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Spiritual Currents

Dwayne Eutsey

BIO: Who am I? Well, that happens to be one of life’s most vexing spiritual questions, isn’t it? Great philosophers have grappled with it throughout the ages with mixed results, so who am I to think I can answer it here? Ok, for simplicity’s sake, let’s just say I’m a local writer interested in spiritual issues. I live in Easton with my life partner Amy and our three children. We are members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton.

“Spiritual Currents” is a regular column that promotes and explores the Mid-Shore’s deep spiritual diversity—with “spirituality” broadly defined as our search for enduring meaning in life. This ongoing quest can unfold within religious traditions and without them, within our relationships and in solitude.

If you would like to share a local event or a personal story that reflects this journey on the Shore, please contact me here (put “Spiritual Currents” as the subject line).

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.

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.  

The Spirituality of Toy Story

By Dwayne Eutsey

(Adapted from a lay sermon I gave at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton on July 25, 2010).

About 10 years ago, when my wife and I were the parents of newborn twins and a two-year-old son, I found a philosophical/spiritual resource that helped me cope with the day-to-day grind of new-parent survival by reminding me of a few profound and enduring spiritual truths.

It wasn’t the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, or any other religious text, because with commuting every day to a full-time job, and having three kids in diapers, who had time for reading, let alone scriptural interpretation?

It wasn’t sitting meditation, because when people experiencing extreme sleep deprivation sit down and shut their eyes for a moment, the next sound you’ll hear from them won’t be “oooommmmm” but “zzzzzzzzzz”.   

This resource didn’t involve heavy theological discourses, dogmas, doctrines, or hard-to-understand references to ancient times and places; instead, it offered its spiritual lessons in an engaging, colorfully animated format with lively, funny dialogue, and was set within the simple context of a child’s bedroom.

I mean, of course, the highly popular Toy Story series. For anyone who has been secluded in a child-free cave for the past 15 years and doesn’t know what I’m talking about: the three Toy Story movies follow the adventures of a group of toys that belong to a boy named Andy. The toys, who are led by an amiable cowboy named Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and an astronaut action figure named Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), can only come to life when human beings aren’t around.

Dandelion Faith

By Dwayne Eutsey

I suppose like many people with yards to care for, I’m not a huge fan of dandelions.

Especially for anyone with an idealized vision of having a plush and perfectly manicured lawn, these pesky weeds can be something of a nuisance.

As anyone who has seen my yard can tell you, I’m obviously not obsessed with achieving the perfect lawn. However, I am compelled to drag out the mower whenever I see the grass becoming shaggy with numerous white puffballs and little yellow sunbursts dotting the green.

While I may not like all the dandelions I see blotting the yard, I can’t help but marvel at their quiet, undaunted tenacity. No sooner have I mowed them down than new stems are already sprouting defiantly from the ground—a reminder that, to paraphrase Shakespeare, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in my yard care philosophy.

“Exciting the Laughter of God’s Creatures”—Remembering Mark Twain’s Spirituality

By Dwayne Eutsey

Although Wednesday marks the 100th anniversary of Samuel Clemens’s death, any reports of his alter ego Mark Twain’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

In fact, Twain remains as well-known today as he was a century ago.

In January, Easton Middle School performed a popular musical adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that had many of us humming sunny tunes about life on the Mississippi while shoveling snow here on the Eastern Shore. A couple years ago, Twain’s brooding image adorned the cover of Time magazine beside the somewhat ominous headline, “The Dangerous Mind of Mark Twain.”

That dichotomy between the whimsical and cantankerous aspects of Twain’s legacy captures well how we’ve come to understand his enduring iconic presence in our culture. As with most icons, however, there are usually many complex ambiguities coursing like murky river currents beneath the familiar façade we think we know.

Twain’s attitudes on race, for example, remain a matter of debate and have even led some to call for banning Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from schools because of its alleged racism. In terms of his religious beliefs, many people also assume Twain was an embittered atheist who, especially late in life, took devilish delight in mocking God and ridiculing Christianity.

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