Sorry hun, them's the breaks

PeaceBang, I knew it was just a matter of time. Today she wrote (“Why I’m getting more Calvinistic“):

I just don’t think we can’t be trusted with just plain Self-Culture in the manner that Emerson preached it, and toward which Channing and Henry Ware, Jr.’s optimistic Christianity pointed us.

Yeah, that’s what I said a while back, and which is why today I call myself a Unitarian Universalist minister (“for identification purposes only”, as they say in the petition trade) but am by no means a Unitarian. It has made me, in part, the Universalist I am today, and that was before — both logically and chronologically — I began to profess Trinitarian theology. Why the change? A matter of observation. Most theologians, lay or ordained, tend to fall in love with the philosophy that undergirds their beliefs and will often defend their philosophy even when the roof leaks and the foundation cracks. Rookies can be forgiven, if corrected, but seasoned ideologues are a menace. That’s the difference between old and mature. Christianity suffers continually this way — how else can it be used to champion every cause under the sun? Unitarian Universalism does too.

In short, Unitarian optimism starts off as reforming vision and morphs into an astigmatic blur, if a well-written and even pithy one. It doesn’t need to, but it always seem to end there. I think what PeaceBang identifies as Calvinism is the plain observation that people don’t improve automagically. Paul’s self-reflection of doing what he doesn’t want, and not doing what he wants has always read more true than protestation of self-culture. (Romans 7:19, see also 2 Corinthians 12:7) Not so much Calvinist as experiential, and there’s nothing per se un-Unitarian Universalist about that which is one reason I can stay.

Obligatory Morrissey reference: Listen to “The Boy with a Thorn in His Side” on The Smiths album, The Queen Is Dead. (Wikipedia site) Hmm, that’s probably not a welcome sentiment in Nepal.

"Celebrating Life" best for bookshelf

One of the things that baffles me is how there is no UUA or UUMA commended special services (aka pastoral offices) book. Perhaps the seminary custom of compiling one makes it a risky proposition.

In any case, one book has been invaluable with my non-church-going grandmother’s simple memorial and the wedding for the coolest couple in DC. (White chatting: “No, the double decker bus crashes into us.” Some of you will get that.)

Those in the UK should order it from Essex Hall, but those in the United States and Canada can order it through the UUA bookstore. In Day Job, I handle sending books to overseas professional bookshops (and from overseas publishers) and I have to say the UUA price is more than fair — not worth the trip to London; not even really worth the space in your luggage — and the delay is reasonable. Plus, it is your only option.

And it is . . .

Celebrating Life for sale at the UUA bookstore

A real epic cycle, please

This is my one and only posting about the new Star Wars film.

A bunch of people whose blogs I read have shared a “I won’t spoil the movie, but . . . .” convention, to which I reply: Try and spoil it, but I think Lukas beat you to it. In any case, I’m not going to watch it, and never did get around to watching Episode Two on DVD.

All in all, the semi-non-reviews have been, “It could have been worse.” James puts it best:

Revenge of the Sith was a hundredfold better than the previous two movies in the Star Wars franchise…I’m sorry, I mean “cycle”. By the same token, a dollar is a hundredfold more valuable than a penny, but it is still a dollar; it won’t get you far, and I wouldn’t call it wealth.

I want a real epic cycle. That’s something I failed to mention in my much-commented “Trinity” post after mentioning the production of Hecuba that I saw with my SO and PeaceBang.

The monumental thing about the Trojan arc is that so many authors got into it. (Even Shakespeare. Morrissey fans may think I’m reaching when I hear a phrase of the story adapted in “First of the Gang to Die,” the eponymous gang member being named Hector.) Centuries melt in the retelling. The emotions and motivations are basic, if gruesome and unfashionable. The story has resonance. And we need some big, resounding stories.

From what I hear, the Star Wars cycle might have wanted to do it, but couldn’t muster it. Close isn’t good enough.

Pastor's little helper?

PeaceBang is not unreasonably sour about iPods (“Mother’s Little Helper“) after reading an unthink-piece by and about plugged-in soccer moms in Newsweek. PB paints the iPod as audio Valium, and perhaps that’s fitting in their case.

My experience is that is more like audio cannabis, if the 60s hype of “enhancing experience” is even half true. (Not that I would know, since I’ve always considered expensive, appetite-inducing, smoky, and illegal to be a quadrupal threat.)

I don’t have an iPod, but an MP3 player which amounts to the same thing. Plus mine has an audio recorder, which might be helpful if I was preaching on a regular basis.

As it is, my audio player serve four basic functions:

  1. Like the soccer moms, I play happy 80s alt-standards. Usually to block out the vulgar, screaming, mutually-berating middle-schoolers that I must share my morning commute with. Otherwise, I tend to harbor nihilistic visions of the future. A dose of They Might Be Giants or the B-52s chills me right out. Or the weekly broadcast of Radio Havano Kubo, in Esperanto. Really.
  2. A few pieces of chanted Lutheran service music. At the very least, the Te Deum and Psalm 114, sung to the Tonus Pereginus.
  3. For the most part, I keep up with news and views, via podcasts, that have no place in broadcast radio. Here are my favorite two.
  4. Most of my MP3 player, however, is dedicated to an absurd combination of songs that evoke the Pedro Almodovar classic, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. These are songs, sung by women who are just hanging on to their sanity, have deluded or misplaced ideas of living (especially romance), revel in destruction, have retreated to an unhealthy and self-deluding state of anaesthesia, or (more positively) have rejected the systems that oppress them and are breaking out. I suppose there’s a feminist statement in there somewhere, but it boils down to me liking these vocalists. Lots of Eartha Kitt, Shirley Bassey, Sinead O’Connor, Bjork, Indigo Girls, Laurie Anderson, Dolly Parton, Tori Amos. The scant few men singing on my MP3, interestingly enough, are almost all gay: Morrissey (or is he? hmm), Erasure, Jimmy Somerville. I was going to say something profound about the link between Christian faith and absurdity, but I think I’ve just shown what a big homosexual I am. Hmm.

So, in a word, an audio player is what you make of it, not what it makes of you.

Clericals watch, or "why bother?"

Did anyone else stay up to see Morrissey on David Letterman? The show “ran late” and so all the fans got was a single from his none-too-new CD. But Hubby and I saw him recently in concert, and so of course we were going to catch a reprise. But a word about his costume.

His wearing street clericals was a tad provocative, but topical since one of the songs off the new disk is “I Have Forgiven Jesus”. (It wasn’t what he sang, but rather “The First in the Gang to Die”.)

As some one who has been known to wear clericals, let me tell the garb is highly symbolic. You become the object of projection from both friends and strangers. Some will object; others wil be uneasy. Very, very few will defer or treat you nicely because of your public ministerial state. All of which is odd, given both that street clericals share as much in common with “lay” clothing as human DNA shares with the chimp.

But a public witness is a part of the vocation of a Christian, and clergy need to be the first ones “out there” to encourage the faithful and caution the distructive. The tendency in American religious practice — especially on the liberal edges — is to identify faith with public morality. The side effect is confusing one’s religion with accepted community standards, and the inheriting the biases and sins they foster. Conservatives do this too, but liberals (in my experience) become more marginal and self-congratulatory faster than convervatives, largly because the latter still have such a consiousness of sin. (Liberals, on the other hand, have a keen consciousness of huberis: a deeply needed contribution in its own right, but off the subject here.)

But Christian faith isn’t about being nice. It is about being in communion with God with and throug Christ Jesus. Playground morality doesn’t hold a candle next to human community and solidarity with a compassionate God.

Back to Moz. His garb is an ironic recollection of the western Christian establishment that’s all but dead. Ironically, that’s why it isn’t too shocking, and will probably not register much of a protest. We know what he stands for through his music and politics. We know what he believes, but for us poor blighted non-rockers it makes as much sense to identify ourselves publically in word and deed with what we believe. Rather than hiding in a cosy “one of the team” laicism, I feel clergy should step up and be the first to identify themselves as Christian in word, deed, manner, and dress.

"This beautiful creature must die!"

30 April. Extra links added to Wikipedia articles.

James asks:

What are your thoughts on the psalms of lament, particularly for their expression of faithful anger?

This evening, my partner Jonathan and I each had headphones on, attached to our own portable CD players, listening to Morrissey CDs. (He’s back on tour after several years.) We would break from time to time, and out of the liner notes, read the lyrics as poetry. As self-aware, post-ironic Gen-Xers, I suppose we can get away with this behavior. To the uninitied, these songs are gloomy, usually meandering, and sometimes self-pitying. (Of course, when I asked him for a copy of Meat Is Murder, Jonathan reminded me that that is The Smiths, and tonight we were only listening to Morrissey’s solo works. As you see from the title of this entry, I later got a copy myself.)

In any case, it is a lot of fun to read aloud the words of the artist one BBC announcer (pre-ironically?) dubbed “Mr. Cheerful.”

It put me to mind of Psalm 88 – the psalm-blogging evidently working on my mind in the same way that James must be thinking – which was by seminary exegesis project, and is often dubbed, “the saddest psalm in the psalter.” The last lines, in the Liturgical Psalter go:

I have been afflicted and wearied from my youth upward I am tossed high and low, I cease to be.
Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me and your terrors have put me to silence.
They surround me like a flood all the day long they close upon me from every side.
Friend and acquaintance you have put far from me and kept my companions from my sight.

I was wondering how the hitherto mentioned Mancunian, who has given the world a song like “Girlfriend in a Coma”, would sing this. Of course, he would, and we would listen.

That might be our first clue about the difficult psalms. They need a context, but public worship might not be the place. Indeed, I have a hard time thinking of where anything harder than Psalm 130 would be useful and Psalm 88 almost universally gets the boot from liturgical lectionaries. (Do note, Psalm 130, “Out of the depths I cried to you” gives us, in its Latin title, the title of Oscar Wilde’s plea from prison, De Profundis.)

Use might be made in pastoral counselling. I recall in my last conversation with a late aunt (who was then dying of cancer) her refuge in the psalms; though, in her (and my) case, it was Psalm 139, for solace and assurance. The difficult psalms may faithfully be approached in a psalter spirituality, by which I mean at root using the psalms to express language that the individual may not be personally ready for, or ready to generate. That will include anger.

But the purpose of the church, as we must accept, is not theraputic. Unreflective, uncareful, and (above all) unattended recourse to anger in the psalms is an open door to violence. God knows the Christian Church has been stirred to violence before, and it can happen again, particulary if we don’t pay attention to have we use our heritage. A good book on the subject is Erich Zenger’s A God of Vengence?: Understanding the Psalms of Divine Wrath. (Westminster/John Knox, 1996)

No, reading Morrissey aloud isn’t just for the fun of it. It serve a purpose: an emotional and spiritual valve if you will. (After all, it can’t be the Carpenters and Burt Bacharach every night.) Same goes for the psalms.

"If it's not love, then it's the bomb that will bring us together"

The ever-dear Suburban Blight made me think, in putting me in her Cul-de-Sac, that though this is a special purpose blog, it needn’t be so serious and dull. (But bless her heart, while I sometimes feel like a YR here in Babylon-on-the-Potomac, she can still make me look like a lefty and realize I like being inside the Beltway.)

When we first met, at the University of Georgia‘s Demosthenian Society I may have been serious, but not nearly so dull.

Ah, where is the lad who had a hissy fit/debate (with one of SB’s former roommates, and fellow Demosthenian) over whether the United States should recognize Lithuanian sovereignty? (I was pro; she thought it unwise to agitate the Soviets. Seems I got the last laugh on that, and still smile thinly when I walk to the store, pass the Lithuanian embassy.)

To continue the flashback to the late 80s: This morning, before getting to work, I decided to partition my hard drive, and install Mandrake Linux. Listening to the Smiths, from which the title of this entry comes.

So back to the mission of this blog, and something that nobody talks about, but I suspect has affected my vocation, and that of others about the same age (34).

If you’ve been waiting for the point, it’s here.

Did you think you’d survive to adulthood, or, perhaps, did you think you were going to die in a nuclear apocalypse? Most of my adolescence, I was convinced we were doomed. An echo of that is my keen awareness that the 9/11 anniversary is coming.

In 2001, when the events really happened, I was a mess.
In 2002, I was just tired of it.
In 2003, I have enough distance to realize it really still bothers me, and touches on old feelings.

Then as now, I sometimes refer to my church being “within the vaporization zone” as it is within a close walk to the White House, and I hate feeling like that.