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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.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Grateful Bear in Colorado

One of the best Christmas presents ever: a wonderful wintry trip to visit my dear friend Marian and her family. Our friendship dates back to our days together at Oral Roberts University, in the early 1980’s (several lifetimes ago). Both of us have sinced moved on from that particular brand of Christianity...

Here we are in a tea shop in Boulder. Left to right: Marian’s husband Bill; her son (one of my godsons) John; G.Bear; Marian:

G.Bear and Marian, with a family of bears:

A snowy day in Boulder:

G.Bear in front of the Beat Book Shop:


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Judas as “Demon”

National Geographic got it wrong last year, according to April DeConick, a professor of biblical studies at Rice University: Judas is described in the recently-uncovered Gospel of Judas as a “demon,” not as “the ultimate follower of Jesus.”

National Geographic has published an online article about DeConick’s views, including quotes from scholars who disagree with her assessment (including Marvin Meyer).

Professor DeConick has her own blog, The Forbidden Gospels Blog, which has lots of information about the Gospel of Judas as well as her studies on the Gospel of Thomas. Her blog is a great resource for anyone interested in “lost gospels.”

Here’s a news story about the controversy from The Christian Century magazine:

Judas is a ‘demon’ in new read of gospel
by John Dart

When the first translation of the long-lost Gospel of Judas was published last year amid considerable publicity, a few scholars trumpeted its apparent depiction of Judas Iscariot as a positive figure who was rewarded in the heavens for betraying Jesus.

This alternative view of Judas, based on a tattered sectarian manuscript probably written in the second century, was not touted as the historical Judas. But one essayist described this Judas as “the ultimate follower of Jesus, one whose actions should be emulated rather than spurned.”

Within months after the National Geographic Society-sponsored announcement, however, other scholars familiar with Gnostic texts began saying that some early assessments were dead wrong. In their reading, the gospel ridicules Judas as a “demon,” the tool of the evil Sethian Gnostic god, for turning over Jesus to the authorities for execution.

The scholarly debate is significant because a flood of books on the Judas gospel hit bookstores starting in the spring of 2006. Authors of 10 such books – including big name writers N. T. (Tom) Wright, Marvin Meyer and Bart Ehrman – were given a few minutes each to comment on the text at one session of the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in San Diego last month.

Emotions were taut in another SBL session, held November 17 in an overcrowded room, as scholars critical of early translations and interpretations were answered by Elaine Pagels and Karen King, coauthors of Reading Judas, on their sympathetic view of Judas in the text. The critics raised these points, among others:

• The word daimon to describe Judas was translated spirit rather than demon as the term is read in Christian and Gnostic writings. Though a daimon in Greek literature can be a neutral figure, even one of the lesser gods, that is not so in biblical works.

• Judas is called the “thirteenth daimon” in the text, but that doesn’t improve the image of Judas, scholars said. Other Sethian Gnostic writings link Judas to the disreputable god of the 13th realm in the cosmos, who rules over the world.

• Some initial translations had Judas being rewarded and “set apart for” ascension to “the holy generation” peopled by Gnostics who believed that a greater deity existed above the evil creator god. But other scholars said the betrayer of Jesus was to be “set apart from” and would not ascend to that holy generation.

“All this Jesus mocks and laughs, while Judas resists and laments,” said Rice University’s April DeConick, whose book The Thirteenth Apostle was published this year. She was the lead-off speaker in the sometimes combative San Diego session.

“Whoever wrote the Gospel of Judas disliked mainstream or apostolic Christians, disapproved of their doctrine of atonement and its liturgical performance as the Eucharist, and went about pointing out the errors of apostolic Christianity,” she said.

The second speaker, Birger Pearson, professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said he looks upon the Gospel of Judas “as an ironic literary caricature of a gospel.” Jesus takes Judas aside to tell him certain things, “but he does not instruct or request Judas to do anything,” Pearson said. “He simply prophesies what Judas will do.”

Jesus tells Judas “you will become the 13th, and you will be cursed... and you shall not ascend on high to the holy [generation],” Pearson said. At another point, Judas is told that his star will rule over the 13th aeon, an undesirable region found in certain Gnostic texts. Jesus then laughs.

“So the 13th aeon is not a happy place to wind up,” said Pearson.

A third speaker, Louis Painchaud of Laval University in Quebec City, echoed Pearson, saying, “I would say that Judas has reason to grieve.”

In her response, Princeton University’s Pagels said that she felt that the cosmic realms are ambiguously described in the gospel. She noted that by the end of the text, Judas had evidently received secret knowledge and that a nearby reference to baptism could even suggest that Judas would be initiated into a higher realm of light.

“I do think that the complexities of this text require a lot more discussion,” Pagels said.

“This is a really tough text,” added King, who teaches at Harvard. She asked, for instance, whether Jesus’ laughter “is mocking or corrective” and suggested that grammar and translation issues remain. “I think we all agree this will give us no new information about the historical Judas and the historical Jesus, but it does give us some very important conversation about what [was] going on in the second to fourth centuries.”

Interpretation of the Gospel of Judas has been complicated by the fact that pieces are missing from the papyrus text. The text, along with at least two copies of Gnostic texts already known from the Nag Hammadi discoveries, was found in Egypt in the 1970s and had been shopped around to potential buyers for years.

Another seasoned scholar in Gnostic studies, John Turner of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, told the Century in San Diego after the November 17 session that he thought Pagels and King did not “take seriously” the criticisms from colleagues.

“Moreover, in my opinion they relied excessively on what certain [missing] passages might have said about the positive salvational prospects for either Judas or the mortal generations of ordinary ‘apostolic’ Christians,” he said. “I see no evidence that such ideas were ever present in the text.”

Turner continued: “Judas is an evil figure who carries out the will of the stars and the evil god Saklas by handing over Jesus for execution.”


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bear’s Top Christmas Songs, 2007

8. “A Mighty Fortress/Angels We Have Heard on High” from Amy Grant’s first Christmas Album, newly re-mastered and re-released this year

7. “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, Sarah McLachlan’s beautiful version of the John Lennon classic, from her Christmas album Wintersong

6. “Early on One Christmas Morn” – Bruce Cockburn’s Southern Gospel cover of a 1929 song by The Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers, from Bruce’s Christmas CD that is sadly out of print but still downloadable from iTunes

5. “Christmas Time is Here” (and the “Linus and Lucy” theme!) from Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas

4. “Calling on Mary,” a haunting new song from Aimee Mann’s Christmas album, One More Drifter in the Snow

3. “Variations on the Kanon by Pachelbel” and “Some Children See Him” from George Winston’s wintry classic, December

2. Several songs from John Michael Talbot’s Christmas CD, The Birth of Jesus: “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” and his medley of “What Child is This” and “O Come O Come Emmanuel”

1. “O Holy Night” – my all-time favorite

I love the history of this 1847 song (the first Christmas carol to be broadcast on radio, in 1906), a song that was initially rejected by most churches because its lyricist was a “free-thinker” wine merchant, its composer was Jewish, and its third verse was decidedly anti-slavery:

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Sadly, most recorded versions of “O Holy Night” leave out that third verse. A recent one that doesn’t is from the new Christmas Offerings CD by Third Day, one of my favorite Christian rock groups. Their version is contemporary but still reverent – a good rendition of my all-time favorite Christmas carol, which has a somewhat-gnostic bent in its first verse: equating “sin” with “error” (rather than disobedience or transgression) and describing the appearance of the Christ child as the time when “the soul felt its worth.”

Blessed Yule ~
Grateful Bear


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Existential Stooges

If Woody Allen wrote a “novelization” of a Three Stooges film . . .

The dilapidated Ford pulled up before a deserted farmhouse, and three men emerged. Calmly and for no apparent reason the dark-haired man took the nose of the bald man in his right hand and slowly twisted it in a long, counterclockwise circle. A horrible grinding sound broke the silence of the Great Plains. “We suffer,” the dark-haired man said. “O woe to the random violence of human existence.”

Meanwhile Larry, the third man, had wandered into the house and had somehow managed to get his head caught inside an earthenware jar. Everything was suddenly terrifying and black as Larry groped blindly around the room. He wondered if there was a god or any purpose at all to life or any design behind the universe when suddenly the dark-haired man entered and, finding a large polo mallet, began to break the jar off his companion’s head. With pent-up fury that masked years of angst over the empty absurdity of man’s fate, the one named Moe smashed the crockery. “We are at least free to choose,” wept Curly, the bald one. “Condemned to death but free to choose.” And with that Moe poked his two fingers into Curly’s eyes. “Oooh, oooh, oooh,” Curly wailed, “the cosmos is so devoid of any justice.” He stuck an unpeeled banana in Moe’s mouth and shoved it all the way in.

– From Mere Anarchy, by Woody Allen


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Advent: Light Looked Down...

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.”


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


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Entrance Exam

From Hokai’s Blogue ~

A Christian, a Muslim, and a Buddhist die and arrive at the Gate of Heaven. An angel (or deva) stops them and asks, “Why do you come here? Can you tell me why you should be allowed to enter Heaven?”

The Christian replies, “My ancestors disobeyed God, and I sinned all my life: I killed, I lied, I cheated my wife and I was greedy. However, Jesus died for me and all my sins are forgiven. So I deserve to enter Heaven.”

“OK,” replies the angel. “Sounds good, but I must give you an entrance examination before you can enter.” The Christian promptly agrees and the angel asks him: “How do you spell God?” It is an easy question, and the Christian passes through the Gate.

Next came the Muslim, who says, “I did not do any especially good or evil things during my life but I was very devout. I prayed to God five times a day. So, I too should enter Heaven.” The angel replies, “It sounds OK to me, but I have to give you a test also. How do you spell Allah?” The Muslim passes the test and enters Heaven.

Finally, it is the Buddhist’s turn. He tells the angel, “I’ve done all the good things in my life and I followed Buddha's five precepts: I never killed, I donated to charities, I meditated every day, and I never cheated my boss nor my customers.” The angel replies, “That is very good, but there are no exceptions. You must pass the entrance test also in order to get in.” Thinking that the test should be simple, the Buddhist happily agrees.

The angel then asks him: “How do you spell Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva?”


Friday, December 07, 2007

Around the Web...

My Buddhist cyberfriends in England, one of whom is fellow blogger Sujatin Johnson (lotusinthemud), were featured in a local TV news story called “A Buddhist Christmas.” Check out the video here.

Another fellow blogger, Huw, has written a very thoughtful review of The Golden Compass (the book, not the movie) that is well worth reading. He finds the world of the book to be very dark (which it is), too dark for children. I agree. Still, it’s an excellent book, and to me the trilogy as a whole (His Dark Materials – the title comes from William Blake) is not about the “death of God” but rather the death of our images of God – especially those images that are abusive and lead to oppression. Most of the things the religious right is upset about don’t happen until the 3rd novel of the trilogy. I haven’t seen the movie yet, although I plan to see it this weekend. Huw’s review is at his blog, Sarx – scroll down to the entry “The Golden Compass (Book).”


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bear’s Confusing Situation

A strange thing has been happening the past couple of weeks: I keep getting hit on by women. Beautiful women in their 20’s and 30’s. Not coy little flirtations but assertive, unambiguous flirting. If I were a straight guy, I’d be in heaven. The problem, of course, is I’m not a straight guy.

This is happening so frequently that it’s starting to make me angry. I don’t know the polite way to let a woman know I’m not interested, other than looking uncomfortable and changing the subject. Should I tell these women I’m gay? Why should I have to “come out” to a perfect stranger? Do I need to buy one of those buttons that says “Sorry girls, I'm gay”?

And what makes me the most angry is this: Why aren’t I getting hit on by MEN? Am I caught up in the wrong morphic field? Am I sending out the wrong pheromones? Is God playing a big practical joke on me?

If even a small percentage of what The Secret says is true, shouldn’t I be attracting what I think about the most? What I think about the most is – well, it ain’t women.

Just to clarify my intentions (are you listening, universe?), what I’m seeking to attract is more along these lines...

In the meantime, if anyone has any advice on how to politely deal with these misguided women, or how to better align my intentions with the universe, please let me know. This is a confusing situation for a bear...