Category Archives: history

Taking the Hill for Human Rights

At their immature levels, religions can be obsessed with the differences that make them better or more right than others. Pope Francis insists that mercy is at the very top of the Christian hierarchy of great truths*, and everything falls apart whenever mercy is displaced by anything else or anything less. —Fr Richard Rohr

 

Pastor John Pavlovitz wrote in a recent post: “Whatever hill is worth dying on for you in this life, take it now.”
https://johnpavlovitz.com/2018/07/03/pick-a-hill-worth-dying-on-america/

I realized right away that I knew which “hill” that was for me. Despite the progress of the past decade, the ability of LGBTQ+ people to work, to buy ordinary products and services, to adopt children, to live in a particular building or neighborhood, even just to live at all has been under heavy attack of late.

A couple of weeks ago I watched Hannah Gadsby’s high-impact one-woman show Nanette, which you absolutely should check out. In her native Tasmania, homosexuality was illegal until 1997!!!! I was 37 then, for freak’s sake! That was a sobering reminder of how fragile our situation is. In my relatively open community, it’s easy to forget how difficult things can be in so many parts of the world.

And of course that includes much of the US. The vice-president, may he soon be enlightened, is trying to establish a “religious liberty” office to make sure that anyone whose religion tells them to discriminate against those who are different in their sexual or gender identity can do so with complete freedom, the Constitution and legal precedent be damned. As Cornel West has said, “The fundamentalist Christians want to be fundamental about everything except Love Thy Neighbor!”

I often find myself imagining something like this:

Incredibly, because Americans insist on continuing to use the death penalty and it seemed to be under threat, last fall the US voted AGAINST a UN “resolution condemning the use of the death penalty as punishment for consensual gay relations.” The resolution passed anyway, but the US had sided with a group of countries known for human-rights abuses and against all of Europe and almost all of the rest of the Americas. We could have abstained. We did not.
https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/05/opinions/un-death-penalty-resolution-usa-lgbt-ghitis-opinion/index.html

This feels more and more like a crisis, one building inexorably, one that can’t be ignored. “If you aren’t finding your voice right now, don’t bother worrying about it again,” Pavlovitz wrote. “You won’t have one much longer.” So I am continuing to make whatever sounds I can.

The event that got me started thinking about writing this post was the death of Jeremy Reynalds, who founded the local help for the homeless organization Joy Junction. Friends commented about something I had forgotten: that Reynalds not only forbade LGBTQ+ folk from staying at his shelter, but even refused to take donations from such people. Wow. I wasn’t good enough for him to help me if I needed it, and even my money wasn’t good enough for him. I had a seriously hard time with this. It bugged me for days. It even contributed to some physical symptoms.

But later, I read that Reynalds had changed, which is a great relief and source of hope.  ‘“I’m much less judgmental than I used to be, and that’s made me a much happier person,” Reynalds said in 2016. “My mantra for the last eight or nine years is ‘Let God do the judging, and I will do the loving.’”
https://www.abqjournal.com/1197802/reynalds-leaves-legacy-of-helping-the-less-fortunate.html

Understanding why certain religious people are so set in their anti-LGBTQ stance runs one directly down the infinitely dark rabbit hole of biblical literalism. In researching background for this post, I came across the word “bibliolatry,” which refers to worshiping the written word above all else including real, living people and even the living traditions of one’s faith– not to mention the living Christ in whom one supposedly believes. To that, another kind of Christian might reply:

I understand that we all cherry-pick whatever agrees with our preconceived notions. However— something that has been said so many times, but it bears repeating since they Just Don’t Seem to Get It— if these people are going to insist that same-sex relationships are sinful because of their interpretation of a few words in Leviticus, why is it that they feel free to eat shellfish and wear polyester/cotton clothing and trim their beards?

I haven’t had any recent opportunities to ask this directly of an evangelical. Typical answers might be that this was written a very long time ago and that society has changed a great deal, and/or that Jesus superseded the Old Testament laws with the greater law of “Love one another.” One article, in explaining why we no longer execute disobedient children, simply stated, “The Old Testament Law is not in force today.”** Well, that was easy, wasn’t it.  Except that they’re saying it is.

In addition to this convenient inconsistency, they seem to have decided that the way God constructed nature and humanity is not OK, because they insist that biology is something quite different from what it really is. It probably won’t help to tell a person who believes the Earth is only 6000 years old to objectively observe the natural world, but even a cursory survey would quickly show that sexuality and gender are not binary, but exist along continua. Now, for religious people to question nature and find it lacking is to question and criticize the workings of the mind of God. Isn’t that blasphemy? How can that be acceptable to them?

Well, that’s why it’s so crucial for them to believe that sexual orientation is a choice. If homosexuality does NOT inherently exist in nature, but rather is invented by depraved or confused human minds, then there is no conflict with their chosen biblical interpretation. Likewise, if there is no such thing as an intersex or transgender child and the kids are only imagining it all, there is no need to revise rigidly prescribed gender roles. There are powerful incentives for them to wish reality away.

Somehow I have felt compelled to follow the rabbit downward and better understand the origins of this way of thinking. I hadn’t realized how recent a phenomenon biblical literalism is. Fundamentalists might like to think of themselves as part of an ancient tradition, part of the bedrock of Christianity, as the name implies, but this is not the case. Certainly it is not how most of us brought up in mainstream forms of Christianity were taught to think about the bible. We were taught in Catholic school that biblical stories such as the Adam and Eve myth were to be understood as allegories, and there is nothing at all modern or “liberal” about such an attitude. Very early authorities such as Philo of Alexandria and Origen*** wrote about just that way of understanding scripture, and their teaching was accepted for most of the past two millennia.

Dr. Kevin Lewis went so far as to describe literalism as heresy: ’The heresy of literalism as such is a modern, post-scientific phenomenon. Its beginnings can be traced in seventeenth-century Protestant orthodoxy, but it bloomed with twentieth-century Fundamentalism, when the modern world fully embraced the dynamic power of natural science. Scientific method crucially altered the Western mind. After Descartes we became principled skeptics, doubting in order to find out the truth. The notion stole into the religious mind that biblical narratives make proposals that only appear to compete with testable scientific findings (to test our faith) while ultimately, if miraculously, conforming to scientific truth.’

‘So rose up in history a reactionary Christian mind, panicked and defensive, straining to assert scientific proof (thereby establishing absolute certainty) for its Scripture and the articles of belief it wished to communicate. Thus did literalism teach the “letter” to drive out the “spirit” of the biblical writings, effectively misusing the text in order to promote a corrupted theological agenda. The effect is a rigid constriction of the inspiring Word.’
http://people.cas.sc.edu/lewiske/heresy.html

I have often said that if someone wishes to take scripture literally, they had better be able to read and write the ancient languages involved, fluently, and understand exactly how the words were used at the time those passages were written. Only then can they expect to have any idea what it is that they are taking literally. Some scholars try to do that.

A rather arcane article, “The Secret History of Leviticus” by Idan Dershowitz, showed up in the New York Times, interestingly enough. Dershowitz analyzed the text in detail to elucidate likely changes over the long period of time that probably elapsed as the book was rewritten into its present form. He points out that there were generally no known prohibitions against sex between men in earlier times, and that the prohibitions appear to have been absent in the earliest version of Leviticus as well, and to have been added later in the book’s history. 
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/21/opinion/sunday/bible-prohibit-gay-sex.html?action=click&module=Trending&pgtype=Article&region=Footer&contentCollection=Trending

An interesting case is a website written by Rick Brentlinger, who identifies himself as a gay Christian and an independent Baptist preacher. (I’m a little sorry to identify him by name, since I am about to harshly criticize him.)  I found it while looking for the meaning of the passages about homosexuality in the original languages. He has a rather different take on Leviticus, and on Paul, asserting that in both cases the prohibition is really against temple prostitution rather than same-sex relations in general. I can’t say whether or not he is accurate in his analysis, but it is an interesting perspective. One statement of his with which I wholeheartedly agree: ”Scripture cannot mean NOW/ What it did not mean THEN.”

Unfortunately, Brentlinger goes on to toe the literalist line, even stating in so many words that Adam was a real man and the first human. He rails against common practices like contemplative prayer and meditation, saying that only reading or hearing scripture is acceptable prayer. (It amazes me— how is one supposed to listen to God with all those words chattering in one’s mind all the time?) Yet he even slams Lectio Divina, in which one reads scripture in a mystical manner, intending to let its meaning manifest in a nonverbal awareness. Even the way other people read the Bible is not good enough for him! It seems to me that he is playing along with the game plan of the very people who oppress him and his. I can empathize a little, though. Otherwise he would have to separate entirely from his faith community and his home culture, I suppose, and that might be too much to contemplate. It seems that he is finding a way to be part of the groupthink and be himself at the same time.

At any rate, there is nothing at all that literalists can quote from Jesus’ preaching on homosexuality or other matters of sexual orientation or gender identity, because nothing is there, neither prohibitions nor permissions. There is that one story that can be interpreted as being tolerant of same-sex relationships, the one about the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant/companion and shows absolute faith that he can do it. Brentlinger does interpret it that way.

I wonder what the literalists think about the apocryphal books such as the Gospel of Thomas, and how they deal with the idea that some gospels were written through divine inspiration and some weren’t, when it is clear that ordinary humans chose which books to include in the canon. Some of those books were of inferior quality, but others were discarded because they didn’t fit the political power needs of the men who were in charge. And they were all men, of course. In the early days of Christianity, many individuals were preaching and transmitting their own revelations and insights, and some of the most famous were women. The powers that were felt the need to squelch all that, making us all poorer in the process. Some of the early writings have come to light in the past century, of course, and now we have a broader perspective that makes biblical literalism appear all the more ludicrous.

It was decided by some of those august Church Fathers, trying to hold their young organization together, that revelation had stopped at the death of the last apostle, and no one else was going to hear anything worthwhile from God! This connects with the suspicious attitude toward contemplative prayer and meditation— one must simply accept what has already been written, and heaven forbid that one might connect with the divine on one’s own. (Everything there is authoritarian at its core. And that, dear reader, has a lot to do with the love of fundamentalists for our current administration.)

I’ll end by bringing you back to John Pavlovitz, who had to broaden his thinking when he was exposed to people who were different from those he’d been brought up with— and then his brother came out as gay. ‘”It was a gradual deconstruction of my faith,” he says. “You look at one isolated area of the Bible, for example, then realize, Well, if that doesn’t mean what I was taught it meant, what other areas of my spiritual journey was I taking for granted? So you start digging into it, and you find yourself exploring all areas of your belief system.”’

And he claims some of that personal revelation, which doesn’t go over well with the kind of church he moved away from:
‘Some simply know in their gut, he says, that a religion of in-groups and out-groups isn’t what Jesus was preaching.’
https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/how-raleighs-john-pavlovitz-went-from-fired-megachurch-pastor-to-rising-star-of-the-religious-left/Content?oid=9664688

You know, if you’ve been reading my stuff, where I stand with regard to personal revelation. And so here I am, on my hill, where I intend to stay until it’s no longer necessary.

 

*Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), 36-37.
http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html

**https://www.gotquestions.org/stone-rebellious-children.html

*** https://www.newdawnmagazine.com/articles/rescuing-the-bible-from-literalism

This article also takes up archeological questions about the origin of the people of Israel, the supposed conquest of Canaan, and the exodus from Egypt. These are fascinating matters which also feed into our current political situation, but I’ll take them up at another time.

 

 

 

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“Captain, I’m afraid I don’t know where we are.”

If your threat ganglia pop out, there’s usually a good reason.

That line keeps repeating in my head.

As all good science-fiction should do, Star Trek: Discovery used fantastical but relatable metaphors to comment on our situation here and now.  The conceit of the Mirror Universe, the place Saru didn’t recognize when he made the statement above, was as good as any to explore the deep and pervasive sense of disorientation so many of us continue to feel.  (For those who missed it, the Mirror Universe– the one where, you might remember, Spock had a beard– was populated by the same beings as our own but was a twisted place where humans ran a cruel, xenophobic, racist empire based on war.)

Much of the first season of Discovery was deeply dark and very 2017-18.  It appeared that even Starfleet captains had renounced virtue in favor of expediency.  Of course it turned out that the brilliant but ruthless Captain Lorca was really a denizen of the evil universe’s Terran Empire, and had never been meant to represent Federation values at all.  But then, in desperation to survive against the Klingon onslaught, which was threatening the existence of Earth itself, Starfleet came to the brink of committing genocide, leading to this exchange:

Admiral Cornwell: “We do not have the luxury of principles!”
Michael Burnham: “That is all we have, Admiral!”*

In the face of destruction of our entire planet– a situation we DO face in real life– and against threats not only to any chance of democracy but to truth itself, is this valid?  Do we have any room to maneuver at all?  Can we survive without compromising our values?

The wide-eyed optimism of Star Trek, which has never died, says that there is always a better way.  To choose compassion over fear.  To choose the Federation values of peace, fairness, inclusiveness, and respect for those who are different. When trapped between unacceptable alternatives, to find a third path.

In Gene Roddenberry’s cosmology, things got a whole lot worse before they got better.  I remember some adults talking that way when I was a kid, around the time of Classic Trek, explicitly expecting that there would be an era of horrendous upheavals and destruction to live through, somewhere about now.  I don’t know what made them think that way, but they seem to have been correct.  One can hope that the calm really will come through after the storm, and that somehow it will all make sense.  Personally, my threat ganglia are still out and waving.

**************************************************************

About a week ago I wrote this, in response to people asking me for my thoughts about the current primary season.  Non-New Mexicans probably won’t care:

I’ve been wanting to write something about my choice of candidates for the gubernatorial and congressional primaries, in part to explain my thinking to myself. I am helping two campaigns, to the small extent that I have energy to do so. People I’ve spoken with are expressing a lot of confusion, because we have the blessing or curse of multiple decent human beings running. So let’s think a few aspects of the races through. I’m interested in the thoughts of others who may have come to a different set of conclusions.

I was a little bit concerned that I might be basing my choices on emotional reactions to my favorite candidates, so I have spent time thinking through the matter as dispassionately as possible.  [My Vulcan ancestry at work again.]  Yet, I have to say that my two candidates are nice, pleasant people to be around, and that is a big part of my support for them. At the same time, they’re tough and they don’t knuckle under. I think they’ve got the right combination of the two.

There’s no confusion with the governor’s race for me. I’ve been a fan of Michelle Lujan Grisham for years, and every time I have the opportunity to speak with her in person, I like her all the better. The last time I saw her was at the annual meeting of the Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign on April 28. I had the good fortune to be getting out of my car at the same time she was getting out of hers, and we had a bit of a walk to get into the building, around two sides of a block, so I had her to myself for a few minutes. We discussed health insurers and some maddening issues for health care providers like me. Michelle has the health care wonk thing going on, having run the state health department, and that’s important for me. I know from previous discussions that she would try to get the superintendent of insurance to work more for the people and less for the insurers, and that she has some specific ideas about that.

The fact that she showed up for our meeting at all was big, of course. But this was bigger: When I asked her how an ordinary person could go about contacting her on a specific issue like the one we were talking about, she replied, “I work for you. Call me.” OK, that might not really happen very easily in practice. But the sentiment seemed real. I do believe that Michelle acts out of a spirit of service and that she does not put herself above her constituents.

One of the first things our representative did when she got to Congress was to try living on a food budget equal to that of a food stamp recipient, to see how real people can manage it. She reported on how difficult it was. This was when I first took real notice of her, and I immediately developed respect for her. In the past she’s done hands-on investigations like going undercover at a nursing home to expose abuse. She doesn’t take the easiest paths and sometimes she upsets those who are in charge. She is exceedingly tenacious, maybe to the point where she annoys some people; that’s a big reason why we finally got the cleanup of the Kirtland jet fuel spill going after so much dithering around. She knows how to build a coalition; that’s how a bipartisan group of female lawmakers broke the logjam on VAWA.

Jeff Apodaca did not show up at the Health Security meeting himself, but he did send two representatives, his wife and former candidate Peter DiBenedittis, who now works for him. Apodaca stated forcefully in the debate televised today that he would put a single-payer system in place in the state. That’s quite commendable, but he seemed to think he could do that all by himself, making me wonder if he really has much of an idea how state government works.

Apodaca has expressed a number of ideas that strike me as interesting, fresh, and utterly unrealistic. Yes, it would be totally great if we could pipe water from areas that often have flooding to those that have drought. (He suggested that if water were piped to Texas, the Texans wouldn’t need to take water from NM!) Maybe someday that could even be done. Is it a real-world, near-term solution for our desiccated state? Um, no. My impression is that he may not even realize that what he’s saying comes off more like science fiction than policy. Perhaps I’m being a stick in the mud (the long-dried mud, that is), and I should be more welcoming toward way-out-of-the-box possibilities, but I’d rather we would start with something we could actually get done, and soon.

There is something that disturbs me more about Apodaca, though, and that’s what I perceive as negativity and anger. His speech at the Progressive Summit in January struck me as one of the nastiest and most venomous presentations I’d ever heard from a candidate. I can’t remember the specifics of what he talked about, but he belittled others rather than lifting everyone up. He lost any chance at my vote there and then. That unpleasantness was on display in today’s debate, as well.

Joe Cervantes is more of a conundrum for the progressive Democrat trying to choose a governor. His TV ads include endorsements from people I really respect, Jerry Ortiz y Pino and my own beloved state senator, Mimi Stewart. He comported himself quite well in the debate this evening, and the fact that he represents Sunland Park, right on the southern border, makes his perspective especially useful in the present climate. I still have to go with Michelle, though, because of my personal experience with her and more importantly her broad experience in both state and federal government.

What we can’t lose perspective on: The candidate we pick will go up against Steve Pearce in the fall. If you’re bothering to read this, you probably realize how dangerous Pearce would be as governor— a man who, among all his other alarming qualities, believes that his wife should obey him because that’s biblical!

In 2014, we ended up with an incredibly weak Democratic candidate, Gary King, and Susana Martinez wiped the floor with him. Those who had any idea what was going on repudiated King at the party convention, but he was able to gather enough extra signatures to get on the ballot anyway. Name-recognition and fondness for his dad put him on top in the primary, but there wasn’t enough enthusiasm to take him through the general election. We can’t let this happen again. King is universally hailed as a nice guy, but niceness isn’t necessarily a great thing when it’s wishy-washy.

I can’t help remembering how it was in 2010, when then-lieutenant governor Diane Denish wrote out pages and pages of specific and actionable policy ideas while running for governor. She had plans up the wazoo. Her opponent, Susana, said practically nothing and appeared to have little idea what she was getting herself into. But she represented law and order, and Denish was tainted by the corruption into which Bill Richardson had sunk the governor’s office. We all know how that worked out.

Now we have to pull ourselves out of a different sort of morass. I agree with Mayor Tim Keller, who made the point many times during his own campaign that we have to do our own lifting and can’t rely on help to swoop in from somewhere else. But there are better and worse mechanisms we can use to get it done, and more and less knowledgeable and energetic people to lead as we do it.

****************************************************************

Rep. Lujan Grisham, when asked why she was giving up her seat in Congress to run for governor, said that with Washington so dysfunctional, the state and local levels are where things can get done. (Mayor Keller said something similar when he left his job as state auditor.) Yet, we still have to have someone warming those seats at the Capitol and at least attempting to do something positive. My choice for NM CD1 is Deb Haaland.

I’m not being a great help to any campaign, but I did get out and knock on doors in the past couple of days to get out the vote for Deb, my first experience of canvassing. Most people weren’t home, or at least didn’t answer— no surprise there. I had the privilege of walking a really lovely neighborhood, and even got to see one of the “spaceship” houses close up and talk with its very friendly owner. (If you’re a local, you know the two houses I mean.) The most heartening interaction today was with a guy who told me, “Oh, I’m a Republican. My wife’s the Democrat. But we still live with each other.”

Of course I had to explain why I was bothering to walk around with a Deb yard sign and why I had picked her out of the crowded primary field. Everyone knows by now that she’d be the first Native American woman elected to Congress. That is a major matter, since Indians have practically no representation in DC at all, and women are still quite underrepresented. Especially in this time of environmental peril, I do think it’s well worthwhile, even crucial, to include a Native point of view, and we need far more than this one individual to express it. But people want to know what else there is about Deb.

I could go on about renewable energy being a critical necessity for the state’s economy and the world, and her championing of it, or her support for universal health coverage. I could add that she’s had a broad range of experiences, rather than, for example, being a lawyer for her entire adult life. She’s known for working hard for progressive causes and candidates over the years, for always showing up. She showed up at Standing Rock with the water protectors, too. Growing up in a military family, although she did not go into an armed service herself, will give her perspective when the present administration pushes for war. 

But what originally attracted me to Deb was something very simple, a small gesture that made a lasting impression. I was at a gathering hosted by Equality New Mexico a couple of years ago, where I met her and also Santa Fe’s new mayor, Alan Webber. The room was crowded, and I was trying unsuccessfully to slip between bodies and furniture to get a glass of water. Deb saw this, filled a glass and brought it to me. She was the chair of the state Democratic party at the time, but she so didn’t make a big deal of herself. She was real and down to earth. She saw a need and literally filled it. That graciousness and warmth has characterized every interaction I’ve had with her.

In addition, Deb is my age and has been a small-business owner, so I see her as a woman like me. As a single mother of one daughter, she is like my own mother. Her daughter is an LGBTQ person (a different one of the letters from me) and I know Deb will always do whatever she can to protect us from discrimination and worse.

Having said all that, I’d be happy if we could hire all the primary candidates as a team (with one possible exception), because they all have considerable strengths.

It’s a little bit painful not to be able to support my city councilor, Pat Davis, in this primary. I have great respect for Pat and his work with Progress Now, and as with Deb and Michelle, he is always a delight to meet in person. He can articulate his position on issues with great clarity, and I’d say he won the debate that was televised a few days ago, though other viewers might disagree. However, whichever Democrat we elect in the primary has got to be able to win the general election in November, and I’m afraid Pat is too polarizing a figure to manage that. The unopposed Republican, Janice Arnold-Jones, is non-loony and also very articulate, and it’s possible that she could come off looking like the voice of reason, a comfortable and non-threatening choice.

It’s a burning question for all the Democratic candidates this year, at least the leftier ones— should we push as hard as we can for our progressive values, or try to be palatable to a broader swath of the electorate? I honestly don’t know. It’s looking, from elections that have already taken place, like strong progressives are doing quite well. Pat Davis decided to go for it with his “Fuck the NRA” ad, which was, shall we say, a bit surprising to the viewing audience. A former cop who has been shot himself, he concluded that being nice and polite was getting us nowhere, and I can’t fault him for trying to push the gun conversation in a more useful direction. He did get national attention. However, it’s possible that he committed suicide as a candidate, and that the audacious ad caused some people to stop listening to his usual far more measured and reasonable arguments. We’ll see more as this continues to play out.

I was very unhappy with Davis when he voted for the ART project, although he said he had come around to it reluctantly, and he did fight to get a stop put in my neighborhood, which was going to be left out. Worse, every day when I drive to my office, I curse his decision to make Zuni one lane. He pushed for the re-striping of the road in order to stop pedestrians from getting killed, and no one could argue with that as a reason, but with traffic getting backed up for blocks, cars using the bike lane for turns, and still no clear places for pedestrians to cross, I question whether Zuni really is safer for anyone. Early on, one of my patients was involved in a car accident, when another driver hit her while failing to merge where the road goes from two lanes to one at San Mateo, a poorly-designed area if you ask me. And this redesign was done while the ART construction was at its height and Central was virtually unusable. Zuni was never meant to be a major artery to begin with, as my former councilor Rey Garduno once told me— yet the ART proponents blithely assumed it could take on the extra traffic Central, while reduced to one lane. Yeah, right. Pat Davis stands by his decision, since it was meant to save lives, but it seems to me that the Zuni situation is an example of not quite thinking things through. (End of Zuni rant.)

Damon Martinez’s enthusiasm about the ATF sting that was supposed to get the “worst of the worst” of local criminals and instead netted low-level guys, most of them black, entrapping and victimizing at least one harmless person and costing millions in the process, was enough to lose any chance at my vote.

Antoinette Sedillo Lopez is probably a fine choice for this office, and she is supported by a lot of people I respect. My husband and I think that Deb’s range of experiences will be more useful.

I don’t know much about Damian Lara. As an immigration lawyer, no doubt he does excellent work. He too may seem relatively extreme to the general electorate— though again, maybe that could be a good thing.

Paul Moya speaks well and seems to have good ideas, but he’s very young and could use more experience for this national-level job.
*************************************************************************
I had a terrible time deciding about the lieutenant governor and land commissioner candidates. Both Rick Miera and Howie Morales would likely make fantastic lieutenant governors. I voted for Miera on the basis of his support for us Doctors of Oriental Medicine and our patients, as well as for the Health Security Act.  All the land commissioner hopefuls have useful experience and excellent ideas, though Garrett VeneKlasen gives the most detail about his plans.

So we have a wealth of strong, qualified, apparently sincere and decent candidates, but it’s a little hard to feel confident about the future of US government in general this year. I can only hope that we’re accomplishing something more than rearranging the Titanic’s furniture.

In any case, GO VOTE!

 

* The fates of the Klingons and the Federation are decided largely by a quartet of seriously badass women.  We have strong women on both sides in NM as well.  May the Burnhams among us prevail!

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25 Years with Fryderyk

As of today or possibly tomorrow, it’s been 25 years since the earth-shattering day when I first found myself in contact with Fryderyk Chopin.  At the time I didn’t realize how important this event was and I didn’t make note of the date.  I know it was a few days before Valentine’s Day.

https://elenedom.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/how-i-met-fryderyk/

While looking for a particular portrait to add to this post, I came across the photo (not painting) at left, which practically caused me to faint.  I would love to know what processes were used to create it.  The hair is a little on the dark side, and maybe the jaw has just a tad too much bone, but overall the likeness is stunning.  It brings Chopin instantly, dramatically, immediately into the present moment, where, for me, he always is.

And I’m going to leave my observance of the day at that.

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The Authoritarian Personality and the National Divide

‘In talking to right-wing authoritarians (RWAs) — in any situation — the first and greatest challenge is to reduce the level of fear and increase the level of trust. They cannot hear or see you at all until this happens.’ — Sara Robinson

I think it’s fair to say that a majority of Americans are completely boggled that so many of our fellow citizens are willing to believe so much crazy crap that is so utterly disconnected from reality. Just saying that they’re nuts is not helpful. Strangely enough, there is actual research to help explain why and how they are able to continue living in their alternative reality and steadfastly fend off any facts that might attempt to intrude. And it’s been around since before the last period of far-right fantasy hegemony.

I came across a very useful set of posts by Sara Robinson, who was raised fundamentalist and closed-minded but was able to transcend her upbringing, and who has a lot of understanding about how to communicate with those who are still inside the “Wall” of insulated post-factual unreality. So much became clearer for me. (Scroll down for links.)

Robinson was summarizing the work of John Dean— yes, that John Dean, from Watergate— who wrote Conservatives Without Conscience, which is based on the work of social psychologist Robert Altemeyer.  Although Robinson’s posts pertain to right-wing Americans, certain evangelical Christians in particular, the dynamics of authoritarianism are the same across cultures and religions.

“Research into ‘authoritarian personalities’ began in the aftermath of WWII, as scientists tried to figure out how otherwise civilized people succumbed to the charisma of Hitler and Mussolini and allowed themselves to be willingly led into committing notorious atrocities. The inquiry continued through Milgram’s famous experiments at Stanford in the early 60s; later, some of it became subsumed in the work of The Fundamentalism Project convened by Martin Marty at the University of Chicago in the 1980s and early 90s. Long story short: there is now over 50 years of good data on these people coming from every corner of the social sciences; but since almost none of this has been common knowledge outside the academy, nobody on the progressive side has really been putting it to use.”

The bully leads

The description of authoritarians who are on the leader side of the equation sounds eerily familiar in our present environment:
“High-SDO [social dominance orientation] people are characterized by four core traits: they are dominating, opposed to equality, committed to expanding their own personal power, and amoral. These are usually accompanied by other unsavory traits, many of which render them patently unsuitable for leadership roles in a democracy:
“Typically men
Intimidating and bullying
Faintly hedonistic
Vengeful
Pitiless
Exploitative
Manipulative
Dishonest
Cheat to win
Highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
Mean-spirited
Militant
Nationalistic
Tells others what they want to hear
Takes advantage of ‘suckers’
Specializes in creating false images to sell self
May or may not be religious
Usually politically and economically conservative/Republican”

“Dean notes: ‘Although these collations of characteristics…are not attractive portraits, they are nonetheless traits that authoritarians themselves acknowledge.’ In other words, these guys know what they are, and are often quite unabashedly proud of it.”

But these leaders wouldn’t get very far unless there were legions of authoritarian personalities on the follower side, and unfortunately there are. It seems that there are all too many people who want to be told what to think and what to do.  Robinson postulates that while the bullying leader types may be beyond the possibility of redemption, a lot of followers may have some openness to communicating across the divide.

I can easily sympathize with the desire to be given simple answers and clear directions. The world is so overwhelmingly complex nowadays, and our path forward seems so uncertain. Sadly, I expect that fundamentalism and authoritarianism will continue their ascent in the near future as climate change and population growth create even more conflict and pressures for water and other resources. They may even provide some sort of genuine protection against chaos, at least temporarily and in limited areas. However, this kind of mindset works against the innovative drive and mental agility that is needed most under fast-changing and stressful conditions.

Dedicated to the cause


“RWAs are sadly accustomed to subordinating their own needs to those of their superiors; in fact, one of the struggles we often see in recovering fundies is a complete inability to even acknowledge that they have needs of their own, let alone identify them, let alone act to meet them. They simply don’t know where to begin. Also, because their own authorities use guilt and shame to control them, they’ve seldom been allowed to see themselves as truly good and moral people.
“Giving an RWA permission to recognize, give voice to, and take action to satisfy his or her own needs is a powerful act. In affirming that they are not just allowed, but entitled (in the name of fairness) to feel their own emotions, own their own goodness, indulge a few harmless appetites, enjoy themselves, assert their boundaries, or stand up and say ‘no’ to overweening authority, you are being an enlightened witness to their true self — something many of them have seldom if ever had. In the process, you are also giving them a direct view over the wall. Often, it’s a view that they never forget, and will keep coming back to until they’re persuaded to go over it for good.”

Red Family, Blue Family

“The best writing on this I’ve seen comes from Unitarian writer Doug Muder, who has taken George Lakoff’s model of ‘strict father’ versus ‘nurturant parent’ politics one step further, and uses it to explain precisely how the right wing came to believe this preposterous notion…. Muder asserts that, while Lakoff’s right that family models are the right frame, the real dialectic is between families of ‘inherited obligation’ versus those based on ‘negotiated commitment.’ Go read the article, then come on back. We’ll be here.”

Here’s the article: “Red Family, Blue Family” https://www.gurus.org/dougdeb/politics/209.html
I strongly recommend that you read this. In fact, I implore you to read it. Lights will go on for you. For example:
 “The Inherited Obligation model, on the other hand, is ambivalent about the social safety net. On the one hand, it is good that people don’t just die when they have no one to take care of them. But on the other hand, the safety net weakens the network of familial obligations. A young adult who moves to the big city to seek his fortune doesn’t come home when he fails, he draws unemployment. Social Security and Medicare may provide an excuse not to take care of aging parents.
“…The Inherited Obligation model is likewise ambivalent about freedom. Freedom to fulfill your obligations according to your best judgment is a good thing. But the kind of freedom that releases people from their obligations is not. In the Negotiated Commitment model, a life without commitments is empty, and there can be no commitment without freedom.”
“Their demonic liberal is a person with no moral depth or seriousness. Convenience is his only true value. Words that we revere, such as freedom and choice, rebound against us: We like these words because we want to be free of our obligations and choose the easy way out.
“Just as married people sometimes imagine the single life as far more licentious and libidinous than it ever actually is, so people born into life-defining obligations imagine a life free from such obligations. The truth about liberals – that we more often than not choose to commit ourselves to marriage, children, church, and most of the other things conservatives feel obligated to, and that we stick by those commitments every bit as faithfully, if not more so – easily gets lost.”

Sometimes those on the left are accused of attempting to control and tyrannize others in the same way that the right does. That isn’t really characteristic of liberals, with their tendency toward fluidity and emphasis on choice:
  “As a final point: Dean’s book puts to rest once and for all the right-wing shibboleth of ‘liberal fundamentalists’ and ‘liberal authoritarians.’ Altemeyer and his colleagues have found, through decades of research, that authoritarians almost universally skew toward the far reactionary right on the political scale. This very much includes Stalinists and other ‘left-wing’ totalitarians: though these men used socialist rhetoric to create ‘Communist’ political orders, they’re classic examples of high-SDO leaders taking control by whatever means they had at hand, and using them to create archetypal far-right authoritarian states. Dean and Altemeyer make it clear that authoritarianism is, by long-accepted definition, overwhelmingly a right-wing personality trait.
“Dean is also emphatic that authoritarianism, in all its forms, is completely antithetical to both classical conservatism (he still considers himself a Goldwater conservative), and to the founding ideals of America. We must be clear: when right-wingers threaten liberals, they are directly threatening the seminal political impulse that created our nation. An operative democracy depends on having a populace that is open to new ideas, able to think for itself, confident in its abilities, willing to take risks, and capable of mutual trust. America was founded as the world’s first radically liberal state. History has shown us that the nation’s best moments, past and future, are created by people with a strong liberal orientation.”

(Note that standing up strongly for principles, such as equality of opportunity in jobs and housing, does not constitute tyranny.)

“Alt” authoritarians

Then there are those who reject established authority but believe in “alt” authorities without question. It’s easy and seductive to see oneself as part of a persecuted minority, a group that’s in the know and smarter than all those “sheeple.” Robinson’s “A Short Detour” section is about them:
“I’ve known way more than my share of these guys, since Silicon Valley is one of their primary native habitats. And my take is that they’re at least as driven by their burning desire to fit in as any other RWA. In fact, their feelings of victimization may be rooted in the belief that they were promised an acceptance in liberal intellectual circles that they intensely wanted but never really found. The most extreme ones were frighteningly bright and well-read, and usually also from very religious family backgrounds. Those two qualities alone guaranteed that it was going to be hard to find a niche among the better-rounded, more secular big city liberals. So they decided that, if they were going to be outcasts anyway, they could at least claim moral superiority. I may be a nerd, but I am RIGHT — the possessor of Ultimate Truth! — and that’s what really matters in the end.”

Why so many of them?

I’ve wondered why the authoritarian-follower trait has been so persistent in the human population, being that it involves so much unwillingness to face facts and thus to deal with real and immediate threats. There must be some advantage, or it wouldn’t exist. Authoritarians do know how to organize and come to agreement, for good or ill, and perhaps that confers an ability to respond more quickly to danger than a dithering, contentious group could, despite their propensity to live inside their imaginary constructions. (Even more than the rest of us, I mean.) Black and white thinking is faster and easier than taking all the grey into account. Perhaps group cohesion has been historically favored over innovation under adverse circumstances?

(Since to be a Christian is to see everyone as your neighbor, and to love your neighbor as yourself, it’s particularly perplexing to me to see that right-wing fundamentalists are so invested in being part of an in-group and demonizing everyone else.)

The most depressing thing about all of this is that Robinson wrote it back in 2006, so hopefully, but nothing seems to have changed, except to get worse. At least, that’s how it looks. I would love to see evidence to the contrary. Please tell me if you’ve got some.

 

Sara Robinson’s posts:

Cracks In The Wall, Part I: Defining the Authoritarian Personality
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/cracks-in-wall-part-i-defining.html

Cracks In The Wall, Part II: Listening to the Leavers
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/cracks-in-wall-part-ii-listening-to.html

Cracks in the Wall, Part III: Escape Ladders
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/cracks-in-wall-part-iii-escape-ladders.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part I: Divide and Conquer
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/tunnels-and-bridges-part-i-divide-and.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part II: Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/tunnels-and-bridges-part-ii-nothing-to.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part III: A Bigger World
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/tunnels-and-bridges-part-iii-bigger.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part IV: Landing Zones
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/09/tunnels-and-bridges-part-iv-landing.html

Tunnels and Bridges: A Short Detour
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/09/tunnels-and-bridges-short-detour.html

 

 

 

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Filed under history, human rights, politics, psychology

The Face in the Shroud

I intended to put this out on Easter, but as with so many things during this overwhelmed period of my life, I’m way behind. I did spend a good deal of Sunday reviewing research on this subject, finding that there was a lot more available than there had been the last time I looked.

Among the surprisingly many religious articles in my mother’s room, I found one that I’d given her myself. I bought it at the gift shop of the Santuario de Chimayó in northern New Mexico. It’s a small card with the kind of double picture that changes when you hold it at different angles. One view is the familiar face found in the negative shot of the Shroud of Turin:

And the other is a reconstruction of the living face as imagined by an artist, whose name is not given:

I was so struck by the beauty and power of the artist’s conception portrait that I wanted a copy to bring home.

There is not much I can say about the Shroud of Turin that hasn’t been said already. I’m writing about it here because it is a source of continual fascination for me, as for so many others. It is one of the anomalous objects in the world that reminds us that reality is not at all what we’ve been told it is, and that we have far less understanding of what is “really” going on than we might like. No matter how one interprets the phenomenon, there is an irreducible amount of mystery. Something beyond the ordinary happened here. What exactly was it?

Here is a summary of the facts and questions about the Shroud, as my small knowledge of them permits:

We don’t know, no one can say for sure, who the Man in the Shroud really was. We can be sure of the meaning of some aspects of his image, though. What we see is a gruesome record, in literally excruciating detail, of the torture and murder of a man by the Roman state, in a way that myriad others were also tortured and murdered. This is what holds my attention above all. The terrifying injuries— the thorns piercing the scalp, the hundreds of tears made by the lash, the abrasions and bruises, the slash of the lance, and all that beyond the horror of the nails themselves— bear witness to the cruelty of human beings to their fellows. It would be difficult to believe if we did not see it right in front of us, right down to the still-obvious blood and body fluid stains. When I was a child, the nuns told us that Jesus being nailed to the cross was unusual, that most of those who were crucified were only tied to the wood. That was not true. What happened to this one whose sufferings we see so clearly in the Shroud happened to thousands.

We do know that the blood is type AB. It turns out that the Sudarium of Oviedo, the cloth said to have been used to wrap the face of Jesus when he was prepared for burial, is saturated with the same type of blood. Records of the Sudarium’s whereabouts over time go back about seven centuries further than those of the Shroud, lending weight to the contention that the Shroud is at least that old as well. Similarities in the placement of the stains as well as the blood itself point to the same origin as the Shroud. The shapes and contents of the stains indicate that the person whose head it covered died in an upright position, consistent with crucifixion. It must be the most historically important dirty rag on the planet.

We don’t know the age of the Shroud through testing of the cloth itself. Carbon dating done decades ago placed it in the medieval period, meaning that it had to be a fake, but since the cloth was much handled over the centuries, in addition to surviving fire and water damage, there is now agreement that it was too contaminated for carbon dating to be accurate. There is also a question about the part of the cloth that was tested, which appears to be a repair added later.

We know that pollen grains found in the cloth of the Shroud place its origin in the area of Jerusalem, and are consistent with the species of plants that would be used with a burial.

We know that the color forming the image is not paint or dye. There are simply no molecules of such things present. If the image was faked during medieval or any other times, it is very challenging to give an explanation of how the faking could have been accomplished. The contention that the Shroud is simply a fake just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The situation is more complex than that.

One theory is that a Maillard reaction, similar to the browning of bread in the oven, could have formed the brownish-yellowish image. This does not explain the holographic and X-ray like properties of the image, in which some structures that would have been behind others can be seen.

Similarly, the theory that the Shroud is an example of a medieval photograph is intriguing and more or less plausible, but it does not explain how details other than those on the surface of the body can be seen. (Although all the materials needed for photography were indeed available in the 14th century, there is no evidence that photographs were actually made anywhere at that time.) It also fails to explain the details of the wounds and patterns of bodily secretions. Neither a live body nor the corpse of a person who had died other than through this specific series of tortures would display these particular details when photographed.

So what do I think happened? I am agnostic. The most likely explanation, it appears to me, is one that raises still more questions. Some form of radiation emanated from this body and caused changes in the surface of the cloth, by a mechanism we don’t understand but may at some point be able to reproduce. I mentioned, when I described the events around my mother’s death, that a huge amount of heat was present around her body before she left it. Could a much more powerful burst of energy of some kind be released from a human body under certain circumstances? Could this perhaps have happened many times, but to bodies that were left peacefully in their graves so that we never saw the evidence? Have images like this one been imprinted upon many other burial cloths but crumbled away unnoticed in the earth?

And in this case, what happened to the body? Why was the Shroud not left in place with it? Was the body simply disinterred and moved— the obvious hypothesis— then wrapped in a fresh length of linen and buried elsewhere, with the original cloth kept as an object of veneration? Did it reanimate and walk away, as the stories say? Did it go poof and disappear in a burst of light, which formed the image?

It seems that there have been recorded cases of people who survived crucifixion, unlikely as that sounds. Could the Man in the Shroud have been one of these, and if he was Jesus, could that explain his apparent resurrection? The evidence in the cloth is against this, as the patterns of bleeding and fluid leakage look like what would be expected to occur postmortem. As far as anyone can tell, the man was dead when he was wound in the Shroud.

Is the Shroud a supernatural phenomenon, a miracle? To me, “supernatural” only means something that is natural but not yet understood. There has got to be a way of expanding our scientific understanding to encompass this phenomenon. Even if that might mean understanding how a physical body could suddenly transform into pure energy, which is one conceivable interpretation of the evidence. The physically-measurable electromagnetic signals in and around a human body, photons included, are fairly small. It’s hard to imagine how there could be enough light or other energy emitted to produce an image on a physical surface, but equally odd things have happened, and I don’t want to rule it out.

The one thing we know for sure, from studying the Shroud, is that we are creatures who have a gigantic ability to torment other members of our species. The only comfort I can find about this is that nowadays we at least give lip service to the idea that doing this is wrong, even as we keep doing it every day, all around the world.

But what I hope we’ve learned from this strange artifact is that we are also far less limited beings than we believe, and that possibilities exist that we’ve barely begun to grasp.

Article on the mysteries of the Shroud
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/150417-shroud-turin-relics-jesus-catholic-church-religion-science/

A website giving an overview of what is known about the Shroud

https://www.shroud.com/menu.htm
The Sudarium

https://www.shroud.com/guscin.htm

A reply to Nicholas Allen’s “medieval photograph” theory
http://www.shroud.com/pdfs/orvieto.pdf

The evidence of plants wrapped with the shroud, through pollen samples and images
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/08/990803073154.htm

Holographic studies of the image
http://shroud3d.com/home-page/introduction-holographic-observations-in-the-shroud-image-holographic-theory
‘While photography has the advantage of fixing an image in time and of concentrating it so that whichever angle you look at it from, it will remain the same, with the Shroud that is not the case. Moving around that table (lighting under an angle from one side only!), from a certain angle I saw this image so faded as if to practically disappear, while from others it seemed as if the figure WAS ALMOST OUTSIDE THE SHEET: it was, I repeat, an incredible emotion. At that moment I knew that this image was unique. I approached the face placing my camera at a distance of about 20-30 cm, aimed the camera at the face and saw…………………nothing in my viewfinder.” “And yet,” I said “I know it by heart.” I had to beg my friend to point to the position of the eye, because from a distance of 30 cm I could not see it. I could only see it as I moved away from it.’

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Filed under history, mythology and metaphor, physics and cosmology, spirituality, the unexplained

Worthy to Sit at the Divine Table

Icon by Andrei Rublev, 15th century

I’m posting this on International Women’s Day, which is appropriate for reasons that will probably be clear to you.

Last time I told you about the powerful experience I had in the hospice while my mother was dying, where I felt that I was surrounded and embraced by uncountable beings who loved and supported me. This feeling of ineffable love continued as my mother stayed present with me over the next few days, and then the typical disjunctions and confusions of life took hold more again, in addition to the stresses of adjusting to her absence and dealing with the many responsibilities of her estate and planning her memorial.

We allowed nearly three weeks to prepare for the memorial service and the get-together for family and friends afterward. It was a massively busy period but also one in which I was able to contemplate important matters and to have deep discussions with friends and patients about life and death. A subject that came up was one that I’d been planning to write about anyway, the pervasive feeling of not being worthy and not deserving. It was on my mind the day of the memorial Mass, which took place on February 10, a few blocks from my house at Our Lady of the Assumption church.

I was apprehensive before the service, even felt like I was going into enemy territory. I had only met the pastor once and never heard the church’s singer before, and I had no control over the proceedings. But my family and I were welcomed warmly by the pastor and the deacon, the singer turned out to be one of the best I’d ever heard in our area, and friends gathered closely around us with great love and caring. My piano teacher played an organ piece right before the Mass, and as the last chords were sounding, the church bells began to ring with magically perfect timing.  I’m not sure if one is supposed to enjoy a funeral, but I did. It was everything it should have been, and we all felt sure it was just what my mother would like.

Some of us were feeling strongly that my mother was present and did in fact like the event. That sense of an atmosphere filled with myriad kindly beings visited me again. I had felt that in certain churches before, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting it at this one, which seemed cavernous and perhaps a little impersonal. The priest told us all, a little apologetically, that although people of different beliefs were present, we were going to hear about Jesus and get the standard Catholic experience. (Exactly as it was supposed to be.) When he said “Jesus,” I suddenly felt as if a cord flew upward from my head and connected with that loving presence.

Feeling that I was cradled in the love of my mother and the heavenly entities, I was busy communing ecstatically when I heard the words, “Lord, I am not worthy….” Wow. There it was again, stated flat out. “I am not worthy.” I am not good enough for God. I do not deserve to have the Divine be with me or within me.

And you know what? That idea rolled right past me and none of it stuck. I was completely immune to its destructive power. In every quark and photon of my being I knew that I was a child of God, a citizen of the universe, an integral and indispensable part of All That Is, however you want to put it. I was deserving of all the goodness that was pouring into me and I soaked it up joyfully and with profound gratitude and with absolutely no reservation. Not only was I worthy to receive the Divine, I was doing it right then and there and with no effort at all.

Later, as I am wont to do, I spent time rationally analyzing what had happened. I considered the fundamental contradictions embodied in “Lord, I am not worthy.” I read about the Gospel story* from which this line in the Mass was taken, and worked through a few different exegeses of it. (A nice scholarly-sounding word!) I could see where they were coming from, but I just wasn’t buying them. And this was new. Although I could still recognize my inadequacies perfectly clearly, a lifetime of existential guilt and subjugation to self-hatred had evaporated. What I knew intellectually had come to live in my heart. After years of struggle, I was at last ready for this radical acceptance.

Think about it. Even a moment of attention will show you how odd and backwards that “unworthiness” is, by doing no more than following along through basic Judaeo-Christian religious thought. God is supposed to be all-good and all-powerful, so surely God must have done a fine job at creating everything. We’re told that God looked at His creation and saw that it was good. Why, then, would human beings be total pieces of crap?

I am far from the only person to bring this up. When I was reading one of the articles on “Lord, I am not worthy,” which insisted on the truth of our not-deserving, I was pleased to see that a commenter asked, simply and directly, why we should disagree with the Creator’s opinion.

Now, suppose that God is a loving parent, as we are so often told. Imagine that you have a child, and you tell that child, “I love you, but you are really a mess, and you will never be worthy of my love no matter what you do and no matter how hard you try.” Only a twisted, psychopathic parent could say such a thing. How could an all-good God say it?

To an extent I’m oversimplifying, but this not-worthiness, this fundamental self-rejection that undermines us at a core level, is one of the most notable characteristics of mainstream religion, in our society at least.

There is another way.

The work of Fr. Richard Rohr, at the Center for Action and Contemplation here in Albuquerque, has been getting international attention. Fr. Rohr stays within the fold of Catholicism but at the same time is profoundly radical. His “Franciscan alternative orthodoxy” views our flawed humanity with great compassion, and constantly points us toward union with the divine, never into ashamed isolation.

Fr. Rohr’s recent writings have had to do with the concept of the Trinity. The idea of three-persons-in-one-God has never made sense to me, nor resonated emotionally, but he uses it to present a dynamic, moving, relational energy, a “divine dance,” rather than a static deity that doesn’t particularly interact with us or the universe. Referring to the painting shown at the top of this post, he wrote:

“In Genesis we see the divine dance in an early enigmatic story (18:1-8). ‘The Lord’ appears to Abraham as ‘three men.’ Abraham and Sarah seem to see the Holy One in the presence of these three, and they bow before them and call them ‘my lord’ (18:2-3 Jerusalem Bible). Their first instinct is one of invitation and hospitality—to create a space of food and drink for their guests. Here we have humanity feeding God; it will take a long time to turn that around in the human imagination. ‘Surely, we ourselves are not invited to this divine table,’ the hosts presume.

“This story inspired a piece of devotional religious art by iconographer Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century: The Hospitality of Abraham, or simply The Trinity. As icons do, this painting attempts to point beyond itself, inviting a sense of both the beyond and the communion that exists in our midst….

“The icon shows the Holy One in the form of Three, eating and drinking, in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves. If we take the depiction of God in The Trinity seriously, we have to say, ‘In the beginning was the Relationship.’ The gaze between the Three shows the deep respect between them as they all share from a common bowl. Notice the Spirit’s hand points toward the open and fourth place at the table. Is the Holy Spirit inviting, offering, and clearing space? I think so! And if so, for what, and for whom?
At the front of the table there appears to be a little rectangular hole. Most people pass right over it, but some art historians believe the remaining glue on the original icon indicates that there was perhaps once a mirror glued to the front of the table. It’s stunning when you think about it—there was room at this table for a fourth.
The observer.
You!
Yes, you—and all of creation—are invited to sit at the divine table. You are called ‘to consciously participate in the divine dance of loving and being loved,’ as Wm Paul Young, the best selling author of The Shack, writes.
The mirror seems to have been lost over the centuries, both in the icon and in our on-the-ground understanding of who God is—and, therefore, who we are too!”

In this view, we are not unworthy to receive the Divine— we are invited to sit right next to it, co-equal, at the same table. Imagine if all children were brought up this way instead of in the shadow of the Antichrist of guilt and unworthiness. The world would be transformed.

I would add one more thing: to me, the angelic figures in the painting look androgynous. The Trinity is not being shown as “three men,” but as three human beings— perhaps even three women.

Never let anyone tell you that you don’t belong at this table.

 

*The story is that of the centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant, and trusts that he need “only say the word” and the man will be well. The centurion says that he is not worthy to have Jesus enter under his roof.

https://cac.org

http://catholicexchange.com/lord-i-am-not-worthy

http://www.fromwordstoprayers.com/2011/09/lord-i-am-not-worthy.html
‘What roof do we mean? We are temples of the Holy Spirit, and our flesh is like the “roof” of this temple. We know we are unworthy to be such temples, where God is present spiritually; we are even less worthy to receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.’

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Not Left or Right but Up: The “Undivine Comedy” and Our Comedy of Errors

In 1833, the young poet and playwright Zygmunt Krasiński penned Nie-Boska Komedia, the “Undivine Comedy,” which is still an icon of Polish literature.  Krasiński was a one-percenter who was acutely aware that things could not go on as they were in his intensely inequitable society. In the play, the fed-up 99%, led by the charismatic but cruel and unbalanced Pankracy, rises against the ruling class. Count Henryk, a character who has much in common with the author, is the central figure on the aristocrats’ side.

An apocalyptic battle ensues, taking place in a Dantesque, fantastical setting that could not be fully realized on a physical stage at the time. Henryk and his cohorts represent a tradition that has fallen away from its noble ideals and become vain and selfish. The revolutionaries are an unsavory rabble who espouse justice and equality, but are willing to destroy everyone and everything in their way. Neither side is worthy to lead the country into the future.

In the end, the revolutionary forces win the battle, Henryk dies, and Pankracy orders the execution of the remaining aristocrats. Suddenly he is overtaken by a brilliant vision of Christ, so brilliant that it paralyzes him and blinds him to all else. In the vision, the clearly displeased Christ is leaning on his cross as if on a sword, and lightning flashes from his crown of thorns. Pankracy cries out “Galileae vicisti!” (“Galilean, you have won!”) and drops dead on the spot. The end.

When I first read a translation, many years ago, I thought it was the most facile, brainless deus ex machina ending anyone could ever have come up with. Krasiński was only 21 at the time, I thought, and he was trying to deal with hopelessly intractable social problems; he must have just thrown up his hands and walked away. I couldn’t get this crazy, surreal story out of my mind, though. Eventually it percolated through my head long enough that Krasiński’s insight got through to me.

You may have figured this out a lot faster than I did. Krasiński was saying that humans cannot mend the injustices in their world through conflict, and that no human point of view is entirely right or deserving of victory. Only a spiritual awakening can bring about the needed transformation, and that can only happen within the individual.

Well. Obviously we are not there yet. It’s going to be a while before enlightenment strikes every human heart.

Krasiński wrote in a time of fundamental dissolution and transition. Poland had been obliterated as a nation by the Russians, and many of his compatriots had emigrated to form a sort of country in exile, rather as has happened with Tibet under Chinese rule. Poland had been in shaky positions before, but now it had officially ceased to exist. It must have seemed as if nothing could ever be normal again. Yet Romantic-period sensibilities included a robust belief that a utopian world could be created (at least on a small scale), along with a willingness to imagine the wildest of possibilities. We are not there, either. We are cynical and disillusioned and far beyond the naivety of the 19th century.

Despite his pessimistic portrayal of Henryk and his followers, Krasiński held to the view that an educated, cultured elite, steeped in old-fashioned values and Christian ideals, would be best suited to run society. He was bitterly opposed to the Tsar’s regime, but also opposed to radicalism and insurgency. He distrusted the disorderly mass of the 99%, preferring at least the possibility of a redeemed 1%.

In this dark moment we have our own kind of Pankracy, an uncouth, uncontrolled pseudo-revolutionary who claims (falsely!) to be an outsider and populist, and who has already succeeded in blowing apart longstanding power structures. On the other side we have an establishment figure who embodies the American version of aristocracy. Those of us who identify with the educated and cultured elite are horrified that anyone would even momentarily choose the former. We are appalled at his utter disregard for civility and for reality itself. Like Krasiński, we would much rather have one of our own in charge, someone with solid intelligence and broad knowledge of the world. But as in his time, hallowed power structures have become calcified and disconnected from the ideals they were originally intended to serve, and we no longer trust those who have found success within them, no matter how competent they show themselves to be.  So we have widespread frustration and discontent.

We find ourselves watching a drama as lurid as anything the Romantics dreamed up, rapt and hypnotized, unable to tear ourselves away. The only path out of this, I think, is not left or right but up. Awakening is the only possible solution to the national nightmare. And it is most difficult to achieve, requiring us to pull the beams from our own eyes when we would rather pay attention to the motes in the eyes of others.

May all our eyes open.

 

Here is a quick overview of Krasiński’s career: http://culture.pl/en/artist/zygmunt-krasinski

 

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