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More from Bali

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A broken hip and rehab are part of the reason it has been so long between posts.  I still have a good number of thoughts about and pictures of my visit to Bali which I hope to share.

Rather than eat breakfast at the restaurant at my hotel, I read about several coffee shop type places a few blocks away.  This gave me a chance to learn something about the neighborhood as I walked out and back each morning.  I found that religion, mostly Hinduism, is omnipresent.

There are temples in the middle of town, enclosed and not open to foreigners.

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More intimately, households often have shrines and put out offerings in small paper “dishes.” In one case these offerings were made to a statue of Buddha.

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Some households or shops have Hindu shrines where offerings are set out.

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Sometimes offerings like these are placed on the sidewalk in front of a door.  One must pay attention to where one walks – however the unevenness of sidewalks already made this necessary.  Construction sites and debris also made the route I took less than elegant. I learned that “Ati Ati” means danger, as in “danger: construction zone”.  The Balinese script is found in some museums, but has elsewhere been replaced by the western alphabet.

In a shop at another site, the offering was placed on top of fruit for sale, making it safe from missteps by passers-by.

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These offerings must fade quickly but I rarely saw one that looked bedraggled.  They are clearly important to their makers.

 

 

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Atheists Together

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A friend brought my attention to an article from Time magazine earlier this month about atheist “churches.”  I was interested to learn that there is a new “freethought church” in Kansas City, MO.  I wonder if they know about the long tradition they belong to, about the “Church of This World” founded in 1897 by John Emerson Roberts.

From their website www.kcoasis.org

From their website http://www.kcoasis.org

So many of the  leaders among the atheist/agnostic communities have come out of the Christian denominations.  Leading a community is what they have been trained to do.  When their beliefs change, they take these skills to a new audience.

There are some who think these communities are a bad idea.  Bill Maher is quoted in the article as saying, “It undermines the whole point of atheism, because the reason why people need to get together in religion is precisely because it’s nonsensical.”

Would it parallel this statement to suggest that people attend football games in great numbers to support each other in the nonsensical belief that these games really matter?

If Maher can’t separate a belief system from the human desire for community, I wonder what he thinks the “whole point of atheism” is.  To reject the idea of god does not require one to be live in isolation.  To enjoy fellowship is not a crutch.  Nor is the idea of finding like-minded people to join in doing good in the world a statement of faith.

94933_CoverFrontI have a sneaking suspicion that when convinced atheists reject fellowship it is because they really would rather not put up with agnostics, who have not committed themselves to the understanding that there is no god.  This reflects another element which I think is characteristic of humanity: the desire to draw lines and strive for purity.

John Emerson Roberts, on the other hand, would be delighted to know there is a new community of freethinkers in Kansas City, MO.

Beginning Again, Again

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In a recent post, Marylin Warner pointed out that today, March 25, is Old New Year’s Day. She posted this information a few days ago so that readers might think about what they would like to do over from the January 1 New Year. A New Year is an opportunity to make a fresh start, to correct past mistakes and begin again. You can read her post at: http://warnerwriting.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/unfinished-business/

I was aware that March 25 is the Feast of the Annunciation, honoring the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to Mary to announce the incarnation of Jesus. What I did not know until I did some research is that there is a direct connection between the Annunciation and the old New Year.

The Christian scholars of many centuries ago understood that the incarnation of Christ marked the beginning of a new age. They set the beginning of this incarnation at conception, nine months before the birth of Jesus. Since a new age began on March 25, so must the year of the new age’s calendar, the Years of Our Lord, from which the suffix A.D. (Anno Domini) derives. To know which year it was required starting the year on the same day as the day of the incarnation.

It makes as much sense to start the year a few days after the Spring Equinox as it does to start it ten days after the Winter Solstice. Any day makes a good day for a fresh start. But I’m glad we don’t start our year on March 25. For me, the Feast of the Annunciation has a different significance. Coming as it most often does before Easter, it suggests to me that things have a way of beginning again before the last cycle is over. This is how ritual includes a whole lifetime in its rhythm of days and seasons. It is also a reminder of our human condition. We believe that one thing should end and then another can begin. Things often don’t work that way.

Whether you celebrate a new year, a new season, or a new day, take time to make something right if you are aware of something that is broken.

A Treat for Both Sides of the Mind

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MoH&H_titleWilliam Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a work to delight both the poet and the freethinker.  It is a short book that combines language and art, serious ideas and comedy.

Most of us know Blake, if at all, for his short poems, like “The Tiger”:

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night

or “The New Jerusalem”

Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

The latter is an introduction to a long work titled “Milton” though the Milton who appears in this tale is not the actual writer.  “Milton” is forty five pages of tiny script and complex images, telling an equally complex story.

“The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” is shorter, easier to follow, and fascinating for both the ideas and the language.  Blake constructed these books by etching copper plates, printing and then hand coloring each page.  “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” consists of 27 such pages.  There are nine copies in existence; fortunately reproductions can be found in quite a variety of editions, some very inexpensive.  These editions usually print out the text as well, for those spots where Blake’s script is difficult to interpret.

Blake was a Nonconformist, which means that he was not a member of the Church of England.  He did not fully align with the other nonconformist traditions either.  His little book is partly a tirade against priests, of all times and places, and partly a celebration of creative energies.

What might be called Blake’s thesis statement is found on page 3:

Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason.  Evil is the active springing from Energy.  Good is Heaven.  Evil is Hell.

It will follow that in this dichotomy, hell is the more interesting place to be.  A few pages later, Blake comments:

The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.

Three pages are given over to “Proverbs of Hell,” a wide range of short statements.  Here are just a few:

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.

These proverbs, which send the mind going in many different ways are followed by three sections entitled “A Memorable Fancy” in which angels and devils and giants all appear and further commentary against such errors are trying to separate body and soul, or make peace between two classes of humans he calls the Prolific and the Devouring.  By the first he means the creators.  The second are those who only consume because they cannot create.

I have only picked out samples from the book.  To get the sense of the whole, you will need to go read it yourself.  After reading a copy from the library, I bought my own copy from Powell’s for $5.00.

Fresh Thinking for a New Year?

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It’s the fifth day of Christmas as I post this, and, supposedly, three days before we all go over the “fiscal cliff,” although there are a number of efforts in place to forestall or minimize the impact.  It is both amazing and distressing to see how real and persistent ills, such as hunger, homelessness and killings, take second place to an economic tangle beyond the comprehension of most of us unless over simplified to single issues, like taxes or entitlements.

Isn’t it hubris to believe, or act as if, a problem this big can be solved by one decision, one agreement?

On the blog for the One Earth Project, Lee Van Ham has been examining our economic structure as a religion.  He makes a very good argument for this.  The following translation of getting, spending, consuming and anxiety into religious language seems to fit the case quite well.

The path to wholeness and salvation in market logic is wealth accumulation. Without accumulating enough to participate in The Market’s activities, one is doomed. To follow any path other than wealth accumulation is heresy, and inevitably, means falling into sin. One testifies to their salvation through their assets and habits such as car, home, smart phone, clothing, investments, and up-to-date technologies; also where we travel, vacation, eat out and with whom. All of these bear witness to being saved. Nevertheless, the path is an anxious one because, unless one has accumulated a lot, working for more is unending. Even after one has been to the altar and been saved, the feelings of insufficiency return. Salvation becomes an unending quest, heavy in effort, light in grace.

I think “light in grace” is an understatement.    Grace means “gift”: there is no grace as long as we think it is we who must do something to be saved.  Grace comes with the idea that our very life is a gift.  Then what we do with our life can be understood as our thank-you gift in return.

The primary purpose of the One Earth Project blog is to demonstrate that we in the developed world are consuming more resources than our planet can provide.  We live as if we had five earths to draw on. This is different from the charge I remember from thirty years ago, when we in America were accused of using more than our “fair share.”  “Fairness” has never sold well as an idea in capitalist economies.  Now we are up against the more serious matter of sustainability, survival.

The call to one-earth thinking is no easier to hear in the noise of our economics than the call to fairness was.  New Year’s resolutions to spend less, or recycle more, are not enough.  A friend of mine has pointed out that recycling may be only an effort to maintain our “culture of things” a little longer, to avoid any major changes that might really affect the one earth “deficit.”  As with the national debt, we’ve gotten ourselves into a situation with no quick fix.  But I invite you to start thinking about the issue by reading the blog: click on One Earth Project in the blog roll.

Halloween and Other Ghosts

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We’ve reached another cross-quarter day, the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice, better known as Halloween.  It is interesting that this day gets so much attention.  Many believe it has no connection with religion.  They celebrate it with fun and costumes in the early dark.  A significant minority in this country knows that it has religious origins and prohibits it as satanic.  In its early form it was a time of religious ritual, particularly rituals of purification through fire, and of moving to winter quarters.  In some places it was also the start of a new year

I’ve always thought it would be an awkward day for a birthday.  How special would you feel if everyone else was getting candy too?  A friend born on this day, however, told a story about a time in elementary school when birthday parties were forbidden.  The teacher worked her birthday into the Halloween festivities.  That would make a person feel special.

Another person who was born on this day was my mother-in-law, Jane.  Her sons would have no excuse for forgetting their mother’s special day.

I’ve not been impressed with the recent focus on zombies.  I don’t believe in them.  Ghosts, however, are real, in a number of ways.  A woman from New Orleans told me, “Home is where you listen to the ghosts.”  I picture her attending to voices of her―and her community’s―past now that she has returned home, voices she could not hear properly when she lived elsewhere.

My own ancestor research has been work with ghosts, a crowd of people clamoring to be remembered.  They have sometimes weighted on me as an obligation.  At other times they are more like sprites, delightful wisps teasing me into the past.

One of the special things about my mother-in-law was an uncanny ability to find a parking place just where she needed one, no matter how crowded the situation.  To this day, when my husband and I find a space like that we say, “That’s Jane’s space.”  It’s as if she has found and held it for us.  She’s a good ghost; we’ll have her with us as long as we remember.  The parts of our past we’ve neglected may come back to haunt us.  Those we’ve cherished will remain in our hearts, connecting us to our heritage.  Perhaps you’d rather call them something else than ghosts.  Any metaphor will do, as long as we remain mindful of this phenomenon, that we continue to be connected to those who are gone.

A New “Church”: From the Biography

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John Emerson Roberts’s contacts with Robert Ingersoll, described in my blog of October 6, bore fruit in the fall of 1897.  From my biography of Roberts, here is a description of Roberts’s independent “Church” and how it operated:

The Church of This World held its first service in the Coates Opera House on September 12, 1897. In addition to Roberts’s lecture, which he still called a sermon, music was provided by Carl Busch. The service apparently consisted only of this music and the sermon with no offering, no hymnody, and certainly no prayer. It is interesting that the organization was called a church, given the comments Roberts made in the spring about the negative connotations of that term. The phrase “this world” was evidently taken from Ingersoll’s letter praising Roberts’s sermon about the boy who died in jail: “You are preaching a religion for this world.”

Carl Busch was a major figure in the music world of Kansas City.  Born in Denmark in 1862, he studied in various institutions in Europe.  In 1887, Busch was working in Paris, playing in orchestras conducted by Camille Saint Saens and Charles Gounod. The Danish vice-consul in Kansas City invited Busch to organize a string quartet and bring it to America. Busch did so, and spent the rest of his life based in Kansas City. Times were not easy for the arts. Busch organized a series of orchestras and programs, but between the economic troubles of the late 1880s and the 1890s, and the lack of developed musical taste among the well-to-do business class who were the city’s elite, support was not always sufficient. The position as music director for the Church of This World was at least steady work, though very part time; Busch was still employed there when his biography was written for Whitney’s Kansas City, Missouri, in 1908.

The Church of This World was set up with a board of trustees just as the Unitarian Society had been. The names of the earliest set of trustees are not known. The trustees are listed in the newspapers only in later years when there were stories of development or decline to report. The funding for the church was provided by supporters who paid for their seats; the cost ranged from $5 to $25 per year. This practice is comparable to the idea of pew rentals, which many churches used to provide a base of income; the theater seats were no doubt more comfortable than typical pews. Seats for those who just came in were free.

The sermons Roberts gave in that first year are lost.  In the fall of his second year, however, Roberts published a series of sermons as a hardbound book.  A few copies have survived.

These sermons show how his preaching and views had evolved. The first sermon was titled “The Imperial Demands of Progress.” The word progress had become a highly resonant term for Roberts. He begins with the idea that one has an obligation to participate in progress:
“Deeper upon enlightened minds grows the conviction that progress is the world’s supreme law. To contribute to that progress, to obey that law, is the cosmic business of everyone and of everything that is.”
While he sees this as a human undertaking, however, he has not become a true Ingersollian; he has not given up talking of God, of spirit and of the divine. He concludes this first sermon by saying,
“Let us trust the old, the common, the misunderstood earth. Let us hail the dawn of the day coming fast and sure, when all men everywhere shall see that the earth is divine, man is divine and God is all in all.”
Though “thought” and “reason” are among his favorite themes, Roberts also holds on to the idea that religion, as opposed to specific religions, is an element of life that will endure.

There’s that dawn metaphor again in the second quotation, an image Roberts used often.  Read more about his most unusual institution in John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher, available through Amazon from ERYBooks (or use the contact page).

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