Thursday, May 31, 2007

good news: Coke and Pepsi kind to animals

A continuing series noticing progress toward the Kingdom of God.

Under pressure from PETA Coke and Pepsi have agreed to discontinue funding research that uses animal subjects. Apparently they had funded research that used rats and chimpanzees as taste-testers. I'm not against all animal testing, but it certainly seems unnecessary in this case, and aparently Coke and Pepsi have agreed. Couldn't human beings taste test our own soft drinks? Some of us even drink them willingly.

happy, happy, happy

According to a survey released by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, clergy experience more satisfaction in their jobs than any other career (87% of us are satisfied). Second place are firefighters (80%), then physical therapists (78%). None of those three jobs are particularly well-paid, so money is not a good indicator of job satisfaction. Firefighting is dangerous, the ministry not. Ministry is mental. Firefighting physical. Ministry requires independence and leadership. Firefighting requires team work. So what's the common factor? The possibility of making real, concrete difference in people's lives. In a word, it's about salvation. Ministry and firefighting are about saving lives. And that's very satisfying.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

good news: water on tap

a continuing series noticing progress toward the Kingdom of God.

The New York Times today carries an article ("Fighting the Tide, A Few Restaurants Tilt to Tap Water" by Marian Burros) pointing out the trend of upscale restaurants to offer tap water as an alternative to bottled water or to ban bottled water altogether. I'll drink to that.

That's good news because bottled water is incredibly wasteful. Think of the carbon burned to transport water from Fiji across the Pacific to be consumed in the U.S. Think of the plastic or glass bottle that at best has to be recycled (never re-used which would be less wasteful) and often ends up in landfill. With good restaurants countering the hype instead of promoting it people might even begin to make the same choice for filtered water in re-usable containers in their homes.

It's especially good news because the sale of bottled water is the highest profit center in a restaurant.

Anyway, I'll have a martini.

are you listening?

An article in today's New York Times follows from the premise that what defines art is not a quality inherent in the work but in how you look at it. This time it's a composer named Christopher DeLaurenti (here's his website) who has released a CD of recordings he made during orchestral concert intermissions. ("The Concerts Found Onstage While Everyone Else Takes a Break" by Daniel J. Wakin.)

It's an aesthetic argument made in art by Duchamp, and in music by John Cage. I think they're right and I make the same argument in religion. Scripture is everywhere, not inherent in the writing itself but in the reader. It's what I call "found scripture" like found art, the random messages we encounter every day that we can read as personal scripture by experiencing them as revelations of divine wisdom, just as found pieces of trash can be art, and found pieces of random noise can be music.

By the way, I don't mean by this that we invent the meaning we read in the messages of found scripture. The meaning is really there. The universe is constantly speaking its wisdom through every available outlet. The act of interpretation required to extract the meaning is simply what we mean by reading, and it's exactly the same act whether we're reading the Bible or a billboard.

can you spell "bee"?

Peleg and I had tickets to the LA Production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" last weekend. The show is a musical with a half a dozen actors playing contestants in a spelling bee. The theater is set up as a school gymnasium, with the "kids" sitting on bleachers. The lobby is similarly set up with school decor, bulletin boards and that sort of thing, with a registration table for the "contestants." Peleg, who had already seen the show in New York and so was clued in, pointed out that audience members could also sign-up to be in the bee and they would pick a few to be on stage. He urged me to sign up, which I did, and I was picked. I think I charmed the guy with my story of being on Jeopardy and losing in the final round because of missing a question about the Mary Tyler Moore show.

So I sat on stage for the first hour in the bleachers. I was the last of the four audience members left standing, having correctly spelled, "Meixcans" (don't ask); "gardiloo" (apparently what you yell in Scotland before tossing your chamber pot into the street) and "dengue" (the fever). I also got to sit on the bleachers as they spun around and participate in a few easy dance sequences following whispered instructions from the actors ("link arms" "shake your shoulders"). After that they needed me off the stage so they gave me a made-up word of about 16 syllables and then rang the bell before I spelled four letters.

The spiritual observation I want to make is just the gift that we give ourselves when we say yes to life's opportunities. We live in an abundant and generous universe. The universe, eager for our happiness, constantly holds out possibilities. Even if turns out to not be the thing for you it's much more fun to give it a try. Go ahead. Say "yes."

"too much food, not enough people"

I had breakfast today at the Kitchen Academy. My husband is enrolled in culinary school (read his blog here) and he's at the stage of the curriculum where his class is cooking full meals every morning simulating a real restaurant setting. It's a little weird eating restauarant quality, five course dinners for breakfast but boy is it good. I had chilled pea soup with curry, foie gras, squab on wild rice with mushrooms, pasta in an onion sauce with chunks of beef tenderloin, a vegetarian plate with spinach in puff pastry, and then profiteroles with chocolate and fennel ice cream for dessert.

The 20 or so students cook a ton of food and then serve it up to any guests they want to invite. Today there were exactly two of us eating, and the plates of food piled up on the tables, uneaten. I live only 20 minutes from the school and I don't have to be at work at 9 AM so it's no problem for me but I suppose most of the students don't have friends that can come at that time.

it's so sad to think of this excellent food getting tossed out, in the middle of hollywod, surrounded by hungry people. Apparently the school doesn't have the kind of license that would allow them to give the food to strangers, and I'm sure they don't want the kind of hassle it would require to set up that system. One of the students did go outside and invite a couple of security guards from the movie theater across the courtyard. One of the chef's summed up the problem in the quote that forms the title of this post, exactly the opposite problem of the global situation, but of course the world's hunger problems have never been caused by a shortage of food, but just by getting the abundant food delivered to the people who could eat it.

theological threat

I saw a sign on a truck driving up I-5 today, "I'LL COME BACK TO GET YOU. LOVE JESUS." The sign was painted on the back of the cab of a semi in white letters, all caps, on a light blue background. If he had been hauling a container the message would have been hidden. But he was hauling a load of rebar tied to the bed so the words could be seen above the load.

The message could be taken a few ways. is it a personal not from Jesus? A friendly, reassurance from a departing friend that we won't be left behind for long? In that case you could read the LOVE JESUS as a signature line, like, "Sincerely" or "Your Friend."

But I noticed there was no comma in LOVE JESUS, which presesnts the alternate reading that it's actually a command. After all, the theology of Jesus' coming back to get us is not necesarily a happy event. On the Day of Judgement Jesus will come to separate the sheep and the goats and most of us are goats who will not be rescued by Jesus our friend, but banished to Hell by Jesus our Judge. The way to avoid damnation is to LOVE JESUS, or else.

The trucker's message combines reassurance and threat, because the actual Christian theology of Judgement carries the same mix, which makes it troubling. Should I love Jesus because I'm scared of him, or because he's actually lovable in some way? The people I'm inclined to love don't demand love, they inspire it. And the entrance fee for divine satisfaction is simply love (as Jesus taught), not belief in a particular doctrine.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

it's all about me

I went to my spiritual director this morning hoping for some words of comfort. I've been feeling stress lately, from a number of areas, mostly having to do with too much to do. On the drive over I ws thinking that I would ask if we could begin our session with some scripture. I was thinking in particular of Psalm 139 and its wonderful expression of God's pervasive knowledge and care.

When I arrived I found that my director, who works out of his home, was in the last stages of packing up his house so he and his partner could be gone for a few days while their floors were refinished and the walls painted. All the books were packed. After some hunting he did finally find one book with some scripture in it, a passage a day meditation manual. So we started our session by reading the selection for today. It was a scene from Acts where Paul is on trial in front of the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin. In a stressful situation, Paul notices that the court is made up of people from both of the two main religious paths, the Pharisees and the Saduccees who don't agree on their theology. Paul is able to deflect attention from himself by getting the judges to argue amongst themselves.

It wasn't at all the kind of message I was looking for. Instead of a word of God's steadfast love and care, the message was that we need to get ourselves out of our own bad situations. God gives us the tools we need: the wit, the skill, the imagination. And then it's up to us to use them to save ourselves.

good energy

I was taking some trash out to the street today. The bins are already at the curb because the trucks come tomorrow. I was standing there sorting trash into the black bin and recyclables into the blue bin when a man drove by in an old orange van with a collection of stuff tied to the top including a surfboard, and a cardboard sign stuck in the back window with a hand printed message that read: "So Far So Good."

The guy asked me something about a neighbor. Then he pulled his van over and got out to talk. It turns out he used to live in my guesthouse, 12 years ago. He told me stories about the previous owners, and their son who took over the house and kicked him out of the guesthouse, the son who sold the place a year and a half ago to Peleg and I. The guy talked about how special living there had been for him. And he said several times how great it was to know that someone with "good energy" (meaning me) lived there now.

I told him how great it was that I happened to be standing outside just as he drove by. He said, "There are no accidents, man!"

It's true that nearly ever first time visitor to our house since we bought the place has remarked on the "good energy" they feel in the place. I feel it, too.

Do places, and people, really have energy that we can feel intuitively, and recognize as "good" or "bad"?

power lines overhead

I drive to church on Interstate 5 from Silver Lake, near downtown Los Angeles, through the San Fernando Valley, north to Santa Clarita, and back. There's been construction on the median at various points along the route for several months. Recently I noticed three or four signs stuck into the median at intervals that say, "Power Lines Overheard." I'm sure they are there to reminder the workers that electrical lines are strung across the freeway at the points marked by the signs and to be careful with moving cranes.

I think the signs are new, I never noticed them before, but on the other hand the construction crews have been working at the same locations for months so why would the signs only appear now?

Or maybe I just never noticed before.

Everywhere the world speaks it's spiritual wisdom to those who have ears to hear. Maybe the signs are there to remind me, too, that there are lines of power overhead.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

railroad tracks

I had an image yesterday of building a railroad through a desert as a metaphor for the way faith can help us move through tough times in our lives.

Trying to build a railroad in the middle of a desert would be impossible if the only materials we could use were what we could find around us. The desert doesn't offer the stuff that we need to build railroad tracks. It feels the same way when we're going through a desert in our lives. The situation we're in just doesn't provide the resources to help us keep going and eventually move out of the desolate place. A lot of people get stuck in the desert because all they see when they look around is endless desert and nothing they can use to create a way out.

But a railroad connects the furthest point out with every point already reached, all the way back to the begining. Even when the path takes us through a desert we have a ready supply line and a train that can run back and forth and pick up whatever we need. People of faith aren't stranded in the desert because they stand at the end of an already built track.

Everybody goes through desert times. People with a track of faith behind them can take advantage of that connection to reach back to resources already navigated and use them to keep moving forward.

Monday, May 14, 2007

old dog

there's something very sweet about an old dog. Here's mine. His name is Ness, which means "miracle" in Hebrew. He was a Hanukkah present 14 and a half years ago.

nice sentiment bad advice

I was shopping for a greeting card, today. I noticed one of those quote cards that I considered buying. The quote was attraibuted to James Dean:

"Dream as though you would live forever. Live as though you would die today."

At first I liked it. But the more I thought about it I realized it wasn't really good advice. If we knew we really would never die I doubt that we would dream at all. it's only because we know that this life will come to an end that we set goals and work to achieve them. If I had forever anything I wanted to work on could always wait until the next day. Which adds up to about zero motivation and a very dull life.

And if I really thought I was going to die today that would set up a very unnatural situation where I would want to huddle together with my loved ones and maybe spend some time praying. But I sure wouldn't want to spend the last day of my life, taking risk, or setting plans, or challenging myself to new growth and development. The last day of your life is appropirately reserved for closing down, but nobody ought to live every day that way.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

religious education

An Op Ed peice "At Commencement, a Call for Religious Literacy" in Saturday's New York Times by Peter Steinfels makes a plea for at least a basic education in religion. The article quotes Dr. Stephen Prothero from his new book Religious Literacy commenting "In today's world it is irresponsible to use the word 'educated' to describe high school or college graduates who are ignorant of the ancient stories that continue to motivate beliefs and behaviors of the overwhelming majority of the world's population. In a world as robustly religious as ours, it is foolish to imagine that such graduates are equipped to particpate fully in the politics of the nation or the affairs of the world."

Yes. But Dr. Prothero, and Steinfel's editorial only make one side of the argumnet. Other people are religious, they seem to say, so us educated secular folks better understand enough religion that we'll be able to speak with them. That picture is condescending both of other people, and of religion itself.

Religious study is good for us, too, for our personal development as much as for the practical purpose of talking to others. Studying religion means exposing ourselves to deep questions of existence, identity, ethics, meaning and purpose not approached in other disciplines. Even philosophy, particularly in its more contemporary forms, doesn't get to these questions the way religion does. A college graduate who hasn't wrestled with those questions may be able to make sense of the world, but not much sense of their own life.

We should study religion both for insight to others, and insight to ourselves.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Wisdom from the W

Just to prove my point that scripture is available everywhere. Here's some wisdom from the W hotel promotional book that Peleg and I pinched from a hotel room two months ago.

The last page (Revelations?). It's a brown page with a small picture of a hotel room in the center. The side of a bed is visible and a table next to it. The title of the page in the upper left corner is, "Awaiting Your Return." Perhaps that refers to reincarnation. I interpret it to me our return to God. In the picture the side of a bed is visible representing the sleep of death perrhaps. On the nightstand there's a statue of a meditating Buddha. There's a pillow on the bed with the word "Wish" printed on it. And the caption under the picture begins, "Wish...Dream...Desire." It's a comforting verse speaking of a peaceful existence in communion with God, a communion that's available both now, through spiritual practice, and after death.

The rest of the caption, the last verse of the W scripture is a message from God: "While you sleep, we will be dreaming up new ways to enhance your W experience and make your next stay with us an even more memorable one. Remember, whatever you want, whenever you want it. W is always there for you." It's a message of love, and faithfulness and overflowing abundance. Who couldn't smile?

There's one more message: an advertisement for Budweiser pasted into the inside back cover. It's a picture of a crown formed by a row of cigars above a beer glass and four words, two phrases that sum up the perfect spiritual life. "Bold Taste. Clean Finish."

May it be so.

landscape design

Peleg and I have started a new home project. We've met with a guy, a "chorus brother" of mine, who works as a landscape designer to help us do some work both on our patio and on the slope leading down to our house from the street above. On the patio we're going to put in a fountain with some plantings around. And we're going to pull out a whole row of iceberg roses, which are beautiful but a little delicate for our style. In the front we're going to fill in a lot of bare patches on the slope, we're going to create a fake stream down one side that will end in a pool and a real fountain at the level of the house, and we're going to take up a little lawn that neither of us really like and that has been hard to maintain because of the dogs. We're going to replace the lawn with some pavers separated by ground cover, with the fountain in the middle. that's the plan anyway.

Human beings are the animal more than any other that changes the environmnet to suit us, rather than accepting it as it is. Peleg and I talked to the designer about things like our desire for modern looks, and bright colors, and both of us having lots of fire in our personalities that we want to cool down with the water elements. The very idea that I ought to be surrounded by a landscape that relfects my taste rather than letting it reflect it's own taste is remarkable. Being at home in the evironmnet for humans often means changing the environmnet rather than changing ourselves.

direct from the source

God speaks everywhere, always. But that doesn't mean that every person and thing is equally reflective of the divine. You could read the W Hotel promotion book as scripture, and undoubtedly God is in there, somewhere. But other people and things are better sources of divine wisdom a) because that's the intent, and b) some people hear and reflect God's wisdom better than others.

It's a common piece of Unitarian Christology that Jesus was not actually God incarnate, but that Jesus did hear and reflect God's wisdom better than others. Some would say better than any others. Some would even say Jesus did it perfectly, in which case he would in a sense by an incarnation of God (God's wisdom in human form) but the Unitarian difference being that Jesus still did what he did as a human being, ontologically exactly the same as the rest of us, and doing only what all of us could do.

But the problem with Jesus as a source of learning God's wisdom, is that we don't actually have Jesus directly. If God did speak to Jesus, and Jesus heard and reflected accurately, even perfectly, we still only have Jesus through other people. And BIblical scholars tell us that no writer of the New Testament actually met Jesus. So that Divine Wisdom, as pure as it once was, is pretty muddied by the time it comes to us.

And that's the problem with every wisdom source, excpet one. Only in one wisdom source can the wisdom of God be intuited directly, or close to, without being transmitted and diluted through other people's experience. And that's the experience of God each of us has for ourselves, in our own minds and hearts. We're still mixed up in the transmission. We don't hear perfectly. And we interpret what we hear through our own biases. But that's still at least one step closer to God than we can be through any other channel.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

duchampian religion

it occurs to me that what I wrote about scripture being "in the eye of the beholder" is very similar to the lesson Marcel Duchamp taught us about art. What makes an object "art" is not an aspect inherent in the object, but is a quality in the attention given to the object by a viewer. That artful way of looking can be invited by the artist in the way they present the object: putting a frame around it, placing it in a gallery, adding their signature.

In this week's issue of the New Yorker in an article on the artist Chris Burden, Peter Schjeldahl offers this definition of art: "In pragmatic terms, art is a privileged zone of gratuitous activity, with boundaries maintained by the agreement of the vested authorities."

The "privileged zone" is the frame. The "gratuitous activity" is the painting, or collage, or anything at all. In the case of Chris Burden it meant allowing himself to be shot in the arm. What makes it art are the agreements made by those involved in the art world. Chris Burden's art plays at the extremes of that definition but the definition applies equally well to Monet and Michaelangelo. It's art because an artist says it is, and art viewers with influence or money collude in the naming.

In the religious world people with influence and money (churches and those allied withthe power of churches) invest in calling certain texts "scripture" and certain utterances "revelation" and certain people "prophets" but it's not an inherent quality in the texts and speech and people so named, it's an agreement maintained by the vested authorities.

everything is scripture

The last time Peleg and I were at a W hotel (mid-March in San Diego) he picked up a promotional piece they had in the room with photo spreads of all their properties worldwide, and features on such things as their interior design philosophy, and restaurants, and their uniform style. I was flipping through the book last night and realized that this book, like every other book could be mined for spiritual lessons. The way Biblical scholars pour over every detail of the Bible and pick apart every word, you coudl easily do the same with the W book or any other book. Why is this picture next to this one? What does this phrase mean? Is this passage, which on the surface seems to be about hotel interior design really meant as a meditation on the interior design of a person's soul?

Scripture is more about the mind that one brings to the text than the text itself.

Some writings are written as responses to what the writer sees God doing in the world. But very little of what we regard as scripture was written to be scripture. And most of what I find to be the most spiritual, insightful and inspirational writing, the most revealing of God to me, is not found in scripture.

Beginning with a theology that tells me that God is enfused in every particle and moment of creation God is equally available everywhere we look: in every book, every word, every sight and sound and silence. It's not about the presence or absence of God (there can be no absence of God). It's about our looking.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

synchronocities multiplying

I still don't know if it means anything. And maybe there only seem to be so many because I'm noticing them.

I was at Jack in the Box on Sunday after church. As I walked in a worker behind the counter called out the number of an order ready for pick-up, "quatro cuarenta-dos" four forty-two. I stepped up to the counter and placed my order, two breakfast jacks, hash browns and a cup of coffee. The total? $4.42.

Last night Peleg and I spent the evening together watching TV. We live less than a mile from Griffith Park which was burning last night. A lot of excitement as water-dropping helicopters scooped up water from Silver Lake, just below our house and then flew over our hosue to the park on the other side. At one point I walked out to the street to get the mail and I could see huge billows of smoke coming from the park, glowing in the light of the setting sun. I called Peleg out to see the sight. As we stood in front of our house watching the fire I opened a magazine that had arrived in that afternoon's mail and turned directly to an article titled, "Keep the Home Fires Burning."

Later as we sat watching TV I told Peleg a story about a big condo project going up in downtown LA. As we were talking Peleg noticed that the commercial playing on the TV for a cell phone company was set in downtwon LA.

Peleg told me a story of running into Joy Behar at Whole Foods. I remarked that was odd as I assumed she lived in New York. Later that evening we watched an episode of King of Queens we had TiVo'd that guest-starred Lainie Kazan. Peleg said, "That's her. That's the woman I saw at Whole Foods." He even insists that she was wearing the same outfit that she was wearing in the show.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

in the space of now

Last night I had my first rehearsal for the next concert series with the chorus. One of the chorus members was recently elected mayor of west hollywood so the chorus began our rehearsal by performing two songs at the mayor's inauguration event. We sang "Something to Live For" from the Billy Strayhorn concert we just completed, and an older song that some of the chorus members knew already, but I didn't because I was new. I wasn't going to sing that song and was prepared to just stand and listen after we finished our first song. But then a guy to my right handed me a copy of the music and I was able to sight sing well enough that I joined in. That song was called, "In the Space of Now" composed by our assistant conducter, Kevin Robison, and using words of Eckhart Tolle. Beautiful setting. Very powerful words. A prayer.

"I meet you in the now. I meet you in the still, still quiet of this moment. Now this very moment with no history or expectation. This moment knows no past, no future, only now. In the space of now there is no shame. In the space of now there is no fear. In the space of now there is no judgement of what has been, of all that is, of what will come. Like music this moment has no beginning. Like music this moment will go on. Like music this moment tells a truth that you and I and all that is are one. And so we sing in the space of now. We sing for speaking is not enough. We sing for music hath no judgement of who we've been, of who we are, who we'll become. Let us surrender to the now, to the suchness of this moment. Let us release our judgment of all that was and is to be. Then we, no longer prisoners of our thinking, in an instant, in this perfect moment, through our song, will have changed the world. Now, I meet you in the now."

This afternoon I met with a member of my congregation and in the coure of our conversation he said to me that he had been listening to a book on tape of, you guessed it, Eckhart Tolle. And, by the way, I have a copy of "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle on my bookshelf but I've never read it. Now I will. Now's the time.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

am I a Christian?

There seem to be two essential doctrines that define Christianity: incarnation, and Jesus' death as payment for sin.

If the doctrine of Incarnation must mean that Jesus was the incarnation of God, then I don't believe. It offends my reason and intuition to say that Jesus was God. This theology brings the distant God one step closer to humanity - he walked among us - but preserves the essential separation between God and humanity that causes so much damage to our spirituality. But incarnation could mean what I think Jesus meant, that God is incarnate throughout all creation. As Emerson wrote in his essay, "The Oversoul" "Let men then learn the revelation of all nature and all thought to his heart; this, namely; that the Highest dwells with him."

And what of Jesus' death? I find repugnant the idea that Jesus had to die to assuage God's offended justice at our sins. This Christian doctrine seems to say that God could not forgive our sin unless we paid God off with a bloody corpse. The origin of the idea is clear. Jesus died apparently having failed in his Messiah task. The first century Jewish Christians needed a story that would make that death a triumph. A handy example of how to make spiritual sense of death took place every day at the temple in the animal sacrifices performed there. Maybe Jesus' death was a kind of sacrifice as well? I think Jesus would be appalled. The Gospels tell us again and again how consistently his disciples misunderstood Jesus' teachings. I think they got this one wrong, too.

Jesus' death was only regarded a failure because his followers expected him to be a Messiah in a different way than he was. Jesus kept saying that he wasn't here to overthrow the Romans and restore the Jewish Kingdom. Death in itself isn't a failure. Everybody dies, winners and losers. Jesus' death is a tragedy in that he died unnecessarily and at the hands of violence. But when death becomes inevitable we can face it bravely, even serenely, trusting in the infinite love of God, who will be with us after death the same way as during life.

stolen moments

Last weekend I attended my denomination's District Assembly and participated with several other ministers in the Saturday morning worship. Later in the morning a man stopped me and told me that he felt that the fact that I hadn't worn any sort of clerical garb during the service detracted from the "pageantry" and that I had been disrespectful. Usually in my own church I will wear a shirt and tie, or sometimes a suit. Some ministers in my denomination wear robes; I don't own one. And others will wear a stole, which is a long rectangular piece of coth draped over the shoulders. The stole is the symbol of ordination and I was given one that my mother made for me when I was ordained, but I never wear it. My style is more casual and contemporary, and I've never had anybody comment on it before.

It wasn't a big deal but the comment did stay with me sufficiently so that on Wednesday as I dressed for a Vespers service I was participating in I told the story to Peleg and we laughed about anybody expecting "pageantry" in a Unitarian Universalist worship service. I shared the Vespers service with three other ministers: two dressed in robes, the thrid wore a suit, like me, but he wore a stole over his suit.

Wouldn't you know, after the service, a man (not from my church) asked me why I didn't wear a stole, and I explained my problems with it, both theologically and that it doesn't feel like my style or the style of my congregation. and then a few minutes later two women who are in my congregation told me that I looked out of place among the other ministers and that they felt I needed a stole. Significantly one of the two women is a seamstress who could make me a stole. So it appears that I may soon be wearing one.

bump in the road

Two days ago I was driving up to the church. On the freeway a car in front of me and one lane to the right ran over a big piece of shredded tire. His wheel picked up the rubber, flipped it into the air, and it landed directly in front of me. If I had been certain there was no one in the lane next to me I could have swerved. But not being sure, and not having enough time to check my blind spot I just gripped the wheel and ran it over. It hit the underside of my car with a terrific crash and nervously I continued on until I was assured that I hadn't actually damaged the car.

I forgot about it during the day. After an evening meeting I drove home in the dark. As I neared home again I ran over something in the road. In the darkness I never saw it coming but I heard it and felt it in the jolt of the car. I still don't know what it was. Again it was a crash significant enough that I worried that I might have damaged the car, or blown a tire. But everything seemed to be fine. And the next day when I had a chance to examine the underside of the car in the daylight I couldn't see any evidence of having hit anything.

Spiritual lessons about roads and obstacles are pretty common. I won't add a comment.

Rick, Rick and Nicky

I'm going to start a new series of entries tagged as synchronocities. Sometimes synchronocities are just coincidences. Sometimes they're just fun and don't mean anything. But sometimes they might also be the result of God trying to give us a particular word. God speaks to us constantly and the repetition may be the result of the same message coming through more than one channel.

Last night, after I preached at the Valley Vespers service in Studio City (my homily on covenant is here) I stopped at a bar in Burbank I used to go to when I lived in that neighborhood. The guy at the bar next to me introduced himself to me telling me his name was Rick. I said, "me too." And the guy did a double take because his friend sitting on the other side of him was also named Rick.

Then today, for the National Day of Prayer the Interfaith Council in Santa Clarita put together a little noon time prayer event at City Hall. (My prayer for the event is here.) A lay person from one of the Jewish congregations who I hadn't met before introduced himself to me telling me his name was Rick. Remembering the night before I said, "me too." And the guy then introduced me to his friend standing on the other side whose name was Nicky.

What does it mean? Maybe nothing. But I've also been thinking lately about this spiritual task of seeing ourselves in everyone we meet. We're all one. Everyone is Ricky. Ricky meet Rick, and Rick, and Rick, and Nicky, too.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Christians and cocktails

My last post was quickly corrected by a Jehovah's Witness who pointed out that alcohol is not forbidden in that denomination. In fact after looking some more I struggled to find any Christian denomination that forbids alcohol except the Seventh Day Adventists. The LDS Church also forbids alcohol but may or may not be Christian depending on who you ask. The Salvation Army expects its full members to abstain from alcohol, which is not quite the same as prohibition. Here is their position statement.

"Accepting that alcohol, tobacco and other addictive drugs can be harmful, and can also have consequent effects on individuals, families and society, members of The Salvation Army freely and willingly refrain from the use of these substances in their own lives. (In this instance, ‘members’ refers to Salvation Army soldiers, who commit themselves to an addiction-free lifestyle, as a condition of full membership.) This also applies to other addictive drugs, except when medically prescribed. In so doing, they are mindful that, while certain lifestyle choices may be legally and socially acceptable, some choices may be neither helpful to the person concerned, nor to those likely to be influenced by their actions (1 Corinthians 8:9, Revised English Bible)."

Here's the scripture passage cited. "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak."

Again it's a position I agree with. God's hope for our enjoyment of life should not harm ourselves or others. Given the particular work of the Salvation Army it seems reasonable to expect abstention from alcohol. I also don't drink whenever I'm with church members where my drinking might negatively effect my ability to serve as a minister.

God and cocktails

For Islam, consumption of alcohol is strictly forbidden. The Koran explains (5:91) that intoxication leads to fighting and would make persons forget their prayers. Buddhism discourages alcohol for the reason that salvation depends on a focused and clear mind (the fifth precept). Mormons don't drink either (following a health code called the Word of Wisdom written by Joseph Smith in 1833). In Christianity alcohol is forbidden by many sects (Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses) but allowed by others. And alcohol consumption is not forbidden in the Bible. (Jesus' first miracle was to turn water into wine not grape juice - John 2.) Many Christian churches in the United States originally allied with the temperance movement (Baptists, Methodists) have relaxed their rules following the failure of Prohibition in the 1920s. Judaism also allows drinking (and practically requires it on Purim where the instruction is to drink until you can no longer tell the difference between "Cursed is Haman and Blessed is Mordechai") but there are specific Kosher regulations concerning the production of wine.

God wants us to be joyful and to make life joyful for others. Mild intoxication, whether from alcohol or many other substances can lead in the direction of happiness and socialability. Although drunkeness can lead to dangers, drinking doesn't always lead to fighting and forgetting our prayers. If a person can enjoy alcohol without harming himself or others I see no religious reason to forbid it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

last night's dream

Last night I dreamt that I was at David Byrne's house and he had my art on his walls.

The David Byrne part is easy. I did a worship service on Friday morning and I played a recording of the Talking Heads song "Take Me to the River" as the Postlude. The service was during the District Assembly in Riverside, so I did the service around a water theme. So David Byrne was on my mind.

The art work is a little more obscure. Peleg and I recently created some canvasses for our house. So some of my artwork is on the walls of my own house. But the artwork I saw in my dream was nothing like what I created. The pieces in my dream all contained images of arrows. David Byrne told me that he had been collecting my "Directions series." The arrows were all in primary colors with black outlines and pointed in conflicting directions. He had dozens of them. I had the impression in my dream that I had created these long ago and was surprised to see them again.

I don't think dreams necessarily mean anything. But the idea of arrows and directions, and particularly arrows pointing more than one way, has spiritual meaning for me.

Me, a lawyer

I've always had this dream to be a lawyer. And I probably never will be.

Easter is the season of new life. I've talked about the number of lives each of us have during the one life we have. I've been an artist, and an administrator, and now a minister. So it's possible to have more than one life within the one life all of us get.

But it's not possible to have an unlimited number of lives. There are only so many interests any of us can pursue. We have to choose. And choosing to follow one path means choosing not to follow others.

I think I'd be a good lawyer. The kinds of questions that lawyers analyze appeal to me, questions of language and logic, and also the values of justice and equality the law is meant to uphold. I'd like to work with some social justice oriented organization, gay rights, or the environment, perhaps.

That path isn't entirely closed. I could study through an online course and keep my job at the church. It would take me several years and a lot of money. I'd be well into my 50s by the time I got my JD. Then there's the question of whether any one would hire me at that age with no experience. And the question of whether I'd really rather have that life or the one I already have.

May Day

May Day is most commonly known in the US as a day to recognize workers. But the first of May is also an old Celtic holiday called Beltane. Bel is the sun god. And Beltane means day of fire. The first of May marked the transition from Winter to Summer. The usual springtime activities of fertility apply, in the fields, and in people, and in people in the fields.

The May pole dance was a singles mixer. Men and women dance around a tree set up in the center of the village holding ribbons attached to the top of the tree, with the fun being the chance to ensnare your lover, or hoped soon to be lover, within the knotted ribbons.

The reason for May Day becoming associated with worker's rights has to do with the tradition of abolishing social class on this day. In a kind of Apri's fool event employees and employers would all be treated equally for one day, and Robin Goodfellow, also known as the Green Man, was celebrated as the Lord of Misrule, charged with the task of poking fun at the authorities.

Here's a picture of me from a summer church camp a few years ago playing the Green Man.