.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

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.

My Photo
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.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Lamp of the Divine Light

of the
Divine Light
is in the hearts of those
who believe in the
Oneness of God...
By means of the
Divine Light
the heart
so that it shines like a polished mirror.
When it becomes a mirror one can
see in it the reflection of existing
things and the reflection of the
Kingdom of God
as they really are.

-- at-Tirmidhi, Muslim scholar (died c. 892)

Saturday, November 27, 2004

The President's Crusade

Gary Wills has a great essay, "What is a Just War?" in the November 18 issue of The New York Review of Books. He examines the Christian tradition of "just war" (justifiable war) and turns up some facts that surprised me. For example, St. Augustine, who is frequently cited as an authority in the "just war" arguments,

denied the right that many make the very basis of just war argument—the right of personal self-defense. That would be an act of self-love, which is always evil in Augustine. But if one sees one's fellows threatened by violence, one can defend them out of love—so long as one loves the aggressors, too. The latter condition means that any war driven by Clausewitzian Hass [hatred of the enemy] is unjust for Augustine. Also, even when defending others, one cannot act "on one's own hook," which might also come from selfish motives. One must wait for legitimate authority to command the action, and then one must not kill the innocent, or torture or kill prisoners.

For the first 300 years of its existence, of course, Christianity was a pacifist religion. Not until Constantine wedded the church to the political state did theologians begin to search for ways to justify war.

As the Rev. Dr. John Westerhoff has pointed out, there have historically been three approaches to war within the Christian tradition: pacifism (as found in the teachings of Jesus himself), "just war," and crusades -- going to war to spread one's view of "good" and to suppress "evil."

The "pre-emptive" war President Bush has started in Iraq cannot be justified as a "just war" by any historical definition of the term. It is a crusade, or as Wills puts it, "a tool of social engineering (e.g., to spread democracy and rebuff tyranny)." This is why Bush presents his war as a battle against "the enemies of freedom." But the "freedom" he is crusading for is nothing more than a form of capitalism that allows him and his cronies in the oil industry to profit immensely from the suffering his war is creating. In the name of spreading "freedom" in Iraq, Bush is curtailing freedom in the United States itself, through the USA Patriot Act and other attacks on our civil liberties.

While Bush is seeking to increase support for his war by pandering to our hatred for "the enemies of freedom," he would do well to look to the example of Abraham Lincoln. As Wills writes:

While most war leaders ratchet up hatred, he [Lincoln] tried to ratchet it down, in recognition of the evil being done on both sides. That was the theme of his Fast Day proclamations, asking people to wage a repenting war, "in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes." During the Vietnam War, Senator Mark Hatfield introduced a resolution calling on the nation to repent its own war crimes. He was attacked as unpatriotic, as treasonously giving aid and comfort to the enemy—till he revealed that he had been directly quoting Lincoln.

Your comments and feedback are welcome; just click on the "Comments" button below.


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A Tale of Two Churches

Last year the Episcopal Church (of which I am a member) consecrated the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as Bishop of New Hampshire. This action sparked intense controversy throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion. There are many who believe the Episcopal Church in America has departed from "orthodox" Christianity and should be removed from the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury formed a special commission to address the "crisis," and on October 18, 2004, this 17-member group released its recommendations in The Windsor Report.

The report did not call for Bishop Robinson's resignation, as some on the right had hoped for, but it did call for the Episcopal Church to "express its regret" for the pain its actions caused other members of the Communion. But the report only acknowledges pain on one side of the issue -- the conservative side. Bishop Robinson pointed out in a recent interview with The Advocate:

"While the report talked about the pain caused to those who don’t agree with my consecration, not one word is mentioned about the pain that gay and lesbian people have experienced at the hands of the church. I would have felt better if gay and lesbian people had been acknowledged and [if there had been] a serious call for regret from those people who have perpetrated that pain against gays and lesbians."

While the Anglican Communion is stewing over the "pain" inflicted on it by those uppity homosexuals who dare to acknowledge God's calling on their lives, another Christian communion has taken a positive step in the opposite direction. The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa has issued an apology to the gay community "for the pain and suffering that we caused you and your families in the past," according to a report in the Pretoria News. "We accept that what we did in the past was wrong," said a church spokesman, referring to the church's insensitivity to gay and lesbian people in the past.

Many members of the Dutch Reformed Church are angry over the apology, just as many members of the Episcopal Church are angry over the consecration of Bishop Robinson. But both churches acted in a prophetic manner: acting according their to principles, not according to opinion polls, and reaching out to the gay community in Christ-like love and acceptance. The Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop, the Rev. Frank Griswold, is to be commended for affirming, in response to the Windsor Report, "the presence and positive contribution of gay and lesbian persons to every aspect of the life of our church and in all orders of ministry."

Let us pray that the larger Anglican Communion can reach the same place the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa did:

  • a place where they can move beyond the "pain" inflicted on themselves by their own homophobia;
  • a place where they can recognize the very real pain they continue to inflict on God's gay and lesbian children.

Please use the Comments button below to add your opinion and feedback. Thanks!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Five Books of Moses

Robert Alter's new translation (with commentary) of The Five Books of Moses is getting reviews in some unlikely places: John Updike has written a lengthy review for The New Yorker, CNN.com features a Reuters review of the book in its "Entertainment" section (?), and even Aljazeera.net, the Arabic news site, features a condensed version (in English) of the Reuters review.

I was excited about this new translation (yes, I actually got excited; I am a theology geek) because last year, my study group at church had read Alter's book, The Art of Biblical Narrative -- which you can now sample online, through Google Print. This book was scholarly and dense at times, but the effort was worth it: I now have a much greater appreciation for the many authors of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Alter's Five Books of Moses features not only his own translation of the first five books of the Bible, it also features his commentary in the form of footnotes on each page. For John Updike, in his New Yorker review, these footnotes are overwhelming: "an overload of elucidation" that make reading the book "a wearying, disorienting, and at times revelatory experience." But Michael Dirda, in his Washington Post review, sees these footnotes in a very different light. "For me," he writes, "the chief glory of this edition of The Five Books of Moses may actually lie in its abundant footnotes. To these he brings all his gifts as both a scholar of Hebrew and a major literary critic. The result is a kind of modern-day Midrash, commenting on language roots as well as laying bare some of the motifs and interlacings of this great foundational text."

These footnotes, which, as Updike points out, "take up at least half of all but a few pages," are the reason I bought the book. I respect Alter's scholarship, and I look forward to reading these five books of the Bible in the light of his commentary. It may take a while; the book is over a thousand pages long, and my reading time is also divided between my Education For Ministry class as well as Perry Mason mysteries and other books.

In my earlier attempts, during my Pentecostal days, to "read through the Bible" (a common, and often broken, New Years resolution for evangelicals), I always gave up about halfway through Leviticus. Hopefully, Robert Alter's commentary will serve as a guide through what can at times be a very difficult text.


Friday, November 19, 2004

Hilda of Whitby, Abbess and Peacemaker

Yesterday, November 18, was the Feast Day of Hilda of Whitby, Abbess and Peacemaker (614 to 680 C.E.). I have always respected Hilda's desire to unite the Church, but I think it is a historical tragedy that the Synod of Whitby marked the end of the Celtic Church's native forms of Christian worship and replaced it with the Roman liturgy.

The description of Hilda's feast day in the Episcopal Church downplays the differences between Celtic and Roman styles of worship. As in many (if not most) church councils in history, this was more about politics and power (ensuring the continued power of the Roman church) than about theology. As described in Shirley Toulson's book The Celtic Year, "the result of that Synod of Whitby in 664 was to alter the course of church history in these [Celtic] islands, imposing an urban, foreign and quasi-military hierarchy as the established church took on the role of the vanished Roman empire."

Dr. Deborah Vess has a great webpage featuring a brief history and virtual tour of Whitby Abbey. For more on Celtic Christianity, you're invited to join the email group, Anam Turas.


Monday, November 15, 2004

Sufi Prayer for Peace

Sufi Prayer for Peace from Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927):

Send Thy peace, O Lord, which is perfect and everlasting, that our souls may radiate peace.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that we may think, act, and speak harmoniously.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that we may be contented and thankful for Thy bountiful gifts.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that amidst our worldly strife we may enjoy Thy bliss.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that we may endure all, tolerate all, in the thought of Thy grace and mercy.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that our lives may become a divine vision, and in Thy light all darkness may vanish.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, our Father and Mother, that we, Thy children on earth, may all unite in one family. Amen.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Taking Action

My GSV (Gay Spirit Visions) brother John Ballew posted an excellent article on the Gay Spirituality & Culture website, following the elections. It's in the same vein as my earlier post here, but it goes even further in offering some concrete advice -- including joining the ACLU, which I heartily urge everyone to do. The ACLU has already started leading the court battles against all these anti-gay amendments.

John makes the point, "Taking action is a great way to stave off depression."

Click here to read John's article.

Many thanks to Irish Flambeau for her wonderful comments to my post, "Recovering from Post-Election Depression." And also thanks to Sujatin, who has a great Buddhist blog called lotusinthemud, and my friend Toby, whose writings can be found on his website.

Other comments and suggestions on taking action are welcome here. If you have trouble posting a comment, try posting it as "Anonymous."


Saturday, November 13, 2004

Recovering from Post-Election Depression

A lot of my friends and acquaintances are still depressed over the results of the presidential elections. Although George W. Bush only got 51% of the popular vote, he is calling it a "mandate" -- a sign that America approves of the actions and policies of his first four years as president. To me, his 51% is a sign that America is deeply divided, almost down the middle. We are not divided between "blue states" and "red states," a meaningless distinction because every "blue" state has large numbers of "red" voters, and vice versa. The division is not geographical but ideological. There are two different visions of what America is or could be.

Those of us who call ourselves progressive or liberal are depressed because the majority of Americans rejected our vision.

--Our vision is of an America where "moral values" are not limited to abortion and stem cell research but also include such biblical values as helping the poor (Isaiah 10:1-2), promoting peace (Matthew 5:9), and protecting God's creation (many scriptures);

--an America whose government is supportive of the poor and those in need, rather than seeking to keep the minimum wage low and give tax cuts to the wealthy;

--an America that seeks civil liberties for all its citizens, rather than trying to enshrine discrimination against gay Americans into the constitution;

--an America that cares about our planet and seeks to protect our environment, rather than voting against international treaties and doing away with what environmental protections are already in place;

--an America committed to human rights, rather than condoning the torture of Iraqi prisoners and ignoring the Geneva Conventions by redefining prisoners of war as "enemy combatants";

--an America that seeks to help and empower its abused citizens, rather than cutting funding for victims of domestic violence and diseases such as AIDS;

--an America that only goes to war as a very last resort, rather than rushing into a "pre-emptive strike" based on false information.

This is the vision of America that many Americans rejected on election day. But take heart. As Mark Fiore points out in his wonderful online video The Depressed Democrat's Guide to Recovery, we are not alone. We may not be the majority, but there are 56 million of us. And now it is more important than ever that we continue to make our voices heard. We need to join with others who share our vision of what America is meant to be. We need to write Letters to the Editor of our local newspapers, especially those of us who live in conservative areas. We need to become involved in our local communities, to the extent that we are able. We need to stand firm in our truth, and make sure our truth continues to be heard.

Please use the Comments button below to add your comments and suggestions on how we can continue to stand firm in our truth. Thanks!