Tuesday, December 12, 2017

WHEN WE DON'T BELIEVE

I have a young friend. Let's call him James. One night James narrowly missed hitting a dog that charged across the road in front of his car. The wounded animal was trying to escape a pack of coyotes that had attacked it. James pulled over, jumped out of his vehicle and chased the crazed animal into the woods. He found it crouching in the bushes, growling. The dog, sensing that James was friendly, calmed down as he approached. James picked up the bleeding animal and carried it to his car, where he wrapped it in a blanket in his back seat. He tended to the animal's wounds, checked the tag around its neck and brought it to its owners who took it to a vet for emergency care.

This is not an isolated incident for James. I call him “the animal whisperer” because he is so concerned about the plight of animals. He is also bothered about the way humans are destroying our plant species and how we are killing ourselves by our unhealthy eating and life-styles.

“Why are they so stupid?” he shouts. "Can't they see we are damaging ourselves and the earth by the way we live?”

“I respond,” James, in your own way, you are a prophet. Those of us on the cutting edge will always be frustrated because others don't get it.”

“Yeah,” he replies. “What good did they ever accomplish? Nothing changed. Many of them got killed. Kill or be killed. That's the way the world operates. The Italian Mafia had it right. Take care of your own because no one else will do it for us. This talk about loving everyone sounds good, but it doesn't work in the real world.”

James was raised in a Catholic family. He still wears a religious medal that belonged to his grandmother. Yet he has little time for churches and other religious groups.

“There are some good things about them,” he says, “but they are basically political organizations. Look at the sexual abuse of kids by priests and ministers. Churches are mainly interested in self preservation. Their talk about God doesn't do much for me. I'm thinking about moving to Hawaii where things are simpler and where people appreciate nature and one another.”

I respond, “James, you continue to promote good living and eating habits and advocate compassion for plants and animals. Something is keeping you going even though your efforts seem useless. You are caught by something that won't let go. Remember James, this is more than an intellectual exercise. Stay in touch with your heart as well as your head.”

James nods, and grudgingly admits this is true.

I have an Indian friend. Call him Nandha. His parents are devout Hindus. He attended a college run by an Augustinian order of monks. Following college, Nandha volunteered with this order and worked a couple years with disadvantaged high school kids. He is now employed by a tech firm. Nandha is still close to his family and joins them for meals on a regular basis. He tells me that people his age, raised in the Hindu faith, are also less involved in the religious practices of their families.

Nandha, like my Catholic friend, James, continues to live in ways that promote compassion and justice, as he was taught in his Hindu household. Although he is not as involved in the religious practices of his parents, he is still engaged and motivated by some unnamed source that his parents would call Brahman, the Supreme Being.

In a way, I am not too different from James and Nandha. I had difficulty accepting the teachings and practices of my Lutheran tradition. In fact, my God was not a God of love. He was a punishing father. It was not until my late 50's that I discovered God as a friend. I imagined having conversations with him while sitting by a campfire near a lake. Several years later, this image dissolved. I no longer have a specific image of God. I, like my young friends, experience something that keeps me going, even in the midst of the world's violence.

Some of us were fortunate and did not have to anguish over such things. My sister lived with cancer for fifteen years. Her church and faith were powerful sources of comfort in her living and her dying. Bonnie, a life-time member of the little church I attend, is another of those people. Several months ago, we celebrated her hundredth birthday at a Sunday service. She was radiant when our little choir serenaded her with hymns she has enjoyed all her life.

We each have beliefs about what gives life meaning. But our specific religious/moral beliefs aren't the main point. These are times when powerful men and women corrupt our democracy for personal gain. What matters is that we who are moved to work for peace, compassion and justice, join together and dedicate our lives to these efforts.

We in our faith communities, need to rethink our roles. We need to pay closer attention to the practices and professions of the founders of our religious traditions. It does little good to judge others by their belief systems or whether they participate in formal religious organizations.

As a follower of Jesus, I need to remember that he never put himself first. He always acknowledged a loving presence greater than himself, whom he knew as a parent. He did not aspire to being a social/political leader even when people urged him to do so. He always put himself on the line when promoting the cause of compassion and justice. In strategizing, he was wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove. By living wisely, with love and compassion, he hoped and yearned to be part of a dawning new order. He believed this order was more powerful than the systems of death and destruction that surrounded him.

This raises important questions for faith communities. Do we need to alter our strategies as we work for justice and compassion?

The civil rights movements of the '60's and '70's were led by religious leaders. They marched at the head of parades, organized nonviolent protests and provided their buildings for meetings and prayer services. These days faith communities no longer exercise this degree of political and moral influence. Their influence is further reduced as crafty politicians manipulate them for personal gain.

It is easy to bemoan the decline in faith organizations. Maybe things aren't as grim as they seem. We need to be more aware of people like my friends James and Nandha. Perhaps that energy we have identified only with faith communities is once more loose on the land, moving where it wills.

A parable about the action of the Holy Spirit may be relevant here:

After Jesus died, the Holy Spirit burst free from the grave. The church chased after It and stuffed It in a box of dogma and ritual. Once again It burst free. Time and again the church caught It and stuffed It back in the box. Time and again the Holy Spirit burst free. This reminds me of the old Road Runner cartoons. They feature Wylie Coyote who chases the Road Runner in episode after episode. He always fails to catch him, often with disastrous and humorous results.

The Christmas/Hanukkah season occurs near the winter solstice; a time celebrated by many religious and secular movements.i It is a time when light begins to shine in the darkness – when life and hope are born in the midst of despair.

This year is particularly dark for me as divisiveness, hatred, fear and violence dominate our national and international attention. I am desperate for images of light and hope. This is why I'm so delighted to know people like James and Nandha, as well as people like my sister and Bonnie. They all nourish me in these dark times.

I also find a glimmer of hope in the writings of theologian, Karen Armstrong. ii She states that humanity is in the midst of major reawakening,iii similar to that which occurred during the period from 800—200 BCE.iv

Armstrong writes:

(This earlier reawakening called the first axial age) is the time when all the great world religions came into being. And in every single case, the spiritualities that emerged during the Axial Age—Taoism and Confucianism in China, monotheism in Israel, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism in India, and Greek rationalism in Europe—began with a recoil from violence, with looking into the heart to find the sources of violence in the human psyche. The conviction that the world was awry was fundamental to these spiritualities. One of the things that is very striking is that all the great sages were living in a time like our own—a time full of fear, violence, and horror. Their experience of utter impotence in a cruel world impelled them to seek the highest goals and an absolute reality in the depths of their beings.

I live in the hope that the energy of the cosmos, like Wiley Coyote, continues to roam free, creating and innovating in spite of humanity's desperate attempts to control it. As I imagine this energy breaking out all over the place, I am less concerned about the decline in participation in faith communities. I am willing to commit myself to this emergence rather than to institutional preservation. I am willing to join with all people who are compelled to promote compassion and justice.

This effort is important as there is a real danger facing our species. Men and women in positions of power are, knowingly or unknowingly, promoting fear, divisiveness, destruction and death as they attempt to maintain the old order. Since this transition will occur over many life-times, it is imperative that we who are moved by this energy, develop and maintain practices that deepen our discernment of the new thing that is arising. It is also imperative that we explore new ways of engaging this emerging reality.

Those of us in faith communities need to emulate the lives of the founders of our traditions, depending less on the dogmas produced by these traditions. This means risking our very institutions as we engage our communities as servants. One congregation of aging members described this as “Living Like You're Dying.”v

Those of you who are motivated to work for justice and compassion, but do not profess any religion, need to acknowledge that the mysterious dynamic that motivates you also motivates those in faith communities. This will enable you to engage with people from faith communities, without getting caught in old hurts and in the rejection of outmoded definitions of God and Faith.

Together, will we be able to trust this mysterious dynamic that is more life giving than the old order that is passing away.

I will close with a piece written by Mary Luti.vi

(Some of you may wish to substitute another word for “God” in what follows.)

AH TIM”

Since childhood a man I know has been attracted to Something. He didn't know what It was back then, but he felt pulled in Its direction. It was like a strong undertow. He went with it.

In college, a friend took him to church. There he was lucky to discover that It was God. The God Jesus talked about, and talked to, at night, alone in the hills.

He started talking to God, too, saying, "Ah, God, you…" That's how he prayed, with that sigh. He heard God sigh back, "Ah, Tim, you…" Always a sigh, and a stirring.

Until a day when there was neither. No sigh. No stirring. Not in church where he prayed. Not under the stars where he pleaded. Not even in the shelter where he worked, which was disquieting, for he'd often heard God sigh there.

He'd been returned to the beginning, he thought, before there were sighs. He was bereft, but by now sighing was his habit, second nature, oxygen. He kept it up.

Sometimes he felt stupid, like a crazed unrequited lover, lobbing his longing into a void. He got over even that after a while.

He hasn't heard God sigh, "Ah, Tim, you..." for years. He knows he may never hear his name that way again. But recently he told me he's content. He has what he's always wanted.

For he's come to know that God isn't a prize at the end of his sighs, but lives entire within them, end to beginning, beginning to end. Desire is all there is, and all the way to God is God.

iihttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Armstrong
iiihttp://www.adishakti.org/_/a_new_axial_age_by_karen_armstrong.htm
ivhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axial_Age
vhttp://m.startribune.com/struggling-maplewood-finds-new-life-by-living-like-you-are-dying/451860703/

vihttp://www.ucc.org/devotionals_by_mary_luti

Saturday, September 23, 2017

INVISIBLE STRINGS

My grandson started kindergarten this fall. He is going out on his own without his mom and dad. It's a scary experience. He's worried and irritable. I want to protect him from the fears, sorrows and disappointments he will face in his life. I try to assure him that it will be OK.

My daughter, who is much wiser than I, tells me that it does little good to explain things to him. She says that, even though my grandson has a good mind, the behavior of a five-year-old is governed more by feelings than by rational thought.

“Dad,” she says, “His meltdowns are understandable. Don't try to calm him by reasoning with him. Go with his feelings. Say, 'I see that your hard feelings are coming out.' Then hold him or just be there with him. This will reassure him that his feelings are OK and that he is OK.”

She is reading a book to him titled, “The Invisible String.”i It's a story of a mother who comforts her children who are frightened at night by a storm. She assures them that even though she is in the next room, she is connected to them by invisible strings. These same strings connect them to all of the people and animals they love. They don't have to be afraid because they are never alone.

My daughter urges my grandson to imagine these invisible strings when he is worried. She tells him that these invisible strings attach him to her, to his dad, to his grandparents, friends and even Georgia, his dog. He responds, “These strings are stronger than the bad strings.” He gets it.

He still has some meltdowns, but now he has a way to comfort himself. My grandson can imagine invisible strings of love connecting him to all those who love him. These strings are stronger than the bad strings of fear.

We adults are a lot like my grandson. We are more sophisticated in understanding ourselves and the world, but our lives are still conditioned by our emotions. Consider, for example, our response to the Global Warming crisis. Ninety-seven percent of scientists acknowledge that global warming is a fact and is caused by humankind.ii Public advocates have been warning of the affects of global warming for years. These well documented arguments have been successfully countered with emotional appeals not based in fact. As a result, a sizable portion of Americans do not consider global warming an issue for concern.

Recently, two monster hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, slammed into Texas and Florida. News networks and social media beamed daily pictures into our homes of these unfolding tragedies. We saw the pain and suffering of American citizens. Our response was visceral and emotional. The statistics didn't grab our attention, but our emotions did.

We grownups, just like my grandson, need assurance that the world is not as scary and dangerous as we imagine. Without this assurance, we too react emotionally out of fear. Unlike my grandson, we have no adult figure to assure us that the invisible strings of love are stronger than the bad strings of fear. In fact, people in positions of power have been manipulating our fear for their own ends. As a result, our nation is riven by divisions. We distrust those who differ from ourselves. This distrust is reflected in our social structures and disables the very democratic processes that have made our nation great.

This atmosphere of distrust even infects those of us who seek to reform our society. We tend to view the society in terms of them and us. We struggle to defeat those who promote and benefit from a culture of domination and control. Once the issue is stated in these terms, we too are caught in and promoting the very cultural attitudes we abhor.

My daughter's admonition applies here as it does with my grandson:


Even though we have a comprehensive scientific understanding of human psychology, group dynamics and social systems, our behaviors are still governed more by feelings than we care to admit. Our social dysfunctions (meltdowns) are understandable. Reason alone won't calm us.

We need to express and acknowledge these fearful feelings. We need reassurance that these feelings are OK, and that we are OK for experiencing them. We need ways to engage the invisible strings of love that are more powerful than our fear.


The question is, “How can we access those invisible strings of love.” My grandson has his mom. She assures him that he is connected to her and others. Who or what is that “mother” that can assure us?

In the past, the rituals and practices of religious and spiritual traditions provided this assurance. For many, these traditions no longer appeal. Others, who still self identify as “religious” or “spiritual,” no longer engage in the disciplines of worship, prayer and meditation. Religious groups still provide a supportive community of friends and acquaintances, but they often provide little else. This may explain while the Saturday and Sunday youth soccer leagues attract as many people as do religious gatherings.

If we are to counter the death producing culture of fear and domination, we need to seriously engage in practices that allow us to be gripped by the invisible strings of love. Only then, will a culture of compassion challenge the culture of fear and domination.

The outpouring of compassion and support for the victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, is a demonstration that we are concerned and connected as human beings. For a brief time, the bad strings of fear and distrust were overwhelmed by strings of love made visible.

Our challenge is to intentionally engage practices that promote compassion for one another in all situations, not only at times of great tragedy. This requires as much commitment and discipline as that required in the struggle for control and domination. The practice of engaging love and compassion is not a passive act. It is more than a series of emotionally charged moments. It is a practice that transforms us; one in which we are gripped by an empathy for others; one that compels us to reach out to others even in the face of fear and violence.

This practice requires that we use all of our rational abilities, as we analyze and strategize to counter the destructive systems of domination and violence. It also requires that we attend to the dreams and visions prompted by our compassion. Motivated by the invisible strings of love, we can then work to implement our dreams to create a world very different from that which presently constrains billions of our brothers and sisters to live in situations of poverty, war, disease and violence.

If you are a religious or spiritual person, make it a priority in your life to engage in the worship, meditation and actions of your tradition. If you are not a religious or spiritual person, explore what motivates you to acts of love and compassion. Then develop or engage in a practice, either alone or with others, that enhances this commitment.

The culture of domination and violence is literally killing us. It threatens the extinction of human, animal and plant life on our planet. At a deeper level, it threatens the core of what we are as humans. This is the core of evolving consciousness that allows us to understand ourselves as more than just individuals or even a species. We are participants in the ever expanding and creating flow of the cosmos.
iThe Invisible String by Patrice Karst <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVp9ZBmPu8o>

iihttp://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002

Sunday, August 13, 2017

IT DOESN'T WORK! WE NEED ANOTHER WAY!

In earlier times, Congressional debate was combative but civil. This is no longer the case. Congress is so polarized that debate is shaped almost exclusively by partisan alliances. This was epitomized by the recent battle to replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Each party played to their constituencies. It seemed like a bizarre sporting event where the scoreboard registered only future campaign totals.

Senator John McCain returned to the Senate to make an impassioned plea for cooperation. He warned that polarization threatens our democratic institutions. The speech was more poignant because two days earlier he underwent surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor. It is unclear whether or not his colleagues will heed Senator McCain's advise.

Struggle for control and domination is the accepted norm. This is true, not only in politics, but in most aspects of life. Cooperative and compassionate processes are considered weak and ineffective. We believe that only the strong will prevail.

An ancient Hebrew story about the patriarch, Abraham, i seems relevant. Abraham lived around 2000 BCE in Mesopotamia (present day Turkey and Syria). Like other nomads, he traveled with his family and flocks in the arid back country, far from major cities. There was an unspoken commitment among these nomadic families. If strangers approached their camp, they offered them food and lodging. This was done because no one knew when they would also be in need. When hospitality was offered and accepted, a bond was formed, even if the strangers were formally enemies.

According to the story, God promised Abraham that he and Sarah would give birth to a son; making them the parents of nations. No son had been born to them. Assuming she was barren, Sarah told Abraham to take Hagar, her servant, as a wife. He did, and Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. ii Even though Abraham assumed he would never impregnate Sarah, he remained true to his commitment to Yahweh.

One day, strangers appeared at the camp. Abraham offered them extravagant hospitality. As they left, the strangers assured Sarah that she would conceive and bear a son. Hearing this, Sarah laughed. The prediction came true. Sarah gave birth to Isaac. Through Isaac, the tribe of Abraham eventually became the nation of Israel. This insignificant band of nomads influenced the powerful of their day and the history of our planet.

This story provides a metaphor for our contemporary situation. Many of us feel impotent in the face of global violence and cruelty. We laugh in disbelief when we consider that our efforts might affect future generations.

The centers of power appear to be strong and invincible. Not so. They are vulnerable because they attempt to control the immense power of the innovating and creating Flow of the cosmos. iii Anything that is unable to evolve will pass out of existence. Insignificant efforts like ours can have an impact, if we are able to evolve with the flow and adapt. This dynamic applies at many levels, physically, socially, and psychologically.

The Great Extinction that destroyed the dinosaurs is an example. Sixty-five million years ago, a 6-mile wide meteor struck near modern-day Mexico City, incinerating everything in its path. iv Underground burrows and aquatic environments protected small mammals from the brief but drastic rise in temperature. In contrast, the larger dinosaurs were completely exposed, and died instantly. Even if large herbivorous dinosaurs had managed to survive the initial meteor strike, they would have had nothing to eat. Most of the earth's above-ground plant material had been destroyed. Mammals, in contrast, were small and had a varied diet. They could eat insects and aquatic plants which remained abundant. The powerful dinosaurs that dominated that early environment were destroyed. The insignificant mammals sustained life on the planet.

I know the psychological dimension of this dynamic personally. I am intellectually competent. I was a leader in high school and in college served on many committees. I dominated others with my intellect. Even so, I felt inferior. I wasn't athletically competent. I couldn't make small talk at social gatherings, particularly with women. I didn't participate in horseplay with guys in the dorm or at local taverns.

When confronted with feelings of vulnerability, I escaped into my thinking in an attempt to bolster a false sense of superiority. I remember sitting in meetings silently criticizing those around me. “That was a stupid remark.” “Doesn't she realize she's making a fool of herself.” “I could run this meeting better than he.” I isolated myself in an intellectual fortress of my own making in an effort stay in control.

My fortress walls began to crumble as I encountered people who were orders of magnitude smarter and more capable than I. I then felt inferior intellectually as well. The more I denied these feelings, the less secure I felt. My fortress became a prison of inner isolation and vulnerability. I was extroverted on the outside, but I couldn't share my sense of vulnerability with anyone, including myself. I remember visiting a therapist who challenged me to stay with my feelings of grief and sadness for thirty seconds. I tried, and that thirty seconds was an eternity. I felt as though I would die.

We all know that flood waters can rupture a dam if it's not equipped with sluice gates. The same is true psychologically. The damming up of my feelings was nearly catastrophic. I experienced personal storms and floods. My sister died after a long struggle with cancer. My wife nearly divorced me. Our son died unexpectedly when he ingested alcohol with prescription drugs.

These crises wounded but didn't destroy me. I was fortunate. I began to realize that my dominant defense system was inadequate. I could no longer maintain my false sense of superiority. Life on earth had been sustained by the little mammals when the dinosaurs were destroyed. My life could be sustained only by engaging and sharing my feelings of vulnerability. I discovered that these feelings could be assets rather than liabilities. I began to accept myself, warts and all. Strangely, I grew more confident. I was closer to my wife, family and friends.

There is a social analogue to my personal story. Humankind evolved from hunter/gatherer tribes that struggled for survival in a hostile environment. The tribal bond was primary in the competition for control of hunting grounds. As social organizations grew larger and more complex, city-states replaced tribes. Then nation-states replaced city-states. Still the old survival instincts persisted. Kill, or be killed. Control those around you to keep them from controlling you. Tame a hostile environment, or it will destroy you.

Today, our survival is no longer conditioned by these external forces. The threat comes from within. The internet links us instantaneously. Economic systems are so intertwined that a catastrophe in one country sends shock waves throughout the globe. Armies have weapons systems capable of destroying whole civilizations. We are outstripping the available resources of the planet as we compete with one another to meet synthesized wants and needs.

Automobile manufacturers, in an attempt to gain an advantage over competitors, falsify records rather than building more expensive and less polluting cars. Political leaders intentionally block legislation that will improve the lives of people; fearing that cooperation with the other party will lessen their chances for reelection. Countries go to war, sacrificing millions of lives, rather than risking domination by neighboring nations. The list goes on and on. We stay the course because this seems to be the only affective way to do business.

We, as a species, need to discover what I discovered personally. The old patterns of domination and control, which isolate us in our prisons of insecurity and fear, no longer work.

Spiritual and Wisdom traditions have long taught that we should engage the Flow rather than bucking it. They advocate a path of compassion that acknowledges we are interdependent. In some strange sense, we are connected at a deep level. This is what I discovered when I began to share my vulnerable feelings with others. The issue is, “How can we promote this transformation corporately?”

This is where the story of Abraham and Sarah is relevant. They were impotent and powerless compared to the rulers of the city-states in Mesopotamia. They had long since given up the hope of bearing a child. Although disappointed, they remained true to their commitment to Yahweh. Strangers were welcomed to their camp. Then the impossible happened. Sarah gave birth to Isaac, from whom arose the tribes of Israel.

The lesson: Our seemingly ineffective efforts can have amazing results if we cooperate with the creative evolving dynamic of the Flow. As illustrated in my previous examples, creative options almost always evolve from the edges and not from the centers of power. We, like Abraham and Sarah, can participate in the Flow as it moves toward creativity and life.

It may be difficult to believe, but there are some hopeful signs of change. Nonviolent efforts such as those promoted by Gandhi and King, the 1989 nonviolent protests in China, v Arab Spring, vi and others vii were early indications of this change. Currently, a Kindness Movement seems to be emerging in our country. Relationship researcher, Shaunti Feldhahn, reports, “People are longing for kindness,” viii An article in the Religious News Service (RNS)ix states, “In recent months, Christian authors — as well as Parade Magazine — have highlighted step-by-step processes to help readers learn how to be kind. Organizations like the World Kindness Movement and the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation have encouraged altruism since the 1990s.” Movements, such as these, are responding in part to feelings of isolation and loneliness among our citizens. These feelings are so wide spread that they constitute a public health crisis.x Furthermore, engaging the Flow is exciting and life giving even though it is sometimes risky and frightening.

Yes, there are signs of hope. But the task before us is immense. The entrenched patterns of domination and control move unconsciously in our private lives and in our social structures. If we are to participate in this evolution, our efforts must include total commitment of mind, heart and soul.

I will speak more about this in my next post.

iGenesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7 Abraham, with his wife, Sarah, is considered the father of the three monotheistic religions, Judaism-Christianity and Islam. https://www.thoughtco.com/archaeological-evidence-abraham-in-the-bible-116875
ii Abraham is also known as the Father of Islam because Mohammad is deemed the descendant of Abraham and Hagar
through Ishmael.
iiiI am using more contemporary language to state what older Jewish, Christian and Buddhist traditions might described as “obeying the will of God,” “living in the Spirit,” or “achieving enlightenment.”
ivhttps://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100131221348.htm
vhttp://www.gmu.edu/programs/icar/ijps/vol2_1/True.htm
vihttps://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/01/arab-spring-five-years-on/
viihttp://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu
viii Shaunti Feldhahn, author of “The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship.”
ixhttp://religionnews.com/2017/06/23/stemming-the-tide-of-hatred-with-kindness-and-finding-life-itself/
xhttps://cosmosmagazine.com/society/loneliness-epidemic-set-to-become-a-public-health-crisis

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

MOTHER WHERE ARE YOU?

Mothers' Day has come and gone. For a brief moment we honored those who loved and mothered us. Now we return to the real world and business as usual where domination and violence are normative. Like the Hallmark image of hearts and flowers, the Way of Love and Compassion is viewed as an ineffectual, sentimental approach to life that should be reserved for puppies and babies. In point of fact, real mothering is not always gentle and beautiful. Real mothers protect their little ones in times of danger, even sacrificing themselves in the effort. Real mothers challenge all of us, men and women, to this kind of living.

I have always known my mother was my major nurturing figure Only now am I realizing that my birth father also nurtured me, even in the final moments of his life.

I was four years old. It was dusk. My dad was driving. We were nearing Grand Forks North Dakota where he was to begin his new teaching job. Mom and I were sitting in the front seat. Baby sister, Jean, was sleeping in the back. Suddenly we swerved to miss a nearly stationary car that had no lights. There was a deafening crash as we collided head on with a car coming toward us. Mom and I were catapulted into the windshield. Dad was crushed behind the steering wheel. Little sister awoke, climbed over our bodies and ran screaming down the highway.

Dad, though mortally wounded, was still conscious. He said, “Take care of my family first.” I remember none of this. We were all hospitalized. Mom's face was terribly scarred. She suffered through several reconstructive surgeries to repair the damage. I was unconscious for forty-eight hours. My little sister, suffering only a broken arm, was the darling of the nursing staff, as she toddled around the hospital.

I can't imagine the pain mom endured following this tragedy. Many nights she cried herself to sleep. She screamed to God, “Give me strength. Stand with me. I can't do this without you.” Mom's niece joined us when we were released from the hospital. She helped mom sell our new house in North Dakota and to move back home to Minnesota.

Mom returned to teaching elementary school. With the help of her mother, brothers and sisters, she raised my sister and me as a single parent. Several years later, she married my second father, a gentle unassuming man who loved us as his own and who fathered another sister and brother.

It was during these times that I realized the power of a nurturing community. Mom was well known in her home town, as was the story of her personal tragedy. People stepped up to nurture and support us – neighbors, other school teachers, business people and members of our local Church. Yes, mom's anguished cries to God were answered through her community.

Each of us has stories about women and men who mothered us. These people equipped us with resources to live with love and compassion in a world that is inundated with the ancient messages of the gospel of “Redemptive Violence.” i This mothering dynamic has fueled a Way of Compassion that has challenged the Way of “Violence Saves” for centuries.

As Early as the 6th century BCE, Siddhartha Gautama experienced a transformation. He was born the son of a tribal King in Nepal. His father raised him in opulence, grooming him to become a prince and leader of the warrior class. One day he traveled outside the palace and, for the first time, observed poverty, suffering and death. He was so overwhelmed by his desire to alleviate the suffering of others that he renounced his princely station and wandered the country as an aesthetic, seeking enlightenment. Finally, near starvation, he meditated under a Bodhi tree. There a young woman offered him food. Nourished, he continued to meditate until he finally achieved enlightenment.

As Buddha, the Enlightened one, he shared his insights with others. He taught that there was a way that one could escape the ongoing cycle of suffering and death and be at peace. This could be accomplished if a person became so conscious of and compassionate for the suffering of others that s/he was willing to devote her/his life to taking on this suffering for the sake of all sentient beings. This Way of Compassion (Buddhism) provided a powerful alternative to the practices of domination and control embodied in the religion of Redemptive Violence. ii

Five hundred years later, a young boy named Jesus, lived in Nazareth. It was located in the northern part of Israel; a country on the western edge of the Roman Empire. Near the time of his birth, a Roman legion crushed a rebellion in the city of Sepherous, only five miles from his home. The city was destroyed and thousands of people were crucified. As a result, Israel was a hotbed of revolutionary fervor. These sentiments were heightened because the political/religious leaders in Jerusalem cooperated with the Romans in order to maintain their power.

At the age of 30, Jesus left his father's carpentry business and traveled some 70 miles south. He was baptized by John, as part of a movement to free Israel from Roman domination. As John lowered Jesus into the waters of the Jordan River, Jesus experienced a moment of insight that set him on a similar path to that of Siddhartha Gautama. iii Immediately, he returned to Galilee and began healing, preaching, teaching about the Way of Compassion. He called the Kingdom or Reign of God. Local dissidents deemed his tactics ineffective while national leaders were threatened by his popularity. Finally, in a last ditch attempt to convince the political/religious leaders that the Way of Compassion and love was the only way Israel could survive, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem knowing that this confrontation might cost him his life.

Approaching Jerusalem, Jesus looked down on the city and wept. He cried, “If you had only recognized this day and everything that was good for you! But now it’s too late. In the days ahead your enemies are going to bring up their heavy artillery and surround you, pressing in from every side. They’ll smash you and your babies on the pavement. Not one stone will be left intact.” iv Forty years later Jerusalem lay in ruins. The nation of ancient Israel was no more.
It was not until Gandhi that non-violent resistance was defined as a strategy for the Way of Compassion. v Gandhi organized a mass movement around a salt march to the sea. This march struck a decisive blow against British Imperialism and lead to the Independence of India. Others followed in Gandhi's footsteps. Martin Luther King Jr. used non-violent resistance which precipitated the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960's. This was followed by the 1989 nonviolent protests in China;vi and Arab Spring.vii Although there were many more such movements, only these few captured international attention.viii
The way of “Violence Saves” is constantly before us. CNN reports daily on violent confrontations in Iran, Afghanistan, Mexico, Venezuela, Syria, Burundi, ix Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia.x Warfare is the focus of much of our recorded history. School children are taught about the war legacy of our nation – the Civil War, World Wars I & II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the two Iraq Wars. We celebrate and commemorate our military engagement with holidays – Vietnam Veterans Day (March), Armed Forces Day (May), Memorial Day (May), Korean War Veterans Armistice Day (July), VJ (Victory over Japan) Day (August), Marine Corps Birthday (November), Veterans Day (November), Pearl Harbor Day (December). Only the Marting Luther King holiday (January) celebrates non-violent resistance.
Meanwhile the Way of “Violence Saves” lurches from one lethal action to another, each one promising an instant solution, but few delivering on the promise. The common perception persists that this is the only effective way to proceed. A recent study indicates that non-violent resistance is more effective than violent confrontation in many situations. xi
The Way of Compassion continues slowly and steadily in the background. It validates the underlying truth that we each experienced from those who mothered us. The seeds of compassion have been sown deep in our hearts. They are waiting to sprout and grow. The process of love seldom results in spectacular, top down quick fixes. It is a slow process that grows from the bottom up and from the inside out as it changes attitudes and perspectives.
I remember talking with my mom late in her life. She said, “My life has been good.” I responded, “Mom! How can you say that? You were widowed twice, both times under tragic circumstances. You raised two sets of children as a single parent. You suffered a heart attack. How can you say, 'My life has been good?'” I didn't get it. Mom had expended herself in loving others and had suffered the consequences. Even though her life was laced with tragedy and loss, my courageous, compassionate mother was able to say, “My life has been good.” Now I understand. She new deep in her soul that her life was full and complete.

This is our challenge. Live with a mother's heart. Risk engaging all of life with compassion. Risk the pain. Weep over the dominating and violent actions of people and nations that produce little other than further domination and violence. Continue forward even when things feel hopeless. Shelter the vulnerable even as a mother hen shelters her chicks with her own body.

Only a few of us can live this way in isolation. As with my mother, most of us need a community of support. So, engage a community that values this kind of living. It may be an action group, a faith community, a neighborhood group, or a group of artists and story-tellers.

Together, we can participate in the cosmic flow that is present now and that continues after we are gone. Our efforts can be more than programs driven by greed and fear. They can be infused with our life energy and with an energy that extends beyond ourselves. Even though we are small, we can engage the massive global structures of domination and oppression that threaten our very existence.

We like the mothers we honored on Mothers' Day, can live for the children, the little ones, the vulnerable ones. We can be truly inclusive because we are part of that life giving force that courses through the cosmos.

i 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 conflicts. 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. This 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. <http://www2.goshen.edu/~joannab/women/wink99 Note: Theologian, Walter Wink, claimed in other parts of this article that this ancient myth first appeared in Babylon about 1250 BCE)
iihttp://www.biography.com/people/buddha-9230587
iiiMatthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:4-11; Luke 3:21-22;
ivMatthew 23:37-39; Luke 19:41-44
vHttps://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/gandhi-win/
vihttp://www.gmu.edu/programs/icar/ijps/vol2_1/True.htm
viihttps://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/01/arab-spring-five-years-on/
viiihttp://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu
ixhttps://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/26/world/africa/burundi-violence.html?action=click&contentCollection=Africa&module=RelatedCoverage&region=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article
xhttp://www.americansecurityproject.org/critical-issues-facing-africa-terrorism-war-and-political-violence/
xihttps://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2014/07/24/the-proven-superiority-of-nonviolent-resistance/#46094c8c68f0

Friday, April 28, 2017

THE HOLE IN THE SOUL OF AMERICA

I am frightened by the prospect of Donald Trump as our president. I am also concerned about what his election implies about our democracy.

Commentators characterize Mr. Trump as a narcissist, a pathological liar, a sexual predator and a bully; a man who lacks the skills and experience required by the office. He is said to twist facts to his own ends and to respond with Twitter rants when anyone points out his failings. He is reported to rule through fear and domination discarding anyone who displeases him.
Pia Guerra published a cartooni depicting Donald Trump as a profoundly insecure man who needs constant affirmation, a man who can be manipulated by people like Steve Bannon. (see below)
Now that Bannon has fallen out of favor, Mr. Trump is turning to other individuals for assurance, particularly daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.ii


Pundits find it easy to characterize Donald Trump as an insecure child seeking to prove himself. But, if I'm honest, I'm not so different from Donald Trump. I too have a frightened little boy living in me. This is the little boy who, at the age of four, was told he was “the man of the house” because his father had been killed in a car crash. I couldn't shoulder that responsibility, and felt a failure. That little boy continues to nag me, telling me that I am not man enough.

There is a hole in my soul. I feel unloveable and unworthy. I, like Donald Trump, am driven by a compulsive need to earn approval and prove my worth. His compulsion manifests in an insatiable need for self aggrandizement through the acquisition of wealth and power. Mine manifests in a compulsive need to change the world to conform to my ideals.

This compulsion overwhelmed my authentic desire to help others. It became a demanding mistress. I didn't grope women, but I did actively seek their love and approval. I didn't bully people, but I did relish the struggle against the powerful on behalf of the powerless.

Yes, I recognize in myself the same dynamic that Donald Trump displays in gross excess. There is a difference between us. I have acknowledged my addiction, my work-o-holism. I am conscious of the fact that the hole in my soul can never be filled from the outside. It can only be filled when I am able to love and accept myself for who I am; including my weaknesses and deficits.

Like the alcoholic who 'hits bottom,' I have acknowledged that my life is out of control and that there is a 'higher power' that can help me recover. I am grateful that I have accepted my addiction and am engaging it. I am healthier and less driven. I value my family and friends in ways I didn't think possible. I am growing in self acceptance. I am more able to trust my personal authority and to focus on the goals toward which I am moving.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump has not yet come to this realization. One commentator wrote this about him.iiiWho, really, is Donald Trump? What’s behind the actor’s mask? I can discern little more than narcissistic motivations and a complementary personal narrative about winning at any cost. It is as if Trump has invested so much of himself in developing and refining his socially dominant role that he has nothing left over to create a meaningful story for his life, or for the nation. It is always Donald Trump playing Donald Trump, fighting to win, but never knowing why.”

Yes, Donald Trump and I both deal with deep insecurities. There is a hole in our souls that we seek to fill by proving that we are better than others. Although it's easy to criticize Donald Trump as unfit to serve as president, he is not the main problem. His election is a sign of a deeper issue that involves the welfare of our nation. There is also a hole in the soul of America.

Nations behave collectively like individuals. They have personalities - strengths and weaknesses. They exhibit a life force; a psyche or soul. Like individuals, they harbor conflicting yearnings, desires and compulsions. They hold onto grudges and nurture distrusts, often for centuries. The wars in the Middle East are a good example of how these long term animosities erupt in violence.

Our nation, like empires of the past, is losing sight of its founding vision. Like Donald Trump, we are caught in the grip of a compulsive need to prove ourselves through self aggrandizement and the acquisition of wealth and power. We are so consumed with our own wants and needs that we see little else. We deny our own faults and project them onto others whom we define as the enemy. The United State and the former Soviet Union were so consumed with their projections that they nearly precipitated a nuclear war with insane plans for MAD - Mutually Assured Destruction.

History is rife with examples of failed empires caught in this compulsion.

During the glory days of David and Solomon, the people of ancient Israel, saw themselves as God's chosen ones and lost sight of their role as People of the Covenant. Their nation declined, and they were defeated by the Babylonian empire. Their temple was destroyed, and their leaders were forced into exile. After Persia defeated Babylon, the descendants of the former Israel were allowed to return to their homeland. Only then did the people rebuild the temple and reaffirm the Covenantal values of their ancestors.

The German people were seduced into believing they were the only pure race. Under the sadistic leadership of Hitler and his Nazi party, they allowed their government to torture and massacre non-Aryan people in massive acts of genocide. Hitler's Third Reich was finally defeated, and German cities were bombed into rubble. Only then were the German people able to face their complicity in these atrocities. Germany has been rebuilt and restructured. Still the horrors of the Holocaust shadow the German psyche.

Our nation was founded on lofty ideals enunciated in the US Constitutioniv and reiterated on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty.v We envision ourselves as a unique experiment in democracy: a nation of immigrants; a melting pot of people from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds; a land of equals; and a beacon of freedom for the rest of the world.

There are parts of our history for which we can be rightfully proud: The United States literally saved the world from Nazi domination by defeating the Axis powers in WWII. We helped rebuild Europe with the Marshall Plan. We were a stabilizing force for global cooperation when Eleanore Roosevelt helped create the United Nations. We led the world in economic development, universal education and technical innovations; raising the standard of living of our citizens. Everyone wished to emulate the United States. We were a beacon of hope for the world.

There was also a shadow side to America: Racism and economic discrimination have bedeviled our nation since its earliest days. Unscrupulous businessmen took advantage of workers. Wave after wave of immigrants struggled for acceptance.

I once believed we were were making progress. Civil rights movements sensitized people to the plight of minorities. The United States and Russia brokered a nonproliferation treaty signed by most of the world's nuclear powers. Corporations began reshaping their relationship with workers using the quality improvement models of W. Edwards Deming.vi

Today I'm less certain. There are troubling signs that the United States is slipping into the practices of failed empires of the past. The disparity in income and wealth between the poorest and wealthiest Americans is increasing.vii Race, class, and cultural biases are still embedded in our social structures.viii For the first time since the Second World War, the number of refugees world-wide has surged past fifty million. The US has developed no Marshal Plan to aid these people. Our current administration instituted legislation that prohibits immigrants from these war torn nations from entering the United States.ix Even US citizens whose ancestors resided in these countries are being detained.

United States foreign policy goals are shifting from maintaining global stability to insuring US economic and military domination. We attacked Iraq to obtain control of its oil reserves, not as falsely claimed, to capture Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Donald Trump made these self serving goals explicit in his inaugural address when he stated:x

From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.
From this moment on, it's going to be America First....
America will start winning again, winning like never before....
We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world -- but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.”

Donald Trump and his self selected advisors are promoting policies enunciated by Steve Bannon; policies that favor the rich and powerful.. They are attacking the checks and balances that define our democracy – the very structures instituted to protect and promote the founders' dream. I quote from a New York Times piece by Timothy Egan,xi

"As chief strategist, he (Bannon) recently vowed a daily fight for 'deconstruction of the administrative state,' a task aimed at overturning not just the traditional work of the federal government, but also the existing international order of treaties, trade pacts and alliances that has kept the world relatively safe since World War II. Trump’s cabinet is stocked with people whose goal is to neuter the agencies they head."

This is a frightening prospect. It should not be taken lightly.

The good news is that the American people are waking up to what we have done in electing Donald Trump. His actions against immigrants, his denial of scientific evidence regarding environmental degradation, and his ill advised foreign policy gambits have provoked public outcry and huge protest marches. The question is: “How are we going to respond to this wake-up call?”

Our situation is a bit like that of the alcoholic who is told that drinking is causing irreparable and life threatening liver damage. If the addict doesn't stop drinking, death will ensue. In response to this wake-up call, the addict will vow to stop drinking. There may even be an attempt to deal with the damage through medical intervention. This short term approach is absolutely necessary, but it is not sufficient. Unless the addict acknowledges the addiction and commits to the longer term process of recovery, the prospects for life are bleak.

The election of Donald Trump is our wake-up call. It is gratifying that we are resisting his destructive actions. This short term response is necessary but insufficient without long term engagement. We need to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that we have normalized the very structures and cultural biases that feed our addiction and control us unconsciously. Military and economic domination of the world will never fill the hole in the soul of America; nor will slogans like ”We're number One,” “America Right Or Wrong,” and “Love It Or Leave It.”

We can only fill this hole when we accept ourselves for who we are. We yearn to live up to the dream of our forebearers. We know we have the potential. We also know our nation is deeply flawed. Like the alcoholic who hits bottom, we are faced with the following questions:

How frightened are we by our current situation? Are we willing to acknowledge our addiction and commit ourselves to a radical restructuring of our national values and priorities?

If we are frightened enough, a positive response to the second question implies acknowledgement of the fact that our national life is spinning out of control. We need to commit ourselves to a journey with no quick fixes or easy solutions. Recovery is not a goal but a process of transformation. As we join with others to rekindle the vision that animated the founders our nation, we will be able to put aside our petty disagreements. We will be able to engage people whose values differ from our own. We will discover that the principles and structures of our democracy were designed to allow a diverse population to make decisions without resorting to violence. There are hopeful signs that this has begun.xii xiii

As we proceed on this journey, we will discover that we are in touch with a cosmic dynamic that motivates and sustains us.xiv Abraham Lincoln referred to this as engaging the Angels of our Better Nature. Civil rights activists in the '60's referred to it as keeping our eyes on the prize.

I am energized by the image of my little grandson, Gus. I see him sitting on his swing winding and unwinding the chains as he twists round-and-round in circles. “Grandpa, look at me! Look at me!” I smile in response. His joy is infectious.

Little Gus and I build intricate structures out of Legos. A magical fantasy world materializes before our eyes as he tells stories about our creation. He lives in a world of hope and new possibilities. He rejoices in living and has an unbounded curiosity about life.

Little Gus is one of billions of children in the world. Each of these little ones, like Gus, has unlimited potential. Each brings joy to those who love them. Each embodies a universal flow that moves toward life and wholeness. They are our future.


iSee cartoon image at
iihttp://www.cnn.com/2017/03/27/politics/ivanka-trump-jared-kushner-white-house-influence/
iiihttps://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/the-mind-of-donald-trump/480771/
iv“With liberty and justice for all”
v“Give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
viwww8.gsb.columbia.edu/deming/about/history
viihttp://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/07/5-facts-about-economic-inequality/
viii http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/americas-racism-problem-far-complicated-think/
ixhttp://beta.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/wars-bring-number-of-displaced-people-to-wwii-levels-un-warns/article19256419/?ref=http://www.theglobandmail.com&service=mobile
xhttp://www.cnn.com/2017/01/20/politics/trump-inaugural-address/
xihttps://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/opinion/the-bombs-of-steve-bannon.html?_r=1
xiihttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_Mondays
xiiihttp://religionnews.com/2017/04/12/soul-searching-at-princeton-theological-seminary/
xivFor many, worship and prayer practices of various faith traditions provide this resource. For others, who consider themselves spiritual but not religious, meditative practices and contact with nature provide this guidance. Still others in twelve-step and other self help groups depend on a 'higher power,' which for some is the group itself. Action groups are often motivated by transformative visions of a better world and the dynamic of a shared struggle.