Sharing a podcast link to a sermon, The Great Unmasking, from a famous white evangelical pastor preaching some Gospel, talking about social justice in our current context, preaching from the prophets and discussing things like defunding police. It’s Rob Bell, which to be fair, I’m not sure he’s actually an evangelical….He was booted out of his evangelical church years back, circa 2012.
It’s my birthday today. I took the day off of work, and I also took a day off from closely monitoring the news, setting out for a hike. It was a wonderful and refreshing hike, up Fireweed Mountain just down the road from my cabin. The weather is beautiful, the sun is shining on us in this magnificent valley, making it feel like a cathedral, surrounded as it is by grand mountains, roaring rivers, and a massive glacial field. But the news cycle caught up with me, and I write this with tears running down my face. It may feel like a cathedral here but there is no sanctuary, no place of escape from the violent karma that is currently raging in our streets. But for many Americans there has never been an escape from police violence.
The essential problem in an apocalypse is not that civilization crashes. This is only the backdrop, a common theme, if you will, for an apocalypse. The true problem of an apocalypse is what civilization leaves in it’s wake. What does the remnant have to contend with?
COVID-19 may very well be a catalyst for a spiritual revolution. It definitely has potential. One of America’s greatest and most destructive illusions is that we are all mere individuals and that if we all just do our own thing, seeking to satisfy our individual desires, achieve wealth and success, fulfill our dreams and/or follow our own individual hearts, that things will all work out and our nation will be strong. Way back in the day, Margaret Thatcher infamously declared that “there is no such thing as society.” We’re all just individuals, doing our own thing. Hence the role of government, as most Americans have been trained to see it, is to ensure that all individuals are free.
I’ve been mulling over a new definition of meditation that came to mind a few months back. Meditation is a bit of a tricky practice to define, but here’s what I got so far: Meditation: an intimate encounter with one’s own life
I recently came across this little homily from one of my favorite spiritual teachers, James Finley. He’s been called the spiritual teacher that spiritual teachers listen to when they listen to spiritual teachers…or something like that… In any event, what makes him compelling has nothing to do with needing some kind of esoteric or highly specialized knowledge. It’s that he’s just had a mature presence, the picture of someone experienced, i.e. he has suffered, but he is also relaxed and calm, which always gives me a sense of reassurance, because when someone who is serene and light can talk about the deepest most difficult shit that we have to endure, then it means something. [Footnote: my auto-correct keeps changing “spiritual” to “Doritos.” I change it back, but I’m quite certain that there are Doritos teachers who are also fans of James Finley. There is no doubt in my mind.] In any event, if you have ten minutes to watch the homily, let me know what you think. [Note on photo: that’s early 2012, when I …
I’m back in the game, I’ve got a few weeks of public accounting under my belt, and tax season is underway. Thankfully it isn’t too crazy yet, we won’t be swamped for another week or so, which is good because it gives me time to adjust to my re-entry into the atmosphere of public accounting — and thus far it’s going pretty well. I did my homework before starting this gig, to refresh my memory and get myself up to speed on the new clusterfuck of changes that are the Trump tax cut, and in the process of my research I came across a ranty but funny article on public accounting by a disgruntled former CPA worker: …These people live, breathe, eat, and sleep accounting. They’re the accounting equivalent of Ultra-marathoners in a world of 5K bumper stickers…. My own journey into and out of (and now back into) public accounting has been an interesting one, and probably not typical of most public accountants.
To take the sting out of winter, I turn to Sting. It’s kind of homeopathic, an approach to healing that prescribes a remedy to mirror the malady. If you’ve got a sour stomach, then eat something sour, that sort of thing. During the winter season, listening to Sting seems to be some sort of musical homeopathic treatement for the weirdness and wonder of the wide range of the winter mood. Winter is a season of contrasts, when things get dark and contemplative yet at the same time it’s paradoxically festive. One might as easily brood in a corner chair, nursing another glass of cognac, or one might just as easily find that a random group of smiling strangers is standing on the stoop, in the icy cold solely for the purpose of belting out, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
It’s extremely weird, in retrospect, but in my evangelical circles no one ever really talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. Here was one of America’s most profoundly moral truth-tellers, a minister who spoke with authority and rallied the entire black church in the south, a prophetic voice if there ever was one — and he was more or less passed over in my evangelicals circles, or treated by way of a good-natured dismisal, some sort of feel-good tip of the hat to the guy that got America back on track and patched up “the race problem.” But the details of King’s life and struggle and activism and theology? It didn’t happen, not in my circles. This is because for the evangelicals that support Trump, the Gospel is construed solely as an individualistic affair: get things right with God and pick up your Get-Out-of-Hell Free Card.
The North Fork Vipassana Meditation Center is located in the foothills of the Sierras, just south of Yosemite. Not a bad place to do a retreat. I wasn’t, in fact, sitting for this one, though, just serving. 10 straight days in the dish pit, though, was enough to leave me feeling just a bit not my self, which of course is somewhat of the point of the path of the Buddha, the no-self thing, etc. So a service retreat is sort of its own form of growing process. We had some wacky weather: snow, sleet, heavy rains, and even a bit of thunder storm. All that plus a good soaking of sunshine. The place was starting to green up and will soon be popping with spring colors, what with the mix of rain and sunshine.
I grew up Evangelical, in the Nineties. For me this meant being very aware that I was a central player in America’s “culture war,” an epic, ongoing saga, a clash of good and evil, a series of battles against the secular world and the liberals who were actively encouraging sexual liberty, baby killing, the feminizing of men, the gay-ing of American children, and the use of the welfare state to reward sloth and laziness. In a degenerate age, we were on God’s side, doing God’s work. So when it was discovered that Bill Clinton received a blow job (or perhaps more than one) from a busty young intern, we all lined up against him. As an impressionable teenager, I was told that character mattered; it was crucial, I was told, that American leaders be men with integrity — and I was a pretty earnest kid, so I took it all to heart.
I came across this intriguing Sufi story while reading Jenny Diski’s memoir, In Gratitude. Here it is: A Mulla was searching for a lost key under a street light, slowly crawling around. A friend happened by and immediately dropped down on his hands and knees to join the search. “Do you remember where you last saw your key,” the friend asked, after a few minutes. “Of course I do,” replied the Mulla. “Over there,” he said, pointing to a distant, dark side street. “Why are you looking here?” asked the friend, perplexed. “Because there’s so much more light here by the lamp.”
I thought I’d share an excellent interview by the author of my current favorite book, Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. As artificial intelligence becomes more normative, the elimination of low skill labor is in the near future, i.e., machines replacing humans is no longer a question of if but of when. There are many people discussing this and writing books, but few can provide the kind of historical perspective on our species in the way that Yuval Harari does. He also does Vipassana meditation retreats, like the one I just finished. (My retreat was only ten days, his retreats are two months.) If you want a sample of the kinds of things Harari talks about, here’s a great 60 minute interview he did with Ezra Klein: https://art19.com/shows/the-ezra-klein-show/episodes/261857d5-9ee4-43fa-b8a9-afed18e74d4b
There were more farts during group meditations than I can remember from any prior retreat, and from time to time they seemed to form some sort of chain reaction: one person farting, followed by another, then another. A sort of flatulent call-and-response, if you will. Then, on the seventh day, he farted.
Eating while on retreat is probably the thing I most look forward to each day. Probably most mediators do, because the meals are really the only source of external stimulation that exists. There are no electronics, no Internet. Hell, it’s a silent retreat so you can’t even talk. There is no stimulation whatsoever, expect two meals a day. Yes, we only eat two meals a day, one in the morning and one just before noon. (Evenings are for fasting.) It sounds brutal, I know, but truly it’s not as bad as it may seem. After all, sitting all day doesn’t exactly burn the calories.