There has been a "strange nexus in the Force" this week, as many things I've been reading, and hearing, have pointed in (primarily) the same direction. The first was aninterview with two leaders among, what are called, the "New Evangelicals". One was Jim Daly, the new president of Focus on the Family; the other was Gabe Lyons a younger man who is the founder of a sort of TED-like group called "Q: Ideas for the Common Good". Daly was picked to follow upon Focus's founder, James Dobson. Lyons was brought up in Lynchburg, VA, the home of Jerry Falwell's church and college (Liberty University) -- and he was a product of all that Lynchburg offered.
In the interview, both men realized that the presentation of Christianity that they had inherited was increasingly viewed with suspicion (especially among the younger generation), and was not necessarily what THEY understood the Christian message truly to be about. Daly pointed out that his organization had been "gentle to those inside" and "harsh to those outside" the faith-boundaries. And, he observed, Jesus' behavior was exactly the opposite: calling to task the "religious" folks, and welcoming those from without the fold. He suggested that members of religious traditions (in his, case, certainly, Christians) should spend more time calling their own to faithfulness instead of lambasting the culture for not living up to the standards the faithful themselves couldn't achieve.
I have also been reading the New Testament book, the Acts of the Apostles. This is a story of the early expansion of the Christian movement in the first few decades after the death of Jesus. In a couple of places, the apostle Paul (and his message) comes into contact with significant centers of Greco-Roman culture: Athens and Ephesus. Athens, of course, was a center of learning and philosophy; Ephesus a great trade center, as well as cultic center for the goddess Artemis. In Athens, Paul observes (with some disappointment) how many "idols" dotted the city (Acts 17.22-32). Yet, in his speech to the citizens, he doesn't criticize the Athenians, but rather starts with their propensity to religiosity. That approach generates some dialogue. In Ephesus, the story was a bit different (Acts 19.23-41). After spending several years there, the early Christian community had been successful enough that, for some reason, some of the business folks felt threatened enough to stir up a mob. There is no indication in Acts that the Christians were being critical of the Artemis cult; they were apparently just keeping to themselves, but living a lifestyle that, itself, was perceived as a threat, perhaps because it was more attractive than the civic religion.
The third part of the nexus is simply all the political advertising to which we've been subjected these last few weeks (and which will only intensify over the next few). Both sides are spending vast amounts of money criticizing the other. Significantly fewer ads trumpet successes. The theory seems to be "Create fear of the other! And then we'll have a large group of fearful people who will vote the same way, although they may agree on little else!"
What are our own (individual and collective) strengths and weaknesses? Maybe focusing there might be a good idea. Who knows, if our own house were more attractive, we might get more visitors? Or, put another way, perhaps if we tend to our inner workings, we may get to the point where we can fly?
Friday, September 28, 2012
Friday, September 21, 2012
Last evening my wife and I went to a DU volleyball game; it was the team's first real home game of the year. We had learned to really enjoy volleyball last year, and had been looking forward to the fall for some time. We were not disappointed. It was an exciting match, and DU's ultimate victory (3-0) was the icing on the cake.
As Coach Mahoney said in a post-game tweet, the atmosphere was fun. And a lot of what made it fun was the presence of several of the other teams. Last year the men's swim team became de-facto cheerleaders (with a twist -- you'll have to attend a game to see what that is!). This year, the swim team was joined by the men's basketball who did their level best to distract the opposition. Given the fact that they were all dressed like refugees from a Jane Fonda or Richard Simmons aerobics video, that the other team was able to focus at all was a testimony to their training and focus. And then the gymnastics team, on the opposite side of the floor from us, was cheering loudly and doing cartwheels in the bleachers when we scored. Members of the Athletics administration, most of the fans, and we were smiling broadly throughout the match. It was fun; it was joyful.
After we got home, I was reflecting on the mood of the evening. The smiles. The laughter. The excitement. The joy. Joy. An emotion, or feeling, that we probably don't feel enough these days. The economy, armed conflicts abroad, a combative election season-all often serve to keep our mood, individual and collective, subdued.
I wonder what would happen, if we were to seek out, or work to create, more experiences of joy for ourselves and others. I know that I slept better last night than in many days. I awoke more refreshed, and with a better outlook for the day to come. So, I wonder if that infusion of joy could be compounded. That is, if there were more experiences, more often, my inner compass would re-orient slightly.
A ponderable. Can we cultivate joy?
One thing's for certain! Many more volleyball games this fall!
Friday, September 14, 2012
Indeed, over the five years I have been at DU, I've been a part of numerous funerals/memorials. It is always a humbling honor, to be invited into such a raw situation. One thing, however, profoundly has struck me over the last couple of weeks: I have wished I had known all of those folks better. A pretty common feature of memorial services in this day of PowerPoint or iPhoto slideshows is a video montage, drawing together moments of the individual's life. Added to that are all of the memories, professional and personal, that friends, family and colleagues bring to the ceremony. We often hear the favorite songs or poems. Themes arise. From housekeepers to administrators, students to professors, children to parents . . . every person has a story. A unique, funny, wrenching, gripping, everyday story. Memorials provide an opportunity to hear them, to share them, to marvel at the beauty of lives lived.
I often don't know the person being memorialized very well; sometimes I don't know them at all. But I often leave the service feeling like I've missed something by not knowing them. I know I can't know everyone, so that's not the point. It is rare enough to be invited into that inner circle for a moment . . . and I cherish it.
No, I can't know everyone. But I come into contact with folks every day; we all do. And for many reasons we often shrug off the opportunities to enter into the other person's story. We miss their richness because we're too busy, too pre-occupied. Or we may be too shy, too reticent, to share our lives. And I believe, given the experience of these last few months, we are poorer for it. Television. Internet. Fences. Distractions. All keep us apart, or provide excuses for making the connections we all crave.
We miss one another, in more ways than one.
I, for one, want to hear your stories now. So, interrupt me. Remind me of this. And hold me, and each other, accountable.
Friday, September 7, 2012
Not too long after that conversation, I heard an advertisement on the radio for some new weight-loss pill. "No harsh diet regimen! No exercise required!" the ad claimed. In short, all of the benefit, trouble-free! Just buy the pill!
On top of these "quick-fix pill" incidents, I read (and heard news reports on) former Pres. Clinton's statement at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday that "no president, not even me" could, in only four years, solve the problems the country faced in 2008. Yet we, as an electorate, seem to want immediate change in a system that, almost by design, resists such change. And, of course, we want the change to be painless for us; someone else can make the sacrifice.
And then I also heard a news report on some experiments about learning (from an audio source) while we sleep--no work required! As we anticipate the start of another academic year at the University of Denver, I'm sure that there are some on campus who wish that the research behind this study would translate into hard reality . . . NOW. Learning made easy; few demands!
I suppose it's not just "we as an electorate". It's part of our natural make-up that we avoid pain/suffering. But most of us know, too, that becoming better at something requires practice, some exercise, maybe some long hours devoted to a task. Losing weight via a pill is not the same as becoming healthy, which that awful "diet regimen and exercise" might help achieve. We've bought into a story that "looking good" is the same as achieving health.
The same phenomenon may be true in religion/spirituality. Some folk are highly conscious of following all the rules of a particular tradition (i.e. they appear "religious"), but have no depth of compassion. Others might want to "feel good" spiritually themselves, but find no compulsion to change unjust systems. Most historical traditions, however, recognize a variation on the old exercise adage: "No pain, no gain." The real benefits -- both for the individual and for others -- are found in practice, self-discipline, and service. How counter-cultural!
If we truly want change -- political, social, spiritual, emotional -- we're going to have to leave aside the wishes for a quick fix, for a magic pill, for a feel-good moment, and dedicate ourselves to do what it takes for the long haul.
All the best for a great academic year!
Saturday, September 1, 2012