Monday, July 21, 2014

Truth and Meaning: Our Form of Government

A few years ago, I searched for the word that best described our dysfunctional American government. I settled on the term “kakistocracy,” which is defined as “government under the control of a nation's worst or least-qualified citizens.” Ironically, the term is easy to remember since the slang term “kaka” derives from the same root.

Recently, however, I find even this descriptor inadequate. Despite its uncanny ineffectiveness, I don’t really believe that our representatives in Washington are the worst Americans, or the least qualified (in the sense of formal credentials). So, I went on another search for a more accurate word to describe how our current government performs. You might be surprised at the options available.

Many can be eliminated for obvious reasons, like those that identify by the number of people involved in governing (autocracy, biarchy, triarachy, etc.). Some must be eliminated because they simply do not represent our current system accurately, such as trade-based governments (beerocracy, cottonocracy, millocracy). And others had to go, despite being wildly amusing – snobocracy (obvious), infantocracy (rule by an infant), and pornocracy (rule by harlots) … yes, these are actual terms).

Others held possibilities, being fairly accurate, but not wholly descriptive of our situation. Argentocracy is government by money; albocracy is government by white people; corprocracy is government by corporate bureaucrats; kleptocracy is government by thieves; chrysocracy is government by the wealthy. Each is a viable candidate, representing some element of reality, but not quite comprehensive enough.

No, our government is not completely run by unqualified people, whites, corporations, thieves, harlots or the 1percent - not yet. At least, not completely. But every time I hear a politician make an idiotic scientific claim that no science confirms, I see a fool. Every time I hear a politician deny ever taking a position only to watch Jon Stewart show video clips proving the opposite, I see a fool. When I see the least effective Congress in history claim excesses by a president who has taken the fewest executive actions in 70 years, I see fools. When I see judges afford corporations personhood with the right to hold religious beliefs, then I see fools. And when I see a government turning away children seeking asylum from certain death, I see a government of fools … in other words, a “foolocracy.”

And the sad truth of this situation is that many of these politicians were elected by us. So what does that say about our electorate? If you do not vote, you are not only an irresponsible citizen, but you deserve to be ruled by fools. If you vote for someone based on a single issue with which they claim to share your opinion, you may be electing a fool. If you are not satisfied with the government we have, and you vote incumbents back into office, well …

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Truth and Meaning: WWJD?

I remember when the WWJD bracelets first appeared and I learned that the letters stood for “What WouldJesus Do?” At first, I thought they seemed a little hokey; too much like a marketing ploy. But, I set aside my innate cynicism and saw them as a valuable tool offering Christians a constant reminder of the teachings of their spiritual leader.

Every day, I listen to politicians attack each other and ply their smoke and mirror tactics on the American people. “Look at this shiny scandal over here,” they tell us, and that way we won’t notice when they slash funding for public programs, attack our civil liberties, and increase the inequity of wealth in this nation. And I think to myself, what would Jesus do?

Jesus lived in a tiny and insignificant colony of the largest empire in the world at that time. Tyrants ruled capriciously, worshiped wealth and power, and entertained themselves by watching the suffering of others. Jesus had many options available to him. He did not gather armies and swords to fight Rome. And aside from one excusable instance reacting to the desecration of his most sacred place, he did not advocate violence or any kind of destruction. In fact, he preached the opposite – turn the other cheek.

What did Jesus do? He witnessed publicly his beliefs about how the world should be. And then he lived by those principles. He did not judge others who came to him for aid – young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, gay or straight, Jew or Gentile. He only rebuked people who placed adherence to rigid dogma over the crying need of the people.

Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. House the homeless. Free the prisoner. Heal the sick. Give hope to those without hope. That’s what Jesus did. He ignored irrelevant rules and regulations. He accepted humble hospitality but assembled no material riches of his own. He didn’t kowtow to authorities. He simply spoke truth to power.

What would Jesus do today? He wouldn’t leave millions without access to healing medical treatment. He wouldn’t allow vulnerable children to be placed in harm’s way. He wouldn’t tolerate discriminating against any group of people for any reason. And when people are hungry, naked, or homeless, he would feed them, clothe them, and provide them shelter.

Many people consider America a Christian nation, and that our laws are heavily influenced by Christian morality. These people should ask themselves, “What would Jesus do if he were alive today?” War, racism, homophobia, misogyny, corporate personhood, and innocent people dying needlessly every day – is this what Jesus would do? If Jesus walked our streets today, would he preach these things, or would he preach acceptance and understanding, justice and equality, hope and love?

You don’t have to be Jesus to do what Jesus would do.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Truth and Meaning: Independence

As a kid, I sort of resented July 4. You see, my birthday is July 5, today, and I always felt a little cheated by all the attention afforded my neighbor day. Of course, I still loved the parades and picnics, the fireworks and festivities.

Only as an adult did I come to appreciate the true significance of Independence Day. America remains a nation with tremendous potential for good in the world. But, today we stand at a fork in the road toward our future.

One road continues the well worn path of history, where value is measured by money, power and influence — forcing our will on others in order to get what we want. This path was paved by Egypt and Persia, Rome and Genghis Khan, and European imperialist governments who carved the world into most of our current nation states.

This path can be trod benevolently, as we struggle to do. This path can lead to great progress and improved quality of life. This path can also lead to totalitarianism, genocide, massive inequality and cultural destruction. This path explored the globe and gave us tools to increase efficiency and effectiveness in a multitude of ways. This path also gave us anti-Semitism, slavery and the near extinction of native peoples on every continent. And, if we continue to ignore our contributions to global climate change, this path may lead to a bottomless pit of unavoidable destruction.

The other path is virgin ground. No one can say for sure what lies down the future of this path because no nation has had the courage or the resources to unlock its mysteries. What matters more than the ultimate destination, however, is the manner we use to clear the path. For this path can’t be cleared with bombs and drones. Corrupt bankers and Wall Street criminals cannot show the way. All the money, power and influence in the world cannot clear the first foot of this path.

Only independence can clear the path to a great future for America: independence from our reliance on violence that batters our women and murders our school children; from our irresponsible use of technology that endangers our environment; from rewarding the acquisition of wealth at the cost of our neighbors’ well-being. Our independence can only clear this path if we are all truly free, and we all work together as equals.

Independence only exists in a community of equals. The gap between rich and poor must be narrowed until no one lacks the resources to achieve their goals. We must abolish every form of privilege: men over women; white over non-white; straight over gay; and every impediment to functional ability. Every person must work equally and together, sharing the burden, and bolstering each others’ spirits. And lastly, independence only exists in a community where every member is free to believe (or not) in the god of their choice. No one religion can dominate, and no one should have the power to enforce their religious beliefs on others.

I dream of what lies at the end of this American path. I fantasize a society without hate, with the causes of poverty and crime eradicated, with every citizen respected and respectful, empowered and empowering, loved and loving. I see this Beloved Community in our future, this Beloved America.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Truth and Meaning: Pro-Life

I am pro-life. But as another election cycle approaches, you will hear this phrase bandied loosely about by politicians courting your votes. So I want to be absolutely clear what I mean when I say that I am pro-life. I mean that:
  • I am a pacifist and oppose all war or violent military intervention as a solution to any problem. War inevitably leads to senseless death and destruction; war most often creates more problems than it solves; and war always gives birth to yet another generation who view violence as a means to their ends.
  • I believe that no government has the right to murder anyone, regardless of the crime they have committed. Human judgments are fallible, and one mistaken execution is one too many. Also, we do not possess god-like prescience to know that even the most hardened criminal cannot be rehabilitated, or that the most mentally-disturbed person cannot be cured.
  • We possess more than enough resources to feed, clothe and shelter every living person. No one on the face of this planet should ever go hungry, naked or homeless. And that means that sharing wealth must take precedence over protecting privilege.
  • Liberty and the pursuit of happiness are impossible without life. And while some disease and certainly death is inevitable, far too much medical and mental suffering is not. No one should ever lack of medical treatment because of something as ridiculous as placing a higher priority on stock dividends or tax cuts for our wealthiest citizens.
  • A woman’s body is her sacred gift and she deserves the right to have complete control of when and how many children she wishes to bear. And it violates our Constitutionally-guaranteed right of religious freedom when politicians place continuation of a nonviable fetus above that of a healthy mother.
  • “Rape culture” is a real and vulgar part of American society. No woman should ever fear for her safety because of her appearance, her actions or the puerile desire of a man to steal her most intimate dignity.
  • Our obscene obsession with gun ownership and gun purchase in this nation is an egregious offense to all life.
Here are the attitudes I consider to be “anti-life:”
  • If you believe that any nation has the right to murder those of another without exhausting every conceivable diplomatic option and every nonviolent course of action, then you are not pro-life. And if you send men and women into combat and then fail to provide them world-class mental and physical medical treatment, then you are not pro-life.
  • If you believe that the state has the right to murder prisoners convicted of crimes, given the inordinate number of mistakes that have been made in capital punishment sentencing, its inherent racism and classism, and the cruel processes used to take those lives, then you are not pro-life.
  • If you support funding cuts to food stamps, school lunch programs, early childhood education initiatives and public education of equally high quality for all, when more than enough is available in our bloated military spending to meet these needs and more, then you are not pro-life.
  • If you oppose the Affordable Care Act, but offer no viable solution to providing health insurance to every American, then you are not pro-life.
  • When you support the most intrusive invasion of a woman’s body, but offer our young people little realistic education about sex and obstruct their access to birth control, then you are not pro-life. And if you seek to deny victims of incest, rape and medical complications threatening the life of the mother with means to terminate those pregnancies, then you are not pro-life.
  • If you support “slap on the wrist” punishments for rapists and those committing domestic violence and sexual assaults on women, and excuse the behavior of beasts for violating a woman by blaming her for the crime, then you are not pro-life.
  • If you are not repulsed that this nation has done absolutely nothing to create mandatory background checks for all gun purchases, or to limit access to weapons whose sole purpose is the mass murder of humans — and you have not pressured you legislators to do so — then you are not pro-life.
So, when that politician knocks on your door and tells you he is “pro-life,” challenge him with these points as well. Because loving the unborn fetus without caring about its life after birth, the families that will raise it or the society that supports its successful development is not pro-life.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Path to Truth

We face a world of confusing uncertainty and contradictions. Some prosper while millions suffer. Mean-spirited sound bites drown out civil discourse. We yearn for heroes and heroines only to see them eviscerated by our cult of celebrity and our celebration of cynicism. The jesters have taken over the castle while the feudal lords plunder the people and pillage the land.

We look to our churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples for guidance, for deliverance. But we find the poison creeping into those foundations as well. Our questions are answered with irrelevant platitudes and empty satisfactions of our simple desire to be cared about, our need to be cared for. Our young people naturally look elsewhere for relief from out-of-control tuition debt, for an end to the limitless hurdles to achieving their goals, for the self-respect to resist unattainable standards of beauty and virulence and societal definitions of success. Too often, our young people see their future as a desolate plain with no harvest in sight.

We live in a nation of incredible abundance, with a wealth of resources, but we feel empty. We live in communities with boundless activities, but we feel listless. We live unfulfilled lives and seek to fill that void with the bread and circuses of the internet, with drinking and drugs, with absurd reality on the television, and real absurdity in our daily lives.

The time has come for a frank and honest conversation about religion. We must discuss our souls as individuals and our soul as a nation. The time to seek the answers to the questions that matter has arrived. Why am I here? What is the purpose of living? Can I find meaning in this insane asylum of a world? What can I do to ease my overwhelming pain?

Some offer simple answers to these questions. You are here because God created you. Your purpose consists of worshiping him. This life offers only a path to a better world after you die. You must endure the pain as a test of your faith that God possesses all of the answers. As children, these answers can work. In the pleasant world of coloring pages and tales of good conquering evil, we need no further explanations. But, as we grow older, we learn that these answers no longer suffice. We begin to question. We fill our doubtful gaps with more complicated rituals; we desperately strengthen our commitment to blind faith and traditions; and we greedily consume more complicated interpretations to the stories of our childhood.

But, despite our valiant efforts, we still feel lost and alone, hopeless and in pain. Our faith never seems strong enough and the answers begin to ring hollow. The zealous shout louder and we assure ourselves that they must be right. How else could they be so convinced of the truth? But, how can we believe their truths when our life tells me differently?

Our own structure as a nation places the burden of resolving these conundrums on us. Our Constitution guarantees us the freedom to believe and to practice (within limits) our religions. As a nation, we declare no one religious belief to be "truth." America does not proclaim that absolute morality resides within any one specific theology. We may consider others misguided or incorrect, and we can freely promote our particular versions of truth. But, those who profess to know "the" truth exhibit shocked indignation when refuted with facts and reason. Purveyors of divine insight claim persecution when their efforts to demonize people they consider sinful are deemed hateful and hypocritical.

Millions of people do not believe in the Christian god and live exemplary moral lives, just as many Christians do. Some people who do not hold Christian beliefs do awful things, just as do some professed Christians do. We do not live ethical lives because a supernatural agency makes it so. We live ethical lives because as human beings we make choices - choices to love and show compassion, or choices to be intolerant and selfish. A faith in some form of god that helps us live ethically is admirable. But faith in god is not required to be a good citizen, a spiritual person, or a soul aligned with the powers of the universe.

How, then, can I answer the burning questions without a belief in God? Some believe in Love. My Universalist predecessors preached that God is Love, and that works for many people. And while I often find fault with the texts attributed to the Apostle Paul, I agree with his assertion to the Corinthians that Love is patient and kind; Love is not arrogant or resentful; Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

Faith sometimes offers a wonderful power in our lives and can serve as a force for great good. But faith can also twist our perceptions and close our minds to the search for truth and meaning. So, when it comes to issues such as same-sex marriage and equality for LGBT individuals, I ache when I hear people profess their Christian faith to damn others, to sit in judgment on others, and to call down the wrath of the God they worship on others. And it pains me just as greatly when religious people stand mute while these voices of intolerance dominate the public conversation. There is no factual basis to believe that homosexuality is a "choice." None. Therefore, if one claims the belief that we are made in the image of God, then our sexual orientation and gender identity is part of the grace bestowed by a loving deity who merely wants us to share that Love. We should practice ours faith to honor that gift and to respect its source. But Love is greater than faith. And the sharing of Love trumps any ritualistic practice or dogmatic adherence to sacred texts.

Relying on ancient passages written in another time and place, in a context wildly different than those we live in today ignores our most spectacular gifts as humans. If we are indeed children of a god, then that god bestowed upon us minds, emotions, and the capacity for discernment that raises us above the instincts of mere beasts. An active and engaged spiritual life uses our powers of reason, evaluates our life experiences, and amasses our collective powers of wisdom to determine what is moral. The spiritual life demands only that we understand and love each other. We are no longer children that need to view God as a schoolmaster beating unruly pupils, or an overseer whipping mindless drones. God is Love. It really is just that simple. And that choice lies in our hands.

And what does loving mean today? It means that we keep our beautiful and treasured traditions of spiritual practice but discard those outdated and meaningless rules that serve only to separate us. It means that we celebrate the marriage of loving people committing their lives to each other, whether they are a man and a woman, two men, or two women. It means that we say "Not One More" meaningless and stupid waste of precious life defending our obscene worship of guns. It means telling all women that they are beautiful just as they are, and telling all men that expressing kindness and gentleness does not show weakness. It means sharing the bounty in our lives with those less fortunate by paying living wages and fighting the root causes of poverty. It means providing every person with equal access to physical and mental health resources and freeing them from the crippling burdens of disease and affliction.

We live in a region of great wealth, knowledge, and potential. We can become a model of modern living by pioneering prosperity for every person. We merely need to heed the call to seek our own truths, to enable the search for truth by others, and then to come together in Beloved Community. It is possible and we have the power to do it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Truth and Meaning: Being a Father

As a minister, I sometimes struggle with what to say on Father’s Day.  Mother’s Day abounds with positive and universally accepted metaphors and archetypes of the female. But it seems that everywhere you look today, men exhibit less than exemplary role models. Male politicians spew hateful and ignorant statements about women, the underprivileged, and loving “nontraditional” families. Celebrity men cheat on their partners, abandon their children, and exhibit a self-centeredness that would make Narcissus blush. Male athletes flaunt the law and act as if prowess in a game somehow entitles them to an elevated and obscene reverence.
So what does it mean to be a man today? Is it violence, misogyny, arrogance, and a callous disregard for those deemed “weak.” What do we actually celebrate on Father’s Day?
Biologically, the human male provides a microscopic contribution to what will eventually develop into an adult human being. Depositing a sperm technically makes one a father. But a real father protects, comforts, endures, and nurtures his seed into a mature being. Real fathers model empowerment, courage, creativity, and self-sacrifice for everyone whose lives they touch. Real fathers show no fear asking for or offering help, accepting and sharing tears of sorrow and joy. A real father embodies the greatest gifts of manhood – using power wisely, meeting others’ need before one’s own, loving with the ferocity of a lion, and committing to family like a swan.
Men, if you sense an ambivalent attitude from others about “our” day, then we must reclaim its importance. Your physical attributes do not define you, but how you use them in service to others. And like everyone else, you are entitled to what you have earned.  Respect, and you will be respected.  Nurture, and you will be honored. Give, and gratitude will shower you.
Hug. Say, “I love you.” Teach with stern resolve, but always with compassion and understanding. Demand little for yourself, but dispense love like seedlings in the wind where they may create blossoms of life giving beauty.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Truth and Meaning: Hate

Emotions are the expressed transfer of living energy. When we feel, when we reside within an emotion, we emit a certain energy that others around us can sense. Children are the most transparent when radiating emotion. We easily sense when a child is joyful, confused, scared or frustrated.

As we grow older, we learn complicated emotional combinations and filters designed to hide our true emotions. The choreography of emotional exchange becomes a ballet of exquisite skill and complexity that opens the door to different kinds of feelings. But this dance also complicates our routines. As we see often in football, sometimes the “receiver” runs a different route than expected by the quarterback, and the passage of emotions fall incomplete to the ground.

As carriers of energy, emotions share many characteristics with living creatures. Some emotions hearken back to a more primitive state of reptilian instinct. Other, more mature emotions evoke feelings of family and tribal group. And some emotions combine with others in a symbiotic melding — a beautiful waltz of grace made possible by the willingness of those sharing the emotion to bare themselves, to make themselves fully vulnerable.

But there is a special class of emotions that share the attributes of a lesser life form — the parasite. These emotions wither and die without the energy stolen from other life forms. Hate is a parasite emotion. For hate only thrives by stealing vibrant life energy from others. Hate leeches the aerated blood of society, leaving only disease and weakness in its wake.

When someone expresses hate, the recipient naturally feels fear and anxiety in response. The recipient might naturally feel compelled to expend energy fending off the hate, and this only feeds the parasite. In this way, the hate-filled person poisons others and like a vampire drains the essence of life energy from a community.

But there is a cure for the parasite of hate. The medicine that repels the symptoms of hate is Love. For Love acts not only as a barrier to the viral attack of hate, Love offers a positive expression of emotion that not only makes the object of hate feel better, but also treats the root causes of hate. For in the end, the only difference between a parasite and a symbiote is cooperation. A parasite gives nothing and simply wallows in its own selfish desires. The symbiote returns gift for gift, bringing positive contributions to the living equation.

So when the parasite seeks to infect you with hate, do not feed its emptiness with fear or anger. Instead, inoculate yourself with the energy of Love. In this way, you also may help transform the useless parasite into a creature with contributions and, in time, its own Love to share.