Non-Clinging, Politics, & Jesus

There is a Buddhist teaching I am thinking about a lot these days. It is called anupadana. It means non-clinging, or non-attachment. It is based on the idea that clinging or grasping onto things or ideas, holding on to them too tightly, is an obstacle to being all we can be. Upadana, clinging or grasping onto things or ideas, prevents us from individually and collectively applying the truth of love in our lives.

Buddhism lays out four forms of clinging or grasping, four kinds of unhealthy attachments.

There is senses-based attachment. Renowned Buddhist teacher Buddasa states, this means “clinging to attractive and desirable sense objects.” Our six senses – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking – attach onto what is pleasurable. We want to see beautiful things, we want to hear beautiful sounds, we want to smell fragrant things, we want to taste delicious food, we want to touch pleasant things, we want to think good thoughts. At a certain level, these desires cannot be avoided especially for laypersons. But when these desires become ingrained and habitual and harmful, so much so that we desire nothing else but the good things we want and become averse to all else, then we have deep suffering and others around us experience it too.

The other form of unhealthy attachment is an unhealthy attachment to self. Now, I talked about this a few weeks ago, and this Buddhist view is complex. But basically, an unhealthy attachment to self means being focused on my self solely, seeing that self is disconnected and separate from other selves and not effected or influenced by other selves. One current presidential candidate is a perfect example of what the Buddha meant here.

The last two examples of unhealthy attachment are the two I want to focus a little more on as we ponder this crazy political season in our country. I think the two examples of unhealthy attachment have clear examples in our political and cultural discourse. They show the nature of unhealthiness in our clinging and grasping and unhealthily attaching ourselves to things and views.

So the first of these two unhealthy attachments is the attachment to rites and customs. Buddhasa again states, “This refers to clinging to meaningless traditional practices that have been thoughtlessly handed down, practices which people choose to regard as sacred and not to be changed under any circumstances.” Now, clinging to rites and customs doesn’t happen just with old traditions and customs. Grasping onto new practices that play more on emotion, onto ways of doing things just because it is easy and it is what we’ve always done or now 
in certain situations, this can be unhealthy.

There are a couple examples of this in our current political carnival ride. First, I think of the over reliance on the protest march as the go-to form of resistance to things we don’t like. It seems to me this is a newer example of clinging to rites and customs. Now, this is not to say protest marches don’t work. They certainly were effective during the Civil Rights Movement. And when they are large enough, they can visually represent to the country and the world just how big the problem is. I engaged in a few protest marches myself, namely against the Iraq War when a seminary student in New York City. However, I would dare say the protest march is an example of a custom that is almost cliché because it is often all that is done. 

To me, the most effective way we can confront issues like gun violence and police/community conflict is to get the two sides in the same room, engage in an extended time of silent prayer and meditation, and then have a facilitated, heart to heart discussion.

Another example of clinging on to rites and customs is the rituals and traditions that surround political conventions and speeches and races. We hear the same old trite and cliché phrases and images. We experience the same old propping up of the same old tropes and oversimplifications. The same old revered sacred cows that are off-limits for discussing honestly. The lack of gray, the lack of nuance, the abundance of clichés and trite words, the lack of being real in speaking of these things is an example, I think, of unhealthy attachment to customs and rites. 

Thankfully, we see in many young people a healthy questioning of, a healthy resistance to this clinging on to tradition and customs. Yes, sometimes this makes us uncomfortable. And sometimes, the manner the questioning and resistance takes is not always wise or exhibit long-term thinking. But young people do often teach us that we need to be mindful of how we older generations talk about things and how we ignore things, and that we do it often unconsciously. They help us to break our unhealthy attachment to meaningless traditions and customs and language. 

The last example of unhealthy clinging onto things and ideas is to me an even larger issue. And that is the unhealthy clinging to ideas and views. 

Ideological rigidity. Absolutism. These two things get at what the Buddha meant. 

When we pose a litmus test that decides who is in and who is out, without any knowledge of a person or their background or their story, but with a lot of preconceptions and grudges – this is harmful. When we declare unless you agree with me 100% of the time, unless you meet my definition of who a progressive or a conservative is, you are off my list – that is harmful. When we declare that this is the way it needs to be no matter that others think differently and no matter it is a democracy where others get to disagree – that is harmful. 

This is this the stuff of absolutism. Religions are not the only entities prone to absolutist thinking. Political parties, figures and supporters are also prone to absolutist thinking. We are seeing the result of it in our government as we speak. We cannot let it become the norm in us. We cannot let our differences, even our theological and political differences, become an obstacle in building the beloved community.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that indeed Jesus was an extremist. Indeed he was an absolutist. But he was an extremist, an absolutist for the only absolutism allowable – the absolutism of absolute love. Here is the paradox though, the absolutism of love is one where no one is turned away, where the last are first, the least the most cherished, the lost found and lifted up. The absolutism of love is one where the image of God we all share is what we look for first and seek to see into fruition. The absolutism of love rules out any ideological idolatry, any extremist hate, any hateful demagoguery either religious or political.

But love is a practice. It is not preaching. It is not prophesying. It is not politicking. Love means practicing. What I mean by practice is spiritual practice. It is a spiritual practice that helps us overcome unhealthy attachments and clinging to things and ideas and helps us live free and unhindered. Jesus offers us a powerful example. 

Jesus shows us what living a life of non-attachment means. In a perfect example of non-attachment in just three words, Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” What’s more, he did just that despite the horrific violence against him. What enabled this?

All through the gospels, we see Jesus getting away from all the madness and the chaos to silently sit with his loving Father. We saw a pretty typical example of this in our reading today. Jesus does the Work, being heart and hand of God here and now, but knows that breaking away from the barrage of stimuli and stress. He shut off the noise and the negativity by finding a quiet place and sitting with God.

Boy, do we need to follow Jesus’ example even more these days.

Jesus also prayed with his fellow Jews in synagogues and silently walked and dined and sat quietly with his disciples. I should say here, that, no we don’t see in the gospels any specific mention of Jesus sitting intentionally silently with his disciples. The gospels are about Jesus’ actions and teaching. But no doubt Jesus and his disciples, like with any group of friends that journey together and share a lot of time together, I am sure there were times they just sat together or walked or ate together and soaked in the calm and peace of no-words and silent camaraderie. The weariness of sojourning and travel by itself surely would lead them to simply stop and rest in the quietude of God for a little bit. That is what in essence the practice of mindfulness is – stopping and resting in the quietude of God. It is as natural of dropping down after a long day and just vegging for a little bit.  

The practice of silently sitting with God, not just individually, but as a community, a common unity, sitting silently with a God who is love and breathing the breath of compassion– we need this too in these troubling days. 

Call it prayer or mindfulness, meditation or contemplation, the point is sitting silently, with God, listening to the still small voice of the Spirit within. We need it individually, yes. But we need it even more communally. It is what church needs to begin being centrally about. It is what people need to join to create and continue in. The Beloved Community finds continuity, renewal in those quiet moments of sitting together and seeking God’s face together.

That is why we are here. Let us follow Jesus’ model. Let us practice non-attachment by finding a quiet place and practicing quiet and let us do the same together, basing the Beloved Community in the calm and simplicity of Divine Love. From this a Compassion will exude and transforming hearts one breath at a time.

Absolutism is Not Progressive or Revolutionary

I know what absolutism is and feels like. I grew up in a religion that owned it. I was taught early on if a person didn't think, believe, declare the same faith as we did, they did not fully belong and were bound for hell. Yes, they had a choice. They could join us or go to hell - literally.

We are seeing this kind of absolutism at play in some of Bernie Sanders supporters today.

But it must be made clear - absolutism is not progressive or revolutionary. It is actually regressive and reactionary. It is also exactly what radical Republicans want both from us and for themselves. They want us to be absolutists so in a battle of absolutes they win - and surely they will win.

What can be more progressive than to see we do not own the truth but can sit down, learn from each other, and construct a platform together that speaks to our hopes and dreams for the nation? What can be more revolutionary than to say we will see the best in each person, even those we hate, those we see as our enemy, those we believe are worthless, including - or better said, enveloping - the powerful?  What can be more radical than forgiveness?

If the practice of empathy, interpathy, compassion, forgiveness, non-rigidity, and inclusion are not included, we are not talking revolution or progressivism but old-school absolutism. It is Goldwater saying, "extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice." It is George Wallace saying, "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." It is Vietnam War supporters shouting at protesters, "my country, right or wrong." It is Vietnam War protesters shouting at soldiers coming home, "Baby killers!"

Bernie Sanders has repeatedly called his movement a "political revolution." However, I think some, though thankfully not at all most, hear cultural revolution instead of political. They are not satisfied with 90% political capitulation to Bernie Sanders' platform, which they got. They want not just 90% political capitulation, but 100% cultural capitulation, it seems. They want Hillary Clinton to make it completely obvious that she "Feels the Bern." I am not sure what her meeting that litmus test would look like. But they know, and she has to pass that cultural test or else... And in this case, or else Trump.

Make no mistake, one does not have to be religious to be an absolutist. The Cultural Revolution in China was full of card-carrying atheists who nonetheless mowed down those who didn't adequately exhibit devotion to Mao and his brand of communism. The Cultural Revolution was an astoundingly horrendous event. It began with a sense of idealism, civic spirit, loyalty to a leader, and patriotism. It ended with ruined lives, enslaved lives, dead lives. It really saddens me and surprises me that in those protesting Bernie Sanders calling for unity today I saw small sprouts from the same dangerous seed that bloomed the Cultural Revolution.

These are dangerous times. We are at the precipice of electing a man with dictatorial ambitions, plans, and persona to the presidency of the U.S. He wants to be king.

The forgers of our Constitution constructed it to guard against the only operative absolutisms they knew - mob rule, absolute monarchy and the Church. They instituted a representative democracy, checks against the executive branch and a separation between church and state. But I am sure they could not imagine the kind of ideological absolutism behind things like Communism, Nazism, Fascism, and Trumpism. They also could never envision Social Media and the kind of compartmentalizing of people and groups that so easily results from it. They presumed debate and dialogue and meeting the other side in the competitions of ideas. We are not seeing that much these days. And we certainly did not see it earlier today in Philadelphia when supporters of Bernie Sanders booed Bernie Sanders.

What the Founders could not see, we must see and guard against. The near to all out absolutism we are seeing exhibited is dangerous and must be resisted.

All of this is to say: Yes, Hillary Clinton may seem to represent "Same ol, Same ol" to you. I agree in many ways she does (though the most progressive platform in decades suggests differently). But isnt' Same ol, Same ol better than the Neo-Putin style dictatorship that we are so dangerously close to letting be elected?

Politics: America's New & Favorite Cult

Have you noticed that politics in America is becoming more a religion than a means to govern? Politics is no longer a means to an end, but the end, the aim, the goal. It is no longer how will this political party and it representatives help us build at a better place, it is how this personality-politician will win, fix it all, and make us feel better.

Faith in and devotion to personalities has replaced researching policy and voting based on what best aligns with one's view of government. Instead of seeing politics as the art of deliberately building a platform on which to build a better government and place, we see it as supporting the personality who we like the most and/or who thinks 100% just like we do.

We see this most clearly in the illogical, post-primary devotion to Bernie Sanders, what I will call the Bernie or Bust Party.

I speak as a primary Bernie Sanders supporter. I truly felt and feel that his social democratic philosophy and platform is what this country needs. We need a complete restructuring of our political and economic systems. (Bernie is somewhat disingenuous when he says "political revolution." He also wants an economic revolution.) While I liked Bernie's politics, I was not enthralled with his style and personality. He seemed too gruff, too inflexible, too masculine as a campaigner though I did see the compassion in his views. Plus, his politics and philosophy align with mine so I supported him.

However, he lost. He lost by millions of votes. Yes, it is clear the DNC was not neutral, and behind the scenes supported Hillary Clinton, but this did not decide how people would vote.

I thought Bernie Sanders was wise to hold out in endorsing Hillary Clinton. He was also wise and savvy in getting 90% of his platform to be enacted as the DNC platform. Bernie supporters, we got 90% of what we wanted. No, we did not get Bernie, but we got 90% of our platform. Because of that 10% we didn't get, we are going to vote for Donald Trump (and voting for a third-party means a vote for Trump)!? 

Now, if you disagree with the DNC platform, than sure, vote for someone other than the Democrat. But then I question your real support for Bernie Sanders who ran as a Democrat (not as a Greener) and because 90% of what he supported, Hillary Clinton demonstratively, via the DNC platform, supports.

These 10-Percenters, the remaining Bernie-Or-Busters, make it clear to me that for them it is less about the politics of Bernie Sanders than it is the personality of Bernie Sanders. It is less platform alignment than quasi-religious-devotion. This is very dangerous. It would be dangerous if we had the average Republican running for president. But it is especially dangerous considering we have a by-excuse Republican with dictatorial ambitions. Trump is running to be America's version of Putin. Is a 10% difference enough to give the reigns and the nuclear-code to Trump?

Or is it merely anger? Anger is no excuse for stupidity.

For Bernie-or-Busters, there is not enough fear of what a Trump presidency would mean. Yes, he might break the system, but he might also nuke the whole world in the process. He might also enact racist laws that will make our current crisis with police violence much, much worse and our current immigration crisis even worse as well. Is this a risk we are willing to take?  Is it not implicitly racist to know that a racist might win the presidency and then help that happen? 

The lack of logic, the reign of feelings, the worship of personalities on both sides all point to American politics new reality. American politics has become America's civic cult. A cult is defined like this:

We enter very dangerous territory when the focus of government becomes personality and personalities at the expense of the art and craft of politics, which is the art and craft of compromise. This focus on personality and personalities goes both ways. Voting for or against someone solely because of their personality, based on whether you like him or not, is not how democracy is supposed to work. Platforms and legislation is supposed to matter more than merely the personality proposing it. Why? Because in a democracy it is "We" (implied by legislation) not "me" (implied by people proposing it). 

In a democracy, a person running for election is running as a people's representative. We are electing them to be a stand in for us. A personality cannot, does not best represent a people. Proposals, legislation, building support for that legislation best represents a people.

If Bernie-or-Buster really believe it is about the political revolution and not about Bernie, then how can you not support the product of Bernie and the revolution - 90% of what you want in the DNC platform!? The DNC candidate for president is the primary mouthpiece for that platform and the legislation it desires. How can you not support the centerpiece the revolution helped create?

In America, politics equals legislating and legislation. No, legislating and legislation is not as sexy as a million dollar campaign ad or interviews on Fox News with attractive newspeople. No, legislating and legislation is not as alluring or personality-driven as preaching a speech. But in the end, it is legislating and legislation that makes the most difference. It is legislating and legislation that decides whether we as a nation become better or more bitter. That is why political platforms are so important. Getting 90% of what you want should mean more in how you vote than the 10% of what you didn't get or your personal anger over who won and lost.

It is the legislation, stupid!

The Common Fountain of Grief

O, this violence. O, this division. When will it stop. Will it kill me, someone in my family? Will it kill this country, our communities, our collective life?

After falling asleep earlier than usual Thursday evening, I woke up early Friday morning. I had a nightmare. It was so disturbing I could not get back to sleep. So I went downstairs, and turned on the TV. Then I heard the news of a real, living nightmare. I did not get back to sleep.

I must be honest, these past few years and up till Dallas, I have been really torn. On one hand, I realize how important police officers are to our collective lives. I realize the sacrifice they make and the difficulty of the job. I worked with officers in the ER when I was a resident chaplain and witnessed firsthand their professionalism, their sense of duty, and their dedication. In my role here, there are members of this community that are or have been police officers and whom I really respect and admire. I think of Dan and Dane and Paul. We can not underestimate the role they play in our civic life. And 98% of the time that role is a positive one and we should never forget to thank our police officers for the work they do, for the protection and service they offer, and for the peace they seek to make. They are trying to maintain law and order without which society cannot function.

On the other hand, as someone who grew up with Black neighbors, who played on sports-teams through middle school with Black teammates, who has known deep friendships with Black people, who has intensely studied the Civil Rights Movement and sees Dr. King as a primary spiritual teacher, I feel a profound sense of loss when it comes to the crisis of young Black men being disproportionately killed in confrontations with police officers.

I cannot help but state that it is real. There is data to prove it.

In a recent study that looked at thousands of use-of-force episodes from police departments across the nation, it was shown that "African-Americans are far more likely than whites and other groups to be the victims of use of force by the police, even when racial disparities in crime are taken into account." Behind this, is what researchers and psychologists call "implicit bias." We all have implicit bias, Black or white, but it is extra deadly when it involves stress, confrontation, weapons, and power dynamics (police officers have it - power - and the person pulled-over and/or being questioned does not).

Now, we must be honest. It is all very complicated. There are many factors to be considered and not all of them related to just issues with the police. There are factors of poverty, family dynamics, urban blight and decay, not to mention drug addiction and Black on Black crime. There is a long history and deep division dating back to slavery, a wound still never fully healed.

Yet, we must not avoid the truth – there is a problem rooted in a lack of rapport, trust, and common ground between the Black community and Police. It is a centuries old problem. And it is a problem we must be address honestly and compassionately.

The atrocity in Dallas has, however, caused me to look deeper and see some things I hadn't considered before. I offer you some of these insights.

First of all, I see more and more that social media is not a complete help here. Yes, it has brought some things to light that otherwise would remain mostly in the dark, and it has us talking. However, I worry that the nature of our talking and our reactions, via Social Media, is not always helpful.

In hindsight, I saw this in my self Thursday. It is too easy to be effected by Group Think. It is too easy to want to feel part of the discussion, even if it is not really a discussion. It is too easy to put our two cents out there and to do it too quickly. It is all too easy, isn't it? But it is not really all that helpful, in the scheme of things. It might make us feel good, or others who think like us feel good. On some occasions, yes, it may give others insight. But it is compassion we need more of these days. Insights and insightfulness, this is good. But these are a dime a dozen. We need real, persistent, active compassion, with less speaking and more listening, more than anything else.

Words are not going to do it. Phrases and memes are not going to do it. Facebook posts are not going to do it. Protests are not going to do it.

Sitting together is. A sitting together that begins with meaningful silence and a sincere connection to our common humanity.

I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to bad habits in regard to Social Media. My sin is Facebook. I try to use it well as a citizen and as a minister. But I sometimes fall short. I sometimes fall prey to the groupthink and verbosity it too easily proffers. I sometimes simply add more fleeting words to a sea of fleeting words when what we need is a small pond of reflection and quiet to look deeply at ourselves and our connections to others.

And so I am taking a break maybe even a permanent break from Facebook. The temptation to be too hasty and quick to speak instead of deliberative and wise with my words is too great. And Lord knows we need more deliberation and wisdom.

The other thing that really hit me as I contemplated the tragedies is this: what we really need is to grieve and to do so together. If there is one thing I have learned in my seven years as a hospice chaplain and here as minister amid times of grief is that there is no more common a denominator than loss and grief after loss.

The mother of Philando Castile, the young Black man killed in St. Pauls, Minnesota Wednesday is grieving just as profusely and profoundly and will continue to do so as the mother of Patrick Zamarripa, the Dallas officer killed in the ambush Friday morning, is. Their grief is a mothers grief, the deepest grief one can know. And as Bono of U2 reminds us, "no one cries like a mother cries for peace on earth."

What we need more than anything in our collective American life is to grieve together. To experience the sense of loss and pain of the other and see how it is like our own. We need to do this more than quipping out slogans however true they may be. We need it more than protests or counter-protests, no matter how sincere or real the issues are.

Having sat through a number of Bereavement Groups, I can tell you there is nothing as powerful and healing and unity-building as sharing in the reality of our shared grief. We need to do this as a nation. We have needed to do it since the Civil War, the end of slavery, and Lincoln's assassination. We've missed opportunities all along the way since, especially after the deaths of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy. I hope and pray that we do not pass this chance up. We are all grieving the loss of young men who died much too young at the hands of a gun. Let us do it together. And let it begin to heal our wounds, the ones that are still open, festering, and vulnerable. It may be the last chance we have. As MLK reminds us the choice is not between nonviolence and violence but between nonviolence and nonexistence.

Black Lives Must Matter

Another summer, more cases of complete disregard for the sanctity of life in the form of Black Lives.

Having friends and congregants who are police officers and realizing they have a very difficult job, I know it is not fair to generalize. But at what point do we say, we have a problem, a core, deeply-rooted yet rotting on the vine problem, here?

There is an ingrained lack of identification with the Other. This lack of seeing Black lives as the equivalent of our White lives is exasperated by our media's portrayal of Black lives. Black lives are rarely portrayed in full, rarely nuanced, usually a little less than fully humane. Black lives are portrayed as Other, disconnected from us and our lives.

The problem is also exasperated by a bias that says young, male, and Black means being extra prone to crime and criminality. As far as policing goes, I imagine in the police officer psyche, the disproportionate rate of crime by young, Black males creates a bias that increases the level of stress when officers interact with young Black men. Yet even if the statistics regarding crime were not themselves biased - which they are in a vicious circle - the legal system cannot rightly function if biases are allowed to rule the day. The legal system cannot rightly function when biases go unanswered. And the legal system will completely breakdown when those operating on the basis of biases unjustly kill Black lives and go unpunished. These biases must be answered to and changed.

Moreover, the lack of understanding of Black culture, history, and sociology exasperates the problem in a tremendous way. How many of us deeply know the history of slavery, Jim Crow, the Great Migration, White-Flight, Urban blight, cultural appropriation, etc.? All of these things lurk in the background of the current crisis. If officers don't know this extremely pertinent backstory, a source for deep empathy and connection goes missing. (Thankfully, there are models of how to teach history to police officers in training.)

More than anything, however, is White people's dismissing of the crisis. This dismissal is easily seen in the quaint appropriation of the phrase "Black Lives Matter" into "All Lives Matter."

That all lives matter is a given. Jefferson wrote "All men are created equal." However, neither is a living reality. And that is the point! That is the point in the phrase "Black Lives Matter." There is no equality here. There has never been. We say all lives matter, we say all men are created equal. We say these things while Black lives are unjustly killed by those vowing to protect and serve, and while we remain in every way unequal within a system that assures inequity.

In our current reality, as in our history, some lives matter much less than others. Some lives have mattered far less for more than 300 years. Some lives have mattered so far less that they were seen as property and used as human instruments with which to build a nation. Black lives did not matter in 1789 when slave owner George Washington was sworn in as president and in reality forfeited real American freedom by never confronting American's original sin. Black lives did not matter in 1889 as Jim Crow laws were creating a new form of slavery replete with Black bodies hanging from trees. Black Lives did not matter in 1989 when the war on drugs was nearing the utter destruction of Black communities and beginning the unjust mass incarceration of Black lives.

All of a sudden, Black lives are included in "All Lives"? What happened to bring about this sudden inclusion? Is it real inclusion or just a convenient straw man that enables more ignoring of the crisis? If it is real inclusion, than the equality - economic, political, and cultural - it points to must be made real. Where is the movement to make full equality actual and not just lip service?

The sad fact is, in 2016, Black lives don't matter at all. Because mattering less means not mattering at all. "Justice delayed is justice denied." We need to confront this fact and begin fixing it, or all this talk about equality, independence, and exceptionalism is at best a lie and at worst the equivalent of bullet in an officer's gun piercing another Black life.