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Sound and Silence

when necessary, use words

Month

September 2007

one punk under god

“I do not feel shame, I AM shame.” [Jim Bakker]

“As Christians, we’re sorry for being self-righteous, judgemental bastards.” [Jay Bakker]

I have just watched the Sundance Channel series “One punk under God”. This features Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, the disgraced televangelists. It is a tale of the truly miraculous – how one man survived being a PK (Preacher’s Kid) in severely twisted evangelistic subculture, and has gone on to proclaim a heartfelt message of grace and forgiveness.

Jay is in many ways the antithesis of his media-, religion- and money-crazed upbringing. Of course, things have moved on, Jim served 8 years of his 45 year prison sentance for fraud, and reinvented himself as the “New Jim Bakker”, but somehow never saw much life beyond television. Tammy, she of the false eyelashes and guarenteed-to-run-mascara, died last year of cancer. Despite it all, and approaching the end, she said (paraphrased) “A son needs his Mom to tell him everything is going to be OK, but his Dad to tell him he’s proud of him.”

Never denying his parents, Jay nevertheless places himself in a very different mileau. He is essentially postmodern punk: piercings, cigars and cigarettes, tatoos. He seems quite at home in his skin, too. His wife of 7 years, Amanda, similarly has almost as many tatoos and a shrieking vermillion hairdo. She just wants him to be happy (but does wish he’d quit preaching and find another career).

Jay took the bold step of declaring his belief that homosexuality was not a sin, which cost him the support of a major backer. Of course (especially in the USA) homosexuality is a big political issue. But perhaps the main story running through the series is Jay’s attempt to reignite a relationship with his father.

With great pains, after several ignored calls, he eventually manages to visit him in his studio and appears on his show. Clearly strained after a pre-airtime summit in which his pro-inclusion views are discussed, Jay diffuses the situation and appeals to the basic need for love and acceptance. Jim (who knows with that guy what is real) breaks down at one point and confesses that Jay is doing what he should have done, but cannot.

This conflict epitomises the deep tensions which underlie so many lives: generational, theological, political and cultural, but most of all, with attitudes of the heart. And one pressing difference has to do with Inclusion, or ones ability to live generously and non-judgementally. Clearly, religion, and specifically Christianity, has failed miserably to live up to the inclusiveness of its founder.

I marvel at the grace that has allowed Jay be himself. At how he walked the narrow path, holding the tensions between breaking away from what he loaths and yet honouring those he loves, and seeing them for who they are … such discipline is the deep stuff of the spirit.

Jay … to merely be who you are, a punk and a christian, goes a long way towards the meaning of Incarnation. Holding that “disgrace” who is your dad so in mind, though left bereft of his affections yourself, is a true act of courage.

See Jays church website, Revolution NYC .

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too close for comfort

“in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea … If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” [Paul – 2 Cor 11:26, 30]

Yesterday I spent time exploring some rock pools with my girls and nephews at Betty’s Bay, Western Cape Province. My family left the cove and I stayed behind to watch the waves.

I chose a spot which looked to be as near to the water as I could safely get, and jumped down onto it. The next wave, however, crashed below me and kept on rising. About 2 feet of water swept me backwards into space.

During the surreal journey of falling while gazing skywards, I seemed to have time to ponder on how exactly I was going to land – might it be a backflip, a headfirst crash, or a broken limb?

The landing was hard, but my lower back took the brunt of it. The rest of me hit the water. Straight away, the roiling waters lifted me up and dashed me onto a rock. I couldn’t grip and was sucked out again. The next wave did the same but I managed to hoist myself over the rock. I was taken again on a sickening, scraping, helpless up-down ride but eventually clawed my way above the waterline.

No-one saw my 8-foot fall. If I had been a few inches in any other direction I may well have hit my head and drowned. Legs are bruised, hands cut, my back aches. I am thankful to be alive.

But furthermore, I am thankful to be able to count the cost of being close to nature. This discomfort is for me a blessing of aesthetisation – the opposite of ANaesthetisation – which is the way of our protective culture, with its array of barriers between ourselves and the cosmos, between ourselves and feelings, between ourselves and beauty, and ultimately between the created and the creator.

designing the sacred

The future is a design problem.  [William McDonough]

“Son of man, describe the temple … its arrangement, its exits and entrances — its whole design and all its regulations and laws … ”.  [Ezekiel 43:10]

Recently, within the timespan of a week, I visited 3 very different spaces. These were

  • Wednesday :  A microsoft vista product launch.
  • Friday midday: A mosque.
  • Sunday morning: An evangelical church.

The connections, and disconnects between them said something to me. I have offered similar thoughts before in space, worship praxis and ideas of temple, and this extends thereon.

The Launch demonstrated all the trappings of an advanced marketing plan. Besides the lecture rooms, there was a convocation space which included fully equipped coffee stall, technical kiosks, sleek hostesses, video projections, a DJ/automatron pumping out lo-volume grooves, an information desk, games consoles, semi-stylish food. The message was clear – We are more than software, we are lifestyle. And it’s a cool lifestyle, if you use our product.

The Mosque had the feel of people who knew what they were there for. A certain tranquility prevailed aided by the sound of running water from the cleansing baths, and soft, diffuse light. This helped mitigate the cheap carpeting and fittings. The smell of summer socks wafted through the predominantly male congregants. I was greeted openly but tersely by those seated next to me. For some time I stared at Arabic inscriptions on the walls. I learned how to bow, stand, sit, and for a short time felt a part of something larger than me.

The Church was a carpeted hanger-like hall, well organised and planned with numeric expansion in mind. Technically it was somewhere between the Product launch and the Mosque, with projectors and a very large ceiling-mounted PA system, which I found imposing. People were relatively engaging, smiling profusely and at times making me feel welcome. The sermon and singing, casual and proficiant, brought no surprises.

An awareness of space. A variety of spaces, all tinged with desire in some way or other. What space would I choose? Which elements of the above might go into the ideal?

I got to thinking and came up with a list of indoor environments from which I might design the most appropriate space in which to house the Sacred.

  • Coffee lounge/Pub – Friends, acquaintances or strangers converse casually in public while snacking or drinking.
  • Dance floor – Tribal energy of the moment, a recreational and immersive experience where communication is physical and mostly non-verbal.
  • Chill room – This immersive environment allows for reflection usually after the intensity of dance.
  • Gallery/installation – A contemplative, yet public space allowing for engagement with the mysteries of the artists imagination.
  • Home – A “good” home is private and intimate, including sleeping eating and relaxing without agenda or expectation.
  • Official Sacred – The church, temple, or meeting hall forms a structure, an escape from the world, wherein people expect to engage with the sacred in some way very different to any other.
  • Industrial/functional – Such spaces are about work and cater for efficiency – desks, computers, technology.

Punishment

“I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat”. [Perry Smith, “Capote”]

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”  [Book of Hebrews]

“I want to feel that I have lived my life.” [Gabriella, “As it is in heaven”]

In the last week I have seen two contrasting and strangely related movies.

smith-capote.jpgFirstly, “Capote” starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman in which famous American author Truman Capote writes a brilliant novel, “In cold blood”, based on the senseless murder of a Midwestern family. In which he develops a close relationship to the condemned but is unable to transcend his spectacularly selfish motivations, and leads him into a web of deception where the salvation of a man becomes subject to the needs of an authors ego.

Secondly, “As it is in Heaven” depicts the return of a famous conductor to the village of his birth. He is ill and weary, and seeks involvement with music in such a way as to experience its magic in community, rather than on the grand stages of the world. He becomes involved in the Village Church’s choir and soon finds life erupting in the middle of a stale, brittle, protestant religious subculture. This life is accepted to varying degrees; blessing ensues for the majority, but some attempt to remain outside of the circle of grace. Those who come off worst are either deeply damaged victims or deeply pious, and form the distinct minority.

kills2.jpgAll around us, tabloids bay for “justice”. They create an appetite for the consumption of the punitive spectacle. This allows us to place a divide between ourselves and an evil which is “out there”.

There are 2 kinds of justice, retributive justice and distributive justice-compassion. (For extensive treatment of this theme see Sea Raven’s blog) True justice consists not of what man meets out to man either directly in anger, vengeance or vigilante activity, or institutionally via the justice system (law, law enforcement, courts and jails).

Rather this has to do with Love, whereby the blessing of G-d is distributed, rather than the wrath of God re-tributed. “Tribute“, the common aspect of the words, means something given or returned. In our tributes, do we give out blessing or meet out punishment?

Love is the ultimate punishment. Even if we do not find love, or we reject it in this life, Love will find us. It won’t “hunt us down” as though we will be able to hide, it will inexhorably reel us in. 

Our encounter with Love, once the deceptions of this world (vanity, fear, anger, myopia, materialism) are stripped away, and we “know as we are known”, will purge us. The torment described in the Lazarus tale in Luke’s gospel (which many mistake for God’s punitive condemnation to “hell”) is the torment of hard transformation.

The word for torment in this passage comes from the Greek βάσανοσ which talks of a standard, or touchstone. This is the standard of Love and Truth. The transformation which is forced on the rich man is by radical change of circumstances (such a physical death or traumatic loss), rather than a willing and ongoing co-operation with the transformative spirit. Punishment in the Kingdom of God is a by-product of transformation, not the wrath of some insecure, schitzophrenic deity who delights in “Eternal Love” on the one hand and “Endless Punishment” on the other.

In “Capote”, an opportunity to reveal selfless Love to a desperate and deeply damaged criminal, goes to waste because the one given the chance has chosen to “gain the world”, and thus “looses his soul”, as well as that of the one whom he might have helped.

In “As it is in Heaven”, the village pastor is forced by circumstances away from his illusions of pious grandeur, coming close to killing both himself and the one who channeled life into his world, a great depiction of Hard, and yet incomplete Transformation. As for the majority, they were only too happy to be happy…

How do we view punishment? In determining the answer to this question, surely the chief focus needs to be on the models given us which pertain to mans ultimate destiny, not our more base and short term addictions to retribution? And can we apply all our thoughts about punishment to every case, especially that of ourselves?

Most of us will manage to stay on the right side of the law throughout our lives. But can we see that the punishment all of us will encounter will the the purging fire of Love? The quote from the book of Hebrews is not aimed at the criminal, the sinner or the miscreant, although one might think so based on popular preaching.

Don’t do the mistake of coming to this scripture through the filters of a retributive culture or theology. The uncovering is achieved via consummate love, and its painful or “punitive” elements are only the result of our need to be made whole. The entire process is by grace, not a work of our own righteousness.

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