Recovering my faith through my phone

IMG_1220My relationship with Christianity has been a rocky one. I have felt conflicted about the Christian church my entire life, part of me attracted and another part repelled.  As a child I so disliked going to church that I resisted at the risk of setting off Dad’s intense temper.

Ironically, during high school I was lured into a Christian-based cult by cute young men who lived on our street, partly susceptible because of loneliness and partly because I wondered if there was a way to go deeper in faith and find something real within Christianity. As you can imagine, my foray ended badly, leaving me with a form of PTSD that to this day is triggered when I hear Christian terms and phrases.

And yet despite my dis-ease with Christianity, I found that when I hear friends adamantly rejected anything Christian, I was not in agreement. I continued to believe that there must be something of value in Western religious tradition that was either buried or distorted. Instinct, experiences of mysterious peace, told me this, and as I explored I learned there is also a mystic tradition within Christianity that was tossed aside in the Enlightenment. Much of Christianity, influenced by Newton, Descarte, and Western patriarchy, became dualistic, materialistic, misogynistic, and in some cases, nationalistic.

We humans inevitably create institutions reflecting our own limited awareness, egoic striving, fear, and need for power.  Most within a patriarchal, fall and redemption religion, internalize a negative view of ourselves as sinful and unworthy, and we give ministers, men, and bosses our power. I certainly have struggled with low self worth and with a view of woman as inferior and as subject to men’s leadership.

Throughout my youth and young adulthood I knew of no teachers speaking of a living and expansive Christianity. I tried to read authors my dad respected like C.S. Lewis and Thomas Merton, but their writings stirred guilt and confusion within me, perhaps because of my previous conditioning in the church. Though for many years I could not articulate the idea that we have neglected the feminine, jettisoned mysticism and contemplative practice, I continued to believe there was something real in Christianity.

It took many years of exploration within yogic philosophy and some dabbling in Buddhism to help me see Christianity with new eyes. Yoga taught me that God is within us, that we can practice spiritual disciplines that help us remember that truth, that help us loosen the hold of ego and live more often as the divine beings we are. It gave me an experience of God, of love and joy in being alive and in touch with our source. I discovered that Christianity has a mystical tradition of its own, that teachers like Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, and Matthew Fox embraced the yogic traditions and lived as mystics in the Western world.

Yet in this discovery process, within the excitement of uncovering the riches within my own tradition, I felt isolated. I had lost my yoga teacher to cancer, and I was wary of returning to the Methodist church. I didn’t know where I fit. Fortunately, I found help online, others who’ve felt the same mixed sense of disenfranchisement and renewal.

I listened to podcasts on my phone—OnBeing, The Road Back to You, Insights at the Edge, The New School at Commonweal. I heard from spiritual teachers in different traditions and discovered the Enneagram, a tool that has been immensely helpful to me in understanding my egoic patterns, and that introduced me to Christians who live within a mystically-informed, justice focused type of Christianity. In listening to teacher Suzanne Stabile and minister Ian Chron I heard Christians who are informed and open minded, alive, loving, and smart. I learned through them of The Liturgists, Michael Gungor and Mike McHargue (Science Mike), two youngish men who talk about contemplative and justice-oriented Christianity as well as about a range of social, psychological, and political issues seen through a Christian perspective. They desire to provide a home for people who have questioned, who have fallen out with the church, but who want to explore what they have missed within Christianity and faith.

I love their mind-and religion-bending take on life and spirituality. They turn churchism upside down and come to Christianity honestly, openly, admitting the conflicts and upheavals in their own journeys. They embrace the feminine, people of all races and gender orientations, and they are truly Jesus-oriented in they way they think and live. In a podcast on activism they talk to two black women who are deeply wise while acknowledging their own silo experiences as white, Christian, Evangelical-raised men. In a discussion with Rob Bell on the Bible, Mike acknowledges that the Bible is confusing in its admonitions to kill and the way such awareness led to a period of estrangement from his religion.

These two guys, neither of which is a theologian or minister, bring intelligence, education, humility, and curiosity to discussions of faith, life, and activism. They expose their own stories and invite others to connect with them and with each other.   They embrace the alienated and ostracized.

Having fled the church long ago, I find it startling to hear people living and breathing true Christianity in a world in which religion is used to justify discrimination, misogyny, and abuse. I now know there are Christians within and outside the church who are alive with spirit and ever growing and changing. In listening to these wise souls, one realizes how rare it is to live as a Christian, how a truly spiritual being like Jesus would certainly appear to us as radical, as one carrying a sword and exposing hypocrisy. I believe I am seeing a slow-growing revolution, one that is grassroots, honest, and truly loving.

Arise, Year Three

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Morning after my third year at Arise music festival. Wake up congested from a damp three days, run hot water over my head, my hair, my body, twisting and shaking to move the phlegm. Notice some sadness, loneliness, feel words, music, and encounters slipping away and yet conjure up Nandhiji calling us divine beings, the plaintive singing of Doug Good Feather, the sonorous dreamlike music of We Dream Dawn inviting me to dance. Impressions of people expressing themselves freely in a kindly space, men wearing sarongs and women going topless, young bodies making music and art, expressing soft, strong, nurturing or challenging energy at will.   People of all colors mingling, dancing, singing, listening.

Each year I find parts of myself in this event in the foothills of Loveland, Colorado. The nature-loving girl who loves to dance beneath the sky, the childlike woman who loves to listen to others and discover spiritual kinship. The adventurer who longs to share her passion for life in community, the amateur philosopher asking questions about who we are, the injured woman looking to uncover her buried feminine instinct, the lover seeking to express gratitude and joy.   I don light prana t-shirt, nylon pants that dry quickly after rain, merino wool socks and minimal shoes. Pack some snacks, raincoat, and folding chair, and dive in.

Older than most at Arise, I nevertheless feel at home. The hippy in me, the embodied, outdoor loving young woman has never changed: My hair may be graying, but I can yoga and dance with most, can traipse the landscape, explore, engage, celebrate, and discover.

I learn about yogic energetics, herbal medicine, making podcasts. I pull out of the crowd, enter Sunrise Dome and watch a movie about Standing Rock. I listen to director Josh Fox and producer Doug Good Feather talk about a movement encompassing the pipeline, Black Lives Matter, and others, a people’s movement, a stand for nature, clean air and water, justice. Fox speaks directly and forcefully about his travels throughout the country learning about the devastation of fracking, being a Bernie surrogate, making documentaries. We, the people, he says, are not as divided as we might think or as we might glean from the media. We would have voted for Bernie, a plain-speaking politician who supports people and the earth. Most of us, says Fox, reject the neoliberal-corporate way. I believe him.

Indeed. I believe that if we listen to Trump supporters, the alienated, especially the ones that voted for Obama, that longed for a shakeup in Washington, we hear people talking about good jobs, people who want decent healthcare, food, water, and community. Listen to the ranchers affected by fracking, the people of Flint Michigan deprived of clean water, the disaffected coal miners and other blue-collar workers. Listen to what the Democratic party said versus what we wanted, and remember Bernie’s words about the rich hoarding the wealth, about providing universal healthcare and ending fracking. Talk about a shakedown in Washington.

What I hear in Arise, from the name to the values expressed there (kindness, care for one another, treading lightly and cleaning up after ourselves), the clarity in the song lyrics about our situation and our need, the opportunity to connect with Native peoples, to practice yoga and qigong and other energy practices, the chance to learn about herbs and permaculture and about activism—is about supporting awakening and connection. Three days of meeting, supporting, celebrating, and learning. You can go simply to party, but most of us go for community, Spirit, and fuel for both daily living in insane times as well as for our activism.

I go to awaken my body and spirit, to find a launching pad. Arise as a whole provides that base: Revisit our natural joy, it says, our love for life, for each other, and for the earth. Glean wisdom for the journey from Nature and other teachers such as indigenous people, yogis, and activists who help us remember who we are and why we are here.

Nandhiji tells us we are divine beings capable of higher consciousness. Each day, he says, honor your mothers and fathers and the divine energies within you. Be your powerful, loving self. Josh Fox presents our work: Know that it is up to us, the people, to speak up for life. Connect with the spirit of Standing Rock, he says. Become a protector.