Sunday, June 23, 2013

Aunt BeaN: The Fruitcake Years

If you didn't think I was kooky before, this one will probably do it.

So I've told you before that I went through a New Age phase when I was searching for "My Path" back in my early 30s.  I had stopped attending an Evangelical church in my mid-20s, but I was still looking around for a spiritual practice that worked for me.

When we moved to Montana, I found a great group of like-minded friends, and we tried all kinds of stuff. Some of it was bizarre and off-the-wall, some of it was genuinely moving.  We learned about crystals and stones, we dried herbs and combined them for our own personal herbal magyk, we made deerskin-covered hoop drums and had drumming nights, we learned to do rituals based on the correspondences of the four elements/directions, we learned about tarot and had our astrological charts made, we had our chakras balanced and we did guided meditations to recover our past life experiences.

We met weekly for awhile with a woman who channeled "the Christ energy" (remember Selena?),  we went to hear lectures by a guy who passed along wisdom from ancient Sumerian Sanskrit texts. We went to New Moon rituals off and on for a couple of years led by a woman who channeled the goddess Binah (a freaking goddess who gave a friend advice about starting up her new business, down to the business name and the logo)(if I were a goddess, I guarantee I would have better things to do than think about somebody else's business cards). I'm sure that's not even the whole list.  It's just what I remember off the top of my head.

But in the end, it was a little too out-there for me.  I remember one time just starting to laugh in exasperation when one of my New Age friends brought up something about wisdom from the ancient Atlanteans. "Do we have to fall for every single thing?" I asked her.  "Do we just throw skepticism to the wind and believe every crazy idea anybody tells us?" and she looked at me blankly, because somebody she knew had received wisdom from the ancient Atlanteans and she didn't see any reason to question that.  But I did.

Some of the things I learned were really meaningful to me, and some of it I still use, although I've incorporated it into a more traditional set of beliefs (more about that another time).  And some of it was batshit crazy.  I don't see those folks anymore, partly because I never quite fit in --I was there more out of curiosity than because I really believed this stuff, and I refused to completely give up my skepticism or my education. I was fascinated and often inspired, but I picked through everything and only kept the things that made sense to me.

But the main reason I don't see those friends anymore is simply because most of them moved away.  I miss them.  Even though my skepticism kept me on the outskirts of the group, it's the only time in my life I've found a group of people who were similarly dedicated to figuring things out--spiritual things.  Why are we here? What does it mean to be a spiritual being?  When you join a small group at a church, the discussions tend to be bound by the dogma of the church.  Both the blessing and the eventual end of my involvement with the New Age folks stemmed from the idea that there were no boundaries.  We were willing to explore just about anything. Ultimately the "All Light All the Time" philosophy didn't cut it for me, but sometimes I miss those days and those friends.  I really do.  There was a lot of joyful exuberant enthusiasm for spiritual pursuits that I've never encountered anywhere else.

And once again I've spent so long typing out the setup that I haven't made it to the thing I was going to say.  But this is probably long enough for today.

(This has been sitting in my drafts folder for over a month, because I know some of you have no patience with this kind of stuff.  But my well of things-to-blog-about has run dry, so here you go.  Don't leave.  Please.)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Riffday: expressing multiple attitudes simultaneously

1.  PellMel and I went to Bozeman last weekend to find her an apartment.  Success!  Everything is so much cheaper than it was when she was renting in Seattle that really, it felt like everything we saw was awesome.  We had a great time, but it was many-mucho hours in the car.  My butt hurts.  Ever the audiobook fans, we listened to Divergent by Veronica Roth.  It made the time go by but it seemed so derivative--how many YA books now have started with some kind of sorting/choosing ceremony?  The Hunger Games, City of Ember, The Giver, even Harry Potter.  It just seemed like a re-hash of all the post-apocalyptic novels out there.  PellMel liked it better than I did, though, so maybe I just wasn't in the mood.

2.  So, when I went in to talk to the Continuing Ed people about teaching non-credit classes, they asked me if I would be interested in teaching "senior seminars," which are courses that meet weekly for three weeks about topics (presumably) of interest to senior citizens.  I said Sure!! and then they e-mailed me a few days later and asked if I would teach Native American Montana literature. *pause* ummm... okaaay.... I guess?  So I did what I always do when faced with something I need to learn fast, which is start googling and then read like a madwoman.  I went to the library yesterday afternoon and came home with a two-foot high stack of books.  I suspect I will be reading Native American lit all summer.  I have to get a course outline to them by the end of next week, puh-leez let me know if you have any advice.  Since they also approved the two courses I proposed before, I'm on tap to teach three entirely different topics in the space of about two and a half months in the fall.  Yikes.  It never rains but it pours.

3.  I never did a May reading report, did I?  Probably because I didn't read all that much.  The month started with that trip to D.C., in honor of which I read A Very Short Introduction to the Supreme Court (by Linda Greenhouse), which was actually pretty interesting and informative.  For some reason I've always been fascinated by the Supreme Court.  Etiquette and Espionage (Gail Carriger) was the book that broke my New Year's resolution to not buy any novels this year.  It was fun.  It's a young adult novel about a girl who thinks she's being sent away to finishing school but really it's a school for spies-in-training.  It's a terrific idea, but I found myself wishing she had spent more time fleshing out what was being taught at the school.  I suspect she was trying to avoid creating Hogwarts-for-spies (although she kind of did anyway)(not that I minded).  It's not the world's best writing, but if you want a fun book to read on vacation, it will fill the bill.  The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan.  I enjoyed The Lightning Thief and its sequels, and Lost Hero is the start of a new series set in the same world.  It started out well, but in the end it was disappointing.  Riordan sadly seems to have joined the ranks of the write-a-book-every-six-months crowd-- Lost Hero felt really boilerplate.  It had a few good moments, but it didn't interest me enough to convince me to move on to the sequel.  It occurred to me that it read more like an outline for a movie than an actual novel.  You don't need a beautifully written book if you can make a multi-million dollar movie deal and then let the movie makers do your work for you.  I'm completely positive that I read more books than that during the month of May but I can't think of a single other thing at the moment other than re-reads.

4.  The chickens are back to laying 5-6 eggs per day again.  I'm considering going over to the the mall and leaving eggs in any car with the windows open.

5.  We finally made it to see Star Trek: Into Darkness this week.  I loved it.  It way exceeded my expectations.  We made the kids sit through Wrath of Khan and "The Menagerie" parts 1 & 2 a couple of weeks ago (and also "The City at the Edge of Forever" which is my favorite original series episode), and we may have a couple of nascent Star Trek fanatics on our hands.  Not that we mind.  We can spend all next winter watching ST reruns.

6.  Have I ever told you that I have a Superman thing?  More about that another time, maybe.  I'm half-dreading, half-anticipating the new Superman movie that comes out this weekend.  We'll see.

7.  I adapted the post I wrote about joy a couple of weeks ago and it is up at the WEBS blog today.  I cleaned it up a bit and added a couple of thoughts, check it out if you have time!  Have a great weekend!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

summer payoff

I spend so much time griping about the weather in March and April that I thought I should say in writing that it has been so spectacularly gorgeous here this past week that it's like paradise.

And an aside that may or may not be related:  after spending most of March and April with a headache, I felt great during May and June is going pretty well, too.  MadMax finished school on Wednesday, so it is officially summer around here. *happy happy*

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, June 06, 2013

rightly handling the word of truth, part 2

I think I've told you before that I spent my first two years of undergrad at an Evangelical college. While there, I took several semester-long Bible classes, and I loved them.  Within the confines of what they were allowed to teach, those guys (because they were all guys) were amazingly innovative and thoughtful.  I've been grateful for the experience ever since.

I remember one professor telling us the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, and pointing out that they were the very first humans to take the word of God and embellish it.  God tells Adam (before Eve is created) that he should not eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, because if he does, he will surely die.

Then God decides that it is not good for Adam to be alone, so he creates Eve to keep Adam company.  Adam must have relayed God's instructions to her, because when the serpent--who was more crafty than the other beasts of the field--comes to visit, it is Eve who responds to his questions about what they are allowed to eat.
The serpent said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 
Did you catch the change?  God didn't say they couldn't touch the fruit, just that they couldn't eat it.  I realize that there are all kinds of interesting/difficult/maddening things about this story that we could be distracted by, but the professor's point was just this:  the human tendency to take words that God intended one way and then to embellish them or twist them out of context or use them to make an irrelevant point-- that tendency has been there from the very beginning.  When you start batting verses around, you have to be very careful.  Me, included.  We have to remember that the verses aren't the point.  Which brings us to:

part 2 of part 2.  Remember a few posts back when I talked about how uncomfortable it makes me to post personal stuff?  So I'm burying this in the second half of part 2 of a post that most people are going to skip because .....  Because.

So part of the reason I keep harping on all this is because it drives me crazy that the whole basis of Christianity is love and grace, but we want to put all kinds of conditions on that.  God* loves us and accepts us exactly as we are, entirely as we are, no ifs, no buts, no expectations for change.  So why are we using words on a page, words that can be twisted and changed and embellished, to create divisions and boundaries, lines of demarcation about who is acceptable to God and who isn't?  Well, yes, God loves you, BUT you have to change.  Well, yes, God loves you, but you aren't OK unless you....(fill in the blank).  Well, sure, God loves you, but he'd love you more if you fit in better.

That's not the deal.  It's bullshit, you know?  It's a load of crapola.  Those lines are created by flawed human beings.

But you know what I've been figuring out this week?  I haven't been willing to extend that same grace to myself.  I know all that, and I'm willing to argue that on other people's behalf, but I've been assuming at some very basic, not-quite-conscious level that I'm no longer acceptable to God because I no longer fit inside the boundaries of what I used to believe.

I think I've started to get it.  Twice this week I've burst into tears (thankfully when I was alone) as this began to sink in.  It's occurring to me God might be OK with the way I've turned out.  It's even possible that God might be OK with it when I poke and prod and question and decide I can't go along with the orthodox opinion anymore.  I am still God's beloved child.

It surprises the hell out of me.

(to which I can hear my dad respond:  "Literally."  Ha.)

* as always, define God however you want here.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

rightly handling the word of truth, part 1

(Remember a couple of posts back when I told you I was going to post some stuff that was pretty nit-picky about how Christians think?  This one and the next one are those posts, so move right along if it's a topic that doesn't interest you.)

So I've been thinking about another post by John Shore, and it will work much better for what I was trying to say, which just kept getting more and more convoluted when I was using the homosexuality example.  You know by now how strongly I feel about that issue, but it isn't the point I want to make in this post, and I kept getting distracted by how strongly I feel about it.  Much to my fascination, Mr. Shore's blog has surprised me into realizing how capable I am of still thinking like an Evangelical. I don't respond as an Evangelical, but apparently I still remember how to think the way I did thirty years ago, because it happens automatically without me even trying to recall it.

Anyway.  Mr. Shore's post is about whether or not Christians should marry non-Christians.  Once you've left the Evangelical mindset behind, the question is only mildly thought-provoking.  Of course Christians can marry non-Christians, and maybe that will be a problem in their marriage, or maybe not.  Maybe it will be the least of their problems.  There are inter-faith marriages all over the place.  I know from talking to people in inter-faith marriages that it can be painful and stressful--one friend I know found it very hurtful that her husband wouldn't accompany her to church under any circumstances, even when it was very important to her that he do so (and they did end up divorcing, although for far more complicated reasons than just that).  But other people I know seem to manage it OK.

Mr. Shore agrees, but he bases his argument on verses in the Bible that don't apply--and this is where I find myself still capable of thinking like an Evangelical.  I completely agree with his point-- there are other factors more important than whether or not both partners are Christian in deciding whether or not to get married.  But the verses he uses to illustrate his point are taken out of context.  He quotes Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul is urging spouses who converted to Christianity after their marriage not to leave their partner, because through them their partner might be saved.  Pulling the verses out of context, Mr. Shore points out that if Paul was OK with Christians and non-Christians being married, we should be, too.

Evangelicals use a different verse (2 Corinthians 6.14) to show what a bad idea it is to marry a non-Christian:  "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?"  But interestingly, in using that verse, Evangelicals are doing the same thing as Mr. Shore-- pulling it out of context.  The verse doesn't refer to marriage--Paul is talking about idolators, and there is nothing about marriage, home, or family life in the surrounding verses.  He is talking about ministry.  But to the Evangelical mind, the restriction is clear enough and would certainly include marriage.  In fact, the restriction is so universally taken for granted among Evangelicals that it is enough to just use the phrase "unequally yoked" to invoke the whole idea that Christians shouldn't marry non-Christians.

See how complicated this gets?  It's one of the main reasons I left Evangelicalism and inerrancy* behind.  Because once you start arguing from specific verses, it's difficult NOT to start splitting hairs, taking things out of context, and misconstruing the author's intent.  If I were an Evangelical, Mr. Shore's argument would have no effect on me at all, because he's using verses out of context that are therefore irrelevant.  But the verses that I used to form my opinion are also taken out of context.  It's just that the Evangelical idea that Christians should not marry non-Christians is so firmly entrenched in tradition, nationalism, ethnography, and even racism that it comes across with the power of ordained truth.  "Rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2.15) turns out to be much more complicated than it sounds.

I'm not linking to Mr. Shore's post because I'm hoping he's disappeared by now. I don't want to argue with him, I just want to write out what I've been thinking about.  If you want to read it, it's easy enough to find by googling John Shore.

*inerrancy: the belief that the Bible is the literal Word of God, and that every word of it is intended for today's reader just as if it had been written specifically for that reader.