24 April 2010

The End Is Near

As some of you know, my preaching this past year has been exploring the spiritual challenges of our life stages - from childhood to youth, adulthood, mid life, and old age. Up until now I have been able to draw from experience, but I am not yet old.

That people disagree on when old age begins reveals our discomfort with the idea. Getting old is no prize. But what other choice is there? And does it have to be bad? The more I think about it, we need a powerful active role for the old in society. Pasturing them not only disempowers them but impoverishes the rest of society.

No wonder we are so youth obsessed. If old age is all about weakness, decline and uselessness who wants to get there a moment too soon. But if getting old meant something worth getting to, which I think it can and should, then it would make the rest of life also more worth having.

Back in my thirties, I remember George Carlin (of blessed memory and an example of what an old person can do for the rest of us) had one of his classic insights about this very topic.

"We should start talking about how great it is to be old, so when we got there it would be cool."

I suppose I am starting a little late, but better late than never. And, I have a great role model! Click below and rock on.


18 April 2010

Hall of Mirrors

I heard a great explanation for the stunning deafness of the Vatican about the clergy sexual abuse crisis in Europe. A priest, a Jesuit (which means a well educated cleric) thought it came down to a culture that has no outside input. Made up of men, celibate men, all clerics, they all see exactly the world exactly the same.

They make the infamous epistemological error of solipsism, assuming they see the world in the only way it can be seen. Without the voices of women, non clerics, even non Catholics around them, they live in a philosophical hall of mirrors.

What strikes me about this closed culture of the Vatican is that I see the same thing in the current Republican Party.

The big fight now is about who shall replace Justice Stevens on the Supreme Court, and the Republican senate is already warning against nominating a liberal, as though it were a threat to the nation.

That’s because, in the Vaticapublican Party, liberal is un-American. As the Roman church once defined atheism as not believing in their definition of God (making Protestants and Jews and Muslims atheists) so the Vaticapublican Party defines liberals as American atheists, people who do not believe in America because they do not believe in America the same way they do. Such people cannot serve on the Supreme Court because their values are essentially non American.

The logical end of this argument is that we should not have elections or legislatures because that would risk electing liberals. Or maybe we could have elections but they should be limited to Republican candidates, who are the only real Americans. But that is how ther commies did it, for maybe we should have some new electoral college where notable Republicans get together to choose the president. They would meet in Washington, in private of course, and when they vote the paper slips would be burnt, sending black smoke into the Washington DC sky, until someone was chosen.

Habemus Presidentum. Reagan XVI!

Oops. Got carried away.

17 April 2010

"Muno No Aware"

It's a Japanese phrase that very roughly means "the 'ahness' of things." It's what Haiku tries to catch, but is more a state of brief poignant awareness of the realness of things very transient, and the transience of things very real.

I felt its touch this week, today, when I got home from a day long meeting and realized that even in the cool days of early spring a tree hanging over my driveway had flowered and lost its moon shaped tiny white petals in the space of 48 hours. They are in the crevices of my driveway now, just a few left because the wind blew most of them away.

When I got home I saw the 'tulip tree' that also hangs over my driveway, which I call that because its flowers are enormous tulip shaped things with magenta to white petals. Most years it blossoms one day and a rain storm washes them down the next.

But this year it has been dry and sunny even if cool. The tree blossomed Thursday and is still full of flowers today.

Then I looked down and saw a scattering of petals on my drive way, their edges already brown.
Muno no aware.

10 April 2010

Yes, It's been a long time...

But holidays take a lot out of us clergy. As I told someone in synagogue today (yes, it's shabbat and I am working, but I am not Jewish so it's not quite so bad for me) holidays bless us twice: when they come and when they leave.

Since I am thinking about shabbat, let me tell you one of the reasons I attend. I come unstuck in time. Like Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, the time of Torah and haftarah reading, chanted in Hebrew in conservative synagogues like the one I attend, somehow loosen the boundaries of time. Here's how:

I follow along in the Hebrew (very badly) and cheat by checking the English that is alongside. The chazzen, cantor, literally sings the text, and within moments I find images of the past - ancient and personal - in my head. Not just images, but sensations of what I felt like as well as what I saw, fill my mind, almost as if the chanting were an incantation that melts the walls of now and then.

It is a communion for me - a merging into my own past, into history as I know it, my imagining of times before I lived, of being connected intimately to much more than the time and place I am actually occupying. In some ways it is more real than reality, as more than one reality is present.

Theologians and other experts call such moment transcendent, and I get them every week. But unlike others I have heard about, I do not experience something outside of time and place but a sense of experiencing multiple times and places, my own especially but also of times and places beyond my own life.

This rarely happens in church. Maybe because I am leading the service and therefore cannot let go of myself. When I was an orchestra conductor in college I learned that the conductor cannot listen to the music. Your job is to make it and that means thinking ahead and all that stuff. It's very exciting and rewarding, but not the same as listening to music.

And yet, I do not remember this feeling when I attend church services. Now and then it happens, but that is rare enough to be exceptional. They are not intended to be gateways of transcendence, I think.

Which is fine, but if I need it perhaps most people do. And what sort of religion is mine that does not try to make it possible?

No answers here, just thinking. The day is sunny and the early morning chill is on the run. I got a case of poison ivy last week when clearing brush in tbe back yard, so maybe the garden will wait for today. Still, it is so bright I think something should happen.

Saving and savoring are always vying for my soul. One could have worse dilemmas, though.

Gut shabbes everyone!