Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Spirituality of an Atheist

I recently stumbled upon this video by A. Hughman on his spirituality as an Atheist. This is a truly heartbreaking video I recommend to everyone.

What does it mean to be spiritual? The answers differ based on our worldviews yet beneath it all we share the same Human Spirit. My spirituality rests in the sharing between myself and others, and myself with the Universe. To me, being spiritual is allowing the wonder and beauty of All overtake us until we lose our sense of separateness and blend with All.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Dance of Ecclesiastes: Part 2- Time to Breathe

Ecclesiastes 2:22-23 (ESV)

22What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.

[Photo of the world’s most precise clock, based on the vibrations of a single aluminum ion, by J. Burrus/NIST, click here for the full article.]

Our daily lives are ruled by the Almighty Clock. We are humbled by its constant ticking and follow it diligently. It tells us when to get up (yells at us if it has to), when to eat, when our favorite program is on TV, and when to sleep. There is a time for everything and as long as we follow it precisely we enjoy the day. Yet what do we do, we sleep in, we waste time in a bored stupor surfing the net, and worse we frustrate ourselves when we're late! Our body becomes tense, our heart rate and breathing speeds up and during this moment of anxiety we have the potential to make rash decisions. But why are we in a hurry in the first place? We become late either through our own actions (hitting the snooze) or through no fault of our own (stuck in traffic). And even when we're late through no fault of our own we continue in our state of anxiety, we blame and punish ourselves for random events outside of our control. This is where the wisdom of Kohelet comes through to help us understand the rhythms of the cosmic dance.

People are most familiar with Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes than any other part of the book, and, in my personal opinion, is considered the heart of Ecclesiastes. It opens with a statement most people don't take into deep consideration. There is a time for EVERYTHING, this includes both the good and the bad.

Everything has its time and even more shocking God has made EVERYTHING beautiful in its time. Death, war, pain, suffering, all of the negative and painful moments of our existence are beautiful in its own time. What does this mean? Is the text (3:11) really saying we should really embrace the good and the evil equally? Does this also mean that both originate from the same source (i.e. God) or maybe that Good and Evil are more interdependent and intertwined than we believe? Regardless, all things are said to be made beautiful in its own time. Reading the second half of the verse...

Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)

Some may interpret this as describing a Divine plan interweaving the good and bad times in our lives for some greater purpose. But this is not only contradictory to the theme within Ecclesiastes but sounds incredibly disheartening. It's one thing to say that "sh!t happens" and we have no control over the chaos of the cosmos it's another to say that God has us suffer for a reason.

So if we have absolutely no control over what happens to us (well, I take that back, we do have some control), what are we to do? Kohelet weaves three concepts into Ecclesiastes which will help us to enjoy life through even the worst of times.

Learn how to Tell Time. There is a time for everything and if we learn how to tell time we can fully embrace the specific season and then let it go. Yes, sh!t does happen but not always. We may feel trapped and overwhelmed when bad things begin to happen in succession but they don't continue forever, just as the "good ole' days" don't always last forever (and aren't always as good as we remember them). What we must strive to do is to BE angry, happy, sad, and excited during it's time but to let go when that time is up. The letting go is, in my opinion, the hardest part of being human. We yearn for stability in an unstable world, something, anything that may give definition, guidance, or purpose in our lives. We want to control the music, the rhythm, the dance instead of flowing with it.

Vexation of Breath. Koholet likens this foolish clinging to the good times and bad to chasing the wind, ryut ruach, vexation of the breath. It's foolish to think we can hold onto to anything in life so why do we struggle so violently holding our breath? If everything is in constant cycle, constant motion, wouldn't it be easier to relax and breathe in rhythm with the universe? The rough times in our lives won't hurt forever, unless we allow them to, and will eventually fade away into memory as we begin to experience the happier times. Yet we can't fully enjoy the happy days if we're holding onto the pain of the sad, and vice versa. If we let go and stop fearing the inevitable, life will still suck but not as much without the stress and fear we add to it. Bad things WILL happen. Period. So why struggle? I'm not imploring defeatism, nor is Kohelet, but a sense of realism.

Eat, Drink, and be Merry (oh, and a few good friends wouldn't hurt). The first two helps us to understand and deal the flow of the universe, the ups and downs of life, yet they're hollow and bring no comfort whatsoever. Where then do we draw meaning, purpose, and joy?

12I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 (ESV)

It is painfully simple yet rarely practiced advice. Millions of Americans struggle for a sense of happiness and search for it everywhere but the one place they fail to look, the here and now. You don't need to attain immense wealth, status, or wisdom to grasp that happiness is found within ourselves, it is here already! Good food, drink, work, and a few good friends make up the foundation to a joyous life. Many of us already have these but we fail to realize it. We're all looking outward toward our neighbor (and our neighbor at us) and assume that they have found something that we lack. So we toil and trade our precious time in the Now for time in the Future.

"After I get X,Y,and Z THEN I'll be happy."

So we rush out and we get X,Y, and Z and boy do we enjoy them, for a time. But why couldn't we be happy before we went out seeking? The only barrier preventing us from enjoying the here and now is ourselves, not God, Fate, Chance or your neighbor. No one is out to get you (well, maybe) so kick back take a deep breath, invite a few friends over, and have a party.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Obama Admits He's a Muslim! Are We Still Debating This?

1.4 million views in 6 months. What are people looking for when they watch videos like these?

There are 3 things that does scare me when I watch videos like these and it's not about the possibility (which is nil) of him being a Muslim.
  • People reveal their bigotry and hatred for The Other a lot easier when hiding behind avatars in the online world. It is easier for us to throw rocks from behind a bush than out in the open. I don't fear the people who are openly hateful, I fear the ones who disclose their hatred.
  • People will swallow any easy answers even if it nurtures the darker side of the soul.
  • When we are confronted by the unknown we warp and shape it into an enemy. Suffering, pain, hunger, poverty are not tangible enough (although the people who experience it are) to confront so we must create a tangible target.
The only part of the 1st video sounding remotely close to Obama admitting he is a Muslim is at the :57 mark. The following video puts the statement into context.

People are looking for Obama to slip up and say he's a Muslim as if this would destroy America. (Just take a look at this screenshot taken yesterday on some of the responses displayed in the comment section of Youtube user, FeelTheChangeMedia, who posted the first video on his channel.) The real fear isn't based on The Other it is based on the unknown elements of The Other. People fear what they do not understand and this fear drives them to hatred. For some, it seems easier to demonize and eliminate the unknown than to embrace it. And of those who actually reach out to learn anything about Islam are faced with the difficult decision to read something that supports their fear or something that may allay it. Most people are very uncomfortable with pulling the rug from under their own feet, and are much more willing to comfort themselves with the fact that they were right than letting go of their fear and hatred EVEN IF one doesn't agree with the faith.

I leave you with Bill Maher to settle the Obama Muslim "Controversy".

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Dance of Ecclesiastes: Part 1- Everything is Breath

Ecclesiastes 1:2-4 (ESV)

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
4A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.

[Ecclesiastes by Gustave Doré. 1866.]

Last week in our The Bible: Origin and Content class we began reading through Ecclesiastes, and I was quickly reminded of the importance of scriptural translation and transmission. From the get go, Ecclesiastes, one of the wisdom books, sounds incredibly depressing when read from my NIV.

Meaningless, meaningless! Everything is Meaningless!

What's the wisdom of everything being meaningless? This book reads more like a teenage Jewish goth's diary entry than an inspired book of the Bible (I wonder if there are Jewish goths?).
Even those who question the existence of a Grand Designer can safely say that not everything is meaningless. Sure, I could go along with the basic Christian interpretation that every work of man is vain except for fearing God and keeping his commandments (Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14). Yet these verses seem almost tacked on by an outside commentator and this simple and literal interpretation comes across as cold, unconvincing, and contradictory to the message of Kohelet, the Assembler. Yet if the message isn't about fearing God and keeping his commandments, then this book would be very troubling to the religious/political system.

How then do we read this highly problematic text? Rabbi Rami enlightened the class, while simultaneously disturbing a few of my classmates by the look of their faces, by going over the various translation of verse two, which he argues is the key to unlocking the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. Take a look at my chicken-scratch notes.

The literal translation of the Hebrew word Hevel is "breath, vapor, or dew" which carries a connotation of emptiness or something insubstantial. It can be translated as "vanity, meaningless(ness), or futility" but when you take the the second phrase into consideration Ryut Ruach, "vexing of the breath", translated in my NIV as "chasing after wind", the text is cracked open like a window in a stagnant house. The writer uses the imagery of breath to explain the impermanence of life. This turns the entire text upside down, so instead of everything being

vanity of vanities! All is vanity!

The text now reads

breath of breath! Everything is breath!

Life, through the eyes of the Assembler, kohelet, is constant motion, turning, in and out, up and down, impermanence. Everything is constantly shifting. The sun rises AND sets, the wind blows north AND south, and water flows down stream only to end up in the sea, evaporate and rain down again on the land. Everything is cycling, turning, breathing not only in nature but in our lives. You can work hard your whole life building vast wealth only to pass it on to your children who may or may not squander it. You may live on in your writings only as long as people continue to read your work. There is nothing that can be done to secure a safe, comfortable, happy life eternally. We attempt to secure happiness by any means necessary even if it negatively impacts are fellow man either directly or indirectly. We always want to be content, happy, and have a full stomach but this is not always the case. The rich can become poor, the young will become old, and the loved can become heartbroken. Life is a chaotic wave and struggling will only cause a vexing of the breath.

Interpreted in this manner this book becomes contradictory to the message in the rest of the Bible. Is God not in control, or is God not all powerful? Do we pray in vain? Does God not bless the righteous and punish the wicked? Kohelet, doesn't focus on the afterlife and mentions God only in passing. His message is on the chaotic nature of existence. There is no foundation, nothing firm to hold onto, we're on a roller coaster ride and there are no seat belts.

So what does this mean? If nothing in life is permanent what can we do? It means there is a natural flow, a cosmic dance, which if we understood the rhythm and allowed ourselves to dance in unison with it we would enjoy the dance itself and not look towards the applause at the end. We may trip and fall but if we are fluid with the rhythm it would appear as part of the dance itself! Yet we shouldn't cling to repeating the same dance steps over and over again. By embracing the unknown we are thrust into the realm of continuous creativity. Even though fear is ever present, delving into the new and undiscovered realms of reality and chance outweigh that fear, at least for me. Ecclesiastes reads more as a book of celebration and liberation than one of utter hopelessness and misery. We just have to learn how to dance, and to dance properly we have to learn how to breathe.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Alan Watts Theater

I can't seem to get enough of Alan Watts' philosophical explanations (although Watts likes the term ways of liberation) on our interdependence, relationship, and unity with the cosmos. Here is Watts on Nothingness.

Someone on Youtube has collected all the short animations created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the South Park guys) on Alan Watts into a 10 minute clip including the short clips entitled Life and Music and I which I've posted in the last couple weeks. Enjoy.

There is one last clip, on Madness, not included in the video above which can be found here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

An Assemblage of Separate Things: Part 3- Final Thoughts

"We then behold the Self wherever we look, and its image is the universe in its light and in its darkness, in its bodies and in its spaces. This is the new image of man, but it is an image. For there remains --- to use dualistic words --- "behind," "under," "encompassing," and "central" to it all the unthinkable IT, polarizing itself in the visible contrasts of waves and troughs, solids and spaces. But the odd thing is that this IT, however inconceivable , is no vapid abstraction: it is very simply and truly yourself."

The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts (pg. 155)

My first thought after finishing The Book was "I need to read that again". I can't pinpoint exactly what resonated with me, but I feel that something did. Resonating is different from believing, especially because the concepts brought up in this book goes beyond belief into the realm of understanding. Simply believing that we are IT does nothing for us since IT must be experienced firsthand. Once experienced , once you Know, as Ram Dass describes it in his book, Remember, Be Here Now, "to him who has had the experience no explanation is necessary, to him who has not, none is possible."

So where does that leave the reachers, seekers, explorers, thinkers, and everyone else drawn to the Unnameable? If God/Jesus/Allah/Brahman/Deus/Elohim/the Universe can be experienced why do we stop at simply having a relationship with the Divine? Would not a deep close relationship be one where we begin to lose track of our separateness like Adam and Eve described as "one flesh" in Genesis 2:24? Christians speak about having a relationship with Jesus Christ and even describe the closeness of that relationship with the Christ and the Church as one body, made up of many individuals (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Yet when we think of our own body we can't pinpoint directly where the "I" resides (watch the cute animation from part 2), so what about the church? Where is the central "I" of the church? Most Christians would say it is Jesus, but that would be like my hand saying that my head is in control, the head being more important bearing the full identity of the body. I'm aware that Paul was probably writing about communal cohesion and interdependence but my point is if we, as Christians, were to have a connection so intimate with the Divine we had difficulty describing where the Divine ends and the mortal begins imagine the transformation within us! We would not feed, clothe, comfort others because "it is the Christian thing to do" but because they are a part of us, realizing the deep connection we share with all creation. It would be like my feet, hands, and mouth refusing to work because they think the stomach is lazy. Eventually we'll feel the pain of our unloving actions.

Do I believe this taboo of taboos, that I am God (i.e. The Universe)? No, and even if I did I would have completely misunderstood the concept. It's not that I'm opposed to it or I can't grasp the concept, it just seems that this taboo must be experienced. To paraphrase Watts, those that say they Know don't truly Know. It isn't ABOUT belief! It's about connection, experience, and that is the big hurdle which must be taken daily. I want to move beyond belief and faith to embrace the interdependence we share with all.

An edited and extended version of this post is up on my class blog, American Spirituality, where my classmates and I will be posting our thoughts on our class readings.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Richard Alpert on LSD

As we move on from Alan Watts to Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) in my American Spirituality class, I've enjoyed perusing Youtube videos on his speeches so that I may gain a deeper understanding on this contemporary spiritual teacher. Here is a clip of Richard Alpert (after his Harvard days I'm assuming) on the value of LSD and its benefits to humanity.

Episode II- Attack of the McGlone: Part 3- Final Quarrels and Comments

Last week, Pinpoint Ministries, and their banners displaying who is on God's Naughty List to MTSU, still weighed heavily on the minds of my fellow classmates. During last week's demonstration, our American Spirituality professor, Rabbi Rami, let us go early to observe, interact, and take notes of John McGlone's hateful words on the crowd. As we spoke on what we witnessed there was one thing the class did agree on: McGlone's words were indeed hateful.

[Photo by Jaysta at Chaos Coaster.]

Half the class was silent on the matter. The other half, including myself, spent the entire class period debating the theology behind McGlone's words. Pinpoint Ministries' main message: stop sinning and turn to God. That was the message, the way it was given was wrapped in a homophobic, hatred layered, self-righteous burrito. And it tasted a bit undercooked too. The talkative half of the class was split in half between those who defended the Christian message without question and those who did not (both abhorred the hatred). For simplicity sake I'm going to call these groups the Christian and the non-Christian even though this is a gross oversimplification since I have no idea whether or not anyone in the non-Christian group are actually Christians (like myself).

The debate itself was only supposed to take up a small portion of class time focusing on the topic of responding to John McGlone and friends, but it quickly spiraled into a full on debate on Christianity itself.
  • Is there a consistent picture of God in the Bible?
  • Are the images of God in the Old and New Testament the same, and how do we reconcile any differences (God of hate vs. God of Love)?
  • Does God really hate the greedy, fornicators, homosexuals, liars, thieves, immodest women, etc?
  • Does God really hate certain people, or just certain sins, or all sins?
  • Why does God hate?
  • Are we really born with Original Sin?
  • How do we come to terms with the "I'm in, you're out" concept in organized faith?
  • As 21st century Americans, what do we do with the OT laws? Are they still applicable, do we pick and choose, or follow all of them?
These were some of the questions that were tackled during the entire class period (I was personally hoping to get into some Ram Dass) and the Christians gave a basic Christian defense to all of them. Now, I want to make perfectly clear that we, the "non-Christians" and Rabbi Rami, were NOT attacking Christianity but were bringing up perfectly legitimate questions found within the faith. As I mentioned in part 2, John McGlone did not rise up out of a vacuum since there are many who believe and support his message however cruel and hateful. There was one vocal student who stated that McGlone's message was Biblically-based but that he delivered it all wrong. The student went back and forth with the Rabbi about the genocidal texts in the Bible. Can any evil be justified as long as it originates from God? In my opinion the student would argue, since he didn't come right out and say it, that if it was a part of God's plan then in that instance, genocide was OK. God knows best.

My issue is with following this image of God so blindly when deep down inside you know there's something wrong with this picture. Is it more sinful to question the image of God in the Bible or to ignore our basic sense of right and wrong excusing God for all of his bad behavior? The Christian counter-argument would have been, if we didn't run out of time, that since we are mortal we have a skewed sense of right and wrong. I would disagree, genocide is genocide. It's still wrong no matter which God ordains it. There is nothing wrong in putting your trust and faith in God, but that faith should be tempered so that it makes you into a more loving Christian. When we follow without question and interpret without a modicum of Reason we may end up like McGlone preaching hellfire at strangers.

Update: Michaela Morales, the student accused of assaulting John McGlone last semester, accepted a plea bargain to pay $80 in restitution and serve a year on probation. Read the full article here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

An Assemblage of Separate Things: Part 2- So What?

"If, then, after understanding, at least in theory, that the ego-trick is a hoax and that, beneath everything, 'I' and 'universe' are one, you ask, 'So what? What is the next step, the practical application?'-I will answer that the absolutely vital thing is to consolidate your understanding, to become capable of enjoyment, of living in the present, and of the discipline which this involves. Without this you have nothing to give- to the cause of peace or of racial integration, to starving Hindus and Chinese, or even to your closest friends. Without this, all social concerns will be muddlesome meddling, and all work for the future will be planned disaster."

The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, by Alan Watts. pg.115-116

Watts spends the first 2/3rds of the book attempting to illuminate the reader of the illusion of separateness before tackling the plan of putting theory into action. Yet as soon as he pops the question he basically states that there is nothing you can do. Well the you that is You, not the you that is I, the universe. There is nothing that you (your ego) can do because any action taken by the ego is in danger of falling into the vicious circle of one-upmanship.

"I am more pious than you."
"I am more loving and accepting than you."

"No, no, no my friend, I am more aware of the ego-trick than you."

Further down the pit we tumble as we pat ourselves on the back for donating blood or pointing out the follies of fundamentalists. And with each ego-inflating comment I make I spiral downward as I comment on the comment (did you catch that?), further and further reaffirming what Watts calls the ego-trick. So instead of asking So What?, it seems we are caught asking ourselves, So What Now?

By trying to escape the clutches of the Ego and embrace the eternal Now, we are digging ourselves deeper, struggling tightens the restraints of the trap. Have a headache yet? Watts gives a list of practices to help begin the journey of escaping the ego-trick but he cautions that we can not Will ourselves or take any actions (short or long-term) to experience the melting of wave into ocean, do not try to get rid of the ego-sensation. Instead of asking how to get there we should be asking ourselves why we want to get there. When the answer becomes self-knowledge that the ego is a fake and the line between observer and observed (which is also fake!) dissipates we find ourselves "not in a world but as a world which is neither compulsive nor capricious."

So which then is better: to be aware of the trap and struggle to free the ego (by understanding the struggle as an illusion) or to be unaware of it and struggle to save our ego from total annihilation? I don't ask the question because I'm struggling for an answer, if there is an answer to be found, I ask because I'm drawn to _____. That! That which we can not even begin to describe so we dance, sing, pray, write, paint, build, share, give, and love collectively in an attempt to describe to one another the experience of ____. "That is the Self. That is the real. That art thou."

An edited and extended version of this post is up on my class blog, American Spirituality, where my classmates and I will be posting our thoughts on our class readings.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Episode II- Attack of the McGlone: Part 2- _____ is my truth, Suck it!

It is said that Truth hurts, but exclusive Truth is potentially deadly, and as demonstrated on Thursday, potentially embarrassing. There was a plethora of signs held up by students during McGlone's tyraide but the most intriguing, thought-provoking sign read "Quran is my truth. Suck it!" I don't think there was a sign there more deserving of the "Best Illustration of the Pot Calling the Kettle Black" Award. Did the Muslim gentleman know he was demonstrating the same ignorant close-mindedness as McGlone? No, probably not, and that scared me more than the speaker. Not because of the faith behind it, but, in my view, people ignorant of their intolerance seem a bit more dangerous than those who boldly declare it.

[Photo by Jaysta at Chaos Coaster. She took a lot of great photos, click here to see all of the creative signs made by the students of MTSU.]

Click here for part 1: When it Rains...

There was more to Thursday's demonstration than a preacher spreading a perfectly valid form of Christianity or even the argument over the definition of what constitutes as true Christianity. Although most of us believe Christianity is a loving and peaceful faith, its rocky history is often overlooked and re-envisioned as a compassionate, loving faith. Which it is, or at least should be, don't get me wrong, I'm just saying that McGlone is not alone. He's just louder, bolder, and more direct than his silent peers. Mainstream Christianity believes that the Bible is the Word of God, infallible or not, and that a connection with God is found through Jesus Christ. As Christianity evolved throughout history, Christians struggled to retain their identity as Christians in an ever increasing secularizing and pluralistic world. The borders of belonging, belief, and behavior help to shape a Christian identity and protect them from the world of Sin. Some, like McGlone, believe that true Christians are called to battle the forces of evil and must do everything in their power to combat it. This is rooted in their interpretation of the text through the Holy Spirit. His interpretation of Christianity is only one of many, regardless if we think it is truly Christ-like or not, it is complete truth to him. McGlone believes that homosexuality is a choice regardless of whatever "liberal leaning" scientists may uncover or even that only 6 or 7 verses in the Bible directly deal with homosexuality. He also believes that if you hold beliefs contradictory to his then you have earned yourself a one-way ticket to eternal punishment for your erroneous choice. There is no reasoning with McGlone, because to him, if we continue to choose Sin over his view of God, then we will continue to be the enemies of God. Demonizing and labeling the Other as evil and sinful reinforces his own identity. He is sinless because he chooses not to sin according to his interpretation of the Word. In his mind, he is holy, separate as the divine instrument of God.

[Another shot of the crowd taken from my phone]

How then do we retain our identity without compromising the borders that shape it (belief, behavior, belonging)? Maybe the answer lies in not building the foundation of our identity on static ideas, and adopting a more fluid, open mind while simultaneously holding our personal truths ever so gently? But this is near impossible for most. A part of our humanity demands stability and permanence for survival or, at the very least, sanity. We crave for something concrete to stand on, and when found it becomes our security blanket. What I witnessed was a crowd of people who appeared to be united against McGlone as he condemned EVERYONE for not being a Christian like him, but this was not the case. We showed up with our personal Truth in our pockets and voiced our opposition of other Truths aiming our anger, hate, and mistrust upon McGlone.

"Homosexuality is my Truth, Suck it!"

"Quran is my Truth, Suck it!"

"Evangelical Christianity is my Truth, Suck it!"

"Atheism is my Truth, Suck it!"

Yet behind closed doors, in chat rooms, and in private conversations we whisper what McGlone screeched out loud on Thursday, _____ is my Truth, Suck it! We attempt to smooth things over in public by holding conferences, luncheons, and meetings to discuss our differences, but that is like slapping a band-aid on a fatal wound. It's a nice gesture but we're still going to bleed to death. Eventually we'll just go back to our pockets and pull out our Truth. Our loving, warm, and cuddly Truth.

[Rabbi Rami, on right, jammin' to some music]

What can we do about it? I don't know, but I can hazard a guess. Maybe when we pull out our Truth we may realize that it is incomplete, instead of envisioning it as the Whole Truth we may begin to notice the connecting ridges alongside it, like a puzzle piece. As we meditate on our Truth it may begin to change the perception of our identity. The borders that separate You and I begin to fade and we see that we are a lot closer than before. Fuzzy at first, the lines that interconnect us come into view, connecting us to one another and to everything and everyone else. As the lines begin to clear we notice that it goes beyond mere interconnectedness as we lose track of where I end and You begin.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Once upon a time the mouth, the hands, and the feet said to each other, 'We do all this work gathering food and chewing it up, but the lazy fellow, the stomach, does nothing. It's high time he did some work too, let's go on strike!' Whereupon they went many days without working, but soon found themselves feeling weaker and weaker until at last each of them realized that the stomach was their stomach, and that they would have to go back to work to remain alive."

From The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, by Alan Watts.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Episode II- Attack of the McGlone: Part 1- When It Rains...

"Every time you come it rains!" yelled a hooded girl from the audience.

This just about summed up the atmosphere of the mass crowd who came to see the returning controversial preacher at the Knoll on the campus of MTSU, John McGlone from Pinpoint Ministries. Yes, that John McGlone where last semester Michaela Morales was charged with assaulting him while spreading the "gospel".

[Photo taken from my cell phone]

The sad reality is that the hooded student was right, every time he came it rained. Let's face it, it's just as likely to rain when clouds approach as a preacher like McGlone is going to piss off a few people. Scattered throughout the teasing and name calling in the crowd were a few responses to McGlone's message which made my head turn.

"Read Mark 2:17, you douche!"

I had to stop and think, which was difficult in a sea of screaming college students, about what the gentleman meant. Was he trying to fight self-righteousness with self-righteousness? Does dropping down to the preacher's level really help? In fact McGlone reveled in it, he drew strength from it, and with every "fuck you" and "go to hell" that was flung at him, they were digging themselves deeper and deeper, effectively proving his case. A part of me wanted to join the crowd and yell back, and lose myself in the mass hysteria. Yet there is nothing much you can do when either party plugs their ears. Any opposition will only make the situation worse. A Christian campus ministry group passed out cards with scriptural answers to Pinpoint Methodology and Beliefs. This might inform a few people but it doesn't dissolve the crowds. There was a Facebook group of silent protesters, but there really was no way to tell the peaceful protesters from the rest of the crowd.

So what can you do in this situation? The same thing you do when it rains: use an umbrella and take cover or embrace the rain and let it wash over you. McGlone's words sound extreme because he is saying them out loud and in public. Yet within the safety of our tribal groups or even within our heads we say, think, and believe in concepts just as radical and hateful as McGlone's. We're no better than him because we keep our hateful thoughts to ourselves, in fact we're probably worse! McGlone's evangelism is a necessary evil because it makes us face the bigotry and hatred within society and within ourselves. I would like to clarify that I don't agree nor condone McGlone's style of confrontational evangelism. It makes me sick to see this happen, and worse that it happened on my campus! What we should be doing is not fighting radicals like McGlone but to stop and think about the hatred within ourselves. This sounds impractical and pointless but if we don't acknowledge our inner demons how can we stop them from manifesting in our every day lives.

There are two good things that happen when it rains: it waters and cleanses the earth, and it doesn't rain forever.

Click here for part 2: ____ is my Truth, Suck it!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Empty Pot at the End of the Rainbow

I just stumbled across this video and just had to share this with everyone. I believe this video sums up the eternal chase we experience in life. Life isn't about the end but about the experiences throughout our journey.

Compassion Hurts

And it isn't easy either.

It is putting the needs of others before your own, trading your momentary comfort to relieve the pain of others. Or maybe I'm being a bit dramatic after giving blood on Monday.

The last time I attempted to donate blood was in 2005, I was 21 and they turned me down because I got a tattoo a couple months prior. I was a young buck with a wounded ego, "what do you mean I can't donate?" The lady I spoke with attempted to explain something about hepatitis from getting ink done but I wasn't paying attention. Actually, I was trying to donate plasma and was in it for the money. But this time was different. On Monday, the Red Cross was holding a Blood Drive in the same building I had class in so I thought I'd try again. Not for money, or for bragging rights, but because I wanted to help the people of Haiti (which I assumed is what this blood drive was for) anyway I can. I can't fly over there to help in the rescue, and I could donate money instead, but what's $50? What's $200? Why not give life itself?

I was nervous, not out of the process itself but of rejection. What if my blood is no good, or worse, what if I have a health condition that they don't catch until given to the recipient? I eventually rationalized that these people are experts and my worries were unfounded. After a series of questions and paperwork they sat me down and began the process. The needle itself, although menacing ("you're sticking that in me?"), was no more than a mere pinch. I stared at the clock and squeezed my fist as instructed every 10 seconds.

8, 9, 1o, squeeze, 1, 2, 3...

I watched the doctors, nurses, and volunteers buzz around with their duties, and, shamefully, eavesdropped on some of the conversations. Apparently, one young donor had been born in Germany in 1990 and the staff was trying to determine whether or not it was safe to accept her blood (one of the questions for eligibility asked if you had lived for a total of 6 months in Europe from 1980-1990). As the minutes went by I (my ego) was content that I had made it thus far without dizziness or feeling faint. And then it happened. The room spun and I had a warm tingling sensation run through my body. The nurse elevated my feet and I remained in that position until they concluded taking my blood.

I felt pale and nauseous, although what I went through is nothing compared to how my poor wife felt when she almost bled to death during the birth of our firstborn. All I could think (my ego again) was how much of a lightweight I was, can't even donate blood without getting dizzy. Reading the nurse's expression at the station across from mine I concluded I must have looked dreadful. It was then I realized that as I voluntarily hurt for someone I'll never meet, the medics at the blood drive voluntarily hurt for people they've only just met. I may have been delirious but I could have sworn I experienced compassion drip from every person in that room. Strangers helping strangers give life to strangers. What I went through was a minor inconvenience, yet these collection of minor inconveniences help to reduce the pain and suffering of others. How can we hate our neighbor when we share the same spring, the same life source? I have the potential for hatred but I can't rationalize the need to hate someone for any reason whatsoever. How can mankind be at odds with itself while ignoring our deep interdependence and interconnectedness with one another? We need and are interconnected with each other as my internal organs depend on each other to function.

Compassion hurts, but life would hurt more without it.