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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, July 26, 2007

Charon (Ferry-Driver Across the Styx) is a Cat

“When Oscar the Cat visits residents of the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, the staff jumps into action – Oscar can sense within hours when someone is about to die.”

The news story, from Reuters:
Nursing home cat can sense death?

From BBC News:
“According to the author of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the two-year-old cat has been observed to be correct in 25 cases so far. ...The cat is said to do his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses at the home, but is not generally friendly to patients.”

Thanks to Trev Diesel for the BBC link!


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rest In Peace, Tammy Faye

One of my heroes passed away this weekend.

Tammy Faye Messner spent her years after the PTL Club scandal ostracised by many in the established church, and she said many times that the only people who reached out to her during her times of isolaton were her friends in the gay and lesbian community. She reciprocated that love and support by singing and preaching God’s unconditional love at gay churches and gay coffeehouses, headlining gay pride celebrations, raising money for HIV charities (including hosting a drag queen show for charity once, here in Atlanta), starring in a documentary produced by a gay couple (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) as well as a TV talk show with a gay co-host, and even for a short time writing an advice column for a magazine for gay teenagers and young adults.

Above is a scan of an autographed 8 x 10 photo of Tammy Faye, a photo I cherish. I got it several years ago when Tammy Faye spoke at an MCC Church in Atlanta.

Tammy Faye was able to break out of the narrow restraints of her Pentecostal upbringing while still holding on to an authentic love for Jesus and his message of God’s radical love for all people. Because of Tammy Faye, many evangelical Christian parents were able to overcome their theology and accept their gay and lesbian children and re-establish relationships with them. Because of Tammy Faye, many gay and lesbian people who had been cast aside by the church were able to know that, despite what some “Christians” may say, God loves them.

I am grateful that after a painful battle with cancer that left her weighing only 65 pounds, Tammy Faye’s suffering is over. I am grateful that she is now at home with her beloved Lord.

Around the web ~

From the CNN news story:

. . . Tammy Faye Messner has also been known as one of the few evangelical Christians who had the support of the gay community. She was one of the first televangelists to reach out to those with AIDS when it was a little-known and much-feared disease. In return, she told [Larry] King in July, “When I went – when we lost everything, it was the gay people that came to my rescue, and I will always love them for that.”

From The New York Times:

. . . “I want my funeral to be a real happy time,” Ms. Messner told Larry King on CNN in March 2006. “I want everybody laughing and remembering how crazy I was.”

From MSNBC (reprinted here in full):

Through it all, Tammy Faye never wavered
Scandals, ridicule couldn’t keep Messner from her evangelistic calling

By Alex Johnson
Updated: 2:05 p.m. ET July 22, 2007

There was simply no room in Tammy Faye Messner’s tiny body for even an ounce of guile.

Messner, who died Friday of cancer at 65, was many things. She was a pioneer of Christian television. She was a gay icon. She was a great symbol of fun for social commentators to poke at – the makeup industry’s wildest dream and worst nightmare.

She was never a hypocrite. She was always sincere, in her faith and in herself.

For all the fame and wealth she and her first husband, Jim Bakker, reveled in before their PTL television ministry came crashing down, Tammy – instantaneously recognizable by her first name – was first and foremost an evangelist, in the old-school sense of the word. She loved luxury and she loved fame, and she didn’t care what you thought about that. If her flamboyance got your attention long enough for her to try to bring you to her God, she was happy to oblige.

It is important to remember that Tammy herself was never seriously implicated in any of the scandals that were attached to her two husbands: Bakker, who fronted PTL and its Ponzi scheme of selling far more lifetime vacations to believers than it could provide, and Roe Messner, who built Heritage USA and became the nation’s largest church builder before going to prison for bankruptcy fraud.

Tammy got into many of her fixes not because she was vain or scheming, but because she was utterly naive. She didn’t grasp how the excesses of the PTL lifestyle – the mansion in Tega Cay, S.C., the jets, the air-conditioned doghouse – could be seen as worldly materialism. To Tammy, they were proof of God’s generosity. You, too, could have them. You just had to believe and pray hard enough – “You don’t have to be dowdy to be a Christian,” she once said.

She believed in Jim Bakker, whom she married at 19 while at seminary. She believed in Jerry Falwell when he swooped in to “save” PTL. When they failed her, she clung even more reverently to God.

“I am extremely joyful,” she said three years ago in an interview with MSNBC. “The Lord says he will not put more on us than we can bear. And the Bible says, in everything, give thanks, for this is the will of God and Christ Jesus concerning you.”

Even the cancer that killed her was a key to open doors, she believed.

“It gives me an opportunity to talk about Jesus,” she told MSNBC in 2004. “It gives me an opportunity to tell people that God is able, no matter what situation that you find yourself in, to go forward, live one day at a time. And keep a positive attitude.”

A Christianity not so conservative

Her life’s calling was to bring that message to everyone. She believed God made and loved all His people, so she loved them, too, even those who scorned her, and even those – especially those – whom society scorned.

Way back during the “PTL Club” days, when many other religious figures were pointing to AIDS as God’s retribution against homosexuality, Tammy embraced gays and lesbians with HIV. When she became a figure of high-camp gay fascination in the 1990s, she embraced that role, too. As a fervent Assemblies of God lay leader, she definitely believed homosexuality was wrong, but she refused to believe that homosexuals themselves were anything other than God’s children.

“We’re all just people made out of the same old dirt,” she once said, “and God didn’t make any junk.”

When Jim Bakker was convicted of defrauding his followers of $158 million in 1989, Tammy cried, as she always did, and then she broke into song:

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

For many Christians, Edward Mote’s hymn is a defiant message of grace, a core faith that through the darkest of troubles, God will see you through.

Tammy Faye Bakker Messner’s life took many bizarre twists, at times making her a woman of camp, a woman of sorrow, a woman of ridicule.

But at all times, Tammy Faye was a woman of grace.

Above: Tammy Faye at the Outfest gay film festival

Addenda ~

by Doug LeBlanc (a friend of the Grateful Bear)

From Slate.com:
. . . How did [Tammy Faye] Messner become a gay icon? With fabulousness and honesty. . .

Also at Slate.com:

by Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato

Eyeing Tammy Faye, a review of blogposts
(including the Blog of the Grateful Bear!)


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Of Cats and Calendars

Here’s a hauntingly beautiful poem by RavenWing Crawford, a friend and brother in Gay Spirit Visions, about his late feline companion, Bodhicat. The poem is posted here by kind permission of RavenWing, along with his introductory note about the poem:

The events took place on the evening of Dec. 23, 1999
I wrote the first draft of the poem on the morning of Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1999
while listening to the service of nine lessons and carols from King’s College, Cambridge

Of Cats and Calendars

Last night it snowed,
First of the season for us
This morning, drops of red
Decorate the approach to our front porch

Last night, Bodhicat, my little panther, my cherished boy,
Caught a bird on the wing and placed it lovingly on the door mat ...
A cardinal ... a gift for us

JohnBear, returning home from a party, found it ...
Bodhi came in with John ... all twists and twirls,
Boundless affection for us, his Big Ones

I took two feathers to honor the spirit, and the gift,
Gently placed the Bright Bird beneath an evergreen.

We thanked Bodhi, making much of him...
Mighty hunter, generous heart.
And then I went aside, to grieve for the fallen brother

This morning, drops of red decorate the snow
Does Bodhi know another, older, mystery?

Great One, Head of All Power, Weaver of the Realm of Light
Grant me strength gently to walk in this time, this place
Amid the revelers and the desperate lonely ones

Born anew, born again, Child of Mystery
Swaddled in darkness, Bearing Light

When you come for me, Great Hunter,
May I turn to greet You with open arms
Turn my neck to Your kiss

~ RavenWing Crawford

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Into the Mystic Blogosphere

Dear friend and fellow blogger Carl McColman has been very busy lately, as pictured above. He is updating his excellent pages on mysticism and spiritual formation at his Website of Unknowing:

Spiritual Formation

Mystics (with links to Carl’s bios of Julian of Norwich, Walter Hilton, and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing)

I remember falling in love with Carl’s website on the mystics several years before I ever met him. These pages were offline for a while, and I’m glad Carl is resurrecting and updating them.

Elsewhere in the mystic blogosphere . . .

Betty Conrad Adam, author of The Magdalene Mystique, has posted a wonderful example of interfaith dialogue at her blog, The Magdalene Mystique: The Path Inward (the July 11th entry, “Conversations with Aman”).

A new cyberfriend, Mother Wintermoon, has posted an entry about the beautiful gnostic poem Thunder, Perfect Mind, at her blog, Romancing the Crone. Check out her July 11th entry, “Words of an Ancient Goddess.”

And at their always thoughtful (and heart-ful) blog Graceful Presence, Meredith and Joe have posted wonderful poems about two topics dear to my heart: coffee (the June 30th entry, “Philosophy”) and meditating with cats (the June 2nd entry, “Furry Friend”).

The graphic above is from Adam McLean’s Alchemy Website.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Cat

The other night a neighbor cat dared to come on to the porch which, of course, is the exclusive territory of Kato the mystical (and very territorial) cat. The sliding glass door was closed, but the neighbor cat came right up to the glass to peer inside. Kato jumped down off the sofa and ran over to the glass door, crouching into “hunter mode” as he began cursing the cat – a very deep, very low, very unearthly growl. The neighbor cat jerked his head back with a shocked expression on his face and ran off into the night. I don’t know what Kato said to the other cat (unspeakably filthy cursing? an ancient Egyptian incantation?), but apparently it worked . . .