January 27, 2011
If I've learned anything -- and these days I feel more aware of what I have not yet learned than of what I have -- it's that my life in any given moment is exactly what I make it. If I have a positive attitude, then there is positivity in my life; if I have a negative attitude, there is negativity in my life. If I take care of my body through proper diet and exercise, I'm more likely to be happy than if I do not. If I meditate and keep my spiritual practice constantly in mind, I'm more likely to be happy than if I do not. If I forgive, I'm more likely to be happy than if I do not. I realize not only intellectually but viscerally that the purpose of our lives is to learn to be happy, and I understand my own responsibility to do and think and say the things that make happiness more probable.
Sometimes I look at the world around me and despair, as I suppose most everyone does, at the current spate of humanity's trials and tribulations. But I see enchantment and miracles and and love all around me too, and I know that they are God's consistent response to the mess humanity can make of things. How tragic the suffering a wrong-minded view of the world creates, and how merciful that the universe keeps throwing us new opportunities to do things differently. I know that beyond this world is a realm of greater possibility, and the veil that separates us from there is so much thinner than we think.
Every time we see beyond the veil, we become veil-lifters for others as well. Our criticism, blame, judgment and such only thicken the veil, while forgiveness and mercy and compassion dissolve it. It really is so simple, yet sometimes so difficult. And yet it is the choice we make, every moment of every day.
January 18, 2011
AN EXTREMIST FOR LOVE
MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY: THEN AND NOW
Turning Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday into a national holiday is one of the things that America got right. It's a day set apart from all others, when all generations will pause to think about a great man, his legacy and what it should mean to us.
So far that sounds great, and to a large extent it's what's happened. But I've been around for all of the MLK birthday celebrations so far, and the yearly "celebration of his life" is starting to look in ways like a Disneyized version of both the man and his legacy. The last thing we need today is a romanticized version of Martin Luther King, Jr., much less an idealized version of the struggle that he stood for.
In l945, when Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower toured the former German concentration camp at Ohrdruf, , he famously said to an aide, "Take pictures. Take lots of pictures. Some day some sons of bitches are going to try to say this never happened."
I haven't heard anyone say that the Civil Rights movement never happened, but the national memory is turning pretty soft. Despite the successful efforts of the Texas School Board to foist upon all American schoolchildren the audacious rewrite of history that gives short shrift to the Civil Rights movement -- and the shameless willingness of textbook publishers to go along with that - the facts do remain the facts. The Civil Rights movement was and remains one of the most significant social justice movements in the history of the Unites States. And despite the almost odd emphasis on "community service" which has come to mark this day- as in, you know, help the homeless, feed the poor, be "non-violent" -- Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for a love that was more significant and more difficult, involving a lot more suffering than just being a good citizen for a day. If all Martin Luther King Jr. had stood for was community service - if his message to black America had been simply to ameliorate the suffering in its midst through compassionate one-on-one action -- then he would probably not have died how or when he did. Let's be clear about that, and not hand down to our children some whitewashed version of the man and his mission. Martin Luther King was far more courageous and more dangerous to the status quo than is reflected in this contemporary caricature.
He challenged the United States to allocate its vast and gargantuan resources in a more fair, just and compassionate way; and for that, he died. He challenged, at the end of his life, the increasing American militarism that sent young men to die for old men's mistakes; and for that, he died. He demanded that the United States make good on its creed of liberty and justice for all, not just in word but in deed; and for that he died. We do not serve his legacy, and we do not serve our children, by portraying either the life or the struggle or the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. as simply the story of a peaceful man who sought to establish "the beloved community" and then, for some mysterious reason that shall remain shrouded in obfuscation, was shot on a motel balcony and died.
No, kids, if you believe that, then you're not asking enough questions. Yes, it's our job to keep his dream of the beloved community alive, but it's also our job to be as critically intelligent as he was regarding the entrenched resistance to the materialization of that dream.
A Protestant theologian in the 20th Century wrote a commentary on the story of the Good Samaritan as he made his journey from what we might call "good" Samaritan to "conscious" Samaritan. The first time the Samaritan saw a beggar on the road, he stopped to give him alms. The second time he saw a beggar on the road, he stopped to give him alms. The third time he saw a beggar on the road, he stopped to give him alms. About the fourth time he saw the beggar on the road, he stopped to ask himself, "Why are there so many beggars?" Martin Luther King would not just ask us to help those who suffer; he would ask us to challenge the institutional forces that make all that suffering inevitable.
On King's birthday this year, a good doctor in Oakland received a Martin Luther King, Jr. Hero's award for treating children with asthma in a low-income community. It struck me, as I watched the award ceremony, that in order to truly honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., we need do more than honor the good doctor who treats asthma: we need to ask ourselves, and demand of our government, what environmental standards have been so compromised, and to whose financial benefit, that so many children in American today, particularly in our most disadvantaged communities, have asthma to begin with.
In order to truly keep Dr. King's dream of the beloved community alive, we must dream our own contemporary version of it. We can dream of an America that is not willing to protect the privileges of the few at the expense of the needs of the many; we can dream of an America in which our citizens are not so easily manipulated to equate the size of our military budget with the safety of our future; we can dream of an America, and a world, in which love and not money are civilization's bottom line.
MLK's love was not a complacent love, any more than his political activism was cynical or angry. When confronted with the accusation that he was an extremist, Dr. King made this reply, "Perhaps I am, but I'm an extremist for love." Did you hear that kids? Be extremists....for love. Do not be tricked into thinking that the struggle for the beloved community is easy, unchallenged, or over. It is none of those things. Just as in the days of Dr. King, the struggle for justice is often difficult, it attracts the ire of the prevailing system, and it is far from over. On this one day each year, when we think of Dr. Martin Luther King -- what he gave us, and what we lost -- in order to honor him most deeply, we will do more than community service. We will remember that our service must not stop there. We will try, as he did, to truly step up to the plate. And like him, we will change the world.
January 12, 2011
WORDS HAVE POWER
According to "A Course in Miracles," all minds are joined. While it appears to the physical eye that I am here and you are over there, on the level of mind there is no place where you stop and I start. We are all affected by everyone else's thoughts, just as a butterfly flapping its wings near the South Pole affects the wind currents at the North Pole. When any wave moves, the entire ocean shifts.
So it's basically irrelevant whether Jared Loughner specifically related to the hate speech around him in some linear, causal way. Thoughts can go viral, as we have seen throughout history when group pathologies overcame the better angels of a people (Hitler's Germany was an example). And as it is written in The Course, "all thought creates form on some level." If enough hate-thought and hate-speech is present, it's almost inevitable that some hate-filled manifestation will emerge somewhere within that field of consciousness. Jared Loughner was swimming in the thought-forms and images of hate, as almost all of us are these days. And to an obviously deranged mind, violent thought forms are like gasoline to an already smoldering fire.
I heard a not-yet-declared 2012 Presidential candidate on television, refusing to condemn the use of gun imagery in political dialogue. "After all," he said, "we have free speech." Darn right, Sir. And something else we should have is a dose of healthy shame. Maybe it shouldn't be illegal to talk about one's political opponents as though they're enemy combatants. But it should be unthinkable.
Hopefully after the events in Tucson, things will quiet down and our political dialogue will become more civilized and respectful. One can only hope. We had two days of a sober, silent and tender collective heartbeat, and even in its sadness it was inspiring. The Tucson memorial had some stunning moments. As it was after 9/11, Americans got quiet for a moment of group sanity....we felt the authenticity of our humanness...we actually remembered we were a nation. But it didn't last then, and we will see whether it lasts now.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, it is often said that "every problem comes bearing its own solution." Tragedy takes us to the very state of consciousness which, were we to hold to it, would go far toward preventing further tragedies. Whether pundits, politicians and media personalities choose to use this tragedy to grow spiritually, to increase their compassion, to commit more deeply to love, is under no one's control but their own. But each of us can decide for ourselves what we will personally do with this latest national tragedy. We can remember that just as hate thought and hate speech do indeed affect the entire world, so do loving thought and loving speech. The only thing greater than a forcefield of hate is a forcefield of love. And each and every one of us -- with the thoughts we think, the words we use and the things we do -- contribute, or fail to contribute, to the field of consciousness that will save us all.
January 8, 2011
1/8/11: A Night of Tragedy and Transformation
"Bullets can't stop love," said Arizona official Steve Farley today, claiming that Arizona will be better for having gone through the trauma and tragedy of this day.
America is looking deeply at itself right now, and we have desperately needed to do that. Vigils are being held all over the state of Arizona, and on invisible planes we know that miracles are happening because of it. Hearts are softening; sanity is returning. People are remembering that all of us are human, and all of us are infinitely valuable. A deranged young man merely reflected the insanity of our current political discourse, and as the saying goes, "every problem comes bearing its own solution." It has taken a tragedy like this to make us all take a deep breath.
All of us are praying for Congresswoman Giffords and the others who were shot today. But let's put feet to our prayers, as well. Wherever we are and whoever we are, we can participate in de-escalating the violence of our society by de-escalating the violence in our hearts. Whoever we haven't forgiven, tonight let's simply do it. Whoever we're thinking about with anger, tonight is the night to let it go. And to whatever extent we haven't been a powerful voice for love in our own lives, let's commit tonight to stepping up our game. Life is a serious business, and to whatever extent we haven't been playing it seriously, let tonight be the night when we awaken from our stupor and decide to be a player in the healing of our world.
Among other things, let's look deeply at how easy it is for deranged people to get guns not only in Arizona, but in other places in our country as well. If you feel this isn't right -- that it isn't safe for us or for our children -- then know the only way we will override the resistance of the National Rifle Association is if we ourselves get involved in the effort. THe NRA is right that guns don't kill people -- that people do. But with so many unstable people out there, there is no rational reason for us to make it so easy for them.
May those who died in today's massacre rest in peace. They have done what they came to do this lifetime, and it is time for them to sleep.
But for the rest of us, it is time to wake up. To pray yes, but also to act. To think deeply, but also to speak powerfully. To feel concern, but also to act with courage. God's blessing doesn't just mean that He does something for us; it also means that He does something through us. And now is the time to let Him. God bless Arizona, God bless America and God bless us all.