A few weeks ago, I promised a new series on this blog: “Storefront Theology” — so we can have church, or Sunday School, or Scripture study. You may have noticed some posts placed in this category already.
Now, I’m not much of a preacher. And while I love to read, I don’t call myself a scholar.
What I’m going to be doing — whenever I get the chance — is asking questions of actual scholars on big, deep, wide-open subjects, like prayer and salvation. I’ll start by posting here about what I learn, and maybe later we’ll have a Blogtalk Radio show or a podcast or something.
Meanwhile, there are so many wonderful open-hearted religious and spiritual blogs and books and webcasts out there, and I will point you to some of the best. (One of my favorites, Slacktivist, actually snuck into Jubilee Time a few weeks back.)
And occasionally, when I’m led to it, I’ll post a Sermonette of my own.
The full lyrics are here. I don’t mean to carp or complain, but I do believe all three of these versions leave out the best part — the last two verses:
We shall know no sin or sorrow,
In that haven of tomorrow,
When our barque shall sail beyond the silver sea;
We shall only know the blessing
Of our Father’s sweet caressing,
When they ring the golden bells for you and me.
When our days shall know their number,
And in death we sweetly slumber,
When the King commands the spirit to be free;
Nevermore with anguish laden,
We shall reach that lovely Eden,
When they ring the golden bells for you and me.
Isn’t that kind of like getting up from Thanksgiving dinner before the pumpkin pie?
Once again, I was led to this tune by the Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama, in their album “The Sermon.” Do you have your copy yet?
It doesn’t happen very often, but occasionally, at the Crystal Silence League, I see a prayer request to remove or cure homosexual desires.
Now, I was raised in the Western Scientific Tradition, in the far-out 1960s, in Hippie Town, USA, no less. So, despite a decades-long detour into conservative Christianity, it is fairly easy to understand why I would be unwilling to pray for these requests.
But I do. I do place them on my altar.
Whether you are “struggling with same-sex attraction” or celebrating it as a nourishing part of your personality and daily life, you are probably aware of the “liberal” interpretations of the Bible’s few verses that are commonly interpreted to forbid homosexuality. I will only list a few of the less theology-geeky links:
These folks are caught in a double-bind: on the one hand evolution — or the Creator — made us with seemingly unconquerable sexual desire and capacity for arousal. Even after we get old and start to dry up, we notice sexual signals constantly, even where they are not intended.
The question that these guilt-ridden folks don’t get to ask is: How sinful is this, anyway? And the larger question: what is lust?
Resorting to the dictionary is supposed to be a specious argument, but honestly, I really think the meaning of the word lust has drifted farther than is accurate or useful. So:
lust (lst), n.
1. Intense or unrestrained sexual craving.
a. An overwhelming desire or craving: a lust for power.
b. Intense eagerness or enthusiasm: a lust for life.
3. Obsolete Pleasure; relish.
intr.v.lust·ed, lust·ing, lusts
To have an intense or obsessive desire, especially one that is sexual.
[Middle English, from Old English, desire; see las- in Indo-European roots.]
The third definition, mere pleasure or relish, is obsolete. But, as near as I can make out from the Oxford English Dictionary, it is the original definition of the word, and was so innocent back then that it was applied to Jesus himself!
He [Jesus] is feyr and bryht on heowe…Of lufsum lost of truste treowe.
I’m having trouble finding a translation for this couplet, but I think it means something like: “Jesus is fair and bright on high [?] … Of lovely lust, of true trust.” (We could now digress into a fascinating discussion of Christ as the Ideal lover — and maybe we will, another day.)
You see the wiggle in her walk, or the fem in the black leather jacket, because you were made to express love and innocent pleasure in the flesh. It’s only when you lose your grip on the Golden Rule that corruption enters your world through lust the glamor of sexual pleasure.
So I will print out your prayer for release from evil desires, and I will pray for you.
I pray that your desires bring you only love, splendor, and abundant life.
I pray that these desires bring happiness to the others you encounter.
I pray that god heals you of needless shame.
I pray that the truth of the Love Supreme will set you free.
Weren’t you, after all, born in a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow?
Have you ever heard someone say a song or Scripture is “ministering” to them? I had that experience yesterday:
Like everyone else, people active in progressive politics consciously desire health and happiness in their work, and strive to achieve their mission while enjoying the fruits of health, love, pride, and joy. At a less conscious level, our normal desires for health are at war with less healthy beliefs and fears that we’re not really supposed to have good things or take care of ourselves.
This conflict is extremely common. Our hope is at war with our fear, our optimism with our pessimism, and our aspirations with our cynicism. We consciously seek the light but unconsciously default to a belief in the darkness.
One of the fundamental discoveries gained from studying child development is that children regard the reality in which they find themselves as equivalent to what is supposed to be. In our childhood minds, minds not yet steeped in left-brain adult reasoning and the rational logic of cause-and-effect, we experience our emotional and social worlds as the way things are supposed to be. If our families are unhappy, stressed, dysfunctional, or neglectful, we don’t think: “Boy, are they screwed up! I’m sure glad I’m happy and safe and not part of that culture!” Instead, by osmosis, the awesome authority of our parents and families to define reality and morality leads us to take their story, the one unfolding around us, as the only real story, despite what is said or consciously intended.
This universal fact of psychology has an extremely important consequence. When we violate, reject, or otherwise leave behind the unspoken norms and patterns governing our family lives, we feel conflict. Sometimes it takes the form of guilt; other times, anxiety. Both tend to operate behind our backs, affecting our choices and behavior in ways that are not conscious. For example, maybe your parents aspired to provide you with a better life than they had. And you have always been consciously determined to do just that. But when you separate from people to whom you are attached, and on whom you’ve been dependent for survival, your healthy conscious intentions have to contend with what it means to reject or surpass them.
This article isn’t just for progressive activists: this is a condition that afflicts everyone except — maybe — the One Percent. This is what the New Thought people are talking about when they tell you to visualize, to “name and claim it,” when they tell you that “all you have to do is want it.”
It’s more complicated than that — and at the same time, it’s simpler than that.
One of the conceptions of magic that’s floating around is that you should be able to do it all with one magical word and a bulge flash of your eyes. I have a sneaking suspicion that that kind of manifestation appears only in fairy tales and dreams. Almost everybody, when they try to do in waking life, in one leap, exhausts themselves and ends up having to white-knuckle it.
It’s much easier to do it incrementally — step-by-step. Begin where you are, where this article begins: with one little improvement in your situation that you can believe in. Don’t just say you deserve a living wage, sufficient food, sufficient rest, strength, joy in your work. Do whatever it takes, perform whatever thought experiments you require, to prove it to yourself.
Now, I may be straying afield from the original intent of this article. But I believe all the greatest hopes and all the greatest movements began in just this way. In our country, in the 1950s and ’60s, the great hopes of Martin Luther King and all his allies were expressed by high school and college kids at drugstore lunch counters. Yes, there was sacrifice; yes, there were martyrs; but whether in the political struggles of the present, or the world-spanning evangelism of old, it was never meant that everybody should be a martyr. Nor was it ever meant it every martyr should be a martyr every day.
God gave us the gifts of music, laughter and bad puns for a reason.
I thought of this good old, weary song while I was reading this article, and I am still not sure how they are connected.
J. Robert Bradley – Poor Pilgrim of Sorrow (1950)The greatest bass to come out of the National Baptist Convention and the protegé of gospel composer Lucie Campbell, Sir J. Robert Bradley was a vocalist whose powers of song interpretation and style were too grand and refined to be confined to gospel alone.
There is sunshine in our sorrow
when our hearts are filled with pain.
I first discovered this about 30 years ago. I was deep in the depths of sorrow, and for good reason, when I had this flash of joy stab me awake. Out of nowhere. It was embarrassing, but I just had to deal with the fact that everything was going to be all right.
A few days ago, I ran into this deep and wonderful post from Fred Clark of Slacktivist. (And now I’ll just go on listening to the eighteen versions of “I’ll Fly Away” linked to Mr. Clark’s thoughtful post.)
slacktivist » Hallelujah by and byShortly after I picked up the first book in the Left Behind series, but before I’d started writing about it, I wrote a post about the otherworldly strain of escapism in American Christianity. That otherworldliness, I argued, derives from the untenable history of trying to belong to a church that included both slaves and slaveowners.