Archive for June, 2014

imageIn 2012, the Supreme Court of The United States chose to reaffirm the conclusion of Citizens United ruling that corporations are people — at least as far as the First Amendment is concerned. The Supreme Court of The United States continued to reaffirm that decision today by stating some corporations have religious rights, that certain for-profit companies cannot be required to pay for specific types of contraceptives of their employees.

Hobby Lobby and other small Christian based companies claimed the Affordable Care Act forced them to set aside deeply held religious beliefs by requiring them to provide contraception in their employee health plans. The owners said they cannot have any role in providing access to certain forms of contraception without having to violate those beliefs. Their attorney, former Republican Solicitor General Paul Clement, said that because the Obama administration has provided some exemptions to the rule — for churches and certain nonprofits — it should be willing to exempt companies, too.

In a nutshell, the Supreme Court affirmed that thought process.

The irony of Hobby Lobby is that not all Christian business leaders actually follow and apply Christian centered principles. The forefront of Hobby Lobby’s argument is as follows:

Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions, which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs. It goes against the Biblical principles on which we have run this company since day one.

The Green family may claim to honor the above principle, but like many Christian businesses, they send their “Christian” money overseas to China where its one child policy of and forced abortions is an everyday occurrence. China is one of the worst offenders of human dignity, unborn infant life, and economic justice anywhere in the world.  It’s also important to note Hobby Lobby’s 401(k) retirement plan invested $73 million in pharmaceutical companies that developed and produced various forms of contraception.

Are there other Biblical rules which aren’t followed? Yes. Here are a few.

  • Leviticus 19:27 – “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” Most Hobby Lobby employees have no beards.
  • Leviticus 19:19 – “Do not wear clothing woven from two different kinds of thread.” Most Hobby Lobby clothing consists of many different threads, manufactured in China with cheap labor.
  • Timothy 2:9 – “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.” Hobby Lobby sells a lot of ‘gold’ jewelry, mostly produced in China.

Since corporations are now considered people, they enjoy privileges those in the lower class cannot obtain. For instance, you and I cannot get tax incentive financing. If the corporation is involved in illegal activities, how does the court system jail a corporation? And of course, the average working ‘Joe’, such as you and I, will never spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for politically targeted television ads.

Jeffery Tobin (CNN) noted, the Hobby Lobby case is all about politics and little of religious principle.

As for me, I will never spend another dollar of my money at Hobby Lobby.

Become Unfrozen

imageI recently had the opportunity to watch the movie ‘Frozen.’ Frozen is an an entertaining wonderland of music backdropped against stunning visual design. I caught myself enchanted watching the characters struggle with love, personal setbacks and subsequent victories. Overall, Frozen was eloquently laid out.

Frozen reminded me of another Disney product: Beauty and The Beast. In Beauty, Gaston sings:

The Beast will make off with your children
He’ll come after them in the night
We’re not safe till his head is mounted on my wall!
I say we kill the Beast
Kill him!

Why? Why was it so necessary to ‘… kill the beast?‘ I simply don’t get it.

A striking theme throughout history is of humanity’s ability to overlook the stupid. I’m amazed how villagers in both Frozen and Beauty easily crumbled against the tsunami of hatred. How often has society looked upon group racism and innuendo by saying, “Yeah, I concur with that … let’s go beat’em up.” If you think I’m wrong, one needs to look no further than the Kurdish and Shiite in Iraq, any form of ethnic cleansing, the Ku Klux Klan or the myriad of not so hidden political agendas of elected officials. All of us are responsible for ‘ball-and-chaining’ sensibility and love, only to become enslaved by the onslaught of stupidity.

Often times, in a war of ideas people become casualties. For instance, some claim bombs kill people while others claim guns kill people. But looking head-on into the soul’s root, people kill people. And the trigger is thought … that small space in-between the brain’s cell structure where ideas of love, peace, anger and bias originate.

From a Buddhist perspective, there are many lessons Frozen and Beauty offer.

  • Stop spending time with the wrong people. Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of you. If someone wants you in their life, they’ll make room for you. You shouldn’t have to fight for a spot.
  • Stop running from your problems. Face them head on. Yeah, it won’t be easy, but there is no person in the world capable of flawlessly handling every punch thrown at them. We aren’t supposed to be able to instantly solve problems. We must face problems, learn, adapt, and solve them over the course of time. This is what ultimately molds us into the person we become.
  • You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading your last one.
  • The best portion of your life will be the small, nameless moments you spend smiling with someone who matters to you.
  • Stop worrying so much. Remember ‘Seven Years in Tibet?’ Dalai Lama’s quote rings true today as it did then. “We have a saying in Tibet: If a problem can be solved there is no use worrying about it. If it can’t be solved, worrying will do no good.

Become unfrozen and unshackled of others people opinions.

imageSomeone once said the sin against the Holy Spirit is to no longer believe He can change the world. And it is sad to believe that anyone couldn’t possibly change me. In truth, I believe God has the power, most of us simply don’t have the will.

There is an important need to return to our source of renewal. We must reinterpret our faith and renew our love, not for only our God, but for our fellow man as well. But in our hurried get it done today world faith is reserved for an hour every seven days. We drop a couple of nickels in a donation cup and head off to our favorite sports game or family outing. Thus, by the end of the year, we’ve deleted any modicum of faith and huddle together during the holiday season while secretly asking what the hell have we done.

I remember back to the days of my youth when upon my Uncle’s farm. The hoe scrapped against the upper midwest dirt, lifting the dirt of my ancestors. This no longer was a simple row of corn or beans, strawberries or rhubarb. Whatever life I have in there herein now was given by those who fell to rest long before me. And as I tilled, I enriched their faith. It’s the same faith which created me.

My ancestors never knew a Buddha would come forth. Nor could any of your descendants have known you would come forth either. Yet it was by faith and love that they believed children and grandchildren would come – that if they worked and believed – life’s wonderment and power would erupt from the bosom of soil. Thus, by faith, they lived for you and I.

Just as our forefathers believed in faith, so should we. The sunset imbibes delight through every pore as I walk along the shore of East Sound, though it is cool as well as cloudy and windy, and I see nothing but a river of faith. As Henry David Thoreau noted, faith:

“… is instantly translated; its literal monument alone remains. The words which express our faith and piety are not definite; yet they are significant and fragrant like frankincense to superior natures.”

Why must we lose life changing faith? Why do we allow life to dull our perception and praise only commonality?

When God makes a covenant with us, God says, “I will love you with an everlasting love. I will be faithful to you, even when you run away from me, reject me, or betray me.” In our society we don’t speak much about covenants; we speak about contracts. When we make a contract with a person, we say, “I will fulfill my part as long as you fulfill yours. When you don’t live up to your promises, I no longer have to live up to mine.” Contracts are often broken because the partners are unwilling or unable to be faithful to their terms.

God never made a contract. He made a promise. The greatest promise of faith we can give to one another is our love. Through that love we can create an anxiety-free respite, find our faith, encourage one another, build confidence and find the freedom to choose our own way in life.

Real faith was never ‘out there.’ True faith has always resided within.

Knowing God

imageI read an article by a friend who claimed to know all about God. Simply put, by reading and studying the Bible, he was able to know God. I counter by stating Islamics, Jews, Muslims and most every other religion opine in a similar way. If one reads and study that one book for one month, one year or one decade, can you really completely learn about God?

Thomas Aquinas’ may have phrased the concept correctly when he wrote, “This is what is ultimate in the human knowledge of God – to know that we do not know God.”

Often times, while watching the news of one tragic event or another, someone often sputters, “Is God a loving Father or a great vivisectionist?” Honestly, even several spiritual experiences, God remains quite the mystery. I cannot always understand His logic, His love, His hatred or His grace. I have no clue if Jesus hates brussels sprouts or liver and onions as much as I. Nor can imagine what His purpose is for the Mojave desert, the Chicago Cubs winless streak or the ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians‘ television show.’

I do know many view God from a myopic personal viewpoint. For instance, when the father of the friend mentioned above became sickened from cancer, he loudly queried, “Why did God allow this to happen?” Yet when 15,887 people died in the Tōhoku earthquake and another 6,000 from the Philippine typhoon, nary a question was raised.

Thinking out loud, is it better sometimes for calamity to strike? Could such calamities awaken the deep root our own prejudices and snap them from the limb of our own tree?

I think the real tragedy is that all of us believe we know more of God than we actually do. Thus, we never etch a serious time in discovering the love He claims to have afforded. So I ask each of you today to drop your concepts, drop your opinions, drop your prejudices, drop your judgements and explore God’s love.

What does He look like now?

Crops (39)After several years of dating my first wife became impatient and decided to propose marriage. On that fateful night, she made a wonderful dinner, purchased a beautiful red wine and created an appropriate ambiance, candlelight included.

Finally the moment neared and she utter, “Honey, will you marry me.

Of course,” I replied stoically.

After a few minutes of silence, my fiancé queried, “Honey, you haven’t said a word.

Oh, quite the contrary. I’ve probably said too much.

I reflected upon my experience while listening to a famous theologian ponder the marriage between heaven and earth. As Richard Pratt said, “We think that Jesus came to forgive our sins, make our souls sparkle, sprinkle us with peace and joy so we can sprout wings when we die, grab a harp and join the eternal choir.” I may not always agree with Pratt, but I love the thought.

Personally, I have no clue how God will choose to marry heaven and earth. For many, the thought creates a conundrum of two visions. One vision entails everyone holding ‘Pratt’s’ version, including the harp and singing unity to the great one. The other vision extends the same flaws currently experienced here on earth, terrible wars in the name of that God, sexism, children of all ages not having enough spiritual food, etc., etc., etc.

For those who believe in traditional conservative approaches, when God marries heaven and earth, there will be a negotiation. Thus, those who currently dictate the rules of God’s love must inevitably experience God’s renegotiation of the boundaries between heaven and earth. Therefore, a difficult question must be answered: are we willing to trade a system that has served others so poorly for one that will serve others so well?

In truth, from a Buddhist perspective, why wait for heaven? Why can’t we experience heaven on earth? Right here, right now. If we are to be true citizens of God’s Kingdom, our obedience to Christ must touch every area of our lives. Simply confessing “Jesus is Lord” does not significantly impact the church or our too few spiritual habits.

Whether Buddhist or Christian, we must proactively spread love into every segment of society, influencing the world by bringing love and grace to all – be it through the arts, through business, through politics or through our vocations.

Olympic_TorchA friend often claimed her given name meant “light.” Accordingly, she was quite the scholar; with a near genius IQ who performed elongated math equations in her head. During her travels, she claimed to have found no one of equal. Thus, she fictitiously carried a lighted torch while claiming to “Light a world largely dark.”

One day, a wise man sitting in a darkened coffeehouse heard her words. “My friend, if your eyes are blind to the sight of the omnipresent light of the day, do not call the world dark. Your torch adds nothing to the glory of the sun and your intention to illumine the minds of others is as futile as it is arrogant.”

As Anthony de Mello would say,

“We all need to identify less and less with the “me.” By doing so, we’ll all be more at ease with everybody and with everything because we’ll no longer be afraid of being hurt or unlike. We need to reduce the desire to impress everyone. Can you imagine the relief when you don’t have to impress anybody anymore? Oh, what a relief.

So why do I refer to de Mello and being one of ‘true light?

While flying to upstate Washington over the weekend, a woman saw me reading de Mello’s work, ‘Taking Flight.’ Being a devote Christian, she claimed to know the true “Light” and opined that de Mello’s books did little to enhance one’s development in authentic Christian spirituality while simultaneously exposing the soul to serious spiritual danger.

Additionally, I should consider, “… that dabbling in Buddhism, Taoism, and other ideologies isn’t just a simple pastime. These practices could expose one to occult influences that could have lasting and damaging effects upon the mind, body and soul. So unless one is attempting to communicate with the One, Holy and True God – and in ways deemed acceptable – I need to understand I’m placing myself at enormous personal risk.

Paraphrasing Dale Carnegie, I subtly responded, “The ideas I stand for are not mine. I borrowed them from Socrates. I swiped them from Chesterfield. I stole them from Jesus. And I put them in my life. If you don’t like their rules, whose would you use?”

Oh,” she beamed with a broad smile. “They are worthy leaders.”

Leaning back and looking over Washington’s coastline, I muttered in thought, “Socrates would talk with people he encountered on the street, using the opportunity to question them about their views on justice, piety, courage, and other virtues by which human beings lived. His pointed questions–and the inability of his listeners to answer them satisfactorily–showed them that their knowledge was incomplete or tainted with faulty ideas. For this, he received a death sentence.

Most will not believe in the real God because they’re unable to broaden their minds past that of their own world.

A-climber-is-not-a-crazy-man-he-is-not-trying-to-get-himself-killed-he-knows-what-life-is-worth-he-is-in-love-with-living1A friend of mine asked me how I’m able to face the prospect that soon I will die. My response was delivered in the following parable.

One day a neighbor saw the Angel of Death.

Surprised and fearing for his life, he went unto his friend. “Please kind sir, may I borrow your car and drive away. I will drive 6 hours toward Chicago and hide.”

Being a kind friend, he plopped the vehicle’s keys into his neighbor’s hand and watched as the vehicle drove off unto the horizon.

Curious, the wise friend questioned the Angel of Death.

Why did you surprise and scare my neighbor?”

Sorry,” replied the Angel. “I was surprised as well.”

How so?

Well, I’m totally confused. My appointment calendar has a meeting scheduled with your neighbor tonight near Chicago.”

Most of us don’t usually want to think or talk about death. Be it conscious or unconscious, there is a fear, a tendency to avoid it. Thus, similar to the reworded parable I borrowed from eons ago, death will come regardless of whether or not we’ve made time to practice spirituality. And most certainly, we can’t run from it either.

Contemplation of death is not for making us depressed or morbid, it is rather for the purpose of helping to free us from fear. The values that we have in life will change quite drastically once we stop living as if we are going to live forever, and we will start living in a quite different way.

Dr. Larry Wilson once said those who fear the death the most are those who haven’t lived. It’s important to live our lives more fully, with more joy, with more gratitude and appreciation. If we live our lives as though we were going to live forever, we wouldn’t appreciate the life given. Instead, we take life for granted and live in a very foolish and heedless way. We all live in foolish ways, simply because we don’t consciously contemplate the fact of death.

Anderl Heckmair spent his life as a mountaineer and led the first successful ascent of the North Face of the Eiger in 1938. Sometime during the 1930’s a fortuneteller told him he would die an unnatural death. “Oh no!” he exclaimed. “That means I’ll die in bed.”

I hope to never have an unnatural death.

———- Post Script ———-

Anderl Heckmair lived until the age of 98.

Lost Art of Giving

givingI recently had dinner at a couple’s home.  The couple was celebrating the wife’s birthday.

Hey,” exclaimed the wife. “Did you forget what day it is?

Without looking up from his iPad, “No I did not. But Happy Birthday.

You get me a gift, a card or something?


Why not?

Well,” he explained, “I’ve spent years getting you a gift, only to be told it cost too much, wasn’t you, there were other people who had less, I could have bought it cheaper elsewhere etc., etc. So I decided just to wish you a happy birthday.

Miffed, she blurted, “Well, I got you a gift for your birthday several months back.

What gift?

The ‘Massage Envy’ gift card. You know, the one for $60.

Yeah, I remember. We purchased that at that charity auction for $20.00.

But,” interrupting him, “I gave it to you.

In all our practicality, we’ve lost the art of gift giving. I personally feel more love can be exchanged when a gift is a true surprise. And thus, the reflection of the gift-giver and their relationship of grace to which one accepts the gift is just as important as that with which we give one. Are the gifts we give one another each day truly remarkable, truly enjoyable? It is an honor to give; an honor is reflected upon the giver, both by the receiver, and others.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.

nursing-homeThe corridors of all nursing homes can lead to challenging experiences. Personally, I learned to quit feeling sorry for myself and for my parents and accepted the situation. Mercifully, the smells of the facility eventually abated. Instead of walking past residents, I stopped, bent down to their wheelchair level, and listened. If you listen past the dementia, past the weakened bodies and into the heart, you’ll hear their stories.

As residents near the end of life, I’ve begun listening to their spiritual needs. From a Buddhist perspective, one would tend to review several key points, namely:

  • Gaining an understanding of the shortness and preciousness of life;
  • Considering what can help ourselves and others at the time of death;
  • Considering what goes on after death; and
  • The Buddhist concept of mind.

Although my father had a near death experience in 2000, his latest adventure to the “other side” resulted in nothing, no visitors, no father or mother, no friends or shinning light. Thus, how does one have solid “quality of life decisions” with someone who does not entertain (or at least acknowledge) anything greater than a doctor’s flashlight shinning in one’s eye? Strangely, even while I near my own death, I amazed that many become strengthened in religious love upon learning their prognosis.

To that end, I neither preach nor condemn any particular viewpoint. Walking the nursing home, I’ve found countless residents preferring to share beliefs and experiences with someone other than family or a nurse. I find it important all these souls are able to explore and express spiritual needs. In doing so, my form of spiritual care includes:

  • Ensuring their your self worth and dignity are supported;
  • Being offered spiritual care, as they wish; and
  • Having those you want around you when they pass.

Still, there are many days when I believe my Buddhist thoughts and practice and pretty damn weak. But there are several important things I’ve learned. First, encourage loved ones to share feelings, including thanks or forgiveness and give others a chance to say goodbye. Secondly, I wished I learned key life lessons before getting this far in my own world. These life-lessons are listed for us all:

  1. Wish I had the courage to live a true to myself, not the life others expected;
  2. Wish I hadn’t worked so hard;
  3. Wish I had the courage to express my feelings;
  4. Wish I’d let myself be happier.

The real near death experience is of love. Start liv’n in it.

maxresdefaultCosmos’ final hour revealed the final message embedded in the space probe Voyager’s Interstellar Golden Record. It was a recording of life on Earth, ending with Carl Sagan’s life-summing meditation on this “pale blue dot.”

So was the show worth it? Cosmos was television on an ambitious scale, a full-blown science program in prime time on a mainstream broadcast network, on the most crowded, and competitive night of the TV week.

Throughout the show, there were those who sought to deny the scientific evidence presented. The opening episode featured an introduction by President Obama and stirred controversy with a lengthy segment that deliberately pitted religion against science, providing an animated story about the Catholic Church’s persecution of the 16th-century monk and astronomer Giordano Bruno.

To the creationist viewpoint, there was no opportunity for rebuttal. But that wasn’t the show’s premise either. With that being said, one can believe in religion all they want, but when an asteroid falls from space at about 22,000 miles per hour and crashes into earth, I’m presuming God won’t be there to stop it. Remember, I didn’t say “if.”

Tyson said if he reached just one viewer deeply enough to get them interested in science, Cosmos will have succeeded. Cosmos began and ended with Carl Sagan:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Dr. Tyson, regardless of my faith … you reached me. I loved the show.