Monday, March 9, 2009
Multithetical Manifesto: Hardcore Angel Power
There is a practice in Unitarian Universalism where the youths spend a year studying a wide variety of religious beliefs. Then they get an opportunity to get up in front of the congregation and make their individual statements of belief. Not having grown up in the tradition, I'd like to now share my faith statement, after a fashion. And yes, I do still plan for it to fit within the parameters of the actual assignment of preaching prophetically.
Here, now, please let’s take a quick journey out into the solar system. It takes about 8 minutes for light to travel from the Sun to the Earth. And it actually takes over 100,000 years for the photons produced in the sun's core to travel the 700,000 kilometers John 3:17, metaphor, Multitheticalism, personal religion, renewable energy, salvation, theology, sefrom the core to its surface, and then for those final eight minutes, it travels to Earth at the speed of light. This parallels how our ideas and communication work. Our collective ideas gestate for a long time before they're ready. Then we communicate them orally and they are delivered at the speed of sound, or we can type them and they end up halfway across the world in seconds.
Growing up, math, along with spelling, was always my favorite subject. Now, it informs my theology in fundamental ways. One primary way is through set theory. For example, imagine the set of whole numbers between 1 and 5, inclusive. The subset of all odd numbers is 1, 3, and 5. The subset of all even numbers is 2 and 4. 1 by itself is a subset. So is 2 by itself, and on and on. The largest “subset” is all five numbers, and then there is the empty set, which includes nothing at all, but still qualifies as a set.
I wonder: Do you see where I'm going with this, theologically? To put a word to it, I'm a multitheticalist. That means I'm an atheist, including Buddhism and Humanism – either a system of religious belief that doesn't consider any god, or a religious belief that specifically denies that a god exists. And I'm a theist. And a monotheist at that – including each of the various descriptions of “the one God” written by leaders such as Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus, Paul of Tarsus, and Mohammad. And I’m a polytheist, to the degree that I can learn about the many Hindu gods, and the pantheons of Greek and Roman deities. And I'm a pantheist, a panentheist, and even an animist.
“But which of those do you believe,” I hear my 20 year old fundamentalist self demand of me. “You have to believe something!” And I do. I believe that it's impossible to know anything about the divine, so that might lead one to label me as an agnostic. But agnostic is too simple a term, without sufficient examination of the complexity of meaning at play here.
In a fluid bedrock kind of way, I've come to appreciate that anything carried with words is metaphor – it's meaning attributed to physical happenings and existences. But in telling stories about the world, by necessity, we are mapping from the ultimate reality into stories that we believe, to help us make sense of the world. That mapping simplifies complex things however. It distorts events to fit into recognizable frameworks. This mapping deletes things because telling the whole truth in all its complexity would mean recreating the whole universe. And the mapping that accompanies systems of belief also generalizes things, turning them into archetypes, stereotypes, and symbols within our stories.
Knowing all that, choosing just one belief is like being stranded on an island and choosing only one book, or one album, or one type of food. Or one thing for my mind and spirit to ingest. Therefore, I'm a multitheticalist (from “multi-thesis”) – or holding several theses in balance all at once, and keeping them open for critical evaluation. My free and responsible search for truth and meaning demands this of me.
But it's not just about belief. It's about the heart. When I first got into this, God told me that it was going to be my heart on the line. But like Jonah, I escaped for a while. I escaped into concepts and theories, and reveled in wonderment at the opportunity to examine the “Big Picture,” (whatever size that actually is). But going beyond means coming back. That's the responsible part of the search. Even with all the angels and demons I’ve collected along my journey, I still feel inadequate to tell my prophetic story. All I know is that for everyone out there with messages (either to deliver from your mind through your voice, or to your mind from your senses), we're cut from the same cloth as those other prophets, especially when we can see beyond the boundaries of our cultural contexts. With all my agnosticism, that is a story I do know.
But what's a prophet to tell? Ideally, I'd light up a cigarette, strap on a guitar, and sing for you, about you, and with you. Why use this gracious gift of breath just to expound on so much theology, or to craft something that compels people to action, but what action? There are SO MANY of them!
There's the age-old practice of taking moral stances on issues:
- The ERA still hasn't passed. What gives?
- The construction of race, and how racism undergirds so many other justice issues
- LGBTIQ – an alphabet soup that simply says “equal rights to all regardless of gender or sexual expression”
- The creation and continuance of class structures, and ownership, and workers' rights.
- Earth justice and animal rights
- Abortion issues
- Drug policies
Or budgetary concerns like:
- Putting money toward wars and failed prison systems and
- Laws to ensure certain economic controls and property rights are secured,
- Instead of putting resources to Education, Energy policies, Scientific research, and Health care
I feel like I could (and very well might) speak to these things from the pulpit every week. It just goes round and round, like wheels in icy slush in March in Minnesota. I want to put sand down under the tires. I want to dig out to the concrete below the ice and get some traction! I want to be primal, to recognize it's not just about squeezing out words as breath flows out past my vocal cords. Text and speech is necessary, but so insufficient. I want to put out that all-too-necessary barbaric “yop” -- I'm ALIVE!!!!! And I hope you do too.
I have to do that. When my God speaks (all of them, and none of them, and one of them), it's through me. See, I'm one of those Multithetical Universalists who believes in radical uncertainty. Our salvation is all tied up together in this boat named Earth, and there is no fate but that which we make. This world is so beautiful, and yet so fragile. One of my versions of God is where I am the creator born into creation to walk upon this beautiful blue-green planet I have made, and I weep and marvel all at once at the horror and the beauty of the upside-downness side by side with the right-side-upness. Because like it or not, humanity has declared dominion here. Now, they/we will get credit or blame for whatever is to come. The blame or credit goes not to God, or ancient prophecies – only to humanity's insistence in those gods and prophecies. Demanding that theirs be the true version, and arguing over details in their stories of divinity and prophecy.
Because we have a preponderance of new prophets, telling the story clearly and honestly, from really recent and accurate knowledge about this world and our relationship within it. Yet there is almost no need for prophets now. The story of the condition of our cultures and our planet now comes to us ever more clearly. Humans have to close their ears, eyes, and minds to avoid the trumpets call. In Zoroastrianism, the job of the Saoshyant, or final judge at the end of the age or world, is simply to point that out. In essence saying “Open your eyes. Look around you! There is your prophecy, and my work is done here.” But its not as easy as that, since peoples' frames mask the full truth, until truth's complexities start to pull open the frames. But the process is soooo slow. After all, wasn't it 2000 years ago that Jesus said, “Those who have ears, let them hear...”? It's slow, but it's coming.
There's more to the story. In my rear-view mirror, I have all these memories of the heavens and hells my mind has visited, to bring me here. In my dreams, I've seen chariots and thrones, and so many apocalyptic futures, like the beatific utopian heaven-on-earth that my inner voice compels me to co-create. I do hope one day to write a utopian sci-fi drama. On the other hand, some of those memories of potential futures are outright hellish. I won't go into detail, but those dreams had people in the grayest darkest cavernous pits, stepping on those below them to try to climb out, but always being stepped on from above by someone else. Even those highest up were still in the pit. With nobody ever reaching down to lend a hand. And then there's the bittersweet end, somewhere in between. Where the world plods through, suffering for centuries or millennia because of the damage we've done to our planet and each other.
So, what saves us? Our actions do. Which are influenced by the thoughts and words that compose our world-views. Our actions influenced by our beliefs, with all their tendencies to distort, delete, and generalize. That is why I'm preaching multitheticalism today. It seeks to open wide to any possibility, evaluating it while finding ways to enrich worldviews. But it has one big drawback. It takes a lot of time. It's heavy, and it's slow to come into the light.
It's slow, like the photons inside the sun.
chant/prayer/mantra: For energy to deliver this well.
agape to all,