Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Spirit in the Sky

I've been thinking alot about coming of age lately and the particular rites of passage I want to enact for my children to mark their entry into young adulthood in the years to come.

And I've been thinking of my own coming of age. More on that in a later blog though.

So little wonder then that my thoughts return to this in transference and reflection of Rev. Falwell's death last week.

I say this because I believe there to be a direct correlation between my path and Rev. Falwell's path. How so, Holy? you ask. Well, even though he was the quintessential televangelical Christian heavenbent on righting the moral wrongs of this nation, and I am not any of those things except perhaps,
quintessential insofar as my maiden name begins as such and my motherly role in life dictates a few moments of the latter ~ I was, nonetheless, a product of his time.

I came of age as a mother in a Teletubbies era and as a religious studies scholar in the penultimate years of Jerry Falwell's rein in the years of our Lord circa 2001-06 AD specifically.

I never got to meet Jerry Falwell but if I had, I would have admitted to him my overt fondness for Tinky Winky. He was a newer, purpler worldlier version of Barney and for that I rejoiced. Tinky Winky was also my son's fave-ola Teletubby. Wherever my son went, so too, did his purple, purse-toting, hip swinging stuffy. And it was all good. Still is.

Of course now that all's well with Falwell in his new afterlife (trusting he hasn't ended up in Teletubby land), I would presume he also probably has a newfound omniscience about us earthling creatures. So he probably also now knows that same said son of mine likes to walk around batting his eyelashes and affecting limp wrist poses while exclaiming, "Stop. the. car!...I like think I broke a nay ull!" And thus, the late great Rev. Falwell has now concluded that it was all because of Tinky Winky and that said son is gay. And he would be right. According to the earliest roots of the word in etymology online, my son is, indeed gay - as in, "full of mirth and joy; brilliant and showy."

But alas, I know it's a week late, but I confess I owe a debt of honour to Faretheewell Falwell, because his Teletubby rant was but one of a series of religious awakening moments I had in those early motherhood years that caused me to think seriously, for perhaps the first time, about disparate worldviews....
(correct reading: disparate from mine) and how one's view about God can so shape one's intolerant attitude towards others.

My first reaction when I first heard his Tinky Winky rant was incredulous laughter. I wondered about the poor souls who took his Christian esotericism seriously. I mean, seriously...I was alarmed and I remember feeling a little unsettled and thinking, paranoia self-destroyer. And then I remember feeling pity, which is kinda pitiful, I know. Pity that such an abject fixation on human sexuality would and could cloud one's interpretation of a kid's show and more to the point, what it means to be one of God's creatures. And lastly, I remember feeling intensely fascinated and morbidly curious by the nature of Falwell's God, such that he really believed only a select few are saved.

Thus began the earliest inklings of my religious studies quest at a pivotal time, actually, in the history of evangelicalism. Many historians have noted the links between turns of centuries and millenniums, and increased millennialism and apocalyptic fervor. Some, such as Richard Tarnas with his Cosmos and Psyche book go further, linking planetary positions and astronomical cycles to political and social strife.

Liberal fears and right/left contentions aside, it's actually a very exciting time in the religious history of North America. Here we are in a a post-televangelist stage - with dead Falwells and near-dead Tammy Faye Bakers, Jimmy Swaggarts, and Pat Robertsons soon to follow. I say post because Falwell's death marks a deliberate passing of sorts and dare I predict, turning point.

There is such a wealth of theological constructs in Evangelicalism that I get why most are reluctant to be painted with the generic brush. I have one relative who is Pentecostal and another who is an End Time dispentationalist. Both would call themselves evangelical yet their worldviews are monumentally different.

Falwell sat somewhere along the same E line, sharing an unwaivering conviction, as most but the most doubting Thomas' do, about the infallible word of God as revealed through Logos and Jesus as living Word.

Modern media affords a glimpse into how these worldviews play out. Movies like The Apostle
are a gripping character study of what makes the Prophet archetype so charismatic and compelling. And Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory is a great documentary, based on the book by Randall Balmer.

Along the Balmer lines, other scholars who study the eclectic fabric of America that is Evangelicalism include Mark Noll, George Marsden and Grant Wacker. For those who dare, Salvation on Sand Mountain is an unputdownable glimpse into the minds and lives of snake handlers.
And I haven't seen Jesus Camp yet but I'm guessing it is an apt if somewhat scary documentation of what is the quintessential coming-of-age rite for Christian youth and leaders.

Which brings me back to the whole coming of age notion relative to Evangelicalism. With as many next generation Evangelicals and divergent paths as history is starting to give us ~ ranging from the fundamental, anti-ecumenical types to the mainline mega Churches who use The Secret and The Da Vinci Code pop cultural stuff to reel them in ~ I can't help but question: with all this fragmentation and religious disconnect wherein so few Christians can agree on what being a Christian means, where is the train actually heading?

Is this the golden age...or to speak eschatologically, is this the penultimate days before thine kingdom come?

And what would Falwell say now about Tinky Winky? Would he he call himself a Dipsy who lived a Laa-Laa land religious life or does he fashion himself more like a Po-et now, able to now see the creative One forest through the million trees?

And by one forest, many trees I mean this:

Religious people can only learn from this kind of philosophy (ie. religion pulls us apart but spirituality brings us together in love) if they go to the basic experience of the founder of their religion. And then they'll realize that Christ wasn't a Christian and that Buddha wasn't a Buddhist and Muhammad wasn't Muslim. These people were having the experience of unity consciousnesses and universal consciousness and they spoke of it in words. So if you're a real Christian, you should be listening to what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount and then you are expressing the universality of spiritual consciousness.

Because if you claim that your religion is exclusive and that your God is exclusive, then how can that God manage the whole universe? We are one speck of dust in probably the junkyard of infinity and there are billions of galaxies with billions of planets and billions of solar systems. We should not diminish the magnificence of God by giving him a sexist male identity, an ethnic background, squeezing him or her into the volume of a body and the span of a lifetime and a regional geography. That's really not paying a pure respect to the magnificence of the Almighty.

(Excerpt from Beliefnet Chopra interview here)

On that note, I recommend a great book about life and death by Deepak Chopra, who was in town last week but who I didn't go see because my son guilted me into staying to watch his baseball tournament game instead. The book is called The Book of Secrets and it's a hugely interesting look at life and death at both the micro cell level and the macro metaphysics level. I just finished another astonishing book of his ~ Life After Death: The Burden of Proof ~ in which he postulates that heaven and hell are current not after-life realities and that we may well be able to invent our own post-death experience. It's a transformative and many would say preposterous look at eschatology but what I like is that he approaching things with an Ayurvedic understanding and a panentheistical (Tat Tvam Asi) worldview, rather than looking at things dualistically as theism teaches.

So long story short, Falwell that ends well. Or Falwell ends in a well. Or end Falwell's well. Or well, that Falwell ends.

I'll let you choose your own ending.

Have a nice day. Namaste.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Rite of Passage


Each year, our UU congregation sets aside a day of worship for the 8th grade youth, in order to honour their spiritual quest and subsequent Coming of Age. While similar in concept to the spring rites of other faith traditions - ie. Confirmation, First Communion, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, etc., the UU COA ritual differs in huge dogmatic degree, insofar as the kids are not taught or told what to think, believe, memorize or accept as Truth. For many youth, being encouraged to critically reflect and think for themselves in order to craft and articulate their own credo statement at ceremonial end of this rite of passage can be a disconcerting experience.

Truth be told, sitting in on the Coming of Age ceremony last spring at church is what prompted me to become a UU. Watching these incredible, young teens take over and run the entire worship service, from music to liturgy to sermon, was such an amazingly powerful, not to mention emotional experience, that I felt the first official stirring of having arrived at a spiritual home.

I was in awe that these kids could be so grounded in their own process - from who they were, to who they are now, to who they are in advent of becoming - seemed incredible to me. Last year as this, I listened to these youth express their own theologies with a clarity of purpose rarely found in in tender-aged souls, and more to the point, with a freedom of expression seldom permitted in a house of worship.

Some confessed they still weren't sure about this thing called God and that the only reason they were there is because there parents (usually a pushy mother) made them be part of it, but they at least felt safe in being able to feel such uncertainty without fear of judgment or penance. Others insisted they knew God to be the universal ground of all beings. A bold few admitted they felt this exercise doomed to ritual failure, given that they belong to a willy-nilly congregation that often struggles to explain itself succinctly to the outside world. Still others could stand amongst the most erudite of theologians and speak about theodical and eschatological matters without a moment's hesitation.

Armed only with the guidance of just seven principles and six sources as props, these kids are encouraged to look inside to that scary dark place with the dimly lit candle for spiritual direction and meaning.

I, yet another pushy mother, look forward to the day my own children will come of age and begin their own earnest quest for the holy truth. As one girl admitted yesterday, "I've learned through this process that I don't have all the answers, even though I let on to my parents like I do. Instead, I just have alot of questions. Like if there's really a God, why would he or she create a world like this one? So I guess I'll be maybe continuing on this quest for a really, long time - probably the rest of my life, in fact."

Join the club, I wanted to say. But then, by virtue of the fact she has now official crossed the threshold and come of age into the larger congregation of holy questers, it would seem she already has.

Holy Thought of the Week

"To live fully is to let go and die with each passing moment, and to be reborn in each new one."

~ Jack Kornfield ~