Saturday, September 29, 2007

Emitte lucem tuam, et veritatem tuam

A few nights ago, I wept as I sat on a bench outside watching the moonlight dance across Alsea Bay, sparkling through the darkness as the loons cried with me from across the water. I wept for Christophe. I wept for my own foolishness, for things I have lost, for things I’ve never had. I wept for my fear. I wept for my insecurities about myself and my body. And when I was done, I decided it was time say goodbye to those things with a little ritual the following night.

So, the next evening I took a little red candle out of my bag and went outside around the same time. Again, the waves were lit by what looked like thousands of fireflies. Again, I was alone (except for my faithful companion, Toby). This time, however, I did not cry. Instead, reflected on the loveliness of the day I’d just spent and all of the loveliness in my life as I listened to the sound of waves lapping against the shore. Once my mind had quieted, I closed my eyes and meditated, holding the unlit candle in my hands. I sat there for a long time, until finally peace enveloped me. Then, I opened my eyes, looked up into the moon’s full, shining face as released my sorrows and whispered a little prayer to the Goddess for my hopes and dreams. I ended with a softly sung offering of Ubi caritas, then went back inside to light my candle and put it in the window where I let it burn down under the watchful gaze of a benevolent moon.

Since then, I have felt peaceful, hopeful and at the same time recharged and ready for more life. Before leaving home, I was a little worried that it might feel weird to go away alone, but it turned out that sometimes solitude is just what a person needs. It recharges our batteries and reminds us of who we truly are in those moments when we are free to just be ourselves.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Gone ridin'

Tomorrow is the first work day of my vacation from work, so I am off to the beach for a bit of rest, relaxation and reflection. I am trying something new and taking a trip on my own except for Toby, who is at this moment slightly miffed at me because I subjected him to the indignation of a pre-trip bath. Apparently he feels happiest in a liberal coating of dirt and other assorted canine funk that is probably best not examined too closely. I have full confidence that he will have forgiven me by morning, though.

I have never really played the role of lonely wanderer before, but I'm relishing the idea of having some time to myself and doing whatever the hell I want for a couple of days and looking forward to doing it in a room with a view of the water. Hopefully, that will translate into a bit of writing and lots of picture taking during long walks on the beach.

I'm feeling a little guilty about going (do not ask me why - I have a job, I didn't steal the money to pay for the trip and I certainly feel no pangs about leaving my job unattended for a few days), but I think that will all wear off as soon as we hit the road.

More like a Czardas

Recently a friend recommended to me that I read Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz. Although Miller is a local author, it is probably not the sort of book I would have discovered without a nudge. The book touts itself as exploring "non-religious thoughts on Christianity", which sounded interesting - much more so than religious thoughts on Christianity (or anything else). Never a fundamentalist in the best of times, these days find me feeling decidedly non-religious and wanting to avoid anything that smells churchy at all costs.

There are a lot of things about Miller's background that bring out my prejudices about evangelical Christianity. I like to think of myself as pretty open-minded, so it is probably an ironic failing of mine (along with many other progressives) that I am too prone to rejecting interaction with the WWJD crowd without much thought to whether there might be more to them than narrow-mindedness and obnoxious evangelism. That is not to say that Miller is closed-minded. While I don't necessarily agree with every mark of ink that spills forth from his pen, his open mindedness and honesty in dealing with his beliefs (and even his doubts) were endearing and somehow drew me in. Not exactly what I expected from a book on Christian thought that was recommended to me by a friend who attends a slick megachurch in the Southwest.

The book is a collection of essays covering subjects like faith, grace, belief, love, and even money. Miller has a nice, conversational writing style that lends poignancy to even some of the non-overtly theological discussions. For example, when he writes about wanting to be known he taps into a fear that I suspect we all have to some extent - that if people really knew us, knew us as we are when we're truly ourselves, they might not want to know us anymore. I know that I felt a moment of self-recognition as I read about how he could never marry someone unless she knew him as he was when he was alone with himself, and how that would probably just scare her off.

A lot of the book also centers around experiences that grew out of the author's auditing of classes at Reed College. If you are not familiar with Reed, it has a rebellious reputation for liberalism and experimentation. Academically, it has a lively environment, but not exactly one that would be branded as a pious, non-hotbead of sin by those inclined to more conservative world views. More likely they would view it as a holding zone for people who are bound to fry and fritter in hell when all is said and done. And in the words of the great Amos Starkadder: "There will be no butter in hell." One of my favorite essays in the book is the one in which Miller talks about setting up a confession booth on campus at Reed. The twist? It was not so much set up as a confessional for fornicating hippies, but for Christian students to confess the sins that they and their religion had perpetrated.

Reading Miller's book made me think a lot about my own relationship to spirituality. It is a strange evolution I've gone through since starting to go to church a couple of years ago. The church I go to (if you can say that about a place you haven't been in four months) is a progressive one. This is good, because I don't think I could stand any other kind. The pastor and about 80% of the congregation are gay. Sometimes it feels like it's just me, my mom, a couple gay guys and the lesbians. But that is okay. These people are my friends. They're great people. It also helps that I don't go to church to find a date.

The important thing is not orientation, but that there is a lot of kindness, a lot of laughter, and a lot of tolerance. It is a place where you truly can just be who you are. When you really think about it, there are very few places like that in this world. Still, when we first started going, I often found myself sitting in the pew feeling like a hypocrite. I figured everyone else there had it all together and that I was the only heathen with a head full of questions and resistance. You see, I don't know that I really believe in everything The Bible says and I've always had some major problems with organized religion and its history.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in the big "be good to each other stuff". I believe in peace. Being a little on my meek side myself, I'd like to believe that my people will inherit the earth even if I'm not sure with what the rest of humanity is doing to it that it's going to be worth much by the time it emerges from probate. I believe in helping the beleaguered and the downtrodden. In fact, I believe that churches sometimes "prayerfully consider" things to the point of inaction, especially when deep down we know which things are the right ones to do.

If someone gets hit by a car, you don't stop and pray about whether God wants you to call 911, then wait for the Cosmos to send you a unicorn prancing under a rainbow in the shadow of a dove to the soundtrack of an angelic "Aaaaah" before moving into action. You get help and you do what you can to make the person comfortable until it arrives. Yet, I often have the feeling that we lend too much dallying about God's will to issues that should be pretty clear. It really shouldn't be that difficult.

Slogans like WWJD give me hives, but I think that if a group is modelling behaviors on his philosophies, it's pretty clear that what Jesus would do is help those in need and exercise things like tolerance and forgiveness. The thing is that it's not only Jesus who teaches these things. I could have all of them affirmed for me by Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and any number of different non-Christian teachers and philosophies. Sure, I can feel God singing in a choir in church. I can also feel the Goddess while standing around a fire with a group of pagans on a cool Beltaine night and it is no less authentic an experience. That is part of why I don't really buy into a cosmology that dictates that Christianity is the only true path to God.

Really, I think I could make a pretty good Unitarian. By not proclaiming myself to favor any one path, maybe I could shake the nagging feeling of intellectual dishonesty that churches always give me. I find it really difficult to call myself a Christian, because I don't know that I am one. Can I really be one, if I believe only in the overarching message of Jesus' teachings, but not in the details? I do not believe that I can be intellectually honest and call myself a Christian while also saying "Christians believe X, Y and Z. I accept X, but Y and Z are crap"? What's worse is that I really do believe some of the Y's and Z'a that are commonly believed in mainline Christian churches are crap. While I get that Jesus was progressive in his social views, I don't, for example, believe that part of Corinthians that says wives should be subject to their husbands, because the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church. I also don't believe in slavery or that God sent a great flood to punish humanity and I certainly don't believe in modern crackpot interpretations that blame disasters like 9/11 or hurricaine Katrina on God's displeasure with gays or liberals or anyone else.

Now, I know that the Bible is a product of various time periods and various writers (not to mention various translators, councils, etc.) and that a lot of what is taught and accepted as the "Word of God" is really just the word of whoever happens to be teaching at the moment. I know that there are schools of thought that are very literal in Biblical interpretation and others that see it all as more symbolic in nature. It is a tough question with which I've always struggled when it comes to churches and faith.

As human beings, we are all too eager to focus in on those parts of a philosophy that feel comfortable and cast aside those that don't fit our desires. But deciding that I can ignore those parts I don't like as unimportant or not being meant to be taken literally is problematic for me if I'm going to call myself a follower of that faith. To me that's akin to proclaiming myself a Doctor, even though I don't technically make an effort to heal anyone but do wear a white coat and carry a stethoscope.

When I took the Companions in Christ (that title still fills me with maximum ooginess, by the way) class that I participated in last year, I used to get really pissed off at the parts of the textbook that judged me as an "immature Christian" for what I see as open mindedness. Thinking back, I'm not sure why it irritated me to be called an immature Christian, when I am not even so sure that I am a Christian at all. I'm coming more and more to accept that I'm just a pluralist who believes that even if there is just one mountain of indeterminate nature, there are many paths to its apex. The truth is that this is what I have always believed and it's not because I'm flighty or unable to commit. It's because I see existence as nuanced and have to believe that whatever God is s/he meets us where we are and with whatever philosophy is most going to speak to us as a member of our respective cultures. Sometimes that philosophy is Christianity, sometimes it is Paganism or Islam or Hinduism or Judaism or Buddhism or even some other kind of Undefinedism.

In his book Miller writes "I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. . . . I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened." For me, spirituality feels more like a czardas - flirty, occasionally atonal, and moving in cycles that explode from a barely there tempo into a fast moving cacophony of multi-layered sound. I don't think that's a bad thing, because deep in my heart I have to believe that whatever the Godhead is, it cares more that we live decent, good, kind lives than what we call ourselves. And that's why it's totally okay for Miller to be blue like jazz, me to be puce like a czardas and you to be green like Yanni or sparkly disco gold like Abba. In the end it is all Music.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Born to Be Wild

Sunday marked our triumphant return to the Sunnyside emergency room after a long hiatus brought on by accident free living. It is always my mother who has to go. Over the years she has succumbed to toxic spider bites, falling stoves (don't ask) and cauliflower carving mishaps. This time it was a cat bite. Cat bites have, by the way, a very high risk of infection due to some especially evil variety of bacteria found in feline saliva. It is standard to treat them with antibiotics, because they almost always become infected. That is apparently the thanks you get for rescuing little black stray kittens from irresponsible owners who allow their children to take them on the roof to play catch with them.

Of course, Rudiger is no longer a scrawny stray, but a big, beefy black cat. He is the sweetest thing in the world until he becomes a biter when cornered or scared. This time (sadly, he has another incident in his past when a vet probed him in a way that was apparently no bueno), things went South when he escaped from the house Sunday morning. I didn't see it all happen, but as far as I am able to reconstruct, something in the neighbor's yard scared Ruddy. He came barreling over the fence, flying at the dogs. This in turn scared Baxter and Ruby (Toby is too mellow become involved in such shenanigans), who developed some strange form of Rudiger amnesia and immediately lost their furry little minds as they cornered him in a pretty aggressive manner. They didn't hurt him, but they weren't exactly playing either. I didn't really see until the ruckus started. My mom reached in to separate them and got bitten by the cat.

I tease my mother about a lot of things, but one of them is that she should have her own office at Kaiser Sunnyside by now. She seems to clock more hours in the ER than much of the medical staff. This time we were there for almost three hours before they finished examining her hand, had administered an antibiotic IV drip and sent her on her way. I, myself, have only been in the hospital as a visitor, reading patiently in the waiting area while she gets stitches, IV drips and surgery. If I've learned one thing from chauffeuring people to the hospital, it is this: ALWAYS have a book. You never know how long things are going to take.

Unlike the medical visit, the events that lead to the biting all happened so fast. It was the strangest thing. Rudiger and Baxter do have a kind of love-hate relationship sometimes, but they sleep together, eat together, play, etc. and Ruby has never been aggressive in her life. They are all best friends again now, like nothing happened, so I can only think that everyone was just startled, causing some base response kicked in. Anyway, everyone is okay now. Animals are calm and my mom had her last IV drip yesterday, so hopefully we have at least another year before the next urgent care visit!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Tangled Web

So, it's been a while, hasn't it? My attention span for blogging seems relatively low these days, which does not exactly make for long, entertaining posts (or posts of any kind, really). It's not that I don't think of things to write or even that things aren't going well. It's just that between being busy and a renewed fixation on personal journaling, not much seems to make it here.

Do you ever go through periods of extreme pensiveness, where your mind has knitted itself so tightly together that your thoughts become entangled like a knotted ball of string? Well, let me tell you that when it does, it makes it difficult to express what you think at all let alone do so in any kind of sensible way. That's where personal journals are great. They don't have to make sense. They don't need to be expurgated and they can ramble on and on, drifting here and there until your thoughts have become completely unravelled.

Anyway, there actually are some things that I have to share before they become irrelevant, so hopefully my fingers will catch up with my fit for public consumption thoughts in the next few days.

P.s. I wrote a poem and for the first time ever, I think it might actually be kinda good. Go me!