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Blog of the Grateful Bear

ramblings of a freelance panentheist {"all things are in God, and God is in all things"} . . . musings on Emergent spirituality, powerlifting, LGBTQueer issues, contemplative prayer, mysticism, cats, music, healing, and more. I like my coffee and my existentialism dark-roasted.

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Location: Marietta, Georgia, United States

I'm an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), in private practice in Marietta, Georgia. My writings on queer spirituality have been published in Whosoever and several other magazines. I live in a house-in-the-woods (Bear's Hermitage) in Marietta with Leonidas (Lenny) and Guy, Mighty Warrior Cats, and way too many books.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Don't Try to Argue with a Cat

I got into another philosophical argument with Guy the Cat this morning. I was still in bed and he jumped up on the night stand and began meowing incessantly for me to get out of bed. I responded that I would get out of bed when I felt like it, that I was a human being with free will and I did not have to obey him. Guy then quoted Kurt Vonnegut (or maybe it was John Calvin?) by meowing, “Hah! Free will is an illusion.” He then proceeded to lecture me on his belief that we are all, human as well as feline, governed by our biological instincts, and his instincts were telling him to go outside and hunt prey, and that required me to open the back door for him, and that required me to get out of bed. I told him humans have learned to control their instincts and to control their own destinies. Guy responded that the reasons cats are superior to humans is because they have learned to embrace their biology. I was reciting Invictus (“I am the master of my fate! I am the captain of my soul!”) when Guy’s brother Lenny jumped up on my chest and sent the telepathic message, “Look! I’m a big fluffy cat! You should pet me!”

I did eventually get out of bed, but only when I, as a human being with free will, chose to do so. Also because I had to go to the bathroom.

Lenny (front) and Guy, resting after a hard day of being cats


Friday, January 10, 2014

Top 10 Vinyl Records of 2013

According to the Vinylphile Bear 

10. The National: Trouble Will Find Me 
9. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City 
8. Yoko Ono: Take Me to the Land of Hell 
7. Miles Davis: Jazz Track (audiophile vinyl reissue of the 1958 album) 
6. Vitamin String Quartet Performs Sigur Rós 
5. Cher: Closer to the Truth 
4. Ólafur Arnalds: For Now I Am Winter 
3. TIE: Grateful Dead: Sunshine Daydream (4-LP limited edition; already sold out) and Dead Set (audiophile vinyl reissue) 
2. Frank Turner Tape Deck Heart 
1. Dropkick Murphys: Signed and Sealed in Blood



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Powerlifting: One Year Update

On this date one year ago, November 14, I started the Strength Class at CrossFit on the Square. I had to “unlearn” a lot of things I thought I knew. To help me get my form right, the coaches (who are very knowledgeable about proper form and injury prevention) had me squatting with a kettlebell before I ever put a barbell on my back. So my squat has gone from a 12 kg kettlebell (26 pounds) to 120 kg (264.5 pounds, my PR in competition) in one year.

I’ve lost some weight over the past year, but the number on the scale is far less important to me than some other numbers:

  1. Blood sugar levels. Powerlifting is keeping my type 2 diabetes under control, to the extent that my doctor is having me take my prescribed medication on a much less frequent basis. By keeping my diabetes under control, powerlifting is also keeping my diabetic retinopathy from progressing or getting worse.
  2. Clothing sizes. Men’s sizes 2XL and 3XL are not standardized, so I still have 3XL shirts that are too tight and 2XL shirts that are too baggy. But there are several shirts and one jacket that I could not wear last year because they were way too tight on me, and now they fit just fine. I’ve had to donate several shirts and more than a few pairs of pants that are now too large for me. I’ve gone down a few pants sizes, from a 48 waist to 44. I blame CrossFit on the Square for my clothing expenditures over the past year! 
  3. The numbers on the bar. “Instead of focusing on the weight of your body going down, focus on the weight of your barbells going up.” My gym PR’s are currently 270 pounds for the squat, 200 pounds for the bench press, 340 pounds for the deadlift. Not bad for a 51-year-old Deadhead! 
Over the last year I’ve competed in three powerlifting competitions and I’ve won medals at each of them. My medal at the November 9th meet was for Fifth Place in the Men’s Masters (age 40+) division. 

In this season when many of my friends are writing Facebook posts about what they’re thankful for, I am writing this note to express my gratitude for Vanessa and Dave, my wonderful PrettyStrong coaches, and Ivy and Mario, the supportive owners of CrossFit on the Square – as well as for my teammates on the PrettyStrong Powerlifting Team. I can’t adequately express how grateful I am for you all. Thank you. 

Deadlifting 152.5 kg = 336 pounds in competition, Nov. 9, 2013

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

BookLog: The Wolves of Midwinter

This is no ordinary werewolf novel. I didn't expect to shed tears as I was reading The Wolves of Midwinter, but Anne Rice has written an incredibly beautiful and moving story. It's a deeply Christian, yet thoroughly Pagan novel - just like Midwinter itself. Anne Rice reinvented the vampire novel with her stories of Lestat, and now she is doing the same with her Wolf Gift Chronicles. 

Buy the book from Amazon, or
Download the Kobo eBook and support Charis Books & More


Sunday, September 29, 2013

BookLog: The Six-Gun Tarot

The Six-Gun Tarot by R. S. Belcher is one of the most amazing and captivating novels I’ve read in a long time. It’s a Western novel with elements of fantasy (or shamanic realism, depending on your worldview) and science fiction (with a “mad scientist” who would feel at home in a steampunk novel). But it’s also a horror novel, and a truly horrifying one at that. The genre-bending works well in this novel, a seamless story of silver prospectors, Mormon settlers, daughters of Lilith, a sheriff who just can’t seem to be killed, a deputy who is half-human and half-coyote – and an unspeakable horror that is starting to awaken beneath the mountains of an Old West town aptly named Golgotha.

The horror in this novel has been described as Lovecraftian, and I guess that label fits, but I actually found it more fascinating than the images that label conveys. The horror in The Six-Gun Tarot is rooted in ancient gnosticism. Not the wise and insightful gnosticism of the Gospel of Thomas, but the cosmic, dualistic gnosticism of the Sethian Gnostics who wrote the Gospel of Judas and other ancient gnostic texts. Demigods and demiurges; divinity imprisoned in matter; fallen angels and coldly indifferent deities. Crazy shit. In this novel, it’s truly horrifying shit.

But unlike Lovecraft, the world R. S. Belcher has created in this novel, while filled with horrors, is also filled with elements of grace. There are truly beautiful moments in this novel, and Belcher has a way of writing that is deeply poetic at times. It’s hard to believe this is a first novel. Belcher is already working on a sequel to The Six-Gun Tarot, and I know I’ll be downloading the sequel to the Kobo app on my iPad the day it is published.

Buy the book from Amazon, or
Download the Kobo eBook and support Charis Books & More


Monday, September 23, 2013

Read a Banned Book This Week

This week (September 22-28, 2013) is National Banned Books Week. 

I celebrate this week every year by re-reading Howl and Other Poems (1956) by Allen Ginsberg and re-watching the excellent movie about the book's obscenity trial (Howl, starring James Franco as Ginsberg). This photo shows cadets at Virginia Military Institute reading Howl, in the early 1990s. 

For a list of Banned Books That Shaped America (a list that includes Howl as well as some of my favorite novels), visit this link.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Live Long and Prosper

To me, the highlight of DragonCon 2013 was when I was standing in line for the George Takei photo: Two straight couples next to me were talking about how their views on gay rights and equality had changed drastically because of George's posts on Facebook. They found themselves questioning what their upbringings had taught them about gay people, and they were able to be more accepting of their gay coworkers and acquaintances. My eyes were a little watery by the time I had my photo op. 

I told George Takei it was an honor to meet him. He said he liked my Starfleet Academy shirt. It surprised me when he made the "Live Long and Prosper" sign (after all, he's not Vulcan!) which is why I'm looking at his hand instead of the photographer.

For more of my pics from the con, visit my DragonCon board at Pinterest.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

BookLog: Letters to Pope Francis, by Matthew Fox

I’ve been a fan and admirer of the Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox since the mid-1990’s. His books on Creation Spirituality were very helpful to me as I was emerging from my fundamentalist background and learning that there were more open and inclusive paths of spirituality, even within the Christian tradition. I will always be grateful for his essay “The Spiritual Journey of the Homosexual… and Everyone Else” (from his book Wrestling with the Prophets), which was hugely influential in my journey out of the closet as a gay man. Matthew Fox has also been influential in the Emerging Christian conversation, as seen in this Sunday Devotional from Mike Morrell.

Fox’s new book, Letters to Pope Francis, is a book full of realism but also a book full of hope. In a series of essays addressed as letters to the new Pope, the Rev. Fox outlines in detail the many problems facing the Roman Catholic Church today (and by extension the Christian church as a whole). Fox is writing as a priest who still dearly loves the church that excommunicated him. He wants to see the church confront the hierarchical thinking that led to so many of the church’s problems and emerge as a healing force for good in the world.

As I read through the book I couldn’t help but feel cynical at times. I doubted whether Fox’s proposals about the church going in a new direction would ever be taken seriously, or if he was destined to be just another “voice crying in the wilderness.” But then I read in the news that Pope Francis has expressed a surprising openness to Liberation Theology, which his predecessor was strongly against. Pope Francis has also shown a solidarity with and consideration for the poor that we never saw under Pope Benedict XVI.

The hopes that Matthew Fox has expressed in Letters to Pope Francis are not just pipe dreams; they are actual possibilities. My prayer is that Fox’s dream – and the dream of many others – of “rebuilding a church with justice and compassion” will truly become a reality.

Click here to read an interview with Matthew Fox about Letters to Pope Francis.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

The Terrorist Next Door

“Up 'til now, Rolling Stone's covers always featured role models such as Roman Polanski, O.J. Simpson, and Charles Manson.” 
~ Stephen Colbert 

A lot of people are upset about the Rolling Stone cover featuring Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, saying the magazine is giving him “the rock star treatment.” But that's only because Tsarnaev looks like he could be a rock star. If he looked creepy like Roman Polanski, or tiresome like O.J. Simpson, or just plain demonic like Charles Manson, no one would be complaining. There was no national uproar over those Rolling Stone covers. 

None of this is to excuse the heinous and cowardly act of bombing innocent people, or to say Rolling Stone made the right decision in featuring Tsarnaev on its cover. But I think what people are really upset about is the fact that Tsarnaev looks like an ordinary college student. We don't like it when our terrorists look normal. If they look creepy or ugly we can dismiss them as “other” than us. If they look like one of the hipsters at the coffeehouse discussing bands we've never heard of, or if they look like we and our friends did when we were 19 years old, that makes us uncomfortable. That's too close to home. 

The controversy reminds me of John Updike's 2006 novel, Terrorist, the story of a high school student, a convert to Islam who gets caught up in a suicidal terrorist plot to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel during morning rush hour. Like all novels by Updike, Terrorist is well-written, engaging, and theologically astute. It’s also frightening. What is so chilling about the novel is how very ordinary it is. In fact, some reviewers found it boring. It’s not a “thriller” but a gripping story of an 18-year-old named Ahmad and the people in his life: his clueless mother, his world-weary guidance counselor, the girl who flirts with him at school, the manipulative imam at his storefront mosque. 

The idea of a religiously-zealous teenager getting involved in such a violent plot is, in Updike’s telling, entirely believable. Especially for those of us who were religiously-zealous teenagers ourselves. My youthful zealotry was Christian (Pentecostal), not Islamic, but I saw a lot of my teenage self in Ahmad. And that made me uncomfortable. Almost as uncomfortable as the current cover of Rolling Stone. 

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

BookLog: The Power of Vow

As a therapist I have recommended Darren Littlejohn's book The 12-Step Buddhist to several clients. His new book, The Power of Vow: Everyday Tools for Healing, builds on the solid foundation of his previous book, delving deeper into Buddhist tradition and relating it to 12-Step recovery. Both books are valuable resources, especially for those who want or need to look beyond the “God” language of 12-Step groups to access their deep healing wisdom. 

Visit The 12-Step Buddhist website 

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Paula Deen and “the N-word”

I’m not a fan of Paula Deen. She made a living pushing diabetes-inducing recipes and kept her own diabetes a secret until she found a way to make money from it, by promoting Novo Nordisk's diabetes drug Victoza. Her admission of using racial slurs in the past, which is in the news this week, is not a surprise to me. She’s from Georgia, as I am, and I know there is a lot of racism here, often hiding behind jokes or behind a charming Southern Belle façade.

That’s why I’m bothered by the way news outlets and even court documents in Paula Deen's case refer to her use of “the N-word.” When we see or hear “the N-word” (or “a racial epithet”) instead of the blatantly offensive word “nigger,” we are sanitizing the racism that is a very real and very disturbing part of life in America today. We are shielding ourselves from the ugliness of racism. 

I’m also bothered by the double-standard being used in news reporting on “the N-word.” When NPR, the New York Times, and other news media report on the homophobic activities of Westboro Baptist Church and other hate groups, they quote the signs and phrases that are used by such groups, such as “God Hates Fags.” They don’t refer to “God Hates F-words” signs. 

I’m reminded of how one of the contributing factors in the ending of the Vietnam War was TV news. For the first time in history, everyday people removed from the battlefields saw the horrors of war on a daily basis, broadcast into their living rooms. War was no longer an abstraction from which they were removed; they could see its reality and its ugliness as they ate their dinner. Public opinion against the war increased. Perhaps if we stopped distancing ourselves from the ugliness of racism by censoring its offensive vocabulary, we could help increase public opinion against racism – or at least against the “acceptability” of racism in the kind of jokes Paula Deen tried to defend in her court deposition.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Indigo Girls Powerlifting Mix

Best listened to AT TOP VOLUME with the convertible top down, on the way to the meet... 

Closer to Fine 
Get Out the Map 
Uncle John's Band 
Rural Faggot 
Shed Your Skin (Tom Morello Remix) 
Shame on You 
Rock and Roll Heaven's Gate (with P!nk) 
It's Alright

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Celtic Spirituality

Here is a good overview of Celtic Christian spirituality, from Christine Sine. I especially like #2: "A belief in the thinness of the veil between this world and the next. Heaven and earth are interconnected and interacting." I'm intrigued by the blank #8 at the end of the article - perhaps indicating an open-endedness?

Link: Celtic Spirituality – What Is The Attraction? by Christine Sine


Friday, May 10, 2013

Strength Training Past 50

Research-based benefits to strength training for those of us age 50 and over: 

1. Strength training will help you avoid the 5 to 7 pounds per decade of muscle loss typically experienced by adults over the age of 50. In fact, research shows that adults average a 3-pound increase in muscle tissue after just 10 weeks of sensible strength exercise. 

2. Strength training will help you avoid the 3 to 5 percent per decade reduction in resting metabolic rate that adults over the age of 50 typically experience. In fact, research demonstrates a 7 percent increase in resting metabolism after just 3 months of sensible strength exercise. 

3. Strength training will help you lose fat even in the absence of dietary restriction. Research indicates approximately 4 pounds of fat loss from strength exercise alone after just 10 weeks of training and twice as much fat loss when combined with minor dietary adjustments. 

4. Strength training has been shown to significantly increase bone mineral density, thereby reducing the risk of osteoporosis. 

5. Strength training has been shown to significantly increase glucose uptake, thereby reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. 

6. Strength training has been shown to significantly increase gastrointestinal transit speed, thereby reducing the risk of colon cancer. 

7. Strength training has been shown to significantly reduce resting blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

8. Strength training has been shown to significantly reduce improve blood lipid profiles, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

9. Strength training has been shown to significantly increase full-range lower back strength, thereby reducing the risk of low back pain. 

10. Strength training has been shown to significantly increase musculoskeletal function and concurrently ease the pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. 

~ from the book Strength Training Past 50 by Wayne L.Westcott and Thomas R. Baechle

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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

BookLog: Evolution’s Purpose

Evolution’s Purpose: An Integral Interpretation of the Scientific Story of Our Origins by Steve McIntosh is a fascinating book that proposes an intriguing link between purpose and the evolutionary process: 

“Examining what science has revealed about our evolving universe from the perspective of integral philosophy shows how evolution is not random, accidental, or otherwise meaningless. On the contrary, its progressive advance reveals the presence of purpose – not an entirely preplanned or externally controlled type of purpose, but rather a creative generation of value that has been continually building upon itself for billions of years.” 

McIntosh goes on to examine the evolutionary process from an integral perspective, while avoiding the jargon that makes some books about integral philosophy unreadable to those who are not in that particular “in” crowd. He examines what it means to have an evolutionary worldview and how that worldview can inform our spiritual lives. 

I have not finished reading the entire book yet, but I look forward to doing so. I’ve learned a lot from the book so far. I can see Evolution’s Purpose as a good choice for an Emergent book group where people can discuss it face to face. 

Steve McIntosh’s Website 
Buy Evolution’s Purpose at Amazon

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Powerlifting for Pink

My first powerlifting competition was on April 20, “Powerlifting for Pink” – a fundraiser for Paint Georgia Pink, a local volunteer-run charity that helps support breast cancer patients in Georgia. I started training in late November 2012, at a powerlifting class coached by the very knowledgable and supportive Vanessa Gale and David Bell, at CrossFit on the Square in Marietta. Our team is named PrettyStrong Powerlifting.

I won two medals, 1st place in Masters (age 40+) Novice for my weight class, and 2nd place in Mens Novice. My deadlift was 314 pounds (142.5 kg) and my squat was 226 pounds (102.5 kg) – both were PR’s (personal records) for me. I attempted 198 pounds on the bench press but didn’t get it, so my bench PR remains 190 pounds. You can see the video of my teammates and I lifting at the meet here, on the PrettyStrong blog.

In the picture I’m standing with friend and teammate Amanda Shumate Carroll, who was also an award-winner at the meet.

I’m looking forward to entering more competitions and to getting stronger and stronger!


Saturday, January 19, 2013

BookLog: How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You

My review as posted on Goodreads:

How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill YouHow to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You by Matthew Inman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do feel like this is the most important book I've read this year, but I was disappointed that it didn't cover the phenomenon of cats stealing computer thumb drives. I've caught my cat Guy, who is an anarchist, in the act of stealing a thumb drive, after I had "lost" two of them. I've asked Guy repeatedly about the missing drives but all he does is meow that when the revolution comes, all cats will have thumbs, and they will need thumb drives. Other than this glaring omission, the book contained very useful information about the warning signs to heed when living with cats, and the poster was a nice addition to the text.

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Sunday, January 06, 2013

On Reading Poetry

A book of poetry is best read
outdoors, surrounded by the beauty
of nature. If it's late at night
and too dark to read outside,
you may read your book
in the presence of a cat.


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Monday, December 31, 2012

In Response to Facebook's Inquiry

How am I feeling today? Thank you for asking, Facebook Robot. I'm feeling the constant undercurrent of existential dread, of course, over the ultimate absurdity of life. But I'm also feeling a deep sense of gratefulness for all the many blessings in my life. Most of those blessings are people, but some of them are cats. Cats are quite adept at balancing absurdity and grace.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

There are no easy answers.

This blogpost about the tragic shooting of schoolchildren in Sandy Hook brought tears to my eyes. Mayim Bialik is not only a talented actress and neuroscientist, she is also a woman of deep faith who shares her insights on the Kveller website: 

Mayim Bialik on Sandy Hook, Faith & God


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BookLog: Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde

Constance Wilde, the wife of Oscar Wilde and the mother of his sons, was amazing. She was a proto-feminist who fought for women's rights, she was involved in esoteric spirituality (Theosophy; the Order of the Golden Dawn), and she was an author in her own right. In fact she may have been the primary author of some of the children's stories attributed to her husband. She did her best to stand by Oscar during his imprisonment and only divorced him to protect their children financially. I don't think she ever stopped loving Oscar, even when his love for her grew dim. 

This fascinating book, Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde,  draws upon Constance's correspondence with friends and relatives, as well as other sources, to tell her story. The book reads like a novel, and it provides a welcome glimpse into a little-known figure in literary history.



Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Having seen all 3 Lord of the Rings movies multiple times, and having worked through my rage at Peter Jackson for omitting Tom Bombadil from the films, and knowing that Jackson was going to squeeze 3 movies out of one novel this time, I wasn't expecting the film The Hobbit to be faithful to the novel. Approaching the film as its own creation, I found it enjoyable and times deeply moving. Yes, I found the video-game CGI aspects of the battle scenes a bit tiresome (and I don't remember that many battles being in the first third of the novel). And I can understand the frustration many feel about Jackson turning a beloved childhood novel into another 3-movie "epic." But overall I loved the movie. I loved the humor, the rapport between the characters, the sheer beauty of the scenery throughout the movie (as well as the beauty of Cate Blanchett and Aidan Turner), the pathos and expressiveness of Andy Serkis as Gollum, and, as always, the depth and dignity Sir Ian McKellen brings to any role he plays. I'm certain I'll see it again on the big screen, and I'm certain I'll buy it on Blu-Ray and geekily enjoy all the extras and commentaries.


Saturday, December 01, 2012

BookLog: Water from an Ancient Well

Water from an Ancient Well by Kenneth McIntosh is one of the most quietly wise books I've read in a long time. "Like a Celtic knot, this book is meant to be enjoyed in a nonlinear fashion," McIntosh states in his introduction. Each chapter is a self-contained essay on a particular topic in Celtic Christian spirituality, with stories, theological-historical background, and applications for today. A lot of my favorites are here: St. Brigid of Kildare, the Gaelic hymn "Be Thou My Vision," the Celtic sunwheel cross, St. Columba, St. Brendan the Voyager, even Merlin the Magician. Quotes from C. S. Lewis, "the great Celtic theologian of modern times," are peppered throughout the book. 

My favorite chapters are the ones about the panentheism of John Scotus Erigena ("Every Bush Aflame: God Revealed in Nature") and the one about "Furred and Feathered Neighbors: Creatures of Grace," which shows how St. Columba, St. Brigid, and others related to their animal neighbors. From that chapter:

John Scotus Erigena (Charlemagne's Irish-born theologian) and C. S. Lewis (also born in Ireland, though many centuries later) both wrote about animal salvation, and both shared a similar view. Lewis and Erigena suggest that we are our pets' redeemers; our love for them is a part of God's restoration of all things. Erigena writes, "When man is recalled into the original grace of his nature... he will gather again to himself every sensible creature below him through the wonderful might exercised by the Divine Power in restoring man." In Lewis's novel The Great Divorce, he describes a "great lady" in heaven, surrounded by a small menagerie, and he explains, "Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them." On a more humorous note, Robert Louis Stevenson writes, "You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us."

If you're not familiar with Celtic Christian spirituality, Water from an Ancient Well is a great introduction. Even if you are familiar, this book is a great way to revisit some of these stories, poems, and prayers and learn new ones - especially as we enter the contemplative season of Advent. 


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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

BookLog: The Cross in the Closet

Is it possible to love and hate a book at the same time? Here is my response to the controversial new book by Timothy Kurek:
Love, Hate, and Solidarity: One Response to "The Cross in the Closet"
at Whosoever, An Online Magazine for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Christians.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

After Morning Prayer

Sometimes the Word of the Lord is found
not in the songs of the hymnal
or the prayers of the prayer book
or the words of the minister.

Sometimes the Word of the Lord is found
in the beauty of the grain
of the rough-hewn wood of the chapel

or the rustle of leaves
in the Autumn morning chill.

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Silent Prayer, With Crows

Sitting in silent prayer, I hear 
the caw-caw-caw of a crow in the forest 
and off in the distance the caw-caw-caw 
of another crow in response. 
The caws go on and on - 
a deep conversation for the crows - 
but instead of letting it be a distraction 
I choose to let each caw be a Call 
to return to the center, 
return to the One 
who meets me in the silence 
and in the caw-caw-caw of the forest.


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Saturday, September 08, 2012

Bear's Talking Points for Election 2012

  • We will not force gay marriage on anyone unless you're really really cute.
  • God doesn't care how many times he is mentioned in a political platform. God is not looking for plugs or endorsements.
  • No one has ever been converted to Christianity by seeing the Ten Commandments displayed in a government building.
  • All cats are anarchists. We have much to learn from them.
  • If Obama were really a socialist, he would have a coherent and consistent political philosophy.
  • Talking points are more valid if they're included in a list with bullet points.
  • Cat people are superior to dog people.
  • Real vampires don't sparkle.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, H. P. Lovecraft, and Catholic Nuns

As we get closer to the presidential elections in November, we’re all going to see more news stories and Facebook posts about Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand – including on my own Facebook wall. I have been fascinated with Ayn Rand for many years, although I find her philosophy based on “The Virtue of Selfishness” (the title of her 1964 book) reprehensible and incompatible with my own Christian faith. I’ve read Ayn Rand’s novels “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” (including the 70-page speech by John Galt that brings the novel to a grinding halt), as well as several collections of her essays (including “The Virtue of Selfishness”) and the two biographies of Rand that came out in 2009: “Ayn Rand and the World She Made” by Anne C. Heller, and “Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right” by Jennifer Burns. 

What led to my fascination with Ayn Rand was the 1949 film version of her novel “The Fountainhead” starring Gary Cooper and one of my all-time favorites, Patricia Neal. The movie, the screenplay of which was written by Ayn Rand herself, is overly melodramatic at times, but that’s one of the things I love about truly classic movies from that era (like the 1945 versions of “Mildred Pierce” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray”). I found myself admiring the integrity and philosophical consistency of Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) and Dominique Francon (Patricia Neal), even when I disagreed with them. (Barbara Stanwyck, another classic movie actress I love, had originally brought the novel to studio head Jack Warner, but she was passed over in favor of Patricia Neal to play Dominique. I can’t help but wonder how different the movie might have been if Stanwyck, who loved the novel and agreed with Ayn Rand’s philosophy, had been the star instead of Patricia Neal.) 

 So watching the movie led to reading the novel, which led to reading other works by and about Ayn Rand. In some ways my fascination with Ayn Rand parallels my fascination with the classic horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Both were somewhat mediocre writers who nevertheless could tell a good story at times. Both led tragically self-centered lives that alienated them from others. Both were militant atheists who wrote essays denigrating those of us who believe in God. Both lashed out in anger and sometimes hatred at people who disagreed with them. Both were driven by ideologies I find reprehensible (Rand’s “virtue of selfishness” and Lovecraft’s vehement anti-Semitism and bigotry). And both were hugely influential in their respective fields. 

Ayn Rand is in the news again because of Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan to be his presidential running mate. Paul Ryan has been open about his admiration of Ayn Rand in the past, as seen in these quotes from a 2005 lecture he gave to The Atlas Society, a group devoted to the philosophy of Ayn Rand: 

The Atlantic: Audio Surfaces of Paul Ryan’s Effusive Love of Ayn Rand 

More recently, though, Paul Ryan has been distancing himself from Ayn Rand, probably because he knows his fellow conservative Catholics are extremely uncomfortable with Rand’s atheism and her strong support of abortion. 

CNN: Is Paul Ryan for or against Ayn Rand? 

National Review: Ryan Shrugged 

Paul Ryan seems to be contradicting himself, or at least his 2012 self is contradicting his 2005 statements about the huge influence Ayn Rand has had on him. Or perhaps over the last seven years he has genuinely changed his position on her philosophy; maybe he really does now prefer Thomas Aquinas to Ayn Rand, as he said to National Review in the link above. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But by referencing the Catholic principle of subsidiarity as an influence on his thinking, Ryan has opened himself up to criticism from the priests and nuns who are far better acquainted with Catholic social teaching than he is (and than I am). And even if he now renounces Ayn Rand, the influence of her philosophy is still clearly seen in his budget proposals and his overall political philosophy. 

Unlike some on the left, I do not feel the need to demonize Paul Ryan for his political views, although I disagree strongly with most of them. Any critiques of Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney that I post between now and November will be out of genuine concern that their policies, if enacted, may damage us as a nation (just as I’ve posted critiques and even angry rants about some of Obama’s actions that have eroded our constitutional rights as individuals and as a nation). 

The NETWORK Catholic social justice group has invited Mitt Romney to join a group of Catholic nuns for one day to learn about the plight of the poor: 

Nuns Challenge Romney To Spend A Day With Them To Learn About Plight Of America’s Poor 

I do hope Romney accepts the invitation, and I hope Paul Ryan accompanies him. For that matter, I think President Obama would do well to step out of the White House and spend a day with nuns who are actually feeding the poor and ministering to those in need, rather than pontificating about it from behind a guarded fence.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

On the Chick-fil-A Boycott

I’m having trouble getting behind the Chick-fil-A boycott 100% because there's really nothing new here; Chick-fil-A has been supporting groups like Focus on the Family for decades. I can understand why many don’t want to support such groups, even indirectly, and I can understand why some feel a need to take a stand against what they see as “hate speech.”

But I don't think holding a particular view on homosexuality necessarily constitutes hate. If your view leads you to wave “God Hates Fags” signs at funerals or to bully a gay person, then yes, that's hate. But I don’t think it’s hate or even “anti-gay” if your reading of the Bible sincerely leads you to believe in what Dan Cathy calls “the biblical definition of the family unit.” (A straight friend pointed out that since she is divorced and remarried, she wouldn’t fit Dan Cathy’s definition either.) I have conservative friends who hold such views but who are wonderful people whose friendships I, as a gay man, value greatly.

Perhaps it’s easy for me to understand those who hold such “biblical views” because I held those views myself for many, many years. I didn’t hold those views because I was anti-gay or pro-hate, I held them because I sincerely thought that’s what the Bible taught. I no longer interpret the Bible in that way, and I’m grateful for the freedom that came in my life when I learned there are other ways of reading the Bible. I’ve written several articles about gay-affirming spirituality, and I’m proud that those articles have been published in gay websites and magazines. I will continue to take a stand for gay-affirming spirituality. But I don’t think that makes me superior to those who still read the Bible the same way I did for the first 30 years of my life. For me to condemn or even look down on someone because of a belief – that feels like intolerance to me.

Chick-fil-A is no longer my first choice for a fast-food meal, but I personally don’t feel a need to boycott it completely. You have every right to either boycott or support Chick-fil-A or any other company, and I certainly won’t judge you or condemn you either way. And I hope if you see me getting a Chick-fil-A sandwich or diet lemonade on a hot summer day, you won’t judge or condemn me either.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

BookLog: Being Jesus in Nashville

Being Jesus in Nashville is an amazing book with an amazing backstory. The author, Jim Palmer, was a popular writer who had written two best-sellers in the evangelical Christian world: Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to Find God (and the unlikely people who help you) and Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-by-Number Christianity. While working on his third book, under contract to a major Christian publisher, Palmer began doing what a lot of us in the Emergent Christian movement have done: he started asking questions – questions that made his Christian publisher so uncomfortable they cancelled his contract, stating that his manuscript did not “lie within the bounds of biblical, orthodox Christianity.” Palmer writes, “With outstanding medical payments still to pay from my near-death car accident, it was financially devastating not to receive the payment that was forthcoming based on my contract. My publisher decided this wasn’t enough and also demanded that I pay back the advance they had issued long ago when I first signed the contract.” So after being forced into bankruptcy, Palmer decided to self-publish the book, and I for one am grateful he did.

The book is largely a collection of stories about people Palmer has met, conversations they have had, questions he has wrestled with. The focus of Jim’s questions is what it means to be Jesus in the real world: in his case, on the streets and in the coffeehouses of Nashville. Not to be LIKE Jesus, but to actually BE Jesus – to take the incarnation of Christ seriously. This is not a new idea to Christian mystics or early church fathers like Iranaeus, who wrote, “The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.” But apparently this is a dangerous idea to evangelical Christian publishers. 

Jim’s voyage of discovery led him to new realizations about what it means to “be Jesus,” and he devotes a chapter to each of these insights. Being Jesus means… 
Parting with religious tradition when necessary; 
Seeing people as they truly are; 
Letting it happen, not making it happen; 
Being at peace, whatever happens; 
Putting no limitations on God; 
Living without separation from God; 
Following your own path; 
Realizing there is no problem; 
Living as everyone’s neighbor; 
Accepting help from others; 
Feeling it all deeply; 
Being a true friend; 
…and in a chapter that would do Pete Rollins proud, “Being Jesus Means… Letting Go of Jesus.” 

Usually when I read a book I know I’ll be blogging about, I’ll take the time to highlight note-worthy passages so I can refer to them in my review. That didn’t happen with this book, because I got swept up in the stories Palmer was telling, overwhelmed by the compassion he shows for the people in his life who are asking questions the institutionalized church will not – or cannot – answer. 

Being Jesus in Nashville is available as a Nook book from Barnes and Noble for only $3.39. Don’t look for it at your local evangelical bookstore, though. Being Jesus in Nashville is way too honest, way too real for them to tolerate.

You can visit Jim Palmer's blog at http://www.divinenobodies.com/blog/. He also has a great Facebook page, Occupy Religion.

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