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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.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Book Review: A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz

I just finished reading John Pavlovitz' new book, A Bigger Table. You may have seen John's blog posts in you Facebook feed. I know he has been a breath of fresh air for me.

A Bigger Table, as the title suggests, is about John's vision for a Church that is a much more diverse and inclusive place. He has conducted experiments in building "bigger table" communities, and to his credit he really seems to want inclusivity and diversity. It's easy to talk about diversity, but many of us have encounter some pretty small notions of diversity. The diversity John argues for is an across the spectrum diversity, not just theological but political, economic, social, and even has an interfaith quality to it. He asks us all to drop our preconceptions, and rightly points out that conservatives, moderates, and progressives all need to work on diversity issues. The book correctly identifies the primary task of building diversity as one of listening. What we need to do is start by hearing one another and feeling what it is like to be heard. I suspect that will change a lot of people's experience of the table.

While I believe John has laid a good foundation, it seems to me that the people who undertake this task will need to understand that transformation rarely happens over night. Our leaders need to be in the battle for the long haul, but I believe the rewards will be well worth it!


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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Shrink to Fit Spirituality

It's a selection on your printer software that you probably have never used. It allows you to shrink a
document or a picture so that it will fit on a conventional sheet of paper. Sometimes it is a huge help. Maybe you have an image that is just slightly larger than a sheet of printer paper but don't have access to larger paper. Shrink to fit is just what you need. Of course, there are limits to its usefulness. Shrinking text too much limits its legibility, and shrinking an image too much changes its character. There is a reason I have a full sized 16x20 portrait of myself over our bed rather than a 4x6 snapshot, after all.

Even though most of us probably haven't had to use that feature on our computer very often, there are two very important areas of life where the concept comes up and in which we have two quite different reactions. One is spirituality, the other is problems solving and coping skills.

When it comes to spirituality, we love to shrink to fit - and our spiritual institutions, for the most part, encourage that perspective. They define God, define the holy, draw a circle around the infinite, excise all mystery by attempting to reduce it to doctrine and dogma, and include and exclude on the basis of whether or not that person's experience of the transcendent fits into their neat little boxes. In recent years the majority of people have discovered that shrink to fit spirituality leaves them with little more than a tight pair of underpants, which may seem at first glance to be quite attractive but in the end leave us with little feeling in our legs. The God proposed is too small, and no longer inspires because a small God is easily overwhelmed. We need to be willing to admit we don't know, that life is a journey in need of traveling, not overcoming. It isn't at all tidy, but it is the truth of what we have.

On the other hand, when it comes to coping skills and problem solving it seems we are loathe to shrink to fit. We look at the most complex issues of our lives, issues that took years to develop, and wonder why we can't address them in five minutes or less. Nobody asks why a one thousand piece jigsaw puzzle takes more than five minutes to put together, but we wonder why a ten-thousand piece problem from lived experience can't be solved overnight! Here is where we need to break things apart into a manageable size, addressing pieces of the challenge as we move to completing the task in front of us.

We need to use the shrink to print function judiciously. When we feel shrinking the issue distorts it, we need to allow it to remain full sized. When an issue is overwhelming at full size, we need to do some reduction so that we can proceed, adding more pieces as we are able. It isn't really difficult, but it can be quite challenging - but then, everything worthwhile is challenging.