Category Archives: Reflections

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.”


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.

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.

At Dawn on Wall Street

I have been very interested in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.  I have the impression that I am watching the dawn.  It’s new.  There’s light, heat and lots of color.  There is promise and fresh potential.  The new day does not yet burn white hot.  You can look directly at it and see what will later become obscured by its own intensity.
For many years, I have believed that I live in a culture that is in the process of deconstruction.  I’m a middle child of the baby boom, born in the second half of the decade following the conclusion of the Great Depression  and WWII.  I was born as the United States emerged, center stage, as a world power.
The culture that had arisen in the founding of the nation and carried it through its Civil War, industrialization and Westward Expansion was struggling to deal with the new realities of a changed position in the world.   My impression is that, for the most part, we handled it like a clumsy adolescent.  There were lots of mistakes and irresponsible behavior, punctuated by moments that showed amazing promise.
And, like adolescents, growing into a new role creates strain, struggle and ultimately old ways must give way to new. That struggle ate away at the cultural institutions we inherited.  Many of them are proving to be inadequate to our new challenges and must change or die away.   Cultures may always be in the process of deconstruction and reconstruction; but, that can also be seen as evolution.  I perceive that what we are experiencing is more severe, perhaps more analogous to an extinction than an ongoing gradual modification.
One of the hallmarks of cultural deconstruction on that scale is the peoples loss of trust in the existing cultural institutions.   There seem to markers, where tipping points were reached and the loss of faith in an institution generalized in the population.   We first lost trust in our legislative representatives.   The exact tipping point is probably fading from memory.  It could have been any of several.  I think about things like “Red Scares” and some of the more noted scandals that led to convictions and prison terms.  But, finally Congress spent so much time and energy on the election process that  they stopped doing the business of governing altogether.  The Watergate scandal marked the end of our trust in the Office of the President.    Similarly, the O. J. Simpson trial marked the end of our trust in the judiciary.   Our churches began to do as much spinning and posturing as anyone else engaged in the quest for power.   Some, actively abused the trust placed in them to steal either treasure or innocence.  Probably the tipping point was the uncovering of the child abuse so desperately covered up.
I don’t mean to imply that these have been universal or that there haven’t been great, wonderous and inspired people and moments.  There have been.  We are still the culture the rest of the world turns to for example and help.  We’re still the people who pull together in times of greatest travail and do the most to help feed, house and treat the ill in the world.  We always are at the head of the line to provide disaster relief.  When disaster strikes the world knows it can expect the people of the United States to be generously compassionate.
Yet, even that has been perverted before our eyes.  Since September 11th, 2001 I have watched amazing unity in the face of assault wither into a cynicism that has critically eroded freedoms fundamental to who we believe ourselves to be.  It’s like we have sought the safety and security of a jail.
One of the last of our institutions to fail us was business.  The end of trust in our business was marked by: the Enron and Worldcom scandals.  They were the revelation that business was gaming the financial system.  Sub-prime loans, credit default swaps, derivatives and and just plain stealing that brought us recession and unemployment were just the expansion of that game.
 But, this last failure of business brought a genuine crisis and created a broader picture of the cultural failure.  For example, our government responded with bailouts of businesses that created these problems.  Business convinced  cloying politicians that they were “too big to fail” and if we rescued them they would rescue the rest of us.  Well, we rescued them and they, have failed to rescue the rest of us.  They have shown that in their existing culture all that matters is: “I’ve got mine.”
Now we being forced to see through that hogwash.  Still, though, we wanted our institutions to succeed so badly, to avoid the necessary changes, that we gave them another chance to fix things.  Then in the debt ceiling debates of last summer we were forced to the realization that our existing institutions are not going to “fix it.”  At that time, I sensed a general attitude shift to: “If we’re going to end this recession, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.  There’s no use waiting for government or big finance to help.  They aren’t going to.  We had better get at it”  And, that brings me to “Occupy Wall Street”.  The “Occupy Wall Street” is a movement.
It is a movement away from what has become a dysfunctional financial culture to a new one.   It is, I believe, one of the first moments we can identify as new culture in construction.  It is the glow on the horizon.  At present it mostly expresses outrage and frustration at the failure of  the old culture.  That frustration that captured in the slogan: “We’re the 99%”.  But, there is more than just the voices of frustration.  The movement is about doing something to relieve that frustration. The movement is still in the process of determining what it wants a new financial system to look like.  There is discussion and no resolution, yet, about what fair distribution of wealth and opportunity to acquire wealth should look like.
But, if I’m right, eventually that consensus will develop.  When it does, that consensus will become the paradigm for the new financial culture.  Don’t expect that consensus to come easily or soon.  Their are many voices to be heard and the fringes will have to be trimmed away to get to the core.  It won’t be an easy or short process.  But, I am getting the sense that the people on the front line of the movement, the ones in the parks and camps, realize this and are preparing to stay engaged until that consensus develops and is on its way to being adopted.  Constructing a new culture is not light work.
The “Occupy Wall Street”  movement, in my opinion, has a significance far beyond what is being reported in most of the media. Ben Hecht said: “Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time, by watching the secondhand on a clock.”  I think that analogy applies to media coverage of “Occupy Wall Street”.
I also think Occuppy Wall Street’s  significance is being missed by those most invested in the culture that is being replaced. The denizens of Wall Street seem to think that this is just kids occupying time, and it will all go away.  I think they’re wrong.
A new day is upon us, it’s dawn.  It’s time to embrace the new day and make the most of it.  The folks in the Occupy Wall Street movement are ready to get up and get at it.

Mothers Privilege

Mothers are privileged with access to the fundamental spiritual process of the cosmos that the rest of us do not have. 

Everything I continue to learn about cosmology, astronomy, physics, biology, geology and other fields of science tells me that the fundamental pattern of nature is: birth, life, death and re-birth. That pattern is everywhere. Our own Sun is a third generation star. We know that it is composed, at least partly, of elements that were created in a parent and a grandparent star that were born earlier in the history of our universe. They lived until their fuel was consumed and then died in spectacular supernovas. Our Sun was re-born from the matter ejected by the supernovas, including trace heavy elements formed in the parent and grandparent stars.

We share in that re-birth. Our Earth and our bodies are composed of atoms of heavier elements that were created as those parent and grandparent stars fused hydrogen into the array of the periodic table. We are re-birthed from the same elements blown into the universe by those spectacular supernovas! If you take a moment you will bring to mind a myriad of ways that you have seen this same pattern in all of nature.

All of creation reflects its creator. We have just celebrated Easter, the great feast of the Resurrection. We tend, in spiritual discussion, to talk about resurrection instead of re-birth. But, we speak of the same thing. As I continue to explore my spiritual experience, I see the same pattern of birth, life, death and re-birth. Resurrection is the spiritual pattern of the all that is. Our son, Michael, tells me that a better translation of the Hebrew scripture quoting God’s words to Moses on the mountain is: ” I am who I am becoming.” The pattern of God is continuing creation, continual re-birth.

I can see this pattern from afar. I can observe it. I can play my small role in it. I can feel it in prayer. But, I cannot participate in it the way a Mother does. What a privilege our Mothers know! What honor is due them! Blessings be upon all of our Mothers. It is a good day to recognize their privileged place among us.