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Summer 2004 - Truth Telling in Idaho - liberal, conservative--who's radical?
His eye fixed on the newcomer across the campfire, the flushed grandfather loosed his arrow "Just exactly in what way might you be liberal?"
Not with a 1000 foot pole was I gonna touch that one! I'd just boldly suggested to the group in which I was The Stranger that liberal and conservative labels were somewhat a matter of viewpoint. I was wrong, oh so wrong. Not in this group was there any question of who's what. Huh uh. The group's collective eyes narrowed in on the bloody commie pinko fetus murdering infiltrator.
What do I really know about "authentic, bible based christians"? Nada. It may take me several minutes and whispers to the nearest neighbor to find a passage in Colossians… or is it Galatians? By then, we're onto Ephesians. I crane my neck to see if I can tell whether that's old or new testament.
Once I realized with a start--this was a gathering of bible study groups!--that the cokes the grandparents held were cocktails, I switched direction in midair, rather like meeting Big Snake the rattler on an Oregon slope!
I'm happy to report this well trained conflict resolution mediator knew better than to bite an emotional party's bait. I declined, with something like “Time will tell”. Wish I'd thought to add, “sir”. Many thanks to Volunteers of America and other fine mediation mentors!
What I love about church is being with folks of faith. Although I grumble that many have more faith in a devil than a loving god, when we're on the same page with god, my bruised heart is fed. I've clearly realized I'm the one who gets to practice keeping my heart open when I run into fundamentalist fear. I want to hold frightened hands and sing “Peace Like a River”. If only fundamentalists took their One and Only's ‘get thee behind’ seriously!
It wasn't long before Everett held the current issue of Time (magazine) open for me to see by firelight, his hero Bush at Reagan's funeral and I was asking if I could borrow this issue on religion and politics (boy was it interesting!) when I had my glasses handy. Although I might call his tears cocktail tears, I knew my new teacher was sharing his heart as best he could, with this strange stranger, who was happy to hear his stories of meeting Werner von Braun and Jimmy Doolittle. No doubt everyone else had already heard them.
I was delighted to be included in a church camp out, which turned out to be somewhat of a large extended family gathering. While folks cuddled small dogs, fussed over big dogs, grandparents tended toddlers, and kids ran in packs; I did my thing—pulled recyclables out of the trash, tried to get the new travel computer write-able, smoked self by the fire, listened and chatted--carefully. In the company of church family, I slept oh so well in my nylon dome away from home.
The reason I had the boldness to opine we might be mixtures of liberal and conservative is because pastor had just made the stunning statement that although he had lost friends saying so--Jesus wasn't a republican and democrats should be welcome at the church! Heresy, I think it used to be called. As always, when an unpopular truth slips out in an evangelic forum, I refrained from jumping on my chair and cheering. I wanted to, but then I'd be just like a right to lifer at a rally. I breathed out slowly. No one around me chuckled or smiled. Nooo.
It's all so easy, from my stranger's vantage point, to wave my finger and say--we gotta love one another and forgive enemies—Jesus said so! I like that, nat, because it suggests I should be forgiven for holding views different than the majority of the congregation, for swearing Jesus meant love everyone—even me, hopefully. I get to practice loving people who won't recycle or accept gays; who say theirs is the only true god; who have large families, sad or rude kids, unruly dogs, who get tipsy at church picnics and point fingers. And they get to practice loving this woman who's missed the mark again and again in her life.
It's a big job, this loving everyone, but the only one I know that fully occupies my heart and mind. I'm thinking the practice of speaking the truth that sets one free oughta be beyond political labels like conservative and liberal. It's so hard to speak the truth that I recycle (and hear wise cracks) in the midst of an evangelic church, or that I respect all faiths and religions, that I rarely do so. It's easier in Idaho to pause and publicly proclaim Jesus as one's savior on your way, on your way to spend Sunday afternoon shooting prairie dogs, than to speak out on behalf of hunting regulations, let alone introduction of wolves! Is that outrageous!
Byron Katie would ask, Is It True? I'd have to shrug. It's only my personal experience that I'd rather answer an altar call to give my life to Jesus any day than admit to the congregation I didn't vote for Reagan. Or confess that I believe the church should recycle aluminum cans. At my preferred house of worship, I'm safer at the altar than venturing alone into politics.
At one of the local buddhist based meditation groups I frequent, the confession that I attend church is met with remarkably similar peer disapproval. In either camp it's more acceptable to divorce or cheat on income tax, than cross traditional beliefs.
What's wrong with this picture? Nothing. It's just Idaho, just people, just life, and I'm just struggling to make peace with it all. Unskillfully struggling to feel safe in this universe, just like everyone else is. Without studying eastern religions I might not have the tools for peace making, recognizing common ground and practicing compassion, no matter which camp I'm in.
This year I began visiting prison, first as guest saying a few words about relaxation to an English as a second language 1st-3rd grade class. The felons were at least as attentive as community ed yoga students. Until recently, I went into medium security with a local student of the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hahn. When I mentioned this to a “christian” he said immediately, “You don't want to go there”. I was disappointed. I think he's wrong, in more ways that he realizes. Not only do I want to be an instrument of peace, my motivation for going into prison, but the mission field is everywhere, que no? (When the lead Thich Nhat Hahn teacher quit suddenly, I began feeling my way along solo.)
I'm all over the place, looking for community/understanding. I'll go into prison as a yoga or meditation student, buddhist, christian, whatever, wherever; searching everywhere, for that connection, that peace I realize I yearn for, which every tradition teaches is always with me, but I'm not quite there! Walking back through the series of gates with another volunteer or two is as close as I get to that promise if peace. "Boy do I enjoy that", a fellow volunteer said recently. Couldn't have agreed more.
The gulf between christians and others, perhaps most seriously, among christians, seems to be deepening, at the same time interfaith dialogues build. Accusations of "cult" fly from the pens of christian writers. It's hard not to crow--na na na na na na--takes one to know one, no matter how well intentioned one is. If ever there was a super cult... I hear sincere concern about the shallowness of christianity, particularly in the worldly West. For many, hypocrisy is an excuse to stay clear of church for years. But the death grip of things of the world brings a lot of us back. The way in which a pastor or community deals with our addictions of the world, is determined by denomination and pastor. Luckily there's nearly something for everyone. Not all of us can leap once and for all into the perfect arms of Jesus, forever and ever. We gotta work with our wounds, minds, human personalities, families—all our stuff. We may all want happiness, but our paths are different. The “christian style” of pointing out the weaknesses and failures of Other denominations and traditions may damage more than help christianity. For this very reason, among others, I'm cautious where and when I say “us”; I believe authentic christianity begins in one's own stable. I'm not touching the theological land mine of evangelism. No way!
The way I figure, most all of us're gonna have to do it again. I won't like being in the hot spot with the likes of Limbaugh, Swaggert et al, but I'll also have the good company of plenty of less dramatic, ordinary folk, who didn't quite make the grade. I'll miss the company of Jesus, Gandhi, the 14th Dalai Lama, a number of folks, ordinary and extraordinary who loved well in their life times. I'm eternally grateful for their guidance.
The Truth will set you free! (somewhere in John)
You are only as sick as your secrets - Rich Warren, 4O Days of Purpose p 23(?)
Winter 2004 - Spiritual Mongrel
Why didn't I think of that! sez I, when the editor of an Oregon based newsletter referred to herself as a "spiritual mongrel". Although... uhh...hardly fond of dogs, if I wuz one, I'd surely be a mongrel. Likewise I'm a mixed breed of spiritual traditions.
Most days I stir yoga, christianity, taoism and buddhism together as a matter of course. Perhaps an LDS friend phones.
This morning I sat with a brown skinned, boozy fellow from a shelter, and perhaps his girlfriend, listening to the message of Jesus as the only way to the father. When no one came forward to publicly declare Jesus their savior, the pastor realized early service has been there, done that, or ain't gonna. 24 hours before early in the morning I'd sat still and walked with buddhist students. This was followed by a dharma talk by Larry Ward, who's both christian minister (30 years) and buddhist student of Ven. Thict Nhat Hahn since 1991. [ed. "In 2001, he received Dharma Lamp Transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh in Plum Village, France".] His message on the satisfied heart was world class. Opening evening Peggy Rowe read a poem that filled my eyes, though I didn't "understand".
I WILL SAY I WANT IT ALL
If you ask how much do I want,
I'll tell you that I want it all.
This morning, you and I
and all men
are flowing into the marvelous stream
Small pieces of imagination as we are,
we have come a long way to find ourselves
and for ourselves, in the dark, the illusion of emancipation.
This morning, my brother is back from his long adventure.
He kneels before the altar,
his eyes full of tears.
His soul is longing for a shore to set anchor at
(a yearning I once had).
Let him kneel there and weep.
Let him cry his heart out.
Let him have his refuge there for a thousand years,
enough to dry all his tears.
One night, I will come
and set fire to his shelter, the small cottage on the hill.
My fire will destroy everything
and remove his only life raft after a shipwreck.
In the utmost anguish of his soul,
the shell will break.
The light of the burning hut will witness
his glorious deliverance.
I will wait for him
beside the burning cottage.
Tears will run down my cheeks.
I will be there to contemplate his new being.
And as I hold his hands in mind
and ask him how much he wants,
he will smile and say that he wants it all—just as I did.
--Thich Nhat Hahn, 1954. About hiding after suffering, yet the need to have the hiding place burned.
I ricochet between amusement and resentment that the eyes/ears/hearts and minds of my church are closed to the teachings of "unchurched heathens" such as Larry. I feel the same about the unwillingness of (buddhist) sangha members to hear the heart felt teachings of my (christian) pastor whose appreciation of solitude, wonders of nature and God's creation and love are equal to the best! Alas folks' wounds are still raw from mainstream religion and dogma.
Blessed am I to enjoy full freedom of religion, drink wisdom from all traditions, although I'm disapproved of by many followers. I string (tibetan) peace flags around the hot tub (the same flags were verboten on my former Idaho apartment porch). I study with a taoist priest fluent in both contemporary and ancient Chinese. Sundays I go down the street and sing with the christian fellowship that advertises "come as you are". I so do. Saturdays I plant, weed or harvest at the church garden. Currently I'm part of neighborhood study group based on The Purpose Driven Life.
For a half dozen years I've shared yoga several mornings each week, translating bits of ancient sutra into American-speak. I yearn to use phrases like "practice restraint" or "Be still and know God". But I'm more likely to say "as we learn to relax, we repeat the harvest of our practice". The other evening I actually answered What is the goal of yoga? with "a path to God". I don't study Patangeli, but I'm aware of the depths of yogic discipline and the shallowness of my practice.
Cautiously younger folks at church with chronic health issues approach me about yoga. I refer them to sports anatomist Egosque's excellent book introducing posture and alignment, Pain Free; it's free of reference to mind-body-spirit union. I've offered to give an introductory class using christian music; I sense fear. Meanwhile I keep at it, like the tortoise; young folks with immune system imbalances (so epic these days) search for christian alternative medicine. I'm in their backyard. Perhaps I'm not, as I overheard recently, really saved, safe.
The small local buddhist community also struggles with the effects of poor posture and health challenges. Folks move from zafu to chair. I yearn to share mind-body-spirit practice with them as well. I should understand. My "do it myself" attitude reigned until I met masters and ministers who softened me towards surrender.
This winter I finally negotiated hoops to visit prison. Although I'm open to opportunities to visit as a christian, buddhism opened first. Occasional Friday evenings I go with Wm. to the small buddhist meditation study group he teaches. I love being with the men, feeling as though we share breathing and peace. Across the hall a large group of men enthusiastically strum and sing hymns at calvary chapel services. Sometimes it's all I can do not to join "How Great Thou Art", as we do walking meditation around the small room the half dozen of us meet in. Or, sitting silently, I can scarcely keep from singing "Holy, Holy, Holy"; my lips move and my spirit zips across the hall. This intersection of faiths is quite an experience. Perhaps it's the best of both world's. I'm sure the buddha and Jesus are smiling!
Having only "been to prison" a half dozen times, I only know I have a heart for those who flunked society's rules and are in another game. I pray: God use me--christian, buddhist, whatever! I want to be a regular visitor to prison. The nods I give and the smiles those needy men and I exchange, sustain me, in a world that seems too busy. Since I don't have adorable grandsons, these guys get my energy and attention. My adult skills are stronger than my baby instincts. I'd rather troubleshoot restless adult minds, than babysit.
Again this year I fully participated in the Easter experience at the Vinyard, which coincided with release of the film, The Passion. I Jesused out quickly. Easter week reenactments of Mary Magdalene and others didn't enchant me like they did the first year. Palm Sunday and Easter I sang in our low key, mini choir - big church, small choir; Thursday before Easter, 4 of us women nervously danced to Julie's vision of Steve Camp's "Remember Me". Rehearsals night after night; I'll do less next year. Walking up to the cross, Friday evening, I didn't suffer like last year. My feet and hips are mending--thank you, God. I loved singing with the group, watching the sun set from Table Mountain, but my heart absolutely melted as I headed down alone, just ahead of the crowd, when I heard a canyon wren solo. Easter morning I loved being part of the bonfire service. The pancake crew working in the 6am dark touched me--once again I was humbled to be a small part of a church that inspires such dedicated teams of volunteers; that lets me sing: that peddles pop and cookies, but doesn't have time to recycle (still hopeful I can make a difference there). Good for my heart to be under such extraordinarily functional leadership. Bless us all; it is indeed a miracle we get along! Mornings after Easter I awoke still singing harmony to "Who is like you, oh Lord, worthy of all praise... Your kingdom forever, all the world proclaim" against Ralph's strong voice. My idea of heaven.
View from the bleachers, during winter services in the gym
Roman guards - Good Friday evening hike to the cross
Good Friday evening sunset from Table Mountain
Easter morning bonfire
When the question of whether we'd still be allowed to come as we are with our "coffee" into the new sanctuary arose, I rested certain that a church founded on "as it" couldn't possibly renege on it's platform! (It turned out muffins are no longer welcome.) I smiled when I saw a big stain on the absolutely new carpet during rehearsal in the sanctuary, even before the new sanctuary was even open! Impermanence, folks! I loved meeting in the gym during the winter, with its scoreboard and buzzer, standing on the bleachers now and then to get a bird's eye view of the scene. The new sanctuary is so big and level, I totally missed the donkey on Palm Sunday. What donkey? (I'd seen it waiting at the door during rehearsal). Itzabig church.
Credit for my being able to enjoy christian church largely goes to Kathleen Norris, the teacher who appeared as I hungered for community. Thank you, Kathleen for sharing your stories of becoming a part of your grandmother's church.
I have so much fun, although I keep coming back to: Why isn't the group willing to learn and respect all faiths? As long as it's "us" and "them", we're separate. Believers v. non believers, churched and unchurched--donkey apples!--I forgot just how Norris expressed her reaction to the use of "unchurched". We're ALL god's children. A most hopeful message recently--Philip Jenkin's research on the future of christianity, it's center moving south, into more passionate 3rd world countries. Perhaps those spirit filled cultures will soften the hard edges of European minds and worshiping the name of Jesus will become more of a universal love song. God excludes no one. I don't think "the difference is Christ"; I've meditated on this. Thus far I fail to see how the Dalai Lama's message differs in quality from that of Jesus'. Love is all there is, a teacher in Hawaii reminded me recently--her aloha spirit radiating across the sea!
My baptist friend bluntly shared one evening how he likes the handful that attend his very small church, dislikes a big church like mine, refusing even to visit. It's gotta be fear. Recently our pastor reminded us to fear god, not man. Ahhh. How much easier (in my human mind) for hundreds to build a church, than a handful. However god replies--that's my problem, not yours. My baptist friends studies science and art, not people, he reminds me, his nose in a modern art text. He shakes his head when I try to hand him a memoir. I hear, unsaid, he's interested in science and god, not people. Whereas I'm fascinated by god's people, perhaps more than their creations, which of course are his too. Everyone different, the baptist reminds me. Amen.
But I'm getting to him. Although I like to share books, sometimes I do it Tom Sawyer style with my favorite authors. I've got the baptist asking for more from "uneducated, unchurched" Laurens van der Post! Lack of education is a handicap to many western minds; not so, mine, which stopped associating education with intelligence or wisdom long ago. I absolutely cringe at IQ worship. Right up there with Jesus worship, now that I think of it! I believe the good heart and satisfied mind are something that "just is", regardless of education. I recognize one when I meet it, in books or in the world. Others feel it, see it or hear it. The reflection of light catches my eye, touches my heart, regardless of human catagories. (Oh, the modern disease of catagories!) "Did your mother know the lord? the "churched" ask. They don't ask how she loved, what I learned. Ach.
I roll my eyes, snort, struggle, laugh, choke up, along the rutted road practicing compassion for all beings. I stumble, "lose it", learn. I yearn to say my religion is kindness, my life is my message, I want to do small things well--messages of high saints echoing in my psyche. Hardly.
My new thought teacher is fielding financial questions about her church, as well as re-examining her spiritual practice. In spite of the message I love, which has healed so much of the "us" and "them" I used to feel about religion, I've never full overlooked the designer flair of staff and congregation and jokes from the pulpit. New thought tends to say we can have it all, including things of the world. I've always been uneasy with speakers dressed to the 9s, ever since hearing the story of the enlightened man who didn't notice what he wore.
These years my attention is held by straight talk from a minister in everyday clothes, with an older truck, uncomplicated family and life. This winter I was jolted to hear a good friend (who's attended new thought services for several years) criticize my current church "non/denomination". She'd taken me up on visiting the nearby church in her community, but explained they'd left before the talk because because the offering was taken before they "got anything". Having painfully and slowly begun shifting from getting something from church towards accepting I'm there to give as well as be fed, my eyes flew open! When I first returned to church as an adult, an alcoholic elder lit a candle one Sunday and explained how he went to church each week because he never knew who might need him. His wisdom lodged in my mind. Besides, I like having the offering taken early so I can stay focused on the talk through the end of the service!
Last winter I finally watched Audrey Hepburn in the Nun's Story again--first time since high school. Raised protestant/anti-catholic, at the time I was embarrassed to be so deeply affected by the film. I put off revisiting the scene of such emotion-- uncomfortable that it would make light of nuns, and seem dated and silly 40 years later (though I didn't consciously recall anything except how impacted I was). Lo, I was stunned how exactly it portrayed the classic dilemna of respect for authority v. respect for the call of one's spirit. No wonder I was touched--then, as now.
Enjoyed participating in the Black History Museum's gospel workshop again this February (photo below), though I enjoyed being in the audience for St Paul's gospel concert even more a few weeks later--absolutely knocked out!. Not long afterward I borrowed the video of a moderated panel on the question of gay clergy, which the unitarian church sponsored last fall. I had compassion for the passionate minister from St Paul's (baptist church) whose church had just offered that block buster concert), surrounded by (outstanding) intellectual episcopalian, catholic and methodist representatives. Can a church that creates such incomparable music truly believe one can't be called to pastor in their church? I was glad to finally watch footage of former episcopal priest Robert Cross--a man with a mission, weaken by ill health--called to pastor those outside society's dominant sexual orientation. My baptist friend pointed out Cross' obituary last winter and attended the huge multi-cultural funeral at St. Michael's celebrating his life.
Black History month concert, February 2004. Digital by participant Dennis Hicks
Yet more phenomenal black gospel this spring--Louise Rose, from Vancouver BC, was featured with local Cherie Buckner on Gospel Sunday at the Gene Harris jazz festival. Mercy, what a servant! Another Sunday evening Sue and I went out to Albertson College to experience the Blind Boys of Alabama. Although most of the original blind boys are replaced with young dudes with sight and electric guitars, it was unforgettable to taste the acapella of the legends.
I continue to graze the smorgasbord of faiths that reside and visit Boise. Rabbi Kushner spoke at BSU recently. Only a few youth left the big screen those of us who couldn't get tickets watched; he held our attention. How clearly this elder explained Littleton and Hitler, the relationship between good and evil and power.
Don't know how I'd be able to walk this part of my life without teachers such as van der Post, Jung and Kushner. It's made such a difference in my peace of mind again this year, to hang out with clear minds that see and understand the whole, not just a part. I'm deeply uneasy living in a society where a new truck or home is bought for tax reasons. Who can ignore the imbalances around us--brothers and sisters, we have strayed! Living in a christian society, I sense many of our rampant ills (both social and health) are related to the curse of judging others, rather than leaving that to Divine Oneness. Pastor once mentioned--"You're the only Bible most people will ever encounter". May all churches, communities of faith, know there is no us or them!
Love is Always the Question, always the Answer
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