Peace Out

peace_out_by_wirdoudesigns-d62lrkoSo today’s proposal went in and things got locked down at work, the suitcases are pretty much packed, the house-sitter is keyed up, and the boarding passes are printed. Guess it’s almost time for vacation.

Of course, all of this is being done in my usual human & imperfect fashion. The house is WAY messier than I would have preferred the house-sitter to see, but I ran out of time. There’s a couple tasks at work I wanted to get done before I “handed the baton,” but I ran out of time. (Sense a theme here?) I didn’t get as many posts in the bank as I wanted to, but — sing it with me! — I ran out of time.

Oh well, I do the best I can. And sometimes my best includes packing rather too many clothes so that I have lots of options and therefore (with any luck) can stave off some of the waves of physical and existential insecurity that happen when I’m with my extended family. The luggage scale confirms that I am within airline limit, so I’ll just count my blessings on that score and let my ego-selves have this little piece of comfort. If having the extra clothes options helps me stay in my body, enjoy all the new sights and sounds, and maybe even get deeper insight into my lineal and family patterns? That’s a trade I’m willing to make.

———-

For all the “cut corners” and imperfect execution around different pieces of the pre-trip preparations, there’s one piece of preparation I’m giving its due measure to: taking the time to set an intention for this journey.

I’m not using the term in the way it so often gets public airplay in a manifestation/law of attraction kind of context. Phillip Moffitt, in Yoga Journal, does a good job of defining intention-setting from a Buddhist perspective, a definition much more in harmony with my use of the process:

Setting intention, at least according to Buddhist teachings, is quite different than goal making. It is not oriented toward a future outcome. Instead, it is a path or practice that is focused on how you are “being” in the present moment. Your attention is on the ever-present “now” in the constantly changing flow of life. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values.

The extra layer in my practice is to use the process as another way of seeking Spirit’s guidance — usually through drawing a card and using the card’s message as a springboard to help shape the intention I create. (See here for a description of someone doing a similar practice as a way to kick into a new year.)

Drawing a card allows me to get out of my own way and get more of a true read on whatever it is I’m going to be studying/transmuting in a particular experience. Instead of fooling myself into thinking I know what I’m going to be studying, in a very assumptive, ego-driven, self-fulfilling prophecy kind of way.

So, my card has been drawn and I will shortly go to do a little writing meditation on the card’s message. Then, if my usual system holds true, I’ll let my unconscious work on the question while I’m sleeping, and I’ll formally put pen to paper to scribe my intention tomorrow morning. Maybe even while I’m at the airport.

Stay safe, y’all. Catch you on the flip side.

———-

Image credit: http://wirdoudesigns.deviantart.com/art/Peace-Out-367171800

Men and Women of (Liberal!) Faith

I’m not sure this counts as yet another post in the whole Burwell v. Hobby Lobby series. Perhaps it’s a tangentially related work living in the same universe — think, for example, of the relationship between The Animatrix and the Wachowski’s original Matrix trilogy. Because my train of thought is prompted by a couple articles in the ongoing cultural unfolding about the SCOTUS decision, but I think I’m going somewhere a bit more generalizable.

At least, I hope I am.

The articles separately depict attempts by progressive Christian/religious groups to protest the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, its messages about women’s reproductive rights, and the way it has been so quickly seized to justify anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

First, the protest against the newly-established limits on women’s reproductive freedoms:

A group of clergy handed out condoms to customers in front of an Illinois Hobby Lobby store on Wednesday, staging a creative, faith-based protest against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to grant the craft store giant religious exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

The action, which was reportedly initiated by a local United Church of Christ (UCC) minister in Aurora, Illinois, included representatives from the UCC, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and Planned Parenthood. . . . “I’m just hoping that (people who see the demonstration) realize that this opinion (of Hobby Lobby’s owners) is not the opinion of religious people as a broad spectrum, but that religious people have many different opinions,” Rev. Emmy Lou Belcher, a UUA minister who was at the protest, told the Daily Herald.

Religious leaders also said they hoped the move would draw attention to the danger of allowing employers to privilege their own religious beliefs over those of their employees.

“You can make the religious freedom argument, you can make the argument about contraception, but ultimately, for me, this is about power,” said Rev. Mark Winters, a UCC minister. “Jesus had a lot of issue with powerful people using power over the powerless.”

And now, an excerpt from an article detailing similar advocacy against the faith-based orbs trying to seize Burwell v. Hobby Lobby as a way to justify anti-LGBTQ prejudice:

Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, published an Op-Ed over at Time.com this afternoon saying that she was “devastated” by the letter, and argued that the proposed exemption should be left out of the executive order.

“I was saddened, I was embarrassed, I was appalled, [by the letter]” Jones wrote. “The faith that fought for justice for so many is now being used to justify injustice. The faith community that taught me to never throw stones was asking that Christians have a special permission to throw stones if they wanted. It’s simply theologically indefensible … I do not support a religious exemption that permits Christians to behave worse than their fellow citizens, and the president should not include it.”

Sources close to several progressive faith groups have also informed ThinkProgress that a coalition of denominations, faith-based advocacy organizations, and seminaries are crafting their own letter to President Obama asking him not to include the exemption. In fact, several other faith-based groups have publicly opposed the idea of a religious exemption ever since the Obama administration first announced their intention to issue the executive order a few weeks ago. As Sarah Posner points out over at Religion Dispatches, pro-LGBT faith groups such as Equally Blessed, a Catholic organization, have been vocal opponents of any stipulation that would allow for the discrimination of LGBT people, a sentiment echoed by Rev. Welton Gaddy, head of the Interfaith Alliance, who voiced his organization’s opposition to the exemption by saying, “The tenet that religion should never be legitimated as a license to discriminate remains our core belief.”

“The tenet that religion should never be legitimated as a license to discriminate remains our core belief.” I love this.

“Jesus had a lot of issue with powerful people using power over the powerless.” Preach it!

———-

jesus-facepalmThere’s lots of times where public discourse about religion and spirituality — and especially about Christianity — show a disproportionate representation of individuals using their faith as the foundation for conservative/”right-wing” values.* So, given the over-representation of conservative Christians viewpoints in the public/media landscape of American religion, it could be easy to fall into stereotypes about the negativity of organized religion in general, and perhaps about the problematics of Christianity in specific.

I’m glad that in the midst of this week’s events, where a very specific strand of Christianity has been used as the justification for a morally repugnant court decision, I have so quickly been reminded of all the ways that Hobby Lobby’s strand of Christianity is part of a much larger and more expansive tapestry.

And I even have hopes that the public discourse about being a person of faith might start shifting, bit by bit.

[A]ccording to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in partnership with the Brookings Institution, the religious balance of power is shifting in ways that could make the religious left the new “Moral Majority,” figuratively speaking. If current trends persist, religious progressives will soon outnumber religious conservatives, a group that is shrinking with each successive generation, the data show.

PRRI reports that 23 percent of 18- to 33-year-olds are religious progressives, 17 percent are religious conservatives, and 22 percent are nonreligious. By contrast, only 12 percent of 66- to 88-year-olds are religious progressives, while about half are religious conservatives. The survey used a religious-orientation scale that “combines theological, economic, and social outlooks.”

I know from my own personal, lived experience about the deep traditions of social activism and liberal faith the run in the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalists. I know that similar streams of social justice and activism run in the rivers of other faith traditions — even if I am too ill-informed to be able to provide much in the way of detail.

I hope that, as the world spins forward, that every time Christian conservativism is used to justify some miscarriage of justice, as it was in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, that there will swiftly and surely be a chorus of voices rising, just like Rev. Emmy Lou Belcher, Rev. Mark Winters, Serene Jones and Rev. Welton Gaddy. Rising to proclaim: “We are men and women of faith. We are connected to God, we strive to walk a path of soul and virtue, and this (fill-in-the-blank-for-whatever-new-atrocity-has-arisen) does not represent our understanding of God’s will for humanity!” Let their words be broadcast and shared widely, let the media catch up to understanding that Christianity /= conservatism, and that many Christians believe that Jesus was a liberal.

Let the Good News be spread.

So mote it be.

* Such as the curtailing of women’s reproductive freedom, the perpetuation of marriage inequality, science denial around evolution and climate change, and just a whole bunch of different angle trying to impose a Christian theocracy instead maintaining the USA’s cultural religious pluralism and the political separation of church and state. Y’know, those kinds of things that make me feel so ranty and rave-y.

———-

Image credit: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/08/the-distinctive-characteristic-of-liberal-christians.html

Through a Child’s Eyes

Here, finally, is my response to the Day 18 prompt I found somewhat entirely tiresome on the day of. Chalk it up to the ongoing tension (which I have named previously) between the fiction-ness of many of the Writing 101 prompts and the commitment to non-fiction I have made for my writing here.

Craft a story from the perspective of a twelve-year-old observing it all. For your twist, focus on specific character qualities, drawing from elements we’ve worked on in this course, like voice and dialogue.

The prompt in its entirety actually gives you a very specific scenario to narrate through the lens of your invented 12-year-old. And I can’t deny the intriguing comparisons that were allowed by reading a few different takes on the prompt by different bloggers. However, the prompt left me once again where I have been several times throughout my Writing 101 journey: I haven’t had the particular experience in the prompt’s scenario, so I was left with the task of distilling said prompt to a core essence, the code to unlock and make the prompt true and real for the kind of writing I do on JALC.

And that’s where I checked out of the process in annoyance last Wednesday night.

I mean, I did a little bit of stream-of-associating about the topic in the days since then.  I’ve been watching DVR’ed episodes of CNN’s The Sixties TV series, and the episode about JFK’s assassination sparked a recollection that I was home sick from school the day John Hinckley, Jr. shot Ronald Reagan. “11 and a half is close enough to 12. Maybe that can be my ‘child’s eyes’ post.

I thought about the original prompt’s scenario — a neighborhood domestic drama — and fruitlessly tried to come up with some sort of family or neighborhood event I had witnessed that could be fodder for a post. “I got nothing. Was I really that sheltered and self-absorbed during my tween years?

So: a little bit of noodling here and there. But mostly, I just pushed the task to the back of my mind in a very annoyed and put-upon kind of way.

Until it hit me.

It is precisely my level of annoyance and self-created victimhood around these prompts that is the childish perspective asking for exploration in my post.

After all, the initial invitation to register for the Writing 101 challenge makes it eminently clear that participants have the freedom to re-interpret and remix the prompts however they see fit:

You can mix assignments up however you’d like. Respond to the prompt, and ignore the twist. Try the twist, but write on your own topic. Use both the prompt and the twist.  The only mandate is that you write every weekday.

The Blogging U organizers are about as far from being authoritarian writing dictators as one could ask them to be. In fact, they created a structure with lots of freedom and flexibility, to accommodate the wide diversity of writers and perspectives on the continent of WordPress.

Einstein_tongueSo then who is the child/teenager identity in me? The one that has found it necessary, not just to write my re-interpretations with a matter-of-fact notation “Inspired by such-and-such prompt,” but instead to call such obvious and painstaking attention to the ways I’m having to “jump through extra hoops” to “make the prompts work” for JALC.

In some interesting ways, the contemporary self-absorption of that is strikingly similar to the historical self-absorption suggested by my inability to find notable family or neighborhood events I witnessed at 12 to write about.

It’s amazing, this process of growing towards spiritual maturity. Just when I think I’ve got a trajectory going, there’s another subtle form of self-betrayal to watch out for.

———-

Image credit: http://www.replicatedtypo.com/sticking-the-tongue-out-early-imitation-in-infants/6082.html

 

 

 

 

In the Cards

I know there’s been lots of times in my essays about fat acceptance and feminism, and even my references to climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers, that I have very much shown my old grad school habits of citing research and studies and hard science.

So it may come as some surprise to know that a week or so ago, when I was making the final decision about whether or not to audition for that show, I used a technique that is often in my discernment/decision-making repertoire: pulling tarot cards.

science_tarot_thumb[1]I started reading cards (in a very amateurish, glued-to-the-book fashion) back when I was a junior in college. It was one of the first real glimmerings I had of being connected to Source (Spirit, the “Big Good Thing,” what-have-you), and it’s something I still carry in my toolbox — a technique to get out of my own way, step away from whatever ego and mind voices I’ve got running and look for guidance and for signs. (And I’ve already talked about how fervently I do believe in signs.)

I know it may seem a bit contradictory, this combination of research-focus and of the weird woo-woo new age-y stuff. And there are times where I ask myself about that sort of duality in myself — is it a contradiction, or is it just a measure of the complexity of living in a quantum universe? And if I am so airheaded and woo-woo-y, then why do I get my back up so strong and so loud when I argue against the ways that certain cultural programs (like, oh, say fat shaming and obesity panic) are so completely unfounded in factual, objective reality?

And I think for me one of the key points of ethics I hold is marking a strong boundary between what I am willing to use to make my own personal decisions and what I think is appropriate when making larger claims about societal trends or what other people “should” be doing or not.

To distill it to the basics:

I have faith in Spirit and signs and so when I am making a personal decision for me and my life, I will readily turn to those woo-woo-y things in which I have faith. So, when looking at the conundrum of “to audition or not to audition,” a card pull was a perfect choice. It makes no strong difference for anyone else — positive or negative — regardless of which option I were to choose. So live in the faith and trust where my soul resides, pull the cards, and listen to their guidance.

But I know that individuals have different decisions regarding what their faith is — or even if they have a faith or a sense of spirituality. (I am deeply troubled by the assumptions many people hold about how it’s impossible for an atheist to have the capacity to live and ethical or moral life. Of course they can live ethically.) So, I would absolutely not want to impose my spirituality on another person’s choices. Nor do I want someone else’s personal/spiritual/scientifically-ungrounded beliefs to be imposed on me, on my life, on the culture in which I live.

And that’s why I look both to science and to Spirit for my guideposts.

———-

Inspired by the Day 19 prompt for Writing 101Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

Not sure I think it’s too silly an idea, but it’s certainly something quietly embarrassing enough that I’ve been hesitant to explore it.

———-

Image credit: http://www.biounalm.com/2010/10/tarot-cientifico.html

[I can scarcely find the words to express how happy it makes me to know that such thing as the Science Tarot exists.]

Writing for my Health

More time with the Writing 101 backlog. Tonight’s entry is brought to you by the number 18 — the day whose prompt I should be responding to — and the letter “U” — for how uninspired that Day 18 prompt has me currently feeling. So let’s look at Day 14 instead:

Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What’s the first word that jumps off the page? Use this word as your springboard for inspiration. If you need a boost, Google the word and see what images appear, and then go from there.

Today’s twist: write the post in the form of a letter.

———-

Journaling, the world seems to agree, is a good thing.

~ Janet Conner, Writing Down Your Soul

Dear Spirit,

It’s an interesting coincidence that the Writing 101 prompt asks me to “write in the form of a letter,” when that same approach is a key technique Conner suggests as a way to help “journal-writing” become “soul writing.”  The ritual of addressing the words externally, whether to God or Spirit or Inner Wisdom, serves as reminder that someone is there to listen to what I write and even sometimes to provide an answer. Whether you understand that “external” someone as out in the cosmos or housed in that still, small voice within, I think this reminder of writing’s capacity to be in dialogue and meditation is a potent one. And a reminder well-worth receiving.

During the last crazy stretch at work, I not only fell away from blogging publicly, I also fell away from the daily practice of writing in my pen and paper journal. And let me tell you, Spirit, man oh man, did I ever start to feel the ill effects of that choice.

journal-writingBy halfway through the 9-day break from my morning journaling, I could quite literally feel the bile and the poisons building up in my system — frustration, anxiety, negativity of all shapes and sizes — without release. Without a safety valve. Without giving myself the space to vent off the poison and, by the very nature of that process of writing and voicing and studying, to — often, if not always — create a distance between my core self and the negative ego-state I was venting off. To always be able to write myself to some space of release, and to sometimes be able to write myself to a solution, or at least to a deeper level of insight.

For all that I could see the cost I was paying by last Monday, I wasn’t quite able to manage my time adeptly enough last week to reconnect with journal-writing* during the final crazed days of proposal work.

I finally cracked back into my journal last Friday morning. And the internal space and clarity I feel now that I’ve been back to this morning practice is palpable. It’s like I can almost feel that old-fashioned pen nib drawing the poisons out of me, like it draws ink out of a bottle.

This shift, last week to this, is loud enough for me that I’m going to consider long and hard in future proposal cycles — or other busy times — whether I can really afford to take this resource away from myself.

That particular question will actually be a study to take on sooner than later. We have a big family vacation coming up in July, and my sense is that the travel and excursion schedule may be sufficiently robust that morning journal-writing could be damn hard to accomplish. But on days where the morning routine doesn’t work, could I still commit to 15 minutes’ writing meditation later in the day? Before dinner? Before bedtime?

And once I experiment with the benefit of a daily journaling practice — independent of when in the day the writing occurs — is this something I can bring back home to use during crazy work weeks?

That’s definitely my prayer for tonight.

* I am still avoiding the phrase “soul writing” — I’m only about halfway through Conner’s book, so I don’t yet feel clear on 1) what exactly distinguishes “soul writing” from other forms of journaling; 2) whether my daily writing would “make the cut” to be considered as soul writing; and 3) whether or not I even want to reach that standard. For now, I’m talking about my journaling as “journal-writing” — ‘cos I know that term fits and is something I value.

———-

Image credit: http://yogainmyschool.com/yoga-journal-writing-a-window-to-the-soul/

 

A Reason or a Season

[Set-up] The Day 6 prompt for Writing 101 is a character study, a prose portrait of “the most interesting person you’ve met in 2014.” I know what follows is more an artifact of imagination and projection than anything else, but this individual has been on my mind now and again for the last few weeks, so I’m going to keep trusting my inner guidance in this, as with so many other things, and write the words I have in me to say. [/Set-up]

———-

misty-forestOne of the things we’ve been doing as part of growing roots up here in Boston is to attend services and find other (small) ways to become involved at one of the local UU parishes.

All told, it’s sort of been an odd time to be “dating” this new church. The customary minister has been on sabbatical, so the Sunday services have been a patchwork of experiences, from lay-led services (that so often sound more like academic lectures than actual sermons), to guest ministers, to services led by the congregation’s brand-new ministerial intern.

I know enough about how long it takes to get through divinity school to expect that Jeff is actually in his late 20s. However, he has that indeterminate appearance so many young men have — at least to my aging eyes — where his age could possibly be anything from 12 to 29. His frame is slender, such that he looks just the tiniest bit dwarfed by his minister’s robes. The eyes behind his glasses shine with warmth and brightness, but the glasses themselves, paired with the ministerial accoutrements and the care with which I have seen him perform his duties have created in me the strongest impression of seriousness.

The first time we saw him lead a service, Mr. Mezzo even criticized him for that seriousness. “I just prefer a minister who’s less formal, more able to laugh at themselves,” he said in our car ride home that day.

And I understood that, but I had my own theory. “Imagine being so young,” I said, “and you’ve been tasked with providing spiritual leadership and guidance to an established congregation full of people with decades more life experience than you, with more years of involvement in this congregation than you. A congregation that won’t stop comparing your performance unfavorably with that of their oh-so-beloved minister.*

“I remember how intimidated I was with the responsibility of teaching my first college class as a kid of 24, and that was just a low stakes music appreciation class! I can imagine choosing to act with a certain level of gravitas if I were in his shoes.”

———-

My level of church involvement and attendance is still pretty minimal, so I haven’t have opportunities to get to know Jeff to any particular depth. A couple of conversations during coffee hour, a number of services and sermons. My perception has been that he’s come a bit more fully into a comfort level as his months of service went by. I was glad to see that.

In a weird way, I was also glad to see the announcement that Jeff would be finishing his internship with us at the halfway mark rather than completing two full years of service. He was entirely gracious in his announcement of this news, and shared that he was in a process of discerning whether it sensed best for him to continue the path of UU ordination or if a different faith tradition would be better-suited as his spiritual and ministerial home.

And I get that, I really do. A college friend of mine went through a similar journey as she entered divinity school — leaving the faith of her fathers (Catholicism) to be ordained as a UCC minister, because she knew the call to ministry in her soul was true and deep and not to be denied. I also have my own small degree of resonance, recalling the ways I was brought up an a devoutly atheist household** and remembering my own journey of exploration and discernment towards the understanding and acceptance of Spirit I now possess — however ego-limited, nonetheless true and deep and not to be denied.

I also admit to wondering whether the congregation really gave Jeff a fair shake with this position. Instead of being actively mentored week after week by a sitting minister, he was being used as “substitute teacher” during that minister’s sabbatical. And, what with the number of church members expressing to me how “unfortunate” it was that Mr. Mezzo and I were starting to attend church during this sabbatical:

You’ll see how Reverend ______ is just so much better than this.

Well, if I (minimal participation and all) have gotten such a strong picture of the level of regard these folks have for their sitting minister (and of the attendant, not-so-subtle disdain they have for anyone who isn’t Reverend ______), I kinda think Jeff mighta been able to pick up on it, too.

So between my imagined resonance with his journey, and my soft regret for any discomforts he may have felt during this year, I have been holding Jeff in the light and wishing him all manner of support and guidance and acceptance as he journeys forward. May he find the home that best feeds his soul and where he can most authentically be of service.

I’ve been too chicken-shit to reach out and tell him this. Like I said, he and I barely spoke once or twice. The idea of emailing to share any portion of this just feels awkward and invasive and as if I’d be forcing him into the box of the story I made up about his life, rather than honoring his own knowledge about his own lived experience.

But, however on-point or off-base my understanding of Jeff’s decision may be, even if I never see him or speak to him again: this much I know to be true.

A small prayer, whispered up to the ether. You will always be part of  the church’s family tree in my drawing of its branches. Thank you. I wish you well.

———-

* More on that later.

** Yes, that’s a del thing. At least as far as I’ve experienced it, it is.

Image credit: http://www.seedsofunfolding.org/issues/02_11/feature.htm

 

Completion

Celebrating a Finish Line

I’ve talked before about how I’m not thinking of the end of my HCG journey as some sort of arrival at a mythical “I never need to think about detoxing again” kind of place. Nonetheless, a former co-worker of mine always talked about how necessary it is to celebrate the finish lines you achieve. Yes, there’s always a next thing, next task, next project right around the corner, and that deserves attention and energy. But it’s also essential to honor the tasks/things/projects you’re able to complete, and honor yourself for being able to complete them.

Completion
http://www.learntarot.com/todesc.htm

And tonight is a moment where I may not have reached the finish line on my detox journey, but it certainly have reached a finish line. Because today was my last day under the post-HCG dietary restrictions, meaning that I have successfully navigated through and to the end of this nine-week experience.

So: yay.

Though no exclamation point on that, because I am decidedly of mixed feelings.

I am truly proud to have accomplished this, to have found the self-care and discipline to live within the rules of the protocol. I am also looking forward to releasing the strictness of these rules — to being able to start weaving grains, legumes, and carbohydrates back into my diet. (In fact, I think there may be a batch of my famous three-bean “chili” to cook up some time soon…)

I am grateful for the opportunity to get a clearer sense of the distinction between physical and emotional hungers, though there’s another post to write about how I don’t actually think “emotional hunger” or “emotional eating” are necessarily a bad thing. Even though I’d sort of known about this already, it was truly shocking for me to really see and understand the quantity of foods that have added sugar in them, and I’m going to try and limit my intake of added sugars as I move forward.

From an energetic perspective, I am also glad to have taken this HCG journey. Obviously, as last night’s post revealed, I still have many ways in which I am limited and lots of places to keep learning and growing. But it does sense as if the nurturance in this experience — the role of HCG as a sort of “mother vitamin,” allowing myself to be supported by the center and my coaches, practicing maturity and self-care — has really helped take my victim identity off-line. Some significant piece of chronic resentment and suppressed rage that I’ve been carrying with me for rather a while seems to have resolved itself.

Ultimately, though, I also feel slightly embarrassed at the notion of being too proud about this “accomplishment.” Because, honestly, it wasn’t that difficult an experience to go through for these months.

Still: there were some moments of difficulty here and there, and I did manage to weather them. So, honor the finish line, honor myself for getting there, and much honor to Spirit and to my teachers for aiding my way on the path.

Gone Fishin

Gone Fishin’

Gone Fishin
http://ticktickdynamite.blogspot.com/2011/08/gone-fishin.html

Off on an early morning flight to the retreat tomorrow.

Last night and tonight I was/am deep in packing, preparation, and managing domestic tasks to compensate for the abbreviated week. And once I’m at the retreat center, I’m completely off-the-grid till I emerge Sunday evening.

So: no blogging for Sherri this week.

I’m excited. And nervous. And a little stirred up — some of the forces I expect I’ll be processing tomorrow-and-onward have erupted a tiny bit early.* The retreat will be hard work, but it’ll be good work, and work well-worth the doing.

———-

* Which is how it usually goes for me.

organ pipes, close-up

Respect or Complicity?

organ pipes, close-upThe concert went well. My packing tape hem didn’t deconstruct itself, the choir kept itself together and stayed attentive to our conductor, the soloists were fantastic, and we all muddled through some, er, “imperfections” in how the organist handled her duties.

After we were done singing and we’re listening to the Widor Toccatta that closed out today’s program,* I found myself reflecting on the many ways that involvement with classical choral music so often creates some tight interweaves with the Christian church tradition. After all, so much of the repertory, even up into the 20th century, was written to be a part of the church music tradition. And then there’s all the times community choirs use churches and cathedrals as concert locations.

This was all very present to me as I sat in a pew after singing an oratorio depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, standing on a choral riser right next to a big wooden cross adorned with a crown of thorns and a white linen cloth.**

I am not a Christian. If I had to name my spirituality, I think the closest I could come right now would be to call myself a “UU Buddhist witch.” And yet, here I am, reclaiming my place as part of a musical tradition that is very much Christian.

Not all of it, of course. This particular choir I chose to join caught my eye because they’d programmed a setting of Mary Oliver’s poems by a composer whose e.e. cummings settings I have performed and deeply admired in the past. That greater breadth in programming is one of the things I look for in a choir. But even in a group that looks to widen its programming choices, there’s no escaping a heavy dose of Christianity in the music programming.

And I am so of mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand, much of this repertory is what I “cut my teeth” on since I began training my voice at the age of 9. There’s memory and affection tied up in here. And a lot of it is legitimately beautiful and moving — showing once again how something rooted in authentic creativity can often cross boundaries of historical, national or ideological separation.

And yet. I remain deeply concerned at the ways the narrative of Christianity is still so predominant in the USA. Just a couple of days ago, Alabama’s Supreme Court Chief Justice declared that the First Amendment of the Constitution only protects Christians, because “Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures.” Now, this is, obviously, both a legal and a historical fallacy, but I find it rather terrifying that a state supreme court justice (chief justice, no less!) would take such an ignorant and narrow-minded position publicly. (And without any negative repercussions, so far. That detail alone should be enough to show the ongoing cultural hegemony of Christianity in the states, today.)

So, in re-engaging with the classical choral tradition, to what degree am I re-opening to my own creativity and expression? To what degree am I showing respect to past composers and their creations, understanding the historical moments and context in which they worked?

And to what degree am I simply complicit in reinforcing the suppressive nature of dominant cultural structures, rather than engaging in resistance or offering counter-narratives?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I think I’ll be studying them for some time now. There’ll be another choral season starting in September, and in the meantime, I’m considering trying out for a local music theater production next month.

If I choose to do that (and if I were to get a part), there will be the chance for a whole new study around cultural narratives of gender, love and marriage.

* This organ piece went fine. The bitchy Mezzo in me wonders if the organist spent more time preparing her “spotlight” piece than her accompaniment for our oratorio.

** The crown of thorns I get, but I gotta admit, I’m rather clueless about why the white cloth gets draped there. The shroud he left behind in the tomb?

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Image credit: http://www.transformingeveryguest.com/2012/09/sermon-work-in-progress.html

My Fair Lady

I’ve been thinking a bit about fairness the past few days, and the ways I value and desire a sense of fairness in things. My thoughts are a little scattered tonight, so I may just rocket through a few different angles on the topic, rather than pretending I have a cohesive essay to share.

standardizedanimalsOne of the most common adages that comes to my mind when I invoke the concept of fairness is that old saying: “Life isn’t fair!” And there are times that I do remind myself of that fact. Because sometimes my wishing for fairness does come from the a child’s magical-thinking place, where I’m wanting a “big daddy in the sky” sort of God to pave the way for me to have an easeful and trouble-free life.

So when I’m invoking the term fairness as code for “privilege,” it is something that deserves to have a question mark placed in there, with the reminder that fairness in one’s external circumstances is never guaranteed. And also, for whatever mishap might have me wishing life were more fair advantageous, the fact remains that I have received many gifts from life for which I ought to be grateful.

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One of the things we talk about at work is the way that “fair” does not necessarily mean “equal.” Since we spend some portion of our time working to serve students with learning differences or other special needs, it is likely unsurprising that we would resonate to the insights of Dr. Richard Curwin in this recent(ish) Edutopia post:

But what is fair? Many define it as treating everyone the same, but I would argue that doing so is the most unfair way to treat students. Students are not the same. They have different motivations for their choices, different needs, different causes for misbehavior and different goals. I think this is good, because wouldn’t the world be very boring if we were all the same?

The cartoon above signals some of this, as does a quote I have up on my cubicle wall:

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.*

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The one place where I am most deeply studying fairness is the depth of my desire for people to emulate fairness in our dealings with each other. I know I am driven crazy by those petty sorts of individual inequities that arise during interactions — people changing the rules on each other, situations where I might hold myself to a looser standard of behavior than I ask of those around me (or vice versa). And then, more deeply, there is the heartbreaking injustice of systemic unfairness wrapped up in cultural ills and prejudices.

It is with these areas of human unfairness — whether on a personal or a systemic level — that the adage “life isn’t fair” rings hollow to me. Like it’s just a cop-out to spare ourselves the effort of practicing deeper levels of kindness and compassion with how we see each other and hold each other in regard.

* If you were to google this, most sources would cite this quote to Einstein, but that’s probably an apocryphal attribution.

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Image credit: http://www.joebower.org/2014/03/what-can-we-learn-from-honduruss.html