Wednesday, January 30, 2008

We are all alcoholics

Jim Findley, the Buddha scholar who presented half of the sessions at the conference I went to last weekend said, "There is no belief system in Buddhism. The Buddha said, 'Don't believe me. Listen to me and examine whether or not what I said agrees with your own experience. "

I think that this has always been the way that I've approached church and that is why I used to feel so out of place. I remember reading Walt Whitman my sophomore year in college and underlining the following passage because it spoke attitude out loud so that I could recognize it in my own life. I used it in the paper that I wrote for the class and when I was in office hours with Professor McGowan, he said in his sweet, somewhat mumbling monotone, "This is a nice passage." Very high praise from a quiet, and very Modern, poet. He was not given to hyperbole.

This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence towards people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church, or in any books, and dismiss whatever insults your soul and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

(from the 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass, emphasis mine)

Richard Rohr said later in the conference, "Christians have never had to have much self-knowledge. All you had to have was a system of beliefs. That is why Buddhism is attractive to so many people." He was talking about contemplative prayer and meditation and how it tends to bring up the negative experiences in our life but that we should carry on for the sake of what we will learn. This is the first of the four noble truths of Buddhism: the recognition that suffering exists and subsequently understanding our suffering. The seond noble truth is that there is an ignoble way that leads to suffering and the perpetuation of suffering and it is wanting life to be something other than it is. The last two noble truths have to do with how to alleviate suffering by accepting it.

Richard made the distinction between a system of beliefs and a life lived in awareness of our connection to God frequently throughout the conference. This is so emergent. He talked about the dualistic mind a lot. This is the person who has all or nothing thinking. To this person, if something is not entirely true, it must be entirely false. My alcoholic friends tell me that they think this way and it is only in working towards tempering this black and white view of the world can they stay sober. I have a sneaking suspicion that most of us have a tendency toward this type of dualistic thinking and that this is why we make mistakes and feel unhappy so much of the time.

The teachings of Jesus require us to turn our world on its head. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. The meek shall inherit the earth. This is not how the world seems on the surface. It seems like the pushy get what they want and people that can't speak for themselves get screwed. But if we look deeper, as the Buddha tells us, we see that people with more power, fame and money actually seem to be the least happy people and that when regular people live lives of self-sacrifice, both they and the people they help get closer to having everything that they need to be happy, which turns out to be much less than anyone expected.

But we cannot really understand the teachings of Jesus until we give up our alcoholic, all or nothing thinking. We will never be perfect. Never. But this doesn't mean that we're completely bad, either. We're human. We are not God, which is the first realization that recovering alcoholics have to make before they can begin their healing. We can only be, like the noble truths teach us. Part of this being can involve working toward being better but that should never be done by denying who we are right now. The gospel (good news) is that God loves us exactly as we are right now, so our self-knowledge and self-love of this state at bring us closer to aligning ourselves with God's perspective.

Buddha did not set forth a system of beliefs that people had to accept in order to be Buddhist. This is why people can be both Christian and Buddhist at the same time. He set forth a way of thinking about the world that would bring about peace of the spirit. Buddha also didn't talk about God in any specific way, although he came out of the Hindu tradition. In regards to this, Richard said, "I wonder if the Buddha wasn't making the same decision Bill Wilson [the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous] made: Let's just call it the higher power. Let's address the issue at the level of addiction, at the level of the ego. Because everyone's addictions and egos are the same." By this he meant that simply by being human, we all have addictions and egos and that both get in the way of experiencing God.

We have to experience in order to believe. (Notice I didn't say "seen." We can experience lots of things without engaging them with our senses.) Therefore experience must come before we can even begin sharing with other people what we believe. Richard pointed out that "when you have not experienced the formless, you will be pre-occupied with the forms," which is the problem with most churches these days. Additionally, so many people cannot experience the formless because their egos need to be acknowledged for having created appealing forms for God. They have alcoholic thinking and insist that God is one thing or another. But the reality is that God is so big, we really can't comprehend her. Jim Findley compared it to Groucho Marx saying that he could never respect a club enough to join it if it wanted him for a member. I couldn't worship a God that I could actually contain within my limited cognitive capacity.

This is a lot of big brain kind of stuff and I don't necessarily have a satisfying conclusion to it all. However, I wanted to share it with you because it all resonated with me and changed my orientation a little as I keep walking forward on this path to God.

Monday, January 28, 2008

At least it's not a phone call during dinner

OK, part of being at the University of Chicago involves being part of a major respected research facility. So, as students, we are learning how to be major respected researchers. From time to time, I'll be posting link to surveys created by my friends to help them out in collecting data. Please take a little time and help them out. They'll help me out when I have surveys so I want to start generating some positive surevey karma.

Dear friends,

I am collecting data on use of family planning/reproductive health
clinics and would greatly appreciate your participation in a survey
that will help me examine this topic in greater depth. The survey
should take less than five minutes to complete, all responses are
confidential, and it is available online by clicking the link below:


The survey will be open until Friday, February 1...but don't miss out
on the fun - survey today! Also, it would be a fantastic help if you
would forward this email/link along to anyone who might be willing to
take the survey - family, friends, colleagues - any and all
contributions are welcome!

Thanks in advance for your participation - I truly appreciate it.

Kind regards,


Bad omen

This is really not the sign you want to see posted prominently at 7:30 on Monday morning when you arrive at the gym to swim.

I hope this isn't a portent for the the rest of the day.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Jesus and Buddha with Richard Rohr and James Findley

Everyone at this conference is old. Seriously. Out of 950 people, I've only seen 5 or 6 other people my age (and they were in couples) and another 20 who are younger than 50. There are lots of men wearing cardigans like the one my dad wore in prison: chunky with a big collar and either wooden buttons or a zipper. The women wear funky, boxy jackets with expensive embroidery or applique and big chunky jewelry. Lots of turtlenecks are in evidence.

This reality plus the fact that I'm from Chicago cause people to ask me in wonder why I'm here. I tell them that I'm active in the emerging Christianity movement and that I want to make sure that we don't get insular so I'm attending events of different kinds of Christians. Usually, I have to give a definition of emerging Chrsitianity at that point. My definition goes a little like this:
It's a movement that is trying to follow Christ in new ways. Most of the traditions of the church were formed during the Modern era when people believed in conquering one another, either bringing enemies into the fold through victory or relegating them to hell if they could not be co-opted. But now we're in a post-Modern era in which the overwhelming amount of information makes us realize that we can't conquer everyone or even most everyone. Thus, we realize that we might not have the only access to Truth and have to live accordingly.

For the most part, people seem to understand what I'm saying. I know that the emerging church has other definitions (Mike has the best here) and that my definition leaves out some pretty salient characteristics of the movement, but mine is a definition of why I'm involved in the movement. Even more gratifying than folks' responses to my description in what I'm doing are the messages being taught by Father Richard Rohr (a Franciscan priest) and Jim Wilkins (a scholar who studied with Thomas Merton in the sixties). It is almost identical to the messages that resonate with me from within my movement.

Let me give you a couple of quotes, so that you can get a feel for it.
"Maybe the world will not survive a religion that is based in tribal consciousness." JF

"What we call globalism is also affecting religion." RR

"What you don't know anything about can be kept in a ghetto. That's not possible anymore." RR

"Instead of letting Jesus be a teacher of wisdom, we spent all of our energy insisting he was God." RR

"We have to stop thinking that Jesus spent all of his time making dogmatic statements about heaven and hell. I am convinced he was teaching us how to live here." RR

I spoke with Richard briefly when he was standing in a hallway by himself between sessions. I thanked him for the event and talked about why I was there. He told me that he had met with Brian McLaren recently and that they were planning to do some events together (Ricahrd has also recently hosted some events with Jim Wallis). That was on Friday. On Saturday, he spent about 15 minutes in one of his sessions talking about the emerging movement. He outlined what he saw as the three major aspects for this crowd of grey-hairs.

1. Honest Jesus scholarship.
2. Honesty about peace and justice.
3. Recovery of the anceient contemplative tradition which in great part has not been taught for 400-500 years. He calls this the ability to think in a both/and paradigm.

He then said that we all needed to find a practice that helps us achieve these three "pieces of the Emergent pie."  It's not just that he agrees with me that excites me. It's that this whole group of people who are so different demographically from the emerging folks agree with him. So often we associate our elders with an unwillingness to change their thinking. But no one in this group blinked an eye when he talked about the church's over-insistence on the divinity of Christ to the neglect of his teachings. Imagine how the evangelical spot-lighters would blow up at the implications of that. But Doug Pagitt made exactly that same statement at the Midwest Emergent Gathering, quoting Acts 28:30-31, the last chapter of this book on the actions of the creation of the church after Christ's resurrection and ascendency to heaven: "Paul lived for two years in his rented house. He welcomed everyone who came to visit. He urgently presented all matters of the kingdom of God. He explained everything about Jesus Christ. His door was always open." (Thanks Bible Gateway!) There were two things that Paul taught, but for the most part, the Modern church only teaches the latter. We're considered radical for pointing this out and are becoming darlings of the media who present us in bemusement to a population that has come to believe that all Christians think that loving their neighbors involves bombing them. But here is this group of people in their 60s and 70s quietly working towards the same revolution.

Sometimes the emerging church is criticized for being just another denomination. This is because the roots of the movement are post-evangelical and the evangelical church's rigidity forced a lot of people to leave and start new churches. But in the last 15 years, the post-evangelical folks have met people like me who come from mainline protestant traditions and who are able to stay within those denominations to work change form the inside. From all of our different paths, we are converging on this journey towards the Divine. That is why we call it a movement and not just a new denomination. It is so powerful to see this convergence in this group of Catholic senior citizens as well. We need elders for their patience and their wisdom. They are not so twitchy or impulsive. I feel privileged to be here among them.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Unveiled gazes

When I was a little girl, I read books about Betsy, a plain girl with brown hair who liked to read books. I like to read these books by Maud Hart Lovelace because not only did Betsy read books, but she also had friends. I lived vicariously through her.

I used to recreate many of the things that she did in her life, except I did them by myself. I built a little seat in the crook of a tree in the backyard with a cigar box to keep my treasures in. I tried to peel apples all in one swoop to see if I could figure out the name of my future husband from the shape of the peel once it fell to the table. I wrapped my hair in rag curls. I made my own calling cards from my father's old business cards.

And I walked through the house pretending that I was walking on the ceiling by looking down into a mirror as I walked around.

I am currently at a conference being hosted by Father Richard Rohr about Jesus and Buddha. As a result of the subject matter, he talks a lot about non-dual consciousness. I think what he means by that is that we are not really separate from God. "I am in you and you are in me" kind of stuff. He says that as Western society, we spend all of our time reading books and having conversations and going to school to learn about God with our heads. But he says, "It's a different medium in which you access spiritual things. God id unable to be known as an object of consciousness." At this point, he made a gesture with his hands to indicate an object and then pantomimed stuffing it into his head. He keeps saying that we need to know God at a cellular level. He calls it participatory knowing. (Incidentally, e also mentioned that women tend to be better at knowing on a bodily level.) He says that we give and take communion to remind us that you are what you eat. "When Christ passed the bread to the disciples, he didn't say, 'Take this and think about it.' The body of Christ is medicine we keep feeding you so that one day you'll believe" that you are not separate from God.

To help us know God a little better in this way, all 900 of us were sent out on a walking meditation through the neighborhood, traveling wherever the spirit led. He gave us mirror medallions: circles of mirror about 2 inched in diameter strung on a cord to go around our necks. One side was purely reflective and the other side was also reflective but also had a picture of the inner eye and the words of a verse from 2 Corinthians: "Our unveiled gaze receives and reflects the brightness of God." He took us to wear the medallion with the blank side facing out and the inner eye facing in towards our hearts. A mirror can only take in what it sees, without bias; this represents the unveiled gaze. While we walked, we were supposed to meditate on the image of God coming in through the mirror and being transferred into our hearts, then reflected out of our eyes. Knowing God bodily.

I found myself meditating on what constituted an unveiled gaze, practically. I think it means that we should try to be objective in our observations but I also think that unveiled means that we should be open to others. Vulnerable. Honest. I also found myself singing a meditation song from a particularly powerful experience on the island. "There's a river of birds in migration: a nation of women with wings." I also repeated the verse like a mantra while I walked. I thought about much my dad would like Albuquerque, with it meandering park paths, little streets, public sculpture and museums. I looked at the mountains and relived playing basketball and looking at the same mountains with my friends Dan, Doug and Bill in high school when we were here on a mission trip. I also remembered wandering into the foothills after dark to find the Native American cemetery, which is one of the only times that I have felt truly sacrilegious. I forgot that I was was even wearing a mirror until I saw the setting sunlight flash onto a cactus next to the sidewalk. I was a little shocked at its unexpectedness.

This made me look down at my mirror which made me remember walking through the house all by myself looking down into a mirror, pretending I was walking ont he ceiling, just like Betsy, Tacy and Tib. But as I dropped my head to look into my mirror that lay flat on my chest, the muscle memory brought up the words that my yoga teacher uses every week. When you bow your head, raise your chest up to meet it because this is symbolic of the seat of the mind bowing to the seat of the heart: the intellect giving way to the spirit.

So, I raised my chest, bowed my head and walked on the ceiling to learn bodily that I am in God and God is in me.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

30 Sermons You'd Never Hear in Church

In Shane Claiborn's book Irresistible Revolution, he recommended a magazine called Geez. I investigated the website and promptly spent my share of Grandma's Christmas present on a subscription. I have not resented that decision for a minute. They speak with my voice and by that I mean
-they have the same sense of humor combined with
-a desire to be fair (with a somewhat guilty partial motivation that the added value of objectivity is the ability to take the moral high ground in the ultimate argument) combined with
-a real sense of anguish for the way that the traditional church has treated me and people I love combined with
-a post-modern ironic tone combined with
-a need to live out Christ's teaching in an authentic and relevant way.

They have sent me an email outlining a contest they are sponsoring, seeking sermons that we wouldn't dare to actually give. I share it with you here in case you have something you want to say.

Dear friend of Geez:

For our summer issue we're holding a contest. We want short, 750-word "sermons" that you'd never hear in church. And we want photos as well. First prize is $500, 2nd is $400 and 3rd is $300 for each category.

We'll publish the winners (and others) in the summer issue, Geez No. 10. Enter as often as you like. Usually it's $33 for the first entry and $15 for subsequent entries. But current subscribers are eligible to enter for $15. See details below.

Please forward this notice as far as possible.

Happy sermonizing,

Aiden Enns, Will Braun
Editors, Geez magazine

Geez magazine, Issue 10

30 Sermons You'd Never Hear in Church and Photo Contest

The pews are filled, the preacher is out of town, and the pulpit is all yours. You step up to the old wooden bulwark. Everyone is quiet. You've been rehearsing this in your mind for years. You pause, steady your voice, let a slight smirk spread across your lips, and begin. . . .

Here's your chance to pound the pulpit. In a world of super-powered faith, extremist religion, extremely commercialized church and atheist resurgence what word shall be spoken to the faithful? In a world of polarization, energy addiction, disparity and restless souls, what word do the faithful have for the rest of humanity?

Whether you're an amateur prophet, ranting atheist, wily Buddhist, social gospel evangelist, caring shepherd of the flock or a bona-fide preacher with something too hot for Sunday morning, Geez issue 10 is your soap box.

You've got 750 words to exhort, inspire, pontificate, dream, console, convert, instruct, encourage, admonish or beseech. If you wish, suggest a brief lectionary reading-Biblical or other-to accompany your sermon.

If the pulpit isn't the place for you, Geez is also looking for your best photos from the fringes of faith and the front lines of social change. Think: holy mischief, holy grit, holy kitsch, or just plain holy. Remember that in Geez there’s room for reverence and irreverence, from both within and beyond the realm of Christendom.

Sermon Prizes:
1st: $500
2nd: $400
3rd: $300

Photo Prizes:
1st: $500
2nd: $400
3rd: $300

We'll include the winners and a selection of runners-up among the 30 sermons in the Summer '08 issue of Geez magazine.

Entry fee: $33 (per sermon or up to three photos)
Includes a one year subscription to Geez, or extension of your current subscription. Multiple submissions accepted: $15 for each additional entry, subscription applies to first entry only. Geez subscribers are eligible to enter for $15 (does not include a subscription extension).

Deadline: March 31, 2008

How to enter:

1. Send sermon/photos and bionote
Send your sermon/photo entry (750 words max.) and a paragraph about yourself (judges won't see this, but we need bio info on winners). Include captions for photos, send low res JPGs (1 MB max), we'll ask for hi res as needed.
Reply to email above, send to

Or send here:
Geez Sermon/Photo Contest
264 Home Street
Winnipeg MB R3G 1X3

2. Include payment (three methods)
- pay online at
- by check to "Geez magazine" (address above)
- by phone, call our office at (204) 772-9610, have credit card handy

1. Since we'll receive many payments separate from entries we will send you an email to confirm we've received your entry and payment.

2. Only previously unpublished sermons and photos are eligible. If you preached a sermon and want to enter, that's okay, just tell us the history of your entry.

Questions? Contact our Contest Coordinator by email,
or phone, (204) 772-9610

I will definitely enter. I have two totally different perspectives floating around in my head so I think I'll try to put both down on paper if school doesn't burn out my writing circuits first. Let me know if you enter and we'll compare stories.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

only the Absolute Truth, if you please

Christy (one of my favorite readers because she comments) shared this anecdote with me in an email and then gave me permission to share it with you all.
Yesterday I had an interview for a job for a faith based poverty relief org, and it only lasted 10 minutes, because I couldn't say I believed in all the stuff in their bylaws about theology - including the "personhood of Satan" and the infallibility of the Bible. It was funny. I wish they had said something about that stuff before I showed up though! They actually asked if I was ok with the salary before the interview, but they didn't ask if I was a fundamentalist Christian.

The story makes me laugh because of the irony involved in the manifestation of the company's viewpoint. They understand capitalism and that different agents will have different demand curves for salary. However, they are so stuck in their own faith-system that it never occurs to them that someone might have a different set of beliefs than they do about how to be Christian .

Doesn't it make the truth that one has discovered stronger each time one considers an alternative and rejects it?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lucky night

Do you see the dance I'm doing in ths picture?

That's the dance I did last night when I found a shiny new 20 dollar bill on the snowy ground.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Lovely Waste of Time

I know that I have a ton of reading to do for Org Theory and an internship search that needs some attention. However, I just can't seem to stop crafting.

I saw this project a week ago via CRAFT Magazine and it has been haunting me ever since. So, late tonight, since the day is a wash for job searching and Org Theory anyway, I just bit the bullet and did it while Talledega Nights played in the background (let me assure you, there is no need to pay it more attention than that). I'm pretty pleased, both with myself and with how it turned out.

I only made a few changes to the project that was very well explained. I don't have freezer paper and I found that it wasn't really necessary. I just used regular scrap paper and tore carefully. Also, instead of lace at the top, I put a grommet since the hook that was above my bed when I moved in was curved and I thought the heart would look good directly on it.

Here's the heart in a little bit of context. My room is fairly whimsical and I like it that way. When I first moved to Chicago, once all the furniture was in and the curtains were up, my brother Daniel said, "Well, it looks like a princess lives here." I don't usually fall for the princess marketing, you know with the glitter and attitude. But I do like the word whimsical and the design aesthetic that goes along with it. So, if that's also a princess, then I'm stuck with it.

And yes, that is every single blanket I own piled on that bed. It's frickin' cold out here, people.

Finally, just so you'll believe me that it's truly cool, here's a close-up of a couple of the hearts. I used the fabric that I'm collecting for some charm quilts that I'm making. The red one at the bottom has monkeys AND bananas and the words. "cheeky monkey."

I am so easily amused.

I have said before that I am a dilettante of crafts. I move from one to the next with no loyalty whatsoever. Nor do I ever really go deep into the skill of more complicated projects. However, I do delight in stocking up on supplies: yarn, beads, cloth, odd little plastic figures, a variety of letters, silk flowers, glitter, a million types of glue, grommets, ribbon. If it's colorful or kitschy, I want it.

The benefit to this is that when a project idea haunts me, often I don't have to go to the store to indulge myself. Generally, I've already got what I need and I got it on clearance at some point.

You've got to take your successes where you can get them and I'm probably not going to get them in Org Theory.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hull House in the 21st Century

As grad student in Public Policy at the University of Chicago, we get solicited for volunteering opportunities quite a bit. However, it is often hard for us to schedule a regular tutoring gig or really anything at all during daylight hours into our schedules. But we want line items for the resumes and to, ya know, make the world a better place while we're sucking at the teat of higher education.

I just got a really interesting email from Amanda Anthony, a woman in the second year of our program, who is really involved in getting Harris School students to get involved with the community. I've never heard of this kind of volunteering but it is really intriguing. Has anyone ever seen this work before; either from the volunteer or from the non-profit side?
Virtual volunteering is pretty simple. What happens is Mark Tisdahl, the volunteer coordinator at Hull House, gives the you a "project" that you can complete on their own time. You complete the project and then he gives you another one.

"For example: Hull House has a good list of donors. However, we haven't been very successful at getting younger (18-30 yr olds) donors to give. Please research how other nonprofits have used myspace, friendster, facebook, etc. to connect to a population that gives small amounts of money ($5-$100) via the web through those social networks. An example of a nonprofit that has been successful (raised $10,000 in December) is OneBrick.

Another example: We have clients that have convictions for felonies and they are trying to reenter the working population. What Chicago area companies hire those with felony convictions? One example is ARAMARK. Please help us find others."

According to Mark, most of the "projects" are research based. If a volunteer has certain skills (bilingual for example), he would use them in a different manner. He would love a lot of their pamphlets translated into other languages (really any language other then English).

If you are interested in virtually volunteering (especially with translation!), email Mark Tisdahl, volunteer coordinator, at

Since U of C is pretty research-based, this seems like the ideal audience for this. I'm really excited about the possibilities involved in this kind of volunteer engagement.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My political compass

I like Mike's post so much that I went over to and figured out where I was on the ideological cartesian plane.  My life is full of grids, so it seems particularly apropos to put part of my life on one.
So, here's where I stand:

For reference, this is where the presidential candidates stand:

Representative government, anyone?


There is a certain sleepy way that children have when their eyes move around their envoironment while their bodies remain inert, taking in first the lady in the seat behind them, then the sign above the window, the the lady in the seat across the aisle, then the other baby two seats back. They have given over all bodily control to the security of their mothers' arms and lie passively, with even the muscles of their face relaxed into seeming disinterest, belied only by the movement of their eyelids, which indicates that they want to take in the entire area of a point of interest: both high and low.

I always smile at babies in this state and there were two on the bus this morning. The slight possibility that the welcome in my face might inspire a child to lift herself out of her purely receptive rest and smile back at me - or even look twice - is enough to make the effort worth it. To know that I was interesting to a baby - a creature who has no biases and is the embodiment of innocence - is enough to balance out every other insecurity I have about the rejection I might face through the rest of the day.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

We are not alone

Several months ago, I attended an evening with Spencer Burke and others (find summaries of this meeting here and here) and we talked about whether or not this emerging Christianity thing is getting "shrink-wrapped" because it is now marketable. In other words, have we gotten too popular for our own good? Will the possibility of making money off of our conversations begin to bind us into a certain form because that is what is expected of us?  

I think that one of the things that will save us from that fate is maintaining awareness that we're not the only ones who think this way now and we're not the only ones who have ever thought this way.

This point was driven home to me over the holidays when I got to have a 15 minute conversation with Phil Jackson, a nationally-recognized innovator in the field of urban youth ministries.

I like Phil a lot. He's terrible with names but he wants to get it right and every time he sees me, he tries out a new white-girl-suburban name to see if it fits. Elizabeth. Jessica. Jennifer.  Maybe even once Veronica. I love it and mock him for it all at the same time.

While we were talking, he began to ask me good, solid pastor questions about the church that I'm attending.  Or, maybe he didn't.  I'll talk at length about Wicker Park Grace at the drop of a hat lately.  I also talked a little about the emerging Christianity movement.  He did ask me good questions about that.  Finally, he asked about whether urban churches were part of the movement because "they're been emergent for a long time because they had to be."
You best believe I'm going to figure out a way to sit that man down for lunch to get him to talk about that more.  I'm seriously more interested in the potential of a partnership between CCDA and the emerging Christianity movement than I am in the things I'm studying at school, which are supposed to be my future.  Here's hoping I can apply my policy skills to  fostering conversation and action if it turns out that God wants me to follow up on my interests.

On the similar theme of not becoming insulated within the dominant circles of this "movement,"  I'm going to a conference in two weeks in New Mexico, led by Father Richard Rohr about Jesus and Buddha that involved much contemplation, information about how to live more spiritually and even some yoga.  Nothing in the description uses any word that starts with "emerg . . ."

The ulterior motive of the trip involves giving me some space to re-set my spiritual center through worship and study.  I know.  I know.  I should have done that over break.  But apparently, I didn't.  I keep making bad decisions.  In the resultant emotional turmoil, I keep fucking things up.   Little things that I normally have control over.  Like parking.  Or planning a morning with more than two activities.  Or sharing a lane at the pool.  I just can't get it right. I feel like I've lost my center so I can't catch the balls that are flying at me unless they come right to my glove. I'm trying to balance on one leg so I keep falling when I don't want to let the ball that's a little over my head get past.  

Finally, I was jolted into this final realization that my network doesn't have a monopoly on postmodern thoughts about the Divine.  I was reading The Spirituality of Imperfection, a book that has made a profound impact on my soul to the point that it sits in my bathroom to give me daily reminders about how to look clearly at this adventure we call life. 

This is what I read:
Those who think of themselves as "spiritual rather than religious" tend to equate religion with belief, and therefore with doctrine and authority; with worship, and therefore with the organization of community and its boundaries; with rewards and punishments, and therefore with greed and fear. Such negative consequences need not always follow from the religious impulse: they are indeed perversions of it. But as historian of theology Jaroslav Pelikan confessed with more than a little pain: "Religious belief is notorious for encouraging a sense of 'us' against 'them.' . . . The words of the hypocrite in the New Testament, 'God I thank thee that I am not as other men as,' are, unfortunately, a prayer that has been uttered, or at any rate felt, everywhere."

How does spirituality differ from this? In the first place, spirituality has nothing to do with boundaries: Only the material can be bounded, and the first thing that "the spiritual" is not is material. The term spirituality was first used in ancient times as a contrast to materialism and signified attention to spiritual as opposed to material realities. "Spiritual realities" were understood quite simply as those that, like the wind or the frangrance of the rose, one experienced but could not literally see, touch, or especially, possess in the sense of command.
Look at that distinction between a set of things that must be believed and living in a way that gets us closer to God's intent for our lives.  Look at that description of the modern world in which everything needs to conquer (command) everything else versus the postmodern world in which discovery is the objective.  Did Brian McLaren write this?

This book is actually written by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham and is about the underlying theology that is celebrated in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.  In watching my brother and his friends, I have often said that if more churches were like AA meetings, everyone would go to church.  Recovering alcoholics know and continuously remind one another that they are broken simply because they are human and therefore, they need to submit to God, even if she is represented by that doorknob over there.  They find strength to work towards being better (at everything) in their mutual admission of not being very together in the first place.

People in churches often talk about being broken before.  But then they found Jesus and now everything is shiny.  But that's not the truth.  We continue to be broken even after we realize God's grace exists.  But we don't find strength in that truth because we don't admit it. 
When you glue things together, often you rough up the two surfaces before applying the glue so that the glue has something to grip.  If you try to glue two smooth surfaces together, the glue often peels off.

When we try to create community by only offering our shiny and smooth sides, the bonds we form with other people are not very strong and can be broken easily by applying pressure from a different angle.

In the emerging Christianity movement, we have a lot to learn from the experience of others: urban churches, Catholic contemplatives, and recovering alcoholics.  I'm excited to get started.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bah ha ha ha!

Seriously, someone found my blog today by searching Google for "trouble submitting to authority in the worship team."

That doesn't sound like me at all.


An interesting post over at Hemant's Friendly Atheist blog.  A woman had a fairly heated opinion of the non-profit that I used to work for, so my friend Mike asked me to poke my head in and share my experience.  I guess I went a little over-board, but I believe in supporting what's working rather than letting the small imperfection (i.e. humanity) of something negate everything.

Check it out and leave a comment if you want.  Hemant's pretty cool.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

December up/ meeting

On Monday, December 17, 12 of us gathered at Wicker Park Grace to drink mulled cider, eat a variety of cookie that involved cinnamon and create a safe space for discussion regarding the use of liturgy (The Lord's Prayer) in these meetings and our unique characteristic of being attractive to agnostics, atheists and folks of other faiths. That last category included Menachem, who identified himself as part of the emerging Judaism movement, which was super-cool to hear about, in my book. We also spent a good portion of time telling the stories of our lives to strengthen the community that we're creating.

It has been awhile since the meeting (almost a month), so this summary will lack a certain immediacy in the retelling. Helen wrote about it in a much more timely fashion here. I haven't read it yet because I didn't want it to color my own report, but Helen's always interesting and reliable in her perspective.

These are the quotes (possibly paraphrased) that I wrote down during the meeting. I think they represent well the flow of the conversation.

"A concatenation of words can't offend. It offends as a symbol." -Steve about the Lord's Prayer
"We're pursuing truth. It shouldn't surprise us that atheists come." -James
"The word truth, I try to stay away from because so many Christians use it to describe absolute belief rather than their experiences." -Helen
"What if we called it the Lord's Poem?" -Lyndi
"Liturgy inevitably draws a line. Why do people recite words together?" -Nanette
"How can we better serve each other and love God? How can we be human together?" -Lyndi
"I want to say, 'Your church would have a really hard time with me,' but I shouldn't because you're [indicating the group] part of your church." -Helen

The major ideas that I got from the conversation were that we all valued the group for creating a space for theological conversation but at the same time, many Christians liked that the conversation could tie together it's loose ends at the end of the meeting with an affirmation that something, probably God, connected us together in a common purpose. The atheists, agnostics, and others present were extremely gracious in their desire not to "take that affirmation away from us" but in retrospect, I personally don't like the divide that creates in the group. I have a real desire for the group to be organic in its purpose, forming naturally around the people that compose it. And the reality is that although up/rooted has some very Christian statements of purpose as it's founding principles, this city branch of it is composed of people that are not necessarily Christian. Doug Pagitt talked at the Midwest Emergent Gathering (audio here) about how the adoption of two Hispanic kids into his family changed the family as well as the lives of the kids. He used this personal anecdote as a metaphor for the emerging church. I think that if we believe in a generous orthodoxy, we must not simply tolerate and make space for those that do not claim Christ as a leader, but embrace them as truly family, changing each other as we meet and are vulnerable in telling our stories, expressing our opinions and asking our questions. (Did you notice how many of the quotes that struck me were questions?)  If we believe that a loving God is at the center and that we're all simply on different paths heading toward the same goal, we should be able to trust that -through our thirst- she'll keep us traveling in the right direction regardless of who we find to travel with on the journey.

So, some suggestion of possible alternatives to reciting the Lord's Prayer at the end of meetings involve:

-acknowledging that not all present necessarily agree but asking their indulgence as the rest of us pray
-ending in some sort of silent, personal prayer
-reciting something else

There were probably others but grad school is really getting in the way of my ability to remember them.  I'm really sorry.  Please add what's missing in any comments to this post.  

We tried the silent prayer and although we didn't discuss it, I was personally dissatisfied with it.  It didn't give quite the sense of "tying up the loose ends" of the discussion, as James said.  I'd love to try the recitation of other words.  Please suggest possible texts (secular and religious) that are more inclusive either in the comments section of this post or in an email to me.  I'll figure out a way to let the group vote on which ones are best once I've received some suggestions.

I am so thankful for the role this up/ group is playing in my life.  I am itching for our next meeting, which won't be until Monday, January 28 because of the MLK holiday.  We'll be meeting again at Wicker Park Grace, which is located at 1741 N. Western and we'll start at 7:00 with the intent that folks will be able to start heading back home around 9:00.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Lovely Crafternoon

The highlight of my break from school was the time I had to spend on crafting with music playing in the background and the soft light of the Christmas tree illuminating my work.

It's stunning how much designing my brain did passively once I gave it the space to do so. I paged through beautiful books from the library and let it go from there.

I thought I'd share a couple of my creations with you.

For thirty years, my entire family loved a brown couch that my mother bought. She said it cost her $300 in a $100 market. The extra money was worth its longevity. We all have memories of naps on that couch. It was made of a soft wide-wale corduroy that felt like velvet. I remember waking slowly and rubbing my cheek on it while sucking my thumb, wishing I would never wake because then this tactile delight would end. I broke up with my first "official" boyfriend while sitting on that couch and spent long evenings with my ex-husband there. I sat on it to gaze out the windows into the dark night, trying to pick out the particular headlight shapes and intensities of my friends' cars, waiting for them to pick me up or hoping that they'd stop by spontaneously on nights when they hadn't returned my phone calls and I was home alone.

When I moved away from home, I was given the couch but it did not last past our third move. So, 5 years ago, I stripped it of it's fabric and left it's frame for the garbage men. I washed the fabric and put it into storage, not telling my brothers that I had it but never expecting it would take me so long to actually do something with it. So, this year for Christmas, I surprised the boys with Brown Couch pillows. I had such a visceral reaction to taking the fabric out of the box and running my hands and face over it again. The boys had much the same response, raising their pillows to their cheeks and twisting their hands over them in delight. A very successful gift.

I got to purchase a grommet tool for this project, which was like a little present to myself since I've wanted one for a long time but couldn't justify it before now. I know. Big crafting dork.

As I've mentioned before, my brother Daniel is engaged to a woman whose family is from India. I spent some time while I was crafting watching Monsoon Wedding, which is the story of an Indian wedding in the Punjabi tradition in Delhi, which is Meena's heritage. It is one of the best movies I've seen all year and I highly recommend it. Marigolds were used heavily as symbols of marriage and love in the movie because they hold that position in the Indian culture. While watching, I realized I could make a marigold fairy for Meena's parents, who were hosting mine for brunch the next day.

This is the little girl hanging from my tree. The colors are a little washed out in both pictures. She is made from wire wrapped in embroidery thread. The stocking are light blue and her shoes are red to match her red tunic with yellow buttons. Red and gold are traditional colors for a bride. She has a hand-painted face and an acorn hat. I tried to arrange her limbs in a bangara dance style since I'm trying to learn how to dance that way for the wedding. That was a little less successful. The little fairy's shoulders aren't very pronounced.

The final project I'll share with was just finished in the last day or so. Actually, I still haven't figured out how to hang it yet. This went through several different versions in my head over the course of four weeks. I'm pretty happy with the final result.

The text reads, "curse your sudden but ineveitable betrayal" which is a line from Firefly. It's hand-stamped with new stamps that I also bought myself recently. Don't worry, I'm a dilettante of crafts. I won't fall into that weird world of "stampers." The luchador was purchased on the family trip to the Mexican Museum of Art just before New Year's. The fencing around the yard and the planks that make up the house are painted with water-colors. The roof is tiled in buttons.

I think the piece works on a lot of levels and I'm thinking about re-creating it for gifts with different figures in the house and different phrases, although I think the domestic context for an icon of betrayal is particularly poignant. Especially presented in this whimsical way with over-dramatic pulp dialog.

Lots of fancy talk for arts and crafts. Still, I find so much fulfillment from creating them.

I hope you like them even half as much as I do.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


When I moved out to the island, I had a party and gave away 2/3 of my stuff to family, friends and ultimately Amvets. It felt like taking off the roller skates and walking so lightly. Plus, it continues to be fun to go to friends' houses to visit my stuff. They use it so much better than I ever did.

Erika gave me a link today that I loved reading over dinner (Woohoo! no TV!) Here's a little piece of it that I read a couple of times.

I think humans constantly scan their environment to build a mental model of what's around them. And the harder a scene is to parse, the less energy you have left for conscious thoughts. A cluttered room is literally exhausting.

How much better did I feel on break from school when I was able to put my room to rights after months of piles and furniture moved in haphazardly?

A lot. It was the first thing I did once I woke up. Sleep is good. Sleep is very good. So I got a lot of it over break.

I wonder if I've drifted away from that roller skate feeling. I wonder what I can do about that?

Read the rest of the essay here. It's worth it.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Girl Power

Technologically helpless total girl no more!

My TV died just before Christmas and even though I sent out a plea to my people looking for an obsolete TV in a corner that had been replaced by a flat screen, I realized that my life was much more peaceful without it. My work was done with music as background noise instead of commercials and sit-coms.

However, the music came from my iTunes and either had to come out of my nasty laptop speakers or I was tethered to the a stool near the tuner.

So, last night, I went to the Mac store on Michigan avenue, saved $30 plus shipping automatically from the price quoted at the online store, got a student discount, paid the young man out in the store rather than waiting in line for a register, was emailed a receipt and took my AirPort Express home immediately. Instead of waiting for one of the men in my life to stop by to set it up for me, I read the directions all by myself and was entirely successful. I am now typing while sitting on my couch, listening to Booker T and the MGs out of my fancy Advent speakers and sub-woofer that I've held on to through so many moves over the years.

For a girl that knows next to nothing about acoustics, I've got a pretty sweet set-up.

And I did it myself.

Now, if one of those men would just stop by to help me move this gigantic TV down to the street.

See, they're still good for something.