Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What did Jesus do?

One of the people who most remind me of the Jesus I encounter in the Gospels is my friend singer songwriter Tim Dillinger. He lives on next to nothing and yet carries with him an atmosphere of joy and abundance. His many friendships cross lines of race, religion, age, gender, and sexual orientation in a way that has nothing to do with political correctness. To Tim everyone is kin. He does not shy from confrontation, but when he contends with someone, he also seeks to understand their point of view, even when people condemn him, as many did last week when he posted a link on his facebook page to an article about Jennifer Knapp, a Christian singer who came out as gay, an experience Tim has lived himself.

Some of the scriptural pronouncements against homosexuality come from Leviticus, one of the three Biblical books that detail more than four hundred laws. Most people have a tough enough time observing the Ten Commandments. It hardly seems cricket for Christians to riffle through Mosaic law to pick the ones that reinforce their opinions while ignoring scores of others. Paul, who is famous for fulminating about sexual immorality, is also frequently taken out of context. For an excellent analysis of Romans I, see this article by James Alison.

Both Peter and Paul did do some picking and choosing about which of the laws of Moses to observe and which to disregard as gentiles flocked to the new movement. After a visionary dream, Peter argued for relaxing dietary laws. And Paul waived the requirement of circumcision insisting that what matters to God is a circumcised heart. In context, their policies were liberal and inclusive.

As for Jesus, he said nothing on the subject of homosexuality. You could argue, and many have, that he didn’t have to make pronouncements. He was an observant Jew who would have regarded homosexuality as a sin. The truth is, we will never know his views on this subject. We do, however, have very clear statements from Jesus on how we are to behave towards one another:

Judge not lest you be judged. Matthew 7:1

Do not take the mote from your brother’s eye until you have removed the beam from your own. Matthew 7:3

Let the one without sin among you cast the first stone. John 8:7

Love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:31

I was naked and you clothed me, hungry and you gave me to eat… Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of these the least my brethren, you have done it onto me. Matthew 25

The only people Jesus railed against were the self-righteous and the hypocritical—sins we’re all guilty of from time to time. Let us repent! Focus instead on loving and caring for the people who cross our path. That is what Jesus actually did. And that is what Tim does. And if we do the same, we will not have the time, energy or heart to condemn any of our kin.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Personality Disorder: Deliberate Misdiagnosis

I am doing research and taking alarming diagnostic tests online, because of an article in The Nation Disposable Soldiers” by Joshua Kors that highlights the case of Chuck Luther , a soldier discharged from the army after multiple tours of duty and exposure to combat conditions with a supposed diagnosis of Personality Disorder. Considered a pre-existing condition, this diagnosis permits the army to deny the soldier a lifetime of disability benefits and long-term medical care. And to add salt to the wound, a soldier also has to give back a portion of their re-enlistment bonus, which may exceed the amount of a final paycheck. In short, it is entirely within the military’s financial interest to overlook an alleged pre-existing condition during recruitment screening and then discover it later after a soldier has suffered trauma or brain injury.

This suspect practice has been going on for years. In 2007 then Senator Obama introduced a bill to stop all PD discharges. It was defeated, and the PD discharges are ongoing. Joshua Kors writes:
“Since 2001 more than 22,600 soldiers have been discharged with personality disorder. That number includes soldiers who have served two and three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Typing Personality Disorder into my browser, I soon discovered the
ICD-10 general diagnostic criteria, which includes the following:
There must be evidence that the deviation is stable and of long duration, having its onset in late childhood or adolescence.

Organic brain disease, injury, or dysfunction must be excluded as the possible cause of the deviation.

These two criteria alone call into question the plethora of military discharges for PD. If a diagnosis requires evidence that the deviation is “stable and of long duration,” why wasn’t it made during a medical screening process or discovered during basic training? And in combat situations, how can a brain injury be ruled out? In Chuck Luther’s case a mortar exploded in his guard house and slammed his head into a cement wall. He suffered partial loss of hearing, blindness in one eye, debilitating migraines, persistent shoulder pain but was given (and ultimately forced to accept) a discharge for PD.

A much more common and accurate diagnosis for soldiers who have seen combat is Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. Of course it cannot be dismissed as pre-existing. In this country there are sharp divisions of opinion about the two wars we continue to fight. Let’s unify in holding our military and our government accountable for fair recompense and respectful care for returning soldiers. If we cannot afford to treat the wounds of war—physical, psychological, and spiritual— we should not be asking our soldiers to suffer them.

For ways to help: http://www.ptsdsupport.net/ptsd_given_misdiagnosis.html

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Drinking from Our Own Wells: Celebrating National Poetry Month

April is national poetry month, but we need poetry all year long, all life long. Left to their own devices, children speak poetry. I will never forget hearing my four- year-old daughter crooning to herself.

The cat catches the mouse
the mouse catches the bird
and the night catches everything

At the end of his life, my father also spoke poetry:

When the river nears the sea
it gets confused
it doesn’t know which way to go.

Reading and writing poetry restores our sense of awe and connection; it uses words to take us to the wordless. When you write poetry, it changes the way you perceive. You are always on the alert for that shy, wild thing: a poem.

Eight years ago, after keeping journals since my teens, I decided I was tired of listening to myself maunder on in prose. I challenged myself to keep a poem journal only. In this daily practice, bad poetry is permissible and inevitable, but whatever I write about—dreams, conflict, people, nature—I seek to discover something truthful and essential. For example, volumes on domestic tension and affection are distilled here.

Parting of the long-married

He opens the car door
and begins to get in
before I protest and he
swears he would have remembered
to give me a goodbye embrace.

He insists on removing my glasses
to hold me close, and I (almost angrily)
say many useless things
about calling and staying safe.
I send a blessing as he drives away.

Later I cannot find my glasses.
It is clearly his fault.
I rewind the morning and know
I put them on the back of my car.
I find them halfway up the drive, unharmed.

Poetry can call forth a succinct narrative account, but I also relish the permission it gives for free association. Here is a poem I wrote not long after my husband’s diagnosis with prostate cancer. (He has successfully completed treatment.) The poem came from a meditation.

saints’ gold

the light shining
through your mother’s womb
the light shining
into the depths of the sea
the last light on the last oak leaves
at the end of a short November day
the honey inside the hive
the honey spooled on the spoon
the light in your lover’s eyes
when he knows
you will never

For me, as for many, poems can also be prayers, a way of connecting with mystery. Here is one from yesterday.

where you dwell

you are in every breaking heart
I don’t know how this can be
but I believe it is so

our torn hearts are your temple
they offer scant shelter
from rain or beauty

you are welcome in my heart
I am seeking you here among
weeds and fallen stone

in some shadow you are waiting
you will give me water
from my own spring

cupped in your brown hands
when I am quieted
you will speak

When I signed up for twitter last summer, I began to experiment with haiku and even attempted the occasional tanka. The really gifted poets don’t always stick to the syllabic formula, which is only an English approximation of the forms, but I became addicted to counting.


now it's quiet again
crows have settled their dispute
wind rests in the leaves


just outside my door
the phoebes shrill excitement
topic? real estate
should we raise the babies here?
I hope they decide to build

Twitter attracts people who love words. In further celebration of poetry month, I want to introduce you to a writer I met there: R. May Evans who has just published Truth-Love-Blood-and Bones, a collection of poems available as an e-book. May is also a brilliant blogger and an artist. Here are her links:

book: http://bit.ly/b4wLMr
blog: http://www.maysmachete.com
art and writing: http://www.readheadgirl.deviantart.com

R. May Evans has a lively and wide-ranging poetic voice—funny, fierce, sexy, angry, lyrical, passionate. Her images and metaphors sometimes startle me in just the way I long to be startled, so that I see in a new way. With R. May Evan’s permission, I will close with a poem that gives me a sense of her bold, engaging spirit. I encourage you to explore her work further.


I am like a goat butting
my hard head and tiny horns against everyone
and everything I come across, if only to find out what
they’re made of. I’m made of stubbornness
and questions. My cry could be a laugh.

I hop rock to rock, restless explorer.

copyright 2009 by R. May Evans
used with permission by the author

I would like to acknowledge author and editor Cait Johnson’s brilliant editorial suggestions for this post.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sex and Incarnation: Part Two

“What about the orgies?” yet another man asked me.

“Orgies?” I repeated perplexed. “Why has no one invited me?”

We were attending New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) sometime in the late 1980s. That summer the women’s rights committee (half-jokingly called the women’s rites committee) had sponsored an interest group on the goddess. (We didn’t specify which one.) Quakers have long been known for their religious tolerance. In 1683 Quaker William Penn, forced to preside over a witch trial in an era of persecution and hysteria, found a clever and merciful way to acquit the defendant. The controversy over the “goddess interest group,” a far cry from an orgy, took me by surprise. I wondered how Friends, who hold that “there is that of god in everyone” could so lose their balance when an “-ess” was added to the word.

The Biblical God, though referred to as “he,” is supposed to transcend gender. He has to, because in a monotheistic religion he is singular, and monotheism was a distinguishing characteristic of the emergent religion of the Hebrew people and remains so today for all the religions of the Book. When the Biblical prophets inveigh against rival pagan religions there is often a reference to (reprehensible) sexual practices associated with goddess worship. And this association and excoriation continue in the Epistles of Paul, notably Romans I. For better or worse, the word goddess automatically connotes gender, as does the word priestess, and it seems that whenever femaleness is not defined/confined by marriage and motherhood, people start asking “what about the orgies?”

Perhaps it is not an entirely idle or prurient question. Before I ever joined the women’s rights/rites committee, I had a periodic longing for a temple where I could go and celebrate Eros at full spate, make an offering of it to its source. The temple in my fantasy (or vision or memory) stood near a tidal river, and the moon was full. I knew nothing about the stranger(s) I received except that they were divine, as, in that moment, I was also.

Marriage can be a beautiful, durable container and expression of sexuality. (I’ve been married and monogamous for thirty years), but it is by definition domestic. And for the first 20 years or so, there are often children underfoot! Sexuality is not just domestic. My vision was about creating a container for Eros in its wilder, undomesticated form. In our culture we have no open or sanctified ways of expressing this aspect of sexuality. So that wild (perhaps divine) longing is often expressed covertly and destructively.

Because of that vision and the persistent questions about my orgiastic practices, I became interested in the subject of sacred prostitution. There seems to be fairly compelling evidence in ancient texts and images that it did once exist in many cultures (Sumer-Babylon and Phoenicia among them), though there is plenty of room for scholarly and religious debate about the details of the practice. Since I am not a scholar or a social reformer but a novelist, I decided to write about it , taking the position that what we don’t know, we can imagine. Through imagination perhaps we can become more open, insightful, and understanding of the ways we mortals embrace and/or wrestle with Eros.

For the record, I am still happily married, still monogamous. Our nest, now emptied, has come to resemble the temple more and more. At least on weekends, the orgy is here.