February 28, 2007

Smell the roses

When I was a child and my grandmother died, I remember her coming to visit me in my dreams, and after that night, I would occasionally catch a whiff of her perfume -- a distinctive tea rose.
Last night as I fell asleep, I again found myself talking to my friend who passed away a few months ago. She has visited me in my dreams and even sent little signs of her presence. But last night, I seemed to hear her saying "I'm going now. Got to go rest."
She didn't visit me in my dreams last night, couldn't provide any insights that I asked for.
But this moring, I'm sitting here overcome by the smell of tea roses. Grandma Alice is near, providing her comfort. It's been a hell of a week and I've got a lot of stressful life situations going on -- and how I would love to curl up in her lap as I did as a child. I am not alone.

Is Grandma literally telling me to "smell the roses?" While I've had my moments of pessisimism, I've continually been given the grace to "keep on truckin" through very difficult circumstances. More commonly, I've become emotionally shut down as a way of protecting myself and those in my care until the storms have passed. Staying open to pain is difficult, but I've learned that I need to resist the impulse to shut down, and really feel my feelings -- even and particularly the unpleasant ones. When we bottle up our emotions, we only store it up and have to deal with it later — and it can affect every aspect of our physical, emotional and spiritual health. I think this is what Jesus really meant by turning the other cheek -- not that we should allow others to abuse us, but that when we are hurt by others we should acknowledge the hurt and feel it, rather than steel ourselves to it.

My brilliantly spiritual friend Crystal wrote a poem that I'd like to repost, when she was going through a difficult time with a friend. This poem helps me to remember to feel my feelings, and that we must meet each other in our woundedness, and offer each other roses to smell.

i pray for you

I pray for you.
You're trying to hurt me deeply from a space of your own deep
You're trying to protect yourself from me.
I pray for your woundedness.
I pray you may find wholeness.
I pray you walk that path that God ardently desires you to walk.
I pray that you can find happiness without me.
I pray that I can put myself aside,
My own shadows that instinctively want to react,
That I can embrace my little girl inside,
Tell her I won't be harmed by you,
Tell her God and I are protecting her, and
Let God's strength strengthen me.
I know that you hold deep secrets to the love of God,
And I thank you in advance for that.
I pray that I may learn God's secrets by loving you
And in turn learn how to love God more.
I pray for your best,
For your peace.

- Crystal Chan

February 26, 2007

Dem bones

Well, I had to suffer through Matt Lauer this morning claiming that if Jesus' bones have been discovered — as is being claimed by director James Cameron — that "this will change everything." He seemed to be insinuating that all of Christianity would be disproved in an instant. Glib bastard.
So, James Cameron is claiming that the ossuary that was discovered contains the bones of both Jesus and Mary Magdelene. Now THAT I would find exciting. And oh, the bones of "Judah, son of Jesua." Yeppers. Their child. Which would mean that Jesus and Mary were indeed married. Lovers. Wow.
He is claiming DNA evidence. From what I understand, there is evidence of DNA on the Shroud of Turin, so, if that matches the bones, then we have a positive genetic id on Jesus.
Of course, I am taking this all with one huge grain of salt, because Cameron is hyping this for the release of his documentary. As far as I can tell, he's hoping on the DaVinci Code bandwagon, nothing more.
Not sure what I think of this yet. I'll have to get back to you all on this one. For now it looks like a lot of smoke and mirrors.

February 25, 2007

My virtual red tent

Well, I'm in the last chapter of The Red Tent and last night I went to see the documentary Commune with a few girlfriends, so it's not surprising that sisterhood is on my mind. Hell, when isn't it? Looking my life over, I can brag about my own hippie roots -- having actually lived in a commune in Hawaii for a time. It was a marvelous tin-roofed tree house, from what I remember. Sadly, I've lost all of the pictures. And my dad's house in Chicago was known as the "hippie crash pad" for many years. Not really a communal thing so much as a laid-back oasis to pull bongs in.
But between the book, which takes us into the biblical story of Dinah and her mothers, and the film, featuring the communal Black Bear Ranch, a hippie-haven sequestered in the Northern California hills, I'm wondering if I'm doing enough to be "in communion" with my own sisters. American culture certainly doesn't encourage communal living or sisterhood, though I still see it as a natural choice for single mothers. Even in Dinah's time, the red tent was thought of as a place where the unclean women went during their moon time and were removed from "real" life. Little did the men know that the red tent was where life was really being lived, birthed, healed, initiated, and sometimes also ended.
What, if anything, is my "red tent?" What is my "Black Bear Ranch?" I would have to say it is the Hipmama online group that I've been a part of for five years now. Through the years, we've welcomed many children, grieved through death, struggled with spouses, ex's, dating and spirited children. They were there for me when my marriage ended. They threw me a "coming out" party when I came to terms with my sexuality. We've held each other through the pain of abortion, the scars of abuse and rape, the bitterness of single-motherhood. And I've grown very close with several women on the list. Together we've grown spiritually, sometimes learning our lessons through the most painful experiences. And some have drifted from us, afraid of our communal power that would FORCE them to change the unhealthy patterns in their lives.
So, here's to community in whatever ways we find it and create it!

February 23, 2007

HPV morality, or, tilting at windmills

Yesterday after I dropped the kiddos off at their catholic school, a good friend and neighbor of mine peeled into the parking lot and hopped out, the lyrics of The Smiths' 'Cemetary Gates,' emanating from her lips. Of course we stopped and chatted.

My friend is the mother of three adopted siblings -- and she struggles with their needs — mostly brought on by their painful history — on a daily basis. We're both feminists and mothers of pre-teen daughters, so our conversation usually ends up as more of a rant about the disturbing things we observe amongst middle-schoolers. My daughter has another year to go before reaching middle school, so I always listen attentively to what my friend recounts. I want to be prepared.

Apparently, a few months ago, the middle-schoolers were asked to attend a talk, meant to help them navigate the choppy waters of pre-teen hormonal angst and stay mindful of what the church teaches. I was thankful that my daughter was not yet old enough to attend this talk, as I was naturally skeptical. I mean, haven't we already established as a church that we (collectively, by-and-large) have dismissed the church's teaching on sexual morality when it comes to birth control, abstinence, pre-marital sex, etc...? While I'm no fan of abortion, I have observed many situations, tragic as they may be, where I would not call the decision "intrinsically immoral."

But even I was shocked when the speaker (a man, of course) direced the lecture directly at the girls in the audience and moralized about Gardasil, the newly released vaccine that prevents transmission of the HPV vaccine, which in some women can mutate to form a deadly type of Cervical Cancer. Good little Catholic girls, it seems, would not be needing such a vaccine, because naturally, they will maintain their chastity.

My blood boiled when I heard this. So wrong, on so many levels.

First, just logically, HPV causes Cervical Cancer -- a disease that has struck nearly every woman on my mother's side of the family -- including my mother. As the mother of two daughters, this is a huge medical concern for me. If I were not already too old for it, I would have been first in line for the shot. And, even if a woman were to remain chaste her entire life, that would not discount the high rate of rape, incest and spousal cheating that takes place on a daily basis. Should a woman have to pay with her very life for the sins of men? Sadly, that has historically been the churches position on sexual matters. To wit, their steadfast insistence that although condoms can prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, abstinence is the only "100% guarantee."

After I wrote my letters to the school and the archdiocese on this matter, I was pleasantly suprised, then angered again, that the church actually DOES NOT teach that the HPV vaccine is "immoral." As I knew in my gut, it is the INTENTION of one's actions -- in this case, preventing cancer -- that is material in deciding morality. So who was this speaker then, to mis-represent the church's position? Oh, to be sure, the right-wing catholic wingnuts have latched onto this and are confident of deeming it "immoral," but they need to learn that they do not speak for the church universal. The church is wrong on many things, but so far, they seem to be getting this one mostly right -- and anyone who claims that the church's position is other than it actually is, damages it.

If my calling is to turn around patriarchy in the church and advance the stature of woman -- then I can't spend my time tilting at windmills, as these wingnuts would have me do. They have no right to come into the church and claim to be the teachers of the faith, swapping the true teaching for their own antithetical teachings.

February 21, 2007

"Ashes to ashes....NEXT!"

I miss the Franscian Catholic church I grew accustomed to going to each Ash Wednesday when I worked downtown. Droves of Catholics, some who only made an appearance on days of obligaition like Ash Wednesday, stood shoulder to shoulder in a line down the street. There was no long Mass to sit through, making you perilously late for work — just lines that led into the church basement where the two great lines broke into six smaller lines. At the front, a Franscican priest in a plain brown cassok would hurriedly place the ashen smudge on your forehead, muttering the usual "Remember, from ashes you were formed, and to ashes you will return." You could almost hear the implied "NEXT!" as the people flowed through the room, as on a conveyor belt.

This Lent, I went to my parish church and sat through the long mass that the school children attend. Attending children's masses is always a charming experience, and I'm always amazed at how captivated the children are by our effective priest. He really communicates the simple gospel message in way that children can appreciate. So different from my childhood experience.

Postmodernist that I am, I search to see the broader symbolism. The ashes are placed on the third eye, the window to the soul in Hindu practice, as the priest urges us to enter our "inner room." Life has gotten hectic, overwhelming even. It is time to refocus, redouble our efforts, examine what drives us, what motivates us. For me, I am always forced to abandon my thought and behavor patterns that are not wholesome, and remember to do all that I do lovingly. I've been stressed, and it's so easy to lash out like a wounded animal at those that inspire my wrath. But I stop myself, I refocus, I pray. I send out love to those that need it most -- those far more wounded than I. And in the Spring, perhaps we will all be born anew.

February 18, 2007

mercury retrograde

Mercury turned retrograde on Wednesday, Feb. 14 — St. Valentine's Day — and remains so until March 7.

Things are off kilter.

I awoke to an angry email from my ex-husband. [Yawn] But I must admit, his accusation that I didn't take my faith seriously really cut me to the quick. He's leaving our church -- a church that coddles homosexuals like me. Going to join a parish about a mile away, though he lives directly across the street from our current church. Oh, and I'm not allowed to cross the threshold of his home ever again. I am to wait in the car when I pick up our children. He is sick.

On my way to church, scheduled to be a Eucharistic Minister today. My car battery is dead. Seems I have left my lights on all night. Get a jump from my dad, who lives close by.

Off to church, angry email still burning through my thoughts. Fighting tears, standing, imagining judgement from the congregation. My trial here has just begun. Yesterday, I came out to a small group of parishoners that make up my prayer group. Received their compassionate support and even some deeply loving words — from all but one. He won't make eye contact with me and my children today.

I high-tail it out of the church, time to get the kids ready for a costume birtday party. None of the other parents speak to me -- only offer polite "hellos" and questioning glances. Have the rumors already begun? Will they be awaiting my children when they return to school on Tuesday?

I attempt to quiet the growing darkness -- scurry off to my bellydance class. I am out of step today. And I look fat compared to the college girls that take this class with me. Old and fat.

Now the kids are in bed, and I can relax. I know that all of this angst will fade by week's end. I have something to look forward to.

February 13, 2007

By their fruits, you will know them

Matthew, 16:15-23
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?
So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
So then, you will know them by their fruits.
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?'
And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.

Hot on the heels of Vegan Mama’s Jesus freaks blog, I watched Jesus Camp myself, and was left rarely speechless. Expecting to laugh a little at Those Wacky Christians, I experienced a full range of dark emotions: horror, fear, sadness, pity and anger.

As the film began, we watch children in a bizarre “prophecy” dance routine that made me have an acid flashback to watching the Nazi scene from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. (Remember those terrifying crossed hammers, and that boots-marching beat?) As this Oscar Award nominated documentary, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady unfolded, I waited for a laughable moment that never came. Instead, I was treated to an inside glimpse of the psychological indoctrination of very young children into a cult-like Evangelical mindset that more closely mirrored a KKK rally than the Gospel message.

Jesus Camp, an evangelical kiddy camp hosted in the township of Devil’s Lake, North Dakota is the nightmare creation of Becky Fischer – a morbidly obese children’s minister well versed in the tactics of shaping young minds and, unflinching in her methodology, unapologetically strives to whip these kids into ecstatic fervor before inducing them with political and racist ideology.

I actually wept when I saw these children, tears streaming down their own faces, fear stricken at the threats of being sent to eternal damnation if the did not hand their vulnerable souls over to these adults who “knew better.”

Luckily, I was able to feel an uplifting bit of schadenfreude when the film turned to the now disgraced pastor and former head of the Nat’l Assoc. of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard. Watching him talk to children about homosexuality — priceless. Unfortunately, that glee in knowing what happened to old Ted after this film was made was not enough to stave off the anger and outrage of the following scenes. The children are brought to Washington D.C. during the Alito nomination hearings to demonstrate in the name of “Life.” At one point, a clearly disturbed little girl approaches several African-American men in a park across from the senate building and asks “if you were to die right now, do you know where you’d be going?”
An older gentleman responds, “yes.”
The girl, desperate for a chance to proselytize presses on with “are you SURE?”
Again, he responds stoically, “yes.”
She walks away, quipping, “I think they were Muslims.”

At this point, the horror has set in. You can no longer deny that a large segment of our country is living this way, and that they are a political force to be reckoned with. A zealous army of fundamentalist true-believers for the Republican Party, ready to engage in the culture wars and win, by any means necessary.

All of this made me wonder: did I miss my calling as a christo-pagan to rejoin the Catholic Church in hopes of doing my part to dismantle the patriarchy? Should I have joined these wingnuts instead, with the hopes of exposing their hypocrisy and total abandonment of Jesus’ message?

I can only pray that these children are not all permanently lost. That they will grow up and have an epiphany, that God’s grace will TRULY descend upon them, not in a glossiola fit, but in a showering of love and compassion for their fellow travelers. But they have been damaged in their faith, and I can only hope that it is not to late for them to see the light. As a kid, I myself had a pretty strong bullshit dectetor, particularly for religious fallacy, and one scene in the movie showed some that these children, on some level, see the devil is indeed wearing sheep’s clothing. At the point in the movie where the minister declares that if Harry Potter were alive today, he would have been executed, many children looked around with knowing glances at each other, searching for confirmation in each others eyes that they were indeed being lied to. I will walk away from this movie holding onto that small grain of hope, for all of our sakes.

Mark 10:14 Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.
Mt 18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Mt 18:10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

February 12, 2007

Energy whore?

Recently a friend not-so-delicately pointed out that I am what she considers an "energy whore." Not happy about the implications of such a label, I pressed her for clarification. What she meant to say was that I am very clearly reliant on obtaining energy from sources outside of myself. In that way, we are opposite, as she much prefers more solitary pursuits, and is thusly energized.
Intrigued at my inability to relate to her need for so much alone time and what seemed like a conservative approach to life, as well as her implication that I was somehow "needy" in my seemingly endless desire for social interaction, I decided to dig a little farther.

As a fan of Jung, I turned to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to get a clearer picture of my particular personality traits. The test confimed what we both already knew: I am a "very expressed extrovert." But it gave a lot of other fascinating information.

To be specific, I'm an ENFJ type, or "Extraverted Intuitive Feeling Judging" type — along with an estimated 2-3% of the population. I'm in the company of Oprah Winfrey, Abe Lincoln and Margaret Mead. We are known as the "Teacher Idealist" personality type -- the pedagogues of humanity.

Among our characteristics are an ability to get other people to live up to our very high expectations, usually through our charismatic encouragement, an abstract approach to thinking and speech, a cooperative style in achieving goals and an approach to our personal emotions that is both direct and expressive.

I feel a lot better about what I initially suspected was viewed as a burdensome personality flaw, and see that it's actually a source of considerable strength. I also see how such a high output of personal energy and reliance of sources outside of myself often leave me somewhere between drained and longing. And suddenly, I'm feeling a little pressure to do something a little more monumental -- if that is indeed what I'm here to do -- than fritter away my thoughts in this blog.

Was Jesus Codependent?

Originally posted on StreetProphets in May, 2006

A few months ago, a close friend and I were reexamining our relationship in light of her addiction to alcohol and drugs when she decided to join a 12-step group. For nearly two decades we had been friends, and the boundaries were often blurred between us. That built a lifelong bond between us and simultaneously enmeshed us in each other's struggles -- and we wondered how healthy or dysfunctional our friendship had become as a result.
In my role of caring friend -- always serving as a sounding board for her sometimes daily vents -- sometimes quite literally talking her off the ledge -- had I taken on her pain? After throwing her lifeline after lifeline, was I left depleated, burdened and even resentful? And if I was, was this somhow an unhealthy thing for a sister-friend to be doing?

Was I, as they say in 12-step circles, codependent?

Not sure of the answer myself, I began to look into some of the writings on the topic and learned what characteristics deem one codependent.

From the Nat'l Mental Health Assoc.:

*    An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others.

•    A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to "love" people they can pity and rescue.

•    A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time.

•    A tendency to become hurt when people don't recognize their efforts.

•    An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship; to avoid the feeling of abandonment.

•    An extreme need for approval and recognition.

•    A sense of guilt when asserting themselves.

•    A compelling need to control others.

•    Lack of trust in self and/or others.

•    Fear of being abandoned or alone.

•    Difficulty identifying feelings.

•    Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change.

•    Problems with intimacy/boundaries.

•    Chronic anger.

•    Lying/dishonesty.

•    Poor communications.

•    Difficulty making decisions.

After reading the list, I was sure that she was right -- and that I had, indeed, become co-dependent. For years I had been her touchstone, often supressing my judgements and opinions to cater to her fragile state, putting my own needs in the friendship aside, and sometimes feeling angry and resentful about it, but also a sense of importance because I was so needed in her life.

We decided to get some breathing space and try to change these unhealthy patterns in our friendship, and I embarked on further reading, confident that this unhealty pattern could be broken. But as I read further, there was something just not sitting well with me. As a cradle-Catholic, I had always been taught that we were called to help each other out, bear each other's burdens, sacrafice ourselves for our friends, as Christ modeled for us.

I was stunned by the question that erupted: "Was Christ codependent?"

I wrestled with this question for several weeks, and one day at mass, my pastor read this poem which reasked the questions that swirled around me.

A Prayer to the Pain of Jesus
When crutches were thrown away
did Jesus limp
after the running cripples?
Did his eyes dim
when Bartimaeus saw?
Did life ebb in him
when it flowed in Lazarus?
When lepers leapt in new flesh,
did scales appear
on the back of his hand?
The gospels say
Jesus felt power go out from him
but neglect to say
whether at that moment
pain came in.
Did the Son of God
take on ungrown legs and dead eyes
in the terrifying knowledge
that pain does not go away
only moves on?
John Shea The Hour of the Unexpected Allen Tex.: Thomas More, 1992

While I realize that codependecy as an issue in relationships that struggle with addiction is certainly a real issue, I was preplexed by what I read and saw about codependency that didn't jibe with what I had been raised to believe. I found website after website that proclaimed that the cure for codependency was to divest oneself from the needs of other people and instead become "selfish." Even some well-meaning sites tried to explain the difference between codependence and genuine caring for another person -- positing that only if you give "from a full cup," and are ultimately fulfilled by the giving, is is genuine caring. To give from "an empty cup," or to sacrafice your own needs and desires, would be codependent.

Surely Jesus' death on the cross could be considered "sacraficing your own needs." What then, was I to make of this paradox? Was I to strive to obey the  gospel message urging us to love others as we love ourselves, or should I take the advice of the books I was reading and "stop taking care of other people and feeling responsible for helping others solve their problems?"  

I'm not sure how the answer finally came to me; I know I asked dozens of people their opinion on the question, I prayed for an answer, I read the gospel, and I continued reading 12-step and self-help literature, as well as an interesting article that seemed to dispel the notion of codependecny being a valid disorder at all. In the end, I decided it all boiled down to a simple question of motivations. If in helping others, you are motivated by a sincere and genuine love for their good, regardless of the personal sacrafice, that can't be a bad or unhealthy thing. Codependency wasn't to be cured by becoming a self-interested narcissist, never putting aside a need or a desire for other people, though this idea is certainly supported by our culture that values the "rugged individual" above all else. But as a Catholic with a penchant for mysticism, I believe that it is an illusion that we are separate, and that truly we are all part of one Body.

My friend and I are talking again, and I'm certain that I was never motivated by anything but unconditional love for her, but as an imperfect person, personal sacrafice is something that we all struggle with and feel conflicted about. Trying to follow the Gospel can lead us to dark places that we don't always want to go, in search of greater light. And I have found, wheter my cup is empty or overflowing, there is nothing more spiritually gratifying than pouring it out in service to others.

February 10, 2007

Aristotle and my psychic super powers

When I was a kid, my little brother and I used to play this game where we would try to send each other psychic messages – often as simple as “guess what color I’m sending you.” I was the “sender” and J was the “receiver.” I was always astounded that he could usually “get” what I was sending him. Sometimes we’d switch, and he would be the sender and I the receiver. Half the time I was able to receive as well as send my thoughts through the ether.
As I got older, this became a fun party trick when it worked with certain people, but I found that there were few who could really “play” this game. I had tapped into my own sensitive nature.
Later in life, I would sometimes “know” things, a cross-country friend had a fire in her house, a sense of the malific energies of neighborhood child molestors, and I am certain that at least twice in my life, I have encountered beings that could only be described as purely evil.
Getting a sense of how beneficial this now well-honed trait could be in my life, I was as giddy as Wonder Woman the first time she put on her bullet-proof arm cuffs: I had a super-power.
Over the years, it has served me well, when I have cared to honor my power – one that I not only think that most people have (particularly women) but that our culture teaches us to ignore. I can’t count the times I ignored my own sense of forboding about a given situation out of some sense of “manners,” only later to find myself in dire straights. Many hard lessons were learned, but now I never ignore my special intuition.

A few years back, I stumbled upon Aristotle’s theory of friendship.
In a nutshell, Aristotle describes three “levels” of friendship:
1) Friendship based on utility: These are the people that are friends based on there mere proximity or usefulness in your life — the friend you carpool to work with, who you swap babysitting with, or can help you get ahead in some endeavor.
2)Friendship based on pleasure: This one is fairly obvious, as it encompasses most of our childhood friendships, our lovers, and the people that we choose to hang around, chiefly because of how they make us feel. When our tastes change, the friendship is often let go of.
And finally, what Aristotle describes as the highest level of friendship,
3)Friendship based on goodness: Aristotle explains that the chief requirement for this level of friendship is virtue – which manifests as a deep caring for all that is good, and a strong desire to foster that good in another. In essence, I think it’s the people who really “get” you – your lifelong friends that you accept, warts and all, because you know and cherish the true essence of that person, and they you. These are the friends that force you to grow a little each day, and over the years, you shape each other’s lives. These friends are rare.

While I’m certain that most of us can claim to have experienced all of these levels of friendship, I think that what our soul craves is Aristotle’s ideal – the soul mate. And because of this awareness of mine, I have found that I have shed many of the lesser friends, as is natural in Aristotle’s estimation. Conversely, I have found it impossible to let go of people that I share that special soul-bond with. And I don’t think we’re supposed to let go. We’re supposed to grit our teeth and hold on tight to these soulmates – through all the longing, all the pain, all the growth — and mirror the goodness of each other’s souls for each other.

In my estimation, the longing for this connection with another, parallels our longing for God.