Saturday, September 19, 2015

A "Christian, and..."

A few days ago, I saw one of those video posts from Buzzfeed. This one had a handful of people who said "I'm a Christian, but I'm not..."

Generally, the idea is that even though these people claim that they ARE Christians, they are NOT any of the things the media tends to present Christianity to be: hateful, judgmental, etc.

Yet, it seems to me that it comes across as judgmental against other Christians.

Not long ago, I was a "Christian But," too. The problem is that I began to realize two things. First, that by differentiating myself from those "other" Christians - the stereotypical "anti-everything-fun" Christians, I was busy judging instead of being the person I was proclaiming myself to be.

This hit home with the Buzzfeed video. Upon reflection, I realized that I am no longer a "Christian But." Here's what I posted to my Facebook page as soon as it hit me:

I think I'm growing out of my "I'm a Christian, but..." phase. I hereby take my stand to reclaim the title "Christian." I am a Christian. I try my best to be the best follower of Jesus that I can be. Spirituality is so much deeper than the title we claim, and so much more satisfying than tossing about epithets and platitudes.

If I've grown out of being a "Christian But," I'm growing into a new phase - I'm a "Christian AND..."

I'm a Christian AND...

I think everyone should be able to marry the person they love.

I'm a Christian AND...

I think there are many ways of coming to God.

I'm a Christian AND...

I believe that God loves everyone.

I'm a Christian AND...

I believe that Jesus invites everyone to the table.

I'm a Christian AND...

I believe there are many ways to follow Christ

I'm a Christian AND...

I believe there are many ways of being spiritual

I'm a Christian AND...

I dance in the moonlight, lift up a mug of mead, hail the Folk (ALL the Folk!), pour libation to the ancestors, Meditate, practice Yoga, and pray every day with the help of my ancestral mothers

I'm a Christian AND

  • I believe that Jesus the man was the perfect revelation of the lives we are created to live while on this earth
  • I believe that Jesus the Christ is the living reminder that there is more beyond this world that we cannot understand
  • I believe that Holy Spirit is the inspiration and the muse for all faith, hope, and love that manifests in this world

I'm a Christian AND

I believe that God is the Process through which all things come into Being;

God Is

One ultimate Truth,
sought by all people
in some way and found
through the spirituality
of individuals and of cultures;
the revelation of scientific discoveries;
the beauty of the rising and setting sun,
the depth of the forests,
the rushing of the rivers,
the grandest colors of the canyons,
and the wondrous detail
of the tiniest living thing;
and most of all,
God is found
through the tenderness of touch,
the gaze of desire,
the wistful smile,
the communion of humanity
in the moment we see
the light of love reflected
in the faces one another.

No, I am longer a "Christian, But..."

From this day forward, I am "Christian, and..."

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It's Crazy, But...

Alright everyone. I think I may be going insane, but here's what's eating at me.

I would really like to earn the new D.Min. offered by Claremont School of Theology​. The first cohort begins in January, and I would love to be in it

It's a hybrid/online program, so I would continue working for my costs of living, transportation, and that sort of thing. However, I'll be looking for ways to pay for the tuition and fees for the classes themselves without taking out loans. I'm paying off enough student loans for my B.A. and M.Div. as it is!

Suggestions for the good of the order?

Oh, and I'll take any prayers you all may have to offer as well!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Dreams and Destiny

I’ve been able to do more of the ministries that I truly enjoy since I withdrew from my UAC ordination. Visiting the sick and hospitalized as the volunteer Chaplain for my VFW Ladies’ Auxiliary. Leading a short study of Steve Harper‘s little book on Wesley’s “Five Marks of a Methodist” at my home church; standing in front of a congregation telling little children about Jesus and the gifts God gives us; preaching in the stead of my friend, Rev. Jody Topping, when she was elsewhere.

There are mixtures of feelings that come with these things I do. Trepidation, for one – am I going to mess up? Am I going to forget what I was going to say? Will my theology fall to pieces? Excitement – how fortunate am I to be the one to get to share these stories with the children, with the people!  Happiness when things go alright and nobody tells me I’m inordinately wrong or that the hula hoop analogy was a total flop.

In general, it’s a joy to do these things when I get the chance. But, what’s next?

There must be more.

The Call never leaves; the yearning to answer the Call never lessens. Where is The Voice asking me to go? Could it be that ordination was never the way I was to go?

Of late, I’ve been pondering the possibilities of pursuing my D. Min. at a seminary that offers online/hybrid classes. How such a thing would be paid for is a mystery, though, since I am slowly paying off an extremely large student loan debt as it is.

I had a set of dreams this week, two days in a row. They were dreams about passing on the Wisdom of the Ancients to younger generations; dreams of sharing the blessings of tradition and story with others who hunger for knowledge and spiritual wholeness.

These were not simply dreams, but lucid experiences. They meant something.

I will continue to ponder the messages of my dreams to discover the expectation of my destiny.

In the meantime, I will continue to do these things that feed my soul, and with the Grace of God, feed others as well.

I ask you, are you pursuing that which feeds your soul? Do you hear your Call? Lean your ear, attend to your dreams.

Destiny awaits.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Baby Steps of a Prodigal Daughter

Two weeks ago, I made the final decision to relinquish my Holy Orders from the Universal Anglican Church. This may have come as a surprise to many, though there are a handful of people who knew the struggle I was going through before I resigned. As a result of my resignation, St. Brigid in the Desert became a thing of the past.

While it’s a sad passing, it was the right thing to do. Don’t get me wrong, I love the UAC. I believe in what it stands for – the Inter-Spiritual way of doing religion is an important avenue toward creating a better world. I didn’t make my decision lightly. It came after months of prayer and discussion with those I’m closest to. As I wrote to Bishop Craig Berglund, it came with much “gnashing of teeth.”

My time as a priest in the UAC has afforded me the opportunity to perform weddings and other rites of passage, as well as to undergo a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. These have been wonderful experiences, and I hope that the work done through St. Brigid in the Desert was a blessing for everyone involved. However, I found myself experiencing a deep sense of loss at my continued disconnection from the United Methodist Church. In fact, I must give the Universal Anglican Church and its leadership credit, for it was through my ministry with them that I discovered the mistakes I had made when I so quickly ran from my call to ministry with the UMC.

For that’s what I did. I ran. I ran out of embarrassment for mistakes that I made, for some poor decisions that ended up rolling into more poor decisions. It’s not a story that needs to be retold; suffice it to say that after the gift of being a UAC Priest for a year and a half, I realized that my greatest sin was that of pride. I made mistakes, and rather than hold my chin up and move forward into learning from them, I ran away.

In the two years plus that I was away, I have had the joy of representing a church that was founded to meet the needs of many who have been excluded in the past. I have been given the gift of performing wedding ceremonies that recognized the God beyond religion. I have had the opportunity to sit with a handful of individuals and worship God in unique and wonderful ways. However, I have felt the discontent of one who has not been able to fully answer the call to ministry. It is with that discontent that I have wrestled for a long while now, and it was the realization that I did not have the vehicle for answering that call more fully that started me on the path back to the United Methodist Church.

I give thanks to God that through my friend and fellow seminary student Sonsiris, I found the UAC in my hour of need. I give thanks to God that my home congregation at Gold Canyon United Methodist Church has accepted me back as a member.

It will be a year before I know if I will be accepted back to the certification process toward commissioning and ordination. This time, I will use that year to pay better attention, to learn humility, and to prepare myself better. This time, I will remember: there is no rush, there is no hurry; I will be who God is calling me to be in God’s own time. In fact, each day, I am who God made me. What God and I do with that will happen in baby steps, day by day.

Roses from my yard; the scent is a lovely reminder of God's Love.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Ordinary Objects, Sacred Space

[An earlier version of the following was first posted in a course called Spirituality and Sensuality: Sacred Objects in Religious Life, which I took from Hamilton College through Edx.  The professor was S. Brent Plate, author of A History of Religion in 5 1/2 Objects: Bringing the Spiritual to Its Senses]

Have you ever thought about the kinds of items we use when we worship? It seems that going to church or wherever we go to worship our concept of the Divine, we just arrive at a place, do some things, feel something nice, and go home, hopefully to bring the inspiration of that experience into the world. I've found, however, that there are many different things that together make the worship experience so much more than the place and the activity in that place.

I have been given the opportunity to experience many different ways in which objects are used in religious settings. From the tactile pleasure of holding a book in my hands while singing (though I don't read music and can't carry a tune in a bucket) to the lovely sounds of crystal bowls, drums, acoustic or even electric guitars, the way objects are used in worship or meditations can increase the level of spiritual movement in a religious experience. In particular, the way sound is created and used can enhance an experience to amazing heights for me.

While I am not a huge fan of the organ, I appreciate certain ways that a good organist can speak to my spirit. When I think about my not being a fan of the organ I realize that it is hilarious that I AM a huge fan of the bagpipe. A well played bagpipe at a memorial service is extremely moving to me. There is something thick and nourishing about the pipe and drums. Musical objects can create a religious experience out of an experience others might see as mundane. An afternoon at the Renaissance Festival, spent watching belly dancers move to doumbek and tambourine, can be almost religious to me. It is no doubt a spiritual experience for me. The sounds, the sights, the smells that go along with the experience create an atmosphere that moves me beyond time and space. I am moved to become one with the music; my mind expands into the ether.

Statues, iconography, small bits and pieces of the world around us placed on altars or around the periphery can make a place sacred. Incense or candles, flowers or green boughs can bring such olfactory delights that one can imagine oneself outside the bounds of time.

Think about the space where you gather with others to connect with the Divine. Notice how the smallest things placed around a table become metaphors for the connection between us and that which is transcendent.  Notice how the simplest of objects can transform an ordinary table, an ordinary room, an ordinary building or back yard, or even just a tiny shelf in an entertainment center into a sacred space.

My tiny prayer altar - on a shelf.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Contemplation on Crosses

[An earlier version of the following was first posted in a course called Spirituality and Sensuality: Sacred Objects in Religious Life, which I took from Hamilton College through Edx.  The professor was S. Brent Plate, author of A History of Religion in 5 1/2 Objects: Bringing the Spiritual to Its Senses]

When I was assigned the task of seeking out crosses for a class project, I chose to avoid taking a photo of a cross with obvious religious connotations.  So, I took a walk around my yard where I found a number of examples.  The one I like best was the fence post pictured below. The fence is built of a mixture of old lumber and tree branches to give it a sort of rustic look. The post is a tree branch, juxtaposed against the weathered two by fours of the fence itself. Along the fence grows a grape vine that we planted a couple of years ago.

In South America, there are a number of "pecked" cross petroglyphs situated in an apparently deliberate pattern. These are called "pecked" because they have been hand-pecked or carved into stone. The crosses themselves are of equal length lines that cross in the middle. The axis of each cross points toward important centers of the pre-conquest Mesoamerican culture of the area. The crosses represent the quadripartite (quartered) division of the universe of the Mayan people. According to Anthony F. Aveni and Horst Hartung in their paper "The Cross Petroglyph: An Ancient Mesoamerican Astronomical and Calendrical Symbol,"  these crosses served both religious and scientific purposes. Most of these crosses are carved into rock outside, with very few inside buildings or on floors. Many of the crosses are sort of superimposed over circles, thought to represent the cosmos, with the lines possibly being directional. More information on these artifacts can be found in the M. Nicholas Caretta and Achim Lelgemann paper entitled "Cross Circles: A Case of Northern Mexico."

My fence and the Mayan pecked crosses could not be more different. Mine is temporary in the scheme of things, while the pecked crosses have been around for a very long time. My fence will be decomposed and the grape vines long gone before the Mayan crosses disappear.

The pecked crosses served the high purpose of understanding the universe, through both science and religious ceremony. The Mayan people, like most tribal peoples, did not have a separate idea of these things; rather, all of existence was inextricably woven together. We built our fence to keep our Pomeranians in the yard, though it has since become the grape trellis.

When we decided to use the combination of old wood and tree branches, we were thinking about aesthetics. We like the old "farmhouse" look on our little quarter acre of desert oasis. So, I think of the fence and the grape vine as something lovely that makes me happy. Yet, here it is: a cross upon which grapes will grow. I find an interesting symbolism in this. Jesus described himself as the vine. Wine represents communion with him and with others who follow him. The new green leaves of the grape vine and the tiny flowers that adorn it (though they can't be seen on the picture) represent new life, as does the story of his resurrection after dying upon a cross.

Why the cross as a sacred symbol? Not because Jesus died on one - so did many thousands of others.  In Christianity, it is not the cross itself that give believers hope; rather it is the emptiness of that cross that gives hope. The sacredness of the cross is not unique to Christianity. Crosses have been sacred to religions across the ages including ancient Egyptian, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Norse traditions.

I have a theory about the universal archetype of the cross. It's pretty simple and possibly crazy, but here goes:

A cross is a horizontal line crossed by a perpendicular line. The horizontal line represents our lives here on earth - let us say, our path. The perpendicular line is the axis mundi that Mircea Eliade wrote about in his classic text The Sacred and The Profane: The Nature of Religion - the center of the sacred and the path to higher consciousness/heaven/God/Goddess/whatever. We go along our path until something happens to us that awakens us to the possibility of a higher state of being. It calls us to sacrifice something. It could be painful, devastating loss, even death, or it could simply be something challenging; whatever it is, we must give something up in order to grow. That's the point at which sacrifice occurs, if we so choose.

If we choose the way of sacrifice, we may go on in our lives, walking the horizontal path, but our lives will never be the same. We will be compelled to continue to seek the sacred, the high path, the center of our world. This cannot be taken literally. This cannot be grasped and held on to. It is a deep, usually subconscious awareness. We seek directions to the divine (or higher consciousness, higher knowledge - it can be called many things). The cross is, perhaps, the simplest map to finding it.

(c) April 2015

Friday, April 24, 2015

Soul to Soul

Have you ever thought about what it means to have soul? About what a soul is?

Soul. This is an interesting concept, really, especially considering the many ways that we use the word; at least in English. My son says that a soul is something that is "given" to anything that is loved. He thinks that all living things can have a soul and love, not just humans or even just sentient beings. Perhaps he's right.

I think of "soul" as something personal. Something that resides inside us. I consider the concept of "soul" versus the concept of "spirit." I think of "spirit" as something outside of us, something greater. I think of it as what Christianity calls "Holy Spirit," and others refer to simply as "Spirit." Some call it "Ki," or "Chi," or "Energy."  It is something that connects us, one to the other and to something greater, to God. Perhaps it's that which science says connects us at the quantum level. Perhaps "soul" is our own little piece of that greater Spirit, living within us, yearning to be One once again with the Source - Spirit.

Maybe when we feel that "thing" that makes us say that someone "has soul," we're feeling their inner Soul reaching out to ours - we connect in some way that gives us a strong sense of that connection. The music, the spoken word, the talents that touch us the strongest; they have soul. Soul reaches across race, culture, religion...even time. Soul touching soul makes us want to be better people. For instance, when I hear Billie Holiday sing anything, my soul reaches out, I feel a sense of yearning. When I hear her sing Strange Fruit, the sadness I feel is so deep and so dark, I can't explain it in any way other than a soul to soul connection. I feel sadness, and yet I also feel love for those of whom she sings.

Like my son says, soul is something that is given to anything that is loved. And, I add, anything or anyone who loves.

Perhaps "soul" is what makes us real.

“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.' - Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
Photo Public Domain