Wednesday, May 31, 2006

160 Nation*

For some technology is the enemy. For me it is a seductress. I love the latest gadgets and gizmos. I am certain that in among the pile of “must have and don’t need” items touted in the pounds of magazines and newspapers I wade through every week, there is at least one item that, if used creatively, can turn the spiral of human consciousness up a notch toward God-realization. Today I think that technology is text messaging.

I can remember not very long ago reading that the computer was going to ruin our children’s capacity to write. Yesterday morning’s USA Today (Tuesday, May 30th) tells us that IM-ing and text messaging have given writing a new cache, and frets that text messaging will ruin our children’s capacity to speak.

I am not much of a fretter. If people are communicating more and more through text messaging over computers, cell phones, BlackBerrys, etc., I want in on it. I want to bring them the Word along with the word. But how?

The Word I care about is the Word high jacked by John 3:16. What John imagines as Jesus, God’s Son, was originally Chochma, God’s Daughter (see Proverbs 22:8). I want to share her teachings, the teachings of the world’s perennial wisdom literature, with people. Wisdom speaks through proverb, parable, and koan— written forms perfect for IM-ing. In Proverbs she sends her apostles (all of whom are female) to call to us from the towers and invite us to the feast of wisdom, the feast that is this life lived with justice, compassion, humility, grace, and humor. Today these towers could be cellular towers, and the feast and the way to it have not changed.

This is my calling (pun intended), but I don’t know how to answer it. I have written about Wisdom in my book “The Divine Feminine,” and I am working on creating a Wisdom Academy to study her teachings during five-day retreats. But I suspect that something more immediate and simple is called for. Something using today’s communication technology and the already ingrained custom of text-message communication. I want to reach the IM generation with the timeless wisdom of Wisdom.

I will wrestle with this and see if something is given to me. If you have any ideas, let me know.

* 160 characters is the maximum text message length.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Borderline Insanity

Both Israel and the United States are debating border issues. In Israel the talk is about building a wall separating Israel from Palestine. In the US the talk is about building a wall separating the America from Mexico.

I don’t have a problem with either wall. While some liberals use President Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachov, tear down this wall” (referring to the Berlin Wall), to turn us against wall building, they have allowed rhetoric to trump reason. The purpose of the Berlin Wall was to keep East Germans in, not to keep West Germans out. The walls in the US and Israel are not meant to keep people from leaving these countries, but to keep people from entering them illegally. The difference is huge.

To be pro-wall, of course, I have to address the three major obstacles that building such walls present. Here they are:

1. OBSTACLE: cost. SOLUTION: sell the wall as advertising space. In Israel one side would advertise in Hebrew and the other in Arabic. In the US both sides would advertise in Spanish. I am certain both walls would pay for themselves within a year or two.

2. OBSTACLE: tunnels. SOLUTION: Whack-o-Mole. It is true that enterprising people will build tunnels as they have in Gaza and Arizona. My solution is to build a giant Whack-o-Mole game that would slam massive hammer blows on any head that pops up on our side of the wall. The hammers would run on high speed magnetic railroad tracks, the kind the Japanese use to move people, and be triggered by sensors that would pick up the sounds of people digging toward the surface. People could access the Whack-o-Mole via the internet and bet on where the strike will take place and how many will be hit. 75% of the monies bet will go for prize money similar to state lotteries. The rest will be used to train English and Spanish speaking Americans to speak Chinese. A similar Whack-o-Mole would be built in Israel. This Whack-O-Mole solution will have the added benefit of encouraging Americans and Israelis to experiment with new high speed train technology, which might be used to alleviate traffic and pollution problems.

3. OBSTACLE: human casualties. SOLUTION: faith and manifest destiny. When the walls are completed, there will be tens of thousands of Israelis on the Palestinian side of the Israeli Wall and millions of illegal aliens on the American side of the American Wall. What do we do with all these people?

The Israelis are contemplating using their military to forcibly remove the West Bank settlers. As we saw in Gaza, this is very dangerous and emotionally painful. The US is considering making the “wrong siders” felons, but that would clog our courts and jails even more then they are now, a very bad prospect. I have a better idea.

Israel should complete their wall and withdraw their army to the Israeli side. Don’t even try to move the settlers. Simply announce that the army will no longer be used to protect Israelis who choose to live on the Palestinian side of the wall. Most settlers will suddenly find reasons to move to Israel, and those who insist God wants them in Palestine will have to rely on God to protect them. They have tried this before, and it doesn’t work, but that is their problem.

Solving the population problem in the US is just as easy. We can’t forcibly repatriate eleven million illegal aliens, and even if we could they and tens of millions more will continue to seek illegal entry into the United States. So rather than build the wall along the northern Mexican border, I suggest we annex Mexico and build it along the southern tip. This will have tremendous benefits.

First, the wall will be much smaller and cheaper to build.

Second, all those Mexicans who want to come to the US will suddenly be in the US without having to leave home.

Third, all those Americans who want to hire Mexicans to do jobs that Americans won’t do, can now simply send buses to pick them up—and the “them” will be Americans. This, of course, may cause a new problem.

As soon as these Mexicans become Americans they too will no longer want to do those jobs, so we may have to build the wall further and further south until the whole hemisphere is American and no one will do those jobs and we will be forced to live without all the goods that illegals make which will reduce us to a third world country encouraging most of us to move illegally to Switzerland in order to find work doing jobs that Swiss won’t do for themselves. I am not sure what these jobs may be, but I for one am practicing shouting Ricola into a huge horn just in case.

As Frost said, good fences make good neighbors. Of course he was being sarcastic, but no one ever reads the whole poem, so don’t let that fact bother you.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

ID and Evolution: Variations of Dumb

I was on retreat in Alabama with fifty faith-filled Christians this past week. I had a wonderful time, as I always do when hanging around people of faith. One afternoon I found myself in a discussion on Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolution. I was expected to defend evolution, but I couldn’t. Both ID and evolution are variations on the same theme, I said. They both argue that the world is dumb, and I just don’t agree.

Evolutionary theory tells us there is no plan or Planner to the universe. The universe just does what it does and then repeats what it does if what it does survives to do it again. Mutation happens randomly, and when a given mutation makes survival easier, the mutant reproduces. Which is how we got X-Men III.

Intelligent Design argues that life is too complex to be random. There has to be a Designer behind it all pushing tab A into slot B to create something new. Who this Designer is, of course, the ID folks refuse to say. If they did they would have to admit to being closet Creationists and forced to live in Kansas.

I never argue with Creationists, by the way. I always agree with them that God created the universe. My only fossil of contention is Who this Creator God is. They say Jehovah, I say Krishna. They pull out the Bible; I pull out the Bhagavad Gita. They try to sell me salvation; I try to sell them incense. It makes for interesting conversation. That is before the yelling starts.

Anyway, I am not a Creationist and only trot Krishna out to make a point. The point being that the classic notion of a Creator, whether Jewish or bluish, makes the creation dumb.

Evolutionists say life is stupid, the result of chance and time. Creationists and ID folks agree that life is stupid: without God blowing life into adam, humanity is just a lump of clay. I find the notion of a dumb universe to be, well, dumb.

I think the universe itself is intelligent and striving to be more so. Why? There is no why. Reality, as the Chinese language tells us, is what is of itself so. Asking why misses the whole point. It is like asking a baby why it babbles and coos. It does it because it's fun. The universe is forever dancing on-off-on-off-on-off just for the fun of the dance. This is the binary code of reality. Ones and zeros playing out in seemingly infinite variation. And it does so for the sheer joy of it. If there is a Creator he isn't sitting on a throne, she is dancing on air.

Life is not stupid. Life is and has always been intrinsically intelligent, and driven to become more so (see Amit Goswami’s “Self-Aware Universe” for the math). At the moment we humans may be the most awake of all species on our planet. I doubt that the dance ends with us, however. I think that our purpose is to reach a point of consciousness where we can melt the polar ice caps with greenhouse gasses. In this way we will be reduced to a small island-dwelling sideshow while dolphins inherit the earth, which is what Jesus told us two thousand years ago. After all, who is more meek that a dolphin?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I Believe

During one of my weekend seminars, I facilitated an exercise where people are challenged to articulate their answers to ultimate questions as clearly and as succinctly as possible. To model what I was looking for, I invited people to ask me 10 questions. I had fifteen seconds to respond to each one. I am sharing them with you here as a way of suggesting you try the exercise yourself. Don’t get hung up on my answers, seek instead in formulate your own.

1. What is God? God is the source and substance of all reality. Whatever is, is God.

2. Do you believe in evolution or intelligent design? Evolution is intelligent design. I don't believe there is a designer behind the design, I believe the design is itself intelligent, conscious. It is God exploring ways to know itself.

3. Does God care about you? Does God have a plan for your life? That's two questions, but yes to both. God cares about me the way a tree cares about its branches. God’s plan or all life is to manifest beings complex enough to realize that all is God. God’s plan for my life is to move toward that realization.

4. Which religion is true? All and none. A religion is true to the extent that it leads us toward the realization of God as all, and teaches us to live justly, compassionately, and humbly. A religion is false to the extent it does anything else.

5. Is Israel the holy land? No. God is not a realtor. The universe is the holy land. Israel is for some the motherland, for others just another tripwire for the apocalypse.

6. What happens when you die? You stop pretending to be other than you are: God extended in time and place. Death is the great awakening. But it is more fun to wake before you die.

7. Are you a Jew? Yes, but not exclusively. First I am human, adam from adamah, an earthling arising the earth the way a bud arises from a branch. Then I am a male, and an American. These are all givens from birth. I am also a Christian, Muslim, Sufi, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Atheist, Humanist, Taoist— the more I know myself the more I know myself to be hyphenated.

8. What scares you most in the world? Ignorance and the fear, greed, anger, and violence that ignorance breeds.

9. What is the purpose of life? Life has no purpose; life is purpose. To suggest that life has a purpose is to make life a means rather than an end. Life is the end; the purpose of life is to live; to live with the awareness that all life is God.

10. What is the one question you cannot answer? That’s it.

Monday, May 15, 2006


I am flying from Nashville to Los Angeles. Something I ate in Nashville is disagreeing with me over Dallas. The roar of the jets is masking the sound of this disagreement, and I have the overhead fan blasting full to diffuse its perfume, but one can only mask so much. My seatmate is asleep, and I image his dreams are a bit more dark than they might be had he been lucky enough to sit next to someone else.

The Sufi poet Rumi wrote that we humans are hollow reeds through which God plays His music. I always found that image compelling. Today I know it to be true. But why this particular sonata, Lord?

Think about it. Are we more than tubes through which air passes? Yesterday I sat next to someone whose lunch proved painfully sour to all around him when he belched in the meeting room we were using. So it doesn’t matter which end of the tube through which the air emerges, there is a good chance it will be foul.

Some of the air we move, of course, is shaped in ways we find more pleasant: words, musical notes, sighs of sorrow and relief, moans of pleasures, squeals of joy. Others are capable of cutting us like a knife: There is a baby in the back of the plane whose screams are of such a pitch that the ears of her neighbors will soon rupture and bleed. I thank God for my Bose noise canceling headphones.

I find it somewhat amusing that all of us tubes are hurling through air in a larger tube, itself propelled by sucking in and shooting out air. I am on my way to push some air at a few dozen tubes who have paid for the privileged of having me do so. I will be sure to leave them time to blow air in my direction as well, and I will do my best to honor their wind with a bit more of my own.

This may depress you. We long to be so much more than mere tubes, yet even Genesis has us as inert clay tubes until God blows air into us. The first air that emerges from Adam is used to name the animals, who are themselves tubes unable to name themselves. Maybe that is the point. We are the Tubes That Name, the tubes that make meaning by naming our fellow tubes. Not a bad designation, as designations go.

I know this may sound absurd; we long to be so much more. But at the moment I just cannot imagine what that more might be. So for now I will simply enjoy the moment when air emerges and the tube relaxes, and hope that most of what comes out of me does more for those I meet then it has for my seatmate whose nose, I pray, is twitching for some other reason.

Monday, May 08, 2006

National Prayer Day

Last Thursday was National Day of Prayer day. I missed it. Not on purpose, mind you, but simply out of ignorance. Unless there is a specific Hallmark card or retail sale associated with a special day I tend not to notice it.

The theme of this year’s National Day of Prayer (which was established in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman) is “America, Honor God.” Not a bad theme as themes go. As a retired congregational rabbi with 20 year’s of Bar and Bat Mitzvah experience, I consider myself somewhat of a theme expert, and, honestly, honoring God would be a unique idea when it comes to such events.

My problem is not with the theme itself, but with how one is to understand it. After giving this some thought, I came up with two options.

First, we might take our cue from Deuteronomy 7. Speaking of all the peoples that the Israelites will encounter as they seek to occupy the Promised Land, the Bible says that they are to “utterly destroy them… make no covenant with them, and show them no mercy” (1-2). Since for many America is the new Zion, and Christians have replaced Jews as God’s favorite, and since the Second Americans have succeeded in honoring Deuteronomy’s God by basically wiping out the First Americans, maybe we can continue to honor God by using National Prayer Day as a call to show our latest enemies no mercy.

The second option we might choose is to honor God by doing what the prophet Micah says God requires of us: do justly, love mercy, walk humbly (6:8). Then we could use the Day of Prayer to focus on ending injustice, cruelty, and imperialism. A very different day than that of Deuteronomy, which is the problem we face when it comes to honoring the Judeo-Christian God. The Guy suffers from multiple personality disorder. Maybe that is why Congress suggested we pray to “the God of our understanding.” This way we can all pray to our own god, i.e., the god that turns out to want for us just what it is we want for ourselves.

Since I missed National Prayer Day all together, let me off an idea for next year: Next year let’s hold city-wide prayer workshops inviting liturgists, poets, artists, and musicians from every major faith tradition to share with the community how they pray, and to engage the community in prayer in these many modalities. People would spend the day praying in multiple languages using multiple images of and metaphors for God. It would be one huge cacophony of God-song so powerful and prayerful that for a few moments we might forget the egoic and imperialist gods that drive us to war, and find ourselves falling together into the arms of the One God who calls us to love God by loving one another.

Now that would be a really NATIONAL day of prayer. Of course if there isn’t a card to buy or a sale to shop at I will still miss the event, but, hey, that’s just me.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

If Money Didn't Matter

I was listening to financial guru Dave Ramsey on the radio, and heard him ask one of the most subversive questions one can ask in a capitalist, debt-driven society: “What would you do if money were not an issue?”

This is different than asking, “What would you do if you were rich?” Dealing with being rich continues your focus on finances. Ramsey’s question shifts that focus from wealth to happiness. Happiness is not a capitalist value. Happy people are harder to manipulate, harder to sell to. Ramsey was asking his listeners to think about what they want rather than what they are worth.

Try it. Imagine you did not have to think about money at all. Imagine that your basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, transportation, insurance, retirement, etc. were taken care of. What would you do with your life?

I have thought about this for several days, and I discovered I would be doing pretty much what I am doing now. I teach and I write. Sure, if I had no monetary worries I would live in a nicer home, drive a hybrid car, and never worry about the financial woes of illness or retirement, but I would not change what I do. I would simply do what I already do without beating myself up over that fact that I am not making enough money doing it.

Alan Watts, talking about the same issue some three decades earlier, urged his audience to live as if money was not an issue. His reasoning was this: you will never have enough money to do what you want, so you will always be enslaved to doing what you don’t want, in the vain hope that someday you will be able to do what you do want. This slavery makes you miserable. Since you are going to be miserable, anyway (either because you don’t have enough money or because you are forced to work at a job you hate), why not do what you want and just give up the illusion of financial success? Be miserable over your finances rather than over the fact that you are never going to do what you want. At least you can feel good about what you do even as you feel miserable about how poor you are doing it.

I will never make any real money teaching and writing. Adjunct professors like myself are a dime a dozen, and we are paid that way. My book sales, while solid, still don’t put food on the table. And as far as retirement goes, I can neither afford it nor do I desire it. After all, since I am already doing what I want, why would I want to retire?

I am happy doing what I want even if society isn’t willing to pay me what I am worth. There was a time when I made what I was worth but I didn’t like what I had to do to earn it. So, for now at least, I am willing to give up what I am worth in favor of doing what I want.

How about you? What would you do if money were not an issue?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Religious Progressives

What is a religious progressive? That was the topic at a conference I attended this weekend in Nashville, TN. Most of the participants drew their insights from Jim Wallis (“God’s Politics”) and Michael Lerner (“Left Hand of God”), two wonderful thinkers who find in their respective faiths (Christianity and Judaism) a politics of compassion that surpasses the fear-based religions of the Religious Right.

I could and did nod in agreement. There is little if anything that either Jim or Michael says that I cannot support. But I have a contrarian streak; I need to stand out; to say something different. This is a psychological disorder, I am sure, but it is mine nonetheless. So when asked to define “religious progressive” I suggested that a religious progressive is someone who has progressed beyond religion.

At the heart of religion, or at least at the heart of the three Abrahamic religions, is the illusion of scarcity. God chooses Jews not Christians or Moslems; saves Christians not Jews or Moslems; and gives the one uncorrupted revelation to Moslems not Christians or Jews. Because God’s love is scarce, the religions that compete for that love share a zero-sum theology: for one to win, the others must lose.

Of course there are liberals in all three faiths who have outgrown this, but that isn’t enough. We have to name it and openly reject it. We have to own the fact that scarcity infects all three Abrahamic faiths in a way that makes them intrinsically fear-based and violent, and then we have to reinvent our respective faiths from a position of God’s infinite and timeless love (ahavah rabbah/ahavat olam, to use Jewish terms).

A true religious progressive is one whose faith is not in religion, but in God; not in the known but in the Unknowable; not in this or that belief but in the realization that belief is simply the projection of ones own ego.

The religion of a religious progressive is the religion of radical humility, hospitality, and holiness: admitting to not knowing the nature and mind of God; welcoming all to God’s feast regardless of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, etc.; and using justice and compassion toward all beings as the standard by which to measure the value of any creed or system of belief. Religious progressives can be Jewish, Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, New Age, etc. What matters is not the label but the ability to hold it lightly, and to transcend it in the greater reality of the One Who is all.

Let us religious progressives stand for that, and we will stand for something invaluable.