Looking In The Mirror

In many ways all President Trump did was hold up a mirror and show us who we really are. That’s us in the glass. It’s not pretty. It’s not pleasant.  It’s ugly and mean, in so many ways. We certainly aren’t who I thought we were.  We aren’t who I hoped we would be. Take a good look in the mirror.  We are the problem.

The good news is that we can change what appears in the mirror. If we are the problem, we are also the solution.  It’s hard work. Because, we must transform ourselves. It will require clear thinking.  Our clear thinking requires thinking action all the way through.   It will require sacrifice.  It will require honesty, brutal honesty.  And, it will require time.  It will require a long time.  We won’t transform our hearts and minds and change the visage in the mirror quickly.  This is not the work of a single generation.

Consider Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again”.


If I could  I would say to Mr. Hughes:  “I’ve looked in the mirror.  And, I’m sorry.  I thought we had done better and come farther.  I thought the birth of the America you and I want was closer at hand.  It’s not.  It’s a far piece down the road. All I can say is: I won’t quit the road.”  If Langston Hughes could remain hopeful for the America he saw as yet to be born, so can I.

Take comfort and take the call to action in the words of Rabbi Tarfon: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”


“Not My President!”

I’ve heard this frequently lately.  I struggle to understand what people mean when they say these words.  Emotions are still running high as we approach inauguration Continue reading

All Souls Day / Dia de los Muertos

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.  I am haunted by waters.” — Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It.

On this All Souls Day / Dia de los Muertos, my heart has turned to all whom I see no more.  Because, “. . .some of the words are theirs.”  I feel the flow of the great river, where “Eventually, all things merge into one, . . . .”

The great river has long been a strong spiritual metaphor for me.  I feel part of that river and my raindrop merges with all the other raindrops as we flow over the rocks of time, stretching and twisting so far behind and ahead as to seem endless.  It is the great river of being and I am most deeply there.

I am part of the river; but, I am not lost within it.  I feel haunted.  But, only  in the positive sense that I feel presence of those I see no more.  Celebrating that presence is one of the special gifts of Dia de los Muertos.  Those I have known are most clearly part of me but we are not separate or other than all those we have never known.  We are, eventually, one with all things and all things are the river, the endless flow of raindrops upon rock.

Dust and Ashes – A Reflection on Wednesday

On Wednesday, many Christians attended the service for the Imposition of Ashes.   Their foreheads were marked with ashes and they were reminded that from dust they were made and to dust they shall return.

We are, in fact, made of dust.  In the beginning of the universe atoms of hydrogen were formed, dust.  As the universe expanded and cooled the dust began to clump together.  The clumps grew until they were large enough that their mutual gravitational attraction was so strong that nuclear fusion reactions started and stars lit up.  As some of those primordial stars exhausted their hydrogen fuel they began to fuse ever heavier elements and then blew apart.  They were supernovae.  In their fiery death explosions they created new clouds of dust.  Those clouds of dust repeated the process and the next generation of stars, containing greater concentrations of heavier elements than their predecessors, were formed.  This process has continued, eventually fusing every element in the Periodic Table.  All of the atoms of all of the elements were created from clouds of dust, ashes of the supernovae.  So, it is true. From dust you were made.

And, to dust you shall return. That happy aggregation called you and your life, is a unique, complex relationship among billions and billions of atoms. You, your consciousness and life, arise solely from the relationship and not from its constituent atomic bits. None of your atoms ever has been or ever will be alive. And, your bundle of atoms shall, in the cosmological blink of an eye, disassemble.  The atoms that participated in making you and your life shall go on to become other things.  Some may become soil of the Earth.  Some may, billions of years from now, drift again in a dust cloud in space.  None of them shall be improved or diminished by having been you.  Your life wrought no change upon them.

So, to what purpose is this complexity?  I don’t see much evidence elsewhere that things become complex to no purpose.  Nature doesn’t seem to have much use for complexity without purpose. For that reason, I find the explanation that life is a coincidence, inevitable from an infinite creation of every possibility, very unsatisfactory.  That answer boils down to it’s complex because it’s possible.  It’s circular reasoning.   For me, science doesn’t answer all questions.

Science can describe the relationship of my atoms in detail, its functions, causes and effects.  But, I don’t think science shall ever answer the question of why the relationship exists.  It’s really not a scientific question.  Any answer to “why?” cannot be proved or disproved by observation, calculation or logic. If the answer to “Why?” is not yielded up by science, then what?

I have explored my answer in “For God so loved . . . that He gave Himself.”  My exploration of the question has led me into the Holy Mystery of Ash Wednesday, Lent and Easter. Richard Rohr wrote that God needs images.  He speaks of us looking back at God with the very same eyes with which God first gazed upon us.  My image is of the face of a newborn gazing, for the first time, into his mother’s. It’s the gaze that melts the coldest calculations. For me, it’s what God demonstrated for us in Jesus. In the Scriptures I keep hearing: God loves you, you need only to love back. God loves me, even when I deny Him and nail Him to a cross!  Even then, God is waiting for me to return His loving gaze.

For me, the answer to “Why?” arises from the same source as life: relationship.  My answer to “Why?” is so that we can be loved and return love, so that we can return God’s loving gaze. All that complexity created a vessel for that bit of God consciousness that looks back at God and recognizes itself. My answer to the question “Why?” is: for the sake of love.

Santa Claus is Coming! – But, he has a list?

“Oh you better watch out,

You better not cry,

You better not pout,

I’m telling you why:

Santa Claus is coming to town!

He’s making a list,

He’s checking it twice,

He’s gonna find out,

Who’s naughty or nice

Santa Clause is coming to town!

He sees you when you’re sleeping,

He knows when you’re awake,

He knows when you’ve been bad or good,

So be good for goodness sake!”

Coots and Gillespie, 1934

Why did adults ever think that this was a fun song for children?  Why do children sing it?  Do they listen to anything after: “Santa Claus is coming to town”? The lyrics could have been written as a parody on J. Edgar Hoover!  If you really listen to it, it’s terrifying.

As a very young child I remember thinking about that damn list.  I was an active little boy.  I ran out of fingers and toes to count my misdeeds just between last Christmas and New Years.  When they started playing this song it was deep in the fall.  I knew I was doomed.  There was no possible way for me to work my way off the naughty list and make myself worthy of the “Nice” list before Christmas.  I was doomed I tell you.

But, the hammer never really fell.  My family never used this song as a tool to improve my behavior, tempting as it must have been.  In my heart of hearts I knew I’d get off.  I suspect most children do.  So, why is that?  There is no hint of that in the song.

I don’t remember anyone telling me; but, I always knew somehow that it wasn’t my lapses, errors or childish misbehaviors that counted.  What counted was my heart, and what counted about my heart was that it was open to love and therefore good and worthy.  A good heart trumped all.  Maybe that’s how children get through this song at Christmas without hiding under their beds.

The Banks Backed Down – Can We Chalk a Victory for OWS?

Bank of America and the other biggest banks announced their intent to charge a monthly fee to their customers for the use of debit cards.   Their customers stood up and said: “No!”.  They not only said “No!” in Zucotti Park and the streets, many said  “No!” by moving their deposits out of the big banks and into local and regional institutions, such as credit unions.  The big banks got the message very quickly and backed down.  They announced that they had decided not to charge the fee.  Hooray for common sense!

Can we chalk it up as a victory for OWS?  That’s a lot less certain.   But, in my opinion, it is much less likely that the big banks would have changed course if there had not been an OWS movement.  I hold this opinion for three reasons.  One, without the OWS movement and the media attention it garnered it would have been a lot more difficult for the voices saying “No!” to be heard or to realize that they were part of something bigger.  In this aspect, OWS acted as a megaphone.  Two, OWS gave an immediate example that  people acting in concert could affect change.  I was quite surprised at how quickly individuals began moving money out of the big banks and how quickly the big banks noticed.  Three, OWS showed that individual financial decisions can be a voice, one that speaks a language the big banks understand.  As each of us decide what bank, what broker, what financial advisor and what fund manager we shall take our custom to,  that choice matters.  We have options about where to invest our 60% share of the wealth.  If we don’t like how the poster boys of excess: the overly compensated executives and fund managers and bankers are behaving with our money, we have the ability to take it away.  And, the poster boys have just been reminded of that. OWS has helped us realize that we aren’t stuck with what the 1% want to give us.  Changing the business culture is possible.   And, perhaps, not as difficult as we imagined.

As the police clear the tents in Zucotti Park and the other places around the world where the vanguard of the Occupy Wall Street Movement first made itself visible, it is important to note that they haven’t cleared the people, the idea or the movement away.  I think making the big banks back down showed that OWS has momentum.  Once a movement has momentum it is not arrested by clearing out a location.  Just as the Occupy Wall Street Movement quickly spread from Zucotti Park around the world, it is not tied to Zucotti Park.  The tents are not a requirement.

What is required is that the Movement remain visible and vocal.     The movement can come back to the parks and streets where and  when the need arises.  None of the demonstrations or sit-ins of the sixties lasted nearly as long as the encampment in Zucotti Park.  They appeared at one place briefly and then another.  The important thing was that they kept appearing.  And, back then, internet organized flash mobs were unknown. Having stayed at Zucotti Park so long, the OWS movement demonstrated the breadth of its support.  By my guage, the OWS has a much broader base of support in the general populace than any of the 60’s protests and demonstrations.

One thing about a movement is that it has a flow, like a river.  You can’t dam it completely, the water will always find a way around.  If you force the river out of one place it flows to another.    Where the river’s channel is narrowed, the water simply flows faster and more forcefully through it.   Push the movement out of Zuccoti Park and it will simply appear somewhere else, and it may gain force in the process.  So, let us not mourn the the loss of some tents.  Let us instead realize that, like the river, the OWS movement flows on and is gaining volume and force.

Standing with Penn State and Joe Pa

I have been greatly distressed by the news coming out of State College, Pennsylvania.  I am greatly saddened by what is reported to have happened in the athletic facilities at Penn State.  I’m saddened that a legendary career has ended this way.  I’m not condoning or ignoring any of what happened  But, I need not add my condemnation.  There is condemnation enough.

Rather, I’m willing to standby the Penn State community and Coach Paterno because sometimes we are called to standby those who must bear the consequences of their own decisions and actions.  We are called to add our strength to theirs to face what must be faced. I’m willing to stand by the Penn State community, including Coach Paterno, for that reason.

In regard to Coach Paterno particularly, I’m willing to stand by him for an additional reason.  The whole of a life should not be judged  solely by its failings.  Sometimes we are called to standby someone to bear witness  to that which is good and noble in them also.