Friday, January 29, 2010

The Chosen Have Muddy Feet

When I was 18 and had a summer job in a Southern Baptist boot camp called Glorietta, I wrote a controversial poem entitled: “Jesus Christ had dirty fingernails.”

It was 1968 and I was fresh from the pagan wilds of Berkeley, California: Flower Power, anti-war protests, freethinking, and holy hallucinogens. In Berkeley, I was the designated driver for my friends’ acid trips because I had no genetic tolerance for drugs. I also had very little aptitude left for a conservative religion that was tilting to the Far Right. (At Glorietta, guest buses arrived with banners: “George Wallace for President.”)

After two years in a hip high school, Glorietta felt like a bad acid trip. Here I was, an outcast, shanghaied into this Shangri-la for Southern Baptists. This was my first time away from home and while I was buoyant with my newfound independence, I was bewildered by the multitude of hungry believers I had to serve in my faux-native American waitress costume.  I devote an entire chapter to this darkly comic prison camp story in my new memoir – “I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land.”

But this week, reading “Grounded,” a very thoughtful article about my new book in Seattle’s stylish art magazine, City Arts, I was reminded of this juvenile poem. The witty and erudite Tim Appelo -- ex-Entertainment Weekly writer and former Bestsellers Editor -- brought up my early poem again with the break-out quote: “She now believes the chosen have muddy feet.”

That might have been my first and last poem, preferring the less incandescent art of prose. But I still believe that we belong more to the earth than some disembodied heaven. I’m still making the same point that got me ousted in 1968 from the haven for the Religious Right: This world is our home and home is holy. Earth is our paradise and suffused with sacred presence. As the great Irish poet, W.B. Yeats wrote: “Everything we look upon is blest.”

Why abandon the earth and all that is alive here alongside us, as some religions do with their focus on afterlife? Why not, as all the mystics say: Be here now. Get muddy. Get to work. We are not in exile. The Garden of Eden and the divine is still here.

What might happen if “born-agains” believed themselves not just born again in the afterlife, but also here on earth. What if believers of all faiths, really took up residence in this life and devoted themselves to dealing with climate change and mass extinctions? What might happen if the faithful planted forests? If religions adopted other species in their fellowship of the believers? If, as some Earth Ministry groups advise, we teach in church that God dwells with us in every river, mountain, and forest? In the golden eyes of a wild wolf, in a screech owl, in the tiniest fungi.

There are spiritual traditions for this earth-centered practice. Native peoples have always included animals, The First People, and the living earth in their divine cosmos. Read Chickasaw author, Linda Hogan’s Dwellings and her essay “”Deify the Wolf” or Joy Harjo’s poetry book The Woman Who Fell to Earth.

The Catholics still celebrate St. Francis with a blessing ceremony for animals. And there are pagan nuns around the world valiantly defying this patriarchal Pope in continuing their devotion to mothering the earth. There are Buddhists, Hindus, Sufis, Wiccans, Taoists and many other souls whose worship and meditations include all sentient beings. Even the Dalai Lama is now talking about our spritual responsibility to face global warming.

In this new century, there are many who now embrace the earth as part of our spiritual practice. We engage with this world and her beauty, we are devoted to her survival as much as our own. We have dirty fingernails. We have muddy feet. And what is Chosen is not just us, but also the earth.

“Grounded” City Arts article, Feb issue by Tim Appelo

P.S. The article is the best written to date on my new book. One caveat about the cover’s headline above: I certainly have not left God behind. What I’ve left behind is any dogma about the mystery of the Divine.


  1. So, so good! I especially love this bit: "Why not, as all the mystics say: Be here now. Get muddy. Get to work. We are not in exile. The Garden of Eden and the divine is still here."

  2. Thanks for the comment, Rambling Tart! From my muddy feet to yours!

  3. Charles J. WisdomMay 31, 2010 at 12:14 PM

    Hi Brenda: I listened to your "New Dimensions" dialogue yesterday. Very interesting; I applaud your balanced insights into extremes of both environmentalists and evangelicals.

    Sadly, you skew some of your facts to leave untrue impressions on anyone who is ignorant of evangelicals or what we believe. A few of your unfortunate observations include:
    * A bus shows up at Glorieta with a George Wallace for President banner. The impression is that all Southern Baptists wanted him as president. (I went to Glorieta over 25 times in my 52 years as a Southern Baptist pastor and never saw such a bus! I lived in Ridgecrest for 4 months and never experienced anything like this.)

    * To give the impression the teaching of the "Rapture" is less than 200 years old is unfortunate. "Dispensationalism", the eschatology of the "Left Behind" series, may be a hundred-plus years old, but the "rapturo" of I Thessalonians 4:15-17 is as old as the NT documents.

    * To say that evangelicals never smile or are too serious is sooooo wrong!! You asked the lady interviewing you, "have you ever seen a christian stand-up comedian?" Granted, you will never find them at Berkeley or performing at a pantheism conference, but you have missed out on some super belly laughs by not giving yourself a chance to hear them. (Google will share the names of many of these people.)

    * You give the impression that all evangelical or conservative students of the Bible think there are no animals in heaven. Wrong.

    A couple of things in closing:
    1. "You can either be a writer or go home for Thanksgiving Dinners." Wow. How sad! I wish you would have chosen both. (My guess is the day is coming when you will wish the same.)
    2. I love your mom and dad (and brother) even though I do not know them. I look forward to spending much time with them when we are together in heaven.

    You say you want to be left behind. Just today, I read these words by C.S.Lewis "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done', and those to whom God says, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in hell choose it." THE BUSINESS OF HEAVEN by C.S. Lewis; p.142)

    Charles J. Wisdom