Archive for March, 2014

religion-dividesI almost died several weeks ago. I do not remember much except hearing a voice saying I had to return. As I lay recuperating in the hospital for the past two weeks, I watched people go to and fro.

It became clear to me that as our world moves forward into the future, we are continually presented with significant amounts of division.  Secular, for-profit corporations are attempting to exercise unprecedented religious exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) “contraception mandate;” the continual battle against gay and lesbian rights, stripping unemployment insurance from the most needy, etc., etc., etc. Here are some samples:

  • Georgia lawmakers approved a bill allowing guns in bars, schools, restaurants, churches and airports, and also expands on the state’s “Stand Your Ground” defense.
  • A Georgia town passed mandatory gun bill. “In order to provide for the emergency management of the city, and further in order to provide for and protect the safety, security and general welfare of the city and its inhabitants, every head of household residing in the city limits is required to maintain a firearm, together with ammunition therefore,” the ordinance said.
  • An eight (8) year who sported a short haircut, liked to wear jeans and T-shirts, and collects autographed baseballs was kicked out of a Christian school. It should be mentioned, the child maintained a 4.0 average at Timberlake Christian School and steered clear of any disciplinary issues, save for her desire to wear boy’s pants as part of her school uniform. Her sin you ask? Paraphrasing Principal Becky Bowman, “We believe … that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity.”
  • Alaska State Sen. Pete Kelly (R) is declaring war on fetal alcohol syndrome, and he’s proposing to place state-funded pregnancy tests in bars and restaurants so that women can figure out if they’re pregnant before drinking. But he also told the Anchorage Daily News this week that he opposes increased access to contraception, because birth control is only for women “who don’t want to act responsibly.”
  • Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld slammed President Barack Obama on Monday, saying “a trained ape” would have better foreign policy skills.
  • Former Alaska Governor and GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin lashed out at President Barack Obama’s administration today for its handling of relations with Israel, taking to Facebook to air out her frustrations over what she called “junior high diplomacy.”
  • The first 60 seconds of this interview with Franklin Graham, the son of charismatic preacher Billy Graham, viewers were treated to his condemnation of gay adoption as “recruitment,” fear-mongering about a political gay agenda, as well as a strong endorsement of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s harsh policies towards LGBT individuals.

Regardless of faith, religious beliefs seems to do a very good job of dividing and creating a tremendous amount of hate. Yet, many have been known to cross society’s divide.

Biblically speaking, Christ’s conversation with a Samaritan woman one hot afternoon is mostly known for its reference to the “living water.” But Christ’s broader personal act have implications not often discussed. First, to get to Samaria, Christ had to walk through some of the most ethnically and racially challenged areas.  Secondly, Christ was seen talking alone to a woman. Third, Christ opened the door salvation to all, not just to those ministered to by the Pharisees and Sadducees. All of these acts crossed the boundaries of man-made bias and prejudices. Christ did His best to break down known barriers.

Similarly, Buddha gave up his wealth and attended to the poor. Same could be said of St. Francis of Assisi, Dr. Martin Luther King, President Abraham Lincoln, the Dali Lama and many many others.

As a Buddhist, I don’t want faith (in and of itself) to become such an ideology that divides and causes antagonism. The DNA of all living things are interconnected. We come from the very same life source that created the trees and sea turtles; the flowers and the birds; the planets and the moon. Thus, our conversation must be about how important we are to each other; the need to see how interconnected life is and think about how to really help each other. Staying together and living together is so important – more than we know. The human spirit is based upon deeper values: the inter-communal, the inter-cultural, and inter-religious.

We are in this together. Love unconditionally. This form of love cannot be stopped by differences, religious or otherwise, for love and understanding are two sides of the same coin.

An NPR Driveway Moment

Driveway MomentsThe annual rite of passage has adorned my radio because our local NPR affiliate, is performing another “Radio Held Hostage” week, (loosely translated … pledge drive).

NPR is great for telling you how “free” radio isn’t free.  Various stories of wealth and grandeur pull at listener pursestrings, hoping some listener will call and pledge. One frequent tactic is the overly used “Driveway Moment.”  If you’re unfamiliar with the pitch, here’s what a “Driveway Moment” is about. Quoting NPR:

Maybe it’s happened to you as it has to countless others. . . . You’re driving home, listening to a story on NPR. Suddenly, you find yourself in your driveway (or parking space or parking garage). Rather than turn the radio off, you stay in your car to hear the piece to the end. It’s a Driveway Moment.”

I’ll admit, I am an NPR contributor. Somehow, year after year, after year, after year, they manage to secure some form of contribution from my pocket book.

Still outside of the Diane Rehm Show, call-in radio programming seem deceased and the remaining NPR programming is stale. Click and Clack retired long ago, yet NPR continues to cycle out-of-date material as “entertainment.” Talk of The Nation died a horrible death and was replaced by a boring, less than stellar “Here & Now” and This American Life has been known to recycle material as well.

In truth, almost all NPR programming changes were specifically targeted to reduce programming costs. Facing continued year-to-year multimillion dollar deficits, management has shed direction, cut personnel and offered buyouts. Yet, NPR has retained some of the most overly priced talent possibly.  At last report, Steve Inskeep, co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” still rakes in more than $334,560 yearly. Renee Montagne, co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” swallows $321,919 while Robert Siegel, cohost of “All Things Considered,” clears $321,860. You get the idea … the list goes on and on.

This leads me to my own personal NPR “Driveway Moment.” One day prior to the latest pledge drive, I learned Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep has begun a journey along the U.S.-Mexico border — from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. Ah … Why? What the hell for? To the casual listener, Inskeep is taking is a vacation. Hell, I could pay my Uncle Guido some gas money and hotel and he’d be in heaven.

To counterpoint, NPR will claim that as part of some project, a team of NPR correspondents is pursuing stories about people, goods and culture crossing that border. Still as a man who has to clutch every buck owned, my “Driveway Moment” was understanding that NPR, who pays the likes of Inskeep and others, salaries in excess of $300,000, to do what my old man did for years: pack the kids in station wagon and drive.

What’s interesting about my “Driveway Moment” is that all of us deal with money everyday. Even as a Buddhist, there’s not a day where we don’t actually have contact with money. So you would think that money would be a really important for NPR and for us. Yet, like many, NPR seems to separate themselves from the ethics and consciousness.

In truth, Buddha didn’t have a credit card. But that doesn’t mean we can live without credit either. If you think you can, try traveling 50% of the time for business without a credit card. However, like a good steward of faith, we must be vigilant and actually be careful about that which has been entrusted.

If Inskeep had come to my father and asked to pursue a US – Mexico border trip, my father would have said, “Have a hell of a vacation. Oh … send some pictures.”

Fourteen Seconds

neil_planets12b_DJ1Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is rebooting the “Cosmos” series from the days of yesteryear, when Dr. Carl Sagan hosted the series.  In his opening show, Tyson gets the audience to hop upon a cosmic calendar in which the 13.8-billion-year history of the universe is compressed to 365 days, with the current time being midnight on New Year’s Eve.

On this scale, Dr. Tyson reports, the sun was born on August 31 and the dinosaurs died yesterday morning. Everyone you ever heard of, all the kings, queens and prophets, wars and battles, lived in the last 14 seconds of this cosmic year. “Jesus was born five seconds ago.”

In the last second we began to do science. It (science) allowed us to discover where and when we are in the cosmos.”

What caught my attention was the statement that everyone we ever knew, lived and died within the last fourteen (14) seconds.  Yeah of course the time scale was skewed for Tyson’s presentation, but in truth, when you look upon all the billions and billions of years, the human race, you and I, lovers and friends, cats and dogs, our hopes and dreams were all created, lived, breathed and passed in a few measurable moments.

It’s sad to see many spend their fourteen seconds in hatred and anger. There’s no apparent reason why. We just do. So many of our fourteen seconds are spent pursuing the wrong things, the wrong way of living. So many of our seconds are spent destroying another’s fourteen seconds, thumb our noses at others and act as if their soul has no little or intrinsic value.

What science might have to say about God or what religion might have to say about science seems relatively futile, for one always seems to think the other is arrogant. I am, however, fascinated by how scientists of our time — neuroscientists, biologists, and certainly physicists and cosmologists — add their own insights and questions to realms of human inquiry that religion and philosophy long dominated.

Where did we come from? What does it mean to be human? What does the future hold? What is our place in the universe? What is our role in living with a loving God?

I don’t think it’s stupid to believe that religion, science and technology is interwoven throughout every moment of our life’s fourteen seconds. The love of God and the love of life can be empirical disciplines. And if we simply focus on religion, just thought of religion alone, we’d probably come up with the wrong answers because God is far more imaginative and far more diverse than what could be learned in fourteen seconds.

But what if we don’t have fourteen seconds? What if we really have only ten seconds? A friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer this past week. Thus, the last several seconds of his life could be filled with treatment, trying to achieve a possible fourteen. And if the first few seconds of life were dedicated to learning and making it through our teenage years, crude calculations lead us to understand we really only have 10 seconds of life to live, to love and to leave a legacy.  Ten seconds … and then we’re gone.

There’s so little time to make an impact. What amuses me about my own life is how much I’ve missed all the really big things, the acts of love, the acts of mercy.

How are you spending your fourteen seconds?

Even sex is not all an orgasm

imagesEinstein quoted, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Business leaders would tend to argue with Einstein that that which is most valuable in our life can’t be counted or valued, aren’t we going to spend our lives just mired in measuring? Yet many businesses are overly obsessed with profit. Why don’t we care more about “happiness?”

In my time in Vermont, I met a hotel maid who made me question life’s essential ethos: how could someone actually find joy in cleaning hotel rooms? On a prima facie value, many travelers would potentially see an immigrant who needs that $7.00 job to support her family. And while that may be true, she didn’t find any particular happiness in cleaning rooms. Her goal in life was not to get to Heaven’s gate and proclaim she was the world’s greatest hotel room cleaner. What counted was the emotional connection she created with her fellow employees and guests. And what gave her inspiration and meaning was the fact that she was taking care of people who were far away from home. At the end of the day, she knew what it was like to be far away from home.

For some strange reason, most of us like all the ups and downs of life. Overhearing one traveler phrase it, “We like our suffering because it’s so good when it ceases for a while.” But seriously, if you are deeply unhappy within, all you are going to look for is a window from which to jump.

Yet all of us know many who, in very grim circumstances, manage to keep serenity, inner strength, inner freedom and confidence. If inner conditions are stronger, could we actually embolden our family and societal relationships sense of meaning, i.e., the emotional connection? For example, do you actually understand your mission in life? And do you feel like you believe in it, can you influence it, and do you feel your work actually has an impact on it?

If we’re taught as leaders to just manage what we can measure, and all we can measure is the tangible in life, we’re missing a whole lot of things at the very top of life’s sanctity.  Look no further than Washington. Our legislatures and representatives focus solely upon economic metrics. So much so that few legislators actually connect with the greater society at large.

In 1954 Rabbi Hyman Schachtel wrote a book called, “The Real Enjoyment of Living.” Rabbi Schachtel suggested that happiness is not about having what you want; instead, it’s about wanting what you have.

Remember, want what you already have and love only that which can’t be counted.