I'm putting off a necessary tedious task to post this morning. The tedious task can wait.
|Source: UNISYS, found at Capital Climate|
I work on ecology issues for a living (a rather meager and uncertain living at that). My last book, Living Beyond the 'End of the World,' laid out the scenarios and the dangers facing our unsustainable way of life on the planet and then applied a Christian spirituality to get at the cultural values bringing us to our collective suicide and how we might pull from that tradition some inspiration and support to live in a way that could save our lives and the lives of future generations.
I "sit" now. While I have deep admiration for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, I also know that most Christians don't live from the values articulated there, or respond to the prophetic, even radical and revolutionary way of life that would mark the real followers of Jesus Christ. The downfall was when those four books became religion blessed by the Roman Emperor Constantine. We all know that most of what is preached as Christian religion avoids just about everything challenging in those four books - like the Beatitudes and woes, the "woe to you rich" stuff, the Good Samaritan, the denunciation of religious authorities, Matthew 25, giving up possessions and giving one's money to the poor as a prerequisite for following him, and most especially why Jesus was executed by Rome under the urgings of those same religious, tribal, authorities.
And then I struggle so much with the centrality of the human in this tradition. I understand that in the small cosmological experience of these tribes of 2,000 years ago that might make sense, but now? when we know humans come only in the middle of the story and will disappear, along with the planet and the solar system, still only in the middle of the story? If humans are the image of God, what happens to God then? Is it possible we made up this version of the divine out of our propensity to human narcissism?
I "sit" now. And once or twice a week, I sit in sangha. I do not embrace Buddhism as religion; but as practice and psychology and spirituality it has a resonance with our current predicament that is spot on, at least it seems so to me, and especially as interpreted and articulated by people like Joanna Macy and Thich Nhat Hanh. And Buddha and Jesus share a common trait for me: neither one of them intended to start a religion. Both of them wanted to open our eyes, or to allow our eyes - and our hearts - to be opened, to point out a path for that opening to occur. And what they hoped we would find when we did that was what they found - a bottomless well of compassion and some strong words for the cultures of oppression, slavery, and injustice, insight into suffering and its causes, paths we humans can take to alleviate suffering.
We humans are causing so much suffering. We live in the delusions Buddha and many interpreters down through the ages have articulated - clinging to what does not last (or, as Jesus might say, storing up in our barns), concocting illusions and then living as if they are real, denying our own mortality, as well as the mortality of all we know, trying to preserve and hold in place what simply cannot be held, which causes more breaking apart, more suffering.
Jesus was pretty clear about where he saw the sources of suffering - in injustice, in hoarding, in trying to achieve worldly power and success as if these things mean anything, in using the cudgel of orthodoxy and hierarchy to try to control people's access to the sacred, whatever name (or no-name) one might give to it.
We see this every day now, how religion is used to justify the horrors of increasingly gross inequities, patriarchy and hierarchy, war and imprisonment, and cultural values of self-enrichment and selfishness.
For a writer, living in such times can be a challenge. As I've written here before, words matter, and most of the words of the culture are noise meant to drown out meaning, to deaden our senses so that we can't be in our actual experience of what is going on, how our planet is changing, how civilization and all it's built on is crumbling, that we are standing at the edge of the precipice... you know, all those worn out metaphors that are unfortunately true.
I love that image of Wily Coyote who, fooled over and over again by Road Runner, runs headlong into a mirage, an illusion, right off the edge of the cliff. Then frozen in midair, he looks down and realizes nothing is holding him up anymore, that below him lies the abyss, and then, bye, bye Wily.
Found this apt: The Wily Coyote Cartoon
This week we have the Westboro Baptist crazy people in the Milwaukee area. They are going church to church raging against gays and lesbians and how our tolerance of them means we will all burn in hell. They sing about that; they sing it with joy, with pleasure written on their faces. They can't wait to see us all burning.
It's quite a narrative, no? It is clear, it is blind, it is passionate, and it smacks of dangerous zealotry.
How do we come up with words and images equally compelling, that can crash through the noise and bring things into stark focus, but which foment insight and compassion instead of hate? Why does hate always seem to be more compelling? Why does concocting some clear enemy, in this case LGBT people, in Nazi Germany, Jews, in many U.S. communities, Muslims, etc., prove so effective in motivating alienated unhappy people? Why has the narrative of the right been so successful at demonizing public sector workers, and especially teachers, and then the poor and those left on the margins of the society?
I'm working on memoir in which I hope to share insights through the story of my parents and ancestors on what has made this culture so uniquely unable to understand the danger in which it has put itself by creating a powerful aura of denial all around our self-proclaimed wonderfulness and superiority. We are no doubt "wily" as can be, one of the wiliest cultures of the past couple of centuries. We are running headlong towards our fantasy not seeing the edge of the cliff, the precipice that awaits us.
|My old neighborhood in MD. Photo: ML|
I keep writing - because I don't know what else to do. I write and I sit, and I take in and I listen, and then I write some more.
The lie deeply embedded within the culture must be revealed to us; we must reveal our denial to ourselves. And then good writing and good art ought to open the doors of perception, it ought to take the lid off the well of compassion so that we can drink from it freely and urgently. At its best, it should show us there is a different way to live than this one.