Search This Blog

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Danger of Equanimity

Equanimity is prized in Buddhism. Some would say it's the second biggest goal of Buddhist life and practice - the ability to be unswayed by things that happen to and around you. One of the best illustrations of the concept is a Zen story about a notoriously violent military officer who bursts into a Zen monastery and demands the monks bow to him. The abbot refuses to do so. The military officer says to the abbot, "Don't you know that I can run you through with this sword without blinking an eye?" The abbot then replies, "And don't you know that I can allow you to run me through with that sword without blinking an eye?" As these stories tend to go, the officer resigned from the military immediately and became a monk.
Total equanimity is one of those goals that I tend to think of as "rhetorical goals." In other words, like a rhetorical question, these are fine goals but nobody really expects any reasonable person will achieve them. The danger comes in when some people find equanimity to be so valuable that they start to pretend they have achieved it. It's a kind of spiritual bypassing that people believe will allow them to achieve lofty (and perhaps impossible) spiritual goals by "acting as if." What really happens is that they develop all manner of physical symptoms because of the feelings they are denying.

Dog Dragging Butt GIFs | Tenor

Suppose, for some reason that I simply cannot fathom, you decide to redecorate your living room with white leather furniture and a white carpet. That night I go out and eat all of the spicy food I can find and drink a lot of beer. In an intoxicated, urgent need to use a bathroom, I come and crap all over your white living room furniture and carpet, finishing the whole thing off by dragging my ass across said carpet like a dog trying to drain its anal gland. If you believe you could look at me and say, "I was just glad to be of service," you are more full of shit than I was. That is spiritual bypassing on an epic scale.

As we currently exist in varying levels of isolation, denying the feelings you may be having about it will backfire. You feel how you feel. What you do about it is the important thing, learning to cope is the important thing. Pretending it isn't bothering you is not the answer. If you need more proof, on am on my way to the local Mexican restaurant now and will be over in a few hours. Just leave the front door unlocked..

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Purifying Karma

Last week I wrote about karma, about the fact that evil does in fact exist and is the consequence of actions that we, collectively, have taken. When we cage people at our border and hold them indefinitely, we have all participated in an evil action. Then when we forget about them during a pandemic because they are no longer "newsworthy," and we cannot look beyond our own immediate interests, we magnify that evil exponentially. Our first instinct may be to excise the evil doers, but the problem is that karma is collective and so excising one or one hundred of us isn't going to solve the problem. We need to shift the culture.

You may be thinking that shifting the culture sounds great, but it isn't easy. In truth, it's not difficult by it isn't fast, either, and we are an impatient lot. We want our solutions now, and available in microwave safe packaging. If a proposed solution takes longer than our lifetimes so that we won't get to see the results, our interest wanes. Suddenly the children and grandchildren we claim to love aren't as important as they were before - at least in terms of what we are willing to invest in their future. If you doubt that, count the climate deniers among us and sigh.

What will purify our karma and reduce the evil among us is compassion practice and compassionate action. Many spiritual traditions have practices we can engage that will increase the compassion in the practitioner. Increasing our compassion will in turn energize compassionate action. You can find a practice that suits you by googling "Compassion Practice." Start today, and continue for the rest of your life. I promise you will see changes in yourself, and in those around you. There is nothing to lose, and everything to gain!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

An Uncomfortable Truth

Liberals and progressives don't like to talk about evil. We like to deceive ourselves by calling evil something else. We try to borrow the idea of unskillfulness from Buddhism, but if we are honest it
only works part of the time - perhaps because the concept doesn't translate well. If we say, "he murdered her, and it wasn't very skillful," it sounds more like he didn't kill her efficiently than his behavior was problematic. We talk about separating person from behavior, a solid concept, but we take it too far when we slide into absolving people of personal responsibility for their actions, no matter how heinous. Personal responsibility is essential if we are to construct any kind of workable morality.

I am convinced we need to return to using the word "evil" to describe actions that are evil! If a
man walks into a daycare center and shoots everybody that is an evil act. If they stir fry other
people for dinner, that's an evil act. If someone repeatedly lies, cheats, defrauds, and harms others, those are evil actions and taken together they are a pattern of evil behavior that is cause for great concern. Cultures develop values and laws, and those who continually and intentionally violate those norms are participating in evil. Are they, themselves, evil? My honest answer is that I don't know. I don't believe that worrying about whether Bob has participated in enough habitually evil actions to have earned his Dr. Evil merit badge is especially helpful. It may be for some an interesting theoretical exercise, but it doesn't really change what has happened or offer us a way to move forward. We get sidetracked in a discussion of what to do about this person we have labeled as evil rather that look for a solution to the problem of evil.

You may be asking yourself why any of this matters. I have come to believe that it is of utmost importance because I believe that karma, in a collective sense, is real. Karma is, quite simply, an understanding of cause and effect. Some years ago at a public appearance, Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh was asked what the Vietnamese people had done to generate the negative karma necessary to be invaded first by the French and then by the United States. He responded by saying it wasn't the Vietnamese karma that caused those colonial atrocities, it was everybody's karma that caused them. It was collective karma that caused those illegal invasions, not individual karma. I have a hard time with the idea that a child dies shortly after birth because of some offense she committed in a previous life, but it makes perfect sense to me that she died because of choices we have made to spend money on war rather than medical research to reduce infant mortality - and that, my friends, is karma. It's not that some powerful agent killed the child to punish us or her, it's that the child died because we made choices and established priorities that led us to not have the information and technology whereby we could have saved her.

These ideas don't only apply in life or death situations. When we choose to tolerate corruption, our karma will be that corruption will increase. When we choose to play footloose and fancy free with the truth, we will be surrounded by lies. When we choose to tolerate infantile behavior from our leaders, we will get childish leaders whose behavior is a national embarrassment. When we
ignore the plight of the poor and continue to oppress people, they will rise up. When we choose to divert funds from education and healthcare to the defense industry, we will raise dumb, sick people. Karma is common sense.

When we ignore warnings of a pandemic and cripple our pandemic response capability so the President can pump more money to his friends in industry, we get corona virus. If we have elected an unqualified leader, our response is crippled and people die. This isn't about politics, it's about karma. Jesus said it this way - you reap what you sow. If you wonder how we as a people got here, wherever the here of the moment might be, just look at where we have been. Next week, I will look at how to fix the mess we find ourselves in.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

We Can't Afford to Deny Evil

For a long time, I was one of those liberals who tried to deny that evil existed. Many of us do. I would say that we need to separate person from behavior, and I still believe that to be true. I also ran to the Buddhist notion of actions being either skillful or unskillful. The problem with that perspective is that it waters everything down to the point where it is meaningless. "Did you walk into a home and kill a family of seven in cold blood? That wasn't very skillful!" When you read that out loud, the absurdity of it slaps you in the face.

In these trying times of Covid-19, we are hearing about more than a little evil. Whenever you act in a way that denies the truth, your actions are evil. I cannot judge if you are an evil person, but I can tell you that you are doing evil things. Every one of our current President's press briefings are evil. I would submit that you would be hard pressed to find a politician who hasn't manipulated the truth and thereby engaged in evil behavior. When people attack Asian Americans because they blame them for this pandemic, they are displaying stupidity and engaging in evil. When the Governor of Georgia said two days ago that he had only discovered 24 hours earlier that the corona virus is transmitted before people show symptoms, he was engaging in evil. You don't have to engage in genocide to be evil, although genocide certainly is evil. All you have to do it lie, cheat, steal, bend the truth, misrepresent something, do something to get ahead of another person at their expense. It really isn't a difficult concept, and we all know right from wrong.

We need to reclaim the idea of evil because at this point in our history we have lost almost all moral foundation. Anything goes, and the people who have led the anything goes movement are those who used to claim the moral high ground - conservatives, evangelicals, republicans. Nobody is really immune from responsibility for the trend. Many of us sat back slack jawed and allowed it to happen because we become preoccupied with being kind and not hurting anyone's feelings. Nonsense. If you don't want your actions to be characterized as evil, don't do evil things. Furthermore, if you don't want to be accused of evil actions then don't look the other way when people around you do evil things. It's really quite simple.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

How We Treat Each Other Matters

In times of crisis, perhaps the truest indicator of our humanity is how we treat one another. It is relatively easy to be nice to one another in the early stages of a crisis - even six feet apart - but as
the crisis deepens our true character emerges. There is nothing about capitalism that supports our efforts to be kind, and fear magnifies that trend. A small, but telling, example of this is the Wing Stop restaurant chain. They are fine with allowing third party delivery drivers to ensure they can remain open and continue making a profit, but since they have closed their restrooms to customers they won't allow delivery drivers to use them either. Not only is this sub-human treatment, it misses the point entirely on a practical level. While customers can return to their homes to use the restroom after picking up their food, it isn't practical for a delivery driver to do so. As this trend continues, there simply won't be people willing to risk their health and make less money doing it as they chase around town looking for a place to relieve themselves.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have seen children playing in their yard wearing medical
gloves and/or face masks. To what end? Given social distancing restrictions in place almost everywhere and shut down orders (under various names) in others, how is your child going to be exposed? What's more, gloves aren't going to do anything to protect anyone who isn't actively caring for sick patients, and your children using them as playthings contributes to an already critical shortage. Related to this is widespread hoarding, at first of toilet paper and sanitizers, but now of almost everything. Store shelves are often nearly empty, despite many stores adding staff and shortening hours to allow them more time to restock. I spoke with an employee at the local WalMart recently, who told me that people line up outside their doors for the seven a.m. opening time and then literally run into the store when the doors are unlocked, attempting to keep others from getting more of the things they all have already stockpiled. Our behavior has degraded significantly already, and locally we are only a few weeks into the panic.

The truth is that there is a long way to go in this pandemic. It won't be over by Easter, no matter what clueless politicians might say. Our stress levels will only be magnified by running around frantically searching for things we already have. On the other hand, people are already struggling with staying at home. Many of these people, when they go on vacation, spend hours sitting in a boat or on a beach and find doing nothing quite relaxing. At home, however, it is a struggle. It seems to me this indicates one of two problems. Either you aren't happy with the other people who live in your home or you need constant distraction to avoid looking at your own feelings. Either way, there is no better time to address these problems than right now. What else are you doing?

This crisis, like every other crisis before it, will pass in time. We can choose to learn from it and grow, or forget about it as quickly as possible and lose the opportunity. The first option will leave us better prepared for the next crisis, and we can be sure it it will come. The second option will leave us in a worse place when that next crisis comes, because we will be convinced our maladaptive behaviors are our only choice. Which will you choose?

Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Break in the Action

We interrupt our series on Trauma in the Spiritual Life to discuss something we may all be getting close to being tired of hearing about - COVID 19, or the Corona Virus. Despite perhaps being tired of hearing about it and wondering if anything else is going on in the world (plenty is!), I would be remiss if I didn't mention it here in this blog.

The unknown is one of the most stressful things for us to deal with, and in this new virus we are confronted with more unknowns that certainties. We aren't absolutely sure how the virus is transmitted, though we believe that one way is through coming into contact with secretions from
infected people. Sneezes, coughs, runny noses, and - for some of you - your habit of drooling uncontrollably will transmit the virus. As with many diseases, we don't seem to need to be having symptoms to be carriers and transmitters of this illness. That means we can have it, not know it, and pass it on to someone who may be killed by it without either of us knowing.

Despite mixed messages from government officials, fools running off to spring break not caring that they may come home and infect those who can't afford to have this illness, and all of the other nonsense that is going on, we can do the right thing. We can stay home if we feel sick, and we can keep a safe distance from one another even if we feel fine. Despite the fact that we are conditioned to an unhealthy level of busyness, it isn't good for us and we will survive slowing down. In fact, it will be good for us! So order some books or some movies, talk with family members who live in your house even though it has been ages since you tried, make babies, call friends. Learn about yourself and others. See what we all have been missing in our flurry of self importance. We may look back on this time as the best of our lives.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

TSL Pt.5: Comfortable in Crisis

One of the perhaps counter intuitive qualities those of us who have experienced trauma tend to develop is a certain level of comfort when operating in crisis. If your house is on fire and you need help getting people out, get your neighbor who has a trauma history. If you see a particularly nasty car accident and there are people calmly helping who are not first responders, the odds are they have a trauma history. It's not just that these folks are calm, it's also that they seem to know what to do. They are comfortable in chaos because they have spent significant time in chaos and coping with the fallout from chaos. They calm people down and direct them where to go with a confident authority, and this isn't an illusion. We should listen to these people in tough times because they handle these situations very well. In fact, many trauma survivors are drawn to helping roles professionally. Walk into your local hospital and you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a staff member who is a trauma survivor. If the cat's tail comes off you will hit several!

What's the problem? The problem is that it isn't healthy for anyone, especially trauma survivors,
to spend time in traumatic situations. We get triggered and our PTSD flares up, setting us back.
Really Bad Advice
We become hypervigilant, our cortisol levels increase in response to stress causing systemic inflammation. Our minds literally become our body's worst enemy. Remember, the familiar is comfortable because it is familiar, not because it is good for us! In spiritual settings, this can cause us to hang around unhealthy environments and leaders. Your pastor may remind you of your father, but if Dad was an alcoholic with rage issues you may want to consider if your pastor is the kind of fella who can help you on your spiritual journey!

As we work through our histories and seek to move forward in a healthier manner, our spirituality will be a huge part of our recovery. It's good to be aware that there may also be places in our spiritual history where trauma or its effects can hide. That's neither good nor bad, it just is. We may read or hear stories from our particular spiritual tradition that remind us of our own trauma history. Recognizing what is happening will help us to avoid being triggered in the future. Finding time and places to relax where we feel safe is always an important part of the journey!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Trauma and the Spiritual Life Pt.4 - Letting Go of the Past

I had the occasion to meet with some western Buddhists in our space at Compassionate Heart recently. I should tell you that since Compassionate Heart is an Interspiritual Space (something of a radical notion here in conservative Milwaukee, where local time is about 1982) and so we have
images from many different faith traditions. One of our Buddhist guests said, with roughly the same inflection you might expect when asking about dismembered young children sacrificed in a satanic ritual piled up in a corner, "are those Christian images?!?"

I certainly understand that many of us have been burned by traditions to which we have belonged in the past. It is natural, for a time, to harbor some animosity. Perhaps counter intuitively, those feelings are not signs of progress but rather of being stuck. When we have bad experiences in religious traditions it's not the founders of the tradition who have burned us but rather its contemporary representatives. We experienced a bad teacher or a bad pastor, a foolish doctrine or policy, perhaps some retrograde fellow adherents who were intolerant of something about us. Neither Jesus, the Buddha, nor Mohammad showed up and announced, "I hate you!" screaming it to our faces in front of an assembly of all of our peers. Despite that truth, yoga studios, Buddhist sanghas, Hindu temples, Unitarian Universalist churches, and therapist's
couches are filled with people who believe precisely that. As long as we feel that way, the traditions we have left behind still have a hold over us.

When we do the hard work of healing our wounds, we necessarily come face to face with what happened. We come to see precisely who wounded us. Invariably it was people and policies, not the entirety of a tradition. Those people were surrounded by an institution that arose and created rules and forms to which members were required to adhere, but those things are later developments. Jesus never said, "exclude that woman's mother from Communion because she is divorced," no matter how much the Roman Catholic Church might like you to believe he did. It is only when we come to understand and feel that distinction that we can begin to heal. It is only when we begin to heal that we can authentically participate in our new tradition. Until then, it will only be a place of refuge from those nasty people over there. To be healthy, we need to move from being Buddhists who are Buddhists because they don't want to be Christians to being Buddhists who are Buddhists because they want to be Buddhists. That is where healthy spirituality begins!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

TSL Pt. 3 - A Lukewarm Life

One of the consequences of trauma can be that we have felt pain for so long that we decide the only way to move forward is to dampen the pain. Whether our original pain was physical, emotional, or both matters little because all suffering eventually impacts our emotional life. Consider that chronic physical pain eventually has emotional consequences. We don't just say, "Ouch! That hurts!" Sooner or later we start to ask why this has happened and the pain - now physical and emotional - starts to wear us down. Eventually we blunt the pain, effectively turning down its volume. That decision comes at a price, however, because we can't selectively dampen only the pain. The result of turning down the pain is that we turn down everything. It doesn't
matter how we turn our pain down, whether chemically, through concentration techniques, through distraction, the effect of our "remedy" is that we live a lukewarm life. Beyond that, our coping techniques only work up to a point. There is pain that is too intense to be ignored, and all of our pain will eventually rise to the point where we can't ignore it. Then we may have a second problem on our hands, as the shot of whiskey that used to help us get to sleep turns to two, three, and four or more shots.

Human nature being what it is, the odds are we will put off addressing our issues until we are left with very little choice. Since it is almost certain that the "very little choice" moment will come eventually, why not start dealing with the impact of our trauma today? Why not take an honest look at where the past is influencing how we deal with people or circumstances today? In my last post I wrote about trust being impacted by trauma. Those trust issues are ubiquitous, affecting all of our relationships - even our relationship with the Divine. If I can't trust other human beings that I can see, how will I ever trust God who cannot be seen? Even before all of that, when we have been betrayed so often that we have lost count we likely don't even know how to tell when trust is appropriate. We have some work to do!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Trauma and the Spiritual Life (TSL) Pt.2 - Trust

We may as well just jump into the deep water. If we have experienced trauma, and in Part 1 of this series we established that nearly everyone has, we will have problems with trust. If we sit with the question for a while, we will even come to see that we don't trust ourselves. We don't trust our judgment about nearly everything. We have been burned so many times that we may even wonder if we can choose which pair of shoes to wear today! We have trouble deciding what to order for lunch, which movie we want to see, it seems our lives are ruled by ambivalence. It is a self-protective attitude that eventually turns on us. We say we don't care because we are trying to protect ourselves from disappointment, but our ambivalence leads to some pretty crappy lunches - and much worse - which further erodes our trust.

For years I walked around with one foot in my relationships and the other outside of them, waiting for the least sign of betrayal. When that sign popped up, or even a hint of a betrayal that might come a decade down the road, I was out the door. This was only compounded by the fact that I was so sure I was unlovable that I wasn't very discerning in who I let into my life. In my professional life I chose to work alone, either in the field away from the main office or in self-employment. My trust had been pretty thoroughly demolished by some very professional trust hit men and hit women, and I wasn't going to let it happen again. The problem is that very attitude almost guarantees it will happen again. We set up a kind of feedback loop that doesn't serve us very well at all.

The solution? The solution is NOT to trust indiscriminately. We need to trust ourselves first, and that means we have to make some choices. We have to care what is for lunch, we have to dive in and choose a pair of shoes, and we have to decide what we want to do this weekend. A year from now we might be able to defer decisions, but right now we need to learn to make them. We also need to learn to establish boundaries. If we can't say, "that's not okay, stop that" then people will continue to walk over us and our trust will be further eroded. All of this takes practice, and it much more complicated than can be addressed in a short blog post. That's why this topic will come up repeatedly in this series!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Trauma and the Spiritual Life, Part 1

I have been tossing around the idea of writing about trauma and the spiritual life for some time now, asking myself if it would be to self revealing. The last thing I want to re-create is that great coming out of Hollywood people who needed the world to know they had been abused as children, acting as if they were the only ones. It degenerated into a festival of both self pity and self promotion, a curious game of "my life is a bigger pile of crap than yours!" You must admit, that is a rather odd contest!

Nevertheless, the truth is that many if not most Americans have experienced trauma at one or more times in their lives. Merriam Webster defines trauma as: (a) an injury (such as a wound) to living tissues caused by an extrinsic agent, (b) a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress of physical injury, (c) an emotional upset. Wikipedia defines psychological trauma as "...damage to the mind that occurs as a result of a distressing event. Trauma is often the result of an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one's ability to cope, or to integrate the emotions involved with that experience.

We can experience trauma producing events more than once in our lives, as well as from all three categories in the Merriam Webster definition. Possible causes of trauma are automobile accidents, bullying, all types of assault, combat, witnessing violence or being acted upon violently; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; child abuse and/or neglect, harassment of all types including sexual, and a host of others. It should be rather obvious that most people experience trauma inducing events in their lives. For reasons that aren't entirely clear, we have different levels of impairment that arise as the result of those events.

My interest in this series of posts is to explore the impact of trauma on our spiritual lives. As a nation that has been at war for nearly two decades and, if we are honest, has struggled to navigate daily life since the Industrial Revolution, I believe we desperately need to understand the impact of these events on our lives and our spirituality. We begin the journey with my next post! 

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Line Separating Tradition from Cement Overshoes

It has been said, I think by Jaroslav Pelikan, that tradition is the living faith of dead people while traditionalism is the dead faith of living people. What he meant was that blind adherence to the way things used to be, or "always have been," eventually leads us to stop growing - to die, if you will. The truth is that every living thing has two basic choices - to grow, or to die. There is no real choice of equilibrium in a living thing. It must either continue growing - replacing dead cells, processing nutrition, breathing in the way appropriate to its species, and so on - or it will die.

For religious and spiritual people, this truth represents a challenging reality. There are things to which we have sentimental attachment. Our mother's favorite hymn, Grandma's prayer beads, the translation of the scriptures we used when we first understood our faith, the third pew on the left, a pipe organ that shook the rafters, and the clothing clergy and religious wore "back in the day" are all examples of things to which we become attached - and these are good things. They are also things that will change, and that is a good thing too. Each new generation needs to find things that speak to them, that help them feel at home in their spiritual journey. Some of these will be the same as their parents, others will be different. We parents need to see that our children and grandchildren finding their own meaningful symbols isn't a rejection or us or our symbols, but rather a discovery of their own unique paths.

Sometimes when I am reading a spiritual "classic," I find myself wondering how the text in question could ever have spoken to anyone. I sometimes face the same question when reading contemporary texts. The problem often is that my world, my reality, just doesn't contain the same concerns as those of the author of the text in question. This is why we have a constant need of new classics, classics in training if you will, that do speak to contemporary people. It's also why we need to constantly be mentoring new, younger leaders to one day take our place. For those of you in leadership today I ask, are you mentoring someone or have your cement shoes already been delivered?

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Diversity? Only When Convenient.

We like diversity, we value diversity, we believe in diversity - as long as it only has to do with appearances or other external qualities in adults, that is. If you happen to be a child, or if you happen to excel at things that aren't within the subject areas the institution has decided are valuable (STEM), or if you are creative in a way that isn't officially sanctioned, then you are pathologized.

If you are a child and you don't learn in the same way the majority of children learn, then you have "special" needs. We all know that any child in "special" education is pathologized as "slow"or, by their peers, or "stupid," yet we don't bother to change that labeling or challenge the stigma because once you are othered you are determined to be less valuable, less likely to succeed, less likely to be profitable to the capitalist  and academic institutions - but only because those institutions are too lazy to teach you in a way that maximizes your potential. That potential in all likelihood exceeds that of the average students, but we don't want to take the time to deal with you.

Maybe you perceive the world around you only too clearly, and you are depressed about the future and what it holds. Once again, the pathologizers rears their ugly heads. Those who have not been sufficiently anesthetized by the culture will become subject to a psycho-pharmaceutical anesthesia, labelled as mentally ill, and sent to very caring people whose future employment depends on diagnosing enough people in predetermined categories, the treatment of which insurance companies will subsidize. If you deviate from those predetermined categories in an attempt to better reflect what is happening, you won't get paid. Could their be a greater motivation for compliance?

So before you tell me how unfortunate it is that your special interest cannot gain acceptance, please tell me why you would want to be accepted by a broken system.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

When did bullshit become acceptable?

When did it become acceptable as a business practice to just spew nonsense with a straight face? I realize it's been acceptable in politics for some time, but I would like to know when the bald faced lie became a practice that businesses employed, convinced that doing so was a good idea and a good business practice. In short, when did bullshit become standard practice?

My wife and I were involved in a car accident just before Christmas, and one week later we were the proud owners of a new to us car that we just love. The dealer gave us a registration receipt they said was as good as a real one until the permanent registration came from the State. It isn't. Last week I went up to the dealer to check on the progress of the registration, and one of the people in the finance department told it takes six to eight weeks for the State to process registrations. I found that odd, because when we bought the now totaled car we transferred these very same plates and had the new registration very quickly. Still, I thought perhaps my post-concussion memory was a bit addled and so I smiled and thanked her for her help.

This morning, what should back up my driveway but a UPS truck! The nice UPS man delivered one of those UPS envelopes from a different branch of the same car dealer. Hmmm, I thought, as I opened the envelope to discover a temporary registration on the appropriate State form that (hopefully) the appropriate people in my life will find acceptable. Mind you, this form didn't come from the State, it came from the dealer. Where do you suppose the hold up was? Despite the very nice representative's claim that they transmitted the information to the State directly at the time of the sale of the vehicle, I smell a very familiar, musky stench usually whiffed while driving in farm country. Clearly the theory is to push the blame off on someone else and hope that by the time evidence to the contrary appears nobody will care. I believe that most people do, in fact, care. I believe that dishonest significantly impacts the likelihood of a customer returning to do business with the same company again, because trust is built on honesty and trust matters. Leave the bullshit to the politicians. 

Monday, January 27, 2020

Why Truth Matters

It seems that contemporary culture has lost its sense of the value of truth. Our politicians certainly have. I saw a quote attributed to extreme right journalist cum politician Steve Bannon that advocated flooding the media with lies until people can't tell the difference between lies and the truth - or, more cynically, until lies become truth. You might be thinking that lies can never be the truth, but if we lose sight of that then there is no difference between the two, and they are effectively the same.

There are a lot of old maxims that hang on the reality of truth. You have likely heard that two wrongs don't make a right. If there no longer is a meaningful distinction between the truth and a lie, then there is
no longer any means that are not justified by our end goal. If I want to be rich, I can steal with impunity as long as we agree that being rich is a good thing - and there are no shortage of people who believe that being rich is a good thing. What we do have a shortage of are people who have any chance at becoming rich. When one percent of the world control most of the wealth, they aren't likely to let new people into their very exclusive club. Most folks don't seem to learn that lesson, and so they look the other way when all kinds of transgressions occur, hoping against hope that they will be the one to get in the club.

Perhaps the biggest lie of all is that wealth brings happiness. It does not. What brings happiness is choosing to be content with what we have. More stuff brings with it the perceived need to protect that stuff, and to acquire more in case what we have wears out or disappears. In the end, truth matters because when we lose sight of it we are easily manipulated and tend to act against our own self-interest, all the while believing that what we are doing benefits us. That may be the biggest lie of all.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Porn, Sex, and What Gets Ignored

In an effort to be more open and patient with nonsense, which I will freely admit I struggle with, I have been listening to an episode of The Liturgists podcast.  This podcast is a very popular one for millennials who are former Evangelicals, perhaps the most guilt ridden population around these days. Sorry, Roman Catholics, you have lost your dominance in the guilt game. The episode I have been slogging through is entitled "Porn," but includes so much more, including discussion about what it may or may not be appropriate to think about while masturbating, how to process having genitals and why we cover them, and a host of other related issues. I have lost track of the number of times I have said aloud, "oh for God's sake!" and "are they serious?"

Look, there are tons of studies that have been done that suggests that consuming pornography impacts the brain and our sexuality. For me, the problem with these studies is that it is hard to control for all of the things that impact our sexuality. Apparently, among post-millennials*, viewing violent porn leads them to believe that violent sex is normal. I don't know how you determine that to be the case, because there is nothing that would (a) lead me to enjoy depictions of violent sex, or (b) believe that it was normal. While I may not be representative of all males, I find it hard to believe that if you showed enough porn involving having sex with a German Shepherd it would be profitable to start a German Shepherd dating service. I do know a guy who found a dating service for men seeking women who don't speak English, but that's another story.

Here is what these discussions seem to miss: as a people, westerners are fucked up about sexuality. Here's a perfect example, and one that discussions like the on in the podcast avoid like the plague: estimates are that fifteen to twenty percent of American marriages are sexless. There are also twenty-three thousand Google searches each month for the term "sexless marriage," making it the most frequently searched sex-related term on Google. I would hazard a guess that people lie about how much, or more accurately how little, sex they are having. I would hazard a guess that a segment of this population turns to pornography as an aide to masturbation, but we don't see discussions or studies about that possibility. I don't think that we would want those people to phone the German Shepherd dating service, but maybe I am wrong.

Human sexuality is a complex subject, and - with apologies to John Wayne Bobbit - we can't address a complex subject by cutting it into little pieces and addressing those pieces individually. We also need to be cognizant of the fact that whatever we are confronted with most often will tend to be what we view as the majority practice or belief in a particular situation. There are more than a few sexual assault nurse examiners who see a perpetrator behind every Y chromosome, more than a few arson investigators who see a crime behind every can of gasoline, and more than a few pickpockets who only see people's pockets. Despite that, we have a penchant for trying to make complex problems one dimensional, and that almost always distorts the issue.

We can say that pornography is a problem and it may well be, at least for some people. We can say that there are good reasons why some people struggle to be able to be sexual with their partners, and there are. We can also say that fidelity is important, and it is. Can we also admit that all human beings are sexual beings, whether they are able to act on their sexuality within or without a relationship or not? Can we see that if we are in a relationship where we cannot participate sexually, where our partners want to be sexual, and where neither of us wants to have an affair, that there needs to be an outlet for the sexuality of the functional partner? Can we further see that it is anything but reasonable to become upset if we discover our partner is masturbating - under any circumstances, but perhaps especially under these circumstances?

Approximately one in three women experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. Six out of seven college coeds have heard people joking about rape. This is one reason I find the statistics about sexless marriages to be rather unbelievable and likely under reported. The consequences of this violence are wide reaching - so why aren't we talking about them? Why do we seem obsessed about what is happening when Kyle cuffs his carrot but not about why his wife's sexuality has been disrupted? Many feminists focus on subjects like pornography and masturbation to the exclusion of the consequences of rape culture and developing an adequate treatment response to it. Why is that? Why do we feel perfectly fine talking about rape culture but balk at taking - and working - toward changing it?

In my more cynical moments, I believe the reason is that it's much easier to bitch about something than to do the hard work of changing that something. Protests and marches are dramatic, high energy, and offer the possibility of being seen on TV. Changing the culture is slow, difficult, and sometimes discouraging work. There is more romance in complaining than in working for change. Maybe that's the nature of romantic actions - they are flashy, easy, and offer their own (fleeting) reward. Change is difficult and takes time, but it is a much more meaningful, lasting work. Maybe it's time to re-examine what is truly meaningful. Maybe it's time to start telling the people who show up for every march but can't be found when the work comes around to put up or shut up. Maybe we need to be honest that more masturbation (of a sort) goes on in the name of social justice than while holding up a magazine with one hand.

*post-millenials are those who were between ages 6 and 21 in 2018, or who today would be between ages 8 and 23. 

Saturday, January 18, 2020


There have been a lot of changes around Blogger in the last year, and there were rumors of its demise, prompting me to post more on my other blog Craig Bergland. It turns out that much of the fuss was about the demise of Google+, which never caught on as a competitor to Facebook. That is really a shame, but not surprising since Google+ wasn't the most user friendly platform for interaction. Combine that with most people have a resistance to change, and failure was almost a forgone conclusion.

As odd as it may seem, I like this platform and now that it seems like it will stick around I intend to continue to blog here. I really believe that Interspirituality is the spirituality of the future, though perhaps not under that name. Whether we want to admit it or not, the truth is that institutional religion in all its forms has had a rough few decades, and the general opinion is that its representatives cannot be trusted. Across traditions spiritual leaders have used and abused those under their care. That fact, coupled with humanity's growing understanding that we don't need an intermediary to access the Divine, has led to a shift in our perceived need for often pants-less teachers and preachers. If our children are not safe among those claiming to be God's representatives, either something is very wrong with God or something is very wrong with how the institution chooses its representatives. I am going to go out on a limb and guess the problem lies with the latter choice.

Pope Emeritus Benadryl XVI recently coauthored a book in which he disagreed with Pope Francis' position that in areas of critical priest shortages married priests should be allowed. Francis is essentially saying that the needs of the people are more important than the rules of the Church. Benadryl disagrees, and I have to wonder if that disagreement isn't at least in part an attempt to avoid the transparency that inevitably grows when new faces move into new spaces. A club filled with Queens and Pedophiles seldom welcomes the introduction of married men, because they and their wives may not be subject to the same kinds of coercion necessary to maintain a toxic code of silence. The winds of change are blowing in the Catholic Church, and they are far healthier than the kinds of blowing that have been going on in that allegedly celibate institution for hundreds of years. Anyone with any access to the Catholic Church knows that celibacy is a requirement most often observed by avoiding it, whether with other clergy, a housekeeper, or the local bishop. Change is long overdue, and may be a significant step on the long path toward healing.