Thursday, January 7, 2016

Book Review: Adventures in Soulmaking (Part 2)

I've had a terrible time getting through this book. I'm only halfway through, not even finished with Part I.  A large part of my difficulty is the overtly Evangelical nature and tone of so much of the book, which I've already discussed in Part 1 of this review.  It pokes too many of my sore spots and makes me twitchy.

But another aspect of the book that is an obstacle for me is something I find in so many self-published books:  the inadequacy of the book design and the want of a dispassionate editor.  At first I thought I was struggling to read because I was furnished with a .pdf version of the book that didn't play nicely with my Kindle iPhone app.  Having to resize and scroll through each and every page was hugely distracting.  Some hundred pages into it, I found that I could read the published ebook version through Kindle Unlimited and promptly downloaded that to my phone.  Quite a bit easier to handle and a whole lot less strain on a nervous system always overwrought by hysterical illness.

The book still felt difficult to read.  I even started from the beginning again once I got the Kindle version and this time I started realizing that it wasn't all me; the book itself is just kinda clumsy. The story illustrations are too long and too fully formed as stories to be effective illustrations.  Caldwell states that his first desire in this book is to be a teller of stories.  If that were his only intention, he could have made a stronger book, something more along the lines of Women Who Run with the Wolves or Kitchen Table Wisdom. Caldwell clearly sees the value in good storytelling in its own right, he is married to a storyteller, but not being a storyteller himself, he confuses a good story with a good illustration.

Then there are the memoir and personal stories.  We follow not only Caldwell's trip around the spiral path but also Debbie, a spiritual direction client, who appears in each chapter in long passages of her own words that sound more like extended answers to an essay question than good narrative.  Debbie's story would be more effective if Caldwell has recapped her relevant experiences in his own voice and kept them much shorter.  Not only do we hear Caldwell and Debbie, though, there's also Duane and Donna, and several others I can't even remember who are brought in to tell us about specific points Caldwell wants to make.  In one complicated section we are treated to Caldwell, Debbie, Duane (or maybe someone else, I forget) and Tom, a patient of Caldwell's residency years, whose story we must enter both through Caldwell's own perspective and, awkwardly, from the perspective of his mother we are instructed to imagine we are,  despite his mother have zero relevance to the point.  Each of these people's stories are told in stop-action and abrupt shifting from story to story.  Added to the multiplicity of stories and the profusion of characters within each story,  the lack of decent formatting (no bold or underlining or other kind of visual marker to denote headlines or section titles) and sometimes no titles at all, I was constantly confused as to who was where, when, and why I should care.

I think Caldwell tried to include too much when he took on this project. All within the same book, he attempts to describe and promote spiritual direction to both those who are completely unfamiliar with the concept and those who already have some knowledge or experience, introduce Christian mysticism (without ever using that word) to readers who would probably be terrified to think they were being encouraged to mystical experience since Evangelicals are kinda neurotic about that sort of thing, describe the Jungian system of the person and make parallels to the Christian theology of the soul, and as if that weren't already more than enough, throws in Greek and German vocabulary with explanations and definitions. Is this a textbook for spiritual directors? a workbook for directees or solitary spiritual seekers? a collection of wisdom tales? a memoir? or three memoirs?

Keep in mind, I'm only not quite finished with Part I, the map of the soul or personality and description of the spiral path of mystics.  Part II is a whole nother beast altogether! Caldwell could have written three or four books instead of one and all of them would be stronger for their simplicity than this one with its excess.

Most of what Caldwell is trying to convey is fairly straightforward and could be conveyed easily and intelligently in a traditional linear outline. And Caldwell himself seems like a mostly left-brained sort of intellect for whom linear thinking is preferential. Yet he writes in this circling around from story to exposition, from the diagram of the soul to the description of mystical life, from too long quotes by  too many other writers to several pages of a meditation that not quite successfully analogizes the design of the Jewish SecondTemple with the architecture of the Christian soul.  Whether consciously or unconsciously, it seems as if he wants to present his material in a right-brained, metaphorical and symbolic outline, spiraling around from topic to topic and back, as if illustrating the spiral path of mysticism itself.  This approach might work well in small groups or one-on-one in mentorship, perhaps even in a classroom over a period of weeks, but it is less successful in book form.

A good editor and book designer could have taken all the separate pieces and given them a better home--perhaps in sidebars, chapter epilogues, and appendices--where they could shine more brightly on their own merit and not clutter up the linear outline that describes the anatomy of the soul and the roadmap of mysticism.  Caldwell has some really strong pieces, though many of them are too long and extraneously detailed, but they don't work as strongly together.  The whole here is not greater than the sum of its parts.

All of those complaints aside, I intend to keep reading.  Despite the weaknesses of the book, Caldwell does indeed know what he's talking about and knows it very well.  He has walked and is walking the walk and writes from his experiential knowledge as much as his intellectual and theoretical knowledge.  Most books I've read of this nature are from only one side of that equation--theory or experience--and are lesser for it.  Caldwell has deep wells of training in both theology and psychology and experience as both a contemplative and a counselor of spiritual adventurers from which to draw and I want to know what he can teach me.

Book Review: Adventures in Soulmaking (Part 1)

Despite the acres of books being sold in the category of Christian Living, the concept that one might benefit from anything other than solitary prayer and Bible reading in the making of the righteous Christian is bordering on sacrilege.  Reading the Bible for oneself is after all probably the single most significant tenet of being Protestant.  Finding it fully sufficient for salvation and sanctification, needing nothing else, is foundational to Protestantism and Evangelicals use that doctrine as the basis to denounce all kinds of spiritual practices from praying with beads or even praying memorized prayers, to meditation (except as they define it--conscious prayer and intellectual consideration of Scripture), to the lighting of candles or veneration of icons or saints or mandalas.

Although in practice Evangelicals often don't read their Bibles as often as they claim nor as completely or with the open-minded curiosity and willingness to question that marks the spiritual scholar, depending instead on the weekly exposition of the text by one's preacher and the writers of Bible study guides to interpret their religion to them, and though Evangelicals like spiritual mentoring lookalikes such as accountability partners or discipleship group leaders (both of which tend to focus more on behavioral changes in one's life that are supposed to demonstrate profound spiritual growth, but in my experience rarely do), actually entering into an intentional mentorship with a spiritual teacher or director for the purpose of open-ended spiritual development is rare.  It was unheard of when I was fully immersed in Evangelicalism a couple decades ago.

For this reason, Troy Caldwell's book on spiritual direction, written by an Evangelical for Evangelicals is a very significant mark of progress.  I heartily applaud Caldwell's desire to bring spiritual direction and other aspects of contemplative Christianity to Evangelicals, for whom it has long been anathema.  Educating Evangelicals in such a foreign concept and its long-ridiculed related practices is a huge undertaking.  Caldwell's heart for his mission is obvious and a credit to him and his work.

It is that same Evangelical flavor, however, that I consider to be the biggest flaw in this book.  Schooled both in Jungian psychology and Baptist theology and practicing both, Caldwell appears to have made his own peace with the inherent contradictions between the two.  I suspect he has done this by simply ignoring the Evangelical theology when it doesn't quite fit his Jungian perspective.  He clearly has embraced the broader theology of the greater Christianity beyond Evangelicalism (quoting from authors in Orthodox, Celtic, Anglican, Catholic, Medieval European Christian, and other non-Evangelical traditions).  In itself this embracing is no bad thing, as a Heretic myself indeed I commend him for it, but it makes his use of Evangelical language and theology awkward and jarring. His voice sounds much more authentic when he writes from his Jungian or contemplative traditional perspective.  His use of Evangelical language, cultural assumptions, or doctrinal stances stands out to me as being a bit forced--as if he really isn't much of the paternalistic, chauvinistic character that is quintessential contemporary Evangelicalism.

Fundamentally, Evangelical Christianity is a theology of renunciation and annihilation.  It is, or has become, a religion promoting simultaneously exceptionalism and shame culture. One is identified as a sinner worthy of death and is expected to own that identity.  Only in owning that shame and subsequently renouncing one's identity (to take on the identity of Christ, or to cover one's own shame in the blood of Christ as Caldwell's imagery in the temple meditation describes) can one become redeemed.  Upon redemption, however, one is immediately transformed into something far more exceptional than those evildoers still outside the righteous few. Furthermore, one is expected then to conform to culturally determined Christian behaviors or to experience further shaming, even to the experience of threatened or real excommunication in the form of social shunning, which is a psychological annihilation either in the shunning or in the renunciation of the self to become or remain one of the group.

In the same way that salvation or the renunciation of oneself, is the goal of Evangelical Christianity, the goal of Jungian psychology is individuation, becoming wholly oneself, through the integration of the opposing aspects of one's being.  Evangelicalism is all about identifying with the Good and renouncing the Evil; Jungian psychology is about integrating and transcending any such dualism.  In Jung's system there is nothing is wholly evil nor wholly good.  In fact, good and evil eventually cease to have absolute meaning because any aspect of the person or any belief or experience one has contains within it both good and evil, as well as the means for using both the good and the evil in any aspect as a tool for transcending the moment and becoming more fully whole and more fully the Self.

While there has been some excellent work showing the parallels between Jungian psychology and broader Christian theology, the more limited and dogmatically dualistic Evangelical theology is more difficult to synthesize successfully. I think Caldwell's attempts to do so fundamentally shortchange either Jung or Evangelicalism.  Admittedly, I am biased about Evangelicalism and find acknowledging its finer aspects all but impossible.  I try but my efforts are insubstantial against the weight of my prejudice.  Without doubt, that bias colors my reading of the parts of this book that are more overtly Evangelical. Almost certainly, an Evangelical reader of Caldwell's book would not notice or care about what I find so disconcerting--partly because they would be reading from within the Evangelical mindset and thus unlikely to be too critical about it, even more because they likely have little or no experience or exposure to depth psychology, mysticism, or contemplative Christianity. So to that target reader, the Evangelical layperson, study group leader, or counseling clergy, Adventures in Soulmaking is probably an excellent resource.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

10 Things on Thursday: Thanksgiving Edition

Ten thoughts about Thanksgiving 2015:

1.  I still grieve that hysterical illness has stolen from me the ability to make a feast and create a holiday tradition for myself and my family.

2.  In the renewed awareness of racial tensions in the United States, there is some talk about the racist origins of the Thanksgiving narratives.  I wonder, however, if anyone even thinks about those stories once graduating from kindergarten and those hand-tracing turkeys.  America absolutely needs to recognize our inherently racist society and our genocidal history (and current events) but I doubt if Thanksgiving is the best, or even a particularly relevant, talking point.

3. Black Friday has eclipsed too many Thanksgiving traditions and I think that is a spiritual loss.

4.  With the expansion of Halloween from a simple children's holiday in the local neighborhood and the ever earlier Christmas creep, Thanksgiving has become merely a pre-Christmas, food bonanza to calorie up for the last mad, month-long, shopping sprint.

5. I miss when the televised Macy's parade was actually a parade and not pan-shots of balloons in between song and dance numbers from a variety of non-parade locations.

6. My oldest kid went off to college and this is my first year to get excited about family coming home for the holiday. She came home Tuesday night and I'm still not sure how I feel about that.

7. Our menu has only one vegetable and it's strictly a concession to my irrational love for green bean casserole with fried onions.  Both the nutritionist and the chef in me are wincing.

8. Thanksgiving is the one time I do like living in Arizona because it's always nice weather to eat dinner with the windows and doors wide open and the sunshine streaming in.  Sometimes we're even motivated enough to build a fire outside in the evening and sit around drinking and burning jacaranda deadfall.  Mmmm, I love that smell.

9. Whenever I see A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, I wonder why all the white kids are seated together on one side of the table and the lone black kid is by himself on the other.

10. I pray for enough community and compassion in the world today that everyone could have abundant food, shelter, security, and friendship to celebrate.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

10 Things on Thursday: Reintroduction

It's been years since I kept this blog up regularly.  Crises in physical and mental health developed both for me and for family members and posting didn't seem important.  Or possible.

In the spirit of new beginnings, here are ten things to introduce myself to new, returning, or long-time readers:

1.  My hysterical illness finally got a few official and semi-official diagnoses, including Myalgic Encephalomyelitis,  Migraine and several other kinds of headaches, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia, Thyromegaly,  traumatic brain injury, Temporal-Mandibular Joint Syndrome, PTSD, and Dissociative Disorder.  There are probably a few others that have got overlooked.  For example, I'm fairly certain I have Sjrogren's Syndrome, Dysautonomia, and an autoimmune thyroid disorder.

2.  Medical professionals, conventional and holistic, have been uniformly unhelpful at best and downright damaging far too often. I've lost count of how many and what kinds of doctors I've seen.  I found the NAET therapist extremely helpful until we uncovered some deep trauma layers in my psyche and abruptly we were outside the therapist's comfort zone, although he refused to admit any such thing.  I stayed with him for months longer than I should have.  The Doctor of Oriental Medicine, who used acupuncture, reiki, and other energy modalities, did the most good, not especially curative but kept me alive and functioning while I slowly found my own healing protocols.  She was useful for acute care as well and I stayed with her for three years, only recently moving on. Her business partner, a chiropractor, was enormously helpful as well but less for her chiropractic than for her weird energy work--the name of which I never can remember.  Through her work, the bones in my skull and face shifted significantly, allowing some healing of nearly fifty year old injuries, and reducing TMJ and migraine symptoms a great deal.  I don't see her regularly anymore, only a few times a year for "tune-ups." My yoga teacher also facilitated a lot of healing simply by the kind of environment she created during Restorative and Yin classes.

3.  Surrendering to the illness rather than fighting against it has been an important and ongoing aspect of creating health, if not curing any disease.  Taking to my bed and staying there, admitting to myself and others when "normal" was beyond my capacity, learning to accept and live within the new limits allows me actually to accomplish a few things in a way that wasting all my energy on trying to be who and what I used to be could never do. Submitting to illness as a teacher, an agent of grace, rather than a demon to be destroyed, changes the whole paradigm.

4. Therapies and therapeutics that have produced real and sustainable curative results for me include shamanic journeying, homeopathic adrenal supplementation, constitutional homeopathy (self-prescribed, practitioners were not helpful), Low Dose Naltrexone, the Fuck It Diet, aggressive resting and following a heart-rate based exertion program, meditation and chanting, and Restorative and Nidra yoga.

5.  I am still committed to finding a place in the Christian community.  I still think in Christian.  Christian metaphor still resonates in my soul in a way no other tradition's stories or vocabulary does.  I will never be a conventional Christian, being a heretic is as much a part of me as being a Christian, maybe more.  I am, however, determined to forge or find a space to bring together the ancient traditions of Christianity with modern applications. We needn't be syncretic with Buddhism or neopaganism (such syncretism isn't wrong but isn't necessary) to find meditation, magic, mysticism, contemplation, or apotheosis.

6. To that end, between relapses last year, I began facilitating a chant class at my yoga studio.  I had to drop it last spring but I hope to revive it locally and in person as my health permits, online in podcasts or Skype groups if it does not (and even if it does).  Ideally, I'd like to be able to facilitate chant groups in hospitals and VA centers for the very ill, the disabled, the traumatized.  I see its importance for spiritual healing far outweighing its utility for the trendy yoga studio seeker.

7.  My kids have grown up since my earlier writing.  I'm no longer homeschooling except in the most legal and supervisory definition.  My older daughter chose to attend public high school, graduated with honors and moved across the country to go to a private liberal arts college where she continues to swim competitively and aims eventually to physical therapy school.  My younger daughter attends community college and is dual enrolled at cosmetology school.  I still supervise her registration, sign her enrollment forms, and help as requested with papers (dyslexia is still a challenge), but I am no longer directly involved.  She's also been a professional actor for several years.  It still seems strange to think that what was such a huge part of my life is now over, but I also heave a sigh of relief to be finished.  I don't regret it for an instant--and, thankfully, neither of my kids does either--but it was a lot of work for which I'm glad no longer to be responsible.

8.  Due to injury and illness,  I can no longer read books.  At least 95% of my reading is through the Kindle app on my iPhone.  While I am deeply grateful to have that option, since I dislike audio books, I miss the smell, the look, the feel of holding a book in my hands.  I miss shopping at used bookstores and trolling library stacks.  And I really hate paying the digital prices for books.  I thought I spent a lot of money on books until I started buying ebooks at retail prices--criminey!

9.  Chronic illness is isolating and annihilating.  Even for persons not housebound or confined to bed as I usually am, illness forces an identity change.  It demands consideration of existential questions of meaning, individual value, community, and purpose. Whether one faces these questions head on or ducks continuously to the side of them, they change a person. Chronic illness means facing one's death in a society that spends a great deal of effort to deny death.

10.  Writing this post taxed me so much, I can't even think of a number ten.  I'll just hit publish and have a little lie-down.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Cast All Your Votes for Dancing

I know the voice of depression
Still calls to you.

I know those habits that can ruin your life
Still send their invitations.


Learn to recognize the counterfeit coins
That may buy you just a moment of pleasure,
But then drag you for days
Like a broken man
Behind a farting camel.

You are with the Friend now.
Learn what actions of yours ...
bring freedom
And Love.


O keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From your prayers and work and music
And from your companions’ beautiful laughter

And from the most insignificant movements
Of your own holy body.

Now, sweet one,
Be wise.
Cast all your votes for Dancing!


A few weeks ago, I logged into the Chronicles to revisit the path I'd traveled and remind myself of the person I used to be.  I found this Hafiz poem I posted four years ago, the first summer I spent in my bed.  I've abridged it here from the version I previously quoted to highlight what sprang at me as I read again.  

After eight years of hysterical illness, four of them mostly in bed, I thought I would have learned to accommodate my disability, would have accepted the redrawn boundaries of my life. But the voice of depression still breathes her siren song from my own lungs, whispering seduction in my inner ear.

I still rebel against her, against my very frailty, by accepting that counterfeit coin, those invitations to indulge in habits of normal life so far beyond my capacity.  Make a pot of soup.  Shower and go to a therapy appointment in the same day. Have an argument. Simultaneously watch a documentary and knit a scarf. That's far more than a week's worth of energy.  

And then I'm dragging ass for days like a broken man behind the farting camel.  Life stinks. 

Because I have forgotten to indulge most in those actions that bring freedom and love.  Forgot that what I can still do is what is most valuable.  I can still pray. There is still music.  Sharing laughter with a child or a partner or a friend.  These are the coins of value in life.  With these coins, I buy freedom.  I can squeeze drops of the Sun, the source of life itself, from them.  

And I can even find life and freedom in the most insignificant movements that my body is still able to make.  I can still dance with life, with love.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Silent Too Long

A poem by Penny Smith:

I speak for those who cannot speak
For those whose secrets are locked too deep

I speak for those who are still in pain
For those who are suffocating in shame

I speak for the little girl with hurting eyes
For the little boy who never, ever cries

I speak for those whose smiles are hiding
The hurt that is beyond confiding

I speak for the wife--the girlfriend
Bearing bruises from the men they defend

I speak for the confused, adolescent boy
Who has somehow become the coach's toy

I speak for those whom no one sees 
For those who feel they are diseased

I speak for those whose tongues are stilled
For those with no hope of ever being healed

I speak for those who have endured unspeakable things
For those who never see the hope that dawn brings

I speak for those who have no voice
For tiny babies never given a choice

I speak for those whose lives are living hell
For those wishing they had someone to tell

I speak for those with innocence taken
Who pray for the day they never awaken

I speak for you whose spirits have flown
To let you know--you are not alone

I speak for you, I feel your pain
I will not be silent while evils remain

I speak for you and-- I speak for me
I speak for the world to hear and see

I speak for those with no will to fight
To bring the secrets and darkness to light

I speak because I was silent too long
I speak because I did no wrong

I speak though there are those who would silence me
I speak because abuse should never be allowed to 'be'

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reconciliation: Who Needs It?

Once you've had a relationship to something in which you experience a divine union, when your perception of that experience is one where your soul loses its ego boundaries, when you have merged into sacred ecstasy--and I am fully cognizant that this is a relationship few people discover--and then the relationship changes and you can no longer experience that unity of spirit through the same channels and *it wasn't you that changed*, what happens next?
This divine union occurs in many ways but just to give this question some flesh, let's look at Jesus and his disciples and his (maybe, sure, why not, let's go there) wife. They had an experience with divinity. Maybe they called Jesus "God" and thought him divine or maybe they didn't, but they all certainly felt that their relationship with him was not of the normal order of human relationships. Then, through no particular action on their part (except maybe Judas) but definitely action on Jesus's part, Jesus dies and bodily disappears from their lives. The connection that they had with incarnated divinity is abruptly ended. 
How do you go on? You've been married to Jesus (one way or another). You have become one flesh; you've been indwelt by the Holy. Or at least you've left your wife/husband/children/family system to bond with the spiritual master. Then in a fit of messianic suicide, Jesus goes on a political rampage--parading in the streets, publicly and virulently denouncing the local ruling classes, interrupting the One Percenter's nifty banking scheme to parlay the religious devotion of the Ninety-eight Percent into tremendous profits--and gets himself executed. 
Now it's two months later. You and your friends have had some freaky ghost-sightings of your beloved, the Lover of your Soul, which maybe happened or maybe were produced in a mass hysteria or just out of your own deep grief. Then even those bizarre events stop and you are a widow, an abandoned friend, a master-less devotee. 
Now what? How do you make sense of what happened? Of that whole interlude when you felt whole and holy? When your soul is ripped wide open and you are left alone with your memories and the knowledge that society thinks you've lost your freaking mind, what do you do?
When that divinity abandons you, how do you live? 
Do you concretize the memories into institutions and liturgies? Do you take the blame for the leaving on yourself, claim he left for your own good? Do you forswear the divinity and pretend you never thought he was a god? 
Do you trauma-bond with others equally bereft and form a cultic pocket of Christian communism in an attempt to recreate that sense of divine unity? When this community insists that the mass hysteria, the ghost sightings, the crazy, irrational stories constitute a Resurrection, do you accept that doctrine in a desperate attempt to reconcile your memory with your reality? Do you participate in the institutionalization of deification? Does that help bring peace to your soul that Jesus left broke wide open? 
When the love that gave meaning to your very Being rips your soul into shreds, how to you go on? How do you live when everything that was Life has betrayed you?
When God left you behind.
What stories do you tell yourself? Your children? 
Who needs to reconcile to whom?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review: Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God

Frank Schaeffer, author of such anti-Evangelical memoirs as Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and Sex, Mom and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway, has a new book coming out on May 15 that released today: Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God

 Like so many postmodern Christian authors' recent books, publishers didn't know how to categorize this new book--it's too religious for a secular publisher and too heretical for the religious ones--and shunned his latest effort. Also like so many other authors whose work won't fit conventional categories, he has turned to self-publishing for his new title.  And self-marketing.  For this book Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God, Schaeffer is dependent on the word-of-mouth promotion of social media. When he put the plea out on Twitter for advance readers who would review and promote his book, I jumped at the chance.  I've read all of Schaeffer's post-Evangelical nonfiction and reveled in the sense that I'd found someone who really understood my love-hate relationship with my hyper-religious childhood.  Here was someone whose memories were as bittersweet and painful-poignant as mine.  His bitterness and nostalgia commingled in awkward harmony that echoed my own longings.

In Why I Am an Atheist, Schaeffer brings his paradoxical and sometimes schizophrenic love-hate for religion to a new reconciliation he has not reached before in his writing.  Previous books acknowledged the contradictions in his spiritual life and his acceptance of the incompatible elements. Patience with God: Faith for Those Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism) expresses this acceptance most clearly in showing how fundamentalist dogma breeds angry ranting whether it's religious or atheist.  Yet even that book didn't seem to have the inner peace that comes from moving beyond acceptance of contradictions to a transcendence of contradiction itself, a reconciliation of Self that comes from the realization that contradictions are different faces worn by the same Truth.

This book spends much less time dropping names or alluding to the royal houses of American Christianity than his previous memoirs do, a fact which pleased me as Schaeffer's previous frequent references to celebrity Christians seemed only to underscore his bitter longing for wanting to belong again while never wanting to be again the man who had belonged.  I had to laugh--cynically and with a kind of almost-been-there, didn't-quite-do-that smirk--at his wry acknowledgment that leaving the establishment of Christian celebrities hasn't been any too good for his back pocket:
My dogmatic declarations of faith once provided status, ego-stroking power over others and a much better income than I’ve ever earned since fleeing the Evangelical machine. Certainty made things simple, gave me an answer to every question and paid the bills.
People will pay good money to those who promote the party line in fresh packaging. When you can cut the certainty drug with ever new and exciting fillers and enhancers, you will always have a ready market who will pay good money for their next fix.  Why I Am an Atheist is for people who have left behind the party line, have embraced uncertainty, and are beginning to experience a new certainty:  that Truth exists beyond dogma, past religion or no religion, in an inner space where neither religion nor atheism exist but both are true.

(I received a copy of this book for my review in hopes that I would say wonderful things about it but with no obligation on my part to be nearly so generous.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Book Review: Girl at the End of the World

I preordered Elizabeth Esther's  Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future. I got it the night before it was released, when my Kindle thought it was already midnight in wherever Amazon Standard Time is.  I finished it by 1am. 

If you grew up in fundamentalist Christianity, in the inner circle of church leadership, in any kind of cult, or even in garden-variety abuse and addiction, you paid a price with your very soul. And you will find solace in this book, knowing that you weren't alone. I laughed and I cried and I tried to keep the noise down so my husband could sleep. But I finished with a full heart, for Elizabeth Esther wrote the drama of my childhood. Sure the setting was different and the costumes were changed, but still the essence of the story was my story too. It is the story of far too many children.

 I will be thinking of this book for days, I know, as it pulls up long-hidden memories and deeply buried feelings from my own childhood. It is a healing space.

Thank you, Elizabeth Esther, for creating a safe space for me to look more deeply at the wounds in my soul.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Did Jesus Die to Appease God?

(image from, item #4)

Jesus didn't die to appease God. Jesus died because he wouldn't appease men. 

God sacrificed his ineffable infinity to become a finite human with human limits in order to demonstrate The Way of Compassion and a bottom-up society. He was killed "for our sins" in that the society and culture we humans have created, ego-driven and top-down, couldn't tolerate the radical and transformative message. Oppression sells. When the oppressed rise up, the oppressors kill them. That is our collective human sin. And that is what killed Jesus.

Penal substitution is one of the biggest lies Christians tell themselves. When Christ “paid it all, all to him I owe” (as the hymn goes), he wasn't paying a debt incurred by the individual sins of believers (or the world, if you're a universalist). His sacrifice was not death on the cross as some kind of late era human offering. His sacrifice was in accepting the human limits on his infinite divinity in order to teach us compassion and equality. The human culture, created out of the blindly ego-driven human desires for authority, hierarchy, and power-over, killed him to save itself.

Despite the sincere efforts of groups like Anchor Baptist Church, who published the photo above, to establish that Jesus paid a debt to appease a deity whose holiness demanded perfection according to an impossible standard set by himself, the Bible actually never speaks of any debt owed to God (or even Satan, as one version of this doctrine states) nor that Jesus paid it. Nor does the Bible explain how failure to live up to the Ten Commandment standard, which standard even God himself couldn’t maintain in the Old Testament, incurs a debt, demands punitive justice, or is actually in any way responsible for the death of Jesus.

Sin is “having eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”, or, having come to a state of consciousness in which duality is possible, believing that separation from God is not only possible but the inherent way of existence.  Sin is living in denial of the fundamental unity of All That Is.  Sin creates the human conditions of power-over and oppression, of hoarding resources and poverty, of In-groups and Othering.  The consequence of such belief and behavior is death and degradation of most of the human race. And a nearly irreconcilable poverty of spirit for those few at the top of the heap.  There is reason to believe that the poverty of spirit is so acute that the One Percenters indeed lack any capacity for empathy or compassion at all.  Sociopathy rules.

Jesus’ death was not to justify some cosmic accounting ledger for a tyrannically holy, fully Other, tortuously punitive deity.  That story isn’t in the Bible.  It’s a story modern Christians have made up for themselves to keep the masses shame-laden and burdened with exalting the few who manipulate the stories.  Much like the few who didn’t approve of the story Jesus was telling of a radical, inclusive, egalitarian compassion. 

Jesus told of unity and oneness and the inseparability of holy and human.  He taught that the weak and the poor are as worthy and powerful as the rich and the strong.  The One Percenters of his day had created a society in which such talk wasn’t only heretical but treason.  The social climbers and power-hungry and would-be rich-and-famous colluded with the society of sin and degradation to put that story to death.

We crucify Jesus again and all like him whenever we allow oppression, hierarchy, poverty, or exclusion to occur.  When we believe in the separation of sacred and secular, when we ascribe to the few more worth than the many, when we deny the holiness of all humanity.