Tag Archives: religion

Conjunctions on the Autumn Equinox

22 Sep

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Early yesterday afternoon I found myself sitting in the sanctuary at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan. The Parish was founded in 1835; this is its third church, built in the second decade of the 20th Century. It is Byzantine in style, with glittering mosaics on the interior.

The pipe organ is the largest in New York City, and one of the ten largest in the world. I didn’t know this when I sat there yesterday, as that was the first time I’d even been in the church. “Byzantine” didn’t even click in my mind, yesterday as I sat between my sister and her friend, Yoshiko, but I was certainly thinking “icons” (“iconoclasm”), “Greek Orthodox,” and even “Russian,” the conjunction of which all but added up to Byzantine. But didn’t. This was, after all, an Episcopal Church, no?

Yes.

The Wikipedia tells me that it is this parish that brought Leopold Stokowski from Europe in 1905 to be its organist and choir director.

Holy crap! says I to myself, no way!

Way.

Stokowski went on to direct the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, and had become something of a celebrity when, over 30 years later, he ran into Walt Disney at a restaurant in Los Angeles. Walt invited him over to his table and Fantasia was hatched. Not then and there, mind you, it took awhile. But that’s when the wheels started turning.

Walt’s father, Elias, had been one of many carpenters who worked on The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. And that fair featured a Japanese exhibit and pavilion on a small 16 acre in a lagoon. It was the unexpected hit of the fair and the first time most Westerners had had any contact with the Japanese, who’d only recently been subject to forced entry by Admiral Perry in 1853. Continue reading

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The Pope and the Dalai Lama

13 Mar

Have they ever met, the Pope and the Dalai Lama?

I’m sure that many individual Roman Catholics and many individual Tibetan Buddhists have met. Perhaps some are neighbors and tend flower gardens side-by-side. Perhaps some’ve discussed their religious beliefs in a panel discussion at some august university. And perhaps some have just met in passing at a bus stop. But met they have in the course of their lives.

The Pope and the Dalai Lama are different. They are the heads of their religious groups. They have responsibilities and symbolic significance. They represent Roman Catholicism and Tibetan Buddhism to the outside world and, of course, to their followers as well. The Pope and the Dalai Lama are not merely individuals, but they, if you will, are offices too. Offices that individuals occupy, for a time. But the office itself persists.

The Papacy is unoccupied as I write this. There is no Pope, only a conclave of cardinals seeking to elevate one of their number to that office. It is otherwise with the Dalai Lama. That office has an incumbent.

I suppose that the Pope is more visible in the world than the Dalai Lama and considerably more powerful too. Yet I also suppose that while all those cardinals are aware of the Dalai Lama, he isn’t necessarily aware of any of them beyond a few particularly prominent ones. There is a difference between the head and the rest, a dramatic difference. Continue reading

Thoughts on Sandy: We Must Change Our Ways, NOW

5 Nov

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I didn’t really think much about Sandy until I went grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon, October 28. The fact that Irene hadn’t hit Jersey City as bad as had been predicted meant little about Sandy. And I knew that. But still, how bad could it be? So I didn’t stock up on batteries, candles, and non-perishable food. Thus it’s a matter of luck that I had enough to get through four-and-a-half days without power.

Of course, I also had friends, June Jones in particular. A number of people met at her place for meals. She was cooking up a storm. Without power the food in her freezer would spoil quickly. She decided to cook it up and had her friends and family over.

Thanks, June!

And then there’s my friends at the Villain. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So I got home from shopping on Sunday afternoon and spent some more time on my Halloween costume: Trash Master. I was coming down the home stretch on it and figured it would be ready in plenty of time for the Halloween party we were throwing for the kids in the garden.

Did some more work on the costume on Monday and more this and that. Took some photos of wind whipping through the garden (see above) and planned my work for the rest of the week. Around 8:30 PM or so that evening the power flickered and then went out. But it came back in a minute or so. Every once in awhile I could feel the building shake. At 9:05 PM the power went out again, and didn’t come back.

Not to worry. I was ready for bed anyhow—I’m going to bed early these days, and getting up early, too, as always. I figured the power would be back when I woke up, or later that day.

I woke up Monday morning to darkness. I had some breakfast, grabbed my camera, and hit the streets by 6:45 AM. Very few lights were on anywhere. That was NOT a good sign, not good at all. Oh, some big buildings had lights on, buildings with generators no doubt. But mostly things were dark, in Jersey City AND in Manhattan.

Continue reading

Simple Gratitude

9 Oct

I prepared a pot roast yesterday for the first time in two or three years.

Most of the time my dinner preparations are embarrassingly primitive. Yes, I do eat out of get take out—mostly cheap take-out the year and a half I lived in Hoboken. But for most of my adult life I’ve prepared dinner.

Two or three times a year I’d do a pot roast. Certainly nothing elaborate or fancy. Still, it’s a step above rock-bottom basic. After all, it does require that you peel onions, carrots, and potatoes—though I didn’t peel them this time. I do like the skins. You have to dredge the meat in a flour and spice mixture. It’s got to cook for several hours, so you’ve got to watch it, help it along.

There’s enough to do that one has a sense of involvement with the food. It’s something you think about, tend to, and care for.

It felt good.

And when I put the food on my plate, I blessed it. I didn’t say anything, but I felt something. That something was a blessing.

Which I realized only as I composed this note. That blessing is the point of the note, it’s why I set out to write it. But the specific word wasn’t in my mind when I sat down to type.

It’s one I associate with Coleridge, his poem “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” at the very end:

My gentle-hearted Charles! when the last rook
Beat its straight path across the dusky air
Homewards, I blest it! deeming its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)
Had cross’d the mighty Orb’s dilated glory,
While thou stood’st gazing; or, when all was still,
Flew creeking o’er thy head, and had a charm
For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.

Forget the Money, Follow the Sacredness – NYTimes.com

18 Mar

Despite what you might have learned in Economics 101, people aren’t always selfish. In politics, they’re more often groupish. When people feel that a group they value — be it racial, religious, regional or ideological — is under attack, they rally to its defense, even at some cost to themselves. We evolved to be tribal, and politics is a competition among coalitions of tribes.

The key to understanding tribal behavior is not money, it’s sacredness. The great trick that humans developed at some point in the last few hundred thousand years is the ability to circle around a tree, rock, ancestor, flag, book or god, and then treat that thing as sacred. People who worship the same idol can trust one another, work as a team and prevail over less cohesive groups. So if you want to understand politics, and especially our divisive culture wars, you must follow the sacredness.

via Forget the Money, Follow the Sacredness – NYTimes.com.

Black Preaching, the Church, and Civic Life

14 Nov

I can’t say that I’ve even thought of that topic until a two or three weeks ago. Now it’s been much on my mind. What got me thinking about black preaching in the first place, of course, is my recent church visit. But how I got from that visit to this more general issue, black preaching and civic life, that takes a bit of explaining. Where I’m going is that, if we’re going to make substantial changes in how this country, these United States of America, goes about its business, if we’re going to forge a more just and more sustainable union, we’ve got to be grounded in something, something that doesn’t quite exist. Perhaps black preaching has a role to play in that something.

Civics 101: Legitimizing the State

Let’s start with the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Forms, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

As I’ve observed in another post:

In Jefferson’s formulation the government gains its power by grant from the people. The people, in turn, gain their power, their unalienable rights, from their Creator. This reverses the logic of legitimization prevailing in traditional European monarchies. In those governments the rulers got their legitimacy from God and their subjects, in turn, got their rights and obligations through their relationship to the ruler. In that scheme democracy is implausible. Jefferson, and the new nation, emphatically rejected that scheme in favor of a different one.

In this new system the separation of church and state secures two ends, religious freedom and, even more fundamentally, the state itself. The first is obvious, and has occasioned much discussion. The second seems obvious as well, but is somehow more subtle. How can the people legitimize the state unless their authority is itself independent of that state? The only way to guarantee that independence is to guarantee the separation of church and state.

And that, I suggest, may be why religion has been so important in American society. For a large fraction of the population, though not for all, it has been the ground of capital “B” Being on which their sense of themselves-in-the-world depends.

The rest of that post elaborates on that last paragraph and its implications. I assume that argument for the rest of THIS post, but I have something different in mind.

What has happened in this country is that, while we the people retain the nominal power of legitimizing the national government through our votes, both for the President and for congressmen, that power has become only nominal. Whoever we vote for we get a government that’s run by the corporations, for the corporations, and over we the people. Continue reading

Religion in America, Going Forward

28 Oct

What role will churches play in moving America to a more equitable and sustainable society?

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The other day I made a post about a church service I’d recently attended, remarking both on the power of the pastor’s preaching, its effect on his congregation, and on his responsibility to them. It was clear to me that he was energizing them to go out a face the world in a constructive frame of mind.

A friend of mine, a man I’ve known for almost 40 years, replied by indicating that he’d been lurking on a list of Unitarian ministers that was currently discussing Black Preaching: The Recovery Of A Powerful Tool by Henry H. Mitchell. This paragraph seems to have been particularly provocative:

As has been noted, worship among Whites and Blacks was similar during the Great Awakenings. It might now be asked why audible response or dialogue disappeared from mainline Protestant patterns of worship. One guess is that the preaching material soared beyond the intellectual reach of the congregation. This occurred, perhaps, because Protestant seminaries had engaged in a contest of one-upmanship with the graduate divisions of the liberal arts colleges, creating scholars instead of professionals skilled in reaching people. With such standard conditioning in the theological schools, the preacher might well be expected to be intellectual in concerns rather than interested in the day-to-day issues of ordinary people. It follows that in such a school-conditioned, abstract atmosphere, answering back would soon be considered by the preaching scholar as impolite and disruptive. This attitude would increase the inhibitions of an audience eager to please. Modern-day experiments in the middle-class church, in which dialogue takes place during and after the sermon, seem clearly to support this hypothesis. In the planning of the talk-back after the service, great care is taken to pitch the dialogue within the intellectual reach of the laity involved. It is encouraging to speculate that the middle-class model may now be drifting away from the graduate classroom and back to the pattern once shared by Blacks and Whites in the preaching event.

My friend then went to say: Continue reading

Flouting the Law, Pastors Will Take On Politics – NYTimes.com

1 Oct

Hmmmm. . . .

The alliance and many other advocates regard a 1954 law prohibiting churches and their leaders from engaging in political campaigning as a violation of the First Amendment and wish to see the issue played out in court. The organization points to the rich tradition of political activism by churches in some of the nation’s most controversial battles, including the pre-Revolutionary war opposition to taxation by the British, slavery and child labor.

The legislation, sponsored by Lyndon Baines Johnson, then a senator, muzzled all charities in regards to partisan politics, and its impact on churches may have been an unintended consequence. At the time, he was locked in a battle with two nonprofit groups that were loudly calling him a closet communist.

Thirty years later, a group of senators led by Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, passed legislation to try to rein in the agency a bit in doing some audits. While audits of churches continued over the years, they appeared to have slowed down considerably after a judge rebuffed the agency’s actions in a case involving the Living Word Christian Center and a supposed endorsement of Ms. Bachmann in 2007. The I.R.S. had eliminated positions through a reorganization, and therefore, according to the judge, had not followed the law when determining who could authorize such audits.

via Flouting the Law, Pastors Will Take On Politics – NYTimes.com.

Sane Conversation on Religion and Politics

2 Sep

Alas, to borrow a phrase from this conversation, some of my friends seem to think you’ve got to wear a hazmat suit to even think about religion. Not so.

http://static.bloggingheads.tv/ramon/_live/players/player_v5.2-licensed.swf