Tuesday, August 28, 2007

homeschool blues

I've been homeschooling one or more of my children for over a decade. Last year, Declan went to public school for the first time. That transition has been positive and I'm really glad we made the choice. His world has expanded and he's a much happier person than he had been becoming, more well-rounded and social.

When we decided to send him to school, we didn't really feel there was any choice. I mean, he could have continued "homeschooling" but he hadn't really been learning much of anything for quite some time and we just spent all our time arguing. It was unpleasant and stifling for him. I had a lot of fears surrounding sending him to school-fears for his safety, for his ability to adapt (particularly because the school he had to go to, the school we're zoned for, is a weird mixture of urban and rural with a strong ROTC program and on the list of "failing" schools), but also fears about my having homeschooled him, fears that he would not be able to fit in socially or academically because he had been homeschooled and I would be forced to find out I had failed him.

Needless to say, the transition has been good. My fears were mostly unfounded.

I've continued to homeschool Zed. He's 12 and on the cusp of adolescence. I've been noticing a gradual increase in mouthiness from him. He's always been of a pretty sunny disposition but lately, he's been somewhat negative and cynical. The teenage years are looming large. We began doing school work this week. He has never taken criticism well, constructive or otherwise. When a problem or mistake is pointed out which requires correction, he freaks-going off into yelling, muttering, slamming, stomping, etc. He's always been "sensitive" in that way but he seems to be getting worse. I've never found an effective way of communicating with him that circumvents the temper tantrums. A little while ago, one of his assignments needed some correction and he began storming. He did the same yesterday over something.

I don't think I can do this any more. I've been fighting with one child or another on an almost daily basis for 5 years or longer. The problem is that the middle school we are zoned for is another really bad school. It's physical shape is decrepit and it gets really poor scores on the school assessments. Z is different from D. D can hold his own; he is independent to the point of aloofness. Z is a people person and much more sensitive. And he has golden-blond hair, blue eyes and freckles. I'm really afraid that if he goes to that school, he will become a target. I'm probably projecting a lot of my own issue because I was picked on incessantly in junior high and I can't stand the thought of the same thing happening to my sweet child. On the other hand, I can hardly stand the thought of my sweet child and I spending the whole year battling over everything.

I'm not sure what will happen. I've tried talking with Zed, telling him how his behavior is affecting me. I hope he can really hear me and know how difficult this is for all of us. I want to do what is best for him but I really am not at all sure what that is.

The Farm Bill Food Battle!

This just in from Free Range!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Gollum Nature

Last night I stayed up late with my older boys watching The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. I'd seen the first one a few years ago, but hadn't seen this one before. It was full of warring and bloody fighting. I read the trilogy probably close to 25 years ago and don't remember much about it; especially not the 2nd or 3rd books. Fantasy writing of this type doesn't do much for me.

In this installment of the story, Frodo and Sam are on their way to Isengard to throw the ring into the volcano. Gollum has been following them with the intention of getting back his "precious". He attacks Frodo and Sam and they subdue him and tie him up. As they continue on their journey, Gollum begs to be untied and swears on his precious that he will obey Frodo. Gollum begins to call Frodo "Master" and leads Frodo and Sam through the Dead Marshes to the Black Gate. As they travel, Frodo begins to feel compassion for Gollum and remembers something Gandalf had told him about Gollum. Frodo starts to look for the good in Gollum (what we Quakers call "that of God") and asks Gollum if he is the one that was once called Smeagol. This allows Gollum/Smeagol to connect with the human/hobbit (or whatever) half of his nature and respond to Frodo's kindnesses. But throughout the rest of the journey, he is in almost constant conflict between his two natures. He often has arguments with himself about "getting back his precious from those thieving hobbitses" versus "trusting his master". During this same time, the ring is having a negative affect on Frodo, causing his judgement to be blurred while Sam tries to keep him on the path.

As I sat and thought about this movie, it occurred to me that the character I most relate to is Smeagol/Gollum. I'd like to think of myself as having the bravery and heroic nature of Aragorn or the purity of heart of Frodo, even the loyalty of Sam or the wisdom of Gandalf but truly, what I have is the grasping, clinging, conflicted nature of Smeagol/Gollum.

I want to follow my Master, to trust but I find myself constantly obsessing about my precious-in my case this is my will: I want what I want. When I think about what stands between me and God I know that it is me. I know what is best. I am in control. My heart knows this is not true but my will has the pull of my precious, always controlling and directing my thoughts; affecting all my actions. My Smeagol heart wants to trust and follow God, my Master, but my Gollum nature doesn't want to give up control.

It's easy to say "if only I had the purity of Frodo then I could"... or "if I could be as brave as"... or as wise as...or whatever. I think the one of the beauties in these books is that each creature completely accepts it's own nature, and, until the bad guys want dominion over everything, they live, more or less, in harmony. Of course, Gollum didn't start out Gollum. Gollum began as Smeagol with a hobbit nature and was corrupted by his obsession with his precious.

I know that God has given me a path to walk. I don't believe in destiny or "predestination" or whatever but I do believe that I am doing God's work in this world. Letting God guide me is the only way for me to become aware and let go of my ego.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bits and Pieces

When my kids were toddlers, I expected to never have a moment to myself. I got used to (but never happy about) reading things a paragraph at a time. For several years I gave up on adult books and mostly read magazine articles because attempting to read a novel was a lesson in frustration. I even tried books on tape but I would have to rewind so often that I would forget what was happening and, eventually, have to give the book back to the library.
My kids are older. Declan is 16 and gone for 6-10 hours a day (school has started but this week they've been going half days because of the heat-go figure). The house is quieter when he is gone but, this week anyway, he's been bringing friends home with him so things get really noisy when he comes in. Zed is 12 and usually good about taking responsibility for his daily "school" work (assigned at the beginning of each week). Carmac is 4 and perfectly capable of entertaining himself for long stretches of time. So, why is it that in the time it has taken me to write this paragraph, I have been interrupted probably 20 times? You'd think my kids never got to spend any quality time with me the way they clamor for my attention. A couple of sentences ago, Carmac was trying to get my attention by saying once "Mom" and then tugging on my earloaf (what he calls earlobes). Grrrr.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mama May Have, Papa May Have, But God Bless the Child Who's Got His Own

I think the link between the topic of the magazines with that of my job is what I learn of people and power from each. In this job, especially this project, which deals with income and where individuals fit in the economy, has shown me, up close and in intimate detail, how absolutely unjust our society is. I mean, I knew how it was, but the last few months I've been talking with a few of the people who have become mind-bogglingly wealthy in this economy and to some people who are at the very bottom of it.

So far, every one of the wealthy people have gotten that way by creating a business that is in the medical field (I have two interviews set up for this coming week with wealthy men; lets see if the trend follows). Several of the individuals I've interviewed, lower-class folks and some middle-class ones, do not have health insurance because they can't afford it. The wealthy people seemed like nice people, kind people. They all give a lot of money to charities and seem like they would never deliberately hurt another person but I can't imagine they would support a change in the structure of our health care system. Maybe I'm wrong, but I doubt they would willingly go from this for-profit way of providing health care to a system which allowed all citizens access to the same health care unless they could see some way to make lots of money out of it. The rich men running insurance companies are certainly never going to support those changes. Unless the wealthy back the needed change, I can't see the change ever happening. Our country is too splintered, too divided by other issues and self-satisfied individualism to unite into a grass-roots, populist movement to make any positive changes. The "I've got mine/bootstraps" mentality rules, I'm afraid.

There's that cynicism again.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Good Work

I received my every-other monthly issues of Mother Jones and Utne Reader magazines day before yesterday and finished them both yesterday. I think I'm going to have to stop reading Mother Jones. I appreciate what the editorial staff does. We-the world-needs progressive investigative journalism. Mother Jones sheds light on corruption and abuse in the government, corporations and the world. I want to stay informed. I want to know about injustice and to learn about the backgrounds of people, companies and issues that impact my world. But geez...I get so depressed reading that magazine.

I'm generally not a worrier. My attitude is to affect change where I can and let the rest go. I'm naturally a cynic but I'm fairly optimistic. But when I read Mother Jones I get overwhelmed by how corrupt our government is, how individuals in corporations make decisions to use natural resources for a profit, including humans, and throw them away. Greed. Greed. Greed for profit, for power. As I read through the magazine I get to feeling that there's almost no point in trying to do anything because the odds are so against making any kind of positive change.

Utne is better. They do occasionally print some articles of an investigative nature culled from other publications but they try to focus on what's positive; what we can do to make the world a better place. I don't feel disheartened or overwhelmed when I read Utne. Sometimes I feel really positive, hopeful even, like when I read about progressive politics in other areas of the country.
This project I'm doing for work is at it's half-way mark but for me, it's winding down. I still have 34 cases but most of them I have phone numbers for so I don't have to leave the house to work. At this point I'm working maybe 10 hours a week and, because they want the work to be done by phone and pretty much anyone could make these phone calls from anywhere in the country, my new field manager could take my case load from me at any time if she feels it would me more efficient to do so. They hired a bunch of interviewers specifically to do phone work for this project so I won't have the opportunity to have to work longer in that capacity.

So, I'm thinking about looking for another job. The field manager I had just left to train for another project and she said she would love me to work with her on it, which is nice, but I don't want to sit around waiting for a phone call. This job is so disruptive: At the beginning I work 40 hours for weeks and am "on-call" pretty much 24/7 and then the hours taper away to next to nothing but still I'm on-call all the time. I'm tired of the constant disruption of my schedule. Working from home and setting my own hours is wonderful but the work is always there, waiting. I find it hard to relax when I'm not working, assuming, in the back of my mind, that there's work I should be doing. I think I'd like a job that I feel is doing good work but that I can forget when I leave the office.

I must go to work right now but I will write more about this later...

Friday, August 17, 2007


I'm reading two books right now. One of them I requested from the library. We're talking about going to Ireland next year so I was going through the catalogue and found this book by Maureen Concannon:

When I went to the library to pick that one up, I stumbled upon this book on the new release shelf:

At first, one might not think that these two books have much in common but I began reading both of them the same day and they relate so well. Both are about the power of women and how women's voices and contributions, feminine energy, have been suppressed throughout history. The Sacred Whore is written by a Jungian psychotherapist who believes the image of Sheela na gig is needed by people today to bring back the sacred divine and help balance the masculine energy which dominates the world. Sheela na gig can help us tap into the awareness of the birth/death/rebirth cycle through the various images of the Sheela as maiden/mother/hag. I learned a great deal about the history of Irish spirituality (and it's almost total suppression by the Catholic church).

Judy Chicago is an artist. I'd read about her works but I've never seen any of them, although I really would love to. I've been reading about "The Dinner Party" for years and had seen one or two pictures but had no idea how beautiful and awesomely detailed and full of life it is. "The Dinner Party" is an art instillation; it's huge. It's a giant triangular table with place settings for strong women (and goddesses) from the beginning of human time. Each place setting is unique to the woman. Each plate is ceramic and hand made and painted with colors and symbols representing her. The table runners are all hand-embroidered, again with much symbolism, and are breathtaking. Judy Chicago's thing is to take crafts associated with women and discounted as women's work which she uses to make beautiful works of art. Beading, embroidery, tapestries. Her work speaks to my eyes, heart, soul and mind (and hands-I know I'd want to touch it, if I ever got to see it).

In the book The Dinner Party, the author spends two pages telling about each place setting and the woman honored by it but then spends a couple of pages writing about other women who did the same kind of work or embodied the same attitudes or had the same kind of awareness as the woman on the place setting at roughly the same time in history but in various places around the world. This book is a fabulous text for women's history (I'm thinking about maybe creating a class for teens and adults based on this book. We'd study art, women's history, geography, world history. We'd make our own ways of honoring women we admire by creating our own works of art).
God is not male nor female but is both and all. We are all made in God's image. A great deal of my understanding and awareness of God comes from the transformation I experienced when I gave birth to my sons and the powerful joy and love I feel for and about them. Being a mother forms and informs my awareness of the Divine more than any other aspect of my life. When I read books like these, they bring that awareness to the fore of my mind.
Because I believe we are all made in God's image, I believe that we each carry our own, intimate, personal awareness of God and I believe that God made it that way. God is not one thing to all people; God is most any loving thing we need God to be. God is a birthing mother and a loving, strong and gentle father. God is the love that unites us all and the energy that gives life to everything in the universe. God is grace.
PJ Harvey is a songwriter and musician who has writes songs with powerful female imagery. She also totally rocks. Here's the lyrics to her song Sheela na gig with a link to a video on youtube:
been trying to show you over and over
look at these, my child-bearing hips
look at these, my ruby-red ruby lips
look at these, my work strong-arms
you've got to see my bottle full of charm
lay it all at your feet
you turn around and say back to me
he said
sheela-na-gig, sheela-na-gig, you exhibitionist,
sheela-na-gig, sheela-na-gig, you exhibitionist
gonna wash that man right out of my hair
just like the first time he said he didn't care
gonna wash that man right out of my hair
heard it before, no more
he said,
sheela-na-gig, sheela-na-gig, you exhibitionist,
sheela-na-gig, sheela-na-gig, you exhibitionist
put money in your idle hole,
put money in your idle hole
he said "wash your breasts, i don't want to be unclean"
he said "please take those dirty pillows away from me"

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fill My Eyes...

Last Friday, Hammy began having some double vision. It only happened when his eyes looked a certain direction. Over the next couple of days, the field in which he did not see double shrank and his eye lids began to swell as if he had an infection. On Monday he went to the Dr who sent him for a CT scan and to a specialist. Today is Thursday and the first day this week he's gotten to go to work. He's seen one GP, two specialists, had two CT scans and an MRI. The second specialist called last night to tell Hammy that one of the muscles behind his eye is swollen. He said that Hammy does not have any underlying illness that would cause this (no MS, no tumor, etc), which is the good news. The bad news is that neither of the specialists nor anyone they have conferred with have any idea what would cause one muscle behind his eye (and between other muscles which are not inflamed) to swell.

One of the Drs prescribed steroids so Hammy began taking them today. He's going around looking like he's winking at everyone because of the double vision. He can see fine with his left eye closed. He's having no problem driving, for instance. He said it was pretty disconcerting trying to work and he's thinking about getting an eye-patch (talk about your "corporate pirate").

I'm very thankful that I'm not a worrier. I know this could be an indication of some much worse illness but I know that we will deal with whatever it is when we come to it.

We have been very lucky (blessed, whatever-I don't think God has spared us from terrible things any more than I think God "curses" or punishes, or rewards people). Our immediate family has never had any serious illnesses. We're all healthy. We've never experienced any life-altering accidents or catastrophes. In our extended family, the only people to die have been elderly family members who's "time had come". My mother and brother both suffer from serious mental illnesses but we have the resources and the wherewithal to get them effective care (when they will take their meds and comply with the recommendations of their mental health providers-naturally).

I suspect that whatever is causing Hammy's problem will eventually fade away and we'll never know what it's cause was. I hope I can carry this feeling of gratitude for our health and wealth.

Our family is not rich by our society's standards but we are by world/historical comparisons. We've got so much. We've got enough that we have the time and energy to waste a lot of it on frivolous activities. We have insurance. We have dental care. We can afford new glasses when we need them and clothes and shoes. I can buy the new Sinead O'Coner cd when I get the whim because we've got the extra cash to do so. I believe I am in this life with so much comfort and ease so that I don't have to spend my time fretting and scraping and can share my wealth of time, energy and resources helping others. With privilege comes responsibility. Right now, though, what am I doing to live up to this standard I claim to believe in? Not much. I think this health episode is a wake-up call to my conscience (not necessarily from God. It is for us to discover the meaning in life-the context for each lesson). It is time for me to get out of my comfort zone and give to others. Volunteering at the library is not enough-I do that for fun, because I love the library. I need to be out in the world being God's hands.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Trust and Obey

Obedience. That's a word/concept that's never sat well with me. I'm a rebel; have been pretty much since birth. Not a sex and drugs and rock-n-roll kind of rebel (ok-maybe just not the drugs part) but I definitely march to the beat of my own internal drummer. The idea of being obedient to something greater than myself, up until very recently, has always given me the willies. My parents were the "obey authority" types and I was always trying to find ways to overthrow the establishment.

But now I find myself wanting to learn to be obedient. I want to be faithful to God; to "mind the Light" given to me. I can't say how this transformation has come about but here I am. I feel called to submit to God's will by serving God through my Quaker community. I don't know where this path will take me but I believe that where ever I go, I will be able to serve God. To me, the meaning of life is whatever context we create for it. I don't think God controls our destiny-I believe in "free will"- but I know that God will put me in the places I need to be in order to learn the lessons I need to learn. Now, I also believe that God will put me where God needs me to be. I guess I've grown in my faith to the point of believing that I'm capable of contributing to the spiritual growth of others. I trust that God will use me for God's work, showing me what I need in the process.

I guess, for years, I was an infant who had to be carried and taken care of. Then I was a child, free to play and explore. Then I became a cynical adolescent, rejecting everything (my adolescence was rather extended). Now I feel like I'm becoming an adult, ready to take on responsibility with maturity and a bit of wisdom. "When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became an adult I put away childish things." I'm ready to put away childish things (even habits I've carried which are no longer useful) to learn to submit my will to God's.

A song sung in my Baptist Sunday school:
"Trust and obey,
For there's no other way,
To be happy in Jesus,
Than to trust and obey."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

What Do You Reflect?

What do you reflect to the world? What do you represent? What impression do you give others about who you are and what you stand for? I have friends who have a ‘fuck ‘em’ attitude about what others think. I understand very well hating to feel harshly judged by society’s narrow standards and knowing that I always came up very short. There was a time when my attitude was against presenting myself as anything but my own anti-social self. Now, I feel differently. I don’t know if it’s because I believe in things that are larger than myself and my family or if I just (finally) grew out of the adolescent phase of needing to rebel against society as the ‘controlling parent’ but I am very aware of what people are learning about what I believe in through my appearance and behavior. I am a Quaker, feminist, political progressive, mother, wife, daughter, friend. I’m also a cynical anarchist at heart. There are still days when I want to scream at all the, as Elton John was quoted in the media lately, describing those who follow a narrow belief system and use it to judge and condemn others, “Hateful lemmings.” But lately, I’ve been trying to be aware that if I come across as angry or anti-social or ‘scary’, I’m shutting down the possibility of ever having any kind of dialog with the majority of the population. If people see my attitude as threatening, they will not care about my belief that we are all equal and we all deserve equal representation by our government. If I come across as hostile, average people will not listen to my reasons for opposing this, and all, war; even if my opposition is rooted in the teachings of Jesus.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Fishy Reasoning

I am, what I think would be called, a lacto-ovo-pescitarian vegetarian (sorry if I mangled the spelling), which means I'm a vegetarian who eats dairy, eggs and fish. Some people would say that eating fish disqualifies me as vegetarian.

I'd flirted with vegetarianism for almost 20 years before going all out and defining myself as one. I'm not a great cook being the main thing that stopped me from committing. All the vegetarians I know are wonderful, creative cooks who make healthy, delicious foods enjoyed by everyone. I am not inventive in the kitchen and am terrible at following recipes. The fact that each of my family members is a happy, devoted carnivore just seemed like too much to overcome. But, the last couple of years, I just kind of stopped eating meat, using meat substitutes for myself(Qorn, veggie burgers, etc) when cooking family meals.

My main reason for being vegetarian is ethical. I know that I could not kill an animal and then eat it and it seems very wrong to me to eat meat from animals killed by someone else. I decided more than a year ago that I would not eat meat until my intuition guides me elsewhere. It helps that I don't really like meat that much (although I do miss chicken-salad sandwiches).

But, I still eat fish at least once a week. Partly, I eat it because I'm not such a good cook and I know I need the protein and other nutrients found in fish. Partly, because I can cook one meal that the whole family will enjoy when I make fish; most of my vegetarian meals are picked at by my family who then, an hour after dinner, will throw a frozen pizza in the oven. Partly, so I will have an item I can find on most restaurant menus. And I justify eating fish by not really thinking about how they're killed and then thinking vaguely that they have a less sophisticated nervous system than mammals thus feel less fear and pain when killed.

We're going to my in-laws' house tomorrow to celebrate Hammy's and his father's birthdays. Hammy got the idea that he wants to take the kids fishing so we're going to pick up his parents and we're all going to a trout farm where they stock a big lake with trout and catfish. Lovely idea. Just one problem: Who's going to bait the hooks and take the fish off the hooks once they're caught. Hammy's no outdoorsman. We've both been fishing about twice in our lives and it's been probably 35 years since the last time. My grandmother and grandfather took me to fish when I was about 9. The only thing I got out of it was that, in an attempt to get me to sit still, my grandma taught me how to cast on and make a crochet chain stitch. I didn't catch a thing (and neither did they because I wouldn't let the water still long enough to get the fish to come 'round) but I did make a bunch of yarn rings to wear on my fingers and toes. And I still know how to crochet.
Give a girl a fish and she'll eat for a day. Teach a girl to fish and she'll make you an afghan.

When I looked up the website for Nut Cave Trout Farm, I found the price list. You can pay a little extra to have them clean, gut and bone the fish. I'm all for that. But then I started thinking about the fish. Each fish. Each fish as it comes struggling, very alive, out of the water.
I just read an essay in an old issue of a Friends Journal in which the author is walking a trail after a heavy rain and finds a small fish in a rapidly disappearing puddle which she catches and holds in her hands feeling the desire to study it. She feels its distress and knows she has the power of life and death and, in releasing it into the stream, feels relief and the release of something in herself.

And I'm planning to take my kids to a trout farm to assist them in catching fish which we will, I suppose, eventually (after much hesitation and squeamishness) remove from hooks to die a slow death by suffocation. And then I will pay someone else to do the messy work of preparing the fish so that I can go home and cook it and eat it.

Obviously, I'm having some problems with this. George Fox said to wear your sword as long as you can. I think this is my sword. Or maybe I'm just trying to keep the peace. My in-laws have always been kind and patient with my "alternative" lifestyle choices. The don't understand homebirth or homeschooling or vegetarianism but they are as supportive as they know how to be (my mother-in-law, anyway. My father-in-law just avoids me as much as he can). I've gotten to the point in which I don't have to expound about all my beliefs all the time: I don't need to "make a statement" about everything. If I object to this fishing expedition, which really will be a nice family afternoon, I'll cause a great deal of tension and discord, which I don't want to do. I think my intuition is telling me to let the day unfold as it will and deal with my hypocrisy about eating fish at a later time.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

hammy's day

Today is my darling husband Hammy's birthday. I've been planning his birthday for weeks. He's not a "party" person, being rather shy, so his birthdays are usually rather low-key. Mainly, this birthday involves lots of good food. He bought himself a new drum set a few weeks ago, so he insisted that the drums were his birthday present. I made buckwheat waffles, fried plantains and turkey sausage for breakfast. For lunch we went to our favorite meat-and-threes, Cousers.

In the afternoon, we took him to the Tennessee State Museum to see the really impressive collection of music memorabilia of Marty Stuart. I knew Hammy would enjoy it and I was correct. He could have spent hours there. I have to say that seeing Hank Williams' glasses, a letter to his mother from very early in his career and a telegram she sent to someone that reads "Come home quick. Hank's died. Mother." were pretty memorable, to me. (I discovered the music of Hank Williams when I was 14. The lonesomeness and wandering spirit of his songs spoke volumes to me. I discovered punk music at about the same time and identified with it in the same way. It's all about being disaffected and "outside". )

I grilled salmon with cous-cous and green beans for dinner and then his birthday "cake" was a homemade coconut key-lime pie (his favorite). We're all chillin' now, slowing down our day.

As we sat down to breakfast, having our "moment of silence" I understood why some Friends didn't celebrate holidays. I thought of Hammy and how I am happy to honor him through my actions on this day so he will know how much I appreciate and love him. And then it occurred to me that my feelings are the same every day (well, most anyway) and it seemed a little false, or wrong to set one day aside each year to share my gratefulness that he was born and is in my life. Obviously, I couldn't possibly spend the kind of money on food that I did for today, but just going out of my way to look at him and tell him what he means to me. I try to do that a little each day, but most of the time I take him and all his goodness for granted.

And I can understand some people feeling that way about Christmas or Easter or whatever. Our society, in general, only sets a few hours each year aside for spiritual matters (other than at the voting booth when they vote for whichever "leader" sounds the most "righteous"). I can understand feeling lead to make everyday equal by saying that any one day is more sacred than the rest. I don't know what kind of an impact it would have on society or community to take this as a personal testimony, but I could see how it would be a powerful statement in a more insular, less mobile society.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

the death of Jesus as metaphor

I call myself a Christian because the example of living in God that speaks most clearly to me is the life of Jesus. His message, his life, was about compassion and forgiveness, love and generosity. That, to me, is what life is all about.

I don't reckon most people, my mother included, who call themselves Christians would consider me one of them.

I am a follower of Jesus because his life and teachings speak to me. Since becoming a student of Jesus, I've pretty much ignored the death and subsequent Resurrection of Jesus as irrelevant to my condition. I thought of the Passion story as just that: A story that those who call themselves "born again" needed to make a movement out of a man-"proof" of Jesus' divinity. I ignored it because it didn't fit with my ideas about what Jesus was teaching and because of the baggage from Baptist upbringing.

I've had a bit of a change of mind, though. I've been aware of the metaphorical potential of Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension for a while, but it hadn't spoken to me until recently. One day a couple of weeks ago, I had an epiphany that Jesus' death wasn't about his literal death: It was an illustration of how one has to die to self, to kill one's ego, in order to live in God. Once we are able to transcend ourselves as individuals and live for God, we can be transformed, reborn as it were, as a new being in God.

In some ways this line of understanding seems very elitist. For a long time I rejected part and parcel of the Gnostics simply because what they seemed to be about was a secret knowledge that leads us to God. I can't hang with a belief system that requires that there will be some elect with the knowledge (power) and others left in the cold. I guess I felt strongly about this because it runs so contrary to what I was raised to believe: That Jesus died on the cross for the sins of everyone and if we believe in him and "ask him into our hearts" we will be saved and will spend eternity in heaven with God (even though I'd stopped believing all that decades ago). But now I realize that anyone who listens for the still, small voice within, is stepping on the path that leads to a death to self and life with Christ. It's not about esoteric knowledge; it's about listening to Truth.

My church of origin was Midwest Baptist: Country club and hells-fire-and-brimstone at once. There was a lot of hypocrisy, which is why I first began questioning, but there were some beautiful and very sincere and loving folks, too. There was one woman, Betty, who embodied "faith of a child". She was what everyone called mentally slow. She was not very articulate verbally but her actions spoke volumes about love. She served God by serving God's children. She worked in the kitchen at church (women's positions being very narrowly defined), always there to wash dishes after a potluck or clean up after a youth group sleepover. She served without expecting to be noticed. And she always seemed happy to do so, to know that she had a role to play. To me, her life was an example of how Jesus told us to live-humbly, with love as our guide. She didn't need any knowledge or teaching, she did what her heart lead her to do.

I think this is what guides Friends: Doing what our hearts lead us to do (by heart I mean intuition, inner Light, or whatever term one might be comfortable using to describe God within). God may lead some of us to serve by keeping the kitchen clean and others by going into politics or teaching or raising a family. Whatever it is, our faith leads us to listen to the Guide and follow where it leads. If we are faithful to even the smallest call, we are doing the will of God. As Caroline Fox said: "Live up to the light thou hast, and more will be granted thee."

Monday, August 6, 2007

Trusting God

Yesterday in Meeting I thought about God. I don't doubt God. I know that when I am having a "dry spell" it is due to my lack of attention, awareness and consistency rather than anything having to do with the nature of God. God gave me free will and I use it being thoughtless and distracted much of the time, which separates me from God.

I know God. I have met God in my heart, in my intuition, where God has given me guidance and some small amount of wisdom. Once even, God spoke to me. (Mystical sounding, I know: crazy even, for those who have not yet discovered the nature of their relationship with God.) So, I know God because God came and whispered and nudged and put me on a path.

In Meeting for Worship, I was thinking about how my life, my very self, would be changed if I met God. How would I be different if I was drawn close to God where God is. God has met me where I am, allowing me to know and experience just what I have been ready for. It has changed me to a great extent, but I am still me. I can still spend entire days, weeks even, with very little thought or intention in my mind or heart toward the Divine. I can still live my life as if this world is all there is. I can still go through my day-to-day routine of concerns, chores and habits with little attention being paid to my Creator. How would I be different if I met God where God is? How would I live or act if God stopped allowing me to grow and discover God as I am able but demanded more of me?

I have never felt the awfulness (used in the original sense of the word, which was, literally, "full of awe"), the fear, the "quaking" that I understand to be a part of some people's relationship with God. I feel deep joy, sometimes contentment, acceptance, and often a great sense of relief that God loves me like my Divine Mama no matter how far I drift. But I have never felt awestruck by God.

I would imagine that each person's relationship with God is as unique as each individual. I know that my perceptions of God are unique to me and I honor the fact that what others believe about God are sacred to them. At this point in the unfolding of my connection with God, I know God as love and grace; the soft, warm light of a fire at night-the kind of light that makes us feel and look good. I wonder, though, about the light that illuminates our faults and breaks us open to a new self.

Or maybe I'm just hoping there is an easier way than this day-to-day two-steps-forward/backsliding path I'm on. This way takes so much work, so much responsibility. I still feel like a spiritual child in many ways. I've written before about how I long for a "calling"; for God to call me to something bigger than myself. But, when I think about where I am, how there are days when I don't even remember to pray, not even to give God a word of thanks for the beauty of my life...well, no wonder God doesn't try to trust me with a MISSION.

So, I think about what it would take for me to live my life transformed. Would it take an encounter with the soul-searching Light? Or, am I able to allow God to help me transcend my self each day in "small" thoughts and actions? I don't really believe that relationship with God is habit, but that's how my life feels right now. All these bad, or not even bad, more like thoughtless habits are in the way of my relationship with God. I want to live for God, transcending myself, because God is. I want to love God, to let my life speak, to make my whole life a prayer to the greatness of God. I envy those who are lucky enough to be knocked senseless from their horses and transformed but I understand that God wants me to learn the lessons I need to learn walking the path I'm on. I trust God to guide me, to show me what I need to know.

I open myself, as best I can, to God's will.