Archive for July, 2007

Spiritual emergency

No, I’m not having one. Well, any more than I usually am. 🙂 A dear friend has begun passing on items of interest for my blog, and they’re always good. Case in point? Spiritual Emergency, a blog that fascinates but unfortunately hasn’t been updated in a while. Still, there’s a lot of interesting stuff here. For instance: Did you know that religious or spiritual problems are now in a diagnostic category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (4th Ed.), which is used by mental health professionals to diagnose and treat mental health problems? Good stuff, I tell you.

Good post to come. Some comments have really been making me think lately.


Safe travels, Tammy Faye

I can’t believe I was so remiss in marking the death of an amazing American figure: Tammy Faye Messner, formerly Tammy Faye Bakker. She died of cancer on July 20. I remember the Jim Bakker scandal when it happened in the ’80s, but I knew very little about it and even less about Tammy Faye herself. She was such an easy comedic mark, both for newscasters and comedians, that all I picked up on was the makeup and the eyelashes.

Then I saw the documentary about her, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and my whole concept of her changed. She was a remarkable woman with flaws to spare but whose heart was not among those flaws. I had never known any of the back story on the fall of Jim Bakker, or what it cost her. I had never known that she and Jim were the first television ministers to actually reach out to gays and to people with AIDS, and I remember the scene where she talked to a man with AIDS on TV. That was a daring thing to do in those days and it’s much to her credit that her religious beliefs prompted her to kindness, love and understanding for people who must have been a little out of her social sphere.

The film is mostly from her point of view, so no doubt it glosses over some things, but a woman who could be that loving is okay in my book. I hope there’s a heaven for people like her, and that people remember the good in her instead of the easy jokes that stuck to her like barnacles.

I believe some friends of mine and I are going to have an honorary viewing of the film soon, and we’ll toast the woman who lived through scandal, addiction, heartbreak and family misery but was still fascinating right up to her death. Be well, Tammy Faye. You’ll be missed by a world that doesn’t have enough of your kind of love.

Freedom of religion (redux)

I’ve said before that Keith Ellison is a good man and a fine congressman for Minnesota, for whom I was proud to vote last November. His Reichstag comment seems to have been misinterpreted, but I absolutely loved a comment that he made in a speech to an organization called Atheists for Human Rights (

He said, “You’ll always find this Muslim standing up for your right to be atheists all you want.” (If you want to know more about his Reichstag comment, here’s a long post from our friend The Friendly Atheist about the speech and the comment:

Now there’s a man who understands religious freedom, and freedom in general. He believes in God fervently, yet he can stand up before people with whom he disagrees and promise to help protect their rights.

Back from Colorado

Last week’s radio silence was brought to you by dial-up Internet. I was at my folks’ home in Colorado and dial-up just wasn’t agreeing with WordPress. Oh, well, I have returned and I’m all ready to chit-chat.

First up: I’ve been thinking a lot about the zealots who tried to disrupt the opening prayer in the Senate chamber last week. (They did so because a Hindu cleric was offering the prayer.) Actually, I’ve been thinking more about all the blog posts I’ve read since. We can set aside the religious freedom question. I’ve finally accepted that while I think religious freedom means the freedom of anyone to practice any religion, to many it means “the freedom of everyone to practice only one religion, which just happens to be mine.”

But this leads to a question, which I hope others are willing to grapple with. As an agnostic, this just doesn’t make sense to me. Why does one religion have to be the only one that’s right?

I know that The Truth should be all Universal and such, but the fact is that there’s not much that’s universal about human beings. The Japanese have a totally different outlook on the world because their culture, their history, and their geography are all radically different from, say, a Bedouin in the desert or a smalltown girl in Colorado. I’m not saying there are no commonalities, I’m saying that the differences are equally important. Why would people see God in the same way when they see so much else differently?

Watch this video and see if you see what I do.

This makes no sense to me, and it weirds me out, because a totally different cultural sensibility came up with it. But that doesn’t make it wrong; for all I know, this teaches language to Japanese folk better than anything else does.

So tell me. Why does one person’s interpretation of the Eternal Reality have to be the same as another’s? Isn’t it just possible that God reveals that reality to different people in different ways? Isn’t it possible that no religion needs to conquer another, either physically or spiritually? If someone needs an enemy (even, or especially, in spiritual matters) to know who they are, who are they really?

Why blogging rocks

Why, indeed? There are many reasons, but the biggest is the interaction I get with readers who have thought about the same things as much or more than I have. Check out this comment by Ed, which has been in my mull queue ever since I read it two days ago. When I’m done ruminating, I plan to write a post about it. But in the meantime, I love it when the comments on this blog make me think.

The Quakers and a question

Inspired by the Belief-o-Matic, I visited the Quakers again yesterday. The thing that bothers me is that although I feel some things in the silence, I don’t feel God. It makes me wonder: Is it possible that your experience of God is often dictated by your upbringing?

Most of you probably go to church pretty regularly. You probably pray regularly too, and sometimes talk these issues over with friends. So if you’re going to have an experience where you feel God is present, in what circumstances is that experience likely to take place?

For me, those experiences are generally when I’m alone. I realized that the other day, but it occurred to me more forcibly at the Quaker silence. I’m almost always alone, in fact, and usually I’m outdoors. The one exception is the Catholic mass I went to, but the music was so overwhelming that it precluded almost any interaction with the people there. I guess I’m used to having these experiences while I’m alone. So what’s that all about? Do I need isolation from humanity to get in touch with God?


You know, for a country whose bedrock principles include freedom of religion, we only do so okay. I doubt many Buddhists or Jews or Muslims are prevented from actually practicing their faith – and I may be wrong about that – but it’s for sure that they can only be so visible once they reach a certain plane. Consider Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of the House of Representatives, of whom Glenn Beck of CNN immediately said that he needed to be reassured that Ellison wasn’t a terrorist. (Ellison is my representative, and I can assure you he’s a lovely man whose concern for his neighborhood in North Minneapolis is apparent and whose politics are about peace.) Another rep said that Ellison should be required to take his oath of service on the Bible and made a big stink when Ellison preferred to take the oath on his copy of the Koran.

Today, in the House of Representatives, a Buddhist cleric was able to deliver the opening prayer, but several protesters had to be removed from the chamber before he could do so. They were shouting prayers and disrupting the Buddhist cleric’s words, referring to his presence as “an abomination in [the Lord’s] sight.” Nice.

This is exactly the kind of thing that leads me to doubt and distrust. Certainty in religion often seems to lead to intolerance, arrogance and finally oppression of others. Uncertainty seems to lead to more spirituality and connection with God. But where is the church where people say, “I’m not sure. Let’s figure it out together!” ?