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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 

Consecutive Days Riding: 150                                      Days Blogged: 134 

New Mileage: 6                                                     Total Trip Mileage: 1042

As I ride the bike today I am thinking about spiritual inspiration and the situations that remind us of the spiritual aspects of our lives.  This topic was inspired by a newspaper article and an internet story. 

Ganesha

The article noted that the Shroud of Turin will soon be put on display and that people can reserve a spot in line for a 3-5 min viewing of this sacred relic.  A million people have already signed up for this pilgrimage. The internet story: “Ganesha gets chopped; Hindus are furious” came from an Indonesian city.  It was reported that Hindus were making a pilgrimage to a site where the image of Ganesha was observed in the bark of a tree, many of them were leaving flowers and incense.  The outrage was about the fact that a low level official of the city cut down and destroyed the tree.

In the case of the Shroud we have a pilgrimage to a site to view a sacred relic.  In the second story we have a pilgrimage to observe what is sometimes labeled as Simulacra. This is defined as a sighting of an image with spiritual or religious themes, usually religiously notable people or spiritual symbols in everyday objects or phenomena of the natural world.  These phenomena have received considerable attention since the advent of the Internet.  Recently on E-Bay, someone sold of a piece of toast bearing the Virgin Mary’s likeness for $28,000!

A relic is defined as an object or a personal item of religious significance, carefully preserved and venerated as a tangible memorial.  Relics play an important role in many but not all of the world’s religions. According to the Catholic Church, relics can be classified into three groups.  First-Class Relics are items directly associated with the events of Christ’s life (manger, cross, etc.), or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, a limb, etc.). Traditionally, a martyr’s relics are often more prized than the relics of other saints.  Second-Class Relics are items that a saint wore (a shirt, a glove, etc.) Also included is an item that the saint owned or frequently used, for example, a crucifix, book etc.  Third-Class Relics are any object that is touched by a first- or second-class relic.

The Shroud of Turin

Relics have various degrees of importance for different faiths.  In the Catholic Church relics were an important aspect of the consecration of new altars and churches.  After Buddha’s death his cremated remains were divided up and place in the various Stupas that have now become important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists.  The “Cloak of the Prophet” is kept in the sacred Muslim Mosque of Kandahar, Afghanistan.  It is kept locked away and only taken out during times of great crisis.  Making a pilgrimage to these relics is often seen as a way to come closer to the saints and thus form a closer bond with God.

Simulacra have received considerable attention in the media recently, particularly on the internet.  This started in 1977 with Christ’s image on a flower tortilla, since labeled the “Miracle Tortilla,” and continued with the “Nun Bun” and the “Virgin Mary toast.” This phenomenon is not a new development as many early pilgrimages were made to grottos, caves and rock formations that presented the believer with an “image” of religious significance seemingly etched by natural element.  For many pilgrims these were seen as signs of the sacredness of the site and special “healing powers” were often associated with them.

It seems to me there are two questions that often arise in relationship to both the existence and use of relics and simulacra. The first question has to do with the validity of these objects (relics) and events/observation (simulacra).  Some scientists will explain simulacra by ascribing them to a human faculty for delusion called “pareidolia,” a perception of pattern and meaning from randomness.  Many scientists also believe that humans are hardwired to recognize facial patterns for example babies begin to recognize facial features by the time they are one month old).  In addition, human perceptual Gestalt principles operate subconsciously in all of us. They work automatically to fit partial pieces of information into a “whole” picture or figure.  Of course the issue of the validity of relics is a hotly contested issue.  Scientific research on the Shroud of Turin has raised serious questions about its age, placing its creation in the 13-14th century.  The Vatican has tiptoed around the issue, making no claim about its authenticity but calling it “an instrument of evangelization.”  I do not want to engage in arguments about “validity claims”.  Belief in these things has more to do with faith than it does with data.

The Nun Bun!

To me the more important question concerns the usefulness and meaning of these phenomenons in the lives of the pilgrims who travel to see them or choose to find significance in their mere occurrence.  If these events help to strengthen a person’s spiritual belief system, renew their faith in the presence of the divine, provide them with a purpose to explore their goals and priorities and/or promote and trigger a significant mystical or religious experience,  then I would argue it has been a good thing. Whether the person has trekked around the world to view the burial shroud of Christ or Buddha’s birth place, or found spiritual revelations in cloud formations or the shape of a breakfast pastry does not matter as long as the experience functions to deepen their spiritual connections.

 As a pluralist and a mystic I believe that the presence of the divine, along with revelations and insights can be found in all aspect of our existence.  If we are perceptive and open to these messages we will find them.  I take frequent walks and nature provides me with spiritual revelations in the cycles of nature, the beauty of a blossom, and the sensation of rain on my skin.  To some people it’s just the changing of the seasons, a flower and rain… to me they all have functionally profound spiritual significance.

Virgin Mary Toast!

 In the end,  isn’t it more important that I feel energized and invigorated and that I share these feelings  with other pilgrims?  What does it matter whether the insight came from a sacred scripture, a visit to a church or temple, a walk in the woods, or a water stain on my shower door!

Before I leave I want to add one additional  twist to our discussion of seeing or finding images in what appears to be random or haphazard patterns.  In Psychology there is a class of Personality tests called Projective tests.  The most famous among this group is the Rorschach, or “ink blot” test.  The rationale behind these tests is that if you present someone with an ambiguous stimuli like an ink blot, wood grain pattern or wall stain, a person will see images based upon their personality, needs and prevailing beliefs.  So a highly religious individual would be expected to see religiously significant images. 

I came across an example of Simulacra featured on a blog page.  A slab of granite was quarried that bore, in many peoples’ opinion, an image of Christ.  The piece reportedly sold for four times its usual value to a church which plans on placing it in their kitchen.  The blog site asked viewers what they saw in the image.  The results of this informal survey included: Christ’s image, a skull, a mother bird feeding it’s young, a mushroom, sexual genitalia, a dinosaur, a hotdog, to name only a few. What might you see?

 

Granite Slab Rorschach!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 145                                      Days Blogged: 129 

New Mileage: 4                                                   Total Trip Mileage: 1010

Helen Wilmans

As I ride the bike this evening I ponder the sense of enjoyment and discovery that comes about even on a virtual bike journey.  In exploring the significance of the SeaBreeze church in Daytona Beach I came across the history of the town which mentioned Helen Post, her “School of Mental Science” and paper entitled “Freedom.”  As I explored the significance of Mrs. Post I uncovered a story of a strong willed self-made women embedded in the spirituality of the late 1800s who apparently became a victim of political intrigue.

First let us review the spiritual landscape in the United States in the late 1880s. The US represented a melting pots of spiritual and philosophical ideas, some new, some old repackaged ideas, and some foreign.  At this time a number of spiritual “movements” were under way that including: the Mind-cure movement; health mysticism; and Mental Science.  By the early 1900s these had come together to form what was termed the “New Thought” Movement.  Many authors trace the beginnings of this movement to Phineas Quimby, a rural doctor who lived in northern Maine in the early 1800s.  He explored the ideas and methods of mesmerism (e.g., later to be called hypnotism) and develop a theory about the relationship of the mind to both physical and mental problems.  He was rumored to have the ability to cure a wide range of physical problems and influenced a number of his patients to follow in his footsteps carrying the ideas of his “healing ministry” to other parts of the country.

The New Thought movement consisted of a loosely allied group of religious denominations, secular organizations, authors, philosophers and lay individuals who share: “a set of metaphysical beliefs concerning the effects of positive thinking, the law of attraction (that our thoughts are made manifest in the material realm), healing, life force, creative visualization and personal power.”  In general, they interpreted “God” as a supreme, universal, everlasting, divinity that dwells in each person.  That all human beings are divine and that loving, teaching and healing each other was the highest spiritual principle.

William James, one of the first American Psychologists noted that the primary sources of this movement’s ideas included: the Christian Gospels; Emerson’s transcendental movement; Spiritualisms law of attraction; optimism about science and evolution; Hinduism’s beliefs in a Universal Godhead; America’s Freedom of Religion; and American materialism.  With the growing literacy of the population after the Civil War and the rise of feminist sentiments more people, especially women, turned to self-help book and religions that included female ministers, like Christian Scientists, for guidance.

Unity Church

Into this mixture entered Helen Wilmans, a poor downtrodden farm wife who after twenty years left her husband and move to San Francisco to fulfill her dream of becoming a “literary women.”  Working in a local paper she developed her journalistic skills and steadily raised her standard of living.  She wrote her life story in a book titled “The Conquest of Poverty” and then began a very successful paper called The Women’s World.  During this time she became deeply involved in the mental science movement with its message of positive thinking and self-help, she also began a “healing” ministry, with testimonials of cures for a wide range of aliments.  She married Col. C.C. Post and had attained a wealthy status.  At this point she and her husband moved to the small settlement of Sea Breeze on the east coast of Florida.  She had envisioned the creation of a settlement named “City Beautiful” where everyone would plant flowers and create an idyllic and serene environment.  She started a School of Mental Science and a monthly magazine entitled Freedom.  The success of her endeavor grew and when she decided to start her City Beautiful six miles up the beach from Sea Breeze the Postal Office moved to better serve the needs of her magazine.

This is where the intrigue began, because a powerful and revengeful backer of settlement of Sea Breeze took offense at the removal of the Post office.  He blamed Helen for this turn of events.  He was reportedly a close personal friend of the powerful Senator Goodall of Maine.  Quickly a new post office opened in Sea Breeze named after the powerful senator. This politically connected individual was then elected mayor of Sea Breeze.  A short time later, without any warning, a post office fraud order was place on Helen to cease all of her business dealings.  This was reportedly done with no public hearing or warning.  She was accused of advertising in her publications for “cure by absent treatment” which was deemed to be a fraudulent and impossible cure by the judge overseeing the case.  Helen and her husband exhausted their financial resources fighting the accusation and although it was reported that the US Supreme Court eventually reversed the decision against her, she was left impoverished, her business ruined and her spirit broken.  Shortly after this her husband died and she followed him within a year.

While her books were, and still are today, available her influence in the New Thought movement faded with her passing.  The movement itself eventually resulted in the establishment of the Christian Scientist denomination, the Unity Church of Practical Christianity and the Religious Science. With the coming of the Great Depression and World War II the New thought movement faded into the background of the American spiritual and religious landscape.  However, many of its main tenets found new life in the last thirty years within the “self-help” movement, positive thinking movement, New Age Spirituality, the explosion of Eastern religion thought systems (e.g., Zen, Taoism, Buddhism), and even within a number of recent forms of psychotherapy (e.g., RET, TA, Gestalt).

I hope you enjoyed this brief journey into our countries spiritual history and the sad story of a jealous business man who used political connections to destroy a spiritual pilgrim.  Tomorrow we continue our trip up the Florida coast toward St. Augustine.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Days Riding: 141                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 123

Today’s Mileage: 5                                          Total Trip Mileage: 991

As I ride the bike and write today’s blog it’s snowing outside, large white flakes are slowly drifting to the ground.  It paints a beautiful scene, although it is not yet “sticking” it is melting on contact with the ground.

Yesterday I took a walk along a local river, studying the rocks and shoreline clutter.  I shared with you several “poems” I wrote on the walk.  My partner Susan commented on the fact that my words did not meet the classification of poetry as they do not rhyme.  I noted that I sometimes call these pieces my “musings.” It is not in my nature to spend time trying to label or classify my creative efforts.  The important thing to me is the process of being aware, perceptive and receptive to my surroundings.  I attempt to capture these perceptions in words and images as a form of celebration and as a way of leaving “bread crumbs” along the path, perhaps enticing others to follow and explore on their own.

The Spirit Tree!

The snow continues to fall outside my window.  This leads me to ponder the spiritual significance of snow.  I know personally I’ve always found it to have a very calming and tranquil effect on me.  I suspect it’s because the snow covers everything, leaving the landscape smooth and pristine.  In addition, the damping effects of snow seems to not only soften life’s sharp edges, but also it quiets and settles the mind.  Several weeks ago we had a five inch snowfall.  Looking outside, everything had a “Wonderland” appearance.  It covered all the flat surfaces and left faint raised impressions of anything buried beneath it.  Often the identity of the object was a mystery, like looking at a blanket and seeing the “lumps” indicating the present of some mystery object.  Of course, the snow may not produce such a positive and peaceful feeling if you know you are going to have to shovel it!

Water hose under the blanket.

I did an internet search on the “spiritual significance of snow.”  I come up with fewer hits than I had expected.  Many of the references were for people named Snow or the significance of the fairy tale Snow White.  I did find several sites speaking of the meaning of snow from a Jewish perspective. The Rabbi Simon Jacobson noted that water was a symbol of divine knowledge, it’s “falling’ represents the   transmission from the Divine.  He noted that rain represented the “continual flow” from the Divine, which carries the risk of overwhelming the recipients.  Ice, however, as a compact and solid form of water, freezes the “flow” and makes the Divine wisdom easier for humans to comprehend.  Snow, he noted, is in an intermediate transitional state which allows the flow of information to descend so that it will not be overwhelming.  He also noted that snow is special because it contains both water and a “nucleus particle” of Earth that acts as a seed for the ice crystal.  Therefore, snow represents a combination of water and earth; it is half heaven and half earth!

An inviting scene!

 Several internet sites spoke of the Christian perspective on snow.  They noted that the whiteness and freshness of snow symbolizes purity and freedom from sin, and that after repenting for their sins, a person is described as being “white as snow.”  Snow is often associated with heavenly beings who are usually wearing white robes.  It was pointed out that the snowflake with its individual uniqueness is often used as an object lesson for children of the unique nature of each human being who has been created by God.  One author did note that in ancient times being “white as snow” could have dangerous and frightening connotations associated with leprosy.

I reviewed a book entitled: “Everyday Tao,” by Deng Ming-Dao.  His book of Taoist wisdom noted that:  “Water is powerful.  Although it can be soothing, comforting, and cleansing, it can also be enormous, mighty, and overpowering.  Its nature is constant. It is true to itself in any extreme.”  The author also discussed the importance of the color white:  “White is the symbol for purity.  In ceremonies, it is the color of spirituality. Since the ancients taught that we are already pure, they laugh at teachers who advocated penitence and self mortification as spiritual methods.  They said: we are already holy.  Why struggle to become something we already are?”

Buddha wearing winter's finest.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Days Riding: 139                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 121

Today’s Mileage: 10                                          Total Trip Mileage: 978

Sacred Colors!

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, today we have the opportunity to wish our Hindu friends a happy Holi Day!  This holiday is celebrated in India and around the world wherever ex-patriots from India have gathered.  It is best known to the non-Hindu world for rituals which involve the throwing of a colored powders or the squirting of colored water on the various celebrants like a giant water and/or powder fight.  I heard about a Holi gathering at Stanford University which started with only a few dozen participants several years ago and has now swollen into thousands of celebrants, many of them non-Hindus who wish to join in the festivities.

A Joyful Mess!

The origins of the holiday speak directly to some of Hinduism’s sacred stories.  The Holi Holiday story starts by noting that the King of the Demons had been granted the gift of apparent immortality.  For it was said to be impossible to kill him: “during day or night, inside or outside his house, not on earth or in sky, and neither by a man or animal.” Consequently the Demon King grew arrogant and attacked the heavens and the earth and demanded that people stop worshiping the Gods and start worshiping him.  The story goes that his own son, Prahlada , was a devote of the Lord Vishnu and in spite of several threats, and attempts by his father to have him killed, continued to resist his father’s orders.  Finally the Demon King ordered Prahlada to sit on a fire pyre in the lap of his sister Holika.  His sister could not die by fire because she possessed a shawl which would prevent fire from affecting her. The son followed his father’s orders and prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe.  When the fire started everyone watched in amazement as the shawl flew off of Holika and covered Prahlada.  Holika then burned to death while Prahlada survived unharmed.  The burning/destruction of Holika is commemorated with this festival.  The story goes on to note that Lord Vishnu later came to earth in the form of a Narasimna (half human and half lion being) and killed the Demon King at dusk (which was neither day or night, on the steps of his house (which was neither inside the house or outside) by restraining the demon king on his lap (which is neither in the sky nor on the earth).

So we have a holiday that: celebrates the death of a demoness and the eventual defeat of the Demon King;   glorifies the Lord Vishnu; and serves as an example of a devoted follower who because of his faith was saved from death.  The rituals of the of holiday appear to vary somewhat but typically involve food preparations that began days in advance as various kinds of snack items are typically served to the festivals guests, the night before a bonfire (the Holi Fire) is lit which is said to represent the burning of evil.  It was noted that in the United Kingdom coconuts are often thrown into the fire and then pulled out and broken open.  The burnt husks are said to represent the demoness who died in the fire the white inside represents faithful Prahlada who was alive and unaffected.

I noted in a discussion with a friend that I am struck by the wide variations in sacred stories and rituals within a month we will have major festivals in three of the world’s religions.  These holidays commemorate the destruction of evil, the birth of a prophet, and the death and the rebirth of a Savior.  Clearly the substance and form of these celebrations vary considerably, however, from a functional standpoint they meet many of the very same needs. They bring together the respective communities with rituals involving food, joy and laughter.  These festivals grant the celebrants a sense of purpose, of guidance and a connection with the divine.

Some people might say that a story with a Demon King and a half human God, and rituals involving colored powders sounds strange and unbelievable.  However I would caution these people in their statements of disbelief, that for many people in the world would find it odd to have children running about the spring grass collecting colored eggs deposited by a rabbit, or enacting the tortuous death and resurrection of a savior God.  

I would like to comment on an incident that points to a need for caution when we look at other faith belief systems.  I was visiting a national bookstore chain and I came across a display of books produced by the bookstore chain entitled “Mythology of the World.”  There were dozens of volumes including everything from Babylonian, Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, Greeks, Buddhists, to Hindu.  After studying the selection I was puzzled and asked myself: “Where is the Jewish and Christian mythology?” Where is the volume that talks about: parting the Red Sea, burning bushes, loaves and fishes, a God rising from the dead.  I shook my head, disappointed by the book chain’s apparent slight to so many of the world faiths. To call their faith beliefs Myths and not sacred stories is an affront to these believers.  These stories are based on faith and passed down through word-of-mouth and sacred scripture, no different from the stories of the Judo-Christian traditions.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  115                                               Days Blogged: 100

New Mileage: 12                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 843

As I climb on the bike today I am reminded of a previous blog when I noted two certainties in life.  One certainty had to do with the numerous gifts of life whether it is the beauty of a blossom, the sound of children’s voices, friendship or the profound connection we find with the divine. The other certainty was the fact that life presents us with humbling experiences.  In the last day I have again been presented with both certainties.

A gift from the divine!

Yesterday a colleague who has very different opinions from my own cornered me and peppered me with questions about the most current political face-offs.  After a brief discussion I told him I was growing tired of the incessant fighting and the win-lose stances taken by all participants. He commented: “well that’s just the way it is, you’d better get used to it.”  I told him that I refused to accept that finding middle ground was impossible.  He shook his head and walked away.  This left me unsettled and sad for I believe that we must find common ground if we as a nation and world will ever solve the problems we face.

The Monks of Gethsemani.

This afternoon I was searching the web looking for pilgrimage sites and retreat centers to add to my growing list.  I came across the Abby of Gethsemani in Kentucky.  I was struck by the simple and sincere message expressed by the monks: “Communing with the Lord requires a measure of solitude, a stillness and an emptiness, a waiting on and attending to the Spirit.” I was reminded of the profound silence I had experienced at various times and places and of the connectedness with the divine that accompanied it.  I studied the beautiful images that accompanied the words of these humble monks.  The joyful faces on a group of robe clad monks, and deep sense of solitude and conviction in the image of a lone figure.  Then I pulled up another images and immediately recognized the thin monk in the colored robes, I smiled as I read the title: “Dali Lama’s visit.” 

The Dali Lama visits!

There he was, deep in conversation with a monk in a white robe.  They walked across the landscape, two humble men sharing a moment of time, creating a simple but profound image of connectedness.  Each of them is a gift, this moment is a gift, and their image is a gift for all of us.  If these profoundly serious men, each deeply embedded in their own tradition can meet, walk, talk and smile together, then there is hope for all of us.

Solitude and Silence

The website noted that hospitality is an essential element of the monastic life.  It quoted Saint Benedicts 5th century rule: “Let all guests that come to the monastery be received as Christ. For one day he will say: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

I was very moved by this simple image of two monks working to find common ground.  I was reminded that there are those who see past our surface differences; past the names we use for God and pass the Holy Scriptures that we follow those who find the common ground of compassion and love.  Here’s what I found on my blog site when I checked for comments and messages. 

Stationary Pilgrim

Thanks for the civility and honesty.  We are humbled by and grateful for your gracious apology.

There is so much misinformation out there and if anyone really wants to know more they could just visit our website. Thank you for taking the time to actually look deeper into the story and making a fair judgment.

Jon

Faith Comes By Hearing

I was deeply moved and smiled to myself as I responded:

Thank you Jon

We all have a right to speak up but with it come a responsibility to be both honest and humble.  Keep up your good work.  I hope our paths cross again!

 The Stationarypilgrim

Find the Light Within and Then Reach Out!

There is reason to hope, when two monks find common ground, when apologies are extended and accepted, when pilgrims reach across the divide in recognition of each other.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  108                                                 Days Blogged: 97

New Mileage: 10                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 807

Haiti needs Solar Powered Bibles!

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

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

 
 
 

Some consequences don't forgive or forget so easily!

First

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

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

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

Don't my needs matter?

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

Ask - Listen -and you will Understand their needs!

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

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