Unfortunate worship service

With the Swedenborgians on a two-week hiatus, I thought I’d try worship elsewhere, and had my father’s mother’s ancestors in mind when I tried a nearby church, since this would be the church they would have attended had they visited Washington in 1904.

Well, I’ll never get that hour and a half back. Here are some of the things that put this church on my “never again” list.

  • I knew it was a bad sign when the service was scheduled for a half-hour later than usual for that church, supply preacher notwithstanding. (I went to grab a cup of coffee and a bagel, and ran into Terrance’s husband and their son, and gave them a second shot.)
  • There were six visitors, myself included, and this couldn’t have more obvious. We were the one in short sleeves and were a third the age of the dozen or so members in attendance. Even so, we were shuttled to the visitors book (acceptable) but then were singled out by name and asked to wave. (Unacceptable.) I left my address so I’ll report back if I get anything in the mail.
    Mind you, I’ve been to this church four times before, and had lunch with its settled minister once. But that doesn’t stop them from not remembering me, even to say “I believe you’ve been here before.” All the visitors bolted after the service, in part no doubt, because there was no direction to the promised coffee hour. (The members milled and visited, and the supply minister stood by the wrong door, or rather a convenient door, because it was the way out.)
  • This church appears to be on the conservative side of a liberal denomination. I say appears because every sermon I’ve heard there is of the post-Vietnam social justice variety. We’re invited to follow the example of (a) a Biblical figure and (b) some oppressed person. Some half-hearted emotional arm-twisting follows, and at the end the congregation is “challenged” to make a life-changing move. Many of my readers know this kind of preaching, and from the deadened looks of the congregation today, so did my pew mates.
  • The order of the service was complicated, involved flipping through their hymnal at least ten times, and the hymns were long and keyed for castrati.
  • If I never see another ill-fitting, bargain-basement “cassock-alb” again it will be too soon.

Weddings memories

Getting a touch sentimental – and refreshed in my convication on the value of marriage. Going back and doing some long overdue record keeping. After every wedding I do, I keep a copy of the marriage licence (or, if a wedding service between two persons of the same sex, some other record of the day) and now I’m reducing the information onto a spreadsheet. If I don’t do it now, some of the carbonless copies (as they use in DC) I have will fade and be unreadable.

I enjoy seeing the wedded couples I’ve married. I can’t believe I’ve married so many friends, and at the last service I had in Georgia, I there were two couples present whose services I’ve done. A good feeling that.

Verging towards reality

The genre of reality television is my new vice. (If you watch network TV, what option do you have?) Tonight’s entry, Amish in the City had the makings of something tawdry and insulting.

What happened? I was as good a model for exploring differing worldviews in microcosm that TV is likely to produce, and for your (first) hour’s viewing you get.

  • insight on how a consumer society can deeply threaten the fabric of traditional societies.
  • a notion on how re-entrenchment is an understandable, but fruitless, response by some traditionalists.
  • evidence of how clueless “consumerists” (as a value-neutral term for what we are) are (or at least can be) in appreciating other cultures

A more riviting series might be Taliban in the City – but that’s more Fox’s schtick. Until then, you can catch a repeat of the first episode, on UPN, this Friday.

THK’s faux-nauticalism

My dear friend Banshee (at the risk of getting a raised eyebrow from her) has it wrong, wrong, wrong about Theresa Heinz Kerry.

The most she is guilty-of is misusing a nauticalism. In context, it sounds like she sould have said “shove off” rather than “shove it.” She doesn’t sound the type to put up with taunts, and more power if she gave this would-be journalist his walking papers. Heck: even if she meant the latter, at least she spared us the exact identity of the shoved, and its destination. How many of us are so innocent?

The vice president, by contrast, just seems vicious and vulgar: indeed, it seems the MO of the administration. (I’m still slack-jawed over the “let’s not call it torture” and “it’s Cuba, not the U.S.” antics over at Justice. The administration has the credibility of a frat house, if not the manners.)

Why the distinction? Degree matters. To relativize and flatten legitimate differences encourages civil people to act as outrageously as possible. (The Democrats were right to focus on wisdom last night; how preciously we need some.)

In any case, I’d put Mrs. Heinz Kerry’s philanthropy and life-work against the vice president’s political version of war profiteering any day of the week. There’s a comparison that’s more substantial than the school-marm hobby of counting naughty phrases.

Christianity suspected in Russia

My new guilty pleasure is the CBS almost-reality show, The Amazing Race. This week, the remaining dyads made it from Patagonia to St. Petersburg. Each team had a challenge in the latter city: drink a shot of vodka “Cossack-style” (with the glass balanced on the broad side of a sword; I kept wondering how much the troup of “Cossacks” got paid for the gig) or fend off five half-hearted shots from a hockey player.

One of the teams is made of devoted Christians, and they were one of only three teams who chose flying pucks over spirits. Granted, there are good reasons not to drink. A history of alcoholism, or, a weak stomach, say. But their reason – or rather the guy in the couple’s reason; his girlfriend wasn’t so insistent – to choose the slap shots was that they were Christians. And Christians don’t drink. Uh, yeah, and that was Welch’s that Jesus made at Cana.

Again, there are good reasons not to drink alcohol. But I hate to see it when Christianity is used as an all-purpose prohibition, and a way of lifting up standards of morality that may or may not have anything to do with Christian faith.

Or perhaps that my way of getting off the hook: I do confess a tickled (un-Christian?) glee in seeing some contestants turning green in the face of eating a kilogram of second-rate caviar. Where were the blini?

Summer reading: Huston Smith

My summer bus to-and-fro’ work reading is Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief by Huston Smith. His The World’s Religions probably rests on more UU congregational library shelves than the Bible.

I’m digging into it, and it is a plain and popular (but hardly simplistic) review of the worldview claims of traditional cultures, modernity, and postmodernity. And when you need a worldview (and you do need one) Smith puts his money on tradition culture, if with caveats.

The current Convention makes me reflect on the old saw that Unitarian Universalism is the “Democratic Party at prayer” – which is huberis – and reinforces my gut-feeling that our fellowship might be modernity trying to make a religion for itself. Which begs (as a : to what or whom would be be praying? To the delusion of a transcendent being? After all, scientific materialism wouldn’t recognize another option. (To tell you the truth, it gives me the creeps when I meet Humanists who express contentment or even joy that they ‘know’ they live in an impersonal universe.)

Little wonder we make jokes about prayer being optional. A joke is easier to make than a prayer, if the act of prayer brings your core assumptions into basic doubt. (Don’t believe the hype that we really like doubt that much. We like options, and doubt can leverage options.) Of course, as a Christian, I have to question a spiritual relationship I have with others in the Unitarian Universalist fellowship if prayer to God cannot be included.

Back to the book: others have wisely said more than this about liberalism and its captivity to modernity, but I have a feeling that Smith’s book, which came out in 2001, might offer something for those new to the discussion.

The incomplete word and Israel

I will restore their fortunes, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes along with theirs, in order that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all that you have done, becoming a consolation to them. Ezekiel 16:53-54

Hubby and I lazed in bed this morning, the lures of congregational worship failing. I suppose it was bound to happen.

But I felt bad for not attending worship, or even attending to my morning and evening prayers. (But I shall still pray for all those I promised. Fear not.)

I went and looked at the lectionary readings for the Sunday. I have to confess disappointment with the two Old Testament selections, especially given the Christian history of treating Jews (and their canon of scripture) as inferior, especially in the moral sense.

The first option was from the first chapter of Hosea, where the prophet marries a prostitute and they have children with name of alientation and rejection. The second option is Abraham’s bargaining with God not to destroy Sodom and Gommorah. And we know how that one turned out.

Or do we? Turning to a prophet we find Sodom’s fortunes restored, and in the second chapter of Hosea we find his children’s alientation reversed. Each is a tonic to the kind of dualistic (and moralistic) thinking that bleeds into Christian faith as regularly as the tides.

Or, cutting to the chase, Christians have a vested interest in burying supercessionism (the belief that in Christ, the promises made by God to the Jews are void) and this thought comes from Karl Barth if not others: if God could break promises with the Jews, then why wouldn’t God break promises with the Christians?

Those on the left-hand side of things tend to avoid these questions with a ten-foot pole, leaving those on the right-hand side a lot of easy play, and with it unearned authority on matters of Israel: the people and the political state.

To bring us to today, I think our (US) Israel policy has been a disaster. It seems to breed the kind of resentment in ordinary Muslims that makes extremists when previously there were few. Israeli policy towards the Palestinians today recalls some of the most repressive political regimes of the last century, and as Americans we’re tied into defending them.

Liberals are easily cowed by facile charges of anti-Semitism. If we can address those vestiges of anti-Semitism in our worship and faith, perhaps we would have the resources, strength, and credibility to not confuse real anti-Seminitism with an easy ploy to divert our (American and Christian) attention from what we cannot defend.