Moderation in All Things, Even Moderation: Politics of Polarization

ImageThere is a difference between healthy skepticism and intellectual laziness.  Often the two are confused.  Furthermore a man who falsely perceives his faculties to be sharp might just easily be falling prey to vanity and pride.  There is also a difference which the latter will always confuse of being a skeptic and a cynic.  A cynic will always believe he is merely a skeptic yet cares not in the least to hear a word which might contradict himself.  There is something even more dangerous than this, as previously mentioned.  The man who goes about his day, constantly considering “Both” sides as if for every aspect of life there is some cosmic struggle.  He is of two minds not because he has considered both options, but because that is his philosophy and he has confused being of two minds, being an indecisive and apathetic fool, with the wisdom of the middle way.  His ambivalence has become for him a life’s calling.  This is worse than the academic laziness of what has been passed off as Postmodern Thought.

To highlight this further, a man with such an inclination would feel very self-righteous in an age of political polarization as we have today.  This man might declare that he indeed is a moderate because he has sought to meet his opponents halfway every time.  The problem with this logic is that a man might say that he has a preference for potato chips over cyanide so he’ll go ahead and eat cyanide laced potato chips.  This man accepts the fact that we live in a polarized Postmodern world where everyone is entitled to an opinion and every opinion must be heard and therefore taken into consideration.  Furthermore he simultaneously craves the solace of his imaginary “Middle Ground” which false controversies and dichotomies creates.  Thus you have a slow and consistent shift away from the logical to make room for the absurd, because insanity should get a fare hearing.  I use to believe that the best place for a bad idea was out in the open.  Yes, I’d say!  Get it out.  Let the light shine its judgement on every corner and angle of this bad idea.  I was naive to say the least.  Not only is a bad idea not destroyed when its out in the public for everyone to see, it can thrive off of public attention, because a bad idea is often a lie.  And a lie coerces one into belief by disguising itself not just as an opinion  (though that itself would very well pass the muster for today) but as the truth.

And so our society has changed.  We’ve made so much room for mediocrity’s opinions that we no longer are able to perceive the fact of the matter.  We no longer watch the news one hour and entertainment the next.  The news IS the entertainment!  INFO-TAINMENT!  During this last election cycle, both major candidates skirted around the issues and offered canned answered already written up in a speech writer’s playbook.  As politicians do they both told half-truthes and one even straight-up lied (though I’m not telling you which one).  The sadness of all this is that we as citizens do not hold our politicians or our news corporations accountable for this.  And yes, your favorite news program bends the truth, either by offering pundit’s opinions as fact or by not telling the entire story, intentionally leaving out information.

The best way to stay clear of the polarization of our Nation’s politics is the simplest and most radical act one can make.  Turn off your Television screen.  Stop being a consumer, or at least reduce your consumptive dependance.  And then, talk to someone who you really, REALLY admire and ask their opinion.  But first turn off your Television!

I talked to a gal named Ruth from Maine.  She had some radical notions about self-governance.  You couldn’t really pin her into either party.  And to tell you the truth, you probably can’t pin anyone as being 100% in agreement with any party’s platform.  If you can, you might be a sheep.  Her biggest advice, get involved in local politics: town & county.  Those two have the biggest impact on a person’s life and is often the most under-voted for if it doesn’t show up with the Presidential Election.  Too bad!  It’d help to have a well informed electorate.

So if I could give just one piece of advice about navigating the minefield of American politics it would be this: Don’t be a jerk and disregard anyone who is.  If a shock-jock Radio host starts calling someone a name like Communist, Fascist, Nazi, Draft-Dodger, Pot-Smoking Hippie, etc. turn that off.  That’s called the Straw Man argument, which by the way is a Logical Fallacy.  Here’s a link to Logical Fallacies, in case you need to further distinguish between truth and fiction.

Here’s some homework for you.  Listen to you favorite politicians debate or pundit’s comments (you’ll get a lot here), and see if you can spot which statements are indeed Logical Fallacies.  I’ll give you a hint, they’re rife with them!

So, if you still believe that you’re a “MODERATE”, I’d have to say… quit being lazy, give up your cushy political beliefs that your parents told you to have (Yes you probably voted the same way they did). But also don’t give into the extreme rhetoric which is simply logical fallacies. Instead, seek out the truth for yourself.  Moderation in all things, even moderation.

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Finding Our Community Song: Creating the Bastyr University Alma Mater

Music is the amniotic fluid in which our daily lives are immersed, whether it’s on the radio on our drive to work or school, on the television during commercial breaks or in the background of our favorite prime time television, or in the grocery store, the gym, or the retail store in the mall.  It is the soundtrack to our lives.  Throughout history music has played a central role in establishing and defining communities, religions, and entire nations and not without good cause.

For the past twenty years, scientists have learned a great deal about how the brain responds to music and why.[1]  As the philosopher Immanuel Kant once noted, “Music is the quickening art of the soul.”[2]  The Ancient philosopher Plato once wrote that music, “gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”[3] These concepts of community, soul and life are also at the heart of Naturopathic Medicine, so it is fitting that music be given a place among the modalities of its healing arts.

“Music builds community in almost every niche of society.  Singing together affirms each individual’s voice and expression within the group, and subconsciously reminds everyone of the power of unified community… Music can gather and facilitate the flow of focus and energy as nothing else can.  The content of songs also sinks rhythmically and tunefully into their brains.”[4]  Furthermore, “Language itself may have begun by naming animals by imitation of the sounds they make.”[5]

Here at Bastyr University we are immersed in the myriad songs of the natural world, whether it is the birds in the garden, the wind through the pine, or the bees on the flowers, yet we have not our own song by which our hearts may gather.  Well, our Philosophy group did just that.  Through coming together as a creative community, our group contributed various skills and effort by 1) brainstorming words, phrases, & ideas which typified the Bastyr University spirit, 2) writing these words into metered & rhymed phrases, 3) listening as the song emerged from our hearts, and 4) Practice, Practice, Practice.

The tune from which this song is borrowed is called Annie Lisle,”[6] by H.S. Thompson, and was originally a ballad written in 1857 in Boston, Massachusetts, about the death of a young maiden.  Made famous by Cornell University as a spirit song, “Annie Lisle,” is now used by thousands of Universities, Colleges, and High Schools throughout the United States and is sung at Convocation, Graduation, and other academic events during a students’ tenure.  We here now sing this tune for you.  Please enjoy the Bastyr Alma Mater, ‘Neath the Snow-Capped Mountains’ Gleam, sheet music.

Verse 1

‘Neath the snow-capped mountains’ gleam

Amidst the evergreen,

Stands our noble Alma Mater,

‘Bove the lake, serene.

Listen to our elders whisper,

Hushed beneath the wind,

Call to us, dear brother, sister,

Be the Medicine,

Chorus

Swell the Chorus,


Speed it onward,


Never Fail to Cheer.


Hail to thee, our Alma Mater,


Hail, all hail, Bastyr.

Verse 2

Seek thee out in fields and gardens,

Find thee midst the trees,

Let thine garments come with spring,

As flowered fragrant bees,

Let the root and flower heal, as

Pure and vital truth

Blossoms forth, reborn, revealed,

As sweet as summer’s fruit.

 Chorus 

Verse 3

Let thy food be thine own cure,

Till sickness e’er departs

As the winter’s frost and chill,

Melts from our humble hearts.

Gathered here, forth from we travel,

On towards new frontiers,

May our hearts, knit, not unravel.

Sent forth from Bastyr.

Chorus (2x)

Bibliography

De Lorenzo, L. (1992). My Complete Story of the Flute. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press.

Kant, I. (2008). Kant’s Critiques: The Critique of Pure Reason, the Critique of Practical Reason, the Critique of Judgement. Radford, VA: Wilder Publications.

Levitin, D. J. (2006). This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York, NY: Plume.

Rossato-Bennett, M. (Director). (2011). Alive Inside [Motion Picture].

Snider, P. (n.d.). Listening Medicine: Pure Heart Medicine.

Sohn, E. (2010 йил 10-January). Why Music Makes You Happy. Retrieved 2012 йил 6-June from Discovery News: http://news.discovery.com/human/music-dopamine-happiness-brain-110110.html

Thompson, H. (2012, June 5). Annie Lisle. Retrieved June 10, 2012, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Lisle

Thompson, H. (Composer). (2011). Annie Lisle by H. S. Thompson (Fingerstyle Guitar). [oldwhtman, Performer] [digital video]. YouTube.

Young, J., Haas, E., & McGown, E. (2010). Coyote’s Guid to Connecting wtih Nature (2nd Edition ed.). Shelton, WA: Owlink Media Coporation.


[1] Levitin, D. J. (2006). This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York, NY: Plume.

[2] Kant, I. (2008). Kant’s Critiques: The Critique of Pure Reason, the Critique of Practical Reason, the Critique of Judgement. Radford, VA: Wilder Publications.

[3] De Lorenzo, L. (1992). My Complete Story of the Flute. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press.

[4] Young, J., Haas, E., & McGown, E. (2010). Coyote’s Guid to Connecting wtih Nature (2nd Edition ed.). Shelton, WA: Owlink Media Coporation. 121

[5] Ibid, 119

[6] Thompson, H. (2012, June 5). Annie Lisle. Retrieved June 10, 2012, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Lisle

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Room for the Broken: My Sister’s Keeper

There is not much room in this crowded place we call home.  Bodies packed shoulder-to-shoulder jostle for front row seats at the head of the table as the weaker individuals get left behind or trampled underfoot.  We give honor and praise to those who fight their way to the top, or even to those who are already on top, justified as we buy-in to this lottery system of material hope we call the reality of circumstances.  If we just try hard enough, we’re told, we can soar to the echelon of immortality with our fifteen minutes.  Life lived for fifteen minutes.  Otherwise, in not trying, we are justified in our failure in the eyes of the world.  But there is glory in our failure.  The rains fall with equal intent, as too does the sun shine.  And in our day-to-day craft of earning a penny more than our brother, we feel secure, all the while holding off on a life imagined that always lies just beyond that next horizon.  Not secure enough today, but maybe tomorrow.  Maybe then the grain silos will be full.  Survive.  Survive.  Keep your head above the visceral water so as not to drown in the sea of bodies, broken, trampled, and left behind.  I’ve earned the right to survive.  It is my birthright, my lot in life to take all that I can from my sister so that I may live, that I may survive.  I survive because I am stronger and life rewards such… right?  God helps those who help themselves… right?  Am I my sister’s keeper?  Yet the sun shines and the rains fall.  The earth gives freely of her bounty regardless of race or creed.  We say to our brothers, sit here, stand there, though the heart cannot be tamed.  Sit there, stand here, else, by that standard so imposed, you fail.  Yet there is glory in our failure by grace in the hope of our brokenness through awareness of our wholeness.  The soul cannot be tamed.  There is room for the trampled and for the left behind.  There is room for the broken.  When we rest in silence we may move in stillness and learn not to fear tomorrow’s horizon but instead realize that tomorrow is indeed today with all its fullness.  There is room at the table of Life.  I AM that I am.

I AM my sister’s keeper.

Inspired from meditations on the following: video, Luke 12:13-21, Genesis 4, Exodus 3:14.
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Passion & Meditation in Naturopathic Medicine: A Christian Perspective

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Passion is what motivates us.  In our careers in Naturopathic Medicine it is the greatest hope that as a physician we would be deeply passionate about our field.  Using the metaphors of Biblical language I hope to propose a Theology of Passion & Meditation as it relates to the practice Naturopathic Medicine in everyday life.  What shall here be proposed is not doctrinal statements, as it relates to Orthodoxy, that which was laid down in the Ecumenical Councils of the Patristic era of Christian history in the 3rd and 4th centuries, but a raw, bare bones expression of concepts and ideas in their essence.  In doing so I hope that I may shake the dust off of these words that they may breathe new life into our contemporary paradigms, in part because like an archer stretching back his bow we can reach into the past to let our passions shoot forth.

Originally from it’s Greek origin, Pathos means to “suffer, or to endure.”  The medieval use of the word took on further form as it meant, “a strong emotion, desire.”  Compassion, in essence means, “to suffer alongside with.”  In this foundational and universal sense of suffering, or in our case as Physicians, illness, we are motivated to act, to engage the world around us, and to be co-conspirators in what has been called, “The Divine Conspiracy.

But what motivates us to act in the first place?  Wouldn’t it be easier to accept this suffering and apathetically say, “To Hell with it!”?  My initial assumption at this point is to state that everyone, without exception, gets pleasure from one thing or another.  This is literally born into our genes.  Obviously you and I are here because our parents enjoyed something.  And you inherited, if not that specificity, that general desire for life.  Even when you are still, you cannot help but be alive.  I may point out here that even complete rejection of the world and of Life has in it the seed of desire; the desire of an ideal; a new world.  And that is where we start, with this desire, this hunger, this thirst for Joy.

The Biblical language offers a wealth of resources for contemplating joy.  There’s quite a lot of Hallmark worthy quotes, but this is not where I’d like to start.  When talking about Passions and Joy, I can find no better place to start than with the concept of sin.  This word for many contemporary listeners has such historic baggage with it that just its mere mention causes some to immediately shutter.  The Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek following the conquest of the Levant by Alexander the Great.  The Greek translation, along with what later became canonized as the Christian Scriptures, is the primary source for the development of Western Theology.

The Greek for SIN is αμαρτία, hamartia.  Literally translated this word means, “To miss the mark.”  Using the biblical imagery of metaphor we understand sin as that in our lives which misses the mark, or the point of life.  Remember before we said that history is like the strings of a bow.  The more cords we bind together, the more we learn from the past, the stronger the bow, the swifter our shot, the truer our aim.  Our bow can multiply force, or life, to the passion of our arrows.  But what happens?  We miss!  Well why did we miss?  Maybe we weren’t paying attention.  Maybe we were distracted.  Maybe our technique is off.  Maybe we weren’t aiming in the right direction.  Or maybe we simply need to practice.  Practice pays off for sure, but instead of leaving it there and telling you that all you need is to practice at being better Physicians, lets unpack this metaphor further.  Martin Luther, the rebellious German Catholic monk who nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door, once admonished his readers to sin and to, “sin boldy,” or rather, practice.  Practice intentionally.

So what is the mark?  What is the bull’s eye?  Using Theistic language, the mark is the centrality of life.  The mark is the very purpose of being.  The mark is the teleological end-point and reason for letting your arrow fly from its bow in the first place.  Namely, the mark is God.  And how do we hit the mark?  How do we connect to God?  How are we able to be in communion with God?  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that God, “… is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.[1]  If we are always waiting for God to appear, that time will never come.  If we are always searching in the past, we will never find God.  We can only find the Living God by learning to live in this present moment.

The present moment is all you ever need to find God.  Other metaphors for finding God are touching the divine, connecting with the universe, going to the source, etc.  Additionally there are numerous descriptions for which we learn to be present.  Eastern philosophy calls it Meditation.  Western Mysticism calls it contemplative prayer.

Rene Descartes’ maxim, “I think, therefore I am,” became known as the Cartesian Theatre of the Mind, and is the foundation upon which the Philosophy of Modernism and Western Individualism is built.  Jean-Paul Sartre’s critique of this statement gets to the core of the present moment.  “The consciousness that says ‘I am’ is not the consciousness that thinks.”  When you step back from thought, which is either a remembrance of the past or a projection upon the future, you fall into the present moment.  This moment is deeply spiritual and is at the core of every religion.  In essence it is a statement that the Divine is larger than any box you could try to fit it into, including the box on top of your head, i.e. your brain.  It is beyond words.  It is beyond comprehension.  Eventually you realize that the present moment was always there and indeed God was always there to begin with, you just required a change in perspective.  To use the Christian language of Baptism, this is what it means to be reborn; to be born again.

For individuals having difficulty grasping the concept of consciousness without thought, it is not the same as unconsciousness.  To elucidate this notion further we can use the language of Art to widen our metaphor.  When you ask a child to draw a tree, she likely will draw a green puffy, cloud-like shape with a brown rectangle underneath.  As she gets older she might add a branch or two, then a few leaves on those branches.  “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  But when I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.[2]  Ask that child several years later when she is an adult to draw a tree, what will she say?  “Oh, I’m not an artist.  I can’t draw!”  Ask a room full of four year olds to raise their hands if they can draw.  Every child in that room will raise her hand.  Ask a room full of adults?  One, maybe two adults.  Why?  If they drew a tree as an adult, most would notice that their drawing of a “TREE” looks nothing like an actual tree.  Likely at some point in her life, probably around puberty, when hyper self-consciousness begins to emerge and identity with peers is paramount, she gave up drawing and consequently remains stunted in this ability.

Learning to draw is perhaps one of the simplest things an individual can do to experience this present moment.  It just takes some practice.  It’s also one of the most difficult things a person can do because we have taught ourselves to no longer see.  We need a new perspective.  We need to be reborn.  The essence of drawing, and of Art in general, is to step back from the mental constructs of language.  Like Jesus himself, you have to become the iconoclast par excellence and tear down the institutional hierarchy of thought which dominates your world view and see the World simply as it is; as God sees it.  Eventually you will no longer label this or that as a tree or a leaf.  You will start to see lines.  And without labeling those lines you will see how this vertical line stretches across your canvas and meets with that diagonal line.  You will see how lines merge and diverge at various angles.  Eventually those lines will take on shapes; not the iconic shapes of puffy cloud leaves and rectangular trunks, as before, but merely shapes of infinite proportions.  And as you layer shapes upon shapes you notice that these shapes blend into one another and that you are no longer drawing lines or shapes, but shades and shadows.  Indeed, you are no longer DRAWING shades and shadows but adding shadows here and taking away shades there.  When you finish you step back from it all and behold your very real work of art.  You notice that your thoughts stopped.  You simultaneously were intensely concentrating on the task at hand that time seems to have flown by.  When time is compressed down into such a small space, when time flies when you’re having fun, you are experiencing the essence of eternity and communing with The Divine.  That is the mark.

But what happens as a consequence of all this?  Every action has a reaction.  Every to has a fro.  To get at the center of this, Theologically, we can reach back into the Biblical narrative to the very first book, Genesis, with the Creation story.  If in this present moment we are in communion with God, and we not only recognize it but experience it, then we consequently recognize that which is already in us.  The Latin phrase used is the Imago Dei, or the Image of God.  “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”[3]  Orthodox Theology describes this recognition and experience as Theosis, the transformative process of Divinization, which is the effect of Divine Grace, where one becomes free of Hamartía (missing the mark).  If one is made in the “Image of God” then is necessitates that certain characteristics, indeed all characteristics, of God can also be found in one’s self.  The first and foremost characteristic of God, the very first adjective used to describe God, is based upon God’s very first action.  By definition, God is Creator.  God is Creative.  Therefore, being made in God’s likeness, WE are creative to the very center of our core.  And it is in this present moment, this act of creativity, where we are united to God and experience eternal joy.

The concept of eternity for many is difficult to grasp.  Eternity is often mistaken for Infinity.  In many Western languages these two words are synonymous though their meanings are quite different.  Infinity is a measurement, like space or time.  Eternal is a characteristic, of God, of heaven, or the Universe, and describes a state of being, of perfection.  In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus starts off by answering a question posed to him.

“Teacher,” he was asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”

The man answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”[4]

The creative force within each individual, that characteristic of Imago Dei (the image of God) which we receive through uniting ourselves to God, is the seed which manifests itself into the world.  Christian Theology ultimately describes this event as Incarnational, where the Word becomes Flesh.  The Word of God is spoken from the breath of God, or Spirit (in Hebrew, Ruach), and takes shape in this world as an act of Creation, an act of Redemption, an act of Love.  Consequently, the end result of learning to live in the present moment is learning to love God and to Love others.  This notion even has scientific merit as Buddhist monks attached to brain scans while meditating show an increase in areas of the brain associated with empathy and compassion.

As Naturopathic Physicians, in order to treat our patients, it is necessary to develop this proclivity for compassion and love.  It is central to our Art of Healing.  In discovering what motivates us, we can learn how to focus our passions, to practice more intentionally so that we can more often hit the mark with our patients.  We can do a number of things to help on our teleological journey.  As we draw back the bow, we can continue to learn, we can remember the past.  But to move forward, however, we have to let it go.  The more we practice, the better we get at hitting the bull’s eye, the closer we get to it, and the more often we actually hit the target.

With practice we notice that not only are we getting better, but that the target is in fact getting larger.  Eventually it gets so big, your purposes become so in tuned with the present moment and so aligned with arc of the universe, that you no longer miss the mark, and in fact the only way to miss the mark is to not shoot at all.  Christianity calls this the one unforgivable sin, the Sin against the Spirit, the breath (Ruach).  This is unforgivable because to not be moved by the Ruach, by your passions, is to be dead inside already.  When you stop breathing, you die.  But as our lives progress, we learn to incorporate more of our life into that which we are passionate about and vice versa, we learn to incorporate more passions into our life, so that like a true artist our entire life becomes a work of Art.  This is what J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings, and a Roman Catholic, writes about in his essays when he describes how his world, Middle Earth, came about by becoming a co-creator with God.  As Dallas Willard describes it, we are co-conspirators in the Divine Conspiracy.

If to Sin is to, “miss the mark,” and the mark is the present moment and the experience of the union with God, then to sin is the failure to recognize the opportunity of this moment and to NOT be in union with God.  This, in essence, is the most fundamental definition of HELL.  Most people have this imagery of lava and volcanoes, fire and brimstone.  But HELL is this chronic disassociation, this constant separateness, from God.  And this isn’t waiting for you on the other side of the hereafter.  It can be experienced right now in this lifetime.  Hell is what we are capable of doing to ourselves and to other people when we are out of step with the present moment and the creative, loving force of the divine.  If God is the God of the Living, not the dead, then separation from God by definition is death.  You are separated from that creative life force in your own life and you are dead: dead to that spirit.

Inversely from experiencing Hell on Earth, we can experience Heaven on Earth.  The Gospels describe it as the Kingdom of God, or Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You![5]  If the Kingdom of Heaven is within you, and your experience of the world is aligned with the creative force of the universe, if you are tapped in to the Source, then this is the definition of Holiness.

There is an end result of all of this.  When Siddhārtha sat under the bodhi tree, he became, along with several other figures throughout history, a life-altering catalyst for countless individuals.  He became awakened, that is he became aware of the present moment.  And the consequence of such an act is revolutionary.  It’s radical.  It’s contagious.  This is the Divine Conspiracy, that a New Earth is awakening in the midst of the old.  That is why teleological concepts of the “End Times” are so prevalent within religious rhetoric, because progression occurs, Life changes, it never stays the same.  As Naturopathic Physicians it should be our Prime Directive to the best of our ability to allow our passions to move us toward this goal.  In his famous address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote:

When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.[6]

So breathe in.  Draw back your bow.  Breathe out.  Aim.  Breathe in.  Quiet your mind.  Breathe out.  Shoot forth.


[1] Luke 20:38 NIV

[2] 1 Corinthians 13:11 NIV

[3] Genesis 1:27 NIV

[4] Luke 10:25-28 NIV

[5] Luke 17:21 NIV

[6] Address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (16 August 1967)

Posted in Aesthetics, Art, Christianity, Creativity, Faith, Health, Joy, Love | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Deconstruction: Life as Process

 Image           Throughout my life I have made various assumptions and held various beliefs.  Each of these have stayed relatively consistent over time because truth, more so than not, is self-evident.  And in the process of life’s experiences, I often find myself coming full circle to where I started, which is an affirming notion.  However, life simultaneously requires us to never stop changing.  We are constantly moving forward.  Time only has one arrow.  It’s uni-directional.  And so these Coming-Full-Circle experiences are more like a three dimensional spiral, where through constant discernment of my own experience I come closer and closer to the truth, the reality of the world.

            This process of discernment can involve constructive and destructive elements, mixed together, happening all at the same time and sometimes with life altering consequences.  But if one is intentional with this process, she can accentuate the positive, and use the negative, or destructive, elements in a positive, or constructive manner.  Like a Sumo wrestler who, instead of meeting his opponent with an equal and opposite force (destructive), can use the momentum of his opponent to harness power and gently push him out of the ring.  This is a deconstructive (as opposed to constructive or destructive), whereby the elements of inquiry are systematically taken down one by one for the purpose of saving the good to use again in construction.  To illustrate further the principles of destruction versus deconstruction, imagine imploding a building versus taking it down piece by piece.  Afterwards, you shovel one and carry it to the dumps, but the other you recycle.

            Both methods are valid in the sense that they allow for further construction when the old model, or paradigm, is no longer entirely stable.  Some models, after being built up for so long simply fall apart on their own with no more than a slight wind to blame.  Jesus of Nazareth once shared these words:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Matthew 7:24-27 NIV

            As it relates to the process of destruction, that can be a favorable method as it allows, for as best as possible, a fresh start; a clean break from the past.  But as it relates to the human brain, which can remember quite a lot, such a clean start is nearly impossible.  But for the sake of explanation, a white canvas is always a nice starting point for whenever someone wishes to create symmetrical constructs with perfectly right angles, smooth curves, and aesthetically pleasing vistas.  But… make one mistake and in accordance with your destructive imperative, you must tear it all down again.  But there’s a better way.

            Deconstruction is like popping the hood under your car when there’s a problem with how it runs.  When that little light starts to blink on your dashboard you don’t call the insurance company and file a claim that your car has been totaled.  Neither do you send it to the scrap heap.  Instead you try to fix it yourself or even take it to a mechanic where she can take a part out, inspect it, and put it back in.  Then she might take another part out, inspect, and put it back in, and so forth, until she finds the problem.  So too in life we can undergo the process of transformation via deconstruction.  Deconstruction is just one facet of the overall process of construction.  A life in this manner is eclectic, and at times messy… but beautiful!  Sounds just like real life.

            So where does this relate to one’s own life?  Often times, people can decide to make a clean break with their pasts and completely reinvent themselves.  But what follows after this period of destruction is an attempt at construction that is just as formulaic and cookie-cutter as their previous life, in part because the impulse to make a clean break was inspired by the idealization of a certain system of thought.  It’s a lot like attempting to build a house by looking at the cover of “Better Homes & Gardens” in your grocery check-out aisle.  I could be talking about religion here.  I could be talking about philosophy.  I could be talking about any instance where you so covet your neighbor’s wife (or husband) and overnight try to turn yourself into your neighbor (Exodus 20:17 NIV).  The grass is always greener on the other side… unless you actually get around to doing the work of watering your own lawn!

            The Dalai Lama once lectured to an auditorium of young UC students at Berkeley.  After an inspiring message during time for questions a young man got up and said, “Your Holiness, I was so inspired by what you said that I want to renounce my current life, move back to India with you and become a Buddhist monk.”  The Dalai Lama listened with empathy and discernment.  What do you think was his reply?  Unfortunately for the young man, the Dalai Lama did not bring him along to India.  Instead he counseled the young man to find the truths in what His Holiness had said, and practice compassion in his own life and with his own neighbors.

            A similar situation happened 2,000 years ago to a lawyer listening to a poor itinerant preacher.  The lawyer asked the man a similar question and received a similar answer, just as had the young Berkeley student.  “Who is my neighbor?”

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Luke 10:30-35 NIV

            “Who is my neighbor?”  Your neighbor is anyone who is where you are, in THIS present moment!  “Who am I?”  You are you; your eclectic, messy, beautiful self.

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The Art of Appreciation: How a Chronic Pessimist Stopped

There is something weird that happens when a child inherits traits from both parents.  Magic.  Magic happens; something mysterious which we can’t explain simply by explaining it.  Something whose whole is greater than the mere sum of its parts.  As I contemplate the behavioral traits within my own set of parents, a unique though perhaps unfortunate disposition emerges.  My mother, ever the mother,  has an innate ability to predict outcomes.  She knows ahead of time what she’s talking about when she says while staring me down with eyes in the back of her head, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”  And on the other hand, my father has a unique talent not to predict outcomes, per se, but to cast visions into the future.  He is a dreamer (the productive kind), and can spur others on towards those dreams.

Well, what do these two traits have to do with me?  Nothing specifically.  But merge them together with enough of a balance and you get something completely unique.  Me.  For myself, I constantly experience a sense of idealism coupled with its intimate opposite, skepticism (and on my worst days, cynicism).  I see the world not as it is, but as it should be.  This is quite different from being able to either predict or create future events.  The benefits of this type of progressive thinking is that is primarily focuses on the inadequacies of the present as opposed to solutions for the future.  Some benefit!  This is all a very long way of saying, I tend towards pessimism.  But as all pessimists will tell you, we are simply just realists.  (Pause for laughter)

Contrary to this, my father has cultivated a remarkably thick skin towards various forms of attack, except for the occasional jab from his kids (Just kidding, Dad.  We love your bald head).  I’ve often wondered about the sincerity involved in such an attitude towards others, believing first and foremost that above all else sincerity is the highest virtue.  Polonius is my unofficial patron saint.  After all, if you aren’t honest with yourself, you end up lying to everyone.  Yet people tell themselves a remarkable amount of lies everyday just to get by with the demands of life.  And I’m no better.  For much of my life I treated my father’s jovial nature with a dismissive attitude, much like many Christians dismiss Christ’s commands in the Beatitudes as an unattainable ideal, which no mere mortal could ever accomplish, save the Son of God.  Is it just me or do we as Christians too often use Christ’s divinity as a copout for our own selfish and sinful behavior?  Why even try, right?

Eventually, thankfully, things started to change.  Things are still changing.  My dad didn’t give up on doling out advice.  His conclusion is the same that is ascribed to by Alcoholics Anonymous, “Fake it ’til you make it.”  In other words, if you want to be, then do.  Or as Ghandi once famously said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Essentially, if I want to nip these thought tendencies or vices that I’ve cultivated for most of my entire life, then I have to fill them with other practices or virtues, less an empty room gets re-filled soon enough with even more unsavory guests.

“Every instance is an opportunity to affirm other people” (Read that again).  And less you fear that your head and your heart are not in conjunction with one another on the matter (i.e. that jerk in the cubicle next to me doesn’t deserve my affirmation, just my scornful wrath), simply practicing it will make you think it to be so.  But if your head and your heart aren’t aligned then do a little thought experiment.  Take the subject in question out of his/her context and assign attributions based on that context.  In other words, see the world from a pair of eyes that have been born again.  Look without labels.  See the world as it is.  Maybe this is what Christ meant when he told Nicodemus that we must be born again.

Furthermore, we know that thoughts affect our actions, and even more so that our actions can affect our thoughts.  It’s a two-way street between the head and the heart, and no other practice of cultivation can be greater for either party than the proper care of that road, namely the body.  If there’s one powerful lesson that I had to learn the hard (HARD) way, it’s that proper health (good nutrition, exercise, and sleep) makes the challenges in one’s life a whole lot easier to deal with.  If you want to stop that naggingly compulsive negative attitude, you can do something about it.  You can practice the art of appreciation, first and foremost by sincerely affirming others as often as possible.  And eating properly also helps tremendously, too!

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The Secret to Understanding Holiness Through the Presence of Others

Lately, in light of meeting really, really quality people, I feel like my own character pales in comparison.  Imagine how Isaiah must have felt as he stood before the throne of God.  So unclean!  So unworthy!  Now take that down several notches and that’s what I’m talking about.  Being in the presence of holiness is both inspirational and highly convicting.  You feel simultaneously inadequate yet spurred on towards your own possible acts of righteousness.  This is what Peter must have felt when he knelt before Jesus and famously declared, “Though art the Christ!  The Son of the Living God!”  This presence of holiness can occur as a means through other people in which in that moment they are a vessel (conduit) through which the Holy Spirit is channeled.  That moment and that person, are a means through which God enacts His Kingdom plans for your life, which in its own right is to become a vessel to carry His Kingdom plans to the world.

What does that feeling feel like?  It feels like being a teenager again and falling in love.  Not crushing.  Not being infatuated.  But genuinely being in love.  It’s like wanting to throw up when you feel like you’re about to go in for that first kiss.  For the very squeamish, it’s enough to make them want to run away and hide.  Perhaps this is what the fear of the Lord is truly about.  That feeling of unworthiness.  You want to be in their presence, you know that it is a good thing, yet you also know how you yourself just don’t measure up.  It’s more than humbling.  It’s humiliating.  And yet, they remain.

What strikes me about meeting people whom I have genuinely felt the presence of God’s holiness through is that they are unaware of it.  Perhaps even more so they generally don’t recognize the lack of holiness in others because holiness in general overwhelms everything else.  Holiness, because of it’s redeeming power, cannot legitimate sin through its recognition.  But sin sure as hell recognizes holiness and either flees from it or gets consumed by it, ultimately making the choice of redemption to occur naturally, as in going with the flow of being overwhelmed, or intentionally running away from it.  This is perhaps a union of Reformed theology’s irresistible grace and Wesleyan theology of free will.  Free will might play into intentionally, and forcefully opting out of God’s grace which ultimately consumes you if you do nothing to prevent it from happening.  Inaction, might still be volition.

And so this is how it is when you are in the presence of amazing men and women in Christ.  God’s holiness through their lives overwhelms the moment.  It brings you closer to God.  This is what Catholicism understands about the Communion of Saints and the salvific repository of faith – the ability to be saved through other believers.  These people, these living Saints, become sacraments through which God performs His miracles.  They become windows, Icons, into the Divine.  Therefore, there is a social contagion dynamic.  Holiness is infectious.  Christianity is an epidemic of global proportions!  So what’s my plan?

I’ll tell you . . .

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Full of Grace

Her name was that which could have filled a room

with a smile; she smiled with her eyes

and mouth. She smelled like jasmine in full bloom,

hung on the evening air. In the night’s sky

the stars came, one by one, and she smiled.

She always smiled even if she would cry.

A warm memory when she was a child –

night’s sky – of wearing her mother’s perfume,

pretending to run away for a while.

The prodigal girl on her windowsill

sat and stared up above. She was waiting

for the hairs on her neck to stand; the thrill

of the unknown; never hesitating.

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Church Community: Rediscovered

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about church and church involvement.  I’ve noticed that my views on church have changed, or rather oscillated, over the years.  This was usually in conjunction with whatever emotional stage of development I found myself in at the moment.  Just to give you some insight into what I’m talking about, I’m sure you can imagine what an 18 year old’s view on church participation might be compared to an 81 year old.  They would be quite different, I believe, not just because the older person is supposedly wiser, etc. but because also because different brain chemistries are affecting different behaviors and susceptabilities to different threshholds for tolerance, whatever that might be in a liturgical setting.  This is partly to blame for why, when churches have multiple services on a Sunday morning, attendance generally becomes polarized according to age.  As you age, you generally sleep less, go to bed earlier, and wake up even earlier, compared to a teenager who can sleep in until two in the afternoon.  All this to say that there is a very basic truth to the idea that one’s views are contingent upon one’s age, and that as age changes, so too does one’s views.  So this has happened with me in regards to church, not so much because I’ve discovered some great underlying truth which I have lived in my life and feel that others should do the same, but because I am at a different part of my life which correlates with the natural development of an organism, per se.  In general, I find myself coming back around to the concepts of church which I so eagerly struggled against even just a year ago.

Prior to this, I saw the negative effects that a church community can have on themselves, on individuals, and on their community.  For example, a church can be very insular and parochial.  It can focus all of its attention on itself.  It can create so many activities for its members to participate in that it turns into a lesson in introspective navel gazing.  Also, a church community can be a hotbed of gossip, a prime incubator for the rumor mill to spread like a disease.  It can be really, sadly destructive for a community.  The problem I had with all of these tendencies was that as a younger individual I, like so many who have gone through this stage before me, was an idealist.  Idealism can make reality incredibly hard to live with, particularly so because when confronted it can lead to cynicism.  In short, I saw everyone’s hypocrisy.  Growing up in a denomination that emphasized holiness, the perceived hypocrisy around me was like salt in my idealist wounds turned to cynical scars.  But perhaps this was necessary.  Perhaps I needed to see the shortcomings of others.  Now before you quote me Matthew 7:1-5 (the Plank Eye verse) I’d have to tell you up front that for much of my life I have indulgently berated my own faults, somewhat hypocritically in that I protested too much against my own vices.  It’s like when a pastor says, “I am the worst sinner among you all,” as an act of false humility.  If this were true then he/she likely wouldn’t be that church’s pastor for very much longer.  But you are right!  When I went to church to worship with other believers, all I saw was a bunch of phonies.  I was the Holden Caulfield or my church and I would save any would-be children playing in the field of theology from jumping over the ledge of self-righteousness by passive-aggressively denouncing them through whatever means of social influence I could leverage over them.

But something happened.  Maybe I grew up.  Maybe being a catcher in a field of rye wasn’t as productive as the regular discipline of mowing the field so that the cliff could more easily be seen before it was too late.  If there is any lesson that I learned that brought me towards this change it is that it takes more effort to sustain a bad temperament than it does to cultivate a happy one.  It’s a lot easier to simply let go of crummy attitudes.  This isn’t to say that when you let go of negative thoughts that happy thoughts, especially about other church members, will naturally appear.  They might.  But they probably won’t instantaneously.  As time went on, I rediscovered that natural state of interacting with people that very young children lose when they learn to build barriers of protection against the pains of this world.  I opened up.  I saw for the first time in a long time that people are people and that issues need only be addressed once and then from then you must move on.  But if you don’t address it immediately, and you don’t make sure they understand how you feel, then it probably wasn’t worth the upset to begin with.  This is all generalities.  I haven’t had conflicts with anyone in church thus far.

People are people.  And it’s not so much that people make mistakes, or are incredibly sinful, it’s just that communication, or a lack there of, can cause confusion.  But what can come of this is false expectations and I generally think that this is where conflict, particularly in church participation, can arise.  “You’re not pulling your weight around here!”  Such a complaint might come from a martyrdom complex (as in the church lady does everything for church’s ministry and she gets no help or no thanks), but it also simply comes from different attitudes on what is necessary for church involvement.  So what do we do with the messiness of church?  What do we do when others expect us to participate (or NOT participate) in such a fashion?  Relax.  Grow up.  Get a life.  Insist that your own rights aren’t being violated by someone’s request for participation.  And insist that the rights of others aren’t being violated by your declination of participation.  If they persist then that signal a deeper issue that might need to be resolved.  Namely, this person might only be happy if others are miserable.  So calm down, and enjoy each other’s company for the time being and remember, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 NRSV.

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Church-Hopping Made Easy: A Guide for Not Being an Ignorant Atheist (or Christian)

I’ve attended several different churches throughout my lifetime; churches of every denominational type and stripe.  This might strike some as a big “Whoop-Dee-Doo” moment, but for various reasons.  In conversations with many different people, whether or not they claim to be Christians, it strikes me that many people know very little about Religion in general; that is, there are many basic assumptions about Religion which are taken for granted.  In my experience I can describe two groups of people, those who know about Religion and those who do not.  It strikes me further that of those who have made a choice to not know about Religion find themselves with very odd bed-fellows.  Namely, the two categories that know very little about Religion in general (and this is from my own experience) are either extremely religious or extremely irreligious.

What does this have to do with Church-Hopping (as the title suggests)?  For starters, you get to see how other people do this thing called Church and more importantly, Faith.  Concordantly, it gets a person out of that bubble (that comfort zone) which as a social species we are so apt to find ourselves in.  As it relates to the highly religious and the highly irreligious, there is a similar vein in either stance which relies upon its own ignorance and parochialism.  This is the confessed Atheist who knows nothing of sacred scripture, from any religion, but draws conclusions without gathering evidence.  This isn’t skepticism.  Skepticism considers the evidence.  This person is simply a Cynic, or a person who disbelieves everything, and mistakes it for intelligence.  Likewise, the highly religious individual may often know every scripture verse by heart but nothing of what it’s about.  They are worlds apart in their stance on the existence of God yet their hearts are in the exact same place, stubborn pride.

As I’ve talked with Atheists, Agnostics, Jews, and Muslims, I’ve found that I have more in common with these groups than with several highly religious Christians.  What strikes me (and I truly feel that both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are rolling over in their graves because of this) that many of these Christians do NOT have that sense of wonder and awe about the miracle of Life that I see in many of my non-Christian friends.  On this note of miracles even, as an aside, it strikes me that neither the highly religious nor the highly irreligious have time for miracles.  For the former, miracles are a thing of the past and God does not need to produce miracles any more.  If He did then (as the argument might go) we would not have to rely in faith upon the Word of God, which to them is simply code for the B.I.B.L.E..  For the latter, miracles simply cannot exist in this universe and if they did then they wouldn’t be, by definition, miracles to begin with.

The comparison between these two groups in understanding their similar logic is important to understand because it is often the case that the highly irreligious and the highly religious come from similar backgrounds, experiencing a crisis in their lives and are unable to cope because they are given a system of understanding which is rigid, brittle, unforgiving, and quickly crumbles after the first crack in the foundation.  This is why a great many irreligious are NOT actual Atheists but in fact are simply Misotheists, god haters.

So what is needed?  Any good diet needs to draw upon a variety of nutritional sources in order for the individual to experience maximum health.  Likewise, the soul needs to draw from a variety of sources of inspiration.  Before one jumps to the conclusion that this is simply a plea for pluralism or worse syncretism, I have to warn you that such a rash statement is usually a guise for emotional insecurity on the part of whomever makes the accusation.  Usually their own faith is not mature enough to handle such issues with adequate articulation so if the objectionable concept can be labeled as heretical, then it can be easily dismissed.  This it the straw-man fallacy and it doesn’t work.  Ultimately this begs the question, what is truth?

Ultimate Truth, as C.S. Lewis would suggest, is that which nourishes the soul, those passions which moves one towards God, even if you don’t know it, whether it is singing, or (as was his case) reading, or running, or listening to music.  Ultimately, in that moment of inspiration, God is whispering in your ear.  You may not know the various ways in which God personally whispers in your ear.  You may have spent your entire life being told that God whispers in such a style of church service with brass band music, where in reality He created you to hear Him at a different frequency, at a different resonance, in Gregorian chants.

It is at this point, in arguing for a multitudinal approach to understanding church denominations that I would argue that on the day of the Church’s birth, Pentecost, the Holy Spirit caused the Apostles to speak tongues according to the various nations which were represented in the Temple in Jerusalem.

“Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” Acts 2:7-8 NRSV

The unity of the church does not belong in a certain language, or a certain ideology of any one denomination, or in a specific worship experience.  The unity of the Church belongs in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore I would encourage you, Christian or not, to experience the full breadth of this ancient religion before you make assumptions about what it is about.  The greatest way to do that is NOT by reading a book, not even by reading the Bible, but to experience the scripture as it is lived out in the community of believers.

If you are a Protestant who knows very little about the Roman Catholic church, save what you know by hearsay from your church elders or sadly perhaps even your pastor, attend mass and talk to a priest.  If you are an Atheist who thinks she knows everything about Evangelicals because she occasionally watches FOXNews, I challenge you to go to every type of denomination and talk to each pastor, even with explicit clarification beforehand that you don’t want to convert you just don’t wish to remain ignorant.  And I say every type of denomination which falls under Evangelicalism because if you’re going to talk about it in a lump sum, then you simply can’t experience an Evangelical Presbyterian church service and have anything intelligent to say about Pentecostals or assume they are the same thing.

The general rule, and this should direct your entire life, is that if you disagree with something, challenge yourself to understand why you disagree with it.  Talk to someone who sees things differently, not to try to convert them, but for once in your life to try to understand them.  You will find that you have much more in common than you ever could imagine.  And that you might have been nourished like you never were before.

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