Prayer is Music

“We are a community of believers, questioners, and questioning believers. We strive to be open and affirming to all. We sometimes disagree, yet love one another as we wade through the joy and pain of spiritual growth. We endeavor to worship God together, follow the example of Jesus, embody the Holy Spirit, support each other, and serve our neighbors, near and far.”   Official Statement of 1st Congregational Church, Ashfield, MA, UCC

 

What does prayer mean to a congregation of “believers, questioners, and questioning believers”? Does God hear our petitions and decide whether to answer yes or no? Does prayer focus our energy on someone who is suffering and that energy aids the person? Does prayer do anything?

Each Sunday, joining in prayer is singing with each other. Regardless of the words in a song, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” or “Ubi Caritas,” the music shifts our spirits and we join with each other. Prayer is music, it brings us to a place of sacred attention when we are alone or all together. However each of us envisions God, we yearn to align ourselves with Wisdom, Compassion, Justice, and Love. Wherever we seek God, in nature, in our neighbor, in church, in silence, we yearn to find the Source of All and trust that it is good. Prayer is an expression of that yearning, of our deepest concerns and desires.

While praying we release ourselves from the necessary questions such as “Who or What is God?” We enter the space that we want to understand more about and explore. Afterwards we read books and discuss and give our brains a good work out.

If nothing else, prayer allows us to open to each other. It gives us, as Buddhists would say, an opportunity to glimpse the Interbeing of all. Prayer is a map we both follow and draw as we go.

Those old prayers and hymns we sometimes recite and sing are the memories of those seekers before us. Something in those prayers opened their hearts, gave them courage, and urged them to follow their path.

Prayers are not recipes or formulae, they are love poems. They need not be factual, but they must be true.   

– Kate Braestrup, “Beginning Grace”

 

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Leggo My Jesus!

I was meeting a friend at a coffee shop in a very large bookstore which shall remain unnamed. From afar I saw a bright, shining cloud. I was drawn to it as if I were ascended, only horizontally. There, on the shelf of bibles, was one I had never seen before. Glowing, as if barcoded from heaven: the Lego Bible in a box. The penultimate of American Christian art! A reflection of how devout bad taste can be! And the combo set of Old and New Testaments with moveable figures for only $29.95!

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the many bibles available to Christians now {The New Color-Coded Bibles]: the Green Bible, with lines highlighted in green to show us how often dirt is mentioned; the Justice Bible, highlighted to show that God cares about the poor and oppressed “a lot,” and my then-favorite, the American Patriot’s Bible with George Washington on the cover (let the French write their own damned bible).* But this…..
On the cover, I kid you not, DaVinci’s “The Last Supper” with little Lego people. Awestruck, I knelt before it to look closer. I have looked closely at DaVinci’s version, the faces, the expressions, bodies. I’m sorry, but it does not compare to this version: cube heads, blank expressions, little plastic bodies with somewhat moveable arms, primary colors only. So easy on the eye.

Revelations of biblical scenes appeared before me: Jesus knocking all those money-changers off the table onto the floor where the dog can chew them up, a barbie-sized Goliath smiting a teeny tiny David. Are pebbles supplied for stonings? Or do we have to supply our own? I wondered how they would depict Peter cutting off the Roman soldier’s ear since Lego people have no ears.

Turns out, I am years behind the times. The original version came out in 2001. “The Brick Bible,” as it is called, was pulled off the shelves at Toys-R-Us and Sam’s Club because someone noticed the sex scenes. The Brick Bible includes, you guessed it, graphic Lego sex scenes. (This whole blog was worth writing just to be able to use that phrase.)
The creator, Brendan Powell Smith, was astonished at the censorship. The depictions in his bible were nothing compared to the Bible bible’s sex scenes. Why didn’t they ban the original? I’m not sure how his version ended up on the shelves again. Perhaps the graphic Lego sex scenes were removed.

At the unnamed store, my fingers coveted that Brick Holy Book, that igniter of imagination, that simplifier of all things miraculous, the pure Americanism of it, the graphic Lego sex scenes in it, but I resisted. However, Christmas is only eleven months away… (a hint for those who have ears to…. oh, never mind).

>https://religion-sightunseen.com/2011/09/17/the-new-color-coded-bibles-just-for-you/

Antidote to Apocalyptism

I enjoy reading things that have “irony” stamped all over them. For instance, the church that offers gluten-free communion wafers, and raffles for assault rifles. Sometimes I think I make these things up, but I saw the church bulletin and bulletins don’t lie.

The danger of enjoying irony is that it can degenerate into cynicism. That, as I’ve mentioned before, is a slide into apocalyptic thinking, by both the right and the left: everything is going to hell in a hand-basket (whatever that means). And only God can clean up our mess.

This morning, I came across the complete opposite of apocalypic thinking. The Franciscan Earth Corps are ecumenical groups of young people across the country, aged 18 to 35, who “connect social and environmental justice activities with Franciscan teachings that stress the interconnectedness of creation.”

For instance, on a recent Saturday in Syracuse, members stocked shelves and cleaned storage rooms at a food pantry. In early March, the group screened “Triple Divide,” a documentary about hydrofracking. Later this spring, they’ll put up bluebird boxes at a retreat center. In Milwaukee they led the “March of the Golden Calf,” complete with golden calf, on the issue of money and politics. They read and discuss Franciscan spirituality and practice prayer and contemplation.

Many churches preach and practice those values: engagement in the work of the world, the interconnection of life, solidarity with the disenfranchised, aiding one another, prayer and contemplation. Sometimes the U.S. seems enveloped in apocalyptic hysteria. Are the Earth Corps, small groups, and wise individuals, just islands in a sea of cynicism? The roots of justice and compassion run deep under the earth, intertwining, nourished by the interconnection of life the abounds there, even in a winter that won’t end. Can you feel it?

Now for the real news: 1) Muslim clerics have issued a religious ruling (“fatwa”) forbidding any Muslim from traveling to Mars. 2) ‘Nice Jewish Guys’ Calendar’ sues ‘Naughty Jewish Boys’ Calendar’ over trademark infringement. Pictures at 11.

 

February-type news

Each month I keep my ears open to news and ideas in the religion realm that would be fun to write about. Maybe it’s my mood, or the cold, but there is so much bad stuff in religion news this February.

Two parents were sent to jail 3 – 7 years for allowing their child die rather than call a doctor. They prayed with their pastor instead. This is the second child they killed this way. They have seven more children.

A snake handler died a similar way. He got bit, refused a doctor, and is being hailed as a martyr.

Then there is the 84 year-old nun sentenced to three years for breaking in government property to protest nuclear war. Our friend Paki Wieland was sentenced to fifteen days for a peaceful protest against war. (She said Jail “was almost like a Vipassana retreat. The operative word being ‘almost’”.)

“The Son of God” movie had to cut out a scene with Obama look-alike Satan. Well, at least they cut it.

Miranda Barbour, the “Craigslist Killer,” said she killed at least 22 people after joining a satanic cult. But the Temple of Satan says she’s not a member. I’m not not sure if this is in the good news or the bad news column. She probably made it up.

John Tavener, composer of beautiful spiritual choral music, including “The Lamb”, died in California. Okay, that was in November, but I heard about it in February.

I have to admit, there was a concert by the Israeli-Palestinian Chorus singing for peace in the Middle East. (At the Jerusalem YMCA!) Not all is gloom and doom. [Question: in India, is Israel the Middle West?]

Column I wish I had written: Omid Safi’s February post asking what Islam would teach if Mohammad had been born in a snowy climate. Would we have metaphors like God’s love covering us like snowfall covers us all? Check him out at religionnews.com.

But listen to this: Richard Dawkins says any alien civilizations would be atheist. Oh boy, something to look forward to writing about! Spring must be right around the corner.

Movable Brains

My First UCC Encounter

In 1976 the national UCC sponsored a trip to Northern Ireland to support the Peace People’s March for Peace in Belfast. At the time I had only the vaguest notion of what UCC might stand for: Unitarian Christian Church? Universal Christians of California? United Christians for Christ? I’d been spending time with the Catholic Left and with Quakers acting against the U.S. war in Viet Nam. To me, “Protestants” were an amorphous blob of bible readers who couldn’t agree on anything. I knew William Sloan Coffin fit in somewhere. We did work with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, but I discovered that there was a Baptist FoR, an Episcopalian FoR, an Adventist FoR and about 10 more FoRs. What were the differences? This foggy notion changed somewhat when the CL group I belonged to joined forces with Clergy and Laity Concerned, composed mostly of Protestant activists.

There are about 38,000 Protestant denominations, so I forgive myself my confusion. Christian Platt is a blogger for the progressive evangelical magazine, Sojourner. (“Progressive Evangelical” still stumps me.) He names the five things he believes hold Christianity back. (Back from what, I’m not sure.) Number 2 is “Denominations.” He claims  “their distinction from others like them are so minute that even the members within a given denomination can’t tell you what makes them unique.” One commenter disagreed. He says denominations are…” the church diversified…the beautiful mosaic of God’s kingdom,”

Okay, now I get it. A bridge made with moving interlocking parts is more stable than a rock-solid immobile one.

Now, 37 years later, I get spiritual support, renewal, intellectual challenge, and community primarily from (gasp) a UCC church. Luckily, my brain is made of interlocking parts. The parts shifting and rubbing against each other bring me to a better awareness of the world. OMG! I’ve got a Protestant brain!

Peace People Ireland March 1976:

137018-004-18C4C15E

http://prezi.com/f3-r0gkrtlz0/the-peace-people/

Sojourners article: http://sojo.net/blogs/2013/09/23/five-things-are-holding-christianity-back

Atheists Unite Against God

 This April American Atheists will hold a convention in Des Moines.  These may be the first conventions in history for people who all don’t believe in the same thing.  I don’t believe in ghosts.  What would conversations be like at the American Ghost Disbelievers’ convention?

            Alice: “I don’t believe in ghosts.”

            Disbeliever: “Me neither.”

            Alice: “Nobody can make me believe in ghosts.”

            Disbeliever: “Me neither.”

            Alice: “Wanna go get a burger?

             Disbeliever: “Sure.”

 In 1970 I wore a button that said, “Anarchists Unite!” This convention has a similar feel to it. Constitutional questions of separation of church and the right of public schools to teach “intelligent design” are complex, certainly deserving conventions. But a large group of people who all don’t believe something for different reasons? Don’t get me wrong; anyone can have a convention about anything. I just don’t get it. So I took a look at the convention website.

Speaker Kathleen Johnson is Military Director for American Atheists.  Okay, I am definitely not going to this convention.  

Tom Flynn will give his new speech, “The Trouble with Easter.” Oddly enough, I’ve heard sermons on that very topic.

And of course Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, will be speaking, if his health permits. He is described as “One of the ‘Four Horsemen’ of atheism.”  That must be an atheist in-joke.

According to this site, the Atheists strongly support the use of Reason and science above all.  Apparently they do not realize how fragile Reason is. In a reasoned argument, one unexpected new insight, and the whole edifice can collapse. That’s what keeps the blood pumping and the brain alive.  As for science: until a few years ago, dinosaurs dragged their tails on the ground. Now dinosaurs walk like birds, tails outstretched behind them. Reason and science are wonders of the human brain, but I sure wouldn’t limit myself to them.

In October, Hitchens wrote “Unanswerable Prayers” for Vanity Fair. What a cranky, wonderful article by a fundamentalist atheist. He had been diagnosed with esophagus cancer and he responds to people who pray for him with insightful distain. People of prayer can have our wits sharpened by reading it. It’s  good practice to learn from people who distain you.  God bless him. (Just kidding.)

 One belief (so to speak) of atheists caught my eye:  “…He [sic] must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and to enjoy it.”

Substitute “a turkey” for “life” in that sentence

 Yes, I’m making fun of an organization of people who don’t believe in something, though they all have different reasons for not believing in it. No, I’m not making fun of atheists. Atheism can be as intolerant as any religion.  Belief in God is not necessary to form a conscientious, caring person. We know that belief in God does not prevent hatred.  Without religion some people would find something else to hang their hatred on.

 As I read the website, I began to think I might be an atheist. “[An Atheist] accepts that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth – for all men [sic] together to enjoy.” I’ve met very few religious people who would argue about that (though they may not preclude a more “heavenly” heaven). There is a debate called “Does God Exist?” That sounds interesting too, especially if the first order of business is defining the word “God.”

 In fact, I might organize a “What Does ‘God’ Mean?” convention. Only two groups of people would be turned away or constricted. The “God is Completely Unknowable” people might as well be atheists and would be directed to the other convention. People who are firm in their belief that every word in the Bible is literally, unassailably true would be limited to 15 minutes podium time. They are generally real conversation stoppers.  I doubt they’d come anyway since they already know the answer.

I’ll let a relative of mine from the Old Country finish this article.  She told me with pride that she didn’t believe in the Little People (Leprechauns). “They are there; I’ve seen them.  I just don’t believe in them.”

Is GOP Sending GOD to Hell?

At the UCC annual meeting in June, I attended a forum on “The Draft Resolution on the Global South Debt Crisis: A Call for Solidarity and Action for Poverty Reduction in the Global South through Expanded Debt Cancellation and International Financial Institution Reform.”  Shortening the title was one recommendation. Over the next year the UCC will finalize a resolution about forgiving Third World Debt.  (See ucc.org/justice.)  But I’m not going to write about that right now.  I’ve got a year.

 Right now, Christian websites are abuzz with horror at the GOP’s born-again-and-again conversion to Ayn Rand. Her thinking goes like this: “Blessed are the selfish, for they deserve the earth.” The rest of humanity are “moochers.”  Her teachings are so much more “21st century” than Jesus’. Glen and Rush have always been admirers of her “Utopia of Greed” philosophy, but now Ayn worshipers include members of Congress, Senators and a Supreme Court Justice.  Rep. Paul Ryan’s  Republican budget proposals can be subtitled, “The Gospel of Ayn.”  But I’m not going to write about that right now. I’ve got until November 2012 to do that.

What really caught my attention was the Southern Baptist Convention’s vote to continue believing in eternal hell. “In adopting the resolution, messengers [sic] affirmed ‘our belief in the biblical teaching on eternal, conscious punishment of the unregenerate in hell.'”

 That really got me thinking.  I assume since the resolution was open to debate, the option of voting “no” was a possibility. What if they had voted no?  Would the gates of hell be thrown open, freeing all unregenerates to join the rest of us in heaven? Would God have to back down in face of a democratically voted-upon repeal?  This is a problem. I decided to investigate.

I looked up “unregenerate.” It means “obstinately wrong or bad.”  That made me a little nervous.  I looked up “obstinate.” There it was: “stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or action, despite attempts to persuade one to do so.” Sweat broke out on my neck.

I do not think I am wrong or bad, not most of the time anyway.  However, there are approximately an infinite number of people who do. And I have been accused of being obstinate by people who think I’m an otherwise okay person.  Things are looking bad for me re eternal hell.

For instance, I am an obstinately unregenerate Ayn Rand despiser. But now, via the Federal budget, the U.S. government is on the verge of voting her in as Messiah. Will the Treasury Department change the dollar bill’s motto to “Utopia of Greed”?  Clearly God is champion of “moochers,” and no longer deserves honor on a dollar.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”?   Fat chance if the resurrected Ayn has anything to do with it. “Expanded Debt Forgiveness” will show up nowhere in the GOP budget, I can promise you that. It’s against corporate morality to forgive debt, and now that corporations are individuals…. (There was a UCC conversation about that Supreme Court vote.) The Lord’s prayer may be unconstitutional! But worse, I suspect God is unregeneratively obstinate on the point of forgiveness of debt.  He is not going to stand for a no-vote. Which may get Him in a lot of trouble in the next election.

This all leads to the logical conclusion that God will be (or is) in eternal hell with all the other obstinates and moochers.  I may have skipped a few steps in logic here, but I believe I am right.