Friday, August 18, 2017

“We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery.”

--Annie Dillard

One of the silliest arguments I've heard against removing Confederate statues is that doing so is an attempt to "erase" or "rewrite" history. As if statues and monuments are accurate depictions of history. There is an old saying, often attributed to Winston Churchill, that "history is written by the victors"--in other words, by those in power. I think this is especially true when history is written in the form of statues and monuments. Statues and monuments, by their very nature, tend to elevate and aggrandize their subject. 

Fortunately, if one is honestly interested in learning history, there are these amazing things called "books" which can enable one to study history in detail and from multiple perspectives.

Of course, those Confederate statues were erected decades after the Civil War--often in the Jim Crow era from 1900 to 1920 (and also in the Civil Rights era of the 1950's through 1960's) by folks who wanted to make a statement. They lost the Civil War but retained their position of civic power and clung to the ideology behind the Civil War.

Another axiom about "history" is that history is not what actually transpired but rather the stories we tell about what transpired. Each of those stories is always told from a particular perspective because humans are subjective creatures. The perspective of history told by Confederate statues and monuments is narrow and hagiographical and entrenched in racist ideology. The beautiful thing about books on history is that one can read several accounts representing different perspectives and then make up one's own mind.

So lets remove the statues and promote reading instead.

Amazon is showing Presence and Process as the #1 New Release in the category of Theravada Buddhism.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"While some long for fruitful dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism, Daniel is bringing in the first fruits of the harvest! In Presence and Process you get a clear and insightful invitation to a place where the boundaries we have inherited between the East and West, contemplation and justice, and theory and practice are dissolved. I loved so much of this book, but can't wait for church leaders to take the ecclesiological vision to heart."

-Tripp Fuller, Homebrewed Christianity

Sunday, August 13, 2017

One of the rules in an abusive family is that the truth of the abuse must remain unspoken, kept inside the family. This, of course, empowers the abusers and perpetuates the victimization of the powerless. I've seen the same dynamic in dysfunctional churches and other organizations, where speaking openly about or confronting abusive attitudes and actions in leadership is quashed. But I think this applies to the U.S.A. as a whole also. We are a dysfunctional nation. Our violent origin in warfare, slavery and genocide still play a huge role in our national identity (I mean, our national anthem is a description of a battle!), and in our national discourse and in our national troubles. Many people, particularly those who have explicitly or implicitly benefited from the system as it is, don't want the abusive dysfunction exposed and would call those who bring attention to it "unpatriotic."

Buddhists have a doctrine called Contingent Arising which states that things occur based on what occurred before them. That's a no-brainer really. But it leads into the often misunderstood doctrine of Karma. Karma isn't simply a cosmic tit-for-tat; that if you do bad things in this life you'll come back in the next life as a cockroach. Or if you do something mean, something mean will sooner or later be done to you. Karma is the idea that your intentions and thoughts and actions form patterns in your psyche and in your life (the way running water forms a channel, or wheels on a dirt road form a rut), and that those patterns get established (not only in individuals, but also in families, in organizations, in societies, etc.) and those patterns are self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing. They become the path of least resistance and so, if left unexamined and unchecked and unbroken, they become stronger and more deeply ingrained. It is sort of like the way that a microphone placed in front of a speaker will begin an audio feedback loop which will get stronger and stronger and louder and louder if permitted to continue.

I don't believe in reincarnation, but I very much believe in karma. The U.S.A. has a karma problem. Frankly, we have some shitty national karma: patterns and attitudes and systems and institutions and cultural norms established long ago that continue to reverberate and which, when ignored, propagate.

Stuff like Charlottesville, VA is not a sign of something new in America. It is an echo of something very old in our country: our national karma.  And as our national dysfunction and abusiveness gets exposed more and more, there is a strong counter reaction. It manifests as pathetic white men marching around with torches, spewing vile racist slogans, trying to intimidate by dressing up like soldiers carrying assault rifles, driving cars into crowds. It manifests in public officials who will--either obliquely or blatantly--empower white Christian supremacy (perhaps calling it "Western values"). It shows in the Christian leaders who fail to speak against it and thus fail in their charge. It shows in the Antichrist--often posing as religious authority--defending and condoning and rationalizing our national sins of militarism and racism and greed.

The thing about karma is that is can be changed. For Buddhists, that's the whole point. We unflinchingly observe the patterns so that we understand them for what they are, we act with deliberate intention to break their power by cultivating newer and healthier patterns. It's hard work: we take two steps forward and one step back, but we slowly make progress.

I don't know if it's true but I've been told that the Battle of the Bulge was the fiercest battle in Europe in WWII, but that historians can look back now and say that by the time of the Battle of the Bulge the larger war had already, for all intents and purposes, been won. The end for the Nazis was inexorable by that point. I think of that when I see the election of Trump and Pence, the appointment of Jeff Sessions, the quisling spokespeople in the White House, the cruelty of the House and Senate, the rank racist hatred in Charlotte, the complicit silence of so many Christians.

The battle for our national karma is fierce because it is slowly and incrementally changing for the better, in large part because of the courage of those who will speak out and march and write and report and expose and preach and legislate and seek truth and vote and do the hard work of self-examination. I take heart in that.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”


Friday, August 11, 2017

"War against an external foe is a most excellent means of distracting the populace from grievances at home."

I've been thinking lately about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which was used as justification for the U.S. to enter fully into the Vietnam war.

According to the U.S. Naval Institute, "The administration's zeal for aggressive action, motivated by President Johnson's election worries, created an atmosphere of recklessness and overenthusiasm in which it became easy to draw conclusions based on scanty evidence and to overlook normally prudent precautionary measures. Without the full picture, Congress could not offer the checks and balances it was designed to provide. Subsequently, the White House carried the nation into the longest and one of the most costly conflicts in our nation's history."

As a song from that era says, "When will they ever learn..."

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Is Mindfulness a Fad?

I was a kid when the CB radio fad hit.  There was that song, Convoy, and then the movie based on the song and next thing I knew my dad was installing whip antennas on the station wagon and mounting a CB radio under the dash as we were about to leave on our family summer vacation.  I remember the thrill--as we drove across the plains of Colorado--of pressing the button on the microphone and saying "Breaker, breaker 1-9" and hearing a husky ethereal voice reply "Come on back, breaker."

It was fun.  We learned the lingo and etiquette ("What's your 20, good buddy?").  It broke up the monotony of those long drives to Disneyland and Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon and far-flung relatives.  It was helpful to have a CB radio on the interstate back in those pre-Internet, pre-cellphone days.  It probably also drove the serious CB users--the long-haul truckers--up the wall having all of us amateurs clogging the airwaves trying to sound like C.W. McCall.  We look back on it now with fondness and perhaps a little bit of embarrassment.

Is that how we'll think about Mindfulness in twenty or thirty years?

I've heard "serious" practitioners of Buddhism speak disparagingly of "McMindfulness."  Earlier this week Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show had guest Andy Puddicombe lead the audience through a two-minute meditation; probably the longest stretch of dead-air in the show's history.  Newsweek and Time have published big glossy special issues about Mindfulness (both of which, of course, featured cover photos of attractive young women in blissful meditative states).  There are now dating services, such as, geared toward helping Mindfulness practitioners find mates.  A plethora of manufacturers and retail outlets make and sell meditation supplies, from altars to zafus.  New Mindfulness apps for our smartphones keep popping up.  Mindfulness teachers and books and retreats and workshops and TED talks continue to proliferate.

Although I think we will indeed look back in embarrassment on some of the excesses of the marketing of Mindfulness, I don't think Mindfulness itself is a fad.  Because Mindfulness is rooted in a 2,500 year old Buddhist tradition (and is unlikely to be replaced by newer "technology"), and because it has such a proven track-record of being genuinely beneficial, it is here to stay.  But like the fake Buddhist monks who aggressively panhandle tourists in New York City and San Francisco, there will always be a need to discern what is bona fide from what is disingenuous and crass. 

The explosion of Mindfulness into popular culture is part of a longer, steadier trend of Buddhism making inroads into the West.  That longer trend can be traced back in part to Zen monk  Shoyen Shaku's appearance at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, and then his disciple D.T. Suzuki's tireless efforts to promote Buddhism outside of Japan (including dialogues with appreciative Christian monks such as Thomas Merton) into the 1960's, and then the charismatic Tibetan master Chögyam Trungpa's establishment of Buddhist meditation and education centers in the U.S. and Europe (including the Naropa Institute, now Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado) in the 1970's, and the rise in popularity of the effervescent Dalia Lama, and then the importation of Theravada-based vipasanna (aka insight or mindfulness) meditation to America by Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg.   

The various strains of Buddhism--Zen, Tibetan, Theravada, Pure Land, etc.--long separated from one another by culture and distance, are now mingling in the West at an unprecedented level.  Many observers postulate that an entirely new strain of Western Buddhism is emerging as a result.  And, like most things Western, it will no doubt be susceptible to commodification and hyperbole.  The facade of Mindfulness in America may be bright and neon-lit but the temple behind it is majestic and the door is open to enter and explore further.

Mindfulness isn't going to flame out or jump the shark.  It may eventually be taken for granted as it becomes a standard component in school curricula and workplace wellness programs and patient rehab protocols and TV-show dialogue and people's morning routine.   Maybe we'll stop calling it Mindfulness but I suspect that twenty or thirty years from now a lot more people, Buddhists and non-Buddhists, will be practicing Buddhist-derived meditation than are now--but it won't be particularly exciting or exotic or newsworthy.  It will just be part of the Western cultural landscape, like the imported Himalayan blackberry bushes that have spread throughout the Pacific Northwest where I live.

Speaking of which, this is my exit.  So remember: keep the shiny side up and the greasy side down.  Try not to feed the bears.  10-4, good buddy.  See you on the flipside.  Over and out.  Namaste.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

"The quality of our life is determined by the mind's response to the circumstances of our life.  It is not determined directly by the circumstances.  We make the mistake of trying to produce happiness and meaning by controlling circumstances, mistakenly thinking that they are the primary cause.  In the old texts, this is referred to has 'beating the cart to make the horse move.'

The more we are attached to this approach, the more vulnerable we become to anxiety, because there is no certainty that we can attain or produce the proper circumstances.  And if we do produce the proper circumstances there is no certainty that they will endure, and so our emotions are constantly destabilized.

The pursuit of circumstances as the goal in life has an important corollary--that we, just as we are, are insufficient and unsatisfied, and that only through accomplishing certain things with our lives do we fulfill or justify our being here.  This error is the source of constant stress, and it also makes no sense.  And this is why society finds young people, even those in the upper classes, breaking under this horrible burden--abusing drugs and alcohol, cutting themselves, and even committing suicide, because their operating system is so divorced from reality, from genuine sanity.

Since this is the culture of our society--that meaning comes from wealth, status is in the eyes of others, and love is dependent on performance, and so on--one needs great courage to go against the current.  The wisdom that says these goals are meaningless in the face of our temporary stay here is hidden in our culture.  The grace of a gentle, noble spirit is not valued.  The fact is that every day we are gifted with the incredible present of a body and a mind, and a universe that supports our life.  Instead of living in deep gratitude, people take that for granted and go off on egotistical binges; this is a sign of the darkness of our time.

And it is all so simple--wake up with a profound 'Thank you' and cultivate that mood as much as much as possible."

--Yoshin David Radin, Ithaca Zen Center
(via Tricycle magazine)

Monday, August 07, 2017

Religion News Service has just posted an article I've written...

Excerpt: "Many Christians are finding mindfulness practice to be not just compatible but complimentary to their faith. They discover within these Buddhist-derived practices not only a key to transformation and renewal and holy living but also a doorway to a neglected Christian tradition. All truth is God’s truth, and so it should not be surprising that various cultures discovered the benefits of meditative and contemplative practices and then couched them within their own religious systems."

Sunday, August 06, 2017

"In our time when people are leaving church but are as spiritual as ever, inclusive and incisive resources such as Presence and Process are deeply needed. As interest grows in mystical traditions, bridges of recognition are built in surprising places. This wise, well-researched book creatively weaves Buddhism, mystical Christianity, Quakerism, and process theology. It is just this type of sensitive boundary-crossing that will help lay groundwork for the meaning-seekers of the future."

- Mark Longhurst, Editor, Ordinary Mystic


Saturday, August 05, 2017

Theologian, scholar, author, and Anglican clergyman N.T. Wright has been a big influence on me (admittedly less so in recent years) and was instrumental in igniting in me a passion for studying the Bible, theology and church history. So it was greatly disappointing to see his tone-deaf letter to the editor of the London Times two days ago, in which he compared people who are transgender to Gnostics. It's not just that I think Wright is wrong in his opinion about this, but that he stooped to using such a shoddy analogy to try to make his point and that he felt the need to make a very unpastoral public pronouncement about a matter that affects real people who are often beleaguered enough as it is.

Methodist minister Morgan Guyton has written a nice rebuttal.

Excerpt: "What if part of letting God be God and letting nature be nature is simply restraining ourselves from weighing in on realities we don’t understand?"

Thursday, August 03, 2017

"After a long and gradual arc of creeping disillusionment with the form of evangelical church I was experiencing, and having listened to thousands of sermons, engaged in countless Bible studies and attended dozens of “life-changing” seminars, I came to a point of asking 'Is this it? Is this all there is?' I was profoundly dissatisfied with the lack of spiritual depth and maturity I saw in myself and in my church peers, including our leaders. Consuming Bible lessons, singing heart-felt worship choruses and scrupulously engaging in personal sin management had brought only a modicum of spiritual maturity into our lives. I, and the other Christians I knew, continued to struggle with petty anger and jealousy and lust and fear and prejudice and dishonesty and selfishness and impatience and a subtly pervasive cynicism derived from living in what we had been taught is a fallen world. We looked to the future for a great coming revival—always just beyond the horizon—which would make everything right. This impending movement of dramatic Divine intervention—continually preached by our pastors, promised by our prophets, and prayed for by us pew-sitters—never came. I gradually became convinced that there had to be something more, something that was transformative not as a grand future event but right here and right now amid the mundanities of everyday life. But I had no idea what that transformative something might be."

"Stillness is the greatest revelation."

--Taoist proverb

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Today is the day that 'Presence and Process' begins shipping from Amazon.  Yay!

Order your copy at

"In Presence and Process, Daniel Coleman has created a unique and useful synthesis--showing how a convergence of perennialism, process theology and mysticism (Christian, Buddhist and Quaker) could have a profound role in fostering spiritual formation in this postmodern, post-Christendom age.  This is a pioneering work of practical theology."
- FR. RICHARD ROHR, author of The Divine Dance, Everything Belongs
and What the Mystics Know

Sunday, July 30, 2017

"Dear Mr. President,
Maybe you should ban all Christians from the military.
People who love their enemies don't make good soldiers."

--Shane Claiborne

Thursday, July 27, 2017

"Presence and Process is an amazing book. It provides the best, most compact introduction I've come across to key concepts like mysticism, contemplation, and process theology. It explores the productive ferment that is taking place at the intersection of Christianity and Buddhism. And it invites practitioners to imagine a new kind of church for the journey before us. I highly recommend Presence and Process."

- BRIAN D. MCLAREN, author of The Great Spiritual MigrationWe Make the Road by Walking and A New Kind of Christianity

Monday, July 24, 2017

Amazon is listing Presence and Process as the #1 new release in Quaker Christianity.

"At any moment, you have a choice, that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it."

--Thích Nhất Hạnh

Sunday, July 23, 2017

My book, Presence and Process, is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Ships August 1st.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs, but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion, that makes amends for its mistakes and is dedicated to beloved community for all? Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life?"

--Fr. Richard Rohr

Monday, July 17, 2017

"If a Creator God exists, would He or She or It or whatever the appropriate pronoun is, prefer a kind of sodden blockhead who worships while understanding nothing? Or would He prefer His votaries to admire the real universe in all its intricacy? I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship. My deeply held belief is that if a god of anything like the traditional sort exists, then our curiosity and intelligence are provided by such a god. We would be unappreciative of those gifts if we suppressed our passion to explore the universe and ourselves. On the other hand, if such a traditional god does not exist, then our curiosity and our intelligence are the essential tools for managing our survival in an extremely dangerous time. In either case the enterprise of knowledge is consistent surely with science; it should be with religion, and it is essential for the welfare of the human species."

--Carl Sagan

Sunday, July 16, 2017

"Ethical integrity requires both the intelligence to understand the present situation as the fruition of former choices, and the courage to engage with it as the arena for the creation of what is to come. It empowers us to embrace the ambiguity of a present that is simultaneously tied to an irrevocable past and free for an undetermined future. Ethical integrity is not moral certainty. A priori certainty about right and wrong is at odds with a changing and unreliable world, where the future lies open, waiting to be born from choices and acts. Such certainty may be consoling and strengthening, but it can blunt awareness of the uniqueness of each ethical moment. When we are faced with the unprecedented and unrepeateable complexities of this moment, the question is not 'What is the right thing to do?' but 'What is the compassionate thing to do?' This question can be approached with integrity but not with certainty. In accepting that every action is a risk, integrity embraces the fallibility that certainty disdainfully eschews."

-- Stephen Batchelor

Friday, July 14, 2017

It is quite a paradigm shift to think of oneself as an occasion rather than an object; not a what but a when.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

There is a way to live our daily life that transforms normal life into a spiritual life. Even very simple things, like drinking tea with mindfulness can be a deeply spiritual experience, which can enrich our lives. Why would people spend two hours just drinking one cup of tea? From a business viewpoint, this is a waste of time. But time is not money. Time has much more value than money. Time is life. Money is nothing compared with life. In two hours of drinking tea together, we don’t get money, but we do get life.

- Thich Nhat Hanh, At Home in the World

“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”
--Soren Kierkegaard

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Spent some quality telephone time yesterday with the publisher, going over last minute odds and ends before my book Presence and Process goes off to the printers today. It will make its first public appearance on July 24th at the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends in Newberg, OR. Yay!

Sunday, July 09, 2017

"Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

--Viktor Frankl

Friday, July 07, 2017

"The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another."
--Thomas Merton

Thursday, July 06, 2017

"All thoughts—good thoughts, bad thoughts, lovely thoughts, evil thoughts—occur within something. All thoughts arise and disappear into a vast space. If you watch your mind, you’ll see that a thought simply occurs on its own—it arises without any intention on your part. In response to this, we’re taught to grab and identify with them. But if we can, just for a moment, relinquish this anxious tendency to grab our thoughts, we begin to notice something very profound: that thoughts arise and play out, spontaneously and on their own, within a vast space; the noisy mind actually occurs within a very, very deep sense of quiet."

--Adyashanti, Falling Into Grace

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

"The man who really thinks he has an idea will always try to explain that idea. The charlatan who has no idea will always confine himself to explaining that it is much too subtle to be explained."
— G. K. Chesterton

New Patheos blog post: Spiritual Gifts

Excerpt: "Maybe God is more creative than five or seven or twelve or twenty-five spiritual gifts to choose from.  And maybe what's more important is simply learning to discern the movements of the Holy Spirit within oneself and then follow those leadings."

Sunday, July 02, 2017

"The truth can take care of itself.  You don't have to approach the truth with eyes lowered and gaze averted on bended knee; that's how you approach bullshit, but the truth is so powerful that you can kick the tires, turn over the engine, check the odometer, and nobody is offended.  Truth is real.  It can stand the test."

--Terence McKenna

Saturday, July 01, 2017

"The objection to Puritans is not that
they try to make us think as they do,
but that they try to make us do as they think."

— H. L. Mencken

Friday, June 30, 2017

"The coolness of Buddhism isn’t indifference but the distance one gains on emotions, the quiet place from which to regard the turbulence. From far away you see the pattern, the connections, and the thing as a whole, see all the islands and the routes between them.”
--Rebecca Solnit