Writing about what I have been reading and encountering in the media.
WELCOME TO MY BLOG!|
For those of you who have been following, you will see that I moved my reading list into the body of the blog. I will be adding book commentary as new articles instead of listing. New entries will be the first thing you encounter. All book comments have BOOK in the title. The blog is organized chronologically. Please feel free to comment. I especially like challenging comments.
|On NPR yesterday, I heard an interview with an entomologist about recent ant research. As I remember it, the researchers briefly anesthetized ants and painted different colors on their backs with fine bristled brushes. This permitted tracking individual behavior. Observations revealed a large portion of the ant colony do nothing. They are still. Observers expect this serves some function for the colony, but to date, don’t know what function. Fascinating! It makes me want to get one of those ant farms we had as kids and paint the little buggers bums and watch. Perhaps, it would be equally interesting to observe the scientists, sitting perfectly still, wearing t-shirts with different colors and numbers apparently doing nothing as they observe the ants.
I can see the previous paragraph as a prose poem. At this point, poetry may be the most productive approach to the problem as it opens thought processes enhancing creativity. We often talk about creativity as a trait and a creation is seen as the product of the trait in action. What if inaction is actually the essential foundation of creativity? What if those ants that are still are the artists? What if they are a huge choir singing their hearts out in some very high frequency energy we have yet to discover in connection to ants? What if they generate ant poetry as a communal activity rather than the solitary context in which much, probably most human poetry emerges? What if creativity is not a trait, but is instead a form of energy available to and utilized by all living things like light and sound? Perhaps they pray.
It is clear to me that some basic assumptions about labor, about community organization and about how community gets expressed may be challenged by this extraordinary human activity of placing team member IDs on the backs of ants. Perhaps we will discover that it would be much to our advantage to have human individuals sitting on the sidelines. The fact is, we have long set aside people as priests, monks and nuns for the very purpose of reflection and attention to the invisible force we call spirit. We have excluded people designated as outsiders, but then in emergencies, turned to them for help as the USA did with African Americans during WWII.
Obviously, I will not know any more by asking these questions than I did before. I eagerly await news of the ongoing research project with ants. While I’m waiting, I wonder what would happen if I paint the various letters in my writing and watch to see what happens. They seem very still…..
|A wise therapist, Dr. John Small, once said to me “trust the process.” We discussed that, what it means, and he said it over and over as long as he was my teacher. Today, on Global Spirit (7/8/15, Link TV) a Sufi teacher said “A real question opens one’s heart and mind and makes one come alive. The question is more important than the answer. It is a process rather than a location.” He said this in a discussion titled “What is God?” The interviewees agreed that real pain is separation from the creator and its relief is found in reconnecting. As I understand it, they suggest that compassion is needed to restore that connection. Later in the discussion, someone said; “Compassion only exists in relationship to suffering. Opposition is necessary for the real creation to take place. We need both the opposition and help to deal with the struggle.”
My impression after listening to this discussion is, Suffering is separation from God. Without suffering, we would not notice our need to be one with our creator. Without separation from our creator, we would be unable to understand suffering. Compassion is learning how to reconnect by reaching out to assist in someone else’s suffering. Sitting with our own pain opens our spirit to grace and to our need to connect with others.
As a young Lutheran child, I sometimes attended church with my maternal grandparents. They took great pleasure in taking me with them and exhibited pride in me when they introduced me to their friends. They taught me how to use the hymnal, when to stand and sit, and the importance of doing the rituals together. This was very positive. It felt good to be with them, to have them teach me, to be treated as though I was special and important. When I was not with them, when I was in my ordinary daily life with my parents and brothers, neighbors and friends, and school, I often felt differently than when I was in church with them. I often felt separate, like an outsider. I developed an image of myself that described the feeling of separateness. I saw myself as an eye embedded in the earth, watching all that was within range of my vision, unable to interact or participate in any way. I wanted to see, but also, I wanted to participate. The rituals of church helped with that, but as I matured in my spiritual life, I needed more than ritual.
I decided as a young adolescent, around age 12 or 13 to talk to my pastor about this. Developmentally, it is normal to have spiritual awakening, new spiritual questions at that age. In the Bible, Jesus separated from his family while traveling and sat with the priests. So, I went to my Pastor and told him I wanted to be a minister. His response was that I couldn’t because I am female. Boom! There I was back in my eye with power only to see, but not participate. Another adolescent trait, all or nothing thinking. This challenge, this experience of separateness was not going to be fixed by ordination. I had to learn something else. And so, I became a Social Worker. For me, it was not a career choice alone. It was entering into a process to resolve my spiritual separateness.
The conversation today clarified something for me. Since Social Work is not a religious activity, how did it serve to help me with my spiritual need? It is the central role of compassion in Social Work that addresses the spiritual need for connection, not so much with others, as you might think, but with the creator. However, it is much more than that too. Watching and participating in healing is such a wonderful thing. I can’t imagine anything more wonderful than that. Healing is the entry of grace into the being that receives it. Healing is not limited to humans, but instead, is universal among living things, and perhaps in the mineral world as well.
I have never reached a stopping place with this process. I cannot imagine a stopping place exists. In this way, I agree that the process is all there is, and, that in trusting it, I can participate in healing and through this, receive grace.
|When I was a child, I always had my own money because I delivered newspapers. My parents let me figure out for myself how to manage my earnings. At age 5, when I started with a 3 person route, I spent much, if not all of my $.52 per week income in the variety store and a lot of it went to penny candy. Over time, I realized there were other things I wanted and changed my habits. I even participated in buying my own Saxophone on time paying $5.00 a month to my dad who added to it and paid the store. There came a time when lending became an issue. I no longer remember the specific event, but I loaned someone something and didn’t get paid back. I made a rule for myself: “only loan money you can afford to do without.” I have stuck to that rule with good outcome. Some people repay and some don’t and I am okay either way because I made a clear decision about loaning in the first place. So, when we had the 2008 banking crisis, it was pretty clear to me that the banks had made bad choices about loaning. Now, the EU is facing another banking crisis with Greece. Portugal and Spain are watching. So, I found the following article very interesting: “GREECE JUST TAUGHT CAPITALISTS A LESSON ABOUT WHAT CAPITALISM REALLY MEANS” by JIM EDWARDS Jul. 5, 2015, in Business Insider
Mr. Edwards reports this situation is the result of the public European bank taking on Goldman Sachs’ private bad debt with Greece and making it a public loan. The article talks about how debt works in a capitalist economy. It is good information and worth considering as an American voter concerned about the government relationship to private banking. Mr. Edwards points out that loans are “risks” betting that the borrower will pay it back, but in this case, the loans were made with evidence that Greece would be unable to pay it back. It does not mention the forces that motivated the bank to make the loans in the first place and actually makes Goldman Sachs look pretty stupid. Then, when the EU took on the debt, they also had ample evidence that Greece could not pay it back. Germany spearheaded efforts to cause re-structuring of the Greek economy, but these didn’t work because the economy is based entirely on small business, unlike the German economy. I suspect there is very interesting back story to be had. In any case, I liked the article for its explanation of risk and lending in capitalism.
The EU has a mixture of economies with various levels of Socialism in their various Democracies. They could describe the problem from a more socialist perspective, but it is often described from a capitalist perspective. This tug of war over what priority to place on the public good and how to handle the responsibility for the public good has been a part of human organization from the beginning of time. I wish we could be more rational about it. I wish we had access to more public debate in the media without emotional outbursts and people talking over each other on the topic. I suspect this drama, too, is something that will always be present in our society. Meanwhile, socialist, social democratic, and capitalistic organizations alike must come to grips with the problem of risk in lending, and balancing this with the public good in order to have a healthy economy. It isn’t easy, and we, the average voters struggle to understand any of it. Happy reading, everyone!
|“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
It is a pleasure to ponder this brief statement of intention on this Independence Day. It is a pleasure to say I am part of the We who are The People of the United States of America. It’s not pride so much as comfort that I have a home among people who want to work together to achieve such lofty goals. It is with gratitude that I acknowledge just how difficult this work is and has been for the past 236+ years. I also acknowledge with gratitude that each citizen, past and present has and continues to contribute in one way or another to the effort. We have smaller groups with whom we identify, families, people with common interests, fellow workers, people like us, and each of these groups works in one way or another toward these goals. We want to show our gratitude, but no matter how hard we try, it seems someone gets left out. So my goal with this writing is to publish a huge Thank You Everybody in America for doing your part. I hope you have each had a pleasant moment reflecting on your citizenship today.
|About the book, Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2015.
This is the final work of Kent Haruf as he has passed on. I had not heard of him, but was browsing in Barnes & Noble and read on the back of the book that Ursula Le Guin recommended the book, I figured it would be worth reading. It turned out to be a good choice.
In this novel, the author presents two main characters, both widowed, who have lived in the same neighborhood for most of their adult lives. It opens with Addie Moore visiting Louis Waters, whom she hardly knows, though she knew his wife, with an interesting proposition to cope with the loneliness of old age and widowhood. The book tells the story of the results of the choice they both make in very simple language. Along the way, their adult children enter, a 6 year old grandson, and some interactions with neighbors.
This book reminds me of The Bridges of Madison County, the first novel in a trilogy by Robert James Waller, published in 1992. Like Our Souls at Night, Mr. Waller’s story is a compelling, down to earth romance, and, as I recall, has a similar style. I was also reminded of a clinical book I read some years ago, Stories That Heal: Reparenting Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families Using Hypnotic Stories in Psychotherapy by Lee Wallas, W.W. Norton & Co. 1991. Wallas presents a clinical approach of using stories during a period of deep relaxation in the therapy room to help clients heal from trauma. Wallas makes use of the suggestibility common in people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder originating from child abuse as a strength, or ally, in the healing process. With this approach, therapist prompts client into relaxation using a focusing protocol, and when the client is fully relaxed, the therapist uses guided imagery, the same one each time, followed by a new short story. Each story is a brief description of appropriate parenting starting with pregnancy and moving through childhood. Wallas’s writing style in the healing stories is very similar to Kent Haruf’s style, and so, Our Souls at Night has a mildly suggestive quality, presenting pictures of true intimacy between two 70+year olds. As such, it is excellent bedtime reading. The images are compelling enough that I awakened this morning with my first thoughts focusing on the book. When that happens, I think I have found something truly worth reading.
|There has been a lot of talk about the apocalypse, the second coming, the end of days in the media. Today, I ponder this. When I moved to the Ozarks I soon heard the word “rapture.” When it was defined for me, I was quite puzzled. Why were people talking about it so much? I never really learned the answer. It would be fun to research. Meanwhile, I have thought a lot about that and about my experience of Christianity.
As a small child, I learned the song “Jesus Loves Me.” It was such a warm and comforting thing to know that a total stranger loves me no matter what, and I could trust that was so because “the Bible tells me so.” What a happy life for a child, until the other learning comes along, like you can’t trust strangers and you can’t even trust some people you know. I learned this from their actions. Then there were the rules and codicils: Jesus loves you only if you confess your sins and turn away from sin; you can’t be ordained into the ministry because you are female, no matter what you do; if someone hurts you and you tell, you will be asked “and what did you do to make him hurt you like that?”; God speaks to you in your heart, but you will never receive new truth or knowledge from God because it was all revealed 1700 years ago and put into a book called the Bible; and, love your neighbor always has exceptions. There are many others. Very slowly, the church became more of a source of hurt than of comfort, but, the song did not. I realized somewhere along the way that Jesus loves you is true, no matter what, and thank goodness for that. How would I have survived all of the rejection without that?
As an adult I pondered the “death on the cross for your sins.” I am horrified by the gruesomeness of the image. If God would kill his son because I sinned, how could I live with that? I can’t stop making mistakes of judgment. As soon as I get one under control, another pops up. And, I study and practice Social Work. All of the research into social learning is contrary to the idea that use of aversives and fear of aversives is the best teacher. How do I reconcile the opposites present in the story as it was presented to me? How do I love and trust a god that kills his son, no matter what the reason? How do I trust that all wisdom is in a book put together by men (not one woman,) and the wisdom of women was deliberately excluded? How do I find my way through all these contradictions?
I looked at the Bible I was presented at my confirmation. It was a “red letter edition” of the King James translation of the Bible. I read the red parts. It became clear to me that Jesus is not quoted anywhere as saying he was going to die for my sins. When asked “what is the greatest commandment?” he is quoted as saying “the first, love your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your spirit, and the second, like unto it, love your neighbor as yourself.” Well, that is much more understandable. And, there are all the stories of Jesus welcoming and loving all of his neighbors equally. Here is my answer. The church can really confuse all of this.
I quit attending because I was sick of the pain, the confusion, and the gruesomeness.
I really miss church, the music, the liturgy, and the conversations I had there. But I can’t truthfully say the Apostles Creed. I can’t say that I believe Jesus died for my sins. I don’t think he did. I think he lived to help me with my humanity. I don’t want to focus on life after death. That is relevant to death, but not to life. I don’t believe God will judge “the quick and the dead.” I believe God loves me, like the song says.
|According to CBS, reporting that their information was from government statistics, there are 31 fires in faith related buildings every week in the USA, and 16% are arson. This includes some funeral homes. No records are kept of ethnicity or race. So, what seemed like an outbreak was probably not as significant as it seemed. However, three are considered arson, and another remains under investigation. Of the 7 churches, in question, one no longer housed a congregation. The FBI denies finding evidence of hate crime or terrorism. I hope this is accurate. It makes me wonder, though, what is causing all those fires? A visiting friend asked, laughing, “Is that because so much of the work is done by volunteers?” It also makes me wonder, if there are that many church fires, why have I seen so few? I know the church of my childhood was burned, some time after the congregation abandoned it to move into a new, much larger building. I think that is about all I’ve known. Is it comforting to learn this information? I think churches need to meet fire codes like hospitals and schools. I bet some do get regular fire inspections, just to be on the safe side. I wonder if they are required anywhere. It is amazing where the mind can go. I think I’ve gone as far as I want today. I hope to have a new topic tomorrow.
|Another predominantly black church burned this evening in South Carolina. It seems highly improbable that this would be coincidence. I can’t imagine what purpose an arsonist would expect the fires to serve. I’ve read many comments on Facebook about possible culprits including Vladimir Putin, ISIS, God, the weather, and angry white men. There are many conspiracy theories. The way that I agree with them is that it looks like terrorism. Personally, I put my hope on the FBI to figure out what is happening and my confidence in the body of spiritually focused citizens to work together to get this stopped. Meanwhile, I wish I could follow the idea of moving my RV into the parking lot of one of the churches that appear to be at risk to keep a constant presence. Unfortunately, I have no RV.
I am trying to figure out what this really is about. It started with the mass murder in Charleston. Then, a lot of talk about removing the Confederate Flags from public buildings and a lot of opinions about the symbolism of those flags. With the churches burning, it seems to suggest the truth of history is the truth today: that flag is about racism, just as it was when created. There certainly is a lot of rage and anguish slamming around like a bouncing meteor and all of it is happening under the “Star of Bethlehem.” It kind of makes one wonder. Right now, as I face north, because that is how my chair is situated in the house, I wish I knew the correct direction to face, the right words to say, the right number of times to say them to get this stopped. As usual, it seems that playing my recording of Hildegard Von Bergen music with the lighting of a candle is my best option. And so, it will be.
|Thinking of the burned black churches in the American South, I can almost smell the soot, feel the anxiety of those Christians confused, wondering if hate took their church home from them, or, looking at their in-tact churches fearing losing their spiritual shelter. I saw photos of one church, its sagging organ drenched in ashes and hose water, the cross still hanging over the burned altar, the wall built to protect the spiritual life inside, gone, lying in shambles on the ground. Whatever forces are doing this have no right. It feels like the 1960’s resurrected and crying out. I would roll in the ashes, rub them on my face and in my hair and trail around town saying this song:
Burn my church
The black and white keys to music
Burn the cross from the roof
The step up to the altar
The altar itself
But you can’t burn the gifts
That have flowed from that altar
From those pews
From those voices raised in praise
And try as you might
You cannot burn away
The love and grace common to us all
That ties us to our Father, God,
Our creator, yours and mine,
The DNA that makes us brothers and sisters.
|Yesterday, the net rang with celebration and disgust over the two Supreme Court decisions this week dealing with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare,) and same sex marriage. I enjoyed jumping into the talk with my opinions. I feel more hopeful today than when I last posted. Perhaps we really are moving toward greater mutual respect and inclusiveness. I just wish I could be more effective at reaching those who feel insulted, shut out, and downright frightened by the process. They say things like “you will get yours on judgment day,” and “this country will suffer the wrath of God.” They seem to truly fear we will all be struck down by lightening or something. They say things that suggest the judgment I face will be judgment on them, too. When I say “you need not worry about my judgment day,” they make no response. I had someone accuse me of hating FOX news. I had made no mention of FOX news at any time in our dialogue, so I was totally at a loss. I commented about that but got no response. There are many posts on Facebook about all of the horrendous things the USA has done to Native Americans, Africans, Japanese, and the environment asking how marriage equality and increased access to healthcare is terrible in comparison. I see responses only from people who agree. It seems that reason just alienates the fearful people.
In the midst of all the talk about ACA and marriage equality, there has been a mass murder in the oldest AME church in Charleston, SC which triggered talk about the flying of the “Confederate Flag.” We have received and shared factual information about the history of the Confederacy, of the Civil War and its relationship to slavery, and the history of the flag that never was the official Confederate flag. We have been educated about the history of the AME church and the particular congregation where the shooting took place. We have witnessed the removal of the Confederate flag from Statehouse poles, and several large merchandisers, including Wal Mart and Amazon stopped the sale of the flags. Now, there are reports of black churches being burned in the south. This is the saddest thing of all. People who claim that God is the center of their belief system are burning churches, houses of worship of the God they claim to respect. I can see that their hearts and spirits are on fire: they seem to lack even the basics of self-respect and concern for their neighbor encouraged by the scripture of their faith. They seem unable to identify with the basic document of their nation, The Constitution of the United States of America. In the middle of my increased hopefulness that all, including them, will feel more welcome and valued here, they seem to feel less hope.
The nine people shot in the AME church in Charleston stood in their faith as they faced the terror of their end. At the funeral of that church pastor, President Obama sang “Amazing Grace” with all his heart in his human, imperfect voice, and the people around him joined in that lovely musical meditation on Grace. I remember at the end of the many worship services I have attended: “May the Grace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.” And thus, the President reminded me that peace comes through Grace and Grace is hanging around us in every direction at all times. There is a family photo of me and one of my brothers picking grapes. I was a toddler wearing a very simple feed-sack dress and my brother, not quite two years older, had on shorts. The grapes look very large in my small hand. I imagine Grace is like that: when received by my little child hand, it is large and round and sweet. I hope that sometime, the people who are so fearful and angry will reach out with their child hands and receive “the Grace of God which passes all understanding,” and I hope I can always stand firm in my faith even in the face of certain death.