Friday, April 27, 2012

The similarity of human thought

I was trying to clean up my clutter from the open counter between our kitchen and living room, where all the paperwork and unread mail accumulates. I was about to throw away our church's Lenten "prayers for courage and change" which consists of submissions by church members of prayer requests. But, of course, I had to flip through it just one more time. I was looking to see if I could figure out what my husband turned in. I haven't found his yet, but I found others that I could swear that I wrote. Or if not, they tuned perfectly with my heart. (meaning, they probably weren't written by him, ha!)

It wasn't hard to spot my own submission! It stood out: wordy, with a bit of dramatic flair. It had me written all over it!

When we meet in groups in my church, I am usually reminded of all our differences. I'm more liberal than many (though not all!) our members. Our political views tend to be opposite, though again, there are a number of people who think more like me (this is one thing I love about United Methodism -- that it can attract free thinkers better than probably any other mainstream Christian denomination).

However, there are times that our common humanity is so apparent that the differences all fade away, for a time, and I truly am capable of loving my neighbors, every one of them -- for a moment, anyhow! One such time is during communion at church. I can't express in words the way that communion affects me. It "embodies" the spiritual power of grace. It brings it into the body, which is why it is such a powerful ritual. Any spiritual practice that is disconnected from the body is sadly lacking. When we each eat bread and have a bit of "wine" (grape juice), representing the body and blood of Christ, God truly does become incarnate and the holy presence comes alive.

I look at every other person in the church at such times, and our common bonds -- our joys, our suffering -- are so apparent to me. I see grace shining on every person, and the divinity of every person shines out at that moment, overcoming all human limitations and separation.

Anyhow, here are a few prayers that I could have written, or that I really relate to:

To eat more slowly, and mindfully -- to choose what I eat and how much I eat

Work harder and complain less

To start worrying less about the safety of my family and to have faith that they will be ok

Pray that my wife (spouse) and I have the strength to instill more discipline in our children -- I'll have to ask, this could actually be Dwaine's!

I need courage to not over-commit, prioritize, and say no to some things and some people

This one echoed part of my prayer, which was to stop judging my loved ones:
To be free and not so demanding of those I love. To let things go and just enjoy being with them. Be more like Mary, less like Martha.

This last sentiment sort of contradicts the one about more discipline for the kids. Sigh -- story of my life. Conflicting thoughts, desires, all clamoring for my attention and approval.

Monday, April 23, 2012

An apology for the prior post

Well, I'm having technical difficulty with my blog. I can't ever log in! The system does not recognize the password, and I have to constantly reset it to get here. I know I'm doing something wrong, but don't know what.

I want to make an apology, in the old-fashioned sense of a defense or explanation, for the previous blog post. Let's see here ... while I am a deeply spiritual person and I feel a close, personal and life-saving relationship with my own personal divinity, I am not a particularly religious person. I don't feel bound by the traditions or customs of any particular style of worship, though I do identify myself as a United Methodist and I am a member of the United Methodist Church. I realize that my savior is not your savior. He/she can't be! Even if we both said we were Christians, our relationship with God and Christ is as individual as a fingerprint and simply can't be duplicated. Hence the saying, "God has no grandchildren." Each of us is God's children, and can't transfer that relationship, even to our own children, indirectly. Each of us must experience that relationship (or not) by ourselves, though it often is sparked through the loving action of others.

I believe that God is quite a bit more comfortable with diversity than most people are. Most people want to hang around others of our own type, who think the way we do and hold most of the same beliefs. I've always rebelled against that notion. Of course, I have my own unconscious or semi-conscious biases, a whole bunch of them! I am human, too. But I know that God loves -- adores -- great variety. Look around! There isn't just one type of anything. There's a great abundance of plants and animals, and the same variety holds true for people as well, even as we become more global and more aware of our human commonalities.

Therefore, I delight -- as I truly know that God does -- in the variety of religious traditions that humans have devised over our time on this planet. I don't denigrate any of them, and I don't rank any as more worthy, including my own -- although I don't profess to understand them all. I detest all religious traditions, including within Christianity, that condone violence of any sort, or that repress freedom of thought.

This is why I can't call myself a Christian. That word has so many negative connotations and much negative baggage attached to it, unfortunately. Perhaps this is largely in my mind, but I don't think so.

It bothers me that some of my dearest friends might have difficulty understanding what I was trying to convey in my previous posting, because it was so clothed in religious language.

I believe that holy scriptures are divinely inspired because they can be interpreted on so many levels, by different people in changing circumstances. I invite you to remove the religious aspects from the Bible verses I have quoted and seek to interpret them from the context of your own world view.

My friend Karen emphasizes that the Bible, particularly the parables and other teachings of Jesus, are laden with paradox. He'll say one thing, then say its opposite. So those who take a quick and easy interpretation are almost certainly missing something important. (Notice that I didn't quite say they were "Wrong!!" though I was tempted to)

When Jesus says, "I will make you fishers of men," what does he mean by that? Does it mean to go out and convert as many people as possible to Christianity?

Let me say that I can't be the final authority of what any scripture passages mean ... just as no one else can! I think that practicing any spiritual or religious tradition leads you down the path toward a much keener interest in every human being you meet. I think that touching upon the divine is also a way of touching into our common humanity, and recognizing that we are all part of one group, no matter how different we are in many ways. So the suffering of others suddenly becomes a personal problem. It's no longer neatly removed and happening to "someone else," "somewhere else" because every person is a part of this one great organism that also includes me. (I personally also include all of the living creation as one organism.)

It takes a lifetime of study to make spiritual progress, I believe, in any tradition. The one you follow is your choice, and I respect that choice and offer it to you! I think it is a choice that you should make, and not put off as I have.

Life calls me back. Oh, for a time I could just write, and write, and write. But life is a good and sweet thing, too.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I am a United Methodist!

It's taken me years to be able to make this simple statement with confidence. Today, Rev. Ross preached a simple sermon about how Jesus called his first disciples, the fishermen brothers Simon (Peter) and Andrew, James and John. He said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Rev. Ross pointed out that most people forget about the "follow me" and just remember that disciples of Christ are to be fishers of men (people). However, you must first follow Jesus and his example, or nothing else will work! That precedes everything else. And following Jesus is no simple matter.

I had to ask myself, have I been faithfully following Jesus, my Lord and savior? Or have I been quibbling, refusing to "join" any group, insisting on my outsider status for all this time? I've never been a joiner. I much prefer to remain unaffiliated. (There's a funny line in "Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?" about that.) Yet today, somehow it sank in that the least that Jesus could ask me to do would be to make a firm commitment that I am his follower! What a mistake I've made in failing to commit my whole self to his service. To put it in a coarse but quite descriptive way, time to s*** or get off the pot!

I still have a difficult time calling myself a Christian. There's simply too much baggage around that word for me. However, I am glad to be a United Methodist and a disciple of Jesus Christ. I still greatly admire the Buddha and his teachings, but I won't use that as an excuse any longer, to give less than my absolute all in service of my faith. The faith I was raised with, that is my cultural home base.

I've always been able to see multiple sides of most issues. I can understand and empathize with a variety of viewpoints, though I still stubbornly cling to my own views as the most correct! The problem with seeing around the globe of most problems is that it makes me paralyzed, at times, unable to decide on a single course of action. Life doesn't happen in a linear fashion, so how can I make just a single decision and move forward with it, when there are always so many alternatives?

If I can't even say that I am following Jesus, it is reminiscent of Paul's passage on charity-love. "If I speak with the tongues of angels and have all wisdom, but have not love, I am but a loud gong or a clanging cymbal." Strangely, my mom quoted this passage to me. Mom, who certainly had a difficult and prickly relationship with God! But it struck me what a beautiful passage it was -- it resonated with me, and I heard it first from my mother.

If I seek to help others, but cannot say why or where my intention comes from, the gesture is strangely empty. Then I am just being a nice person, but I don't bring the power of divine compassion with my efforts.

Here's an interpretation of the miracle of the loaves and fishes that speaks so loudly to me. Jesus receives this small -- measly, even -- offering of a few loaves and fishes, far too little to feed the overwhelming crowd that surrounds him, that is so hungry and needy. This is how I feel every day, overwhelmed by all the needs of this world. How can one person make any difference at all in the midst of so much suffering?

Yet -- here is the miracle -- when small gifts are placed into the hands of Jesus, they are transformed! They can help thousands, of thousands. Small gifts. All we have to offer is small gifts, yet they are transformed when they are placed in Jesus's hands, to use as he would have us do.

Jesus, may I give all my gifts to you ... all I have, all I am, to your service.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

I was looking for a homeopathic, or holistic, or some-such doctor to help me with my acid reflux, and came across this great little article about eating mindfully:

This isn't just for weight loss, by the way! It's for everybody. Here is an excerpt. Good reminder, just in time for that Easter splurge of a meal! I thought it was quite humorous, too. Who ever starts out to eat to a level 10? Yet I bet every one of us has done it before, and for some it's a bad habit. As Thomas Jefferson said (it's one of his "10 rules" posted in my office), Few people ever repented of eating too little! Especially living here, when you can always have more food later.

The rule of thumb is to start eating at about Level 3 or 4 and stop eating at Level 6 or 7.
The Hunger Level Scale

Level 1 — Famished

Your stomach is completely empty; you’re weak and light-headed.

Level 2 — Starving

You’re uncomfortable and irritable and unable to concentrate.

Level 3 — Uncomfortably hungry

Your stomach is rumbling.

Level 4 — You’re slightly uncomfortable

You’re beginning to feel the signs of hunger and can’t wait to eat.

Level 5 — Neutral and comfortable

You’re more or less satisfied.

Level 6 — Completely satisfied.

You’ve eaten just the right amount of food and are completely comfortable. The key is to stop here.

Level 7 — Satisfied

At this point, you may be feeling a bit too full. If you don’t stop at this level on the hunger scale, you’ll soon feel ill.

Level 8 — Uncomfortably full

You feel bloated and are starting to feel uneasy.

Level 9 — Very uncomfortable and full.

You feel like loosening your clothes.

Level 10 — Completely stuffed and miserable.

You feel nauseated and need to take something for stomach relief. You can’t function, and you want to lie down.
This naturopath has some really simple and doable suggestions for better digestion. Here's one I will definitely try: don't drink a lot of liquids when eating a meal. Her theory is that it dilutes stomach acid and makes it harder for the stomach to digest food. Sounds reasonable to me!

Then, of course, there's the idea of pausing and taking some deep breaths instead of inhaling your food! This is one I need to work on. I am of the stuff-it-in school, always in a hurry, it seems. I like her suggestion of grazing throughout the day, especially since that is my natural style already. She seems to have a chip on her shoulder about dairy and lactose, and possibly also grains -- though it may just be that most Americans eat way too much starchy food, bread, rice, potatoes, etc. and need to cut back.

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