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Coffeehouse Junkie

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Essays: The nights and days before and after Christmas | Under The Holly | When the Lights Go Out | Filling My Love Basket | Below an Oak Tree | In Pursuit of A Good Life | Was James Frey Framed? | Spills and Splatters | Confessions of a Coffeehouse Junkie | Books & Desktop Icons | iPod, Therefore iAm | Writing, Painting & Thoughts about Spirituality

Poems: Fragile | Narrative Kernel | Reading "My American Body" | A Tube of Wet Rage | Abstract Painting in Blue | Saturday Night, Coffee House

Reviews: Tear Down the Mountain | Cinephrastics | Speaking of Faith | Transfer | Artificial Lure | Gospel* | RedLineBlues | An Invented Hour | The Sad Meal | Vagrant Verses | Fixed Ideas

Write Stuff Columns: Archive: 2006 - 2007

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Essay: Filling My Love Basket

The first time I heard the music of U2 was from a double vinyl release of Rattle and Hum. Before cassettes and CDs and iPods there were vinyl records. The black and white grainy photos and reversed out lyrics (white text on black background) created an experience that's difficult to explain. I listened to it for days if not weeks and months. It expanded how I saw the world and expanded me a bit too. For those older than I, the musicians may have different names: Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. For me it was the rebel Irish rockers of U2.

I don't own a television. So, I was delighted the morning after the Grammys to hear NPR broadcast the results. U2 dominated the Grammys with Best Rock Song, Best Rock Album, Song of the Year and Album of the Year (there may have been more but that’s enough for now).

Here's something NPR did not cover. The previous week Bono spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast. I know. It is very odd indeed and he thought so too. "If you're wondering what I'm doing here, at a prayer breakfast," began Bono. "I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather."

He continued his introduction at the National Prayer Breakfast by commenting how "unnatural" it seems to have a rock star behind a "pulpit and preaching at presidents.” After a couple more comments he offered this reflection:

"I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was... well, a little blurry, and hard to see.”

He went on to observe how “religion often gets in the way of God” and his general contempt of the “religious establishment.”

"I must confess,” Bono said. “I wanted my MTV. Even though I was a believer. Perhaps because I was a believer."

I share the same cynicism toward organized religion that Bono confessed in his address. When people are placed in positions of power, whether it be religious or political, there is always the potential for the abuse and perversion of that power. Abraham Lincoln is credited for saying: "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

Bono also presented a topic near to his heart -- poverty -- by stating that “It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times... 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40)." The Christian Scriptures mention money and possessions over 2,300 times. Heaven is mentioned to over 500 times. I dare say this isn’t something you hear often in an American church service. He concluded his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on the topic of "a completely avoidable catastrophe" -- AIDS in Africa.

I don't know about you, but I still find it difficult to believe that Bono didn't drop the f-bomb during his National Prayer Breakfast address. I suppose NPR would have run that story if he had. However, this really got me to think about why I don’t like to go to church. And further, why I still go despite me feelings about it.

Like Bono, I feel disillusioned by organized religion -- more specifically, Christianity (or church-ianity). Many Christians become so busy being religious and being political that they completely miss spirituality all together. Also like the stubborn Irish rocker, I'm not going to give up on God even though people can be down right disappointing.

It has been a long spiritual journey for me, and it's not over yet. I don't have it all together. I blow it more times than I'd like to admit. Sometimes I think I am more of a curse than a blessing to those around me. But I think that's exactly why God pursues me. God knows I need help. I guess, like Saint Peter trying to walk on water, God wants me to ask for help and He's ready to keep me from drowning. I guess that's why I have a particular interest in Bono's story. He's dealing with his Christian spirituality in a very public manner. Sure, he drops the f-bomb more times than is comfortable for television executives. But he's also known for his intense spirituality and a relationship with the God that listens.

***

It's difficult explaining to my children why I go to church because sometimes I just don't want to go. Why should I force them to do something I don’t want to do? Yet, I remind them to brush their teeth and wash their hands and eat wholesome organic foods and vegetables. Should I make them go to church? After all, Christianity is fubar. It’s a like an auto that is well beyond an oil change and the engine has locked up but the gears are still hammering away as if it will still move forward another inch. It’s like you can’t go to a Christian church in America that isn’t pressuring you to be a good little conservative Republican or insisting Democrats are social saviors. American politics is not what it means to be Christian. True spirituality is what it means to be a Christian.

***

Some days I don’t brush my teeth after breakfast, but I should. Some times I sneak over to a downtown café for confectionary goodness though I know full well that a spinach salad would be better for me. In the same manner, I force myself to go a small church up on a hill. There are a lot of really nice people there. They help the poor and sick and they put up with me -- unconditionally, I hope. I'm sure I'm one of those people who show up at church and congregates wonder, “Why the hell is he here? If he is here, then I had better find another church.” I explain to my children that I go to church for God not for the people that show up week after week. It’s like going to get me spiritual car refueled from a week’s worth of travel. A friend of mine calls it filling one’s love basket.

One Sunday I was daydreaming during one of those sermons that included a political rabbit trail that totally pissed me off. I dreamt that I was late for the morning service and there was only one seat available which was not quite in the front and not quite near the back and not quite near the end of a row. I had to squeeze in front of nicely-seated people in order to reach that chair. As I nervously approached that single vacancy I noticed the guy near it was wearing a leather jacket and looked a lot like Bono. I sat down abruptly and didn't notice his Bible on the empty chair.

"Shit," I said under my breath and hoped no one heard. But it was clear people did hear me for they all looked in my direction with angry eyebrows.

"Are you saving this seat for someone?" I asked as I handed the Bible to the guy who looked a lot like Bono.

"I was saving that seat for you," he said and sounded a lot like Bono. "It's about fucking time you showed up."

I looked at him again, as did other congregates around us, and, oddly, I felt at home. This must be the right place for me. After all, the guy who looked and sounded a lot like Bono had saved me a seat.

“Perfect people don't come to church,” he said. “Now quit gawking at me and pay attention to the minister. His homely is about not showing partiality to people whether they are rich or poor, clean or foul. It’s from the book of James.”

I guess the sermon that day must have ended shortly after that point in my daydream. Or maybe I actually said “shit” in church recognizing a political rabbit trail was about to take place and buried my eyes in the scriptures hoping nobody heard me and nobody saw me. But the idea from the daydream is still profound. One doesn’t go to an emergency room if one is healthy. So, if I’m spiritually hungry, then wouldn’t it be the perfect place to fill my basket?

***

True spirituality conveys unconditional love. Maybe that’s the hope I have when I go to the small church up on a hill. I hope that if I sit next to some stranger from Asheville or Ireland that I’ll unconditionally love him rather than love him on the condition that he needs to clean up his life to attend church. Maybe that’s one reason why I keep attending that small church up on a hill -- people show up just as they are not as they pretend to be or think they should to be.

I go to church because I'm broken, fragile, hurt, abused or just down right rotten. In fact, I’ve shown up at church in a rather fowl mood a time or two or maybe more than I’d like to confess. And there are times I’ve stormed out of church because of one thing or another. I don't go to church to impress my neighbors. I don't go to church to impress the congregates. I sure as hell don't go to impress the minister. I go to church to because I'm spiritually hungry and need to be feed unconditionally even if I don’t like the taste of the sermon. God looks beyond what I'm wearing or what I drove to church. God even looks beyond why I was late for church or why I was daydreaming in church. God looks at my intentions. More importantly, God knows all about me and still listens and still helps and still loves me. People are people and need, as my friend says, their love baskets filled with wholesome, unconditional goodness. It’s a spirit thing not a religious thing.



Originally published in Blue Sky Asheville, Volume 1, Number 1