Publications
The Reliably Spiritual Author Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

willner 02(Pacifica Literary Review Summer, 2017)

In Langston Hughes’ story, “Salvation,” from his autobiography, The Big Sea, he tells us that “going on thirteen” he was saved from sin—saved, “but not really.” At a special children’s meeting in the church, charged with the expectation that he would “see and hear and feel Jesus in your soul,” Langston waits while the minister asks the “little lambs” to come forward. Many do; a few hesitate. Most go to the altar. And there, by their voluntary presence, they are saved. But not Hughes and another boy, Westley. Neither budges; Langston is not feeling it. But, it’s hot, and the hymns keep insinuating, and the preacher keeps intoning, and the flock keeps expecting, until Westley finally capitulates: “God damn! I’m tired o’ sitting here. Let’s get up and be saved,” he says to Langston, and so Westly goes to the front of the church. And he is saved.

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Between Indifference & Hope Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20170628(San Diego Reader June 28, 2017)

It’s decision day in the City Council chambers, Two Broke Girls vs. Billions. Call it a classic smackdown between local architectural preservationists who want to save any Spanish Colonial Revival building (and think someone should pay) vs. the downtown developers who can’t wait to erect residential towers (and have investors ready and willing to foot the bill). It’s early April, and the horseshoe room is packed, its 53-year-old semi-gloss teakwood a kind of paean to the past. Backrow perched, I think of Pete Wilson’s wily quip from 1975: “The future of San Diego should have as much of the past in it as possible.”

I think as well that each city-adjudicated, skyline alteration rehashes our city’s core ideological battle—the geraniums of George Marston (guard the green) and the smokestacks of Louis Wilde (grow the gray), nearly a century ago. The way the pro-housing, pro-job, pro-business “special interest” typically wins is to outspend, out-own, and out-promise opponents, one 40-story, 282-unit glass spire at a time.

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One Smartphone, 100 Million Users, & Privatizing Faith Print E-mail
Articles

07jacoby-superJumbo(Free Inquiry June 2, 2017)

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So far, it’s been a tough start to the new century for Christians what with the growth of the new Atheists, the Nones, those disaffiliated with mainstream religion, a secularized culture, and a government unsure how to define “religious liberty” and “sincerely held religious belief.” And yet the faith shows no signs of succumbing to the onslaught—not by a longshot. It’s reprogramming itself with new transmedial wiring and reassigned roles. Corporate CEOs are the new clergy. Social media, the new church. Global warming is the latest plague of locusts, requiring God-like intervention to keep it at bay. Islam is reverse engineering the Roman empire, arriving inside the Trojan horse of Middle Eastern Muslim refugees. (I’m not sure to whom I can compare radical Jihadists: Yahweh? Judas? Gentiles? Centurions?). Pharmaceuticals, whether it’s the companies or their pills, are the new sacraments. Technology has become the new liberation theology. Google is God.

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San Diego's Top 12 Donors Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20170419(San Diego Reader April 19, 2017)

San Diego’s richest person is someone I’ve never heard of: Gwendolyn Sontheim Meyer. The Rancho Santa Fe resident owns a 7 percent stake in the family business, Cargill, a purveyor of grain and agricultural commodities with forays into financial services and a hedge fund. For a woman whose estimated worth is $4.3 billion, Meyer keeps the lowest of profiles. She lives and trains horses at her Coral Reef Ranch and is a champion jumper.

Forbes magazine, whose definitive billionaire lists are the oligarch’s equivalent of the Oscars’ red carpet, drops Meyer into their “Silver Spoon” bowl — those who did absolutely nothing to earn their fortune. All inheritance. Cargill, America’s largest private company, is independently managed but owned by two families. Forbes says, “They are richer than the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Carnegies combined.” Lord knows I’ve searched, but I can’t find any charity she supports. Maybe her giveaways are anonymous. Maybe Meyer is Scrooge McDuck. But many of the gifts of San Diego’s wealthiest donors are well known, in part, because the check-writing moment, if possible to stage, is a media event charities dream of and publicize.

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What I Am Not Yet, I Am Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

st.-augustine-of-hippo-icon-full-of-grace-and-truth-excerpt-from-the-encomium-to-st-nicholas-pic(Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies April 1, 2017)

The first person in Western literature to write his spiritual journey is Augustine (354-430 CE), author of Confessions, (399). In this Christian autobiography, he testifies to what he knows and to what he’s been instructed by God he should know. Writing in Latin, Augustine tells the struggle between his self (bad) and his soul (good), which, he believes, mirrors the physical wounds Christ’s endured. (Christ’s self and soul were both good.) When I read Augustine, I see that his selfish choices have been so immoral and his soul so scarred that he is in danger of losing God’s grace, in danger of forgoing Heaven. These dangers are not abstract, not mere Christian principle. No, they are real, and they take place in each individual’s sinful life. Who among the growing Christian population can confess to such a sinful life? Augustine volunteers, as it were. Speaking and writing wholly for himself, he attests to his failure to live up to the virtues God commands of him, commands that all but Christ fail to uphold. But still one must try to redeem oneself by declaring and overcoming one’s sins. No small task, Augustine knows what he should do: convert, confess, renounce all competing beliefs, and receive the Holy Spirit. He must bear this news for everyone to read. Thus, if he proves himself worthy—in life and in writing—he will be saved, he will gain eternal life. Augustine must ask this not of God but of himself.

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What It Was My Father Came Here to Get Away From Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Dad Pre-War(River Teeth 18.2 Spring, 2017)

As early as I can remember, my father hated Catholics. Actually, he despised all religious people. He called believers hypocrites; priests and pastors, pimps. He rarely spoke of this enmity or, for that matter, much else personal, including his years aboard a Pacific Ocean supply ship during the Second World War. “Hurry up and wait,” he told my brothers and me. That was the only combat he faced. No story bayoneting Japs ever emerged. Maybe, contrary to my comic-book idea of war then, there wasn’t any. So, when he unloaded on religion, I was piqued by the sibilant sounds of those scandalous words, hypocrites and pimps, and the frosty certainty with which he iced his dismissal.

His disdain for God’s henchmen on earth began and ended with two betrayals—one, his body, the other, his soul, though he would have denied the latter had any substance left. Born in 1914, in Evanston, Illinois, he was given up at birth, probably by immigrants, a Bohemian mother and a Swedish father. That day, he was adopted by the childless Larsons, (another) Swedish father who was irascible and belt-prone and an English mother who cradled the baby to daily mass. They named him John Joseph Milton, the first two referencing Jesus, the third an artistic aspiration. My mother said Dad figured out long before he asked them about his adoption that he wasn’t theirs—what gave it away was his swarthy skin and his inborn suspiciousness.

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The Purgatorial Trenches of Wilfred Owen Print E-mail
Articles

TS Jan 2017(The Truth Seeker January 15, 2017)

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In The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud describes how humankind made up from the intolerable “helplessness” of our childhood fears and the hellish randomness of nature, fate, and human society the balm of religion—in our jurisdiction, Christianity. His is among the most cogent explanations for a system of divine judgment and afterlife protection that insists people conform to the creator’s (human-authored) mandate. Freud says “the gist” of the Christian presumption is this:

"Life in the world serves a higher purpose; no doubt it is not easy to guess what that purpose is, but it certainly signifies a perfecting of man’s nature. It is probably the spiritual part of man, the soul, which in the course of time has so slowly and unwillingly detached itself from the body, that is the object of this elevation and exaltation. Everything that happens in this world is an expression of the intentions of an intelligence superior to us . . . which in the end . . . orders everything for the best."

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