Search This Blog

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ultimate and Temporal Reality, and the Ultimate Fiction

Buddhists talk about ultimate and relative reality, but I find it more helpful when speaking with folks raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition and/or culture to speak instead of ultimate and temporal reality. It's not quite the same as the Buddhist concept, but it's certainly informed by it.

Ultimately, our lives are driven by fictions that we agree are facts - which doesn't change the fact that they are nothing other than agreed upon fictions. Take diamonds and gold, for example. Long ago people arbitrarily decided that diamonds and gold were valuable. In the case of gold, people decided it was valuable enough to base a monetary system on it. If we examine that decision we can see that it was arbitrary because people could just as easily have chosen another somewhat rare commodity and infused it with great, albeit arbitrary, value. What if gold hadn't been discovered until last week? Surely something different would have been chosen. What else is arbitrary?

National boundaries are arbitrary. I have written at other times about the experience of the first orbiting astronauts, who they looked at our planet from orbit and were moved by how beautiful it was without the boundaries arbitrarily inscribed on maps and globes. I can remember as a child being confused that the countries on the globe all were depicted in different colors, because the ground in America wasn't the color that was depicted on the globe. To compound my confusion, when I looked at a map of the United States each State was a different color - and the ground in Wisconsin wasn't orange! What's more, many of the names on the globe when I was a child - and some of the boundaries - have changed. What seemed ultimate was really only temporal.

Religions are arbitrary, too. Somewhere along the way people decided to follow this person while others decided to follow that person, and still others yet another person, while those people over there decided not to follow a person at all! After some time elapsed, new religions emerged. In some cases old religions disappeared, even though while they existed they gave hope to their adherents. One could argue (and I often do) that ultimately they were all pointing at the same point, but the arbitrarily chosen names, leaders, and founders made them appear to be different - or, to use another term, they are different temporally.

Human beings are all homo sapiens. Despite that, we find ways to make temporal distinctions that we believe are important - and sometimes, at least for a time, they may be. Problems arise when we set those decisions in concrete. One person is an American and so doesn't like Canadians, another is a Presbyterian and doesn't like Methodists, one is from the South and even more than a hundred years after the Civil War doesn't like "carpetbaggers" from the North. The truth is that every ethnic group newly immigrating to the United States took its place at the bottom of the social heap and was persecuted. In Milwaukee, where I grew up, German Americans told jokes about Polish Americans who returned the favor. When I moved to Boston in my twenties I was surprised to find the jokes I heard growing up about Polish people told instead about Irish people! In this century we have so come to equate ethnicity with skin color that we forget that ethnic discord is as old as human history - and a temporal, arbitrary choice.

The ultimate fiction is that separation exists at all.

In America our food gets to our table because someone in the Middle East drilled for the oil that was transported by a ship piloted by a captain from who knows where to a refinery in the US where people of different religions, ethnicities, and from disparate parts of the country worked to turn it into gasoline so that a truck driven by someone else could pick up produce harvested by migrant farm workers. The trucker delivered it to a food processing plant where still more people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs processed and packaged it for pickup by a different trucker for delivery to a warehouse where still other people from still different backgrounds shipped it off to the local store where employees readied it for purchase. Meanwhile a dairy farmer was milking a cow and oranges were being grown in a field to go through similar processes and end up at your store. Grain is grown in Nebraska that also gets processed and delivered to the store. We sit down to our morning cereal with strawberries and a glass of orange juice while fashioning ourselves quite independent. Temporal fictions may be romantic, but they are fictions nonetheless.

I believe that until we see the ultimate truth that everything and everybody are inseparably interconnected we don't have much chance of solving the world's problems. As long as we choose to buy into temporal fictions of disunity we will continue to perpetuate our own misery. Until we come to really internalize the truth that every species of plant, animal, and even mineral are all interconnected and so interact in a complex web that constitutes ultimate reality we will continue to shuffle deck chairs on the Titanic of temporal reality, believing that the son of a bitch over there is the source of our problems. Of course, he isn't our problem at all - we are our own problems. Black and browns and yellows and reds and whites and greens and blues all blame each other, but the truth is the distinctions we make that appear to justify our disdain for one another are arbitrary and temporal, not ultimate.

We blame one another for everything, failing to see that ultimately our habit of blame only piles yet another layer of obscuration over our ability to see our interconnectedness. We fail to see the truth of how governments and corporations manipulate and control culture because we are busy blaming one another, when in truth if we would see our deep connections we would never allow ourselves to be manipulated in that way. The truth is that we love our fictions more than we love the truth, because fictions require a lot less energy to perpetuate. A handy fiction is simply subscribed to and we are off to the races. Ultimate reality is only apprehended through spiritual practice, taking time for meditation, and looking deeply. It's much easier to have another beer and find another scapegoat.

Our future depends on seeing ultimate reality and living from it. Nothing less will do. To spread the word we need to practice and lead by example, not be evangelizing. Won't you join me?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Walls of Our Own Construction

I confess that I am not a scientist. The so-called "hard sciences" have never held much interest for me, I suspect because I have never believed that I would find a reason to use them in my daily life. I have never had to factor an equation at the grocery store, I never have been called upon to recite anything contained in the periodic table of elements, I haven't peered into a microscope since leaving school, and I don't fix my own car so I don't need to know much about mechanics, either. Of course, I value people who are excited by science - I am married to one. It's just not my thing. The result is that when I read about what physicists (and other scientists) have discovered I pretty much have to take it at face value. I'm not in any position to say, "Excuse me, Mr. Physicist, but I believe your methodology is faulty!"

Physicists say that everything on our planet is moving, that in actuality nothing is solid at the molecular level. It's all vibrating very quickly. That's not a new idea, it's been around for several years, but it's an idea I am still trying to come to terms with. Certainly, as far as my eye can see there are solid things and plenty of them. As one who has fallen down more than his share of times, the ground certainly does seem solid to me! You probably have stubbed your toes or hit your elbow on something that sure felt solid to you, too! Anyone who has been in a car accident would most likely attest to cars being solid objects. Of course, when we are talking about very small things like molecules that are packed very closely together and vibrating, larger things won't pass through them, which explains why things that are not solid leave bruises behind!

On the other hand, what if Jesus really did pass through a "solid" wall in his resurrected form? This information certainly speaks to that, doesn't it? =Some years ago people I respect as sane, rational people told me of the time they invited a Jain monk to speak to their church education hour and really couldn't explain how he was standing next to the table one moment and then sitting cross legged on top of it the next without anyone having seen him get up there. What about the "healer" in South America who apparently shoves a scissors up his nose without ill effects (though we don't know how the scissors feels about the whole thing)? It would seem that things are not always what they appear.

As I was reflecting on all of this it occurred to me that we humans love to create walls. Some of us like to create literal walls with bricks and mortal or studs and drywall. Most if not all of us seem to like to divide and categorize things. I seem to remember one of the first astronauts to orbit the earth remarked how beautiful it was and how he was struck that the human made boundaries between nations were (of course) not visible from space, adding to the beauty of his orbiting perspective. Somewhere I have a globe from when my children were in grade school, and some of the lines have moved and some of the names have changed. A globe from when I was in school would be almost comical in its inaccuracy today.

We put up walls in our spiritual lives, too. Religions are comprised primarily of walls that say we can believe this but cannot believe that; these behaviors are acceptable but those are not; these things make you welcome and those make you an outcast; and hosts of other walls. Sometimes religions remodel their houses by moving the walls and declaring what was bad to now be good and what was good to now be bad. Sometimes what had been thought to be eternal truths delivered directly from God get shifted around, to the anguish of some and the joy of others. This kind of wall moving can be healthy or destructive depending on whether it is life giving or life denying.

There is a video going around the Internet of a pastor in Oklahoma attacking his congregation in what he probably believes is tough love but in actuality is religious abuse. You can view it here. There was a day this kind of behavior may have been acceptable, but today it is not. The wall has moved, and apparently Pastor Jim Standridge didn't get the memo - or he didn't care. At least two of his members did care. The couple who were going to be married by Standridge and were attacked as "members not worth fifteen cents" in the video have left Immanuel Baptist Church and plan to be married elsewhere. I guess Pastor Standridge isn't the "real deal" he proclaims himself after all!

Religion isn't the only place that walls get put up, however. In our own spiritual lives we construct walls around ourselves all the time. There are practices and beliefs that we believe we can participate in and those that we believe are beyond either our ability, our beliefs, or both. Very often, people stepping away from the unhealthy restrictions placed upon them in their religious settings unwittingly carry the walls with them. The result is a kind of voluntary imprisonment in the name of freedom.

If we really believe that God is good and kind and loving, then God simply must encourage human beings to explore, learn, achieve, and move toward their full potential. If God has even just a few of the attributes traditionally attributed to God, there is nothing we can possibly do that would threaten God. Despite that, when we walk away from a restrictive religious environment (not all religious environments are restrictive, by the way) we may find it hard to step out fully into our new freedom. At that point, walls that once were imposed upon us become walls of our own construction - and what we build, we have the power to take down or walk through because they aren't solid anyway.

It may be frightening at first, but every new experience brings with it uncertainty. In some people uncertainly brings a bit of fear with it. We should remember that living things can only thrive when they are free to experiment and grow. Spirituality can and should be a playful journey filled with new discoveries. Our life stands before us and invites us to live it fully. It may be that our biggest obstacles are self imposed walls - tear them down! They were nothing more than fictions anyway! Spirituality brings with it the freedom to move into the fullness of our potential. The only thing standing in the was is us!