Monday, March 18, 2013

Praise for the Honey Badger

I wake up and suddenly realize I am driving at night.  The two-lane road winds.  I don't have my lights on.  Lovely is sitting next to me and tells me to slow down.  I can't slow down. I can't stop.  I can't see.   I drive off the road and somehow manage to get on the road again.  Dream fades.

Daughter and I are watching Lovely get her photograph taken by a professional photographer with lights and all.  She is giggling and the photographer can't get a good picture.  Next to her in a chair is Zach in some kind of tuxedo and black tights.   He is being silly and making fun of Lovely.  She can't see him.  I ask Daughter if she can see him.  She says, "Yes."  To test her I ask her to describe him.  She tells me what he is wearing.  Dream fades.

The first dream is easy.  I have no idea what I am doing or where I am going and it is scary.   That is an anxiety dream.

Dream two might reflect an awareness of the different ways in which we are grieving and the different ways in which we keep Zach present with us.   We "see" him and don't "see" him.   The emotions I experienced during the dream were euphoria coupled with confusion.

Both dreams reflect anxiety and confusion of what direction our lives are taking since Zach's death.  Yet there is a freedom to it all as well, hence the euphoria of dream two.

Daughter found this video for us, "The Crazy Nastyass Honeybadger." 
"It has been referred to by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most fearless animal in all the animal kingdom.  It really doesn't give a shit."

The crazy nastyass honeybadger is now my ishta deva.

Friday, March 15, 2013


Here are some pictures from when we lived in Billings, 2001-2005. This first is on my parents' farm in Whitehall. I grew up here and remember sitting and reading near that very spot.

At our house in Billings with Katy. Zach might be a Freshman or Sophomore then at Billings West.

This was the summer of 2005 when we moved to Elizabethton. Zach graduated then and this is a family reunion at the "A-Frame" at Makoshika in Glendive. Here he is with cousin, Bret.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Here's some therapy. 

His name is Fyodor as in Fyodor Dostoevsky, Zach's favorite author.   I put a lot of love into him.  I caught myself asking him, "How's my little buddy?"  I used to ask Zach that.   He is better for me than a ghost or a spirit, or feather, or penny, or whatever, because he actually has flesh and can wiggle.

For those concerned that my love for Fyodor is diminishing my affection for Shelby (pictured above in a dazzling and stylish white fur), fear not.  She along with Snickers (not pictured) are the recipients of plenty of scratching just behind the ear, long walks, silly songs, sweet nothings, and tasty breakfasts.  

But little Fyodor does get some of that Zach attention.  He is my comfort pet

Saturday, March 9, 2013

God Options

In an earlier blog post, I wrote that I believe:​

that "God" functions as a symbol. The concept of "God" is a product of myth-making and "God" is no longer credible as a personal, supernatural being. For me, "God" functions as a shorthand for the Universe and sometimes for qualities and aspirations I wish to pursue or to emulate.

​Since junior high school when I first began to formulate critical thinking regarding faith, religion, and ultimately God, I have been on a quest to speak of God in a way that makes sense.  Believe me, I have tried.  Yet in the words of that old U2 song, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" at least as far as God is concerned.   It has been and continues to be an honest quest.  I really do/did want to find a way to say with integrity that I believe in God.

Along with critical thinkers both within and without the church, I have rejected an understanding of God as a personal being who exists outside of nature and yet created nature, interferes in its processes, and responds to prayer.   Many theologians have admitted this for some time, but only fairly recently has this critique been voiced at the popular level.   Bishop John Shelby Spong has been one of those voices.   His chapter, "Is Atheism the Only Alternative to Theism?" in his 1999 book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, presents the problem of God clearly.   ​ Galileo made God homeless and Darwin (along with modern cosmology) put God out of work.   The universe operates without supernatural agency.  

Spong argues that there may be other ways to understand God, that God is not the same as theism.   We just need to be more creative.  Perhaps there are other ways of retaining the symbol, God, and speaking of God as a reality other than traditional supernatural theism.   I am certainly game and open to suggestions.  ​ There is nothing I would like more, even if just to preserve my career, than to say yes to God.   Now, if quizzed by the authorities and backed into a corner, I can certainly say that God is a symbol for an ineffable mystery or that God is a personification of Nature or some other such redundancy.   But is God more than a redundancy?

Here is what I have tried so far:​

Pantheism.  God and the Universe are the same or God is a personification of the Universe.   In this view, God is a term to point to the sacredness and holiness of life as it is.  ​ I like it, but then again, if God is the Universe, do we need to speak of God?  Why not just talk about the Universe?

Panentheism.  This is the same as pantheism except for one syllable, "en," which means that while God is in the Universe, God is also more than the Universe or is not exhausted by the Universe.  This is a view that has been popularized by Matthew Fox and Marcus Borg among others.   While this offers a place for God (both within and outside the Universe), my question remains, "What does God do?"  ​  Can we really imagine anything outside the Universe?   Even if so, if the Universe operates without God, then what is the point?

Hinduism (and its variants).  While not really a God religion, the idea as I have understood it, and I may be wrong, is that the Universe is not ultimate reality.  Through meditation one can transcend sense experience and unite with the reality beyond the material universe that we know, see and touch.    While I suppose this could be true, and I am certainly unable to prove it wrong, I find it incredible and undesirable.   I see no reason to concern myself with speculations regarding any existence outside of the universe or beyond my earthly existence.  The Universe and this life are cool enough for me.   ​I do find that meditation has practical benefits, however.

​The Unconscious.   Carl Jung was asked if he believed in God.  He said, "I don't believe in God.  I know God."   He was speaking of the unconscious.  His insights into depth psychology are profound.   Our motivations, desires, fears, and joys come from aspects of brain activity of which we are not consciously aware.  Dreams are stories told by our unconscious.  An artist, author, or musician may feel that their creative work is something they have discovered from outside of them, hence, the concept of inspiration or reference to "a muse."   These artists uncover symbols and archetypes that are common among human beings, hence the collective unconscious.  Nevertheless, the unconscious is still part of us, not outside of us.  God may be one symbol in our unconscious or may be a symbol for the unconscious itself.

Creativity.  The late Gordon Kaufman spoke of God not as creator but as creativity.  He is a modern theologian who ​took seriously our natural world and sought to create a space for religious naturalism.   I like his project and I think it is important even as we may let go of God (at least as a supernatural being) not to let go of religion.  We need communities to explore and express our ideas and longings and to define and work for that which is good, enjoyable, just, and compassionate.   It may be redundant to burden creativity with the word God, but I find this one the best redundancy so far.

Language.  ​It is certainly true that God is the most influential literary figure ever created.  One of my favorite books is God: A Biography by Jack Miles.  He traces God as a literary character through the Hebrew scriptures.  As a literary figure, God reflects the despair and hope of human life.    Radical theologian, Don Cupitt, has done much with language.   All language about God is our language.  He speaks of the Universe as outsideless.  "All this is all there is."    God is being replaced in common language by Life.   He advocates a religion of ordinary life.   So far this makes most sense of all.

A heart for Jesus.  I truly am a sucker for Jesus.  This makes me more Christian than I often admit to be.  ​ Christian theology says that we see God in the Jesus story.     I do like the idea that God becomes a human being.   I think that Christian theology should have taken this notion to its logical conclusion.  All human beings are the incarnation of God because human beings created through language the concept of God.  I can affirm that.  I affirm that the mythology of Jesus is the product of human creativity.   Let me be clear.  I don't think Jesus is alive any more than Elvis, or any less than Elvis.   I reject as wish fulfillment thinking, heaven, hell and any form of afterlife.   This life will simply have to do.    That aside, I like the figure of Jesus.  This is where I jump off the ship of rationality and choose to believe.  I believe that the vision of Jesus, that is the historical Jesus, who through his life and teachings resisted empire and domination with love and compassion is a vision worth taking to my grave.   If that is God, I say yes.

​All pretty confusing, yes?  I seek a religion, a philosophy of life, a Christianity even, that is based on the universe as it is.  I don't need a God to fill the gaps of human knowledge.  I don't need a God to usher me to lives after this life.  I don't need a God to intervene in my affairs.   I do wish, however, to be all in with this life.  Perhaps God is the song I sing for living life all in.   I am all in with Life's sorrows and loss.  I am all in with discovery and with joy.  I am all in with love.  I am all in, simply all in... ​

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Karate Kid

One of my favorite activities with Zach was taking Tae Kwon Do with him at Niblett's Karate Studio in Lowville.   We did it this for a couple of years, twice a week. 

Neither of us quite made it to black belt.  I stopped at first degree red and Zach made it to second degree red. After third degree red would have been the test for black belt.     

Here we are showing our stuff on the lawn in Whitehall while my mom photographed the exhibition. 


Monday, March 4, 2013

Subversive Spirituality

For Lent, I am taking on the big ticket items of the Christian faith:  Bible, Jesus, God, and Meaning of Life.​ Sermons are posted here.   The latest on Jesus was inspired in part by my radio conversation with Robin Meyers, author of The Underground Church:  Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus.    Robin will be speaking at the Westar Spring Meeting next week.   I wish I could have made that one, but it was not to be.

​It is time for progressive voices to be heard.  I am grateful that Robin is speaking clearly and forcefully in his context as a Christian minister.   Our Thursday study group finished his book, Underground Church, a few weeks ago and it was well-received.   Of the many books we have read over the years, this one sparked a great deal of conversation.  It resonated not only with the frustrations we have with the dominant religious voice in our nation, it also inspired hope that there are other voices announcing both a credible and a transformative faith.

For some time, many of us have wondered how the research done by the Jesus Seminar on the historical Jesus would translate in the context of current Christian practice.   In Robin's own church, Mayflower Congregational (UCC) in Oklahoma City, we see this transformation happening.  It is a movement away from allegiance to the creedal Jesus of the fourth and fifth centuries and a movement toward the subversive Jesus of the first century.   That subversive Jesus, as they say, "preaches."   ​Check out his book, listen to our conversation, and read my latest sermon and you will see what I mean.