Monthly Archives: September 2011

News: Politician Does Right!

Once in a while, seldom often enough to make it news and not just same-old-same-old, an elected official will come out on the right side. Although our Ohio Governor John Kasich usually races to the right of every issue, this time he deliberated and came out right. Gov. Kasich affirmed the decision to commute a man’s death sentence to life imprisonment.

In an unusual foray into wisdom, Gov. Kasich looked into the condemned man’s background and determined that, while the man’s crime of murder of an elderly neighbor was not excused by his abuse and neglect as a child, in his case, the death penalty was not appropriate. Typical of the prisoner’s early life, he was sold as a child by his abusive and alcoholic father for a bottle of moonshine and then sexually assaulted by the purchaser. In addition, the prisoner has been adjudicated to be mildly retarded. Indeed, as Gov. Kasich has wisely decided, there are criteria other than the horror of a crime to be evaluated in deciding the appropriateness of the death penalty.

So, Gov. Kasich, you have shown an example of real political leadership! Congratulations! I did not vote for you but I readily applaud you!

Don’t stop with just one example! Try again! You have shown that wisdom does not deliberately elude you, except perhaps when you rush to the right.

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Joseph Goebbles Seems to Have Had It Right

A news article I read today said that the pornography publishing top-dog, Larry Flynt, was offering a million dollars to anyone who can document some titillating sexual exploits involving Texas Gov. Perry. I guess publishing such a story could encourage candidate Perry to withdraw.

Why is it that the American public is so offended by sexual behaviors but not in the least put off by the moral depravity of 400-500 people in this country controlling more wealth than all the others of our 300+ million citizens? Why is someone’s kinky or illicit sexual life more an obstacle to being elected to leadership than a person’s denying global warming, as does Perry, or saying as he also opines, that evolution is merely a theory about which the jury is still out. I have read that Mitt Romney is razing or has razed his $12 million home in La Jolla, California, so that he can build something larger that more serves his needs! Does no one think this a moral outrage more serious than sexual hanky-panky when there are tens of thousands who are bankrupt and without a home at all because of the class warfare of the Haves against us Have Nots.

It becomes more obvious almost daily that a great number, maybe even a majority of Americans, though I hope not, get dumber each time the Republican Party and its Tea Party constituents expand their misinformation. It is so obvious that it is the transfer of wealth from rest of us to a very few of us that has brought our economy to its knees, and only the least informed could think otherwise, yet the Grand Oligarch Party (a very long time ago the Grand Old Party) and the Tea Party (really a Koch brothers’ PAC) insist that the problem is government spending, especially spending on social services, environment and infrastructure. The government spending that has precipitated this economic disaster is military spending on two senseless, irresponsible, even immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”  Joseph Goebbles, Nazi Propaganda Minister

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We Met the President Before He Was the President

In June 2008, my wife and I were selected, by fulfilling the age/income criteria, to meet with Senator Barak Obama and his wife, when he made a campaign stop in a retirement center in Columbus, Ohio. As a couple receiving Social Security, whose income was below the $50,000 level, we were typical of those he wanted to address in a speech that would emphasize taxes.

We arrived at the retirement center (actually a nursing home) for the scheduled interview and were greeted like celebrities. “Yes, we are ‘the couple’ with whom the Senator wants to chat. No, we do not have a list of questions to ask him; his staff contacted us for the conversation, we didn’t ask to interview him,” was our answer to the horde of news gatherers who swarmed us on our arrival wanting to know  what we would talk about with the Senator and Mrs. Obama.

Making our way through a phalanx of Secret Service protection, we were ushered into a small room where Senator Obama and Mrs. Obama and the Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, were seated. As we had been told, the five of us were alone in the room with only a cameraman to record the meeting.

My first temptation on entering was to reach for Governor Strickland’s hand to thank him for finally being on the right side of the race, since he had heretofore been a “Hillary supporter.” I didn’t succumb to the temptation as I didn’t think anyone else would appreciate the irony. Instead, I followed Jane into the room, feeling dwarfed by the situation and its participants.

The Senator took Jane’s hand and said, “We may be related. I have Payne relatives in Missouri.” The next twenty or so minutes, until a staff person stuck his head into the room to signal time for the news conference, continued as though we were talking with a niece and nephew whom we hadn’t seen since the last reunion. The Obamas were personable beyond our expectations or imaginations. They were effusive in expressing gratitude for our generation, that of their parents, for the educations and opportunities our hard work had afforded them.They asked about our children and grandchildren and proudly shared stories of their own children. Interspersed in the conversation were the Senator’s questions and our answers about our financial situation and how his proposals would impact our lives.

At the signal from the staffer, we followed the Obamas and the Governor out of the room and took our places behind the speaker’s lectern on the dais. At several places in his speech that followed, Senator Obama would refer to us by name and mention what we had shared in our conversation. We felt as though we were helping to shape a national policy that would be of real benefit to our generation of seniors.

That was then, this is now. In the three years since the thrill of being a part of a national presidential campaign, our net worth has declined by 25% and the value of our home has been cut nearly in half. So far the end of the month arrives before the overdraft alert from the Chase Bank. But that is no thanks to the US economy but rather to our receiving re-payment of a personal loan of a few years ago for the down payment on a house.

We have not thrown away the AP wire photo of our meeting the Obamas back in ‘ 08 and the mass-reproduction black and white photo of Barak, Michele and the girls is still affixed to our refrigerator along with the pictures and art work of our grandchildren, but it feels like that family reunion has been forgotten by that nephew and niece.

Those in corporate America who are the ones responsible for the decline in our net worth and the plunge in the value of our home have paid nothing for their misfeasance or malfeasance. Instead, they have benefited by massive bailouts and bonuses from their financial house employers. They have declared class warfare upon us and have brought our income, for the first time in our five decades of earnings, to a place below the median for all Americans. Corporate America has stolen our financial security, but that nephew has done nothing other than cooperate with the theft, even encouraged future misfeasance/malfeasance by not applying sanctions. President Obama sounds and acts like House Speaker Boehner is setting the agenda, somehow reminding the President that some third party is really calling the shots.

In my career as a clergyman, I made compromises. I ‘comforted the comfortable’ when the prophets in whose line I stood demanded that what I had to say and do should ‘afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.’ I know the price to be paid for getting paid. Obama is paying the price to those whose funds financed his election and will finance another run for office. It is way too late for him to take another look at his moral compass and recognize that he is very much off the course of being grateful for the generation and the class that made such sacrifices to give him, his wife and daughters such opportunities. I really do hope that when his power is drained, Barak Obama will be able to forgive himself for the damage he has done to those who held out for the hope he once offered.

So much for reunions.

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While I think it appropriate to solemnize tomorrow’s tenth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings in remembrance of the dead of that horror, it is also important to note that we are still being victimized by that terrorist act. By naming the vigilance against terrorist attacks a ‘war on terror,’ we perpetuate war-mentality, war-spending and war-profiteering.

Ten years later, we are suffering an economic collapse that mirrors the Great Depression the result of spending billions of dollars on two wars. Not only do more men and women in our military come from small-town and ghetto America, those same communities are bearing the burden of an economy brought to its knees by war spending. We did not defeat the Soviet Union in battle, but we did drive them to self-destructive spending in our mutual arms race. Now we are imploding as the result of similar self-destructive spending.
Tomorrow’s anniversary can be a solemn call to come to our senses as a country so that ‘those dead shall not have died in vain.’

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A non-theistic belief

With today’s post, I intend to publish some of my thoughts regarding ultimate beliefs. Having been a clergyman since 1961, my present attitudes and beliefs may be of some surprise and interest.

Of late in my reading and reflecting, I am coming to the realization that in our quest for meaning we may well have been looking in the wrong direction. It is not that order and significance cannot be found when we observe the natural world to discover what makes it tick. Neither is it that truth cannot be discerned in philosophy and/or theology. Nor is it that beauty and goodness cannot be seen splashed across the pages of poets and playwrights or discovered between the lines of novels and essays. Rather, all those sources of meaning are external to us. It is as though we are sentenced to an endless search for the real somewhere beyond us. We are like the poor peasant in the parable who goes off in search of the treasure only to return home exhausted at never finding what he longed for, then finally to discover it buried beneath his own hearth.

As I am coming to see it, the meaning, order, significance, truth, beauty and goodness for which we search is really of our own conception and construction. It is not that we decide to run around imposing layers of significance upon reality, rather we do no deciding, we can do nothing other than find meaning wherever we look. The course of evolution has brought us to this stage of development. The human brain has evolved to have a self-reflective capacity that allows the individual to survive by being able to “stand outside” itself discerning self and not-self. This binary capacity is what allows a newborn to “realize” that there is a not-self source of nurture toward which he can instinctively nuzzle. This same capacity will develop into the discovery that it is her own hand she is putting into her mouth. Later an autonomous two-year old will insist “me do it” as this ability works its way to mature individuality. It is this binary capacity that insists on there being order and significance wherever we look.t is ironic that we speak about the human brain being a vastly complex computer when we could as easily, even preferably, understand the computer to be a primitive brain. The brain, after all, predates Babbitt’s machine to say nothing of the science descendant from Turing, by millennia.

Because of this “hard wired” (Thomas Moore to the contrary notwithstanding) binary capacity or facility, we necessarily perceive all reality as a duality. Everything is a self/not-self, black/white, right/wrong, here/not-here, now/then. By experience we learn to make finer distinctions so that either/or, both/and, not quite, and almost emerge as realities. At the earliest stages of our evolution, this binary perspective allowed us to live in a hostile world. Later evolutionary refinement allows us to add meaning and purpose to our survival.

There does remain a resistance to forming a brittle dualism. At some point, we intuit that there may well be a unitary reality within and beyond the perceived dualism. Into this resistance steps the human cultural phenomena we call religions. It appears that as far back into human experience as we have evidence, we humans have wanted to know and participate in the non-dualism, the unity that we suspect eludes us. So we have discovered, fashioned and devised forms, functions and behaviors that allow us to attain a unitive consciousness. Within each of those cultural expressions, there have probably been those who perceived the longing, the drive for unitive consciousness to be just what it is and to want to introduce others to its liberating reality. There were also probably countless others who could never get beyond their dualism and lived out their lives in the fractured reality of subject/object. Adherents of scientism and religious fundamentalism are all among the latter. Among the few who found ways to introduce others to the reality of unitive consciousness were those we know as founders of the great religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha’i.

It is in this paradigm that I understand Jesus. For me, he was not a god or God or Son of God in any literal sense. In fact, for me there is no god/God, no Being, above, beyond; there is no creator of reality. That to me is an absurd notion that cannot be entertained at the same time one understands contemporary physics and cosmology. For me, Jesus was an enormously insightful teacher of and participant in the reality of unitive consciousness. When he invites listeners to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven, which he says in “within/among” us or “at hand,” he is not talking about some future state of being but about recognizing/realizing another reality in the now. His invitation is not that of a priest or prophet but of a sage or wisdom teacher. His invitation is to enter a non-dual reality where equality is the status of all and mutual care is the behavior appropriate in all circumstances. One can follow him in participation in his Way (of seeing and walking) only by praxis, not by creedal affirmation or belief. This praxis consists of seeing in him an archetype/symbol of the Way, living in accord with his teachings, and finding support among others similarly committed to his Way.

If this seems remarkably similar to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, it is probably because they are analogous understandings from different times and cultures. In this regard, though they come from very dissimilar times and cultures, they are quite similar.

If one must identify a religious preference, Buddhism seems to me to be the best choice. Although it has taken on supernatural dimensions from the cultures in which it developed and spread, in its most basic insights, Buddhism requires no supernatural underpinnings. It is a non-theistic philosophy, an understanding of human life that is not necessarily dualistic, which has as its ‘goal’ or purpose, the awareness of unitive consciousness. Christianity, on the other hand, is inseparable from its theistic mythology. Though one may participate in the Christian community and deconstruct it as one participates, that requires a great deal of effort to be constantly interpreting the myth as one participates in the ritual.


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