Sunday, 24 June 2012

Bad Religion

About two weeks ago, I was passing through Dundas Square in downtown Toronto while a concert was going on. There were a lot of people there and I could hear the loud punk- rock music, the cries of the crowd, and whatnot. But what really struck me was that, elevated high above the stage overlooking the square, was the image of a cross with a line through it, crossing it out.

I don’t really know much about the band “Bad Religion” and just how much the theme of anti-religion is involved in their lyrics or identity. Nor do I care. It struck me, though, that if the symbol were anything other than a cross, be it the star of David, the crescent moon, the Buddha, or a pride rainbow or any other symbol of secular culture/ political identification, people would be up in arms.

What does this say, that we are so willing to deride the deeply loved symbol of one group, but not many others?  Is it because so many Christians are willing to use the cross to try to intimidate others into their worldview? Perhaps, but there’s no question that secular symbols and PC language are also used to intimidate and silence people through social pressure.

In a way, I wonder if we’re not so willing to deride the Cross precisely because there is some residue of Christian identity left within our culture.  It suggests, in a certain sense, our comfort with the image of the Cross- the extent of its internalization in the Western psyche. We do not feel these other symbols, those of Islam or Buddhism, are really ours to claim and use.  The cross, we feel, somehow belongs to us, even if it is there for us to abuse and deride as a statement of political or social rebellion.  In a culture that was truly not Christian, that truly had forgotten it’s cultural roots in Christianity, the crossing out of a Cross would not have much of an effect at all.  It wouldn’t strike us as subversive.  It couldn’t possibly be hip and show up at the centre of a rock and roll identity.  When one religion replaces another, the symbol of the new religion is a positive object, not merely the negation of the former. 

Of course, I understand that any use of a symbol is very complex and has a variety of explanations.  I am only thinking that perhaps there is just a little bit of  “the lady doth protest too much” here. To define yourself as the negation of an idea is to permit the continued power of said idea over you. 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Springtime on the Farm

Springtime on the farm.
wind blows,
tousles the tall grass so far spared
the mower's shears, and southward shares
a hint of cherries about to be. 

the church brick warms.
A blue bird goes,
skirts the houses, scared.
The shot gun's appeared. 
All feather bullet-seared,
He'll rest on the pear tree. 

An unleashed dog crossing property lines. 
Head low
Yes, he does know
He's doing wrong. 
He slips past the pond,
scatters the bull frogs' songs
and the mayflies'  smoky throngs, 
by swishing through the reeds.  

It was the scent and sight of the cotton tail,
or the flash and flight
of some feathered gale--
something's  got him trotting out a footpad trail 
in forbidden fields. 


"don't you wag that tail"
(finger wags assail)
An old lady waves
her rag in a gale
of "Bah! Bah Get! You! Get, Be Gone!"

Oh, the guilt of living freely,
of transgressing merely
the lines drawn so unfairly
by the master's steely 

To there he's been looking daily
at the grapevines that just barely
sit out of reach and trail the   
inclining contours of the hill.

(Now, he's in the throes of the thrill.)

What's on the other side of that hill? 
A trickling stream to drink his fill? 
A ball? A bird? A boy? A  bed of grass
to rest upon? 
He'll never know. 
Bah. Bah. Get you! Get be gone!

jordan dejonge. 

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Lord's Supper

"Grant me, O Lord, admittance to your eternal banquet."
This is just a small invocation that I've been praying lately, throughout the day or at the conclusion of prayers. I thought I'd share it with you.

Lately, I've been coming to appreciate more and more the social dimension of Catholic Christian belief. In one sense, the nostalgia for a Christendom is not entirely misplaced. Catholic belief demands a laboring towards "the good society", so we shouldn't cease to imagine it. Nothing expresses the communitarian nature of Christian belief better than our image of heaven which, perhaps, was far too long imagined as a set of pearly gates ontop of clouds where individuals get to, or don't.

In many of the world's religions, say like Buddhism and Hinduism, salvation is a release of individuality into the Absolute. It is a mystical thing, beyond words, beyond images, beyond selfhood. The Heaven of Christianity is so perfectly ordinary as to be almost shocking to the religious mind: a banquet table, a wedding, a dinner.

If ever you've treasured sitting with your family around the table, laughing and drinking wine and reminiscing or singing, you've probably satisfied, even for just a few hours, the most ordinary of human urges: To enjoy good things with good company (or mixed company!). In the end, this is the secular heart of Christianity (or the trasncendent core of the immanent, whatever one calls it), I think, that it makes something so mundane so heavenly.

So maybe our legitimacy as Christians really depends on our ability to make good banquets here, in the image of the eternal banquet to come. That doesn't really mean saying a pretty Mass. By good banquet I don't mean "good party", but "good community" on which a truly good celebration depends.

Maybe here is the charybdis and scylla that we have to navigate through. The secular world is all about throwing the best party, about intoxication and deadening the sense of the sorrows of our social loss through sex and drugs. The temptation on the part of Catholic leaders today is to throw the best ceremony in its stead. To make our refusal of the secular temptation so adamant as to become merely its opposite. This is the danger of making the heavenly banquet "too heavenly", so heavenly that it's just a dream beyond us, and our ceremonies are more a lamentation of what we don't have here.

I think if we're really to be loyal to the beauty of the Mass in all its traditional splendor, that loyalty depends above all on the ability to make its meaning real for the lives of those around us. In this sense, too much emphasis on correct liturgy can be in danger of elevating the sign above the signified (in the words of a wise friend).

How can we make our communities better, in these times? It seems so difficult. It feels like we have so few tools, so few footholds to start from.

Gay Christians maybe have a calling here, because we do tend to be an image of "the outsider" and many of us are very shaped by our outsider experience. We're such a cause for division. But the place where we divide and distinguish ourselves is also the very place where we are to reconcile ourselves amongst one another. This is the image of the meal. Where one sits, who is admitted- it all says something about social caste and membership. It is also the place where Jesus does radical things, like invite the "wrong people".

"The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully... God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Cor. 9:6)
We will receive in proportion to what we gave. So if we pray "Admit me, O Lord, to your Supper", we should also be admitting people to our own supper. And I am finding this is a very difficult thing!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

A Prayer

A Prayer

Let us regard...

Not so much the pleasing of men
that they might later be our pleasure,

or not so much witting ourselves lone out of the pen
to enjoy alone the freedom of the pasture,

not so much the storing up of ken
to set ourselves over all men as their pastor.

But more the moment when I slip your glasses off,
quietly, because you are sleeping. 

Let us regard…

Not so much the pursuit of success
or the superlative of style,
not so much the refining of our resume 
or our puffed and breathing profile,
or the flash and glimmer of our product
and its slogan to beguile. 

But more when we were joyfully made fools by the height of our own laughter. 

Let us regard…

Not so much the apartment with the view,
unscrolling the painted backdrop of the set,
or our knowing of the cue,
not letters to heart or lips lush, painted wet, 
or the strength of our performance for those we've never met. 

But more 
when the shout of country thunder 
sent you quickly to my bed,
to the safety of my breath. 

Let us more regard these things,  
not what the market's morrow brings,
instead, have the sparrow's cares (that are her wings)
Who, with mustard trust, by the lilly sings
and plucks the heads of grain. 

Let us regard more 
the suddenness of our fellow
who, among the hard and yet moving river-earth of objects,
is outwardly riven,
offering the inward living gift
from beneath that ever migrating welter of things. 

let us settle on this, and call it 
"the great mystery"  and "the subject of all dogma."
and "altissimum". 

Let us not so regard our seeing of the global world;
the having of wonders from men and women that loom
as a landscape built of bricks built of children.
Let us not so easily have these wonders
by the magic of the frame,
or the engine of the plane. 
Let us touch our faces to the ground first,
Let us taste the dirt like Bernadette, 
Let us in the plains await,
Let us only pass through gates
after water and oil has trickled on the head. 

Let us not so regard our owning of the lone room in the tower,
where we keep the rosy flower
by the window sill under lock and key.

not so afraid of the mortal hour
when flesh loses pulse and power
and we'll rest between rock and fruit tree.  

Let us not so regard all these,
Instead, let us ascend the stair case with bruiséd knees,
let us unlock the upper door and drown the key,
let us set the table outside amidst the tugs of breeze,
Let the loaf of bread be broken among the three,
Then let us drink the sap from the maple tree,
And  say 'amen'. 

jordan dejonge.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Here and Now

It was a beautiful Victoria Day long weekend, with ample time for reflection and soaking up the sunlight. Also, I found this: 


I took a day to search for God,
And found Him not. But as I trod
By rocky ledge, through woods untamed,
Just where one scarlet lily flamed,
I saw his footprint in the sod.

Then suddenly, all unaware,
Far off in the deep shadows, where
A solitary hermit thrush
Sang through the holy twilight hush-
I heard His voice upon the air.

And even as I marvelled how
God gives us Heaven here and now,
In a stir of wind that hardly shook
The poplar leaves beside the brook-
His hand was light upon my brow.

At last with evening as I turned
Homeward, and thought what I had learned
And all that there was still to probe-
I caught the glory of his robe
Where the last fires of sunset burned.

Back to the world with quickening start
I looked and longed for any part
In making saving Beauty be...
And from that kindling ecstasy
I knew God dwelt within my heart.

(Bliss Carman)

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Flif Flif Flif Very Fast

Song to Alfred Hitchcock and Wilkinson

flif flif flif very fast
is the noise the birds make
running over us.
A poet would say "fluttering"
"see-sawing with sun on their wings"
but all it is
is flif flif flif very fast.

Michael Ondaatje
(The Dainty Monster)

Saturday, 12 May 2012


It should first be noted that, while most people today would assume that the obverse of belief in God is atheism, this is not the biblical view - and, as I will demonstrate, it is not Niebuhr's view either.The true obverse of the affirmation of God's existence, whether made scientifically or dogmatically, is not the counterfactual, "God does not exist." For only a fool would say "there is no God" (Psalms 53:2), since such a denial could not possibly be proven. How can anyone prove that anyone else does not exist?
Idolatry is the radical obverse of the conviction that God exists because idolatry radically displaces the One God with some other god or gods, and idolaters are as convinced of their other god or gods as theists are convinced of their One God.

- David Novak on "Reinhold Niebuhr", "Idolatry: the Root of All Evil"

Despite the fact that his argument is in one respect not persuasive ("for only a fool would say..." seems to unjustifiably set aside the possibility of real, intellectually determined atheism)*, I find this perspective quite helpful.

This is because I am currently less concerned with finding orthodox[ies], and moreso with the purgation of idolatry from my actions and patterns of thinking. One might argue this presupposes a certain image of God, and I would think this is true. But this is God as a negation, God as an interrogation and a question, "is this [action, thought or belief] really absolute? Have you really here found that 'abiding ground' on which to build'?" and even as accusser and challenger, "you can't stop here! you have not found rest!

The God of the Hebrew Scriptures is very frequently a God of negation. A God whose face we are not permitted to see, who gives his name in the riddle of "I am who I am", and whose people consequently wander the desert and dwell in tents. Inscribed into the memory of the Hebrew People is that their God is one who always has them on the move. They eat the Passover with their loins girded, prepared to exit the land of bondage into the land of wandering. And when they do have a homeland, when they finally do build Jerusalem and its temple,  prophets are raised up to critique their ways and their cult. The city is taken away from them, the temple is destroyed. Their city of stone is lost. Paradoxically, the biblical longing is for a city of "living stones". The characeristic hardness of stone comes at the cost of it being inert and inanimate. The desire for a "living stone" is therefore the desire to unite the organic; that is change, impermanence, instability, and its opposite; to find the "still point" in the movement and "dance" of life itself or, conversely, to make that dead-point the site of movement and flux. 

Maybe this is the wisdom in the trope of "Pilgrim People of God". We live in tents wandering with the ark, we yearn for buildings and a proper place where this Presence can rest. Yet, it will only be so in that place where rock and flesh are one together. 

Perhaps if there is anything to take from this post, it's that we should always regard that we have less of God than we imagine we might. And this empty space is the spur in the boot. 

*I suppose we could agree with the Psalmist and say that all people have a god or gods, insofar as all people regard (self consciously or not), with some degree of consistency, some thing, state, feeling, or idea as absolute and the highest determiner of all their actions. We believe in something through our actions and reactions, not necassarily through our creeds.