Saturday, May 29, 2010


"(W)e have to ask ourselves how these religions are expressed on the ground, in the real world - I mean both of these literally - how they play out in the lives of living breathing human beings and others. What have been the effects of Christianity on the health of landbases? Has biodiversity thrived on the arrival of the cross? How has the arrival of Christianity affected the status of women? How has it affected the indigenous peoples it has encountered? We can and should ask the same questions of Buddhism, science, capitalism, and every other aspect of our or any other culture. Not how they play out theoretically, not how their rhetoric plays out, not how we wish they would play out, not how they could play out under some imaginary ideal circumstances, but how they have played out.
- Derrick Jensen, Endgame, volume I

I just (just, like moments ago) finished reading this book, and it's got me disassembled. I'm not sure what to do with myself. It's like it finally confirmed (or at least one other person sees it) something I have suspected and felt all my life (the inherent destructiveness of our culture) and I feel a little less alone, and I feel way more alone.

Jensen's position is radically anti-civilization. It sounds a little nuts, but to me in the exact same way the kid saying the emperor has no clothes sounded nuts (or would have, at least, assuming everyone else was truly and fully deluded, rather than just lying). He also believes (as do I) that our civilization WILL crash (and soon) - there is no way out of that. In addition, the sooner it crashes the more things will be left alive to start over (including humans and things humans eat - in addition to relatively unpoisoned air and water) so actively working to take it down is a good thing. (Neither he nor I actually do this as yet)

So, there's this joy of validation - yes, it really is that bad, you're not hysterical, and you're not nuts. And then, well, it's really that bad, a horror beyond my capability to process it (brought to stunning relief by all that oil spilling into the gulf killing everything in sight while those in power sort of bumble around to see what they can do without doing anything radical, or changing anything too much, which is pretty much nothing, obviously.

But Jensen also goes after religion. Not all religion in terms of spirit or a sense of awe at the wonder of things, but big religion, our big religions (Christianity, but also Buddhism) - any religion that is not rooted in place.

This makes a lot of sense to me, at least at some level. I think what he's getting at is a lot of the trouble that I have with Christianity (and other religions) - they do not speak to (of/through) me about how to live me life as it is and as I experience it, they speak of a number of things that have nothing to do with me, and leave me cold.


(and this feels like a big and) he takes them to task for both letting us off the hook and for comforting us when we should not be comforted.

Some of the problem with our view of the environment is our cultural assumption that the point of it all lies elsewhere. Many of the worst offenders in US politics have been born-again christians who believe that the rapture is coming, and at best it doesn't matter because Jesus will come and take us away, and at worst it is a GOOD thing to destroy the planet, because it will somehow hasten (and facilitate?) Jesus' coming.

Joanna, in responding to my post about Christianity, said: "when I focus solely on what needs to be done and what I can do to meet it I am sometimes overwhelmed by my impotence, blindness, double-mindedness; and I need to be reminded that my hope for the world is based on God's goodness not my own. That doesn't mean that I can sit back and assume that God will fix everything"

which totally made sense to me. It IS overwhelming to think that we're all there is. And sometimes, it's not good to move forward with an ego grounded in that notion either :)

[and, I'd like to point out, Joanna lives a life, from what I can tell, about 300x closer to the life I think I "should" live than I do, so I do not mean to denigrate her choices or approach at ALL, but it doesn't work for me. At least not yet]

But, Jensen's point would be that all religions have been used to say that somehow it doesn't matter all that much. There is sometimes a sense that God will take care of it all, so we don't have to work so hard, OR even more, that it doesn't matter if God takes care of it. It doesn't matter, actually, if polar bears die because there is no ice for them to live on. It doesn't matter if tons of sea creatures die from toxins, fishing nets, or from having so much plastic crap in their bellies they starve to death because they can't fit in any actual food.

The point is to do our best, or to live up to our own light, or to be faithful.

And that is NOT the point for me. I want action, I want to make it better. I was drawn to quakerism because I thought we were IN the world, that we cared about things, really cared (not like cared about our own spiritual development in relation to slavery, actually cared about slavery, and stopping it)

I do think this attitude has a benefit in taking away our tendency to beat ourselves up about things. Evaluating how you did at the end of your life, when you can do no more, it is really "as good" to have done the best you could as to have won. But it does make a difference in the real world if you won, and the real world matters. (to me)

Maybe I"m not a Quaker?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wondering about Christians

Turns out I wonder much the same about Christianity as I do about Paganism. Basically just, what is it? who "counts" and who doesn't? Is just saying you're one all you need? What if you DON'T say that you're one, but follow many of the tenets or it, even more so than many of its followers?

This came up recently for me because a friend who is a pastor posted some bit of pastorly wisdom to facebook, and I responded that it was useful to me even though I wasn't christian. He wrote me in private to say, "well, why not become one?" To his thinking, as I'm already concerned with social justice and ethical behavior, I'm halfway there!

So, what I wonder about first, with Christians is, again, what is one? Not that I think there's an answer, though unlike Pagans, there are lots of legally incorporated entities with tax-exempt status in the US and lots of rules and creeds and probably bylaws and stuff like that (which all help us to be better, more evolved spiritual beings, right?)

I assume there are bits of that in neopaganism, but I'm not actually sure. Anyway, the fact that christians have it doesn't really help me understand how people frame their own understanding of their own christianity anyway.

I've studied some, but it sort of all boggles my mind. A friend who used to be an evangelical christian pointed me recently towardthis page about all the different ways to interpret the book of revelations and what it says about when Jesus will come back, when the dead will rise, all that. I don't think it includes the "someone was just trippin'" or the "they were just wrong" interpretations of the book - no, this is just a ton of different ways to think the rapture and stuff is for real.

Which I tend to assume MOST christians don't believe, but there are probably polls proving I'm wrong.

The christians who tend to annoy me the most are those who are excited for other people to go to hell, followed by those who thank Jesus every time they find a good parking space (really, that guy needs to get a life, if he's worrying about where you're gonna park), but I don't interact with either of those types, much....

What I'm left confused about is people who aren't too worried about the super literalness of the Bible, and probably don't think I'm doomed to hell for not thinking Jesus was especially the son of God or whatever other magicalism it might be.

But they still think I'm missing something, and I can't for the life of me figure out what. Occasionally, the really convincing ones don't seem to worry about what I'm missing, but live their lives in a way that makes ME wonder if I'm missing something. (not that they're nicer people than I am, though maybe, but they're more at peace, I think, and often nicer, now that I think of it)

A LOT of what I run into, in my own dancing around with this in my head, is a sense that my best sense of Jesus (both what feels truest, for the most part, and what feels more likable) is of a man supremely concerned with justice and love, and enormously pissed off by dogma, religious strictures, etc. As if he was almost always saying, to those concerned more with tradition, "forget all that nonsense and heal the sick, feed the hungry, love each other, enjoy life"

And I guess I find myself wanting to say pretty much the same things to a lot of christians a lot of the time

Which feels a lot like wanting to be outside more than a lot of pagans seem to.

Plus, there's this sense, and I just don't get it, that being concerned with, for example, social justice is a really important first step in some larger process, the end of which would be something like "becoming a christian" (and that's where I'm wondering, what is that? is there a hope I'll believe something different? start praying to Jesus (like, and mean it?), just join a church, exactly as I am?

but most importantly, to me these things seem like ends in themselves - housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, comforting the suffering, preventing war, fighting for justice. And I'm baffled, and somewhat angry, when I run into, over and over again, what seems like the notion that they are somehow accessories to THE POINT, which I still don't even understand - that would be belief in something? It would be _________ - what would it be?

Liz blogged a bit ago about being a faithful servant. I didn't really get it, and it didn't resonate with me (I don't think/care much about being a faithful servant, for after all, who would I serve?) but it DID bring up this issue again. One item she mentions is helping a friend facing homelessness (I'm not sure what that entailed) but I had done something similar this winter (sadly, I think many of us probably had opportunities to do so for the first time) but it was radically different for me, I think, because God never entered my mind, not for a second. It's cold, she's scared, I have space - a number of thoughts/reasons/motivations, but not remotely related to God or religion.

And I *like* it that way. Perhaps only because my view of religion is still so shallow? It made sense to me, after all, when I was a small child with a simple philosophy. It *sounds* like wanting to house the homeless out of a hope for garnering favor with the divine, rather than out of some inborn sense of empathy or compassion. Am I missing something that is better/bigger/more awesome than empathy and compassion as a motivation?

This extends to other areas of spirituality for me as well, religion seems to cheapen it. Trees are AMAZING, the ocean is AMAZING, life is AMAZING - you can just be drop dead (hopefully not literally) blown away by the wonder of it all, and then someone bops up and says something like, "you're missing the really amazing thing, which is that some dude made this" - which leaves me completely nonplussed.

I dunno

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wondering about Pagans (actually, I don't know what this is about)

Stasa just recently blogged about how much it hurts to have quakers (and others?) assume that all pagans do ritual. And I have to say I'm a little surprised. I suppose I was one of those guilty parties. My natural reactions so far have been all along the lines of "but don't they?"

Which I guess I just have to leave out there until some pagans stumble across this and have something to say. I suppose I could also go poke my nose around, but I feel like I have. The thing about looking things up online is that stuff that's posted about pagan rituals is mostly going to be rituals that happen. you're not going to find an instance on the web of a pagan going for a walk in the woods and communing with nature (well, you might, you might even find it here, but it's not gonna turn up on a calendar of what's happening at your local community center, where a ritual just might)

I've actually been wanting to just whine about pagans, really, for a coupla days. It's silly, but I feel like when I encounter organized pagans in real life they're like afraid of nature. This really boils down to two experiences. Once a year or two ago when we were having a meeting of some sort at the meetinghouse on or around June 21st and there was a scheduling conflict because the pagan group that uses our meetinghouse had booked it for summer solstice, and I just though, my god, don't they want to be outside on summer solstice? is that more prejudice? is it silly to assume pagans want to worship outside? I want to worship outside! especially at midsummer. Then again, I don't think I'm pagan.

The second instance was just a week or two ago at our local May Day celebration. Some pagan group (except maybe they didn't even say they were pagan, they were "earth" something, oh well) was trying to recruit members and their big upcoming thing was a camping trip they take for a week every summer, and like three different people told me enthusiastically that it's at a professional campground and you can take hot showers every day and there's electricity at every site. I personally like camping without electricity, and can do without a shower for a few days (though I'd probably want one if I was gone a week)

I can't quite explain how it makes me want to cry that people who identify around, and, well, worship, the earth can seem so disinclined to like BE on the EARTH.

And no, this is not meant to be a pagan bashing rant. Like I said, I don't even know if the people I'm talking about are pagans, or if other pagans would think they were pagans or what. Plus, I'm not very good at organizing my thoughts before broadcasting them. I learned the word "tact" as a child from people telling me that I don't have it. Sorry (really, I'm sorry)

Which actually maybe brings me to my point (really? can that happen?) which is more about how pagans seem even harder to pin down than quakers. Who are they? what do they believe? Do they marry same sex couples? do they have female clergy? do they have a book? What do they DO? (which,I have to say, I've been asked more as a lesbian than as a quaker, but it might be close) This is something I should be able to look up somewhere, right?

Is there a membership process for being a pagan, what would you become a member of? I get the impression there are pagan clergy (like, who can marry a couple legally and stuff) so then, who ordains them? what sort of things do they have to know first? What IS a pagan? is there any agreed upon definition? Can you be an outcast from Paganism? I suppose I had thought not, but I don't know. says:

one of a people or community observing a polytheistic religion, as the ancient Romans and Greeks.
a person who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim.
an irreligious or hedonistic person.

So I don't think that's all that helpful.

Actually, writing this, I am finding I have a lot of similar questions about christianity, possibly another post to come soon.....

I think for me, the thing is, that why I'm a QUAKER has a lot to do with basically the spiritual power I feel in the world. As a christian-by-default child, I felt what they were talking about sometimes - love for my fellow human beings, a strong sense of justice, I just didn't think that stories about fishermen and churches with stained glass windows, men in robes, incense and candles, had to do with any of it. I found that they detracted from something that needed no embellishment, so leave it alone.

As I've grown I've been somewhat inclined to call myself a pagan quaker, because that power that I feel is most present in nature and "natural" things (trees yes, cars no) - for me this is roughly parallel to being a christian quaker - yes to Jesus, but no to most of that other stuff we (possibly) grew up with as non-quaker christian children. But most pagan quakers I know seem to be more organizedly pagan than that, maybe because they didn't have it growing up and still feel the need for it? I'm not sure. I personally don't have a strongly anti-ritual view of quakerism. it doesnt' work for me, and I don't want it to become, even a little bit, how my community "does" quakerism, I think that would be a problem, but I don't think that people who do ritual (be it catholic or pagan, or something else) outside of meeting need to be excluded or shunned or anything. I guess I'm also wondering if that's a concern among people for whom ritual in other contexts is important?