and we just watch that. Nothing else. It doesn’t matter if we get enlightenment or not. It doesn’t matter if our friends get enlightened faster. Who cares? We are just breathing. We just sit straight and watch the breath in and out. Nothing else. We let go of our ambitions."
That quote is from Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, discussing a technique for Buddhist meditation.
I am not a Buddhist. I am not religious. I do, however, think there is a lot to be said for spending time unruled by reflexive intention, or what some Buddhists call "habit mind." Paying attention to breathing while allowing trained intentions to swirl around any way they want is a good way to loosen such habit. The funny thing is that the more you do this, the more your intentions and observations clarify themselves. You could call it mental Windex.
Breath – especially for those of us here in the clattering cast-iron heart of Western capitalism – is highly underrated. Breath lies close to the center of a mammal's actual life. I'd say it pays to consciously hang out there at regular intervals.
You don't. I don't. Religions sure as hell don't. But we Western industrial types are especially confounded because we are completely and categorically out of touch with the continuity of energy. That mystery – death – is the edge of our flat world. And our ignorance fuels our obsession with the razor edge of that moment.
ITEM: At her mother's funeral last week, in front of all of the mourners in the cathedral, the daughter stood before the priest to take communion. The priest looked at her, covered the wafers with his hand, and told he could not give her the body and blood of Christ because her lifestyle is a sin in the eyes of God. See, her partner of 20 years, who was standing beside her, is a woman. They're lesbians. So this bigot dressed up as a man of God devastated her and her entire family in their hour of deepest grief. And he then, without warning, skipped the burial. His name, because he deserves for it to be printed here, is Rev. Marcel Guarnizo of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, MD. If there is any justice in the Universe, he will come back in the next life as a gay man. Not that we have any way of knowing his orientation now.
ITEM: After a years-long struggle, Maryland finally legalized gay marriage this week. Amid the battle, a top public figure declared that churches should never have to grant marriage rights to gays. Who was this? Why, Edwin O'Brien, the former Archbishop of Baltimore, who was recently promoted to The Vatican.
ITEM: In one of the largest Catholic churches in my hometown of Rochester, NY, a large number of parishioners broke away when the established parish, backed by threats from the Archdiocese bosses, forbade recognition of gay unions or of women taking charge in the pulpit. The breakaway church is now a large and thriving Catholic congregation – Spiritus Christi Church – that celebrates gay unions, has a strong woman reverend in the pulpit, and runs a slew of health and service programs in neighborhoods and in prisons. (Pop quiz: which church – the Archdiocese-approved sanctuary of bigotry or the rebel house of open-hearted love – do you think Jesus would prefer?)
I have an old friend who was raised Catholic and whose mother was devout in her faith and her dedication to her congregation. One of the things I learned from watching her, as I have also observed in every other religion I have personally witnessed, is that the most corrupt, destructive, and amoral force in religion is generally the bosses and the operatives, not the parishioners. Name the issue affecting Catholicism, for example – divorce, contraception, gay rights, abortion – and polls show that rank-and-file Catholics are light-years ahead of the robed and brutally hypocritical executives who run the corporation. Which is why ordinary Catholics are among those supporting the gay rights law that Baltimore's Catholic CEO promises to torpedo.
Like leaders of other global enterprises, church rulers are resolutely bringing up the rear when it comes to matters of societal morality.
Go ahead and waste your precious years on this earth fighting gay marriage if you want to. Poison yourself with meanness. Suffer in fear. Bring discredit and shame upon the God you claim to follow. Bash your head against the thickening foundation of gay rights until you've beaten yourself senseless. It's your life to waste.
Allowing gay marriage is going to be the law of the land. You cannot stop it, and you're in hysterics because you know you cannot stop it.
Last week my state, Maryland, became the eighth – with many more to follow – to legalize the right of gays to marry. The meanest of the mean, like you and the Cardinal of Baltimore, now promise to give voters the opportunity to re-lower themselves into the dark ages via a referendum on repeal. Ultimately it won't matter. No matter the number of state referenda to repeal or not, no matter the outcome of the inevitable ruling by the current Supreme Court, in the end, no matter how long it takes, as with slavery and denial of women's voting rights, the irrefutable movement for plain fairness in marriage will prevail, both in jurisprudence and in practice, in Washington and in your town.
There is not a damned thing you can do about this. So go ahead and choose to piss away the gift of your own humanity if you like. It's your life.
You may have noticed it's been more than two months since I last posted. I'm just not into continually opinionizing right now. There is an entire online culture that opinionizes in the continual present tense: "Here is what I think about what just happened in (insert political entity here)." I don't see it doing us much good. Certain things are true, and they will remain true until we act to change them, and until we do, opinionizing once a week about the same truths is like shouting at each other weekly that the sky is blue.
Truth: The United States is a corporate monarchy in which the state has been purchased in service of monopoly capitalists.
Truth: Elections will remain a sham as long as private money is allowed to dominate them.
Truth: Privilege and continued combat among we non-plutocrats -- by race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability and other distinctions -- is the best divisive tactic the ruling class has at its disposal. If not for this, we'd have stormed the Bastille long ago.
We know these things. What we need to do is change them. There is more than enough repetitive stating of the obvious already. That's one reason I'm changing the blog.
Another reason is that my life has grown. I'm a working musician, a perfoming poet, an author working on my next book, and a person like you who walks around seeing and hearing stuff I sometimes want to share because it helps me become more aware of life, period.
So you'll see a lot more here than you've seen before. Sure, it will include political opinions, but it will also go further.
I can't tell you yet where this will go. But in the coming weeks you and I will both start to find out.
with whom I went to high school, sent this to me yesterday. I'm not an adherent of any organized religion or deity, but something here makes me want to share it with you:
PRAYER FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM
I turn to you, God, Source Of Strength, with concerns that take me to unfamiliar terrain. No longer do the nagging doubts which disturb restful sleep seem amenable to the comfort of the empathic listener or the wisdom of a trusted friend.
Today, God, my burdens are disarming in their lack of pretense and sophistication. What concerns me when I lie awake at night is what awaits me when I arrive at work in the morning. The victories I claim are temporary and achieved at great cost: a shut-off in service averted; foreclosure avoided, repossession fought off -- for now.
The mantra of “making do with less” has been strained to the point where its call for sacrifice has begun to sound obscene.
For those of us who can’t send one more resume, pursue another blind lead, attend one more job fair, grant us the strength to believe that our time will come.
For those of us whose hopes and dreams have collided with the reality of “we are not hiring at this time,” “it was nothing personal,” “due to circumstances beyond our control,” give us a reason to fathom a future based on a foundation of security and peace of mind.
For those of us who stare into the abyss and point a finger of blame at ourselves, ease our pain, lighten our burden, assuage our guilt.
For those of us haunted by the awareness that our safety net is under constant threat by the forces of greed, indifference, and failures of the human heart, strengthen us in our resolve to fight for fairness and dignity.
In these times when so much that we hold dear is at risk, help us perceive that we possess treasures of infinite value that can never be taken away.
In these times, when despair and fear have become unwanted companions, help us resist appeals to our darker impulses. May these disquieting chords be swept away by the resounding sounds and images of intact families, productive workers, fulfilled individuals living out in their lives the power and beauty of the American Dream.
The study, by Dutch researchers Diederik A. Stapel and Siegwart Lindenberg, appeared in the April 8 issue of the journal Science. It found, in field and laboratory experiments, that people were more prone to stereotype and discriminate against others in what the two scientists called "disordered contexts" – a train station littered with garbage, a broken-up sidewalk, a graffiti-filled space – than they were in more orderly settings. In one train station experiment, whites surveyed were much likelier to express hostile stereotypes of Muslims and gays when the station was dirty and littered (due to a railroad cleaning workers' strike) than when it was clean and tidy. White passengers were also less prone to sit close to a black person during the strike.
The reason? According to Stapel and Lindenberg's article, people feel "a heightened need for structure" in such disordered situations, and so we fall back on simple constructs to appease ourselves. Even if the disorder is no more than litter or badly cracked concrete.
That explanation makes sense to me. Bigotry has for centuries proven itself to be a fabulous outlet for anxiety about one's lack of control. An unemployed white guy sneering "nigger" at a bus driver; an angry black resident attacking "the gay agenda" as she watches families disintegrate in her impoverished neighborhood; a man clinging to two low-wage jobs while he rails against illegal immigrants – these are all amplified versions of Stapel and Lindenberg's train-station dynamic. And they work like gangbusters to redirect anxieties toward designated bogeymen and away from the actual causes of the problems. As I have said before, bigotry began working as an American wedge issue the day the first dirt-poor white was sent into the swamp to chase down the first escaped black slave.
Stapel and Lindenberg's conclusion about what their research means for public policy: "Diagnose environmental disorder early and intervene immediately." I'll buy that – if by "environmental disorder" we mean greed-driven economic policy and the political tactics of dog-eat-dog race-baiting.
A nod to PRI's The World, which aired a story on Stapel and Lindenberg's study.
about national security, then, for your sake, I hope you won't answer the phone when a scammer calls and offers you sure-fire wealth in exchange for your credit card number.
The hearings are another installment of Fear Theater, this time brought to you by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY). They will offer nothing that the nation needs for greater security – no innovations for improved international police work, no smartened relations with majority-Muslim nations and communities, no push for more competitive fairness in the international economy – but they will bring us wagonloads of politely coded alarm about the Turbaned Brown Menace and the need for those in "the Muslim community" to "do their part" in assisting anti-terrorist authorities. As if law-abiding Muslim citizens are not already doing their part by simply being law-abiding.
This photo-op congressional farce is as excruciatingly obvious as it is disgusting, which is why the hearings are being met with street protests even before they begin. In New York, protesters stood in the rain on Sunday and decried Rep. King's exercise in stereotype and blame by association.
King, for his part, offered a comically lame defense. According to CNN:
King defended the hearings on CNN's "State of the Union" program. "We're talking about al Qaeda," he said. "We're talking about the affiliates of al Qaeda, who have been radicalizing, and there's been self-radicalization going on within the Muslim community, within a very small minority, but it's there." King compared the goal of the hearings to investigating the Mafia within the Italian community or going after the Russian mob.
Right. Which is why I am utterly confident that Rep. King's Mafia hearings would be titled "The Radicalization of American Italians."
The name of the Muslim hearings, in fact, says everything. The title is a dead giveaway that the hearings serve only as another stunt to toss scraps of red-meat race-bait to scared, angry voters who, without such continual distractions, might start asking intelligent questions about the kinds of policies that would actually make us all safer. There is no widespread terrorist-friendly "radicalization" of Muslim Americans any more than there is a rampant mob-friendly radicalization of Italian-Americans. In fact, there is a better case for holding hearings on "the radicalization of malcontent American whites," e.g., the Tea Party (complete with publicly-wielded guns and violent anti-government dogma), than there is for an inquiry into American Muslims.
If King's hearings were serious, they would be titled "Combatting al Qaeda's influence in America." And they would, like any smart threat analysis, look at all potentially dangerous players, including the Jihad Janes and munitions sellers. But these Muslim hearings are about neither seriousness nor safety. They are about playing the simplistic fear card in yet another attempt to convince 300 million Americans that a smattering of presumed Muslim potential suicide bombers poses a greater threat to their health than, say, a broadly toxic food industry and a completely broken health care industry.
After all, why actually address the terrorism problem when you can instead scapegoat Muslims and leave things as they are?