human sexuality, the bishop and
rector/congregation cannot work together, we propose the following process
for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight.

1) In the spirit of openness, the rector and vestry, or the canonically
designated lay leadership shall meet with the bishop to seek reconciliation.
After such a meeting, it is our hope that in most instances a mutually
agreeable way forward will be found.
2) If reconciliation does not occur, then the rector and two-thirds of the
vestry, or in the absence of a rector, two-thirds of the canonically
designated lay leadership, after fully engaging the congregation, may seek
from their diocesan bishop, (or the diocesan bishop may suggest) a
conference regarding the appropriateness and conditions for Delegated
Episcopal Pastoral Oversight.
3) After such a conference the bishop may appoint another bishop to provide
pastoral oversight.
4) If no reconciliation is achieved, there may then be an appeal to the
bishop who is president or vice-president of the ECUSA province in which the
congregation is geographically located, for help in seeking a resolution.
Those making such an appeal must inform the other party of their decision to
5) When such an appeal has been made, the provincial bishop may request two
other bishops, representative of the divergent views in this church, to join
with the provincial bishop to review the situation, to consider the appeal,
and to make recommendations to all parties. If an episcopal visitor is to be
invited, that bishop shall be a member in good standing in this Church.
6) When an agreement is reached with respect to a plan, it shall be for the
purpose of reconciliation. The plan shall include expectations of all
parties, especially mutual accountability. The plan shall be for a stated
period of time with regular reviews.

The provincial bishop shall periodically inform the Presiding Bishop, the
Presiding Bishop's Council of Advice, and the House of Bishops at its
regular meetings of the progress and results of this process.

As bishops of this church, we pledge ourselves to pray and work for patience
and the generosity of spirit that can enable a pastoral resolution as we
live with our differences. As well, we will strive for Godly union and
concord as together we seek to be led by the Spirit of truth who, as Jesus
tells us, "will guide us into all the truth." (John 16:13)

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church
23 March 2004

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

"Stopping the World," the Fourth Definition

'One must assume responsibility for being in a weird world,' he said. 'We are in a weird world, you know.'

I nodded my head affirmatively.

'We're not talking about the same thing,' he said. 'For you the world is weird because if you're not bored with it you're at odds with it. For me the world is weird because it is stupendous, awesome, mysterious, unfathomable; my interest has been to convince you that you must assume responsibility for being here, in this marvelous world, in this marvelous desert, in this marvelous time. I wanted to convince you that you must learn to make every act count, since you are going to be here for only a short while, in fact, too short for witnessing all the marvels of it.'

I insisted that to be bored with the world or to be at odds with it is the human condition.

'So, change it,' he replied dryly. 'If you do not respond to that challenge you are as good as dead.'

- Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan; the Lessons of Don Juan, pp. 107-108.

During my time in jail, I happened across some of Castaneda's books. I know there remains some controversy as to if his works are fact or fiction. I tend to think that they may be more fiction than fact, or at least that Don Juan is a composite of various teachers Castaneda met. The stories are about Carlos, an Anthropology student and later professor at UCLA, who meets up with a brujo; a "man of knowledge," who takes him under his wing as an apprentice. Through the use of various techniques, including psychotropic drugs, Carlos enters into "a separate reality." One of these techniques is called "stopping the world;"

Don Juan stated that in order to arrive at 'seeing' one first had to 'stop the world.' 'Stopping the world' was indeed an appropriate rendition of certain states of awareness in which the reality of everyday life is altered because the flow of interpretation, which ordinarily runs uninterruptedly, has been stopped by a set of circumstances alien to that flow...Don Juan's precondition for 'stopping the world' was that one had to be convinced; in other words, one had to learn a new description in a total sense, for the purpose of pitting it against the old one, and that in that way break the dogmatic certainty, which we all share, that the validity of our perceptions, or our reality of the world, is not to be questioned.

- Journey,
p. 14.
Castaneda convinced me that maybe I wasn't quite as crazy as some people thought I was. If his bizarre journey could become a cultural favorite, I might just be on the right path. Encouraged by this, I headed for the desert of New Mexico.

Was any great epiphany waiting for me there? Certainly not what I was expecting. I saw one possible brujo. After a night of drinking, we convinced a neighbor to take us onto the reservation. We drove for hours in the desert, until we came to a house with nothing else near it for miles in any direction. We stopped about half a mile from the house. The neighbor told us to stay in the car while he approached the house on foot. After a few minutes, an elderly man came out, walked to the front of the car, stared at us, and then turned around and retraced his steps. The neighbor came running to the car, shouting, "Go! Go!" as he piled into the backseat, both pockets of his coat brimming with peyote buttons. I've always imagined this old man was much like Castaneda's Don Juan. I suppose I'll never know.

We spent a lot of time in the desert. We simply drove off the road into the sand. If we got stuck, we jacked up the car and pushed it off the jack until eventually the rear wheels found firm sand. We hunted jackrabbits, drank beer, and eventually got jobs at a local auto dealer detailing cars.

During one night of intense tequila consumption, we caught up with another car that had passed us and almost forced us off the road. We screamed at the lone occupant as we kicked dents into his fenders, broke off his antennae and smashed his side mirrors. He finally drove away, taking off the driver's door of our car in his haste. We threw the door into the backseat and took chase. I loaded up one of the rifles that was still lying on the seat in the back from our earlier jackrabbit hunt. I got off a couple of shots before the car in front of us careened around a corner and was gone.

Relocating to another state had not changed much, it seemed, except now I was looking at a New Mexico prison instead of one in Oregon. Time for desperate measures. My life was out of control. I couldn't even follow my own script anymore. I was tired of being hungry and broke. I needed discipline. I needed to be forced to play out a role in a drama that I could not manipulate. I needed to rediscover what it meant to be "normal."

The year was 1973. Vietnam was drawing to a close. The local recruiter was desperate for volunteers. By creatively filling out the forms in order to keep my colorful past hidden in obscurity, I was able to enlist in the US Navy. I served for four years as a jet engine mechanic, and received a good conduct medal and an honorable discharge. Imagine that.

Just a couple of comments regarding Castaneda; to my young mind, his stories seemed quite innovative and exciting. Later in life I found other renditions of these same ideas that were much more coherent and healthy. I am not recommending Castaneda's work.

My primary reservation regarding Castaneda is the appearance of entities he refers to as "allies," of which Mescalito is probably the most well-known. I find them troubling. They were often depicted as dark and malevolent figures, who had to be forced to form an alliance through various rituals and connections made through complex allegiances.

During this wild adventure, I had encountered principalities, or powers, that fit Castaneda's descriptions well. My experience (and Castaneda consistently insists that knowledge rises from experience), was that these were destructive forces, playing in a drama which I did not understand, and in which I could never be more than a pawn. I was helpless against them.

I am not suggesting a dualistic understanding, of forces of good waging war with forces of evil. That kind of thinking makes little sense of my experience. Yet, the reality of "twisted good" being a very real power in this world is denied at our own peril.

Perhaps a few words from Walter Wink will make this clearer;

I do not believe that evil angels seize human institutions and pervert them. Rather, I see the demonic as arising within the institution itself, as it abandons its divine vocation for a selfish, lesser goal. Therefore I would not attempt to cast out the spirit of a city, for example, but rather, to call on God to transform it, to recall it to its divine vocation. My spiritual conversation is with God, not the demonic.

- Walter Wink, The Powers That Be; Theology for a New Millennium, p. 197.
Wink's work I will recommend, without any reservations.

I had discovered that the script which I thought I had written was not always originating from me. I seemed headed for self destruction, even though that had never been my intention. I was broken, and could not fix myself. I needed a guide, a Director, who would place me in a drama in which I survived the last scene.

When things got out of control, and I was confronted with frightening realities, I had taken to repeating the name of Jesus Christ over and over. I used it as a type of talisman. It did not "make it all better," but seemed to lessen the feelings of panic and despair. A little thing, I suppose.

When the man stamping my dog tags asked what religion he should put on them, I said, without hesitation, "Christian."

He rolled his eyes and asked, "What kind of Christian?"

"I don't know," I replied. He muttered as he scrawled the generic label on a form and called for the next recruit.

Another little thing. Yet, this is how so many journeys begin; small steps that lead to a new path, and a new life.


Tuesday, March 23, 2004

"Stopping the World," the Third Definition

I continued to explore the boundaries between the imaginary and real dramas of life. The woods had taught me that there were natural dramas that were difficult to rewrite. I had also discovered limited success in manipulating adult dramas. I began to accept the boundaries set by adults less and less, as they had proven themselves to me to be a species that was not to be trusted. But the natural boundaries were yet to be explored.

A secret life emerged; consisting of crawling out of my window at night and roaming the city; sometimes with companions, sometimes alone. The opportunity presented itself to test a particular boundary that had fascinated me for some time. Through an unexpected turn of events, I found myself in the possession of the set of keys to a new Cadillac.

The speedometer read 110, and I still had some pedal left. Before I could fully explore the limits of this machine, I failed to navigate a corner. It slid out of control, smashed into one pole, and then shot ahead, wrapping its nose around another. A costly lesson in physics was learned that night.

My cousin and her family were in shock when they arrived at juvenile hall to pick me up. They decided they had no choice but to send me back to my father and stepmother. Before the date for my departure arrived, I slipped away. At fourteen years young, I found myself living on the street.

There were many children on the road in 1968. It was easy to blend in. The first order of business was to make the obligatory pilgrimage to Haight-Ashbury. I headed for the interstate, stuck out my thumb, and five hours later was wandering the streets of San Francisco.

The next few years were to be a wild adventure, consisting of hitching up and down the California coast, eventually getting picked up by the police and placed in a foster home, and finally being sent to the state boy's school.

Part of this adventure involved drugs. Lots of drugs. We were human guinea pigs; ingesting, injecting, snorting, huffing, toking guinea pigs. Some of us didn't survive the experiment. Others melted their minds. Others lost their soul. Others were put in a cage like the wild animal they had become.

There were magical moments; I could tell you of nights filled with beautiful visions and communing with fellow travelers. But then I would also have to tell you about the ugly times; hiding under a bush shaking with a club in my hand, or having to pull over because I was unable to stop screaming.

I speak of this because it is a part of the journey. The story would be incomplete without it. Before going any further, let me say this clearly. The use of any drug, including organics, is a shortcut, a back door, which offers short term rewards, but the final cost may not be realized until it is too late. In my experience, the cost is always too high.

A certain drug offered glimpses of a realm that I deeply desired; one that molded both the real and the imaginary dramas into one experience. The way it accomplished this amazing result is difficult to explain. A simple description might begin with a consideration of how the mind works. We are bombarded with millions of stimuli every minute. We cannot possibly process so much information. So, we develop filters, removing everything but the essential data. This drug took away all the filters. Every external stimulus was fully experienced.

At the same time, this drug caused the brain cells to fire in new and unusual patterns. Not only was the brain overloaded with external data, it also had to process a constant flow of new internal information, coming from parts of the brain previously hidden to the conscious mind.

During one of my weekend passes from the boy's school, where I had been incarcerated for the dangerous crimes of "consistent runaway and drug abuse," I was given a particularly pure dose of this drug. As I felt it beginning to open the filters, I climbed the stairs to a friend's apartment, and knocked on the door. A woman I had never seen before opened it. As we stood talking, I noticed that there was something wrong with her stereo. The song was slowing down, and the voices were getting deeper and deeper. Before I could comment on this, I noticed that the woman's hand motions seemed to flow, as in a choreographed dance. Her voice was also getting deeper. And slower. Then, the music stopped, as did her hands, and her mouth. She stood before me frozen with her lips still trying to form a vowel.

A sudden wave of fear gripped me. My fright seemed to kick the stereo, as the turntable slowly began its circular journey once again, the deep bass tones gradually becoming recognizable as the voice of Eric Burdon. The woman continued her explanation of why my friend was not there, as if nothing had happened.

I stumbled down the stairs and back into the sunlight. As I began to walk with my friends down the sidewalk, I had to stop every few steps as the implications of what had just happened began to sink in: "...but that means...and that means...and that means..." It was as if a deck of cards had been fanned before my eyes so quickly that I only had a glimpse of each unique design. But that glimpse was enough to turn my world upside down.

Was it just a drug-induced illusion? Most certainly. Yet, illusion or not, the possibility that another more universal illusion had been exposed was a suspicion that was born within my mind that day. Just possibly, our division of time into segments of past, present, and future are artificial dissections.

Three years later, just a couple of weeks after my eighteenth birthday, a patrol car tried to pull me over. I floored my Chevy, and smiled as I saw the flashing lights receding in my rear view mirror. That smile quickly disappeared when I returned my gaze to the road in front of me. Two more sets of flashing lights were waiting up ahead. You may be able to outrun the cars, but you cannot outrun the radios.

I spent enough time in jail for my head to begin to rise above the fog formed by all the chemicals I had ingested. As I did an inventory of my network of friends, I came to the realization that every one of them, without exception, was either in a mental hospital (or belonged in one), in prison (or headed there), or dead. This was the drama unfolding on the stage of my life.

It was high time to rewrite the script again. I knew a fellow traveler who was leaving for New Mexico. He had invited me to go along. It sounded like a plan. Ride out into the desert, allow it to dry me out, and start putting together a new script.

In summary; "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." And there are many ways to uncover these things beyond this physical realm and the world of dreams. We may learn to stop the world, but taking a shortcut along the path always comes with a price. If you enter through the back door, be prepared to have insanity, incarceration, or death be your escorts as you make your final exit. Beware.


Monday, March 22, 2004

"Stopping the World," the Second Definition

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

-William Wordsworth, The Tables Turned
I now knew that my step-mother was not the Director, but I mistakenly suspected that perhaps I was. After a short time with my grandparents, I went to live with an aunt and uncle who had a son my age. It was a wonderful home. But, a year later, I was told that I was being shipped to a cousin in Oregon. This was not supposed to happen. This was not in the script.

The family in Oregon were good people. They were also quite wealthy. They were also devout Christians, of the Pentecostal variety.

I was familiar with God, and had read the bible a few times during those years in the room. Smooth Jacob and King David were more familiar to me than Lassie and Superman; the heroes of my peers. I had talked to God since I could remember, although I wasn't so sure He was listening. At first, the spirituality of my new family was attractive. Maybe this was the way to discover who the real Director was?

The experience of worship was powerful. Clearly God, as revealed through Jesus Christ, was a clue to the real drama going on underneath the perceived one of daily life. That's what I wanted to get to now; the reality beyond.

Eventually, I began to wonder about the Pentecostal experience. It required such a expenditure of emotion. It was like a play that consisted of a series of song and dance numbers, without any story to connect them. I was suspicious of a euphoria based on a manipulation of my emotions. You can only respond to so many altar calls before the script becomes so familiar that it loses its ability to have the required effect.

This family also introduced me to another new aspect of life; hunting and fishing. After the initial fascination with having the power to kill things wore off, I found myself strongly attracted to the woods. Soon, I was setting off by myself each Saturday before the sun rose with a lunch in a pack on my back. I would hike in the mountains and return home as the sun set. Removed from the human dramas played out on stages of asphalt and concrete, it seemed easier to draw closer to another drama, one that was not controlled by any human, including me.

At first, I went into the woods with my peers; other twelve year olds armed with pellet rifles and .22s. The thrill of shooting anything that moved, and crashing through the brush like the herd of wild apes that we were, soon wore thin. Eventually, I chose to go alone. I found that after a couple of hours, the animals accepted my presence. Rather than an intruder, I slowly found my place in this world, as an observer. I learned to walk quietly, and sit still for long periods. In this world, the scripts being played out were not driven by any human neuroses. The squirrels chased each other from tree to tree because it amused them to do so. The robin sang because life was good.

One day, as I began climbing a small hill that opened onto a meadow at its summit, I remembered to be especially quiet. I knew that there might be wildlife in the meadow at that time of day. As I slowly raised my head over the top of the hill, I found myself looking into the eyes of a spike, a young buck, not more than six feet away from me. He had two nubs for horns, suggesting that in deer-years, he and I were peers. We both froze. It seemed that everything froze. I heard no birds, nor saw any trees swaying in the gentle breeze that had caressed my face moments before. My senses were strangely intensified. The colors of the wildflowers were blazing brightly. The dew on the grass sparkled like tiny gems. I could make out every detail in the face of the young buck, and my nostrils were full of his musty scent. For just a moment, time stood still. The division between my perception of this pastoral scene and the drama unfolding in the meadow wavered and shimmered for just a moment. And then I took a step, the buck bounded away, and the moment was over.

I tracked him for most of the day. I never saw him again. But that moment, that glimpse of a reality beyond my perception, a reality in which the buck, the flowers, the breeze, and the young boy were not separate, but all part of one grand canvas, was etched on my heart forever.

In summation; another way of understanding "stopping the world" is to find a means to "stop" our limited human perception of things, and to quit insisting that human perception is the only "true" way to make sense out of his world. Take a walk in the woods, for, as Wordsworth said, "Sweet is the lore which Nature brings; Our meddling intellect--Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
We murder to dissect."


"Stopping the World," the First Definition

I recently spoke with someone who just started reading Jake. One of her questions was, "What is the 'stopping the world' bit all about?" I suppose maybe it is time to unpack that phrase. I'm going to have to do it in parts, as the definition involves a few different glimpses of my internal world.

The first definition is drawn from childhood. As you can see, the name of this site was stolen from a delightful children's story, by Georgia Bying. In case you are not familiar with it, here's Amazon's synopsis;
The follow-up novel to Georgia Byng's bestselling debut MOLLY MOON'S INCREDIBLE BOOK OF HYPNOTISM. Molly Moon, the funny-looking orphan who once took Broadway by storm, has vowed never to use her amazing hypnotic powers again. But when she learns that a megalomaniac master hypnotist called Primo Cell is rumoured to be controlling the minds of famous movie stars, she has to intervene. Arriving in Hollywood, Molly, Rocky and Petula the pug get to work. While Petula is being pampered at a beauty parlour for glamorous pooches, Molly and Rocky plan how to blag their way into Primo's famous Oscar-night party. Here they find that their enemy is far more dangerous and powerful than they suspected. Primo thinks it will be a breeze to control the minds of two kids, but he doesn't know that Molly has discovered an extraordinary new ability. Her hypnotic eyes can actually stop time itself...
Such creative stories as this introduces children to the understanding that the act of reading itself can be a way of stopping the world. The better the story, the more the world around them begins to fade, and eventually stop altogether. Video stories and games can have the same effect, but they do not offer the silence of reading, or the stretching of their own creativity required to use words alone to paint scenes within their mind.

Books became my only friends when I was in grade school. I'll attempt to paint the scene that led to this with an economy of words, but I'm making no promises!

My father remarried when I was 5. Prior to this, I had lived with my grandparents, and had experienced a fairly "normal" life. With those years as a frame of reference, it did not take me long, even at that young age, to realize that my new mother was not "normal."

She had some rather extreme fears, which today I recognize as probably various phobias. One of these fears involved germs. When I was in the first grade, I developed a bad cough. I was sent to my room, and to bed, for the next six months. The diagnosis was a "bronchial/respiratory condition."

After the cough was gone, and I was given a clean bill of health by the doctor, I still did not leave my room. I remained in that room for the next four years, except to walk back and forth to school. When I left my room for the short walk to the door to leave for school, I was required to wear a doctor's mask.
I awoke each morning to find a bowl of cereal and a glass of milk on my desk, with various pills lined up alongside the spoon. Some were vitamins. One was a Dristan tablet. I have no idea what the others were. When it was time for dinner, I was called from my room. My plate was placed on the counter across the room from the dining table, where the rest of the family was gathered. The routine was that I dropped my mask, ate as quickly as possible, and then replaced my mask and returned to my room. This routine limited the numbers of germs that might escape from my diseased person, I guess.

As the years went by, a few other bizarre daily routines were added. I was assigned my own bathroom, which was to be scoured with Comet each morning before I left for school. I lost my name, which was replaced with "that dumb kid," and other less pleasant descriptive phrases which I have conveniently misplaced. The daily lectures started becoming more full of anger. Eventually physical attacks were added to the verbal lashings.

So, that's the scene. It ended when I was eleven, when they sent me off to live with various relatives. One of the first things my relatives did was to take me to a doctor. He declared me fit, although he was concerned about my low white blood cell count. He attributed it to a daily dose of Dristan for four years. So, at eleven, I was allowed to go outside and play for the first time since the first grade.

Ok, on with the "stopping the world" lessons learned during this time. As I mentioned, I realized early on that there was something wrong with this woman. This was a critical awareness. She was not evil; she was sick. Trust me, if I had not realized this, I would most likely be in prison for premeditated murder right now.

It was as if this person was living life according to a script to which she owned the only copy. For some reason, possibly because I was a constant reminder of my father's first marriage, I was cast in the role of the villain. Once I realized that she was not living in reality, the absurd happenings were not as traumatic. This led to the next important realization; I could choose to accept or reject her reality. It may be true, or it may be some fantasy in her head. But, I was not powerless. I had a choice. This is such an important lesson in "stopping the world." So often, accepting the role of victim is a choice, often a choice in response to allowing ourselves to get sucked into playing a role in someone else's personal drama. If we don't like the script, we can stop the drama, and change the script. Of course, this entire script was demented, so it took me until eleven to figure out a way to dump the whole thing, and start fresh.

Figuring out how to change the script emerged from those years in that room. For the first few years, I was allowed to read. I learned to escape into imaginary worlds where she could not go. The shrinks get quite enthusiastic when this part of the story comes out. Here's something they understand...escape into fantasy. Whatever. I'm not convinced that this is such a terrible coping mechanism. If the external world is the living out of someone else's fantasies, it doesn't take long to realize that fantasy is the ticket to creating your own world.

Eventually, the books were taken away. Some walnut shells were found in my room. I had taken to sneaking into the kitchen in the middle of he night to help myself to a little snack. Since I could no longer be trusted, I was required to sit in a chair in the doorway of my room, masked and bookless. This meant that in order to escape the bad movie going on around me, I had to depend even more heavily on my own imagination. Tales of heartless pirates, cool cowboys, chivalrous knights and heroic soldiers played across my own private screen.

Letting these internal dramas continue to run even while having someone scream in your face or strike you repeatedly with a belt was quite the trick. It required awareness of another tool in stopping the world; recognizing the presence of the "objective observer." There was some remote part of me that would stand back, and without emotion, quietly comment on what was going on. Sometimes this part would make the most unusual observations and suggestions. The problem was, the observer was not only lacking in emotion, but also in any semblance of morality. For instance, one of his suggestions, "Kill the bitch," was simply not an option. Not because she didn't deserve to die, or that I was incapable of doing the deed, but because it would deeply hurt my father, who, for reasons I will never understand, deeply loves this woman, even today. And I continue to love him.

I don't recall if that option was ever seriously considered. As I have said, I realized that she was sick, not evil. But, even entertaining the notion reveals a critical piece to stopping the world. We are never trapped. We can always change the script. But this requires creative thinking; thinking outside the box. And sometimes, to do this, we have to step outside the world of emotions and morality, just to make sure there aren't some options we have overlooked. One way of stopping this script was to remove the director. But, the cost was too high. Eventually, I discovered a better way; remove myself from the stage.

In summation; we are not helpless players in this drama of sad and happy dreams. We can "stop the world", stop the play; drop the curtain; rewrite the next act, and then raise the curtain, cue the lights and let the show go on. Then, if we write ourselves into the role of victim, we only have ourselves to blame.


Sunday, March 21, 2004

A "Must Read"

Take a look at the excellent reflection; Rape, domination, and power in the Church: pt. 1 over on The Heretic's Corner.

As one who is aware that my own reactions are often inappropriate, I am looking forward to Part 2.


Saturday, March 20, 2004

The Power of Story

In the field of co-intelligence, stories are more than dramas people tell or read. Story, as a pattern, is a powerful way of organizing and sharing individual experience and exploring and co-creating shared realities. It forms one of the underlying structures of reality, comprehensible and responsive to those who possess what we call narrative intelligence. Our psyches and cultures are filled with narrative fields of influence, or story fields, which shape the awareness and behavior of the individuals and collectives associated with them.
-from The Co-Intelligence Institute
Story as a way of sharing realities. I think most of us would agree with that. I think it is through stories that most of us make sense out of our lives. The glue that holds together communities is a common story.

Some of us grew up with the biblical narrative being The Story. It was the underpinning of Western thought and literature. I think it is important to face the reality that, in some places, this is no longer the case.

I can recall a time in my life when the social norm was that everyone went to church on Sunday. If your car was in the driveway Sunday morning, the neighbors would take note. In the latter part of the twentieth century, this norm shifted. It became acceptable to play golf, take junior to a sporting event, or curl up with the Sunday Times in bed on the first morning of the week.

With the liberation of this shifting of the social norm also came the freedom to adhere to a higher level of intellectual integrity. As Marcus Borg suggests;

Mainline denominations have seen a membership decline of roughly 40 percent over the last 35 years. But most of the people leaving mainline denominations have not joined more conservative churches. They've simply dropped out. Presumably, a major reason many of them dropped out is that the form of Christianity they learned growing up ceased to make compelling sense to them. If it had made sense, they still would be in the church.
This generation, who knew the biblical story but chose to reject it as "their story," became the parents of another generation, who grew up with limited or nonexistent knowledge of the scriptures. Now these children are having children.

I don't think humanity can sustain any level of cohesiveness without a primal story that connects them and gives them a common frame of reference. There are Christians who recognize this need, and are attempting to sort out what is essential to the Gospel story, and how these essentials might be presented today (I think Marcus Borg is among the best in this effort). This work needs to be one of highest priorities, as a simple rearranging of the furniture is not going to do the job. The entire story has to be rethought, and presented in such a way that it meets people where they are.

Where are they? To quote Borg once again;

The vast majority of Americans, according to polls taken in 2002, cannot be religious exclusivists. Only 18 percent of people surveyed in two different polls taken in 2002 said yes to "My religion is the only true religion." Another example: In a Gallup poll taken in 1963, 65 percent of the sample were biblical literalists. By 2001 that figure had gone down to 21 percent.
We might say that these Americans are "wrong," and that they MUST accept the Gospel as presented by previous generations, but I don't think that perspective is going to get anyone to listen to the story.

While Christians debate about how to retell the story, the rest of the world has moved on. New stories are discovered that resonate with their life experience. As of yet, there is not a dominant story. But I think it is only a matter of time until one emerges.

As but one example, consider The Matrix. I have one son who watches these movies over and over. They speak to his condition. They make sense of his world.

James Ford, in The Journal of Religion and Film, makes this observation;

Mixing metaphors from Christianity, Buddhism, Greek mythology, and even cyber technology, The Matrix as myth may be seen as an analysis of the contemporary existential condition. It appropriates the decidedly Christian messianic mythological framework but imports a form of Buddhist idealism to radically transform the (Christian) existential understanding of the human condition. In this respect, it dialectically produces a new worldview through myth.
This is not accidental, btw. This story is literally brimming with bits and pieces pulled from our collective unconscious. For a more thorough examination of the bits and pieces, check out this exegesis of the film.

It is when I listen to your story, and you listen to mine, that we discover the places where we might encounter God's story.

If Christians continue to insist on holding an exclusive discussion on what can and cannot be considered the "right" story, we may one day wake up to find Keanu Reeves as the new messiah, and the summary of the law being expressed as "Be excellent to one another."

Although, some days I'm not so sure that would be such a bad thing.


Friday, March 19, 2004

House of Bishops Meeting

The House of Bishops will begin their meeting today in Camp Allen, Texas. They will conclude their time together on the 24th. No doubt that there will be discussions of the acts of ecclesiastical disobedience committed in Ohio last weekend. There will also most likely be some discussion of "Alternative Episcopal Oversight," although that discussion may now have to begin by defining what it is not, rather than what it is, which is unfortunate.

The recommendations of how the bishops might respond range from Louie Crew's suggestion that Bishop Grew back-date a graceful letter of welcome to all six bishops, to Bishop Robert M. Moody raising the possibility of "a censure of these bishops or a presentment that could lead to an ecclesiastical trial."

My own honest response is a bit convoluted. To sort it out, I'm going to use some archetypes of the masculine, drawn from a book I read years ago, whose title escapes me.

In light of some other current discussions, I will confess, as I have previously, to being a "recovering chauvinist." I inherited a set of "tapes" from my father pertaining to what it means to be a man. It was not until I started helping raise two daughters that I discovered that Dad got a few things wrong. My first reaction is sometimes to play those old tapes, but today I can sometimes catch myself, and choose to listen and make new recordings. Thus the label of "recovering chauvinist."

Masculine and feminine are terms that represent much more than gender differences. They are a form of shorthand for two divergent yet potentially complimentary perspectives. When I offer my personal perspective on various things, it is drawn primarily from the masculine side, as that is what I know best. This perspective is not offered as the only "right" one, nor is it offered with any apology. In the words of the seafaring philosopher Popeye, "I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam." So, it is what it is...

Every boy dreams of being a hero. Hero worship is often a symptom of immaturity or delayed development when seen in an adult male. The healthy adult will have discovered methods to integrate four archetypes:

The Warrior - this part of me wants to tell the bishops to hit the Ohio 6 hard, and then hit them again. Use every option available to squash them like a bug. Not a pleasant aspect of myself, but an honest one. It is the perspective of many of the young terrorists today, btw. Oppressed boys grow up to be angry young men. This is one reason for the story about the tares and wheat. We do not pull up the weeds growing with the wheat. Why? Because a warrior will charge into the field, rip the evil weed from the ground, and hold it aloft with a shout of triumph, never noticing the wheat that has been trampled and broken in his wake. "The harvest is at the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels."

The Lover - this part of me is devastated by the breaking of trust and feelings of rejection. The grieving has started, as a parting seems inevitable. The temptation is to become angry, be in denial, or try to make a deal; anything to escape this dark sadness that crushes my heart. These feelings have to be honored, but I also have to realize that they may not be an appropriate reaction to the situation. Responding from my grief and my love for the Church tempts me to grasp reconciliation and peace at any cost.

The Magician - The light side of this archetype is inclined to agree with Louie Crew; be a transparent conduit of grace. The dark side is inclined towards a bit of manipulation; possibly a banishing ritual? I think I'll leave this one alone now. Sometimes less is better.

The King - This is supposed to be the place where all the aspects are integrated. The ideal is a benevolent monarchy. But benevolence, to be effective, flows from a position of power, or at least authority. Is the Episcopal Church in such a position? It depends on one's perspective. From the view within the USA, most definitely. The view from the perspective of the Anglican Communion is a bit more cloudy. The King will clarify his position as the authority, but will also not seek to unnecessarily make new enemies. The embodiment of this archetype at this meeting will be Bishop Griswold. Will he be up to the task? The tone of his last communication suggests he may be. But past performances cause me to not be so sure. His preferred archetype seems to be the Magician. Right now, we definitely need to see a manifestation of the King.

I am more than willing to listen to other perspectives on this, specifically some aspects I may have left out due to being a "recovering chauvinist."

But there is one more role that I carry with me, one that transcends all those above, as well as the masculine/feminine discussion. I am also a Priest. And the Priest does not hesitate to insist on a specific response to this situation;

Let us pray:

Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel in the House of Bishops for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


UPDATE: I found the book...King, Warrior, Magician, Lover; Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette.