Friday, May 30, 2008

Thursday, May 29th, 2008.

I came of age during the tumultuous 1960s. On one hand I was a typical suburban kid who loved fishing and camping and going through adolescence (girls, of course, being a chief preoccupation) but I was attracted to the views of those advocating for the transformation in our society and culture. So as a teenager I identified with the “radical left” agitating for change and looking for new ways of being during this period: hippies, long hair, rock music, drugs, and free love (though I saw some serious abuse that turned me off instead of on sometimes and all that free love seemed to never involve me), as well as the social and political issues like civil rights for blacks and women, opposition to the Vietnam War, draft resistance, the war on poverty (the War on Poverty was the name given by President Johnson to certain legislative goals introduced during his 1664 State of the Union address), the environmental movement, and free speech to name a few.

Don’t forget there was strong traditionalist opposition during this period as well. The conservative Senator from Arizona, Barry Goldwater, ran for President against L.B.J. in 1964. It is often argued that Goldwater’s loss in 1964 is what stimulated the conservative renewal that resulted in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and lives on in Bush II. Also, I remember the wild uproar and burning of Beatle albums following John Lennon’s March 4th, 1966 comment about the Beatles that “we're more popular than Jesus now.” Rock'in Roll was the Devil's music. It wouldn't take long though for Rock'in Roll to be sanctified by Christians and recruited to the cause of the Lord. Christians remembered what the reformer Martin Luther, being a musician himself, reportedly said, "Why should the devil have all the good music."

Being conservative is not a bad thing. There is much that needs to be conserved, nature for instance. Families are another for instance of something being crushed under the pressure of contemporary capitalist idolatry and the increasing commodification of our way of life. Reactionary forces, in order to mask the true nature of their programs, have stolen the word. When I think of affirmative conservatives I think of Wendell Berry or Jim Wallis, very different, but both conservative. I have always felt affection for the word, even calling myself one recognizing a strong conservative sentiment in me. Family is very important, preserving ways of life is important, taking care of our communities, defending the commons, preserving the environment, preserving our history—architectural and cultural--all invoke the concept of conserving. When I think of being conservative I think of love not capital.

INTERLUDE: I just recently watched the documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon about John’s transformation from moptop to peacenik and the Nixon administration’s efforts beginning in 1972 to deport Lennon because of his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War. Highly recommended. The parallels between Nixon and Vietnam and Bush and Iraq are uncanny and kind of depressing. There is a significant reactionary undercurrent in the United States that continues to wreak havoc. In the latest good news on the frontlines of expanding justice and human rights against vehement reactionary opposition is the announcement that New York State Governor David A. Paterson has directed all state agencies to revise their policies and regulations to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, like Massachusetts, California and Canada. Praise the Lord!

In addition to growing-up Catholic I think this era is crucial to understanding my thinking and life. It was a radical period in the U.S. and around the world. I don’t remember much discussion of the events and movements of the 1960s with my parents. I don’t remember them being critical of the movements or particularly supportive either way. They were generally anti-war—they didn’t want their son to go of course—and supportive of civil rights—I remember my mother being appalled that a neighbor would buy a house so a black family wouldn’t move into the neighborhood and they certainly allowed (sent me?) me to go to an all black summer camp during the early sixties—and my Dad was certainly a conservationist being a hunter and fisherman. Though my mother would never let me buy Beatle Boots--remember those pointy-toed shoes--but my parents did finally let me let my hair grow long (This was an answer to nightly prayers. Really!) in 1967 during the summer before Ninth grade. It seem that silence is equivalent to agreement at the end of the day. Also, my folks were big on allowing me to make-up my own mind without pressure from them.

I have always believed that the pen was mightier than the sword and that the printing press is one of, if the most, significant invention of all time (splitting the atom might rival it and, of course, there is agriculture). I liked ideas and my ideas where taking shape from a broad range of people.

The fundamental idea I had was that the natural world is a place of pleasure and meaning. It is where humans came from and it is home. This idea has always clashed with the spiritual for me but more on that later. Enough for today.

I think this is my new motto: “Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008. Now it is Wednesday.

Time marches on inexorably. All we really have is now. It is now o’clock. The past is gone and the future may never come.

The story of my life in six words: Loved the world, grew up fast. Loved mom, left bereft, looking around. Life’s simple, complicate, make simple again. Love and disappoint, then accept limitations. Build it and they will come. (Obviously I stole this one.) Change, change again, change back, repeat.

My grandson Caleb and I went to the movies last night to see Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. $15.50! And that was with two student discounts. I liked Indy better and I think Caleb did too.

I think C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series is more about his experience of WWI, WWII, the horrors of Nazism, and the deep human propensity to glorify and justify the sacrifices required during war as well as the need to honor those who make them than it is about the Gospel. I wonder if the argument can be made that Narnia is a fundamental distortion of the Gospel? Does the Narnia series imaginatively conflate the ancient cultural requirement of honor in war with the Gospel? This is something I will have to think about.

The following quote is from President Bush’s speech at Arlington Cemetery last Monday, Memorial Day 2008.

“I am humbled by those who have made the ultimate sacrifice that allow a free civilization to endure and flourish. It only remains for us, the heirs of their legacy, to have the courage and the character to follow their lead -- and to preserve America as the greatest nation on earth and the last best hope for mankind.”

I am humbled by the sacrifice many have made for our nation as well, and not just the sacrifices of our solders. But a little bit of nationalistic hyperbole here? That’s a rhetorical question. As a Christian I would have to call this nationalistic idolatry, not to mention an expression of linguistic patriarchy.

Back to my story...

What did I bring to this novel conversion and conversation with Jesus?

First was my Catholic upbringing, largely ignored by high school though, but only consciously, intellectually. My basic orientation to the world was a moral one formed by this experience. Simply put, we where to love, all else was sin. This love required action, one had to do what one believed. As President Kennedy said, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what can you do for your country.” I don’t remember this comment myself; Kennedy made it in his inaugural address on January 20th, 1961, when I was 6-years old, turning 7 in 9 days. But it exemplifies the ethos I think I learned via my Catholic schooling. (I have to mention parenthetically that I think there is a sort of fascism-light in this statement, though I do believe public service and elective office can be a high calling.) Love is action and the world was in dire need of action: poverty, hunger, environmental degradation, segregation, freedom from oppression, justice was called for.

Childhood fishing and camping trips, experiences in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, summer camp at a nearly all black church camp are the early experiences that I remember as significant in my understanding of the world. My Boy Scout Handbook, the magazines Field and Stream, Sports Afield, National Geographic, and Boys Life, and the outdoor adventure novels My Side of the Mountain and The Pond where my earliest reading that informed me about the world. These created a fundamental idea of the natural world as a place of pleasure and meaning. It was home. It needed to be cared for

As I grew older I was becoming aware of the broader world. I came of age during the 1960s: the Civil Rights Movement, the War on Poverty, the Hippie era, the War in Vietnam, the Free Speech movement, Women’s Liberation, the Environmental Movement (i.e. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, which I never read, was published in 1962 launching the modern environmental movement), LSD, marijuana, the sexual revolution, the burning of bras, flags, and draft cards. This was the social milieu I was growing-up in and from which I drew my inspiration and ideas of the world as I came of age.

“Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in his 1849 essay Resistance to Civil Government later published as Civil Disobedience, which I read in High School. The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography was another book I read early in high school. I always believed that the pen was mightier than the sword. I liked ideas and my ideas where taking greater focus from a broader range of people.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

To pick-up my story...

So that night in Danny McDowell’s apartment I made a fateful decision, one that has influenced my life ever since. In traditional Christian language I choose to “take up my cross and follow Jesus.” “No one after putting his hand to the plow ever looks back.” “What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world but lost his soul?” Jesus would be my leader. I would follow him wherever he would lead me. I still feel that way today. But what a long, strange trip it has been.

Of course the way I understand this decision and these injunction has changed over the years but it still remains a governing principle in my life. In a way choosing to follow Jesus has been kind of like growing up Catholic. Even when in denial and fighting it every step of the way you can’t get away from it. It seems to always be there, impinging and influencing everything I think ether as reaction or submission.

So, I still follow Jesus today and I am a practicing Catholic too, albeit a skeptical follower and believer. Can’t quite imagine being anything else. It seems that I will be like this till I die, unless the Catholics kick me out first for views such as all abortions aren’t wrong, women should be priests, and homosexuals should be provided the grace of the sacrament of marriage. Then I might be an Anglo-catholic. But the discussion of this comes later. But that evening in Danny’s apartment I made a choice and I haven’t quite been able to turn back from it since.

When I made the decision to follow Jesus I was a typical early 70s post-hippie hippie and Jesus freak. Prior to giving my life to Christ I smoked pot and hashish, ate peyote, and drop acid. By the time I made my radical commitment to Christ I had already quit dropping acid because of an aversion to synthetic chemical highs under the influence of natural health concerns ala J. I. Rodale and Prevention Magazine. With the commitment to Jesus I gave up all altered states of mind. Not so much because they were sinful but they were a distraction. As John Denver would sing a few years later, “sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.” I wanted to look for those natural highs of love and joy in the moment through the giving of myself to God, loving others, and living wholesomely with the earth and her natural gifts.

I was a young, hopeful, idealistic, high school kid with little life experience but lots of ide3as how the world should be. I need to back a little farther and reimagine who I was and what I thought before this militant commitment to Jesus in 1971. What did I bring to this new conversion and conversation with Jesus? This is necessary in understanding where I took my new faith in Jesus. It will illuminate how I avoided some things, modified others, and eventually ended up where I am now.

The outdoors was my childhood element. Field and Stream, Sports Afield, National Geographic, and Boys Life magazines, the novels My Side of the Mountain by Jean George and The Pond by Robert Murphy, and, of course, my Boy Scout Handbook are the earliest reading that I remember. Later would be Walden by Thoreau, some Emerson, Bradford Angiers and the first Whole Earth Catalog in 1968. I was 14 when it came out. I discovered Wendell Berry and Manifesto: The Mad Farmers Liberation Front in the pages of The Whole Earth Catalog.

Through Junior High and High School I spent much of my time riding my bike with my buddies out to Three Ponds, our name for a series of three ponds about four or five miles from my suburban home in Southeast Wichita and other rural places to fish, camp, hunt, and just hang out. These places were far enough to be “out in the country” in the late 1960s and early 70s. And, of course, in High School we started driving and wandering further afield.

A couple books central to my early thinking that I am rereading: Pro-existence (1974) by Udo Middelmann and Idols of Our Time (1981) by Bob Goudzwaard.

Pro-existence by Middelmann was important in helping me think about material reality, creativity, and work in the world of spiritual thinking I inhabited. Some ripe quotes: “Only in creative activity do we externalize the identity we have as [humans] made in the image of God. This then is the true basis of work.” “[Humans] act rather than react, and [we] can be creative and act beyond the immediate reality.” “When the job is more important than the humanity of the worker, our society is sick.” “More people are looking for entertainment instead of creating entertainment for themselves. We should seek refreshment through playing, imagining, telling stories, digging in the garden, even cleaning [house].”

Idols of Our Time by Bob Goudzwaard was helpful to me in thinking about political and social questions and in helping to sever the presumed “natural” ties between current polities and the ideologies that support them and to envision other possibilities. Goudzwaard challenges the assumptions or, in his language, the ideologies created around concepts such as progress, revolution, nation, material prosperity, and guaranteed security. He argues that ideas can all to easily become idolatries in which we become like them and use them to justify corrupting habits of mind and practice where the end justifies the means and the “job becomes more important than the worker.”

A few quotes: “[M]any nations and groups of people today are possessed by the goal of guaranteed security. Their obsession gives them the impulse to use every means at their disposal and to create new strategies for reaching their all-encompassing end.” This was published in 1981 and likely written during the climate that resulted in the election of Ronald Reagan in the U.S. that year. Our experience during the reign of Bush II only emphasizes the prescient nature of this comment as well as the persistent and pernicious nature of this idolatry. And on the idolatry of progress: “The very progress which we first applauded has now become a problem. It seems that economic progress stimulates inflation, risky energy development, higher accumulation of toxic wastes, ... deforestation, and an unbelievable arms race.” “Yet in no way do the ominous signs of our situation necessitate fatalism or doomsday thinking. ... How can we take the first step? ... Our step will ... be characterized by the word enough, not the words more and more. The words of Isaiah [nations will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks] challenge us with a threefold appeal today. ... reduce defense spending, to channel the unclaimed monies into the poorest nations, and to build an economy of care, an economy of enough.”

Albert Hofmann, the Father of LSD, Dies at 102 Reports the NYT. Albert Hofmann, the “mystic chemist,” synthesized the compound lysergic acid diethylamide in 1938 but didn’t discover its mind-altering properties until five years later, when he accidentally ingested the substance. One article I read suggested he inadvertently got the compound on his fingers. Hofmann remained a spiritual seeker all his life. Much later he ingested Ecstasy and reportedly said, “Ah, at last something I can take with my wife.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

MAY DAY, Thursday, May 1st, 2008. Well it’s not May Day but Tuesday, May 13th today.

Fecund, laborer; Two May Day words. It is the first day of May and spring is gathering steam. Like a thunderstorm building on the horizon, spring is mounting towards its guaranteed crescendo of renewal, fertility, hope, a natural Easter. And if you are a laborer—or a student—summer vacations!

Anyway, how about that story of my life I was telling?

I’ll pick-up where I left off:

BASIC: Brothers and Sisters in Christ, that famous happening. Well, maybe not famous, but it was a spring from which issued many significant streams of consequence. At least two churches are still functioning in Wichita that grew out of BASIC, a coffee house and music venue (now defunct as far as I know) operated for several years and was an alternative to the drug and music scene. During this era of the Jesus Movement in Wichita hundreds of young people were influenced at BASIC in positive ways that carried over into their lives. Many have continued to live in a manner that honors this brief period and their experience of BASIC. Hundreds of kids came out on Saturday nights to praise the Lord and sing, hear bible preaching, think about what love means, and to see and meet each other. (My little group always went to Big Boy on Kellogg afterwards for burgers and fries.) It was an exciting time.

I had been attending BASIC for several weeks and I was beginning to believe that these folks were on to something with all the Jesus talk. They were joyful, serious, young, pretty, and had long hair like me. I had begun reading the bible daily and I was predisposed to believe in Jesus anyway because of my Catholic upbringing. I liked the singing, I liked hanging out with my friends, and I was a serious kid too. I liked these people and I liked the emotions I experienced. There was a joy and certainty I felt when singing and hanging out at BASIC. It was believable that God was alive and changing lives.

You just had to look at these kids. Many gave-up drugs, unhealthy promiscuous sex, experienced forgiveness and a sense of radical acceptance, began to focus on loving people and themselves, took school more seriously, and generally got outside of themselves and their narrow egos to think about the larger world. The two churches are examples of institutional results. But there were countless ways individuals where changed and motivated to be different. In a way my entire life’s direction was set by my experience at BASIC, as was the direction and lives of many.

One example from my experience at that time illustrates how it affected many kids. My high school was riven with racial tensions. We had fights in the hallways almost daily and security guards roaming the halls. There were unwritten rules one had to learn in order to navigate this minefield. One rule being that white kids and black kids had to use specific restrooms. I discovered this on my first day at school when I went into a restroom and was slammed-up against the wall by a group of black kids who demanded to know what the fuck I was doing in their bathroom? This was 1969 and I was among the first group of white kids affected by desegregation efforts in Wichita. I had to attend the “inner city black high school” and I learned the restroom rules the hard way.

By the time I was a senior the racial climate had calmed but there was still significant tension. I thought I would try to do something about it. Following my “conversion” I decided to organize a club. I don’t remember the club name but the inspiration for it came from Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I wanted a place that modeled this passage. Where anyone could come and find “artificial” cultural barriers removed and made irrelevant. I don’t remember it as particularly successful. It didn’t attract hundreds of kids but who knows? It made a difference in my life I suppose and that counts for something.

When did I come to believe myself? It is hard to say. I always believed having been a cradle catholic. I never had a “conversion experience” but I did have a moment I radically committed my life to following Christ, literally. I used to tell the story of the night I was at Danny McDowell’s apartment during the fall or winter of 1971/1972. I had been going to BASIC since the summer and enjoying it. I had been doing some reading—the bible for sure—other specific books I don’t remember. At this time I don’t think other books were important to my commitment. (A few books I read early in my “new life” were C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth and Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Prayer.) It was more the hymns and scriptures I was reading than books that “changed” me. But I absolutely approached this time all through all I had read and experienced prior to it. My experience of the world and my early reading shaped the way I believed and how lived it.

While the teaching at BASIC influenced me—much of which I was questioning and later would explicitly reject (more on this later)—the central thing was I knew I had to make a radical commitment. This is something I did that night at Danny’s apartment.