January 28, 2010

Thoughts on being a Non-Initiate

Posted in Christianity, faith and doubt, God, interfaith experiences, Mormonism, Relationships, religion, school and academics, Spirituality tagged , , , , , at 6:09 am by Eostre

I am taking a class this semester on the Literature of Mormon Women. It is a great topic, and I am really excited about it. There is one thing that has me a little apprehensive, though. I am the only non-Mormon in the class. I know, this shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is really a strange situation, for multiple reasons.

First, the obvious, it is weird being the only one in the class who isn’t an initiate. I don’t know the lingo, I don’t recognize most of the names, and I didn’t know before last week that the Temple and the Tabernacle were two different buildings. I am on the outside looking in. I have studied Mormonism, but that is very different from actually being a Mormon. Sure, I can name the four canonical texts, but I don’t use them for my devotions. All the knowledge in the world isn’t enough to bridge that gap.

The second, and less obvious reason, is that I have not been in a really religious environment for almost two years. My faith since coming to Claremont has been largely a private thing, I haven’t participated in any faith-based communion for a while, mostly on purpose. Going to this class I have been struck by how far I have gone from when I was comfortable in an insular religious environment. It doesn’t matter that this doesn’t happen to be my religion, the attitudes are strikingly similar even though the trappings aren’t. There is a certain way that religious people speak, think, and act, that I have been away from for a long time. If you are (or have been) religious in America I am sure you know what I mean. There is an insularity, an us and them mentality, that I had forgotten about.

This is challenging me in completely unexpected ways. I expected the discomfort of being the only non-Mormon in a class, but I did not expect the vertigo that I experience when I walk through that door and into a world that I don’t think I belong in any more. That religious life and mindset just doesn’t fit comfortably anymore. It’s like trying to jam my feet into shoes I outgrew a year ago.

The semester has only just started, but I can tell that this is going to be a huge personal challenge. Can I re-enter that world? Do I want to?

December 4, 2009

A Recovering Catholic?

Posted in Catholic, faith and doubt, Faith Transformations, Family, feminist theology, Spirituality tagged , , , at 7:08 am by Gina Messina

At the end of September my grandfather passed away.  It was a very difficult time for my family.  My grandfather was an amazing person who gave us all so much love and I miss him dearly.  I traveled home to Ohio to celebrate his life and I was honored when my uncle asked if I would participate in the mass by reading a passage from the Book of Wisdom.  In all the years I was a practicing Catholic, I had never participated in a mass in any way.  This would be my very first time, and even though I no longer considered myself a member of the Church, it felt very special to me to have a role in the mass celebrating my grandfather’s life.

It was a beautiful service and I felt a strong connection to my family and to God/dess as I participated in the rituals.  The mass was a great comfort to me.  Although I have claimed to be a “Recovering Catholic,” on that day I had to wonder if this was really true, am I no longer Catholic?  What does it mean to be Catholic?  Do I have to conform to the Vatican rules, or is it true as Rosemary Radford Ruether says that the “Vatican does not equal Catholicism?” 

So many things about my life as a Catholic has been troubling to me and so much of what the Catholic Church claims to be the way of God/dess I believe to be absolutely false.  I am angry at the Catholic Church. I am bitter towards the Catholic Church.  I believe the Catholic Church is abusive.  But can I still be a Catholic?  Can I hold on to that identity?  Can I remain in the Church and struggle against what I believe to be wrong?  Can I fight the fight or will I simply be perpetuating the victimization of women by continuing to participate in what I view as a violent institution that demands the suffering of women? 

While I believed my struggle with these questions had ended and thought my connection to Catholicism was permanently severed, participating in the celebration of my grandfather’s life through a reading at mass propelled me back to my place of questioning.    Am I Catholic?  Was I ever not a Catholic?  Can I make a clean break or will my upbringing and family heritage always keep me in a place of struggle and questioning?  It seems that every time I think I have the answer, I could not be further from it.  I wonder if perhaps living in the question is the answer.  So for now, although I am not sure that I want to call myself a Catholic or a non Catholic, I want to give myself permission to continue to struggle.  Right now living in the question seems to make far more sense than thinking I will ever have the answer.

November 20, 2009

The Church of O: Practicing Oprah

Posted in feminism, Oprah, Spirituality tagged , , , , at 4:22 pm by Gina Messina

Although our topic for this week is waiting, at the last minute I decided to veer off track when I heard that Oprah would be going off the air.  There is much to be said about her and what she has offered to both women and men over the last near 25 years.  While Oprah is a leading talk show host and media queen, she is also one of America’s most influential spiritual leaders.  With over 26 million viewers, Oprah Winfrey has created a congregation that is inspired daily by the sermons preached from her pulpit.  Her message is simple: “Live your best life.”  According to the Gospel of Oprah, you have a duty to make yourself happy.  Although her parishioners are mostly women, men also partake in looking to Oprah for guidance on health, happiness, and salvation, including Barack Obama who referred to Oprah as his “host” during a speech on his religious beliefs in Iowa on December 10, 2007.

Viewing Oprah can be seen as a religious process.  Everyday people make time to turn on their television and listen to an hour of inspiration directly from the gospel of Oprah.  It becomes a ritual of attending “church.” Parishioners attend the service, listen to the message and then take that message, evaluate it, and apply it to their lives.  Further, the viewers go out and spread the message.  Oprah’s congregation is eager to share Oprah’s message for the day with family, friends, and even the stranger in the grocery store.  With her show airing daily in 132 countries and 205 television markets, Oprah is preaching to a much larger congregation than any other evangelist.    

Oprah not only reaches her congregation via her talk show, she has a multimedia empire through which her followers are able to her message.  The talk show host, producer, philanthropist, and spiritual guru speaks to her congregation through O Magazine, O Magazine at Home, the Oprah Book Club, Oprah and Friends on XM Radio, and Harpo Productions. In each of her media outlets, Oprah only ties her name to products that promote her message of empowerment, self-improvement, and self-actualization. 

Using self-disclosure, confession, and honest talk, Oprah has encouraged her parishioners to enter a new phase of life.  She calls for the sharing of inner life experience to shed negativity and emerge empowered with a new self worth.  A symbol of spiritual renewal, Oprah is a catalyst for a new religion in America.  She has redefined the religious experience.  As a spiritual leader Oprah Winfrey has influenced millions with her vision of possibilities and message of self love. 

Women across the country, including Melissa Ethridge, have claimed Oprah to be their religion.  They have turned to Oprah for their spiritual fix and have been inspired by Oprah’s message.  Oprah has provided them with a spirituality that no church can offer.  In the Church of O women are not oppressed, in the Church of O women to do not need to suffer, in the Church of O, happiness is a must.  Women receive tools for real life and are not made to feel guilty about it.

October 15, 2009

Jesus was not white, and other reflections

Posted in God, Goddess, Jesus, religion, Soul, Spirituality at 4:29 am by Eostre

Growing up in the Evangelical Church, we knew who Jesus was, we had pictures of him! Jesus was white, quasi-attractive, and full of good ol’ Amerijesus playing keep awaycan pride (our Church had an American flag right next to cross, behind the pulpit).  And since, as we all know (and out Sunday School teachers showed us on felt boards every week) Jesus was more than just a man, he was GOD, the implications were clear. Jesus was just like us! And more than that, he might have lived in Ancient Israel, but apart from that small point, he was American!

Unfortunately, this Jesus was created out of whole cloth by the American Church and fed to little minds every week by well meaning (but maliciously misinformed) adults. I don’t know which would be worse, a concerted effort to do away with the Jesus of the Bible and replace him with this permissive, smiling, white man, or blinding ignorance. Either way, irreparable damage has been done to generations of Christian children, who grew up to be Christian adults who then went on to perpetuate the lie.

As I became aware of the glaring inconsistencies in what the Bible actually said and what was presented in Christian media, I was appalled. The lie is so widespread and so ingrained in Christian (and Western) culture, that there seems to be no way to counter it.  Suddenly, White Jesus was everywhere I looked. I couldn’t escape his bland, permissive gaze. Christian bookstore’s send me spiraling into depression.

So what do I do with this? How do I deal with this tangled, snarled knot of misconceptions and angst? I tried declaiming to anyone who would listen that Jesus probably looked more like Osama Bin Laden than Brad Pitt, but I soon discovered that it was a fruitless exercise. The lie was too prevalent, too ingrained in our collective consciousness.

So I gave up. Not completely, of course, I’ll still pull out the soap-box given the opportunity, but I can’t let it consume me anymore. I can’t fight the White Jesus, but he has ruined God personifications for me. I can’t try to imagine a human God without spiraling back down into the angst, so I have had to find a different way of imagining God. It wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t well defined, but now, when I care to, I imagine God as a sort of amorphous cloud that can envelope me in warmth, like laying on the grass in the sunshine when it’s not too hot, but just right, and you can see the patterns of the shadows of the leaves on your eyelids when you close your eyes. And all I want to do is curl up and rest. God, for me, now, is a feeling. God is safety and comfort and warmth, all encompassing and incorporeal, no gender, no race, God is both the sunlight that warms my face, the grass that cushions me, and the clean scent of rain that lulls me to rest. Simple? Yes. Uncomplicated? No.

October 9, 2009

Coming to Know Goddess Mother

Posted in Catholic, feminism, feminist theology, God, Goddess, Relationships, religion, Spirituality, Thealogy, Theology at 6:07 am by Gina Messina

Goddess Mother

Goddess Mother

Growing up in the Catholic Church I always believed God was a man.  God was always spoken of as male, and although Catholic teaching states that God is genderless, as a child growing up in the Church I never knew this.  No one ever told me that God was genderless; I only heard over and over again God referred to as Father, him, he, himself, etc.  There was never gender neutral language, there certainly was never female language.  Why would I have thought any different? 

I was also very confused by God’s attributes.  Although I heard that God was benevolent, I also heard that God punished.  I found it very distressing that God had stricken Moses dead one step outside of the Promised Land.  I was also troubled by God allowing Satan to torment Job.  However, what garnered my attention most was the crucifixion of Jesus.  Why was such a violent and horrific death of the Son of God the only acceptable sacrifice, the only way to redeem humanity? These actions seemed cruel and led me to question God’s benevolence; I feared God.

I was in college the first time I was told that God could be imaged as a woman; it was a shocking revelation.  I had always pictured God as a man, looking perhaps a lot like what I had been told Jesus looked like (what I term the “Hollywood Jesus;” blond hair, blue eyes, nothing what the historical Jesus looked like).  What would a female God look like?  If God could be imaged female, would God’s attributes be different?  Since that time I have spent a great deal of time wondering who God is.  How should God be imaged?  What is an appropriate name for God?  What are God’s characteristics? Would a female God have demanded a blood sacrifice?

While it has taken quite a bit of time and while I am certain my thoughts will continue to evolve, I have come to know God in a very different way.  For me, God is no longer male and no longer vengeful.   Instead I have re-imaged God as Goddess Mother and Goddess Mother possesses attributes that allow me to have a loving relationship with her, a relationship I had not been able to develop in the past.   

I no longer feel disconnected and fearful of God.  Rather, I encounter Mother Goddess daily through my interactions with others and my experiences with nature.  I encounter her through the support and friendship I share with the women of this blog and through my husband’s loving embrace.  I experience the Goddess in the sun that warms me and in the water that quenches my thirst.  She is loving, nurturing, sustaining and continually present.  Although there were times that I felt lost and did not know who Goddess Mother was, I know now that I was never a stranger to her.

October 7, 2009

Jesus is a Sexy Beast

Posted in Jesus, religion, sexuality, Spirituality tagged , , , at 5:42 am by Lakshmi (LaChelle)

sexy jesusI spent a whole heap of years accepting that God/Jesus was my Daddy, BetterThanABoyfriend, Romantic Prince Charming, Protector, Bryan Adams Doing Everything for Me (My Jesus was HOTT!), and I wasn’t the only one. As much as Jesus and the male God have been pronounced as celibate, asexual beings, the sexiness of Jesus is well promoted for mainstream Christians. I remember my youth pastor saying that, “As much as that cute boy at school makes you smile, Jesus should make you smile more. Jesus always thinks you are beautiful.” When the Da Vinci Code movie came out in 2006, it caused a bit of  stir among Christian churches, the main complaint being that Jesus could have never have children. Not only would that (having sex?) compromise his divinity (although no one really ever explains why), it’s practically impossible (do NOT think of Jesus’ penis. Do NOT. It is not there. He does not use it. End. Of. Story.) Yet his sexuality was just that which was coveted by some people, including my friend. When I asked her what she thought of the movie, she said that she was fine with it, except that she would be sad to think of Jesus as having a wife. . . because she doesn’t want to share his love like that.

So as girls, we (being myself and this friend and others) were sort of allowed to see Jesus as romantic. We were the brides of Christ. A major motivation to stay virgins until we married was because if we didn’t, it would be like we were cheating on Jesus (yes, this was another youth service sermon). Yet, to think of the historical Jesus as feeling lust, but more to the point, engaging in sex, would be wrong. Right? Because sex is . . . not divine? What happens if he has sex???? Is sex sin? What IS it? But hey, if he DID think about sex, it was certainly heterosexual sex. That is just a given. Come on.

God is sort of given the same rap, although He isn’t as sexy since he’s sort of amorphous and spirit-y. Yet He’s definitely male (Zeus, anyone?) and yet definitely asexual (although. . . he kind of did it with Mary to make Jesus. . . omgz I’m so confused).

But what consequences do such messages have on our theologies, on our lives? Jesus/God is a sexy beast we can’t really have. Is there a place for the erotic, for sexuality, in our theology? Can it be seen as divine and good and therefore not to be avoided in our deities and in our own religious/spiritual lives? Do we have to separate it? Here is me being holy and sacred (not having sex). Here is me being human (not divine, having sex). I’m not sure really what I want in theology, but it might be nice to discover the sensual and the sexual and not have it be a disconnect with the sacred. At the same time, the sexualizing of God/Jesus as husband/boyfriend/great body as it happens now seems problematic. But I’m not sure how to articulate why.

As we think on these things, may this music video from the film Hamlet 2 be of aid:

September 21, 2009

Spirituality in Images and Art

Posted in Art, SoCal, Soul, Spirituality at 4:46 pm by LadySophie

When I was in 8th grade, I took at art class and felt I was destined to be an artist. I loved to paint, work with charcoals, and sketch. It’s funny to me now because I am such a verbal person – everything I do in life right now revolves around words. But what I found in art, was a way to express myself even beyond words.

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I led retreats off and on in my last ministry – and I learned about art cards at a conference. They are sets of postcards you can buy that have fine art printed on them in small form. I used them as an introduction exercise. I.e. “everyone choose a card that represents who you are and share it with the group.” It was a way to take us deeper as a group more quickly. You would be amazed at the depth of meaning people found in art.

Since I have been in SoCal, one of my fav places to visit is the Getty. My profile pic is actually the floating labyrinth in the garden there. I’ll attach a few more pics here for you to see. The Getty is such a fulfilling experience. One room is my favorite. It is a room of women. One scene is a wedding in Greece with women dancers. Another frame has a portrait of a regally dressed woman by the beach. Another is a haunting portrait of what looks like a sad wife. I am always stirred in that room.

Not only do I find meaning in images others have created, but I find images inside as well. If I stop and listen, images come to mind of what I am feeling or desiring. In my journaling, I could imagine the place where my soul could rest, could be myself, could be restored. It is a beach house (of course). Huge windows that face the ocean. Crisp white couches – the comfortable kind that you can nap on. A beautiful kitchen. Rooms for different things I enjoy. Only peace lives there. I can walk around without my shoes on. No one else can go there unless they are invited. That image has stayed with me this year in a powerful way.

Even if you are not an art person or a journaling person – try both one time. Go to a local art museum. Sit down for 10 minutes and be still. See what images come to mind. What a gift – that we have this ability to connect our soul to the world around us. Art and images help me see what is inside my own heart spiritually  – and express it in a way words never could.

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September 18, 2009

Finding the Goddess at a Dave Matthews Band Concert

Posted in feminism, Goddess, music, Spirituality at 7:24 am by Gina Messina

  Dave Matthews in concert

For quite some time it is fair to say that spirituality was missing in my life.  I always had questions about God and wondered what spirituality was.  Although I had gone to (Catholic) mass, prayed and focused on developing theologically from a very early age, I never truly had a spiritual experience.  I did not understand the point of prayer, if God didn’t need my prayers, then why I should I pray?  They certainly did not bring me any comfort, instead prayer and mass felt like chores that I had to do in order to make my way to heaven.  Didn’t any of my other deeds count?

By the time I had begun my MA program in Religious Studies, I was an “in the closet” atheist.  Attending a Jesuit University I was quiet about how my religious views had changed as a result of my research.  It was during this time that my love affair with the music of the Dave Matthews Band began.  I had always been aware of DMB’s music and really liked what had been released for air play but did not own any CDs and rarely spent time listening to any music.  Occasionally I would turn on the radio in my car when I was not rehearsing a presentation, reviewing concepts from material I had read for class, or talking on my cell phone and using my drive time as my only time to catch up with family drama and friends.  Other than that no music, much less the music of DMB influenced my life in any way.

It was my husband who first paid attention to DMB and insisted that I attend a concert with him during a trip to Boston at Fenway Park.  I agreed and while I would like to say that it was the best experience of my life, my husband and I had what was probably the biggest fight of our entire marriage that night (over absolutely nothing, by the way) and it left us with a memory that was soured. 

However, it was at that concert that I remembered how much I liked the unique sound of DMB and appreciated the meaning behind some of its songs.  Following our trip I kept a CD in my car and started to really analyze the music.  About a month later we attended a second DMB concert at home in Cleveland and it was truly a phenomenal experience.  My husband and I strongly connected over the music and I felt inspired by its overall message.  Going to DMB concerts became a spiritual event for us to share that offered a transcendent experience of holy community.  What I had been missing in church and did not feel fulfilled in with prayer I found in a concert with a band that promotes social justice through their music. 

It was DMB’s cover of the song “The Maker” that first allowed me to reestablish a connection with the divine.  I experienced the song itself as a prayer, feeling truly in communication with the divine when I listened to and felt the meaning of its lyrics.  When I had lost my mom to domestic violence, it was the song “Grey Street” that allowed me to experience the suffering she had endured during her abusive relationship.  The songs “Stay or Leave” and “Sister” described my devastation and grief over her loss.  Although it may sound odd to say, the music of DMB is what carried me through my grief process for what was likely the biggest loss I will ever experience. 

This past week my husband and I attended the DMB concert at the Greek Theater in L.A.  Of course we had been looking forward to the show for months and were excited for our yearly dose of spirituality inspired by music and community that we have found nowhere else.   The concert opened with “Don’t Drink the Water,” a song that describes the injustice experienced by the American Indians at the hands of the colonizers.  It was a strong and powerful opening, but I was surprised when the next song they played was “Stay or Leave.” I was overcome with emotion and openly wept as I felt a strong sense of accompaniment in my grief and loss.  Later they played “Grey Street” and “Sister;” I was surprised that of the many songs to choose from, including those from their new album, somehow, those that were most significant and comforting to me through such a difficult time were being performed all in the same night.  I felt my mother with me; I sensed her love in a way I had not experienced since her death.

At the close of the show, the band played a song I had never heard live before; in fact, it is a song that is very rarely performed, “The Maker.”  My husband was as stunned as I was; knowing the importance this particular song had for me, he leaned over and held me close as we experienced the melodic prayer together.  It was the perfect way to end the evening. 

For me, it has always been impossible to experience the divine in patriarchal mass and prayer, I felt stifled and unable to achieve a sense of spirituality throughout my time in the Catholic Church.  I was unable to fit into a religious mold that was dictated by structures I believe to be abusive.  Although I struggled for some time and even felt lost, I realize now that I have never been a stranger to the divine, I simply needed to find her on my terms…and I did…at a concert, in the music of an all male band, I found the Goddess.