Friday, September 19, 2008

Ministry in Dis-Organized Religion

You, who are on the road,
Must have a code that you can live by.
And so, become yourself,
Because the past is just a good bye.

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by.
And feed them on your dreams,
The one they picks,
the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why,
if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by.
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

Teach your parents well,
Their children's hell will slowly go by.
And feed them on your dreams,
The one they picks, the one you'll know by.

-- Graham Nash

When I was a teenager, I bought Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's live album Four-Way Street. I remember being enormously disappointed, because the songs did not sound the way I knew them. I traded the album to a friend (for Pink Floyd's The Wall, which I'm sure has all kinds of deep meanings) and didn't listen to CSNY for years.

A few years ago, I rediscovered CSNY and other music from those formative years. Some songs were like long lost friends. Others were new acquaintances. Some, I knew, but had never really heard or understood.

For the past year, I have been on a pilgrimage - a journey not of body, but of the heart and mind. It began over Thanksgiving, when I gave a short talk to several hundred Boy Scouts about Unitarian Universalism. I explained that the UU church is a home for all religious seekers, even atheists like myself. Even though I have been an atheist for many years, over the ensuing weeks I found myself thrust into a new public "outness," when people approached and thanked me for my comments.

When my son was home for winter break, we had several long talks. As a result, I began blogging about disillusion in America and directions we can take to build intentional community together. I began to consider the shape of my future ministry as a religious atheist and what my "church" would look like in such an intentional community.

My son recently asked me to read Days of War, Nights of Love by the CrimethInc. Ex-Workers Collective (http://www.crimethinc.com/books/days.html). If you have read this post to this point, you should stop whatever you are doing and look into their writings. I don't agree with all of their conclusions - yet - but I find their work inspiring and thought-provoking. The book nudged me further along my path toward ministry in dis-organized religion.

What is the role of religion in a community that rejects "organized" religion? For me, dis-organized religion is a code of freedom:
  • from the construct of god
  • from creeds and dogma
  • from limitations to spiritual exploration

and it is the freedom:

  • to believe
  • to be, to live and to love
  • to think and to feel
  • to experience all within yourself, among others, and as part of existence

What is my role as a minister in dis-organized religion? Well, for the CrimethInc folks, ministry is what I love. I have given up much to become a minister and now know that I would sacrifice almost anything for my ministry. The Latin root of the word "minister" means "servant." I see ministers as servant leaders, who help others explore their spiritual selves by serving them. Service also includes celebrating rites of passage, nurturing through chaplaincy, and offering vision and insight with a prophetic voice to inspire, encourage, and imagine.

I fed my children on my dreams and now they are helping me find my truth in my elder years. I have a long road to go, but with their help, I will travel on.

3 comments:

ogre said...

(Lyric quibble warning)
Surely "picks" should be "pick's" (as in "pick is".

The one they picks,
the one you'll know by.


and

And feed them on your dreams,
The one they picks, the one you'll know by.


I hadn't heard that song in... well, years. But reading the lyrics (and hearing it in my head as I did so), made me "hear" it in a very different light. Off to iTunes...

I'm not sure that we're really dis-organized religion. It's just that we emphasize the important role of the -clasts in life and society even as we seek to uphold and be -plasts too. As a result of valuing breaking as much as making, we come to value change--not for its own sake, but because only through change do we ever get to something better.

As for me, well... the mad skateboard ride down the long, very steep, winding road towards ministry has led me to seriously consider one thing I've never felt any desire for--a tattoo.

If I do that, it'll read "I could be wrong."

I know of no better key to humility or liberal religion than that. God (that which has been called God, Jeff!) knows that we need to be reminded of that, at times--it's so easy to remember that other people could be wrong (after all, they so frequently are!).

I'm looking forward to seeing you in January!

ogre said...

Jeff, I'm lazily using this as a way to communicate... rather than looking for your email address. Post or discard at your whim.

I looked over some of the online text (possibly revised for publication) of Days of War, Nights of Love... and wondered if I was having a flashback (unlikely, since I was a kid in the 60s, and... well, nevermind). The book and the blurbs for it remind me of things like Steal This Book or various other angry manifesti.

Shoplifting--stick to the Man, man!
The Unabomber as some sort of "hero for our time" (gag me with a sabot!). The grotesque inaccuracy of presenting his letter bombings against his trial and execution;

" And what is it called when a nation of overweight barbers and underpaid clerks, of lazy unemployed middle class intellectuals and talk-show-educated housewives, of cowardly fast-food-chin managers and racist sorority girls, conspires to execute this murderer in the name of protecting the glorious status quo from his obviously deranged "mad bombings"?

The death penalty...."

Um. Dear Uncle Ted wasn't executed. He got life, and is in prison--whence he's been able to complain about his forest shack being removed to a museum. Not to mention the charming dehumanization of overweight barbers and underpaid clerks.... Ah, bring on the glorious rule of the proletariat!

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, baby!

Please, I'm not sure that in the end there's more good--or evil--to mine from the ruins of the '60s than there is from the '50s, but can we please not overindulge the angry rejection of the Establishment? I mean, dude, Jesus was right about Caesar, but... well, I think the Beatles were right in the lyrics of Revolution;

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We're doing what we can
But when you want money
for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right
Ah

ah, ah, ah, ah, ah...

You say you'll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right
all right, all right, all right
all right, all right, all right


Or if we're going to play lyrical gotcha games...

"I believe in a better way."

That said, I think that there's probably a stack of such books from (for?) every generation. I hope we can find ways to let more of this generation--and the next--cross the bridge from idealism, anger and angst into the land of living with flawed reality, trying to fix it, one kludge at a time... without falling into adulation of dipshits like the Unabomber or the anthrax-letter sender....

Jeff Liebmann said...

I agree with all of your observations, but come to a different conclusion. I do not believe that anarchy is THE answer, but I believe that it is AN answer. And, I think that there is great value in the presentation of their argument. Of course, like all arguments, I can poke holes in some of their positions. But, I am glad that people of courage exist to take radical positions and force us all to critically examine our assumptions and paradigms.

Yes, every generation has its revolutionary tomes. Thank goodness! And, as I have said often in my blog, I do not favor tearing down everything and starting over. BUT, I think that some ideas and paradigms do need to be "blown up" as long outmoded and harmful to human happiness and community.

After 52 years, I am convinced that incremental change within our system does not work. So, I am committed to a path of larger change working somewhat outside the system, to stand as a model for others to review and adopt as they wish. I don't know where my journey will take me at this point, but I am ready to use my angst to embrace change.