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.

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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?

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.

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.

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 Attainment

If someone tries to tell you that there is some sort of spiritual attainment that can only be achieved under special circumstances or conditions – celibacy, withdrawing from life, ABalone_Shell_Terrarium__58465.1496177011remaining single, or any other such nonsense – and that stepping out from under those conditions will fracture the attainment, then it is no attainment at all. Rather it is a precious little state of mind for fragile souls who need ego support and to feel special.

Anything that’s real, and kind of spiritual gift or progress, will play on the street the same way it does in the monastery – or else it’s no gift at all. If some aspect of daily like causes the “gift” to fail, then it was never a gift at all.

Stop Saying, “This Is Not Who We Are.”

America please, seriously, stop saying, “This is not who we are.” That statement is trump_baby_blimp_getty_0categorically false. This is precisely who we are: a country that has elected a serial sex offender; a small minded, profoundly mentally ill, petty dictator President of the United States. We have filled Congress and the Courts with people who think this is a great idea; we have a malignant, obstructionist, pathological liar leading the Senate; and a woman who should be posing for advertisements for the local assisted living center leading the House of Representatives. A significant number of people running for President in the Democratic Party are or soon will be wearing adult diapers, making that job the only one we feel our elders are fit to do because we sure aren’t hiring them in the private sector to mentor young people.

WE THE PEOPLE created this mess, WE THE PEOPLE are responsible for it, and this certainly is precisely who we are. Before you start shouting that Hillary won the popular vote, I would remind you of four things. (1) Most Americans didn’t vote. (2) She won by less than one percent of our population, a stridently unimpressive margin. (3) We allowed the DNC to torpedo the campaign of Bernie Sanders so that someone who was, at best, a second choice power broker could lose the Presidency. (4) WE THE PEOPLE created the system that allows the person who lost the popular vote to inhabit the White House and WE THE PEOPLE are either unwilling or unable to change that system. So, yes, this is precisely who we are.

September 29, 2015All of the ugliness, the confederate flags, the children in concentration camps, imperialistic foreign policy around the globe, all of the misogyny, even Alyssa Milano trying to resurrect her flagging career by hoping that we will forget that actors can cry at the drop of a hat – it is precisely who we are. Denying it isn’t going to help because denying reality never helps. Protesting it isn’t going to help, because protesting simply burns off the energy that might be used to effect change.

As Thomas Merton pointed out when he wrote  …for, you see, when “I” enter into a dialogue with “you” and each of us knows who is speaking, it turns out that we are both Christ… the only way to change this is to enter into dialogue with our neighbors. That dialogue need not be about things of any substance, because what is needed is relationship. You can’t build relationship by entering into it with a political agenda, you build it by entering with no agenda beyond getting to know your neighbor. It takes time, it’s messy, and we are not always successful – but it is the only way to build relationships, decrease suspicion and mistrust, and begin to see one another as human beings rather than political pawns.

Many of us subscribe to the religion of politics, and it is an idol just as surely as golden calves are idols. Politics is a human construct and as such has only the power we give it. Relationships, on the other hand, are the point of human existence. We need to develop these relationships not only with those who are our physical neighbors and therefore are mule1probably very similar to us, but most especially with those who live across town and whom we perceive to be different from us – because they are not, and we need to overcome that mistaken belief. Most of all we must come to see that, as Thomas Merton pointed out in No Man is an Island, “…truth never becomes clear as long as we assume that each one of us, individually, is the center of the universe.” We need to get off of our asses, and start building relationships.

Some people’s kids…

When over the decades you have moved in a steadily more progressive spiritual direction as I have, you are sometimes reminded that there is still something of traditional sensibility left in you. Yesterday I had to caution a visitor that there was no humping during the Eucharist. She barked and ran away….

Trauma and A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far is a World War II movie about an Allied offensive that tried, as the title

a bridge too far poster

implies, to go a bit too far. Released in 1977, I loved this movie – but I probably wasn’t aware of all of the reasons I loved it. Elliott Gould was definitely not one of the reasons I loved it. For those too young to know, Elliott Gould was an earlier incarnation of Jeff Goldbloom – the kind of guy some women seem to love, but who most men would prefer to bitch slap until he cries, force him to wear a tutu, and then make him get us a beer. I digress, however.

Those of us who are trauma survivors are only too aware of the mentality that launched this offensive in WWII. In fact, if we could go back in time and examine the histories of those who pushed these kinds of overly ambitious plans into action, I would wager we would find more than a few trauma survivors among them. In a much more pedestrian way, those of us in civilian life who have endured trauma frequently push ourselves toward a bridge too far, failing to respect our limits because we have been taught to ignore them. If taking the dog for a two mile walk is good, then taking her for a four mile walk is twice as good, and an eight mile walk even better. Never mind that after eight miles our feet (and quite possibly the dog’s) will be blistered and bloodied. Never mind that we will be so stiff the next morning that we will walk as if we’ve spent the night riding a horse.

a-bridge-too-far-lg
Elliott Gould.

Trauma survivors tend to be disconnected from our bodies in varying degrees because we have been taught that bodies and feelings don’t matter. Only appeasing our abusers mattered. I sailed through basic training because no matter how many screaming lunatics in military uniforms and smokey the bear hats you lined up, they had nothing on my family of origin. In fact, they reminded me of Elliott Gould. As I see it, the biggest problems for trauma survivors as they move through life is that (1) we don’t respect ourselves, and (2) because of that we are easily manipulated.

elliot gould
Elliott Gould

When you are in your twenties you may be able to literally run through walls, but by your forties you start bouncing off them. We may not respect our limits, but at a certain point in our life cycle the universe starts enforcing them. Wherever we are on life’s journey, now is the time to start listening to our bodies and our feelings. If we don’t know how, a good therapist can help us. Living life while disconnected is not living a full life. In fact, it will make us reach for A Bridge Too Far.