As many of you know, I am a former Evangelical, the fascinating American religion of the frontier based on the dramatic born again experience and a life dedicated to the Bible and to the fighting off of the evils of liberalism. And for the first nearly thirty years of my life, that’s how I rolled.
There’s a weird obsession with virginity, within evangelicalism, at least there was when I was growing up and when I was in my twenties. There were stern warnings for the youth against all of the evils of premarital sex, along with subtle (and not so subtle) forms of slut shaming for those who indulged the desires of the flesh.
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away. ~ Matthew 11:12
The Violent Bear It Away is one of the less-hyped works of Flannery O’Connor, but this is easily my favorite work of the great Southern Gothic writer.
A young boy was raised by his great Uncle, a former inmate at a mental asylum and self-anointed “prophet.” The Uncle raises him to be a prophet, but when the great Uncle dies, the boy is in his teens and must decide the course of his life. While drawn to the exotic and dramatic elements of a prophetic calling (e.g., calling fire down from heaven, etc.), he greatly fears prophetic poverty, most notably the hunger he senses from his Uncle, who longs for the Bread of Life to satiate his spiritual deprivation.
All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. ~ Pascal
In last week’s Hump Day Homily I talked about the hack that is my own spiritual journey, the convergence of Christianity and Buddhism. My formative years were exclusively Christian, and I continue to benefit exponentially from the teachings and stories and mythology within the Christian Bible, particularly the life and teachings of Jesus. (Perhaps more than any other biblical figure, Jesus has needed to be extremely sanitized for use in churches and public sermons.)
When I hit my mid-twenties, though, I realized that my ego had been running me up into some walls, and I’d been crashing pretty hard. It seems like this is kind of a thing that happens to many homo sapiens when we are at a certain age, in our mid-twenties to early-thirties. (I’ve heard it referred to, astrologically, as “the return of Saturn.”) We realize that the way we perceive the world is narrow and limited, and we begin to suspect that it’s our own fault, that these limitations largely exist to protect our ego.
I just concluded another round of listening to Joseph Goldstein’s 3 volume extended commentary on the satipatthana sutta, Abiding in Mindfulness, which I worked through at a pretty slow pace, listening to it for maybe like 15 minutes each morning before I meditate. (Taken in total, all three volumes are something like 30+ hours of dharma talks.)
The satipatthana sutta is the Buddha’s discourse on mindfulness (sati = mindfulness), and Goldstein summarized the sutta and all of his dharma talks by saying that the great message of the Buddha was simple:
1) The mind can be trained and
2) It’s just a matter of time
The key is to just start (with a meditation practice), and then after that, just keep going, sort of like, yo, just start walking down the road, dude, and eventually it will take you there.
“Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn’t convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.”
That’s Flannery O’Connor, and I won’t even begin to try to unpack all that’s there. I simply wanted to post the quote, because I’ve been eagerly re-reading and studying O’Connor. I’ve always loved reading her works, but I think there’s something in what she does with her characters that seems extremely helpful for me, in the last push of getting my novel ready for publishing. [Fingers crossed] She often works with very common characters, many of whom are steeped in prejudices, and through freakish turns of fate, they confront something essential about themselves. Well, maybe it’s not even about self-knowledge, so much as a sort of “letting go” that opens them to a certain experience of grace and openness.
In any event, the ghostly metaphor of a “Christ-haunted” culture is, I think, a beautiful one, and eerily accurate — and I think it makes sense across the diverse American cultures. Even some hundred years or so after O’Connor talked about a Christ-haunted culture, even as we continue the slow slide into a post-Christian society, I think there’s still something of a significant shadow cast.
Source: Goodreads | Quote by Flannery O’Connor: “Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particu…”
“…Since Trump was elected in November, the number of churches in the United States expressing willingness to offer sanctuary has doubled to 800. …The faith community in general, after the election, was looking for what can we do to support the immigrant community.”
It’s encouraging to see that there are at least a few churches following Jesus and the scriptural mandate of hospitality, to welcome the stranger, but we still remain a nation committed to the old human tribalism embedded from tens of thousands of years of human evolution — it ain’t easy to shake it. We still remain suspicion of the other, regardless of our highfalutin religious ideals or of our status as a “Christian nation.”
Evangelicals had a large part in electing Trump. (Better to have a billionaire playboy in the White House than someone who might let too many Mexicans and Muslims through the gates.) And of course 800 churches isn’t all that many. My modestly-sized Midwestern hometown, alone, probably had somewhere around 800 churches. Even so, at least there’s a faithful remnant out there…….somewhere.
Source: From the Exodus to the Underground Railroad, Religion’s Legacy of Sanctuary | Sojourners
Yuval Harari is the internationally best-selling author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which is probably my favorite book of 2016. In the introduction to this fascinating YouTube talk (see below), Harari discusses one of the central elements of the modern self and of the modern world: the authority of the individual’s inner voice. We decide essential questions of personal identity, of right or wrong based on our inner sense. We make critical career choices or other life decisions based on how we feel. “Look within,” we tell each other. “What’s your gut telling you?” we ask. Then there’s that ancient Greek inscription that seems to say it all: “know thyself.”
This approach is often derided by religious types. This was certainly true back a decade or so when I haunted churches, seminaries, and other evangelical enclaves. There’s a higher authority than the self, evangelicals would say. For evangelicals, this was biblical authority. For other Christians, it might reside in the church. In conservative politics, the constitution has (for all practical purposes) a biblical authority. But not so fast.
There is, after all, something revolutionary in Christianity — a tendency to upend, reverse, and radically transform. In Mary’s magnificat, the song of praise, she offers at her meeting with her cousin Elizabeth, she proclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant . . . He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” This list of upsets issues from the mouth of a peasant girl who has been promoted to an almost unimaginable status. That the radical reversals of Christmas are enumerated to us by a young woman of no particular social standing is itself an incredible bit of turnabout.
The revolutionary character of Christianity is usually washed out and mostly confined to specific political moments when it’s useful to refer to it. But this selectivity, too, should be upended. Christianity is at all times concerned with the poorest, the most vulnerable, the most oppressed; it is permanently interested in reversing this order, in aiming at and accomplishing the unexpected.
Yesterday (December 6) the festival’s co-founder Larry Harvey made clear that Burning Man is now closer to becoming a religion than ever before. In a blogpost, he announced that the 2017 theme would be “Radical Ritual,” writing that “beyond the dogmas, creeds, and metaphysical ideas of religion, there is immediate experience. It is from this primal world that living faith arises. In 2017, we will invite participants to create interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions.”
For those interested/baffled/angered/betrayed by the evangelical support for Trump, here are some thoughts in the Washington Post by one of the editors of Christianity Today, Katelyn Beaty. I think she’s putting it very mildly here, being much more sympathetic than is deserved, but I have too many thoughts and emotions on this issue to even begin to comment on the so-called “Christian” born again evangelicals. Here’s an excerpt from this short op-ed:
After an election in which 81 percent of my white coreligionists supported Trump, the faith that has been my home for 20 years seems foreign, even hostile….
It’s like the way you love your offbeat uncle — the one who rambles at Thanksgiving dinner about threats to his freedoms and political correctness run amok. You understand why he feels the way he does. You sympathize with him on many points. But when he starts in with racial slurs and sexist jokes and complaints about “illegals,” at some point you have to get up and leave the table.