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. 

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.