August 25, 2014

WHEN WISDOM IS THE SOURCE OF OUR POWER

I heard ISIL described earlier today as "an international association of sadists." Whether one chooses to go that far or not, we clearly have a problem on our hands.

America is endangered, however, not just because there is a powerful, armed enemy arrayed against us; we are endangered also because our spiritual defenses are weak. Spiritually, we are unarmed. We need a "mantle of protection" that we do not now have.

America has undoubtedly been blessed, yet we have taken that blessing for granted in a way that has diminished its power. The blessing upon us was not due to some special dispensation from God, but to the fact that we claimed for ourselves the role of blessing unto the world. We set out to be a blessing, and as with all cause and effect, it was the blessing we were to others that magnetized so much blessing to us.

Over time, however, we have become much more concerned with enjoying our blessings than with adding to their storehouse. We have chosen the ways of war over the ways of peace, the ways of mean-spiritedness over the ways of compassion, the ways of separation over the ways of unity so many times, with such an accumulation of hard-hearted, mercenary policies, as to dim the light that so illumined our past.

We need now, more than anything, to shore up our blessings by once again assuming for ourselves the role God has assigned to all people and all nations: that we be the change, that we demonstrate love, that we not be selfish, that we be the keepers of His kingdom rather than hoarders within our own. We cannot ultimately protect our worldly kingdom unless we tend to God's.

Some would argue that this would make us weak, that we cannot afford to put our defenses down. But spiritual defenselessness does not necessarily mean a lack of material defense. Indeed at this point, with elements such as ISIL active in the world today, questions as to what constitutes a just war are both relevant and appropriate. Still, no matter what we do -- how much war we fight, or even how successful we are at it -- until we come to understand the metaphysics of war and peace, we will doom not only ourselves, but also our children, to war without end. This will satisfy no one but those who make their fortunes upon it.

Whether we are sending guns or we are sending prayers, as a nation we must surround ourselves with a spiritual dome to stave off the arrows of hatred now coming our way. America needs enlightenment, not necessarily as a path to pacifism but as a path to power.

America has a lot of work to do, to reclaim the mantle of mercy and protection that has previously been as a light around us. We need that light, or we will not prevail. God has not shone upon us because we're somehow special; He has shone upon us because we have shone. And now, we must atone for the dimming of our light. We need to atone for past mistakes - from slavery to wars of aggression; we need to admit our character defects - from racism to militarism; and we need to open our hearts to the poor among us - from immigrants to our own children. Only when we once again embrace a true vision of brotherhood, justice and democracy - not just in word, but in vibrant and vigorous deed - will we replenish our storehouse of blessings so needed now.

At times such as these, understanding the powers of the spirit is as important as understanding the powers of the world. The meek shall inherit the earth because, in the end, they are smarter.

A tale from Buddhist mythology speaks to the power of the spirit in matters of war:

"Mara, the evil one, had arrayed a huge army to defeat Siddhartha. But according to Sarthavaha, one of Siddhartha's chroniclers, "Mere numbers do not make the strength of an army...If wisdom is the source of his power, a single hero can defeat countless soldiers.

He continued speaking to Siddhartha's enemies, "You think he is mad because he meditates; you think he is craven because he is calm. It is you who are madmen, it is you who are cowards. You do not know his power; because of his great wisdom he will defeat you all. Were your numbers as infinite as the grains of sand on the banks of the Ganges, you would not disturb a single hair of his head. And you believe you can kill him! Oh, turn back! Do not try to harm him; bow before him in reverence. His reign has come...."

But Mara, the Evil One, vowed to defeat the hero. And before attacking him, he sought to frighten him. Mara's army was a fearful sight. It bristled with pikes, with arrows and with swords; many carried enormous battle-axes and heavy clubs. Then the Evil One even summoned the rains. They fell with great violence, submerging cities and scarring the surface of the earth, but the hero never moved; not a single thread of his robe was wet.

Mara roused against him the fury of the winds. Fierce gales rushed toward him from the horizon, uprooting trees, devastating villages, shaking mountains, but the hero never moved; not a single fold of his robe was disturbed.

The Evil One made blazing rocks and hurled them at the hero. They sped through the air but changed when they came near the tree, and fell, not as rocks, but flowers.

Mara then commanded his army to loose their arrows at his enemy, but the arrows, also, turned into flowers. The army rushed at the hero, but the light he diffused acted as a shield to protect him; swords were shivered, battle-axes were dented by it, and whenever a weapon fell to the ground, it, too, at once changed into a flower.

Suddenly, filled with terror at the sight of these prodigies, the soldiers of the Evil One fled.

Mara wrung his hands in anguish, and he cried:

"What have I done that this man should defeat me? For they are not a few, those whose desires I have granted! I have often been kind and generous! Those cowards who are fleeing could bear witness to that."

The troops that were still within hearing answered:

"Yes, you have been kind and generous. We will bear witness to that."

"And he, what proof has he given of his generosity?" continued Mara. "What sacrifices has he made? Who will bear witness to his kindness?"

Whereupon a voice came out of the earth, and it said:

"I will bear witness to his generosity."

Mara was struck dumb with astonishment. The voice continued:

"Yes, I, the Earth, I, the mother of all beings, will bear witness to his generosity. A hundred times, a thousand times, in the course of his previous existences, his hands, his eyes, his head, his whole body have been at the service of others. And in the course of this existence, which will be the last, he will destroy old age, sickness and death. As he excels you in strength, Mara, even so does he surpass you in generosity."

And the Evil One saw a woman of great beauty emerge from the earth, up to her waist. She bowed before the hero, and clasping her hands, she said: "O most holy of men, I bear witness to your generosity."

Then she disappeared.

And Mara, the Evil One, wept because he had been defeated.""*

So whether or not barbarians truly are at the gate -- and no matter what we do about it -- we must become an enlightened nation, or the problem that has now become all too familiar will remain with us and grow. The problem itself emerged from our minds; make no mistake about it, our misadventures contributed to the creation of the monstrous situation that we have on our hands. And it is in our minds as well - through the correction of our thinking and the purification of our hearts -- that the problem will ultimately be solved. In the short term, it might be solved by armies. In the long term, it will only be solved by love.

* The Life of Buddha, by A. Ferdinand Herold, tr. by Paul C. Blum [1922]

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Posted by mwblog at 6:54 AM |


August 21, 2014

On ISIL

We went to war when and where we should not have gone to war. We sent military equipment to a part of the world where we should never have sent it (although, with a military industrial complex getting over 600 billion of our tax payer dollars every year, they had to send it somewhere...and then of course to our domestic police forces after the older equipment from Iraq and Afghanistan was replaced by newer models).

Now, in an ironic, tragic twist of karma, much of that equipment is in the hands of a true military enemy -- not a trumped up one. ISIL is the richest, most well equipped terrorist force in the world -- and they are genuinely brutal. They are anywhere between 5,000 and 15,000 people. With hundreds of millions of dollars in their hands (they have taken over banks, oil refineries and more), they have a capacity to do a lot...and a lot of what they want to do -- and are doing -- is truly, deeply, inhumanely dark. Right now, at this hour, they are spreading terror to hundreds and thousands of people through public executions, ritualistic stoning, beheadings, even crucifixions.They have their sights not just on Syria or Iraq, but beyond..to Europe, and even the United States.

None of us can afford to pretend this isn't happening. There is and will continue to be plenty of conversation about what to do about ISIL militarily, but right now let's do what we can holistically. Every day, for at least five to ten minutes, let's use the power of prayer and visualization to lift them above the pathology that drives them. We need to do this on a massive scale. Use the power of your mind, your religion, your spirituality, your meditations and your prayers to spiritually quarantine and heal these people, to call their souls back to sanity and love.

How ironic that we are war weary from fighting in so much war we should not have been fighting. Now, we have a real problem on our hands. Now, we need a miracle.

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Posted by mwblog at 7:53 AM |


August 18, 2014

Race and Repentance in America

What is happening today in Ferguson, MO, had it roots hundreds of years ago, and nothing less than pulling out those roots will heal the situation today. America needs to reconcile with our racial history -- seeking genuine atonement and making meaningful amends. Until such time, tortured race relations will continue to plague us with more and more tragic results.

It's interesting that we even use the phrase "race relations," given how little we register that this is even about a relationship. The relationship between blacks and whites as groups in America is psychologically and emotionally dysfunctional, to say the least, and until this is dealt with on the level of the cause and not just effects, we will continue to play out over and over again the cycle of violence at its core.

It's difficult to deal emotionally with the history of slavery in America, which is why many whites have chosen not to. Yet it's imperative that we do, because until we see clearly the line of development leading from slavery to the Civil War to the Ku Klux Klan to the Civil Rights movement to "benign neglect" to the "prison-industrial complex," America will continue to misunderstand the real problem. This is not just about how many bullets were shot into Michael Brown. The shots that matter most here are way, way too many to count.

Slavery existed in slave owning states in America beginning in the 1600's, increased significantly with the expansion of the cotton industry in the early 1800's and did not end until the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865. When finally freed, the slave population in America at that time was somewhere around four million.

But the legacy of the Civil War did not end at Appomattox. The stroke of a Presidential signature on the Emancipation Proclamation, even an Amendment to the Constitution, could end the evil of an external institution but not the pathology that produced it. External remedies do not of themselves address internal causes. Slavery ended but the racism that gave rise to it did not, only burrowing more deeply into the fabric of Southern society after the Civil War.

During the Reconstruction Era from 1865 to 1877, with federal troops stationed throughout their states, a vanquished South had to come to terms with the fact that they had lost the war. With Lincoln's assassination, gone was the voice proclaiming "malice towards none, and charity for all." Bitterness over having had to go through what they went through to win the war was the main emotional tone of the North, and the humiliation of defeat was the main emotional tone of the South.

With their painful defeat came the eradication of the South's primary economic engine, all social and political privilege, and an entire way of life. In addition, carpetbaggers descended from the North to loot, manipulate, and take whatever advantage possible of an already devastated population. Had Lincoln lived, things might have gone very differently. But he did not.

Many in the South, not surprisingly, then turned their rage at having lost the war against the people whom they saw as its cause. The last thing certain Southerners were ready to do was concede true equality of social status to blacks. And thus began an era of white supremacy in the American South, which was almost as ugly as slavery itself.

If slavery marked Phase 1 of America's black-white relationship, then the reign of white supremacy after the Civil War marked Phase 2.

Former slave owners had not necessarily awakened to the deep humanity of African-Americans; they simply could no longer own them. Their sense of entitlement and the violence it spawned simply morphed into new forms. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, founded in the 1860's, began a wave of terror in which lynching - hangings carried out by angry mobs -- of black Americans as well as of whites seeking to help them became common. Once federal troops were withdrawn from the Southern states in l877 and White Supremacists regained control of Southern State legislatures, blacks were routinely intimidated and attacked to prevent their voting in state and federal elections. Violence around elections became normal, with lynching reaching a peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During the period between 1890 and1908, southern legislatures passed new constitutions and electoral rules to disfranchise most blacks and many poor whites. They enacted a series of segregation and Jim Crow laws to enforce second-class status against blacks.

The horrors of institutionalized white supremacy were ultimately met and repudiated by the rise of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement during the 1960's. Their struggle, of course, was not easy, and Dr. King received both professionally and personally the full force of supremacist rage. From the lynching of integration rights workers, to police brutality, to church bombings, and ultimately the murder of Dr. King, the white supremacist movement did not go down quietly. Love is the only force that is powerful enough to overcome hate, and Dr. King displayed that love with the full force of his being. His non-violent message struck the heart of a nation, ultimately awakening America to the need for federal civil rights legislation. And it came to pass.

A cursory reading of history might lead one to think, "So then it was all handled, right?" But unfortunately the answer is no. The monster of racism clearly has many heads, and every time one has been bitten off, another one has arisen. The hot violence of slavery was replaced by the burrowing violence of white supremacy, which was then replaced by the cold violence of benign neglect.

Thus began Phase 3 of our tortured race relationship. "Benign neglect" is a phrase first articulated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan when he was Urban Affairs Advisor to President Richard Nixon, arguing that the drama of the Civil Rights movement should be followed by a period of more or less quiet in the relationship between blacks and whites. It was not necessarily a proactively racist sentiment on Moynihan's part, or even on Nixon's. But it was an abandonment of a healing process nevertheless, and in that sense at least a passive betrayal of the relationship. To say to a formerly enslaved population, "Be glad! You're not slaves anymore, and you're not going to be routinely lynched or kept from voting!" - while good, indeed very good - was still not restitution. And nothing short of restitution will constitute a real amends and redeem the soul of America. It wasn't enough that slaves in America were freed. The question remains, what were they freed to?

Civil rights legislation, with its signature Voting Rights Act, was extremely important in integrating African-Americans into the voting pool. But of itself it did little to integrate African-Americans into America's economy. And people who are left out economically are left out, period. The era of race relations post-Civil Rights movement has paralleled the advancement of American society in general, in which a relatively small part of our population - blacks, as well as whites -- has done very well, while the majority has hardly moved forward at all. "Blacks go to Harvard; blacks get rich; see, a black man became President!" is now the mantra used to justify a continuation of a policy of benign neglect. The fact that geniuses can make it in America doesn't of itself mean that social justice exists in America. Not everyone is a genius, but everyone should matter.

Yes, it is true - and very much to be celebrated - that blacks have opportunities in America today unheard of fifty years ago; but that of itself does not constitute full economic justice. The poor in America are all benignly neglected now. As long as 1 per cent of our people control 40 per cent of our wealth and 60 per cent of our people live on 2.3 per cent of our wealth, economic justice for the majority of Americans of any color isn't even on the short list of our national priorities.

One in five American children live in poverty today, making us the second highest child poverty rate in the advanced world. Among black children, however, the poverty rate hovers at 40 per cent. A black male has a one in three lifetime probability of incarceration in the United States, lending credence to Michelle Alexander's description of America's "cradle to prison pipeline." These problems are not discreet and newly formed; they are the continuation, the legacies, of a situation that began in the 1600's and still plagues us today. It's not as though the situation finally erupted into violence on the streets of Ferguson. The situation erupts into violence in the hearts of black mothers and fathers all over America every day, as they teach their children - particularly their sons - how to behave in order to avoid the unequal application of criminal justice in America. For America has fallen into a terrible pattern in the area of race, as in so many others: don't heal the disease, just suppress or seek to eradicate the systems. The message communicated by most governmental action is this: "Don't keep blacks down, necessarily - just don't lift them up. The geniuses among them will make their way. If and when they complain or act out, we have police and prisons to show 'em who's boss."

Yet heal the disease we must. And the most significant healing of any societal woe emerges from justice done. Blacks in America have been trained to ask for so little, as though God knows, we've done enough. We've done enough, white America...? What, in the name of God, have we done? We spend millions on anti-poverty programs and billions on prisons. In fact, we haven't even apologized. It's much easier for someone to forgive you when you've had the courtesy to apologize, and much easier for them to get over it if you've had the decency to fix the problem.

We need to apologize, and we need to make genuine amends. America needs to pay long overdue war reparations, and until we do, we will not move forward in any meaningful way. America needs more than forgiveness; we need genuine repentance, and restitution for our national sins.

In the 1990's, Bill Clinton suggested we have a "national conversation about race," suggesting perhaps that if we talk about it enough then maybe the problem will go away. But it's difficult to have an authentic conversation when half of the people involved in the dialogue have over two hundred years of understandable rage to express. There are situations in life - and race in America is one of them - where talk without action does not heal a wound, but only exacerbates it. Whites and blacks have a relationship in America, but it is an unequal one. One side owes something to the other, and until the debt is paid, the relationship will remain unhealed. The very mention of actually paying something back to people we enslaved for two hundred fifty years is still not on the table, not really. And until it is, then America will not be free.

America spends over 600 billion dollars a year on defense. Over a trillion dollars has been spent on the Iraq War, seen now to have been the biggest foreign policy blunder in America's history. Yet no one ever asked if we "could afford it." So it should not be considered unreasonable to suggest that America put 500 billion dollars towards a Reparations Plan For African Americans. Not piecemeal things, like Affirmative Action. But the real deal -- in a big way -- with the emotional, economic and social magnitude it deserves. Incremental changes often add up to no fundamental change at all.

Reparations are not a radical idea; they're considered a basic tenet of social and political policy throughout the world. Why should America not pay reparations to the descendants of slaves who were brought to America against their will, used as slaves to build the Southern economy into a huge economic force, and then freed into a culture of further violence perpetrated against them? It's not as though all that's over now; if anything, the problem has grown within the cells and psyches of every generation since. America will continue to waste money on relatively limited fixes, until we buck up and pay this debt in a real way once and for all. Millions are indeed wasted if the billions we owe here are not paid. A Reparations Plan would provide a massive investment in educational and economic opportunities for African Americans -- rendered as payment for a long overdue debt. Until that debt is paid, the cycle of violence that began in the 1600s and continues to this day will continue to haunt our psyche and disrupt our social good. It is time for America to atone for our past in both word and deed, and to heal our weary soul.

Marianne Williamson is a best-selling author and lecturer. www.marianne.com

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Posted by mwblog at 8:01 PM |


July 21, 2014

An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton

Hi, Hillary. You know me. I mean, we're not friends, exactly, but we're acquaintances. You were wonderful to me back in l994 when you invited me to the White House. It's a memory I will treasure always, and you gave it to me. I thank you.

Now, about your presidential run -- if indeed you make it. I'm writing you this letter because I think the topic might figure into your decision-making, or maybe not.

I admit that in 2008 I went with Obama, feeling at the time that he was carrying the real spirit of things, yada, yada, yada. Yeah, well. Anyway.

That was then and this is now.

I want a woman president -- really, I do. A lot of us do. And yes, you're so qualified, and yes, we've known you forever, and yes, you'd know what to do from Day 1. We all get that.

But none of that is enough to get my vote, or the vote of a lot of people I know. We only want to vote for you if you run like hell away from that corporate box you've landed in. I'm telling you, Hillary. The American people have become hip to what's happening. We know now that Wall Street runs the country, and we don't like it. And for many of us, we don't want to vote for you if Wall Street runs you too.

There are the seeds of political revolution in the air -- a rebelliousness, a rambunctiousness -- that America has been sorely missing. It's faint, at least on the left, but it is there. As a matter of fact, as tragic as it is for a lifelong Democrat to have to admit this, the one place where we have been seeing it manifest recently is on the political right. The Tea Party, sans a codependent relationship with the Republican Party, is causing a real problem for establishment Republicans. And once progressives break free of their codependent relationship with the corporate Democrats, you're going to have a real problem on your hands too.

That's why I'm writing. I have a feeling you're getting most of your advice from people who think that everything I'm saying here is nonsense. So I'll say it as loudly as I can.

STOP NOW. Stop cozying up to the banks, to the chemical companies, to the military-industrial complex, to the party machine, and to all the various financiers who make up the plutocracy now ruining this country. Yeah, I know a lot of them are nice people and that's cool. But they should not be able to turn the elected representatives of the American people into mere inconveniences they can buy off election after election. And if we have a sense that you'd be just another puppet of the elite, then I don't believe that you will win. We were fooled once, but I don't think we're going to be fooled again.

In the final analysis, we really do love democracy -- and watching it dismantled as it's being dismantled, and corrupted like it's being corrupted, has taken a lot of us from denial to real depression to a collective "Hell, no!" that will have electoral consequences in 2016.

Years ago, George Lakoff compared Republicans to a critical father and Democrats to a nurturing mother. I pointed out a bit later that the critical father had become an abusive one -- but that as anyone with any psychotherapeutic understanding knows, the child will ultimately put a lot of his or her blame on the mother who stood by and allowed the abuse to happen! That's the Democratic Party machine today, Hillary. Please don't be one of them.

I know you know exactly what I'm saying, because I remember you -- a lot of us remember you -- when you were raging against the Establishment machine on top of which you're now so sweetly perched. That machine is not our salvation; it's our problem. Corporate Democrats might have gained some power for the party, but at the cost of its soul.

I'd love to clamor for you, to work for you, to cheer you on. I don't want to sit on the sidelines longing for Elizabeth or Bernie. I want to hear what's true from you. I want you to rail against the chemical companies and their GMO's -- not support them. I want you to decry the military industrial complex -- not assure them you're their girl. I want you to support reinstating Glass-Steagall -- not just wink at Wall Street while sipping its champagne. In short, I want you to name the real problems so we can trust you'd provide some real solutions.

But maybe that's just me wanting you to change, to be someone different than who you are. If that's true, please forgive my presumption and ignore this letter. But if anything I'm saying rings any kind of true at all, then I hope you'll start saying so.

And quickly please, Hillary. People are starting to despair.

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Posted by mwblog at 5:27 PM |


July 13, 2014

THE CENTRAL AMERICAN CHILDREN: A Refugee Crisis, Not an Immigration Crisis

It is totally without conscience to knowingly send young children into places where they are likely to be tortured and/or killed unless they agree to sell drugs and commit murder, and stand a good chance of being tortured and killed even if they do. Yet social policy without conscience is what both Republicans and the President are proposing when they advocate the elimination of laws already on the books that would give the worst case Honduran and El Salvadorian children asylum.

"Speedy removal" is the term used the other day by our Director of Homeland Security in discussing one third of the expenditure for President Obama's 3.7 billion dollar proposed plan to deal with the crisis of those children. What a chillingly cold term for deporting people who have nowhere to go. Knowingly sending children back to places rampant with evil is to conspire with evil.

Immigration laws are important, and only those seeking asylum on legitimate grounds should receive it. But in this case, due processes by which asylum would be established for those genuinely in need are being circumvented. This is nothing but child abuse on a massive scale. Many people talk today as though "protecting our borders" is some sort of sacred responsibility, while protecting children is some tawdry inconvenience for which we bear no moral responsibility.

On July 13th's "Meet the Press," Congressman Joaquin Castro, D-TX, argued that many of the children should be presented with the chance to make the case for asylum. "These folks need to be given the case to go to court and argue their case," Castro said. He said that deporting children who are escaping the violent conditions in their countries like Honduras and El Salvador is not "the humane thing to do."

In the words of President Kennedy, "America cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor." And our spiritual poverty these days is staggering. Turning those children away is an immoral as turning away boatloads of Jews trying to escape Hitler's Germany. We did that, but at least there's a general consensus that we should not have. How is sending these children back to the most violent places in Honduras any different?

God does not love Americans more than he loves anyone else. He didn't give Americans some divine right to health and safety, and leave everyone else to just care for him or herself. Even if we were to believe such a distorted version of God's love, then how, please tell me, are those Honduran children supposed to take care of themselves? It seems to me that they tried their best, simply getting here. If God helps those who help themselves, then perhaps He is asking us now to aid Him in His efforts.

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Posted by mwblog at 7:34 AM |