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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, March 31, 2008

Movie: “The Nines”

My brain is still reeling from watching The Nines, a mind-bending movie that defies genre. Released in August 2007 in a limited number of theatres, it has recently been released on DVD. Part comedy, part sci-fi thriller, part satire of reality television (and reality itself), it’s a remarkable film that interweaves three stories together in a way I haven’t seen since Pulp Fiction.

The best review of the movie that I’ve found is on the gay blog After Elton – unlike other reviews on the web, this review by Brian Juergens doesn’t give away the ending or attempt to answer the unanswered questions the movie raises.

Yes, the After Elton review does focus on the movie’s star, Ryan Reynolds, and that fact that he is a “himbo” – especially in the first of the movie’s three parts, in which Ryan plays a blond sun-bronzed TV star who has obviously been spending a lot of time at the gym.



(Ryan actually turns out to be a good actor, not just a pretty himbo. Who knew? He does a great job playing three very different characters, as does Melissa McCarthy.)

I think The Nines can be grouped alongside other metaphysical films like I Heart Huckabee’s (one of my favorites!), Being John Malkovich, and A Scanner Darkly – movies that entertain you but also leave you asking existential questions and wondering about the true nature of reality. This movie takes “you create your own reality” to a whole new level. I found myself deconstructing myself after watching the movie.

If you haven’t seen The Nines, I highly recommend it. Let me know what you think of it! If you post any comments about the movie here, be careful not to spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen it.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Resurrection


The Sufis are fond of saying, “Die before death and resurrect now.” We are all dying every moment, dying to our own fears, our own false concepts of ourselves, our own limitations. But we know this already, haven’t we been told? Let us die willingly and resurrect gloriously, spiraling into the future, consciously joining all those who believe and trust in the ultimate goodness of humanity, and serving with love and patience those who do not.

~ Theresa King,

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“If Jesus is the once and for all sacrifice for sin, understood metaphorically now [not literally], it means that God has already taken care of whatever it is that we think separates us from God. It means that God accepts us just as we are and that the Christian life is not about getting right with God. God’s already taken care of that. The Christian life becomes about something else, namely, living within this framework of radical trust in God and relationship to God that makes possible our transformation, and, ideally and ultimately, the transformation of the world.”

~ Marcus Borg, from explorefaith.org

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[Jesus] uttered a triumphant cry: “It is accomplished!” and it was as though he had said: “Everything has begun!”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis, in The Last Temptation of Christ

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Sound a trumpet through all the earth.
Our Morning Star is alive!
Risen in splendour, He is among us;
The darkness is driven back.
We, His people, join in the dance of all creation.

~ An Easter prayer
from the Celtic Christian Northumbrian Community

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I called through your door,
“The mystics are gathering
in the street. Come out!”

“Leave me alone.
I’m sick.”

“I don’t care if you're dead!
Jesus is here, and he wants
to resurrect somebody!”

~ the Sufi poet and mystic Rumi (A.D. 1207 - 1273),
from The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks

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The Easter Card above is from explorefaith.org
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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Independence Weekend

This weekend, Palm Sunday weekend, marks the 13th anniversary of my spiritual independence. It was on Palm Sunday weekend in 1995 that I “came out of the closet” and acknowledged to myself and to the world that I am what God created me to be – a gay man.

It took a long time to admit that, especially to myself. The process of self-acceptance had started a few months earlier, at a small, midweek Advent service at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta. The rector at that time, the Rev. Spenser Simrill, introduced me to a prayer, and a way of praying, that forever changed the way I saw God and the way I related to God. Instead of preaching a homily at that service, Spenser had us sit in silence for about five minutes and suggested that we coordinate this prayer with our breathing, like a mantra:

Gentle loving God, Mother of my soul, hold me as Your own.

Then, he led us on an Ignatian journey into whatever in our lives was causing us pain. For me, that was my sexuality, which had caused me such conflict and turmoil for so many years. Spenser invited us to experience the pain fully, grounded in the knowledge that we were safe in the arms of our gentle loving God. And then he asked us to consider if there were any way we could accept whatever was causing our pain as a gift.

The idea of my sexuality as a gift from God was overwhelming. I had been brought up to believe that homosexuality was a sin, an abomination before God. I had never fully loved myself because I could never fully admit to myself who I really was. And yet, that cold winter night in the middle of Advent, I realized for the first time in my life that God really did love me, “just as I am” as the old hymn says. And my sexuality was part of the me that God accepted. For the first time in my life I could feel God, the gentle loving God, Mother of my soul, hold me as Her own. And I began to open my heart to the idea of my sexuality as a gift, not something to be ashamed of.

That following Palm Sunday weekend I sat in the office of the Rev. Dr. John Westerhoff at St. Luke’s and spoke out loud about my sexuality. The earth did not open and swallow me; thunder did not strike. Instead, this respected theologian, this grey-haired, wizard-like priest told me that my sin was not experiencing same-sex attraction; my real sin had been not accepting God’s love for me as God had created me. My own self-hatred had been a perverse form of pride, telling God, “No, you're wrong – I’m not worth loving.”

My penance was this: John directed me to read Isaiah 43:1-7, every morning for however many days it took for me to believe it – to really believe it:

...thus says the Lord...I have called you by name, you are mine...

...because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you...

It took a little over a month of reading this passage every day for my self-hatred, my tortured pride, to crumble and for me to finally accept that God does love me, just as I am.

I’ve recently come to appreciate that passage of scripture as it is paraphrased in The Message:

But now, God’s Message,
the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,
the One who got you started, Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
it won’t be a dead end –
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
trade the creation just for you.

“So don’t be afraid: I’m with you.
I’ll round up all your scattered children,
pull them in from east and west.
I’ll send orders north and south:
‘Send them back.
Return my sons from distant lands,
my daughters from faraway places.
I want them back, every last one who bears my name,
every man, woman, and child
Whom I created for my glory,
yes, personally formed and made each one.’”

I still have days when my old way of thinking intrudes. I sometimes read scripture and see it through the eyes of the fundamentalist Baptist I once was, rather than through the lens of God’s love and acceptance. But now I know the truth. And each day as I pray this prayer, “Gentle loving God, Mother of my soul, hold me as Your own,” in rhythm with my breathing, I allow the prayer to center me, to ground me in God’s grace. And I allow myself to feel God’s loving arms around me, holding me secure, never letting go.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

BookLog: Two Action Novels


Majestic Descending by Mitchell Graham is one of those “can’t-put-it-down” novels. I found myself staying up late just to see what happens next. It’s a fast-paced thriller about a smart Atlanta lawyer, Katherine Adams, who finds herself caught up in a web of murder, intrigue, and betrayal – as well as being a passenger on a sinking cruise ship. Majestic Descending has the plot twists and action you’d expect from a novel like this, but it also has intelligent dialogue from adult characters who are believable and well-developed, not just caricatures for the action scenes. I hope Mitchell Graham writes more novels about Katherine.

A Diet of Treacle by Lawrence Block is another great novel from Hard Case Crime. It’s not a mystery; it’s more like a psychological portrait of three misfit characters on the fringes of “beat” culture in Greenwich Village in the late 1950’s. The novel was originally published in 1961, so it has the ring of authenticity from that era. The story shows how ordinary, misguided people can get caught up in their own webs of confusion and aimlessness and make one bad choice after another, leading to acts of crime and betrayal. This is a good story with compelling characters.

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