Middle of what - the American experiment, western civilization, human progress? How about the middle of geologic earth with billions of years yet to come?…
(Be sure to see the four impending services I’ll be offering in October and November, found at the bottom of this blog post.)
Worse than the illness I suffered this summer was the reality reported in my summer’s reading and viewing. My health challenges are not much compared to what native and other marginalized people have endured. I suppose it’s the big brother and preaching pastor in me that draws me to the ugly reality of how cruelly some would treat others, and it makes me want to warn us about us while reminding us – we should do better.
On my cross-country drive last summer we came upon the area of General Custer’s last stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Modern Natives and we more recent Europeans milled about amicably in a souvenir shop where I picked up Dr. Ian Barnes’ “Historical Atlas of Native Americans.” I can’t finish it. Lies, betrayals, invasion, torture, and racist genocide pushed the native people of this continent westward and into each other. I can read only a few pages at a time, so sad and cruel is the history.
I also made myself watch Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” on PBS. I was (and still am) fairly ignorant about the worst war our country ever fought. More died in it than in all our other wars combined! The “us and them” mentality of each locked both sides in hideous atrocities. Loyalty, duty, bravery, and sacrifice were common to both sides as they tragically clashed.
All these follow on my earlier reading this year of Will and Ariel Durant’s “Caesar and Christ,” part three of their of their ten volume “The Story of Civilization.” The ethics of how Rome treated subjugated people, from Jesus to Spartacus, is so horridly cruel, yet taken as a matter of course – astound me. Sadly, the standard of the one driving the spikes into Jesus seemed to become the church’s into the medieval ages, not Jesus’. Demanding belief and threatening torture became the method of spreading the gospel.
Finally, I started viewing Jill Lepore’s “Encounters in the New World – A History in Documents.” Indians as naked as Adam and Eve were the despised and dominated victims of a believe-it-or-else gospel. Only rarely was there respect and mutuality. Mostly, superior weapons wielded with rationalized self-righteousness led some Europeans to slaughter and enslave the native peoples. Well, that and (mostly inadvertent) diseases let them kill the natives and claim the land.
(I have also started reading Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” about this topic, having already read his “Collapse” about how stupid rulers and gullible followers can create ecological suicide.)
Of particular interest to me is how sanctimony can seem to justify atrocity. Spreading the Cross to Christianize the heathens while subjugating and conquering them was an all-too-common excuse to do any cruel thing.
These historical events remind me how thin the barrier is between our modern mind and our medieval one. You’d think the Enlightenment, the rise of humanistic values and ways, the mantle of self-rule, and our new knowledge of ecology would protect and advance us past such horrible ways of relating.
But migration due to political, economic, and climate problems, coupled to angry populism and authoritarian rule, is on the rise. Just as we humans have begun to discover how ancient our evolution is and how recently we shook off the rule of corrupt popes and stupid kings, we find ourselves in social and environmental worry. Our wonder gets lost in needed warnings.
So, God bless Gretta! She’s a much better public speaker than I. She’s concise and clear. She’s passionate and pointed.
(The world-wide protest she inspired in young people by the millions (about 500 here in our small town) went unmentioned on Meet the Press, I’m sorry to say. The usual weapon-makers, energy companies and pharmaceutical sponsored show dwelt on saber-rattling and Trumpian antics instead.)
As vulnerable and gullible people keep supporting the psychopathic rulers in too many places (Philippines, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, here, etc.) I worry for truth-speaking activists, journalists, scientists, common people just trying to live simple lives, and for a viable future. Can empathy, respect, and mutuality become part of our humanity-wide trans-species ethic?
More than wishing, I’m finally starting to do what I can (beyond my UU ministry and occasional editorial commenting). I’ve rented space at the Geos Building (an environmental organization at the corner of 4th and C Streets in Ashland) to present services and I’ve advertised it. Here’s the plan so-far:
Sunday Services, 10:30 AM, Geos Building, 4th & C Streets, Ashland, Oregon
Oct. 6: “Human, Natural, and Sovereign” Genesis One, Intent, Community
Oct. 20: “Fallen Cultures and Reviving Eden” Rome to now, Collapse, Hope
Nov. 10: “But, Butts!” A sex-positive sermon
Nov. 17: “Love Drugs” Entheogens as Aids to what’s Good in and around us
How much of the following script will be included in the Locals Guide, I’m not sure. I’m including it here for those who have read this far:
For fifty years I’ve had an idea I think would help humanity and earthlife. This idea applies and appeals to believer and atheists. It uses page one of the Bible to help fix all further problematic passages and our worldly predicament. I do not believe we should “believe in the Bible” or in “Jesus as God” or even “God” in order to live freely, healthily, happily, ethically, and satisfied. We should be as smart, strong, sensual, and sovereign as that passage offers. This has been nagging in me to be told and developed for fifty years. Now it’s time to reveal it and develop a small group of people interested in exploring and promoting it.
I came to Ashland thirty-three years ago to be the first minister of the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, a small, liberal congregation then meeting in Talent. We quickly moved to the Cabaret Theater for three years and then purchased the church on 4th St. The congregation had tripled. I also helped found and serve the UU fellowship in Grants Pass, where I am now emeritus. Although I value these two ministries (and former ones in St. Joseph, Michigan, Clinton, North Carolina and Urbana, Illinois) I now want to speak for myself and to the larger world rather than just in the UU tradition.
I was born in Pontiac, Michigan on Hiroshima Day. That coincidence creates a calling in me, to seek unity, health, and just relations for all humans and all earth’s life. War, coupled with sudden, damaging technologies, exploitative economic systems, and fallen cultural assumptions, badly affects our health, society, and ecosystem. We need to live up to our incarnation in this crucial time. We need to live in and up to the only Eden we’ll ever have – our free, fulfilled embodiment on this whole, interconnected precious and precarious planet.
While I try to be intelligent and caring, I can be outspoken and edgy. My services will be quirky, rational, sincere, and fun. We will sing pop songs and show tunes rather than hymns, get to know each other, and cultivate what is naturally good in us, our society, and ecosystem. We’ve been tricked out of what’s naturally good. We’re going to rediscover, reclaim, replenish, and revive what’s good in and for ourselves, each other, and our only Eden. Whether you’re unchurched, anti-church, a believer or a disbeliever, we can all relate well to our time in history and enjoy ourselves while doing it. If so-inclined, please come.
You might suppose my gloomy blog post here leaves me disheartened. Not so.
I have hope and faith we humans are better than we’re led lately. We’ve faced hard challenges before. Some, we’ve mastered. The ozone hole is closing due to rapid trans-national cooperation. The condors didn’t go extinct; there’s about a thousand now. We have light-hearted truth-speakers like Steven Colbert. We have principled CEOs and engineers like Elon Musk. We have Gretta. We have each other.
I have food in the refrigerator, health enough to get going again, money enough to get by. Our society could shift and become a noble and creative participant in humanity’s challenge. Were we to love our Eden, we’d have more of it.