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, November 14, 2016

Nones are rising

November 14, 2016
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.

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.

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.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Hillary and Donald

Relief from Trump          October 9, 2016

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 in my next post.

Hillary and Donald            September 30, 2016

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.

Hillary and Donald      August 3, 2016

Erase all the vitriol from Republicans, all the mindless bashing without substance, and we're left with a candidate who has no more flaws than almost all candidates for the office in history, including the greatest, such as Lincoln and FDR.  And we're left with credentials that may surpass those of any other candidate for the office in history.  

Hillary Clinton's tragic flaw is defensiveness; she is not naturally comfortable in the public eye but learned to be there for the sake of her work for people. She is not transparent.  It led to her few lies in public and her famous secretiveness, her refusal to disclose details, which makes her look slippery. That is a misunderstanding.  She only is too defensive, and she's not a good public speaker.  Her delivery sounds phony, insincere. I wish she had some of Bill's showmanship. 

But Hillary Clinton has the capacity to be an outstanding president.  I won't even begin to list her impressive accomplishments for the well-being of others, beginning with children and women, going on to other groups, and to the entire society.  One phrase sums her up well—a work horse, not a show horse.

Her opponent is a show horse, not a work horse. This is how I explain his popularity, otherwise inexplicable to me. He has name recognition, all that's necessary for uninformed voters. How else to explain support for such a man?
Oh, and he's fun to watch.  I often laugh at his adolescent remarks. I hope enough voters can grow up enough to make sure the man does not actually become president.  I dread the possibility.     In November, unfortunately after the election, Donald Trump is due to sit in a courtroom as a defendant in a civil trial accusing him of fraud.

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.

P.S. September 30, 2016

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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Stephen Hawking's god

A recent PBS documentary on science, “Genius by Stephen Hawking” beckoned. Anything about genius and Stephen Hawking promised to be good. I hoped nothing would interrupt me when it was on TPT.

Hawking challenged volunteers to think like geniuses in finding answers to seemingly unanswerable questions. I expected to be intrigued. Volunteers saw plates suspended in the air and spinning. Magic?  No, it turned out to be magnets. We were to conclude that the laws of nature answer mysteries of the universe.

All mysteries? Some scientists thought so. Pierre-Simon LaPlace asserted: If we knew all facts of the universe, we would know everything that will happen in the future. He and others posited the clockwork universe of determinism, but I won’t get into that because I didn’t buy it and Hawking didn’t either.

In another puzzle that Hawking set up, a volunteer's head was wired up so that his brain was connected to a screen. When he moved his finger, something moved on the screen. A tiny moment before this change showed on the screen, electrical impulses indicated activity in his brain.

Conclusion? Hawking said that the brain made the decision to move his finger—not a thinking mind but a brain, that is, matter. In other words, we should believe that our decisions are determined by physical stuff, not by thought.
I saw clear signs of consciousness or thought operating in the demonstration, but Hawking and the volunteers never wondered what caused the brain activity before that brain activity caused bodily movement.

Hawking seemed intent on proving that no immaterial force exists. Apparently he is so mesmerized by the foolishness of belief in gods that he cannot grasp a more sophisticated concept of what is called “God.”

There were six episodes in the series shown in three evenings, two every evening. By the last evening I was bored. The admittedly ingenious scientific challenges Hawking set up for volunteers continued to engage their scientific minds.
But I'm no good at and not interested in solving math and science problems. I want to ponder the implications of scientific findings, the large questions of meaning. Hawking promised to address them, but I kept seeing promises broken.

He asked good questions: “Why are we here? Is free will an illusion? Can we take credit for our actions? How did the universe begin? How did life begin? Can we go backward in time?

To every question his answer was to show volunteers grappling with physical, scientific puzzles but never tackling the deeper issues. We saw evolution in process, how electrons befuddle experimenters, how old life is, where we fit in the universe, how unfathomably large it is, and more. We did not, however, see answers to ultimate questions posed in the experiments.

We did not see the origin of the universe demonstrated as Hawking had promised. One evening focused on life’s beginnings, purporting to show how we came to be. We saw amino acids + salt (sea water saw the first life forms) + glyceral + energy leading to life forms.
In all steps demonstrated that evening, the key ingredient was ENERGY—not a physical thing. Energy is non-material, therefore spiritual. Energy could be one synonym for “God,” but Hawking’s mind could not go there.

In another episode, blindfolded volunteers showed that the position of particles on the quantum level is unknowable. Hawking mentioned Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, but he did not mention the most enigmatic part of it—that the outcome of every quantum experiment depends on the experimenter, on the decision of a human mind. The word “consciousness” came up but not its significance, the point where science meets spiritual reality.

The task Hawking seemed to set for himself in planning this series was to prove that God does not exist. To accomplish this, he tried to take the mystery out of physical phenomena, but he did not succeed. Instead Hawking revealed that his god is science, and physical science delineates the boundaries of his genius.

David commented,
Because God cannot be defined, God does not fit in Hawking’s model of scientific inquiry.
Bob reminded me that physicists say energy can be neither created nor destroyed. This reinforces my opinion that "Energy" can be one of the many possible synonyms for "God."

Friday, June 10, 2016

Israel & Palestine—facts

News widely reported in the U.S. the past few days.
Two Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis in a Tel Aviv retail center. Israel reacted by banning Palestinians from visiting relatives in Israel, traveling to Jerusalem for Ramadan prayers or to Tel Aviv for travel out of the country. Since October Palestinian attacks have killed 33 Israelis.

News not reported in the US.
Since September 29, 2000,
Palestinians killed by Israelis—9,370 Palestinians, 2,112 of them children.
Israelis killed by Palestinians—1,224 Israelis,  133 of them children

More news not reported in the US:
Military aid from the U.S. going to Israel: $10.2 million per day!
Military aid from the U.S. going to Palestine:  0

Whenever Israel and Palestine are in the news I recommend
  If Americans Knew  or Jews for Justice for Palestinians or numerous other sites. I especially recommend this engaging video about Israeli atrocities in Palestine, which should be viewed by every American.

Apparently, many Jews in America disagree with the few rich Jews who keep Congress, the president, other politicians, and American media hostage to the one-sided view that Israel deserves unconditional support no matter what. Anyone who tells the truth is branded anti-Semitic. 

One day I was bored, too tired to read, and idly looking for entertainment on public television (I rarely watch commercial channels). I saw Risk Steves sympathetically listening to an Israeli man report an attack by Palestinian “terrorists” on settlers.  I could smell where this was going and didn’t keep watching to see whether we’d learn about the terrors committed by Israeli settlers who are stealing Palestinian land. I knew coverage of Israeli atrocities that provoke Palestinian “terrorism” was not forthcoming.

By the way, the government of Israel pays Israelis to settle on Palestinian land. Every once in a while the U.S. government protests but does nothing to stop the injustice. And the military dollars keep flowing.

When will this end?  When enough Americans get educated and pressure politicians to stop it.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter posts past

March 31, 2007
From a religious point of view, Easter is a more important Christian feast than Christmas, but it gets less attention because there’s less money to be made from Easter. So much for our supposedly Christian nation.

Like Christmas, Easter derives from pagan myth and ritual. The ancient religions surrounding the first Christians celebrated various saviors coming down from heaven and going back up to heaven.

A striking parallel to Easter is reported by church historian Henry Chadwick. He tells of the god Mithris, whose death was mourned on March 22 and resurrection celebrated on March 25.

The likeness of Good Friday and Easter to religious festivals of the pagans prompted them to accuse Christians of plagiarism. Besides the idea of dying and rising again in three days, Christians apparently borrowed ritual ideas.

My reporting this may give the impression that I have little respect for Holy Week and Easter. Wrong. I regard the Paschal mystery as a profound spiritual mystery, one centered on transformation, one that grows in meaning as I grow older.

But it doesn’t belong to Christians alone. Our tradition received appreciation of the link between dying and rising from both Judaism and paganism. Mythologist Joseph Campbell found thousands of transformation stories in myths of the world.

The word “paschal” is derived from the Hebrew word for the annual Passover celebration, when Jews commemorate their deliverance from Egypt. God brought death to Egyptian homes but passed over Hebrew homes on the night of their escape. They celebrate their break from bondage, the promise of a new home, and their birth as Yahweh’s people.

New Testament accounts say that Jesus was put to death on or around Passover, and so Christians and Jews celebrate the feast most important to them at the same time.

Pagan religious festivals honored several deities who died and rose in three days. The region where Christianity began teemed with death and resurrection stories prefiguring that of Christ.

Especially poignant is the story of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, who gifted humankind with fertile land and bountiful harvests. Persephone is playing in a field when she is abducted by Hades, god of the underworld and brother of Zeus, who is Persephone's father.

Heartbroken and mourning fiercely, Demeter learns what happened. She vows never again to let the earth be fruitful until her daughter is restored to her. Zeus relents, but Persephone has to spend part of the year above and part of the year below. When she arises every spring, the earth turns green again.

This mother/daughter story balances against the father/son story of Christianity as both portray the central figure dying and rising—both symbols of transformation. And the Eleusinian Mysteries, which commemorated Persephone’s rise, were celebrated for almost two thousand years, about as long as Christianity is old.

These mysteries had much in common with Holy Week mysteries. Initiation, fasting, and extensive preparation preceded them. There were processions, music, purifying with water, ritual eating and drinking, fire and light symbolism—all the elements of masterful Holy Week liturgies.

At the climax of the Eleusinian Mysteries, participants had a beatific vision that released them from the fear of death. They were transformed. Christians are urged to be transformed into new people, to die to our old selves and rise to new selves. But transformation from death to life permeates all of existence.

New shoots in spring arise out of dead vegetation left by winter. The end of a job opens the door to a new path in life. Births and deaths come together in uncanny ways. More than one family has seen new grandchildren arriving upon the passing of a grandparent.

The Paschal mystery tells us that beginnings and endings are joined in a mysterious way. John 12:24 states, “Unless a grain of wheat fall to the earth and dies it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies it produces much fruit.”

Understanding this soothes the pain of change. Every end’s sadness opens to a fresh beginning. Easter and other religious myths and rituals symbolize this holiness in all creation.

Good Friday, March 21, 2008

Last evening a performance of Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly reminded me of Good Friday's larger, deeper significance.

An American Navy officer marries a geisha girl in Nagasaki with the intention of soon leaving her. With steadfast faith she waits with their young son for his return. He returns with his American bride to take their son away from her.

She is Christ on the cross.

And Christ is Annemarie in Rwanda. Her son was born in the middle of the genocide. “My child was almost a skeleton because I didn’t have milk in my breasts. But that man, that rapist was with me. He kept raping me again and again. . . . we went through torture like no other person has gone through.” About her son, now 11, she says, “He is the only life I have. . . . If I didn’t have him, I don’t know what I would be.”

And Christ is the Shi’ite man in Baghdad kidnapped by Sunni militia, beheaded, and left on the street to terrorize others. And Christ is the Sunni victim of ethnic cleansing in Iraq.

And Christ is the people of Zimbabwe terrorized by their president Robert Mugabe. And the people of Uzbekistan terrorized by their president Islam Karimov.

And Christ is the families in New Orleans displaced by Hurricane Katrina and now sickened by formaldehyde fumes from their FEMA trailers.

Good Friday services that fail to remind people of the suffering Christ in the world today fail as Good Friday services.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


I AM    February 27, 2016

The 1st reading on the third Sunday in Lent is Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15. It contains the best definition/description/summary of God in the Judeo/Christian tradition—I AM. God also says in this passage, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” But the name of God for these patriarchs was El Shaddai, the Breasted God (Exodus 6:3).

Unfortunately, Bible translations commonly render El Shaddai  as "God Almighty," following early influential translations. But "God Almighty" subverts the original meaning, as shown by David Biale in a February 1982 article for the journaal, History of Religions.

The ordinary Hebrew word shad means “breast.” In ancient Akkad (north of Babylonia) shadu meant both “breast” and “mountain,” a link easily understood. The Egyptian word, shdi, meant “to suckle.” The ending –ai, an Ugaritic feminine ending, occurs in the name of Abraham’s wife—Sarai.

Biale adds that the term’s context in biblical texts supports the conclusion that El Shaddai should be translated “God, the Breasted One.” Genesis 49:25-26 asks that El Shaddai bring
blessings of the heavens above,
blessings of the abyss below,
blessings of breasts [shadayim] and womb [rehem]
blessings of fresh grain and blossoms,
blessings of the everlasting mountains,
delights of the eternal hills.
Mountains and hills follow breasts and womb, just one verse of seven in Genesis indicating that “God, the Breasted One” inhabits the Book of Genesis. She is the fertility Goddess, the One who generates and regenerates.

More evidence of the Goddess in the Bible comes from Phyllis Trible in God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. She tells us that the Hebrew word for "womb"—rehem—is metaphorically and grammatically linked to the Hebrew word for compassion or mercy. Womb metaphors saturate the scriptures, suffusing them with female images of the Holy One. Trible observes,
The entire process of birthing has been attributed to the deity. In various passages,
God conceives, is pregnant, writhes in labor pains, brings forth a child, and nurses it.
Translations often conceal the feminine power.

David Biale, who makes the case for Shaddai being the Goddess without ever using the word “Goddess,” concedes that for exilic and postexilic authors in later scriptures, the name meant a storm and war god. He considers it
understandable that the Septuagint and the Vulgate [two influential translations] should render Shaddai as the ‘Almighty.’
But Biale thinks that Shaddai as “remote, mysterious, and destructive” may have been adopted “because it so thoroughly contradicted the fertility interpretation.” In other words, to counter any hint of the Goddess.

The word Yahweh also is the product of sexism. Scholars think it derived from the verb “to be” and originally carried no gender bias. Scriptures write the name of God as YHWH, four consonants of the Hebrew name of God, because ancient Hebrew was written without vowels. Out of fearful reverence, the ancestors of the Jews avoided pronouncing the name and substituted Adonai, translated “Lord” in English. The original pronunciation of YHWH is lost. 

Today the name of God in the Old Testament is written and pronounced Yahweh. "The Lord,” a male individual, emerged from patriarchal pressure and the human inclination to personify God. But imagining Holiness as a lord subverts the meaning of the revelation in Exodus 3:14.

October 3, 2013
During the last half year I spent at the School of Theology I had gotten so fed up with HeHimHis God-talk that I started saying in classes, “God is not three guys in the sky.”  I didn’t know then and don’t know now how much this sank in to fellow classmates (I know professors fully understood the implications), but one day a man I assume was a seminarian handed me a little pamphlet entitled, “El Shaddai: A Feminine Aspect of God.” It was my introduction to a fascinating subject.

David Biale in “The God with Breasts” examines in more detail El Shaddai, the Goddess of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob invoked in the biblical books of Genesis and Exodus. He manages to do this without ever using the word “Goddess,” no doubt to gain entry to Christian minds, for whom “Goddess” is a dirty word.

El Shaddai was the Hebrew name of the Goddess worshipped around the globe in ancient times, which thought of what we call “God” as female. To people not conditioned as Christians, it seems entirely natural for the Creator to be imagined female rather than male. Bible translator Rodney Venberg learned this when he struggled to translate the Bible for people in Chad, Africa. For The Bible Translator, 35, he wrote:
To speak of God (Ifray) with such terms as “he” and “Father” was totally inconsistent with their grammar and went against their whole notion of the creation (after all had a man ever given birth to a child?).   
Phyllis Trible in God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality was the first to teach me that the Hebrew word for “mercy” is the word for “womb.” And David Biale elaborates. He finds that five of six Genesis passages invoke El Shaddai in fertility blessings, following the “be fruitful and multiply” pattern. In the exception, Genesis 43:14, “the author senses the association between rahamim (mercy) and rehem (womb).”  Genesis 49:25-26 asks that El Shaddai bring
the blessings of the heavens above,
the blessings of the abyss below,
the blessings of breasts [shadayim] and womb[rahem]
the blessings of fresh grain and blossoms,
the blessings of the everlasting mountains,
the delights of the eternal hills.
**As I research this, I find variant spellings of the Hebrew words.
Biale notes that this passage gives not only a fertility blessing but also a wordplay suggesting a meaning for the name El Shaddai.  In ancient Akkad (north of Babylonia) shadu meant both “breast” and “mountain,” a link easily understood. In fact, as Biale pointed out, we can easily see the association in the blessings quoted here, where mountains and hills follow breasts and womb. He informs us further that shdi meant “to suckle” in Egyptian.

But my Bibles, both NAB and RSV, translate this name of God as “The Almighty,” following the authors of biblical books after the Babylonian Exile who thought of Her as a storm and war god. The influential Septuagint and Vulgate translations used that treatment and it stuck. But how inappropriate! My Inclusive Bible translates the name El Shaddai as the Breasted One.

Readers of this blogpost, know that “The Almighty” in the first two books of the Bible really is El Shaddai, the Breasted One.

Just as what we call “God” is not 3 guys in the sky, it also is not a female individual. Once we understand the one, we understand the other. “Force” or “Infinity” or “Beauty” might be better names than either Father or Mother. This is certain—the ubiquitous and mandated “father” and “lord” diminish the idea of God. Once we get past the ingrained image of the male god, we may be ready to comprehend Karl Rahner’s statement that God is not an individual. God certainly is not a mere humanlike individual, more certainly not a specifically male individual.

Atheists would be less contemptuous of Christians if more of us understood this.

Funny facts about genderconfusion in Hebrew add piquancy to this topic.  The Hebrew words for womb, breast, and nipple are masculine and the Hebrew noun denoting the foreskin of a penis is feminine. Crazy and amusing, right? But not surprising to me because similar craziness exists in German.
It reinforces something I learned from Carl Jung: each of us has characteristics of both sexes in her or his makeup. And the Creator not only encompasses both genders but invented gender itself.

El Shaddei again, December 12, 2013
When I have a question about scripture, I ask Vincent Smiles, scripture professor at St. Ben’s/St.Johns. I asked Vincent if El is masculine and whether ancient Hebrew had any term for “Goddess.” He wrote,
Yes, El is masculine and the texts suggest a masculine god was envisaged.
I cannot find a Hebrew word for goddess, which is not to say there is no such word.
El Shaddai might mean ‘breasted god’ and have originally been a name of a female deity, but there is no clear evidence that Israel understood the word in that way. The Hebrew Bible uses it exclusively in the sense of a powerful ‘almighty god’ with no hint of feminine overtones, as far as I can tell.

All of this goes along with the fact that even when a distinctly feminine IMAGE of God is present in Hebrew texts, the pronouns and verbs (verbs are ‘gendered’ in Hebrew) are always masculine.
It all just makes clear the rock hard androcentrism of the culture and language of the Bible. The better news is in texts like Luke 15:8-10, the woman who images God in Jesus’ parable.
In my previous post on El Shaddai I quoted scholar David Biale, whose analysis in the journal History of Religions harmonizes with Vincent’s statementExamining the biblical passages in which El Shaddai appears, Biale makes the case for Shaddai being a goddess, but he never uses the word “goddess” because to Hebrew authors in later literature, the name meant a storm and war god.
For this reason he considers it “understandable that the Septuagint and the Vulgate [two influential translations] should render Shaddai as the ‘Almighty.’” 

 He thinks it possible that Shaddai as “remote, mysterious, and destructive” may have been adopted “because it so thoroughly contradicted the fertility interpretation.” He refers to El Shaddai “as a fertility god—a god with breasts” and writes that Israel must “return to the ‘breast’ of the true God. Apparently he understands well the malign influence of patriarchy because he writes about “a surreptitious sex change.”

Biale finds that five of six Genesis passages invoke El Shaddai in fertility blessings, following the “be fruitful and multiply” pattern.  You will find more of his analysis in my previous post, El Shaddai.

Scholars agree that Jewish ancestors, known as Hebrews or Israelites, brought the name of Shaddai with them when they moved to Canaan from Mesopotamia. In Exodus 6:3 God replaces the divine name El Shaddai with the name YHWH.

This tetragrammaton (four letters) was used because the Israelites avoided saying aloud the holy name out of “superstitious fear, according to Biale. We do not know what YHWH stands for because ancient Hebrew was written without vowels.
What we know is that the patriarchy deleted feminine imagery of the Divine. And we are still living with it.
The Israelites did what other patriarchal cultures did—turned feminine imagery of the Divine into male imagery.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Antonin Scalia

I confess that when I heard the news of Antonin Scalia’s death I said “Thank God!” fervently, sincerely, earnestly. I have nothing against the man.  He was a good man who did what he thought was right, and now he is happily in the spiritual realm.

It’s his family and friends who deserve our sympathy.  That’s always the case when someone dies. I don’t feel sorry for the deceased—they are happier on the other side than in this time/space realm on earth. I believe that to be the case no matter what kind of life they led.

I understand Scalia was a colorful, jolly, opera-loving, friendly man, but he led others to wreak terrific havoc on our political system. With his passing we have a chance of overturning the most destructive decisions coming out of the court in the past 30 years.

We can’t undo one disatrous decision of his—putting George W. Bush in the presidency in spite of the popular vote going to Al Gore. Scalia’s claim that he based decisions on originalism—following  the original intent of the text—does not wash with this decision. It’s a glaring inconsistency that he brushed off when confronted about it. By installing his choice in the presidency, Scalia and the justices he led violated the original intent of the Constitution.

Had Gore been president, the U.S. would not have started the disastrous Iraq War that expanded Sunni/Shia rivalry that eventually created ISIS. I hold Scalia partially responsible for the mess in the Middle East that the Obama administration has been trying to manage for 8 years.

Scalia led the ultra-conservative pack in the Supreme Court to unreasonable advocacy of corporation “rights” and gun “rights.” His decision, the inappropriately named Citizens United, is allowing Big Money to corrupt our democracy. It would more aptly be called Citizens Divided or Citizens Corrupted.

Antonin Scalia is eulogized as a giant in American jurisprudence. I don’t deny his outsized influence; I decry it. I hope the country can soon get past the shadow he threw over our political system.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Downton Abbey

I admit it. I’m madly in love with Downton Abbey. Not much gets in the way of watching when it’s on television, twice a week, every Sunday and repeated on Wednesday evening. I plan my evening activities around it. If someone calls, I cut the conversation short.

The costumes, period details, and love stories don’t capture me as much as the quality of the writing and the overriding theme—class pecking order is fading. Already in the first episode in the first season this theme came through to me. A friend didn’t like the show. She criticized it as all about nobles who think they deserve their privileges. I said, “That’s the point.” I expected their privileges to be challenged.

I don’t know how Julian Fellowes managed to convey so effectively at the beginning that things would change. Maybe it’s character development; the acting rises to the level of the writing. I savor every facial expression, every line. Fortunately I can read their dialogues in captions. I asked a friend more technologically savvy than me to fix that mode on my remote because I have difficulty processing oral speech—the British accent often defeats me.

Julian Fellowes draws characters quite unlike one-dimensional Hollywood stereotypes, the downstairs staff in Downton Abbey as comprehensively as the upstairs family, and all are thoroughly human. Each has something to love as well as hate—villainy mixed with nobility. Thomas, a coward in World War I and a schemer against fellow workers, loves children and frolics with them. I’m glad the series discovered early in its development that Fellowes had to be the sole writer. No one else could stay true to the characters while they change.

All Downton characters tug at our sympathy, and Fellowes does not eschew happy endings. Political activist Tom Branson loses his beloved Lady Sybil but gains the love of her whole upper-class family. Fellowes’ characters gain wisdom, are kind to each other, and good things happen to them. Maybe this is Downton’s greatest appeal.

I have asked myself why I’m so taken by Downton Abbey. How does it fit into my passion for religion and spirituality? Julian Fellowes seems to share my fascination with human beliefs and thoughts, how they are formed, what influences them. Downton Abbey explores the evolution of sensibilities in Britain over only a few decades—the demise of the rigid, class-conscious Edwardian era to the beginning of modern democracy. I examine the evolution of religious and spiritual consciousness happening in my lifetime—the gradual demise of patriarchy sanctioned by religion.

In Britain, nobility and church hierarchy are intertwined; they lose power together. Both secular and religious spheres are moving away from top-down authority toward bottom-up authority, which neatly steps away from vain, sputtering attempts to control and simply does what it thinks best. Robert Crawley, 7th Earl of Grantham, tells his mama, the imperious dowager played inimitably by Maggie Smith, “They don’t listen to us anymore.”

Downton Abbey has few explicit ties to religion—prejudice against Jews (when Lady Rose falls in love) and Catholics (when Lady Sybil’s baby is to be baptized)—but God the Father hovers over the entire series, as it is premised on the British system of entailment. Because Lady and Lord Crawley produced no sons, modern viewers would expect the estate to be inherited by their daughters, or at least one of them, the oldest (betraying our training in hierarchy).

But no, women are not allowed to inherit property (a vestige of the Old Testament when women were property). Enter Matthew Crawley, but the actor playing him wants to move on to other roles. So Fellowes kills Matthew, shocking me and viewers around the world. Consequent to Matthew’s death, Lady Mary becomes Downton’s fiscal agent.

Fellowes’ genius for tricking positives out of negatives puts women in charge time after time. Lady Sybil defies patriarchal expectation by marrying the chauffeur, and Lady Edith becomes the owner/publisher of a magazine. Their mother, Lady Grantham, sides against Lord Grantham and with younger family members in financial disputes. That the estate even exists yet depends on the money she brought as an American heiress. Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, defers to Carson, the butler, when he lords it over the servants, but in their one-on-one conversations she often bests him.

Thus do the women of Downton Abbey play out my religious theme of reducing the grip of Father. With my lens so focused, I see the Father defeated in every episode. It seems obvious to me that Fellowes does it deliberately and enjoys it.

Widening the focus of my lens, I look at the expanding chunk of Americans with no religious affiliation—the nones. They are the ones who don’t listen anymore to the Lord. Most don’t marshal virulent arguments against religion, like some atheists; they calmly accept and relate to spiritual reality in their own way.

In Catholicism it is the womenpriest movement that most effectively flouts traditional authority. I await the day when the Vatican will be defied as decisively as women and servants in Downton Abbey defy tradition and become their own masters. Unfortunately, the religious shift cannot unfold as quickly as events in Downton Abbey.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Virgin Birth, Incarnation

This December 2009 piece I had re-posted on Christmas 2015 but lost it while wrestling with technical difficulties. They are preventing further posts.  I hope soon to get this problem fixed.

Godfrey Diekmann, OSB,  exploded with this statement in the students’ dining hall at St. John’s.
It’s not the Resurrection, dammit! It’s the Incarnation!
An editorial in National Catholic Reporter reminded me of this story in The Monk’s Tale, a biography of Diekmann by Kathleen Hughes. When I was at the School of Theology, she came onto the Collegeville campus to gather stories for her book about our colorful and inspirational professor, Godfrey, as he was known by students and fellow professors. The first-name basis at SOT is one of my fond memories of those years, and I’m proud to have my own memories of Godfrey Diekmann, who played an important role in contemporary Church history.

Godfrey passionately preached the implications of the Mystical Body—that we share divinity. This is the Incarnation, and Christmas is the feast of the Incarnation. In the traditional Christian perspective, God’s entry into time and history happened at the birth of the Nazarene, Jesus. But let’s not worship an external God-image, which is a form of idolatry. We incarnate or embody the Divine. We are the eyes, hands, and feet of Christ, and I don’t mean a man, and by “we” I don’t mean only Christians. Divinity resides in the heart of the Hindu, Inuit, Muslim, Sikh, animist, whatever. Eternity is enfleshed in all creation, and our distinctly human task is to consciously advance this process of Incarnation.

When I said something like this in a blogspot a long time ago, someone commented that non-Christians would object to being called “the eyes, hands, and feet of Christ.” I have to agree. I’m doing my best here to bridge Christian doctrine with other spiritual systems, and I inevitably offend one side or the other. Speaking as a Christian, I’m comfortable with Christian terms, but I have no patience with traditionalists bent on preserving the literal and exclusive understanding of our religious doctrines.

A Buddhist interviewed in Sacred Journey (summer 2009), said of the Dalai Lama,
He feels that even if someone is beating his body, underneath the cells of his body is the realm of pure light that is blissful. . . . welling up from the core of the reality of life, an infinite sustaining energy, which is what I think all highly spiritually developed people tap into, whatever they call it.
How well this captures incarnational possibility!
I think that, if Godfrey were working in this new century with its wealth of alternative spiritual voices, he would have listened. He would have synthesized the Dalai Lama’s view with Paul’s “Christ lives in me.” And he might even have seen the link with secular humanism, which more than religions has advanced human dignity and human rights around the world.

Carl Jung led the way toward integrating Christian doctrine with secular spirituality. He showed that our thinking I, our ego or conscious mind, needs to become aware of our unconscious totality, our Higher Self. And this inner Self “cannot be distinguished from God-images,” Christ, of course, the prominent example. How do we achieve this union of ego with divinity? Jung, the depth psychologist, said, “God becomes manifest in the human act of reflection.” But I like the Christian image of becoming “the eyes, hands, and feet of Christ.”

We are called to become Mothers of God in a Virgin Birth.
Now a response to my latest posts that came to me by email. I got permission to quote Ron Ohmann because his comment may help others to understand my message:
Thanks, Jeanette. Although we enjoy the prevailing Catholic/Christian "take" on Christmas, we remind ourselves it is largely mythology. It really is beautiful mythology which is why it has such strong cultural appeal, I suppose. But, as thinking Catholics who read Bp.J.W.Spong, yourself, and others, we are, I believe, more realistic regarding Christmas and other aspects of Christianity. It is, I feel, the only way one can truly grow spiritually as a Christian. Happy New Year, Ron