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Archive for the ‘Moral politics’ Category

masks

This year, regardless of political persuasion, we are jolted week to week by seeming reversals of fortune as the tracking polls nationally and in so called battle ground states depict the state of the race. One debate performance by our President that many thought fell flat and the narrative shifts with mind numbing speed. In fact, it is a function of numbness, a consequence of being too easily persuaded by superficial matters. We are, regrettably, an ahistorical society and largely an anti-intellectual one. This renders our democracy fragile .

Given stressful economic circumstances, fear makes a fool of the majority and accords too much authority to extreme, hyper-emotional views. It becomes susceptible to deceit, manipulation, negative ads, and rhetoric.

What is the connection between political sentiments and living the spiritual life?

In a word ” authenticity,” along with rational discourse and clear thinking. Much is being said about the importance of the ” independents” this year. My question is simply this: how independent are they really when only rhetorical shifts apparently lead to sentiment 180 degrees from reaction to an earlier rhetorical flourish?

A spiritual life is a commitment to the pursuit of what is real. It is an investment in being who we really are with others who we similarly encourage to be themselves. It is a life beyond masks and a love of genuine service to humanity. The marks of spiritual living are communion, not divisiveness, clear speech, not obfuscation, and dialogue that aims to explore mystery and dig deeper beyond the surface  appearances.

Over the last week in the U.S., I have been struck by the incessant chasing after poll numbers and the feeding frenzy around every little event that defines the narrative on the airways. I have come to believe that it is spiritually healthy to avoid the pundits entirely, though the status of the Presidential race is of keen interest to me, and focus on the issues that really matter, real track record and behavior, and approach political choices with spirituality and ultimate meaning kept firmly in mind.

It is too easy to over- compartmentalize our lives: to think “spiritual things” in the time set apart for it while concentrating on tasks and other matters separately.

The real meaning of integrity is that our spirituality is manifest in our thinking, our actions, the choices we make and the words we speak. It is a profound unity ( or at least, it should be). The degree to which this is not the case is diagnostic of the path we need to travel to reach that state of coherent being in the world. Such lived integrity is the example of the true avatars, prophets, soters and saints.

It is the heart of the Call.

© The Harried Mystic, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Spiritual practice aims to awaken us, to see ourselves with clarity and to pursue the truth. Right living is more than prayer and meditation, attendance at religious services, and blind fidelity to corporate beliefs. Critical thinking is essential. Our faith must grapple with doubt and all our beliefs should be tested and examined. As Socrates would have it: “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

So, anything that would call for suspension of critical thinking is predicated on the superiority of ignorance and spiritual blindness over the quest for knowledge. Such attempts at suppression of reason are also extremely dangerous.

History shows that a campaign to control thought is too often a strategy of those motivated to protect their own power from challenge. This was the case in Hitler’s Germany, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Stalin’s Russia, Mubarek’s Egypt, Assad’s Syria, Gaddafi’s Libya and many other examples can be included. With lesser lethality but no less manipulative intent was this Nation’s communist witch hunt during the Macarthy era. Tragically, we can also add the recent Inquisition ordered by Pope Benedict to chastise wayward nuns for deviating from the principle that only men should have Priestly vocation in the Church. In each instance, rhetoric, sloganeering, propagandistic machinery and corporate sanctions aim to trump critical thinking and reasoning.

Enter the 2012 platform of the Texas Republican Party and it’s plank on educating our children:

” Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority. ”

In other words, children should be required to think in pre- determined ways. They should not examine assumptions but accept what their authorities tell them to think. This is nothing new but is an anti- intellectualism that seeks a society of sheep who are made thereby more tractable and manageable by their elected shepherds.

We need to keep this trend in our sights. It is a gathering darkness. Already, we are a Nation in which the majority fails to vote which increases the odds of extremists populating the halls of Congress and becoming majorities in our State houses. In a survey published this morning, 41 % of the U.S citizenry don’t know that the Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act.

It is an act of critical practical spirituality to help others to awaken and unplug from the “matrix”. It is an act of evil to work deliberately and systematically to keep people ignorant and to maintain the illusions that render them pliable.

Let us awaken and see clearly and inspire others to do the same. In the name of God and goodness, let us educate our children to challenge, test and think for themselves.

© The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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At a time in our Nation’s history, when volunteerism is being encouraged by the White House and statistics show the number of volunteers to be way up and rising, one would expect a gracious and warm reception by those chartered to provide critical services to those in need. Tragically, this is sometimes not the case. This is a brief story of an appalling lack of grace on the part of the Long Island Crisis Center in Bellmore New York: an organization that manages the “crisis hotlines” for the region.

While I haven’t volunteered at the Long Island Crisis Center, my wife, a Fordham trained, licensed social worker with advanced counseling skills, has done so. She committed to all their training and to requisite numbers of shifts over nine months ( many of them requiring very early morning presence). She did so willingly and generously. Yesterday, she received a call (out of the blue and with no prior feedback that this was being considered) that she was “no longer needed” as they thought “this wasn’t really for her”.

This was both unexpected and seemingly arbitrary. Since they have a fresh class of new recruits, I guess they just wanted to hold out for what they regard as more suitable (which seems an inclination toward much younger folk). What a disrespectful, unprofessional and cowardly approach. After nine months, they couldn’t even bring themselves to have a face to face conversation? This is not the behavior of empathic and skilled professionals. It is crude, cruel, & capricious conduct. And these are the folks training others to handle crises on the phone?

There is an unfortunate tendency for many people to become quite ego involved in their volunteer work. As they advance in seniority they become “gatekeepers”. While feedback is always valuable, it is too often motivated by need for power and tends toward the negative. This betrays lack of adequate training at minimum and very likely a petty self- aggrandizement. Small minds and even smaller hearts are signs of the ” shadow” operating behind feigned dedication to service and caring.

In this instance, those who sat in judgment were placing emphasis in keeping conversations on the phone short: a formulaic response designed to meet the minimum requirements. This is supposedly what passes for service to those in emotional crisis. My wife, on the other hand, really wanted to do the right thing and, in the end, was summarily dismissed without even a ceremonial thank you.

Local volunteers beware!

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When I usually think about the matter of our advancement and progress as a species, I, as I suppose many, begin to enumerate technological accomplishments, innovations, and breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe. All that is certainly relevant. But, a simpler, more straightforward, and not sufficiently well appreciated metric is the condition of our public toilets.

Civilization is really less about knowledge and more about compassion, fellow-feeling, watching out for one another, empathy, and caring.  Without these qualities, our advances are cold, and can too easily convert to a merely more sophisticated manifestation of barbarism.

So, how far really, examining the state of public bathrooms, have we truly come?

I never cease to be amazed by the deplorable state of American public toilets. I will spare my reader any of the imagery that I am sure s/he can conjure at the mere thought of American restrooms. If we look at it as a reflection of how advanced we are as a culture, the experiences all Americans and visitors to our shores have had paint a depressing and demoralizing portrait indeed.

I am constantly shocked at what I discover in public facilities. How can people, who no doubt are, for the most part, otherwise fine and upstanding citizens when in the public eye, behave so thoughtlessly when in these private moments in public facilities. To leave the toilets in the way they do suggests a total absence of civilized attitudes and mores. There is a passive aggressive character to what one sees in these places. One’s heart goes out to those who have to put things right who are in the employ of the restaurants and stores.

By contrast, my diverse British, European and Asian experiences suggest far more mindfulness and care in leaving a clean facility the way it was found. There is a cultural maturity that American society appears to have not yet achieved. With the state of public toilets as a measure, we in the U.S. are relatively uncivilized. The behavior is at best adolescent and at worst the product of people who lack even the most rudimentary hygiene and social graces of a toddler.

It seems to me that one cannot talk about spiritual progress unless the words are first made credible by virtue of lifestyle and action. For all the rhetoric about social progress, this is one example of the distasteful truth that our illusory march of civilization is a quite thin veneer; a pretense, a front for violent, thoughtless disregard for others. I imagine that these people, who anonymously deface and defile our public bathrooms, act, for the most part, with what must be a feigned cordiality and at least a modicum of  intelligence in the open square when their behavior is anything but anonymous.

The measure of spirituality is what we do when alone and when others cannot see what it is we are doing. By that reasoning, there is a much distance that we need to travel before we’ve earned the right to be known as civilized society. As a personal practice, I work to be attentive to what I pass on to others from the standpoints of both the quality of my work, and the simpler gestures of care and concern.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta summed it up admirably:

In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.

My own personal campaign involves such small things as:

  • drying off the sink after use with paper towel
  • informing the management if a toilet is clogged or a faucet or urinal is running constantly
  • alerting the management if the waste baskets are full to overflowing vs throwing ( as I see done so often) on the floor in the general vicinity of the wastebasket
  • ensuring that the person who follows me will be glad that I preceded him.

I hear a lot of talk about civility ( and the lack thereof) and I often make comment about it. The talk is fine as long as we are spending our energy to do what’s right on behalf of the next person. Anything less is hypocrisy and sophistry.

It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters.

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

Good works are links that form a chain of love.

We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

– Various quotes from Mother Theresa with appreciation for her example

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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This past week information came to light about the historical role of the current Pope in acting as Cardinal in Germany to  silence and bury evidence of crimes against children.

As so often happens, we see the portrait of a leader emerging whose principal concerns revolved around protecting the institution of the church from the consequences of the wrong-doing of one or more of its own. Nothing in all this is new save the fact that it involves a religious celebrity of no less stature than the Catholic Pope. For decades, the church has tragically been a protected venue for pedophiles in almost direct and ironic proportion to the elevation of more conservative dogmatics.

I began life as a Catholic. I was raised in the faith and received my first Holy Communion, Confirmation, and was married Catholic. I grew up respecting the elders of the Church and loved the stories of the miracles performed according to legend by the many saints of the Church. I loved the High Holy Day Masses with the strikingly colorful vestments, the music that was uplifting and transporting, and the scents of the sacred, complements of the Jerusalem blend of incense.

I recoiled even as a young man at the strictness of the church and, like all Catholics, carried a sense of guilt over some ambiguous but nonetheless permanent stain for which the only treatment was weekly penance. I also enjoyed, in an odd “get-it-over-with” way, going to the confessional on Saturdays to receive and perform the Priest’s prescription of so many “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys”.

I adored my maternal grandparents, Italian peasants really, who emigrated to the United States. My grandfather, a shoemaker by trade, would dress in a suit each week, as would I , and we walked together the mile or so from their home to the local church. It all seemed well-ordered, reasonable, a call to goodness, a weekly pilgrimage to a place of deep loving, the most peaceful and safest of places, the House of the Lord. Little did I know that within such houses of worship throughout the World, young men were being sexually abused. We will never probably know just how many, but already the stories, claims, and cases settled out of and in the courts have rendered the Roman Catholic Church uninsurable in the United States. What is becoming also ever clearer is the global character of the crisis.

This is a tragedy made altogether evil when one adds the complicity of church leaders, the silent Bishops and Cardinals ( the so-called “Princes”) of the church. Any member of the church facing the facts of such evil and darkness has a deeply personal and critically important decision to make. I know many in the Roman Communion that have chosen to stay aggressive supporters of the church while descrying the “bad apples.” This strikes me as too easy, convenient, and self-serving. I know others that have voted with their feet and have left to pursue their own spiritual nourishment among other communions. I find that choice courageous and more truly an act of living in “good faith.”

I left the Roman Church a long time ago based on many years of watching and assessing its doctrinal positions and trying to square these theologically, psychologically, and personally. Too many of the dogmas seemed arbitrary, unnecessary, and even imprudent, and mandatory celibacy was among those things. Once the sins of the church are documented, as they have been and continue to be, there is, in my opinion, no choice but to leave the church entirely and vociferously criticize what she has become.

When leaders harbor criminals and act to protect themselves and their institution over the people who look to them for guidance, they have become morally and spiritually bankrupt and no longer serve as credible witnesses to the Gospel. No manner of beautiful ritual and the comforts of tradition can make this right. The shadow is too long and too deep. To remain a member of the RC church under these circumstances is to collude in the lie that its leadership embodies and faithfully manifests the teachings of Christ.

Deriving no pleasure whatsoever from what seems a logical, moral, and practical imperative, it is my strongest belief now that this church needs to be sanctioned by an exodus of the faithful. To leave her is to love what is true and good in the teachings of the church. To stay is to be an enabler of Machiavellian tactics and political gamesmanship masquerading as religion. No one who harms a child nor anyone who harbors or gives support to perpetuating a system in which perpetrators can hide, can be tolerated and allowed to continue as leaders. They lose their place as esteemed and respected brokers of the Kerygma.

As we approach Easter, I reflect on the teaching at the core, and the mandate it issues to be faithful to Christic teachings regardless of how hard that may be and how uncomfortable should it demand that we abandon what we grew up with, and  all the special and beautiful trappings of which we are so fond. All the trappings in the world cannot undue the wounding of one child made to suffer at the hands of so-called religious, and those who look the other way as a function of political expediency or personal convenience are accomplices to crime. The proper response of the church hierarchy is not a well-argued defense, excuses, and legal parsings of language, but, very simply, abject and unrelenting shame over the horror.

I am disgusted, appalled, and, making it all so much more tragic, not at all surprised as we learn more over time about the magnitude and long-standing nature of the abuses that have and are still being committed worldwide. It is my belief that the Lord would rather save a single child than found or perpetuate a movement dedicated primarily to preserving power and influence. After all, his ministry was essentially a reaction to that same politic that motivated the Sadducees and the Pharisees.

” Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth.”

” Suffer the little children.”

” Whatsoever you do to the least of these you do to me.”

Taking a firm and no-nonsense stand is among the finest forms of spiritual practice.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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The recent attempt of a misguided young man from Nigeria to set off a bomb on a flight to Detroit has the Nation once again on edge. While the attempt was thankfully foiled, and the matter of poor co-ordination of intelligence has become the current political football, I find myself thinking more about the psycho-spiritual aim of the terrorist organizations and our own spiritual estate.

Terrorists are, as the name clearly suggests, merchants of fear. An even casual look at probabilities, and one discovers quickly that we are each far more likely to be injured driving, and our greater threats include drunk drivers, and, of course, those who insist on talking on cell phones, or worse, texting, while behind the wheel. Undeniably, our Government needs to improve the intelligence system and also work with other nations to create a more reliable set of checks.

However, the central motivation of the terrorist is to engender fear and the great cost we incur in chasing after the holes in our security that need plugging after each new means they devise to thwart our systems. The media hype and the attention it gives to the madmen perpetrating these crimes against humanity only reinforce their nefarious resolve.

They only need an attempted bombing, not a successful one, and they are guaranteed weeks of press. In an election year especially, the minority party will, and has already, begun to call for congressional hearings, issuing daily diatribes against the current White House. Guaranteed, the issue will remain center stage for a long while. In this scenario, the terrorist is rewarded.

Even a failed attempt clearly pays dividends if it generates fear ( and one need only listen to the airwaves for just a few minutes to see the extent to which that has already occurred). Whatever intelligence and security policies and apparatus get implemented, and however the risks are thereby mitigated, the greater question, for each of us, is what we will choose in how terrorism affects us.

The President’s speech today included a crucial reminder that we give evil a great victory if we “hunker down” and submit to fear. Fear creates hatred and that leads to the commission of evil to counter evil (like torture), and that is a terrible and deeply costly Faustian bargain.

As a society, this moment is a call to reassert a sense of our collective spiritual resolve, resilience, and character. It is not a time in which to devolve into angry men and women packing pistols and looking for blood.

I recall FDR’s magnificent statement after the bombing of Pearl Harbor:

The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.

So, tonight, inspired by the events of the day today, I am meditating on the matter of fear and the spiritual significance of it. The antidote, as defined by the world’s great Teachers is clear: love, compassion, and imperturbability.

How is that achieved? Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author of many wonderful books, including, Peace in Every Step,  captures the challenge and the way forward eloquently:

In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate, so we will rally behind them. And if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilize us.

And once we have the condition of peace and joy in us, we can afford to be in any situation. Even in the situation of hell, we will be able to contribute our peace and serenity. The most important thing is for each of us to have some freedom in our heart.

The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the physical, material, and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves “inside the skin” of the other.  We “go inside” their body, feelings, and mental formations, and witness for ourselves their suffering.  Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering.  We must become one with the subject of our observation.  When we are in contact with another’s suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally, “to suffer with.”

This gentle and enlightened soul describes the illness and the medicine. First, what we fear is often the result of manipulation by those who would want to win political points, or fulfill a power agenda, by using fear to make it seem that our choices are binary: do what they are suggesting, or suffer more terror. That’s something we are hearing today from certain right-wing quarters.

The terrorists use fear to disrupt our lives, create distraction, and the anxious sense that we can go nowhere without dread. People are too often seduced into relinquishing their highest ideals and values in the name of safety in such circumstances. Deceitful power brokers exploit this fear.

The medicine is to turn off the endless chatter of doom and gloom. We need to return to the breathe, just sit and listen, and really see. The path to compassion is deep understanding. There is no way to understand what’s really happening, and the ways in which people who feel hatred toward us are themselves suffering, if we fear them.

We need to step back. Let the heart slow its rapid “flight-or-fight” beating, re-center ourselves, and activate the greatest weapon we have in our arsenal to defeat the princes of darkness:

Thinking & Knowing!

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Illustration by Dan May

As an ordained Bishop, the color of my ecclesiastical vestments is violet, or so-called episcopal purple. This is also the proper color to apply to all U.S. states and Congresspersons at so serious a time in our Nation’s history.

In political parlance and symbolism, purple is the blending of the so-called Democratic blue and Republican red. Over the last year, there has been a complete breakdown of dialogue in Congress, and exchanges  have been dominated by partisan rhetoric. Authentic dialogue would be signified by a purple disposition, suggesting dedication to preserving common ground and serving a greater good. Doing so is as much the work of mature citizenship at a time of ongoing global and National urgency as it is spiritual practice.

As a political independent, a politically purple creature, joining the swelling ranks of purple critters, I am free to make hybrid choices in elections without running afoul of either organized political party.  Of course, once in the voting booth, I can do whatever I want in any event,  but acting independently while claiming to be a member of either party would be intellectually dishonest. Involvement with the body politic is an important part of engaged spirituality. To sit on the sidelines of history is both too easy and too comfortable. Without active engagement with the issues of our day, spirituality remains an abstract and solipsistic exercise.

I confess to being something of a political junky, taking in as much of the news of the day as I can stomach, until the theater becomes too noisy or absurd. The spiritual discipline in all of this revolves around right thought and right speech. It is easy to listen to points of view with which one agrees. It’s another thing altogether to listen when in passionate disagreement. Cultivating the capacity to do so is a  matter of spiritual importance and is the true test of one’s capacity to genuinely listen, learn,  and appreciate diverse viewpoints.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

By contrast to the enlightened definition of intelligence offered by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the above quote, the political rhetoric in Washington lacks the maturity, collegiality, and insightfulness that our times demand. While both sides of the political aisle have contributed to this disappointing state of public affairs,  the Republican minority, fully commanded by the more extreme right, has injected the harshest, most unseemly, and destructive poison. The agenda on the “Right” takes the form of  ad hominem attacks, innuendo, fear mongering, and hate speech. This loud minority has the dubious distinction of having mastered the arts of pitching inflammatory talking points, demagoguery, deception, and distraction.

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