THE SUPPORT YOUR LOVE GIVES ME

With you—your support—I can handle anything

If it feels, and it does at times, like the world is at me

In frustrations, failures, and yes, attacks enemies bring

In it all, your constant support holds me steady

 

As in Tristan and Isolde’s sacred Love Grotto, living on bliss

So our bliss blesses the world which our love weaves of times and dates

And the outside world whirls way away from our kiss

The world into which our love radiates and action penetrates

 

And when I err, and I do, and wander awry

You turn me back and straighten my direction

You move me to what I ought, and to all the projects I love to try

And in weakness and apathy your own will gives power to my motivation

 

In my life, what matters most is us

We are solidity and salvation in a world of change and sin

An anchor in uncertain seas that can turn tempestuous

When I became we, then did my life begin

 

It is a holy gift to have a love like you to care

In a world too often marked by indifference

Having you in my life is an answer to prayer

And having you in my life has made all the difference

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Moderating Rage: Trump’s Antics

I am appalled and galled at Trump’s antics.  Lately, I am sad that 800,000 government workers are facing life issues because Trump won’t pay them.  I am worried that the US government is closed for business.  And there’s so much to do.  And, finally, I am troubled at how many people still support Trump, and that those people are fellow Americans, citizens of my own country.  (However, I am somewhat relieved that lately only 34% of Americans support him, meaning that 66% don’t.)

So shall I pass my time galled, appalled, worried, and troubled?  If I do, Trump is getting me.  He’s pushing my buttons from his luxury resort in Florida or in the White House–way, way far away from where I live.  So I have a dilemma.  Shall I go about my business and not care about my home country’s problems?  That kind of callous disregard strikes me as un-Christian, and unbecoming.  I care for my fellows.  Yet, I’m not strong enough to stretch my concern to the whole world.  I have sufficient concerns in my personal life, and in the world I touch.

I’m re-thinking Voltaire’s concluding line from Candide.  “Il faut cultiver notre jardin”–“We must cultivate our garden.”  In Voltaire’s novel, after innumerable calamities which were explained away with a metaphysics that said we live in the best of all possible worlds and all things work out to the best that they can, the small group we follow through the story finally ends up tending a garden they collectively own.  When the metaphysician tries to explain why ending up tending a garden is the best possible outcome in the best of all possible worlds, then we get that line, “We must cultivate our garden.”  What that means, I think, is that we have enough to handle with the immediate problems we tend to in our lives.  Whether we live in the best of times or the worst of times, all that really matters is what we can manage in the life we live in and the lives we touch.  I did act with passion in my 2018 vote, in absentia, reading the instructions, printing up the ballot from the emailed copy sent me, mailing it snail mail to the district in which I vote.  And that is all I can see that I can actually do about the troubling matters in my home country.

There’s another quote relevant to this issue.  “Turn it over.”  While I have limited power to care about the whole, wide world, there is One who does have the power to care about it.  I do wonder, at times, what that One is up to in this world.  But that One does know what He/She/It is up to.  Where does that leave me?

What I am finding is that I need to come to terms with my own passions.  I didn’t like George W. Bush.  I couldn’t watch him on TV.  I didn’t, however, feel outraged and appalled as I do now.  So am I going to ruin my present getting mad at politicians I don’t agree with?  The real issue is how I come to terms with those things I disagree with.  I have come to a decision.  I will no longer watch MSNBC and wallow in gall, and drive around town perseverating about all the bad things Trump is doing to the US.  My heart and soul matters more than that.

My own heart and soul is the garden I must cultivate.  How I spend my now, my eternity, matters to me.  I have cultivated peace in relation to my personal enemies.  I now need to do that in regard to my disagreement with Trump’s antics.  There were people appalled with Obama, too.  I can remain in the ready in relation to my vote; I can stay informed about the political development in my home country; I can act in my immediate environment for the good of the world I touch; and I can remain personally at peace.  There are heights I can ascend to in my soul–joy, peace and love.  There are broken individuals I can buy a sandwich for at the convenience store near where I live.  And these things matter more to me than going about my business appalled at Trump.  “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.”

Literary Criticism: Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe astounds me whenever I read him, and I am reading him again, now.  He is, perhaps, one of the most gifted writers of this generation.  Wolfe writes about the depth and surface of human experience.  People too often, and mistakenly, talk about Wolfe’s interest in status.  That’s there, of course, but Tom Wolfe can write with insight and sensitivity about the soul, about spirituality, and the conflict of spirituality with the contemporary world and its vapid secularity–giving all their own voice.

Sometimes it is difficult to recognize the shining stars in the age in which they live.  For instance, Norman Mailer was a sensation in his day, but I don’t think anyone will be reading him for much longer, if anyone still is.  Tom Wolfe will continue to be read for generations because his novels are engaging, profound, artistic, and bespeak truths about the human condition that are timeless.

Tom Wolfe’s work has received mixed critical response.  Some prominent authors of the generation preceding him panned him.  I don’t know what gets into critics’ heads, sometimes.  You often see hubris and arrogance in them that makes them think that they have an Olympian voice about everything beneath them from their lofty height.  Hemingway once said he thought he should break the jaw of one critic every year.  Wolfe’s works surpass the accepted authors preceding him who panned him.  Wolfe will live on while they are forgotten.

Wolfe delights, engages, paints realistic characters, realistic situations, and comments on the vital issues of human existence.  I am casting this criticism out into the cyber-world as enthusiasm which must find voice, and as a recommendation to anyone who hasn’t yet been touched by this abiding artist.

SEVERAL THREADS OF LIVES

The three fates spin the thread of our life at birth

At times, so it seems with the life I know

Then, there are my choices

The threads I spun for myself:

 

The shock of working at a nursing home

Seeing the incapacitation

Drove me to drive myself in everything

I went all-out, all-in

My endeavor coursed through my ambition to achieve

And so, one thread

 

The intensity driving me drove me

Just to get by

When incapacitation overwhelmed me,

Overmedication disabled my abilities

“I can’t believe you could function,” my psychiatrist said

And so, one thread

 

Early aspiration realized late

Struggling to live out a livelihood dreamed of

In real time, in tension with tendentious intractable relations

Resolute in my own reality realizing my dreams

Despite detractors, determined

And so, one thread

 

Was it the thread spun by the three fates

At my birth?  Or spun by my own making?

In parallel universes I envision

Other roads I could have traveled by

Other doors opened, different possibilities, different choices

Other outcomes, other goals, other achievements

Other selves which could be me

Other lives I could live

Here I am, am who I am

In this life, spun by the three fates, or by me

Philosophy of Religion

For me, today, religion is more a technique than a belief system.  Religion is a set of tools to use to perfect the self.  My interfaith background has led me to this idea, and the practices I have gone through.

When I was young, and I think that this is appropriate for young people, I learned a lot of belief systems.  I had a real delight in ideas, truth, and doctrines.  Now, my concern is how the ideas I have learned work in my reformation process.  From this point of view, religion is the tools I use in this.

I recently experienced Vedanta meditation (philosophical Hindu practice).  Very briefly, very basically.  But having studied Vedanta in graduate school, I had an idea where the teacher was going during the meditation.  I have used the techniques he taught us on my own to good effect.  However, I have certain doctrinal disagreements with the theology behind Vedanta.  My main concern is with the idea of an embodied God.  As a Christian, my God is Jesus.  Yet in Vedanta, the Ultimate is pure Consciousness, Peace, Infinite and impersonal.  I believe that these qualities apply to Jesus–all except the impersonal aspect of the Ultimate.  There are other areas of intersection.  My Swedenborgian beliefs teach that self is ultimately an illusion, as does Vedanta.  The only Self is God, which fits  with Vedanta, if we call God Brahman.  Then I bump up against Jesus as embodied Deity.  These questions are in Hinduism, too, as there is a devotional aspect to Hinduism in the worship of Gods like Shiva, Vishnu, or Shakti.  Devotional Hinduism sometimes criticizes Vedanta, too.  However, when I forget about these doctrinal issues, the meditation works quite well in calming my mind and elevating my consciousness, and relieving my base inclinations.  As a technique, as a tool for reformation, Vedanta works.  Works better than just Swedenborgian rationalism.

In another area of my spirituality, I find certain articulations in Taoism working better, again, than my Swedenborgian rationalism.  Swedenborg has a difficult concept called “proprium.”  Proprium means, basically, self-generated self.  Self-generated feelings and actions are the source of all evil.  Relief from self comes when we are moved by God’s Spirit.  Then, activity flows freely.  Explaining this and understanding it with linear language is difficult and inefficient.  I find that the Taoist metaphors of “the uncarved block,” “the way of water,” “the breath of the valley spirit” work well to illustrate how the Holy Spirit moves self without self-generated deeds.  Also, Taoist paradoxes work well, such as “action without action,” or “effortless doing,” what they call “wu-wei.”

When I was younger, I used to say I was sometimes Buddhist, sometimes Christian, sometimes Hindu, sometimes Jewish, depending on how I felt in the moment.  That was a kind of way of showing off my interfaith education.  Now, however, I find that all those doctrines I learned can help me in my spiritual growth.  I don’t have the arrogance to claim that I really am Buddhist sometimes, for instance.  But sometimes, Buddhism does work better in my life work of spirituality.  But it works as a tool, not as a concept.  So that is now how I view religion: in terms of a tool that will make me better, and of better service to the world I inhabit.

I kind of think that if people did view religion as a tool, and not as an exclusive world-view, there would be more religious harmony in the world; less fighting; better people.  I am aware that many people today don’t have a place in their life for religion.  But maybe that is because too often, religion is thought to be a belief system, and not a tool in the process of reforming the life.  In my experience, religion works!

Learning Peace

Effort isn’t always good

Forced achievement

Being natural, unaffected, at peace

Listening

Passive

The way of water

The uncarved block

 

What we put on

Mentally, personality, affected responses

Is too much self

Proprium

 

I am learning peace

To act without effort

Just learning

“Are you at peace?” she asked me years ago.

“I have satisfaction,” I replied.

“That’s not what I asked,” she said.

I am learning peace

Just learning

There’s Nothing Funny about Comedy

I can’t recall a comedy ever winning an Academy Award.  Maybe one did, but I don’t remember it.  There’s a common understanding that comedy is lowbrow.  Not serious stuff.  And, indeed, calling comedy serious is a paradox.  The whole point of comedy is not to take anything seriously.

I used to be publicly funny.  I made jokes in school, made jokes in my professional life, made jokes in my social life–made jokes all the time, everywhere.  And it didn’t serve me well.  I think that people may have thought me unprofessional.  And maybe I was.  I was passed over for professional positions I wanted.  And I now believe that it was my attitude that was responsible for it.

In ancient Greece, where drama originated in the west, there were two masks which captured the essence of drama.  One mask was for tragedy and one mask was for comedy.  One of Aristotle’s works is on theater, called Poetics.  It lays out the principles of tragedy.  But there’s no comedy in it.  Scholars conjecture that the Poetics was meant to cover both aspects of theater: tragedy and comedy.  But the part on comedy was lost.  They even speculate about what Aristotle said in his missing work on comedy.  And Plato himself has Socrates forcing Aristophanes and Agathon to admit that tragedy and comedy both come from the same causes, and that the same author could write both comedy and tragedy.  He does this at a party where everyone else has passed out drunk.  Perhaps this is why Blake writes, “Excessive sorrow laughs.  Excessive joy weeps.”  Robert De Niro has successfully played tragedy and comedy.

In school I took a course in Comedy and the Christian Imagination.  That’s where I learned that there’s nothing funny about comedy.  It is a serious classical category.  Dante’s Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso is called the Divine Comedy, and there aren’t many funny parts in it.  Shakespeare wrote both comedies and tragedies, and his comedies had funny parts in them.  In fact, even in his darkest tragedy, Hamlet, there a really funny part in a graveyard.  Some people think that I am a serious guy.  My mother doesn’t understand how, after all my many years in graduate school, I can laugh at Super Troopers or Robin Hood: Men in Tights.  I genuinely enjoy stupid comedies.  I want to make the claim for comedy in our lives.  I could produce some serious arguments as to how comedy functions, and what the prupose of comedy is.  But that isn’t the point of this post.  I merely want to say that there’s a place for funny in our lives.  And even serious people can laugh, should laugh, at movies like Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

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