.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.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Being Christian in a Time of Empire

So many people have asked me to write about the conference I attended last weekend! The event was called A January Adventure in Emerging Christianity (the conference website has already been updated to include tentative dates for next year’s event, which will feature Marcus Borg and Barbara Brown Taylor).

The speakers at the January Adventure last weekend were Marcus Borg, who spoke on “Being Christian in a Time of Empire: Then and Now,” and Walter Brueggemann, who spoke on “Practicing an Alternative in a Culture of Seduction.” Both speakers did four lectures each, along with two Q&A sessions. Borg and Brueggemann dovetailed very nicely with each other, Borg focusing mainly on the New Testament and Brueggemann on the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).

Brueggemann had done a lecture at my church, St. Luke’s Episcopal in Atlanta, two weeks before, which was basically the same as the first lecture he presented at the January Adventure. You can hear his St. Luke’s lecture at Paul Hinson’s Episcoblog (the January 8th entries).

Both speakers talked at length about how the Bible is both personal and political. We’ve grown so accustomed to hearing the Lord’s Prayer, for example, that we don’t hear how political it really is. “Give us this day our daily bread” and “forgive us our debts” are about economic justice, making sure that the hungry are fed and debts forgiven. “Thy Kingdom come” is a call for God’s reign on earth, a political statement against the empire of Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire. Even the statement “Jesus is Lord” was political, even treasonous, because Caesar was called Lord. To call Jesus Lord is to say that Caesar is not. (Caesar was also called the Son of God, and it was also claimed that he was born of a virgin.) Borg said an equivalent for our day might be “Jesus is my commander-in-chief – George W. Bush is not.”

“Empire” seems to be a recurring phenomenon throughout human history. “The Bible is inherently anti-empire,” Borg said, from the empire of Pharaoh in ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day, to Babylon in the book of Revelation. Defining “empire” as “using military and financial power to shape the world in our own self-interest,” Borg said that today we live in a time of American empire – a post-industrial domination system that has the same characteristics as the ancient empires that Moses, the Hebrew prophets, and Jesus stood up against in the pages of the Bible:

--rule by a few (politically oppressive)
--religiously legitimated
--economically exploitative

Taking the Bible seriously, according to Borg, means following Jesus’ teachings and taking a stand against much of American political policy. (As I noted in my January 27th entry here, Christianity Today has done a great job of taking a stand against American-endorsed torture.)

I took several pages of notes during the conference, so over the next week or so, I’ll write more about what Borg and Brueggemann said. Your comments are welcome.

Friday, January 27, 2006

5 Reasons Torture is Always Wrong

Once again, the evangelical magazine Christianity Today has spoken with a clear and prophetic voice which, hopefully, will not go unheard among its many readers who blindly support President Bush. The article details, from scripture and from common sense, 5 Reasons Torture is Always Wrong – and why there should be no exceptions.

It is tragic that such an article is needed in the first place, but many evangelical Christians support Bush and his policies of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (Republican doublespeak for torture), even though they clearly violate everything the Christian faith stands for.

Here are the 5 reasons, each of which is detailed in the article:

1. Torture violates the dignity of the human being.
2. Torture mistreats the vulnerable and violates the demands of justice.
3. Authorizing torture trusts government too much.
4. Torture dehumanizes the torturer.
5. Torture erodes the character of the nation that tortures.

The article concludes:

It is past time for evangelical Christians to remind our government and our society of perennial moral values, which also happen to be international and domestic laws. As Christians, we care about moral values, and we vote on the basis of such values. We care deeply about human-rights violations around the world. Now it is time to raise our voice and say an unequivocal no to torture, a practice that has no place in our society and violates our most cherished moral convictions.

Read the article on the Christianity Today website.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Inter-Species Office Helpers

These pictures from my friend Jean show her “gal Friday,” Elisabeth, watching her “office manager,” Lucky-B, do some filing. According to Jean, these two are actually friends. Elisabeth’s bed is on top of the filing cabinet and Mr. B often goes there for meetings or mutual discussion.

Kato, my cat, also enjoys opening file cabinets and sorting through files. He’s probably looking for information he can use to blackmail me for more tuna, catnip, and jazz CD's. . .

Speaking of cats doing office-type work: My friend Carl recently posted an entry at his LiveJournal about a cat who actually called 911 when his human needed help. Here's the Associated Press news story: Cat Calls 911 to Help Owner, Police Say.

Also from Carl’s LiveJournal, here’s another news item about two natural enemies becoming friends: Snake ‘Befriends’ Snack Hamster.

Thanks for the great photos, Jean!

Update: Many thanks to all of you who wished me a happy birthday! I just got back last night from a conference on the new, “emerging” paradigm of Christianity, with Marcus Borg (my favorite biblical theologian) and Walter Brueggemann. I rode down to the conference on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, with some friends from St. Luke’s. We had a great time, and I took lots of notes during the lectures – I’ll be blogging about it here, over the next several days.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Post-Apocalyptic Drivers License

I got my drivers license renewed this morning, since it was due to expire tomorrow on my birthday. Georgia now offers 5-year and 10-year renewal options. I chose the 10-year option, and later I realized how unnecessary that was. My drivers license now expires on my birthday in 2016 – four years after the end of time on December 21, 2012 (according to both Terence McKenna and the ancient Mayan calendar). Oh well. I don’t know if we’ll still be driving cars after the structure of time collapses on that date, but if we are, I’ll have a license.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Special Rules Apply

Friday, January 13, 2006

Chipmunk: Rx for Depression

While my read-through-the-Bible-in 2006 group has been reading about Abraham’s sacrifice, I became the recipient of a sacrificial offering myself.

Earlier this week I was hit with a depression unlike any I've ever felt before. I think after the breakup with Michael (my partner for over 5 years), I had immersed myself in busy-ness, with moving to a new apartment, buying new furniture for “my” new place, plus a lot of activity at work. So I've kept my own depression at bay by keeping busy, and a few days ago it finally hit me full-force. The fact that I turn 44 next week, “alone” for the first time in 5 years, may also be a factor.

I have a whole new understanding and respect for my friends and loved ones (and clients) who struggle with depression. I've never experienced it this deeply before.

I'm addressing the depression by taking St. John's Wort (which seems to be working for me quite well), and I'm meeting with some friends and spiritual advisers this weekend. I've also scheduled a new-client orientation at the gym near my new apartment.

On Wednesday, when the depression was at its deepest, Kato, my mystical cat, was sensing my depression and kept wanting to play with me, pouncing on me, “tagging” my feet with his paw and running off. He went outside and brought me back a dead chipmunk, which he placed on my bed, just below my pillow (the appointed place for sacrifices), as he meowed loudly over it and did a little dance. I guess a dead chipmunk is the feline prescription for depression. It did motivate me to put on my shoes and get out of the apartment to walk out to the dumpster – after, of course, Kato had finished his dance.

Kato himself, of course, demands a daily sacrifice of tuna, but that's another story. . .


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Splendor in the Heavens

This new Hubble image of the Orion Nebula shows dense pillars of gas and dust that may be the homes of fledgling stars, and hot, young, massive stars that have emerged from their cocoons and are shaping the nebula with powerful ultraviolet light.

Source: Space.com
Click on the image above to see it full-sized

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What's Truly Important

“Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God's Creature. What you are in His sight is what you are and nothing more. Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing you have received . . . but only what you have given; a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.”

~ St. Francis, as quoted in
Light from Heaven by Jan Karon

“I believe that anyone can be successful in life, regardless of natural talent or the environment within which we live. This is not based on measuring success by human competitiveness for wealth, possessions, influence, and fame, but adhering to God’s standards of truth, justice, humility, service, compassion, forgiveness, and love.”

~ Jimmy Carter,
in his book Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Earth's Crammed With Heaven

“It is the awakening of the soul which is mentioned in the Bible: unless the soul is born again it will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. For the soul to be born again means that it is awakened after having come on earth, and entering the kingdom of heaven means entering this world in which we are now standing, the same kingdom which turns into heaven as soon as the point of view has changed. Is it not interesting and most wonderful to think that the same earth that we walk on is earth to one person and heaven to another? And it is still more interesting to notice that it is we who change it from earth to heaven. This change comes not by study nor by anything else but by the changing of our point of view.”

~ Hazrat Inayat Khan (1887-1927),
founder of the Sufi Order International

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush aflame with God.
But only those who see take off their shoes.
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

~ Elizabeth Barrett Browing (1806-1861)

“Nature teaches every soul to worship God in some way or other, and often provides that which is suitable for each. Those who want one law to govern all have lost sight of the spirit of their own religion. And it is in people who have not yet learned their own religion that such ideas are commonly found. Did they but know their own religion, how tolerant they would become, and how free from any grudge against the religion of others!”

~ Hazrat Inayat Khan, Bowl of Saki

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

I finally saw the “gay cowboy” movie, Brokeback Mountain, yesterday at a theatre near my home in Cobb County, Georgia (which has a reputation for not being very gay-friendly). It was showing on two screens, and the theatre was packed for a matinee showing.

The “gay cowboy” label does a disservice to the movie by trivializing it. Brokeback Mountain is the very moving story of two men who fall in love with each other in 1963 Wyoming – not at all a safe time or place to do so. The movie shows how the secretiveness of their relationship, and their inability to be true to their own hearts, causes pain for themselves as well as to others.

A friend of mine wrote, “Watching Jack Twist [one of the main characters] carry a lamb over his shoulders while crossing a stream made me think about all the Good Shepherd pictures I saw in Sunday School growing up; I choked up.” That scene reminded me of the Good Shepherd, too, as did the scene of Jack removing a thorn from a lamb's foot.

The one thing that didn't ring true to me was the initial sex scene. There was none of the awkwardness or tentativeness that comes with a first encounter (whether gay or straight). Those boys acted a little too experienced for me to really believe that was their first time.

I cried several times during the movie, especially at the end. It was a beautiful and deeply moving love story with an ending that I won't give away here, but I should have seen it coming, given that the screenplay was co-written by Larry McMurtry (who was also a producer of the movie). McMurtry's novels and movies always contain some element of despair, yet, like the stories of Flannery O’Connor, they are very realistic, sometimes disturbingly so.

I’m looking forward to getting the soundtrack CD, which contains songs by two of my favorite Americana singers, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle – as well as a very moving cover (over the end credits) of Bob Dylan’s “He Was a Friend of Mine,” by Willie Nelson.

Above all, the movie made me deeply grateful, as a gay man, for the times in my life when I have followed my heart and been true to myself. I am grateful that I live in a time and a place where it is (relatively) safe for me to do so.

Reading the Bible Together in 2006

As a reader of this blog you are invited to join our online study group as we read through the Bible together in 2006. It's not too late to join us! We're a very diverse group of Christians and non-Christians, liberals and conservatives, gay and straight, approaching the Bible from a variety of different perspectives. Check out our email group, Lectio Divina (that's Latin for "sacred reading"). We'd love to have you join us!

Click to join Lectio Divina