Who Are We to Be?

I confess that, watching the political discourse over the last few years I have become increasingly discouraged. I have watched American politics, not as an obsession but as a citizen interested in public discourse, since the late Johnson administration. To my more smart assed younger friends, I should specify that I mean the Lyndon, and not the Andrew Johnson administration. What I have noticed, at every level and in every party, is a loss of any sense of value or integrity. People just seem to feel fine about dishing bald faced lies to the American public if doing so advances their cause, career, or (more likely) lines their pockets.

If we are honest, these are the kind of people we wouldn’t want to invite into our homes for dinner for fear they would steal the silverware. Like a drug addicted child, we would have to exert so much energy monitoring their behavior while they were visiting that we couldn’t possibly enjoy the visit. If we are honest, we don’t have to stretch our imagination too much to imagine a current politician or one of their employees searching through our bank records while ostensibly on a trip to the bathroom.

As someone who has spent the vast majority of his adult like studying and working in the fields of spirituality, religion, and psychology, it is clear to me that a significant segment of our population has come worship power and money above all else. Values such as integrity, truth, loyalty, and dependability take a back seat in these belief systems. Perhaps even more telling is the truth that the worship of power and money arise in a person who is profoundly fearful and lacks a way to understand and process that fear. They become a starving man in front of a tray of food, who takes it and eats it without regard because he knows he must do so to survive – except that most of these people have more than enough to survive. Their starvation is a starvation of soul, and the result is an ego run amok. The result of their strategy is a life chasing something they will never catch.

I don’t care if you are a Christian, a Buddhist, a Jew, a Moslem, or a follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You might be a Jungian, a Freudian, or a follower of Fritz Perls. Maybe Elkhart Tolle helps you make sense of your world, and Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday makes all right in your world. Whatever it is, the human psyche needs a way to make sense of its world and to find in it something bigger than itself. It doesn’t need to be complicated. The Dalai Lama reminds us the his religion is kindness. Each of us must find a way to care about something other than ourselves at least some of the time. If we can’t do that, we are likely to find ourselves trying to lie, cheat, and steal our way to happiness – and pondering a run for political office.

Guns, Schools, and Selfishness

At a certain developmental stage, young children are appropriately concerned only about themselves and what they want. At that stage, that behavior is appropriate and we would be wrong (and ineffective) if we tried to hurry them out of that stage. We would interfere with their normal, healthy development, and they would suffer consequences at they moved into adulthood.

When we are adults, living in society, and presumably capable of understanding the world in a much broader way than a three year old does, we come to realize that some of the things we might want to do that we cannot do out of concern for the greater good. For example, we might want to drive through a school zone at seventy-five miles per hour, but children might be hurt. We pass laws to make such things illegal, and no reasonable person objects to those laws.

You might think that same logic would apply to questions of gun control given that high number of gun incidents in school zones. You might expect that reasonable people, seeing the danger inherent in the regularity with which shootings and near-shootings* occur at schools in America, would be willing to change our laws to restrict access to firearms even if such changes impacted their perceived right to own as large an arsenal as they might like. You would be wrong, however.

America is well past the point where there is any reasonable argument in favor of the status quo in gun control. What we have isn’t working. Any politician who argues against stricter gun laws is likely in the back pocket of the NRA and is corrupt and needs to be removed from office. Even the most rudimentary understanding of any of the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions tells us that nothing is more important than the health and safety of a child.

The truth is that when we encounter someone who believes that their need to own a gun is more important that a child’s need to life, we have encountered a moral midget who needs to be ignored. If we are to live in a civilized society, we have to do everything we can to ensure the safety of our children. If you feel you need to hunt, I’d suggest you buy a bow and arrow.

Ego and the Spiritual Path

We are an extremely competitive society. We can turn anything into a competition – to our detriment, I am afraid. If you can measure it, we can fight over who does it best. If you can quantify it, I guarantee you mine is bigger – unless being smaller is better, but to be honest most males struggle with that concept. You might think that spirituality would be exempt from this nonsense, but you would be mistaken.

kickball betterImagine coming across a group of kids playing kickball and feeling compelled to ask them if any of them are going to play major league baseball or professional soccer. Then imagine none of the kids saying they are going to do either of those things. Would you tell them that they are wasting their time playing kickball and in fact being unfaithful to the higher meaning of playing with their balls? Of course you wouldn’t, but that is precisely what many of those who imagine they are quite far along the spiritual path do to others all the time.

Consider for a moment those who consider themselves contemplatives but then criticize ronald mcdonald meditatingpopularized forms of mindfulness in corporate and other non-Buddhist settings as “McMindfulness” because it doesn’t contain the fullness of the Vipassana Buddhist tradition. How is that any different than calling kickball “McBaseball?” Just as some of those kids playing kickball will go on to play more complicated sports, some of the people whose entry into contemplative practice is a popular mindfulness application will go on to deeper spiritual practice. More importantly, those who don’t go on may still have perfectly wonderful experiences playing kickball or practicing mindfulness as a stress reduction technique. None of us has the right to tell anyone else what’s best for them!

Fundamentalism rears its ugly head in many different settings, even on the kickball diamond. What we can know about those people who are only to eager to insist that others “aren’t doing it right” is that they are plagued by insecurities about their own practice and struggling with some significant control issues – both of which are a lot less attractive than a kickball game.

Not Going Away

your-body-knows-your-truth-4-638Many people have one or more chronic concerns. These may be things from their personal or health history, newly arisen medical issues, or simply things they worry about. If I had a nickel for every person who described themselves to me as a “worrier,” I’d have a lot of nickels. Other people believe that if they go to the doctor to ask about an issue that’s been troubling them that the doctor might diagnose the problem and then it will become “real.” Children often believe there is a monster under their bed and as long as they don’t look the monster will stay there and not harm them.

Of all the people listed in the last paragraph, only children get a break. It is therapist and clientdevelopmentally appropriate for children to engage in magical thinking. Adults, not so much – yet that truth doesn’t seem to stop adults from trying to protect themselves by using magical thinking. That magical thinking is quite harmful, as cancers continue to spread and psychological dysfunctions continue to grow as we hide out for fear that a diagnosis is the thing that makes us sick. Rationally, we know that is absurd (I hope), but our rational minds aren’t always in control. An African American friend tells me that his black friends won’t go to see a therapist because they believe that doing so will mean that they are “crazy.” In truth, that belief reflects a lot more on their mental status than any trip to the therapist ever could.

One thing is certain – whatever the issue might be, waiting to get it checked out doesn’t solve a problem. Suppose nothing is wrong. Would you feel better knowing that? Suppose something is wrong? You will feel better beginning a course of treatment. It’s a no-lose situation. Make that appointment today!

Evil

right and wrong

If the exercise of your “rights” harms others, then you are not exercising “rights.” What you are doing is evil.

Like many progressives, I’m not big on the idea of any person being evil nor do I believe in a personal devil, with or without red pajamas. I do believe that actions can be evil, beliefs can be evil, and while I prefer to separate person from behavior it is pretty hard to make a case that someone who spends most of their time engaged in evil actions isn’t an evil person.

You may be asking yourself, “How can we tell when an action is evil?” I feel that sometimes we don’t look deeply enough when trying to decide where evil exists. Over the weekend a man was fired from his job went on a shooting spree with an assault rifle in west Texas, killing seven and injuring more than twenty people. Was he evil? I suspect that something in him may have snapped when he was fired, and I don’t believe that people who have a mental breakdown have enough volition to be judged evil. That’s not to say there isn’t evil at work here, however.militia

 

Jesus and all the other great spiritual teachers and leaders were quite clear about our obligation toward children and other members of what we today call at risk populations. One of the victims in west Texas was a seventeen month old little girl who was shot in her face. When we fail to protect and care for children and other at risk populations adequately, we are committing evil. There is no appeal to the Second Amendment or any other “right” that justifies such a failure.

 

lapierreIf those who continue to insist they have a right to assault weapons in this country want to see evil, all they have to do is find a mirror. Innocents – in fact, all people, but especially innocents – have the right to go about their daily lives as free from danger as possible. The fact that some members of our society want to pretend to be soldiers, cowboys, or terrorists doesn’t override that right. There is no debate to be had.

If you want to see evil, all you need to do is find a meeting of your local chapter of the NRA or find a politician who opposes gun control. It’s just that simple. The question that remains is, when will we wake up and make the necessary changes no matter the cost?

Action vs. Meaning

The problem with how most people approach scripture and other mythical stories is perhaps best illustrated in the clip below from The Bird Cage.

Anyone can read a selection from any written account and parrot back what the action was in the story. The problem is that action doesn’t always convey the meaning that lies underneath it. The dancer in the above clip interprets standing still to be standing “like an idiot.” Armand tries to convey the meaning under the action – the excitement of Martha Graham, Madonna, or others.

If you want to understand mythology, it’s not enough to describe the action because the meaning lies under the action. For example, the Christian scriptures tell us that when Jesus was crucified there was an earthquake. If you understand this to be a description of a geological event, you miss the point. What the writer is trying to say, at the very least, is that this was an Earth shaking and shattering event. The problem with literal misinterpretation is that, by remaining on the surface of the account, truth hinges on whether or not the superficial event actually happened – and the point of the story is lost.

To do this work takes time, and we have to sit with whatever scripture we are studying as we would a poem or a painting. It will reveal its meaning to us when we are ready, and not a moment before.

Labels

Very often, we label ourselves – tall, short, fat, thin, conservative, progressive, smart, dumb, wealthy, middle class, poor, successful, compassionate, empathetic, competitive, magento-product-label-new-labelsand dozens of others. Then we only pay attention to people who carry the same labels we do. Are we that afraid of being challenged, that afraid of having our opinions changed, that sure that we are right and everybody else is wrong?

Apparently, we are. In being so sure, our world shrinks to the size of a grain of rice while we act as if we have achieved something. How silly.

Life in the big city

I happened on a young couple the other day. In front of their building were several shell casings accompanied by evidence markers, several police cars, and a liberal application of yellow crime scene tape. It was about eight-thirty in the morning and the police had been there a short time. The shooting happened at one in the morning. Trusting that the high-tech system that locates gun shots would locate the problem and not wanting to become a target themselves, nobody called the police in the middle of the night. Luckily for the intended victim, he was not in his car smoking weed (as is his practice) when the shooters came by looking shell casings and markersfor him, but his windows were so deeply tinted they thought he was inside. The weapon seems to have been a fully automatic 9mm.

The couple’s young son, whom the mother told me had a great sensitivity about what she called “energy shifts” in the neighborhood, had asked to sleep on the floor when they went to bed. After the shooting, they all moved to the floor, the intended victim’s car having been parked near their bedroom window. They know the target from seeing him in the neighborhood and said that, although they knew it was wrong to judge people by appearances, he seemed to be a shady character. They also said he was now lying low somewhere unknown, and hoped that the shooters wouldn’t return.

The mother shared with me that they had repeatedly moved to different parts of the city trying to avoid this sort of things, but everywhere they moved it seemed there were shootings nearby. The father recognized the police department evidence technician from seeing him at other shootings, and they exchanged greetings and pleasantries. This is what passes for normal in our cities, and the truth is that we always have more than enough money to fight wars but never enough money to address the issues in our cities. We need to be clear that is a choice, and that choice is negatively impacting our children – killing them, in fact – while our politicians prostitute themselves to the military hookerindustrial complex.

Meanwhile in Milwaukee politicians are announcing increased efforts to curb prostitution, doubtless in an attempt to clean up the city for the Democratic National Convention next year. After all, you can’t have the low rent prostitutes cluttering up the streets when the professional whores have their convention…

But he’s not up there anymore!

crucifix

I can’t tell you how many people, confronted with a crucifix or other image of the crucified Jesus, say to me, “…but he’s not up there anymore!” Of course, part of the reason they are saying that is they can’t deal with the idea that Jesus ever was “up there.” It was a great problem for the people of his time, too.

Here’s the bigger issue: He isn’t up there, you are correct. Now you are up there. Are you ready to talk about that?

Avoiding Self-Sabotage

get-out-of-your-own-way-blog-imageIf you are anything like me, you have experienced more than a few incidents of self-sabotage over the course of your life. At the time, you thought what you were doing was perfectly reasonable. You just wanted to think things through, develop a plan, avoid mistakes down the road, make sure you don’t embarrass yourself, anticipate problems, avoid conflict, make sure you took care of the details in advance, had everything down pat, knew your subject matter forwards and backwards, talked to the right people, got the right permissions, ran some feasibility studies, grabbed a nice dinner…and, to your great surprise, you never started your project.

Of course nobody wants to look like a fool, but none of us are perfect. We make mistakes. In fact, you might say that the only person who ends up looking like a fool is the person who believes they won’t make mistakes. If something is worth doing, then it is worth taking some chances and actually doing it! We can’t succeed if we don’t start, and quite often it is our fear, not of failure but of success, that keeps us stuck! We don’t know who we would be if we tried something new, so we settle for our current situation. The devil we know is better than the angel we don’t.

And, at the end of our lives, we just might find we never lived. Don’t let that happen.