Category Archives: Religion & Spirituality

Imbolc 2014: Facts, Dates, Traditions And Rituals To Know

Happy Imbolc, Friends!

Imbolc 2014: Facts, Dates, Traditions And Rituals To Know.

In the Valley of the Shadow of Death

In our internal arms race there is no end to fear. More weapons and more lethal weapons are an escalating response. It’s important to remember that there are other forms of power than killing power. The life and mission of a great Rhode Islander demonstrate another way.

Thirty years ago, Providence was home to a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Called Cambodia’s Ghandhi, the Venerable Maha Ghosananda lived and taught in a triple-decker on Hanover Street, near the Cranston Street Armory.

Displaced by the Southeast Asian War, Maha Ghosananda lived for a year in the Sakeo refugee camp on the Thai border. He ministered to Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge, and later to Khmer Rouge soldiers fleeing the Vietnamese. It was said that he was given an airplane ticket to safety, but he cashed it in and used it to print tracts on Lovingkindness, which he distributed to all in the camp, regardless of which side they were on. After leaving Sakeo, Maha Ghosananda traveled the world as one of the last surviving Cambodian Buddhist monks, arriving in Providence in 1980. Here he founded a temple that became the Khmer Buddhist Society, a center and heart of the community.

In 1992, Maha Ghosananda established the Dhammayietra Walk for Peace– an annual walk across Cambodia to minister to the suffering and bereaved survivors of the war. This was truly a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Peace was not securely established. Gun violence, for politics or robbery was a threat. Maha Ghosananda was a politically challenging figure and his teacher had been murdered by the Khmer Rouge. He was a target for assassination. In addition, the countryside was strewn with land mines. War still smoldered– one year two of the marchers, a monk and a nun, were killed in crossfire between government and Khmer Rouge forces.

But the Dhammayietra brought healing to people who had suffered the dismantling of their society, and seen the near-eradication of their religion.

Nonviolence is not for the faint of heart. When he lived in Providence, Maha Ghosananda was a close friend of the minister of First Unitarian Church, Tom Ahlburn. It was just before the first, or maybe the second Dhammayietra that Tom held a gathering I can only describe as an Irish wake. Tom told Maha Ghosananda stories and we sent our thoughts and hope to those marchers traversing a mined disaster zone in an uneasy peace.

Maha Ghosananda, in fact, outlived Tom Ahlburn. Maha Ghosananda led several walks across Cambodia. He spent his last days in Lowell, Massachusetts, and passed from this world in 2007.

I was blessed to meet him. He was a saint.

He taught me three words, Truthfulness, Forbearance and Gratitude. His message was Metta–Lovingkindness.

Today our country is feeling the shadow of death in the senseless violation of a school and the murder of children. Nonviolence is not an absence, but a radical response to violence. Pacifism is not passivity. Maha Ghosananda lived a life of activism and great courage. It comforts me to think of him in these times.

[Santidhammo Bhikkhu's book, 'Maha Ghosananda the Buddha of the Battlefields' was used as a resource and aid to aging memory in writing this post.]

Blessed Samhain

As we sweep up leaves from Hurricane Sandy, and follow the news from New Jersey, New York, Haiti and the islands of the Caribbean, we come to the holiday of the scary and the sweet. Samhain, Halloween, All Saints Day, Dia de los Muertos are days of reflecting on mortality and celebrating life.

Starhawk, a very earthy priestess of engaged paganism, wrote these words in another stormy time– 2003, the first Halloween after the start of the Iraq War.

Much of our magic and our community work is about creating spaces of refuge from a harsh and often hostile world, safe places where people can heal and regenerate, renew our energies and learn new skills. In that work, we try to release guilt, rage, and frustration, and generally turn them into positive emotions.

Safety and refuge and healing are important aspects of spiritual community. But they are not the whole of spirituality. Feeling good is not the measure by which we should judge our spiritual work. Ritual is more than self-soothing activity.

Spirituality is also about challenge and disturbance, about pushing our edges and giving us the support we need to take great risks. The Goddess is not just a light, happy maiden or a nurturing mother. She is death as well as birth, dark as well as light, rage as well as compassion — and if we shy away from her fiercer embrace we undercut both her own power and our own growth.

There are times when it is inappropriate to feel wholly good. Now is one of them. As the saying goes, “If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.”

She reminds me of my minister, James Ford, who bids us go in peace, with a hint of unrest.

Starhawk’s entire essay is here. With more on BeliefNet here.

Blessings from Reclaiming Collective…

A year of beauty. A year of plenty.
A year of planting. A year of harvest.
A year of forests. A year of healing.
A year of vision. A year of passion.
A year of rebirth.

This year may we renew the earth.
This year may we renew the earth.

Let it begin with each step we take.
And let it begin with each change we make.
And let it begin with each chain we break.
And let it begin every time we awake.

This Samhain, on the knife’s edge of possible futures, remember that where there’s fear there’s power, and take the sweet with the scary.

Credit Where Credit is Due: The beautiful Celtic mandala is by the artist Nigel Pennick,found on Google Images through Wheel of Wonder– a Pagan blogspot.

Mormon Discipline and Radical American Nuns

A civil and fair-minded site for Mormons who want to discuss their religion, MormonThink.com, is at the center of a political controversy. From The Daily Beast…

David Twede, 47, a scientist, novelist, and fifth-generation Mormon, is managing editor of MormonThink.com, an online magazine produced largely by members of the Mormon Church that welcomes scholarly debate about the religion’s history from both critics and true believers.

A Mormon in good standing, Twede has never been disciplined by Latter Day Saints leadership. But it now appears his days as a Mormon may be numbered because of a series of articles he wrote this past week that were critical of Mitt Romney.

On Sunday, Twede says his bishop, stake president, and two church executives brought him into Florida Mormon church offices in Orlando and interrogated him for nearly an hour about his writings, telling him, “Cease and desist, Brother Twede.”

Mormon leaders have scheduled an excommunication “for apostasy” on Sept. 30. A spokesman for the church told The Daily Beast that the church would not be commenting for this story.

If David Twede wants some support, he should email the nuns…

A prominent U.S. Catholic nuns group said it was “stunned” that the Vatican reprimanded it for spending too much time on poverty and social justice concerns and not enough on abortion and gay marriage.

In a stinging report on Wednesday, the Vatican said the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had been “silent on the right to life” and had failed to make the “Biblical view of family life and human sexuality” a central plank in its agenda. It accused the group of promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

It also reprimanded American nuns for expressing positions on political issues that differed, at times, from views held by American bishops. Public disagreement with the bishops — “who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals” — is unacceptable, the report said.

It’s tough for believers when their church organizations become so politically entangled that they find themselves on the defensive for not voting or campaigning for the approved candidates.

Collusion between Church and State has gotten a lot of people killed, quite a few in our own New England, founded by exiles who were the wrong type of Christian. The Puritans did not take a lesson in the evils of intolerance, and went on to do stuff like hang Mary Dyer in Boston Common for the crime of Quakerism.

Mary Dyer was a tough case– continually defying the authorities and returning to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to support her faith. Religion is like that– uncompromising. Politics, on the other hand, is the art of the possible. Democracy depends on majority rule, tempered by laws that protect the individual. Rarely an uncompromising politician can do great good in the world. More often they just put up a front and make deals in the back room. Let them be what they are– they’re not spiritual leaders– they’re attention junkies who love power.

Separation of church and state is freedom’s best friend. Church and State are two great powers and the individual needs some space between them. Ask Roger Williams about that.

“But What Do You Do?”– Take Off the Hoods!

I just finished a biography of J.Frank Norris called ‘The Shooting Salvationist’ by David R. Stokes. Norris was America’s first megachurch media star in the 1920’s, but his reputation dimmed somewhat when he succumbed to compassion fatigue. Instead of counseling a troubled soul who came to his office he shot the man dead.

Texas in the 1920’s was Klan Kountry. Like many other politically connected men of ambition; Norris enjoyed a friendly relationship with the fraternal terrorist organization. They shared common enemies– Catholics and saloon owners, and the Klan never bothered anyone who mattered.

So, speaking of people who matter, why in the 21st Century am I ragging on Pat Robertson? He’s so old he’s almost cute, in an evil gnome kind of way.

Well, like the elderly Rupert Murdoch, he sits on top of a media empire. Pat Robertson’s 700 Club broadcasts it’s own version of the news across America and the world. If my informal survey of what’s on TV when I make nurse visits is any indicator, Christian Broadcasting Network has a large following, and they vote. That’s why politicians take Robertson seriously.

For the Left, he’s always good for an outrageous sound byte, like this explanation for the murderous attack on the Sikh Temple…

“What is it?” the TV preacher wondered. “Is it satanic? Is it some spiritual thing, people who are atheists, they hate God, they hate the expression of God? And they are angry with the world, angry with themselves, angry with society and they take it out on innocent people who are worshiping God.”

“And whether it’s a Sikh temple or a Baptist church or a Catholic church or a Muslim mosque, whatever it is, I just abhor this kind of violence, and it’s the the kind of thing that we should do something about,” he added. “But what do you do? Well, you talk about the love of God and hope it has some impact.”

Yes, we abhor this kind of thing…

Whether they burn crosses on your lawn or a pile of leaves it’s untidy and ruins the grass.

Whether they spray a swastika on a synagogue or a tagger’s initials it’s graffiti vandalism, how deplorable.

Whether it’s a terrorist symbol or a gauche fashion statement, a white hood is not something a minister should wear in church.

“But what do you do?” Robertson asks after blurring distinctions and making a false equivalence.

Any gathering, for worship, music or politics, could suffer a mass shooting, especially with guns so cheap and available. But this attack on the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin was carried out by a man who was active in hate groups and had his intentions tatooed all over his body. He was a crime waiting to happen.

It doesn’t let you off the hook if you wear you hood backwards and claim you don’t see.

Robertson is giving talking points to an audience of millions. Stuff happens. Atheists are terrible people so all crimes must be the fault of atheists. Or the devil. And what do you do anyway? Talk about the love of God. Don’t call out sin when some of your best friends might take offense. There’s nothing we can do about this poor old world. Let’s move on and unite against our real enemies, the feminists, gays, atheists.

Hey, a revolving enemies list is nothing new. J. Frank Norris got quite chummy with the Catholic Church in his later years when they found a common enemy in the Red Menace (that’s Communism, not the Republican Party.)

Are any of the megavangelists going to come out powerfully against hate, against prejudice, against the hostility to immigrants, to those who are different from the majority. Will Evangelicals confront the sad history of the Klan, enabled by too many Christian Churches? It wasn’t a question mark they burned, after all.

Fortunately, the secular law of the United States does recognize organized crime and will pursue this vicious murder of innocent people in their place of worship– will investigate the collaborators in the crime. Church members, and everyone who wants to exercise the right to peaceably assemble should be grateful that there is something we can do.

Filthy Lucre

Well, it took them long enough– but maybe the Church was waiting for Newscorpse to repent…

The Church of England has sold all shares in News Corporation held in its investment portfolios on ethical grounds, after a phone hacking scandal at the media empire’s UK operations.

The Church, which has three national investing bodies, sold the shares worth 1.9 million pounds ($2.97 million) after its Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) was not satisfied with the level of corporate governance reform at Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate following a year of dialogue.

“Last year’s phone hacking allegations raised some serious concerns amongst the Church’s investing bodies about our holding in News Corporation,” Andrew Brown, Secretary of the Church Commissioners said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Murdoch scandal isn’t totally old news, two more arrests today– a reporter and a police officer.

It’s been said that the remedy for speech is more speech. Letting one corporation build a media monopoly works against the free flow of information. That money corrupts so deeply is the real scandal.

If it turns out that News Corp stock loses value the Church will be thanking its voice of conscience, but that probably won’t happen. The Corp will just throw a few more reporters under the bus and polish their public image for the next marketing move.

Have a Melancholy Lughnasadh

A gentle, wistful melancholy, that is. Lughnasadh marks a cross-quarter day on the Celtic calendar. The beginning of harvest and the month when the light begins to turn more golden and the sun moves lower in the sky.

T.Thorne Coyle has a harvest meditation on her blog. I’ll be a little sad to see the first leaves turn.

Thomas Lewis Writes about the Prayer Banner Controversy and its Political Implications

Thomas Lewis, a professor of Religious Studies at Brown, provides an excellent summary of the prayer banner controversy. He points out that Frank Lombardi, whose terrible judgement (IMHO) in the prayer banner controversy helped to fuel the fight with the ACLU, will be squaring off against Gene Dyszlewski, an ordained minister who defended Jessica Ahlquist, for the Rhode Island Senate District 26 seat. More on that to come.

Rhode Island: A Resident Hears Dissent in Roger Williams’ State | Religion & Politics.

Rumble over Rosary at Brook Village


High Rise in the Dead of Winter

Humanists of RI posted a Facebook link to ABC 6 News– there’s a rumble over the Rosary at Brook Village—

It was a religious battle at a retirement home in North Providence. Seniors at Brook Village say they were banned from praying the rosary in common areas, but the company that owns the property is now saying the whole thing was blown out of proportion.

Every Monday morning, for the last 14 years, Nancy Davey has watched the same Catholic television show. She and a few others pray as they watch it in the community room at Brook Village.

“You know, we are not hurting anyone,” Davey said. “We sit there in front of a television. We have our rosary. We don’t say a word.”

Brook Village happens to be my old visiting nurse territory. It’s not exactly a ‘retirement home’. It’s a high-rise tower where tenants share laundry and community space, but mostly stay in their apartments. Not all of them are old, but it’s subsidized for elderly and disabled.

These places are physically very nice, but often isolating. When people do get social, disputes break out and grudges are held, often as not. Tenants retreat into their own space to avoid the other tenants they aren’t talking to. Honestly, this nurse thinks that human kindness is so precious in these places that she would almost recruit for the smoker’s group that hangs outside by the ash tray.

I have no doubt that, as Brook Village management says, the whole thing was blown out of proportion, and the management staff are popping Tums and wishing everyone would chill.

Some of my best friends are atheists, like Steve Ahlquist from Humanists of Rhode Island. He goes to my church. (If that sounds strange, let me tell you about First Unitarian some time.)

I have worked in places where, with no doubt good intentions, religious people created an environment that shut out those of us who didn’t believe. If your spirituality is not the majority, and you depend on your paycheck, you take a real risk in coming out as pagan.

I once worked in a nursing home, where a nice group of kids came to sing Christmas Carols, and ended with an altar call to bring all these unsaved elderly to Christ. I know they meant well, but some of those folks were Jewish, most were lifelong Catholics who shouldn’t be conned into renouncing Papism in their last days. My Christian family had no idea why I found this offensive.

Rather than trying to ban religious expression– which is impossible, I would like to see a policy of tolerance and respect for all our diverse beliefs, and non-beliefs. It might be hard to write into policy, but there’s a difference between using a common space and dominating it. You feel when you are in the presence of bullies though it’s hard to define exactly how you know. Maybe it’s a matter of time and space.

I’ve been around people who play religious TV stations, it’s as soothing as nails on a chalkboard to me, so I can understand how someone would not want to hear it in the common space. But at a reasonable volume for a limited time I could put up with it.

I would encourage the management of Brook Village not to be frightened of controversy, and to encourage the tenants to use the community rooms for activities, and to be good referees so that the rooms are accessible to everyone and no one group pulls a coup and takes over the space entirely. That’s a tough job, but I know that the building management could teach the UN a few things about negotiation and peacemaking, and I know they’re up for it.
[the picture is Centerdale Manor, twin building to Brook Village, they share a parking lot off the Centredale Rotary]

Tough Cases in Family Therapy

Three case studies are presented as examples of the complex problems married clients bring to the therapist. [These clients have approved the use of their real names because they are exhibitionists.]

Case History 1.
Jacob and Leah sit side by side on a couch. To the experienced eye the couple’s body language reveals tension and stress. Jacob gazes into the distance while Leah shrinks into the cushions. Rebecca, Jacob’s other wife, squats on the floor. Rebecca is rending her garment, one thread at a time. The steady plinking noise punctuates the session. It’s very irritating.
The handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah are outside in the parking lot watching the kids.

Leah to Jacob—“I know you never really loved me. You resent it that my father tricked you into marrying me? Well how do you think I feel? I was fruitful and bore you sons and Rebecca couldn’t stand it. She gave you her maidservant to lie with. That’s cheating.”
Rebecca to Leah— “You should talk about cheating. You found a mandrake root and wouldn’t give me any unless I sent Jacob to lie in your tent. I think you were on mandrake all along.”
Leah to Rebecca— “I had to give Jacob my maidservant to lie with to get even with you. Now I hardly ever see him. Why couldn’t you just accept that you’re barren?”
Jacob to Wives— “Why can’t we all just get along?”

Case History 2.

Tamar has occupied an armchair on one side of the room. Her expression is aggrieved and defiant. Judah sits as far away as possible, his expression unreadable because he has veiled his face. He is wearing dozens of small protective amulets that rattle when he moves.

Tamar– “Every day I ask G–d why I was forced to marry into this family. It’s not my fault that Judah’s son, my first husband Er, got smote. And Onan– he was even worse. I still have a burn mark from when the lightning struck. And don’t even ask about PTSD–I was right next to him in bed. I know they were your sons, Judah, but fair’s fair. I should have been married to the youngest when he grew up. Instead you would have left me at my father’s house to wear widow’s weeds until menopause. If I hadn’t dressed up like a prostitute and stopped you on the way to sheep shearing I’d be childless today.
I want a brother or sister for your twins. How come you shun my tent? I think it was pretty generous of me to overlook the fact that you tried to have me burned to death.”

Judah–“Wife, let me put this in terms you can understand. It’s the bottom of the ninth, you already have two strikes. Third strike and I’m out. I’m the coach of this game and it’s the dugout for you.”

Case History 3

Solomon comes to the therapist’s office alone. He looks very tired. He had arranged some sessions of individual therapy before scheduling couple’s therapy with his wives–

“When I was younger, I really liked to party. Even if I didn’t, some things are expected of the King of Israel. I’m married to Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. Some nights I can’t even remember their names. For instance, I’m married to three sisters named Jun, Jen and Jeun. And my first wife, Pharaoh’s daughter, is a real drama queen. I thought she’d mellow out but she’s still jealous as a cat. I think she’s been gossiping with some of my Edomite wives because my scouts report armed troops on the border and they’re getting intelligence from someone on the inside. It’s hard to establish trust when you have 1,000 wives, most of whom are from enemy tribes. I can’t seem to please any of them these days.”

Despite the challenges these tough cases present, the therapist can resolve all conflicts using simple rules based on the wisdom of millenia. It’s fortunate that traditional marriage has not changed in the last 3,000, 6,000, since Adam and Eve served dinosaur eggs at their wedding brunch. Though some complain that it’s hard to find room for all the cattle a bride brings to her husband’s family, mere convenience should not justify experimenting with an institution that has remained changeless through the ages and has served men so well.

(For more details on these cases see– Genesis 29-30:22, Genesis 38:6-30, 1 Kings 11:1-9, and do read your Bible for remedies to false claims.)

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