Thursday, January 19, 2017

“WHAT'S IN A NAME?”

(Honoring Marting Luther King Jr.)

Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Remember that old saying? My mom used to recite it when my sister and I were fighting. It may have been true when we called each other names, but it certainly isn't true today.

We have just completed one of the most divisive election cycles in history. Not only did we call each other names, but Russian hacking of US internet servers and “false news” websites compounded the damage. Many are fearful and angry. The usual niceties in a transition between administrations are missing. Our democracy is at risk unless we can heal the fear, hatred and intolerance that infects us.

This weekend we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wand the civil rights movement to free African Americans from tyranny and prejudice. Today the dynamic of fear and hatred has spread world-wide as people with different religions, economic circumstances, political preferences and gender identities are isolated, marginalized and persecuted. Yes, names matter.

When Jean and I named our children, we carefully searched for the right names. We wanted to choose well because a person's name is a way of describing their essence. I liked the sound of Leah for our daughter, but I didn't like its meaning, “the weary one.” Instead we chose Rebecca meaning, “Captivating.” This wonderfully described our daughter. Timothy, meaning "Honored by God," seemed perfect for our son.

There is an ancient Hebrew story about the patriarch, Jacob. i Jacob was the second born of twins. His name means “the grabber,” because he was grabbing Esau's heel during the birth process. Jacob continued his grabbing ways as he grew older. He stole Esau's birthright by tricking his father. He fled to his uncle Laban's where he lived fourteen years and married his uncle's two daughters. There he manipulated Laban so he could increase his own wealth at his uncle's expense.

Jacob was hounded by a sense that there was more to life than his empty existence of grabbing and accumulating. Things came to a head one lonely night as he and his family journeyed home to confront Esau. He sent his servants, cattle and family ahead to appease his brother. Alone by the Jabbok Creek, Jacob grappled with the implications of his past life. This struggle manifest itself as a wrestling match with an unknown being. Jacob was wounded in the hip, but he refused to release the being until he was granted a blessing. Finally the blessing was given: “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

That morning, permanently lame, Jacob/Israel limped forward to make peace with his brother. The families of his sons became the twelve tribes of Israel. Jacob, the grabber, became the father of a nation.

Another story, this one from the Christian tradition, describes how Jesus was also renamed. Jesus, son of Joseph the carpenter, was about 30 years old when John, the Baptizer, burst on the scene. John was a wild man. He lived in the wilderness, dressed in camel skins, and ate wild locusts and honey. He called people to be baptized in the Jordan River to symbolize a recommitment to their covenant with Yahweh. Then, he believed, Yahweh would send a Messiah (anointed one)ii like King David of old, to defeat the hated Roman occupiers.

We don't know why Jesus was drawn to John. Some suggest he was John's disciple Perhaps he was caught up in the religious yearning for a Messiah, like King David, who would liberate them from Rome. Maybe he felt a need to repent of past actions as Jacob did? Whatever Jesus' motivation, the baptism had a profound affect on him.

He traveled with the crowds into the wilderness to be baptized by John. Jesus went down into the Jordan. When he emerged, he was blinded by a vision. The heavens ripped open, and these words descended upon him like a gentle dove: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” iii

Jesus was certainly aware that the legendary King David received a similar blessing. iv He must have been filled with questions. Was he being called to lead Israel against Rome? Immediately, Jesus fled into the wilderness where he struggled with God, much as Jacob struggled hundreds of years earlier. As with Jacob, Jesus' life was transformed. His name was changed. He was no longer Jesus, Son of Joseph. To his followers he had became, Jesus, The Anointed One.

As we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is noteworthy that Dr. King also had an experience that altered his identity. It was 1954. Twenty-five year old Martin, finishing his doctoral dissertation at Boston University, had just accepted the position as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He was the son of Martin Luther King Senior, the famous pastor of Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He assumed he would continue in his father's footsteps as an influential pastor in a large black church.

Prior to King's arrival in Montgomery, the Woman's Political Council (WPC), a group of black professionals, had begun challenging Jim Crow practices on the Montgomery city buses. v Two young women, a 15-year-old named Claudette Colvin and an18-year-old, Mary Louise Smith, were arrested for refusing to yield their seats to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus. Following this, a coalition was formed. Rosa Parks, long time activist and respected member of the community, was chosen as part of an action to test the law. Pamphlets were distributed, preparing the community to respond after Rosa refused to yield her seat and was arrested.

On December 5, 1955, ninety percent of Montgomery’s black citizens stayed off the buses. That afternoon, the city’s ministers and leaders met to discuss the possibility of extending the boycott into a long-term campaign. During this meeting, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was formed, and King was elected president. Rosa Parks recalled: ‘‘The advantage of having Dr. King as president was that he was so new to Montgomery and to civil rights work that he hadn’t been there long enough to make any strong friends or enemies.’’

One night, early in the boycott, Dr. King, had a religious epiphany that changed his life. He arrived home from a planning meeting. Coretta and the kids were in bed. The phone rang, and an anonymous caller threatened his life. He went to bed but couldn't sleep. The path before him seemed impossible. Then, while praying aloud, he felt the presence of God as he never had before.

This experience reconciled him to the danger of the boycott and the protest actions that followed. The next year his home was bombed. King calmed the crowd declaring: ‘‘Be calm as I and my family are. We are not hurt; and remember that if anything happens to me, there will be others to take my place.’’ The boycott continued for a year. Finally, Montgomery officials agreed to integrated the bus system.

As a result of his leadership in the boycott, Martin Luther King Jr., “the aspiring academic,” was renamed. He became Martin Luther King Jr., “civil rights leader.”

King, like Jacob and Jesus, experienced the transforming presence of God. This allowed him to say, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind vi is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final say.”

Today we face a crisis as great as that faced by Dr. King. American citizens are divided. Many are fearful as a new administration takes over the reigns of leadership. King's words ring as true today as they did then. He understood the importance of resisting oppression. He warned, “He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."

He also understood the danger to our nation that occurs when leaders mock the honorable among us and denigrate the powerless. He cried out, Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

Today, each of us is called to get involved. The stories of Jacob, Jesus and King are helpful in this regard. All three faced impossible situations. Each anguished and struggled; sometimes with that higher calling that motivated and energized them. All three were nourished through something beyond themselves. They knew they were special and loved, even in their weakness.

Dr. King put it well when he said, Man must evolve, for all human conflict, a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” He understood that those who practice oppression, domination and bigotry are most often insecure, fearful and self-centered. They rely on institutional power and self aggrandizement to bolster an inner sense of fear and self doubt.

This is where I find hope. When we engage the cosmic flow, that many call God, we grow into our authentic selves. We have nothing to hide. We understand and accept both our strengths and weaknesses. We, like Jacob, can “strive with God and with humans and prevail.”

Furthermore, and this has been a recent insight, our struggle for human rights will not be defined by those whom we oppose, Fear, hatred and revulsion will be replaced by anguish, sorrow and compassion. This is at the core of “loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.” We will anguish with those who are suffering. We will also grieve for the oppressors. They are so blinded by their self absorption that they have little compassion. They cannot perceive the wonder of what it means to be authentic human beings.

The doesn't make the struggle any less difficult. Hatred, violence and oppression must still be resisted. Dr. King knew this. He said, "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."

Yet the struggle can be transformed. We will persevere knowing we are in the cosmic flow. We will no longer battle death. We will participate in the energizing force of emerging life.

I'm sure you have experienced this. I felt it in church last Sunday when we pledged ourselves to continue the struggle for human rights. I feel it in seminars when something moves in the group that is more than the sum of the individual participants. I feel it when my little grandson asks me to help him build a fantastic structure out of Legos and when he crawls into my lap uninvited.

This is what keeps me going even in the face of disappointment and defeat. Life is much more than resistance. It is engaging our authentic selves and discovering potentials beyond our wildest imaginings. When this happens, we know we can stay the course.
iGenesis 25-35
ii Messiah (Mashiach in Hebrew or Christ in Greek) means “anointed one.”
iii Mark 1:9-11
ivPsalm 2:7 “You are my son; today I have begotten you.”
vNote: It is seldom reported that women were some of the initial leaders in the civil rights movement.

viI have chosen not to modify King's quotes to make them gender inclusive.. Consider a “sic” added after each quote.

Monday, November 28, 2016

WHEN LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH (Engaging Evil – Part III)

(Thank you Gary Olson and Bill Rettig for your helpful questions and comments regarding this post.)

(You can view Parts I and II, “How I Learned to Love Donald Trump” & “Things That Go Bump In the Night” at  & my “Living With Soul” page on Facebook) 

This is the season of thankfulness. I am thankful for family, friends and my many blessings. I am also torn by conflicting emotion about our presidential election.

I'm disgusted: We elected a president that many - business people, political professionals, and analysts judge unqualified for the office.

I'm angry: Important government programs affecting the environment, health, aid for disadvantaged people and immigrants may be eliminated or downgraded.

I'm fearful: The US may revert to the militaristic foreign policies of the past.

I'm sad: The election exposed deep divisions among the citizens of our country. These are exacerbated by ignorance, isolation, and hatred.

I'm confused: I see no obvious solutions. We seem disconnected from the moral grounding of our ancestors.

I'm hopeful: I believe we have unrecognized potentials that will allow our nation to once again become a resource to the global community.

In the midst of these mixed emotions, life is getting more personal. My Haitian friends have introduced me to the pain and frustration of immigrants who are seeking asylum in the United States. My little grandson has opened me to seeing things in new ways. I now realize that oppressors are often oppressed themselves. When that kid bullied my grandson (See my last post), I thought only of Gus. Now I wonder about this little boy. Was he jealous because he had no grandpa to play with? Had he been bullied himself? In the heat of the moment, I wasn't able to relate to him. I wish I had behaved differently.

I'm still concerned about injustices in our world. Now the news reports are more than statistics. I anguish for the people caught in the violence. I envision myself trapped in Aleppo as bombs destroy my city;i or in Mosul as ISIS and coalition forces battle for control; or in Homs Syria.ii I wonder about the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, lovers and children of the fighters on both sides. They grieve over the death of their loved ones even as I grieve over the death of our son.

I'm no longer clear about the appropriate response to violence and evil. When I was young, the answers were simple. There were rules. I had to “do the right thing.” Now that I am older, evil is less well defined. Right and wrong are no longer polar opposites. The blacks and whites have faded into shades of grey.

In the past, religious and moral traditions provided guidance. Today these traditions have less influence. We are increasingly left alone and adrift. Unconsciously we look for people who support our views - a tribe so to speak. As with ancient tribes, we band together for self preservation. We have our own beliefs and values (gods). We promulgate our own creation stories (myths). We seek to dominate other tribes to protect our political, economic, and moral positions (territory). The belief that “Violence Saves” holds us in its sway.iii

The animosity that surfaced during the election exposed the depths of the divisions in our society. Given the present political climate, there is reason to believe that these divisions will result in a country riven by distrust and hatred. It is increasingly clear that we cannot deal with our differences through domination and violence. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it well, “If we do an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we will be a blind and toothless nation.” We must find alternative ways to engage one another, or our democracy will decline.

I suggested one alternative in my last two posts. This is to tune-in to the emerging flow of the cosmos, a flow that constantly creates and evolves. There is no magic in this. It is a process; - like getting to know and love a friend. It begins with a desire for something more, followed by steps of curiosity, interest and finally commitment.

Like growing in love, this is not a rational process that can be clearly defined. It's something you know deep in your heart and gut. It's a sense of rightness about your way of living.

I offer this alternative to you because you care. You may be active in a religious community, or you may be turned off by religion. In either case, it is no longer sufficient to define ourselves as liberal or conservative; religious or non religious; pacifist or pro military. When we embrace both our positive and shadow aspects, traditional categories are insufficient. We realize that we, and all of humanity, are part of a whole. Everyone and everything has value.

In this sense, people steeped in the cosmic flow are threats to the status quo. We are not bound by cultural definitions of right and wrong. Buddha violated the norms of his society when he abdicated his role as ruler and warrior, abandoned his wife and child, and wandered without status among the dispossessed. Gandhi fomented a societal revolution using only nonviolent resistance. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., inspired by Gandhi, promoted acts of civil disobedience in his struggle against racism. Moses led a worker's revolt agains the ruling class in Egypt. Jesus healed and worked on the Sabbath; ate with tax collectors and prostitutes; and embraced the untouchable lepers. His actions and relationships were in direct violation of the cultural norms of his day. Joan of Arc violated gender stereotypes and became a warrior. Dorthy Day, an unwed mother and communist sympathizer, challenged the entrenched cultural traditions of Catholicism.

An activist friend of mine is committed to the welfare of the dispossessed. He is cooperating with a dictator because he believes this is the most effective way to help the poor of this third world country. Based on current cultural values, many would condemn his decision.

In a society that has lost it's moorings, we need people from all walks of life who are willing to engage the deeper humanity that resides in each of us. We need people who are willing to explore the profound shift that is occurring in consciousness.iv We need to use every ounce of energy to bind the wounds of the past. We need to challenge injustices and violence wherever and whenever they occur.

This requires people who are willing to put themselves in the middle of the action rather than living by proxy; letting others act in their place. It requires people who will engage social situations without prejudgement; people who can engage others who have different values, histories and perspectives. We need people who are willing to promote diversity and inclusiveness.

Even as I share these lofty ideals, I have no illusion that there are any quick fixes. We are involved in a transition that will occur over lifetimes. We may never see the results of our efforts. The best we can hope for is that we can forestall a major deterioration in the quality of life on our planet. If we survive this crisis, we will emerge as a more conscious and hopefully compassionate species. Surely, this is worth the effort.

ihttp://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/aleppo-bana-alabed-syria-war-government-forces-a7443531.html#gallery
iihttps://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/31/-sp-homs-syria-life-devastation-residents-rebel-assad-forces
iii “The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn't seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It's what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflict. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience-unto- death. ... The Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today.” Walter Wink, “The Myth of Redemptive Violence”

ivhttp://www.adishakti.org/_/a_new_axial_age_by_karen_armstrong.htm

Friday, September 23, 2016

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT (Engaging Evil – Part II)

(Thank you Walter Wink. Your life and teachings have influenced me profoundly.)

Were you afraid of the dark as a kid? Did you want a light in your bedroom? Did you ask your parents to leave the door open just a crack so light from the hallway could seep in? I remember lying in bed huddled under the blankets. I had this eerie feeling that something would grab my hand if I left it dangling over the edge of the bed.

Fear of the dark is not just for children. Why do you think adults are fascinated with horror movies? We watch with fear and anticipation as threatening figures lurk in the shadows. Afterwards the dark corners of our homes are a bit more menacing. The demons of death and darkness never really leave us because they exist deep in our unconscious.

My personal darkness surfaced recently when I took my grandson to the playground. We were playing on the slide when a bigger kid pushed ahead of him and blocked his way. Gus shouted, “You should cooperate!” I told the child to share the slide. He refused. We finally moved to another part of the park.

Gus wailed in frustration, and I seethed. I wished I could beat the crap out of this little bully. I wanted to drag him kicking and screaming to his mom. There I would lecture her about her child's behavior.

Even now my blood boils when I remember how this bully treated my grandson. After all, I was the adult. I was bigger and stronger. He broke the rules. He should be forced to obey or suffer the consequences.

This scenario is played out day after day, not just on playgrounds but in corporate offices and in battle fields around the world. “Might makes right!” ”Violence Saves!” As a result, the powerful thrive and the powerless suffer. ISIS troops capture, rape, torture and kill innocents. Civil wars demolish cities leaving millions homeless. Violence, fueled by poverty runs rampant in large cities. A case in point: More Americans were killed in Chicago since 2001 [7,916] than were killed in the Iraq [4,904] and the Afghanistan [2,384] conflicts combined.i

Theologian, Walter Wink wrote,

The belief that violence “saves” simply appears to be the nature of things. It's what works. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience-unto-death. The Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today. It is what organizes our inner world. It rings true at our core whether we consider ourselves religious or not.ii

What an amazing insight. Whether we see ourselves as religious, agnostic or atheist, most of us are captivated by an ancient urge that promotes domination, destruction and death.

In my previous post, “How I'm learning to love Donald Trump,”iii I wrote about a cosmic flow that scientists call emergence.iv Emergence is a process whereby larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties. In this sense, the cosmos flows into the future, generating new forms of existence. The evolution of life and the growth of consciousness are two examples.

As I think of cosmic emergence, I imagine a flow of creativity through which new forms are continuously created. These forms compete with one another. The more adaptive ones survive, while the others pass out of existence.

Humankind has evolved to the point where our technologies now affect the evolution of our planet. This means that we affect the dynamic of emergence even as this processes affects us.

This is where the story about my grandson is relevant. It's one thing for me to imagine smashing a little bully. It's something else when nations, corporations and religious groups actually smash one another in struggles for dominance. It's even worse when this belief that “Violence Saves” is considered normal. Our impulse to violence is largely unconscious, unexamined and denied. Even as we bemoan the decline of religion in our culture, the religion of redemptive violence grips us as deeply, if not more so, than the religion of our elders.

When we participate in worshipping violence and domination, we contribute to emergent dynamics that threaten the existence of our species. These include: global warming; extinction of animal and plant species that maintain the stability of our ecosystem; appearance of new viruses and other unintended genetic adaptations; and new forms of warfare. If humankind passes out of existence, the cosmos will continue to evolve - just without us.

Again I quote Walter Wink:v
The Abrahamic religions (Judaism followed by Christianity and Islam) that emerged during the Axial Agevi challenged the more ancient belief that “Violence Saves.”vii The Bible portrays a good God who creates a good creation. Chaos does not resist order. Good is prior to evil. Neither evil nor violence is part of the creation, but enter later, as a result of the first couple’s sin and the connivance of the serpent (Genesis 3). A basically good reality is thus corrupted by free decisions reached by creatures. In this far more complex and subtle explanation of the origins of things, violence emerges for the first time as a problem requiring solution.

The question facing us today is this: Will we succumb to our fascination with violence and devolve as human beings, or will we consciously engage the Powers, the shadow side of our humanity, in ways suitable to this age?

Walter Wink suggests that engaging the Powers is a three step process:
  1. Naming the Powers
  2. Unmasking the Powers
  3. Engaging the Powersviii

When we name the powers, we bring them to consciousness. We note that we are engaged in some dangerous practices.

When we unmask the powers, we examine these practices to learn how they affect our lives.

This is where we are in our history. The negative affects of violence are all too obvious. People are beginning to explore the global affects of strategies based on violence and domination. The Powers have been named and unmasked.

We now have two options:
  1. We can deny the existence of the Powers and succumb to the religion of redemptive violence.
  2. We can make the conscious decision to engage the Powers.

Denial takes three forms:
  1. We can explicitly embrace the religion of redemptive violence. This tactic is obvious in the presidential campaign of Donald Trump and, to some degree, that of Hillary Clinton. Many global corporations, armies and some religious groups embrace this belief.
  2. We can externalize the Powers and battle them. This is what happens when we project our shadow side onto our enemies. The enemy is all bad, and we are all good. We never deal with our own shadow.
  3. We can run from the Powers. This is what happens when we watch horror films and relate to people and situations with defensiveness. The shadow is outside ourselves and lurking in the dark.

Increasingly, denial is not an option. The old comic strip character, Pogo, put it well, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” In this realization we are compelled to engage the powers. This requires humility and courage. We have to acknowledge that the Powers are intrinsic to each of us as individuals and collectively, to our social structures.

The Powers in my own life manifested as an inner voice telling me, “You don't measure up.” “Nobody will love and respect you unless you prove you are more capable than they are.” “Just bury your feelings and proceed; use your intellect to separate yourself from the pain of your emotions.”

This resulted in workaholism and other destructive behaviors. It was not until I experienced family problems; a health crisis and the death of my sister and son, that I could name and engage my personal shadow. Engagement led, not to victory in the traditional sense, but to an acceptance of my own vulnerability.

Through my personal struggles, I received a profound gift. I was able to acknowledge my intrinsic self-worth. I no longer needed to earn love and acceptance through my intellectual achievements. I was OK just being me. I understood what spiritual leaders and psychologists have known for years. The Powers, when engaged, offer us a gift. They allow us to become our authentic selves.

Moral/religious leaders in the past (Jewish prophets, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammed and others) knew this truth in their bones. This is why they emphasized love, humility and compassion as the only way to participate constructively in the emergent flow of the cosmos. They understood that violence, domination and manipulation result in disintegration and death.

Our challenge today is to acknowledge and engage the Powers and not to deny them. For many of us, the religious forms of the past have lost their power. If this is your experience, I challenge you to join with others in new configurations that allow you to engage these destructive aspects of our humanity. If faith communities still function for you, I challenge you to promote movements within your religious structures that engage the Powers of violence and dominance rather than denying them.

This is where my grandson enters once again. He teaches and leads me even as I mentor him. His childlike innocence and naivety inspire me. I am captivated by my love for him. I can't bequeath to him a society sliding into the abyss of violence and despair. Even though it seems hopeless at times, I am compelled to live into a future vision of love and compassion – for his sake and for mine.

i http://www.bbc.com/news/video_and_audio/features/magazine-37292306/37292306?ocid=socialflow_facebook&ns_mchannel=social&ns_campaign=bbcnews&ns_source=facebook

ii Theologian & activist Walter Wink, “The Myth of Redemptive Violence”

“The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn't seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It's what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflict. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience-unto- death. ... The Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today.”

In this mythic tale, first told in ancient Babylon around 1250 BCE, the god, Marduk, kills his mother, Tiamat, who represents chaos. He creates the cosmos from her dismembered body and the human race from blood. Creation is an act of violence. Chaos precedes order. Evil precedes good. Violence is no problem. It's simply a primordial fact. Therefore cosmic order requires the violent suppression of the feminine. This is mirrored in the social order by the subjection of women to men and people to the ruler (or ruling class)

The creation myth in Genesis 1, developed during the Hebrew captivity in Babylon, provides a rebuttal to the Babylonian Myth of Redemptive Violence. It portrays a God who creates a good creation. Chaos does not resist order. Good is prior to evil. Neither evil nor violence is part of the creation, but enter later, in Genesis, as a result of the first couple's sin and the connivance of the serpent. A basically good reality is corrupted by free decisions reach by creatures. In this more complex and subtle explanation of the origins of things, violence emerges for the first time as a problem requiring solution.

iii Check it out on my Blog on Facebook, “Living With Soul,” or on line at

iv See <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence> for a more complete discussion of emergence.

v  The biblical myth in Genesis 1 is diametrically opposed to all this (Genesis 1, it should be noted, was developed in Babylon during the Jewish captivity there as a direct rebuttal to the Babylonian myth). The Bible portrays a good God who creates a good creation. Chaos does not resist order. Good is prior to evil. Neither evil nor violence is part of the creation, but enter later, as a result of the first couple’s sin and the connivance of the serpent (Genesis 3). A basically good reality is thus corrupted by free decisions reached by creatures. In this far more complex and subtle explanation of the origins of things, violence emerges for the first time as a problem requiring solution.

vi In the ninth century BCE, events in four regions of the civilized world led to the rise of religious traditions that have endured to the present day--the development of Confucianism and Daoism in China, Hinduism and Buddhism in India, monotheism in Israel, and philosophical rationalism in Greece. See <https://www.britannica.com/list/the-axial-age-5-fast-facts>

vii Myth of Marduk and Tiamat
In this myth, creation is an act of violence. Marduk murders and dismembers Tiamat, and from her cadaver creates the world. As the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur observes (The Symbolism of Evil, Harper Collins 1967), order is established by means of disorder. Chaos (symbolised by Tiamat) is prior to order (represented by Marduk, high god of Babylon). Evil precedes good. The gods themselves are violent.In the Babylonian myth, however, violence is no problem. It is simply a primordial fact. The simplicity of this story commended it widely, and its basic mythic structure spread as far as Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Germany, Ireland, India, and China. Typically, a male war god residing in the sky fights a decisive battle with a female divine being, usually depicted as a monster or dragon, residing in the sea or abyss (the feminine element). Having vanquished the original enemy by war and murder, the victor fashions a cosmos from the monster’s corpse. Cosmic order requires the violent suppression of the feminine, and is mirrored in the social order by the subjection of women to men and people to ruler.

After the world has been created, the story continues, the gods imprisoned by Marduk for siding with Tiamat complain of the poor meal service. Marduk and his father, Ea, therefore execute one of the captive gods, and from his blood Ea creates human beings to be servants to the gods.
The implications are clear: human beings are created from the blood of a murdered god. Our very origin is violence. Killing is in our genes. Humanity is not the originator of evil, but merely finds evil already present and perpetuates it. Our origins are divine, to be sure, since we are made from a god, but from the blood of an assassinated god.
We are the outcome of deicide.


viii Walter Wink originally published a trilogy: Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament; Unmasking the Powers:The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence; Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance In a World of Domination. The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium by Walter Wink, is a condensation of his trilogy and is an easier read.

Friday, August 12, 2016

HOW I'M LEARNING TO LOVE DONALD TRUMP (Engaging Evil - Part I)

Marques Bovre wrote a whimsical song titled, Heaven Halve Me.i His lyrics explain how everyone gets to heaven. But it's only the part that contains goodness that gets there. Marques hopes that at least ten percent of him will get there. This set me to thinking about Donald Trump. How much of him will get to heaven? Depending on your opinion of Mr. Trump, you might figure that one percent gets there, or perhaps only 0.1%. The point is that everyone has some goodness in them, even those whom we despise.

If you believe the rhetoric of our political parties, it seems that less than one percent of all politicians will get to heaven. When you listen to news reports about the mood of fear and hate in our world, it seems that heaven will need only a small room to contain all the goodness in the human race.

It is clear that the November elections are critically important. It is also clear that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face voters who are profoundly confused and angry about the ineffectiveness of our political system. Neither candidate is trusted by the voters.

This issue has larger implications than the results of the election. The atmosphere of fear and distrust in our society pollutes our perception of reality. For this reason, many people imagine that the only way we can deal with conflicts at home and abroad is by dominating or destroying those with whom we disagree. Strategies that promote mutual respect and cooperation are seen as soft and unworkable.

In this context, Marcus Bovre's vision is revolutionary. He proclaims that no one is all bad. There is a core of goodness in each of us. His vision is not only about the afterlife. It concerns the heaven or hell we create here on earth.

Our history is rife with examples of social movements that have struggled effectively on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Movement leaders who have inspired me include: Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Russell Means (AIM), ii the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyl of Myanmar.iii

Our situation today is different from that in the '60's and '70's. Those labeled oppressors in the past now see themselves as oppressed. White working class males and their families are threatened as blue collar jobs are shipped overseas or phased out. Many, without a college education, are unable to obtain the training required to obtain jobs in the information age. They are stereotyped as stupid and racist. These angry and frustrated people are prime targets for those who choose to manipulate them for their own self interests.

I watched a televised roundtable forum with President Obama. A 50 year old steel worker asked, “How are you going to help me and my family when good jobs are drying up?” The president responded by telling him that new jobs were being created for people like him in the green energy fields. As the president shared his vision for the future, the steel worker's eyes glazed over. He knew that these well intentioned progressive programs would not be available in time to help him and his family.

Our challenge today is more complex than that of our predecessors. Today, the “bad guys” are not people. They are impersonal institutions and social structures. This is why Marques Bovre's vision is so important. We need to work together in new social movements to modify these dysfunctional social institutions and structures. Participation in such movements is not for sissies. Change agents need training, discipline and courage. This is a long term effort since the goal is the transformation of our society.

What will motivate us to live into this vision? How can we join with others in movements that challenge the fear and negativism in our culture? Some people, like the movement leaders of the past, will be motivated by their faith traditions. Others will be motivated by personal experiences that put them in touch with a flow in the cosmos that moves toward creativity and innovation.

Scientists call this flow emergence.iv Emergence is a process whereby larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties. In this sense, the cosmos flows into the future, generating new forms of existence. The evolution of life and the growth of consciousness are two examples of emergence. (I should note here that some emergent properties threaten the survival of humankind. These challenge us to discern, using our developing consciousness. I will deal with this dynamic in a subsequent post.)
I have experienced this flow personally. One time, in particular, comes to mind. I was walking on the grounds of Holy Wisdom Monasteryv on a cold winter morning. It had snowed during the night. The rising sun reflected off the newly fallen snow. The forest floor sparkled like it was covered with diamonds. Everywhere I looked I saw diamonds. I was filled with a sense of hope and joy. Even now, these diamonds sparkle in my memory. I had the sense that the cosmos continues to evolve toward creativity and life even in the darkest of times.

Unfortunately, when we are conditioned to expect predictable and negative outcomes, it is difficult to recognize these emergent properties. If we are to live into a more hopeful future, we must prepare ourselves to notice them when they occur. We need cadres of people who are willing to live outside the norms of the dominant culture; people who are willing to look for signs of hope where many see only fear and violence. These cadres already exist in some social justice, service and faith communities. They are also emerging in new forms.vi I believe that the continuation of such communities may be the greatest gift we can give one another in these troubled times.
The ability to perceive the diamonds of love, compassion and hope is not a skill that can be taught in the classroom. It is passed on through relationships and personal stories. In this spirit I will share a few instances where these diamonds sparkled for me. As I do this, let your mind wander to similar experiences in your life.

We recently took our four year old grandson, Gus, on a picnic. Gus, who is fascinated with bugs, wandered around collecting specimens. He wanted to bring them home and keep them in a terrarium. As he argued his case, Gus described the ideal world he would create for his bug friends. They would have water to drink, leaves to eat, rocks to crawl on and even a slide for his “roly-poly” to play on. As I listened to Gus' description of his imagined world, it sparkled in my imagination like the diamonds in the snow.

I have friends, Emmanuel, Melissa and Gaby.vii Emmanuel risked his life in Haiti, advocating for the destitute in his country. He fled to the United States to avoid being assassinated. Melissa risked her life in the escape because she loves Emmanuel. Four year old Gaby radiates love as she runs to give me a hug with an impish grin on her face. When I am with them I experience the flow.

The diamonds of love also sparkle in tragic situations. The whole world mourned when the photo of the drowned Syrian boy went viral on the internet. Many were moved when a Muslim man sacrificed his life by hugging a suicide bomber as he detonated his explosive vest.

I experienced this flow when son, Timothy, died. His friends surrounded us with love as we removed belongings from his apartment. We, in our nuclear family, are more open with one another as a result of Timothy's death. We are aware of the fragility of life. We cannot take love for granted.

When I was younger, I feared I was not good enough, not man enough, not desirable enough. My whole life was about how I did or did not measure up. I was defensive, condemning of others and cynical about the world. I studied to become a physicist. I entered the field to prove myself. I soon realized that many of my peers were smarter and more talented than I. As a result I felt like a failure,

I changed careers and became an urban minister. I followed my passion. I was in the flow. I still wonder where my life is going at times. I do not worry about measuring up. I do what I do now because this work gives meaning to my life.

I'm certain you know this passion as well. It may involve child rearing, serving others, doing a good job at work, or being a friend.

When we are in the flow, we deal with life's set-backs differently. Rather than sinking into depression and cynicism (although this sometimes still happens to me), we look for opportunities to live into the situation. We don't say, “Someone, please bail us out.” We say, “This is important. How can we make things better?”

I believe we can all live this way. We can join communities of committed people. We can share stories to help one another see creative opportunities for involvement that sparkle like diamonds all around us. We can challenge political candidates to develop programs to achieve this positive future.

As we live this way, we will feel more alive. Then we will be able to say with my Facebook friend, “Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting 'Holy Crap, what a ride!'”


i   http://marquesbovre.com/music/song-lyrics/h/heaven-halve-me/
ii  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Indian_Movement
iii Formerly Burma
iv See <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence> for a more complete discussion of emergence.
v  http://benedictinewomen.org
vi See <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence> for a more complete discussion of emergence.
vii Not their real names