Life After…Go figure

A Narrative of Life Outside The Box

The Evil Diaries: post 1

So this is my first entry in the Evil Diaries. No they are not supplemented by Dr. Evil, there is no Evil Petting Zoo and I will not give you directions to Minas Morgoth. But in a class I’m taking we frequently get asked to think about certain topics and this was my week’s reflection. I have put the original parts of the question used as an outlining tool by a hapless hopeless seminarian in Bold.

How do you explain Evil in your congregation?

(I make Evil show us some valid ID Then I sit Evil down next to a hall monitor and make sure they don’t chew gum I DON’T KNOW, IN OTHER WORDS)

We don’t explain evil in my congregation as much as we acknowledge it. I think this is a good approach; I’ve always found evil to be irrevocably linked to a vein of the inexplicable, the degree of connection depending on each case. I’ve heard my minister acknowledge the evil of terrorist attacks, King Philip’s War and the Marathon Bombings. We acknowledged the evil in the orders of King Herod to kill all newborn male children in Bethlehem in our Christmas eve service. I think the distinction between explaining and acknowledging is an important one. I think Evil as a concept remains nebulous and imprecise and that it is over and under-applied countless times each day, all over the world.

How do you explain Evil?

I worry sometimes that evil cannot be explained, but rather identified. Or perpetuated. I think some of our attempts to define what is evil are successful, like the concept of genocide. That may be setting a very low standard for the definition of evil, but consider what happens when as a species, humanity has tried to define evil beyond its own, and what happens when we think we’ve got the hang of the classification process. –For instance, of the many reasons that the bubonic plague rates skyrocketed in 14th century Europe one stands out. The cats that had once kept the rodent populations (who carried the infected fleas) had been decimated because the church had declared them, as potential witches’ familiars and demonic spirits, evil. Crows and Ravens who play a vital role in removing carrion and small scavengers are still killed brutally and in high numbers because humanity decided that their nature—which led them so frequently to battlefields, corpses and garbage dumps made them evil. So we must remember how, in our attempts to define evil along the lines of our own needs or cultural practice or aesthetic comfort, we in turn as a species have done a great evil to the web of interconnected life around us.

What did you say and do when you found out about the Newtown shootings?

I was devastated by the Newtown shootings; the majority of children in Boston and Rhode Island I have taught or worked with were kindergartners. I couldn’t stop seeing their faces.

The Newton shootings made me think, also, that it is too easy to mistake other problems for evil. Was Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter evil? I do not feel qualified to deliver a verdict. He was clearly mentally disturbed. He and his mother clearly should not have had access or purchase rights to firearms. In the case of the other, much over-eclipsed shooting of that month, three firefighters were shot to death by a man who attacked his neighbors, set a house on fire and then picked off the emergency responders with firearms that he should not have been able to obtain, in Webster NY. On the surface, I look at Lanza’s crimes, and those of this other spunk-stain shooter and I want to classify the people, Lanza and the shooter as evil. I know, however, rationally that both of them were reported after the fact to have emotional and mental disorders. The Firefighters’ shooter had already been convicted of murder; his grandmother in 1980. Lanza had not been given enough intervening mental health screening and treatment, he had not been monitored sufficiently and he was therefore free (I mean not-confined) to act. These shooters were not the awesome civilians-with-gun-know-how that I encounter more often than the media might prefer. They were people who should not have had guns or legal access to guns owned by other people.

What I believe is truly evil about the situation is that politicians, ‘big insurance’ companies, lobbyists and the corporate sector did not have to all but destroy a working budget for mental healthcare facilities in our country but they did. Residential facilities should not have been decimated but they were. The laws that made the guns purchased in both horrific incidents don’t need to have those loopholes, and the lobbyists and politicians don’t have to push for them, but they do.

Oh, and…? The same categories—lobbyists, politicians, the very wealthy and corporate on the anti-gun side do not have to cave in to political pressures, trade away reforms for back-room deals that will keep them in power and make them money—but they do.

And yet individual people take those jobs. Individual people take those jobs and if they discover or discern morally questionable practice, and they keep their job (and they do not have an economic hardship) are they evil? Are they doing evil, rather, or is that a valid distinction? I want to say yes, frequently. I can’t just always stop myself from wanting to say yes; I almost always want to say it. In my eyes, these are the big world grown up versions of the school administrators who made my life (and my peers’) prey to their ambitions and the bullies who preyed on the vulnerable. Especially the bullies who did so because they could, and the understanding that they could gave them something–maliciously, I want to say ‘joy.’ Realistically, I need to say “I don’t know” And then extend my middle finger. Or my middle and index fingers. Depends how Agincourt-y I am feeling.

Now having said all that, the day of the Newtown shootings I wanted Lanza dead. I would have been saddened at the needless loss of life if he had been shot on the way to the school, and I would have felt much the same about the politics surrounding the problem as I’ve said above. The only reasons, in fact that I am not saying “I would have shot Lanza myself” are:

1. My mother’s PTSD patients at the VA have always said nobody knows how they would react in a killing scenario until they are in one, and my own limited weapons experience (foil, musket, throwing ax) seems to corroborate with that.I still remember the first time someone invited me to take a (rubber tipped) foil and (slowly) poke his (protected) chest.  All games of Knights and Warriors aside, it was, at that point, one of the hardest things to do I had ever begun.

2. I am not a member of Law Enforcement or the Armed Forces and have no business toting a gun around, (yes I am one of those wimps who willingly  acknowledges their authority. This is not a Fuck the Police Blog). I do not hunt, I do not shoot clay pigeons, I do not have a permit and I do not live in a vast forest surrounded by turkey vultures who want nothing more than to drop rabies-laced vulture-chalk on my house 24/7, I do not at this time live in a scenario where it would be appropriate for me to be learning to use or using firearms. (I do believe many of those scenarios exist, so no, Ricky and Willard, I am NOT coming with the President to take your guns.)

3: I am not at all trained in modern firearm use and not likely to be a good shot without a great deal of work, so I might well have missed. Worse, I could have hit someone else.

Does my very use of that criteria make me evil? Is taking a human life always evil? Am I unfit for ministry? Or is that set of questions and factors something that good people ask themselves? Or is it merely that people who have the potential for good go through that process? Would I be evil if I said I would do anything to defend a congregation under my care, such as the horrible shooting of a UU church in Kentucky? Up to and including the violence that sometimes comes with defense against an armed intruder who entered the physical space of church grounds with intent and means? Or would I just be wrong? Is there a difference between “evil” and “wrong?” I do not know. I hope this is not a mere laundry list of questions but truly, my understanding of any potential answers is a work in progress.

Have UU’s Overestimated Human Nature?

I worry that UU’s may have overestimated human nature, and I feel, again, that the arguments to focus on humanity as the central core of our religion in the form of humanism have led and could lead to more of that over-estimation. We need to be upfront and clear about what, as a species and through many cultures, we are capable of. But I do not think, conversely, that humans are beyond redemption—If I did, if I thought we were nothing more than an unstoppable infestation akin to fire-ants and tape-worms I would be a veterinarian, not a ministerial applicant. And, of course, we will be unable to preserve what is good and wonderful about us and heal the injuries we have inflicted on the web of life unless we have the chance to act and we take it. We have evil…and then we have Harry Belafonte, Mozart, Picasso (whose cigar farts surely smelled evil) and Little Turtle (Miami Confederation, 1790s, google him!)

This was why I found one particular reading in class this week so powerful. Reverend William Schulz, who has served as the head of my church in the past and as the executive director of Amnesty International is (what a dubious distinction, perhaps) one of  the thinkers who has affected me most this semester.  (that and the fact that he has a sense of humor, and honesty that I can aspire to in my own formation process and beyond). This is not actually the forerunner of a William Schulz Celebration Post (do those exist?). I don’t want to suggest that I believe we can hold the words or actions of any human being alive or dead up as infallible or as proof that the individual will never say or do the wrong thing. It’s the effort Schultz makes to confront torture, to determine the many facets of evil, suffering and terror it encompasses and speak honestly of his feelings about each factor.*

(How does your understanding of evil relate to your capacity for hope?) My understanding of evil does a lot of damage to my concept of hope. I cannot defeat evil whether alone or in alliance. I cannot prevent evil. I cannot prevent the effects of evil deeds on my loved ones, on humanity itself or our world. But the wise person who said ‘evil triumphs when good people do nothing’ (adjusted for bad memory and less gender-exclusive language) is right. So I cannot turn away from hope, especially the hope that we can do better than those who do evil, and we can heal what evil leaves behind. Even if we cannot eradicate evil, to cease standing up to it would be to despair and therefore succumb to another sort of evil in itself.

*”What Torture’s Taught me” Rev. William Schulz, UUA General Assembly June 21 2006.

Oh, that’s interesting: three pages to deliniate UU Cannon…

Could I perhaps be shot out of a cannon instead? Into a mosh pit staffed entirely by willing, good-looking and talented British and Irish actors?

I find myself in more at odds with Rev. Katherine Ellis’ statement: “ I think we need sanctuary in order to truly experience a sacrament, in order to feel reverent and touched with holiness. You don’t see the holiness in the red bird singing or the child’s face when you are feeling scared and lost.”

First, I do believe, from my own experience working in congregations and prayer circles that the sanctuary of a church or sacred space adds a layer to my experience of sacrament. For me it is in the power of communal worship, the sharing of a ritual that expresses my faith with others, as if we are adding an even larger beam to the umbrella of light that prayer and faith cast over humanity (and, if humans are doing ti right, all life). However. I would suggest that perhaps the “you” Ellis adopts here is unreasonable; she might have made her case more sincerely if she had stuck with her own point of view and used “I.” For, in contrast to her, I do see holiness in a red bird, even, sometimes in the midst of utter fear or despair. Sammuel Calthrop, the 19th century UU minister saw it in tomatoes! Conversely, I almost never see it in children, even in the midst of the sacred moment of a dedication or coming of age service. This is because I do not look for holiness in children; they are their own independent souls and can be either good or not good. I find I prefer to take the pressure off of them that comes from calling them holy and instead calling their nurturing, care and education ‘holy.’ That might help them to remain good human beings which in turn will keep them closer to that which is holy.

So not only do I hold a significantly different idea of what is or is not holy, or when I see these things as such I am not alone. As a Druid, the forest is church as much as a building with walls and a steeple. It is not superior or inferior, just different. And in the church of the forest, a sacrament can just as easily be crows removing carrion from the ground before it can spread rot and disease, or a fox killing a rabbit so that the fox’s infant will live, or a rabbit in turn keeping the vegetation balanced and distributed. But there’s a sacramental nature to pursuits outside church that other religious traditions can find—Orthodox and Hasidic Jews live a life with many daily reminders of sacred law and practice—keeping kosher, separating refrigerators to do so, mikvahs, clothing and activities specific to gender…I am not trying to paint these aspects of their religious practice as sacraments. However, the strict observation of religious law keeps the sacred space firmly in the every day world. It challenges the idea of a weekly prayer service in a sacred space as the main thrust of a religious practice. I can’t be a Jew, religiously speaking, but my grandmother’s ancestors and modern Jews today have contributed a great deal to the church I am part of and I try to look for every day sacred space because their example inspires me as much as my spiritual practice of a Druid.

I believe we have sacraments as Unitarian Universalists. First, I think I should say that the great deal of autonomy in our congregations seems to insure that there are different numbers of sacraments as well as definitions of the term from group to group. I think it is fantastic that we have a UU congregation in Boston that uses the Book of Common prayer and offers communion monthly. I think it is equally important and wonderful that we have congregations that never mention Jesus, or if they do, they do so quite rarely.

Is it acceptable to view a sacrament as a ritual or act that reinforces what I believe the Buddhists call right action, or right thinking? For instance; I see child dedication as a sacrament because the ceremony gives a child and their parents a source of comfort, religious mentoring and spiritual reinforcement from a specific community. And our only hope, as it would be in any species, is in our children. Supporting them, then is a holy enough act that a specific ritual of dedication has the feel of a sacrament to me. Although not a Christian I have no dispute whatsoever with communion as a sacrament, though I take the protestant (loosely speaking!) view of it as a celebration and remembrance of Christ and the last supper. –After all, as a pagan, I see the bread as already the body of the divine Goddess; blessing it to make it Christ is a bit fatuous. The ordination of a minister is a sacrament, to me because it is a form of oath taking and dedication by and for someone willing to live their life as a spiritual caretaker.

A UU candidate may draw their personal faith from different sources and make that promise within themselves to different faces of God—but we are also committing to a life of serving congregations within our larger belief system, congregations seeking to live by the seven principles. So while I truly hope it’s not dodging an answer to the question of whether we have sacraments. I have tried to address, in very small part, my thinking behind some of the things I do or participate in during UU worship. I am not fully convinced we have a cannon and I am also not fully convinced that is a bad thing. It’s only a suggestion, but let’s see where our congregations go and what they need.

Service as a minister

I really do not find a lot of common ground with my UU traditions professor. Lately I’m starting to wonder why we’re assigned readings about the UU tradition but asked questions that have more of a bearing in the private and abstract.

This is the first: Where do you derive your authority to be a minister?  God?  Tradition? Congregation? Relationships? Self?  What gives you the right/authority to preach?

This is one of the hardest questions to answer for me as a Unitarian Universalist coming from the faith source of an Earth-based tradition, specifically the path of a modern Druid. On one hand, becoming a UU minister is not merely a means to an end; I didn’t go down this route solely to find a way to do my job as a Druid in a church or organization that was large enough to potentially employ me. I spent a year between my first moment of vocation and my second with what became my home UU congregation in Rhode Island. If Unitarian Universalism had really not been where I wanted to serve those two personal calls to ministerial service, I would not be here today at ____divinity school. Conversely, I was called to service as a Druid; nobody and no spiritual force said ‘you are my UU minister.’, rather they said ‘you are my Druid.’ Figuring out what it meant to answer that call was up to me.

 

Only an imprecise archeological and literary record remain from the time that Celtic tribes depended on a clergy of Druids for spiritual care-giving, and some of the traditions we can confirm from the iron age and late antiquity (also known as the age of Arthur, the Dark Ages, the Early Medieval period) are simply not morally practicable today—such as human sacrifice. As a result, the Druid path of the modern era, particularly the last forty-odd years is intuitive and meditative in nature—we draw inspiration and insight from meditative contemplation. Some of us don’t combine that discernment with any evidence (of the non-sacrificing variety!) from the original Druid period in archeology or folklore. As it happens, I do; I and many other Druids adapt our spiritual practice through a combination of primary source material, meditation and yes, on occasion we develop (or make up) a new practice. There seems to be a similar pattern of spiritual formation in the large-scale modern Druid groups—many of whom hold the status of formally recognized religious organizations in countries like the United Kingdom.

 

While this may seem like a bit of a digression, Druids are not such a numerous religious sect in 2014 that I can expect people to be widely familiar with how I operate. I hope that this brief outline can demonstrate that we are an earth based tradition that does not have a codified, linear, written theology or spiritual practice. Now of course, the UUA has got all these things, and I’m pursuing ministry as a Unitarian Universalist. I was not however, called in the context that many of my fellow seminarians were or even the same that many of our authors from the week’s readings were. I was not called in a Christian, Judeo-Christian or (in the case of what I consider a refreshing number today) Humanist context.

 

None of this is a prelude to claiming that I derive my call to ministry or any authority I may someday wield as a minister from within myself. I didn’t. It is also not an attempt to present my ministry or path as a druid as unique or solitary. I am far from being the only one called this way.

 

I am a servant. And like any servant (cue the Downton Abbey music in five…), let’s say, Anna Bates as created by Julian Fellowes, I have my home base of operations—in her case, Downton Abbey, in mine, this continent. I started out doing one type of spiritual service –let’s continue the whimsy and say I was the under-keeper of the duck and fish ponds and I may end my career in a different wing of the house—I hope—a church congregation. This continent has many servants that perform large varieties of caretaking and spiritual stewardship. Our First Nations, Native Americans, don’t need a druid or a servant whose family hailed once from County Meath or the Jewish communities of Prussia. That needs to be said. But other people live on this continent now, and while it would not be appropriate for us to pursue First Nations’ spiritual practice (if we do not belong to one of those Nations or have another legitimate connection to one) we’re still in need of our own. I am perfectly content—even joyful—to be a servant of this continent. And I suspect I have more fun than Anna Bates. (Even though she gets to have Mr. Bates as a husband between murder accusations…)But where does my authority to preach or minister come in?

 

I believe that a good minister is a spiritual caretaker for a congregation or a group. They maintain the congregation’s covenant of worship, they live and encourage their community to live the principles of their faith—in our case, of course, seven—and they serve as spiritual counselor. They can do this one on one, or, through preaching each week, they can seek to help their congregation gather and focus in on one particular idea, or principle or spiritual issue through the focused lens of a sermon and group prayer. I do agree with all of our readings where the authors stressed that preaching is not supposed to be easy. This is not a weekly broadcast of a talk-show; we are not up in those pulpits to be entertaining or to say only comforting and placid words. (Given how many awful preachers go on from coast to coast in every religious sect in existence I hope nobody thinks of it as entertainment). I think it is easier for some of us in some respects because we may have more training or aptitude for public speaking, we may be better storytellers and we may be able to read our listeners enough to engage them, and even engage them through occasional laughter without losing the force of our message.

 

Still not doing a great job with where my authority comes from. I can say “I am here because my Gods told me to do this” and that would be so. I can say “some of my authority comes from knowledge and experience and I have that knowledge and experience of service to land and people because I answered a call and it took me places that people in a congregation who are lawyers or doctors or bakers don’t really end up going when they learned how to do their jobs.”–and while that would be true I think that may be more part of my identity as a spiritual resource than authority. I can say my authority would come from my willingness to do the job of ministry that others frequently are not, except I believe it would be too easy to fall in to ideas about guilt or obligation or misplaced authority if I did that.

 

Any minister who has been ordained, let alone any who have served a congregation for a long time holds authority over me, personally because they are my elder and my superior in rank. That does not render them infallible; sometimes it even fails to render a senior minister likeable or one that I could respect! But since this is not added to my personal authority—being where I am in my process—I add it only because I have not successfully answered this question. I would submit, however, that those of us aspiring ministers who may struggle to do so, have as much to offer as those who are certain of the nature of their authority.

 

Aside from what I submitted above I think it worth mentioning what my field education supervisor–also a minister had to say about questions like this “nobody is ever going to ask you that.”

Well then!

(draft) of our Circle opening/cast at UU Winter Solstice Ritual 2013

East

Rising Winds, Breath of Life…element of the east, Air, please bless us all. Carry our words from soul to soul, and with them our love and thanksgiving. Bring us through this, the longest night, and every night to greet the dawn. Caress the sunrise at your gates and all those living as we greet the light. We know you, we love you. We greet you and give you thanks for all your graces.

 

South

Great and radiant Fire, element of the south, please bless us all. Please share in our love and thanksgiving. The fire in the heart of stars has cast light from them to us throughout the night sky. The fire of our immortal spirits, all of us, of each and every living creature of this planet, burns together. As we light our candles and chalices, light our darkness, now and always. We know you, we love you. We greet you and give you thanks for all your graces.

 

West

Oh living rivers and oceans, element of the west, Water, please bless us all. Please bear our love and thanksgiving through your currents and tides. Water of the skies, waters of swamp and stream and lake and bay, water carried in their air as mists, water of life be ever a wellspring of healing and health in our hearts and Spirits. We know you, we love you. We greet you and give you thanks for all your graces.

 

North

Home to the winter’s power, element of the north, Earth, we are breathing with you. As our love and thanksgiving echoes in our hearts let it always take root in your fields. Oh Giants, who form the cathedral of great and sleeping trees around our church and along the breast of this living continent, and ancestors who lie sleeping in your roots, and orchards, mountains, glacier rocks and flat plains…let us strive to live in harmony with you and bless us always. We know you, we love you. We greet you and give you thanks for all your graces.

 

Centre/Laura:

Our circle is cast through the graces of air fire water and earth. Father Wolf, great lord, my most beloved guide, guardian and my honored father: please walk the edges of our worship, both to give ear to our loving thanks and to protect our service and people in mind and body and spirit. No harm will enter, or let footstep fall through your grace and through the force of our love for one another. Blessed be.

 

CLOSING

North: We give you thanks, Element of the Earth and bid you good night.

West: We give you thanks, Element of the Waters, and bid you good night

South: We give you thanks, Element of the South, and bid you good night

East: We give you thanks, Element of the East and bid you good night.

 

Centre/Laura Father Wolf, I give you thanks on all our behalf and bid you goodnight. In love, in faith and in Thanksgiving. Blessed be.

Jesus and Poop

So recently I commented on a friend’s Facebook post about our Illustrious Congress, particularly Michelle Bachman: “Jesus would respond to people who say things like that by administering an enema.”

My friend and I had a very forthright discussion about it and their reasons for asking me to take the comment down were valid and because this person remains a respected mentor and friend, even if their stance had NOT been valid, ‘it’s on my page I do not like it it is going down’ was all they ever would have needed to say.

The whole thing, however, got me thinking. Snark, after all, is my life. I depend on it to keep my blood pressure low, plant subversive ideas into the public consciousness, and get attention –what, reader, you think I would not admit it? So had I just indulged in the most shocking insult in my (no caffeine 8am) arsenal or did I really think Jesus Christ would administer an enema to many, MANY Christians I have come across personally or who regale us with their  vapid (and blatantly un-Christian) vacuous rants in certain public venues. And I realized that yes, indeed, I had not been going for the shock value as much as it may have appeared.

The fact is, I’ve grown up in a world populated by doctors. By stories of ancient Roman and Egyptian medicine, by stories from or set in the pre-Christian and medieval world, where gargoyles and images of explicit Last Judgement agonies are carved on Cathedral facades–to scale no less, and renaissance Crucifixions that make modern slasher movies look bland. And so I’m used to people who, while I have and never will meet them, looked at the world in a very different way–including their approaches to medicine. And while I will freely admit to not having time to research this specifically, I bet Jesus would give Michelle Bachman and those who follow her platform an enema. Absolutely!

First of all, why? Better theological minds than I have demonstrated extensively, exhaustively, that most of the vitriol, most of the ideas about ‘the war on Christianity,’ homophobia, racism, economic freebasing etc etc that right-wing ‘Christians’ and ‘Christian Groups’ claim that they embrace as followers of Christ is…groundless. Of course there are many other words I could apply  besides merely ‘groundless’ but that’s obvious enough. So yes, I believe that Jesus Christ, the historical man who may indeed have been the son of a God (pagans have a lot less problems with the idea of Christ than many Christians ever want to admit) would have taken one look at a huge percentage of the Christian population of 2013 and said “Dad…these people are nuttier than a sack-full of cats. We need to get them to a doctor.” (Of course I have projected this statement as an authentic translation of the Aramaic/Coine Greek that Jesus used word for word. Snort.)

So…compassionate medical care for the mentally ill….Jesus, as a young educated Jew of the early Roman Empire might well have grown up believing in the importance of bowel health. Roman medicine was advanced, but the Mediterranean world seems to have had a decent amount of focus on keeping the internal workings of the body healthy. Concluding that people who spouted such vitriol in public might be suffering from painful and traumatic constipation may not have been such a great leap.

Had Jesus been alive during the era where Christianity emerged as the dominant religion of Europe, it is highly probable that he would believe an enema was the most humane and effective method of helping Michelle Bachman, the Romneys, the Rush Limbaughs, the massively uneducated and bigoted congressmen and senators of the world to balance their ‘humors’, cooling the irritation of their bodies that was leading to their insanity.

So while I enjoy mocking, lambasting, and doing my best to rake the realm of Conservative Idiocy over the coals, I think I might really have been onto something with the original idea. I think Jesus would have kindly, politely taken certain fanatics aside and escorted them to a physician and given them support and encouragement in pursuing the proscribed treatment.

The next question I have is: Where do we draw the line between respect of Christ and embracing his relationship with the physical world–which included poop?

In which I am not just Aghast but, I suspect Der Flabberghast

Well, I have not kept up with this blog. Real life has not been busy so much as it has been…draining. The sort of thing I’m much more interested in escaping than commenting on. And, on the platform of honesty…yeah. I discovered The Great Pit of rationalizing and Waste of Time….Tumblr.

 

I’ve been at my field ed site, serving our version of a ‘mini’ internship, since October. Rural Massachusetts is a joy. The site is a joy. I love our community and our minister is an intelligent, well educated, sincere and  lovely woman who believes in the importance of profanity almost as much as I do.

 

And these are things I have been thinking about which may or may not become posts:

Jesus and Poop

My old Neighborhood

Grandstanding

The Protestant Druid

A Christian Education (?)

Aaaaaand I turned around

I turned around and BEHOLD! I saw a pale rider on a white bicycle. And his neon-vomit-inducing bike trunks stretched over his Ken Doll ass. And he did ride in the middle of my lane on a sharp curve where I could not pass him. And later he did return to his Cycling Cohorts and regale them with how he had Put another Ignorant Car Driver in their Proper Place. And there was much rejoicing in their halls at this triumph for environmentally safe travel and healthy exercise. And then they did drive home from the club in their polished Lexus SUV’s.

 

And Meanwhile, LO! I perceived through a great and distracted haze that yes, the heat was gone and yes Mabon and the Equinox had passed and that yes, somehow, the year was at its final turn to Samhain. And I did nearly run over the pale cyclist who had appeared as if from no-where.

The Aspiring Minister is more Poor than a Pore…

The Aspiring Minister is more Poor than a Pore…

Obnoxious Monikers–with Social Commentary

So this happened. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/01/diplomat-breastfeeding-_n_3529826.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

 

Police and restaurant customers in New York decided that a diplomat’s wife was using the pretense of breastfeeding her child to conduct a plot of terror and violence….

 

The  Horde of Sub-functioning Trolls responsible for ruining a young family’s day out and the reputation of their entire community inspired me to think of the many inanities that men and society–and therefore, dirty little truth, other women occasionally–force upon women. You know. Us? Just us Girls? Women? Humans who make up whatever enormous percentage of the population that we do….

Clearly we are a problem. I mean, first of all there’s all that nonsense and ‘screaming’ I believe Rick Perry calls it about our rights.  Then there’s the way we complain endlessly about inequality.

then…well, then, boys and enablers it gets truly intimidating because a woman feeds her baby in public and:

BEHOLD she wields the Boobs of Death

the Gladiatorial Gazungas

the Mammaries of  Mordor

the Twin Glands of Terror and Fury

the Bosom of All Things Dark and Powerful…

Breastageddon

The horror…the Horror…

she’ll put everybody’s eye out with her Nefarious Nipples

confound them with her Audacious Anatomy

SCAR THEM FOR LIFE at the sight of…

I wanted to end with a shark-like and ferocious comment about this small incident mirroring the demonic ridiculosity of the opposition around the world to women’s freedom–or to common sense. But really, I just wanted a chance to see how sarcastic I could be about an event that, let’s be fair, deserves all the sarcasm it can absorb, only I wanted to not say ‘t–s.’*

 

*Steve–why didn’t you want to say “t–s”?

Me–because the mockery this called for needed to be better than t–s.

Steve–but those were my favorite. T–s are amazing!

Me–yes, Sweetheart. That’s why. I had to aim for better-than-my-husband’s-favorite if I was gonna try taking this on.

Steve–Well then. Goodnight Honey. Miss you.

Me–Miss you too, Sweetheart. Have fun in Avalon till I get there. **

 

**Yes I have conversations with my husband, who is dead. They take place silently in my heart. I believe it’s him. And sometimes they end up in my blog. that is all.

Nuns, Book Review and Troubling (For the Geek) Questions…

I wrote this as an assignment to review a book on one topic or person outstanding in the history of Christianity in Europe. Hildegard of Bingen fan that I am I ran with an early but supposedly definitive academic biography: Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179: A Visionary Life. (Sabina Flanagan, 1984). And while I was working on this, my usual gift for happening upon the staggeringly obvious did not disappoint; I realized that the book is a sullenly abysmal chore in terms of narrative and writing quality..Still, this work from the academic stage twenty years past may be a good opening point for some exploration of an ever-increasing trend: flat, unengaging work that does nothing to make a given subject more accessible beyond the students or PhD’s reading the work for research and even then, creates a spike in the ant-acid budget of scholars. 

So let’s look at an example of this unsightly phenomenon.

Sabina Flanagan wrote her Doctoral dissertation on Hildegard of Bingen’s prophetic works and later published Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179: A Visionary Life in 1984. Flanagan attempts, in this short biography, to provide an introduction to the outline of Hildegard’s life and some exploration of her written works, both their wide ranging subject matter and their intellectual scope. Flanagan’s principal argument, that Hildegard’s works outpaced many male contemporary scholars of her era in diversity of topics and in intelligence and aesthetic beauty, moves consistently through the book.

One passage of Hildegard that I have especially valued comes in a later chapter where Flanagan summarizes the Abbess’ body of work:

Her interests were intellectual rather than mystical.…as well as understanding, Hildegard wanted to change the world: in a general sense, for man’s salvation in her writings, and more particularly, by recommending certain attitudes and positions. To these ends, the migraine experience was a wonderfully adaptable instrument, as was Hildegarde herself  (209).

Migraine headaches and accompanying illnesses are pernicious, cross-cultural, era and continent-spanning complications. Hildegard was already overcoming the difference in the education she had gained and that of the male scholars whose respect she had won. She had already moved from a future of permanent sequestration with her mentor Jutta to the subtle but unavoidable politics of establishing her rule as an Abbess. And, as Flanagan relates, Hildegard also faced the challenge of a frequently occurring condition that, when compared to the modern detailed ‘check-list’ of Migraine symptoms, fits their pattern quite efficaciously (201). A medical diagnoses at more than eight centuries would be ridiculous; and to Flanagan’s further good grace, she makes no attempt to cast a possibility as a certainty.

As a trained and experienced museum educator I will always have a very powerful desire to see history presented and taken in as an interesting, engaging and thoughtful experience. I want people to be aware of the past, and I want women  in my denomination to be aware of spiritual leadership that contributed to one of the sources of our faith. Hildegard is a tremendously important example of such leadership.  In order to understand how Hildegard experienced her visions and understood them we in turn, need to gather what we can about medical and metaphysical factors—even as some of Hildegard’s writings do as she details what she saw, what she experienced the noticeable connection or parallels between her headache-related sickness and her visions.

I especially appreciated the lack of bias or ‘mission’ in Flanagan’s narrative arguments—she gives no indication of any great drive to discredit or canonize Hildegard’s visions. Although I have unreserved opinions about academic style, when we scholars can remember our training and abandon bias it is a very fine thing. Perhaps I value this so much because I see no need to ‘debunk’ her mystical visions or to prove that they were entirely powered from the realm of the feminine spiritual (a popular catch phrase I still run into in spirituality, history and biography sections in the bookstore). Still the unbiased presentation of the interaction between migraine and spiritual vision in this work is both interesting and informative.

This book is indicative of a problem that existed at the time of writing in 1984 that is alive and well in 2013. While I am indeed engaging in mighty presumption from my soapbox on writing quality among academics, I will presume onward and upwards. I have found the book to be a horrible read. Flanagan, it could be argued for charity’s sake, may have assumed that someone else would surely go ahead and put together a biography of Hildegard of Bingen that would be engaging, provide a more chronologically consistent narrative of her life as well as her career, and, in general, prove informative for someone at least one remove but preferably two or three from the halls of academia. Because, after all, if Hildegard was important enough to write a dissertation on, Flanagan must have cared…?Very well. Charity.  Speaking as an avid reader, a tutor and an educator I know that I would have been very happy if Flanagan had taken the works she analyzed, quoted or translated and put them in one section, then devoted a front section to Hildegard’s life with considerably more on the geography, cultural history and even the geopolitical climate of her region than she did in this 1984 edition.

I’d like to say a brief word about biography, particularly that of a subject in the more distant past. I am actually very aware that considerable challenge and pitfall can await the intrepid scholar who seeks to make their work engaging and detailed.—In the UK, in 2000, I happened upon essays shellacking Paul Murray Kendall’s biography of Richard III—a book hailed as a humanizing, dramatic and thrilling masterpiece of compassionate storytelling. Unfortunately, it seemed that while Kendall had done right by the poor king in pointing out that Richard was the obvious worst suspect in the murder of his nephews, he had simply spun details of crucial battles in the wars of the roses out of not terribly much. (The British Academics used less complimentary words needless to say. Quite a few of them. Rather like coyotes tracking sick deer)*. I contrast that experience with the (possibly coincidental; you know, like the coincidence that Superman and Clark Kent are never together) tendency of professors at my Northern Grad department in history to react with contempt in the face of every well-written monograph , even if it’s just proportional contempt beside their rhapsodic love of brilliant scholars–who cannot write their way out of a wet paper bag. With a chain saw. And ninja stars.

The upshot of this digression is that I have seen the void that well researched but badly written biography creates. I have also seen an equal vacuum created by well written and badly researched work! Both are problematic.

I am left wanting to find some more engaging and accessible sources on the history of spiritual leaders among women in the history of European Christianity. I’m a geek, after all. Learning cool stuff and finding ways to share it with others is hardwired to my personal Geekdom, where I let my Geek flag fly high from the ranks of the humanities, history, literature, folklore and such. So part of my ministry, I suspect, will always include trying to make the past more relevant or interesting—perhaps even inspiring—for anyone whose spiritual care I’m honored with. I will try to keep and maintain a list of updated books on a variety of topics in this vein and Hildegard, long a personal hero of mine, will always be on it. Speaking from this bias, I think every minister should have a minimum of two books on Hildegarde specifically and several on women who were leaders during the first thousand or so years of Christianity’s evolution. I simply don’t see this book as a useful example of one of them.

That concludes my review and raises the question: why aren’t there more books out there that are well researched, and well written and well received for people who are not in graduate study seminars?

 

*I am unable to recall essay titles or names; hopefully I am at least scraping the bottom of citation protocols by emphasizing that anything about Kendal or the British Academic Community’s response to him belongs to those brilliant lovely people, etc…

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