Saturday, March 19, 2011

2012: The Revolution Has Begun... or not...

Good friends have sent me this video, called "2012: The Revolution Has Begun". You can see it by following this link:

Thanks for the video link, which I watched today. I love you for sending it, and I love you enough to give you my honest response to it.

I appreciate the attention this video brings to global warming, which is no joke, and to the mass extinction currently underway. I also very much appreciate the video’s challenge to us to choose love over fear. That is probably the most important thing we can all be saying right now, and I’m so glad they targeted Fox News and TV in general – I agree with all that. I also adore the love images in this video – the revelation of the heart of God through meditation is beautifully portrayed here. I could feel myself opening up and smiling when those came on. I’ve been to that place. That part felt like going home.

However, I also have some serious issues with this video, which I regard, overall, to be more mythology than fact. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in mythology as an agent of social change, and that’s a big reason why I’m a priest. I just think it’s important to also keep your facts straight. For example, the startling claim about the GOES satellite and the electromagnetic spike on 9/11 – I notice there is no source for this graph given and I strongly doubt this claim. A quick check on the GOES’s own website says nothing about electromagnetism as something they measure. I think it is highly likely this is a fraudulent claim.

I don’t have time to research the claimed earthquake spike, but despite recent earthquakes, I’m skeptical of the veracity of that chart as well.

I also get a little pesky when people completely misrepresent the Bible, as this video does by referring to Mt 6:22 as having to do with meditation. Sorry, but that’s ridiculous – an example of something that happens all the time – the appropriation of a religious text into terms that fit someone else’s paradigm. A responsible use of Scripture honors the intent of the original author, or at least grapples with the difference between what it actually says and what we want it to say.

But the more substantive issue I have with this video is the notion, which has been around for a long time now, that through meditation the world will be transformed into a heavenly realm. The idea that a revolution in consciousness is just around the corner, and depends on our own individual spiritual practice for it to happen, is, in my opinion, a myth. As myth, it is very powerful, and like other myths it may motivate a lot of people toward life-changing behaviors that would be good for them and for the planet. I just don’t believe it’s true, factually speaking. Christians have been predicting the coming of Christ for a long time, too – that idea comes from the same impulse and the same longing as the one expressed in this video - but all efforts to predict when it will happen have been in vain, and the responsible Christian has to accept the possibility that this is more a statement about our own longing than a statement of fact.

Like I said, I honor and respect the power of myth. I proclaim “Christ will come again” as a mythological statement of ultimate trust, but connecting that to any earthly calendar (including the Mayan) is a very well-documented mistake. What happens when we get attached to those predictions is that we lose sight of the real source of that prediction, which is our own inner longing for it to be true, despite all (actual) evidence to the contrary; and then we open ourselves up to manipulation by people who want to exploit our longing.

That longing is a real thing, though, and over the centuries it has sparked all sorts of visions and proclamations, including violent and non-violent uprisings against an oppressor (Jesus was, in my opinion, caught up in, and also struggling against, the dark side of such a movement). People have been manipulated by this longing for a long time.

Which leads me to my last comment, which is that I don’t like the manipulation in this video. Even as it decries TV for its sensational fear-mongering, it uses that very same medium to make us afraid, and then exploits that fear to choose a more satisfying spiritual resolution. This then feeds a meditation workshop industry which employs many people who benefit from videos like this.

Now please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are intentionally committing fraud or anything like that. I do think there’s some naivete going on here though. And for all the complaints that are made against Christians and organized religion among many of the folks who would love this video, this video is not much different from how priests and pastors have used fear of hellfire to emotionally manipulate their congregations, and then offering, as a satisfying alternative, the saving love of Jesus. Out of sheer relief that they are not going to burn in eternal hellfire, they readily accept the alternative, without employing the healthy skepticism they would otherwise bring to the conversation. And, how convenient that this also builds up their churches and makes the preachers fat and happy! Again, naivete plays a role here: most of them, I’m sure, sincerely believe in hellfire – but nonetheless they exploit that fear so that people will uncritically accept the very attractive alternative they offer.

This video is nowhere near that on the evilness scale – in fact, as mythology I think it’s powerful in a good way, and may well motivate people to seek inner peace and work for the good of the planet. That’s all good. I just think the idea that meditation will spark a global revolution in consciousness and bring about an era of social justice is little more than magical thinking; and I really don’t trust that guy with the hair, talking about electromagnetic fields.

I would love to be wrong on that one, by the way. What an amazing thing, if true!
So it’s not all bad. I choose a different mythology, however – a mythology that has many compatibilities with this one – but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Thanks for listening, ML+

Monday, March 14, 2011

Innocent Killing

We are all praying for the victims of the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I’m sure we’re looking for ways to help; if you have a checkbook on you, or can find an envelope in which to put some cash, just write “Japan” on the memo line of your check or on the envelope and we will make sure that it gets to Episcopal Relief and Development, which is rushing assistance to the Diocese of Tohoku, which has been hit hard by the disaster.

When I heard about the tsunami on Friday, I turned the TV on and watched the stunning footage with disbelief, as I’m sure many of you did. The bit of video I still can’t get over was the sight of a fairly large ship, swept onto its side and rolling around, carried by this massive influx of water like a plastic toy in a bathtub, and you could see it headed toward a building. It looked to me like there were people, bobbing up and down, also caught in the same current, between the boat and the building, and I thought about the lives that were hanging in the balance, completely at the mercy of the random action of the water. I could see that if the boat revolved slowly it would hit the building broadside and crush those people; but if the boat turned just a little more quickly it might not hit the building at all and maybe the people would survive. Then the frame shifted and I couldn’t see what happened next.

As I was watching that massive, unrelenting destruction I found a voice within me rising in protest: This isn’t right, it was saying. I found myself begging the wave to have mercy on those caught in its grip – as if the wave could hear me; as if it cared. And then it hit me with renewed force just how brutal this world can be.

It sounds stupid now even to say something so obvious, but what the video captured for me was just how unthinking this killing was: that wave was not conscious of the people in its path; it was dumb, silent, unfeeling; the worst kind of monster – one with no reason, no mercy or pity.

The wave moved along in blissful ignorance of the destruction it brought. The wave, like the rest of the natural world, was in that way innocent, even as it killed.

This state of innocence is the elemental truth found this morning in the ancient story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden (Genesis 2:15-3:7). Sometimes we might find ourselves thinking that this is a story about a non-violent paradise – but it’s really a story about the innocence of a world that has no self-consciousness. It’s a story about the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – which is the difference between us humans, and that tsunami.

Unlike that wave, we can see the destruction that we cause, and we know it’s a bad thing. We have eaten of that fruit of the knowledge of good and evil; for us, unlike that wave, killing can never be innocent.

When I was a child I saw my adorable standard poodle tear across an open field, chasing down a rabbit, and kill it cleanly with a snap of the neck. Then she came trotting back to me, the bloody rabbit between its teeth, and she was as happy and as proud of herself as a child coming home from school with straight A’s.

I never looked at her quite the same after that.

In the wild – the Garden of Eden, where there is no self-consciousness, no knowledge of good and evil – there is no remorse, no guilt. Until we came along, the world spun about on its axis for millions and millions of years, species evolving and going extinct on the principle of kill or be killed, and all of it as un-self-consciously innocent as that wave that hit Japan.

And then we come along, with our knowledge of good and evil, and with this gift we are categorically separated from the rest of creation. We are cast out of the garden of innocence: the Garden of blissful ignorance, the Garden of simple animal existence, the Garden in which death and life is all the same, and poodles chase down rabbits in perfect bliss.

So then: what do we do with our guilt? How do we release ourselves from it?

Well, we begin by inventing the law; we make distinctions between good and bad; and we try to enforce the law as best we can. But we discover to our dismay that the law does not restore us to the Garden of innocence; that as much as we try to live our lives in obedience to what we believe to be good, we are still animals, but guiltily; we are still killers; and there is no paradise, no place that will restore our innocence. In Paul’s terms, with the law there is always, also, condemnation.

So what do we do?

Well, along comes Jesus, who creates for us, if you will, a third stage in our evolution. If the first stage is the Garden of Eden, and the second stage is this guilt and this sense of alienation from the rest of creation, the third stage is what Jesus brings.

Consider: when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) he was offered all the elements of evolutionary advantage: abundant food; physical invulnerability; limitless power. If he had been an ordinary alpha-male, just another strong man seeking advantage, he would have seized upon those advantages. He would have become the ultimate Muammar el-Qaddafi.

But instead he saw a new path.

As the world all around him was fulfilling its evolutionary destiny, seeking more strength; more power; more resources; seizing the advantages and opportunities offered to them, Jesus answered a call to a new way of being. Not a return to the old Garden of innocent violence, but a new place – a new creation that he called the Kingdom of God.

Jesus invited us into an evolution toward compassion and peace, rather than ruthless competition. Jesus would rather have fasted for the sake of mercy and compassion than to have eaten like an animal whatever food was offered to him. He would rather have served humanity than dominate it.

If there is a tsunami here, it is a tsunami of love, accessible to us through our relationship to God through Christ and the Holy Spirit. Ironically, it is the very consciousness that separates us from creation, the very same capacity for choice that cast us out of the Garden, that is our pathway to this new creation.

Because unlike the rest of the natural world, we have the capacity to choose love.

When Jesus rejects the advantages that are offered to him by the devil, he is not making choices that any self-respecting animal would make. No, these are the choices that a god would make. The same choices available to us, through Christ who lives in us.

As we are called to follow Jesus, we are called into the perfection of our humanity. We are called into a new paradise: made real through him; a paradise in which the sum total of all our vain striving, the sum total of all our evolutionary struggle, is brought to fulfillment and perfection in love.

Now our purpose is no longer merely to survive. Our purpose is to love. Our purpose is to serve. And to that purpose we dedicate our lives, our hearts, our souls; even, perhaps, our genetic heritage.

Now, more than ever, we are called to choose love over evolutionary advantage.

Because it is our evolutionary advantage that is leading us to extinction. Our ability to dominate and to kill is now so advanced that we threaten the very survival of our own species.

Now, more than ever, we need to follow the example of Jesus in the desert. Calling upon the power of God, made manifest in compassion and reason, we need to learn how to renounce resources, not seize them; we need to learn how to let go of our power, not impose it; so that we might live in greater balance with the earth. We need to develop our capacity for compassion for all species, because they are the key to our own survival.

And so like Jesus in the desert, we stand before God and we say yes to our humanity.
We declare that in Christ, the new creation is fulfilled. The new Adam has arrived. And in defiance of millions of years of self-serving behavior we declare, with Paul, that in Christ we live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, that we may find our perfection in him, who lives and reigns, now and forever.
… Amen.