My Kingdom..for a cup of coffee

coffee

I’m taking a stress test later today and the cardiologist asked (demanded, the jerk) that I drink no coffee during the 36 hours preceding the test. It is now hour # 30, and I am sitting here in my backyard, at the edge of hell.

The sun is irritatingly bright. The birds are screechy, the crickets are monotonous, and even my beloved dogs have turned on me, underfoot and demanding. I am having some major spiritual revelations, too:

re: The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden because of disobedience. I’ve decided that coffee beans were piled there in abundance. Rich and shiny, golden brown gifts of God to begin each morning in Paradise. Out of the Garden, they would be forced to drink.. green tea.

re: The Buddha’s First Noble Truth, that Life is full of Suffering. Amen, Siddartha! But, then, what other conclusion could he have come to? He would never have had the opportunity to hold a grand latte, cupped warmly in his hands, as he breathed in the sweet aroma of South American mountainsides. Green tea would NOT have begun to satisfy that deep and basic human need.

Coffee elevates the human spirit! It helps us focus! It is an aromatic, erotic, exultant pathway to each new day! It is to be savored while having meditative thoughts and sipped while contemplatively aligning oneself with God.

That’s the first pot, anyway.

The rest of the day, it is to keep the headaches away that result from the bouncing around of empty spaces in the bloodstream and brain that a lack of caffeine are wont to cause.

You want to talk about stress, Doctor? ALL RIGHT, you practitioner of the healing arts! You’ve got my STRESS! I’m jittery, headachey, crabby, and feeling mean. I’m feeling mean enough to chew through the leather straps which seem to be squeezing my head right now tighter and tighter and….

Only 8 hours until I can go to Starbucks- which is 2.3 miles from the Doctor’s office..which means that at 5:10, 0r 5:11, I will be handing money to an 18 year old barrista, and begging her/him to give me back my life..

Postscript: 6 p.m. God’s in his heaven; all’s right with the world.  

 

 

Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people.

Forget yourself.

~Henry Miller

The Buddha..a reflection

The Essence of Wisdom, page 11-

The Buddha: “It is proper to doubt. Do not be led by holy scriptures, or by mere logic or inference, or by appearances, or by the authority of religious teachers. But when you realize that something is unwholesome and bad for you, give it up. And when you realize that something is wholesome and good for you, do it.”

There are so many outward and visible similarities between the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha, that we can only ignore them out of choice to do so. Christians (I am one) believe there are substantial differences in the personhood and pedigree of these men, but their similarities in method and content of teaching are remarkably similar in many cases.

This saying of the Buddha is one of them. In the Sermon on the Mount, for one example, Jesus for all practical purposes threw out part of the old Hebrew law, which he considered unwholesome and bad, and proclaimed a radically new law, which he considered wholesome and good.

Matthew 5: 38- 42: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” referred to by Jesus, is found in the Torah, Exodus 21: 23-25, and in Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Long before its appearance in the Torah, however, that phrase appeared in the Code of Hammurabi in around 1760 B.C.E., a Mesopotamian set of laws usually regarded as the oldest, formally written set of laws known to exist anywhere. “An eye for an eye..” is how King Hammurabi defined what would be known as the law of equal retribution; or, as it came to be practiced, the law of revenge.

In other words, in ancient Mesopotamia, and later among Jewish tribesmen, if someone poked your eye out, you had the legal right to poke theirs out. In the 1790 years between Hammurabi and Jesus, that law had been followed, and followed, and followed. War had begat war, which begat more wars, and innumerable battles, fights, and other skirmishes.

It wasn’t working! Jesus could see that, even if no one before or since has been able to see it. So he threw something from his holy scripture out (“you have heard it said”) and introduced its opposite (“but I say”).

Now, just because almost nobody has paid attention to Jesus on this one, doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It is simply an untried thing! Revenge is one of the most dearly beloved of all human emotions and one which apparently is impossible for us to give up. I had a recent letter from a friend who said even Jesus didn’t pay attention to his own teaching since he drove the money-changers from the Temple with a whip. He was justifying the use of automatic weapons and blanket bombing in Iraq, based on Jesus’ having used a whip on the money-changers. Owie!

I’ve read all kinds of commentaries on this one change-up in the legal plan of action by Jesus. All kinds of strange cirumventings and twists are involved in trying to make what Jesus said into a mere expansion of the meaning of the old law. But read it again yourself. It is impossible to turn Jesus into a revengeful, eye-for-an-eye reflection of our own worst instincts!

In an address to Agnes Scott College graduating seniors, 1999, the late author, Kurt Vonnegut had this to say about the Hammurabi code: “I myself have an axe, which I have ground as sharp as a razor. What would I like to do with it, if I could? I would like to plant it in the forehead of the Babylonian King Hammurabi, who lived almost four thousand years ago. “Hammurabi gave us a code which is honored to this very day by many nations, including my own, and by all heroes in cowboy and gangster films, and by far too many people who feel they have been insulted or injured, however slightly, however accidentally: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Revenge is not only sweet – it is a must!
“What antidote can there be for an idea that popular and poisonous? Revenge provides revenge, which is sure to provide revenge, forming an endless chain of human misery. Here’s the antidote:
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Amen.”

Bottom line: the Buddha had something important to say. Jesus had some magnificent things to say. It would do us well to listen, and act on what they had to say, before we run out of people to revenge ourselves on, or be revenged by.

(There are, of course, about five million other examples, personal and national, that would reflect the truth of what the Buddha was saying. This has been but one of them.)

Nuclear Weapons..First Strike

America pulled the nuclear trigger first, lest we forget. On August 6, 1945, sixty-two years ago today, the mushroom cloud under which everyone on earth since that day has lived, first rose. Personally, I think that it is truly the day above all days that lives in infamy, but I know there other opinions and that’s not what I’m here to write about anyway. If you’d like to know more about the specifics, here’s a thorough and interesting link to historical information about this event: Atomic Anniversaries.

As a new pastor in the town I live in now, I began visiting church members soon after arriving here four years ago. One of my standard questions of people over 80 or so, concerns their lives during World War Two. I’ve found that most former service men and women who were at one time reluctant to talk about that part of their lives, are ready and anxious to now. Unfortunately, not many people ask them anymore.

I asked Bill (a pseudonym) about his memories of that war, once I knew he was a Navy veteran of the War. He didn’t answer. After a few seconds, I realized he couldn’t answer. Men are reluctant sometimes to display their emotions to other men, and it is particularly hard for men of that age. I said, “It’s something people like me need to hear, Bill.”

That’s a practiced response. First of all, it’s true; the stories of those soldiers do need to be heard. Secondly, I didn’t want to stop what I knew Bill wanted to say, by saying something stupid and destructive like, “It’s OK if you don’t want to talk about it.” That’s insulting. It would have been, in effect, my saying to Bill that he was making me uncomfortable, now let’s go and talk about football scores or anything that will keep me from hearing the lump in your throat. Third, these old veterans want someone who will listen. They are all- all of them- dragging around 60 year old chains of unspoken memories and, as they get older, those chains have gotten heavier. Our ears and our hearts, sincerely open, can be cutting torches.

Bill began, finally, after a cough or two and a tightening of his jaw, “I was in Hiroshima the day after. I was part of a detail to assess the damage and take pictures.

“It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

And then he stopped talking and began to cry. And I let him. I cried with him, in fact, for whatever the memories were that were being made fresh again.

“I’m sorry,” he said several times.

“You aren’t allowed to apologize for being human around me,” I told him. After a minute or two, Bill started talking again, and kept talking for almost half of an hour. He described bodies, melted into bed frames. He told about chasing dogs and rats away from bodies and parts of bodies. He told of screams coming from everywhere and that his Japanese translator told him that many of those screams were people pleading to be killed.

When Bill was finished he was very composed. It was like the calm one feels after throwing up, and that’s exactly what Bill had just done. He was drained but relieved; exhausted but calm. Bill’s wife had brought him a glass of water and he sat now with his head tilted back against his chair.

“Do you think we should have done it?” I asked finally.

He shook his head. ‘No.’

208-N-43888<br /> War and Conflict #1242<br /> A dense column of smoke rises more than 60,000 feet into the air over the Japanese port of Nagasaki, the result of an atomic bomb, the second ever used in warfare, dropped on the industrial center August 8, 1945, from a U.S. B-29 Superfortress.

(U.S.Government Archives, Hiroshima)

Being Creative..

                    center for contemporary art afghanistan

This picture makes my heart soar. It is a group of young Afghani women who are organizing the Center for Contemporary Art in their country. It is one of those Shouts to world from an unexpected place that there is more to say, more to see, and more to be from people who want, and are taking the chance, to get those things.

There is just something magnificent about the colors against the sand and dried mud background; there is something revealing about the colors that have been simmering and now have a place to boil over; there is something gorgeous about these young women’s souls.

A Moment of Personal Indulgence, Please..?

It’s early Sunday morning. It’s that day about which a little girl at church once asked me, “What do you do the rest of the week?”  I’ve got two messages to give today, and they are both finished. I’ve got no Sunday School classes to lead today and no last minute busy-ness to finish up doing. So, as I sit out here in the backyard, and as I play “Here Comes the Sun” in the background to accompany what is happening in the eastern sky in front of me, I have this opportunity to indulge my need to..schmooze.

I fuss every Sunday morning over what I am going to say to a roomful of people. They are not there to hang on my every word, I know that; but if they happen to overhear something that they can take out the door with them after church, I want it to be something real, something that might move them or somebody they come near to, into a calmer, more peaceful, more loving frame of mind. I desperately want others to know Jesus as someone to follow, rather than as a doctrinal statement to be manipulated by.

Reading a fellow blogger this morning- here – I am struck with a quote he uses from the movie “The Big Kahuna:”

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.’ That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep.”

I don’t want to pitch. I never want to feel as if I am presenting Jesus in the way someone else might be selling used cars or life insurance: “Help the client dig themselves into a hole, then show them that your ladder is the only way out.” That kind of preaching can be heard ad nauseum by turning on the television to virtually any “Christian” station, and in many, many churches this morning. It’s a message that fills collection plates, because it’s based on the fears of missing out, of not being included, or- most despicably- of not having enough faith. Giving, then, is demonstrated as evidence of one’s belonging, and as a measure of one’s faith. (And the more you give, the bigger faith you must have, don’t you know?)

Bullsh*t! (to use a word here I probably won’t be using in church later today)

That formulaic message about Jesus was developed in the mid-1700s and gave birth to the so-called Great American Awakening. It was the message of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God that filled churches out of fear and has never faded from the American preaching landscape. And it hasn’t faded, because it works; it gets people in the pews for fear of not being in the pews.

“Fear not.” It’s one of the New Testament’s most oft-repeated phrases. The angel says it when Mary is told about her pregnancy with Jesus, and the Magdalene is angelically told that when being informed about the resurrected Jesus. And Jesus himself says it a whole bunch of times in the 33 years between those two days! Later, after experiencing the fact for a number of years, the apostle John wrote, “Perfect love casts out fear.”

So I guess that’s the message I want to get across each time I open my mouth: fear is no fun; following Jesus is. I hope these two messages today say that. I think they do.

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it’s all right
It’s all right

“There are lots of ways of being miserable, but there’s only one way of being comfortable, and that is to stop running round after happiness. If you make up your mind not to be happy, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a fairly good time.”

~Edith Wharton, The Last Asset

I read a quote like this and just want to shout “YES!” because it’s coming from someone who’s wiser, better known, with a whole lot of credentials, and who was writing almost a hundred years ago what I try to say today.

Life is not about happiness! It is about wholeness, centeredness, and peace. Happiness happens, and it’s wonderful when it does, but sadness and a dozen other emotional responses are always waiting just offstage to be in the limelight. too. They are not interlopers; they are not arrayed against a “natural” happiness, they are just part of our palette of human reactions. It is the consistency and calm with which we deal with all of them that makes for a peace that passes many people’s understanding, and which enables real, self-generated happiness to be discerned more often..

A New Earth..A New Worldview

This newest and most detailed photograph of Earth, part of a series released by NASA and described in the post of August 1 directly below, or here, begs for additional commentary.

earthNASA2

And first among that commentary is this, another photograph of Earth taken in 1970 by Voyager I from an area within the rings of Saturn. Called “a pale, blue dot” by Carl Sagan, the photograph became well-known because of the late astronomer’s eloquent words about it. I do not attempt to equal, let alone surpass Sagan’s words; but the two photographs, placed together, offer us all a unique vision of place and perspective, and they demand deep, reflective,sometimes even uncomfortable thinking from each of us.

blue dot nasa jpl voyager

The Voyager photo must be highlighted, in order that we can even see the Earth from that distant perspective. But it is there, brilliant in its greens and blues, and accented always by the gray and white clouds of evaporated water hovering in its atmosphere, as can be seen so precisely in the newest NASA photos.

Before we could see pictures like these, beginning just fifty years ago, most humans could easily believe in the centered and seemingly supreme nature of our place in the universe. Ancient creation stories were explanations, shared through generations of families, bands, and tribes, of human origins, and all of them included references to that centrality and supremacy. Humans had the need, and still do, of making sense of themselves in the context of the environment in which they live. This skill of language, which preserves knowledge through time, makes us different from all others of the Earth’s species.

Most of us, whether we subscribe to them in faith or not, are aware of one, or maybe two creation stories. But at one time there were as many stories of human beginnings as there were the number of family tribes from which they arose. It was natural, even truthful, that the boundaries and contexts of those stories would be the natural boundaries and the environmental and cultural contexts of those who developed and transmitted them to others.

Among one tribe in India, the explanation was this: Lord Brahma the Creator, living in an emptiness filled with death and hunger, said one day, “Let me have a Self.” That Self began to grow, as large as two people embracing, and Brahma willed that a separation occur. Thus, male and female, husband and wife, was given explanation. She, ashamed of having sex with someone who had been part of her, hid her Self in the form of a cow. He, in turn, became a bull. And thus, the speciation of Earth began.

Among the descendents of those first tribes of Asian people who populated one of the Hawaiian islands, the origin story involved a rendezvous between the deep and dark caverns of the island (male) and moonless nights (female). Of that geological and meteorological union was born the coral reefs, from which all manner of sea life was subsequently born. As the ocean lapped onto the land, other animals were born- animals of the land. Finally, on the dawn of one extraordinary day, La’ila’i, a woman, and Ki’i, a man, and Kane, a god were born. It was through the three of them that all human life began.

I wonder how how stories of Creation would have emerged if those ancient peoples had had even an inkling of what we know today about the boundaries and contexts of our environment, within the context of a vast and ever expanding universe? Certainly they would not have been defined by the geographical features of the places in which the thinkers and storytellers found themselves. And certainly those stories would have all been much grander in size and scope.

Each of those Creation stories became a part of each tribes worldview. It was one element of their consciousness which helped explain to them how the world worked and how they were to function and regard themselves within that world and within their tribe. We can, only because of the new information we have gathered technologically, be amazed, even aghast, at the narrowness of those stories. It was a narrowness, which later gave rise, as human populations grew and coalesced in more urban settings and as tribes began having more frequent contact with other tribes, into nationalism, chauvinism, racism, and even patriotism.

Those ancient worldviews served their purpose in tribal contexts. But when they became institutionalized in the identity of nations, they became dangerous. And they still are. 20,000 years after Paleolithic Man first scratched pictures which would eventually evolve into language,on the walls of caves in southwestern France, we (humans) are on the brink of nuclear holocaust and human suicide.

It may be time for a more universal,less parochial, less nationalistic, more humane and shared worldview- one which encompasses not only our particular human tribe, but other tribes, other species, even the Earth itself, in the context of an always expanding, always creating universe.

How do we begin? We begin exactly as our ancient ancestors did as they sat around campfires at night and wondered, Why?, and How?, and Who? We can hold in our hands now the pictures of the Mother from whose womb we are born, and of her place. That is a place to begin anew.

And many of us acknowledge, too, the breath of the Father surrounding the Mother and all else that is. It will be incumbent upon those of who do recognize that Father, to allow that Father to be as large as he really is, and not limit his imagination and activity by the size of our own knowledge or, worse, by the worldviews of ancient peoples who were only beginning to know him.

The New Story, the New Worldview begins whenever we choose, as individuals, for it to begin. None of us alive today will hear its completion. We can only plant the seeds for its eventual fruition and hope, and pray, that there will be others in distant futures who will live and flourish within that story in ways that do not perpetuate the human suffering and fear that our worldviews have.

(Here is my former entry on Carl Sagan: A Pale Blue Dot)

A New Earth..

These new photographs of Earth, released yesterday by NASA, are the most detailed of our planet to date. Over several months, every kilometer of Earth was photographed by satellite and this, the composite collection of those individual photos, is the result.

earthNASA2

Nikos Kazantzakis, writing his prologue to The Odyssey- A Modern Sequel, said this about his home:

Good is this earth, it suits us! Like the global grape it hangs, dear God, in the blue air and sways in the gale, nibbled by all the birds and spirits of the four winds. Come, let’s start nibbling too and so refresh our minds!

Published in 1938, Kazantzakis was not privileged when he wrote this, to have seen the Earth as we have been able to see it, this way. But, he saw it clearly nonetheless. He saw the Life-giving, creating and nurturing Being of the planet in ways that only Early Man and Woman had known it, and that we are, only now, beginning to perceive again.

We are not merely upon this place; we are among the myriad, mysterious, and magnificent results of it. As the fiery gases of the fourteen billion year old Bursting Forth began to cool and coalesce, and as those gases formed in solidifying rotational response to the massive Star burning and pulling at them from ninety-three million miles away; and as that Star poured out on those cooling, swirling gases an inexhaustible river of luminous photons; and as the Earth (without water, or rocks, still without form but never void) absorbed those photons, the atoms of our being, began.

Birthing- the continuous, creating, converging, conflicting, chaotic, and conforming process of Birthing- of all that we are, began. The burning storms of hydrogen, extinguished finally as the rivers of photons were absorbed, were becoming. They were, even in their formlessness, already becoming the volcanoes, oceans, and the granite underpinnings of continents. Already, ten billion years ago, they were becoming the great bacterial, living response of the Earth’s surface to the several mile high blanket of atmosphere of cooled hydrogen which clung to it. Already, the cast off oxygen of the bacterial revolution was seeding the Earth with Labrador Retrievers, Japanese beetles, roses, watermelons, toadstools, and grapes.

The surface of the Earth began and continues to reflect, as it continues to be dependent upon, the Bursting Forth moments of all that was, and is, and all that is becoming. In the grape, the photosynthesized and stored photons of the Sun swell against the contained environment of its peel. It is ours now, and the birds, and the insects, to remove from that grape from its own self-contained and whole existence to become our sustenance, our strength. We, the great inclusive mosaic of all that lives, We burst forth now in wave after wave of Life. From microscopic and unseen organisms in the millions to the great thundering African elephants and the song-singing whales, the Earth responds, births, absorbs, and creates. Behold! Every moment of time is a time of all things becoming new!

We are the observers, the witnesses. We are the poets and scientists, the artists and file clerks that the Universe has birthed, too. Our responsibility, our gift, is to see, hear, and begin (always) to understand where We have been, and where We are. And all of our metaphors, all of our mathematics, all of our sensuality, and all of our technology, returns to this single, shared vision of the global grape, hanging and swaying in the blue air. More than our Home, it is our Being- our skin, our hearts, our minds and our consciousness. It is fragile and mighty, fearsome and flawless, alluring and confounding.

Good is this earth..

earthNASA