Friday, January 20, 2017

Whither are we headed?

As a writer about religions and spirituality, I have tried to avoid writing about politics, but right now I cannot get politics out of my mind. And when events become as momentous as those occurring today, politics merge with spirituality. A man whose foremost talent is selling himself, who aspires less to lead the country than to glorify himself, was elevated to the most influential political office in the world. As an American facing the world, I am embarrassed.

I admit I rejoice that Trump’s approval rating is tanking. Maybe, I hope, maybe, maybe his supporters are beginning to discern the truth …………. At this point in my writing I started guessing which developments since the election might have opened the eyes of formerly deluded voters, but that’s a futile exercise. The signs pointing to Trump’s true character were quite evident before the election.

As I go through my days, I console myself and fellow mourners with the astonishing image of the rising sun (see below). Its promise appears to be coming true; I observe an awakening following the shocking election.

Around the country people are mobilizing to resist expected assaults on the human rights of groups targeted by campaign vitriol. Blacks, immigrants, Muslims, women, and gays are vowing to stand up for themselves. Churches are organizing to be sanctuaries for the despised and the rejected. Environmentalists are determined to defend progress made during the Obama years. Journalists are correcting Trump’s falsehoods. President Obama says he will continue to participate in politics “where I think our core values may be at stake,”
Scott Simon on NPR pleads for "a revival of respect," adding it must be acknowledged that one candidate is most responsible for the loss of respect in our public discourse, "and he won."

The country shows a new spirit of involvement. People are saying, “It’s up to us.” They realize we cannot expect politicians to set things right without citizen involvement.

We don’t have to run for office or write letters to be involved. I believe that staying informed and caring deeply contributes to a healthy political consciousness that will manifest in ways we cannot predict. We exercise spiritual responsibility by thinking well.

Friday, December 30, 2016

NewYear hope despite chaos

Since the election I have been veering back and forth between fighting despair and being the one to console others near despair. I counted ten Trump appointments of persons apparently committed to destroying the departments they should manage. They threaten justice, labor, money policies, environment, education, energy, commerce, housing, and health care.
We are on the cusp of change coming from chaos. I fear the center cannot hold.

William Butler Yeats, a poet of yesteryear, has a poem for our time:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Looking for hope, I had a talk with a mentor/friend of mine who would hesitate to call herself a psychic, but significant images come to her. I was not surprised to hear an optimistic message from her. Twice she saw the image of the sun rising—right before the election and right after. The sun was farther over the horizon after the election of Donald Trump.

Her interpretation of the images:
  The recent images just before and after the election are saying we have reached the tipping point and the light will begin to be on the ascendant. I realize it sure doesn't look like that at the moment.
   There is a lot of inertia.  Doing a mass 180-degree turnaround "socially, or culturally"  is like turning around the biggest ship imaginable. As an analogy, the engines have been put in reverse to slow the ship down enough so it can gradually be turned in the opposite direction.
   Among all the influences and feedback we've been getting for decades, Trump's election seems to be the final weight that is tipping the balance. He is apparently "the straw that will break the camel's back." Seen from within the culture at the moment, it sure looks like chaos.
   "The center cannot hold.” From my perspective, the center is already rotten to the core. Trump is just bringing it into very bold, can't-be-missed, focus. Every single person, wittingly or (mostly) unwittingly, is complicit to some degree in the present situation.
   Every thought we think, every belief we act on, every single purchase we make, every interaction we have—with another person, animal, plant, institution, whatever –is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in.
   Look at the food people buy: fake food loaded with harmful chemicals, devoid of minerals and nutrition to keep them healthy. Meat from animals who are treated horribly, and loaded with body-destroying chemicals. A vote for industrial agriculture.
   Then, when sick, there are lots of votes for a medical system that only treats symptoms, not causes. A vote for the pharmaceutical industry, which turns out drugs at a prodigious rate that they know can make you sicker.
  The voting goes on and on in every moment of your life.  And it all has resulted in the present world situation.
  We've all had our input on both the light and dark sides. Now we are almost forced to become conscious of our daily votes and start making wiser choices.
I cannot believe we are headed for doom. Our country is strong enough to survive a Trump presidency. I take heart from the promise of the images.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Spirit

Parker Palmer offers a song that can appeal to both religious and non-religious people. Scroll down to the lyrics of Sara Thomsen with the guitar. 

 I cried when watching this next video. 
A young Arab-American sets himself up across the street from a Trump Tower, blindfolded with a sign saying that he trusts passersby, inviting them to give him a hug.  Nothing happens for a while, and then . . .

I ended my reflection on nones by asking, “Why [in our increasingly secular culture] does our entire culture embrace the religious feast of Christmas?”

Don’t we all love newscasts of people being exceptionally generous during this season? Don't we love stories of spreading love and cheer? 
I do. I think we all need these stories even more because of growing secularism with its despicable focus on buying stuff to stuff people who already are stuffed with stuff.
Spiritual values during the Christmas season provide relief from mandatory gift-giving and ferocious consumerism.    And there’s more to our love of this season.

As a fan of mythologist Joseph Campbell, I found innumerable myths around the world like the Jesus story, all telling of transformation. In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice engendered sun gods. 

The Roman Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”) was seen by Christian leaders as a powerful rival of Jesus Christ. To counter the popular birthday celebrations on the winter solstice in honor of Sol Invictus, Christian leaders declared Jesus Christ the real sun god and the winter solstice his birthday. Despite some calendar adjustments since then, the feast of Christmas does not fall exactly on the solstice.

No historian claims to have the slightest idea when Jesus of Nazareth was born. It would be good for Christians to know the history behind their birthday celebrations for baby Jesus.

Joseph Campbell and other authors place Jesus in the context of many Christ-figures. At first, this seems to discredit our Christian story, demoting it from history to myth. But we have to realize it’s not a demotion. Religious myths contain honorable symbolism disclosing the spiritual Source beneath outer phenomena. Gods and goddesses should not be seen as rivals, but as enriching the myth of Christ. They are alternative Christ-figures.

Mythologists reveal example after example of pagan deities prefiguring the Christian God-image. In Egypt the main God-image was Isis, the Great Mother, and her child was Horus. When Christianity pushed out other religions in the third and fourth centuries, figures of Isis with Horus on her lap were conveniently renamed “Mary with Jesus.” In this way was retained the popular Mother-with-Child motif, one that strikes strong chords of sympathy in the human breast, whatever one’s feelings about religion. Thus the appeal of Christmas.     

Monday, December 5, 2016

Christian nones?

I was wrong. Or more accurately stated, I gave out-of-date information in stating that 23% of Americans are nones. In 2016, 25% of all Americans are nones. This is the latest finding of the Pew Research Center. Think of it. The number of Americans who identify with no religion keeps rapidly rising.

The largest number of nones describe themselves as atheists and agnostics. They say they “don’t believe.” Examining the Pew Center’s data on nones more closely, I see they don’t affiliate with any religion because religions teach myths that science debunks. The atheists and agnostics I know reject religion for the same reason. And what is their devotion to truth but a mark of integrity? And what is integrity but a spiritual principle?

Nones, atheists, and agnostics—whatever they’re called—reject religion because it violates their spiritual principles, although they don’t put it that way. The next largest group of nones “dislike organized religion” because it abuses power and causes conflict, another spiritual principle shared with my atheist/agnostic acquaintances.

A few nones have the perspicacity to claim being spiritual but not religious. I think this characterizes most nones, atheists, and agnostics, whether or not they know it. The writings of atheists Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins disclose the inner integrity driving them.

I go to church, nones do not, but I feel closer to nones than to most churchgoers. My own life mirrors the rise of the none phenomenon. I left my church after college and tried to be an atheist because I did not believe the Father/Son myth. Reading Teilhard de Chardin, Carl Jung, and feminist theologians told me I didn’t fit in atheism. Then Al-Anon gave me the gift of my Higher Power, a non-denominational, compatible-with-science way of appealing for spiritual help and communicating with power vastly greater than human.

My Higher Power, my inner Beloved, the Christ in me (Galatians 2:20 and 4:19) guides me daily. Everything preached in church resonates with Higher-Power spirituality except those darn lords Father and Son.

When my mantra “God is not three guys in the sky” burbled up in me at the School of Theology in the 1980s, I felt alone and afraid. Surrounded by religious people earnestly preparing for church work, I did not dare say it, until I did. “God is not three guys in the sky,” I said in classes and in halls. No shocked looks. No reprimands. People around me seemed to understand. This awareness keeps growing, as the none phenomenon evinces.

So why does our entire culture embrace the religious feast of Christmas?  ……. next time.

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

Parker Palmer

We all need to get away from political 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.

With the Dying       October 18, 2016

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.

With the Sisters       October 26, 2016

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.