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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.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Stranger in a Strange Land: Bishop Spong in Cobb County

Last month I went to a book-reading and signing by John Shelby Spong, the controversial Episcopal bishop whose new book is titled The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love. I've written about my experience of Bishop Spong, along with some of my thoughts about his new book, in the July/August 2005 issue of Whosoever, the online magazine for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians.

Stranger in a Strange Land: Bishop Spong in Cobb County

Based on my readings of Spong's earlier books, I went to the reading expecting to hear an intellectual attack on the "terrible texts." What I experienced, though, was a look into the soul and spirit of a man who passionately loves the Bible and sincerely wishes to rescue it from those who would use it as a weapon to oppress others.
This article is the first entry of a column called "Bear's Notebook: an ongoing series of reports on current events and ideas," which will appear in each issue of Whosoever. The theme of the current issue is "Gracious Christianity."


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Matthew Fox: 95 Theses for a New Reformation

I just discovered that Matthew Fox, theologian of Creation Spirituality, now has his own weblog. He recently nailed 95 Theses for a New Reformation at the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg, where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses some 500 years ago. The weblog has pictures of Matthew nailing his new 95 Theses near the door (which is now made of metal, so no one can nail anything on it anymore). If you scroll down, the weblog also lists, in both English and German, the "95 Theses or Articles of Faith for a Christianity for the Third Millennium." Here are just a few I especially like:

1. God is both Mother and Father.

6. Theism (the idea that God is ‘out there’ or above and beyond the universe) is false. All things are in God and God is in all things (panentheism).

33. The term “original wound” better describes the separation humans experience on leaving the womb and entering the world, a world that is often unjust and unwelcoming, than does the term “original sin.”

41. The body is an awe-filled sacred Temple of God and this does not mean it is untouchable but rather that all its dimensions, well named by the seven chakras, are as holy as the others.

42. Thus our connection with the earth (first chakra) is holy; and our sexuality (second chakra) is holy; and our moral outrage (third chakra) is holy; and our love that stands up to fear (fourth chakra) is holy; and our prophetic voice that speaks out is holy (fifth chakra); and our intuition and intelligence (sixth chakra) are holy; and our gifts we extend to the community of light beings and ancestors (seventh chakra) are holy.

54. The Holy Spirit works through all cultures and all spiritual traditions and blows “where it wills” and is not the exclusive domain of any one tradition and never has been.

55. God speaks today as in the past through all religions and all cultures and all faith traditions, none of which is perfect and an exclusive avenue to truth, but all of which can learn from each other.

57. Since “ the number one obstacle to interfaith is a bad relationship with one’s own faith” (the Dalai Lama), it is important that Christians know their own mystical and prophetic tradition, one that is larger than a religion of empire and its punitive father images of God.

Others among the 95 Theses address the sins of homophobia, racism, sexism, and militarism. More about those in a future blog post.


Saturday, June 25, 2005

George W. Bush Is Not Lord

Sometimes the evangelical magazine Christianity Today can be irritating and exasperating, sometimes it can be excellent and insightful. Here is a great example of the latter: a current editorial that begins, "George W. Bush is not Lord." The editorial is about the current tendency of many in the evangelical world (and the editorial names names) to confuse conservative politics with Christianity. Can't wait to see the angry Letters to the Editor they get for this one! Here's an excerpt:

The not-so-subtle equation of America's founding with biblical Christianity has been shown time and again to be historically inaccurate. The founding was a unique combination of biblical teaching and Enlightenment rationalism, and most of the founding fathers, as historian Edwin Gaustad, among many others, has noted, were not orthodox Christians, but instead were primarily products of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, we should recall, has never been much of a friend of biblical Christianity.
Most of us who identify as liberal -- or who have actually studied American history -- already know this, but many of Christianity Today's conservative readers are going to disagree. I have to admire the magazine's courage for publishing this much-needed editorial.

(And, of course, those of us on the left need to be reminded, as Sojourners tells us, that God is not a Republican or a Democrat. None of us have a monopoly on truth.)


A Stardust Journey with A Wrinkle in Time

I received a great email update from Madeleine L'Engle's website about two new editions of A Wrinkle in Time, one for Random House's Yearling imprint and one for Laurel Leaf. These new editions both include an essay on the real-life science that grounds this beloved story. Below is an excerpt from the essay, which contrasts the "primitive" science of 1962, when the novel was written (and the year I was born), with the science of today. As Joni Mitchell sang, we really are made of stardust.

A Stardust Journey with A Wrinkle in Time
By Lisa Sonne

A Wrinkle in Time was written before any human had walked on the moon or sent rovers to Mars. It was a time before cell phones and personal computers, before digital cameras, CDs, and DVDs, before the fiction of Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Matrix, and before the realities of the space shuttle, the Mir space station, and the International Space Station. Science has changed dramatically as generations of children and adults have read the book since it was first published in 1962. Those scientific advances make Madeleine L'Engle's story even more compelling.

The author of A Wrinkle in Time is a tall woman who sometimes wears a purple cape. She will tell you that she is completely made of stardust and always has been. No kidding. "You are made of stardust, too," she will add with a twinkle in her eye.

This is not the wild imagination of a creative writer's mind. We are all made of stardust. Our little molecules are the leftovers of big stars that exploded eons ago. Mrs. Whatsit may be a fanciful character who gave up her life as a star to fight the darkness, but we are real creatures who really are made of the cosmic dust of supernovas. When giant stars explode, they send their matter out into the universe and enrich all the yet-to-be-born stars and planets with the chemical ingredients that make up life as we know it. Astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson says, "It's a profound, underappreciated truth."

Stardust is just one way that Madeleine L'Engle mixes fact and fantasy to inspire you to want to know more about science. With knowledge come more questions. With imagination comes more curiosity. With searching comes more truth. That blend is a specialty of L'Engle's.

Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin visit different planets outside our solar system. When A Wrinkle in Time was first printed in 1962, scientists could confirm the existence of only nine planets--all of them orbiting our sun. Since 1995, astronomers have been finding planets at an average rate of one a month--all outside our solar system.

Throughout A Wrinkle in Time, the universe is in a struggle with the Black Thing. L'Engle wrote of the Black Thing before astronomers found black holes, which suck up everything around them, and long before scientists announced that almost all of our universe is composed of invisible "dark matter" and "dark energy," which science knows almost nothing about.

In the thin atmosphere of Uriel, Meg has to breathe from a flower to stay alive. In reality, we all breathe plants to stay alive. NASA conducts experiments to see how plants could help keep astronauts alive when they travel in space and live on other planets.

In A Wrinkle in Time, we meet thinking aliens in outer space, including Aunt Beast, the Man with Red Eyes, and Mrs. Who. Since 1962, explorers have gone to remote spots on our planet, studying "extremophile" life to learn more about what life out there in space might really be like.

Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin travel through multiple dimensions. When A Wrinkle in Time first appeared, science recognized only four dimensions-three of space and one of time. Now mathematicians claim that at least nine spatial dimensions are needed to explain our physical world-maybe ten. Maybe more.

Just looking at how technology and science have changed since Meg's first adventure was printed is a kind of time travel in your mind that shows how much science and math have grown, and how much they still need to grow. When Meg's father urges her to name the elements of the periodic table to escape the dark forces of IT, she begins reciting, "Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium, Beryllium, Boron, Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Fluorine . . ." and continues. Only 103 elements were known in 1962. In 2004, to finish reciting the elements on the periodic table, Meg would need to add more tongue-twisters, such as rutherfordium, meitnerium, darmstadtium, and roentgenium (element number 111). New elements are still being discovered, created, and debated.

Scientists and astronauts are delving further into the tiny world of microorganisms that Meg's mother studied, and further into the giant realms that Meg's father traveled in. Since 1962, scientists have discovered quarks and quasars, things smaller and bigger than ever known before-smaller than a proton in an atom and larger than a galaxy. What next?

"Students can get so bombarded in science classes and think that all is known. It's not. A book like this can help them realize that we know some things, but really very, very little. And maybe a lot of what we know now is not right!" says Shannon Lucid, a science fiction reader and astronaut who has spent more time in space than any other woman. There are still big unanswered questions and great quests yet to begin.

For Madeleine L'Engle, every good story and every good life is a search for answers through fiction, fact, and spirit. The poet, the physicist, and the prophet are all searching to understand the dimensions we can't see, whether gravity, time, or love. A Wrinkle in Time is a great journey through dimensions--a journey of exploration and discovery, curiosity and awe.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Healing Grace

I don’t write very often about my chronic pain condition, Guillain-Barre Syndrome – in fact I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on this weblog at all. I wrote about it in the “Bear’s Journal” part of my website, WildFaith.com, back in 2002 and 2003, following my partial paralysis and hospitalization from the disease. Residual pain from it still bothers me, usually in my lower legs and feet, and usually only in the evenings – unless the weather is stormy. I seem to have become a human barometer, as are several of my friends with chronic pain conditions.

One thing that was particularly exciting about my recent trip to Asheville is that I stayed in the camping area, sleeping on an air mattress and sleeping bag for five nights, and the Guillain-Barre pain did not bother me at all. (Of course, the fact that I was at a gathering of Sufi healers may have had something to do with it!) This fact has been extremely liberating to me; it has opened up new possibilities. I no longer feel as restricted by the disease as I did before spending five pain-free nights at the campsite.

The pain has bothered me this past week, though. Many times I am able to reduce the pain, or do away with it entirely, using some breath-prayers (wazaif) I’ve learned from the Sufi Healing Order, or by sending healing light to the pain, or by relaxing entirely the part of my body that is hurting. One thing I learned in my Buddhist Psychology class at the University of West Georgia (I took some cool courses in grad school!) is this:

Pain = Sensation x Resistance.
The more resistance we give to hurtful sensations (physical or psychological), the more painful they are. The less resistance we give, the less painful they are.

I’m not always able to reduce the pain, though. Sometimes the pain just is, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Yesterday was one of those times. I went to bed with a dull, achy pain in one leg. (At least it wasn’t the sharp, stabbing pain I sometimes feel.) Before I fell asleep, though, I began to feel a warm, energizing sensation flowing through the leg, chasing the pain away. It felt like my leg was being bathed in light. I have felt this sensation before, when a priest lays hands on me and prays for my healing, or when my partner Michael does massage or energy work on me, or when my cat Kato does feline message therapy as a “minister in fur.” I can only conclude that someone was praying for me at that moment. I have quite a few friends, from many different spiritual paths, who do pray for me, or send healing energy to me, according to their traditions. I don’t know who it was, but I’m grateful. I was able to go to sleep and wake up this morning pain-free, thanks to a very real experience of healing grace.


Sunday, June 19, 2005

Another Particular Bird

Another bird has taken up residence in the birdhouse on our front porch. Heloise and her fledglings are long gone, and now another bird -- it looks like a little brown finch -- has built a nest in the birdhouse. She has so much nesting material in there, bits of pinestraw are sticking out of the birdhouse on both sides. I can tell when she's in the birdhouse; it rocks back and forth a little. I don't see her as often as I saw Heloise, but I can hear her, loud and clear, in the mornings. And of course, our cat Kato is keeping the birdhouse under surveillance, patiently waiting.


State of the Union

Dwight Welch's A Religious Liberal Blog has an important post (dated June 17) about Republicans' response to allegations of U.S.-led torture in Guantanamo and other prisons around the world: Attack the messenger, don't deal with the message. After outlining the techniques of torture approved by our U.S. government (as documented by Amnesty International), Dwight concludes:
But the right's attacks on the messenger and not on the torture itself destroys any claims they may have to moral authority. It sadly raises the issue, both with the religious as well as the secular right: Are they against torture? Has this become a partisan issue? Honestly? Until we take seriously the proposition that all people are of God, and therefore worthy of basic human rights, any claims to the religious or the moral will be nothing but a lie.
We are living in a country that has mainstreamed torture, led by an administration that attacks anyone who dares to question it. Led by a president who quotes scripture and talks about "a culture of life" while sending thousands of soldiers off to die in an unjust war. Led by lawmakers who, through the "Patriot Act" and other fascist legislation, are doing away, here in America, with the very freedoms we are allegedly spreading throughout the world.

The most truly-patriotic thing we can do in this environment is to support two organizations that are standing up for human rights and civil liberties: Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union. Only if we stand together in support of basic human rights and freedoms can we avoid turning into another Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Jesus Replaced by Bush

Once again the religious right blurs the lines between church and state:

This disturbing little artifact is a powerful symbol of who the religious right really worships. It isn't the Jesus of the Gospels.

Thanks to blogger Russ Noland for providing the link to BushFish.org.

Monday, June 13, 2005


I took another one of those web quizes (thanks to a link from Blogopotamus), this one to find out my "theological worldview" within Christianity. I came out as "Emergent/Postmodern." Here is the description:

You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

My score was the same, though, on "Classical Liberal." Not surprisingly, my score on "Fundamentalist" was zero!

The "Emergent/Postmodern" description from the quiz does seem to fit me, as long as we define "evangelism" as sharing one's faith, not imposing one's beliefs on others. I do feel alienated from traditionalist theology, but I love the traditional worship of the Episcopal Church.

I'm a little confused, though. I thought "Emergent" was a new strain of evangelical theology, and I do not consider myself to be evangelical. I was referred to once as an "Emergent" by a "comments" poster on Trev Diesel's blog, but when I asked what it meant, I didn't get an answer. Can someone enlighten me? What the heck is an "Emergent"?

Take the quiz here: What's your theological worldview?

Friday, June 10, 2005

M. Basil Pennington, RIP

I was saddened to learn that Abbot M. Basil Pennington has passed away. Father Pennington was the author of the classic book Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form, as well as many other books on contemplative spirituality. He served as the Abbot of the Monastery of Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, for two years. During that time I participated in a directed retreat that he led, a retreat which deepened my understanding of both centering prayer and lectio divina, an ancient practice of prayerfully reading the Scriptures.

The monastery website describes Father Pennington as "a great, loving bear of a man," and that's certainly a good description. His joy was infectious, as was his commitment to his faith. I'm grateful that I got to meet him and to sit under his teaching.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Modern-Day Mystics...

Last night at the Atlanta Christian Mysticism Meetup, the poet Mary Oliver was mentioned as a modern-day "nature mystic." Her poetry is absolutely beautiful, and since not everyone at the Meetup was familiar with her work, I'm posting two of her poems here.

From the May 2005 issue of Poetry magazine (the lengthy title of this poem is just as thought-provoking as the poem itself):

The Real Prayers Are Not the Words,
But the Attention that Comes First

The little hawk leaned sideways and, tilted,
rode the wind. Its eye at this distance looked
like green glass; its feet were the color
of butter. Speed, obviously, was joy. But
then, so was the sudden, slow circle it carved
into the slightly silvery air, and the
squaring of its shoulders, and the pulling into
itself the long, sharp-edged wings, and the
fall into the grass where it tussled a moment,
like a bundle of brown leaves, and then, again,
lifted itself into the air, that butter-color
clenched in order to hold a small, still
body, and it flew off as my mind sang out oh
all that loose, blue rink of sky, where does
it go to, and why?

© 2005 by The Poetry Foundation


This is my favorite Mary Oliver poem, one of her best-known (and pretty easy to find on the internet):

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work
© Mary Oliver

Speaking of modern-day mystics...

If, like me, you loved, and deeply miss, the late singer/songwriter Mark Heard, you'll want to hear Buddy Miller's version of Mark's song, "Worry Too Much" -- done in a "roots"/alt.country style with a touch of soul. You can see and hear the video of the song at the Buddy and Julie Miller website. The song is from Buddy's Grammy-nominated album, Universal United House of Prayer.