Sunday, December 30, 2007

Quaking

Today in meeting I had the curious experience of being led to speak. This is the second time this has happened to me and therefore the the second time I have spoken in meeting. People speak infrequently at our meetings and it is not at all uncommon for us to have meetings without a single message. It is nice to know that one is not compelled by Friends to contribute anything in particular. It is good to just sit and wait and let the silence fill the hour. I tell myself that I will not break that silence unless I am called to do so and that my standard for defining "a call" will be very high. While I quite enjoy contributing to conversations, debates, speeches, etc., I do not relish the idea of breaking that hour of waiting worship. It bothers me to think that my stomach might growl or that I might cough or shift in my seat too loudly. The idea that by blurting out some random thoughts or that by expounding on some pet topic I might interrupt that silence prevents me from saying a thing.

I have wondered what motivates Friends to speak. I have read that the messages come to them and that they do not plan them in advance. These are messages that are supposed to come from a divine source. I have my doubts. How can this be so? It seems more likely that these are messages that come from deeply held opinions and well-researched thoughts. That's fine too as far as I'm concerned, but I want to test the idea that one can channel messages from a deeper Source. For this reason, I've made it a point to keep my mouth shut no matter how clever or pretty a thing forms in my head. Although there are several times when I can add a message that would fit in beautifully with the other messages, I make it a point to NOT speak in meeting.

As I was sitting there this morning, I was thinking about our query regarding how we felt about the use of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. I was thinking that I didn't much care. I mean, I abstain from all as a general rule. My position tends to be that while I abstain, I don't like to judge others' use. I am aware of the damages caused by drug abuse and concerned in a kind of lukewarm way about those issues but I don't spend much time thinking about them. I have an opinion on everything, lol, but that isn't one about which I'm passionate.

One woman spoke. She told us about how she works with people who suffer greatly due to alcoholism. They lose their jobs. They lose custody of their children. Their lives are blasted apart by it. She reminded us how often the alcoholism is really symptomatic of much deeper problems. So I sat there and thought about why people drink and I thought about how I don't drink because I like to be in control of my life and the image of myself that I show others. I want others to see that I am in control of myself.

The idea of control and the relinquishment of it started to move in my head and words began to shape themselves around these ideas. In the end, I found myself with a message which basically was that the world is hard and people are struggling to hold onto it. Sometimes they just want to let go for a little while. They want to sink into something...into fun, into oblivion, into sensation, into something that makes them forget how hard life is even for just a little while.

I then thought to myself that I would certainly not share that because it is obvious and not particularly spiritual. A good portion of myself was glad that today's query was not the kind of subject that would likely lead to anything particularly spiritual that I might feel moved to share.

Then the words began to move around in my head again as if by some outside editor...I don't know quite how to describe this but the words were moving themselves. The words "The world is hard..." struck me deeply. I'd always judged drinkers harshly. Intellectually I was kind but in my heart I've always been disgusted by those who do not control themselves in public. But "the world is hard." I know this. I know this. It is exhausting and exquisitely painful sometimes...No. Most of the time. I do not drink but I fall apart into rages and I sink into depressions. I withdraw. I sleep. I run away. I yell and rant and judge and cry. I let go into something that feels more powerful than I am but which only leaves me feeling empty and used up. That's true and it would make a fine message but I was not going to speak.

In any case, even as I was sitting there saying how nice it was not to have to speak, the words settled hard and sat there. Then my heart began to pound. My palms began to sweat. I was having trouble breathing properly. "The world is hard..." I knew I needed to start there but I didn't know what would come after. Although I am the kind of person who likes to plan out at least a framework of everything I say before I say it, I knew I had to start speaking into that profound silence. I had to interrupt the thoughts of the others sitting with me. In that silence, I have found someone opening a cough drop as a jarring noise that shifts me unpleasantly out of contemplation. God, I did not want to speak into that silence. I had to sacrifice my comfort and perhaps appear to be foolish, irritating, irrelevant. No. I do not want to do this!

But my heart pounded so loudly I felt for sure the men on either side of me in the circle could hear it. The tears were starting to escape my eyes and my breathing was becoming labored. This was ridiculous. So feeling that if I didn't speak, I might just pass out or throw up or bolt from the room, I spoke and the speaking felt like falling through a membrane, like going limp on the edge of a cliff, like letting go of my grasp of control.

"The world is hard," I began and then I kept talking. I know it had something to do with how we have to keep holding on even when we know that we will lose all that we have and how sometimes, it feels good when one is exhausted and hopeless to let go. Alcohol promises that for just a little while, there will be a release, a numbness, a surrender that eases the exhaustion of holding on, to surviving, to fearing and scrambling in a hard world. But this is artificial. It leaves us empty and no better and even worse than we were before. What we need is to let go to Something that washes us in beauty and nobility. We need to drown in that compassion, sink into divinity and emerge with a little more courage so we can face holding on again in a hard world. Because we have to hold on. We have work to do.

I'm sure there was more but I just don't know what. I was surprised by it. Surrender to what? What am I saying here? I'm a non theist for goodness sake! What am I saying and what is happening here?

Then my heart slowed down and my head stopped whirring and I returned to silence. On our way home I told my husband that I would almost rather not return to meeting than to have that happen again. Both times have been so unpleasant, so disturbing and to share them embarrasses me. I do so because I feel that to pretend they don't happen is dishonest and I need to tell people so they can what? Affirm me? Send me to a doctor? Explain it? I don't know. Maybe I'm delusional. The feeling knocks me off my base. I never expected when I sat down with Quakers that I too would quake.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Social Class Quiz

I borrow this from Jeanne's blog where she writes, "It's based on an exercise developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University that I found on this Yahoo group around class on college campuses. The exercise developers hold the copyright but have given me permission to post it here and ask that if you participate in this blog game, you acknowledge their copyright.

If you post this in your blog, please leave a comment on this post."

My affirmative responses are in bold print.

Father went to college
Father finished college (a B.S., M.Div., and Ph.D.)
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
(a B.S.W, M.Ed.)
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children's books by a parent
(My mother also had fond memories of her British grandmother, a suffragist and "Cousing Emily" one of the first women ordained into the Methodist ministry in England, reading Dickens to her as a child)
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
(piano, French horn, chorus...all but piano lessons were provided by my public elementary school)
The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively (sometimes. Other times people from upstate NY are portrayed as hicks and pagans are portrayed as flakey weirdos.)
Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs* (They did this by taking out enormous loans)
Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs*
Went to a private high school
Went to summer camp
Had a private tutor before you turned 18
Family vacations involved staying at hotels (or motels. Usually we camped or stayed with family)
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
There was original art in your house when you were a child (my great-grandparents and uncles and aunts were professional and amateur artists)
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18 (It did not have its own line and was used only for local phone calls)
You and your family lived in a single family house (few families in rural Upstate NY live in apartments)
Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home (But for the first years of my life, we lived in parsonages owned by the Church.
You had your own room as a child (parsonages are enormous. We lived in one drafty old house with two staircases!)
Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
Had your own TV in your room in High School
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Went on more than one cruise with your family
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up (most museums and galleries are either free or very inexpensive so why not?)
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

*These two are edited because Christine pointed out that the previous wording didn't clearly delineate between people who had their tuition paid for them and people who worked for their college expenses.

In the group exercise which was originally designed for college students, staff and faculty, everyone stands in a line and steps forward if any of these things are true for them.

If we were all in a big room, I would have taken 5 steps forward. How about you? How many would you have taken? How many steps will your kids have taken by the time they're 18 (or how many did they take before they turned 18)?

I find this quiz to be a completely unreliable means of communicating class consciousness. So many of the people with whom I shared community, church and school while growing up were from financially more privileged homes than I occupied yet they would score lower on this quiz due to their families' lack of profound interest in education. We lacked many material things that other kids had because my folks believed that as far as possible, they wanted to devote their time and resources to educating us. In contrast, my uncle, a wealthy executive for IBM, had two boys who almost never went on vacation with him and who did not have the educational benefits my sister and I had. I remember my cousins asking us how we could stand having so little money. Every couple of years, their family moved into bigger and bigger brand new homes and bought more expensive cars and technology. Meanwhile, they pointed out, my family's income never seemed to grow and lots of our stuff was hand-me-down and mediocre at best. But I was not jealous of them because their parents were not child-centered and did not go out of their way to enrich their children's lives either intellectually or spiritually.

Likewise, I grew up hearing my mother's (working class) best friend complain that she had no money. The thing was that she always bought brand new clothes from really nice stores, went on expensive vacations, and had a beautifully decorated home. My mother, on the other hand, buys her clothes in a thrift shop and is well-educated. They were next door neighbors, went to the same school, and grew up in families with very similar cultural and economic backgrounds. Mom always says that our economic priorities reflect our values. We make choices.

Of course I acknowledge educational and economic inequalities (and the relationship between the two). In fact, I am reminded of this every day as I live with the enormous burden of debt that resulted from my stubborn refusal to accept that someone with a low income should not achieve an advanced degree from a private institution of higher learning. The other students always seem to have more choices, better internships, nicer cars, fewer debts. I served my passion for learning and I will pay the price for the rest of my working life. My husband and I do not, and will not in the near future, own a home or a new car because we chose to borrow so much money for college. We own cast-off furniture and thrift store clothes and exercise thrift in all our decisions except one...Education.

I also note that while some of the items on the above list are truly indicators of disposable income, others are not. Whether or not one's parents read to them or took them to museums and galleries does not indicate a parent's greater access to wealth and privilege. Libraries are free and so are museums much of the time. We especially enjoyed the local museums in our neighborhoods and the Smithsonian.

Throughout this extended conversation regarding social class and privilege, I have been troubled with the conflation of economic power with so-called "middle-class values" related to education and liberalism. There has not, in my thinking, been a deep enough analysis of the multifaceted differences in people's attitudes toward child-rearing and education nor has it adequately addressed issues of gender, spirituality, ethnicity, culture, or regionalism. I offer my experiences here not to deny the reality of anyone else's experience but to challenge the notion of universality regarding the dichotomies between want and privilege.

After taking this quiz, I am more deeply committed to providing my children with an upbringing that reflects my values. Therefore, my children will be taught to use resources sparingly and judiciously, to spurn consumerism, and to follow Gandhi's adice to "live simply so that others may simply live." However, I will also teach my children to be passionate about their educations, to read voraciously, to haunt libraries and museums, and to be well-acquainted with history, art, music, literature, and philosophy. As my own working class grandfather told me, a college education is not to enhance your ability to make a living but to enhance your ability to joyfully appreciate life. No matter what professions or trades my children choose,no matter how modest their physical homes may be, at the end of the day I want them to occupy a generously apportioned intellectual home.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, I have found that there is frequently a correlation between one's political and social perspectives and one's educational experience (whether achieved formally or informally through private study). It is important to me that my children mature into individuals with an understanding of social justice issues in the context of history, philosophy, and social theory. Their ability to act as informed and compassionate citizens will be greatly enhanced by their exposure to the social sciences and humanities. Their ability to make wise medical and philosophical choices in an increasingly complicated technological world will be enhanced by their greater familiarity with the sciences. It is difficult to be "green" when one does not understand ecology. It is difficult to remain unimpressed with political opportunists when one does not understand social science and history. It is difficult to fully articulate one's thoughts and creativity when one is not exposed to the history of literature and art. It is difficult to live a life of spiritual simplicity when one's soul is starved of the riches of the intellect.

I see from this quiz that my parents, despite their modest income, did indeed provide me with great privilege. I feel absolutely no "liberal guilt" for this. All children should have this much love and attention. The details of our educations can and should vary to reflect our families', regions' and personal needs and interests, but each child deserves a library, a museum, a school, and the joy of hearing a good story while nestled in a devoted parent's arms.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Looking for home: (feeling sorry for myself.)

I have never fit in anywhere except perhaps in my own family. Some people are completely content with being a misfit. Others try all their lives to conform. I don't want to conform (perish the thought!) but I want to be at home among the people in my community. I guess I'm looking for "You're a real dork but we love you anyway."

Many years ago, I left the UCC when my clergyman father had a run-in with his congregation. They were angry with his pro-gay rights position and his decision to marry a lesbian couple. At the same time, he asked the congregation to support one of their members, a young man who was reared in the church, now dying of AIDS. Our entire family was thrown into one of the worst experiences of our lives. There were vicious attacks and rumours about my dad, false accusations, back-stabbing and bitterness. Those who supported him (people who came from the lower-income bracket of the church) were also alienated from the church. It was awful and humiliating. We were severed from our community.

I had grown up in the church in a very real sense. As the minister's family, we'd served several congregations of Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists. We'd been the first to arrive and the last to leave. We visited parishioners with our dad and had to go to all the dinners and events. I remember watching him put on his robes and I recall leafing through Cokesbury catalogs and trying on his clerical collar. We folded bulletins, listened to him practice his sermons, acted in all the Sunday school plays and taught Sunday school ourselves when we were older. We suffered through meetings and late nights and fielded calls from bewildered, hurt, depressed and even suicidal congregants who were not able to distinguish between my father's professional role and his family's need for privacy. We had poor people and drug addicted people live in our homes. Days would pass without our seeing our dad because he was counselling, advocating, assisting. He was with people when they were baptized and married, grieving and dying. And we were there with him most of the time. We didn't go to church. We LIVED the church.

Meanwhile, he was instructing us in liberation and feminist theology. I was reading his grad school books. As a teenager, I was reading Paul Tillich and about the Nag Hammadi library. I kept a postcard of Colgate Rochester Divinity school/Crozier Theological seminary with me because that was where I most wanted to be. It was Martin Luther King Jr.'s alma mater and his nephew graduated with my dad. (I did end up going there for one semester.) My great-grandfathers were ministers. We were descended from Jonathan Edward's brother. My Cousin Emily was one of the first women ordained in the Methodist Church in England. She preached in country churches in the United States back in the 1920's. It seemed like it was my destiny to become a minister and to follow in my father's footsteps. Indeed, I received my calling when I was thirteen years old.

So it was terrible when our church rejected us. I have never felt so betrayed and bewildered in all my life. This was around the same time, probably not coincidentally, that I was becoming a Neo-Pagan. By the time I reached college, I was pretty well on that path. My father was becoming a secular humanist and my mother and sister were becoming very unorthodox in their spirituality as well. Actually, this process was probably initiated two decades earlier when my father began seminary. His tendency thereafter was toward an extremely liberal interpretation of the faith and he taught us that responsible biblical criticism rejects fundamentalism. So, it wasn't that I was abandoning Christianity at all. I was abandoning it as an orthodoxy. To me, the bible was a collection of occasionally poignant and useful illustrations interspersed with a great deal of hateful text. Jesus was a nice guy but I'd read enough to know that his ideas were not unique and are not unique now. I don't see him as any more or less divine than any other human being. Love him still. But I don't worship him. I had to honor my calling so after I dropped out of Colgate Divinity school where surprisingly enough they weren't tolerant of pagans, lol, I moved onto Antioch U. and got my grad degree in Women's Spirituality, focusing much of my attention on Christian feminist theology which I studied alongside pagan Thealogy. I like liberal Christian theology. I respect it. I just like TheAlogy better.

In any case, I was content to lead the life a spiritual individualist, a solitary practitioner. Lately, however, I have begun to crave belonging to a group of people who share my values. I'm getting tired of living in what seems like a twilight zone in which no one seems to be concerned about animal rights, or child labor, or environmental degradation and endless wars. I want to be with people who think that feminist, vegan, pagan people are good people and not nutcases. I want to be among people who share my love of "discipline" as a spiritual concept. I want a spirituality with a focus in practice rather than in doctrine. I want to be among people who are excited by history and thea/olgical concepts and willing to kick these ideas around as equals.

Most importantly, I want a place where my children can grow, a refuge in an angry world where they won't have to be "weird" or where "weird" is a good thing. I can't be with them forever and I can't guarantee that they will have the support of long-lived spouses, friends and partners. I want to provide them with an opportunity to have a community to hold them up when they are weak, to bring them solace and comfort, acceptance and challenge when I cannot do it anymore.

My research drew me, over several years time, to the Quakers. First I did lots of historical research as I initially explored their relationship to Spiritualism and the current Goddess women's culture. I read lots of material about contemporary Quakers and their diversity of beliefs. I was thrilled to find that there are non-theistic and pagan Quakers! Hurray! Then I began reading blogs and delighted in the thoughtfulness and engagement I found there. In the Protestant churches, it was like pulling teeth to get the people to actually THINK about their faith. They wanted to leave that to their minister.

Finally, we began attending a meeting. We've been there some months and we're still feeling it out. My husband feels very much at home but I am still cautious. Sometimes I think they don't know what to do about my kids. Other times I sense that they pity me. I don't always get the point of the extended silences since I find so much spirit in conversation and it frustrates me that they don't talk to each other more. I get irritated with them for being so much older, and more financially comfortable than I am. When my kids are running around, I'm scattered and unfocused and I'm afraid I'm bringing the spirit of the whole meeting down. What if they think being a SAHM is a cop-out? What if they think I'm too bold or aggressive. I believe in standing up and fighting for my causes. What if this offends? If I have to pretend that I am placid, I'll feel all scrunched and miserable. what if, what if, what if...?

More recently, I began to participate in Quaker blogs. That has been almost entirely a failure in the sense that I find myself very bewildered by people's reactions to me. I don't speak much after meeting during the social time. I'm glad I don't. What if people reacted to me there in the same way? (I get really excited about dorky things like history and theory and then when I share my excitement, people think I'm being an ass.) Could I handle that in front of people. Would I cry or say something dumb? We have to take a long break from meeting because of scheduling so this will be a time of soul-searching for me. If anyplace shares my values, especially peace and simplicity, it is the Quakers. But maybe I can't fit in in with them just because I don't fit in anywhere. Maybe I will have to pack up my spiritual backpack and move on. But oh, I don't want to. I want to be home. I really want to be home.

Friday, October 12, 2007

lusting after my own cuteness

This semester was the first semester that I have taught in consciously modern plain clothing. Although I set aside two skirts that hit above the knee, my closet is purged of all but long, plain-colored skirts, practical pants and plain-colored tops in practical colors. I have purchased sensible shoes to replace my cute high heels and wear black stockings rather than the cute pattern print or fish nets that used to spice up my outfits.

This hasn't been enough. I'm looking to get rid of collars and buttons next. They are impractical and require fussing which I don't want anymore. I know that when people see me, they don't think of me as a spiritual person. They don't want to share their own spiritual stories with me. They probably look at me and think, "What a frumpy woman." I'm not obvious enough. When out in the world, I often wish I could dress more plainly and admire the local Mennonite women. I even bought a Mennonite dress on ebay but found that it was made of an artificial material that would surely make me feel all smelly and icky if I were to wear it and do anything other than sit perfectly still all day. Also, after putting it on, I just didn't look like myself. I looked like a Mennonite. I'm not a Mennonite. I'm not even a Christian. I want to be a plain woman whose garments speak a silent testimony about the rejection of capitalism and about deep respect for the environment. I don't want people to think that I'm submissive to my husband. Oh well.

What would a plain Pagan Quaker look like? I continue to go over this as I try to answer this call. I'm thinking that she would wear long skirts not necessarily for modesty but because they allow a person to move freely and comfortably. It would help me give up shaving my legs (at least most of the time) and would satisfy my love of historical costume. A plain Pagan would wear sensible trousers but would not likely wear clothing marketing her sexuality. Sexuality is too sacred for pagans to peddle. A person who sees herself as a manifestation of the Great Mother Goddess doesn't wear a push-up bra or pants that say, "Cutie" across the ass. A Pagan Quaker would probably only wear humanely, sustainably produced garments made with organic fabrics dyed with low-impact dyes. Or she would choose undyed organic fabrics. Alternatively, she may buy her clothes in a second-hand store to avoid consumerism in general.

She would cover her hair with a hat or a kerchief not to show submission to men or even to God but to the power of the Sun which will give you cancer if you don't watch out. The kerchief, made of organic fabric, would link her to her peasant pagan ancestors and remind her that there is good honest work on the land. They would also keep the hair out of her face while engaged in green homemaking, gardening, or scholarly work.

And that's all cool but I find that when I'm teaching, I feel frumpy. I'm not much older than my students so (Hail, Vanity) I like to look like I'm not much older than my students. I like the idea that my male students might be tempted to give me a chilly pepper rating on the Rate my Professor website. I like having the edge that a cute pair of boots gives me. I'm surprised by my shallow feelings. I'm not a teenager anymore. I've had three kids and "the boobies" are not as pert. That's life. Why should I care? The thing is that I do care. I want strange men to inwardly say, "Damn!" when they see me. How ridiculous and un-feminist of me. But there it is. When I wear sensible plain clothes, my vanity makes me feel sick, depressed, and worthless. When I wear adorable, fashionable clothes, my spirituality makes me feel sick, depressed, and worthless. It is amazing to me that rationalism does not help me here. They're just clothes for goodness sake! It disgusts me that I am so easily manipulated by the threat that in my 30's, I will no longer be interesting to men that don't interest me. Absurd.

So that's where I am today. Life is a process. Thought is a prayer. I'm still learning who I am. We'll see.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Quietly, children.

Yesterday, we attended our meeting with all of our children. As we settled into silent worship, I began my work. My daughter sits across the circle from me. My older son sits beside me and my baby is on my lap. This week was my turn to mind the children so there was little chance of a repetition of the conditions that inspired me to speak at the last meeting. Instead, I spent my time observing my little ones. It is amazing how much a mother can say without saying a word. I look across the room to my daughter and with subtle nods or shakes of my head, with small, silent gestures and facial expressions, I tell her that she must be still, that she is doing well, that she must sit for just a little longer. Meanwhile, I hold my ten year son's hand squeezing it to show him I appreciate his patience or that I wish him to stop wiggling. As I monitor the older two, I breastfeed the toddler, shifting my own body to support his weight, watching him to see that he is content. I watch their bodies and faces to judge how much longer they can stand being so still. I can see what is stirring in their young souls. I know when they are restless and when they are at peace. I find joy when they answer my questioning smile with gentle little smiles of their own.

Time passes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, and we are still still. My daughter has left her chair to fetch a straw from the coffee table across the room. Later she tells me she just had to move because without her crocheting, she felt restless. My son yawns a little too loudly a little too often. So far, the toddler is content but shows signs that he may soon tire of the breast. I shift my weight to better support his head. I shake my head and my fidgeting son and motion for my daughter to sit. But I'm proud of them. These are minor interruptions. In earlier weeks, we lasted hardly five minutes before I had to usher them out. They are learning to BE. This is what I hoped. After half an hour, I decide to take them out of the room for our First Day School. We discuss Judaism and chase squirrels in the yard.

Throughout my worship service, I do not hear from God what I cannot see in my children's faces. This week, there are no lofty messages, no revelations. Motherhood ties me to the earth. Some would say that it interrupts my channels to the sacred. In fact, well-meaning brothers and sisters in my meeting express concern for me that I must spend so much time with the children and so little time in waiting worship. But I do not need to wait. I am living in the midst of sacred energy. I see God all around me. I am a Pagan Mother. I draw Her down into my body as I sit with child at my breast, as my daughter looks at me with her large, wise eyes and signs, "Mother." I draw God down when my son, ten years old and nearly as tall as I am, squeezes my hand reassuringly and shows me a glimpse of the man who is emerging from the boy I bore.

They sit because I ask them to. They do not yet understand but for me, they will do this next to impossible thing. They are there for me. And I am there for them. ----Because I want my children to grow in a community committed to peace. Because I want them to find a quiet space in their souls beyond the snares of corruption and fear. Because I want them to find solace in joyful silence when I cannot protect them from pain. They do not understand these things but they quietly wait with me, full of trust and love. And so, as I watch and shepherd them, they lead me closer to God.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Quakers and class: A response to Jeanne's post

What interests me, and always has, is the way that social class, education level, and political perspective relate to religious orientation/denominational loyalty. It is interesting that those very groups that you mention as being among the wealthiest, the Quakers and UU's, are also among the most progressive. Such people are wary of religious hierarchy and dogma. The Unitarians, Universalists, and Quakers were a refuge for suffragists and abolitionists in the nineteenth-century. Likewise, today those who are drawn toward liberal politics are also drawn toward higher education and heterodox spirituality. This is, as you suggest, in part a product of their middle-class and owning class upbringing which emphasizes individuality and leadership skills and which promotes a sense of entitlement in the child.

Also, I would be interested to find out what percentage of UU congregants and Friends are convinced or "recovering" from other religious communities. I imagine that in the last thirty years, that number is increasing as the mainline Protestant Church begins to lose its appeal with liberals disenchanted with Protestantism's rightward swing. If that is the case, we may be looking at a phenomenon in which well-educated liberals are fleeing toward spiritual communities that provide refuge from fundamentalism and its encroachment upon the formerly liberal seminaries and congregations.

I grew up as a PK with a very liberal, feminist preacher Dad who has since fled the church to become an atheist. He and I went to the same seminary twenty years apart. In that short time, the Protestant seminary's emphasis on intellectual rigor and social justice was replaced by a creeping fundamentalism and intolerance.Well-educated folks have a difficult time tolerating that perspective. I know that I found it unbearable enough that it necessitated withdrawal from seminary and from the faith of my childhood. I'm a Neo-Pagan and attend a Quaker meeting. I also attend a UU church. Most everyone I know there came from some other denomination that let them down.

I don't deny that I'm also irritated with unconscious privilege among (white), well-to-do Friends. However, I feel that we should further explore the issue of wealth and education among Friends to determine exactly what's going on here. Is there a difference between convinced and birthright Friends related to this issue? Are we intentionally excluding working people without advanced degrees or are we failing to attract them? Why don't we appeal to working people? (I ask the same question as an educator, a feminist, and a person).I think for me the issue remains with the question of ignorance and how the wealthy manipulate it consciously and unconsciously. As an educator, I believe that a liberal education that exposes the individual to the complexity and diversity of her/his brothers and sisters is critical to the process of empowerment. Education is, in many ways, the opposite of indoctrination. Fundamentalist, Mainline, and Charismatic congregations are full of working class folks which the leadership manipulate easily and often cruelly. Watching these congregations and studying their theology also leads me to conclude that they are growing in power in numbers because we have a dangerous anti-intellectual bias in this nation among working people. This bias is not accidental and its development can be traced as a historical phenomenon. Likewise, Quakers and UU's have long been associated with the middle-classes, especially the well-educated middle-classes. They also have a long tradition within the United States of being the greatest advocates of social justice.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

intellectual equals elitist?


  • I write this in response to various posts I have read regarding classism among Friends. I tend to be socialist in my perspective but am loathe to glamorize the working class. You see, I grew up in the working class. My people were shopkeepers, farmers, and blue collar workers. Some bloggers have suggested that middle-class, well-educated Friends are insensitive to the realities of the working class. That's probably true. I certainly know what it is like to spend time with folks far richer than I. I am familiar with that growing sense of astonishment with their cluelessness regarding wealth disparity. On the other hand, I have difficulty buying into the idea that Quakers should be taken to task for their love of learning for the sake of learning or for their assumption that others share this passion. The argument goes that working people haven't the time or resources to be intellectuals, artists, or activists. Such activities belong to those with privilege. Are we working class people actually trying to proud of our ignorance? Are we saying that our call to serve humanity is somehow less real because we have less money? Does intellectual work truly belong to the upper classes?


  • I have heard folks say that Friends are classist because they are willing to engage in work without counting their wages. The argument goes that only rich people insensitive to the needs of the poor can revel in a job that feeds the soul but not the belly. Very well. To a degree, I share this concern. Rich folks don't get it. I'm the first to point that out. But I speak as a poor person who chooses to feed the soul before I feed my belly and I come from a working class background. I am therefore uncomfortable with the notion that the choice to work in a creative or intellectual field is an indication of classism. I always felt it was an indication of one's love for the world.

I am a low-income person reared by a social worker and liberal clergyman. We lived in working class communities and never had much money. Still,my folks reared me to believe that the only work worth doing is work that combines passion and compassion. I borrowed so much money to achieve my degrees that I will be paying for it for the rest of my life. I never considered quitting even as the debt mounted and we learned that we could not own a home, could not afford a second car, could not buy clothes first hand. I could have quit and found a decent job but that would have betrayed my calling.


This mindset alienated me from my community and from my extended family. It alienates me from the students I teach at the community college who often react negatively to intellectualism. I joined a community of Friends because I was so tired of being an outsider in a working class community that mocked my passion for education and my indifference to earning money. I wanted to be with people who didn't believe that work as an artist, intellectual, or activist doesn't qualify as "real work." I am proud of my rural, working class family and community. I am proud of their ingenuity, humor, kindness, hard work, efficiency and modesty-- but I take no pride in their dismissal of intellectualism. I have always felt such narrowness marred their otherwise beautiful spirits. Their ignorance makes them less receptive to difference. It douses the fire in their souls and limits their service to humanity. I cannot accept that being a working person must also mean being a passionless, ignorant person.


My grandfathers were both working class men. My paternal grandfather reacts to difference and intellectualism with scorn. When I earned a scholarship to attend college, he did not congratulate me. Believing that intellectualism makes a man effeminate and that a college education is a waste on a woman, he suggested that I become a waitress instead. My other grandfather, Theodore, was always proud of me and my choices. He went to agricultural school then ran a little paint shop in town and worked hard well into his eighties so that we could follow our dreams. He told all us kids that the function of education was to broaden our minds and increase our joyfulness. Money was merely a secondary concern. Both men worked all their lives and never had much in their wallets to show for it but while one grandfather scoffed at "college educated idiots" the other grandfather reaped a bounty of joy.


So let's ask each other to become more sensitive of class differences. That's a great goal but don't ask me to glorify the working class belief that intellectual work is not real work. Don't ask me to believe that a narrow budget justifies a narrow mind.

Monday, September 24, 2007

My first time

As a general rule, I am a loquacious person and comfortable with public speaking. Still, since I began attending our small monthly meeting this summer, I have felt no desire to speak. I have come to the meetings and studied Quakerism because I am attracted to its principles and discipline...a discipline that closely resembles that which I already practice. However, I have found limited use for the silent waiting. Waiting for what? That's a hard question for someone like me to answer in my current condition- a condition resulting from a period of unprecedented spiritual aridity. In fact, I have been content to usher the children out for First Day school so that I wouldn't have to sit there in that long silence thinking, for the most part, about how pointless it all was given my tendency toward non-theism. For what, exactly, was I listening? Truthfully, I heard very little except others shifting in their seats, (Why did he think nylon was a good fabric to wear to meeting?). I'd sit uncomfortably crossing and uncrossing my ankles and listening in horror as my stomach growled noisily. I could even hear the sound of my own eyes blinking (ch-snick, ch-snick), but I never heard God or any approximation thereof.

But this week, I sat and listened to myself think about the pointlessness of sitting with my eyes closed and wondering how long it had already been and when my stomach would begin its relentless rumblings. Increasingly bored with the back of my eyelids, I looked around the room we occupy. It is a large room with several slender Gothic windows set into walls of white painted brick. The panes of glass are frosted but some of the window panels were pushed open and through them I could feel the breeze and see the still-green maple leaves outside dancing. As I looked at the even rows of white bricks and the repeated pattern of slender windows on the wall, my mind wandered aimlessly around thoughts of symmetry. I recalled the time my artist uncle muttered with disgust, "In the absence of anything better: symmetry." My admiration for my uncle notwithstanding, I am an admirer of symmetry, of plainness, of simplicity, of order and discipline. I suppose, Vulcan-like (excuse the Star Trek reference), I crave order because my most inner nature is violently emotional.

And as I sat there watching the sun and wind dance on the little patch of leaves I could see through one pane of glass, I thought that outside was a "riot of life" and it came to me that the order of our meeting place was made more beautiful by the light and life outside which, in the end, would always be more real than anything we well-intentioned, well-ordered folk could construct. And so it is also true of me. My desire toward plain dress and voluntary simplicity in lifestyle, my academic and spiritual disciplines, my faith and practice are all symmetrical windows and white painted bricks. They are real and solid and even, I hope, useful and beautiful things. They define me, contain me, sustain me, and strengthen me. But the light...the light that illumines me.... comes from a wild place.

So I knew I needed to say that. I didn't particularly want to say it. It scared me to have to say that. We had gone weeks without a word spoken and I am merely a newcomer. I felt I had no right to say anything. If they were content with the silence, these seasoned Friends, then who was I to open my mouth to talk about bricks and breezes? I started to feel shaky. My heart pounded. What was all this about? Was this nerves? I speak publicly for a living for goodness sake!

Then another woman spoke a message about honoring our personalities as well as our bodies. I glanced down at my hands and was surprised to find them drenched in sweat. The words kept repeating themselves in my head and my heart kept pounding and I felt this curious sensation. I felt as though I had been strummed and that a part of me was vibrating with energy. I wanted so much to speak and release this terrible energy. I even parted my lips to do so but pulled myself back again and again.

Then, and I can't quite understand how it finally came to pass, I spoke. My palms dried and my heart ceased its pounding. And that was that. Out of my grumpy, non-theistic silent inner rant arose a truth about wildness that I had to share. It didn't even make much sense (and I so love all that is sensible!) Perhaps I have been clinging too tenaciously to my ability to analyze my own spirituality. I have been troubled by the inconsistencies of my theo/thealogical convictions. I was moved to speak, I say in passive voice. By whom? By whom indeed! Despite my discipline, the light that illumines me comes from a wild place.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

becoming convinced: part 1

I'm a solitary type of spiritual person. In that, I mean that I've never felt much of a need for community in my personal questing for truth and spirit in my life. There is a rebellious streak in me a mile wide that deeply resents the idea that another person could possibly know what the most intimate part of my soul requires or what the Divine has given me to share with others. Still, since I left the liberal Protestant church of my childhood, I have missed having "a people" to call my own. I have longed for a greater spiritual family in which to rear my children and for people to whom I could belong and with whom I could feel at home. In the following blog series, I will be exploring my process of convincement as I make my spiritual home among the Religious Society of Friends.

Neo-Pagan

That which others call God is in the natural world. My debt is to the Earth and my commitment to the web of life that sustains me. My morality is grounded in my belief that I must honor diversity and uphold life sustaining interdependent relationships. Woven through this living tapestry is the dark thread of Death. I honor Death too and the mystical, contemplative wisdom that grows from our dance with a Divine Presence that knows no dualistic boundaries of light/dark, death/life, male/female. So I am a Pagan-- a Neo-Pagan since I do not wish to reclaim the so-called ancient ways of any people. I am not an ancient person and cannot pretend to be. My world is a postmodern world. I cannot pretend it is otherwise. I must busy myself addressing the social issues of today. Additionally, I will not become a spiritual imperialist. Not if I can help it. Let me be a student of indigenous spirituality. Let me be filled with gratitude for others' wisdom, beauty, and knowledge but do not let me claim that knowledge as my own. Let me not exploit it. What I own, I must earn.

It would have been easier if after I left the church, I could have become Wiccan and entered a coven. But I am NOT Wiccan. Nor do I feel comfortable with most Neo-Pagans. Too much of the New Age intermixed in their rituals, perhaps? Too much ritual period? I've never cared one bit for ritual. I'm just too Protestant to buy into it, I suppose. For a long time, I joked that I was really a Protestant Pagan. I want to live simply, peacefully, with dignity. I want to uphold the right of all persons to live with dignity. I place no faith in ritual or ceremony. Magick leaves me feeling spiritually empty. Although I understand why it is valuable and effective for others, my rational mind rebels against it. I spend too much time explaining to myself that "lighting a candle provides a visual stimulus that awakens subconscious archetypal, etc...." and not enough time actually feeling that symbolic connection beyond the words. I have been a solitary pagan choosing to study thealogy as an academic. This process has further distanced me from other pagan people as I grow impatient with what I see as a lack of focus and of thealogical and hermeneutical discipline among the broader pagan community. I find that I am physically uncomfortable in spaces where pagans gather. It isn't me. I don't belong there and when I say "the Goddess" or refer to my pagan spirituality, I am all too aware that I am as much a misfit among the pagans as I was among the liberal Christians.....And so I have grown lonelier.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

inarticulating

What does one say when one feels compelled to express a concept that is not quite clear in one's head but that presses tightly against the heart? I've been trying to find the right words to express a growing sense of becoming...of moving from one stage of life to another. My inability to articulate and define this process depresses me. I am stumbling around it and fumbling with it but unable to express it and yet I know that I must continue worrying it, turning it, fermenting it. I am growing into it without words...letting my body tell stories in which my mind cannot share--inarticulating.

I find myself giving away bags and bags of my clothing. First I rid myself of clothes that do not fit and clothes that I never liked. Then one day, I purged my closet of most items with colors and patterns leaving only a few solid colored, plain items and a few old favorites. Later, I began to purge even this remnant. Meanwhile, I began spending time looking at Quaker blogs related to plain dress and seeking expressions of Neo-Pagan plain dress. What would Neo-Pagan plain dress look like? I began to crave practical shoes, long dark skirts and dresses and aprons. I ordered kerchiefs on-line and when they arrived, I wore them with great relief. I keep thinking of myself as marked. What does this mean? I found that when I wear "worldly" or "conventional" clothes, I feel almost panic-stricken.

I can no longer stand to wear short skirts. When I try to wear pants, I feel bizarre and emotionally uncomfortable. I scramble back into long skirts and find that I can breathe again. When I must teach courses at the community college, I do not wear my kerchiefs although my clothes are very drab indeed. I attempt to compromise with clothing that can "pass" as conventional if still rather plain-looking. But, oh, wouldn't it be something to walk into class in a bonnet and apron!

I am a Neo-Pagan and am now attending a Quaker meeting. I am a leftist and a feminist. These things I know how to articulate. But there must be something else that is moving me toward plain dress, something that is of me but which is not yet fully discovered. I feel its pull as a physical sensation, a compulsion, a leading, a passion, a hunger. I do not understand it though I feel it in my gut. "Think with your head, not with your gut," my father always told me....but I feel these irrational things whirling around like sand in a plunge pool, coarse bits of chaos cutting smooth and graceful lines into the rock.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A response to someone who thinks I'm betraying the movement

Firstly, I would not put limitations on what stay-at-home means. You have said that being a stay at home mom doesn't include artists or students. We do not really know what women are doing at home. For some cooking, gardening, homemaking itself is an art and an education. This is very challenging and interesting work when one engages one's mind. What makes it drudgery is when no one helps and no one appreciates that it is work, and honorable work. This includes other feminists who go along with the patriarchal notion that "woman's work" is inferior work. I would, (and did) stay at home even when I was not a student. Homemaking is an honorable and ancient career with many rewards. I honor my ancestors' love of the domestic arts. My ability to manage my family's limited finances, organize and keep a "green" home, cook and nourish a vegetarian/vegan family of fussy eaters on a shoestring budget, homeschool my children, garden, crochet, do laundry, etc. are all work that benefits my family and feeds my soul. I utilize the my feminist background and education to enhance this experience. I am no man's servant, but the matriarch of my family. Homemaking is not for all women, but for some of us, homemaking makes us "life artists" There is something deeply satisfying about devoting one's time not to employment and career, to the fuss and grind of the workforce, but to fully engaged in making children, and gardens and relationships grow. I have had the blessing of being the one who taught my children how to read. Like the women you mention of other cultures, I too wear my babies in slings on my hip, often breastfeeding them while I hang laundry in the sun or while I teach my older children. Unlike my own mother, who wishes she could have stayed home, I have missed little of their funny, wonderful, beautiful childhoods.Susan B. Anthony was also very critical of well-educated women who chose to stay home with their children. She felt it was outrageous. But her best friend, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, knew that a woman's life is not wholly defined by her career and activism. She raised her seven children relishing the art of homemaking as well as a life of an activist. They were one of feminism's greatest partnerships. Both women blessed the early movement with their choices. There is no one way to be a feminist. And this is only one period of what I hope is a long life. Just because I choose not to follow the traditional masculist life trajectory does not mean that I am not a feminist. Who made the rules that that we get our college educations from the ages of 18 to 22 then follow this with dedication to a career in our twenties and thirties? This is not a life path that makes sense to those of us whose pregnancies, lactation, and childrearing interrupts and complicates college and career. We have to develop patterns that fit our lives and make us happy. We have to stop taking the old ways (the men's ways) as being normative. In fact, my staying at home has inspired my husband to challenge the traditional career path for himself. He also chooses to forego a career-driven life to spend more time with his babies. Also, for women, many of the most productive years of our lives are after menopause, when as wise old women with children out of the nest, we can begin new adventures. My life is not completely defined by my childbearing years and what I choose to do with them. Children are little for so short a time and my heart would break if I could not be with them. Thank the Goddess I have the right and the opportunity capitalist patriarchy has taken from so many of my sisters, to stay home and mother my own children.Finally, as a spiritual feminist, my life at home with my children reflects the deepest part of my most radical feminist rejection of patriarchal emphasis on greed and acquisition, on competition and the impoverishment of relationships. I live out my love for Mother Earth, my own body, my intellect and my art with this decision. I trust other women to make decisions that make sense for them. I doubt my right to judge them. Homemaking is not for everyone, but for those of us who love it and choose it, it is a calling.

Random thealogical thoughts

Although this obviously isn't the entirety of my belief, it is the part that most clearly influences my practice. Whether or not there is a God or gods is less important on a daily level than my belief in spiritual "energy" for lack of a better word. I believe that all things have an energy, a soul, a personality and that this energy is not separate from the physical matrix, but a part of it. As the Spiritualists used to say, matter is just denser than spirit, not alien to it. When I'm hanging out my laundry, I am mindful of the sun and the wind, the feel of the damp fabric, the way my hands move, my children in the yard, the dogs and the cats, the bird, the insect buzzing by my head, the feel of grass on bare feet....All these things have a personality...the animals and the children, the sun and the wind, the insect and even its buzzing...indeed, the event itself has a personality that sets it apart from other similar experinces. Even the pebbles in the garden, the very soil itself have personality--souls. My hands have a personality different than my own larger personality...(Don't ask me why but I'm pretty sure they have a better sense of humor.) In this way I see spirits as layering and gathering and joining into the greater Soul of the Earth Mother, then ever outward to the Soul of the Cosmos. And more than that, such combinations and differentiations are also possible inwardly to the mitochondria, and atoms, and subatoms and the spaces between.Also, my ancestors, human and non-human continue to be a part of me, as the influence of soul expands inwardly and outwardly through time as well as space.In my daily life, I feel this in the profound sense that there is a depth of personality and spirit in EVERYTHING which calls me toward mindfulness and patience. It calls me to refrain from objectification and abuse of the world around me-- not always a very easy thing to do, but a goal toward which I continue to grow.

Goddess

Goddess

When I think of "Goddess" I see Her in the same role as "God." She includes all things and really the gender is only a useful metaphor that allows me to conceptualize divinity,( in which all humans share), as feminine. In Abrahamic religion, human qualities are understood in terms of duality.
On the one side we have transcendence, light, goodness, purity, intellect, soul: masculine
On the other side we have immanence, dark, evil, impurity, emotion, body/sex: feminine.
Of course when one side of the duality is considered more holy than the other and one gender is more frequently associated with that holy side, it begins to "make sense" to insist upon a secondary, inhibited and even abused and diminished life for those who do not fit into the appropriate side of the duality. In short, women have been treated like crap for a good long time because our very obvious physical connections to the earth and our bodies have reminded men of their "sinful" connection to sexuality and the earth.
I would challenge that any of the above-mentioned qualities are intrinsically "masculine" or "feminine" but that they are all important human qualities manifested differently according to various biological and cultural conditions.
Reclamation feminist spirituality seeks to both "RECLAIM" those qualities such as sexuality, earth-centeredness, compassion, and immanence as holy qualities with which women have long been associated AND to insist that women who possess qualities of heightened intellect, courage, etc. are not acting "Masculine" but are simply behaving like intelligent, brave people. Likewise, we also assume that men who behave emotionally and compassionately are not behaving in a "feminine" way but are acting like compassionate, emotionally secure men.
The Goddess is understood as the totality of Potential. She includes all human qualities and potentials. She is Zoe, Life Eternal who gives birth to Bios, Life Temporal in a great cycle of life, death and rebirth.
Now, there is a problem with the use of term "Goddess" in my thinking since it is, in English, a derivative word. The "ess" suffix is dismissive...Waitress, authoress, actress...You get the picture. We may borrow and say TheAlogy as opposed to TheOlogy or we might say Creatrix instead of Creator. English doesn't give us the ability to easily differentiate between gendered nouns without using a derivative suffix to denote the feminine...Therefore, "God" becomes normative and masculine both grammatically and culturally while "Goddess" looks a good deal like God in drag. A linguistic bother I'm not sure how to handle. Generally, I refer to a genderless "Divine" and cut my losses. I'm not real thrilled with the use of either "God" or "Goddess" since they are so anthropomorphized as metaphors to begin with...very limiting.
On the other hand, to remain gender neutral is not necessarily preferable since the mostly unconscious and DEEP patriarchal tradition of associating holy qualities with masculinity is so strong that if we continue to refer only to "God" we women may not internalize the essential lesson that God is like women as much as God is like men. It will be like the humorous statement made by one of my fellow seminarians way back in the day who said "God has no gender. HE is neither male nor female." Ha!

Sophia Rant Part 2

For my part, I opt to understand that although my linguistic tools to express ineffable concepts are necessarily sketchy, limiting myself to a clearly historically patriarchal toolbox is even moreso. Therefore, although I speak of Sophia, I also speak of mythological traditions cross-culturally and work to create my own stories. I look to the diversity of real women both historically and cross-culturally for inspiration of what is possible both in the divine and in myself. I look beyond anthropomorphic expressions by viewing divinity in pantheistic terms. I move beyon nouns and experiment with the notion, as Daly famously suggested, that "God is a verb." In this way, through a proliferation of metaphors, including a healthy amount of gynocentric versions, I prevent, to some degree, stagnating in my God-talk into a gendered, culturally specific version of femaleness, maleness and holiness.We can already see in this group the legacy of limiting the vision of female particpation in the God-image to acceptable "feminine" qualities. I see it when I'm teaching as well. Women feel excluded from intellectual discourse because they doubt that such work is appropriate for women. Because intellect is considered masculine, and emotion is considered feminine (and this is only one example of dualistic thinking that I could cite here) a thinking woman is considered masculine. And a masculine woman is considered at best exceptional and at worst, monstrous. When we think "like men" and play "the boys' game, " we are derivative and inferior or, if we're lucky, pretty smart "for a woman." When we opt to think our own thoughts dissimilar to the patriarchal pattern, we are dismissed as "emotional, " "strident, " "irrational." Limiting the Goddess to a traditional maternal role or to that of primeval helpmeet sends a message to women that our role, as those made in the image of the consort of God, is to help...not to do the job ourselves, not to develop as humans not for our children, or our society or our families and religions....BUT FOR OURSELVES. Dualism marginalizes us, makes us supplemental reading in the human story. No. I don't have time for that crap. When such dualism is projected skyward into an all-powerful God and a consort of limited feminized role, the notion that women are here to "help" and "serve" and "nurture" is reinforced.Additionally, Sophia is a pretty tepid goddess to begin with since she lacks much in the earthier, lustier categories and therefore cannot speak to me as a mother. (Mothers don't necessarily view ourselves in the same way way our offspring view us which explains why gynocentric goddesses are often more more bloody and more sexy than patriarchal goddesses). I would also point out that creating a goddess of wisdom does not mean that men think women are wise any more than 19th century men celebrating the new Statue of Liberty felt that women should have the vote.

Sophia Rant: Part I

Sophia rant
The "feminine" side of God is problematic for me.1. Because God the Father is still all-powerful and all-encompassing while Sophia is limited by "feminine" attributes.2. Because referencing a specific female image as "feminine" is essentialist. (Bio-determinism)3. Because it ignores the wholeness found in both real women and in a broad range of extra-canonical mythological references to gynocentric Deity.Christian Sophia apologists seek to teach women about female divinity by telling them that Sophia is God as a woman but such teachings remain trapped in dualism...male/female, postive/negative, ego/anima(us), etc. dark/light, spirit/body, intellect/emotion. The specific sex that belongs to our body and even the gender into which our cultural experiences press us does not complete our stories as human beings.In a society that considers men not just normative, but the model of divinity, women are deriviative and limited in their ability to move toward the fullest expression of human interaction with divine energy through self-development. Giving us Sophia as a model of the feminine divine only tells a part of the story of our human potential...Worse, it doesn't even allow US to decide which "feminine" story is told. Sophia is the image of the feminine divine through masculine eyes, an idealization of Wisdom from a series of cultures that have largely denied real flesh and blood women's access to education and authority. Give me a Goddess that helps me reclaim the ENTIRETY of my divinity...creation and destruction, blood, sex, lust, wisdom, moderation, serenity and frenzy. I want the whole ball of wax: not just the stuff God the Father rejects.

Thoughts on Abortion

I'm sure others will add to my response but I would begin with the unfortunate observation that despite the fact that most women can experience healthy pregnancies, there are no guarantees. Perhaps most of can name one or even several women whose lives were endangered by their pregnancies. I know several women, who although normally quite healthy, during pregnancy unexpectedly developed severe pregnancy related illness. One woman's pregnancy was quite healthy but she nearly died at delivery. I myself had a very high fever after giving birth to my second child which led to an extended hospital stay. Because even women in robust good health at the time of conception may face illness or even death as the pregnancy progresses, it is important that no woman be forced to proceed with what could potentially endanger her well being. Abortion remains safer, unfortunately, for many women, than full term pregnancy.Another thing to consider is that not all women are in robust good health when they become pregnant. Although on the surface, a pregnancy may not put their lives in danger, again, there are no guarantees. One of my cousins believed she could make it through a pregnancy with cancer and died shortly after giving birth. Who decides if a woman should or should not have an abortion? Certainly legislators should not have the right to make these decisions. How can they possibly understand the multiple physical variables each woman faces in her unique pregnancy with her unique body?We will leave aside the religious, spiritual, psychological, and social aspects of this discussion but although I cannot see myself having an abortion, I also know that it is beyond my ability or my rights to imagine that I understand how other women experience pregnancy. I also observe that although women of former generations knew that each pregnancy might signal the end of a woman's life, we have become complacent in our belief that pregnancy is no longer dangerous and that somehow words like "unless a woman's life is in danger" can have any meaning. Who determines this risk? The guys in Washington? What do they know about it? Although I am a strong advocate of natural childbirth and the attitude that most healthy women will give birth to healthy children without medical intervention, I feel it is important to note that it is still very possible that a healthy woman will become ill or die as a result of her pregnancy and therefore no woman should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term.

As I see it, personal responsibility is all well and good but in an ethical society, we do not punish a woman's poor sexual decisions (or her victimization) with a potential death sentence. Carrying a child to term is a beautiful and heroic act: It is Goddess power. Being forced to carry a child to term by the state denies women their basic civil rights, their privacy and their dignity. To force a person to go through all of the dramatic physical and cultural changes that go with pregnancy against her will reduces a woman to a brood mare...a piece of property to be controlled by the patriarchal state.That a zygote or embryo is entitled to equal protection with that of a woman is not shared by all people. I, for instance, feel that my life as an individual with a history, emotions, a family and self-awareness is more worthy of protection than that of a hollow ball of cells without a central nervous system that may or may not survive the entire pregnancy anyway. (An important consideration given the large number of embryos that are naturally aborted without women even knowing they were pregnant in the first place.)Would I prefer that all women were in situations in which their health, their family's health, and the health of the child were not threatened by pregnancy? Of course. Abortion, in my view, is not a decision that any woman would relish. Often a person must make this decision within a difficult and even painful context.Do I wish that women would be more responsible with their use of birth control? Sure. But we live in a country with an abysmal record of creating access to affordable health care and birth control for women and the grisly reality for many women is that they are often not given a choice about their sexual relationships. Marital rape, date rape, incest, and abuse are all too common. And birth control often fails. Condoms break. Birth control pills are missed. That's just life.But what of women who are "promiscuous." Shouldn't they just control themselves? Well, the simple answer is: Its none of our business.Additionally, to characterize all life as sacred or of equal value is not necessarily a secular viewpoint nor is it shared by all religious or spiritual perspectives. Another woman's religious or spiritual opinions about the sanctity of life are of very little interest to me when I am deciding what to do with my health and body. I would much prefer is MY spiritual perspective regarding MY body and MY pregnancy was the deciding philosophy. YOUR spirituality has nothing to do with MY pregnancy. Luckily for us, we live in a country in which a fundamental basis of our society is the separation of church and state. We must defend this.In the spirit of the body-loving nature of this group, I stand by women's ability to love their bodies and to be able to make the decision that their health is, in fact, worthy of protection from those who would apply moralistic and religious principles to prevent women from attaining quality health care in the form of decent birth control and abortion. Our love for our bodies is seriously demeaned in a society that sends the message that women's sexuality is as simple as just keeping our legs closed.

Biblical Authority

My assumptions about the bible are that it is not an inspired text but does contain some inspirational readings within it. Perhaps (although I don't know) my understanding of the nature of divinity is quite different. In a sense, I can agree that our knowledge of divinity is quite limited inasmuch as that which IS is so much greater than any one of our perspectives can fathom that we rely on our loving discourse with one another to begin to paint pictures of TRUTH with our shared and often paradoxical stories. In this sense, cross-cultural perspectives, gendered perspectives, etc. are very important. A proliferation of metaphors is essential not only for establishing a compassionate community that honors diversity but also to allow each individual room to experiment and move within their God-talk. One metaphor stagnates and retards. Multiple metaphors give a soul room to play. Ever watch a child play dress up? None of it is real any more than any of the gods and goddesses are real but there is value in the play and experimentation. I believe that through experience, contemplation, observation we each have direct knowledge of the divine but have been trained to doubt our embodied knowledge. In large part, I believe outside authority retards our intrinsic and natural ability to recognize the divine.
The reason why I am here is because I believe that the Christian perspective is so well integrated (often unconsciously) into the Western perspective that to ignore it is deadly. That's my negative take. My positive take is that as a neo-pagan, I have acknowledged that my ethics come from a liberal Christian background. As an individual, I make assumptions about how the world works that have deep roots in a personal, family, and cultural tradition of Christianity. And that isn't going away no matter how pagan I become. So I agree that there is value in understanding the bible as a text that has had deep meaning to millions of people, in different ways over thousands of years. That's powerful. It has been healing and beautiful but it has also been destructive and violent as hell.
My thing is that although I know the bible pretty darn well, I do not find it authoritative because I believe that the only reason it is more authoritative than other texts is because it enforced its authority. The patriarchal family and capitalism have also been deeply meaningful for millions of people but I reject their authority in my life too. Some of the bible is lovely and inspirational (although not exceptional) and some of it is loathsome. If it is not the origin of western misogyny, it has been its most effective vehicle. I accept its critical cultural impact but deny its spiritual value...at least in my own life...as an authoritative text. Jesus is cool but he was not a god and I've found equally cool statements made by Ghandi and Matilda Gage and my grandmother. I'll quote Jesus when it suits my purpose. He's one of the good guys and I'm not above drawing from those deep, historical waters. I'll quote Susan B. Anthony too because other feminists like her even if I think she was a...Anyway....
I think I will always find meaning in some of the text, in the history of the religion, in the stories of faith and the tenderness and love I find in my christian friends and family. I had to stop being a Christian because I could no longer accept that idea of an authoritative canon, the divinity of Jesus, or the authority of any congregation. I still believe in many of the key liberal Christian principles and ethics but I find them in other 'sacred' texts. I am interested in the bible and its dynamic history but it represents a religious perspective that remains a construct for me that grew powerful in large part because it silenced other peoples' spiritual perspectives and human rights... and doesn't give me room enough to play.

Mary

The historical Mary of Nazareth and the Madonna/Theotokos must be understood from different perspectives. As an historian, I see Mary as a Jewish Palestinian woman, possibly a rape victim, raising a child in an occupied country in the first century. I do not believe in the virgin birth. The Madonna/Theotokos is a goddess figure drawn from the mythology that grows up around Mary of Nazareth's connection to Jesus of Nazareth and comflated with the mythologies of several Near Eastern and European goddesses including Isis and Artemis. As such, she is among many of my favorite representations of the Goddess. I find her particularly potent because she has such immediate emotional relevance in world history in the past two thousand years and continues to have tremendous numinous power even among modern people. From a feminist perspective, the veneration of Mary as Mother of Christ is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it perpetuates the demonization of female sexuality and promotes a dichotomy between body and spirit. However, I go ahead and worship her from a more purely pagan perspective as Goddess and view her divine child/consort Christ as a manifestation of the sacred masculine energy (Horus/ Attis/ Dionysus/ Balder, etc.) He is bios (life temporal) to her Zoe (life eternal).

Hyphenated Spirituality

terms/hyphenation
It strikes me that in order to be hyphenated as I am, I must start with an assumption of subjectivity. If I believed that a divine presence akin to anything Abrahamic orthodoxy celebrates (fears?) actually existed, then I couldn't play around with the concepts as I do. I'm a polythesist mainly because I don't believe in gods at all so I can play with their names at will. For me, its all about philosophy and pragmatism. Which belief system is most likely to lead to the most positive change in the least amount of time? Which one is most comfortable for me and is least likely to piss me off? These are the important philosophical issues. lol I have no patience for those with religious certainty because they are required to ignore or condemn others' realities. They frequently must ignore or condemn their own realities to remain "faithful." They become apologists--contortionists--- to maintain orthodoxy.
Nineteenth-century Spiritualism and contemporary eco-feminism interest me because they share an interest in exploring the self in relationship to the immanent numinous. God is fine, thought the Spiritualists of old, but too far away for me to prove. Aunt Edith is dead but talked to me yesterday. THAT I can grasp. In any case, I'm far more interested in the experiential qualities of spirituality that fall outside of God-talk. I experience connection with the universe I know as a spiritual phenomenon. I understand that this connection can be explained scientifically, but those answers bore me.
Now all this comes out of giving a speech at a secular humanist conference and being blown away by their certainty (and you'll recall I have no patience for certainty) and how remarkably similar to right-wingers they were. Now, I'd much rather hang with an atheist than a right-winger any day because at least we could discuss politics and science but still....I admit leaving that conference feeling shaken, and, to indulge my dh's sense of humor, not stirred. I found their certainty upsetting in that it discounted so much of my most profound experience and left me feeling that what they offered was not even all that interesting. That may be because I'm not the kind of person who is interested in questions like how or what or when. I always want to know the why of things. I could give a crap how something works (a car, a sunset, love, religion). I'm interested in why it works. What does it all mean? What gives it depth and what sets it into flight?
So... I'm looking for a word that means that I honor spirituality and sceptically entertain the notion of divinity but find it of secondary importance. I don't like agnostic as a term. It always sounds more like someone who just can't commit to atheism. While uncertainty is a good thing that pushes us toward greater learning, I long for a term that captures my unertainty but also also captures the potential beauty of non-theistic spirituality. I'm not whatever-it-is-I-am because I haven't found anything better, or because I'm just not ready to throw in my lot with the atheists. I'm this way because this is as authentic as I know how to be. I am right here in the center of my evolving relationship with the universe including all its uncertainties.
Anyway. There it is. Inelegant. Sloppy. *sigh* Oh well.

Plain and Simple

Plain and Simple
The mantra is "Waste not. Want not." I say this as I hang the laundry on the line and think of my solid Protestant ancestors who I think would approve of my desire to reject wastefulness from my life. Today, after taking a bath in 12 cups of water, I realized that this expression only works when it can be reversed: "Want not. Waste not." It is nearly impossible to live a green life unless one is willing to live a voluntarily simple life. Our greed for things prevents us from knowing who we really are and what we really need to be whole. Having too many possessions makes one a slave to the material world.
I have been purging for years now. It is a perpetual process because it is so easy to pick up the this and that of life in our commerical society. It has become a spiritual ritual for me to work my way through my home releasing my material attachments. For us, there is an accumulation of second-hand furniture, clothes, toys, books, etc. I suppose because we are a low-income family, those who love us want to help. Apart from one barrister book case and a mattress, I do not think my husband and I have ever purchased any furniture in 11 years of marriage. Almost none of our clothes are new apart from socks and underwear. Our towels, doilies, table clothes, sheets, comforters, and pots, pans, silverwear, and dishes were gifts or second hand. We are blessed to have these things available to us but they can become overwhelming if there are too many of them. So I release them. I have a passion for neatness and organization; for having everything just where it belongs and in just the right amount. In mason jars on my counter we have just enough silverwear for the family to eat. In the cupboards, just enough plates. But there is still much to do. I still feel burdened by possessions.
Lately, this sense of being burdened by possessions and the dictates of the material world has led me to simplify my wardrobe. Since childhood, I've preferred a plain wardrobe. When shopping for school, I remember asking for a white blouse, a pair of dress shoes and a pair of sneakers, gray pants and a matching jacket. All other items had to be in somber, solid colors that I could mix and match with my wardrobe staples. Today I go through my wardrobe and shed the superflous, the little worn, and anything in the least bit flashy leaving only a few plain skirts and tops to match with a couple jumpers and a couple shorter skirts for work. Now my clothes hang in about a foot of space in the closet. The relief is exquisite.
For some time, I was trying to figure out what do with my hair. Feeling I should "Do Something With It" I looked at hairstyles and colors. Now I have let it grow out and have purchased some kerchiefs to tie it back. Every time I remove something; unnatural beauty products, vacuum cleaner, dryer, exess furniture, magazine subscriptions, chemical cleaning products, disposable feminine products, plastics, I feel this sense of great relief and homecoming. I feel as if by clearing away the stuff, an exercise I first began in my attempt to do my part to save the planet, I am finding myself. There I was all along just peeking out under the clutter.

Take Possession of the Outposts

When I look at evil, I believe that it is closely linked to a kind of tragic ignorance of our own identities. I see sin as that which leads us away from "God" (to use the easiest term) To deny yourSELF is a deep sin in my thinking since we are all a unique manifestation of the Divine's urge to know Itself. I will not exist again in this precise manifestation nor can any other creature learn about the Universe as I do. This does not make me any better or worse than the angels or the insects but it does make me unique and therefore responsible. To conform is to waste this chance to serve.
A deeper sin still is to lead another human being away from his or her true gifts and calling. I do not know much about the rich or the powerful. I cannot understand their motivations. l do know the folks around here who are working people and farmers. Despite the fact that they are generally decent people whose love for each other is apparent to me whenever I am in their company, many are dedicated to distorted ideas of patriotism and fundamentalist religion and/or are racists or sexists or otherwise bitterly misanthropic toward those they conceive as outsiders. They are not, as I view them, greedy or sinister but they continue to choose to follow greedy and sinister leaders. I cannot reconcile the kindness of my neighbors with the cruelty of their politics except to believe that they have been led away from themselves.
To see them ignorantly defending the politics of the very people who abuse them outright breaks my heart. Their land and their futures and their bodies are ruined by the politics of greed. Worse, the "redneck" who blindly agrees with fascist rhetoric saddens me because s/he shows the symptoms of a stunted spirit. Deprive people of education and love and joy and fill their minds with fear of difference and fear of learning and you create the disposable slaves you need to labor in whatever unethical venture you devise. Send them to the mines and the factories. Send them to war. Convince them to waste their money on plastic and poisons then dispose of them when you are done.
I do not know if there is hope. As a historian, I am aware that this is not the first time that a culture has driven itself to the brink then pulled itself back just in time. Maybe we'll pull something out of a hat. I do know that the world is worth saving and I am pinning my hope on the belief that whatever pain distorts the soul, it is not easily broken. The Waterloo Congregational Friends rejected the supreme authority of all temporal leaders. They rejected even the supreme authority of the Bible believing that such thoughtless faith in any body or text was merely a form idolatry. Instead, they declared that the inner light is the "beginning and end of all religion."
I am afraid and I am tired. But I still sense more goodness in the world than evil. It is an a spiritual feminist that I face the world, doing at least what I can do now and learning every day what more can be done. I am afraid but not helpless. I am tired but I am not giving up. As a mother, I see that the stakes are too high.
"We need not expect the concessions demanded by women will be peaceably granted;" said Matilda Joslyn Gage over a hundred years ago, "there will be a long moral warfare, before the citadel yields; in the meantime, let us take possession of the outposts.".

Plain dress

In an ironic exhibitionism, I am writing a blog on plain dress. Following a leaning felt since childhood, I find that in recent months, I can no longer ignore my desire to dress plain. It has become an obsession. I search the internet to find examples of plain dress and long for a simple cotton dress with an apron and bonnet. What is that about? A bonnet? I actually become uncomfortable when I can't cover my head now. What the hell? I wear kerchiefs most of the time which I bought in plain colors and kind of hope no one thinks I'm a religious conservative. I purged my wardrobe months ago leaving only the most plain items. Some red sweaters remained (red is my favorite color and a goddess color too) and I kept a short skirt and some jeans and comfy pants. I find that I never wear the pants and I now find the short skirt ridiculous.
Last week, I wore a long black skirt with floral print and a black top for a lunch meeting. They didn't show and I was left waiting around in a shopping district. I felt very uncomfortable because I didn't feel plain enough. I figured the skirt, an old favorite thrift store purchase, was fine for home but too busy to wear in public and the top, though black was not in a natural fabric. I kept thinking that no one could tell what I was. It was a very awkward, disturbing feeling to be there looking like "a normal" person. A "yucky" feeling if you will. I wished I had a button or sign that pointed out "This is not who I am!!"
So what am I? I identify spiritually and historically with Friends and Pagans...but not with Christian Quakers and not with Wiccan pagans. Neither my Quaker or pagan thoughts make sense without the other. Maybe they don't make sense together either. Whatever. I see the desire to dress plain as my desire to separate from the rest of the world which I find distressing to say the least. I cannot stand to be a part of it. I also want my dress to be a visual testimony of my beliefs. In a sense, I am sharing the millennialist sentiments of my Burned-Over District ancestors. Repent, the end is near. But I won't be climbing up on any haystack to wait for the descending savior. My concerns are environmentalist concerns: global warming, species extinction, melting icebergs, pollution. I don't believe we have any time left to waste. The end IS near unless we become very seriously committed to protecting our future. Unfortunately, I believe it is already too late. We're screwed already but I'm still holding out hope that we can mitigate the degree of our children's suffering.
Part of my plainness comes from my strong belief that we must pay heed to Gandhi's advice, "Live simply so that others may simply live." But must I wear a kerchief and drab colors? What's up with that? All I know is that it is a relief to wear such things, a relief to own very little. If only I could avoid looking like a conservative Christian.....