Friday, September 30, 2005


I have strong preferences about a great many things, but I’m able to set most of them aside for the sake of what is being asked of me by the moment, out of consideration for those who share the moment with me, in deference to their interests, and preferences, and desires. That’s what makes it possible to be married. And to be a parent. And a grandparent. And a minister for 35 years and counting. And, that’s what makes it possible for God to be God.
Setting self aside. Can you do it? Setting self aside for the sake of relationship with other selves. Can you do that AND be true to yourself? AND remain true to yourself? That’s the test of our capacity for spiritual development. We have to be a self in relation with other selves in order to grow spiritually. That is what spiritual growth is. That is the spiritual journey, being a self in relation with other selves.
Spirituality is not about esoteric mysteries, secret rites, true doctrine, revelatory insight into the nature of God, meditating with a sacred mantra, or being initiated in the right rules to live by. Spirituality is being a self in relationship with other selves. If you think that’s easy, take it for a drive around the block. My bet is that you won’t get it away from the curb.
How far aside do we set self before we draw a line? How can we be a self without drawing lines? How can we live in relationship and draw lines? How can we do right by ourselves AND do right by others? How much for you? How much for me? Answering these questions will take us to the heart of spirituality. Answering them properly will make all of us holy.
Answering them properly keeps us from being one-dimensional, shallow, simplistic, and forces depth and complexity upon us. The line is always moving. We cannot enter into relationship with each other and maintain hard-and-fast lines regarding anything. The toilet seat is sometimes up and sometimes down. Make a rule about the toilet seat, enforce it consistently, and the vitality of the relationship slips. Have enough toilet seat type rules in the relationship and the relationship dies outright. No relationship can exist with nothing but rules holding it together.
Watch the grandchildren step into a house where The Rules are in place. Where no one can breathe for fear of wrecking the relationship with Those Who Own The House. Notice how quickly the grandchildren begin to die. They start to die when they walk into the house. Relationship cannot be maintained by Rules For Everything. Four, maybe six, rules are all you can have and have any hope of relationship. The lines have to be wavy, moveable, flexible, here in one moment, there in the next one, and nowhere to be seen in the one after that.
Rules For Everything are there because the people who make the rules are uncomfortable drawing lines, so they make rules. And, a rule is a rule, you know, so they don’t have to worry about drawing lines. “It’s a rule,” means “I don’t want to have to think about it, or be responsible for telling you what I want you to do, or trust you to know where the limits are and draw your own line.” It means, “Let’s not do the work of relationship, which is the work of drawing lines, and let’s all have rules to live by.”
Organizations have policies because they don’t want to draw lines. They think the lines have to be drawn the same way in the same place for everyone because “that’s what’s fair.” Lines don’t pretend to be fair. Once a line has to meet the fair rule, it becomes a policy. You can’t have a policy and have a soul. Souls are about lines, moving lines, wavy lines, unfair lines. Souls are about dancing with lines that move.
Relationship cannot happen without lines, and relationship cannot happen with rigid lines. And spirituality is our relationship with ourselves, each other, and the mystery at the heart of being. How we live in that relationship, in those relationships, determines how spiritual we are. If you want to be spiritual, you have to do right by yourself, right by others, and right by the mystery at the heart of being. And, I still don’t think you can get that away from the curb.
But, that’s the work. Getting it away from the curb. Driving it around the block, all over town. Spirituality is the art of right relationship. And, each moment is a good place to practice the dance of holiness and love.
Compassion is the essence of spirituality, holiness, and right relationship. None of it happens without compassion. Compassion loves lines, and has very little to do with rules. Compassion has as much concern for the needs of the self as for the needs of the other or the needs of the mystery at the heart of being. Compassion recognizes when the self has been too long between breaks, and draws a line. Compassion dispenses attention, and grace, with proficiency and precision, and it doesn’t hesitate to call time out and take a nap, or a walk, or a weekend, or week, away. Compassion understands the nature of the line between giving and receiving, and gives to itself before it gives out.
How much for me? How much for you? How much for the mystery at the heart of being? Figure out the ratios, and you’ll be one holy person. But, turn them into a fixed formula and you’ll be just another lost soul. Trying too hard to be holy is as bad as not trying at all. So, dance with the moment of your living, without hiding behind The Rules. Live toward right relationship without having to know what that is. And let yourself enjoy how difficult it is, just getting away from the curb.
If God unfolds within us, our lives unfold into the mystery of being—IF we are not rigid in our conception of “the way it is supposed to be.” Nothing kills life quite like knowing how life is to be lived. There is something to be said for not knowing what the day holds, and for just not knowing. The less we know, the better. The more we have to know, the less flexible we can be, the less open to the moment, to the opportunity of the now. We’ll be trying to arrange the moment to flow according to our ideas for the moment, instead of listening to the moment and assisting what needs to come to life there.
Our lives unfold into the mystery of being. We are here to see what our lives have to show us. It helps not to be overly attached to our idea of how things ought to be, to our wants, preferences, interests and desires. But, we can’t be overly detached from these things either. Trying to figure it out distracts us from the dance, and we lose our way trying to find the path. What’s there to know? The old answers won’t fit the new questions. Clutching our answers, we fail to catch understanding as it drifts past. Concentrating on doing it right, we are unable to laugh at having to be right. We scowl at those laughing, snarl, snort and go back to trying to find the path, lost, within sight of home.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


It takes me a while to see what’s there. Usually, it takes leaving. I can see where I’ve been better than I can see where I am. I can see it better in the shower than at the site. “Of course!”, I say in the shower. “Why didn’t I see that then?” It helps if the shower is a reasonable drive from the scene. If I’m back home and the scene is in Montana, I have a hard time making my peace with the missed opportunity. I hate missing opportunities. I give myself opportunities, and miss them. I don’t know why.
Maybe, I don’t practice enough. Don’t look enough. Don’t see how others have seen enough. Here’s a scene, what do you see? I don’t ask that of myself enough. But, that’s the question, What do you see? What do you hear? What are you missing? What else is there?
This is made difficult by the fact that there isn’t something to see everywhere. I can dis myself for not seeing when there is nothing to be seen! Trying to “make something happen” is no way to receive a scene. Either it’s there, or it isn’t. Either you see it, or you don’t. I think it’s better to walk away and see it in the shower than to stay there trying to see.
Trying to see takes every bit of the fun out of it. Trying anything is work. Work is trying to do it right. Trying to be pleasing. Trying to get it done. So, just walk into a scene and look around. See it or not. If you don’t see it, maybe you will see it in the shower before you fly back home.
Another side to seeing is that it is easy to see things that aren’t there. I saw some sunflowers a couple of days ago near the auto fix it shop where my cam shaft synchronizer and sensor were repaired. I went back with a camera. The camera gets you close enough to see things about sunflowers, and scenes, that aren’t obvious driving by. Those sunflowers looked a lot better in my mind than they ever did in “real life.” They could have been the Before picture for a fertilizer commercial. That’s the way it is with seeing. It takes a second look, sometimes, to be able to see.
But, it’s all about seeing. Don’t let anyone sell you on something else. It’s seeing, damn it, all the way down. Perspective, perspective, perspective. Awareness, awareness, awareness. Seeing, seeing, seeing. There is no way to measure the difference perspective makes. It’s really, really big.
What are you doing to enlarge your perspective, deepen your awareness, see? Are you just saying the same things you have always said about your experience? Thinking the same thoughts? Repeating the same mantra? “Sorry Damn Life! Sorry Damn Life!” What are you seeing? What else is there to see?
You are evaluating your experience in light of what? Did you have a “photo” in mind that isn’t there, and now you think there is nothing there for you? And never will be? Disappointment in the scene can do that—it can rob you of the rest of the scene. Take a shower. Step back. Think about something else. Maybe something will “pop” into your awareness about the scene “from out of nowhere.” And, maybe, you are right. There is nothing to be seen in some scenes. Maybe, you’ll just have to find another scene. And, if you can’t arrange “another life,” maybe you can take a vacation from this one from time to time, or bring something to life in this one that isn’t there now. I do know that you cannot continue to see “this” in the same way you have always seen it and hope to be any happier with it than you are now. You have to see it differently. Or see something different about it. You transform the scene by transforming your perspective.
One way to do that is by talking about what you see with the right kind of people. The right kind of people can transform our perspective, just by listening. They don’t have to say anything. Just saying what we see, to the right kind of people, helps us see it differently. Or, changing your routine. Driving a different way to work. Walking in a different location. Altering your life pattern. You can’t live even a little differently and see the same things in the same way.
Of course, some things should never change. I’m here to tell you that fat-free half and half needs to go back to the cow. She needs to run that through again. It just won’t do, as it is. I don’t know what possessed me. “Fat free? I think I’ll try that.” Where is our Inner Advisor, our Inner Guide, when we need her, him? What’s an Inner Guide for who can’t be counted on in a pinch? I think my Inner Guide has been spending entirely too much time in the company of my Shadow. Picked up some bad habits. Started leaving me on my own way much more often than is healthy or wise. Trying to wean me away, no doubt, so the two of them can begin taking trips together. See the Inner World, you know, that kind of thing. I’m gagging to death on un-Guided purchases while they are looking through cruise brochures, giggling. What’s a guy to do? It’s hard to know when your Knower is locked up with your Shadow cooking up a hot little future all their own. I brought them together, and this is what I get? Fat-free half and half? It is solid evidence of a clear breakdown of the Inner System. No one with a fully functioning Inner System would ever suffer through an experience of fat-free half and half. I’m afraid to think of what I might do next.
My current best bet regarding what God does, what we can count on from God, what the deal is with God is that God unfolds within us, emerges within us. There is that which is “of God” within us, and as we live toward that, align ourselves with that, live so as to bring that to life, to express that in the world, God “is born” in the lives of all of us. We become as God is. We incarnate God in space and time.
God is not the external arraigner of events and circumstances, the all-powerful, invincible force propelling creation toward the outcome God has prepared “before all ages,” according to the immutable “plan of salvation.” God is just poking around in the possibilities looking for what works to serve the common good. We are the best God can do.
That’s what I would say if you asked me to tell you about God.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Yesterday my cam shaft synchronizer and cam shaft sensor quit working and had to be replaced. Some days are like that. Neither the synchronizer nor the sensor called ahead, asked for an appointment, requested a place on the calendar, or cleared their little throats and announced their intentions. Never mind my plans. They just quit.
We have the idea that our plans are sacrosanct. That once we have a plan, or even a schedule, that’s it. We are not to be bothered. We cannot step aside. Make way. Here we come.
Then, we come upon something that doesn’t care. Cam shaft synchronizers and sensors don’t care. And, that’s how it should be. The day should be free to unfold according to its own needs and inclinations. We might have an idea of what the day will hold, but only as a general kind of direction, a suggestion of possibility. We should keep ourselves open and receptive to the breeze of chance and timing, and allow ourselves to be blown off course into a different course, a new direction.
We only like to think we know what we are doing with our lives. We only like to think we know what we should be doing, where we should be going. We also like to think that our calendars and schedules are magical tools delivering LIFE unto us for the low, low price of perfect obedience and faithfulness to their requirements and demands. If we only show up, regularly and reliably, where we are supposed to be, when we are supposed to be there, the heavens will open, and the gods will bless us with prosperity and happiness and all the abundance we can unwrap and dust and polish forever. And we despise cam shaft synchronizers and sensors for screwing with our plan of salvation and interfering with our happiness.
What is turbulence and what is flow? Do we have a clue? We only know what we want. We have no idea of what we should want. We only think what we think. We have no idea of what we should think. We live as though the great task of life is to impose our ideas for life onto life, to force our lives into the pattern, the mold, the structure, the design we have in mind for them. “Ah, now this is more like it! This is how it should be! This is what we have in mind for ourselves and our lives!”, we say, describing our idea of flow. “And, that, that is ugly, and disgusting, and unwanted, and it carries us far, far away from the golden shores of our dreams and aspirations,” we say, describing our idea of turbulence.
We are driven by our preferences, locked into our desires. What do we know about what should be? What do we know about what could be, if given an opening by the breeze of chance and timing? Listen to the moment! What is stirring? Listen within to your own heart and soul! What is stirring? How can the one mesh with the other? Never mind what your mind has in mind!
Life is not just what happens to us, or what we can make happen with enough resources and willfulness. Life is the dance of inner with outer, of who we can be within merging with who we can be without. Life is the birth of possibility, the emergence of being into the opportunity of being. Which we miss with our ideas of how things ought to be, and our determination to arrange our lives according to our liking, and our refusal to let anything get in our way. But, there are cam shaft synchronizers and sensors to wake us up and call us to be mindful, to be aware, and ask us to dance.
Forgiveness does not perpetuate the wrong. Forgiveness does not say, “Hit me again. I can take it. I love you anyway.” Forgiveness says, “That was wrong. Don’t do that any more. And, don’t think the future will be as if there is no past. There will be limits and restrictions in place. You will have to earn my trust over time, but I will grant you that opportunity, and offer you the possibility of relationship conditional on your willingness and ability to do right by me and all these others.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Justice is our gift to the world, not something we extract from the world, demand of the world. To be offended because THEY aren’t treating someone justly is to miss the power of the cross, which is the power of the sheep being led to the slaughter, which is the power of compassion, and graciousness, and kindness, and gentleness, and mercy, and peace—the power of treating others justly—in a world of hostility, and greed, and belligerence, and intolerance. The call is to DO justice, not to demand that it be done. Solidarity with the victims of unjust requires us to take our place with them as they are herded onto the box cars and carried to the gas chambers, not to write letters to the editor or to plot the assignation of high government officials. The paradox here, of course, is that this is too much like a letter to the editor, and too little like joining the march of those to the death camps. It is too much talk, too little action.
How to act, where to act, is difficult to know, particularly when no one is actually being led to a death camp, but when they are just being ignored to death. Homeless people are being ignored to death. Poverty is killing millions of people every year. The poor are being ignored to death. Gay couples struggle with the complexity of life without health insurance for one of the partners because there is no Domestic Rights act that would allow them to be claimed on the insurance of the other partner. Gay people are being ignored to death. And, the list is long. What do we do? How do we become the voice of advocacy in behalf of those who have no voice, who are being slighted by systems that have no stake in their welfare, no interest in their wellbeing? How do we effect solidarity with those who are ignored, marginalized, unknown?
The systems survive by making it very difficult to change the system. We don’t know whom to call, and if we make a call, no one answers. Or calls back. Everything remains in place, allowing victims of injustice to die daily. So, we pick a place and get to work. We link up with people who are working on the same issue. We find somebody else who has a yen to “do something.” We conduct an internet search. We look for someone doing community organization around our concern. We call them and get through, or they call us back, and we know that we aren’t dealing with a system here. We look at what they are doing and how we can fit into that, and we plug away, without having to live to see the transformation we work to make happen.
The systems count on our losing heart and energy and giving up on anything that doesn’t have a measurable impact by the end of the week. The systems count on a short little attention span among those who rail against the system. The systems are in it for the long haul, and count on having the long haul all to themselves. It takes a community to beat a system. If you don’t have one, you have to find one, or create one—a community, that is, not a system.
Communities do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, and each other. Community creates solidarity, caring, involvement, investment. Systems just sit there, ignoring need, or seeing it as someone else’s responsibility. Systems have organizational charts and policy manuals. Systems have a maze of hierarchies, and procedures for navigating the maze. You can get lost in a system. In a community, everybody knows your name.
This is not to discount the systemic nature of communities. Patterns of protection and denial spring up everywhere. There is always the danger of “a dead horse in the middle of the dining room table” with everyone oblivious to the odor in the air. And so, the first order of business of a community is awareness, awareness, awareness. Communities have to be self-reflective, self-regulating, self-correcting mechanisms. “What are we thinking? What are we trying to do? How are we trying to do it? How well is it working? How is what we are doing achieving the end we have in mind? What do we need to do to do better what we are trying to do?” are some of the questions communities regularly ask, and answer, as they watch for ways systemic injustice and unconsciousness creep into the most well-intended group gathered to oppose those very things.
If you are ever going to give me anything, give me veto power. I promise to exercise it wisely. After about the first twenty years, I might rarely use it at all.
I cannot imagine how things get to be the way they are. “Whose idea was THAT?” I’m always asking, as I drive through my world. “Whose idea was THAT new traffic light?” Couldn’t they see the traffic snarl it would create? What were they thinking? The Department of Transportation is an easy target. Practically no thinking ever goes on in any Department of Transportation, on any level, local, state, or federal. They are always ripping up roads and moving them twenty feet in some direction. They never get it right. Just give me veto power. Make them ask me first.
Then we could move to hospitals. Or prisons. We have this society that is creating sick people and criminals past counting, and we just build bigger hospitals and prisons. What are WE thinking? Why aren’t we figuring out what needs to be changed, and changing it? Things aren’t working! What’s it going to take for us to realize that things aren’t working? We need to get rid of the things in our lives that are killing us, and we need to get into our lives the things that could give us life. Why aren’t we doing it? Why are we living in ways that are not good for us? Without even being conscious of what we are doing? Please, give me veto power. I’ll straighten us out in no time. And, you won’t even hate me for it. I promise. I would veto that.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

9/25/05, Sermon

We live at cross-purposes. In the church, when we say something is important, but then live as though something else is important, it is called “hypocrisy.” In the world it is called “taking care of business.” What we say is important in either place varies from person to person, from place to place, from time to time. What is important in both places all the time is money. Everything else serves the money motive. In the church, we don’t say or do things the members won’t like because they will leave the church, or just quit giving. Things work the same way in the world. We don’t do, in either place, anything that isn’t good for business.
The United States hasn’t ratified the treaty calling for an end to the use of land mines because we manufacture land mines, and because the military finds them to be very useful, and because no one is placing them in our neighborhoods, and pasture lands, and scenic vistas. We won’t work for an end to global warming because industries would lose billions of dollars reducing emissions, and taxes would increase, and the cost of goods and services would go up, and the American people would vote politicians out of office who voted for clean air. It wouldn’t be good for business to end global warming. If it isn’t good for business, it isn’t done.
“Business” is uncontrolled and uncontrollable. If a profit can be made, it will be made, no matter what. No CEO ever recommended, and no Board of Directors ever approved, and no meeting of the Stockholders ever ratified a business strategy that was designed to produce less profit for the sake of a cleaner environment or a better world. American automakers could have been producing smaller, more fuel efficient cars for the last 50 years. Larger, less efficient cars were more profitable. We go where the money is. We go where the votes are. And, between the two, we’ll choose the money.
And we can talk about values, and about being “value-driven.” And, we can write mission statements about service and love. But, money is the value. And, making money is the mission. To make more money this quarter than last quarter. And to do whatever it takes to achieve that end. And to not do anything that might interfere with the realization of that end. We like the idea of compassion and the Golden Rule, but we have to pay the bills.
We are experiencing the Revenge of the Canarsee Delawares. The Canarsee Delawares, you will remember, sold Manhattan to Peter Minuit and the West India Company for a handful of glass beads and a couple of silver mirrors (Okay. That can’t be substantiated, but it makes for good copy, and it was for next to nothing no matter what actually changed hands, and no matter what was used for barter, my point remains untouched). Well, the joke is on us. The Curse of the Canarsee drives us to sell heart and soul and the worthy future of the whole country, if not the entire world, for glass and plastic, which we regularly send to the landfill to make room for more glass and plastic. The ghosts of Native Americans gather on the edge of the Happy Hunting Ground, to peer over the side, to look, point, and roll around, holding their sides, laughing. But, unpacking our latest purchase of glass and plastic, and admiring its sheen and shine, we cannot imagine a life that didn’t promise more of this stuff forever. This is the life.
What does it take, do you think? How much do we need? Of what, really, does life consist? The church should be able to explore these questions. The church should be able to conduct experiments in living that are immune to the cultural fascination with money and profit (and with glass and plastic). Ah, but, the church has bills to pay, too, you know. As long as there is overhead, the church is going to be compromised in its ability to be the church. Or, to put it another way, the church is going to compromise its ability to be the church in order to “take care of business” and pay the bills. How to be the church and pay the bills is the toughest trick in the Big Book of Tricks.
And so, we talk about being inclusive, but look around. Mostly white, middle to upper middle class, middle-aged to elderly, well-educated and socially astute, people here. Mostly people just like us here. And, how many of us would keep coming if lots of people not like us showed up? If the Religious Right, say, moved in and wanted gospel music sung to CD’s played over the sound system, and took over the Open Mike to rail against the things we approve, and to applaud the things we oppose, how long before we stopped coming? We talk about being inclusive, but if we include only gay people who think like we do, and African-Americans who think like we do, and Yuppies who think like we do, and Octogenarians who think like we do, how inclusive is that really? And, how many people can we include who don’t think like we do, and still have enough of us to pay the bills? You see the problem. The problem is that the church can be the church only if it doesn’t have to pay the bills. When it comes down to being the church or paying the bills, the church pays the bills.
The smart thing to do would be to reduce our bills. We can be more like the church with fewer bills. Where is the balance point? At what point do the bills which enable us to be the church become the bills which prevent us from being the church? When the church has so many bills that the focus of the church is how to pay the bills and not how to be the church, the church has crossed the line, passed the point.
I have been ordained for over 35 years, and have served 4 churches in that time. That’s a lot of Session meetings. In every Session meeting for 35 years the major portion of the time spent meeting was spent talking about paying the bills. I have never served on a Session that spent its time imagining how to be the church, wondering how to be the church, discussing new and better ways to be the church. Every Session has spent most of its time imagining, wondering, discussing how to pay the bills. And every new program idea or proposal for ministry and service was evaluated in terms of its potential impact on the church’s ability to pay the bills. In order to be approved, a program or ministry idea has to be so innocuous as to be invisible, because, otherwise, it might offend someone and they might leave the church, or stop giving, and then where would we be?
At some point, the bills stop enabling us to be the church and start preventing us from being the church, and no one has any idea of where that point is. And, don’t think this is just about the church. The same thing applies in our own personal lives, and the same thing applies to the country as a whole, and to the world at large. At some point the bills that enable us to have a life begin to keep us from living. At some point, we begin to live to pay the bills. And, we have no idea of where that point is.
We have to do a better job of paying attention. We have to have a better idea of what it takes. Of what we need, and why we need it. We cannot just spend our lives collecting glass and plastic. What are we about? What do we mean, intend, with the lives we are living? How do our bills serve that meaning, that intention? At what point do our bills begin to compromise that meaning, that intention? What do we want to do with the lives that are ours? What do we need to do it? How does what we buy serve it, serve the life we intend to live?
There is a vast amount of difference between a tool and a prop. A tool helps us do what we came to do. A prop serves an image. We have an image of a successful life. We think we know what “success” looks like. To “look” successful, we need the props. The image requires the props. We spend our lives collecting the props which sustain the image. Do you see how empty that is? How sad it is? We BUY success! We OWN the props which project the image. And, we exhaust ourselves maintaining the props which sustain the image, which create the illusion that we are successful, and “together,” and the envy of our peers. But, the props don’t enable us to do anything other than appear to be successful. There are people, maybe you have known some of them, who have Steinway pianos in their homes which no one knows how to play, because they create the right effect. Other people own horses which no one rides for the same reason. How many of our bills pay for props, and how many pay for tools?
Before we make a purchase, we need to ask, “Is this a prop or a tool? What will it help me do?” We have to find ways to reduce our bills by asking if, and how, our expenditures enable us to accomplish what we came to do; by asking if, and how, they are allowing us to do what is needed. Of course, to make that inquiry, we have to know what we are about. We have to know what constitutes our work. We have to know what we are doing here and what we need in order to get the job done. We can not afford to pay for things that maintain an image, that create an impression of the church without actually enabling us to be the church—as only we can be the church—in the world.

Friday, September 23, 2005


Photographs aren’t everywhere. It takes looking to see them, searching to find them. You don’t just walk up and there they are. Even if you walk up to the Grand Canyon, you still have to see the photo. It’s the seeing that’s the thing. What do you see? How do you see it? What’s in the photo that you didn’t see when you took the picture? You have to see, and you have to see like a camera sees.
A camera sees the power lines, and the white sky, and the dead limb coming out of nowhere into the top of the photo. A camera sees it all. By positioning the camera, or by adjusting the zoom on the lens, the photographer limits the camera’s vision to what the photographer wants the camera to see. To do that, the photographer has to see what the photographer wants the camera to see. To do that, the photographer has to practice seeing every day, all the time. What do you see? How do you see it?
Light. Basically, you see light. And shape. And form. And texture. And color. And lines. And patterns. You see light playing with shape, form, texture, color, lines, and patterns. You see light playing with you. You see light toying with you, teasing you, blessing you. Revealing to you, because you are the only one looking, the truth and beauty of the nature of things.
Once you see the light, you have to compose the segment of the scene you would show the camera, if you had a camera. What do you include? What do you leave out? Where in the frame do you place the main element(s)? You have just taken care of three of the five aspects of photography: Lighting, Subject, Composition. The other two are camera items, Focus and Exposure. Learn to take care of those babies, and that’s it. You’ll then be a photographer. And, you will do most of your practicing without a camera.
The advantage of the camera is that it will show you what will work, and what won’t. There is a wonderful group of oak leaf hydrangeas near Bass Lake at Blowing Rock, NC which I would like to photograph with a strong foreground blossom and everything in focus, near to far. Seems simple enough. But to arrange that with the slow film I’m using, and a small enough aperture to take care of the focus, and a fast enough shutter speed to take care of the breeze, in light that is dim enough to set the right mood, is more than I’ve been able to manage. What you see and what you can photograph given the restraints of your equipment will not always be in perfect harmony. I have seen beautiful pictures I could not photograph. So, you compromise. You take the picture you can have.
Are you beginning to make connections with Real Life? We can imagine a better world than we can live in. That’s the Human Predicament. Making the necessary compromise—coming to terms with the life we can have—is the Eternal Struggle. We can see a photograph we cannot take. And, we have to make our peace with taking the picture we can have. That’s the work of soul. Settling for what we can have. Gets your goat, doesn’t it? You want more than you can have, don’t you? It isn’t fair, is it? You’re thinking you’ll throw your camera into Bass Lake in protest, aren’t you? And quit being a photographer. Because if this is the best you can do, you’d just as soon smoke pot and drink beer until the angels come to carry you home.
My best advice is make the compromise. Take the picture you can have. Don’t throw the camera into the lake. Don’t get all swollen up and pouty because you can’t have the life of your dreams. With some scenes, you get exactly the photo you want. But, you will have to keep looking to see them.
The Vikings went out of their way to make people miserable. What would you tell a boat load of Vikings, bent on booty and looting? What would you say to them that would shame them into line? How would you stop a rampaging herd of Vikings? I think you should just get out of their way. Or build a wall. Or shoot it out. There is nothing quite like a good shoot-out for advancing civilization. It’s civilization’s way of drawing a line. “You can’t do it that way, and if you do, this is what’s going to happen.” You could call a summit meeting, I suppose. Send out invitations. Brew the coffee. Make name tags. I kinda don’t think the Vikings would come. And, if they did, it would be to haul off the silver service, and our daughters.
So, what are you going to do? Build a wall or shoot it out. Asking people to be your friend who just want your silver service or your daughter isn’t going to work. Who wants friends like that? They don’t have what it takes to be your friend. Civilization requires us to be civilized. Civility is the pre-requisite, not the by-product of Civilization. We have to start with something. It all depends on what we bring to the table. Vikings don’t have what it takes. They would take the table. Or everything on the table. And our daughters.
Of course, we cannot become Vikings ourselves. That’s the problem with shooting it out. We begin to enjoy it. Look forward to it. And cook up excuses to call for another shoot-out. And another one after that. We have to be civilized to the point of not shooting everybody, else we can hardly be considered civil at all. George Bush is a short Viking. Looking for harbors to pillage and villages to burn, in the name of democracy and civilization. It’s easy enough to deal with Vikings when they come sailing into our harbor. Build a wall or shoot it out. But, when WE are the Vikings, what then?
How do we apologize to the world for looting the world? That’s the question the world would have us ask. But, we cannot ask it. The question we ask is, “How can WE be thought of as Vikings?”, picking our teeth, belching and clueless, not getting it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Self-determination is a good thing up to a point. Self-determination combined with self-limitation is a better thing than self-determination alone. We can want things we have no business having. How do we know, is the question. How do we know when we have no business having something we want? A sustainable economy, for instance, limits itself to what it can have without wrecking the world. How does it know? Who tells it, “Only so far and no farther!”? Who sets the limits? Who says so?
Asking those who are self-directed, self-determined, to be self-limiting, to be self-disciplined, is a stretch. You are talking to the upper echelon of wisdom, maturity, understanding, enlightenment, and grace here. Maybe 5% of a population sample. Maybe 3%. In other words, it isn’t going to work. Given the freedom to live toward aims that are important to us, we’re going to exploit every opportunity to achieve those aims, no matter what. That sounds cynical. What story does history tell?
When has any species ever lived with the freedom to exploit without being exploitive? Self-limitation has no evolutionary advantage. Coyotes who are into self-limitation destroy the environment by allowing the bunnies to over-produce and consume the food supply of every other living thing. Every living thing lives at the limit of it’s capacity to push its environment beyond maximum sustainability. When there is a good crop of acorns in the Smokies, there is an increase in the black bear population. Black bears and bunnies don’t have a clue about self-limitation. Neither does any other living thing.
Human beings enter the picture, and, with a certain level of consciousness, look around and say, “You know, self-limitation would be a good idea. Why don’t we slow things down a bit before we have to?” We get to that point in the evolutionary process by being greedy, gluttonous, domineering and exploitive and then think we can cut it off because we see how maybe the environment will support only so much in the way of greenhouse gasses, for example, and maybe we can want what we have no business having, so maybe we better settle for less than we can dream of having, which is more than we will have when it all goes blooey in our faces. But, just because we can think it doesn’t mean we can do it. It is an up-hill fight against the force of evolution.
The environment has always been the limit restricting the development of every living thing before us. We have always pushed against the limits of what we could get by with until we were forced to stop by circumstances beyond our control. Population expands to the limit of what any environment will support. We don’t know where to stop, when to stop, how to stop, so we have to be stopped by the collapse of the systems supporting us. Evolution doesn’t know STOP. It takes whatever it can get and wants as much as it can have. Self-limitation inhibits our chances of survival into the far distant future. Or did, for all those years before we reached the end of the planet’s capacity to support life. Now, the strategy that got us here is going to do us in if we don’t find a way to STOP.
So, you better do that Google search for “Hazel Henderson” (the quote marks will help), and read her stuff, and become as aware of the situation as you can possibly be, and pick a place to dig in, and get to work. Black bears and bunnies don’t know any better. We have no excuse.
We have to create working room. We can be so close to “the problem” that we are overwhelmed and undone. Hopelessness and despair characterize those who can see nothing but futility and uselessness wherever they look. When everything is “like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” we can only sit and wait for the end, or step back and realize “This is NOT the Titanic!”
On the other hand, when we are too far away from “the problem,” everything is fine as far as we can see, and there is no reason to be disturbed because it will all work out somehow. Excessive meditation is as bad, or as good, as cocaine and Budweiser for instilling a protective layer of denial and “inner peace,” and preventing us from doing what needs to be done to make things better than they are. Inaction is valuable only as a pause in the action. We have to wait, from time to time, to see what must be done, what can be done. We have to ‘take stock” and look for the places of leverage, and sense when to apply what type of force at what point to have the best possible impact. We don’t just “act.” But “right action” is essential. We are not here to “not act.” We are here to act in the right place, at the right time, in the right way to make things as good as they can be for the largest number of people, our enemies included. And, that requires the right working distance between ourselves and “the problem.” Not too close. Not too far away.
We have to see “the problem” without being immobilized by it. Which means that we have to get away from it from time to time. We have to think about something else. Thinking about something else is the key to sanity and right living. Any time anything dominates our thinking, we have to think about something else. We cannot be consumed by “the problem,” obsessed with “the problem,” compelled to ponder “the problem” all of the time. We have to get away from “the problem” in order to maintain the right amount of space around it and to have a chance with it. The biggest problem with every problem is establishing and maintaining optimal distance between ourselves and the problem. We do that by thinking about it enough, but not too much. When it starts making us crazy, we are too close, and have to think about something else. When we no longer care at all about it, we are too far away and have to get back into thinking about it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


We have to take the culture back from big business. Now, that’s as stupid a statement as you are ever likely to see. Can any one of you imagine the mechanism by which we take the culture back from big business? It is absurd to think it could happen. Yet, it must happen. The culture is the culture of business and industry. If it is good for business, it is good for America, it is good for the culture, it is good for us. Our place is to be quiet and serve the culture by supporting the economy. The American Way of Life is the way of life of business and industry. The culture is the economy, which is to say, business and industry. The culture exists to support the economy. Economic development has nothing to do with jobs for the poor. It has everything to do with profits for business and industry. Business and industry look for cheap labor markets to “develop.” To hell with anything standing between business and industry and a profit. Business and industry plies us with trinkets and we dance to their tune and worship at their altar. But no one thinks we can do better.
We look around. We see what life is like in countries without business and industry. Poverty and subsistence. We aren’t interested. Rampant commercialism or abject poverty seem to be the alternatives. How do we put a break on higher yields and greater profits without incurring a downward spiral that crashes the market and introduces us to a Great Depression? We had better shut up and leave the CEO’s with their multi-million dollar salaries and be glad we have running water. Besides, no one has a plan for reclaiming the culture, and what kind of culture would it be, anyway? What kind of life would there be in a culture not run by business and industry? It’s too far fetched even to imagine. We are stuck with complaining about living to serve the economy while hoping that our jobs don’t play out.
So, here’s one for you. Do a Google search for “Hazel Henderson.” Be amazed. Take heart. Get to work.
We don’t do anything about crime by building more prisons. We don’t do anything about hunger by opening more soup kitchens. We don’t do anything about homelessness by building more shelters. And, we don’t do anything about poverty by providing more minimum wage jobs. But, it provides us with the comfortable illusion of doing something if we do these things, so we do them for lack of anything better to do. We cannot imagine what it would take to “do something” about any of these problems.
Poverty has been around forever, and it doesn’t seem to have much to do with money. It is an attitude as much as it is anything, an orientation, a state of being. Poor people think, act, and live like poor people. They have the mind-set of the poor. Poverty is a caste system. This generation is never going to be anything but poor. To do something about poverty, we have to work with the next generation of the poor. We have to work with the children of the poor. The very young children of the poor.
And, we have to think of poverty as a system, and address the forces, and the factors, keeping the system in place. Those forces, those factors, don’t just reside outside the system. There is an idea within the system that people shouldn’t try to “better themselves.” If everybody can’t leave the system, nobody should leave the system. It is difficult for the children in the system to be more educated than the adults, to be smarter than the adults. It is not encouraged. And it is easy to think that nothing can be done.
Peace Corps to the Poor, that could be done. We could send teams of a dozen or so people into the ghettos and the projects to live “as one of them” for two year assignments. That could work. Or, we could pull out a dozen or so families and house them in “transition communities,” like a Habitat village, and train them intentionally to stop “thinking poor” and start thinking about a life of their own. It will take deliberate, personal, on-going involvement with the poor to transform poverty. We cannot walk around the edges and offer money and minimum wage jobs and make a dent. The same thing can be said about all the other social ills on the list. They can all be transformed, but not without dedication to the task over time.
The fundamental life-skill is the ability to sacrifice “this” for the sake of “that.” It is roughly the difference between “getting married” and “being married.” At some point, we have to decide to “be married,” or not. To “be a parent” or not. To give up “this” for “that.” It has to be done, and it is like death; it is like dying. Some people can’t do it. Those people die a different kind of death. We die one way or another, at the place of deciding whether to give up “this” for “that.” Either way, we die.
Of course, the choice keeps coming around, but the first couple of times are the hardest, after that, a trend sets in, and we don’t think much about it. We just give up “this” for “that,” or we don’t. The pattern is fixed. It’s hard to change a pattern.
Spiritual growth is about having the right patterns in place. Basically, spirituality is the pattern of “no patterns.” We cannot predict the behavior of a truly spiritual person. Maybe she will sacrifice “this” for “that” this time, but not the next three times. And, maybe not. Spirituality is about being attuned to the moment, about seeing into the heart of things—all things; about knowing what needs to happen and assisting its happening; about aligning ourselves with what needs to be.
Maybe “this,” maybe “that.” Which makes spirituality seem to be arbitrary and inconsistent. If you have to be consistent, you can’t be spiritual. Which is one of the major differences between being spiritual and being religious. Religious people are sickeningly consistent, to the point of being carbon copies of each other—believing the same things, going to the same movies, voting for the same candidates, etc. No religious person ever had a mind of his, of her, own. Every religious person always did exactly what she, what he, was supposed to do all her, all his, life long. Spiritual people are not like that. John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking, Jesus came eating and drinking. There you are. You never know with a spiritual person. They never know, themselves.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


We have to take our comfort where we find it—and we have to be consciously seeking comfort. Who can live without being comforted? They take our benkie away when we start kindergarten and give us what? A title? They call us “grown up”? As though “grown ups” don’t need to be comforted?
Comfort is the eternal need of the human soul. We cannot face what faces us without being comforted. If we don’t seek it deliberately in wholesome, healing ways, we will seek it somehow. They don’t call it “Southern Comfort” for no reason. All of our addictions serve us as avenues to comfort, and solace, and consolation. We cannot live without being soothed and comforted.
Two things spin off from this point. One is the importance of tuning into our need for comfort. We have to know when we are distressed. We have to feel it in our body. No, we do feel it in our body. We have to be aware of our body’s signals announcing distress, crying out for comfort. What physical sensations signal the need for comforting, caring presence? How do we know we need a soft spot, an oasis of soul and spirit? We have to develop our sensitivity to how our body is reacting to our experience of life. We have to begin to commune with our body.
Illness may well come upon those who are “at one” with their body-response to experience, and have been throughout their lives. And, it may also indicate a “breakdown in communication,” a disruption of communion, between our body and our intellect, between the ship and what drives the ship. I don’t know if “communing with our body” is a way of staying healthy longer, or a way of staying healthy at all. Maybe illness is not an indicator of anything more than a viral, or bacterial, invasion, or a cellular breakdown. On the other hand, if we don’t listen to and take care of our bodies, if we develop unhealthy lifestyles, if we keep taking our bodies to places that aren’t good for them, and giving them toxic chemicals in small doses, and feeding them saturated fats that clog their little arteries because we like it, or because we are acutely distressed on an emotional level and must comfort ourselves somehow, even unconsciously and maladaptively, well, we will pay a price. We are killing ourselves by not recognizing our distress and by not seeking comfort in conscious, healthy, helpful ways.
This is the second thing. We have to know where to go to be comforted in ways that are good for our souls, ourselves. We have to have safe places to be. We have to have the solace of comforting, caring presence. We have to have the emotional equivalent of a soft lap and a rocking chair. Who are the people, where are the places, that are for you a comfort for your soul? Woe be unto us without those people, those places.
Who knows how to be a comfort, these days? Who knows how to sense distress in others and alleviate it? Who knows how to listen gently? Receive warmly? Accept deeply? Who knows how to witness and acknowledge the reality of distressing agonies? Where do we go to be heard, to be seen, to be known? To share with others the truth of how it is with us without being told to “grow up”?
There are not enough “hospitals of the spirit,” and so, we keep building the other kind. We try to cure the body without soothing the soul, and do not understand the nature of the unity that needs healing. Soul is not just along for the ride! Body is not just a tour bus transporting soul to the sights and sounds of life in the physical universe! Soul-body, body-soul, together, at-one, in the experience of life in the world.
And, that experience has an impact. There is no intimacy without vulnerability. We cannot open ourselves to the experience of life without bearing the pain of that experience, and we cannot bear that pain alone, without the comfort and consolation of soft places, gentle presences. We need kind, compassionate witnesses who can acknowledge the truth of our experience and its impact on us. Only then can we gather ourselves and begin to formulate a response that is appropriate and wise. We cannot live toward the good, consistently, reliably, without being comforted in our losses and sorrows. We have to step back in order to step forward. Where are the consoling presences, the comforting places? We have to find them, and turn to them, in order to recover and go on.
I take as much comfort in the half-and-half and the Splenda as in the coffee and the chicory. But if you took the “coffee experience” away, I’d be crazy in a week, or, at least, radically unfun to be around. And, if you removed the writing, and the photography, well, you could just shoot me and get it over with. And if you ruled out conversations with sensitive presences, I would have nothing left but the dry dust of the daily grind from which to build a life. I would dry up myself, and blow away. We have to know where the life is, where the comfort is to be found, and go there often. Else, there is only dust and wind.

Monday, September 19, 2005


“After Enlightenment, the Laundry,” doesn’t quite cut it. Enlightenment changes things. The laundry still has to be done, but after enlightenment, we quit doing some things, and begin doing something else instead, and we do everything with presence, with mindfulness, with consciousness, awareness, examination and evaluation. After enlightenment, we don’t spend our money or our time as we did before.
And, we don’t spend our time describing post-enlightenment life. We don’t say what we will do and what we won’t do. We don’t make lists of things that are prescribed and things that are prohibited. Enlightened people won’t spend their time or their money in the same ways. They won’t vote for the same candidates. They won’t attend, or boycott, the same movies. They won’t do things the way they did them before enlightenment, but they won’t do the same things. Enlightened people won’t have anything to do with rules based on “If you are enlightened you won’t have anything to do with rules based on ‘If you are enlightened…’.” You cannot predict what an enlightened person will do, or not do, except to say that life after enlightenment will not be the same as life before enlightenment.
More time doing things one enjoys doing. Less time doing things one doesn’t enjoy doing. Less money spent on glass and plastic. More money spent on the things that matter—which will vary from individual to individual. More time supporting that which serves the common good. Less time with frivolity and inanity. Less time following “the crowd.” More time in the company of the right kind of people.
Time and money are the primary indicators of what is important to us, and what is important to us changes with enlightenment. With enlightenment comes a perspective shift that transforms all of life. We are no longer the same person. The same life will no longer fit us. But, the shape of that life is impossible to predict, and that is precisely the value of enlightenment—unpredictable living. Unregulated living. Ungoverned living. Uncontrolled living. And, yet, disciplined living. Aligned living. Attuned living. Harmonious living. Living that is in synch with, and flows from, the heart of the best that can be imagined.
In light of what do we live? Toward what do we live? What are we doing with the time that is ours on the earth? What is our contribution? What will remain of us after our death? What is our gift to the world, to those who share the world with us? What does it mean to “live well”?
We are our contribution. We are our gift to the world. What remains of us after our death is what remains in the minds of those who love us while we are alive. How capable are we of loving and being loved? How present are we in the lives of others? How available are we for the tasks of love?
Enlightenment is a function of love, a quality of love. We “see” with loving eyes. We cannot consider ourselves enlightened if people do not feel loved in our company, cherished, esteemed, honored, valued. We are to live so as to increase the quantity of love in the world. The perspective shift called “enlightenment” allows that to happen.
So, rather than think of “enlightenment,” we might think of “being loving.” “What does it take to be enlightened?” becomes “What does it take to be loving?” “Enlightened loving” is loving in the truest, deepest, best sense of the term. It is love as love ought to be. It is enough to live toward loving like that.
The barriers to living toward loving like that are the barriers to enlightenment. The perspective shift required to remove those barriers enables enlightenment, enables us to love as love ought to be. What enables the perspective shift? Anything. Sit before the barriers and wait. And, if you don’t know what the barriers are? Sit before your inability to be loving and wait. With your eyes open. Ready to see when the time for seeing arrives. In the company of those who know how to wait with you. Unhurried and unhurrying. Lovingly waiting to be able to love.
I don’t know what needs to happen. I know escape, diversion, distraction, denial and addiction have too much of a place in our lives. I know we cannot live to be entertained. I know we have to face our lives, embrace our lives, live our lives exactly as they are toward the best we can imagine, toward the best we can manage, using the givens at our disposal, the resources at hand. I know that our choices expand or restrict our options, increase or decrease our possibilities. I know our present has implications for our future, and that we can seal ourselves into a future just like our past, or worse, or open ourselves to a future that serves the good and produces “abundant live,” by the quality of our relationship with “the here and now.” Beyond that, I don’t know.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


In the latest edition of Lenswork, Brooks Jensen quotes statistics compiled by Jerold Jenkins, and says that after graduating 1/3 of all high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives, and that 42% of college graduates never read another book. He says 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
If we aren’t reading, we aren’t thinking. If we aren’t thinking, we are too shallow to splash. But, it allows us to get by. It enables us to cope. How many of us could face what most of us have to face with realization and awareness—thinking about it? Where are we going? Where are these lives taking us? What do we have to look forward to, or enjoy? What hope do we have, become? What is there to hope for beyond more glass and plastic and the next major purchase? We cannot THINK about these things! We would have to take our own lives, if we did. The life the culture offers us, with it’s buy, spend, amass, and consume orientation, is as empty as it gets. Our addictions are our only consolation. We cannot face our lives as they are. There is nothing there.
In order to change what must be changed, we have to bear the pain of the way things are, the pain of how it is with us. In order for that to happen, the pain of staying where we are, as we are, has to be greater than the pain of bearing the pain of transformation. And, our lives are geared to keeping us pain free. Numbing out is the blessed gift of addiction. Alcohol, drug abuse, and NASCAR are among our favorite ways of escaping the pain of our lives. But, what would I have us do instead? We cannot live, looking our life in the eye.
We cannot live alone, looking our life in the eye. Therapeutic communities help us bear the pain of being alive, and transform our lives. Therapeutic communities enable us to think, and to live toward a future that is worthy of us. We have to associate regularly, and intentionally, with the right kind of people if we are to have a chance at a life worth living.
Alcoholics Anonymous, and the 12-step spin-offs, have proven to be therapeutic communities for those who have found their way into them. And, in all of these groups, it is the thirteenth step that is the saving step. It is unstated, only implied, but it is about full participation in, and commitment to, the experience of the therapeutic community. AA members go to meetings, by God, no matter what. They have to. Their lives depend on it. There you are.
What do you do because your life depends on it? How many groups are you a member of that you have to meet with because that’s the only thing standing between you and the Void? How many therapeutic attachments do you have? You think you can make it on your own, don’t you? You think you have what you need, don’t you? You think you can spend your way to peace and happiness, don’t you? You think you just need a little more money and a HD TV, or some glass and plastic equivalent, and things will be fine, don’t you?
How many of the right kind of people do you know? Would you recognize the right kind of person if you saw one? Have you ever belonged to a group of the right kind of people? Do you know what to look for?
Acceptance, compassion, awareness, and authenticity are good things to start with. How many groups do you know of with these four qualities ever-present? How about grace, and kindness, and a healthy sense of boundaries? A healthy sense of boundaries means no one tries to mind your business, or change you, or convert you, or condemn you. How about honor and respect? How about perceptive and present, attuned and conscious? How about agenda-less? How about confidential and trustworthy? How about playfulness, and humor, and confidence in each other’s ability to find our way through whatever we are dealing with to a healthy, healing perspective, with joy and wholeness as a regular part of the mix?
You can’t get there with an HD TV. This isn’t to discount the place of money in our lives, but it IS to put money in its place in our lives. Money cannot take the place of therapeutic attachments. Money is no substitute for relationships with the right kind of people. We cannot buy what therapeutic communities give us. Ah, but, if we can’t buy it, how do we get it? How do we find what we need?
The rule is always to start with what we have where we are. We do not go to Tibet or to India in search of it. The Zen image that applies is that we are like a man wearing his hat looking for his hat; like a woman holding her car keys looking for her car keys. The first step to finding what we need is to become what we are looking for. Our work is to become, to be, a therapeutic presence. “When the flower opens, the bees appear.” Our work is to develop the therapeutic qualities within ourselves, to offer them to the world, and to see what happens without trying to force anything before its time. The plan is No Plan, No Agenda, just therapeutic presence, just seeing, just hearing, just accepting, just loving, just being. The world is dying for these things. The world is dying to be seen, and heard, and accepted, and loved. The world is dying for those who can be with the world without an agenda, just seeing, just hearing, just accepting, just loving. And each one of us is a therapeutic community just waiting to unfold and emerge, and be gathered together for the good of each and of all.

Friday, September 16, 2005


I spend a good bit of time looking for the right word. It is not easy, finding the right word. It is hard work. But, if you watched me, you’d say I wasn’t doing anything. “Hell, Jim,” you’d say. “You aren’t working! You are just sitting there, drinking coffee! I could build an entire Habitat house, by myself, in the time it takes you to write a book.” Which would make it harder work for me to continue sitting, drinking coffee, looking for the right word. And, it would not be made easier by the fact that sometimes I walk, looking for the right word. I’ve been known to walk for several miles before finding one that would do. But, it still doesn’t look like work.
The hardest thing about finding the right word is giving myself permission to look. And, to go on looking. Even though it doesn’t look like I’m doing anything. Even though what I have when I find it doesn’t look as though I’ve done anything. Particularly when there are Habitat houses to be built, and food to be served to the poor and hungry (Why don’t they ever serve themselves? What are we doing to instill dependency and helplessness in the poor and hungry when we traipse down to the soup kitchen, prepare the meal, serve the meal, and clean up after the meal? Why don’t we buy the food and have them divide into teams to prepare, serve, and clean up? Surely, it’s done like that somewhere. But, lest you accuse me of smoke screening to hide my shiftless, lazy ways, I’ll ease back into the point), or just my desk to be organized and cleaned up. There is much opposition, resistance, internal and external, to overcome, if I am to sit successfully and search for words. And there are no words, I know because I have looked, that will suffice when you accuse me of being a slacker and a layabout because I’m not hauling concrete blocks and hammering away at Habitat. I cannot adequately defend, explain, justify, or excuse myself for sitting while you are out there doing something. And, I cannot not do it.
It is what I do. And, when I am not doing it, I am likely to be taking photographs (You can check them out at Which is something else I cannot defend, explain, justify, or excuse. I do not remember how many photos I have exhibited on area walls to this point in the year, probably 60 to 75, up in small quantities from a week to two months. I think three have sold. You can see, I don’t do it for the money. I can see that I really should be doing something more practical and useful in the service of humankind. How much longer will I continue to frame photos that my children will have to dispense with when I am gathered to my ancestors? Probably, not much longer. But, I will continue to take photographs, stupid as it seems, for no other reason that because I must. I don’t know why. It is what I do.
And, it is hard work. There is nothing easy about it. And the hardest thing is justifying it to myself, and continuing to do it anyway, nevertheless, even so, even though it would be easier to say the hell with it and do something that did some good.
What about you? What do you do? What is the work that you must do, even though it is hard? And, the hardest thing about it is the resistance, the opposition, internal and external, to it because it doesn’t look like much, or because it may not be much? What must you do? Are you doing it? Will you do it, crazy as it seems, for no other reason than because you must?
I would love to know what drives evolution. Fear of extinction? I wonder if life is driven by the anxiety of death. Even if it doesn’t “know” what its motive is? It seems to have a built in intention. It seems to be not satisfied ever with a particular “state of being.” It’s always toward more and greater complexity, fecundity. Not even consciousness was enough, it seems. We are moving on, who knows where, maybe into consciousness, into awareness, into the peace of “just being.” But, it doesn’t seem that we are built to “just be.” We seem to be built to continue at all costs. To reproduce, and spread out, and cover the earth, so that a catastrophe in one area doesn’t reduce our capacity to continue in all other areas.
And, how does spirituality fit into the evolutionary scheme of things? Is there another dimension? Is there something beyond the physical universe? A “God-realm”? With spirits, and angels, and demons, and the Satan, and the souls of the departed? Is what we call spirituality a function of consciousness? Is consciousness a receptor of the “other realm”? I hate questions we cannot figure some way to answer.
Here’s another: What is the evolutionary advantage to the recognition of and admiration of beauty? Beauty is a “strange attractor” if there ever was one! And, we will probably never get to the bottom of it, of any of it. What helps? What “works”? I can see the practical advantage of telling ourselves what helps and works. And, I can see the practical advantage of living toward the good of the whole. But, I would love to know if evolution is driven by something, toward something, more than the urge to continue. And, I would love to know if life dies, or if it is only the life-form that goes. Mystery abounds. We tell ourselves things that make as much sense as we can imagine, and go on. We tell ourselves whatever it takes to go on. We come from a process that believes it is essential to go on. The least we can do is cooperate.
Ideas are created right out of the air. The Preacher who said there is nothing new under the sun was a sour old cynic. Polio vaccine. How’s that for new? Or the Mars rovers? Or chicory in coffee? I could spend the rest of my life, and beyond, walking around among ideas. Democracy. How’s that? Romantic love? Chocolate chip cookies. Now, that’s an idea for you! How can anyone be sour and cynical with ideas in the mix? Who knows what we are going to think of next? That alone should be enough to keep us going!
My friend Bill Hamilton picked up a “Star Magazine” from the table in the coffee shop yesterday. The cover was covered with enticements for articles within about which starlet was carrying which star’s baby, and how well, or poorly, which starlet was recovering from which star’s betrayal and abandonment, and which star/starlet was on what diet. And, he said, “This is what the world sees about us. This, and George Bush, and David Letterman, and Pat Robertson, and Martha Stewart. It’s no wonder they don’t respect us. They fear our military power. They see what we have done in Afghanistan and Iraq. But they have no respect for us. There is nothing respectful about what they see about us.”
Who are the honorable Americans? The “respectable” Americans? Where are they hiding? Why is our society, our culture, so damn shallow? So cheap? What has become of class, and taste, and style? Where are the statesmen and the female equivalent? Look at the things we laugh at, the ways we spend our time. Who can be proud of these things? Who can hold these things up and say, “This how it ought to be”? Who can think that the American Way of Life is anything worth passing along to the next generation? How can we be anything other than ashamed of who we are, of who we have become, of the fact that there is nothing more to us?

Thursday, September 15, 2005


My fantasy job is one where you pay me to stay as long as I want in an area of the country, seeing what is there and reporting to you, with photographs and writing, what I see. My actual job is as close an approximation to that as I can make it. My work is to see what is there and report to you what I see. I don’t get to do enough traveling, and, from time to time, some aspects of the job are aggravatingly in the way of seeing and reporting, but I cannot figure out how to get paid to do EXACTLY what I would like to do. I think one of you will have to die and leave me wealthy for that to happen. And, then, of course, there would be the problem of getting the reports to the one who died. Hardly seems right, to pay for something you would never receive.
I would like to be able to count on fifteen more years with the freedom and resources to realize my aims and follow my interests. I would be content if the next fifteen years were just an extension of the present, with some of the aggravating elements removed. Which is to say that I have it the way I would like for it to be, with only a bit more of “this” and a little less of “that.” Which is to say that there are a lot of things I wouldn’t change. Which is a very good thing to be able to say about one’s life.
I’m able to say it because I have made it a conscious, deliberate practice to do more of the things I enjoy, and less of the things I don’t enjoy, over time. “Enlightened Hedonism,” I call it. Sometimes, I call it “Compassionate Hedonism.” It differs from “Over The Edge Hedonism” by being careful not to cut itself off from relationship with those who have a stake in my life, and claims on my life—and by recognizing that it has to be carried out “within the context and circumstances of my life.” Which keeps me from spending my time in crack houses and opium dens, and enables me to maintain what I see as a healthy tension between what I enjoy and what I do not enjoy.
I do a lot of what I do not enjoy. And, I do a lot of what I enjoy. Sometimes I say “no” to me, and sometimes I say “no” to you. And, sometimes I say “no” when I should say “yes.” Or, “yes” when I should say “no.” And, that is just the way it is. It can’t be helped.
We have to bear the pain, you know, and part of the pain is that which comes with having said the wrong thing. Better luck next time. But the thrust, the aim, the intent, has to remain doing what we enjoy within the context and circumstances of our lives; doing more of what we enjoy and less of what we don’t enjoy over time, without being negligent and derelict in our legitimate duties, or disconnected from all that needs us in the world. And, if you try it and find it to be “too hard,” my hearty recommendation is that you bear the pain, and do it anyway. Otherwise, your life is going to belong to others, and you are going to be all empty, dry, and shallow, with no interests and enthusiasms to sustain you, and no joy to make you glad.
Don’t think for a minute that you are here to do “the Lord’s work.” Don’t think that you must be doing “God’s work.” You are here to do your work. Let the Lord do the Lord’s work. Let God do God’s work. You do your work. That’s an uncomfortable shift in the old Perspecter, isn’t it? Now, you have to decide what “your work” is, and justify doing it to your friends and family.
When you are doing God’s work, you can do strange things and get by with it, no questions asked. You can sell Bibles, and build Habitat houses, and take mission trips to Mexico every summer, or become a missionary to, say, Taiwan, or go to theological school and be a minister. And, your friends and family might even support you financially for a while. Not so, if you are only doing your work.
Your work doesn’t have the glamour and prestige of God’s work. And, if you get paid for doing your work, you’ll think you have to work God’s work in on the weekends, or in the summer, to square things up with the celestial accountants and make it to heaven when you die.
I hope you will hear this: Heaven is doing your work. Heaven is being who you came to be, doing what you came to do (Yes, of course, always “within the context and circumstances of your life”). And, if you don’t enjoy it, that isn’t it. If you aren’t compelled to do it, that isn’t it. If you don’t have to do it, that isn’t it. If you don’t live to do it, that isn’t it.
Maybe your work is helping to end unemployment, homelessness, hunger and poverty. And, maybe your work is sitting on the beach. Impossible to say. But, if you don’t think about it, day-dream about it, night-dream about it, read about it, imagine it, wonder about it—if it is not actively present in your mind—that isn’t it. I don’t know what it is. And, it isn’t my work to figure out for you what your work is. That’s your work, too. I’m just here to tell you that your work is to do your work. And, to wish you well in figuring out what to do and how to do it. I wish you well.
Here’s the deal about the next book (which is titled “The Evolution of the Idea of God, and Other Essays,” and will be ready for the printer by the middle of October). I’m not going through with it if I can’t arrange at least regional distribution. Regional distribution is just a bit less difficult than getting a reputable publisher to publish it. But, without it, you sell mostly to your friends and family, and end up sitting on fifteen boxes of books until your heirs have to send them to the dump. So, I’ll let you know.