Sunday, June 27, 2010

Enjoy the Pebble

I can't get enough of Alan Watts and I don't know if it's his voice or the way he presents his philosophy, either way I find it mesmerizing. Here's an interesting audio clip, whether or not you agree with his statements.

I've also stumbled upon Alan Watts Podcast which streams his recordings which have been preserved in the archives of the Electronic University. Of course there's always Alan but I couldn't find anything there like this.

Are you enjoying the pebble?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dear Uncle Pat

Dear Uncle Pat Robertson,

What would the world do without you? I've been patiently awaiting your response to the recent destruction of Touchdown Jesus, of course I get all my news from the Daily Show and they haven't mentioned you in quite a while. I guess I could watch the 700 Club every once in a while but I get bored quickly (not enough hellfire and brimstone like your buddy John Hagee). So what do I find to my surprise after a quick Google search for news about you within the last week but the "Ask Pat a Question" forum on your website! Total Sweetness! I wanted to pose the question in a manner so that it wouldn't get immediately rejected by your staff, I had to make it sound it came from a concerned Christian and not some wacko unbeliever. Here's my question.
"Is the recent destruction of the "Touchdown Jesus" another sign from God of the End Times?"
Please respond Uncle Pat, I've been dying to know and so have a few other people. Since you have a direct line to God I am hoping my question gets through, and if it doesn't I invite others to submit their own here. Sure they might not get aired unless the questions support your theological view, Uncle Pat, but it's worth a try.

From an unbeliever considering joining the 700 Club if you air my question,


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wheel of Time

I recently rented a documentary on Buddhist practices and rituals by Werner Herzog entitled Wheel of Time. The film focused on the Kālacakra Initiation which took place in Bodhgaya, India in 2002, the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment. Kālacakra centers around the building of a beautiful sand mandala which is made entirely by hand by skilled monks. Here is a chart breakdown of the elements in a Kālacakra mandala and a video depicting the 3D image that this 2D image represents.

[Image of a sand mandala, taken from We Can Change the World.]

I found the Kālacakra Initiation, which initiates practitioners into Vajrayana Buddhism, fascinating although I'm unfamiliar with their rituals and, quite honestly, Buddhism altogether. Yet hundreds of thousands of Buddhists came not only to get initiated into the Vajrayana practices but to see the Dalai Lama who leads the initiates through the ceremony. This ritual is meant to activate the seed of enlightenment and help the initiate onto the path towards buddhahood. Some came by prostrating themselves the entire trip. One such pilgrim, Lama Lhundup Woeser, traveled in prostration for over 3,000 miles which took him three and a half years to complete. Word spread quickly of his journey although he didn't want any attention, and because of his dialect the film crew needed two different translators because he came from such a remote village. Monks held theological debates while others prostrated themselves towards the Sri Maha Bodhi, the bodhi tree claimed to be the descendant of the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. Many of those prostrating towards the tree had a goal of prostrating over 100,000 times which usually takes them up to 6 weeks.

It is a beautiful film and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Buddhism. It doesn't get into much detail but it is worth checking out. But through all the rituals and chants the thing which moved me the most were the human moments. Watching thousands of people chanting and meditating you almost forget that they still feel pain and suffering, love and compassion. There was one scene were it looked like the monks were throwing out food or gifts out into the crowd (it looked like candy bars) and people were scrambling like mad. Another scene showed monks rushing to get the chance to work in the kitchen to feed their brothers. And as the Dalai Lama announced he was too ill to lead the main initiation rites announcing the cancellation and postponing of the Kālacakra initiation, you could see the Dalai Lama holding back tears of pain for all those who've traveled hundreds even thousands of miles to attend.

The rituals were concluded later that year in Austria as the monks rebuilt, consecrated, meditated upon, and finally dismantled the sand mandala. The mandala is then thrown into a nearby river to show the impermanence of all things created where it will flow out into the world as a blessing to all. And yet it wasn't the rituals and ceremony which stuck with me after the film was over, it was the human moments: the smiles, the laughter, the tears (of joy and sorrow), the acts of compassion, and just simply being with your fellow man. There is a short interview with the Dalai Lama who speaks about Mount Kailash being the center of the universe. He goes on to say that each of us are equally the center of the universe. At first this seemed odd to me coming from the Dalai Lama but what I think he meant was if we are all the center and we acknowledge each other as the center, acknowledge each others equality (and our potential Buddhahood), then our reasons for "one-uping" our fellow man begin to dissipate as we realize our relationship and interconnection with our neighbor.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Thou Shalt Not Have Any Other Chickens Before Me

Every now and then I do a search for religious or spiritual videos on Youtube, although 90% of the videos on Youtube are mind-numbing rants occasionally I find a gem. This is definitely not a gem. From my research the street preacher is a member of Truth Defenders (domain owned by Luis Zepeda) and this video I believe takes place in Santa Monica, CA.

No offense to the members of the Interplanetary Church of Cosmic Chickenhood, but the emotionally stirred Christian has a point about not worshiping a chicken: why should we lower ourselves to worship an It instead of a He? I guess for the same reason we as a species stopped worshiping Goddesses, a male-dominated society doesn't want to bow down before a woman. Why should we lower ourselves, right?

The entire concept of worship is the act of acknowledging a power higher than ourselves regardless of what form that power may take, but why does the divine need to be gendered? The street preacher never explains why the divine as a person is superior to an It, he just states that He is superior, period. This is a language issue, and regardless if the divine is a Him or an It, in this line of thinking God is still superior. The argument is over the image of God, an image which is trapped by definitions and language which can not accurately represent the essence of God. The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao. Well, that is if you believe there is an eternal Tao, if you don't then this entire debate is pointless (I believe there is an eternal Tao and I still think this debate is pointless).

The issue which I found most intriguing is the need to have the divine not only bear some similarity to man (the highest form of intelligence on the planet, using the word 'intelligence' loosely) but must be a superhuman form of man. But an It can be greater than man, just look at the totality of reality. Are not various elements of the cosmos as well as the universe as a whole greater than man? Some may call the totality of all things God, but regardless if God is an It or a Him, these are still flawed descriptions trapped by language. The point the gentleman at the mic was trying to make is that there are various views, definitions, and images of the divine made by mankind throughout history. The plurality of imagery and views ascribed to the divine is only offensive to those who need a foundational constant upon which they may fix their reality. Yet the struggle to define a divine constant (i.e. God) only increases the stress and fear which drive us to grasp It in the first place. A dog chasing its own tail. Can we find and understand the eternal by ceasing our search for It? Or is God found in and as the chase itself? What always surprises me about these street preachers is their focus on proving the world wrong instead of reaching out compassionately to the world. Love will heal the world, not hatred.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

It's Our Fault

What does it take to (literally) be Jesus: fame, wealth, and a whole lot of followers. I just watched this clip from Nightline on Youtube entitled I Am the Son of God and it got me thinking, even if I was right with God and followed his Master Plan, the events of my life would still be at his mercy, so why bother? Ah, but there's the catch if you are faithful you might have the slim chance of being one of his emissaries on Earth. Like maybe one of these guys...

Or maybe not. But unlike Sergey Torop (The Siberian Jesus) and David Shayler (The British Jesus) Apollo Quiboloy has set up a nice little Eden for himself off the backs of the poor. I don't have the National Geographic Channel so I guess I'll miss the Second Coming documentary. Hope it doesn't have any vital info or else I might find myself left behind. Here are some quotes by Quiboloy which really stuck out.
Quiboloy: "If it's not God's will for me to have this things I have, you can take it away. It is God's Will that we follow. If it's God's will for us to live like this, you know, you can have a broken heart looking at me, but what can you do?"
Quiboloy goes on to argue after being questioned about his lifestyle that he lived among the poor...once. That counts, right?
Quiboloy: "If it's not his will how can I afford that?"
People like Quiboloy go beyond merely following God's will, they exploit that belief to build themselves a kingdom. More mainstream churches also exploit this to a degree ("God will bless the givers!") but not to the monstrous level as Quiboloy, Hinn, and various other televangelists. But at the foundation is the belief itself that a supernatural being is in complete control of the universe.

During church this morning the pastor brought up a question which isn't, I assume, brought up very often in front of the congregation: who is responsible for the suffering caused by natural disasters? The pastor mentioned the recent flooding in Arkansas, the earthquake in Haiti, and the 2004 Tsunami as the congregation listened with rapt attention. "It's (the disasters) our fault", he said, since we brought suffering upon ourselves by introducing Sin into the world.

Really? I hope I wasn't the only one who felt this answer lacked compassion and rationality since Man has discovered the mechanics of weather. God doesn't send a storm to punish one man (we were reading from Jonah), storms develop naturally based on the present conditions. It is human to look for and create reasons and meaning where there is none to be found but I can't imagine God is still annoyed with Man for being curious enough to eat from the wrong tree (that must have been some good fruit). Nature is chaotic, the universe is chaotic, but Man can choose. The pastor presented the congregation with a choice: to run away from God (and inevitably towards Hell) or to run towards God. Quiboloy made a similar statement, which spooks me how similar a Baptist pastor is to a man proclaiming to be Jesus. Yet the "it's God's plan" response to the suffering is beyond heartless, it makes God sound like a tyrant. Is life really all about blind obedience and loyalty to a God which doesn't care whether we live or die?

We decide how to treat our neighbor, and if we choose to increase suffering, that is OUR fault. Quiboloy does run a few charities but lives lavishly off the suffering of the locals. There is no need for a literal Hell beyond the grave because Quiboloy's actions creates hell on earth. He may live in paradise but I know I, as well as most rational people, would be suffering from a psychological hell to be in his position (and yet in a global sense and even though we're barely getting by on my wife's income, I am in that position). There are some things that are beyond our control, and we should hold ourselves accountable for the suffering caused by our actions and, at times, inaction.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Is God Necessary?

No question is taboo for me, or at least no question I've come across thus far in my spiritual journey. I may even end up with the same answer I began with before asking the question, but I believe that anything which appears too sacred to be question SHOULD be questioned. I don't see any issue with questioning belief and tradition. How can your beliefs be truly yours unless you've questioned them, and until then they don't really belong to you, you belong to them. When it comes to proving the existence of God I couldn't care less; either God (as a separate divine being, the Bible God) exists or he/she/It doesn't. How does proving his existence make any difference? Does believing he exists cause us to actively change how we behave? Can we not change how we behave without a divine command?

So is God even necessary? This would depend on your definition of God. How you define God shapes your image of God. Most people can't get around this idea because they find it offensive. They would add that it is not their idea but revealed in their holy book. Again they refuse to acknowledge the involvement of fallible humans (and fallible prophets). And even if you cover all of mankind's involvement with the belief that God protected his Word from corruption, not to forget variations due to scribal error, we still get a book which is a mash up of smaller individual works by authors from different eras, cultures, and theological views. Since the Bible is a compilation of many works the collection, reading, and interpretation of the Bible creates a new view, a Biblical view, not available to the original authors themselves, and since I'm already spouting heresy, nor available to Jesus either. It continues spiraling out of control since there have been thousands of various views and interpretations which have been considered "The Biblical View" resulting in unique communities of believers. To claim your beliefs and views of the divine were shared by the patriarchs, prophets, and early church believers is like saying Jesus was a Democrat. My point being, without falling too far off topic, is that each of us has a unique view of the divine. Uniqueness does not mean your beliefs are erroneous because you lack a majority voice to support you, unique views of the divine should be cherished, shared, and allowed to grow as well as the people behind them.

But back to the question at hand, is God necessary? As usual I respond to a question with another question: Is love necessary? Yes, love is necessary, but not just tribal love, but transcendent universal ALL embracing, enveloping, transformative love. I'm reminded of this cartoon I saw on Hackman's Musings recently which shows Christ on the cross encircled by a mass crowd holding hands with the words: All means All. That is my definition of God, not the anthropomorphic God found in scripture, a separate supernatural being, but love itself, Love Incarnate. I believe that many people (including many of the millennial generation) are having trouble connecting with the archaic view of God found in the Bible. As a millennial myself, we still yearn for that connection with the divine through new definitions and concepts on what That is. That does not have to be supernatural and some find it permeating throughout all of creation. What I think many feel is unnecessary are the definitions used to describe God, yet we are trapped by language and therefore trap the Unnameable with human words and ideas. Atheist believe God and religion is unnecessary and they don't commit any more acts of evil against humanity than believers. I don't believe God, as we once knew him, has to exist for us to be moral or even to have order and meaning in our lives. We create our own meaning and as for morality we have an inner sense of right and wrong that each of us choose whether or not to follow regardless of our beliefs. I'm not trying to disprove the existence of God, since that would be a waste of time, and theologians should spend less energy trying to scientifically prove a statement of faith.

But then another question arises: if I find the existence of God unnecessary how do I seek a God which may not even exist? What I seek is not righteousness, knowledge, or even a presence of the divine, what I seek is connection. Connection is love, love is connection, and all of it is divine. That is my That. If I were to summarize the gospels in one word it would be 'Love'. But not just acting out Love but embracing Love until it becomes a part of our identity, until Love becomes more than just an action but through us becomes alive, conscious, and all embracing. Even if God doesn't exist I believe that through Love we are actively creating God simultaneously as God creates us. And in the process of man and God co-creating each other we begin to lose where each of us end and the other begin, Tat Tvam Asi. Connection is love, love is connection, and all of it is divine.

If you find God, however you may describe the word, necessary I honor your beliefs and would like you to share how this shapes you as a person and connects you with humanity. I'm not saying you're foolish in believing in an anthropomorphic God just that I no longer connect with that view. Instead of battling to prove who's right let's share are unique views of the divine with each other.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Canyon of Faith: Part 2- We're all Connected

During my recent visits back to church I've been pondering the canyon which separates the faith I once had and the faith I have now. What really separates the me from 5 years ago from the me of today? Do our beliefs really make us better than our neighbors, and does our faith help us to love them any more than without belief? Why is it easier to be Right in Belief than Right in Love? As always I'm not out to bash Christianity but to wrestle with the unasked questions themselves, and in wrestling I might find some enlightenment even though the question may defeat me.

I often describe my spirituality, my identity, and my relationship with the universe as a god-sized puzzle (hence the title). I chose this title during a time when I struggled with my beliefs to the point of near insanity (well, I'm probably over exaggerating). As I began studying the different world religions I noticed two things: there is no one right religion because all of them are hiding skeletons in their closet, and even though they use different symbols they all seem to point to the same thing. What that is, I have no idea and might only exist in our heads. I began this journey with a mission statement: to connect with my fellow man. That to me IS the divine, not a bearded OT God or anything supernatural, but unfortunately even using the word God is problematic which is why I gravitate towards the word, 'divine' (although 'Source', introduced to me by Don at Reflections, also has a nice ring to it).

I don't experience that interlocking connection at church. The members at Calvary Baptist (the church I attend) would say that I'm not allowing the spirit of God to enter my heart in which I would respond by stating, "the spirit of God is already within us, we're just drowning it out by singing praise to a man-made God, a God made in our image." This doesn't mean they don't experience something, they do, it's just that it doesn't speak to me. I can't connect with the death and resurrection imagery of Christ on the same level as they do. It might just be that they do feel connected to each other and to God and their desire to bring people into the fold is their way of sharing this experience (which is fine as long as sharing is done in the spirit of love, without pressure and threat of hellfire). The main issue which keeps me on the far ledge of Christianity, or any other faith for that matter, is that their connection with mankind and the divine has borders, their relationship has limits. Christians can connect with other Christians, even with varying denominations, but have trouble connecting with Muslims, and so on and so forth. Loyalty to your tribe and to your beliefs supersede compassion and connection with your neighbor. The only way to keep your religious identity and truly connect with others is by holding your beliefs very gently and very lightly. The Bible doesn't have to be literally true to be spiritually true, and even if it's spiritually true at the time of it's canonization does not mean that it is exclusively true in our 21st century global society.

Why is this so hard when it sounds so easy? Do we really have to be Right in Belief instead of Right in Love? Every time a Christian questions me on the state of my soul they ask me, "what if you're wrong?" I always respond by telling them that a compassionate God would not fry an Atheist or an Agnostic for loving their neighbor. And if this "compassionate" God would indeed fry people for wrong belief than I would still continue loving people regardless of my afterlife destination. Real grace, love, and compassion can't be freely given under threat of annihilation or divine command. The source of our love for each other should come from within, from our shared human spirit. When we begin to realize our connections with our neighbor we honor their humanity and our equality. For stardust we are, and unto stardust we shall return. For as walking, talking stardust, the "fruit of the universe" to use the words of Alan Watts, we are gifted with a narrow window of existence in which to interact with the world around us. Who are we to increase the pain and suffering of others within that short window? Let us enjoy this gift, and celebrate life together before our return to the place of our birth.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Exercise Your Heart

Yesterday I was on my way to pick up my brother-in-law from summer band practice at his middle school when I passed this clever church sign. So I pulled over and snapped a picture with my phone.

I love church signs, and now I wonder who's behind all these clever sayings? If anyone has a clue please let me know. This one caught my eye because it can be read in a manner different from what Pastor David Bragg intended.

For a healthy heart-exercise your faith.

The message is simple: mankind has issues with morality and church is where you can get help. Most people would leave it at that and continue driving, but not me. The words were entrenched in my mind where I mistakenly over analyze everything (my wife says I think too much). Going to church won't help you with your morality, your heart. All they'll do is remind you that you're a sinner, to pray every day, and to read your bible (and a small donation to God is also encouraged). How is this exercising your faith? Physical exercise entails carefully pushing your body to handle more pressure, pushing your body further than the day before. Sure, some of us may start off doing 5 push-ups a day (like myself on the Wii-Fit Plus) but if you want to see any improvements you've got to increase the pressure. Exercising your faith should entail pushing yourself to love your fellow man a bit more than you did yesterday while questioning some of the foundational principals of your faith. What does it truly mean to love your neighbor? Who exactly is our neighbor and which is harder to love: the fellow Christian down the street or the Atheist next door? What do we mean by love: tolerating homosexuality by loving the sinner and not the sin or totally embracing everything about that person including their sexual orientation? The only issue is that this may put some of your previous beliefs into question. Questioning your beliefs, like exercising, hurts at times and there's no way around it. This to me is exercising your faith, pushing yourself towards loving your fellow man.