Friday, March 29, 2013

This to say about my Church....

Good Friday...all the liturgical decorations down and gone, even to the Presence candle which is only extinguished once a year, to symbolically represent the death of Christ and the withdrawal of God's presence from Him. 

I am an odd ball mix of Pagan and Christian, which comes out on this blog as posts about the wheel of the year and being a pagan Priest, and attending my church and celebrating the liturgical calendar. But I thought I'd tell a bit about that church I attend. I live in the deep Fundamentalist Bible Belt South, at what may qualify as the Buckle. I keep a careful low profile about MANY things (its not a safe place to be...oh...GLBT, or Pagan, or even some variant of Christian that is - omigosh - LIBERAL, because at best you're going to Hell, and at worst you could get your head bashed in. Literally.)

So this a geographical community that...

through their religious identity routinely marginalizes women to the kitchens and does not even allow them to pray aloud in church,

believes that slavery was a positive thing because it brought "the negro" to the Gospel and saved them (I kid you not - I could barely type that without vomiting),

 believes pagans to be Satan worshipers, PERIOD,

and condemns GLBT individuals to Hell at best; at worst we've had a gay bashing murder here not all that long ago.

And in the middle of this there is the incredible Episcopal church I attend.

Last night, I attended for Easter week services, the Maundy Thursday service. 

Our church does a version of the Sedar, the Passover as a part of its  Maundy Thursday ritual.

I want to point out that the service was conducted in Spanish and English, scripture was read aloud by men and women, communion was served by both male and female priests, (I was on the side that had the wine and bread served to me by two women), multiple races were present, pagans and Christians were present, as well as gay, transgender and straight individuals and couples. All were accepted...totally. Not "tolerated", absolutely NOT condemned, accepted utterly with love and open arms as they were.

It was beautiful, affirming, powerful, safe and deeply spiritual. Change and hope for the future are possible, and already here, despite the growing pains of change and bigotry!

 I love my church!
I just had to say this! 

The Basin and the Towel

In the era that Jesus lived in, the most common mode of transport was walking. Custom and tradition held that when a guest came to your home, you first offered them water to wash their dusty, filthy hot sore feet from their journey. It was a low status dirty job that the lowest meanest servants did, as a service that the master of the house provided. "

So in the story of the Last Supper and the Upper Room, the disciples - clueless as ever - were spending their evening bickering about status; who among them would be the greatest in the coming kingdom, not even then realizing that the "kingdom" Jesus spoke of was of the heart, not an earthly government. Can't you see it? 

The disciples arguments getting louder as the evening progressed. Jesus, rising with a long suffering sigh, giving up finally on words all together. Going and getting water in a basin, and towels, and stripping off his outer garments and walking to the first of his followers nearest to him, going to his knees, and - dressed as a lowly, demeaned servant - tenderly beginning to wash the person's feet. Silence must have fallen across the room like an ax, cutting off all sound.
Jesus...their great Rabbi, their Teacher, the one they secretly - or not so secretly - expected to become King and over throw the Romans, on his knees, on the hard, dusty floor, washing their feet like one of the invisible, ignored servants. 

And when it was all done, he rose and said, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."
We "wash each other's feet" when we care for each other, when we are community for each other, when we reach out to those who are tired, in need, exhausted, dirty, lonely. And we comfort, we aid, we help, we bind up the physical, mental and emotional wounds. We share in their trials and pain. And we allow others to care for us, as we care for them. This is the heart of what Jesus taught. It is something that it seems so often that the big, status "who is greater among us" churches have forgotten, or have out and out trampled upon in their pride and disdain. 

I have friends who are devout Christians who live this every day with every breath they take. I also have friends who are not Christians...who also live this every day, with every breath they take, sometimes more effectively than many who claim to be Christians do. 

This isn't about religion, church, or creed or belief. 
This is about the depth of love and community. 
...take up the basin and the towel.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Discovering Les Miserables....

When I was a kid in grammar school, I was busily engaged with reading my way up my grandmother's bookshelves of classics, while my classmates were reading the grammar school level "Weekly Reader" . There's a reason I was reading on the college level by the third grade - one of them was my Grandmother's library. And one of the books I encountered was Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, in an English translation of course. I had no trouble reading it in terms of basic reading comprehension, the words were all in my vocabulary. However, there's more to reading comprehension than words; there's life experience and knowledge of history and social issues and a host of other things...on that level it proved to be too much. I was just too young to follow Hugo's nuances of history and social justice of that period, and I finally left it unfinished, put it back on the shelf and moved on to the next book.

Didn't think about it further for years, until this past year when the movie of the musical came out. My Dreamweaver went to see the movie and went nuts about it! She had, it turns out also seen the musical as a stage play twice in the 90's. So she found a copy of the 25th Anniversary Concert of Les Miserables, and dropped that one me. I was stunned. To begin with, the music is gorgeous enough that the lyrics could be the New York phone book and you'd still want to sit and listen. Secondly, the lyrics are incredibly powerful, meaningful and deep, and they - and I now realize the book does as well - touch on social justice and religious issues and the simple power of human love and connection, which makes them beyond incredible.

So, I rounded up the book again, and took another run at it...and discovered I had caught up to it at last in terms of "getting it". Hugo wrote the book with the ideas of social justice and the questions of violence as a solution, and the final argument that grace and human love are our greatest connection and our transcendence. Which was very revolutionary and ahead of his time for the era that he wrote in and the era that he wrote about. Now, it takes some patience and being in love with the English language for the sake of words alone  to revel in Les Miserables (and 3 cheers for the translator who took it from French to English - I know well I'm reading a 19th century French author here.)...But it is so worth it, as I found out. I then was dragged (quite willingly) to see the current movie incarnation, and then we by good fortune managed to go see it live on the stage this past weekend. Not only am I not getting tired of it, its becoming increasingly more stunning with each reiteration, as you find more and more depths in each interpretation of it.

Without launching into a ponderous review of book and/or musical, let me say it revolves around two characters, one, Jean Valjean, an escaped convict who breaks parole and remains on the run, but redeems his life by becoming a fabulously compassionate and honorable man, and his counterpart, Javert,the rigid police inspector who makes it his life's business to catch Valjean and return him to slave labor. Javert can only see the law and consequences - no man escapes judgement, there is no grey, only black or white. Jean Valjean sees the world through the lens of grace and love, which saved him through the actions of a humble bishop. The various threads of the book, which are complex and full of powerful characters, all arrive in one place at the end when some students in Paris try to reignite the "French Revolution" in a doomed revolt, which results in heartless bloodshed and death on the barricades in the narrow city streets. The characters are fictional, but the revolt was real - in the historic 1832 Revolt that it was based on, Hugo himself was in the streets near the barricades and had to take shelter from gun fire.

The musical, though having to cut and alter a mass of details that simply could not be translated to the stage, nails Hugo's intent and the heart of the novel in one of the most stunning stage plays I have ever seen. Reading the book gives one an amazing background in one's knowledge that deepens the stage play's meaning and interpretation.

In other words, see the movie. Or get a hold of the 25th anniversary stage play, both available on DVD and Blu-ray. If you can steel yourself to it, read the book. It is well worth it.

Here is a scene from the 25th Anniversary Performance of Les Miserables, "Bring Him Home" sung by Alfie Boe. The context is that Jean Valjean, having gotten behind the barricades, in among the doomed revolutionaries, finds his daughter's lover and rescues him from the carnage. This is the prayer Valjean's character utters over the young man, the night before the barricade falls.

See what I mean about the music? Just wow...

Gorgeous music not withstanding, and after you've waded through the five "novels" that together comprise the sum total of book, "Les Miserables", you discover that Hugo's novel touched on many, many things - most of them heart breakingly relevant today. Poverty, and cruelty, and the crushing brutality of wealth and power over those less fortunate. Judgement and grace, belief and non belief, hope and despair, love and the ability to over come the past, or to be destroyed by it, and ignorance and knowledge. The venality and hypocrisy of the church, and those who  through simple lives, honor the heart of the Gospels in its simplest form - to love. Hugo himself summed it up best in the preface of his book. If you want to skip a mountain of reading, the heart of the novel is laid out here....

"So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless."
(Preface, Les Miserables, Victor Hugo.) 

Perhaps Jean Valjean's last words in the musical at the end of his life, sum it up even more simply and succinctly....
"To love another person is to see the face of God." 

Now, hopefully I have made the random readers of this blog desire to charge out and see the stage play or go see the stunning movie adaptation, or at least acquire the sound track, or the cliff notes. Or maybe even go - with great courage - pick up the book and give its rambling passages and vivid characters the chance to enter your heart. At the very least I thank you for reading patiently through my thoughts here...that movie, the play, the music, the lyrics, the book, are all going to be with me for a very long time. I felt the least I could do was share them and hope someone might find, like I did, delight and awe and grace in discovering Les Miserable!

Monday, March 18, 2013

OK, some GOOD news....

Decision made....

Due to the months I lost to medical leave and getting my hip replaced, and after a long talk with my adviser at school, have made the final decision to graduate this coming December instead of trying for this summer *BIG HUGE RELIEF!* I now have the usual mountain to climb of grad school, but I can roll up my sleeves and do it - its attainable, rather than feeling as though I am hanging over the abyss by a thread! I am so grateful! So pressure and stress are still on, but they are normal pressures and stresses. This I can do!

Also, I am getting a NEW HEARING AID tomorrow!!!! Finally! On the other hand, am now extremely poorer! (and I do mean extremely!) Its worth it, though!

And Spring just may be on the way...we still have cold winter temperatures coming at the end of the week, its March and you're never safe to declare it spring here until after March, but this is what the trees looked like this past weekend;

Hope is renewed! 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

My brains are fried...really.

My brain in graduate school....

OK. I have been at this school thing for YEARS now. I got my undergrad degree in 3 years and turned around and charged back into Grad school. I'm actually starting to get near the end goal...sorta. And I'm fried. Totally brains gone, fried.

I know some of you have missed my blogging. I'VE missed my blogging. Hell, I miss ME! Have really struggled this semester with paper work, and I think I maybe have climbed on top of it a bit now, but the at the cost of my last remaining 2 brain cells, it feels like.

I suspect that I'm maybe more than usually tired right now (that paper work thing I mentioned) and that a little self rest and care will help a bit. So I am refusing to have an intelligent thought for the next 3 days (Friday + the weekend). I don't have the brain capacity to spare. I'm gonna vegetate. Rest. Let the little poor shriveled brain cells down there in the dark see if they can rejuvenate and grow a little.

I'm going to spend time with my wife. I'm going to spend time with my poor lonely puppy and my cats. I'm going to sleep whenever possible. Maybe build a fire and curl up in front of it tomorrow night. Read something that isn't school work. (I'm re-reading Les Miserable by Victor Hugo, probably out loud to Dreamweaver, but that's actually light reading compared to what I'm reading in school. Think a about that for a minute folks...)

Mostly I just want to say, I miss my blog. I miss my readers! I miss having the intelligence to be able to write coherently here at the end of a long day. I miss having time, for go'sakes, to be able to write more than a few token words every now and then.

I view life in the metaphor of walking the Labyrinth, so somewhere on this turning spiraling path is the way through grad school. I'm kinda holding on to that. And I ask, please, those that read my blog, don't give up on me. Really. This blog is not defunct. I will keep posting here and there - get me out and through and done, and I'll start back to how I used to write. It may still be awhile. Because I have to be responsible and finish grad school.
But it isn't forever. 
I keep telling myself that.