Critics

Critics are perhaps most to be pitied, for they produce no art of their own but rather exist to limit expression. While they may lift some art up, they are most in their element when they tear art down.

The irony is not lost on me that in pointing this out I have become a critic of critics. Perhaps criticism is different from serving as a critic, for whom criticism is a lifestyle. Some things are, in fact, rightly criticized. Some things must be brought into the light of day and exposed for what they are – but this is not the function of a critic, is it?

In what areas of our own lives do we serve as critics, and how might we change that?

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There is a God…but not THAT one!

If we spend enough time in reflection and silence, and by “enough” I am speaking in Prayer-topterms of years rather than days, we will find that the popular understandings of God have little to do with God at all. Those understandings are perhaps a necessary foundation for the next step in the spiritual journey, but they aren’t the goal of that journey.

When we reach that point of having spent that time on the path, we may start to understand that the things most of the world imagines are the concerns of the Divine are in fact nothing more than the projections of our own petty concerns and intolerance. We also notice the things that are dismissed as foolishness are anything but. I can’t teach you these things, you wouldn’t believe me – but I can teach you how to sit and discover them for yourself.

The Spiritual Battle of the Sexes

You don’t have to be an anthropologist to know that spiritual and religious events across traditions are attended by more women than men. Leadership in this events tends to be more male than female. Both are huge problems. One of them impacts power and control, the other programming. Both alienate half of the population.

holding handsThe role of religious and spiritual leaders in congregations of all faiths has transformed over the course of my lifetime from pastoral leader to administrator. In the Christian world we can see this in the decline of the quality of preaching in many churches, in the decline and sometimes virtual disappearance of pastoral care in any form, even on the deathbed. These things have happened despite the fact that church attendance is down across all denominations. It’s true that the Roman Catholic Church has a clergy shortage and so their deficits are a bit more understandable, but virtually everyone else has a clergy surplus. What’s the problem?

When your pastor is primarily a business, marketing, and financial manager, he or she simply doesn’t have the time to do the things most of us want a pastor to do. In some settings, lay people have been appointed to fill roles such as parish administrator, director of religious education, pastoral care committees, and other roles in an attempt to take the load off of the pastor. The training these people receive varies broadly, but since the preponderance of regular attendees at houses of worship are women, those filling these roles are mostly women. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s a good thing in a world that was dominated by male clergy – though that trend is beginning to shift.

enemaThere’s just one hitch. One of the results of all this is that women are designing programming for women (understandably), and most of that is about as attractive to the average man as an enema administered through a bazooka. That trend continues across religious and spiritual organizations. Retreats and conferences across traditions offer specific programming addressing such topics as the Divine Feminine, and that’s great. Programming for men? Not so much. Presenters at the upcoming 2020 conference of Spiritual Directors International include one man. One. Remind me again why we are supposed to feel welcome?

You see, whether we like it or not, men don’t want to hold hands during the Our Father or sit in a circle facing one another and singing. We certainly don’t want to jump to our feet and engage in some ecstatic dance. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, they just aren’t our things. What are men concerned about?

  • the changes of aging
  • job security, or finding a new job over age fifty if we need one
  • are we still attractive?
  • why has our marriage become sexless?
  • understanding our roles in our families
  • finding meaning in our lives

The truth is that unless and until those issues start being addressed, don’t expect us to show up any time soon.

Searching for God

The biggest mistake we ever made was allowing people to convince us that (1) God was outside us, and (2) that they could tell us how to find where God was hiding.

hiding_jesus2Of course, that’s a wonderful racket if you can sustain it, and many people and institutions have done very well for themselves sustaining it, but in the end it has to fail simply because they are telling us to look in the wrong place. God isn’t “out there,” just waiting to pop out from behind a tree once we get it all right. Once we stop saying “fuck,” or going to Wal-Mart wearing something absurd, or drinking too much, or anything else, then surely God will pop out from a really surprising hiding place.

Let me ask a simple question: Can you leave your body? Even if you think you can, and on some level I might agree that some of us can but only in part, the truth is that we remain in our bodies even if we venture out for a walk or a visit with Shirley McLaine. It only stands to reason that if it is possible to find God then God must be accessible to us in our everyday lives where we are living them. If we want to “find” God, we need to look within. That means we have to clear away the things that distract us, not accumulate more of them. That means that any teacher who tells us we need special equipment or a special location in order to succeed is selling us a bunch of nonsense. The teachers we need will help us journey within, because that is where what we are looking for resides.

Spiritual Practice

So, you say you want to start a spiritual practice? You say that first you just need to read these books, attend this retreat, or sign up for this class?

You’re fooling yourself. You’re also being fooled by the spiritual marketplace that has commodified spirituality and turned it into a cash cow.

Want to start a spiritual practice? Pick one, pick a ten minute instructional video on YouTube, and start. You can learn more along the way, but you need to start today.

There are no Gurus

The fascination that has grown in the west over the past several decades with eastern spirituality has become problematic, especially regarding gurus. As spiritual teachers and so-called gurus have moved from east to west, one thing that has become apparent is that they have a propensity toward sexual misconduct with their students. This in turn creates not only the problems that come with every form of sexual abuse and misconduct, but also a problem with the whole notion of gurus.

A guru is supposed to be a fully enlightened being. By definition, a fully enlightened being would never act out in any way – including and perhaps most especially sexually. The simplistic approach would be to say that anyone who acts out sexually is not a true barkley guruguru. I would agree as far as that goes, but what this approach leaves unanswered is whether we should just head on down to the next guru or whether the whole idea of guru is somehow part of the problem.

It seems you can’t scratch the surface of many so-called gurus without finding problematic behaviors. Whether they have quietly amassed fortunes, built large networks of volunteers who work for them without pay, have a secret stash of luxury automobiles, abuse their students physically or sexually, throw lavish parties that celebrate hedonism more than spirituality, or some other unacceptable behavior, many if not most highly regarded teachers who have migrated to the west have fallen from grace. What is the problem?

The problem is that most gurus achieve recognition as gurus in a highly protected environment. Living as celibate monks in a monastery, they are able to make spiritual progress is what is a very sheltered environment. In these environments money, sexuality, fame, and western style social interactions simply aren’t an issue. What these systems generate aren’t fully enlightened beings but rather semi-enlightened man-children. In a sheltered, cloistered environment they are just fine but they fall to pieces when they step out of the monastery and into the world. Stated another way, when they have to cope with the same things everyday people like you and I cope with, it becomes apparent they aren’t so enlightened after all. Go figure. You can’t “educate” someone in a sheltered environment and believe that will equip them to function well outside that environment. It’s not just ill-advised, it’s stupid.

We have this notion that spiritual leaders should live in an environment where they guru fraudnever have to navigate the complex web of human relationships (most especially romantic and sexual relationships) or be responsible for their own financial well-being. Then we let them into the world and they set about raping and pillaging. Would you give the keys to your brand new car to someone who had never seen a car, much less had any driver’s education or driving experience? Then why in the world do we send these adult children into the world and give them the keys to our spiritual well-being?

Spiritual teachers are precisely that – teachers. Since no human being is perfect, whatever enlightenment may be it cannot be equivalent to perfection. We still need to exercise our best judgment and to understand that when it comes to our safety, our opinion is the only one that counts. Never do something that feels wrong because someone you trust tells you it is right. The external guru, if such a thing exists, is there to show you the internal guru – and your internal guru would never betray you!.

Naked Practice

Calm down. It’s okay, and yes I do sometimes descend to cheap titillation. I can’t help myself. The truth is, though, that we need to ask ourselves a serious question: if Linuslinus and snoopy went on a meditation retreat, would he take his blanket to the meditation room? Since he is an American, the odds are he would. He would also be wearing yoga pants with matching top, be wrapped in a meditation shawl, have at least three wrist malas on as well as at least one full size mala, have his own meditation cushions, and his MP3 player would be loaded with his favorite meditation and yoga music. There’s nothing wrong with all of that, but it does beg another question: If Linus was stranded on a desert island, could he meditate?

For many of us, the answer is and emphatic, “NO!” We are profoundly attached to our spiritual blankets, so much so that they actually get in the way of our practice. If you are the kind of contortionist who can actually sit full lotus, would you be able to practice if you developed a hip problem and could no longer sit that way? For far too many of us have become attached to non-essentials that we carry around with us as symbols of dream-of-nuditylegitimacy that serve only the ego. What’s the point of having a spiritual practice if we can’t spontaneously pull up a piece of beach or a mountain vista and just “do it?” There is no point, because such attachments are anything but practice.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t support the sweat shops that churn out your official gear. I am saying you should learn to go naked on a regular basis. It will do wonders for your practice.