Tuesday, November 6, 2012

evolution meandering

(If anyone is paying attention, you will have noticed that I wrote in the following entry that I wasn't going to post this until after the voting, and then went ahead and posted it anyway while I was testing out if I could access Blogspot from here. Well, I doubt that I changed the course of history much, but here the finished re-vamped version of the same entry.)

To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face, one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself. And one who aspires after that cannot afford to keep out of any field of life. That is why my devotion to Truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet all humility, that those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.
(M. K. Gandhi, My Experiments With Truth)

I'm in Oxfordshire, UK, currently, at the retreat house called the Abbey where I have been several times before. Lucky for me, the retreat I was supposed to lead got canceled so I am free as a bird until I leave for Norwich to continue my work on Thursday.

I actually had to leave a day early (thanks to amazing Michaela's long hours on the phone and her in with the travel angels) to beat Superstorm Sandy. I had a good stay up in the northwest near Manchester, guests of a very progressive Anglican priest at a very inclusive parish, where I wound up doing three nights of events instead of two, since I was early. Thursday was a talk called “Going Deeper into Awakened Consciousness.” As I told Clive, my host, that is a title I would never have come up with, but I liked it. Friday was a concert; but before either, Clive asked me to spend an evening with his regular Tuesday night group, who gather and explore all kinds of alternative spiritualities. That was fun too. I just kind of talked at random about my life and work and answered questions and sang a few songs. Clive is very interested in the work of progressive thinkers--from those of Ken Wilber's ilk through to Matthew Fox, who was the last guest speaker to visit this place (and stay in the same room I did)--and is quite well read. I found myself pilfering books from his reading pile and pouring through them as fast as possible while fighting off the jet lag.

While in the area I also spent a day hanging around cold and rainy Manchester city itself, mostly in bookstores and at the infamous University of Manchester, the birthplace of liberalism, capitalism and free trade. I also took the train into Liverpool for part of the day Friday. It was only an hour away by train. It was a beautiful city, not at all what I expected, right on the river Mersey (“A fairy crossed the Mersey...”), with a great walking area downtown near the docks, lots of museums and exhibits, including the Cavern Club where the Beatles and several other acts got started, and of course “The Beatles Story” museum/exhibit, which was very entertaining, but didn't offer much new to the story. Though I must say I am constantly more and more amazed that the whole phenomenon that was the Beatles all took place in a relatively short period of time, less than a decade really, that so deeply impacted popular culture, changed pop music forever both in terms of its social conscience and depth as well as its creativity and use of technology.

Saturday I did a day retreat for the World Community for Christian Meditation up in Leeds, on the campus of Leeds Trinity University, which went really well and was well received. Then yesterday the long train ride down here. I'll be doing a lot of trains this time—down to Norwich, then up to Edinburgh, and back down to London. At Norwich I am doing a two day retreat for another Christian meditation group (not WCCM) that seems to be very well organized, and the leader of which has obviously been reading my blog. The topics for the day: “Mind, Body and Non-dualism,” “Common Ground in the Awakened Traditions,” “The Within of Things,” “The Perennial Philosophy.” It's like an intensive mini-course! I'm told I'll be staying at the convent right at the shrine of Julian, which is touching.

But for now I am settled in here at this place I love so much, a 13th century manor house right up from the River Thames, all vegetarian cooking (that doesn't mean it's low fat...). It's a beautiful walk/run along the river into the town of Abingdon, which boasts of being the oldest inhabited town in England. Plus I've got a small but unbelievably cozy room above the kitchen, right next to the over-stuffed library, with a stone window seat ledge and en suite bathroom facilities (a real luxury in England). All I've got to do is sing tonight, so I've got time and space to stretch and read and pray and exercise. I've also got a new book to write by July and my dream was to find some time to write while here in the UK, so now, with the retreat canceled and a borrowed laptop, I've already started getting some work done. Hence, also a long delayed blog entry. (Better warn the brothers in Big Sur: I always write more and better in India or England, and compose better in Italy.)

I can't wait for this election to be over. I'll be hovering near the office here to check the Internet first thing in the morning. Polls close in the US at 8 AM UK, and as far as I know the networks are obliged to not call the election until they do. I voted early, but have been just about obsessed with it for weeks. And that's what got me thinking, about this election and the evolution of consciousness.

It is no surprise that I am a dyed in the wool “Kennedy Catholic,” as my folks used to say, a liberal Democrat of immigrant stock and union men, though I try very hard to be balanced and objective; nor does that not mean I am uncritical of my own party. The Democratic Party is no communion of saints, and the President does not get anywhere near a perfect report card.

I found this quote from Bertrand Russel in an article contained on some yellowed brittle pages from a 1959 NY Times Magazine that were folded up and stuffed between two books in the overflow of the library right outside my door.

Love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact that people say things that we don't like. We can only live together in that way and if we are to live together and not die together we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuance of human life on this planet.
He says some pretty prescient and prophetic things in that interview, including the snippet quoted above. On page 40 of the same issue was an advertisement for wrinkle-resistant cottons by Dan River Mills. Over the heading “The Modern American Family,” there are four photographs, all which show an obviously Caucasian couple--in an old Western town, in the woods on picnic, at the pier, on a lazy river--with one child, in two a girl and in two a boy. (I suppose that was the beginning of the era of 1.5 children.) It was quaint, a snap shot of life in the late 1950s, when I was going on one year old. But I thought as I looked at it, “This is not what America looks like anymore.”

When I saw the headline the other day about Paul Ryan saying that President Obama's policies compromise “those Judeo-Christian, Western civilization values that made us a great and exceptional nation in the first place,” I got so angry I could have spit nails. And he singled out the Affordable Health Care Act (even if the President himself has adopted the term I refuse to call it “Obamacare”) was an example of that. This in spite of the fact that the American Catholic bishops have been calling for universal health care. This in spite of the fact that Rep. Ryan's own budget was denounced by the same bishops, the “Nuns of a Bus,” as well as the Jesuit scholars of Georgetown, as being morally unacceptable. There are reasons not to vote for Barack Obama for a second term, but this kind of argument is unconscionable. Does he mean taking care of the poor instead of protecting the rich is not a value of Western civilization? Or ensuring that everyone has health care? Or diplomacy, building bonds of friendship with hostile nations, especially (and this is no doubt the biggest fault as the right sees it) with Muslim nations, calling on the good people of Islam and supporting them over the terrorists? Or does he mean President Obama's concern for global warming, about which Gov. Romney made a joke at the Republican Convention, but was the deciding factor, after Hurricane Sandy, for Mayor Bloomberg to back him? Is not good stewardship of our planet home a value of Western civilization too? Then maybe Western civilization needs to catch up with the Bible. Could not the argument be made that these are Judeo-Christian biblically based values? Ones that Rep. Ryan and his co-partisans are largely either ignoring or trying to debunk. Or is he defining biblical values solely by sexual and gender issues, so-called “family values”? Biblical justice, from the time of the Hebrew prophets straight through the Gospels and the Letter of Saint James, has a lot more to say about injustice and care for the poor, not to mention religious hypocrisy, than it does about sexual and gender issues.

Or did Rep. Ryan mean the philosophy of Ayn Rand, laissez-faire economics, free market capitalism? Are those Judeo-Christian as well as Western? The last two popes have been just as strong in the criticism of capitalism as they have been of every other economic system. And, I know this is a lot to ask, when will we start recognizing the values not just of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but, as the president has done, also of Islam, that other of the Abrahamic faiths and prophetic traditions, which historically has had a lot to say about caring for the least among us before it got hijacked by extremists and fundamentalists.

I honestly think what Rep. Ryan, who was addressing Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition at the time, really meant was (in code), “He's not one of us...” They have accused President Obama of not being really an American, of being a socialist, of being a Muslim, and even of being gay. (As if there were anything intrinsically wrong with being any of those three.) As I say, (and I post this after the voting is over) there are reasons not to vote for President Obama, but picking and choosing which value out of the host of biblical values is not a sound argument. Even worse, its slanderous, not very much in keeping with what I know to be the values of the prophetic traditions.

I am doing so much reading these days about the evolution of consciousness and culture, especially this wonderful new book called Evolutionaries by Carter Phipps. He quotes Michael Murphy, the founder of Esalen, that “Evolution meanders more than it progresses,” and yet the whole book is a paean to the fact that, as hard as it is to believe, it does progress. As I like to say, time and history, for the prophetic traditions especially, are not an illusion or a trap to be escaped. Time and history are sacraments. They are our means; we believe we are going somewhere—toward the reign of God. As Phipps writes, perhaps from a more secular-scientific point of view, “Somewhere amid the crisis of the moment, the stage is being set for great leaps forward.” The basic evolutionary pattern can be seen, and part of that pattern is interconnectivity and relationship, from the cellular level all the way up to nation states.

We cannot really hope to have global peace without first hoping for some kind of decently functioning global political and economic institutions... the more we are engaged in win-win relationships with others, the more likely we are to see ourselves being 'in the same boat'; and extend our circle of care and concern—to see our self-interest as connected to and coordinated with the self-interest of the larger community. In this sense, we can ascertain a certain level of moral progress in history simply in the fact that these 'circles of concern' have extended from clans to tribes to city-states to nations... (pp. 31-32)

As Dr. King said a half a century ago, as President Obama often quotes, it still seems as if the long arc of history does indeed lean toward justice. Whoever wins this election, may God's will be done--on earth as it is in heaven.a