Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Epitaph on a Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

--W.H. Auden, 1907-1973

Just thinking...  If the way I talk about a group of people or treat a group of people makes them think I hate them, then the problem is probably not with them but with me. 


"A physicist is just an atom’s way of looking at itself."

--Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize winning Physicist

Monday, February 27, 2017

Last night a Muslim actor won an Oscar for his performance in a film about the life of a gay black man. That's what makes America great.


Friday, February 24, 2017

I find it helpful these days to keep these figures in mind:

There are 324,420,000 U.S. Citizens.

In the 2016 U.S. election,

231,556,622 Americans were eligible to vote.

136,628,459 actually voted.

62,979,636 voted for Trump.

73,648,823 voted for someone other than Trump.

That means:

54% of those who voted DID NOT vote for Trump
46% of those who voted DID vote for Trump


73% of eligible voters DID NOT vote for Trump
27% of eligible voters voted FOR Trump


80.6% of U.S. citizens DID NOT vote for Trump
19.4% of U.S. citizens voted FOR Trump

In other words:

80% of your fellow Americans DID NOT vote for Trump. Keep that in mind.

An additional note...

The three states that put Trump over the top in the Electoral College were Pennsylvania (which he won by 44,292 votes), Wisconsin (which he won by 22,748 votes) and Michigan (which he won by 10,704 votes). That means that Donald Trump won the Electoral College, and thus the presidency, because of 77,744 votes. He had 2,800,000 million votes less than Clinton in the total popular vote count. In other words, any way you look at it, he barely eked out a victory and has absolutely no mandate from the American people to do the things he is doing. Truly, he and his administration do not represent who America is.



"It is useless to discuss the peace of the world. What is necessary just now is to create peace in ourselves that we, ourselves, become examples of love, harmony and peace. That is the only way of saving the world and ourselves."

--Hazrat Inayat Kahn (Sufi Teacher)

Thursday, February 23, 2017


I'm an ex-smoker (I quit about 30 years ago), and I recall having the annoying evangelistic zeal of an ex-smoker toward smokers. I'm also an ex-fundamentalist Christian and so I know well the obnoxious evangelistic zeal of trying to convert people to what I believed to be "the one and only true way." And so, I write the following with great trepidation...

A few years ago, my wife and I discovered something which honestly made a significant positive impact in both of our lives. We began to meditate. Here's the deal about meditation: for most of us, so much of our time and attention is spent in our own heads, wrapped up in our own thoughts. We ruminate about the past and create imaginary scenarios about the future. We project our internal thoughts onto the external world and then react, not to what's really going on but to what we imagine is going on. By meditating we learn to step back and observe the thoughts in our head. As we do, we begin to realize that our thoughts are not reality--they are ephemeral. We realize that we are not our thoughts and our thoughts are not us. This means we can choose whether or not to react to a thought, and in what way. We can engage with a thought as it passes through our brain, or we can just let it float on by and disappear. This also means we can spend less time ruminating in the past and in imaginary futures and more time here and now in the present moment--where reality is.

For Carla and I, this has brought about a greater sense of equanimity, patience, simplicity, union with God, compassion for others, moral clarity and general happiness.

I was so profoundly impacted by this discovery that I ended up making meditation--both the Buddhist-derived form often called "mindfulness" and the Christian form typically called "contemplation"--the central topic of my Master's thesis and then my forthcoming book.

It may not be for everyone. Your mileage may vary. Etc., etc. But if you haven't tried it and are interested, I recommend it (for what that's worth). I'd be happy to suggest resources or answer questions, but I'm by no means an expert or guru or Zen master. Sorry if I sound like a salesman or an evangelist.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." 

--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I watched the film Moonlight last night. The thing that has really lingered afterwards is the way that we are at our childish worst (whether we're children or adults) when we single out those who are different from us and treat them as "less than": less worthy than us; less valuable than us; less capable of virtue than us; less deserving of happiness than us; less human than us. When we do this, we are really displaying our own desperate sense of being "less than."


"Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark." 

--Rabindranath Tagore

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Buddha told a parable about a man who was traveling on foot and came to the bank of a wide river.  The only way the man would be able to move forward on his travels would be to cross the river.  So he gathered what was around him--branches and logs and leaves and vines--and built a raft.  He pushed the raft into the water, lay on his stomach on it, and paddled with his hands and feet.  It worked.  The raft got him safely to the other side of the river.  But then, instead of leaving the raft behind now that it had done its job, the man hoisted it onto his back and began carrying it.  And so, the thing which had previously enabled him to move forward now became a burden which impeded his progress, because he couldn't recognize that it was time to let it go.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Seventy-five years ago yesterday, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order which resulted in 70,000 American citizens of Japanese descent--men, women and children--to be rounded up and imprisoned in internment camps.  50,000 non-U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were also imprisoned.

The internment camps were shut down four years later.  Many of those imprisoned lost their homes and businesses while they were incarcerated.

This is looked back upon as a terrible blemish of injustice in U.S. history.  In 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued an apology for it, as did the president after him, George H.W. Bush.  A token monetary reparation was issued to the victims.

During his campaign for president, Donald J. Trump defended his proposed ban on Muslims by saying, "What I'm doing is no different than FDR.  I mean, take a look at what FDR did many years ago and he's one of the most highly respected presidents. I mean respected by most people. They named highways after him."


Sunday, February 19, 2017

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"We need to define addiction in a new way: addiction is the manic reliance on something, anything, in order to keep our dark or unsettling thoughts at bay. What properly indicates addiction is not what someone is addicted to, for we can get addicted to pretty much anything. It is the motives behind their reliance on it – and, in particular, their desire to avoid encountering the contents of their own mind."

-- Why We Are All Addicts

Friday, February 17, 2017

"In almost any Church one cares to choose there is and has long been an absolute minimum of the teaching and practice of mystical religion.  Even for the intelligent congregations Church teaching and preaching is concerned almost exclusively with a multitude of minor matters having mostly to do with the smaller points of morality or in liberal Protestant churches, with politics and vague ethical principles.  One may go even further and state that the whole atmosphere and attitude of modern Church religion impresses the modern mind as having little or nothing to do with the Reality which controls and causes our universe.  Science has given to our age a most impressive view of this universe, and this demands an equivalently wonderful and splendid conception of God together with an appropriate manner of worship.  In comparison with this view of the universe, which, without the aid of religion, has so staggered man's thought of God as to stop it, present-day Church religion seems utterly paltry."

--Alan Watts, Behold the Spirit

Thursday, February 16, 2017

There Is No Plan

I don't believe God has a plan. That is to say, I don't believe that everything happens according to God's plan, or that God predetermined all that occurs.  

The belief that God ordained everything that happens has its roots in Plato's and Aristotle's speculations about the Monad--the "unmoved mover" of the universe.  A great many theologians and leaders of the Christian church in its first few hundred years (as well as Medieval theologians like Aquinas, Calvin and Luther) were steeped in Greek philosophy and supplemented (or substituted) Yahweh of the Hebrews with the omnipotent, immutable Monad ("the One") of the Greeks.  Yahweh was a reactive deity; he got angry and sad and regretful and joyful and jealous.  Yahweh was interactive: asking questions, making bargains, expressing hopes.  The Monad experiences none of these things; existing in a perpetual state of unchanging detached perfection.  To make God feel or react, the Greek philosophers contended, is to exercise a modicum of power over God, which would be impossible if God is omnipotent (possessing all power).

Among the many implications of an unmoving, omnipotent God who stands outside of time and predestined all that occurs is that our sense of free will is an illusion, and evil--even the most heinous forms of evil--occurs because God willed it from the beginning of time.

My own beliefs tend more toward the Buddhist concept of Contingent Arising: that things happen as a result of the previous things that happened.  There is no plan.

I do believe, however, that God has an intent, and that God's intent is for goodness and beauty and life and, in a word, shalom.  But God's intent only comes to fruition to the degree that we participate with God in enacting God's intent.  This is why the Hebrew and Christian scriptures exhort us over and over to choose the way of compassion, of care, of peace, of fairness,
of generosity, of inclusion, of kindness, of love.  These align with God's intent.

I've been told that a traditional Chinese curse is "May you live in interesting times."  "Interesting" in this case is a euphemism for "unstable."  We certainly are living in "interesting" times at present.  As I watch events unfold I am fascinated by (what I believe to be) the reality that this is not happening according to God's script.  God is not "in control" here, but God is accompanying us on this journey.  Anything can, and might, happen.  That is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling because it means, how things turn out is largely up to us.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

“Christianity stands or falls by its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power, and its apologia for the weak. I feel that Christianity is doing too little in making these points rather than doing too much. Christianity has adjusted itself much too easily to the worship of power. It should give much worse offense, more shock to the world, than it is doing. Christianity should take a much more definite stand for the weak than for the potential moral right of the strong.”

--Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Monday, February 13, 2017

"I was only following orders." (The defense used at the Nuremberg trials and by immigration officers).


Sunday, February 12, 2017

"To listen to some devout people, one would imagine that God never laughs."
--Sri Aurobindo

"How are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the ones who hunger and thirst for justice, blessed? Jesus blessed the people on the margins of his culture by embracing them, showing solidarity with them, building a community in which those who had always been shunned were welcomed and loved. As the body of Christ, we are called to be that blessing."

--Lindsey Paris-Lopez, The Sermon on the Mount: A Theology of Resistance

Saturday, February 11, 2017

"Apocalypse is a word we sometimes confuse with 'armageddon' but it refers to an 'unveiling,' and for me, that was the word I was looking for. This year, I was able to see with a clarity I hadn’t before."

--Sharon Hodde Miller, Evangelicals and the Loss of Prophetic Imagination

Friday, February 10, 2017

"If we are properly humble, if we drop to our knees on occasion, we will acknowledge that we never fully know God’s purpose. We can never fully fathom His amazing grace. 'We see through a glass, darkly' — grappling with the expanse of His awesome love. But even with our limits, we can heed that which is required: To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God." 

-- President Barack Obama, February 2015

Thursday, February 09, 2017

"It's not about trying to be good. It's about seeking to become more and more centered in the reality we call God."

--Marcus Borg

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

One of the things I love about history is that you come across the most remarkable people and circumstances. If there is one thing that history teaches us, it is that almost anything is possible.
One such remarkable person was Benjamin Lay, who died on this day in 1759. Lay was a Quaker who grew up in England and became a merchant seaman. He and his wife eventually settled in Barbados, West Indies, which was a hub for the slave trade. There Lay witnessed firsthand the horrors of slavery. He was so appalled that he devoted the rest of his life to speaking out against slavery. While living in Barbados, Mr. and Mrs. Lay would invite hundreds of slaves to their home each Sunday for meals and worship. This did not go down well with the slave owners, who feared he would incite rebellion. Lay was eventually asked by government officials to leave Barbados.

The Lay's next settled in the then new town of Philadelphia, which was founded and governed by Quakers. He was upset to learn that slavery was being practiced there as well.

Lay was an unusual man both in his obstreperous nature and his physical appearance. He was a dwarf--standing just over 4 feet tall--with a thin body, hunched back, protruding chest, spindly legs that appeared as if they wouldn't support him, very long arms, an unusually large head and a thick white beard. He was a vegan and refused to use any products that were made from animals or from slave labor. Mrs. Lay was equally diminutive and hunch-backed as well. The slaves in Barbados believed that Benjamin Lay had sailed the world in order to find a matching woman. Upon moving to Pennsylvania, Mr. and Mrs. Lay purchased a piece of property, where they grew their own food, including flax which Mr. Lay spun himself to make his own clothes with.

Lay would often walk five miles into Philadelphia to visit his friend Benjamin Franklin. He wrote a continuous stream of anti-slavery pamphlets and became a thorn in the side of his slave-owning Christian neighbors. He was known for his theatrical one-man protests against slavery, such as lying half-naked in the snow in front of the church on Sunday to bring attention to the fact that poorly dressed slaves had to work in the cold. Church attendees would have to walk past his prone body as he lectured up at them. He once walked into church dressed in sackcloth and stood motionless in the sanctuary until the conclusion of the sermon, then began berating the congregants for their complicity in the slave trade.

Perhaps Lay's most over-the-top and memorable demonstration was at the Quaker yearly meeting in Burlington, New Jersey. He had filled a bladder with blood-red pokeberry juice, hollowed out a book and inserted the bladder inside. He had then dressed up in full military regalia, sword included. He covered his uniform with his gray Quaker cloak, then went into the meeting and found a seat that would be highly visible. During the course of the meeting, Lay stood and spoke out against the plight of the slaves, crying out, “You might as well throw off the plain coat as I do [casting off his Quaker coat] and thrust a sword through their hearts as I do this book.” At which point he stabbed the book with the sword, piercing the hidden bladder and spraying "blood" upon nearby attendees.

Benjamin Lay continued to offend and incite for the abolition of slavery until his passing at 82 years of age. Not long before his death in 1759, the Society of Friends (Quakers) officially voted to disfellowship any members who bought or sold slaves, and urged their members to free their slaves. When Lay heard the decision he cried out, “Thanksgiving and praise be rendered unto the Lord God! I can now die in peace!”

In 1775 the first slavery abolition society was formed. It was called The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, and was primarily comprised of Philadelphia Quakers.
In 1780, the congress of Pennsylvania passed An Act for the Gradual Abolishment of Slavery. This was nine years before Wilberforce's first abolition motion in England.

By 1798 all Northern states had enacted laws abolishing or severely limited the slave trade.  The importation of slaves into the United States was officially banned on January 1, 1808, but it wasn't until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 that slavery officially ended in the U.S. 


"For the contemplative, God is more verb than noun, more process than conclusion, more experience than dogma."

-- Fr. Richard Rohr, The Inner Witness

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

"What’s emerging...is...a quiet but revolutionary shift under way in American mainline Protestantism. Across the country, hundreds of long-established congregations are finding new roles for laypeople as the churches undergo a fundamental change from full-time to part-time clergy. In many cases, the members of the flock never saw themselves as shepherds. But they are now stepping up to save their churches from closure – and to take a personal risk for the Gospel. The trend is helping to redefine what it means to be a parishioner and a pastor in a Protestant movement that encompasses 36 million members in the United States.”

 America's new ministers.  In a fundamental shift in American Protestantism, hundreds of churches across the country are allowing people in the pews to handle pastoral duties, such as delivering sermons.

"The undeserving maintain power by promoting hysteria."

--Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune

Monday, February 06, 2017

"Mystic communion with the Ultimate is, by their own account, the core of every religious tradition. How this seed grows in a given case into doctrine, ethics, and ritual depends on the widely different historic conditions under which a given tradition originates and develops. Unfortunately, in the course of its history each tradition tends to get rigid. At the start, the function of doctrine is to point to the inexpressible. But soon it takes on a life of its own and, through comment upon comment, hardens into dogmatism. Ethical precepts originally want to foster a sense of belonging, but they, too, tend to become rigid, exclusive, and moralistic. With ritual, the emphasis shifts from celebration of the mystic event to ritualistic preoccupation with traditional forms. The living water of every tradition runs the risk of freezing to rigid ice in the cold climate of religious institutions and, thus, their innate happiness is lost.

At this point the question arises: Can religions recover their religiousness? Can they again become doors to that mystic happiness from which they spring? The answer is given by mystics. They thaw the ice of dogmatism, moralism, and ritualism by fiery joy in their own hearts. Ultimately this is the task of everyone who stands in a given religious tradition. Any tradition is as alive as the mystic happiness in the hearts of its members. And this mystic fervor melts also the barriers between traditions -- celebrating their variety, but strengthening their unity with each other."

-- Bro. David Steindl-Rast

Sunday, February 05, 2017

“Contemplation is life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source.”

— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Saturday, February 04, 2017

“I have found that extending our understanding of each other’s spiritual practices and traditions can be an enriching experience, because to do so increases our opportunities for mutual respect.  Often we encounter things in another tradition that helps us better understand our own.” 

– the Dalai Lama

"Think of water as a different metaphor for God. Water rushes to fill all the nooks and crannies available to it; water swirls around every stone, seeps into every crevice, touches all things in its path—and changes all things in its path. The changes are subtle, often slow, and happen through a continuous interactions with the water that affects both the water and that which the water touches. Particles of sand and sediment change the color of the water, and the water’s action changes the stone, and the land, and the life that can be supported. The water doesn’t exert its power by being ‘single-minded’ over and above these things, but simply by being pervasively present to and with all things. It does not evoke the ‘command’ of power over its creation; it is more like a ‘persuasive’ power with and around its creation. Its power is a power of presence."

Friday, February 03, 2017

The Deal

The classic tale of Dr. Faustus has been told and retold in many forms. It is one of those universal cautionary tropes which, when you think about it, appears all over the place in literature, movies and song. The trope basically centers on an ambitious man who is dissatisfied with his place in life. He believes he deserves more: more respect, more power, more influence. Spotting that the man is vulnerable to temptation, a demon appears and offers the man a deal: he will be given all he desires in exchange for his soul. The man makes the deal and gets what he wants, though it never quite works out the way he anticipated. Eventually he realizes the foolishness of his deal with the devil, but alas it is too late.

We see this tale writ large in current events here in North America. Conservative Evangelical Christianity has been on the decline in the U.S. It has been losing not only adherents but also influence in the public sphere. The response of Evangelicals to this sociological trend has, sadly, often been to circle their wagons, curse the darkness and lash out (against gay couples ordering wedding cakes, against Muslims and the spectre of "Sharia Law", against Starbucks, against immigrants, against those who say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," etc.).

But the demon's deal came this election season when--in exchange for a conservative Supreme Court justice who might help restrict abortion and provide legal protection to discriminate unfairly against others under the guise of "religious freedom"--81% of white conservative Evangelical Christians voted to elect as their President a crass congenital liar who not only lacked the experience, qualifications and temperament for the job, but who had a long track record as a serial adulterer, a sexual predator, a business fraud, a thin-skinned revenge-driven narcissist prone to casting insults (often very publicly via Twitter); and a promoter of greed, racism, torture, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, religious discrimination, mob violence and general crudeness.

81% of white Evangelical Christians chose a man who promised to take away people's medical coverage, to punish women who have abortions, to cast out immigrants on a massive scale, to ban people entry into the U.S. based upon their religion, to force members of certain religions to register with the government, to take his critics and rivals to court, etc.

81% percent of white conservative Evangelical Christians decided to bind themselves to a man who's words and deeds are not simply un-Christian, but are anti-Christian; antithetical to the teachings and values of Jesus. Not to mention the most unpopular President-elect in U.S. history--who seems to stand a good chance of ending his Presidency ignominiously.

For now, Trump is beginning to deliver on his promises. Evangelicals are beginning to get action. Time will tell to what degree their agenda goals will be satisfied. But the price has been paid nonetheless; the white conservative Evangelical soul was sold, and in a very public transaction. They are winning their battles and, in so doing, will lose their war. Any Evangelical claims to moral high ground can now be dismissed in a single word: Trump.

There is a growing defensiveness among white conservative Evangelicals as the true and inescapable cost of their deal with the demon begins to become apparent. They ask us to "get over it" and to stop with the 24x7 social media postings about the Trump administration's continuous stream of blunders and kerfuffles and injustices. They rail as a chorus against the "mainstream media." They mock the unprecedented protests and civic actions against Trump. They defend the indefensible claims of Trump and Conway and Spicer about crowd sizes and illegal voters and other "alternative facts." And, of course, they cast themselves as the victims ("it's such an easy part, and you know how to play it so well" sang the Eagles).

The decline of Christianity in the U.S. will continue to accelerate, as those outside the church--particularly young people--watch and take note of the shenanigans. The credibility of white Evangelical Christianity has been trashed for generations to come--perhaps irrevocably. But they got their Supreme Court justice. The deal was struck. The die is cast. The devil will have his due.



How one middle America town is reacting to the refugee ban.

"To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float."

--Alan Watts

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Love the earth and sun and the animals,
Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
Stand up for the stupid and crazy,
Devote your income and labor to others,
Hate tyrants, argue not concerning God,
Have patience and indulgence toward the people.

Take off your hat to nothing known or unknown,
or to any man or number of men,
Go freely with powerful uneducated persons,
And with the young, and with the mothers or families.

Re-examine all you have been told
in school or church or in any book,
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
And your very flesh shall be a great poem…

And have the richest fluency, not only in its words,
But in the silent lines of its lips and face,
And between the lashes of your eyes,
and in every motion and joint of your body.

--Walt Whitman

I always throw up a little in my mouth when someone misuses Jesus's statement, "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends," (John 15:13) as a tribute to the military.  Jesus was not speaking of the military when he said this; he was speaking of himself.  Jesus was arrested, incarcerated, tried, tortured and executed by the military because he challenged the power structures of his day, which relied on military violence to impose their will upon others.  Jesus knew that by exposing them as systems of oppression, they would kill him.  They did kill him, and then they co-opted him.


"There comes a time when nothing is meaningful--except surrendering to Love."

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

"You may call God love, you may call God goodness. But the best name for God is compassion."

--Meister Eckhart