Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  172                       Cumulative Days Blogging: 157

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1144

As I climb on the bike today my thoughts are with my family, friends, students and fellow pilgrims who have shared words of encouragement with me as I experienced the mixed emotions associated with sending my eldest son off to his active duty station and most likely war.

Yin-Yang: Symbol for the Chinese concepts of harmony and complementary opposites. Acceptance of apparent contradictions as each phenomena is seen as containing some element of it’s opposite.  The universe is seen as moving in cycles that contain underlying harmony, this understanding is essential to understanding life and change.

I realize that any discussion about the military and armed conflict always draws mixed and sometime strongly held reactions from people.  This is even more the case when I consider that I am part of a very liberal and pluralistic faith and have reached out to a wide circle of open caring people who value compassionate relationships.  I realize that questions of the use and existence of the military raise deep concerns for many people.   

I find within myself an ongoing struggle between my positive memories of the military and my knowledge of the destructiveness that military service can visit on soldiers (I have worked with many PTSD survivors from WW2, Korea and Vietnam), and the innocent civilians who get caught up in the conflict (I heard horror stories of collateral damage from Vets).  I have received several strongly negative comments about my recent Facebook and Blog postings.  Many of them expressed the belief that the world would all be better off without a military and conflict/war. 

I whole heartedly agree that humankind and our planet would be better off if we could extinguish this incessant drum beat that has appeared throughout human history, leading our young men (and now young women) off to war.  Ideally I dream of a world where there is no anger, no bullying, no hatred, no racism, no killing, no conflict.  However, I am a realist and while I sometimes let myself dream of idyllic times, where we all coexist in peace, I realize that there are reasons why we need a social institution called the military. 

I believe we sometimes need to grab our shield and spears and man the ramparts in defense of our ideals and of higher good.  I recognize the danger that arm conflict can get wrapped up in ideology, the whole argument about a “just war” troubles me when it is tied to religious principles.  Far too many people have died in the name of God, as each side hurls the label of “heretic” at the other. 

As a Psychologist I ask myself what motivates this apparent “need” for a military.  I believe the military can serve two different but valid functions, one within the individual members (intrapersonal needs) and the other within a culture or society (interpersonal needs).  There  is a great deal of variations in how these needs manifest themselves, also they may differ across time (as evidenced by the fact that the US attack on Iraq represented the first time our nation attacked someone who had not first provoked us… now what was that all about?)

Some of the Intrapersonal needs comes about because of inner conflict, between parts of ourselves, or because we find our “world” under apparent attack (our idea of right and wrong challenged by gay marriage, abortion, growing numbers of minorities).  These frustrations can lead to a “lashing out” at others who are different from ourselves.  I tell my students that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what a “jihad” represents.  It is my understanding that we are to undertake a jihad against those forces within ourselves that block us from achieving a connection with the divine.  As often happens in religious and political undertakings (crusades, liberation movements, cults) the enlightened purpose behind a movement is lost when egotistical and self-serving motives take over. 

We all struggle with conflicting inner forces, we all have a dark side! I believe the critical thing is to find a balance between our inner forces.  Until we can find this balance inside ourselves we will not find it in our exterior world and our relationship with others.  My son struggles, as I have struggled, in a constant yin and yang balance between desires and ideals.  The military with its multitude if new experiences and new views helped me find my balance, I hope that it might do the same for my son.

Another dynamic that comes into play are Interpersonal needs.  I have repeatedly lamented the dichotomous thinking that we see so prevalent in our society.  This form of thinking manifests itself in the “win – lose” and “us versus them” arguments spewed forth by “hot heads” on both sides of the political and religious spectrum.  What is particularly problematic about this form of thinking is that when one group (political party, race, culture or church) chooses to take this perspective, seeing everything as warfare or a win or lose game, it puts great pressure on other groups to assume the same stance.

 Peace and harmony between people only works if both sides decide that this is the overriding goal.  True peace and harmony is not imposed on vanquished by a victor it is a choice made by both sides to compromise and find common ground.  When one side amasses an arsenal the other side has to respond in like.  I do not believe that the response must always be in the direction of a stronger force, if you have leaders with foresight and a greater understanding, the response can be one of compassion and a measured strike at those directly responsible (the actual terrorist or the individual despot leader) you do not have to destroy a whole country.  If you mean to counter a radical ideology you do not need to demonize a whole religion or ethnic group.

Examples of the “Yin and Yang” of life abound all about us.  You see it in nature, in the lives of animals, in our inner self, in our community and our nations. Let us never cease striving for balance for a healthy perspective, for a lessening of conflict and an acceptance of differences.  Let us never cease the struggle to be loving caring compassionate beings!

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Greetings friends and fellow pilgrims.  I am still preparing for and adjusting to my son’s departure for Fort Lewis Washington.  As a going away gift I am having the book “365 Tao” bound as a hardback book.  He has read it in the past to the point of breaking the binding so I thought a hardback copy would serve him well,  I also had the book binder include several pages of my words of encouragement and what I call “Words of Wisdom.”  I thought my readers might enjoy see them, so here they are:

The following represents “Words of Wisdom” I have gleamed from my life experiences.  I hope that pondering them may help you recognize their possible relevance in your life.

 1)      “Shit happens” – our lives are a constant parade of events that we are required

                                             to adjust too,  how we adjust affects our level of happiness!


a)      Just Happens” Shit – we have little or no choice in the event’s occurrence

  1. THROWNESS – conditions we are born with (gender, race, baldness, etc)
  2. “DROPPED OUT OF THE BLUE” Shit – largely unexpected or unforeseeable events and conditions (illness, accidents, acts of nature)

      Keys to adjustment for the “Just Happens Shit”:

  1. Acceptance and Accommodation – some people actually embrace the

            event as a way of adjusting (“bald is beautiful”)                                        

  1. Foster Coping Skills – prepare for the next “unexpected event”

            (buy insurance, build strong social support, foster spirituality, get training)

      Most Common Errors:

  1. “Fight the Shit” – this is the basis for many marketing efforts

                                   (hair loss treatments, diets, cosmetic surgery)

  1. “Fear the Shit” – worry about all the “what ifs” that could occur

 b)      Stepped in It” Shit – we have some responsibility for these events occurrence 

                                                       as they are influenced by our life choices

  1. CONSEQUENCES – conditions we create by our actions, they are not necessarily predictable, but likely outcomes of our actions (highly probable).  They may involve the consequences of ours and others people’s actions, we tend to not see these coming, although in “hind sight” we realize that they were highly probable. (cancer due to smoking)
  2. “SEE IT COMING” Shit – if you are observant and know how to recognize it, these are the situations/ relationships/ events that you can steer clear of/ avoid (getting in the car with a drunk, going out with a drug user, skipping classes, unprotected sex).

      Keys to adjustment for the “Stepped In It Shit”:

  1. Make Corrections – change the causal behaviors or attitudes that 

                                       lead to event (quit smoking, start exercising, 

                                       leave the relationship, training, etc.)            

     2. Learn From It – take a lesson away from the experience and then 

                                Implement changes to decrease the likelihood of   

                                future problems (choose relationships more wisely)

     3. “Fight It” – work to take control (now) over the things you still have

                         control over… manage the fallout! (apologize)

      Most Common Errors:

  1. Embracing the Shit – this “there is meaning in suffering” attitude 

                                        often leads to a lack of action (everyone dies!)

  1. Misinterpreting it – seeing it as “Just Happens Shit” and accepting it 

                                      as an unchangeable situation. (I said “I do!”)

      Note:  Situations often represent combinations of these categories.  An unwanted  

                pregnancy maybe experienced as a “Dropped out of the Blue” event, but in 

                hindsight it is a “See it Coming” Event.

“I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.” – Douglas Adams

 2)       “Be Happy”           

–    Life is all about attitude! Attitude represents a filter or lens (like a pair of glasses) that we  

           view the world through.  Like a dirty lens, we often assume that what we perceive

           (through the lens) is the world and not a filtered image (anger is a dirty lens)

–          always remember that your lens needs polishing and cleaning… check it frequently!

3)      “Never Say Never”

–          We can only make predictions about the future, none of us can know what it holds!

       This attitude helps keeps us from committing to inflexible positions… keeps us from

       having to “eat our words” in the future… helps us keep our options open!

“Prayer is when you talk to God; meditation is when you listen to God.” – Diana Robinson


“Be Certain, But Humble”

–          Strive to be certain about your beliefs (in yourself and your worldview).  Strive to have your life experiences fit your life view, but be humble about your beliefs because they are yours and do not necessarily fit the life experiences of other people. 

–          This is particularly important with respect to political and religious beliefs.

 5)      “Change is Mandatory, Growth is Optional!”

–          perhaps one of the most important overriding points about life is that it is a process!

–          it is always in the process of becoming something (something more or something less, but surely something different) our control over this process is sometimes limited

–          like it or not, planned and unplanned changes (shit) happens, it is what we do with these changes (resist/ignore/adjust to them) that is of paramount importance

–          how we respond dictates the general course our life follows (do we consistently make mountains out of mole hills… or see mountains –obstacles- as just speed bumps)

–          wise choices do not always lead to success (a lack of failure) but they always lead to  growth (improving our happiness and chances for success in the future)

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” – Buddha

 6)      “Always strive for Balance”

–          Growth is a process of finding balance between our desires and needs (present and future) and the demands of life situations (rules and laws, other’s needs)

–          Buddha and the Taoists preached “the Middle Path” – don’t deny your needs but don’t give in to excesses – always treat others with compassion and care!

 7)      “Just because you can doesn’t mean that you have too or should!”

–          Life presents us with multiple possibilities and choices, we must choose wisely!

–          Not all choices are equal! Some choices represent unreasonable risks (You can see it coming shit) and     

            threaten to move us away from a balanced position.

–          Stupid people make stupid choices: 1) They couldn’t do what they tried to do (lacked skills to do it); 2) They

            didn’t see the potential risk (should not have done it); 3) They told themselves they “had to do it” (a dare,

            standing up to an insult, to look tough).

I hope that you found my words thought provoking and humorous… have a wonderful day!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  169                             Cumulative Days Blogging: 154

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 1129

In my most recent blog I spoke about my strong disagreement with a historian’s statement about the future as an “apathetic void of no interest to anyone.”  I highlighted what I believe is the importance of the “here-and-now” and the “possibilities” of the future.  I’ve had a discussion with several people about this point and I wanted to clarify my views a bit further.

Life is a balancing act!

I recognize that our attention can easily be drawn to the past like an intriguing movie or play.  We often know some of the characters by name (i.e.., Generals and Presidents, siblings and parents), we know some of the locations by experience (i.e., battlefields and Capitals, childhood homes) and we often know how the story ends (i.e., who wins the battles and the war, where people are now).  By delving deeper into the story (our shared or individual past) we often discover new scenes, intriguing relationships and hidden plot twists that had escaped our earlier awareness. While the past can offer insights as to how we got to where we are today and at times offer possible solutions to current problems, our decisions have to be imbedded in the present and take into account the forces at play in the here-and-now.

I am always suspicious when people like the Tea Party activists, frame our present problems as identical or closely related to that which occurred hundreds of years ago.  I remember seeing where a local church was advertising that it was “First Century Christianity in the Twenty First Century!”  This appeared to be based on the fact that their “church” had no physical building, but met on a rotating basis in members homes. I see that statement as being nonsensical or at least historically inaccurate.  Who knows for sure what first century Christianity looked like!   It was a product of a time and place that no longer exists.  It represented a new movement (not an established faith or societal institution) pitted against an established institutional religion (paganism) and was being persecuted (not embraced by the society’s leaders) and forced to operate under a cloak of secrecy (the fish symbol and hidden meetings). Whereas now Christianity is an established religion and social institution, it operates in the open, it controls many media mouthpieces and counts a majority of the nation’s leaders among its members.  What this church was offering was a variation of twenty first century Christianity! I also suspect that once their membership grows large enough they too will purchase a church building!  At that time I guess they will need to market themselves as “third century Christianity” or just join the rest of us in the present!

Dwelling on the Past

Small islands of pink granite

Stretch like a chain of pearls

The strand lies broken

Large gaps separate them

Filled with swirling waters

Brown, green and murky

Even the lone goose   

     navigates the eddies with caution

Only a giant or NBA center

     could transverse these stepping stones

Small rock outcroppings

     In the center of the river

Human free sanctuaries

     Sporting clumps of trees and scrubs

Is it wrong to wish

     for the droughts return?

When the main channel was a slow moving stream

     And bridges of stepping stones

     Offered walkways to green islands

     Far from the noisy picnickers

     And their second hand smoke


Several month ago I blogged on one aspect of the challenge we face on our spiritual journey.  I quoted an Ani DeFranco’s song: “When I look down I miss the good stuff (scenes about us and on the horizon) and when I look up I just trip over things (obstacles at our feet)”.   I noted that one of the challenges on our journey is find a rhythm and balance between stopping to look up (checking out the road ahead) and then moving a distance while glancing down to watch your footing.  I would like to add our current discussion of the importance of the past to this analogy. 

Some times there are warning signs!

The  challenge is to find a rhythm and balance on your journey through life among three components: First, we must at times stop and look up toward our future path, see our goals, look for forks (decision points) in the road ahead, note if there is a blind turn in the road or signs of adverse weather. If you fail to do this with sufficient frequency or adequate attention to detail you will be “surprised” and “blind sided” by forks in the road, washed out bridges or dangerous and threatening situations that seemingly “just happen.”  Secondly, at times we need to stop and glance over our shoulders into the past, to see if the surrounding scenery looks familiar and ask how our past choices have shaped our current situation, look for reoccurring patterns (like what happened the last time when the fuel light lit up on our dashboard and we ignored it).  While we cannot backtrack and redo an earlier choice we often can make future choices that steer us back toward our stated goals, or we can reevaluate our future goals to match future possibilities. Lastly, we always have to remember to move forward while focusing on life’s moment-to-moment demands on the path about our feet.  Be attentive to the moment-to-moment changes in our relationships, the unexpected delays and detours, the multitude of small seemingly simple choices that occur.  It is not the past or the future that trips us up, it is life unfolding and playing out at our feet, which includes repeating patterns and predictable events and choices!

Some events just feel familiar!

I find it ironic that three days ago there were many people around the world who had plans to travel to and from Europe on vacation and/or business.  Then an event that no one had any control over, the eruption of a volcano hundreds of miles away brought much of the world air traffic to a halt.  This acts as a reminder that the “best laid plans” are just that: “plans”!  Some events (often called acts of God or Nature) just appear with little or no warning… welcome to the balancing act we call life!


Perhaps I was a bit too hasty

In cursing the high water

On an island well out of reach

A dozen large turtles

Bask in the midday sun

Further down the shoreline

A young man

And his three bikini clad companions

Occupy an island

I watch with amusement

And appreciation

Their slow and noisy

Return to shore

It was a slippery journey

But leaves me with a question

Why do young girls

Scream so much?


Water + Sun + Friends = A Basking Moment!

I hope you enjoy the two poems I included today.  They were the product of my river walk that took place several days earlier.  Tomorrow we return to our pilgrimage journey across northern Florida.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  162                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 147

Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1098

We are almost to Jacksonville Florida and tomorrow we will visit the first of three pilgrimage sites in the area, including two historical architectural churches and a nature site highlighting the beauty and diversity of the flora in Northern Florida.

Wired to love?

I’m sure that some of my friends and students found themselves saying “Oh my gosh, Dr. Edwards has gone over to the dark side!”  I want to assure everyone I am still my optimistic and upbeat self.  The title of today’s blog came from a statement made by Andrew Breitbart in a Time magazine article.  Mr. Breitbart is a highly outspoken mouth piece for right wing political thought on the web who the Time article described as a “Tea party Tycoon.” As I read the article I found myself shaking my head, not in disbelief, I’m a Clinical Psychologist I am seldom surprised by human behavior anymore, I shook my head out of sadness and concern. 

I have recently blogged on the characteristics that can lead religions to produce “evil” outcomes.  We have seen some of the sad results of this process in the tit-for-tat historical massacre of Christians by Christians and in the recent news reports of the arrest of a small group of “Christian militia” who intended to attack police officers and hasten a second revolution.

All hate all the time?

In recent news cycles a lot of attention has been given to “hate speech” or what you might call “alarmist speech.”  Terms like “lock and load,” “on the firing line,” and “reload” maybe seen as a colorful call to arms by the people using them, but it concerns others with the imagery of armed rebellion and violence.  Often the people making these statements will defend their “freedom of speech” and will attack those who raise concerns as being the source of the problem (e.g., the Obama health care bill caused the anger and threats of violence) and not the potential victims.

As a therapist I know from experience that words matter!  Among yesterday’s news announcements was the sad story of the teenage girl who after months of verbal and physical bullying by nine fellow students committed suicide. Their words mattered… they drove a desperate young girl to take her life! 

Matching hate speech!

I have spoken personally with members of a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville Tennessee, that lived through the terror of a gun wielding assailant who blasted away randomly during a children’s Sunday service.  A handful of innocent adults died in the pews, luckily no children were injured!  On the seat of the assailant’s vehicle in the parking lot lay a hateful letter targeting “liberals” filled with references to the “inspiring words” of a list of popular conservative talk show hosts.  These talk show hosts words mattered… they cost innocent people their lives!

In my last blog we talked about the triple filter test.  I have had a lot of comments about this post.  Many of them agree with my statement that we would all be better off if we followed this test before we spoke, before we made public statements, before we stepped in front of a microphone, before we painted a placard with hateful statements.  I noted that the three filters were truth, goodness and usefulness.  I would like to highlight the usefulness question because I believe it comes in two variations.  Is it useful for the person receiving the information (e.g., a compliment, feedback) or not (e.g., gossip, lies)?  Is it somehow useful to the person providing it (e.g., advancing an agenda, raising alarm and/or money, undermining someone else’s efforts)? 

As I noted in the last posting if Senator Scott Brown continues to repeat a lie (e.g., that Rachel Maddow is running against him) because it generates campaign fund then it is certainly useful to him given an “ends justify the means” approach to politics.  I guess some people would see it as an effective tactic or a screwed move.  I see it as nothing more than a useful lie, an example of false propaganda from a politician who will no doubt speak out of the other side of his mouth when he asks the people of his state to “believe in me” when they cast their reelection votes.  

Brought to you by Westboro Baptist Church!

Mr. Breitbart’s statement, which I used as a header for this posting saddens and concerns me.  He has a right to his belief, and he like all of us chooses the “process” he is going to follow in making his decisions.  That process might be the Golden or Platinum Rule, Might makes Right, the Ends Justify the Means, it’s all a Game, or The Triple Filter, to name just a few.  However, whatever process we use we must live with and accept the outcomes we sow and reap. 

I believe that when someone chooses to place themselves into a public position of authority, like a politician or clergy member, or are elevated by the popularity and marketing of their opinions, like a talk show host, news caster or leader of a movement, they have a responsibility to choose their words wisely!  Their proclamations should do more than serve their narrow needs, they should think about the greater good!  We would hold someone in contempt if they shouted “Fire” in a crowded theater just to secure a better seat, and then shrugged their shoulders at the trampled people’s suffering.  Then why do we turn away in silence when someone espouses hateful attitudes just to create distress in others or advance their personal agenda?

I believe that all of us have a responsibility to make sure that those who lead us, (whether Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat) or act as our mouth pieces, (talk show hosts, favorite bloggers, or letter to the editor writers) or act as our cheerleaders  (family and friends) or offer us guidance (religious leaders) do it in a way so that the answer to the “usefulness”  question is not just that it is useful for them (e.g., makes money, sells books, strokes their egos), or even that it is just useful for our movement or side (e.g., we win the election, we save our school at the cost of som other school, or our church grows larger) but that it be useful for all members of the community, nation and world community.

Lets make it so!!!!

I know I am a dreamer!  I know what I ask is almost impossible to imagine in our present overly charged and highly emotion political and religious landscape.  However, if we who represent the “moderate core” the loving, compassionate, caring individuals, and yes dreamers in every faith and political movement stand up and make ourselves heard we can drown out these voices of hate and divisiveness.  I believe we can!  Join me… stand up… speak up… be heard!  After all we only have a world and a future to lose!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  160                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 145

Today’s Mileage: 10                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1090

Evil is NOT Alien... it is potentially found within ALL Faiths!

As I ride the bike this morning I pondered several potential themes for our posting.  We are traveling north towards Jacksonville leaving St. Augustine.  I decided to discuss an always sensitive topic: the potential “evil” outcomes of religious communities and movements.  I have on numerous occasions had discussions with my student concerning this topic.  Sometimes students will note that they believe humanity would be better off “without religion.”  I could not disagree more!  I point out to them that the social institution of Religion serves numerous functions for both individuals and society at large.  I often note that, like many things, it is how an individual or group uses their religious beliefs that can be problematic or have an “evil” outcome.  If your belief system acts to keep you from growing and exploring new experiences then that system might be problematic.  If a belief system subjugates or alienates a portion of society (e.g., women, minorities, gays, youth) then that system may be problematic.

You might be asking yourself: Why is he bringing up this topic?  My friends and students know that I tend to be very optimistic and upbeat and choose to not dwell on topics that drive wedges between people.   However, two things elevated this topic in my mind.  They have to do with a set of historical events, and a recent event in the news.

Several days ago we explored the history of St. Augustine and three “Forts” in this area.  Fort Matanzas has the tragic history of being the site of a massacre of 250 defenseless French Huguenot soldiers by a Spanish Catholic force.  They were killed when they refused to denounce their faith and were labeled as “heretics.”  This tragic story did not end there!  For the French had in 1564 established a settlement near present day Jacksonville named Fort Caroline.  When a Spanish force arrived the next year and established St. Augustine the ill fated French force had travelled south to “deal with” the new arrivals.  A storm was the down fall of the French, destroying their ships and casting them on the beach where they were discovered and massacred by the Spanish force.  Don Pedro Menendez, the Spanish commander took advantage of this development to conduct a counter attack upon Fort Caroline.  The defenders fought valiantly but in the end, surrendered.  What remained was a hand full of soldiers and 50 women and children.  The decision was made to once again kill the survivors as heretics.  It was reported that the women and children were all burned at the stake.  With this event the French presence in Florida came to an end.  The Spanish converted Fort Caroline into their settlement in an effort to extend their control further north along the coast.  However, in 1568 a French military force attack the Spanish settlement destroying it and massacring all of its inhabitants in revenge for the earlier kills of French settlers.

I know that some people would simply attribute these events to “an earlier time” when such conflicts were common place.  However, all one has to do is listen to recent news out of Nigeria, where Christian and Muslims are taking turns killing each other, or remember back a couple decades to Northern Ireland, where Christians were again killing each other, to know that such sad episodes are by no means a “thing of the past.”

How can we explain these tragic outcomes when the same religious groups and movement have given the world some its greatest artwork, music and inspiring leaders?  Dr. Charles Kimball, an ordained Southern Baptist minister and academic scholar in Islam wrote a book entitled:  When Religion Becomes Evil.  Dr. Kimball notes in his book that there are five warning signs (characteristics) of possible corruption of a Religion.  The more of these characteristics that are present in a belief system the greater the danger that this faith might produce “evil behaviors” in its followers.  Recent examples would include: flying planes into buildings full of people; gunning down abortion doctors; leaving threatening phone messages toward individuals holding opposing views.

Just War or Evil Crusade?

What are these characteristics?  Dr. Kimball lists them as: 1) Absolute Truth Claims – all faiths have truth claims, however when they are treated as rigid doctrines anyone holding other views become “heretics.” 2) Blind Obedience – beware any movement that seeks to limit the intellectual freedom and individual integrity of its adherents (maybe associated with Charismatic Authority Figures; enslavement to doctrine and/or withdrawal from society).  3) Establishing the “Ideal” Time – Often involve concrete ‘divinely ordained” plans, especially dangerous when religion is joined with the goals of the state.  4) The Ends Justify the Means – Beware when a particular goal or end is articulated as essential or paramount, in defense of this goal all calls for compassion and constructive relationships are ignored or attacked as “joining with the enemy.”  5) Declaring Holy War – the lines separating the forces of good and evil become blurred, represented by the crusades, jihad, and “just war.”  Especially problematic when combined with Ends Justify the Means characteristic.

It would appear that the presence of several of these characteristics in the 1600-1700 European churches might account for the tit-for-tat massacres surrounding the St. Augustine area.  In particular, Absolute Truth Claims; the Ends Justify the Means; and Declaring Holy War.  Of course conflicts like that taking place in Nigeria involve not just religious conflict but also economic and tribal conflict and feelings of revenge.

Beware combining politics and religion!

In closing I would like to highlight a news story I came across the other day.  It seems that a popular Lebanese TV personality, who conducted a call-in TV program broadcast across the Middle East, travelled to Saudi Arabia on a religious pilgrimage and was arrested by the Saudi religious police.  He was charged with “sorcery” charges after confessing (after interrogation) “that he consulted spirits to predict the future.”  The Saudi religious courts have now handed down a death sentence in his case!

While I believe people have a right to their religious beliefs and a right to their governance system of choice, I do feel that such behavior on the part of the Saudi government and their religious leadership represents an “evil outcome.”  They may feel self-righteous in their claims of absolute truth (for Sharia law) and their demands of blind obedience to this law, that does not give them the right to execute an individual whose beliefs would be tolerated if not embraced  by the rest of the world (including much of the Islamic world).

Not Options for religious moderates!

I always end this discussion with a “call to arms” directed toward moderate and liberal elements of the world faiths.  I believe that it is the responsibility of the moderate elements in Islam, the Jewish Faith, Christianity and Hinduism to rise up and take control of the “message” being expressed to the world.  These “evil influences and forces” can only be counteracted and lessened by a wave of moderate voices from “within!”

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 132                             Consecutive Days Blogging: 114

Today’s Mileage:  5                                             Total Trip Mileage: 928

The Abduction

As I ride the bike this morning I think about a series of blogs I posted several weeks ago.  I got into a discussion concerning some of the efforts being undertaken by Christian organizations in Haiti.  In the end I offered an apology as I did not have all of the information concerning the topic.  Some friends cheered my efforts and encouraged me to rejoin the “struggle” with people who wrap their efforts in a religious mission.  Other friends encouraged me to just step away from any such discussions, to avoid the “us and them” conflict and to simply continue to ride my bike, commune with nature and discover inspiring and unique pilgrimage sites. 

I have decided to comment on a set of events that have unfolded over the last several weeks in Haiti.  I am speaking of the arrest of 10 American Christian missionaries as they tried to leave Haiti with a busload of children.  While the missionaries believed that these were orphans or unwanted children, the Haitian government disagrees.

 I have no problems with the process of adoption. I have numerous close friends who have adopted children from the Orient or Eastern Europe.  They have welcomed these children with open arms into their families and all are now happy healthy children who are loved and cherished by their adopted parents.  We recently hired a new faculty member who was himself an adoptee from Korea.  He speaks favorable of adoption, especially for children who may be a less than “perfect” having handicaps which invite condemnation from their native culture.  Many of these adoptive parents chose to adopt out of a combination of their own personal needs, an inability to conceive a child, and a strong desire to help a less fortunate child by giving them a loving home.  Other individuals have acted on deep religious conviction and have added adopted children to their own existing families.

Who could resist?

I have watched the unfolding story of the 10 Christian missionaries who headed to Haiti to save and adopt orphaned children. Since they were first arrested, I’ve witnessed a chorus of voices from within the Christian community.  Some condemned their actions as misguided and naïve.  But many of these voices note that the missionaries had “good intentions” that they “only wanted to help.”  I understand that sometimes well-meaning and loving people can rush forward to quickly, undertaking a task without all of the necessary preparations.  People can get in “over their head” or “jump in without looking.”  I have to question whether people are moving too quickly to dismiss the seriousness of these missionary’s actions and behaviors by over emphasizing their intentions.

I’ve blogged before about the danger of ends justify the means arguments.  In our own country we saw a war based on lies heralded as a “just war” because in the end we had disposed of a bad dictator.  This declaration was accompanied by a total disregard of the cost of the war for our country and the people we “liberated.”  I believe that the arguments stating that the missionaries “had good intentions” is simply a variation of the ends justify the means.  If the motivation behind the action was good, even if the action itself did not yield good, then the means are somehow justified?  Some of my friends are prone to say this sounds like a slippery slope. It sounds like motivation trumps the actual costs of the event.

Wonderful words, but do they listen?

A second event that has recently come to light was based upon complaints from adoptive parents.  A Christian adoption agency told adoptive parents they were receiving orphans and only later did the parents find out that the children were older than they had been promised.  In addition, the children reported having living parents and longing to return home. To add insult to injury this agency charged tens of thousands of dollars from the adoptive parents.  Videotapes exist showing an agency worker offering money to Ethiopian villagers for their children.  Again does the ends, placing less fortunate children in loving homes, out weight the means? A heartbroken parent finds out their adoption was based on a lie and the good work of all adoption agencies is called into question.  Good intentions are NOT an excuse to forgive bad behaviors!

Yesterday we visited the Kennedy space Center, tomorrow we will stop at a pilgrimage site that highlights nature.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  129                                              Days Blogged: 111

New Mileage: 4                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 908

This morning as enjoyed my coffee and prepared for the day I came across an article in USA Today entitled “Young adults today are a ‘less religious’ bunch,” the subheading stated: “But not necessarily more secular!”  I mentioned this article in my Psychology of Religion class and it led to an energetic discussion.  The article compares 18 to 29-year-olds of the current generation to the four prior generations at the same age.  What you see is that the number of individuals reporting that they have no religious affiliation has consistently increased with each generation.  Only 5% of individuals born before 1928, reported being without religious affiliation when they were 18 to 29, whereas for the current group, born after 1980, that percentage jumps to 26% reporting no religious affiliation.  The article goes on to note that while they may not be as involved with church as earlier generations members of this generation are just as likely to pray and to believe in God.

I noted to my students that these results appear to fit with the growing number of individuals, who described themselves as “spiritual but not religious”.  My class discussed how to understand these results using a popular framework for analyzing religious beliefs.  This framework involves looking first at the level of generality: either a Personal Level of beliefs (e.g., individual’s belief in God, heaven and hell, sin, and the causes of our suffering, etc.) or the Social Level of beliefs (e.g., church dogma, agreed upon forms of prayer and religious rituals, etc.). The framework then involves the depth of analysis: either an analysis of Substance/Form (e.g., different names used for God, different Sacred Scriptures, different forms of prayer, etc.) or an analysis of Function (e.g., the purpose for prayer, the benefits of belonging to a church, provides guidance, creates a sense of safety and purpose).


Analysis of Religious and Spiritual Beliefs and Behaviors:

                                      Personal                            Social

Substance             Spiritual Beliefs                  Religious Beliefs 

Function            Intrapersonal Needs           Interpersonal Needs

Viewing the above table, we can see that the study results address only the Substance/Form level of analysis.  In addition, we can see that the results point to a weakening of the Social (Religious-church) dimension while the Personal (Spiritual) dimension remains intact. How can we explain these results?  I believe that if we consider the importance of the functional level of analysis we can form several hypothesis: 1) That churches are no longer meeting the Interpersonal Needs of Individuals (e.g., forming a sense of community, providing common/shared beliefs, providing moral leadership, creating a sense of renewal), so they drift away but retain their Personal Spiritual Beliefs which help to meet their Intrapersonal Needs (e.g., need for safety and security, need for guidance); 2) That individuals are no longer interested in the Interpersonal Needs and instead are overly focused on their Intrapersonal Needs.

With respect to the first hypothesis, we certainly see churches in many denominations struggling to maintain membership levels especially among young people. Some people argue that churches are losing their relevance as the quality of moral leadership displayed by church leaders implodes (e.g., sexual abuse of children, focus on hot button political or social issues that are not relevant to most people’s lives, focus on church financial needs).  Clergy that in past generations were marching at the front of rights movements now are often pitted against current minority groups and their demands. Young people who have grown accustom to homosexuality, inter-racial dating, and a “one world view” see churches taking stands on these issues that create division in their communities. Such churches work against a unified community and world!

Interesting, we see more and more churches adopting the “mega-church” model.  The idea is that people now expect that the church experience (music, sermons, and the building) should be engaging and entertaining. The church should “draw people in” with offerings like a good store sale!  We see growth in these mega-churches that offer a smorgasbord of services and experiences, one size does not fits all or “sell well” anymore!  Many churches are frantically trying to retool to better meet these needs, even to the point of announcing that “God wants you to be rich!”  I wonder how many long dead ministers and priests are turning over in their grave because of that one?   Dr. Keith Campbell, co-author of the book: The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, recently told a story about visiting his sister’s California mega-church.  She noted that they could either go into the main sanctuary and listen to the sermon, or go next door to the contemporary service with more modern music, or they could go to the church coffee shop and bookstore where they could sit and have a coffee while they watch the service on a widescreen TV.  However, these churches maybe fighting a losing battle!

How so you ask?  The second hypothesis points to the importance of the individual church member’s balance between Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Needs.  Dr. Campbell notes that on a wide variety of different indicators the current generation of individuals shows strong self-center narcissistic traits.  He notes that our social institutions (of which religion is one) are being forced to change to meet the individual demands of these young people.  Education is another social institution that is frantically trying to figure out how to advance societies needs when faced with youth who are use to multidimensional entertainment.

I recently came across a statement in the most unlikely of places, a scrap booking shows on cable!  A sales person, in talking about their product, noted: People want to be underwhelming by the requirements, and they want to be overwhelmed by the product. I suspect that many churches are embracing a marketing philosophy that holds: the less you can ask them to do and the more you can give them, the more likely they will return and stay. That thinking may continue to fuel church member’s spiritual beliefs but not necessarily their religious beliefs.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  128                                              Days Blogged: 110

New Mileage: 5                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 904

A Journey of Discovery!

Yesterday my blog was about light, stained glass windows and memories.  It was inspired by the visit to the Morse Museum and the Tiffany stained glass, but also by my interaction with the morning sunlight on my commute to the University.  One of the aspects of my pilgrimage journey that I find so enjoyable is the process of discovery, whether it be searching for pilgrimage sites and discovering places like St. Leo’s Abby, or a Buddhist temple with numerous shrines.  In addition I enjoy the opportunity to meet so many new people from diverse and different places all over the world.  At times I will let myself wander among the faces of my widening friendship circle on Facebook, like I wander a flower garden or museum.  I marvel at what I find around the corner, at my feet or hanging on the wall!

 On numerous occasions I have discovered stunning photographs and inspiring artwork by my Facebook friends.  I see this as one of those gifts that life offers, like taking a walk and listening to beautiful bird songs or seeing an unexpectedly stunning blossom, or being blessed with a sudden insight.

Decision Looms Ahead!

Today I wanted to share the artwork of one of my Facebook friends.  Her name is Jill, she lives in the upstate of South Carolina and among her photos was a “collection” of her recent paintings.  I have never met Jill, but I recognize in her paintings qualities of my own outlook on the world, I recognize the signs of a fellow traveler, a pilgrim on a spiritual journey of discovery.  I found myself spending time simply taking in the colors and the contrast, and finding what was for me profound meaning with respect to life’s journey.  

In one of my earlier postings, (Dec. 2, 2009) I noted the symbolic significance of Bridges, Paths, and Portals.  When I see Jill’s artwork I’m reminded again of analogy of life as a path.  We walk down this path; sometimes we’re alone, sometimes with others.  Sometimes the path is well trodden, like an interstate highway, at other times it’s barely a recognizable trail, like the deer paths I find in the woods on my hikes.  As with any journey there are decision points or places where the path will fork and we have to decide do we turn right or left?  Sometimes the path to the right maybe a steep upward climb, while to the left lays a fast downward track.  Sometimes the path seems to widen, giving one space to roam, other times the path disappears around a bend or behind some trees.

Roads or Rivers... Both are paths!

When I study Jill’s artwork I think of these decisions.  I also think of the fact, as was mentioned in my blog the other day, (Feb. 15 – Looking at Nature Makes You Nicer) that it’s best to stop and smell the roses when you have the opportunity.  It’s best to be aware of nature’s gifts with every step, along the journey.  The decisions, the forks in the road, will greet us but we shouldn’t worry about what’s around the next bend.  As long as we’re prepared to respond, as long as we’re aware of our surroundings and ourselves, when we turn that corner we will face whatever is there.

 I am thankful for artwork like Jill’s I find it to be comforting and familiar.  It captures the “feel good” qualities of nature at the same time it inspires the viewer to look a little closer at their surroundings, to be aware of what’s around us and to take in the big scene at times.  Part of the process of life is finding a balance between looking down, so as to not trip over things, and looking up so we don’t miss the panoramic views.  Life as a journey is not without its dangers (e.g., stumbling stones, potholes, mud on the path) but it is a path lined with a bountiful harvest of gifts (e.g., flowers, artwork, sunlight, and the smiles of friends).  Look up… look down… and enjoy both views!  How many gifts have you found and enjoyed today?

Thank you Jill for letting me share your gifts with our widening circle and keep up the good work!

I vote to follow the flowers around the bend!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  126                                              Days Blogged: 108

New Mileage: 5                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 895

As I climb on the bike this morning we are preparing to visit our fourth pilgrimage site in four days!  Those of you who have been following my progress know that I go through a kind of a feast versus famine experience with respect to pilgrimage site visits. At times there are long stretches where either few sites exist along our virtual path or I may for various reasons simply ride and go “off map.” However for the next week there’ll be a number of pilgrimage/retreat sites that we will visit as we leave the Orlando area and head east toward the coast.

Dazzling Blossums

In an earlier posting I talked about how I classify retreat sites based on the degree to which they offer nature as part of their experience. Retreat sites range from “indoor” sites, to ones that feature Gardens, to those that offer what I call “nature tranquility” where there may be walking paths and extensive botanical Gardens and then what I call “nature sites.”  Nature Sites are typically places like national parks where there may be little man make development and the awe inspiring aspects of nature predominate.

 I came across an article, from which I took today’s blog title, in which a researcher from the University of Rochester in New York talked about the impact of nature on humans. The researcher noted that numerous studies point to the positive physical and mental benefits of immersing oneself in natural phenomenon.  In the researcher’s newest study he found that the effects of nature which they call a “naturally nice” effect, does not hinge upon immersing yourself in nature on a daily basis but it’s more important to pay attention to the natural elements that we encounter each day.  As the researcher notes: “it’s about stopping and smelling the roses as opposed to passing them by as you think about  your next meeting”.  The researchers found that in fact this “nice effect” can be stimulated by simply having a nature scene as your computer screensaver. This is significant, especially for individuals living in the northern climates, for sometimes winter weather can limit our opportunities to go outdoors.  I guess we could say that these results provide scientific evidence for the importance that nature plays in the retreat experience.  These results would also lend support to the construction of an indoor winter altar featuring nature scenes and artwork.

Yellow Swallowtail

Today we’re stopping by a pilgrimage retreat site in Orlando just up the road from the theme park we visited yesterday. This site is run by the city of Orlando and is entitled the Harry P. Leu Gardens. The site includes: America’s largest camellia collection outside of California; the largest formal rose garden in Florida; a house/museum dating from the 1880s; acres of tropical spring gardens, butterfly gardens and assorted other specialty gardens.  It’s clear why I have classified this location a “nature tranquility” site as it offers ample opportunities for visitors to find solitude and/or to get lost in the beauty of the flowers and joyful fluttering of colorful insects.

Welcomed Garden Visitor!

 Also of note on the history of the garden which ties into our visit to the Monument of States two days ago.  At that site I highlighted the importance of finding meaning in our life and the fact that for many people taking on a “special project” can provide them with a sense of well-being and at the same time serve a greater purpose with their community and nation. Harry Leu’s story represents another example of this search for meaning and the consequences it can have for a community.  Mr. Leu was a hard-working dedicated local boy who worked his way up within a local manufacturing company. He started as a lowly worker, became the “go to trouble shooter” and eventually the owner.

Skipper Butterfly

He and his loving wife traveled the world collecting exotic plants which they carried back to Orlando for their expanding garden.  He was called “the Johnny Appleseed of Central Florida” as he would propagate his plants and then give away seedlings to his neighbors and friends.  He opened his estate and the Gardens to visitors, sharing the beauty and the joy he found in the flowers and butterflies.  After his retirement he and his spouse made the decision to leave their estate including the home and the expansive gardens for future generations.  The property was willed over to the city of Orlando with the agreement that the city was forbidden to sell it or change its “not-for-profit” status.

He found meaning in a life of hard work, he found meaning in a life of exploration, he found meaning in the diversity and beauty of nature, and he found meaning in sharing that joy with generations to come.  He can serve as an inspiration to all of us! I, for one, send out a heartfelt thank you to the universe that people like Mr. Leu inhabited and continue to inhabit this planet we call home.

I hope you have enjoyed this are pilgrimage site visit. Tomorrow we will visit the last of our Orlando sites it brings together artwork, nature’s beauty and light!  Have a wonderful day!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  113                                                 Days Blogged: 99

New Mileage: 16                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 833

Over the past several days I have mulled the question: Should I make a response to comments about my last posting or just let them go and move on?  On Saturday I offered an apology to a group of Christians who were sending audio Bibles to the people of Haiti.  I apologized, as a lack of information on my part lead me to make unfounded accusations about their motives. I still have concerns about the usefulness of their activities and whether that money might be better spent buying shelter for homeless Haitians before the approaching rainy season.  But that is their choice.

Follow the Leader!

A number of people responded to the blog posting, many with positive feedback and a few with concerns and criticism. In particular, one commentator who had made accusations earlier about “atheist hypocrisy” concerning my criticism toward the group supplying the audio Bibles, sent me a follow-up comment.  I hoped he might follow my lead and offer an apology to those whom he lumped together under an “atheist” heading and lambasted with negative statements.  I hoped he might hear my message about the need to find common ground and pull out of the dichotomous thinking and the win-lose conflicts.  But what I received from him was a self-righteous “gottcha” comment in which he accused me of presenting a logical fallacy. There was no comment about my call to find common ground, or to consider the long-term consequences of our statements and actions. Just a ratcheting up of the tit-for-tat conflict.

We hold the answer in our hands!

I spent a bit of time yesterday speaking to a philosophy professor at my university.  We had a long discussion that culminated in the conclusion that arguments which feature accusations of hypocrisy are almost always circular, and in the end the process of the discussion degrades into entrenched positions.   I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who has always been consistent in what they say and how they act.  We all change our minds at some point and we all have experiences that cause us to retract an earlier position.  I made a statement in one blog and apologized in another.  Does that make me a hypocrite?  Does that make me wishy-washy and inconsistent?  Or does that point to a process of gathering new information and trying to refine one’s beliefs.  Doesn’t it speak to a process of finding the position that best fits the facts, but leaves itself open for new possibilities?

I find myself reiterating my earlier position that we must look for ways to find common ground. Dichotomous thinking and win- lose situations always lead to stalemates and increased friction.  A friend suggested that I should just ignore this individual and delete their comments.  I thought about it but isn’t that similar to what we accuse them of doing when they label us “nonbelievers” and ignore our comments?  I’m reminded of the words of wisdom and calm behaviors emulating from two profound sources.  The first is from the Dali Lama, who, even when faced with representatives of the people, who have taken away his country, never loses his cool or ceases to see them as individuals worthy of respect and compassion. 

Ask our youth?

The second is an unlikely source of wisdom on such matters: my youngest son.  I once picked him up from a weekend Cub Scout event. As I pulled up, I saw him sitting quietly under a tree in a meditative stance.  After we drove away I asked him about his meditation, he commented that before I arrived several scouts from a prominent Christian denomination had asked him what he was doing.  After he explained to them that he was meditating they told him that he was “going to hell.”  I asked him about his response and he calmly noted “I just smiled and said: if that’s what you believe, that’s what you believe” and then he returned to his meditation. 

He continues to be the happy, smiling, joyful youth that he is. I will follow his lead and continue to be a pilgrim. I will continue on my path and continue to share my joys and my concerns, regardless of what others think.  If I was to do anything else, I wouldn’t be honest with myself. That honesty  and the sharing of my beliefs is, I believe, the most critical part of my life journey  Thank you for being part of that journey and allowing me to share it with you!. 

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