07 April 2006

"There is Bad Religion, Just Like There is Bad Art and Bad Cooking."

So said Karen Armstrong last night at an Episcopal Church in Oakland. She's right. Since the acoustics and mic system weren't so hot as she spoke last night, I meditated for most of the event. As her voice faded in and out about nonviolence, the axial age, and the meaning of love, I imagined myself walking around on the ceiling of the huge urban church. I pictured myself as an alien observer: all these humans had gathered to hear what this famous woman had to say. It was very meaning-of-life, universal-human-family type stuff. One man said he had been so inspired by her work that he felt she was a saint. Karen's message made it a good time to imagine myself as alien observer. She spoke of all roads leading to God, loving your fellow human, the human family, human ethics. I felt like it was a speech called, "The World and Everything and Always in 45 minutes or less."

Why didn't I feel much inspired by such a universalizing of the human spirit and the human predicament? I can't quite say. I agree with her that bad religion is the kind that draws too many lines where there can be open space, that sees black and white where there is technicolor, that is concerned with who's in and who's out. I agree that it's much like bad art and bad cooking for me, too, because when I encounter it, it sorts of turns my stomach, invokes a laugh, and I move on. I think my struggle with thinkers like Karen Armstrong and Joseph Campbell is that I don't know where to engage their thoughts. The experience I have is either: "Yeah, I know, let's get on with working on specific injustices" or: "This isn't nuanced enough; it's oversimplifying things." I haven't seemed to find a place for it in my aha-moments box yet.

Our prospective student event here at the seminary is drawing to a close. On the student panel portion, one question we got was particularly provoking: How does our community deal with crisis when it arises? It gave the four of us on the panel a chance to reflect on how things become crises in the first place - and how empowered we felt to take a problem or a question to the "right person" when the time comes. One student and I reflected afterward about my own personal struggle with the worship life of the seminary and how I've come to voice my questions and encourage community conversation about it. I've felt supported and well-challenged by my colleagues to be specific and hopeful about worshipping in our chapel, so that it has been a learning experience I will always cherish. When I would talk to some people I would get warnings like, "Be careful. People in charge can evaluate you based on your complaints." or "What do you propose to do with 2,000 years of traditional worship just because you think its old?" But to me, religion that keeps people out and turns people off is bad religion. And just like bad cooking, it really stinks up the place. In those cases, Sunday brunch out is good competition.


Blogger Debbie of Boise said...

Yo Zinnhead - I can only encourage you, from my 50 years of life experience - speak your mind. Nothing is more important than your integrity. God knows I speak mine and in someways I've paid for it but I have also gained so much more - peace of heart.

8:42 AM  

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