Sunday, April 27, 2008

Quaker Pagans in the News

A few months ago, I had the chance to speak at length to religion-writer Matthew Streib. The article he wrote, "Pagans Find a Sometimes Uneasy Home Among Quakers", has just appeared on the Modern Reformation website.

Others whose work or interviews contributed to the article include Stasa Morgan-Appel, Carl McColman, and Marshall Massey, all of whom might be familiar to readers of this blog.

For more on the "small but growing movement of Quakers who also identify as pagan," see Streib's article.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

There is a Spirit Which I Feel

I was always a "rational use of force" gal. For most of my life I believed that the use of force--by which I meant human beings taking up arms and going off to war to try to kill one another--was a regrettable necessity. Sometimes I liked to imagine that Paganism held an alternative to that, particularly back in the day when I believed in that mythical past era of the peaceful, goddess-worshipping matriarchal societies. (I really liked that version of history, and was sorry when I stopped believing in it as factual.)

But that way of seeing reality changed for me, in the time between one footfall and the next, on a sunny fall morning: September 11, 2001.

I was already running late for work that day when the phone rang; my friend Abby was calling, to give me the news that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York.

So? I thought to myself, picturing a small private aircraft. Abby tried to convey some of what she was hearing--terrorists, fire--but the magnitude of the situation required visuals, or more time than I had to stay on the phone. I was brusque and I was hurried (and it took Abby a long time to forgive me for that) and I was simply puzzled when she told me she was going to pick her daughter up from school immediately.

Why on earth would she do that? I was thinking, as I raced out the door.

That was back in the days when I worked for myself as a psychotherapist, in a small private office downtown. I loved walking to work and back. I also loved, though it wore me out, the intensity of concentration that each clinical hour took on my part. During an hour of psychotherapy, my world would narrow to an almost single-pointed focus on my client's feelings and thoughts. Aches, pains, my own preoccupations would dissolve. That day, as always, my own morning fell away from me, and I thought no more of Abby's strange phone call.

After the intensity of an hour of focused listening to each trauma survivor, it was my practice to book in a half-hour of down time, not just for notes, but for finding my way back into my own skin. On that particular morning, I was free until after lunch, and decided to walk around the corner to my favorite small bookstore, whose owners were friends of mine. When I got there, however, I discovered them completely absorbed in watching images streaming over the web onto the shop's computer. That was when I first saw the images that burned themselves into so many of our minds--the Towers burning, collapsing; the expanding shock wave of black dust and death spreading from them.

And I understood why Abby had called.

We stood together and watched the images repeat. Chris searched online for the likely daytime population of the Towers--a horrific 45,000 at peak use times was the initial figure he arrived at, a number greater than the number of people living in Burlington Vermont, or Amherst, Massachusetts. It gave the images a genocidal scale, and I realized that, in fact, the attacks were a kind of genocide, against Americans because they were Americans. This notion numbed and bewildered me: as an American, I am used to feeling insulated from the horror of world events, as if it were a kind of birthright.

Then I realized, good, knee-jerk liberal that I was that morning, that of course, this would make a magnificent excuse for a war; in fact, only a very strong president would dare defy the anger which (my experience as a trauma and bereavement counselor instructed me) surely would follow the nation's shock and grief. And Bush? Bush was going to love it. He was going to get the boost in popularity of a wartime president in charge of a popular war.

And I began to rant, in predictable, knee-jerk fasion, about Bush as I stood beside my friend, leaning on the counter that held the cash register and computer screen.

"Don't you do that!" Chris exclaimed. "Don't you say another word!" He turned red as he bit off the words. "I don't care how you feel about George Bush--he is our president, and we need to stand behind him!"

And I stopped. I had never seen Chris angry before. And he was angry with me. And I felt a little bit ashamed--not of my thoughts about George Bush, but for putting my reflexive need for a liberal rant against noticing what my friend Chris needed. Which, come to think of it, was pretty obviously not going to be anger.

With the images of the falling Towers replaying in my mind, shaken both by the sense of the magnitude of death and by my own callousness, I left the shop.

Downtown Northampton is a beautiful, exciting place. But it is not a place that holds many green spaces. I, on the other hand, knew where they all were--every small patch of green was mapped in my mind and visited when, my spirits worn down by stories of grief and violence, I would seek them in order to lie on the grass and gaze up at the leaves.

I was walking across one such green oasis--the lawn outside of St. Michael's House--when it happened.

Someone spoke to me.

Not with words at first, but with a tremendous physical sensation. I have described it, ever since, as being as if a great hand seized me by the spinal column. I stopped. And I knew something all the way down to the core of me.

The words that came to me reflect just a ghost of the power of the knowing. I'm still working on finding all the implications of that knowing, so no single set of words was going to capture it, but the words were these:

If half a dozen men, armed only with box-cutters, can kill thousands, then the day when force could "settle" conflicts--if it ever could--is over and done.

Mostly, though, what came to me was a sense that the idea of force as a means to peace was just done for me. I had come to believe that, as the chestnut goes, there is no way to peace; that peace is the way.

It was in response to this that I began attending Mt. Toby meeting.

I remember sitting in that first meeting I attended, almost weeping with gratitude, watching Friend after Friend arrive. I'm just a single leaf, I thought. I'm just a single leaf, on a single tree, in a great Forest of those who are seeking peace. And as each Friend settled into their seat, I felt gladness. I felt that I was, at last, surrounded by teachers. I felt that everything was going to be All Right.

My only fear was that I would not be seen as belonging there. It was so transparently clear to me that I did that it made me a little afraid.

Now, I'm sure that those who have been through the mills of politics, either of the Quaker or the Pagan variety, have taken a moment to snort with cynicism over how inflated my idealism was, at that point in time. And of course Quakers are as capable as anyone else of letting you down, if you go pinning your idealistic illusions on them. I'm sure that is so.

But here's the cool part--there are some Friends who don't. There are some Friends who have been listening hard enough, long enough, to the Spirit of Peace that its Light shines from their eyes, if only in reflection. And that, dear reader, is what makes the game worth the candle. That is the reason I keep trying to grow and change and deepen. There is something here, in what the Quakers practice, that is real, and true, and can change your life if you let it.

My own faith--and read that in the traditional, Christian sense, please, as in hopeful dependence upon a thing unknowable--is that it can change the world.

Of all the testimonies and ministries of Friends, past and present, the one that has always touched me most is that of James Nayler, the charismatic early Quaker whose ministry rivaled that of George Fox in importance. When he was jailed and tortured for blasphemy, the actions that led to his arrest were seen as signs of dangerous enthusiasm by other Quakers as well as by the courts.

I imagine Nayler, alone and feeling outcast and abandoned by other Friends. If the Quaker accusations of extremism and enthusiasm were sound, then he probably had shame to wrestle with as well; if they were not, how difficult he would have found his isolation from Friends. Any way you look at it, it would hardly have been surprising if he had emerged from his two years in prison as bitter in his spirit as he was broken in his body.

But he did not. It is from the period after his "fall" and imprisonment, indeed, from the day after he was robbed and beaten after returning to freedom, and as he lay dying, that he gave his most famous testimony:

There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thought to any other. If it be betrayed, it bears it, for its ground and spring is the mercies and forgiveness of God. Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned; it takes its kingdom with entreaty and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind. In God alone it can rejoice, though none else regard it, or can own its life. It is conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it; nor doth it murmur at grief and oppression. It never rejoiceth but through sufferings; for with the world's joy it is murdered. I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens and desolate places of the earth, who through death obtained this resurrection and eternal holy life...
I think of this, and I think of my small angers and humiliations day to day. I am not James Nayler's equal... but I want to live up to his legacy. I want to feel that same Spirit, and I want to do it justice, not just when my enemies treat me unkindly, but when my friends do. (Which is harder, do you think?)

This sounds much easier to do as a theory than it is in practice, at least for me. I don't find forgiveness especially easy; I don't know that I entirely understand what it means. I do know that I used to say, before that day in September, that forgiveness was not a Pagan doctrine, and that Pagans have no ideal of forgiveness. I may have been wrong about that, but certainly, though I tried not to be a hothead, I had no testimony of forgiveness.

It is the conversion to the Spirit of Peace (by whatever name you choose to call it) that has created in me this hunger to learn the skills of forgiveness.

I was talking to my friend Spellweaver today, and she gave me such a gift. We were speaking of a controversy in the Pagan community that has weighed heavily on both of us. And I spoke to her of my peace testimony, and how I know I'm probably clumsy about it sometimes. I'm sure there are times there's an odor of sanctimony or falseness to how I go about so earnestly trying to live by these lights.

I talked to her about how I'm working to figure out and to practice living like a Quaker--and how I realize that this means I have to forgive the Felicias and Lady Q's of my life, even if I don't quite know how. I told her that I felt like I had to try, even if I make a fool of myself or stumble at it, because, well--

--somewhere in Rwanda, a Hutu or a Tutsi is having to forgive and reconcile with a member of the other ethnic group, after having seen their parent murdered.

How can I ask them to make peace, if I can't even attempt peace in my own community? This is what I've got--I don't know how to bring reconciliation or justice to Iraq or Israel or Bosnia. I'm just trying to start with what I've got.

Here's the gift. She got it. She really got it, and her eyes got soft, and filled up with tears just as mine did. Right in that moment, it was such a relief to me, to have someone else hear what I was feeling. She knew just what I was driving at; not that I was trying to change her point of view, or sell her Jesus, or anything else. Just the truth of my heart today:

There is a Spirit Which I Feel.

I want to be faithful to that Spirit. And that's my peace testimony. Never mind Quaker, never mind Pagan, that's where I'm trying to go.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Duality and Beyond

OK. This one's going to be a bit notional. Here goes:

I've been challenged by A. Venefica of Symbolic Meanings and Mahud of Between Old and New Moons to participate in their mythology synchroblog on duality. You might think that would be an easy task, for a Pagan trained in two traditions of Wicca. After all, Wicca is known (sometimes a bit sneeringly) among other Pagans for its duotheism. The Mysteries of Wicca are expressed in terms of duality, and especially that of gender. Male/female. Goddess/God.

In Christianity, the world is understood through relationship: the relationship between a Father and his children (and especially, his Son).

In Wicca, the world is also understood through relationship: a sexual relationship between the Goddess and the God, and a parental one with the world that is the product of their union. The world is not made, not created, but born out of that love.

(I am aware there are variations on this theme. Please do not write me and notify me that in your tradition, it's not like this. Not my point--please keep reading.)

This focus on duality leads to a series of metaphorical associations around gender that usually are listed in stereotypical ways: female is to dark is to intuitive is to receptive as male is to bright is to logical is to active. Sometimes the gender polarities are swapped (It's often said that on the "Inner Planes" or in the spiritual world, the feminine is active) but the overall gist is the same. In Wicca, the gods--and, in fact, all of nature--are seen as representing two poles of gender, and all the variation of life, both as a natural phenomenon and as a set of experiences and virtues, is seen as sorted into two baskets: male and female. All living things, the teaching asserts, have gender. And many Wiccans will quote Dion Fortune, and further assert that "All gods are one God, and all goddesses are one Goddess, and there is one Initiator."

Sometimes the point of spiritual training is to strive for the union or knowledge of both polarities--for the man to embrace his anima, and the woman to embrace her animus. Sometimes it is simply the celebration of the complementary nature of all aspects of the world in recognition of the complementarity of the God and the Goddess.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of reasonable objections to this approach to worship.

First, it's biologically false to assert, as many do, that all life is gendered, male and female. This is nonsense. (Counter examples include hermaphrodism, sequential hermaphrodism, bacterial conjugation, and, of course, asexual reproduction. It just ain't that simple, folks--even before we consider our own species.)

Secondly, it's essentialist horse-crap to equate feminine with dark, receptive, nurturing, etc; reversing polarities on the Inner Planes, however nifty it sounds in theory, is just repackaging the essentialism in a new color scheme. It's still crap, even when it's crap in a mirror.

Thirdly, the "All gods are one God, and all goddesses are one Goddess" quote flies in the face of a great deal (though not all) of what we know about how ancient pagan peoples viewed their gods. In a sense, the duotheism of Wicca can be viewed as as strong a denial of polytheism as the monotheism of Christianity... and hence the dislike many Reconstructionist Pagans feel for Wicca, or at least for the ways all too many Wiccans assume that their philosophies and practices are universal in the Pagan movement.

Fourth, this is a heterosexist lens with which to view a universe, and it's no coincidence that a number of respected early Wiccan teachers and a small number of less-respected recent teachers did espouse homophobic views. Since I won't be returning to this point, let me just say it here: it's the coming together in love that matters, ladies and gentlemen... not the plumbing possessed by the celebrants. However, it's all too easy, if your paradigm for sacred union is a heterosexual one, to conclude that other forms of union are not sacred. Not nice.

With all that in mind, it might surprise you to learn that I still cherish one of the first pieces of Wiccan liturgy I ever learned, the wine blessing that the Church of the Sacred Earth adapted from words traditional to the Odyssean Tradition of Wicca:
HP:The Sun brings forth light!
HPs: The Moon holds it in darkness.
HP: As above--
HPs: So below.
HP: As the athame is to the lover--
HPs: --So the chalice is to the beloved.
Both: (blessing chalice with athame as they speak)...And together joined,
We are One in truth.
For there is no greater power in all the world
Than that of people
Joined in the bonds of love.
Interestingly, most of the online versions of this liturgy have, like ours, been adapted from the original, dropping (as we did) stereotyped references to gender. I suspect that most groups who have adopted this ritual found, as we did, that there is nothing wrong with a little duality in your religion...

...provided you don't take it too literally.

The core concept, that we are attracted across differences, is sound. Where we go wrong is in defining the most basic representation of difference--duality--as the limit of difference.

In a traditional Wiccan circle, many of us were taught to sit boy/girl, boy/girl, in a strict alternation around the circle. Some groups found it difficult to have odd numbers of coveners, because it would disrupt the gender (and thus polarity) alternation that, it was thought, acted as a kind of spiritual battery, charging up the circle for its work.

And that concept is both wrong... and right.

My husband and I learned early on in our lives as working partners in a Wiccan circle, that it was better not to sit either side by side or directly across the circle from one another. If we did, the powerful attraction we felt for one another in those, the heady early days of of lives together, would eclipse the softer, more subtle attractions of relationship with other members of a group. It did, in fact, act as a short in an electrical system might--and as the boy/girl polarity enthusiasts would predict.

But we have never found that alternating gender is neccesary in a working group that has been together for any length of time. If the dualism of Wicca is about recreating the creative potential of polarity, the key insight turns out to be this: there are not two poles of spirit, but thousands--or more accurately, billions. It is difference, not opposition, that creates complements. And so, the fact that Ravenwing loves heavy metal music but Oakleaf loves Bach, that Shadowhaven loves red meat but Dawnchild is a vegan, that Rowan is expecting her third child but Pixiedust is childless, creates all the polarity any active circle could ever ask for.

The problem, in other words, isn't with dualism, but with literalism--with being unable to see the fullness of what dualism is the simplest form to represent: diversity coming together to shape wholeness.

It is the coming together of an ecosystem, not of day/night, dry/wet, or male/female dualities, that really gives life its richness and fullness. Duality is merely a symbol, in other words, for many-ness, variation, and diversity. For life. The coming together of male and female, Goddess and God, or, indeed, of any one human (regardless of gender) with another is, liturgically speaking, symbolic only of how life shapes harmony from difference. The underlying truth which literalism can sometimes obscure is this: that all of creation is an ongoing act of love.

I can live with that.

And though I might not describe myself any longer as Wiccan, and though a monotheistic tinge may be changing me into something some of my Pagan sisters and brothers might not recognize as kin, still, there is a place in me for the old, duotheistically-rooted insights that shaped my spiritual journey. It is still true:

There is no greater power in all the world than that of people--of all of us beings, of all of us spirits, of all of the myriad individualities of all of nature and mankind alike--joined in the bonds of Love. The Spirit that joins us makes us whole.

Photo courtesy Caroline Tully's Necropolis Now.
More duality (or non-duality) Synchroblogging Goodness available by May 1st (at least in theory) from:

Between Old and New Moons
Goddess in a Teapot
Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism
Full Circle
Stone Circle
Women and Spirituality
Frontiers of Wonder
Religion Think
Quaker Pagan
Heart of Flame
Pitch 313
Executive Pagan
Druid's Apprentice
Druid Journal
Manzanita, Redwoods and Laurel
Dream Builders
When Isis Rises

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Conversation Continues (Peter)

Good blogger's etiquette would have me reply to each of the comments that come in after my posts. As a schoolteacher coming into the final month before my students face their AP exam, that's just not happening. I usually take the hours right before Meeting to write about spiritual matters, and while I'll read on weeknights, I'm just not available to hold up my end of the conversation in more than fits and starts.

The recent thread of posts and comments around theological diversity seems to be focusing in on three intertwined questions:

  • What is G*d?
  • What is worship?
  • What is a "spiritual center"?

Big questions--questions that we spend our whole lives answering. But there are a few small things I've learned through these conversations, and I want to pull them together here.

I think Liz Opp was right on when she said,

I do however still affirm that my experience is quite different when I worship with a mix of atheist-Quaker, Buddhist-Quaker, humanist-Quaker and Christian-Quaker worshipers than when I worship with a mix of theist Quakers, whether they are Christ-centered or nature-centered.

I also believe, as you do, that "two worshippers with different beliefs about G*d can still [experience] the same G*d." The distinction that I make, though, is that two worshippers with different ideas of how to use that appointed hour of worship will not necessarily result in a corporate experience of worship or of the Living Presence among us.

Worshippers with very different ideas about G*d can still share an openness to being touched by the Divine, and thus still nourish and sustain one another's worship. Our spiritual center as Friends isn't so much in our doctrine as in our corporate practice. I have often wondered how typical the practice at Mt. Toby Monthly Meeting is. I haven't done nearly enough intervisitation to have a sense of the larger landscape, so I was very interested to read Marshall Massey's comment:

You may be experiencing sitting in an ocean of light - in fact, I'm sure you do, since otherwise you'd never have brought the matter up - but if you ask around, I think you'll find, as I myself found, when I asked, and as Michael Sheeran found and recorded in his book Beyond Majority Rule, that a great many of the members and attenders at liberal meetings do not experience that ocean, and are actually present for other reasons.

Sheeran's book sounds interesting, and I'm going to order a copy of it. Thanks, Marshall!

I knew that my comment about Unitarian Universalists not worshipping would annoy some UU's like Julia, but honestly, to put it any less bluntly would have failed to communicate. The UU Church was one of the places I tried to reconnect with G*d when I was a disillusioned ex-Christian, before I found Paganism, and for me it was awfully thin soup. Julia, I'm sorry I pissed you off, but if I did, I hope that your anger will make you think about what it is that nourishes you in UU worship and hold it that much more dearly.

David Miley knew exactly what I meant by the comment, and sent me a link to a sermon he wrote on the question of UU worship. He concludes,

The witness of our path is the true Unitarian-Universalist worship. It transcends niceness and is beyond doing the right thing. Our worship, at it's best, connects us to our deepest spiritual Power and midwifes that Power's entrance into our heart, mind and soul. That love spreads out to our community and the world and makes change. This is what distinguishes us from an ethical society or service club. There is a Light at the end of our tunnel. Our worship services, at their best, connect us to that Light - for when we are at our best, we recognize that Light within ourselves and within each other.

I love the poem with which David concludes his sermon.

There is a Sound

There is a Sound,
That supports the World.

It is tree dance
And brook babbling.
It is summer storm and volcano.
It is in us and apart.
As loud as sleigh bells -
Still, you may not hear it.

Touch tree.
Face fear.
Light fire.
Dance in moonlight.
Make love.

The Sound is silent
Til you sing it.

The poem speaks to my condition. It sums up really well in one collage of images what I experience as the heart of both Quaker worship and Pagan practice.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Marshall Massey on Borg and the Bible

Marshall Massey sent me (Peter) this email last December, in response to my post on Reading the Bible Again For the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally, by Marcus J. Borg, but I had just switched to a new email address so I didn't find it until this week when I went back to sift through all the spam at my old account looking for something else. Hoping that late is better than never, I'm going to take him up on his offer to let me to post his comment here. Though it's in response to an old post, much of what he says is also relevant to the current thread on theological diversity and corporate worship.

Borg, as you quote him, states that "The conflict is between ... a 'literal-factual' way of reading the Bible and a 'historical-metaphorical' way of reading it." While this is literally true, I think it is a shallow and misleading way of looking at what's actually going on. The two sides are not simply quarreling about how to read the Bible; they are quarreling over the much bigger and much broader issue of what is right and what is wrong, and below that, the much deeper issue of how we are to know the difference. The right wing gives its loyalty to one Power, that teaches it what is right and what is wrong in a way that emphasizes moral strictures and tribal values; the left wing gives its loyalty to a rather different Power, that teaches it right and wrong in a way that emphasizes broad tolerance and personal liberty. Each side labels its own chosen Power, God; each looks on the other's as false. Thus it is not a conflict merely between two ways of reading the Bible, but a conflict between two great Powers, each of which controls human perception in different ways.

I would remind you, and others who might read this, that in this conflict, Friends have historically taken the side of the Lamb. That means that, no matter which set of teachings they happen to be personally drawn to - the one Power's or the other's - they are committed to the methods of the Lamb: meekness, gentleness, a readiness to listen, and a strict limiting of what they say to the things that are purely true and loving. This commitment makes it possible for Friends who are drawn to either side, whether it is to the one Power's side or to the other's, to rise above the conflict that Borg describes, to exist in harmony and love together, and to hear each other's measure of truth. And this is oh-so-important -

I quite agree with Bill Samuel when he says there is a lack of a clear spiritual center in liberal Quaker communities. You may be experiencing sitting in an ocean of light - in fact, I'm sure you do, since otherwise you'd never have brought the matter up - but if you ask around, I think you'll find, as I myself found, when I asked, and as Michael Sheeran found and recorded in his book Beyond Majority Rule, that a great many of the members and attenders at liberal meetings do not experience that ocean, and are actually present for other reasons. In the absence of that clear spiritual center, much of what draws liberal Friends to one another is their shared affection for the Power that we identify with cultural "liberalism".

I would add that I personally see a similar lack of a clear spiritual center in evangelical Quaker communities. I don't believe that the religious fervor these communities visibly possess, and their shared ideas about what it is they are fervent about, are the same thing as a spiritual center; they are an emotional and ideological center, to be sure, but to have a clear spiritual center, one must lay down one's self-hypnotizing emotions and beliefs, and come to the great and awesome Reality that stands beyond and above such things. The growing division between evangelicals who continue to support the political right and those who now question where the political right is going, is, in my estimation, evidence of a lack of spiritual centeredness that has long been obscured by passion and conviction, but that cannot be so obscured forever. And I think that in the absence of a clear spiritual center, evangelical Friends are showing themselves very capable of being misled by shared affection for the Power we identify with religious and cultural conservatism in this country.

If Friend McCandless used the word "unity" as you represent (you report that he "said something along the lines of 'Unity does not mean we are in agreement; unity means we are girded about by the bonds of love as we labor together'), then I believe he abuses the historical Quaker sense of what "unity" means. Historically, Friends have been interested in discerning the will of God, which is a will towards that which is simultaneously totally upright (the underlying emphasis of the Right) and totally kind (the underlying emphasis of the Left), and then uniting themselves with that will, an act which requires the complete surrender of one's own beliefs, desires and plans. That is something qualitatively different from, and much tougher than, just "laboring together in the bonds of love". One can "labor together in the bonds of love" while still giving one's loyalty to this Power or that one. To truly come to unity requires leaving all that lesser loyalty behind.

As I write these words, I am listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams's lovely Fantasia on Christmas carols (performed by John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers), a composition that embodies an awful lot of the actual agenda of Christianity as expressed by its first apostles. Listen intently as I can, I cannot hear any support in it for the mutually-exclusive elements of the agendas of Left and Right. Have we ceased being children enough to understand the significance of this?

Your blog offers no way for me to post this comment directly, since I decline to open an account with either Google or Blogger. So I am taking the liberty of sending you this by e-mail. If you want to post it to your blog yourself, please feel free.

All the joys of the season to you and Cat,
Marshall Massey

Friday, April 04, 2008

Meme: Passion Quilt

Passion Quilt: Gotta Love the Books!

Chas Clifton, author of Letter from Hardscrabble Creek, has tagged me with a teaching meme, focused on what is our passion as teachers. And partly because, when I sit in worship and ask what it is I am supposed to be doing, I often see the face of one or another particular students, and partly because I think that there are so many things out there that can leach away a teacher's joy in teaching, I'm going to take up the challenge.

It's one I find especially poignant, given the fact that Chas, a longtime teacher of journalism and writing, is leaving the profession at the end of this semester. "The zest is gone," he writes, and I understand why he has to "flog [himself] into actually writing the comments" on each new batch of student papers. There's an aspect of teaching that's a lot like being on a treadmill.

In respect to a colleague, how can I say no?

Here are the meme's directions:
  • Post a picture or make/take/create your own that captures what YOU are most passionate for students to learn about.
  • Give your picture a short title.
  • Title your blog post "Meme: Passion Quilt."
  • Link back to this blog entry.
  • Include links to 5 (or more) educators.
My picture's title? Gotta love the books.

Gotta love the books, gotta love the kids.

I became a teacher when I discovered that I loved teenagers--not as a psychotherapist, because psychotherapy is just not their natural habitat, their metier, the way a classroom is. Within a classroom, you see them as they naturally are: passionate, quirky, always-hidden and right-out-in-the-open. They hate and despise adults and the adult world, and they love, need, and flourish under adult attention. They're weird, and annoying, and lovable the way dogs are lovable, if you're a dog person.

I've always loved books.

I literally don't remember a time before I could read. I was one of those kids who learned to read very early and books have always been one of the most important things in my life. My idea of heaven, if there is a heaven, is an enormous, rambling library, with an autumn day outside which should either be perfect for reading under a tree, or rainy, so I can camp out in a comfy armchair beside one of the library's many fireplaces.

Books are magical. I have read while walking down a sidewalk, while waiting for a bus in near-darkness, caught in a traffic jam, huddled under my covers, in hospital emergency rooms and outside intensive care units. I have read while in love, while numb with shock or grief, while waiting outside of job interviews and, perhaps most delightfully, I've read to my child, to friends' children, and now to whole classrooms full of teenagers. I know the hush that steals over the room when they're really listening, and the triumph in their faces when they bring me news of a new title in a series they've fallen in love with. (And which I introduced them to!)

I want the students who pass through my classroom to read. More than anything else, I want them to fall in love with books, as I have: the friends who are always home, the comfort that never fails, the escape that's always just a page away, no matter how awful our present-reality. No other drug compares, no earthly friend is as faithful, as is a good book.

Read. Read trash, read manga, read Batman comics--it's all the same to me. Find your joy, find your idea of a good book, and read, read, read!

To hell with literature. Just find yourself a good book, my dears, and All Will Be Well.

I don't think I can name five bloggers I know who are teachers. On the other hand, that's not what we usually blog about, and there may be teachers (in a traditional or a religious sense) I'm not thinking of. So I invite those who would like to participate in this meme to go ahead and leave a comment linking to your blog post.
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