Thursday, November 30, 2023

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 31, 2022 - Our Own Best Advice

Would it surprise you to know that I have a great deal of difficulty following my own advice? It shouldn’t surprise because, of course, I’m human too.

But that’s a little indicator of the inner contradictions we often have when seeking, receiving, and/or implementing the advice of others. We ask for advice from other humans, who have human failings and inconsistencies. We conclude that if they can follow their own advice, it’s worth following. Or at least it’s advice we think we should follow, if only we were better at following advice.

But when someone cannot follow their own advice, instead of sympathizing with the advice-giver’s humanity, we minimize the advice they gave. Or rather, we let ourselves off the hook for not having to follow it ourselves. This is very satisfying. We get to criticize other people, while not having to bother with any effort of our own.

But let’s consider this thought, which I’ve often used as an example: If a smoker tells you not to smoke, are they correct?

They are.

The suggestion here is to leave room for following people’s words, rather than their actions, when it comes to advice. Good advice is good advice, regardless of the source. The same can be said for all world scripture as well, whether you believe in the existence of a Higher Power or not. Spiritual texts often have some good and loving advice in them. Whether it is divine or not can be allowed to exist as a separate conversation. Consider the quality of the advice, rather than the level of self-discipline of the advisor, or the source of the advice.

I say this less because I happen to be a dispenser of advice myself than I do because I need to be reminded of it as well. I need to remember that not all people are able to act in accordance with their stated beliefs, their own best advice. 

It’s true that we’ve now veered from talking about smoking to much larger subjects like being a loving neighbor. But the attitude about it is the same, even if the stakes are often a bit higher. But are they?

We are in a crucial moment in human history right now. And it’s stressful, anxiety-provoking, and tiring. We are literally participating in a battle of light and dark worldwide. Love, as expressed by equity, justice, and inclusion, is starting to hold its ground against fear, as expressed by exclusion, cultivated ignorance, and isolationism. 

The world has shifted significantly in the direction of collaboration. The demand for fairness and democracy has not abated. Attempts to suppress human equity are increasingly met with greater levels of organized resistance that uses the very levels of collaboration the darkness is trying to suppress. There are consequences for the darkness in that fact. It is losing the battle simply through the act of fighting it.

We all have a stake in this game. We all participate in it, wittingly or otherwise.

So what kind of advice do you want to follow right now? What metric will you use, what philosophical writing or ethical guideline will you use to evaluate the advice you hear? Because it’s coming at us from all sides. And there’s a lot of pseudo-logic being peddled in the media by the talking heads that sounds about right, but doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.  Like the fundamentalist quip to "love the sinner but hate the sin." That's nothing more than theological BS. Period.

Is it welcoming? Is it attempting to understand someone else’s personal experience without ridicule or violence? Is it hospitable? Is there room for compassion? Is it advising what’s right, or just what’s easy? Spiritual systems help us formulate ways to identify useful advice, as well as when its own advice is being twisted for nefarious ends.

People have used, and are continuing to use, world scripture to justify slavery, misogyny, sexism, racism, theft, and even sanction murder, claiming God has ordained it. But that is a misuse of scripture. And the scripture itself will tell you so.

The one and only rule is love. There is none other. So when someone tells you that God hates something, you already know they’re wrong about it. But the advice is to love them anyway because they know not what they do. They are afraid of what you already know to be safe. That is evidence of your privilege. Use it to the advantage of the world. Be with them, rather than shun them, so that their hate is steadily supplanted by your love.

That’s the best advice there is.

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 24, 2022 - Honoring the Temple

I’ve been working very hard on my “before” photo. I’m a bit zaftig. Saying I have a “dad bod” would be a slight exaggeration of fitness at the moment. So it’s time to make a change. 

Approaching my mid-50s has been increasingly about taking responsibility for the past and future. There’s a fair share of regret. But even more, gratitude. Glad to still be here. But I find myself recognizing that the choices I make right now, at this particular stage of my life, will set the tone for the rest of it. How do I want these next decades to unfold?

At first, this past autumn, when I decided to take my own waistline a bit more seriously, I thought of it in terms of dieting. Even while knowing full well that the worst kind of health decision one can make is to “go on a diet.” It’s been long demonstrated that diets, per se, may cause us to lose weight, but they don’t work to the benefit of our bodies or our self-image. They make them both less healthy.

So, wanting to avoid the pitfalls of being “on a diet” I went deeper. I don’t diet easily anyway. I want it to be easier, clearer, motivated. I want to want to do what I must to live a healthier lifestyle. That’s not a typo. I don’t want to, but I want to want to.

In my mind this is the fuel in the tank of any undertaking; the wanting to do something. It’s the wanting that matters. It's the wanting-it-enough that gets us through the temptation. If you’re trying to motivate yourself, think about generating some desire, some wanting. What can you think of that will make you want it more? But a warning: it matters which fuel you choose. Motivating yourself to “get thin” so that you can “be happier” is the equivalent of trying to run your car on celery juice. Being thin doesn’t make you happy. Especially if your body is starving and your emotional state values only a size 2. 

I have decided that my fuel is going to be joy. Sadly, society discounts the need for and value of joy. Both as an experience, but also as a motivator. I want a joyful life. Which means I need to be mindful of the health of all my environments. I need to be mobile, agile, unencumbered. I need to be an instrument in good enough condition that a song of joy can be well played on it. 

That takes care and attention and motivation. It also takes a temple mentality to achieve.

That’s the second part of how I’m choosing to approach a joyful set of remaining decades. I’m going to think of my life in terms of a succession of temples, both literal and symbolic.

A temple is a sacred space designated for a heightened experience with something larger than ourselves. They are designed and constructed with deep intentionality. Using the best materials available. Angled in the direction of the sacred. Sized with community in mind. They are spaces of sacred hospitality, gathering, and worship.

What we bring into the temple is important. We bring our best offerings. Polished and presented with honor and care. We pray over what we bring into them and then hand them over to a higher power. 

That is how we might consider reframing all aspects of our lives if we intend to derive the most joy possible from them. A temple mindset.

It’s pretty clear what that means for our bodies; not only what we choose to put in them, but also what we do with them. If your body is truly sacred—and most theology considers the human body to be a direct creation of the divine—how does it deserve to be treated? What considerations should be made for the proper upkeep and sacred use of a temple? Do that to you.

And our families, our home life, our work, even our aspirations. Is there room to consider these as potential sacred spaces as well? What if we did? What do we bring to these? Do we bring drama? Head colds? Or do we bring joy to them? What if we did?

What if, instead of dieting, we adopted a temple mindset? What if we considered doing anything we can think of to honor the temple by caring for it and bringing it joy? 

Would that hopefully make fast food a little less appealing to me? God, I hope so. Because that’s what I’m hoping for. I want to nullify temptation by superseding it with a deep desire for joy. I don’t want to judge what my naturally healthy body ends up looking like. I just want to have one. I don’t want to equate a number on the scale with a sense of accomplishment. That is false fuel.

If every cell in my body is aligned with joy, as every brick in the temple should be, my faith tells me all shall be well. Remember to honor all temples and bring joy to their altars. Then the Universe will know exactly how to respond. There is more to be discussed here. The conversation will continue...

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 17, 2022 - Being a Co-Conspirator

I am definitely a person who wants to be on the right side of history. But that’s my pride talking, frankly. As a point of my faith, namely the commandment to love my neighbor as myself, I also want to be on the right side of love and justice.

When I first heard of the term “white privilege” I already knew enough about how racism and discrimination function in society that I wasn’t particularly triggered by it, as some are. I was immediately curious about its implications, however.

I’ve heard some White men in particular, bristle strongly at the suggestion that they are somehow privileged in our world simply because they are White and male. They see only through the lens of their own experience and know how hard they’ve worked and how they often feel they’ve little to show for it. So to be described as “privileged” is the opposite of their own lived experience. 

Yet, privileged we are. Even though, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have a modest understanding by comparison of what it means to be marginalized, it’s not the same thing as racism or sexism. White gay males are still the ones with greater privilege among the rest of our Alphabet Tribe, and for the same reasons as in the rest of society. It’s best for those of us with even fractal degrees of privilege to be among those who use it to improve the human condition.

My only challenge in this has been figuring out how to use White privilege to be a wind at the back of the solution when my privilege is actually part of the problem. To be clear, I’m not saying I’m part of the problem because I consciously make things worse. I’m only part of the problem because I haven’t always understood that simply being an ally is not enough. In short, I haven’t known what to do with the privilege I have to affect greater equality for others.

In the meantime, it has always been my recommendation and practice as a White male to listen rather than speak about issues like sexism and racism. I try to share what I hear from those who experience it, rather than claim to understand it myself.

I received quite a shock last week when a friend sent me a video of three Black women on stage speaking at an event. One of whom, Dr. Bettina Love, described the difference between being a social justice ally and a social justice co-conspirator. I had never heard the term co-conspirator used in a positive way before.

She told a story about Bree Newsome and James Tyson the day that Bree climbed a flagpole on the South Carolina statehouse to remove the confederate flag in the weeks following the racist massacre at the AME church by Dylann Roof. 

When the White male authorities came to stop this Black woman from removing a confederate symbol, they decided to electrically tase the flagpole in order to make Bree fall, probably to her death. But James Tyson, standing at the base of the metal pole, protected her by placing his hand on it, knowing that they weren’t going to electrify it while his hand was there. Because James was White. 

That is an example of how to use White privilege. What I learned from this video was that James was understanding of the difference between merely being an racial ally and being a co-conspirator to justice. James took a risk on her behalf. 

I felt shocked by this potentially literally shocking story, because like a bolt of lightning, I finally understood what the role of a progressive White male should be in this moment of our great human reckoning.

We do not have the luxury at this moment to merely be allies. While it’s good to know what’s wrong in the world, and even hold some effective tools toward not contributing further to the problem, what the world needs of White men now is for us to be co-conspirators to justice. We need more James Tysons.

We need more people willing to stand up and take a risk. To stand with, to stand up for, speak out against, to use what society has given us by dint of our gender and color to help insist upon equality in our world. 

James Tyson is not the hero of that day. That title belongs to Bree Newsome. She risked her life to remove an emblem of her own ancestors’ enslavement from its place of undeserved honor on the South Carolina statehouse. But James rightfully holds his place as a co-conspirator of her heroism. He used his White privilege in the way we are meant. 

The flag went back up immediately after her arrest, but the gesture had its intended effect.  Less than two weeks later, the South Carolina state legislature voted to make it illegal to display the confederate flag on any public building. And the flag came back down permanently.

Love thy neighbor as thyself. Hold their humanity as equal to yours. Stand beside. Fight for. Kneel with. 

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 10, 2022 - This Minister

When someone decides to become a member of a church where I serve as its Minister, there’s a crucial discussion to be had: Getting to know one another.  

I need to know them. I need to understand what they each believe as individuals with their own minds and ways of perceiving the Ultimate Reality. For I hold that the individual faith perspectives of those who attend on Sunday mornings should be the sole determining factor of what occurs during services. So I need to know them. But they, by contrast, have a right to know me. 

The two sister congregations I serve each have a right to know who is directing the spiritual makeup of their church. They have a right to know what my personal beliefs are, what my worldview is. They have given me keys to centuries-old institutions that are not guaranteed to see the end of the 21st century. 

Even though you’re not entrusting me with an institution or a piece of historic architecture, you also are entitled to know who I am theologically. You are reading this column. For that reason, I felt I was overdue in spelling it out here.

Religiously, I identify as a Christo-Pago-Buddho-Dharmist who believes in reincarnation, is most fascinated by the places where all religions tend to agree, and believes that God exists in a form and purpose which is incomprehensible to us, but 100% benevolent. 

That would be my spiritual and religious identity in a nutshell. I grew up in the United Church of Christ, but I am most comfortable in the Unitarian Universalist tradition because while I hold Jesus of Nazareth to be my principal spiritual guide, I can neither affirm nor deny the divinity that’s ascribed to him. 

That doesn’t mean Jesus’ divinity didn’t exist. Those who believe in it are not necessarily wrong. But I am agnostic about it. I leave room for it to either be true or not. Or different than we imagine. His reported divinity is not what makes his teachings effective anyway. Forgiveness, compassion, hospitality, non-resistance, empowerment, and gratitude are ideas that function independently of a belief in a deity. Good advice is good advice with or without a divine provenance. Though we are all free to perceive God’s hand in it as best suits us.

I have a sincere feeling that we aren’t getting the divinity thing quite right, however. I think that’s what the caution against “making a false idol” really means. Concretizing God into a specific idea that is unchangeable. Old calcified views of the divine are holding us back.

I feel that Buddhism adds a seamless layer of dimension to the things Christ taught about how to be in good relationship with ourselves, with others, with the earth, and with a higher power. When comparing their teachings, each becomes more comprehensible and functional to our lives.

Additionally, I feel that our connection with the earth is indivisible. There is no line where the earth ends and we begin. We are literally made of it. We resonate electromagnetically the same, we get sick together, we heal together. That’s the only way it works, and it’s the only way it ever will work. So, if we want to feel better, we have to improve the quality of our relationship with the part of us extending beneath our feet. That is the dharma of Paganism, but it overlaps seamlessly with the Christian idea of our stewardship of Creation.

Each of these, Christianity, Buddhism, and Paganism, is not a religion, though religions have been founded in their name. They are all actually dharmas. Not dogmas. They are life practices for good living. They are relational practices. Perhaps divinely given, I don’t know. As a human being, I cannot perceive it accurately enough to present anything as evidence sufficient to compel someone else to believe it. But that these guidelines exist in print, and by tradition, is not debatable. Nor that when practiced consistently, they tend to yield good results. Those parts are objectively true. The divinity part is subjective. But all faith systems have dharmas within them meant to empower our ethics rather than compel our morals. These are merely the ones I have subscribed to.

I believe in the existence of God as “That Which Connects Us All” and that there is love and benevolence behind all things. I believe the reason suffering exists is because, in the larger sense, humanity has made it for itself. I don’t think God interferes in our suffering so much as It accompanies us on our journey through the lesson of it. Whispering in our ear how much It believes in us to keep going, and keep loving, even through the grief, even through unimaginable sorrow. To act in spite of our fears and choose love when seeking a way through our challenges. I also don’t gender God. I use the pronoun ‘It’ with a capital I. Male and female pronouns are fraught with stereotypes that are unhelpful in our considerations of the divine. 

So this is who you’re reading on Saturday mornings. When looking at these words of encouragement and hopeful optimism, now you know the spiritual and religious lenses through which they have been filtered. Perhaps they are not a surprise to you, for I have indirectly discussed these things many times. Still, I make myself slightly vulnerable here in this process of describing them so directly. But if you are reading me now, you are definitely entitled to it.

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 3, 2022 - What I Wished I Had Said

About a month ago, I was at the grocery store waiting in the checkout line when I overheard an employee of the store disparaging transgender people while bagging groceries one aisle over. She was easily twelve feet away from me and the aisles were full of people also within level earshot of her unloving candor.

I couldn’t help myself. Loudly across the distance between us, I said, “Ma’am, you are representing the company while speaking like that about people. It’s bad enough that you hold this opinion yourself, but now you’re representing the company as well.” She shouted back, “I’m not representing the company. And you’re just taking this too personally!” I said, “I’m not taking it personally. You’re wearing their uniform and performing your job at this exact moment. And clearly, you know nothing about the subject or else you wouldn’t be saying any of this.” 

Our exchanges continued for a bit. Her’s hostile, mine refusing to back down. Until I decided my point had been made and I need not continue making the people around us feel either uncomfortable or wished they could pull up a chair and eat popcorn to watch the show.

I wouldn’t normally have a loud verbal smackdown with somebody so publicly, but I just couldn’t believe how unkind and incorrect she was being about a subject she clearly knows nothing about, especially from the ersatz bully pulpit of a professional setting. 

I’m sure my confrontation didn’t change her mind, but no one around me stood up for her and several people gave me subtle smiles. I don’t normally like being a tattletale either, but I couldn’t help but call the management as I was exiting the parking lot to let them know. He was grateful that I told him and made a point to tell me that that is not the view of their store. I expressly did not want her fired, just admonished.

In the days that followed I replayed the scene in my head over and over. I wondered if I was just being a “Karen.” No, I didn’t overdo my meltdown, I never allowed my anger to foment into public rage. I wondered if I had embarrassed myself to the level that my calling her out had clearly embarrassed her. No, I was defiantly firm, but not unkind. I said my peace, but didn’t lose my cool. I didn’t storm to the Customer Service desk afterward and demand to see a manager so that I could point her out in front of everyone. I kept my dignity and avoided further bedraggling hers.

I hoped that I had modeled good behavior for others around me. Maybe I did. Hard to say. Fingers crossed. But there was one point of the conversation that I wished had gone differently. I wish that when she accused me of taking it personally I had acknowledged that, yes, I definitely was taking it personally.

I take it personally when people like her make those I love feel unsafe in this world. I am not sorry that I took her words personally and I should have said so. I’m not sorry that I countermanded her publicly-stated ignorance with an equally publicly-stated reprimand. But I am sorry I didn’t let her—and by extension, everyone around us—know that what she was saying can be overheard. And you never know who’s listening.

What if there had been a transgender kid listening to her being further exposed to the false idea that who they are is somehow wrong? What would it have made them feel like if no one had said anything in their defense? It would have made them feel like she must be right.

The fact is, transgender people have an astronomically higher rate of suicide unless they are supported by their family, their community, and receive appropriate gender-affirming care. Why might that be? It’s not because they’re lying about who and what they are. Nor have they been brainwashed by their parents, as one of that employee’s accusations had leveled. If it’s so easy to brainwash a kid into believing that their perceived gender does not match their appearance, why don’t people just brainwash them to be otherwise? Because truth can’t be brainwashed for very long or without dire consequences. 

I wished I had told her just how deeply personally I take it, because people's lives are actually, literally, at stake. And not just people I know and love. 

I also wished I had asked the management if I could sit down and talk with her, rather than just leave the residue of our confrontation clinging to us indefinitely, without resolution. Without compassion. I wished, and I still wish, I could tell her that it’s not a sin to be ignorant. Ignorance can be healed. It can be educated. Its fears have a right to be heard, too.

I hope she reads this column. I hope she knows that her words do have an impact on the world. And that, in the absence of always knowing what’s true, at least seek to do no harm. 

We are responsible for our neighbor. Whether you like them, or not, whether you love them or not, whether or not you understand them or agree with them, we are the caretakers of one another. All of us. If someone needs something, seek to understand it before condemning it. There is always something more profound to comprehend.

That’s what I really wished I had said.

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 26, 2022 - Mean What You Say

I’ve been paying attention for a while now when people say “have a nice day.” What I’ve been noticing is how often it is said mindlessly. Thrown out as a habituated thing-to-say, rather than a genuine hope that my day be optimal. Have a nice day. Same to you. 

It’s made me more aware of how I use the phrase myself, and the distinct change in people when I sincerely say it rather than just casually throw it out there. 

Several years ago I began replying to “have a nice day” with a smile and an “I will if you will!” I’m not being sarcastic, despite the way it reads. Tone of voice is everything, of course. I am completely sincere whenever I say it. Which is often.

It has the effect of disrupting the moment in a positive way. If I don’t get much of a response, even a slight reaction means I was at least subconsciously apprehended by them in a way that wouldn’t have been true if I’d just replied in kind. But sometimes it gets quite a response. Always good, thankfully.

I’m not replying “I will if you will” to a casually dispensed “have a nice day” just to be cute, either. I’m being intentional, even a bit spiritually deliberate. 

There are reasons for making purposeful variations on everyday customs like this. It gets us out of the habit of rote responses that don’t mean much. People perceive sincerity, even if not consciously. It’s like body language in that way. We often are processing information about others on multiple levels of awareness even if we aren’t fully conscious of most of them. A person who is sincere in their subtleties is often viewed as trustworthy or genuine, even if we’ve never had occasion to evaluate their genuineness or trustworthiness. There’s just something about them that makes us feel more comfortable.

But also, when we choose to practice sincerity with intentionality, it signals our own brains regarding the concepts of honesty and sincerity in general. In other words, it has a ripple effect on our own psyches to make mindful choices about the seemingly inconsequential words and phrases we use. 

To be clear, no one’s getting hurt by the customary exchanges as they exist. I’m not advocating that we all dispense with the usual pleasantries, even if rote. But making deliberate little tweaks to the usual script just for the sake of it can have an effect of laying the groundwork for other preferable but stubborn changes we long to make within ourselves.

I also notice that people often ask ‘howya doin?’ but either don’t expect a real response or don’t want one. Imagine someone behind the deli counter at the store saying to you, “howya doin?” as a customary preamble to what-can-I-get-you and your reply is a lengthy response about how your sciatica is flaring up and you’re considering divorce but are staying in it for the time being because of the kids. He really just wants to get your salami order.

It’s easy to sound critical of those who are just filling up the awkward silences with words that aren’t intended to be taken literally. The deli guy doesn’t actually want to know how I am doing. And I might be told to have a nice day as a form of see-you-later, but they don’t really care whether I do or not. That’s okay.

These customs are so engrained in society that to be upset by them, once we start to notice just how pervasively they occur, is a waste of time and energy. Better to be the sincerity we wish to see in the world (hello again, Gandhi) than to be resistant to others’ lack of it. By being more sincere, you’ll tend to attract those who also believe in sincerity anyway. And by seeking to be at peace with those who don't, we enhance our resiliency in life.

Start off by just noticing when you say “have a nice day” or “how are you doing” and wonder if you really mean it. Consider what it would mean to genuinely ask someone how they’re doing and be prepared to get a complete answer. You probably won’t get a complete answer, of course, but in being prepared to receive one you’re signaling sincerity with your tone and phrasing. If you actually get an answer, listen patiently. It’s worth it.

These subtle behavioral cues are perceptible by people. Especially those whose trust has been betrayed by others in the past. They have particularly refined antennae for perceiving insincerity in others. By demonstrating authenticity you’re being deemed safe. 

This all ultimately points to a wider suggestion that we refine our relationships with other people using deliberate authenticity as a form of spiritual practice. Like a lot of behavioral tidbits tucked away in world scripture, it’s pretty good advice. It is certainly the advice of all religions to be sincere. Insincerity is a low-grade form of lying when you think about it. And scripture definitely has an opinion about that.

A lack of sincerity in our daily pleasantries will not cause harm. But intentional sincerity in places where it isn’t expected will move mountains.

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 19, 2022 - Be the Disruption

What do we think of when we consider words like disruption, anarchy, and chaos? I know many peoples’ first reaction will be apprehension at a minimum, and terror at a maximum. 

But take note that our concern over these ideas is mostly about our fear of change. Of course, we assume that any change born from anarchy or chaos or destruction would be an unwelcome change. But what if it isn’t?

Let’s think for a moment about disruption, for example, as a spiritual practice. Most spiritual practices are intended to be a disruption, actually. We are supposed to disrupt old patterns of behavior, often behaviors which do not serve us. What would it mean to disrupt those?

Anarchy is a word that represents disorder in the absence of authority. But not all authority is worthy of their lofty position. So are all forms of disorder stemming from our lack of recognition of a particular authority truly disordered? In other words, when we choose to disregard an authority figure because we cannot respect them, either because we have come to perceive that they are misusing their authority or because they have blatantly abused it, is the resulting lack of order unmerited?

Chaos theory would point out that even amid what appears to be utter disorder, underlying patterns do appear to exist. Which makes chaos not very chaotic in the end. 

To turn Gandhi‘s peace quote on its head, what would it mean to ‘be the disruption we wish to see in the world’? 

I’m not talking here about actions meant to cause harm. But not all disruption, anarchy, or chaos causes harm, except perhaps to old, outdated paradigms which are no longer useful to us. These are the target of all spiritual practices.

Within each of us, there are small psychological systems at work. Little ways of doing things or approaching problems that have developed over the years of our lives, sometimes from good influences, sometimes from traumatic ones.

Since both essentially represent forms of safety or the perception of safety, it’s difficult to tell whether we have always been left with wisdom or scars from our history. For often, they are both. How to tell them apart?

There’s a simple emotional muscle test one could use to figure out if all of our little ways of doing things are, in fact, good for us. See what happens when you try to change them. How do you react? Do you suddenly feel as though you are in trouble, in danger? Does the idea of changing a particular pattern of behavior that you have adopted for your own safety fill you with panic? That’s a signal it doesn’t come from a good place. And it may no longer be serving you.

But if consideration of changing some of your life patterns makes you feel as though it will be hard work, perhaps even too hard, but without the weight of anxiety, that might be an indicator of potential benefit. For you see, you didn’t emotionally react to that consideration of change. You responded in practicality. You weren’t triggered by the thought, you just weren’t looking forward to the heavy lift. 

Be mindful of the difference. Because when our habits become ingrained as a result of our trauma, they frequently have already long outlived their usefulness to us. 

Because disruptive change is such a potential minefield, it is useful to contemplate ways of mindfully approaching it that do not trigger our defense mechanisms. These ways are subtle and through the side door. They are effective mainly because our defense mechanisms don’t even realize we are attempting to circumnavigate them. 

Small efforts, intentionally made, often have large effects without triggering our emotional defenses. Do something different today. Something different than you’ve done before. Even if it is as simple as taking a different path to work. Take note of your habits and make changes to them once in a while just for the sake of it.

Brush your teeth with the opposite hand, wear a different outfit, choose a different drink at the bar. Take a class you normally wouldn’t. Prepare a dish you’ve never tried before following only the recipe.

Do something against the grain. Just for the sake of it. Disrupt the norm. Break cycles of normativity. Be a subtle anarchist. These disruptions may appear minor, but they have a ripple effect. They change the way you approach every aspect of your life.

Now, what if we were to go out into the world and choose to do things a little differently? Better yet, what if we were to look at some of the anarchy, chaos, and disruption in the world and conclude it to be the result of, or perhaps even the reaction to, productive disruptions to the way the world has always worked?

For the world has become disrupted. Anarchy is all around us because we are systematically abandoning old authoritarian structures and are now feeling our way around amidst the aftermath. Chaos appears to be our reality, but there is a pattern to it. There is benevolence within it.

Be the disruption you wish to see in the world. Let love be your guide while doing it. Not only will you be different, the world will respond in tandem.

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 12, 2022 - Consubstantiality

What does it mean to be “at one” with something? We often think of our compatibility with someone or something when using a term like that. The term must be at least a bit of an exaggeration, though. Because two things cannot really be one. Right? 

Not so fast.

There is a fascinating paradigm in the scientific world referred to as quantum entanglement. Albert Einstein referred to it as “spooky action at a distance.” It's when two entangled particles are not really two separate particles, even when literally separated from one another. No amount of distance technically separates them. They are not simply in communication with one another, they literally are one another. When something happens to one of them, it happens simultaneously to the other, regardless of their distance. 

Einstein was baffled at how this could be since it violated all the known laws of physics and causality as he understood them. It definitely violated his belief that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, yet simultaneous action at a distance seemed to prove him wrong. Smartly (and humbly), rather than declare the observation to be false, he concluded that we must have an incomplete understanding of quantum mechanics. 

In religion, specifically Trinitarian Christianity, the belief is held that the son, meaning Jesus, is consubstantial with the father, meaning God. Consubstantial means that they are “of the same substance” according to the Council of Nicaea in the year 325 CE, which voted to acknowledge it as dogma. Admittedly, that’s a slight oversimplification of what was actually a four-century process of adoption and acknowledgment between the First and Second Councils of Nicea. But the idea of Jesus being at one with God, rather than the offspring of God began its theological life 1,697 years ago.

This brings up an interesting way of looking at it which we often do not closely examine today. Whether or not Jesus was (or is) factually consubstantial with God is technically somewhat beside the point. It is a matter of faith that he was, but it’s not the type of thing that can simply be voted into truth. Our belief does not make it more or less so. It is what it is. The Council of Nicaea made a decision to hold an article of faith to be true. That’s not necessarily the same thing as it actually being true. 

However, just like those Bishops who participated in the First Council as well as its sequel 462 years later, I can offer no proof one way or the other. I am here to neither affirm nor deny the consubstantiality of Jesus and God. I have no more information about celestial goings-on than those Bishops did. A bit more of Einstein‘s humility on the subject is warranted here. 

But we can empirically conclude that two entangled particles are literally consubstantial with one another. That much is certain.

So, if that’s true, is it possible that quantum entanglement is at the heart of the physical mechanism God used to present Itself here on Earth? Some might faithfully conclude yes. 

Jesus is recorded to have taught that we could do everything that he did. It was just a matter of getting out of our own way and sublimating the parts of our human shortcomings which prevent it. If so, why and how might that be? Is consubstantiality and quantum entanglement the same thing? Is it another way of describing having been “made in God’s image?”

I propose here that there may be something to this notion we’ve only narrowly misinterpreted. What if we are entangled with God? Or, perhaps more specifically, with one another? With the earth? With the Universe at large? All of the above?

Is there an unacknowledged part of us that is as metaphysically powerful as Jesus is reported in the Gospels to have been trying to get us to acknowledge? And what of those who have demonstrated miraculous healing abilities over the centuries? Are they more fully embodying this entanglement than most? Is there a thread of connection we are not acknowledging, and therefore, not making the best use of? What are we missing?

The answer is: I don’t know. But I hope.

Faithfully, I’m concluding that we are far more than we appear, with abilities only the spiritual masters of our known history have hinted at. I’m accepting a notion as an article of personal faith that we see the Ultimate Reality through sludge-colored glasses at best, and that our capacity for embodying our own consubstantiality with God is only as limited as we make it.

Consider meditating on this possible entanglement with the Great I Am. Perhaps there is a benefit to be had in simply acknowledging its theological possibility. Perhaps there is a reward of a greater sense of connection with our neighbor that makes goodness flow between us simply by thinking about it. Seems worth it to me to find out.