Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Captive Art

Summer is here! And along with it, the season of family vacations to theme parks near and far. For those of you planning a trip to one of the SeaWorld parks, I hope you will take the time to watch, or re-watch, "Blackfish" before your departure.

The documentary challenges the propriety of keeping killer whales (orcas) in captivity by examining the life of one particular orca, Tilikum, and the multiple human fatalities associated with him. It was made without the cooperation of SeaWorld, so in fairness you should also read their response. However, please do not get bogged down in the technicalities of marine science or filmmaking. For there are larger questions at stake here, as theologian Beth Haile has written about:

The film encourages us to reexamine our commitment to non-human animals and ask whether what we are committed to is the well-being of the animal itself, or the human that loves the animal … We need to stretch ourselves beyond a narrow anthropocentrism that sees all of creation existing for the purpose of humans … Orcas do not need humans to glorify God and live out the purpose of their existence. In fact, human concerns may be precisely what is standing in the way of true flourishing for orcas.

"The greatest lie, the greatest scam of our lives is that this world was created for us, for our pleasure and enjoyment, for our dominance. What stupid, arrogant animals we are. We were created for it. We are simply the audience. What would true art be without an audience? Only in this work, the artist painted us inside the canvas. We are art and audience all at the same time. We are part of the grandest work ever created, ever dreamed."

Am I trying to guilt you into boycotting SeaWorld? No. I have been there in the past, and may well go back in the future. But if we do visit, let us do so with open eyes and humble hearts. Yes, we are here to admire the artwork, but none of it belongs to us. And if things had gone slightly different over the millennia, perhaps Tilikum and his kin would be the audience and we would be the pieces on display. Just how entertaining or informative would life in a cage, or a bathtub, be then?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Greetings

I hope that life has treated you well during these many weeks of Lent. As for myself, it has been an interesting journey. I needed that time of silence. And now I need to start speaking again. But not because I have something to say. No, I emerge from this time of silence with a renewed sense that I am merely a messenger, a prophet if you will, who has been charged with telling someone else's story.

Do I have a plan for this new and improved version of my mission? Sure. But like the other plans from the past twelve months, it will change, and probably soon. So rather than make some big announcement for which I will feel foolish in a few weeks, I'm just going to get back to work, trusting that you are there to listen to the story.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lenten Silence

Over the last year, I have written a few times about being drawn to sacred silence. And now finally, I have decided to really listen to those divine murmurings. I am going to take a break from blogging this Lent. I need to spend it in prayer and reflection, not the chaotic agony of composing the right sentences and paragraphs.

My plan is to resume posting on Easter Sunday; subject, of course, to someone else's plans. In the meantime, here is a little of what I will be reflecting upon:

"I am present with you always. I take many forms, but it is always me. Sometimes I come to teach, but mostly I come to simply enjoy the wonder of our creation. There is so much to revel in, but it mostly goes unappreciated. Every element is a stroke of our brush upon the canvas of life. It all has meaning and purpose. So why are you too busy to notice? Why are you so anguished? Life unfolds as it should. Stop and enjoy the process ... that is why you are here, that is why you were created.

Why do you babble so much about me? So much time and energy, for what purpose? What more is there to understand about us than love? You think too much and feel too little. You talk too much and love too little. It is the curse of your consciousness. You can see enough to open the door, but not enough to find your way through it. Close your eyes and the path will be illuminated soon enough."

May we all have a most blessed and illuminating Lent!

Friday, February 7, 2014

The High We Seek

Prompted by actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's death, the Los Angeles Times published an article earlier this week about the "surge in heroin use" throughout the country. One particular quote, from a recovering addict, stood out to me immediately.

Bottom line, it presents your consciousness with another reality that at times is so amazing that if you have the power to visit it every day without destroying your life, you would.

I have heard such descriptions before. I know that many of our brothers and sisters rationalize drug use because the high seems so "spiritual" to them. But this is a false spirituality; one that always leads to destruction and chaos of some sort, and one that is wholly unnecessary. For the "high" we seek is ours for the taking at any moment, no intoxicants required. And it never destroys a thing, quite the opposite.

"You know it is true. You've felt it in your heart, in your soul. It's that little piece of you that gets caught up in the drama of life, the drama of nature, the drama of history. That feeling in the back of your throat that you are part of something that you can't quite grasp and yet you know is there. That just makes you want to cry because it's so big and bold and beautiful. That makes you want to scream out in joy and ecstasy, thanksgiving and praise for being a part of it."

"It feels like you're standing still and the whole world is rushing by at mach one. Your adrenaline is pumping so hard you have to scream out for joy and laugh hysterically like an insane person. It's a feeling of such intensity, that it seems like you have an orchestra in your head, building up to a grand crescendo, then crashing down like a tsunami, washing away every impurity in your soul and leaving you awestruck as if seeing for the first time."

"In that moment, in that very moment, whether it lasts a second or a lifetime, you know that you have touched the face of the divine."

"One gaze into the face of god changes your whole outlook on life; opens doors to places in this universe unimaginable before."

"A word like love can never fully contain your essence, but it will have to do, for you are warm and sublimely wonderful love. You radiate in birth and death, in moans of pleasure and cries of agony, in our happiness and our pain, in the hidden moments of beings we are too proud and stubborn to truly see. You radiate from every particle of creation; for every one of them is an act of love. I feel this every moment and it overwhelms me. It pushes me to the brink of sanity and I am not sure I want to step back. I cannot escape you, and I do not want to."

Is there anything more amazing than coming face to face with your Parent? Could any reality be more true or more wonderful than the view through their eyes? May you too be so blessed as to find yourself trapped in their embrace.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Senseless Destruction of War

A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

This was probably not among the most frequently used MLK quotes on Monday, but it should have been. As I have asserted several times, war is the most asinine of human behaviors. And yet we seem incapable of abandoning it, so sure are we that violence can solve our problems. Now to be fair, it does excel at giving that impression, at least momentarily, but those victories never last long. So insanely, we try, try again.

To make matters worse, too many of us refuse to question the purposes for which so many of our brothers and sisters have died. Most recently, a television journalist had the gall to voice his unease with the seeming senselessness of American casualties in Afghanistan while on-air. The outrage was swift and silly; a shining example of our "support the troops" mentality in action, with its mindless cliches and chest-thumping antics more appropriate to devoted sports fans cheering on their favorite team. Sadly, this incident was also an example of denial at its worst and deadliest.

Every war death is senseless, because each is a product of our failure to find better ways of settling differences. Living in denial about this truth might bring us temporary comfort, but it also ensures more destruction and more death.

And not only through the occurrence of future wars. Our insistence that violence can solve big problems inevitably leads us into believing that it can solve personal ones as well. Which is how a silly personal dispute in a movie theater turns deadly. And why too many children choose to express their rage with a gun. And, it must be said on this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, one of the hidden reasons behind so many of us being convinced that abortion is a reasonable solution. We are surrounded by symptoms of the spiritual death of which King warned us. Why do we not heed them?

"It is past time that we recognize this family of the One, this fellowship of the One. They are tired of us ignoring, neglecting, and tarnishing it. This family is our Creator's greatest gift to us and we spit upon it constantly. Enough!"

"Our brother calls us to love, love God, love your neighbor, love. How hard is that? What are you afraid of? If he was willing to die to love you, what’s your excuse for not loving those you fail to understand, those you despise, those you hate?"

How many of our siblings must die before we finally say "Enough!"?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Listening to Death

Over the last few weeks, I have been moved by the sad, strange tale of Jahi McMath. Last weekend, the county coroner issued a death certificate for her, then released her body into her family's care while they wait for a miracle. Are they delusional, or simply following our communal hatred of death to its logical endgame?

Death is our enemy, the ultimate enemy, and it must be fought at all costs. Or so we tell ourselves. And yet it always manages to win. Despite our grand medical ingenuity, death finds a way. We will no doubt cure cancer someday, and before the celebrations have even begun, we will find ourselves battling some new dreaded disease. Death always finds a way. So perhaps it is time to stop fighting and start listening.

"But what of that which you fear most: death? Yes, the end will come, not just for you, but for this world as a whole. Do not be afraid, for this is a great joy. It is not an end, just part of the process of life. That is not just good, it is wonderful."

Death is neither punishment nor reward, but merely a doorway to something else. We can attempt to block that passage, but then we really would be delusional.

So rest in peace, dear Jahi. May your travels be truly wonderful.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Let Us Begin, Again

Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God – for up until now, we have done little or nothing.

Francis of Assisi spoke these words not at the beginning of his ministry, but near its end. They are not a statement of faux humility or harsh self-criticism. Rather, they tell us that doing God's will is a constant process of renewal.

This blog was created to be a means of promoting a new divine revelation. After I left teaching, however, it somehow morphed into a way for me to continue my classroom ministry. Perhaps such a development was natural, but it was also misguided. I have not been given a divine curriculum to share with you, nor have I been called to create one. My years as a teacher were wonderful; I was able to do good things. But it is time to let go of that experience, as God has other things for me to do.

"I will sing your praises. I will be your voice. I will be your prophet. I will be whoever you wish me to be. Not my will, but yours be done. I am yours."

On a practical level, this means a few modifications are necessary:
  • The Faith Development pages have been deleted. They were my most direct attempts at creating an online version of my old course. I failed to complete them, because that kind of systematic approach to faith made no sense outside the confines of my old classroom. I plan to repost some of the content as a series of reflections, not lessons, during Lent.
  • The Monthly Reading Links posts have been discontinued. They began to feel like a set of reading assignments. And too many of the selections were merely interesting or educational, rather than truly illuminating. While I will continue to share articles within posts and via Twitter, I plan to be a bit more discriminating with my recommendations from now on.
  • And I have resumed publishing posts on a weekly basis. The plan is to do so on Wednesdays, but as this post demonstrates, that plan is subject to the whims of divine inspiration and human bewilderment.

In my first post nearly two years ago, I wrote that I was not exactly sure where this blog would go, but that it was an adventure I needed to undertake. That is still very much the case today. It is a truth both maddening and glorious. So let us begin this adventure once again, for up until now, we have barely gone anywhere.