Sunday, July 15, 2018

God rid me of God.
I’ll never seek to define you again.
I’ll not speak of you again
in words that are not metaphor,
that are not these poetics where similes drip from my tongue
to speak of that which cannot be spoken.
God rid me of God.
Till I find you in the silence of my breath.

--Joel McKerrow

Thursday, July 12, 2018

When I was a conservative Evangelical Christian, I went along with the party line (on any number of issues) because I was constantly given a very warped picture of the world. It was inculcated in me that the "other"--be they liberals or Democrats or academics or people from other cultures or people who practiced different religions or people who were in other ways different--were hopelessly (and Satanically) misguided at best and intentionally nefarious at worst. Thus, there was a constant undercurrent of fear and paranoia and defensiveness about living in the world surrounded by those misguided and/or wicked liberals/Democrats/gays/professors/abortionists/Muslims/Buddhists/Mormons/Wiccans/foreigners/feminists/scientists/secular humanists, etc., etc. I recall being in a Christian rock band and we sang a song with a chorus that went "Foolish hearts, blackened foolish hearts, are destined to die." Yikes. 

In our fundamentalist culture, the turning was always inward, always exclusionary (while we simultaneously spoke and sang about how Jesus loves everyone--except, I guess, for those foolish blackened hearts destined to die, which meant pretty much everyone who didn't believe as we did).   The solution was to get everyone to believe the way we believed or, failing that, to at least get them to behave the way we thought they should behave.  That was the criteria of any outreach (I recall, a few years ago, I mentioned on Facebook that I was going to hear a Muslim Imam give a speech at a church on the topic of Muslim-Christian dialogue, and an old friend from my fundamentalist days responded by asking if I was going in order to try to convert the Imam--and if I wasn't going to attempt to convert him then I had no business going).   

The thing we were conditioned to fear most was turning outward toward openness and inclusivity. Acceptance of "the other" (without condition) and learning to listen to and appreciate the viewpoints and experiences of "the other" were considered dangerous propositions because doing so would weaken the walls of our fundamentalist ghetto and dilute our scrupulous doctrinal purity. We had to be vigilant about not allowing "sin in the camp." The senior pastor of a megachurch I attended for several years referred to seminary (in other words, rigorous theological education) as "cemetery" (meaning that learning too much would kill our fundamentalist faith). The prioritization of purity and separateness took precedence over empathy and compassion--although we couldn't see it (which, I now suspect, is why Jesus called the Pharisees "blind").

I've been out of that conservative, fundamentalist, Evangelical Christian bubble for a number of years now, but current events cause me to reflect.  If I were still ensconced in that environment, I would probably be a Fox News and conservative talk radio devotee. I would, quite possibly, support Donald Trump (in part out of hope that he would appoint conservative Supreme Court justices who could roll-back Roe v. Wade and gay marriage).   I would more readily imbibe conspiracy theories and the sketchy claims of flim-flam men.  I would tend toward inwardly-focused protectionist/isolationist ideologies and policies. I would see the larger world as filled with scary ideas and scary people intent on destroying my godly and "right" little world--a world in which the lines were clear and the explanations were simple.

A couple of years ago my wife and I were on vacation and were doing a little shopping in a neat little "old town" area. We came upon a store selling Buddhist, Hindu and "metaphysical" goods. We went inside and had an enjoyable browse. The proprietor behind the cash register, it turned out, was a recent immigrant from Tibet. We had a lovely chat, including some talk about spiritual things. But the thought never crossed our minds to try to convert him, nor--apparently--he to convert us. It was genuinely interesting to hear his perspective and he appeared equally interested to hear ours. As we left the store, my wife remarked to me, "You know, for so many years, I would have been afraid to go into a store like that or to have an agendaless conversation with a person like that. It's nice to be free."

Friday, June 29, 2018

Thursday, June 28, 2018

When a minority imposes their religious beliefs/interpretations on the greater population, through the use of the government, it is theocracy. And theocracy always--ALWAYS--becomes cruel and oppressive. 

This is what we are seeing now in the U.S. with the unholy marriage between conservative Christians and Donald Trump. He will happily use them to further his authoritarian ambitions. They will happily use him to further their theocratic ambitions (which include repeal of Roe v. Wade, repeal of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ protections, further "religious freedom protections" for fundamentalist Christians and fewer protections for people of other faiths, etc.--all rooted in very tenuous interpretations of scripture). 

The longer this "theocratic creep" goes on in our government, the more entrenched and expansive it will become--despite being an expression of the will and values of a minority. 

These upcoming mid-term elections, I suspect, really are going to be a critical time in U.S. history for the majority (who are not theocratically inclined) to rise up and put a stop to its spread and thus enact a course correction away from theocracy and back toward real liberty and justice for all.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Process Theology And Alfred North Whitehead with Daniel Coleman

My interview with Clint Sabom a few weeks ago for his Contemplative Light podcast has just been posted on Youtube.

Excerpt: "Interview with Daniel Coleman, author of Presence and Process.  Draws on ideas of Alfred North Whitehead to understand God as a verb.  This is a very helpful perspective for any mystic and spiritual seeker."

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”
-- U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, this week, explaining (what he claims to be) the Biblical justification for Trump's "zero tolerance" policy toward undocumented immigrants, which includes detaining children as well as adults and separating children from their parents.

“I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible."
-- White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' response, this week, to press questions about Sessions' statement.

If you are a pastor who will be delivering a sermon tomorrow morning and you do not plan to speak out against this egregious misuse of the Bible by government officials for the purpose of justifying the mistreatment of immigrants, you should probably go find a different job. If you don't understand why it is an egregious misuse of the Bible, you should definitely go find a different job.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Saturday, June 02, 2018

 "I'm wondering, as musicians, whether the most important thing we do is merely to provide a frame for silence.  I'm wondering if silence itself is perhaps the mystery at the heart of music.  And is silence the most perfect form of music of all?"


Friday, June 01, 2018

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called 'leaves') imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic." 

--Carl Sagan

Friday, May 18, 2018

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Friday, April 27, 2018

Sunday, April 22, 2018

"Winning power was the goal of Judas, not Jesus."

--Dr. Mark Labberton, President, Fuller Theological Seminary

Political Dealing: The Crisis of Evangelicalism

Friday, March 30, 2018

It's Good Friday. So here's to the holy rebels, the godly heretics, the troublemakers who speak truth to power, the compassionate crossers of boundaries and breakers of taboos, the peaceful social justice warriors, the challengers of oppressive systems, the upsetters of the status quo. Here's to the ones who get bruised and beaten and crushed and crucified by authorities who sense their threat. The message can never be buried for long. Here's to the ones who don't merely worship Jesus; they follow him.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"…I have a deep affinity and respect for Buddhism, and I think that I am as much a Chinese Buddhist in temperament and spirit as I am a Christian…. I think one can certainly believe in the revealed truths of Christianity and follow Christ, while at the same time having a Buddhist outlook on life and nature…. A certain element of Buddhism in culture and spirituality is by no means incompatible with Christian belief….”

--Thomas Merton

Monday, February 26, 2018

When I was a kid we had a lesson in school about advertising and propaganda. I still remember much of it because I found it so fascinating--the various tactics used by advertisers and propagandists to shape people's perceptions and motivate them to action (such as buying a product or voting a certain way or slaughtering their neighbors). Throughout my life I've informally studied propaganda. And to this day, since that childhood educational experience, when I see an advertisement I can't help but analyze it to see where the motivational hooks are: Is it appealing to a need for prestige or a desire to belong? Is it playing on fear? Is it implicitly promising success with sex/mating? Etc.

One of the things I've learned about the most heinous applications of propaganda--those used to foment things like genocide and fascism and violent revolution--is that they intentionally dehumanize a target group. Nazis referred to Jews as parasites, as plague-ridden rats. European colonialists in 18th-century America referred to the indigenous people as "merciless savages" (it's right there in the U.S. Constitution) and in the 20th-century depicted Japanese people, including Japanese-Americans, as dirty, sneaky, ruthless, murderous, nihilistic and fanatical bucktoothed caricatures (making it much easier to round up one's neighbors and put them in internment camps or explode atomic bombs over a couple of their cities). During the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, radio broadcasts played an important role in inciting ordinary Hutu citizens to take part in the massacres of their Tutsi neighbors. Tutsis were referred to by the radio propagandists as "cockroaches" and "a disease" and "snakes." There are, sadly, a plethora of other examples from history of this dehumanizing rhetoric about "the other" easing the way toward cruelty and atrocity.

Which brings me to something I saw last week that chilled my blood: Speaking at CPAC, the political conservative gathering, U.S. President Donald Trump recited a poem which he prefaced as being about "immigration" (not "illegal immigration" but simply "immigration"--I assume from "shithole countries") Apparently, he has read this poem aloud before at some of his rallies. The poem (actually lyrics to a song based upon one of Aesop's fables), is called "The Snake."

Here is a video of Trump reading The Snake at CPAC:

If you don't find it disturbing, you probably need to spend some time studying the historical role and consequences of propaganda.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

On writing a book...

Writing a book and having it published has been a tremendously eye-opening experience for me.

One spends a couple of years in hard intellectual labor: pondering, researching, gathering, sorting, clarifying, outlining, writing, re-writing, re-writing, re-writing, fine-tuning, tweaking, checking, re-checking, fixing, re-checking, fixing, working with the publisher on matters ranging from contract negotiation to grammatical and editorial choices to font selection to book cover design (and being humbled and gratified by the publisher's deep knowledge on these matters).

Then, finally, the book is completed and released into the world. And one faces the harsh reality that a million books are released into the world each year and this one is just a drop in the ocean. But still, something that didn't exist before now exists due to one's hard work. Then comes promotion: trying to overcome the inertia of the world's indifference to what one has produced. And occasionally a kind angel with a blog or podcast swoops in and takes the book under their wing and champions it to their audience. And then periodically an email comes in from a reader expressing how helpful the book has been to them on their journey. And every now and then a review appears online reminding you that your book really does have value. The royalty check arrives in the mail and reminds you that you won't be quitting your day job anytime soon.

And after a while things taper off. The labor involved was more sustained than you had anticipated at the beginning and you're a bit spent. You move on to the next things--after all, it's been 2 or 3 years since the process of writing your book began.

Then, for some reason--maybe an interview request or an invitation to conduct a workshop--you pick up your book and read through it again. And you think, "This is good. I'm happy with this." And you also realize that you thought you were providing answers but really you were exploring your own questions. And the questioning and searching for meaning continues. And maybe that means you'll do it all over again. 


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Another school shooting...

We have acclimated to atrocity in our midst and accepted it as a "fair price" to pay for our "freedoms." It makes me think of Shirley Jackson's classic short-story The Lottery, in which an American town selects at random once per year a resident to be stoned to death in order to insure a good harvest. We all, residents of the United States, are now participants in a deadly lottery.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

"Presence and Process does a concise job of introducing and distilling thoughts and concepts that are usually confined to academic circles. Coleman’s thorough research and careful gleaning of a wide variety of quotes from monks, nuns and masters throughout the ages offer lay readers lots of helpful nuggets of truth and could whet a reader’s appetite for deeper exploration." 

--Josina Guess, The Englewood Review of Books

Thursday, February 01, 2018

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."
--Jesus (Gospel of Luke 16:10)

Last night Donald Trump gave his first State of the Union address since becoming President of the United States.  According to the Nielsen ratings organization 45.6 million viewers watched.  In terms of ratings this puts viewership of Trump's State of the Union at sixth place because State of the Union addresses given by Bill Clinton (1994), Barack Obama (2010), George W. Bush (2002), Bill Clinton (1998) and George W. Bush (2003). 

Today Donald Trump has falsely claimed--despite indisputable data to the contrary--that "the highest number in history" watched his State of the Union address. No one seems particularly surprised that he has claimed this. We roll our eyes. His supporters will brush it off as no big deal, or maybe even choose to believe him.

In making this ridiculous claim, was Trump intentionally telling a cynical lie to try to shape perceptions or does he actually believe this to be true because his ego requires it? Does it really matter? Either way it is a denial of basic reality, of facts, of truth. If the President of the United States will not or cannot embrace reality on such a public matter as this, how can we have any faith that he can grasp reality, or communicate truth to the American people, on any matter, large or small?

In other words, we simply cannot believe a single word Donald Trump says, nor can we assume that he is functioning with anything resembling a clear understanding of what is real and true.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

My interview with Steve Wiens for his 'This Good Word' podcast has just been posted. This was a really fun conversation, digging into my book 'Presence and Process'.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Politics doesn't exist in a vacuum. Neither does religion. In fact, politics (how we manage our societies) and religion (our understanding of divinity and our relation to divinity and thus to one another) are two of the most fundamental things that impact our lives and our society and the world at large. History is told from the perspective of how politics and religion shaped events. Politics and religion are almost always intertwined in some way or other.

This leads me one of Donald Trump's tweets yesterday, in which he stated "if there is no Wall, there is no DACA." This is the Wall (he capitalizes it) that, according to the Department of Homeland Security, will cost $21.6 billion (about the cost of one and a half aircraft carriers) to build and its efficacy is greatly disputed. This is the Wall that Trump said over and over again that Mexico would pay for. Now he wants you and I--Mr. and Mrs. American Taxpayer--to pay for it. But he's not asking us, he is demanding it and, essentially holding 800,000 people (the DACA "Dreamers") hostage in order to have his demands met.

Trump, by way of executive order, eliminated the DACA protections for these hundreds of thousands of young adults who were brought into the U.S. illegally as children--through no fault of their own--and who have been contributing to American society ever since. Trump then (in the infamous "shithole" meeting) torpedoed a bipartisan deal to reinstitute DACA legislatively. Now he appears to be running an old-fashioned mafia-style protection racket: "It would be a real shame if something bad were to happen to those Dreamers. Give me $21.6 billion and I'll make sure nothing bad happens." Now he has made clear his intention: to use the dreamers, and each of their futures, as leverage to get his Wall. This is despite the fact (or perhaps because of the fact) that both Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly support DACA, as do 70-80% of Americans.

So here's where the religion part comes into the mix. 81% of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump. But Christianity teaches that we should take care of the powerless in our midst: the marginalized, the poor, the immigrant, etc. Jesus confronted the powers of his day (the legalistic Pharisees, the opportunistic Sadducees, Herod and his administration, the Roman empire) by nonviolently but boldly exposing their hypocrisy and oppressiveness.

So why are so many Christians silent today about what Trump is doing to 800,000 DACA Dreamers? One would expect a deafening outcry from the followers of Jesus. Why isn't Trump's white evangelical Christian base--who he supposedly listens to--telling him that this is not acceptable?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

I Am a U.S. Citizen Thanks to Chain Migration

I am an American citizen because of "chain migration." 

"Chain migration," which Donald Trump calls "horrible," is the process whereby immigrants already legally residing in the U.S. can petition the Immigration Service to allow their extended family to immigrate (if they meet the requirements). In other words, it is designed to foster family reunification--a long U.S. immigration tradition. For example, in 1885, 16-year old Friedrich Trump (Donald Trump’s grandfather)--who spoke little English and had no career skills--immigrated from Germany to join his oldest sister in the U.S. The tale of the United States--a nation of immigrants--is one of "chain migration."

My parents, my sister and I immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1960's. In our case we were able to immigrate because my father's cousin, who had previously immigrated to the U.S., petitioned on our behalf. The entire application process took about a year. Another requirement for immigration at that time was that my parents had to have at least $1,000.00 in the bank (that was in 1967-68, so it would be about $7,500.00 in today's dollars). My parent's were young working-class adults with two kids at the time and so were pretty broke, but a family member put $1,000.00 into my parent's bank account and let it sit there in order to meet this requirement. After we had settled in the U.S. the money was withdrawn from the account and returned to the family member.

Upon moving to the U.S., my dad worked as a printer and my mom initially made money "under the table" providing daycare in our apartment. Ultimately my dad worked for 25 years at a major newspaper and my mom worked as a secretary for many years (first for a lawyer and then for a city government agency). Despite lacking college educations, my parents worked hard and fulfilled the American dream, buying houses and cars and paying taxes and contributing to society and living a comfortable middle-class existence and providing opportunities for their progeny that they never had for themselves. Their children both earned Master's degrees and made higher salaries than their parents. One grandchild is earning a doctorate in physics while the other is in college to become a computer animator. That's what "chain migration" enabled the Coleman's to accomplish in the United States. 

So when I hear Donald Trump and Republican politicians/pundits and their supporters railing against "chain migration," I hear them railing against me and my family.

We didn't enter the U.S. through Ellis Island, as so many immigrants before us did, but it is interestingly symbolic that on the one year anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration as president, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are closed.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Saturday, January 13, 2018

"Once when I was off on a Zen retreat in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, I was very surprised to see another Westerner there—in fact he was a Roman Catholic priest doing Zen practice—and we became friends. His name was Father William Johnston. He’s written many books and he broadened my perspective considerably. As a Christian, he had learned a lot from the techniques of meditation that come from the Buddhist tradition, and it had allowed him to deepen his Christianity. Through him I learned that the experiences that I was having in doing Buddhist meditation were part of a much broader worldwide phenomenon: that meditation, in fact, existed in Christianity, Judaism, Islam. That it was, in a slightly different form, central in the shamanic practices of our tribal ancestors. That it is indeed a global and universal thing, and that although the particular customs and doctrinal systems—the belief systems—of the various world religions differ dramatically, the contemplative or meditative core is virtually universal. Father Johnston had a vast library of comparative mysticism—the writings of the meditation masters of the world—and he let me read in that library. So I got to see what I was doing in Buddhist meditation in a much broader context. He also got me interested in the scientific study of meditative states. He had friends at a Buddhist university who were studying the brainwaves of Zen meditators, and he took me to their research lab. They hooked us both up to their equipment and were utterly amazed to see that a Roman Catholic priest produced the same kind of brainwaves as a 30-year Zen meditator. But of course it’s not surprising at all, given the universal nature of the meditative experience."