Jun 23, 2012

The Church is Dying, a New Church is Being Born

Synchronicity today, as news of the sensational but expected verdict in the Philly sex abuse trial in the US reverberates through the air waves:

First I came across this resonant statement from Bishop Jim Burch of One Spirit Catholic Diocese

The old words, the old theology, the old rituals, the old concept of “religion,” the old acceptance of church “authority,” the old allegiance to institutional church – they are all falling away.  People are demanding and finding God Within – just where Jesus told us God would be.  Sometimes in community, sometimes in the depth of our shared individuality – this is new understanding, this is new aliveness in joy, this is creative awakening of humanity. It is all the work of the Holy Spirit.  It is the unique niche of the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit. So let’s get on board.  Let’s inculcate it into the fiber of our walking/breathing glorious existence.  It is all there Within; we just have to frame it, name it, proclaim it.

Then I came across this wonderful poem by John Churchman at Bridget Mary's wonderful blog, which reiterates some of the same wisdom as contained in Bishop Burch's brief statement - namely that the old acceptance of church authority, the old allegiance to the institutional church - is falling away. And the Philly trial, for those following it, (See William Lindsey's great blog, Bilgrimage for full reportage) is one great nail in the coffin. Yet for all its painful, shocking revelations, it should be seen as a grace and sign of the Spirit, helping to wean us from our dependance on the institution and helping us as well to engage with the grieving process so that the new life of the church may be born.


Institutional religions strive to make us totally dependent

on external authority;
Protestants, Scripture; Catholics, the Magisterium.
Institutional religions require us to guide our lives
by Scripture as they translate and define it,
and by the Magisterium’s pronouncements with its corner on the Truth.
All this in the face of the True Gift of the Holy Spirit,
all the answers we need deep within.
Scripture and the Magisterium are important sources of Wisdom,
which we should consult in making our life choices,
but ultimately we each have been given the guidance we need,
the gift of the Holy Spirit deep within.
There is a touch of the Divine within us all
and we can connect to that Divinity
within us and within each other.
Read the entire poem here.
This poem was so moving and powerful that I made a search of its author, John Churchman, and came across this extraordinary long reflection he had posted in the comments section at National Catholic Reporter in 2009.


The prophet listens to these groans and comes to an obvious conclusion:
Things are coming to an end!
For the prophet, this conclusion becomes a judgment.
These things must end.
In fact, the prophet dares to proclaim
God is bringing an end to things;
Our collective groans are indisputable evidence
that the current state of the Church
is not the will of God.
The collapse of what was seen as sacred,
the prophet declares,
is a demise brought about
by none other than God’s own self.
God himself,
God herself is bringing an end to the Church
or to put it bluntly:
A particular way of being Church is dying.

There’s an unstoppable wave of seismic changes
at work in the Church
which will take the priesthood, the Church and us
to places unknown,
and for that reason,
scary and terrifying.
The church is dying
and the prophet proclaims this demise is aided
and abetted by God’s own self.
That’s the uncomfortable, unpopular, yet life-giving and essential proof
the prophet must proclaim today.
The Hope: “See I Am Doing Something New”

But the prophet also must do a second thing;
otherwise, you are not just a prophet,
you are a groaner.

The prophet not only announces to the people
an end the community cannot admit,
we must also proclaim to the people
a hope they can hardly believe;
Both nostalgia and despair are present in the priesthood and in the Church.
But despite both desperate denial
and fatalistic despair,
a prophetic voice speaks in a different key.
The prophet says, “Look! Pay attention!
God is doing something new.”
Against both nostalgia and despair,
the prophet proclaims hope –
the advent of a new future,
not a simple re-arranging of the old furniture,
nor a continuation of the former ways
in different configurations.

As Jeremiah says, “God will make a new covenant,
but it will be a covenant very different from the old.”
Hope is the belief that things can and will be radically different than they are now.
As Isaiah declares, “Now, it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?”
A prophet pierces the veil of numbing despair
and energizes the new hope
by offering symbols and images
which nourish an alternative vision.
The Church is dying;
a new Church is being born;
and that means, if we are to be prophets,
we need to be hospice ministers for a dying Church.

Read the rest of this inspiring statement here.

Which brings me back to Bishop Jim's earlier statement and the witness of alternative Catholic communities like One Spirit and Roman Catholic Women Priests.  In the words of John Churchman, 

"the advent of a new future,
not a simple re-arranging of the old furniture,
nor a continuation of the former ways
in different configurations.
 As Jeremiah says, “God will make a new covenant,
but it will be a covenant very different from the old.”

In other words, new forms of church are being born right before our eyes, but they are far out on the margins, outside the doors of the formal institution. The time for patiently waiting for the hierarchy to - one day - reform, is long past. We cannot simply wait - once again - for the bishops to "catch up" with the whole community of church. The whole system of being beholden to an external authority which time after time fails to read the signs of the times, and which hold the community of church back for years and even eons, this system must go. To echo Father John McNeill, we need fallible leaders so the new church of the Spirit can be born, a community of those who find God Within, a community of believers we do not ignore tradition, who respect it and consult it, but who ultimately make their own adult decisions based upon their own interior discernment, because..

ultimately we each have been given the guidance we need,
the gift of the Holy Spirit deep within.
There is a touch of the Divine within us all
and we can connect to that Divinity
within us and within each other.

Jun 11, 2012

Living the Truth of Justice: Berrigan at 92

 Another inspiring piece by Chris Hedges at Truthdig. 

Daniel Berrigan, S. J. and the cost of Christian discipleship. 


America’s Street Priest


Posted on Jun 10, 2012

By Chris Hedges

The Rev. Daniel Berrigan, undaunted at 92 and full of the fire that makes him one of this nation’s most courageous voices for justice, stands in New York City’s Zuccotti Park. He is there, along with other clergy, to ask Trinity Church, which is the third-largest landowner in Manhattan, to drop charges against Occupy activists, including retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard, for occupying its empty lot on 6th Avenue and Canal Street on Dec. 17. The protesters, slated to go to court Monday, June 11, hoped to establish a new Liberty Square on the lot after being evicted by New York City police from Zuccotti in November. But Trinity had the demonstrators arrested. It chose to act like a real estate company, or the corporation it has become, rather than a church. And its steadfast refusal to drop the charges means that many of those arrested, including Packard, could spend as long as three months in jail.

“This is the only way to bring faith to the public and the public to the faith,” Berrigan said softly as we spoke before the demonstration in the park that was once the epicenter of Occupy Wall Street. “If faith does not touch the lives of others it has no point. Faith always starts with oneself. It means an overriding sense of responsibility for the universe, making sure that universe is left in good hands and the belief that things will finally turn out right if we remain faithful. But I underscore the word ‘faithful.’ This faith was embodied in the Occupy movement from the first day. The official churches remained slow. It is up to us to take the initiative and hope the churches catch up.”

There is one place, Berrigan says, where those who care about justice need to be—in the streets. The folly of electoral politics, the colossal waste of energy invested in the charade of the Wisconsin recall, which once again funneled hopes and passion back into a dead political system and a bankrupt Democratic Party, the failure by large numbers of citizens to carry out mass acts of civil disobedience, will only ensure that we remain hostages to corporate power.

Berrigan believes, as did Martin Luther King, that “the evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and the evils of racism.” And he has dedicated his life to fighting these evils. It is a life worth emulating.

Jun 9, 2012

Not Even Seven Thousand Years of Joy Can Justify Seven Days of Repression: Muslim Mystic Poet Hafiz.

This is a posting on Sufi Muslim mystics and homosexuality (among other things), but first a few notes:

Haven't been blogging for a while. Too caught up with the Prague Fringe Festival now underway, and I'm happy to report that the one 'standing room only' show among the fifty entrants was gay stand up comedian, Daniel Ryan Spalding:

Needless to say, the show was a brilliant piece of gay friendly social satire and it seemed that no country or social group were spared Spalding's acerbic wit as he dissected, parodied and mercilessly ridiculed the variety of homophobic attitudes on the planet. Very very funny, climaxing (if that is the appropriate word) with Spalding's account of his gay bashing experience in a bar in Australia at the hands of a skinny eighteen year old named DEE JAY. I really felt Spalding should have bent DEE JAY over the table and taught him a lesson, but unfortunately, as Spalding confessed, he was too busy weeping in the men's toilet! The comic succeeded in making the incident (real or imaginary) both funny and wrenching. Though not as funny, perhaps, as the banana he was sucking at the waist of a friendly 'straight' member of the audience who agreed to become Spalding's non sexual "bromance" partner on stage - played very straight and good-naturedly by a fellow Fringe actor, who clearly had no idea what was coming at him when he stepped on stage. One of the many highlights of the show - though nothing, perhaps, could surpass Spalding's energetic efforts to conjure forth his "inner Lesbian." A delight from start to finish and hugely appreciated by the largely straight audience (judging by the absence of stereotypical swishes from the men and huge biceps among the women).

On a different, but related note, while browsing this morning and researching Muslim American playwright, Wajahat Ali (author of the award winning 9/11 inspired Muslim family drama, The Domestic Crusaders), I came across Ali's very interesting blog, Goatsmilk Blog. The second article listed today is a fascinating historical analysis of changing Muslim attitudes towards same sex unions, testifying to a similar shift in attitudes to the one now taking place in both Christianity and Judaism (the intransigence of my own Catholic church's misogynistic leadership notwithstanding - though in good conscience I no longer feel interiorly connected in any way to the Vatican, which makes me a non-Roman Catholic I suppose).

 But before getting into the article, I just want to say that it yielded one priceless quote for LGBT people everywhere:

Traditional Muslims analogize ‘homosexuality’ with alcoholism and prescribe celibacy to homosexuals just as they prescribe self control to alcoholics. They view ‘homosexuality’ as a test of life justified by a great reward in the Hereafter. In contrast, the 14th century mystic poet Hafiz stated that ‘not even seven thousand years of joy can justify seven days of repression.’

Well, that was such a powerful quote that it sent me on a search for Hafiz and what did I find but this:

Homosexual love poetry also came from some of the most revered religious figures of Medieval Islam....The 14 century Persian mystic and poet, Hafiz, accompanied his mystical poetry with poetic commentary on the boys he loved. In one such work, Hafiz paints an evocative picture of the bedchamber. "With locks disheveled flushed in a sweet drunkenness, his shirt torn open, a song on his lips, and wine cup in hand. With eyes looking for trouble, lips softly complaining. So at midnight last night, he came and sat at my pillow. He bent his head down at my ear, and in a voice full of sadness he said, "Oh my old lover, are you asleep?'" It's also interesting to note that in contrast to Christian mystics, who have used the analogy of a heterosexual relationship to describe the relationship between God and the individual soul, Muslim mystics, almost without exception, use the analogy of a homosexual relationship between the soul and the Beloved Godhead.

Well, I must say, that statement was a revelation, worthy of a post all its own, but I'm rushing out the door to attend Romanian actress, Ioana Tudor's award winning one woman show, Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta!

Hafiz quote aken from:

The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations In Human Societies by James Neill

Here is the opening of the article from Goatsmilk Blog which makes for very stimulating reading:

“Towards a dialogue on Muslim same-sex unions”: Dr. Junaid Bin Jahangir

As in Christianity and Judaism, there has been a shift in the Islamic position on ‘homosexuality’. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that he would not worship a homophobic God. Likewise, Rabbi Harold Schulweis has stated that the counsel of celibacy is contrary to the Judaic affirmation of sexuality.

In Islam, US based Imam Suhaib Webb has expressed regret on his referral to a reparative therapy group and argues against the discrimination of gay congregants. Likewise, Sudan based Sheikh Hashim Al-Hakim has indicated that while, he used to be hard against homosexuals, he has ‘learned to respect their humanity’. US based Imam Johari Malik has said that ‘It’s time to get past our homophobia to help human beings’.

In contrast to traditional Muslim views, several church denominations and synagogues bless same-sex unions. However, Muslim discourse is not shaped by alternative voices in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Groups like Muslims for Progressive Values work towards supporting Muslim LGBTQ rights. However, in contrast to Judaism and Christianity, the discussion on same-sex unions in Islam is fairly recent.
  • Orientation
Traditional Muslims believe that any homosexual conduct is prohibited. Several Muslim medical professionals argue that homosexuality was declassified as a disorder due to pressure from gay activist groups. However, Rabbi Gershom Barnard indicates that medical opinion gradually evolved from hormonal treatment to psychoanalysis to behavioral conditioning to saying that there is no treatment to finally indicating that there is nothing to treat.

Professor Hashim Kamali of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies in Malaysia has stated that both Islamic jurisprudence and science confirm that sexual orientation is inherent. Dr. Qazi Rahman from the University of London and co-author of the book ‘Born Gay: the Psychobiology of Sex Orientation’ also affirms the innateness of ‘homosexuality’.

According to Dr. Bassem Nathan, three medical opinions existed among medieval Arabs. According to one school of thought, ‘homosexuality results when the maternal sperm prevails over the paternal sperm’. Like Al Razi (d. 925 CE), the Nestorian Christian Hunain Ibn Ishaq (d. 873 CE) and the Melkite Christian Qusta Ibn Luqa (d. 912 CE) also subscribed to the view that ‘homosexuality’ was an inherent trait.  Read the rest of this entry »