Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Another footnote to the history of British-American Imperialism

The power of nation-states seems almost universally to end in the oppression of individuals. Take, for instance, the stunning recent revelations concerning an island paradise of Diego Garcia, located in the Indian Ocean. I won't bother recapping the entire story -- for that, the Guardian's version will do. But in a nutshell, this story reveals a secret 1967 deal that gave America a land that didn't belong to it, and saw Britain terrorise the island's entire population in order to "clear" it for the American military. All this happened with the collusion of the highest powers in both countries, and was not fully revealed until 2000. Even then, both the English and American sides ignored the growing outcry of the dispossessed as America continued (and continues) using the island as a launch point for the Iraq War.

From a Christian point of view, the nations exist to preserve some sort of social order, some sort of safety. The Christian Right -- and I have to say many political "liberal" Christians as well -- have taken the biblical writers' very pragmatic outlook on nations amiss. They have suberverted it with the very mistaken idea that because the nations exist, the nations are therefore sacred institutions in their own right.

Nowhere is this sacralization of nations clearer, in my opinion, than in looking at America, Britain, and a few of the more vociferous Islamic states. But the latter cannot hold a candle in modern times to what Anglo-American interests have done, and are doing, around the globe.

I am not a wise enough man to uncompress the maze of historic, theological, psychological, and sociological forces behind the pseudo-sacredness of the modern nation-state. But this false messiah continues to compete with biblical Christianity, and its handiwork continues to be the destruction of weaker nations, villages, families, and individuals.

If one wants a candidate for the Antichrist, look no further than to the Imperialistic nation-states. They play the role to perfection.

I'd love to see a Tim LaHaye-like End Times novel along those lines. Well, maybe not LaHaye... Where's our evangelical version of Salmon Rushdie when we need him?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Heart is a Predicament

The heart is a predicament, the mind is no good at all. We all want love, we say. We all want love coming to us from another, from others. We all want love flowing from us to another, to others. So we say.

Yet we are lovers caught on the words of our lips, the frailty of our desires. We say we want love to give and to take. But given the opportunity, we fail. We cheat. We renege. We lie. We fall out of love and into it again like a little girl playing dress-up with clothes much too big for us. We are very, very bad at love.

Everything about us is impermanent. Our bodies are aging and decaying, as fleeting as the grass. Isaiah says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.” And as the Psalmist writes, “My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.” And again the Psalmist writes, “As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.”

We are contingent. That is, according to Webster’s, “dependent on or conditioned by something else.” We are contingent, not necessary says the dictionary, but rather verging on the incidental, the accidental. Living in the knowledge of this contingency of ourselves is a lot like living on the edge of the Grand Canyon for our whole lives. An awesome view, but a frighteningly long fall that we know is coming.

We did not begin by our own choice. And we will not end that way. Our life was thrust upon us, and our death will likewise come to us eventually or sooner. We say we believe that our death itself is only a doorway to a new, everlasting life… but how many of us actually love and live that belief?

To love someone is to hold them in the embrace of something that is more to us even than the fragile life we thought we treasured more than anything. Yet even as we hold them in the grip of this strange mixture of action, feeling, and fascination, we begin to love them less. The person is less than the love for the person; the love itself can become an idol, a lie, even a weapon behind the upraised fist of the man striking her of whom he says, later, with tears, “I love you.” The love is not the person, and the love either becomes the person more and more or less and less. There are only two ways, and one of them is not heavenly love, but its demonic counterfeit.

We are contingent, but true love is eternal. That is, love is unchanging, unshifting, unaltered by the passage of time except in a further growing and rooting of itself in the service of the beloved. We are anxious about the moment, about whether or not a friend thinks well of us, about whether he’ll stop preaching in time for lunch. Fewer of us are anxious about the future, about our own mortality, about what it means, existentially speaking, to be a human being.

Pascal noted that there is one reason behind the fact that we are so changeable, always hunting for diversion, never able to rest at peace in a room with only ourselves for company. It is, he writes, “the natural poverty of our feeble and mortal condition, so miserable that nothing can comfort us when we think of it closely.”

So love itself becomes a mode of travel, of escape from ourselves. No wonder so many marry and divorce over and over. No wonder so many don’t bother with marriage, admitting from the outset that constant love is not possible to an inconstant, mortal, ever-changing being.

In Him, in Christ, love came to us because we could not go to it. There was no hope for us until love killed us, a mercy-death that killed that abstracted, lost self in order that a new self alive in Him might be born. Yet as years pass we still are faced with the dilemma of choosing to remain in Him and grow in our ability to love, or to lose faith when faced with our still-present mortal body, our still-present weakness toward temptation, our still-occurring failures and sins.

We choose. Today. Will we love the Man of Sorrows? Today? In that way is the only way to love at all.

Panentheism & Interspirituality--What's Jesus Got to do With It?

I recently read a posting on TheOoze that provoked the below ponderings, posted there as well as here. You may need to read their lengthy April 18, 2006 post, Panentheism & Interspirituality--What's Jesus Got to do With It? before being able to follow my response...

Wow. I started smiling as I read this. You see, many years ago (like 1980!!) I wrote, along with Eric Pement, a treatment of Norman Grubb's "Union Life" group for our Cornerstone magazine (http://www.cornerstonemag.com -- now only archival, alas). It was that article that introduced me to panENtheism, Alfred North Whitehead (who came up with the term, I believe), and so on.

If you were to talk to the 1980 version of me vs. the 2006 version, well, I know a lot less now than I did then. For instance, the words "heresy" and even "cult" were far easier to use back then. Nowadays, I hate the last term -- living communally may explain why in part -- and use the other term only with many caveats and in the (to me) right context.

But Union Life, alas, was a mess. They were, for lack of a better term, antinomian to an extreme. That is, they thought that God saw them as sinless no matter what (this from their own mouths in interviews we did with their leadership). They were literally, again in their words, "Jesus in Dan or Norman form." High-flying concepts of panentheism aside, what ended up happening was sadly predictable. Their leaders fell into immorality and the movement foundered. Soon after, Grubb died.

I tell this story -- a very truncated form of it -- in order to raise some questions for myself and others here. I admire emergent folk, as I've been a bit of an alien among evangelicals for years now. The 2000 and 2004 elections frosted the cake for me, but it had been baking for many years before that. My fervent admiration for Christian (and many non-christian) feminists led to me becoming involved with Christians for Biblical Equality (http://wwww.cbeinternational.org ), a move which further revealed that mainstream evangelicalism is hostile to women.

The 'pomo' proposition that words are often about power-mongering seemed to have abundant real-life evidence among evangelicals. A movement led mostly by white, conservative, middle-class American males, I didn't as much leave evangelicalism as it seems to be leaving me.

So all that as background...

Here are my questions. Sorta.

I recall reading Walker Percy's "Second Coming" -- fabulous novel by this ironical soul who happened to believe. And in it he has a character deeply existential, deeply yearning for belief yet unable to find it anywhere. And he offers to me a warning there. The character looks around him, around the "new south", and finds rather than Flannery O'Connor's Christ-haunted souls a people who "believe everything, and so believe nothing at all." That is, belief becomes merely a set of clothes we put on and perhaps take off again.

Christ is the burning heart of Christian faith. But what Christ? The non-historical Cosmic Christ of old-school liberal Christianity? The muscular he-man republican Christ of evangelicalism? Some sort of mash-Christ, blended in with New Age, eastern, and maybe a little positive confession thought and so rendered harmless because he demands nothing of us except that we smile alot and speak in gentle, tolerant tones of voice?

I personally struggle very much with feeling that emergent / pomo folk are so involved with the inclusive project (my term) that they forget to include some biblical warnings that are non-inclusive. I almost hate to say it, because the evangelical project (at least in its more fundie forms) has been about little else than warning, condemning, and such.

But I remember Norman Grubb's Union Life. And it really was bad doctrine, bad teaching, and led to bad consequences on any number of levels even while we watched. I am "judging" I realize even by saying such things. But I don't know what else I can do. This life is real, has real ramifications. And what we believe really, truly, does matter.

If Jesus, for instance, did not historically rise from the dead, then Christianity is a pile of dog poop. I was raised in a "liberal" Methodist Church where such discussions were regularly indulged in from the pulpit. And I -- a non-believer at the time -- shook my head in complete amazement. The only hope for Christians is that Jesus is / was God's Son, Divine and sinless, and that he really was crucified and really did rise from the grave.

Bonhoeffer said it best: "Christ is the only significance." While I do indeed believe that all spiritualities can lead to Jesus, I also believe (speaking for myself) that all spiritualities can lead away from Jesus, away from truth, away from love. There is a radical surrender to Christ that is alien to us utterly, yet must occur in order for the frontier between true belief and lip-service to be breached.

Well, this is all quite inarticulate, for which I apologize. I enjoy The Ooze, and appreciate deeply what you are doing for the Body of Christ and the world.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

After the War Is Over

After the War Is Over
© Jon Trott, Filboyd Studge Productions

I remember the way I danced
The sinful season worth its weight in lead
All I thought was golden light
Turned out to be the tears you shed
Every girl I made my object
Every boy I used in spite
Every body lain with in that lonely night
Another victim in my fight

After the war is over
I wander through the rubble left behind
After the war is over…

Can it be / my enemy / you love me?

I dissemble even now, recalling
The way I was with those I clung to
I have a hard time admitting
I made them bleed along with you
Every friend I made enemy
Each brother I left out in the cold
Fellow sufferers in this prison
Another drunk left robbed and rolled

At times I want to surrender
But the mind police own all the doors
They’re lost and violent just like me
I fight them thinking they are yours
But who’s that sitting by the well
Beside the harlot with tears on her face
She’s laying down her weapons
Drinking water from a secret place

After the war is over
I wander through the rubble left behind
After the war is over…

Can it be / my enemy / you love me?

A soldier seldom tells his tales
He’s no hero in his own heart
The blood and faces, eyes of hurt
Tear his lonely existence all apart
I fought so hard, so long, so fruitlessly
Against a never-resting enemy
Who watched and waited for the moment
How strange that it would be He…

The one I murdered every moment
The one I saw in their suffering eyes…
Jesus forgive me for this offal life
I’ve lived for self while my neighbor cries…
The harlot comes toward me smiling
She’s babbling about the drink she had
I realize the castle’s falling
She’s switched sides and I’m so glad

After the war is over
I wander through the rubble left behind
After the war is over…

Can it be / my enemy / you love me?
Why are you my ecstasy?
You are, Dear One, my ecstasy.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Safana Jawad Meets the Terrorists

Safana Jawad
(c) 2006 Jon Trott

Save your sweet words, your harsh denials
Safana Jawad came to see her son
You saw her scarf and took away dignity
Strip searched her for bombs and guns and fun?

Basically you're clueless 'bout what's going on
Afraid? We're more afraid of you than bin Laden
You're watching everywhere but inside self
Terror alert! Our freedom for your oily health!

Safana Jawad is on a plane for London
But in her heart and mind the damage was done
Mothers and sons the ones who always suffer
Just another little crucifixion.
Just another American fiction.

(For more on this little incident, check the first stanza's link.)

The American Kind of Lonely

The American Kind of Lonely
© 2006, Jon Trott

There’s a young girl lying on a beach chair
And a child with a whimsical smile
And an older woman looking in a mirror
Sadness in her eyes and the light outside
Fades down into an American kind of lonely
Fades down into the American kind of lonely

The young girl rises up in her day dream
To the arms of the one she believes she loves
The woman remembers him whisp’ring goodbye
In a forever kind of way that still brings tears
Raining down through an American kind of lonely
Raining down through the American kind of lonely

So much material reality around them
So many spiritual options being sold and even free
The child looks up, her eyes are shining
She knows innocence and she knows more than me
Sinking down into an American kind of lonely
Sinking down into the American kind of lonely

The girl is shapely, the girl is healthy,
The girl is laughing gaily safe because she’s wealthy
The woman does not judge her, says no word
But prays; girlish innocence mixed with ignorance…
This is the song of an American kind of lonely
This is the song of the American kind of lonely

I was young once before my wife walked away
Ignorant of love’s suffering way
I cursed God before I ever learned to pray
And the woman and the child take my hand and say…
This is the song of an American kind of lonely
This is the song of the American kind of lonely

The child is dancing in the sand the sun the gulls
Cry with inarticulate words that still speak truth
The girl’s eyes fill as she talks on her cell phone
And the woman turns to me and gives me a kiss, whispers
This is the song of an American kind of lonely
This is the end of the American kind of lonely

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Right-Thinking American

And here's a bit that does have a political edge on it. If you figure out who I'm talking about, let me know, because since the lobotomy I don't remember.

Right-Thinking American

© 2006, Jon Trott

Some people read, some just look at pictures
He does some of both, and then he gives his lectures
Why the country’s in the crapper, it’s all due to the left
Feminist / Marxist / liberal - whatever name has heft
He reads Sexual Politics, gets off on the wrong parts
Loves being sentimental about flags and purple hearts
He got his own TV show because his teeth are straight
The fact he knows just shows his wounds won’t wait

We made him what he is
We need him as he is
We want his lies even if they kill us
We make him what he is

Some people cry, some harden into stone
He does some of both, in pleasure or with groan
His fingers are practiced, type words by themselves
His heart is trained and avoids the empty shelves
He’s sitting in the Green Room, waiting his cue
While pollsters watch closely to discover what is true
But he’s human not machine, I must remember
Now his season in the sun, soon he’ll know December

We made him what he is
We need him as he is
We want his lies even if they kill us
We make him what he is

An ego like a monster truck, big-tired testosterone
Roaring round the racetrack but he’s just a drone
Lives on what his feelings tell but can’t hear them very well
He’s holding on to a past that others knew as hell
The books he writes deal with sex and sin and rage
He’d lock us all inside his lonely, frightening cage
And I’d like to think I’m above him, a better wiser man
But my heart's as futile as his self-improvement plan

We made him what he is
We need him as he is
We want his lies sweet honeyed pus
We make him what he is
Twice as fit for hell… as the rest of us.

Sick O Me

Sorry, but my existentialist self is in the ascendancy again today. I so wanted to post supporting the nationwide immigration marches, but couldn't attend the 400,000 strong Chicago one due to work I couldn't escape. My political self is sulking in the corner, so here's a lyric and I'll try to do better soon.

Sick O Me (I am If You Are Love)

© 2006 Jon Trott

Sick o me sick sick sick o me
I want this I want that I’ll have this gimme that
Sick sick sick sick o me oh me

Act so ignorant the questions you ask
Why would someone rape someone?
Why not? Is the real questioner’s task
When love does not exist as truth
When love does not does not…

Sick sick sickness unto death.

Act so belligerent in your moral play
But if He’s not there what can you say
Why not? Anything goes… night or day
When love does not exist to kiss
When love does not does not…

Read your Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard
Before you burn the whole churchyard
Why not? All things are permitted
When love does not exist to stop
When love does not exist…

Act so sure and right but what foundation
Do you stand on in this conflagration?
Why not? Anything goes… fading light
When love does not exist to cry
When love does not exist to question why?

Sick sick o me o me oh me fly up

Flying toward eternity, I am if You are Love
I am if You are Love
I am if You do not abandon me.
Jesus, you share my suffering and remain
My one true love when the rest goes down…

The drain.