POEM: A Bout As Helpful

He axed
Are you a Christian?
Sow bound to answer
I am
Though that is a bout
As helpful
As siding the fact
That I am American
When in truth
Such a confining chide
Might only be a parent
As eye more fully scene
As a planetary citizen

The secret of contentment is the realization that life is a gift, not a right. SPIRITUAL BUTTONGandhi famously said, “I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Jew.”  He understood the ever transcendent claim of religion to that which is beyond, including beyond any single religious tradition.  Being raised in a particular religious tradition is quite assuredly not the primary form of divine providence.  Similarly, the end all and be all of our existence is not simply defined by accidents of birth, whether it be nationality, gender, race, etc.  While the particularities of our life on earth, in this solar system, in this universe, provide the delicious details of our story, our special conditions are not only lessens to be learned, confining us to a shadowy prism in a rainbow of creation.  Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase. MLK QUOTE BUTTONThis poem alludes to the childish nature of making life a bout such parochial commitments.  This poem presents a more mature vision of mere nationalism as better scene in the light of awe being passengers on this planetary citizen ship.  There is nothing wrong with celebrating our particularities in life, as long as it is not used as a justification for devolving into egocentrism and tribalism.  Evolution has more to do with than sects.  May we learn to both relax and experience the exhilaration of skydiving into the bigger whole, sow big that it may rightly in compass life and death.

Stop Taking Life Literally--ANTI-WAR BUTTON

POEM: Insane Asylum Patience

Whose violence is worse
They argued
The insane asylum patience
Condemning barbarism
As the strongest barbarians
Write history
And write makes right
Or sow it might
As cartoonish caricatures
Capture humanities
A tension
Leaving those under
Lying causes
Uniformly camouflaged
Amid academic renditions
In citing violence
Abel to question
God and neighbor
And a religion that means
Peace
For know One
Con fronting
The insanity
Of necessary evil

This poem, universally condemning violence, was inspired in the wake of the murders of 12 cartoonists and journalists in France.  The perpetrators of this violence were apparently Islamic extremists, in contrast to other extremists such as those perpetrating violence in a secular, Christian, Hindu, or Jewish variety.  Violence is an evil to be rejected.  Violence should be rejected whether it is a lone assailant or with the official sponsorship of some nation-state or religious sect.  Still, there is a special place in hell reserved for those who sponsor hell-on-earth by heaping violence upon violence in some official capacity.  If you believe that violence is a moral imperative, or in some amoral way necessary, I would suggest exploring a bigger God or worldview.  Perpetrators of violence are self-fulfilling prophets.  If we don’t transcend the notion that violence is necessary, we will be rewarded with the perpetual struggle to dominate one another.  We are all recovering from the effects of violence.  This experience of hurt and loss feeds a reciprocal response with violence.  Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  This is a powerful law of both physics and metaphysics.  This law should not be taken flippantly; just look at the havoc perpetuating itself through the action of this law!  However, while this law has profound ramifications on human life, a palpable sign of the divine order of the created universe, humans are not bound only by this law.  Human free will, moral agency, can choose other options besides tit for tat.  Free will is a supernatural aspect of reality in the sense that it transcends mere physics; it adds stuff to the mix of nature and its rolling out of the cause and effect world.  As Gandhi so profoundly put forth, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Of course, you don’t “have to” be nonviolent, just as you don’t “have to” be violent.  This may be the most profoundly beautiful aspects of human life, that each of us get to add our chosen reality to the mix of our shared reality.  And these choices will echo in eternity.

POEM: Not The Usual Joke

A Hindu
A Muslim
A Christian
And a Jew
Walk into a bar
And the bartender says
Greetings, Mr. Gandhi
Let me guess
You don’t want “the usual”

This short poem takes the format of a common joke. However, one point of the poem is that you can expect that enlightened folks often transcend “the usual.”  When religion occupies transcendence, even the transcendence of itself, then religion no longer becomes a bad joke — simply a good joke.  God is too big for any one religion, since religion is a created human institution.  There is no end to transcendence.  God is always “more.”

Of course, this joke is based on the infamous quote of Gandhi that he was a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew.  This sort of syncretism (blending of beliefs from different religions) is frowned upon by most in religious establishments (see my poem, Syncretised Swimming).  Quite aptly, Gandhi’s friend Nehru commented that only a Hindu would say that.  Though this is funny, it isn’t quite true.  Mystics in every religious tradition recognize that transcendence is at the heart of religion and that there is no theological box that can hold exclusive claim on God.  An acceptance of God’s transcendence requires an openness to truth manifesting itself in ways that we do not, even cannot, fully understand. In Christian tradition, this might be expressed as “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8-9)  In fact, this scripture is used as an explanation of why someone must be “born again,” that is, freed from the slavery of human ideologies and man-made theologies, and re-born into a freedom that recognizes and acts in accord with the Spirit.

Even Buddhists, who are sometimes seen as discounting transcendence, sometimes as far as being reduced to some form of psychology, hold that Buddhism can be followed in conjunction with any religion.  Compassion, or love, is ever-expanding of one’s soul, ever deepening one’s experiences of fuller realities.  Theology is a framework for how we think about God.  Meditating upon God can be enlightening.  Nonetheless, thinking about God and manifesting God’s will for us in our lives are often two very different things — essentially, the difference between thoughts and experience.  I find that Gandhi’s formulation of “Be the change you want to see in the world,” is a better representation of effectively communicating our understanding and experience of God to others.  As Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main way in influencing others.  It is the only thing.”  St. Francis might not gone quite as far, but pretty close, in saying that we should preach the gospel (good news) at all times, using words if necessary.

The need to sell a particular brand of anything, including religion, has led to much misunderstanding and violence in human history.  Compassion and love everlastingly invite us to not just tolerate others’ experience of truth, but to parlay all of the truths we can’t get our hands on to harmonize our lives according to the highest powers present in the universe.  This is less a belief than a process, in an analogous way that life is less a theology than an experience.  Keep it real, my friends!

POEM: A Lousy Take on Lao-Tse

A Lousy Take on Lao-Tse (Tao Te Ching 38)

When Tao is lost
There is virtue
When virtue is lost
There is morality
When morality is lost
There is propriety
Yet oddly
Even when
Awe is lost
Tao remains
The eternal rest
Giving rise to awe

The Tao Te Ching is the ancient Chinese sacred text of Taoism.  The authorship is attributed to Lao-Tse, which may have been an individual or a group.  There are many English translations of the Tao Te Ching, which seem to differ greatly.  The above poem is my take on chapter 38, which seems to have stuck in my mind.  I was struck by the truth of the progression, or deterioration, from the ineffable unity of Tao to virtue, then morality, then propriety, which is the beginning of chaos, with propriety being the shallowest foundation for life.  While the Tao Te Ching is necessarily perplexing, “the Tao that can be described is not the Tao,” this foundation which escapes our grasp is the very foundation which secures our hope.  No machinations, cruelty, nor any power on earth can overturn it or control it.  This irreducible hope persists as an untouchable in a world bent on holding and controlling way more than called for.  This irreducible hope gives rise to awe!

The Tao Te Ching is more of a comprehensive series of hints than a textbook.  I view it as an essential companion for any mystic. Of course, I see mysticism as the heart of any true religion.  The Tao Te Ching is very short read, especially when compared to the Christian Bible, the Muslim Qur’an, or especially the Hindu Vedas!  Plus, unlike perhaps most other religions and their sacred texts, a devoted Taoist would probably suggest burning your sacred text at some point!  This speaks of a truer reverence than the all-too-familiar Bibliolatry of Western civilization.  As a child of Western civilization, I would heartily recommend the Tao Te Ching as an antidote for many of the imbalances acutely present in modern society.  Western civilization’s addiction to scientific reductionism makes us hellbent on focusing on one thing in isolation, pressuring us to ever narrower contexts and ever greater specialization.  Central in the practice of Taoists is complimentariness, Yin and Yang, that the myriad of things that comprise our world, though arising from the unity of Tao, can only be comprehended by their opposites.  Perhaps the greatest formulation of this in Christianity is Jesus’ command to love our enemies.  Only by reconciliation with our enemies can we become whole.  Any demonization of the other necessarily degrades our own humanity.  We are defined by our enemies.  If our enemies don’t define us, then we are free, and in accord with Tao.  May it be so…because it is so…

POEM: Work Week

One day I didn’t feel like going to work
Some people call them weekdays

This one goes out to all of you who feel, chronically and/or acutely, that going to work is, well…work.  I wouldn’t mind being the guy who was known for proposing the 3-hour work week.  My suggestion of a 3-hour work week is based on the concept, and with some experience, that working on average more than 45 minutes per day for four days per week is detrimental to human well-being.  Now, I define work as doing something you don’t want to do.  As the economic beings that we are often reduced to, this largely means those activities where we simply exchange your life energy for money — most people call them jobs, where you sell yourself to someone else — and shortchange your quality of life .  Of course, it could mean squashing spiders occupying your living space — which generally fits well into one’s 45-minute allotment.  No doubt, one of the handier practices in achieving a 3-hour work week, is learning to like what you do.  A version of this would be called Karma Yoga in Hinduism.  However, those of us living in Western civilization may be better able to relate to following our passions, structuring our life in such a way that our passions flow more freely.  Unfortunately, Westerners are socialized from birth to achieve security through money, and that money will give us freedom.  Perhaps the best illustration of why this doesn’t work can be had by simply observing Western culture over my lifetime (50-odd years — some would say very odd!).  For instance, the U.S. has over three times the material wealth that it had when I was born.  Also, a dream from those days, and perhaps these days still, is for increasing leisure, often brought about by technological advancement minimizing boring or routine tasks.  Well, this hasn’t happened.  In fact, Americans work longer work weeks than they did in recent generations — with the added “benefit” of having more household members selling themselves outside their home. We are no happier.  I suspect that a more workable solution to living consistent with our passions would be to downgrade the whole money gives us freedom thing and start with the question, “What would I do if money were not an issue?”

You may have noted that clustering the work over four days implies that at least three or more days a week should be free of work.  I see the practice of sabbath as essential to create and re-create our lives.  My own personal take on this progressive spiritual practice would be to take off every seventh year, every seventh month, every seventh day, every seventh minute, and every seventh second.  This represents the re-centering our lives around something other than “work” — read “money,” and practicing mindfulness at all times, in all that we do (or don’t do).  Plus, as an addendum to this progressive journey of sabbaths, I am partial to the Jewish concept of the year of jubilee practiced. The year of jubilee is a sabbath year of sabbath years (every 49th or 50th year), where property returns to its original owners, recognizing that God owns that land (and all), and serves to prevent accumulation and concentration of wealth due to the vagaries and greed of human life.  Making such a grand project a reality definitely provides a lot of work that I can be passionate about!

POEM: I am

The other day I got kicked out
Of an atheist’s club
Told in no uncertain terms
There is science
And no other!
And I am left
To wonder
Wow, where did that come from?!
I was raised
A Christian
A long story (some may say tall)
Which makes some short
Red chapters
Heavenly verse
To love
One, an other
To bless
Not curse
A Palestinian Jew
Named Jesus
We could do much worse!
I once heard a Muslim
Of five pillars he spoke
Coming down to One
And as a Muslim
I woke
Then along came Buddha
Who said: “Don’t follow me,
Experience it first!”
Which made me want to follow
This unslakable thirst
To find compassion and justice
A home
Here on this suffering Earth
A little man
Named Gandhi
To kingdoms united
He spoke
I am
A Hindu
A Christian
A Muslim
A Jew
And undoubtedly a Sikh he
So many will accuse
Well
Me too!

I have considered myself a theological mutt as long as I can remember.  While I have never found a home in atheism, I have a deep appreciation for those who have rejected theism when they experience theistic followers as extremely unwelcoming and exclusive.  Probably one of my most basic theological beliefs is that God is love, and that God’s love is unconditional.  I find it difficult to imagine such a “condition” that is any more inclusive!  This wreaks havoc on virtually every conventional way of thinking.  This is one of the major reasons why I consider spirituality as countercultural.  A healthy spirituality is constantly turning up statist views of reality and human conditions.  I see spirituality as basically a struggle of life over death.  How does one enliven, incarnate, the inanimate matter that is the object of science (there is no subject in science!)?  I don’t see differences of opinion around spirituality primarily as theists versus atheist, but rather as fundamentalists versus welcoming dynamicists.      In the myriad world of either/or propositions, the dynamicists welcome the answer of “YES!”, as opposed to “this, “that,” or “yes, but.”  Or, more simply put, does it enhance living?  Unfortunately, living in this both/and world can be quite disconcerting for those demanding hard endpoints or absolute certainty — which are dangerous to coming to healthy terms with the irreducible uncertainties of life.  In theological terms, this would probably be called process theology, where: “it is an essential attribute of God to be fully involved in and affected by temporal processes, an idea that conflicts with traditional forms of theism that hold God to be in all respects non-temporal (eternal), unchanging (immutable), and unaffected by the world (impassible). Process theology does not deny that God is in some respects eternal, immutable, and impassible, but it contradicts the classical view by insisting that God is in some respects temporal, mutable, and passible.”  But enough theology, suffice it to say that I believe that fundamentalism is a death knell for healthy spirituality and a living religion.  Perhaps ironically, I don’t see that atheism has done any better of a job than theism of minimizing fundamentalism.  I don’t see much difference between militant atheists and fundamentalist religionists.

But, alas, such debate has being going on for millennia, and with much dissatisfaction; so I would propose that the dividing line can be summed up by the attitudes represented in one’s response to this statement by Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  Or, to frame it somewhat differently, when Einstein was asked what the most important question that a human being could ask is, he answered: “Is the universe friendly?”  I don’t know if this question is answerable in some ultimate, final sense, but I do know that I can vote for the universe being friendly, and make the universe a little more friendly, by practicing kindness.  And the gratitude manifest by seeing everything as a miracle helps empower me to behave kindly.  But, you be the judge…or not.