Category Archives: Jesus

Cycles

The Universe

The universe cycles.  Things arise, then pass away.  It may take a while, a few billion years or so, but the only constant is change.  So it is with my life, change is the constant, it is just that the cycles are shorter.  The big cycle is of course, life itself.  Born, live, decline, and die.  After that, who knows for sure?

Today, it is about my spiritual cycles.  Those cycles can run from weeks to years.  Lately it is weeks.  I am a seeker, and was drawn to Buddhism in college.  I read, thought, but couldn’t meditate.  Now I meditate and after a number of false starts, I can call myself a beginner Buddhist.   Well, a Bhuddapalian, because Jesus is still in my life, but that’s another story and other cycles.

I have made quite a bit of progress, and have experienced varying times when I am actually living in the moment, not thinking about the past or future.  After all, the past or the future don’t exist except in our heads.  A few weeks I went on a retreat of enormous benefit.  18 people at the Y of the Rockies in Estes Park where we formed a bond during a silent retreat.

Cycles.  After the high comes the low.  From being in the moment, I found myself trapped in my past.  Now, for the purpose of survival I  need the past.  I learned things and apply the knowledge for the sake of survival in a fairly hostile world.  I don’t need all the old traumas and mistakes filling my head, however.  I use that stuff to fuel addictions in order to block what is gone anyway.  That’s how the brain works sometimes.  I block with food, various drugs, sex, and depression.

The problem, those strategies wear off and I am back simmering in the cauldron of despair.  Old pains lead to compulsive behavior leading to despair and addiction.  The Buddhist strategy is to devote oneself to serving all beings, clean living, loving kindness, and letting go-detachment.  Lately, not working.  I watch violence on You Tube, eat, fantasize, and avoid drugs.  Letting go?  Hmph.

I had this dream.  I was back at work after a vacation and there was new stuff I didn’t know how to work with.  There weren’t any instructions, of course.  When are there ever instructions about what to do?  So, I just had to cope, even though the boss and an engineer were running around talking about the future.  They weren’t going to be any help.

That’s where we are, isn’t it?  New tasks and no owners manual.  I just have to sit with the situation until a strategy presents itself.  Oh, wait, I just laid out the strategy, didn’t

Weather? What Weather?

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The arguments about climate change continue.  Those who point to the changes on our planet use science to support their arguments.  Retreating glaciers and ice sheets. Thawing tundra.  The worldwide atmospheric temperature is rising.local climates are changing, and severe weather events are increasing.  It makes sense, doesn’t it that if the temperature rises there is more energy for hurricanes and tornadoes.  The wind will blow as well, although you might not notice much difference in Wyoming.

The deniers usually have one of two reasons.  First, it is money.  If a business or individual has to spend money to reduce their carbon footprint, they tend to object.  The other reason, which I am going to explore, is religious.  These days in our country, the religious arguments come out of biblical prophesy.

Biblical prophesy:  abandon all hope if you venture to study prophesy.  Prophets abound in all human cultures.  As humans, we don’t know what the future will bring and we would really like to know.  The stars, tea leaves, the oracles at Delphi, Jeremiah, Nostradamus, and a host of others.  The unknown is a source of fear, and people want their fears assuaged.  Myself, I prefer fortune cookies.  At least I get something sweet for my effort.

Most religions rely on fear to some to gain adherents.  The right corn dance will bring rain and a good harvest.  No dance, no rain.  Money sent to an evangelist will get the right kind of prayers said for you.  No confession, it’s hell for you.

Let’s go into Christian prophesy.  Much of the Old Testament is about God railing against his people do do right by him.  In some places God’s own words are recorded.  In most instances it is a prophet.  The prophets were doing God’s work : “Straighten up or else.”.  Most people don’t straighten up.  They don’t get the word, they don’t give a damn, or they aren’t going to listen to some raving madman.  And then, bad things happen.  The prophets say “See? This is all your fault.  Straighten up or it will get worse.”

Well, it gets bad all the time.  It also gets good some of the time.  All that bad weather and fire we get in the prophesies?  Plagues, pestilence?  Happens all the time.  Last summer at our house it was Japanese Beetles eating our roses and grapevine leaves. That was a pestilence.   No grapes, no wine, if it happened in ancient times.  Ever since the New Testament canon was settled on with its prophesies, especially the book of Revelation, the prophets have been crying doom regarding the Second Coming.

About that book of

Revelation, take some time and read the thing.  Powerful imagery, wild predictions, fiery rhetoric.  What is it about?  Rome.  The Beast is Rome and its Legions conquering and ruling by the sword and crucifixion.  Prophesy is aimed at a specific target, in this case the Roman Empire.

It seems to me to be quite a stretch to fast forward a couple of centuries to today.  Prophets of doom said before the first millennium those were the last days, and the year 1000 would bring Armageddon and the second coming.  Lots of nineteenth century and twentieth century prophets sat down with their pencils and predicted the end of the world was at hand.  Didn’t happen, folks.

The Second Coming of Jesus

Now many of the believers in the last days and impending doom are in positions of influence.  Our Vice President is an example.  Much of the so-called conservative rhetoric and congressional action is designed by prophesy believers to hasten Armageddon.  I encourage you to look around the internet for the multitude of websites saying the same thing.  We’re in the last days, Jesus is coming, the righteous will be raptured to heaven and the rest of us are in big trouble.  Don’t you believe it.  There is another scripture in Thessalonians saying nobody knows the date, He will come as a thief in the night.  That one seems to be ignored these days.

My take on it, live the life that is best for you.  Find the answers for yourself.  If someone says he knows the answers, the odds are he does not.  If you don’t find the answers yourself, you are in good company.  No one knows for sure.

I am an Evangelical

Augustine

Well, not really.  But I was one.  I was raised a Methodist, and had a profound conversion experience into a Pentecostal denomination.

Yes, they were evangelical.  Evangelicals tend to take the Bible literally and have traditional beliefs about sexuality, marriage, abortion, and politics.  I hold none of those views.  I’m a liberal of the kind vilified on Fox News.  I retain some Christian beliefs, but am a practicing Buddhist.

I have an extensive library on Christianity.  Most of the books are about the relatively new thinking about Jesus and the Bible, most of them anathema to an evangelical.  I do accept the historical reality of Jesus, but that is about as far as it goes.  I tend to view it all from an historical perspective.

Regarding God, nobody knows for sure.  Most every culture deals with God in some fashion, but my view is he was extrapolated from the spirit world, entities who exist, but in my view are no more deities than we are.  Like us they would like to be gods, but only Donald Trump has made it.

I am from a milieu steeped in the old time religion.  It is ironic that the concept of original sin came from Augustine, a Catholic Scholastic.  His idea about the event in the garden leading to human depravity rather than free will leads directly to the idea Jesus assumed our sinful nature to release us from God’s curse.  John said God loved us and freed us from sin on the cross, but Augustine said God let Jesus atone for our depravity.

John Calvin

American evangelical Protestantism adopted Augustine.  Conservatives: we’re bad.   Liberals: we’re good, but need help because the event in the Garden gave us free will.  We can choose, a coyote can’t.  But, we sometimes make bad choices.

For several reasons, deep down I believe I’m bad.  I am engaged in overcoming that belief, with limited and intermittent success.  Sometimes I feel good about myself, sometimes I don’t.

I really don’t like Augustine, Calvin, and their wrathful God.  My father and grandfather had that Scots Presbyterian Calvinist outlook even though they were not religious.  I caught it from them.  The underlying attitude was nobody could ever measure up, including me and them.  There, ladies, and gentlemen, is a prescription for an unhappy life.  My mother was raised Congregationalist, another Calvinist denomination (no longer, however).

Grandfather, Father, and Mother were pretty nice people, which revealed their true natures, but under it all they thought they were lost souls.  As our current self-appointed deity would say, “Sad.”.   I’m afraid some part of me will always believe I am really a bad dude, which I caught from them.

Our culture remains contaminated with the evangelical attitude.  I sit here in the coffee shop next to Denver University, started in 1864 as a Methodist school.  The Methodists have never been quite as infected by Calvinism, coming from Anglican roots, but that need for redemption is still there.  The idea behind DU was to bring the gospel to the wilderness.  That was fine, but there was an underlying belief those naked heathen Indians were beyond redemption.  John Evans, the Methodist territorial governor in 1864 and a co-founder of DU, and John Chivington, a Methodist minister and Colonel of the Third Volunteer Cavalry Regiment decided those murdering heathens had to go.  Thus, the Sand Creek Massacre.

The streets at DU are Methodist, starting with Wesley, the Anglican who founded Methodism.  Looking west from Evans Avenue one sees Mt. Evans, both named after an Indian killer.  I live between Evans and Asbury Avenues.  Asbury is named for the first Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop in the United States.  I don’t seem to be able to get away from it.  The current DU students, however, don’t seem to be as infected with that stuff as I am.  The architects designing buildings at DU don’t seem to have gotten the message.  Even the big athletic field House has a bell tower. The old part of the campus has several spires and bell towers.

The University of Denver has, to its credit, recognized the tragedy of Sand Creek and the role of the Methodist founder of DU in the act of genocide.  DU is no longer evangelical, but has the history.  I am no longer evangelical, but I carry the history.

Meditation

Meditation

Meditation

Humans have been meditating ever since our brains got big.  There are seekers who look around the world for answers to what is essentially unknowable, but we still wonder.  There are always people who will tell you they have the answer, and most people are willing to accept what they say.  I am one of the exceptions.  I am one of the seekers, always have been.   

I looked for the answers with the organizations that say they know.  I was never quite satisfied.  I was raised a nominal Methodist, but it never resonated with me.  For many years I was a rabid agnostic, challenging every belief.  It worked, too, except with those persons grounded in their faith.  I looked into lots of beliefs.  I investigated various flavors of Christianity, existential philosophy (the ultimate refuge of the sceptic), the power ideologies, Zen, radical politics, straight humanism, and scientific atheism.  Nothing worked, and I plunged into some of them fairly deeply. 

I attended college during the turbulent late 1960’s.  Parallel with politics were the drugs. I smoked lots of dope, and it helped me to get more in touch with my feelings.  Paradoxically, marijuana is useful if you just want to numb out while feeling good.  I did that a lot.  Then there was LSD.  Lots of people used acid to have fun and maybe explore a changed way of perceiving reality.  Others, myself included, attempted to use acid in the Quest.   

My friends would take one hit of acid, I tended to take three.  By lying down at night and looking straight up I saw the matrix of universal existence, how the entire universe is interconnected.  The problem is that I always came down, and a lot of what I had seen retreated.  I finally gave acid  and pot up. 

I continued to seek, but I also despaired of finding any answers for the Question.  I did the regular stuff, got married, had a career, and engaged in lots of activities.  I explored the wilderness, bred and showed dogs, hunted, drank quite a bit, and had most of it fall apart. 

I was divorced, lonely, depressed, and starting a new career that was technical rather than person-oriented.  I was in the dark night of the soul.  I fell into Pentecostal Christianity, which puts a lot of emphasis on experiential activities.  In other words, I was a Tongue-Talking Holy Roller.  I experienced the divine.  I literally felt the love of Christ.  I plunged in all the way for a couple of years, but the fundamentalism and the underlying Calvinism did me in. 

I went from the Pentecostals to Charismatic Episcopalian churches.  The evangelicalism pushed me out again.  I ended up a mainstream Episcopalian.  I love the liturgy, the ceremony, the openness to religious exploration.  I had trouble with the Church.  The only time the Church contacted me directly  was to ask for money, and I had been steadily giving.  I had to write the Bishop to get accommodations to my shift worker schedule in order to take the course leading to confirmation. 

I left.  I still think of myself as an Episcopalian, but my churchgoing has lapsed.  During my time as an Episcopalian, I began doing Christian Contemplative prayer.  For most of my life, meditation was almost impossible because my ADD-addled brain would never quiet down. I was finally able to meditate.  

I stayed with the contemplatives for quite a while, going to a weekly group, going on retreat, and reading widely.  The Christian mystical tradition is as ancient as Christianity.  In the west, it survived mostly in a monastic setting.  The Carmelites, the Trappists, and a number of other orders have kept the tradition alive.  Today it is moving out of the cloister into the lay community.  It is still mostly Roman Catholic.  The Roman church has always tolerated the Mystics, as they are vital to the Christian tradition, but they have never very good at following all the rules.  That divine spark within all of us have grows in a mystic.  The presence of God within, and following His will is not always compatible with the Church’s teachings. 

My dissatisfaction with the institutional church eventually drove me away.  I am still a Christian, but not able to belong to anything but the Body of Christ.  I need a spiritual community, however, so I began a search into Buddhism.  Why Buddhism?  Buddhism is grounded in meditation and the search for enlightenment.  It is also essentially atheistic.  All those Buddha statues you see in Buddhist places of gathering and meditation are of a man, not some deity.  The Buddha was simply a man who entered into extensive study and meditation and began to teach.  His teachings were extensive and are expanded into a huge literature.   

The Buddha, one hand touching the earth - staying grounded

The Buddha, one hand touching the earth – staying grounded

There are many strains of Buddhism, not just Zen and Tibetan, although those are biggest here in the U.S.  They all share the same goal, which is identifying suffering and seeking the end of suffering.   There are many practices and beliefs, but they all share the goal of ending suffering. 

My first attempt to find a teacher and sangha was in Zen.  Must of what I had read was in that tradition so to The Denver Zen Temple I went.  There is a strong tradition in Zen to continue almost all the practices followed in Japan.  That means robes, chants, a hierarchy of spiritual attainment and ordination into the hierarchy.  There are also lots of rules, as Japan is also full of rules.  The place where people sit zazen (meditate) is called the zendo.  I could not walk into the zendo without getting into trouble.  I just could not remember all the things I was supposed to do.   

I loved sitting zazen.  It is an excellent form of meditation.  The literature here in the west skips over all the other stuff.  The practices are intended to instill discipline which is fine but they come directly from a monastic tradition where monks devote their lives to Zen.  In addition, the liturgy is in Japanese, Chinese, Sanskrit, Pali, and English.  It was all too much for me and I didn’t especially like the teacher. 

I find Tibetan Buddhism appealing, and the Dalai Lama is a world treasure.  I have trouble with Tibetan Buddhism’s involvement with the spirit world.  The spirit world is all around us, but my belief is that we’re in the physical world to accomplish tasks here, not with spirits.  I have seen the price paid by those who follow that path, whether with benign or malevolent spirits.  The spirits are just that, spirits, non-corporeal. In order to manifest they need energy from us, and losing that energy takes its toll, physically and often mentally.  

Now I belong to the Denver Insight Meditation community.  It is part of the Theravada Buddhist tradition, and is found in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and some other places in Asia.  Theravada is one of the two main traditions in Buddhism, Mahayana being the other. There are differences, the main one is that the Mahayana tradition uses Sanskrit, while Theravada uses Pali, a language contemporary with Sanskrit.   It has a large following here in the U.S. with a good and growing literature.   

The primary teacher in our sangha is Lloyd Burton, a wonderful teacher with a wide knowledge of Theravada Buddhism.  We meet weekly for two hours, spending forty minutes in meditation, a break, then a Dharma talk by Lloyd or another teacher.  The Dharma is the body of Buddhist teachings used as a guide to end suffering.   

Carol and I recently attended a small meditation group close to where we live.  It lasts one hour, thirty minutes of meditation and a thirty minute dharma talk every Monday evening. I think we will be regulars.  Every morning we do a ten minute brain brushing (quick meditation) with our tea.  It is also insight meditation and is a good way to start the day.   

I have found that the more meditating I do the more I want to do.  All the teachers say that a regular meditation practice is the key, just as in prayer.  I fact, my meditation is prayer.  Most of the Buddhist meditations are silent, with the focus on breath.  When other thoughts arise, as the will, one gently returns to focusing on the breath.  With my ADD, emptying my mind is mostly impossible.  I close my eyes and my mind goes into high gear.   

Eastern Orthodox Icon of Jesus

Eastern Orthodox Icon of Jesus

I use a mantra to repeat throughout my session.  This is another ancient practice.  I use the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  This is an ancient Eastern Orthodox prayer, going back to the desert monks in the early days of Christianity.  I match the words to my breathing, and when I drift away, I gently return to the prayer. 

What? A Christian prayer in Buddhist meditation?  Well, yes.  Buddhism is essentially atheistic, and the whole karma/reincarnation thing I just view as a mystery.  Whatever works.  I recommend a strong spiritual practice.  I don’t think it is necessary to follow one specific path.  All the world faiths contain the same basic truths.  One should choose the path that feels right.   

Don’t follow any one person or group who say their path is the only way, give yourself to us.  Anyone who says that is a liar and a fraud, interested mostly in control.  I don’t care if it is one leader with just a few followers or a huge organization with millions of followers, if they say their way is the only way, they lie or are deluded.  The paradox is that many in those faiths do find the way.  It is their individual practice and relationship with the universe that matters, not the framework.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring and the Spirit

Spring!

Spring!

Spring is the time of renewal.  Life returns to the land, the daffodils and the tulips emerge.  The people celebrate.  In the Middle East long ago, as it is now, Passover was one of the celebrations.  That holiday brought a teacher to Jerusalem, and the Western world changed.  The teacher was a threat to the local leaders, who were anxious to not stir the Roman occupiers up.  The Romans wanted stability to release the Legions to continue conquest, and stability for the tax collectors.

They crucified the teacher.  That did not end the movement Jesus started.  The believers grew in numbers, and began to realize that the crucified one was more than a teacher.  His ministry continued, and we celebrate Easter.  At Pentecost, the cycle became complete.

Torah

Torah

Many centuries before, the Hebrews encountered the One God.  This changed their world view, as they were surrounded by people who had gods for every occasion.  The One God gave the Hebrews the Law.  They had Torah, the written record of God choosing his people and instructing them on how to comport themselves.

The intervening centuries brought much conflict and turmoil, as human affairs do.  The people mostly persevered with their God.  There are written records of that journey with God, and they still instruct us.  They fell away, they returned, they went into captivity, and they returned. Their prophets had the spirit, and many others probably did also, we just do not have the record.

Then, the most miraculous thing happened.  God became man and walked among his people, calling everyone to be His people.  He was killed for it, but his message rose with Him and became stronger.  Then, at Pentecost, came the Holy Spirit.  God no longer walked among us or sent His prophets, but we received a great gift.  The Holy Spirit can dwell within us.

Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit

I am not one to live by faith alone.  I have to have evidence.  Science works for me, because it is evidence based.  My faith works because the Holy Spirit came, and it was the most profound experience of my life.  Now, the spirit blows where it will, and it does not often blow toward me.  That is all right, because I always have the spirit when I need it.  The spirit comes when I need it, not when I want it.  At first I had trouble with that, because I wanted to be plugged in all the time.

There is a problem with being in the Spirit all the time.  There is no time for anything else, and the need to keep the body going intrudes.  I thought about being a monk, but I find that I belong in the world.  So, I have my spiritual times, and long periods when all I do is pray every day.  I feel myself being moved into a spiritual time.  I don’t know where it will lead me, but I am ready.

Remember those words, “Seek, and you will find.”

My Spiritual Journey

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon

“If a man will begin with certainties,  he shall end in doubts.  But if he will be content with doubts, he shall end in certainties,”.   Francis Bacon, Advancement in Learning, 1605.

Prior to the seventeenth century the Church, the Bible, and the rule of the Nobles were the certainties all Europe relied on.  The social structure was rigid, warfare was nearly constant, and the Black Death had killed much of the population.  Then, things began to change.  Religious inquiry began, governments became more centralized, cities and trade began to flourish, and people started asking questions.

Francis Bacon’s quote reflects the shift in thinking that led to what many now take for granted: critical thinking.  The shift will never be complete, for millions continue to rely on what they take as revealed truth.  Critical thinking requires another condition that we also take for granted: liberty.

The freedom to choose, to say yes or no, to do as one wishes, is a rare thing.  I am lucky my family and my country encouraged independent thinking because I am a seeker.  If anyone tried to fit me into a fixed system they faced rebellion.

I was raised a drop him off at Sunday School Methodist.  It just didn’t take.  Basic Christianity got planted, but the dry services never resonated with me.  The only part of the services I liked was the Doxology.  Those felt Jesus’ and Josephs in Sunday School with the cute little sheep and donkeys on a felt board just seemed silly.

I was confirmed as a Methodist in high school, but just because the cool girls were Methodists.  I didn’t know what to believe, but I kept looking.  I looked into Mormonism, but there is where I ran up against a closed system.  I just could not conform to a rigid system, even if one of the prettiest girls in school was a Mormon.

I needed solid, rational, verifiable truth from the scientific method or a powerful experience of truth. I was finding neither.  Blind faith or the statements of some spiritual minister or guru did not work for me.

I read, talked, searched.  I looked into Zen, but couldn’t meditate.  I got pretty serious about existentialism because I was also depressed after my mother’s death. Camus is depressing.  I looked into right-wing politics and ran into another closed system.  So, I became an annoying agnostic.  I challenged everything.

Then came the late 1960’s and drugs.  Marijuana taught me how to feel.  LSD stripped my ego away so I could see and feel the vast, wondrous, interconnected universe.  The problem with the drugs is that you come down.  I got a glimpse and some of the feeling of the One, but not enough.  Drugs opened the door, but were not the answer.

Jesus

Jesus

Then, in the early 1980’s,I was having a dark night of the soul from a divorce and fell into the clutches of a Pentecostal deacon.  I prayed the prayer, asking Jesus into my life and it happened.  I felt like I was wrapped in love.  It was a tangible, physical and emotional feeling.  I was a Christian instantly in a basement apartment in LaSalle, Colorado.  Two weeks later I was a speaking in tongues Pentecostal.  What a time.  I had experience after physical experience of joy, love, and deep peace.  I felt delivered from many of my old hang ups and was a new person in Jesus Christ.

I put my rational skepticism on hold.  I had found spiritual experience.  After a year I started having problems with the fundamentalism.  Pentecostals are a bit better, but they are still fundamentalists, and took the evangelical ideology and the Bible literally.  The currently popular fascination with the end times and the book of Revelation just did not ring true, and I studied it carefully.  The dire prophesies in Revelation are about Rome, not today.  The Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 79 AD and the Jewish diaspora began in earnest.  No wonder John of Patmos wrote an apocalyptic book about the oppressors.

The profound spiritual experiences began to fade, although I still pray in tongues.  I also moved to Colorado Springs, fell in love (More physical and emotional experiences, and just as meaningful.)  I ended up at a Charismatic Episcopal church that combined the wonderful ancient liturgy with the gifts of the Spirit.  The Episcopal Charismatics are part of the evangelical wing of the church and I ran into the same problem.  I ended up an Episcopalian in a mainstream liberal parish.

Buddha

Buddha

About this time I also found I can meditate, probably a gift of the Spirit.  I looked into Zen Buddhism.  Sitting Zazen, meditating, was wonderful.  All the rules coming from a rigid Japanese culture did not work.  I could not walk into the Zendo, the meditation room, without doing something wrong and getting caught.   Now I use Insight Meditation, part of the  Theravadan tradition of Buddhism, but here it does not carry all the cultural baggage the Zen folks continue.  My mantra, however, is the Jesus Prayer, an ancient orthodox prayer.  “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,  have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Try about 3000 repetitions daily.  Read The Way of a Pilgrim, written by a Russian Orthodox mendicant.

I also explored Christian Contemplative prayer.  It is an ancient tradition, starting with the Desert Fathers in Egypt in about the third century.  Today, Thomas Keating,  a Trappist from the monastery in Snowmass CO, and Thomas Merton are the best known from their writings.  There is a large network of contemplatives, mostly Roman Catholic, but from many other denominations as well.

Today, I guess you can call me a Buddhapalian.  I don’t often attend services, but I meditate daily, pray, and do longer meditations almost weekly.  This fits my pattern.  I have big spiritual events, sometimes lasting years, and quiet times lasting years.  I am happy with that.

I have two bits of advice.  Don’t trust anyone who says they know the answers except Jesus and the Buddha.  When you pray, don’t ask for specifics, ask for what is best for the situation.  As for what it all means, it’s a mystery.  I remain a skeptic.