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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.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Theology Geek Goes to St. Simon’s Island






The trip to St. Simon’s Island last week was great. I’ll post an entry or two about the conference itself, which featured Barbara Brown Taylor and Marcus Borg, within the next couple of days. For now, here are some pictures from the trip.

Top: The auditorium at Epworth By The Sea, the Methodist conference center where the event was held. The auditorium was at its capacity limit of 800 people.

Second: Me, standing by a Celtic cross in the graveyard of Christ Church, the second-oldest Episcopal church in America (where Charles and John Wesley both served as Rectors), on St. Simon’s Island.

Third: My friend Donnie, at the conference center.

Fourth: A view from the one of the fishing piers on St. Simon’s Island.

Bottom: Two residents of the fishing pier.

One of the highlights of the trip was running into Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, having breakfast with their wives at a diner on the island. (Dom Crossan was the “surprise guest” who spoke the first night of the conference.) I went out to my car and got the book they had written together, The Last Week, and got them both to sign it. I also got Marcus to sign my copy of his new book, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary.

Cornering biblical scholars at a breakfast diner and asking for their autographs: Yes, I am truly a theology geek.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Off to St. Simon's Island

I'll be away from internet access for the next three days, as my friend Donnie and I trek down to St. Simon's Island, Georgia, for the January Adventure conference with Marcus Borg and Barbara Brown Taylor. The forecast is cold and rainy, so it's not ideal weather for going to the ocean in a convertible. Oh well. I'm sure the conference itself will be great. Marcus Borg is always worth the drive, and I'm looking forward to hearing Barbara Brown Taylor talk about her new book, Leaving Church.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Pan’s Labyrinth


Last night I saw the new film Pan’s Labyrinth, and I was severely disappointed. I had read some glowing reviews of the movie, and had been fascinated by the dark beauty of the movie’s website, as well as the movie’s tag-line, “Innocence has a power evil cannot imagine.” So I was really expecting to enjoy it. I did not. I bitterly regret spending $8.50 to see this violent horror movie masquerading as an art film.

Pan’s Labyrinth is not even remotely about Pan, the ancient figure of Pagan spirituality. In fact, I read online this morning that the name Pan was added to the title for the American release of the movie, whose original Spanish title translates as “The Labyrinth of the Faun.” I guess the movie’s distributors didn’t want American audiences to think they were going to see a likeable faun like Mr. Tumnus from Narnia. (If you want a story that celebrates Pan, rather than misrepresents him, check out Tom Robbins’ excellent novel, Jitterbug Perfume.)

The movie is set in Franco-era fascist Spain, a time of repression, the violence of which is shown in clinically graphic brutality that quickly becomes so over-the-top that it turns into a cartoon of itself. The violence far exceeds the level needed to represent the horror of that time. It becomes violence for the sake of violence, detracting from, rather than serving, the story.

The fantasy sequences are as dark and unappealing as the “real world” in which the main character, a young girl named Ofelia, lives. There are a few moments of beauty in the film – some truly poetic lines of dialogue and narrative – but those gems are not worth the trouble of digging through the huge pile of shit that is the rest of the film.

Surprisingly, Pan’s Labyrinth got a favorable review from the evangelical magazine Christianity Today. The CT review, which you can read online, recognizes the “disturbing and often terrifying” nightmare qualities of the movie but also finds the film “heartfelt and deeply meaningful.” Makes me wonder what they’re smoking these days over at Christianity Today.

The CT review takes exception, of course, with the way the clergy are portrayed in the film (as corrupt collaborators with the fascist oppressors). But Christianity Today concludes that, “whether he knows it or not, Del Toro [the film’s director] has given us a story resonant with echoes of Christianity.” CT sees one of the motifs of the movie as “the reminder that innocent blood has been shed for the salvation of the world.” In an unintentional but very real way, Pan’s Labyrinth does indeed embrace a form of Christianity – the twisted form that perpetuates the myth of redemptive violence. This is the form of Christianity that represents God as a divine child abuser, a psychopath who demands the bloody death of his son in order to save the world from his own psychotic wrath. That’s not how most evangelicals would describe their faith, of course, but that’s the story that underlies much of what masquerades as Christianity today. It’s the form of Christianity that makes it possible for a brutally violent film like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ to be sold in Christian bookstores alongside Veggie Tales DVD’s. It’s the form of Christianity that desensitizes its followers to brutality and violence and allows them to support President Bush’s use of torture in the “War on Terror.”

The myth of redemptive violence is reinforced in Pan’s Labyrinth, to give just one example, when the faun demands the blood of an innocent child. It’s also reinforced as the audience gleefully applauds the bloody violence when one of the evil oppressors in the movie “gets what he deserves” from one of the oppressed. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us, “violence begets violence.” In this movie, the only way out of the ceaseless cycle of violence and despair is through death. In the end, Pan’s Labyrinth is the polar opposite of a life-affirming movie. It is most definitely a death-affirming movie.

Click here to read a contrasting view, from my friend Jon Zuck.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Credo @ 45


It’s cold outside this morning. Really cold. It reminds me of a cold January seven years ago, when my dear friend Celeste was visiting and we got snowed in at my apartment for the weekend. That was when we both created our websites at Homestead.com, back before the days of blogging. I still maintain that site – WildFaith.com – as well as the website for the Sufi Order of Atlanta, in addition to this blog.

One of the first pages I created for WildFaith was Credo, a “statement of faith” I wrote about ten years ago. Taking a look at that page today, on this frosty morning of my 45th birthday, I find it’s still a pretty accurate summary of my admittedly-eclectic spirituality. If I were to write it today, I would probably toss in a reference to Jesus as Healer, as well as some Sufi language about God as the Divine Beloved. But here it is, in its original form. This is what I believe:

I believe in Creation.

I believe in the water that rushes over the rocks and soaks into the earth, nourishing the trees that give shelter. I believe in the starfire that shines from the sun and warms my skin and causes life to grow. I believe in the plantlife and the minerals that nourish the cells of my body and keep me alive.

I believe in the pulsebeat of love that forces the sap through the trees, that drives the rivers to unite with the oceans, that throbs between two lovers.

I believe in the coolness of water, the heat of flame, the rustle of wind, the sharpness of stone, the moistness of earth, the smooth curve of woman, the firm muscle of man.

I believe in Creation as the source of all healing.
I believe in Beauty as a gateway to Truth.

I believe in Creation and so I believe in a Creator.
I believe in divine creativity, the Lord of the Starfields – the masculine aspects of God who forges life from earth, air, fire, water, and spirit.
I believe in divine wisdom, Sophia – the feminine aspects of God who infuses that life with its own creative dance.

I believe that a Jewish carpenter named Jesus died on a cross and resurrected from the dead – not to pay ransom to a vengeful tribal deity, but to create a morphic field that bridges life and death, matter and spirit, space and time, and to make it possible for others to enter that field.

I celebrate those aspects of all religious traditions and spiritual paths that affirm Creation – and I respectfully decline those aspects which do not.

I believe in the Kingdom of God – a place of union and connectedness that exists deep within us and can be accessed by any of us who open ourselves up to love.

I believe in the Kingdom of God – a place of union and connectedness that exists as a shimmering beacon at the end of time, shaping history, bringing forth order from chaos, illuminating those who are open to being illumined.

I open myself to love, to risk, to joy, to pain. I open myself to healing, to beauty, to truth. I open myself to darkness and to light. I open myself to Creation.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Spiritual Practice of Cats


Another telepathic communiqué from Kato the mystical cat, delivered this morning at 3 AM when I was half awake, half asleep:

“I just completed another 30 sessions of sitting perfectly still, being very quiet.”

Not in an audible voice – just a fully-formed thought, entering my brain as the cat stared directly into my sleepy eyes.

Questions for Theological Reflection:

1. Is it possible that “sitting perfectly still, being very quiet” was part of Kato’s “hunter training” when he was a kitten?

2. Could this be Kato’s daily spiritual practice? Eckhart Tolle once said, “I have lived with several Zen masters, all of them cats.”

3. Why would Kato do this in multiples of 30? Does the number 30 hold some significance in ancient Egyptian and/or Coptic spirituality? (30 was Jesus’ age when he began his ministry of healing and teaching...)

4. Is it possible the author of this blog has lost his mind, or perhaps had a little too much of the narcotic cough syrup the doctor prescribed for the nasty cold he has been fighting?

5. Do cats view it as part of their mission on earth to make their staff-humans believe that they are losing their minds?

Discuss . . .

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Inferno


From the novel The 6th Lamentation,
by William Brodrick:

They stepped outside, back into the churchyard. Saloman Lachaise said, “When I was a boy, my mother used to say that hell was the painless place where everything has been forgotten.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“It couldn’t be worse.”

“Why?”

“Because there’s no love. That’s why there is no pain.”

They walked beneath a milky sky shot with patches of insistent blue. Anselm looked up and asked, “Then what’s heaven?”

“An inferno where you burn, remembering all that should be remembered.”

Friday, January 05, 2007

PT Cruiser Convertible



Top: My new car, a 2005 PT Cruiser Convertible (the photo is from the dealer’s website). Unfortunately, it has been too cold and rainy lately for me to ride with the top down, but spring will be here soon!

Bottom: The turbocharged engine (from the Chrysler website).

I may be the only guy in Georgia buying a convertible in the dead of winter, but hey, I turn 45 in a couple of weeks (January 18th). Let the midlife crisis begin!