Category Archives: Faith

Sunday Self-Care: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

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“Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.”
— Richard Bach

As longtime readers of this blog know, the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull has had a profound impact on my life — so I was pretty excited a few weeks ago when I became aware that Richard Bach had released a revised, expanded edition.

Bach claims he wrote the novel in four parts but initially published only three. If this is true, this fourth part — published in 2013, more than 40 years after the first three were released — is downright prophetic.

Without giving away too many details, I’ll say that Bach delves into the tendency of worshipers to become so focused on dogma, tradition, and remaining firmly ensconced in their own comfort zone that they miss the underlying message of their chosen faith.

I’ve been increasingly frustrated with the Christian Establishment in recent years, for this very reason. Too many faith leaders seem to conflate spiritual truths with cultural traditions — or worse yet, political expediency.

In 2012, after watching error in the form of politics infiltrate the absolute last place I expected to find such nonsense, I walked away from organized religion altogether and tried, with varying degrees of success, to maintain my faith and my connection to God on my own.

Absent the structure and accountability a church provides, I found it slow going, though perhaps not as slow as it might have been had I been hampered by increasingly uncomfortable conflicts with people who seemed less interested in facilitating my spiritual growth than policing it.

Throughout my life, Jonathan Livingston Seagull has been my touchstone. The first edition of the book feels like an allegory for my own spiritual journey, and I tend to reread it whenever I find myself at a crossroads. It’s never disappointed me.

I suspect it’s not a coincidence, then, that I learned of the expanded edition around the same time I began visiting a local church that seems more inclusive and open-minded than some of the congregations to which I’ve belonged in the past.

My broken wings finally seem to be healing — and just as I’m attempting another flight, lo and behold, here’s Jonathan, as relevant now as he was the first time I encountered him 30-odd years ago, offering a new chapter that mirrors my experiences as well as the first three always have.

I don’t know yet whether I’ll join this church I’ve been test-driving. I’m still carrying baggage from the last go-’round, and I don’t trust as easily or commit as quickly as I did a decade ago. But even if I don’t, it’s reassuring to know, after all these years, that I’m still not flying alone.

Emily

Sunday self-care: In the long run

I started this weekly feature on self-care partly as a means of keeping myself honest, because frankly, I’m great at taking care of other people but lousy at extending the same courtesy to myself. Self-neglect rarely ends well.

One of my most valuable self-care tools is long-distance running. I don’t run as often, as regularly or as sensibly as I should. But I run when I can find the time and energy, and I’m always glad I did. Even if I’ve gone too long between runs and lost some of my training base, the mental and spiritual benefits are enough to make up for whatever physical discomfort I have to deal with along the way.

Props to Chief Blair at Cape PD, who recommended the LaCroix Trail to me.
Props to Chief Blair at Cape PD, who recommended the LaCroix Trail to me.

I’m terribly prone to seasonal depression, and when the days get ridiculously short, an hour or two of fresh air, sunlight and endorphins can make all the difference in how I feel.

In addition to doing nice things for my brain chemistry, long runs give me some much-needed time to think, pray or just “be still and know.”

Yesterday was gorgeous, so I treated myself to an ill-advised 10-mile round trip out to Abbey Road Christian Church to walk the labyrinth.

The labyrinth. One of my favorite places in town.
The labyrinth. One of my favorite places in town.
Love this pergola next to the labyrinth.
Love this pergola next to the labyrinth.
Rudbeckia growing around the perimeter of the labyrinth.
Rudbeckia growing around the perimeter of the labyrinth.

I say “ill-advised” because I’d planned a walk and ended up turning it into a run on the spur of the moment. The problem with that lies in preparation: A walk that long is fine, but if you’re going to run more than five miles, you really need to take along a couple of packets of carb gel and a quart or so of water. I’d made no such preparations (that self-care thing again), and about seven miles into my impromptu jog, my calves and hamstrings started telling me about it.

I was about a mile from home when I looked up and saw salvation in the form of an IHOP. I limped in and ordered a meal specifically intended to replace the nutrients I’d lost on my run: orange juice (potassium, quick carbs), whole-wheat pancakes (complex carbs, a little protein), bacon (protein, salt) and several glasses of water.

Eating solely for nourishment was a singular experience that made me rethink what and why I eat, and it made me genuinely grateful for the meal in front of me, which I desperately needed to soothe my sore legs and fuel that last mile home.

When I was still a practicing Christian Scientist, I was particularly fond of this quote:

Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need.
— Mary Baker Eddy

The labyrinth of my life has taken me on a little different spiritual path the last few years, but that truth remains with me, and running has a way of reinforcing it.

Yesterday, that reinforcement came in the form of a well-timed stack of pancakes that met a pressing need beautifully.

I’ll take it.

Emily

Sunday Self-care: Funny Farm

We were driving down Route 66 in Granite City, Illinois, one spring afternoon in 2004 when the thought came out of nowhere:

It’s going to be a good summer. It’s going to be an interesting summer. It’s going to be a really good summer.

That summer, we moved to Tulsa.

I was driving down Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico, one winter afternoon in late 2012, thinking — as I often do — that we should just move out there and be done with it, when the thought came out of nowhere:

Hang on. I’ve got a better idea.

That spring, we moved to Cape.

We were driving down Route 66 in Granite City one afternoon last February when the thought came out of nowhere:

It’s going to be a good summer. It’s going to be an interesting summer. It’s going to be a really good summer.

I wasn’t sure what that meant, but given my track record, I started bracing myself for major life changes.

I bookmarked the websites for several school districts in the Southwest. I bookmarked the New Mexico page on JournalismJobs.com. I kept an open mind. I listened for guidance. I waited. And while I waited, I worked.

I applied for a New Mexico teaching certificate. I looked into local possibilities. I gave serious thought to applying when two positions opened up in the Illinois newsroom where Ron and I met. And I spent a lot of time doing projects meant to make our house attractive to prospective buyers.

It is almost September.

We haven’t moved to New Mexico. We didn’t go back to Illinois. I didn’t change careers.

But at the end of this very interesting summer, I’m $6,000 closer to paying off my Subaru. I’ve redone the living and dining rooms. I’ve covered my porch with plants, installed new flowerbeds, covered an arbor with wisteria, and filled my home with mid-century furniture. Our bungalow looks warmer and neater and prettier than I ever dreamed it could. And I am content.

I suspected this might happen.

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One spring morning, as I was tending the garden, I thought:

You watch. This is gonna be like the Chevy Chase movie Funny Farm.

Remember Funny Farm? A Vermont couple bribe their cranky neighbors into helping them charm prospective buyers so they can sell their house — and in the process, they charm themselves into staying.

That’s basically what I’ve done. In trying to make my house irresistible to buyers, I’ve made it irresistible to myself.

arbor

I’d still swap it for New Mexico. And if I feel led somewhere else, I’ll go, as I always do. But for the moment, I am content — and it has, indeed, been a very good summer.

Emily

Caesar v. God

As a Christian, I fully embrace the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage, because one effect of the decision — while not part of the argument — serves as an expansion of religious freedom.

Far too many self-professed “Christians” appear to subscribe to the Orwellian notion that “some animals are more equal than others.” Not content to have their religious beliefs merely protected, they seek to have them codified in a manner that forces others to comply with them, whether they share them or not. This is unconstitutional, and frankly, I consider it immoral, as it is a clear violation of the Golden Rule.

Clergy always have been exempt from performing religious ceremonies in a way that violates the tenets of their faith. That exemption never has been in question — nor should it be. (This article outlines it nicely.)

Conversely, clergy should not be denied the right to perform religious ceremonies in a way that upholds the tenets of their faith.

There is widespread disagreement among religions and even within the Christian community about what constitutes marriage, but many — if not all — Christian denominations view marriage as a sacrament. When the government outlaws gay marriage, it essentially places itself in the position of deciding who can or cannot receive a sacrament. Government is neither qualified nor authorized to make those decisions.

As Christians, we are called to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”

We render unto Caesar when we recognize that for those who do not subscribe to any particular theology, marriage is purely a legal contract, and it would be entirely unconstitutional to base a citizen’s right to enter a legal contract on the whims of a particular faith community. Contractual matters are between the individual and the legal system, which is supposed to rest on the principles of impartiality and equal access for all citizens.

We render unto God when we recognize that in striking down the bans on gay marriage, the court has not taken away your pastor’s right to determine how sacraments are administered in his church — but it has ensured that his counterpart down the street has the same right, even if she arrives at a different theological conclusion.

A Christian should never be angry or afraid of an expansion of religious liberty. To borrow a line from one of my favorite theologians, Mary Baker Eddy: “Whatever blesses one, blesses all.”

Emily

(The rainbow pictured above was taken Friday evening as we were coming back from dinner in Foster Pond, Illinois. Vibrance, contrast and saturation adjusted to compensate for the limitations of my iPhone camera, which just barely picked up the colors.)

Birds of the air

“…your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”
Matt. 6:8

Sometime around 1989, my internal clock calibrated itself for Rawaki Island. This would be fine if I lived on Rawaki Island, but I don’t. Nobody else does, either, except for a few seagulls and feral rabbits, and I don’t think any of them are hiring.

I’m healthiest, happiest and most productive when I can go to bed about 3 a.m. and get up around 11. When I try to move that schedule up more than an hour or two, I end up with all kinds of obnoxious little symptoms that make life unpleasant and hamper my productivity.

I’ve tried every imaginable technique to reset my internal clock. I finally exhausted all my own ideas and sought help from a doctor, who recommended meditating; shutting off my electronic devices a couple of hours before bedtime; and taking melatonin.

The melatonin made me sick; the other recommendations, while pleasant, did nothing to alter my natural sleep cycle.

Frustrated, I Googled “circadian rhythm” last night and discovered there’s a name for the way I’ve slept for the last quarter-century. It’s called delayed sleep phase syndrome, and it affects about 3 out of every 2,000 people.

DSPS can be very difficult to treat, and since most people have never heard of it and regard “my body runs on Kiribati Standard Time” as a bullshit excuse for sleeping in, the easiest solution for most people with DSPS is to find a job with a schedule that matches their internal clock and move on.

I’d never heard of DSPS when I sat down to meditate the other night, but as I settled into the Fortress of Solitude and tried to concentrate on my breathing, my mind started to wander (as usual), and I got to thinking about the Sermon on the Mount, which I decided was an acceptable thing to think about while meditating, since it’s practically a Zen text anyway and thus conducive to relaxation.

Less than 24 hours after I’d considered the lilies of the field and beheld the birds of the air, my boss called me into his office — apropos of nothing — to tell me he was switching me from reporting to copy editing.

This means I won’t have to be at work until 3 p.m., and I’ll be able to stay up until 3 a.m. every night without running late or making myself sick. I might even have time to squeeze in a jog before work.

Behold the birds of the air.

Especially the seagulls fishing on Rawaki Island.

Emily

What would Jesus do?

This is an open letter to self-proclaimed Christian men who think oral contraceptives are somehow immoral.

Gentlemen:

Imagine you have a medical condition that causes you to bleed heavily while experiencing a physical sensation similar to being kicked in the lower abdomen five or six times a day, for two or three consecutive days (or more), with these flare-ups occurring every two to four weeks, depending on the severity of your condition.

Accompanying this sensation may be nausea, gastrointestinal distress, migraine headaches, depression and some degree of anemia.

In between these flare-ups, your condition causes pain in one testicle, lasting for several days and ranging in severity and character from a dull, annoying ache to a stabbing pain that takes your breath away.

That’s half of the bad news.

The good news: A drug exists that will alleviate your symptoms almost immediately and eliminate them entirely within a few months, with minimal side effects that generally dissipate within a few weeks of beginning treatment.

The other half of the bad news: Despite its therapeutic value, your employer believes this drug is immoral, so the company health insurance doesn’t cover it. If you can’t afford to pay for it out of pocket, you’ll just have to suffer. Sucks to be you.

Sound reasonable? Is it fair for your boss to use his personal beliefs as an excuse to block your access to medicine you need in order to live without frequent bouts of excruciating pain?

If your answer is “no,” then you need to stop supporting policies that seek to restrict women’s access to oral contraceptives.

Yes, some of the women taking the Pill are doing so to prevent pregnancy. But the majority (58 percent) take it at least partly for medical reasons, many of which are very, very similar to the scenario I outlined above — and 14 percent (including yours truly) take it solely for medical reasons.

Substitute the word “ovary” for “testicle” in that hypothetical situation above, and you have the biblical woman with the issue of blood.

When that woman reached out for help, Christ healed her.

Today, when she reaches out for help, the so-called “Christian” response is something like, “Suck it up, Princess; we’re not paying for your slut pills.”

If that’s your response, you probably need to spend some time studying the difference between Christians and Pharisees, because you’ve clearly mislabeled yourself.

Emily

Measuring

“Except for the error of measuring and limiting all that is good and beautiful, man would enjoy more than threescore years and ten and still maintain his vigor, freshness, and promise.”
— Mary Baker Eddy

I don’t pay attention to birthdays or discuss my age much, because I’m generally inclined to take Mrs. Eddy’s advice and maintain my “vigor, freshness, and promise” without regard to dates on a calendar.

Last night, I ran across one of those Facebook memes where you click “Like” on somebody’s post, and they give you a number, and you have to answer a series of questions about where you were at that age, then answer the same questions as they apply to you at your current age. I don’t usually click on age-based memes, but this one appealed to me as an opportunity to reflect on growth and experience.

I have always understood age in strictly experiential terms. I’m only interested in people’s age to the extent that it helps me extrapolate whether they were around for a particular historical event. If you’re a Baby Boomer, I want to know your thoughts on Vietnam, Watergate, and Dylan’s decision to go electric. If you’re older than the Boomers, I want you to tell me what it was like to watch Jackie Robinson on the basepaths. I need to know these things.

Left to my own devices, I’d establish a new system for expressing age. Instead of basing it on the amount of time that has elapsed since someone’s birth — which has a tendency to “measure and limit” — I’d base it on cultural experience, which prompts conversations about shared experiences.

How old am I?

I have a near-Pavlovian response to the Cheers theme song.
I conjure up images of British ice skaters when I hear Ravel’s “Bolero.”
I watched the Sandberg Game.
I thinkĀ Sesame Street was better before Elmo moved in.
I feel warm and fuzzy inside when I hear the sound of an Apple IIe computer firing up.

Try measuring your age in terms of pop culture rather than years. How does your pop-culture age influence who you are today?

Emily