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Big times in the Big Easy

Over this week AXYS Television has been broadcasting The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and it is the best television that has been on lately, bar none. As I write on Saturday afternoon, a kickin' "Texican" band is onstage, called the Rebels I think, playing rhythm and blues, conjunto and Mexican-themed music that is literally rocking the bandstand. Their keyboard player does the Twist while he plays and the audience is going as strong as the musicians.

Last night there was a zydeco fiddler by the name of Amanda Barnes who also tore up the stage with her skillful musicianship. You just can't do any better than the music that has been pouring out of AXYS. And they haven't gotten to Eric Clapton's appearance yet!

He was on late Sunday evening, after John Fogerty knocked himself out playing what seemed like every number he ever recorded. He played (awesome lead guitar solos), he sang, he played harmonica--there is no stopping him. But then, the scene changed and there was Clapton, standing calmly onstage with his low-slung guitar in front of him, the best guitarist of all time. His performance demonstrated how he got that title (aside from his body of work), and after it was over I was stunned at his skill.

This is very encouraging to me because it gives us all a hint of the "real America" that is out there, rolling along as the media focuses on two or three subjects at a time and the liberal networks do nothing but report on Republicans, as though they were making news instead of just thinking up how to be hateful on a given day.

It harks back to the great American psychologist Eric Berne, who is most known for his book Games People Play, one of the foundational works of Transactional Analysis. Berne postulated a game called It's All Them, a psycho-social game in which a smaller and smaller circle of like-minded people blames and condemns everyone but themselves, until they become a "circle" of two and the game becomes, It's All You.

Meanwhile, the evangelical influence on other denominations is running its course like a virus, and it is being processed out of the Anglican Communion. Such a turn of events may well fracture the Anglicans once again; this would not affect the Episcopal Church in the United States but may impact of independent Anglican communions in Africa, where American evangelicals went to poison the well of Christianity and bend it to their will. A result of that effort was the "kill the gays" bill that has become law in Uganda, among others.

The fact is that American Christianity is falling apart. Denominations are imploding as those who are intimidated by the Old Testament try to force a confrontation between the homophobic faction and everyone else. Preachers who are rather obviously latent homosexuals try to yell themselves into a fragile sense of security one sermon at a time, while most of the congregation writhes in embarrassment and wishes they could escape. Come the following Sunday, many of them do escape by voting with their feet and being elsewhere at service time.

This is not, as evangelicals would insist, because the American Church is too accommodating to its LGBT component. It is rather because much of the American Church wants to live in Nineteenth-Century religion, lulled by hymns of submission or deceived by images of Christian soldiers "marching as to war." There is no war going on. While fascists run rampant over American democracy the Christian Church in this country is not paying attention, let alone stand up to somebody for the Middle Class. They ignore the fact that their food-assistance outreach is being slammed with people who have nothing to eat, without wondering what ought to be done about it, if anything, other than increasingly-frantic appeals for more and more donations.

Liberal churches actually take seriously the threat of losing their tax-exempt status, while the Religious Right pounds their message of racism and homophobia our of their pulpits every Sunday. They have seen (correctly) that the kindness and political correctness of the mainstream Church can be exploited as weakness. And so it is: if you step into a liberal church, you won't hear about ballot boxes.

Nowadays my church, St. Michael and All Angels in Tucson, receives more than a hundred people every day who need food to eat. It is not our business to be little Teabaggers and tell them that it is all their fault. Paul Ryan and the real Teabaggers can wear that hat, although they have behaved so shamefully in Congress that I don't know how the House Republicans can get up and look at their faces in a mirror.

Today the Gospel reading at St. Michael's focused on the experience of two men who were traveling from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaeus. This was three days after the Crucifixion--the same day that the story of the Empty Tomb took place. It is a famous story, and what it recounts is that the two men, Cleopas and a companion, encountered a fellow traveler who turned out to be Jesus.

In a dramatic scene, the two do not recognize him at first. But they prevail upon him to join them for their evening meal, echoing the Law of Hospitality that tells us to be good to strangers. The odd thing about the story is that, although the Jesus-in-disguise figure seems to be a stranger, he begins to officiate at the dinner table. In a transcendent moment, he takes the bread and blesses it. That is the moment when he is recognized, and the next moment he has disappeared.

This gets stranger the more you think about it. Why was Jesus taking charge of the dinner, when the household believed that he was an unknown stranger? This appearance of the risen Christ takes place on the third day after the Crucifixion, but miles away from Jerusalem. We are told that without waiting for the next day, Cleopas and his friend rushed back to Jerusalem and reported the incident to the Apostles who were still there.

One can imagine what this news meant to St. Peter, who appears just before Jesus' death weeping in shame after he denied knowing him. We have accounts of Peter addressing crowds in Jerusalem with such conviction that thousands of people were baptized in one day--Jewish people, becoming followers of the Rabbi from Nazareth as a new faith sprang up from the roots of Judaism (a very strange event in itself).

The incidents following the Crucifixion, which tell us about the crucible in which Christianity came to life, include such things as the story about the famous "Doubting Thomas," he who was referred to as "the twin." We are never told who Thomas' twin was, but there has been some speculation that he was actually Jesus' twin brother, and that the fact was hushed up over time. Personally I don't think so, because at the time Jesus was born there would have been no reason not to mention the birth of twins, and the Gospels were written years apart, even in different locations. It remains an enigma, the frequent reference to an Apostle named Thomas "the twin."

The tremendous turning point came from Peter some time after the events that are described in today's Scripture readings, but that must wait for another article: what happened to Peter?

For more info: I got a lengthy reply from Mark Osler (which I appreciate), in which he took me to task because apparently, he is an activist working with inmates as well as being involved in other charitable work. In that case, although my opinion of him has changed materially for the better, I can't help but wonder where the article that annoyed me came from.

Osler, you see, is very involved. So he wrote an article castigating the Church and its members...for what? A whole lot of people do whatever they do best for the greater good (not that he acknowledged that in his article). It now does not annoy me, but it makes me wonder what Osler was thinking when he decided to write it in the first place. When he asks who is visiting, who is feeding, etc., he ought to know by now.

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