Monday, June 27, 2016

Thich Nhat Hanh — Looking Deeply into the Deep Roots of Discrimination

A very interesting reflection found on the Web...

In a question and answer session at a retreat at Plum Village, France, my own heart teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, was asked this question: 

Dear Thay, I feel very well and safe here in Plum Village, but there were times in my life when I experienced discrimination, so there is one question which really interests me. What does Buddhism say about homosexuality? 

His remarkable reply challenges conventional ways of looking at such issues: 

"Discrimination is something that many of us know, and there were times when we wanted to cry out for justice. You might be tempted by violent means in order for injustice to be removed. There are very many of us who are seeking non-violent means in order to remove injustice and discrimination imposed on us. Sometimes those discriminating against us act in the name of God, of the truth. We may belong to the third world, or we may belong to a particular race, we may be people of color, we may be gay or lesbian, and we have been discriminated against for thousands of years. 

So how to work on it, how to liberate ourselves from the suffering of being a victim of discrimination and oppression? In Christianity it is said that God created everything, including man, and there is a distinction made between the creator and the creature. The creature is something created by God. When I look at a rose, a tulip, or a chrysanthemum, I know, I see, I think, that this flower is a creation of God. 

Because I have been practicing as a Buddhist, I know that between the creator and the created there must be some kind of link, otherwise creation would not be possible. So the chrysanthemum can say that God is a flower, and I agree, because there must be the element “flower” in God so that the flower could become a reality. So the flower has the right to say that God is a flower. 

The white person has the right to say that God is white, and the black person also has the right to say that God is black. In fact, if you go to Africa, you’ll see that the Virgin Mary is black. If you don’t make the statue of the Virgin Mary black, it does not inspire people. Because to us the black people, “black is beautiful,” so a black person has the right to say that God is black, and in fact I also believe that God is black, but God is not only black, God is also white, God is also a flower. 

So when a lesbian thinks of her relationship with God, if she practices deeply, she can find out that God is also a lesbian. Otherwise how could you be there? God is a lesbian, that is what I think, and God is gay also. God is no less. God is a lesbian, but also a gay, a black a white, a chrysanthemum. It is because you don’t understand that, that you discriminate. 

When you discriminate against the black or the white, or the flower, or the lesbian, you discriminate against God, which is the basic goodness in you. You create suffering all around you, and you create suffering within yourself, and it is delusion, ignorance, that is the basis of your action, your attitude of discrimination. If the people who are victims of discrimination practice looking deeply, they will say that I share the same wonderful relationship with God, I have no complex. Those who discriminate against me, do so because of their ignorance. “God, please forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” 

If you reach that kind of insight, you will no longer get angry at that person who discriminates against you, and you might have compassion toward him or her. You will say: “He does not know what he is doing. He is creating a lot of suffering around him and within him. I will try to help him.” So your heart opens like a flower and suffering is no longer there, you have no complex at all, and you turn to be a bodhisattva in helping the people who have been discriminating against you. That is the way I see it, out of my practice of looking deeply, so one day I made the statement that God is a lesbian, and this is my insight

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Blast from my Past - Instars and Other Times - 1978

INSTARS AND OTHER TIMES                                                                 1978

He is the Truth.
Seek him in the Kingdom of Anxiety; 
You will come to a great city 
That has expected your return for years.


The idea of "connection" was charged with mysterious significance for Thomas Merton.

David SteindlRast, O.S.B.

After the Kiwanis Show I decided I didn't want to be a salesman any longer. That was in April and, six months later, in the winter of 1974, 1 returned to Davis as a parttime student. Before the quarter started I drove up to visit "the House," a freeform counseling and support center between the health center and the high-rise dorms. It was warm for late winter and the counselorincharge was outside working on his Volkswagen. He wore denim jeans and a blue shirt embroidered with a peace symbol on the shoulders. He had a ponytail and a beard. We talked and I told him I was worried about coming back to college and being older. Were there other students like me on the campus and would there be a place for me? He squatted down to look closely at a part of the engine that was lying on the grass next to his car and then turned to look at me, "Don't worry about fitting in here, it is a big campus and there are a lot of different people. You don't have to worry about it." He turned back to replace a greasy part on his car. "You should see some of the Bozos we have around here." I folded my arms: "Are you really able to help these Bozos who come to you for help?" He looked surprised as he stood up and started to scratch his neck. "Hell man," he said, "I don't know. I'm just another Bozo." I looked at my watch and realized that I had to get back to Fairfield. As I walked over to the parking lot I wondered about it; were we all a bunch of Bozos?

Shortly after New Years I moved to Davis. First to the Americana Apartments on F street, which looked like a 1954 convalescent hospital, and then in the spring to a new apartment at Oxford Parkside on Wake Forest Drive. Winter Quarter I took English 45 [Critical Reading of Poetry], and Religious Studies 137 [Religious Biography], where I learned about Hagiography and Gandhi in Africa and Luther in sitting meditation. I dropped English. Spring quarter I took an English class and an American Studies class on Religion. I dropped English but the class in American Studies was different. The professor spent the first day talking about what the class might be covering, He wasn't sure. It would depend what people wanted to read or learn about. Last year several students had done a presentation to the class on the bars of Davis, using slides and tape. He asked if there were any questions and told a guy with glasses in the first row that the syllabus wasn't ready yet. Then a woman in the front row asked about his own religious beliefs. I was surprised about that. But Dave Wilson smiled and proceeded to answer her. I don't remember exactly what he said but I remember thinking he was good. He was standing there in front of these students on the first day of class and he wasn't acting like a teacher. He was saying things I had often hopes to hear in church, but he didn't sound like a churchman; he was really smart but he didn't sound like an academic, he could have passed for a fireman. And his face kept changing; first he would be smiling and quoting Jonathan Edwards, and then he would frown and talk about the way his body felt after a day walking in the mountains. You could watch him think. There were a few other questions and then it was ten-fifty and time to end the class.

I stayed in that class and we talked about the Noosphere and Ben Franklin as a Saint and norm versus normative and "signals of transcendence" and plausibility structures and we read Poor Richard's Almanac and The Exorcist and A Rumor of Angels. I wrote a final exam about a friend who went through several radical changes in self-image, without once looking at the possibilities of living outside of an image.  The paper was well written and a bit snide, and I got an A for it.

I spent the summer of 1974 pleasantly. I played a lot of tennis and worked part-time and went camping with a friend who had a trailer on a new lake near Nevada City. We would play tennis at the club in the morning and swim in the afternoon at a beach with metal umbrellas next to the clubhouse. I reread Jaws that summer. When the summer was over I decided to enrol as a full-time student and I registered for two classes in English, one in Human Sexuality and an Introduction to American Studies. In late September I returned to Davis. .

I went to the Library early on the first day of classes and I was in the browsing room looking for the newest issue of Punch when Lorraine spoke to me. She was the woman who had sat in the front row on the first day of Dave's class the previous spring. We talked about being older students and she said she was adjusting to it. Then we went up to the American Studies Library on the eighth floor of Sproul Hall, where they had a corner room full of books and some comfortable chairs and coffee for the students. And we sat and drank coffee and talked with several people whom I had met before about F. Scott and Zelda and sex roles and company towns and folk music and then I dropped all my class except one and added several classes in American Studies and changed my major.

American Studies 45 was a small class and was conducted as a seminar. I looked at the other students who were sitting on the builtin sofa that hugged the walls in the new "soft" classroom in Olson Hall. When I ate on Campus I usually went to the Memorial Union Dining Commons. These people went to the coffee house. The class had team teachers; Merline, who looked like a cross between Ava Gardner as an intellectual and an earth mother, and Jay, who was from the East. My first assignment was due in three weeks.

That fall I found a roommate with an apartment in a complex at 1905 Anderson who was interested in tennis and sex. He left every morning at six for a few sets before class and every Friday he would leave for a weekend of protracted debauchery in Marin County which he would tell me about every Sunday night, in detail. I spent a lot of time reading at the Library that quarter.

The evening before my first paper was due for 45 1 went to the coffee house. People were sitting reflectively on the glass porch as I sat down with my coffee and started rereading the section of the text I was to write on. I wasn't sure how to write the paper. There had been three papers presented so far. the first had been scholarly, the second was a "pop" story and the third was about how the author was unable to write about what he wanted to write. That paper was taken the most seriously. I decided to combine all three styles. I wrote about Shirley Temple and intersubjective sedimentation and family dinners with an undertone of anomie. That was one of the words we were using that fall in 45 and 140A. We were talking about inner and other and tradition and non-directed. We read Social Construction of Reality and Grand Theory and Small is Beautiful and Thomas Szaz and R.D.Lang and "Boyology." We talked about roles and realities and students and teachers and group dynamics. And that was when Jay was tap dancing in front of the eastern windows in the hallway in the eighth floor of Sproul Hall and I realized that we had a rather odd reputation with some People in the English department.

Although we didn't have a white Christmas that year, I came down with a hot gall bladder and took incompletes in both 45 and 140A. The surgery was set for February and I asked for winter quarter incompletes in March. Bob Meredith said that if I would repeat his 140B class the following fall there would be no problem, but when I went to Merline one Friday afternoon to ask her for an "I" grade for 110 [Introduction to cross-cultural studies], she said "No." She said, "I won't help you to be weak, You're easily strong enough to do this paper and to complete 45 as well, If you want help to do this work I will help you, but I will not and cannot help you to be weak. You are better than that!" I decided over the weekend to try to do the paper. I interviewed a man I had known for several years who had grown up in Holland. I started out by asking simple questions and then things started making sense and I got better answers and I made some good connections and I wrote it all down and it was a good paper.

That was the quarter when I met people who didn't think the kingdom of God would have a Country Club Suburb. I met people who talked about being feminists, or growing up Jewish in Beverly Hills. I found myself with people who did mushrooms and yoga. I smoked dope with several aging boy scouts and I met a woman who was best known for a poster that said "Resist!''

When the spring came and the weather got warmer I was living in a house on Road 102 with a guy from the law school and a woman who was pre-vetinary and spending my Monday and Wednesday afternoons sitting in the backyard without a shirt discussing "Problems and Solutions in American Culture" at Dave and Bonnie Wilson's. That was the spring we talked about bee-keeping as mediational politics and Ann Landers and sex and the creative urge and bibliography and museums and nursing and God. I was talking about God. First I was going to write a critique on evangelistic Christian groups and show where they went wrong, but that went nowhere. I told Dave I couldn't do it and he suggested reading Jonathan Edwards and I said that I didn't want to do that, then he suggested I write my own manual for finding God and he seemed to be serious, so I said I would think about it and left.

I went back to the house I was sharing on Road 102. 1 lay back on my bed and wondered what I could write about. I am not sure what happened next except that I didn't worry about looking like a student because what I was saying and the people I was speaking to were more important than that; so I reread a bit of Peter Berger and some Thomas Merton and I started to write a long poem called "How to Know God." I finished it in two days and I was very proud of it.

After the last class meeting of 140A there was a pot luck at somebody's house and people brought casseroles and salads and fruits of the vine and herbs of the field and after dinner we sang folks songs and protest songs and camp songs and I sang a couple of songs I had written several years before including one for the Kiwanis show and everybody laughed and said how much they liked that side of me. I remember sitting back in a chair towards the end of the evening and thinking, "and next year we are going to be seniors together.''

I smoked a lot of dope in the summer of 1975. I was in Fairfield and I would sit quietly in the evening, slightly buzzed thinking about what I wanted to write about in the coming year and when fall came around I really wasn't ready but neither was anyone else.

That fall I decided I wanted to write about Christianity and the world we were living in, My year in American Studies had changed me. I saw that the church did not speak to many people; either it did not admit their existence or its message was couched in terms that were meaningless outside the block of conservative churchgoers that were the majority of Christian America. I wanted to say that Christianity was more than that, but I didn't know how. When the time came in early October to present the initial plans for senior projects I wrote three pages of possibilities. and when we met for discussion several people said that the pages were like three different sides of me. I said I wanted to wrote about sanctity. Harold said I ought to write a job description for a saint; Robert said that he saw more energy and I ought to write a flashy paper. Dixie suggested that I write a play and Bruce told me to get into my "bad boy." I became very serious and told everybody that I had spent a lot of my life being "clever" and now I wanted to do something that was "serious.'' Robert told me that he thought that was heavy owning on my part and that he would support me on that, but that Robert Frost had said to do the light things seriously and the seriously things lightly. When the day was over I was exhausted. I was amazed at how well we all knew each other and how much we accepted each other. One year together had created a community out of a group of quite different people. It was going to be a good year.

I finished up Robert’s 140D class that fall. Robert was “into getting clear” by then and the class was very close to a therapy group. He said we were "doing" the humanities rather than just studying about them. Often American Studies had pushed my definition of what was educational but this was too much. I wrote a ballad called "Doing the Middle Class," and a folk song called "The Gestalt Rag" and Robert said he felt anxiety when he heard it. I wrote over fifty pages in a journal for the class. "Robert," I wrote, " I see you as being a total egotist, totally concerned with self. I don’t like you and I think you do a lot of power plays with other peoples heads." He wrote "Far Out! Be That!" in the margins. I wrote, "Robert, you and your class bore me." He wrote "Fuck You!" And I wrote over fifty pages explaining why I didn't agree with Fritz Perls and why I didn’t like the class and I ended up learning quite a lot.

Just before Christmas that year I moved back to Davis to a junior one bedroom at Oxford Parkside. I had not done much work on my project but everyone else seemed to be in the same fix. We sat in the Library and talked about William Irwin Thompson and John Cage and Women's Studies and the University as a middle class institution and we drank coffee and made disparaging remarks about the campus newspaper and the mural that the junior class had painted on two walls of the new library which was next to the old Library which was now Gerry's office, and that was when Gerry walked into the women's bathroom and found Dixie and Dave and Linda and me passing a joint and discussing the possibility of a departmental orgy.

Early in winter we had a senior retreat and went to Merline’s sister's house near Lake Tahoe and Harold Spice and I went to the Casino's at south shore and while he played craps I walked around getting drunk and watching the Ladies with blue hair masturbating the slot machines and thinking "this is what is wrong with America!" It was a great weekend and I remember absolutely no work being done.

I made lots false starts on my project. First I did try to do serious work, then called a meeting to announce that I would write a musical comedy. Finally I decided to write a collection of poetry that would be the Gospel according to Me" and several people told me that this would be the best idea yet. I wrote a few poems and then things seemed to slow down and I couldn't seem to start up again. I wrote a letter to the senior class and faculty and told then I decided to be practical and change my project and write something about Thomas Merton. Several people told me that they were sorry and Bruce got quite mad and told me that I had no guts and I had no right to back down from the risk of writing the poetry. That was why we were there. He said that "this is no place to play safe!''

On Good Friday of 1976 1 drank coffee and had a few Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in the morning and then I fasted until three PM. I stayed in the browsing room and watched people and kept an eye on the clock and wondered what it was all about, and I finally wrote some good poems about crucifixion and political action and pop culture and false prophets and death and rainbows. Afterwards Mark and I were walking over to the Coffee House and stopped to watch the Davis Cal Aggie Marching Band practicing in the street in front of North Hall. I was thinking, "how holy we all are," and Mark touched me on the left shoulder and asked me why I was crying and I got embarrassed and said something about “signals of transcendence" and we walked to the Coffee House.

I turned thirty on the day before Easter. I had thought of having a party where I would lay in beduntil midnight, receiving guests in whispers, dying to my twenties, and then at midnight I would get out of bed while my guests would chant "He is risen'' loudly. Then I decided to go to the monastery in Santa Barbara and spend the weekend in silence. As it ended up I went with Shelly and Bruce to dinner at Mark and Robin's and when we got there over 30 people were there to surprise me! It was a great party and later I gave a speech based on Peter Berger; I said that people made things: events, institutions and each other, and that night all these people made me very happy; that I thanked them, I gave thanks for them, and I loved them.

That spring I was first kazoo in Dixie's Washboard Band. At first I was cautious with my kazoo and then I blew it gracefully, playing around with the melody, highlighting tones that were in the songs. It was graceful footstomping, shitkicking music. I remember thinking “I am a grace foot-stomping, shit-kicker." And I was surprised that this didn't surprise me.

I was one of the first in my class to turning the final version of my senior project; a collection of poems, meditations and prose grouped loosely around the theme of being Christian in modern America. I had thought of calling it "Pentecost Poems'' but ended up calling it, "In a Word, Yes." I had written some good things but it was not really finished. Originally I had thought of adding a preface that would explain what these offerings were about and then an afterword about the conclusions that I had reached. But I realized that I had made no conclusions and that all I had were more questions. I decided to turn it in as it was. For the most part it was well received by the class although Dave and Merline felt that I had drawn back from making the connections that logically followed my work. I was glad it was almost summer.

That summer I stayed at Oxford Parkside until my lease ran out and I smoked dope and tanned by the pool and talked with Tim and Jan and Lynda and Joan and Mark and Bruce for awhile about possibilities and choices and consequences, about city planning and Indian artifacts and good work and good dope and bisexuality and the bicentennial and Utopian schemes and graduate schools. And then I interviewed for a job as advertising manager for Unitrans, the student bus line, and I got the job and I was selling again. I was glad that my time in American Studies was almost over. It had been interesting and I had learned a lot, but now it was time to make some money and take the classes I needed to graduate and get ready to study for Anglican Priesthood. I was looking forward to the job with the Associated Students. These would be the kind of people I would find in parish work, this was the mainstream of America.

There was a Unitrans party at the end of the summer and I told someone there that my major had been America Studies. "They're a little far out sometimes," I smiled, "but I enjoyed it. And we talked about grades and route changes and MBA programs and the politics of student government and I ended up outside smoking dope with some guy with a ponytail

I signed up for six units of Spanish and an Anthropology class and a class on Religious Ethics and a seminar that Jay was giving on Peter Berger that fall. I told friends in American Studies that I was working for the Associated Students and that they "were really different over there." I moved out of Oxford Parkside and was staying with my parents house in Fairfield until. November when my new apartment would be ready on Alvarado Avenue. That was the time when Dolores gave a party and I asked her new housemate what he thought of American Studies and he said, "I really don't know but it looks a lot like Doonesbury to me." And I really didn't know how to take it.

It was not a good fall. I didn't attend many meetings of the Berger seminar and when I did they were talking about modernity and mediating structures and privatization of consciousness and a lot of other things that didn't seem interesting to me. I tired to write a paper on Berger's theology for the class. I read all that I could find but I couldn't bring it together. I remember talking one day in class about a theology that wasn't a theodicy; not "how" or "why" the world was, but somehow just "that" it was. I kept getting caught in the words and I took a lot of incompletes that fall.

My family took a house on the beach at Aptos for Christmas that year but things didn't get any better. On Christmas day I sat and watched the waves coming in and I wrote, "I don't know what to do anymore. I don't see a place where I fit in, a structure that I can make sense with. I'm sitting here wondering Why about just about everything.''

Things fell apart after that. I enrolled in a few classes and tried to give it the old college try but it didn't work out and I never really expected that it would. I wasted a lot of time and I kept thinking "I need to get a way from here." And then one morning at eight I sat in the Memorial Union Dining Commons and wrote the following.

Here I am again, boys and girls, wondering and watching and waiting. Looking at the big Why in the sky. So here I am again, with the second cup of coffee, railing against the American myth of directed consciousness, trying to find the better way again. I herewith and therefore exorcise the technocratic telos and turn toward the significant other who hovers brightly beyond the pale constructions of reality. Ban the bomb, bible and booklearning; today let's see without looking, hear without listening, and speak without filling our world with printable, purposeful prose which points to no avail. Let us be prophets without profit. Here and now, let's finally find our place. For God's sake and ours let's forget and remember and realize that whether we know it or not, all things, deep down in their most hidden selves are unutterably right. And here I am again.''

And so I read what I had written and I thought about it for awhile. I talked to some people at American Studies and a psychiatrist at the Health Center and a woman in the Dean's Office: and in March I withdrew from UC Davis and went to visit a monastery. But that is another story.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

List making and Love making: do you want one with everything?

There are two kinds of people, those who make lists and those who don’t. I do sometimes, so maybe that makes three kinds of people. But I used to do more, used to make lists of right and wrong, good, better, best, mediocre, bad and worst. When I was 19 I remember spending a summer with a good friend making lists ranking, actually grading, everything and everyone we knew on a spectrum of A, B, C, D, and F. I wasn’t a real nice kid.

But then when I was 23 I met a monk named Aelred Graham, author of a book called “The Love of God,” and another book named "Zen Catholicism," who quoted a thirteenth century Buddhist monk named Dogen who wrote, “Take no thought of good and evil, only cease to cherish opinion.”and that linked up with a line of St Augustine's from the early 5th century that went, “Love God and do what you will.”

And those two quotes, and a few other things that life put on my path made my young certitude and my deep need to judge loosen up a bit, and the list making started to fall apart a little after that, except when I am under pressure, time limits, things to do, then it can, occasionally, come back. I’ve decided lists are good and bad: they start out as aids to discernment and learning tools, then can turn to abusive arbiters, but finally, if we’re lucky, they will serve as schoolmasters to turn us to Christ.

They seem to come with the territory of being alive and trying to take the path, make a difference, maybe two sides of the same story: law and love, good work and God’s grace, making plans and having patience, but how do we balance the tension we sometime find between these two?

Here’s my most recent preliminary draft of a rule of life; it might be related to reconciling that a little bit:

Breathe Spirits Deeply
Honour Bodies Often
Love Neighbours and Strangers
And Just Keep Dancing.

You might not guess it from all this, but I’m actually pretty orthodox. I believe in the Nicene Creed, can say it with conviction, because I’ve worked with it closely, studied it, argued with it for a number of years, actually learned to love it a little; even though I don’t keep it too near my pillow. But there are four or five other things I believe in more deeply, try to keep close to me most of the time: the rule points in that direction. The big one is that the God of love makes, meets and mends the world in every moment of time, and without that we’re nothing.

But up there in the top five or six beliefs is an ongoing conviction that the most essential gesture in being human, and the place where we often meet God, is when we see we're on a journey which sometimes takes blind turns, a way where we find ourselves on a road that curves ahead, when times come when we look to see that we’re going to have to change, do things differently, try a new way, be a new person, without knowing exactly how or what that’s going to look like.

It’s the corner where something old ends and something new begins: like the first day of school, a new job, the beginning of relationship, the end of relationship, cancer, chaos, love, life, death, resurrection. Times when the road turns us around at a costly crossroad, an intersection of old and new, faith and doubt, life and death, in a way we've never known before.

Now It often isn’t easy and we can call it a crisis or a dangerous opportunity; but I believe it’s where our incomplete lists meet God’s unfinished journey. It’s where we can give up our lives as a right, and, by God, take them  back as a gift, and then maybe even give them over as a blessing, as an offering.

Sometimes this process seems shockingly new and other times it's like a circle tour; maybe taking us to the place where what T. S. Eliot writes:

… the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.

Now let me change the subject and tell you a story -- and I warn you that this is one that often falls flat.

A robed Buddhist monk approaches a genuine New York City Hot Dog Stand; some guy from Brooklyn is there, shouting, “Get your hotdogs here, toasted buns, mustard, ketchup, onions, succotash, you can have it all!”. And the monk walks over to the guy and just looks at him silently. So the guy from Brooklyn says, What’d you want, buddy?” And the robed Buddhist monk says, “Make me one with everything!”

If we “Love God and do what…[we] will,” could it be that we would be one with everything, in a place where we are all in God’s one love and where, as Paul puts it to the Colossians with words close to  those we heard in his letter to the Galatians, “…there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free, but Christ is all and is in all.” What must it be like to live, to love, in that new creation where Christ is all and in all?

It must be like what Elijah knew after all the special effects of earthquake and fire, with the sound of sheer silence, the sound of God’s soft breath, the sound of God making, meeting, mending the universe in every moment; it must be like Moses on the mountain meeting God face to face; it must be like Peter witnessing the mount of the transfiguration with Moses and Elijah and Jesus, in that mountaintop moment where the journey started to curve ahead to a mysterious future.

It must be like the man who had lived for so long lost, naked among the dead, with legions of lies and illusions and opinions holding him tight like an occupying army, being suddenly freed, breathing deeply, made whole, clothed in his right mind, living in the light of love; one with everything in the Grace of God.

Maybe just two questions matter: How do we get there from here, and where do we go from there?

Another story about another eastern monk, who had spent his life trying to be enlightened, to learn to love within God’s compassion, and hadn’t quite gotten there. So he decided he would leave his monastery in the village, walk down the valley and up to the nearest mountain top to sit there in prayer and meditation until he either learned what he sought or died in the attempt.

And while he was walking up the mountain, there came an old man carrying a sizeable package,  coming down the mountain path, and he had the look of holiness about him. So the monk told him his problem, shared his story and asked the old man, “How do I wake up, become enlightened in God’s light?” The old man looked at him with love and simply dropped the package -- and then the monk suddenly knew peace for the first time --saw what he sought. “Oh, thank you!” he said, “And what do I do now?“ And the man smiled at him, picked up his package once again and continued to walk down the mountain towards the village.

And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.

Elijah will return to dealing with powers and principalities, kings and corruption; Moses walks down from meeting with God on his mountain to rally the troops further on their unwilling pilgrimage to the promised land, Paul and Peter will go on to deal with all the issues of ethics and compassion and politics and even list making in the emerging Christian community and they will finally join Jesus in giving their lives over in the name of love to a future they cannot fully understand.

Even the man who had been lost and naked with the legion of demons is told to take his new clarity and clothes and understanding back into his old home and tell everyone what the Lord had done for him.

Same here.  One with Everything. It isn’t easy but it just might be true. So we come to this altar to give our lives over, to put down our burdens, so that we might, fed by God in the wilderness, incorporated in Christ in our journey, led by the Spirit into the City where we will find contradictions and blessings on any corner, at every crossroads, as we learn to breath in the gift of the God who makes and meets and mends everywhere and here and now, all and in all.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

On Orlando, a work in process... (Revised)

Fifty people were killed in a gay bar in Orlando this weekend and fifty more wounded by a self-identified Muslim terrorist and then the Texas lieutenant governor went on TV and quoted Paul about reaping what you sow. The blood of one hundred people spilled on the floors of the bar, the parking lot, the rest rooms, and now on the papers, social media, my iPad, all over the world. How many people are now related by blood to one hundred people in Orlando? 

We got to bed that night after midnight (a very rare occurrence) following  a rather splendid dinner party of gay men complete with carefully curated decor, great food, deep conversation and much laughter. Nobody entered the room with a semi-automatic weapon and a hand gun, but they could have. Certainly there were people nearby who would take their scriptural beliefs and their fight for truth that seriously; who would take life and make death to honour their holy love. I may be half a world away from Florida and in a country where appropriate guns prohibitions were made law twenty years ago after one man with a semi automatic weapon mowed down men, women and children at a national monument; but even in Australia there are people who would honour their God of vengeance by spilling the blood of their neighbours.

Suddenly you felt that your life was not an isolated thing, but existed in all other lives, as all other lives existed within yours. There wasn't anything anywhere to which you could say, 'We don't need each other.'
Elizabeth Goudge - Pilgrim's Inn

Lillies that fester smell far worse than weeds. 
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 94

Who is not my neighbour and where is not God? I’ve wondered about that one since before seminary some thirty-five years ago, and since then I’ve known and loved many gay men and lesbians, talked to a few drag queens and met some Jewish, Christian and Muslim fundamentalists in my peripatetic career as an occasionally closeted gay man in ecumenical campus ministry in San Francisco, Berkeley and Melbourne and finally as a priest and educator in Bush Australia. You could say it’s been a broad spectrum ministry. I’ve sat with men and women as they dealt with the serious business of being alive, of saying yes to what they believed life called out for them to be: people who sometimes saw a vocation to be an artist in the midst of a family who knew they were born to be a nurse or lawyer, who saw new possibilities for redemption and relationship far from the family fold. I walked with people who faced the fact they loved people of the same gender in a way that other people only saw as sinful, and I’ve had other people sit with me and tell me with no hesitation why some love was hateful and how they came to see clearly what God wants and who God sees as right or wrong or worthy of larger life. 

In my best moments I see only that God wants love, is love, that love (in the threefold Christian formula) makes, meets and mends the universe in every instant of time with a relentlessly renewing compassion. But I here confess there are many moments when I cannot tell my friend, neighbour or the stranger that I believe this to be true because I honestly don’t love them that much. I can preach it in the pulpit and point to it and move through it in the actions of the Eucharist, I can keep trying daily to share it in the actions of my life. But I must admit that I am afraid of those who are armed with the bullets or the books that say I don’t deserve to live, and I cannot love them. 

“I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; 
 I, the Lord, do all these things.” 
Isaiah 45:7
“honour corruption villainy holiness
riding in fragrance of sunlight (side by side
all in a singing wonder of blossoming yes
riding) to him who died that death should be dead.”
e e cummings

In the spring of 1981 I took an evening class on prayer and meditation at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Early in the semester we tried a two part meditation: first thinking loving thoughts and feel positive emotions towards people who were important in our lives, then after a single bell rang, quickly switching to let the opposite, negative emotion flow: articulating heartfelt anger after love, curses following blessings. I was amazed how easy the energy flowed from one extreme to the other and wondered what we were learning.

I believe that the purpose of the exercise was to show how close these two passions are to each other; that perhaps both of these warmings of the heart need to be carefully attended for the simple fact that love and hate live so close together, and we must keep careful distinctions so that (perhaps) we might finally weave them together into a place where healing can happen.

I try to be a reasonably compassionate man but I could conceivably kill the man or woman who wish to see me dead because of their faithful love; therefore my love, like theirs, is not far from hate. If that is the case then we all might better agree to let love go, keep civil, respectable middle-level boundaries, agree to disagree, leaving it at that, forgetting  the dogma, doctrine and doggerel of the God-stuff. Unless what that God-space means, where it points, is a place where hate and love can meet in some new way, where festering lilies might somehow come forth with new and fragrant blooms: but could the world be this large?

I was surprised to learn, a few years ago, that some people are genetically wired to dislike coriander. I love it, add it to many dishes, cheerfully make it part of my day. It was a bit of a relief to understand others do not, on a cellular level, have this affectionate choice, even though it makes no sense to my senses, and seems to make their lives a lesser paradise of the delights I live with. I think it is the same with sex; there is a spectrum of flavours and favours that each of us find on our bandwidth which call us to taste and see in ways that make other people turn aside and wonder why we would not want to eat exactly what they swallow with gusto. 

But it’s not really that important: I am not prepared to kill for coriander and would not force my neighbour to celebrate cilantro anymore than I would compel them to join me in my allergy to milk. And in the end most of us, perhaps a surprising majority, would be more than surprised if any hopeful vision of a larger reality was more concerned with  plumbing over compassion. I may be wrong, and I’ll cheerfully admit that this too may be the way I’m wired; but I think we’re all a bit better than this.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
The Gospel of Matthew 25: 36-37

Ananda, a cousin of the Buddha and one of his closest disciples, said to the teacher one day’ “Oh Buddha, sometimes it seems to me that half of the spiritual life is loving kindness and friendship for others.” The Buddha replied with a smile, “Ananda, you are wrong. Loving-kindness and friendship are all of the spiritual life. 

Paraphrase from the Upaddha Sutta: Half (of the Holy Life)

Jack Kornfield, the modern Buddhist writer, says in the end there are just two kinds of people: those who aren’t afraid to kill and those who aren’t afraid to die. Most of us would avoid that sort of black and white thinking, but I fear it still may be clashingly close to the picture we see of Good Friday in Jerusalem when Jesus is murdered by the mob as well the scenes last Saturday night at Pulse in Orlando, Florida.

Gunman often went to gay nightclub

At least four patrons have said they saw the gunman Omar Mateen drinking at the Pulse bar several times before the shooting. Ty Smith said he saw Mateen inside at least a dozen times…

“Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent”

In his book called “The Crucified Jesus is No Stranger,” Sebastian Moore writes that when we see Jesus, this man of love and light, we see all our shadows and shortcuts, and our reaction to that light can be to push into the dark, pin the other down to death, because we would rather kill than see where we are already dying in our sad and violent separations.

But in the same light of love we can find that we are killing the best picture of what we look like, an icon of the life we are born to live. And that can be where love meets hate, where death meets life; where coming forth from any deadly closet can mean giving ourselves over to a future we cannot conceive. 

So perhaps tomb turns to womb when we let what we know die so that somehow the knowledge of a larger love may live, and that is where something like resurrection might happen. That’s what I saw in the conversation of artists born of lawyers, peopled compelled to take leave of the parental path, called by love to come out of their closets. That’s what I learned in the best of my life in the church and a few gay bars and saunas and the ministry of many friends and not a few strangers in my own life, to let God teach me to love in a new way. 

For reasons I don’t fully understand some people awaken to new and larger life, to come to share that unfinished journey together, while others die in their killing hate. Maybe that’s one of the places Jesus hangs ‘round nowadays, maybe that’s the spark that can come when hate meets love on the worst weekend ever. But how we live that out, move on from the truncated celebration, the fallen love, the spilled blood in the parking lot and on the screens of our iPads, in the heart of who we are, in the light of such hate, is an entirely different question. 

Even though at this time I can hardly find room for any possible answer, what I can do is to stay with it, continue my incomplete prayers (not fully knowing where they might lead) for this world where hate pierces and love embraces the lives of 101 people in Orlando while all of us who loved them hang together and wonder what we can do now.