Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Afternoon Philosophia

I've found a couple of interesting questions / concepts in my spiritual readings. In The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory MacDonald, a cool concept is charted in favor of Restoration. This diagram shows the much-used pattern in the Bible; the major theme being that there is a point of contentment, an event of a fall and the eventual rise out of disgrace. Much like the mythical Phoenix that rises out of the ashes and much like the idea of reincarnation, the Bible, too, demonstrates in the above stories, as well as the story of the Prodigal Son, etc. A second chance (Restoration) is the result of grace and forgiveness.

I think that's pretty neat.

The second concept I came across in The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. A soul arrives in the afterlife and has an interesting conversation with his Spirit-Guide, who unsuccessfully attempts to get him to go to the mountains (Heaven). The following dialogue brings about the question: is Heaven customized to the individual's idea of Heaven?

Spirit Guide: Will you come with me to the mountains? It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened. Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?

Soul: Well, that is a plan. I am perfectly ready to consider it. Of course, I should require some assurances...I should want a guarantee that you are taking me to a place where I shall find a wider sphere of usefulness - and scope for the talents that God has given me - an atmosphere of free inquiry --in short, all that one means by civilisation and - er- the spiritual life.

Spirit Guide: No, I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions, but of answers, and you shall see the face of God.

Soul: Ah, but we must all interpret those beautiful words in our own way! For me there is no such thing as a final answer. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind, must it not? 'Prove all things'... to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.

Friday, August 29, 2008


A picture is worth a thousand words. This photo, courtesy of is an extraordinary example of this:

Holley Camp, left, holds hands with Lekeisha Chestnut, both from Birmingham, Ala., as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama gives his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Hero

My dad was drafted into the Army and served in the Vietnam war. His brigade had a Catholic priest chaplain named Fr. Angelo Liteky.

My dad said he held masses and was on hand for spiritual counseling. During an especially brutal cross-fire, Fr. Liteky risked his life over and over and saved 23 men, dragging them along the ground to the safety of an evacuation landing zone. He was the first and only priest ever awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award for bravery given.

After returning from the war he went through his own spiritual journey and epiphany, he left the priesthood and married an ex-nun, and went back to the name Charles Liteky. His views evolved and he became an activist, protesting flawed foreign policies, the corrupt business interests of the government and the government warquests. He actively protested the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia, an institution known for churning out assassins and whose graduates, critics say, are responsible for the massacre of peasants and human rights workers in Central America.

On 29 July1986, Charles Angelo Liteky renounced his Medal of Honor in protest over U.S. policies in Central America. He left his medal in a bag next to the war memorial in Washington with a note to President Reagan.

He served a year in prison for demonstrating at Ft. Benning.

“Liteky's road from Army hero to lifelong protester is not as complicated as it might seem. Whatever drove him to drag 23 men to safety during a fierce firefight in Bien Hoa province, he says, is probably what makes him now crusade against the Army training school, whose graduates, critics say, are responsible for the massacre of peasants and human rights workers in Central America.”


What I love about this hero, is that he continued to evolve and think and was not afraid to change his thinking. He was a voice on behalf of the voiceless as Martin Luther King, Jr. was. His renouncing of the highest honor the government could give is a huge statement and I have an immense amount of respect for his humanitarian efforts and activism.

Below is a fantastic speech he delivered to the U.S. forces in Iraq in 2003.

[PHOTO: Captain Charles Angelo J. Liteky, Chaplain, 199th Light Infantry Brigade. Republic of Vietnam, 1969.]


By Charlie Liteky
May 7, 2003

By way of introduction, my name is Charlie Liteky, a U.S. citizen, a Vietnam Veteran, and a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. However, I renounced the Medal of Honor on July 29,1986 in opposition to U.S foreign policy in Central America. What the U.S. was supporting in El Salvador and Nicaragua, namely the savagery and domination of the poor, reminded me of what I was a part of in Vietnam 15 years earlier.

I placed the medal at the apex of the Vietnam Memorial Wall into which are etched the names of 58 thousand young American men. In depth study of the Vietnam War revealed political and military liars insensitive to the value of human life, inclusive of their own countrymen. The biggest liar was the Commander in Chief of U.S. armed forces, President Lyndon Johnson, who lied to Congress about the Gulf of Tonkin incident. It was this lie that motivated Congress to vote the money for the war. As a veteran of an ill-fated war, in the waning years of my life, I’d like to share some reflections on my country’s attack on Iraq.

Once again, I find myself in protest of a U.S. military action that no court in the world will declare legal. The U.S. attack on the sovereign country of Iraq fails to meet any of the necessary provisions of a just war. Iraq on the other hand, met the most fundamental condition for a country to use military force against an adversary, namely the defense of its homeland against an unjust aggressor. But, because of the incredible superiority of the U.S. military, there was no possibility of a successful defense.

In its attack on Iraq, the U.S. violated the UN Charter, international law and universal standards of morality. This is borne out by the worldwide condemnation of the U.S. attack by mainstream religious denominations and spiritual leaders.

Claiming liberation of the Iraqi people as a just cause for a war that kills thousands of innocents is hypocrisy at its worst. If liberation of an oppressed people were the real motive behind the invasion of Iraq - why did the U.S. wait 25 years to act? Why did the U.S. refrain from condemning Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons in its war with Iran in the 80s? Why did the U.S. fail to prevent chemicals critical to the production of biological weapons from reaching Iraq? How is it that what we condemn today we approved yesterday?

Many Iraqi people rejoiced at the sight of their American/British liberators, but many more did not, because they had no legs to walk to the sites of celebration, no arms to wave in jubilation or they had no life left to celebrate. The sanitary military term for such people is “collateral damage.”

I first came to Iraq in November of 2002 in response to the bellicose words of war coming from the President of the U.S. and his staff. When I think of children, the most vulnerable of the innocents. In my imagination I could hear them crying, I could see the terror in their eyes and faces as they heard the planes overhead, followed by bombs exploding. I wanted to be with them to offer what small comfort I could.

This cartoon [of a sly, American eagle with its talons deeply planted in Iraqi earth] published in the Jordan Times on April 23, 2003 depicts what many Arab people believe is the U.S. motivation behind its attack on Iraq, namely, a deep-rooted, long-lasting presence. Recently, newspapers have reported that plans are underway to establish four military bases in Iraq.

What the cartoon does not include is the U.S. interest in and access to Iraq’s immense oil reserves. A two-time Medal of Honor recipient, General Smedley Butler, said that “War is a Racket” and that he spent his 33 year military career being a bodyguard for U.S. business interests. I submit that protecting U.S. business interests, sometimes referred to as “national interests” is still the primary mission of the U.S. military. Wartime profits go to a select few at the cost of many. Again to quote Gen. Smedley:

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

This letter containing some of my reflections is not meant to cast blame for an attack on Iraq on U.S. military personnel. I’m sure you believe that what you are a part of is right and just. I once believed the same of my participation in the Vietnam War. I share my thoughts and conclusions as gifts of truth revealed to me through years of studying U.S. foreign policy.


Charlie Liteky
Vietnam Veteran

PS: God be with you in your search for truth, your quest for justice, and your efforts to help a beautiful people.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Public Service Announcement About Hell

I wanted to post a thought to send you into the weekend:

The following was taken directly from the Merciful Truth website. Please visit this great site if you have a chance. I may have used this before, but its worth completely bears repeating:

Nevertheless, truth will always withstand scrutiny, and it reveals depraved perversions within church traditions, which run contrary to God's deep love and perfection in his workings. They do not know the power of God. Not only is the very concept of a demonic house of terror unscriptural, abhorrent and outright sadistic, it solicits the lie that justice cannibalizes love. How many times will someone say "God is love, but he is also just" as though the two must be mutually exclusive? This shows what a mess the hell doctrine is.

"Hell" is neither a Hebrew or a Greek word (both Old and New Testaments were written in those languages), nor did it primarily indicate "a place of torment." Biblical translators actually derived it from a secular German word - spelled hel - meaning nothing more than concealed or covered. The concept of a demon regulated horror-house was indeed derived from that word, but it actually evolved from Teutonic mythology.

Not only is hell an ancient pagan tradition (not at all unique to Christianity), but the ancient Israelites did not understand death that way according to the Holy Scripture. This is why modern Bible translations are completely evicting that word from the Old Testament! Now, why would any Bible translation seek to remove a word unless it did not belong there in the first place? Because this disgusting fable, originated from a place other than God's Holy Word - yet was craftily slipped in by the dogma motivated church of ages past.

I would love to receive your comments about this topic. Have a great weekend!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Those Gleaming Moments

I found the article below and thought it would be a good way to end the week. I can clearly recall moments in my life that have been very spiritual, here is just one of them...

A year ago I had been in the midst of internal warfare as I was weighing the idea of leaving Catholicism after 30 years, based on the errors of the church - not accepting women as priests, women having no real role other than being a church layperson or being a breeder, the absolutist stances the church took which I disagreed with - on war, women's roles, gay rights, birth control, abortion, stem-cell research, etc. I had gone through the crying spells, sleepless nights, book after self-help book-reading and the doubts I had of breaking away from the church...and I prayed fervently for God to guide me.

I had found and downloaded some podcasts by Martin Zender, an outspoken bible scholar, and was listening to them on the 4:10 Metra train going home from work. I had heard many of these podcasts before this day, but that day as I "was seeking" something huge clicked.

The idea that God's unconditional love, by common sense definition, required nothing in return, not even belief - became clear. My wonderful epiphany also included the realization that God's love truly did mirror and exceed that of a loving parents' - that punishment would be temporary and rehabilitative, not eternal. That hell did not exist. That even the word 'hell' was not in the original bible manuscripts. I felt like my soul became lighter than air in that instant. I remember looking around at everyone and thinking how God loves them, too, and even if they do not believe, they are still His Children. It was like gaining new eyesight. I became humbled and understood the flaw Christians have of feeling elitist in the sense that "I believe, therefore I am saved". It dawned on me that no one can 'save themselves'. I really didn't have a right to judge anyone - because NOW I saw everyone as a family. Jesus already did that by dying on the cross. He didn't do it partially --he did it COMPLETELY. No one can take credit by any means for their own salvation. And even if one does not believe in this life - does not mean they will never believe. I felt so at peace by the end of that train ride that I knew it wasn't just certain hotbutton issues the church and I disagreed upon - I disgreed FUNDAMENTALLY and THEOLOGICALLY with their entire 'business model'. The decision was made. And even though I do not agree with Martin Zender's views in many respects and do not subscribe to many of his theories, he was the tool God used to pry the rusted lid off my soul. I've not been the same since...and I thank God for that gleaming spiritual moment.

[If any of you have any moments you would like to share - please post a comment.]


Moments that define spirituality

(From "O, The Oprah Magazine," May 2008 - -- A window opening. A glimpse of the ungraspable. A sudden surge of love ... or hope ... or awe. We asked artists, writers, thinkers, and doers to recall the flashes of understanding that took their breath away.

Elizabeth Lesser: Co-founder of the Omega Institute and author of "Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow"

I've been a spiritual seeker my whole life because I have been acutely aware of death my whole life. When I was a little kid, I lay in bed at night and wondered, 'Who will I be when I'm no longer me? Where will I go? Does it all just end?'

As I grew up, the fear of death was my closest companion. It encouraged me to find a spiritual teacher and help start Omega Institute 30 years ago; it made me become a midwife and had me sit with the ill and dying. It is with me still, as constant as my breath. Our friendship has given me an intense appreciation of life.

I've heard there is a Sufi tradition in which one bead is always missing from the prayer beads to signify the mystery of God's true name -- which is our true name, and the name we will discover, it is said, when we take our last breath.

When my friend Ellen took her last breath, a window opened in my mind for a brief moment. There, on the threshold of life and death, I thought I heard the Name, but before I could know for sure, the window closed, and I returned to the living. Every now and then, especially when I remember those last moments with Ellen, the window opens a crack again, and I hear the Name.

Elie Wiesel: President of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and author of "Night"

Is it at all possible to live without a spiritual quest? Of course it is -- theoretically. Under the two totalitarian dictatorships that plagued the 20th century, Fascism and Communism, politics replaced spirituality. But lest we forget: Both collapsed.

Can one be spiritual without religious faith? One can. All one needs is to be open to someone else's concerns, fears, and hopes, and to make him or her feel less alone, less abandoned. God alone is alone. Human beings are not, must not be. It is my caring for the otherness of the other that determines my humanity. And my spirituality.

Cornel West, Ph.D.: Professor in the Center of African-American Studies, Princeton University, and author of "Democracy Matters"

The surgeon was rolling me into the operating room for a seven-hour procedure on an aggressive form of cancer that was in the last stage. He said, "I don't understand; how is your blood pressure normal?" I said, "I've made my peace."

My response to the cancer was that I was full of gratitude that I had been invited to the banquet of life for 48 years and experienced an abundance of blessings, especially in the form of family and friends. It just turned out that I've been spared for a while.

Noah Levine: Author of "Against the Stream"

When I was 17 years old, I realized, after waking up in a cell in a juvenile detention center -- again -- that I was the one who had gotten myself into the mess I was in. At that point, in 1988, I'd been drinking and getting high since I was 12, and there I was, looking at my third felony arrest, resigned to a life of incarceration.

It was after a failed suicide attempt that the moment of clarity, that spiritual experience happened: the breaking of denial and blaming everyone else for my problems. I couldn't blame this ignorant, oppressive world; it was how I was relating to this world.

So much of the suffering I was experiencing was about the past and the future, but that moment brought me into the present and was the beginning of my spiritual practice: meditation, prayer, and addressing my addiction. I was responsible. I was not a victim. I had created the situation, and I had the power to get out of it. I had hope.

Tobias Wolff: Author of "This Boy's Life"

It's hard for me to imagine coming to an understanding of spirituality in a single moment. Does it mean a politician competing with other politicians over who is more born-again? A novice taking her final vows? A Buddhist monk setting himself on fire to protest government oppression? Or could it refer to the determination of an immigrant couple to sacrifice their lives in grinding, minimum-wage work so that their children might have something better?

Perhaps the greatest problem with this word is the line it seems to imply between spirit and flesh, between some exalted, superior state and the experience of everyday life, when in fact they are all mixed up together. We define ourselves and our deepest values by the choices we make, day by day, hour by hour, over a lifetime.

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner: Author of "Overcoming Life's Disappointments"

I have a vivid memory of being about 10 years old and doing something I knew was wrong. My parents confronted me about it, and I admitted it, certain that I had just permanently destroyed any image they might have had of me as their ideal son.

To my immense relief, they forgave me and assured me of their love. That was my first encounter with the mysterious Force in the universe that impels people to forgive wrongdoing and to love even imperfect people.

Francesco Clemente: Artist

When I paint, there is no thought of "I" and "mine." There is no thought of gain or loss. There is no hope for immortality, but rather hope to reach a timeless place. If I could live as I paint and keep a sense of humor too, only then could I claim to know what spirituality is.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


With the business of having a church comes the marketing ploys that are used to draw in the attendees.

And this church's schtick could not have more distractions that take away from the actual reason for being there (to worship God). They replaced modest personal spirituality with dress-up-cowboy-circus time. Horses? Chewing tobacco? Country music using backwoods dialect?

I would recommend clearing out the unnecessary costumes, themed gimmickry, and animal sideshows and get back to basics - keeping all external elements as simple as possible will allow one to focus on the internal spiritual connection with God more steadily. That way, Western Wear Willy can stop worrying if Billy Bob Buckshot's cowboy boots look more shitkickin' than his.

This farce is a silly diversion from the simplicity of God's message. I know that God doesn't care what one wears to worship in, but, come on...they are dressing up for EACH OTHER, not Him.

It's basically a Ren Faire without the turkey legs.


Where prayers come with a twang

Cowboy churches, with a Western feel and a country-music sound, multiply as they draw flocks from farms and ranches in rural Illinois and across the country By E.A. Torrierol Tribune reporter 12:42 AM CDT, August 4, 2008

MT. VERNON, Ill.—Wearing a white cowboy hat and preaching atop his horse, Coby, Rev. Steve Hamson gives a modern-day meaning to "sermon on the mount." With a Bible in one hand and the reins of the horse in the other, Hamson strikes the fear of God in his parishioners—more than a dozen of them listening on horseback in a humid riding arena. The cowboys put their hats over their hearts when Hamson prays for those who are missing because they "had to do hay." Some men had wads of chewing tobacco in their cheeks, digesting Hamson's words while their horses made "brrrr" sounds and kicked their hooves. No one minds the equestrian outbursts or the chewing. This, after all, is cowboy church. Across rural America, thousands of evangelical Protestant worshipers gather in barns, buildings and beneath the stars to worship Western-style. As the beach is to born-again surfers, and the road is to Holy Ghost bikers, the range is the mission field to Christian cowboys and ranchers. At least 600 cowboy churches are scattered across the U.S., according to leaders in the movement and published accounts. In central and southern Illinois, an estimated two dozen congregations meet in barns and arenas, on the dusty trails and in churches—some decorated with Western memorabilia. Some evangelical Christians have questioned whether the churches only offer gimmicks and fail to provide a meaningful spiritual experience. But pastors and churchgoers said their services are divinely inspired. Like the suburban megachurches that beckon teenagers with gospel-themed rap and rock music, cowboy sanctuaries promote country-western worship while seeking to attract those who find traditional rural church settings unattractive. In a cowboy church, the music has a twang, the lyrics beckon men to mosey on home to Jesus, and 10-gallon hats are passed around for offerings. Preachers tell corny jokes. Worshipers whoop, holler and clap. The bands jam with banjos, mandolins, guitars, drums and sometimes a worn washboard. It's not unusual to be baptized in a horse trough. And the sermons usually last just a few minutes so as not to make the audience restless. "You don't want to scare 'em off," said Pastor Susie Deeters, who along with her husband, John, runs the Ranch House Cowboy Church in a converted Baptist church about 120 miles north of Mt. Vernon in De Land, near Champaign. "You want to give 'em just enough to hook 'em." Far from the big cities and suburbs—inquiries found no cowboy congregations in Chicago or its suburbs—cowboy churches are apparently a uniquely modern American phenomenon. In the Wild West days, most cowboys were Catholics from Mexico and Baptists from the Confederacy, historians say, but there is little historical evidence of traditional church gatherings. Cowboys usually were not atheists; they saw God in nature. But they were indifferent when it came to evangelical Christianity. "They were less Christ-centric and more aware of God's providence in their surroundings," said Ferenc M. Szasz, author of "Religion in the Modern American West." The modern-day cowboy church movement seems rooted more in entertainment than cowboy lore. One group—Cowboy Church International—was spawned out of the country music entertainment hotbed of Nashville in the 1990s by the sister of Johnny Cash. Today, crowds flock to such tourist areas as Branson, Mo., for foot-stomping worship from cowboy bands. Many in the audience have never saddled up in their lives but love country gospel and wearing Western garb. Another movement, though, grew out of a Baptist outreach to ranchers in Texas that spread like a wildfire, spawned megachurches and now even sends cowboy missionaries to Africa. Texas cowboy Baptists claim some 7,000 converts to Christ this decade. In Illinois this summer, cowboy services are being held at rodeos and county fairs, bull-riding events and trail rides in forests. As the cowboy churches gain publicity, some wonder about their Christian authenticity. The evangelical magazine Christianity Today asked in a blog in May: "Clearly something is going on here, but what?" Blog moderator Derek Keefe questioned whether the movement expanded or collapsed the Christian gospel message. "I'm definitely nervous about what appear to be 'tribal' markers that bind the movement," he wrote. But 160 miles south of Chicago at the First Christian Church in Farmer City, the octogenarian crowd at a recent Sunday night cowboy service seemed anything but cultist. After a Midwestern potluck, they clapped to country gospel and praised the Lord. About 11 years ago, one of the congregants from the town of 2,000 went to a cowboy church in Nashville and came back hooked. He helped convince the elders it would work as a Sunday night outreach. Since then, nearly a dozen cowboy churches grew out of the ministry, including a Gospel Opry outside Bloomington. A few years back, service leaders John and Susie Deeters were so smitten with the cowboy ministry that they quit their work in real estate and fashion, and literally took up a giant wooden cross on the rodeo circuit. They knew the Lord had led them like a horse to water when at one road show, a cowboy answered the prayer call dead drunk and left stone sober, the couple said. In recent years, they left the road and took over a rundown Baptist church about 7 miles south of Farmer City and outfitted it with Western memorabilia. The lights are in the shape of wagon wheels. The walls are adorned with ropes, lassos, cowboy hats and curtains with pictures of horses. Some 140 miles to the south, outside Mt. Vernon, parishioners arrived at church on a recent Thursday night towing trailers for their horses. Before the service, men and children rode in a dust-bowl arena while women gathered in a side room for Bible study centered on a Christian nutrition program. Jonathan Schnautz, a farmer and horse rider who attends weekly, churned peach ice cream in a wooden bucket for an after-church dessert. "The cowboy church works because we are people who like to ride and also worship the Lord," he said. "So it fits who we are. But I'm sure people up in the city sure must think it's weird." As the service began, riders circled behind Hamson while other worshipers sat in front of him on bleachers. Hamson asked for prayer requests. Singers performed from the bleachers and on horseback. Hamson acknowledged that preaching from a horse is a learned art. "You have to pay attention to the horse, and you can't hold notes," he said. "So you have to memorize most of what you want to say." Luckily on this night, the horses were on their best behavior. There were none of the equine mishaps that have befallen some services. After a closing prayer from the saddle, the congregation was dismissed. Folks rode off to the old cowboy ditty made famous by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. "Happy trails to you. Until we meet again."

Monday, August 11, 2008

God's Reset Button

I haven't blogged in awhile. It has been a chaotic few weeks. For the past several months my husband and I have struggled to complete the sale of our house, jumping problematic survey hurdles among other things even going so far as to get on anti-anxiety meds for the stress. We lived so far from work that we were spending 20 hours a week commuting. It got to be too much even though we loved the house.

This past week we finally closed and moved and the relief was overwhelming. My walk to work now is less than 10 minutes.

Being attached to the house we were leaving, I did cry. And cry hard. For both the sadness of leaving a great house and the relief that comes with overcoming an almost impossible feat. And it is always after I cry that I feel so tired and need to nap. I know I am not the only one who experiences this. I feel like this is God's way of pushing the re-boot button on me. From babyhood on, the need to sleep after a meltdown and be re-set is like a merciful and genius progression of events. I thank God for this neat little programming feature. I always wake up feeling better. Clearer.