Category Archives: Religion

Why Am I in This #$*)&(% Lifeboat?

This morning in the car Anthropapa and I were having a discussion about affirmative action and the fact that there have only been 3 African American US senators since Reconstruction, and how maybe President Obama will be a positive role model to increase that number. Yes, at 7:45 am, we were discussing that. I guess the coffee had already kicked in.

Anyway, we were stopped at a busy intersection, and I made another comment in our discussion. Then I noticed that Anthropapa hadn’t responded. I said, “I’m sorry, are you trying to pay attention to the traffic?” He said yes in what sounded like a slightly annoyed tone.

I felt myself get angry all of a sudden. Like, hey–I was just continuing the conversation, why are you annoyed at me? I felt really irritated at how I thought he was judging me.

Then I stopped myself and looked at that angry reaction. What was that all about? Why anger in that moment?

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Recently my pastor lent me Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What. Miller writes in a sometimes profane, sometimes silly, sometimes profound way about how Christianity cannot really be broken down into bullet points and structured dogma without losing the fundamental purpose behind it: a relationship with God. He says that we all have a “lifeboat mentality”: constantly comparing ourselves to others in formulaic ways and placing value on transitory and truly meaningless things to see who comes out ahead and who gets thrown overboard. We do this because we have lost that sense of relationship and have forgotten the love God has for us. If he were Buddhist, Miller might have said the same thing in terms of attachment, and a skewed vision of self that leads to separation from the truth of oneness. There’s a fundamental human truth there, whatever the religion.

Whether you see it as literal or figurative, the Fall in the Garden of Eden presents a picture of that loss of relationship: one minute we had perfect, all-encompassing love, and then we didn’t. And since then all we’re doing is trying to get that love back. We somehow equate that loss of love with a lack of self, a judgment against us, an isolation and fear and trembling. We try to assuage that lack by buying things, judging others to prop up our self-image, even making checklists of things to do to be a better person. We feel so many things in life as tiny reminders of that huge loss, and so we act and react out of fear.

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As I thought about my angry reaction this morning, it occurred to me that it felt almost like what I imagine being a baby feels like. Have you ever seen the look of perfect outrage on a baby’s face when the baby feels pain? It’s an instantaneous, loud, and passionate response. It’s like a very primitive sense of un-rightness that neither I nor the baby could explain rationally, but surely feel strongly.

Then I thought about how the Christian answer to that moment of pain would be to remember that God’s love is sufficient. I’m not sure I can fully get there in my mind and heart, but I can at least realize this: whether Anthropapa was really judging me isn’t really the issue, but rather that I don’t need to feel fear or lack or low self-esteem in the face of any perception I might have. And there’s an important point: it’s my perception. My little ego gets in the way of my higher self and clouds my consciousness with such primitive reactions, regardless of what’s really going on. Anger like that is a semi-conscious reaction at best. There’s no higher self involved there.

The Bible gives Jesus as the model of the higher self, and here’s what he and his disciples say is the answer to pretty much everything: love. Love one another. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Of the highest virtues, love is the highest. Over and over again, because even the ones you would think would have totally understood, like St. Peter, needed a lot of repetition to really get it.

So, what it occurred to me to do is observe my anger, and see where I am lacking in love. Why am I feeling in that moment like I’m going over the side of the lifeboat? When did I put myself in the lifeboat in the first place, and why? Why do I perceive the lifeboat as limited–why isn’t there room for everyone in there? Why am I so busy staking out my spot in the boat that I can’t see the fear on someone else’s face, and another that is feeling so seasick, and another who’s worried about catching enough fish to eat, and so on? Why am I letting my little self get in the way, when I’ve got this marvelous higher self just dying to get out there and love my shipmates?

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Trial by Water

Today was rather momentous. At one point this afternoon I realized that the entire day was like an initiation of some kind or another.

Rudolf Steiner wrote quite a bit about initiatory experiences, religious, meditative, and quotidian. The quotes I have given here are from his book, How to Know Higher Worlds: A Modern Path of Initiation, available for free online in a previous edition here.

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This morning I was baptized into the Missouri Synod Lutheran church here in Pocatello. It’s the church that runs the school my children attend. I started attending services regularly last spring and went through the adult confirmation class.

It’s not something I ever expected to do. I’ve never attended regular religious services before. But it just felt like the right thing to do, for me, right now. I found that at least once in each service, I would get teared up, even a bit wobbly-chinned. And this was at the early-morning, traditional, formal, organ-music service — not where you might expect an emotional response like that. So, I was intrigued about what that was all about, and kept going.

This trial is known as the Water-Trial, because in his activity in these higher worlds the candidate is deprived of the support derived from outward circumstances, as a swimmer is without support when swimming in water that is beyond his depth. This activity must be repeated until the candidate attains absolute poise and assurance.

Now, I’ve never been a big fan of standing up in front of large groups of people. I’ve done it before: performing in plays, leading business meetings. But it’s always been profoundly embarrassing.

I had gone through confirmation, was attending regularly, and had agreed to be a member of the congregation. So, it was time to be baptized. When I arrived at church this morning, I noticed that the sanctuary was more full than it has been recently (summer vacations, you know). I thought, great, even a bigger crowd to witness this! But I thought about how fear is really an illusion, a kind of self-centeredness blended with a certain lack of courage. I thought about what the Lutheran church teaches about grace, and what I’ve read in many places about surrendering oneself to a higher power.

I wasn’t nervous after that at all.

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Silly Billy and Napoleona spent most of the day today outside, playing.

Now, we live in an apartment complex. We’re looking for a house to buy, but for now we’re here, and so the kids don’t have a backyard. They play in the playground areas, they ride their bikes and scooters around, they climb trees. For an apartment complex, it’s not too bad.

But today they crossed a boundary; they erred in their decision making.

For even as it is difficult for those who have not learned to spell correctly in their childhood to make good this deficiency when fully grown up, so too it is difficult to develop the necessary degree of self-control at the moment of looking into the higher worlds, if this ability has not been acquired to a certain degree in ordinary life.

Anthropapa and I heard a knock at our door, and there was a woman with SillyBilly, saying something about he and Napoleona getting into people’s cars, and that Napoleona had run off. Anthropapa tracked down Napoleona, and we sat down to talk about what had happened.

They had evidently been opening unlocked car doors and getting inside the cars. Worse, they had a plastic bag with a few odds and ends they had taken from some of the cars!

They were really, really upset. SillyBilly told me that some of his friends had told him there was jail for little kids, and was that true, Mama? Napoleona just cried and cried.

We talked a bit about why opening cars is wrong and unsafe, and about how wrong it is to steal. We reassured them that there is no little-kid jail, but also made sure they knew that their actions have consequences.

Later in the evening, while I was combing and drying Napoleona’s hair after her bath, I started talking about forgiveness. I told her the story of the Prodigal Son, how the son made big mistakes (a kind of initiation we can all have in daily life) and how parents (and God) forgive us if we are sorry about and try to learn from our mistakes. The parent might be upset at the mistake, and our desire to learn from the mistake is necessary, but the forgiveness and love are always there.

Should [the candidate], in the course of his activity, introduce any of his own opinions and desires, or should he diverge for one moment from the laws which he has recognized to be right, in order to follow his own willful inclination, then the result produced would differ entirely from what was intended. He would lose sight of the goal to which his action tended, and confusion would result. Hence ample opportunity is given him in the course of this trial to develop self-control.

A day of trials, of initiations, of waters and tears.

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Photos by Vanessa Pike-Russell.

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Darwin, Gradually

Having finally finished the unpleasant book about psychopathic killers, I have gone back to finish editing a series of essays about Charles Darwin. 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, so he’s being feted and written about left and right.

This evening Anthropapa came across this bit of artwork, which is very funny and fits so nicely with my current project:

By Mike Rosulek, buy it at http://www.zazzle.com/darwin2009

By Mike Rosulek, buy it at http://www.zazzle.com/darwin2009

Evolution is in the air right now. There’s my editing project, of course.

And then there’s the state of Texas. The public school science curriculum standards have been amended by the state board of education to require that students consider “all sides of scientific evidence.” Hey, that’s what the scientific method is all about, right?

I’d be a wee bit more supportive of Texas’s standards on critical thinking if it weren’t for the fact that it seems clear that what the NY Times so delicately calls “social conservatives” on the board are trying to push their avowedly creationist agenda into the curriculum, by systematically deleting references to such things as the specific age of the Earth from the science standards.

It is also certainly troubling that potentially, “publishers will have to include criticism of evolution if they want to sell science textbooks to Texas schools,” when essentially the only criticism of evolution is intelligent design (which as a religious belief, is lacking in the scientific evidence the board wants students to consider!) Texas is such a huge market for textbooks that their decisions affect textbook publishing as a whole in the US.

On the other hand, I wish scientists criticizing the board’s decision would be at least acknowledge that analysis, questioning, and not accepting estimates as fact are all part of critical thinking. Sure, Southern states (and, oddly, Pennsylvania) have a history of creationists trying very hard to use the idea of “balance” or “equal consideration” to get their beliefs taught in schools. But in the end, embracing the scientific method does not mean checking criticism at the door and accepting anything dogmatically.

(And if you’re wondering, I don’t believe in a “young Earth” but I do believe in a creator. I also believe that creator may very well have also set the processes of evolution in motion for his or her own purposes. However, I won’t support teaching any of that in public schools.)

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Unsettled

(You will have to bear with me here. I have lots going on and came up with this cute little structure for the post that will not let me cut anything out! So read on, all 1,400 words, if you dare. If not, I won’t blame you — aren’t blog posts supposed to be no more than 250 words so that the modern human can properly digest them?)

1. not calm or tranquil; disturbed; unquiet

I have recently begun attending the church affiliated with SillyBilly’s school. I can’t recall now why I went the first time; perhaps it was simple curiosity about the services or wanting to find a new social connection. But I realized that at least once during each service I was getting choked up, disturbed, unquiet. So I decided to keep going, to see what might come out of that unquiet.

Then I decided to take the pastor’s “Christianity 101” class on Monday nights. I’ve had a Bible since I was a little girl (and now own several) and went to Lutheran school for 5 years. Religion (or spirituality) has always interested me — I also attended Hebrew school for a short time as a girl and have studied Buddhism as an adult. I am the kind of person who will read the Gideon Bible in the hotel drawer instead of watching TV! So it’s not that I need to really learn what Christianity is. Rather, I’m interested in what this pastor has to say about this particular denomination.

The class often unsettles me. Missouri Synod Lutherans are fairly conservative. I’m partly conservative too — I much prefer the traditional service (hymns) to the contemporary service (praise band). But I believe enough of what I’ve read in Steiner’s cosmology and Christology to feel uncomfortable with many of mainstream Christianity’s views on eternal life, hell and heaven,and so on.

In any case I am enjoying the class and the Sunday services. I am enjoying taking Napoleona with me. I am even enjoying getting up early on Sunday and getting dressed up. And I’m enjoying my struggles with the disturbances to my thoughts on spirituality.

2. not decided or determined; inconstant; variable

This morning, when Napoleona and I went to church, it was sprinkling. A few hours later as we were finishing up in Sunday school, we heard some thunder and when we looked out the window, it was sleeting. Throughout the day we saw snow, sleet, and rain plus a few more peals of thunder. Evening has brought beautiful cloud formations with dashes of sun.

We made jokes on several occasions today about how it was springtime — yeah RIGHT! This is winter weather! But then we talked about how spring and autumn are really transitions between the main seasons of winter and summer — and even more so here in Idaho, with the cold and snow of winter and long, hot summers broken only briefly by these transitional times.

But come on! I just changed over our nature table to be all springy, with bunnies and flowers and such. What’s up with the snow???

3. not firm or steadfast in disposition or outlook; erratic; unstable

This weekend I had a wonderful opportunity to get together with some Waldorf homeschooling moms for an afternoon of crafting and chatting about parenting and Waldorf and anthroposophy. The ladies are all new to Waldorf and have little knowledge of the anthroposophical foundations, so I offered to chat about I’ve learned over the years. I also offered to show them how to make felted Easter eggs.

Now, this turned out to be quite the humbling experience. I discovered two things: I forgot the basics of felting and didn’t prepare by practicing or reading up on it. Our eggs were rather lumpy and were only rescued by extensive needle felting. And I discovered that while I feel that in my own head I have a sufficient grasp on basic concepts of anthroposophy, I can’t necessarily explain them well to others. So perhaps that’s telling me my grasp isn’t as good as I thought it was, or that I need to go back and re-read some basics to be clear on them again.

The ladies were quite forgiving (or unaware of my disconcerting feelings) and welcomed the idea of a regular study/craft group. Which will give me a structure to plan around so that I am better prepared and clear on what I’d like to say.

4. not living or staying in one place; nomadic

We are in the thick of summer planning right now. In past years, summers haven’t meant much in the way of change — the kids continued in their home-based day care, Anthropapa and I continued with our work, and the kids went for only short times at day summer camps. This year we have BIG plans.

Immediately after the school year ends, the kids and I will jet off to Los Angeles to visit with my parents. Both sets of parents have asked about Disneyland. I’m not automatically opposed to the idea, but I am opposed to my kids becoming embroiled in the Disney Industrial Complex’s marketing schemes. I think I could manage it so that we had a fun time doing age-appropriate things without focusing on buying character-driven products, but I’m not completely sure!

Then later in the summer the kids will be going out to the Seattle area to stay with other grandparents for a few weeks. Yes — they, the kids, will be staying. We, the parents, will not. We’ll take the drive out and do some things with the grandparents for a few days, and then we’ll leave them there for the grandparents to return to us later. Now, SillyBilly has stayed with his grandparents for a short time before, but we’ve never had both kids away and not for so long a time. I’m not sure what I’ll do with myself. (Other than sleep in, of course.)

5. not inhabited or populated

Over the last year or two I’ve developed a short list of editing clients: a scholarly publisher, a publisher with a scholarly imprint and a trade imprint, an author who has self-published several books, and a few authors working with a scholarly publisher that doesn’t offer editing services in-house. This has kept me steadily working with a good variety of projects and keeps me on my toes as far as working with different types of clients.

Over the last six months I’ve not worked with any authors — the one author took a break from his writing schedule, and for various reasons I haven’t gotten any work from the others. During the winter holidays the scholarly publisher slowed down quite a bit.

But . . . the two-imprint publisher approached me during the holidays with a new agreement. They had lost an in-house editor and wanted me to help them by taking an increased workload. They agreed to pay me a regular amount every single week (based on the budgets for all the projects combined) and I agreed to a rather full three-month schedule of editing and proofreading projects.

Now, the one thing I really dislike about freelancing is the uncertainty of my cash flow. This agreement has taken that out of the mix, and I feel like in a way I’ve died and gone to freelance editor heaven: according to the IRS, I am still freelancing because the publisher does not substantially control how I do my work, I am free to take other clients, I work off-site, they do not withhold taxes, and so on. And yet I am receiving a regular paycheck.

So now the only concern I have (because there has to be something to worry about, right?) is that I am letting my other clients slack a bit. I haven’t been bugging the scholarly publisher for new work consistently. I haven’t been seeking out new clients. This is making my client list a bit uninhabited, and the danger lies in the possibility that this wonderful agreement could come to a close and my cash flow will be in danger again. (This hasn’t happened so far, and in fact they just asked me to extend another three months. Whew!) But putting all one’s eggs in one basket is not a good idea in the freelancing world. So maybe when the kids area away I’ll drum up some new business, or learn a new skill I can add to my repertoire.

(Did you make it this far in my ramblings? Bless your patient soul!)
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I Cried Today

as I watched the I Have a Dream speech with my kids.* Truly one of the greatest speeches in American history.

Then I wondered what Dr. King’s sermons must have been like, so I yet again put my trust in the Google.

I found the text of his sermon at the National Cathedral of 31 March 1968, entitled “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution.” This sermon amazed me in its similarity to much of what Rudolf Steiner said about consciousness, nationalism, and brotherhood in economics.

This struck me as profound and still a lesson we need to learn, thirty years later:

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.

And then this from later in the sermon, which if we but change a few proper names is eerily applicable still today:

[The Vietnam War] has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not even put our own house in order. And we force young black men and young white men to fight and kill in brutal solidarity. Yet when they come back home that can’t hardly live on the same block together.

The judgment of God is upon us today. And we could go right down the line and see that something must be done—and something must be done quickly. We have alienated ourselves from other nations so we end up morally and politically isolated in the world. There is not a single major ally of the United States of America that would dare send a troop to Vietnam, and so the only friends that we have now are a few client-nations like Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, and a few others.

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I hope that we are approaching the day when the content of our characters matters most. I hope we are approaching the day when the United States can find some sort of moral compass. I hope that we can continue to work toward one goal King gave in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

To close, words from the National Cathedral sermon on hope:

Let me close by saying that we have difficult days ahead in the struggle for justice and peace, but I will not yield to a politic of despair. I’m going to maintain hope as we come to Washington in this campaign. The cards are stacked against us. This time we will really confront a Goliath. God grant that we will be that David of truth set out against the Goliath of injustice, the Goliath of neglect, the Goliath of refusing to deal with the problems, and go on with the determination to make America the truly great America that it is called to be.

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* Yes, the kids sat through the 17-minute speech. Mostly. We had wanted to volunteer today at the Idaho Food Bank, but the minimum age is 7 in the warehouse, so we’ll have to wait until SillyBilly’s next birthday. The kids asked to celebrate MLK Day in some way, so I thought we would go right to the source.

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Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 9

After discussing how rhythm can be a tremendous source of strength for the homemaker, we will now look at the interaction between the home and cultural life.

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Where do we find a basis for human relationships in our current culture? This clearly is the household.

Culture used to be carried by one’s city or country — being a Parisian or from Mexico clearly described one’s culture. Now societies are much more pluralistic, and large communities no longer represent a single cultural impulse. This is a new development in humanity, distinctive to the modern era — with the previous exception of the Jews in diaspora. Since the Jewish culture was no longer identified with a geographical area, the household necessarily took up the continuance and preservation of Jewish culture.

This experience of the Jews mirrors what is now true for all people: culture is no longer “ordered from above” by the state. Only individuals and small groups of people can now create and maintain culture.

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Culture can be defined as human activity in the areas of art, science, and religious-social life. (Rudolf Steiner tied closely together the concepts of religion and social life.) The elements of art and science are easily seen in families with children, where books, art activities, and explorations of matter and the laws of nature are part and parcel of the life of the child. Most homes, with or without children, have some element of culture even if only a few pictures hung on the walls or the radio playing each afternoon.

The religious-social element comes into play quite naturally with children as well, though in a truthful way only if the parents participate freely as well. Children always perceive when something is being forced on them or parents are hypocritical! And then imposing on a household an artificial sort of religious experience, one without a true foundation of self-understanding, is truly anti-social.

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We can see that truth is a critical factor in the cultural life of the home. External imposition of cultural mores does not satisfy the modern need for inner freedom and individual consciousness. So, “the important thing is that the homemaker look at the facts freely without prejudice” and decide what is best for their household. Civilization will thrive if individuals can take what is provided by society freely and from it create a life of culture.

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Culture has always had two sides. For example in religion, the external force of cultural duties was fulfilled in such things as sacred buildings, artwork, and music. Since the end of the Middle Ages, an opposite internal force arose, that of an egoistic satisfaction through entertainment. The homemaker must find a middle path between these impulses.

What is the middle way here? Friedrich Schiller gave some indication in his work On the Aesthetic Education of Man. On the one hand we have the cosmic world of ideals; on the other, the world of matter. (In anthroposophy, these would correspond to Lucifer and Ahriman, respectively.) Balance comes when human beings can “play” freely — play in terms of the free play of forces, not compelled or frozen by an imbalanced focus on either abstraction or materialism.

The homemaker will bring health and life into the home if he or she can imbue the cultural life of the home with neither compulsion or egoistic pleasure, but rather freedom.

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Next time: The Path of Development of the Homemaker

Manfred Schmidt-Brabant, The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker, Temple Lodge, 1996.

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Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 2

In the first section we read how, over time, human beings have become more and more individualized and less guided by norms. We also read how homemakers of today are still influenced by the social expectations set up during the Victorian era, but that we can become free of these expectations by adopting the view that we have in some ways chosen our life paths. We ended with the question, “What effect does the homemaker have on history?” Now we’ll explore the beginnings of the answer to that question, in pages 7-10.

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The New Mysteries

Before modern times, freedom did not exist as it does today. The Mystery Centers (the two most well known and last of the ancient mystery centers were Delphi and Ephesus) provided norms for all aspects of life — agriculture, religion, education, and so on. People were more open to the spiritual world at that time, and its influence guided human activity more directly than today.

At a certain point, freedom needed to arise in human beings, and so independent thinking arose, exemplified in the work of Plato and Aristotle. The spiritual world still strongly influenced the religious sphere, but no longer the other aspects of daily life. There were no more “directions from above.”

Today, religions, governments, and other cultural groups can provide insights to help us, but a new Mystery culture must be created through individual effort — in the home. “For where homemakers are working out of spiritual understanding, that is where the new society will arise. . . . The homemaker’s whole existence stands at the centre of one of the greatest changes ever to take place in human history.”

A renewal of civilization is possible if we can incorporate the spiritual back into our culture. We must realize that we are inherently spiritual beings, and that through love and freedom we can properly order civilization. If we only have freedom, then will have chaos; if we only have love, then we will have compulsion. The homemaker can create renewal by working with these ideas within the most basic social structure, the family.

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If the homemaker can lead a cultural renewal, where will he or she find the strength for this task, and what is the path of development and insight to assist in this work? We’ll look at these questions next time.

Manfred Schmidt-Brabant, The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker, Temple Lodge, 1996.

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