Monday, November 14, 2016

Nones are rising

The number of religiously non-affiliated people, according to the Pew Research Center, is rising. In 2007 they comprised 16 percent of Americans. In 2015 their percentage rose to 23 percent. Meanwhile, the number of Christians fell from 78 to 71 percent.

I do not mourn this, although I regularly attend Mass with Catholic religious sisters. Not all these nuns are so very different from nones. Both groups have spiritual values that transcend conventional bounds, but nuns express their spirituality in religious terms while nones express spirituality without religion.

At the same time that I feel at home with nuns, I identify with nones’ getting more inspiration from nature than from God-talk. Like nones, I have lost respect for institutional religion. My biggest criticism of Christianity is its God-images turned into gods by patriarchal language imposed on churches by the Vatican.

I hold it responsible for Pope Francis' lack of vision regarding women. I can’t say it better than I did in the Minneapolis StarTribune yesterday: “Avoid gendered God-talk”

Thank you to readers who sent me kudos for this.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Francis on women’s ordination

Soon after Pope Francis was elected and the refreshing changes in his leadership style were being celebrated, I wrote that he doesn’t get the issue of women. That became abundantly clear this last week when he again closed the door on women’s ordination. Yes, he’s a wonderful man. Yes, he’s humble and courageous in his determination to right wrongs, even to a limited extent on the treatment of women.  But he just doesn’t get it. He does not understand patriarchy; he does not understand its impact on human thought, attitudes, and expectations. 

Francis is not uninformed, just unenlightened. He has not accomplished the shift in consciousness that is required to accept women in roles previously delegated exclusively to men. Christian God-talk keeps Francis and other good people from realizing what patriarchy has done. He needs a strong dose of Mary Daly (“If God is male, male is God”) and Rosemary Radford Ruether, whose book Sexism and God-talk motivate my writings and presentations on sexist God-talk.

I and other feminists have been railing against the drumbeat of HeHimHis for years, without effect on Christianity. But outside of our religion there is movement. Atheists scoff at the Christian gods called Father and Son, but they are not the most effective. I believe Nones are the ones who will put the final nail in the coffin of patriarchy because they do not waste energy proving how foolish literal religious beliefs are. They don’t discredit themselves by scoffing at spiritual reality. Nones neatly sidestep religion.

I’ll say more about Nones next time. In the meantime, read my post “Francis on women’s authority.” The man who let me tell about his shift in consciousness has since died.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Being with the sisters

I was surprised to receive glowing response to my last post.
One respondent asked if it’s all right to share my post with others. Because I’m asked this from time to time, I say OF COURSE to everyone who has this impulse. Some readers post my writings on Facebook, and I am flattered that they do.

Now my confession.
              The only reason I return to Eucharist week after week is the community of sisters and the larger community they attract. I have an awful time some Sundays absorbing the blows of that darn "Lord Father Son He Him His" God-talk. I don't believe the things everyone is forced by the Vatican to recite at Mass. To protect my integrity, I made the resolution years ago that I would not join in recitation of the Creed.

For the same reason I don’t make the sign of the cross. Years ago I signed the cross when Fr. Patrick McDarby intoned, “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer.” That was before the disastrous Vatican clamp-down on liturgical language. See my writing about that fiasco. 

At Masses with women priests, we hear other inclusive versions. I wrote this for the website I created for Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, the Catholic womenpriest community in the St. Cloud area:
Central to the mission of Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, is inclusive language—references to our Creator/Source in terms that include the feminine so that God does not seem to be a god. At the beginning of Mass our presider says as we make the sign of the cross, “In the name of God our creator, Jesus our brother, and Holy Spirit Sophia.”
 We profess belief in multiple revelations of God and pray to the Beloved, the Gracious and Merciful One. We attend to the teachings of Jesus, our brother. Participants at our services appreciate the reflective doors of consciousness opened by our diverse images.
At St. Ben’s I love to join in the singing, although I’ve lost my good singing voice. In song and recitation, I change language offensive to me. “Father” as an image is not offensive but offensive is the Vatican imposing it as the ONLY image in our God-talk. I say “Our Mother.” 
In hymns I change “Lord” to “God,” which does not offend me because I can say “Mother God” and “God … She” but saying “Mother Lord” or “Lord . . . She” does not work. In the Gloria I sing “Blessed is One who comes in the name of God.”

A particularly annoying part of the Mass is called the “mystery of faith” or “Memorial Acclamation.” It has people proclaiming the death of a lord for supposedly saving the world. It conveys the image of St. Peter manning the entrance at the gates of heaven. How many people believe this myth? I think not many.

As the chapel obediently recites the imposed text, I proclaim the life of Christ alive in all of us. And instead of singing, “Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free,” I sing “by our cross and resurrection we set ourselves free.”
People resonate with the myth of Death and Resurrection because of its meaning for OUR lives. WE have deaths and resurrections in our lives. Daily living brings constant downturns followed by upturns and renewals.

I enjoy composing alternative texts to fit melodies written for offending texts that I refuse to say or sing. 
Again, I participate in the Mass for the spirit created by the people led by the sisters. In the chapel we together form what is called in religious terms the Body of Christ. For me Christ does not mean a male individual, but the spiritual entity at the heart of every human.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Being with the Dying

A 90-year-old gifted me by sharing some of her impressions as she moves toward death. For her, it is a peaceful journey full of gratefulness and no regrets. Not all persons close to death are so fortunate, but all deserve the kind of attention Parker Palmer advocates.

He says when people sit with a dying person, they know they are doing more than taking up space. What is that “more”? Almost always they say something like, “I was simply being present.” We practice presence with a dying person, says Palmer, by honoring the soul and its destiny.
“. . . we bear witness to another person’s journey into solitude.”
What does practicing presence mean to the dying person? Palmer has a hunch that comes from his own experience.
When I went into a deadly darkness that I had to walk alone, called clinical depression, I took comfort and strength from those few people who neither fled from me nor tried to save me but were simply present to me.
     Their willingness to be present revealed their faith that I had the inner resources to make this treacherous trek—quietly bolstering my faltering faith that perhaps, in fact, I did.
     I do not know yet what a dying person experiences. But this I do know. I would sooner die in the presence of someone practicing simple presence than I would die alone.
     And I know this as well: we are all dying, all the time. So why wait for the last few hours before offering each other our presence? It is a gift we can give and receive right now, in a circle of trust.
I have a hunch that the community of sisters with whom I attend Mass in Sacred Heart Chapel practice presence a lot. The spirit this creates fills the chapel. It helps to explain why I return week after week.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Relief from Trump

Donald Trump’s vile words are no surprise. They unmask him as a sexual predator, but his predatory business dealings, also made public, should get equal attention. The predator turned presidential candidate disturbs me less than continued support given him.

I can get trapped into arguing against an irrational partisan who backs Trump, but it doesn’t help me or her or anyone else.

We all need to get away from the garbage. To cleanse our minds, I offer the words of Parker Palmer, a spiritual leader whom Krista Tippett likes to interview for On Being.
[W]hen I went to Union Theological Seminary in New York City for a year, . . . God spoke to me and said he wanted me to get the hell out of the church.   
Palmer does not trash religion or cling to religion. He recognizes its worth for some but knows that today he can awaken spiritual awareness in more people by not going through religion. He joined an intentional Quaker community where he was given the gift of understanding,
that the value of a person has absolutely nothing to do with status, power, income, leverage. . . . I made the exact same base salary as an 18-year-old coming to cook in the kitchen or work in the garden. . .
Parker sees each of us having to find our own way to our true self. He calls this self the soul.
And if the word “soul” doesn’t work for you, it’s “identity” and “integrity” in the language of secular humanism.
It’s the “spark of the divine,” in the language of Hasidic Judaism.
It’s “big self” or “no self” in the paradoxical language of Buddhism. Everybody has a name for it—different name—and nobody knows its true name.
I add that Christianity calls it the Christ within. I also call it the essential self and Higher Power.
Palmer’s book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life captures my experience during what I call the womb/tomb period of my life, when I went back to the womb to be reborn, and spent time in a tomb to be resurrected. Palmer uses a different metaphor.
[T]he soul is like a wild animal. . . . it knows how to survive in hard places. I learned about these qualities during bouts of depression. In that deadly darkness, the faculties I had always depended on collapsed.

My intellect was useless; my emotions were dead; my will was impotent; my ego was shattered. But from time to time, deep in the thickets of my inner wildness, I could sense the presence of something that knew how to stay alive even when the rest of me wanted to die. That something was my tough and tenacious soul.
             Yet despite its toughness, the soul is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around.
     If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently at the base of a tree, breathe with the earth, and fade into our surroundings, the wild creatures we seek might put in an appearance.
To allow the wild soul’s appearance, we can be facilitators for each other. And this requires listening.
no fixing, no saving, no advising, and no correcting . . . listen deeply to each other, . . . hear each other into speech. Which I think is another of the most critical tasks of our time. So many people unseen, unheard—they need to be heard into speech.
 So there are things we can do, but it’s a discipline.

Parker Palmer’s spiritual wisdom enters pleasingly into my ears. He finds the words for thoughts unutterable in straight prose. May we all practice the art of listening each other into awareness of the depth in our souls.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Hillary and Donald 2

I’m watching the campaign with fear that the United States might actually sink into the morass of Donald Trump as president. I confess my obsession with this. It’s hard to think about much else.
Marilyn wants me to tie my subjects of discussion to religion and spirituality. Very well. I observe my obsession as a personal challenge in spiritual maturation. I have to deal with it, and writing about it helps to dispel it.

I’m distressed by voters’ virulent dislike of Hillary. Why? Among the reasons apparent, I keep coming back to the one I gave before: Hillary’s false front.

Her falseness follows the model of many politicians. As a defense against criticism, they do away with transparency.
Early in the political game, Hillary was attacked by Arkansans who disliked the girl from Chicago because that proud, brainy professional didn’t look or act properly submissive as any wife should. Hillary Rodham didn’t even take the name of her husband. She was a partner in a prestigious law firm.
I started watching her when she got flak in Arkansas for not conforming to their idea of feminine. At the time I was waking up from my previous dismissal of feminists and becoming one myself.

The pattern for Hillary was set. The public didn’t like her real self; she developed a false self—took her husband’s name and acted housewifely, along with a hard shell of defensive secretiveness. This is the image that turns off voters. I don’t like it either. It doesn’t tell us who she really is.
People who know Hillary well say that, out of the public eye, while interacting with a small, comfortable group, she’s warm and funny, a joy to be with.

A segment I heard on NPR with an interviewer from Time magazine points to the problem between voters and Hillary. In a one-on-one conversation with the interviewer, Hillary told this story: 
When Chelsea left for college Mom missed her achingly. She went into Chelsea’s room, closed the door, sat on the bed, and quietly drank in her daughter’s presence. While Hillary was sitting there, the door opened, and Bill walked in. Each learned that the other had been doing this.

Eagerly the interviewer asked, “May I use this story?”

“Absolutely not,” was the answer. It revealed that Hillary is her own worst enemy. Here was a chance to show her human side. It’s exactly what voters want and don’t see in her.

Both Donald and Hillary are tough as nails, but one of them also has depth. Hillary Clinton is motivated by a sincere desire to improve the lives of others. Blacks support her because she has aligned with them for 40 years. It started when she was still Hillary Rodham. She gets it when marginalized people speak out about their oppression, and her policy-wonk mind goes to work searching for ways to help them.

Donald Trump is motivated by a sincere desire to improve life for himself. When Hillary in the debate charged, “. . . he didn’t pay any federal income tax,” Donald threw in, “That makes me smart.” 

Some on-the-fence voters were appalled. “That’s offensive. I pay taxes,” said one. “Another person would be in jail for that,” said another.

Hillary's flaws pale in comparison with Donald Trump’s adolescent bullying and bragging. I don’t see how anyone who watched and listened to the debate can possibly consider him presidential material. His face during the debate reminds me of a lost teenage boy, one who lashes out for reasons unknown to himself.

The only way I can understand support for Trump rests on this description I heard:
Trump comes with a baseball bat and whacks at people. His skill in trashing others acts as a magnet for people with resentments and fears unknown to themselves. He operates on the dictum, “Repeat a lie often enough and people will believe it.” Uninformed people believe his lies. In this campaign, the most malicious lie they believe is that Hillary Clinton is a crook.

The real crook is Donald Trump. There’s so much evidence of this, I decided not to try setting it out, at least in this post.

P.S. The really astonishing thing about Marilyn reading every single post in my blog is that she went online for the first time about a month ago. Her accomplishment is remarkable.

Thank you to all who responded to “Where have you been?” Here’s one of my favorites:
And here I thought my computer had eaten them somehow!
By the way, someday you should do a piece on one of my least favorite New Testament stories, The Woman Taken In Adultery. [Jn 8:1-11]  Really, adultery is a two-person sport.  Where is the man taken in adultery?  (I doubt it was a lesbian relationship either.)
Anyway, glad to see you're back.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Where have you been?

Marilyn from Phoenix called me. “Jeanette, where have you been? Start blogging again!” She informed me that it’s been six weeks since my last post and told me to begin again.

She seemed sincerely bereft so I offered, “You can read the posts in my blog index.”

“I’ve read every one of them.”

“I am impressed." But I didn't believe her. There are too many. "You couldn’t have!”

“I read every one of them, some of them several times.” As proof, she told me when I started the blog—2007. I was speechless. “They’re interesting, wonderful, illuminating, just wonderful. Why aren’t you writing more?”

After some stuttering, I listed the things that keep me busy. “Each post is an essay. It takes me a long time to write those, and I have so many other things to do.” Often a post I intend to dash off quickly turns into lengthy labor. I reminded her that I’m working on a memoir.
She asked me whether I was thinking of not doing any more blogging.  I confessed that I was.

“I hope I’m changing your mind.”

I said one thing keeping me from blogging is the political situation. I’m concerned that our beloved country will actually get Donald Trump as president. I asked how she would respond to some political posts.

“If they are connected with religion and spirituality.” But she liked “Hillary and Donald.”

What happens now I don’t know, but I decided to post this as a kind of pledge to Marilyn. Otherwise I might renege on my promise to continue blogging.

I’m trying to learn a new way of writing. My posts have been educational. They come from a teacher who is lecturing—sharing knowledge, drawing conclusions, and supporting those conclusions. In my memoir, by contrast, I’m trying to reveal insights through my own life story and trying to reach a less academic readership.

It’s even slower than writing essays, and delving into my own psyche springs surprises on me.

As I reflect on my past, I realize things about myself that I’d missed before—more revelations in my slow journey toward emotional maturity. Oh, the joys of growing up. Never-ending.