Archive for April, 2014

Yesterday I heard a short piece regarding the Malaysian Airlines incident; once again the question ‘WHO IS RESPONSIBLE? Emerged into my consciousness. I held this question in my mind’s ‘background’ the remainder of the day.

Historically there have been many incidents for which it is near impossible to assign to an individual ultimate responsibility; I am thinking now of the ‘buck-stops-here’ that President Truman sought to embrace. One challenge arises when the individual being judged belongs to a ‘community’ (e.g. discrimination against a minority by communal legislation). Within certain contexts the individual will not even begin to believe that he or she is perpetrating evil; he or she might actually deeply believe, for example, that ‘I am following God’s will’ as determined by the community.

In 1859 (I believe it was) the following advertisement appeared in a New Orleans newspaper: NEGROES FOR SALE – a negro woman, 24 years of age, and her two children, one eight and the other three years old. Said negroes will be sold ‘separately’ or together, as desired. The woman is a good seamstress. She will be sold low for cash, or exchanged for groceries. For terms, apply to Matthew Bliss & Co.

Is it sufficient to note that slavery at the time was institutionalized in the South, and therefore the sale of human beings was both legal, ethical and legitimatized? For many of us, probably not, especially if we are to discern who is ultimately responsible for perpetrating this evil (I am assuming that most of those who will be reading this posting will judge this event as evil). It is also crucial to believe that the seller must have reconciled his treatment of Negroes with his faith-tradition (many Southerners in New Orleans were deemed to be Christians). For the ‘seller’ the Negro was an essential ingredient of the economic system, a system that received near universal approval in the South. The Negro must have been perceived as not quite human or at least devoid of or deficient in human emotions. Since they were not humans blacks could be sold like cattle. Moreover, if the ‘negro woman’ being offered for sale were devoid of human emotions she would not object to being bought separately, or she would recover from the loss of her children more quickly than would a mother with a white skin.

The owner could therefore rationalize the sale, and since the rationalization was provided and reinforced by his society, he could well have believed that he was not perpetrating an injustice (I am now thinking of a ‘moral’ injustice for it was already determined that what he was doing was ethical, legal and legitimate according to the law of the land). He might also say that he is not betraying his Christian principles for they only apply to ‘human beings’ and not to all sentient beings. Mr. Bliss, it seems, cannot be held responsible for he was simply following conventional practices (that moreover were ethical, legal and legitimate). BUT, can we really, truly exonerate him? Perhaps we can! He was, after all, socialized a certain way; he was also supported by his faith-tradition; he was also supported by the law of the land; he was also supported by his ‘mentors’ and ‘teachers.’ He might even have considered that perhaps he was behaving immorally and then rationalized his way out of naming this as a moral issue (it is not difficult for me to come to this conclusion given how he probably was socialized). Finally, he had to ‘live’ within several different ‘communities’ all of which supported the selling of Negroes; no one wants to be shunned by his community. So the question remains. . .


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Consider, gentle reader, ‘Ecstasy’s’ most literal meaning: ‘To stand apart from.’

Imagine that you have been mired in a demanding and daunting set of challenges (problems, paradoxes and/or dilemmas). You have been whelmed over. You are exhausted and you have lost perspective. You might have made some errors, at minimum you are confused. Image this as clearly as you can; put some flesh on these word-bones. Become the ‘participant.’ Take some time to immerse yourself in the scenario you have created. . .

Now, stop. Step aside. Become the ‘observer’ of your creation. You now image yourself standing outside of the demanding and daunting set of challenges. You invite ‘silence’ into the picture. In your silence you invite yourself to become ‘reflective’ (in essence you become a ‘reflective-participant-observer’ in your own life). How might you do this?

Imagine that you are really standing apart from the demanding and daunting set of challenges. You focus upon, you concentrate upon the persons who are demanding and/or the problems; you face them as if they are playing on a screen in front of you – you are watching a movie. You are not in it. Your ‘part’ is being played by a superb actor who looks exactly like you. You begin to make a reflective-objective assessment of what is unfolding before you on the screen. You make an appraisal of the ‘you-character’ that is not you; you apprise the situation that the ‘not-you’ person is caught up in.

You now ask yourself: ‘If I were to advise this person, this ‘not-me’ person on the screen what would I offer for consideration; what questions would I ask and what advice would I offer?’ You might realize that ‘this too’ shall pass. . .like the scene in a movie. . .it will pass, indeed it will. In one hundred years this will mean nothing to you. It is a bit ludicrous; if not outright humorous to take this situation so seriously.

Now wait a minute you say. . .KNOCK IT OFF!. . .This is not funny. This is grim business…this business of being whelmed over; this business of being alone. This business of being alone in my silence is disturbing to me; it is unsettling. This business of stepping aside from myself and viewing myself in action…well…to be frank…it scares me.

It scares me too! When I become aware of this type of scary feeling I read the words of Dag Hammarskjöld:

When all becomes silent around you, and you recoil in terror – see that your work has become a flight from suffering and responsibility, your unselfishness a thinly disguised masochism; hear, throbbing within you the spiteful, cruel heart of the steppe wolf – do not then anesthetize yourself by once again calling up the shouts and horns of the hunt, but gaze steadfastly at the vision until you have plumbed its depths.


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Certainly since 9/11 more and more of our international conflicts have been framed in ‘end-of-time’ terms and in political agendas where ‘we and them’ sides are more openly framed in theological language. Thus it becomes more and more difficult to ignore the startling similarities between today’s hostile and ignorant talk and the same type of talk that fueled the horrific religious wars of the past; what are we fueling today? Consider this to be so when the Republican Senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe, stood before the U.S. Congress and insisted that the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East are but ‘a contest over whether or not the word of God is true;’ in speaking thus he is speaking the words of the Crusades and the Inquisition.

Consider, gentle reader, that this clash of monotheisms is the direct result of monotheism itself. Religions of numerous, if not near countless, gods posit many myths to describe the human condition, a religion of one god tends to be monomythic; it not only rejects all other gods (‘I will have no other gods before me,’ says Yahweh to the Jews – by the by, Yahweh does not deny the existence of other gods) and more importantly it rejects all other explanations for God.

If there is only one God then it follows that there is only one truth – and as we know, only ‘one truth’ can (or is it ‘will’?) lead to the guilt free killing of all who do not believe; ‘faith’ becomes ‘surety’ and ‘surety’ leads to absolutes that must be defended verbally and physically.

As a nation we (the United States) espouse a separation between church and state and yet our government encourages Christian aid organizations to take on active roles in the rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan; our government support affirms those who seek to portray the occupation of those countries as another Crusade for Christ (and, therefore, is against Muslims and Islam). Given this, and the history of Christian Missionaries in Muslim countries it is no wonder that folks in these countries are more and more resentful and more and more distrustful of the West, in general, and of the United States in particular – the consequences will continue to border on being disastrous.

Considering how easily religious dogma has become stitched together with political ideology, the question I hold is: How can we overcome this clash-of-monotheisms that is putting down deeper and more powerful tap roots? [NOTE: I am quite well aware that many others disagree with me – the many monotheistic fundamentalists, for example]

Education and tolerance are potential antidotes to this debilitating dis-ease. It will also help if we have a more complete understanding of ‘religion’ itself. Religion IS NOT faith! Religion is the story of faith. Religion is not divisive. The root of ‘religion’ is ‘religio’ which means to ‘re-bind; to heal. Religion has become institutionalized (rituals, myths, symbols, and metaphors); the institution provides a common language so a community of faith can come together and seek together and be ‘in doubt’ together.

Consider, gentle reader, that the clash of monotheisms emerges and takes root when faith (rooted in doubt), which is mysterious, ineffable and which eschews all categorizations becomes ensnared in the depleting weeds rather than the nurturing roots of religion. The three monotheistic faith-traditions continue to ‘make God’ in their image and hence they humanize God and limit God.

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It appears to me that this ‘Clash’ has continued to grow and thrive these past 13 years (although it has existed for centuries upon centuries when we consider the ‘world’). Some pundits frame it as a clash between the modern, enlightened, democratic cultures of the West and the archaic, barbarous, autocratic societies of the Middle East. Some fuel the fires of the clash by claiming that democracy has failed to emerge in the Middle East due to cultures that are intrinsically incompatible with the Enlightenment values of liberalism, pluralism, individualism and human rights. I also find it interesting (is this the right word?) that on one side there is the ‘West’ or the European Union or the United States while the other side is referred to as ‘Islam’ or the ‘Muslim World’ – why not the West and the Middle East or the United States and ….(fill in a country’s name). It is also important, to me anyway, to note that by using the terms ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslim World’ that much more than the Middle East is included (e.g. Malaysia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Pakistan).

Consider, gentle reader that although this thriving clash is indeed a clash of cultures, traditions or civilizations it is more importantly at its root, it is a CLASH OF MONOTHEISMS!

This clash of monotheisms could be discerned in the religiously polarizing ‘good versus evil’ rhetoric with which we (the United States) launched our Mid-East wars and our war in Afghanistan. It can be seen today in the rising anti-Muslim vehemence that now pervades our (the United States) mainstream rhetoric and at times our behavior. It can be seen by those who insist that Islam represents a backward and violent religion and culture that is totally at odds with what ‘we’ stand for [well, what we espouse anyway – to what extent we live out, as a democracy, what we espouse is another question). For example, when the Reverend Jerry Vines, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, calls the Prophet Muhammad ‘a demon-possessed pedophile,’ he sounds quite the same as the medieval papal propagandists for whom Muhammad was the Antichrist and the Jews were ‘Jesus killers.’

Now, to be clear and fair, it is important to note and remember that there is no shortage of anti-Christian and anti-Jewish propaganda in Islam (nor is there any shortage of anti-Jewish propaganda among certain Christian traditions) – in toto, this is a clash among and between the three great monotheistic faith traditions that all have their roots in Abraham. There are, for example, long standing (meaning centuries upon centuries) conspiracy theories concerning the Christians and Jews (‘them’) and their desire to colonize and democratize and convert Muslims and Muslim cultures. ‘We versus Them’ is not new; the fear of the ‘other’ (the stranger) is not new.

The clashes of monotheisms initially involved Jews and Christians and only later did it include Islam. This later clash emerged during the Islamic expansion; it was ‘fed’ by the Inquisition (which included both Jews and Muslims), it was sustained during the Crusades, during the tragic times of colonialism, and during the violence between Israel and Palestine. There is, as we know, a long history of clashes between Jews, Christians, and Muslims – these clashes capture some of our most enduring (not endearing) themes.


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This morning two stories emerged into my consciousness. I shared them with two folk; one via an email and the other via the phone. After I shared them it occurred to me that you, gentle reader, might also find one or both of them ‘inspiring’ and ‘inspiriting.’ The first seems to involve ‘innate’ qualities/responses; although I like to think that all sentient beings have some capacity for that great virtue called ‘Compassion.’

There is a type of migrating bird (I cannot remember the type’s official name) that demonstrates compassion and high achievement. During the time of migration the youngest and strongest birds will form a protective V-like wedge as they fly and this allows the older and weaker birds to keep up while using less energy. The two or three lead birds will, as they tire, be replaced by two or three others. Once in a while, an older or weaker bird will not be able to keep up and will find a place to land. Two other birds, stronger ones, will follow it down and wait with it. If it regains its strength then the three of them will seek to catch up to the flock (which, by the by, has slowed down its pace so the others could catch up). At times, the weak bird would not regain its strength and the other two would stay with it until it died; then together they would resume the journey.

Many years ago the following occurred (I am sure that this was not the only time this has happened and I am sure that it will happen again in some form). As I was thinking about the Boston Marathon today this story emerged into my consciousness.

There was a race. The contestants were primary six girls (6th grade girls for us in the States). The race was the 440 (one lap around the track). Six girls were running in this race. There were three running nearly neck-to-neck with about 100 yards to go. About 50 yards behind them was the fourth girl and about 100 yards behind her were the other two girls. All of a sudden girl #4 slipped, fell, and yelled out in great pain (she had actually broken her ankle). The three girls in the lead all stopped at the same time, looked back and immediately ran to the aid of the girl who had fallen. The two girls who were running behind the fallen girl changed their direction and ran toward her. The girls helped the one who had fallen stand; realized she could not walk and helped her limp her way to the finish line…all six were now in line walking together. As they neared the finish line they made sure that they all stepped over the finish line together. Some parents cried with joy and celebration and others cried out at their daughters in anger for not trying to win the race [which response, gentle reader, would you offer up].

To me, both stories capture Compassion and High Achievement (all achieve together). I understand ‘competition’ and can be highly competitive myself (ask my golfing buddies) AND I also know that there are times when ‘Compassion’ must win out (when I was not well I had golfing buddies who would team up with me knowing that we had no chance to win a team competition – they wanted me to participate and achieve…not win). There are times when competition is healthy; however, it is also crucial that at times high achievement needs to be the goal – whether one ‘wins’ or ‘loses.’

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” — Harry S. Truman, President

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