Category: Religion

From the Garden

Maybe we learned

The pleasure of sin

From Adam, not Eve

.

Maybe we learned 

The power of sex

From Adam, not Eve

.

Maybe Cain learned

That Abel could die

From Adam, not Eve

.

Maybe we learned

The earth could be tamed

From Adam, not Eve

.

Maybe we learned 

That wars could be ‘won’

From Adam, not Eve

.

Maybe 

.

© Gayle Force Press 2011

A poem by Franklin Oliver 

Average Obama

 

I liked President Obama’s Osawatomie speech and recognize the obvious resonances it has with Teddy Roosevelt’s  New Nationalism  speech. That connection has been made in multiple places and is well worth reading and reading about. I think Obama's speech was the start of something else too. Something with great potential for Obama’s re-election campaign against Mitt Romney in 2012*. I mean the re-branding of the President as “Barack Obama, regular American.”

 

I believe that in this campaign Obama will try to present himself as a typical American with a very American story. Even though he has often been defined as an outsider, I don’t think that Obama has ever believed that to be true. Obama considers himself to be quintessentially American. That belief will be easier to spread to the public at large if Obama is running against Willard Mitt Romney.

(Much in the way that Obama’s middle name became a campaign issue, I’m convinced that Romney’s first name will be tossed about and made the subject of jokes. I assume the story about Mitt being named after George Romney’s best friend Willard Marriott is true. That’s not gonna be helpful.)

 

Obama’s campaign will work hard to present Romney as the embodiment of America’s elite. Romney is, after all, the son of a governor and was born into a highly affluent family. His own professional career has placed him squarely in the 1% as defined by Occupy Wall Street. In 2000, those would have been helpful characteristics but in the midst of our Great Recession, economic privilege is no longer perceived as indicative of inherent merit. Instead, his extraordinary level of privilege is probably a major detriment to Romney’s candidacy.

 

Obama’s own American story is well known and his recent speech cleverly emphasized his rootedness via his family of regular folks from Kansas. His single mom spent time on public assistance rolls and Obama only became an elite himself through educational attainment. He legitimately is a contemporary Horatio Alger. Even as an adult, his South Side of Chicago bona fides are clearly intact. Describing his career as working for the people of his community as opposed to having the people work for him will be a winning presentation.

 

And while folks often describe Obama’s rise to national prominence as meteoric, he will be able to define himself as a political plugger compared to Romney. Obama’s political career began in the Illinois State Senate before moving on to the US Senate and then the White House. He has been an elected official since 1997. Obama can reasonably describe himself as having climbed the political ladder, albeit with tremendous speed. Romney’s sole electoral victory was his one term as Massachusetts governor. In just those four years, Romney made many choices he has since disavowed. While I personally believe Romney’s Olympic experience is very impressive, I doubt that he’ll be able to use that time as a proxy for holding office.

 

There will likely be one other interesting area in which Obama can define himself as average and Romney as exceptional: religion. Obama’s Chicago church experience was a problem for him in 2008 but in 2012 it’ll be a big advantage. Jeremiah Wright is old news and the President has so comfortably and consistently invoked God that his religiosity seems safe, normal and generically American. Romney’s Mormonism makes him suspect in the eyes of many and makes him an outsider in the eyes of many more.  I don’t want to link to some of the vicious portrayals of Mormonism in the world of mainstream punditry but it’s very easy to find scary talk about Romney’s church. The ham handed “I’m a Mormon” campaign might have helped had it begun several years ago but in the short term it will likely make Romney (and Jon Huntsman) seem even more suspicious to non-Mormon conservative Christians.

 

In terms of family, work and faith, Obama can claim common cause with ‘the American people’ in ways that Romney simply can’t. It’s a strange world wherein the half-Black guy with the Arabic name can present himself as more authentically American than the White guy who looks like middle age Superman but I think that’s what we will begin to see in the next few months. Perhaps even more strangely, I think it’s gonna work.

 

 

FDO

 

*- I've been asked if any of this applies to the President if Newt Gingrich were the GOP nominee.

2 responses- 1- If Newt's the guy, Obama won't have much to worry about anyway. 2- Yes! Obama's team will paint a picture of the President, First Lady and their two young daughters compared to Newt's 3 marriages, adulterous affairs, Clinton era sexual hypocrisy, the cancer-ridden wife divorce story and late in life conversion to Catholicism. That's a lotta grist for the campaign mill.

 

Combine that with the difference between making lots of money by writing books about your family and making lots of money by using your government contacts to (almost) lobby for corporations and it's game over. 

 

 

 

Cordoba House Controversy

 

In having some Facebook time, I’ve been talking about the folks who have decided that Muslims are not allowed to have buildings in certain locations. This whole news story has been a giant orgy of misinformation, suspicion, paranoia and political posturing. The folks for whom this really should matter most (the 9/11 survivors and families) don’t appear to have much problem with Cordoba House.  For the rest of us, though, for whom this is only theoretical and not part of our lived experience about 68% of us don’t want a mosque built on Ground Zero.

 

Of course, that’s only the story on the ticker. Most of us don’t know anything beyond the buzzwords that have been used to describe the situation. Generally, I believe that it's very easy for people to see a headline, hear a loud voice, form a (mis)conception and get stuck in their positions.

 

Since the rhetoric of fear, hate and suspicion means more money and more votes, it's gonna keep on coming. (Yesterday it came in the form of Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid declaring his opposition to the project. Reid is in a close race for his seat so felt the need to publicly comment on a building planned for 2500 miles away from his state.) That's part of the reason I appreciate the rise of social media. Just as quickly as misinformation can be disseminated, correctives can be shared. Hopefully more and more Americans will be willing to hear, read and learn from folks who don't share their worldview.

 

Hey, I can hope, can't I?!?

 

 

FDO

 

Amaré the Jew

 

I am very excited to read that Amaré Stoudemire is making efforts to connect to what he perceives as his Jewish roots. Honestly, I assume that this is part of a Black American religious subculture that attempts to connect with ancient Israel as an offshoot of the metaphorical relationship between Blacks during slavery and Jews in Egyptian bondage from the Hebrew Bible.  

 

Whether Stoudemire has a religious, ethnical, cultural or familial root in Judaism doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that he is willing to explore himself and the world. In a time when many of us try desperately to follow the footprints on the floor, watching a pampered young millionaire (with a very troubled background) work to expand himself this way brings a smile to my face.

 

FDO

A Transitioning Faith

Faith. That’s the hardest element of religion for me. I sincerely struggle with it. It's tough for me to be wholly faithful and tough for me to explain my faith journey too. What I think I should do here is give you a sense as to how my journey has played out thus far and encourage you to take from it what you will.  The biggest part of it for me has been divorcing myself from the traditional Jesus centered religion of my family and childhood. The shift I've made (and am still making) is from Jesus to God as the central element of my religious life.

 

Okay, I should back up for a moment. I know that for many who adhere to the Christian faith, God and Jesus are identified as a single entity. I often hear folks use God and Jesus interchangeably. They’ll say “God” at the beginning of the sentence then say “Jesus” at the end even though the subject has not changed. People consistently pray to God but talk to, or about, Jesus, during that prayer. Perhaps more tellingly, these folks often conflate God and Jesus with their language but only pay attention to their Jesus images and ignore their images of God. There are lots of reasons for that to be true but it’s problematic for me. Jesus has been horribly mutated into a bizarre amalgam of God and Santa Claus with a little Merlin thrown in. It took me a very long time to discover that my appreciation for Jesus as an historical figure was a large part of the reason that I had such trouble accepting the cartoonish image of Jesus most contemporary Christians hold dear. This created a disconnect that made religious faith hard especially hard for me and, to simplify, it was something like… ‘I want to be religious but I can’t believe in the central figure of my religious tradition.’ That disconnect provided a substantial obstacle to my faith.

 

I’ve discovered that my problem wasn’t my belief but instead, my relationship to the object of my belief. The transition I’ve made, away from Jesus and towards God, often sounds counterintuitive to people but it now makes perfect sense to me. I’m no longer connected to Jesus in the theological sense and I’m much closer to God as a result. I now feel as though my relationship with God is more direct and personal. That relationship is about me and it’s about God. It’s not about anyone else and is not mediated by anyone else. I know lots of people develop this kind of closeness through meditation but for me it’s been much more about the direct experience of prayer and reflection.

 

My academic work in Religious Studies has helped provide me guidance in this direction. Studying various works in Liberation Theology has played a big role in my new ability to relate to God, ironically because of some works that attempted to elevate and alter the role of Jesus in ways that make Jesus more central to the lived experiences of their communities. One is "The Future Is Mestizo" by Virgilio Elizondo. One sentence explanation: Jesus lived as a mixed person and contemporary Mexicans and Mexican-Americans can use him as a model for understanding their own lives. Another critical author is James Cone who developed a theology of Black Liberation and he posits that Jesus lived to represent and serve the poor. For Cone, this purpose means that in 20th (and now 21st) century America, Jesus is Black. Both these authors helped me discover that Jesus is more than just a person. Jesus is a symbol now (which is why it’s so easy for people to turn him into Santa) and symbols are intended to be utilized for the needs of the people.

 

The Jesus I need is the historical Jesus. I need the person who was willing to heal the sick, welcome the outcasts, embrace the prostitute and feed the hungry. I need the Jesus who was so devoted to God that he sacrificed his life to maintain that pose of fidelity. That’s the Jesus I need to know and value for my life. That Jesus is not the object of my religious devotion but was a seeker and model for me. He exemplifies being a child of God in the way that I want to be one.

 

This notion of being God’s child helps illustrate the other part of my search which has been about finding ways to get closer to God and develop a better relationship with God. Geza Vermes’ "The Changing Faces of Jesus" has helped me understand my own connections with God as has Rosemary Radford Ruether’s "Sexism and God-Talk". These books helped me discover numerous new ways of interpreting, defining, naming and experiencing God. I realized that I had been stuck in the Renaissance paradigm of God being male, White, old, bearded and distant. Those are the ways I used to perceive God although those are not the ways I experience God. God is incredibly near and present in my life and welcoming that reality has been a great change.  

 

Feeling God’s love on a regular basis and recognizing it and interpreting it and speaking of it are all fairly new to me and I still struggle with the idea of being loved by God. That’s probably why this has been such a difficult piece for me to write. It feels somehow arrogant to consider God choosing to love me. But it’s only arrogant when I make that reality about me. Clearly, it’s not. I can’t make God love me. Fortunately, I don’t have to try to do so. God loves me because that’s what God chooses to do. It really is enough for me to acknowledge, appreciate and, as best I can, reciprocate that love. That’s truly a liberating theology.

 

I hope illustrating some of my process makes it a little easier for you to continue exploring and considering your own faith journey. Please let me know where it takes you!

 

FDO

The Rainbow Sign

This is one of the few poems I have written (and liked) that uses a straightforward rhyming scheme. I think it fits. This is also one of the few poems inspired by both the Bible and James Baldwin. It appears in MOSAIC. 

Noah did not imagine

What his wooden ark would find

Of life he could be certain

Not so of the rainbow sign

The cleansing water fallen

An act of the great divine

Who spared the righteous Noah

And gave him the rainbow sign

God made a new beginning

Saying all the earth is mine

And sealed it with a promise

Bound up in the rainbow sign

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2003

Momentary Transformation

I expected this poem to be in Myths. It didn't make the cut.

 

Each moment

Deserves the special place of privilege

We hesitate to allow

Ourselves to acknowledge

For since we are not gods

It must stay unknown to us

In which of these moments

Our lives will be transformed

This is the power of the sacred

And the sacrality within each of us

That our lives and world may be changed

In the blink of our human eyes

© Gayle Force Press 2004

Lilywhite Jesus

One of my faves from Myths.

 

It’s the lilywhite Jesus

I’m supposed to believe in

The evidence of things unseen

That guy in the pictures

Sometimes with a beard, always a mustache

Maybe lambs or a stream next to him

Long pretty robes almost, but never quite,

Obscuring his sandaled, pearl feet

The lilywhite Jesus

Who never lived a day on this,

The only Earth we have

© Gayle Force Press 2006