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Archive for January, 2010

Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  110                                                 Days Blogged: 98

New Mileage: 10                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 817

Two Certainties!

As I ride the bike this morning I am reminded about two of the “certainties” of life.  I recognize the wonderful uplifting and unexpected gifts that life, the universe, the divine places on our paths. Last night I sat in the audience as a local theater group presented a musical called Lying to the Sea Gypsy. The cast was comprised entirely of young actors. They sang and danced with an infectious joy and youthful energy. 

This morning I woke to find the landscape blanketed in a beautiful, pristine covering of snow, highlighting the greens of the holly bushes and evergreen trees.  You can be certain these gifts are always there, even if they are not always recognized or appreciated! 

The second certainty is that life will always deal you “humbling” experiences!  In the last several days I have experienced two such situations.  Perhaps it’s just part of the aging process. You know you‘re getting old when you wake up with an ache or pain and you cannot remember what you did the day before to account for it! Last Thursday I spent some time clearing out brush from the woods near the house.  I don’t remember any problems with my ankle, but Friday morning I could barely walk.  My students got an unexpected day off from my classes as I worked with heating pad and ankle wraps to nurse it back to health.  The best laid plans are just that: Plans. Sometime life intercedes and you can do little more than follow its lead. 

Us versus Them Again!

My ankle pain was not the only humbling experience I was in for on Thursday.  I posted my blog expressing my opinion about solar powered bibles being sent to Haiti.  I received a number of comments, several voiced opinions supporting my position.  However, several of my Christian friends pointed out  that the group Faith Comes by Hearing, is also providing the solar powered bibles and  in fact has  teamed up with a long standing Christian relief organization called Convoy of Hope who is providing much needed medicine, food and shelter to the people of Haiti.  In addition, they noted that the bibles had been requested by Convoy of Hope and other Christian relief organizations.  So my visualization of pallets  of unwanted electronic solar powered bibles sitting on some loading dock, taking up valuable space and “getting in the way” does not appear to fit with the reality of the situation. With a deep sense of humbleness, I noted to one of the commentators:  “Anytime you open your mouth there is a good chance you will show your ignorance!”

What is the lesson here?  Perhaps we should not speak before we have all the facts?  Is it that we should in fact not speak at all and just keep our opinions to ourselves?  Is it that we should speak softly and humbly, don’t shout or scream from our soap boxes, realizing that we may discover later that our interpretation was lacking and needs tweaking?

I went to the site posted by one of the Christian commentators and found an article entitled: Audio Bibles, Haiti and atheist hypocrisy.  It presented the information about Convoy for Hope that I referenced earlier, but went on to make this statement: “Certainly, atheists, being absolute materialists, do not see human beings are anything but bio-organisms and require nothing but bio-organic fuel. Yet the Christian view is holistic and thus…. Provide food for both the body and food for the soul.”  I cringed at this statement!  I’m often called an atheist, because I do not experience the divine as a personal deity.  I know God and have a relationship with God, but in a manner more commonly found in Eastern faiths. I and the other atheists I know have a “holistic” view of not just man, but of the whole world and its many ecosystems.

The effect you were looking for?

 And what about this “atheistic hypocrisy” he mentioned?  He notes: “The fact that for at least the last couple of years atheists worldwide have been literally wasting… donated money not in order to help anyone… but in order to purchase anti-theistic and pro-atheist bus ads and billboards in order to demonstrate just how clever they consider themselves to be.”  I hesitate to respond to this statement with the criticism that it begs to elicit from atheists and all other non-believers: What about donated Christian money? How is it being used?  For ads on billboards that say: “Don’t make me come down there! (from)God.”   Or perhaps it’s used to build higher, larger, shinier monster churches?

This author goes on to note: “Now, they (atheists) suddenly anoint themselves the charity police, complain and condemn based, by the way, on relative-subjective-personal preference based “morality.” Ow! A very sweeping statement, lumping a lot of people (different backgrounds and experiences) into a cut and dried category!  Who is sounding “self-anointed” in this presentation of positions?

While I values each person’s comments and opinions and I certainly feel that we all have rights to hold and express them.  I have to again point out the questions I raised in my last posting: What are the consequences of your stated opinions?  Do they take into account not only individual perceived needs, but those of the “others”, whether they are the survivors in Haiti or a bunch of atheists?  This individual received kudos from others who are/were critical of the atheist’s criticism of the audio bible plan.  I suspect some felt he had “scored points” for his side. But has it brought anyone together who was not already talking (i.e. preaching to the choir), has it helped find common ground between peoples of different faiths or no faith? Let me note that my criticism fits for both sides of this debate, for as I was searching for photos to use in today’s post I came across numerous sites, atheist sites I guess, that associated all Christian churches with hypocrisy, and in one case blasted them for: Believing in a paranoid sky fairy!  Such rhetoric can do nothing but inflame negative emotions.  It feeds into an “Us versus Them” stance that benefits no one in the long run.  We, people of all faiths and philosophies, can do better. We must do this if we are to break out of our destructive cycles.  I will start the process by apologizing to the backers of Faith Comes by Hearing for my uninformed criticism! Anyone else? 

I will not accept it as an impossible dream!

 Thank you for visiting my blog, if you like what you read or the process we have undertaken please consider joining stationarypilgrim’s e-mail list by clicking on the tab at the upper right corner of this page.  Have a wonderful day!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  108                                                 Days Blogged: 97

New Mileage: 10                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 807

Haiti needs Solar Powered Bibles!

As I ride the bike this morning I find myself pondering the significance of two recent news stories.  One is associated with the tragic suffering in Haiti and the other involving A South Carolina politician. A recent story reported that a Christian organization named Faith Comes by Hearing is in the process of raising $300,000 in order to ship what they call “proclaimers” to the people of Haiti.  These are not tents, or medical kits, or prepackaged meals, they are solar powered audio Bible in the language of the Haitian people. Mr. Jon Wilke, a group spokesman noted that the Haitian people will need the long-term hope and comfort that comes from knowing that God has not forgotten them. The second story concerned recent comments made by the lieutenant governor of the state of South Carolina.  Andre Bauer was speaking to the issue of government assistance to the poor when he made the following comment: “My grandmother was not an educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed! You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply.  They will reproduced, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that.”

I believe every person has a right to hold and express their opinions and that people have a right to spend their money where they feel there’s a need. However, in both of these cases it is my opinion, that these individuals are in fact displaying a profound shortsightedness and potentially dangerous bias. In particular, it presents me with a scary prospect that Mr. Bauer, who is the Lieutenant Governor and running for the office of Governor, could be making our laws and deciding who get our social service aid. As I think about these issues I recognize several assumption and premises that guide my personal expression of opinions.

 
 
 

Some consequences don't forgive or forget so easily!

First

, I strongly believe that we have a right to our opinions.  Part of the benefit of being in a democracy is this right to share, explore and listen to other people’s opinions.  Our system is based on the hope that this give and take of opinions will lead to well thought-out choices (laws and programs) based upon a consensus of opinion and objective facts.

Secondly, like the late Senator Monahan I believe “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own fact.”  Some people become confused when loudmouth radio talk show hosts present their opinions as if they were “God given truths.”  Shouting loudly and repeating something over and over does not make it “true.”  This behavior shows that it is YOUR strongly held opinion! I realize that Mr. Wilke and his group feels righteous and good about sending solar powered Bibles to the people of Haiti.  But I ask: Is this what these people need, will these “gifts” meet their most desperate needs? Does this gift have more to do with meeting the needs of the givers than the receivers?  In addition, the last time I checked isn’t Haiti already a Christian nation? But then perhaps it’s an issue of a form/substance analysis because Catholics may not be considered “true” Christians!  As to Mr. Bowers, he has a right to his opinion about what causes the high level of need among our country’s poorer citizens. I disagree with his assessment that feeding them, with the resulting breeding, is what accounts for their growing numbers.  Being a resident of Mr. Bauer’s home state I suspect  that a lack of jobs, drug problems, a dysfunctional education system and state leadership that promotes low wages and employer rights over workers rights/needs may play a more significant role in the growing numbers of our state’s poor.

The third point I’d like to make is that while you have a right to your opinion, you also have a responsibility to both acknowledge and accept that your spoken words have consequences!  I often find that talk show hosts, who get paid to “pontificate,” and some politicians, who can garner both attention and donations (e.g. “You lie!”) simply express loudly what they believe and then later they’ll either make a lukewarm apology (i.e., Mr. Bauer has insisting he wishes he had used a different metaphor and that he “didn’t intend to offend anyone.”), or they disavow any criticism as petty biased partisan politics. The Christian Bible group has every right to spend its money the way it wants, but how do you think the people of Haiti might feel when they receive solar powered Bibles instead of much needed food and shelter.  What’s the message to take away from this gift?  Will they see it as a joyful and heartfelt sharing of the word of God, or an example of a group that has ignored their obvious immediate needs and chosen to tell them what they “really” need?  As the people of Haiti bury their beloved Arch Archbishop and many of their priests and clergy is the humane and loving response to send in automated devices with the subtle message “leave your churches and join us?”

Don't my needs matter?

As I recall, in response to the great tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean, a TV program showed a group of Christian college students rebuilding shattered homes in southern Thailand.  It was wonderful to see these American youth pitching in to help those in desperate need.   Then the interviewer asked how they decided which houses to rebuild.  The response: “Oh, we rebuild the Christian homes!”  Again it is their right to send aid in the way they choose, but how do you think the other victims of this disaster, many of them Buddhist or Muslims felt as they watched this preferential treatment.  Do you think they rushed out to join the Christian church simply to get a new home?  Do you think this might have fueled an unsettling feeling of resentment at these foreign people who come in at a moment of great need and do “good work” in the name of their God, but only for “their people?”

Ask - Listen -and you will Understand their needs!

 Again everyone has a right to their opinion, just as I express my opinion in this blog.  But I challenge everyone to think through the consequences of their expressed opinions and actions.  Ask yourself, do my actions and opinions do more than simply meet my need to feel “good” and “self-righteous?” Do my actions and opinions have more far ranging consequences?  Do they meet other people needs, as they define them, or do my actions and opinions drive a wedge between communities, cultures and religions?  Think twice before you speak or act, once for yourself – through your needs, and once for the “others” – through their needs!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  106                                                 Days Blogged: 96

New Mileage: 12                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 797

As I ride the bike this morning I’m thinking about the pilgrimage site we are visiting today. It’s the St. Leo Abby and Holy Name Monastery in St. Leo Florida. The site includes a monastery, a convent and an adjacent College. The site is manned by Benedictine monks and nuns. It overlooks a lake and offers beautiful grounds, including a grotto and college campus to walk, contemplate, pray and meditate. Like many of the retreat centers at the monasteries and convents, they offer the opportunity to spend the night and if you so desire, you can join the monks and nuns in their daily prayer and religious routines.

Thinking about this site brings back an important memory for me.  After I finished by first year of college, I took a summer job with a book company based in Nashville. They trained me to sell Student Handbooks (dictionaries) door to door. After a week of training they dropped me and my roommate off at a small rural northern Alabama town and drove away. It was suggested that we speak with a local church to ask if any church member might be able to “house” us for several weeks before we moved on to the next location. I asked my roommate which church he attended to which he responded “I’m Catholic” and I said “Me too!” As we sat in a small greasy-spoon diner, I asked the waitress: “Where is the local Catholic church?” She all but laughed in our faces, shaking her head as she exclaimed “Ain’t No Catholics in Blount County.” I sudden felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when she exclaimed “We’re not in Kansas anymore!”

This sentiment was driven home even more profoundly when three weeks later, as I and a new roommate were told to move a couple of counties to the west and resume our sales. As we pulled into the new town I asked him which church do you belong to and of course he reported: “I’m Catholic.” I’m not one to give up on an idea without trying it a few times, so I checked the local phonebook. Much to my surprise, there was a Catholic monastery on the outskirts of the town. We drove there and spoke with the monk in charge. For the next two weeks we stayed in a simple, austere room with a marginally comfortable bed. We ate with the monks who were a pleasant and cheerful group. One humorous aspect of the experience was that no alcohol was allowed in the county. Yet the monks brewed their own beer in the basement of the monastery. On Saturday night each monk would use his personal mug to enjoy a few “cool ones,” mixed  with plenty of laughter.

I didn’t realize at the time, but this experience with the monks in this beautifully tranquil setting would plant a very important seed that would blossom into my future spirituality. In the years to come, as I travelled the world in the US Navy, I would come to experience and recognize the power of a contemplative approach toward spirituality. I would find solitude in nature and through meditation and I would come to recognize the deep well of creativity and wisdom residing at the core of my being. Only now do I realize that this chance meeting with a Monastery full of monks presented me with a glimpse of a tranquil solitary path to a deeper level of understanding. The priests and nuns who had populated my experiences at the church schools I attended, while well meaning, seemed more like task masters and overlords than models and guides. It would be in the Hindu and Buddhist temples of the East that this seed would take root and I would find my first spiritual teachers and ultimately, my inner guide.

St. Leo's Abby

As I have been conducting my search for pilgrimage sites and retreat centers I’ve come across many Catholic monasteries and convents. This makes sense given that the church has long recognized the importance of the inward focused, often solitary contemplative approach to spiritual journeys. During the dark ages in Europe it would be the monasteries and convents that were often the repository for knowledge where books were copied and housed. These facilities were often located in remote and isolated places to lessen the distractions of the world allowing for the residents’ endeavors to connect with the divine (mystically) or receive revelation through studies of the sacred scriptures.

Given these feelings, you can perhaps understand why I was “taken back” when my Google search of “contemplative spirituality” produced 10 references that all presented a negative view of the practice. It was described as wrong, evil, non-Christian and as a highly suspect movement towards mysticism. They specifically mention problems with the use of labyrinths, promoting pagan rituals, and of meditation, not involving the sacred scriptures.

In my last posting I spoke about the levels of analysis one can use when examining examples of religious behavior. We can use a form/substance level of analysis or we can analyze it on the functional level. As I look at this criticism directed toward contemplative spirituality I see that all 10 of the references make use of the form/substance level of analysis. They do not believe the contemplative approach fits what they define as the “true religion.” It doesn’t quote the “correct” sacred scripture or make reference to a valid source of truth in their view. I take a functional approach toward this issue. When I see people walking a labyrinth, sitting in quiet prayer or meditation, writing a poem, creating an artwork, or walking quietly along a river, I recognize all of these as functioning as forms of prayer. All can represent forms of connectedness with parts of themselves, with the world about them, and with something greater than ourselves.

I point out to my students that the theory we use to make sense of the world can have significant consequences for ourselves and others around us. If you use a form and substance analysis you often label behaviors and rituals as true or false, or right and wrong. If you take a functional approach you often end up seeing many diverse behaviors and rituals as meeting the same function for different individuals or groups and that’s OK. Just as the world is made up of people with different tastes for food, different preferences for cars, and different ideas about politics so too the world is made up of people who experience the divine and connect with the divine in different ways and that’s OK! 

Sunset at the Abby lake!

If you would like to visit the Abby’s webpage please click on the Pilgrimage Site tab at the top of this posting.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  103                                                 Days Blogged: 95

New Mileage: 12                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 785

Form over Function?

As I ride the bike I am thinking about the Pilgrimage Site we will visit today.  It is named the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values located on the campus of the University of Tampa. 

Sykes Chapel

The site is still under construction, with its outer shell is almost completed.  The Center will serve a very important function for the University and the greater Tampa community as it has brought together worship leaders from 23 local religious groups for monthly interfaith discussions.  The finished Chapel/Center will include a main hall seating 300 people, meeting rooms, meditation rooms, and adjacent meditation garden.  The west end of the Chapel/Center will house a massive pipe organ.  On the plaza outside the center will stand a unique 75 foot grand musical sculpture adorned with 60 bells and a water fountain.  This unique sculpture/fountain brings together harmonious bells similar to what the center will attempt to do with the different faiths.  I believe the survival of our culture depends upon such efforts!  We must break from the past and the failed efforts at finding “one tone” that fits all people, or efforts to suppress notes that we may find disagreeable or just different.  Like this sculpture, we must come together, many different voices, like individual bells, making music and speaking of the divine.

Recently several of my blog viewers commented on my “Pilgrimages, Retreats and Port-a-potties” posting.  One individual shared a Christian prayer  which prompted a second viewer to note the meaninglessness of the prayer to those who “do not believe in God”.  A third viewer then joined in the discussion.  I directed a comment at all three noting: “We could get into all kinds of arguments about whose worldview has “the truth” and in all likelihood all we would do is go into our separate corners and lick our wounds. That is why I look at it from a “functional” level of analysis! All four of our world views work! They work for each of us and meet our needs… for meaning, purpose, guidance. If the world is ever going to find common ground it won’t be arguing till everyone agrees on the one true form of the divine.  This won’t happen until we all agree that as long as a world view (ours or someone else’s) functions in healthy pro-social ways for individuals and society it is a good and valid choice. Remember: “Be certain, but humble.”

Musical Sculpture

This discussion brought me back to a point I often ponder.  Why is it so difficult to find common ground, to listen to each other without trying to establish who is right or wrong. I believe one way of understanding the difficulty behind this task is to realize there are two different ways in which we can analyze religious or spiritual behavior. In psychology we talk about it being an issue of the depth of our analysis.  On the form level, an analysis looks at differences in the form or appearance of the behaviors.  Things like the different names or symbols used for the divine, or different sources of knowledge (e.g., mystical revelation, or sacred Scriptures, or rituals).  This is the level of analysis that tends to ask the question “which form has the truth?”  The other level of analysis, and the one that I challenge the students in my Psychology of Religion class to explore, looks at the functional level of the behavior. Using this analysis you might look at a Christian on their knees praying, a Buddhist sitting in meditation, or a Sufi twirling in a Dervish ritual and see all three as serving the same function for the individuals which is that of connecting with the divine.

 I believe  when you take a functional approach of analysis it is easier to see past the question of “who has the truth” leading one  to ask the question “does the belief system function to meet the individual and community’s needs?” It’s not easy to take a functional approach because you must make an effort and be mindfulness of the other person.  It takes the ability to see past surface differences and peer into the depths of a topic. I believe this issue is also tied to the question of why people do not always act in more positive loving ways toward other people. I’m speaking of the ideas Abraham Maslow embedded in his theory of the Hierarchy of Needs. The lower needs are what he terms the deficiency needs (e.g., if we don’t have enough to eat we feel hungry).  These needs are always pulling at us, especially when TV advertisements tell us we need to look better, we need to have a nicer car, and we need more money.  The needs at the top of the hierarch, the being needs, call to us in a quieter voice and urge us toward behaviors like justice, understanding, compassion, wisdom and love.  These qualities demand that we looks past the surface, pass the question of what’s in it for us, and ask the question “what would do the greatest good for family, friends, community and nation.”  

Strength through Diversity!

Analyzing any choice, religious choices included, is easiest at the level of deficiency.  Caring first and foremost for myself and my people’s needs takes the least amount of effort.  Listening to the subtle voices of the being needs means asking questions about who is harmed, who wins and who loses, it means looking for positions of compromise.  Asking what position has “the truth” is always divisive and pulls a community down.  The functional choice would be to ask what position is the “right one”.  This would bring about the greatest good and is always a win-win situation, lifting up the community

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  101                                                 Days Blogged: 94

New Mileage: 10                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 773

Finding a shared sense of meaning and joy!

As I ride the bike this morning I am reminded of the scene from the movie Peaceful Warrior  in which the young man followed his newly discovered mentor/teacher on a three hour hike to see “something special .”  As they neared the top of the hill, the young man, who was obviously excited and joyful, notes that he hopes they are close to arriving at their location.  His mentor notes they have arrived, to which the young man asked: “what’s the special thing we’ve come to see?”  The old man points at a rock at the young man’s feet. The young man grows puzzled and frustrated at this proclamation until he comes to the sudden realization that the special thing was “the journey “to that place. It reminds us that the destination does not matter as much as how we journey.  Ultimately, we all  end up as nothing more than a cold granite tombstone, a plaque on a memorial garden wall, or a wisp of ashes dancing on the breeze.  It’s what we do with our lives, with every day and every moment on this journey toward our final breath.

Buddha leads by example!

 My progress as a stationary pilgrim on a virtual search for pilgrimage sites across  Florida, the nation, and eventually the world, has helped me to clarify the nature of my trip. I have recently posted the connection to a new website at www.pilgrimagesite.com. You can find it by clicking on the pilgrimage site tab at the top of this page.  This site allows me to record the presence of retreat centers and potential pilgrimage sites that I find in my internet search.  This webpage contains no pictures or extensive descriptions, just a classification of with respect to its potential interest as a site and a webpage address.  This allows my fellow pilgrims to look at a site and decide on its personal significance to them.  Sites that might hold special significance in my journey, prompting questions and answers for me, might mean little or nothing to other pilgrims.  Even if we share an excitement about a particular site, you might be drawn to the spiritual significance of “the grotto” while I get lost in the spiritual significance of a nature trail.

Natures beauty invites reflection and awareness!

This search for potential sites has led me to questions concerning how to differentiate and classify these potential sites.  A pilgrimage has been defined typically in religious or spiritual terms as a journey or search of some great moral or spiritual significance. All of the world’s major religions have specific pilgrimage sites. Typically they are found in the lands where the faith originated.  For example within Buddhism there are four major pilgrimage sites these are associated with Buddha’s birth place, the site where he attained enlightenment, the site where he preached for the first time, and the site at which he slipped away from his material body. But a pilgrimage sites need not attain that level of significance to function as a journey destination, it need only have some level of spiritual significance for a group or an individual.  Many people make personal pilgrimages to honor their “fallen” ancestors on Memorial Day.  Other people may journey to the site of a special relic or the “first church” of their faith in the New World; I would call this an historically significant site. I have created a classification system whereby I identify sites as having potential significance on various dimensions: Artistic, Architectural, Historical, Scientific, Educational, Religious, and Natural (Nature).  

Retreat site on a hill top!

It seems that a pilgrimage journey is often undertaken when we seek an answer to some spiritual question or reconnection with some aspect of our faith.  Retreats on the other hand, seem to represent more of a temporary change or break from our normal daily routines, a chance to have some “down time” to seek silence and solitude.  This can be a time for prayer, a time to let go of pain, negative emotions, stress and reconnect with the things that are significant to us personally. Retreat centers, which there are many, seem to have as a principal feature the feelings of solitude and tranquility. I  find that retreat sites offer differing degrees of nature based solitude as a primary component.  As such retreat sites will range from what I call a Nature Site such as the Everglades National Park or at the Grand Canyon where an immersion in nature’s awe inspiring beauty is the sites primary offering. In fact if you are lucky such site will offer at least a port-a-potty to service your non-spiritual needs!  More common for the retreat sites I have previewed is what I would call Nature Tranquility which features things like a walking trail through the woods, a bench beside a tranquil river or a vista over a quiet valley.  Somewhat less significance with respect to nature are those sites that offer small but beautiful gardens, often next to a church or on the surrounding grounds.  There are also retreat sites that offer solitude but within an enclosed structure like you are what you might find in a large metropolitan area or in inner-city Zen temple with a simple garden and meditation rooms.

An unforseen spiritual crisis?

 Now that I have my pilgrimage site and retreat center webpage up and running, I’ll find it easier to navigate on my virtual journey.  When I come across sites that we will not visit, perhaps they’re too far out of the way or in some cases I’ve already traveled past the site’s location, I can simply post it for my fellow pilgrims to preview and perhaps visit on the own either virtually or in person. This serves to free my search as I can simply post all potential sites whether we may or may not visit in the future them as part of our virtual journey.   

On Saturday we will visit a Monastery on the outskirts of Tampa, I have found that monasteries and convents, which dot the countryside of our nation in larger numbers then you might think, make for popular retreat centers.  Remember that each breath, each step, each day is as important on our journey as making it to a specific destination!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  99                                        Days Blogged: 93 

New Mileage: 12                                                         Total Trip Mileage: 763

As I climb on the bike this morning I am I thinking about the pilgrimage site we will be visiting today; The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg Florida.  It represents the first time we have visited what I call an Artistic Site.  You might ask how artwork or an entire art museum can represent a spiritual destination.  One way in which artwork might meet this distinction would be if the art in question was of a religious nature, such as an exhibition of medieval church art or African tribal masks. The second way is that the site might display artwork that represents an artist’s spiritual journey.  It might highlight transitions or changes in the artist’s work as they grappled with spiritual questions.

Dali: A work of Art!

Columbus Discovers the New World

Today’s site represents this second approach as it highlights aspects of Dali’s unfolding spirituality.  Dali is certainly an intriguing character and first gained fame prior to war II as a representative of the Surrealism movement in art.  Surrealism is defining as a literary and artistic movement influenced by writer and poet Andre Breton and his interpretation of Sigmund Freud’s work on dreams and the unconscious mind. Surrealistic artists, like Dali, attempted to paint the ‘reality’ of their dreams, which they saw as more ‘real’ than the reality of the everyday world.  He is most famous for his works featuring melting time pieces and figures.  A review of a Dali’s biography indicates that his artwork went through a number of shifts and changes.  He started with the Impressionist and Cubist styles then joined the Surrealist movement.  He had a falling out with Breton and other surrealist painters before moving to the United States from Europe to avoid World War II.  It was at this time that he entered what would be called his “classical period.”   He began a series of 19 large canvases, many of them focused on scientific, historical or religious themes. Shortly after returning to Europe in the late 1940s he announced his conversion to Catholicism and promised: “My paintings in the future will be an amalgam of my Surrealist experience and the classicism of the Pre-Raphaelites and Renaissance.” 

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

I was unable to find specific references to the reason for this transformation in his personal life, however,  I suspect that he, like many artists and writers, struggled to “make sense” of the world after World War II. The devastation of Europe and the Holocaust had a profound effect on many people. Questions about the meaning of life lead some people to even question whether God existed or was in fact “dead.”  Others return to their church roots and/or became fascinated with the proliferation of new scientific discoveries. One biographer noted that that Dali showed a particular interest in the area of nuclear physics, perhaps struck by the power of the atom and the nuclear bombs that fell upon Japan. His interest in science is evidenced by his painting honoring Crick and Watson, the founders of DNA.  His shift to religious themes is evidenced by his paintings: “Temptations of St. Anthony,” or “Christ of Saint John of the Cross,” or the “Last Supper.”  There was some evidence of religious conflict as seen in his drawing: “Sometimes I Spit for Pleasure on the Portrait of my Mother,” where he painted the words over an outline of the Christ of the Sacred Heart.

 Like many artists and writers I get questions from people about the creative process, where it comes from and what role it can play in our life.  I see the creative process as a powerful spiritual process.  Our creative efforts can be a representation of what we already believe, where our beliefs guide the process of choosing and creating symbols.  At other times the process of discovery guides the unfolding artwork and the artist can be just as shocked and awed, as any viewer, at the symbolic outcome.  I’ve had people look at my artwork and excitedly proclaim what they see; I often smile and thank them for their observation, because now I see more complexity and more meaning in the work myself.

Christ of St. John of the Cross

 I suspect that Salvador Dali’s work falls into both of these categories.  Some are likely reflections of his conversion to Catholicism, while others reflect his personal process of discovery and may act as a mirror for the viewer to conduct their own personal exploration. I suspect that really good art does both.  You may see what you already know and feel comfortable with, or you may see new things that raise questions and open doors onto a new reality.  The creative process, like any pilgrimage or journey, has the potential to inspire and clarify as well as the potential to raise disquieting questions and undermine our belief system.  If all life is a journey, we have no choice but to live it, to continue our process of discovery!

Sometimes I spit on my MotherPlease click on the pilgrimage site tab to find in webpage information concerning the Salvador Dali Museum webpage.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  96                                         Days Blogged: 92 

New Mileage: 10                                                         Total Trip Mileage: 751

Before I climbed on the bike this afternoon I checked on the current situation in Haiti. The level of suffering continues unabated, although there is reason for hope.  The response of the people and governments around the world grows daily and help is on the way.  This event has called forth the best qualities of people of all faiths, including their compassion for those suffering and in desperate need of physical assistance.  However, this response has been tainted by talk show hosts and politicians who speak of this unfortunate event in political terms with angry, devisive voices.

Anger holds us back and pins us down!

Every Monday night I watch as my youngest son raises his right hand in a scout sign and takes the Boy Scout oath:”On my honor , I will do my best,  to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law. To help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”  Recently my oldest son raised his right hand and took an oath to: “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same… so help me God.”

On my honor, I will do my best!

 How can we ask our sons and daughters to swear to be honest and obedient, to put others before themselves even to the point of sacrificing their lives, when at the same time we have individuals who get in front of a microphone and a faceless audience and then spew forth anger, hatred and words of division.

 I spoke recently of Pat Robertson and Brett Hume and their words of devisivensss.  Now Rush Limbaugh has joined in by accusing president Obama of using the current crisis as a way to boost his credibility with the African-American community.  In addition, talk show host Glen Beck stated that he believes President Obama is “dividing the nation” because he has “reacted so rapidly on Haiti” but “couldn’t do the same on Afghanistan.”  Beck notes that this “doesn’t make sense to him.”  I have to shake my head in disbelief at his reasoning and logic.  Does a war that has been underway for seven years demand the same quick decision process that a crisis costing possibly thousands of lives an HOUR demands?  Doesn’t  a war that was underfunded and understaffed for so many years deserve a methodical venting of options and opinions?

He has rights, but do we have to tolerate his smoke?

Several of my of blog viewers made comments about Pat Robertson’s right to share his beliefs that Haiti’s difficulties were in part due to a “pact with the devil.”  One of my viewers noted that he was simply expressing beliefs that fit closely to some Christians’ worldview.  I defend the right of any of these individuals to express their beliefs.  However, I take exception to the timing and the ultimate  consequences associated with these comments.  We have a right to speak our minds, but we also have responsibilities that go with those rights.  I believe it is unfortunate that these individuals, who sit in front of microphones find it necessary to say bombastic and troubling things, for the purpose of creating controversity with no apparent thought of the consequences such comments may produce.  In fact, Rush Limbaugh in a recent discussion with the caller noted that he prides himself on the negative reactions he generates and that he purposely produces a “media tweak of the day.” He professed that he “enjoyed “ the outrage he created and that: “when people start squealing like pigs is when I know I’ve hit a home, I love upsetting them!”

Several years ago I sat in a meeting of a group who was angered by the actions of the local school board.  The woman leading the group got up and proclaimed: “ Look at how angry the other side is with our statements and protest, we must be right if they’re that angry!”  I thought then, as I think now listening to Rush Limbaugh, don’t they realize the  absurdity of their reasoning?  I’m sure I could make some bombastic statement about things they value (e.g. religious beliefs, political ideology, the performance of former presidents) that would have them “ up in arms.”  Does that mean what I said was necessarily true… No!

Words can sooth or create wounds!

Bombastic inflammatory remarks certainly get attention and they can arouse emotions but they also “poison the well” of public discourse and drive wedges into our communities.  All of the great religious teachers say that what we speak is important. We are told to not bear false witness, and not express negative thoughts and emotions. We are told that our actions matter, and that the ends DO NOT justify the means.

Let our words calm, not inflame!

How can we ask our youth to embrace the oaths they recite, even to the point of giving their own lives for the causes of our nation, if we can’t display those same virtues towards each other?  We ALL, whether labeling ourselves conservative or liberal, must find a way to express our opinions without purposely creating anger and divisiveness.  I pray for the people of Haiti and for the brave rescuers.  I pray for the demagogues who wrap themselves in their self-righteousness, collect their big paychecks and turned a blind eye to the suffering they create. May the Divine open their eyes to see a path toward love and compassion. 

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  94                                      Days Blogged: 91 

New Mileage: 8                                                      Total Trip Mileage: 741

I once had a student tell me that he thought the world would be a much better place if there was no religion! I told him I could not disagree more. I view religion as a double edged sword.  Clearly it may serve a very positive function within an individual’s life.  It may help to give their life meaning and a sense of direction.  It also serves a very important function within our communities. Many of our important national and world leaders like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Dali Lama arose from within the ranks of religious citizens. In response to Haiti’s devastation many religious groups are stepping forward with assistance.  Whether they are responding to Christ’s or Buddha’s commands to providing comfort and aid to the less fortunate and those in need, they are stepping forward.

Words have consequences!

 The other side of this sword is the fact that the religious beliefs and actions of certain individuals and groups can be turned into potential instruments of bias, divisiveness, hatred and some might even say evil.  Religion can be used to drive a wedge between people rather than become a device to bring together our communities.

Most recently two examples of this negative side of religious beliefs have come to light. The first occurred several weeks ago, when in response to Tiger Woods’ adultery, commentator Brit Hume of FOX News suggested that Tiger Woods should turn to Jesus to deal with his sins because the Buddhist faith does not offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption offered by Christianity. He suggested that Tiger should “turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”  As you might expect this statement has created a firestorm of protest from both Buddhist leaders as well as within the liberal Christian community.  Robert Thurman, a professor of Tibetan studies at Columbia University notes that “it is insulting to Buddhism to indicate that it does not care about its own believers and followers.”  He notes that adultery is as much a sin in Buddhism as it is in Christianity and that the ethics are the same in both traditions.  There are clear philosophical differences between Buddhism and Christianity.  Buddhism believes that a person must look inward and that the problem is something he’s got work out for himself, while Christianity believes that only a potent “creator God” can bestow redemption.  I have no problem with Brit believing what he believes but his statement that Tiger should “lose his faith” and that this faith is inferior or somehow lacking is an insult to not only Buddhists but to anyone who does not hold to a Christian viewpoint. This approach does not foster deeper understanding and acceptance of others within our community.  The fact that his views were aired on a network that prides itself on being “fair and balanced” just adds insult to injury in my view.

The second and I believe somewhat more egregious example occurred in response to the terrific destruction in Haiti following the recent earth quake. I’m referring to Pat Robertson’s statement in which he noted that “something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about. They were under the heels of the French you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said ‘we will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.’”  Pat Robertson then goes on to note that Haitians need to have a “great turning to God” in response to this earthquake. It has been noted that this is not the first time that the former Republican presidential candidate has made controversial comments in the wakes of disasters he was quoted as linking Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 terrorist attacks to a legalized abortion and the presence of the gay agenda in our country.

While Pat Robertson has every right to make his statements, the questions for me are:  What good do the statements server?  Do they help the Haitian people in their moment of need?  Do they help our response to the disaster?  Do they simply represent a “holier than thou” or a “we’re right and favored by God and you’re wrong” exclusionary religious rant?  Is he trying to help quell questions from his followers about why or how could a “just and caring God” do this to these people?  

Are your words and deeds like candle offerings to the divine?

How helpful is it in our preparing for natural disasters or dealing with terrorist threats to make blanket statements in which we tie the occurrence of these disasters to social political causes (e.g. abortion, gay rights). Do you help people who have a “pact with the devil?”  How do we compromise and find common ground on issues like abortion if any kind of support is seen as bringing God’s punishment and damnation upon us?

One of the blessings of our great nation is people’s right to speak their opinions. However, I believe that there are responsibilities that go with this gift and that one of these is to work toward a greater sense of community, toward solutions that bring people together not drive apart. You can label it “fair and balanced” all you want, if it is derogatory, inflames passions and drives wedges into our communities then I believe we may be heading toward a path fraught with EVIL consequences.

Haiti is suffering!

As I prepared to post today’s blog my partner pointed out to me an editorial by the NYT writer Ross Douthat in which he notes that Brit Hume’s comments have fostered a much needed religious discussion.  I agree that such discussions are needed, however, I would suggest that they not be started by commentators who present one sided and insulting statements. I would suggest starting with a balanced two sided presentation of the topic in question.

Please hold the people in Haiti in your prayers as they struggle to survive and rebuild!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  92                                      Days Blogged: 90 

New Mileage: 12                                                   Total Trip Mileage: 733

I am riding the bike tonight in a great deal of pain.  Last week I made a trip to the dentist.  It made for an interesting experience and was mentioned in my blog, but something is amiss!  So I will try and get in to see someone in the next couple days. Hopefully all it will take is an antibiotic and some pain killer to make things right.

Today I met with the two sections of my Psychology of Religion course for the first time.  Close to fifty young people will sit through my lectures and tests for the next fourteen weeks.  We will discuss the various personal and societal functions that religion meets within our individual lives and our culture.  We will explore fourteen different religious traditions that now have roots in the United States, everything from Jainism, Baha’i’, Zen, to Islam. 

Tolerance or Acceptance?

We talked today about the difference between diversity, a recognition of the wide variety of different faith traditions, and pluralism, which is an acceptance of the validity of these beliefs for each tradition.  For society to function properly we must have at least a tolerance of the diversity within our society.  For our society to flourish and prosper I would argue we need to not just tolerate others but celebrate our differences by embracing a pluralistic attitude.

I tell my students that it is not my intention to challenge or undermine their belief systems. I do not want them to “lose their religion.”  However, I expect that they will explore their beliefs on various topics that are important in the discussion of religious traditions.  Such as:” What is the source of mankind’s suffering? What is the nature of the divine (Deity or Godhead)?  What happens after we die?  Each of the various belief systems has an answer to these questions.  Our exploration and discussion is not undertaken to establish which of the belief systems has “the truth,” but to explore how each express and experience “their truth.”

All hold their truth!

I challenge the students to recognize the importance of culture and time period (e.g. how were Buddha’s beliefs tied to Hinduism, India and the time period of 400 BCE) to understand what shaped the nature of a tradition’s beliefs.  I challenge them to recognize the various sources of knowledge and how different religions make use of these sources. For example, the primary monotheisms are called “people of the book” for their reliance on the revealed wisdom of the Old Testament; whereas Zen Buddhists will tell you to burn all of your sacred books because true knowledge and understanding comes from revelations of moment-to-moment experiences.

We will study the differences between cults, sects and churches and the importance of mystical experiences in some of the wisdom traditions.  We will discuss the characteristics of belief systems that head down a “slippery slope” to what some people would call an “evil religion.”  One of these characteristics is holding to the belief that “the ends justify the means.”  I remember hearing someone after the 9/11 terrorist attacks make the statement: “kill all of the Muslims and let God sort them out.”  In their eyes the goal of safety with respect to a perceived threat trumped the death of innocents and the ill will that such actions would generate.

It will be an interesting semester with so many religious topics in the news to act as fodder for our class discussions.  Of course as the semester progresses the unfolding “signs of spring” will make it harder for the students and their teacher to focus on course materials. Maybe rather than lecturing on Taoism I will just send the class out to commune with nature and “know Tao” as an in-the- moment experience!

Each brings their offering to the community table.

Please keep the people of Haiti in your prayers as they struggle with the effects of today’s earth quake.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  89                                      Days Blogged: 89 

New Mileage: 10                                                   Total Trip Mileage: 721

I am an optimist!  I believe that with a focused effort people can regain control over their individual lives and that we as a culture and society can solve the dilemmas and threats we face. However, I am also a realist!  I know there are many opposing forces at play in our lives and that of our culture and society.  Some forces bring us together while others push us apart. Finding the middle ground, the point of balance between these forces is a daunting task for an individual and a society. This is part of the reason why people seek out therapists, spiritual leaders, and the wisdom of the ages.

Yesterday I paused at the entrance to a colleague’s office, an historian, to inquire about his holiday break.  I know his beliefs on a lot of topics and they bear little resemblance to my own.  An initial discussion of his lingering head cold soon turned to politics and religion. I had not intended to steer the discussion in this direction but it went there at his insistence.  He wanted to talk about “them Muslims and terrorists” and how they are all the enemy. Several times I caught myself becoming defensive and pulled back from confronting his views.  Instead I argued for the need to learn more about the Muslims viewpoint so that we might connect with the more moderate element of their faith. He eventually agreed with my statement that an “us versus them” or an “I’m right and your wrong” approach to such matters leaves no one a winner.  Then with barely a pause he noted how the Muslims needed to change first as it was their fault that these are increasingly dangerous times.

Dichotomous Thinking and it's Solution.

This represents an example of dichotomous thinking and can be defined as: thinking that is also sometimes called “black or white thinking.”  This is when someone is only able to see the extremes of a situation, and is unable to see the “gray areas” or complexities of the situation.”  Such thinking sits up a vicious “us versus them” trap. If truth and righteousness are on our side then why is there any need to understand, accept or compromise with anyone we see as an opponent.  If we hold up a pre-conceived idea of what it means to “meet us half way” then are we not simply demanding that they endorse our position?  Is it at all surprising that presented with these demands, those on the other side will become defensive and see their only option to be resistance in various forms, including perhaps suicide bombings?   I’m reminded of reading the following quote by Pat Buchanan to a Christian Coalition meeting: “Our culture is superior. Our culture is superior because our religion is Christianity and that is the truth that makes men free.”  With this attitude why do we need to sit down and have a discussion with anyone of another religion, culture, sexual orientation, or political party?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

I am reminded of Abraham Maslow’s well known “Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid”.  He notes that the lower level “Deficiency Needs” of safety and belonging seem stronger in pull than the higher level “Being Needs” such as justice, beauty, compassion and love. One needs to be reflective and attuned to recognize and hear the “voices” of these higher needs. One needs to be aware of the “humanness” of those people who seem opposed to us and of the similarity of our own emotions and needs.

Label them a beast and they will act as one!

I left this disturbing interaction with my colleague and immediately took a walk. I savored the sting of the winter breeze on my face, filled my lungs with deep breaths of the cold air and listened to the rhythmic sounds of my footsteps.  I let the calming influence of nature bring me back to the moment. 

A tranquil retreat and pilgrimage!

 Why do some people create altars in their living space, place a bench under a cherished tree, walk a favorite path, or go on a spiritual pilgrimage journey?  I believe it is because during these times and in these places we experience moments of balance in our lives which help us to see the possibility of similar balance in the larger world.  If only more of the dichotomous thinkers could or would avail themselves to these peaceful places.  Perhaps then we would all be closer to finding true peace.

Disasterous retreat from a no win situation.

Thanks to The Curious Animator at www.tomjech.com/blog/category/images for the dichotomous thinking cartoon. If you enjoyed this posting please consider signing up for the stationarypilgrim’s e-mail list by clicking on the subscribe button at the top right of this page… thank you for visiting!

 

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