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What We Can Learn from Time Travelers

Forgive me for making a Star Trek analogy, but I am a lifelong Sci-fi nerd. A recurring theme in Star Trek is the messiness of time travel. Those who go back in time to prevent a problem often create worse problems than what they travelled backward to fix. Eliminate a youthful indiscretion, and the whole tapestry of one's life unravels. Save one friend and millions die who did not die before. The problem with time travelers in Star Trek is that they fail to take into consideration the interrelatedness of everything.  They often create self-fulfilling prophecies. A self-fulfilling prophecy is the act of creating the very thing we wish to avoid (or something even worse) through short-sighted behavior.

Many of our responses to today's crises are becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. Examples:

  • A drone strike kills 5 terrorists but creates 20 more terrorists, survivors enraged because the drone also killed their sisters and mothers. Their subsequent attacks (or anticipated attacks) lead to more drone strikes.
  • Intractable poverty in communities of color opens the door to crimes of desperation. The over-response of police (racial profiling, excessive use of force) creates a police state that only intensifies desperate rage, crime and violence, which, in turn, ratchets up the aggressive response of law enforcement.
  • Lack of good jobs leads some to look for powerless scape goats, such as undocumented farm workers. Draconian legislation forces migrants out of the fields and back across the border, leaving behind crops with insufficient labor to harvest them. The dip in economic output drags down other sectors of the economy, yielding even fewer good jobs. (See Alabama's response to undocumented immigrants.)

Our fearful responses create or exacerbate the very catastrophe we wish to avoid. 

The reason a prophecy fulfills itself is because our aperture is too small. We narrow our field of vision to the scapegoat, cost or symptom at hand and fail to see the bigger picture.

  • Terrorism is not just about perverted religion; it's about economics.
  • No fence or harsh immigration edict will prevent desperate people from crossing a border to endure exploitation here if the alternative is starvation at home.
  • Unrest in communities of color is lead by a few bad apples, and it's also symptomatic of deeper issues of unacknowledged racism, income inequality, and a subtle form of segregation enforced by a militarized police force and a prison industrial complex.

More pointedly, we fail to take full responsibility for our own behavior and its contribution to the situation. For instance:

  • Is there a link between the $3 shirt purchased at Walmart and the poverty in Central America that leads millions to cross the border?
  • What's the connection between the hegemony of Western countries/companies pursuing their economic self-interest in the developing world, and the resultant political/economic instability in developing countries that then becomes a breeding ground for anti-Western religious extremism and terrorism?
  • Have centuries of institutionalized racism created an uneven playing field that is a daily, lived reality for those stuck its mire but that remains invisible to those who believe that racism and its consequences are largely a thing of the past.

The problems we face do not happen in isolation. Those "lousy people out there" do not operate in a vacuum. Everything is interconnected.

Self-fulfilling prophecies flourish when there is a lack of honest self-reflection about how our choices (past and current) are part of the problem. We avoid such self-reflection because it would require us  to make changes that do not immediately serve self-interest.

When we attack and scapegoat, delay and deny, the problems only return to a simmer until they boil over again with greater fury.

While we can't travel back in time to fix what got us here, we can choose to see how our fearful responses create self-fulfilling prophecies. We can acknowledge today our shortcomings, prejudices, errors, privilege, and addiction to comfort and convenience. And we can expand our self-interest to include other people and other species because what affects one affects all; maybe not in the short term, but over time, it is inevitable.  


It's election season. Commercials. Mailers. Competing signs, facts and statistics. While all politics are supposedly local, the basic political landscape is fairly universal. Here in Marin County, California one of the main issues in next week's primary race for County Supervisor is a project called Marinwood Village. In essence, the project would transform a blighted shopping center into a mixed-use development of retail space and residential units, with almost all of the residential units being set aside for affordable housing.

While the history of the project is long and complicated, I think opposition to it can be summed up with an acronym: N.I.M.B.Y. "Not in my backyard." I live in a liberal-leaning county where progressive politics is the norm...until taking a progressive stand costs us something.

"Yes, let's have affordable housing, but not near my house."

"Yes, let's make it easier for middle to lower income workers to get to their jobs, but don't inconvenience me with any more traffic." (61% of those working in my county don't live here, in large part because housing is so pricey.)

"Yes, I believe our community should be integrated with people of color, of different ethnicities and religions, of various socioeconomic backgrounds all living amongst each other, just do it on the other side of the highway."

"Yes, let's ensure that every child has equal access to quality public education, just make sure my child's education is more equal than others."

Community, equality, justice, fairness, and compassion are all cherished values until those values might ask something of us:

  • 30 seconds added to our commute on Mondays and Tuesdays
  • Sacrificing that new state of the art auditorium for our school so that a less-privileged child can master Algebra and know the difference between a simile and a metaphor
  • Facing our unconscious racism and classism

The plan's opponent say it will overcrowd schools, create traffic snarls, and result in any number of other dreaded outcomes. I assumed the plan was for over 1,000 residential units with 500 new children attending public schools and 700 new cars clogging our roads.  No, the plan is to build 82 units, 72 of which would be designated as affordable housing. That's it. All this hubbub is about 82 units.

To be fair, we all have our version of N.I.M.B.Y., ways in which we sacrifice our principles when they are not convenient or comfortable. For instance, I refuse to patronize Walmart and other corporations whose business practices I believe to be detrimental to our society and environment. Yet, my retirement account is invested in various mutual funds, which, in turn invest in several corporations whose values clash with mine. It seems virtually impossible to build a retirement fund and avoid entanglements with corporate malfeasance. How do I live my values in such a situation?

What's your version of this conflict? Where in your life do you find it hard to live your values? The work of the soul is to get clearer and clearer about our true values and find the courage to live them.

Any value worth holding will cost us something. If there is no cost or struggle, then these are not personal values but rather worshipped abstractions, meaningless babble, self-serving affectations. Will we pay the price to do something, no matter how small, that is in alignment with the values we extoll? (Perhaps divest in just one mutual fund whose values conflict with our own.)

Only when we look into the backyard of our own hearts can we get honest about the gap between our expressed values and our actions. And when we look there, what we are likely to find is fear. Fear that we won't get our "fair share". Fear of losing control. Fear of pain. Fear of rejection. Much of this fear spirals outward from a center of self-entitlement weaving tales of doom that are not grounded in reality.

If we lean into our fear-based darker impulses, we can find beneath those layers of protection a greater compassion, a spacious consciousness, a liberating connection with All That Is...Something greater than ourselves which enables us to be the people we want to be. Change, whether in a person or in a society, always begins in our own backyard. If not now, when? If not in my own backyard, then whose?

Trickle-Up Economics

As we await the winter rains here in Northern California, I've been paying attention to the early morning chorus of sprinkler systems in our neighborhood. Like a carefully choreographed game of "whack-a-mole", sprinkler heads peak above ground, disperse water and then return to their subterranean lair. Unfortunately, this type of system sends water up toward the ether where much of it evaporates rather sending water directly into the soil to soak the roots of flora with life-giving liquid. This inefficient top-down watering system is an apt metaphor for "Trickle-Down Economics", which has been the prevailing economic theory for the past thirty years. [Warning: This is not an economic treatise and thus should not be used in lieu of your normal sleep medication.]  The essence of Trickle-Down Economics is the belief that when the richest Americans have the lowest possible effect tax rates, much lower than that of the rest of the population, they, in turn, will create jobs that raise the economic status of everyone else.

It sounds reasonable. Unfortunately, it hasn't work as advertised.  Here are a few sobering statistics:

  • If wages had kept up with increased productivity since the 1970's, then someone making $40,000 today would be making over $62,000. 
  • Only Russia, Ukraine and Lebanon have worse income inequality than the U.S., and the likelihood of upward economic mobility in this country is about the same as in Pakistan (slightly worse than Singapore and slightly better than China).
  • The wealthiest 400 Americans have as much wealth as 80 million families combined (62% of the population).
  • Since 1980 American GDP has about doubled. While wages are stagnant (or even declining) when adjusted for inflation, the stock market has increased its value by over ten times with 93% of that wealth residing in the hands of the richest 20% of Americans.
  • For more information and supporting data, check out www.inequality.is or Robert Reich's new documentary "Inequality for All".

Essentially what we have in this country is "Trickle-Up Economics". The rich get richer, and everyone else treads water or sinks. Over the past few decades, the wealthy few have become exorbitantly wealthy, while the rest of the country has seen wages stagnate or decline (when adjusted for inflation). The result is that millions of ordinary folks have less available income to buy stuff, and that demand for goods and services is what drives the economy and creates jobs. No matter how much he loves to be warm and cuddly, there are only so many Snuggies that Bill Gates is going to buy.

What's bizarre is that the rich would likely fare better in a more equitable economic system by having a smaller share of an ever-growing pie as opposed to a larger share of a stagnant or shrinking pie. As the middle class thrived, they would purchase goods and services from companies owned by the rich, thus not only increasing profits for the wealthy but also providing more capital to hire more workers for decent jobs rather than the McJobs typically created in this wimpy recovery. I'm not advocating communism but rather a somewhat higher tax rate on the rich so that the budget is not balanced on the backs of the squeezed/shrinking middle class and the poor so that they (we), in turn, can heat up the economy.

What's perhaps most startling about Trickle-Down Economics is its unholy alliance with organized Christianity. Despite the clear solidarity of Jesus with the poor (Luke 4:16-19, Luke 6:20-21, Matthew 25:34-36, Luke 14:12-14, Luke 12:16-21, Matthew 19:24, etc.), not to mention passages in the Hebrew scriptures lambasting the wealthy establishment for its treatment of the poor (Psalm 109:16, Proverbs 14:31, Proverbs 28:3 and innumerable examples among the prophets such as Ezekiel 22:26-29), in many Christian circles, God has morphed into a monocle-with-top-hat capitalist who advocates for a totally unregulated free market, no matter how that impacts the most vulnerable.

Former President Jimmy Carter recently weighed in on this unseemly mangling of sacred scripture to support a trickle-up economic system, when he said, "If you don't want your tax dollars to help the poor - then stop saying that you want a country based on Christian values, because you don't." Amen, Mr. President. Amen.

Savior? Job Filled. No Need to Apply.

By the time you read this, our congressional leaders may have already endorsed the president's plan to bomb Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack. I have been trying to understand the reasoning behind this decision. Is it to save face after the president drew "a red line" that must not be crossed? Is it to send a violent message to any who would use chemical weapons because we feel helpless to stop them and simply don't know what else to do? Is it because our foreign policy has devolved into a knee-jerk response to shoot first and ask questions later? Perhaps it's a bit of all the above. At a deeper level, I think it reveals a blind spot in the American psyche. We seem to view ourselves as morally, spiritually, and politically superior to the rest of the world. As such, we can rationalize virtually any action in the name of our principles, even when our actions violate those principles.This has been the case since the founding of our nation when our sense of manifest destiny justified genocide of the people native to this continent.  A self-appointed savior can always justify demonic behavior.

Of course, this is not unique to us. Violent jihadists, for example, mar the name of Islam in the supposed defense of Islam. But let's keep the focus on our own house. It's neither our place nor within our power to be the world's sheriff/savior. Have you ever tried to fix someone? How did that go? What makes us think it works any better on a global scale?

Vietnam. Afghanistan. Iraq. Decades of covert CIA operations to overthrow governments and assassinate leaders. Our intention to make things right often goes terribly wrong. Our bombs seem to create enemies faster than we can eliminate them. We say we are making the world safe for democracy. As our surgical strikes kill children and spouses ("collateral damage"), grieving souls must wonder who will keep them safe from democracy.

It's easier to fire missiles (real or metaphorical) and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, than it is to build consensus, fumble through ineffective action until effective action becomes clear, and admit that we are just as clueless and vulnerable as the rest of the world.  It's called humility, but it doesn't sell well on Election Day or jibe with our American "can do" spirit.

What does sell is distraction. Being savior of another person or of the world is often a distraction from neglected inner work. How many times have I helped someone, not out of kindness, but to mask my own sense of unworthiness? How many times has our nation lashed out in righteous anger while ignoring our own unrighteousness? Where's our indignation about an economic recovery comprised of cellar-paying McJobs as corporate honchos rake in record profits? Where's the moral outrage about our eroding civil liberties? Where's the call to arms to fix a dysfunctional social services system that is failing the most vulnerable in our midst?

Yes, America has done much good in the world. And, yes, violence is necessary...on very rare occasions...when there truly is no other option..as our reluctant, humble and sober choice.

So as the drumbeat quickens for more violence in the name of peace and compassion, I'm reminded of a Biblical self-righteous, self-appointed savior who was marching on Syria to make the world safe for God and God's followers. His name was Saul, later renamed Paul. Here's how he tells the story of his aborted crusade:

“While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Then he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’" (Acts 22)

Saul saw the light. When will we?

A New Birth of Freedom

Politics makes strange frenemies. Two friends. Co-workers. Revolutionaries. Visionaries. They knew each other for over half a century. Their friendship turned to animosity when they battled for the same job, but over the years they reconciled and forged the deepest of bonds in spite of their political differences. They died on the same day, five hours apart, on July 4, 1826. These two friends, then enemies, then friends again, were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who both died fifty years to the day after the publication of the Declaration of Independence.  It was Adams who convinced the committee charged with writing the Declaration of Independence to let Jefferson write the original draft. Their lives were woven together as no other political figures in American history. Adams, our second president, was a hot-tempered, New England Federalist, who believed that the aims of liberty and justice were best served by a strong, centralized government. He said,  "No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it." Jefferson, his successor, was a reserved Southerner and favored achieving the same ends through strong state governments. Oddly, Jefferson's party, which evolved into today's Democratic Party, now holds the opposite position from their founder.

What endures midst ever-shifting political tides is an ideal stated so eloquently by Jefferson, that

"...all men [and women!] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."

While our founding principles are a beacon to the world, our behavior has frequently fallen short: slavery, misogyny, racism, corporatocracy, nearly incessant wars, hegemony, lack of access to healthcare and jobs that earn a living wage, a shrinking middle class, the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and the list goes on.

To suggest that American is anything but the greatest nation on earth is blasphemous in most quarters. But how can we be great if we are unwilling to see the gap between our ideals and our behavior? Why is it unpatriotic to love our founding principles so much that we challenge the deleterious policies we have enacted as a nation? If America is to be great, that claim must be based not on our economic prowess, nor our omnipresent cultural influence, nor our military industrial complex. Rather our greatness is determined by our willingness to rise above prejudice, narrow self-interest, and fear in order to fulfill the bold, egalitarian vision of our founders.

This week also also marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, a horrific carnage that took place from July 1-3, 1863. Months later President Lincoln went to that battlefield and challenged his generation, even more politically polarized than our own, to renew their commitment to these ideals.

What would it look like to renew our commitment? Can we celebrate our heritage in a way that moves beyond jingoistic shouts of "We're Number One!"?

Rather than place our deceased founders on pedestals and currency, a more useful response would be to take up their unfinished work and embody justice, equality and liberty here and now. Rather than gloat about how great we are in comparison to other nations, it is time for us to own up to our shortcomings and get our own house in order. Rather than down another cocktail as we apathetically watch reports of unchecked injustice on our big screen TVs, it is time to make the necessary sacrifices so that our founders' unfulfilled dream inches closer to reality.

Lincoln's words at Gettysburg, channeling the spirit of Adams and Jefferson, are just as applicable and inspiring now as when first spoken:

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Happy Independence Day!

Musical Chairs

Last week I attended a gathering of faith leaders who are seeking creative ways to promote economic justice. We did one exercise in which ten people sat in ten chairs, each person representing 10% of the U.S. population. Then we shuffled seating according to wealth in our country. Half of the population (5 people), clung to one-tenth of one chair, while one person owned five chairs. My first reaction was repulsion and anger at the injustice. Then…to be honest…my feelings shifted to fear. My negative future fantasies began to kick in. I have enough today (a chair of my own), but the future is completely uncertain. Don’t I need another chair, just in case?  Suddenly, I understood the fearful drive to accumulate more and more.

We live in a culture of fear. Bombings. Explosions. Recession. Shootings. Scarcity. Gridlock. War. Financial Chaos…

Let’s be honest. Our country and the world are a mess. Let’s also be honest that this is nothing new. What is new is that we are instantly aware of any trauma,, as it happens, anywhere in the world.  This drumbeat of misery and anxiety surrounds us, inundates us, and overwhelms us. We become numb. We grasp for and cling to what little security we think we have, but no amount of money, guns, foreign wars, or demonizing of others yields lasting peace. In fact, our grasping and clinging generates more trauma and misery.

“Perfect love casts out fear.” “True love has no room for fear.” Those words from John the Apostle remind me that love is more than an emotion. It is a deeply-felt-knowing that I’m connected to you, to Nature, to the suffering and the poor, to Life Itself, to a Presence that flows through us all and yet is more than the sum of our parts.

When caught up in fear and grasping, however, it’s hard for me to access love. To make the shift I remember someone whose memory breaks my heart wide open. I’ll remember my childhood dog Skippy, who was my dearest friend. Focusing on Skippy never fails to move me into love, and the fear dissipates. Who opens you like that? Who is your guide back to compassion?

When I shift from fear back to love, my way of holding life changes. Numbness melts. Overwhelm eases. A hopeful, practical set of questions emerges:

  • I can’t hold the pain of the whole world, but whose hand can I hold today?
  • I can’t guarantee my future financial security, but what one person can I help with the abundance I have today?
  • I can’t fix climate change and save all the endangered species on our planet, but what is one member of one non-human species I can care for today?
  • I can’t resolve global political crises, but what one problem can I address with determined compassion in the community where I live?

This is what love does. Love feels the fear and acts anyway. Love takes responsibility for its own life while opening its heart to all life. Love moves from a myopic “me, myself and I”, to a panoramic “we, ourselves and us”. It even occasionally vacates its own seat so that someone else can sit for a while.

Freedom vs. Safety

"Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin

Since the founding of our nation, the balance between liberty and safety has been delicate. Our history is rife with examples where liberty was sacrificed for temporary safety. From the Alien and Sedition Act in the late 18th century to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II to the indiscriminate surveillance of Muslim Americans today based solely on their religion, the perceived threat of potential miscreants and anarchists has led us to sacrifice the very values we were trying to protect.

In the post 9/11 era, our government has declared a war on terror. The irony is that terror has declared war on us. I'm not referring to the legitimate threat of Al-Qaeda, but rather to our own internalized fright. Terror's true victory is not a horrible plot that reaches fruition, but rather a people who cede their liberty and abdicate their commitment to justice for the semblance of safety.

Into this vacuum of fear step political groups and industries looking to profit. For instance, the domestic drone industry is projected to grow to $90 billion in the next decade. The FAA wants to ramp up the licensing of these unmanned surveillance aircraft that fly over U.S. airspace. Drone manufacturers also seek to offer local and state law enforcement officials the ability to add non-lethal weapons to drones, such as tear gas and rubber bullets. While domestic drones could be a valuable tool for public safety officials (e.g., assisting first responders with locating survivors after a natural disaster), the scope and implications of this program are slipping past the radar of most Americans. Will government entities have to obtain a warrant before using a drone to monitor a citizen's actions? Will domestic drones be weaponized? These questions remain unanswered.

Private companies will also be able to receive permits to fly over our residences, schools, parks, places of worship, and anywhere else we go. With over 10,000 drones expected in our domestic airspace by 2020, one has to wonder if these agents of security will erode freedom and privacy and unwittingly make us less safe. Citizens have successfully prodded officials at the local and state level to enact limits on how drones can be used. Legislation and policies are currently being drafted at the federal level as well. Make your voice heard.

Of course, all of this is just one example of the ongoing tension between freedom and safety.  The external debate mirrors our internal struggle in which we seek to balance our biological inclination toward self-preservation with the impulse toward authenticity, free expression of the truth as we experience it, and risk taking for the sake of that truth. Whether the debate is about government surveillance or personal integrity, I hope that we will find a sustainable balance between freedom and safety...and even tip the scales toward freedom.


What would Martin Luther King do? (W.W.M.L.K.D.) That is the question many are addressing this week as we commemorate his birth. Disparate interest groups are claiming that, were he alive today, he would support their cause. The most outlandish claim I've head comes from Larry Ward, the Chairman of Gun Appreciation Day, who said last week:

"I believe that Gun Appreciation Day honors the legacy of Dr. King...The truth is I think Martin Luther King would agree with me, if he were alive today, that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country's founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history."

Um, yeah, right. And I hear that the Wicked Witch of the East adores "Houses that Fall From the Sky" Appreciation Day.

What would Dr. King be doing today? Fighting for the marginalized, the poor, the disenfranchised, and the oppressed. Moreover, he would be fighting for human souls with the power of love. For Dr. King, that love was not a touchy-feely emotion. It was a commitment to bring out the best in humanity, even when humans responded to that call with their smallest, cruelest, fear-based hatred or apathy. The love he proclaimed held justice in one hand and compassionate endurance in the other.

While most reference Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech as the zenith of his oratory, I am most drawn to a sermon he delivered shortly before his assassination. Here is an excerpt from "A Christmas Sermon on Peace" delivered in December 1967:

“I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we'll still love you. But be assured that we'll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’"

What would Martin Luther King do? I don't know, but I doubt he'd be clutching an AK-47 to promote nonviolence. The better question is: what will you and I do here and now? Dr. King is not alive, but we are. We are today's "soul force". We can embody his vision of a love that is both compassionate and just, that longs for the liberation of both the oppressed and the oppressor. What is one concrete way that you can wear down an injustice with your love and win a "double victory"? What will you do?

"Eastwooding": Our Failure to Communicate

At last week's Republican National Convention, the most talked about speech did not dribble from the mouth of a politician. Actor/director Clint Eastwood stole the show during his bizarre dialog with an empty chair on which an invisible President Obama sat. Mr. Eastwood chided the transparent president for numerous perceived shortcomings, some of which were actually the work of his predecessor. The speech was but one in a string of over-the-top attacks bearing little resemblance to Mr. Obama or his policies. While there are legitimate gripes regarding the president's performance, his foes seem to focus their opposition on misleading or patently false information (e.g., cuts to Medicare, welfare reform, the "you didn't build that" misquote, or Paul Ryan blaming Obama for the closure of an auto plant that actually shut down while Bush was president). Why would Republicans resort to half-truths and bald-faced lies when so much factual economic data is in their favor? Jon Stewart said that Mr. Eastwood's rant at an empty-chair explains the Republicans' detached-from-reality behavior because there is obviously "a President Obama that only Republicans can see."

What can you see? When thinking of those with opposing political views, most of us resort to "Eastwooding", which is already becoming part of our everyday vocabulary. It is the act of spewing vitriolic venom against an absent foe. Raging monologues can be psychologically cathartic for an individual when done in private. Public "Eastwooding", however, epitomizes our immaturity as a nation. We don't see complex, often self-contradictory human beings; we see imaginary caricatures. We don't listen in order to understand; we pontificate. We don't converse and connect; we preach to the choir and rant at empty seats.

We can bludgeon our way to political victory, but lose our souls in the process and become the very ogres against whom we rail. Of course, the solution is not the opposite extreme in which we ignore crucial differences and play nice while the world spirals into self-destruction.

How can we be true both to our convictions and to our humanity? It is one of those questions for which the answer is not deduced but rather lived. One experimental notion is "transpartisanship", which seeks to find common ground beyond traditional parties and labels. You can read more about the movement: http://www.transpartisancenter.org/. 

On a personal level, we start by slowly stretching beyond our comfort zones. We expand our capacity for truth-telling while also keeping a compassionate, open presence. We speak up and stand up while refusing to become self-righteous or rigid. We choose to see those with opposing views as fellow, imperfect human beings with similar needs. If  we are willing to sit still long enough to get to know each other, we may even discover we share some basic values and goals around which consensus might gradually coalesce. That's uncomfortable. It's work. It's humbling. And it's a lot less fun than yelling at an empty chair. But it's what grownups and nations that have a future choose to do.

I've read rumors that Betty White might appear at the Democratic National Convention for an empty-chair row with Mitt Romney. Now that would be entertaining! Would she be more like Sue Ann Nivens or Rose Nylund? I do love our last living Golden Girl, and I continue to enjoy Clint Eastwood's films. Perhaps someday the two of them will transcend mere entertainment and sit down for an adult conversation: occupied chair facing occupied chair.

Fat Cat and the Kibble-Shaker

Below is a short story without an ending. Read it and notice what your gut reaction is. What do you think happens next? There’s no right or wrong answer, but your first response is likely the most honest and the most instructive. Your response may reveal something about the lens through which you are processing life. Whether or not it provides any insight, have fun with it! The story:

Once upon a time in Catlandia, there was a very rich tabby named Fat Cat. He had made his riches in Kitty City years ago and now lived high on the mouse in his kitty castle. How he had made his riches was somewhat of a mystery. He had more frozen mice and rats in his freezers than 1,000 cats could eat in nine lifetimes, but he always hissed when taxed two rodents a year by the Internal Ratting Service.

Catlandia was not without its problems. Over--mousing had led to a dangerous decline in the rodent population. The same was true of the fish population.

Once two intrepid reporters, Tiger and Hairball, began working for CMN, the Catlandia Mews Network. They reported on the impending food crisis and tried to keep tabs on Fat Cat's friends who ran the Cat Council. One day Tiger and Hairball decided to investigate how Fat Cat got so rich...and thus so fat. When Fat Cat caught a whiff of their plans, he put a stop to the whole endeavor by purchasing CMN. Tiger and Hairball were reassigned to covering stories about the lives of kitty celebrities. They never reported on anything of significance again.

One day an older cat named Shadow arrived. She had lived in Kitty City and knew how Fat Cat had become wealthy. Shadow wanted Tiger and Hairball to broadcast the truth, but they were preoccupied with the breakup of "TomCat", a famous kitty couple.

Shadow was born near a stream in Kitty City. There she frolicked all day, catching fish and rodents, just like her mother had taught her. One day Fat Cat arrived. He convinced the people of Kitty City that they could have more food with less effort if they paid him to use his new invention: The Kibble-Shaker. The Kibble-Shaker, though Fat Cat never revealed the full details of how it worked, essentially created underground explosions forcing rodents out of their holes and fish out of their streams. Sure enough, within a short period of time mice, rats and fish were popping up everywhere for easy catching. Fat Cat took his pay (mostly in frozen rodents) and left town.

Shortly afterwards, however, things went terribly wrong. Because the rodents were forced out of their holes before they could raise their young, there was no next generation of vermin to feed on. Even worse, the underground explosions had polluted the water. Not only did most of the fish die, but the cats had to travel great distances to find something to drink. When they tracked down Fat Cat, he claimed it was all a coincidence and that they couldn't prove The Kibble-Shaker had anything to do with their plight.

Shadow shared the story throughout Catlandia, but no one seemed interested.  Not only were they wrapped up in the "TomCat" drama, but they had also bought into the Cat Council's propaganda that the best way to keep safe and fed was to make sure Fat Cat kept as many of his frozen rodents as possible in the hope that a few tidbits would trickle down to feed the rest of the cats. If anyone held him accountable for past infractions, they feared they'd have even less food than their already declining supply.

One day Shadow happened upon a hidden structure just outside of Catlandia. A stealthy kitty if ever there was one, Shadow slinked around a corner and peeked inside to see Fat Cat and his friends eating a grand feast of Rat Souffle and Trout with a Mouse Reduction. She listened carefully as Fat Cat caterwalled to the clowder of cats: "Mewwwww..... Now that I have all those felines eating out of my paw, I can introduce my greatest invention. The Kibble-Shaker is coming to Catlandia!"

What happens next?

The Pecking Order: A Brief Followup to Chik-fil-A

In reading the flurry of online activity about Chik-fil-A's financial support of anti-gay marriage groups, I finally realized what's actually going on here beneath the veneer of Bible quotes and the first amendment. The voices of privilege, in this case evangelical straight folks, feel threatened when a group that does not have the same rights insists on equality. Fuming evangelicals say they are the ones who are being persecuted because of their beliefs. It dawned on me that the angry voice of privilege is really a voice of fear, fear because those not privileged are challenging the established pecking order and the sense of identity derived from it. Whether the oppressed are women, people of color, immigrants, the poor, people of other faiths, or the LGBT community, the response is fear disguised as anger.

I also realized that my role is not to fix or change anyone. My path is to keep my heart open and reflect the truth of my experience as given the Light to do so. In effect, I become a mirror.

Privilege when seeing its own prejudice in the mirror, complains that the mirror itself is a bigot. 

You Say You Want a Revolution? Read Leviticus

The Biblical book of Leviticus is a tedious read, and so, with the exception of homophobic rants about a man not "lying with a male as with a woman", the text is quoted about as often as President Warren Harding's Inaugural Address. Recently I attended an event at a nearby seminary where the topic of discussion was Leviticus 25:

Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan...Everyone is to return to their own property...The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers...If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. Do not take interest or profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you.  Leviticus 25:10, 13, 23-24, 35-36.

So, let's see if I get this right. God's command is that every fifty years there's a total economic "do over".  And here are the tenets of God's economic platform:

  • No matter what happened in the previous 49 years, everyone gets back their historic family property. (Socialism?)
  • Land is never permanently sold, because it really belongs to God and the entire community. (Communism?)
  • If, for whatever reason, someone becomes poor, the nation is called on to support them. (Welfare state?)
  • The poor are to be helped just as foreigners and strangers should be supported. (Immigrant rights?)
  • Don't take interest or profit from the poor so that they can prosper. (Not even sure what to call this other than a violation of every principle of the market economy.)

Anyone running for president on this platform wouldn't stand a chance in hell (perhaps heaven?) of winning.  Of course, outside of a few isolated attempts, these words were never taken literally. They were simply too revolutionary. So much for a nation based on Biblical principles.

What if, however, the spirit of these words challenged us to evolve our economics and our spirituality until we could not consider one without the other? What if the measure of our spirituality included not only personal salvation/enlightenment but also a shared responsibility for the wellbeing of all the inhabitants of our community: rich and poor, native and immigrant, human and other species? What if "we" became just as prominent as "me" when talking about economics and spirituality?

While a literal year of Jubilee is unlikely, we can catch the spirit of Jubilee and put our spiritual energy to use for the public good. A start is to educate ourselves about how "the public" is actually doing,

"The Human Development Report" provides census-driven data to analyze longevity, income and access to education, healthcare, and affordable housing. Reports have been generated for 161 countries, three states in the U.S. (Louisiana, Mississippi, and California) and for the first time ever, a local community: Marin County, California. We get a better understanding of how people are doing from a tool like this than we do from the distant rumblings of the stock market. To learn more, go to http://measureofamerica.org/

While I don't expect that many of us will pick up Leviticus for a light summer read, I do believe that it is time for us to evolve our spirituality so that our individual Jubilee is not complete without including in our hearts and actions those for whom Jubilee is a distant dream.


Homosexuality and the Church

Here are two blog postings by Dr. Jim Rigby, pastor of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas. His prophetic ministry focuses on bringing justice to marginalized people in the name of Christ. The first entry describes the latest chapter in the ongoing attempt to censure a retired minister for officiating weddings of same-sex couples:  Redwoods Presbytery's Refusal to Censure

The second entry is entitled "Ten Things I Wish the Church Knew About Homosexuality". You can search his blog for interesting comments and deeper discussion about the "ten things".

Thank you Jim for your courage in embodying the Spirit and message of Christ!


May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor!

In The Hunger Games, the ruling leisure class subjugates their starving fellow citizens, who are confined to several districts, each of which provides an essential natural resource for the Capitol.  In an annual contest, a male and a female adolescent is taken from each district to fight to the death in “games” that are part gladiatorial entertainment and part brutal reminder that the government can and will crush any semblance of resistance. Adolescents are chosen by lottery, before which the mantra of the games is broadcast: “May the odds be ever in your favor!” I can’t help but wonder if the odds are in our favor. Let’s take a look at the game board. Economic upheaval. 1% vs. 99%. Overpopulation. (Despite claims by the Duggar family, it’s real.) Political and religious extremism. Irreversible environmental degradation. Looming termination of the petroleum era. The odds seem dicey, at best.

In The Great Work, Thomas Berry wrote, “The distorted dream of an industrial technological paradise is being replaced by the more viable dream of a mutually enhancing human presence within an ever-renewing organic-based earth community.” (p. 201) In other words, your odds, my odds and the odds of all life on the planet are linked.

What’s needed is a shift in pronouns: May the odds be ever in our favor, where “our” includes the 99% and the 1%, documented Americans and undocumented immigrants, Christian children in Iowa and Muslim children in Afghanistan, humans, trees, bees, whales, oceans, and air.

Our odds of survival rise when we see ourselves not as Masters of the Universe plundering every district of life for our own temporary satiation, but rather as one expression of a vast evolutionary story that precedes, exceeds and yet includes us.  In that story we do not see things, people, or even the Earth itself as belonging to us, but rather everything, including us, belonging to Life. It is in the service of Life that we can consciously choose to write a new chapter in the history of the emerging Universe, an era in which each of us becomes a fierce practitioner of justice, sustainability, and community.

The challenge before us is immense. Eventually, it will require birthing a new way of being human on the planet. We need more than tinkering with policies and developing a few renewable energy resources. We need a new lifestyle that is simpler, less industrial and more organic, less driven by global corporations and more community-driven.  One that respects and synchronizes with Life on the planet.

Where do we start? Once this week walk, ride a bike, or use public transportation when you would normally drive. Replace one supermarket trip with a visit to a local farmer's market.

On a more political note, become an unrelenting squeaky wheel for the cause of a more inclusive and sustainable Earth community. For instance:

Will we continue to decimate the very ecosystem upon which our survival depends? Or will we become a "mutually enhancing human presence" for humanity and the rest of our Earth community? Our chances of survival depend on the choices we make. May the odds be ever in our favor!

Please take a few moments to post below your thoughts, suggestions and steps you are taking to move us toward a “mutually enhancing human presence”.