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Presidential Candidates Speak at Faith and Freedom in IowaThis past weekend, Senator Ted Cruz told the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition summit that Democrats had gone to extremes in their persecution of Christians. Cruz said same-sex marriage had produced rabid zealotry in Democratic ranks. This ideology, he argued, was excluding people of faith.

Today’s Democratic Party has become so radicalized for legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states that there is no longer any room for religious liberty.” He also noted the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in four states’ same-sex marriage cases this week and said that between not and then, conservatives must “fall to our knees and pray.”

I know Cruz was speaking to a largely conservative crowd. I get it. Still, all that aside, everyone must fall to knees and pray to God? Over gay marriage?  With all due respect, his stance lacks leadership.

I have no ill-will against gay/lesbian marriage. But I believe both God and our knees deserve better issues for which to pray. Healthcare and Baltimore are two.

On the medical front, a new study in a UK medical journal estimated two-thirds of the world’s population has no access to safe and affordable surgery. It means millions of people die from treatable conditions such as appendicitis and obstructed labor.

Most of those live in low and middle-income countries.  Ninety-three percent (93%) of people in sub-Saharan Africa cannot obtain basic surgical care. In essence, people are dying and living with disabilities that could be avoided with good surgical treatment. Instead, they suffer and are pushed into poverty trying to access surgical care for a quarter who have an operation cannot afford it.

Numbers of trained surgical specialists per 100,000:

  • UK: 35
  • US: 36
  • Brazil 35
  • Japan 17
  • South Africa: 7
  • Bangladesh 1.7
  • Sierra Leone (before Ebola): 0.1

In Baltimore, Maryland, peaceful protests quickly turned into violent riots Saturday evening, closing down the city of Baltimore and creating a panic for thousands of residents. Rioters flooded the streets, throwing rocks and attacking police officers. Reaction on social media was swift, ranging from calls to protest versus appeals to prayer. Some condoned the violence, others pleaded for calm.

Rather than dropping to our knees over gay marriage, the Buddha tried to convey his understanding that the world we inhabit is engulfed in the fires of suffering from deluded impulses. These are fires of greed, hatred, prejudice and ignorance, raging fiercely in the hearts of people. These fires are the basic cause of the suffering.

The violence current engulfing Baltimore is commonly found within families, schools and in local communities. Deep hatred traced to near or distant historical events have given rise to intractable ethnic and racial conflicts. In some cases, such historical hatred is bound up with religious causes or identities, and finds expression in terror and random killing.

Through spiritual practice the energy found within deluded impulses can be transformed into the illuminating “flame” of enlightened wisdom. Thus, all the fires raging within us can be subdued so that they no longer produce confusion and disruption; they can no longer drive us to act in a bizarre and destructive manner. It is for this reason that this transcendence of deluded impulses is known as inner tranquility.

Tranquility and healthcare are worth praying for.

imageCNN reported the family of Michael Brown filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Ferguson under Missouri’s “wrongful death statute.” The family suit seeks punitive and compensatory damages in excess of $75,000, in addition to attorney fees. My guess? The family will get millions.

The Brown family lawsuit raised an interesting question that I’ve pondered for several hours: “Once there’s a settlement, can the Brown family be sued by a destroyed Ferguson business owner?

Recollecting, as Louis Head (Michael Brown’s stepfather) consoled Brown’s distraught mother after the grand jury announcement, he turned to the crowd of demonstrators and said, ‘Burn this motherfucker down’ and ‘Burn this bitch down.’ While Mr. Head apologized the following day, riots left parts of Ferguson a burning wreck.

In a subsequent police investigation, Mr. Head issued a statement saying that while sorry for screaming ‘Burn this bitch down!‘, to arrest and charge him ‘goes way too far and is as wrong as the decision (of the grand jury) itself.‘ Granted, that stance may be good against criminal prosecution, but how about civil court, where the burden of proof is only a preponderance of evidence?

Should mobs get a free pass to riot and steal in response to unwelcome political outcome? Remember, approximately 25 structures in Ferguson were burned, damaged, or destroyed during riots following the grand jury verdict. Has any of the protesters paid for damage sustained? Sam Chow, an immigrant opened a Ferguson restaurant in 2009. His restaurant practically whipped. Where’s the outrage for the death of Zemir Begic? Begic, a young immigrant who fled violence in Bosnia, was driving home with his fiancée 20 miles away from Ferguson when black teens beat him to death. I don’t recall a single protester speaking for him.

I ponder the outcome of a black business owner’s civil suit against Louis Head and the Brown family for punitive and compensatory damages, especially when statements “Burn this bitch down” contributed to inciting the riots. From prima facia value, if we honor the choice to not prosecute Mr. Head based upon Head’s claim that prosecuting him ‘goes way too far and is as wrong as the decision (of the grand jury) itself,‘ then should business owners completely ignore the option to litigate civily?

At the end of the day, no one can stand in the court of public opinion and shout ‘Look over yonder, but don’t look here (at me).’ Responsibility applies everyone equally – to you, me and Mr. Head.

imageI’ve not heard as much about ‘Earth Day’ as previous years. Either I’m in a cloud or there isn’t much demand for Earth Day anymore. That doesn’t mean I’ve totally forgotten either.

I still remember a little known truth about the self-described founder of a Earth Day: He murdered and composted his girlfriend. Yes. Yes. Self-proclaimed Earth Day co-founder Ira Einhorn had a dark side. In 2011, NBC News reported Einhorn was found guilty of murdering his ex-girlfriend and stuffing her “composted” body inside a trunk.

Earth Day was created in the spring of 1970 to raise awareness of and take action on the pressing environmental issues of the time. Einhorn was master of ceremonies at the first Earth Day celebration at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia on April 22, 1970. He still maintains the holiday was his idea and he was responsible for launching it, though most activists credit Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson.

So all nonsense aside, what’s continually captured my imagination has been an often neglected story of water … or lack thereof. Five years ago, while working with the government, I ran across an odd U.S. Report detailing high-level plans to relocate millions from the Southwest to the North/Northeast. The water lifeline to the Southwest, the Colorado River, has been divided according to the 1922 Colorado River Compac. Subsequently, more water has been apportioned than exists. Water flow in the Colorado River — which supplies water to more than 30 million people in the Southwest including Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Vegas — has declined. Water shortage numbers grow worse with each succeeding drought.

As a result, water is the #1 global risk impact to society (as a measure of devastation) and #8 global risk based on likelihood of occurring within 10 years (as announced by the World Economic Forum). There are 358 million people with little to no access to water in Africa. In developed countries such as the United States, Canada, parts of Europe and Russia, that number totals 9 million. To combat drought in it’s own state, California announced sweeping statewide water restrictions for the first time in history.

Since today is Earth Day, I rounded up a few easily researched items about water. Compare the water footprint for a variety of products.

  • 9 gallons of water to produce 1 glass of soy milk;
  • 23 gallons of water to produce 1 glass of almond milk;
  • 30 gallons of water to produce 1 glass of regular milk;
  • 35 gallons of water to produce 1 regular yogurt;
  • 41 gallons of water to produce 1 regular size scoop of ice cream;
  • 50 gallons of water to produce 2 slices of cheese;
  • 90 gallons of water to produce 1 regular size Greek yogurt;
  • 109 gallons of water to produce 1 stick of butter;
  • 1,500 gallons of water are needed to manufacture a desktop computer;
  • 32,000 gallons of water is needed to make the steel for one automobile; and
  • 1,700,000 gallons of water per day is required to cool NSA’s Bluffdale, Utah datacenter, with only a third being recycled.

In 2011, The Buddha Blog noted the Buddha’s teaching on walking the middle ground between extremes of over-consumption and austerity fits perfectly into the modern, environmental practice of living in balance with nature. It’s what we speak of today as “sustainability” or living within our means. It’s not necessary to live like a cave man to be an environmentalist in the Buddhist sense, as that would be living out of balance in austerity. It’s structuring our lives, so that when we utilize nature’s resources, we do it in a balanced and sustainable way.

The environment is on loan to us from future generations. Let’s not ruin it for them–and us. Happy Earth Day!

343236871_weakness_xlargeListening to an interview of author David Brooks provided some interesting insight:

“I achieved way more career success than I’d ever imagined, and I rediscovered the elemental truth: It doesn’t make you happy. And then I would come across people once a month who just — they just glowed. I remember I was up in Frederick, Md., visiting some people who tutor immigrants; they teach them English and how to read. And I walk in a room — 30 people, mostly women, probably 50 to 80 years old — and they just radiated a generosity of spirit, they radiated a patience and most of all they radiated gratitude for life. And I remember thinking: ‘You know, I’ve achieved career success in life, but I haven’t achieved that. What they have is that inner light that I do not have. And I’ve only got one life — I’d like to at least figure out how to get there.’ And so I really wrote the book to save my soul, if you want to put it grandly, to figure out: How can I be more like that? And writing a book doesn’t get you there, but it at least gives you a road map.”

To some extent, I concur.

I don’t remember the exact commercial, but I will paraphrase, “At 30, I thought about making my first million; At 40, I thought about owning the company; now I ‘m wondering how to get around this track in less than 40 seconds.”

In truth, my career success was different than imagined. I used to think I of having a great career, but I never imagined myself a millionaire. I never thought I would own a company let alone a race car. Thus, neither came to fruition. Like the people Brooks met in Frederick, MD., I did teach English as a second language but never got that inner light.

We all think we’re super important.  Children are told how great they are. They aren’t. We aren’t. But what I’ve learned is that the road to character is built by confronting your own weakness. It is he who conquers his own soul that becomes greater than one who takes a city. The road to success means understanding personal weakness.

This key lesson begins with the process of opening one’s mind to the possibility that one does not know what one thought they knew – that one may not really understand what one thought they really understood.

Poet David Whyte wrote:

We, both as a culture and as individuals, often conflate it with the deceptively similar-sounding yet profoundly different notion of “work/life balance” — a concept rather disheartening upon closer inspection. It implies, after all, that we must counter the downside — that which we must endure in order to make a living — with the upside — that which we long to do in order to feel alive. It implies allocating half of our waking hours to something we begrudge while anxiously awaiting the other half to arrive so we can live already. What a woefully shortchanging way to exist — lest we forget, so speaks Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

There’s much left to do to become better every day.

Find Your Vocation

BurnoutRecently, a friend teetered back and forth about leaving a Midwest University for a small religious seminary. As an instructor in pastoral counseling her skills are exceedingly revered. Mix that with a personal desire to teach pastoral counseling in a religious environment and the potential became alluring.

Leaving her current position as full-time faculty in a Midwest University was about righting the wrongs of her personal life.

I don’t have enough time in a day,” she quipped. “I don’t have enough time for myself. I don’t have enough time for my family. My husband gets whatever’s left at the end of the day … and that’s not much.

But if I take this job, I’m only 20 miuntes from work.

The decision to leave any position for another is taxing. But due to poor financial solvency and decreased interest in religious education, the seminary offered an uncertain employment future.

But there’s such a thing as quality of life. And her life wasn’t it. Therein lays the problem. Looking at all the couples in my life, most find no way to align all of life’s pieces. Compromises and sacrifices litter any lifestyle and money, regardless of income, cannot purchase the one thing wanted – time.

Like basketball’s 24 second shot clock, time is finite. Getting ahead and winning with success is neither ideological or a goal. We awake in the wee hours of the morning to make lists. We’re cut off from the larger community and when we do slow – we get bored – very quickly. Our marriages become business and the hunger for living remains aloof as we beg God for a compass, pray in tears and beg for signs.

From a Buddhist perspective, the cocoon we construct tends to foster a hedonistic lifestyle and it’s likely our lifestyle was cultivated by values far removed from the attitudes and struggle of the ordinary. Our views and goals are etched by Christmas movies and advertising.

When the living Buddha was unable to reconcile his life of protected splendor with the harsh truths of aging, illness, and death, his worldview was challenged. As his realization deepened, he understood that despite privilege, he was not immune to the way life unfolds; he suffered the same fate as others.

No one passes through life without scratches, whether physically or mentally. Without emotions, such as suffering from pain, loving, or laughing, life is not worth living. Yet, in the secret chambers of the mind, most believe the very thoughts and emotions we cultivate are what we deserve. Thus, we suffer because we affirm a life not worth affirming.

We must become people who can overcome, through willpower or higher power, to create a form of life worth repeating. We must find a vocation, not a professional career. What’s the difference? A vocation is an act of love – which is contrary to most professional careers.

Turing“Do you know, this morning I was on a train that went through a city that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up, on my work, a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you. Now, if you wish you could have been normal … I can promise you I do not. The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren’t.”

~ Character Joan Clarke, The Imitation Game ~

I am haunted by the character’s words.

Why?

Well, there’s a ballot initiative that rivals ISIS atrocities, calling for the execution of gays and lesbians. It’s called the Sodomite Suppression Act.

According to the attorney pushing the ballot initiative, the only way to save righteous Californians lives is enacting a “kill the gays measure” found in the Old Testament. The author’s fanatical reasoning is to prevent “all of us from being killed by god’s just wrath against us for the folly of tolerating wickedness in our midst, any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification shall be put to death by bullets to the head or any other convenient method; this by wise command of the good people of California.

This is not the first time for such stupidity.

In 1982, Congress held its first hearing AIDS. Only one reporter showed. Some Republicans and Reagan administration members cast AIDS as a “gay disease.” One Republican, Rep. Bill Dannemeyer of California, delivered a speech on the House floor titled “What Homosexuals Do” and read graphic descriptions of sexual acts into the Congressional Record. He also pushed to create a government register of AIDS patients, corralling those who were HIV positive into internment and deportation.

Still, our current war against LGBT rights progresses onward. Governor Bobby Jindal supports a Constitutional Marriage Amendment, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Arkansas Govenor Mike Huckabee purport anti-LGBT theology and retired neurosurgeon and possible GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson believes jail turns people gay.

Why must there be war on the LGBT? Why do we need a “Religious Freedom Act?” Does California really need a Sodomite Suppression Act?

Diversity is America’s strength. We aren’t better by being one and the same. If we were the same, all clouds would be the same. Every tree would be the same. Every child would be the same and individuality would disappear and indifference would rise.

If we shot members of the LGBT community, Elton John would be dead and the world doesn’t get Queens, “We Are The Champions.” The Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by a gay Michelangelo, would have to be destroyed. Great works of art by Leonardo da Vinci shouldn’t exist; that includes the Mona Lisa and Last Supper. Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker or Swan Lake ceases to exist. There would be no theatrical plays from Tennessee Williams or Stephen Sondheim. Andy Warhol’s groundbreaking Campbell’s Soup Cans painting would be a dream and Independence Day would not have been filmed.

Would we shoot Leonard Matlovich, an openly gay technical sergeant and Vietnam War veteran who received the Purple Heart, before or after he served? Are we willing to forgo Alan Turing’s team cracking Germany’s Enigma code during World War II, shortening the war by two to four years and saving an estimated 14 million to 21 million lives? Last but not least, can any of us condemn the hundreds of thousands gay men and women walking and working in everyday life, performing random miracles love, often unnoticed?

Shooting, killing, intimidating, expropriating the LGBT community’s ability to perform or exchange business services and property is no better than Hitler. All we’d have done is change the decade of occurrence.

Graham Moore stunned and inspired the audience at the 87th Academy Awards with his deeply honest acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game.

When I was 16-years-old I tried to kill myself,” revealed Graham. “Because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here and so I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes you do. I promise you do. You do. Stay weird, stay different.

America! Stay different.

Easter Freedom

EasterDuring childhood, when Easter rolled around, my mother thought of spring-cleaning, she literally meant “cleaning house” of all things. Likewise, in our personal world, we should clean ourselves of guilt, shame, anger and resentment yearly.

Jean Valjean, the fictional character in Les Misérables noted:

I have done wrong, and cannot escape it. I want to do good, forever, for everyone. Even if I became as wealthy as a King, I honestly don’t think I would spend it on myself – I’d use it to help other people.

I can forgive myself, and I can forgive others – but I will not excuse myself or resent the law or accusers when I am in the wrong. When I am wrong, I deserve the punishment.

Another person should never have to suffer in my place.

If I could possibly share anything, it’s that honesty, purity, unselfishness and love are essential absolute truths. Many Christians believe these four qualities perfectly express the life of Jesus. Thus, they represent an ideal for human conduct.

Throughout my life I suffered from my own mistakes, being selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened. Thus, rather than inventory those whom I thought had mistreated me, a central question now is “Where I to blame?” In every instance I ask, “What is my part in it?

These days, I tend to distance family that only looks upon me as a burden. I acknowledge their pain is real, but they know nothing of my complexity and capacity to feel love and change this world into a place where I can thrive, where being naked and vulnerable is safe and encouraged.

It’s within this world we can reach outside ourselves and find true purpose of our existence. To survive my own addiction, I have to acknowledge there’s always been something within me that’s never seen the light of day.

Les Misérables’ Jean Valjean worked his whole life to love other people, to fulfill his promises, his duties. In the end, he found that “To love another person is to see the face of God.

I got into a deep hole by trying to survive alone in a fearful world. I now know I am not alone; and there is much love, both within me. When another human being accepts you no matter how bad the things you’ve done, it’ll be much easier to accept yourself.

We’re only as sick as our secrets. This Easter, release them and be free.

Heart isAccording to the Bible, Christ claimed, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Sad to say, much of my life has been living in second, with spurts of third and fourth interwoven during the decade.

I became aware my own life story this afternoon.  Theoretically, spirituality includes trying to better my relationship with God and better myself as a person each day. But I was confronted by my own inadequacy overhearing a conversation at the next table.

What are your life’s priorities?” asked one women to another.

“Family, school, work, future, other,” her friend responded.

“And you husband?”

“Oh, he’s lumped in there between families and other.”

Like this woman’s husband, I’ve lived a life of second, third and fourth. My early years was blended education from family and friends that I was not first. Through systematic thought, someone else’s opinion of me became my life and I became swallowed by a life of inadequacy.  Few, if any, placed me first.

Twenty years ago, I asked my employer if I could attend management training. I was never given the chance, as management never saw me as a trainable leader. My second wife’s priorities emphasized her mother first, family second, her image third and I was fourth.

This realization was an extremely tough to reconcile over coffee at a Panera Bread Company. Truth be told, I would never be number one. I could have climbed the Himalaya’s, cured cancer, created time travel or won the lottery, but her priorities would always remain mother, family, her image and me. I constantly fought, but I did not understand the psychological game was predestined. I would be not better than fourth.

I realize now that even my greatest love, Karen was doomed. Her priorities were, living for Christ, her image and me.  I was never the priority. She loved me deeply, as I did her. We were soul mates. But at the end of the day, she would not relinquish her image and standing in the Catholic Church nor her image of Christ for a divorced man. Karen would always be married to Christ and never to me. At that level, I was only an accessory.

As a Buddhist, we should share championing one another. Marriage is unlike any other role we fill in life. Marriage is unlike any other job we do. Marriage is elevated, by love, speaking through love and should elevate one another to the highest place of life.

Loving like Christ means wanting to please God in every part of life: at the job, in all routine work, in daily relationship, and in the big and small decisions of life. We must live in love during our earthly, human life, and become empowered by Love’s Spirit.

What we need to consider is how to obey the living Christ and Living Buddha by serving and making one another your primary ministry. Thus you, and those you love, are the priority.

So I have to ask …. Thy Treasure Is?

101103_mike_pence_wave_ap_328Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) defended the religious freedom bill he signed last week, saying the growing outrage over the legislation stems from “… a tremendous amount of misinformation and misunderstanding.”

George Stephanopoulos, host of “This Week,” ended an interview with the governor by asking for a yes-or-no answer on whether it should be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

You’re following the mantra of the last week online, and you’re trying to make this issue about something else,” Pence said. “What I am for is protecting … the religious liberty of Hoosiers.” Pence described the media coverage and opposition to the law as “shameless rhetoric,” saying it strengthens the foundation of First Amendment rights rather than discriminates.

Believe it or not, a federal version of the religious freedom law was enacted in 1993. However, dozens of states have passed their own versions, including one passed unanimously in Illinois when President Barack Obama was a state senator.

Supporters claim that for the florist who refuses to sell flowers for a gay wedding or a baker who won’t make a lesbian couple’s wedding cake, this law fends off lawsuits each business might face. Whereas civil liberties groups assert the law could be used by businesses to deny service to people based upon sexual orientation and religious belief.

The problem lay in the suggestion that both sides have valid arguments. They don’t. One side fights for equality and civil rights while the other creates pseudo bigotry to prevent the other from becoming reality. There really aren’t two acceptable stances on these issues for millions recognize what mainstream conservatism doesn’t – that God loves all.

The argument over what Pence signed is destined to become visceral, vitriolic, and ugly. Both sides dig in, because each thinks the other is flatly wrong — both in heart and fact. As the debate rages on, this will spiral to a place so far away from the law itself.

As a Buddhist, in general, Buddhism does not make a distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. Instead, the expectation is not to harm, exploit or manipulate others, which would directly violate the third precept, sexual misconduct. For instance, Zen Buddhists often refer to hedonism, ascetic masochism and prostitution as practices violating the “Middle Way.”

On another note, I didn’t know we needed to strengthen America’s First Amendment rights, for they seem pretty strong. But strange how some believe one amendment requires strengthening, while others, per se, such as gun control, gains nary a review.

imageI spent this past week in Orlando, Florida. Ironically, the American Counseling Association was holding its annual convention here. During my stay, I befriended several counseling professors from a few universities. Although summarized, the following stories were garnered after a few drinks, with names and schools being omitted.

Story One – A Paid Vacation
“I came here for the conference,” the dean said. “I’ve been here three days and have yet to attend one conference seminar. I’ve been at Disney World the whole time.”

“Why haven’t you attended anything?” I queried.

“Well,” she exclaimed. “Others use the conference as vacation for years. So I got tired of it and decided to do it myself. The heck with them.”

“So the university paid for everything: hotel, airfare, car rental, dinning, gasoline and tolls?”

“Yes.”

“Man! Gotta love the cost of education,” I noted.

Story Two – The Grant
“My school has given me the best grant ever,” he pronounced.

“And that would be?” I inquired.

“I received a grant to watch gay pornography and report on possible counseling techniques to counter pornography.”

“Seuiously?”

“Yes. Seriously.” After a brief pause, “Guess what?”

“What,” shaking my head.

“In truth, I am a gay man.”

“So you’re a gay man. And you reccveived a grant from the university to watch gay porn?”

“Yes,” he laughed.

Story Three – The Email Spy
“I came to give a speech on data privacy.”

“Important topic,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “And if you run across anyone needing a software that can read emails, let me know. I built one.”

“You built one?”

“Yes.”

“How does it work?” I asked.

“Well, I own a private security company on the side. I funneled university computer technology student interns to work at my company. Students built the software that I sold back to the university and then to the government. The software tracks and records all emails sent by students or university staff.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah,” he said. “If you send an email through the university system … to Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail … whatever … If I turn the software on, I can copy, track it and read it. And you’d never be the wiser”

“And if the students and faculty ever find out, I’ll bet they’ll be pretty pissed.”

“Oh yeah,” he said.

Somewhere along the line I thought education was to better students, professors were leaders. But apparently, in some cases, it’s all about having students pay for stupid shit.

the lost then found

And like a flood his mercy reigns.

Lucid Dreams

Slowly Surfacing

Contizental

500 words or less

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