Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Fractured Methodist Tales

March 11th, 2014

Nearly 34 years ago, I sat in an unpadded pew of the Old West (Methodist) Church in Boston on the Sunday when my firstborn was to be Christened. Subsequently, my later two sons were named instead at the Arlington Street Unitarian Universalist Church, which had horse-hair stuffed cushions. That day though, I had brought my wife and son to the prearranged ceremony at the denomination of my childhood, youth and young adulthood.

umc_crossflameThat day actually was the end of that religious association. I opened the hymnal to the Apostle’s Creed. I didn’t have to read it. I had memorized it long ago and the phrases have become seminal. That version differs slightly from that of many other churches, in that it leaves out mention of Jesus descending into Hell at death. Otherwise, it has the heavy baggage of doctrine and even bureaucracy that produced its carefully crafted message.

I sat there with my baby in the crook of one arm, looking at the page. I realized that I didn’t believe it, any of it — no Father Almighty, no virgin birth, no bodily resurrection after three days moldering, no judgment of the quick and the dead, no universal (lower c catholic) church, no saints, no forgiveness of sins, no resurrection, and no everlasting life.

Done, done and done. You have had your Methodism and you aren’t compatible.

The last I had felt any sort of communion with Methodism was before it went sour during the Vietnam war era. I did hang around the Methodist youth center building sometimes at the University of South Carolina. I could delude myself by subscribing to the excellent Motive Magazine. It was anti-war and pro-integration among other virtues (and had great poetry). It was in the mold of 18th Century Methodism founder John Wesley, a strong prison reformer and abolitionist in England and the Colonies.

Quickly though, the bishops (its governance was not by elders as the Presbyterians but Episcopal [by bishops] from its roots in Wesley’s Anglican communion) tromped on Motive. They had no patience with pinko, pacifist junk. They turned off a generation of thinking, feeling members.

That was not new to them. They had driven away what became the African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Churches’ members. In the early 19th Century in Philadelphia and New York City, the racist and exclusionary practices made it plain to black members they were inferior as far as clergy and church pols were concerned.

Today with mixed feelings, I read in the NY Times of a Methodist bishop dropping the persecution and prosecution of a minister. His alleged violation of church doctrine was to perform the same-sex marriage of his son.

With my strong stance here and elsewhere in favor of marriage equality, I had long been disgusted by the United Methodist Church’s regression into anti-gay dogma and rulings. That they were defrocking their clergy who dared perform same-sex ceremonies was pathetic if not a surprise.

A year and one-half ago, at 80, the Rev. Thomas Ogletree performed the ceremony. He said, “I actually wasn’t thinking of this as an act of civil disobedience or church disobedience. I was thinking of it as a response to my son.”

I relate. I have performed five wedding ceremonies, one for my eldest son. That was to a woman, but two of mine have been same-sex couples. There is nothing more moving than performing the marriage for your child. Three of my ceremonies were of long-term friends and very powerful, but your own child?

The NYT piece linked above concludes that the decision in this case is far-reaching. It includes:

Bishop Martin D. McLee “who oversees about 460 churches in lower New York State and Connecticut, agreed to drop all charges against Dr. Ogletree; in exchange, he asked only that Dr. Ogletree participate in a dialogue about the church and its stance on matters of sexuality. Promoting dialogue, the bishop said, could be a model for other United Methodist bishops to follow.

“While many insist on the trial procedure for many reasons, I offer that trials are not the way forward,” Bishop McLee said in a statement attached to the resolution of Dr. Ogletree’s case. “Church trials result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

That level of compassion and rationality is what I expect in UU churches and what I grew up with what was then my Methodist church.

I do hope that the United Methodist Church takes advantage of this offering from Bishop McLee. It has been divided on homosexuality long before being faced with dealing with marriage equality. Its bishops too are old now, at the moment when the nation has some to see same-sex marriage as the present as well as the future. Methodists in general have not been leaders here, but perhaps they won’t be the last to get there.

Little Guides

June 20th, 2013

geminioutlineMy maternal grandmother, Mable, had a few odd yet predictable routines. While she was quite bright, in at least two areas, she went gut and hope.

The closest the eastern panhandle of WV had to a local but city newspaper was the Cumberland Times, from 28 miles away on Route 28. While a silly and slim rag, it had area news as well as comics, advice columns, word puzzles and of course a horoscope.

If you are an astrology believer be aware that I am not and never have been. I looked through my usual combination scientific and experiential lenses. I don’t see any value with the possible exceptions of entertainment and reinforcing what you want to be so.

It’s been many years since I even looked at one, other than the spoofs in The Onion. As yesterday was my birthday, that somehow inspired me to look. The result was:

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY (June 19). In the past, you’ve had fewer options, but now you’ll find yourself in a position to be discerning and selective. What happens in July makes you more interesting and also more interested in others. A certain someone or something enthralls you in August. September brings a self-imposed challenge and a well-won victory. Capricorn and Sagittarius people adore you. Your lucky numbers are: 3, 22, 39, 42 and 15.

That’s vague enough to fit almost anyone. The specifics about my adorant one-sixth of the world was a coincidental nice touch, as in that my long-term wife was born under Capricorn.

Yet come each morning, Mable would read her horoscope and seem to get some satisfaction. As far as I could tell, she remained rational enough that she did not alter her behavior or feel any trepidation.

Later in the day, she also sat solo at the dinner table with her Bible and The Upper Room. That wee weekly magazine has cites some scripture and has a homily on it, along with some pretty specific steps for being cool with Jesus. She’d read and meditate. She was always calm and composed afterward.

We were a Methodist family and she certainly was a believer. Among other credal tenets, heaven was one she fully accepted. She fully expected a personal identity after death, including eternal bliss. Unlike say Presbyterians with there predestination, Methodists were of the good deeds and thoughts got you right with God and in line for a spot in this heaven.

I see anything destructive or particularly negative about Mable’s two foibles. The horoscope did not control her or upset her. The devotional may in fact reinforced positive thoughts and deeds.

Neither was rational, rather emotionally, a.k.a. faith, based. So what?

 

Benny Stays Responsible

February 11th, 2013

I am not Roman Catholic, have never been and don’t even play one on internet radio. Yet I have more than passing interest in Pope Benedict XVI, born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, 25 years running the Roman Inquisition (formally the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), and widely known in ecclesiastical circles as God’s Rottweiler. benny

It may be unfair in some emotional ways for a non-RC type to criticize him, but he’s long been a foe of marriage equality among other good trends. He’s also done his damnedest (most blessed?) to shrink the Church. He’s made it plain that he only wants to truly devoted and obedient congregants.

So, he announced that he’s stepping down on February 28th and has called for a conclave to replace him in March. The last time a pope resigned was 598 years ago, when Gregory XII stepped down to heal a major succession schism.

I confess, if I may use that term in its common meaning, that I admire and appreciate his reasons. Unlike many predecessors who literally limped along when they were ailing and both physically and mentally enfeebled. he admitted he doesn’t have the oomph to do papal duties. As he put it, … “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry…”

He brother Georg Ratzinger said the Poper was having increasing difficulty walking and that his resignation was part of a “natural process”.  ”His age is weighing on him. At this age my brother wants more rest.”

I of course hope for a new, improved version, one less doctrinaire, more compassionate, and more believing in using the Church’s resources for social action.

Dye, dye, dye

April 10th, 2012

To us non-Catholics (Roman or Eastern Orthodox), the fixation on Christ’s blood, wounds and suffering may well seem bizarre. While raised as a devote little Christian,  I was a Protestant and without all the figurative and literal gear.

Yet, many years ago, I picked up a dye envelope in a Greek grocery and reveled in the true blood color it produced on eggshells. In contrast, the silly pastels in my childhood Easter baskets were insipid and unmemorable.

This year, I swung by the West Roxbury’s Greek International Food Market (great place). Selecting a basket of cheeses, olives, taramasalata, retsina and bread, I was pleased to see dye packets by the register.

Alas, with my eggs handy, I was stunned to find the offering was pink, pink I say, in the water. Even had I used a small portion of the water it called for it would not at all resemble blood.

I ended up with eggs that had a color that likely never appears in nature. I have to admit though, the pink is so garish we all liked it.

Next year, I’ll shop around a bit and make sure to get the blood version.

On Ripping Off Relics

March 4th, 2012

I confess, but only as a figure of speech, that relics and reliquaries seem ghoulish to me, a non-Roman Catholic. As matter of faith, I likely shouldn’t find them so. I was a devote little Christian, one who believed in transubstantiation during communion, which I took many times.

Along with hormonal floods, puberty brought dousing of knowledge and analytic thought. I got better.

Today the news from Dublin includes the discovery that somebody made off with the heart of Saint Lorcan Ua Tuathail, later known as Laurence (or Lawrence) O’Toole. That’s a big deal, as he is the patron saint of Dublin.

The relic had been in a wooden box in a square iron cage in the cathedral. It was no impulse pilfer either, the thief/thieves sawed through the bars and  forced the cage free to get the treasure. The church dean said, “It has no economic value but it is a priceless treasure that links our present foundation with its founding father.”

Yet we also have to wonder, as parts of saints have been bought/sold/swapped/stolen for centuries. Some allegedly are duplicated in multiple locations. Other religious artifacts, such as pieces of “the True Cross” whereon Jesus died, appear in so many churches that wags have said there are enough around to build Noah’s ark.

To  believers, even beyond Ireland, such tangible links to holy folk are sacred in their own right. Many supposedly have innate powers — healing the sick if prayed to and beside, and other such miracles. Nearly six years ago, many gathered in Boston to peek at the visiting heart of a saint lent by a French church and briefly displayed here. I joined them.

To us less faithful, we are wont to insult folk by speaking of worshiping a finger bone in a filigree tube (available at the Cloisters in NYC, for one) and such. Catholics are quick to point out that there’s a huge difference between praying through a saint to God and worshiping a body part.

For the best treatment to the relic world concentrated on the whole bodies, I recommend Magnificent Corpses: Searching Through Europe for St. Peter’s Head, St. Claire’s Heart, St. Stephen’s Hand, and Other Saintly Relics by Anneli Rufus. She was fascinated by relics, particularly whole bodies of the incorruptibles — corpses on display allegedly never decomposing, thus proving their holiness. She visited numerous shrines to observe both the saints’ remains and the visitors.

St. Lorcan lived in the 12th Century. There are trails and tales of his body parts too, including buried, disinterred and stolen bones. Even before his relics were shared and disappeared, he was on a fast track to sainthood. Many claimed miracles by praying to him in the months and years following his death (natural causes and not martyrdom) both at his tomb and through his intercession.

He apparently led a saintly life of humility and abstinence, replete with hair shirt, prolonged fasting, forgoing meat and stimulants and such that other prelates enjoyed. Now whether a figurative pure heart translated into a literal holy one, I suppose, is that matter of faith. Regardless, ripping off a religion’s palpable symbol is a terrible act.

Taking a Pass…Twice

November 21st, 2011

Flat out, I don’t have a personal story of childhood sexual abuse. To those of us who don’t, the number we read or hear directly is stunning. With the infamy of the Penn State cases, more moving, inevitably confessional tales broadcast, such as the poignant one by a Notre Dame law professor in today’s Slate.

An oddment is the very brief moment of jealousy in not having a story, very similar to the feeling of us boomer men who did not get thrown into jungle warfare in Vietnam. It is all too human to want to share in the zeitgeist of your various eras. Something seems amiss and missing when you don’t, like those moments when you feel your soul is off somewhere else.

Dispassionately, of course, there’s no reason to visit horrors on yourself. Yet, we want to feel both that we are a part of our times and that we are the sturdy stuff of heroes.

As a very mild expression of these needs, many people I knew in high school, college and my 20s embroidered their shared experience samplers. They were hippies, they smoked pot and hash, they tripped on acid and more, they were sexually profligate, and of course, they protested and rioted on their campuses. All gross exaggerations and outright lies…in the name of shared experience.


Non-Nam


Many of my male chums past and current did go to Vietnam. Some sat on ships or in offices, while others fought, including some who died and others physically and emotionally maimed. Much like those of my father’s generation who killed and who saw the horrors of war, those who did don’t talk about it and if pressed say those who did not were much better off.

There was that pesky military draft, in which I had a very low number. My draft board made a relentless effort to get me, but finally seemed to give up, going for easier pickings.

While in Cambridge on a grant to look at a couple of underground newspapers, I found my board decided I wasn’t technically a full-time college student, so they had a place for me to go. I replied that I would not carry a gun, but I would go as medic, photog or reporter if they needed me in Viet Nam. They responded with CO papers and a notice that I could not pick what I’d do. I sent back that under their absurdly tight CO definition, I didn’t fit, but they could take my deal or send me to jail. They sent another batch of CO applications.

Eventually, they sent me a deferment they gave to fathers of multiple children. Eh? Some vets are positive there must have been someone  at the board looking out for me. A more likely story was through a friend whose father was on the board. He said in such cases, they went after guys who didn’t cause so much trouble and paperwork.


Unabused


Nearly all my best friends and quite a few women I’d kept company with in my single years have tales of being fondled or raped as small or teen kids. A few times, it was strangers they had just met, but more typically, it was a father, brother, cleric, teacher or camp counselor.

The stats sexual abuse prima facie don’t see so terrible, until you read deeper. Start for example from the Wikipedia entry and follow the references to places like Health and Human Services reports to first see that 15% to 25% of girls and 5% to 15% of boys were physically molested. From what I have heard directly and from learning that many of these stats are reported cases, and those percentages are very low.

In retrospect, I wonder whether our itinerant life protected me. We moved every couple years throughout my childhood. It seems that those I know who were abused either were in situations where the perpetrator had gained trust of the family and child, or in which they were in stereotypical abuse hells like boarding schools. It probably helped that my sister and I were not physically abused at all at home by beatings as most of my peers said they were. We were not taught to be submissive. The atmosphere of child as chattel was not part of my life. I also surmise that my willful personality may have acted as a shield.

Motivation for sexual abusers seem clear enough. These tend to be crimes of opportunity. The children are younger, smaller, weaker and often under the older child or adult’s control. Also, there is a strong correlation between having been abused and abusing.

If my second-hand knowledge is accurate, such abuse is never something simply gotten over. There seems to be a spectrum from those who live in victimhood perpetually to those who discuss it was friends or shrinks to those who sometimes shock into recollection to those who sublimate. Yet to those of us who lucked through childhood without being sexually abused, what is astonishing most is how common such behavior is.

This area is another good pointer to humans as not being all that evolved.

After it all, where is evidence of our better nature if we prey on the weakest of us as wild mammals, raptors and even insects do? Where is our alleged striving to be like angels or our god? If the cliché that character is what we are in the dark is true, what does it mean if so many of us even create the figurative dark for our evils?

The First Lowell (Rather 25th)

July 31st, 2011

There’s one last day at this year’s Lowell Folk Festival. As usual, we were there and recruited a pair of first-timers for this one.

Also, as usual, we heard a long-time favorite and found a new-to-us gem. This is really the best, biggest free music around. Channeling Mr. T again…I pity the fool who misses this.

Some highlights follow.

Pix Trix: All images are Creative Commons Attribution 3.0, use ‘em with credit. Click on a thumbnail for a larger view.

A new treasure was Greenville, MS’ Eden Brent. She’s powerful, raw, funny and romantic simultaneously. She does serious boogie-woogie. eden1
eden Brent’s mentor, Boogaloo Ames, nicknamed her Little Boogaloo. He’s dead, but boy does she carry on.
We’ve heard Shemekia Copeland from her first visit here. It’s fabulous that she still comes by even when she’s well established. She alone is worth a trip to the LFF whenever she appears. She gives loud, passionate and believable blues. copeland
clevelandfiddle I’m not huge on bluegrass, unless it’s great. Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper is. These guys are highly skilled, blazing fast on most tunes, and present the best of the genre from way back. They seemed to have more fun than any other act.
Most years, the LFF includes at least one a cappella gospel master group. This year’s Birmingham Sunlights were high energy and alternated sweet and rocking. sunlights

Where Is Thankful?

July 27th, 2011

preacherwifeSurely I have read and seen too many horror entertainments. A massive double tombstone in Hyde Park’s Fairview Cemetery stopped me.

On the left side of the marble book, Rev. Elisha B. Bradford was noted to live from 1811 to 1895. On the right, his wife, Thankful T. Faunce, was born in 1818…

He was a Methodist minister known for his powerful preaching on the circuit. However, we have no reason to believe there was an on-the-third-day miracle here. We can be sure we would have gotten the word if she were still walking around at nearly 200.

Where is Thankful?

If you pardon, I am thankful for the internet and its trove of obscure data. We can learn:

  • There is a biography in an old Methodist Conference book that Google digitized.
  • Elisha was a seventh-generation direct descendant of MA Gov. William Bradford.
  • Smart and ambitious, he started in manufacturing with the aim of wealth.
  • He heard his God ask him, “Are you willing to become poor for Jesus sake?” and he resolved that he was. He chose the demanding life of a Methodist, riding among churches.
  • On May 30, 1838, he and Thankful wed and remained so until his death.
  • They had a happy life, with one major exception. Their first-born and only son died at six months. That was “Brother Bradfords great grief, and on that really shadowed his whole life.” Two daughters grew to adulthood and outlived the parents.
  • Thankful lived with one daughter after Elisha’s death. She died at 93 in 1912 (date from the Mormon genealogy site).

That daughter remained local. I found no record of Thankful’s interment. Yet, I surmise that she almost certainly is there by her page of the marble book. Discarding the notion that she walks among us, I wonder then did New England frugality win out and no carver was contracted to fill in the right side of the hyphen?

Rapture Time Already?

May 21st, 2011

I honestly had forgotten my childhood brush with the heaven bound. We have the current Rapture ranter, a depressed woman who smothers her six-year-old and wants to die so the two of them will be together, and who knows how many terrorists who believe that their religion will guarantee them eternal bliss for dying while blowing others to pieces.

If you were inclined to ecstatic paradise and personal identity after death stuff, the believers acting out in front of you should give pause.

Nevertheless, back when I was maybe 8 or 9, our family got a personal taste in Danville, Virginia. Our weekly cleaning lady showed up at our mother’s office to take her to heaven with her.

Our divorced mom, Wanda, worked long and hard running the Red Cross chapter as well as raising two kids solo. While it bothered her not to also handle all the cleaning even with the meager help of her elementary-school children, she accepted that she needed someone a couple of afternoons a week to take care of laundry and such. Lena was that person.

A young, married woman with two children of her own, she was a cheerful presence. She had a family support system in town to help her with her kids and worked for several folk to supplement her husband’s income. We got along well.

One afternoon though, Wanda returned home distressed, which was unusual for someone so together. She told us how Lena had died.

I don’t have time today

She was at her desk, managing away, when Lena appeared. The normally calm Lena was instead both agitated and smiling. She announced that it was time to go to heaven. She said that of all the people she knew Wanda was the one deserving of joining her.

My mother said she explained that she had a lot of work to do and wanted to take care of her children. She really did not have time and was not in a position to go to heaven that afternoon.

She said that Lena accepted that and calmly left the office. Lena then went a few blocks away, waited for the bus, and threw herself directly in front of it. She died on the spot.

We were also Christians in our apartment. We had the behaviors as well as, attending both Sunday School and church ever week, taking communion, believing  in personal salvation through Jesus, and planning on heaven (eventually). I also had read the whole KJV Bible and had favorite parts.

Yet, even as young kids, my sister and I did not go for suicide. Wanda had made us far too pragmatic and fix-it for that already.

Of course, in retrospect, I figure Lena had been mentally unstable for quite awhile and had had a break, a psychotic episode. We didn’t know those terms yet, didn’t know depressed or bipolar people yet, and no one in our family was a fundamentalist religious sort of any flavor.

I recall though asking about Lena’s husband and kids. Why didn’t she want them to go with her if she figured she was heading heavenward that day? As it turned out, her husband wondered too. He threatened Wanda and us with death for somehow in his mind causing his wife to kill herself.

He got over that with some discussion with the police. I got over my puerile religion as well a few years later.

Yet, our very human, often emotional needs seem to drive us at the oddest times and with the great power of a surging, swollen river. I like to think I am immune to such relentless forces. I can’t be positive, but I’m not buying into rapture today.

Clean Streets and Small Favors

April 23rd, 2011

milletgleanersBusiness-card shame was the order of the afternoon in a midtown NYC bar among us trade journalists. Most of us who had worked for the huge Conover-Mast chain of magazines did not want to leave the city for either Chicago or Boston. We scattered to local jobs when the Boston-based acquirer Cahners Publishing moved our books, as we were wont to call the magazines.

As we swapped our new cards, one poor fellow was slow to flip his on the table. He would be well paid, but he had not adjusted to the shift from Purchasing to Solid Waste Management.

Well, way back then and today, trash is big business and not just in the romance-novel and porn industries. He did just fine, but I don’t think he ever did adjust to the name.

Street flotsam

My Boston City Councilor, Rob Consalvo is learning that. He is figuratively hip deep in trash.

Among the numerous tedious problems very important to some constituents is trash-day trash leavings. Residents in his Hyde Park and Roslindale neighborhoods, and abutting areas, are disgusted, irate and want some fixes.

Paper and garbage clogging or blowing around sidewalks and streets are not the stuff of movies or important novels. They certainly aren’t what pols claim as their legacies. Yet, trash is unpleasant to look at or smell, it brings squirrels, dogs, cats, raccoons, opossums and crows, and no one sane longs to pick up other folk’s rubbish.

This week’s Hyde Park Bulletin has the messy story. (You have to pay $12 a year to read the articles and can only see an image of the lastest week’s front page otherwise.)

It’s complex and Consalvo is forced into a multi-phasic set of problems and solutions. It’ll likely lead to public hearings. Issues include:

  • Trash on the curb in boxes, paper bags, and plastic bags, often not in trash cans or barrels.
  • People looking for deposit cans and bottles opening up those before the garbage trucks get there, scattering trash about or leaving the bags open for animals.
  • Garbage crews spilling partial loads through inattention or because of poor packaging — and leaving the stuff on the sidewalk or road.
  • Trash put on the curb up to 24 or more hours before pickup day, which exacerbates the likelihood of its ending up loose.

Already, Consalvo sees a couple of partial solutions. One would be to copy the requirement in higher-density areas with restaurants, like the North End, for all trash to go into lidded barrels. That was largely a reaction to the rodent problems there. However, we in more suburban, single family Boston neighborhoods know the destructive capabilities of hungry ‘possums and dogs.

Another would be to make sure that street sweeping schedules follow trash pickup the next day.

Consider the gleaners

Among his messages was also the awareness that bottle pickers can open bags in their quest for deposit money. There’s a chance for an education/cultural solution here.

In a town that fancies itself as Catholic and otherwise religious, the modest consideration for such gleaners should be an easy sell. It goes back to the Torah and Old Testament, and is well covered in the Book of Ruth. The law in agarian communities was to allow the less fortunate to pick the leavings in the fields after harvest.

Likewise, we have weekly (or three times a week in places like Beacon Hill) harvest in a sense. Most people don’t bother with nickel deposits on soda and beer cans and bottles. Even in such hard times, there are plenty of pickings on the curb as well as in downtown public trash cans.

All we need to do in front of our houses is to put out a separate container with the deposit containers. We have that single-stream monster recycling bin, but we use the old, small rectangular blue one for deposit bottles and cans.

Modern gleaners come around a few hours before the garbage and recycling trucks. Where they see separate containers with the deposit containers, they don’t mess with trash cans or the big bin.

It’s better for us and for them. Consalvo is likely right on this aspect too. We don’t see damaged bags or papers pulled out of the big bin.

The old texts commanded that gleanings be left for the poor, orphans, widows and strangers. The principle remains much the same. What is a small thing for most of us can be substantial to another.

Plus, it makes for spiffier neighborhoods.

Tags: harrumphharrumphergarbagerecyclinggleanerbottle depositConsalvo