Sunday, July 30, 2006

I Don't Want To Love Him

I do not want to love George Bush. I cannot imagine what it would mean. I am a Christian, and I see Bush and most of what he and his regime stands for as evil and destructive. What on earth does it mean that we are commanded to love our enemies? Bush is my enemy. I do not love him. I fear him, have contempt for him. But I do not love him. I implore you, those who are from faith traditions that call upon you to love those who revile you -- how do you do it? What does it look like in action?

I understand that part of loving someone is correcting them when they walk wrongly. That I can do. But love? I do not say things to correct Bush because I love him. And I have the nagging feeling that within me is a spiritual abyss a mile wide all around that issue.

I cling to a sense of moral superiority as the Pharisee echoes in my ear ..."God, I thank thee that I am not as others are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican."

If I am straying from my spiritual road, could it be that I am less able, consequently, to effect any real change in the world? Is my intensely felt sense of self righteous indignation part of the problem?

What would the alternate look like? What would it do?

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Saint of Hugs

I have just returned from yet another trip to Massachusetts.

The first television show I watched when coming home was a film called DARSHAN about guru in India called "Amma". Amma has been a known "Holy Woman" for many years, and has an ashram ( a community ) of her own in India where people can come and visit.

She is also known as "The Hugging Guru". She doesn't charge anything. One of the many websites about her says :
Her long Sanskrit name is Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, which translates into Mother of Immortal Bliss. Yet to millions around the world she is known simply as Amma (mother) or Ammachi (beloved mother). So approachable is she that many have come to realize in her a love that is archetypical of "everybody's mother," which is, of course, difficult to describe.

It is estimated that she has hugged over 27 million times. She has also started numerous charitable agencies and programs to aid the poor and to provide education. She funds 30 soup kitchens in America, for example.

But here is the line I found most compelling :
At a young age, Ammachi concluded that human suffering stemmed almost fully from a lack of love. Thereafter she resolved to be part of the solution, thus offering her entire life as an expression of divine love.

Sit with that one for a minute ...all human suffering stems from a lack of love.

Look at your own suffering -- I don't mean the pain of a stubbed toe - I mean the suffering that has deep meaning attached to it in your life.

She is right.

So here is this woman, who asks for no money -- who will see the rich and the poor alike, who even goes into remote and poverty stricken villages. She does not claim to be divine. She is communicating the love of the divine. She is not a Messiah, nor does she claim to be, but that which is loved in her, is part of what we who are Christian love in Christ -- inclusive and unconditional love.

What gave me hope is that millions of people are interested in her -- and her charitable works. Things are such a tragic and cruel mess in the world right now - - to have women like this on the rise helps me hope. She does not want people to leave their faith communities. She just wants to communicate love.

The film says she kissed a leper's sores and they healed. My heart wants very much to believe that, because my soul knows that it is possible. Love can heal anything, anything.

Do you feel the great thirst in this story of this tiny and philanthropic woman? The world is so thirsty for love, for that unconditionally loving divine embrace. We have separated ourselves so far from love, even the knowledge of God's love, -- And here a woman in India attracts millions of people from all over the world, simply with a message of acceptance and love.

No diatribes, no elaborate cathedrals, no political champions, no wars -- just an embrace.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Up and Running and Pondering

Well, my cable service is now back so I can blog again. There are still people in town with no power. The news is calling what hit us "treetop tornados" and/or "microbursts". This is a picture from the local papers of one home-owner's uprooted tree. I have seen easily a dozen or more just like it through town, some with bits of curbing and sidewalks clinging to the topmost roots -- the force was that strong.

In the worst-hit area, every house has piles and piles of tree limbs stacked in front waiting to be picked up. It is a miracle there were no serious injuries reported. One of my favorite parks in town, however, now looks as though it had been bombed. One home was literally cut in half.

All of this put me smack-dab in the heart of what Buddhists know so much better than other folks -- that life is impermanent - and fragile. There is a 200 year old tree -- the symbol of solidity, endurance, stoicism. Now that tree that was a sapling not long after America became an independent nation has collapsed, roots-up, taking soil and rock with it. And what made it happen? Bombs? Bulldozers? Huge wrecking balls? Nope.

The wind.

Something we cannot even see arrives almost without advance notice and *poof*, all those symbols of endurance are snapped like twigs.

It is as though God is saying "Do you get it THIS time folks? Do you get that life is precious and can go at any minute? Do you get that your assumption of indefinitely long futures might be wrong? Do you get that you had better be doing what you love now? Huh? How many trees do I have to turn upside down for you to get that?"

OK maybe it is my metaphor and not God's, but I do believe that God wants us to be living more in the aware present than the imagined future. I am starting to really "get that".

Thursday, July 20, 2006


YIPES!! There was a storm in town 36 hours ago, driving rain with chunks of hail. As a result I have had no cable service since, which means no TV and no cable modem, so no internet access. I am borrowing an office from a friend right now just to check my email and to post this. As I work from home, I am SOL until the cable comes back. My town is full of downed trees, so until the city gets them picked up there is not much the cable company can do. At least I still have my electricity, which is not the case for every place in town. There is an ikky heat wave going on, so I am just happy to have the a/c working. When I get my cable back I will invest in a back-up dial up account for the net. So there will be no blogging here until the cable gets turns back on. Sigh. Have a jazzy day or two or three -- or however many it takes until I chat with you again --

Monday, July 17, 2006

Blog Con 2nd comment

This is really an extension of yesterday's blog entry about the Blog Con and won't make much sense without reading yeasterday's entry first.

I have been thinking a lot about the worship experiences, and about the power they had to generate hope and to move us in those places beyond language. There was an intentionality of inclusion. We had all decided in advance that we would open the door to eachother. When that door is opened, God's magic rushes in.

I think about America -- and what parts of our history make us great. I know there are things we have done that bring only sorrow -- but when I envision what I dream for our future, the moments that embody the intentionality of inclusion are the ones that stand out for me. What is quoted from Emma Lazarus at the base of the Statue of Liberty is what we want to hold dear:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

You want freedon? We have it. You want justice? It flows like honey.

Come on over here -- we have work to do,places to live, places to worship. We have air you can breathe, land to farm, rivers leaping with trout. Come on -- come on -- there is so much that we want to share it. We have so much that we want you to have some too. Come on!!!

This is the America I love. Michelle said in her sermon this weekend that there are two ways to hold a penny -- one with closed fist and one with an open palm -- the America I love knows about the open palm, understands abundance, radically includes. The America I love thirsts for diversity, can't get enough of it -- you ALL come! Come to the table. Here, here. Sit here by me. I'll help you learn. You'll teach me your language. We'll make sense of it all together.

Did no one ever invite you before? We are so sorry. Did you feel on the outside, looking in? Come in now! Bring those others with you -- wait, we'll go out and help you find them where they sit in fear, in shame. Give them the best seats. Let them eat first -- it has been so long for them. Here, sit by the fire. Warm up.

Oh, this is the America I love -- this is the best of us -- the diverse inclusive best of us. Not a nation that ignores differences, or scorns them -- but one that welcomes them as added riches to the treasure chest of nationhood.

This is the America, the world, that winked into sacred being for an instant during worship this weekend. This was God's reminder that no act of inclusion is small, or trivial, or taken lightly in the realms of heaven. This is what it is like to be touched by even the slightest corner of God's joy.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Progressive Faith Blog Con 2006

Whew. The conference is over. I am still very moved and happy that I attended. The images of the conference are vividly with me. We were people basically of four faiths -- Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Muslim. We met together, prayed together, worshipped together, ate together, laughed together. Yes, you read that right -- we worshipped together, with each of us participating as we were able or comfortable.

Understand for a moment what it meant that male and female, Jew and Muslim were all part of the group of four faiths praying as they faced East on Saturday....and that Christians and Jews saw in Shabbat together with Muslims and Buddhists.....and that all faiths sang "Amazing Grace" and "Let there be Peace on Earth" at Christian worship, and meditated together led by a Buddhist. Each tradition sought the most inclusive parts of their prayer and /or worship tradition and shared it. It was impossible. No one does this, even wild-eyed interfaith gatherings. No one.

We did.

And at the end of the weekend, it was this, even more than our discoveries of political unity, that made us believe a better world was possible. It was shared prayer, shared love of God that convinced us all that miracles could happen, and that the world could be made new.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Maxing My Own Sax

In the post a few days ago about my friend Max and his sax, I spoke about how we use "stuff" to fill in spiritual holes that cannot be filled with "stuff". It struck me odd that Max's wisdom was haunting me, but I honored the impulse. God does not send images that strong for nothing. I have had a fair amount of positive response about that post, and so I wrote it off to thinking that the impulse must have been to touch someone else in their need. And that is wonderful.

Then I got in my car and drove to Massachusetts to deal with two things: the final disposition of my father's will -- which has been very troubling, and sorting through my Mother's antiques with an eye to their disposition.


Well, duh.

I was walking around today, having returned home last night, and thought -- "Wait, wait -- no matter how much or (in my case) how little ended up coming to me from my father via the woman who lived with him for a few years - no matter how much or how little -- it would never fill the place in me called "Healthy Paternal Love & Approval."

Let it go. Let it all go.

Stop going to the hardware store looking for an egg salad sandwich.

And my mother's antiques -- if I keep them or sell them -- she isn't coming back from the dead anytime soon. She isn't in them. They won't fill the spot in me that misses her, especially not in boxes in a storage room in Massachusetts. And no matter how many boxes there are, they do not fill the spot in me labeled "Has A Family".

If I try to ram things in those spaces that do not belong there, I deny myself the great gift of having those spaces touched by someone with love and compassion.

These are my open spaces -- the spaces for the Spirit of God to whistle through. These spaces help me see the people who have matching spaces -- help me comfort their wounds with the understanding behind my own. We are all the walking wounded, all shortchanged in some way, all betrayed in some fashion. We didn't get enough. We miss people who died. We dream of a wholeness we cannot obtain.

But our Holy Father kills the fatted calf anyway, and invites us in. Astonishingly, we are paid the same as all the laborers who came before us. We all get to stand in the open fields of God's love and let His grace pour down on us like warm summer rain. All -- the broken and the brave -- you and me and all the people we know -- all, all, all.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Request -- read all the way through, please :-)

I have an interesting few days ahead of me.

I am heading for Massachusetts again.

On Tuesday I will sort through more of my Mom's antiques, marking them "AUCTION" or "MOVE". I am actually looking forward to it. Sure, I will run up against some emotional items, but it will be like finding an old love letter. Not painful -- warming.

On Wednesday I will resolve a legal issue that has been a deep burden and a very painful strain on my life since shortly after my father died. I cannot discuss it here, but the resolution will be -- if not sweet -- at least a relief.

Wednesday night I'll attend an auction with my friend, Sandy -- to check out another potential auctioneer.

Thursday I will take my 83 year old cousin out for an adventure. We'll go wherever she wants and will do whatever takes her fancy. My job is to be the enthusiastic chauffeur. We both enjoy these outings a great deal. She is sharp as a tack, but because of her heart condition and other health issues, does not drive much beyond to the grocery store and back.

I'll drive back here Thursday night, because Friday I will attend the 1st night of the Progressive Faith Blog Con about which I am seriously excited. That Con goes from Friday-Sunday and some of the bloggers that I admire most will be on hand.

It is going to be a hodgepodge week, full of emotional highways and byways. Full of healing and hope. I will probably not be blogging much, but I have a request for you.

Please use the comment section here to ask me to pray for something for you. I won't have time to blog, but I will check comments daily. I would like to use the spare moments in the upcoming days for intentional prayer for you and your concerns. Please let me know what you would wish me to pray for. And it will be done.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Max the Sax

I knew a young musician about 25 years ago whom we called "Max the Sax". Max went everywhere with his sax -- out for dinner, grocery shopping, to movies, to picnics in the mountains of Colorado. His sax was always by his side. That behavior became his trademark, and spawned his knickname.

Max was a smart young man. He taught me a lesson I remember in very deep parts of my heart. I asked him once, "Max, you are so tied to it -- just what does that saxophone mean to you?"

Max sat back in his chair, sipped a cup of espresso and said, "Well, I learned a long time ago --- that it will never be the Dad that didn't play baseball with me."

Big lesson.

What we didn't get in our past, we cannot get now by another route. I can't ever fill the spaces marked "having children" or "having a well-adjusted father" with what they were intended for. And I cannot contort my universe to try to fill them with other things - like Max's sax. The holes in Max know the difference between a father and a saxophone. The holes in me know the difference between children and a plate of linguini.

Buddha once said "Suffer what there is to suffer; Enjoy what there is to enjoy."

That which is empty in us is going to stay that way. The fantasy of how our lives were supposed to turn out cannot be retro-filled with a reality that did not occur. Yet, oh how we try.

I look around me and see people trying to get people to be the people they never had - you've seen it too - women who marry a man they hope will be the father they missed -- men who marry women, but who are really looking for Mom. Or, people who try to fill an aching feeling with "stuff." Those are the people who buy a big house to make up for feelings of insecurity, or a fast car to make up for a lost youth. I wonder what the world would look like if we all had to label every object or person in our lives that we were somehow using to assuage a pain or a lack or an ache. I imagine crowds of people and homes full of little "sticky notes" that read "Mother-substitute", "Fending off feelings of betrayal", "the Dad that didn't play baseball", "not getting picked for cheerleader"...and on and on.

And oh, what a loss it is to us and to those we try to shape shift into impossible paradigms. The hard part is that mostly our partners are unaware of the "secret job description" we may have for them (because largely, so are we).

Lordy me it's a wonder we manage at all, isn't it?

So what do we do then, walk around like mobile spiritual Swiss Cheeses? Largely, yes, that is precisely what we are to do. To walk around this world as who we are, full of vulnerabilities, as people who didn't learn everything the first time, as people who need the grace of other people to get by.

It is such a relief, really, if you just listen. Can you hear it? There, in the quiet -- is the sound of a saxophone playing cool, crisp, saxophonic notes into the eternal night sky. Just doing what it does. Being who it is.

Friday, July 07, 2006



I was looking at some pictures a friend sent of a recent grand-baby. There she was, so pink and cuddlesome, so trusting and dependent. The child looked as though she felt so safe, but safer than that -- she looked as though she had not yet needed to even define "safe" as something disctinct from her everything.

Everything about her was pink, even her soul - she was soft and pristine, untouched by the world's unkindnesses.

That will change.

Now comes the hard part. The barrage on that child -- a barrage of life, of everyone else's safe and unsafe places.

I saw a face of a terrorist on the news. Contorted with hatred. A face that wanted me, and others like me, dead. Safety got pushed out of that face a long time ago. And it pushed the safety out of mine.

I read in the news of a woman crack addict found dead.Was she ever someone's dear baby girl, rocked to sleep with lullabyes?

I saw the broken body of a young man, blown apart by war, and thought of that little pink baby he used to be, so safe, so protected.

I see people in the streets, walking like automotons past eachother, oblivious to anyone else's human condition, and often oblivious to their own.The membranes that feel, that notice the world have become closed. They walk through tunnels of denial every day.

I loved my friend's grand-baby pictures. They reminded me what soft is, what it is to be able to be vulnerable, that vulnerable.

There is no blame in change. The world has its way with us, and life is too demanding for us to be as happily dependent as babes and still survive. But there are moments when we cannot help but see the distance we have come from Eden.

These are the moments we beg our children to not rush childhood, to take care in how much they shed and how quickly. For there is no getting it back.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Rocket's Red Glare

I had the luxury of small-town American 4ths of July. My little New England town had its fireworks funded by the AmVets organization every year. They were held in a community park on the baseball fields. Each year we would walk through the darkening evening along "The Dike" through the woods. The Dike was a long anti-flood dirt wall that ran through the town along parts of the flood plain. Mostly it ran through what were then fields and woods at the edge of developed property. We were never allowed to go alone on the The Dike, because it was rumored that "hobos lived down there". But on 4th of July, walking with Dad and half the town, it was fine.

Mom would stay home each year with our cocker spaniel, Princess, who would be terrified by the fireworks. Mom would hand us blankets and a bag of goodies as we left, and Dad and I would walk over to my best friend Sandy's house. Sandy would bring her blanket and her bag of treats and off we would go to the fireworks.

Along the way, AmVets would be greeting people with tins to collect money from people to help fund the next year's efforts. A good part of the fun was "walking the Dike" in the twilight, listening to tree frogs and watching fireflies.

We'd sit on the park lawn on blankets in pretty much the same spot every year. As it began to get darker, but not dark enough for the fireworks, a small town band would play in the park gazebo. There must have been about 10 people in this volunteer band, mostly playing on key, and giving their most earnest renditions of everything from Souza marches to Viennese waltzes.

Sandy and I would sit chatting merrily, munching on homemade popcorn, waiting for it to get dark enough for the displays to begin. And it never seemed to get dark fast enough. It was like a New Rule of Physics - "On 4th of July, time will slow between twilight and darkness." But at last the first few test rockets were set off, and we townsfolk would get quiet and attentive.

The rockets seemed so splendid to me - every color imaginable with deep and thunderous booming sounds that rattled my spine. Big yellow chrysanthemum displays with shooting waterfalls of red and blue. Ice blue rockets that ended in huge bangs! Wild bursts that started green and opend into orange. Each one was more magnificent than the next, until the Grand Finale with several minutes straight of bursting colors and explosive booms from every imaginable direction.

These were the years before Vietnam. It would be only a few years before the boys on the next blanklet with their Dad would hear those booming sounds for real. These were the years boys in my town and in towns across America could still see and hear the display and not have it accompanied by memories of carnage. None of us knew at the time how very special those nights were, and how for some of us, they would soon be forever transformed into nightmares in jungles thousands of miles away.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Whose Were They? Whose Are They?

Philip Slater, the author of The Pursuit of Lonliness spoke in the early 70's about the fact that we all share a common set of what he referred to as "secondary needs" -- those needs just below the basic needs -- hunger, thirst, shelter and sex - and he described these secondary needs as
1. the desire for engagement
2. the desire for community
3. the desire for dependence

He posits that the frustration of these needs is so great, that they threaten to become primary. He describes a culture that deliberately builds exactly what will deny us access to what we need. He says "One assumption underlying this book is that every morning all 200 million of us get out of bed and put a lot of energy into creating and recreating social calamities that oppress, infuriate and exhaust us."

I have been thinking in a different way lately about people I have started to call "The Disconnected" -- people with no attachment to nurturing communities or families. Some of those people are obvious -- the street people, often the elderly, the victims of war, victims of disaster. I see them as cut loose in some way -- like the astronaut in 2001 A Space Odyssey floating at the outside of the spaceship saying to the computer --"Oh HAL...HAL...Let me in!!!" And old HAL has no intention of inviting him back in. Eventually the spaceman will just float off. Into the void. Bye Bye. No trace. No reminder. Very tidy.

In NYC, a man is standing on the corner, eyes vacant, coat threadbare. On a sunny Sunday like this one, many years ago, his parents held him proudly at baptism. The congregation agreed to uphold his life. He belonged to someone, to many. They claimed him. Would they now?

The 19 year old crack addict hooker was someone's darling girl, blessed event. She had a First Communion dress as white as snow.

The old woman, muttering to herself, used to be the beloved of a soldier, long ago dead on foreign shores. She was his sweetheart, and she knew for a while that she was loved and treasured.

The man who hits his child -- the woman who steals from the store -- the wounded refugees of war -- the ex-con who cannot get a job -- the battered women at the shelter. Each with a history. Each probably with some moment of being connected somewhere - belonging somewhere. Each with a bris, or a bar mitzvah or a baptism or a naming ceremony or a birthday party. Each with a warm holiday, a teacher who liked them, a friend on the block.

Everyone has a list attached to their souls, however fragile, of people they used to belong to -- places they used to belong to -- communities they used to belong to. Our souls are like old-time-luggage, with glued on labels of where we have been, whose we have been. Some of us get to keep belonging, and we may even have our histories roll forward into someone else's future. Others of us are not so lucky.

Or, maybe a better image is that of a ribbon from our souls to the persons or places or communities where we "belonged". These soul ribbons can snap in the air - sometimes without us even seeing it coming. WHAM -- we are disconnected - snip, snip, snip and the little ribbons flutter away, becoming less than they were yesterday. Surprise, someone died - Snip. Surprise, Snip. My life knows some of this snipping, as do all of ours. But my snips are ordinary -- divorce, cancer, loss of family members to death. Ordinary things, and I still have so very many ribbons left.

But what of those that do not? How many baptisms have we attended, for example? Do we know where all those people are now? Yet, at those ceremonies we pledged to support their walk in faith, to be part of their community, to carry a ribbon with us that was attached to their soul.

Philip Slater speaks of these secondary needs for dependence, engagement and community in secular terms -- but they also read out as a need for "grace".

And is he right?? - Is he right to say that our institutions, those mostly cherished institutions that we have built around ourselves, these institutions created to honor that which is best in us - those very institutions may well make it harder for the Lost to become the Found, for the Disconnected to become the Connected? How do we lose so very many of these children of God?

May Almighty God have mercy on our souls.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Paulie, sweet Paulie

I love Paulie. Not Paulie a guy. Not Paulie Girl beer. But the movie, Paulie.

There are times when I need a break from the world's Sturm und Drang. And Paulie is balm for the soul.

Paulie is a talking parrot who cannot fly. He really talks, really understands. He is a freak in the bird world. People understand his speech and don't believe they are hearing what they are hearing. Other birds hear his speech and do not understand it. He has one person he connects with - Marie, a child with a speech problem. He helps her. Through some sad circumstances, Marie and Paulie are separated when the family moves, and Paulie spends the next 20 years of his life trying to find her. Because he cannot fly, this is a difficult task.

When the movie catches up with him, he is in the basement of a research facility, neglected, locked in a cage, being cared for by Misha the janitor, a Russian immigrant. The janitor is played by Tony Shalhoub (of "Monk" fame.) Paulie begins speaking to Misha, who is also very lonesome, and telling his story.

The movie is the story of Paulie's adventures through the years - his loves, his dashed hopes, his losses. He has one mission, one big dream -- to connect with Marie again. But he is diverted by love and devotions that he finds on his journeying.

I am not sure why this movie gets to me so deeply every time I see it. Is it because it is about hope? About love that endures? Is it because it says "This is what love is. It does not let go. It is steadfast."? Yes, and no. I also find myself moved by the people who want to help Paulie -- people who believe in him and his dream.

This is a movie about faith, and faithfulness. About letting love change us. It is about how we need eachother to fulfill our dreams, how going it alone is just not possible.

No one is blown to bits in this movie. There are no R or X rated scenes. It is just a good film, a decent and loving film that does not err on the side of being too cloying, either.

Go ahead, watch it. Tell me what you think.
Site Feed