Church Times – If Jefferts Schori is at meeting, I won’t come, says Primate

The Most Reverend Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schor...

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Church Times – If Jefferts Schori is at meeting, I won’t come, says Primate.

First of all, “Primate?” Really? This about describes the good old boy network at work here.  Apparently, Rev. Ernest, Archbishop of the Indian Ocean (how can you be a bishop of an ocean?)  can smell the taint of woman thousands of miles away and refuses to participate in a summit because of the U.S. Presiding Bishop, Jefferts Schori’s attendance. It’s crap like this that convinces me that church hierarchical structures should do us all a favor and come tumbling down before it’s too late to salvage such nonsense.

The party line goes like this: Jesus was a man, therefore his priests can’t be anything but men. How about this? Jesus appointed men as apostles therefore women cannot be apostles? Or how about this? Only 4 women are named in the bible as part of Jesus’ inner circle therefore only 4 women are allowed to be disciples? Or, here’s a good one, Jesus and the disciples were Jewish. Therefore only his priests can be ethnic Jews? Right? Peter had a mother-in-law therefore all priests should have mothers-in-law? Makes sense to me. (Extreme eye-rolling here).

Better yes, how about women boycott all religions that exclude us because Jesus had different genitals? I’ll go first.


I Get It Now! I’m a “loose” Woman!

I think I understand why fundamentalist Protestant and Catholics stop by my blog and engage me in conversations about the church. These are usually nit-picky types of things like arguing whose facts are more important or bits and pieces of church history. They, like all believers, think that since I take issue with the church and its institutions, I must have some driving need for forgiveness for sins. This is a fairly common assumption (among many) made by those believers who try to figure out those of us who “rebel,” or “backslide” as they would call it.  We’ve had the audacity to leave church! Shock! Horror! Look at the endless grief they’ve given Anne Rice!  They just can’t understand why we would leave so they look and dig and hitting upon an incident we may write about ourselves on our blogs, they play amateur psychologist and console their own consciences by saying, “Ah, there’s the reason.” In their benighted sort of way, they think they are helping us, offering us a deity’s comfort. That’s sweet. But what they can never understand is that that comfort comes with a price; intellectual and spiritual integrity.

It actually makes them feel better that they’ve hit upon a reason, because the black/white, either/or thinkers are extremely uncomfortable with nuance, subtlety, and things that don’t fit strict categories or follow rigid authority. It’s scary out there after all.  It just occurred to me this morning and it makes complete sense. I think they would pick a better method of pastoral counsel though than the “you’re wrong, I’m right” approach. That’s why we left church in the first place; because of being constantly told not to trust ourselves, to follow rules, follow leadership and especially follow men. You see it’s especially ugly for them when women dare to leave the church. A woman without authority over her just cannot be countenanced. Quite frankly, I’ve always thought that women should leave the church in droves.  We’ll see if men could get any work done if they had to wash and iron their own vestments or church accouterments, polish all their sacramental cups and saucers, type their own sermons or bulletins, or watch their children. Men might have to {gasp} teach Sunday school or something! Oh my LORD! Cant’ have that. Women loose in the world is the downfall of Western civilization!

Afterthought: of course I do come off on these pages as someone with mixed emotions about religion. Like Anne Rice, I am sympathetic to open-minded, progressive spiritual persons who are trying to live a non-condemnatory kind of life. So I can see why I probably invite the criticism sometimes. However, I struggle to make sense of the world like everyone else. I just don’t like others telling me what to believe about ethics, politics, or philosophy without giving me the same courtesy.

“Taken Over By Fear…” and Quitting the Internet

There’s a great post on Bitch blogs this month about songstress Lily Allen quitting the internet. I must admit I’ve never heard of Lily Allen but a quick trip to YouTube fixed that:

But the blog post is about Allen’s decision to delete her Internet presence completely. Particularly telling is this paragraph about the decision, written by Bitch blogger Sady Doyle:

“I’m being taken over by the Fear.” Yeah, of course you are. Because, if you’re a woman, and you operate without fear – fear of people calling you fat or ugly, fear of being deemed unladylike (or “out of control,” or “bratty,” or whatever), fear of making people angry – people will do their very best to drill it into you. People will scold you, scorn you, call you names, tell you that you ought to feel ashamed of yourself. They’ll try to scare you, and keep you scared. And the end goal of fear is silence. It is always silence. Silence doesn’t have to mean not talking, either: only saying what you think people want to hear is also silence, maybe the worst kind of silence, because then people can point at you and go, look! She’s fine! And she’s on our side now! Gee, we really helped her out. No, you didn’t help her. And maybe you didn’t even bring her over to your side. Maybe you just made her too scared to tell you the truth. That’s the end goal of it, all of it: we want each other to get to that point (have you been to this point?) where you are just about to respond, you have something to say that you believe to be true, and then it just dries up in your mouth. And you think, why bother? You think, it doesn’t matter whether I’m right. You think, being right won’t help me in the long run. You think, silence is easier. It’s a permanent fear we’re working toward – every time that person dares to disagree with you, you want your voice ringing in her head, stilling her tongue, making her doubt herself too much to try anything. Or, if she speaks, you want your voice to come out of her mouth. Your voice, or a very good imitation.

Yes. What woman hasn’t wrestled with this and wanted to quit the Internet altogether? When we begin we aren’t aware of the environment. We even feel we can control it, but one thing we learn pretty quickly, as Doyle notes, the Internet “…thrives on people like her, people with an innate rawness, people with enormous personalities and very little inclination to trim them down. But here’s another thing the Internet thrives on: anger.” Ah yes, the Internet thrives on anger. Don’t we know it? An anger that feeds off the lives of others and others’ thoughts. How many of us women love to write but are surprised and mortified by the types of responses we get on our blogs? How many of us want to chuck it and be silent? I know I do. But blogging is sometimes the only way to get our ideas, which we deem inherently worthwhile, out there for others to read and that’s always a good thing. What’s not a good thing are those who feel it’s their duty to bring us “down a notch” when we get too “uppity” and when we “demand too much.” What’s not right is when others criticize everything we put on our blogs as if it’s their duty to keep track of us and our doings. I suspect that’s what Allen is dealing with and being such a public figure, the public thinks they have a right to call her on everything, including her private life. The cult of celebrity is cruel I’m sure.

But we ordinary women are also in danger of losing our unique voices when trying to placate everyone who comes along and happens upon our blogs. In our eagerness to pacify the angry, we compromise our internal integrity. We begin to doubt and to question and wonder, “Am I right in sticking to my guns about this?” The answer is simple; we are right if we’ve considered it and we feel it’s right. We are so conditioned to shut our mouths in the face of criticism that it is indeed easier to just stop putting our ideas out there. Allen is right when she says that an active Internet life impedes her actual life. For some of us though, the Internet is a means of connecting with others and a necessary means for those of us in long distance relationships, but we can so easily get sucked into lost vortices like Facebook, which is one of the best means to stay connected to family and the worst time wasters in terms of apps in the history of the Internet.

I suppose it’s a matter of balance and sanity. Staying grounded about what’s important to us is the main thing. How do we do that? Spend at least as much time off the Internet as on? Maybe. Taking time out to read a good book or see a movie that makes us think? Perhaps. Not letting Internet trolls and other riff-raff who just want to argue goad us into pointless arguments. You bet! Sticking by our hard won convictions even if everyone disagrees with us? Yes, with the caveat that we might be wrong. But also, making our own decision to quit for our own reasons and not because someone is being a thoughtless jackass in the responses. It’s perfectly okay to write what we want, when we want, and for as long as we want. Lily Allen had enough of those who questioned her conviction that music should be paid for. When she had enough, she quit. It may not even be the real reason. We don’t know. She doesn’t have to explain to anybody why she did so. We can wonder, but it’s not up to us. What is up to us is deciding when to speak and when to keep silent…in our own time… and for our own reasons.

Interface and Outerface

I like the new Interface WordPress has got on their login page. Much more Twitterish and social site-ish. Makes it far more inviting to click on the top stories and blog posts for the day or week.

Re-reading old posts, I’ve realized that my “outerface” has changed quite a bit as well. I suppose it’s no secret any longer that I also blog over at Gorgon Resurfaces and at first glance this blog and that one seem juxtaposed in a weird way. But, then again, I guess we all have our public and private faces.  I’ve learned much in the last couple of years and while I take issue with over-the-top politics and over-hyped social issues or even issues that I think are touted at alarming levels when there’s not much people can do to alleviate them, I do realize that moderation in all things is the key.  Writing from both sides has curiously allowed me to meet myself in the middle.

Over here I rant. Over there, perhaps I reason and am more introspective. Here is my pop culture, political impatience persona and there is my Goddess-y, be at one with the planet persona. Here, I contemplate Christianity and even entertain it once in a while. There, not so much except in the sense that I want to leave it behind once and for all. However, I don’t give up on the idea of a Divine power in the universe, hence the Goddess emphasis.  I have always felt bifurcated in some way spiritually and politically and I feel that more and more both extremes of my personality are coming together and that perhaps… perhaps I can finally become the integrated spiritual, political, and pop cultural loving kind of person that I want to be. But I’m still working on it. Slowly and surely.

New Perspective on “Old” Temptations has always been one of my favorite Christian web sites. Produced by the Episcopal Church and those in ecumenical communion with them, Explore faith has been one of the few places that has ever challenged my faith in new ways. Their gentle spirit is evident and best of all, on their About Us page, they do not list the bible as their chief idol (unlike some christian churches, web sites, domains, etc.) I like that, mainly because the one turnoff of the fundamentalism I left behind was the insistence that God only works in the world through this one set of writings. This extremely limiting belief keeps millions from fully understanding the love of God, whatever that is or wherever that may be manifested in the world.

Michelangelo Eve detail

Michelangelo Eve detail

This view of scriptures has kept me from acknowledging a merciful and loving Deity precisely because belief in this prohibitive doctrine is so insidious to an individual’s thought processes. Again, mine were damaged I think by the incessant drilling into it of dogma and doctrine  insupportable from the evidence offered outside of a few lines of ancient text. Sure, there are great things in the Hebrew and Christian texts that, together, comprise the “bible.” However, there are great things in all the world’s spiritual texts, each of which display a facet of human understanding about this thing most call “God.” However, when we elevate what others have said about God and ascribe qualities to this written body of experiential knowledge; qualities that should only be ascribed to Deity, we tread on dangerous territory I think. When is it good to part company with established dogma when it runs counter to what we know to be true from experience? Our growth is stunted and eventually spirituality dies out if we constantly deny and repress true experience. One’s spiritual, mental, and physical life cannot be circumscribed to such a degree and remain any kind of life at all.

With that in mind, I have had to restructure my faith in such a Deity and simultaneously re-examine my relationship to that particular book, which, for many, many years, became almost a talisman for me. I’ve been half afraid to pick it up again and read it because of the ingrained processes that fundamentalism implants into the unsuspecting brains of those of us who were too open and eager and hungry for spiritual food to be very discerning. Yet I didn’t want to dispense with the wisdom in it altogether. I knew that Progressive Christians such as the Quakers and others gain much insight and wisdom when they put scriptures in their proper context. I needed to recognize that the trigger for me was trying to absorb everything within the bible’s pages as absolute and unequivocal truth, unprocessed through human thinking; in other words, seeing the bible as straight unfiltered God-talk. When in fact, it’s not God-talk but Human-talk with a God-tinge.  There is truth contained it it, but it’s spiritual truth and not necessarily factual truth; something the individual soul must discern for herself.

With that caveat, I’ve been wanting, during this Lenten season, to re-examine my beliefs because frankly, I miss them (and truth be told, I miss examining them, which is what this blog started out to do). Explorefaith has wonderfully pragmatic resources for processing Lent, one of which is to journal your way through it. This isn’t a new practice, but they do ask good questions. This Sunday was the 4th Sunday in Lent and the journaling prompt was this:

All that we desire in life is not beneficial to us. We often are pulled away from what is helpful and healthy because we feel a lack of excitement, energy and enthusiasm in our life as it is. The seed of temptation begins to grow subtly within us, and we begin to find ourselves moving in a direction we had not planned, a direction we know is risky, a direction that promises more than it will ever deliver. Dealing with temptation is as much about rediscovering the wonder of our current life as it is about avoiding that which is alluring and seductive. Lent invites us to turn from temptation by turning toward what is helpful and healthy for us and finding there again what is life-giving. Take time this week to return to what feeds your life and captures the best part of your passion and soul.

journaling questions:
What in my life has become so familiar that I am tempted to find something new, and how can that familiarity be revived so that its previous exhilaration is restored?
* In my family?
* In my work?
* In my community?
* In my soul?

I have some problems with some of the assumptions in this meditation. First, how do we know that moving in a new direction “promises more than it will ever deliver?” Second, why is temptation always described as harmful? Now it’s clear that when people think of temptation they think of two words: sex and food. Nobody ever says that they are tempted by too much reading or excessive writing practices. The visceral reality of sex and food make those the chief targets of what I think can be called temptation politics in the church. We are considered lustful or gluttonous most times and our inclinations are always toward satisfying these two things we are told. Or are they?

I am a pessimist by temperament, which is why fundamentalism appeals to me.  I can easily believe that humans will do the worst thing in all circumstances. However, if I’m honest with myself, I have to concede that there is equal evidence to the contrary; that humans more often than not do the generous thing and it’s been proven to me over and over (thank you Pelagius). Yet, temptation from the pessimists view stems directly from the Augustinian approach to Genesis and to that doctrinal bugaboo called “Original Sin.”  It’s always fascinating to me that in the Adam and Eve myth in Genesis 1 and 2, God put into a mythical Garden a man and then what does he (sic) put in next? No, not the animals, even though they did go in next. No, God puts in Eve and a tree to eat from (e.g.  sex and food). (foot note 1) And yet…. and yet, God puts in another tree and says, Don’t Eat This. Now really, was that necessary? I ask you.

I would argue that God knew exactly what he was doing by introducing all the things necessary for a good and reasonable and happy life in that Garden. You know what Adam was probably thinking, “SWEET! Two things that any man could want; sex and food” objectifying both of course.  Both sex and food seem to me to be necessary processes to life in general and necessary to help us learn and grow. God knew full well that life in the Garden would have its limits and that his “children” would be unhappy. Like an obedient child Adam took the instructions God gave him literally, but Eve, bless her, decided she was going to trust that this God knew what was good for both of them and gave her the tools necessary to bring it about; in other words, the implications were more important than the outright commands. She was probably thinking, “Food and sex are great, but really, what’s it all for?” Besides that, God didn’t tell her not to touch the tree, he only told Adam, who always had to have things spelled out for him and probably was a little scrupulous to boot. So Eve took it upon herself to find out what that other tree was all about and voila! The model for modern sexual relationships was born, well at least the heterosexual ones anyway, and knowledge of good and evil fell into the world in one stroke. Pandora’s box in Hebrew form. Hmmm, yes. This story does sound suspiciously like one of those etiological myths that attempt to explain how things came about after the fact. A biblical “Just-so” story if you will. Interesting. The Hebrews were probably working up to something here and had to cover all the bases when they were recreating their religion from scratch. (see footnote 2)

So, back to temptation. Rather than look at temptation as something that makes us stray from the tried and true and even worse as a command to never question our situations, why not look at temptation as a way to further personal growth? Temptation could merely be opportunities to see things in a new way and perhaps change course because of them. Now I’m not saying giving into drug abuse as a temptation is an opportunity to growth. Discernment in this area is needed. But isn’t that the key to everything? Discernment? Why must biblical myths always be interpreted as dire warnings about impulses God knew very well we would have and even built them into the “Garden” to prove it? We are all born with drives common to the majority of us. The trick is to separate the trivial temptations from the ones that inspire growth. Can we possibly distinguish between the two? And this is where individual conscience and discernment come in. Much like how I’ve had to teach myself to read the bible with a critical eye, I’ve also had to learn which things are “temptations” and which things are true nudges to move in a new direction.

In that case, I would ask my own questions for journaling:

  • Where is the balance between being satisfied with the familiar and stretching our horizons?
  • Where’s the balance between self-justification and rationalization of “sin” and knowing what’s good for our lives and acting on it?
  • How can we move beyond mere proscription and into a mature decision-making mindset?
  • When is it good to part company with established dogma when it runs counter to what we know to be true from experience?
  • How does the fundamentalist wash cycle of “sin, repent, rinse, and repeat” defeat the purpose of living life in a loving, purposeful, and fulfilling manner?
  • And finally, where in all this does the role of individual conscience begin and where does adherence to ancient “principles” end if the ancient principle no longer fit into modern society?

Discuss…. or better yet…. Journal!


Footnote 1:

We won’t get into the feminist issues of the bible’s claim that Eve was created “for” Adam and not as an active agent in her own right. It’s obvious the biblical myth makes Eve simply a biological tool for Adam’s libido to act upon and a “foil” for what comes next. This interpretation is a necessary dogma of fundamentalism and every fundamentalist religion reinforces this idea; women are made for men’s USE. Period. That’s what it boils down to when you toss aside all the “yes, buts” they offer in rejoinder. Women are to produce men’s offspring and take care of all men’s needs.  That’s it.

Footnote 2:

Here’s one very good reason the bible cannot be taken literally as written and especially Genesis, nor can we see it as any way chronologically set down by God. Notice the injunction inserted into Genesis 2:24 which says that a “man shall leave father and mother, etc.” Uh, forgive the obvious, but there were no parents at this point, only Adam and Eve, right? Who’s speaking here? Who’s father and mother? And if Adam’s is not meant, who’s? There aren’t even any children to lecture at this point.

Advices, Queries, and Defining the Divine

I’ve made much in my blog about my spiritual path. I’ve wrestled with angels and wrestled with institutions. I’ve even fancied my de-conversion from Christianity, specifically the fundamentalist variety. All of these experiences has informed and defined my path in significant ways. On another blog, I’ve explored my Goddess-y self and I’ve tried to come to grips with what engaging with the Divine means to me.  All of these parts of me seemed like disparate bits trying to meld into a specific whole and not quite managing it. I felt that I had to keep my explorations secret, as if exploring the Divine was frowned upon, especially in today’s climate of religious and political extremism.

I did not like the God of fundamentalist Christianity much and have since turned my back on that chapter of my life. I found this male Father/God officious and meddling and reflective of the narrow mindset so inherent in such extremist faiths based on male power and control. I knew that I had to keep a distance from that God, just for my own mental health and spiritual integrity. Following that God brought out the worst elements in me and, I felt, in society. On the opposite pole, I explored the Goddess within and found much more peace and harmony with the Divine than I previously had before. I ascribe this mainly to my trading one gendered imagination for another, but it did help me mend the damaged views of the Divine that I had swirling in my soul due to my earlier experiences with the gendered Divine in religion. However, I found that in the Goddess realm there is also some extremism, but only in the political wing of this spiritual heritage. If one does not set all one’s store in political movements or invest oneself totally in one political figure, the spiritual call becomes clearer and the Divine can be heard through the clamorous politics. But attachment to such things in public life and culture left me feeling frustrated and angry most of the time. I knew this politicized path wasn’t the path for me either. I also found that one can so focus on the gender of the Divine that the essence of what the Divine means in real life gets completely subsumed. Pretty soon all we have is what particular groups and individual human beings want irrespective of what the total genderless Divine Spirit of the world may reflect.

Quaker Definition

Quaker Definition

Throughout this entire spiritual journey I’ve questioned my own participation in this world of faith and the Divine and what it is that I actually do believe. Not only that, where does it fit into my world? Some would say that that’s the wrong focus. I should find out where I fit into “it” whatever “it” is not the reverse. I don’t think that’s the answer for me. More and more I believe the Divine to be the best and highest of human love, potential, and will as expressed in the spirit of human beings committed to the good rather than those committed to narrow self interests and political movements. Now I’m sure some will disagree with me about the politics, but for me spirituality is about changing myself for the better and becoming a better person to live in this world whether that involves politics or not. Politics don’t change anything. Individuals do. I’ve come to realize that the old saw “people are the only hands God has” is really saying that there is no God/dess apart from human beings. It is really saying that the Divine is impotent without us. There would be no point to the Divine otherwise. The Divine is contingent on the human then. Would speculating that a Divine being exists otherwise be delving into an area that has no purpose and no relevance to human life? Where do humans end and the Divine begin?  If one wants to posit a god without reference to humans, my question would be; “to what purpose?”

Recently, in my own journey, the Quakers, or Friends as they are commonly called, have come to my attention. Far from being just another ecclesiastical movement, this group embodies all that the Divine and spirituality has come to mean for me precisely because it it undefined and open. I was skeptical at first, as I am always wont to be when it comes to being introduced to a religion. But the more I learned, the more intrigued I became, until finally, last Sunday, I had the opportunity to visit a Quaker Meeting House and experienced their worship for the first time. There were no hymns, no pastors, no sermon. There was a congenial time of visiting and friendly conversation before the time set for worship and then there was a quiet trek into the meeting house proper, where we all sat in a circle and quieted ourselves for an hour to listen to the Divine within us.

I thought I would have a tough time of it, considering that other attempts at meditation on my own never worked for me. My “monkey mind” as Buddhists call it could never quiet enough to reach a state of meditative silence. However, I found that immediately upon being seated and situated, I entered a quiet zone unlike I had before. I honestly felt my mind go blank (for anyone who knows me, this is quite a feat!) and a heavy, heavy peacefulness descended upon me. I almost fell asleep, but didn’t and found that no thoughts good or ill drifted through my brain. The meeting room had windows near the ceiling and one could see through glass doors to the outside. It was a windy and rainy day and I watched, mesmerized, as the branches of the leafless tree outside swayed and danced in the wind. Again, there were no thoughts. Someone stood to speak and quietly addressed the group for a couple minutes about the day being recognized in the Christian calendar as the Conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. Some ten minutes or so later, another person did the same with another similar message about “conversion” and what that meant for the Friends. Then after a larger gap, one woman, who exuded a spirit of calm and gentleness spoke of a friend she had met at a Quaker meeting over 40 years ago and how that impacted her life. Another two or three spoke as the Spirit moved them. Then after an hour, someone signaled the end of the meeting and we all went out into the foyer for coffee and conversation. While inside I had not thought of anything that normally occupied my mind and it was the most refreshing time of worship I’ve had in a long, long time. I don’t claim to know if I communed with anything, but a communal spirit of Love and humanity was strong.

All I can say is that after reading and studying and after the Friends worship experience, I’ve come to a refining point in my thoughts of the Divine. Rather than the Divine being the collective unconscious of humanity in all its best aspect, which indeed it very well could be, the Divine has come to mean something far less individually anthropomorphic and far more cosmically expansive and inclusive and all encompassing than the previous definitions of the Divine. This Divine Spirit exists in its own right and feeds on the spirits of all and processes and reflects back the best and most loving of all to us to use with and for each other. The Divine lives so in tune with humanity that, like water it can be stepped into and out of at any given moment, until finally, one begins to realize that we are already in the water of Spirit; it is we who unconsciously step in and out, not realizing that we just need to quiet down enough to realize where we are. We come back to ourselves in the silence. We come back to the Divine within the silence.

The experience has left me wondering more and more how to relate to this, how to incorporate this new type of experience into the many and varied ones that I’ve already had, or how this all fits into my beliefs about the Divine, but I’m sure I’ll be writing more about discovering this later. I’m still very much a work in progress. For now, I will leave you with a small tidbit of truth in the Advices and Queries of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain:

Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it…listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you… (point 17)