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.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Gentle Lent

Elizabeth Esther opened a Gentle Lent link-up on Ash Wednesday.  I was definitely going to link up a blog post.  I always write a blog post for Ash Wednesday.  Lent is my thing.  And then…I didn’t. 

In preparation for Lent, I took a moment of spontaneous solitude on Monday to smudge the house.  It is a ritual that breaks up the heaviness that clogs a space when emotional upheaval has taken place, when unresolved conflict lingers on, when grief and anger become bitterness and rage swept under the carpet.  I knew the house, my life, my marriage, needed some clearing but I didn’t consider how much that twenty-minute burning of dried weeds would exhaust me.  Sure, I have chronic fatigue as a major symptom of my hysterical illness but, holy frijole! was I sick and exhausted afterward. 

Then, of course, because I hate to follow rules and always celebrate moments of breaking them, I threw all dietary caution to the wind on Fat Tuesday, knowing that I was going to begin an even more restrictive food plan on Wednesday.  Wow, did that food mess me up!  Just a little Starbucks scone and latte with milk, some enchiladas for lunch, and popcorn in the evening—regular food, not even a wild and crazy bender. 

So, by Ash Wednesday itself, I lay in bed feeling like I was sackcloth and ashes, no need to put them on.  No post got written, no blog got linked; I didn’t even get out of my pajamas or comb my hair.  By Thursday, I was back on my feet enough to get to Restorative Yoga and to lead the Chant class I have taken on this year but that was it, back to bed I went. Emotionally flogging myself all the while for not having met my own expectations.

Today, I popped over to Elizabeth’s blog to see what other people had written for Gentle Lent.  The first thing I noticed, though it was in tiny print at the bottom of the page, was that the link-up was still open.  A window of Grace! I could still participate even though I was three days late.  Woohoo!

Then I began to read some of the entries.  So many of them spoke of setting intentions and failing to live up to them, as if Lent were religious version of just-hate-yourself-now unsuccessful New Year’s Resolutions.  So many bloggers wrote of their relief that Gentle Lent accepted failure, set up low expectations, simply wanted us to Be instead of Do. 

The proverbial light bulb went off over my head.  Isn’t that what I preach All. The. Time?

Don’t Do.
Accept what Is and Love Always. 
Let Grace Happen. 

I had to laugh at my own hubris.  I hadn’t failed at Lent on the very first day.  I’d only begun to enter into the liturgical adventure of self-discovery.  Lent itself gave me the gift of falling down on the very first day of trying to Do Lent from my ego self.  Lent gave me the gift of grace, the opportunity to realize my ego had tripped me up once again, the chance to repent, to turn away, from that self-flagellating ego and Be once again.

Falling down isn’t failure.  It is an opportunity to get up, turn away, and walk around the obstacle that caused the stumble.  Transformation occurs the second we turn our face in a new direction. Grace always gives you a second chance.  That’s what grace is. 


    An InLinkz Link-up

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Beginnings

Every spiritual tradition that I have studied has in its creation stories a piece that goes something like this:

Before the beginning
There was timeless space
Infinite unity
Of All That Would Be.  

Out of the singularity
That was Eternal Becoming
Came a Word.

With the Word
Light separated from Darkness
And Time began.

The Word became incarnate
Dividing consciousness
Into material and immaterial.

At the beginning of time
The Word was one with All That Would Be.
The Word was All That Would Be.

Out of the Word was everything created.
All that was created
Came from the Word.

The Word is eternal and infinite
Always becoming
Always creating.

Echoes of the eternal Word
Rise up from the very ground of your being
Fall from your lips with every breath.

In communion with
What Is Always Becoming
Let us chant.