upper room daily devotions

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ramblings on TV and Leaving It Behind

A number of years ago when I moved into a new house, I decided not to have cable installed for my television. I even decided not to get an antenna. No broadcast TV for me. This was a big deal for me. I'm part of the "TV Generation." I grew up watching TV. As a child, it was Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Captain Kangaroo, and Mister Rogers. As I aged, it became other shows - The Love Boat, Charlie's Angels, Fantasy Island, The Carol Burnett Show, and others. My parents never put too much stock on limiting what I watched; at least, I don't think they did. This, of course, was before there was 24-hour cable so there was still plenty of time to play outside - in the sand box, in the tree house, with our pets, and with toys in the side and back yards. We roller skated, played pretend, and raced our Big Wheels around the neighborhood. As long as I finished my homework (I always did), spent time reading books (which I loved), and played outside (of course!), then TV wasn't such a big deal. So, when I decided to leave television behind, I actually had to mourn it for a while.

The thing is, I wasn't the first of my circle of friends to leave behind television. For years, my friends had been setting aside things that had been almost second nature for us. No TV. No car. No prepared foods. Certainly no video games. I was always the one with the new car, the reliable television set, and most definitely a VCR, DVD player, or cable movie subscription. When my friends wanted to watch a sports game or catch a movie on demand or see some live TV, I was the one to go to. In many ways, I was the last of most of my friends to toss over these old mainstays of life.

I haven't stopped watching television shows, I've abandoned broadcast TV. I use Hulu or Amazon (and occasionally iTunes) for watching TV. It streams right to my television. (Nice one, techno-geeks. Thanks!) I still watch the programs that I want to watch. With only a few exceptions, everything can be found online in a timely manner (Damn you, Bill Maher! Your show isn't!). Not having broadcast TV, though, forces me to make choices - to commit to a program. No channel surfing for me. No flip, flip, flip..."This seems oddly mesmerizing, let's watch it for a while" for me. If anything, I've become a more committed viewer because I have to look for and sometimes pay for each program.

Every now and then, I find that I am in the house of someone who has and is watching broadcast TV. How can people bear those commercials? What is that drivel coming from the mouths of people who are supposed to be broadcasting news? Since when did random people's tweets and ill-informed opinions rise to such a position of prominence that they are read on air? "Britney4205 says, 'I definately think Obamma is a moran." Really? Who screens this stuff? How is it news that "pajamamamaxxx" thinks Iraq had something to do with 9-11? That used to be called ignorance, and we used to ignore it because it portrayed the rest of us in a bad light. I can watch dumb TV; I've been known to watch a little "Gene Simmons Family Jewels." Somewhere, though, silly entertainment gave way to something more sinister. When did people's real tragedies become fodder for public consumption? Anything that begins "The Real..." should be banned. It is pornography. Plain and simple. So, when I'm visiting someone and the TV is on, I fully understand the depths of the word "grotesque." That is what a great deal of television programming is. It is grotesque. It is a distortion of what life really is.

Of course, there are really good programs. Whether one likes documentaries, serial thrillers, situation comedies, or satires, somehow quality programming does get made. I want to thank those in the industry who continue to dream of new stories to tell and who find new ways to tell old, well-worn stories - stories that pull at us again and again because they speak to the human condition. Sometimes these shows don't last very long; they don't all pull larger viewerships. Some shows find a surprising footing. Kudos to Lost, Mad Men, Modern Family, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Hour, 30 Rock, The Office, Breaking Bad, The Killing (well, it started off well...), whatever Ken Burns does, NOVA, Frontline, the PBS News Hour, and others who find and tell stories that make us laugh, make us think, and make us care. I can't imagine how much crap you must wade through to get your shows made.

I thought I was going to lose something when I gave up television. Interestingly, I gave up commercials, crawling banners across the bottom of my screen, and shouting pundits. I gained the ability to focus for longer periods of time. I gained time to spend doing other things. I gained control over the images that are placed in front of me; I receive more news now than I did when I watched broadcast TV, but I see fewer graphic images and hear much less opinion driven partisanship.

My experience in giving up TV has taught me that things I thought were going to be a certain way can be changed. I have given up eating meat (well, still fish...). Conversely, I have taken on praying the hours of the office. Just because certain habits and ways of being in the world have become "natural" for us doesn't mean that we can't unlearn them and grow into a new "natural." Leaving TV has allowed me a new freedom in all kinds of areas of my life.

I am by no means a hermit. I am as plugged in as the next person. I have my smart phone, touch pad, laptop, and desktop computer. But, something was freed in me when I left television behind. I don't know what it was exactly. A sense of being tethered? A feeling of being enslaved to a little box? I don't know. This year marks my fourth one without broadcast TV, and I know that I never want to go back. This is the kind of "Left Behind" that I can support. Whenever I pass a mini-van or crossover on the road and see a movie playing for the kids, two things happen in me. First, I think, "Turn that thing off and have a conversation, for God's sake." Second, I think, "My parents would have had that and I didn't turn out so badly. Perhaps those baby-borgs will unplug when they have a chance."

This blog is supposed to be about God, faith, the church, and other relevant issues. I can't seem to make a direct connection between changing television viewing habits and the reason for this forum, but I know that there is one. Perhaps my soul is less infected by the vitriol that so can so easily be stumbled upon when watching TV. Perhaps I am simply glad that I don't feel a need to watch the nightly news and hear about a tragic car accident that has no reason to be told except to exploit a private tragedy. Perhaps I am grateful that the programs that I watch thoroughly entertain and inform me. Perhaps, and I think that this might actually be it, I learned by giving up broadcast television that I can change parts of me that I once thought were unchangeable. Two decades ago I stopped drinking. Six years ago I stopped eating meat. Four years ago I stopped watching broadcast television and started keeping a weekly Sabbath. I know that the way things are is not necessarily the way they need to be or have to be. Change can happen. I can take control over my own choices and live better in the world. I take this as very good news. When I fall short of my goal and begin to act in ways that I thought I had left behind, I can repent and start again. And, for this, more than anything else, I am truly grateful.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Violence, 9/11, and Requiem

I love the music written for Requiem Masses. Emotive, dynamic, and compelling, the music moves the listener through a journey of deep spiritual mourning. A Requiem, or Eucharist for the Departed, is known as it is because of the first word of the Introit: “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine” (“Give them eternal rest, O Lord”). The word "requiem" simply means "rest" or "repose." A Requiem Mass is celebrated to bring rest or repose to those who have died. It is a gorgeous and mystical service.

As we move closer to the 10th anniversary of the horrendous acts of September 11, I have begun to think of the music from several of the great Requiem Masses. The horror of that day draws us to pray for the thousands who died, for their families, for the cities that were caught in terror, for our nation that was paralyzed by fear and has struggled with it ever since, and for the world that has changed in the aftermath. We pray for the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, who have felt the brunt of the US response. We pray for thousands of US soldiers who have lost their lives and for those whose lives have been forever changed. We pray for the children of the world; children are always the ones most affected by war, poverty, and violence.

In one way, not much changed after September 11. Terrorist attacks and violence - even devastating violence - have always been a part of human culture. Planes have been hijacked. Bombs have been set off in public spaces. In the rush to remember September 11, 2001, many people forget about the 1993 attempt to bring down the World Trade Center. Even the use of mass transportation, including planes, for one's violent means has been around for a long time. Whether one speaks of IRA attacks in England, Timothy McVeigh's bombing in Oklahoma City, the 1988 Libyan bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland, the 1968 Palestinian hijacking of an El Al flight from Rome,the 1995 Subway Sarin Incident in Tokyo, the 1991 Luby's massacre in Killeen (TX), the 2007 mass shooting at VA Tech, or any other number of incidents, political minorities, fringe groups, and crazy people have been directing their rage at others to deadly effect for a very long time.

Over and against terrorism exists tyranny, which occurs when the state misuses its power in order to oppress or suppress a people. Tyranny always relies upon violence and its threat. Tyrannical regimes and governments have been recorded since the beginning of human history. Ethnic, tribal, and religious strife is neither new nor creative. Whether one speaks of a Pol Pot, Alexander the Great, genocidal Bosnian Momčilo Krajišnik, Leopold II of Belgium, or many other despots, the state can be a force of evil, violence, murder, and terror. Forced disappearance has been used in many countries, most notably Argentina, to remove people through abduction and violence in order to stop them from challenging the government. Tyranny is at the heart of my own faith story. When Jesus was crucified on a cross, it was an act of the state to silence a troublesome leader. This type of execution served to keep an oppressed people in an occupied land from rising up against their oppressors. Rome publicly crucified people and allowed their corpses to hang in public view to discourage others who might find rebellion or revolution an appealing idea. Not terrorism proper as it was enacted by the government, terror-inducing it certainly was by terrifying those who longed for freedom to remain quiet, afraid, and under the rule of tyranny.

The difference between a group rising up against a tyrannical power and terrorism can sometimes become muddled. One group's resistance fighter is another's terrorist. One country's claim to stability may be at the expense of a vulnerable minority.

Even though violence wasn't introduced into the world on September 11, 2001, something earth shaking did occur. In addition to great human loss, on that day ten years ago, the American sensibility of invincibility and permanence was significantly challenged, and it was deeply shaken. The surprising thing was that this sensibility was not only held by Americans. Much of the world looked at the United States as a privileged country. Physically removed from its enemies, economically and militarily unchallengeable, technologically advanced, and politically stable, it was difficult to imagine a different America. The natural response to this shaken sense of belonging was to declare that terrorism on American soil would never happen again (which, of course, it can and has). The government passed laws and initiated processes to ensure that nothing like the horror of September 11 would ever be permitted again. This deep desire for certitude and safety in a changing and unsafe world led to several acts of public theater, including but not limited to the removal of shoes and full body scans at airports and colored terror scales. Such folly resulted in two things: First, it kept a level of terror alive within the nation. This ongoing hum of terror-whitenoise prevented necessary real and deep mourning, and communal healing became almost impossible. And, second, it served no real purpose in saving lives. The government certainly did many things and instituted many processes for the protection of the country (more than 30 potential plots were thwarted), but in the midst of the rush to invincibility and certitude, the government also spied on Quaker meetings, put people who disagreed with the government on the No Fly List, and tapped our phones. Moreover, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost us much more than the billions of dollars that we have lost from our Treasury. They have cost us the precious blood spilled from our children, spouses, and family members. They have cost us our ideals, our hope, and our identity. September 11 changed us by making us a country bound by fear.

On this 10th Anniversary of September 11, I am thinking about the power of the Requiem to move us through an experience of not just "remembering" (we have done a decade of that), but of honest and real mourning, of finding rest and repose. Requiem invites us to sing and pray for rest and repose for the individuals who died in the towers and on the planes. We sing and pray for rest and repose for those who have died in the wars that were waged on behalf of the ones who died in the towers and on the planes. Because o
ur fractious government no longer even pretends to seek governance for all (only power for a few and comfort for those who are already comfortable), we sing and pray for our nation's government that has died to its duty to a common good. We also sing and pray for rest and repose for all our whole world, which has lost its sense of neighborliness, trust, and commonality.

The world has never been a peaceful place. To imagine it so would be to ignore the many other losses, deaths, and suffering that have occurred throughout the world. I think this makes the Requiem even more needed now. Its Christological language is the heart language of my soul and my tradition, but a Requiem need not be exclusive for Christians; it is a human cry for rest and repose. We all die a little when we lose the idea of living lives shared with one another and embarked upon lives known only through war, greed, and victory.

Today I hear the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's (1756-1791) Requiem, K. 626, his final composition. It was left unfinished at his death.

Lacrymosa dies illa, qua resurget ex favilla, judicandus homo reus. Huic ergo parce, Deus. Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Amen.

O how tearful that day, on which the guilty man shall rise from the ashes to be judged. Spare him then, O God. Merciful Lord Jesus, grant them rest.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Rhythms of Life: Sabbath Begins on September 18 @ 11:45 AM

On Sunday, September 18, about 30 minutes after worship ends, Queen Anne UMC will begin a 7-part series on the spiritual practice of Sabbath-keeping. Each class will last about 1 hour. Bring your own lunch and a little food to share with your neighbor, and come ready to be challenged to live your life with a new rhythm.

We live in a fragmented world. We work too hard. We live far from our families. We move too frequently. And, we struggle to find balance. As a practice, Sabbath reminds us that we are called to center our lives not on the fragmentation of our own making, but on the integrity of our God. Sabbath disrupts the routines of our creation, and it reminds us of God’s holy creation. Many people think of Sabbath as a solitary retreat – getting away from life, but it isn’t that at all. Still others shrink from the idea of Sabbath because they hold old memories of dour and joyless Sabbaths – days when nothing was permitted. Yet, Sabbath is an immersion into life lived in the fullness of God, in the midst of community, and with joy. Sabbath is an entering into God’s rest for the sake of all of creation. It celebrates creation. It creates a standard of justice. And, it reminds us to live in the midst of God the other six days of the week.

This curriculum is a video-based curriculum and features people like Brian McLaren, Majora Carter, Bill McKibben, Amy-Jill Levine, Jack Sasson, Ellen Davis, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Norman Wirzba, Lauren Winner, M Douglas Meeks, Robin Jensen, and Phyllis Tickle. These are some of the most sought after speakers in our country. They are scholars, practitioners, new monastics, environmentalists, community builders, and dreamers. Come and join the conversation. Come and taste the Sabbath.

Please send inquiries to office@qaumc.org.

Queen Anne United Methodist Church

1606 5th Ave W

Seattle, WA 98119


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