Archive for January, 2013


A few days ago I invited us to consider four points of ‘common ground.’  I awoke this morning thinking about these points and it occurred to me that within the territory of common ground there exist times of tension and times of struggle.  These enhance our challenges when it comes to embracing common ground.  Today I invite us to consider five of these; as with the four points of common ground, these five points are not exhaustive, I am sure that you, gentle reader, can identify more of them.

The first point of tension and struggle is Exclusiveness and Exclusion.  These are the flipped coin sides of uniqueness and particularity.  This is the tension between being ‘in’ and in being ‘out’ or the tensions that occur between ‘we’ and ‘they’ or the struggle that comes with ‘we have it’ and ‘you don’t.’  When ‘surety’ reigns it is easy to move into ‘our way or the highway’ position.  There is a fine line between being nourished in a tradition and to believing that ‘our way is the only way.’  When we include and invite, especially ‘the other’ or ‘the stranger’ we invite not only diversity but tension and probably ‘struggle.’

Given this tension and struggle it is easy for one, or many, to feel Insecure.  When I feel insecure I seek ‘solid ground,’ I seek the ‘predictable,’ and I seek the ‘unchangeable.’  When this occurs I feel and experience a division between my heart and my head; I begin to live rooted more in fear of losing rather than in anticipation of gaining.  On the other hand, I have also experienced that when I have plumbed the depths – alone and with another – and have found that deep underground spring with nourishes me-you-us I feel less insecure and hence less threatened by ‘the other’/’the stranger.’  I can then embrace what a mentor offered to me many years ago: All is good.  All will continue to be good.

I have learned – and a hard lesson it was and is – that my insecurity is rooted in my Ego Need.  When I am not at my best I need to be continually affirmed or I need to be the center (it is after all, all about me) or I need to be in control.  The easy flow of give and take is replaced by my rigidity.  On the other hand, I do believe that we must learn to care for one another’s egos; they tend to be fragile.  We need to relate to one another in ways that are nurturing rather than depleting.  We need to trust that when we all grow and develop we all benefit and that a major part of our growth and development involves the growth and development of that which makes each of us unique.

My Will to Power is rooted in my insecurity/fear and in my ego-need that is actually more like an ego-centric need.  I become seduced by a desire to exercise my will and diminish your will; I can, in addition to being rigid, become quite intimidating.  I have learned that I must be awake and aware lest I become seduced by my ‘will to power.’  I know that when I am ‘sure’ then it is but a small step into my becoming rigid and self-righteous; it is far better for me to relate from a place of ‘doubt’ and ‘not knowing’ – the difficulty I have with most dogmatic religions is that the participants seemed to be rooted in ‘surety’ rather than in ‘faith’ (which is rooted in ‘doubt’).

At my worst, these four guide me to Idolatry.  I know!  I know Best! AND You know! You know Best!  God/Spirit has been replaced by KNOWLEDGE, not FAITH.  I am finally cut off from others – or we, in our arrogance and fear cut ourselves off from others.  I/We cannot possibly learn from the other for I/WE KNOW.  The mystic John of the Cross reminded us of this when he said if we think we know the Way, surely we do not.  Our idolatry hinders us from learning from other faith traditions and it surely limits God.  We, in reality, claim that we are more powerful than God and we limit God.  The golden calf that Moses destroyed has been replaced by the golden calf of our religion; our religion has become more important and more sacred than God.  Our religion, not God, is what we end up worshiping.

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My graduate degree is in family therapy.  I remember inviting family members to consider that their ‘dis-ease’ was partly, if not significantly, rooted in one or more of them not being all there.  Members were not being fully present when they were with one another.

I love reading and savoring Tolstoy.  In his Twenty-Three Tales his last tale centers around a czar who is in search of an answer to three questions: How can I learn to do the right thing at the right time?  Whose advice can I trust? And what things are most important and require my first attention? 

The czar disguised himself and went to visit a hermit who lived in the deep dark woods; he believed that the hermit, who was known for his wisdom, could and would answer his questions.  When he arrived he found the hermit near death.  The czar then cared for the hermit; he also tended the hermit’s garden.  Near sunset a stranger stumbled into the clearing; he collapsed as he had a terrible wound (the czar’s bodyguard stationed in the wood had inflicted the wound).  The czar tended to the man all night long.

In the morning the wounded man confessed to the czar that he had lain in wait for the czar for he had wanted to kill him; the czar had had the man imprisoned.  The man begged the czar’s forgiveness and pledged to serve him.  The czar accepted the man’s entreaty and said that the court physician would attend to the man’s wound.  The hermit was also doing better so the czar turned to him and asked him the three questions.

The hermit told the czar that his questions had been answered twice already.  When the czar had attended to the hermit this was the right thing at the right time and the most important to be done for had the czar returned through the dark woods he would have been attacked by the man waiting for him.  Then when the wounded man appeared the czar did the right thing in tending to the man and an enemy had become a friend.  ‘Remember then,’ added the hermit, ‘there is only one time that is important. Now!  The most necessary man is he with whom you are . . .the most important thing is to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!’ 

If I am going to be able to be response-able in the moment, I must be present; I have to be there in the moment; I have to be awake and aware.  Too often I find myself in a half, in not full, sleep (Pascal called this the Gethsemane-sleep where Jesus’ disciples failed him three times by dropping off to sleep; by not being fully awake and therefore by not being present).

How will I choose to be today?  How will I choose to engage the three questions today?

Here is a photo of Leo Tolstoy; I love this photo for it captures, for me, the essence of the man.

Leo Tolstoy



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We all make promises, some of which we even keep.  Sometimes we find ways of breaking our promises without incurring guilt.  Here is a story told by Sheikh Nasir el-Din Shah in 1840 (no, I was not there to hear this story first-hand).

There was a man who made a promise.  “If all of my problems are solved, I promise to sell my grand home and give all of the money to the poor.”  A few years later he sat in a coffee shop feeling quite disturbed and troubled of mind.  His problems had been solved for some time and he was now faced with keeping his promise.  But he could not imagine himself giving away all of that money.  So he thought. . .he sipped his dark coffee. . .he thought some more.  Then he discovered his way out.

He put his house up for sale.  The asking price was one silver coin.  The man also had a cat; a prized Persian (what else could it be in Persia).  He let it be known that who ever bought the house must also buy the cat.  The price for the cat was 10,000 silver coins.  Soon a buyer appeared and bought the house and the cat.  The man donated the proceeds from the sale of his house – the silver coin – to the poor and he kept the silver that had been paid for his cat.

Many people’s minds work like this.  They resolve to follow a teaching or a way.  They then interpret their promise to their own advantage.

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[Gentle reader, please see yesterday’s posting for the context for this posting today]

The third common ground connection is our Connection with Nature.  We humans are, literally, the stuff of the earth.  We humans are, literally, dependent for our survival on all sentient and non-sentient beings.  If it were not for ‘nature’ as we have it on earth, we would not be here.  In my faith tradition, Christianity, an adulteration occurred when humanity separated itself from the rest of creation (we have not been the only faith tradition to do this, however).  ‘Dominion’ (i.e. sphere of influence) became ‘domination’ (i.e. power and control over).  One of the basics of all faith traditions is that of ‘wholeness;’ we are all part of a greater whole even though we are discrete entities at the same time.  Since we are all part of the greater ‘whole’ we are dependent and inter-dependent; we are truly in this together.  Even though we humans do create and co-create we are also creatures, we are also part of creation.  For many, there is a growing awareness of our deep connection with our world (think of all of the bumper stickers that call us to be awake and aware and that call us to action: ‘Save the Earth,’ ‘Save the Rain Forests,’ ‘Hug Your Dog’); for some of us we respond to a call for action, for others of us we respond with ‘it’s not my problem’ or ‘I don’t want to think about it.’  We each choose our response: we are all response-able and responsible.

The dimension of spirituality at this meeting point encourages us to embrace ‘wholeness’ and ‘fullness.’  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s ‘A Song for God’ points to this:


. . .For things are not mute:

the stillness is full of demands, awaiting a soul to breathe in the

mystery that all things exhale in their craving for communion.


Out of the world comes a behest to instill into the air a rapturous

song for God, to incarnate in stones a message of humble beauty,

and to instill a prayer for goodness in the hearts of all men.


The fourth common ground connection – but not the final one – is that of Conscience.  There is a sense in all of humanity of knowledge of good and evil, of knowledge of light and darkness, of knowledge of right and wrong.  A knowledge of what leads to life and a knowledge of what leads to destruction and death.  Our ‘obedience’ or ‘disobedience’ to certain laws and truths the mystics of all traditions tell us bring about very particular consequences (intended and unintended).  I-You-We (individuals, discrete relationships and communities) contribute each day, if not each hour, to that which brings forth life or to that which bring forth death; we choose each day and our choices move us slowly, most of the time, toward the light or toward the darkness.  It is the sum of our daily steps, the steps that I take, that you take, and that we take that does determine our fate.

The contribution of spirituality to the dialogue (the searching depth conversation) of all faith traditions is to discern, name, and affirm the holy of each tradition and to remind us of our common humanity and to remind us of our deep connection to all of creation with the result that our conscience will be quickened and our choices will be more life-producing and life-enhancing than life-destroying and life-depleting.

Do we humans have the courage to embrace the true meaning of religion, which is to re-bind and make whole?  This is a simple question to ask and is perhaps the most challenging one to embrace and live into.  Do I-You-We have the courage to ask it?  Do I-You-We have the courage to embrace it?  Do I-You-We have the courage to live into it?  What will it take for Me-You-Us to say ‘yes’?  What is our destination if we continue to say ‘no’?

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I am a Christian-Ecumenist-Perennialist.  That is, I am a follower of Christ’s invitation to live a certain way and I believe that there is common ground between and among all faith traditions (there is a Unity that transcends all) and I believe that there are teachings in each faith tradition that are essential to all human beings (I seek to find the teachings – the ‘good’ – in all faith traditions that appear to me to be essential for all of us).  So: What is common to all?  Now, I have not explored nor immersed myself in ALL faith traditions, but I have done so in many of them and thus far I have, indeed, found some common ground among them.  There are points where all faith traditions meet.  Here are a few of them.

Spirit is the first.  The mystics recognize and celebrate the wisdom of the spirit that is the life-breath of all.  The mystics also tell us that in order to meet the spirit we must descend – go deeper still – or we must journey into the darkness – the deep dark woods – or we must spend time in the desert – the wasteland.  While we are there we must be silent (be in solitude) and we must listen (the spirit comes as a soft voice or gentle breeze and is easy for us who are full of noise to miss).

Today spirit, spirituality and spiritual are words we use given the context.  For the mystics, spirit is used in relation to that which is deemed holy.  Holy begets holy.  In religious traditions across time and cultures people have sought via rites and rituals to sanctify places, times and deeds in order to recognize, celebrate and honor holy moments.  Depending upon the tradition and culture these will take on different forms and yet they seem to be expressions of a common reality (it might even seem that these are contradictory).  The variety expresses for me the diversity that God brings to our world; who am I, who are you, who are we to define how the spirit lives and moves in our world?  What right do we have to limit the movement of the spirit?  In all faith traditions (the ones I have explored, certainly) we hear a common admonition: welcome the stranger for in doing so we welcome the spirit – the Divine.

The second common-ground connection is our Common Humanity.  All faith traditions are not only made up of human beings, they are made up of ‘diverse’ human beings.  All faith traditions also have common human concerns which they seek to embrace.  At their best they seek to care for human beings, they seek to demonstrate compassion and empathy, and they seek to hold ‘love’ up as a primary virtue.  They also seek to bring healing and forgiveness to those who need/seek healing and forgiveness.  A goal is to live a life of wholeness – a divided life (beginning with the person and then moving to discrete relationships and then to the community) undermines all.

In 1991 at Cornell University, the Dalai Lama offered us the following: We are born with compassion and love.  This is a human quality, not religious, and comes before religion.  There is gentleness in basic human nature.  Human affection comes from a good heart.  And so there is universal responsibility not only for human beings but for all sentient beings.  Mental attitude is key to calmness of mind which creates peace and a friendly atmosphere.  Anger is an enemy within us, for, when we are angry, that anger finally is destructive to us. 

We humans are not all light.  Darkness (evil) is also common to our humanity.  The mystics of all traditions have reminded us (and continue to remind us) of the internal struggle between light and darkness (good and evil) that we must each embrace.  This is often portrayed as a ‘war’ – for Islam it is the first Jihad – the internal war.  Aristotle reminded us that we become our habits; others have said that we become what we live out each day and still others have said that we become what we give attention to each day.  It seems to me that attending to the movement of the spirit and holy in my life would tip the scales toward the light and away from the darkness.  What do I choose each day: love, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, healing or anger, spite, resentment, or envy?  Do my daily choices move me toward the light, the sacred or do they move me toward the darkness, the profane?  I have choice, the mystics remind me.

Our common humanity is a point of meeting and when we meet we can take steps to build community or we can take steps that will lead us to separation and destruction.  We have choice – I have choice, you have choice, we have choice.

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