“Forget Grilling, You Can Cook Your Hot Dogs in a Pringles Can”

-Headline from Huffington Post

I was all set to write a serious column about social justice and spiritual consequences when I saw this headline. It’s July, how can I let hot dogs cooked in a Pringles can pass me by? It has solar energy and the two greatest culinary gifts of the U.S. combined in one headline.

This alternative cooking method was developed by an elementary school teacher and used as a science project for her class. Since we’re talking about grilling, it’s probably his class. Cut a window in the Pringles can. The inside, you will see, is lined with some shiny silver aluminum foil substance. Cut two small holes in either end of the can. Stick a wood skewer in, through a hot dog, and out the other side. Set in sun. Aluminum foil substance catches sun’s heat and cooks the hot dog.

Aside from the mind-bending combination of artificial components creating a single meal, there are questions: who ate all the Pringles? Who ate all the hot dogs? Who allowed this teacher to work with children?

The idea of our bodies being the temple of God, the embodiment of our souls, a wondrous mystery of nature, or all three, is dust.  Nutritionists try to head us back in this direction, but keep bumping into each other. (Butter or margarine, vegan or fish, cooked or raw, green leafed vegetables or something that tastes better, vitamin B-somenumber, vitamin C or too much vitamin C, etc.) They could make their lives easier by simply putting up signs over the Pringles shelf that said, “Your body is a wondrous mystery. Think about it.” I suppose someone might think, “Yeah, it can even process this stuff,” and buy two cans.

Having been first raised in Queens, NY, I never ate a fresh bean until I was twelve.  A friend pulled one from her father’s plant and gave it to me. I’m 64 and can still taste that first taste. My parents, born and bred in Manhattan, ate vegetables taken from cans. As they had grown up city poor, having the luxury of a full plate to feed me was a triumph.

Food itself has become something of a religion. As I was eating an egg in a restaurant, a woman came up to me and said, “How can you eat that embryo?” and walked away. I’d committed chicken abortion?   No matter what you eat, someone somewhere will give you a dirty look. Food purity has replaced sexual purity. In parts of our country being gay is okay; give Pringles to your kid and someone will call child services.

I remember that first bite of a raw bean more clearly than my First Communion. And think of it when I pull a bean in our garden.  I admit I am easily shocked. When I hear Gregorian Chant played in a mall to encourage shoppers at Christmas, I am tempted to stop and yell in frustration. One store  had a “Sale Rack” sign hung on a statue of Guadalupe. I dug my fingernails into my palms to keep from ripping it off. However, I’m no food purist, but hot dogs cooked in a Pringles can is just too much. Some people ask whether there is such a thing as sin.

Beans are from heaven, Pringles are from hell.

 

 

 

 

 

Using the Wound to See

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

May 14 is the 2nd anniversary of my accident. On that date in 2012,  a car hit me as I was crossing the street. Against the odds, I did not die. A surgeon who was skilled in repairing “filleted” ribs was at BayState Hospital. Medical staff and an amazing array of tubes, blinking lights, beeping machines, and knock-out drugs kept me alive through septicemia. I’ve written before about the community of comfort, prayer and song that accompanied me. And needless to say, the gift of my vigilant, loving wife Jeannine.

What about now?

You’d think it was time to let go of the past and resume my Alice-ness. However my old Alice-ness is altered. And I’m still discovering the nature of my altered Alice-ness.

This winter I shoveled snow. Afterwards I was on the floor and couldn’t get up, the pain was so bad.  Yesterday I lifted a tray over a coffee table and the same thing happened. The pain is located just below where my body had six surgeries. So I’m writing this on ibuprofen and an ice pack. My body has changed, but what about the other essential parts?

When I meditate, scary memories arise. When I pray, the space is empty. But I meditate and pray anyway, in some form or another. Is that what people call “faith”?

Something still feels amiss. Sarah Pirtle helped me describe the feeling: part of Alice is still on Maple Street, getting hit by a car. Another part is struggling against wrist bindings. Another is having the horrifying hallucination that I was paralyzed for life. Other bits and pieces of Alice lay strewn between Holyoke, Linda Manor, and home. My body sometimes forgets it’s not in a wheelchair.

I am trying to coax all the pieces back, to get reunited with myself. Some people refer to the process as “Soul Retrieval.” The people in the Prayer Medicine group at church have helped so very much. Praying for Kate O’Shea in the group pulled me up and out, allowing me to send energy, with others, to her healing. Praying, sending energy to another person helps me become whole. Perhaps praying for someone sends out a call to all our parts, “Come home, parts, Kate needs you.”

Someone asked her minister, Kate Braestrup I think, to pray for her. Braestrup was dubious about the effectiveness of prayer. After praying, she realized that, no matter the effect on the person’s health, she herself was changed and blessed by the act of prayer. Having been on the receiving end, I know that prayers have an effect on the pray-er and the prayed-for.

Unexpectedly, Emily Dickinson has taught me many lessons. She confronted pain and grief head-on, no walls. She was not given to comforting thoughts, but to examination of these feelings under a scope. She changed my definition of “healing.” Is the work of healing actually keeping the psychic wound open? Not in masochistic pain, but to transform the wound into a opening. Or, as David Brooks said, “…turning it [suffering] into something sacred.” Perhaps a wound of any kind can become another sense with which to experience the world. Emily used that sense.

My Alice-parts are trudging home in fits and starts, what Emily calls “That precarious Gait.” I am trying to coax all the pieces back, to get reunited with myself.  As my physical gait and snow shoveling improves, I also cherish the parallel journey: continuing to walk with that precarious gait, recognizing how many of us walk with that gait, and using the wound to see.

-Braestrup: Here If You Need MeBeginner’s Blessing

-Brooks, “What Suffering Does” New York Tmes Op-Ed April 7, 2014

 

 

Antidote to Apocalyptism

I enjoy reading things that have “irony” stamped all over them. For instance, the church that offers gluten-free communion wafers, and raffles for assault rifles. Sometimes I think I make these things up, but I saw the church bulletin and bulletins don’t lie.

The danger of enjoying irony is that it can degenerate into cynicism. That, as I’ve mentioned before, is a slide into apocalyptic thinking, by both the right and the left: everything is going to hell in a hand-basket (whatever that means). And only God can clean up our mess.

This morning, I came across the complete opposite of apocalypic thinking. The Franciscan Earth Corps are ecumenical groups of young people across the country, aged 18 to 35, who “connect social and environmental justice activities with Franciscan teachings that stress the interconnectedness of creation.”

For instance, on a recent Saturday in Syracuse, members stocked shelves and cleaned storage rooms at a food pantry. In early March, the group screened “Triple Divide,” a documentary about hydrofracking. Later this spring, they’ll put up bluebird boxes at a retreat center. In Milwaukee they led the “March of the Golden Calf,” complete with golden calf, on the issue of money and politics. They read and discuss Franciscan spirituality and practice prayer and contemplation.

Many churches preach and practice those values: engagement in the work of the world, the interconnection of life, solidarity with the disenfranchised, aiding one another, prayer and contemplation. Sometimes the U.S. seems enveloped in apocalyptic hysteria. Are the Earth Corps, small groups, and wise individuals, just islands in a sea of cynicism? The roots of justice and compassion run deep under the earth, intertwining, nourished by the interconnection of life the abounds there, even in a winter that won’t end. Can you feel it?

Now for the real news: 1) Muslim clerics have issued a religious ruling (“fatwa”) forbidding any Muslim from traveling to Mars. 2) ‘Nice Jewish Guys’ Calendar’ sues ‘Naughty Jewish Boys’ Calendar’ over trademark infringement. Pictures at 11.

 

Breaking News – Violence in Society

CBS News  June 6, 2013 2:47 p.m.

“We interrupt this afternoon’s program for Breaking News.  This afternoon, in Conway, Massachusetts, a man was sighted teaching softball to his three children and numerous others. Onlookers blocked traffic on Route 116 for two hours. Pictures at 11.”

Introduction to “60 Minutes”: “There have been reports from the Mid-West that parents have begun feeding their children breakfast, kissing their heads and sending them to school. Six people carried food to a sick person in North Dakota, and in Arizona, a daughter drove her mother to the hospital after her mother slipped and fell. In downtown Chicago a teenager held a door open for a person in a wheelchair.

Tonight we look into: what is wrong with these people? And is it spreading?”

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Isn’t it great news that violence is what makes the news?

February-type news

Each month I keep my ears open to news and ideas in the religion realm that would be fun to write about. Maybe it’s my mood, or the cold, but there is so much bad stuff in religion news this February.

Two parents were sent to jail 3 – 7 years for allowing their child die rather than call a doctor. They prayed with their pastor instead. This is the second child they killed this way. They have seven more children.

A snake handler died a similar way. He got bit, refused a doctor, and is being hailed as a martyr.

Then there is the 84 year-old nun sentenced to three years for breaking in government property to protest nuclear war. Our friend Paki Wieland was sentenced to fifteen days for a peaceful protest against war. (She said Jail “was almost like a Vipassana retreat. The operative word being ‘almost’”.)

“The Son of God” movie had to cut out a scene with Obama look-alike Satan. Well, at least they cut it.

Miranda Barbour, the “Craigslist Killer,” said she killed at least 22 people after joining a satanic cult. But the Temple of Satan says she’s not a member. I’m not not sure if this is in the good news or the bad news column. She probably made it up.

John Tavener, composer of beautiful spiritual choral music, including “The Lamb”, died in California. Okay, that was in November, but I heard about it in February.

I have to admit, there was a concert by the Israeli-Palestinian Chorus singing for peace in the Middle East. (At the Jerusalem YMCA!) Not all is gloom and doom. [Question: in India, is Israel the Middle West?]

Column I wish I had written: Omid Safi’s February post asking what Islam would teach if Mohammad had been born in a snowy climate. Would we have metaphors like God’s love covering us like snowfall covers us all? Check him out at religionnews.com.

But listen to this: Richard Dawkins says any alien civilizations would be atheist. Oh boy, something to look forward to writing about! Spring must be right around the corner.

Delicious Christmas Controversies

Ahhhh, January. Time to kick back and review all the juicy controversies surrounding Christmas. The controversies are often dry as toast, but, like toast, can be delicious.

1) At the all-time, top-of-the-list controversies must be poor Megyn Kelly’s (Fox news reporter) insistence that Santa Clause and Jesus were/are white. She later claimed it was a joke, but I saw it and her comedic talents are somewhere below her news reporting. The reactions of black newscasters and the comic parodies will keep Christmas joyous for decades. Which leads me to believe that Megyn Kelly is really a black comedian with a ton of make-up who works for “The Onion.”
I did come across one disturbing article about “The Legend of the Candy Cane,” a book used in Florida for first graders. (Since removed.) “White is for Jesus because he’s white and red is for Jesus’ blood and if you flip the candy cane upside down it makes a J for Jesus.” Some psychologist should write about the creepy aspects of this statement. Too many to begin here.
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2) The dueling billboards outside Lincoln Tunnel in New York took up some media time. The “atheists-hate-Christmas billboards” vs the “Christians-hate-atheists’ billboards” billboard war is getting old now.Both sides display an appalling lack of imaginative advertising.
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3) “Merry Christmas” vs “Happy Christmas” controversy is new to me. I thought it simply had to do with which side of the pond a person lived, Brits: “Happy”, Yanks: ” Merry.” Silly me. Somewhere back in the convoluted history of the English language, “merry” meant “intoxicated.” I enjoy watching young children singing, “We wish you a merry Christmas” so much more now.
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4) “Happy Holidays!” As you know from many sources, this phrase is a weapon in the War Against Christmas. I thought it was a slightly more inclusive greeting than “Merry Christmas.” More than one Jewish writer has pointed out that Jews do not have any holidays after Hanukkah, so why say it? I’ve had only a taste of being a minority in Thailand and Vietnam and when living in Dorchester, so I don’t take greetings lightly. Joyful greetings are a necessity in this dark time of year, however “Happy Winter!” is disingenuous when the slush is two inches deep. I thought I was so clever: at Eurphoria Bakery I said to the woman behind the counter, “Enjoy your time off!” She looked at me oddly and said, “Have a Happy Holiday.” I may just have to go with “See ya next year!”
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5) On NPR a woman called in to say that the Star of Bethlehem was sent by the devil so the Wise Men could lead Herod to Jesus. Good point. I’ll have to think about that.
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6) Miscellaneous: -A conservative Alabama town mistakenly invited a black drag-queen dance troupe, “Prancing Elites,” to dance in its Christmas parade. – K-Mart’s ad for boxer shorts: a line of men in tux tops and boxer shorts shaking their booty to “Jingle Bells.” -And lastly, the most crowded Capital steps in the country? Florida! A beer can Festus pole, a Nativity scene, a chair holding fake spaghetti with eyeballs. Officials drew the line at the Satanic Temple’s depiction of an angel falling head first into an open fire. Satan has the same letters as Santa, so I don’t know what their problem is.

Apocalypse Averted!

Reality check: This is 2013, almost 2014 right? U.S.A., right? Every citizen of a certain age can vote, right? An African-American is governor of our state of Massachusetts.  A man with an African father is President. I’ve worked side by side with African -, Latino-, Asian – Americans over the past decades. All true.

So explain to me how high schools in Georgia had their FIRST integrated senior prom this April. Only because a small (integrated) group of students decided segregation is wrong. Up until April 2013,  they had a “black prom” and a “white prom.” Is Georgia kidding?  This year a number of seniors decided to take matters into their own hands and organized their own integrated senior prom. Georgia governor Nathan Deal refused to endorse it.

Recently I heard Julian Bond say that Barak Obama has had more death threats than any president in U.S. history. I had somehow believed that things had gotten better than when I was a kid.

This is the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tracy Chapman’s first album. As I listened to her songs this week I realized that they are as true now as they were a quarter century ago. From her song “Why?”: “Why do the babies starve/ When there’s enough food to feed the world?… Why is a woman still not safe/ When she’s in her home?”  From “Revolution”:  “While they’re standing in the welfare lines / Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation / Wasting time in the unemployment lines … Finally the tables are starting to turn /Talkin’ bout a revolution….” Twenty-five years ago I was so hopeful. But now listening to her songs, I started down the slippery slope to apocalyptic thinking. What happened to that revolution? Humans are on an irreversible downward spiral.

Apocalyptic thinking is popular now, as it was in medieval Europe. The world is so bad, goes the story, it’s got to be destroyed before the Kingdom of God can descend on those who are worthy. What are the signs of the End Time? For conservatives, that means same-sex marriage; for liberals, cutting aid for the poor. Still, the “doomed world” view is the same no matter our political / moral opinions.

Apocalyptic thinking, that is, pessimism and helplessness coupled with an us-them view of humanity, is the poison of faith. And I admit, pessimism often lurks beneath my breast.

Given everything, should I be this discouraged? The Georgia high school seniors received support from Korea, Japan and France. DJ’s offered their services for free; others donated lights for the dance. Their school board stated that in the future all events at the school will be integrated. Tracy Chapman was right all along. They did not stand for injustice.

Teilhard de Chardin,  a Jesuit scientist, concluded that humanity is evolving  along a moral, spiritual path.  I realized this week that my faith is based on that premise, though sometimes events seem to indicate the opposite is true.

Apocalyptic faith is an excuse to not act, but to judge. It takes creating a Kingdom of God out of our hands and delegates action into the hands of a God of destruction.

Alternatively, people are developing de Chardin’s vision of humanity. From the American Teilhard Association:  “…developing fresh perspectives on “Teilhard de Chardin’s remarkable evolutionary vision, often in ways that directly relate to an ecologically and spiritually sustainable Earth community.”

De Chardin said, “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.

Reality check: Tracy and Teilhard are right. Thank- you,  Georgia students Quanesha Wallace, Keela Bloodworth,  Mareshia Rucker, Stephanie Sinnot.

Auditions for the Voice of God

In an attempt to help my ESOL students master the pronunciation of the past tense, I explain the difference between “voiced” and “unvoiced” sounds. I put my hand on my throat to show them how to feel for the vibrations. I will carry the looks on their faces forever. I think I can sum up the look  as: “You English speakers are weird.” Which is, of course, true.

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Which brings me to the Bible. When I was a child I thought God spoke a special God-language, similar to English, but using words like “Thou,” and “Thee” and “Hail” and Shalt,” and that most intriguing of Biblical words: “begot.” Jesus certainly spoke that way. When I was in college, The Good News for Modern Man was published, revealing that Jesus spoke in language as cool as yours and mine. I admit to a vague disappointment.

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During the “English-Only” in schools debate, Ma Ferguson, governor of Texas, was reputed to have said, “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.” Which brings up the disturbing audio image of Jesus speaking with a Texas accent. Everyone knows he spoke with a New York accent; I heard it myself every Sunday.

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Mark Roberts of Beliefnet.com says: …I do think the language of Jesus matters. Knowing which language or languages Jesus spoke helps us understand his teaching with greater accuracy. Moreover, it reminds us of one salient fact that almost everyone affirms: Jesus did not speak English. [Note: almost everyone.]

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Fine, but what did it sound like?

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Jews and Hindus regard the sound of words as sacred, or more sacred, than the meaning. The sound of the word is the life of the word. After chanting a Hindi chant, the worshiper apologizes to God for any mispronunciation.

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Our chance to hear Jesus or Isaiah is long gone. We must make due with the written word. A poor substitute for hearing, but we work with what we’ve got.

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For audio Bibles, James Earl Jones is by far the most popular God-voice. His voice is deep, rich and resonant, with a Mid-West accent. Cary Grant just wouldn’t cut it. Claire Bloom does the voice-over for the Old Testament for BBC. Her English pronunciation is impeccable, but strangely detached.

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For other female voices, I vote for either Emma Thompson or Maya Angelou. Should the Bible be read with a crisp, open voice, with subtle intonations and all the t’s distinct, a la Thompson? Or the lower, smoother, melodious voice of Angelou? How differently we would hear the words.

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Which would you take more seriously:

Jones intoning the King James version: “Thou Shalt Not Kill” or

Thompson reading a modern translation: “Don’t murder anyone” ?

What about, “He maketh me lie down in green pastures…” I’d prefer Thompson with her controlled emotion savoring the poetry…Wait a minute. Am I doing auditions for the voice of God?

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Did Jesus pronounce his t’s (or the Aramaic equivalent)? Was his voice high or low, smooth or crisp? What were the intonations? Was his voice fire-and-brimstone or gentle, sarcastic or straight-forward? Was he smothering a laugh when he said some things? Did his voice crack with grief? All of the above? How do we know? We don’t.

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Years ago, my cousin was struggling with mental illness. On his closet door he had a sketch of Jesus with his head thrown back, laughing. Now that’s a laugh I’d like to have heard. I’ll have to settle for listening for it in the laughter I hear around me.

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For me, the most memorable sentence in the New Testament is, “Jesus wept.” No words spoken, no “Thou” or “Thee” or “Thine,” no Texas or New York accent. Jesus wept.

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Maybe it’s the coming Christmas season, but if you ask me, God speaks in words of the King James Bible with an 18th century British accent and Handel’s music as score. The voiced sounds of “Messiah” fill us with joy and sorrow and calls for justice. After the last note, we are left in the unvoiced silence of God’s true voice.

Movable Brains

My First UCC Encounter

In 1976 the national UCC sponsored a trip to Northern Ireland to support the Peace People’s March for Peace in Belfast. At the time I had only the vaguest notion of what UCC might stand for: Unitarian Christian Church? Universal Christians of California? United Christians for Christ? I’d been spending time with the Catholic Left and with Quakers acting against the U.S. war in Viet Nam. To me, “Protestants” were an amorphous blob of bible readers who couldn’t agree on anything. I knew William Sloan Coffin fit in somewhere. We did work with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, but I discovered that there was a Baptist FoR, an Episcopalian FoR, an Adventist FoR and about 10 more FoRs. What were the differences? This foggy notion changed somewhat when the CL group I belonged to joined forces with Clergy and Laity Concerned, composed mostly of Protestant activists.

There are about 38,000 Protestant denominations, so I forgive myself my confusion. Christian Platt is a blogger for the progressive evangelical magazine, Sojourner. (“Progressive Evangelical” still stumps me.) He names the five things he believes hold Christianity back. (Back from what, I’m not sure.) Number 2 is “Denominations.” He claims  “their distinction from others like them are so minute that even the members within a given denomination can’t tell you what makes them unique.” One commenter disagreed. He says denominations are…” the church diversified…the beautiful mosaic of God’s kingdom,”

Okay, now I get it. A bridge made with moving interlocking parts is more stable than a rock-solid immobile one.

Now, 37 years later, I get spiritual support, renewal, intellectual challenge, and community primarily from (gasp) a UCC church. Luckily, my brain is made of interlocking parts. The parts shifting and rubbing against each other bring me to a better awareness of the world. OMG! I’ve got a Protestant brain!

Peace People Ireland March 1976:

137018-004-18C4C15E

http://prezi.com/f3-r0gkrtlz0/the-peace-people/

Sojourners article: http://sojo.net/blogs/2013/09/23/five-things-are-holding-christianity-back