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Spirituality and Worship

Finding a Religion to Abide By

by Dwayne Eutsey

For various reasons, I’ve been missing-in-action from this column for a while.

In addition to my full-time work, there’s the part-time job I took on a year or so ago; there’s the fact that we have a house full of adolescent kids now (which may help you understand why I have the part-time gig); and there’s that new religion I’ve been helping to found.

Yes, you read that correctly.

In what spare time I have, I’ve been spreading the good word of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude (or Dudeism), the world’s slowest-growing religion, to the masses. www.dudeism.com

Inspired by the Coen Brothers’ film classic The Big Lebowski, Dudeism follows the laid-back path revealed by the movie’s main character, called the Dude (hilariously played by Jeff Brides), who exemplifies for all us stressed out sinners just how take it easy, man, in a world gone crazy with stress.

Or as Dudeism’s founder Oliver Benjamin (aka the Dudely Lama) describes it:

The idea is this: Life is short and complicated and nobody knows what to do about it. So don’t do anything about it. Just take it easy, man. Stop worrying so much whether you’ll make it into the finals. Kick back with some friends and some oat soda and whether you roll strikes or gutters, do your best to be true to yourself and others – that is to say, abide.

Dudeism is in part a joke, but it’s a joke with a serious undercurrent drawn from the ancient traditions of holy fools and trickster gods with a lot of self-deprecating Taoism, humanism, and Kahlua tossed in.

Sandy’s Real Revelation

by Dwayne Eutsey

       Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they    do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand. Mark Twain

I first became aware of the Bible’s “end times” prophecies through Hal Lindsey’s bestseller The Late, Great Planet Earth back in the ‘70s.

In the book (which went on to become a movie narrated by Orson Wells), Lindsey laid out how he believed current events at the time were fulfilling predictions about the end of the world in the Book of Revelation, the Bible’s mysterious and controversial grand finale.

As a 12-year-old with an overactive imagination, I remember reading and re-reading Revelation once I finished Lindsey’s book, poring over the strange and obscure text and searching for hidden clues that would reveal what the future had in store for us.

The clues I found were as scary and titillating as they were baffling. The Four Horsemen…Gog and Magog…the ominous figure of the Antichrist…the final battle between Good and Evil at Armageddon. What did it all mean for us? Are these events unfolding now in our lifetime?

I suppose a lot of people are still intrigued by such questions and are still searching for whatever glimpse into the future that may lurk in Revelation’s murky depths.

Just Who IS Santa Claus, Anyway?

by Dwayne Eutsey

According to an email I received from the Easton YMCA Tuesday, there will be an opportunity this Friday to indulge in some holiday cheer at the Y from 5 pm to 7 pm.

The event, free for members of the YMCA, will feature crafts, games, hot cocoa, cookies…and, of course, a chance to meet a jolly old man with a long white beard dressed all in red.

No, I don’t mean one of the members of ZZ Top pictured here. I’m talking about the Big Christmas Kahuna himself: Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, St. Nick, Father Christmas, or whatever alias he happens to be using at any given moment.

Santa is everywhere you look lately: holiday TV shows, commercials, movies, music…So pervasive is he in our collective unconsciousness that whenever we see him, no explanation is necessary. We all know he’s the guy who lives in the North Pole with elves and who zooms around the world in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer at the end of the every year. He leaves toys for all the good boys and girls and sticks and coal for the bad ones.

It’s a familiar story, but am I the only one who finds this Christmas myth a bit strange?

Even as a kid, when I eagerly looked forward to Santa’s arrival each year, I found it odd (and even a little creepy) that Santa knew EVERYTHING I did. He knew when I was sleeping, he knew when I was awake. Scarier still, he knew when I was good or bad, for heaven’s sake! As Christmas approached, I grew increasingly paranoid imagining this jelly-bellied guy sneaking around my window day and night, peeking in to see what I was up to.

Just who in the world was this guy, anyway?

The answer to that question depends on whether you’re referring to the religious saint or the secular icon.

According to the St. Nicholas Center, a website dedicated to promoting the history of the real Christian saint who inspired the Santa Claus legend:

A Day in the Life: Remembering Lennon

by Dwayne Eutsey

Thirty years ago today, a deranged man murdered John Lennon on the street in New York City.

I can still remember clearly when I heard the news that day, oh boy.

I was a teenager attending Cambridge-South Dorchester High School (CSDHS) at the time, so it was rare for me to wake up early in the morning (especially on a school day). My mom, in fact, would have to knock on my bedroom door a few times after my alarm clock went off just to get me out of bed.

On that morning 30 years ago, however, I woke up before the sunrise. I’m still not sure why. Because I couldn’t go back to sleep, I switched on the radio beside my bed and searched the dial for something to listen to before the dreaded alarm clock went off.   

I found a station playing the Beatles’ classic “A Day in the Life,” one of my all-time favorite songs, and laid there in the pre-dawn dark savoring it. By the time the haunting tune had reached its dramatic finale, I was drifting between sleep and consciousness as that crashing, concluding piano chord slowly faded.

“John Lennon, dead at age 40,” the deejay somberly announced in the growing silence.

All these years later, I can still feel the shock of that moment reverberating like that endless piano chord.

Why is that, I wonder?

The So-Called “War on Christmas”: Waged by Ignorant Armies on Both Sides

 by Dwayne Eutsey

There’s a controversial billboard in New Jersey featuring what appears to be a traditional nativity scene:

 A bright star shines in the night sky above the silhouettes of a man and a woman kneeling beside a manger in a humble barn, with three men riding on camels approaching.

 What’s causing the big controversy (if the strife-hungry news media can be believed, anyway) is not this rather conventional representation of the birth of Jesus; it’s  the eye-grabbing message above it that creating a stir:

 “You know it’s a MYTH! This season, celebrate REASON!”

 According to American Atheists, the group sponsoring the billboard, the message is targeting what they call “closet atheists” who are supposedly afraid to express their true beliefs, or nonbeliefs, during this time of year.

 However, as you can imagine, the billboard has also caught the attention of many Christian believers.

 The Catholic League, in fact, has sponsored a billboard across from the atheists’ sign featuring a large image of people dressed as the stereotypical Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus with “You Know it’s Real. This Season, Celebrate Jesus.” written above it in large letters.

In the report I saw on TV Wednesday morning, the CBS correspondent, known for her quirky focus on offbeat stories, featured representatives from the two opposing sides. The atheist basically derided people of faith for believing in a God that everyone “knows” doesn’t exist, while the believer accused atheists of believing in nothing or in the “fairy tale” of evolution.

Blah blah blah humbug.

This “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I” level of discourse illustrates for me what I find so frustrating about the alleged “War on Christmas” we hear about as the holiday season approaches, as well as the grudge-match these two groups have year-round.

What both sides don’t seem to get is that yes, Virginia, the Christmas story IS a myth, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Before you think I’ve been sampling the spiked eggnog early, let me explain.

Talbot Interfaith Shelter: Warming the Chill of Poverty

by Dwayne Eutsey

With the trees turning such lovely autumnal hues and the temperatures becoming crisp and cool, many of us are beginning to look forward to seasonal festivities.

This time of year also brings with it, though, some bleaker realities as well.

Last Friday morning, for example, when I tuned into WBOC news, there was a segment already in progress on a homeless shelter somewhere on the Shore.

The report ended with the reporter saying the shelter is already full and seeking additional space to house the homeless. News anchor Kelley Rouse lamented the number of children that will be residing in the shelter.

Although I couldn’t locate the full report on the WBOC site, I did find more information on another poverty-related story from the newscast. According to Delaware officials, the state’s Medicaid rolls could top 200,000 by the end of the year as more people fall below the poverty line.

The Associated Press reports that enrollment in the state’s Medicaid program “grew 22 percent from more than 156,000 people July 2008 to more than 190,000 in October.”

These numbers, unfortunately, are part of a nationwide surge in poverty. The Christian Science Monitor reported in September that the poverty rate in America rose from 13.2 percent in 2008 to 14.3 percent last year, the highest level since 1959.

The Maryland Alliance for the Poor reports that 505,000 people in Maryland were living under the poverty line last year. That’s 9.1 percent of the population, which was up from 8 percent in 2008. Census poverty figures indicate that 8.3 percent of Talbot County residents were living in poverty in 2008.

These bleak numbers, statistics, and news reports provide an unsettling glimpse into what is a deepening problem here on the Shore and across the country.

Unless you’ve actually experienced firsthand what George Bernard Shaw called “the chill of poverty which never leaves the bones,” however, all these reports can easily become abstractions that can be debated, massaged, spun.

Ignored.

When I see stories like these, I can’t help but feel in my bones again the shiver of poverty I grew up with as a kid. While my mother, sister, and I were never homeless, I remember we did face eviction once. There were times when our electricity and phone service were shut off. Although my mother worked long, hard hours as a waitress to support us, Social Services threatened at one point to place my sister and me in foster care.

Fortunately, we were blessed with options and resources that kept us from falling through the cracks into homelessness and prevented the state from separating us…options and resources that are not always available to people in similar circumstances, especially today.

That’s why the Talbot Interfaith Shelter (TIS) is so important to our community.

TIS is a coalition of nine local faith communities that provides, from December to April, “temporary shelter to single men, single women, and families who lack adequate housing during the coldest months of the year. It provides dinner, breakfast, and bagged lunches to all shelter guests. It opens daytime shelter space when volunteers are available and temperatures fall below 40 degrees F.”

Each of these places of worship in Talbot County will take turns serving as a host site where people without homes can stay:

Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service Provides a Garden of Gratitude

by Dwayne Eutsey

Henry Ward Beecher, a popular American minister in the 19th century, once observed: “Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.”

With tough economic times lingering on compounded by rancorous political divisiveness these days, that blossom of gratitude may have wilted somewhat for many of us.

However, one tried-and-true way to nurture our sagging spirits is to gather with others and celebrate the blessings we share as individuals and as a community.

Easton’s annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service is a great opportunity for us to come together from our separate lives and faith communities and become part of one large refreshing and abundant garden of gratitude.

The service, sponsored by the Talbot Association of Clergy and Laity (TACL), will be held this Sunday, November 21, at 7 p.m. at Temple B’nai Israel in Easton (101 West Earle Avenue). Corey W. Pack of the Talbot County Council is the featured speaker with special music provided by the TACL Interfaith Singers.

Last year’s service included traditional hymns from various traditions, reflections, prayers, and a Native American chant.

Seating for this popular event fills up quickly, so participants are encouraged to arrive early.

A Brief Meditation on the Days of the Week

by Dwayne Eutsey

I’ve been mulling over the change of seasons and the shortening of daytime that this time of year brings.

The way my mind works, this kind of contemplation often ends up with me mentally chasing thought-bunnies down random rabbit holes full of obscure but interesting tidbits of trivia (well, interesting to me, anyway).

This time around, my seasonal meditations inspired me to pull a dusty dictionary down from the shelf to refresh my memory of how the names for our days of the week have etymological (and spiritual) roots in Germanic paganism.

Although the practices and beliefs of early pagans remain murky, we do know their agrarian-based mythology was deeply rooted in the natural world and the annual turning of the seasonal wheel. Based on the Old English origins of the names for days of the week, these pagans apparently dedicated each day to one of their deities.

For example, “Sunday” originates from the Old English Sunnandaeg, or day of Sunna, the Germanic sun goddess. Pagans honored her brother, Mani, god of the moon, with Monandaeg, our modern-day Monday.  

Samhain: A Celtic Journey

Join Mary Meighan of Celtic Journeys in Ireland for an experiential introduction to Celtic spirituality on Nov. 6.

We invite you to gently experience Samhain, the Celtic New Year and the most significant feast within the Celtic calendar.  This is the time of  rebirth, renewal and transformation as well as for honoring the ancestors.Step outside of  your daily routine and connect with the essence of  Samhain and the deep energy associated with this turning of the year. 

The day will begin an introduction to the Celtic Year and the cycles of nature that the Celtic tradition honors. You'll learn about this ancient, yet living, tradition and how specific Celtic practices can be integrated into your daily life. We'll also partake of some practices associated with the energy at this time of year and experience stories, music, song, chants, poetry and blessings from the Celtic tradition. 

In the afternoon, we'll continue our exploration of the Celtic tradition and the Celtic goddess Morrigan. We'll consider the different aspects of be inspired by her powerful energy and imagery. As in the morning, a tapestrywill woven through stories, mythology, chants, poetry, song, musicand blessings. You'll also have an opportunity to create your own Celtic offering.

The day will also include a little timefor reflection, as retreat is a vital part of the Celtic tradition. 

May the blessings of Samhain surround us
May the blessing of  stillness be ours.
May the natural rhythms of nature fill our hearts.
May we be atuned to the natural cycles within.

 -Celtic Blessing

To register or for more information, call us at (410) 819-3395 

The Awakening Heart - A One-Day Silent Meditation Retreat

Offered by The Easton Meditation Group

The Easton Meditation Group will offer a daylong silent meditation retreat, The Awakening Heart, on Saturday, October 9, 2010 from 9:00am to 4:00pm.  Suitable for both beginning and experienced meditation students, the retreat includes guided meditation periods, silent sitting and walking meditation, short talks, question-and-answer session and a focus on supporting lovingkindness in the midst of our lives. The retreat will take place at Third Haven Friends Meeting House at 405 South Washington Street in Easton, Maryland.

“Insight Meditation or Vipassana is a way of opening to life and seeing clearly the totality of one’s being and experience,” says Larissa Kitenko, founder of The Easton Meditation Group. The way of meditation is the way of the heart and this retreat will focus on lovingkindness (metta) practice through which it is possible to cultivate a warm, open heart towards ourselves and others. We work through our judgments of self and others, grow in self-acceptance and compassion, and become better able to speak and act from our hearts in daily life.

This day of practice will include direction in mindfulness of the breath, body, emotions and thoughts as well as the formal practice of metta.

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