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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 22, 2008

Obama vs. Clinton

In determining which of the two leading Democratic candidates would make the most competent and credible commander-in-chief, it is revealing to compare the public statements of U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama during October 2002, when Congress voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Read the article by Stephen Zunes.

Q&A: Barack Obama on the Christianity Today website.

Grateful Bear has cast his vote by absentee ballot for Barack Obama in the Georgia Primary.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Grateful Birthday 46

This Friday, my birthday, was a cold but sunny day, a little break from the snow and ice that hit metro Atlanta on Wednesday and then again this weekend. I took the opportunity Friday to have some “alone time” outdoors, going out to the trails at Pickett’s Mill, a Civil War battlefield in Dallas, Georgia, hiking through the woods and soaking in the deep sense of history and feeling grateful for the many blessings in my life.

Then, when it got colder, I went to a coffeehouse to read Ecclesiastes (good birthday reading for existentialists). Herman Melville called Ecclesiastes “the truest of all books,” and Thomas Wolfe described it as “the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth.”

I read Ecclesiastes in two different Bible versions: The Message, a paraphrase that is used at my new church, and the English Standard Version (ESV), a much more literal translation that I’ve come to appreciate more and more. Even though the ESV was done by conservative scholars, it’s a great translation. There are parts of The Message (which is greatly loved by Bono of U2) that are incredibly beautiful and poetic, and other parts that are simply annoying. The poet in me appreciates The Message, and the theology geek in me loves the ESV, so I’m now using both on a regular basis. I’ve become bi-biblical.

Yesterday (Saturday) the snow fell again – here’s what it looked like outside my apartment:

“God has made everything beautiful in its time
and has planted eternity in the human heart...”
~ Ecclesiastes 3:11

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Light Snow on Kennesaw Mountain

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Shadow Cat

Sometimes the shadow cat
runs down the hall,
fleeting, barely visible,
at times when the real cat
the flesh and bone and fur cat –
is outdoors hunting,
or in bed with one of his humans.

Sometimes the shadow cat
plays games with the fur cat,
maneuvering like football players
before tackling each other
and racing away.

Sometimes the shadow cat
sits zazen,
just like the fur cat,
purrfectly still,
both cats as wise as the Sphinx,
observing the humans,
filing telepathic reports back to Bast.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

The Storyteller

G.Bear and Isa Donnie Ray with “The Storyteller” sculpture, in the Buckhead community of Atlanta:


Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

“Hope – hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.”

~ Barack Obama

From a June 2007 speech in Connecticut:

One Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called “The Audacity of Hope.” And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, he would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice and not an epiphany. I didn’t fall out in church, as folks sometimes do. The questions I had didn’t magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn’t suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to his will, and dedicated myself to discovering his truth and carrying out his works.

~ Barack Obama,
quoted in The Atlantic Monthly, December 2007

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Poetry As Insurgent Art

This great little book – small enough to carry in one’s back pocket, like a New Testament or the Little Red Book of Chairman Mao – is my new Manifesto.

After a lifetime, this (r)evolutionary little book – Poetry As Insurgent Art – is still a work-in-progress, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s ars poetica, to which at age 88 he is constantly adding.

I’ve started a Facebook discussion group for all who are willing to answer Ferlinghetti’s call for “Walt Whitman’s wild children” to “awake and sing in the open air.” Come join us!

From the book:

“Poetry deconstructs power. Absolute poetry deconstructs absolutely.”

“The poet is the master ontologist, constantly questioning existence and reinventing it.”

“A poem is a shadow of a plane fleeing over the ground like a cross escaping a church.”

“Don’t slip on the banana peel of nihilism, even while listening to the roar of Nothingness.”

“Secretly liberate any being you see in a cage.”

“And if you have two loaves of bread, do as the Greeks did – sell one and with the coin of the realm buy sunflowers.”

“A sunflower maddened with light sheds the seeds of poems.”


Friday, January 04, 2008

Bear’s Best CD’s of 2007

An eclectic mix again this year, encompassing rock, alternative, Americana, jazz, classical, and the avant-garde...

13. Daniel Bernard Roumain: Etudes 4 Violin & Electronix
Classical music meets world music meets trance/electronica in this genre-bending sonic hybrid from a highly creative Haitian-American violinist and composer. Features guest performances from Philip Glass (always at the cutting edge).

12. Beastie Boys: The Mix-Up
I don’t like rap or hip-hop, so I’ve always admired the boys (who are now in their 40’s) more for their activism and their Buddhism than for their music. This album, though, is all instrumental, and it’s an entrancing mix of jam-rock, jazz, and electric funk.

11. Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
The name of the title track comes from the “other” novel written by John Kennedy Toole (author of A Confederacy of Dunces), and this album, like Toole’s writing, is moody and brilliant. The band’s sound is sometimes described as “chamberpop.” At times this disc is a Springsteenish rock album, but then the band brings in elements like an Eastern European orchestra, pipe organ, hurdy gurdy, and a military choir. Favorite track: “Antichrist Television Blues.”

10. Andrew Bird: Armchair Apocrypha
Violin-infused alternative pop combining great music with highly creative lyrics that manage to be both whimsical and deep. How can you not like an album with song titles like “Imitosis,” “Heretics” (my favorite song on the album), and “Yawny at the Apocalypse”?

9. Golijov: Oceana, Tenebrae, Three Songs
Three diverse works by Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov: Oceana, a Latin and jazz infused work for orchestra, three guitars, harp, and voice; Tenebrae, a haunting chamber piece performed beautifully by the Kronos Quartet; and Three Songs, sung movingly by Dawn Upshaw with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

8. Ben Lee: Ripe
Catchy, high-energy alt-pop from a creative young Australian singer/songwriter. Favorite track: “Love Me Like the World is Ending.”

7. David Murray Black Saint Quartet: Sacred Ground
Sax-based jazz featuring long instrumental jams as well as two poems by Ishmael Reed, set to music and sung in appropriately sultry style by Cassandra Wilson. David Murray’s music is both contemporary – at times avant-garde – and solidly rooted in classic bebop jazz. Great music for postmodern beatniks.

6. Stile Antico: Music for Compline
A beautiful recording of liturgical choral works composed by Renaissance-era composers including Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, and John Sheppard, performed by a young British ensemble working cooperatively without a conductor. I first heard Stile Antico on NPR and fell in love with their sound, which is both intimate and transcendent.

5. The White Stripes: Icky Thump
I’m not sure why I’m so fascinated by Jack and Meg White, but I am. Their music on “Icky Thump” (bad title for a great album) is energetic and infectious, whether they’re singing a bluesy rock song or a more acoustic ballad – or a psychedelic bagpipe prayer/poem like “St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air)”: “I’m moving backwards in ecstasy/Where are the angels?/I'm not in my home...”
One of our greatest singer/songwriters has moved from Nashville to New York’s Greenwich Village, and the move has served him well. He’s still just as musically vibrant and politically committed, but he’s a lot less angry. Alternative folk/blues/Americana at its very best.

3. Wilco: Sky Blue Sky
A truly great album at times reminiscent of John Lennon, at times the Eagles, at times the Grateful Dead (“Shake it Off”). Sky Blue Sky has been nominated for Best Rock Album at the upcoming Grammys, and it definitely deserves the award.

2. David Crowder Band: Remedy
Less experimental than the previous A Collision (and its acoustic follow-up B Collision), this is a great Christian praise album that is musically creative and joyful, and lyrically very inspiring and uplifting. Features guest guitar riffs by Ted Nugent, but don’t let that keep you from checking out this disc, the best Christian album of 2007. Best tracks: the very moving “Remedy” and the highly danceable “Can You Feel It.”

1. Bright Eyes: Cassadaga
My favorite CD of the year, this is an Americana-infused album of alternative pop-rock inspired by Cassadaga, Florida, a town known for its high concentration of psychics and “certified mediums” (who does the certifying? and shouldn’t that be “media”?). My favorite lines from the album: “I had a lengthy discussion about The Power of Myth with a post-modern author who didn’t exist” – and “She went to see a mystic who made medicine from rain.”

~ G.Bear


Thursday, January 03, 2008

New Year, New Church

In the Sufi tradition there is the idea of the maqam, a resting place in the desert, a place to relax and water the camels, a respite for a time.

The soul has maqams. The soul rests in places of beauty. The soul may have many maqams over the course of its journey, many different resting-places at different times of one’s life.

After 14 wonderful years in the Episcopal Church, I am feeling drawn to another maqam, another place of soul-refreshment.

There is no unhappiness that is driving me away from the Episcopal Church (not even the loud and angry conservatives in the larger Anglican Communion). I have always felt very welcome and accepted in the two Episcopal Churches I’ve belonged to over the past 14 years: St. Luke’s in Atlanta, then St. James in Marietta. I’m simply feeling drawn to a different type of church community at this time in my life.

My new maqam is Gentle Spirit Christian Church, pastored by Rev. Paul Turner (pictured below). Paul and I have been friends for many years; the two of us serve on the Board of Directors for Whosoever Ministries.

Gentle Spirit is an unusual “church without walls” that meets outdoors at a picnic pavilion in Candler Park in Atlanta. It’s a small church that is very involved in community activism, especially regarding gay rights and peace and justice issues.

There’s a sense of joy and excitement in Gentle Spirit’s Sunday morning services that I just haven’t felt in church in quite a while. I look forward to being an active part of this community of faith.

~ G.Bear

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Sufi Prayer for the New Year

by Hazrat Inayat Khan,
the teacher who brought Sufism
to the West in the early 1900's

O Thou, Who abidest in our hearts,
Most Merciful and Compassionate God,
Lord of Heaven and Earth,
We forgive others their trespasses
And ask Thy forgiveness of our shortcomings.
We begin the New Year with pure heart
And clear conscience,
With courage and hope.
Help us to fulfill the purpose of our lives
Under Thy Divine Guidance.