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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Do It (Part 2 of a series)

It would seem that someone has stolen western spirituality, along with its God, and locked them in a church. Or, if we ignore what claims churches make on their own behalf and take a more global view, then God is locked in churches and temples of all stripes. We could go way out on a limb and say that every church or temple does, in fact, contain the presence of God and that most if not all of those churches and temples would like you to believe that the best place to find and talk with God is within their four walls. It's understandable. That belief sustained the churches and filled their collection plates for centuries. One problem is that it simply doesn't make sense that God could be confined in this or any way, and another problem is that such assertions - whether the reason offered is a divide between sacred and secular or something even more ridiculous - create the impression that a gulf exists between humanity and God which cannot be traversed without the help of a particular building and the officials found therein. To cap the whole thing off, churches have failed to offer practices which could help one connect with God while away from the building. A more cynical person might say that churches do this to maintain and grow their power and control, a strategy that is backfiring in a big way as people leave an increasingly irrelevant church, dropping in only when crisis hits. Find a person in crisis and you will find someone looking for a church building in which to pray. We see it clearly following any national disaster - the churches are full for a few weeks, mostly during special services to commemorate whatever has happened - and then it's back to normal.


One of the results of all this is that we have gotten in the habit of turning to spirituality only in times of crisis. It's like the old joke about the busy executive who is running late for a meeting at another office. He's struggling to find a parking place, and so he decided to pray. "God, please help me find a parking place," he exclaims just as he rounds a corner and turns into the next aisle where he sees an open parking space. "Never mind, God," he cries out, "I found one!" Of course, I don't believe that's the way the Divine works, but you see the point of the story - spirituality is a last resort, used primarily when nothing else works. I believe at least part of the reason for a spirituality of last resort is that we have been taught that God is only accessible in a church building, and those places don't even have drive through windows where we can quickly pick up an order of God when needed! The truth is that very few churches offer what I am going to call portable spirituality, which I will define as a transformative spiritual practice we can do away from that church building. You may be thinking that intercessory prayer is encouraged by churches, and you are correct. However, intercessory prayer is not a transformative process in and of itself. In short, contemporary Christianity offers us nothing to do and nowhere to do it - and that's made even more problematic by churches that are primarily entertainment venues wherein those in attendance sit back and watch a show. Could anything be more passive?

In the next post in this series, we will examine what an active, vital spirituality that actually impacts people's lives might look like. Stay tuned!




Monday, October 3, 2016

Our God Problem, Part 1

Allow me to begin with a disclaimer. If you are perfectly happy with your understanding of God, this article is not for you. Neither is it for you if you are a biblical literalist or other form of radicalized Christian or fundamentalist. If you comment on this post from those perspectives, I will simply delete the comment. Thank you.

For the rest of us, the truth is that we have a God problem. We are so mired in an antiquated understanding of God that any number of undesirable things have happened. The most significant of these is that people have been left with a spirituality that is so badly fractured that it isn't helpful to them in their daily lives. Nearly as significant is that many people have dismissed God out of hand, largely because they cannot buy into the view pushed upon us by those who shout the loudest and who get the most media attention, that zany collection of terrified simpletons that make up fundamentalism. It doesn't take a contemporary person who is capable of critical thought too long to realize that a large segment of Christianity worships a book rather than a God. Nor does it take that person long to wonder why any entity worthy of the Name God would be so ego maniacal that it would want to be worshiped.

While I haven't exhausted the problems with the popular understanding of God, I believe I have listed enough to support my premise that we have a God problem. The reason for the problem is that, in the case of Christianity, all of our God information from which the powers that be tell us what to believe is between two and five thousand years old! I do not believe there is any other aspect of human existence that we view the same way we did two thousand years ago. The reason is that humanity has grown substantially over that time period. In fact, most of that growth has occurred since the Industrial Revolution. How we understand our world and our reality has been turned on its head since 1900 C.E., but our religion is still mired in (at best) a 100 C.E. world view. I would like to propose some fairly radical changes, which I will list in bold below, followed by an elaboration on the point.

1. There is an important difference between spirituality and religion. The reason is that religion is about adhering to the doctrine, dogma, and practices of a particular sub-tradition within a larger tradition. In Christianity, these sub-traditions are most often called "denominations." Spirituality is about discovering truth wherever it exists, even if that truth transcends traditions. Therefore, it allows a more thorough investigation of that truth which we may call God - but could with equal validity attach any any number of names to this Truth. Healthy religion may be spiritual as well, but unhealthy religion never is.

2. Science is not the enemy of spirituality, it informs spirituality. Science investigates our world and, to the best of its ability, draws conclusions about our world and how it works. Science isn't perfect, and what is true today may be found to be inaccurate tomorrow, but neither is it opposed to spirituality. Science may be opposed to religion, but only if religion is attempting to keep its adherents uninformed about reality.

3. God is not an interventionist in human affairs. The reasoning is quite simple - no person claiming that God did something to or for them that avoided tragedy describes an event that could not have also been the product of random chance. Stated another way, God "journeys with" humanity rather than dragging it around kicking and screaming. When someone claims that God saved them from a disastrous event, what they are really saying is God loves them more than the victims of tragedy. That's nothing but pure ego, and ego is not a spiritual quality. It's also a pretty awful thing to say when people are suffering.

4. There is no hell except that which we create ourselves here on Earth. Let's dispel this popular behavior control technique that comes from Milton and not spirituality. Adolf Hitler tortured six million Jewish people until they died, and we quite rightly believe he is among the greatest despots in human history. Religion holds that God tortures countless people for eternity, which would make God a bigger despot that Hitler. If someone needs a God who is an abusive torturer, they have psychological problems rather than faith. Neither Jesus, nor God, nor any other figure can rightly be understood as a "Get Out of Hell Free" card, as if spirituality was a game of cosmic Monopoly.

5. Therefore, whatever salvation is, it isn't salvation from eternal damnation. Sorry, Charlie.

To be continued....

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Colin Kaepernick, the National Anthem, and Priorities

The truth is, as a football player, I don't have much use for Colin Kaepernick. The whole kissing his steroid enhanced bicep after a touchdown is a bit much for me. Why not just scream, "I love myself" while dropping your pants to show us how much? It might be more honest. What's more, I have always thought he was a flash in the pan, as most quarterbacks who can run really well usually are. I don't care how fast you are as a quarterback, professional football players and coaches will eventually find a way to defend against your running and force you to pass. Rare is the quarterback who can both run and pass extremely well.

However, as an example of what it is to be an American, I love Colin Kaepernick. I don't love him enough to kiss his steroid enhanced bicep, but don't let that deceive you, I love him for his courage and integrity. I support both his refusal to stand for the national anthem and his reasons for doing so. I have taken similar action regarding the flag and the pledge of allegiance for many years now. Of course, nobody really cares because I am not a professional football player, but nevertheless I have done so.

Probably around ten years ago as I sat at a Fourth of July parade, popping up and down as flag after flag passed, it suddenly occurred to me that this was nothing more than a litmus test of nationalism. At that point I decided that I would stand when a group of Veterans passed with a flag out of respect for the Veterans, but the rest of it was nonsense - the kind of nonsense that "my country right or wrong" nationalists just love. I believe a true patriot criticizes their country when they believe it is wrong in the hopes of bringing change, and I also believe America has failed to live up to its purported values for most of my life.

I believe Donald Trump does well in certain circles because a great number of people cannot tolerate ambiguity. The truth is that the less educated you are and the less intelligent you are, the more likely you will be unable to tolerate ambiguity. It will be much more comfortable for you if everyone looks the same, dresses the same, goes to the same church, and believes the same thing. Obviously, in a diverse society such a person is not going to do well at all. They will begin looking for reasons to exclude people who reflect the very diversity this nation was founded upon, and the more violently and permanently they can be excluded the happier these people will be. These are nationalists, and nationalists of every background and place of residence have always found narcissistic autocrats like Donald Trump appealing. Any responsible leader bearing even an ounce of integrity begins to get nervous upon realizing they are surrounded by sycophants, tyrants surround themselves with them.

In the city where I live there is no equal opportunity, there is no honest attempt to address social injustice, there is the greatest inequality in opportunity and income between blacks and whites in the nation, and the political hacks that run Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin believe the answer to the inevitable violence that arises from decades of refusing to redress issues of injustice is to add more police, arrest more people, and step harder on the necks of the people you are trying to keep down. Meanwhile, the whites sit in terrified and ignorant huddles, believing the nonsense they are fed by those in power and afraid to agitate for change that would make this city a better place for all people. Much as on the national level, the alternatives we are offered to the hacks in power are more of the same, or even worse - law and order candidates reminiscent of the 1960s.

National anthem? I'll be on my ass, thank you very much,

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Gangs and the Media: Violence and Healing

An outstanding piece on the state of things in Milwaukee - and around the country:

Gangs and the Media: Violence and Healing: I’ve had some thoughts on violence and healing. They are personal but also reflections on what has happened to my city this past month....

Friday, July 8, 2016

Tragedy in Dallas - and Across America

Those of us who go to bed a bit earlier than others awoke this morning to the news of tragedy in Dallas, as five police officers were killed by sniper fire. At least seven other officers and two civilians were wounded in the attack, which took place during a Black Lives Matter protest in response to police killings of two unarmed black men - one in Baton Rouge, LA and another in suburban St. Paul, MN - over the previous 48 hours.

Reactions to the news are largely predictable. Supporters of law enforcement, especially their families and friends, will rightly decry the attacks for the cowardly acts they were. Those outraged by the seemingly growing police misconduct across our country will rightly ask why the murder of these police officers receives more compassion from the community - especially the white community - than the murders of people of color by police officers. Hash tags and tempers will fly, posturing will abound, statements from the sublime to the ridiculous will be made, and little will change until we see that there can be more than one right answer to any question. The truth is that we need to move beyond dualistic thinking if we hope solve any complex problem we face. The answer isn't either-or, but rather both-and.

It is tragic when police officers kill unarmed people and it is tragic when police officers are killed. It is an absolutely cowardly act to kill people with sniper fire in a civilian setting and it is completely predictable that such a thing will happen when the society continues to ignore discrimination and lynching - and let's be clear, the murders of men of color in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and dozens of other places were nothing more than lynchings - at the hands of anyone, but most especially representatives of the government. Put more simply, you cannot legitimately be surprised when after throwing a number of lit matches onto a gasoline-soaked pile of wood it bursts into flames - yet that seems to be our reaction to tragedies like the Dallas sniper attacks!

Clearly, we need a new approach. We need to stop running as fast as we can to the two extremes put forth, that we either support police or support people of color, standing at those extremes and spitting vitriol at each other. We need to find a way to work together, but I don't believe that will happen until some of us take the first step. To be honest, I am not a fan of Black Lives Matter because the truth is that all people of color are the victims of police - and societal - discrimination. Don't Brown Lives Matter? Yellow Lives? Red Lives? Gay Lives? All those groups and more are the victims of the same discrimination that Black people face, and I believe that needs to be acknowledged. That being said, I believe it is a movement that isn't going to go away and that is probably a good thing because at some point even a movement based on a flawed concept is better than no movement at all. To be equally honest, I have occasion to regularly drive by a home with an "I support the badge" yard sign on display, and I find myself wondering why they don't just hang a confederate flag on their porch and a makeshift noose from their doorpost. One of the questions I haven't seen addressed, which doesn't mean nobody has addressed it, is when did it become acceptable for police to deploy robot bombs against civilians?

Have you ever seen a yard sign, bumper sticker, or hash tag that says, "I support a solution"? Of course you haven't, because America seems to be all about assigning blame rather than making substantive change. Once we can establish to our own satisfaction that we have identified who is to blame, we seem to feel no need to change anything. It is as if an arsonist burned our house down and we found the person responsible so we feel no need to rebuild our house! If that sounds absurd when talking about a building, why don't we seem to feel the need when it comes to our societal infrastructure and systems?

We obviously need substantive change, but to achieve that goal we are going to have to find a way to work together to make it happen. While we need to move forward just as fast as we can, we also need to acknowledge that change will not happen overnight. We will need to replace elected officials who don't see the need for change. We will need to protest, non-violently and continually, and agitate for change. We will need to demand justice. We will need to be relentless. One thing we cannot do is allow those in power to continually divide us into two opposing camps and thereby neutralize our power.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Can I be a Person of Faith and...?

Every once in a while I come across a discussion that begins with the question I posed as the title to this post - "Can I be a person of faith and....?" Honestly, most of those discussions are pretty much a waste of time because they are hypothetical and walk a line of extremes that doesn't reflect the world in which we live, a world with shades of difference lived mostly in the vast middle ground between extremes. Examining some of those questions will illustrate my point, and in the middle of this Presidential election year some of the questions are timely. 

Let's begin by examining a few questions of belief. We will examine these issues from the broad perspective of a generic person of faith, a member of one of the three Abrahamic traditions (i.e., Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) or of the two large Eastern traditions (i.e., Buddhism and Hinduism). Further, the perspectives within those traditions we will respond from will be fairly centrist and neither extremist nor radicalized. 

Q. Can I be a person of faith and hold some racist beliefs?
A. Yes, because the great majority of people hold some prejudice even though they may be unaware of it. What is required is a willingness to grow and to change.

Q. Can I be a person of faith and belong to any mainstream political party?
A. Generally speaking, yes.

Q. Can I be a person of faith while struggling with violent thoughts or tendencies?
A. Yes, because many if not most of us do, even though we may not be aware of it. What is required is that we are addressing these issues.

Q. Speaking now to the American political parties, does either political party more accurately reflect the views of people of faith on a regular basis.
A. No, and particular candidates or office holders may or may not.
 
We could go on, but it's probably clear by now that in terms of beliefs, there are no particular beliefs - even those that might generally be thought to be problematic - that in any way disqualify a person from being a person of faith. We all have room for improvement in some areas and strengths in others. Presumably, as people of faith we all want to live into our particular belief system more fully. Here's where we run into some problems.

You see, there is no religious or spiritual tradition that advocates racism or xenophobia. Quite the opposite, in fact. Religious traditions call for special care for the stranger, the foreigner, and the outsider along with the less fortunate. So much for a massive wall on the Mexican border, no matter who pays for it, and so much for mass deportations on any basis. In fact. despite the fact that many people believe that American society was not only endorsed but mandated by God, nothing even remotely resembling our system of government existed in biblical times. Kings ruled the world. Jesus didn't prop up the local government in his day, he was killed because the occupying Roman forces thought he was plotting to overthrow them.

What needs to be said, and it needs to be said very clearly, is that if you consider yourself a Christian and support Donald Trump - including the wall, including his racist rhetoric, including his anti-Muslim rhetoric, including his misogyny - you are apostate and no longer a Christian. What's more, if you are one of those people I have seen on the Internet comparing The Donald to Jesus, that would be pretty close to what Jesus described as the unforgivable sin.

America is full of people who claim the label Christian but have so watered down and modified what that means that it has become little more than say a prayer, get out of hell free, and listen to a kicking worship band every now and again. Beyond that it's okay to hate, it's okay to beat people, it's okay to sling your rifles around, and to do pretty much whatever else your want, including an occasional "Heil Hitler" salute to the Donald, because now you are "saved." You might want to take another look at that.

Right now, America is a country that seems to be long on fear and short on common sense. Nowhere is that more evident that in our political process. I confess that I am biased, but I believe the only way that we will be able to move away from this horribly misguided belief we have that stuff will make us happy is to rediscover spiritual practice. It doesn't have to be any particular form of spiritual practice, but we do need to commit to it, for that is the only place we will find lasting happiness.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

When the Ideal Isn't Possible (Which is Always)

We all want things to be "the way they should be." Of course, a great deal of the time the way things should be is simply an illusion or a myth. Way back in the 1950s, even before my time <gasp!>, the television show "Ozzie and Harriet" supposedly depicted idyllic family life before the onset of the rather untidy 1960s. It was only decades later that we learned that Ozzie and Harriet weren't so tidy after all, and one of their children died in a plane crash freebasing cocaine. Many people were shocked to find that Ozzie could be less than pleasant - but thank God they did, although the lesson seemed lost on most.

Fortunately, most of us live a much lower profile existence than Ozzie and Harriet did. Unfortunately, many if not most of us are plagued by just as many struggles. Even more unfortunately, we don't realize that our plight is rather common. Instead we suffer from the delusion that Ozzie and Harriet's television existence was normative. We wonder why our family is so different, so unusual, so abnormal - when in reality if we were to define "normal" as being "a member of the majority" our struggling families would be astonishingly normal! If we could come to terms with that it might take some of the sting out of it when others try to wound us by announcing how abnormal our families were, or when our now adult children try to hold us hostage for doing the best we could and as a result not providing the perfect childhood we all imagine we deserve but that none of us actually receives!

Many times when our adult children complain about their childhood or teen years they are trying to understand what happened or still struggling to establish their own identity. That's fair enough, and a discussion - notice I didn't say " an explanation" - is in order, at a time when emotions and passions are not running high. However, at other times complaints are coming from a much less healthy place and any attempt at an explanation will be counter-productive and only result in more damage to the relationship. For example, if someone - whether parent or child - demands some sort of restitution for the other being less than perfect, there is an unhealthy process at work. If we add mental illness to the equation, especially personality disorders, moving forward may not be possible and the best we can hope for may be a detente.

Our culture has encouraged us to develop a profound sense of entitlement. As a result, many of us believe we should never have a struggle, never have to work hard, never have to answer questions, and that we always deserve an explanation. We see the evidence in everyone from our own family members to a dejected Cam Newton walking out of a post Super Bowl press conference like a recalcitrant child. The truth is that while we all would hope that everybody would have an ideal situation all the time, in reality it doesn't work out that way. We can become trapped in wishing things had been different and never get around to working through the way things really were. That doesn't help anybody. It's rather like saying that even though it's raining today you wish that it was a clear, sunny day and so you are going to leave your umbrella at home - and them complaining because you get wet! You can't have it both ways, and while it is sometimes disappointing, reality is definitely more rewarding.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

No More Enlightement, No More Heaven

Enlightenment is a wonderful goal - if you don't happen to be a Westerner. So is heaven, with the same qualification. Westerners as a group seem to have the gift of turning a goal into an obsession. For us, a goal isn't something to be worked toward, it is something to be possessed - now - and, once
possessed, discarded. We find enlightenment and heaven to be more tools than concepts, bearing the idea that once we have achieved them we will have "arrived" and be able to place them on our mantle next to the family photos. Never mind that anyone reading the descriptions of heaven in the mystical and oft misinterpreted biblical book of Revelation and responding honestly would admit it doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun. The description is essentially that of being in church twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, without a even potty break or coffee hour to break the monotony! Despite that, many if not most Westerners would describe heaven as their goal, even as they envision it much more in their own terms than in any description contained in scripture. We think we will see Uncle Fred again - and indeed we might, but he will be two pews over and far too busy offering eternal praise to notice us!

Enlightenment, then, seems a far better idea, doesn't it? Of course, we aren't quire sure what that means, either, but it's better than endless church. Or is it? Some believe that if we became fully enlightened we would just merge with all that is, a kind of blissed-out oblivion. While it sounds great on the surface, and would in all likelihood be great in practice, most of us would respond by saying we would prefer enlightenment be postponed until sometime after our next vacation. Perhaps if we considered the truth that we aren't really all that thrilled about merging with all that is we would shift our focus to the path, rather than the goal. In doing so, I want to say that we would achieve heaven/enlightenment without even realizing we were on the precipice.

As an Interspiritual practitioner, I believe it's important to stop making distinctions between the various names the different traditions had adopted for the goal of our path. There is an old joke about the guy who is third in line to get into heaven. He notices the first person in line go up to St. Peter, who asks him for his name and religious affiliation. The man identities as a Methodist named Fred Jones. St. Peter responds by instructing him to go down the hall to room seven, but to be very quiet as he passes room three. The second person in line is Miriam Steinberg, who is Jewish. St. Peter sends her to room twelve, and admonishes her to be quiet while passing room three. Our man steps up next, and asks St. Peter why it matters what their religious affiliation was. St. Peter explains that they have found that people prefer to be in heaven together with others from a similar religious understanding. Our man asks why they have to be quiet passing room three. St. Peter responds that the Roman Catholics are in room three, and they believe they are the only ones there!

So let's drop this idea that there are different destinations, and instead come to understand that different traditions have different descriptions of the destination at which we all will arrive after this life. Further, let us agree that all of those descriptions both teach us something about our destination and also fall short and obscure it. What if we just forgot about them? Instead we might concentrate on the path, deciding to engage our spiritual practice and being of service to others because these are the right things to do, not because we anticipate any future reward. Spiritual practice isn't a life insurance policy, after all, that only pays off after death. It has the real potential to not only transform the practitioner but also the lives of those around us right now. When we come to appreciate it for its own sake, we begin to access its real potential!


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Method is Not the Goal!

Many of us who discover eastern spirituality, especially those of us raised in western religion, are very happy when we are introduced to a method on which we can base our spiritual practice. Whether that method is following the breath in meditation, or mantra practice, or serving others in karma yoga, or study of spiritual texts, or any of a host of others, suddenly we find ourselves able to practice our spirituality all week long - not just on Sunday morning. Now, to be fair, Christianity certainly teaches service, social justice, and contemplative prayer. The problem is they say that these things are important but, with notable exceptions, don't teach how to go about them when the community gathers on Sunday morning. Sure, you can sign up for the annual trip to serve at the soup kitchen, but what about the other three hundred sixty-four days of the year? They might invite a centering prayer teacher or group to visit, but in my experience the quality of those presentations varies broadly and there isn't usually follow up to help support a practice.

Then we discover meditation, complete with instructions. This is great! The promised land has been found, a spiritual practice that can carry us through every day of the year! We struggle to become regular meditators, and for those of us who are able to achieve that goal significant growth often occurs. Then something vary subtle begins to happen. What begins as a very helpful tool on the spiritual path turns into the be all and end all. If my practice is meditation, then you had better not have a different practice or I will criticize it, either silently or aloud. I may begin to believe that I need to accumulate meditation time beyond what is reasonable, and start missing other obligations. I might insist that everyone in my house is absolutely silent while I meditate - a requirement, by the way, that reflects a weak practice
and is filled with the need to be the center of attention rather than a dedication to a productive practice.

This doesn't only happen with meditation, by the way. It happens just as often with other practices. If I volunteer at a homeless shelter I may come to see that as a superior way, maybe even the only way, and look down on you if you volunteer at a hospital. If I study ancient texts then your practice isn't as good as mine because it isn't "intellectual" enough. If I do yoga and you can't twist yourself into some unbelievably grotesque (yet sometimes strangely compelling) position, you obviously aren't spiritually advanced. We see this in the reaction of many contemporary Buddhists to the secular mindfulness movement. What I call Buddhist fundamentalists are quick to point out the ways in which secular mindfulness misses the mark, most often because it doesn't include the ethical teachings of Buddhism that they believe are essential. Guess what, kids? You can't control that! Can you say, "attachment?" When we start trying to enforce "our way" of doing things as the only acceptable way, we have crossed a line from seeing our method as a tool to be used on the path to seeing our method as the goal of the path. Like the Christian fundamentalist who believes that the only correct interpretation of scripture is a "literal" one (whatever that means) and so makes the Bible their God, we too can cross the line and make our method our God.

There is a good chance that the day will come when we cannot continue our preferred practice. As we age, we may not be able to continue the volunteer position we once loved. We will become less flexible, and have to modify our meditation and our yoga practices, or may find ourselves stuck in a position from which we can never be extracted. Our minds slow, and we cannot study as vigorously. Walking meditation becomes painful. If we are attached to our practice and the only legitimate practice, we are going to suffer needlessly. If, on the other hand, we see our practice as a tool and perhaps have dabbled in other practices, they can come to the fore as others become more difficult. This can only happen if we have held to a healthy view of our practice and have not allowed it to become the only way.

To prepare for this day, we might occasionally mix things up in our current practice. If we normally meditate on a cushion, we might try a chair on occasion. We might shift out volunteering around, or cut back a bit on our normal volunteer position to allow ourselves to try doing a couple hours a week somewhere else. If we normally read heady material, we might try something more nurturing. We might think of this as stretching for our practice, a kind of practice yoga (rather than yoga practice) that will help us keep from becoming attached and seeing our practice as a kind of God. It will pay big dividends in the future!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Activism and Individual Freedom

More and more, I am convinced that there are two examples of concise descriptions of the spiritual path. Jesus' Great Commandment - to love God with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves - is one. The other is Neem Karoli Baba's "love everybody and tell the truth." There certainly are more elaborate summaries than these two, but I do not believe they are any more accurate for their
verbosity.

As we go about loving others, we are bound to ask ourselves how we should do that. Beyond wishing them well, most people find that loving others involves some degree of working for an improved situation for them. The problem, or the blessing depending on how you look at it, is that it can seem that there are as many issues as there are people to work on them. What's more, nearly everybody working on a particular cause feels their cause is of critical importance. That only makes sense - who would work on what they felt was an unimportant cause? However, just because someone we know is energized by a cause doesn't me we feel the same way. I believe that is even more likely when the supporters of a particular cause seem to be angry most of the time, a condition that seems chronic lately.

The truth is that each of us has a limited amount of energy. We simply cannot address every worthy cause. When proponents of even the worthiest cause are always scowling and bitterly critical of those who either disagree or don't share their enthusiasm, they do more harm to their cause than even the most adept critic could. There is nothing healthy about a group of angry people trying to bully a cause forward. As we look for ways to become involved, we would do well to find healthy groups with whom we might share our energy. What we can learn from this if we are already involved is that anger is always counter productive, and if our group moves toward anger we need to help apply corrective influence.

There seems to be a marked lack of patience among activist groups lately with those trying to serve as allies. Are potential allies sometimes ill informed? Absolutely. Are they in need of education? Absolutely. Does this sometimes lead to frustration? Of course. More and more, however, I see pictures of people working for change looking with an anger that borders on rage at potential allies who aren't responding as the activists wish they would. The result is that, more often than not, meetings fall apart and potential allies are lost. No healthy person will spend a lot of time slogging through abuse by angry people - no matter how justified their anger may be - who project that anger on those who want to help. We should remember that the instruction to love everybody includes those who are working with us in common cause!


Friday, January 15, 2016

You Probably Don't Care, But...

The Anglican Communion, the world-wide body of Anglican (Episcopal) Churches has suspended the Episcopal Church in the United States for three years because of the decision they made at their
General Convention last year to marry same gender couples. I could go into why this flies in the face of what Anglicanism is - that each Church is independent and there is no Pope or other central authority figure, but I have done that before, and others have done it before, and given the massive contraction of all institutional religious bodies fewer people care each day.

BUT!

Back in the day when we formed The UAC, people often asked whether or not we were part of the Anglican Communion. They would look down their noses at me when I explained that only one Church in any country could be in the Communion, but that even if we could be in the Communion we would refuse.

WHY?

I said we would refuse because we didn't want to be yoked to a bunch of ill-educated and ill-prepared bishops from Churches in the Southern Hemisphere whose understanding of biblical criticism and social justice make the most strident American fundamentalists look like radical liberals. I said that we preferred to do what was right, to treat all people with compassion and love, and not have to deal with those in the developing world who weren't ready to see the truth of God's love for all people. Now with this announcement, I feel vindicated. I was right. Oh, yes, and one other thing:

I TOLD YOU SO!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Reflections on Writing and Spirituality

For a time last year, I lost my voice. Not the one that emerges from my mouth, sadly enough for those around me, but the one that emerges from my fingers. There were a number of reasons. I have learned, to cite but one reason, that I cannot be intentionally interesting but need to write from my heart and let the chips fall where they may. On my other blog at BishopCraig.com, I recently wrote two posts that were a bit edgy. I had stopped doing that, trying to be a kinder, gentler me. I have learned, however, that that I am better at truth than I am at placating the masses. When there is muddied thinking that is rising to popularity, I am better at cutting through the mud that I am at patting the muddied thinkers and pundits on their muddy little heads.

I also need to just write. That's a change for me. Creativity was something I had to wait for, and then when the labor pains began I would sit down and write. I am finding that has changed, and that there are things within me waiting to emerge - but I can't give other things priority. I need to get my coffee, sit down, and let it flow.

I have shared before that I used to think I wasn't creative because I am not much of an artist in the traditional sense. My stick figures are good enough, but beyond that I do much better at producing drawings that are designed to entertain by virtue of how bad they are. As you may have guessed from the first paragraph, I don't like playing in the mud so I am not a sculptor. My painting skills are best applied to the side of a house. One day I realized that I do things with words that was very creative, that I could weave a tapestry with my fingers aided by a keyboard or a pen. While I obviously write on a keyboard, I have found more heart and soul emerges from a pen because it takes longer. Writing slowly serves as a kind of nonsense filter, it's not so easy to just continue writing until something substantial springs forth. Maybe that's why journalism is virtually nonexistent these days. Even a typewriter took longer than a computer, and mistakes weren't so easily corrected. Instead of fingers gliding over a keyboard, a typewriter required fingers that would beat it into submission. Wasted keystrokes were unthinkable.

Perhaps my laryngitis of the hands is passing. It seems like many things have been in flux, including some spiritual ones. I saw a video recently about an experiment a man did by rigging a bicycle to turn left when the rider turned the handles to the right, and right when the rider turned the handles left. He then took the bike on his speaking engagements and offered people the opportunity to ride it. They couldn't. Even though they understood what they were to do, it turns out riding a bike is much more than knowledge. It makes sense if you think about it for a moment. We don't just turn the handlebars, we lean in the direction we are turning. As we come out of the turn we decrease our lean until we are going straight ahead again. Turning the handlebars to the left leads to leaning left, and when the bicycle tries to turn right there are going to be problems! This was an experiment in neuroplasticity. It took the experimenter eight weeks to learn to ride the "backwards" bike. Suddenly it clicked, but guess what? Then he couldn't ride a normal bike. It took his son, who had just learned to ride a bicycle, only two weeks to learn to ride the modified bike, suggesting that young people have more neuro-flexibility that adults. We knew that already from teaching foreign languages to children.

There are spiritual implications to this, I believe, and they lie in our religious traditions of origin. Those of us who were raised in a tradition will have a harder time looking outside of it for parallels and other perspectives. Those of us who were raised only marginally within a tradition will have an easier time, and those raised in no tradition at all will have the easiest time of all. However, it stands to reason that when we practice in a tradition for a period of time we will start to become less flexible. That's not a bad thing, it's a normal thing, but it means that it will take us longer to adapt to other points of view. I believe that when we become accustomed to looking at other points of view it does get easier. Each new point of view we consider doesn't represent starting from zero, but rather we build a flexibility.

So what, you say? So, you probably aren't going to convince someone who has been a Methodist all their life and is now seventy-five years old to become Interspiritual. You might, but it's going to be a struggle and take a long time unless they have had some experience that leads them to question their Methodist perspective. That's perfectly fine, because the idea of evangelizing should feel like the anathema it is to an Interspiritual perspective. Our job is much more creative because our job is to explore what is out there and search for all the places where we find truth. We don't seek to tell others what their truth should be, we seek to dialogue about what truth might be. We don't feel the need to be perfect or to get everything right, we seek honest exchange of ideas and practices. We don't look to get locked in to one view, we seek to walk in different views in search of Truth. I believe it's the most creative spiritual environment available to us today, and that creativity will teach us much. Or we can go back to being spoon fed by an authority figure. As for me, I just can't go back.