Overheard remarks

In connection the directed reading over Lacan that I’m supervising, I recently read Jonathan Lear’s Freud, which I assigned to make up for the fact that we can’t literally do the ideal thing to prepare for the reading of Lacan, i.e., read all of Freud 14 times in German. Lear spent some time on Freud’s dream of the botanical manuscript, the interpretation of which hinged crucially on something Freud’s father said about him, in his presence, but not to him: “He’ll never amount to anything.” I recalled that Bruce Fink had also reported the importance of overheard parental declarations in psychoanalysis — and the fact that the crucial declaration may not even be about the child himself or herself (for example, if Freud’s father made the same declaration about the neighbor boy, but Freud had misunderstood it as referring to him), an idea that for some reason struck me as deeply tragic and meaningful.

A chain of associations opened up. For instance, once when I was in grade school, I decided that I should become a spy and hid under my parents’ bed and listened to an odd conversation. Read the rest of this entry »

Adventures in Church Attendance: Response to a Concerned Voicemail

Dear ________,

First, I want to thank you for your call a week or so ago. I have not been ignoring it, though the delay & your stated concern in the voicemail would perhaps suggest otherwise. Things have just been more busy than normal, attentions tugged this way & then that. While I confess I could’ve made and/or found the time to respond, either by calling or by writing, life is filled with decisions, most of them, we hope, not as malevolent or even as plainly calculated as they might appear, and I opted for decisions that did not include a quick response to you.

Second, you will no doubt notice that I’m responding via email rather than your chosen mode of communication, the telephone. Please, do not read anything into that either. I’m simply far more comfortable in print than I am in person, with even my closest friends. Would that I could carry on my own internal dialogues & diatribes wholly in print, I might make a better go at consciousness in general. Read the rest of this entry »

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Adventures in Church Attendance: Estrangement

There are, I believe, no limits to conversations, only the limitations of time & occasion. Beyond these, though, there can be no vulgarity too crass or cliché too vapid. When we speak to one another, truly speak, everything is open game in its own way.This is not to say, however,  I’m always happy about it.

Take. as an example, the matter of religion. Last week, in the course of such a conversational free-for-all I let fly a really quite stammering, nearly incomprehensible, only vaguely related to the matter at hand “confession” concerning my recently aborted attempts to attend church. Thankfully, my new friend was graceful enough to listen & then to re-route the conversation off its badly drawn detour. Because, let’s be frank, I was laboring, like a too-fat boxer by the third round. While I still maintain nothing in particular is off-limits conversationally, religion, like an old annoying friend you always try to insure never enters the orbit of your other friends, annoying in their own right, they, is a complex business.

My “relationship to religion,” so my aforementioned friend described it, though largely in the past, remains the informative stuff of this past, if there is but one, and my personality, of which there are surely multiple. Although my father had as little to do with religion & the church as he did we three boys, my mother most definitely did. And there was a time that where she went, so was I. Consequently, when she was concerned, with a grave sort of glee religious folk have long-ago mastered, with “The 88 Reasons the World Will End in 1988,” I, too, was concerned. So concerned, in fact, that I repressed any notion of teenage rebellion I should have had at the time, and instead fell to my knees often and confessed all the fruits of my pistoning pubescent hormones. Even prior to that, I forget how old I was, I remember waking my mother, simply to say I was sorry. For what, she asked with irritation. — Everything. Read the rest of this entry »

Adventures in Church Attendance: A Match is Struck

I will have more to say about the following portion of an email I sent the good reverend a couple of days ago. There are things & thoughts leading up to it that I’ve yet to share with you (or her, for that matter), and there obviously will be some fallout I can only as yet anticipate. But I wanted to share it with you anyway, my companions in this story. It, the story, now appears to have its climax, anticipating an ending.

* * *

I want to flag something for you, because you’ve been extraordinarily kind to me and I owe you honesty beyond all else. I know you will want to talk about this in person, but I also think you know that I have a tendency to want to articulate myself (at first anyway) in writing. I’m going to step away from Council [lay leadership] duties after the present one-year term. I had a wonderful experience. Nothing specific has been problematic and I have no grievances to air. It was all I anticipated it would be, given the graciousness of the congregation in general. I regret nothing. It’s just that in recent weeks, after a good deal of reflection, I’ve concluded it is neither in my best interest nor that of the church that I continue in leadership. I don’t mean to say I’m “leaving the church,” “strike me from the rolls,” etc. Nothing so dramatic. I fully support the work that _____ does in the community and worldwide, and value the contributions I can continue to make toward that work.

Basically, and to put it quite bluntly, it is simply the business of Christian faith: at the end of the day, I am not in it. Yes, I have an ability to speak its language and wield its grammar, sometimes quite well, but at the end of the day it does not, in fact, speak to me. This is not an out-of-the-blue revelation. As you well know, I’m not a spiritual person. Although I suspect you never quite grasped the depth of that “not.” Indeed, quite franklyl I don’t even profess a belief in God. Where I have faith, it is only in the language of faith—the ins & the outs, the metaphors & tonality of that language that both motivates and is embodied by action. (Even during my doctoral studies my adviser wondered regularly whether what I was doing was more properly aesthetics than it was theology.) For the past two years, this appeal to language has been enough for me to identify myself as sufficiently Christian. Indeed, it may, in fact, be sufficient in the scheme of things. (Though I suspect not.) But the last few months I have experienced it more as a burden: a self-examination & -interpretation whose purpose has come to elude me. There is a treasure-trove of literature that talks about such a burden in spiritual terms, & I have a good many friends who in the long run have valued by the kind of meditative introspection it invites, but these terms (those of the spirit) are precisely the terms I do not accept. This is all well & good for one who participates, by way of presence if  nothing else, in worship, or who gives money to the offering, or who cares for the concerns of those people he now considers friends. As I say, perhaps even sufficient in the scheme of things, whatever that means, which is likely very little, if anything at all; but, perhaps not quite so in terms of participating in Christian leadership.

Adventures in Church Attendance: A Questionnaire on Ecclesiology

I’ve been sitting on a half-written (now 3/4-written) reflection piece about the recurring question (for me every Sunday that I walk into & out of church) of being earnest. Unfortunately, it’s still not quite ready to peddle off on the five of you who really dig these posts. In lieu of that, and perhaps even more revealing (of something more interesting than me, I hope), I thought I might post the answers I just now provided my church’s pastor (is it symptomatic of something deeper & more problematic that I still don’t refer to her as my pastor?) to a questionnaire on ecclesiology she sent this afternoon to me and the others on her DMin advisory team. (Please, reserve your ill judgment of the good reverend on her choice of said team. I suspect she  just wanted some cold, unemotional balance.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Adventures in Church Attendance: Yup, Still Shit At Prayer

“Pray-er,” she said.
“You mean prayer. There’s only one syllable. The way you say it sounds like you’re talking about the person who is praying.”
“That’s what I said. Pray-er.”

This was the conversation my wife and I had as we left for church Sunday morning. I was scheduled to do the formal prayers—those relating to the “joys & concerns” of the community, as well as the dedication of the offering—and she was eager to see how things would go. Neither of us are “pray-ers,” in either the strictest or loosest of senses. She appreciates the idea of prayer more than I, citing the “Well, you never know what might help” logic that draws snorts of scorn from her sympathetic husband, but she doesn’t make much of a show about actually following through on it. A theistic secular Catholic Belgian, my wife, so she is content to live with contradiction. An atheistic post-secular Protestant American, I am apparently content only where I feel the most conflicted. Read the rest of this entry »

“All Things Shining” — Another AUFS Sermon!?

In the spirit of audio offerings recently discussed by Anthony & the recent sermons posted here by Chris, I offer you now the audio from my sermon today, “All Things Shining” [PDF]. (As it turns out, Chris & I appealed to the same text and found inspiration from the same source. Go figure. & bonus points for those who can identify the phrase given to me by Anthony in a conversation on Saturday.) People who thought I was joking about making a Wallace Stevens poem my Scripture for the day proved to be surprised.

Adventures in Church Attendance: Behind the Pulpit Edition

My adventures in church attendance continued apace this past Mother’s Day weekend. It marked the one-year anniversary of an early crisis point in my decision to start attending church again. The Wife & I had been attending sporadically for a couple of months at that  point with relatively little to note or complain about. We deeply disliked (and still do) all the singing, but not so much that it was a deal-breaker. Upon sight of last year’s Mother’s Day bulletin, however, we both were brought short. They had decided to recast it as Mother Earth Sunday — a fusion of Mother’s Day and Earth Day. Now while I’m neither opposed to Mothers or Mother’s Day, I’m not so down with parental metaphors governing the way I understand my relationship with and to the environment. More damnable still, we agreed, it just seemed too clever for its own good, and took it as cause to evaluate what the hell we were doing. Why were going? Etc. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I was inclined to gut it out. (This whole church experiment thing is purely my idea, and she just comes along, occasionally, for moral support, and to insure I don’t make a scandal of our good name in our small town.) Read the rest of this entry »

Adventures in Church Attendance: On Not Being a Believer

As I have related in previous posts, I have recently been immersed in my own “religious turn.” Regular church attendance (at a local United Church of Christ congregation) has turned into participating in lay leadership, which has turned into teaching opportunities, which has turned into being a delegate to my local conference, which may eventually turn into me seeking ordination. It has all happened rather quickly, and suffice it to say I’m still trying to make sense of it all. A while back I promised a more lengthy post about this, but put it off to the point of completely forgetting to do so. Adam’s most recent post below has compelled me finally to do so, as I think some of my experience speaks to the division in question there. Read the rest of this entry »

More Adventures in Church Attendance: Whither Escapism?

As is typically the case when I’m at church, I am thinking about other things. To think about things religious amongst religious people, I find, generates deep antipathy and annoyance on my part. This is a moral failing, perhaps, a vice from which I should repent as readily as I might avarice or arrogance; but it is, I suspect, the one I will release last, at last, even, upon my dying breath, when faced with the possibility that it is time to “get serious,” or at the very least “make peace.” This past weekend, the third Sunday of Advent, I once again found my mind elsewhere, despite having arrived late enough in the service to miss the threats of silent, holy nights rudely, if you ask me, interrupted by herald angels singing about glory and newborn kings. As I strained to wrestle my attention into submission, not unlike Jacob grappling (not without pleasure, I’m sure) for a blessing from a divine stranger, I settled for a compromise — that of applying something I’d rather be doing to what I decided to do instead. I found myself, in short, thinking some more about Elias Canetti’s book Crowds & Power, but this time through the filter of my recent experience as a congregant at a local United Church of Christ, which came quite suddenly (randomly, if you were to ask my wife) after a decade of non-attendance that at the time I had considered an obsessively scribbled period, a terminal punctuation punching its way to a troublesomely deep bruise of black and blue, to nearly two decades of participation in evangelical Christianity. Read the rest of this entry »

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