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!