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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Falwell's Ghost, in California


I was explaining the Bible to jerry. That's his coffee table.

Jerry: "so is this the part where it says, I am your angry task-master, you must obey me and kill other people?"

Jo: (goes silent)

No.

(pause)

It says, I am the way, the truth, and the light. It's a mystical statement. It's practically exactly the way the Tao de Ching begins, the Road you can name is not the real road; the name you can say is not the real name. It's mysticism. Where are you getting this stuff, anyway?

----


Seriously, you do-gooder Christians with big well organized churches have a lot of basic disinformation evangelism to do. Jerry's smart, in touch, and we've been having this conversation for six months. He's pretty exemplary of at least 50% of the well educated and liberal out here. I get to have a similar conversation in San Francisco every time I meet a stranger who discovers that I go to church : how could I believe that crap? hasn't anyone told me yet that it's patriarchal and power-hungry? Don't I know that it's all about killing and hating? Decades of exposure to Falwell (the only Christian voice to penetrate to the unconverted) have done a lot of damage.

Hearing the wrong Christians interviewed on Fox News and chatted about in the New York Times means a version of Christianity twisted beyond recognition. The New Testament, in the churches of the South and Midwest, has relatively little to do with hating or excluding. Instead, it focusses on the main substance of the Christian scripture, becoming a good listener and expressing loving speech through a connection with a force of love bigger and grander than that expressed by any given particular human over the course of his life. I realized something strange in the midst of this conversation with Jerry. I've spent most of the last ten years learning how to talk about the Christian Right and Christian Left, to draw political lines about who's right and who's wrong. But I wasn't cultivating my speech about love, or honing my testament to the deep, spiritual, inward experiences I've had.

I'm shocked when other people don't understand think Christianity is an institution whose prime purpose is the cultivation of those experiences in a supportive community. But I myself am part of the problem. I'm used to drawing lines in the sand between those Christians there with their hate-preaching, and our Christians over here. I'm great at describing when, how, and why those divisions arose. But on a regular basis I'm not part of the tide of those actually sharing, or enthusiastically advocating, the kind of ecstatic experiences I regularly experience in my readings of the Sermon on the Mount, the psalms, the Sufi scriptures, and the Tao. Evangelism is supposed to be about the healing of broken souls, the outreach to people with a certain hollowness in their lives.

Religion is not just about politics, that much seems obvious. The political aspect is important and dear to those of us trying to distance ourselves from the angry harmful nonsense of Falwell. Activists tend to be warriors and statesmen in this game, drawing lines and collecting help. They (we) tend to blame the media, exhort pastors to preach on political topics, and encourage a healthy, political body in the church, engaging the progressive world view. They tend to leave the preaching, meditation, witness, exultation, sharing of experiences, deep listening, and descriptions of love to priests and preachers.

Maybe too much. Maybe Falwell has won because too many Christians on both sides, right and left, engage the politics without the love.

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9 Comments:

Blogger eugenia said...

I love your blogg. So happy to find it. Keep writing you dear

...you'll have this comment if I get through this word verification!

8:42 AM  
Blogger Leisa said...

The problem (as I see it)are the label ascriptions or line drawings. There's no such thing as "right" view v. "wrong" view. (This sounds harsh, but I don't mean it to be--one of the difficulties of writing v. speaking). Neither you or I is any more qualified to stamp that "wrong" label on another than they are to you or me. Accordingly, when you write "the wrong Christians" you are putting yourself in the same camp as those who would point their fingers your way and say "wrong Christian"--those Falwellians of my home state.

The key is "view". There's "your" view and "my" view and "xx (insert pronoun)" view. Each of these views should be personal views. And where it becomes so foolish and disharmonious is when people think that somehow their view needs to be my view or your view.

It takes courage, compassion and discipline to cultivate our views. It's a lifetime of work. And the hardest thing to do is for us to recognize that the appropriate boundary line to draw is around ourselves--I understand "my" view, it is right for "me"; though it may not be right for others. I understand "their" view; it is right for them, but it is not right for me.

It is each of ours responsibility to cultivate our own view and recognize that it is personal and provides us with a resource in which to make sense of our world and structure our behavior.

Restructuring your conversation to share YOUR view with your friend rather than your having to be an apologist for all others who think differently removes an obligation to explain right and wrong views.

Friends that you can have that conversation with are priceless, and rare from my experience. But I have a few and such conversations can be difficult (as conceptual thoughts always are), can be delightful, but always challenging us to evaluate our beliefs.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Oberon said...

.......what is the most important thing?

5:55 PM  
Blogger Mike Morrell said...

Beautiful post, Jo. And challenging, too!

8:49 PM  
Blogger Melanie said...

Wow. This is one of the very, very few posts on Christianity that hasn't made my skin crawl with fear in...oh, perhaps the last 20 years or so. Your blog, and that of Real Live Preacher, help me to remember that there are Christians out there who aren't full of hate, judgment, and a burning mission to assimilate everyone. Very thoughtful. Thank you for being above the common rhetoric and keeping your thinking clear. The world needs as many folks like you as it can get.

6:35 AM  
Blogger Jarrod Cochran said...

Great post, Jo! Something all of us would-be prophets should heed.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous Sarah Elkins said...

This is a powerful post. It's given me a lot to think about. Thank you. I've added it to my tags library; you may be interested in other items I've tagged "spirit".

3:59 PM  
Blogger Janice said...

Wow :-) The only other people I know who (sometimes) call themselves 'Christians' are all Quakers. ..

When I use Christians in '' I mean people who are are spiritually, through the familiarity of upbringing or choice, affiliated to the teachings of Christ as their primary way of perceiving and interacting with the spiritual world. they are open to influence from other faiths and belief structures, and open to the idea that the bible as it has come down to us is not 'clean' scripture as it were. .. it has been translated in many ways. and the words have been translated by the various churches into many different attitudes and belief structures, often taken out of context & sometimes twisted out of all recognition.

All other Christians are the ones that believe their way is the only true and righteous way.[fear-based]

You commented that many see "Christianity is an institution whose prime purpose is the cultivation of those experiences in a supportive community"

I got the impression that you reject that idea... [forgive me if I read you wrong..]

I would have to disagree and say that the statement is true. with one difference. CHRISTIANITY is not the institution... the individual denominations and churches are.....

there are 2 driving emotions behind everything.. love and fear.

love has no fear and therefor no need to be right. no need to be told what to believe. no need to force the world to fit your belief pattern in order to feel safe and normal.

In my observations, many churches use fear [fear of death, hell, sin, loneliness, being different, being outcast] to.. umm. not force, but mold the beliefs of their members.
and fear is a very hard trap to escape from...

many churches are "institutions whose prime purpose is the cultivation of those experiences in a supportive community".... it makes people feel safe to be a part of a group of like-minded people.
and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that..

just that sometimes their ways conflict with ours and then we say they are wrong. it doesn't make us right.

I suspect, having just re-read your post, that I have repeated in different words all the points you were made. ah well.

Thanks for giving me something to think about :-)

8:43 PM  
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10:40 PM  

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