This is our Arbor Day.
eight arborvitae planted … a woodpile moved … mud removed from a garage … a raised garden framed … a lawn swept
I grew up in a family that prayed before each meal (and in very early times, after each meal also) and also did a family devotional almost every day. The family devotional consisted of a reading from the Bible, an audible prayer and a song. The singing seems remarkable to this day: we young children learned four part a cappella singing via imitation, and sang through our hymnal. I also remember our family’s gathering in the living room where we knelt in prayer, asking God for rain. (We were farmers.)
Surely this religious discipline helped to shape us kids. Exactly how, however, is beyond my ken. I am not now sanctimonious but I think that my early childhood encouraged, rather than discouraged, my quest to commune with God. While my theology has taken a trip and my God has changed size and shape and character and function, yet I carry treasured habits from long ago. For example, hymns and gospel songs, some of them almost sappy in their sentimentality, often pop into my head in the morning and I don’t chase them away. And I frequently find myself at the edge of, and occasionally inside of, a divine presence almost as though it were here and now and all around me.
Thus it will not surprise you to know that I have enjoyed reading Thomas Merton, whose journals and books enrich my own experience in meditation. He doesn’t explain how to meditate. But he names what it is, and exemplifies the meditational life. Here is a treasured quotation.
“Contemplation is the highest expression of [the individual's] intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason and beyond simple faith.”
No, I am not tempted to deify Merton, nor even inclined to collect mertonabilia, but I have eagerly signed up to participate in the annual Merton Retreat at Gethsemani in Kentucky in September. Mark Hudson, a new friend, invited me to go with him.
How good to hear Mary calling across the lot between her house and ours. “Isn’t this a lovely spring?” The previous dozen people I met complained about the rain, the cost of gasoline, the Pacers, the floods, Daylight Savings Time and uprooted trees.
This isn’t a puppy dog journal entry although I happily admit that Rudy is cute. And so is the relationship of Rudy and Sam. Still less than a year old Rudy is alert to family routines such as taking a run, rings a bell when he wants to go outside, and cuddles close to Sam in bed. It’s fun to play with the pup.
Yesterday with Sam and Rudy coincided with my introduction to Peter Singer whom I should have met long ago. According to Sun, he has a degree from Oxford, is the author or coauthor of more than twenty-five books, is on Time’s list of the top one hundred most influential people, named a humanist laureate by the International Academy of Humanism, founder of Monash University Centre for Human Bioethics, and vice-president of the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Australian writer Gillian Kendall says that “Singer argues against what he calls ‘speciesism’ — the tendency to give more consideration to the interests of members of our own species than we give to the similar interests of being of other species.” For example, he thinks we should be as considerate of an animal’s pain as a human’s.
Some of this resonates with me. While I know that our myth narrative has us situated higher, in the creation order, than anything else and that “man” is to be lord over the whole works, I have developed a nagging suspicion that we humans make assumptions about the uniqueness and distinctiveness of our species that might not be fully correct.
Or, in other words, Rudy might be more than a dumb mutt.
Thus, people like me have a regard for “lower” life (for me it pertains both to animal and plant life) that seems somewhat foolish to others. I was laughed at in Spain because I could not release myself to attend a bull fight. I have not developed a consistent way of life that gives me a more suitable position vis-a-vis plants and animals, but Peter Singer may nudge me toward that position.
Notice the question from Loren in the comments to yesterday’s blog.
Has the tradition of shunning among Swiss Mennonites that led to a separation of Amish from Mennonites stayed with us through the centuries, expressed in various subtle and open forms of exclusion? I’d be happy to suggest that topic for somebody’s doctoral dissertation.
I, of course, can’t answer the question, although I have experienced and been witness to exclusions by the church in my lifetime. How often have I heard the words, “You have to draw the line somewhere.”
My response may seem to be a non sequitur. But it’s a result of a considerable amount of internal processing in recent days.
1. We know from a myriad of sources that human beings, unless they suffer from a sad/bad/mad pathology, want to be named, noticed, affirmed, regarded and indeed loved. We know this. All of us know this. All of us have experienced the feeling of being noticed and appreciated. We are all together in this, OK.
2. Then, for goodness sake, why don’t we make it our daily privilege to name, notice, affirm, regard and indeed love those we come in contact with? I’m not talking about flattery, you know that. I’m talking about our taking time to notice the nobility, however humble, in our friends and acquaintances. And not only taking time to notice, but then putting our regard into deliverable form and sending it along.
3. Frankly, I’d much rather be in that kind of “kingdom” business than building walls and enforcing exclusions.
That’s not an apt title for this blog, yet it’s a warning that I am going to spill gut.
I’ll begin by saying that this blog entry will not be an argument. I don’t intend to win anything or to lose anything. You, the reader, won’t either. However it is a deeply felt sharing, one I have long hesitated to do.
Simply stated: at this point in my life I do not have a clear conscience in being a member of an organization that excludes gays and lesbians and those who live in a committed relationship with a person of similar sex. This includes the church.
Before elaborating on that one-sentence paragraph let me declare myself. I am straight, that is, heterosexual. My extended family includes homosexuals. My neighborhood includes homosexuals. My college classrooms contained homosexuals. So what? Homosexuality is a non-issue for me. In my friendships with straights or gays, I don’t think about it …
except for one thing. I have heard about and have felt the life-long exclusion that gays and lesbians suffer. What we consider our rights, we simply take for granted. I’m talking about security, finances, jobs, affection … and worship. There is little they can take for granted except exclusion.
The church that is founded upon the teachings and examples of Jesus whose own attention was constantly called to the side of the road to a person in need today says, “Come unto me, excepting if you are gay or lesbian.”
For a moment I will take the other side. I fully understand that Biblical literalists can find in the Bible strong anti-gay sentiments. I understand equally the long, long tradition, based partly on the need to populate the earth, of enforcing procreation. I told my troubled father who was crushed upon learning of his gay nephew’s marriage that we gave him permission to feel bad. We understood where he came from. We knew that he was being faithful to a world and religious view.
That world and religious view are no longer mine. I am not a Biblical literalist. The Bible does not define for me biology or cosmology or physics or many other disciplines of knowledge. I value the Bible, nonetheless, as a holy narrative open for allegorical and metaphorical interpretation and nourishment.
I further understand an organization’s “right” to define who may or who may not be a member. Thus I have no interest in arguing with an individual about whether homosexuality is a sin or not. Nor do I have interest in arguing with the church on whether it should include gays. I have no interest in carrying a sign, on being an activist.
But I do care about being a friend, a non-discriminating friend, a person deeply committed to rid myself of prejudices against people different from me. I do care when they are hurt. I do care when they are excluded. Thus, how can I join hands in a communion circle that won’t allow my homosexual friends in?
In consequence I am contemplating a withdrawal from church membership. Of course I welcome your prayers.
Thoughts on Calvinistic predestination:
———- “Once saved always saved?” bosh
———- “Once friends always friends?” We can’t help it.
(Note: Brother-in-law Ike opened a conversation several days ago that was soon interrupted. But his few words stimulated some reflections which I share in this blog. Thanks, Ike. I welcome your finishing your comments here in my blog.)
Part A (written last evening)
The sirens howl ominously as a severe storm rushes toward Marion County from the west. Here, in the den, I am quietly being. That is, the sirens are being and the storm is being and so am I. All three of us are part of a vast and deep existence of which we know so very little. I like to think that God, who once is supposed to have revealed that “I AM that I AM” is the Ground of this Being.
For me this isn’t spiritual gobbledygook. Rather it is a faint human attempt to articulate what I suppose is an essential connection of all that is being. The storm and I are more closely related than I have ever supposed. Kin of a sort. Further, it suggests a different metaphor, a different “name for our God” — the Ground of our Being.
Interestingly Jesus is reported to have used language of this kind. “I AM the way, the truth, the life.” Usually upon reciting those words I have emphasized the nouns “way,” “truth,” and “life” without sensing the present progressive being that supports those nouns. Jesus might have said, “I am being, always being, the way. I am being, always being, the truth. I am being, always being, the life.” In such a way the storm is being its way, its truth, its life, and strange as it may seem, so am I. (Jesus alluded to this continuation of being.)
The storm is now overhead, being windy and thunderous and sharply bright. And here I too continue to be, searching for words for my thoughts and sometimes thoughts for my words. It is. I am. And it’s a holy moment, here below the storm and I suppose up above the storm. We are in the act of being, with I AM.
Part B (written this afternoon)
The storm has chilled us all — the ground, the air, the plants, the squirrels, me. Our shivering feels contagious. I intend to build a fire early evening.
I note, however, in the presence of the chill after the horrendous storms of yesterday, that being continues all around me.
The garden is a maternity ward.
A friend told me this morning that scientists have discovered that if you set beside each other two atoms, supposedly separate beings, and then cause a change in the behavior of a particular molecule in one of the atoms, that change effects a corresponding change in a similar molecule within the other atom.
So might it be that my friend, this morning, changed me? And might it be that there was an essential modification going on last evening between the storm and me? And might it be that the new growth in the garden will effect growth in me?
“To be or not to be” is not my question. Rather, my question: how can I more fully recognize that I am not an isolated center of an atom of ME, but rather (most fortunately) connected to a Whole Being wherein my being and yours and yours and yours are essentially merged into one?
One storm follows another today. Indeed they began in the night and now rumble hour after hour.
My delight is mixed with puzzlement: how can one photograph a heavy rain storm? At this point a heavy boom has just shaken North Bolton Avenue. The rain pours. I’ve disconnected the computer from electricity.
I hear another impatient storm in the west wanting through. It’s that kind of day! Join me for coffee.
You’ve picked up from previous entries that I regard mythology as a revealer. That is to say, mythology supplies answers to our persistent questions, explanations for our human tendencies, and narratives that give sense to our fragmented impressions.
The myth of Narcissus has been on my mind recently. He was a hunter, known far and wide for his beauty. Of this extraordinary asset, Narcissus was exceptionally proud. One day he was attracted to a pool of water where he saw his reflection. So enamored he became of this image that he fell deeply in love with it. Unable to pull himself away from the image, he remained there until he died.
This old myth has shown up in modern psychology. Today we are familiar with what is known as “the narcissistic personality disorder.” A clinical psychologist will likely tell you, first of all, that we don’t know what causes it. There is a hunch, but not “cold” data, that doting parents can contribute to the disorder.
A person with narcissistic personality disorder — the contemporary Narcissus — may
— have excessive feelings of self-importance
— exaggerate achievements and talents
— be preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal love
— need constant attention and admiration
— have obsessive self-interest
Although I am not a psychologist, I think I’ve been able to “see” the disorder when, say, a person in a twenty-minute conversation talks only about himself and seemingly has no ability to inquire of the interests of the other. The disorder also seems to rob a person of empathy, the ability to feel or experience what another person is going through.
Lindsay Lyon, in reviewing a new book by Jean Twenge, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, shared crucial insights in Health.USNews.com.
*** People high in self-esteem focus on relationships. In contrast, narcissists are missing that piece about caring about relationships. They want to know what other people can do for them, but in terms of having close emotional relationships, they don’t care.
*** Even if you measure self-esteem in a subtle, unconscious way, deep down inside, narcissists think they’re awesome.
*** Narcissism is basically never healthy for other people. It tends to work out OK for the narcissist in the short term, but in the long term, they end up messing up their relationships at work and at home, and they end up depressed later in life.
*** Physical vanity is a correlate of narcissism, but there are plenty of other aspects of narcissism, including materialism, entitlement, antisocial behavior, and problems in relationships.
*** The reality is that if you love yourself too much, you won’t have any left over for anyone else.
Several nagging thoughts and questions about narcissism.
— A friend (clinical psychologist) says that a disturbingly high number of high performing heads of companies are narcissistic males.
— In the literature of the narcissistic personality disorder is the general agreement by clinical psychologists is that talk therapy “might” in some cases ameliorate the condition, but it’s not a sure deal.
— Lord, is it I? To what extent do I myself exhibit this disorder?
— Finally, how might one relate to a narcissistic person with integrity and compassion without accommodating or encouraging the disorder?