IBS of the Soul

broken crossIt is a slippery slope when science modifies nature without regard for the consequences. As uncomfortable as it is talking about the mess we’ve made with our foodstuffs it pales in comparison to what humanity has done with the scripture that is meant to save the world. While I realize that the words of Jesus are subject to interpretation, like our modern made food stuffs, if we aren’t careful the words can be compromised. The torture for me is trying to understand and embrace the real truth. How can I have a better handle on the teachings of Jesus than anyone else? I’m just a person with a singular perspective. Yes, I have a degree in theology, I have devoted much of my life in the service of Christ and yet I have no greater claim on truth than anyone else who shares in the gift of grace. So here is my take. While it took me awhile to realize that the bread I was eating was poisoning and being rejected by my body, so it is with my soul rejecting some of what is being preached as the Word of God and not in the way that the Gospel challenges us and makes us uncomfortable to become better Christians, but more visceral. Like the body’s rejection of manufactured foods, manufactured faith is just as lethal. I’m speaking about the kind of faith that may taste good, but really isn’t good for you.

After writing and then deleting the start of this paragraph about 50 times, once again I have accept the fact that I may sound self-righteous and a bit arrogant…but there is so much violence and hatred even among Christians, that I just can’t stand it anymore. I think of it like this: the primary focus of our faith shouldn’t be on weaponizing it to keep people out, or beating down Satan in the way of pointing the finger at the evil of the moment. For the love of all that is Holy, people! Jesus fought that fight, so we don’t have to. Our only job….let me say that again, OUR ONLY JOB is to LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS JESUS LOVED US. Love feeds the soul and makes it stronger. Hatred, judgement, fear, anger, self-righteousness emaciates the soul and makes it weak.

Just think about it for a moment. Is the Body of Christ alive and well? Does it consist of only what you have a taste for? Scripture, like life, can’t be rewritten to appeal to the crazy pace and affluence of modern living. Our bodies become stronger when we exercise and put forth hard effort, even when it’s uncomfortable. Our immune systems become stronger when they are put to work naturally to fight off illness, and sometimes that means dealing with sickness or physical challenges. Our souls, demand the same kind of workout. Being a Christian isn’t always about consuming things that taste good, sometimes we just can’t eat candy or cake…we need vegetables and protein.

The Word of God, is Gods and when the Word is used to serve only individual purpose we poison them. In the end, the strength of the soul will be defined by how well we can love one another…of that I am sure.

Of Consequence and Consequences

Jesus and the sanhedrinI’ve embraced that breaking out in a cold sweat will be the new normal as I write this first post for the new year.  After the title popped into my head I knew I needed to write before I lost my nerve.  Here goes.

Every person on this earth is of consequence.  Everyone.  God’s plan for the world is weakened, altered whenever we lose sight of this most fundamental idea; we are in this together.  How do I know this?  Just read the Bible, actually most Holy Scriptures.  Since I am a Christian, this is how I know this.  In Jesus’ wheelhouse of people, he spent the majority of his time with the least desirable, most despised, greatest sinners…etc.  He chose simple fishermen for his disciples, and often the oddest of people to dine with and talk to.  His reach went beyond the limitations of class, ethnicity, religion and politics; everyone mattered.  Everyone deserved to hear his message  He especially avoided those who had held the prestige of class and distinction….because they had forgotten who God was, and how to build up His Kingdom.

I don’t think it is difficult to draw a parallel to modern culture.  We have become as exclusive, judgmental, bigoted and narrow-minded as those who were threatened by Jesus in his day.  We have forgotten who God is and how to build up His Kingdom.  To twist the words of Jesus to exclude and redefine who is acceptable to God is nothing short of blasphemy.  So don’t.  God celebrates every one of us, he doesn’t make mistakes.  I hope that isn’t a hard pill to swallow, because to each of you who really hates a section of the population for whatever reason…stop, because they are precious in God’s eyes.

Ouch, I know that can be harsh.  So I have to see preciousness in the people who literally make my skin crawl? Yes.  That doesn’t mean that we all go hug a random criminal or (insert name of the faction of the population you hate the most).  So here is where I move beyond “of consequence” and on to consequences.  Saying the phrase, “of consequence” and believing it is hard.  Most people I know are insecure and struggle, in a variety of ways, with low self esteem…that includes those who appear über confident and present the illusion to the world that their shit doesn’t stink.  It is what drives the angry divisive, bullying behavior of people today.  Those who really believe they are precious, essential, loved and important just don’t behave that way.  I also think it is why people refuse to accept responsibility for their own choices, and how that is manifested, I suppose, is different for each person.  For example, I think the one of the reasons the Pharisees hated Jesus so much is that he took their power over the people away.  If Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting so long for, they were no longer formidable.  Their self-worth depended on knowing more, having more power, the exclusivity of being the God’s chosen people, rendering them more important that everyone else.  Jesus virtually pulled the rug out from under their belief of who the Messiah would be, not a mighty King, but a loving servant.  That could not have set well.  They were precious in God’s eyes and yet there were dire consequences of what they did.  How are we supposed to love that?

Being “of consequence” will never render the “consequences” of any our actions in the world null and void.  We all live by the choices we make and often suffer the fallout of choices others make.  We have to hold others accountable, but only in a way that offers the possibility of being “of consequence” again.  I’m not naive, the world has some pretty evil stuff going on.  But remember that we are not alone, God is truly with us and for us…all of us.  And until we can believe that we are all precious in His sight, even though we all sin, we have to stop throwing stones, the kind that destroy and not build up.  We have to stop blaming the government, the 1%, the poor, ethnicity, ideology… the list goes on and on.   Jesus said, that whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.  Holding ourselves and others accountable while still seeing the worth in all sinners is how we grow and how we grow to understand God.  I just want people to understand that the kind of choices we make change when we look in the mirror and believe that the person who is looking back matters, is important, and is an expression of God’s great creative mind.  Because if you can’t see God’s creation when you look in the mirror, you won’t be able to see it in others either.

 

 

Catching Fire

catchingfireIt has been awhile, for good reason.  I am woman caught on fire.  In the last two weeks, the archdiocese I spent more than a decade working for, and the University where I received much of my training, released the lists of priests who have been accused of sexually abusing minors.  The pastor of the first parish I worked for was on that list…and some who I have personal knowledge and experience of that should be on it were not.  While my relationships with some of these men did not fall within the perimeters of the alleged abuse, it was still abuse.  Suffice it to say that the rage I feel is based on countless power struggles during my tenure with the archdiocese that I believe impeded my ability to do the job that I was hired to do, called by God to do, and ultimately became the central reason I walked away from ministry.  Given my personality, I always knew that I would have some difficulty working for the Catholic Church.  I was an attractive, smart, strong willed, vivacious, intelligent woman.  For those of you who think I should also include egotistical and arrogant to the list…yeah well, given all that I sacrificed during those years, believe me, while my list of vices may be many, false humility and lack of objectivity aren’t part of the list.  Anyway, what matters is that given who I was and what the church was at that time, I knew the road would never be easy, and I took extra precaution to live a very pure life, to which I never strayed.  But I never thought for one minute that I would be immersed in such a deep struggle between the sacred and profane.  I can’t even regard them as people anymore at this point, because the manipulation and the mind games were so malevolent that even in the face of  knowing rationally that something was way off with whatever situation I faced at the time, often I was the one left feeling like the sinner and they, the saint.   I learned to work with blinders on just to survive, but I was too angry so I moved out of parish work to teaching after that, which didn’t turn out much better.   The suggestions that perhaps if I dressed more appropriately for my profession, the rumors that went around never would have started.  Shortly afterwards I cut off my hair.  I’ve included some pictures to prove I didn’t dress like a whore, nor did I dress like a nun either.

marytexastexas staffmarygregg

I thought long and hard about what details to share, but I don’t think that would serve any purpose other than just more titillating proof of the kind of abuse that occurs in an environment of ultimate power, and fueling even more  hatred won’t offer answers, just annihilation.   The girl I was at the time wouldn’t like it.  She would be embarrassed, humiliated and hurt, and just because she may have not been the typical theologian she deserved the respect she worked hard for.  Still, after all this time, I don’t hate the church…I worked with too many wonderful and spiritual people during my time there.  I do however hate the path the church has taken, and I can’t walk down that path anymore.  For me, I knew I needed help finding clarity…that was what therapy was for, and given that the therapist knew I had never been sexually active at the time, said that I had all the symptoms of someone who was the victim of sexual assault, only on a spiritual level.  She helped me see there is a much deeper dimension to the kind of power struggles I faced, and lost.  I didn’t appreciate until I read those lists of names what a deep toll being a victim of spiritual, sexual assault took on me.  I had many great plans and ideas back then, to manifest the Gospel in new and exciting ways, but I just got worn out and gave up.  Meeting my future husband and moving to the woods of Wisconsin saved my sanity, which remains tenuous because I live in crazy town (too many men, too little common sense).

It is my hope and prayer that Pope Francis can not only clean up the mess, but begin to heal the many wounds caused by the hierarchy.   But until I see evidence of that change, my faith life remains catholic…with a small “c”.

Why did Eve Eat that Damn Apple Anyway?

even and the appleOne of my own first experiences of following my sensibilities occurred early on in grade school.  One day, when my teacher made an innocent mistake in pronouncing a classmate’s name, I raised my hand and corrected her.  Much to my complete amazement she was furious and made me put my head in the desk to “suffer the humiliation of Eve.”   The point of this little story is that my behavior was labeled “bad” for a reason that was rooted in one of the most pervasive assumptions (and one I was constantly plagued with) of all time—women are responsible for original sin, and as part of the punishment we should know our place.

The concept of Original Sin continues to slap women in the face in one form or another constantly.  For the most part, my time in Catholic school was a testimony of penance for that very belief.  For example, a priest once wrote my address on the board when I demanded to know where hell was.  Please save the explanations.  There is no parallel universe anywhere where treating a child like this would ever be acceptable.

So let’s take a look at the story that describes humanities’ fall from grace.  Did Eve’s choice to eat the apple from the tree of knowledge warrant plaguing womankind with that kind of burden?  Yes, she was disobedient, and yes, she convinced her mate to follow suit.  What about Adam’s culpability, though?   Eve had to contend with the serpent, pure evil; Adam just did what Eve asked him to do—how weak is that? (Remember that old maternal adage: if your friend jumped off a bridge would you as well? Well, Adam did.)

Eve suffered for her curiosity and then some, and Adam suffered for his weakness.  There is no inference that Adam was charged with dominating Eve, the two of them were considered one body. According to the first Genesis story, man and woman were created at the same time and God gave dominion over the earth to both of them.  It’s curious that most people only pay attention to the second creation story, where Adam is king of the world and Eve is made just to keep him company.  It is clear that part of Eve’s punishment was that she would  have an “urge” for her husband and be mastered by it—that appears to be an independent struggle for woman to contend with, not an excuse for gender subjugation.  If anything, Adam’s punishment is the clearer representation of slavery; he is destined to toil and sweat until he returns to dust.

Perhaps Eve and Adam knew intuitively that it was time to move on to a place of individual choice, and with that choice they lost their innocence.  Isn’t that the whole point of growing up though?  In order to mature in wisdom we have to leave our childhood behind and take what we’ve been taught and try it on for size.  So rather than getting too wrapped up in original sin and having woman bear the greater portion of it, perhaps it would be more productive to admit that both Eve and Adam made a choice that we have been living with ever since.  Even from the church’s perspective that may not be such a bad thing.  The Catholic Mass at the Easter Vigil has this to say about original sin: “Oh happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”   It is curious though: when the “sin” becomes a good thing, Adam gets credit for it and Eve isn’t even mentioned?

Focusing so much on the sin detracts from the great responsibility that humans were given: to subdue and cultivate the earth.  The direction of the game of life had been set down.  In order for humanity to be successful, it appears to me anyway, that men and women would have to use their inherently unique talents together: the power of dominion coupled with the grace to nurture the ordinary things that God made.  The formula for this cosmic union is contingent upon male and female rising above fighting over which perspective is right, to embrace both perspectives as necessary to fulfill, successfully, the charge of God.

 Another reason I bring up Original Sin as a fundamental assumption that desperately needs critiquing is that it still fuels one of the most pervasive myths that plague culture: that women are weaker and thus inferior to men.  There are those of you who may think that statement is inaccurate, but really, look around you; there is evidence everywhere of that belief regardless of what level of consciousness you’re coming from.  How many women are in “high places,” positions of power?  Even if you really believe that the place of women in the world isn’t inferior just different, you need only look at the way the law has treated woman in this country.  One need only recall what some of the great jurists (even the fathers of our country) did to women legally, especially in terms of rights.  Rather than assume that the subjugation of women is the natural order of things, I choose to believe it is not.  But if not, how were masses of people led to believe that it was?

While studying theology as an undergraduate, I was aghast at some of the opinions the church’s greatest teachers had about women.  Thomas Aquinas (the guy who pondered the number of angels that could fit on the head of a pin) said in his Summa Theologica, that every woman should have a man as her personal master, because her intellect is no better than that of a child or an imbecile.  What is up with that?  History has demonstrated that statement to be inaccurate.  In all honesty, there have been more than a few men who’ve crossed my path that have defied accepted boundaries of stupidity.  St. Augustine, one of the most influential of Latin Church Fathers and whose work created the foundation for western Christendom, had this to say about women (and it’s a gem): “women should not be enlightened or educated in any way.  They should, in fact, be segregated as they are the cause of hideous and involuntary erections in holy men.”  My response is the same one given to my sons when they point the finger at each other: “Don’t blame someone else because you can’t control yourself.”  My utmost favorite though, is a church writer named Tertullian who said this about women: “You are the devil’s gateway, you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree, you are the first deserter of the divine law, you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack, you destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die”.  Methinks there was a bit of sexual repression going on there.  Even Martin Luther, a great reformer, believed that women were made by God to be wives or prostitutes.  And don’t even get me started on the Puritans.

But what does a young, female theology student feel when she finds out that many of the founding fathers of western Christendom had pretty skewed views of womankind?  Well, indignation at first, but there was also conflict because much of what these great men had to say was also brilliant.  It was at this point when using common sense, my innate sensibility, regarding the truth of the matter was essential: 1) there are plenty of men who are less intelligent than me; 2) it certainly is not my fault that men cannot control their sexual appetites; and 3) an entire gender, who, by the way was also created in the image of God, isn’t the gateway to hell.  These church fathers had great minds and were brilliant, yes, but like me were creatures of culture and human experience which made them most undeniably—fallible.

Herein lies the problem with our concept of great leaders and rule-makes: a majority of folk take every word, hook, line and sinker of what they say without using any discretion at all.  Generally speaking, their edicts for their supporters are sacrosanct, and those who oppose them are often vilified.   It’s black or white, with no amount of grey in between.  There seems to be a certain amount of infallible mysticism that surrounds the rules they create.  If they are brilliant and/or holy, then everything they say must be right and we must never disagree or criticize them.   Later, when we’ve evolved beyond them, or we tire of them and a flaw or two is exposed, we chew them up and spit them out, or, if they die before we tire of them, we make them saints.  Given that kind of attitude, how can the voice of a common student compare to the voice of the Church Fathers?  Well, if David could defeat Goliath, why not?  Seriously, if the names of the men who said those horrible things about women had been left out, wouldn’t it have been easy to write them off?  There have been plenty of times when I thought the men in my house were demons sent straight from hell, but that is my problem and no reason to make it a sweeping generalization for the rest of mankind.  We often vilify what we don’t understand, agree with, or are afraid of, because somehow on a deep level we do want to subscribe to the “there is only one true perspective” rule.   I, however, find it necessary to dispel this fundamental assumption when ever the spirit moves me—needless to say, the humiliation of Eve never quite stuck.

It is by questioning assumptions that we often have to contend with many conflicting perspectives, some of which seem to fit and others that do not.  It is during the process of questioning, though, that we can begin to recognize that inner voice, one rooted in being a completely unique person whose perspective is of no greater or lesser value than anyone else in the universe.  What I share with others doesn’t have to be right or better than anybody else’s perspective, it just has to be mine.  Have you ever been in conversation with someone and they pull out a masterful source from the Bible or the Constitution just to prove how right they are and how wrong you are?  Ultimately, both of the sources mentioned have always been subject to interpretation.  It is a rarity to hear someone say, “I believe this way because it serves me personally” and just leaves it at that.  Even though my inner voice may be inspired by my faith, it doesn’t mean that I have a better handle than anybody else on the mind of God or what God says to them.  It is the process of sharing our ideas that keeps us moving forward.  Sharing different ideas, regardless of who you are, should be encouraged rather than discouraged because you never know when another person’s perspective may be the needed ingredient for germinating an idea in someone else.  When personal truths are shared, the world becomes a better place.

Let me tell you something else I learned about some of our rule-makers out there: that many of them are completely and utterly crazy.  Throughout my life I’ve witnessed the amazing power crazy people have in establishing rules by which they demand others to follow.  Most often people, (including myself) side step around them to avoid the scenes they create when we don’t follow the rules they set down.  They come in many shapes and sizes, from some of the priests and nuns I had in school to people with substance abuse, or people who are generally miserable people and want to make sure the rest of us are made miserable too.  None of us are on this planet long enough to abdicate our person freedom and follow the rules of crazy people who sap away sanity like syrup from a tree.  Curiously, though, there is an upside to having crossed paths with all you sap suckers out there, because you gave me the opportunity to use and thereby hone my native good judgment.

So, back to the rules in respect to men and women, why can’t there be two equally respected perspectives?  Why can’t we simply appreciate that reality is divided into two equal parts, like two sides of a coin?  Well, besides equality and balance being absolutely no fun at all, with balance there is also no difference, no discord, and without difference there is no perceptual universe.  If there were never any conflicts what reason would there be for any of us go beyond our limitations?   If there were no darkness, could we truly know light?  It’s the same dilemma with good and evil.  Although the rules that I choose to follow may not be the same as yours, and many people in other parts of the world live according to a different rhythm, it doesn’t give me license to “live in my own private Idaho.” My own growth depends on bumping up against other rules and ideas that often run contrary to mine.  That may sound a bit like I am contradicting myself, but just bear with me.

While studying Constitutional Law in law school, I was aghast at the lack of discussion that was encouraged about controversial issues, and in Con Law, there was a new one every day, from abortion to affirmative action.  What saddened me most was that many class mates had their minds made up about an issue already and refused to even entertain the possibility that in actually listening to the “other side” they may be gaining a greater truth.  The atmosphere became not one of  learning, but of debating who was right.  Inside the walls of a law school should be a forum for good intelligent discussion, a place to exercise the skills we were learning: to conflict with each other and in doing so achieve a greater understanding.  Sadly enough, there may be a legitimate reason for societies’ mistrust of lawyers.  The one thing I regret most about law school is that I didn’t take enough time to tell those students and teachers who had thought provoking things to say that I appreciated their insights because it challenged me to look at issues a little more broadly.

So although inequity exists and may be the natural order of things, it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be my goal to abolish it anyway and actively engage in conflict with the intent to create harmony, even if the harmony is only internal.  Because it was during my biggest struggles that truth often exposed itself and led me to seek an ever greater truth—inevitably leading to another conflict.  Again, it all turns on perspective.  One person may want to win and have their perspective prevail and happily remain ruler of their own little hill; another person may want to clash just to see what there is to learn in the process.   It makes the most sense to me to choose the latter.  The most important reason not to be too concerned about any controlling perspective is not only are they fleeting, regardless of who claims to be right at any given time, truth has a way of eventually prevailing anyway, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes.  There is so much more out there that we, as human beings, have yet to discover that no one person can ever claim to have any complete answers.  I believe that God has them, but the rest of us are a far cry from being “in the know” like God is.  We simply have to get over the fear to engage in conflict.

As a result of not being in the know, here is another fundamental assumption about the game of life that proved to be inaccurate: that the rules should never change.  The fact is that the rules change constantly, whether we want them to or not, as they should.  As long as humanity keeps moving, discovering, inventing, loving, and hopefully evolving, the one thing we can be sure of is change.  The ending of the game I play isn’t etched in stone; that is the great thing about free will.  The rules I live my life by now are not the same as those that guided my life in my teens, twenties, thirties, forties and yes even my fifties.  There may be a consistent theme in the rules I follow, but I’ve learned not to rigidly hold on to rules that no longer fit my life.

Let me stress that although there are certain fundamental rules that are necessary they aren’t always obvious.  I’ve usually discovered what they were the hard way but at times there were a few people who were older and wiser that held my attention.  And although there are lines drawn for the kinds of rules that help our world vs. destroy it, I can’t say, unequivocally, what they are.  Throughout my life though, (usually by running smack dab right into a brick wall) I have picked up on some universal themes which are laid out at the end of this chapter.  I am also aware that I can’t change another’s perspective any more than I can make pigs fly—with any level of concentration.  For example, the men in my house won’t be transformed into clean freaks simply because I choose to believe that dirty underwear doesn’t belong on the kitchen floor.  And although my opinions are made known to the men in my house, picking up underwear, laughing about bodily functions, and carrying the burden that it will always be my job to replace the toilet paper are things I’ve simply accepted, one, as a means to preserve my sanity and second, that men and women will always exist together and it would behoove us to try and get along.

So before you continue reading, let me offer a challenge: if you want to free yourself from the chains that bind you then suspend all your beliefs for a moment and try living by the seat of your pants for a bit. The Upanishads (Hindu scripture) says, “Whether we know it or not, all things take on their existence from that which perceives them”.  When you’re done reading, go for it.  Put on your old beliefs if they fit, but in order to see if the rules you are following fit the movie in your head, you should be willing to, at the very least, entertain the possibility that everything you think you know for sure right now maybe nothing more than a shadow created by someone else.  Only you can bring to life the movie that is in your head.  Then it becomes life as you see it, not how it has been told to you.  Oh and one more thing, once I chose which rules I was going to follow, the responsibility of achieving my dreams was on me.  Like the parable of the talents, God has given me a treasure, and it was up to me to go and make something out of it.  That may sound like a big responsibility, but I try to think of it more as a golden opportunity.

Things that I know are true:

1)  Things are not always what they appear to be, so pay attention and don’t judge too quickly—and by all means, have a sense of humor, especially when you’ve judged incorrectly.

2) Shit happens—and that can be a good thing.

3)  One need not be perceived as an influential person to be a powerful influence.

4)  What goes around comes around, or a slight variation: what ever you put out there comes back to you tenfold.

5)  Love (or God) is a constant (like in math) and is greater than and is never changed by our perception—love is separate from and not defined by our expression of it.

6)  The opposite of love is not hate, but fear

7)  What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly.

8)  Fame is not necessary for me to shape the world in a powerful way…no one, not even me need be conscious of it.

9)  Real power has nothing to do with control.

10)  Having faith demands that I let go (not give up) of an outcome; and doing that will almost guarantee things will work out.

11)  Just because I cannot understand “why” now, doesn’t mean that I will never understand, sometimes I have to be open to looking at an issue from a multi-dimensional perspective.

12)  Unexplained phenomenon is simply proof that I am continuing to evolve and that I don’t have all the answers yet.

13)  Vengeance never brings peace.

14)  Money is never a reason to do, or not do anything.

15)  I may not control all that happens in my life, but I do control how I respond to it.

16)  Destruction and death are essential elements in growth and life.

17)  Things gained without lessons learned are empty successes.

18)  Without God (love), I am nothing.

The Golden Mean

Golden-Mean-1

So how does one go about judging perspective?  Is it even appropriate, especially given that we all walk in our own pair of shoes, is there any kind of measurement that we can use to create some kind of standard? Empathy for our fellow humans can only take us so far.  Is there a human blueprint or archetype that we can use as a starting point?  When I observe the men in my house, a great deal of the time I truly believe that I’m the only sane person in crazy town.  Therein lies the rub…is it possible to truly understand perspective when all you have is your own…is there any substantive to point to judge what is truly illusory and crazy?  I know there are a million self-help books out there, and I’ve actually read a few…but I’m looking for something more subtle.  Is there an underlying beat, deeply embedded in our DNA, that we humans march too?  Let’s talk about the Golden Mean.

The Golden Mean, or Golden Proportion is a particular construct I’ve used to help me give shape and form to a concept that is usually so illusive.   Some of you who read this may be already familiar with this concept and for those of you who aren’t, I’ll explain it to the best of my ability (or you can always look it up in Wikipedia).

The Golden proportion is a special proportion deeply rooted in nature, art, math and philosophy that represents harmony and balance.  According to ancient history, the Greek mathematician and astronomer Eudoxus of Cnidus (c.370 B.C.), noted that when he asked his associates to find the most pleasing placement of a crossbar, they naturally did so according to this proportion, 1 to .618.  Here is a diagram (great thing, the internet).

golden proportion

The golden mean is also called PHI (pronounced “fee”, not to be confused with PI) in the language of mathematics.  PHI was derived from a sequence of numbers created by a thirteenth century mathematician named Leonardo Fibonacci.  The sequence is a progression in which each term is equal to the sum of the two preceding numbers: 1-1-2-3-5-8-13-21, and the quotients of the adjacent terms possessed the property of achieving the number 1.618, which is PHI, or the golden proportion.  PHI is found throughout some of the best architecture in history, including the Great Pyramid and the Parthenon.  You’ll see it in art, (a classic Greek urn, da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man) nature, (the spiral of a sea shell) biology, (the proportion of male to female bees in a honeybee community) and music (organizational structures in music or the shape of a violin).

What was insightful to me was not that we conceptually understand all the implications of the golden proportion, or mean, but that we, somehow by nature, abide by its rhythm.  Somehow we intuitively know this balance point.  Up there out in the world, there is a consistent melody that life moves to.  There is supposed to be a connection to something larger and I think that we stopped listening to that melody a long time ago.  In the human scale, our hearts lie right at the golden proportion point, so it isn’t surprising to me that the heart, not the head is the archetype where true wisdom and love is found.

The lack of reliance on intuition, that internal melody evidenced historically by how dominant pure reason became.  Reason, historically a male characteristic, has been considered superior to intuition.  Think of it, it’s common to tell someone to be reasonable but have you ever heard someone ask you to be intuitive?  The general tenor of history has taught that intuition, because it is vague and illusive, is also something that can’t be relied on and is something that should be evolved from, replaced by science and reason, again, probably rooted in that whole “sinful human nature” thing.  There is also plenty of examples in history when it was even vilified—note, burning “witches” at the stake.  In working to regain a better sense of balance in this world, hence a better perspective, there is nothing to lose by looking at the possibility that “reason” may have shown us just one side of the coin. Visiting the other side of the coin, via my intuition, certainly added clarity and a new dimension to my world.   And adding that dimension was as pivotal as learning the world was no longer flat.

Although intuition is intensely personal, outside resources were helpful in learning to tap into it, understanding the golden mean only being one of them.  We all receive plenty of guidance from outside sources, mine happened to be from scripture, scholars, educational programs and all sorts of other mediums and everyday people like my parents.  Most often I listened to these sources not because of a command but as the result of a conscious choice, they hit a harmonious chord deep within.  Like the story of the Garden of Eden, there is a point when we all have to learn to rely on ourselves when making choices.  Ultimately, I am the direct beneficiary of all my personal choices, even if the choice is only limited to whom or what I’m seeking direction. The greatest challenge is to have the courage to let go of the control of the rational world and allow ones self to move according to the rhythm of the universe.  In this age of rigid rules and control it feels overwhelming to trust what’s “out there.”   It has, for me, been the only way that I have stumbled across the answers to many of my life’s questions.  That isn’t to say reason wasn’t essential as a check when something sounded too good to be true.  It has always been the balance of both my innate sense and rational mind that has kept me pretty balanced (unless you ask the men in my house…)

As a result of remaining fairly ignorant about the power of intuition, I wonder how often we second guess ourselves.  The sense of knowing what choice is the right one comes to me by gut instinct far more often than I may realize or accept.  The result of weakening the credibility of our inner voice is that it becomes a whole lot easier for the world outside to dictate how we live.  As you already may realize, the outside world perpetuates a lot of illusions guaranteed to obstruct clear sight.  Without a strong inner voice, it’s easy to succumb to those illusions.  Perhaps living from the outside-in is less effective than to root how we live in the world from the inside-out.  So, from this point onward, try letting your intuition be your guide in what is presented as only one woman’s take on what lies on the other side of the coin.

How we observe the world is essential, but let me go into detail about that later. It was my intuition that added a whole different dimension to the power and accuracy of my observations.  But it isn’t always easy listening to my inner voice.  First, because it means shutting off my own babble long enough to listen and second, by its very nature it tends to be elusive.   In this day and age, it is even more difficult to listen to the voice within sometimes because of the noise of everyday life, from everything we’re wired into, to the noise of modern life outside.   We are all bombarded by sounds from practically the moment we wake up in the morning, and it takes a conscious effort to turn them off.  It is possible, however, to learn how to tune them out.  When things get really crazy and loud in my life, I remember a line from one of the Psalms that says “Be still and know that I am God.”

Because of the mysterious and intangible quality of intuition, it is the perfect place from which God can speak most clearly.  There is a great story in the Old Testament about the prophet Elijah.  As a result of being a zealous advocate for God, Elijah is a hunted man.  He hides in a cave and the Lord speaks to him and tells him to go outside the cave and to wait for him to pass.  Elijah witnesses strong enough storms to shake the mountains and cause rocks to fall, yet the Lord was not in the storm.  Afterwards there was an earthquake and then fire and the Lord was not present in these powerful acts of nature either.  Then Elijah heard a tiny whispering sound in the wind, and it was in the whispering where God was present, and it was from the whispering where he received direction.  Please don’t think I’m representing myself as a prophet: I’m not.  I have, however, taken the MMPI , busted my hump academically, read thousands of books and danced under the full moon naked—okay scratch that last example.  But like Elijah, I do believe God exists in the whispering, from deep down within me.   I am confident in this statement because I’ve learned to get out of my comfort zone and test the wisdom I receive from within and then watch the results.  At least at this point in my life I choose to listen to the presence and direction of God in the whispering—when I shut up long enough to listen

Why being Ordinary can carry Extraordinary Implications

observationA priest once told me that the movie in my head was much better than real life and I was just setting myself up for disappointment.  I actually felt sorry for him…and, hopefully, now that he is not restricted by human limitations any longer, he sees things differently.  I don’t know if it a blessing or a curse, but I do believe the movie in my head is fantastic…because it’s inspired by God and God has an even better imagination than I do.  I do admit, though, that priest’s words have challenged me throughout my life to understand the importance that perspective ( the movie in our heads) has on shaping reality.   While the theological essence of perspective has been my choice of study…I wanted to enlarge my focus to include a scientific perspective as well.  As a non scientist, though, it’s been an exciting challenge to understand the process of observation within the context of quantum physics.  but I do so because it opened my eyes (pun intended) to the important position of being an observer, and my personal impact on the world.   The first part may seem unbearably dry, but bear with me, it’s essential in understanding how important observation is in bringing the movie in our heads to fruition.  Just as important, in a time where fame and infamy give credibility and notoriety to a select and often undeserving few, I think a pitch for the ordinary Joe or Josephine is crucial.

It is tragic that in my study of theology, we never looked at science to broaden our understanding of God.  Reflecting back on my own experience with science, it always made me uncomfortable.  There was always an unspoken understanding that science was diametrically opposed to religion (just look at the controversy between evolution and creationism, or “divine intelligence” as its now called).  Somehow, since God transcended the material world and couldn’t be proved by extrinsic evidence, science existed in some subterranean dimension.   Many scientists and theologians appear to lie in wait to challenge, as fallible, the fundamental suppositions of either discipline (although there are plenty of religious leaders who believe there is plenty of extrinsic evidence that proves the existence of God, the majority of scientists I’ve met generally, keep faith and science separate).

During my early studies, the discovery that religion hadn’t necessarily represented my role as a woman in the world fair or accurately, led logically to understanding that perhaps that the conclusions they made about other things were flawed as well.  History has many sad moments when the church harshly closed a door on a scientific discovery.  It didn’t seem like an in-congruent step, then, as a result of all the historical animosity that scientists were not giving religious truth a fair shot either.  It appears to me, anyway, that many on both sides would be perfectly happy to cancel the other out.  Nothing like throwing out the baby with the bath water, don’t you think?  Let us hope that cooler heads prevail and we learn to utilize the language of the empirical and language of the spiritual to create a broader understanding of reality: where theology can nurture the observer, and science the observed.

In my own experience, I recall a conversation with a scientist about my belief that science and religion, like light, are the same thing, just observed differently.  By his reaction, not only was he offended that I would reduce quantum physics in such cheap layperson’s terms, as a theology teacher, I obviously didn’t have the level of intelligence necessary to further the discussion.  Unfortunately, his snub left me speechless.  While hiding in a bathroom stall to hide my watering eyes and embarrassment, I began to wonder if, in terms of science anyway, his observations would always be superior to mine.  My embarrassment turned out to be a good thing, however, because it also made me angry enough to begin yet another search for truth (OK, it also included the desire to prove him wrong—regardless of my motivation though, I did learn a thing or two).

It is sad that most people, like my conversation with the scientist, never get to fully understand how someone arrives at a certain perspective.  Not everyone just pulls things out of thin air.  I had spent countless hours studying and preparing for a class with the physics teacher at the high school where I taught: an investigation of theology from a scientific perspective and science from a theological perspective. What happened was something I could have predicted.  From the onset it appeared as if the idea had its own agenda. When my colleague and I entered into the world of quantum physics (I still get a tingle up my spine thinking of that moment), I knew my life would never appear the same again.

In the world of quantum the observer, or the means by which “something” is observed, means everything.  Its form depends on how it’s observed.  For example, light can exist both as a particle or a wave, depending on how it is observed, which, until quantum physics, was considered impossible.   Physicist Werner Heisenberg, gave even more importance to the observer via the uncertainty principle, which states that the exact position and velocity of a particle cannot both be known at the same time—the more precisely one value is known, the greater the range of possibilities that exist for the other.  Even the act of observing something changes the reality of what is being observed.  In the classical view of the universe, science taught that by eliminating subjective influences nature could be revealed as she really was.  Quantum physics changed that classical viewpoint by exposing a dichotomy between experienced and un-experienced reality.  The idea that the mechanism of observation could actually affect what form matter took forced science into a new paradigm, besides giving great weight to the observer.

The discovery of the wave/particle duality has taken us beyond the limitations of Newtonian physics.  There are two levels of reality which can be said to exist: reality as experienced, or as it exists in relation to the observer; and reality that is un-experienced, or as it exists in the absence of an observer (sort of like the old question does a tree falling in a forest make a sound when no one is there to hear it?).  Un-experienced reality, then, is reality as it exists before or beyond human experience (perhaps in a dimension beyond height, width, weight, depth and time).  Un-experienced reality relates to experiential reality in that it forms the basis or context of experienced reality like an archetype or prototype.  The issue that is of central importance to me is the relationship between what is experienced and what is not.  Naturally, since human beings, as observers, are confined by certain dimensional and subjective limitations, it would seem obvious that the un-experienced dimension has the greater control over what we perceive.  I’m not so sure of that anymore; from my theological background I know the power human beings have to be co-creators of the universe, and therefore color every experience with personal meaning.  What I have begun to worry about in this age of information overload, is the effect that all the negativity and violence has on the observer.  On a microscopic scale, are we turning into that priest that I talked about in the beginning?  Are we killing the movie in our heads and living a life of fear and disappointment?  Stay tuned.

Power Part ll

satan_before_the_lordWho really has authority and power in this world?  While fasting in the desert,  the Devil told Jesus that the authority of this world was his and he could give it to anyone he wished.  All Jesus had to do was subjugate himself and worship Satan.  To this Jesus (at least in Matthew) grows angry and demands he leaves and reminds him that it only the Lord God that we are to worship and he alone shall we serve.  Curiously, I’ve often wondered if Satan really believed he controlled this world, or that it was just a trick, a slight of hand to obstruct Jesus true power.  When I look at dictators throughout history who appeared to have control of their respective kingdoms along with the allegiance and worship of their people, their power was always rooted in fear, was transient, and their people always fickle.  Selling one’s soul to the Devil for the illusion of power will never really make one powerful.  Control over someone isn’t necessarily power over them.  No one can take our power without our permission.  The Devil can’t give away what never belonged to him in the first place: our free will.  Shackles may contain us physically, but the spirit never.  Jesus knew this, which is why he knew he could command the Devil to leave.

When I look back over my life, the thought of having some form of a kingdom never appealed to me.  I don’t really want that.  But there were plenty of times that I felt controlled by someone or some circumstance. In hindsight, I realized that I simply allowed myself to believe the illusion that I was powerless.  I later understood that at any time, I could have simply said no and relied on what Jesus said…we get our power from God and serve him alone.  But hindsight is 20/20.  So, while I can’t change the past, I can change the future.  I need not convince anyone that the power they think they have over me is an illusion.  I’m the only one who needs to know and believe that they don’t.  That is the way to break the bond of power.  When that person realizes they can’t control your spirit after all, like the Devil did, they leave…perhaps not without some damage, but that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger right?

People who desire to rule over others, generally choose those who feel powerless to begin with.  Feeling powerless opens the door to being seduced by someone who will promise you anything, all for the exchange of your soul.  A hefty price to pay for an illusion.  When you build a source of inner strength, you stop attracting those kinds of people and situations.  You attract those who will empower you and be empowered by you.

Agony

agony

I’ve been working on a dramatic piece called “Stations” about Jesus’ final walk to Golgotha for a while now, and it’s had many incarnations.  Lately, though, I keep coming back to the agony Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane before the culmination of his great act of sacrifice.  How deep was the agony he felt that it would cause him to sweat blood, to panic so deeply, that even after all his miracles and raising Lazarus from the dead, he asked his Father to release him at the last-minute?  So, as I often do, I prayed to God for some insight into those few hours underneath the tree…and this is what came to mind.  Music is part of my process, and this piece in particular from Eric Whitacre peeled away much of what I was afraid to see, invoking such grief and deep emotion that I was almost too embarrassed to write this post.  So I add it as a context, while you read that hopefully it will add a dimension to my words.

I see a solitary figure under a tree, with sleeping men laying a short distance away.  His loneliness is palpable and He prays out to His Father for assistance and comfort.  An angel appears and quietly sits beside him, and I draw closer.  The solemnity of the angels’ presence is palpable, his tone somber as he speaks to Jesus.  What transpires between them is an understanding of what is about to happen in the next few days, that agony has begun.  The angel shows Jesus the sinfulness of humanity throughout the ages and his fury grows blinding hot, more than he ever did at the scribes and pharisees, or any other behavior we have witnessed thus far.  In his rage, he turns away and tells the angel that perhaps humanity is beyond saving.  The thought of sacrificing himself for such an abomination is unbearable to him.  The angel than takes his hand and shows him the victims of that sin…the beauty of God’s creation destroyed in the darkest and most heinous fashion and then racked in anger and despair he begs his Father to release him from drinking from this cup.

I try to empathize with Jesus, and though I haven’t seen all that the angel has shown him, I hope I have seen enough evil in my life to maybe create a speck of understanding.  Who would die for them?  The angel then turns to me and brings Jesus attention to where I am standing.  Up until this point I am an unknown presence, a simple voyeur watching a play.  As I am drawn in, fear wells up inside, I am exposed…in all my fallibility it is me that Jesus sees now in his deepest agony.  The angel points to me and says…”It is for her that you must bear this burden, so that she might live.”  Jesus turns to me and immediately the anguish in his face dissipates for a moment and he sees me, purely, flaws and all.  I am no longer an insignificant one of millions who is graced because of something that happened 2000 years ago.  I am removed from that safety of history and stand right before him, weak and pathetic.  Than angel wants me to be the reason that he follows through with what will be the most painful, demoralizing and fearful moments of his life.  Completely shocked and appalled and before I can run away to avoid the guilt of being the reason for his pain he turns to heaven and says “Father, let your will be done.”  He turns to me resolved and with such eyes of love that I fall on the ground weeping.  I scream at him, “Don’t make me the reason, I am not worth going through what you about to go through.”  I fall with the weight of this realization clear in my heart to the ground…the phrase “He died for my sins” blaring into my head, and I am unable in that raw moment to safely intellectualized anything.  My soul in broken, I see that now.

Jesus pulls me up, and the moment I look into his eyes, my burden is lifted and the weight of my sins are gone.  In an instant, I know that it wasn’t only just my face that he saw but every face seen singularly,  yet all at once.  His appearance becomes a bit heavier and darker and I understand the transference of my sins and all whose eyes he gazed upon has begun.  The aura of his purity is blackened…I know now that it will be easy for him to be handed over for crucifixion.  The blackness of our sin becomes like a cloak…hiding his true nature by reflecting back to those that gaze upon him their own sinfulness.  Magnified by a millennium of sin I see now how they can hate him.  Every Good Friday service, at the part in the story when the crowd screams “crucify him!”,  I am certain I would have stood up to the crowd and fought for him.  Now, seeing him with the weight of that darkness, I don’t think I could.  It is so easy to hate the sin worn by others, when we can’t see it in ourselves.

My once broken soul has been made whole by his sacrifice, the cloak of my sin is gone.  The light of his grace can shine unfettered and bring healing to the world.  It can shine through me if I choose to be his instrument of love and peace.  And as often as I may fail, this visit to the garden will inspire me to keep trying…every day until I die.

DOMA

rainbowThis one is hard for me.  Not because I have trouble voicing my opinion…but because this issue is so rooted in fear and hatred of the gay community.  Strip away all the rhetoric and what is left is fear at its weakest and hatred at its strongest, neither of which is an acceptable motivation in my book.  Scripture teaches that the opposite of love is fear, so that is where I stand first and foremost.  Regardless of where anyone of you stand on the issue at this moment, which is a freedom richly fought for and celebrated in this country, level heads must prevail…which is easier said than done.  I know that.   I’m not the one fighting for my self-respect.  What I do know, is that I have many dear and beautiful friends who are gay whom I see as naturally no different from any of the other dear and beautiful heterosexual friends I have.   Sexual orientation isn’t something I even recognize so by extension regarding love, marriage and children I see no difference.  Period.   Except I know that in society there is one.  I know social media is rife with profile picture changes and scripture quotations making a clear unwavering stand for their positions on the issue.  So how do we come together?  We talk, we discuss, we challenge old judgments and work together, and for my part as a Christian…work together as the body of Christ.

When I hear people quote Scripture as an indictment against homosexuality, I wince.  Most often because the words are taken literally out of history and out of context.  For example, I did question someone when they quoted the first chapter of Romans to me about the literal word of God, but balked when I challenged them on their view on gun control.  Jesus did tell us to love our enemies and turn our swords into plowshares after all.  I really wasn’t trying to be a smart ass…really I wasn’t.  I did want to support the notion that it is dangerous when you use scripture to justify a bias literally on one issue and disregard it in the next.  I also challenge all of you who use Romans 1:24-32 to continue reading to the next chapter where Paul admonishes people for judging…you will be judged by the same measure with which you judge others.  Never mind that Paul in the first chapter was talking about the state of Rome under Nero, after the edict of Claudius expelled all Jews and converted Jews out of Rome…that he feared for converted Gentiles who lived there that they were falling into old pagan practices.  Never mind that the wickedness that Paul lays out in verses 29-31 could describe any one of us…so to heap all those horrible qualities on just gay people is ridiculous…period.  I also believe that to take Jesus words in Matthew as an indictment against gay people is just short of blasphemy… yeah, I said it.  Jesus was being tested by the pharisees about divorce as a means to find something to use against him, as they often did.  Jesus spoke to the hardness of the people themselves as a reason for divorce.  He went on to make sacred a union that in his time was often unfair to women, who had no voice, were considered chattel, and who could be dismissed by her husband if the marriage was unsatisfactory.  To use the beauty of a verse that celebrates love into a tool that indicts gay people renders its message void, especially since the verses that follow have Jesus blessing the children,  entering the kingdom of God by loving God and your neighbor as yourself and concluding with how hard it is for a rich man to get into heaven.  It’s curious how few take the verse “Go and sell all you have and follow me” literally…not that I would either, I’m just saying.

Jesus spent his whole ministry challenging the notion that we get to pick and choose who we love, and who we should treat with respect.  He spent his time with those whom society rejected and he often berated those that held positions of esteem…because it is wrong to use position and power to keep others out.  He is the corner-stone whom the builders rejected.  He championed our eternal destiny by bearing our flaws.  I can’t help but think, as Easter our most sacred day comes near, that we do him a dishonor when we focus more on judgement than we do championing love.  Love, as I’ve stated before is so much bigger and more powerful than our limited comprehension of it.  When it comes right down to it as Paul goes on to say in Romans…”There will be joy, honor and peace for everyone who does good…there is no partiality with God.”

The Naked Truth

flasherSo, what does perfection look like?  The dictionary defines it, in part, as the full growth or development of anything, or a completed state.  So beyond all the traditional trappings…I ask this question, “Given that God is perfect what does God look like?  Avoiding the easy traps of artists portrayals, I start with the old testament when God was always shrouded somehow, because to look upon God physically meant certain death.  The metaphor that came to me as I was struggling to find something completely unique, was that of God as a flasher–God revealing the deeper realities of life, for God’s pleasure, and our limited ability to see God in full glory.  NOW WAIT INTERNET, DO NOT FREAK OUT, KEEP WITH ME FOR JUST A MINUTE!  I have waited for enough time after writing this draft to validate that I have not caught on fire, I have not turned to stone and my head hasn’t turned all the way around once…so just bare with me, if God’s OK with it, so should you.  First of all, the reason I use the flasher image is that God has been clothed in so many different layers over the centuries, it’s about time to challenge many of these historical notions.  So when all the layers are stripped away, what do we have left?  I don’t have that answer yet, but and this is a big one, BUT I certainly had to ask this question first?  Am I willing to see God naked?

Culturally, nakedness is far more associated with sexuality and porn than personal knowledge and perfection.  The kind of exposure from someone who reveals themselves out of pleasure without being asked to do so is not only uncomfortable, many times it is a criminal offense.  Perhaps it is our discomfort and limited capacity for understanding perfection that God chooses to show us only so much at a time.  It can be more than a little daunting to entertain the possibility that many of the fundamental assumptions we have about God are really ill-fitting costumes that not only hide, but distort God’s very essence.  I say this, in part, because if we were so clear about God’s true nature, wouldn’t our world be in a much better place?  So let’s go back to before being naked was an indecent thing.

According to the book of Genesis, when Eve, then Adam ate from the tree of knowledge, bringing sin into paradise, they recognized their nakedness, tried to cover themselves up and hid from God.  Note that being naked was a good thing until they sinned and they began to see themselves differently as a result.  It certainly doesn’t imply that being naked was intrinsically a bad thing does it?  We are created in God’s image, after all…free of any wardrobe malfunctions.  Isn’t it more likely that the need to cover ourselves up as a result of recognizing our imperfection naturally flows to why we try to cover up God as well;  we don’t want the constant reminder of how imperfect we really are.  History certainly says so, for Christians anyway, look how humanity treated Jesus.  If we are truly created in the image of God, and by our own choice moved away from that image, it seems to make sense that in order to discover God’s true nature we deal with our own nakedness…and the neurosis that comes with it first.

Looking at my own naked flesh is mixed with many different emotions.  At my age it is impossible avoid gravity, period.  I will never resemble those beautiful women in the magazines, and I guess I’m OK with that, but sadly, though, I never thought my body would ever resemble one of those prehistoric fertility goddess figurines comprised of sagging breasts and a marsupial like stomach either…and while spanks work miracles, they do have to come off some time.  But at the same time, this body of mine has survived breaks, falls, injuries, childbirth, dancing, and the many things I have done for God…all that comes with living life.  Our bodies are the empirical evidence of all that we have seen and experienced.  So why is it that we worship bodies that bear no reflection of the greater lessons in life?  Isn’t it true that most supermodels hit their peak before the reach the age of majority?  Why focus on a blank canvas, or a body free of experience?  I truly believe that God’s true nature is probably closer to the reflection most people see of themselves in the mirror–a body worn with experience.  Let’s go back to the definition of perfection…the full growth or development of anything, a completed state.  A life lived fully, should be seen as closer to being perfect than running away from it through growth hormones, plastic surgery or the other myriad of ways we try to look younger.  I’m not saying that we allow ourselves to waste away, our bodies are temples after all…but the obsession with youth has to stop, especially since it sends an unfair message to young people that their bodies are the standard to which all perfection should be measured.  Would I go back to the perky body I used to have?  Ah, now therein lies the rub…the temptation would be great, but seriously no, I would not.  I think I would focus on all the wrong things.  As much as I struggle with aging, it is a natural part of coming to completion…and it is up to me, with the help of God to figure out how to wrap my head around it.  Perhaps, it will mean for me that I am one step closer to seeing God.