Monday, February 11, 2013

The other night I was at a party and someone asked me what I did. Instead of mumbling out something about working at a church (like I might usually do), I sort of had a renewed energy. I said something like - "I work at a church because our souls need to be cultivated and inspired to action.  We live in a society that emphasizes politics and business and entertainment - mostly to the exclusion of the soul. And why wouldn't we? It doesn't make us any money. It doesn't usually make you famous (and if it did, it would require too much for most of us [think mother teresa]). All the while, the things we say we care about: the forests and the mega-mammals, are dying off as we go about our business of raping the earth and one another. All the while our children are born into toxicity. We desperately need to put emphasis on cultivating the soul. On finding our soulful intuitions and following them and taking action, so that our politics and business and entertainment are seized by the soul and not the other way around, because the other way around brings us selfishness, greed, hubris, mass extinction, exploitation - destruction."

The person I was talking to, at a big fancy party in an absurdly large and self-exalting house in Boulder, acknowledged that yes, they supposed this was true. I sort of felt like I had just put them on the rack and asked for a confession. I think the beer made it feel better to both of us.  

Because the soul is vital to

love others
                  be kind
                                    be generous
                                                      seek the common well being
be sacrificial
                  be wise
                                    be a peacemaker
                                                                        live in hope
seek justice
                  be humble
                                    mourn for suffering
                                                                   see and cultivate the good in others
                                                                                                         be a force for good

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Driving from Boulder to Estes Park one late night in June with an electrical storm lighting up the sky to the South I encountered a man named Russel Sutherland who said with a wonder in his voice, "So samaritizing still exists."

I wound through the little town of Lyons and was headed up the hill out of town in a mood to drive slowly, content to listen to paranoid talk radio and watch for animals moving across the road bed, sort of lulled by the warm cab and talk radio. Soon after beginning the ascent I found myself on the bumper of an old truck fitted with a ladder rack and a pile of assorted junk in the bed including a plastic dog kennel and a propane tank wedged against the tail-gate. I noticed that his lights were out and he was rapidly slowing on the incline.

I rolled down my window and asked if he needed a lift. He pushed his metal cased window down with his right hand with a great flurry and didn't answer my offer but instead verbalized what he thought was going wrong with the truck - this automatic, long-bed, '69 Chevy, with paint decay that revealed weathered layers of paint and primer all the way down to the reddish stained metal.


Edward Abbey said, "Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul." This quote could lead in a hundred ways, but suffice to say, it opens the door to investigating the deleterious results of sentiment.

Sentimental objects in our life, fires we huddle around. Objects that give us meaning, and purpose, and identity. All good things at first glance, but at second glance?

They can become objects of tyranny. Think of the tenured professor. Who does the tenured professor pay sentiment to? Their position and the system that has esteemed them. A school teacher with benefits and job security. The system that you have power within is to be revered.

Religious are perhaps some of the most sentimental. A minister in a cushy cleric position. Naturally, the minister is sentimental to where their power and well-being derives. Religious adherents are often just as taken in, especially in religious systems that offer absolute truth; salvation through special knowledge and experience; and a dominating sense of exceptionalism. This kind of sentimentality appeals. It is warm and cozy to know that your in-group is exceptional and exceedingly special the world over. It is more than appealing, it is intoxicating.

Ironic that the great teachers of truth were something less than sentimental preservers of tradition. They are unique not because they started something popular and appealing that would lead to even more versions of sentimentality. They critiqued the revered way, the sentimental way, when it became set in its ways and forgetful of the way of truth.

A poem by Ryokan as antidote: The thief left it behind/The moon at my window.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

PhD or any endeavor worth its salt

I have mused for sometime whether or not I would pursue the highest academic degree, and in so doing make possible my desire to teach in the college classroom, indulge my appetite for philosophy, and be right in the midst of a meaningful life by waking each day to pursue an inspiring, if difficult task. Victor Frankl conjectured that finding meaning in life was the difference between those who survive and those that do not. The context in which he said this was the holocaust. Man's search for meaning is found in meaningful tasks. Short of life and death, meaning is the difference between those that live an inspired life versus a muddling along life. I am reminded of the adage that it is not the destination but the journey that is important.
Bearing in mind the cost and time of a PhD, I thought it prudent to consult sagely advice before diving headlong into several years of education and costs. And so, I wrote an email to one of my favorite authors: Michael Inchausti, scholar on Thomas Merton, author of several books including, Subversive Orthodoxy, a favorite of mine, and Spitwad Sutras, a book that discusses the sublime vocation of teaching in the classroom.
I found Inchausti's email on the Cal Poly website. Surprisingly, he responded to my query within a few hours. This is better turnaround then many friends of mine would do.
His advice: Hesitation to recommend pursuing a PhD to anyone. Reason: university jobs are increasingly scarce and the cost to earn one is high. He followed this grim outlook by imparting the sage advice I was after: if it is choosing you, pursue it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Glenn Beck and Ignorance

A guy who puts Ben-Gay under his eyes so that he will tear up on air dares to lecture America on what is honest and above board? Please. This infotainment clown is a Mormon and assumes an advisory role for historic followers of Christ? Perfect, and I assume we are waiting to hear from old Glenn about how Joseph Smith was in fact really a sane guy and not a lunatic in his backyard making up fake Egyptian languages? Of course we won't. And why it was ok for Joey Smith to shoot to kill from his prison cell, jailed as a polygamist and general dissenter against American laws? Sorely doubt it.
You expect me to believe that Glenn B. is a guy who knows his religious history? He not only criticizes Social Justice but makes it akin to USSR style communism? Does he remember that the USSR was an atheist state? Last I checked Roman Catholicism has made mistakes, but atheism wasn't one of them. Has he read his red-letter Bible? I suppose he has been too busy reading the book of Mormon - at least this would be a plausible excuse for his ignorance. Otherwise, he might want to get his reading comprehension checked. Maybe he can also tell us about how another Joseph, Joseph McCarthy led the Red Scare of the 1950s. A little Fascist movement tucked away in our American history. Maybe he'd like to tell us how that turned out and what became of old crazy Senator Joe McCarthy.
- Show quoted text -

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Greg Mortenson

Last week I listened to Greg Mortenson speak at Bend High School along with a thousand or so other people from Bend. Mortenson won me over with his humble countenance. He surprised me with his relationship with the US military and thereby his insight of military realities in the Middle East shared with a crowd largely cool to the military culture. Of course I was impressed with Mortenson's fearless pursuit to bring schools to Afghanistan and Pakistan, a story I am familiar with, having read Three Cups of Tea. Mortenson's emphasis on education as the answer to the Middle East and the world's difficulties raises a question for me: What kind of education? Are we talking about a liberal arts education? A technological education? Education is indeed necessary and no doubt is a noble pursuit - but what kind of education changes people and the world for the better? There have been plenty of educated civilizations and nation-states that have perpetuated grave crimes against humanity. The information and direction of the education matters. Smarter people do not change the world for the better, kind people change the world for the better. Does education make people more kind? Not unless teaching of kindness, modeling of kindness is an inseparable piece of the curriculum and educators.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mugwumps and Fork Etiquette

Are table manners by and large a thing of the past in America, even in the most affluent homes? If table manners are indeed going the way of the dinosaur and in a downward spiral like the newspaper, is this a thing to be lamented? I remember some of the practices taught to me in my middle-class upbringing: fork on the left, spoon to the right of the knife. I always imagined the more feminine spoon protecting the knife, as if chess pieces or characters from Lewis Carroll's imagination. I remember that it is important to place the napkin on the lap. That it is polite to wait for the host before eating. Mouths should be closed when chewing. Mouths should be free of food before speaking. I didn't learn the proper use of salad forks until after I worked as a waiter at a restaurant with table cloths. I learned how to place my silverware on the plate to indicate that I was finished after visiting Australia, which is a different way from America.
Perhaps in America it was only ever the well educated and comfortably affluent that observed practices such as the proper fork to use and the correct placing of silverware on the plate when finished. Most Americans probably felt fortunate to possess a single silver fork for each person at the table. We chide the stuffy affluent for being snobs for insisting on proper table manners - but then, what do we have as humans if we don't have a proper way to do things? The proper way to do things is something that endears me to Europe. It is what I would appreciate in the tradition laden culture of Japan, or for that matter most anyplace in the world - the art of living is what stands out. The means by which we do things is what life is about. This is the art of life, the highest form of art - living with thoughtfulness and intention. Our table manners says something about our eating habits and our way of being: slow or fast; appreciated and shared or quick and meaningless; prepared and wholesome or hasty and unhealthy.
A friend of mine had a family that dressed for dinner every evening. Men in ties, cloth napkins and probably candle-light. This might be a tad overkill, but you can be sure of one thing: dinner was an event. Table manners were expected, conversation was too, and shared food together was the crowning moment of a day lived with intention and attention to the means.