Thursday, January 31, 2008

Obama bound

I still have that Edwards bumper sticker on my car, already anachronistic after only putting it up a month ago. Listening to his announcement yesterday, which I caught as I drove to a ministers meeting, I was convinced I had made the right choice. Edward's focus on the poor and the working class, his sincere concern, and especially the timing of his withdrawal when he still had the resources to go forward but realized that his presence would only be as a spoiler. He's got the same hope and vision of Obama but actually combined with good policies. I'm sorry to see him go but I admire him even more for making the right decision.

I have mixed feelings about both Clinton and Obama. I've not been happy with the policies that Obama has proposed. Hillary Clinton is probably the better politician, but her problem to me is exactly that she is such a consummate politician. I don't want a president who loves to play the game I want a president who will change the game. Hilary's problem is not fixable. That's who she is. Obama's problem is fixable, given the right advisors, and the fact that the President doesn't actually create policy anyway, (that's the legislature's job), Obama becomes the better choice.

People have also worried about Clinton's electability. I worry, too. She is such a deeply reviled figure to so much of this country. But my problem here is not only my fear that she might not win in the general election (although that's a big fear) it's also that if she does win she will be unable to rally enough support either from the Republican side of the congress, or from the American people generally to effectively govern. After eight years of a badly fractured country we need a President for all of us.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

God and Nature

A friend recommends a book: "A Religion of Nature" by Donald Crosby

"This book makes a sustained case for nature itself as a proper focus of religious commitment and concern. For it, nature--envisioned as without God, gods, or animating spirits of any kind--is religiously ultimate. It also argues that nature is metaphysically ultimate, that is, self-sustaining and requiring no explanation for its existence beyond itself. Moreover, humans are viewed as an integral part of nature, natural beings in the fullest sense of the term. They are at home in the world, their origin, nature, and destiny lie here and not in some transcendent realm, and their moral and religious responsibilities extend not only to one another and to the human community but to the whole of nature and to all living beings. This book urges us to grant to nature the kind of reverence, awe, love, and devotion we in the West have formerly reserved for God. (page xi)"

Here's my response:

I don’t think that nature alone could be an adequate “focus of religious commitment and concern” for me, or for most religious people. Nature is not “religiously ultimate” if, as for most people, religion includes categories like ethics and morals, purpose (in the sense of moving toward goals) or ideals. Nature doesn’t “care” and thus makes no demands on us for one kind of life or another. In fact, even environmentalism itself would not follow from a religion that puts nature as ultimate, because nature has no criteria for judging one form of existence preferable to another. The moon is just as natural as is the earth. A lifeless earth is just as natural as a living bio-diverse earth. Arguing for the essential naturalism of human beings actually serves the perspective that our urge toward despoiling the earth is simply part of nature and thus is no more to be resisted than any other part of our nature.

Many people retreat to a "nature as religion" position because of frustration with traditional theism. The flaw I see in traditional forms of western theism is that we have split God and nature into two separate realms forcing God to be supernatural and transcendent and immaterial. However, a religion of nature that removes God but preserves this duality doesn’t correct the problem.

The theism I follow rejects the idea that God and Nature must be divorced. I don’t believe in a supernatural god, I believe in a god who works within natural laws. I don’t believe in a transcendent god, but in a god that is an intimate part of every moment and every thing of the universe (while also providing a “mind” to the universe that is more than simply the physical stuff of the universe). I believe that God is immaterial, and thus is able to add qualities of ideals and goals that are not present in a strictly material world, but that the immaterial is not separate from the material but that both are manifestations of a more fundamental stuff of creation better described as “energy.”

Other people maybe know you better than you do

This month I've been contemplating the question of Epiphany, "Who are you really, and what are you here to do?"

Sometimes, when we ask that question of ourselves the only answer we can come up with is, "I dunno." But the answer doesn't have to only come from self-examination. There's a whole other realm of resources for finding the answer to that question; that's the realm of all the other people out there.

What do other people say about you? How do they describe you? What do they ask you to do? When do they turn to you with a job to do? If you're not getting enough clues just from listening you might even ask several people you trust to give you their impressions. You may be surprised to hear that other people see in you a quality you didn't think you had. What if you took their descriptions seriously instead of immediately tossing them out if they don't conform to your self-perception? It may be that other people see a you that is stronger and more talented than you thought. Or it may be that the person other people see in you is not the person you want to be - but in that case you'll still end up with a clearer picture of who you want to be and then can begin working to make that image actual.

the Protestant word for spirituality

I was the guest minister on Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Santa Monica. The day went very well and I had a great time.

At one point during the service I looked out into the congregation of 150 or so and I thought to myself how so many of my friends entirely associate spirituality with Eastern influenced practices of meditation and yoga and chanting and esoteric theologies of reincarnation and so on. And how for many of them nothing that was going on in that church on Sunday would connect to their perspective of spirituality: a sermon, a choir, a children's story, even collecting food for a food pantry, or even the idea of worshipping as a community act rather than spirituality as something you do alone. My friends would not believe that you could have a spiritual experience in a room that didn't smell of incense, that had barely a candle or two burning, that featured no statues of dieties, that asked people to engage their minds not empty them.

While acknowledging the fact that many churches in the western traditions have grown too coldly intellectual to light a spiritual fire, it was a both a joy to me to feel how genuinely spiritual our churches can be in our own Protestant language, and a sadness that the Protestant spiritual language has lost its ability to speak to so many.

land of enchantment

I had my meeting with my spiritual director this morning. At one point something I said reminded him about a minister he has been working with and has invited to come to California and present a workshop. The minister lives in New Mexico. That was interesting to me because for the last week my husband and I have been hosting two friends of ours who are visiting from New Mexico. One of the friends is named Kat, and just as I was thinking of her and silently saying her name to myself, my spiritual director said, of the minister, "He's a cool cat."

Bush's last...

I listened to just a few minutes of President Bush's State of the Union address last evening as I drove to chorus practice. I didn't hear anything remarkable, nor did it seem I missed anything remarkable in the parts of the speech I didn't hear. In fact my strongest reaction was simply relief that this was the last State of the Union this President would ever give. And then I had an even more liberating reaction when I realized that throughout this year our country will continue to pass milestones where President Bush in his final year goes through his last this or that.

George Bush has been a catastrophe for our nation, our human world, and our planet. After eight years of neglect and wrong actions I'm finally beginning to feel some hope that we will survive and have another chance to first, undo the damage done, and second get us back on the track we should have been: positioning the United States as a responsible world citizen and steward of the earth in partnership with other nations and not as we have arrogantly imagined ourselves as an exception among the nations that sets rules for how others must behave but refuses any accountability for our own actions.

Unfortunately we're still at least a year away from that identity shift. But at least with our President newly disempowered by lame duck status and a Democratic congress, there's little additional havoc we must endure as we wait out these now 51 weeks remaining.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar

Mr. Ledger's death is shocking due to his young age (28) and the mysterious and presumably accidental nature, plus leaving a two-year old daughter without a father. But his death is more than just shocking, I'm also finding it to be deeply affecting in ways that other deaths are not.

I was moved to tears by Heath's performance as Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain. One set of reasons has to do with his justly praised performance, his physical beauty, and also the personal resonance for me of a gay man struggling (and in Ennis Del Mar's case failing) to love oneself in a culture that sends messages that who you are is disgusting and wrong.

But on an even deeper level Ennis Del Mar's story is not just a story of internalized homophobia, but of the way that all of us block our own happiness by the internal stories we tell and retell. Learned from the culture around us, or invented by the false interpretations we add to actually benign experiences, the stories we tell ourselves of who we can't be, what we can't do, what we don't deserve and aren't worthy of, destroy lives as tragically and permanently as any act of violence. The tragedy of Brokeback Mountain is the tragedy of any one of us who let the fiction of imagined cultural consequences keep us from living our full lives.

And of course, the tragedy of a young death, such as Heath Ledger's, is also, precisely the tragedy of a life not fully led; the actor's life now brought into tragic concurrence with his most famous character.

Why are you here?

The season of Epiphany is the time to meditate on our true core nature and to come to some realization of the thing we are to do with this life. Using the model of Jesus' Epiphany (or Epiphanies, actually) when his true nature was recognized by others (first by the Three Kings at the manger, then John the Baptist at his adult baptism, finally the disciples Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration), Epiphany involves the spiritual work of uncovering what is hidden in our selves, and revealing that deep self to ourselves and the world.

But asking the question, "What am I here to do?" and answering it, should not imply that each of us were created in order to fulfill some single pre-ordained mission. Unlike the Jesus myth, where Jesus was deliberately created and assigned to fulfill a unique role, human beings are not individually deliberately created, and the roles we can legitimately and healthfully fulfill are numerous for each of us. God did not create you or me specifically because God needed you or me or to do some vital task. Rather, our existence is the result of a free system of countless individual choices leading generally (hopefully) toward God's eternal aims of deep rich experience, but aims which could have been satisfied in other ways.

In general I think there are more people existing than are necessary to provide the divine satisfaction. God has plenty of human experience and more of (almost) the same does little to increase God's enjoyment. However, now that we're here there are some things we can choose to do that will further the cosmic progression toward the Divine ideals, and other lesser choices which lead less directly toward that goal or even away from that goal. It is the task of Epiphany to discover what in us will lead most directly to the place God wishes to go.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Epiphany to Lent

Early this month in the Christian Calendar we move from the season of Epiphany to the season of Lent. There’s one last blowout, on Tuesday February 5. And then Ash Wednesday on February 6 begins the 40 days of Lent (Sundays don’t count) leading up to Easter Sunday, March 23.

Epiphany is the season of discovering our personal identity and purpose. “Who am I?” we ask and “What am I called to do?” Some people think a “call” in the religious sense only counts if it comes from somewhere outside us, but the divine dwells within us, too. So if you don’t feel in any way directed toward your purpose it’s just as valid to ask, “Well then, what would I like to do?” Understanding and following your own desires, balanced with responsibility and accountability to the larger community, is also an appropriately healthy spiritual path.

In Lent the questions shift to an appraisal of our mortality. Part of the answer to the question “Who am I?” is that “I’m a finite human being.” Awareness of our inevitable death lends a sense of urgency to the question of “What should I do?” We have only a limited time to learn the answer and respond.

But it is the ending of life that gives life its value. It’s because we won’t be here forever that what we do now has worth. The choices of our lives have consequences both for our future, and for the future long after we’re gone.


Heath Ledger found dead in his New York apartment this afternoon. What a tragedy. Only 28 years old. I loved him in Brokeback Mountain, an amazing bit of acting for which he justly received an academy award nomination (Philip Seymour Hoffman won for Caopte). A drug overdose is suspected. I'm sure this will be all over the news shortly.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

politics make me cry

I went to a John Edwards rally today. He was very inspiring. When he got toward the end of his speech and talked about the 37 million americans without health care and the head of the health care company who made $200 million in compensation last year, and then he talked about the 47 million Americans living in poverty and the fact that ExxonMobil made 40 billion dollars in profits last year, and then affirmed that he has a different vision for America I actually started to tear up.

Barack Obama is also inspiring but when he actually starts to talk policies he misses the mark. Hilary's policies are as good as John's (she usually comes out with similar proposals a few weeks after John) but her negatives are so high I'm sincerely worried that she could lose the general election. John Edwards is the only candidate unequivocally saying that combat troops will be home from Iraq in the first year of his Presidency with no permanent military bases left behind. He called global warming a moral crisis. John Edwards is simultaneously both the most progressive and the most electable of the Democratic candidates. I can't understand why he isn't the front runner.

Well I do understand. He takes no money from lobbyists. He speaks against the ingrained powers of corporate America. He stands up for labor and the middle class and doesn't shy away from saying he's going to take on the oil companies and the pharmaceutical companies. He said in his speech "I don't want to be their President, I want to be your President." I want him to be my President, too.

radio story

I was on my way to teach a class at church last night, running a little behind and anxious to get there on time because I had made a point of telling the class the week before how important it was for everyone to be prompt. But I also hadn't had dinner and thought there was time to swing through the drive through at Jack in the Box and get a sandwich. I pull in, place my order and then get in the line to pick up my food behind two other cars. I'm listening to NPR and the Jack in the Box is in one of those places where the station comes in and out depending on the exact position of your car so I keep pulling up closer to the van in front of me until I get a good signal.

The line takes forever. I really need it to be fast so I wouldn't be late so I quickly start to get impatient. I'm sitting there and sitting there. Because I'm pulled up so close to the van in front of me I can't see the car at the window so I have no idea what's going on but just wanting my food and to get out of there. I'm watching the minutes go by calculating whether there's any chance I'll get to my class on time, cursing whoever is in the car at the window and noticing that they've built curbs around the drive through lane so there's no way just to bail out after you order.

But meanwhile I start to get engrossed in the NPR story. It's a regular series where a guy tells insider stories about life in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. He's telling a story about a writer who hasn't had a job in years who gets a new agent and one last chance.

Finally the car at the window pulls away and the van in front of me pulls up. I pull up behind him and instantly the radio goes to static. I panic. Now I couldn't care less about getting to my class I want to hear the end of the story. I try to maneuver my car to find a reception spot. But just as I do and I hear a few more precious seconds of the story the van pulls away from the window and I have to move again up to the window. Amazingly at the window I pick up the signal again. So I'm trying to catch up with the story, and also negotiate with the guy at the take out window. The guy hands me my change for a ten, six dollars and some change, and before my hand closes on the bills the wind picks them up and they both fly out, landing behind the car. I don't want my money. I don't want my food. I don't want to get to class on time. I just want to sit there at the Jack in the Box window and listen to the end of the story. The guy at the window points out that I can still retrieve my six dollars if I move fast. So I turn off the car, cutting off the radio in mid-sentence, get out, pick up the fallen bills, get back in the car, turn the radio back on, and hear the beginning of the next segment on NPR.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

no more friday nights

My husband and I just finished watching the first season of Friday Night Lights on DVD. We loved the show. A fascinating glimpse into small town mid-America. Great acting. Great writing. We're thinking of getting caught up on the second season by watching episodes online.

bumper sticker politics

At church on Sunday I got a John Edwards bumper sticker for my car. It covers up the Kerry sticker.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Does God care about us personally?

A reader writes:

I have encountered a sermon accredited to you at the following address entitled Let Us Pray. .

In it you stated the following: “However, believing that God isn't supernaturally powerful doesn't mean you have to believe God is powerless, naturally. Process Theology says that although God does not have coercive power, that is God can't make you do something you don't want to do, God does have persuasive power, which means that if you invite God into your life, God is immediately there with hints and suggestions that you are either free to accept or not. Because God is loving, God always wants the best for us, so God's suggestions are always the ones that, within the givenness of the past and the natural laws, are the actions we can take that will lead to the best future possible.”

Being familiar with the arguments and tenets of Process Philosophy/Theology I have always found it interesting that God is all loving and as you have stated above “…always wants the best for us…” yet these statements violate the natural laws that are the base tenet of Process. How can God want the best for us Individually when the best for me may not be the best for you, society, or the universe. The very idea of “best” would imply that an ultimate exists. If I can buy anything it is that God wants the “best” for “us” in only the most corporate sense.

Kind of makes God impersonal doesn’t it?

Here's my response:

I think your question could be stated as, “Is there ever a time when the “best” for an individual personally is at odds for the “best” for the universe as a whole? And if there was such a case would God suggest something less than the “best” for the individual in order to further the larger goals of the universe?

My initial response is “Yes” to both questions. But as you note, the problem is the relativistic way of defining the word best.

Imagine a cancer cell infecting a human person’s body. Best for the cancer cell would be unfettered growth. That fulfills the true nature of cancer. But best for the human is for the cancer to stop growing, even disappear. So what would God suggest?

I believe that God’s primary concern is the fulfillment of God’s initial and eternal aims. And I believe those aims to be generally termed as “enjoyment” which God achieves through encouraging life, first of all, and then forms of life that are capable of deep layers of consciousness and rich experience. So God does have preferences and thus gives an absolute rather than relativistic definition to the word “best.” I believe God prefers human life above cancer cell life. In order to achieve God’s larger goals for the universe I do believe that God would suggest to the cancer cell that it stop growing, and even to suggest that the tumor now shrink in size and disappear.

Although this seems far from the best from the point of view of the cancer cell it is in the absolute sense still the best. Eventually unfettered cancer growth would kill the host and the cancer with it, so unlimited growth is not a winning position for the cancer cell (just as it isn’t for the human population in the world – but that’s another story). And because eventually the entire universe is a single thing, what’s best for all is best for the individual. The cancer cell’s contribution while it existed will be remembered in God’s eternal memory, and the physical stuff of the cancer cell itself will continue to be a part of whatever the entire universe is becoming.

So I do agree with you that God wants the best for us in a corporate way rather than a personal way. But I would also say that best in the corporate is also the best for me individually although it may not seem so at first. As we mature spiritually away from ego-identification toward embracing the universal divinity of which we are a part, God’s best and our best will merge to the same expression.

New Year's Day

New Year's Eve Peleg and I had a couple of friends over. We shared our reviews of the past year and intentions for the coming year with each other. Then we had a nice dinner. Peleg cooked. And then settled down to watch the Sound of Music which we're establishing as a New Year's Eve tradition. Nobody noticed when midnight arrived. At the movie intermission it was 12:30 and we decided to go to bed instead of watching the rest of it. Our friend doesn't like the parts with the nazi's anyway. Our friends were going to spend the night so we could all get up in our jammies in the morning and watch the parade on TV.

As we went to bed Peleg said he had a surprise for me in the morning. I asked what it was and he said i would have to wait until the morning. At about 5:30 he got up, which I didn't think too much of as he gets up early most days anyway. But then at 6 he got me up and said the surprise was that we weren't just going to watch the parade on TV, we were going to go to the parade. One of the friends who had spent the night works at a company that sponsors a float in the parade and he had grandstand seats for four and a reserved parking place for us.

So we went. I had been to the parade once before in high school where we went the night before and camped on the side walk all night. By the morning I was so tired I wanted nothing more than to skip the parade and go home. Plus it was impossible to see anything at street level, and we were at the end of the route so the floats were looking bedraggled, the marching bands weren't playing and I swore never to do it again.

The experience from a grandstand seat, having had a good night's sleep, and breakfast from a cooler was something completely different. I probably wouldn't do it again but I had a great time. And a start to the year.

primary watch

I decided before the first primary that I'm an Edwards supporter. I even went to his website, signed up for email bulletins (which come one or two a day) and toyed with the idea of buying a bumper sticker that I could use to cover up the Kerry sticker that's still on my car. I didn't get the bumper sticker because I had my suspicions that it would become anachronistic in a couple of months.

So I wasn't surprised that Edwards didn't win in Iowa, but happy that he came in second, and even happier that Obama won instead of Clinton. With Clinton being the early on favorite her third place finish has the effect of keeping the nomination process open for a little longer. That's good for the process as it forces the candidates to continuing clarifying their positions and engages more of the electorate. Even her surprise first place in New Hampshire hasn't closed the deal. At this point although everyone is talking about a two-way race between Obama and Clinton and Edwards doesn't seem to have much chance, at least he will still be legitimately in the race when I get to cast my ballot on February 5.

I'm still not buying a bumper sticker though.

ministerial duties

I had a tough choice to make yesterday when I was rushing to meet a non-professional commitment I had with the gay men's chorus, and came across a scene where I was called to ministry. I chose the chorus commitment but even today I'm torn about my choice. Here's what happened.

I was attending a meeting of our Membership Team. We started at 5 and I made sure everyone knew that I needed to leave at 6. At about 6:10 I was able to get away. As I was leaving the meeting place I heard the screech and slam of a car crash out at the street. As I got to the street I saw that the driveway was blocked, and worse as I saw the two people getting out of the car I realized they were two women from my church.

I got out of my car and went to see what was going on. Both the women were OK. They had been making a left turn into the driveway and a car coming toward them had hit the rear of the car. After some initial inquiries and assessment I made the choice to go on to my appointment. I went back into the meeting I had left and told the other church members what had happened and got one of them to come out and wait with the women. And then I left. I learned today that one of the women had gone to the emergency room for an x-ray and then been released.

It's exactly the kind of circumstance when ministerial presence is called for: organizing, comforting, mediating, gathering and sharing information. I would have liked to have been involved, and wish I could have. But the situation shows that ministers like everyone else, have limited resources of presence and the need to balance obligations to their call and to their personal life.

music notation software

After I wrote a song a couple of weeks ago I started copying it out and then decided to look into purchasing music notation software. The first program I came across is called Finale and the full package cost $600 which I considered but then decided was too expensive. A week or so later I was at the Apple store and came across a version of the Finale software called Print Music for $100. That seemed to do what I needed and at the right price. But Peleg and I decided to buy it online rather than at the store. Then in researching where to buy it online I found an even simpler version of the softward called Finale Note Pad, for free! My favorite price.

So I downloaded Finale Note Pad and have been obsessively inputting all the music I've ever written since studying music composition back at UCLA and Cal Arts in the early 1980s. The best feature is a playback that reads your score once you've entered it. I've been able to actually hear some pieces that I wrote years ago but have never heard, not having for instance a string sextet handy wiling to read my music for me. The playback is pretty mechanical but it does have dynamics and reproduces the approximate sound of the instruments, so it's all in all fairly satisfying.

One of my goals for 2008 is to do some more composing and to organize a concert of my music. Exciting.

hair cut

Despite seeing Sweeny Todd a couple of weeks ago I went to the barber yesterday and got a haircut and a shave. The full throw the chair back and get out the straight razor shave.

I've never been the type to enjoy any kind of spa treatment. pedicures and manicures make me uncomfortable and why pay someone to take a half hour to do something I can do for myself in two minutes? Facials just seem weird. Massages make me tense, the opposite of relaxation. But I love a barber shave: the hot towels, the warm shaving cream, the "scritch, scritch" sound of the razor, the cool towel and alcohol after.

I'd gotten lazy at thanksgiving and let my beard grow. then my husband decided he liked it so I kept it, but finally had to say uncle on Wednesday night. I'm just not the fuzzy type. I cut the hair back to my usual 1960's science teacher length. And I did leave the mustache coming way down to the sides of my mouth a la Morgan Spurlock or 1970 gay porn star.