outside the system

Friday 28 September 2007

I’ve started writing titles for blogs that I hope to write and saving them for future use, so when I wrote this title a few days back, it had a little different feeling than it does now — many of the same ideas, just a little fuller. Based on the talks I’ve had with my socialist comrade, I began thinking about the ways in which change needs to happen in the U.S. In our conversations, we spoke of what must happen for change to occur — the true change that might overthrow our current system and create a socialist society. We spoke how that change really won’t play out through voting and the same old politicians in new positions. Will Barack or Hilary do much to change the rule of corporations, even if they are librals and better than what we have now? Probably not. I’m not saying don’t vote — I think in our current state of affairs it’s a necessary action (a “necessary evil” one might say), but it won’t do a whole lot.

So how do we make that change happen? We must work to destroy the system in place to create a new one not dependent the forces now in control, namely those with the $$, but a system that truly fulfills the will of the people. My comrade spoke often of the need for a general workers’ strike, both nationally and internationally, in which all of us in the working class — the class being ruled, not making the rules to live by — say, “Enough is enough,” and really take a stand.

But what happens when a group really binds together and takes a stand? If you’ve been following the events in Burma (or Myanmar, as the government chooses to call itself), you’ll see that the answer is repression. In Burma, the repression of assembling and free speech is very overt, with many dying or being beaten in the process in much the same way, as someone recently pointed out to me, things went down in the U.S. during the Civil Rights movement. We’ve all seen the pictures of fire hoses turned on crowds, and now it’s canisters of tear gas, if not worse. As the world sees these events, they react to the horror with outrage and call for an end to such violent repression. And it may get the world’s attention, but what will the future look like? Will the government win again?  (And current reports regarding Internet and phone crackdowns show things to be getting even worse for those working for change.)

Here in the U.S., though, violence isn’t used very often to repress movements because the police and government know that it creates outrage at the situation. Instead, our government (again, I can’t take credit for this realization either) chooses other ways to deal with those who are working together to deal with political, economic, and other forms of oppression. An anti-war group was fined for putting up posters in DC they claimed conformed to city code. Wiretapping without a warrant is now accepted to fight terrorism or whatever other lame excuse they can come up with (though an Oregon judge, among others, ruled against these acts as being unconstitutional). And apparently if someone wanted, they could get a list of the books I’m checking out from the library. This is far from everything being done to suppress people’s movements for change right her in the U.S., but it’s a start to realize how my we’re being repressed without even knowing it.

I read an article this week calling the Buddhist monks in Burma something like the “moral compass” of that country. And even with the monks getting people to rally around a fight against the Burmese oppression, will it be enough to create change? Whether or not it is in Burma, we should ask, here in the U.S., who will be our moral compass? Who will stand up and start the rallying cry for change, a change that can only come by working outside the system of our “democratic” society to create a country, and hopefully a world, where all people are valued as humans and not simply economic capital? Who will lead? Will it be you, or me, or someone else? I don’t quite know, but I do know that when the call comes, we must be willing to risk a little bit of security for the hope of a better tomorrow. It’s called solidarity, and in this country of individualism, it’s a quality that seems to be lacking. Let’s all step up to the challenge before us to, as Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

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“the true meaning of life”

Wednesday 26 September 2007

So if you’ve been attending my blog, I’m sure you’ve noticed the wonderful picture of the clothes handing on a line.  Those are my clothes (mostly boxer shorts, its true) from this past summer in Milwaukee.  It was during one of the times where I had a lot of laundry and could do a load of “blue” along with whites and darks.

Some have been intrigued by the shirt hanging at left, and I thought I’d share with you what that shirt actually says, as I’m wearing it today:

“We are visitors on this planet.
We are here for ninety
or one hundred years
at the very most.
During that period,
we must try to do something
good, something useful,
with our lives.
If you contribute to other
people’s happiness, you will
find the true goal,
the true meaning of life.”

H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama

I think that speaks to the great connectivity of all of our lives and how the happiness of one is so very connected to the happiness of others, just as the pain of one is connected to the pain of others.  Do we live our lives like that, though?  Do we try to see and act that, as Jesus said, when you do this to “the least of these (a phrase that I don’t particularly like in itself, but it’s the phrase), you do it to me?”  Jesus’ message here is truly that we are all one.

How would your life be different if you saw the suffering, pain, oppression, and struggle of others was your own suffering, pain, oppression, and struggle, too?  I encourage you to answer that question and try to make whatever changes are necessary.


home IS where the heart is

Tuesday 25 September 2007

I went to the Friends Meeting again this past Sunday.  The way things were looking, I thought we were going to go the whole hour with no one talking (in only my second week! — I wonder if that ever happens?), but with maybe 8 minutes left someone spoke, and then two more did a bit of rapid fire before things ended.  What hit me, in all their talking, was one simple line a woman who spoke on homelessness and it’s counterpart, home; it went something like this: even in our transient world and ways of life, we still have a home that we take with us, even if we are away from the place we might otherwise think of as our home.

For someone like myself — a person who, looking backward, has lived in DC for a month and a half, Milwaukee the 12 months before that, camp the summer/3 months before that, and in Evanston, IL before that — it was comforting to hear that I still have a home.  And I think she spoke true about that, especially for me, home right now isn’t a certain address or even a certain city.  People like to say they’re a “citizen of the world,” and I suppose that would be the best way to characterize the state I’m in.  Maybe you’re there now, too, in that search, on a journey like the one I’ve been talking about for a while now, while still thinking about the possibilities of settling down or finding a location to call your own.

For me, I think the word “home” will always mean more than the house I sleep in.  Home is really the love of people I carry with me.  I have an amazing assortment of friends and family across the country (no one really across the world at the very moment) that I think about often.  They give me strength and hope.  If you’re reading this and know me, you’re likely one of those people.  Since I have this great group of people there, cheering me on, I don’t feel, necessarily, like I’m without a home.  In my upcoming 5 week trip, I plan on staying with at least 9 people I know, with most of the others being someone directly connected with someone I know.  In a way, I’ll be coming home at each of those visits.

I suppose that’s what makes me a little more easily do this journey thing.  I do think I’ll need some close connections wherever I am, but I have so much love coming to me from all over that it never really feels like too big a deal to move somewhere new.  My address may change again and again and again, but I will never lose my home.


economic oppression

Monday 24 September 2007

In the past week, I’ve met a few times to talk about socialism with a man I met @ a war protest a few weeks ago (maybe I’ll post on that sometime, too).  It has been quite the enlightening experience (in a different way from my spiritual postings) and a good way to think more about ideas that have been rolling around in my head for awhile.  We’ve talked about the ways of creating a socialistic world and what needs to be done currently, about filling voids in the current political system with things like talking about socialist ideas with anyone and everyone you know and the need for a general workers’ strike to start the necessary revolution.  It’s been very great.  He even used “comrade” to talk about an acquaintance tonight — that part was kind of funny.

But something like using the word comrade to speak of someone else gets at the idea of equality and the end of oppression, which I think most of us want.  But if you’re really open to the reality of our situation, you’ll recognize that any capitalistic society is built around the idea of oppression, economic oppression.  We talk all about the horrors of oppression that occurs based on race, gender, sexual identity, ethnic background, and so many other areas, but we rarely, if ever, talk about the oppression that happens economically.  If you’re lucky, you might talk about oppression based on class, but even that one makes it sound a little too nice, like there’s some “class struggle” that is necessary, when really, why can’t we have a classless society?

Here in America, we have a ruling class.  It’s not something like the Nazi party or some kind of dictator.  We have a better name for them: corporations.  If you’re willing to play their game, they might reward you with power or prestige or money, but they’re definitely in charge.  Even if you don’t work for them directly, you’re likely called upon to do their bidding: politicians create laws that benefit them; the military creates opportunities for them to make money in places like Iraq; teachers teach workers who will work for corporations; most, if not all, jobs can be traced back to corporations (think about construction workers, postal employees, doctors, and even those in non-profits, who work to fill a void ultimately created by corporations).

And that’s why we need this revolution my socialist discussion partner has been advocating for.  Those of us in the “working class” (and there are so many of us) need to recognize our collective power against the economic oppression we’re experiencing.  We think we’re stuck in our sad state of things, but we aren’t.  Your struggle is my struggle and vice versa, and it’s true for the millions of us around the country and around the world.  Change can happen, but radical change won’t simply happen with a new president, at least not the kind of change we need — it will happen by speaking up and binding together to tell the ruling class that (to paraphrase a quote in Network), “We’re mad as Hell, and we’re not going to take it any more.”

How do we do that?  Well, we need to begin recognizing the solidarity we have in one another.  We need to share our beliefs and hopes for a better life for all people with our friends, family, and perhaps most importantly those we work with.  We need to help others understand the need for change.  And, first and foremost of them all, we all need to start believing that a change is possible.

I could probably talk more about all of this, but I don’t like these to get too long, so stop there for today.  If you haven’t seen The Corporation yet, you need to.  I own it and would love to loan it to you.  It’s probably at your library, too.  (Network is a good anti-establishment movie, too.)

(If you’re so inclined, check out the official list of “discrimination by type” on the left side of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website.  You’ll find nothing about discrimination based on how much money you make or the people you’re connected to.)


settling down

Thursday 20 September 2007

Sometimes I enjoy the randomness that is the Internet, as it sometimes brings me such wonderful items as this beautiful video essay, “Me, My Friends, and a lot of People I’ve Never Met.”  It’s only 2 minutes, so I hope you can watch it.  The thesis is that young people (like me) don’t want to settle down, but we must some day recognize that, “Life isn’t long enough to exercise every ambition.”

Now as someone over three years removed from college graduation who started in the what one might call the “workforce” and who is now doing something that will end just before Thanksgiving, the idea of settling down is one I think about somewhat often.  I also want to not believe that I can’t follow through on all my ambitions, but I wonder if that might be a true statement.  David Gillette, the essay’s cartoonist and author, mentions college graduates who have no idea what they want to do with their life, which in some ways I can relate to for myself, but in many other ways it’s more that there is so much I want to do with my life it’s hard to figure out where to start and for how long I should work in certain areas.

I do hope to establish myself in a place where I can build lasting relationships with people geographically close to me instead of building relationships and then me or them moving.  I long for a chance to feel a part of a community without having a certain end date from which I will be removed from it.  But it’s hard, too, as I want to explore the country and world, and I don’t necessarily want to “fall for” some location that might then keep me away from other things I want to do it my life or extremely far from those I love (my mom wouldn’t like if I settled down in Kenya, for example, or even San Francisco).

But I also keep going back to the idea of location, relation, and vocation.  There will, eventually, be something to ground me, and then it’s likely that the other areas of my life will “fall into place,” too.  But is that my goal right now?  Just as much as I’d like to be a part of a community, I’d also enjoy a wife and family and a career/job that I can call my own and feel fulfilled in as I help and support others and the world, but when will that happen, and is that what I should be actively seeking at my current state?

Will it be a conscious decision for me to settle down, or will it be more like quicksand that slowly eats me up until I’m chained to something, whether I like it or not?  I hope that it’s more a combination of being pulled into something or someone that I enjoy and love and making the choice to do so, so that when I have that connection, it’s truly a thing of beauty.


enlightenment p. 2

Tuesday 18 September 2007

It’s really about truth, then, isn’t it?  Does one faith have a “monopoly” on truth?  And whether your answer is yes or no to that question, then the question is (a very Lutheran question, at that): “What does that mean?”

Can one believe in the risen Christ and in Karma?  In Mohammad and the Buddha?  That the Messiah is yet to come and that the Messiah has died and risen?  It’s true, you probably can’t believe it all.  But what is truth?  And can I find truth, at least some of the truth, in two (or more) different “streams” of faith?  Can I believe, as I claim to now, that, “I’m willing to say my way is right, but I’m not willing to say that your way is wrong.”  And how does that work?

I think it comes back again to the phrase I heard Sunday morning: “Led by the Spirit.”  I participated last night in a discussion with others discerning a possible call to seminary/rostered ministry, and we talked about gifts.  We read a passage (early in 1 Corinthians), and we heard it telling us that the important part is to trust enough to let the Spirit do all the ministry through you.  As a minister, that is so powerful, but I think that is really the important thing for each of us.

How is the Spirit moving?  Is it moving the Jew and the Christian, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Hindu, and those practicing so many other religions around the world?

I want to point you to an interesting story: The Coffee-House of Surat, by Leo Tolstoy.  Here we find the question of truth being revealed in different ways, with no one having that “monopoly.”  Is that the way it really is?  Do we only see part of the elephant, as another story goes?  Maybe that’s what one means when one says that God is incomprehensible.  And maybe not.  But I will say that one who is led by the “Spirit” cannot err in their path.


enlightenment

Monday 17 September 2007

Yesterday was quite the day for me.  I went to three different “worship” services of three different groups of Christians.  It was great to be surrounded by so many people seeking to become connected to the divine.  Each experience was beautiful in its own way, but I want to talk about the one that affected me most yesterday, and that was my experience at the Friends Meeting, a group commonly known as the Quakers.

What was so amazing?  Firstly, I really felt the Holy Spirit’s presence there.  There were no scripture readings, no music, and no pastor or sermon, but there were two amazing things of beauty.

First, there was silence.  And lots of it!  How often do you sit in silence for 20 minutes, as we did to begin the Meeting?  How often do you sit in silence to reflect on what has just been spoken?  In many churches, you are lucky to receive 30 seconds to contemplate a sermon after it is delivered.  Having a chance to be totally present is something I haven’t done in a long, long time, if ever.

Second, there were beautiful words of testimony and hope that made me think on and contemplate God.  One man spoke of Quaker children who went (were forced to go) to Meeting growing up but never came back, mentioning his own son, now 41, as well as people like Dan Boone and Annie Oakley.  But within that, he found hope, and that was something special for me to think about and chew on.

He found his hope in the realization that what he and others in the Society of Friends want most is for each to be led by the Spirit.  For some that might mean going to Meeting, but maybe for many others it means something else.  How does the Spirit move?  Where will the Spirit lead?  Must it always be continued participation in one’s current/first religious/faith tradition?

I’m close to finishing the book Living Buddha, Living Christ, in which the author, Thich Nhat Hanh does some comparative study of Buddhism and Christianity and how they overlap in many ways.  Can one be both Christian and Buddhist?  Is the same Spirit leading both Buddhist and Christians?  Thich Nhat Hanh believes himself a follower of both the Buddha and of Christ.  Is this possibile?

I think in our quest to label everything, we sometimes disregard the fact that different people do the same things differently.  Does this happen in religion, too?  I think one might be able to say that within a certain religion, such as Christianity, enough is similar to make things pretty much the same, but how much “overlap” or “similarity” must one find to make things “pretty much the same?”  As I seek to be led by the Spirit, these are some of the questions I ask.