Friday, January 30, 2009
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
Saturday, January 24, 2009
It seems that only a week into the new administration various signs of hope are appearing in our society. I refer to the vote by the Texas Board of Education that high school science teachers would "no longer have to cover the 'strengths and weaknesses' of Charles Darwin's theory that man evolved from lower forms of life." I am quoting from an article in the Dallas Morning News.
Do I dare to hope that our embarrassments in front of the international community are finally being lessened? Has the Texas Board decided not to compete with the Vatican's record on Galileo?
It is easy, and gratifying, to poke fun.
But there is a very important aspect of these controversies that seldom is voiced. As far back as 415 C.E. Saint Augustine warned in chapter 20 of his "On The Literal Interpretation of Genesis" against being dogmatic in interpretation:
"When they are able, from reliable evidence, to prove some fact of physical science, we shall
show that it is not contrary to our Scripture."
In 1966 the Melton Research center published "Understanding Genesis." In the introduction Simon Greenberg, Vice Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America says:
"The Melton Research Center assumes that traditional Judaism has naught to fear from the strictures of philosophy and science, and the discoveries of archeology."
It always perplexes me that a certain type of "Fundamentalist" will propose that the scriptures which they claim to reverence are so weak in their basic premise that they can not withstand any departure from the denotation of the words they contain. The linguistic argument itself belies their premise. I recommend John Boswell's "Christianity, Homosexuality, and Social Tolerance" for a tour of the way the words of scripture have evolved and changed in their meanings over time.
But in a larger context there is, in my humble opinion, a very grievous conflict of ideas in proposing that God is universal, omniscient etc. but is nonetheless bound to conform to our very inadequate notions of time, space and action. The fundamentalists don't seem particularly bothered by relativity, nor by the Scholastic premise of the "Unmoved Mover," yet if you put those thoughts together i.e. that time is a function of distance, and therefore has no application to the "Unmoved Mover," then any recitation of days in Genesis, the idea that "Biblical Time" as applied to God and his creative acts becomes simply ridiculous.
To ridicule is most irreverent. it is that aspect of these silly discussions that bothers me most. The position of the fundamentalists and conservatives regarding literal interpretations of scripture results in exactly the danger that St.Augustine warned about 1600 years ago. To base the validity of the Scriptures on aspects which are clearly open to debate is to make them debatable; to trivialize them. Their importance lies elsewhere, in matters of the spirit. Let us congratulate the Texas Board for taking them out of the hands of small minded bigots and letting the science teachers get on with teaching truth.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
The parish conference ended Saturday evening. It was, for me personally, a very moving and reassuring experience. After years of sickness and isolation it was a warm reassurance that there is a society of interesting and responsible people, and that they were willing to welcome me among them. Some I had already come to know and others were new friends; while I suppose it was only a formality there was something about the all parish nature of this conference that has allowed me to feel one with them.
I, and perhaps others, were looking forward to the next morning's service to cap off the weekend. Alas, we woke to snow! Quite a bit of it. I walk the few blocks to the church, so a snow fall isn't any hinderance to me, but many folks, including our wonderful musicians come from far, outside the city, even out of state, New hampshire and Rhode Island. The attendance was small, and only 5 of the choir were there.
We are, many of us, at Emmanuel because of Emmanuel Music. What happens when this glorious focus has been hobbled by bad weather? The voices of these few amazing professionals were up to the task. The five of them performed the Monteverdi motet with as much strength as a full choir, and this despite the absence of the trium. I don't know what magic they and Michael Beatty used to pull this off.
Mr. Beatty made an announcement that they intended to have the congregation join in the choral of the cantata in English after the German, and zeroxes of the music were distributed. let me be clear that I for one couldn't even tell which way to hold this sheet, much to my embarrassment.
In due course the orchestra came in; complete, as it turned out, and they performed Bach's Cantata BWV 32. An exquisite piece, performed with an odd intensity, the kind of precious intimacy that we are blessed with during snow storms. They finished the choral in german and then Mr. Beatty turned to conduct us in the same choral in English. We expected to sing, of course. I, at least, did not expect the conductor to conduct us just as though we were one with these musicians; as part of this group that I actually hold in awe. It was a moment of glory, of intimacy, and of spiritual inclusion that was just extraordinary.
As if I was not keyed up enough, Nancy Granert's postlude was by Buxtehude, which always brings the Mad Genius close to me.
I saw Mr. Beatty afterward in the parish hall. I told him how moved I was by the experience, and made some lame statement about my inability to sing and read music. He said to me that those things make no difference, we were all there to worship together whatever our abilities, it was joining in that mattered.
At one time I would have thought of making a statement about sincerely acting on the message of Christ. I have learned, however, as I travel along this spiritual journey that those "Christian messages" are the messages Christ was teaching from his faith as a Jew. They obtain, in fact, in all walks toward God. holding them, and implementing them is hard. Most interesting is the part about humility. I have had the privilege in my life of knowing some masterfully accomplished people, and I have always found that the greater the intellect, the greater the talent, the greater was the humility. Rigorous pursuit of any discipline is very humbling. Mr Beatty's simple welcome in his remark to me, the musicians familiar presence in the life of the parish, the sincerity of their worship are all, for me, the surest sign of their genius.
"The kingdom of the Father is all around you." and we glimpsed it again on Sunday Morning.
Talk about surprises, I found myself an official parishioner, attending a parish conference! This Conference was led by Larry Peers of the Alban Institute. I have some experience with conferences and their leaders. Perhaps I am too familiar, having worked for many years for an institution that designed them. I did the visuals, ad nauseam. This was before power point. How many clever slide shows can one tolerate? I was past my limit.
The conference was called to explore directions for the coming years and so I also had some question about the appropriateness of such a new member participating; but in this case everyone was called, and there was no choosing, they wanted bodies. I must also acknowledge that whatever my snide preconceptions might have been, I have become very fond of the members of the Emmanuel congregation, and really looked forward to spending the Friday evening, and the Saturday with them. It has been an enormous gift to me to feel the freedom to live openly in this odd little relationship with my "Friend" as I call Him, without worrying about my doubts and questions and what I call my "little heresies" making me an outcast from a hypocritical group. So I attended with these surprising people, and I want to tell you that Mr.Peers conducted the most amusing, intelligent and energetic conference I've ever attended. Those three adjectives are rarely found in the same place, and I extend to him my highest compliments, but the issue I want to address is more specific than all this.
Mr.Peers had very skillfully brought us through a process that began with the establishment of the history of the parish and ended in an agreement on the issues that we want to go forward with. It was rather remarkable that such a disparate group could conduct themselves with real intelligence and courtesy to one another. To me, as a newcomer, it seems that they were quite self critical. I will give an example. One woman when asked about regrets, regretted that the music program was not as uplifting as it once was. I can't imagine what that "once" might have been because the uplift newcomers experience is every bit as intense as I ever heard described. I believe she was a member of Emmanuel Music, and my identification as an artist tells me that like all serious artists she was unable to step back and see the glory of their accomplishment because her standards are so unrelentingly high. Since they get no applause for their playing during the service perhaps they have difficulty understanding their impact. I find it interesting that they never brought that up in this process.
Of all matters, the thing most interesting, and most telling for me occurred at the very end, the final item to be agreed upon for the agenda for moving forward. Was Emmanuel church committed to Christian education and formation? What controversy could there be in this for an Episcopal Parish?
I took a deep breath. I will remind my readers of the commitment of this parish to Boston Jewish Spirit, and their acknowledgment that the path to spiritual growth lies through a dense fog of questions and doubt. My single greatest objection to other churches has been the idea that there is only one path, only one destination, only one guide. It suddenly, and distressingly, seemed that my association with this parish which has become so very important to me, was suddenly on the line. "Christian education is bad enough. Every fiber in my brain sees that as dangerous. The whole point of education is to teach a person to think; to learn the skills that will enable them to reach their own decision after rigorous exploration. To restrict that process to one point of view seems like a betrayal of the idea of education. Even worse, Christian formation, a kind of programing that the post twentieth century community can only view as dangerous, whatever the intent.
My object here is to comment not so much on the content of the debate that followed, but on the fact that it took place and was resolved, at least to the extent that the word "Christian" was not acceptable, and while the parish was committed to supporting people on their spiritual development, they saw that while their worship service is a Christian service, to then take the step the proposition implied would negate everything the parish stood for regarding openness, ecumenism, and especially would counter the association with Boston Jewish Spirit which the group had posited as one of the things they were proudest of.
It was an interesting exchange, at times tense, very dangerous considering the emotionally explosive potential of the matter at hand, and a marker to define the intellectual and moral integrity of these people. In my view, and to my great relief, I can tell you that they passed that test with flying colors. This is an issue that not only strikes to the heart of Christian belief, but also at the very meat of our relationship with the diocese, this is after all an "Episcopal" church, and this parish has gone head to head with the episcopate before, to their expense but not regret. The issue was resolved only to the extent that it was tabled for further discussion. It was agreed that without "Christian" it would have passed. This was conducted in a rather remarkable way: there was no loss of courtesy, and those with strong opinions said their piece and and gave over the floor. There was a dialogue rather than a rancorous disagreement. Actually some said afterward that their was rancor, I didn't sense what I would call that, but if there it was contained in a very adult way.
"Emmanuel" means "God is with us." One of the features of our sanctuary is a great window called "Emmanuel's land." The reference is to Pilgrim's Progress. It shows pilgrims being given a glimpse of "Emmanuel's land;" a distant arcadian place with classical structures right out of Poussin. I've asked my Friend where that land is. He tells me that the Gospel of Thomas is correct, "the kingdom of the Father is all around you, you just can not see it."
The next question is obvious, how do we come to be able to see it? He says to me, " What's happened to your memory? You were going on and on about Rev. Werntz prayer for days, have you forgotten? Have the courage to seek after truth, 'come when it may, cost what it might.' Lack of courage is the curtain that covers the window."
When one of the members of Emmanuel Music stood up and objected she showed us the courage to seek after truth- no idyl bargain, I say again. And the participants courage to engage in the discussion was very reassuring to me.
I happen to know that at least one version of hell is a place with out logic, where the connection between words and truth is utterly broken, where life is a maze of hypocrisy and stupidity that renders one's hard won intelligence completely useless. I think this is why Job always held out, to do otherwise would be to surrender his integrity. I know that when everything is taken from us, but we have our integrity we have all. That is the lesson of Job.
So on Saturday evening, when M's courage pulled aside the curtain, I saw "Emmanuel's Land"
Thank God for that.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Please read the first post in this series before proceeding with this.
I have mentioned that I attend Emmanuel Church in the City of Boston, a thing which I am sure will surprise various acquaintances. To me the inclination is no surprise, however, to have found a focus for that inclination has most certainly been a great surprise to me. Those of us who have attained "a certain age" will perhaps remember the Morning Pro Musica broadcasts of Robert J.Lurtsema; he often spoke of, and broadcast the "Cantata Series" of Emmanuel Music. Emmanuel Music was formed by Craig Smith at Emmanuel church to perform Back's cantata's within the context of a worship service as they were originally intended. I encourage you can read about it here.
One day this past October I was walking down Newbury Street and saw a poster on the door of the church announcing the commencement of this season's cycle of Cantatas. I decided to attend the following Sunday. I will now acknowledge a small oversight that makes me chuckle. Despite my vague awareness of the premise of the whole thing I was oblivious to the fact that appearing at the appointed time would require sitting through a church service, but in fact that was what started a series of very pleasant surprises.
I was raised as a Roman Catholic but ceased being observant by the time I ended high school. I attained that status which was called "Culturally Catholic." I don't think it was my realization of my sexual orientation as much as my understanding of the presence of God in the world outside of the church that caused this. For me there is a great privacy in my "Spiritual Journey" to use Emmanuel's phrase, and I came to resent the intrusion of the authority of the church between myself and God. My relationship with God is frankly strange; it is an intensely intimate friendship. As one ought to be with one's friends, I am rather loyal, don't bother Him with petty tasks, we give each other "space" when either of us needs it, and I get very angry when people say bad things about Him. The worst of those people, I'm afraid, are churches of various stripes, and I have been avoiding them assiduously out of loyalty to my Friend.
I do go for the music, obviously, and it has been the case that the distance of the choir and organists has suited me just fine. I like to slip in and out inconspicuously, avoiding the smiles and handshakes of the "Sunday Christians" at all costs, and shuddering at the thought of Coffee hour. I know a woman in the "W Towns," knew her rather well in fact, who frankly admitted that when she moved there she surveyed the churches to see which congregation was most likely to provide good diner parties. I can't say that she made the right determination. I have been inclined to chuckle behind her back. Perhaps what I am saying here isn't all that different- I will leave you to judge.
I mentioned having been surprised that morning, and subsequent mornings. Perhaps the first surprise concerns the congregation; they maintained a balance between a little distance and a sincere friendliness. I am much more susceptible to a reticent friendliness than to the extroverted simulacrum I am accustom to find on these forays, so the reserve suited me well. Another surprise was that the members of Emmanuel Music processed by my seat, with eye contact and smiles, as ones friends might. Their voices reverberating in my head, I was transported, which of course is the point. This is very different from watching performers from a distance.
There were the readings, some of which I happen to dislike- "many are called, but few are chosen." My Friend tells me this is hogwash. What kind of poor craftsman do people think he is that he would be making mistakes all the time. He understands about us, of course, and He says this in amusement, but still, the whole sin and damnation business is very hurtful to him. That's what he tells me, anyway. "And what did I give them those minds for? It was no intention of mine that they should be blathering idiots following any dictate that causes them to fear me. The sheep, after all, are much better sheep! I could have saved myself a great deal of trouble by leaving it at the sheep if that was what I intended." this is what he whispers to me when I make one of my forays into church. You may, at this point, quote Jane Wagner to me. I accept the diagnosis cheerfully.
Well, He was keeping his little whispers to himself that morning, and I was filled with sarcastic curiosity as Rev. Werntz mounted the pulpit to expound on this old saw about behaving oneself. One ear to the Pulpit, one available for Himself- He is very amusing in condescending remarks and I hate to miss any. She commenced the sermon with this prayer:
O God of love, grant us the wisdom, the strength and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth, come when it may, and cost what it will. Amen.
Prayers are funny things. They may be "recited" in a formal way. It seems to me that the reciter forgets altogether that someone is supposed to be listening to their efforts. I've become so used to chatting with my Friend that I sometimes wonder whether that approach has any point at all. Or prayers may be spoken from the heart,"our Father" Abba, Adoni, dad, Mother of us all, whatever. When a prayer is spoken to a real presence it must be less formal, more immediate, more familiar. My Friend wasn't joking under his breath because she was speaking to him sincerely about having the courage to seek for truth,"cost what it will."
No idyll bargain that. She had my respect and attention. That was one of the big surprises that morning. In her sermons she turned that text from Matthew so deftly that She left me speechless.
I had come for the Cantata, and I got, and continue to get the Cantatas. My expectations were exceeded. The musicians of Emmanuel Music deserve a discussion focused on themselves and I hope to provide it soon, but now I want to move forward to this past weekend, and say something about this community that I have joined.
Before I start with this please allow me to state that I have come to accept that my relationship with the "Godhead" is limited by the physical reality of life, and by the sensual equipment that we have been given in order to enable us to understand that which is outside of ourselves. Here is a paradox that I have given up trying to resolve: God is outside of any of the terms in which we understand our fellow beings. A name that can not be known; existing outside of time, without sex, or size, or language. Yet we must speak of the "Godhead," and to the "Godhead," and if we are lucky feel It's presence in our lives, love It, and cherish It's creation.
It is the "It's" that I stumble on. As James Carrol says in Constantine's Sword, "It" is a "rank projection of myself." I understand this, and my life is too short to talk around it, or worry about it, and the only self I have to project is that of a male artist, so I speak of Him, and His creation, but I use that pronoun only because I need the intimacy it provides to me. Please trust that I know full well that when you say "She" we are speaking of the same thing, which is the perfection of all aspects of all of ourselves, and at the same time irrelevant to any of the terms we struggle to find for It.
The little jokes and jibes, even the occasional profanity that pass between my self and this projection which I call my "Friend" may seem irreverent to you. I suppose they are, but for myself I have to say that reverence can become a barrier to our communion with God. I have thought about these things for many years, but have never articulated them publicly. They are perhaps my little heresies. I will refer once again to Constantine's Sword in which Mr Carrol teaches us about the ways in which the codes of feudalism determine our religious and even theological attitudes and observance. these are the things of Ceaser, I think. The Hebrew God was intensely intimate with his people. Neither Christ or the early Christians had any interest in being at a distance from God. We are meant to have diner together, like good friends.
I am going to break this post into sections. This introduction, a reflection on my reasons for participating with this particular congregation followed by a discussion of an event that took place this last weekend, and then what inevitably must be a very inadequate tribute to Emmanuel Music. I have already related some thoughts about Boston Jewish Spirit, more will follow!
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Patient,Noun: a person receiving or registered to receive medical treatment.
definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary
This post is about being a patient, a patient patient. I have much experience to speak from. I will start by giving a few tips- they come from my own mistakes, don't think I have any illusions of perfection. I will then make some comments about courtesy and concentration. Your courtesy and your doctor's concentration.
Tip #1 the doctor's schedule: If you must schedule tightly always opt for the first appointment of the day. The things that cause delay are cumulative, and the further into the day your appointment is the more likely delay will be.
Tip #2 your schedule: Assume that the doctor will be running ahead if you are late, and that she will be running late if you are early or on time. It's like getting to the airport.
Tip #3 post visit schedule: Assume there will be delays. If you have an appointment right after your doctor your blood pressure will be high and they will want an EKG. Be realistic for your own sake and everybody else's.
Tip #4, amuse yourself: Always bring a book. Unfortunately magazine articles are usually not long enough! Also, one is inclined to leave them in the waiting room, unaware that the doctor is going to be called out of the examining room as soon as your clothes are off and you will have to twiddle your thumbs for ten minutes.
Tip #5, wardrobe: Dress appropriately, which in this case means stuff you can take off and put back on without the assistance of your valet.
Tip #6, infantile rewards: Promise yourself a brownie at Souper Salad if you're a good boy, then be a good boy. Pompous CEO's and very important consultants don't get brownies unless they can be regular folks for an hour.
What is this about? It is about a number of things. The most obvious is this: understand the doctors position, the need on her part to respond to the unexpected. We all have the need for reassurance from our care givers, and mine at least are always ready to extend it. The more so when a problem is a surprise. You expect to receive that from your doctor; so did the 8 people who were scheduled ahead of you, and if she is late it is because one, probably more than one of those ahead of you needed exactly what you would expect for yourself. Remember that while you're waiting.
Less obvious is this- and it extends to many other situations too: If you freight the atmosphere with tension and impatience you will make it difficult for you doctor to perform at her highest level. As scientific as the profession is, the science deals with test results, blood analysis, reading of images and other highly technical tools. Remember that these are just tools, the application, interpretation; the intuition about when to use which are a very finely honed art. Their application requires focus and concentration, and an environment of respect and understanding.
Your doctor needs to be able to understand you as a person in order to understand the way you express your aches and pains. There has to be an easy exchange, a simpatico between you and the doctor in order for an understanding to be reached, in order that his or her art can feel it's way to the root of what's troubling you. If you greet them with impatience or frustration the tension is simply going to lessen their ability to understand your problem.
It is the patient's responsibility, in fact in all exchanges in life it is always our own responsibility to reach that simpatico, and accept it as a challenge to succeed when it needs some work.
Doctors are people who work under constant stress about their patients well being. They are amazing, committed, and caring people. And they are often good fun and rewarding friends. So go to your next appointment as a patient, and self sufficient, patient. Respect their commitment to their other patients and you will reap rewards in the kind of compassionate care that I always receive at the "BI"
Actually, you'd probably get it anyway, it would just be much more pleasant for you and everyone else if you can manage to behave yourself.
Oh, there is a corollary to Tip#1: If you know you're going to have to kvetch, or are really "into" the science and want every little thing explained technically (that's me, by the way) or just want to chat (well, also me) then take the last appointment. that way she won't have to worry about what dragons are hatching in the waiting room while you're monopolizing her time!
This is my experience, anyway!