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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.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Review: “What’s the Deal with Wicca?”


I recently read an evangelical Christian book written to warn people of the “dangers” of Wicca. I have several friends who are Wiccan, and the reason I was interested in the book is because I read online that a friend of mine, Carl McColman, “figures prominently” in the book. Actually, there is only one reference to Carl, two sentences about a book he wrote while he was Pagan (he recently converted to Roman Catholicism):

“Carl McColman, author of The Aspiring Mystic, has put together a book called The Well Read Witch to help anyone interested in finding the best books to read on Wicca. McColman reviews over four hundred books in his own paperback and also provides a basic overview of Wiccan spirituality.”

-- from What’s the Deal with Wicca? A Deeper Look into the Dark Side of Today’s Witchcraft, by Steve Russo

Russo's book as a whole was a disturbing reminder of the brand of Christianity I left behind: not interested in true dialogue with other religions, or developing authentic relationships with people from other faiths, the only important thing is to convince others, through whatever means necessary, that Christianity is the only true religion. Jesus is presented as the only way to salvation; everyone who doesn’t believe in him is deluded by Satan and damned to hell. Satan is given a whole lot of power in this form of evangelicalism.

In this book, Christianity is referred to in several passages as a religion, and in other passages we read that Christianity is not a religion at all. Russo, the author, who ministers to teenagers and hosts a radio program for Focus on the Family, acknowledges that Wiccans do not believe in Satan, yet he repeatedly tries (dishonestly) to link Wicca with Satanism. I’m sure Russo and his bosses at Focus on the Family would consider such dishonesty acceptable if it “saves” someone from Wicca.

Most of the chapters in the book present some information about Wicca (some of it accurate, some of it not), followed by what reads like the transcript of a sermon – complete with phrases like “Stop and think” and “Think about it” that are repeated so many times I wondered if the book had been edited at all. One whole chapter is an extended sermon that has nothing to do with Wicca, the supposed subject of the book.

The book may actually backfire from Russo’s stated purpose of warning teenagers and others about Wicca. Some teenagers will note the inaccuracies in the book (just one example: TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer is held up as “the classic female witch” – she’s not a witch at all, although some of the other characters on the show are) and figure that Russo doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. Then they may check out some of the many Wiccan books and websites Russo references, and move in the opposite direction. They might even buy The Well Read Witch.

The closed-minded, dogmatic, condescending, proselytizing brand of Christianity that Russo presents is not the only form of Christianity that exists. Sadly, many teenagers who read this book may think that it is. I can’t blame them at all for rejecting it and exploring alternatives.

Addendum (after reading some of the comments posted to this entry): Just as there are many different “brands” of Christianity (just think about the differences between Jerry Falwell and Bishop Desmond Tutu), so too there are many different kinds of evangelical Christians (just think about the differences between George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter). One of my oldest and dearest friends is a Southern Baptist, and he is not closed-minded at all. My opinions about this book are not my opinions about all evangelical Christians.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Light

click on the image to see and read it full-size

Credits: I saved this graphic to my computer several years ago, from Anglicans Online. According to that site, “This lovely poem was written by Laurence Housman (1865-1959). We came across it, years ago, quoted by HRL Sheppard in his essay ‘What is Meant by the “Kingdom of God”?’ in Asking Them Questions (Oxford University Press, 1936). That book is long out of print.”

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas
~ Darrell & Kato ~

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Advent: The Irrational Season


This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason,
There'd have been no room for the child.

~ Madeleine L'Engle


Advent & Christmas articles on the web:

A Celtic Christmas: Celebrating the Sacred in All Creation
by Mary Earle

Christmas: When Love Overcame Power
by Tony Campolo

Diary of a Former Pagan: Celebrating Advent as a Catholic
by my friend Carl McColman

Celtic knotwork graphic by Bradley W. Schenck

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Whatcha' Readin'?


As usual I’m in the middle of several books at the same time. Here’s what I’m currently reading:

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. Anne Rice has renounced her vampire novels (see this interview with Beliefnet) and returned to the Roman Catholic Church (as detailed in this Christianity Today article). Her latest book is a historical novel about the childhood of Jesus. You can tell she did her research; she very vividly recreates the historical era and captures the Jewishness of the seven year old Jesus and his family. You can also tell her devotion to Catholicism by the way she incorporates several details that only a Catholic would include: Mary is a perpetual virgin; Jesus’ siblings are from Joseph’s earlier marriage. I’m halfway through the novel, and so far no vampires have appeared. One reviewer did suggest a vampire link, though: “...consider the vampire Lestat and Jesus as flip sides of the same coin. Both are suffering young men who exist eternally, one by taking life, the other by giving it. And blood figures prominently in their stories.”

Capote: A Biography, by Gerald Clarke. The basis for the movie Capote, which I loved: a complex portrayal of a brilliant but tortured soul. It was creepy and disturbing the way it showed Truman Capote using his relationship with a killer on death row in order to catapult his own career. Watching the scenes of the two talking in the prison cell, you couldn’t help but wonder: Who is the sociopath here? The man who murdered a family “in cold blood” or the socialite writer using the killer’s story – and his execution – as a “goldmine”?

The Truth, with Jokes, by Al Franken. I love Al Franken – his radio show is one of the best things on the air. The problem with books like this is that the Bush Administration (and the Republican death machine as a whole) is so incompetent, so inept, and so corrupt that the “jokes” seem redundant.

Books I recently finished reading:

The Girl with the Long Green Heart, by Lawrence Block. Delightfully lurid pulp fiction from the folks at Hard Case Crime.

The Way of Solomon: Finding Joy and Contentment in the Wisdom of Ecclesiastes, a new interpretation by Rami Shapiro. This is one of my favorites, which I re-read recently because of a Sunday School class I’m teaching this month on the Book of Ecclesiastes. Rabbi Shapiro takes a radical approach to this ancient text. The Hebrew word usually translated “vanity” (as in “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”) can also be translated “emptiness.” Using this as a beginning point, Rabbi Shapiro’s paraphrase of Ecclesiastes becomes a meditation on emptiness, impermanence, and compassion. Ecclesiastes suddenly becomes less depressing (as it does in many mainstream translations) and sounds more like the wisdom of a Buddhist sage.

What I’ll be reading next:

Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis, by Jimmy Carter. I’ve been wanting to read this ever since I saw this article about Carter on Beliefnet:

Former President Jimmy Carter said Thursday he doesn't doubt President Bush has a sincere faith, but they practice their Christianity differently. “I have a commitment to worship the prince of peace, not the prince of pre-emptive war.”

Amen!

What are you reading this holiday season?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Where Would Jesus Shop?

Yesterday I stopped at a Target store to make a payment on my Target card. In line at the customer service desk next to me, a woman was returning a large box, a Power Rangers toy of some sort. She said, in a quivering, hesitant voice, that she was returning it because “Target doesn’t allow its employees to say ‘Merry Christmas,’ and I think that’s a shame.”

The clerk informed her that she could return the toy, but in fact none of the employees at the store had been told that they could or could not say “Merry Christmas.” The woman became bolder, less nervous, as she proclaimed that Christmas was nowhere to be found in Target – it’s all “Happy Holidays,” no mention of Christmas. The clerk informed her, in what I thought was a very calm and professional manner, that that wasn’t true, either – which infuriated the woman. She raised her voice and said “It is written! I have read it! On the internet!”

The clerk processed the refund and the woman huffed out of the store, glaring at everyone around her.

Out of curiousity, I stepped into the store for about 60 seconds and counted ten displays that said “Countdown to Christmas” – just in the front section of the store alone. Target was using Christmas to sell, among other things, shampoo.

Questions for Theological Reflection:

1. Where would Jesus shop? Would he be picky about where he bought his Power Rangers toys? Would he buy Power Rangers toys in the first place? How do Power Rangers fit in with evangelical Christian beliefs?

2. Was the angry woman upset because she thought Christmas was not being sufficiently commercialized at Target? Shouldn’t it be preferable for Christians to shop at a store that doesn’t use Jesus’ birth as a marketing technique?

3. As it turned out, Target was just as commercialized about Christmas as the angry woman wanted it to be. But she held on to her beliefs about Target in spite of the fact that they weren’t true. She couldn’t be dissuaded by facts, although she apparently believes whatever is “written” on the internet. What does that say about Christians in general, especially the ones who are railing about “the war against Christmas”?

Monday, December 12, 2005

C. S. Lewis on King Kong


Here’s a little snippet about C. S. Lewis that I’ve seen on several blogs and e-lists this week. It’s especially relevant since this is the opening week of both movies, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong:

“Though (C. S.) Lewis himself was a lover of books, the theory of myth he shared with (Owen) Barfield and (J. R. R.) Tolkien works too well with film to deny its application to film. When Lewis wrote Arthur Greaves about going to the cinema, he went on to say it was to see King Kong because of its mythic qualities -- it reminded him of his reading of Rider Haggard's mythic adventures. Years later he indicated having enjoyed those parts of the movie which took place on the island, though he deplored the last half set in New York. He liked the film when it was most mythic.”

--From The Silver Chair and the Silver Screen: C.S. Lewis on Myth, Fairytale, and Film, edited by Shanna Caughey.

Other movie news: The MSNBC-Newsweek site has a great article about Brokeback Mountain, which won't be released here in Atlanta until December 16th: Forbidden Territory.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Churches Cancel Christmas


Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, and some of the nation’s largest megachurches are cancelling their regularly-scheduled church services on Christmas Day. GetReligion, one of my favorite blogs, has a post about it, which has attracted a lively discussion in the “Comments” section of the post. So has the entry at the blog of New Testament scholar Ben Witherington: Churches Closed on Christmas?

One rationale offered by the megachurches is that Christmas is a “family day.” Evidently “family values” are more important than worshipping Christ on the day we celebrate his birth.

One of the churches mentioned in the GetReligion post, North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, is not only cancelling services on Christmas Day but on New Years Day as well. I didn’t know January 1st was such a “family day.”

As an Episcopalian, this is all very strange to me. My church always has a Eucharist service on Christmas Day, even if it falls in the middle of the week.

In the words of Candace Chellew-Hodge, Editor of Whosoever: “Isn't this amazing? They want Christ in Target stores, but won't open their doors to him on Christmas day. Astounding!”

Here's the post, from the always-informative GetReligion blog:
Put Christmas back in the church.

Update: The CBS News website has an article about this (including the "Closed" graphic, above), which quotes a spokesperson for one of the megachurches as saying "you don't have to be in a church building to worship." That really begs the question: then why have church services at all? Why not just close the building down and distribute DVD's for "home family worship," as some of the megachurches are doing for Christmas Day? Here's the CBS/AP article:
Some Churches Closed on Christmas.

Friday, December 02, 2005

One Cool Cat: Update

This business of Kato, my cat, listening to jazz is getting a little spooky. The other night he sat staring at the stereo speakers and made the same distinctive meow (more like a squeek than a meow) that he makes when he wants me to open the sliding glass door so he can go outside, or when he wants me to open him a can of tuna. So I turned on the CD player, which had a Grateful Dead CD in it (Truckin’ Up to Buffalo). He kept on squeeking at me till I switched to “his” CD, Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane. Then he stopped squeeking and sat down in front of the speakers and listened. I’m sure he would have been snapping his fingers and drinking espresso if only he had thumbs.

I’ve had two friends tell me their cats will sit and intently watch nature programs on TV. One friend even said his cat will crouch and go into “hunter mode” when an animal appears on TV. I’ve also had friends tell me to play other types of jazz and see what Kato responds to. I played a Dave Ellis CD (contemporary jazz) – no response at all. I played a Charlie Parker CD (jazz from the 40’s and early 50’s), and Kato did come over, stare at the speakers, and sit down and listen for a while – but then he got distracted and wandered off.

I’m not sure which is more unsettling: that Kato has added to his repertoire of commands he gives me (Time to get out of bed! Open the door for me! Give me some tuna! Play me some jazz!), or that Kato apparently does not like the Grateful Dead.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Journey

“If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses,
what might not the heart of man become
in its long journey toward the stars?”
~ G. K. Chesterton