Sunday, March 01, 2009

Reboot 2009

I've been offline with this blog for a couple years now. Lots of stuff has changed; lots of stuff hasn't changed. This week I hope to begin again writing some thoughts in this blog. I have new circumstances that are forcing me again to abandon theory and practice faith. I hope to chronicle some of those practices and experiences again in this blog.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Boxes, Stereotypes, and Leave it to Beaver

I am starting to relate the dilemma of my generation with that of the feminist movement in the late 1950s. Let me explain. In the fifties, women began to realize that there was more out there for them than the life they were leading at home, being a mother and a wife. Where did this desire come from? Perhaps it could be said that deep down inside they felt something calling them to more. This same thing was challenging the current system and looking for a broader perspective. This all came to the forefront with the feminist movement; the recognition of equality amongst the genders. And once the walls of “domestic hood” were destroyed, women (and men) faced an entirely new way of looking at the world. And they would face the repercussions for their actions, both good and bad. I would argue that the children of the feminist generation have suffered, but not because women were empowered, but rather because a balance was lost. In many cases the mothers return to the work force left her children without any parent, including the father. This, to me, was the big mistake of that generation. In a quest for equality, something was sacrificed. I am not an advocate that the woman’s place is in the home; rather I am an advocate that the balance must be maintained. And being that it wasn’t, the children of this current generation suffer. Hence violence, disrespect, apathy, obesity, a sense of loss plagues these children. It is not the responsibility of women to correct this by returning from the work force; rather it is the responsibility of all of us, to find a way to gain the balance that was lost.

How does this relate to religion, you might ask, being that’s what I generally am pondering. The dilemma of the current generation, my generation, is similar to the feminist generation because we feel boxed in by something. We feel that beyond the “walls” that surround us, there is more out there; and we want it. My generation is generally frustrated with stereotypes, because stereotypes are indicative of a mind that does not actually know that person who is being stereotyped. Perhaps my generation is cursed with a desire to be “known”. I don’t know, but I feel that desire in myself often. The “church generation”, by that I mean each generation of kids who grew up in the church, face a certain dilemma as well. Raised to believe certain things as Absolute Truth, they are boxed into a religion that they may, deep down, not actually believe. They believe it enough to answer the questions correctly, and make their parents feel secure about their “eternal security” but when push comes to shove, and life takes a turn for the worse, that faith might not really stick. And these kids KNOW it. And in many cases they don’t like it. They want to change something. They want to believe something. But they are boxed in.

To me they are like the women in the 1950s. They aren’t satisfied with the life they’ve been handed by the previous generation, and they plot to escape it. But if they succeed, which I think many have, we have to think about the consequences of these actions. If we abandon our faiths in favor of something new, will that destabilize the next generation? Where are absolutes in all of this? Is everything relative now? I think sometimes we dream so much, and focus so much on the escape from something; we forget about those who will come after us. Why is this current generation of kids all on antidepressants, and have ADD and Autism? Conspiracy theorists have their ideas. But maybe it’s because in the past generation, parenting has changed drastically, and it’s everyone’s fault for letting it happen. Drugs won’t fix it; family will fix it. I worry that the current faith generation that is busy busting out of the church and tearing down walls will damage their children as a result. Does that mean they shouldn’t bust out? Hell no. But the busting must be thought filled and done right. What’s right? I’ve no idea, but this essay isn’t about the answer, it’s about the problem. The answer ain’t too easy. But faith never is.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

What you do versus where you are

I had a conversation with a friend over a cup of coffee, and we talked for some time about my current field of inquiry, conversion. I am writing an extensive essay on the topic of conversion, contrasting Evangelical Christian conversion against Tibetan Buddhist conversion. I wanted to get my friends thoughts on the topic. We agreed on the idea that conversion is more than a rite, but rather a process that takes a lifetime (or in Buddhist circles, many lifetimes). The question of how to break free from the rite and experience the process came up. My friend said that each person is different, and so the process is going to look different for each person. I asked him then if he thought there was one path with many “different” people on it; or if there were many different paths. He said something very profound, and I took it as a lesson that I needed to center myself yet again. He said that the “path” is not where the emphasis should be placed. Rather the emphasis should be on what you are doing on whatever path you are on. I would state it this way: it’s not as important to be on the right path, you must be on “your” path, because the definition of it being your path will only be found in how you interact with it, not by how some outsider defines it.

My friend went on to tell an analogy for this idea. He said that there is sometimes a very defined path, lit by lanterns, but his heart calls him to the woods, off the lit path. And it is only in the woods that he can truly be alive. I pointed out that there are dangers in the woods, it’s not as safe as the “lit path”, but he said that to fully engage the process of faith, and by that also conversion, there is always some danger. But in those instances you must rely on your faith, which is of course the whole point.

I often get so focused on making people understand that there are many paths to God, and Truth, that I forget the path isn’t the important part. It’s what the path calls out of you; what you do in relationship with your journey that is important. A good thing for me to remember as I journey down my own path, and share in the journeys of others.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pretty much my Manifesto...

Have I seen you lately???

That’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately; and a challenge I would put forth to others. But read on, so I can explain what I mean by the word “seen”.

This essay is an attempt to summarize my thoughts regarding my brief study of Mindfulness, as taught by the Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hahn.

Where the majority do most of their living…

To begin, think a moment on where your mind usually is. Is it in the past, present, or the future. Thich Nhat Hahn would argue that people generally live either in the past or in the future; either focusing on the past with regret or desire, or focusing on the future with hope or dread. He would say, and I tend to agree with him, that we do not live in the present moment. I find myself living too much in the future. Worried for the most part. I wonder what’s gonna happen, if the choices I am making today will be the right ones in the future. I live in the future, from moment to moment. So, where do you live? If you believe you live in the present, good for you! But read on anyway.

God in the Present Moment

Going further into this idea, we soon encounter some “theology”. Thich believes that God resides only in the present moment. That God does not exist in the past, nor does He exist in the future. In my mind, it’s any excellent way of looking at the idea of “omnipresence”. If God really is in EVERY present moment, then that means He is in ALL time. Every single moment of what we know as “time” is a moment where God exists fully. Thich goes on to say that the only way to really interact with God is within the present moment. So if someone, like myself, is living only in the future, that person will not be able to interact with God, as Tich would say, “face to face”. A distant relationship is possible in this situation, but not the intimate situation that Thich is referring to. So, if you’re buying any of this, the only way to really look God in the “eye” is to come into the present moment, to live for the present moment, which means breaking off attachment to the past and the future. But how can that be done?

Breathing a Mystery

In Buddhism, a lot of emphasis is placed on breathing. It’s an intricate part of meditation and I believe vastly misunderstood by the West. When I began listening to Thich Nhat Hahn via a audiobook, I was a little unsure about his methods. Frankly I found them rather funny; I’ve changed my tune since then. He begins by instructing the student in how to breathe. Most importantly, the student is to recognize their “in breath” as their in breath, and their “out breath” as their out breath. And in doing so, the student is moving into the present moment. Sometimes, in my time of mediation, I place my focus on my “out breath” will I am taking an in breath. So I am either focusing on the future (the out breath to come), or the past (the out breath that has just occurred). I am very intentional about which frame of time I am focused on. I found it very helpful in understanding how focusing on what you are currently doing brings your mind into the present moment. It’s a practice I highly recommend. So through this simple action of breathing and focusing on the present moment and what you are doing in that present moment, you begin to unlock the keys to living in such a way. I’ll admit, it’s a lot easier to focus on the present moment when you are in a meditative posture, but it’s a good practice that hopefully will translate into life, which is of course the whole point. Any “game” that you practice for and never actually play is just a lot of wasted time. I have to admit I had a lot of theories about the present moment, but my life wasn’t forcing me to put these “ideas” into practice. Then things began falling into place that have led me down the path to present moment mindfulness; but it was not a smooth transition from theory to practice.

Too many assumptions…

As I was practicing these meditations I commented to many people that I worried what these practices would look like in the midst of the storm. You see, when I first became aware of these meditations and this way of thinking, my life was relatively stable. There wasn’t much rocking my “boat”. And I was all too aware that there is generally a calm before the storm. I worried that when the storm broke in my life that my meditations would break with them; that everything I was practicing, the ideas I was embracing would lose value and seem silly when life wasn’t so stable. These fears proved correct, but in a way I wasn’t expecting.

The storm broke when we were informed that there was an electrical problem in our basements that caused a water line to break and flood a basement, and it could be quite costly to fix it. At first I took the right course of action. I thought present moment; I thought there is no knowing what the future holds, and what could easily be “quite expensive” could also turn out to be inexpensive. There just was a lot of uncertainty as to how extensive the problem was going to prove. So for some weeks I lived life in this posture. But then there was no news. No letters in the mailboxes, no notes on the garage doors. Understand I live in a townhome development, so our association is dealing with the problem. Many would embrace this, having the responsibility to do something on someone else, but I like to be in control, which is a weakness that I continue to deal with. So, in this situation, I found myself without control, at the mercy of others that I don’t even know. So as the weeks progressed and no further news was given I began to panic. I wasn’t concerned about the past, being that there was no way I could have known what was coming, nor could I have prevented it; so I lived in the future. When would the water line break in my basement? When would the association get back to us? How much!!!?!? How much??!!! I had to know these things, and I was pissed that I didn’t know these things. I casually talked to a neighbor whose wife is on the board, just hoping for some scrap of information, but I got nothing. That night I lost it. I was pissed and though Heidi tried her best to bring me back down from it, I wanted to be pissed just too much. And I wailed in frustration, and lost the present moment entirely.

For the next week I began struggling with the source of my frustration. I quickly realized how badly I’d reacted to the current situation; how I’d lost my perspective, took my eyes off the present moment. I started realizing the source of my anger wasn’t in my lack of control, as much as it was my frustration with my meditations. They didn’t seem to be helping. I was meditating on the present moment, but my current situation wasn’t getting any better and I assumed that it would. In that week I started rethinking an old Bible story that I’ve known my whole life, and in that meditation I found the source of my frustration, and found a way to recapture the present moment in spite of the current situation.

What actually was calmed?

Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25

These are the references in the Bible for the story of Jesus calming the storm. The cliff notes version is this: The disciples of Jesus and Jesus are crossing the Sea of Galilee and a storm starts up. Now Jesus is sleeping in the boat and the disciples are freaking out. They wake him up and ask Him if He does not care about them, as they are about to die in the storm. Jesus stands and tells the sea to be still and the winds die down and the sea becomes calm. He then turns to His disciples and rebukes them saying that they have such little faith, and the disciples are fearful of such an amazing and mysteriously powerful person.

So that’s the story and from the old flannelgraph in the church basement to complicated metaphors and analogies from the senior pastors pulpit, that’s the way I’ve always heard the story. It’s a good story. It’s an amazing story that is evidence of Jesus’ position as being “fully God”. It’s often pointed out that in the midst of the great storm the disciples find Jesus sleeping. Many metaphors have been drawn from this fact. The “moral” always seems to be that when the “boat” of your life is being rocked violently in the midst of life, all you need to do is put your faith in Jesus and he will calm the storm. Of course that doesn’t mean that the rocking will stop, I’m not that naïve; but the theme remains that you are tapping into the power of God when you look to Jesus in the storm; God isn’t doing anything to you. But I’ve begun to tell my version now.

Here’s my take: The disciples of Jesus and Jesus are crossing the Sea of Galilee and a storm starts up. Now Jesus, being He is a man living entirely within the Present Moment, is sleeping in the boat and the disciples are freaking out because they don’t see the Present Moment, they only see the current situation. They wake Jesus up and ask Him if He does not care about them, as they are about to die in the storm. And instead of solving the problem of the current situation by calming the storm, Jesus looks at His followers and brings them into the Present moment. He calms them with his eyes, with his very presence, being the embodiment of the Present moment. And in this moment Jesus took away the power of the winds and the waves. The current situation was no longer valid, for the Present moment alone existed in that boat. And Jesus then rebuked his disciples for their reliance on the current situation, when they have been taught to practice the Present moment experience of God. And thus the disciples stood amazed and fearful of this man that existed alone in the Present moment.

I like my take on this story. I know that it might not be accurate if you go to the Greek and such, but I don’t believe that is the how the Bible should be interpreted. I believe that God speaks through the Bible, and if you think God only speaks Greek. I don’t know what to tell you. So I’ve taken this classic story about Jesus and flipped it inside out. And in that state I am pulling a different moral; the moral that brought me through this recent storm. In the midst of the storm, turning to God will not necessarily change your current situation, but that’s not the point. We don’t turn to God to escape the current situation, we turn to God to enter the Present moment. Not because the Present moment is safe, I’d argue it isn’t safe, but rather we enter it because that is where God is, and that is a very good place to be when life is in a stormy state. In my version, Jesus doesn’t do a thing with the current situation; it is of no concern to Him for He exists in the Present moment. And with his guidance He brings His followers into the same state.

I’ve got to DO something!

This new take, at least for me, on an old story was the key to the lock of my tension and frustration. Realizing that the storm could rage on, and I could remain outside of it was just the thing I needed. And it has given me peace in the midst of the storm.

Growing up whenever the storm of life came up I was always told to “put my trust in God” and the “God was looking out for me”. These are nice comforting concepts, and to a child they are certainly enough. But as I got older, physically or intellectually take your pick, these phrases lost their power. I believe that there is power behind those phrases, and I believe that the people who spoke them to me, and continue to, are in touch with the source of the power. But I no longer was. The words became meaningless, and I became lost. I needed more than where to turn, I needed to turn; to be active. These mindful meditations have become that action of turning. They have become my way of touching the source of the power behind those statements that were lost to me. And by “the source” I am certain there would be disagreements about what that is. I believe in a God that is transcendant of the word “God”. And that is for me to believe and others to chose not to. For me, it’s all about comfort level; and I’m not talking about relativism. Some people need a religious experience and that’s what gets them through; to ask more of them would be unfair. Some people need a mystical experience, and that what gets them through; to ask more of them would be unfair. I believe faith is a level playing field, and it’s our humanity that creates levels and stairways. Religions have a tendancy to claim they are right and all the others are wrong. If that is truly the case, then I guess all religions are wrong. What’s that leave us with? Maybe we’ve all got a piece of Truth; maybe we’ve all got some of it wrong. Maybe when the Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Judge not lest ye be judged” he wasn’t making two statements, but rather reinforcing the one with the other. To Love you must not Judge, and if you Judge you have not Love. So maybe it’d be best to forget who’s right and who’s wrong and just do what the man said.

A Buddhist Christian

Through the teaching of Thich Nhat Hahn, the Dali Lama, Thomas Merton, Barbara Brown Taylor, Heidi Gordon, Bruce Shelley, St. John of the Cross, CS Lewis, David Johnson, Ivan Veldhuizen, Bruce Balgaard, Cheryl Balgaard, Kevin Book, Corey Mills, Kevin, Justin, Pete, and countless others, I have become confident to walk my path. It changes a lot, and sometimes I change too. I don’t know where it ends, but I don’t need to. I have things I’ve done I regret, but they cannot stop me from moving forward with confidence. I must walk ever in the Present Moment and know by living this way my past will not be full of regret and my future full of hope. For in my experience, paying attention to ever step is the best way not to fall on your face.

So have I seen you lately?

Thought I’d never get back to my opening question. I believe that to see someone you have to do more than look at them. You have to engage the Present moment with them. Really hear their words; really enter their lives. In our fast paced world that’s just not how things are done. But they should be. I’ve experienced what can happen when it is. I have started seeing my friends for the first time. Hearing their ideas, their frustrations about life, their hopes and fears. And instead of remembering vague ideas about our conversations, these talks have stuck with me. Why? I think it’s because instead of spending my current situation with my friends, I have started spending the Present moment with them. And it’s made a world of difference to me. And it’s to share that Truth in my life that I’ve written this freaking long essay.

Blessings on your path, wherever it is leading you…

Boom!!! There went the floor

This is an essay that I wrote nearly a year ago, and I just stumbled upon it in my hard drive. Though I am not currently in the same pondering state as I was then, there are still some cool ideas that made me smile as I read them. The final question is one you never find the answer to, and every once in a while it's good to be reminded to keep asking it. Here's the essay:

In my search for Truth, I have gone down many different roads. I’ve used many different analogies. The whole idea that God was more than religion has always been my guiding light. That through the “Dark Night of the Soul” I would find God. I’ve recently been reading a book called “Life, Sex, and Ideas: The Good Life without God”, and it has sent me in a new direction. I shouldn’t say the book itself has, but rather, the reaction the title has gotten, has done so. People are offended by the idea of “the good life without God”; the concept seems beyond them, as if life without God just isn’t possible. So I started wondering if it was. The question became, “If I didn’t believe in God, what would I change about my life?” I quickly came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t change much of anything. So then I started wondering where God was in all of this. Is it God who makes me “good”, or am I good and give “God” the credit. Where is goodness found? Is morality tied directly to God, or is morality just a religious word for ethics? The book I’ve mentioned, which I admit I’ve barely begun, addresses almost every aspect of society one might imagine, in short two page essays. And while they are not “amazingly profound” they get a discussion going; they get the mind to thinking. I am not trying to convince myself that God does not exist, and that we’ve made him up; my personal journey towards God prevents this from happening on an Absolute level, but I am finding myself facing questions that I’ve never thought of before. And more than facing them, I am pondering the Truth within them. If one can be good and not believe in God, how is God the base of goodness? If following God means living life by a rule book, and never straying from the thinking of the “church”, then there isn’t a lot of incentive for “thinkers” to follow God. Who is God? The Jesus is tied to Christian faith by almost inseparable bonds; though that most certainly shouldn’t be the case. But God is something more, or, in a way, something less. And he truly is a mystery. So now I am wondering if God exists, and BOOM!!!, there went the floor.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Don't Need No Proof...

I had a conversation a couple days ago with my Mother. Over the past few years we’ve had an ongoing conversation/debate around the ideas of religion and faith in general. Being that she was the chief influence in my religious “raising”, she of course takes great interest in the current separation of my self from the institution of church. Unlike many children, I maintain a very open and honest relationship with my Mother, and in this posture I am able to have open lines of communication about what I am thinking, and what I am doing. This of course is not always received with open ears, but the acceptance of my thoughts is not my first priority; rather the ability for these thoughts to exist in the first place is where I put most of my energy. And in the case of this particular relationship, my thoughts are allowed their place, which is good and necessary for any ongoing conversation to have any impact on either participant.

This day our conversation revolved around the reliance of people in Christian circles who place more emphasis upon “proofs” rather than “beliefs”. This way of thinking amongst religious people seems to have come out of the “Jesus Movement” generation. In the midst of a world proving everything “scientifically”, religious people decided to try their hand at it themselves. Now the issue wasn’t that they believed that the Bible was the inspired Word of God, but rather that the Bible could be “proved” to be such. It wasn’t that they believed that God created the world from nothing, but that they could “prove” that was the case. With overheads and lectures in hand they came at the world of “science” with these proofs and thought they stood on level ground. I don’t which is worse, that these people thought their proofs would be seen as science, or that they thought level ground ever existed.

Science is about proving things, and as much as evolutionists would like us to believe it, this evolution is still a theory; it has not been proven. At least it has not been proven with the certainty of the known scientific laws, such as gravity and cause and effect. It’s a theory, and though these “proof” Christians would like as to think differently, so is the idea of creation, or “intelligent design” as it’s being called these days. So if both are theories, what’s my point? I guess it’s that “proof” just ain’t gonna get ya there; not if you’re talking about things of faith, belief in things that are unseen and thus hard to prove beyond a shadow of any certainty. If I could be accused of anything, as far as an agenda is concerned, it’s that I want the “proof” generation to remember what it was like when they believed without proof, when they believed because something proved itself without any help from the believer.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

If Life's a Journey...

After having surgery last week, I find that I have a lot of time on my hands. Some complications from the surgery have left me rather immobile, but other than that I feel fine. That means, when not moving much I feel totally okay, but when I get up and move around I feel terrible. An interesting place to find oneself. So the mind wanders.

I’ve been reading a lot recently about mythology; what Joseph Campbell would call the “Hero’s Journey”. How people can enter into a mythological experience and change themselves and in some cases, the world. As I was reading Campbell’s book “The Power of Myth” I found that identified with many of his analogies. The idea of a person leaving what is “known”, what is comfortable, and journeying into the unknown to truly discover oneself. I believe I am on that journey. I believe that I have changed in ways I don’t even yet understand, and that is exciting. I have challenged many ideas that I have accepted all my life; in many cases continuing to accept these ideas, but with my own beliefs as the concrete; as opposed to accepting things based on the beliefs of others. Yet some ideas remain up for grabs, and that is okay as well. One thing I have come to understand about myself is that I must be okay with the state of transition. I think I was raised with some idea that things are the way they are. Or new knowledge is built upon the foundation of previous knowledge without effecting what was previously known. It’s an interesting way of looking at things, and as far as I know it might be an excellent way; but for me, I needed to see things differently. Life is transition, and sometimes things previously held to must be abandoned in order to grasp new ideas that you come in contact with. I believe that by embracing ideas with the confidence that these very ideas may one day be proven “not enough”, a person can really learn something. I just don’t know how much a person can learn when they are afraid that their ideas might be proved “wrong”. What really is “wrong” anyway? So with this new found confidence in the uncertainty of the ideas that I hold to, I move forward on the Journey; and if I was a monk sitting up on a mountaintop that would be the end of it. But I’m not, and so it isn’t.

I would be wary to encourage anyone to attempt a mythological journey whilst maintaining a normal everyday existence. What do I mean by that? I was never encouraged to take this journey; the journey sort of found me. I was many miles down the road before I even realized it. There are many moments I curse that moment of realization. If someone feels the desire to engage the myth that’s up to them, but I would not force it on anyone. Nor would I ever attempt to make a system out of it. My cynicism to starting to show through here; sorry. I’d argue that many people will find satisfaction within religious circles, and that is where they should focus their energy. Religion serves the same purpose as the mythological experience; it focuses on what is beyond the self, on what makes up the self, and what the self is responsible for outside of itself. I’ve long recognized that the end of my journey is the same as the end of most religions. Better understanding of and intimacy with that which we call “God”. In the end that is the purpose of all religions, they just differ on the terminology and the means to this end; but really they are all the same. Growing up within the concepts of Evangelical Christianity I came to understand the arguments against other world religions. The funny thing about it is, now I see what the arguments were against were the “means” not the “end”. So much focus is placed on the “means” in most religions, we forget what the ultimate “end” is. Perhaps if we changed our focus we’d be able to understand each other, and maybe even help each other. Dogma be damned.

I know at this point a lot of people are ready to write me off. I get tossed into a stereotypical column. Postmodern thinker some call me; pick and chooser of my faith is another concept I often get confronted with. Hell, take a phone booth a few years back and I would have been one of the very folks confronting me. Christianity is so straight forward, Jesus’ message is so simple; why would I be spending my time finding the Truths disguised in different religious costumes? A few years ago I would have thought it was a waste of time; and it’s not because of my strong faith that this was the case, but my lack in ever actually engaging my faith that allowed me to approach the "opposition" with such a front. So now I get dropped into the “anti-evangelical” column, which I am not. My entire family is evangelical; if I decided to think they were all wrong, I’d have a ton of justification and selective memory to get on top of, and I just don’t have the energy. My family is a testament to some really True things about life and about God, and I recognize that, and as stated earlier, in many ways I still agree with them. But there are areas where I don’t; and it is here that I will allow myself to be labeled.

I’ve said it over and over, but I’ll keep saying it till it sticks. I believe that the only real problem in regards to faith is when a person believe they have the answer, and that there are no others. A cool quote about this comes from Aldous Huxley in his essay “On a Sentence from Shakespears” where he says, “All this (systems of thought) is quite true so far as it goes; quite false if it goes no further.” I revel in my lack of knowledge; I am comfortable with my lack of understanding, and with the idea that life is a never ending learning experience. Most religious people are not, at least on the level that I’m speaking to. They like to know that what they believe is the Ultimate Truth; when, really, that’s just something that cannot be known. It is beyond our grasp. Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to grasp it. To me, that’s what religion is, it’s what the Hero’s Journey is; an attempt to grasp that which cannot be grasped. And in the effort we experience things; things that help us live; things that keep us moving down the road.

I’ll admit it, I’m a mystic. Not the type that reads old writing and tries to reproduce them in the present. But rather a mystic who uses the words of those that came before as a guide to moving forward into new territory. Many mystical thinkers are just as stubborn and arrogant as mainstream religious people, but the same is True that any religious people are as mystically minded as one who claims the title mystic, and that is the bridge that must not be abandoned. We may travel on different sides of the river of Truth, but we must not neglect the bridges; we must not burn the bridges. And each side is guilty of this action. The river is wide the paths are many, and Truth will never be pinned down. At least that’s the way I see it, sitting here on a couch just trying to pass the time.

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Minimum Working Hypothesis

This is a brief commentary on the first essay is the book "Huxley and God", which is a collection of essays by Aldous Huxley on religous experience.

This essay is an excellent opening for a book on religious experience. Huxley lays out the idea of religion as science, and the religious experience as scientific experimentation. As with all science a working hypothesis is called for. Huxley states that to have too little theory behind your faith will leave one ineffectual, but at the same time if one has too much theory behind their faith they will only “discover what they are initially taught to believe.” This second idea is leveled at what Huxley called “100 percent revealed religions” such as Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam. Another comment on this second group provided by Huxley that I think is quite revealing is this: “[They] go about forcing things to become the signs of [their] word patterns, when [they] ought to be adapting [their] word patterns to become the signs of things.” Basically what Huxley seems to be getting at is the concept of balance. That in order to properly engage the religious experience one must be balanced between apathy and agenda. One cannot sit idle waiting for enlightenment, but at the same time one can’t possibly know what that enlightenment will look like, so there is mystery involved. Huxley lays out what he believes the minimum working hypothesis is, and for the most part I agree with it. I will relay it here, but change it a bit to fit what I would consider my own minimum working hypothesis. 1. There is a God, the un-manifested principle of all manifestations. 2. It is possible for human beings to love, know, and gain an intimate knowledge of God. 3. To achieve this unitive knowledge of God is the final end and purpose of human existence. 4. That there is a Law that must be obeyed, and a Way that must be followed, if men are to achieve their final end. 5. The more there is of self, the less there is of God; and that the path is therefore a way of humility and Love, the Law, a living law of self-transcending awareness.

There’s something basic here, but yet quite revealing. Huxley is saying it’s more important to get the basics right FIRST, before getting into the details. What the “Way” is, and what the “Law” is, are up for interpretation. But that these things exist means one has to hold to the concepts of Absolute Truth. Huxley, in no way, is advocating the concepts of Relativism in this essay. To me, he’s just showing how broad the path might be to God. And while it may be broad, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t very specific.

To Be Good

Several weeks ago I sat down to coffee with a trusted friend and we chatted about faith and stuff of that sort. Understand we have VERY different views about the means to Truth, but what we do agree on is what the ultimate end is. Needless to say, there have been many tense times throughout our friendship, but it endures; sometimes against many odds. He challenged an idea I had, and I am not so stupid as to blow off his challenge. It revolves around the idea of what “goodness” is. I was speaking to the concept that goodness has been overlooked amongst evangelical Christianity. That there is this focus on “depravity”, meaning we are nothing, absolutely nothing, without God; and this other focus on “greatness”, meaning doing amazing heart stopping things for God, that should be admired by a world that doesn’t live up to your standard. Yeah, there’s some sarcasm there, but the point remains; the extremes seem to get all the focus. Funny for a religion that is so against the Yin-Yang symbol of the Taoist faith, they seem to embrace the concept put forth from that very symbol. Right and Wrong, Good and Bad, Hot and Cold, Up and Down. These terms exemplify the idea of “opposites”. Joe Campbell, in his book “The Power of Myth”, speaks at some length about the “Philosophy of Opposites”; that our human minds can’t get past the opposites, but that Ultimate Truth is NOT found in the opposites. Contrary to Taoism, Truth is NOT found in the “balance” either. According to Campbell, the Truth can only be found once you have “transcended the realms of opposites”. But how is that possible? Campbell has his theories, but I’m going to speak briefly to mine, and hopefully address some of the questions that came up in the conversation this past week.

The beginnings to my theory are very simple; goodness. I assert that “goodness” is beyond the realms of opposites. Now, at the same time, I will admit that “the concepts of” goodness are also very much in the realms of opposites. And by that I mean, if you see “good” as the opposite of “bad”, that is in the realms of opposites. The “goodness” that I am referring to is NOT the opposite of “badness”, it is beyond such ideas. And thus it is a very hard concept for me to express clearly. Buddhism speaks to the concept of “good energy” and “bad energy”; the word “energy” is often replaced with the word “kharma”. I would probably say that this approach is still locked in the concepts of opposites, but there’s something here that’s worth exploring a bit. The Dali Lama is very clear, in his book “The Four Noble Truths”, that one cannot be a true Buddhist without fully embracing the concepts of Buddhism. The ceremony of conversion is called “Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels”, and it involves accepting, as your last hope of survival, the Buddha (the godhead), the Dharma (the holy scriptures), and the Sangha (the fellowship of believers). But, the Dali Lama says, participating in this ceremony DOES NOT make you a Buddhist; rather, what makes you a Buddhist is the manifestation of Boddhichita, which means compassion. If you claim to be a Buddhist, but have no compassion, it might be argued that you are not a Buddhist, just pretending to be one. And how does one know if they are manifesting Boddhichita? This is where Kharma comes in; or one aspect of Kharmaic Law, I should say. By putting good energy into the world, you manifest boddhichita. And how do you put good energy into the world? You must be “good”. I know, probably a little too simple; but there’s something there. If someone wrongs you, they have put bad energy into the world, but your response speaks to who you are. If you respond in similar fashion, you too will be guilty of putting bad energy into the world, being a bad person; but if you respond with compassion, with understanding, you will put an end to the bad energy of the moment and reverse the tide in favor of “goodness”.

Now how does this relate to my offense against Christianity? It seems that Evangelicals are either wallowing in their “unworthiness”, or exhaulting there “great deeds for the glory of God”. It might even be said that many “great” acts for God, are really just selfish acts of a selfish person who wants recognition for themselves. Perhaps such things could even be claimed of those “deprave” folk, who would rather be admired for their humility than their goodness. It’s almost like you can’t be in the middle; either it’s “I’m nothing” or “I’m amazing”. Buddhism asserts that the true path to God is the “Middle Way”. And while I don’t necessarily agree with the theology, I like the concept. The question could be asked, “Is goodness enough?” I can hear Christians I know disagreeing with that idea; and I can hear the scripture thrown at me to back it up. And I probably would agree with them that goodness is not enough. But is it important? I would say that it is more important than Christianity is making it. Does God really want you to live a sacrificial existence? By that I mean, does he want you to be “nothing”, or give up everything for His glory? Some are certainly called to that. But not everyone, I think. So what does God call those to; the majority of us, I’d assert?

Goodness is my answer. What really is “love your neighbor as yourself? It means, to me, be a good neighbor. Be courteous, be friendly, loan the milk or eggs when they ask, be in community with you neighbors, not hidden behind your fences and walls. You don’t need to “evangelize” them; just be good to them, and God will do the rest. Was the Christ focused on depravity or greatness? It doesn’t seem to me that he was. What he seemed focused on was goodness. He was good to all who met him. Even to those who ending up rejecting his offers and aid. Certainly many of the things he did were great; healing the sick and all that, but was greatness his concern? To me, he was just being good to people. And when called to “conform to the image of Christ” we are asked to do the same. To just be good, and see what happens. I think we are afraid nothing will happen if we aren’t “evangelizing” to the lost. But, if history has shown us anything, it’s through our lives that the testimony of God is seen by the world; not our theologies or philosophies.

So, when I say I try to be a good person, I do not mean I try not to be a bad person. It’s beyond the ideas of opposites. When I say I try to be a good person, I mean I am trying to be like Christ, the greatest of the good people. And, in this day and age, that is a hard enough goal to try for anything greater than that.