Friday, September 25, 2009

O Magnum Mysterium

Much time has passed since I started this discussion, but the subject never leaves my mind for long. I suppose that’s because the subject of “mystery” keeps flowing in and out of my life and my conversations. Coincidence? Or just chaos theory in action?

And today is the fifth anniversary of my blog--I guess that deserves some sort of effort on my part.

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Mystical Seeker (MS) asked some wonderful questions in the comments to my previous post on this topic, and I have spent a lot of time pondering them.

I’ve questioned the best way to engage in dialogue here. To do point/counter-point has the advantage of forcing me to confront the questions MS and others raised, and I think it’s important to do that. I don’t want to look as if I’m ducking the hard issues.

The downside to my responding in that way, however, is that it can look as if I am trying to argue people into agreeing with me (or at least to “prove” that I am somehow correct in my approach or interpretations). I assure you that is not my project. Like anyone else, I prefer to be “right,” but I long ago accepted that—if we are honest—in matters of faith, there ARE no right answers.

For me, the whole point of this exercise is that I am still trying to figure out for myself what *I* believe---why I feel this need to hold “truth” and “mystery” in tension with one another and let the baby splash in the bathwater without throwing either of them out.

As I have noted, in some parts of my life, being a confessing Christian seems very...exotic. It’s like saying you believe in fairies or the boogeyman. In those parts of my life, people cut me some slack because they know I’m not one of “those” Christians. I don’t proselytize and I don’t speak about my faith unless invited to do so.

But the question is always there, though usually unspoken: How can you believe “that stuff?!”

Even in church, I get that feeling sometimes. Last Sunday morning I attended a discussion on Jesus for the Nonreligious in my home parish. The class was well-attended and quite lively and interesting. Several people made comments about how they had reached a point in their journeys of faith where they could no longer have remained in the Christian fold if they had to believe that “nonsense” about virgin births and miracles.

And I thought to myself, “Am I the ONLY one who thinks I can believe in quantum physics and miracles at the same time?”

And so, I type to MS and the others who commented—but I am really talking to myself...

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The fact that we exist at all--that's a mystery. The fact that there is love--that's a mystery. I don't have to believe in the literal truth of fantastical tales in order to believe in a mystery.

But what IS “mystery?” Is it simply a word that means “what I/we cannot (yet) know or understand?” Or is it more than that?

And, in the immortal words of Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” It seems to me that this is the unasked question in +Spong’s work—he assumes he knows exactly what “truth” is, and that you will agree with him about the definition.

I suppose I am too postmodern in my approach to truth. While I believe that there *is* Absolute Truth, I’m also pretty sure we can’t know it in this life. So, in that sense, all truth is relative. “Truth” changes because our understanding about the world expands and changes over time.

Having said that, I wonder sometimes if that is why we have lost the capacity to appreciate miracles—and why so many people no longer believe in them. We put our faith in science, as our modern version of “truth,” and think that we are so much more advanced than our first-century cousins in Palestine.

But are we really so different than they were? Many people--me, among them—accept the “truth” of the Big Bang theory. (Please note the quotation marks—I am well aware that scientists do not use the word “truth” about theories, but, in practice, we all do it.) But it seems to me that the notion of a singularity that is infinitely dense and hot and then—BAM!—expands to create the universe in less than a picosecond is at least as fantastical as the stories of miracles in the Bible!

What constitutes a mystery in your world? Tell me that and I will know something about your version of the truth.

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The universe is for me such an amazing source of awe, I don't have to revert to a five-year-old mentality and believe in Santa Clause in order to feel this awe.

I, too, am awed by the universe. But I guess I’m with Mary Sue on this. What’s wrong with being a 5-year-old when it comes to stories? Who enjoys Christmas more? The grown-ups who “know” there is no Santa Claus, or the little kids who can hardly sleep for quivering with excitement?

I know the objection to this, of course--Santa Claus isn’t “real.” But, for me, that’s where the mystery comes in. As crazy as it sounds, I DO believe in Santa Claus. Because the “reality” of Santa Claus is that there is love and generosity in the universe, and, when I “play” Santa Claus for my children, I am acting on behalf of that for them. From my perspective, I am merely channeling what already exists--and giving them some fun and lovely memories while I’m doing it.

This is why I think Jesus made such a point of talking about having faith like a child. They haven’t lost their capacity for wonder. They aren’t bound by “rationality” and science. They still know how to thrill to something. They aren’t cynical and jaded like the adults in their lives.

I really do aspire to be more child-like in that sense. It’s not about accepting falsehoods. It’s about being open to things that are not always rational. And if that doesn’t define God and faith, I don’t know what does...

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One of the problems that I see in religious credulity is that it often boils down to "my fairy tale is true; your fairy tale is false." So Christians can believe that Jesus literally walked around after being resuscitated, but they will refuse to believe the fantastical claims of Muhammad or Joseph Smith. Incredulity with other religions, credulity with my own.

Fair point. But I don’t believe that. I’m fully aware of just how crazy the Christian story is, and willing to grant that Muslims or Mormons ALSO have the “right” story—or at least another facet of it.

My “problem” is that I’m a Christian who doesn’t believe that Christianity is the only way to God--but I’m lumped in with all the fundagelicals.

I started this conversation by asking why people who can’t accept the idea that Jesus was anything other than a good teacher would want to hold on to him--but I guess I should ask myself why I want to hold on to him when I don’t think I “have to” in order to be saved (whatever that means) and it puts me in the same group with people whose theology and worldview I find repugnant?

That conversation, I suspect, will be a lifelong one...

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The difference between Cinderella and Jesus' resurrection is that adults don't take Cinderella literally, but lots of adults do take the fanciful tales in Matthew, Luke and John about his resurrection literally.

I will beg to differ with you on this. They may not take it “literally” in the way that you mean it, but women in our culture have internalized the story of Cinderella and I think the damage is incalculable. From the time they are infants, girls hear almost nothing but stories about beautiful princesses who are rescued by handsome princes—and then go on to live “happily ever after.” Those stories shape the way girls feel about themselves and the way they look at their relationships with men. I’m trying hard to figure out how believing that Jesus turned water into wine can have that same type of negative cultural impact...

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I discovered a lot of churches where people read Borg or Spong in reading groups, but when push comes to shove, as this discussion bears out, most Christians, even progressive or non-fundamentalist ones, seem to prefer to treat these stories as if they are true.

That’s because they MEAN something to us.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it difficult to live in a completely “rational” world all the time. That’s where poetry and music and stories come in for me. If you read those biblical stories as “poems,” what’s wrong with accepting that miraculous things happen? You can’t “prove” that they didn’t, anymore than I can prove that they did--but my life would be much poorer without those stories.

For instance, I think many people fail to see the beauty and power of the story of the virgin birth. Think about it for a moment--God comes to earth in human form, and there is no man involved! Do you grasp how radical and life-affirming that could be from a feminist standpoint?

I’m not willing to stake my faith on that story being “true” in a literal sense, because I know all about the history of virgin birth stories--and I don’t demand that anyone else believe it. But I love it, and I’m not willing to give it up because some people declare it to be impossible. If I can believe in a God that created the universe (and I do, however that has worked itself out over the last 14 billion years), believing in the virgin birth is really not much of a stretch. For the God who could create this:


a virgin birth—or turning water into wine—would be little more than a parlor trick.

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There is more--much more--but this is already too long and I want to post something tonight. So I will close with this...

When I was in high school, I sang in the school choir (known as the A Cappella). Our choir director was a man of great talent who held high expectations of us, and, one year, he entered us in a regional choral contest. Here is what we performed:




It was ambitious for a bunch of fundamentalist kids who had never seen Latin before the day he handed us the music. I don’t remember that we did particularly well at the contest, but I have never forgotten the beauty of that piece. In some sense, it is the story of my faith:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.
Alleluia.

51 comments:

PseudoPiskie said...

One of my favorite pieces to sing and to hear. Thanks, Doxy.

Lots to think about and discuss. I believe it is possible to be a follower of Jesus and not believe in the miracles, especially if one believes the Bible is a guide for living peacefully and successfully in community thereby bringing "heaven" to earth. I will admit to getting caught up in worship, especially the eucharist and the mystery present at the table. I feel sorry for people who can't suspend reality for special moments in life. I believe that is the essence of faith also.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

For me, the answer to what mystery is lies in your YouTube clip. Each of the voices in that choir is capable of singing their part in that piece solo, but if you put them all together--those many voices--a single voice emerges that is richer and more magnificent than the best voice in the choir. A single voice made up of "different voices", singing different parts of the score, with different voice ranges, making something that is "one."

That, for me, is mystery.

kenju said...

I shouldn't be trying to read this and make sense of anything at 1:15 am! I have made a note to come back tomorrow when I will be thinking more clearly.

"And I thought to myself, “Am I the ONLY one who thinks I can believe in quantum physics and miracles at the same time?”

NO, you are not the only one.

Erika Baker said...

You say you seek truth and that you want to be right - me too!
But that's process with many stages of development, each of which appear as truth and right at the time we go through them.

I'd like to ask why it seems to matter so much to you what others believe.
Yes, we've lumbered with the fundagelicals and we have little in common with them.
I've always thought that the mystics of each faith have more in common with each other than they have with their own fundamentalist base, and that the fundamentalists of all faiths, too, share more than they are aware of!

As for "did it happen" You say you seek truth and that you want to be right - me too!
But that's process with many stages of development, each of which appear as truth and right at the time we go through them.

I'd like to ask why it seems to matter so much to you what others believe.
Yes, we've lumbered with the fundagelicals and we have little in common with them.
I've always thought that the mystics of each faith have more in common with each other than they have with their own fundamentalist base, and that the fundamentalists of all faiths, too, share more than they are aware of!

As for "did it happen" – my wonderful spiritual director who is also an OT expert insists that people in ancient times simply did not ask that question. It made no sense to them, and so we are asking 21st century questions of 1st century texts. She gives the story of Solomon as an example. There are two women both claiming that a boy is theirs. And Solomon puts the boy inside a circle and asks the mothers to pull him out, explaining that the real mother will have the strength to do that. One of the women immediately lets go as not to hurt the child, and Solomon says that she is clearly the child’s real mother.
Now, if “what is the truth” had been the purpose of this story, Solomon (or the author of the story) would have had Solomon talk to the women, ask them lots of courtroom questions, maybe call for witnesses, and established the truth as we would do today.
But “what actually happened” is irrelevant here. What matters is the deeper truth of the story. Who acts as a true mother, who, at the deep core “is” the mother.

The flip side is a play “Father and Son, Son and Father”, I heard recently, an ongoing conversation between Jesus and God. In it, God asks Jesus why on earth he walked on water, what did he think he would accomplish? Unless he made a deep connection between walking on water and the truth of God, the exercise was completely pointless.

And so I read all the bible stories. Yes, he may have walked on water, yes, he may have fed the 5000 (although I personally don’t believe he did), but it’s completely irrelevant if you only read it superficially. It’s the theological truth that matters here, nothing else.
If he did walk on water and some saw it as a circus act, it meant nothing to them.
If he did walk on water and some gleaned something important about God through it, then it was vitally important to them.
If he didn’t walk on water but the writers of the story wanted to say something important about God by using that image, then the image is still very very valid, even though not factual truth.

Sorry, I went on too long!!

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I'd like to ask why it seems to matter so much to you what others believe.

Good question, Erika---though I think it needs to be adjusted slightly. I am responding not to what others believe, but to their telling me (either directly or indirectly) that only silly and superstitious people can believe in the stories in the Bible.

I suspect it's an assault on my pride more than anything. I'm a trained social scientist. In most ways, I'm very much left-brained---logical, linear, skeptical, and looking for data. That approach to life is how I define myself---but then I have this right-brained approach to God and faith where miracles and mystery appeal to me. It annoys me to have people assume that it's impossible to be an intelligent person and still believe in miracles.

As I noted, however, I really am not trying to argue anyone into agreeing with me. I guess I just keep trying to understand how I can be so evidence-driven in most of my life and so enamored of the mysterious at the same time...

(I told Dear Friend that I am aiming for "whole brain" spirituality! ;-)

I believe it is possible to be a follower of Jesus and not believe in the miracles, especially if one believes the Bible is a guide for living peacefully and successfully in community thereby bringing "heaven" to earth. I will admit to getting caught up in worship, especially the eucharist and the mystery present at the table. I feel sorry for people who can't suspend reality for special moments in life.

I agree on all counts, Piskie. And I'm glad you liked the music. It would be great if I could hear you perform sometime!

For me, the answer to what mystery is lies in your YouTube clip. Each of the voices in that choir is capable of singing their part in that piece solo, but if you put them all together--those many voices--a single voice emerges that is richer and more magnificent than the best voice in the choir.

Beautiful, Kirk. And that gave me some insight into why music moves me so much and has always been one of my primary ways of relating to God.

Kenju--thanks for letting me know I'm not the only one! :-)

Dear Friend and I were talking this morning and he said "Quantum physics actually made it EASIER for me to believe in miracles!" So there's that...

It’s the theological truth that matters here, nothing else.

Agreed. The rub comes when MY "theological truth" and YOUR "theological truth" don't jive... ;-)

Paul said...

First of all, happy blogiversary, Doxy dear!!!

I was a teenager encountering the da Victoria "O Magnum Mysterium" and it may remain my favorite song of the Incarnation.

When I was in seminary (the first time) and skeptical about the virginal conception, a classmate and I attended a performance of the Bach B minor Mass at my undergraduate college. He turned to me after the Incarnatus passage and said, "Now, how can you not believe in the virgin birth?" It was a totally aesthetic response but fascinating.

I think the modern era did the pre-modern world a disservice by assuming things were to be taken literally and everyone who lived before then did so. What postmodern folks share with followers of ancient wisdom paths is an awareness that - as I would put it - EVERYTHING is metaphor. I believe deeply that which moves me to be a better person and live a more grace-filled life, and I assume it is metaphor or symbol. Its truth is not about being quantifiable.

I believe quantifiable things in a different manner but the proof in either case is this: will I commit? Will I get on this airplane believing it will fly? Will I love this person? Will I fight for this cause?

Wormwood's Doxy said...

It was a totally aesthetic response but fascinating.

Ooooohhhh....light bulb just went off! Aesthetics are a BIG part of my spiritual response. Your comment made me realize that I *am* responding to the aesthetics of those stories, rather than to the "facts" of them. Having someone tell me that the story of the virgin birth is not "true" makes about as much sense to me as saying that Guido Reni's Madonna and Child is not "true."

That is my very favorite Madonna ever. (It's a minor miracle that it actually belongs to the North Carolina Museum of Art and I can go and visit it!). It's my favorite not because I believe that Jesus was a blond, curly=haired Anglo, or that Mary wore sumptuous robes and looked Italian--but because it is the "truest" nursing madonna I've ever seen.

I nursed both my children for a long time, and the way the baby is nursing in that painting is REAL. It speaks very powerfully to me, even though I "know" Jesus and Mary didn't really look like that, because it touches an emotional chord.

And so the stories speak to me...they do speak of theological truths and I respond. My challenge is, as you note, to incorporate those truths into my life and live them out again.

Paul---it is a lovely gift this morning to feel that I have been understood. Bless you!

Fran said...

Doxy, I am sitting here in a puddle of tears. I will come back and say something later.

So much love to you and congratulations on 5 years of wisdom here.

Grandmère Mimi said...

As I started to read the post, my mind was doing a kind of free association:

mystery - ineffable

mystery - wonder - childlike

Jesus said come as a little child.


And I read your words:

This is why I think Jesus made such a point of talking about having faith like a child. They haven’t lost their capacity for wonder.

It was as though I read your mind, or you read my mind, and I was blown away. I want to be childlike in that way, too, to never lose my capacity for wonder.

The music is gorgeous. How can you not believe? And the Madonnas, especially Botticelli and Fra Angelico for me, how can you not believe?

And this from Brideshead Revisited which I've probably bored too many by repeating it:

“Oh dear, it’s very difficult being a Catholic!”

“Does it make much difference to you?”

“Of course. All the time.”

“Well, I can’t say I’ve noticed it. Are you struggling against temptation? You don’t seem much more virtuous than me.”

“I’m very, very much wickeder,” said Sebastian indignantly.

“… I suppose they try to make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?”

“Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.”

“But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”

“Can’t I?”

“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”

“Oh yes. I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”

“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.”

“But I do. That’s how I believe.” (pp. 81–83)

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I love that, Mimi--keep repeating all you like, because that's how I believe too.

(One of these days, I'm actually going to get around to reading it...)

It was as though I read your mind, or you read my mind, and I was blown away.

The mysterious keeps flowing and eddying around us, doesn't it? Fran was blogging about this issue this morning too. Everyone go read her too!

Erika Baker said...

"The rub comes when MY "theological truth" and YOUR "theological truth" don't jive... ;-)"

But that's nothing to do with whether biblical stories are historical truth or not. That's more to do with how we interpret what they mean and what conclusions we draw from them.

I know biblical literalist who manage to be pro-gay and pro women priests, for example, while others read the same stories literally and come to a different conclusion.

What scientific people often say is "if I have to believe all that supernatural stuff, then I don't think that God can be real". And the only answer to that can be "you don't have to believe it, you can read it at any level you like, any level that is meaningful to you. Just allow the very real and living God draw you into his own mystery. He will meet you where you are, using just the brain and perceptions you have, not those other people think you ought to have".

Diane said...

Happy Blogoversary, Doxy! Pesky Lutheran joining in here: we're getting peskier all the time, too...

When you said the word (or someone else said the word) aesthetic, my brain said "yes". I will need to post more about this, but when I did my move into the charismatics/fundies for a time, loving the spirit, but hating the rigidity of it all, what really led me back was the Aesthetics of orthodoxy. There was something beautiful about it for me, not just in the worship, but in the incarnation, in the formulations. It seemed that orthodoxy gave a structure to believing, like the structure of a sonnet.

I think I will need to do my own post on this...

And I know that the word "orthodoxy" will not work for some people, and I accept that.

pesky Lutheran signing off...

Mystical Seeker said...

Thanks for taking the time to offer your thoughtful responses to my earlier comments. I would like to make a few comments in response. My response is long, so I am breaking it up into two parts.

They may not take it “literally” in the way that you mean it, but women in our culture have internalized the story of Cinderella and I think the damage is incalculable. From the time they are infants, girls hear almost nothing but stories about beautiful princesses who are rescued by handsome princes—and then go on to live “happily ever after.” Those stories shape the way girls feel about themselves and the way they look at their relationships with men.

Yes, of course what you say about the power of story and myth is true, and indeed, that is precisely my point as well. I understand the power of stories like those of Cinderella, Santa Clause, of the Virgin Birth. The fact that I believe that none of them is literally true doesn't mean that they cannot be powerful stories that influence our vision and outlook. I am not against the telling of stories in church, and I have never said that I was. What I have not been able to accept about my own church experiences is having been told that these stories are literally true, or at the very least, being told these stories AS IF they are literally true with no concession to their implausibility or impossibility.

That’s because they MEAN something to us.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it difficult to live in a completely “rational” world all the time. That’s where poetry and music and stories come in for me. If you read those biblical stories as “poems,” what’s wrong with accepting that miraculous things happen?


Again, I agree with you about the value of stories, poems, and myths. That is my point--we should focus on the meaning that these stories impart, rather than straining our incredulity by claiming that they are true. It seems to me that you are suggesting here that the only way a story like this could MEAN something to us is if we accept it to be true--but as your example of poems and such show, I'm not sure I understand your point, because it seems clear to me that this isn't the case. If progressive religion would stop taking religious myths literally and instead appreciate them as poetic inspiration, I myself would find religion much more palatable. The point that Marcus Borg makes all the time is that it is the meaning behind the stories that matters, rather than their literal truth; the implication of this, and agree with him, is that if you don't believe them to be true, you can still just as much meaning in them. In my case, it is necessary to make that extra step, because these are stories that I simply cannot believe to be true.

Mystical Seeker said...

If I can believe in a God that created the universe...believing in the virgin birth is really not much of a stretch.

One response I would give to that is that saying that God "could" do anything is a lot different from say that this is how God in fact operates in the world or has operated in history. We observe daily how the world operates, and the idea of divine intervention against the laws of physic flies in the face of everyday experience and science. Those who pray for miracles miracles in the modern world are essentially reduced to the "God of the Gaps"--the God who, for example, supposedly heals the sick by somehow intervening at the molecular level of their bodies in ways that we can't see. No lightning bolts out of the sky are involved. This is the God of invisible miracles--these are not miracles that can be verified or captured on camera. I believe it is pure wishful thinking on people's parts when they believe in such things. But divine intervention in ways that could be verified in a meaningful way--those don't happen, and we function in the modern world by understanding this.

The only thing that made it possible for me to believe in God again was my recognition that it is not necessary to believe that God is omnipotent. So actually I do not believe that God simply "created" the world out of whole cloth through a sheer act of divine omnipotent will. In my case, once I discovered theologies such as process theology, which posit a God who is actively present but not omnipotent, I came to realize that it was possible for me to believe in God after years of atheism on my part. To start believing in miracles like virgin births would simply take me back to a kind of religion I was brought up in and which I rejected years ago, and I simply would have come full circle. I had thought that to believe in God you had to believe in the unbelievable. I now realize this is not true. What interests me is not going back to the religion I was brought up in, but rather moving forward to a religion that combines a naturalistic understanding of the world with an awe of the mystery that gets to the heart of our existence--one that utilizes myths, stories, and poetry without taking myths literally.

As I said, I am in favor of myths and stories. For me, the value of religion relies precisely in its poetic nature. Religion is for me very much a lot like poetry, a way of mediating the sacred and finding a depth of meaning in our lives. It isn't about making extraordinary claims about the real world. Poetry is not a science textbook. One can appreciate and be inspired by great poetry and at the same time recognize that poetry is not science. To confuse the two is to play right into the criticisms of religion that the so-called New Atheists make against religious faith.

IT said...

Erika said,
What scientific people often say is "if I have to believe all that supernatural stuff, then I don't think that God can be real". And the only answer to that can be "you don't have to believe it, you can read it at any level you like, any level that is meaningful to you. Just allow the very real and living God draw you into his own mystery. He will meet you where you are, using just the brain and perceptions you have, not those other people think you ought to have".
THe level that's meaningful to ME is that this...THIS....is all there is. There is nothing beyond, outside, or without. We are all that we have.

Is there "GOD" there? Maybe that's enough for you. For me, there's nothing but us.

Fran said...

I'm back... Still weepy after the reread however, what a beautiful post Doxy.

Thank you for noting my own blogpost and the link, my friend!

Where to begin?

I shall start near the end and your notation that the God who could create such an amazing universe could also be responsible for a virgin birth... so very true.

The same sense of mystery that is required for one is required of the other... We must be left, at some level, dumbstruck, by what we encounter. I think of other Scriptural birth stories - Hannah comes to mind and of course Sarah and Mary's cousin Elizabeth.

Manifestation IS wonder and a miracle indeed and as such IS hard to believe. Yet a Hubble photo (or whatever the source of your photo) seems more "real" as it is so far from us.

We can't believe ourselves as miracles, yet indeed we are.

The beauty of that photo is one thing and yet we could not live in the hot, gaseous, airless place that it is. To see it from afar is to affirm its glory.

Well in our own hot, gaseous, airless place we can't see our own glory either.

Am I making any sense?

What I am getting at is that rather than pick the virgin birth - or lots of other things (hello resurrection!) up close, we might be better left in the awe that zooming out might afford us.

If we but let ourselves.

I think I am going to leave it at that for now.

What I will say is that this is one of the best pieces of writing - and exchanges that I have seen in a long time.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I know biblical literalists who manage to be pro-gay and pro women priests

I have never met one of those, Erika! You must have a different breed of literalists in the U.K. The people I grew up with could no more accept women ministers or LGBTs than they could...turn water into wine. ;-)

And the only answer to that can be "you don't have to believe it, you can read it at any level you like, any level that is meaningful to you. Just allow the very real and living God draw you into his own mystery. He will meet you where you are, using just the brain and perceptions you have, not those other people think you ought to have".

This is actually what I've been trying to say. It's that "allow the very real and living God to draw you into his own mystery" that I think is so important. More on that below...

Wormwood's Doxy said...

what really led me back was the Aesthetics of orthodoxy. There was something beautiful about it for me, not just in the worship, but in the incarnation, in the formulations. It seemed that orthodoxy gave a structure to believing, like the structure of a sonnet.

Diane--clearly we need more pesky Lutherans around here!

This is a very helpful way of framing it for me. I've written a few sonnets in my day, and they are incredibly challenging to do---they engage both the creative right brain and the logical left, as you try to channel your thoughts/feelings/images into a structured rhyme scheme and meter.

I see EXACTLY what you mean about how the aesthetics of orthodoxy could grab hold of you and lure you in...and, for me, what you said goes right along with Dear Friend's question "Do you believe a poem?"

Well...yes and no.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I am not against the telling of stories in church, and I have never said that I was. What I have not been able to accept about my own church experiences is having been told that these stories are literally true, or at the very least, being told these stories AS IF they are literally true with no concession to their implausibility or impossibility.

And now we get at the heart of our differences...

I do not want my rector to get up in the pulpit and demolish those stories as scientific impossibilities--just as I do not want my rector to get up in the pulpit and say "If you don't believe the literal truth of this, you cannot call yourself a Christian." I think both are abusive to people's faith.

It seems to me that you are suggesting here that the only way a story like this could MEAN something to us is if we accept it to be true

Then I apologize, because that is NOT what I've been trying to say. What I am trying to counter is the demand from the +Spong devotees that I have encountered that clergy actively demolish those stories for the pewsitters.

These are stories of FAITH. I believe that talking about historical and scientific things in Sunday School, small groups, Bible study, etc. is great and totally appropriate--but what I hear from you is that you want the CHURCH (in the person of the minister) to tell me that those stories are "Not True." And I'm saying that I would experience that as just as much a violation of my faith as you feel that having those stories treated as if they are true is a violation of your intellect.

I need to be in a church that allows me to enter into the mystery of the virgin birth, the miracles, and the resurrection--without being told what I can and cannot believe to be "true." I need to be able to question, and--at the same time--to hold onto the things that are meaningful to me, even if they fly in the face of science (or what we know of science at the moment!).

I want to hold the tensions between those two standpoints, because, for me, that's where FAITH comes in. I believe in science. I believe in miracles. I do not see those beliefs as mutually exclusive. I guess some people will see me as crazy...and I guess I have to live with that.

The point that Marcus Borg makes all the time is that it is the meaning behind the stories that matters, rather than their literal truth; the implication of this, and agree with him, is that if you don't believe them to be true, you can still just as much meaning in them.

Again, we agree on this.

I guess what I am asking you is this: Do you see it as necessary to puncture people's belief in the literal truth of the Gospel stories? If so, why? You appear to be saying that the stories are somehow harmful if they are believed in a literal sense, but you have given me no good reason for that assertion.

What I heard from the original +Spong discussion group was that they were offended that clergy didn't "tell people the truth"--with the clear assumption that they knew what "truth" was. I take issue with their certainty---just as I would take issue with the certainty of fundagelicals that one MUST believe in the literal truth on the Gospel stories.

I am fortunate to be in a faith community that allows me to engage in "both/and" theological reflection, rather than demanding that I believe in "either/or." Dogmatism--no matter which direction it comes from--does not sit well with me. (It's probably the Leo thing... ;-)

Grace said...

Hi, Doxy,

Want to weigh in here. For me, and I think for the Christian church the center of our faith doesn't lie in intellectual assent to the matter of Christ's birth, or in total agreement concerning the miracle stories, although I think they're important as a witness to the reality of God in Jesus, and the coming of the Messiah..

Isn't the center of our faith, the reality of the incarnation, though?

How do we truly know of the depth of God's love, of His essence apart from this?

If Jesus is simply a mere man, however great or wise, I think the center of Christian faith can't hold.

I admit to be totally perplexed why folks who feel like Spong want to be part of the Christian church at all, let alone hold the office of bishop. No unkindness at all intended in my comment. But, I'm being honest.

What I think is that on some deeper level, truly these folks must "believe," or in some way be seeking despite unbelief.

Otherwise, they would be happy as clams in an unitarian congregation, and would not wish to bother with the Christian church at all.

I for one, am certainly glad that they're around.. Who would Jesus turn away. As far as I"m concerned, welcome everyone, continue to share the truth of the "good news," and trust God to sort it out.

BTW, Doxy, I have two pieces of awesome news to share. I've found another position, even better than my last. And, I've been officially received into the Episcopal church. Praise God!

I can honestly say that when Bishop Katherine laid her hands on my head, and prayed a blessing, I wanted to weep, and dance down the aisle for joy.

I did the former, but restrained myself from the later. :)

God bless, Doxy. Good to hear all your thoughts.

Erika Baker said...

IT
If you genuinely believe there is no God, then that's fine.
I think my argument came from a different angle.
I often perceive scientifically minded people to say that it is somehow childish to believe in God, and that it is not a very intelligent thing to do.

It is that implied criticism of faith that I sense in the charge that taking the bible stories literally is an obstacle to faith.
And that's where I want to say that you do not have to take the stories literally. You can take them at any level you like, and you may find the living God behind and inside them.
Faith is not an unintelligent thing to be doing, you do not have to park your brains at the church door.
There is no right or wrong, but there is that which speaks to you.

That's not to say that the concept of God doesn't speak to some people, regardless of where they pitch it intellectually.
And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that - just like there isn't anything intellectually wrong with having faith in something that cannot be proven, but that the bible stories point to.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

The only thing that made it possible for me to believe in God again was my recognition that it is not necessary to believe that God is omnipotent.

Agreed. I do not believe that God is omnipotent. Like you, I had to reach that point before I could come back to a belief in God. It took care of the theodicy problem for me--and has never caused me the problems it does for fundagelicals who have to believe that God is in control of everything or God is not God.

In my case, once I discovered theologies such as process theology, which posit a God who is actively present but not omnipotent, I came to realize that it was possible for me to believe in God after years of atheism on my part.

You and I appear to have had very different experiences with process theology. I confess I've only read a handful of books on the subject (Cobb, Mesle, and Suchocki come to mind), but I find much more room for miracles in process theology than you appear to.

I think that's because I see God as being able to work with, and on behalf of, human beings through "the process." It doesn't mean that God can wave a magic wand and answer prayers--but that God is always calling us into relationship and that there may be times, places, and ways in which miraculous things occur because of that call and that process--and because of our own response to them.

If God can do nothing in human time or space, what's the point of believing in God? A lot of people talk dismissively about the "God of the Gaps," but a God who has no power to do anything seems hardly any better to me. In that case, agnosticism seems the more attractive choice. Of course I could be wrong...

There is so much we do not know about the universe. For me, quantum physics actually provides some "scientific" basis for the miraculous. At one time, scientists posited that light was either a wave or a particle--now they believe it acts as both. That is how I see the miraculous stories in the Gospel---they are light, and I can see them as both wave and particle. To demand that I see them as only one or the other would be to leave out some important part of the "equation."

One can appreciate and be inspired by great poetry and at the same time recognize that poetry is not science.

Again, we agree.

But I will point out, as I said to Diane, some forms of poetry are very demanding in their structure. They require discipline as well as inspiration. I love free verse, as well as sonnets--and I recognize both as poetry. I can do the same with science and mystery--I can recognize both as "truth" without feeling a need to choose one over the other.

Again, MS...I hope you understand that I am not trying to argue with you, in the sense of getting you to agree with me. I get where you are coming from--I suppose I just want those who share your views to understand that one CAN believe in the truth (even the literal truth) of the Gospel stories and still be a rational person who accepts science.

I'm trying to get away from the binary "either/or" and make room for "both/and." Can you go there?

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Manifestation IS wonder and a miracle indeed and as such IS hard to believe. Yet a Hubble photo (or whatever the source of your photo) seems more "real" as it is so far from us.

We can't believe ourselves as miracles, yet indeed we are.

Fran--I will never forget what my 10th grade biochemistry teacher told us about that. She talked about the billions of cell divisions that take place during fetal development, and she said "The real miracle is that we EVER get a healthy baby. There are so many points in the process where things can go wrong--but, for the most part, they don't."

That is what I mean when I talk about my belief that we have lost our capacity to appreciate the miraculous. We see healthy babies as commonplace--as our "due"--rather than as the ineffably miraculous creatures they are.

The beauty of that photo is one thing and yet we could not live in the hot, gaseous, airless place that it is. To see it from afar is to affirm its glory.

Excellent point.

Well in our own hot, gaseous, airless place we can't see our own glory either.

I know some hot, gaseous people who seem quite sure of their own glory, but they are the exceptions... ;-)

Am I making any sense?

Always....

Fran said...

In the reading of IT's comment and Erika's response to it, I would have to agree with what Erika said.

IT, you know I have no issue with your atheism, but for someone who is indeed an atheist, you do - with all due respect - spend a lot of time talking to people of faith. Frankly, I am always grateful that you are here with your unique viewpoint.

That said, I would have to say that if I had to interpret the Bible literally it would be a huge impediment to my faith. As I have frequently quoted my pastor as saying, "Everthing in the Bible is true. And some of it even happened!"

I like this take on interpretation of Scripture:

"To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to "literary forms." For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another."

Emphasis mine.

Source - strangely enough - not really - The Vatican. Document is Dei Verbum, the Word of God and can be found in its entirity here.

IT I am very aware that the Catholic church makes you very angry. I would simply suggest that to vilify it in its entirity is not so far afield from any wide-scale discounting of any particular group of people.

I say all this in good will and hope that it is apparent that I do so.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

IT--sometimes I think you and I are coming at the same questions, from different sides of the coin.

For an atheist, you do seem to be remarkably rooted in a rather large community of faith. ;-)

I always sense that you are trying to understand why and how people can believe in "that stuff"--just as I am trying to understand why it seems so difficult for people on both ends of the theological spectrum to understand how I can believe in miracles AND evolution.

As you know, I have accepted Dear Friend's thesis that some of us get the "God gene" (me) and others of us don't (you). If you could "prove" to me tomorrow that all my religious impulses were nothing more than an evolutionary artifact in my brain, it wouldn't change my faith at all. Irrational? Perhaps. Or maybe it's just that faith gives my life meaning and structure in ways that you clearly find elsewhere.

To each her own, I would say. Only death will prove one of us right. I really hope that I will get the opportunity to meet you in whatever passes for an afterlife and say "I told you so!" If you are correct, however, you will never get that pleasure... ;-)

(Of course we are both screwed if it turns out the fundagelicals were right. In that case, the first one of us who gets to hell can save the other a seat!)

Grandmère Mimi said...

Can we truly deny the power of myth to express universal truths? Every society has its myths. Why is that?

Can we deny the power of myth to call forth an aesthetic experience that can lift our spirits to the heights, as Paul speaks of?

I don't see how I could ever arrive at the point of denial of realities beyond science and observable facts.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

BTW, Doxy, I have two pieces of awesome news to share. I've found another position, even better than my last. And, I've been officially received into the Episcopal church. Praise God!

First things, first---that is SUCH great news, Grace! Congratulations and TBTG on both counts.

I have taken communion from Bishop Katharine, so I can see why you would have wanted to weep and dance. God bless you, my friend--and welcome home!!

To your points---I keep reading +Spong's insistence on why he is not a Unitarian and his words just don't convince me. Not that I am judging him---as I keep saying, I am a universalist and I think God will sort it all out quite satisfactorily in the end.

But I do wonder if he cannot bring himself to let go of Christianity because of the aesthetics? I tried the UUs briefly--but going to "church" to sing bad John Greenleaf Whittier poems as "hymns" did not move me. Neither did my feeling that it wasn't considered "polite" to talk about God there. I know that there are UU churches where that is not the case, but those were my experiences.

I used to say that, by background, I was a fundamentalist, by theology I was probably a Unitarian, and by temperament I was an Episcopalian. I have definitely moved away from the Unitarian theology toward the Trinitarian--but that, too, probably has more to do with my being drawn to the mysterious--and with the aesthetics of Christian liturgy.

eileen said...

Conversation is intersting here as always.

I swing all over the place on this issue, depending on the day.

Some days, the myths seem like lies and irk me to pieces.

Other days, they seem like poetry and inspire me to greatness.

I find it usually has to do with my own feelings of relative position on the face of this earth - whether I am feeling good or bad, etc.

The stories have a value - of that I am sure - even if that value is simply to demonstrate the depth and breadth of the human experience in all its splendor and ugliness.

It makes me mad when I see those stories being used as a bludgeon or as a gate keeper.

So...that's where I am on all this. As far as I can see, it's above my paygrade...we all seem to be on a need to know basis!

Mystical Seeker said...

What I am trying to counter is the demand from the +Spong devotees that I have encountered that clergy actively demolish those stories for the pewsitters.

I do not believe that this is what Spong himself is trying to do. Spong, as far as I can tell, is addressing those people, like me, who have ALREADY stopped believing in the literal truth of those stories, and who feel out of place in modern Christianity.

If God can do nothing in human time or space, what's the point of believing in God? A lot of people talk dismissively about the "God of the Gaps," but a God who has no power to do anything seems hardly any better to me.

Interestingly, this is the same question I often see from militant atheists, who also don't see the point in a God without the miraculous. I am not saying that God doesn't "do" anything; the question is what it is we think God "does". Process theology believes that God's active role is that of a creative lure, and that God cannot in and of him/herself simply will the universe into doing whatever he/she pleases. The God of process theology is nevertheless very active. As process theologians will point out, there is far greater power in being able to persuade others to freely choose to act a certain way, than in simply using brute force to get the desired result.

Do you see it as necessary to puncture people's belief in the literal truth of the Gospel stories? If so, why? You appear to be saying that the stories are somehow harmful if they are believed in a literal sense, but you have given me no good reason for t

Why do parents need to tell their children at some point that Santa Clause isn't real? I think there is danger in self-delusion. In fact, I think that intercessory prayer, the idea that we can get God to intervene on the behalf of our loved ones if we pray hard enough, is a morally questionable form of self-delusion. It may make people feel better, but morally I have serious issues with it. I think we'd all be better off if we had a healthy understanding of how the world worked instead of being in denial about it. One of the big problems that underlies a belief in omnipotence is that the problem of theodicy cannot be solved if we posit direct divine intervention in the world. In addition, people start thinking that bad things that happen to people are "God's will". I do think this is harmful.

That being said, it isn't my goal to go out of my way to convert others to seeing things my way. My main concern in this case is what the church offers for me. I am explaining why I stay away form churches for the most part. Spong offers hope by suggesting that Christianity need not be about believing the unbelievable, and I appreciate that. But ultimately, my experience with Christian churches is that most of it is mired in the old paradigm and there it just doesn't work for me. It isn't that I want to tell others what to believe, but merely to point out that for what I believe, despite what Spong says, I am not seeing much there that suits my own faith journey.

Grace said...

Hey, thanks, Doxy!

IT said...

Fran,
While I admit like any injured ex-Catholic I bash the RC church on occasion, I do not believe I did so here so I'm not sure of the root of your comment in the context of the current discussion. But I loved this: "Everthing in the Bible is true. And some of it even happened!"

Doxy wrote,
If you could "prove" to me tomorrow that all my religious impulses were nothing more than an evolutionary artifact in my brain, it wouldn't change my faith at all. Irrational? Perhaps.

Doxy, the worst thing scientists or atheists of a particular sort can do is claim to be rational! Mr Spock we ain't (and even Mr Spock had irrational emotions, he jsut repressed them). Any scientist who has lost the sense of wonder and his own smallness has lost a part of his humanity.

All of us are capable of great irrationality--think love, or vehement dislike, or the ability to weep at a poem or music--how "rational" is that? Not at all, but I wouldn't give it up, would you?

Regardless of what fires our brains to give us that feeling, it's how we experience those impulses that matter. We are a species that seeks meaning and context, and however we describe it makes no difference to me. Some of us may simply embrace it differently than others.

So I'm actually all with you in embracing mysteries and paradoxes such as that Fran's pastor described. I have no problem with that.

As for why I hang around these parts, there are several reasons. I'm interested in how intelligent people rationalize faith, and where the leap from wonder to faith happens. I'm interested in being a better, more understanding spouse to my wife on her journey (for those following this saga, she's getting closer and closer to formally jumping ship.) And, I've realized a big part is that I"m interested in aspects of community, thought, meaning, and responsibility that are beyond who gets tenure and who published in CELL. I know there are secular progressives out there but frankly my colleagues are all careerists, even if nice about it, the only people I know who want to live my social values are you lot and those like you IRL.

Oh, and I really, really love classical polyphonic church movement. Always have, to my mother's long standing bemusement. So spending Sunday mornings with BP at a Cathedral choral Eucharist is quite.....divine. ;-)

But if my presence is annoying, I will go elsewhere.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

IT---I'm writing a funding request that's due by COB tomorrow, so no time to say more than this...

If you go away, I will get on a plane and come hunt you down. You are stuck with us now. ;-)

Grace said...

That's right, IT. We will all hunt you down. (LOL)

just another duck on the pond said...

Wonderful Doxy: Boy Howdy. All kinds of odd Texas expressions come up after getting through the second installment and the responses. Mostly, I love reading all of this back and forth.

First. I think we need a whole blog for this discussion. I would love to come and go for months to visit and revisit the opinions of the beautiful people you attract....and there are so many fascinating opinions here because there are few things that get to the bedrock of belief, and the ''why'' of belief, etcetc., as a discussion generated out of Bishop Spong's 'findings' on faith and God.

Second. I have written and erased a hundred opinions on the subject, but all were to say that I believe +Spong has an informed view spiritually and intellectually, and that he is coming from Love--which is the bedrock of God's truth for me. I resonate deeply with most of his views & I understand why he is, very plainly, a Christian, or at least I understand why I am a Christian believing most of the things he espouses. I also embrace Mystery and the beauty of Holiness. I wish we could sing ''O Little Town of Nazareth" but we don't have that in our vocabulary of carols yet.

Third. As a church musician, I'm a sucker for the rich beauty in the sudden chromatic shifts and the colorful polyphonic weave of the OMagMys. And as an over the top ENFP--much like yourself-- I experience the same kind of stunning connection with the Reni 'Madonna' and will see the world from the view of a nursing mother for the rest of my life...

and I believe all of these things--combined with all of the above--do make a perfectly lovely and appropriate setting for considering what is ''Absolute Truth'' ...which comes and goes somewhere in the nether center of this discussion...

...and there I'll just stop and sigh.

Fran said...

IT - time is short and I must go to bed but I am compelled to add this, with the hope that Doxy gets to moderate it in sooner rather than later...

I shall re-enter part of my comment, emphasis added:

IT, you know I have no issue with your atheism, but for someone who is indeed an atheist, you do - with all due respect - spend a lot of time talking to people of faith. Frankly, I am always grateful that you are here with your unique viewpoint.

Oh my - I am so sorry if it even remotely sounded like you should go away!

IT said...

Fran, It was this comment
IT I am very aware that the Catholic church makes you very angry. I would simply suggest that to vilify it in its entirity is not so far afield from any wide-scale discounting of any particular group of people.

that I found rather out of context. I haven't said a thing about the RC here.

You might also be interested in this.

just another duck on the pond said...

and IT, i didn't see your post before i let mine fly, and i'm with the rest of the ruffled feathers at the very idea of losing your voice in all of this...you are one fascinating and articulate bird, and i like reading your posts especially.

just another duck on the pond said...

GRACE: Thank you for your clarity--I'd like to respond to some of your thoughts because I think you get to the point so well.

re the miracles etc. you said "I think they're important as a witness to the reality of God in Jesus, and the coming of the Messiah.."
Isn't the center of our faith, the reality of the incarnation, though?

i think i've always understood--from my liberal Baptist upbringing to my current liberal Episcopal practices-- the incarnation to be more poetry than fact, but so beautiful that it needn't be left behind. Most of my 64 years I have understood that the 'center' was all about resurrection. However, that said, in Spong's book "Jesus for the Non-Religious," the real message of Christ is that “divinity is seen in the fullness of humanity when limits disappear and hatreds fade . . .” (p. 248). I intuitively feel that Spong has rare insight into what Jesus' came to do, which was to lead us to wholeness..being a whole human being, transformed by being grounded in however we perceive and experience God, and by being one who is compassionate to all.

How do we truly know of the depth of God's love, of His essence apart from this?
If Jesus is simply a mere man, however great or wise, I think the center of Christian faith can't hold.


Is this the deal breaker? If Jesus were actually, merely a real man instead of part-God--whatever that means in terms of arms and legs--would that negate all of his teachings? what if Jesus was a real man with Spiritual gifts, e.g. for healing etc., would that be close enough? actually, if you have read any of Edgar Cayce, you would have another instance of a human with a transformative gift of seeing what is wrong inside another human body and directing it's healing. But this does not make Edgar Cayce a part of the Triune God.

I admit to be totally perplexed why folks who feel like Spong want to be part of the Christian church at all, let alone hold the office of bishop. No unkindness at all intended in my comment. But, I'm being honest.
And I think it's important for me to also assert that I mean no unkindness either when I make statements like the ones here. To reiterate, it is not a deal breaker for me to claim that Jesus was a man with extraordinary Spiritual gifts--I call myself a Christian because I follow Jesus' teachings.

I hope some of these reflections are helpful instead of muddying the baptismal waters of our many blessings!!

Fran said...

IT- True indeed. I must admit that it is hard to not view things through the lens of total experience. I did not mean any harm.


I sincerely apologize to you.

IT said...

No apologies needed, Fran dear, just a little clarificaiton for my puzzlement. Which you have provided, thank you! ;-)

I'm not thinking of leaving, folks, but I'm sensitive to the tones of "what's an atheist doing here" which can sound sometimes as though folks are annoyed -- and can also mean "you can't have an opinion" . The problem with written communication is it lacks tone and thus meaning. I don't want to overstay my welcome anywhere, and I' know some people find my presence a little weird, and my opinions a little strong, so I'm a little sensitive to that.

Back to mysteries....

Grace said...

Dear Duck in the Pond,

I don't anything can negate all of the teaching of Jesus Christ. But, in general all faiths teach some version of the Golden Rule, and parallel the ethics of Jesus.

What is truly amazing to me about the witness of the Christian church is that we affirm that God loves us so very much that He was willing to fully enter into human life, and suffering to become man, so that we could share in His life.

Of course, the incarnation is a huge mystery, God with skin on, so to speak. How can Jesus by fully God, and fully man? Our finite human minds can't really, and fully wrap ourselves around this. Human words are inadequate to explain the mystery of God in Christ.

But, apart from the incarnation, it would be an idolotry, I think, to worship Jesus, and fall at His feet as Lord.

The meaning of the Eucharist would make little sense, as well.

I know in my own life, I struggle to follow a tenth of the teaching of Jesus. We love imperfectly, and are fallen, and broken.

But, we believe as Christians, that by the dying, and rising again of Jesus Christ we are put right with God, and with each other. We're not only forgiven, but being changed on the inside by our unity with Him.

Back to mystery again. :)

This makes little sense, Duck, if Jesus is simply a good man and wise teacher who shows us something of what God is like, or merely has gifts of healing like Edgar Cayce.

I think the faith of the church is asserting so much more.

I'm very much drawn to the asthetics of TEC. I love the liturgy, and all the great hymns of the faith, the "smells and the bells." It's part of what pulls me toward God.

But, even more than this, I'm gripped by the objective truth of everything that we confess, and the difference realizing this has made in my life, personally.

So, the answer for me, is no, it would not be close enough.

Sincerely,
Grace.

it's margaret said...

Happy blogversary m'dear.... and now I'm gonna sign up as one of your followers so that I will know when you post, instead of the mystery of just checking in....

MarkBrunson said...

On my pay, I can barely afford a split o' mysterium, let alone a magnum.

Ken said...

My proof of Mystery? Very easy. Well, maybe.

1. I wake up without a hangover and I go to bed sober.
2. I have not physically hurt people who have attempted to hurt me or have done so.
3. I have learned to forgive myself for refusing to forgive some of those same people.

That last...a bit of an incitement, yes? For I have no use whatsoever for people who will not countenance some version of God, a Higher Power, something that is more important than you.

In 2005, while my brother-in-law was dying by his incompetently-applied hand (it took him almost three months), I posted to a poetry list a relatively mild poem called "The God Thing." It really was an expression of doubt, pain, anger, and my need for faith. And I got by private email a note from a person in the UK who invited me to join my brother-in-law.

Yes.

And those words I will never forgive. Does that make me a bad Christian as well as a renegade Jew? Of course. But some people need to know that they did wrong in order to receive forgiveness that is not an expense of spirit in a waste of shame on the part of the giver.

motheramelia said...

Joining the conversation very late. To quote Rob Voyle "The church is a mystery to be embraced, not a problem to be solved." Embracing mysteries for me is like being drawn in to the beauty of Victoria's O Magnum Mysterium with its polyphonic melody. Each part contributes to and enhances the whole, and yet every time I hear it, I hear something new.

IT said...

For I have no use whatsoever for people who will not countenance some version of God, a Higher Power, something that is more important than you.
Ken, you are dismissing a whole group of people for the hurtful misdeeds of one.

Including me. You have no use for me. Good to know, I guess.

How is that bile you direct at me any different from that you inveigh against?

Ken said...

Okay then, IT, I will take you literally: there is no power higher than yourself and you are the center of your own universe. And this works out for you how well?

And by the way...the bile you claim you read (how facile) was not directed at you. You are not that important either, any more than I am. The bile was based on the memory of a gentleman named Lawrence Upton who used to work at the British Library. It was he who wished that I would take my own life. Would you forgive someone who wished you dead? In that case, upon what principle would you forgive him? Me-ism or a higher power?

I forgive you for mischaracterizing me. Now let's allow Doxy to take back her blog.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I'll have more to say later about recent responses, but I want to step in quickly and say that I think you have both overreacted to what was said.

IT--First, that remark was not directed at you. There was a context there, which should have made it clear what Ken was reacting to. Besides, you clearly recognize something larger than yourself. Your love for BP, for instance--and your work for social justice.

Ken--What that person said to you was despicable, and I doubt I'd be able to forgive it either. But you might keep in mind that I *do* have a few atheist/agnostic readers around here---people of good will who make my Christian witness look pathetic. I'll take an atheist like IT over some person who claims a belief in God and uses it to hurt people any day.

Okay, back to my deadline. Carry on...

IT said...

I wasn't making this about me though I can see it sounded that way.

I pointed at this quote:
I have no use whatsoever for people who will not countenance some version of God, a Higher Power, something that is more important than you.
That wasn't addressed to the total jerk who was rude, Ken. It was addressed to "people". And Doxy, Ken was referring specifically to God.

As I said:
you are dismissing a whole group of people for the hurtful misdeeds of one.

If I said, I have no use whatsoever for people who believe in God, what would be your response? Mine was, "ow, that hurts, and I don't even know you." That was my only point.

Doxy, you may be seeing some traffic from StreetProphets, where I pointed at this post . And what I said THERE is applicable here:I would not tell anyone the "truth" of their own perception of love, any more than I would tolerate them reducing my love to some mere biological (f)act. ....Religious belief is neither a justification nor an excuse to attack another's perception or being. And frankly, neither is non-belief.

Can't we all just get along without attacking other people's perceptions? We may all perceive things differently but that is surely our own right, and deserving of respect regardless of what or how we perceive it. Can't we can find common ground in our shared humanity, rather than use the differences in perception to label one another as "other". Identity politics is increasingly lethal to discourse and community.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

IT---I read this:

I have no use whatsoever for people who will not countenance some version of God, a Higher Power, something that is more important than you.

as God or a Higher Power or something that is more important than you---not as appositives. I guess Ken will have to tell us which one of us read him correctly.

Can't we can find common ground in our shared humanity, rather than use the differences in perception to label one another as "other".

I truly hope so...and thanks for the shout-out.

Ken said...

It means something that is more important than you. Call it God, Hashem, Buddha, or Tito Puente. What I think got to me was the implication (which I could very well have misinterpreted) that IT was echoing the mercifully forgotten William Ernest Henley with his patented Victorian arrogance:

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


The answer is "No, you're not." How someone manages what fate or God or Tito Puente delivers has a lot to do with the condition of the soul beneath the surface it. I read a different message.

May we halt this discussion of Doxy's dime?