Sunday
Dec022007

« To My Loyal Audience »

Apologies to those who of my biggest, RSS-subscribing fans have been bored with the poetry as of late. I've just been bored with the endless prose format that has primarily defined my writing approach for years. And there have been some personal developments which even I deem a bit too private, though they may eventually work themselves into writings to come.

I redesigned a home page (only) for James Howard Kunstler. Kunstler's book, The Geography of Nowhere, was the thing that started my interests in social issues back in 1998. His blog in more recent years has been important in my understanding of what must happen in the age of peak oil and its decline. Along those lines, his book, The Long Emergency, unified a number of his ideas that evolved in his blogs. But he had a crappy web site for a long time. Finally, I wrote and told him so, and he asked me to help out getting the front page dialed in a bit more. I've been asked to make a promo site for his next book.

I've been reading a lot as of late. Lots of things revolving around Christianity, theology (in a wider sense), and history or politics. I continue to be a total addict to Wikipedia, which is just too cool for a guy like me who likes to meander. Stuff I've been reading in the last few months since getting liberated from the workplace:

  • The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God: A Political, Economic, and Religious Statement. David Ray Griffin, John Cobb, Jr., Richard Falk, Catherine Keller. The authors are primarily within the field of Process Theology, this takes a good look at the American rise to empire or "benevolent hegemony" or whatever nice euphemism describes our present place in the world. It comes down very hard on the US for using the power vacuum of the post-Soviet era to increase, not decrease, its commitment to militarism as a primary instrument of foreign policy. The book looks at the lie we have told ourselves in our national mythology—that we are innocently being drawn toward greatness as a superpower, but if any nation should be put in that position, it might as well be us, right? Maybe it isn't that after all. Maybe a more reasoned look shows the US has been imperial for a century and more, with certain roots back to the founding days.
  • The Return of the Prodigal Son. Henri Nouwen. Kelli got this at a book fair at her school. The price written inside the used copy was $0.75, and a damned well spent seventy five cents it was, too! This modest book of about 140 pages was just good food for the soul. Henri had to redefine his life and mission when he encountered the Rembrandt painting that depicts the homecoming and forgiveness of the wayward son, as told in the Gospel of Luke. He found that while it was most easy to identify with the wayward, reckless son, he was dared to consider himself as the jealous and dutiful son who remained at home and fulfilled all his roles, only to have his rage explode when his attentiveness was upstaged by his reckless brother's homecoming. Then, in the hardest leap for Nouwen, he found that it was his calling—and all our callings—to become the father who forgives, and celebrates the wholeness that comes from having everyone together again. The father is the ultimate spiritual destination for any of us—to reach that point where the ego is depleted from having been both sons—the reckless parts of our lives, the uptight, dutiful parts, the jealous and the angry parts—and to just accept things with compassion that arises from having "been there."
  • Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. Marcus Borg. This is another dollar well spent at the book fair. I'm just getting started on it, but enough of it is familiar from other reading of this sort. Borg is a member of the Jesus Seminar, the group that is trying to establish the actual historicity of Jesus as a human who walked the earth, and what he said or did not say. Despite being deconstructionist in such an approach, the question then is, what truth remains? He recalls a native American storyteller who began his stories with, 'I don't know if any of this actually happened, but its all true.' The point about Jesus then is not whether he said specifically this or that, or encountered this person or that, but that there is a truth beyond the details, the meaning behind the story that is still something that can speak to us now. Joseph Campbell spoke of unpacking the imagery of myth to get to the meaning beneath. Borg is working in a similar fashion. I endorse such readings of the Bible because then it has a chance to be relevant to me now. The Jesus of Sunday School can only matter for so long before he becomes a joke. But the Jesus-as-social prophet/mystic/teacher/dissident is fascinating. That Jesus I have a use for.
  • The Revelation of John. William Barclay. This is actually a part of a series on the New Testament, all from about 1960. I've decided not to hate the book of Revelation like some, and I've decided not to worship it like others seem to do. Revelation is a lot of things to different people. But it isn't what a lot of people think it is if you only know a bit about 666, and the various bits of bullshit that popular culture regurgitates in dreck like the Left Behind series. Only about a year and a half ago I wasn't convinced that the book had any good use, and it may as well be excised from the Bible. But actually it is a very hopeful book—if you understand the medium and the target of its criticism. It is really ironic that American fundamentalists are so ready to hold the book up and cite it because it is really a slam against Rome—the oppressive empire of the day. It is written from the underside of that tyranny, and seeks to assure the faithful that the worst human evils are still no match for God's power. One could imagine such a document being written in the present day by a group that feels under the boot of American imperial power—some folks in the middle east, maybe? It is a bit odd then that for Revelation to be truly understood and appreciated, you can't read it as a member of the dominant power structure, which America clearly is in a way that Rome could only dream of. So it is interesting that Americans make the biggest deal about Revelation, claiming that God's kingdom is right around the corner... I don't particularly like the Christ-as-conquerer imagery, but I do like the idea that maybe God can still best us when we deserve it. In that regard, thinking that there has to be some check on human arrogance and evil, I stand with John of Patmos. The thought that this is all there is...depresses me. Maybe there won't be a city descending from the clouds, but one has to hope this crooked, fucked up world isn't all we have to look forward to.
  • The Closing of the Western Mind. Charles Freeman. I've had this book for a couple years but finally got down to reading it and have finished about half of it. The sad irony in history is that Christianity, a noble religion in principle, was compromised from the beginning of the movement, and Paul of Tarsus' insults to the Greek philosophers didn't help. Greek thought had been refined for centuries before Paul, but he came by and demeaned it as kid's play compared to the need for faith in Christ. Paul then ushered in the closing of the western mind, and it was most solidified when the religion teamed up with empire, and what was ostensibly a nuisance and fringe player, became the religion of the empire, and even more than in its non-empire days, became quite intolerant of anything that ran contrary to its doctrine. Unfortunate, really. I think this book, while primarily a history book, is more of a cautionary book for our age. It might have taken the English Freeman to write this book, but Americans need it in a big way. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to stick your head in the sand to be a Christian. You don't need to hate and fear science. Today's fundamentalism can surely lead us to a new dark age if it gets cozy with power.

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