THE MANGER AND THE CROSS

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The cross is supposed to be the center of Christianity — it is the expiation for sin which redeems humanity, the cosmic turning point of history.  That may be, theologically speaking.  But if this redemption doesn’t take us all back to the stable in Bethlehem, to the hillside where the shepherds heard the angels sing, to the joy of the first Christmas — what the hell good was it?

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If the cross was just a last-minute reprieve, a back-stop catching us up slightly short of the abyss, it might be worthy of eternal relief, but not of eternal enthusiasm.

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The cross is not the center of the moral universe — the cross places the stable in Bethlehem at the center of the moral universe.  When a man or woman of faith sees a cross, he or she should ask, “Which way is that manger I’ve heard about?  Can I still get there in time for the big event, even with a change-over in Denver?  What are the chances of picking up some myrrh in the airport gift shop?”

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Suffering marks out the road to Heaven, sure, but as Blake said, gratitude is Heaven itself.  Gratitude is the destination.  Hit the trail to Bethlehem and bring a gift.

NO DIRECTION HOME

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I was born very far from where I’m supposed to be, and so I’m on my way home.

— Bob Dylan

There’s no direction home in Bob Dylan’s world because every road he could possibly take in any direction leads there.  There’s no street, highway, country lane or footpath on which he won’t meet someone interesting, find unexpected hospitality, a stranger who’ll put him up for a day or two, a friend, a sage, a lover, a joke, a tall tale, a word of kindness or the snatches of a new tune.

God made the world to be a grassy road before his wandering feet — yours, too.

THANKFUL TODAY

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For the muse who hovers in the air beside my head and whispers stories in my ear, which I write down and send out into the world.

For the rivers of America.

For the new vinyl pressings of the Beatles albums in mono.

For Bob Dylan and The Basement Tapes Complete.

For Rabbi Jeshua bar Joseph, a kind teacher.

For a girl who kissed me, just once, in 1968.

For family and friends, of course, the roof over my head, enough food to eat, a good supply in hand of cigarettes and alcohol.

But really, today, most of all, for a girl who kissed me, just once, in 1968.

SAVED

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This is an interesting word.

In the conventional usage of organized Christianity it means passed (as in passed the test) or elected (as in elected to the club) or distinguished (as by a celestial diadem).

In everyday life it means rescued from disaster, which sort of rescue was the everyday business of Jesus.  Passing, election, distinction — he didn’t have time for that shit.  He had actual work to do, still does.

Organized Christianity, get the fuck out of his way — we don’t need you, he doesn’t need you . . . your time has come and gone.

PREPARE

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Gibbon’s great work presents a staggering parade of crimes and horrors throughout the “civilized” world over the course of a thousand years or so.  It makes the crimes and horrors of ISIL seem mild and contained by contrast — but also gives a harrowing preview of what the world could easily become again if fanaticism and negotiation through unrestrained violence take the upper hand.  Throw in the crimes and horrors that will ensue from the effects of global warming, and The History Of the Decline and Fall Of the Roman Empire becomes essential reading to prepare ourselves for a new millennium of ubiquitous human catastrophe.

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You and I will see only the beginning of this epoch of catastrophe, but it will go harder with ours than with later generations because we will remember a time before the calamity became irreversible.

PAGAN IDOLATRY

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Treating corporations as people is not just a misinterpretation or misapplication of The Constitution, of laws, but actually demonic, an example of mental and moral degeneracy so profound that it negates the very idea of a humane society. It’s the flip side of treating some individuals as less than people — which the Supreme Court also did once, in the Dred Scott decision.

Treating corporations as people is a form of pagan idolatry that would have astounded and horrified even the commercial-minded Protestants who founded this country.

Click on the image to enlarge.

GO TELL THE SPARTANS

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You fall in love with someone who sees you as the best you can imagine yourself to be. You fall out of love with them when you realize that they see you as you know yourself to be, just as fucked-up as everyone else is.

None of this is really about love.

Love is a pact between two totally fucked-up people “to uphold each other in joy”.  It’s an agreement to rendezvous and stand your ground at Thermopylae.

Click on the image to enlarge.

CHRISTIAN

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Christian militia groups in the Central African Republic are now engaged in a killing spree, murdering Muslims, including women and children, at an alarming rate.

67% of white evangelical Christians in the U. S. support the death penalty — the highest percentage of any group in the population.

American evangelical Christians have sent representatives to both Russia and Uganda to proselytize for harsh laws against homosexuality — with marked success.

We have passed the stage where “Christian” is a meaningless term — it now has a very specific meaning to millions of people around the world . . . unmitigated evil.

It needs to be retired for a few thousand years.

THE SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN

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PZ offers some thoughts on Edward Snowden from a religious perspective:

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Viewing the 1968 movie The Shoes of the Fisherman, which was based on a 1963 novel by Morris West, made me think of Edward Snowden.  To my mind, Howard Terpning’s theatrical poster for that movie (above) of a good man dressed in formal whites, brings Snowden’s immortal sacrifice bunt into the world of popular art.

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Why would I say this?

Well, the hero of The Shoes of the Fisherman, a Russian-born pope and former political prisoner named Kyril Lakota, is a real Christian!  That sounds a little strange to me as I write it, but what the Pope in West’s novel and the movie does is so unexpected and counter-institutional that it could break the moral impasse of the world.  (You’ve got to see this movie.)

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The Pope suddenly starts to stand in the real shoes of the fisherman — the poor, broken and impetuous first head of the Church.  In doing so, Kyril kicks the legs out from under the set table of international politics and self interest that permeates the world. This is what I believe Edward Snowden has done — the wonderful illegal sin he has committed.  He has knocked the legs out from under a massive set table.

We talk sometimes about “speaking truth to power”.  Religious people will speak of the “principalities and powers of this world”.  But rarely does a religious person actually go there.  What usually happens is that religion “strains out gnats and swallows camels” (Matthew 23:24).  Which is to say, religion, in many forms, gets stuck on tertiary things — personal angers and giant nothings.

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In Snowden I see a man who has touched a nerve.  A really BIG nerve.  I say this because a country like ours would not be straining so hard to get him, using client states to force down a president’s plane and threatening every airport and state — every Middlesex village and farm — before he has even taken a single footstep to freedom, if he had not touched a really big nerve.

What is this nerve? It is Power and Control, the truth about Power and Control.

Edward Snowden has embodied George Orwell’s maxim, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

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As a religious man, therefore — Snowden himself has said he is an agnostic –I can’t help putting together this operation of personal sacrifice, truth-telling, and hitting the world’s open secret of Power and Control.  When I think of Edward Snowden, I can’t help thinking, of Kyril Lakota, and Howard Terpning’s picture.

CURRENTS

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You dash about, struggle — all because you want to swim in your own current. But alongside of you, unceasing and near to everyone, there flows the divine and infinite current of love, in one and the same course. When you are thoroughly exhausted in your attempts to do something for yourself, to save yourself, to secure yourself, then drop all your own course, throw yourself into that current; and it will carry you, and you will feel that there are no barriers, that you are at peace forever and free and blessed.

— Leo Tolstoy

A FUNNY KIND OF REDEMPTION

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The new Pope recently said, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”

The next day a Vatican spokesman felt moved to add that atheists who consciously reject the salvation offered through the Church will still be damned.  So atheists will have to enjoy their happy redemption though Christ in Hell.