Saturday, July 07, 2007

My Georgia O'Keefe Moment

While watering the garden yesterday morning I looked down at the zucchini patch and the image above greeted me. This necessitated a dash into the house for my camera.

At this point there are daily harvests of a handful of cherry tomatoes. The larger tomatoes have a few shifting into shades of orange but not a ripe red yet. I have harvested three early zukes but there has been a slight pause in production there. The sundry varieties of peppers scattered about the yard are all growing and some blossoming. It will be interesting to see what sort of harvest eventuates.

On a totally unrelated topic, MadPriest's nostalgic romp through the music of the Tribal Rock Musical Hair (here, here, and here - and really, did we need to see the tie-dyed extravaganza? Can no one's past have privacy?) has sent me into a nostalgic time warp, singing along with the music (and recalling probably 90% of the lyrics). [Now, why can't I remember what I was about to do in the present? Sigh.]

I had blessedly softened the memory of just how large a part the drug culture played in the lyrics of the musical and was not offended but definitely startled as I listened again. My memories have focused on what I loved about the musical: its energy, its defiance, its desire to create community without oppressive structures, and its loathing of war. In this it captured much of what I valued then and still value now.

From the standpoint of one rooted in the Church I rather wished the youth of that era (my era) were aware of the life-affirming and liberating aspects of the Gospel that I cherished, rather than seeing the various churches, and "organized religion" in general, as oppressive, stodgy, stultifying, and overall inimical to the human spirit.

To this day I have many friends, and encounter many strangers, who want to affirm their spiritual journey somehow while making it clear that somewhere along the line they have been burned. They drag out the tedious line: "I'm spiritual but I have no use for organized religion."

I think I know what they are trying to say, and I certainly don't cut organized religion much slack myself, but I want to say, "Oh, grow up!" The meme that was just trotted out reeks of adolescent thinking, with a simplistic view of both spirituality and religion.

Religious acts, rites, formulae, beliefs, traditions, etc. that are carried out dutifully but have no insight or passion, no deeper connection between the believer and the Ultimate, are essentially hollow and dead. We all know that. Religion can be quite "unspiritual." The "letter" (the dry external stuff) can kill while the "spirit" gives life. This insight has been around a while, so it's not new. Acknowledging it does not let us off the hook.

So, what are you doing, or going to do, about it? What are you doing for your spirituality? Are you content to leave it floating gaseously in the ether--vague and without direction? Is that going to help you grow in depth, breadth, and fuller life? Will that help you be of some use in the healing of the planet?

Of course, if pressed, folks can name a great deal more about their spiritual principles, but they are usually uncomfortable doing so. There is a great deal they might affirm about the value of creation, of other people, of community, of the way we treat each other, what we are here for, how we should live with one another, and what gives life meaning.

That we need to get to know each other and trust each other before we talk about these things is more than fair.

But where do these values come from? Are they not the teachings of the great wisdom traditions and religions of the world? Why yes, they are. They emerge from the life-giving spirit, not the outward rituals. And these values are part of the general discourse because religious traditions have preserved them, explored them, and express them. A very few of us have independent insights. We are all inheritors and it's a bit churlish to deny whence we receive our gifts.

But how do we live out these beliefs? By putting them into action, embodying them in our words and deeds, doing so in specific places and times--in other words, making them incarnate.

In order for people to do anything together, social organization kicks in. It is reality. It is neutral. Organization may be good, bad, or indifferent. It may enable and enhance the desired activity or stifle and thwart it. It may leave us feeling more alive, more effective, more actualized, or it may leave us drained, frustrated, hurt, and even dehumanized.

If you put your spirituality into action in any manner other than one-on-one, you are participating in organized spirituality. Deal with it.

The word "religion" comes from Latin and refers to that which binds us together. If your spirituality has anything to do with what builds community, it is religious. When you give time to a food bank or ride a bike for AIDS charities or walk or run to fight breast cancer, you are participating in an organized effort that builds community, binds us together, and probably has a spiritual vision behind it.

Ah, you may protest, but I don't have to buy into a belief system when I do those things, so it's not religion.

Ah, I reply, you have already, by your actions, expressed a belief that we are all in this together, that alleviating suffering is an appropriate expression of caring about each other, and I would even wager that behind your actions lies a story about someone you love. A huge complex of beliefs and values lies behind it all.

Some of us see something transcendent (even holy) lying beyond and deeply within all this. Some of us do not. But the line between organized religion and (we don't call it disorganized , do we?) spirituality is really a very fine line, if there is one at all.

As for bodies that intentionally consider themselves religious and organize themselves as such.... If their organization nourishes life, community, wholeness, peace, joy, love, compassion, etc. then being spiritual doesn't preclude any of this. And if their organization does not do this, or does just the opposite, then doesn't being a responsibly spiritual person imply some obligation to change the organization?

OK, not everyone is called to change organizations, especially those with which one does not identify. But I would suggest that responsible spirituality calls for me to live my beliefs (this is not negotiable). Secondly, it invites but does not require me to participate wherever my beliefs can be expressed with folks who share life-nurturing goals. Thirdly, it empowers me to stand up for life and reject that which nourishes and celebrates death (whether that is manifested in social, political, or religious spheres).

One thing being spiritual does not allow is an unexamined life (Socrates told us that a very long time ago), being content with a vague affirmation of rainbows and kittens, and sitting on our asses while people suffer. I don't think most folks who prefer being known as "spiritual" over being thought "religious" are indulging in unexamined lives or indifference. I just think they are more "religious" than they think and that they are fostering a false dichotomy. Religion is what happens when we practice our spirituality.

And, being raised in the United States and nurtured with democratic ideals, I think that in faith matters as well as political ones, We the People have to take responsibility for how we organize to live in community and pursue our inalienable rights.

As Pangloss concludes: Il faut cultiver notre jardin (we must tend our garden).
--the BB

From My Housemates to those of Padre Mickey

Numerous, though not all, members of the BB's family pictured here in our former home in California. Clockwise beginning with the purple-ribboned seated bear: Porphyry, Dillinger, Fr. Anskar, Otter the Great, Manuel Mapache, Margaret Macrina (Maggie), Leo, Paddington, Pample, Thermopylous; on the floor L to R: Hephzibah, Belle, Sally & Jonah; and my father's family in the photo.

Lest the august guardians of Padre Mickey's home (who were certainly left at home during a recent vacation as much to guard the home as for the sake of their safety) feel slighted, they are hereby saluted and duly recognized by my children.

So here's to Gallito Mescalito, Mr. Red Peanut Bank, Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Kitty Toy, and the Egyptian Hippo of Love from all the kids at Desert Farne.

In further solidarity, the BB wishes to inform Padre Mickey that the BB chats with his kids all the time.

We are also commanded to convey best wishes from His Orthodox Majesty, Maximiliano Cuauhtemoc Juarez Primo, Emperor of El Cerrito, Archduke of Hercules, and Margrave of the Great River ("Cocoa" to his friends). His O. M. is not pictured as he is busy napping in my bed right now.

Some of us feel the world would be saved from much folly and not a little grievous sin if we took ourselves less seriously.
--the BB

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I'm just saying

"But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."
Screw fireworks; remember why this day matters!
--the BB