Monday, October 25, 2010

Take Me Out To The Black...

Don’t laugh, OK? When I was little, I wanted to be an astronaut. I thought it would be incredibly cool to go rocketing off into space – to see the earth from above, watch the moon as it dwindled in my rear view mirror and explore the stars that filled the night sky. Of course, I was curious about the science part of it, about how a starship would work and why the moon only shows one side of her face to the earth, things like that. The truth is, though, that I always thought there was something immensely beautiful about the universe and I wanted to be closer, to see it more clearly. I wanted to see the rings around far away planets, the colors of the nebulae, the infinite variety of worlds that weren’t my own.

The universe is fantastically big and we’re incredibly small. Still, it seemed to me that there were mysteries that we were meant to explore and beauty we were meant to embrace. If not, what was curiosity for? So, I wanted to head out and see what might be waiting for me. The TV show Firefly, (perhaps the greatest sci-fi show of all time), called it going “into the black.”  Neil Young once said, “And once you're gone, you can never come back, when you're out of the blue and into the black.” If I ever made it, would I ever make it back? I really didn’t care. It seemed better to me to make the journey than to never leave home.

Silly, right? After all, look at me now. Who is more earthbound than me? I have a family and work a job. I have a mortgage, a dog, and people keep trying to give me credit cards. I’m being harassed by political calls wanting me to vote for someone or other. I’m not young anymore. Somewhere, life took a right turn into everyday living. Not for me the exploration of the unknown. There are no galaxy clusters or red giants in my future. I’ll never see firsthand the more than 200 blue stars in Galaxy M33 or even go to Mars.

Where’s my immense universe of light and color? Where is the infinite variety of worlds? Where is my great adventure? I’ve pondered over those questions for a long time. It really doesn’t seem fair of life to tease me with the knowledge that there is something out there and not let me reach for it. As I think about it now, maybe I’m finding the beginnings of an answer. As big as the universe is – the one that begins where our planet’s atmosphere ends – there may be an even bigger one that is much closer.

Recently, I’ve begun to consider the relationships in my life. I am beginning to see them a little differently than I used to. Where there were once people, now I've begun to see complete worlds of personality and possibility in human form. There are thoughts, ideas and emotions that swirl in the minds and hearts of each one of them. There is more to see and more to experience than I could have imagined. The textures and colors of the universe are alive in those unique individuals that I call family and friends. I have only begun to explore their depth and complexity. To understand and appreciate them is the work of a lifetime.

Not everyone you meet is a beautiful galaxy or nebula of course. Some are inhospitable worlds. I’ve met a few gas giants over the years, but we won’t go there. The point is your universe and mine are made up of the infinite interweaving of human relationships in which we really can hear the music of the spheres. We can be gallant explorers without leaving terra firma. We need simply to open our hearts and minds to the wonder and mystery bound up in the persons with whom we share our lives. Welcome to Spaceship Earth!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Are We Living In The Crucible?

As a music/theater double major, my daughter, Bekah, gets to be all artsy and stuff. She has trod the boards of several theaters, playing everything from comedy to tragedy. Many of us have children who have aspired to be actors at one time or another. It's cute when they're little. When they're teenagers, it's a pain to drive them to all the drama practices for the school play. When they get older, you begin to wonder how they'll make a living. After than, you begin to worry that they will be finishing all their business conversations with "Would you like fries with that?"

Still, Bekah continues to amaze me with her persistence. She works hard at her craft and she's been in numerous productions. Here's the kicker: She's good. Really. Yes, I'm her dad and I'm supposed to think that, but others think that too. After all, would they put her in all those plays if she wasn't? I even liked her as the lead in High School Musical 2!

The latest item on Bekah's resume is the character of Rebecca Nurse in the Georgia Southern University theater production of The Crucible. The Crucible is Arthur Miller's play about the Salem Witch Trials. At least, it's about the trials on a surface level. The play takes place in Salem in the year 1692 and deals with the hysteria that accompanies accusations made primarily by a group of teenage girls and some adults with questionable motives that some people were "consorting with the devil." Rebecca Nurse is the saintly grandmother figure of the town. She is a nurturer and a comforter to the sick and troubled is the speaker of wisdom.

The play was written in 1953 and is an allegory of McCarthyism. Miller was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to identify people who were at gatherings he attended. People's lives were ruined by Joe McCarthy and his ilk. Some committed suicide, seeing no other escape from careers and lives that were irreparably damaged by simply being at a party or a meeting in which the subject of communism came up. People made political hay out of the "red scare."

My question is this: Are we living a a crucible today? All I see on TV these days are political ads that do their best to link one politician or another to some national figure that is unpopular with certain segments of our population. If you can brand someone with a label, truth becomes irrelevant (if truth can be found at all). No one talks about the real truths that we need to deal with because they are so busy making up accusations.

Sadly, the religious world of today is in not much better shape than the world of 1692 Salem. The same use of labels, the same acrimonious, sanctimonious speech is part of the everyday landscape. Some Christians make it very hard to be Christian. Are we in a crucible? Some would say that we are. I would agree.

What do we do about it? We do what my daughter and her character, Rebecca Nurse, did. Speak the truth. Respect people. Refuse to be drawn into baseless and useless accusations. Stand firm on the side of humanity and compassion. Rebecca Nurse paid the price for her steadfastness. She was hanged for her refusal to confess to a lie. The human piranhas are out there and they're coming for us. They'll take us unless together we refuse to allow them the opportunity.

Bekah, you were typecast when they put you in that role. There is no better blend of steadfastness, compassion and common sense to be found. Keep being true so the rest of us can see the truth.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In Pursuit of the Wild Goose

Those who know me are aware of my interest in things Celtic and Irish. Some wonder why I, a Southern-born American guy, would be so interested in things both ancient and new from that culture across the sea. It could be the implied family connection. According to a history that mentions my family, we are "of Irish descent." Also (and here's something most of you didn't know) the original family name of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington who beat Napoleon at Waterloo, was actually Wesley. That's right - don't mess with us! We beat Napoleon!

Whether or not there is an actual family connection (and I confess that I have no proof), I was already captured by the Celtic culture before I even knew of the Wesley/Wellesley thing. It all started with the music. If you want to get to me at a basic, elemental level, it happens with music. Music is the doorway to the house of my soul. I can't remember exactly where I first heard music that was Celtic in nature and inspired by the landscape, history and people of the Celtic world. I just know that when I heard it, I felt like I was coming home.

As I started to read about things that reflected Celtic culture, I came across the spirituality of the Celtic peoples and in particular that of the Celtic Christians. Who knew that there was a whole way looking at life and God that was not bound up in so many of the ways and walls of the traditional western Church? I could go on about the presence of God in his creation. I could talk about what it means for each of us to be truly made in the image of God (and perhaps I will do just that in a future blog). I could talk about the idea that there is no real division between "sacred" and secular" when all of life and love and living are sacred. There is so much in the Celtic expression of Christianity that is rich and alive!

Instead of that, I want to go on a wild goose chase. The Celtic Christians had a unique image of the Holy Spirit as a wild goose. They didn't think of the Spirit of God as a dove. Sacrilege? No. We all use images that are meaningful to us in the reality in which we live. To the Celtic believers, the wild goose was an image that carried deep meaning. The goose was not a calm and gentle creature. The goose was wild and free, a creature of wind and sky. In the same way, the Spirit of God is not capable of being domesticated, though so many of us try to do just that. We'd love for God to descend, but only when we call him. We'd like for him to go where and when we send him. God comes and goes where and when he wishes, and we don't send him anywhere. He beckons us to follow the wings of the wild goose on the wind and discover places we've never been.

I've always regretted the fact that I can't fly. I've always wanted to soar under my own power over the earth and into the deep sky. A childhood wish? Perhaps, but I'm OK with being childlike on occasion. Sadly, it's just not going to happen - not in that way. For each of us, though, the power of flight exists. It's a spiritual flight, not a literal one, but it's real nonetheless. To fly, we have to be willing to follow the path of the wild goose into places unknown and places dangerous. The journey of the wild goose is not for the faint of heart. It's for those of us who want to experience the wildness of the Holy - to fly into the Wild Blue Yonder supported upon the wings of God.