Wednesday, November 28, 2012

2012.11.28 Who Wears Prada?

I just saw on alternet a great photo and small story about a bunch of men parading along an avenue in Toronto in stiletto high heels. Yeah for men in Canada!

This is experiential solidarity with women in a clear physical sense.  These men grimaced occasionally, but they are demonstrating while they teeter along. They are men against violence against women.

They are part of a movement called the United Gender Movement. 

Native American wisdom counsels that if you want to know someone or find cooperative ways to make peace, you have to walk a mile in another person's moccasins.

Maybe two blocks or so in Prada shoes—the devil's footwear to be sure, aka women's fashion designed by men, or nasty dominatrices—is a beginning.

(I saw some Prada heels on line for $1495.00. Yes, I did.) Think how much money we'd have to put towards those "entitlements"—or are they gift/bribes?   Neither. They are benefits people and businesses bought and paid forward for.  Godde helps those who need it.

My take: 
 1)  United Gender is the only way to act to help Spirit create peace and justice.
 2)  Women really ought to think about joining in this effort, doing their part by REFUSING to wear such footwear (if you can even call it that) .........unless of course we see this steel stiletto as a potential weapon of defense.



Sunday, November 25, 2012

2012.11.25 All Things Holy

What seems holy right now is the truce in Israel/Palestine. Having just been there, I apprehend the land itself and can feel its concrete meaning—more than in a distant hymn or a prayer. The poster above hangs at St. George’s College on the site of St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in East Jerusalem. It sums up Divine holiness for me.

We celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary on Friday. We know we’re OK because we still love and spat with regular verve. It’s what keeps us together. Dick gave me a hilarious card with two love-bears on the front making eyes at each other.  "You know, the secret to a happy marriage is how often you say those three little words…”  You open it and see the two romantics whisking out the door with the caption "LET'S EAT OUT!"  We did, delighting in good food, good conversation—Holy Healing Meal. 

I'm hobbling on a broken foot bone, using a cane, and wearing a romantic and ugly gray air-cast boot. (Tripped on the sidewalk coming home from yoga, of all things.)  No drive and no walk makes me grateful for a very active and loving  husband—Holy Matrimony.

My card for Dick pictures a cute little monkey :"If we were monkeys, I'd pick the bugs off your fur."  Open it: "And if we were bugs, I'd help you hide."— Holy Humor.

Poem by Ursula LeGuin, “Every Land”—Holy Writ.

    The holy land is everywhere.—Black Elk.

Watch where the branches of the willows bend

See where the waters of the rivers tend

Graves in the rock, cradles in the sand

Every land is the holy land.

Here was the battle to the bitter end

Here's where the enemy killed the friend

Blood on the rock, tears on the sand

Every land is the holy land.

Willow by the water bending in the wind

Bent till it's broken and it cannot stand

Listen to the word the messengers send

Life from the living rock, death in the sand

Every land is the holy land.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

2012.11.21 Thanks Given for a Book


Religion Gone Astray. What We Found at the Heart of Interfaith
by Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon, and Imam Jamal Rahman 
2011, Skylight Paths, Woodstock, Vermont, 170 pages.

“We have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep......” 

When as a college student I first found and fell in love with the Episcopal Church in 1958 the congregation said this line every Sunday from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer’s General Confession. I called it the sheep clause and loved it because it rang true.  I had run amok in so many ways, some of them by own foolishness and some by ambush.  And so had everyone else!

Religion Gone Astray  is a seminal book for the future of the religious enterprise, because it takes erring and straying beyond the individual and into the institutional.  Religions are like sheep:each one prefers and guards most zealously its own pasture, its own group, its own images of divinity, and its own practices. Because these things are precious they are worthy of defense and feel crucial to survival—at significant cost. 

The interfaith vision of this book touches on the costs of too much safety-in-the-fold devotion,  precisely in the paradox that the more we defend the more we offend. While all religions and their scriptures, at God’s command, issue calls to provide for strays and aliens, most of them are so bent on caring for their own well-being they don’t find out what other religions are about.  There are blinders on each sheepfold.

 As I joined the Christian sheepfold I knew there was a place for me,  and somewhere there was a God who cared about the whole, including the strays, the lost, the foolish, and the headstrong.  As a Christian I could be lost and found. Nice!

Over time, however, I began to wonder if Jesus in the parable of the Lost Sheep returned the strays to their own comfy group,  or did he simply challenge them to find God wherever they’d landed?

This book has affirmed my suspicions about the challenge underlying this cozy parable. Exploring the core belief of each major religion the authors make confession to God and each other on behalf of their religions’ sins (my word) and the challenges each faces to save the souls of each religion. 

All religions put faith in a God who cares about each AND all at the same time.  These authors try to be a bit more like God. They stick to their ongoing interfaith conversation, develop deep affection for each other, and deepen their own faith —without fighting for it.

The authors expose four ways in which each religion has gone astray and lost touch with God, self and neighbor:

    Exclusivity: staking claim to a One and Only Truth
    Violence: justifying brutality in the name of Faith
    Inequality of men and women:  domination politics to preserve patriarchal power
    Homophobia: denying the legitimacy of homosexuality in practice and in being

Chapters explore these four religious errors. Each includes a personal reflection, a look at how institutions and scriptures have strayed into practices that keep the people of the one God apart,  scholarly commentary, core teachings and healing, and particular spiritual practices from each tradition. It is readable, accessible to all, and there's no bloviation in it!

One of my favorite practices, comes from the advice of a Thai Buddhist who taught Imam Rahman to say Neti! Neti!— which means, Not this! Not this!—to keep violent thoughts at bay. (I use it to keep judgmental thoughts at bay.) Violence in religions arises when extremes are taken as the whole, dualities advanced as the one correct picture, and violence-advocating verses in scripture are preached as the whole truth about God.   

Judaism’s core gift is Oneness AND Jews also hold onto choseness; Islam’s is Compassion above all, AND Muslims hold the Qur’an to be superior; and Christianity offers Unconditional Love AND claims that only One Name saves. 

Go figure:)

I find these authors most honest and credible when they write about inequality between women and men in their religions.  They laugh at themselves: three straight  patriarchally stereotypical men offering insights about equal inclusion of women and homosexuals in their “club.” They admit that each religion has been spiritually truncated by the exclusion of women’s voices. And they sight ways in which change is happening. This book is one effort. 

My only regret is that I wish these authors had done more with language about God, particularly those troublesome masculinizing pronouns that keep deity clothed in masculine language. We can no longer afford to have an exclusively male deity, even in languages like Hebrew that have gendered nouns. Our God  is so much more than the biggest and best one of us. Does not Divinity deserve our strenuous effort—an interfaith jihad for gender inclusive language, yes, even pronouns?

My personal image of Godde is a Being of beings fully feminine and fully masculine. Abstract images like light or even wisdom, leave me..... not cold but lukewarm.

According to the authors of this book, “Religions go astray when they contribute more to human suffering than they do to human healing.”  There will be evil, and we will do evil, but we can not BE evil.

I recommend this visionary book for individual and group study in and among any and all religions. 


Sunday, November 18, 2012

2012.11.18 Religiophobic??

“Don’t mention religion or God to them. You’ll be blasted out of the room...they’ve been hurt and are pissed,” said my brand new employer.

 I’d just been hired by as a chaplain in a new alcohol/drug rehabilitation center. I was a religious professional on the way to being ordained an Episcopal priest— and already there was a gag rule.

During my first week on the job I went to the detox area in fear and trembling to visit my very first patient, thinking the warning might be exaggerated, and reminding myself confidently that they had advertised for a chaplain. It was a title they wanted to change to pastoral counselor but I had lobbied  for Chaplain, a title with religious implications—and won.

“Get the f... out of here, you goddam religious freak!”  Noelle screeched before I even introduced myself.  I backed out of her room slowly and mumbled fleeting impotent words of comfort like it will be all right—for my own benefit. Then I went to find my supervisor to ask for a change of assignment.  She said no.

“Take it slow and easy,” she said.  “Detox is monstrous. She’ll be more reasonable when she is alcohol free. Just don’t mention religion or God.”

But I hadn’t.

When Noelle came to my office for her first post-detox meeting I was tense awaiting another assault. Instead she was cautiously friendly. It turned out that her reaction had been to a cross I’d worn. It was a gift from my husband and I loved it. I hadn't mentioned religion when we met; I hadn't needed to, I was wearing it around my neck. Noelle told me that her mother had beaten her up at night and preached religion at her all day. It wasn’t hard to listen to her painful story and to feel compassion.

“Why is the place where Jesus is supposed to hang empty on your cross?” she asked.

“Because he’s not there any more,”  I said.

“It’s kinda pretty,” she said.

I  took the cross off and let her hold it. She declined the offer to let her try it on, saying it was mine.  When Noelle left the treatment center after four weeks she looked well and happy.  I'd never suggested she go to church, and I don’t know if she held onto her sobriety. I pray so. She healed my fears and helped me be an authentic goddamn religious freak.

                                                                  * * * *

Over time in my chaplaincy there I mentioned religion a lot in my work with addicts. Few were hostile; in fact many longed for the basic ideas and sacramental practices they’d known as kids. Every time someone came to see me it was a confession of sorts. Listening was absolving.  I used Bible stories like the prodigal son or daughter coming home to Love; spoke of prayer as a common denominator; offered ashes on Ash Wednesday,  and was bold enough to convert my office into a Meditation Room always open for prayer and quiet. No one came but it was there.

All these courageous alkies helped me become a goddamn religious freak of a woman priest.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

2012.11.14 Eat Lou or Die?

Well, you won’t really die if you eat Lou, that is, your biological life will continue full of protein and new strength, but your spiritual life may suffer a bit.

The late Lou and his surviving team mate Bill were working farm oxen at Green Mountain Junior College in Vermont. The college has a sustainability vision which of course requires that some things die that other may live. The college made the same mistake that the biblical God made in Eden: made the forbidden fruit too attractive and told Eve and Adam in paradise a lie (they would die if they ate)— to protect them from knowing how to do evil as well as good.   

Green Mountain's farming program encouraged the students to love and befriend the farm animals —including Lou and Bill with whom the students worked to plow fields and haul heavy loads. The strong oxen duo served well for ten years. Now they were scheduled to be slaughtered for meat for the college meal program.

BUT these oxen had acquired names and become like pets to the students who protested wildly when it came time for the violence of the slaughter house for Lou. They knew Bill would follow. They knew too much.  They cared too much. They had the knowledge of good AND evil.

When you engage the human heart you invite love and compassion and then you put stops on violence, because how can anyone of sound mind and heart slaughter or harm a creature they also know and love?

Recently Lou was euthanized despite local offers of retirement care until natural death— a post-controversy compromise I assume between the high value of sustainability and the equally high but less predictable value of love. 

Is this a lesson in sustainability and its natural consequences? Or is it a call to become vegetarian? Or is it a challenge to expand the breadth of compassion and its mercies? 

Would I never again enjoy a hamburger or a juicy steak if I thought it might be Lou or Bill?  I don’t know to be candid.

But I do remember the late Benedictine monk and liturgics scholar/professor at Yale Divinity School Aidan Kavanagh’s fierce clarity when years ago he taught students that: “the holy things of the liturgy did not ‘drop from Heaven in a Glad Bag’ ” and  to remember that, “the Eucharist began in the slaughterhouse.”  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

2012.11.11 Aria on a Tricycle

Now that we have a new/old President and congressional reps old and new, we begin again.    And we also need a respite from everything serious, or that’s my unhumble opinion. Here is something fun.

 This is Jane. This is Jane singing a Verdi aria from her mezzo profundo  soul. This is Jane laughing at trike-ology. 


Jane lives in Cambridge.  She is a mezzosoprano opera singer and voice teacher married to an astrophysicist.  How did that happen?  Who knows but they are a dynamic pair—one looks at the stars and the other sings to the stars.

Jane does have a car but prefers public transport or.....her TRICYCLE. How did that happen?  Jane knows how to have fun, how to play.  When she rides through a high school yard young people cheer and wave: GREAT BIKE! 

Yes, its a trike. Takes me back to the olden days and my first shiny red trike. I lived in the city but could ride it in Central Park at the playground where my mother used to haul us in carriages and by hands every day for an outing.  That’s what city kids did. 

As we got older we played on our own, throwing pinkie balls against walls of buildings, hop-scotching anywhere available, and playing hie and seek in the apartment building basement where the storage lockers and the laundry were.  The basement was the most fun because it had  many nooks and crannies and places to hide and invent scary myths about what sort of “bums,” our word of the day in the 40s,  hung out there.  And every storage locker looked like a jail cell. 

Jane can be spotted on Mass Avenue and on many side street toodling along helmeted and fully equipped with her smiley face flag to alert cars and bikers and pedestrians to her presence.  And she never tips over.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

2012.11.07 Grace Works

Grace doesn’t always just happen; grace works.

I am happy about the election results—not just that our President and others I voted for won, but because there seems to me to be something much greater and deeper going on.

Our nation split and partisans fought with vicious vigor—and now, thanks to gracious “winners and losers” there appears to be willingness to let go and collaborate, to take a Godde’s eye view. Not to eliminate debate and conflict but to know that there is something more precious at stake than individual concerns: the good of the whole.  

Most people think of grace as an amazing and surprising phenomenon—like out of nowhere. And it can be like that.

But there’s another way in which grace operates and that is deep within a system, like deep tissue massage over time.  This kind of grace pulls for the goal of unity without uniformity, and more acceptance of self AND other.  It’s relational grace.

Grace has a history in America.  It has been embodied in many leaders and followers carried forward by the risky work of reconciliation and compromise. It has always headed in the direction of e pluribus unum and it has always meant enormous transformative, emancipatory change.   

Over all my years I’ve prayed for this kind of unitive healing in our family, blended and in-lawed and multiplying.  Sometimes I tried to make it happen and sometimes I impeded it by my own selfish choices.  Now I see it happening. I thank God AND every single member of this beloved community.  (Maybe my children would say it’s Mom being idealistic again.)  Perhaps it is—still..........

It's a blessed jubilant triumphant time for many—and a vulnerable time, a time to stay alert.  Our Episcopal prayer book has a petition in one of the Compline (night) prayers: "shield the joyous." 

Grace is a religious word. All religions have this theological idea. Grace is at work in religions—ironically, tougher to massage.  

In the words of theologian and scientist Teilhard de Chardin, this grace is “the long slow work of God.”  It calls for patience, honest effort, trust in God, self and neighbor, and  ”accepting the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”


Sunday, November 4, 2012

2012.11.04 Twill Soon Be Over—But First You VOTE

It’s amazing how much email I’ve received in the last two months— every day all day from so many really famous people like the President of the USA and every hot shot Democrat you could name. 

I’d be flattered if I didn’t know better.  Intense partisanship exausts me.  I’ll vote for President Obama because I trust his face and his grin when he opens it up. I trust his vision for the future of our country and I know he’d never put a dog on top of his car for a long highway drive!

When I was a child I wanted a “ Romney-esque “White Knight" (or John Wayne) to sweep in
and make everything right even if it meant hurting everyone else but me. As an adult I want a Yoda-type who can see all colors in all people and work to fit everyone into a multi-colored, multi-religious community.

I’m a Democrat because I’m a Christian who believes Jesus “occupied” the Galilee and stood firm for his vision of peace and justice, dignity and  economic equality for all citizens of the kingdom of heaven on earth. He lived and died for his vision—not the only one in history to have done so!  If the grossly wealthy have to pay more taxes to help the government even out the playing field I’m for it. I don’t trust private business or philanthropists to accomplish this. 

In Massachusetts we also vote on question #2 about Death With Dignity, aka Physician-Assisted Suicide (language is everything.) I will vote in favor of it so the conversation will open up. Legislation that allows a choice is not forcing anyone to choose the option provided.

I worked as a chaplain on the spinal cord team in a big city hospital. What we are talking about here is NOT ending life but ending prolonged/ chronic suffering—agony either physical or emotional that even medication doesn’t remit for long. Having no choice in such situations is costly to the patient, the health system, and the loved ones who stand by. witness.

Ever watch the euthanization of a beloved pet?  Casey the retreat center dog at Mercy Center  was always there to welcome guests, hang out in the chapel—a restful wagging presence. When it was time to say goodbye to Casey, who could no longer live without constant pain, the vet administered an injection and those who wanted to could visit to say goodbye. It was Compassion in action, sort of like the Godde of love I love.

They shoot horses, don’t they?

I am not a Christian who believes that Godde desires the agony of anyone, and certainly not of Jesus who freely chose to die for his gospel of Love. I bet that choice broke his “father’s” heart.   

Voting isn’t a right or a privilege, it’s a responsibility. As religious professionals clergy promised at ordination to take our places in the councils of church governance—to be church politicians and church business people.  We grouse about it because we think we should be about higher things, loftier tasks. Nevertheless................ the spirituality of governance in the church is that the body of Christ politic argues and debates. No one is forced to follow what our majority resolves. And then we sing a hymn of praise—not to ourselves. 

Thou shalt not not vote.