Friday, September 15, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, September 16, 2017 - Forgiving Christianity, Part I of II

    It’s fair but unfortunate to say that many people have been hurt by religion. But allow me to be more specific. People have been hurt by those who have misused religion. Spiritual guidance has been misappropriated by power structures ranging from popes to pasrors to parents. We live in an age where a form of Christianity has evolved that speaks more of fear masquerading as hate than compassion and hospitality. How much of our airwaves have been taken up by those demanding their so-called religious freedom to exclude? From what Bible are they taking their teachings? None that I have ever read.
    But there is a message inside the jewel-encrusted bottle we have been taught to worship. The teachings.
    Regardless of his parentage, Jesus of Nazareth was first and foremost a teacher of a practice. The practice is what really got him into trouble. Rome wanted to be in charge. The teachings taught us that we are in charge of ourselves. We are in charge of how we feel and how we love. We are in charge of forgiveness. They teach us a way to get under the skin of something through the simplest channels possible.
    Catholicism—the original world conduit of Christianity—is structured in such a way that its Pope defines the true character of the Church. The declared “infallibility” of the Pope in all things theological means that what the Pope thinks, the congregation thinks also. Of course this isn’t practically true, but it’s comforting to note that a single good man can actually effect a change that could finally bring the church into a more complete alignment with its own teachings. For this reason I have hope for Catholicism. I can see it evolving. And as the de facto parent of world Christianity it will have a ripple effect throughout the system over time.
    Yet in the meanwhile we are so often forced to throw out the baby with the bathwater. We have so much resistance built up as a result of those who continue to use Christ as a weapon rather than Jesus as a teacher. We intrinsically know that it’s wrong. We reflexively resist it. We are correct to do so. But it leaves us wanting. Self-abandoned.
    It brings me to the obvious, even laughable question: What would Jesus do?
    Of course I do not know what Jesus would do. I’ve never met the man. All I have is what has filtered through to today. Through centuries of translations and historical critical thinking and theological debates over what the teachings mean. Through the lens of my own culture and what it expects of me. These are the thickest of goggles through which I attempt to decide exactly what Jesus might do with times such as these. The question really becomes: What do I think Jesus would do?
    His teachings focused on nonresistance, forgiveness, compassion, hospitality and empowerment. How might they be best applied to all those who have abused us through the act of preaching without practice? No man has the ability to withhold or distribute God’s grace. Ergo, we too are in possession of it. Those who lovingly facilitate it are welcome. Those who would act as a middleman are by default anti-Christian, anti-Christ. They know not what they do. Do we?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, September 9, 2017 - Belief in God is Optional

Thank you for whatever It is. It doesn’t matter what makes atoms hold together. It’s not important what reality created or sustains us. I am grateful for whatever the confluence of circumstances it is which makes it possible to exist. Some believe It is a being named God or Allah or Adonai. Maybe they are all correct. Maybe they aren’t. I have no ability to confirm or deny it. I personally believe in God by many names, but I can’t impose that belief upon anyone else. It may be that spending our time fussing over a definition of “God” is the exact opposite of what we are made to be doing. Or perhaps we were not 'made' at all. Does that thought change anything?
However, gratitude remains essential. It connects us with the fullness of experience. It creates a tendency for even more things about which we can be grateful to gravitate towards us. We become a vacuum of abundance. Religion shows us a way to make gratitude, a.k.a. praise, a part of our daily habit. It is correct to do so. We need it. But we don’t always need religion to help us practice it. We need not marry the midwife.
So I say thank you for whatever It is. I am grateful for It. Whatever reality It may be, whether chance or choice, which allowed—or at the very least did not prevent—the existence of life, thank you.
I’m sure it can be argued that nothing created or prevented life, it just happened. Why not be thankful for that? Be thankful that life happened. Don’t worry about what made it happen. Say thank you to Reality for existing. Be glad to be alive. Be glad for gravity. Be happy that most people have a tendency to want to collaborate, to get along, to be good neighbors. Most people are good. Be glad for that. Don’t spend your energy on maintaining anger over those who aren’t. Focus on gratitude for those who show us the way.
The teachings of world scripture work with or without a belief in a deity. Practice them. Practice forgiveness. Don’t resist the world, bathe it with love. Teach people to be creative. Teach critical thinking without being critical. Empower those around you. Be generous with your time and talents.
The fact is, if a spiritual life practice is truly worth its salt it shouldn’t need a deity to be valid. Forgiveness is a good idea either way. Doing no harm will only make life better. Being hospitable, neighborly, and encouraging is a part of our social code. It’s the ethical standard we teach our children even when we can’t live up to it ourselves.
Religion can be a beautiful thing. A belief in God, no matter how you name It, can be a fulfilling and meaningful way to express our gratitude at the wonder of existence. But one must not feel compelled. It may very well be that a belief in our connection with something larger than ourselves will be the natural result of the practice of the teachings over time. Perhaps we are putting the cart before the horse to insist that we must first believe to experience it.
If there is a God, It would be more patient with us than we are with each other. It would know how we come by our own enlightenment best. It would gladly step aside our adoration of It in favor of our adoration of one another. It would allow no statues, no idols, because we would then waste our focus on a piece of stone rather than our neighbor. It would let us use the free will we have been given to discover our own light for ourselves, in our own time.
The Ultimate Reality—whatever It is—does not require our belief in order to exist. Whatever is really true will be true whether we believe in it or not. Spend your time being good to one another. The rest will work itself out on its own.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, September 2, 2017 - Do no harm

    Make a decision. Do no harm. It’s simple enough. Don’t wreck anything. Don’t hurt people, things, or life. Don’t make a mess unless you have the courage to both learn from and clean up the results. It’s okay to break things, especially rules. Yet still, try to do no harm.
    Then comes the contemplative part. Spend some time to sit with the thought of it. Mull it over. What does it mean to do no harm? How creative can we get? How far do we go? There are monks of some orders who pluck the hairs from their heads rather than run the risk of having to someday kill lice. Mother nature is doing the job for me, thankfully. I’m glad I managed to dodge that bullet. But I still have to decide what impact I am willing to make upon the world. Even the gentlest of footprints alters the landscape. It’s impossible to leave no trace of our existence on this planet. Is there a distinguishable line between what’s ethical and what’s practical?
We see nature and conclude that harm is everywhere. We see in humanity the same. We have such a dark view of ourselves. Infected with an idea of unworthiness when the only unworthy thing is the idea itself. We wonder why we should bother with a cup full of water when the fire is raging. Yet that is the only way.
Against logic, it is easier to change the world by starting small. Begin first by doing no harm to yourself. That’s the part they forget to tell you about. But how can we “do unto others” if we don’t take steps away from harming ourselves? Start small. Quit smoking, or switch to ‘lights’ at least. Order only from the dollar menu. Do whatever you have to in order to make even the smallest decision in favor of yourself. Do less harm.
Then make a choice never to step backward from it. Never. Every step forward is progress. Every step backward is harm. Do no harm. Make mistakes. Fall a million times. Still, intend to do no harm. You may fall on your face, but that’s still forward.
Notice it every time you succeed. Notice every time someone else does what you also want to be able to do. Congratulate them in your heart. Move forward with them. Hop on their jetstream. Learn from geese. It’s easier to fly in formation.
Notice what you eat. How much harm are you willing to live with? It’s easy for a single millennial to be an organic vegan these days. Now add kids and life and two jobs and the line starts to budge. What is practical? When in doubt, eat local. Be a locavore. Decide for six months to eat food that is locally grown and see how you like it. There are several services which will deliver it right to your door. That’ll pull the plug on a whole bunch of harm right there. Some solutions are delicious.
Do no harm may mean switching to an electric or hybrid car next time. There’s plenty out there on the market now. Or even just choosing a slightly better gas mileage than intended. Make a decision to use public transportation one day a week as a voluntary offset and talk about how awesome you are on Facebook. It’s okay.
Keep inching in the direction of doing no harm, and always be sure to notice it. Take pride in your forward movement no matter how insignificant it might seem. I guarantee you, it isn’t. No hair goes uncounted.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, August 26, 2017 - Family By Choice

    As I write this I am mere hours from becoming a father. My husband Jamie and I are adopting. She’s a bit older than infant. About 22 years older than infant, to be exact. As many in my community will already know, a young blind and autistic woman with a remarkable singing voice whom we call Lavender is becoming an official part of our family. Her chosen name will become her legal one.
    Adult adoption seems like a curious concept to most people. If they’re of legal age, why would adults want to be adopted? It’s about belonging. Having kin. Trusting in a family unit for support, safety, and a place where holidays and happy occasions most warmly reside. Lavender needs a family and we are honored to be that family.
    This brings up questions for me about the depth of choice. There’s an oft-spoken idea that adopted children are special because they were chosen. Biological children are not chosen so much as they are a natural result of multiple factors, most of which are beyond our control or choice.
To adopt someone, legally or emotionally, is the paramount use of free will. To be a deliberate participant in the deepest kind of relationship among humanity, that of parent and child, without the influence of a biological connection, may be among the most sacred in the world. What a bell in the universe it must ring!
      I am overwhelmed and awed by what this day holds for me and my husband, and of course Lavender. But also our own families as well. Today is my mother’s birthday. She is getting a new granddaughter. She’s coming to family court with us because she was also at the “births” of her other grandchildren and didn’t want to miss this one. I am touched and grateful to see my choice become hers.
      As happy as I am, I find that my gratitude today is mostly for all those who choose others to be family in a world that needs a lot more of them. All forms of chosen family have a special kind of sacredness. Our society is deeply blessed by this custom and all those who participate in it.
We all choose people to whom we feel connected. We think of them as brothers or sisters. Honorary aunts and adopted grandfathers. The son we never had. We designate them as family. Notice these relationships in your life and honor them. They hold in them the full measure of all world scripture. To be loving and compassionate. Hospitable and empowering. To be patient and forgiving. To do more than simply help someone, but make them equals.
      From these we increase our capacity to love. In witnessing them around us we expand our ability to enjoy the same for ourselves. Notice family. Notice love. Notice people finding one another, just for the sake of it. Find it in your heart to be grateful that such a paradigm exists in the world. You will be changed by the mere act of it.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, August 19, 2017 - On love and light

    I believe we are made of two things: love and light. Perhaps that sounds like wispy new-age speak, but my personal sense of faith tells me that love is the directive force in the universe. Love is what informs the crafting of all that is. In this thinking, the atoms themselves have assembled according to the greater intent of something larger than they.
    And of light—science concludes that we are but light conforming into the appearance of matter. Everything we see is literally made of light. In fact, it’s light reflecting off of light that we actually perceive with our eyes. Which are, of course, made themselves of light.
    To the second ingredient, love. Perhaps love is actually a thing with substance. What’s interesting to me is that people can’t define God any better than they can define love. Ask someone what love is and you’ll get an answer that is clear only for someone who also knows what love is and can read between the lines of words that do no justice. The same is true for God. The words feel like they come close, but describe more of the soft edges of truth than truth itself. What if the reason we have such a hard time describing them is because they are actually the same thing? Does God have substance?
    We try to concretize God in the same way we like to make rules about love. But that is the true meaning of idolatry. That’s why it’s on the list of ‘commandments.’ These things cannot—should not—be fixed in stone. The more we try to do it, the more frustrated we become. The more we cling to our islands of contrived reality, the fewer people are welcome upon them. Stop trying so hard to make sense of the world. That’s not the point of why we are here.
    Again, I believe we are made of two things: love and light. We are the literal intersection of science and spirit, but we pit these two ideas against one another when they actually support the other’s existence entirely. And now that old way of thinking feels like it is tearing us apart. Because we know better and are rebelling against old rules being forced upon a new age.
    It’s why we see what we see in the world today. We have matured enough as a society to recognize the error of concretizing creation. It cannot be fixed in stone any more than light or love or God. We are much freer than we are comfortable admitting. It’s terrifying to think because it feels untethered. But freedom still coexists with belonging. Individuality still lives within the framework of unity. We are many, but we are one. We are free as a photon, but choose to restrain and refine our light for a greater purpose. Much like a laser.
    When looking at the world and all its apparent turmoil, remember one thing: you are connected to it. You have an invisible influence over how things work out. Reach inside that awareness. It will make you feel better. It will influence the attitude of those around you. It will show in the way you choose your words. It will have a ripple effect that will vibrate throughout the universe.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, August 12, 2017 - This too shall pass

    What do you think about the state of the world today? Is there a silver lining to all this turmoil? What does your personal faith tell you? Notice the answer.
    I watch a lot of news. Both liberal as well as conservative. The powers of the world appear to be tightening their fists lately. It used to be that they didn’t have to work so hard to maintain control over their people. Many were of course brutal and corrupt, but pure viciousness appears to be on the rise. Why might that be? It looks a lot like panic.
Each culture is experiencing it in its own way according to its own societal paradigm. In the US we are arguing our revolution along the strata of transgender bathroom rights and healthcare. In Saudi Arabia women want the basic right to drive a car. They are very different issues, but each are along the exact same tectonic crack: I have a right to thrive. You do not have the right to stop me.
The effects are as far reaching as the Internet itself. Venezuela, the Philippines, Romania, Russia. These are just a few of the governments which have each taken shocking measures away from their already flimsy democracies toward emboldened dictatorships.
    What’s happening? Why does it seem that “conservatism” has taken on a much darker quality to it? Why do terms like “alt-right” now exist? The political left is no better at its extremes either. There is a schism occurring. It is fracturing an ever-widening crack across the full spectrum of all human culture.
    It’s because the world has already changed. The shift has occurred, and we are now sifting through the aftermath of it. Some have embraced the new ways, some are desperate to retain the old ones. Each is together with their like-minded on opposing sides of the fissure. The smaller group is slowly inching away from the main plate. I would be afraid, too.
    Over the past decade especially this planet has received a crash course in the getting-to-know-you game. The Internet has opened our eyes to the common plight of humanity. The more we get to know our neighbor the wider the crack becomes. Along one side are those who are now seeing themselves in the eyes of their old enemy. But along the other are power structures who fared better when you were afraid of your neighbor. Their old rhetoric devolves even further into the trap of fear-mongering. Cornered dogs bark the loudest. And most viciously.
In days past, when a despotic ruler wished to exert its authority, the rule was: divide and conquer. Keep them apart and they won’t be able to realize there are more of them than there are of us. Now that the repercussions of worldwide communication are forcing changes to the old school way of making a profit, they are reflexively trimming the sails to that same old tack. Repression is the only solution they know. But the old method doesn’t work like it used to. Build walls between us and we will just continue our chat on Facebook.
    For those who are giving conservatism a bad name right now, you are overplaying your hand. For those who are doing the same to liberalism, you are operating from your wounds, not your scars. Neither is a playmate with progress and you are both being left behind together.
    The hope at the bottom of the box full of demons is evident in the sudden extreme behavior of the demons themselves. They have always known that one day they will have to return to the box. The natural world is not natural to them. The one difference between today and the day Pandora first opened it is that we all now know it too. They are giving themselves away in their panic. They are exposing themselves in a world where big brother is not who they thought it would be. It’s us.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, August 5, 2017 - Thank you for the way

    Thank you for the way.
    That is usually the full extent of my prayers. Those five words. Thank you for the way.
    Thank you for the unexpected solution. For I have faith enough and reason both to conclude that to my concern there is a likely answer. Somewhere. In a drawer or in a thought. It already exists. Perhaps I am courageous enough to hope there might even be a win-win situation. Just out of my view. Just around the corner. But real enough. Connecting with its likely existence is the first step to finding it. The first step away from despair. I believe the solution exists. Even if I can’t yet see it, can’t imagine how it could possibly get here, and wouldn’t believe it if you told me. Thank you for the way.
When praying on behalf of someone else it’s the same thing. Thank you for the way. Thank you for whatever it might be that can bring this person or this situation a relief from suffering. Thank you for anything which might soothe their fears. Thank you for whatever peace exists in the heart of my enemy. I may not see it but I am still going to say hello to it.
    I have chosen to refuse to believe that evil is the predominant force in the universe. I don’t pretend to know why bad things happen. But I believe that we are connected to one another for a reason. I feel a deep sense of knowing that love is the predominant force in the universe. Only fear can distort it. Like an awkward lens. Thank you for the way through fear.
    Thank you for the way we have been shown how to love one another. Thank you for every time someone embodies the teachings. No matter to what god they pray. Thank you for mercy.    
    When everything is going well and life feels good I am always sure to say it. Thank you for the way. I remind myself that, yes, there was in fact a way. And I didn’t give up and eventually I found my way to it. I let gratitude rest upon me.
    It’s like putting on a different pair of sunglasses. The old ones were scratched. But you were used to it. You were used to having a slightly dim view of the world and the people in it. But that’s all about perception. Our perception influences the opportunities and solutions we are willing to pay attention to.
If we really think there’s a perfect job out there for us we will literally never stop looking for it. And those who don’t give up usually end up getting what they believed already existed for them. They became attuned to noticing every possible pathway toward that direction.
This is the intersection of the logical and the spiritual. This is also where two roads then diverge as to why things happen the way they do. Some will say that there is no God or God has nothing to do with it. Some will say that everything has to do with God. But the truth is, it is irrelevant to what we credit our solutions and salvations. What matters is that we choose to believe the answer already exists whether or not we see it. Notice and be grateful for every step in the direction of your dreams. Thank you for the way.