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Archive for the ‘prayers’ Category

Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  171                       Cumulative Days Blogging: 156

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1139

National Day of Prayer in United States: National Day of Prayer is held on the first Thursday of May each year, inviting Americans of all faiths to pray for the country and its leaders.

Is that a sacred scripture or a weapon?

Greetings fellow pilgrims!  I am reminded today why one of my favorite statements about technology and electronics is” “just when you think it is your friend it turns on you!”  I rode the bike this afternoon and dictated my posting concerning today as the National Day of Prayer.  Then when I sat down to transcribe it I found that the tape was blank!  For some reason it did not record so I will have to try and recreate it from memory.  Here goes…

I hope that everyone has taken a moment during the day to offer a prayer in whatever way is appropriate according to your belief system.  I feel the need to add this qualifier (“in whatever way”) because sadly the events of the day have been marred by controversy.  I say sadly because our community, nation and world can use all the help we can muster to set aside our differences and come together to face our growing shared problems (terrorism, global climate change, dwindling resources, conflict and war).  However, even something as promising as a call for all people to turn toward the divine for help and guidance has become a derisive issue.

Two issues seem to provide fuel for this controversy.  One centers on the issue of whether it is appropriate to have an “official” day of prayer; the second is a question of what constitutes an appropriate prayer.

Private Prayer... Freedom of Expression

A recent court decision, which is being appealed, sided with the argument of those individuals who believe it is inappropriate to have an officially sanctioned day of prayer as this represents the government sanctioning religion in general. Whether this religion is practiced by a majority of the people does not matter as the backers of this legal challenge believe it breaches the separation of church and state.  These individuals will often point out that existing laws that are written in inclusionary manners are often ignored or actively flaunted by elected officials who use their proclamations of faith for political gain.

Not just for Christians!

Personally, I do not see a problem with the government sanctioning a day of prayer as long as there is no official prayer and individuals of differing faiths or no faith at all are not subjected to exclusionary prayers.  An exclusionary prayer is one that proclaims or insinuates that there is only one valid path, valid name, valid experience associated with the divine.  Such prayers may outright condemn as false or heretical any and all other paths and names for the divine or divine experiences.

Recently at a local county council meeting atheists, secular humanists, and two groups of Buddhist were made (they were given no warning and/or before the fact choice) to sit through an “in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior” opening prayer that specifically targeted with condemnation abortion providers and gays.  The council member who delivered the meetings opening prayer offered no apology when a person in attendance complained. How do you think the Buddhists in attendance (community members, taxpaying citizens, who were there to request the county’s recognition of Buddha’s birthday) felt?  Were they made to feel uncomfortable and excluded simply because a “devout Christian” did not want to miss an opportunity to preach his message, which happened to be one of hate and exclusion in this case.

 Just this last week I sat through a graduation ceremony for a local state supported university.  While most of the individuals in attendance were likely Christians, the opening and closing invocations, which were given by a member of the school’s board of trustees, ended with proclamations about Jesus Christ.  In addition, the US Senator who was the commencement speaker also worked into his talk mention of Jesus Christ. Curiously, he finished his talk by sending off the graduates into the world with the advice to “make lots of money!”  No call to rise up and transcend our needs and desires for the greater good of the people and nation.  No challenge to aim for Mars, cure cancer, help clean up politics, just a call to produce and consume!

 I am living in the Bible Belt so I recognize the importance of faith and religion in people’s lives. It is an important part of my personal life.   However, it is troubling and unsettling to see individuals who represent all of the people of the county, state, country (elected officials and University board of trustee members) act as if there is no valid diversity of beliefs and faiths.  It seems to me the least they can do is to use a pluralistic inclusionary invocation at public meetings. If someone in attendance wants to mutter the name Jesus Christ under their breath while their neighbor mutters Buddha or Goddess, or just takes a deep breath and relaxes, how does this deny anyone their “right” to their faith?  Does it matter at all that I have the right to sit in a public meeting (this is not a church service or revival) without having to hear someone “proclaiming their faith” in ways that insinuate that I, my children and my fellow church members are somehow misguided, wrong and “going to hell.”  Again, I am not attending their church or revival, I am not speaking about the ten commandment signs they place in their yards, I am speaking about a tax payer funded meeting, conducting “official business” where I have to just sit and bite my tongue, I guess because I am in the minority! 

It is my understanding that the reason we have a constitution is to protect the minorities, as the majority can vote in the leaders who write the laws.  Therefore the courts and the constitution are there to protect the non-dominant races, faiths, sexual orientations, ethnic groups, and political groups.

Back in the Fall I blogged about the importance of great teachers, most being guided by profound deep faith in the divine.  I included Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Billy Graham.  Rev. Graham’s son Franklin Graham has placed himself in the center of the ongoing controversy about today’s day of prayer.  It seems that he was invited to speak at the Pentagon but this invitation was later withdrawn because of some very negative things he said in an interview about the Islamic faith.

While Franklin certainly has every right to free speech he needs to recognize, as I have taught my sons, that the things we say have consequences.  You can’t go saying negative things about a major religious tradition which will be part of an ecumenical Day of Prayer, with the purpose to “bring together” the community, and expect to be welcomed.  To add insult to injury he now claims that this is all part of some systematic affront toward white Evangelical Christians by President Obama.

In a Tuesday USA Today interview he was reported to have said: “Muslims do not worship the same ‘God the Father’ I worship.”  He also took a swipe at Hinduism, saying, “No elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me.  None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation.  We are fooling ourselves if we think we can have some big kumbaya service and all hold hands and it’s all going to get better in this world.  It’s not going to get better.” 

Hindu Deity Ganesha

Is it any wonder why the organizers of the Pentagon service uninvited Franklin Graham?  He proclaims to know what Muslins believe and then displays his lack of knowledge about the Hindu deities (Genesha has an elephant head but only four arms; Vishnu is often pictured with multiple sets of arms).  Again I have no problem with Franklin Graham offering whatever form of Christian prayer he chooses at private gatherings or public religious gatherings, but not at officially government sanctioned event that are undertaken to bring together our diverse communities of faith.

One final point; as I stood in the locker room at my gym this morning Franklin came onto CNN, which was playing on the locker room TV and made a timid statement that he can only be expected to pray in the way he was taught to pray and in the way he believes.  He may believe this to be the truth, but if we accept this reasoning and logic then a lot of people who had in the past to change, adapt and adjust might have been “off the hook.”  If a racist Southern sheriff could have just said “that was the way I was raised” as an argument for why he should not be expected to follow the new civil rights laws, or people opposed to women’s new found right to vote refusing to give them a ballot because they still believe in “the old way.”  There are many loving, devout Evangelical Christians who can sit in a meeting and hear a non-denominational prayer without feeling that their faith has be slighted. They might even listen to a prayer by a Hindu or Muslim and see the similarity in all forms of prayer.  If Franklin Graham wants to limit himself to exclusive Christian prayers then I suggest he stick with his church and his revivals.  If he wants to be accepted into the larger faith community than I suggest he learn how to speak to the heart of all faith and religions, free of any denominational or specific faith trappings.

Hindu Deity Vishnu

Just a quick aside, when I served as the Chaplin for my son’s Boy Scout troop I often lead prayers that called on the boys to look within themselves and toward the divine for strength and answers.  It was not a Taoist prayer, or a Unitarian Universalist prayer, it was an inclusive upbeat non-denominational prayer.  I did it! I challenge Rev. Franklin Graham to do the same!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  170                             Cumulative Days Blogging: 155

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1134

35th Engineer Battalion

Greeting to all my fellow pilgrims!  It is good to finally climb back onto the bike and report to you all what has happened in the past weeks.  I had taken to the roadways and drove to Missouri to attend my eldest son’s graduation from US Army training.  I then shared a day and a half drive with him back to South Carolina.  The trip back was the rainiest stretch of travel I have ever undertaken in my life.  It rained steadily from Memphis to Atlanta, my thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Mississippi and Alabama impacted by the string of tornados that were figuratively “in our rear view mirror!”

I enjoyed the opportunity to visit an area of the country I had never had the opportunity to see before, the Ozarks.  The tree covered hills, rushing rivers and streams and pastures populated with cows and horses were idyllic.  In many ways it reminded me of the upstate in South Carolina, for I saw a lot of timber haulers, pickup trucks and trailer homes! 

Standing out from the crowd!

I experienced a great deal of pride watching my son’s graduation as he had distinguished himself in his training and received the US Army Engineers Trailblazer Award,  a distinction granted to only about 5% of the recruits.  The award proclaimed: For meritorious achievement as a combat engineer Pvt.  Edwards distinguished himself by exceeding course standards for all combat engineer occupational skills training levels of motivation, discipline, teamwork, and leadership throughout the training cycle, signifying him as one of Charlie Company’s finest.

He now stands tall and proud and is excited about making his way to Fort Lewis Washington where he will be assigned to a specific unit.  The drive to Missouri afforded me an opportunity to reminisce about the joy and sorrows of parenthood and the time I spent with him as he grew up.  I know that this mixture of ups (joys) and downs (stress and sadness) are part of the process of parenting, and a teenager’s need to find their own identity and path in life.  I am excited about the growth he has shown in the military.  I am excited that he will be seeing new places and meeting new people.  These can be valuable transformative experiences.  But I am also apprehensive as I know he will cross paths with problematic people, and be forced to make problematic choices.  He very likely will go to war and be faced with death!  I will save my thoughts on that prospect for another day.  I look forward, with mixed feelings, to his life unfolding and my watching from the sidelines… but I have no other choice!

Ho'oponopono Prayer

The title for today’s posting came from last Sunday’s sermon by the Rev. Pat Jobe.  It is a Hawaiian prayer!  Prayers come in a number of different forms and this one does not fit easily into the standard categories (e.g., Petition, Confession, Adoration, Intercession, Meditation, Thanksgiving, and Consecration).  Given that it does not make any reference to the divine it functions very much like a therapy or self-help device.  It offers a four step process to deal with feelings of sadness and anger at people or events in our lives.  These many represent current situations or feelings we are carrying from our past.  The first step is to declare “I’m sorry,” the second step is to ask “forgive me,” the third step is to declare “thank you,” and the final step is to proclaim “I love you!”  Listening to Pat talk about the prayer and its usage made me realize that I needed to repeat this prayer with respect to both of my sons and my long deceased father.

Proud warriors at ease!

Years ago as I prepared to become a father I remember thinking about my own father, about the pain and sorrow he visited upon his family.  I cursed him for the scars we (his children) carried forward into our futures.  I knew on some level that he carried his own scars, for he was the product of an emotionally distant alcoholic father.  However, the pain was strong and not easily extinguished.  I swore to myself, as I awaited the arrival of my first son that I would not make the mistakes my father made.  I would be emotionally involved and invested in his life at the same time I would let him become who he needed to be!

I am happy to report that I did not make the mistakes my father made!  However, sadly it seems that I made all new ones!  I’ve come to believe that you cannot be a parent, a partner, a teacher or a friend without making what in hindsight can be called, mistakes.  We cannot be “loving caring involved human beings” without some times disappointing or falling short of the hopes and expectations of those we love.  I realize now that my father was just doing the best he could.  I don’t make excuses for his bad choices, but I do forgive him for them.  I thank him for the many gifts he gave me, including an interest in art and nature and my mechanical abilities.  I am sorry for the frustration and sadness I know I visited on his life, especially as a cocky teenager and I do love him and regret that he never saw my successes and his grandsons.

I apologize to my sons, I am sorry for the things I have done that might have hurt or dismayed them.  I ask for their forgiveness.  Even if I knew of all the mistakes I’ve made I could not go back and change them, none of us can, so please forgive me!   I have received so much joy from having them in my life.  I have gained a youthful sense of awe and wonder as I experienced the world through their eyes.  I have sense the possibilities of a future that extends far beyond my own time on this earth.  I love you both and I pray for your safety.  I pray that you have sons and daughters that bring you as much joy and provide you with as many insights as you have brought into my life.  I will love you whether you succeed or fail, I will love you as much when you leave as when you come home.  I will love you where ever you travel, whether I still walk this earth or whether you are on your own.  My thoughts and prayers will always be with you!

I recently posted and old poem I had written about the sadness and regret I felt that my father and I had not talked and shared our thoughts and feelings as adults.  The following represents a follow up to that poem:

Trip Partners

young man

crisp uniform

ribbons and medals

a stoic face

hum of the highway

engine sounds

then he speaks

stories of intelligent actions

in a passionate voice

old man

casusal cloths

joyful smile

pride filled heart

a wish has been granted

a poem fulfilled

father and a son

two men – two voices

on a cross country trip

past troubles and sadness

in the rear view mirror

pushing through the driving rain

ahead of dangerous storms

racing forward

toward blue sky

toward sunlight

toward the future

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Days Riding: 142                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 126

Today’s Mileage: 0                                          Total Trip Mileage: 996

Leaving prayers at the center!

Greetings everyone!  I am writing today’s blog from atop Little Scaly Mountain near Highlands North Carolina.  I am acting as a chaperone for a group of church teens who are attending a Youth Conference at the Mountain Retreat and Learning Center.

I had intended to blog on a Pilgrimage site in Daytona Beach yesterday, but sometimes life’s demands conspire against us.  Meetings and preparation for this trip occupied my day and my chaperone duties occupied the entire evening.  In addition, there is something about cold fresh mountain air that draws me into a state of deep sleep.

 Mountain Dining Hall Banner: “To embrace the diversity of life, creating an environment to energize people to work for positive change.”

“The Mountain” as we Unitarian Universalists of the South Eastern US call our church affiliated retreat center is literally housed on the top of a mountain in the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountain range.  From the fire tower at night you can see lights from South Carolina and Georgia

Mountain Dining Hall Plaque: “We drink from wells we did not dig.  We are warmed by fires we did not build.”

I just left the “morning gathering” where the 100+ High School aged teens sang songs and prepared for a series of workshops that will occupy much of their day.  I retreated to the “library” where the energy and noise levels are more conducive to my writing today’s blog.

Mountain Dining Hall Flag: “Energizing for Generations to come”

Meditation Rock!

I am one of those people where the solitude and serenity of nature is a powerful influence on my spirituality.  Nothing relaxes and inspires me like a walk through nature.  The Mountain has been a special place of spiritual renewal for me since I first discovered it, on a church retreat, some sixteen years ago.  I have acted as my church’s ambassador to the Mountain, given workshop and presentations for group retreats, accompanied church youth here for conferences, and most often just “dropped in” and stayed to hike, meditated, relax and create. The center is open to individual and groups of any faith or secular group.  The mountain embraces diversity and promotes positive and just social change.

Mountain Dining Hall Flag: “Living Simply and Sustainably”

The Mountain has been a place I have come to: let go of painful relationships, write poetry, find inspirational images for my artwork, sort out my life goals, relax while visiting various waterfalls, walking the surrounding mountains and the labyrinth and reconnecting with nature.  One of my favorite stories was the time I visited during the winter.  I arrived and the staff announced that they were all going away for three day.  They left food in the Dining Hall fridge for me to eat.  I spent two days and three nights alone on the mountain top.  The serenity and sense of solitude, especially at night, as the wind blew and ice crystals danced in the noon light was profound.  I ended up discovering that I was not entirely alone, as I found rabbit tracks in the fresh snow!

Mountain Dining Hall Flag: “Embracing Diversity”

The Labyrinth at the base of the mountain contains an alter stone at its center where people leave offerings and mementos.  Among the items are two stones, one bears a painted yin-yang symbol the other the sacred Hindu symbol “Om.”  On the bottom of each stone is the name of my sons. I have carried them with me in my thoughts and prayers as I walked this sacred path.  I left each stone there that they might draw strength and serenity from these sacred mountains.

Mountain Dining Hall Flag: “Being Just”

Before I leave today’s blog, it is nearing lunch time and I must rejoin my teens, I wanted to share with you a piece from the book: “Everyday Tao” by Deng Ming-Dao.  He writes about the mountains by saying:  “The ancient teachers took their students to the mountains, so that they could find inspiration in the high, sweeping vistas.  Each of them could take pleasure in the fresh air scented with pine and herbs.  None of them could fail to clear the mind of the toil and considerations of daily life.  From ancient times to the present, the mountains have been the best places to learn about Tao.  In the isolation of the mountains, with the voices of the throng stilled, the whispers of Tao could finally be heard.  This is what the ancients called the mountain spirit.”

Sunrise from the Fire Tower!

I am breathing in and relishing that mountain spirit.  I feel its presence refreshing and recharging my own spirit.  But it is now time that return to “the throng” with its infectious teen energy and youthful joy.  It is all part of the yin-yang dance of life!  Have a wonderful day!  I will return to our virtual journey and Daytona Beach tomorrow.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 138                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 120

Today’s Mileage: 10                                             Total Trip Mileage: 968

Tarot Card "The Universe"

When I started this pilgrimage journey I expected that I would experience a fair degree of diversity as part of my journey. Yesterday we celebrated an important holiday for most Muslims commemorating the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday.  Tomorrow we will talk about a significant holiday for the Hindu faith but sandwiched between these holidays we are going to visit a pilgrimage site representing a spiritual movement which four a time had gained prominence and notoriety in Western societies.

We are visiting the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, located 30 miles Northeast of Orlando.  The camp makes up a small town by the same name.  The history of the camp highlights many of the most important features of Spiritualist beliefs.   It was the brainchild of George Colby a young man from New York who was told during a séance that he would someday be instrumental in founding a spiritualist community in South.  Reported in 1875 Colby was led through the wilderness of Central Florida by his “spirit guide” Seneca to an area with a lake and surround hills.  He homesteaded the land and in 1890 deeded it to the newly incorporated Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association.   Colby was reported to have TB; however, a small spring located on his homestead provided the elixir that healed him.  Years later the county purchased additional acreage of the adjoining property with the goal of preserving sensitive environmental species and the historical significance of the area.

The Temple

The Cassadaga spiritualist community was formally established in 1894 as a community of residents who   “have chosen to share the community with like-minded people.”  A significant number of the camp’s residents are mediums who offer counseling from their homes.  The camp includes a temple, a healing center, a museum and various stores.  The town was added to the National Registry of Historical Places in 1991, and the camp meeting Association is the oldest active Spiritualist religious community in southeastern United States.  The camps webpage notes:  “Spiritualism has experienced a resent resurgence of interest with the recent new age movement and has attracted many people who are searching for better way of life and wish to empower themselves and take responsibility for their life.  Spiritualism holds something for everyone no matter what their religion or where they are on their spiritual path, the camp welcomes not only believers but the curious and the skeptical as well.”

The healing center

Prior to riding today I spent some time reading up on spiritualism.  It appears that the movement began in the middle 1800s when the Fox sisters reported being in contact with an entity that explained mysterious night time noises.  This spurred an interest in the idea of “mediumship” or contact with spirits.  The movement saw considerable growth in the late 1800s but spawned a great deal of skepticism within the scientific community.  Spiritualism was describes as having a main focus on promoting an individual’s personal experience with God, it recognizes all prophets that come to mankind throughout the ages, it is based upon the idea that we are all to form our own relationship with God to obtain guidance, also individual must accept responsibility for our actions.  Spiritualism believes in the survival of our personality after death in a spiritual form this provides the basis for mediumship.  Spiritualism believes that the nature of humankind is to be good not evil, they do not believe in sin and repentance only spiritual progression by natural law.

Spiritualists believe that our purpose for being here is to evolve spiritually and then use that to be of service to others as we continue to evolve.   Spiritualist also believe in what they call the expression of spirit which represents different ways in which people connect with the spiritual realm like different abilities that people have, these include:  the ideas of automatic writing, card reading (such as tarot cards) healing, séances (connection with a spirits and perhaps ancestors), spirit art (artwork either created by a spirit or with directions provided by the spirit) prosthetic dreams, and trance-mediumship (where a spirit takes over the person such as in channeling).

Sunrise at Spirit Pond!

Spiritualism seemed to have waned with the advent of science and the apparent fraudulent practices of some charlatans who wrap themselves in spiritualist clothing.  However recently there’s been a renewed interest in spiritualist practices and ideas in what is now called “New Age” spirituality.  I have several friends who follow many of the tenets of Spiritualism, they are happy adjusted loving parents, friends and citizens.  I will leave you with a Spiritualist prayer for healing:

      I ask the Great Unseen Healing Force

     To help both present and absent ones

     Who are in need of help

     And to restore them to perfect health.

     I put my trust

     In the love and power of God.

 Tomorrow we celebrate a joyful and colorful Hindu holiday… see you then!

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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:  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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