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Posts Tagged ‘spirituality and political behavior’

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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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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We have all heard the phrase, ” a thirst for knowledge,” and many people are motivated by a need to discover, understand and reveal the essence of experience and phenomena. These are the people who take seriously the Socratic admonition to  “know thyself,” and embody the idea that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

The times in which we live are times of great contrast. The United States electorate is acutely divided, and we see, once again, the perennial visage of culture, race and class warfare in the exchange of emotional and unthinking rhetoric.

What I see is a rising thirst for ignorance. Orthodoxies appear on the rise, and liberal philosophies in all arenas are ridiculed and demonized. When the appetite for “heresy” declines one should be watchful for the erosion of liberty, critical thinking, and genuine insight into issues. At a recent dinner, I was part of a cordial conversation among friends and associates about this political moment in America. At one point, I was labeled by a colleague, only half in jest, as a liberal elitist. Why? The label was meant to sweep into a neat category my love of scholarship, incisive dialogue, taking nothing at face value, and seeing all orthodoxy as worthy of inspection. Ok, then, no problem. I am a card-carrying liberal elitist and proud of it. Dismiss me if you please.

In our current times, it is both easier and increasingly well-regarded to cling to the formulae fed to us by those who affix dismissive labels as their way of coping with what they fail to understand and have little energy to genuinely explore. It is easier to buy into a platform of ideological character. It gives one a sense of solidity when so much that swirls around us is uncertain and complex.

I, for one, love uncertainty. Doubt and the challenge of all assumptions is “philosophy,” the love of wisdom. I am absolutely certain that nothing is absolutely certain! I know that what I know is fact until new evidence reveals that it isn’t. Ideology is “window dressing” and icing for the mind. It entices. It draws you inside to look things over and encourages you to buy or partake. However, as so many things that are adorned with icing, the repast is likely one of many empty calories!

  • A few snowstorms where they aren’t typical and where the snowfall breaks records after many years, and many, including ostensibly intelligent legislators, are declaring the folly of “global warming.”
  • After decades of strong evidence of the veracity of Darwinian evolution and evolutionary developmental biological science, a good number have chosen to reject it for a more fundamentalist theology, and insist that this alternative be taught along with the science.
  • The facts around the necessity for government stimulus and spending in these recessionary times is denigrated as an example of out of control tax and spend big government.

Heretics and individualists are no fun. Their incessant challenge gives one a headache. They seem like they are not team players. They “move to the beat of a different drummer.” They are “not like the rest of us.” The Matrix movies were a testament to the will of many to stay deluded and comforted by machine generated, or, by analogy, party-generated or state-generated fantasy.

The price of the pursuit of knowledge is to place oneself in harm’s way. The deaths of Socrates, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Anwar Sadat and Jesus of Nazareth represent a dynamic that is as real and potent today as it has ever been. Salman Rushdie was under the threat of a Fatwah for his novel. Cartoonists have been threatened for offending orthodox beliefs. A demonizing and fear-mongering minority is actually succeeding in flipping the balance of power in the United States just over a year after the election of a President with a decade’s worth of serious challenges to address and a recalcitrant opposition hell-bent on denying him any meaningful legislation.

The appetite for ignorance always seems to overwhelm the true thirst for knowledge. Higher education in the U.S. often needs to be camouflaged lest one be labeled and set aside as an “elitist” or “academic”. Just look at out national values by comparing the very small percentage of the Federal budget set aside for education compared to what is allocated for defense and the story is told.

We do well to step back and reflect on our estate. How much have we bought into a ready-made set of comfortable mythologies and how alive do we want to be? Is freedom a value or a catch phrase that is nullified by a deeper need to be told what to believe, how to live, what to wear, how to talk, and what it means to be succesful?

It is our’s to choose:  Ignorance or knowledge. This is not only an imperative of citizenship and mind, but is a critical aspect of the depth and breadth of our spirituality. One cannot separate these from one another. They are inter-dependent parts of one true Self.

© 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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Aurora taking leave of her lover Tithos. Having asked Zeus to make him immortal, she failed to also ask that he not age.

In all things, nature seeks after a steady state. Young lovers, like the mythic Aurora depicted in the public domain image above leaving her now aged and enfeebled Tithos, last only for a season. Thereafter, love must take on new and changing features.

The neurotic pursuit of eternal youth fails to appreciate the natural order of change and re-balancing. There is nothing so pitiful as an older man lusting after a girl who could be his daughter, or an older woman pursuing a much younger man. These couplings are contra-natura and, as such, cannot long prevail.

Mind-body-spirit are continuously being recalibrated to new realities, and finding the “sweet spot” at each station on life’s path is our spiritual task. Neurosis simply reflects our failure to find it. Homeostasis is the capacity of animals to regulate physiological limits to secure a balanced system. Whether we speak about the endothermic animals who have inherent self-regulation of such parameters as temperature or exothermic, who carry out control by behavioral adaptations, the aim is the same: support an equilibrium around a mean value developed in evolutionary time. Such regulatory mechanisms include insulin production, kidney regulation of water and ions, conformance to circadian rhythm, and the sleep cycle to name but a  few.

As in matter so too in spirit, we see homeostatic feedback loops at work as we thread the needle of insight. Carl G. Jung spoke often of the need for complementarity and balance of feminine and masculine,  Shadow and self. The human ecology shows the same socio-spiritual dynamic. As a long-time facilitator of team meetings (large and small), I can anecdotally attest (as so many of my colleagues will as well), that a meeting of all men is a very different meeting than one with mixed gender representation.

The discussions tend  to have more sharp edges with an economy of time invested in discovery and willingness to live in the question. On receiving a facilitation assignment, the first thing I look over is the roster to see just how gender diverse it is. In any event, in such gatherings, mixed representation ensures a better return from extremes to balanced views as issues clarify and strategies are developed.

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This week, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, rebuked Mr. Patrick Kennedy.  Specifically, he essentially excommunicated Kennedy from the Church for his convictions about abortion rights, or a woman’s right to choose.

It strikes me that the Bishop was well within the prerogatives of his office to speak on the matter for a Church that has been consistently vocal in condemning abortion.

When we join a religious community, we sign on to its established codes of conduct and beliefs. If we oppose those beliefs and rules and choose to ignore them, we justifiably face expulsion from the group. Alternatively, upon realizing that membership brings us face to face with ideological and/or moral conflicts that we can no longer abide, we have the freedom to withdraw: something I have done now four times over several decades from different communities.

Mr. Kennedy is emblematic of the many so-called cafeteria Catholics who decide what they intend to honor in the teachings of the church and what they will ignore. It is living in bad faith to profess fidelity to a church, on the one hand, and then cavalierly disregard one of the major tenets of the magisterium on the other.

By the same token, the Roman Catholic Church also lives in bad faith. In this instance, the Bishop has publically chastised Mr. Kennedy because of his celebrity and the place he holds in crafting legislation. This is an example of the Church mirroring the self-same cafeteria-like Catholic agenda. Apparently, the Church has not felt a great deal of distress in offering the Eucharist in the past to many Italian politicians who hold similarly anti-Catholic views. The last Pope himself acted with averted gaze in the case of others about whom a public rebuke would have embarrassed, created turmoil, or simply been politically inconvenient.

So, the good Bishop takes selective umbrage to Patrick Kennedy’s positions, and argues openly that he does so because of Kennedy’s visibility: a gross exercise in unabashed unfairness and moralistic inconsistency.

Either the Church should expel ALL who defend a woman’s right to choose, or be mute on the subject. While I disagree with it, the theology on the matter, as presented by the Church, is at least intellectually coherent and consistent. To selectively apply that theology in practice based on other extra-theological criteria, such as celebrity, renders the theology itself suspect and disingenuous. The Church speaks out of both sides of its moralistic mouth on this issue in this situation.

At the end of the day, religious communities have the right to publish a moral theology. We have the right to join them on that basis or not. To join and dissent is just adolescent rebelliousness. For the Church to selectively apply moral outrage is political gamesmanship, grand-standing, and moral relativism in its own right, not righteousness. It is capricious autocracy.

Either the church of Rome should apply the law equally, or conserve its leadership energies and focus on what really matters as demonstrated through its consistent,  programmatic assertion and action.

Along our spiritual path, the journey invariably engages our convictions and we take a stand within the body politic. Doing so  sharpens the saw of our own reflections on the relationship of social issues and spiritual convictions, and affords us the chance to look at ourselves, our own assumptions, and our own consistencies and inconsistencies.

© 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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