“In brief, insight is wisdom which enables one to see that mental states and matter are impermanent or transitory, unsatisfactory or suffering, and impersonal or non-self. What we regard as ‘self’ or ‘ego’ or ‘soul’ are miscomprehensions arising from a lack of knowledge of absolute truth. In reality, ‘self’ is but a very rapid continuity of birth and decay of mental states and matter…” — Achaan Naeb, Vipassana meditation master
The point here is not to denigrate human experience or to fall into a state of existential despair. Quite the contrary, our best shot at inner happiness is to recognize reality for what it is: changeable, unpredictable, and unreliable. “This world is not my home,” to put it in Christian terminology, it is passing away and not a sure source of joy. In all religions and spiritualities that I have studied and can recall, the point is to let go of what we think we need. This is the lifelong process of becoming wise. Think of those wise old men and women. They are wise because they are content with things as they are, effortlessly riding the waves of change.
It isn’t a secret that the Bible is anti-gay. This basically makes no sense, on the surface. I have had a theory over the years that the anti-gay language goes back to the attempt of ancient cultures to strictly maintain male hierarchies of control.
By and large, this theory fits the biblical evidence as I see it. Mainstream American Christians, for example, tend to believe that the Bible prohibits homosexuality because it is “sinful” or “evil” — they see it as a moral problem. But the Bible never actually says that. The ancient law of Moses basically says: gay sex is detestable, kill them both by stoning them to death. End of story. There’s no “pray the gay away” camps or anything. A man is not to lie with a man “as a man lies with a woman” because women are to be sexually submissive. When a man is in the submissive position, that violates the natural order of the hierarchy. The answer is just to stone them and move on.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that modern day Christians are not calling on the death penalty to deal with homosexuality. Though, to be fair, there are Christians who do call for gay people to be killed, and in other countries, gay people are still murdered, jailed, or maimed as a matter of law — I don’t mean to diminish this very real persecution. My point is simply that if my theory is correct, then most modern American Christians don’t really understand the roots of why there is so much anti-gay language in the Bible. If they did, they might be willing to rethink.
All that brings me to what I learned today. I was listening to one of those Great Courses series. This one on Classical Mythology. The Professor explained that in ancient Athenian culture, sexuality was based on the hierarchy of domination and control. To put it bluntly, it was all about who penetrated who. Man penetrating woman = okay. Male god penetrating human female = okay. Human male penetrating female goddess…not so okay.
Homosexuality was okay, as long as it maintained the hierarchy. So, a mature, older man could penetrate an adolescent male, because the hierarchy is not violated.
This adds a bit more substance to my theory that the biblical anti-gay rhetoric is rooted in the hierarchy of male control and domination. This would be a reason to dispense not only with Christian anti-gay rhetoric but to also consider all of the ways in which Christianity needs to question hierarchies of domination and control.
That’s what I learned today.
I have been intensely engaged in a few Facebook conversations regarding the Ferguson shooting of the unarmed black man, Michael Brown. All in all, the conversations tend to be productive. But many whites (and in some cases non whites) are quick to condemn the rioters. I hear comments to the effect, “Why can’t blacks just get over it?” With a black President, they say, we have proof that the playing field is equal. I posted a picture of Malcolm X, and I made the comment that “Those who are oppressed and denied justice have the right to take power and freedom by any means necessary.” It prompted a lot of tense comments, as you can imagine, most of which disagreed with me.
One person posted a lengthy quote from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “The Other America.” Turns out MLK wasn’t all that far away from Malcolm X.
I consider Martin Luther King, Jr. to be a fellow subversive mystic, in the Jesus tradition. He is also a figure that many mainstream white Americans admire. However, in his speech, “The Other America” (1968) King talked about the African-American riots of the late 1960s, and there are two things that might surprise most white people.
1) The unemployment rate among African-Americans is actually higher today — around 11% — than the statistics that King quotes in his speech in 1968 — 8.8%.
2) While reaffirming his personal commitment to nonviolence, King does not come forward with an outright condemnation of the rioters.
In an unusual case, transcripts of the grand jury proceedings in the Michael Brown killing have been released. The officer on the scene chased after Brown, shooting him six times, firing a total of 12 shots. Witnesses on the scene testify to Brown having his hands in the air before the final and fatal shots were fired. The officer was not indicted.
In justification for his actions, the officer stated, “There’s a lot of gangs that reside or associate with that area. There’s a lot of violence in that area, there’s a lot of gun activity, drug activity, it is just not a very well-liked community. That community doesn’t like the police.”
Is this the best we can do, as a culture? Continue to fire our guns ala Yosemite Sam style? The reality is that this our only philosophy. We have a long history of meeting violence with violence, and we keep reaping what we sow.
Here is a link to an article on the deal between China and the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions. Despite how modest it is, some politicians have found a way to oppose even this small step toward being environmentally responsible. Unreal.
From Bishop Spong’s book A New Christianity for a New World.
On this blog I call myself a “subversive mystic.” One thing that this means is that I feel very deep compassion for and solidarity with those who suffer. The intensity of these feelings can be difficult to navigate. There is anger at exploitation and abuse by those with power. There can be feelings of depression, desperation, and anxiety. It can be easy to either buckle under their weight or to turn away from them and try to ignore the terrible reality of suffering. As a Christian, I take solace in the prophets. They sought to channel these feelings into a holy fire. They felt God’s word of justice burn. With much inner struggle, they let it lead them into action, activism, protest, and truth telling.
“Mystical experience is generally described as an experience of ecstatic oneness with creation (or with God) and as being characterized by a profound sense of peace and an apparent illumination about the meaning of existence” — Michael Thalbourne, 1991
This evening I was reading the first chapter of a friend’s dissertation. She is researching transliminality. Transliminality refers to people who have a crossover of three intense phenomena: mystical experiences, creative genius (and volatility), and some form of psychosis. It’s quite intriguing to me, and I think her work — and the work of others in this regard — is very important. The above quote from Michael Thalbourne provides some good food for thought for those of us interested in the mystical or spiritual side of life.
I went to sleep in Alaska and woke up in California.
Soon I will be taking a shower again. On the downside, I can’t step into the bushes to piss anymore. Tradeoffs. I left McCarthy this morning to fly to San Jose for a few months. Entering urban life is a bit of a drag after nearly five months in the splendors of the wilderness, but I am very excited to see family. Some little rug rats are waiting for Uncle Jon. Hopefully Uncle Jon will navigate the cities, avoid getting smushed by traffic, and successfully merge again with civilization……I am looking forward to a few months of writing. I just finished up the first chapters of my book, an exploration of my spiritual journey. I shipped them off to some readers to get early feedback. The writing process has been fun and full of energy. I have much on my mind and heart, so thus far there has been no writer’s block. Not even close. Crossing my fingers and hoping for a productive few months of writing in the Bay. With any luck, I’ll be back up in Alaska early this year — maybe March.
I don’t view things like meditation and prayer mere “spiritual” activities. They are not abstract, esoteric activities. In the modern world of increasing virtual reality and stimulation, we need to intentionally do things that do not stimulate us. Sitting still and watching my breath opens up a completely new dimension for me precisely because I simply have to deal with one thing: myself. No distractions. Same thing with liturgical prayers or walking a labyrinth or other contemplative exercises. It changes our brains. It breaks us out of the stream of endless stimulation. It centers us in what is, and gives us the ability to simply be. Imagine — your life has no screens, no electronic entertainment of any kind, and yet you are never bored, content only with life as it is.
“Whatever forms of meditation you practice, the most important point is to apply mindfulness continuously, and make a sustained effort. It is unrealistic to expect results from meditation within a short period of time. What is required is continuous sustained effort.”
Mindfulness is simply being aware, being here, now, in the present. It is an effortless form of concentration.
Last night at the beginning of sunset. Out for a climb up onto the glacier at “the toe.” Overlooking the valley where the town of McCarthy sits.
Most days, I use the Lord’s Prayer as a meditation tool. It is a prayer of provision for my well being and the well being of others: Give us this day our daily bread. It is a prayer of compassion and forgiveness: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And it is a prayer to end the cycles of abuse, coercion, and exploitation: Deliver us from evil. Like all meditation tools, it can be used for deeper contemplation into specific things that we feel the need to explore more thoroughly.