Archive for August, 2010

When All You Ever Wanted…. Still IS Not Enough!

August 27, 2010 - 11:45 am 57 Comments

When All You Wanted Still Is Not Enough
Reflection on Rabbi Harold Kushner

Rabbi Harold Kushner is a remarkably compassionate and insightful man. Most people know him as the author of the best seller, Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People…. Well, when searching for a topic for the this week, and finding myself fresh out of inspirations found myself turning to him again…
Whenever I am looking for a solution to a complex dilemma, I look for a sense of truth, as William James would define it, that works for me and that gives me valuable insights that fosters positive or constructive results.

So on Friday, I find myself looking for timeless advice… Not that my office doesn’t have a lot of contemporary magazines and newsletters, scattered and piled up everywhere, but there is something to the realization that consulting sources that people have been looking at for centuries, and finding a source of useful and insightful truth that is pragmatic and worthwhile, often becomes a preferred source for me…
On Friday, I scoured my bookshelf and file cabinets for something I wanted to say, since my original topic chosen months ago, had dried up on me… I am sure you all have had it happen… You know, when something in your heart or mind keeps you foggy or less focussed, or when you encounter an author who doesn’t make sense without lots of struggle, that is when you will return to a more simple solution, something basic, timeless and true… So, as I was looking through my book stacks, one of Kushner’s book fell out of its dusty place in front of me…
Realizing that I was searching walking around somewhat frantically, trying to unearth a sermon that people could relate to in their various approaches to the spiritual life, and trying to muster up the best of the profound mystical insights I could obtain from William James, all my efforts were not cutting it, it just wasn’t happening… and since I put great personal stock in how coincidences and synchronicities happen, a book fell from its shelf, I picked it up this dusty book and said, Ah Ha, Its a sign!

What I found was another Kushner book, one that is still very relevant to our society today. That book title is: When Everything You Ever Wanted Wasn’t Enough… Recently, the lessons from Wall Street, and big business have made glaring headlines… Materialism and the arrogance of greed have become widely know, even vilified as being the contributing cause for our economic meltdown… It seems that what we wanted, as a society, was not enough to prevent hardship for our country… but it might be exactly the challenge and experience that we, as a nation or as a culture have needed to redeem the value of time, and to assess what is truly meaningful, valuable, and worthwhile in our lives.
The main idea Kushner forwards is an important one to me personally, and it might be one that you share… Namely this: If you define success as being outside oneself… By career, money, possessions, lifestyle, popularity or accolades, etc., you will find it becoming increasingly hollow- self emptying, and your best efforts can prove to be futile and frustrating!
The latest studies on happiness- and there has been a recent explosion of books both popular and scientific, dealing with the nature of happiness- how to get it, how to keep it, etc… has ignited a marketing frenzy… Where many of these serious researchers agree is this: while money is necessary for providing the essentials of life in a culture like ours, once you have a basic middle class income, having any more doesn’t promote happiness; particularly if one finds themselves exhausted, striving, and “checked out” emotionally because they have made success outside of oneself such a central goal…

My family accountant and I go back many years… And whenever I would go in to see him, we would have some interesting and often very thoughtful dialogues. These meetings and talks began early in my life- since he first observed that my course in life was going to be a unique one- From my early twenties on, I was driven by my ideals, or by my pursuit of non-material goals…
Sometimes, he would often relate anonymous stories about his clients to me, (That was before he would laugh at my chaotic tax statements, chits of paper, and then tell me to relax… He could figure it all out for me!)
As a devout Catholic, he said I bet that even when I was a therapist, and now as a minister, that I did not hear what he heard… In fact, now that so many people have stopped going to confession, he exclaimed that I should be the one wearing the collar!

He declared that he hears things about money- that last great social taboo in our culture, than would singe your ears! People are so sophisticated- they will talk about sex, politics, and other controversial issues glibly or with complete nonchalance… But money… That where the real fear of God is!
He has mentioned that he has clients who are millionaires, and are constantly broke… That h was baffled when people earning large incomes comes into to see him in search of tax loopholes because they feel so pinched all the time… We agreed that he certainly has heard his share of confessions…
And then he also spoke about how our culture, through all of its mass media advertising, contributes to this constant sense of being dissatisfied with one’s life so that we have go out and buy things, or feel inferior or lacking… When talking about this book with him, he said he thought he knew what Kushner was saying to us: Don’t confuse your net worth with your self worth! A very wise man!

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung also observed this about the dilemma and the tension of looking outside one’s self for happiness or acceptance…
“We humans overlook the essential fact that the achievement of what our society rewards, or encourages is won or attained at the cost of the diminution of one’s personality.” Think about this! Is Jung right when he declares that status and power are attained at the expense of becoming a healthy, balanced, open, and compassionate self?
The current economic crisis, as I try to see it, might be a vital correction on materialism because it fosters within each of us a time of reflection and assessment as to what are those things of real value in our lives? It asks each of us the question: What will make us happy, secure, or truly fulfilled?
In some ways, as a whole culture since 1980’s, we have allowed ourselves to become part of a culturally based morality play; A story where each of us play but one main character: Dr. Faustus, where each of us can be seen as having sold our souls for a devilish sense of economic security! Now, that we are reaping the results of a runaway materialism, the positive side of this is the necessary corrective, would be the concerted effort to foster and sustain a new way of defining what is of real value to our lives!

Now returning to Rabbi Kushner’s book… It is both pragmatic and inspirational… And here is one piece of information that still startles me… Remember, you can read Scripture without ever calling yourselves religious… In fact, the word religion doesn’t occur in the Bible! Did you ever realize that? It is a Latin word, which comes much later in church theology and history… (religiare- to bind or restrict; or to unify and to lift up) The closest the ancient Biblical text had for religion was the phrase, ” The fear of the Lord” which, as you all know, doesn’t mean fear, fright or apprehension… It means reverence and respect for anything that is good, holy, right, or true in ourselves, in God, or in the creation.

For the logophiles among us… When did awe become awful, and when did awful mean something terrible? Maybe the kids have it right when they use the word awesome its really awesome, so much!
Kushner further declares this provocative idea: any religion that bases itself on fear, guilt, or control serves to depreciate both God and humankind! He declares that it is God, humanity, and religion at its worst!
Rabbi Kushner states that when we need to find our best answers, that the best place to look was in the most dangerous books! Danger, in this context, means the ideas in these books could change you, change your mind, change your outlook on life- so if you are wanting security, safety, or the status quo, you should avoid all dangerous books! Kushner declares that the most dangerous book in the Bible is also the most irreverent, the most challenging, and the most fulfilling in its simple, wise teachings. It is the book of Ecclesiates… which comes after Psalms and Proverbs in the Protestant Bible. We know its contents best from Chapter 3, For Everything There is a Season, but it contains much more!
This book, written some 2500 years ago, chronicles the life of a somewhat bitter and cynical man. In its pages, he looks out over his life, all his worldly attainments, and exclaims ” That’s all a product of my pride and vanity! It means nothing! Across the verses and along the pages, the author moves from knowledge to wisdom, from self concern to charity…

7 We can understand the ancient author’s struggles that wealth never can replace the value of friendship, neither does it ever promote real loyalty, caring or compassion. Additionally, we can easily recall that throughout the Bible we have the case where it is the rich that God actually pities! When their money is gone, they truly have no one and nothing… They are desperate, fearful, and alone…
Growing up, and due to my ongoing idealistic choices, I am someone who never has had very much money… Over my 30+ years in both the helping professions, and liberal ministry, I have not made very much money, and yet I will willingly admit to be being seduced by advertising, credit cards, or believing that somehow the ownership of something nice or something grand- something the world cherishes, might fill in the cracks around my life’s struggles for repairing my sense of self acceptance. Through my deeper reflective study of religious wisdom, I have come to understand, we cannot literally or emotionally afford to define ourselves that way!

Church participation assists us with keeping the world- its tests, trials and its temptations- in perspective; while we can get dismayed by the daily headlines, we cannot risk becoming either too gullible nor too cynical…
I say that because, at its best, a church involves itself in compassionate solutions, and supports one another’s good work to alleviate social inequities and economic suffering. We do this by how well we demonstrate our interdependent bonds of respect, support, and love. That is what enriches and sustains us.
For Kushner, for me, and for many others, a belief in God is no excuse not to actively pursue the truth down many paths, One must risk finding dangerous ideas in order to grow. One’s religious outlook, from the secular to the mystical- should always be asking tough questions … About priorities, values, and which virtues you will try to more conscientiously practice, and your path will ask if you practicing them enough to get your ego our of the way! For me, God is that presence that asks, that urges us beyond our smaller social selves towards a wider and deeper concern for the welfare of others. However, my understanding of God is not only dangerous, its also sneaky… It surreptitiously affirms and declares that in service to others, I will find my own inner peace… my greatest value, my true riches…
In his concluding chapter, Rabbi Kushner asks the readers to ponder what I consider to be the best question for a New Year, or any time in our lives: Does it make a difference how I live my life? Yes, it does!
Each of us has to take the this journey, Kushner says… From defining ourselves from the outside, to affirming ourselves by who and what we are on the inside… From putting ourselves or our opinions first, to learning how to listen and how to serve people and our planet. Another wise Rabbi Abraham Heschel puts it this way… When I was young, I used to admire those people who were clever,… Now that I am an old man, I admire those people who are kind.”

When all you ever wanted isn’t enough, maybe the lesson is that you have wanted all the wrong things! For one’s life to have value, it has to express caring and commitment … And as I see it, it will be through your outreach, and your participation in our church community, you will come to know what you really wanted, what you really needed, and what is truly enough in your life! AMEN

Dr. Laura and Bible Advice!

August 22, 2010 - 9:07 am 42 Comments

Dear Dr. Laura;

Thank you so much about educating people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share this knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states that it is an abomination… End of debate!

However, I need some advice from you, regarding some other elements of God’s laws and how best to follow them…

10 leviticus 25:44 states that i can possess slaves, both male and female, provided that they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims this passage refers to Mexicans, but not to Canadians. Would you clrify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

2) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman whiole she is in her period of Menstruation- she is unclean or so says Lev. 15:19-24. The problem is: How can I tell?
I have tried asking women I meet, but they take offense at my questions…

4) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know that it creates a pleasing oder for the Lord Lev.1:9 The problem is my neighbors. They claim that the oder is not pleasing to them! Should I smite them?

5) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states that he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6) A friend of mine feels that eating shellfish is an abomination Lev. 11:10 but that it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I do not agree. Can you settle this? Are there degrees of abomination?

7) Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20 or is there some wiggle room here?

8) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is extremely forbidden by Lev. 19:27 How should they die?

9) I know from Lev. 11: 6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in one field, as does his wife wearing two garments made of different thread ( cotton/poly blend) He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary to go through all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone him? Lev. 24: 10-16 Coulddn’t we just burn them to death at a private family party, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? Lev. 20:14
I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help.

Your adoring fan,
James M. Kauffman Ed.D Professor Emeritus Dept of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia

Does Language about God Matter?

August 15, 2010 - 4:13 pm 69 Comments

Does Language Matter?
A response of preliminary considerations

Human language, by its origins and design is symbolic communication. Being organic, it is also dynamic. Being human, it is also culturally relative, and therefore susceptible to the social context, and to the subjective agendas of both the speaker and the listener.
There is a need to grasp the problem of religious symbolism within language and culture. A step beyond the accepted norm of Aquinas, that religious language is analogous, and comes from accepting the approximation that any word contains. When considering the limitations of words themselves, language in its human and cultural context creates an urgent and ever present, corroborating need to assign to words a symbolic influence or power. Language contains within its purposes infused messages and meanings. Therefore, simply to accept and not to question and examine seems too superficial. Being willing to explore and expand upon the meanings, we find adaptations that are possible and could contain important, vital ways to unlock hidden understandings. If we are willing to be so adventurous and risk-taking, we can inherit from previous generations a limited scope, a confining expression or definition. Worse, yet would be that we could unwittingly perpetuate misconceptions and erroneous ideas and definitions that depart from a more inclusive original framework for meaning and purpose that word first symbolized or harnessed for human usage. 2

2 Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language, DoubleDay & Company, New York, 1959, pages 37. Hall further states on page 58, that ” Americans tend to isolate or compartmentalize language more than any other culture.” Hall’s eight criteria for understanding language and culture are these: Interaction, Association, Subsistence, Bisexuality, Territoriality, Temporality, Learning, Play, Defense, Exploitation( use of materials) Page 46-62.
Hall provides a social science critique for Fundamentalism’s assertions that language stays the same since written. For example, The claims of Biblical inerrancy such can be found in authors like Carl Henry, can be seen as falling apart before the reality of cultural shifts and changes. Definitions, over time, can be altered or reinterpreted. Most hermeneutics and preaching could benefit from using a modern dictionary of language meanings, and various idioms, along with Biblical etymologies. It could be a valuable asset and a step toward greater clarity.

We can conclude that there is no true or complete sense of certainty that can be captured or conveyed through language. This is considered to be true even when we humans are contemplating the words that various cultures would deem to be sacred, such as in World Scripture. Even though these words may be subjectively and culturally defined as being absolute and static, these words are shown, over the course of their compilation and linguistic critique to be words that are neither certain nor are they defined consistently by all who read them. The Bible we have received is a collection of words and ideas that have gone through many incarnations, versions, revisions, and translations. A a sample pathway through culture and translations, we can see that our Biblical words have been on quite a historical and cultural journey: From the ancient Near East origins in cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphics to early Semitic languages we are given the unpolished Hebrew and Aramaic that became the basis for the translations into Hellenic Greek, then into Roman Latin, then to into German and eventually into Shakespeare’s English when we arrive at the King James Version.
Presently, we have at least five different translations in common English usage. All along this culturally and religiously diverse pathway from the Middle East to Europe to the New World, these words and ideas, these metaphors and symbols, and their various meanings have be changed to suit the particular editorial bias or preferences.
Hebrew scholar, Fabre D’Olivet, who wrote this warning for our contemporary generation: 3

The tragedy of biblical translation has been expressions that were meant to resonate many levels of meaning- at least the intellectual, metaphorical and the universal- have been whittled down to become ‘wholly gross in [their] nature.. restricted to material and particular expressions.’ This tendency to divide and over “literalize” was reflective of the whole Newtonian era; a period that repressed mystical cosmology and was also ill at ease with mystical translation.”

The lasting gift and value of scripture cannot be found in its assumed absolute status. It is found in the very nature of religious language as being “polyvalent” or being capable of conferring a variety of meanings within it. The men who were responsible or placed in charge of the task of translation and adaptation from one language to another, chose carefully within a range of possible meanings. However, those choices were made by fallible men- and so their choices were not made in a cultural or theological vacuum. The gender of language is one, glaring place where the possible choices or the subjective preferences have had a lasting influence and, for this writer, it has had a significant marginalizing, pejorative effect. Much of the exclusionary language problems we have today find their root cause in the misogynist clerics who controlled the translation process. When that fact is coupled with how women were denied literacy (up to our modern times in places in the world!) the combination of many factors such as ecclesial bias and its clear preference to speak of God as being exclusively masculine can be seen to be so rehearsed and expected that it stubbornly persists to the untrained and prejudicial eye into our modern era!
(Without belaboring the point in this short essay, there is another useful corollary to consider from modern scholarship. James Fowler, in his well known and respected developmental theory called ” The Stages of Faith” assigns a relatively naive, and elementary awareness or unrefined understanding to those who are only comfortable with literalism.)

Agreeing with professor Piepmeir, language certainly does matter! The feminine in Biblical language for God shows up early- in the first Genesis account. She shows up linguistically as a feminine Holy Spirit, and is known in the pages of the Torah such as Deuteronomy as a mother bird brooding over her nest. And she is a prominent part of the whole section of the Hebrew Bible called Wisdom literature where wisdom as Sophia is portrayed as the alluring female who traps men into self awareness!
(Incidentally, the usage of the gender inclusive words, Father/Mother God was first introduced into Protestant worship in 1835 by Bostonian preacher and abolitionist, Theodore Parker. He used the phrase Out Father/Mother God regularly to begin his prayers… Them of course, in a few decades after that, we have Mary Baker eddy making this gender inclusive phrase a regular part of all Christian Science services. So the idea of addressing God are having both masculine and feminine traits or qualities is far from new!)

The excellent insights from contemporary feminist scholarship since the 1970’s has contributed immensely to our greater and more full expression and comprehension of theological language for the divine. They have provided and produced important ways to understand a more balanced, integrated, and inclusive approach to God, and to whatever is deemed to be sacred and holy. We also have learned from depth psychology that when archetypes become conscious, they often become engendered in our thoughts and feelings.
In short, women have been disenfranchised from taking their rightful and equal place in religious understanding and ministerial leadership. For far too long, the dominant language of patriarchal culture- from politics to religion- have limited our choices for language and hampered or full human comprehension. Through a greater exposure to these new translations and deeper insights, we can gain a richer understanding of all the myth, metaphor, and meaning that can be found in sacred literature. By empowering this more inclusive and egalitarian approach. We, as a worshipping community and larger western culture, can arrive at images for the Divine that give both men and women more accessible and inviting guidance for their lives.
Religious feminism and the search for the inclusive sense of the sacred and for the recovery of the Holy Feminine in our Western culture has made important strides in the necessary work of reclamation and rediscovery. However, this large affirmation does not belong to scholars and to the esoterically inclined among us. As I see it, there is a pressing, urgent need to reform liturgy and life span religious instruction to reflect these new/old insights and to rephrase language to reflect new learning and new levels of comprehension. These new patterns of recognition and greater awareness needs to be actively applied to our leadership questions within our congregations.
While many established approaches to theology will state that God is eternal, changeless and absolute, the language we use to describe our story of faith, the words we use to affirm our beliefs, and to testify to our understanding – from its linguistic roots to its idealistic wings- remains variable, culturally relative, and because of this fact, literal meaning remain unknowable.
So I will offer one last reflective central question of the newspaper’s article: Does Language Matter? And will follow with last words of personal reflection…
From Theopoetics, a book by the famous New testament scholar, Amos Wilder:

“The great mysteries of faith can only be approximated
within the limitations of human language. The higher forms
of understanding have to be expressed in ways that transcend
language and intellection, and finally reside in mystery and experiential
meaning for the person before her/his God”

While these limits of language, even though they can make us feel insecure, uncertain, unknowing, they prove themselves to be ultimately gracious. The acceptance of our human limits or the uncertainty of translations and editorial compilations leads us directly toward the necessity for faith, for trust, for courage and for compassion. We cannot safely rely on any written word to contain the best ways to know and to affirm the “Allness” of God.

The Rev. Peter E. Lanzillotta, Ph.D.


Fabre D’Olivet, The Hebraic Tongue Restored 1815. This quote comes from the introduction to Neil Douglas Klotz’s Prayers of The Cosmos, where he puts forth a possible Aramaic and mystical translation of the Lord’s Prayer and Beatitudes, and Parables, Harper and Row San Francisco 1990 page 2.

Anne Rice Rejects Christianity- My Response!

August 14, 2010 - 6:42 pm 59 Comments

Here are the words and the interview questions that have created the latest firestorm! These are not new objections, it is simply an aspect of our media-driven world that when some person of social, literary or intellectual prominence declares a controversial outlook or makes what could be considered a radical new stand, it garners the notice of more people.

I choose to look at this incident as another important challenge and another gracious opportunity to speak about the contemporary questions and the active, bold and sincerely religious questions being placed before us today…

After providing this background, I will forward some of my own, no less controversial views and conclusions…

The Los Angeles Times published an interview with the vampire writer — namely Anne Rice, who has stirred up a great deal of debate and emotion with her recent public expressions regarding faith and religion. Here’s an excerpt from the article that ran this weekend…
The author Anne Rice, best known for her vampire novels, made waves last week when she declared on her Facebook page that she had “quit being a Christian.” Twelve years after her return to Catholicism, Rice said she still believed in God, but that, “In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.”

Rice spoke to The Times by phone this week from her home in Rancho Mirage.

Q) You were raised Catholic, became an atheist, then returned to Catholicism in 1998. Why are you quitting now? It’s not as if the church has suddenly changed.

A) Well, I’ve been living with this now for 12 years, and I’ve come to the conclusion from my experience with organized religion that I have to leave, that I have to, in the name of Christ, step away from this. It’s a matter of rejecting what I’ve discovered about the persecution of gays, the persecution and oppression of women and the actions of the churches on many different levels. I’ve also found that I can’t find a basis in Scripture for a lot of the positions that churches and denominations take today, and I can’t find any basis at all for an anointed, hierarchical priesthood. So all of this finally created a pressure in me, a kind of confusion, a toxic anger at times, and I felt I had to step aside. And that’s what I’ve done…

Two days before you announced on your Facebook page that you were quitting Christianity, you praised the Lutheran Church for welcoming gay pastors. So why not become a Lutheran, or a member of some other church that shares your views?

A) I feel much more morally comfortable walking away from organized religion. I respect that there are all kinds of denominations and all kinds of churches, but it’s the entire controversy, the entire conversation that I need to walk away from right now.

Q) The United Church of Christ even started a Facebook campaign to get you to join. How can you say no to that?

A) I respect completely people who want to find a church that’s more in accord with what they can morally accept. But for me, walking away is the thing right now. In the name of Christ, in the name of God.

I wanted to ask you about that, because you have said that you quit Christianity “in the name of Christ.” From a practical standpoint, what does that mean, how do you follow Christ without a church? Are there rituals that you intend to maintain?

A) I think the basic ritual is simply prayer. It’s talking to God, putting things in the hands of God, trusting that you’re living in God’s world and praying for God’s guidance. And being absolutely faithful to the core principles of Jesus’ teachings.

Q) You’ve said that there are rituals of the Catholic Church that you’ll miss.

A) Well, I will. I’ll very much miss going to Mass, and I’ll very much miss Holy Communion, the Eucharist. But it’s a communal meal and I don’t feel that I’m part of the community anymore, and I don’t feel that I can go to a Catholic church and partake.

Q) You’ve written before about your love of churches, even during the time you were an atheist. Do you see yourself going back in a church?

A) Oh yeah, I would certainly go to a church to pray in private…

One contemporary Christian minister from the Washington DC area, The Rev. Bill Shuler, offers some reactions and some cogent remarks on her declaration. I have excerpted a few for your consideration:

Miss Rice’s words should not be quickly dismissed. She is not alone in her views and trends show that people have stepped away from established religion in increasing number. Scandals within the church and political agendas that have been placed on par with church doctrine are partially to blame.

Another factor pertains to those within the church who identify more with religion than with the true Jesus. The Pharisees were very religious but they rejected Jesus and his methods.

One’s reaction to the words of Anne Rice is a litmus test as to whether one responds in condemnation or Christian love. Miss Rice is, after all, pointing out the disparity that can be found between Jesus and his followers.

At its core, Anne Rice’s statement is a challenge to the modern church to look and act more like Jesus. Her message is muddled in political tones and her conclusion is regrettable but the church would be amiss in dismissing the essence of her words.

By Rev. Bill Shuler
Published August 08, 2010
Rev. Bill Shuler is pastor of Capital Life Church in Arlington, Virginia.

My Response to Anne Rice’s declaration….

Similar to The Rev. Shuler, I think that it is vitally important to take her dissatisfactions seriously, and to not dismiss her critique as mere personal petulance or as some insatiable desire for media attention.
Many, if not all, of her points are well taken and can be seen as compelling.
I think the best use of her public rejection is to collectively and personally examine just what she feels is worthy of rejection, and just what parts of faith, belief, and practice transcend or go beyond her feelings of frustration, disappointment and disdain. And let’s be clear- she is making a self proclaiming statement, not a sweeping indictment. Specifically, in accord with her current life experience, what appears to be the target of her anger are retrogressive social policies, stolid theological outlooks of patriarchal fundamentalists, and the abusive scandals of the Roman Catholic Church.

First a little background speculation, in an effort to find a larger context for her remarks. Ms. Rice is a long established, nationally well regarded writer. Previous to her return to Catholicism of her childhood, she was a practicing atheist, and she has stated that it was from that non-religious point of view that she wrote her famous novels about vampires and other macabre and scary topics.

I actively wonder about that conclusion– that she was non-religious. If that meant that she did not actively or publicly belong to any organized institution called a church, then this seems accurate enough. However, given that her writing dwells on the archetypal, and that through her writings, we can see that she is steeped in the magical/metaphysical, and actively and skillfully seeks out a paralogical context for her characters and story plots, I do not think that we can confidently say that it means that she is does not engage herself in a spiritual kind of searching or at the very least metaphysical musings. The vividness of her prose, and the metaphorical skill she brings to her writings seems to point to a larger reason for her obvious and disturbing dissatisfactions with institutional religion.

I would speculate that there is a link to the collective unconscious yet to be known or regarded. If I can use some of my own pre-Vatican II experiences as a useful guide, the Roman church that Ms. Rice, and millions of others like me experienced during our formative years thrived on the magical and the symbolic. It was certainly arcane, and mysterious, since most of us were not fluent in Latin, but there was an undeniable sense of drama, and a deeply infused sense of reverence that touched many of us- carving a mystical hunger deep within our psyches.
It was equally true that there was very little concern for the outside world, or the call to social justice, equality and equanimity, sexual freedom, or gender inclusive language that would have certainly changed the moral and ethical context for our faith and would have definitely expands our search for greater understanding. However, that impulse or seismic shift arrived dramatically during the 1960’s, Vatican II, etc., and its lasting effects on clerical hierarchy, theological interpretations, and social policies have been that many, if not all the constructive changes that were promoted have been insistently discouraged, denied, or defended against ever since!

IF, and I understand that this is a big IF since I do not have the pleasure of her friendship or access to her inner most thoughts, if Ms. Rice was expecting to find any measure of the same symbolic solace, any access to the “mysterium of faith” and the invitation, through liturgy and church life to a more reflective nature of that earlier generation of Catholicism, she could not help but be disillusioned!
When she returned, not only did that brand of Catholicism disappear, but in its place was a more blatantly corrupt religious institution. Now any historian or student of church history can readily point out this glaring fact: That scandals, deceits, and abuses were always a part of the shadow side of Western Christianity. Even though it has been ever more entrenched and self protective, we can give generous thanks to having more media exposure and for the gracious courage of the abused to come forward.
Now the ethical slime that has been uncovered and it has been given the cleansing light of day! But the terrible truth found in these many incidents and ongoing revelations is that this quagmire of dishonesty, hierarchical protectionism, and out and out denial has been seen as spreading, and growing to cover and corrupt even the best intentions of its more noble, honest and compassionate leaders.

In the place of the transcendent possibilities of the Latin Mass, (not that that many of us ever did receive any more than glimpses of this transcendent reality, but at least there was a glimmer of its possibility that appears totally absent today) we have a flimsy, febrile, and feeble faith that is directly designed to breed convention, require obedience, encourage complacency, and by way of its institutional greed, eagerly align itself with corrupt national governments, and the immoral aspects of corporate capitalism as it generously serves its own ethical lapses in order to acquire wealth and power for its internal use.

And not to ignore the point, but Protestantism fares a little better because it lacks the extent of global media coverage and because the peccadilloes we can list do not center on ecclesial cover ups and the heinous exploitation’s of young children.
Looking quickly through American popular religion over the last ten to twenty years, we can quickly compile an impressive list of base and blatant transgressions. So it is not that Ms. Rice lets them off the hook by any means, but it is clear that her greatest experience or exposure has been to Roman Catholic culture.

Without making this into a lengthy diatribe, what is most cogent in Ms. Rice’s actions, and the public inquiry that it has set into motion, is the two pronged objection to current church policies and practices: The first can be best summarized as our individual need to separate Christianity from Christendom, and the next to address the quandary brought on by all the dissonance in faith and practice, where millions of people now describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”

The chasm that exists and that spans the gulf between professed belief, traditional liturgy, and patriarchal language and the words of the synoptic Jesus, the Biblical Wisdom tradition, and the altruistic compassionate examples of the saints throughout history is immense. Yet, despite this being true and operating in our culture, the paradox is lost or more accurately is largely being ignored by quietly rebelling Christians who bring their prized sense of individuality, broad education, and the media driven wide knowledge of their commercial culture and their secular world with them as they enter the church’s doors. While they might still feign genuine regard and practice regular attendance, it is often accompanied by a quiet disregard of the magisterium’s proclamations, a convenient “cafeteria” style of ethics, and a the lackadaisical approach to the importance of theological reflection. All this adds up to a superficial experience of going through the motions of worship where the congregation either responds in rote, or remains passive sacred observers with no real investment or involvement in spiritual growth or without being given much if any encouragement towards taking greater adult responsibility for their own search for deeper understanding.
( I recommend Matthew Fox’s book, Creation Spirituality, Liberation for the First World’s People, gives us a cogent retelling of the parable where Father Abraham examines the chasm between beliefs and practices… )

Probably the most helpful distinction between the Christianity that remains worthy of faith and devotion, and the institutional morass and dysfunctional miasma that that Ms. Rice centers her objections on is the need to be aware of the clear discrepancy between Christianity and Christendom.
I first was taught this very useful distinction in my doctoral research when I encountered the writings of Jacob Needleman, and specifically in his book, Lost Christianity. In those pages, Needleman earnestly seeks out a greater sense of the Spirit and esoteric understanding as having a rightful and necessary place in a genuine Christianity. Borrowing the word from Kierkagaard, He also outlines the various contradictions and provides the context that Christendom more directly refers to the institutional church, its hierarchies, bureaucracies, its regressive policies…
(And I would add, from my perspective, its intention to maintain its earthly power and prestige- at what seems to be any cost! )

Here is one of many observations by Needleman:

There appears to be insufficient concern for the inertia that plagues most versions of the Christian Church.
This lack of concern for the transition of Christianity into Christendom, and the replacement of magic for religion
seems to insure that either a convenient or a superstitious Christianity will surely be an opiate or at least an effective diversion for its members in order to maintain its status quo ineffectiveness.
This derogatory process is, at its base, the effects of a loss or a misappropriation of the Spirit as the “initial aim”
or prime source of vitality, worship, organization, and for the “equipping the saints” for community empowerment for God
and human salvation. Additionally, I would suggest that until we replace the dominant approaches to Christology and the reigning power of creeds, councils, and cathedrals, these tendencies will continue to rob us spiritually.

Now to begin to address the second point- with a brief response to the assertion that so many people in our Western and American culture has adopted: “Being spiritual but not religious.” Most definitions agree that the meaning behind such a statement is a reaction to being oppressed by the moralisms, contradictions, hypocrisies, and all those behavioral injunctions of previous generations of church life, AND it also refers to the growing unwillingness to support the institutionalization of spirituality, truth, and salvation as being exclusively found within a traditional church and its teachings.

While it can be seen that this outlook is incomplete, it is completely understandable. The central reason for its incompleteness lies, in part, with the quality of interaction found in many church communities, the shift in theological emphasis away from being a place of inquiry and introspection, character education and ethical development, to being a more superficial social institution where one goes to church to see one’s friends, to argue politics, to making business contacts, or at the best, to do some marginal charitable work if one has the extra money and time! The wholesale devaluing of the church experience in our culture mirrors the devaluing of family and faith, community and conscience as a whole- and so what is the sincere seeker to do?

There are a few challenging options- and not the least of those options that are gaining in popularity can be seen in the rise of atheism or secularism, now approaching 20% in our culture, and the replacement of church attendance with the Sunday talk shows, sports, or the shopping mall as being more enticing, and tragically speaking, more fulfilling than spending an hour or two at church!

Among the constructive or participatory alternatives include the creation of “house churches” or forming small groups of people worshiping and reading, caring and supporting one another. Some people will, by temperament and choice, choose to remain isolated individual readers, who embark on their personal search… Some others who miss what church had promised, find outside groups of shared common interest, and meet their spiritual or soul searching needs in that way.

Then there is, as a larger, alternative movement, how our culture has responded to the over all lack of satisfaction or opportunity to learn, experience, and grow that they found in the various churches they visited or were raised in as children. This wider and growing response is generally classified as The New Age movement. The emphasis in this cultural phenomenon is that it encourages people to find satisfying answers, and supports the quest for personal enrichment and pathways to spiritual discovery that are, by in large, not available in any of the traditional churches one might attend! As I see it, this creative alternative only follows a natural and predictable pattern of loss and emptiness- if the churches refuse to feed the soul, then I, the hungry person who is seeking truth, wholeness, salvation, etc., will go on a journey to find the food I need anywhere the new path might lead me!

While deeply respecting the reasons and rationales for so many people turning East to find their answers and sense of community, my focus needs to be kept within the Western critique of culture and the unresponsiveness of churches to this crying need and cultural imbalance.
With this said, the transitory nature of being “spiritual but not religious” is apparent and even as it has matured over these last thirty years or so, by in large, if it is to exert its deeper possibilities or extend it greater influences, it remains in need of finding a resilient, adaptable centering point.
This reality, along with the exponential influence of the mass media and the undeniable transition from being a 19th century aural culture to being either an oral or 21st century visual culture, also requires addressing on a serious and sustainable level. The admission that ” its just not working… It’s broke, and let’s try to fix it, and if it parts won’t work, lets build something new” points directly and hopefully to our personal and cultural capacity to create new forms of community, new centers for study and worship, new paradigms for church and life.

What are some of these new paradigms? Ah, that’s another essay!

Oversoul and Emerson

August 7, 2010 - 12:04 pm 71 Comments

ESSAY IX The Over-Soul

There is a difference between one and another hour of life, in their authority and subsequent effect. Our faith comes in moments; our vice is habitual. Yet there is a depth in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences. For this reason, the argument which is always forthcoming to silence those who conceive extraordinary hopes of man, namely, the appeal to experience, is for ever invalid and vain. We give up the past to the objector, and yet we hope. He must explain this hope. We grant that human life is mean; but how did we find out that it was mean? What is the ground of this uneasiness of ours; of this old discontent?

What is the universal sense of want and ignorance, but the fine innuendo by which the soul makes its enormous claim? Why do men feel that the natural history of man has never been written, but he is always leaving behind what you have said of him, and it becomes old, and books of metaphysics worthless?

The philosophy of six thousand years has not searched the chambers and magazines of the soul. In its experiments there has always remained, in the last analysis, a residuum it could not resolve. Man is a stream whose source is hidden. Our being is descending into us from we know not whence. The most exact calculator has no prescience that somewhat incalculable may not balk the very next moment. I am constrained every moment to acknowledge a higher origin for events than the will I call mine.

The Supreme Critic on the errors of the past and the present, and the only prophet of that which must be, is that great nature in which we rest, as the earth lies in the soft arms of the atmosphere; that Unity, that Over-soul, within which every man’s particular being is contained and made one with all other; that common heart, of which all sincere conversation is the worship, to which all right action is submission; that overpowering reality which confutes our tricks and talents, and constrains every one to pass for what he is, and to speak from his character, and not from his tongue, and which evermore tends to pass into our thought and hand, and become wisdom, and virtue, and power, and beauty.

We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist, and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one.

All goes to show that the soul in man is not an organ, but animates and exercises all the organs; is not a function, like the power of memory, of calculation, of comparison, but uses these as hands and feet; is not a faculty, but a light; is not the intellect or the will, but the master of the intellect and the will; is the background of our being, in which they lie, — an immensity not possessed and that cannot be possessed. From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all. A man is the fasade of a temple wherein all wisdom and all good abide.

When it breathes through his intellect, it is genius; when it breathes through his will, it is virtue; when it flows through his affection, it is love. And the blindness of the intellect begins, when it would be something of itself. The weakness of the will begins, when the individual would be something of himself. All reform aims, in some one particular, to let the soul have its way through us; in other words, to engage us to obey.

As there is no screen or ceiling between our heads and the infinite heavens, so is there no bar or wall in the soul where man, the effect, ceases, and God, the cause, begins. The walls are taken away. We lie open on one side to the deeps of spiritual nature, to the attributes of God. Justice we see and know, Love, Freedom, Power. These natures no man ever got above, but they tower over us, and most in the moment when our interests tempt us to wound them.

The sovereignty of this nature whereof we speak is made known by its independency of those limitations which circumscribe us on every hand. The soul circumscribes all things.

Yet time and space are but inverse measures of the force of the soul.

Before the revelations of the soul, Time, Space, and Nature shrink away. In common speech, we refer all things to time, as we habitually refer the immensely sundered stars to one concave sphere. And so we say that the Judgment is distant or near, that the Millennium approaches, that a day of certain political, moral, social reforms is at hand, and the like, when we mean, that, in the nature of things, one of the facts we contemplate is external and fugitive, and the other is permanent and connate with the soul. The things we now esteem fixed shall, one by one, detach themselves, like ripe fruit, from our experience, and fall. The wind shall blow them none knows whither. The landscape, the figures, Boston, London, are facts as fugitive as any institution past, or any whiff of mist or smoke, and so is society, and so is the world.

The soul looketh steadily forwards, creating a world before her, leaving worlds behind her. She has no dates, nor rites, nor persons, nor specialties, nor men. The soul knows only the soul; the web of events is the flowing robe in which she is clothed.

After its own law and not by arithmetic is the rate of its progress to be computed. The soul’s advances are not made by gradation, such as can be represented by motion in a straight line; but rather by ascension of state, such as can be represented by metamorphosis, — from the egg to the worm, from the worm to the fly. The growths of genius are of a certain total character…

Those who are capable of humility, of justice, of love, of aspiration, stand already on a platform that commands the sciences and arts, speech and poetry, action and grace.

We are wiser than we know. If we will not interfere with our thought, but will act entirely, or see how the thing stands in God, we know the particular thing, and every thing, and every man.

… genius is religious. It is a larger imbibing of the common heart.