Tag Archives: christianity

one web day: democracy and open source

open sourcetoday is onewebday. from their site:

onewebday is an earth day for the internet. the idea behind onewebday is to focus attention on a key internet value (this year, online participation in democracy), focus attention on local internet concerns (connectivity, censorship, individual skills), and create a global constituency that cares about protecting and defending the internet. so, think of onewebday as an environmental movement for the internet ecosystem. it’s a platform for people to educate and activate others about issues that are important for the internet’s future.

when i hear the words “online participation in democracy”, my first thoughts don’t turn to politics. they turn to open source.

open source is a collaborative way to develop, maintain and change a “product”, from a sermon to software to pharmaceuticals. open source allows and depends on concurrent input of different agendas, approaches and priorities in decision making and contribution. the most widely known open source product is wikipedia. i guess the barnraising of old was also often an open source project. open source is grassroots-based and the opposite of centrally-directed, authority-based activity.

i know very little about open source yet but the way i see it so far, it seems to epitomize democracy.

here are some examples of open source:

and how can you help the web on onewebday?

1. if you’re a web user, use a standards-compliant web browser like firefox or opera. they’re free, faster, and more protective of your privacy. and because they conform to web development standards, they make things easier for people who make web sites. if you’re a web developer, test your sites with the w3c’s markup validation service.

2. edit a wikipedia article. teach people what you know, and in so doing, help create free universal knowledge.

3. learn about an internet policy issue from the center for democracy and technology, and teach five other people about it. there are real legal threats that could drastically change the way the internet works. we should all be aware of them.

4. take steps to ensure that your computer can’t be treated like a zombie. computer viruses can steal your personal information. they can also cause major network outages on the web, slowing things down and making sites inaccessible. vint cerf estimates that more than 150 million pcs have already been zombified, and are now awaiting their next order. to learn more about the threat of zombie computers, read this article.

5. join an internet rights advocacy group:

  • become a member of the electronic frontier foundation. the eff has championed the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights, from privacy to free speech to internet service.

  • join the internet society. isoc is dedicated to ensuring the open development, evolution and use of the internet for the benefit of people throughout the world, particularly by establishing internet infrastructure standards.

  • support creative commons by donating and by using their licenses to copyright your work. if you’re outside the u.s., help support their counterpart, icommons.

6. help promote public internet access. if you live in a city, there is likely an organization dedicated to providing free wireless access in public spaces.

7. donate to the wikimedia foundation. the wikimedia foundation supports not only wikipedia, but several other projects to create free knowledge: textbooks, news, learning tools, and more.

8. donate a computer. you can donate a new $100 laptop to children in impoverished countries, or donate your used computer to goodwill or a school.

9. write your onewebday story. talk about what the internet means to you and why onewebday matters at http://onewebday.org/stories

10. if your city is hosting a onewebday event, show up on september 22 and participate.

the open source image comes from marc wathieu

blogathon: mental health support in churches

in my announcement of this blogathon last week, i mentioned marja bergen, the founder of the living room, a church-based support group for people with mood disorders. let me give you a few excerpts from her new book, a firm place to stand, where she describes the birth of the living room.  marja’s experience stands in interesting contrast to that of the author about whom i wrote in an earlier post today, where mental illness was met with ignorance and much talk of the devil.

god gave me an idea that wouldn’t stay quiet. i wanted to start a faith-based support group for people with mood disorders. i knew there was a need. several people in my church, including me, could use a place to talk about their struggles. secular support groups were readily available, but participants to not always feel comfortable talking about god. for those who believe in jesus, discussing faith issues is important in dealing with emotional problems.

don dyck, our pastor, liked the idea, and we set the wheels in motion. the process took time. where would we meet? how would we let people know about it? would it be for our church alone, or would we advertise in the community? what would a meeting look like? who would facilitate the group?

the last person i thought of to lead the group was me. i could not see myself doing anything like that. yet, as our plans proceeded, i received the courage to take charge of the project and decided i would try facilitating.

we called the group living room, a name coined by dr. john toews, psychiatrist and author of no longer alone: mental health and the church. dr. toews is a proponent of better church support for people with mental illness and helped inspire the organization of our group.

living group became an outreach project in partnership with the mood disorders association of BC, also known as MDA, a secular organization that trained us how to facilitate. pastor don would not let me start without a co-facilitator. we found janice, a great support for me and someone i could not do without.

relationships built on authentic sharing of our vulnerabilities become strong. because we have all suffered, we have compassion for each other. we share the same langue. when the participants believe in god and talk about how god works in their lives, the strength of our bond grows. not only do we share similar emotional problems, we encourage each others’ faith. we share god’s love with each other.

an amazing thing happened to me as a result of leading these meetings. though we talk about sad things, i feel quite uplifted when i go home, emotionally and spiritually. after meetings, i pray, thanking god for this gift. it is hard to describe the joy i have found in this work.

my desire to give support rather than always being on the receiving end has been met in the living room. i am helping others deal with their problems. to give is to receive. the more support i give, the less i need to go to others for help. i feel stronger, happier and more whole than i ever have before. when i think back to the needy person i used to be, i am amazed where god has taken me.

canadian mental health association

this is an entry for my participation in the 2008 blogathon, a 24-hour marathon of blogging. please support the cause and donate – however much, however little – to the canadian mental health association (vancouver/burnaby branch). to donate, email me or use this URL: www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d2252. you should be able to get there by clicking the link; if not, just copy and paste the link into your browser. it will take you to the appropriate location at canada helps.

thank you for visiting, reading, commenting and, if you can, donating!

blogathon: leaving a cult

canadian mental health association

this is an entry for my participation in the 2008 blogathon, a 24-hour marathon of blogging. please support the cause and donate – however much, however little – to the canadian mental health association (vancouver/burnaby branch). to donate, email me or use this URL: www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d2252. you should be able to get there by clicking the link; if not, just copy and paste the link into your browser. it will take you to the appropriate location at canada helps.

thank you for visiting, reading, commenting and, if you can, donating!

losing the the way – a memoir of spiritual longing, manipulation, abuse and escape is about kristen skedgell’s intense 15-year involvement in a christian cult. it shows how easily an idealistic young person can be swept away by a spiritual quest and manipulated through the quiet malevolence lurking beneath the religious exterior.

kristen is a fellow blogger. some months ago we had a few conversations and it ended in her sending me her book. since a friend of mine is touched by a similar situation, i was particularly interested in the book. i raced through it, am writing about it today, and will then pass it on to J, whose whole family has been taken away by an aggressive evangelical ministry in bellingham.

the following excerpts trace a bit of the story. a teenager, lost between an alcoholic father, an emotionally absent mother and a hostile brother, finds “the way”, an evangelical ministry. the head of “the way” is dr. victor paul wierwille, who is also called “the doctor”.

the doctor also likes folksy tales of homespun poems. he read one called “the touch of the master’s hand” at the meeting. “joyful noise”, the way band, played in the background and by the time he was finished half the room was in tears. the poem described an abandoned violin that was going to be “auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd” until the master musician came and played on it, making it sound beautiful and more valuable than anyone could afford. i thought of my brother’s violin and how wonderful he made the instrument sound. i thought of my life and how much of a failure it was. how someone needed to pick me up and play on me as the master had played on that violin. god was the master.

one of the things that can quickly make me angry is what we might call “sentimental manipulation”. hitting those easy-to-reach emotional trigger points with hot-and-heavy black and white emotions and twisting them for irresponsible purposes. it usually involves a crafty way of mixing “beautiful” and “pure” emotions with guilt, grief and shame. and it seemed to have work just peachy for the good doctor. or, as it were, the bad doctor.

when kristen, now already deeply involved in the ministry of “the way”, goes to a fancy high school and then college, she starts experiencing hard-to-understand moods and has no idea what to do about them. again, the doctor has an answer (that’s what these people do, they have answers; questions, on the other hand, are NOT allowed). the answer is: it’s the devil!

when it comes to my own healing, i’m not even sure what to ask for. i don’t yet know the word for these debilitating bouts of depression. i only know that suicide is caused by a devil spirit and i don’t want to be possessed. i limp through my classes and delegate ministry responsibilities as much as i can. i pray in tongues often, and i sit on the roof, waiting for help.

through all of this, however, kristen still has lingering doubts, caused by her intelligence (she’s studying political science, for goodness’ sake!) and her mental health difficulties, which, in the doctor’s mind, seem to be either unimportant or of the devil. she also wonders whether having sex with the doctor is the right thing to do. not surprisingly, this sort of sexual abuse is sold to her as a special secret between the doctor and herself, never to be disclosed. understandably, she dissociates. after another such encounter (as usual, boring, unloving and clinical)

suddenly, something shifts deep inside me. now i get it: all things are pure to the pure. my mind can do anything. a great door has opened and the doctor has ushered me into the deeper mysteries of the world, where grace resides supreme. i promise the doctor that i will keep his secret. i promise i will be here for him whenever he needs me. i have successfully squelched my feelings and my renewed mind is in control. i am finally committed to the word. in the bright light of the coachman’s suite, i am initiated.

“all things are pure to the pure” is taken (stolen?) from the bible and used as a perfect pretext to engage in whatever the doctor and his minions feel like. since he is so pure, there is no problem, right?

being “committed to the word” means a commitment to a literal interpretation of the bible. which turns out to be the doctor’s interpretation. no-one is allowed to interpret anything for themselves. the successful squelching of the feelings is accompanied by a successful squelching of critical thought – indeed, the two go hand in hand.

kristen gets married to an equally unhappy, abusive man. she gets pregnant, and then …

but here he was, this infant, as honest and real and fragile as life itself. it was impossible to dissemble in his presence. his very existence demanded that i be honest. i had to come clean, to face my life in all its complexity and be real for once. i was not the useless, angry, depressed failure i thought i had become. i was not a thing to be used. i was a giver of life. a mother. a woman. a human being. i had participated in the greatest mysteries and god had allowed it. surely, if this baby had the right to exist, so did i. i was not here for something bigger, bigger than the god i knew. it overcame all my doubts. it loved me in spite of myself. and that is the gift this baby brought me. love.

reading this again, tears come to my eyes. kristen is saved by the child. ironically, the doctor de-emphasizes jesus. we can take the image of jesus-as-the-child, the quintessential babe-in-arms, we, perhaps, see in our hearts that it was jesus who liberated this woman from the clutches of a devilish church.

easter: wrestling with the church

cross on a good fridayyesterday i went to a christian church service for the first time in 1 ½ years. the last visit had been to a crammed, tiny african-canadian church, a memorial service for one of vancouver’s downtown eastside heroes, a little old matriarch who had taken the whole neighbourhood under her wings.

yesterday was a four-church service at a big baptist church. very different. i have to say that soon i felt uncomfortable. many of the reasons why people turn their backs on christianity came up for me. for some reason, however, i didn’t want to wallow in criticism. i wanted to hear the message. what was the underlying message of love, of sister and brotherhood, of walking with the divine? it was very hard, almost like wrestling with demons. i sat there crying with the effort and with sadness and frustration but i didn’t want to give up.

finally it occurred to me to take notes during the sermon. this focused my attention and by writing down only the ideas that resonated with me, it was easier to stay with the positive rather than with the filter of criticism that was just spoiling to take over the whole experience.

what did sound true to me was this: the figure of jesus stands for doing what is right, against all odds, without compromise. the cross can be a symbol for utter defeat, shame, and being the absolute outcast (cast out of life, even). however, it was such a symbol in the context of roman tyranny. so while there is great pain involved, in the end (yes, literally in the end), being cast out of tyranny is a positive turn of events. dying on the cross is dying out of tyranny.

there is always a seductive element to tyranny.

what tyranny is in our lives right now? what tyranny could we – die to?

of course some of you might wonder why i even bothered to go to church, and on top of it, why i bothered to work so hard at trying to sort at least some of it out.

i suspect that some of it is simply because it is my legacy. my grandfather was a lutheran minister, and that was a strong influence in my life.

but also, i truly believe there is great value in christianity. to me, the message of love, compassion and justice despite even the strongest resistance is nowhere else as clearly and passionately expressed as in christianity. the call to express and experience love of the divine both in private contemplation and in fierce action – where else is it as strong as in christianity?

another observation i made was of the sombre atmosphere in the church. it wasn’t pleasant but the thought struck me that there is something comforting in knowing there is a place where we don’t have to constantly be happy, where there is room to say, yes, life sucks big time. that is probably one of the attractions of christianity.

one more thought: numerous times when i was sitting in that service and listening to what was said, i cried out inside myself, “this is so wrong!” i was so strongly convinced that these ideas were wrongheaded, pernicious, anything but life affirming. it did occur to me later on, though, that my thoughts and practices might seem just as untenable to many of the people in that church as theirs did to me. intellectually this is a given – yes, we know there are hugely different ideas out there regarding religion, and that there is a great and acriomonious (and often deadly) distance between the various different camps – but i felt this on a deeper level yesterday. and it brought a bit of compassion and respect.

well, it’s good to get all of this off my chest.

and … quite a while ago i had suggested to my blogger friend jan to have a friendly conversation about atheism and spirituality. what do you think, jan, is this a good place to start?

(image by beezly

a gallery of compassion

you may remember that a little while ago, i participated in the compassion project put together by the three monks. we were all asked about presenting our unique thoughts, definitions and views of compassion. i wrote about compassion and social media.

this group writing project has come to an end. i’d like to present to you some of the ideas that came up, and give you the list of all the people who participated.

so first, here are some samples:

at the new horizons project, a challenge to reach further with our compassion

how many people notice when others are struggling and suffering at home or at work and consciously do something about it? if you answered yes to that question then think how often you extend that same compassion to others outside of your normal relationships.

paula talks about “i am that“, an important buddhist approach.

this particular brand of i am that awareness started while i was listening to the radio (something i rarely do) while driving my daughter to preschool one day. a popular song written by meredith brooks in the nineties called, “bitch”, came on.

i’m a bitch, i’m a tease
i’m a goddess on my knees
when you hurt, when you suffer
i’m your angel undercover
i’ve been numbed, i’m revived
can’t say i’m not alive
you know i wouldn’t want it any other way

dreambuilders gives us this to think about:

we all conceal love behind the shadow we create for ourselves. we aren’t meant to turn our back on it. we need to learn to work through it.

at good life zen, the connection between compassion and forgiveness is investigated. are some things too hard to forgive?

the four young men who killed amy were pardoned and released from prison in 1998 after serving four years. soon after that, two of them, easy nofomela and ntebecko penny, made contact with amy’s parents. you can imagine how hard it was for linda and peter to meet face to face with the killers of their daughter. but when they saw how bleak their prospects were, they decided to offer help and support to easy and ntebecko. they started training as builders in one of the biehls’ programmes and have since been involved with a construction company that the biehls started.

evan remembers the lessons wecan learn from early christians, the desert fathers:

compassion embraces truth – it doesn’t allow us the luxury of sentimentality and illusion. we do not have the luxury of pretending that our society is better or worse than it is. compassion demands that we deal with the practical details of suffering and the nitty gritty of what creates suffering.

i really enjoyed samir’s post, who looks at the connection between art and compassion.

compassion is a deep awareness of, and a sympathy with, someone else’s suffering. that is the traditional definition, but really compassion is much broader than that. compassion is an innate sense of empathy with things and people outside of ourselves ” not just their suffering but their feelings, their thinking, and their situation. to be compassionate is to see, feel, and sense beyond yourself. it is this broader sense of compassion that truly makes us human. what would such a thing have to do with the ballet of swan lake and musical fountains? i thought you’d never ask.

read on! samir will tell you what it is …

finally, of course i had to go to this blog – you know how i feel about fractals! “compassion,” says this artist, “begins with myself.”

compassion, for me, is about one simple thing: allowing, instead of trying. it is accepting situations as they are, and just letting things flow naturally. yes, in such a state a deep empathy for all living beings arises within, but that is just a byproduct of allowing oneself to see the world from a natural and accepting viewpoint. compassion is also about embracing creativity, expressing the self naturally without any restraints.

so, friends, i this was a little glimpse into this beautiful gallery of compassion. now please, come on in, take your time, and savour all of these delicious posts:

ben lumley at the new horizons project.

kris vockler at beyond zen.

corinne edwards at personal growth with corinne edwards.

paula kawal at journey inward coaching.

liara covert at dream builders.

david bohl at slow down fast.

deb estep at deb_inside.

swami nirmalananda giri and reddyk at the atma jyoti blog.

mary jaksch at goodlife zen.

takuin minamoto at daily action and natural expression.

robin at reflections on compassion, posted at yogini myspace blog.

karen zara at abaminds.

jenny mannion at heal pain naturally.

evan hadkins at wellbeingandhealth.net.

shawn williamson at do you live or simply exist.

patricia singleton at spiritual journey of a lightworker.

alex blackwell at the next 45 years.

akemi gaines at gratitude magic.

vitor bosshard at the fractal forest.

cg walters at into the mist.

john torcello has also contributed an entry by email, i’ve included it in the comments below.

brightdays at brighter days for you and me!

karen at loving awareness.

krista at lucid amphibology.

karen lynch at live the power.

andrea hess at empowered soul.

waters at waters: the last thing i wanted to give.

eric grey at deepest health.

stephen hopson at adversity university.

em dy at pulse: intention to treat.

iain hamp at follow your passions.

rahul at raw speak.

stephen miracle at altnoise.net.

pearl at interesting observations.

mark at my tropical escape.

matthew at loving awareness.

daylle schwartz at lessons from a recovering doormat.

charities link at charities link.

mihaela lica at pamil visions ewritings.

david at virginia breeze.

jerry summers at nothing like now.

wishbone at wishbone.

arvind devalia at make things happen.

samir bharadwaj at samir bharadwaj dot com.

prayer

there’s a new web site, prayer 2.0, with an interesting discussion regarding different ideas about prayer. my reply turned out to be quite long so i figured i’d simply post it here. one contributor said this, among other things:

in my mind, “pray” is something you do when you don’t want to do anything yourself. it is a way of unshouldering responsibilities …

another problem with prayer is that it is not about conversation: prayer is one way. it is an odd sort of monologue, in that it is subservient, but it is still soliloquy. it has none of the back and forth that characterize reason.

here are my thoughts:

prayer, as it is conceived in various traditions, is very multifaceted. at its most basic level, it is engagement with a benevolent other-than-ego, non-corporeal other. (how’s that for theological mumbo-jumbo? i hope the next words will shed a bit of light).

what form that engagement takes and who that other-than-ego is – well, that’s an interesting question.

let’s take two extremes. feeding monkeys on your birthday to ensure prosperity is a form of prayer: “hey big power, i need/want more money, i’m doing what your priests have told me, so let’s make it happen!”

on the other extreme, there is work as prayer and the buddhist metta or loving-kindness meditation, in which we ask, among other things, for good things to happen to our adversaries.

in the first instance, we have a desire for something that is not essential, and we try to persuade whatever forces “out there” to get it for us. that would come close to what you described as shirking responsibility.

mother teresa saw her work as prayer. few people would call that unshouldering responsibility.

whether there is a god or not, prayer focuses. for example, when i make an effort to ask for good things for my enemy, next time i meet that person, i will be more inclined to act kindly towards that person.

deep prayer is often more like a conversation. it is engagement with god – whatever/whoever god is/stands for. and there is absolutely nothing that says that prayer has to be without reason. i think that’s a misconception by people who are under the mistaken assumption that god is only the the very limited god that is being talked about in some christian churches.

but god, or the concept of god, is much, much bigger than that. he/she/it/they ranges/range from the very human gods as, for example, envisioned by the hindu gods, to the immanent human goodness envisioned by some unitarian universalists – and anything in between. i don’t think it’s useful to judge spiritual practices only by what happens in one form of practice of one religion.

(this post can be found on the carnival of life, happiness and meaning)