Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Trinity: Community, Ecstasy & Justice

Three elements of a vibrant and ultimately relevant religious/ spiritual movement seem to practices which provide humans with very basic and fundamental fufillment. It has been argued that these three key elements are: Community, Ecstasy, & Justice. However, I wish to argue that with any of these three in balance, one can end up with either useless or pathological spaces.

Firstly, humans, being social creatures, need a sense of genuine community. This is a much bandied about concept, but has been given much more lip service than actual substance. Indeed some of the most pathological social groups such as lunatic-fringe cult groups, have best demonstrated the love, closeness, and care that must be present for a truly nourishing and supportive community to fulfill a very basic human need. However, in such groups there is a categorically absense of any sense of Justice, either socially and economically oriented, or internally, as such groups almost always demonstrate tremendously patriarchial and slave-mentality attitudes.

Secondly, humans typically seek forms of ecstasy achieved in a wide range of practices, from sex, to dance, to any form of celebration or jubilation, along with any sort of "self-medication". Again, these practice can easily devolve into pathology if not balanced by a community that keeps an individual accountable to notions of Justice (how one treats others, and how ones actions and lifestyle may affect others). Without channels and avenues to engage in ecstatic practices to experience the bliss and wonder of this life, an individual can be left vulnerable to be preyed upon by cults and/or practices of self-medication and indulgence.

Lastly, I use the term Justice very broadly to include any of the kinds of imaginations and practices that force a person and a community to look outside itself. It is only all to common and easy for an individual or a community to get lost in varying degrees of self-absorption. This last element is critical to preventing pathological behavior as it places both actions as well as our values within the context of a world outside of our own insular spaces. Any practice or belief can have an internal logic if insulated enough. Indeed we still have a Flat Earth Society (which became international after the release of pictures of a round earth taken from the Moon in the late 60's changing its name to the International Flat Earth Society).

Without idylisizing it, nor expecting any sort of perfection, these three elemenst seem to have been well understood in "The Black Church" that was so (but not solely) instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement. I would argue that it was the presence of the balance of these three elements that so clearly distinguish it from the overtly racist and oppressive "White" church establishment at the time.
The phrase of "it takes a village to raise a child" is still taken quite seriously AND PRACTICED even today in black communities no matter how oppressed. In today's gospel music, one can still see the legacies of the spiritual ecstasy that can be argued to have been broght in the belly of slave ships from Africa, where ecstatic "possession" cults are common. (Such possession cults then took on a superficial Christian overlay, called a superstratal influence, and were called such things as "being filled with the Spirit"). Lastly, the Church was able to be such a force in the Civil Rights Movement, where for the first time in America's history, the promise of it's founding principles were extended to larger segments of the population. Not having done so, and existing in an apartheid state for nearly all of its history, is a great stain that must not be allowed to stand as some sort of past Golden Era that must be acheived again, as idyllicized by (mostly white and angry) Right wing groups like the teabaggers.

Today, these qualities I find most explicityly expressed in today's Neo-Pagan movements, as they form tight, supportive communities, are deeply commited to social and environmental causes, and revive a variety of forgotten and suppressed earth- and people-centered forms of worship and spiritual practice.

In a prophetic form of Christianity, we need to find ways of incorporating practices that provide us humans with a balance of these three human experiences and needs.

-- The Brain Demon

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