Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Looking forward, on the Feast of St. Stephen

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
When the snow lay 'round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel
"Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know'st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes' fountain."
"Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine-logs hither
Thou and I shall see him dine
When we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather.
"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, good my page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shall find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."
In his master's step he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye, who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

On Christmas Eve, some friends and I gathered to exchange gifts with a couple glasses of wine, as we've done since before any of us could remember. In year's past,s the event has been characterized with awful corny jokes, puns, catty jests, while making fun of the over the top-ness of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Special. This year, however, we found ourselves at an en passe: we could either talk about the new Star Wars film, or talk about politics. Not wanting to kill the mood, we decided to talk about The Last Jedi only to find that we all had very different, and very passionate opposing takes. We reverted back to something we could all agree on: Donald Trump, Congress, and the Tax "Reform." We talked at length about how much our ambitions and desires have felt like they are hanging in the balance, and about how unfair it all is.

In my last post, I thought about the recent changes in my goals and the state of the world that I live in. In the transition of my goals away from ordination and toward anthropology, I've kept an active realization that, despite anthropology's versatility, there isn't much I can do with a bachelor's. To my surprise, several of my professors have encouraged me to consider and apply for PhD programs after I graduate this fall. Luckily, one of my professors suggested the brilliant blog and now book  The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide To Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job by Karen Kelsky which has answered questions I never knew I had about going on in academia. To be honest, it's gotten me excited and scared shitless; and if I've learned anything the past 3 years, that combination is usually a good indicator to keep moving on. In essence, I've found myself in a completely new phase of my life, one where the world is my oyster. On the one hand, my options are almost limitless. On the other, I also find myself looking for a career outside the church, and I have no idea how to go about that.

The biggest challenges at the moment are the "to what ends" I want to pursue a professional degree, and how to even begin writing a Statement of Purpose for grad schools with out knowing exactly what it is I want to do. PhDs are a lot of work too. And, ever since the recession, tenure track jobs are becoming incredibly rare, and if you want to work on your own research (and be funded), being a tenured professor is pretty much mandatory. However, even though I think I'd be a good teacher, I don't want to be an Ivory Tower Anthropologist who did his fieldwork and only publishes (even though I also have a writing career lurking in the back of my mind). And, even though no one says it out loud, the "to what end" of getting a Phd is to have a good career and have economic stability. And this heavily implies that no debt should be taken while in such a program. This poses another challenge. With the Tax Reform coming and potentially effecting PhD students who receive a teaching stipend I am thinking this might not be the best time.

So, in figuring out what my options are, I can, apply to as many Master's and PhD programs as I can and see what happens (generally if you get into a PhD program, you're financially covered), or I can pay for a Master's program out of pocket and discern a PhD when things have calmed down economically (which could take awhile). Both of these options of course imply that I make it into a program somewhere. And, I have to acknowledge that it might not happen. It was my mentor who actually told me to have a Plan B just in case that sadly happens. Applications are due in December of 2018. I have this year to take (and maybe retake) the GREs and get my statements and rec letters ready. Then, I will be in limbo for a good chunk of 2019 as I wouldn't find out where I was accepted until that April and wouldn't attend until that Fall. I imagine in that interim period I would be looking for employment outside of the theatre. My friend's husband said he would be willing to take me on informally at his job in learning how to do participant-observation in user experience and even apply my statistical skills to some of their collected data. Honestly, this is kind of like selling your soul for a paycheck-but those checks are nice and the Bay Area is expensive. Anyway, going into tech is an option. The other option, still in its infant formation, is a move to Portland. Jacob has a chance to start what would probably be the first atelier in Portland. Portland isn't gentrified yet, and is a heck of a lot cheaper, and it mostly meets my urban weather and population requirements of 70 degrees and over 500,000. Jacob would need a book keeper/assistant for the first year, giving me something to do while I figure out what would be next. Going to school up there after I have residency would be an option too. However, this isn't happening any time in the immediate future, but it is an option. As well, as long I keep the cello up and fresh, there's always the gig economy.

Truthfully, I am more scared than excited in regards to the future. This tax change honestly has my stomach in knots. And as much as what I want to do with my life is saturated and motivated by spiritual purposes, I know I have to think both practically and pragmatically as possible in terms of finance and economy. Yet, I think about the journey this year that has gotten me to this predicament. It was at a Taize retreat in St. Louis this last May, where I read Dorothy Day's word about how God will supply you with what you need to live this life when you orientate yourself towards helping and bringing justice to those who need it most. Besides that I'm lazy yet oddly able to accomplish goals successfully, I've learned that I really don't need much. Thankfully, Jacob doesn't either. In fact, both of us are minimalists in nature. Needless to say, those who think religion is a "crutch" need to take a second look at what it means to be religious or spiritual. I know that no matter what, I will be taking one or several leaps of faith into the darkness hoping that ground is still there. It's just I don't know where the jump point is. And I fear the hardest challenge this year will be to let the concerns and "what ifs" go and let myself be led to that jumping point all for something that isn't going to bring me the money or possessions that the status quo say I need. Luckily, I've been watching Jacob do that this year, and he's agnostic. Maybe I should take a page from his portfolio.

Looking back, on Christmas Day

I'm sitting at my Grandmother's kitchen, drinking some black tea and a cinnamon role. Remnants of today's small festivities are in clusters around me; a half eaten pumpkin pie, a soaking roasting pan, a role of wrapping paper, and dishes on the drying rack. And I am exhausted. Not because of the merry-making, it was thankfully low key and almost drama free this year, nor because I woke up at 5 this morning and played two Christmas masses at St. Francis, nor because I finished my last paper and ended the semester only last Tuesday, but because I've been thinking about the future; or perhaps lack thereof. 

This year has seen a couple milestones in my late-blooming early 30s: I've completed my first year in Upper Division classes at San Francisco State University, and Jacob and I have managed to remain a thing for over a year now; dare I say my first real long-term relationship. Both of these have blossomed in unexpected ways through work and compromise. They've brought me to deeper understandings of this world I live in and the people we (try to) make room for in this delicate social fabric we call life. Dare I say I've realized a couple new things about myself along the way: I have passions outside the church and music, when offered a challenging and exciting task I can pull them off with usually top marks; I'm also incredibly lazy and stay up too late in excess. 

But, perhaps the most shocking epiphany is that, at least in this particular point in time, I feel I am not supposed to pursue ordination. I've thought about, even dreamed about, how I would approach that vocation and what my experience can bring to that particular field for all my adult life. My move to San Francisco was some ways supposed to prepare me it in re-establishing myself in a new faith community and being close to the seminary I wanted to attend. However, I've fallen in love with anthropology. And through prayer and conversations, and in my whole experience in San Francisco thus far, I've come to realize that if I learn to orientate myself towards the poor, the marginalized, and those whose name's are despised and erased from social memory, I will find one of my purposes in this life, and that I will ultimately be okay. I still have a passion for engaging and leading in public worship, and the church I attend fulfills those needs, but I feel I can serve God and the world better as a lay person. Let's face it, whether they are awful at administration, theology, liturgy or worship, or just suck at being pastoral, there are plenty of people who should not "wear the cloth." And God knows I don't want to be one.

I'd be lying if I had that my theological and liturgical interests haven't been overridden by anthropological thought and theory. I feel though that anthropology hasn't done a great job at letting people know exactly what they do. Everyone knows what a psychologist, social worker, or sociologist does, yet anthropology is still wrapped up in this mystical shroud of pyramids, skeletal remains, and people in Papua New Guinea. In many ways we are like journalists who tell other stories, but we actually hang out and get to know people in their unique contexts and are challenged with the task of re-telling these stories in a way that is framed analytically, yet honoring the subjective experience of those we get to know. It's too early to say what my theoretical orientation is, but I see myself being oddly influenced by the structuralism in Levi-Strauss, the position of the subject within power from Foucault, and Asad's thoughts on religion and de-colonization. Ask Jacob, this stuff excites me.  

At any rate, I feel anthropology has much to offer in this era. Anthropology recognizes that many of the differences between human groups are deep-seated culturally. One does not have to look too far past their political and religious affiliations to see that the same groups of people experience the same phenomenon of problems yet come to extremely different conclusions and solutions. And what's saddest, at least from a "leftist" perspective, is that we know so very little about the "other" in terms of ethnography and what their essential lifeways are. I think anthropologists, no matter how subjective this is, are tasked with telling those stories in a way which builds common ground and reconciles cultural differences. It's an incredibly tall order, I know.

I'll touch on this more in the next most, especially as it is concerned with the future, but much of this has stemmed from my reflections this past Advent season. Last night at Christmas Eve Eucharist at St. Paul's I was relieved to hear Fr. Tim speak in his sermon about the parallels between first century life in Palestine, and the oppressive and powerful forces that are at work today (and I was equally relieved that he was able to do it tactfully-I've never been a fan of on-the-nose politics in the pulpit). 
This Advent I've grown tired of heaviness the news brings day in and day out. I've grown so tired of people just not caring for the circumstances of the poor and marginalized (read non-white families who've had to endure trans-generation trauma from racism and discrimination, as well as anyone  who doesn't fit into typical norms of heteronormativity, straight or gay, and women who have apparently have no control of who touches them and when no matter what the intention). In Advent, liturgical Christians recall the waiting of the return of Jesus, who first came in humility, to return to set this world straight in its relation with itself. Mary echoes the coming of this day when he hath shewed strength with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts...hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek...hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.

The cries of, "come, Lord Jesus" are accompanied by painful "How long, Lord? How long?" I am motivated by my faith to do some serious good work in this world, yet the circumstances we live in are equally disheartening and I am left to hold on and hope for either a miracle, perhaps a Christmas miracle, that will make my tasks easier, and an economy where I can free myself from the student debt I am collecting so I can even attain to attempt at fulfilling theses tasks.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent, “Laetare Sunday”

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent, “Laetare Sunday”                                1 Samuel 16:1-13

Aaron Conner, Lay Preacher                                                                          Ephesians 5:8-14

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bakersfield CA                                                John 9:1-41

March 26, 2017                                                                                               Psalm 23

the Lord said to Samuel, “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Will you pray with me?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and accepting in your sight, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Before I begin, let me introduce myself briefly to those who I may not have met yet. My name is Aaron.  I attended Grace-now-St. Paul’s for 8 years until I decided to move to San Francisco in the summer of 2015. I am currently studying Anthropology at San Francisco State University while discerning toward ordination. St. Paul’s is my homecoming and it is always a joy to be welcomed back as such. And if you ask my boyfriend Jacob, you will find I still talk about all of you all the time.
            Today on this Forth Sunday of Lent we mark the middle of our Lenten Journey. For several weeks now, the Old Testament readings in the Lectionary have offered us a short genealogy of our faith beginning with the Garden of Eden, to the blessing of Abraham, to the Israelites receiving manna in the desert. The New Testament readings have offered us St. Paul’s letter to the Romans as complimenting this genealogy by highlighting the redemption given to us through Jesus. The Gospel readings have surveyed a few well known highlights of Jesus’ ministry beginning with his temptation in the wilderness, to his purpose for the world to be saved through him as stated to Niccodemus, and his breaking the racial-religious barriers with the Samaritan woman at the well. Today, we experience a shift in themes. You see, in the middle of our solemn fast we can see how close the Cross of Good Friday is, but even more importantly: the empty tomb is now in sight. The Roman Catholic Church, and churches in the Anglo-Catholic tradition of Anglicanism, as well as some Lutheran traditions, recognize this Sunday as special calling it “Laetare Sunday.” Laetare” means “Rejoice” and comes from Latin introit appointed for this Sunday which takes its text from Isaiah 66. I’ll spare you my awful Latin but it reads:
"Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.”

In the middle of Lent, just as the exiled Jews needed God’s consolation, the words of Isaiah tell us to lift up our heads because our God is with us and is about to act. Instead of purple, Laetare Sunday is commemorated with the color rose or violet, purple mixed with white, and is a day where we allowed to relax our fast. Think of it like a half-time break.
            If you will oblige me for a moment, I’d like to place this day in context of the liturgical calendar. In Advent, near the winter solstice, the longest and darkest night, we experience the birth of the Incarnation, the “Word made flesh”, Jesus. It’s no coincidence that 40 days later on February 2nd we commemorate his Presentation in the Temple, also known as Candlemas, also known secularly as Groundhog’s Day, where Simeon declares Jesus as “a light to the gentiles and the glory of Israel.” From this day on, those of us in this hemisphere experience a slow increase of daylight which brings us into this Season of Spring; you may be aware that the word “Lent” comes from the Old English word which refers to Spring and its lengthening days. The Liturgical Calendar revolves completely around Jesus as the “light to the gentiles.” As we approach Easter, we experience an increase in daylight leaving the literal darkness behind. This is reflected in the readings today. The tenderness of the 23rd Psalm, the revelation of the God who sees us as we are in our hearts in David’s anointing, and Jesus healing the young blind man almost beg us to “Come  and see” the empty tomb now in sight. Moreover, it is perfectly fitting that we should hear the words in St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:
Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light…everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.

That is, we were once in darkness, but through the waters of Baptism and the Grace of God we are now children of light, agents of God’s family through who Jesus shines “as a light to the gentiles.” After having a few weeks to reflect on our nature in relation to our sin, we have a reason for Laetare!
            Laetare prepares us for what is about to come. Next week, the week before Holy Week, the readings return to Lenten themes. This can come across as problematic because we know life is not experienced as binary oppositions. Life is messy. Further, if we take these dichotomies of darkness/ light and death/resurrection at face value then we risk adopting the kind worldview that Christianity in our country has been criticized for; mainly, the kind of worldview that sets “us” against “them.”  But I think the reason these dichotomies are set up in the first place is to help us understand our role in this world. If anything, the focus on sin and repentance in Lent remind us that the darkness in our world and our call to light are not divided by a chasm, but ever entangled in our lived experience. This begs us to explore our Christian identity, as children of light, in a world where light is often rejected. 
            My spiritual director, an Anglican Franciscan monk who is also a Jungian Analyst, has preached often on this. Recently, he preached in being driven out to the desert by the Spirit, Jesus confronted the darkness within his own human nature. Lent offers us the opportunity to do the same: to set aside a time where we can sit with our darkness in repentance in preparation for putting our God-given light to action. Unfortunately, when we expose the darkness, particularly the darkness in today’s power structures, there is a tendency to be as perceived as radical, or as King says, “extremists.” Being perceived as “radical” and “extremists” made King uncomfortable and should make us feel uncomfortable as it labels us as the “other.” We see the unconditional radical-ness of Jesus demonstrated in John’s Gospel, where Jesus challenges the status quo by in healing the young blind man on the Sabbath. Recall that this healing occurred in response to the question of whether this young man’s blindness was due to his sin, or his parents. Jesus was seen as an extremist because he exposed the darkness of the religious/political power system, and he saw the young man not in the category that society has placed him, but as God sees him. Things haven’t changed much. Marginalized people today are still faulted personally for their social status in our society and the status quo always freaks out when we, like Jesus, try shine light onto the power system. For King, being radical is unavoidable. And as Christians we, as children of light, have to be radical for “love” and “justice” in the face of a world in darkness.
            However, it is important to remember God doesn’t see us as society sees us. Our commitment to participating in God’s creation of this world may make us “radical” or “extreme” to the powers that be; but for us, when we remember that our struggle against the darkness is entangled in our daily life, we no longer live as radicals but we live in the reality that God has given us in the Resurrection. Living as children of light starts with you and me. We don’t have to go at this alone; in fact, we can’t go at this alone. We need each other, but we also need to constantly engage with the One who sends us. In Lent, we practice the basic principles of Christian spirituality in prayer and devotional reading.  If you leave with anything today, may it be this: shining into the darkness cannot be done without the constant reliance on God’s word, our shared sacramental life, and prayer. If you haven’t picked up a devotional habit this Lent, it’s never too late. If life just seems so overwhelming and sometimes it seems that your relationship with God is maintained on a weekly basis, that’s OK. But remember, the call to struggle against the darkness, to embrace and raise up those who are oppressed is a day by day choice, and just as Jesus was there for the young blind man in the end, he is here with us now. God loves you and is ready to walk with you, just as he walked with King to Selma, and just as we carry our cross with Jesus to Calvary. Remember this as our cause for rejoicing in these remaining days of Lent.
“Jesus said, I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Uncompromising and unreconciled: Thoughts after the election

Writer's note: While this post is a largely unedited blog/vent likely to be read by like-minded readers, I welcome feedback and sources to consider in my own development.

Let me tell you a story.

I was talking with a few friends recently when I heard this story. Apparently someone had walked into a bar in the Castro for a drink. He was refused and asked to leave. Why? Because he was wearing a Trump hat. For those unfamiliar, the Castro is San Francisco's fabulous and historical gay neighborhood. Seriously, the giant Rainbow Flag flying over the Castro MUNI Station should give a pretty big hint. Anyway, My first reaction was, "duh." That's exactly what I would expect to happen. After all, you would think the warrant would be clear: Much like how a particular branch of Lutheranism will determine who you marry in the Midwest, who you supported during this election will determine that some places are socially off limits depending on who you voted for. I mean, can you imaging someone walking in on a NRA meeting with a "I'm with Her" shirt and expect anything different? I should have known the rules better two weekends ago when, at an In-and-Out in Merced, I was subjected to death stares from a big mustached man after touching my boyfriend on the shoulder (my bad). The thing is, as I see it, Trump's rhetoric isn't just embodied in his spoken words; its embodied in his followers and their actions. Now, is it completely fair to lump Trump supporters into the same category as people who are opposed to LGTB rights? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm not a fan of generalizing any group unfairly. However, when we look what he's said in the past and what his running mate has done, it's fair to say their supporters are probably in the same frame of mind. But this goes beyond what Trump or his supporters have said or done in regards to LGTB people, or even women or people of color for that matter. The divide in America right now isn't just between liberals flaunting their abortions and open borders and conservatives toting their AK-47s wanting blacks and brown people to go where they can't see them. The fact is we have become polarized to the point where we have two different cultures existing in this country.

I've been at a gradually growing loss this past year and it all accumulated this morning. Half the country woke up cheery to blue skies while the rest of us woke up in fear of imminent storms off the horizon. I've gone through feelings ranging between disappointment and generally being pissed off. For us who were/are opposed to Trump, his campaign exposed everything out country should be ashamed of. I am honestly reminded of that days after the 2008 Proposition 8 passed in California. It felt like a giant slap in the face and boy did it hurt. I, like many, was forced to ask how the hell could people be so ignorant and selfish? Well, now 8 years later, the day after the election, I have a pretty good idea. Culture.

I don't need to spell out what these two cultures don't have in common.But lets see what they do have in common. Assuming these two cultures are just huge co-cultures existing within the United States, then we can infer what the culture is made of, at least in terms of this election and politics in general. First of all, we are quick to generalize. We see images of the "opposite" team which demonstrate the "typical" behavior of "those" people and we blanket all of them. We see our liberal friend on Facebook post a meme of someone holding up two middle finders with the caption "Fuck Trump." We see our conservative friend refer to Hilary as "Cunt-on" (seriously, sometimes I want to snap back and ask 'Do you pray to God with that mouth?').  Second, while we are generalizing we are way too quick to use the "share" button. We see something outrageous about the "other" side, leave no bother to fact check anything, and automatically share it not so that we can change anyone's mind but rather as petty evidence that "I/we" are RIGHT and "they" are WRONG. Thirdly, we don't think critically, at least not on social media. We are just conductors sending out the same message with no thought.  Fourth, we do not think or act with empathy and ignore the fact that "they" are living, breathing, people with families, ambitions, feelings, and goals. Yes, this is America, uncompromising, I-take-priority-over-we, America.

Taking a step back now, I can only comprehend my side of the election. I can't understand "why" Trump won the election, but I certainly understand the how. The way I see it, both co-cultures have two competing narratives of what it means to be an American. Being a former Fundamentalist I have a slight recollection of what being in that culture was like but those years are now so far gone that I can't offer any real insight in what makes work the way it does. This, however, I do know: as someone who studies Anthropology I will cede to the fact that, when put in their contexts, both groups are equal, none is better than the other; they both have equal claim in writing their narratives as Americans. And yet, the fact still stands that we can't continue together like this. The way we've been operating will continue to hurt us and swapping out new figure heads in the government will not solve the problem. Changing laws will not solve the problem.

Recently, I attended my home diocese's Annual Convention. The theme for the weekend was "Radical, Welcoming, and Sending." The words "radical" and "welcoming" are pretty popular buzz words in Progressive Christianity, but I think the concepts of these words are rather transcending. As followers of  Jesus, who challenged the political and religious status quo by hanging out with the "other", we are called to emulate his new call to culture; the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom where we hear each other and listen and cease to treat each other like crap. Jesus reconciles humanity to God by his death, and shows us how reconcile with one another in his life. As a Christian, I can't ignore this as I mull over the polarization. So, the question is finally begged. What does reconciliation look like for America? I have my ideas which I think are worth toying with; namely, third party options. But even before we get there, the challenge of getting both groups to have an honest sit down which doesn't involve name calling and fallacies is a feat in itself.

How do we begin reconciliation? What does it look like? I don't know. I do know we have to pause, think, and cease to have the last word. We have to turn off our automated cultural responses to anything that offends us. We have to respect the other culture's values. It won't be easy. Not everybody will always get what they want. What has scared me the most of this election isn't the outcome of voting but the social damage done. Yes, many of us are hurting. But we have to find healthy ways to grieve our pain and express our anger which don't involve the "other."

I am finally left to wonder what would have happened if the bar in Castro let the guy stay? Maybe the guy was generally curious why gays feel the need to have their own space. Maybe he was generally accepting, Maybe he was one of those one-offs who is actually a gay Trump supporter. Who know's his story. But what would happen if one of these groups would take a minute and actually ask "Why" they are in the camp they are in. There have been plenty of short answers, but what it means to them to be in one camp or the other is hardly asked and hardly listened to.

A friend of mine decided to major in Psychology. She came to this conclusion after 9/11 because she knew that people needed help and would continue to need healing in the years to come. In a similar fashion, this election has helped me realize that I study Anthropology because I want to be an agent which helps heal the world and want to help humanity realize its God-given and God-created potential. So, I can say confidently that for the remainder of my undergraduate studies I am committed to focusing my research on cultures that have gone through processes of varying reconciliation so that maybe someday we can get a step closer.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Life in San Francisco #2

Seven months ago I moved to San Francisco, or at least I thought I was. What actually ended up happening is I moved to San Francisco and shuffled between hostels in the City and my friends in Pittsburg for a month, then ended up in shuffling between a bed during the week in Oakland and my friends in Pittsburg for two months, and then ended up on a semi-permanent futon in Oakland for 4 months. I couldn't imagine seven months ago that I would actually make it. Somehow, I did.

The place I was supposed to move into? Never happened. I let it go mid-February, posted some Craigslists ads, and took a leap. Where did I end up? Westwood Park in the Ingleside area, 10 minutes from my school. I'm renting a room in a large in-law suite. There are three other rooms, two of which are empty. My roommate is studying business at SF State and is from Paris. We have a small kitchen space and common area. The home is less than a block away from the Muni K-Line, which goes out to the Balboa BART station, and into Downtown. Did I mention it's 10 minutes walking from school? It's a very ideal location and its as cheap as rent can possibly get in San Francisco (which is still really insane).

This semester has been going well. I'm taking Intro to American Government, Critical Thinking and Logic, and Statistics for Behavioral Science. So basically I'm taking Stats and doing my best to keep the other two afloat. Despite how much I hate this class, its the most useful thing I've ever taken. Luckily, this is the last math I ever have to take. So, as far as I'm concerned, after this semester its all down hill for the next year or so. In the fall I just have to take science, archeology. That's it. Well, to stay at 12 units I'll take some P.E. classes. I'm toying with the idea of maybe taking Advanced Composition since I love to write. In any case, I'll be transferring to SF State in Anthropology Spring of '17. After that? Three semesters and I've got a Bachelors.

I've stepped my game up at church. We just got a new Rector who is reinstating Daily Evening Prayer prior to Daily Low Mass (something the previous Rector had put on hiatus). In addition to becoming a regular acolyte on Wednesdays, I've volunteered to help fill the officiant spots and will be leading public worship 2nd and 4th Wednesdays starting in April. I miss my friends from my Bakersfield parish, but I'm really enjoying being apart of a community that has a real pulse between Sundays. If anything, I think that's really what I'm enjoying most, being part of a community again.

Speaking of community, I really miss my Bakersfield Symphony friends as well. I'm jealous reading about all the things that they are getting up to. Pretty soon I'll start looking for ensembles to play it. It's fun playing solo at BART stations, but I miss having a stand partner to goof off with.

I still don't have much of a social life. I've got my good Canadian friends Andrew and his husband Earl, but that is it mostly. I've gone on a couple dates since I've moved into the City, but nothing too promising. But, its nice to know that I've (mostly) still got it.

Lastly, I majorly goofed my calendar. So, I won't be returning to Edwards 14. I'm going to try and transfer the job/title as a school leave employee to the theatre here in SF. I'm not doing summer school so employment of some sort will need to be lined up. I am accepting the fact that a transfer might not be doable, and if this is the case, I will be bid farewell to my 8 year long employment by the Cinema Exhibition Industry (with an undertone of "Good Riddance").

So, finally. I'm growing and am being challenged in every way possible. It feels good. Great, even.

Lessons learned? If it excites, frightens, feels right, and puts you in the most vulnerable position, then you should do it.

I'm glad I did.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Thoughts on the Primate's Meeting

I spent the majority of this afternoon reflecting and thinking about the Episcopal Church being suspended from the Anglican Communion. What started as a few thoughts turned into something rather lengthy. I needed to start writing and prepare for the beginning semester anyway.
After writing all this out, I do feel better. The initial blow still hurts but I think all U.S Episcopalians will mend in time. In retrospect, what I want most now is to the know that the Anglican Church of Canada and the progressives in the U.K. will stand with the Episcopal Church.

The Anglican Communion is beginning to break. Canterbury, the epicenter of Anglicanism, is now entering the Communions next wave of aftershocks.  On January 14, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) announced that The Episcopal Church (the American branch of the Anglican Communion) will be placed on a 3 year suspension. The announcement follows a week-long meeting of Anglican Primates at Canterbury Cathedral. The meeting was called by Welby in order for the Communion to discuss its future. The end result of the meeting isn’t exactly out of the blue. In 2003, Gene Robinson was consecrated as the first known openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion. A mandatorum followed which asked TEC not to consecrate any more openly gay persons as bishops. Tensions grew when in 2008 Robinson was asked not to participate in the every 10 year gathering of bishops called the Lambeth Conference. Then ABC Rowen Williams had tried to appease the mostly conservative African Bishops by not inviting Robinson. Most of these bishops ended up boycotting Lambeth for the creation of their own conference. In an effort to promote the unity of the Anglican Communion, Williams suggested in the creation of an Anglican Covenant. Unlike other Christian traditions, the Anglican Communion had never adopted a formal document binding the tradition; the symbols of unity were always the Apostle’s and Nicene Creed, the Book of Common Prayer, and being in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The document would have implied disciplinary actions indirectly against the Episcopal Church. The Church of England voted the Covenant down, and the idea died. There can’t be a binding Anglican document if English isn’t on board. In 2012, The Episcopal Church passed resolutions formally allowing dioceses to recognize Same-Sex Union Blessings, and Same-Sex Marriage Blessings where it was legal. In the years following, The Episcopal Church was removed from the Communion’s primary council on Ecumenical Relations. In 2013, Welby said that the future of the communion was looking dim. Tensions in the Communion have been mostly over interpreting the Bible in regards to sexual orientation between the West and the Global South. As a result of these tensions, TEC is now suspended from having any votes on Communion matters and its presence will be withdrawn from all committees. While TEC is still a member of the Communion on paper, the message is clear: The Episcopal Church no longer represents the Anglican Communion in America. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how the Anglican Communion was to continue in “walking together.” Prior to the meeting, Welby had suggested that the future of the Communion might less resemble the Commonwealth and more like a like a federation of loosely associated churches; all in Communion with Canterbury, but not necessarily with each other. In light of the history in recent years, the news shouldn’t be shocking. The fact is that in order for the Communion to “walk together” it looks like the Episcopal Church has to begin walking alone. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. By leveling the playing field for all Anglican Provinces and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable the Communion can be saved, or least further heart break can be spared.

There is something to be said for those who walk alone and there is something to be said for being thrown under the bus. In terms of LGTBQ inclusion, The Episcopal Church has been walking mostly alone for some time. Many of us in The Episcopal Church are hurt by this decision. I am hurt by this decision. As a Christian who has an identity as an Anglo-Catholic, I value the tradition of Canterbury in my spirituality. Canterbury was a symbol of unity. Through Canterbury, you could see the little old lady in her pew reading the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, you can find gays and lesbians having their marriages blessed, you can find Anglicans speaking in old English, Spanish, French, Latin, or tongues. The Anglican Way has had many expressions. The Episcopal Church was thrown under the bus and appears to be on its way to the chopping block. The message is clear: American Anglicans are no longer valued in Anglican variety.

Perhaps what hurts me even more is that fact that politics are allowed to be played and The Episcopal Church has to play at unfair disadvantages. For one, it isn’t particularly fair that Archbishop Folley of the Anglican Church of North America was invited to the conference. The ACNA is new movement comprised of mostly break-away Episcopal Church diocese and congregations. Many of the Communion’s more conservative provinces have declared that they are in full communion with the ACNA.  The ACNA is not in Communion with Canterbury. At the moment, there are currently a number of legal disputes between TEC and ANCA over church properties. I understand that Welby was using Folley as an anchor to persuade the Global South bishops to not boycott this meeting. However, until the ACNA is in Communion with Canterbury, Folley has no business in these matters. The situation is like this: imagine a Father trying to settle a dispute between his children, two brothers, and the father invites the ex-spouse of one of the brothers to come and take the side of other brother. Folley did not have a vote and to which extent he participated in the discussions I’m not sure. But his presence at the meeting likely had an impact on the conservative bishops. In any case, his invitation to the meeting should have signaled a red flag indicated where Welby is actually on the issue.

It isn’t particularly fair either that the Anglican Church of Canada has gotten a pass out of jail. The fact is the Canadians started blessing Same-Sex Unions before the Americans.  It isn’t fair that while the Americans are being penalized for their stance of inclusion toward LGTBQ people Anglican Provinces in the Global South support the criminalization of gays and lesbians.

It’s unlikely that anything will change in the next few years. The Episcopal Church won’t budge on that issue. After the decision, Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church said, “For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain” and  that “Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.” Lesbian and Gay Episcopalians are committed to the church as the church is to them. This is our experience of Jesus, an experience which is unfathomable to those who apparently disagree with us.

The day after the decision was announced, in response to a number of Africans protesting outside Canterbury Cathedral against the Primate’s decision, Welby expressed that he acknowledged that many Anglican LGTBQ people have been hurt by the Anglican Communion. He said, “It is for me a constant source of deep sadness that people are persecuted for their sexuality…I want to take this opportunity personally to say how sorry I am for the hurt and pain in the past and present that the church has caused” and that the Primates are committed to reaffirm “their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.” I suspect these protestors are from Anglican Provinces were the Church and LGTBQ Anglicans are in need of reconciliation. While I agree that Welby’s words are necessary and comforting, the words are empty unless these particular Primates promise to condemn the criminalization of LGTBQ people are held accountable like TEC is.

The biggest problem about politics in religion is that religion is used to back up one’s personal beliefs and convictions rather than letting the Spirituality which comes from true religion penetrate hearts and minds and align our convictions with the mission which comes from above. Here, religion is used as a weapon toward the opponent instead of a reconciling force. Jesus becomes divided: my Jesus is better than yours. It’s natural though, isn’t it? When we are placed in vulnerable positions we reach for the ultimate thing we know to defend us: God. In the context of social issues, we use God to protect us for the things we don’t know nor understand. It’s evolutionary. It’s fight-or-flight. It’s how nations and wars are started. It really isn’t anything new. The challenge presented might be summed up in Jesus’ commandment to love one another. When we love each other, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. When we love each other, we have to acknowledge that the other party might be right, or that we both share two sides of whatever it means to be on the “correct” side. This is counter-evolutionary. When we love one another and acknowledge the vulnerability of our hearts we learn to trust. I have no doubt in my heart and mind that those in the Global South sincerely feel that LGTBQ imprisonment is the right thing for the benefit of both God and Country. I also know for certain that those of us in The Episcopal Church are sincere when we bless same-sex unions and marriages

The Anthropology major in me begs me to take a step back and look at the situation objectively. In my field of study, I am asked to look at cultures in their own context and understanding. Anthropology is a tool for humanity’s survival. It is a tool for preservation. It forces to me ask how a culture in their own context can be truly wrong. This frequently brings me to be conflicted. As a Christian in the Anglican way, and as an openly gay male, I have rage for my fellow LGTBQ brothers and sisters who experience government sponsored persecution. I have sympathy for the parents of these brothers and sisters who have to watch their children suffer. I empathize for those who do not have the support of the church as I do here in America. However, as a student of Anthropology, I have to remind myself that their experience of Jesus is different from mine. Their cultural context is much different from mine; to what extent can I judge what happens in their own framework? The job of an Anthropologist is to study and listen objectively and portray a culture in a way which can be properly understood by another. For all I know, the aculurated undertones which make people homophobic in the United States might be a completely different for the homophobic behaviors in other countries (I’ll just be blunt: imprisoning a person for being gay or lesbian is just that. It’s homophobic). Nigierian Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon said, “If the Western world would just leave Africans within our various cultures, we know how to live together with our various differences … The primates have made it very clear that we have always made room for pastoral care and concern for those who have different sexual orientation. When we begin to make everybody, irrespective of their sexual orientation, feel a part of the family we will have some respite.” Part of me has to agree with him. Western liberals cannot expect African conservatives to be on the same level playing field, especially in regards to sexual orientation. To be honest, I’m not sure if the word “gay” translates evenly into those cultures.  However, I should think that Welby can see this far into the bigger picture. I’ll admit, I don’t want his job nor would I claim to be better at it. But, I would expect Welby to look objectively at the situation and treat all parties fairly. In this case, being fair would look like some task force be formed which would gear certain provinces toward being more tolerant of LGTBQ people.

I would call on Welby and the Primates to do the following: add the Anglican Church of Canada to the suspension and appoint a task force which would oversee reconciliation the relationship between African LGTBQ people and their respective Anglican Province. This way there would be no one ganging up on the other, and Welby would appear to be less biased. Otherwise the Primates should have stuck with the original plan: make the Communion a federation. It’s already happening, isn’t it? Traditionally, being Anglican has been defined as being a byproduct of the Church of England, or being a tradition which was admitted into Communion with Canterbury. Now, with the creation of ANCA which claims Anglican identity but is no in Communion with Canterbury, being Anglican isn’t about who you are in relationship with but what you do on Sundays. In my opinion, however, should we let the Communion go we have just become another Protestant church and lose part of our catholicy. In any case, the way the Primates voted and handled the meeting was completely unpastoral toward The Episcopal Church.

I’m left to wonder what Canterbury will mean for us in the Episcopal Church should we be exiled from the Anglican Communion. Some Episcopal congregations claim St. Augustine of Canterbury as their patron. Many Episcopal campus ministries take the name of “Canterbury Club.” I used to look to Canterbury as a symbol of what unites us, a symbol of Jesus’ words “that they all may be one.” In 2014, I went to Canterbury and received a Pilgrim’s Blessing at the Cathedral, one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. I converted into this tradition and being able prayer in the epicenter of this tradition allowed me to come full circle. Somehow, my blessing in the place where it all began symbolized a closing chapter of my life. Now, when I look to Canterbury I feel offended that my tradition in America hasn’t been validated by the wider church. St. Augustine of Canterbury is my chosen patron. I think many can relate to his story. He was chosen by Pope Gregory to evangelize the British isles. On his way he and his men began to turn back due being afraid of the barbarians that inhabited the island. The Pope encouraged them on. He was successful at converting the pagans, but it is said that he did not offer enough respect to the Christians that were already there. He reminds us that success is relative. While he failed in some areas, he still followed God’s call and by doing so I am in the tradition that I am in today.  All of us in the Anglican Communion want to respond and follow to that call. All of us won’t be successful. But, if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and love and trust each other, the success of Christ in our communion will be apparent to the world around us.

Pray: pray for the Communion. Pray for the situations of poverty which many Archbishops are returning to. Pray for the poverty experienced here in the West. Pray for healing and reconciliation for all Christians. Pray for those who have to suffer for their sexuality. And let that prayer bring us to that place where we can truly say “thy will be done” whether or not our will coincides with God’s.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Painting away the ego: an Icon case study of Kateri Tekakwitha

This semester I took English 961A. It was an accelerated course combing the pre-req and college composition classes. My instructor told me that the CCSF placements are harder than most community colleges use and that I probably should have just taken English 1A. However, the practice and review  this semester has proved to be fruitful. Instead of doing a traditional research paper, I opted to do a creative project for my final paper. The driving question of this class was "How does pyschology effect our environment?" For this project, I wrote an Icon of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. She is the Patron Saint of the Native Americans and the Environment. I modeled this icon from Brother Robert Lentz's rendering of her and tailored it to what I needed the thesis to be. In reflecting on this project, I've never written anything which was this busy and introducing the elements of the paper and transitioning proved to be a challenge. Knowing the instructor, I know it's an A paper. On the other hand, there is an element embedded or implied in this paper and I have been unable to flush out what exactly it is. For this reason I feel it is unfinished.
In any case, getting to research and analyze has been fun and I hope that that shows.

Aaron Conner
Professor Kristen Hren
English 961A
15 December 2015
Painting away the ego: an Icon case study of Kateri Tekakwitha
            Images have the power to point us to a reality which we cannot physically experience. They beg us for an emotional response on some level. We are surrounded by images. Be it in the news, advertising, or a viral picture in social media, images take our attention and lead us to a concept or thought which is intended to bring people together. Images capture a fleeting moment. While the event of an image may be engrained with the person who captured it for years to come, the image’s viewer might quickly forget it as society fills their newspapers and electronics with its next round of images. This is the problem with images: they capture the moment, but fail to capture the full extent of the reality which has taken place.  A religious image, however, is different from the ones we see in secular life. According to Peter Pearson, an Episcopal Priest and Iconographer, the word “icon” is the Greek word for “Image” and an Icon is an image of a person from Christian tradition or the Bible (Pearson 1). In his book, A Brush with God, Pearson writes that “icons aren’t meant to reflect our perceived reality…they are purposefully rendered in a structured way that communicates that things are very different from God’s perspective” ( 3). Icons are painted in a way which reflects God’s reality rather than our own. He goes on to say that, “our way of perceiving the universe can lull us into the illusion of self-importance. Icons contradict this view, challenging us to reconsider things we had previously taken for granted” (4). Icons challenge the status quo. In capturing an inexpressible truth, they call out our own individual egoistic tendencies by challenging us, as it is popularly said, to “be the change you want to see in the world.”
When we look at how our psychology affects the environment, one can see that being this change in the world involves looking at the relationship between human attitudes and behaviors and their effects on our planet. P. Wesley Schultz, Social Psychologist and Associate Professor at California State University San Marcos, has researched this relationship by surveying groups of people based upon their attitudes and behaviors toward the environment. In his studies, he concludes that people are concerned for the environment for either reasons of being egoistic; being concerned for reasons which are associated with the self; altruistic, being concerned for reasons which are associated with the wider community, and biospheric; being concerned for reasons which are associated with all living things (7). Our egoistic tendencies have produced a lot of damage in our world today and these damages are not limited to the problems found in society but are also found in the environment. These damages are particularly seen in the experience of the United Houma People. In their context of Native American spirituality, the Houma are particularly aware of the relationship between humans and their environment. Environmental egoism had its hand in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010 which threatened the existences of the Houma’s immediate way of life (Martin). But the disruption in the relationship between humans and their environment does not stop with the Houma. Schultz goes on to say that “the once localized damage that resulted from production and consumption has reached global proportions” (3). When plastic, for example, arguably the most produced and consumed material, finds its way into the ocean, the localized problem becomes a global  as the fish who consume this plastic end of up on someone’s dinner plate thousands of miles away. This is known a bio-magnification. But dinner is the least of our worries when we consider that world’s oxygen supply has the potential to diminish as this sea-bound plastic has the capacity to kill plankton; a situation which is worse than deforestation. This specific damage is known as the Pacific Garbage Patch (Humes 132, 110, 131). Truly, the damage displayed towards the environment and other fellow humans is egoism at its best. Rather than seeing the earth and its humans as one entity, Western thought has assumed a dualistic approach in how humans deal with their planet. Through egoism, the world has divided humans against everything else, in particular, the environment. This disorder causes environmental egoism: an attitude or behavior which causes damage to the environment through anthropocentric action or inaction. While one person may not be able to save the environment from utter ruin, one person is capable of inspiring others to take an altruistic or biospheric approach toward the environment and those that inhabit it: Saint Kateri Tekakwitha is one such person. In an Icon I painted of her, St. Kateri provides an opportunity for a viewer or venerator to question their own environmental attitudes and behaviors. When we use the narrative of St. Kateri and the experience of the United Houma People to counter the disorder of Western dualism, one can see that “Icon of St. Kateria Tekakwitha” challenges us to be aware of how egoism influences our perceived reality and helps enable us to embrace the absolute reality where humans engage in better treatment of our planet and each other.
St. Kateri embodies both the identities as a Catholic and Native American. Canonized as a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church in 2012, Kateri is both Patron Saint of Native Americans and Environmental Concerns. She is known as the “Lilly of the Mohawks (IBCA). She earns her patronage from her biospheric attitude toward the environment which naturally accompanies her Native American heritage. In writing for Social Science Journal, Dr. Thomas Hoffman writes that the world which Native Americans experience “is one in which all of creation and the powers of creation are related and interconnected. This is a world in which all beings are created to be treated with the respect due their sacred character” (Hoffman). The world, as experienced by St. Kateri and those who share her Native American heritage, is a balance of power between the created world and humans, and between humans and their fellow humans. The world and its humans are sacred and a balance of power is maintained when this relationship is respected. However, outside the Native American schema, the world has been desecrated by human activity. The United Houma People, many of whom are devotees of St. Kateri, know the consequences of when the balance of power between the world and humans is disrupted (Richard 14).  In 2010, the Deepwater Horrizon oil disaster threatened the Houma’s immediate way of life. When speaking about the implications of the land being damaged, Principle Chief Brenda Robichaux said, “The relationship between the Houma People and these lands is fundamental to our existence as an Indian nation. The medicines we use to prevent illnesses and heal our sick, the places our ancestors are laid to rest…our traditional stories and the language we speak are all tied to these lands inextricably” (qtd. in Rhoan 178). The Houma would not exist with their land being intact. The Houma’s relationship to their land is beyond special: it’s sacred. A disruption to their relationship with the land would incur a disruption in their spirituality. St. Kateri’s icon shows its viewer that there is another reality aside from the one experienced through environmental egoism.
Icons can be seen as a window fusing two realities on each side of the painting. This reality is made apparent through the structure and painting technique used by the iconographer. They are painted in a way where the viewer becomes the “vanishing point” rather than on the horizon. Rather than using light colors first then putting on dark shadows as in regular painting, iconographers start with darker colors first and then build gradual layers of lighter colors and highlights. This can be seen as symbolizing death and resurrection (Pearson 5). The icon of St. Kateri Tekakwitha is painted on a gessoed poplar board with acrylic paint. This icon is a variation which was originally painted by Iconographer and Franciscan Monk, Brother Robert Lentz (Lentz). Although in traditional iconography the use of color is more subtle, I chose bold earth tones to help her appear more environmentally biospheric. In my rendering of her, she is portrayed in a traditional Native American suede colored dress while wearing a green cape with the “recycle, reduce, reuse” emblem. A golden halo surrounds her head. Behind her is a blue sky with brown trees. St. Kateri holds in her hands the World Turtle. The turtle has a tree growing from its shell. The turtle’s shell is the Earth’s continents and seas. The tree appears to be dying and, when looked at closely, the BP Oil Spill and the Pacific Garbage Patch can be seen. St. Kateri is directly center of the painting, but my intention is to draw the viewer toward the World Turtle.
The Bureau of Catholic Indian Affairs (BCIA) offers an account of her life. Kateri was born in 1656 in what is now Auriesville, NY. Her mother, an Algonquin Christian who was raised among the French, married the Chief of the Mohawks. The era and time which Kateri was born into was “period of political and religious turmoil” (BCIA).  10 years earlier, Native Americans tortured and killed three Jesuit missionaries in retaliation for bringing “white man’s diseases” (BCIA). White man’s diseases like small pox were still prevalent and would claim the lives of Kateri’s family when she was 4 years old. Even though she survived, the disease left her face deformed and her eyesight was permanently impaired. Later in life, she was introduced to the Jesuit missionaries and decided to be baptized. The following year in 1677, due to dissentients from her relatives, Kateri fled to Canada and took shelter at the Jesuit Mission 10 miles away from Montreal. The BCIA goes on to say that while she was there, Kateri was known to attend Mass daily and frequently meditate before the Blessed Sacrament. Kateri was known to be someone special. The BCIA states that, “all who lived or served in the mission soon realized that Kateri's holiness was something rare. She existed only to love and praise God, to give thanks to him” (BCIA). Kateri was also known to preform person penances which included the practice of harming oneself, a practice which was common among native women at the Mission. In 1697, Kateri took a vow to remain a virgin for the rest of her life. Her health began to fail in 1680. On April 17, Kateri’s last words were “Jesus, I love you” (BCIA).  After her last breath, witnesses reported that her face, once scarred, was cleared and became radiant; the first of her many miracles. Soon after, the new devottees of Kateri were reporting that their prayers were being answered through her intercession. Her followers grew over the next 300 years to where the Church allowed for her canonization. Along with being honored for her commitment to the church, she is honored for being a teacher of “how to love and care for the world because it too is a gift from God almighty” (BCIA).  St. Kateri represents what it means to engage in the absolute reality of biospherism.
 The story of Kateri Tekawitha has several interpretations ranging from her biographers, who wrote her story in the style of a hagiography for their French magistrate, to her Native American devotees, who carry on her mission to unite all Native Americans (Koppedrayer 280, Holmes 87). K.I. Koppedrayer, Professor of Religion and Culture at Wilfred Laurier University, offers an overview of Kateri’s life as recorded by her Jesuit Confessors and places her story in the context of the New World which the Catholic Church helped create (279). The purpose of this hagiography, the story that makes a saint a saint, was to help the Native Americans become assimilated into the European culture which had come to them (Haigo, 296). Moreover, from this point of view, her story symbolizes what it means to be a Native American and Catholic as told by the Jesuits; a symbol of what it means to be assimilated into another culture. Elizabeth Holmes, a Cultural Anthropologist, on the other hand, offers up what she coins as a “counter-hagiography”, that is, “the ethnology of a saint”, the understanding of what it means to be a Saint from a folk perspective (88). Holmes contends that Kateri’s voice was silenced by the Jesuits; however, she is given a voice through the retelling of her story as told by her devotees. Before her canonization, devotees of Kateri would gather together at her request; Kateri’s “death words” were that all Native Americans should be gathered together as one tribe. When gathered, they would pray that her canonization would bring this unity. For her native devotees, she is a symbol of Native American Unity (93). Kateri is the embodiment of what it means to be a Native American Catholic according to Native Americans; she is the praying definition of pluralism. When her story is told by the Jesuits, Kateri represents success of the Church in the New World. When her story is told by Native Americans, she represents a symbol of unity. Koppedrayer and Holmes might disagree on what her story means, but they both agree on the fact that Jesuits wrote Kateri for political/social reasons. However, interpretations asides, the story of Kateri as told by the Jesuit missionaries is the story that is endorsed by the Catholic Church today.
Despite her reputation for holiness and chastity, Kateri is not without critics. Koppedrayer mentions a modern Mohawkian opponent who refers to her as a “prostitute” and a “leaking pot” (277). The concept of prostitution isn’t meant to be taken as literal, but rather figuratively. In this light, she was “married” to her Native American tradition and cheated on it with the European Catholics; she prostituted herself to the more powerful group in the social clash. By calling her a leaking pot, it is inferred that she leaked important Native American information and strategies to the French and further betrayed her people. It is easy to see how her change of cultural identity could lead someone to a sense of betrayal. By converting to Catholicism, she was seen as casting her Native heritage to the side. However, whether or not the historical Kateri was a double-crosser or a God-fearing saint is a moot point: the bi-tradition of Kateri, as told through iconography, offers a clear picture of what it means to be a saint by challenging the Western dualism which influences the environmental egoism experienced in our perceived reality.
There is a disorder in how Western dualism desecrates the environment. When comparing St. Kateri and the Native American approach to the environment to the environmental egoism seen in our world today, we see this disorder is the lurking variable behind environmental egoism. In Metaphysics of Modern Existence, Vine Deloria Jr. observes that there are five reasons for this disorder: Western religion encourages  humans to  be viewed as being superior to nature, competition is a byproduct of human evolution which doesn’t require humans to be cooperative, immediate experience isn’t valued in the grand scheme of history, the scientific method does not make room for qualitative information, while Western duality allows for modern technology to be created it also leads to a diminished spiritual life (qtd. in Hoffman). This disorder in Western thought reflects our perceived reality, but St. Kateri’s icon challenges us to follow Kateri’s example and engage in the absolute reality of biospherism.
Egoism influences our perceived reality when Western religion encourages the idea that humans are superior to nature. Through this reality, we see that environmental egoism is a byproduct of when the environment is treated as submissive to humanity. St.  Kateri’s icon challenges us to see the absolute reality: humans and the environment have been created equally. The relationship between humans and the environment is symbiotic. Human survival depends on the environment, the environment, in turn is meant to be cared for by humans. In their experience, the Houma are aware that this relationship between humans and their environment is complex and delicate. When the wetlands on the Coast of Louisiana were destroyed in order to dredge canals for the oil companies, the Houma lost part of their economy when salt water from the ocean killed the game that lived in fresh water (Martin). We also see how this relationship is delicate when we see the impact of damage done through the Pacific Garbage Patch and the process of bio-magnification. Kateri’s icon challenges us to be aware of this relationship by holding the World Turtle, a central figure in Mohawk creation mythology (ICS). The tree of the turtle is in bad shape. When looked at closely, one can see both the Pacific Garbage Patch and the Deep Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The world that Kateri holds isn’t the world she lived in, it’s the world today. It’s the world which has been affected by environmental egoism. When we begin to be aware of the complex relationship between humans and their environment, we can start to embrace the absolute reality that St. Kateri shows us. By accepting this challenge, we take on the role of Kateri by being biospheric toward the environment and each other.
Egoism influences our perceived reality through the competition, a byproduct of human evolution, which doesn’t require humans to be cooperative. Through this reality, we see that Environmental Egoism is a byproduct of when humans are not in cohorts with one another.  St. Kateri’s icon challenges us to see the absolute reality: humans were created equally and need to cooperation with each other. In her icon, this cooperation is between her image and the viewer. The interaction between St. Kateri and the World Turtle was purposefully painted to be ambiguous. St. Kateri’s cooperation with her fellow humans can be interpreted in one of two ways: humanity has become so environmentally egoistic to the point where the viewer of the icon is handing the World Turtle to Kateri, perhaps as a symbol of the viewer’s intercession for the environment to St. Kateri, or perhaps as a symbolic confession of sins committed against the environment, or, she is handing the Cosmic Turtle to the viewer, acknowledging that her patronage cannot carry the weight of  environmental egoism. Through her Native devotees, she is seen as a symbol of unity; when this unity is embraced, all are equal. Regardless of which interpretation the viewer feels, Kateri challenges us to cooperate with one another. When we cooperate with each other, we take on her role to be more biospheric toward the planet and each other.
Egoism influences our perceived reality when immediate experience isn’t valued in the grand scheme of history. Through this reality, we see that environmental egoism is a byproduct of when Western thought does not value immediate experience. More specifically, the concepts of past, present, future are seen as not as important. Kateri’s icon challenges us to see the absolute reality: the actions, or inactions, of humans on this planet will begin to affect the balance between humans and their environment immediately. This is due to the delicate relationship that people have with their environment. In her icon, St. Kateri is depicted with a green cape with the “recycle, reuse, reuse” emblem on it. St. Kateri is depicted as being biospheric as the viewer notices the emblem and correctly associated it with her patronage. The emblem evokes the viewer to ask how environmentalism egoism is caused when they do not take proper care of our resources. When waste isn’t handled properly due to environmental egoism, it becomes a problem which damages the planet immediately. Lurking problems like these produce damages such as the Pacific Garbage Patch. When proper protocols aren’t followed due to immediate cost-benefit analysis and fluids aren’t treated properly, millions of gallons of oil can be spilled into the ocean (Safina). Environmental egoism is partly caused by not including the ramifications of present actions into the moment of the action. In noticing the emblem, the viewer is challenged to question their recycling habits and see the immediate effects of how their behaviors damage the balance between humans and their environment. When we are aware of the immediate effects of our actions on the environment we will naturally take care of one another by protecting its resources and providing a world for future humans. 
Egoism influences our perceived reality when the scientific method does not make room for qualitative information. Environmental Egoism is a byproduct of this reality when qualitative information is not a part of Western thought, especially when it comes to technological developments (Hoffman). This is to say that Western thought relies on quantitative information, that is, numbers, specifically, money. St. Kateri’s icon challenges us to see the absolute reality: qualitative information has to be used when making scientific related decisions regarding the environment. The Houma know too well that when information isn’t taken qualitatively then the balance between humans and their environment will suffer damage. For example, according to Mark Davis, director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy, the oil companies had a very strong hand in the destruction of the Louisiana wetlands (qtd. in Lyndersen). Had the industry thought about the qualitative information of the Houma people being intrinsically tied to the wetlands, and had made an effort to be cooperative, then a reasonable solution could have been made for both parties.  St. Kateri’s icon shows the World Turtles suffers damage due to qualitative information not being included in scientific processes. The experience of the Houma shows that environmental egoism can be used to manipulate the environment at the expense of other humans. Using qualitative information, in specific regards to the environment, will lead to a biosphereic approach to the environment and to other humans.
Egoism influences our perceived reality when Western duality allows for the spiritual life to be diminished through the use of modern technology. Environmental egoism is a byproduct of when we concentrate too much on the use of technology in this perceived reality rather than the absolute reality of the created world. Kateri’s icon challenges us to see the absolute reality: for one to enhance the quality of their spiritual life they must do so without relying on the use of technology. Hoffman writes that humans are separated from their natural environment because they inhabit so much of their built environment, and that through this separation the there is a loss of spirituality in the Western world (Hoffman). The existence of the Houma today is built on this concept; they are connected to their natural environment and, due to its desecration, stress has been caused in their spirituality. Technology can foster egoism which deters us from engaging in a spiritual life.  In her icon, Kateri is rendered with a golden halo symbolizing her status as a saint. In her life, St. Kateri was known to enhance her spiritual life through Christian sacraments and meditation. Even today, the cloistered life is one of little technological influence. Although she was not a nun, those who would try to follow the example of holiness set by St. Kateri would be less likely to be of heavy reliance on technology if they could absolutely help it. St. Kateri’s icon depicts her in her time, in a forest, wearing typical Native American dress, in a natural environment. When we shift our concentration from technology to creation, then we will become more biospheric in our approach to the environment and to each other. This challenge is best summary of Native American Spirituality.
Saints are meant to inspire and give us courage, but sometimes they can be intimidating to those of us who don’t seem able to overcome our own egoistic tendencies. Aside from being a saint, the basic story of her life provides meaning which can be related to. In Can Psychology help save the world? A Model for Conservation Psychology, Dr. Amara Clayton and Dr. Susan Brook write that social psychology can help the environment by noticing how social and physical environments form a person’s context, how their past experiences form and influence this context, and how this context is formed and influenced by a person’s fundamental motivations of needing to sense belonging, control, and a positive self-image (90). Kateri’s context is formed in her Native American heritage and in her experience with the Jesuits, both being collective cultures. Her Native American Heritage also implies a sacred relationship with the natural environment, while her religious experience with the Jesuits seems to represent that sacredness which she found in the build environment of Roman Catholicism. In her past, she would have been raised to be bioshperic in her approach to the environment. Being disfigured and of poor eyesight, and no immediate kin, she might have felt like an outsider in her community; thus, her fundamental motives may have forced her to take her spirituality and find solace in the new religion brought to her by the French.  Many people can relate to the loss of family, severe illness, and the need to move to a location for the sake of spirituality. But, despite the fact that she can be related to, Kateri remains partly an enigma; Kateri cannot be separated from the environment due to her Native American heritage and she cannot be separated from the Judeo-Christian God due to her status as a saint. The faith she adopted is partly responsible for forming the disorder found in Western dualism today. Thus, we are presented with a paradox: the paint of an icon fuses together two realities, perceived and absolute, egoism and bioshperism, but the absolute reality of the icon challenges us to reconcile this duality by being more biospheric toward all things which inhabit the planet. Just as her devotees reclaim her voice, St. Kateri, in her icon, reclaims Western religion by seeing all of creation holistically sacred and challenging us to do the same. The world is in a damaged state and St. Kateri as both a Native American and a Christian doesn’t just ask us “why?” She tells to act. By allowing Kateri to challenge the egoistic tendencies of our world, we can begin to take responsibility and restore our relationship with our world and with those who live in it. St. Kateri’s icon points to another reality, but it is our responsibility to make that reality happen.

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