Examining Assumptions, Part II

I shared in the last blog post that I was examining two assumptions:

  1. You must work hard, suffer even, for “real” progress in health, understanding or enlightenment.
  2. There is an afterlife.

IMG_4411The first assumption is re-enforced every time I get a prescription for antibiotics: you must take every pill even long after you are feeling better. It is the idea of counseling or therapy: you must work through every issue–there are no shortcuts. I have “done the work” in my life. No liquid diet fasts for me. Just exercise and lots-of-work diets.

Then Michael Pollan shared that in the clinical trials treating depressed cancer patients with psychedelic medicines experienced real measurable improvement 80% of the time. This is well beyond the 30% rates of anti-depressants and without the considerable side effects of drugs like Prozac. Only terminal cancer patients were allowed in the studies so it is impossible to know how long the benefits might have lasted or if later side effects might appear. Still, it is remarkable for its potential.

Rather than making me want to take a guided trip, I found it encouraging with regards to my reliance on acupuncture to resolve my chronic pain. I do not understand how acupuncture works but it is dealing with the underlying causes and it manages energy. To me though, it seems relatively easy compared to other therapies, especially ones that require me to relive childhood trauma. Reconsidering my assumption around the requirements of a lasting cure helped me put my faith in the possibility of good to great outcomes from acupuncture.

It also helped me look at the role prayer plays in my healing. I’ve been shy about asking for prayer. I’ve always said I believe the creator of the universe can miraculously heal people if S/He chooses and I pray for this kind of healing for others, and yet I’m reluctant to ask for it for myself. I consider myself one of the undeserving, or that I can only ask after I’ve tried to make every other remedy work. I’m ready to revise my assumptions regarding spiritual healing.

What about the afterlife? Michael Pollan and Ezra Klein both called themselves materialists and as such they believe our brains generate consciousness, thus our selves cease when our body dies. Pollan admitted that some scientists suggest consciousness exists outside of our selves and therefore, it might be possible that subject’s in the clinical trials really did experience mystical or spiritual epiphanies. As a person of faith I do not have much trouble reconciling this.

IMG_4409My qualms about the afterlife is the American Christian culture’s complete fixation with it to the exclusion of asking “how should we live today?” I have been reading Rob Bell‘s What is the Bible? as a kind of devotional. And his chapter on the Good Samaritan rocked my world in a number of ways. And one of those is that when the lawyer asks Jesus, how do we get eternal life? He wasn’t asking about the afterlife. We have somehow twisted “eternal life” from the abundant life God’s people should be experiencing every day while we live here now in relationship with the Divine, to a cushy deal after we die. So much of our faith experience is now simplified to “accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior” and then going back to a judgey, non-loving attitude about our neighbor.

At the suggestion of my friend Rebekah I listened to the Liturgists podcast interview with Rob Bell, when Michael Gungor and the other podcast host who goes by Science Mike ask questions about this book. I’m listening to an intelligent and uplifting conversation when I realize that this men are part of a growing club of people tossed out of Club Evangelical for questioning assumptions about our faith. And yet the gospels are stories after story of Jesus asking and answering questions, sometimes with more questions. These three and others also tossed out are postmodernists, whereas, the older, grayer leaders of the E. movement, such as it is today, are traditionalists or modernists. Don’t question the relatively recent constructs of what it means to be born again and who God loves and doesn’t love or risk being ostracized.

I am realizing that I believe in a consciousness outside of myself and God, and I believe that my soul or conscious goes on in some way beyond death; however, it doesn’t matter so much to me anymore. It pales in importance to the prime directive which is to be a vessel for God’s love in the world–to be living the abundant, spirit-filled life that God offers me. I’m so far from that right now and I’d rather get after that and let the after death question take care of itself.


Examining Assumptions, Part I

We all make assumptions. Humans are assumptions makers par excellence. Imagine if we got up each morning without any assumptions in place. How disconcerting and exhausting it would be to have to make sense of every day and the dog sleeping next to you without assumptions.

Until a year ago, I didn’t know I had a half sister. I assumed I only had one sibling.

And yet… assumptions can calcify and constrict over time. It makes us uncomfortable to question long held assumptions and at the same time it can be hugely liberating.

We are living through an age when we most people are challenging long held assumptions. It is unnerving and invigorating. Imagine that you are a knight going into battle in a suit of armor. Your armor is your assumptions. The other side has no armor, no heavy draft horses to carry them even. Instead the horses are pulling a cannon. This new weapon blows a side in the castle you are defending. Time to rethink your assumptions. How liberating to cast off the armor that is heavy, makes you sweat like a pig and takes a team of men to get on you and hoist you on your horse. But you go from ranked #1 in jousting to irrelevant in one battle.

When assumptions no longer serve us well, when they become like a suit of armor in a the age of explosives, then we cling to these assumptions at our peril.

Postmodernism is a lot of things depending on whether you are talking about art or literature or moral values. There are a new set of assumptions that are associated with it. For example, that there are many perspectives and all of them deserve consideration. The only way to better understand reality is to consider these perspectives, but of course, we can never be certain about reality.

Does this make you uncomfortable?

Or are you excited because finally there is breathing room for a broader view, a more complicated view? One that includes you finally. Or are you threatened because you are being asked to include other perspectives that challenge your assumptions?

For me the process of challenging my assumptions is both uncomfortable and exciting. It is like Aslan’s breathe restoring life to statues that were “things I knew for sure.” They may still be useful but they may also be adjusted because of new evidence, new perspectives, new information. Or give way to a new ways of thinking that better serve me and my community.

This has been thrown into relief this week by 2 podcasts with the author Michael Pollan. The first was the Ezra Klein Show. I listened to this conversation twice because I wanted to make sure I caught it all. The other was Fresh Air podcast where Terri Gross interviewed Pollan and included a bonus portion. Michael Pollan‘s new book, How to Change Your Mind. It looks at the history of psychedelic drugs and what new research is pointing to about consciousness. He also does his own explorations and reports his experiences.

It is inspiring me to question two long held assumptions, but not necessarily to embrace their opposites. These two assumptions may no longer serve:

  1. You must work hard, suffer even, for “real” progress in health, understanding or enlightenment.
  2.  There is an afterlife.

I’ll share more about my thinking in Part II.



Free Up Space for 2017

My vision of peace and quiet in 2016: my son at Angkor Wat

I am going through all of my files–paper and computer–to clean out those that no longer matter to make room for new ideas and projects in 2017.  My pile of ideas for blogs or new projects had become a disorganized mess. It is easy to throw out the article on how to bake a perfect cake. In the short-days of winter I am willing to admit that I am not going to start making cakes. I am a pie baker.

Although I am not ready to throw out the article about keeping bees. It may be as far fetched as cake baking, but I am not ready to let the idea of beekeeping go yet. Such is the process of making room. Books and clothes are donated, papers are recycled. Assessments are made.

I am also making space for quiet. Unlike silence, which is impossible to find, quiet is attainable. The tapping of my fingers on computer keys, a car passing on the street below, an airplane flying overhead, Lulu’s whine at a dog walking by with owner across the street. It still allows room for contemplation and rest from the bombardment of noisy modern life. Funny that it took a podcast to remind me of the power of quiet. (On Being: Gordon Hempton “Silence and the Presence of Everything”)

Wishing you peace and quiet in 2017. Happy New Year.


Exercising My Particular Superpower


I am devastated by the election results. I am experiencing all of the stages of grief. This is so much more intense than 1980 and 2000. Because in this election an ugly spirit was unleashed to stoke fear and attract votes. One candidate gave people full permission to express misogyny, racism, and xenophobia both in words and actions. And now winning the electoral college (but not the popular vote) these same people are emboldened and we are seeing a lot of ugly.

I am still struggling with how to express my dismay without closing down the possibility of dialogue with people who didn’t vote or voted for Trump and are not racists. I attended a Stronger Together organizing meeting in Sacramento with over 200 people on Veteran’s Day.  I hope they follow through with the ideas of communications training and a clearer message about the Democrat’s vision for the economy. This will help in 2 years.

What can I do in the meanwhile, when so many people feel fearful and are experienced harassment or worse? I read a post by one of the women in Pantsuit Nation on Facebook where she introduced the idea of wearing a safety pin to let people know you are a safe person committed to standing with them against the threat. She read that this started in Britain after Brexit when they had a similar increase in racially-motivated violence.  As the writer said she is a little overweight, grey-haired and looks like someone’s grandma. She is invisible most of the time. Yet, she is also non-threatening to the fearful person and yet a formidable foe to a bully. This is me!

safe-with-meI can use my superpowers of invisibility. I look powerless and benign. However, I prepared to stand up or beside anyone who is threatened verbally or physically. I’ve been the person who needed someone to walk me to my car, or to sit with me while I wait at a scary train station. Now it is my turn to provide safety in numbers.

Some say that I am appeasing my white guilt and can keep my damn safety pin. I am not acting out of guilt. Yes I am privileged because of my lack of pigment, and my relative wealth. And I’m a woman so I know what it is to be made less than because of my sex. I know what it is like to stand up to bullies alone. And I have asked for help and received it. So I will put my safety pin on with intention and ask God to help me stay awake and alert to what is going on around me. I will  make eye contact and engage with all people in a friendly way. And if needed, I will respond to assist people to safety.

Coda: Good advice on having a plan if you do wear a safety pin: https://isobeldebrujah.wordpress.com/2016/11/12/so-you-want-to-wear-a-safety-pin/

Coda2: Sometimes it feels like this:


Magic of Tidying Your Space

I have experienced the boost in productivity that being organized gives and the distraction that clutter creates. Many times I procrastinate by sorting and filing until it is back in order. I have read many books about organization, but none quite like Marie Kondo’s The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing.

My newly mostly-empty guest closet with boxes.
My newly mostly-empty guest closet with boxes.

Direct quotes from the book are in bold.

Start by discarding. Then organize your space, thoroughly, completely and in one go.  …when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and and your past in order, too.

To truly cherish the things that are important to you… Keep only the things that speak to your heart. (that bring you joy)

This is not as hard as it sounds. Most of Kondo’s clients take dozens of bags to the trash or to charity. I have already decided to sell 2 bikes and have donated 6 bags to Good Will and I have just begun. It feels good.

It is about being mindful in your living space.

People have trouble discarding things they could still use (functional value), that contain helpful information (informational value), and that have sentimental value (emotional value). When these things are hard to obtain or replace (rarity), they become even harder to part with.

The best sequence is this: clothes first, then books, papers, komono (misc.), and lastly, momentos.

I cannot go through my books until after Christmas. Many of them are being deployed as my Christmas tree.
I cannot go through my books until after Christmas. Many of them are being deployed as my Christmas tree.

I am not strictly following this order because Sarah Harriet is helping me. She is concentrating on my komono and I am going through clothes. She advises thanking the clothes you are discarding for their service. It feels a little weird at first, and oddly enough, it makes it easier to let them go. My goal is to finish the process by the end of the year, thus making room for new adventures in 2016.

The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.

Life becomes far easier once you know that things will still work out even if you are lacking something.

As for you, pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy, your mission in life.

Finding Inner Strength Amidst Turmoil

An artist's depiction of Ancient Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem.
An artist’s depiction of Ancient Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem.

My good friend UK Sarah shared the sermon she prepared to preach at St. Phillips Anglican Church in St Heliers, Auckland, New Zealand. I asked if I could share it here. Reading it helped me ground myself amidst the tumultuous emotions in the aftermath of the news of the Paris attacks. I am finding time away from media and spent in meditation instead is helping me get some perspective.

Sermon, Sunday 15.11.15, Reverend Sarah Clare

1 Samuel 1:4-20; Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25; Mark 13:1-8

‘Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?’

I don’t know about you, but I find these ‘apocalyptic’ passages quite difficult to read.   Mark 13 as a whole chapter talks about some frightening end-of-the-world stuff which can seem pretty off-putting to us. But then the shocking events in Paris yesterday were very much in that vein, weren’t they?

Yet I do think there’s an encouraging message for us in today’s passage.

Jesus and the disciples are leaving the Temple… Not some gigantic version of Holy Trinity cathedral, but a vast construction that covered an area somewhere between 35 and 45 acres – roughly the size of twenty football pitches – big enough to fit a quarter of a million people within it, comfortably. [I’ve read that the smallest stones weighed 2-3 tons; some weighed 50. And there’s one still in existence today in the Wailing Wall, that’s 12 metres long and 3 metres high and weighs 100s of tons…! How on earth they ever built it all is beyond my understanding. It was designed to inspire awe; it spoke of majesty and wealth – and God.]

Another artist's rendering of ancient Hebrew temple.
Another artist’s rendering of ancient Hebrew temple.

Anyway, Jesus and his disciples have spent an eventful morning in this amazing Temple. Jesus has managed to answer several theological challenges from chief priests, scribes and elders who are desperate to trip him up. It must have all felt quite scary for the disciples, given the authority these guys had over ordinary people.

So, it’s as they’re leaving the Temple after all this controversy that one of the disciples turns to look at it in all its glory and says, ‘Wow Jesus, just look at those huge stones and buildings!’

Maybe he was relieved that they’d all survived the morning’s encounters. Maybe he needed the reassurance of something solid and secure… like the Temple. That was rock solid – surely? Something to trust. Something that spoke of the enduring nature of God, of His power and might.

So just imagine their shock when Jesus says – ‘Yes it is huge and wonderful. But do you know what? It’s not going to survive; it’s all going to be destroyed.’   What?? It’s literally unimaginable…

Jesus continues this conversation a bit later, when he’s with his inner circle – Peter, James, John and Andrew. By now they’re up on the Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple. Not surprisingly the disciples return to the subject. ‘The Temple’s going to be destroyed? When, Jesus? And how?’

And Jesus has an interesting response, doesn’t he? Because he sees that behind their question is not so much a fear about when all this might happen, but how they are to survive it. So he warns them not to be distracted; a whole bunch of nasty stuff is going to happen – wars, earthquakes, famines, and people pretending to be their saviour- but they shouldn’t let any of this ‘lead them astray’…

Lots of people have studied this passage over the centuries. Some see it as describing the literal end of life, as we know it, some time in the future. Others give it a more contemporary context.

The fact is that at the time Mark was writing his gospel, things were already pretty difficult for the followers of Jesus. They were seeing and experiencing violence, destruction and persecution aplenty. Tacitus, the Roman historian who wrote Histories, gives a vivid description of all the traumas in the Roman empire, man-made and natural, in the middle of the first century. That tells us that Mark might well have been using the current chaotic situation to give people some perspective and remind them of their anchor in the world…

Fast forward 2000 years. Has there ever been a time when there hasn’t been something scary happening in the world? And the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris yesterday are yet another example. More bloodshed. More grief. More fear. One more appalling man-made trauma to add to the long list in my lifetime alone….

And there have also been massive earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis across the globe even in the last decade, which have destroyed the lives and livelihoods of millions…

Our world seems to exist in a state of chaos. Our reason tells us that oceans aren’t meant to flood; the earth isn’t meant to shake; the sky isn’t meant to turn nasty and attack us; and humans aren’t meant to kill each other – and yet all these things do happen, over and over again. And when they happen, they destroy our sense of certainty and security….

Our security and our peace, can also be shaken by traumas that happen closer to home, in our own lives.   The unexpected can rip from us that sense of solid ground beneath our feet. Whether it’s illness, bereavement, or some other tragedy, we can feel buffeted to the ground…. we can lose our sense of direction and perspective.

I think Jesus’ words speak very much to us here today because essentially he’s reminding us that there will be chaos in our lives, there will be trauma; but through it all we need to trust. To have faith.

I heard of a good mnemonic for faith the other day: ‘Feeling Afraid I Trust Him.’ (repeat) ….. Bad stuff will happen, but we are not to let it deter us from following the path he has laid down for us.

And he likens all this to birthpangs. Those of us who have borne children know just how incredibly painful that is! And we have usually had the benefit of modern medicine!!! Imagine just how difficult giving birth must have been in 1st century Palestine. Real pain, real suffering. Jesus isn’t trying to minimise any of this. He knows just how painful all of this can be.

AND YET, in spite of it all, ‘don’t be alarmed’, he says. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be led astray; don’t allow yourself to be paralysed into inaction. Don’t lose sight of what’s really important – who we are, and what we are called to do and be as his followers:-

We are loved by an omniscient God; we’ve been shown how to live lives of faith and grace, loving and forgiving one another, even those we don’t actually like; we’re to be peacemakers, and work for justice for the vulnerable; and we’re to tell others about how Jesus transforms and heals lives. In other words, ‘Remember’, he says, ‘in spite of the chaos, you need to draw strength and hope from these constants in your life.’

Hope, not despair. However challenging the situation we find ourselves in, Jesus reminds us of something that is immeasurably larger than us and this fragile, vulnerable, uncertain, chaotic world we inhabit. Hope in the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

I doubt there’s an adult in this room who hasn’t experienced trauma at some point in their lives. I certainly have. And when trauma hits, it can be hard to see things clearly; everything whirls around our heads, the ground shifts, and it can feel really hard to look up and find our bearings again.

If we allow ourselves to be distracted away from our goal, if we allow fear to get a hold, then it will suck the life out of our veins. But if instead we remember the anchor that holds us – that never-ending faithful and steadfast love that pours out from God – then we can draw on the strength and the courage of Jesus to bring us through….however painful and however difficult it seems.

‘Will your anchor hold in the storms of life? When the clouds unfold their wings of strife? When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain, will your anchor drift or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows roll, fastened to the Rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.’

I pray that the anchor of Jesus Christ holds firm for the Christians in Paris right now, that they might bring strength, healing and hope to a grieving, angry and frightened people.

And may we hold fast to our anchor, as our anchor holds fast to us.