Tuesday, October 28, 2008

breathing in and breathing out

Someone born to this world should do many good deeds,
as a garland maker makes garlands from a heap of flowers.

Just as a sweet-smelling lotus blooms
beside the highway upon a heap of filth,
so does the disciple of the perfect Buddha
rise above those bound blindly
to the limitations of the world.
(Dhammapada 4:7-10, 15-16)

There is a theory in philosophy, with which may of you will be familiar, that has gained more and more popularity in the past hundred years or so concerning what is called the Axial Period. The idea is that about 2500 years ago, over the course of a few hundred years, a great shift in consciousness took place in the human race, and that that shift of consciousness had the effect of shaping the world’s religions to the extent of giving them the form that they have today. In a sense you might say that it was either a psychological shift or a cognitive leap forward. It’s when human beings realized rationality; it’s when, in philosophical terms, logos or the logical mind pierced through the veil of mythos or the mythological mind. It’s when we came to realize that God (or the gods) was/were not someone to be manipulated or cajoled by sacrifices and rituals, but instead that religions and spirituality were about personal transformation––not changing God but transforming me, and my world. And so, for one thing, the interior path opens up. The way of meditation is explored in India and China. Self-knowledge becomes important in Greece; the philosophical watchword for the Greeks is “know thyself.” These paths offered for the first time a vocabulary for personal transformation on an individual spiritual path. It is also from this era that the first examples of monasticism come, which is the best example of mapping a practical path for someone to move away from the tribe and follow a path of individual self-transformation.

You can also detect this same shift going on in Judaism. This is the era of the late prophets. But it occurs to me that Judaism and the late prophets have a unique contribution to offer this shift in consciousness, an accent that still abides today. The specific contribution of Judaism is the realization that, yes, it’s not enough to offer sacrifices and fast and pray: but that we must also live justly and treat our neighbor well. My favorite example comes from the prophet Isaiah Chapter 58 when he says: Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, the let the oppressed go free… to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless into your house…? But really it is there already as far back as the revealing of the covenant with Moses on Mount Sinai: aside from all the admonitions concerning our relationship with God, the second seven Commandments were all about our relationships with others, and they are not capricious commands, but rules about proper ordering of society. And that includes, as we also hear in the Book of Exodus (Ex 22:20-26), justice and even deference for the alien, the widow, the orphan and the poor. So neither the path of ritual and sacrifice, nor a supposedly more enlightened path of inner transformation through things like self-knowledge, meditation and yoga, are enough by themselves. Especially the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us that we must incarnate that personal transformation in charity, in service, in justice, in the way we live.

Now, I was formed in the monastic tradition, the paradigm of the individual spiritual path; it’s all about self-transformation through self-mastery and self-knowledge. So I can safely say that there tends to be a bit of inflation and projection around monks and monasticism. You’d be amazed how many people would stand in a kind of awe of our life, whether we deserved it or not––and usually we don’t! They would say, “How spiritual you must be to spend that must time in prayer and meditation; how holy you must be from spending so much time in solitude.” I heard one guy refer to us as “spiritual Olympians”! I used to think, and every now and then say out loud, “What about the elderly man caring for his wife who’s dying of cancer and Alzheimer’s? What about those who have dedicated their life to the serving the poor or fighting for justice? What about the ordinary married couples all over the world struggling to make ends meet and feed their children?” Those seemed as much if not more like the spiritual Olympians as any solitary monk.

And Jesus, good Jewish boy that he was, gives as perfect a summary of that teaching as anyone in history ever had or has since. The one greatest commandment, he says, is really two: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

There are always two dangers in the spiritual life: the first one is over-spiritualizing. In this day and age, especially in this area, we have a certain fascination with mysticism; I myself do as well. I meet many people lime me who I call “bliss junkies.” And there is something good about that. In this day and age we have developed a hunger for and an appreciation for the interior path and a way of personal transformation that has lain buried in the Christian West for centuries in the midst of all our extroversion. But there is a danger to our fascination with mysticism. There was a good interview with Andrew Harvey in the last issue of the Sun and in his word––himself a rather famous bliss junkie––mystical systems can tend to get addicted to transcending reality, and that also may be part of the reason why the world is being destroyed. We can give our honor to an off-planet God, and sacrifice the world and its attachments to the adoration of that God. But God as revealed in the Scriptures is both immanent and transcendent, and this world is not an illusion, and any philosophy that says it is, is only a half-truth. Perhaps in mystical experience the world does seem to disappear and reveal itself as a kind of “dance of divine consciousness,” he says. “But then it reappears,” and we realize that God is in everything. That’s the vision that completely shatters you. We can be so addicted to either materialism or to transcending material reality, “that we don’t see God right in front of us, in the beggar, the starving child, the brokenhearted woman; in our friend... We miss it, and in missing it, we allow the world to be destroyed…” He goes on in his typical fashion in a pretty funny passage:
The Mystics as we know them will be praying as the last tree is cut down. They are junkies of ecstasy and bliss, and they’re hooked into the IV of their own self-created mystical experiences. There are too many bliss bunnies running around, presenting the divine as a kind of cabaret singer in hot pants, available for ay kind of fantasy you may have. Then there are the activists, who are noble and righteous and give their lives to their cause, but they are divided in consciousness. They demonize others and often burn out. Neither mystic nor activist balances transcendence and immanence, heart and mind, soul and body, presence and action.
The other danger of course is the danger of empty activism. We can also tend to be so extroverted in the Christian West––and this applies to people in ministry and service professions as well as workers of all stripes––that we burn out, we lose our spiritual root ad source, and/or turn to materialistic solutions to recuperate and strengthen ourselves: entertainment and diversions, not to mention the more insidious lure of escaping through all kinds of intoxicants and addictions, instead of spiritual sustenance.

Fr Bede describes Jesus as having reached what the Hindus call the state of sahaja samadhi, the highest state beyond the active and the contemplative life in which one “can be a contemplative, in perfect stillness, and at the same time fully active.” He wrote:
Many Christians interpret Jesus in the New Testament simply as a man going about doing good, helping people and always busy and active, and they do not realize that he had gone beyond. In his six weeks in the desert and in the depths of his being he was enjoying pure samadhi. He was a pure contemplative, always abiding with the Father as the source of his being, and always seeing what the Father does as the source of his action. He is in that state of transcendent awareness in which he is one with the Father, and at the same time perfectly natural and human.
So, until we reach that sahaja samadhi, what we are always looking for is the balance, or perhaps a better word is “proportion.” I like to think of it as simple as breathing in and breathing out: we have to do both. If we are active people, along the way we learn that we need to breathe in: we need prayer, meditation, self-care of our bodies and minds, times of withdrawal, recovery. If, on the other hand, we are bliss junkies hell bent on a course of grabbing enlightenment by hook or crook, no matter how much money it costs and what distant lands we have to travel to, we eventually learn that we also need to breathe out and contribute to our world, or else the energy goes bad inside of us, turns rotten like seed sitting too long in the silo; whereas if it falls into the ground and dies, it can yield a rich harvest. Maybe this is the practical part of the marriage of East and West that is taking place in our world today, an opening up of the rest of our souls, and both of our lungs, rooting our activity in prayer and meditation, and incarnating our prayer and meditation in action, breathing in and breathing out. Finding that proper proportion is a lifetime struggle perhaps, but maybe today’s readings can serve as a simple reminder that both of those dynamics of our spiritualities must be in play for us to healthy, happy and holy.

Monday, October 20, 2008

rendering to caesar

Only when the Tao is forgotten
do kindness and morality arise.
When wisdom and intelligence are born,
the great pretence begins.
When there is no peace with the family,
filial piety and devotion arise.
When the country is confused and in chaos,
loyal ministers appear.
Tao Te Ching #18
(The following was my homily for this Sunday’s readings: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6 Matthew22:15-21––which were quite timely for the nearness of the election, and coinciding with a much touted book by Archibishop Chaput of Denver, also titled, Rendering to Caesar.)

In these days of political sound bytes, this is certainly one of Jesus’ best ones. You can almost see it passing by on the running banner under the newscast on FOX or CNN: Jesus: Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s; and to God what is God’s.

What you might not get at first listen from this reading from the prophet Isaiah–– especially if you, like me, don’t understand nor hear it in Hebrew––is that King Cyrus is being called “the Lord’s anointed,” in Hebrew the word is masiah or messiah. In this case this word doesn’t mean “the promised one,” or the who will bring about a final age, as it is understood in some cases and comes to be understood later by Jews around the time of Jesus. It generally simply refers to kings. But there is still a surprise: this particular messiah king isn’t a Jew! This is the only time in the Hebrew Scriptures that a foreigner is called “the Lord’s anointed.” Cyrus is the Persian king who was allowing the Jews to return to the Holy Land from their exile in Babylon in the name of his god, Bel-Marduk. But God through the prophet claims to be guiding Cyrus’ hand even though Cyrus does not know it. God is making sure that history converges to fulfill the divine plan for this tiny little nation.

So it’s interesting to read this passage from the Gospel of Matthew in this light. Here we are dealing with another foreign occupier––this time Rome’s Caesar. This question of paying taxes might have been a problem to some of the Jews of that time because in a sense it is an acknowledgement of the sovereignty of a foreign pagan over Israel, not unlike the time of King Cyrus and the Babylonian exile. It’s also worth noting that God seems to have only reluctantly allowed Israel to have a king at all back in the days of Saul, David and Solomon. They wanted to be “like the other nations.” And Jesus has about the same attitude. He is certainly not being an anarchist, nor is he being quietistic. He is merely accepting the state as a kind of necessary evil, and one assumes just as God has worked through the hand of the pagan king Cyrus, so God could work through the pagan Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar son of the Divine Augustus, great high priest,” as the inscription on the coin would have read. “Whatever!” Jesus seems to be saying. The really important things are deeper. Besides that, in the words of the great Jewish teacher Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus who may have been influential on Jesus’ own thought, we should pray for the peace of the ruling power, since without it people would swallow each other alive.

Also included in this little Gospel passage, by the way, is the biblical justification and inspiration for what is known as the “preferential option for the poor”: as they say of Jesus “you do not regard a person’s status.” This is expressing a basic biblical notion of justice, an impartiality that refuses to take a bribe and would generally tend to favor of the poor.

All of these things are salient for us right now as we face this election here in America, and an end to this agonizingly protracted campaign. Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular does not allow us any kind of quietism in regards to our citizenship. It teaches instead that it is our duty as citizens of the land we live in to contribute, along with our civil authorities, to the good of society “in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom.” It is our freedom in America and our system of justice that affords us the luxury of practicing our religion at all, and it is through that system of government that we can contribute to the good of our society as well as do our best to make sure that there is a preferential option for the poor––the needy, the orphan and the widow that the Bible loves to refer to, not to mention “Joe the plumber.” So we are urged over and over again to submit to legitimate authorities as much as we can in good conscience, and to serve the common good, to fulfill our roles in the life of the political community. (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2239)

But we've still got a lot of homework to do; let’s be formed and informed by both of our readings. From the first we learn that God does not always work through the most obvious means; God sometimes worked through pagans, unbelievers, foreigners for the Jews, and it could be that God will work for us through someone who at first glance does not appear to be the most obvious Christian leader. (Mind you––lest I put Holy Cross’ tax-exempt status in danger––that statement could apply equally to both candidates for president as well as the countless other state and local officials running.) We need always to look at the bigger picture of what needs to be done, where we need to go as a nation to build an environment of justice and peace, of good stewardship of the earth and economic justice for all people, especially a preferential option for the poor and the voiceless from the womb to the tomb.

A second lesson, drawn more from the Gospel, is this: let’s remember what is really important, and render to Caesar only that which is Caesars’. There is a deeper reality beneath our petty notions of justice and peace that cannot be expressed by words or by any form of government. As the Tao Te Ching teaches:
Only when the Tao is forgotten do kindness and morality arise.
When wisdom and intelligence are born, the great pretence begins.
When there is no peace with the family, filial piety and devotion arise.
When the country is confused and in chaos, loyal ministers appear. (#18)
All our systems of justice are pale imitations of the merciful justice of God and have only relative value. There is only one messiah for us, and it is no king, no queen, no president or prime minister––it is the Word, the Word made flesh––or as the Chinese translate the beginning of the Gospel of John, “The Tao was made flesh and lived among us”––in Jesus who is the living book of God, and the example of his life and death poured out for the sake of the world. And in response to Jesus’ statement, “Give to God what is God’s,” I also want to add, “What is not God’s?!” I am reminded at least of the first words of Psalm 24: The Lord’s are the earth and its fullness; the world and all its peoples. We, and our government leaders, are merely stewards, servants. And good government is not an end––it is a means, a means to the deeper realities of life, a means to ensure that all people, even and perhaps especially the least among us, have the chance to pursue those deeper realities.

As we approach these big decisions, let’s pray that God once again makes history converges to fulfill his designs for our nation and that our hearts and minds are pure enough to discern that will.

Monday, October 13, 2008

the tent of abraham

O servant, where do you seek me?
Lo! I am beside you.
I am neither in temple nor in mosque:
I am neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash:
neither am I in rites and ceremonies,
nor in Yoga and renunciation.
If you are a true seeker,
you shall see Me at once:
you shall meet Me in a moment of time.

Kabir says, ‘O Sadhu! God is the breath of all breath!”

There was a beautiful gathering at Holy Cross hall and church here in Santa Cruz last night. It was called the Tent of Abraham. I may get these facts wrong, but I believe it was started by a Rabbi Arthus Waskow in New York shortly after the terrorist attacks, an event to gather the children of Abraham––Jews, Christians and Muslims––all together. Abraham is of course known for his hospitality, from the famous story of being visited by the three visitors in Genesis 18. Sylvia, one of the hosts of the evening, made a clear mention of the fact that Abraham “ran to the entrance of his tent to greet them,” bowing to the ground.

So our friends here in Santa Cruz, (Pax Christi and members of our Sangha) with the help of a young Muslim man, have held such a gathering four times now. This year what was added to it was a time of dialogue beforehand. Rabbi Paula, a representative from the Muslim community and an Episcopalian priest each gave a short presentation on the place of ancestors in their respective traditions. Then we broke into small mixed groups and answered questions. They were good questions: 1. just to introduce ourselves we had to say our name and also something about it, its meaning or background; 2. where was our mother’s mother from? (What a lot of interesting responses that brought!); and finally, 3. what is there about your religion that you would like people to know? At the end of our time together one of the Muslim men, a Turkish man named Bora, who was actually from my small talking group got up and sang the call to prayer. I don’t believe I have ever heard it sung live, nor have I ever heard it sung so heart-felt and beautifully. I had goose bumps and tears in my eyes. While we all sat in silence the Muslims laid cloths on the ground and did the whole series of gestures that accompany the salat, led by this same gentleman.

We then adjourned to the beautiful little mission chapel for evening prayer. The three of us who were presenting there had been asked to consider something that had to do with peace. Another rabbi read and sang from the Bible, and then offered some reflections. Then this same Bora who had led the salat chanted passages from the Qur’an while the other, Bulent, who was one of main collaborators in the event and who had spoken earlier, translated them for us. But what they chose! They chose all passages about Mary, the mother of Jesus, to honor us. Again, chills, goose bumps and tears, not only at the beauty of hearing the scriptures sung like that, but at the graciousness of the gesture to sing those passages for us.

Then I was up. Ziggy, one of the organizers, did tell me that the others were going to chant the scriptures, in Hebrew and Arabic respectively, and suggested that I probably didn’t want to chant the Gospel in Latin. But it seemed to me that this was a little teachable liturgical-musical moment too! Few Catholics realize that there is a tradition of singing the Scripture readings in our tradition (that, by the way was the conceit behind the oratorio that I composed, The Song of Luke) and that that possibility is also offered to and exhorted upon presiders to do also in English. So I did.

I could have picked a dozen other passages concerning peace, but the one I chose was Matthew 5:38-48 from the Sermon on the Mount that makes it as clear as possible, beyond any shade of doubt, what Jesus’ teaching is on peace, and it is setting the bar pretty high. It’s not just saying “try to get along with everybody”: it’s saying offer no resistance to evil! And turning the other cheek! It’s kind of amazing that we so often hear from government leaders who are pretty ardent public Christians, but never hear this passage quoted when we are discussing foreign policy. It’s just too impractical, I guess. I must confess that I have a hard time being an absolute pacifist (perhaps to my shame); I think there are situations when defending the poor and the weak and the innocent call us to make use of a righteous means of arms. But––and here’s the rub––anything I do or advocate has to be informed by this model and exhortation to perfection.

A bunch of us have here in Santa Cruz t-shirts and stickers with the ubiquitous local logo “No Enemies.” I like it a lot. What it means to me is this: the weird thing about saying, “love your enemy,” as Jesus says, is somehow when you love someone they could no longer possibly be your enemy. Later in the Gospel of Matthew (22:36) among other places, Jesus offers as the second part of the great commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As your very self! As if that other were your very self because in some way that other and you make up part of a “self.” Some of my Indian friends instead of writing, “yours truly,” like to sign off their letters by writing, “Your very self!” As Ecknath Easwaran interprets the Katha Upanishad (1.2.8): They who see themselves in others and others in themselves through spiritual osmosis help others to realize the Self––that is, the Atman or Spirit––in themselves.”

In fact, there is a level of being deeper than body––where we are all divided; and deeper than our minds, our intellects and our souls––where we all maybe divided. There is the level of spirit, that realm, that aspect of ourselves, before name and form, before ritual and dogma and doctrine, and, if the mystics of our traditions are to be trusted, beyond name and form too, beyond ritual, dogma and doctrine, where we are one with God and one with one another. It is then that we realize that we are one great body, that phrase that St Paul loves to use so much, and this I don’t think he means as an allegory: I think he means it literally. (Perhaps it is similar to what the Buddhists call dependent co-origination?) What happens to one part of the body is happening to the whole. When we really realize what an intricate web created reality is at a material level––and what we learning about the psychic realm seconds that, that we are connected in so many ways at a subtle level––we understand these things more. And it is even more so at the level of spirit. Just as the sense of separate self sort of disappears in our relation with the Divine as we are only conscious of the Divine, just as the sense of separate self disappears for moments between two lovers, so corporately our sense of separate selves also somehow dissolves, united in our common submission to That-which-is-greater-than-us, when we are all of us gazing in the same direction, gathered around the well that is the source and ground of our being.

We all got to de-brief a little this morning at 8:30 Mass at Holy Cross. (I’m filling in there for a couple of weeks.) Ironically, the reading was from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, chapter 4, where he writes allegorically about Hagar and Sarah, Hagar, the slave woman representing the covenant of Mount Sinai and Sarah representing the freedom of the children of the promise, the children of the heavenly Jerusalem, freedom in Christ from the law. Hagar, of course, is the mother of Abraham’s son Ishmael who is revered as the father of the Islamic people. So I first warned folks not to take the allegory literally, but to marvel at the fact that here we had all three traditions present––Paul writing to Christians about Ishmael concerning freedom from the Jewish law.

I also cautioned against getting to smug about this “freedom” from the Law. The Gospel that accompanied it was Jesus saying that this is an evil generation because it asks for a sign, but none will be given but the sign of Jonah. And the sign of Jonah, of course, is that just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale, so Jesus would spend three days in the heart of the earth. That’s where the freedom comes from: kenosis-emptiness, death. Freedom comes from, as our Muslim brothers and sisters might say, submission, which is the meaning of the root of both the words “islam” and “muslim.” That’s why Muslims say that Jesus was a “muslim”: he was one who submitted totally to God. He didn’t even deem equality with God something to be grasped at. And it was therefore that God raised him on high and gave him the name above every other name. This is the wisdom that Jesus says is greater than the wisdom of Jonah, greater than the wisdom of Solomon, the wisdom of the grain that must fall into the ground and die if it is to yield a harvest.

And it is as crazy and counter intuitive as “turn the other cheek” and “offer no resistance to injury.”

How many ways we have to die to our little selves so that our true perfect self may be born! The one I think about the most these days is this whole slow subtle process of “training the senses and stilling the mind.” Because, as the Dhammapada says:
Mind is the forerunner of all actions.
All deeds are led by the mind, created by the mind.
If one speaks or acts with a corrupt mind, suffering follows,
as the wheel follows the hoof of an ox pulling a cart.

Mind is the forerunner of all actions.
All deeds are led by the mind, created by the mind.

If one speaks or acts with a serene mind happiness follows,
as surely as one’s shadow.

Animosity does not eradicate animosity.
Only by loving kindness is animosity dissolved.
This law is ancient and eternal.

There are those who are aware
that they are always facing death.
Knowing this they put aside all quarrels.
(1:1-2, 5-6)
Changing our mind, changing the world. Do not be conformed to this world! Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.

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 na├»ve “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.