Sunday, June 29, 2008

General Faith

I find great energy in the Acts of the Apostles. This account written to “Theophilus” (a lover of God) is the root of my reassuring my faith in the beliefs of Jesus and his message.

It is difficult sometimes to have faith in what others say they have seen or witnessed. It is difficult to believe when so many before have accepted faith blindly and not questioned it. There are many twists and turns in the road of life. So too, a road to faith, has it ups and downs as well as twists and unexpected turns.

For a renewal of faith, for a renewal of energy, in the belief that Jesus is the unique messenger sent by God to bind all nations and all times in some common belief system, I turn always to Acts. If you struggle that hard for something as in those pages, maybe there is something worth struggling for.

What first century Christians believed in is perhaps much different than what third or fourth century Christians believed in. Much different than what I in my heart might believe in. My beliefs are not that important. They are many times shifting with the trends and winds of man. I look to Paul and his cronies and I see a very human church with many everyday problems in an everyday world - foundation stones of a new and future global faith.

Paul and Peter and the other apostles could get that old chi-ro mojo going via the Holy Spirit and work a few real miracles amidst both believers and non-believers alike. It has always been a group effort thing. Grace flows more freely when all present are asking for the same thing or acting in concert with one another and in the name of the Almighty.

The biggest problem, in those early years, was probably crossing the “t”s and dotting the “i”s. This in terms of remembering what the Master said and what he meant and throwing in a little basic Psalms and Isaiah to plot the story and the vision and be able to live with the current mission statement of the new cult.

It was viewed as a cult. Paul and his avenging horsemen going up to Damascus was about wiping out a nest of these new believers and heretics of the old faith.

I mentioned this energy thing and Acts to a friend in his house some ten odd years ago. He was also a recycled R.C. who had found a place in the comfort of the local congregation. He mentioned how christianity keeps splitting up into cults and sects. I had to think about that a bit. Of course when does a splinter group become a cult and how many does it takes to become a sect etc.?

Out of those thoughts came the thought that faith in another’s faith is perhaps extraordinary faith. I look at Paul to try and see the global gentile view of any matter at hand.

What we see today as a break down of old time culture is perhaps the way that people in the emerging global culture embrace materialism without question. There is no old fashioned sense of a balance of things. You probably should give up something when you embrace something else. If you do not do this then perhaps you have no concept of the value of things real or spiritual. Few, I think have dedicated time or energy to these concepts.

The electronic comfort bubble of cell phones, virtual reality and 24/7 sensory overload or addiction make many blind to the outside the door decline in the quality of life. The selfish lifestyle within that doorway can be had at the push of a button and the use of plastic. A person’s home, once his castle, can be a prison as well without one necessarily being aware of it

The breakdown in religious observance and or religion and God as the center of the culture is something I see in flux as a new global pagan god of materialism emerges. This new selfish thing makes people not wanting to seek the comfort of the concept of God or even to explore spirituality within. This new selfish thing ignores the soul of self and does not recognize the existence of or dignity of the soul within one’s neighbor.

When you can reduce people to numbers, they can be dismissed as statistics and factored out of any equation, political and or economic. Hitler, Stalin and Mao amassed many statistics to their credit in their evil little inhuman lives. And then there is Wall Street...

Which brings me to an observation. What we in the west as Christians have been told -what christianity is about - for 1700 years – is what the civil authority says it is - since General Constantine started his own designer religion to facilitate his ambitions of blood and conquest.

I think that the needs of Constantine the Great are a bit different than what our spiritual needs are today. Some church councils endorsed some obsolete and archaic concepts in the past as pillars of faith. Perhaps some new honest and human councils can start plotting 21st century spiritual priorities for a new global faith of all nations.

The words of the peasant and prophet and a true son of God in the form of Jesus are greatly ignored or misunderstood these modern days. Why is that my dear brothers and sisters?

There is a basic historic model. That the spiritual needs of the population should be addressed after General Moses or General Constantine or General Mohammed have set up the civil state. I believe that the sacred and the secular should be separate as much as possible in society.

The civil discourse and the commerce of nations is important but “what does it profit a man or woman if he or she gain the whole world and suffer the loss of their immortal soul?”.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Balancing Historic Equations

The equation does not balance. Or it does not always balance for me.

The consensus on the writing of the four gospels goes something like this. Mark is written around 70 A.D.. Matthew and Luke, being somewhat embellished copies of the “Q” standard set by Mark, get published around 80 A.D.. John gets published around 90 A.D..

Wow! The Christians got their stuff all together before the Jews did in 90 C.E. (A.D.). at the “Council of Jamnia”. How convenient!

Q? an abbreviation of the German word quelle meaning source. There was some German scholar in the nineteenth century who went through the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) line per line and concluded that there must have been a lost source document for similar quotes and a similar story line in each of these three gospels.

Of course you can reinterpret it as the smallest and the oldest document of Mark got tacked onto at later dates. I do not find anything wrong with that. That each of these synoptic (similar point of view documents) were regional base documents. Oral tradition among Hellenistic Jews and now Christians in Alexandria in Egypt and Pagan converts in Asia Minor (Turkey) had different oral traditions and got them put down on parchment at some point in time.

More is better or is less better?

I am not disputing validity of text. I am questioning timelines. I question academic theory as a basis for history. Is history in a pundit’s realm? Is history fact? Or is history merely an opinion?

Mine is not an original idea that Mark is the foundation of Matthew and Luke. It is just that if you read other historic documents such as Josephus Flavious’ histories, different things get said of the events of that era. In modern desktop publishing, words like “cut and paste” mirror manual techniques going back thousands of years. You got a parchment and you are an historian, you cut the scroll and glue in a new paragraph or two. You do not change the story or the message as much as your regional version overlaps, sometimes duplicates or addresses a singular subject only once without further backup documents.

You have to glean through the gospels to get a sense of the story of Jesus and his message that is sometimes clouded in poor, blurred, many times edited, copy.

I think that the first two gospels have one angel at the empty tomb of Jesus. Luke and John must be more accurate with two angels each protecting the empty tomb of the risen Christ.

The gospels are human documents. They are not necessarily false. I can see why over the years the R.C. church has avoided putting them at the forefront of their sacred tradition and ritual based religion. I can also see why after the Protestant Reformation, how with so little to work with, the northern countries of Europe lost the richness of religious tradition and started to ban stained glass and music for a time – but only for a time.

Stained glass and music work in the house of God much better than undefined echoes heard or shadows spread bluntly through an empty warehouse of a building. They work better to touch something spiritual, in the way of adding atmosphere and encouragement, to a place for prayer or meditation.

I do not know when the sacred scriptures of Christianity were written. I do not know how many people have handled the product throughout the early centuries of Christianity.

Jesus’ message does come through to me through all the paperwork. That message speaks of love, and caring and refined social interface. It speaks of justice and the possibilities of man as God’s creation to be able to reach for the stars.

Jesus' message also reflects the responsibility of the human race to manage well the gifts and resources given in abundance from above and as part of God’s ultimate plan, whatever that may be.


Monday, June 23, 2008

The Other Shoe

I make this observation. I remember in my youth of some thirty to forty odd years ago when you could not get any Jewish people to even mention the name of Jesus. This, in public, the newspaper, media etc. Now it would seem that Jesus is accepted as an historic figure in the Holy Land. It is good for tourism, so many can budge a little on traditional thinking.

I mention the other shoe. I refer to the other shoe dropping in historic, academic and religious realms. Without quoting specifics, I have felt that I have observed the fact that Christian scholars are always looking over their shoulders at archeology and the mother lode of written documents, the Dead Sea Scrolls, found in 1947.

Now there is little or nothing about christianity in the Dead Sea Scrolls but there is by deference a healthy fear or respect to a whole new body of historic footnotes to be gleaned from these documents.

And it took time to archive, preserve, catalogue and finally publish text beyond the very tight knit world of academics and religious scholars regarding the D.S.S.. Only highlights and new theories and new carbon dating systems have earmarked tidbits of journalistic items filtering into the general knowledge of the population over decades.

Behind the Jewish scrolls and less noticed and less publicized over the years are the early christian writings also known as the Gnostic Gospels, unearthed in 1945. These writings are a mixture of many things and little except one or two documents comes close to anything like what we might call gospels from a Greek Testament frame of reference.

In either case, both separate and distinct sets of documents got lost because some sincere scholars and believers cared. These treasures got lost and buried because they threatened religious or political agendas of centuries past. Luckily we have them today as part of the human race’s heritage.

Over the decades when I have been attending church services, I have observed that the christian minister is more often than not doing a homily based on Hebrew Testament passages. It is perhaps coincidence but maybe a lot of christian ministers want to hedge their bets in case some new archeological discovery and texts come to light that would despoil the old party line of old time christian religion.

That, or nobody wants to dissect Jesus or his message, his raising a sword for justice etc. Political correctness has seemingly reburied Jesus long ago and in his own so called church.

I do not know or care about the preaching. I care about the doing. I care about any congregation and what it does in the community. Does it have daycare, a K-8 school, does it give food to the hungry, visit the elderly and shut-ins?

To me, the social agenda of any church, synagogue or mosque is to be judged on how it treats its own, is a part of the greater community and functions in a way that Jesus would recognize or appreciate.

So, I always eagerly await news in the papers about new archeology and insights to the cultural christian bounty that is ever growing. I draw my own conclusions.

I do not have to look over my shoulder to see if another shoe in history or theolgy is about to drop and rock the boat and spoil any professional meal ticket christian bubble.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A House of Prayer

From a journal – May 2003

...Rushing to my express bus on Fifth Avenue I glanced up the steps into an unused entrance to Saint Thomas Episcopal Church, a structure I have mentioned before in this journal – (a place where I have gone to pray and mediate and admire the unique massive stone altar piece and stained glass)...

I saw a Muslim engaged in his 4th (?) prayer of the day. He was shoeless – white socks on gray stone – I had seen something like this before, at this same spot, on a cold dark winter night at 5:30 P.M. last winter or one winter ago – one loses track of time here in New York –

...glanced before, at that time, and did not pay much attention to that scene – (did not wish to stare or to intrude on prayer which can be both a public or a private thing). (I was also in a hurry to catch my bus). Later I tried to recollect the scene, reconstruct the scene – but the memory did not fit. Was not reminded of it again until today.

I thought that there were stone saint icons on the side of that locked wooden door area. Today, in less darkness, I noticed the angle of the pray-er’s focus. That focus was not in the direction of the stone statues but on stone support columns – round pillars rising up to typical gothic angle – an arabic angle? – a muslim angle? Which came first, the gothic or the...-

Does not matter. I am reminded of this pray-er and Isaiah’s words. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” Those words more than ever are needed today in this world.

God be praised!...

Friday, June 20, 2008

That old XP (chi-ro) Mojo

With a global war of perceptions of what the human race is about, what it believes and how it goes forward into the future are great macros to be identified, refined and on occasion dissected.

Macros and labels and sound bites do not really matter at my level of things. All politics and spiritual beliefs are not only local, they many times represent a majority opinion of one within.

There are a whole lot of people who claim the title of Cultural Christian. Some perhaps want a term to throw our there so that the listener may not understand and so long as it has the Christian as part of the label, it must in some social way be okay. Many Cultural Christians have beliefs that might range from atheism or agnosticism and every where in between. In any case, all of us outside and looking in, are all brothers and sisters in some human belief system.

Early Christianity was about a lot of ideas and cults and merging of ideas and semantics. It was a search for a common ground.

Basic Judaism as we know it today got forged after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. . There is labeled something historically as the Council of Jamnia, around the year 90, where the declining Jewish population in Palestine, - without the Temple, amid zealots that kept stirring the fire of revolt against the Romans, and all sorts of Jewish based cults that were tearing away at the basic questions of – Who are we as Jews? – What are the basic beliefs of Judaism?

Now there are modernist and minimalist historians and their opinions as to whether there was a sit down council or whether the Hebrew Testament took shape into its present recognizable and written form at this specific period at the end of the first century of the common western era. Before this there was the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament and a lot of scattered written and oral accounts and prophecy floating around the ether.

In either case, the Jews did not split with the Christians; the Christians now needed their own hardcopy Testament – a manifesto of history and beliefs. Many diverse and not necessarily Jewish groups who followed the teachings of Jesus needed a user manual of sorts - to tap into that basic XP (chi-ro) mojo.

If time travel were possible, I know in my heart of hearts that if I went back to first century Palestine, I would be in total culture shock and probably would not recognize Jesus in outward appearances if I was face to face with The Man.

I have spent a lot of years researching the early Christian era. I have found that the official road maps of the vested organized religions are a waste of time. It’s better to take the trip and ask directions along the way. The real Jesus, the man, is his message and not a reflection of his bank accounts or stone palaces.

I am waiting hopefully and with great eagerness for a supplemented Gospel of Thomas to be unearthed in the decades to come. Perhaps there will be real time Jesus quotes about how “Heaven can wait”. Or something like “Here on earth, God’s work must be truly our own.”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

On the Road of Life

Some strange guy once waved to me in a nearly empty parking lot at the Mall in Arizona. Hey I do go to the mall sometimes.

I did not know the guy. He started to give me the spiel that he waved to me because he thought he knew me. I looked like someone he knew. Well not actually.

“Are you a Someway salesman?” I asked. “No.” he replied. This had happened to me before. People who sell some really junky soap powder for your clothes want to sell the same crappy soap suds to you and your friends and then start selling everything imaginable from their little catalogue. Sounds like a good deal. Cheap soap and its gets cheaper as you build a network of buyers for the products.

After a few more questions I hit pay dirt. I did not know the right questions. Then I switched the nouns or the verb tense and finally I got a “Yes, I am with Someway but I am not a salesman. I am a distributor.”

The guy was Hindu. I did not mention it sooner because it might have triggered a cultural reaction in you and ruined my intended line of thought and writing. He was dark skinned and before he spoke too much, I thought he might have been Mexican American. After all it was southern Arizona near the border. I didn’t know he was Hindu until he spoke with a slight accent.

Well I am a curious fellow and I like to chew the fat like anybody and in spite of the blazing hot summer sun, I continued in conversation. In a few more lines of conversation, I was asking him cultural questions about being Hindu. I was curious about their religious feasts. And the best I got out of him was yes he had a lot of relatives and yes they had holidays but mostly Hindu families like to get together to eat and eat and eat.

In many ways, this distributor was not much different that anybody else I knew here in America. I think of that random meeting in a parking lot and of course he gave me his card in case I changed my mind or if my brother in law wanted to sell suds.

I harken back to an earlier time when a man is standing in front of a synagogue and is engaging strangers in chit chat and conversation. This man is a stranger in town. Until he speaks, the natives have no clue who he is or where he is from. His dress is quite common for this town along a Roman road in Asia Minor, the country of Turkey in today’s geography. His accent is a little strange but you can’t quite put a finger on its origin. The man is Jewish in outward manners and wants to talk about some local gossip or a phrase that the local rabbi dropped in the synagogue on Sabbath.

Paul calls himself an apostle. He talks about having been a tentmaker. Do you have any tents that need repair? He could do it very cheaply. He had learned the trade when he spent two years in the far away exotic place of Arabia. He disclosed this without much explanation. The Arabia thing goes over most people’s heads. If they had ever heard of Arabia they knew that is was outside the realm of Roman control. Pirates abound in the waters off this exotic sounding country. If anything, a man or two of the world might think of that destination as the end of the line in terms of caravans snaking their way all around the Middle East and all the way to even more exotic sounding places like India or China.

“You say you studied Mosaic Law under the great Gamaliel?” Paul was forever careful. There were spies everywhere. With a simple question and a simple answer he might be labeled a trouble maker and thrown into a Roman jail but only after the locals had beaten him up. He was a Roman citizen. That was enough most of the time to get a Roman soldier or magistrate to give him the edge and the benefit of the doubt in any local dispute with natives that did not have the same rights of a Roman free man.

“I heard him talk a number of times. He is a brilliant man, a great scholar and a true man of the Almighty.” In truth he had not studied for long at the Temple. He had heard of Gamiliel and his defense of the new cult of Jesus before a local Temple administrative hearing.

“And now I tell you: Stay away from these men, and leave them alone. If their plan comes from human authority, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them. You might even be fighting against God himself!” Acts 5:38-39

“I am busy right now Paul from Tarsus. I have errands. Come to my house later. We will talk. Join me and my family for an evening meal.”

“Thank you kind sir. Thank you. I will come to your house”.

Paul was relieved. He was also hungry. He had not eaten for two days. Fasting is good for the spirit but it wrecked havoc on his stomach. Maybe tonight he would just talk about Gamiliel. The conversion would always somehow turn to Jesus and what he thought he had to say.

In a way of atonement, this man had many debts to pay back to men, to Jesus and his followers and to God himself.

Having been young and fanatical and vested with papers that gave him and a bunch of hired thugs authority, he had set forth to Damascus to bring some men to Temple justice. Talking with his fellow traveling companions, he realized that any prisoners this well spoken, well educated Jew could manage to get arrested, those men were not likely to live to see Temple justice.

As if in imitation of the energy of that blinding light and a realization, along with his anger and his hatred of the people he set out to get and in anger and disgust of the people he had once traveled with, he could reflect on many things, and look into the dark caverns of his soul.

At the end of a long day of trying to find people who were willing to listen to his messsage, he could relax a bit. He could look into a mirror in a darkening room at twilight and see his face in guilt reflecting the life he set out to build and he could also see the face in the mirror of the man he had become.

Redemption for him was to continue the mission of people like the stoned and martyred Stephen. He saw that young man killed for his beliefs. Jesus in a direct and indirect manner had set in motion a whole new life for this sinner now known as Paul.

Beware of the strangers you meet on the road of life. Some might actually change your life for the better and forever.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cult of Fear and Entertainment

One learns with a newborn baby that it does not come with an instruction book. Some things you learn on your own. Some things are common sense. Some things are instinctual. Other things you learn from people who have lived through the experience. Life is a 24/7 learning experience.

I will not learn about what happens after I die until I die. As I was told once by someone, the end of the world can also be stated as the end of your world. Death is death. Life after death is another matter.

Of late, I do not hear many TV evangelists talking so much about Jesus these days as they are talking about the end of the world. It all seems to be tied into millennium fever what with Jesus turning 2000 years old and all that. I hear much too much with this new cult of the end of the world consuming and wasting so much Christian energy. The enigmatic Book of Revelation supposedly backs up this current preaching tangent. Last time I looked, that book in terms of a word count only represents 6% of the New Testament.

I don't know what you think you are preaching inside the tent. I seem to have a different perspective looking in from the outside.

Christianity is not about a Saturday matinee at a horror flick. XPistianity should be about the spiritual welfare of people both inside and outside the faith.

The Iranians overthrew the Shah of Iran’s government in the year 1400 of the Islamic calendar. There is an element of expectation and that can turn into self fulfilling prophecy as you approach a rounded off number like 1400 or even 2000. Throw in a little religious fervor and you have a revolution.

Does anybody remember all the hype about Y2K? The old time computer programs were never geared to numbers or date change to 2000 at the turn of a century. Talk, hype, fear had us on the verse of seeing power plants shutting down, losing data on hard drives, society failing and on and on and on. Guess what? Nothing major happened. The secular world did not come to an end or even to a temporary grinding halt.

One of my earliest remembrances, as a child, of a reading of the gospels, had to do with signs in the sun and the end of the world. It is a fascinating subject. It gave me goose bumps.

Like so much in the gospels, what is said in the beginning of a chapter doesn’t always get tied together with the end of the same chapter. Over the centuries, the Sunday gospel reading got chopped up into sound bites. This modern day cult business, or whatever it is, is a tangent that emphasizes fear and talking about extraordinary events to thrill and entertain.

What starts out as a prediction about the destruction of the Temple turns into a discussion about apocalyptic events and then the return of the Son of Man to earth. What I find most important in the twenty fourth chapter of Matthew is that both Jesus and the angels do not know when the end of the world happens along with the return of the Messiah. Only God the Father, knows that date. Christians, don’t sweat the small stuff or the things you have no control over.

If this end of the world cult is about fear, I don’t think that the faith is about fear. The rest of these end times tangents, as they preach it, are not faith to me. This passing historic phase of the faith seems like a sideshow, like carnie entertainment and or some sort of weird mental head game seeking some sort of thrill – the power in knowing what only God knows. Wow! That’s real power dude.

The year 2000 has come and gone. In a secular sense, get a life. In a religious sense, get back to basics. To paraphrase Freud – sometimes a calendar date is just a calendar date.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Consensus Avenue - Global Town Square

Old time religion was about a cohesive social unit. It was not particularly political. The rural past of America and going back to the middle ages centered around the local church building. Families were neighbors and also members of the community church.

The local town square, if the town was big enough for such a thing, was on the secular end of the same avenue facing the local church. Sacred or secular decisions for the community got discussed, a consensus found and decided on Main Street USA.

It is the main street in the Disney theme parks that harkens back to the idealized late nineteenth century era and up until WWI American world. Here, the separation of church and state, more or less worked as a blueprint for the stabilization of the community and the nation. We all have a fixed idea in memory of an ideal setting from youth. Walt obviously had his too.

What does the global town square (G.T.S.) look and feel like? It is as varied and diverse as the Internet is right now. What it stabilizes into, is recognized as, gels into universal perception as, will slowly happen in the next decade or two or three. It will depend on the flow of culture and history in that as yet unpainted future.

The global culture idea is at this moment, and in my opinion, about bogus “global village” concepts, decades old, that put ideas out on the airwaves and onto the Internet. That old time touch me, look me in the eyes, and trade me your horse, town square sense of cohesion is missing or has gaps in it.

Before we in America get to the future, we should more fully understand who we are, consider where we have been and where we are going. We need consensus. We also in many ways need compromise. If we do not know or try to understand our neighbors locally or globally, then we fail as Christians and we fail our community as well.

“We” is the important part of the preceding statement. Nationality may disappear in the next decades in some corners of the globe but geography and local-ness will not.

We either as a group become more local and or more universal. Whatever factor dominates our future thinking needs a balanced approach to dealing with reality. If the local culture is important, then the universal global culture has to be recognized and respected but not necessarily served blindly.

The globalists have to recognize and respect local customs – period! Culture in the global age has to be a two way street.

I may sound more secular than cultural with my Christianity here but look at the world of Jesus. You had the Romans and Herod and the Temple Priests and their politico crony parties. You had the dispossessed in the new Romanization of the Holy Land. It was a global situation and after the time of Jesus, it failed. It failed miserably.

Jesus coped with and inspired a local flock that included all levels of that local and global community. The words, teachings and message of Jesus are now as important as ever. I believe that he among the many facets of his unique character and mission – I believe that he truly was one of the first to act locally and think globally. Turn your cheek, go the extra distance, love you neighbor (even if he is a Roman).

Communication and consensus in local matters and looking over your shoulder at that global thing coming at us is something I as a cultural Christian give consideration to everyday. I hope we all, of many belief systems, are doing the same.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Wars of Words and Ideas

Along the road of life one gets a taste for the things that are of interest to oneself. My senses pick up when I see a good anthropology or archeological article in the New York Times.

Dissecting history is an interesting endeavor. These days with speed of light technology, things change too quickly sometimes. Early American history is of great interest to me because I grew up in Philadelphia and I frequently as a youth had the opportunity to visit and revisit sites that most of the rest of you only read about in a history book or see in a video drama.

Historical perspectives of men such as Washington, Franklin or Adams and the whole revolutionary birth period have been revised several times in the last several years. If you think you studied history in high school or college, look up events and people on the Internet and read something quite different than what you thought you remembered.

One thing I have noticed on some cable programming is that history is now entertainment. Even if the program has the word history in the title of the program, you are likely to spot many errors in the so called facts presented.

So too I believe that there is a subtle attack on Christian beliefs going on in terms of the entertainment industry and its presentations. Semantics and or revisionist history seems to have replaced truth and logic in the scheme of things. To be fair, I must also say that not all programs are untrue to Christian history.

Over a dozen years ago I was sitting in my chair on a Sunday morning and I was reading my newspaper. It was Easter Sunday and I had not yet joined the congregation I have mentioned in another article. My son was quite small and not yet in the first grade. The TV was on to a cable program, a kid’s program whose name you would recognize. I am half listening to the Easter story on the kiddie show and half reading my paper. Then I hear something like “oh they started seeing what they thought was Jesus’ ghost and that is why they thought he had risen from the dead”. What? Holy Canoli!

I never let my child watch that program again. You think that politics or religion or strange versions of each would not be pushed onto your child. In this case it was. You start to look at who has what opinions and who owns stock in which communications companies and your start to figure out that certain entertainment companies are owned by certain families who have outward atheistic points of view and agendas and then you start to sound paranoid if you express your theories to whoever may be willing to listen. Etc.

There are extreme points of view in this country where politics and religions and profits mix and quite frankly it is better to read a book than be submitted to unfriendly, unfamiliar propaganda.

I did not grow up with the traditions of Christianity in tents or revivals. There is a whole body of Christianity out there that I as a city boy raised in the R.C. church find strange if not downright exotic. When I hear evangelicals talk about the evil eastern liberal media, I get turned off by it all. I don’t think I was brainwashed by that so called eastern media establishment. Yet there are many grains of truth these days in the things they say.

There is a war out there to control the hearts and minds of people politically, morally and economically. It is too big to describe and dissect and frankly I don’t have the energy at this stage of my life to deal with it. I have to beware, go where I find comfort and stick to the things I learned when younger. Perhaps there is no fool like an old fool. If I turn the TV off then a lot of trash and demons don’t get into my home. Perception is reality in many, many cases. Is the perception correct? Is the reality perceived correct?

As a cultural Christian I try to stay out of the town square when disagreements and fist fights break out. We may be a diverse country but we are much divided over opinions about everything these days.

Sitting there in front of the telly creates a comfort zone and a bubble. It’s like driving a car to work, turning up the air conditioning and playing the radio loud. If we have to take public transportation for a few days, many of us do not know how to deal with other people. Public civility has disappeared from the American Town Square.

Respect for your neighbors no longer exists in many ways that existed in the past. In many ways the new global culture is sterile, antiseptic and not people orientated. The new global culture is profit orientated.

Perhaps like those brave explorers of 1492, a lot of grit and blood and foul intentions have to be worked out before our children or grandchildren get a chance to build a viable, people oriented, user friendly global town square in the future.

To try and understand your neighbor, have empathy and walk a mile in their shoes, to love your neighbor as yourself. The basic teachings of Jesus are as hard today as they were 2000 years ago. The challenge any practicing Christian, cultural or otherwise, is to be aware and be available to the needs of all. The rest is in the hands of God.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sabbath Tales

I have met and know of some remarkable men in my life. Since it is Friday and tonight at sundown marks the start of the traditional Jewish Sabbath, let me tell a few tales.

The man who baptized me or more accurately the man who was founder and pastor of my parish in Philly was a fanatic of sorts. He started out life as an Episcopalian, changed Christian registration to R.C. when in the seminary and went on to start a new R.C. parish. The parish was sort of in between a lot of other established parishes and the land in between those other churches began to be developed, houses built, and there was a need for a new church, school etc. in the first decades of the twentieth century in that part of Philly.

Let me call this man Father Ed. He was of the old “God is to be feared” school of beliefs. He was an Old Testament kind of guy.

He was dead by the time I reached first grade. I have heard stories about him. One from a home inspector who related the story about being an altar boy in my parish and being five minutes late for mass. Father Ed ranted into him at the end of service about how you can’t be late for God. The priest also made the boy serve everyday for a year at 6:00 a.m. mass as punishment. That priest made an impression on that guy but I don’t think that Father Ed made a friend.

Then, as it happens sometimes in life, a lady knocked on the door and said that she had been raised in our house and asked if she might get a quick nostalgic view inside. She then got into some stories about the neighborhood. The one story I remember most was about Father Ed.

There was a Russian tailor in our neighborhood. He also did dry cleaning and his store was a block away from our house. We did business with the man. In the story of the visiting lady we finally understood why some of our neighbors took their dry cleaning three blocks away and not use the local guy. The Russian was also a Jew and a good tailor I might add. My parents, for working class, were flaming liberals. Being Jewish did not matter to them. That and my father liked to haggle.

The lady went on to say that as a child, she and her friends used to taunt the man. Let me say anti-Semitism was rampant in America back then in the 1930's, at least in this neighborhood. Well Father Ed got wind of the fact that some of his parishioners and children were harassing the man and boycotting his business. Father Ed made it a point to visit the tailor and bring his dry cleaning four blocks from the rectory. In good weather, Father Ed sat on the store stoop and smoked a cigar together with the tailor as a means to make a statement of sorts to the neighborhood. Apparently Father Ed and the tailor became good friends as the result of this local anti-Semitism.

Which leads me to the story of my next door neighbor in Arizona. Perry had a remarkable life. Left home and dairy farm in Minnesota when he was fifteen in the middle of the depression and headed west. He wanted to be a cowboy and that he became for some years. Then when World War II broke out he went up to Canada and joined the fight. He hit Juno beach on D-Day as a lieutenant in the Canadian army. He married a Brit, brought his war bride home and settled into life in Arizona B.A.C. (before air conditioning).

Perry joined the post office and then worked his way up to postmaster before retirement. I got to talk to him over the fence as a neighbor. Good stories. Went into his house a few times and vice versa. All in all, he was a great neighbor.

Then one day his wife came to us to tell us that Perry had skin cancer, that they did some necessary surgery but that the disease may have spread. I am not sure how all this got started. Perhaps my neighbor’s wife was talking to my wife and then the topic came up about me being an elder in a local church. Apparently Perry had no religious ties. I would have assumed that he might have attended church in his youth in Minnesota. His wife asked if I would talk to him.

I went over to the man in his house and tried to give comfort. I don’t think he wanted me there. Perhaps he was in denial of his own mortality. No doubt he sensed how green I was in giving comfort. I admit it. I couldn’t do him any good. Between his resistance and my inexperience, I did not serve his needs very well sad to say. Perry died suddenly about two weeks later while working in the garden. We went to give comfort to the wife next door that night and then we attended a graveside service a few days later.

This is where I get some reality checks put into my little bubble world of beliefs. I met Episcopal nuns at the graveside. I never knew such an animal existed. They had educated Perry’s children. There were lots of neighbors, relatives and co-workers from the post office. The most interesting person I met was a female Rabbi. Perry was Jewish?

I was a bit taken aback. I had heard the story about how Perry and his war bride had built the second house in this desert housing community in 1948. When I closed on the house next door, I got my deed of title or whatever and included in the paperwork was a covenant of restrictions set on the property when it was built.

That covenant was of course stamped with a label “Null and Void under Federal Civil Rights Act of...” The nasty thing about that covenant was the few pages that made it quite clear in a long range of specifics that no ...”Jews, negroes or dogs...” were allowed in this housing development etc.

As it turned out, Perry had no religious affiliation. His wife was Jewish. I chuckled about how a man like Perry, this cowboy, this war hero, this postmaster must have laughed at the WASP covenant of restrictions. Here was a real individual. Here was an old fashioned American. Here was a man.

Perry had made arrangements with the rabbi to be buried in solidarity with his wife’s belief system. Was Perry a believer, an atheist, an agnostic? I don’t know. In retrospect I don’t care. I knew the man. He was good ethical man. I prayed for him.

Part of being a cultural Christian is that you can embrace people of other beliefs, respect them and still retain you basic feel for yourself and not compromise your basic faith.

America’s greatest strength is and has always been its diversity.

Amidst this eclectic graveside audience, I had an epiphany. I also think that that paradigm shift thing happened.

It was fascinating to hear the twenty third psalm read in Hebrew. I am not certain that the Kaddish was said there but I realized something about my own belief systems. Christianity is wrapped up in a lot of layers of traditions, sacred tradition, faith, grace, propaganda, love, hate and on an on.

There under a blistering Arizona sun, prayers for a Jew were said in the desert. Were these the similar prayers that Joseph of Aramathea read over Jesus’ broken and lifeless body on Good Friday at twilight, eve of Sabbath?

You could be surrounded with stone cathedrals, and stained glass and the gospels could be read from a Gutenberg bible and the minister could be wrapped in gold cloth. But could you get any more from prayers at the end of your life than my neighbor got that day or when Jesus was interred and they rolled the stone in front of the tomb?

It makes you think. It made me think.

Good Sabbath.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Shining Through

Let me take a break from my boring biography and what might seem to some as my trashing of the R.C. church. I am merely telling my background story which some of you might identify with. Others just might enjoy the reading of a snippet of some other traveler through life and reference matter tagged with a Christian point of view. This is in keeping with the title of the blog.

If you do not like religion, than don’t go to church. Rule number one of fight club is – no – rule number one of cultural Christianity is to understand who you are. That is who you are within.

I have beliefs that I have inherited along the way from my family and my community. Remarkably, the civil culture of America in the last decades has been more secular and commercial. Perhaps my drifting away and not wanting to be an official part of any congregation is a side effect of the secular culture. Perhaps there are too many distractions.

I do not agree with all the official mouthpieces of the Christian faith that I read in papers or see on the telly. Nobody speaks for me. I have my opinions and beliefs. I state and share some of them here with you. If you agree or don’t agree with me does not matter. I am merely sharing my insight with you on some matters. I am not awarding any diplomas.

In this secular world and growing global culture, life is a journey. Sometimes we travel in a group and sometimes we travel alone. Unofficial rule number two is to know where you have been and rule number three is to try and figure out where you are going to.

Is there an afterlife? I believe that there is. Do I believe all the biblical and cultural cliches of the descriptions of that afterlife? Not necessarily. In a way many of my studies of religion and religions and worldwide culture makes me think that there is some obsoleteness in the ways of expression of the old world monotheistic religions that need to be addressed.

The creator would seem to have a plan. In the west here, the power of the individual has grown over time but it has flowered under the umbrella of time within a realm of religion. Do I believe in evolution? I don’t think science should be elevated to where the concept of God used to be. I sure as heck do not want to start a silly sixteenth century religious bloodbath or crusade just because my science loving neighbor doesn’t know how to dot his “i”s or cross the “t”s just like me.

And then of course there is Jesus. Jesus is a man of myth and magic and ironically, the truth is that at the core of all sacred scripture there are many grains and seeds of truth about this man. This is a man whose approach to life and opinions are worth examination. I mention him in the present tense because in so many ways he cannot die. He is alive amongst us. That belief more than any thing else makes me a Christian.

The whole Christian experience through history has been as a group effort. Religion is a set of beliefs and a set of practices. Religions go back to the caveman and before. Times change and so do religions.

I am old fashioned. I occasionally watch electronic Christian preaching but do not feel comfortable with it. There is something missing in the way of sight, smell and touch.

I moved back east almost a decade ago and have not found a congregation that feels the same as one I belonged to out west. At the same time I have reached semi-retirement age. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I know that I am saved and in my everyday living I hope that what is Christian in me shines though to all who deal with me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Indulgences and other Relevant Fees

When I was in grade school and high school I heard rumors about how a lunatic named Martin Luther got away with many misrepresentations about the institutions and practices of Holy Mother Church.

Let’s not be too dramatic. Enough said.

Well anyway. You sit through hundreds and hours of church indoctrination. Indoctrination was easy. You learned that the church might have sold some indulgences in the fifteenth and sixteenth century but it was like the statue thing – not real idols and of course you can ask for prayers and salvation but you can’t buy it with a written receipt in the form of an indulgence. (Talk about the logic of recovering indulgence sellers)

I also remember being told by the nuns that civil marriage doesn’t count in the eyes of the Church. The eyes of God is always another matter.

Fast forward two or three decades. I want to get married. I don’t have any religious affiliation. We both were raised in the R.C. church and we want to do the R.C. marriage thing. It seemed like the right thing to do.

Bad idea. People with limited options only have limited prospects.

Then you go to the local rectory and the local priest, well passed retirement age, gives us the long spiel about how my wife’s previous civil marriage and civil divorce were not recognized by the church. Okay.

Next. The clerics in the Vatican have to examine your request to be readmitted into holy mother church. Time, paperwork, research, official approval. Bottom line - six months minimum to wait and a $2,500 donation to the church. Clerks have to eat too. Excuse me. Could you repeat that?

Well, I can put up with the dogmatic horse manure but when the old cleric starts using biblical language that I understand ( I don’t care about insults to myself ), but are you calling my fiance a whore old man? This is the church of Jesus? Jesus H. Christ??? No. It is the R.C. church INC.

Bottom line, bottom line. Found a Methodist minister, a Christian minister, who married us for a reasonable fee in a local chapel etc. No intimidating questions asked.

Bottom, bottom, bottom line. Hey, I think you still sell indulgences. But who am I to challenge or criticize a big bloated, vested, hypocritical institution that sounds too much like that Pharisee thing in the bible thingy. Do I sound bitter? Yes.

Some years pass and in another planet, Arizona, we find a small old fashioned Christian church who afforded our child affordable and decent Christian education. I eventually joined that church.

I would sometimes remark in jest to the assistant pastor that having been raised in the R.C. church, I was still looking for the horns and tails on these local Lutheran Catholics. Yeah, - they are of the same opinion as are many others. The Roman Catholic Church left them. They did not leave the Catholic Church.

Still bitter? No.

I know how to practice Christianity. I am comfortable with my faith and in a secular world. I am also trying to be a mensch like Jesus.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sacred Tradition and American Politics

There is political-ization of religion. There is also religion-ization of politics.

I stand back at what looks like an effort to impose a religious point of view on the majority in America. The gaps in moral codes in the modern age coincide with the advent of science and the convenience of birth control.

On all sorts of levels, social and religious, there has been an upheaval for the last forty odd years in America. It is not just birth control, but birth control has become the icon or code word that fronts all sorts of other issues needing reexamination, rediscovery and possible rebirth.

Because the R.C. church lost its grip after Vatican II, or in fairness lost its vision, its purpose, its message of Christ, it has taken the fight to American politics to approve through attrition and or sacred tradition the unpopular birth control encyclical Humane Vitae (human life).

I can remember in high school reading this document line per line in my junior year religion class. The worst of birth control is abortion. That everything else, the pill, condoms, their use are of equal mortal sin value. If the Catholics left in the R.C. church accept all forms of birth control as immoral, then by default, the whole document gets accepted as part of R.C. church doctrine and canon law through a concept called sacred tradition.

The R.C. version of evolution got taught to me in high school and after a few decades of no dissent, it got signed off by John Paul II in 1996 under I think the category of sacred tradition. The church can wait decades or even centuries on any issue and eventually gets its way.

After two or more generations, Humane Vitae becomes Sacred Tradition and labeled as something the faithful must fully except without question. Read the fine print of your contract before you buy the whole real propaganda package people.

Human sexuality can be turned into a commodity. Privacy and rights of privacy are light years away from some institutions' medieval thinking.

The Christian far right in America has adopted the “pro-life” anti-abortion stance. It is a wide stance and with a strange alliance that includes the far right evangelical churches and clerics of Vatican City and the R.C. bishops of America. Strange how the evangelicals don’t ask about the R.C. church’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” stand on evolution. Politics does make for some strange bedfellows.

I have known a few people, some women and men, who have confided to me regret over having gone through or knew about and or paid for the process of abortion. It is not an easy decision for some to make. I think it right that the process not be easily obtained or government funded. There are other options for unwanted pregnancy like adoption. I talk from my opinion and my heart. I am no church or religious scholar even though I have studied this issue for decades.

Do I believe that abortion is right and or moral? No. Do I believe that women have the right to choose what to do with their own body? Yes.

Why is this whole moral issue a political issue? If you are a card carrying member of the R.C. religion, it should not be an issue. Good R.C.s should conform to church doctrine – Period!

Why does the long arm of confused and failed moral politics reach across the ocean? Why does it try to be imposed on all Americans, who these days are not necessarily believers and or Christian?

America is a secular nation.

What would Jesus do about the issue of birth control?

He would be a mensch!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Political-ization of Religion

It is politics, politics, politics in this prolonged primary season in America.

What ever happened to the good old days of tobacco smoke filled back rooms and cigar chomping politico bosses cutting deals and deciding whose name would go onto the top of any political ticket? The good old days?

The late 1960’s in America was a brutal time both in terms of blood and in terms of communication. The Vietnam War raged and everybody had some relative or another trying to stop the communist monolith over there instead of it all coming over here.

The so-called liberal media was spewing government approved propaganda numbers. I remember around 1967 thinking to myself that they better end that war soon before I get drafted into it. The radio was spewing out an almost hourly body count of the enemy, the enemy, the enemy. There was a point around 1968 after I came home from the weekly Sunday family drive to the country that I reached a saturation point in all the war news. The radio or TV might be switched on after that date but I was not listening.

I wasn’t an outward war protestor or a Hippie, but if it came to a vote of no confidence for the government and its policies, I would have been at the head of the line to vote. Not much has changed in forty years of American Politics.

Something of late in American politics is the Religious Party or more accurately, the Religious Wing on one particular political party. Not to say that the Dems have not been playing with the “God Vote” in the past but that vote was decided behind closed doors.

In the Dem politics of smoke filled back rooms, the bosses decided who and what to give to the local Catholic hierarchy in terms of respect, deals or candidates. The process was behind the scenes. I had a distant cousin who was a bishop and I heard a little bit of backstairs politics and religion mixing in a way that would have made Thomas Jefferson blush or flush with rage.

The local Dem committee man made his rounds the Sunday before elections and gave you a list of the party approved (and church approved) candidates along with a wink and a nod. Whatever.

Outside the big city political machines, out in the countryside, new ideas, burb ideas were beginning to form. Some of these ideas had to do not so much with abortion but with the general idea of birth control. The old “blue laws” were vague and archaic about contraception. New laws were needed. New bills were being introduced in the state legislature.

There were one or two local politicians who spoke not so much with the voice of God as with the sanctioned voice of the local bishops. Contraception was a sin. Any bishop who approved of it would never get his red hat etc.

The local parish was not big on homilies as a rule. The time allotted to sermons in my church was usually gobbled up with church announcements, meeting schedules, appeals for money etc.

I liked homilies as a teenager. With the disappearance of the Latin dead language thing in the mass, there was no time to daydream except during a very boring sermon.

So I began to notice that instead of talking about Jesus and his teachings, the homily time got filled with loud demands that we write to our local state legislator and demand a vote against House Bill 10-20-14 etc.

As I said the late sixties were brutal in terms of communication. Vatican II, while a temporary PR triumph, it was the devil in the details – confusion – mistrust - in following through on ideas approved in that council.

It was then in the late sixties that I stopped listening to whatever political propaganda was spewing out of the pulpit and cut the chain with the old faith.

These days, Public Relations are more sophisticated along with corporate media networks having their political agendas and their officially endorsed church candidates. Whether you, in the privacy of the voting booth, vote the party/church line or your conscience, nobody but you will know.

I don’t like these outward religious endorsements of politicians lately. I believe in the concept of the separation of church and state. It’s as American as the Constitution.

I am old fashioned kind of guy. I prefer the wink and nod from the local committee man to let me know what is what regarding politics and not religion.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Religious Education

The late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once commented on a talk show in response to the seeming chaos and confusion and anger for Catholics in the decade following Vatican II. He shrugged a bit and saw something positive. He stated that the Church seems to shrivel up and die every five hundred years only to be reborn again in the next centuries.

Perception can sometimes be reality. Sometimes it all comes down to attitude.

I am reminded of surfing the net recently and coming upon the news that my catholic grade school in Philly had been shut down and was on the real estate market. Living in NYC on and off for thirty years I rationalized that real estate comes and goes. A piece of my personal history has disappeared.

A flowering of my Christian faith started with the education started in that school. I do not have the means to support or return blessings to that particular school or parish. I am sad about that fact of my life. I somehow feel that I owe a great deal but don’t know how to repay.

I mention this along with statistics that some 1200 catholic schools have closed since 2000. Inner cities do not have jobs or incomes to support the presently very expensive private education systems so prevalent in the past.

A lot of the moral base of our country or the moral base of any nation in the past has had to do with the quality of its education. The Catholics used to have that edge. I won’t put down public schools but it seems that they give more homework, projects, Internet assignments, things I compare with and measure against my own childhood. Is public education functioning to make the child think or is it merely there to keep children busy until mom and dad get home from work? I learned in the classroom and not so much at home.

The system that supported my free catholic education started with hate crimes and riots in the 1840’s. The local immigrant bishop, now a saint, had a right attitude to this dilemma. He went to the protestant bankers in Philly and told them that they were going to loan him the money to build a separate and not equal ( in truth superior ) school system. This school system was built for the children of all the catholic Irish and German immigrants pouring into that port city. This influx scared the hell out of the Anglo Saxon natives and inspired them to hatred and riots against the Catholics. Not only did John Neumann build schools but he got his bankers to pay for his new cathedral. That’s chutzpa (hutspa)!

Catholic education is decreasing. The vocations of nuns to teach and devote their lives to God got lost somewhere along the way. Nuns used to work for little or nothing as part of their religious calling. You don’t know what you've got till its gone.

We can’t blame Vatican II for everything. America’s post WWII value system paralleled a white flight to suburbia and to the MALL. It costs money to run private education. Priorities seem to have changed.

Anyway, I have noticed that religious education has declined in the general workforce. While somebody of my generation got 12 years of cheap or free moral, religious based education, any private education these days is the exception and not the rule. Private education seems in many cases to be limited to 6-8 years becaue of economic factors. Private Catholic high school education is now for an economic elite class.

Does this change America? Does this mean the general decline of morals based on religious education? Is it a better world? I will let you ponder on answers.

Evangelical Christians have a growing share in the old tough love education system I once experienced. I don’t knock anything these days. With eighty ten year olds in the class, as in my youth, a little old fashioned discipline can go a long way. Sometimes the classical model is the best model to imitate.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Big Change - Vatican II

Somewhere along the timeline between my being a R.C. Christian and a Cultural Christian is the great Church council of Vatican II.

I was aware of the big event in the background noise of my young life. Talk and printed articles and of course that new fangled thing Television brought ceremonies in Rome into the living rooms of us mere mortals.

For what it was to accomplish or what my part was in it, let us reduce the macro down into the micro of my day to day life as a grade school student and an altar boy in the local church.

Something somehow almost poetic got said and I don’t know how it was exactly said but John XXIII “threw opened the windows and wanted to let some fresh air into the Church.”.

The Church was a stuffy place. Pharisee like ritual choked the arteries of an institution that had been on the defensive for four and half centuries since the German cleric nailed up his 95 points of grievance against the then establishment of a Full European Catholic Institution.

Anyway, back to earth. It is lunch time and we altar boys are in the chapel of the church with the nun in charge of altar boys. She is flustered. She is reading the latest marching orders from the local bishop regarding changes in the old Latin mass. There was a time there when the mass was divided up into A, B, C, and D. That one month A and C got put into experimental English, the local vernacular. Then the next month A and C went back to Latin while B and D got a new spin in the vernacular.

Of course, there used to be a lot of ceremonial movements and rituals like genuflection and the ringing of bells at the right moment. On that particular lunch hour with the other altar boys I got my chance to perform the recently revised stage directions. I was confused. I started the practice run and was motioning to genuflect in the old Latin style. From the back of the chapel came the very angry voice of Sister Sponsa Regis and the very real threat of “Bend that knee boy and I’ll break it!”

There was no way then to express what I felt at that moment. Over the years I have played and replayed the video tape of that incident in my mind. What I should have said to her was something in street talk about “Screw this!” or something similar. Hello public school! The other accent of the feeling of that moment was I think subconscious. It had to do with a paradigm shift and realization about how a perfect God that only spoke Latin had somehow changed.

Many lapsed Catholics have said over time that the Church left them and not vice versa. I know where they are coming from. In an attempt to catch up to Luther’s very real and very pragmatic suggestion to put the mass or common service into the vernacular took a lot of getting used to after Vatican II.

I remember the words of a commentator in the local catholic paper and his sneering almost cynical “best wishes” to the Protestants on the four hundredth and fiftieth anniversary of the Protestant reformation in 1967.

We went through the changes in the mass to English. I am not so certain that everyone survived them.

In retrospect, the old Latin mass had been quite a calming almost meditative sort of thing. Your mind could drift off during the dead language and you could half pray and half mediate or day dream at the same time. Only the bells would bring you back into focus. That and the old ladies doing their own sort of prayful meditative thing as they rattled their glass rosary beads against the pews.

In retrospect I give Angelo Roncalli points for trying and for starting the process of the long term rebirth of Christianity. This stellar fisherman did open windows and get some fresh air into the Vatican. I look at that as a painful start to a whole new possible future of Christianity in the global culture.

I look at that symbolic window opening and address the matter in terms of eastern mysticism or philosophy if you wish. I see Vatican II as a change in the coming flow of energy from the Holy Spirit to all the people of God.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Early Remembrances of Religion

I don’t remember the exact moment how or when religion got introduced into my life. I was aware of my older brother and sister going to Mass on Sunday at the children’s Mass at 9:00 A.M...

I would be going to mass every Sunday when I entered the first grade. School at six was more of a concern to me than the church thing.

My mother did the 6 A.M. mass and then came home to start cooking breakfast. In those days you had to fast from Saturday midnight from both food and water if you wanted to receive Communion. Brushing your teeth was a no-no etc. Rituals had their demands.

I did go to church with my mother in the first grade. Mandatory attendance for school children did not start until the second grade.

The people going to mass at 6A.M. were working class who had to go to work on Sunday. No Saturday evening masses back then. The attendees were working people or other mothers who would go home to tend to household duties.

My memory of the first grade was that there was something like 103 students in the class. That rounded down to about 99 after the first week and more or less stayed at that number. The old wood and cast iron desks were bolted together and sometimes you got to sit three in a row. God forbid you got sick and stayed out a day or two. Not only did you lose your desk and seating arrangements but you were likely to lose your pencils, books and boxes of cardboard letters and numbers.

I’ve told people that I started in first grade with 99 kids and graduated in eighth grade with 66 children. I don’t think that they believe me. More about Catholic education in another article.

I didn’t have a clue what was going on when I first attended services in first grade with my mother. There was Father Dougherty who taught at a high school but was in residence at the rectory and helped in the warehouse factory schedule of the and 12:15 masses. Father Dougherty empathized with people who were going to be late for work on Sunday because they felt an obligation to attend. He would race through the mass in something like fifteen to twenty minutes. No sermon and diction that sounded like it was fueled by five cups of coffee.

The nuns in first grade started the religion thing with topics about angels, saints, Jesus, the Blessed Mother, the devil, Protestants and Communists.

In second grade you memorized a lot of boilerplate Catechism and received Holy Communion. I never liked the stepping into a dark space of a confessional and waiting to talk to the small screen and priest beyond. This fear touched something primal within.

Confirmation was more of the same with questions and answers but this time a bishop got to rub some sacred oil on your forehead and you got to wear a red robe, symbolic of the blood of martyrs for the faith.

I was an altar boy and got to see things at a closer range than the congregation. I did accept what was ever handed to me in the text of faith and never questioned anything.

There was high school and in freshman religion class they made you carry around a bible the size of a cigar box. The reading of the bible was in keeping with the PR freshly put out by church management and conforming to the mission statements of Vatican II etc.

I am certain that the awkward size of the bible and the physical pain in carrying it every day to class had to do with the deal or price offered by the publishing company. I doubt that the size of the book discouraged anybody from reading it. Of course there is the old joke about “you’ve never read the bible, you’re a catholic”. It was something I would hear many years later and understand.

After high school, I stopped attending church. It would be something like fifteen years before I started to read the bible and after I read it, something remarkable happened. I had always thought that the New Testament would explain everything. I expected that the gaps in the Catholic religion thing would be filled in and explained in black and white. I expected a boost to my spirituality among other things.

What happened after I read the New Testament from cover to cover was that I realized that I was no longer a catholic. I had become more or less Protestant.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Sacred and the Secular

There is that standard term ”the sacred and the profane”. Sacred of course means the church. Everything else is the profane.

The term is no doubt centuries old and goes back to when the church was equal to or greater than the local civil authority or king. The aftermath of the collapse of the Roman Empire left many gaps and many niche opportunities for those willing to fill those gaps. Many of the basic civil institutions of western and European countries started first as church entities.

Profane as a word or description has picked up much too much negative connotation over these recent centuries.

For the sake of anything you might read here, I am using or will be using the word secular in place of the word profane, to mean the common man or woman’s world outside of any religious organizations.

Secular of course and of late has a nasty connotation especially in conjunction with the use of the word humanism. That is another article.

I live in a secular world. The USA is a market economy and goes non stop 24/7, twenty four hours a day and seven days a week in case you have never seen or totally understood that new cliché of communication.

So many things culturally are changing today. The fast pace of life has taken over the way we live in this secular world.

As a child, and half a century ago, my local neighborhood was immersed in the traditional nineteenth and early twentieth century predominate Christian culture. That meant that six days per week commerce was conducted. On Sunday, the Sabbath, stores did not open. The origin of the term “blue laws” in Pennsylvania applied to moral conduct codes and legislated by the state assembly.

Open a store on Sunday and get fined or arrested. In our neighborhood that was true but we played a little bit of a local variance of the law thing. Since orthodox Jews were closed on Saturday, their Sabbath, these grocers opened their stores from nine A.M. to one P.M. on Sunday and sold mostly milk and bread. My father would be buying milk on the way home from church from the Jewish Deli for my baby sister.

Over the years in larger urban centers, these local blue laws began to be ignored or legislated out of existence.

The stage was set for supermarkets and malls to do business seven days a week.

This commerce thing did not immediately weaken the religious thing. The tradition of not shopping on Sunday or keeping a quiet stay at home Sabbath lingered on depending on local regions.

Speaking to somebody recently who grew up in rural Georgia, the collapse of the no shopping on Sunday tradition budged a little when the local K-Mart opened from 12 to 4 on Sundays in the early eighties.

All this coincided with the expanding suburban mall culture, with the local indoor fountain area or food court in the local mall becoming the equivalent of the traditional American town square.

Many factors pulled the American culture away from the traditional sacred culture of the past.

Secularism did not happen as some evil satanic campaign to rob the sacredness from Sunday. It just happened.

So when I hear the strong political voice of American evangelicalism and their faint hope to go back to some sort of rural farm sacred Sunday kind of place, I have to concede that the dream sounds great. Shut down the Malls, our new 21st Century Cathedrals of Commerce on Sunday? I don’t think so.

It is a secular world and we are very much a part of it.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Cultural Christian

Cafeteria Catholics - Free - All You Can Eat - The Grace of God

I have spent many, many years in the pursuit of what might be called spirituality.

Along the journey I have examined my religious upbringing among other things. In this corner of the universe I wish to share my thoughts about many things sacred and or profane, where I have been, am and possibly going to.

We are entering a new world. Technology and culture are merging and sometimes clashing on a global level. The adage that all politics is local seems more true than ever.

Some of us have our feet in the old world of paper, pencils, manual typewriters and traditional western logic. The younger generation is playing with virtual and abstract ways of seeing things.

Perception is in many ways reality now more than ever before. I try to sort out the things of everyday life, work, play, leisure and without knowing it I am being transported along with the rest of humanity to the future.

This new land, this new global culture, is a strange and perhaps for some a mysterious place. I think about the European discovery of America in 1492. Some of us are explorers and some of us are left behind to read about the accounts of exploration.

As a practicing but non-church going Christian, I could be labeled as a Cultural Christian. Rather than fight pundit style journalism and Madison Avenue labels, I do not resist the title.

I was taken aback by the use of a similar term "Cultural Catholic" in the New York Times in connection with the recent visit of the Bishop of Rome to that fair city.

These days, labels besides being labels, connote what the speaker of labels want them to do - to put you down somehow.

Having started my life journey with twelve years of Roman Catholic education, I was mildly insulted by the term "Cultural Catholic" having seen it in black and white for the first time. This put me on the Internet to do further research.

Other put down labels from the church hierarchy are terms like "recovering Catholic" or "cafeteria Catholic" to label people who dare to disagree with management or who have merely fallen away or been swept away in the new global culture.

I might have found these Catholic labels insulting if I was still a full or partial, "lapsed" member of that particular Christian sect.

Jesus said to turn the other cheek. This I do here. Always Jesus. Always.

Because so much of me is rooted in the R.C. tradition, my present Christianity has not label. Rather than put wasted effort into establishing a new sect, I accept what I am - a Cultural Christian.