Friday, April 25, 2014

From the Archives: Beliefs and Worldviews

A post from last year, which was shared in the email newsletter this month: Beliefs and Worldviews.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014


A few reactions to Darron Aronofsky's film Noah:

  • Myth: it takes the myth seriously. By that, I don't mean it takes it strictly literally; I mean that it doesn't take a strictly modernist view and convert it into metaphor only. It tells the Noah story, warts and all, and gets to the meat of the Noah story without converting it into a children's story - the pain, the struggle, the disconcerting parts (Noah as a fundamentalist; the death of all humanity as an act of God). Of course there are liberties - the subplot of the new babies hearkening back to Abraham and Isaac; the rock angels - but it doesn't shy away from the straightforward story, and all of its implications.

    And within that, I absolutely loved the sequence of Noah telling the creation story, with images of the Big Bang through evolution. THAT is taking the myth seriously - it didn't change the story, but also didn't insist on the literal made-in-six-days truth against all evidence to the contrary.

  • Read more »

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    Saturday, May 25, 2013

    Tree of Life and To the Wonder

    A insightful piece by Damon Linker argues that Terrence Malick's last two films, Tree of Life and To the Wonder, are deeply Christian movies, and that critics have been missing that (or avoiding it) entirely. He concludes:
    Humanity was made for God. And he is present all around us — in the transfiguring, wondrous joy of romantic love, in self-giving sacrifice, in our suffering and the suffering of others, in the charity we offer to those in pain, in the resplendent beauty of the natural world — if only we open our eyes to see him. That, it seems, is Terrence Malick's scandalous message.

    Take it or leave it. Be moved by it or dismiss it as mystical nonsense. But please, recognize it for what it is: an ecstatic cinematic tribute to God.
    Beautiful! I think he's really hit the core of the movies here. They're gorgeous meditations, mystical impressions, the surfaces of Reality cracking open to shine the Light of the Absolute. Life, death, creation, nature, evolution, suffering, ecstasy, union, separateness - it's all there, masterfully woven. Since at least Thin Red Line, Malick has been a voice of the Universal One in moviemaking, and I, for one, LOVE. IT.

    And then there's Linker's second point - have critics really missed this? I think no - see Roger Ebert's reviews of Tree of Life and To the Wonder, for example. He gets it.

    Ah, but Linker says these are distinctly Christian movies, not simply spiritual or mystical generally. I agree - it's hard to miss, from the Bible verses and prayers on the surface, to the depth of love and suffering in creation and life. And Linker is correct, that neither Ebert nor almost any other critic really engaged with that.

    But is that really the fault of the critics? I think no. Malick's movies are mystical Christian works of art. Unfortunately, that bears almost no resemblance to the Christianity you'll find in churches, be they fundamentalist, mainline, or progressive. Malick gives life to deep mystical insights, insights that can only be grokked through experience and then can be seen reflected in the lives and words of those who have come before - Jesus, St. Francis, St. Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and on. They bear almost no relation to the forms of Christianity you'll find at your local churches - religion based on belief systems, reward-and-punishment, striving for the afterlife, or moral messages, be they of rigidity (fundamentalism) or progress and social justice (mainline protestants and some catholics).

    No wonder critics don't recognize Malick's movies as distinctly Christian - I doubt most self-identified Christians would recognize it. Roger Ebert got it; your local minister probably didn't.

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    Saturday, March 30, 2013

    From the Archives: Easter

    A post from last year, which was shared in the email newsletter this month: Easter and Death.

    And a nugget from the news - here's what happened when we turned Easter into the story of a magical man you're totally s'posed to believe in you guys, instead of an invitation to transformation: Pew Study Shows Half of Christians Think Jesus Will Return Within 40 Years.

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    Sunday, March 24, 2013

    The Hidden Mysticism of Pop - Alanis Morissette

    Alanis Morissette isn't someone I think of right away when I consider spirituality in music, but "Thank You" is a simple gem that needs no explaining - it's all right there. There's a list of gifts in her life: "not blaming you for everything;" "enjoying the moment for once;" "grieving it all one at at time;" and "remembering your divinity," for example. And a list of thank yous: terror; disillusionment; frailty; nothingness; silence. What a prayer! Then there's this nugget at the bridge:

    The moment I let go of it was
    The moment I got more than I could handle
    The moment I jumped off of it was
    The moment I touched down

    Wow! This was a top 20 single?

    Then there's the video, which somehow adds even more. Check it out - a naked woman in the everyday world, seeing the light in the mundane, recognized by only a few:

    Read more »

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    Monday, March 18, 2013

    The Bible for Grown-Ups

    A gem from Richard Rohr:
    When the Scriptures are used maturely, they proceed in this order:
    1. They confront us with a bigger picture than we are used to: “God’s kingdom” that has the potential to “deconstruct” our false and smaller kingdoms. 
    2. They then have the power to convert us to an alternative worldview by proclamation, grace, and the sheer attraction of the good, the true, and the beautiful (not by shame, guilt, or fear which are low-level motivations, but which operate more quickly and so churches often resort to them). 
    3. They then console us and bring deep healing as they “reconstruct” us in a new place with a new mind and heart. If you seek consolation as the first meaning of a Biblical text, you never get very far, because the small self or ego is still directing the mind and heart. As many have said before me, the truth will set you free, but first it must make you miserable.

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    Saturday, February 23, 2013

    The Hidden Mysticism of Pop - Peter Gabriel

    Peter Gabriel writes songs that don't need to be reinterpreted to find deep truth; it's there from the beginning. I'm not the first to say so (see, e.g, here), and I won't spend so much time in this post explaining the meanings that can be gleaned. Instead, after the jump is a cross-section of his work that cuts deep, from shadow to sensuality to Spirit. I've attempted to arrange them as something like guideposts along a spiritual path, with just a few markers from me for orientation. Oh, and it's all videos, because the man knows what he's doing when putting visuals with his music:

    Read more »

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    Sunday, February 10, 2013

    Dawkins and the New Atheists: God's New Prophets (Sunday Morning Adult Ed Presentation)

    I led Adult Ed at Plymouth on February 10, 2013, with a presentation entitled, "Dawkins and the New Atheists: God's New Prophets." Audio here. My presentation was largely based on a blog post by Michael Dowd, which you can read here.

    Short synopsis: Why atheism may have more to teach us about God than religion does.

    Longer synopsis: Richard Dawkins--author of "The God Delusion," and many other books--is the most prominent of the New Atheists, a passionate group of crusaders against God and religion. Or do we have it all wrong? Drawing on a developmental view of spirituality and the wonders of science and evolution, we will discuss how the New Atheists are bring a much-needed message to our modern understanding of religion, if we are open to hearing it -- literally, as God's Prophets.

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    Saturday, February 09, 2013

    Adam & Eve-olution

    One of the cool things about an evolutionary understanding of the Kosmos is that we need not rely on myth alone to make sense of the world; and, at the same time, we can look back with some measure of awe at how our pre-scientific ancestors stumbled onto so much Truth.

    The story of "The Fall" of Adam and Eve is my favorite example. You know the story - they're living in bliss in Eden, and can do whatever they want, except eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent tempts Eve to eat from it, says it'll make her like God, and so Adam and Eve eat. They gain the knowledge of good and evil; their eyes are opened to their nakedness, Genesis says. God gets pissed and kicks them out, and so we have original sin and life sucks.

    With an evolutionary understanding of the universe, we know this story is totally false. We didn't start from some primordial state of human perfection and then screw it up. We actually emerged over a process of billions of years, gradually and in fits-and-starts increasing in complexity and consciousness. And even since the emergence of the first homo sapiens, we've consistently increased our circles of care and compassion; we live in the least violent time in human history.

    Things aren't perfect, to be sure, but all of the available evidence tells us Genesis has it exactly wrong. We didn't lose some original perfection; the universe has actually been gradually but steadily moving towards greater consciousness, greater care, greater compassion.

    But, we can still look back at the myth - first written thousands of years B.C. - and marvel at their insight. The first insight: we haven't always suffered like this. Our lives (collectively, in the ancient past, and individually, as children) weren't always as full of suffering, worry, anxiety, dread, and guilt as they are now. The second insight: this is somehow connected with our knowledge, or awareness, or consciousness. Before we "ate of the tree of knowledge," we didn't suffer like this - we were blissfully ignorant, without a care in the world.

    And that's all correct. We didn't always suffer like this, because we were dumb and unaware. We lacked the conscious capacity to extensively wish that things were different, to be disappointed that our expectations weren't met, to carry with us guilt over the wrongs of the past. When we gained increased awareness, increased knowledge, we gained the capacity for planning for the future, for taking the perspectives of others, for expanding our circles of care and compassion - but also, the capacity for great suffering, for worry and dread and regret.

    The first move, "The Fall," isn't a move from perfection to flaw, from heaven to hell. It's a move from unconscious hell to conscious hell; a move from separateness and pain and struggle, to awareness of that separateness and pain and struggle. It sucks. Our ancient ancestors got that insight right, too.

    But it's also the first step on the way to conscious heaven. In fact, it's the only route to conscious heaven. All babies get fussy as their nervous systems learn how to handle the stimuli around them; all toddlers throw tantrums as they struggle with their first understanding that the world isn't as they want it to be. Anyone who's been through recovery or therapy knows that great suffering is a prerequisite to real growth. They're all necessary steps from consciousness to self-consciousness to consciousness-of-self-as-Self to living as conscious-Spirit-in-action.

    I stand in awe of my ancient ancestors. They got it completely, spectacularly wrong; and somehow knew exactly what they were talking about.

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    Tuesday, February 05, 2013

    Newtown - The Solution is the Problem

    Seems like everybody knows how to prevent another school shooting in the wake of Newtown. We should ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Or not do that, but post police officers in every school. Or allow (or mandate?) teachers to carry concealed weapons. Or increase mental health screening. Or stop over-prescribing meds to kids. Or repent and turn our focus back on God.

    Some good ideas. Some stupid ones. But . . . what if this is all part of the problem?

    Take a step back, and the reactions to Newtown reveal some unrecognized, unexamined values we collectively share as Americans. We collectively believe that our lives are supposed to be comfortable and free of suffering. When we suffer, then, it means that something has happened that shouldn't have happened. Thus, the appropriate reaction is to identify the cause of the suffering, and take care of it. "Taking care of it" can involve positive actions or negative actions, and we vehemently disagree about what the appropriate actions are for "taking care of it." But we all agree that, if we're suffering, it means something has gone wrong, and that someone (me, we, you, them) should take care of it.

    It doesn't take much imagination to see how this set of cultural values, in a deranged mind, can lead to exactly what we're trying to prevent. We don't know what motivated the Newtown shooter, and I won't speculate. But we do know that this pattern fits a number of other recent mass shootings - the shooters suffered, they identified others (specifically or generally) as the cause of their suffering, and they took care of it. They act out of the same values as the rest of us, except: (1) their identification of what caused their suffering sometimes seems off; and (2) their ideas of appropriate ways to "take care of it" are way off.

    Can we prevent deranged people from playing out these cultural values in deranged ways? We can do some things, certainly. Of course we should talk about gun control (come on - what's the point of high-capacity magazines?), and treating mental illness, and all of the rest, and that might help prevent or limit the next Newtown (though, I should add, there's mixed evidence on whether gun control measures, by themselves, have an impact on violent crime; and we know very little about using mental health to predict violent behavior).

    But our shared values will continue to tell us that our suffering shouldn't happen, and that we should find out what caused it and take care of it. In big ways, in small ways, in deranged people and in sane people, it's a lie in the face of the Real and it will continue to be part of the very suffering we think we're ending.

    Can it be any other way? Yes. Suffering is part of life - it's in history, it's in nature, it's in our own experience, it's in the First Noble Truth. As I've written before, accepting that would be transformative, even if we did nothing else. In the face of tragedy, we can extend compassion and support to our brothers and sisters in their suffering; we can focus on each other, rather than finding someone or something to blame; and, then, of course we can take steps to makes us safer and more free, but without pretending there's a solution out there to our suffering.

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    Friday, August 31, 2012

    David Brooks on individual vs. collective

    Sunday, August 05, 2012

    Who's responsible for your success?

    You're probably aware of the recent spat over President Obama's "you didn't build that" remarks - Obama emphasizing that successful businesses grow in an environment supported by government and the collective, Romney et al. emphasizing that individual hard work and drive make it happen. (Decent summary here, to get up to speed.) They both have a point, obviously, and that'd be fine if it didn't get into caricaturing the other side. But, it has, and it's tiresome.

    BUT - here comes my boy David Brooks with a really insightful take on the whole thing. His take: there's lots of factors that go into success, too many to ever know how much is them and how much is you; but there might be a more useful way to think about it. And it mirrors Fr. Richard Rohr's "two halves of life" to boot! Check it out here.

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    Back from vacation

    We're back from a week in Northern Michigan - two days of bicycling from Traverse City to Petoskey to Mackinac Island, a couple days on the island, and two days bicycling back. Memorable stops in Charlevoix (my favorite town Up North) and Cross Village (great Polish Restaurant in the middle of nowhere, where we somehow ran into a couple of my aunts and uncles!), three hours in the rain on the last leg to Mackinac, successful sorting through rocks on the shore for a petoskey stone, sore legs and shoulders and butt and everything, and lots and lots of fudge. Stories and pictures to come, maybe.

    Tuesday, July 17, 2012

    The Hidden Mysticism of Pop - Foo Fighters

    I love Foo Fighters, just for the rockin'. But is there perhaps more going on? I think they plug into something deeper from time to time; and I zero in on three of the first four tracks on their album In Your Honor.

    Let's start with the fourth track, DOA.
    Read more »

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    Thursday, July 12, 2012

    Tooting my own horn re: the Affordable Care Act

    Back in 2010, I posted a short piece here analyzing the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, focusing on the mandate as within Congress's Taxing Power. Check it out - looks prescient today . . .

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    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    Two Steps for Moving On

    Moving forward after a major (or minor) personal disaster seems to take two steps:

    Step 1: feel it fully

    Step 2: ask what's possible now

    Most of us have a tendency to lean on one or the other. If we lean on "feel it," we wallow in our suffering (or inconvenience). We talk about it, complain about it, seek out people to confirm to us how justified we are to feel bad, and nothing else. We create a story of ourselves as a victim, the world (or another person, or a situation) as oppressing us, and give up our power.

    If we lean on "ask what's possible," we don't accept the reality of our situation. We pretend it isn't bad (or pretend we don't feel bad) through distraction or historical revisionism, we try to change what is, or we simply move on to the future without feeling the present. (I'm more one of these.)

    Both are necessary. We need to feel it, in all its awfulness, to accept the reality of what is, accept the consequences of our actions (individually and collectively, fault or not), to enter the now and learn the lessons it has to offer.

    And we need to ask what's possible now, to look for where we can go forward from even the darkest place, to accept responsibility for our lives (individually and collectively), to participate in our evolution (individually and collectively), to fulfill whatever it is our lives are about.

    (I'm sure this is not original, but it's seeped in through too many sources over too long a time for direct attribution.)

    Sunday, July 08, 2012

    Contributing at

    I'm now a contributing blogger at, featuring some of what I've posted on this blog. Check it out here.

    Thursday, July 05, 2012

    The Hidden Mysticism of Pop - Avenue Q

    We went to see Avenue Q at Cain Park a couple weeks ago. It was great fun - dirty puppets are always a winner. And, I was struck by the final song. The musical builds up through the triumphs and failures of the life of twentysomethings first out on their own. With the characters happy but without every problem fixed, it ends on a little ditty that, with your ear tilted just the right way, illuminates the impermanence of everything and the fullness of the present moment: Lyrics after the jump.
    Read more »

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    Saturday, June 30, 2012


    I gave the sermon at Plymouth Church in Shaker Heights last weekend. Audio here.

    Comment away. I'd love to hear what people think.

    Tuesday, June 26, 2012

    Top 5 Mystical Films - Revisited

    In 2005, Stuart Davis posted his Top Five All-Time Esoteric Major Motion Pictures. Since then, Hollywood has put out some great stuff. It's time to revisit.

    We'll start with Stuart's list:

    5. American Beauty
    4. Dancer in the Dark
    3. Thin Red Line
    2. Mulholland Drive
    1. I Heart Huckabees

    (Note: Stuart didn't discuss the Matrix Trilogy, because he hadn't seen it. It's awesome and would make the list; if you need any persuasion, watch the whole trilogy with Ken Wilber's commentary.)

    The rules (as invented just now by me):
    1. I can't add a new film without taking one off the list.
    2. I haven't seen Dancer in the Dark, so that one's off my list; we start with one open spot.

    The criteria (borrowed from Stuart):
    1. Was it ENTERTAINING?
    2. Depth of REALIZATION
    3. Capacity to INHABIT and EXPRESS its realization

    Notables not making the cut: The Dark Knight (awesome, no realization); Doubt (setting a movie in a church doesn't make it mystical); The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (bailed on the tough questions); Inception (complicated isn't the same as mystical); Spiderman 3 (amazing psychological insight that most people missed - probably deserves its own post - but doesn't transcend the psychological); Invictus (nice to see developmentalism in a movie, but couldn't inhabit it); Avatar (no); Religulous (hell no); The Secret (are you f*&#ing kidding me?).

    The candidates:
    1. The Fountain
    2. Black Swan
    3. Tree of Life
    4. V for Vendetta

    Here we go. . .
    Read more »

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    The Problem Is: Everywhere I Go, There I Am

    Ken Wilber: People, if you ask them to write down what your idea of heaven is, they write 25 pages on being on a Fiji island, with no responsibilities and just lying around and drinking beer, watching TV, and just having a good time. And all of that works because they're distractions for your egoic contraction; but when your distraction becomes your condition, then it all sets in again. If you're out on that Fiji island for two or three years, sometime during that period, all of the same suffering, and all of the boredom, and all of the unhappiness starts crashing back in, because you haven't fundamentally awakened to your true authentic self.

    Rob McNamara: Yeah, one of the ways that I like to think about it is: the degree that you're trying to get something else or get somewhere else, the deeper the entrenched, habituated, disengagement - you know, gosh, I need to get off this phone call because I've got something else that's more important that comes next. Like, the degree that I'm always trying to get somewhere else, is precisely the degree of how incredible shackled I am in my habituation. And it's actually, I'm missing the infinite liberation that exists right here and now as this arising moment. And there's no substitute. But if I don't know liberation right here and now, my ego will think that's it's gonna come tomorrow, it's gonna come when I retire, I'm going to project some fantasy of liberation in the future. That, it's running people's lives left and right.

    Ken Wilber: And, of course, the contradiction there is: if you're really training yourself to see happiness as a future condition, then when that future arises, you'll still be looking for a future. You're never, ever, ever going to accept the present, which is where deep mystery and full being resides. And so you're just constantly looking to a future that never, ever, ever arrives.

    Full audio here.

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    Wednesday, June 20, 2012

    The Hidden Mysticism of Pop - Bryan Adams

    The first in a series of posts on the wisdom of pop music . . .

    Most pop music is, well, like most other pop music. Same hooks, same verse-chorus-verse, same insipid lyrics. But every once in a while, a line, a phrase, maybe a whole song cuts through and delivers a truth bomb right to the base of your spine (sometimes, I'm convinced, without even trying).

    Stuart Davis has said that he tries to put God where he belongs - in the hook of a 3-minute pop song. His stuff is intentional and golden. I may not talk about him in this series; too much to choose from, too easy to miss something. Leonard Cohen, Saul Williams, and Peter Mayer are also on the same level, or damn close. Go listen to their whole catalogs, meditate for a week, then come back and we'll write a blank blog post about them together.

    Instead, I'm going to focus on particular songs and artists, commercially successful enough to hear on a radio, that can light up my subtle energy system over the airwaves. Some of them do it somewhat-explicitly: U2, Peter Gabriel, and Live, to name a few.

    Some of them do it completely accidentally. My favorite totally accidental wisdom: (Everything I Do) I Do It For You by Bryan Adams.
    Read more »

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    Saturday, June 16, 2012

    Bad Math

    When good things happen, it's because of my abilities, hard work, education, and dedication finally paying off. Other people sometimes play a role, but only in aid of getting what I deserve.

    When bad things happen, it's not my fault. Maybe it's because of other people's mistakes (or malice), maybe it's the general damnable nature of the universe, but it's certainly not my fault.

    The math is off, and more than we probably even know. The real truth? It's all grace. And we need to accept responsibility for all of it. That math doesn't work either; it cracks open the whole system.

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    Friday, June 15, 2012

    Bring the Funny

    My all-time favorite sitcoms, sort-of in order by recency: Louie; Community; Party Down; 30 Rock; Parks & Recreation; Curb Your Enthusiasm; South Park; The Simpsons; Seinfeld; M*A*S*H.

    Criteria: (1) You have to be so freakin' hilarious that it hurts (Eliminated: too many shows to list.) (2) You have to take me somewhere I can't take myself; I can't feel like I could write you (Eliminated: Two-and-a-Half Men, Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, etc.) (3) I had to watch all or most all of the episodes, and at least a good portion of them as a teenager or adult (Eliminated: Cheers, The Cosby Show, Mary Tyler Moore, The Larry Sanders Show, etc. You were probably brilliant, but I was too young when I saw you, or I never got into you on syndication, or I just missed you, for whatever reason.)

    What makes these great? Hard to say. Some musings:

    (1) Nailing a particular perspective - Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Party Down.

    Each of these shows fully portrays a particular way of operating in the world, bringing the good and the bad all into the light. These three capture the postmodern narcissism of the Boomer/post-Boomer generation; they probably resonate because I identify there. No real message, just a mirror. (I'm guessing some of the shows I missed - Cosby? Happy Days? Mary Tyler Moore? - slay by, in part, nailing the perspectives of other times.)

    (2) Commenting on perspectives - Community, 30 Rock, South Park (mostly).

    Each of these sees the perspectives operating in the world and, with brilliant observation and detachment, points out their ridiculousness for us. They don't so much embody a perspective or perspectives as stand apart from them. Where the first group embodies postmodern, this group is the embodiment of postmodern in show form - able to dig under anyone's skin, and wave around anything they find for all of us to laugh at. No real message here either (South Park tries at times; more on that below); more like a funhouse mirror, a view into the ridiculousness inherent in all perspectives.

    (3) Interplay of perspectives - Parks & Rec, The Simpsons, M*A*S*H, South Park (sort of).

    These shows fill their characters with fully-realized perspectives, wind them up, and watch them interact. In addition to side-splittitude (look it up), they can pop - watch April Ludgate grow under the subtle influence of Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson; or Homer skip church and be rescued by volunteer firefighters who are Christian, Jewish, and "miscellaneous"; or M*A*S*H struggle with war amongst career soldiers, go-get-'ems, and sarcastic peacemonger. This is what I'd write (er, try to write) - the interplay of perspectives, at their fullest and funniest, and the amazing things that emerge. It's integral in action, though maybe not consciously.

    (4) ? - Louie.

    Louie blows my mind (and I'm not the only one). I don't know what to say about that. I think Louis C.K. is tapping into something, and it's awesomely authentic, creative, insightful, just plain real. If the (3) group is integral theory in action, I think Louie is what happens when integral digests itself and spits out a baby Buddha, poopy diapers and all. I can't write what he does, because I'm not tapped in there. It's awesome.

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    Saturday, June 02, 2012

    The Fundamental Splits

    Fr. Richard Rohr is posting a four-part series on the "splits" we make that separate us from our deepest nature. Great stuff, cuts right to the core, for me.

    Part I

    Part II

    Part III

    Part IV

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    Beliefs and Worldviews

    I do not care what you believe. Tell me about your worldview.

    Okay, maybe that's too strong. (See end of this post, for instance.) But the way we talk today, what someone believes is rarely useful information. It's useful when it identifies their worldview, which, unfortunately, usually means they're stuck a few centuries behind. You believe that God created the world in seven days? Even after all science has taught us about the universe, planet formation, evolution? Even though you would have learned a different story, with equally as much evidence (i.e., it was written down a long time ago, and passed on since then), had you been born in a different part of the world? Okay, well, let me introduce you to the 19th century.

    More often, what someone believes is useless information. And it's boring. You believe in reincarnation? You believe in heaven? Who cares? What does that tell me about you? By itself, nothing.

    What tells us more-a lot more-is someone's worldview, the stage of development in which they operate. Two people who ostensibly share the same beliefs, but have different worldviews, are far more different than two people with the same worldview but different beliefs. This is one reason why churches are increasingly useless. Defining your affiliation with others based on beliefs, despite different worldviews (often starkly different), holds us all back.

    To understand that, we need to get a good handle on what a worldview is. Read more »

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    Saturday, May 12, 2012

    This seems like everything

    From the infinite eye, from the absolute, from God's view, all is well, and nothing is lost. But we live as individuals, and from my individual view, all is not necessarily well. In fact, it's guaranteed to suck sometimes, and all will eventually be lost.

    There are two things I can do about that: 1) try to improve things for my individual self, and for other individual selves around me; or 2) learn to see with the infinite eye.

    Which should I do? Both!

    Friday, May 04, 2012

    Criminal Law Solves Everything

    At least, it seems like we expect criminal law to solve everything. Of course, it can't, and the disconnect between what it does and what we ask it to is a huge problem.

    I was struck by this, again, in the aftermath of the mass murders in Norway. In most U.S. states, the suspect would be facing a death sentence; in the rest, life without parole. In Norway, he's facing a 21-year maximum sentence, with possible extensions of up to five years at a time.

    Why the difference? Lots of reasons, obviously. But one we don't talk about a lot: we in the U.S. seem to ask that the criminal law solve every problem connected with bad behavior. At the very least, we ask it to:

    - Deter and punish virtually all undesirable behavior. Notice: when something terrible happens, the most common response is a prosecution and a bill introduced to punish that particular conduct more severely (e.g., anti-hazing bills and anti-bullying bills, even though the severe forms of that conduct are covered by laws against assault, discrimination, etc.).

    - Address the grief, trauma, and other personal and emotional problems that victims suffer. Notice: we talk about getting "justice" for the victim, and we mean that a perpetrator will be found, prosecuted, and jailed.

    - Generally, fix the perpetrator and fix society.

    But criminal law can't do all of this. It's not even supposed to. And asking it to has created for all sorts of problems (or, perhaps, revealed problems that we already had).
    Read more »

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    Thursday, April 12, 2012

    Easter and Death

    "The purpose of life is to die before you die, and discover that there is no death." -Eckhart Tolle

    I don't like Easter. We've made it the worst of the Christian holidays.

    The loudest voices - the fundamentalists - tell us Easter is celebrating the day Jesus actually rose from the dead, later appearing in bodily form to lots of people before ascending into heaven. They might also tell us that we'll have everlasting life in heaven with Jesus. All of that is silly.

    Our church treads a finer line. We don't say Jesus's resurrection isn't literally true (probably because that would alienate too many people), but we don't talk about it literally. Our minister this Easter gave a sermon talking about how the good news of Jesus isn't over, that we can find the risen Christ in our own lives, and that he lives as a challenge to live differently.

    That's better, but good lord, it's not good enough! There's so, so much more!
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    Sunday, March 25, 2012

    More Than Prosperity and Redemption

    My brother and sister-in-law are at the hospital right now. She's having potentially serious complications from her pregnancy, but they appear to have caught it soon enough. Baby's 36 weeks and they're inducing labor.

    Prosperity theology is the crap you might see on a religious TV channel. The basic idea is that God rewards Christians who are good and faithful, kind of like Santa Clause with a dash of superman thrown in. There's a corollary, that Pat Robertson makes clear every time there's a big disaster: if something bad happens, it must be because you, or your group, or your nation, was bad and unfaithful.

    Our church doesn't buy such nonsense, of course. But there's still tough questions: why do bad things happen? What's God's role in all this? Our minister has given a couple sermons on this theme (one here - scroll to January 17, 2010), describing a kind of "redemptive theology." The basic idea: God does NOT cause the evil, suffering, hurt in the world, but can and does use all of it for good (something like this.) As our minister has said, you might think of God like Rumpelstiltskin, spinning bad into good.

    That's better than prosperity theology, obviously, but I still find it unsatisfying, and a bit childish. I don't think whatever-we-use-the-name-God-for cares at all about making things happen that humans call "good."

    I believe that what-I-use-the-name-God-for is in that evil, suffering, and hurt. But I do believe that God is love. And I do believe that God is good. So how can those be put together?
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    Sunday, March 11, 2012

    Is God a Person?

    Fr. Richard Rohr on God as a person (or not). Spot on. All I'd add is that I-Thou may not be the only starting point . . .

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    Kill the Myths!

    The worst thing in Christianity today: the Bible. Why? The stories in the Bible didn't happen. They are not true. Can we please say this, preferably loudly and frequently?

    Bible stories, including all of the Jesus stories, were written in a particular time and context. Feel into it for a moment-you're living in a time when there are almost no scientific explanations for anything, and even if there were, virtually everyone you know is illiterate. What you all know is that, most of the time, things happen as they have, but every so often, something unexpected happens (good or bad). It looks like some great power acts in the world in both predictable and unpredictable ways, and even many everyday occurrences are great mysteries. You all try to make sense of things as best you can, but so much is out of your control that plenty of events can only be ascribed to God's blessing or wrath, or miracles by those conjuring up God's power. This is not stupidity or fraudulent; it's actually a coherent view of the world as best as you can possibly understand it.
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    Tuesday, January 31, 2012

    The One Noble Truth

    Sick the last couple days. Sucks.

    Something dawned on me a while back, that felt like a big deal. The First Noble Truth in Buddhism is: Existence is suffering. I learned it in a comparative religions context, as part of the Four Noble Truths; as I understood it, the First is how it all starts rolling - existence is suffering, but we know what causes it and how to get out. Things suck (and if you don't believe that, you're stuck), but once you see it, don't worry, we can help you get out. In a nutshell, Wikipedia's introductory paragraph on Buddhism.

    (That may be enough to get you into the game of self-inquiry, spiritual seeking, and all that good stuff. If so, great; I'm increasingly grateful for all the little seductions that pull people into something which, if they knew what they were getting into, they would've run at the first chance.)

    But the First-Noble-Truth-as-gateway-to-eliminating-suffering is false. It's missing the whole point. The insight, for me, was that the First Noble Truth is, well, a Noble Truth, by itself. If we all truly lived it as truth, the world would change dramatically and fundamentally. It might be all we need.

    (This "insight" isn't anything new, of course; see Thich Nhat Hanh, for example.)

    So let's sit with the First as a Noble Truth for a bit, shall we? Here's what comes up for me:
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    Friday, January 20, 2012