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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Desperately Seeking Spirituality ► Another Pastoral Letter

Analog writing
Dear Pastor Kenny: 

I'm not feeling terribly pastoral these days, yet it seems time for another Pastoral Letter, so here we go into the dark abyss of my soulless psyche. 

I'm starting this in longhand on the night of the Summer Solstice as I catch a breather before heading out to the Tequesta Summer Solstice Drum Circle. It's a drum circle so crowded that trying to find any kind of spirituality seems foolish.

So why, you may ask, am I going? Good question. Bad answer: I'm not entirely sure, but I have equated drum circles with serenity and the search for something pastoral, as you know. Which, if nothing else, explains why I am writing a Pastoral Letter, Ken, even if I'm not feeling it.

Recently I revealed to a drum circle buddy that I was going to the Tequesta Summer Solstice Drum Circle to see if I could find spirituality. I was surprised when they told me that they were a Nihilist, something I never would have suspected of them. I think that's one of the few philosophies I haven't tried on yet.

As an aside, I learned this morning that:
[T]he meaning of the “the shruggie” is always two, if not three- or four-, fold. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ represents nihilism, “bemused resignation,” and “a Zen-like tool to accept the chaos of universe.” It is Sisyphus in unicode. I use it at least 10 times a day.
I'm feeling more nihilistic than pastoral because of last week's church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, cradle of the racist south. I'm not feeling very pastoral because, as soon as it happened, so many people on the Right became heavily invested into denying that racism had anything to do with it, instead blaming the War on Christianity, video games, and the evil Left Wing Libruls, as opposed to the twin scourge of Racism and easily available guns in this country.

Even after Dylann Roof admitted it was a racial attack -- that he was trying to start a race war (echoes of Charlie Mason and Helter Skelter) -- Fox "News" and others were still denying the obvious. It's that denial that allows incidents like these to happen time and time again in this country.

Coming so close on the heels of Ferguson, Baltimore, McKinney, and more, the senseless slaughter of 9 innocent people -- at a Bible study class -- is simply an overt example of the pernicious racism that pumps through this country's bloodstream. It's in our DNA. It's baked in the cake with the Constitution's 3/5ths compromise. Black folk were chattel, property to be bought and sold, owned by anyone who could put up the cash at the many Slave Auctions through the south.

When slavery was outlawed -- following the Civil War -- and Reconstruction was abandoned, Jim Crow took its place. Redlining folks into ghettos, refusing home renovation loans, lower wages, worse schools, a lack of opportunity, and White Flight -- not to mention lynchings -- kept Black folk in enclaves as tightly controlled as those that existed during slavery. This as Black folk did most of the back-breaking work that built this country.

As you know, Pastor Kenny, I use these Pastoral Letters, for the most part, to kick around ideas about religion and atheism that I've had my entire life. This one will also address some of my ideas about race relations in 'Merka.

Bottom line: If there was a God, She wouldn't have allowed 9 innocent people to be slaughtered in Her house. Yeah, yeah, I know that's been said a million times before me, so many times that religionists have a ready answer for it. I forget what it is because I just think it's a bogus rationalization.

Oh, wait! I remember now. It's God's will. Got it.

I had been on the verge of tears all week following the massacre, but I totally lost it when the families of the victims started giving their impact statements at the bail hearing. Every one of them spoke about God's forgiveness and Jesus. Their capacity for forgiveness was more than my already over-wrought emotional capacity could bear.

They were forgiving Dylann Roof, but it sounded to me more like they were forgiving God for allowing it to happen in the first place. 

To me this was incomprehensible. More incomprehensible is that this fellow Jesus, by all accounts a pretty good guy, was the God of their Slave Masters. Why would anyone adopt the God of their Masters? Still more incomprehensible to me: The same Bible used by the Slave Masters to justify slavery was used by the slaves as a prediction of their eventual emancipation. They identified with the Jews and the motto "Let my people go!"

It's a tricky book that can be used by all sides to justify whatever people want. Right now it's being used to deny LGBT communities basic human rights. I'm glad you're fighting against that, Ken.

Tequesta Summer Solstice Drum Circle at sunset, June 21, 2015
The overriding reason I go to these drum circles whenever possible is because I felt an irresistible spiritual tug to it when I covered the Coconut Grove Drum Circle marching in the King Mango Strut.

Tonight I went to the Tequesta Summer Solstice Drum Circle, but I wasn't feeling all that pastoral either. I had had an intermittent stomach ache all day, that only got worse once I arrived at the park. That kept me from getting inside the rhythm, which is my comfort zone within a circle. I've yet to achieve that at Tequesta, because of how crowded the field is with 3-400 people in it. For some reason I still want to see if that's even possible.

You see, I'm still trying to figure out why I have such a visceral need to bang 2 pieces of wood together. Is this a desire on my part to replicate the human heartbeat? Or, in the alternative, am I just another case study for Dr. Oliver Sacks. While standing and watching the crowd on Sunday, I couldn't help but feel a weird kind of cultural appropriation.

When I first experienced a drum circle, at the 2013 King Mago Strut, I couldn't help but think of Kebo. Apparently Kebo was a village in Africa. It's also the name some of the original Bahamian immigrants gave the enclave that is now known colloquially as West Grove in Coconut Grove. On that day I was struck with the fact that I was standing in modern day Kebo and listening to a bunch of White folk bang on drums. I couldn't help but wonder what the ancestors buried in the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery would think of this development.

Now, I don't want to say that only Black folks have rhythm because I've heard a lot of amazing White drummers in these drum circles. What I will say is that I see very few Black folk at these drum circles. I find that interesting and worthy of note. Before I left Tequesta (at 9:30, long before the crowd would have reached its zenith) I decided to walk around the circle 3 times, which isn't easy when it's so crowded. While I did so I counted the Black folk I saw. I counted 14.

For reasons I can't even describe it didn't help make me feel pastoral.



I'm still recovering from whatever stomach bug I picked up, but am starting to feel better, Kenny. Well enough to try to organize the rest of my thoughts and finish this latest Pastoral Letter before it gets too old.

Some people see things through Rose Coloured Glasses; Since leaving Detroit I see things through Race Coloured Glasses. It may be a blessing, or a curse, but my mind almost always immediately jumps to how Race plays into whatever sitch-eee-ay-shuns I'm observing. There are many reasons for this. However, I believe it all goes back to the awakening I had when Pops lost everything in the '67 Detroit Riot.

I didn't have the words for it at the age of 15, but these were my first inklings of White Privilege and Black Rage. I've been piecing the rest of it together ever since.

Read: The Detroit Riots, Part Five
of the Unpacking My Detroit series


Ken, yesterday I went to Barnes and Noble to get your book. There's only 3 weeks before we get together next month and I wanted to have digested it before we talk about it.

It turns out A Letter to my Congregation is not one of the religious books Barnes and Noble stocks, so I had to order it, pre-pay for it, and pay an additional $3.99 shipping fee for the experience. Just for shits and giggles I told the clerk that I didn't want a book that I couldn't examine first. Couldn't they have it shipped to the store so I could make an informed decision on whether I really wanted it or not by holding it in my hand?

No. That's not something they do. But, I was given a choice. I could either buy it, or not buy it. I chose to buy it. Furthermore, I was told your book will be shipped to me anytime between a week to a month. It may not arrive before the 3rd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research, so I may not know what's between the covers before we meet again. Worse yet, how will I get it inscribed by the author?

So, I am still forced to read discern your Biblical reasoning from your posts and the book reviews I've been reading.

I have said more than once that those who believe in God have it a lot easier than the rest of us. How nice it must be, whenever one is buffeted by the injustices in life, to be able to place everything in the hands of the Lord and just go on. Even more interesting to me is that whole "Get out of hell free" card religions offer: Make a confession, do a few Hail Marys, and poof! You're good to go again with a clean slate.

An Atheist like myself has to live with the fact that I screwed up. Only I can make it right. A prayer won't fix it. Yet -- as I take a quick self-examination -- I'm not breaking any of the 10 Commandments anyway. At least none of the biggies. I don't need a book to tell me what's the right thing to do. None of us should. I don't need a promise of Heaven to do what's right.

Nor do I have to find justification in the Bible for treating people with simple dignity. That you have had to spend all those pages to say, in essence, "What would Jesus do?" seems like a waste of time and energy. That you are considered an outlier in your religion should tell you something. It tells me churches have been wrong -- about so much -- for centuries and that's not about to change in our lifetimes.

If there really was a God it would change tomorrow. She'd kick some ass and get 'er done, to quote a Redneck comedian.

My receipt: Barnes and Noble
didn't stock your book, but it still
tried to sell me books it did have.
As fresh as today's Headlines Du Jour, because it was published today, is Pastors want to create a Christian community open to all, your interview on Michigan Radio:
Ken Wilson founded Vineyard Church in Ann Arbor and served on the national board of Vineyard USA for seven years.

Then, he and co-pastor Emily Swan left Vineyard to form Blue Ocean Faith, a new church that seeks to create an evangelical Christian community in Ann Arbor that openly welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members.

Wilson says that leaving his congregation at Vineyard was difficult, but it’s a move he’s proud of.

“The denomination I was a part of rejected my move toward being fully inclusive with LGBT, and so that necessitated our starting a new church,” he says.

How many breakaway churches are needed before we reach the least common denominator?

In that interview you are making the same point as I did above before I even heard this, about the church being wrong:
Absolutely. We were wrong on interracial marriage, we were wrong on slavery, we were wrong on the full inclusion of women. For 2,000 years the church taught a very, very strict line on divorce or remarriage, where virtually no one who had a living spouse could be remarried. And this was just -- didn't square with reality.
However, we look at these previous errors of church doctrine differently. How could God let Her creation be so self-deluded? Over and over again? How do you know you've finally got it right?

Over the last 2 days we've have seen a seismic shift in our treatment of the Confederate flag in this country. Soon  the Supreme Court will hopefully rule in favour of LGBT marriage and equality. Eventually, the church will either have to embrace LGBT equality, or die. I believe it will be the latter.

Until that happens, I'm not feeling very pastoral. Maybe I can find some of that at Saturday's drum circle.

See you next month.

Your childhood friend,
Marc Slootsky