richard rohr

Video: Emerging Christianity

This quote grabbed my attention (transcribed by me as well as I could from this video, around the 18-19 minute mark): “We are this unique period of history that has benefited from this marvellous gift called the written word. We’ve got to know that that has not been true for most of history. And we’re just a little window of time. And we fell in love with it. Even though we were the religion of the Word that became flesh, we returned the compliment, we said, ‘we prefer the word.’ … At the heart of what we’re calling emerging Christianity is this rediscovery of orthopraxy … over merely five hundred more years of argumentation about verbal orthodoxy.”

 

EDIT: (17 December 2015): Unfortunately due to the fact that these video links are derived from external sources, I can’t guarantee that they will remain available after I’ve shared them. However, I hope the Fr Richard Rohr quote I transcribed from the video will still be helpful to readers.

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NaNoWriMo Journal 2015: 11

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

I’ve got a busy few days coming up so I need to get my word count as high as possible today. Ideally that would be about 4,000-5,000 words, which is doable… provided my imagination keeps going and I don’t hurt my wrists. I’m using a new computer and keyboard this year. The keyboard has a mechanistic quality that operates similarly to a typewriter, and the physical feedback of feeling and hearing the clicking of the keys as I type has been really helpful. I think it’s improved the accuracy and speed of my touch-typing.

Yesterday, I had one of those awkward and unexpected conversations at the shops with an old church acquaintance I hadn’t seen in years. We bumped into each other and had a brief chat. They recalled our conversations when I was first diagnosed as mentally ill, about three years ago. This person immediately reminded me that in their opinion, my being clinically depressed is somehow down to me “not being happy enough.” (At least they didn’t bring out the “joy of the Lord” phrase…) They said that while they thought psychologists could be helpful, I needed to hurry up and be cured.

I don’t want to judge this person because I know they mean well and come from a cultural and religious background that would prefer to find spiritual answers for every question. It’s also a sign to me that I’ve progressed far enough in my treatment that instead of becoming anxious by feeling pressured to “get better,” I was able to calmly explain that depression is a medical disorder. As it’s the “family disease,” in my case, it’s more like learning to manage a permanent genetic disorder than magically curing myself through more gratitude and more prayer. People don’t like being told that for my variant of psychological disease, there isn’t really a permanent cure. I imagine it makes them feel uncomfortable.

The conversation was a reminder to me that as much as I like the vast majority of people I met over the years through that church, who are all just trying to find and understand God the best way they know how, the social environment is not a safe one for those of us who deviate from the socially prescribed normative behaviours of perpetual and expressive joy. Even just being an introvert is enough for people to question one’s spiritual seriousness in the loud and more expressive forms of church – for example, see here, here, here, here, here, and here  for a brief overview of the discussions going on with introverts struggling to find a place of acceptance in expressive forms of Christian religion. Not to mention the perceived problem that there are those of us who get worse while in the church context (rather than being on a continually upwards self-improvement journey). I’m currently reading the fascinating book The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care and it’s really helped me to better understand how these beliefs regarding the supposedly true causes of mental illness arise in some Christian circles. It is a terrible drain having those conversations, though.

It seems that simply by turning to a doctor and a clinical psychologist outside of the church-sanctioned counselling centre for help, I am branded as a heretic. It’s absurd. If it were any other kind of disease then seeing a specialist doctor wouldn’t raise any concerns about my religious credentials. About six years ago I had all four of my horribly painful wisdom teeth extracted in a tricky operation by a facial reconstruction specialist whose day job was rebuilding people’s faces after serious car accidents. The teeth were in such odd positions that the dentist was worried he’d possibly paralyse my face if he attempted it himself (!). No church acquaintances at any point, upon hearing that I was having the operation, asked if the surgeon was a faithful born-again Bible believer. Why? Presumably part of it was that his spiritual journey had no bearing whatsoever on his ability to remove my problem teeth without slicing through the facial nerves (as it is, the nerves were bruised enough that I never have recovered full feeling in the lower left side of my face).

Yet somehow the fact I see a highly qualified mental health specialist to help me with a complex disease mostly centred in my brain and that severely affects my quality-of-life is considered evidence of a spiritual downward spiral. Atheist surgeons, okay. Atheist mental health experts, bad. That seems to be the attitude.

And so, for all the good I’ve experienced in that church community, it is not a healthy nor adequately supportive space for someone facing my particular set of circumstances. I’m sure they would like to be supportive, and even try as far as they can to be aware that sometimes congregants do it tough, but until they actively start speaking out against the myth that mental illness is a form of demonic oppression, they will not be a safe community for those of us with these types of diseases.

I cannot trust that they won’t try to force me to quit my doctor’s health plan and send me off to “deliverance ministry” – which is basically Pentecostal exorcism – and yes, I was instructed by some former pastors there that deliverance ministry would cure me. They gave me the contact details for a para-ministry specialising in deliverance, they diagnosed my anxiety attacks as the result of Eastern mysticism, martial arts and paganism that had leeched into me via my ancestors, not to mention the spiritual baggage I supposedly had after a lifetime of Catholicism, and my husband’s long-deceased grandfather’s involvement in Freemasonry. They peddled easy answers – “if this person prays for you and you confess your sins you’ll be healed.” And of course it would cost hundreds of dollars, and despite those pastors being fully aware that I was doing it tough financially at the time, they pushed me to go down the deliverance path. I now see that as like preying on the vulnerable, the sick and the poor. In Australia, treatment for medically diagnosed mental health disorders is subsidised by the government. I think it would be so helpful if those pastors, instead of trying to develop some complex conspiracy regarding my perpetually melancholy moods which would necessitate extremely high-priced treatment, could have admitted that they didn’t know what was wrong and suggested that I see my doctor. Not that it’s their responsibility, I guess, but I’ll be honest: I have a problem with the fact that someone with, at best, a theology degree (or in this nondenominational church, no qualification whatsoever) is able to make a career out of offering life advice to people at every possible level, and even promote themselves as having the answers, without a really basic grasp of the idea that they are not actually expert in, say, diagnosing and treating diseases. Sure, pray for the sick – I’ve done that, and received that and it is comforting and sometimes really helpful and can give people the emotional strength to keep fighting and who knows, maybe God actually heals people, I can’t discount that possibility – but to put someone else’s health and well-being at risk out of a misguided sense of spiritual authority is outright irresponsible – to say the least.

I thank God, literally, that I ignored His servants on deliverance. In fact, in true Pente fashion, at the time I felt that God told me very explicitly, “You don’t need a certificate from any deliverance ministry to prove that you are saved by Me. I have enough grace for you.” And I’ll be honest, that’s one of the only times in my 14 years of Pentecostalism that I was utterly convinced God spoke to me, and which was later confirmed by other “prophetic” believers. I know, it’s crazy. I won’t try to defend it nor explain it away. I am convinced that however that message came to me, it was the truth I needed to hear at the time and it protected me from a potentially dangerous situation. I shudder to think how much damage the pastors would have caused if I had followed their advice. I’d quite likely be in a psychiatric ward somewhere.

Back to Nanowrimo. The other things that have helped my writing have included:

  • exercising more. Part of the mental health plan my doctor helped me develop includes aiming for a minimum of half an hour of exercise 3-4 days a week. The more diligent I am in exercising, the better I feel and the clearer my mind becomes. I’m also weighing myself about once a fortnight to track my weight. I wouldn’t normally but I gained a heck of a lot of weight in the last two years thanks to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and my depression pushing me to self-medicate with junk food and alcohol (never a good idea).
  • doing an hour or so of housework each day. Having a cleaner writing space and knowing that the work and school uniforms are washed is a weight off my mind.
  • deactivating my facebook. That alone has prevented me from losing precious hours of my existence that may otherwise have been poured into the hostile abyss that is essentially just a forum for dichotomous political ranting and maybe it’s just my early forays into nondualist philosophy speaking, but I find it a huge jolt to re-encounter perspectives that operate out of a “if you’re not 100% in agreement with me then you’re 100% wrong” ideology. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Thomas Keating or Richard Rohr, so I am guilty of that kind of thinking, too. But I find facebook really just feeds the worst aspects of who I am, inciting me to defensiveness, impatience and useless anger.
  • mindfulness. I’m using a guided mindfulness meditation series on iTunes U. It’s been genuinely helpful in improving the quality of my sleep. I also let the kids listen to the guided ‘body scan’ meditation before bedtime and they really like it.
  • prayer and contemplation. I know, I know. As my friends and family watch my slide into seeming-heresy and de-conversion, depending on who I talk to that’s a sign of my progress or a sign of my abject sinful nature rising up in a wild rebellion against the Creator. However, the reality is that my prayer life is a central aspect to my existence. I’ll write more on that another time. For now I’ll just leave it at the sense of gratitude that the more I travel through life, the more I see God (or love or life or force or a sense of meaning and purpose, choose your preferred term) in everyone and everything.

Current word count: 28,594 / 50,000 words

Today’s writing soundtrack: Polaris by Tesseract. Again. I just really like their music. It reminds me of all the reasons I first picked up bass guitar as a teenager.

NaNoWriMo Journal 2015: 6

Monday, 9 November 2015

20151109-001flokotnanoscreenshot

Screenshot, 9 November 2015 – nanowrimo.org/participants/fiona-kat

My astronomy course is all finished so hopefully in the next day or two I will have my certificate of completion.

It’s hard for me to shake the over-achiever perfectionism that I’ve developed over my academic life: the fact that I averaged a mere 80% on the astronomy assessments is a point of annoyance for me. Maths has never been my strong point and it’s frustrating that my less-developed skills in that area let me down. This perfectionism probably traces back to a few things – namely that, as a kid, when it seemed to me that every one else had everything going for them, I was the awkward kid who had a talent for memorising and internally processing huge amounts of information… and pretty much nothing else. The “gifted” kid.

I was in my schools’ advanced student programmes. I read encyclopaedias for fun. At age 12 I startled my high school English teacher by reading Watership Down cover-to-cover in about two days, when she had clearly hoped it would keep me entertained while she tried to teach the rest of the class the difference between their, there and they’re. There are benefits to being “gifted,” namely that it was my ticket out of the small-town attitudes and culture that develops in rural communities when there isn’t enough diversity to keep people on their toes: the absolute cultural and ethnic homogeneity was stifling. There are also major drawbacks (not having friends because I was a freakishly tall girl, a complete geek, without the slightest shred of social skills). Thankfully I had some great teachers in the Catholic school who saw past my many faults and spoke to the best of myself. Getting good results in high school meant that I could go to university. University meant moving to a more diverse part of the state. And I really think that being a university student – external life challenges aside – was one of the happiest experiences of my life. I hope one day that I can return and do further postgraduate studies.

In the meantime, I think this drive to achieve tangible feedback and results manifests in my penchant for signing up for short-term challenges. My latest is signing up for a DuoLingo account because I randomly felt like learning Norwegian. I will hopefully be able to add Norwegian to the list of languages I vaguely recognise but can’t speak with any fluency, like Ukrainian – I can recognise the alphabet and know some random words, like off the top of my head I know that umbrella is парасолька and I can look at that word and know it’s pronounced parasol’ka. I married a guy who’s part-Ukrainian so I had a motivation there to learn a bit about his ancestral culture. I’ve picked up smatterings of Russian, German, Latin and Indonesian, too, over the years. I have enough Indonesian that I managed to spactacularly fail university beginner’s Indonesian – the only university subject I failed – so I can see kecap manis on an instant noodles ingredients list and know that I’ll probably like it. I noticed recently that after years of listening to Finnish language songs I’m picking up tiny bits of that, too. [On a related note, I love this poster by a Finnish-Swedish cartoonist on the similarities and differences between Nordic languages, and another poster representing the world languages family tree by the same artist.]

And then there’s NaNoWriMo. There is something very satisfying about watching my word count rise, at the same time I can look at my story – gaping plot holes and clunky dialogue notwithstanding – and say to myself, “I created this” – and then I get a certificate at the end. Basically, my life’s goal is apparently to accumulate as many certificates of nerdy achievement as I can. My only in-real-life rivals in this compulsive learning regard are my INTJ husband – who sat up until almost midnight last night teaching himself yet another programming language, for fun – and my INFJ sister.

One thing Nano has done for me is to stop me from over-criticising novels. That is, having had the slightest hint of the volume of work writing entails, I now realise that it is lazy to off-handedly dismiss a novel. I might not enjoy it, but just because I don’t enjoy that genre; it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the relative quality and usefulness of the text. On a similar note, I find it bizarre reading whinge-reviews on sites like Amazon, where a person gives a novel 1 or 2-star reviews because the delivery took longer than they expect. If I understand it correctly, the purpose of the reviews is to review the actual story. Then there are the lengthy reviews on theology books that deconstruct the text: these reviews often seem so long I wonder why the reviewer doesn’t write their own blog or book. I digress. For all the times I sat there completely immersed in a novel, wondering what strange magic it was that could bring an imaginary universe to life, sometimes so real that it was more alive than my corporeal reality, I now have a taste for the process and sheer hard work involved in writing a story.

Someone is on the other end of that book as the author, and they have likely agonised over the words, the sentences, the plot, and the lives of the characters they invented. They may have spent years developing the story, imagining the day when they would write something that others would enjoy reading.

It is too easy to be a critic.

I’m not throwing out critical thinking, and it’s unfortunate that a positive term (critical thinking) is so similar to a term that can be negative (criticising). But these days I’m less inclined to leap to judgement. That’s dualistic, platonic, gnostic, first-half-of-life thinking, anyway: the need to fix a label on someone or something before giving it adequate thought. When Jesus said “do not judge,” well, I’ve heard some good arguments that this is the line He was following. He wasn’t saying “do not be discerning” or “hooray for moral relativism and debauched licentiousness,” I think what He might’ve been getting at was, “Don’t be so quick to make snap judgements, for good or evil, about another person based on their external appearance or on that one thing they did or said that time.” I don’t know for sure but that’s one way to look at it.

I can’t help but think that the whole realm of social media would be a lot more helpful a space if we could operate that way. In the past I used to argue the point; these days I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Instead of thinking, “I’m so offended,” I try to reflect on how a person reached the opinion they did. It doesn’t mean I can’t disagree, and I will speak up when it seems to me that someone else is positing views that might cruelly scapegoat a group of perceived enemies (no, I will not accept that there is a conspiracy to stop Christians celebrating Christmas, that is, unless it’s the 17th Century and the Puritan Oliver Cromwell is making the laws). But usually, I just take a deep breath, recite the sarcastic mantra, Oh no someone is wrong on the Internet and then get on with my life.

I won’t say that I’ve come close to exiting this first-half-of-life developmental stage – and that’s okay. The late theologian Marcus Borg, in a lecture video I found recently, said something to the effect of his mistrust towards anyone under the age of 40 who has a lot of strong opinions, so I’ve got a good 6-7 years of agonising self-development before I can get moving on that second-half-of-life project.

*To clarify, my understanding of first and second half of life concepts come from Franciscan priest Fr Richard Rohr and, as he also says, it’s not necessarily drawn from chronological and physical age. So if I reach a more enlightened phase of self awareness before I hit my mid-30s, I’m okay with that.

What does all this have to do with NaNoWriMo? Actually, I don’t remember. I went off on a tangent. I’d better get back to my story.

Current word count: 15,056/50,000 words.

Today’s writing soundtrack: ABC Classic FM radio; the Jane Eyre soundtrack; The Village soundtrack.

What I’ve Been Reading Online

THEOLOGY & CHURCH

SCIENCE

Electromagnetic spectrum: image from Wikipedia

Electromagnetic spectrum: image from Wikipedia – I found it great to learn more about it in the course I’ve been taking on Astronomy.

  • This month I’m taking a course in Astronomy through Open Universities Australia’s free Open2Study short courses. The course is a four-week introductory overview of the science of astronomy, major breakthroughs (including, refreshingly, frequent acknowledgement of women’s contributions to science) and some mind-blowing, awe-inspiring discussions about our wonderful universe. The course is presented by a radio astronomy researcher and lecturer from Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia.

As I’ve mentioned previously, though I have a lifelong love of science, for many years my particular social circumstances meant that my only exposure to scientific progress was heavily mediated by the selected reporting and interpreting of the creationist community. There were lots of reasons for this and as I’m completely disinterested in engaging in any debate (it’s just too dualistic and feels unnecessarily divisive and other people are far better at it than I), taking courses like this one has helped bring me up-to-date with current scientific understandings of the origin, expansion and development of the universe. One thing I’ve found particularly helpful in the Astronomy course is the clear explanation of what, exactly, are scientific theories (they’re not just vague hypotheses) and I have formed a far more accurate understanding of the process of the scientific method as it pertains to astronomy.

The course makes me think of Franciscan priest Fr Richard Rohr’s comment (which from memory I think was in this particular lecture) that scientists are far better than most religious folks at being humble before their incomplete understanding of the universe – where fundamentalism wants the black-and-white truth and wants it right now, science is able to take its time and explore the possibilities.

Video: Cosmic Christ

This video is part of an ongoing series of spiritual videos I’ve been sharing on this blog. The videos I’ve chosen are, most of the time, shared here because they touch on concepts like spirituality, environmentalism, Jesus and Christian mysticism. I am still exploring these ideas. Videos like this one intrigue me with their thought-provoking ideas, and the mystic way they understand the Christian scriptures. By sharing them I am not suggesting nor hinting at my own personal faith perspective, except to say that I am personally very interested in Christian environmentalism and Christian mysticism.

You can see the videos I’ve shared so far HERE.

https://youtu.be/4LYQQO5uFtA