What Has Happened to Us?

Somewhere along the way, our society has gone to hell in a handbasket. We drink and drug ourselves into oblivion on a regular basis, a horrifying number of us have been sexually assaulted either as children or adults – sometimes both. Corporations are people, kids are bringing guns to school on an almost daily basis, airports get nudie pictures of us as we go through security and we haven’t increased safety, racism is rampant, politicians of all stripes are corrupt, and we aren’t quite sure where Richard Simmons has gone.

second_industrial_revolution_gettyimages-51632462I truly believe that the industrial revolution changed our lives so fundamentally that we have been unable to adjust. From a schedule that was based on the rising and setting of the sun we moved to an alarm clock timetable. From the time we came off the farm, workers have been exploited and abused by corporations – which have now been declared “people,” perhaps the surest sign of judicial corruption we have seen. As we struggled, and failed, to adapt to these changes our stress increased and in many cases came out sideways in the form of abuse, assault, and self-medication that created disinhibition and made it easier to act out.

As a realist, I don’t believe we can put the genie back in the bottle. Nor do I believe that we can continue for much longer with the status quo. I believe we can learn to adjust to some of the changes that have caused us to struggle, but others we will have to walk back. We will need to ask ourselves, and others, tough questions. How much is enough? Can we see that working sixty hours a week destroys our relationships, and no amount of money can adequately compensate us for those losses? Do we realize that our rampant rates of sexual abuse and assault are crippling our relationships? Might we see that sexless marriages are doomed, and that marriages are sexless largely because of the impact of abuse and assault? How can we not see that our love of guns over the safety of our children is not lost on them – nor is our impotence and inability to do anything about it lost on them?spirituality

We have to come to a new spirituality, by which I mean a new way of understanding and making sense of our world. We must realize that self-care and the care of our relationships is a huge part of that spirituality. Selling our souls for a paycheck is creating a world that is polluted, and that in turn is having an impact on our environment and our climate. Those who would hide behind the facade of the flat earth society may be the largest victims of our worship of corporate big daddy, and we need to educate and heal them, too. We need to shift our primary question from “how can I screw you over?” and “how can I force you to comply with my perspective,” to “how can I help you?” We can do this only if we understand how interconnected we really are, and through that awakening come to see that what I do to you, I do to myself. We need to start right now.

Did You Ever Wonder?

Did you ever wonder why some religious folks just can’t seem to take a step away from some of the most repugnant beliefs of their otherwise quite lovely and compassionate faith? Mind you, I don’t have an answer to my own question, I was hoping you might.

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Recently I was listening to an audio book by a lovely man of great charity and compassion who has done incredible good for disadvantaged people. Everything about the program to which I was listening was beautiful and moving – and then he said it. My personal deal breaker is when someone writes or says some version of “thank goodness God tortured God’s only son because God was surprised and pissed off that the very people God created aren’t perfect, and because God isn’t very creative or very bright couldn’t see any way out of this massive angry outburst (like, maybe, forgiveness) and so tortured that same son to death to slake his rage-filled fit and to show us what love is.” Sure enough, in the audio program I had been enjoying the deal breaker eventually arose and I had to shut it off.

Ideas like this one don’t even make any sense, and the fact that I could explain to you how such ideas arise, why they become popular, and why people are afraid to let them go doesn’t change the fact that I am mystified how any reasonably intelligent person would insist on hanging on to them. Much like hitting your own knee with a hammer and then deciding to stop, letting these beliefs go brings tremendous relief. It would seem that people get more pleasure out of hanging on to a misguided notion of “how things have always been” than they do from having their beliefs make sense – which makes no sense at all!

Are there similar things that leave you mystified?

Spiritual Hierarchies

One of the very just criticisms of institutional religion is that it has become profoundly hierarchical, and hierarchies become self-serving, top heavy, and potentially corrupt. Human nature being what it is, we tend to run headlong to the other end of the spectrum in search of an answer. In Protestant Christianity this resulted in the rise of the non-denominational church. No hierarchy, but also little to no supervision. That means no way to check misconduct or hold people accountable. Within the institution you have misconduct followed by coverup. Outside the institution you have the likes of Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and the late Jerry Falwell amassing fortunes without the need for coverup or even shame, because they are accountable to nobody.

In Buddhism and Hinduism it isn’t much different. Sex scandals, Rolls Royce collections, and worldwide organizations staffed almost entirely by volunteers loyal to the guru means the often massive donations that flow in end up largely in the guru’s pockets (or wherever you keep your money while wearing a robe). Across the board egos run amok and people are worshiped as if they were God, or at least gods.

As Lord Acton reminds us, “absolutely power corrupts absolutely.” Whether at or near the head of a hierarchy or in a system without accountability, corruption waits at the door, an almost ceaseless temptation. Nevertheless, when organizations grow beyond a certain size, some sort of hierarchy is necessary to provide a level of organization to keep things running. The proper balance can be difficult to find. While a collection of independent communities coming together on an ad-hoc basis works for smaller issues, if we want to run a number of homeless shelters in area communities, somebody will need to do the accounting and make management decisions on an ongoing basis.

I honestly believe that the only way to solve these serious issues is through the use of shared power and responsibility. Do spiritual bodies need spiritual teachers and/or leaders? Absolutely. Are those teachers and leaders necessarily the best people to be performing administrative function? Most often they are not. The areas of administration and spiritual leadership require two very different sets of skills. It has been to the detriment of the Christian Church in all its forms that pastors have become administrators, rendering them less available for pastoral duties because they are making business decisions – decisions their spiritual education does not prepare them to make.

In the end, however, this is not a complete solution. Spiritual groups of all kinds absolutely need a board comprised of, for lack of a better term, lay leadership. It also needs to be a board that has rotating membership. If a board does not have regular inclusion of new members with fresh perspectives, it can become entrenched, encrusted, odiferous in places, and part of the hierarchy – subject to the same temptation to corruption and coverup.

Finally, a clear and enforceable code of ethics needs to be in place that addresses leadership at all levels. This code of ethics should clearly delineate acceptable and unacceptable behavior and the consequences for violations of these expectations. The code of ethics should also be subject to review and amendment as necessary, because as circumstances change so does the nature potential problems.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of the changes we need to implement, but it is is decent beginning. We must abandon the flawed notion that our leaders and teachers are beyond question or beyond supervision. None of us are perfect, and so all of us should be willing to receive appropriate questions and explain the rationale behind out decisions. None of these actions decrease the credibility, in fact quite the opposite. Transparency serves us all very well, and should be welcomed with open arms rather than avoided.

Nobody’s is Bigger

I am coming to see that no one religion can possibly hope to do an adequate job capturing God. Those that believe they can have washed God in some very hot water, indeed, and then thrown God in the dryer on the highest heat setting. How hot is that? That’s hot enough to turn the biggest pair of granny panties ever made into a size zero thong.

Why do I say that? I say that because the finite can never capture the infinite. The best we can do is observe our subject from as many different vantage points as we can while keeping in mind that we will still fall short. Making sense of life – and God – is a task far better suited to spirituality than religion because religion is quite simply too small and too rigid for the job. So relax, and broaden your horizons!

Who are “They,” Anyway?

I am sure you know. We all encounter them in our chosen fields. They are the experts, the ones who supposedly are in the know and who may, if we are extremely lucky, deign to share their vast knowledge with we commoners.

They have a lot to say about you. They say you have a fractured attention span, that you prefer a short, Twitter-ish message length, and that you won’t take the time to read anything more than a few paragraphs long because you are unwilling and unable to do so. They tell me that means I should write in snippets so that you won’t pass me by and every day so you won’t forget me. I should be the written equivalent of a gnat, buzzing at your ear regularly but not long enough to get slapped.

I reject those interpretations of the people that read my work as insulting and unworthy of either of us. If I am wrong, if some of my readers are so impaired from participation in our fragmented culture, there are plenty of options out there for you. On the other hand, if what you are interested in is a relatively intelligent, relatively insightful exploration and conversation around what’s going on in our world then we are both in luck, because that’s what I feel led to write.

Moving forward, starting on Monday, I will be posting one to two times a week on topics that I think are important. There will be observations of popular culture, spirituality, religion, and contemporary life. I will do my best not to write eight hundred page essays, but I will also try not to give a topic short shrift. I invite you to join the discussion by commenting, and I will do my best to respond to all of your comments. Together, we can build something worth reading. I hope you will join me!

The Interspiritual Experience

From Mirabai Starr’s wonderful book, Wild Mercy:

You follow the footprints of the Beloved across manifold spiritual landscapes. You catch the same ancient, spicy aroma of love in Judaism that you have tasted in Islam. Your attraction to the lush sensuality of Hinduism does not in any way preclude the way you rest in the intellectual purity of Buddhism. Contemplating the Tao Te Ching strengthens what the Hopi elders have taught you: that the Earth is alive, that she is your Mother, that she is the love of your life.

Institutionalized religious authorities discourage this kind of roaming; they will call you a lost soul. You lie down with the Beloved in so many forms, the purists will call you a slut. The more open-minded may still accuse you of hoping to get to water by digging many shallow wells. As if you were a fool. You are no fool. You are in love, and you will use every available means to reach the living waters of love itself, which you can’t help but notice bubbling up from the altar of every sacred space you have ever entered, including—and maybe especially—the wild spaces of this earth.

You embrace your Beloved through your friendship with Jesus alone or through Jesus plus Buddha. You walk one path or three or eleven different spiritual paths that all bring you home to the One Love. Maybe you say, “No, thank you” to any kind of organized religion and, instead, cultivate a direct relationship with the Beloved in the temple of your own heart. The singular true believers will advise you against all of this multiplicity, recommending that you pick a single tradition and “go deep.” As if your polyamorous spiritual proclivities render you a dilettante. They will mistakenly judge your way as superficial and undisciplined, rather than as the mind-blowingly, heart-openingly, soul-transfiguringly rigorous spiritual practice that it is.

You don’t care that much what they think anyway. You are not about to miss any opportunity to encounter your Beloved and bow down and rise up and take refuge.

The Sacred Feminine and the Future of Religion

There can be no denying that all of the world’s great religious traditions were designed by men and for men. At the time of their development, women were second class citizens. If we are honest, we have to admit that in most of the world women still are second class citizens. Women are rightly raising up the importance of the Sacred Feminine, which has been ignored far too long and at the peril of both women and men, and calling for its full inclusion in our spiritual understanding and lives.

sacred-feminine-energyWe need to remember that feminine is not the same as female, nor is masculine the same as male. We all carry both feminine and masculine qualities, and the path to wholeness runs straight through the integration of our entire selves and identities. It’s certainly true that the women mystics of all traditions have been ignored through most of history, and that women theologians have often felt they needed to be more masculine than their male counterparts. This truth has left us with a distorted spirituality that becomes even more muddled and confused when we walk into a Christian church and find it occupied not by men, as one might expect in a patriarchal system, but rather by women.

The fact that most churches are occupied more by empty space than by worshipers is evidence than the current system isn’t working for far too many people, regardless of gender. That suggests that learning to listen to the Sacred Feminine alone won’t fix things. We have a much more essential problem at hand that’s going to require a massive overhaul of the whole project, if that is even possible, to fix. We might just have to knock the old structure down completely and start over from the foundation. That’s a possibility that scares the pants off of most people, but our fear doesn’t make it any less necessary to consider. As we consider it, we also need to develop a spirituality that is spacious enough to accommodate all perspectives.

Trust Yourself

People may say all kinds of terrible things about you – even family. People may run you down, treat you to a seeming endless list of what they perceive to be your flaws and short comings, even to the point where you start to believe them. If this happens to you, ask yourself one question. Ask yourself if what they say is true, why do they keep coming around?

Should you find yourself in this situation, trust yourself – and kick your critics to the curb. Nobody, and I do mean nobody, has the right to continually heap criticism and abuse on you.

Just say no…

Earlier this evening I browsed an article online that showed television and music stars from the 1970s in a “then and now” photo series. Hence, the title of this post.

Boys and girls, just say no to cosmetic surgery. More than half of the celebrities in the article were not recognizable, yet they all had similarly distorted faces. Two of them looked like they had aged naturally. The rest, though recognizable, clearly had more than a little surgery and other treatments. Their mouths had gotten wider, their cheekbones higher if not evenly so, their necks bore significantly more wrinkles than the rest of their face, and their eyes had become more round. In short, they weren’t fooling anyone.

We all age, and as we do so it shows. The alternative is to look less than human, distorted more than aged, and run the very real risk or not recognizing ourselves in the mirror. I guarantee that will bring less happiness, not more – both to you and old what’s-his-face in the mirror.

Pain as Spiritual Teacher

As someone who lives with chronic pain, I can tell you from my experience that it can be a tremendous spiritual teacher. It can also make you want to eat a bullet. Most of the chronic paintime, I find I sit somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. You might say that if we constructed a scale in which eating a bullet was a zero and experiencing great spiritual insights was a ten, I live my life drifting between two and nine, with rare peaks at ten. In truth, you only get a brief stop at zero, and I don’t think I will ever be there. At the same time I believe it is important to acknowledge the possibility of zero.

I have read a lot of spiritual teaching from the eastern traditions that suggest we can reduce our experience of pain by not allowing ourselves to be attached to it or to resist it. If I am honest, I must admit that I never really understood what either of those things meant until I came up with my own words to describe what I believe they are trying to get at. In my experience, I struggle more with my pain if I believe that I am not supposed to be in denialcalvin-hobbes690x400pain. In the past I used to believe that I was too young to have this kind of problem, or that it shouldn’t happen to people like me (whatever that means), or some other similar nonsense. I call it nonsense because such beliefs fly in the face of what is. If I am in pain then there is a reason or reasons I am in pain. Therefore, to say that I shouldn’t be in pain flies in the face of reality! I may wish things were other than they are, but that doesn’t change that reality is what it is. If I can drop the idea that things should be different then I can begin the much more important work of dealing with what actually is! In this way, I free myself from the possibility of feeling persecuted or of having been treated unfairly and am freed to live in the present moment. If there is one thing we know, it’s that the present moment in the only moment we can impact.

I would suggest we can apply this reasoning to many life situations we struggle to grasp. If we feel we shouldn’t be pregnant, or bald, or working where we do, the first step to dealing with whatever underlies the issue is accepting that it is, in fact, the truth. If our issue isn’t the truth we can rejoice, because no action is necessary, but if we are bothered by something it is probably true and it is probably exactly how it is supposed to be. Now we can start asking ourselves if it is possible to make a change that will impact our situation.

Believing that things aren’t supposed to be as they are is a kind of denial that our mind creates to help us deal with the unpleasantness surrounding our condition. While denial can help us if we aren’t quite ready to deal with whatever is going on in its fullness, it also can stop us from moving forward if we don’t release it. That is a realization that can help us in many areas of life, if only we will embrace it!