Saturday, June 21, 2008

God is Still Speaking!

I love my friend Jan and her blog, Yearning for God. She is amazing.

She got into some trouble recently (persecution ?) for posting about some issues for which she is a passionate advocate, one of those issues being homosexuality and how the church should be a place where all are loved and celebrated.

My own church recently voted to officially be Open and Affirming. I love the statement the church came up with:

We, the congregation of __________________, declare ourselves to be Open and Affirming. We strive to be a congregation that includes all persons, embracing differences of sexual orientation, gender and its expression, marital status, age, mental and physical health and ability, racial and cultural identity or background, and educational or socioeconomic status. We welcome all to share in the life, leadership, ministry, fellowship, worship, sacraments, responsibilities, blessings and joys of our congregation's life in Christ.

That statement not only says we welcome and celebrate GLBT persons but that we strive as well to embrace all kinds of differences among us. We have a member who is president of a county-wide organization working on advocacy issues for those with a mental illness. She brings tremendous energy to her work and has opened the eyes of many persons in the congregation. And the statement is one I can use to help us all become more aware that "children are people, too." It's just a very broad and wonderful statement, I think.

As part of the Open and Affirming process (which went on for about 3 months of study and meetings) we showed the film For the Bible Tells Me So. If you haven't seen this film, please do make a point of purchasing a copy. It's the story of five families, all of whom dealt with realizing that a son or daughter was gay. All were Bible-believing families, so the film looks at what the Bible really says about homosexuality and how love came to triumph over judgment for the members of these families. Of course, for people who have no interest in looking at the Bible in its wholeness, including its cultural context, the scholars who are interviewed in this film may not be convincing. But for others who are even a tiny bit more open, I think the film will be hugely impactful.

The United Church of Christ has a saying: "God is Still Speaking." The Bible portrays marriage as a contract, with women having no say-so in the deal. Woman are mere property. Today, the man and the woman both exchange rings. Today, the man is not expected to take other wives. We have CHANGED, and that change has been God-directed. While its more subtle evil remains deeply entrenched in our culture, patriarchy has been challenged. The Bible cannot be taken literally (except, of course, for those in whom there is such a deep, hidden terror that self-deception has moved them to discount all reason and turns them into perpetrators of hatred, as the film portrays so well, especially in the case of Bishop Gene Robinson).

The Bible is sacred because it is the Word of God seen through the stories and poems and thinking of people on a journey toward God, and the Holy Spirit uses those stories and poems and thinking to move us, too, to hear the Word of God and move us toward God. God does speak powerfully through the Bible. But God has not stopped speaking! God calls us toward love, the kind of sacrificial love that empowers us toward unity through our vast and beautiful diversity.

Thus endeth the sermon.
:-)

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Final Word on Jeremiah Wright

Please read this transcript. Especially the part I put in bold. It's soooo good, so on-target, I think:

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.
I once asked a reporter back from Vietnam, "Who's telling the truth over there?" "Everyone," he said. "Everyone sees what's happening through the lens of their own experience." That's how people see Jeremiah Wright. In my conversation with him on this broadcast a week ago and in his dramatic public appearances since, he revealed himself to be far more complex than the sound bites that propelled him onto the public stage. Over 2000 of you have written me about him, and your opinions vary widely. Some sting: "Jeremiah Wright is nothing more than a race-hustling, American hating radical," one viewer wrote. A "nut case," said another. Others were far more were sympathetic to him.

Many of you have asked for some rational explanation for Wright's transition from reasonable conversation to shocking anger at the National Press Club. A psychologist might pull back some of the layers and see this complicated man more clearly, but I'm not a psychologist. Many black preachers I've known — scholarly, smart, and gentle in person — uncorked fire and brimstone in the pulpit. Of course I've known many white preachers like that, too.

But where I grew up in the south, before the civil rights movement, the pulpit was a safe place for black men to express anger for which they would have been punished anywhere else; a safe place for the fierce thunder of dignity denied, justice delayed. I think I would have been angry if my ancestors had been transported thousands of miles in the hellish hole of a slave ship, then sold at auction, humiliated, whipped, and lynched. Or if my great-great grandfather had been but three-fifths of a person in a constitution that proclaimed, "We the people." Or if my own parents had been subjected to the racial vitriol of Jim Crow, Strom Thurmond, Bull Connor, and Jesse Helms. Even so, the anger of black preachers I've known and heard about and reported on was, for them, very personal and cathartic.

That's not how Jeremiah Wright came across in those sound bites or in his defiant performances this week. What white America is hearing in his most inflammatory words is an attack on the America they cherish and that many of their sons have died for in battle ? forgetting that black Americans have fought and bled beside them, and that Wright himself has a record of honored service in the Navy. Hardly anyone took the "chickens come home to roost" remark to convey the message that intervention in the political battles of other nations is sure to bring retaliation in some form, which is not to justify the particular savagery of 9/11 but to understand that actions have consequences. My friend Bernard Weisberger, the historian, says, yes, people are understandably seething with indignation over Wright's absurd charge that the United States deliberately brought an HIV epidemic into being. But it is a fact, he says, that within living memory the U.S. Public Health Service conducted a study that deliberately deceived black men with syphilis into believing that they were being treated, while actually letting them die for the sake of a scientific test. Does this excuse Wright's anger? His exaggerations or distortions? You'll have to decide or yourself. At least it helps me to understand the why of them.

But in this multimedia age the pulpit isn't only available on Sunday mornings. There's round the clock media — the beast whose hunger is never satisfied, especially for the fast food with emotional content. So the preacher starts with rational discussion and after much prodding throws more and more gasoline on the fire that will eventually consume everything it touches. He had help — people who for their own reasons set out to conflate the man in the pulpit who wasn't running for president with the man in the pew who was.

Behold the double standard: John McCain sought out the endorsement of John Hagee, the war-mongering Catholic-bashing Texas preacher who said the people of New Orleans got what they deserved for their sins. But no one suggests McCain shares Hagee's delusions, or thinks AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality. Pat Robertson called for the assassination of a foreign head of state and asked God to remove Supreme Court justices, yet he remains a force in the Republican religious right. After 9/11 Jerry Falwell said the attack was God's judgment on America for having been driven out of our schools and the public square, but when McCain goes after the endorsement of the preacher he once condemned as an agent of intolerance, the press gives him a pass.

Jon Stewart recently played a tape from the Nixon White House in which Billy Graham talks in the oval office about how he has friends who are Jewish, but he knows in his heart that they are undermining America. This is crazy; this is wrong -- white preachers are given leeway in politics that others aren't.

Which means it is all about race, isn't it? Wright's offensive opinions and inflammatory appearances are judged differently. He doesn't fire a shot in anger, put a noose around anyone's neck, call for insurrection, or plant a bomb in a church with children in Sunday school. What he does is to speak his mind in a language and style that unsettle some people, and says some things so outlandish and ill-advised that he finally leaves Obama no choice but to end their friendship. We are often exposed us to the corroding acid of the politics of personal destruction, but I've never seen anything like this ? this wrenching break between pastor and parishioner before our very eyes. Both men no doubt will carry the grief to their graves. All the rest of us should hang our heads in shame for letting it come to this in America, where the gluttony of the non-stop media grinder consumes us all and prevents an honest conversation on race. It is the price we are paying for failing to heed the great historian Jacob Burckhardt, who said "beware the terrible simplifiers".

____________________________________
Bill Moyers, thank you. I am so grateful for you and your work!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"No Longer I Who Live But Christ Who Lives Within Me"

This came from a friend of mine in California, Michael. It's a column by Jim Burklo who at one point was Michael's pastor. The column is about "The Bible and Eckart Tolle." Pretty interesting. Sadly, another friend of mine, Kathy at My Heart Leaps, tells me that Oprah has been the recipient of some nastiness by the Christian Right for helping spread the wisdom of Tolle's new book. Breaks my heart to hear of that. Anyway, here is the article by Jim Burklo:

The Bible and Eckhart Tolle

A few weeks ago a young friend of mine asked if we could talk, so we had lunch together. She knew that there had been a period in my life when I coped with the serious mental illness of one of my family members. She wanted to hear more about how I handled it. That set me off on a long story about that difficult period in my family's life. I got pretty animated about it - telling about it brought up a lot of feelings for me. Finally, I asked her how my story related to her own, and right away she started to cry. She poured out her heart about her boyfriend, who suffers from a couple of different psychiatric problems that were putting a huge strain on her relationship. As she wept, telling her story, my own story suddenly evaporated. Later I realized that while I listened, I had an out-of-ego experience. I was there, but my ego wasn't there. I was there, but only that which was essential about me was present. My ego-self didn't matter to me. Only she mattered. Her story was a sad and hard one, but she did something wonderful for me in sharing it. She snapped me out of my fixation on me, me, me: my fixation on my needs, my urges, grudges , ideas, plans, schemes, etc, etc, which fill up so much of my life but aren't the essence of my life at all. Her tears crucified my ego, and resurrected God, who is the loving, listening presence within me.

One of the more significant books I've read recently about the practice of Christianity was written by a non-Christian. "A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose" by Eckhart Tolle got a huge boost in popularity when Oprah Winfrey focused on it. I found Tolle's book to be an exceptionally good introduction to spiritual practice. The message of the book is very simple. The more often we can have what I call "out-of-ego experiences", the happier we'll be and the better life will be for human beings on planet Earth. If we can wake up to the fact that the essence of who we are is divine and one with the whole universe, if we can wake up to the fact that our egos are artificial constructions of our minds, then we can live more in harmony with the here and now, and more in harmony with each other and with the earth.

Tolle describes this awakening beautifully in clear, non-sectarian, non-religious language. But he also salts his prose with quotes from the great world religions, like Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and, yes, Christianity!

I think it's more than a coincidence that this writer, Eckhart Tolle, would share the name of Meister Eckhart, the 13th century German priest whose mystical sermons are classic works of Christian spirituality. Meister Eckhart understood the idea of "out of ego experiences". My favorite line from one of Meister Eckhart's sermons goes like this: "The eye with which I see God is the eye with which God sees me." We share the essence of divine being with God. That's what it means for us to be created in the image of God, as the book of Genesis says.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I visited with our granddaughter in Hollywood. Rumi is almost two years old. Rumi was playing with Roberta one afternoon and started to play rough. She pulled Roberta's hair very hard and wouldn't stop even when Roberta cried out in pain. Rumi had to be pulled away - she didn't seem to understand what she had done. But the next morning, Rumi woke up and toddled into her parents' bedroom and hopped up on the bed and said, "I'm sorry I hurt Grandma." We start out life thinking that life is all about me. And that's okay. It's developmentally appropriate for a baby to think he or she is the center of the universe. But there comes a time when the child goes through another kind of birth, the birth of conscience, the birth of awareness that other people exist separately from him or her, that other people have their own needs and feelings to which the child is connected. Rumi seemed to have this kind of born-again experience when she woke up that morning.

But the process doesn't end with a two year old having an out of ego moment, realizing that she hurt somebody she loves. Over and over, I keep having to wake up to the fact that the person I think of as myself isn't who I really am. As adults, we still get caught in the spiritual trap of thinking we're the center of the universe. And we have to keep waking up to the awareness that this person I think of as myself is mostly a construction of my mind. A construction that often gets in the way of fully enjoying and appreciating life, and enjoying and appreciating other people. Which was the message of Jesus. Which is the essential message of the Christian religion. Which is what Eckhart Tolle is saying on Oprah's show, and in his book that is sold by the truckload at Costco.

In Matthew 16: 24, Jesus says: "If anyone wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." Tolle interprets this as follows (p 79): "When Jesus said 'Deny thyself', what he meant was: Negate (and thus undo) the illusion of self. If the self - the ego - were truly who I am, it would be absurd to 'deny' it. What remains is the light of consciousness in which perceptions, experiences, thoughts, and feelings come and go. That is Being, that is the deeper, true I."

Tolle's interpretation reminds me of St Paul's understanding of the image of the cross in Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." Paul got it that the whole point of the Christian faith is to turn life into an out-of-ego experience in which we live and love and serve from the divine center of our being, which we share with all other beings. The cross is the symbol of the universal human experience, shared across all religions, of the figurative "death" of the ego that resurrects and awakens us to our true divine nature. This crucifixion of our egos can happen automatically, when we "lose ourselves" in some overwhelming experience of awe or wonder or delight or sympathy. It also can happen with our active intention, when we meditate or pray, when we get ourselves up on Sunday morning to go to church, when we commit ourselves to works of service to others, when we do art or perform music or other kinds of creative expression that wipe away our egos like a sponge wiping up a spill on a table.

Eckhart Tolle offers a down-to-earth way to practice this crucifixion of the ego. (p 215) "A powerful spiritual practice is consciously to allow the diminishment of ego when it happens without attempting to restore it. I recommend that you experiment with this from time to time. For example, when someone critic izes you, blames, you, or calls you names, instead of immediately retaliating or defending yourself - do nothing. Allow the self-image to remain diminished and become alert to what that feels like deep inside you. For a few seconds, it may feel uncomfortable, as if you had shrunk in size. Then you may sense an inner spaciousness that feels intensely alive. You haven't been diminished at all. In fact, you have expanded. You may then come to an amazing realization: When you are seemingly diminished in some way and remain in absolute non-reaction, not just externally but also internally, you realize that nothing real has been diminished, that through becoming "less" you become more. When you no longer defend or attempt to strengthen the form of yourself, you step out of identification with form, with mental self-image. Through becoming less (in the ego's perception), you in fact undergo an expansion and make room for Being to come forward. True power, who you are beyond form, can then shine through the apparently weakened form. This is what Jesus means when he says, "Deny yourself" or "Turn the other cheek.""

Tolle's interpretation of Jesus rang true for me - and his suggestion for how to practice it rings true, too. It seems like terrific marriage counseling, actually. It almost never works, in a spat in an intimate relationship, to react defensively to protect one's ego. That's my own experience, learned the hard way! Defending the ego eats up a lot of life-time in marriages, in parenting, in relationships at work and in our community life. It feeds animosity between nations, it even starts wars. Ever see the bumper sticker, "Don't mess with Texas"? Why is Texas so concerned about being messed with? At one level, that bumpersticker makes me laugh at folks who appear to have chips on their shoulders for some reason. But then I realize that the bumpersticker is about me, too. I have a chip on my shoulder, too. We are all worried that we're going to be messed with. But what would happen if I just let my emotional and spiritual guard down long enough to let my ego get crucified, so that it is no longer my self-centered idea of myself that lives, but the Christ, who is God, who is Love, that lives within me? So that the eye with which I see God is the eye with which God sees me? So that I can be fully present and aware and delighted by the divinity that is your essence and mine? Indeed, if we could let down our guard over our egos, it would be a "new earth" for us all!
____________________

To see Rev. Polly Moore's study guide fo r the biblical passages in Tolle's "A NEW EARTH", have a look at:
http://tcpc.org/library/article.cfm?library_id=514

Jim BurkloWebsite:
OPEN CHRISTIANITY
Weblog:
MUSINGS

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Drumming Circle

D and I had a new experience last week. We went to a Drumming Circle. Total fun.

There were about 12 of us, sitting on chairs in a circle. Lots of different types of drums were available for us to choose, and even other kinds of percussion instruments, and a native American flute. At the back of the room were some large pretty scarves and ribbons and a huge gong. (Oh, that gong was absolutely Amazing. The vibration went from the tip of my toes to the top of my head!)

The guy who welcomed us was the leader (even though he said there was no leader), and he started us off by playing a huge drum--deep, low tones. Just random beats and we all followed suit with our own random beats that all seemed to echo the main beat, it seemed to me....
...Several crescendos that arose on their own...
...then it would die down again...
...get chaotic...
....come into a new kind of syncopated rhythm...
....over and over again....
....and finally everything just got quiet and that was the end of that "song."

Drumming. It's a heartbeat of life, and I FELT it!

We repeated that about 4 times in 90 minutes. We were free to use different instruments whenever we were moved to do so. I played several styles of drums, plus a neat percussion instrument from Vietnam. And once toward the end I even got up and took one of those huge long ribbons and swirled it around and danced to the beat.

I tell ya, I'm getting FREE in my old age!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Courage to move forward

I'm preaching on hospitality this Sunday--Abraham and the three visitors. But I'm using Psalm 85 (truth and mercy meeting, righteousness and peace kissing) as quoted by General Lowenheilm in Babette's Feast as my main example of the possibilities evoked through true Christian hospitality.

It's difficult to be open and trusting of other people. We're so programmed to categorize and judge. I find myself doing that now with a couple of people in my life. As much as I want to allow and receive the unique gift each person may give me, there are many supposed "upsides" to knowing and certainty. Upsides to my false ego mostly. The results of cultural constructions foisted upon me without my awareness years ago.

That's one awareness I've had lately. But lately, also, I've been feeling some unrest. This morning was suppose to be spent finishing the sermon, then tackling one of about a dozen other things on my Action Items list. Instead, alone in the house, I went into the living room and watched some stupid show on television. I hate it when I do that. Feels like such an utter waste. So why did I do it?

I did it so I wouldn't have to confront this restlessness within me. What is the Spirit saying to me? I'm concerned that I'm once again getting sick--no energy yesterday and coughing a lot. So even if I listen to the Spirit, will I have enough life in me to follow through?

Newness always brings risk.

I'm praying for the courage to move forward.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Evening Prayer

I started an Evening Prayer service at my church last week. It's in the tradition of Taize. Just a 25 minute service. I set it up in the chapel, which has some beautiful stained glass windows, and put about 100 candles of all shapes and sizes. We sing three Taize songs, do intercessory prayer, silence, two Scripture readings using three different translations, and I decided to serve each person communion.

As the service ended tonight, I just sat there for about 10 minutes all alone. I kept thinking, God is real. God is real. God is real.

It's something about the beauty. God inhabits it and I can experience the divine so easily through it.

Beauty.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica. Do you know it?

Humans on the planet Caprica created a race of robot machines who evenually rebelled against them.
War.
Finally, a truce.
For 40 years they the humans hear nothing from the Cylons.

Out of nowhere, the Cylons attack, nearly wiping out the human race. The 41,000 human beings who survive find spaceships and take off into space, a remnent led by the only surviving battlestar: Galactica.

Galactica's commander is William Adama.
He has a son, Lee Adama (aka Apolla, a fighter pilot)

Commander Adama's second in command is Saul Tigh. He has a drinking problem.

The best pilot in the fleet is Kara Thrace, (aka Starbuck). She was engaged to Adama's other son, Zac, but he died. She and Lee (the still-alive son) have a thing for each other.

OK, so after 40 years of truce, the Cylons come out of nowhere to attack, nearly wiping out the human race. The Cylons had been treated like slaves for millenia and they hated their human oppressors. We find out that they've spent the last 40 years developing themselves. Improving themselves. In fact, they have made 12 "models" of themselves that look human. No longer are they all robot-looking. These new models cannot be distinguished from the humans who originally created them.

One of the new models, No. 6, is the tall sexy blonde.

No. 6 seduced the top human scientist, Gaius Baltar, and through him she gains information about the human defense system on Caprica. That is how the Cylons were able to launch their surprise, and very successful, attack on the humans.

The humans are polytheistic and believe in "the Gods," the Lords of Kobol. They are attacked by the monotheistic Cylons, espousing belief in the one true God who has a plan for each life. (sound familiar?)

Cylons have "resurrection ships." When a Cylon dies, he/she 'downloads' to the resurrection ship and is reborn into another body. Same model, different body. Reincarnation.

Another fight pilot is Sharon (aka Boomer). She is a Cylon but doesn't know it. She's been planted among the humans and thinks she IS human until her programming kicks in. She (in a different iteration of this particular model of Cylon) has a baby with another fighter pilot, Helo. A mixing of the races...the boundaries blur.

The president of the colonies and most of his administration were all killed during the Cylon attack. The highest-ranking official left alive is Laura Roslin who becomes President. She is dying of breast cancer. She has visions and becomes a kind of prophet. She and Commander Adama develop a thing for each other, too.

The cinematography is bleak, dark and shadowy, but there are moments when the absolute beauty of a star system, or the complex colors involved in an explosion just take my breath away.

The soundtrack has an unbelievably dramatic drumbeat. There are times I think those drums are going to drum my heart right out of my body. Fantastic.

The show looks at issues of torture...
And issues of denial of civil rights in times of war...
And what it means to be human.

And that's only for starters.

The show is complex and very difficult. I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 2, 2008

campaigning for Obama

There was a knock on the door last night. D opened it, and I heard him say, "Well, you have the right buttons on!"

He invited them in. Two Obama delegates to the state convention, here to visit Young Man with Integrity who is also an Obama delegate. All will be traveling to the convention later this week.

Young Man with Integrity now has his own apartment, so they didn't get to talk to him, but we thoroughly enjoyed our conversation with them. Both were young and articulate and soooo excited about Obama's chances. Lovely Passionate Feminist joined the conversation and I heard her say, for the first time, that after she finishes college she plans to get heavily involved in Democratic politics. Yes!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Embodied Fun. Wow.

I went to an afternoon of Interplay yesterday. It's an amazing experience.

The leader for the afternoon, Rebecca, explained that the whole idea of Interplay is play--to have some fun with movement, rhythm, voice and vocalizing....And it IS fun--I had a great time. As we move and let go, however, some deep emotions may come forth. People find themselves crying or angry or sullen for reasons they might be conscious of, or not. Our bodies carry unexpressed emotion. Our cells have their own kind of wisdom.

I knew everyone there, except Rebecca the leader, [Jan, your dear friend JT was there] so I felt safe from the get-go.

Interplay has four basic movements: swing, thrust, hang and...4th--oops, can't remember. Anyway, one of the most interesting moments came when we were doing hand movements with a partner. As the music played we were touching hand to hand, and moving, dancing--at some points I led, and at other times, my friend K led. Much of the time we had our eyes closed, but even with my eyes closed, and during those times when our hands were NOT touching, I knew where K's hands were. If you've ever taken T'ai Chi, you know why. I could feel the chi between us. Really. My hands tingled for long after this exercise was over.

Another memorable moment came when we were doing some vocalizing. Rebecca asked us to "sing" a song about whatever came to mind. Not easy, but I came up with something, so I was asked to sort of take the lead on the next portion, which was to continue the "song" while the others each added something to it. Again, not easy! But in the midst of it I spontaneously rose from the floor (we were all seated) and sort of walked/danced the song, and I did this with great expression, raising my voice and really moving my body rhythmically. Ha! It was great fun! And Rebeccah especially enjoyed what I had done, it seems. After I sat down, she said something like: "Oh how wonderful! thank you, Katherine. Everyone, we had a Big Body movement here!"

My rapture ended at that point. She described me as a "big body." And the shame came, and the shame took over. Oh, God; it was a public humiliation.

I wanted to leave at that point. Really. Just walk out the door and run, get the hell OUT.

But instead, I talked to myself. I'm not sure how, (definitely a God thing), but I began to tell myself: "OK. So what? So what? These are my friends. They don't care. They like and love me. So, don't go there. Do NOT go there. Remember who you are."

So, I stayed, much of time wanting to hide, but I stayed. And during one of the last exercises, which was follow-the-leader dancing (in which the leader just spontaneously changes from one person to another), I decided, what the hell? Just dance and have fun. And I did! I danced and danced, and I was the leader at some point, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

As we were talking at the end, I found out that when Rebeccah said "Big Body Movement," she was NOT describing me, but naming what I did, in Interplay terms. When I realized this, I didn't say anything, but inside I was having a hearty laugh with myself.

Of course I do have a big body. "Big boned girl," as my mother and othes used to say. Which is true. And I have gained weight in the last 3 years. BUT....BUT!!! The point is that I overcame the shame that, for a while, dominated me. I overcame it, really, completely, and was able to simply be me and have some Embodied fun.

Wow.