Monthly Archives: August 2016

Dear Mother God

Candice Bergen was in a very smart sit-com, “Murphy Brown” (CBS 1988-1998). There was an episode where some of her acquaintances joined a support group for men. In response to this revelation she said something like “What do you do? Sit around and talk about how hard it is to have all the best jobs and the most money?”

I have written about patriarchy in previous columns and I’m certainly not finished ranting about the organizational and political evils of it. But there is The_Creation_of_Adamanother level that is destructive at a personal level I haven’t addressed before now. This came to mind for me most clearly when a young, white, male, gave a sermon on God the Father a few weeks ago. Most likely he was well-intentioned, but no male has the right to talk to me about God the Father as a good thing. I can’t see it as anything other than oppressive, or at least an ancient characterization of an energy or being that should be bigger than misogyny and gender stereotypes.

For the record, I practice Christianity, though I am frequently embarrassed or infuriated by the many who claim they have the only right interpretation. I find the Episcopal Church the most liberal, both socially and theologically, but with a structured liturgy that centers me. In spite of that, there is not a single mass that I am not deeply hurt by the male dominant language.

There are probably some of you out there saying, why not just walk away from that religion? For many people that is the choice they make, and I don’t fault them. Think of it this way: Most women in this country earn about .77 to every $1 earned by a man. Of course it’s not fair. We don’t stop working, though we do change jobs to try and achieve parity. In general, most of us keep trying to level things out in our own way. Unfortunately, religion is not always better than the prevailing culture. Every day we see examples of folks rising to be better, and those exploiting religion for personal or political gain. That is not new.

After that “God the Father” sermon, I promised myself to make a consistent effort to convert any pronoun possible to neutral or female in every service including every song. I’m a slightly loud soprano, so my personal statement does not always go unnoticed, but that’s not why I do it. It is like a meditation for me. I don’t feel as excluded and it is not as hurtful as the throw-back male pronouns.

What I am asserting is that if you spend your whole life praying to God the Father, and you hold Him as an example of the most revered, then how do you not at some level, assume men are better? It is inevitable. Now imagine the hymn “God of Our Fathers.” A very macho hymn. Not so much when I change the lyrics to God of Our Mothers. Yeah, singing that the one turned a few heads. I belted it out, too.

Now I do allow that Jesus was male and I retain those male pronouns. You know what would have happened if Jesus was a girl? Not a damn thing. There would be no Christianity. She would have been irrelevant. Maybe ignored or married-off with a man taking credit for Her work. Instead, Jesus defended outcasts and treated women like human beings. He challenged traditionalism, including patriarchy, and they killed him for it.

I mean no disrespect to my own human father, but I have never in my entire life felt comfortable with the God the Father ideology. It just never felt right to me. So my prayers are to Mother God. It has reshaped my spirituality. I don’t feel like an outsider in my own religious practice. As I have said before, I don’t believe in a personal god, but I practice my faith like I do because I don’t know how else to keep it real. My contemplation is with Mother God and more like connecting with a maternal energy who has a “Star Trek” kind of attitude toward humanity with Her own “Prime Directive” of non-interference.

I have included this before, but not for a long time. I have rewritten Christianity’s “The Lord’s Prayer.” This prayer is in every Episcopalian and Roman Catholic mass. Many Protestant churches use it throughout the church year. No one’s using my version, but you can if you want.

Mother and Father
In heaven and earth
Making all things sacred.

Your richness fulfilled
Your preference for us
On earth the same as heaven.

Your providence meeting
Our earthly needs
Teaching forgiveness by forgiving

Guide us from fear
Protect us from harm
That we not forget all is connected.

Your Spirit
Our Spirit
Forever

Amen

In the meantime, I will be expressing gratitude to Mother God for the many blessing I enjoy and pray She can exert influence on the Syrians to show each other mercy, in spite of Her Prime Directive. -J.B.

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The Dark Night of the Soul

In the seventies, Dustin Hoffman played Jack Crabb in the movie, “Little Big Man,” as a white man raised happily by Native Americans who took him in when a different tribe murdered his parents. As Hoffman’s character said, “I wasn’t just playin’ Injun, I was living Injun.” While there are many ways to view his story, most often I think about it from the perspective of Jack Crabb getting crummy breaks, failing, and stumbling from one lifestyle into another. For some of us regular folks, doesn’t that kind of sum-up life?

I recently went to a memorial service for a popular teacher who was also instrumental in creating a successful drama program. Somewhere in mid-life he got born-again, so the seemingly never-ending memorial production was steeped in evangelical Christian rhetoric. There were three clergymen (men, of course) and it seemed we were never getting out of there. The last “benediction” (which meant more comments from clergy) started after we’d been there three hours.

Before the popular teacher went through his born-again phase (which I’m told lasted a long time but was eventually modified) there was a time in his life when I knew him to be a seeking person. You know, considering all the heavy life questions like the purpose of life, and the usual God questions. This was the brief period of time when I found him the most interesting. He was asteeple5_edited-2 seeking, humble, curious, feeling human being.

Ironically, it was at this very time in high school that I deliberately abandoned fundamental Christianity. Before that I used to carry my Bible around school every day – and actually read it. One day, I just stopped. I remember thinking, “This isn’t helping me. I’m tired of being depressed.” I did not permanently dismiss all of Christianity, just the version I was force-fed from birth, but I did leave organized religion alone for many years. As Jack Crabb said, “That was the end of my religious period.”

I sat at this memorial service thinking, “I wish I knew the guy they are all talking about.” The adoration was not less than epic. But I just didn’t see the same person they did. You could assess it as my flaw of being too critical. Maybe. When I think about him, I remember that period of time when he was searching and asking himself difficult questions. I was never among his favored protégés, so my perspective is that of the spectator. From my seat in the auditorium of life, I remember feeling disappointed that he so quickly abandoned seeking for easy answers.

There is something of potential great value in the dark night of the soul and it warrants careful consideration. When we feel lost or isolated, it is uncomfortable and painful. But when we are in that place we can see things, especially about ourselves, that are more difficult to see from the vantage point of lazy contentment. And even worse, when we adopt an ideology, we start reshaping our observations and thoughts to fit those notions, therefore cutting ourselves off from other possible understandings. In that mindset, I have watched people treat long-time friends with callous disregard because they got themselves a shiny new religion and new friends with it.

I understand what it feels like to struggle. Often when we are in that space we spend most of our mental energy trying to squirm free of the discomfort. I am suggesting that as difficult as it is, there is the opportunity to just stay in that uncomfortable space a bit and reflect. Breathe. This could be the angst before the break-through to a better direction, or thought, or understanding. And I will grant you that you don’t want to get stuck in that dark night. That’s called depression.

Respect the dark night of the soul. I think we should not be in such a rush to push out of it. Isn’t that really what Christianity’s lent and Islam’s Ramadan are all about? These two annual religious observances schedule a dark night of the soul in order for the faithful to take some time to reflect and reboot. Discomfort is built-in and used as a deliberate catalyst. What can we do differently? How can we make the future different than the past?

Any trip back to high school is uncomfortable for me, even seeing former classmates. I was recently humbled and saddened to learn I said some typical smart-ass thing once in French class that hurt a classmate. (Though I’m amazed my French was that good.) Now I haven’t been in high school since the seventies, so that’s a long-time for her to carry around the hurt I instigated. I do know that while I enjoy my own commentary on life, I just don’t need to impose it on others, and certainly not recklessly. I am grateful she gave me the opportunity to apologize. I’m not sure I’m any more careful with my comments, but I hope so.

Every life has a theme and a lesson. A lesson for the individual, and a lesson for the rest of us. The memorial service offered story after story. Good stories. Nice themes. The stories that I remember weren’t going to come-up. They are reserved for a few friends, in a small circle of people who know me and still like me. The stories are impacted by where you’re sitting and your view. French class? Memorial service? Lost in high school? It depends if you’re inside looking out or outside looking in. And if the lights dim, or the night seems darker than usual, just take your time. The dark night of the soul is a holy place. -J.B.