Friday, June 26, 2009

cultural icons (rip)

I was leading a workshop, not watching tv or being on line, so I totally missed the death of Ed McMahon but I heard about Farrah Fawcett and Jocko--how could you avoid hearing about Michael Jackson's's bigger than 9/11 and the White Bronco and OJ?

Everyone has thoughts about those deaths and since I'm one of everyone, I thought I'd share mine.

Ed is the easiest. He is the world class side-kick. Everyone needs a side-kick, a tag-along, someone who laughs at your jokes and is the butt of many of them; someone who doesn't mind being 'second-best' and revels in supporting the 'big guy'. Everyone needs a Gabby Hays to their Roy Rodgers, a Robin to their Batman, a Desi to their Lucy, a Tonto to their Lone Ranger, a Silas to their Paul, a Peter to their Jesus, a Falstaff to their Prince Hal, a Garfunkel to their Simon, a Lewis to their Clark...well, you get the point. Everyone needs a best friend, a foil, a buddy a partner in the crime of Life. Who wouldn't want a big, jovial, ever-supportive friend to say, every time you entered a room, "HERE'S _______!" (Put your name in there and enjoy....) And Ed McMahon was the made in heaven side-kick for Johnny Carson. The only occupational hazard to being a side-kick is that you can never quite carve out your own niche afterwards. Did you ever take Ed seriously in his life after "The Tonight Show"? "That's the guy with Johnny Carson," we all said when we saw him in commercials. But he is forever a part of my life--those late nights I spent with him as he did all in his power to make Johnny funnier than he was. God bless the side-kicks of life. We all want one...though few of us aspire to BE one....

Farrah probably awakened the sexuality of more men than anyone in our time. That poster of her in the red one-piece bathing suit may be the most ubiquitous wall decoration of those over 40. It was de rigor for Dorm rooms of male students for a generation. And Farrah made hair "matter". Plus, there is a TV documentary of her last two years, after diagnosis, that she produced, that is a tribute, not to sexuality and beauty, but to courage and hope and love. If you can ever see it, you should, I think. Fame is a fickle and vicious master--but in that film, called "Farrah's Story" she emerges from the fog of fame to be a wondrous human being. Like Ed, she never quite shed the image of her original persona as one of the 'angels', though she proved herself a talented actress (The "Burning Bed" is still one of the TV productions I remember years later) but her legacy may be the documentary of her final months which reveals her to be a person to be greatly admired.

Michael Jackson--the third of the Trinity of notables to die this week--(my grandmother always said 'deaths come in threes') is perhaps the most enigmatic of all. I'm old enough to remember the Jackson Five. And I've lived long enough to see Michael move from child star to immortal performer to suspicious character to being simply wierd. His songs rattle around in my brain. His dancing changed dancing forever, he--almost single handiedly--created MTV as a force that formed us all in some way. My only youngest first cousin on my mother's side, out of 18 of us, was literally 'enthralled' by him. My daughter, who is 30, called to talk about his death. Nothing in recent history, as I said in the beginning, has seemingly be so completely covered by the media. Perhaps time from now should be referred to as 'AMJ'. EBay and Amazon sold out their stock of his music within minutes of his death. And yet, so far as I can see, he was the embodiment of what is wrong with our celebrity obcessed culture. Isolated, strange, pain-filled, driven to seek to create an eternal childhood, he was, in the end, one of the 'lost boys' rather than Peter Pan. It makes me wonder, as I remember him as a child singing with his brothers, what is true about the wisdom of "the child is father to the man". And it drives me to go stare at the photos I have of myself as a child and ponder....

Monday, June 15, 2009

Let not your hearts be troubled...

So Scott Moore's guy actually healed my computer--raised it from the dead is more accurate. And saved everything I was afraid I'd lose--over 200 sermons, a lot of poems, short stories, stuff like that. At first I thought it was gone--which would have been my fault and I would have, after whining and sniffling for a while, gotten over. But lo and behold they had created a new heaven and new earth called "Drive D" and there was everything I had already began to mourn. I never knew there could be a Drive D--it must drive Scottzo (which is what I call him) crazy that I have not an earthly clue about computers. But then, does he know what the Manichean heresy is or can he explain why it was J/E/P and D that wrote the Pentateuch instead of Moses?

I've never asked Scott if he minds me calling his Scottzo. I probably should. Someone offhandedly and with no mean purpose called me "Jimmy" the other day and I actually snapped at them: "No body but my mother calls me 'Jimmy' and she's dead..."

Anyway, the system now installed on my computer has an icon to allow you to play Hearts. I've always loved card games and become super competitive about them. So now an evil spirit causes me to click on 'hearts' and play for long periods several times a day when I'm home. Of all the 'games' in the universe--at least the 'known universe', which is earth, after all--baseball is the most nearly perfect game. I could write several posts about that and may. But hearts would come in second.

You either want them all--the 13 hearts and the Queen of Spades--or none of them...or one of them if someone else is about to get them all. And the deuce of clubs always leads and you can't throw a heart or the Queen on that round. And you 'pass right/pass left/pass across and don't pass at all in each four hands. Lots of strategy, lots of things to think about. Then how to discard on each round is another test of memory, reason and skill (as Prayer C in the BCP says). I love to play hearts and am now officially addicted to playing with Ben, Pauline and Marsha--my computer generated opponents. I haven't started playing on line with real people yet--though that's an option. When I do I'll write about it and someone needs to plan an intervention.

Ponder, if you wish, what obsesses and addicts you. But then, you may not want to know. I hadn't played hearts for years until it showed up on my computer. I'd forgotten how much I loved it and how irresistible it was to me....

But, until I start playing real people on line, don't let my Hearts be troubled. Just don't expect me to answer your email immediately--I'm playing hearts with Ben and Pauline and Marsha...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Practice makes perfect

So, my poor computer, much mishandled and mismanaged by me, had to go to rehab and I haven't posted a blog for a long time. Several people reminded me that I wasn't writing, which astounded me since I didn't realize anyone was reading!!!

I made a list of things I wanted to write about over the last few weeks and, not unsurprisingly, lost it....But here is something I've been sitting under my own withered castor oil tree pondering....

A distinction between the great world faiths is this: People ask Jews if they are "practicing"...same with Buddhists and Muslims. I think the same question would make sense to Hindus and Taoists. That about covers the map except for less well know faiths and religions of particular cultures. And here's the distinction I'm pondering--Christians are NOT asked if they are "practicing" their faith--they are asked if they are "believing" Christians.

I find a remarkable difference between "practicing" something and "believing" it. Doctors "practice" medicine and lawyers have a "practice" of the law. The question of 'belief' doesn't much enter into those professions. Artists, as well, 'practice' their vocations. No one ever asks what a dancer 'believes' about 'dance'. And writers are not asked if they 'believe' in their novel--what we appreciate in art of every kind is how it is performed, how well it is practiced.

Christianity, it seems to me, would do well to begin to focus more on the 'practice' of the faith rather than what we 'believe' about various doctrines, creeds and dogmas.

As a seminarian at Christ Church, Capitol Hill in Washington DC, I was asked to lead an adult class in the Nicene Creed. I began by giving a history of how the Creed was developed and 'why' it was developed--more to 'exclude' certain beliefs than to give a standard for practicing belief. Then I said, "I'm going to start reading the Creed, raise your hand when you have a question or a comment." Then I said, "I believe in God," and half of the 20 or so people there raised their hands!

There's a line from the musical HAIR that says, in paraphase, "It doesn't matter if I believe in God, does God believe in me...."

All those people who raised their hands were 'good Christians'--they practiced their faith. They simply didn't understand what this 'belief stuff' had to do with much of anything.

When someone asks me why there are so many Christian denominations I always respond, accurately, I think--"because we BELIEVE different things...."

What if we defined 'being a Christian' by our behaviour and 'practice' instead of creeds and doctrine? Why, after all, does it matter if you or I 'believe' in the Trinity? I don't even know, after 30 years of priesthood, exactly what there is about the Trinity to 'believe' or 'not believe'. It seems like a pleasant and companionable way to view God, but if you have a problem with the Incarnation or the Atonement (I DO with the latter--and scarcely think about the former) but still 'practice' the Christian life, what is the issue with that?

A member of the parish told me before being received into the Episcopal Church that she wasn't sure she believed in the Divinity of Christ--she was fine with the Creator and the Holy Spirit but the whole "Jesus is God" part confounded her. I asked her what day it was and she told me Thursday and I responded, "Thursday is one of the days I have trouble with that as well...." So she was received and 'practices' Christianity in a profound and graceful way to this day.

Islam has a bad name--as it probably should in some ways--but the 'practice' of Islam deserves our honor and appreciation. Say the Prayers, give to the poor, care for others, keep the fast of Ramadan, take no 'interest', do no harm--that about sums up the 'practice of Islam'. Not a bad way to live a life. The "problem" in Islam is when it comes to the differing 'beliefs' of the Sunni and the Shiites that causes their internal struggle and results in terrorist, fundamentalist 'beliefs'.

Same with us. All Christians should mourn, repent and feel shame in what we have done in the name of Christ and what we 'believe' that means. Asking someone "do you practice your faith?" is a much different question than asking "Do you BELIEVE...." (whatever....)

What would the 'practice' of Christianity look like? Pretty simple, I believe. It would look like the last five questions of the Baptismal covenant in the Book of Common Prayer. The first three ask us to 'believe' this and that about the Trinity. Well, alright, if we must. The last five are the ones that bring us into a 'practice' of our faith. Here they are:

Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and the prayers?
Will you be in community with others who practice what they preach and be a part of common worship and pray, however you do that?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you oppose the oppression and sin of this world and when you participate in it be honest with yourself and with God?

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
That good news is this--compassion, kindness, love, love, love--will you live and speak out of those things/

Will you seek and serve Christ i all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you acknowledge that every single human being is made in the image of God and treat them as you would treat God--with that respect, support and honor?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
In your family, your community, your nation, your world, will you honor and champion the outcasts and everyone you meet, know and will never meet or know as children of your God?

In the liturgy (the way we 'practice' Christianity by worshipping together) the answer to all those questions is "I will, with God's help." And God knows we need His/Her help in doing any of this, in practicing our faith in a way that matters and makes a difference in the world. And those questions form the way to 'practice' rather than 'believe'. And Christians and everyone of the planet would be better off if we all sought to 'practice' those practices rather than 'believe' in some stuff dreamed up in the 4th century. That's what I think anyway.


As I sit under the castor oil tree, that simply seems to be an improvement on how we do it now. But it's just me thinkin'....Why don't you ponder it as well?

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.