Friday, May 26, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 27, 2017 - The Beta-Test of Our Democracy

Who are we to become from this moment? I have a tendency to look at things cosmically. When trying to decide whether we are in good times or bad I find it much easier to take a step back. Look at the longer timeline of human history. It changes the view dramatically.
We have done a remarkable thing, we humans. We have successfully created functioning early-stage models of Government by the People. One could argue that citizens of ancient Rome had the right to vote, but not all people could be Citizens. Women were equal to slaves, children were no higher. We have made significant improvements on the earlier versions of democracy. I am no expert historian, but the way I see it: We are preparing to launch Democracy 2.0.
This is an enlightened age we are living in. We have come so far to have this opportunity. This is our first big test as a true democracy. Have we finally designed a system well enough to withstand tyranny?
Of course there are still many flaws in the mechanism to be solved. But we know ourselves. We know how we best operate. We are not very good at solving problems until we have been kicked in the butt by a few of them. That's when legislation finally occurs. That's when community dialogue occurs. More people get involved. That's how the system is refined. We learn, by increasing degree, how to be a good neighbor.
When I say that I tend to think cosmically, I mean that I believe everything happens for a reason. I don't believe that we are predestined, but I do believe that hammers tend to gravitate around nails. If our culture truly wants the capital-C Change it has been asking for, by what other method could we possibly achieve it than through this fascinating political moment? Everyone is getting exactly what they’re asking for here, folks. Look closely.
Revolution is the only way we have ever moved forward with regard to civil liberty. We need no longer call for war, however, to accomplish a revolution. We have designed systems for that, too. We should call for resolution. We should call for resolve. We should call for recalibration and relationship. That would be truly revolutionary. Something only a truly democratic people could create.
Water will always find its balance. It needs no help from us. Democracy is the natural result of our inherently equality. And through its own process equalizes the world one step at a time. We have only to collaborate more fully with our own higher nature to accomplish it. Remember we are mostly water. We must stop resisting.
It is within our power to decide how we engage with this precious instant. We have designed a system through which we may prove we are on the right track. This is our beta-test.
If we learn from every moment we experience, and if we are experiencing what we have been asking for, what might we make of this time of unveiling? I have great faith that we have built a beautiful, self-correcting system of human enrichment here in this country. It will always be self-correcting if we give it the freedom to remain so. We are witnessing it right now. Raise it up. Treat it as sacred. Because it is.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Prayer: I and All That I Am

            During a challenging time in my life I composed a prayer. Among my faith practices, I am also a believer in signs and things cosmic. I believe that God is still speaking to us, and will choose any method through which we are truly willing to listen or speak. I believe there is something to the power of astrology and the moon. I won't pretend to know what it is, but at the very least, human civilization has empowered the heavens to give us signs.
Perhaps these signs come from within us, but since we doubt ourselves we would prefer to get our information from “above.” In truth, I believe that whatever can connect us to something larger than ourselves, even if only in our own imagination, has both value and merit.
The new moon symbolizes new beginnings. The number nine symbolizes completion. I had reached a saturation point where it was time to take what I had learned of my life to that day and begin anew. I thought of it at the time as ‘going back to square one with everything I have now learned.’ It’s fascinating to consider what has become of my life since that moment. Since first reciting that prayer. How different literally everything is. How much better.
On the occasion of a new moon, which happened to occur on September 9, 1999, I decided to compose my prayer. I imagined that there could be energy to the circumstances of both the completion and newness of the moon cycle combined with the sense of both completion and newness in the numerology of the date. 9+9+1+9+9+9=46  4+6=10  1+0=1 The date is loaded with 9’s but ultimately adding up to One. Perhaps there is no value to this thinking beyond my own mind, but should that matter? If it has value to me, would God ignore it? For those who think in stricter terms, perhaps they might give God a bit more credit.
Today I would choose my words a little differently. But not much. I would change the word Tolerance to Acceptance, for who wishes to be merely tolerated? And perhaps I would make it a little more poetically balanced. But I don't think I should change it.
I should let it be what it is.
It is a declaration of my theology, my cosmology, my sense of duty to humanity. It is also my gift to others who would choose to recite it for themselves to declare their own significance, for we are every one of us equally significant to the Universe. It is, even after four years of seminary, still my truth. There is much to say on it, but for now, I’ll allow it to speak for itself.

I, and all that I am, increasingly from this day forward, give intent to grow. Grow spiritually, mentally, physically. I choose to see my obstacles for the opportunities that they are. Opportunities given to me through my own choosing and given to me by God. I give solemn intent to seek out my fears and act in spite of them, approaching each and every opportunity with Peace, Love and Tolerance. More and more I will see myself and others for the light beings that we are. And I expressly invite the marriage of my higher self to my physical one. I actively choose to fulfill my life contracts and ask God that the signs be clear and the roads be marked. I ask that my karma be opened, freeing me to do the True Work. I choose to do my part to enlighten the world and guide it through the changes to come. I am an integral part of this new age and I acknowledge my significance within the Universe. I send all of my Love outward with a golden white glow that all may receive and adopt for their own. My Love is as limitless as the Universal Source of which I am a glorious fragment. My Love is for All and my all is for Love. My Love is for All and my all is for Love. My Love is for All and my all is for Love.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 20, 2017 - Don’t Knock the Hometown

Today I graduate from seminary. A Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Global Interreligious Leadership from Andover Newton Theological School. To be honest, I did it for my hometown. I couldn’t stop myself.
Of course there are many reasons. I’ve been moving toward it my entire life. Ever since trying to adopt my first frog. In my hometown I found that my efforts are able to be put to best use. Everyone has their sphere in which they best operate. For some it is their family unit, for others it is as CEO of a major corporation. Mine is the hometown level.
I’ve lived in the big cities. I loved them. Moving home was not giving up, but giving over. I felt the pull and came. That was over seventeen years ago. This city has taught me practically everything I know.
I have grown up from one end of Main Street to the other. Walking the length, I can show you block by block the businesses and institutions that have taught me to speak, to sing, and to serve. I am compelled to return the favor.
I have dedicated myself to this community and I graduate from seminary dedicating my degrees to it. May the world someday model the way this city has raised me.
So what’s the point? It’s this: Communities can do this on purpose.
Some from these parts may remember a true sparkle of a woman named Janet Cragin. She was a leading lady and eventual grand dame of the Stratton Players. She “discovered” me when I was seventeen years old along with two classmates. From the high school stage she beckoned us to the iconic community theatre, sweeping us into the chorus of a production therein. I say this with all appropriately dramatic wording. She was a wonder from whom I learned so much. I attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts because she went there. I wear the same Converse lowtops as she in part-honor to this day.
So many people did for me what Janet did. Organizations and businesses, too. The local United Way’s Community Builders fellowship program gave me two years of excellent education. The library, the martini lounge, the Rotary clubs, even the senior center has given me opportunities to learn and try different ways of bringing people together.
Workers Credit Union, for instance, has done everything from sponsoring my jazz brunches and teaching me leadership, to its employees giving me construction jobs in their own homes to help support me while I practiced my calling to serve the community.
So now I have continued my journey up Main Street to bring that deep calling and years of experimentation and gratitude to the little office with the comfy red chair at First Parish Church.
Communities must make it a part of their culture to notice and cultivate early on those who are driven to serve and create. In all sectors, including science as well as the arts and philosophy. We need more of them all in this world. Let’s mentor them on purpose. Let’s connect them with opportunities. Empower them. Encourage them. Educate them. Get other communities to do the same. We can save this world if every hometown does what Fitchburg, Massachusetts has done for me.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 13, 2017 - The Dharma of Christianity - Part IV: Gratitude is the Mayo

I run an afterschool and evening music program called the Tribe. We have a saying. Be the Mayo. It means to be the tastiest part of your community, your school, your family. To be the thing that may only think it’s just oil, vinegar and eggs, but that’s just the parts, not the sum. The mayo is the great catalyst. The sacred third ingredient in a tuna sandwich. That which makes it all work together. Every successful reality has a bit of mayo in it.

In the instance of the dharma of Christianity, the “mayo” is Gratitude. It is the state of mind that can appear to be the cart before the horse, the chicken before the egg. Gratitude is both the natural result of and the only thing that will help us fully benefit from the practice of Christian dharma.

We often hear it quaintly said that we should maintain an “attitude of gratitude.” Traditional Christianity expresses this in the form of praise and worship. Sunday morning worship is all about the opportunity to express gratitude around an occasion of mindfulness and meaning. That’s what’s really trying to go on. Fellowship, food for thought and a chance to sing and say thanks together.

Studies and experience show that offering a co-worker praise invariably results in better job performance. It improves the quality of both the workplace and of the work. When we stop and smell the roses we are experiencing them mindfully. We get more from the experience. When we connect our deliberately loving mind with our actions, our actions mean more.

Attempting to live in a state of gratitude makes us more resilient to the obstacles we face everyday in life. Increased resiliency means we are calmer, more peaceful, and likely better equipped to make thoughtful decisions rather than emotional ones. When we operate out of our emotions we make bad decisions and bad neighbors. We react when we should be responding.

I invite you to consider the active practice, no matter what your belief system, of the five dharmic principles of Christianity: Nonresistance, Forgiveness, Compassion, Hospitality and Empowerment. Allow Gratitude to seep into the creavasses of that practice. Find moments, any moment at all, to feel grateful, just for the sake of it. Especially when you’re really upset, latch onto something for a moment about which you feel incredibly grateful. Get the brain chemicals flowing in a different direction for a second. It will change literally everything.

When you see injustice in the world, first acknowledge that it exists and is informed by hurt. That is being nonresistant. Merely acknowledge it, without judgement, that it exists. Recognize that to forgive something is not the same as excusing it. Maintain a state of compassion for the hurt itself, send energy to it. It knows not what it does. Welcome discussions and debates on how to support both the hurt that causes injustice and the hurt caused by it. Raise them both up as equals and injustice will no longer have a sanctuary in this world.  ❤️

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 6, 2017 - The Dharma of Christianity: Part III: The Practice

Most of us live by a set of rules we have agreed to follow. Laws, social customs, ethics. We choose for ourselves what rules we will follow and why. Until we, as thinking individuals, consciously decide on our own to follow them, rules are merely suggestions.

What are the rules of the road you choose follow, for example? Do you always use your turn signal? Do you text and drive? Do you drive the speed limit? What do you do when someone is tailgating you? Your personal system of ethics determines the answers to these questions.

The dharma of Christianity is not fully unique. The teachings in one form or another are evident in many of the different faiths and social systems which focus on egalitarianism. Equality among all life.

Any time we distort equality on purpose we develop power structures which are then compelled to focus their efforts on the self-preservation of their unnatural state. The Christian dharma is about equality and, more importantly, it’s a practice of how to achieve it. Fascinating to consider when we think about how that dharma has been distorted by the very dogma and doctrine charged with promoting it.

The dharma of Christianity is actually about the attempt to achieve true democracy among humanity. It’s a message stored in the jewel-encrusted bottle that we have been worshiping until the day we have the maturity and courage to follow the message inside.

It’s a challenging life practice. There are nuances of thinking that are continuously discoverable. Especially in debate and discussion with those who think differently than we do. All dharmas encourage us to explore because they have no egos of their own. A dharma will never tell you that it is the only way. But a religion must. It has its own survival to consider.

The practices are Nonresistance, Forgiveness, Compassion, Hospitality and Empowerment.
Nonresistance is the practice of deliberate acceptance rather than mere tolerance or worse, resistance. When we acknowledge the truth of something and allow ourselves to project love at it, it stands the best chance of evolving into the best possible version of itself. What we resist persists.

Through nonresistance we are lead toward forgiveness because we have started using our energy to listen honestly. Only hurt people hurt people. Soothe the wounded. Your heart, included.
Living in a state of forgiveness, of ourselves and others (not forgetfulness, but understanding), we more easily enter into a state of compassion. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Compassion invites a state of inner welcoming of others. Hospitality. We understand them. We don’t take their faults personally. We create opportunities for people to gather. We welcome them.

Once gathered, once we know them, once we have heard their stories and felt their pain and joys, we understand that we are none of us different. We are equals. We begin to not merely give a hand out, but a hand up. We empower and enrich ourselves and others because it is natural to do so.

And a belief in God is not required. The practice may or may not bring you to that conclusion, but believing in the practice of the teachings of Jesus is independent of an opinion about the divine.

To be continued.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, April 29, 2017 - The Dharma of Christianity - Part II: What’s a Dharma?

Words. There are words like religion, dharma, dogma, doctrine. We have relationships with these words. Sometimes hostile, or nostalgic, perhaps comforting, sometimes confusing. We often don’t have a clear understanding of them. Either we aren’t familiar with them all, or know them all too well.

The term religion refers to an organized system of public gathering for the purpose of sharing systems of spiritual belief. The systems typically focus around the teachings of or about a deity, or a charismatic leader, or both.

By contrast, dharma is almost always a part of religion, but it is not the religion itself. A dharma is a life practice, a way of deliberately engaging with the world based upon a set of principles usually meant, in one form or another, to bring about a better world through our personal actions. Buddhism is a dharma, though it is often referred to as a religion. Hinduism is also a dharma. Ethical Veganism is a dharma. But not a religion.

Christianity as we understand it today is by definition a “religion.” But that is somewhat misleading. A Christian by definition is a follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Those teachings are: Nonresistance, Forgiveness, Compassion, Hospitality, and Empowerment. That’s it. It doesn’t need to comment on the other stuff. Christianity, when expressed as a deliberate practice of those teachings, looks less like a religion and a lot more like a dharma.

But Christianity is also an organized religion. An institution that creates a particular social scaffolding designed to act as a transporter of the message. They are the purveyors of a central Teaching which we might choose to describe as Dharmic Christianity.

Christianity is both the term describing the Organized Religion as well as the Treasure it charges itself with carrying. Declaring it to be “dogma,” meaning irrefutable truth, divinely given.

“Doctrine” is what the Church teaches based upon their interpretation of what they have declared to be dogma. So first the Dharma, or teaching, exists, then the Religion and Dogma form around one another developing a particular Doctrine or set rules to follow. In essence, the Doctrine is an organized expression of the Dharma. However, doctrine is a middleman and as such, is corruptible. But dharma is free from that.

When we lift just the teachings on their own from amid the text and act as as our own agents of interpretation and discernment, we skip the politics of it all. It’s a natural human urge to monetize and weaponize something we believe is special, even if we don’t quite know what it is. If a loving God exists in any small way, It would know we would do this and use that fact to our advantage.

Organized Religion has served humanity a purpose a dharma might not have been able to live up to on its own. We shouldn’t forget that. Organized Religion was also the world’s first central nervous system and defined the rules of its use, for good or bad.

However, that central nervous system, purposefully or not, in spite of its actions or because of them, has empowered its people to the point where it now runs the danger of becoming obsolete. Unless it re-minds itself of its purpose: to share the Dharma and mindfully live by it.

To be continued.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, April 22, 2017 - The Dharma of Christianity, Part I: Spiritual Adventurism

            For most of my life I have held a deep curiosity about world religions. I have participated in many rituals, both moving and bizarre. Some individual practices come from a deeply personal, introspective place. They do not flash and wave about for notice. Some appear to be trying too hard to prove their worthiness to God. Or to themselves. But each carries a thread of truth and wisdom. Good advice tends to repeat itself in unconnected ways, faith to faith.
Over the years I have noticed a consistency in philosophy among them. Where all faiths overlap, we might conclude God is most visible.
After years of spiritual adventurism I found that the essence of the very faith I was raised in, Christianity, has this thread, too. So I began pulling on it.
I tested and poked and questioned this faith for proof of its value. I don’t believe that God wants us to just take people’s word for it. We are supposed to develop critical thinking about faith. We are supposed to be asking it hard questions. What is it afraid of? People who think we should adhere to blind faith and ask no questions should give God more credit. They’re not afraid God can’t handle it. They are afraid their interpretation of God can’t.
As far as the Bible goes, I don’t make a claim regarding the miraculous. However, I do believe in miracles. I am astonished at and grateful for even the mathematical unlikelihood of our own existence. I believe people are healed by other people without explanation. I believe that there are mysteries of reality about which we know virtually nothing.
But I don’t know if Mary was a virgin. Nor do I think that possibility changes whether or not Forgiveness is a good idea. I don’t know if Jesus rose from the dead. But I’m certain that Nonresistance, Hospitality, Compassion and Empowerment are good practices to follow on a daily basis for both ourselves and others. I believe these practices are in the process of saving humanity before our very eyes.
When people say, “Jesus saves!” I now tend to believe them. But not necessarily for the reasons they are saying it. I believe Jesus was a spiritual master who knew what he was doing, practiced what he preached, and pissed people off on purpose. He was a spiritual tactician, healer, mystic, radical activist, and on-call diplomat.
But I don’t conclude everything attributed to him was actually said by him. Nor may it have been said the way it was recorded. Some of the same stories are told in several different ways in the various Gospels. A thoughtful student of the Bible would conclude that God speaks between the lines of it all. Read it and listen to your heart to discern the truth from amid the ink.
Universal Love is not linear. It cannot be read letter after letter in a series of words. It has to be lifted from the text as a whole rose bush, not a line of stems and blooms laid end to end.
To be continued.