Monday, October 19, 2009

I'm Walkin Here!

I had a truly startling moment this afternoon. A strange audio synchronicity like I have not had in quite some time.

As I mentioned on one of my other blogs last week, the demise of my latest commercial endeavor in New Orleans has me finally falling back in to a deeper sense of home and a softer, gentler state of mind about being in California instead of New Orleans. This is a state of mind that began two years ago when I last left NOLA, but it's been a long, uncomfortable process... fighting a battle that I think my limey friend pegged in his comment on that blog the other day.

The simple fact is that I've been fighting a long hard emotional battle since I evacuated from New Orleans on August 28, 2005 and the most difficult part of it has been the emotional struggle of the last two years... not giving myself permission to settle into home and place and love, but instead continuing to struggle with soul and place, and probably even left over guilt about love.

Because of several other things racing through my mind these days, I wound up having an extended email conversation with an old friend who passed on a link to the City of Refuge church in San Francisco. There I fell upon a brilliant sermon by church pastor, Bishop Yvette Flunder. A sermon that feels like it was presented to be heard by me today, but which made it's way into the world several years ago.

You'll find the whole amazing sermon right here and for those of you who aren't used to this kind of preachin' you might have a bit of a time with it. But stay with it... It'll bless ya.

If you don't have the time (or the patience) to walk through this sermon, you can listen to this little short portion that I pulled out because I think it's important.

The long story - short on this, is that this sermon, which was posted to the website on the day after my birthday two years ago, right at the exact time when I began the part of the journey that I'm just now ending, feels like a strange flash forward from the outer edge of the spirit. It's as if the sermon was sent to me right at the time when I began to need it... but didn't get here until I could actually here what the preacher had to say.

To summarize the point... I seem to have come to a place where I am no longer flying... and where I don't have to keep running... I've come to a place where my war seems to have ended and I can actually rest in a settling and safety that I have not felt in a very long time.

As Ratso Rizzo says in Midnight Cowboy... I'm walkin' here!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Time and A Place

In the lectionary passage for last Sunday (the fifth Sunday of Lent for those following along in your hymnals), Jesus asks the question and then makes the statement, "And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour." (John 12:27)

This passage echoes my very favorite passage in all the Bible, Mordecai's appeal to Esther, "Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)

Most of the time it seems like there is no right time for anything. Most of the time it seems that something... anything... or at least almost anything... is better to do than the thing that we are typically engaged in doing. Why?

Because busy-ness works. Keeping busy is a way to keep the fears at bay. It may or may not be successful with the wolves that are at the door, but it damn sure does a good job with distracting one from the scratching and baying that is going on outside. You can pretend that you are working, pretend that you are effective, pretend that you know what you’re doing and that a better day is right around the next bend, whether it actually is, or not.

I’ve been very good at this over the last few weeks. I can post at facebook and tweet on twitter. I can send out emails, add contacts and content to my LinkedIn pages and read countless articles on how to be a better internet marketer, seo maven, wonderboy, guru or rock star. I can even send out new proposals, spec articles, resumes, and samples with the best of them. I can check the weather, the surf, the time, and the stock market with the press of the F12 button for my widgets.

All of the activity brings with it a certain feeling of accomplishment. I’m doing SOMETHING… even if that remains somewhat unfocused and totally undefined. I AM doing something.

Or am I?

Perhaps instead, the noisiness, chaos, and frenetic activity is actually a replacement for really doing something. Perhaps it is a way of avoiding doing the one thing that might actually make a difference in everything. Staying put… sitting still… Being There. How often is the philosophy of Do Anything actually a replacement for Do The Right Thing?

A few weeks ago, Twitter gained a sudden sweeping tsunami of publicity when it was revealed that a number of senators were Tweeting during President Obama’s congressional address. The incident gained a lot of buzz for Twitter, and perhaps even a good deal of buzz for those congress persons engaged in the activity, but was it really the best use of their congressional time? Was Tweeting, instead of listening to the new president, really the better option? Was somehow snarking one’s own agenda into the greater reality of our collective citizenship a valuable use of consciousness, time and bandwidth?

Last night, a good friend of mine attended the opening concert of the new Springsteen tour. He spent the entire concert texting the songs played and occasional notes on his reactions. This while spending the evening, next to his wife, in front of The Boss. Now, while I enjoyed getting the texts and having a bit of a vicarious experience of the show, I am hard pressed to believe that the busy-ness of texting was an improvement over the true experience of soaking in the words, music, sights, sounds, smells, and experience of the event.

I KNOW for a fact that the busy-ness of reading the text was not an adequate substitute for either being at the concert myself, or more fully being with the family and friends who were sharing my Twitter-space at the time.

My dad used to tell a joke about a family visiting the Grand Canyon. The car pulls up to the side, everyone piles out of the car and rushes to look at the magnificent colorful earthen gash in front of them. Dad runs around the car, over to the edge of the canyon, back and forth around the family, click click clicking away on his camera. A few moments later, he climbs back in the car, turns the key, hits the radio and revs the engine. When nobody gets the hint he jumps out and yells, “Come on!” One of the kids turns around and says, “Wait, we just got here and I haven’t really seen it yet!”

Dad shakes his head, motions for everyone to climb in and says, “Don’t worry about it! You can see it when you get home!”

I used to take a lot of photographs myself. I still take a fair number and I am regularly distressed when - on certain road trips in the wine country in particular - I forget my camera. However, I believe I was forever cured of my obsessive shutterbugging one time on a solo drive up Highway 1 through Big Sur when I kept stopping to shoot photos of the sun setting into the Pacific. Somewhere along about the actual town of Big Sur, right near Esalen (perhaps there was some sort of awakened power point nearby) it dawned on me that I was doing - even by myself - exactly what the dad in the joke was doing. I was living inside my camera; I was not experiencing the life around me. At the time I was even pretty good at fooling myself into thinking that I was experiencing the outer reality even more deeply by absorbing it through the lens, and mediating it with my artistic consciousness.

Hogwash! As they used to say.

I put my camera into the back seat. Parked the car and climbed out onto a rock to watch the sunset. I then kept that camera in the back seat of the car for the rest of the trip. It took years before I even began to pick it up again. For the most part, I didn’t miss it.

For me, this is the change of life that I am most seeking as this Lenten season comes to a close. In the frenzy of economic meltdown, job insecurity, confusion, frustration, and disorder I want to learn to ask the questions that address the place I might take at the table, the ways I might add to the conversation, the truly worthwhile actions I might engage in. Not just do some thing… Do the RIGHT thing.

What is it I am truly here for? What is my real task? Why have I been brought to the kingdom at such a time as this?

What about you? What is it that you will say now? “Father save me,” or “It is for this reason I have come.”

Don't just do something... Sit there.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"There is no easy way out of love..."

December 10, 2008, was the 40th anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton. He died, on the same date as he entered the monastery at Gethsemani 27 years earlier. He died of electrical shock in a bathtub in Thailand, only a few hours after he had spoken to a conference of Benedictine and Cistercian Abbots in Bangkok. His last words at the conference are reputed to have been, "so I will disappear."

Thomas Merton's death was labeled an accident, though given the circumstances it could have been murder, or even suicide. To me there seems to be something a little odd about the symmetry of the end of his old life as he entered the monastery and the end of his life on earth sharing the same date, but that's something to consider some other time.

On the same day, at his home in Switzerland, theologian Karl Barth died. Merton had written about Barth some years earlier, and they both shared a commitment to extracting the heart of christian faith from the cultural prison in which it had been placed (a lesson a goodly number might consider learning once again), Barth going so far as to stand up directly to Hitler at the beginning of WWII. Both men were far more conservative in their various perspectives than I am comfortable with in my own life and in our present world, but they both struggled (in concert with so many others) to move humanity in the direction of deeper spirit, and heart, and love.

Just before his death, on a trip through Asia leading to the conference where he died, Merton met with the Dalai Lama as part of an ongoing search for commonality and comunication between kindred spirits on different sides of geographical and spiritual divides. It was just one part of an ongoing struggle for Merton that waxed and waned through his 27 years at Gethsemani, and certainly would have continued to who knows where had he lived.

In another interesting connection, December 10 is also the anniversary of the International Declaration of Human Rights, a document that was heavily influenced by Jacques Maritain (quoted in the previous post), a friend and mentor for Merton and a man of eloquent, spiritual humanism. Maritain's spirit resides behind the brilliance of that document and is echoed in writings from Merton like this one from his book, Faith and Violence. "I am on the side of the people who are being burned, cut to pieces, tortured, held as hostages, gassed, ruined, destroyed. They are the victims of both sides. To take sides with massive power is to take sides against the innocent. "

Merton's thoughts, his writings, and his life all depict a deep abiding struggle to fit the bigness of love into the framework of life.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Innumerable Universes Carried Within...

A daily reading from Thomas Merton this morning quotes Jaques Maritain on "the importance of a purely immanent activity," something taking place in the mind but without any necessary outward demonstration. Merton follows up the comment with the marvelous double negative, "the contemplative does not do nothing."

Many - and boy do I mean many - years ago I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine on a hot afternoon in a tiny radio station control room just outside of Phoenix Arizona. My friend was proclaiming the fact that contemplatives (monks in particular were the topic of this conversation) did work in the world by what they did behind the walls of the monastery. He insisted that their prayer, contemplation, and daily work were actively changing the reality of the world outside. Being the basic practical activist, misanthrope, and loud mouth, that I was (and pretty much still am) I insisted that this was crap.

So the long and the short of it is... I'm not feeling like that anymore.

These days, every day, every moment, that I spend on my cushion (and I've been doing it now for more or less 40 years) is a moment when I grasp a glimpse of that mysterious inner universe where all the world plays out, and changes (personal, communal, even universal) happen on a moment by moment basis. Despite my continued interest in, and work for, CHANGE in the "real world," I am presently convinced that the greater liklihood of real change will not come from an election on November 4, or a U.S. "regime change" on January 20, but will in fact only come as people come to terms with the change - the daily change - necessary inside themselves. Inside OUR selves. The fact is that it is the possibility of this inner change, and the call to make it happen, that is most compelling to me in the candidacy of Barack Obama. I do not see this man as the savior of America; I really do believe that "we are the ones we have been waiting for."

The Merton reflection continues with a further quote from Maritain, "The human being down here in the darkness of his[her] fleshly state is as mysterious as the saints in heaven in the light of their glory. There are in him[her] inexhaustible treasures, constellations without end of sweetness and beauty which ask to be recognized and which usually escape completely the futility of our regard. Love brings a remedy for that. One must vanquish this futility and undertake seriously to recognize the innumerable universes that one's fellow [companion] being carries within him [her] This is the business of contemplative love and the sweetness of its regard."

If we could, even just some of time, truly see this multitude of possibilities in each person, in all people, would it not COMPLETELY change who we are?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I Think I See a Crack...


Friday, February 29, 2008

The efficacy of change

I set this blog up some months ago with the intention of writing on things that come from my heart, rather than - like most of my other writings - things that come from my head. Subsequently I have had a hard time getting to a place where I felt like I had something to write about in that realm (my heart's been rather preoccupied of late).

But fortunately, for me and for my heart, I was given a "topic" just the other night.

A person very dear to me proclaimed that "people do not change." This is not the first time that I have been, and I expect that it is not the last time I will be, told that change is not possible, or at least highly unlikely. I had a very hard time hearing this the first time it was said to me, and I had a very hard time hearing it the other night.

If there is anything that holds my chaotic life to the ground it is the rock solid belief that change is not only possible but necessary... and inevitable. I don't know whether this perspective comes from the crazy quilt blend of religious faith I have sewn together over my 53 years, or if I have sewn the quilt in order to keep my strange life warm against the cold perspectives of the world surrounding me (it could even be Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, but that's for another blog).

At some core of my being I am a Baptist. I was raised as a Baptist, I came to faith as a Baptist, I was trained as a Baptist, and I even pastored a Baptist church for a very brief period of time. At the absolute center of Baptist faith is the idea of transformation. You not only CAN change your life, but you MUST change your life. A second fundamental of Baptist faith (something that seems to have been lost by the masses of fundamentalist loud mouths passing themselves off as Baptist in our present time) is that each individual is responsible before the God for her or his faith and behavior over time. We are not only asked to change initially, but we are expected to KEEP ON CHANGING. There are some Baptists who still believe this, but they are few and far between.

Laid on top of this Baptist foundation is a deeply, and long, held commitment to Buddhism. A commitment that has on occasion literally saved my life. The foundation of Buddhist belief is the concept of The Four Noble Truths. The Fourth Noble Truth delineates a process (The Eightfold Path)for... you guessed it... CHANGE.

Atop all of this is the strange reality that I was raised by a father who was both a journalist and a scientist. For me, what this means is that I am perpetually curious about new ideas and new ways of thinking and being. I am fully committed to the idea that humanity has climbed it's way out of the muck and mire through a never ending process of CHANGE, and I fully expect the process to continue with me.

This is certainly not a new idea (I very rarely have original thoughts) and one of my favorite expressions of the concept comes from Rainer Maria Rilke in what is my favorite poem in all the world, Archaic Torso of Apollo.

It is interesting to me that the vibrancy and life that Barrack Obama has pumped into our otherwise dead and decaying political process here in the U.S. is also based on this idea, this cry for change.

There is no other way of living, growing, or being. There is one reality in the universe... CHANGE OR DIE.