Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Apocalypse

"Apocalypse" is a Greek word (apokalypsis) that is not synonymous with "catastrophe" or "destruction."  Apocalypse actually means "revealing" (it literally means "uncovering," as in lifting the cover off of something to reveal what is inside).  Oftentimes, though, things get revealed as a result of catastrophic or tumultuous events.

For example, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey's devastating effects upon Houston we saw a revelation of neighbors sacrificially helping neighbors--reenacting in myriad ways Jesus' story of the good Samaritan.  Churches and mosques and
synagogues and homes and retail businesses opened their doors to shelter people.  One of the most inspiring stories I heard was of a business called Gallery Furniture, who invited evacuees to come and stay at their two Houston-area stores (plenty of mattresses, sofas and recliners).  As Hurricane Harvey approached Houston, the owner of Gallery Furniture posted a video on the company's website inviting people to come and shelter at the stores.  He gave out his personal phone number in case people needed help.  Gallery Furniture even sent their delivery trucks out to pick people up and bring them to the stores.  Hundreds of people have been sheltering at the stores.  Consider the loss of revenue to Gallery Furniture as a result of having stores full of new furniture turned into stores full of used furniture by refugees from the storm.  But that's what neighbors do.

Contrast Gallery Furniture (and the many similar examples) with Joel Osteen's 16,000 seat Lakewood Church.  Rather than pre-emptively preparing and getting the word out that the church could be used as a shelter, Lakewood Church appears to have kept its doors closed and only grudgingly opening to shelter its neighbors after being shamed on social media.  Initially the church claimed that they remained closed because their building had experienced "severe flooding" but now Osteen admits that "we were blessed to not have flooding here."

The apocalypse in this case is that it was a furniture salesman, not a popular preacher, who demonstrated Christianity.

Another apocalypse came this week in the form of the "Nashville Statement," a just-released document signed by over 150 evangelical leaders (including John Piper, Francis Chan, Wayne Grudem and John MacArthur) which denounces LGBTQ people and those who support LGBTQ people.  It is revealing that what motivated these leaders to come together and make a public statement was not the violent racism that manifested in Charlottesville or the threats of cataclysmic war of late or the corruption at the highest level of our government that is becoming increasingly evident.  No, their rallying point was to "affirm" that gay and transgender people should not be afforded the same dignity and rights as everyone else.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 7, Jesus warns that "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’"  What is the "will of the Father" that Jesus referred to?  Elsewhere in the Gospels (and throughout the Christian and Hebrew scriptures) it is made quite clear what God would have us do: care for the poor, feed the hungry, shelter those in need of shelter, welcome the stranger, speak up for the oppressed and speak out against injustice, make peace, practice humility and mercy and kindness and fairness, etc.

The apocalypse in Jesus' time was that so many religious leaders completely missed the point.  The apocalypse today is that they still do.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

My book, Presence and Process: A Path Toward Transformative Faith and Inclusive Community, is featured in an article that appeared today in Publishers Weekly (the international trade magazine for publishers and booksellers).

"Today we see in every religion an inherent danger whereby the faithful are allowed to settle for the trappings...instead of continuing to grow through an intensive searching in one's heart for the wild God of the desert who cannot be put into convenient boxes of concepts and doctrines. Western theology by and large has become reduced to a static form of objectifying God's transcendence."

- George A. Maloney, SJ

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"Intellectually solid and spiritually insightful, Coleman's text captures the heart of the Buddhist and Christian mystical traditions in ways that respond to the needs of spiritual seekers of our time."

- DR. BRUCE EPPERLY, author of Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed and Becoming Fire: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians

Monday, August 21, 2017

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


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