Friday, March 24, 2017

Not Whether We Dance, But How

The Wild Reed's series on dance continues with a second excerpt from dancer, philosopher, and scholar of religion Kimerer LaMothe's fascinating book, Why We Dance: A Philosophy of Bodily Becoming. (To read the first excerpt, click here.)

Oh, and it's probably helpful to know that for LaMothe, dancing is any bodily movement in which humans "cultivate a sensory awareness capable of guiding us to create and become relational patterns of sensation and response that promote bodily health and ethical relating." I don't know about you, but I appreciate and resonate with this definition.

Following are more of LaMothe's thoughts on dancing.

Dance is not only a biological fact; it is a biological necessity. We need to practice creating and becoming relational patterns of sensation and response, consciously and deliberately, throughout our lives, in order to build brains and bodily selves capable of making movements that will serve and enable our ongoing vitality. We need to cultivate a sensory awareness of ourselves as rhythms of bodily becoming, alert to the movements we are making. And we need consciously to internalize a sense of self – a self-conscious awareness – that is capable of not only guiding us but enlivening us to the possibilities of action in the moment.

Dancing, in this sense, is not a question of learning steps or mastering technique or performing on stage; it is a question of discovering and disciplining ourselves to our own capacity to move. It is a question of learning how to participate as consciously as possible in the rhythms of bodily becoming so that we can align our actions with creating a world in which we want to live – and being born into it.

Because we humans are born early, we are biologically primed to dance as the enabling condition of our best brained, bodily becoming. The question is not whether but how.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Soul of a Dancer
The Art of Dancing as the Supreme Symbol of the Spiritual Life
"Move Us, Loving God"
"Then I Shall Leap Into Love . . ."
The Premise of All Forms of Dance
And as We Dance . . .
Unique . . . Yes, You!
The Naked Truth . . . in Dance and in Life
Balance: The Key to Serenity and Clarity
Memet Bilgin and the Art of Restoring Balance
Dance and Photography: Two Entwined Histories
The Body: As Sacred and Knowing as a Temple Oracle
To Dance . . .

Friday, March 17, 2017

Winter . . . Within and Beyond

Ever since moving to the U.S. from Australia in 1994 I've had a love/hate relationship with winter in Minnesota. I loathe, for instance, the cold and the ice (the snow, it's true, I'm not quite as adverse to). Yet, on the other hand, I appreciate the pronounced seasons of my second home here in the North Star State, something that's quite different from Australia; and I love how winter stirs in me the desire to go deep within, to retreat and take stock of my life in ways that are quiet and mindful. And, of course, I love the festivals of this time of year, the winter solstice and Christmas, with all their rich and interconnected symbolism.

I'm definitely not one who tries to conquer winter, to not let, in other words, winter's adverse attributes influence my decision-making around where and when I go places. Of course, while such attributes don't totally dictate my movements, I'm nevertheless much more inclined to bend like a reed to the season's call to hunker down, rest, be reflective, In doing this we honor and say yes to winter's invitation to become that bit more attuned with the natural world around us; a world to which, because of all our technological advances and their accompanying expectations, we can easily forget we are connected. I've come to believe that when we establish a resonance with the seasons and connect accordingly with the natural world, we honor Sacred Mystery immanent in all things.

I share all of this as a way of introducing this evening's post which I'm calling "Winter . . . Within and Beyond." Inspired by my previous post, "Autumn . . . Within and Beyond," this evening's post is a compilation of words (excerpted from various writings that have been especially meaningful to me these last few months) and photos, mainly taken this winter – though with a few included from last winter. The images taken outside ("beyond") are predominately from the area around my home in south Minneapolis, located close to Minnehaha Creek and its parkway. It many ways it's like being in the woods!

All of the interior (or "within") images were taken inside my home, mostly in my room with its "meditation nook," as one friend calls it. This "nook" basically serves as a focal point when I pray and meditate, and contains John Giuliani's beautiful portrait of the Compassionate Christ along with an assortment of icons, stones, prayer beads, and other meaningful objects that I've collected over the years.

Also pictured is the surface of the large desk in my room, at which I've spent time this winter coloring mandalas. As Susanne Fincher reminds us, a mandala is a "circular design that grows out of the urge to know oneself and one's place in the cosmos" – a description that could just as readily be applied to this particular collection of words and images . . . and to The Wild Reed in general. After all, all of these creative endeavors grow out of my desire to discern and embody my unique oneness with Sacred Mystery, and to be continually discovering how this embodiment can best serve others and the world.

Something happens in that quiet place, where we’re simply alone and listening to nothing but our hearts. It’s not loneliness, that aloneness. It’s rather the solitude of the soul, where we are grounded more deeply in our own internal depths. Then, having connected more deeply to God, we’re able to connect more deeply with each other. Our connection to the divine unlocks our connection to the universe.

Marianne Williamson
Excerpted from "Christmas for Mystics"
The Huffington Post

Be still and know
that day and night,
dark and light,
are one holy circle.

– Jokhim Meikle

Our individual awareness and personality is like a standing wave in a flowing river. That wave has a unique form, but the form is created by motion. And the substance of consciousness is not unique; it is common to all filaments and currents of the river. . . . If our consciousness is like a standing wave, then Deep Self is the underlying rock that creates the form our awareness takes. Deep Self shapes our fate, lines up the lessons we need to learn, and guides our evolution.

When we are in contact with Deep Self, we feel a sense of rightness in our choices and actions – not self-righteousness or complacency but a visceral sense of knowing we are on the right road. Whatever happens, whatever the consequences of our actions, we know we are doing what we are meant to do.

Excerpted from The Pagan Book of Living and Dying
pp. 72-73

If you can catch a hare
and look into its eye
you will see the whole world.

Anna Crowe
Excerpted from "A Calendar of Hares"

Says Crowe about her poem:

Ideas about transformation, especially the sympathetic magic underlying the process of metaphor, interest me greatly, and the naturally elusive and mythic qualities of the hare readily embody this. Why a ‘calendar’? It offered a handy framework for conveying ideas about transformation through time passing, and also allowed me to focus intensely to produce brief snapshots like fleeting glimpses of the hare. . . . Underpinning the poem there is a childhood memory of the first hare I ever saw, killed when we were driving down to Devon one summer. It was soft, gold, almost unmarked, and I remember its great dark eye and a feeling of loss.

One of the great disservices [our] culture of domination has done to all of us is to confuse the erotic with domination and violence. [The ancient god or archetype Cernunnos] is wild, but his is the wildness of connection, not of domination. Wildness is not the same as violence. Gentleness and tenderness do not translate into wimpiness. When men – and women, for that matter – begin to unleash what is untamed in us, we need to remember that the first images and impulses we encounter will often be the stereotyped paths of power we have learned in a culture of domination. To be truly wild, we must not be sidetracked by the dramas of power-over, the seduction of addictions, or the thrill of control. We must go deeper.

Excerpted from The Spiral Dance
p. 233

One leaf left on a branch
and not a sound of sadness
or despair. One leaf left
on a branch and no unhappiness.
One leaf left all by itself
in the air and it does not speak
of loneliness or death.
One leaf and it spends itself
in swaying mildly in the breeze.

Crows brought the message
to the children of the sun
For the return of the buffalo
and for a better day to come

You can kill my body
You can damn my soul
for not believing in your god
and some world down below

But you don't stand a chance against my prayers
You don't stand a chance against my love
They outlawed the Ghost Dance
But we shall live again, we shall live again

. . . Crazy Horse was a mystic
He knew the secret of the trance
And Sitting Bull the great apostle
of the Ghost Dance

Robbie Robertson
Excerpted from "Ghost Dance"
(from the 1994 album Music for the Native Americans)

Many of the religious cosmologies [or worldviews] of the West have celebrated the winter solstice as a return of the Sun, the birth of the divine at the darkest hour. It is, for each of us, at the darkest hour that we must be able to find our inner light. Christmas is celebrated on December 25, the mythic date of Horus's birth, not because there is any evidence that Jesus was born on that date, but because it makes sense that the divine should come to be present among humanity at the time of our greatest feelings of fear and disconnection. . . . [T]he winter solstice or Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate rebirth because it serves as a moment to unify the paradox of individual and the Universal. It represents both the birth of the Universe itself and the rebirth – a recognition, really – of our own divinity, our divine spark, the fullness of the cosmic wisdom we each possess and express in our own way.

Winter is waiting and promise. Its word is often unspoken. Sometimes, too, it is sorrowful and finds itself alone.

Winter knows that love is coming – and wants it to come. It feels the pull of longing.

. . . In winter love asks us to be open, to be honest, and to trust.

Listen to love in winter.

– Louis M. Savary, S.J.
Excerpted from "Listening to Love in Winter"

Once I saw the summer flowers
turn the fields to sun
Up and down the mountainside
I watched the summer run
Now the fields are muffled in white
and snow is on the down
Morning comes on shivering wings and
Still this love goes on and on
Still this love goes on

Buffy Sainte-Marie
Excerpted from "Still This Love Goes On"
(from the 2008 album Running for the Drum)

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Winter Beauty
Interiors – February 1, 2017
Photo of the Day – December 11, 2016
Winter Light
Winter Storm (2016)
Winter Storm (2012)
A Winter Reflection
Shadows and Light
Winter's Return
A Winter Walk Along Minnehaha Creek
Photo of the Day – December 9, 2012
Prayer of the Week – February 22, 2011
Autumn . . . Within and Beyond

Images: Michael Bayly.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Quote of the Day

President Trump’s [proposed] budget is morally obscene and bad economic policy. It will cause devastating pain to the very people Trump promised to help during the campaign. At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, when 43 million Americans are living in poverty, and half of older Americans have no retirement savings, we should not slash programs that senior citizens, children, and working people rely on in order to provide a massive increase in spending to the military industrial complex. Trump’s priorities are exactly opposite of where we should be heading as a nation.

– Bernie Sanders
March 16, 2017

Related Off-site Links:
Budgets Are Moral Documents, and Trump’s Is a Moral Failure – Dylan Matthews (Vox, March 16, 2017).
Trump Budget Slashes Federal Agencies and the Arts to Focus on Border Wall and Defense Spending – Andrew Taylor (Associated Press via Chicago Tribune, March 16, 2017).
Trump's Budget Plan Cuts Funding for Arts, Humanities and Public Media – Brian Naylor (NPR News, March 16, 2017)
Trump Wants to Cut the NEA and NEH. This Is the Worst-case Scenario for Arts Groups – Philip Kennicott and Peggy McGlone (Washington Post, March 16, 2017).
These 80 Programs Would Lose Federal Funding Under Trump’s Proposed Budget – David Ingold, et al (Bloomberg, March 16, 2017).
Trump Budget Director: Feeding Elderly and Children Has to End, It's Not “Showing Any Results” – Joan McCarter (The Daily Kos, March 16, 2017).
Meals on Wheels Is “Not Showing Any Results” Only If You Ignore All These Results – Christopher Ingraham (Washington Post, March 16, 2017).
Trump Administration Picks Strange Fight With Meals on Wheels – Arthur Delaney (The Huffington Post, March 16, 2017).
Trump’s Budget Calls for Seismic Disruption in Medical and Science Research – Joel Achenbach (The Washington Post, March 16, 2017).
Trump Budget Chief on Climate Change: “We Consider That to Be a Waste of Your Money” – Dan Merica and Rene Marsh (CNN, March 16, 2017).
 Trumpcare Isn’t Health Care. It’s a Tax Cut for the Wealthy – Editorial Board (The Nation, April 3, 2017).
Unspeakable Realities Block Universal Health Coverage in the US – Chris Ladd (Forbes, March 13, 2017, 2017).
Trump's Plan to Dismember Government – Stephen Collinson (CNN Politics, March 14, 2017).
The Right-Wing Machine Behind the Curtain – Theo Anderson (In Theses Times, March 14, 2017, 2017).
Bernie Sanders Slams Trumpcare as a “Disgusting and Immoral Proposal” – Tom McKay (Policy Mic, March 13, 2017).
“Trump Lies All the Time”: Bernie Sanders Indicts President's Assault on Democracy – Ed Pilkington (The Guardian, March 10, 2017).
Trump, Ryan Budgets Will Kill More Americans Per Year Than All Muslim Extremist Attacks CombinedDaily Kos (March 16, 2017).

UPDATES: Ralph Nader Denounces Trump Budget as Corporatist, Militarist and Racist: “The Mask is Off”Democracy Now! (March 17, 2017).
Everyone Loves Bernie Sanders. Except, It Seems, the Democratic Party – Trevor Timm (The Guardian, March 17, 2017).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Profoundly Troubling and Tragic Indictment
Something to Think About – January 22, 2017
Quote of the Day – January 20, 2017
Quote of the Day – January 11, 2017
On International Human Rights Day, Saying "No" to Donald Trump and His Fascist Agenda
Progressive Perspectives on the Election of Donald Trump as President of the United States
Election Eve Thoughts
Carrying It On
Progressive Perspectives on the Rise of Donald Trump
Trump's Playbook
Quote of the Day – November 9, 2016
Hope, History and Bernie Sanders

Image: Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Thoughts on Celibacy (Part V)

The Wild Reed’s exploration of celibacy continues with an excerpt from theologian, priest, and author James Alison's 2003 book, On Being Liked.

As you'll see, Allison (pictured at left) looks at celibacy within the broader context of both the meaning of homosexuality and the issue of gay men in the Roman Catholic priesthood.

To start at the beginning of The Wild Reed's series on celibacy, click here.

I should also say that this will be the final installment in this series. Why? Well, basically, my interest in celibacy, especially as it relates to the Roman Catholic Church, like my interest in every other institutional church-related topic, is pretty much none existent for me now. This blog may have started out as a "gay Catholic" one, but it's evolved beyond that, as the byline under its name now highlights. I dare say I'll write more about this in a later post. But for now, here are James Alison's erudite thoughts on celibacy, homosexuality and the priesthood.


The only question at stake for the [Roman Catholic] Church on the gay issue is the following: either there is or there isn't such a thing as being gay as a normal and unremarkable part of nature.

If there isn't, then of course church authority is right to try to get people not to act according to what they are not, and all of its culture of secrecy, tolerance, cover-up and ambiguity is simply what trying to be merciful looks like in the midst of a world gone mad, which is no doubt how some in authority see it. But if there is, then we are in for a time of pain as it becomes clear how vital mendacity has been to the structure of our Church.

And here I want to take issue with a couple of voices from the Church in the United States who have taken slightly different tacks in their analysis of the problems we face. Donald Cozzens sees the presence of a disproportionate number of gay men in the priesthood as off-putting to the possibility of straight men joining. He indicates that from the perspective of many straight priests, celibacy is optional for gay priests. And indeed, one of the stupidities of our Church in its current mess is that where a stable relationship of marriage, an undisputed good in itself, would probably cause a priest to lose his job, a least in Anglo-Saxon countries, a discreet but stable same-sex relationship, or indeed discreet multiple same-sex relationships, considered by church authority to be bad, can be, and frequently are, overlooked.

Where I challenge Cozzens is in his seeming assumption that this is something to do with being gay, rather than something to do with inhabiting a field of mendacity. No. The question of truth comes first. While church authority is denying reality by indicating that celibacy is the only option for a gay person, then of course you are going to have a world inhabited by people who are there, half as willing and half as emotionally blackmailed, with all the attendant problems which that raises, including the creation of bitchy, codified subcultures, always the sign of people living in enforced infantilism, not free adulthood.

But when church authority accepts the truth: that there are some people who are gay, and that their flourishing looks remarkably like that of straight people, then you will not get seminaries full of people whose relationship to celibacy is deeply, and understandably, ambiguous. Some honest gay men who find themselves called to celibacy will join up. Just as some honest straight men do. And neither will put the other off.

For the moment, the twin forces of the non-acceptance of the anthropological reality of gay people, and the obligation of celibacy, serve to create a deeply ambiguous place, a severely queazy mentality, and one which would, I hope, put off anyone who was honest. Bt the solution to the problem lies in the recognition that the virtue of chastity, which is arduously acquired singleness of heart, and which I take to be an indispensable part of what the reception of salvation looks like in any Christian life, means learning "my body given for you" rather than "your body taken for me" in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, over time. For gay people just as for straight people. That is all. In short, getting the official teaching made adequate to discovered reality is a necessary first step towards making of the priesthood an honest profession.

– James Alison
Excerpted from On Being Liked
pp. 96-98

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Thoughts on Celibacy (Part I)
Thoughts on Celibacy (Part II)
Thoughts on Celibacy (Part III)
Thoughts on Celibacy (Part IV)
Celibacy and the Roman Catholic Priesthood
John Allen on the Vatican's "Gay Lobby"
It Is Not Good to Be Alone
Diarmuid Ó Murchú on Celibacy and Androgyny
Gay Men In the Vatican Are Giving the Rest of Us a Bad Name
Officially Homophobic, Intensely Homoerotic
A Fact That Should Be Neither Surprising Nor Derogatory
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal and Reform
Report: Homosexuality No Factor in Abusive Priests
Weakland, the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal, and Homophobia
Keeping All the Queens Under One Roof
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men - A Discussion Guide

Monday, March 13, 2017

Stephen A. Russell on Moonlight, "the Most Beautiful Gift to Cinema in Countless Years"

Many insightful and erudite commentaries have been written on Barry Jenkins' film Moonlight, which won Best Picture last month at the 89th Academy Awards. My favorite of these commentaries is one written by Stephen A. Russell for the Australian broadcasting station, SBS.

"Moonlight’s historic win, says Russell' "deserves to shine bright and should not be eclipsed by the monumental stuff up that saw presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway handed the already-announced Best Actress card. . . . Hollywood A-listers looked on aghast as the revelation dropped that the already six-statuette heavy La La Land had been erroneously announced as Best Picture over rightful winner Moonlight, but for all the awful awkwardness, the sheer joy of writer/director Barry Jenkins was unmistakable. 'Even in my dreams, this could not be true, but to hell with dreams, I’m done with it, because this is true. Oh my goodness.'”

Following, with added images and links, is more of Stephen A. Russell's beautiful meditation on Moonlight.

Moonlight is a revelation; the most beautiful gift to cinema in countless years. An incandescent poem wrought in light and sound, it swirls with love at the intersection of race, sexuality and masculinity. Starring Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert, who share the lead role of Chiron at three key moments in this young black man’s life, its strength is in its subtlety, and its willingness to break stereotypes of both black and gay men.

A testament to the fear of opening your heart and receiving love in return, Moonlight brings audiences of any gender or sexuality up to speed with the problems of a world that’s still too slow to embrace a nuanced understanding of black lives and queer sexuality and the trials they face every day. It lays bare the brutality of school bullying - particularly of young queer kids castigated for a love they are yet to fully understand – that tars them with agonising shame.

Mahershala Ali, who plays Juan – a drug dealer who takes the youngest Chiron under his wing – with a staggering grace, rightfully claimed Best Supporting Actor. He is the first Muslim actor to be awarded by the Academy.

[Moonlight's writer/director Barry] Jenkins is not queer, but shares a Liberty City upbringing with playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, a queer man whose unproduced work for the stage – In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue - eventually became the film Moonlight. They both grew up with drug-addicted mothers, something McCraney touched on as they accepted together the Adapted Screenplay award at the start of the evening. “Thank god for my mother, who proved to me, through her struggles, and the struggles that Naomie Harris portrayed for you, that we can really be here and be somebody, two boys from Liberty City.”

Acknowledging the immensity of that first of three awards and the power of recognition in the Oscars arena, he added, “This goes out to all those black and brown boy and girls and non-gender conforming who don’t see themselves, we are trying to show you you and us, so thank you, thank you, this is for you.”

Above: Ashton Sanders as the teenage Chiron (right)
and Jharrel Jerome as the teenage Kevin in Moonlight.

Jenkins, speaking first, highlighted the importance of diversity on our screens and made his disdain for the divisive new President clear. “All you people who feel that there’s no mirror for you, that your lives are not reflected, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back and for the next four years we will not leave you alone, we will not forget you.”

To read Stephen A. Russell's commentary in its entirety, click here.

Above: Trevante Rhodes as the adult Chiron (left)
and André Holland as the adult Kevin in Moonlight.

Of course, no film is above informed critique, and recently on Facebook my friend Bill Lindsey offered just such a critique of Moonlight by highlighting its "unrelenting male gaze." Whether gay or straight, says Bill, it remains a distinctly male gaze, one that reduces the two central female characters to "deeply flawed mother figures who tend to be cardboard cutout figures against whose backdrop the *real* action, the male action, of the plot unfolds." Bill also observes that:

The social worker, a female, who tries to assist Chiron as he goes to the dark side, is presented as a scold whose voice he cannot hear, so that we see her lips move as she speaks, but hear no sound. All of this may very accurately depict the male world this film wants us to open our eyes and see in a way we haven't yet seen it — and that objective is laudable. But as Chiron was being hectored and bullied and assaulted in school, how I longed to hear what his female classmates, the African-American females sitting all around him in the classroom, thought about him and what was being done to him.

While appreciating Bill's astute observations, I also appreciate Alan J. McCornick's response to them via Facebook.

Perhaps I'm being overly sensitive and defensive, Bill, because Moonlight is the best movie I've seen in years - one of the best in my lifetime. I share most of your take in [your] very good review, but part company with your final statement about what the movie does not include. I've always felt that's an unfair criticism to make about a work of art. Largely, because what counts in the end is what people actually do, and not what they think about doing. But also because this movie was made by an exceptionally articulate voice, a black gay male voice, and that voice, in my opinion, should be given its day, unencumbered by other messages. What Chiron's female classmates thought is the stuff of another movie, for another day. I'm reminded of that wonderful Alice Walker line, when criticized by black men for not making them more sympathetic in The Color Purple: "You tell your story, and I'll tell mine."

Related Off-site Links:
Forget the Embarrassing Mix-Up. The Real Story is Moonlight’s Historic Win – Aisha Harris (Slate, February 27, 2017).
The Moonlight Best Picture Win is a Vote for Inclusivity in Hollywood – Matthew Jacobs (The Huffington Post, February 27, 2017).
Moonlight Writer Dedicates Film to All POC and Gender-Nonconforming – Zahara Hill (The Huffington Post, February 27, 2017).
Moonlight is First LGBTQ Film to Win Best Picture – Megan Townsend (GLADD, February 26, 2017).
Moonlight Undoes Our Expectations – Hilton Als (The New Yorker, October 24, 2016).

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Interfaith Chaplaincy: Meeting People Where They're At

I recently interviewed at two different hospitals – one in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul – for a year-long chaplain residency. Both offered me residency and I accepted the one for the inner city hospital in Minneapolis. As you can imagine, I'm very excited about this development in my vocational life.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm currently completing my first unit of ACPE-accredited clinical pastoral education at a hospital in the outer metro area of the Twin Cities. (Both this hospital and the one at which I'll be doing my residency are part of the same Minnesota-based healthcare system.) I'm scheduled to complete this first unit by the end of May. At the end of June I plan to leave my part-time job with a local meals-on-wheels program (which I've had since 2011) and return to Australia for about six weeks to visit family and friends. I'll then return to the U.S. a week or two before my residency starts in August.

I share all of this so as to introduce the following excerpt from an article which highlights the type of chaplaincy – interfaith chaplaincy – upon which I'm embarking. This article is written by Jean Hopfensperger and was published last month in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The Rev. Verlyn Hemmen remembers the days when a hospital chaplain wore a clerical collar, carried a Bible and visited the bedsides of Minnesotans who were overwhelmingly Catholic and Lutheran.

Today roughly a third of patients are something else, estimates Hemmen, who oversees spiritual care at Twin Cities Allina Hospitals. They’re Muslim, Jewish, another faith or nothing at all.

His chaplain closet still holds Bibles and a minister’s stole, but there’s also a stack of Qur’ans, Muslim prayer rugs, a “singing bowl” for Buddhist meditation, Jewish menorahs, and a soft leather pouch holding tobacco, sage and an eagle feather for American Indian rituals. The hospital chapel below his office – which already has a sign pointing to Mecca – is being remodeled to embrace diverse spiritual practices.

“We’ve moved away from words like “religion” to “spirituality,” said Hemmen. “Now we work more with the spirit or the soul. This population has called us to broaden our approach to people, to meet people where they are at.”

More than 520,000 patients checked into Minnesota hospitals last year, carrying religious baggage that wasn’t as neatly packed as it used to be. One in four Minnesotans now identify as either unaffiliated with any religion, or not-Christian, according to Pew Research Center, a trend that has dramatically changed the world of chaplains and the spiritual care at Minnesota’s hospitals.

. . . Chaplains today are trained to work in interfaith ways, looking for spiritual or emotional connections that go beyond religious creed. Hospitals can, and do, still contact on-call Catholic priests, Protestant ministers or Muslim imams for patients who request that. They’re also working to diversify the face of chaplaincy to include Muslims, Jews even nonbelievers.

“It is absolutely in flux,” said the Rev. Gary Sartain, north central regional director for the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education, the national training association for chaplains. “We [the ACPE] are in the middle of a major reorganization. . . . Should we change the name to Association for Spiritual Education?

“Even to find the terminology is difficult,” he said. “How do we communicate to the world who we are and what we do?”

This month, the association is surveying members to solicit new name ideas. It’s part of its own soul-searching as it marks its 50th anniversary, including a national conference in Minneapolis in May.

Myo-O Habermas-Scher, a Zen Buddhist priest raised in the Jewish faith, is among 45 staff chaplains serving Fairview Health Services’ hospitals and hospice care. The group is mainly Protestant, but includes an imam and chaplains from Jewish, Buddhist and American Indian faith traditions as well as a nonbeliever, said the Rev. B.J. Larson, a Fairview director of spiritual health services.

Their work requires far more than bedside prayers.

Habermas-Scher starts her day reviewing the charts of patients she has visited and checking for other chaplain requests. She makes patient rounds with a health care team.

Sitting in her office, with small Tibetan prayer flags and Buddhist prayer beads strung above her desk, Habermas-Scher explained how she presents herself to patients.

“I explain we are all interfaith chaplains, that we are here to support you in any way,” she said.

On a recent afternoon, she visited patient Sue Smith in a quiet corner of the floor lounge. The discussion, they reported later, explored emotional and spiritual issues related to disability and to aging. Habermas-Scher shared insights from the Old Testament as well as Zen teachings.

Smith, raised a Catholic but now less-so, said she appreciated the “neutral” counseling.

“For people who are searching, having an interfaith [approach] broadens things,” said Smith, a student counselor at a Twin Cities college. “I like the openness of it.”

. . . All Twin Cities hospitals are traversing this shifting religious landscape. “It’s been the delicate dance,” said the Rev. Tim Nelson, vice president of Spiritual Well-Being at HealthEast Care Systems, which reports 68 languages spoken by patients last year. “Acknowledging our faith-based heritage, while expanding spiritual practices of those around us.”

At Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul, a front-desk visitor will pass a nearly life-size statue of Jesus, just feet from the new “meditation room.” North Memorial Medical Center holds an ecumenical service on Sundays, a Catholic mass on Wednesdays, and American Indian ceremonies in a grove of pine trees.

Hennepin County Medical Center has a “prayer wall” in its chapel stuffed with tiny paper requests from all faiths, and a CD collection of Benedictine and Hindu chants, New Age, country and gospel music.

The Rev. David Hottinger, manager of the Spiritual Care Department, recalled getting a late-night call for a chaplain – and music. When he arrived with a CD player, the patient wanted to hear Pink Floyd.

“Well, it just so happens I’m a big Pink Floyd fan, too,” said Hottinger. “We had a deeply meaningful spiritual conversation, all with Pink Floyd as the entree. If I had come in with a collar and Bible, he would have sent me packing.”

Many patients respond to these broader spiritual discussions, said Hottinger.

“Where does your strength come from?” I might ask. “Where do you see hope in your life? How can we help you find peace?”

A growing body of research has shown improved medical outcomes for patients receiving spiritual and emotional support, said Mary Jo Kreitzer, founder of the U’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. The commission that accredits hospitals, in fact, requires that spiritual care be part of patient care standards, she said.

“Today it’s less [about being] a faith leader, and more about providing spiritual care in the context of health, illness and suffering,” said Fairview’s Larson. “You have chaplains accompanying patients living with cancer, facilitating spirituality groups for children, designing a ritual for a family with a transplant.”

“It’s creative and challenging work,” she said. “Vital health care depends on it.”

– Jean Hopfensperger
Excerpted from "God, Allah, Buddha, Great Spirit:
Minnesota Hospital Chaplains Adapt to Diversity
Star Tribune
February 18, 2017

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Out and About – Autumn 2016
Called to the Field of Compassion
Prayer of the Week – August 1, 2016
You, O Comforter, Are Ever Near
Seven Principles for Living with Deep Intention
Questioning God's Benevolence in the Face of Tragedy
Discerning and Embodying Sacred Presence in Times of Violence and Strife
A Guidepost for the Journey
The Ground Zero Papal Prayer Service . . . and a Reminder of the Spirituality That Transcends What All the Religions Claim to Represent
A Return to the Spirit
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All

Image: "Cosmic Embrace" (artist unknown).

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

For Acclaimed Songwriter, Activist and Humanitarian Buffy Sainte-Marie, the World is Always Ripening

What motivates me are the same things that motivated me in the beginning. I respond to the world, I fall in love like everybody else. I see things that need change and I think the world is always ripening.

– Buffy Sainte-Marie
January 2017

In January of this year Buffy Sainte-Marie was interviewed by The Canadian Press after it was announced that she will be this year’s recipient of the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award, a Juno Awards honor that recognizes "the philanthropic efforts made by Canadian musicians that have created a positive impact on the social welfare of society." This award will be presented to Buffy at the Juno Awards gala dinner in Ottawa on April 1. Congratulations, Buffy!

Also revealed in The Canadian Press interview is the news that Buffy is working on a new album, Medicine Songs. As a long-time admirer of Buffy and her various creative endeavors, I find this to be wonderful news indeed.

Back in 2015 I published a series of posts leading up to the release of Buffy's phenomenal album Power in the Blood. I thought I'd do something similar this year for Medicine Songs. And what better way to launch this new series than sharing, with added images and links, the January 18, 2017 Canadian Press interview with Buffy! Enjoy!


Buffy Sainte-Marie has told the stories of outliers and underdogs throughout her career and organizers at the Juno Awards say it’s time to recognize the singer’s contributions to the community.

The four-time Juno winner and social activist will be this year’s recipient of the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award, an honour reserved for Canadian musicians who’ve left a positive social impact.

The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences says Sainte-Marie “exemplifies the essence of humanitarianism” with her dedication to protecting indigenous communities. She’s also provoked conversation through songs like her 1964 anti-war peace anthem “Universal Soldier” and 1976’s “Starwalker,” an ode to the American Indian Movement.

Sainte-Marie also founded the Nihewan Foundation for Native American Education in 1969, a non-profit initiative to improve education and awareness of the cultures.

She says humanitarian efforts have always been a priority.

“A long time ago I figured out I have enough money to probably have three meals a day for the rest of my life,” Sainte-Marie says.

“So I wanted to put my money to work early.”

Sainte-Marie follows artists like Bruce Cockburn, Sarah McLachlan, Rush and members of Arcade Fire, who have all received the Allan Waters award since its 2006 creation. It will be handed out at the Juno Awards gala dinner in Ottawa on April 1, the day before the televised Juno Awards ceremony.

Speaking from her Hawaiian home, Sainte-Marie talked with The Canadian Press about non-profit and protest songs.

You’ve been a tireless voice for various causes throughout your career, but fewer people know about why you created the Nihewan education foundation. How did it happen?

Before I was ever a singer I was a teacher. I got my teaching degree (and) a degree in Oriental philosophy. Because I had a personal interest — and the advantage of a scholarship about indigenous issues — that probably had something to do with it. (The feeling) has stayed with me always through my show business career, going in and out of the aboriginal community ... building a bridge between cultures.

The Nihewan Foundation funded college scholarships. Did you ever see the impact of those efforts?

My proudest moment was when I found out a few years ago that two of my early scholarship recipients had gone on to become the presidents of tribal colleges (which provide access to post-secondary education to indigenous people). The big takeaway is sometimes you can do something quite small for yourself that someone else will take and develop into something you never even would’ve thought of.

You’ve been a voice for the indigenous community but it’s never fully defined your career. Did you pursue a balance that also factors in your pop and folk influences?

I’ve had over 50 years of that kind of double perception, which is very nice for me. I think my real work has been in the realm of thought. I really feel as though ... I’ve changed the way some people think about war, alternative conflict resolution and indigenous issues. I did it early and I’ve done it consistently because I really do care.

With Donald Trump [in] the White House do you expect more protest songs to emerge from discontent gestating in some communities? Do you feel like we’re on the cusp of new musical activism?

I wish. There were a lot of people in the Civil Rights movement who just showed up because it was the popular thing to do. It became “hip” to seem like you were part of that. There are a lot of people, for instance, who go to Standing Rock and confuse it with Burning Man.

My question to all the other great songwriters in the world is: Where are your protest songs? Now that Donald Trump is (elected) — and there’s probably going to be money in protest songs — are you going to start writing them now? I mean, where was your protest song last year? And the year before? Some people are consistently aware of the world and trying to share their best contributions. Other people just show up when somebody’s handing out free gifts at the party.

Are you writing any new material?

I’m working on an album that should be out sometime this year called Medicine Songs. (It’s) grouping real positive songs like, “Carry it On,” “We Are Circling,” “Starwalker,” together with my best-known protest songs about contemporary issues.

It has a new song you haven’t heard called the “War Racket.” Another one I just recorded with Tanya Tagaq called “You Got to Run” and a Canadian version of a classic I wrote in the ’60s called “My Country ‘Tis Of Thy People You’re Dying.” I don’t know at this point whether they’re going to be re-recorded or . . . the original recordings.

What inspires you to stay motivated to keep writing so many decades into your career?

Kind of depends on where I am. When I’m in Hawaii it’s just nature. I live with a lot of animals and plants and nature is “vitamin green” for me. I also have a double life. I’m home for two weeks, I’m on the road for two weeks. What motivates me are the same things that motivated me in the beginning. I respond to the world, I fall in love like everybody else. I see things that need change and I think the world is always ripening.


For The Wild Reed's special series of posts leading-up to the May 12, 2015 release of Buffy's most recent album, Power in the Blood, see:
Buffy Sainte-Marie and That "Human-Being Magic"
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Lesson from the Cutting Edge: "Go Where You Must to Grow"
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "Sometimes You Have to Be Content to Plant Good Seeds and Be Patient"
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Power in the Blood

For more of Buffy Sainte-Marie at The Wild Reed, see:
A Music Legend Visits the North Country: Buffy Sainte-Marie in Minnesota and Wisconsin – August 2016
Two Exceptional Singers Take a Chance on the "Spirit of the Wind"
Photo of the Day – January 21, 2017
Buffy Sainte-Marie Wins 2015 Polaris Music Prize
Congratulations, Buffy
Happy Birthday, Buffy!
Actually, There's No Question About It
For Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Well-Deserved Honor
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Singing It and Praying It; Living It and Saying It
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Still Singing with Spirit, Joy, and Passion
Something Special for Indigenous Peoples Day
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "The Big Ones Get Away"

Image 1: Brandon Wallis.
Image 2: Denise Grant (from the Buffy Sainte-Marie collection).
Image 3: Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.
Image 4: Matt Barnes.