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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  110                                                 Days Blogged: 98

New Mileage: 10                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 817

Two Certainties!

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

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

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

Us versus Them Again!

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

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

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

The effect you were looking for?

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

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

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

I will not accept it as an impossible dream!

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

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

 Consecutive Days Riding:  83                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 84 

 Today’s Mileage: 6                                              Total Trip Mileage: 687 

 Happy New Year to all my family and friends! I decided to let myself have a little reprieve today.  I will be riding the bike of course, but instead of composing my typical blog ramblings I have posted several quotes and beautiful images.  They are words and images to ponder as we prepare our resolutions for a new year.  I hope you enjoy both as the gifts they are… see you tomorrow! 

Awaken to the New Year and its Possibilities!

“Go back?” he thought.  “No good at all!  Go sideways?  Impossible!  Go forward?  Only thing to do!  On we go!”  So he got up, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.   J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit 

 “Man must have just enough faith in himself to have adventures, and just enough doubt of himself to enjoy them.”  G.K. Chesterton 

What mountains will we face in the New Year?

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”  C.S. Lewis 

“A friendly study of the world’s religions is a sacred duty.” Mahatma Gandhi

Embrace each new day as a gift!

“A good man is not a perfect man; a good man is an honest man, faithful, and unhesitatingly responsive to the voice of God in his life.”  John Fischer 

“Belief is truth held in the mind; faith is a fire in the heart.”  Joseph Fort Newton

How will you celebrate the beauty on your path?

“Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” Frederick Buechner 

“God’s heart is the most sensitive and tender of all. No act goes unnoticed, no matter how insignificant or small.” Richard J. Foster 

The days grow longer... the cycles of nature unfold!

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” The Dalai Lama 

“Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” “A good traveler has no fixed plan, and is not intent on arriving.” “If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never be truly fulfilled.” “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”     Lao Tzu

Be kind to the children... no cruel jokes please!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  81                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 82

Today’s Mileage: 6                                              Total Trip Mileage: 677

I’m not riding my stationary bike as I dictate today’s posting. I will climb on it later. As I noted yesterday, some days I feel the need to walk. Today I felt the need to start a fire to burn off some of the dead branches and trees I thinned out over the summer.  I’m walking in the woods along the river thinking about yesterday and my visit to the High Art Museum in Atlanta. I enjoyed the smorgasbord of artistic images.  We started our visit in the European wing of the building.  The show featured a number of Renaissance era paintings and as might be expected, most of them had religious themes.  The Madonna and Christ child were popular topics.

Contemplating Nothingness!

This got me thinking about the connection between art and spirituality.  Art historians and anthropologists might argue that the two have always gone hand in hand.  The prehistoric cave painting and objects found in early burial sites clearly had spiritual meaning and significance to members of ancient communities and cultures.  These early artists were as much “craftsman” as they were what we would now call artists.  Huston Smith in his book The World’s Religion, notes that in the early primal or earth based tradition such as the American Indians: “there is no word for art, because to Indians everything is art.  Equally, everything is, in its way religious.”  There was no distinction between secular and sacred objects. A cave painting, a weapon, a bowl or spoon; all had spiritual significance for there was no dualistic division of the spiritual world from the mundane world. When the world and its objects all contained the divine and were interconnected, there were no distinctions between object, function and creator. All were intertwined.

Does it Bite?

Prior to the Renaissance in Western Europe, all art was tied to spiritual themes such as the old and new testaments or the ancient myths of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses.  This was to be expected because the church was the primary consumer of art with its need for icons and symbolism to present beliefs and teachings to an uneducated mass of followers.  The church, meaning the Catholic Church, dictated what was defined as art and what was defined as heresy. With the arrival of the rich mercantile and powerful aristocratic classes art work broke free of religious oversight and control.  Art became eventually what we know it to be today, both functional art and art for “art’s sake” (i.e. the artist’s needs and desires). 

Hurry get a Nail!

Turn on the TV or open a magazine and you will see functional art used for the purpose of commerce.  Watch a political rally, like the recent tea bag events, and you will see art used as an emotional “call to arms” (e.g. Obama drawn with a Hitler mustache; or a cartoon of Mohammad as a mad bomber) to inflame emotions or steel a group’s resolve.

Where do you want this?

Art has also come to serve an individual purpose for the artist and/or the viewer.  It becomes a means for the artist to explore their beliefs and attitudes and  to make a statement about their view of reality.  As such, it may convey a sense of connection if that is what the artist “knows,” or a sense of anger and disconnect, if that is what they are experiencing.

The denial of saint Peter

One of the religious paintings I studied for some time, scribbling my thoughts into my pocket notebook was Nicholas Tournier: The Denial of Saint Peter, painted in 1630.  The painting presents the story of Peter’s denial of his relationship to Christ. The size and lighting of the figures makes it an imposing and powerful image. I was struck at how this painting points to a simple fact of human nature. Understanding is always embedded in the current world view!  The painting is populated by Peter, a pair of accusers, and a group of disinterested Roman soldiers playing dice.  I read the description twice to make sure they were noted as Roman soldiers.  I smiled and shook my head because the soldiers bore no Roman style uniforms or weapons!  Several wore armor that was common during the European middle ages.  Obviously the artist used images and items that the viewers of his time could identify with!  However, it was interesting to note that only the figure of Peter wears facial hair and a garment close to what might have been worn in Christ’s time.  Why would the artist make it easy for the viewer to identify with the accusers and uninterested soldiers and not the Apostle Peter?  I’m sure some religious historian would have a lot to say to that question.

It ain't heavy its artwork!

Why bring this up you might ask?  Because what fits for artwork, it’s “rootedness” in a particular time and place, also fits for literature, even for sacred scriptures.  Academic careers can be based on the study of the meaning of a particular symbol, word or phrase, especially if the words have gone through repeated translations or the symbol survives an illiterate “lost” culture. Some individuals and faith communities, recognizing this fact, have abandoned sacred scriptures and ancient myths.  They embrace the revelations of the present, the mystical experience arising moment-to-moment. More traditional approaches embrace the words and symbol of the sacred stories and the idea that the meaning will be revealed through study and contemplation. Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses and both use art in different ways.

Who ordered the large slice?

What did I enjoy most about my visit to the museum?  What I enjoyed most was interacting with the art! The images were thought provoking and I appreciated their beauty. I apologized to the museum guards who looked puzzled, and to the young art history major who looked askew at my irreverent actions and attitude.  I took the art and made it a part of “the moment,” we had a relationship and became a larger work of art!  My partner laughed and the art said nothing.  I carried images of this interaction with me when I left, the images I now share with you.

I didn't do it, nobody saw me, you can't prove anything!

My suggestion to my readers: create art if you are so inclined.  Appreciate and study art when you are given the opportunity.  Find a way to have a relationship with art.  For whether it is inspired by some celestial deity, or a product of some divine creative process which is God, it is always a gift!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 62                                Consecutive Days Blogging: 63

Today’s Mileage: 10                                           Total Trip Mileage: 545

The red line traces our progress.

A Spiritual Buffet?

Before I climbed on the bike this morning I reviewed an article on the front page of yesterday’s USA Today. The lead story was entitled: Mixing Their Religion: Many choose their faith from a spiritual buffet. The article was based on a recent survey of Americans about their religious beliefs. Over the past several years I have seen similar survey results pointing to a growing diversity in our nation’s religious and spiritual beliefs.  In particular several of them point to the fact that while many people may go to church, their beliefs often do not fit with that church’s dogma and teachings. These findings have fueled many a discussion on talk radio, chat rooms or newspaper letters to the editor.  It is clear there is a growing “blending” of diverse spiritual threads within people’s personal belief systems.  The question that fuels for many of these discussions is “what does this mean?”

Some individuals’ and groups’ answer to this question would lead us to believe that this blending is problematic and perhaps a sign of decay within our existing institutions.  Other individuals and groups see this blending as a positive sign, as an embracing of diversity and a sign of growth. Personally, I think it maybe both, a warning sign and a promising change! 

A Spiritual Entree?

Within psychology we have long recognized that our developing belief system follows a set process.  From the moment we are born, we are an information processing system.  We input data, we analyze data, we make assumptions and simple decisions based on this data, and we act on our assumptions and receive feedback from our environment (i.e. success or failure, reinforcement or punishment). This whole process operates with the goal of making sense of our world so we can act to get what we want and need. 

Initially this belief system (explanations and expectations) are given to us by parents, teachers, and ministers.   It represents a readymade road map with canned explanations of life’s demands.  But as any parent knows, fairly early in some cases, the challenges and questions concerning these beliefs will eventually follow!  Beliefs are constantly tested, we make predictions and then we wait to see if we are right.  Positive outcomes strengthen our beliefs; negative outcomes may lead us to search for better explanations, perhaps even new beliefs.  As we grow and mature, our beliefs are more and more of our own choosing.  We retool what we were taught with new information, new teachings and new experiences. 

My point is that exploring, sampling, testing and choosing are all part of our human nature.  Our religious and spiritual beliefs are no different than our political or economic beliefs. Many psychologists would argue that the sign of “maturity” is not in the content of your belief system (that it be different from your youth) but that you believe in the content for a different reason. Maturity is judged by how “well tested” your current beliefs are and whether they have they been challenged (internally, externally or both) and “forged” by life experiences.  You do not have to believe they are true, you know they are true for you!

Some of all or just one?

But how can this smorgasbord approach to spirituality be both positive and negative?  I believe  the distinction resides with the answers to two questions. First, does this blended belief system really fit for you, does it provide you with sound advice?  For some people this blended system simple represents a “quick and easy” or momentary convenient fit, perhaps just a “fad.”  Secondly, does this belief system promote a true state of transcendence and growth in the individual’s actions, thoughts and feelings?  For others this smorgasbord of a meal may simply provide temporary relief and a return to the “status quo.” 

For some a visit to the buffet provides nourishing advice and leads to growth. For others, sticking with a single satisfying entrée leads to a fulfilling meal and growth.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 43                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 44

Today’s Mileage:  10                                           Total Trip Mileage: 365

 

Visitor Center

As I ride the bike I recognize that we are quickly approaching the west coast of Florida.  We will visit Marco Island in coming days and then head towards Naples and our next Pilgrimage Site.  Our travels today take us past the Collier Seminole State Park so I will include photos from the park for your enjoyment.

Red Shouldered Hawk

Yesterday I spoke about the “levels of analysis” we may use when talking about spiritual and religious matters.  In my Psychology of Religion class I steer my students away from the usual “who has the right/proper form” questions towards these questions: how do religions and spiritual systems attempt to meet individual and community needs? How are different religions meeting the same functions with similar processes?”

Canoe trail

Today I’d like to speak briefly on the topic of morality from a functional perspective. Specifically  I would like to address the question:  how do we judge morality? I often hear people speak of other people’s behavior as being moral or not moral.  This is a deceptive simplification of the issue, we call dichotomous thinking.  It’s not that one person has a set of morals and the other is totally without.  The real issue is that the one person’s behavior (the actor) falls outside of what the other (the viewer) sees as moral.  However, in all likelihood, it fits the definition of “moral” held by the actor.  While one person might view going on a gay date as immoral, the person going on the date may judge it as the moral thing to do as they are acting in a congruent way between their feelings and actions.  For that person to deny and not act on their homosexuality, would  be for them, a deceptive and immoral action. I believe if we step back and take a functional approach to analyze conflict laden situations, we will see that both individuals have morals and both use them to judge their actions and choices. It’s in the content of their morals where the differences exist.

Primrose with visitor

In my current academic research I have come across the works of several Social psychologists in working  the field of Moral Foundations Theory. Recently the authors, Jesse Graham, Jonathan Haidt, and Brian Nosek, have reported finding that liberal and conservative individuals base their moral judgment and decisions on different sets of moral foundations. 

Moral Foundations Theory hypothesizes that there are five sets of “moral intuitions” which people use to make their moral judgments.  These include: 1) Does the action harm another and is it caring (Harm/Care),2) Is the action Fair towards the other individual and promote reciprocity (Fairness/Reciprocity), 3) Does the action fit with a loyalty towards one’s group (Ingroup/Loyalty), 4) Does the action show respect for prevailing authority (Authority/Respect), 5) Does the action fall within one’s views of what is a pure or sanctified behavior (Purity/Sanctity). Their research indicates that while individuals tend to use all five of these foundations, clear difference exist between individuals who rate themselves as liberals, who make primary use of Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity, versus conservatives, who make more or less equal us of all five foundations.

Salt Marsh Mallow

These findings point to and highlight the source of conflict between individuals on the opposite ends of political and religious discussions.  Liberals look first and foremost at the impact a choice or decision has on minority members of the society. Conservatives give significantly more weight to tradition, established authority figures and ideas of “right and wrong” as defined in sacred texts.

These authors note: “Western societies are growing more diverse and with diversity comes differing ideals about how to best regulate selfishness and about how we ought to live together.” Political and religious issues overlap in areas like abortion, separation of church and state, waging “just” wars, and gay rights issues, to name a few.  Whenever I hear a discussion concerning political and religious issues among individuals from opposite ends of the political spectrum, I remind myself that we all have morals and that we strive to live by them.  While this recognition may not help us find a common ground on questions of content and form, it will at least keep us focused on the other issue: the shared need to find a basis for our living together as a community.

What are your moral foundations?  Go to www.yourmorals.org and complete the online questionnaire to find out!

Sunset over the park

Thanks to the Florida State Parks Service for the wonderful photos.  Visit www.floridastateparks.org for more information.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 23                                Consecutive Days Blogging: 24

Today’s Mileage: 10                                               Total Trip Mileage: 228

stage5

Holidays and Holy Days on November 1st:

All Saints Day – Christian day for honoring saints, known and unknown. In general, saints are persons with reputation for unusual lives of holiness and devotion to God or who were martyred for their faith. A Holy Day of Obligation in the Roman Catholic Church where saints have special formal status.

Samhain – Wicca celebration of endings and beginnings and of remembering the dead.. Revering of elders is also observed.

____________________________________

     As I climb on the stationary bike this morning I realize that we have only two days left in the Everglades National Park before we head up the coast to the Miami area. Tomorrow we will celebrate the Sacredness of this site as well as “all of God’s creatures” which inhabit it!

nine mile pond by donald see

Nine Mile Pond in the Everglades

    Part of me is sad that we will be leave behind the panoramic scenes of nature, often undisturbed by little more than a road. However, I know many unknown scenes of beauty lie ahead of us, both natural as well as manmade! There are several different religious sites we will visit in the Miami area, representing a very wide range of spiritual traditions. The next several weeks should be interesting, luckily on my virtual ride I don’t have to worry about the traffic or “making the lights!”

white mangroves by maryknapp

Stand of white mangroves

     You no doubt noticed the holiday and holy days heading at the top of this posting. I have decided to start noting all religious celebrations falling on the day of the posting. Since pilgrimages can be associated with certain holy days it is meant to give the readers a wider perspective on the world wisdom traditions. I remember talking with a student once about comparative religious studies. He noted that he knew about other faiths, as he had taken a class that compared Christianity to Judaism!

everglades by jorg behmann

Everglades grasslands

     When I teach the Psychology of Religion, I review all of the major world wisdom traditions, their beliefs and rituals. Spiritual beliefs are like clothing. We often become very comfortable with “our favorite outfit or style,” but that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t become familiar with the outfits and costumes of others. I believe we share a large, but shrinking world, where we have to interact with people who are different from ourselves. It helps if we have an understanding of their world view and values. If we open ourselves up to their views, we may in fact come to not only appreciate them, but to actually celebrate them!

pinelands by nationalparklover

Everglade pinelands

    I am a pluralist. I do not struggle to discover which of the many wisdom traditions holds The Truth. I see them all, as long as they are “life affirming”: Loving, Compassionate, Foster Connections with others, as holding truth. They are by no means similar. They represent very different paths, with respect to beliefs and rituals. However, they can and do all lead to the mountain peak, a relationship with the divine. I believe the critical question is NOT which path holds truth, but which path holds the truth that fits for me , for my personality, my experiences, and my struggles.

     My partner Susan reminds me that I don’t need to preach to people about my beliefs. That is not my intention, I am certain in what I believe and have experienced, but I am humble because I know that these beliefs and experiences do not fit for anyone else. I raise these points out of a concern for tolerance, civility, and acceptance as all people of the planet face a multitude of shared problems. Unless you believe that all of the problems will miraculously disappear, the solutions will require a coming together of all cultures, religions, and races!

sunset by danhester

Lone sentinal at sunset!

A special thanks to the photographers associated with Panramio for the beautiful scenes from along the roadside. The information on holy days and sacred holidays comes from http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.

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