Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Orthodox Sex

A friend articulates a critique of theological orthodoxy (and hence fundamentalism) that one hears often in the academy:

I would say that any orthodoxy wants to create totalitarian conditions (as in total adherence,
devotion, obedience, compliance), and hence political totalitarianism is not far from religious fundamentalism. Both require a form of literal reading and rigidly rational thinking (or should I say, rigidly rational lack of thinking).

Most of my clergy friends describe themselves as "theologically orthodox" or "speaking from the center of their tradition" while politically revolutionary and postmodern.

We liberals caricature the church a lot, but I've learned -- from history -- that this is not either fair, or in our best interest, considering the rebel, revolutionary saints of the centuries who spillt their blood to make sure that the texts of all orthodoxies have limits set into them.  The beauty of the system is that those creeds are *short*.  They're short because the orthodoxy realizes that it only has authority to comment on certain disagreements. 

Catholicism is, by definition of St Vincent, "what all have believed for all of time;" all of time is pretty liberal -- there's always been labor, there have always been women; any conservative aberrancy is by definition *not* orthodox.  Old "Tory" politics in Britain gets you somewhere near this definition of old conservative: we know you can't exploit workers too much or go too near capitalism, because if you do, you will cause revolt.  We've known that for all time.  Only recently have capitalism moguls found ingenious ways of escaping from eternal wisdom. 

So, for instance, I've been thinking all weekend about the article on birth control in the NYTimes, and I'm afraid I'm quite riled up about the false claims to orthodoxy there.  The fundamentalists claim that the pill is the "worst thing for man since the Fall," a great aberrancy; a plague of promiscuity descending since 1960.  A more distorting statement of theological orthodoxy for our times, I cannot imagine. 

Any social historian worth her salt can tell you that the unwed have been sleeping with each other for millenia.  Sometimes with social approval, sometimes without.  Before the pill there was withdrawal.  We know that women told each other about it.  We know that premarital sex happened at a high rate for all of the modern period, certainly, and that parents and villagers only intervened to force a marriage when there was a child.  This counters the fundamentalists not with some better *ideal* version of what God wants for women (although that has a place), but with *common* sense about what all people have known for all of time. 

All people know that sex is the possibility of a fundamental connection to another person.  All people know that having sex doesn't necessarily put one person in everlasting contact with the other: neither does conversation, neither does love; neither does marriage; and even marriage approved by a community and sanctified by God may turn into a nightmare if persons only vaguely in touch with themselves then learn to talk to themselves honestly and figure out that they're not the person their spouse thought they were.

 All human relationships, even the best intended, can turn into exploitation, for the human being is, as Heidegger put it, not a machine in that he always holds something in reserve -- something that can come out and complicate relationships -- sometimes to the point that those relationships will disintegrate. 

Human beings know that pair bonding is strong, that a good bond is a blessing to a community and to children, to be encouraged; they also know that the best conditions for human relationships of any sort are those of honesty.  Many humans for all of time have agreed that getting to know oneself is good for that honesty, and many have linked sex with a certain kind of honesty. 

Feeling honest about the passion one feels for someone just because their politics are the same as yours, or, well, they're a rebel and they wear cool shoes and listen to good music.  Is that enough?  Engaging them is a good way to find out.  It's hard to engage people.  We've known for all of time that individuals build up barriers before they talk to strangers.  We've also known for all of time that sex is a quick way to tear those barriers down.  So this is what people have done: not promiscuity with abandon, but enthusiastic coupling with the opposite sex before marriage.  Enthusiastic exploration of the self in the company of someone else.  Sex enables that – greatly enables it; it also complicates it.  So everyone for all of time has warned against too much, or several at the same time, or wantonly flaunting other commitments elsewhere.

Orthodoxy is moderate.  Fundamentalism, however – criminalizing premarital sex, fighting it by banning all statistics or medical information seen to enable it in any way – discards the wisdom of all experience, the knowledge of generations who loved God and their neighbor, in order to set up a new and dangerous barrier between the chosen and the not chosen. 

This barrier marks out the middle-class from the upper-class, the white from the nonwhite, the politically patriarchal from the feminist.  For the habits of certain groups are more prone to policing sex, although these groups are not necessarily those that best serve God in any other category. 

This radical non-orthodoxy draws the line between saved and damned for God, and most dangerously, draws that line down the middle of experience: that relationship – fleeting, adolescent – was not with God, no matter how much you learned from each other, no matter how much he taught you to value yourself or helped you adjust to the world. 

Imagine casting aside half of your experience and wisdom in order to enter into a dialogue with God.  The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer defines sin as “being out of dialogue with God, oneself, or one’s neighbor.”  Public wanton damnation of premarital sex sounds to me like all three. 

When feminist scholars learn to argue from a position of all of women for all of time, the church orthodoxy *by definition* will have to agree.  It's a strong political position, and I wish to God that I could convince the liberals in politics round here to listen to it.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Holding the future in their hands

In the world of Progressive Christian blogging, we spend a lot of time feeding peanut-gallery comments on church politics.  We argue for theology, review Bible scholarship, and share experiences from our lives.  Does it matter?  Well, as Griel Marcus spent a lot of time pointing out, in the world of pop culture, every single act is political.  Listening to the Sex Pistols is a political act.  And so is reading theology or complaining about the last church election. 

But in the world of political history, only those who triumph among institutions and demographics win the future.  And only the watersheds that separate the past from the future matter, becaues only those watersheds significantly remake our world.  Thus, bloggers and activists, take note: our theology, our church politics, our broadcasting, our refining of ideas only have significance for the history insofar as they're able to reach the future. 

A great opportunity for a watershed was lost for the progressive church this week with the election of Mark Andrus to Bishop of California.  Rev. Andrus is an honest, skillful, articulate, and astute man; he will shepherd the diocese through any financial or political or social rough weather it may face in the next twenty years.  But all of the Anglican world was trembling while California thought about electing a gay bishop, despite Canterbury's ban; everyone wanted to know if the church was capable of really facing twentieth-century issues like sexuality and the open discussion of sex, or if the church would lurch back into the stone age.  Everything depended on the smallest of cadres of Americans: collared and elected Episcopalians in northern California.  And elderly and removed and liberal as they are, they were growling for a fight.  The result, alas, is that they opted for a safe route.  They protected their diocese and elected the most capable candidate for the position, rather than looking to history and saving the church from insignificance. 

The temptation may be to blog in reaction; to philosophize, to refine our theology of the body further in order to counter Canterbury on its own ground; to find new battlegrounds, new candidates, other dioceses (though what diocese would be a fiercer leader in battle than San Francisco, who lost so many of its gay Episcopalians to death in the 1980s? which is : and all of that is important.  But let me point out an even more fertile territory to look, for those who truly desire to engage the future. 

I was recently emailed by the father of Julie Federman.  Julie is a high school junior in a course on world religions.  She is asking people ages 12 to 25 to talk about their personal relationships and experiences with religion and spirituality. 

Her project site is called Spiritual Youth.

(may i humbly ask any youth ministers out there to consider this as a project?)

Julie is one of a new generation.  Despite the fact that Julie's (backwards?) high school teacher worried that by blogging, Julie would be entering a world of deviancy and porn, sociologists know that Julie's generation are in fact conducting politics and exploring their social identity largely through the world of the internet.  Blogging and social networking online mean that high school students in the suburb or the city encounter a far greater range of ideas than their normal social geography would allow.  The April marches of half-million high school students, for example?  organized over Myspace.

Julie's project therefore has the potential to be a much more political experiment than any of the preacher-to-preacher blogs of my dear friends, than any liberal-to-liberal chatter on the Huffington forums or the Daily Kos.   Youth always open up the discussion.  They always find a way of opening up a question in new light.  Why is that?  Because they're filled with new light and young life.  Because they must: because theology, religion, and spirituality only matter to them insofar as theology is relevant to the new world opening every day. 

Engaging other youth, exploring their experience of the issues, Julie Federman stands a chance to become a much better expert on the culture of spirituality than any of us.   I dutifully submit her blog to you and recommend that we all pay attention. 

All of this is one reason that the Networking Connection -- the working group on networking the Progressive Christian movement into something political and historically important -- is reaching out to Tribe, Myspace, Meetup, Moveon, and other online places. 

Online, civic engagement is a much more real artifact of life, especially for young generations, than it is in any three dimensional coffeehouse, cafe, university, or church I can think of. 

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And if Iran favors reconciliation?

It was first reported, a few weeks ago, at Jeff Wells' blog, sourcing Russian newsmedia, that all the press East of the Volga think Iran is a *peaceful* nation that would never *think* of using nasty weapons against Westerners. 

For as of a few weeks ago, it would seem, Iranian President Ahmadinejad was frantically issuing statements saying that he would willingly comply with US or UN tensions, no matter what.

Not the story one hears in the US, where we daily hear that rifle-swinging Persians are crying for the blood of American babies, etc., their diplomats shrieking into the microphone, Fuck you we'll give nukes to the Pakis and Berbers if we damn well please. 

Today on Google headlines, up pops another Eastern news source: Khaleej Times (the Dubai paper) reports, again, an "unprecedented letter to President George W. Bush" issued from Ahmadinejad, urging peace.  Those who speak Arabic, apparently, believe that Iran is all but an American ally, willing to take any means necessary to step away from an escalation into full-out war.

Again, not the story in Western papers.  The White House replies, "We know of no such letter."

We need not review the imputations that American media is fed and types up reports from the White House to suit specific foreign policy aims.  We need not review the fact that those currently in the White House are still war hawks who have caused two wars already (three?) by backing up their agendas with massively artificial fabrications of evidence designed to rile up

Remember, in Fahrenheit 911, the CNN video footage of Iranian boys supposedly welcoming the Americans with shouts of glee?  Remember the real translation of those boys' screams: "Americans, go home!", "Down with America!"?

Can we really afford to go back there?

Would the blogosphere please take note?

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

They are SO fantastische

When writing about eighteenth-century migrant labor, it helps to obsessively listen to:
  • early Reggae: the Heptones, Keith & Tex, other various Studio One...
  • and this gyrating whacked-out treasure recently discovered via Pandora... 
that's right; Kelley Stoltz, with whose smooth-as-glass lyrics and achingly moogish layered ufo sound structure i was
feeling slightly melancholicly obsessed, as if to say to myself, oh no i've fallen onto the overtrod emo ditch once again, how can i countenance such fandom? i make myself sick.  can i not collect something genuine, local, fresh-from-the-gut for once?

 --- only to discover (woohoo!) not only does he
live in SF but (YAY) he's playing down the street (of course) tonight


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Praying for rain

Where in the world has Jo gone?  SO sorry for the absence from
the blogosphere couch... it's been time to work on two books.  One: the
dissertation (chapter 3 just hit 90 pages!!  woohoo!).  Two:...


several prayers for Lent
in the modern vernacular


Sometimes God is my friend with the really fast car.
He picks me up on weekends and we go cruising.

As blocks pass by I think how long it would've taken me
to go this far by walk or bike.
As we pass 80, I'm glad you're driving
not me. 
I wonder if this can be safe.
Pigeons and stray dogs leap out of our way.

I pull on my shades and consider that
I shall never be able to afford this myself.
    People stare at me like I'm a movie star.
        They're wondering if I am.
    We find a quiet cafe a small town,
        where busy people like me never go.
    You know the waitress's name.
    I feel as if I'm the one who's popular

You drop me off at home, where I don't have to
    find parking.
    I wave goodbye, and hope
you'll be back again.

I wouldn't know what to do with a car myself.
Lord it is sweet to have friends. 

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