Thoughtful Reflections on Religious Experience
Easter Monday 2009: The Post Modern Blues by RandyPozos on Tuesday 14 April 2009 12:14 am PDT
Borgognone 1510

Borgognone 1510

Easter time in the 21st century is a curious season. We are living in a time in which the rationality of the Enlightenment has been obliterated by the irrational violence and deconstruction of the Modern Era which ended with the creation of the atom bomb. In the 20th century we saw the the rise of the irrational as a counter to the idea of reason as the engine of human progress. Advances in science and engineering led to death on a massive scale whether in its industrial production form in the genocide of Jews and other peoples or its explosion from the sky in carpet bombing of Dresden or the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The darkness within the brilliance of the human heart and mind was also manifest in the Vietnam War epic movie “Apocalypse Now” based on the theme that facing the horror of one’s evil can only lead to self destruction.

So here we are on the cusp of the third millennium. Human progress seems more of an illusion. In fact, our Post-Modern sensibility is all about the inability of reason and science to get at ultimate truth. Everything is examined and found wanting. Physics has become the study of relativity, uncertainty, and mathematical models. Religion and philosophy are the products of language we create. The scriptures of Christianity are cultural creations which tell us more of the people who wrote them. They are robbed of their revelation.

Human romance and love are reduced to methods for the socio-biological dispersion of one’s genetic load. Religious experience is suspect because there is no way to know whether one is just engaging in psychological projection to create a hideout from the ultimate reality of the purposelessness of human existence. We are here by virtue of  a cosmic accident with a very low probability.

In our world, there is the torture and death of Good Friday but there is no need for a Resurrection or any life beyond our current suffering because it is not possible since we can never know the nature anything beyond nature with any certainty. So here is the greatest event of all human history and our greatest personal hope – the Resurrection and it is a non-event on a beautiful spring day that is to be borne with a grim courage in a time when miracles cannot happen.

The news is too good. Maybe that is why we are stuck on the Friday of Crucifixion. The pain we know is better than risking its loss in the certain joy of Resurrection. As people of the Resurrection we would have to leave too much behind – hurt, anger, fear, and death.

Resurrection of Christ - Mikhail Nesterov (late 1890s)

Resurrection of Christ - Mikhail Nesterov (late 1890s)

Jesús No Murio Por Mi

Jesus Did Not Die for Me

Holy Weekend
The time of customary rituals
Of words spoken a thousand times
A season of the silence of death
Fasting, resolutions, and processions
A time of self-contained euphoria
As it seems sin sees the ending
We already know
and will flood all with life
A shallow season of hypocrisy
“Happy Easter”

A season of churches in a thousand different ways
yet a thousand ways the same
Cannot say other than what they have always said
“Jesus died for our salvation”
But “You know what?”
Jesus didn’t die for me
Jesus died because of cowardice,
greed, arrogance, love of power
by those who did not understand his message
by those afraid of the new
by those who had made a god to their own stature
by those who did not accept his offer of life to the full
not for just a few but for all men and women.
That death did not save anybody
Not even those who believed that they are saved by Jesus.

What saved me and you
And continues to save
Is that Jesus who became a person
Who identified with the people
Who was a baby and cried,
Who was a boy and played
Who grew and worked
Who was called to a mission and took it on
Who paused before the pain of men and women
Who in solidarity of gestures, words, and actions
Who did not silence what had to be said
And who though fearful, moved ahead
out of love, sheer love.

It was not his death, so cruel and unjust.
It was his life!
If death can be salvation
Whan can resurrection mean?
What sense does it make to celebrate Easter?
Death does not save
Even if it scandalizes theology
Life saves.
That is why resurrection is the great cry,
The lead story, the great news of our time
For this the stone rolls aways, the tomb opens
And foot steps are heard in the garden

God raises up Jesus
To condemn death forever
To announce that Life has won out
and that faith in the this Jesus who lives
who conquers the mercenaries of terror
is the faith that saves and
is the faith that makes us free.
What Peter said with such clarity
“This same Jesus whom you crucified
God has made Messiah and Lord”.

Jesus did not die for me.
They killed Jesus!
Jesus died because they tortured him in a blind rage
Because they wanted to shut him up and make him disappear
And because the powerful have always killed Him.

Yes, Jesus was born for me.
He also lived for me,
He taught, healed, pardoned, loved and rose again for me
for you and and for everyone.

Jesus did not die for me
nor for you nor anyone else
Perhaps, some day
We will stop honoring his death
In order to begin celebrating His LIFE.

Gerardo Oberman

translated by Randolfo R. Pozos 2009

Paul Tillich on Grace – Quote of the Day by KathyPozos on Monday 17 November 2008 2:29 pm PDT
Autumn leaf color - Image from wikimedia
Autumn leaf color – Image from wikimedia

This reflection comes courtesy of Theologika trustee Terry Hershey, quoting theologian Paul Tillich.

“Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness.
It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life.
It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage.
Sometime at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying, “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know.
Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later.
Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much.
Do not seek for anything, do not perform anything, do not intend anything.
Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.
If that happens to us, we experience grace.”

Paul Tillich

May grace reach into your life and surpise you today and always. Amen.

Fidelius and Diabolus: The Not So Gay Marriage Dialog by RandyPozos on Monday 20 October 2008 5:24 pm PDT
Image taken from oneyearbibleimages.com

Image taken from oneyearbibleimages.com

Diabolus: How’s it going?

Fidelius: You know we can’t talk - why do you persist?

Diabolus: That might be true if I were the Devil, but what if I’m your conscience?

Fidelius: There are no views but those of the Church.

Diabolus: True, but what about Church teaching, which acknowledges the “Sensus Fidelium” or Sense of the Faithful?

Fidelius: Stop bugging me Diabolus.

Diabolus: How do you know that’s my name?

Fidelius: You’re tempting me to think for myself. You’re torturing me.

Diabolus: No one can control your mind and heart. What’s bothering you?

Fidelius: I will take my counsel from my confessor, not from a post-Pepperoni heartburn!

Diabolus: “Pepperoni.” What a great name! Why don’t you call me that?

Fidelius: You are what you are.

Diabolus: And what is that?

Fidelius: The Tempter, the Evil One.

Diabolus: Have I ever suggested that you do anything wrong? Did I set your eye to wandering or encourage you to blow up when the Angels didn’t make the pennant?

Fidelius: Good people are tempted under the guise of good.

Diabolus: So, you’re a good person?

Fidelius: Yes. Generally, that is.

Diabolus: So then, why are you thinking about “it” again.

Fidelius: What “it”?

Diabolus: You know. Your conflict about gays.

Fidelius: They’re disgusting, you know that.

Diabolus: That’s not an uncommon opinion.

Fidelius: They make me squirm - and now they want to get married!

Diabolus: So, you think that it would be better to encourage them to stay with promiscuity as opposed to having a life of fidelity?

Fidelius: There can be nothing good in an act that is “intrinsically evil”.

Diabolus: So, you mean that you and Cynthia have never done anything “kinky”?

Fidelius: Shut up. We’re married.

Diabolus: My point exactly. You know, pleasure in marriage used to be called concupiscence.

Fidelius: What’s that?

Diabolus: You know – messed up like everything else after the fall of Adam and Eve.

Fidelius: So now you presume to teach me moral theology!

Diabolus: No. You learned it at that expensive Catholic college. Remember – the one you drank your way through?

Fidelius: Yeah, but it was after Vatican II. They weren’t Catholic anyway.

Diabolus: You mean like old Father Sullivan, who came to class in his cassock with the old yellowed pages on St. Thomas Aquinas?

Fidelius: He was different.

Diabolus: Yeah - he made you sweat to get a “C”. Not like the easy liberal that you gave you a “B+” for some beer can “sculpture” you threw together at the last minute.

Fidelius: Yeah, he was real.

Diabolus: Wasn’t he the guy that told you to have a happy sex life when you got married?

Fidelius: How do you know that? That was in confession!

Diabolus: Remember? I was there.

Fidelius: All I felt was so dirty.

Diabolus: You thought that he was going to throw the book at you.

Fidelius: Yeah, but he didn’t.

Diabolus: But there was a sin you didn’t confess.

Fidelius: What do you mean?

Diabolus: You remember. The time you stopped your fraternity brothers from beating up David Farnsworth, the fag?

Fidelius: He wasn’t gay - besides, “fag” isn’t politically correct.

Diabolus: Yeah. That’s why you found him dying in the AIDS ward a few years later at St. Mary’s, when you were helping the administration get their finances in order! A young guy out of business school and you go through the wrong door!

Fidelius: He never had a chance.

Diabolus: What do you mean? We all have free will. We all make choices.

Fidelius: His only moral choice was not to have sex.

Diabolus: He could have had a partner. You know - spend their lives together and all that? Maybe adopt a kid?

Fidelius: It would have been one mortal sin piled on another. He’d be deeper in Hell than he is now.

Diabolus: You don’t believe that.

Fidelius: Well, I heard Fr. Sullivan got to him before it was too late. But Purgatory’s no picnic.

Diabolus: So why did you pay for the Plenary Indulgence for him?

Fidelius: I didn’t pay for it. I just made an offering.

Diabolus: Strange. All this good will. Did you have a thing for this guy?

Fidelius: He was a guy. Got it? Like anybody. He deserved some decency, some respect.

Diabolus: But not a home.

Fidelius: He wasn’t homeless. He was making good money as an attorney.

Diabolus: No one to come home to; just work, parties, the bars …

Fidelius: He knew marriage was for straights. He was a good Catholic.

Diabolus: Yeah right. A gay can be a good Catholic; as likely as the Good Samaritan.

Fidelius: The Samaritan was real.

Diabolus: Maybe - or was he just a way for Jesus to show up the “good” people who had no compassion?

Fidelius: We can’t encourage gay culture. We’d be undermining the family; the basis of society.

Diabolus: Right. We can’t encourage a culture of life and fidelity.

Fidelius: It’s wrong. Remember, God made Adam and Eve – not Adam and Steve.

Diabolus: An interesting piece of demagoguery, but it doesn’t seem very compassionate.

Fidelius: The kids’ll get the wrong idea. They’ll think it’s okay.

Diabolus: Is that why so many gay people hate themselves?

Fidelius: It’s not my problem.

Diabolus: David became your problem when you saved him from that pack of apes.

Fidelius: I would have done it for anybody. Nobody deserves that kind of hate.

Diabolus: So where do you stop on this slippery slope?

Fidelius: It’s easy. The Church says, don’t beat ‘em up but don’t let ‘em get married.

Diabolus: That’s why you and Cynthia have only 3 kids - after 20 years?

Fidelius: We couldn’t have afforded more kids. You know that. With Cynthia’s problems it probably would have killed her.

Diabolus: So you love your wife more than God?

Fidelius: There’s a difference between God and the Church.

Diabolus: So who’s being the Devil now?

Fidelius: It’s in the Apostles Creed… “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.” Toward the end it says “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”

Diabolus: Conscience. That weasel thing you picked up from those liberal priests!

Fidelius: It was a Vatican II thing. I had to write a paper on it.

Diabolus: So you did learn something!

Fidelius: Only because Fr. Sullivan made me re-write it 3 times.

Diablolus: I can’t imagine St. Thomas being on the side of conscience. He was a real theologian – and a saint.

Fidelius: Yeah. It’s a big thing for him – like it was for those Moslems philosophers he studied.

Diabolus: They only blow up stuff.

Fidelius: Conscience. You know - ”formed according to the teaching of the Church.”

Diabolus: So why did Aquinas end up on the list of forbidden books so long?

Fidelius: He was accused of subjecting God to human reason.

Diabolus: Well I gotta go. Time “to prowl about seeking the ruin of souls”.

Fidelius: What about me?

Diabolus: You’re hopeless!

Fidelius: Hopeless?

Diabolus: Just the opposite, I’m afraid. No sale here today.

Fidelius: What about gay marriage?

Diabolus: Deciding that by a crowd? I like lynchings. Remember? But you know, it’s not my thing. You should look at that WMD “weapons of mass destruction” bracelet you wear.

Fidelius: It’s WWJD! What would Jesus do?

Diabolus: Yeah. I wonder. Later dude.. out’a here..

Memory, Identity, and Resurrection by RandyPozos on Thursday 10 April 2008 1:03 pm PDT

sky-computer-generated.jpg

This Easter Season, I have been puzzling over why the people who lived with Jesus and shared the intimacies and hardships of his travels didn’t recognize him when they encountered the Risen Christ.

I have been reading Oliver Sacks’, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, and came across the notion of emotional memory. Sacks relates the very tragic case of a brilliant music scholar and choral director who suffers an almost total amnesia as the result of encephalitis. He had no episodic memory, which meant that everything kept popping into existence all of the time. However, his ability to sight read and play music from memory was quite intact. He also “recognized” his wife and clung to her. Apparently, according to Sacks, our physical and emotional memory is somehow distinct from our memory of events past and present. It is something much deeper. He also states that our development of episodic memory comes to the fore after the age of two. In those first two pivotal years we develop deep emotional bonds. Learning music, riding a bike, and other types of motor learning have their own place outside of episodic memory. The bonds of deep love even transcend the loss of memory of specific events.

The scene in the garden with the Risen Christ and Mary of Magdala has always resonated deeply within me. Mary is still in a serious state of shock on top of her tremendous grief. Her disorientation seems almost complete when she hears her name in the music of a voice that transcends the memory of events.

So many oceans of ink and uncounted forests have been lost to the question of how we can find the Jesus of history. The disciples left us stories and experiences that are far beyond episodic memory. Their invitation is catechetical – an invitation into the mystery of a love and relationship so intense it is beyond time and memory.

Easter Communion or Condemnation? by RandyPozos on Monday 31 March 2008 1:15 pm PDT

holy-communion.jpg

To receive communion during the Easter season has been a long established precept of the Catholic Church. It is a practice that we should examine more closely. To receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist requires one to be in the state of grace – free of serious or mortal sin. We are advised – wisely – to put our souls in order. We are to turn away from sin and return to the community through the grace of absolution. There must be peace and love in our hearts and a definite change in our lives.

Fr. Burke, a Discalced Carmelite from Australia, expands on the notion of communion in terms of our living out the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in our shared lives as Catholics and Christians. In his article, “St. Teresa and Two Spiritualities in the Church Today,” at http://www.carmelite.com/, Fr. Burke explains St. Teresa of Avila’s views on legalism as opposed to true and complete union with God and each other. It is well worth reading.

Fr. Burke has put into words what I have been feeling ever since I read selections from the popular blog, Cafeteria Closed, by Gerald Naus, who writes as Gerald Augustinus. Naus came to the United States from Austria in 1997. A former Jehovah Witness, he became a Catholic in 2005. His views are decidedly Restorationist. Unfortunately, they are generally stated in tones of arrogance, condescension, or condemnation. His posts on culture, politics, and religion are inflammatory and provocative, akin to those of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, except that Catholicism is now the justification for neo-fascism. Naus’s recent post, On the Status of Palestinian Education, uses photos and a few inflammatory lines to libel all young Palestinian men. One might argue that many of Naus’s views are Catholic in the officially regressive sense, but there seems to be little of Christian charity or communion about them. From this narrow point of view anyone who does not agree with him is wrong and should be attacked. As a major blogger, Naus has a large following in which to sow his seeds of dissension.

You will know them by their fruits. (Mt 7:20)

Easter Tide: The Age of Faith by RandyPozos on Sunday 30 March 2008 11:23 pm PDT

christ-carmelite-icon.jpg

It’s all so obvious – right? Jesus is Risen. The women and men closest to Him have all seen Him, touched Him.

Yet they only recognized Him with difficulty. St. Mary of Magdala’s grief was not broken until Jesus called her by name. The Apostles recognize Him with difficulty and Jesus takes the initiative to introduce Himself. There is an air of surprise – an awkwardness that Jesus breaks with the greeting used by Angels and other heavenly visitors, “Peace be with You”. It is easy enough to see this as a blessing, but not as the gesture of reassurance that it is. The Risen Christ is not the historical Jesus that He was. Beyond time and space, the Divine Word – God Eternal – is now and ever was.

We can all now live in the Risen Christ and He in us.

“Without seeing you, We love you;

Without touching you, We embrace;

Without knowing you, We follow;

Without seeing you, We believe.”

- David Haas, “Without Seeing You”, from the album “Glory Day”.

Dance: The Easter Sacrament by RandyPozos on Monday 24 March 2008 10:49 pm PDT

dancing-children-nolde-1913.jpg

Yesterday on Easter Sunday, we sang a second communion hymn in Spanish and English “Resucitó” (He Is Risen). The latin beat, punctuated by conga drums and a driving bass line, turned most of us cradle Catholics into momentary Baptists, as our middle class “cool” gave way to clapping, toe tapping and widespread joyous singing. We were too well brought up to be too demonstrative, but this did not stop the smaller children from launching into a marvelously free dance of joy, aided by their older siblings. It was all in keeping with our name – Resurrection. Granted, we are not the most conventional group, which is saying something in Santa Cruz County. The concluding bars were punctuated by “gritos,” those characteristically Mexican musical shouts of joy, from the smaller children, whether Mexican or not. Things got more animated when we ended Mass with the spiritual, “O They Rolled The Stone Away”.

Terry Hershey, in the March 24, 2008 issue of his newsletter, Sabbath Moments, is also carried away by dance. Yes, Easter Week is a time to stop pursuing happiness and to just be happy.

Easter: Not Recognizing the Risen Christ by RandyPozos on Monday 24 March 2008 3:39 pm PDT

mary-magdalene.jpg

The very core of Christianity is the amazing tenacity of the believers to assert the impossible – a man publicly tortured to death rose from the dead. What is even more surprising is that they did not recognize Him.

Seeing loved ones after they are dead is not that uncommon among those stricken with grief. According to psychologists, this delusion always produces an immediately recognizable image of the dead person.

One of the most affecting scenes in the Gospel is the encounter between that most faithful of disciples, Mary of Magdala, and the Gardener in the Gospel According to St. John, Chapter 20: 10-18.

Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ “

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

In the the other encounters of the disciples with the Risen Christ, there is a similar pattern. The very people who lived with Him on a daily basis, shared His travels, and even argued with Him, didn’t recognize Him. The reality was so much beyond a delusion of grieving friends and followers, so much beyond irrational expectation, that we only get a glimpse of how preposterous it was in the expressed doubts of Thomas. (John, chapter 20)

More than any other event in the Gospels, the stories of the empty tomb, the encounters, the general chaos that occurred is hard for us to fathom, let alone appreciate, since we have heard the story so many times. The story of the suffering and death of Christ is always muted for us because we know how the story ends. The men and women who followed Jesus were more bewildered and confused on that first Easter because what they heard was so outlandish.

The term for Easter in Romance languages drives from Passover – “Pascua” in Spanish and Italian, and “Paques” in French. Since the English term doesn’t bear this heavy direct reference to Passover – the Passover of the Lord – we can miss a key fact of experiencing the Resurrection – being led out of bondage is a tumultuous, confusing, and fearful process. We can cope with grief, disillusionment, and grinding oppression, finding comfort in cynicism, skepticism, or addiction. Resurrection for us is only a painful beginning, an inconvenient surprise, getting stretched on a rack of hope.

Having seen the worst, Mary of Madgala, like us, could conceive of only the worst when she saw the empty tomb. These glorious “men” in white must have taken the only memento left of the Teacher whom she so desperately loved. Where was his body? She had come to do the courageous and loving act allowed to women of her time. But there was no body.

Everything shattered when she heard her name, in a voice that no other could have uttered. Her love would only cause more problems. Are we ready for that?

Holy Thursday on the California Coast by RandyPozos on Thursday 20 March 2008 11:42 am PDT

cal-coast-spring.jpg

Holy Week on the California coast, from Pt. Mendocino above San Francisco to the Mexican border, is a place of spring time sun, deep blue skies, and blossoming flowers. At the Equinox, the ocean loses its grayness and picks up more yellows, subtle greens and muted turquoise. The salt air becomes more pungent, as the kelp forests put on new growth to accommodate the explosion of trillions upon trillions of sea plants and animals. The succulents and coastal chaparral burst out in purples, roses, and pinks, peppered with the bright yellow of sour grass blossoms. The Santa Cruz redwoods seem to stretch, fresh washed from the winter storms, looking forward to the morning and evening fog that gives them sustenance and flourishes their layered ecosystems that change every 20 feet upward, dancing in the dappled ray filled sunlight of the forest canopy.

It is a time of happiness and rejoicing. Sunglasses come out, flip flops slap the pavement, and shorts replace the winter denim, even though the day time temperatures are barely in the mid-60s. It is the coming of First Summer, before the Fog Season that begins on Memorial Day in late May and ends on Labor Day in early September. On the Central Coast, we host our first guests during Spring Break and settle in to enjoy the peaceful days before our June to August onslaught of shivering, fog-bitten visitors and their much welcome tourist dollars.

Aren’t we supposed to be down or at least subdued during Holy Week? How can we rejoice Saturday evening and Easter if we have somehow not rationed that joy? We should at least lament our unfaithful adherence to our Lenten resolutions – right? Christ’s terrible torture and death stayed the arm of a rightfully vengeful Father, so shouldn’t we show at least some token of fear for not being swept out into hellfire? If God’s Spring and Passover are any indication, maybe Cotton Mather had it wrong. Maybe we are a lot more than “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God.”

If we, and all creation, are the overflowing love of the Trinity, are we the products of a God who can somehow demand the death of the the Eternal Word Made Flesh, God’s very immediate recognition and instantaneous self-acceptance, who shares the eternal dance of the Three in the joy of the Holy Spirit? Yes, much of the language that shapes our souls is a reflection of the fallen world where the Word “pitched his tent” – the actual Greek expression we use in the Creed. Yes, Jesus died and saved us in his rising from the dead. Yes, Jesus is the Lamb of God. Yes, we are the reason, we are his motivation for sharing our lives and submitting to the capital punishment of being tortured to death by an occupying superpower. Perhaps, the gravest sin of pride is to even think that we were the cause. Yes, God as Love couldn’t bear to leave us to the fate of hatred, despair, and alienation.

Why should people celebrating their rescue be glum, depressed, lost in narcissistic guilt? Why is this night different from any other night? It is the Passover of the Lord. If we are not washed in joyful Spring, can we share the Passover meal? Can we have any part in Him?

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