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Further Heresy: Sage & Crystals

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FURTHER HERESY: SAGE & CRYSTALS

I’ve been burning a sage stick lately. I just wanted to get that out there and let the “Happy Housewife” Christian lady know. After all, confession is good for the soul.

I purchased the sage stick at a rock and mineral swap in a tiny town in New Hampshire, where I also bought a lovely piece of quartz with opalescent slivers inside it. Yes, quartz is a crystal, which some Christians believe is just about as heretical as a sage stick.

They think that crystals are “new age,” or “false idols” or “occult.” Never mind that Saint Theresa of Avila’s beloved sixteenth-century spiritual classic “Interior Castle” is based on the contemplation of a crystal:

“I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions . . . there are many rooms in this castle, of which some are above, some below, others at the side; in the centre, in the very midst of them all, is the principal chamber in which God and the soul hold their most secret intercourse.”

Contemplating nature is a time-honored way to reflect upon and connect with the holy. Jesus was forever talking about sparrows and types of soil and grains of wheat. He found lessons about God in everything around him. I feel closer to God in nature than anywhere else, so it stands to reason that I would want to use natural elements in my prayer time.

I light my sage stick and walk around my house, asking God to fill my home with Her spirit of peace and love and joy. I ask that She fill every space with the fragrance of Christ. (I don’t do this if my cat is downstairs, because it gives her a violent sneezing fit.)

I don’t believe crystals and sage sticks are magical or contain or control spirits; I think they are relaxing and beautiful. God made the rocks and the plants, and She gave us an appreciation for rich aromas and beautiful objects. We are intimately and organically connected to the plants and to the elements, and that’s why they help us embody our spirituality and connect with the Creator.

Here’s another confession: I am still a tad annoyed at the internet assaults launched by the Happy-Housewife Christian lady. So although she has already condemned me to hell for loving gay people, I am hoping to further annoy her with my hippy prayer practices. So there.

At least I am not cozying up to power and engaging in idol worship of a political leader like some other pastor-types.

Headed to Hell with the Homosexuals

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HEADED TO HELL WITH THE HOMOSEXUALS

A nice Christian lady just told me I was going to hell, apparently accompanied by many of my friends. “What kind of person are you?” she squawked. (Even over the anonymous internet, I could tell she was squawking.)

What set her off was my saying that I love my gay friends and family just the way they are, and so does God.

I’m headed to hell, she says, for “condemning the homosexuals to eternal death by allowing them to live in their sin.” (I wonder how many she has “saved” from this fate with her loving and compassionate spirit?)

I told her I hoped that God would bless her with a gay loved one who would have the courage to withstand her scorn and perhaps help her to see the Divine in every single person.

She assured me that she never scorned anyone and followed that up by telling me I was a liar and a fraud and should be ashamed of myself. 

“Happy Housewife” (her online name) told me that I am directly contradicting the teachings of Christ, who repeatedly said that homosexuals will never see heaven. I pointed out to her several times that no, actually, Jesus never said word one about homosexuality. She said what about Leviticus, and I said that, um, Leviticus was written well before Christ’s birth, and anyway if she cared to look into the cultural context and etymology of the verse, it clearly refers to temple prostitutes and sex slaves, not to two gay people sharing a loving relationship.

She said she didn’t want to hear any of my “cultural crap,” that she had heard enough of my “homosexual lies.”

I blocked her, lest I be tempted to waste any more time.

The Bullying Pulpit

This was all in response to an article about yet another well-respected Christian leader and author being threatened by his publishing house and having all his speaking engagements canceled because he said in an interview that he would perform a same-sex marriage.

Here are the words of Reverend Eugene Peterson that shook the evangelical’s pulpits:

“I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over.”

Heresy! You will never publish or speak publicly again!

Within a day, Peterson had been bullied into retracting his words and repenting of his momentary slip into love. 

Here is a recent piece about the hub-bub by one of my favorite bloggers, John Pavlovitz, whom I got to hear speak at the Wild Goose Festival last week. He concludes:

“I can only keep working to make American Christianity a place of love for everyone. Meanwhile I’ll lament Eugene Peterson’s public change of heart because of what it says, perhaps not as much about him, as about my faith tradition’s sickness, about the way it has lost the plot, about the pain it causes.

Most of all I’ll grieve the damage still being done to beautiful people, simply trying to walk this planet without having to fear religious people.”

“Opinions may be mistaken. Love never is.”

— Harry Emerson Fosdick

 

Sacred Soil

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SACRED SOIL

I’m doing laundry, watching the last of the silty North Carolina river soil circle the drain and disappear. I’m always low when I first return from my annual pilgrimage to the Wild Goose Festival on the banks of the French Broad river. After spending four days with two-thousand-plus “spiritual misfits” immersed in spirit, justice, music and art, it’s hard to return to the “real” world.

My friends and I have been on sacred ground, sacred meaning “holy” or “set apart for or by God.” We set ourselves apart from our busy calendars and to-do lists and the traffic and the email and even wi-fi (!!!), and we dug our roots deep into the soil of truth and love and living spirit.

Standing on sacred ground at the Wild Goose Festival

Soil is what feeds us and nourishes us. It’s what we are made of. As the Bible says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Down by the river, we remember. We remember our true selves. We remember that we are connected to every other wounded soul on the planet – past, present, and future. And we remember that we have responsibilities to all those other souls.

We are each called to heal and to become our best, healthiest selves, now more than ever. Our very planet depends on it. 

What soil will we choose for nourishment?

We can sink our roots into the polluted soil of judgement and contempt and divisiveness, or we can choose the sacred soil of love and openness and peacemaking.

For a few precious days, my thirsty roots penetrated deep into the sacred soil by the rushing river. It will take some time to see what grows. I have pages and pages of notes, and my head is full of rainbow flags and sung psalms and the smell of campfires. I’m not quite ready to write about it. If you are curious or impatient, you can use the search function on this blog to find my posts from past festivals while you breathlessly await my 2017 Goose musings. 

Meddlesome Voices

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MEDDLESOME VOICES

I know a few folks for whom meddling in other’s lives is a full-time endeavor. They are certain that they know best, and they become frustrated or angry when their targets don’t follow their wise guidance on everything from the best butter substitute to a choice of careers to what one’s relationship with the Divine should look like.

You know these people, too. Perhaps you are one them. You may think you are being helpful or kind or even a martyr on someone else’s behalf. But if you are doing for someone else what they could do for themselves or trying to influence choices that are not yours to make, you are meddling.

Manipulating, even.

Ouch! Isn’t that an awful word? When I discovered that many of my interactions with others could easily fall under the category of manipulation — trying to get someone to believe or act in a way that might make me more comfortable — I cringed. I’ve worked hard to overcome this trait, which I learned from my family. I now have a permanent groove in my tongue where I bite it. This practice will remain necessary unless and until I finally believe that I do not, in fact, know best.

I have enough challenges managing my own life. I do not need “extra credit” for managing the lives of others. Even if they seem willing or eager for me to make their decisions for them.

Which brings me to something that can be even more destructive than those who meddle in other people’s lives: those who allow others to meddle in their own lives.

Letting Your Life Speak

I’m in the midst of making an important decision that could affect me heavily for the next few years at least. It’s a vocational type of decision: how do I spend my daily-dwindling time here on earth? Where do I invest my emotional energy? How do I employ the expertise and experience I’ve garnered thus far?

As Quaker author and activist Parker Palmer writes, “The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding, ‘Who am I? What is my nature?’”

Whenever I’m faced with a major decision in this realm, I re-read Parker’s book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. There’s an astonishing amount of wisdom in this little hundred-page book, and it’s one of those reads that offers deeper and different wisdom with each visit.

One of Parker’s main points is that we are all born with a true self, a true nature, and then sadly, “From our first days in school, we are taught to listen to everything and everybody but ourselves,” gleaning who we are  “. . . from the people and powers around us.” Meddlesome voices. 

All of our institutions train us “away from true self towards images of acceptability . . . we ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others.”

This is a great weakness of mine, a painful “thorn in my flesh.” I know I’m not the only one with this need to please and a burdensome desire for recognition and esteem. Millions of true selves are being trampled by stampeding egos chasing the values of others rather than discerning and honoring their own.

My first inclination when faced with a big decision is to read books, talk to friends, and ponder possible scenarios to imagine how they might appear to others. In other words, to look outside myself. That’s all fine. It’s raw material.

But I must be careful that I don’t end up using another’s navigational system rather than my own inner compass. My “inner light,” as the Quakers call it. I need to get down to the business of prayer, meditation, journaling, and connecting with God in nature, because those are my channels for a voice that is “different than the ‘I’ of daily consciousness, a life that is trying to live through the ‘I’ who is its vessel,” as Parker describes it.

This means tuning out all the well-meaning (or not) meddlesome voices — past, present, and imagined future — and letting your own life speak.

 

“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”  — Parker Palmer

A Writer’s Attention Deficit Disorder At Play

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A WRITER’S ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER AT PLAY

Multi-day writing conferences are bad for my Attention Deficit Disorder. Or maybe I should say they’re good for it. They feed it, encourage it, even celebrate it.

“Rejoice!” such venues declare. So many ideas! So many stories! So many topics and characters to be enthusiastic about! And most of all: so many directions I could go!

Since I was diagnosed with ADD a few years ago, I’m more patient with myself in such situations. I don’t mind letting my mind out to play, to imagine, to dream. No harm done.

I know this hyper-excitement and bouncy brain syndrome will lessen within a few days of the closing session tomorrow. I’ll lose the business cards I’ve collected and forget all my new writerly best-friends.

The passions that are real and meant for me will stick, and the rest are harmless mental entertainment.

The time I’ve spent sitting in this quiet seminary library researching the possibility of a Princeton Continuing Education Certificate in Ministry and Theology will blend into one of countless similar memories.

Seminary Musings

Whenever I spend time with a bunch of pastors as I have at this Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop, I suffer from a mild case of WannaBe, even though I am technically already a pastor at my church. I feel like a pretend pastor, because although I’ve taken a few seminary classes and am a “certified” Spiritual Director, I’ve not done the real stuff, the painful stuff — the heavy duty Christian History and Comparative Theologies and Advanced Homiletics and Old and New Testament I & II.

Why would I? Life is short, and I’m fairly certain my studies wouldn’t help anybody. Nobody cares what I know or think about theology, it doesn’t help suffering people, and I’m sure I’d find some other reason to judge myself “not good enough.”

I never know where the Holy Spirit might lead me, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be to these hallowed grounds. Never say never, though.

Forget the Christians!

I did get some important clarity and focus today, which is, as any ADD-addled person knows, a nugget of pure gold.

Drum roll, please:

I think that I may have decided on the “audience” for my writing. Actually, if this sticks, it will be a huge step forward in my meandering wander towards an intentional, serious writing project.

Surprisingly, the clarity came during a ridiculously brief fifteen-minute meeting with a former editor of Christianity Today magazine. This teensy time slot came with my registration for the conference — time with an editor or publisher or author of your choice — so why not?

I went into the meeting with my usual random scattered thoughts and a page of notes that involved a number of question marks and read: outlets, publishers, trends, niche, spiritual, de-mystify, different kind of Christianity, CIA, environment, drug addict, pastor, memoir, audience.

Somehow in all that, my new best publisher-friend found a way to help me through my confusion.

“You are writing for the ‘spiritual but not religious’ crowd, and there are a lot of them. Not Christians. You’re not writing for Christians.” 

The relief and certainty I felt about this “not Christians” directive bordered on euphoria. I hadn’t realized it, but the thought of writing for Christians makes me tense, like I have to quote the Bible a lot and throw around names and phrases like Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and orthodoxy and reformation.

Christians have historically believed that they have the answers to all of life’s big questions right in their big book. They tend to like certainty. I got nothin’ for folks like that. No answers, no resounding Message.

Gratefully, I think an increasing number of Jesus’s followers are moving away from that fixed mindset. As Anne Lamott said on the opening night of this conference, “I don’t want to read ‘message stuff.’ I want to know who are you and what have you figured out here?”

That, I can write about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Words

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Frederick Buechner wrote in one of his memoirs that “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours.”

Or as Anne Lamott said last night, we want to say, “Me, too!”

The power of words to connect us seems to be a theme at this third annual Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop at Princeton Seminary. At this morning’s keynote, author Diana Butler Bass referenced “the tender power of I,” suggesting that the word “I” connects us to one another and to God. When Moses said, “Here I am,” and God said, “I AM,” it connected them and placed them on sacred ground.

Dogwood on sacred grounds of Princeton Theological Seminary

Many times as Diana told her personal story, I found myself thinking, “Me, too!” Her journey along “the road to an unexpected vocation” resonated with me and made me feel just a little less crazy for chasing this writing dream.

“Writing is a spiritual path,” she said. “Cherish your own path . . . Who are you? To me, that is the central question writers must struggle with.”

Writing Good Into the World

As intimate and personal as writing can be — especially memoir writing — there is also a strong communal element to it. Who am I in the world? What is my calling? How can I be of help?

I don’t know if it’s the spiritual nature of this conference or the dire times we live in or both, but this sense of mission and calling seems to be another big theme this week. 

Like Anne Lamott, Diana expressed “deep distress” over what’s going on in America. She thinks it’s a critical time for people of faith to “write for the world” as a way to counteract evil and inspire people.

“We are living in the age of the anti-word,” she said. “There is evil surrounding words right now . . . amazing technology that could spread beauty is instead being used to spread evil. Words are being purposefully used to undermine truth and beauty and wholeness . . . Malevolent forces are taking words and using them for oppression.”

Diana urged the two hundred-plus people crammed into the auditorium this morning to “write to reach people’s hearts” and to “engage intentionally to build goodness and beauty and to embody the Word.”

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:1

America’s Soul Sickness

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AMERICA’S SOUL SICKNESS

I have said before that what is wrong with America is a spiritual illness, a soul sickness. Most of us watched in horror in 2016 as the last remnants of civility and compassion were pummeled into the ground during the presidential election. When Donald Trump made fun of a disabled man, threatened to punch another man in the face, bragged about the size of his genitalia and his power to grab women’s genitalia — well, you don’t need me to go on.

Nobody believed he could win. Because we are better than that.

My contention is that this is where we were inevitably headed. Our national psyche is now firmly centered upon greed, getting  your own, and winning, winning, winning at any cost . . . well, ladies and gentlemen, behold your leader. This is who you are. At least this is who 38% of you are. “He got rich, right? He must be great.”

It’s no wonder that white supremacists are murdering people on trains, congressional candidates are beating up reporters (and winning anyway) and GOP state legislators are threatening to shoot their colleagues in the head. Again, you don’t need me to go on.

America spends $597 BILLION each year on weapons and war — as much as the next seven largest national military budgets *combined.* And the new president wants to increase that. Is this who we are?

Our greed and excesses have quite possibly already pushed our planetary systems beyond the point where humans will be able to adapt. And the new president is OK with that, wants to roll back even minimal protections. Is this who we are?

Is this who we are?? Photo: Dallas Morning News

Somewhere along the line, we lost our souls. Our souls tell us to love one another, to care for one another, to care for our fellow creatures. We have forgotten who we are at heart. We are soul-sick.

The Simple Truth

One of my favorite authors, Father Richard Rohr, writes about this soul sickness. He speaks the truth.

For what it’s worth, an excerpt:

“Most of us have grown up with a capitalist worldview which makes a virtue and goal out of accumulation, consumption, and collecting. It’s hard for us to see this as an unsustainable and unhappy trap because all of our rooms are decorated in this same color. It is the only obvious story line that our children see. “I produce therefore I am” and “I consume therefore I am” might be today’s answers to Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” These identities are all terribly mistaken.

This foundational way of seeing has blinded us so that we now tend to falsely assume more is better. The course we are on assures us of a predictable future of strained individualism, severe competition as resources dwindle for a growing population, and perpetual war. Our culture ingrains in us the belief that there isn’t enough to go around. This determines much if not most of our politics. In the United States there is never enough for health care, education, the arts, or basic infrastructure. The largest budget is always for war, bombs, and military gadgets.

E. F. Schumacher said years ago, “Small is beautiful,” and many other wise people have come to know that less stuff invariably leaves room for more soul. In fact, possessions and soul seem to operate in inverse proportion to one another. Only through simplicity can we find deep contentment instead of perpetually striving and living unsatisfied. Simple living is the foundational social justice teaching of Jesus, Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, Pope Francis, and all hermits, mystics, prophets, and seers since time immemorial.

Franciscan alternative orthodoxy asks us to let go, to recognize that there is enough to go around and meet everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed. A worldview of enoughness will predictably emerge in an individual as they move toward naked being instead of thinking that more of anything or more frenetic doing can fill up our longing and restlessness.”

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