a better way

Fr. Richard Rohr, in the mission statement for the CENTER FOR ACTION AND richard rohrCONTEMPLATION, shares the following:

“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Oppositional energy only creates more of the same.”

It’s all about energy, isn’t it?  Physical exertion, emotional expenditure, spiritual contemplation – it all revolves about the issues that are present in our lives.  Where we spend our time and energy determines who we are, what we advocate and ultimately the state of mind we enjoy in peace or endure in turmoil.  Therefore, next time I am tempted to jump into the mud with the other mud wrestlers (or whatever else hangs out in the slime), perhaps I should remember the exhortation of Fr. Rohr.

…and they all chimed in, “Yeah, Larry, and we’re going to nominate you for sainthood.”

Y’all ought to know by now that I live by the principle of progress rather than perfection, that lofty ideals are meant to be pursued, not attained.  It’s the journey, not the destination that constitutes a successful life.  Striving for a world dedicated to non-violence begins in me with every action, thought and prayer offered to the cause of personal earthly peace – “oppositional energy only creates more of the same.” 

That’s difficult to digest.  Does it mean that I should not be concerned about the injustice and hypocrisy which permeates the world?  Should I just throw my arms up in frustrated surrender over the racism and intolerance infecting American society? Should I sit in my quiet place with my beads and prayer shawl praying away the hatred and bigotry?

No, certainly not.  I should continue to see with dismay the horrors of social injustice, I should continue to speak out against the racism in my neighborhood, I should continue to protest by whatever resources I have the denigration of brothers and sisters of another race or creed or nationality.  But, I should not jump into the mud and lather up in my own  hypocrisy, intolerance and bigotry.  Justifying my disagreement and winning a victory over another’s viewpoints is not the goal of non-violence.  Proving the insanity of national politics will not make ours a better country.

I refer often to the wisdom of the ancients.  The thoughts, the words, and the sayings which have survived the test of time have done so because they are – wisdom.  In my opinion (and yes, I have many) the one nugget of wisdom erringly ignored by religious leaders and politicians alike is lead by example.

What examples are we choosing to lead us and guide us through an extremely violent period of world history?  Whom do we choose to inform us and thereby sway our opinions?  To what and to whom do we listen?  What do we read and view on media screens?  Where are we expending physical, emotional and spiritual energy?  Is it oppositional or is it conducive to understanding and peaceful solution?

Hillary (yeah, don’t allow the name to betray your religion) famously said in her campaign, “When he takes the low road, we take the high road.”

Doesn’t really matter whether she meant it or actually lived it.  The advice is great wisdom.  Let’s not get mired in the mud (or sewage) which poses as moral guidance or political leadership.  Observe it, digest it, and then continue to follow the compass which points true north.  Let our criticism of the bad be tempered by practice of the better.

Center for Action and Contemplation

35

I will not!

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.  But those that will not break it kills.  It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.  If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” ERNEST HEMINGWAY

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The very good and the very gentle and the very brave – let’s focus on those words.  The world system seems to despise those who have a moral compass, those who are peacemakers, those who have the courage to march to a different drummer.  Governments, religions, and financial systems do not honor a man/woman who answers their demands with “no, I will not live that way.”

We are labeled ‘unpatriotic’ if we do not toe the current disgrace posing as a legitimate government.  When we kneel in obeisance to compassion and tolerance rather than stand pledging  allegiance to the cloth symbol of a nation, we are castigated as revolutionary and disrespectful.  Well, maybe we are.  All great accomplishments in governing have been manifested by protest.  No, I cannot be silent when brothers and sisters of a different color or creed do not equally enjoy the fruits of the nation they have served in battle and embraced as home.

I will not profess the creeds of religions which deny even the most basic human understanding that all creatures are made in the image of the One whom they profess as God and Savior while simultaneously endorsing locked cages of children on our border and a war in the Gulf which threatens the citizens of Yemen with epic, catastrophic starvation.  No, I will not.

I will not participate in the corporate destruction of our sacred ecosystem for the sake of increased profits of corporations which have abdicated ecological responsibility in lieu of financial extravagance.  While much of the world’s population  lives without the basic comforts of adequate food and clean water, placating the luxuriant appetites of the privileged at the expense of the marginalized poor cannot possibly advance the survival of our species materially or spiritually.

Enough is enough.  Enough corruption, enough hatred, enough greed, enough racism, enough killing.  Where will we choose to stand as our country approaches the threshold of despotic, authoritarian leadership?  As the earth’s ecosystem is screaming “enough” where will our allegiance be placed?  The answer for each of us is within.  When that quiet voice of protest within becomes a scream reverberating throughout the universe, then, perhaps, we can be assured that we have done enough.

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EGO – it’s a killer

Have we ever considered what it is about others than disturbs us the most?  Is it their conceit, their crass behavior, their selfishness?  Or is it their love of possessions, their old codgerdisregard for society’s moral conduct, their dishonesty?  Of course, the next question would require us to look into our own selves wondering what it is about them that trips our  trigger.

In my early recovery years, as I was complaining to my sponsor about  a group member who embodied everything which I despised, he responded this way,

All that you hate in others are elements of your own personality that you are afraid to look at.”

“Hell no, that’s not true,”  I replied defensively.  “I am not like that.”

And I truly believed that.  But, the seed had been planted and would not allow me to rest until I took it to my  quiet space within and considered my sponsor’s words.  Jerry could be shallow and selfish – yeah, me too, we are, after all, alcoholics.  Jerry could seem arrogant – yeah, me too, but that was due to my insecurity with others.  Jerry seemed disinterested in his group members – yeah, me too, but again I was shy and felt awkward with people.  Jerry didn’t seem to grasp the humility in recovery, his concept of a Higher Power was weird – really?  What did I profess as a Higher Power?  A vengeful, old, gray bearded, eyes on fire, lightning-spitting man sitting somewhere in the universe on his throne of judgement?  How weird is that?

In due time I learned a lot about myself from Jerry.  He mirrored my own ego which at that time totally controlled who I was.  Eckhart Tolle in his book, A NEW EARTH -AWAKENING TO YOUR LIFE’S PURPOSE, writes:

“The particular egoic pattern that you react to most strongly in others and misperceive as their identity tend to be the same patterns that are also in you, but that you are unable or unwilling to detect within yourself.  In that sense, you have much to learn from your enemies.  What is it in them that you find most upsetting, most disturbing?  Their selfishness?  Their greed?  Their need for power and control?  Their insincerity, dishonesty, propensity to violence, or whatever it may be?  Anything that you resent and strongly react to in another is also in you.”

The initial response is probably, “no way, not true.” But, as with any planted seed, this will not disappear until it is either choked with weeds and dies or nourished and brought to fulfillment.  The question becomes whether we will wither in our denial or respond and grow.  That, essentially, is what recovery is about.  It is much more than living without alcohol and drugs or whatever our addictions entertain.  It is a continual recognition of the external forces and internal thoughts that attempt to control our true identity, that state of Being which the Buddha called anata – no self.   Words attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in the 8th chapter of Mark, verse 34, “whoever wants to be my disciple (follow my Truth) must deny self…..” which, in other words, is  to deny ego control of our response to the world in which we live.  Peace or drama?  How will we choose to live?

Our world has become one of us versus them.  Nationalism, tribalism, religious intolerance – they all try to convince us that we are superior to them.  The them are always wrong while us are always right.  Eons ago this mindset meant only that the caveman with the best clubs and biggest stones would win and the others would need to move on to find another cave in which to live.

We are not cave dwellers.  We have missiles and nuclear weapons instead of clubs and stones.  Our separateness cannot be resolved by conflict and violence.  There will be, in a World War 3, no winners.  Our species and probably earth as we know it will be eradicated.

The next time I watch on media screens a national leader or world power whom I despise, the next time I see a religious leader lead his flock astray, the next time I look at my neighbor with disgust, I must remember the lessons which Jerry taught me in early sobriety.  Despite the outward appearances of polarizing differences, we are the same.  What we do, how we think will determine whether this species of ours sees a 22nd or 23rd century.  It’s our responsibility to grow our planted seed into selfless maturity.

GARDEN OF EDEN

 

pro life – pro choice

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I normally don’t weigh in on this topic because I am…….a coward.  Aha!  You thought I was about to say that as a man I don’t feel qualified to offer an opinion.  My friends, I have survived this life for 72 years by keeping most of my opinions regarding a woman’s rights between me and my Creator.  However, should I be questioned about abortion and a woman’s reproductive rights, I would have to defer to an even greater right which we all have.  And that is the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But, I must occasionally quiz myself about my views.  If I were a pro-lifer, would I value the life of a homeless woman equally to mine, would I embrace the life of a refugee from a country filled with violence and killing equally to mine, would I support the life of my Muslim neighbor practicing his faith, would I welcome the black or brown man as a life which matters equally in God’s eyes, would I cherish the life of a tiger or lion equally to mine?  Would I value all of Creation equally?

Would I?  Would you?  Do you, who profess to be pro-life, value all life as sacred?

If you and I cannot affirm all of life and every creature’s right to live it’s designed purpose on earth, then we would probably need to approach the issue of pro-life this way:

the labeling is all wrong.

One cannot claim to be pro-life unless one supports every aspect of life, every human’s right to exist , every lion’s right to prowl and hunt, every butterfly’s right to flutter, every fetus’s right to be birthed.  Perhaps some anti-abortion people who exclude a majority of life on earth as irrelevant ought to appropriately call themselves “pro-birthers.”

So, the question to me needs to be presented this way.  “Whom do I choose to offend?”  Whaaaaat?  Did you really believe that after 72 years of survival in a woman’s world that I would offer an opinion?  I may be old, but I am not yet senile.  Yep, I’m a coward.

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this little spark of mine – I’m gonna let it shine

 

“We are made, the scriptures of all religions assure us, in the image of God. Nothing can change that original goodness. Whatever mistakes we have made in the past, whatever problems we may have in the present, in every one of us this beautiful-cropland-dawn-1237119‘uncreated spark in the soul’ remains untouched, ever pure, ever perfect. Even if we try with all our might to douse or hide it, it is always ready to set our personality ablaze with light.”  EKNATH EASWARAN (1910-1999) cac.org

(Eknath Easwaran was an Indian born spiritual teacher and author, as well as translator and interpreter of early Hindu texts such as the UPANISHADS and the BHAGAVAD GITA.)

Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) taught:

“Our supreme purpose in life is not to make a fortune, nor to pursue pleasure, nor to write our name in history, but to discover this spark of the divine that is in our hearts.”

The world, specifically Western Culture, might do well to listen to the words of all religious traditions whose mystics searched beyond the limits of this life experience for truer meaning and self-less examination.  Escaping the insanity of violence, war, poverty, genocide, persecution, religious intolerance and greed is critical for a path to a sustainable co-existence of the human species as well as the ecosystem of earth which inarguably is essential to our survival.

Giving up self-indulgence is not easy.  Just ask any other recovering alcoholic or addict.  A primary symptom, if not the most salient aspect, of our addictions was ego-driven selfishness.  Unfortunately, that does not miraculously disappear upon our first day of the recovery process.  For most of us, especially me, this change in focus becomes a lifetime endeavor.  Some days are better than others, but the spark is there.  An AA saying that resonates is, “A belly full of booze and a head full of AA don’t mix.”  It’s the same with recognizing the divine spark within each of us.  Once you experience it, you can no longer ignore it.  That inner essence demands change.

I continue to be amazed that for some people this change is easily accomplished.  Involving in service work, rejoining their communities, whether in civic groups or church groups, seems to be a cakewalk for them.  Not for me.  You can drag me to a town hall meeting, but I will be kicking and screaming all the way.  It is not natural for me to do something that is not all about me, me, me.

We don’t hear WWJD very often these days.  “What Would Jesus Do?”  In no way have I perfected this approach, but when I ask myself this question, I can usually depend on a positive, forward-moving answer.  It doesn’t matter whether one believes a divine Jesus, a virgin-born Jesus, a reverential Jesus or a bodily resurrected Jesus, the keys to successful, peaceful, empowered living are contained in the writings which are attributed to the words of Jesus of Nazareth.  Those nuggets of inspiration and truth culled from the Bible’s chapters detailing Judaic history, folklore, and ancient wisdom present a lifestyle and mindset that lead to the change demanded by each individual’s inner essence.

Not surprisingly, this truth can be gathered from most of the world’s great spiritual traditions if we put aside the hype and tribal prejudices of religion and instead search for the reality of inner discovery.  History’s mystics lead that search.

 

 

2 men named Jesus?

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The days are many when I question the foundational principles learned in youth, when I retire to bed at night more uncertain than certain, when I, like a child, want to hide under the bed covers to escape from the world.

Those stories I read as a young boy – the miracles, the healings, the parables, the inspiration and hope, the guidance and correction, the ancient shared wisdom – I remember all that.

I think of numerous personal crises endured and conquered, unmentionable forays into darkness, the return from the far land, a prodigal son reunited with his inheritance, testimony of a life resurrected, forgiveness extended – I think of all that.

And yet, tonight, the term Christian confuses me.  Don’t all Christians honor and revere the same Jesus?  Or is it possible there were two homeless vagabonds roaming the lands of 1st century Israel?  Both named Jesus?  Both from Nazareth?

Is there another version of ancient writings telling of a hateful and vengeful Jesus?  Have I somehow not read the Gospel of Exclusion, the one that tells white Americans they are better than the other children of God?

And all the verses that I know by heart, maybe I should not believe that “Love thy neighbor as thyself”  is truth straight from our Lord.  Or maybe “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” was intended only for white folks, not brown and black skins.

Some of you tell me that white Christians are God’s chosen people, that only those who congregate in certain churches will get to heaven, that it is okay to persecute others who follow a different path or those who name their God differently.

Is it really okay?  Some of you say that caging children is acceptable under Christian principle, that denying those seeking safety, security and hope is biblical, that the man and woman who happen to be brown-skinned are not part of your Kingdom.

Others say that destroying our earth’s ecosystem in the name of profit will be justified in the end times because Jesus will rebuild our earth, that those who know the true God will be saved from annihilation.

Are we reading the same scriptures or do you have a different version?  Did the other Jesus speak privately to you and not to me?  Tell me what verse gives you the right to judge and condemn men who are not exactly like you?  I must know.

My Jesus heals the sick, how about yours?  My Jesus mends the broken, how about yours?  My Jesus feeds the poor and hungry, shelters the homeless, welcomes the refugee, how about yours?

“For many will come in my name….and lead many astray.”  Matthew 24:5

“Watch out for false prophets.  They will come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Matthew 7:15

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speak to me of God

“I said to the apple tree: ‘sister, speak to me of God,’ and the apple tree blossomed.”  Nikos Kazantzakis ( attributed to St. Francis) 

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photo by DIDS

Don’t you think ours would be a much better, more peaceful world if those who profess a god could keep it this simple?  It’s as if my God is saying to me, “Just look around at the Creation which you attribute to me; it is there you will know me.”

Followers of the mystical path believe God is immanent, meaning inherent and indwelling.  From the moss under the trees to the king of the jungle to the man known as Einstein, the essence defined as God exists and propels the God image through all that was, that is, and that ever will be.  All that is necessary to know God is to look out the window and observe the butterfly fluttering, the bird winging across the sky, and the flower blooming.  Look at the bees pollinating, the farmer planting, and the mother giving birth.  Everything on earth contains the essence which some call God, others Yahweh, still others Allah, while many do not name it at all.  This earth is a continuum of birth, death and rebirth.  It tells us everything we need to know about life.  So why look to the heavens, or why dread hell, why sit in judgement of others, why condemn ourselves in attempts to earn God’s approval?  If that power which we label God did not approve and indwell, we would not be here.  No theology, no doctrine, no “ism” could save us.

 

PRIDE – men & monkeys

 

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As a younger man, about 28 years old, a friend and I had a house-painting/paperhanging business. (Yes, for those of you under 50 years old, wall paper was a popular decorative choice and could be very lucrative.)  We landed a contract with a successful building contractor.  He had several dozen employees, he was a respected community leader and  he was a member of good standing in the local church.   This job offered the promise of significant future work.

We arrived on the job site at his house just before he himself left for work.  Very affable and likeable, Tom always took a minute to talk with us before leaving the house.  One morning he offered the usual morning pleasantries before sharing a bit of information garnered from his church family:

“Boys, did you know that a study was done on a group of monkeys exposed to daily hard rock music?  Yep, the monkeys turned queer.”

My partner, a happily married heterosexual man guffawed and snickered.  I just smiled because at that moment I knew I would have to give up the hard rock which I loved or live my life as a gay man.

Here are two of my all-time favorites.  I promise, listening to it will not make you queer.

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be still and know

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Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

Be persistent in asking.  When in that quiet inner space, don’t be timid with requests.  The answer will always be ‘yes, no, or not now’.  But, whatever the answer may be, be assured that our internal GPS has got us covered and will bring us safely to the next plateau of life – if we heed our inner voice.  Very simple, degree in rocket science not required to know what our conscience tells us in those quiet moments.  The secret, if there is any secret, is to slow down, be silent, still the wandering mind, and listen.  Ask for guidance and it will be given.  Be still and know.

Seek joy and happiness relentlessly.  Life around us changes with every passing moment.  We must also adjust.  Our central core of understanding has an amazing capacity to adjust.  What was yesterday’s ‘golden oldie’ is today’s old fogey flashback.  When we hang on to the ‘way things used to be’ we are stifling what needs to happen now in our continuing growth.  Doesn’t mean we should give up values, the moral compass which has been a lifetime beacon; rather, it means evolving those values to make sense in today’s crazy world.

Centuries ago when one element of society disagreed with the beliefs and actions of another, it could find a new, uncharted continent to settle and follow its philosophy.  Vacant, unexplored land has disappeared and it has become a matter of species survival to learn co-existence with a variety of races, creeds, and religions.

Namaste🙏

it can be heaven or hell

you can choose where you abide

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“….there’s a place to go where the eagles fly high, the rivers run deep, the grass is lush.  In that place there is peace and kindness, no violence nor intolerance.  Whenever solace and rest are needed, this internal heaven can be right here and right now or we can allow it to carry us a million miles away.  Joyfully, in that space the good vibrations of the soul embrace a higher calling.” (1)

“Most of the world religions have some concept of heaven and hell. Why? Because human freedom matters. We have to be given the freedom to say no to love and life, and one word for that is hell.” Fr. Richard Rohr (2)

LIFE…yes life can be heaven or hell.  It’s a choice each human must make regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof because it has nothing to do with religion or faith or concepts of God.  This choice is life’s golden ticket.  Have you ever been amazed by the man standing on the corner with a cardboard sign asking for food or work and upon talking to him realizing that this man is happier than you are in your comfort and material security?  Or, conversely, speaking to your wealthy neighbor at the grocery store who is buying steaks and lobsters for a Sunday dinner hosting twenty relatives and she is absolutely distraught because her investments earned only $125,000 last year?  Heaven or hell – we choose where we spend life.

Why spend precious ‘now’ moments reliving past transgressions, reviewing years-old grudges against others, fearing the current political scene, comparing yourself to the Joneses next door who just bought a new Mercedes, feeling angry because your co-worker, Mary, got the promotion you wanted?  STOP! just stop and look at the roses in your garden, the great kids or the terrific spouse you have, the reliable pickup truck parked in your driveway.  When the last breath is drawn, that stuff and those resentments will not matter.  What will matter is how the miraculous gift of life was used to serve and to enjoy.  We choose how we use life, whether we opted to spend it in heaven or hell.

Living in a state of awe and amazement over the multitude of blessings bestowed is not only for monks and mystics.  We, too, can participate.  It’s our choice.  How we communicate, how we conduct our interactions, what mindset we entertain will be our heaven or hell.  We must be very conscious of where we allow the mind to traverse.  Much of the world seemingly opts for a life lived in hell.  Why?

“As we observe our politics, antagonism appears to be the primary style of communication today—how to fight and win, how to be suspicious, how to be hateful, how to tell lies. Who can we exclude now? Which race, religion, or group is unworthy? (All in the name of God, remember!) That’s simply hell right now.”  Fr. Richard Rohr (2)

(1) GOOD VIBRATIONS

(2) https://cac.org/category/daily-meditations/