My current odyssey involves looking into my distant past and all my journey since, seeking the threads woven into the fabric of my life, the connections, the clues, the glorious adventures and disastrous wrong turns--and making some kind of sense of it. I did not type "find some kind of sense" but "make some kind of sense." The extremely rational part of me that views the universe as a complex marvel of quantum mechanics considers everything to be a dance between Randomness and Pattern. Randomness means we mostly waste our time asking about purpose but that does not deny meaning. We create meaning as we tell our stories, giving shape to events.
Rephrasing this somewhat: Does everything happen for a purpose? I do not believe so. Most stuff just happens. To believe everything happens for a purpose implies that there is a force controlling everything (goodbye free will) and that this force purposes all sorts of disaster and meaningless suffering. I cannot buy that. Hello, Theodicy 101. Which is background for this essay, though not truly its central issue.
Anyone who knows me is well aware that I have a questioning mind. In fact, even more questioning than appears on the surface because a lot of skepticism, evaluation, doubt, and testing is going on in the background that I don't even bother to discuss. I did not make life easy for my teachers. I even uttered "bullshit" during a class in seminary. Yes, aloud.
And what about the role of faith? Ah, any survey of my life journey would find mountains of material around faith. Yes, there are things I accept as basic, regardless of any lack of empirical proof and sometimes in the face of contrary evidence. But that body of faith assertions is very limited and has grown smaller over time.
I have always had a problem with "faith" being invoked to short-circuit rational inquiry, to dodge contradiction and inconsistency, and to bully people into silence and unthinking obedience. And the evidence for that kind of "faith" (invoked as a weapon) is vast and overwhelming. I grew up with it. I spent my summers surrounded by Fundamentalists (I capitalize the word to insist on its original historical context among a subset of conservative evangelical Protestants). I did not. Fit. In. I am quite aware that I will be reacting against religious fundamentalism to the day I die. If my rants against it are problematic for you, feel free to skip most of my posts because my abiding pain and anger do not incline me to go gently. I do hold such preachers and teachers and organizations responsible for much that is wrong with the United States today and for the anguish, fear, and anger they infuse into their listeners. If I believed in purging people from society, which I do not, that is where I would begin: pastors. Yes, I know. I am a clergyman. Why do you think I know this shit from the inside?
Image from Wikipedia, released to public domain
The heart of stubborn adamant
unyielding would resist
the twists and turns, bullshit and cant
that others would insist
must have assent, must be believed,
set limits to the mind.
That tender, rocky heart was grieved.
It knew the Truth was Kind.
That is a piece of doggerel I composed last night. I do not offer it as I do poems of which I am proud but as something that captures part of my truth.
Part of my challenge in relating to other people has been the defense I developed early on in order to resist the pressure from without to conform: to say things I did not believe, do things that made me uncomfortable, not do things that gave me joy, deny my feelings and my needs, and attempt to be someone other than myself. Yes, as a clever, white, middle-class, Protestant male in post-WWII America I had incredible privilege denied to those who started life without those unearned advantages. Yet even in that privileged context there were messages, constant messages, that there were things wrong with me. When you look simply at sexual orientation, this means who I am is wrong, not just what I believe or say or feel or want.
To live with that judgment, always unspoken but sometimes shouted from pulpits, can lead to a crushed soul. To many it opens the door to despair and suicide. That was not my temptation. But in order to survive I kept a spark within me buried so deep even I could rarely remember it existed. It was protected by granite, adamant, and steel. I should not be surprised if a cherub or two also watched over it with a flaming sword (thanks, angels, by the way). My soul was protected because it was locked in a prison. You were a rare soul, indeed, if I ever invited you past the first few gates (and they were countless).
I could appear expressive, in touch with my feelings, outspoken, etc. but that is because the surface persona was as free as the deep self was tightly bound and hidden. Performance. We introverts perform a lot when around people. Now that I am trying to be authentic it requires immense shifts in my perceptions and behavior. No small task.
So here this introvert is sharing these deeply private musings publicly on the internet. Bizarre, yes? It is easier to open up at a distance. I am not watching your face for clues, dear reader, that might shape what I say. Instead I attempt to speak my truth and you may make of it what you will. I need allies to share this journey with and I hope at least some of my real life friends in what some call "the meat world" will read and engage what I write here. I hope they will be gentle. As strong as I feel these days, and ready for change, this remains scary stuff.
One of the most immense shifts of this past year is that I have ceased attending church. There was a time as a devout Catholic (not Roman, just Catholic) Christian I missed being fed if I did not attend Eucharist and receive Communion every week. (Yes, I was a lousy Protestant; way too mystical and sacramental, and Protestants don't even speak those languages.) I do not miss it now. My life is lived in the world, out with the tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners and drunkards that Jesus hung out with, if you will. Most church language sounds meaningless to most people and I just cannot try to speak it any longer. If I still believe in Good News (and I do), then I must share it in ways that make sense and that is mostly by the way I am with other people.
I am rather agnostic on all matters metaphysical. As a language major I view all expression as metaphor. The word is never the reality we try to communicate, it is a symbol, usually at several levels of abstraction. No word can capture any reality, much less a transcendent one. This does not relieve us of the the task of communication. My personal, mystical experience of the Ultimate calls for some response from me. The language I use may all be symbolic but that is all right. For me it is the language of Love.
There is incredible comfort between me and my atheist, agnostic, and pagan friends, not to mention folks of many faith traditions. I feel no compulsion for them to believe any set of doctrine. I want them to experience love and to rejoice in it. As I said to a friend years ago, "I am not troubled that you no longer believe in God. I believe that God believes in you and that is enough for me."
I would like to be clear that when I defend my right to my own selfhood, feelings, thoughts, and needs I am not rejecting our relationship to society and the larger whole or denying responsibility toward that context. But I am defending us all against mindless conformity.
All those decades when I feared causing trouble for family or church by expressing who I am and what I feel and think.... And the trouble I have gotten into when I expressed myself freely.... All I can say is: Fuck that noise!
This blog is my blog for my musing and my sharing. I have some really rude words for those who got their knickers in a twist when I was trying to serve the church for nothing more than the satisfaction of being faithful, but I won't kick up that dust today. It is nice to be retired from church. I simply can no longer fight the fight against meanness, willful ignorance, and hatred in the name of Christ--and I do NOT speak of the congregations where I served or the dioceses to which they belong, but to that vast, heretical, hateful phenomenon most Americans witness as Christianity. Where people worship God, love each other, and serve their communities they have my unqualified blessing. Where communities try to straight jacket though and behavior, they have my hearty curse.
Do I still believe anything? Actually, yes.
Chi non ama non ha conosciuto Dio, perché Dio è amore.
As the Rabbis Hillel and Jesus said: Love God. Love neighbor. Love self. The rest is commentary.