Month: April 2020

The Blackberry Wars

(Written for another group requiring a fictionalized [but not very, in this case] approach. I confess to being Apocalyptica, and other than that, it’s all far too dismally true. I’m just too dang knackered to revamp it.)

Finally, Apocalyptica understood why her admittedly dotty parents had given her such a moniker: her mum was a bit witchy (well, she could witch water, well enough) (sorry) and must’ve known that Pocky would have to live through such a time.

Apocalyptica ached in places she thought had died in the Century of the Exacerbated Wombat. She could not stand upright. She was leaking a red fluid from two dozen wounds, and she thought it might be blood.

But she had done it. She had pulled and yanked and torn and cut and dug and sliced and dipped-in or painted-on poison on all the most offensive of the trailing blackberries on her late neighbor’s slightly smaller, slightly less steep version of her own Cliff of Doom. A virulent army that had been amassing and strategizing for more than two years, and she had vanquished it. Single-handedly. Somehow.

She now had three wheelbarrow-sized piles of stems to dispose of, and one of those piles was already in the bin for pick-up tomorrow, assuming the dustfolk didn’t wander off to party with the assemblage of wildly animated Klatchian snails she’d heard had come ashore on the Ankh last night.

She had also swept the winter’s accumulation of… mulch, she was gonna call it mulch… off her 4’x30’ gravel walkway, and weeded one-third of that ’til her back gave out, shrieking, and ran away, leaving her a pile of meatbag on the ground.

Nevertheless, she kept going and pulled noxious weeds out of the Cliff of Doom behind her blueberries to the tune of about 3’x10’, AND weeded the two 3’x14’ stacked beds near the stairs.

Exhausted beyond language’s ability to express, Apocalyptica decided she was having homemade bread, toasted, with butter, for dinner. And that tomorrow, weather or no, more weeds or no, strawberries needing transplanting and seeds needing planting or not, she was taking the day to ride the ass down to the little-known Sto Lat tulip fields. Little known because the blooms lasted for such a short time, and if she didn’t do it tomorrow, entire citiesful of for’ners would show up and get in the way. And then there’d just be cabbages, and not very interesting, as was usual for Sto Lat.

She wished her mum were still around to pass out allergy remedies. Even her lungs hurt, and she’d been wearing a mask all day.


This is how the most offensive area looked yesterday. Since my neighbor passed away, nothing has been done on her slope and the native trailing blackberries, whose sole purpose for existing is to smother anything in their paths and (secondarily) to snag people’s ankles and hurl them to an agonizing death, have aggressively colonized:

This is how it looks now (the two huge sword ferns were barely visible, covered by blackberries, above):

The pile at the back is the third mass grave of wounded and dead blackberry battalions that came from the above slope (except for a double handful of big canes that got thrown down the hill when I poisoned their sources), and also the pile of most of the armor and weapons used in the war:

This is really hard to see, but it’s the biggest of the stems that were cut back, scooted across by my well-armored butt, and then dipped in poison (the cut stems, not my butt):

Some of the stems that had grown into the retaining wall (and are now poisoned thoroughly), necessitating the last-woman-standng attack in the first place:

This is the sidewalk that until yesterday was so thick with blackberry battalions that you couldn’t even tell it was there:

And a few of the war wounds, acquired despite all the armor, that I am now arnica-ing for all I’m worth:

I am just too old and feeble to be doing this stuff any longer. It’s true.

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And a small P.S.

A comment on yesterday’s post suggested that since I have a faith life, I don’t have any room for science.

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

In my view, the two do not conflict and never have conflicted. I don’t even understand how people think they can conflict.

They are complementary; different ways of viewing the world, different ways and methods for asking questions about our world and our lives on it. I wouldn’t want to be without either.

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For Northwood

and the rest of you,
Part 1

This is primarily for Northwood, who years ago began (and continued, regularly) asking me in bewildered frustration, “Why did you make us go to church when we were growing up?!” But it’s for Nodakbassmaster and Snaotheus, too, both of whom have expressed the same frustrated thought more than once.

It’s a valid question, particularly in light of the fact that the last time we talked about it (whenever that may have been for any of the three of you), all of you claimed atheist or agnostic stances.

The answer is neither short nor simple. It starts when I was quite young, growing up in a conservative religious tradition (Southern Baptist). As a child, I encountered Something in my little home church. It bathed my being in inexpressible, unconditional Love. Without words, I understood it wanted me to join It. I could not have done otherwise; I said Yes. That’s wildly simplistic and probably misleading language for something so profound that language can’t express it. It doesn’t begin to touch either the experience or the results.

For now, it means that from a young age, I have never, ever felt truly alone. A sense of Presence, Someone indescribable, ineffable—and definitely a Personality—resides with me, closer than my own breath, steadier than my own heartbeat. My tradition leads me to call that God, though many other names from other traditions can certainly apply. So can non-names like Mystery or the Unknown, or even Life.

That introductory event changed everything. The world looked new, fresh; colors brighter and more defined; everything sacred and blessed and holy.

Within days, people from whom I expected guidance began to confuse me. They said and did things that made me physically ache, because they seemed so wrong, mean-spirited, lacking in compassion.

I began to question my own response. Maybe I was taking this too seriously. Maybe I was, as I’d been told since I was old enough to hear if not understand the word, overreacting. Maybe I was applying ridiculous, childish idealism to a mud-caked, dog-eat-dog world.

So I damped down the Spirit’s influence. It was uncomfortable, but She never forces, and it grew easier with time. Had I not… well, I wonder. What would I have done with my life? Would I have been stoned in the town square? Walled up like a medieval anchorite? I certainly would have been more an outcast than I was, and I was already on the fringes of acceptability (or so it seemed to the teenager who was, as I was frequently reminded by all and sundry, “too smart for her own good” and was easily Queen of the Mountain on the sharpest end of the sarcasm continuum).

Though I eschewed churchy things in college, when your father (YF) and I moved to California, we eventually began attending Calvary Chapel. This is a fundamentalist outfit, one I now consider almost heretical, yet this is where I was encouraged to read through the entire Bible, learned it pretty well, and also realized it was possible, even desirable, to dig into and analyze it.

Before this, the Bible had been a jumbled collection of moralistic stories and comforting (or frightening) aphorisms; at Calvary, it started to make sense. I bought books that helped me formulate questions and analyze scripture—things like Strong’s Concordance and Young’s Analytical Concordance, which allowed me to look up words in the original language and see for myself the denotations and connotations as compared with often inaccurate English translations.

For all the faults I now impute to it, Calvary worked pretty well. There, YF and I found a small network of friends who supported one another spiritually in a way completely new to me.

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For Northwood

and the rest of you,
Part 2

The church we attended after that, West Side Baptist in Fontana, was somewhat less literal in its interpretation of scripture (in its best period, the pastor was a former, Jesuit-trained Catholic). It worked, too. For the time, it had a fairly diverse congregation. When people had gripes, they sat down and talked them out. When hurtful things were said or done, people worked through them.

While there, I started an outreach ministry to support both our internal and the larger community—I had always felt a key responsibility of the larger Church (all believers, not just one building’s occupants) was to care for others—and it was adopted with enthusiasm. That surprised me and gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, my childhood thoughts about how God’s people could interact, that life could be seen through new eyes and relationships experienced differently, hadn’t been entirely pie-in-the-sky wackadoodleism. Here, I also began to learn Greek (which fell by the wayside with three toddlers running around, though I can still read it phonetically).

Then, YF and I, with you three boys, one dog, and a lot of baggage, moved to North Dakota.

Initially, we attended a very small Southern Baptist church. I taught women’s Bible study, as I had for a time at West Side.

I took it seriously. Without the advantages of a decent-sized city library or the Internet, I delved as much as I could into original language and the culture and history of the times. Praxis—how one expresses or practices one’s faith in the world—was important to me, and seemed to me a key element missing from the then-increasingly narcissistic fundamentalist stance that focused entirely on individual internal life: whether one was in perfect accord with God or had committed some ghastly sin like saying a bad word, while obliviously ignoring people in need, physical or spiritual. I think that narcissism has now become normative within that world. (It’s a great way to keep people afraid and prevent them noticing anything that’s going on outside themselves.)

One day, with the men’s Bible study meeting on one side of the sanctuary and the women’s on the other, I overheard the men’s leader say, “I didn’t have time to read the lesson this week. You want to read it together?”

Being as prepared as possible, with stuff that went way deeper than the skate-over-the-surface lesson, I offered to let them sit in with us women rather than reading the lesson aloud like third-graders.

Their leader actually said, “No, we can’t do that! You’re a woman! You can’t teach us!”

Actual. Literal. Quote.

I seem to remember that I gave him a rather blistering rejoinder (cf “sarcasm continuum”), noting that God was unlikely to approve of wasting the intelligence of half the population and that that gentleman’s antediluvian attitude needed cleaning up.

But no, he insisted; it was there in scripture: Women can’t teach men. Women should shut up in church. Women should do what they’re told by men. (I’ve had a problematic relationship with St. Paul, or whoever wrote him, since long before that. Still do.)

Having been reared to believe I could do anything I set my mind to, and knowing full well that I was head and shoulders above the men in the room intelligence- and preparation-wise-speaking… well, you know how your mom reacts to that sort of nonsense. (It wasn’t the first or the last time, of course; just the most blatant to that point.)

Sometime before or after—I’m not sure of the sequence—another event occurred in my own women’s group. One was talking about her belief in Christ’s literal, physical return to Earth, and noted that should that occur today, he’d be right here, in our church, with us.

I suggested he’d be more likely to be down at the Nite Owl with the drunks and gamblers, talking to the same kinds of disreputable folks he’d hung out with in his own time.

Well, that didn’t go over well.

It soon became obvious that we were not welcome in that outfit. YF had stopped attending a couple of months earlier, though he never said why. Me, I always have given people too many chances.

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For Northwood

and the rest of you,
Part 3

So I took you boys (the rest of the 15 years there without YF) to several other churches. Because I was the newspaper editor, because we weren’t a “whole family” without YF’s presence, because you three didn’t fit the mold of quiet, docile children, for whatever reasons or combination of reasons, we weren’t particularly welcome in any of them. We landed at the Northern Baptist church, largely because its doctrines were familiar.

People were reasonably friendly while we were in the building, but only two made friendship overtures outside of church. Not once in 10 years were we invited to have post-church lunch with anyone, nor did anyone accept such an offer from me; not once did anyone offer or accept when I suggested a play date for our kids. I sang in the choir when I could, given my journalist’s unpredictable schedule; I supported the place financially; I participated in the “women’s stuff,” cooking and cleaning up for weddings, funerals, etc. Made no difference. We were Other.

I regret that I wasn’t able at the time to see how that affected you boys. (Cf “give people too many chances.”) Most of all, I regret that “church” was the only pathway to Mystery that I knew. I didn’t see other options. I hoped that somehow, it would be a positive influence for you. Wrong-o!

The last pastor there, with whom I became friends, once told me I intimidated the (male) adult Bible study leaders. I asked questions. I had opinions. I wasn’t afraid to express dissent.

Then came the time that one such leader stated that people with mental illnesses were “demon possessed.” Srsly. Around 1990. Having been diagnosed with clinical depression a year or two earlier (and deciding at that time not to hide it, intending to contribute to reducing societal stigma), and possessed of the mistaken notion that my opinions (and certainly my experiential knowledge) were as valid as any man’s, I spoke up.

“Would you say that about someone with heart disease or diabetes?” I asked.

“Of course not. Those are diseases.”

“So is mental illness. There’s an organic cause; the brain chemistry isn’t right. Medication can help most people. It does me.”

It turned out that Outspoken Women caused the already chilly social temperature to drop precipitously. Go figure.

We continued to attend there, but my time in North Dakota was nearing its end. When YF decided he wanted to split, I was 47 and figured if, after you kids left home, I didn’t want to be stuck in a place where I had no family and no real friends (cf “newspaper editor”—no one likes you unless they want something from you), I’d better pack my bags and shake the dust off my feet as I left.

Not one person from church offered to help. No one offered to throw a good-bye party, after more than 10 years attending there, although a “whole family” (father, mother, kids) who had been there only six months and was moving not only had a good-bye party but a “special offering” to help defray moving expenses.

Two people called to tell me good-bye and wish me well. Two.

When I left, I’d asked YF to continue to take you to some church of his choice. A few months later, I learned that the pastor in the one he chose had publicly ridiculed all of you based on a misperception that the pastor refused to admit.

That was it. Mistreat me, that’s one thing; mess with my kids, that’s it. I was done with church. It was dead to me.

God, however, was not. That Presence was every bit as much a part of my life as he/she/they/it had always been. I’m so grateful that I don’t equate the behavior of God’s people with God him/herself. As noted, many people can’t separate that, and that leaves a deep, deep wound.

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For Northwood

and the rest of you,
Part 4

Before we’d left California, I’d begun (with the support of the Jesuit-trained pastor) to read some theologians who espoused ideas that boggled me with their divergence from the literalist views I’d been taught. After we left, and as the years passed, more and more questions arose about those doctrines. I had no one to ask, so I dug into them with the tools I had. Despite the paucity of those tools, I was able to winkle out that there’d been a lot of mistranslation, political machination, and patriarchal power mongering going on when the Bible was codified and translated.

One by one, most things I’d been taught in my youth as True and Permanent turned out to be a bag of human constructs with little or no relevance in today’s world. Rather than finding this distressing, it was incredibly liberating. It gave me a view of God that is unfathomable, infinitely more gigantic than anything I could ever have conceived of otherwise.

Over the next 20-odd years here in the Northwest, I stayed away from churches, but my search for how God actually related to the late 20th and early 21st centuries continued. As it turned out, the Spirit was hauling me along in these endeavors, because once I found my present church, I began to find that the conclusions I’d reached were surprisingly (to me, anyway) well aligned with current theology—and current theology gave me words for them. Had I been working entirely on my own, I’d have come up with seriously cockeyed ideas. But then, the Spirit has never led me anywhere but good places, so perhaps surprise was unwarranted.

That 20 years away from church, away from the Bible, turned out to be a good thing. It gave me space. It let moss grow on my concrete misconceptions.

When I returned to the Bible, it was much easier to recognize the metaphors in scripture for what they are (and it’s all metaphor!), and be delighted at the greater depth and breadth of meaning they have as metaphors than as literal story. I’m still romping about in that adventure and devouring theologians at… well, a fairly respectable if not prodigious pace.

Additionally, I came to my present church, First Congregational in Bellingham, when feeling the return of a strong need for a spiritual community. I not only found one, but found one where for the first time in decades, I feel welcome. I feel I belong. I’m frequently overcome by the sheer joy that gives me.

While discarding so much of what I was taught early on, I’ve taken on entirely new views.

If there is one God, then that Being cannot be restricted to one particular religion or sect. Panentheism best describes how I view it these days: the Divine pervades and interpenetrates every part of the universe and transcends space and time. That means the Divine is within each of us, acknowledged or not. It means the only thing separating us from that Presence is our own willingness to look and see. It doesn’t come with a set of requirements (“accept Christ as your savior,” “believe this or that”). It doesn’t require “salvation.”

We are all part of God’s Creation; we all participate in that Creation with God, whether in cooperation or not.

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For Northwood

and the rest of you,
Part 5

I have not answered All the Questions, and never will. I came late to this stage; I have many more questions than when I was taught Certainty. I’m OK with that. I don’t have to know All the Answers. I know and trust the One who does know them.

Is the Bible literally true? No. I never did believe that. It wasn’t intended to be an accurate history or science book. It’s all about metaphor and poetry and story, the ways we as a species communicate deeper truths. That’s what enables it to be interpreted for the needs of each age (since Christianity has what’s called a closed canon, that’s problematic; but that’s a different rant).

Was Christ divine, the actual Son of God? I tend to think he didn’t see himself that way. Based on current understanding, I think divinity was accreted to him by later followers because of their post-crucifixion experience of him and how they began to see themselves in relation to him. But I don’t know.

Is there an actual, physical heaven? I don’t know. Maybe; maybe not. Jesus repeatedly says, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” That indicates to me that we experience it here and now, that it’s internal, not an external governmental system.

What happens after death? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that whatever happens, it will be quite different from what any of us imagines.

Hell? I doubt it, but I don’t know.

What happens to people who do monumentally evil things? I don’t know.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Some claim to have answers for that, but I don’t buy their glib solutions. I don’t know. I tend to think it’s because we’re all part of Life, and what we call bad things are part of Life, too.

Will the apocalypse come, after which God will run the world? I’ve got a firm “no” on that one. The book of Revelation, on which this view is based (and which view, if memory serves, didn’t exist ’til sometime in the mid- to late 1800s) is highly symbolic poetry. Since it was written, any number of “apocalypses” have occurred: The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, the heartbeat of Jewish religious life. German barbarians in turn tore apart the Roman Empire. Any number of apocalypses came before those: Egypt, Macedonia, Persia; and after: Carolingian, Angevin, British, Austria/Germany; Eastern and African empires about which we in the West are never taught.

All of them fell, destroying the worlds their people knew. All were apocalypses for the people involved, and as long as humans continue to govern based on greed and exploitation, the cycle will continue.

Now we have our own U.S. Empire, which is, I believe, in the apocalyptic stage of our process.

Enough. I could go on, but I’m sure you’re long since tired of the whole tale. Suffice it to say I made you go to church because that was where Mystery found me, and at the time that was the only pathway I knew. I hoped that you three would find the Companionship there that I’ve had for so many years, that has led me through good times and despair, that has never, ever failed me.

Now I understand there are as many pathways to Mystery as there are people. I believe you already know Mystery; you may experience it in an alpine flower, a sea turtle, the beauty of math, in whatever moves you to awe and wonder. It’s up to you whether you recognize and welcome it. Whatever your decisions, early on, now, or tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, I always hold you in my heart… and so, I believe, does that Mystery.

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