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Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Mystic Heart Session 9

This is session 9 of Compassionate Heart Milwaukee's ongoing discussion of Wayne Teasdale's book The Mystic Heart. Today's session covers the first half of chapter 8.

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The Proof is in the Pudding

Do we need external authority to convey spiritual truth, or is internal authority more important? Are doctrine and dogma the point of the spiritual path, or do they only point us in the direction of the goal and so are only useful until we near the goal? This and more today from Compassionate Heart!

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Mystic Heart Book Discussion

Session 8 of Milwaukee Compassionate Heart Community's ongoing discussion of Wayne Teasdale's book, The Mystic Heart. This session covers chapter 7.

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Gender, Ethnicity, and Spiritual Community

The talk from the Milwaukee Compassionate Heart Gathering on March 23, 2014 entitled "Gender, Ethnicity, and Spiritual Community." The speaker is Craig Bergland.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

God is Genderqueer

I'm tired of the issue of gender and God, probably because I have been fighting it for at least fifteen years. It doesn't seem to want to go away, and the reason is that people don't want to let go of it. That being the case, I thought I would weigh in again.

God has no gender, yet for generations God was referred to as male. It was wrong, but since we cannot change the past we cannot change the fact that it happened. Somewhere around the 1960s, Americans started questioning the maleness of God. Some people started referring to God as female,
and with the rise of Neo-Paganism the term Goddess came into vogue. Then there is the grammatically horrific God(dess), which is reminiscent of s/he - an obnoxious attempt at gender inclusive pronouns used both within and without religious circles. Anything with a parentheses or "/" is a reading nightmare, a horrible and pointless distraction to a well constructed sentence. Worst of all, it's completely pointless because God is spirit and spirit doesn't have gender.

Well meaning feminists often insist that because they have been oppressed for generations by the assignment of male gender to God they should be able to refer to God as Goddess to settle the score. Whatever one wants to do in their own devotional practice is perfectly fine, but we shouldn't deceive ourselves by thinking that Goddess solves the problem of unsatisfactory images of God. There are two reasons for this. The first is that science has shown that gender is not a binary system, which means that the only choices for arbitrarily assigning a gender to a genderless God are not male and female.

More significantly, there are a huge number of people who have been abused. One of the reasons many women struggle with God as male is because they have had unsatisfactory relationships with men. As someone who was abused by his father, I absolutely understand the reluctance of women to have God named as male. It's also a great argument for avoiding parental images of God. Unfortunately, men don't have the abuse market cornered. As someone who was also abused by his mother, you might imagine I am less than thrilled with Goddess images.

The gymnastics around God and gender extend beyond male and female, however. The first church I pastored had changed the language in the Lord's Prayer so that it began, "Our Father/Mother..." In terms of unsatisfactory God language, that doubled my fun by inadvertently attaching two abuser identities. If only they could have found a way to add the name of my crabby childhood neighbor lady to the list we could have had a Trinity of lousy God images at the front end of the Lord's Prayer. We couldn't just begin, "Our God?"

Beyond all of that hodgepodge of imprecise attempts to set the record straight by rotating it one hundred eighty degrees in a three dimensional gender circle lies the perhaps uncomfortable truth that any theologian worth their salt and every mystic will tell you that God simply doesn't have gender. That means we are left with much ado about nothing! Feelings get hurt, one side says they aren't going to stop using their preferred gender assignment until the other side stops using theirs, while nobody gives a damn about the non-dual gender folks. It's not exactly Christianity's finest hour.

I for one am done putting up with it. I have been calling for, and will continue to call for, gender neutral language around God. It's accurate, and more importantly it doesn't leave anyone feeling excluded from God discussions. That doesn't mean everyone is going to jump on board right away, and that's fine. As one called to use prophetic voice and to reform what remains of the listing ship that was once Christianity, I am not engaged in a popularity contest, not do I expect the battle to be anything less than uphill. Nevertheless, this is what I am called to do. I can do no other.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Don't Love Jesus, Nor Will I Have His Baby

I have a real problem with devotional spirituality, and it has just occurred to me that I am probably not alone. I have come to this realization thanks to contemporary Christian music, with which I have a love/hate relationship. What's more, I suspect that most men are right with me on this one. Look for an upcoming blog on male spirituality that will explore that particular issue at greater length.

Oh, how I wish I was like Ram Dass, Krishna Dass, and all the other masses of Dasses who hung out with Neem Karoli Baba and experienced from him unconditional love! They are so transformed by that experience of love and that ongoing relationship
that transcends Mahara-ji's death, and they wax so eloquently about how it changed them. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices. They teach it, too, as Ram Dass counsels the mantra "I am loving awareness." When I try to repeat it, though, I throw up just a little bit in the back of my mouth and have to stop. It's not that I don't want to do it, I just can't allow myself to do it. I am getting ahead of myself, however.

Contemporary Christian music, as well as most contemporary expressions of Evangelical Nondenominational
Christianity, spends nearly every hour of every day immersed in devotional spirituality. Contemporary Christian music has had a lot of success writing what I call "love songs to Jesus," songs that could very well be pop love songs from the 1980s with the name "Jesus" replacing the name of the person or the term or endearment (like "baby, baby") in the original song. South Park famously sent this trend up when Eric Cartman started a Christian rock band called Faith + 1 by changing words to popular songs and had momentary success before it all came crashing down around him (a frequent South Park motif). In the real world such songs are often sung by very pretty, very asexual females with high necklines and over processed voices and faces who all but sing they are willing to have Jesus' baby. I confess that I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the images in these lyrics and the anthropomorphic references to "falling into your arms, Jesus."
In its more benign forms, Evangelical devotional spirituality can sound like people believe they need to invite Jesus to the house for a cookout and actually set a place at the table because he is going to show up in embodied form. Contemporary Christian music is much more insidious, however, and at times sounds frighteningly like a censored version of the forced sexual "sacrifice" of women at the hands of priests in satanic worship rituals. Would it surprise you if I told you that men, not women, hold the positions of power in the Contemporary Christian Music industry? This is the face of devotional spirituality in much of Christianity today, and it seems to me to be little more than thinly veiled misogyny.

In Catholic circles, devotion has historically been more directed toward the Saints and restricted to seeing them as examples after which we should model our lives. There's nothing wrong with it, and it's a different sort of devotional spirituality than we see either in the east or in Protestant circles. There is much less talk of total surrender (to the target of devotion, anyway), with the notable exception of surrendering oneself to Jesus through Mary in some forms of Marian devotion. Certainly, however, there isn't the image of Jesus as secular lover adapted slightly for popular consumption, and unless they are shopping in the local fundamentalist book store not too many young Catholic women are hoping to have Jesus' baby. Thank God for small favors!

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama
In the east, and central to much of its devotional spirituality, is the idea of Guru devotion. Essentially, one sees the Guru as the Buddha, or (in the case of Hindu adepts like Mahara-ji) Hanuman or one of the other Hindu deities. One is expected to follow the Guru's advice, direction, and teachings explicitly, and the benefits from doing so are great. It's much easier, of course, to imagine doing this when the Dalai Lama is your Guru that when his name is Bernie Schwartz and he's from Brooklyn, no matter what Tibetan name he has adopted. In fact, there have been no shortage of Gurus and spiritual teachers in the west who have turned out to be charlatans. With the possible exception of murder, there may be no crime they haven't committed. Some of them are bumbling, arrogant schmucks like Dennis Merzel, who promised short cuts to the enlightened state through his methods and subsequently was discovered to be having an extra-marital affair with his student and eventual successor. I suppose we could say that Merzel's enlightenment stopped short of his penis. Then there are those Gurus like Chogyam Trungpa, an alcoholic who slept with scores of his female students with the full awareness of his wife and his students and who are still beloved! For my part, I cannot imagine saying, "Oh yes, please, Guru, screw my wife and expect me to continue living here with her and you, all is good in the name of enlightenment and your penis" - but that's exactly what happened, over and over, and Trungpa is far from the only one. When I see his (now aged) female students reminiscing fondly about their sexual liaisons with him I confess I am at a loss. In fact, his actions are the biggest reason I don't belong to the local Shambhala
Noah Levine

We in the west can be extremely naive about the Guru mystique. Buddhist teacher Noah Levine tells of the conference he attended with a friend who tagged along to check it out. There were a number of prominent Insight Meditation teachers at this conference, people like Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, and others. By and large, Insight Meditation teachers don't wear robes, they wear comfortable street clothes such as jeans and a shirt. There was one person at this particular conference all dressed in robes with his ratty hair tied in a knot. Noah knew this guy had just come off of a years long crack binge. Sure enough, the friend he took to the conference was all excited to have spoken with the fully enlightened crack head in robes and was unable to see past the street clothes of the real teachers. Perhaps most of us in the west are far too gullible when it comes to spiritual teachers to even consider practicing Guru devotion.

But for me, it's more than that - and I suspect I am not alone in this. In my life I can count on the fingers of one hand the people whom I have trusted deeply who have not profoundly betrayed that trust, at times abusively. Hell, I wouldn't even need all of the fingers on my hand! The result is that when well intended, true believers tell me that Guru devotion will be good for me, it feels a lot like the trip to the emergency room wherein we are told we are going to feel a little pressure. It all depends on how you define, "a little pressure!" No matter how many people tell me how good it would be for me to engage in this kind of surrender, a larger part of me knows how very bad it would be for me to engage in this kind of surrender and have it not work out well. I would hasten to point out that Guru devotion is not the only place where one might learn surrender. If we live long enough, life will present many opportunities. What's more, the Buddha himself said that we shouldn't take any of his teachings at face value but rather should test them out for ourselves to make sure they work for us. I am wondering why it is our Gurus and teachers shouldn't be held to the same standards.

Maybe I am meant to live out my devotional spirituality in the relatively light-weight arena of gathering in spiritual community to sing spiritual songs, chant, hear spiritual readings and a message, receive the Sacraments, and other more traditionally western pursuits, even if dressed up a bit in eastern clothing and practice now and then. I can appreciate the rich devotion that some people like Ram Dass are able to have toward their Gurus even though it's not my cup of tea. And, if Jesus is looking to get lucky tonight, he's going to have to check out the ladies at the Christian bookstore. Sorry, Jesus.

Monday, March 17, 2014

But the Buddha Never Said That, and Neither Did Jesus!

I had a bit of a mini-awakening this morning, perhaps more of an epiphany or sorts. Maybe the Interspiritual term is "awaphany." I was reading a blog piece about Mark Driscoll, a particularly contentious evangelical pastor from the Pacific Northwest who hasn't yet awakened to the fact that he's gay, who has been one of the more acerbic, hostile, attention seeking manifestation of that particular corner of Christendom. Driscoll slings people into hell faster than an undocumented short order cook slings bacon onto the grill during the morning rush at the local diner, but lately he's repented of his celebrity status and promised to be a better pastor to the faithful at his Mars Hill Church (is it even Christian to name your church after another planet?). What drew my attention was another post by the same blogger who (rightly) criticized Driscoll for claiming that Jesus never taught non-violence and that anyone who suggested as much was trying to turn Jesus into some kind of sissy. That's when it hit me: it just doesn't matter.

Of course, to claim that Jesus never taught non-violent resistance is to skip over a fairly large chunk of the New Testament and isn't intellectually honest in the least. Still, it just doesn't matter. You can twist the facts and your doctrine until it resembles Mark Driscoll doing (Christian, of course) yoga, and it just doesn't matter. You can carry on about the Buddha never intending mindfulness to be taught in corporate America because you believe it is absolutely clear that presenting meditation without Buddhist ethics is to pervert it beyond recognition (never mind that many other traditions teach meditation with completely different ethical systems and none of those people have been struck by lightening), and that doesn't matter, either.

Why? Well, for three very good reasons. The first is that people have been manipulating information to their
advantage since time began, and there isn't going to be any way to stop it any time soon. We can expend every last drop of our energy trying, and the only thing we will have accomplished is missing out on our own lives. We can scream and holler all we want about the misrepresentation of our cherished teacher's words or intent, and the slick manipulators of the world will be able to win at the public relations game with the people who follow them - because those people so desperately want to believe the simple minded nonsense they are being fed that the truth is they aren't willing to critically analyze what is being sold to them. After all, nobody with even a passing acquaintance with the Bible would believe Jesus didn't teach non-violence! You have to really want to believe the opposite!

The second reason it doesn't matter what these hucksters say is that, sooner or later, it will show itself up for
the fiction it is. Sooner or later the false teachers of the world who say they have found a short cut to enlightenment are invariably found trying to gain possession only of a short cut into their students' wallets and bedrooms. Sooner or later the virulent, anti-this-or-that preacher is found in a den of precisely this or that, charge card in hand, purchasing all of the this or that he can get his hands on. Sooner or later corporate America will discover that when you make people more mindful you make them more difficult, not easier, to manipulate - with or without any particular system of ethical teachings - simply because they see reality more clearly! One thing we can be certain that fighting all of the misinformation out there will do is take up all our time and leave us without any time to promote the authentic teaching we are so upset is absent in the rhetoric of the huckster. They have actually developed a pretty good technique for taking the truth out of the game and in doing so seem to leave their own version of it unchallenged.

It doesn't matter what anyone says, there will never again be one Buddhism, one Christianity, one Islam, or anything else. The day of "one, true religion" ends about fifty years after a religious founder dies. That's all the time it takes for differences of opinion about what was really said to set in - especially in a pre-literate society like the ones in which most surviving historic religious traditions appeared! We can't pull out the film footage of the Buddha's teachings from the files as CNN to check what some teacher is claiming against what the Buddha actually said. Jesus said, "turn the other cheek," and the Mark Driscolls of the world claim he said
that because he was telling us we would shoot more accurately out of the other eye. So what?

Finally, if the real and authentic teachings of a spiritual leader aren't strong enough to survive in the face of cheap imitations, there is nothing you or I will be able to do to prop them up. We simply aren't that powerful. Neither are those who propose that Big Butter Jesus is the real thing all that powerful. We absolutely need to point out the hucksters when we encounter them so that people can make informed decisions. Then we need to recognize that some of those people are going to make bad decisions no matter how hard we try to stop them. We need to allow other adults to take responsibility for their own choices and we need to get on with ours. Playing defense against religious charlatans is not a viable substitution for having an authentic spiritual practice of our own.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

It's Alright to be a White Male (or Anything Else, for that Matter)

It's really okay, you know. In a society that is struggling to create equality and opportunity for all, it would be easy to assume that somehow, just by virtue of being a white male, you are the problem. You weren't handed the prenatal selection card wherein you got to choose into what situation you would be born, including race and economic circumstance. I want to encourage you to let go of the idea that you, personally, are the problem. The sins of the father and mother are not visited on the sons and daughters except by those who prefer to remain in the sinful system rather than do the hard work of carving out change. I would like us to let go of all blaming of every kind, because there is nothing about blaming that moves us forward toward any kind of solution.

Blaming is probably necessary when we find ourselves at the place where we are trying to understand how we ended up in whatever predicament we find ourselves. In the case of living in a racist and classist society, we need to discover how we got in this mess before we can move toward solution. Once we discover how we got in this mess, however, we need to turn our attention toward a solution rather than constantly dedicate our efforts toward blaming the descendants of the group that got us here and the poor third cousins of the real power brokers. That's especially true when none of the people who got us in this mess are still alive.

Any time we are trying to change a system, we need to understand who holds the power. Can we agree that the white kid working at the convenience store doesn't hold the power? Granted, he enjoys a certain amount of white privilege and he may get waited on faster than a person of color, be seen more readily by other white people, and receive other relatively low level advantages due to his white privilege. In terms of having the power to change the system, he has none. He isn't going to be listened to in the hallowed halls of power because he simply doesn't have the socio-economic clout to make him someone who is listened to. He doesn't have the money to pay for advertising that influences elections. Whether we want to admit it or not, right now the only "people" who have power aren't really people at all - no matter what the Supreme Court says. The only people with power in our culture are corporations and the people who control them. What's more, if we have any hope of changing that system then we need to do it together. That means we are going to have to build bridges across lines that many if not most of us are more comfortable reinforcing than crossing. That takes real courage and dedication to the cause by everybody involved. Are we capable of it? Or are we more content to sit around calling each other names?

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Mystic Heart Book Discussion

Our discussion of Wayne Teasdale's The Mystic Heart continues this week with Session 7 - Chapter 6

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Ego and The Devil

What about the Devil? Is there a contemporary way to understand him for those od us not fond of red pajamas andpitchforks, or is the devil an outmoded, outdated concept that must be discarded?

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Redefining Masculinity in the Church

I have been reading and listening to much of Richard Rohr's work on male spirituality lately, It's really good, insightful work, and it identifies two points that really resonate within me. The first is that while the feminist movement arose and did (and continues to do) important work for women in the last century, there was no corresponding movement among men. Sure, there was the "men's movement" of the eighties and nineties that featured Robert Bly and Iron John, some of which Fr. Rohr participated in, but if we are honest it was a small subset of men who participated in that men's movement, steeped as it was in Jungian psychology and archetype - ideas that are great if you are schooled in them, but the average man simply isn't schooled in them! Out of this work there are some good things that arose, including men's retreats that seek to provide young men - especially from urban areas - with rites of initiation that are transformative. I would also point to the excellent work done by Jack Kornfield and others in offering men's retreats at Spirit Rock - again, targeting young urban men who have been exposed to horrific violence and who are in need of authentic initiation rites to replace the inauthentic initiation rites of manufactured violence in our cities and towns. Still, there are only a limited number of people who can be reached by those retreats and initiations, and while the need is great the funding is scarce.

In the context of church Fr. Rohr asserts that there is very little for men in the way we worship and organize church today. He says that men don't like to sing, don't want to hold hands during the Lord's Prayer, aren't especially taken by the use of fabric to decorate sanctuaries and the clergy therein, and couldn't care less about what the preacher has to say because it doesn't apply to them. I don't know that all of that is completely fair, because while women are certainly the majority in churches today it's not as if there aren't any men. It would be easy to simplify Fr. Rohr's observation to the point of absurdity and say that if there isn't a football game, a quarter barrel of beer, and something to kill and skin, men aren't showing up. Such a view makes it seem like we need to remodel church libraries into the parody of uber-masculinity that gay leather bars are in order to get men to show up. That is, of course, absurd - but does he have a point? Is there nothing in the church for the hunting, fishing, pickup truck driving, macho-man? Is that image of a man even relevant today, or is it restricted to a subset of the male population in mostly rural areas as well as the middle class, mobile male in suburbs?

For a time men seemed to listen to women trying to tell us what it was to be male, and we learned to cry and tolerate watching Lifetime movies because doing so sometimes got us laid, but it wasn't authentic transformation. It's certainly true that if a man goes through therapy he emerges much more in touch with his own feelings as well as with a better idea of what others are feeling and experiencing. That doesn't mean they are going to give up a weekend of ice fishing to sing "All Creatures of Our God and King!" Still, there are those men who are already in church, and it's not because they are all cuckold, mincing, spineless excuses for real men who have allowed themselves to be dominated by their overbearing wives.

I confess I am not much of a macho man. I'm not really into pickup trucks or NASCAR (once those boys realize they are driving really fast but going nowhere that sport will be dead in the water). I used to fish with my Dad but haven't since our relationship imploded and I rejected everything about him, and I have never hunted. I don't consider freezing my ass off to be fun, so you won't find me squatting over a hole in the ice inside a shelter filled with other drunken men. I realize that wrestling isn't real and that cage fighting is an all too real event that brutalizes human beings in the name of entertainment and I won't have anything to do with either. I drink beer and love football, so I am
not the anti-man, either. I have been through a personal hell and emerged alive, so I don't need to sit alone in the woods overnight to believe I am a man. I've got that one, thanks. I'm fine in church, in fact I love being in church, but recognize I am the exception to the rule.

Here's my question: what makes us think that the willingness to worship God in a sanctuary is the defining mark of a Christian? If God is who we say God is, that God doesn't have ego needs and doesn't need us kissing his Divine buttocks in the sanctuary. I have heard the assertion that human beings need to worship, but the eighty percent of America that has walked away from institutional religion seems to tell a different story. So how are we to get the Sam Elliotts of the world to reconnect with church? We give them something to do, and give them a pass on the whole hand holding sanctuary business.

We have young men in this country in spades who need mentoring, and they are in all parts of towm. They need to ride in a pickup truck, go fishing, go to the ball game, learn to spit and swear, squat in a shelter on
Crocheted Jump Suit
the ice peering into a hole for fish, and stomp through the woods looking for an animal to kill. (By the way, if you don't like hunting, don't hunt, but spare me your whining about it. I don't like crocheting, but I am not trying to steal your yarn. See photo at left.) They also need to learn how to fix things and build things. We need to bring our stereotypical males back into the church by telling them we need them to teach some kids how to do things they need to do - essentially, mentor them and initiate them at the same time. We transform church land that once might have been a church camp or some other space that has fallen into disuse into a mentoring camp. We tell these men the truth, that they are serving God and community by taking these kids out with them doing what they love to do AND by participating in projects like Habitat for Humanity with their new friends.

Then, best of all, a couple of times a year we invite them to the church for a pig roast during a sporting event. We even let them do a lot of the work - together with their new, younger friends. We tell the rest of the church to stay away if they will be offended and bring some food if they can hang. We make it clear that this isn't going to be a goody two shoes gathering but instead a gathering of real people with nobody to impress. They can join the Altar Guild if they want to hang with goody two shoes. We do all of this without any strings attached because we want to see our communities and our young people transformed. We make it clear we are not trying to lure the men into worship, committee work, or any other nonsense - because they are already doing the real work of the church.

I don't think the church has the guts to do anything remotely resembling this, and it's really sad.

If you're like me and are a man who doesn't especially want to - or can't - stomp through the woods, it's
okay. You probably have carved out a space for yourself in the church as it exists, and that's a good thing because somebody needs to be carving a path for all of those macho men when they get old enough that their bodies won't let them crap in the woods any longer. We will be here to show them a more excellent way that ensures they are welcome and honored. What could be more important than that?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Is This Your Reality, My Reality, or Someone Else's?

Many popular spiritual expressions seem to be telling us that we can either create or co-create our own reality. On the surface, that sounds wonderful. If I don't like my reality, I can simply decide to create a better one and the universe has no choice but to cooperate. How nice it would be if it really worked that way. The problem is that there are potentially seven billion people on this planet, not to mention other sentient beings who may or may not have the "power" to influence their reality, each and every one of them potentially creating their own reality. That would be nice, except it's a little unclear what happens when your reality and my reality collide due to our not agreeing on all of the details of our, now shared, realities.

An interesting example of this can be seen when couples decide to live together. The each bring their own "reality" to their now shared reality, and must begin the tedious process of negotiating precisely what reality they shall now inhabit together. Most of the rocky periods early in relationships are precisely due to conflicting realities colliding once the passion of fluid exchange has cooled. On an admittedly mundane level, conflicting realities around who takes out the garbage can destroy a relationship if there isn't a willingness to negotiate a new reality. You can imagine the destruction that might be wrought by conflicting meatloaf realities! Then there are perceived changes in reality. Many of us know couples who lived together for years quite successfully, only to formalize their relationship through marriage and watch it fall apart. Sometimes it falls apart because they perceive a change in the reality of their togetherness, which is objectively a little absurd given that the only thing that has changed is the creation of a legal document and an overpriced party. Other times, though, one or both partners actually do start behaving differently because of their understanding of what it is to inhabit the reality of being a married person! Most of these images have been acquired by watching our own parents, which may or may not be advisable depending on the quality of their shared relationships. I have often thought that some couples need red tattoos on their foreheads that read: WALKING BAD EXAMPLE, DO NOT IMITATE! It's probably a bit over ambitious on my part to hope for these warning labels, but I can dream.

I would like to suggest that we co-create our realities in a limited way. I say co-create because in those places where we share what I want to call "relationship space" with someone else we absolutely do create the reality of our relationship - together. We can decide what our rules will be, together. When I unilaterally attempt to impose my idea of what the rules should be onto our relationship it tends to not work out very well. If my partner is rather submissive it may work for a while, but sooner or later they will tire of my nonsense and I will either find a way to become less of a control freak or my relationship will fall apart.

However, beyond individual relationships involving small numbers of people, we don't really have the power to completely create our realities. I can put all of the energy I have into creating a reality where gasoline is purchased at the hardware store rather than the gas station and it won't make a bit of difference. I can decide to be nicer to my neighbor so that they might be nicer to me. It may work, but it likely won't happen overnight and so I need to be patient and not insist on my own time table for change. You might say that in most areas of life the best we can do is influence reality. To change it we will need to secure the cooperation of somewhere between one and seven billion other people. We will be successful precisely to the degree we secure the cooperation of that required number of other people.

Wouldn't it make more sense to reserve changing reality for special cases where reality is life denying, and determine instead to learn how to better cope with reality in most cases? After all, changing my outlook on life and coping ability in the face of adversity requires the cooperation of only one person - me! I can give up my insistence that the world conform to my expectations and learn to be better at dealing with the world as it is. Where I see people being truly harmed by the world as it is, I can band together with others who see it the same way and work for change. We will soon learn, if we haven't already, that the expectations we lay on the world regarding how it should respond to us are mostly the product of our neuroses and narcissistic tendencies rather than any real injustice. It really doesn't rain simply because I have something planned for this afternoon.

The most insidious aspect of the idea that I create my own reality is that it takes my attention away from where it needs to be for spiritual growth to occur - my own dysfunction - and places it somewhere outside myself. In doing so we assert that we aren't the problem, the rest of the world is the problem. Recall the old adage that when the rest of the world is crazy and you are the only sane one, it's time to reevaluate the situation. The only person responsible for my feelings, thoughts, and behaviors is me. I am the only one I can change. I view the world through my own lens of experiences and life circumstances. This means that spirituality begins at home, and it isn't helpful to spend our time looking outside for what must come from within.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Mystic Heart Book Discussion Session 6

Today we continue with Compassionate Heart Milwaukee's study of Wayne Teasdale's The Mystic Heart. This is Session 6 from March 2, 2014

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Visions and Mystical Experience

Today, using the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus as our starting point, we look at visions and mystical experiences of all kinds? What are they about? Are they relliable? Should we seek them out? This and more today from Compassionate Heart and Interspiritual Insights!

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Junkie and the Star - Cult of Celebrity

I confess I have been losing my patience with the cult of celebrity more and more lately. Yet, if there is a national religion in America it is not, as the fundamentalist Christians insist, Christianity but rather celebrity worship.

I've long thought it curious that many artists are more famous after they die, especially if their deaths are untimely. Elvis Presley had faded into obscurity prior to his return with a fat, bloated, drug addicted corpus in 1968. He lasted eight more years until finally succumbing to his addiction and shifting in the public perception from a pathetic has been to an icon as the curtain came down on his life in his bathroom. Jimi Hendricks, Jim Morrison, Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain, and countless others were all stars with varying levels of talent before their deaths, and they all saw a rise in popularity to icon status after their untimely deaths. For some reason you get a better bump in popularity if you die of suicide and/or overdose. Mama Cass' death choking on a sandwich didn't really make her immortal, and Stevie Ray Vaughn's death in a helicopter accident didn't give him the same jump that Kurt Cobain (a much less talented musician) got for blowing his head off. There seems to be something in the American psyche that loves self-destructive celebrity in a special way.

And so Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead due to 'acute mixed drug intoxication, including heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines and amphetamine.' I suppose this means we can't just blame heroin dealers any more. Clearly we are left with a picture of someone who wanted to die, whether that day or a day in the not too distant future. That is sad, that is tragic, and that is a sign of an illness process aided by way too much money to be survivable. What ticks me off, what chaps my hide, what gets my goat is that somewhere in the hood of every major city there was somebody who died of an overdose - probably not quite as elaborate as Hoffman's, those other people lacking the money to purchase the equivalent of an armory of narcotics - that same week and nobody really gave a rat's ass because that person wasn't a celebrity junkie, they were just a junkie. In fact, I guarantee that somebody reading that last sentence won't like that I characterized Hoffman as a junkie, but that's what he was.

What does this have to do with The Buddhist Christian? Everything. You see, in terms of Buddhism both Mr. Hoffman and the unnamed junkies overdosing in the 'hood have Buddha Nature. In terms of Christianity they are both children of God, both have what I call God Nature because they are created of God AND because when we couldn't get that through our thick skulls Jesus came in the hopes that we might understand that the Incarnation meant that the entire of the created order is good. What all of that means is that the value of Philip Seymour Hoffman and all those other people not special enough to be known by three names but in all likelihood known only by one name (and that one not their real name) have precisely the same value. We all do.

The American religion tries to tell us otherwise, tries to tell us that if we are to have value we must be famous - and not just famous, but a celebrity. We must be an actor, a singer, a comic, a dancer, or an athlete and if we aren't we just don't matter. If we aren't our death doesn't get announced on the evening news or if it does our name probably isn't said - and if it is said only our friends and family will remember it five minutes later. That American religion leads three hundred sixteen million people to push to be what only a few thousand will ever be, and when we realize we have failed we are consigned to at best second class status. All hope is gone. At best we can wallow in our insignificance and live vicariously through those relative few who get to be celebrities, who get to buy the good drugs, who get to die of an overdose in a nice joint rather than in an abandoned house - as if one was less dead than the other.

For our children's sake, we need to take the cult of celebrity apart right now. We need to stop buying the tabloid magazines, stop watching TMZ, stop caring whether John Mayer and Katy Perry really broke up, and take the time we are wasting on the cult of celebrity and spend it paying attention to our children and help them, with us, to walk an authentic spiritual path that reassures us all of the value of every human being. We need to stop living vicariously and start actually living. It will be scary at first, but not nearly as scary as the prospect of being discovered dead with a needle hanging out of our arm and nobody to care.