Not My Stuff

I frequently encounter situations where someone has taken on the developmental or recovery work of a friend or loved one. They mean well, and they want to help their loved one in their process, but somewhere along the way a line gets crossed and their efforts turn from helping the individual in question to hurting everyone. Again, this is all with the best of intentions, but with terrible results.

We quite simply can’t do other people’s work for them. It may seem loving to try, but it’s anything but. The result is quite often the we inhibit their already overdue growth process. Housing the perpetually unemployed or the addicted person, tolerating inappropriate interpersonal behaviors of a loved one working through a trauma history, or allowing people to repeatedly overstay their welcome not only hurts them, it hurts the members of your family who are entitled to your attention and affection. Your partner and your minor children deserve to be the object of your love and support. Other adults quite simply need to grow up and figure life out. Their issues are not your issues.

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Morality is not a Popularity Contest

I have noticed that, quite often, when an organization determines that a certain course of action is the right course of action their next step is to enter into a long process to determine how to best implement that course of action. What they really seem to be doing is determining how to implement their decision in the way that will create the least amount of public relations damage possible. While I agree with the old adage that fools rush in where angels fear to tread, there are some problems that require action sooner rather than later. If your house catches fire, you want the fire department to arrive as soon as they can rather than wait until they determine the route that will offend the fewest people with their sirens and horns. The humanitarian crisis at our borders is a house on fire, but the issue is being referred to committees at a frantic pace.

second-guessingI understand that everybody wants to afford everybody else the illusion of empowerment (God help us all), but in some situations the reason we have placed leaders inĀ  position is to take action while some well meaning soul forms committees in hopes that nobody gets offended. We have so battered many of our leaders that they are afraid to take action because they don’t want to weather the second guesses of their constituents, and so they fail to take action when required. We have a lot of damage to repair!

We might start that repair by learning to trust our gut. I believe there are many ways in which we communicate with one another that we can’t see or measure, but they exist nevertheless. Whether we call it intuition, a hunch, or trusting our gut, we respond to that information that is subtly communicated. How many times have each of us ignored our hunches only to later discover we should have listened to them? Sometimes we just need to take action. If we lose our position for doing the right thing, or the best thing we could, we need to ask ourselves if we would have wanted to remain in a place that confuses popularity with right action. I hope not.

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?

Violence

The journey of faith is an arc, beginning at a point in life when we have little understanding of spiritual truth. Hopefully that journey moves toward realization that it is absolutely contrary to the life of faith to kill another human being, no matter the reason.

Needless to say, as a nation we have quite a long way to go.

Honesty is Such a Lonely Word

Billy Joel was right, not only about love but also about spiritual and religious circles – though he may not have had that in mind when he wrote his song.

There is a practice that I have seen both in Newage* circles and in Evangelical circles of 220px-Honesty_singleblatant dishonesty about the ideas and even the integrity of other teachers and preachers. If you run in the motivational speaker/Chicken Soup book circles, the odds are you do nothing but heap praise on others in those circles. According to these folks, everyone is wonderful at everything they do. Indeed, some of them are. Others mostly push content that is rather vacuous, largely rehashed and diluted ideas from long ago. The problem is that when everyone says everything is wonderful, people tend to believe them and go out an spend their hard earned money on books and conferences that are largely newage.

In Evangelical circles, particularly the Jim Bakker/Jimmy Swaggert circles, the same sort of things happen on a regular basis. I have seen it for myself. Almost every one of these high profile organizations gets hit with a scandal sooner or later, and they run to each other’s defense – especially if the person currently in the fire stood behind others when they were in the fire. I have witnessed these discussions. The problem here is even worse than it is in newage circles, because quite often what is being covered up and dismissed is serious misconduct that is abusive toward those the offender is supposed to be serving. If you think that only the large denominations traffic in cover ups, you are fooling yourself.

What we need in all corners of our world is a lot more honesty, no matter what the consequences may be. This may cause some sort term discomfort, but it will protect people from getting hurt by the unqualified and disqualified charlatans posing as authentic teachers and leaders. Imagine what might happen if we went so far as to require honesty from politicians!

 

*I borrow the term “Newage,” which rhymes with “sewage,” from Lama Surya Das to distinguish between solid and dubious New Age teaching.

No More Crusades

As I wrote the title of this post, it occurred to me that the word “crusade” has three uses in contemporary spiritual culture, and so my title might lead to some confusion. I’m not beyond using a little confusion to attract readers, so rather than change it I thought I might explain it.

black knightThe historical sense of “crusade” hearkens back to medieval times and the unfortunate wars undertaken by the Church in an attempt to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslin powers that held it. While there were a few jewels in the rough during these times, from a contemporary perspective they were horrific, genocidal undertakings by a Church more concerned with temporal power that spiritual concerns. These are not the crusades to which I refer.

Then there are crusades of the type that Billy Graham and others undertook. While thereCrusade-Cities-Featured isn’t anything wrong with this sort of crusade (if you’re into that sort of thing), I never have and never will set out on one.

The crusades to which I refer are the ones to right what’s wrong, to challenge the status quo, to get the [metaphorical] troops fired up to do [metaphorical] battle in the great arena of social justice. Mind you, I still believe in these crusades and I will still occasionally write about these topics, but not with the zeal of a younger man who perhaps foolishly believes he can change the world. These past few years have taught me that the world may well be fucked up beyond my ability to help it recover in an activist sort of way.

Many years ago when I worked as a field service engineer on diagnostic ultrasound equipment, a very insightful man named Dick Cline summed up the difference between sales and service people in this way. He said that when a sales person hears, “no,” they get excited and see it as a challenge. When a service person hears, “no,” they pack up their stuff and leave. As he spoke those words, I knew that I was a service person. I don’t like wasting a lot of time trying to convince people to do the right thing. I will happily identify the right thing, explain why it’s the right thing, and offer suggestions about how best to implement it. If you want to argue with me about why the wrong thing is the right thing, I’m just going to pack up my stuff and go home. There are other people who will be more than happy to fight the good fight, and I will leave it to them.

angry (1)Why? There are two reasons I feel this way. The first is that crusades simply don’t work in a country already profoundly divided and profoundly angry. The result is that campaigns and crusades end up preaching to the choir, reinforcing the views of those who already agree with the crusade but causing those with differing views to simply become more entrenched. The second is that, from a spiritual perspective, I feel our time is much better spent by trying to rebuild fractured relationships and thereby start a much needed healing process. That will in turn provide the foundation for the change that is needed. Of course, you can feel free to disagree – just don’t expect me to debate it with you.

Moving Beyond Perfection

We need to move beyond the rather primitive notion that holiness and the spiritual life cloudsare about perfection. Nothing could be farther from the truth, for if we are human beings (and if you are reading this, I assume you are) then holiness consists in being fully human. Humanity isn’t perfection, it’s messy and filled with mistakes. Holiness then is about being authentically and unashamedly human, with all of its flaws and failings. In that, there is no shame. Rather, it is precisely why we are here!

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.

True Self

One understanding of the goal of the spiritual life is getting to our true selves. This is a cumbersome task because we spend most of the first half of our lives being told by others both who we are and who we should be. In addition to being profoundly annoying, this practice is doomed to failure because the only one who can discover who we really are is, well, us!

Unfortunately, most of us are way too concerned – especially in the first half of life – about what others think. Unless and until we slow down and begin to ignore others and listen to the still, small voice within, we can’t begin the extensive excavation process that is unearthing the true self.

Most often it requires a crisis or a loss to set us on this journey. Like it or not, life is only too happy to provide us with multiple losses in a seemingly unending attempt to get us started. What’s holding you back?

Faith, or Politics?

The time has come – in fact, it probably came long ago – when no person of any faith whatsoever can support the current President of the United States. I say that because this President has repeatedly said and done things that are contrary to the teachings of every legitimate faith tradition. What follows is not an exhaustive list, but rather a sufficient list, of his speech and action that forces every person of faith to make a choice between their faith and the President:

  • Repeated misogynistic actions and speech, including confession on tape of (at least) fourth degree sexual assault.
  • Repeated racist speech and actions against virtually every ethnic group and Trumpincluding members of Congress and his predecessor, President Obama.
  • Holding rallies at which he has incited violence against political opponents including (but not limited to) Hillary Clinton, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
  • Violating long-standing ethical standards by refusing to divest of his business holdings in such a way that he derives no profit from being President of the United States. Most flagrant are his repeated trips at taxpayer expense to a golf resort he owns.
  • Separating children from their families in detainment centers, and also holding those children for longer than 72 hours in direct violation of United States Law.
  • Denying those detained at the border due process and their right to legal representation – again, including children.

There are many more problems I could list, but the above are more than sufficient. What’s more, the President has transformed the Office of his Press Secretary and others into Propaganda Offices that no longer serve their intended function. Much like those offices, supporters of the President do not engage in discussions but rather parrot the same lies his propaganda officials spout. The time for talking is past, because the President and his supporters have repeatedly shown that talking is ineffective. We must now move to concentrated, non-violent resistance to this man and his actions. Failing that, we must confess that we really aren’t people of faith at all, but rather political hacks interested primarily in getting ahead at the expense of others. Where will you stand?