Friday, May 30, 2008

Finding Heaven in Your Right Hemisphere

If you haven't seen this video already, give it a look. There is a good article about it here.

Have you had any similar experiences? How did you account for them?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Good Night, Sweet Prince

Markus Wuollet passed away today after his long struggle with cancer. Condolences to his partner Mark, to his family, to his friends, to all who knew him, in person and through his writing. His courage touched many of us who never even met him.

Last year, Markus posted this poem on his website and it seems a fitting elegy.

Renewal
In a bulb, there is a flower,
In a seed, an apple tree.
In cocoons a hidden promise
butterflies will soon be free.
In the cold and dead of winter
there's a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season.
Something God alone can see.

-Unknown

Friday, May 23, 2008

Monday, May 19, 2008

Leggo My Ego

Thanks to all of you for keeping things interesting around here. I'm distracted by sunshine and gardening and Little League, but I want to provide you with a link to scientists and other intellectuals participating in the "does God exist" debate.

Currently I'm reading Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth." Its foundational premise is not new, but it is free from the usual jargon and esoterica: put simply, we are not our minds; we are not our ideas or thoughts. We exist apart from our egos. Freedom from sin/attachment begins in observing the mind as separate and in nurturing love/egolessness. Tolle seems to have struck a chord for gazillions of people: the longing to transcend the hollowness of materialism as well as the tribalism and loopy claims of religion. Or that is how I see it, at least. Please weigh in if you have read the book.

(MTH and others, feel free to ignore the One Campaign button. Whether or not poverty is eternal is simply unknowable. I think fighting it is worthwhile, but of course there are many ways to do that, locally and globally. Currently the victims of natural disasters in Burma and China can really use our help.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Teacher Appreciation Day

In addition to this photo of flowers my son's classmates helped gather (from backyard gardens for the most part) for their teachers today, I want to offer up-front-and-center this recent commentary by OvenMitt. Thank you for visiting, and for some powerful teaching.

To Anonymous Poison,
My spouse is a former Laestadian; I was raised to be an atheist. I have a vivid memory from elementary school (in the 1950s) of my teacher chiding me in front of the class for saying things that implied that religion is essentially a scam to provide income and power to its leaders (I'm still shocked that she didn't pull me aside to make this correction.) I was loyal to science and reason and way more than skeptical of religion and faith: I was (in my own mild way) disdainful.

This remained my point of view for decades. Nevertheless, I got over it.

It is impossible to give too much credit to science and reason for the benefits that they bring to us in the well-fed first world, we who benefit the most from them.

Science and reason are a benefit wherever they appear, whether among stock brokers in Manhattan or shepherds in Mongolia. But, with that said, it is important to recall that science and reason are tools: they are the finger pointing at the moon. They are not the moon itself. Moreover, they have a critical and in some respects disabling limitation: they can be applied only to experience that can be shared and verified. That is where their power lies.

They work in a kind of marketplace or crossroads between people, but no one actually lives at that address, by which I mean to say that our root experience of personally being alive and our experiences of love, courage, generosity, compassion (and all their opposites) are essentially out of reach of science and reason.

If we think of our own experience of being-in-the-world as a kind of full portrait, the descriptions provided by science and reason remain stick figures. Or, one might look at it this way: A wiring diagram for a radio is not the same as listening to music.

As for factualness, for the most part, the stories provided by religion about how things work are all false. Completely inaccurate. Also, religious stories, too, are not the moon but merely the finger pointing at the moon. But the moon they point at is not some consensual reality that can be verified in public but the felt experience of our own individual lives. That is where their power lies.

Despite the annoying insistence of various kinds of fundamentalists to the contrary, the factual truth of religious stories is quite irrelevant to their value. I can't emphasize too strongly that, from my point of view, it makes no difference whatsoever whether they are factually true or not. None.

The stories offered by religion are false but have value; they can inspire great deeds and great works. One thinks of the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he is only the most obvious example of a person whose profound faith was the foundation of a world-changing character. But, though religion may inspire some, it is clearly also not indispensable: one thinks of Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet atomic physicist and human rights dissident, who had great personal courage and commitment to human dignity and had no faith. The history of the Soviet Union is proof that an (ostensible) commitment to the rule of science and reason is no bulwark against inhumanity.

In a church basement, I remember seeing this verse from Micah posted on the wall for the Sunday school children: "...what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

This is valid, with the proviso that it doesn't make any difference what the subject of "require" is ("those who love you" or "your own dignity" would be fine) and it's OK to delete the last three words. If it is true that, although religion can inspire, it can be misused (and it is true), it is also true that science and reason, though they can inspire, can also be misused.

Clearly, religion and science both inspire and are misused constantly. When I hear people being contemptuous of religion or being contemptuous of science, I think that (for the most part) this is simply a symptom of fear and that this fear arose out of (sometimes) terrible personal suffering. So I always want people to step out of the fortress of disdain, which is such an isolating and ineffectual fortress. To do so is what it means in the verse where it says "walk humbly."

But I also understand that no one can make people step outside that circle. I myself was inside it for decades. For most of my life.

But I got over it.

Anyway, I want to wish Anonymous Poison the best of luck and happiness.
OvenMitt

Friday, May 02, 2008

Dialogue

Hannah Arendt wrote in 1957, that for the first time in history, “all peoples on earth have a common present. . . . Every country has become the almost immediate neighbor of every other country, and every man feels the shock of events which take place at the other end of the globe.”

That was before the internet, mind you. In 2008, it seems we are shocked anew, every morning.

Arendt feared that this new “unity of the world” would be a largely negative phenomenon if it wasn’t accompanied by the “renunciation, not of one’s own tradition and national past, but of the binding authority and universal validity which tradition and past have always claimed.”

Arendt called for "a process of mutual understanding and progressing self-clarification on a gigantic scale."

Is it happening?

I'll admit that I am usually pessimistic about the potential for mutual understanding among religions. But recently, I've been challenged to look at the progress we've made.

When the Dalai Lama visited Seattle, he asked listeners to go to the essence of their own traditions.

That was not surprising. What surprised me was his statement that we are progressing as a human race toward universal human rights. It is easy to forget -- with daily news of war, torture, crime, abuse, human slavery, and hatred -- that we have made progress as a species.

Evils that were once tolerated are now publicly condemned.

Of course, we have a long way to go. The Dalai Lama called for this to be a century of dialogue. Dialogue is the first and essential step in mutual understanding. I hope his own efforts in the human rights arena (with the Chinese, about Tibet) are successful.

Meanwhile, in our own, individual spheres of influence, how are we doing? What is the purpose of our dialogue here, on this blog?