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Justice Scalia, Meet Spirituality

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Everybody’s all atwitter, alarmed or amused by Justice Antonin Scalia’s silly suggestion to “ask the nearest hippie” about freedom and intimacy. But I’m more dismayed by his admission that he doesn’t have a clue what spirituality means. Really?

That a Supreme Court justice hasn’t paid any attention to society in the past, oh, four decades, is troublesome — he’s apparently still stewing about “free sex” and “women’s lib.” But that a man who prides himself on his “traditional Christian values” has never in his life bothered to ponder spirituality is horrifying.

Let me back up for those of you who may have been stoned and having illicit sex under a peace-sign-covered VW van instead of following the latest news.

In his dissent last week from the historic 5-4 Supreme Court decision to allow marriage equality for gay people, Scalia took issue with the gay-hippie-liberal-flag-burning lawyers on the equality side who opined that: “The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.”

Scalia’s response to this: “Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.”

So yeah, the hippie reference is funny, the kind of thing your grumpy grandpa might say. But as a follower of Jesus and one who reads the Bible, the spirituality thing sends me over the rainbow, so to speak.

The Spirit of the Bible

I suppose I should not be surprised that Scalia doesn’t get spirituality. He comes from a time period when adolescents simply took the behavioral rules their parents taught them (disguised as values) and their black leather Bibles, and decided they had all the answers they would ever need. About everything.

But the Bible, Justice Scalia, is not an answer book. It’s a story book, part of the story of humans and their God, a story that started long before anybody wrote down the words, and a story that continues today.

In the beginning was the Spirit

In the beginning was the Spirit

Let’s not argue about the inerrancy of the Bible, though. Even if it were an answer book, remember how it starts? In the first sentence of Genesis, it says “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Spirit. Of God.

And the very same spirit that hovered over the waters and that inspired humans to write that beautiful book is still around today! That’s right, Justice Scalia. The Spirit of God is still working. And the story of God and humanity continues to be written every day by every human being who has a longing for peace and wholeness and justice.

So that’s what spirituality is, in my opinion. People of good will — people wanting to bring good to the world, and willing to work for it — seeking a power greater than themselves to give them the inspiration, guidance, and strength to persevere as they slowly bend that “arc of history,” as Martin Luther King said, “toward justice.” Some of these people call themselves Christians, some don’t.

An awful lot of spirit-led people have been hanging on the end of that arc for a long time, pulling and pulling it towards compassion and justice for all people. It bent quite a bit last week.

Speaking of hanging on the arc of justice, did you see this video of Bree Newsome taking down the confederate flag in Charleston? (What a week!) Did you hear what she said? As she hung from the flagpole and removed that flapping symbol of racism, she called out, “In the name of God, this flag comes down today . . . the Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?”

In the name of God, this flag comes down!

In the name of God , this flag comes down!

That’s spirituality, Justice Scalia. Christian spirituality. That, right there, is someone connected to the power and the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Fear of Love

I personally think that the only power strong enough to conquer fear (which leads to anger and hate) is love. Fear comes from not knowing, not understanding, not being in control — many people are afraid of gay people, black people, and even spirituality for these reasons.

The Spirit of God is a fearful thing in some ways. You can’t control it. Like love. (The Bible says that God is love.) As Jesus says in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Our little ego-selves — the defensive shells we’ve built around our vulnerable, loving selves — don’t like this windy spirit one bit. The ego needs to maintain its illusion of control, and to hold fast to its world views, so that it can sit in judgment on everyone else. And have all the answers. Our egos — our “false selves” as Thomas Merton called them — don’t care for authentic spirituality. They prefer religion and its prescriptive rules; it’s easier to control. All in one book. Feels safer.

Why Would Jesus Do?

Turns out, though, Jesus did not come to establish a religion or to write a book. He came to help us better know and connect with God so that we all “might have life, and have it to the full,” a life with the freedom and dignity to be fully who we were made to be and who we already are: beloved children of God, carrying that wild spirit inside us. Yup, even gay people. And hippies.

And speaking of hippies  . . .

And speaking of hippies . . .

Jesus also said that he could help us all be One, reconciled to God and to everyone else through what he called the Spirit of Truth. He told his followers that this spirit would “teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Such as “love your neighbors” and “set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

Something that Jesus never said, by the way, was one word about homosexuality. Not one word. If it were important to him, wouldn’t he have mentioned it?

So my closing argument, Justice Scalia, is that, yes, it’s risky when you acknowledge the Spirit and pay attention to where it might be leading you. It opens you up to all kinds of people who aren’t like you, and you find yourself looking for points of connection, things to love, instead of differences and things that separate you. You might even have to change your mind about some things.

The Bible says that “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

I think those might be nice qualities in a Supreme Court Justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gr-mt1P94cQ

Images of Life: Journal and Camera

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Sometimes you lucky readers are treated to a glimpse of my inner workings when my nearest and dearest confidante — my journal — opens its pages to you. Not all its pages, mind you, just a few select snippets.

The best time for a peek into the journal is when I’m staying at Quiet Hills, my little writing retreat up in New Hampshire. Otherwise you would be treated to endless pages of I-did-this-and-then-I-did-that- and-I-need-to-do-this-and-then-I-need-to-do-that. Here, I have time to pay attention to life and to think and to not think.

And so, a few snippets:

June 17:

Quiet Hills! I’m sitting on the deck in the morning sun after an uneventful trip up, just traffic and fog.

The shower isn’t working, the side door fell off its hinges just after I arrived, and I can’t air out the house properly because I can’t juggle the storm windows with my broken arm. My neighbor never brush-hogged the fields last fall, so they are becoming forest. Sigh, sigh, and sigh. But I am here and glad of it.

Arrived!

Arrived!

There’s always this strange combination of great happiness but also anxiety when I arrive. Just to be here is pure joy. But so much is left undone at home, and I mistrust myself to get everything taken care of. And money is always a worry — how can I afford to keep this sacred place with the crazy taxes and maintenance?

The white iris by the birdbath are blooming. 

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Lots of chipmunk activity. Quiet bird chitter. Peonies in full bloom and lilies covered with buds.

chipmunk

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Orange Hawkweed, also called Fox-and-cubs — don’t you love that?

Beedie’s (grandmother’s) climbing roses by the front door fill the hall with their fragrance. There are loads of Orange Hawkweed and daisies in the small field, but the big fields are all brushy — few flowers.

Butterflies abound. After dark there should be fireflies – loads!

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My grandmother’s roses

I hadn’t been here more than thirty minutes yesterday before Emily W. arrived and invited me for a pancake supper with the boys, so I abandoned unpacking and bed making and went up the hill. With Bill working late, she really, really has her hands full with the three little guys.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     June 18:

It was overcast today, cool but still t-shirt weather. I stayed low-key yesterday, hanging out on the deck reading Richard Rohr’s book Immortal Diamond and perusing cookbooks for recipes to try when the family arrives.

Emily came by with the boys after work. The twins were playing with my phone and all of a sudden Biff’s voice was filling my head. “Hi, it’s me. I was just thinking . . . ”

I know my eyes got as big as saucers. “Oh my God,” I said.

“Who’s that?” asked Emily.

“My brother,” I answered.

She leapt up, grabbed the phone from the kids, silenced the speaker, and dashed back to put her arm around me.

“It’s OK,” I said, and the weird thing is — it was. His voice sounded hale and hearty and healthy, and I felt glad to have that recording. I might listen to it sometime. I am finally coming out of my serious grieving time.

June 19:

Last night I got back from the Toadstool bookstore just after sunset. The sky was all pinks and gold and there was a hermit thrush serenade going on, at least three of them at the edges of the fields. I walked around the house listening to their divine exchange, fully in heaven except for the mosquitos. So crazy that this is my life! Beginning to settle in. Still a touch of anxiety now and then. The space and time here leave room for worries that are drowned out by busyness at home, but I seem to need to go through them before I get to the peace.

This morning I made gazpacho and a big pitcher of iced tea. Summer.

Then I wandered around taking pictures. It’s a glorious New Hampshire day, just perfect.

Columbine by the barn

Columbine by the barn

DSCN4939

I posted a blog this morning, trying to process — but mostly escape — the latest mass shooting by a mentally unstable kid with a gun. Nine people dead at the historic AME church in Charleston, including their pastor. Kid was a racist, railed about blacks “raping our women.” My escapist blog began with a wish that I were a cat, a cat that knew no racism, mental illness, NRA, terrorism, climate change, or Donald Trump (the moron has announced he’s running for president).

June 20:

Chilly morning, wrapped in a shawl. I’m watching a couple of deer bound across the meadow and listening to dueling woodpeckers rat-tat-tatting on metal and wooden poles along the lane. A chipmunk is fussing at some imagined intrusion, and I can hear a thrush up the road — a lovely, lovely song that deserves a metaphor, except that there are no words.

I’m loving the Rohr book. He can be brilliant at times. Sometimes it’s hard to follow his theology, but it’s not so much the “figuring it all out” or the “grasping it” that I’m after; what I need and desire is a deep knowing, a knowing of the Spirit. I do not need to “have” a philosophical understanding so that my needy little ego can explain it and be right about it, I just need to know — that I am God’s, that I belong, that All is One.

I had some nice prayer time under the stars last night. Prayer realigns me, gets me back on track. What do I pray? That I would be love. A perfect channel for God’s love, get all of my crap out of the way — and that I would desire that more. That God would comfort the families of the Charleston shooting, that God would heal this broken country, that God would guide us as leaders at Cedar Ridge and use our church to bring love to the world. That we would all be more of who God designed us to be.

Fireflies and stars. I love NH in June.

Related posts: Journaling in Space, Journal as Amusement Ride, and A Fourteen Sentence Glimpse into My Journal

A Quiet Response to Global Militarization

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You won’t see a press release on this. Sheila won’t be on the evening news or even tucked between commercials on late night cable. What’s the big deal? All she’s doing at age seventy-something is walking from Connecticut to Georgia in the cause of peace.

“That’s amazing,” I say, “I’d love to hear more. And I’m a writer — do you think I might interview you, or do a profile?”

“Well, maybe,” she says, looking at the floor and toying with her long grey braids. “I don’t know. I’m not really doing anything like that, you know, to . . .” She fades off, as if even talking about public attention is too much.

She just wants to have conversations about peace and thinks she will meet a lot of people to talk to along her route. She’ll be walking on secondary roads and staying in small towns where she can find people to put her up.

“I’ve done some long distance walking in the past,” she says, “but not like this. I know this is a lot.”

Yes, Sheila, one thousand miles is a lot.

Destination?

Sheila’s destination is Fort Benning, Georgia. If all goes well, she’ll be there by late November to partipate in the annual vigil and non-violent protest at the gates of the School of the Americas.

Remember them? Probably not – like Sheila, they prefer to keep a low profile, and they’ve changed their name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation so you’ll be sure to forget them. Whatever they call themselves, they are the U.S. military outfit that uses your tax dollars to train Latin American soldiers in “counterinsurgency” techniques, and their graduates are responsible for the death, rape, torture, and “disappearance” of thousands of Latin American citizens.

Sheila thinks they should disappear.

(For more information, visit SOA Watch here.)

fort benning

Motivation?

The thing that intrigues me about Sheila isn’t so much her 1,000-mile walk, it’s her humility. After decades of experience with non-profits and advocacy groups, I’m used to folks who would trample their own elderly mothers to get to a microphone. As my boss at the Sierra Club used to say before a press event, “Well, time to set our hair on fire and see if anybody notices.”

It seems that all anybody wants these days is attention. Attention for their product, their start-up, their blog, their meme, their new profile picture, or their latest fad diet. Everybody wants to go viral. Or they connect themselves to a political candidate (I’m going with a winner!) or a celebrity (my man!) or an interest group (I’m making a difference!) and get their ego strokes vicariously through these affinities.

But not Sheila. It’s quite possible that nobody will even notice Sheila’s walk. She’s mostly going alone, though one or two folks might join her now and then. So really, if she’s not trying to get press attention, why walk? Why not fly to the protest in Georgia like the other 20,000 attendees? What’s the story?

Sheila is a Quaker, that’s the story, and Quakers are like that. From their silent worship, they sense divine leadings and they act on them, simply and without fanfare. Sheila thinks she is meant to walk, and so she’s walking. Simplicity and peacemaking are community values for them. 

The Quaker Spirit

I started going to Quaker meetings last year when I was at my place here in New England, and I liked them so much that I sometimes go to a mid-week meeting back home in Maryland, too. Their mostly silent worship fits well with my contemplative bent and Christian meditation practices.

The Quaker call to social justice is deeply ingrained in their traditions. I think they are more biblically based than most of the Bible-thumping congregations, even though Quakers aren’t necessarily Christians. You can truly see the fruits of their spiritual practices in the way they live their lives. I’ve never met another community like this “Society of Friends.”

I’ve drafted a couple of blog posts about Quakerism in the past year, but didn’t publish them — none of them said what I wanted to say. Which isn’t surprising, because how do you use words to write about people who worship in silence?

Maybe Sheila’s quiet story will give you a glimpse into what I wish I could say.

Processing Charleston

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Sometimes I wish I were a cat. I would not know about racism or gun violence or mental illness. I would not know about terrorism or climate change. I would never have heard of the Ku Klux Klan or the National Rifle Association or Donald Trump (although I would sacrifice a few of my nine lives to wrestle with that hairpiece).

Watching the World

Seeing the world from a different perspective

I arrived at my country place in New Hampshire this week, just in time for the Charleston AME shootings. Bad and sad things often seem to happen when I’m up here, or perhaps I’m just more affected because the pace is slower and I have time to dig a little deeper into the news than I generally do.

I read interviews with victims, I look at pictures of traumatized citizens, I follow links to studies about gun violence, I check to see what reality Fox News is creating (this is an attack on faith and likely has nothing to do with race). I even look at Twitter (random NRA woman says Obama is ecstatic about the latest shooting because it plays into his plot to use race issues to steal her guns).

I get drained and alarmed visiting this reality, and I feel isolated since I don’t have many social connections up here. So I turn to Facebook to see what my friends are saying about it all. A few comment on how sad it is; a few say they are praying. But most have moved on and are posting pictures of their dinners, their new tattoos, or their pets. The mass murder was several days ago, after all.

I decide to escape and go see a movie in town, a harmless sci-fi flick about artificial intelligence. Since I do not provide economic support for violence in the movies, I google just to be sure — although what kind of violence would a movie about computers contain? A variety, it turns out, including:  “strong scenes of violence, with slicing, stabbing, and lots of blood.”

OK, scratch the movie.

I sit down to write a blog post because writing is how I process.

My cat yawns and decides to abandon her chipmunk monitoring post for the moment. She rubs against my leg, then randomly drops down and rolls over, writhing with joy in the moment.

Stories from the Road: The Search for Narrative

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melanielynngriffin:

I’ve never done this before, but I’m going to share a fellow blogger’s post in its entirety. Michelle at the Green Study has long been one of my favorites, and her recent post is beautiful on so many levels. It’s a reflective piece about travel, the writer’s mind, stories, and what’s “true.” She has just visited Glacier National Park, where she pondered nature, true narrative, and the suffering caused by colonialism, expansionism, and war.

It tracks for me right now because my church has been studying social and racial justice, and, like her, I’ve been “languishing in a purgatory of writer impotence and flailing about for some sense of purpose.”

Anyway, I’m off to my place in New Hampshire in just a few hours, where I hope to get re-grounded in a vague sense of purpose and get some writing done. Enjoy Michelle’s piece!

Originally posted on The Green Study:

After a vacation in Montana, I’ve returned home, a head full of unorganized thoughts and a vague sense that I’m on the right path again. For months, I’ve been languishing in a purgatory of writer impotence and flailing about for some sense of purpose.

canstockphoto4003992We took the Amtrak train from St. Paul to Glacier National Park, staying in a century-old lodge with few amenities and scant Wi-fi. We paid for a view and a convenient walk from the train station. Following our arrival, we spent our days hiking and horseback riding and our evenings playing board games.

The Glacier Park Lodge is an attempt to hold onto and faintly mimic a complicated history of land and people. Displays of old photos, both in the lodge and at the railway station reflect a pride in that history. They didn’t tell the whole story.

Sometimes I get told that I have a…

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Peace and Justice in Vivid Color

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Vivid — what a fine word. I think it’s a psychomime, also a very fine word. A psychomime is a word connoting the state or condition to which it refers, like mushy or funky, and is not to be confused with a phenomime, a word which brings to mind a psychological state or emotion, like maybe giddy. Not to be confused with the more familiar onomatopoeia that you learned in school, which refers to a word that literally sounds like what it describes, like whoosh or crack.

(You know it’s a questionable blog post when the second sentence leads to a serious digression which then necessitates an apologetic parenthetical phrase. Sigh – it’s Monday.)

Believe it or not, this isn’t going to be one of my wildly popular stream-of-consciousness posts about a favorite word, though my digressive mental state might indicate that it’s almost time for one.

No, this post is simply a response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: the word vivid. So here is my photo:

Vivid!

Vivid!

I love, love, love this photo. It was a banner at the Wild Goose Festival last year, which is coming up again in July, and you really must come. I can almost promise it will change your life, especially if you’re feeling hopeless or sad or cynical, and who isn’t these days? The world’s about to blow up or melt down in any number of ways.

Wild Goose is a progressive (very) Christian event, but anyone might enjoy it — “the intersection of spirit, justice, music, and art.” This year’s theme is Blessed are the Peacemakers, and it fits right in with what my church has been talking about the last few months — social justice and how we as followers of Jesus can help bring light and reconciliation to a time of darkness and fear, instead of adding to the divisions and hatred as so many “Christian” politicians and media mavens sadly do. We’ve been talking about confronting and healing racism and war and violence and oppression and toxic religion.

So the word vivid resonates with me right now. I’m in the light, and I’m ready to hope again. I am coming out of my grief over my brother’s passing, beginning to de-clutter the depressing masses of stuff that somehow piled up around me while I was doing eight years of caregiving/grieving, and getting just the teensiest glimpse of the gifts I might bring to my new role as Pastor of Prayer and Healing at my church.

So yes, please: I want to “live out loud” in vivid color this summer.

Meet me at the Beer & Hymns tent at Wild Goose!

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, I will answer you: ‘I am here to live out loud.’”

– Emile Zola

 

 

 

I’m Not a Writer, But I Play One at Cocktail Parties

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I took a writing workshop from author Nora Gallagher this weekend, and she pointed out that people who aren’t writers ought not to teach writing. Her tongue-in-cheek comment made me shudder. Is that where I’m headed?

After three years of blogging, a handful of published pieces, and a shiny new be-ribboned diploma from Hopkins, I am only just beginning to accept the moniker “writer,” and I think it’s because people are asking me to teach writing workshops. So I must be a writer, right?

As Nora painfully reminded me, it ain’t necessarily so. {For you non-writers, this is a “literary allusion,” a technique whereby an author references something like an idea or an artistic work, and it’s up to the reader to make the “connection.” In case your brain synapses are too youthful to make that connection: “It Ain’t Necessarily So” is a song from George and Ira’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.}

The technique I employed immediately after employing the “literary allusion” is referred to as “literary hubris,” whereby an author uses lots of random “quotation marks” and tosses around words like “whereby” and draws distinctions between writers and non-writers, and calls famous authors by their first names. Nonchalant laughter: “I’d like to get Sylvia’s take on that.” If you attend cocktail parties with “Writers” who “Network,” you may be familiar with this literary device. (Note: never ask who Sylvia might be. It’s the poet, Plath.)

How To Avoid Becoming a Poseur

How I hate the idea of being a poseur, someone who lives a writer’s life but feels like a fake. I’m not so much worried about what others think, as I am about coming to disrespect myself. What must I do to escape this fate? Should I decline teaching opportunities in order to avoid becoming Nora’s dreaded non-writing writing teacher?

No! I lead workshops because I like leading workshops. I take writing classes because I like writing classes. I read books about writing because I like books about writing. I even embarrass myself by reading at open mic poetry nights because I like reading my poetry, unsophisticated as it may be.

The thing I’m missing is the writing. I haven’t been writing. I can barely get a blog post together.

I should write. Every day. Blogging counts, but it’s more like warming up for the “real” thing — I know this sentiment probably annoys some bloggers. Sorry. But I see true writing as a marathon. Blogging is the warming up, the keeping in shape. The long race takes discipline and endurance and perseverance and strategy and real tough stuff like structure and pacing and cohesive narrative arcs. And something worth saying.

Because I’m not sure I can pull all that off, I don’t start. Well, not true. I start quite frequently. I just don’t keep going. I skip the discipline and perseverance part.

But somehow, I still think I’m a writer.

That’s new. That’s good. That’s a start. Now I just need to write.

Me, posing as a writer doing a book signing. It's actually an anthology, which means it's really someone else's book; I'm just in it.

Me, posing as a writer doing a book signing. It’s actually an anthology, which means it’s really someone else’s book; I just have an essay in it.

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