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Love’s narchy

Thursday, May 24, 2012

“And from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword” (Revelation 1:16)

Oft desire I doughty deeds, dire dealings with demons enough
to fuel a furnace with fiery fumes, forging fragile, fragrant folly–
A lover’s lance, long and lithe, lunging out from love’s lean loss
to slip sidelong into the slobbering abyss of sympathy’s sorrow.
Worthy, wonder-working weapon, whisp’ring words of weal:
“Repent, return, release. Relish not renown nor respect but only rest.
Today teeters tenderly over Thomas’s tomb; tomorrow totters also.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Limits of Anarchy

One of the problems love’s anarchy is meant to solve is the one where everyone has a slightly different view of reality. There are some, for example, who believe that the evil deeds of one particular group are going to bring down God’s judgment upon the rest of us. And there are others who believe with equal fervor that the stupidity of the first group is going to get the rest of us killed. The genius of Christianity, so often lost in our neverending quest for success, is the notion that failure, death and God’s judgment are in fact good things worthy of pursuing and embracing.

Perhaps, given that last statement, you will understand why I have occasionally been accused of being an “Eeyore” (a donkey with a poorly pinned tail and an amusingly glum disposition), but the accusation never fails to surprise me. I consider myself a blessed and happy individual with a boundless hope for the future. It’s just that I learned from my brother Jesus that failure (aka crucifixion) is the proper end of all good endeavors, and I further believe that failing well takes planning and preparation, and that pratfalls take practice.

A friend responded to one of my recent forays into heresy by assuring me that it was probably all right to believe what I wished, so long as I didn’t start a movement. I replied with a glib “God forbid,” but honestly, a movement is exactly what I’m trying to start. What I don’t want to start is a cult. Yes, I’ve considered this question, and while I wish I could with all honesty and humility say that I never expected to start a movement or a cult, the facts of the matter are: a) I am attempting to change the world, b) I have the at-times-importunate gift of speaking with authority, and c) my very name references three cult leaders (Mark Driscoll, Mary Baker Eddy and Joseph Smith), so I am attempting to prepare for the worst, just in case.

My preparation consists in designing love’s anarchy in such a way that failure is at its core, so that any cult or movement that fails on a regular basis to fail on a regular basis has no business affiliating itself with my brand of love’s anarchy. Each time such a legitimately love’s anarchic movement fails, it should do so on behalf of and standing in solidarity with the powerless and disenfranchised, without ever taking itself too seriously. In other words, in order to fail properly, its members should look at least a little foolish, and they should make as little effort as possible to attempt to ennoble that foolishness. As they tumble they should be wearing either a sheepish or a shit-eating grin.

“God’s Fools” is a phrase used by St. Francis of Asissi et alia, and one I would like love’s anarchists to co-opt. It is, after all, the foolishness of God that confounds the wise. Likewise, God’s weakness is more than a match for the strong. But as dogma, I would insist that love’s anarchists conceive of the weakness and foolishness of God as weakness and foolishness. Many people assume that even God’s foolishness is wise beyond human comprehension, but while that may or may not be the case, I insist that it is foolishness, not just the least of God’s wisdom.

Christopher Hitchens, God rest him, rightly called Jesus out on his injunction to “Take no thought for the morrow, either what you shall eat or what you shall wear.” The fact that there is wisdom in Jesus’s instruction–the wisdom of trusting in God’s provision–does not mean that it isn’t also truly foolish. In obeying this edict, you are, in fact, in real danger of dying of hunger and/or exposure. Dying thusly is, I would argue, a good thing, but I don’t want to end up like the followers of Mary Baker Eddy who (anecdotally, anyway) have allowed a child to die for lack of medical care because Christian Scientists don’t believe in medicine. Love’s anarchy seeks to circumvent such dogmatic stubbornness by doing away with dogma altogether (and simultaneously welcoming any dogma any one member happens to come up with).

What you believe shouldn’t matter. All that matters is whether there is love in your heart for your God and your neighbor. Personally, I believe in a personal God, but if there is genuine love in your heart for your neighbor, then even if you don’t believe in any sort of divine personality, God is nevertheless in your heart, unconcerned with your lack of understanding of the divine nature.

Your neighbor, by the by, is anyone God puts in your path who needs your love. There are many ways to fill that need. It may be as simple as smiling at a stranger or as complicated as mercilessly teasing a friend. It may be administering a Heimlich maneuver or (in an emergency) administering a hug.

Love’s anarchy embraces all needs, all gifts, all preferences, but of course there must be a limit. I mean, if everyone belongs to the club, then the club doesn’t really exist, am I right? The limit I decree upon the freedom any given person has to self-identify as a love’s anarchist is wealth and power. That’s right: class warfare. If the rich and powerful want to join us or if they wish to need our help, they can sell all they own and give the money to the poor (not to us, but to Habitat for Humanity, International Justice Mission and/or Planned Parenthood). If they refuse to do so, they are admitting that they have their reward and lack nothing they desire. We oppose them not by amassing wealth and power of our own to wield against them, but by eschewing them, and that brings me to my final conundrum:

If, in the marketplace of ideas, a significant number of the Occupy Wall Street sympathizers should choose Love’s Anarchy as their protest product of choice, then the first thing that will happen is that I will amass a large amount of money and power. There are books and t-shirts and advertising space I can sell, and the long and the short of it is that I might, against all odds and previous experience, substantially fail to fail. God forbid (truly) that I ever succeed to the point of becoming one of the 1%, but I could conceivably become rich beyond all earthly need, and the question then would become: What do we do with the hypocrites, of which our founder is now one?

Here’s my confession: Even if, as seems likely, Love’s Anarchy never makes me a whole lot of money, I am still slated to inherit some small amount of land that has been in the family for almost as long as the US has been a united conglomeration of states. As silly as it may sound to one of the many, many people who never have to worry about inheriting land, I feel a certain responsibility to pass it along intact to my progeny and/or close kin. In other words, I question my own right to allow my quirks and eccentricities to deprive my descendents of their birthright. I love this land. It has been my home since I was seven, in my family for generations, and my ancestors had as much right to claim it as the Israelites had to claim the land of Canaan, that is, none at all, aka, divine right. We know the divine willed us to have it because it’s ours. Quod Erat Demonstratum.

If the opportunity arises, I will establish a trust to pay the property taxes on the land in perpetuity and thus keep it in the family. I may even buy more to reclaim what has been sold over the course of various lean years. But how does one go about being a land-owning anarchist? How does that work, exactly?

Somehow, love’s anarchy has to accept people who own land without prizing landownership as an established good. In the same way, we have to accept that some anarchists will be leaders, without allowing love’s anarchy ever to accept as its head anyone other than the holy spirit of God. I think somehow we have to be able to look upon someone’s apparent success as a somewhat embarrassing failure to fail–accepting them, loving them, occasionally even envying them, but never aspiring to become them.

Good grief! Now I’m a heretic and a hypocrite. What’s next? Haberdasher? Heffalump? Hiccuper? Horticulturalist? Whale/human hybrid?

You don’t have to answer that.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Losing Orthodoxy

I never meant to be a heretic. Quite the opposite, in fact. I thought there was plenty of room to be creative and original within the context of broadly accepted Christian doctrine. I knew, of course, when I started writing Love’s Anarchy that it would stray from the evangelical party line, but anarchy is not necessarily the same as heresy. Nevertheless, by following the peculiar logic of my writing process I ended up leaving many of the major tenets of orthodoxy abjectly in the dust. It reminds me of the time I attended a court-ordered alcohol awareness program in college: One of the couselors there told me he was being “kind” by saying I was in the “early stages” of “alcoholism.” Likewise, it would now be “kind” to call me “unorthodox.” I’m a heretic. I believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, but I can no longer subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity, which is more or less the touchstone of midwestern evangelical, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox orthodoxy.

It’s been said that a little knowledge is dangerous, and I have but little knowledge of the Council of Nicaea convened by the emperor Constantine, and that but recently, but that knowledge has convinced me that the Nicene Creed is a purely political document and that orthodoxy itself is ill-advised. The Arian heresy that the creed was created to counter is simply the belief that the the Son is not coeternal with the Father—that there was a time when the Father existed and the Son did not. Arius, the heresy’s namesake, did believe that the Son existed before Jesus was born (in accordance with the Gospel of John, which states in the first chapter that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God… . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-2, 14 NRSV)), but he believed there was a time when God the Father existed alone, before he spoke the Word that was his Son. Many a conservative theologian will insist that belief in the coeternal nature of Jesus is absolutely crucial to a proper understanding of the Christian faith, but I say (with a hint of a British accent), “Bosh.”

For one thing, such a fact is unknowable. Obviously. For another, the doctrine exists largely to defend against the charge of polytheism. God is One, say those of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, so you can’t worship Jesus the Son and God the Father without worshiping a plurality of gods. Christianity answered by proclaiming the Father and Son to be of a single essence and by more-or-less inventing the identity of a third person of equal essence who proceeds from one or both of the other two-in-one. It’s patently absurd. And I say that as someone who once considered it a true and beautiful mystery. I still agree that it’s an elegant solution to a number of thorny problems in Scripture, but I also now believe it to be pure crap.

The Holy Spirit is God. Full stop. Not two persons with one essence, but one and the same, without distinction of any kind. The Bible states that “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). The Holy Spirit of God is just that: God’s holy spirit. Jesus ascended into heaven in order to send us the entirety of God to be our paraclete, our helper, comforter and friend. Jesus himself is God’s son, begotten by God on the day he was baptised by his cousin John. To believe anything more than that is to take John the gospel-writer a bit too literally.

“In the beginning was the Word” and “the Word became flesh.” This is high-level theology, and I don’t question it’s truthfulness as such, but if the baby Jesus was in any sense God, no matter how emptied, the baby qua baby becomes nonsensical. How can a baby be God in any meaningful way? Was God not capable beforehand of so fully identifying with any human child that there was no aspect of being a baby with which he was not already intimately familiar? I say thee nay.

I suspect Jesus’ father was not Joseph but some other human male, and while I can hope that the relationship was between two star-crossed lovers, I further suspect that it was forced. I would go so far as to assume that his father was a Roman soldier, and that the experience of being impregnated was not pleasant for young Mary. For anyone incapable of reading between the lines (and, if the comments section of various websites are any indication, there are always a few), I’m talking about rape, and when I say “not pleasant,” I mean, “painful and horrifically traumatic.”

I also believe that Jesus was and is the Messiah, the Chosen One, anointed by God to redeem the whole of creation. I believe that his literal resurrection is the sine qua non of humanity’s escape from the fires of hell.

Are you confused? Well, so am I, a little bit, and I don’t presume to believe that I am actually correct in all my beliefs, even if I honestly believe I am correct in some of them, even (or perhaps especially) the heretical ones. Call it speculation, intuition or the leading of God’s Holy Spirit, but I believe that I have been given special knowledge of various facts that have remained hidden from the time of Adam. Not that I think I’m the only one to whom they’ve been revealed. It’s just that a thing may remain hidden even after it’s been found. It’s highly unlikely, for instance, that enough people will read my conjectures that my discoveries will no longer be hidden even now.

The revelation started when I was going through Genesis, offering my thoughts on the various stories contained therein. When I reached the bit about Abraham’s nephew Lot hiding out in a cave after the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah, I found that I couldn’t accept the idea that Lot’s daughters, concerned about who would continue their father’s line, decided to get him drunk in order to sleep with him. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was a bald-faced, and even an obvious, lie. Lot got drunk and raped his teenaged daughters. They got pregnant at a place and time when there was no one else around to blame, so he blamed them. I trust this is not an unfamiliar story.

The fundamentalists are correct in at least one assertion: to question the absolute authority of the Bible at any one point is to call the entirety of scripture into question. If Genesis 1 is false, then so is Revelation 22. By pulling one weak thread out of Genesis, I ended up unraveling my whole Bible. Is there anyone who can help me weave it back together?

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Case of Vader v. Voldemort

Vader vs. Voldemort: Who Would Win?

[In response to a question posed by a facebook friend (and discussed elsewhere on the internet).]

When Jon Stewart asked Ralph Fiennes who would win a swordfight between Voldemort and Darth Vader Herman Cain, Ralph’s response was that it probably depended on the size of the wand (skip to 6:09 to get to that part).

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

[Warning: SPOILER ALERTS for Star Wars and Harry Potter]

Simple answer: In a wizard’s duel between Darth Vader and Lord Voldemort, Voldemort would win because he’s using real magic, not some amorphous “dark side” of a “life force.” In a Jedi duel, Darth Vader would win because he’s the better swordsman.

But before delving into a deeper discussion of who would win, we would need to invent a plausible mechanism for bringing them together in the first place. Darth Vader, aka Anakin Skywalker, died “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Voldemort was killed in 1997 in northern Britain. So we would need an alternate timeline or two (or possibly clones) in order for them to meet. The easiest way for Vader to win would involve installing a hyperdrive in the Death Star and simply traveling to the Milky Way to blow up Earth. I think Voldemort would find horcruxes inadequate to the task of keeping him alive beyond the destruction of the planet.

However, the implausibility of such a scenario is such that I believe we are forced to consider them in their current state. In short, what we’re talking about is a fight between ghosts. Vader is firmly established as a spirit within the canon of the movies, and I see no canonical reason why Voldemort might not choose to be a ghost himself. As a ghost, it is conceivable that Voldemort, still consumed by his fear of death, might actively be striving to return to life and power. Since time and distance mean little on the spiritual plane, I believe a scenario could be envisioned wherein the former Lord of the Sith would be in a position to attempt to intervene should the Dark Lord’s efforts threaten to create an irreparable rift in the space-time continuum.

It’s worth remembering here the differences between the ghost of Anakin Skywalker and the putative ghost of Tom Riddle, the most significant being that Anakin died a reformed man, reconciled to his son after destroying both his masters, while Tom was killed unrepentant, remorseless, and he never called anyone “master” but himself.

On this plane– the plane of good versus evil–deciding upon a winner between two immortal shades becomes a question of eschatology: does Good or does Evil win out in the end? From my study of stories, I have concluded that good only ever ultimaterly triumphs by losing, by surrendering, by sacrificing one’s self. This is seen in both galaxies, with Ben Kenobi and Harry Potter both embodying the principle. I believe the fight would end with Anakin throwing his immortal soul into the growing chasm between realities (possibly taking Voldemort with him), with his sacrifice thereby healing the seam, with his soul becoming part of the fabric of the cosmos.
So they both lose, but Vader is credited with the win because his purpose is accomplished.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Occupy This

I remain fascinated by the Occupy Wall Street movement, though I confess my avidity is waning. I want to be part of the revolution, but the question remains: Is this the revolution I’ve been waiting for? If I lived in a city I’d be there, but Concord is over an hour’s drive away, and its Occupy contingent relatively small. I heard a rumor there was an Occupy event right here in my little home town not long ago, but I didn’t hear about it in time to attend. So much for the power of social media to organize.

The question I and many others have is: What do we, the 99%, want to accomplish? To phrase it more accurately: What do I want the revolution to accomplish?

How many groans will I receive for my answer? I was shocked when I heard my sister, as a teen, shout it from the kitchen:

mystery message

The key to how shall we then live is to be found in the parable of the good Samaritan, which is, like all such ultimate answers, simultaneously easy and difficult. Simple and hard. Obvious and subtle. You get the idea.

I have always had a tendency to read the story with an eye toward the easy way out. Much like those who first heard it. “Who is our neighbor?” they asked. Who, exactly, should we love as we love ourselves? Is it everyone in the whole wide world or only those who live next door? In other words, I (like they) want to fulfill the mission for which Jesus has commissioned me, but I don’t want to have to work too hard or travel too far outside my comfort zone in order to do it.

Jesus’s answer is a bit of a tesseract. On the face of it, the story reveals an astoundingly easy answer: your neighbor is whoever is willing to stop and give you a hand when you’re in need.

Wow. I can do that. I can wholeheartedly love the person who saved my life.

But then, true to form, Jesus turns the moral on its head by saying, “Go thou and do likewise.”

Oh God! You mean I’m supposed to be the good Samaritan?

Yes. That’s exactly what he means. But that doesn’t mean there’s no weasel room left. You see, the Samaritan wasn’t out looking for robbed and beaten folks. He was simply going about his business on a dangerous road, and when he saw the guy that everyone else was passing by, he had compassion on him and stopped to lend a hand. Extravagently, yes, but not constantly. Not every day–just when the need arose. To look at the life of Jesus, such willingness to help can easily turn into an all-day, every-day, world-without-end-until-they-crucify-you deal, but that’s not necessarily the commission.

The commission is simple: Stop turning a blind eye. The task of giving sight to the 1% is all but impossible, but if we the 99% could open our eyes, individually and collectively, I believe that would be revolution enough.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Christmas Comes But Once Too Often

[I didn't so much stop writing over the holidays as suffer an unexpected attack of shyness. So over the next week or so I plan to post the things I wrote but didn't share.]

This year I’m thinking that celebrating Christmas is and always has been a mistake. I don’t remember thinking this in previous years, and I may change my mind by next, but right now it feels like a time of obligation and not-so-clearly-defined expectations– as though the entire month of December has been sacrificed for the sake of this tacky little celebration of the Incarnation of the Lord’s Anointed.

It doesn’t help that my theology has been in flux of late. I hardly know what I believe anymore. Not the Trinity but still the Christ. Not the command to sacrifice Isaac but still the atonement. Not the efficacy of confessing Jesus' name but still a personal relationship with the name-bearer’s self.

For some of you, what I’m saying will not even make denotational sense. For others, it will not make connotational sense. The rest of you will likely just find it confusing.

Given my own confusion, perhaps it’s not surprising that I’m questioning the celebration of Jesus' birth. I used to be a big fan of the liturgical seasons, and I loved C. S. Lewis' meditation on the repetitiveness of it, but in the past few years the church as an organization has fallen out of favor with me.

What do you mean, that sounds arrogant?

I particularly love Lewis' dance analogy: “As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance.” I have loved the midnight Christmas Eve service at the Episcopal church of my childhood, and even “danced” as an acolyte, and … I guess my desire to expunge this holiday from the calendar is not so much about Christmas services as it is about the usual complaints: busy-ness, consumerism, and holiday-induced neuroses.

Christmas is supposed to be about family and community closeness, and yet there’s something deeply wrong in a society where only one day (two, if you count Thanksgiving) out of every year is set apart for this closeness when every day should … What I’m trying to say is that in a more perfect world we’d have holidays from our intense intimacy with one another.

Bah. I don’t even know what I’m saying.

It was a bad day. I had a bad day, and I don’t even know why. The closest I can come to explaining it, even to myself, is to remember a Christmas Eve seven years ago when my six-month marriage was spiraling out of control–was already crashed and burning even though I hadn’t yet given up hope that maybe we’d manage to pull up before hitting the unforgiving tarmac. Unfortunately, we hadn’t been flying all that high to begin with.


That was a long time ago. Water under the bridge. Sands through the hourglass. Dust in the wind.

Shit through the fan. Christmas is hard. I knew it was hard for some folks long before I temporarily got hitched, and now it’s hard for me. No big revelation, no profound insight, just a little more shit through one more fan.

May yours be merrier.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Freeze frames

Sermonesque - Episode 1

I can’t speak to the edificatience of this sermon-type oration, but I offer it as an exercise in humility. I apologize for ending gender-specifically, also for rambling, and for probably being wrong. Et cetera. Enjoy!

If you’re interested in how I came to some of my conclusions, the explanation can be found in Love’s Anarchy. If you’re interested in a more concise and focused version, a second edition is forthcoming. Soon, Lord willing.

Also, please forgive the white noise. I’ve grown so used to the fan that draws heat from the woodstove into the kitchen that I didn’t think to turn it off before I started filming.

Sermonesque 01-07-2012 (HD)

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