Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘spirituality’ Category

Make (Me) Believe

In Books, Church, Learning, spirituality on August 8, 2017 at 6:37 am







I was talking to a couple of the young men in our congregation about our beliefs. Greg said, “I believe Jesus died for our sins.” The other man agreed, and I said, “I don’t believe that.” Frankly, I don’t even know what it means.
Greg looked shocked and said, “You HAVE to believe that.”
I said, “The reason I like this church is that nobody gets to tell me what I have to believe.”
Fourteen or so years later, I’m still here, but Greg left not too long after our conversation. I don’t imagine that had anything to do with his leaving, but I do imagine he found a church where he could tell people what they have to believe.
It all goes back to the Bible. I’ve never been much of a Bible reader. I don’t know if it’s the small print, the tissue thin pages, or the archaic language (and, yes, I know there are versions available that correct all those “defects.”) Shortly after I started going to church I bought The Children’s Illustrated Bible thinking I might actually read that, but no. Somehow I never managed to read more than a few of the stories in that book.
Call me a secular Christian. I accept the Bible as part of my cultural heritage while not considering it factual.
A book I did read was A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Ten years ago when it first came out, I thought it was hilarious, showing how futile and frustrating a quest it was.
I just reread it and still find it very funny. I enjoyed his discovering the near impossibility of not mixing fabrics as well as his difficulty in locating an adulterer to stone. He carried pebbles in his pocket just in case he found one. (He did and the man threw the pebbles at him.) He also had to try many tactics to avoid lusting after women in his heart before finally hitting on one that worked: thinking of them as his mother.
Nevertheless, some of the rules had a positive effect on his life. For example, when he stopped cursing, he became calmer, not so angry. Wearing white made him feel light and happy.
He ended the year still an agnostic, but observing that “the Bible may not have been dictated by God, it may have had a messy and complicated birth, one filled with political agendas and outdated ideas, but that doesn’t mean the Bible can’t be beautiful and sacred.”
That I can believe.

Reading Roundup

In Books, Learning, spirituality on July 25, 2017 at 7:23 am

Here are the books I’m currently reading. I never read just one at a time.
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan
A mystery set in a thinly disguised Tattered Cover Bookstore in Lower Downtown Denver, one of my favorite places. This book has everything I love: a bookstore (the best one ever), Denver, quirky characters, an imaginative mystery, and terrific writing. I’m about a third of the way through and trying to balance my wanting to know what happens next with my desire to go slowly and make it last. He can’t write his next book fast enough to suit me.
The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs
A secular Jew, Jacobs decides to explore religion by taking a deep dive into the Bible a year trying to obey all of the 700+ rules documented there. One of my favorites is his difficulty in finding clothing that doesn’t mix fibers. He also carries pebbles in his pocket looking for an opportunity to stone an adulterer. The often contradictory and nonsensical rules lead him to a funny and thoughtful spiritual journey. I first read this when it came out ten years ago and chose to reread it (this time on audio) to accompany the next book.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
This is not an instruction manual.
Evans, raised in an evangelical home in Dayton, Tennessee, site of the Scopes Monkey Trial, now writes progressive Christian books and blogs. Using humor and compassion, she explores Biblical heroines and wrestles with passages that encourage misogyny and violence against women. I just started reading it on Kindle and look forward to accompanying her as she remains silent in church (some advice I definitely won’t be taking) and moves into a tent in her yard during her “unclean” times.
Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins
I’ve followed Goins’ career since he came to prominence through his blog several years ago. This is just the sort of book I ought to like, but I’m finding it a difficult slog. He has some good ideas and an interesting perspective although too much of the book is rehashed from other books I’ve read and liked more (see Austin Kleon). He comes across just a little too earnest and humorless for my taste. I may manage to make it through before its due date only because it’s a short book.
There you go. What are you reading?

What He Said

In Church, Learning, spirituality on July 21, 2017 at 7:51 am

Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors, wrote many wise things, among them this criticism of Christians. “For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, the demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!”

Another wise man, Mahatma Gandhi, said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

It occurs to me that we know the Beatitudes only in a very general, fragmented way, so I’m posting them here.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I don’t pretend to understand what all of these mean, and I’ll leave it up to you to look it up if you’re interested. Right now, I’m struck especially by the fifth one, “Blessed are the merciful” and the last one, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” What dismays me the most about the religious right is their almost complete lack of mercy and their mania for persecuting people.

As if Nothing Has Changed

In Learning, Resistance, spirituality on July 20, 2017 at 5:59 am

My life rolls along smoothly. I make meals, read books, chat with friends, cuddle my cat, work on writing projects, and go to church as if nothing has changed. Then I’ll put a load of laundry into the dryer, and suddenly I remember.
Donald F**king Trump was elected president.
I still can’t accept that.
I read the news and hear, as Shepard Smith said, “lie after lie after lie” and listen to republicans make jaw-dropping excuses for his (and their) behavior and I wonder how can we make it through this disaster?
They are systematically dismantling our way of life, trying to do away with the free press and freedom of religion, the human rights of LGBTQ and minority people, destroying the environment, denying health care to millions. Etcetera.
I remind myself that the Chinese symbol for crisis contains both the words danger and opportunity. The danger seems stark and clear, but I can’t find the opportunity. How can we possibly use this catastrophe in our country to create something better, something whole and good?
Every day I see the face of evil and hit the panic button. Then I breathe and tell myself we need to shake things up once in a while. Yet all I see is Danger, Will Robinson. It feels as if we are lost in space.
All we can do is proceed with caution and proceed with love, knowing that tens of millions of people, including my friends, are putting one foot in front of the other and getting through each day by living and breathing resistance.
Today’s musical accompaniment takes us back 50 years to another time of darkness. Listen to Stevie Wonder sing A Place in the Sun.  Back then, we marched, we sang, we resisted, and we stopped a war. We brought down a president.
We do the best we can trying to find a way through the muck to a better world. We can’t quite see it yet, so we act on faith that it’s out there.
Sometimes living my life, loving my friends, and finding pockets of happiness seem like the most radical things I can do.

God Has No Religion

In Church, spirituality on July 18, 2017 at 6:14 am

I am not a religious person, although I go to church every Sunday. If you think going to church makes a person religious, you’re just not paying attention.
I’ve said before that my only criterion when I went church shopping was one that didn’t teach hate. I got lucky. I not only found that in the first church I visited, I also found one that doesn’t tell me what to believe, something I didn’t even know I wanted.
I’ve never met a rule I didn’t want to break, which is why I wouldn’t be a good Catholic–well that and the crushing sexism. Let’s hit the pause button here for a minute so I can apologize to my Catholic friends. Your religion probably works very well for you, and no religion is perfect. You may rail against some of its imperfections, just as I do with the UMC.
This, however, is the story of two times when I ran smack into first, the Catholic church and second, a Catholic church.
In 1965 I went to Quebec with my high school French club. One day we visited churches and cathedrals. At that time, the church required women to cover their heads. The girls in our group without scarves bobby pinned pieces of Kleenex on their heads. That didn’t strike me as a way to show respect for anyone, including me. I refused and had to remain outside.
I may be poorer for not having seen the architecture and artwork inside, but I’m still pretty proud of my 17-year-old self for standing up for my principles.
The second event happened decades later when I lived in North Denver’s Highland neighborhood and took long walks every day. I frequently walked past Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. It was open in the morning, so I decided to stop in to pray/meditate/think for a few minutes.
My protestant sensibilities were initially offended by all the statues (27 by my count), which I saw as graven images, but I made my way to a pew and even used the handy kneeler. After I had stopped in a few times, a priest approached me about joining the church. I told him I already had a church, but he wouldn’t leave me alone. One day he brought me a book with a charm of the Virgin Mary inside it.
I didn’t read the book and I never went back to Mount Carmel.
He undoubtedly thought he was bringing me the One True Religion. Obviously, I didn’t see it that way. I don’t believe religion comes in one size fits all. That doesn’t even work for knit hats.
In my world, all roads lead to God.

Tell Me a Story

In Church, spirituality on July 12, 2017 at 7:00 am

A dozen or so of us, men and women, ages six to sixties wore all black: pants, shirt, socks (no shoes) and imagined we were around a campfire telling the story. We had broken it up into paragraph-sized chunks, and each of us memorized three or four parts. As one person finished, another would stand and say the next piece. When we recited our last part, we each left the stage silently, walked up the aisle and out the back door. And then it was done, the Gospel of Mark.
Early Christians told the teachings of Jesus orally. Rabbis or teachers in every generation raised and trained the next generation to deliver this oral tradition accurately. Before the invention of the printing press, the oral tradition was considered more trustworthy than written texts, and 90-95% of the people couldn’t read anyway.
On Palm Sunday 2005, this somber performance was our worship service.
We met once a week for months in our fellowship hall to rehearse, helping and encouraging one another. The six-year-old, not surprisingly memorized her pieces first. I copied my chunks onto index cards and practiced them as I took long walks around the neighborhood.
The performance went smoothly, working toward the moment Pilate asked the crowd, “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” We all had to raise our fists and shout, “Crucify him” over and over.
It moved pretty quickly after that, through His crucifixion and death and burial. Finally, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices to anoint Jesus’ body and found the stone rolled away from the door of the tomb because Jesus had risen.
I still remember which verses I recited, although I no longer have them memorized. Our performance was challenging and meaningful, and we did it together. Of all the things I’ve done in fifteen years of church life, that was the most powerful.
Our lives are made up of stories.
This is one of mine.

White in America

In Denver, spirituality on July 6, 2017 at 6:55 am

My dear friend, a 66-year-old black ordained minister feared for her life Friday night after being stopped by a police officer. Maybe you read her words that I re-posted here yesterday. It was late at night, and she was leaving the theater where she had just seen Wonder Woman when a large black truck blocked her exit from the parking lot.
As she watched the white officer walk toward her, she asked God if this would be the way her life ended. She thought of all the innocent black people who had been murdered by police in just such a trivial traffic stop and wondered if her name would be added to that long list.
I cannot imagine the terror she felt. When I’m stopped by the police, my first thought is usually, “How much is this going to cost me?” not “Will I live through this?” That’s pretty much the definition of white privilege. I don’t have to worry that someone might want to kill me because of the color of my skin.
This incident did not turn deadly. The officer merely told my friend that she hadn’t turned on her headlights and wished her a good evening. For that, I and all the people who love her feel eternal gratitude.
I want to apologize to her and my other black friends for all the insensitive things I’ve said and done. You know I try not to be racist, but I know that we both live in a racist society, so things come out of my mouth that I don’t even realize are offensive. I’m sorry, and I promise that (to paraphrase Maya Angelou) when I know better, I’ll do better.
The officer probably saw the fear on her face and carried that with him on his patrol. It can’t feel good to know that someone is terrified of you when you only want to help. I’m sorry about that, and I am thankful for the legions of good cops who don’t target black people. But until these things stop happening, until my friend can feel safe going to a movie, don’t ask me to re-post those memes in support of the police. Until they hold themselves to a standard of human decency and weed out the bad seeds instead of helping them avoid prosecution or conviction, I don’t support them.
Every time I see a police officer, I’ll wonder, “Are you a good guy or a bad guy?” And I’ll err on the side of caution.

Truth or Consequences

In spirituality on June 30, 2017 at 6:21 am

This doesn’t show me in a good light.
I was already mad from our previous discussion about the Orange Monster when she said this, and I blew up.
She was telling me about her friend with a severely disabled son whose insurance was ending. Instead of doing anything about it, the friend shrugged and said, “Jesus will provide.”
My friend said, “I know that’s true if people really believe,” and I said,
I warned you I come off looking bad.
This is the kind of pious passivity that makes me crazy.
You think that when people lose their jobs or lose their health or lose their fu**ing lives it’s because they didn’t believe in Jesus enough? Or didn’t pray hard enough? Or didn’t live a Christian enough life (whatever that means).What about people from other religions? Are they just out of luck because Jesus only helps his own? Where is that in the Bible?
No, really, I wonder about these things.
It reminds me of the old story about a devout man caught in a flood. A rescue boat came and offered to row him to safety, but he sent them away saying, “I have faith in God. I trust God will care for me.” So the rowboat left. Soon the floodwaters were up to his neck. A second rowboat came to rescue him and again he dismissed it. Finally, the water got so high that the man could barely breathe through his mouth and nose. A helicopter flew over and let down a ladder to rescue him. “Come up,” they said, “we will take you to safety.” “No,” he cried. “God will save me,” and sent the helicopter away. However, it continued to rain, the waters rose, and finally, he drowned.
He went to heaven and stood before God. “I had so much faith in you,” he said. “I believed in you so fully. I prayed and tried to follow your will. I just don’t understand.” At this point, God scratched his head and said, “I don’t understand either! I sent you two rowboats and a helicopter.”
The God I believe in expects us to use our brains, expects us to help ourselves. My faith provides comfort when bad things happen, but doesn’t prevent bad things from happening. Maybe I’m doing it wrong.

I always liked Harrison Ford’s response to “May the Force be with you.” He said, “Force yourself.”

Hope Will Never Be Silent

In Learning, spirituality on June 29, 2017 at 6:00 am

In 1984, I saw the tragic documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, (now available on YouTube) and was heartbroken at the story of his triumph and assassination.
A few years later, the movie returned to a local theater and I recommended it to my friend, Joe, a political junkie who had worked tirelessly in the Chicano rights movement and had even seen friends murdered for the cause. It seemed right up his alley.
“No,” he said, almost physically recoiling at my suggestion. “No way.”
His reaction confused me, but I came to realize that to Joe, it was a movie about a gay man. That’s all. I will never know why that frightened him so much because I don’t have friends like him anymore.
My sorrow over the documentary kept me from seeing Milk when it came out in 2008. I just didn’t think I could watch those devastating events again.
Now, thirty-plus years after the documentary, I decided maybe I could handle the movie in the comfort of my own home with a box of Kleenex nearby and the ability to hit pause whenever I needed to stop and breathe for a while.
I watched it last night. While the documentary showed a factual overview of the events, the movie gave a more intimate perspective. I felt excitement and exhilaration as the campaigns grew more successful although my anxiety increased as it drew to the end because I knew what was coming.
It is shocking to realize how little the arguments of the religious right have changed in forty years. How many more innocent people will become martyrs for the “sin” of loving someone?
The joy-filled Pride celebrations all over the country this month give me hope that at the very least we’re making progress. In the words of Harvey Milk, “Hope will never be silent.” It isn’t enough, but it’s something.

On Call

In Finding Your Calling, spirituality on June 27, 2017 at 5:14 am









You might think that by age 69, I would have either discovered my mission in life or given up searching. Nope, I’m still trying to figure it out. Over the years, I’ve read dozens of books on the subject and even took an online course that promised results.
I may have gotten better results from that tee-shirt that says, “That’s what I do. I read and I know things.”
An old friend from high school once asked me if I wished I had studied something instead of sociology in college. “Not instead of,” I replied. “In addition to. I want to know everything.”
She turned to her husband and raised an eyebrow saying, “See? That’s why we’re friends.”
I identify with another popular meme, too: “A day without reading is . . . just kidding. I have no idea.”
Last week I reread for the Nth time, How to Find Your Mission In Life by Richard N. Bolles. He outlines three steps to finding your calling.
1. love God
2. choose good
3. develop your talent
I don’t talk much about God because that seems pretty private to me. I will say that I don’t believe God is some old white guy with a long beard sitting on a cloud somewhere. In fact, the God I believe in isn’t separate from us earthly creatures at all.
Bolles, who was an Episcopal minister, points out that if you believe you have a mission, a calling, a vocation, there must be somebody doing the calling. Makes sense.
The second step is that with every small choice we make each day, we choose the option that brings “more gratitude, kindness, forgiveness, honesty, and love into the world.” I admit that when I read this, I think, “You must have me confused with someone else.” I’m more a screaming obscenities at people who annoy me kind of person. Maybe I can work on that.
We tend to think of our mission as one big answer that comes to us on a highway billboard like in L.A. Story or in the booming voice of James Earl Jones or even on a tee shirt. Bolles suggests instead that it’s a series of small steps we take each day to bring more good into the world.
The final step is simply to develop whatever talent God gave us. As my pastor, Brad Laurvick said, “who you are is God’s greatest gift to you.” Ultimately, it’s also our greatest gift to the world.
We cannot retire from this and go sit on a beach or play Bingo to while away our days. As Richard Bach said, “Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you’re alive, it isn’t.”