Sunday, October 12, 2008

taking no action

A shout out to the students at SFHS, in case you’re looking in––Mr Marheineke has inspired me to get back to this blog. (I just taught a session in their World’s Religions class the other day, comparing the understand of the “self” in Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity––atman, an-atta, and mystical union, in a thumbnail.) Frankly, I’ve been home a lot, in my cabin in the woods a lot, not traveling and not preaching much, and al my writing energies have been going into preparing conferences and a few writing projects. I’m not really a diarist-blogger; I usually only write when I think I got something new to say that others might be interested in. But let me tell you what’s been up and what’s coming up and see if anything of interest to you comes out of that. Actually there is one thing on my mind…
Rule a nation with justice.
Wage war with surprise moves.
Become master of the universe without striving.
How do I know this is so?
Because of this!

The more laws and restrictions there are,
the poorer people become.
The sharper our weapons,
the more trouble there is in the land.
The more ingenious and clever people are,
the more strange things happen.
The more rules and regulations,
the more thieves and robbers.

Therefore the sage says:
I take no action and people are reformed.
I enjoy peace and people become honest.
I do nothing and people become rich.
I have no desires and people return to the good and simple life.
Tao Te Ching #57

I’ve been sort of obsessed with the presidential race up to this point.

Mind you, this is coming from someone who didn’t vote until he was 30, 1988. I voted for George Bush pere, by the way, I was so angry at the Democrats. My father nearly kicked me out of the house when I told him that. You must understand, I come from a long line of Kennedy Catholics––I thought these things were synonymous––Irish/Italian-Catholic-Democrat. I remember when I was about 24, having dinner with an Italian-American family, and the conversation turned to politics and economics, about which I knew next to nothing. But as the conversation progressed––they were referring pejoratively to Franklin Roosevelt and the “New Deal” and the welfare state (Talk about holding a grudge! This was in the early ‘80s)––it suddenly dawned on me, and I said rather hesitantly, a little confused and not meaning in any way to start a row, “So you guys are… Republicans?!” And the mother answered, “Well, yes.” And I responded, quite innocently, “But you’re Italian… and Catholic!” She said, “So?!?!” a little offended, I think. That was quite a wake up call. Not too many years later, still in my twenties, a new acquaintance of mine, who described himself as very “orthodox” as opposed to “traditional” or “conservative” was vilifying me for my liberal views. The next day I phoned a priest friend of mine for whom I had worked for some years and asked him, “Am I liberal or conservative?” I honestly didn’t know!

So I lived a lot of my life in a weird little bubble concerning politics as well as the liberal-conservative antagonism. I think I came about that somewhat honestly, though I carried it on just due to laziness: I remember so clearly having a conversation with a rather radical leftist at the Catholic Worker house on Montrose in uptown Chicago while I was helping him hand-mimeograph and collate a copy of the book (I think it was called “The Green Revolution”), and he explained to me that part of the philosophy of the Catholic Worker, at least as he understood it, was a kind of anarchy, but not an anarchy that wanted to overthrow governments and create chaos, but the kind of anarchy that didn’t believe one could ever accomplish anything on a grand scale, either in governments or churches, and that the only real impact one could have was at the most local level possible, really picking drunks and homeless folks off the street and feeding them, caring for them, and “getting off the grid.” At the ripe age of 18 I had already come to a similar conclusion, that was why I was hanging out in uptown Chicago with a group of radical Franciscans and Catholic Workers instead of being bundled off to seminary after high school. And I have carried that ever since in some way; it still informs me. As we say about St Francis: he didn’t waste time criticizing the church or the state––he just walked the other way.

And so, put this statement in that context: I’ve been sort of obsessed with the presidential race up to this point. I went over to my friends’ the Albright’s house to watch Senator Obama deliver his acceptance speech and to watch the vice-presidential debate. I also watched a good chunk of the first presidential debate, of all places, at Esalen Institute, on cable TV in the private quarters of the director of programs before I started the seminar I gave there a few weeks back. That’s a lot for me, to actually search out a television. But really, I’ve been obsessed with it only up to this point, actually up ‘til last Tuesday. I listened to the first few minutes of the debate on the radio and then turned it off. I’m done now. We pretty much know who both of these guys and their running mates are, their differences of policy, and the differences in their style of leadership; I know how I’m going to vote, and it will be interesting to see how the country votes. But I’m tired of the whole polemic now.

Here’s the thing: it’s time for a new paradigm. Like many “seamless garment”-consistent ethic of lifers, I also agree that if Senator Obama gets elected he needs to give us a lot more than “reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies.” But regarding America itself, this voter (me) is saying, we need a new paradigm, a whole new approach to foreign policy, economics, the environment. I don’t think Senator McCain can deliver that; I don’t know if Senator Obama really can or will either. I just don’t know. I ate lunch with a friend the other day who is a venture capitalist, and I asked him what his take was on this financial crisis, now global. He looked me right in the eye and said, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” He added the analogy of a ship whose engines get blown out while sailing across the ocean: it takes some time for it to actually slow down. He thinks the engines have blown out. I’m not sure if he is right or not, but he said to me, “We can’t just pick up and go back to doing things the way we have thus far.” I was so happy to hear someone say that, someone who really knew the inside of the situation. But I am afraid––in regards to the environment, economics and foreign affairs––what we really want is for someone to come in and fix things so that we can just get back to life as we have known it thus far. Just fix the environment so we can go on with our gas guzzling lifestyle, just finish this war so we can get back to exporting materialism and consumerism along with Christianity and democracy, just fix the economy so that we can continue to stretch ourselves out to the limit and live beyond our means on debt. Just fix it for us!

I hope the next guy does not just fix it for us. It’s time for a new paradigm. But that new paradigm cannot come about without a new mind––“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds!” What is called for, what we are to be about, we spiritual warriors, along with the social and global transformation, is a transformation of human consciousness, my consciousness, your consciousness, our collective consciousness, the renewal of our minds. Bede Griffiths wrote before he died: “... the whole human race has now come to the moment when everything is at stake, when a vast shift of consciousness will have to take place on a massive scale in all societies and religions in order for the world to survive.” And Eckhart Tolle is right there too: he says this “is no longer a luxury, so to speak, available only to a few isolated individuals, but a necessity if humankind is not to destroy itself. At the present time, the dysfunction of the old consciousness and the arising of the new are both accelerating. Paradoxically, things are getting worse and better at the same time, although the worse is apparent because it make so much noise.”

I’m not without hope. Things are getting worse and better at the same time, it’s just that the worse is more apparent because it make so much noise. So, for goodness’ sake––get out there and vote! I’m not advocating my naïve “anarchy” to anyone. Make you voice heard and incarnate goodness in the world in whatever way possible. But while we render to Caesar what is Caeser’s, let’s not forget to render to Spirit what is proper to Spirit, without which we will make no progress individually or corporately, socially or economically. We have a lot of work to do, inside and out. We need to be yeast in the dough, salt in the earth.

In the meantime:
I take no action and people are reformed.
I enjoy peace and people become honest.
I do nothing and people become rich.
I have no desires and people return to the good and simple life.