Monday, August 10, 2009

The Chapel is Some Trees

And that's how it should be. I managed to get a hold of some photos from my wedding, and I present them now to you, completely out of order and with very little context:

I got Married!

It was a double ceremony. I married Jessica, and Carrie married Jessica. Stephen presided. Liv was our Ringbearer, Liesl the Flower Child. It was beautiful, as you can see.

I miss my dear wife, who lives very far away in Florida, and is going to the far away Pacific Northwest (for the best job ever) come October. But I am glad we shared the time we did, in that park in Pennsylvania, declaring our love to the world. One day we shall be reunited.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

On Happiness

It's rare that I read or hear something and think immediately "I disagree completely with your entire premise." This column, however, did that to me, and reminded me of this talk at Hampshire a few months ago, when some guy was saying that we should all be secular humanists because it is impossible to understand God and no religion has given us a good way to get close to him.

"We do each have a handful of those moments, the ones we only take out to treasure rarely, like jewels, when we looked up from our lives and realized: “I’m happy.” One of the last times this happened to me, inexplicably, I was driving on Maryland’s unsublime Route 40 with the window down, looking at a peeling Burger King billboard while Van Halen played on the radio. But this kind of intense and present happiness is heartbreakingly ephemeral; as soon as you notice it you dispel it, like blocking yourself from remembering a word by trying too hard to retrieve it. And our attempts to contrive this feeling through any kind of replicable method — with drinking or drugs or sexual seduction, buying new stuff, listening to the same old songs that reliably give us shivers — never quite recapture the spontaneous, profligate joy of the real thing. In other words be advised that Burger King billboards and Van Halen are not a sure-fire combination, any more than are scotch and cigars."
The talk at Hampshire (it was Dr. Philip Kitcher and you can watch it here if you really want) had an almost identical point somewhere in there- Kitcher made some literary reference about how some kid found God and felt all at one with the universe but then a few days later the feeling passed and his life sucked again. Kitcher used this to prove that these moments happen to us randomly and there's nothing we can do to make them more likely so we might as well give up and feel happy when they show up.

I disagree. I can't possibly agree because everything I've ever experienced tells me otherwise. I've felt deep incredible joy, and union with the very fabric of our being, and however else we wnat to try to describe that indescribable point- we all know it, and there are no words. Furthermore, those moments aren't random. I can make myself more open to them. I can attract them. There is a divine force that I am fully capable of tapping into, and while I don't get to that place every single day because sometimes life is really hard or I'm tired or I just get distracted, I'm getting a little better at getting there every time I try.

And it's not just prayer and meditation and the things conventional religion tells you to like. I've felt really and truly joyful and happy dancing, whether at a wedding or late at night in the Barn or in the middle of my room- that moment when my body and the music get exactly in synch and nothing else matters any more and I'm satisfied. Or that moment when I'm sitting around with my friends and we're laughing, just laughing. Or riding my bike and there aren't any cars on the road and I'm just watching the white line in front of me, going so fast and so easy.

The way Kreider writes about noticing happiness sounds exactly like meditation to me. You have to reach this point where there's no thought, and then when you notice the lack of thought, you're thinking again, and you have to start over. But you can get better at it. Monks have come up with all sorts of ways to help you, and I can't help but wonder if all these guys who say we can't get any closer than random blessed moments have just never met a monk. I've never met a currently practicing monk, either, but I read about them a lot, and I've met their students, and I'm pretty sure people are completely capable of learning to recognize our own fullness and our own happiness and the way we are all part of the divine.

It makes me sad when people don't know that.

Monday, July 27, 2009

She Walks Slowly

Hi there! Remember me? I am doing awesome things, but I don't want to talk about them. I just want to point you at some pictures of me and my sexy friends. Here you go!


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Twin

This is a fragment of a poem from the Cologne Mani Codex, and I think it is the best.

. . . reverently . . .
and I acquired him as my own possession.
I believed
that he belongs to me and is mine
and is a good and excellent counselor.
I recognized him
and understood that I am that one
from whom I was separated.
I testified
that I myself am that one
who is unshakable. . . .

In other news, there are pictures from DC and from dying eggs up at Picasa. I am writing finals. One day I will label and caption those lovely pictures, but today is not that day.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Down in the Flood

I've been deciding recently (along with everyone else, really) that every religion is just a slightly different cultural expression of the same basic truths. And I've been reading various Hindu texts recently, too, and now I have a nice little comparison chart that basically says that Hinduism and the Near Eastern Monotheisms (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) follow the same developmental cycle. It goes azoy:

Way back when, you have a group of people who worship some sort of god(s) who really like(s) sacrifices. This is the Vedic period of Hinduism, and it's ancient Judaism, along with all the other ancient religions of the Near East and even Greek and Roman religions. Judaism seems all special due to the whole monotheism thing, but Paula Fredrikson argues that everyone, even the Jews, was really henotheistic back then (basically only worshipping one main God, but believing in all these other lesser gods- the Jews called them demons, but they were exactly the same as the gods of their neighbors), which is exactly what a lot of Vedic tradition is- one hymn is dedicated to Agni, another to Surya, etc, and each one claims that it's chosen god is the supreme being. And it's not really that every Hindu believes that every god is supreme at some point, but more that various groups of brahmins focus on the sacrificial rites for various gods- not so different from the ancient polytheisms of the Near East and Mediterranean, eh? In Hinduism the years on this are about 2000-1100 BCE. For what I'm going to call the "Western religions," these things are definitely happening around then, but it really continues in that vein until at least 200 BCE and probably more until like 200 or 300 CE. (Hinduism remains about 400 or 500 years ahead of the Western religions for the rest of this development.)

So then, around 800 BCE, a bunch of charismatic Hindu sages (some brahmins, i.e. the traditional priests, but some not) start moving away from the cities and into the forest and starting ashrams, or communities of disciples, where they start teaching a more esoteric/mystical version of Vedic philosophy. Some of these ashrams get really radical and start totally new religions (Buddhism is the most prominent of these), but many of them continue to affirm the Vedic tradition, they just reinterpret it. These people compose the Upanishads, which speak about an ability to develop a more direct relationship with the divine, regardless of one's caste (or gender). Many of these sages are ascetics, and this is the time that various yoga practices become central.
Now, in the Near East, around the first century BCE or so, and continuing until the sixth century CE, all sorts of people, some traditional priests, but many not, start becoming charismatic leaders and reinterpreting their religious traditions. The ones you've probably heard of include people like Plato and Jesus, who of course got all sorts of disciples and each ended up founding new religions based on radical new interpretations of their respective traditions. And their followers started moving into the desert and getting disciples of their own and practicing ascetic lifestyles and renouncing the world to achieve spiritual fulfillment.
So now we have two or three religious traditions moving from sacrifical practice done by a special priestly class to a mystical vision of the world where ascetic practice allows any person (although only those who can renounce the world) to experience the divine.

And then, between 200 BCE and 200 CE, people in India start to rethink their religions. Two giant epic poems get written that reflect these new modes of thought. One of them, the Mahabharata, includes a section known as the Bhagavad-Gita, which explains a radical new way of experiencing Hinduism. In it, Krishna, an avatar of the god Vishnu, has a long conversation about the nature of life and the universe and everything with a man named Arjuna. Krishna explains various ways of connecting with the divine, but it ultimately boils down to the idea that anyone who loves God can connect with him.
In the Near East, in the sixth century CE, a man named Muhammad starts talking to an avatar of his God named Gabriel. Gabriel tells Muhammad all sorts of things about the nature of life and the universe, and presents a new interpretation of the religion Jews and Christians have been practicing for a while. This version focuses on things that every person can do within the confines of daily life to become beloved of God. (This is where I need to say that this is in fact different from Christianity- although modern Christian practice is very incorporated into daily life, this is only due to necessity. Jesus is always saying "leave everything and follow me." Early Christians were super anti-marriage and really into monasticism, both of which are really hard for ordinary people to conform to. Islam never wanted people to sell everything and give it to the poor, and it always affirmed things like marriage and having a job. Just as Judaism now has nothing to do with sacrifices, I am looking only at the early manifestations of each of these traditions.)

What does all this mean? Hell if I know. India and the Near East aren't that far from each other, and there is definitely documentation of Hindu Upanishadic practice influencing Near Eastern ascetics. Maybe this is just a natural progression of religions that want to be more relevant to more people over time (so they have to open up). Judaism made the same accomodations within itself that gave rise to Christianity and Islam. Hinduism is different because people who follow the Gita still affirm the entire Vedic tradition- there's more unity and fewer splinter groups. But you have things like Buddhism, which did splinter completely from Vedic Hinduism. One thing that I think I can pull from this is a theory of where other shamanic traditions that ultimately fell by the wayside may have moved- tribal religions of Africa, South America and Europe are very similar to early Vedic Hindusim. The word for an Upanishadic sage is the same Indo-European root as the English word "shaman" ("shramana"). (Indo-European, by the way, is the super-ancient language spoken by the ancestors of pretty much everyone who lives in Europe and India these days- all European languages except Hungarian, Finnish and Basque and pretty much all of the languages of India are related to each other.) Monotheism isn't a given, but people seem to prefer focusing on one god to dealing with a whole lot of them.

The obvious question that comes out of this is- what's the next step? It's been 1200 years since Islam began, and 1800 since the Gita became popular. Religion has changed in that time, but not nearly as much. I'd argue that what we call the Enlightenment and the rise of "secularism" is actually that new religion- scientists are a sort of priest, now. What that means, ultimately, I don't know.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


I got up early to eat something before sunrise and then go back to bed, and then I had a sudden revelation about what I might want my Div III to be. (Even when it hits me like this early in the morning, I'm afraid to commit to it.) So I'm writing it down so that I don't forget once I go back to sleep! And I'm writing it down publicly for feedback or dialogue or something!

Alright. So. I think, if I were to start my Div III tomorrow (or I guess even this morning when I get up for real) I would want to do it on Christian law. Obvs there's not a Christian version of halakha or sharia, but the RCC definitely has law and dogma, and most mainline protestant denominations at least take stances on controversial issues, so there's plenty to work with. I want to look at the ways that law has developed, and the ways it's interacted with Biblical interpretation, especially in the works of Paul. I'd want to see developments across time in areas like slavery, alcohol/temperance, women's rights, homosexuality, etc. I don't know yet if I'd focus on certain denominations or certain issues or what, 'cause this is kind of huge right now. But I know I want to work with Paul and Biblical scholarship/interpretation, and church law.

And those aren't things I knew 6 hours ago.

Friday, February 27, 2009

I've been spending tonight finally starting to pull my thoughts together to apply for these two super-sweet summer programs that I found. What's that, you say? I didn't post about them already? Well fortunately for you there are some websites you can look at if you're that into the minutiae of my life and you aren't my mom (who got these links weeks ago).
Center for Student Missions City Host
Pendle Hill Young Adult Leadership and Development Program
They're basically two programs that will give me a place to live and some food and also pay me (!!) to spend the summer talking about how I love Jesus a whole bunch (I do) and also doing some sweet community service work. But I have to apply! And that means that I have to write personal essays about my faith and my past service and all sorts of things! And I've never done that before! So that's where this blog entry comes in. If you are so inclined, I'd love to have some people read through some drafts of these statements and give me some feedback. What makes sense, what does not sound like something I should tell someone I want to give me money, what is lovely and touching and should be expanded on. I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about these sorts of things, but that doesn't mean I've figured out a very good way to do it.

Which means that I am going to have like 40 drafts of this thing. I'm working on one right now that just sort of follows my spiritual journey chronologically and that I may break down into themes and reorganize at some point. I'm not going to post it here because it will just take up so much space (it is almost 5 single-spaced pages, so I need to cut out about half of it), but I'll happily e-mail it to you. Just leave me a comment or shoot me an e-mail (as always oneseventy at gmail dot com) and I'll give you a copy.