Tuesday, January 31, 2017

If conservative's concern was really about protecting the American people, then the crackdown wouldn't be on refugees and law-abiding immigrants, but on extremist white men with guns (like the one who just massacred worshipers at a mosque in Quebec).  This isn't about protecting the American people, it's about preserving a vision of American homogeneity.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

"Buddhism does not advocate faith in the sense of believing something because it is written in a book, attributed to a prophet, or taught to you by some authority figure. The meaning of faith here is closer to confidence. It is knowing that something is true because you have seen it work, because you have observed that very thing within yourself. In the same way, morality is not a ritualistic obedience to a code of behavior imposed by an external authority. It is rather a healthy habit pattern that you have consciously and voluntarily chosen to impose upon yourself because you recognize its superiority to your present behavior."
--Bhante Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English

Saturday, January 28, 2017

If you love your freedom, thank a lawyer.

This short documentary film is entitled 4.1 Miles and has been nominated for an Oscar. It shows humans at their best, as they respond unselfishly to the disastrous effects of humans at their worst.

4.1 Miles from The New York Times - Video on Vimeo.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

A few years ago, my wife and I went to Germany to visit our son--who was living in Munich at the time. Munich is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen. It is filled with amazing architecture and ancient, ornate Catholic and Protestant churches. And every now and then one comes upon a plaque or a monument indicating where a synagogue or Jewish business once stood, or commemorating a shameful event such as Kristallnacht. These serve as reminders that the city's tranquil beauty and deep Christian history did not prevent it from becoming the epicenter of perhaps the greatest evil ever perpetrated in the history of humankind.

Outside of Munich is the Dachau concentration camp--still intact and open as a museum and memorial site. It is difficult to reconcile the horrors that happened at Dachau with the idyllic countryside in which the camp sits. During our visit we learned that Dachau was the Nazi's prototype concentration camp and that the first prisoners there were political opponents and people who spoke out against the Nazis: journalists, editors, activists, artists, some religious leaders, Quakers, etc. Also sent to Dachau initially were gay men, Jehovah's Witnesses and immigrants, who had been rounded up. The camp was conceived and developed by Munich's Chief of Police, Heinrich Himmler. Later the camp swelled with Jews and had to be expanded. It was a place of brutal torture, summary executions, and hideous medical experiments. By the end of WWII, tens of thousands had died there.

What was seared into my soul upon that visit was the juxtaposition between the civility and culture of Munich and the depraved barbarity of Dachau. The people of a deeply religious city--festooned with places of worship--unleashed the most Satanic of events: the Holocaust.

According to History Today, "Hitler’s regime was legitimised by various Christian churches from the start. The Vatican state was the very first to recognise Nazi Germany diplomatically. In 1933 the Deutsche Christen (the German Church) declared its support for the unity of cross and swastika. More ominously, 1941’s joint declaration of German Protestant Evangelical leaders urged that the ‘severest measures against the Jews be adopted and that they be banished from German lands.'"  After all, Hitler played to deeply ingrained prejudices and promised to make Germany great again.

Those Christian leaders who did speak out in the early days against the obviously anti-Christian agenda of the Nazi government were far too few.  They were criticized as alarmist, and then as extremist, and then as unpatriotic, and ultimately as traitors. 
By and large, the Church failed to be salt and light and a city on a hill.  The rest is history.

 (This is an edited re-post of a blog entry from November, 2015)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

"Religions have always stressed that compassion is not only central to religious life, it is the key to enlightenment and it the true test of spirituality. But there have always have been those who’d rather put easier goals, like doctrine conformity, in place."

--Karen Armstrong

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"Try pausing right before and right after undertaking a new action, even something simple like putting a key in a lock to open a door. Such pauses take a brief moment, yet they have the effect of decompressing time and centering you."

-- Br. David Steindl-Rast

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

It's a veritable renaissance of Huxley and Orwell quotes these days.


I never really thought about this until someone pointed it out to me: Paul--who is attributed with writing two-thirds of the New Testament--never uses the word "Christian" to describe himself or others.


In Asian mythology there are malevolent beings called "hungry ghosts." Hungry ghosts have huge stomachs, but tiny mouths and throats. As a result, they can never satisfy their immense cravings, and live in continuous torment and rage. 
Monsters and ghosts, of course, are metaphors for aspects of the human condition. The lesson of the hungry ghosts is that constant craving for more and more and more only leads to one's own suffering, as the appetites become insatiable. We see this in the myriad addictions which plague our culture. The hungry ghosts are tragic figures, trapped in their own hell.
Hungry ghosts drain off the chi--the lifeforce--of the living. This is reminiscent of the Greek tragedies, in which flawed human kings and princes committed misdeeds which brought miasma (plague, catastrophe, spiritual retribution) upon the land--often as a result of their own cravings for power or sex or revenge. Ultimately, the miasma could only be discharged via some terrible sacrificial cost.
When I look at Donald Trump, I see a hungry ghost. I see a man who goes out of his way to convince the world that he has it all, but who is suffering intensely because his craving for adulation is never satisfied. And I see a ruler who, as a result of his torment, will likely bring some form of miasma upon the land, with a resultant cost to us all. My prayer for Donald Trump is that he will find peace within himself--for his sake and ours. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

I surf.  Well, not literally.  I did try surfing literally once but I was terrible at it (it's harder than it looks).  No, I do a different kind of surfing.  I surf metaphorically, via mindfulness, on waves of existential impermanence.  It's not easy either. 

When I started down the contemplative path, I was seeking that inner "still point" which T.S. Eliot wrote of in his poem Burnt Norton:

"At the still point of the turning world....
Where past and future are gathered.
Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance..."

I was drawn to silent inner stillness.  I saw it as a place of repose.  But as I sat in meditation and watched my in-breaths and out-breaths, I noticed the continuous stream of thoughts running through my head.  I felt my blood pulsing and momentary nerve sensations on my skin.  I heard the sounds of activity outside my room: birds singing, cars humming, leaves rustling in the wind.  What I encountered in my stillness was motion; ever-changing and morphing and arising and ceasing.  The flux and flow of the universe.

When I think of creation--of atoms and molecules and cells and organisms and planets and solar systems and galaxies--I can see that each is not a static entity but rather a manifestation of continuous processes.  Right now, my body is whirring with the activity of trillions of cells as I stand on a rotating planet that is hurtling though space within a system within a system within a system; all inter-related and in motion. 

And then I fill in the blanks that I previously left out from that segment of T.S. Eliot's poem:           

"At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only dance."

So there is a still point, but that is where the dance is.  Christian mystics called it perichoresis: the divine dance of the Trinity.  "Do not call it fixity," says Eliot.  What the contemplative perceives in stillness is an intimate awareness of riding on the present-moment wave of the constantly changing everything.  “How do I become still?," wrote Lao Tzu, "By flowing with the stream.”  In stillness I become motion, and in the motion I am still.


"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.
The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death."

--Elie Wiesel

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My wife and I marched in Seattle today.  50,000 people were expected.  130,000 showed up.  It was the largest protest/rally/march in Seattle's history.  The energy was amazingly positive.  The cooperation between the marchers and the police was remarkable. Marchers showed their appreciation for police officers with cheers and thank-yous. Police officers were courteous and helpful and unobtrusive--facilitating rather than obstructing. It was a wonderful example of how to do a civic protest well.

Leading the march were indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest.  Behind them was an amazingly diverse array of Seattlites: young, old, LGBTQ, straight, black, white, latino, asian, every economic strata, etc.  The emphasis was on inclusion, compassion, diversity, kindness, human decency, appreciating and caring for others--all that "politically correct" stuff.  It was uplifting and Christ was very present.

The march was a five-mile walk through downtown ending at the Seattle Center (where the Space Needle is).  A steady stream of marchers arrived hour after hour after hour.  I've never seen anything like it in my life. 

One of the most touching moments for me was a woman who stood at the side of the march with look of beatific love and an ad hoc sign reading "I see you."

I was a young child during the Vietnam era and the Civil Rights movement.  I hope I would have been part of those protests had I been an adult at the time.  But I'm here now and I'm proud to be part of this amazing movement; to be on the right side of the moral arc of history.

Friday, January 20, 2017

"At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to [our country], and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other."

Who said it?

A. Benito Mussolini
B. Adolph Hitler
C. Mao Zedong
D. Donald Trump

I have not seen such a clear expression of civil religion since it was condemned by Jesus, Paul, and Revelation. #inauguration

-- Peter Enns

Strange days indeed...

The Second Coming
by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."

-- Theodore Roosevelt


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"I don’t believe much in what Mr. Descartes said: 'I think, therefore I am.' I think, therefore I’m lost in my thinking. I’m not there."

--Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"I was studying Christian artistic renderings of the life of Jesus, and I saw an image I had never before seen, one so powerful that I came to a different understanding of what helps with suffering. The image was the German artist Matthias Grunewald's sixteenth-century painting The Crucifixion. This image was originally part of an altarpiece painted for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim, Alsace (now in France). The monks of the monastery cared for patients afflicted with what they called St. Anthony's fire, which we now know was an ergot poisoning that afflicted its sufferers with convulsive and gangrenous symptoms. At the center of the Isenheim altarpiece is an enormous, agonized Christ, the weight of his body bowing the crosspiece. The body on the cross is contorted in pain, the flesh stuck with thorns and oozing blood and pus. When patients at the monastery hospital were brought before the painting, they would have recognized themselves, for the figure before them displayed the very symptoms of their own disease. The patients would have known the one who hung on the cross as one of their own, 'a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity' (Isaiah 53:3). In Grunewald's Crucifixion there is no attempt to explain suffering. There is only solidarity with the sufferer."

Our religion is not working well. Another year has ended—a new year begins—in which suffering, fear, violence, injustice, greed, and meaninglessness still abound. This is not even close to the reign of God that Jesus taught. And we must be frank: in their behavior and impact upon the world, Christians are not much different than other people. The majority of Christians are not highly transformed people, but tend to reflect their own culture more than they operate as any kind of leaven within it. "

-- Fr. Richard Rohr,
Making Christianity Relevant Again

"Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things…as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value."

--Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Monday, January 16, 2017

Conscientious Objector 

I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man's door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

--Edna St. Vincent Milay

“When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

“Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”

-- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Saturday, January 14, 2017

"[Last night] the Republican Party voted to begin dismantling Obamacare.' Rather than let them erase the law and its protections in one swoop, Democrats fought back by proposing amendments to save certain parts, like healthcare protections for veterans. Republicans voted against that. (But thanks for your service, vets!)

Then Republicans voted against the rule that says insurance companies have to cover "pre-existing conditions," (so if you have had cancer, diabetes, or heart problems in the past, good luck keeping even your private insurance now.) Then they killed CHIP, which is the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provided health care to impoverished sick kids. Again - they voted against health care for poor kids. (So Christlike.)

The Republicans then voted against continuing federal aid to rural hospitals, which is the only thing keeping many of them open. (I guess the joke's on all those deep-red heartland counties who voted for this one-party rule.) All you pro-life folks - they also voted against contraception coverage. With no health coverage for their pregnancies, more women will choose abortions to avoid bankruptcy. (Oops!) Also, that rule saying you can keep your kids on your private insurance until they're 26? Gone. Democrats also forced a vote to protect Medicare and Medicaid from being reduced, but Republicans voted against those, too. Old people and the infirm - to hell with them, right?

Democrats made them vote on every one of these topics - partly so voters could see exactly what was being voted against. And every time, like clockwork, the Republicans voted against the needs of human beings and in support of profits for insurance companies and tax cuts for the extremely wealthy, which paid for parts of these programs. It was sickening to see the votes unfold.

Democrats argued into the wee hours, but this is life under one-party rule. If you voted for Trump and his Republican majority, this is what you wanted. Abject human suffering. Drink deep. Here is your victory.

Not one Republican offered a single proposal to replace any of these services."

-- Anthony Breznican

Friday, January 13, 2017

I've been working with a nifty little Zen Buddhist practice called "Don't-Know-Mind." The idea behind it is this: We constantly, and without even realizing it, invent stories in our minds to explain things we experience.
So, for example, in my rear view mirror I see some guy in a BMW who is zipping through traffic; tailgating, changing lanes, trying to get ahead, fast approaching. I think to myself "What a jerk," assured that the driver is some rich yuppie who thinks he's better than everyone else. I'm tempted to try to block his forward progress, perhaps by intentionally matching my speed with the car next to me so there's no way around. Or a co-worker makes a comment that I interpret as critical of my work performance. I start to think: perhaps she's telling the boss bad things about me. I'd better counteract by slipping in some subtle criticisms of her job performance the next time I meet with our boss. Or a friend hasn't called in a while. He's probably angry after that last conversation we had where we disagreed about something. Well, tough luck. He's going to have to get over it and call me when he grows up.  But I'll continue to stew over it.
In each of those cases I constructed an entire mental scenario based on outside events or actions. And then I reacted based upon my internal mental scenario. But my mental scenario was not necessarily an accurate reflection of reality. I also, in doing so, departed from the present moment of reality into my interior world of rumination and fantasy and projection--substituting the real for the unreal.
"Don't-Know-Mind" means reminding myself that I simply don't know. That aggressive driver? Maybe he's late for work and afraid of getting reprimanded or fired. Maybe there's been an emergency at home and he's rushing to get there. Maybe he's in danger of missing his flight. Maybe he truly is being a jerk because he is very impatient, which causes him great stress (which it would be unkind of me to add to). I don't know. The co-worker? Maybe her comment wasn't meant the way I took it. Maybe she is not as Machiavellian as I'm projecting her to be. Or maybe she is struggling with fear about her own job security and really needs encouragement and a little help. I don't know. That friend who hasn't called? Maybe he is struggling with something completely unrelated to our last conversation. Maybe he needs my help. Or maybe he's on vacation. I don't know.
I'm finding that by practicing "Don't-Know-Mind" it is easier to extend grace to others and it reduces my anxiety and cynicism. I say to myself "I don't know" as soon as the mental scenario starts to arise. Then I'm able to let it go and get on with my life, and judge others a lot less.
Of course, there are many instances where we need to discern what is really going on and gather information and make determinations. But even then, beginning from a place of honest "I don't know" might help us to be more holistic and humble (and willing to reconsider) in our decisions about things.
I'm no master at this. In fact, I know I'm barely scratching the surface of it. There is so much I have yet to learn about it. But I'm finding it useful.  Perhaps there would be less conflict and angst in the world if there was more "don't know."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

"Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself."
--Desiderius Erasmus

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"I am learning to see. I don’t know why it is, but everything enters me more deeply and doesn’t stop where it once used to."

-- Rainer Maria Rilke

Monday, January 09, 2017

"One of the great absurdities of our time is people denouncing science on the Internet."

-- Brad Warner

When I was about 8 years old I went through a "difficult" phase. I became very surly to my teachers, got into fights with other kids, etc. When my parents confronted me about my behaviors (which had been reported to them by school staff) my answer was always the same: I had done nothing wrong; the teachers were lying and were all out to get me. Things got to the point--after I intentionally kicked a teacher's aide in the shin--that a school-district psychologist was brought in to meet with me a couple of times. He apparently assessed that there were no serious issues and, sure enough, before long I grew out of my little reign of terror and became more agreeable and learned to take responsibility for my own words and actions and have empathy for others.

That was 46 years ago. What reminded me of it this morning was reading Donald Trump's tweets in response to Meryl Streep's criticism of him mocking a disabled journalist in front of a crowd (we all saw it). Trump's "defense" was to blame the "very dishonest media." This has become his standard deflection technique: rather than take responsibility for his own words and actions, he blames the media. I don't buy it any more than my parents bought my blaming all the teachers at Pleasant View Elementary School for my childish anti-social behavior.


"The best advice I’ve ever received: ‘no one else knows what they are doing either.’"

--Charles Bukowski

Sunday, January 08, 2017

“There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can't get it out of my head because it wasn't in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it's modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody's life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose."

--Meryl Streep

“Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart.”

-- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Saturday, January 07, 2017

"The world's spiritual geniuses seem to discover universally that the mind's muddy river, this ceaseless flow of trivia and trash, cannot be dammed, and that trying to dam it is a waste of effort that might lead to madness. Instead you must allow the muddy river to flow unheeded in the dim channels of consciousness; you raise your sights; you look along it, mildly, acknowledging its presence without interest and gazing beyond it into the realm of the real where subjects and objects act and rest purely, without utterance."

-- Annie Dillard

Friday, January 06, 2017

"Christianity ... has always been a religion seeking a metaphysic, in contrast to Buddhism which is a metaphysic generating a religion."

--Alfred North Whitehead

I once heard Fr. Richard Rohr point out that what is missing from the Nicene Creed is the word "love." In the 4th century, when the creed was formulated, the preoccupation was with power, not love. The same can be said for many Christians today. Yet Jesus said that Christians would be known not by their preoccupation with temporal power, or by their creeds and doctrines and "statements of faith"--but by their love. The New Testament is replete with affirmations that it is love which marks out the followers of Jesus.
Creeds and covenants and "statements of faith" and doctrinal formulations are great for creating boundaries and defining who is "in" and who is "out." They are tools of a power-orientation. But they do not transform hearts or make disciples of Christ. They are merely tokens of mental agreement with a set of propositions.
The Apostle Paul urged the early Christians to "walk in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5), not to write a creed and follow it (in fact, Paul would have considered doing that to be "falling from grace" by putting oneself back "under the law"). Creeds are external. Creeds are static. Creeds are dead letters. Creeds are a shabby substitute for the God who is living and active and on the move and at work in the hearts of all people.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

"I am not mad at you that Clinton lost. I am unconcerned that we have different politics. And I don’t think less of you because you vote one way and I vote another. No… I think less of you because you watched an adult mock a disabled person in front of a crowd and still supported him. I think less of you because you saw a man spouting clear racism and backed him. I think less of you because you listened to him advocate for war crimes, and still thought he should run this country. I think less of you because you watched him equate a woman’s worth to her appearance and got on board. It isn’t your politics that I find repulsive. It is your personal willingness to support racism, sexism, and cruelty. You sided with a bully when it mattered and that is something I will never forget. So, no… you and I won’t be 'coming together' to move forward or whatever. Trump disgusts me, but it is the fact that he doesn’t disgust you that will stick with me long after this election."


"The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds."
 --Thomas Merton

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

A Buddhist's perspective on Donald Trump's New Year's tweet...

"I don’t really want to go into an analysis of Donald Trump and why the specifics of his personal ego led him to insert the particular words he did. Other people have already beaten that horse to death. I think there’s something much more interesting and universal going on and I’d like to dig a little deeper into it."


Tuesday, January 03, 2017

"Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not."

-- Samuel Johnson

Monday, January 02, 2017

"At the very same time that we need religion to be a strong force against extremism, it is suffering from a second pernicious trend, what I call religious routine-ism. This is when our institutions and our leaders are stuck in a paradigm that is rote and perfunctory, devoid of life, devoid of vision and devoid of soul."

-- Rabbi Sharon Brous

"The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts."

-- Marcus Aurelius

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

--Wendell Berry