Category Archives: Fundamentalism

Good Friday thoughts: Church attendance prevents depression

If you describe yourself as “spiritual but not religious” you might not be doing yourself any favours.

According to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, people who attend a religious service at least one a month have a lower risk of depression. People who simply identified as spiritual but didn’t participate in the life of a faith community didn’t enjoy the same benefits.

The study suggests, and I agree, that regular deep connection with people in a way that goes beyond the surface social interactions of, say, a book club or a spin class keeps our spirits up. Many people say they can just as easily feed their spirit during a a walk in the woods, or while painting, or while singing or dancing, and this is true. What you don’t find during those same activities is challenge and growth, and without challenge and growth the spirit connection quickly grows tenuous, and a tenuous spirit connection leaves plenty of room for the dark stuff to creep in.

The Easter story is a challenging one for lots of people. I get that. Many people struggle with the concept of resurrection, so it’s a difficult time to suggest to the “spiritual but not religious” crowd that participation in a faith community might be a good idea. But faith communities need people like that to challenge them and to help them grow. They need people who seek spirit but who choke on the many things that religious groups do wrong to walk in the door and say, “You know what? I like this, this and this, but this, no that’s just not acceptable.”

That way the relationship becomes reciprocal. Faith communities take on the challenge and grow, and the spiritual find the community they need to maintain and grow a strong spiritual connection. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will treat women as equals. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will honour all love-based marriages. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will value questions and doubts as seeds of growth.

Maybe someday.

In fact, maybe the best time to start might be Easter weekend, in memory of a man who was an outstanding example of a religious doubter and questioner.

Jesus dramatically turned the tables on the unacceptable religious practices of his day. Maybe we can, too.

 __________________

Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. http://publications.cpa-apc.org/media.php?mid=1499

 

Fred Phelps, St. Patrick’s Day and Any Known Blood: Tired discrimination

http://i1.wp.com/topekasnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/kansas-religious-freedom-bill-ridiculous1.jpg?resize=300%2C536

Photo from TopekasNews

The state of Kansas, U.S.A. recently made headlines for proposed laws that would allow restaurants and businesses to ban gay patrons from their establishments. A sign reading “Service refused to gay couples” appeared in at least one restaurant. 

These headlines preceded the death of Fred Phelps (I won’t call him reverend) by about a month. During his lifetime, Phelps loved to make headlines—his even more hate-filled. His “God Hates Fags” tagline summed up his sorry life.

When I saw the picture here, and when I read Fred Phelps’ views on issues, I thought, “Really? Did they learn nothing from history?”

But I take comfort in seeing that their actions, intended to promote discrimination and hate, ended up encouraging more openness and love. Shocking hate prompts us to act with active love.

On St. Patrick’s Day, I remembered that signs reading “No Irish” used to appear in the windows of early New York City establishments. I’m part Irish, so this one piece of knowledge keeps me celebrating the occasion every year.

I re-read Any Known Blood by Lawrence Hill this week, too. At the beginning of the book he cites this passage from An American Dilemma Vol. I, 1944:

Everybody having a known trace of Negro Blood in his veins—no matter how far back it was acquired—is classified as a Negro. No amount of white ancestry, except one hundred per cent, will permit entrance to the white race.

Good heavens, they were really covering all the bases, weren’t they? My father was adopted, so I have “unknown” blood in me. I guess I wouldn’t qualify.

No gays, no Irish, no blacks, no Indians, no Jews, no Japanese, no Mexicans, no women, no men . . . in the course of history, is there any group that hasn’t at one point or another been barred from something?

It makes me tired. Enough already, people.

If you ever feel inspired to put a sign reading “No . . . (anything)” in your window, think again. Such signs say a whole lot more about you than they do about the group of people you’re aiming to keep out.

 

Religious? Who me? Reclaiming the word

el-cristoTwo years ago I spent time in Bolivia volunteering for Habitat for Humanity helping a family in need to build their home.

I’m not one to talk about religion or my spiritual life on your average day, but our project took place in Cochabamba, home of the world’s largest statue of Jesus. With Jesus looming over our work every day, it was hard not to talk about him. In the course of those conversations, I revealed to the members of my team that I had been invited to speak at my church about my Bolivian experiences upon my return to Canada.

A few days later, as we worked, we joked back and forth. One girl turned to me and said, “I hope you don’t mind us joking around. I know you’re really religious.”

I was so stunned I couldn’t speak.

I was horrified at the idea of being considered religious. The word conjured images of dusty old pious ladies with pursed lips reciting Bible passages unquestioningly. I imagined judgmental battle-axes and humourless fire-and-brimstone preachers. One this is certain: She obviously believed that anyone who goes to church has zero sense of humour. Is that how she saw me? Horrors. 

For someone who spent decades as an atheist and who still finds many aspects of some organized religions really worrisome, her perception shocked me. Me, religious? Ha! Religious was a label I did not want.

Okay, so I go to church almost every week. I am a Sunday school teacher. I was co-chair of our church council for three years. I’m on the Christian Development committee. But that doesn’t make me religious, does it?

Hhmmmm. . . I guess it does. So, if I’m going to be labelled “religious,” I’ll have to re-claim the word. I’ll have to change the connotations.

What does my church, my religion, my Spirit-seeking home, mean to me? It means: connection to the something more, critical thinking, compassion, kindness, caring work with people in need, acceptance of all people, questioning, evolving, progressive outlook, challenge, lifelong learning, meditating and justice seeking.

What does it NOT mean? It does not mean: judgmental, limited, blind, unquestioning, self-righteous, inflexible, exclusive, money-grubbing. That is not what my church is about at all.

I hereby reclaim the word religious. The compassionate, accepting, critical-thinking, justice-seeking, caring people who meditate on their questions to seek a connection with the something more (however that should appear to them) really need that to happen.

___________________________

Our Mission Statement

We are a compassionate and progressive community that nurtures and celebrates each others’ spiritual growth. We are rooted in our Christian tradition and open to the truths of other faiths.

We strive to follow Jesus’ example by applying his teachings to today’s challenges. We share our personal experiences of the Divine to help each other recognize God in all creation.

We believe a more just and sustainable world is possible through increased love, awareness and action. We invest in our children, our community and our world to help make this so.

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Christmas: Exceptions to the rule make the best stories

soul-eyesWe have faith in the unexpected. After every earthquake, for example, we pray for the exceptions—for people to defy the odds and survive under the rubble for days.

We hope for miracles. We pray the person we know with cancer will be the one to beat the odds.

We love exceptions to the rule, the people who make good against all odds, like a baby worshipped in spite of being born to an unwed mother in the harsh culture of patriarchal society.

That’s why we can’t stop telling the Christmas story. No matter how you interpret it, the story is about faith in the unexpected, hope for miracles and love for exceptions to the rule—all the things that captivate us. Now matter how you feel about it, we can learn from it.

No matter what you believe about how Mary came to be pregnant, she was an unwed mother in a time when unwed pregnant women were shunned or stoned. Neither happened to her. She was an exception to the rule. No matter what you believe about who Jesus‘ real father was, he was an illegitimate child at a time when such children would have few prospects. Even before he could walk or talk, Jesus broke the rules.

Jesus captivates us because he lived making exceptions to the rule. He ate with the unclean, walked with the lepers, preached on the Sabbath, and turned the tables on religious rituals that prevented everyone from participating. If there’s anything we can learn from his life, and it’s a lesson too many Christian churches today forget, it is that love is more important than rules.

When forced to make a choice between the most compassionate option and the most obedient option, Jesus chose compassion.

A woman gets pregnant out of wedlock? Love her anyway. A child is born out of wedlock? Love it anyway. A man is disenfranchised from society? Eat with him anyway. A woman has a communicable disease? Walk with her anyway. Someone wants to learn or play or work even though it’s a holy day? Teach them, laugh with them or help them anyway. And, for goodness sake, open your doors and your ceremonies with unrestricted compassion for all people.

The Christmas story, no matter how you interpret it, reminds us to value exceptions to the rule. They make the best stories, and who knows what greatness a compassionate exception might lead to?

____________________

1 Corinthians 13:13

13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Good will, then peace

many-ChristmasesAt the end of my Tuesday post, Charlie Brown reflections, I tagged on the Christmas story that Linus recites in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Since Tuesday I have discovered how deeply Linus’s scene touches people. People have told me it’s their favourite scene. They have told me that as soon as Linus says “Lights please” a peaceful quiet descends on a room, and that all movement stops until Linus says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

The King James version of the Bible isn’t used in my progressive Christian church very often anymore, but Christmas is the one time of the year I wish they would. Other Bible versions cannot match the lyrical rhythm of the King James Luke 2:10-14.

But I’ve been mulling this passage over in my mind since Tuesday. I’m a stickler for non-gender-specific language, so I would rather have the words “all people” at the end instead of “men,” but I am willing to live with it in this case as a nod to a time when we didn’t know better. If I had to change something, it would be the order of the last phrase of the last line: “. . . and on earth peace, good will toward men.

The writer of this passage wished for peace first and then good will toward all people. Wouldn’t it work better the other way around?

If we had good will toward all people, peace would follow.

So this Christmas, no matter whether the season is a secular one or a religious one for you, show good will toward all people. From that, we make peace. 

_________________________

Luke 2:10-14 (Arlene version)

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and with good will toward all people, on earth peace.

________________________

Repelled by Richard Dawkins, drawn to Julia Cameron

1585421464It was  one of the irrational experiences that drive Richard Dawkins crazy.

Several years ago, before I started this blog but when the idea for it percolated in my brain, Dawkins published a book: The God Delusion. I don’t care for his writing—I find he adopts a condescending “I’m smarter than you are” tone—but the subject of his book related to topics I pondered then, so I resolved to buy his book and get through it.

Like a dose of Buckley’s cough syrup.

I made a trip to the book store. I saw the silver glint of the book face-out in the “New Arrivals” section. I couldn’t get close to it. Something about that book repelled me. I had a little talk with myself. “Now, Arlene,” I said. “You came all the way to the store. You’ve got the money in your pocket. Don’t be ridiculous.” Intellectually and rationally, I knew I needed to read Dawkins’ arguments. But I couldn’t take that step closer. A force pushed me away from the shelf.

After some mental back-and-forth talking, I turned away. “I’m going to a friendlier section,” I told myself. I wandered around for a while until I landed in “Art and Architecture.” I saw The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. I had the opposite experience with this book. I felt drawn to it. I couldn’t keep my hand from picking it up.

I used the money in my pocket to buy that book instead, and the ideas in Julia Cameron’s book transformed my life. The stories in this blog come through the morning pages I write every day. The ideas for my fictional creative writing come through the same process.

I borrowed Dawkins’ book from the library later and read it, and, yes, I bristled at the “I’m smarter than you are” tone. He worked hard to convince his readers that there is no God separate and apart from us, and some believe he succeeded. But he didn’t manage to convince me that there is no God-ness. I experienced that while buying, or rather not buying, his book. It was one of the irrational experiences that drive Richard Dawkins crazy.

Life overflows with them.

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