Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Life, the Universe, and Everything.

This summer has been spent at the beach, at the park, in the library, and around and about. The children have been active and full of life and joy, and are brown as berries. I think my favorite moments are definitely the library ones, though. There's a big rocking chair there, and I can settle into it and watch the magic of words unfold around me. The kids really enjoy reading, and sometimes they ask me to read TO them. I don't mind - reading is something near and dear to my own heart. So we read book after book, until they find one they like enough to want to bring it home for night time reading. We've been spending time each night, after the lights are out, reading The Secret of NIMH, a favorite of mine from my own childhood. The boy is also starting to work through chapter books (Animorphs at the moment, which are horrid but hey, he's reading). I'm not willing to discourage ANY source of reading in this house.

Still, books must be balanced with outdoor activities, and they've done plenty of that this summer, too. It's been gratifying watching them growing and running and playing. Today we'll be heading up to the park on their bikes, with me trailing along behind on foot. They have training wheels right now, but I suspect they'll be ready to ditch those before the snow hits. They're almost ready now! In another week they'll be back in the classroom, a full day at their mom's school. They'll be going in with her in the morning, staying all day, then coming home with her in the evenings. Such a long, long day, but they'll get some mommy time every morning and evening, definitely not a bad thing. I admit, though, I will miss them. I like the quiet, the ability to do some work on my computer, get the housework done in a timely fashion (and stay done for a couple of hours at least LOL), but I'll miss their firm little arms wrapping around my neck and their snuggles and drawings and other happy things.

Keep your fingers crossed - it looks like we should close on our house next week!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A little bit of prayer.

Prayer is a big part of my life. Prior to seminary, I did a bit of praying each day, but nothing like what I do now. I pray to different deities, depending on what's going on. Most often I sort of "go through the list" and say a few words to all those I worship. This feels right to me, and may or may not work for others. It's what I've fallen into, and it's comfortable enough to keep me at it, and difficult enough that I don't become lax about it. That seems to be about the right combination for my own sense of correctness in religious/spiritual discipline. Generally I pray in the evening, before going to sleep or close to that time. Sometimes I pray in the afternoon (and I am now following a noon-time discipline that requires me to stop for a minute at noon and focus), and less often in the morning (I suspect that the gods wouldn't appreciate me pre-coffee LOL).

The last week has been full of very extreme life changes. We're moving, we don't yet have a house and are staying in transitory housing, we're dealing with friends and family who have bad medical problems, and much of our stuff is currently locked away from us in our old house, where we have no access to it. One of the medical emergencies was a friend of ours who managed to get second degree burns down his right side.

That first night in ICU, we spent taking turns sitting with him in the burn unit. He was asleep for most of it, on morphine and hooked up to an IV and a zillion machines. During my shift, after he settled down and drifted off, I put my hands together in prayer. I prayed steadily for almost two hours. I prayed for his safety, for his health, for his recovery. I prayed for a lot of things over the course of that night. Amazingly, his burns are healing well. They are not going to be fully healed for a long time, but it's amazing how quickly the damage is evening out. Prayer does work.

I came home from the ICU, expecting hugs from our children that I badly needed... and discovered the place was empty. Their grandmother had fallen and needed help, and so sis loaded herself and the kids and drove off to Chicago post haste. More bad news. More worry. More prayers sent out.

Sometime that day (Sunday), I realized the one thing I hadn't been praying for: myself. I don't mean that in an egotistical sense, but just in a regular "saying prayers" kind of way. I had neglected myself and my own family in my prayers. I sat there for a good half hour wondering how long that had been going on, and realized that I could not remember the last time I'd sat down and said an honest, heart-felt prayer for myself.

I corrected that immediately.

I don't know if the prayer for myself and my family caused the good things to begin happening, or if I simply opened myself up to the positive that was already present, but within a half hour of that prayer, there was an immediate turn around in our situations. We heard good things about our friend, sis's mother, and what will hopefully be our new house.

So... as you go about your day, don't forget to take a pause and say a prayer for yourself. I don't mean asking God for a pony; stay away from self-serving things, of course. It's not wrong, however, to ask for help dealing with a problem, or lightening of a load that just feels too heavy. Don't be afraid to start that conversation with whatever god you worship and believe in. Clasp your hands together, open your mouth and your heart.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time - Marcus J. Borg

My church is watching an interesting set of videos collectively called "Living the Questions," which is largely put together by the United Church of Christ as a study guide. I've been enjoying it immensely, because of the depth of honesty of the people speaking, and the frank moments when they look into the camera and say, "I don't know. I believe X and Y, but that's just me." One of the people who has interested me most is Marcus Borg, who is a rather progressive Christian (some would say that he steps well outside the bounds of Christianity in his beliefs, although I am not one of those). After I expressed my interest, our pastor gave me this book to read by Borg, and I must admit, I found it entirely fascinating!

It is not a long book, being only 140 pages in the copy which I have. However, those pages are jam packed with information. The first chapter gets right to the point, no holds barred. He talks about how as children we have a very beautiful vision of Jesus, but that there comes a time when that childish vision no longer suits us. We become questioners, which is appropriate, and as we seek out the answers to our questions we discover that the Bible is not quite the inerrant document some would like us to think it is. It has some things which are contradictory, some of the stories in the gospels are in different orders, and other issues. As young adults, the answers to those early questions are important, because if they don't feed our soul then there is a large chance we're going to walk away dissatisfied.

Borg delves into the idea of the "pre-Easter Jesus" and the "post-Easter Jesus" and how the way we imagine Jesus changes depending on where in the story line we're seeing him. He touches on the knowledge that Jesus was NOT a Christian, but a deeply religious Jew, one who knew the Pentateuch inside and out. He was a spiritual person, a mystic, and also a rabble-rouser. He often referred to himself as if he were an authority equal to God, which isn't always obvious unless you really read the texts in question. Jesus has a tendancy to say things like, "God said do X, but *I* say, do Y!"

The emphasis Borg puts on the New Testament is of Jesus teaching his disciples that God is compassionate, rather than what they grew up with, the Jewish image of God the punisher, God the judge. Jesus does things that no other religious Jew would have done: talking to Samaritans, dining with the impure and unclean, touching the dead, working healings on the Sabbath, and many other stories that are probably at least passingly familiar to any religious scholar. Jesus, Borg says, has no interest in the laws created by the Jews to keep themselves in line with God. Instead, Jesus wants people to "love each other as God loves them." It's a radical idea for that era. Borg writes,
Whereas purity divides and excludes, compassion unites and includes. For Jesus, compassion had a radical sociopolitical meaning. In his teaching and table fellowship, and in the shape of his movement, the purity system was subverted and an alternative social vision affirmed. The politics of purity was replaced by a politics of compassion. (pp 58)
 Jesus was disowned by just about everyone because of that radical notion that everyone could be included at his table. The Jews hated it because it went contrary to the very rules that bound their daily lives, and the Romans and Greeks hated it because it messed with their clean dividing lines.

The most fascinating part, for me, was in the fifth chapter where Borg begins explaining the divine feminine and how it is a part of early Christianity via the character of Sophia, or divine wisdom. As he puts it, if the world Jesus had grown up in were matriarchal instead of patriarchal, we likely would have seen a holy trinity of Father, Mother and Son.

That is one of his main points, in fact: that the culture of Jesus' time is highly reflected in what is written about him by his followers, both his early disciples and those who came later. They had grown up in patriarchal systems, and knew nothing else. They were, as we are, products of their time. In order to truly understand the radical notions Jesus was selling back then, one has to place it in its era. Then the extreme nature of his message becomes a bit more clear.

Borg has included extensive endnotes and a long and healthy bibliography. He's fond of citing historical works, and isn't afraid to share where he found his information. He has a compelling and easily readable style, one which draws you in and keeps you reading.

I highly recommend this for anyone who is studying interfaith relations, because Borg's Jesus (regardless of whether Jesus actually was like this) is very much the interfaith herald.