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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Watching the Super Bowl

Have you ever watched a sporting contest in which you have no vested interest in either of the teams? I'm not talking about doing the impossible, like supporting the New England Patriots, but a game involving two teams in whom you have no emotional attachment - for or against. People who watch such a game watch because they appreciate the game itself. They don't need an emotional investment to appreciate the details of the contest. They may very well have a home team they wish was playing in the game, but the fact that they aren't doesn't stop them from enjoying the contest. These people appreciate the good plays and the talents of the players - which team they play for is a secondary concern. They may wonder why their team let one of the players they are watching do very well get away, but those questions don't prevent them from enjoying the contest. These fans enjoy the sport as much as they enjoy local team. They are criticized as disloyal or as wasting their time by the folks I am about to describe below, but that criticism isn't accurate.

Other people are only interested in the home team, so much so that if the home team isn't playing they don't watch. Whether it's the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup, the World Series, or the NBA playoffs, once their team is out, so are they. Of course, this means they may never watch the penultimate contest in any sport. They may never get to witness the most talented players competing against one another, because they are only interested in the local team. These are tribal sports fans, and there isn't anything wrong with being a tribal fan except that it is quite limiting. Imagine voluntarily never watching the best of the best, simply because you live in a city in which they don't play. Imagine if people brought that attitude to health care!

What does all of this have to do with spirituality? It has quite a lot to do with spirituality! The second group of folks are extremely loyal followers of their own tradition. Perhaps they were born Lutheran and so they truly believe that only Lutherans have anything to teach them. They don't want to hear what Methodists have to say, and they sure don't want to know what Buddhists have to say. In their extreme form, these people even seek to silence all other traditions. They are the people who believe that "America is a Christian nation!" kind of nonsense, and seek to outlaw or restrict other traditions.

The first group are Interspiritual. They have a solid grounding in their own tradition, but have also come to see that other traditions also have truths to offer. They aren't blinded by loyalty to the "home team," but can appreciate the search for truth and meaning wherever it exists. They don't see their own path as better than any other path, but they do find it to be richer. They also understand that not everyone is ready to tackle the questions and challenges of Interspirituality, and recognize that some will never be interested in it. That is as it should be because different people will inevitably be drawn to different paths. They also know that others will criticize them as somehow disloyal or as seeking an easy path. They strive to recognize such criticism as irrelevant, and have compassion on those who feel moved to speak it.

Imagine what might happen if we all just followed the tradition or traditions that spoke to us and allowed others to do the same? Imagine if we all matured to the point where we could allow others to follow their own conscience as we followed ours, and let each person accept responsibility for their own outcome? How many wars could be avoided, how much hatred, how much persecution, and how many seemingly isolated acts of violence could be stopped before they began? There is no downside to this view, unless of course you are in the business of perpetuating your source of truth at the expense of all others. The question one must ask then is, what sort of divinity would espouse such a narrow position?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

No More Human Resources

Ever since the change most companies went through from "personnel" departments or "employment" departments to "human resources" departments, we have seen the commodification of human beings. Now employees aren't people, there are a resource - just like boxes of copy machine paper, toilet paper, and pens. The result has been that people are treated like a disposable diaper, thrown away with as little thought as discarding a used piece of kleenex. Clearly, we have all come to devalue humanity.

Of course, what gets the press is the violence in our inner cities, where gang members destroy each others' lives and the lives of their families because violence has become a common, and profoundly ineffective, rite of passage in our neighborhoods. The violence that takes place in our corporate boardrooms is just as deadly, because it sees people - human beings, for heaven's sake - as having no more value than a case of copy paper. The difference is that the copy paper won't likely be thrown away as if it was a piece of paper, and the human being will.

I had the occasion to meet a young man the other day who was on his way home from loading trucks at UPS. Every night, he loads three of those brown trucks you see in your neighborhood. Then he has two and a half hours to get home, get something to eat, catch his breath, and go to his other job as a driver's helper with UPS for another six hours. When I asked him when he sleeps, he laughed. With  his two jobs he can afford an apartment in the barrio that he shares with a roommate to make ends meet. Why? Because our companies, even the "good" ones like UPS that offer better than average pay and insurance benefits, don't pay a living wage. Workers are just "resources" that you buy for the lowest price you can, place at physically demanding jobs, and let go when they physically can't perform the back breaking work they do.

Tell me again how those gang bangers don't value human life.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

No More Guru Yoga or Samaya

We have to admit, even if we can't identify the reason, that guru yoga and samaya have become invitations for abuse here in the west. The other truth is that there have been far too many teachers from the east willing to accept that invitation from students here in the west.

Samaya is a number of precepts taken by practitioners in Indo-Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, most of which are harmless. Unfortunately, one of them involves unquestioning, undying loyalty to the teacher, or guru. Guru yoga involves seeing one's guru (teacher) as the Buddha in Buddhism or as the Deity in Hinduism. These two taken together create a relationship that is too easily taken advantage of by an abusive teacher. They also open the door for wounded practitioners (and what spiritual seeker isn't, at least early in their practice, wounded?) to surrender their agency to a human being they have elevated to the status of the Divine.

Some would be quick to point out that these concepts or teachings have actually offered great advantage over the centuries to many practitioners. That may be true, though we don't have much verifiable historical data on these claims. What we do know is that every major school of Buddhism has encountered multiple cases of students being sexually, physically, and psychologically. It would be irresponsible to not inform all students that their teachers are flawed human beings, not infallible deities, and any sexual contact between teacher and student is inappropriate and abusive because of the imbalance of power that exists. Students need to know that they can question a teacher's conduct toward them at any time. They must also know that misconduct frees them from any precepts or vows they have taken and that not only is it acceptable to leave a teacher who acts out but it is imperative.

Ethics boards need to be established in all spiritual and religious centers that can hear student complaints without being tempted to sweep them under the rug. Centers should have clear, written procedures to follow in the event of a complaint. Records must be made available to law enforcement when appropriate, and students have the right to know if a teacher has a history of complaints against them. Transparency is essential.

I am concerned that I get push back from some when I write about these topics. Twenty years ago when it became clear that there were serious problems in the Roman Catholic Church the only push back came from the Church itself. The faithful were, understandably, horrified. Why the difference in Buddhism? I suspect at least part of it comes from the indoctrination that the teacher is the Buddha. To those who feel that way, I offer this question: Who Would Buddha Rape? (WWBR)

Friday, December 1, 2017

What do an official statement and a popcorn fart have in common?

Organizations of all types love to issue official statements in response to events, decisions, changes of any kind, and - of course - the return of the Shamrock Shake at McDonald's. If you've never been part of a group tasked with producing such a statement, you really aren't missing much. What would seem like a simple project often becomes a major undertaking. Wordsmiths abound, feelings get hurt, and blood is nearly spilled over crucial matters such as syntax and comma placement. Sometimes even a news conference is called to release the pompous proclamation. Then it's over.

Much like a popcorn fart, official statements begin with a great deal of stink, but after a couple of days most people forget about them. The reason they forget is because, like the aforementioned flatus, there isn't much substance to these statements.

As far as I know, no leader of a nation ever changed policy because of an official statement release. No person committing heinous crimes was ever reformed by such a statement. It is true, however, that many fish have been wrapped in such statements. If you want to change the world, an official statement isn't going to do it.  Change is going to begin in your own neighborhood, by getting out and meeting people. Every day spent churning out official statements is a waste of time.

Pass the popcorn!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Book Review:Together: Community as a Means of Grace by Larry Duggins

Larry Duggins has written a short but insightful book about different forms of community that are springing up in struggling Methodist churches across the country, largely through the efforts of the Missional Wisdom Foundation within that denomination. There aren't any suggestions in the book that you won't have heard of before, but there are interesting combinations of community being formed in these churches.

The promo material for the book mentions the author's "ecumenical Wesleyan perspective." To be honest, I'm not sure what that phrase means. I do know that the author spends quite a bit of time describing the many ways in which Wesleyans parse grace, which I found rather tedious - and which I doubt would have much relevance in ecumenical settings. Perhaps the phrase means that Wesleyans of every camp would share his perspective. If so, that's not the biggest audience in the world.

Duggins also spends quite a bit of time establishing the biblical argument for Trinity, at times stretching the evidence in my opinion. His point is that since God exists in community, community is a worthwhile endeavor for the church. Regardless of one's position on the Trinity, I believe that community as a positive in the church - and society - is a given. My point here is that while the first twenty-five to thirty percent of the book seems not to make progress toward a discussion of community, it is worth persevering. Also, while you may not find splitting grace like a hair in a forensics lab, your understanding of grace ultimately won't change the value of the author's discussion of community. This is a good read!


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Speakeasy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.