Friday, December 19, 2008

SMUDGE

You know that smudge
that comes after you erase a word,
resembling the scene of an accident,
where birth and death collide
just before the emergence
of the unwritten idea?

That is what I have felt like
since July 13, 2008

end/michael bogar

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Soul-making and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Soul-making and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder


Post = prefix meaning "after"

Traumatic = to rub away, grind away, crush

Stress = force, pressure, oppression

Disorder = to destroy the order or regular arrangement of


PTSD is the name of a condition in which the regular order of life is destroyed as the result of being ground away under relentless pressure.


PTSD is another name for soul-making. While the modern medical model would put it under the study of ‘Abnormal Psychology’, there is nothing abnormal about it.


This is not meant to minimize the condition or symptoms, nor dismiss the medical guidelines for treatment. My aim is to help us see that there is more to the condition than just the medical metaphor.


There is often a lot of grief, depression, anxiety and anger in the person who has been ground down under some sort of very intense pressure, resulting in what has been labled PTSD. But the difference between seeing it as ‘abnormal’ psychology and an advanced course in soul-making is the difference between seeing it as purposeful and unique, compared to seeing it as some sort of mental illness or aberrant human condition that has no place in life. It is possible to feel like everything in your world is wrong compared to what you want it to feel like, and yet not have anything cosmically or ultimately Wrong. If you are suffering what has been called PTSD, there is nothing weird, odd or strange about you.


It is critical to seek treatment in order to move through it, but don’t add to the situation by thinking your condition means you are sick and abnormal. The word trauma comes from an Indo-European root that means to grind or whittle down. PTSD is a clinical name for a crash course in the destruction or grinding away of the old self you were before the traumatic events came upon you. It is a technical name for what we are on this earth do - namely, grow a self, shed it and grow another as we evolve toward our full Humanity.


The Apostle Peter went through an ordeal of seeing Christ arrested, whipped and killed, and living under the stress of being arrested and crucified himself. He was a fugitive and lived in perpetual terror. Jesus had earlier said, “Peter, the Shatan has asked permission to sift you like wheat (perfect illustration of trauma) in order that you might strengthen the brothers.” Jesus was referring to an experience that we might today call PTSD. The fact is that life on this planet is filled with the PTSD experiences. However, there is a difference between seeing the events as experiences to grind away a former layer of the self in order that a new self may emerge, and seeing the events as ruining your life and chances for happiness. The worm that finds itself pressed tightly into a cocoon is a PTSD candidate. Yet the aim is not to get therapy in order to return to the old worm self, but to move into the new butterfly self.


The Psyche sees what we call PTSD as a way to grow a soul – a very distressing and troubling course. The goal is to release the old self that you remember before the trauma, then experience the trauma within a caring community, consistently praying for God’s will to result from the morphing into a new person. Most PTSD ‘victims’ tend to blame the people who did it to them rather than see the doing as part of their soul-making journey.


As babies, we all enter this world through PTSD – a little fetus floating in a nice sack of water, being fed through the umbilical cord, soothed by the beating heart and swaying walk of the mother – and then after 9 months, contractions press the child down a narrow canal, through a tiny opening and into the cold, bright, noisy world called human life. This is trauma – the grinding down of the old womb-self in order to become the post-womb self. The aim is to move through the trauma and become the next self, the post-fetal self. This birthing process occurs many times throughout one’s life, and very likely after this life.


In the movie, The War at Home, Emilio Estevez plays a Viet Nam war vet who returns home very troubled. He has seen death and mutilation; he was forced to execute a Viet Cong soldier. He is a mess of a human being around his family and friends. At one point his sister asks her distressed brother to explain what happened to him ‘over there.’ He says very succinctly, “I died over there.” That is exactly what happened. The young man that went to Viet Nam may have never been shot or physically wounded, but that person no longer exists, and never will.


I remember the night I heard that my 25 year old son had been killed in Afghanistan. The grief was inexplicable. I do not remember the next five minutes as I sort of went into a Zombie trance, screaming over and over, “No! No! No!” I remember coming to, standing outside in the dark of night, looking into the sky at a bright yellow moon, suddenly aware that I was outside screaming at the sky. The nightmare bgan. After a sleepless night, I remember the thought coming with the morning light, “Michael, you will never be the man you were yesterday; you have changed forever.” This initially terrified me, but I knew that I could either try to return to the old self which existed prior to the traumatic crushing and grinding down, or grieve the loss of my son and my old life, and patiently (pathos – suffer) await the new self that would emerge. Depending on the trauma, that new self could take years to emerge. But having a perspective that sees the event as part of the soul-making experience minimizes the need to try and return to the old self, or blame myself and others in a state of eternal resentment. I am now the father of a dead son; no longer the father of a living son and all that implied for the future.


In the movie, The War at Home, the traumatized young Viet Nam vet sits down to play a classical tune on the piano. His relieved family, thinking he is becoming his old self, smiles as they watch and listen to him play so beautifully. As he completes the last line of the music, he stops and never plays the last note. As I watched the movie, I felt the frustration of him not finishing the song. His family looked troubled and puzzled as the vet rose from the piano bench and walked past them, silently. The point was stunning - life has no end…the last note is never played. The guy that played that song years ago, always finishing it, exists no longer. We are forever morphing from one self into the next.The soul-song is never complete...get used to it.


Experiencing joy in life, and recovery (perhaps discovery is a better word) from PTSD are directly proportional to ones ability to move through the creative emotional upheaval, stand in the chaos, excavate the darkness roiling below the psyche in the unconscious realms, and observe the new dwelling that is being built from the crushed rubble. Within each of us is ever-blossoming soul material, emerging from the dirt and fertilizer of the old self. This is the archetypal myth of Phoenix rising, the reparation of Osiris and Dionysus after their violent dismemberments, and the resurrection of the traumatized and crushed Christ. That is one reason so many vets and trauma victims find succor in religions with a myth of reconstruction after dismantlement.


PTSD may use the medical metaphor, but I think we must be careful. We are not sick, rather we are deconstructed. There is nothing wrong at the cosmic level, though from our social perspectives everything is severely wrong. Pharmaceuticals will not solve the problem in the long run, though they may provide some temporary relief. Alcohol, sex, drugs and a host of other consciousness altering substances or events won’t last long term. Seeing a therpist or counselor and blaming our parents, the government, et al will do little to promote the emergence of the new soul.


Why do these traumatic events happen? Who knows? I don’t. But that they do occur, and occur frequently on this planet requires us to take them as part of the normal phenomena of existence. From there, we will either see them as abnormal psychology, or normal events that come to move us into deeper and deeper experiences of soul.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

En-Humanment, Not Enlightenment

Make Room

"God comes into our lives when we do things that make us truly human. When we help the poor, when we speak out for justice, when we get over our exaggerated sense of our own importance..."

~ Rabbi Harold Kushner


IN THE BEGINNING, DARKNESS


We use many terms without much examination. The term 'enlightenment' is one such word. It is assumed we know what it means: to have the 'light' come 'in', hence, en-lightenment. The implication is that we are in the dark of useless ignorance and need to have the light of awareness. That sounds plausible, and is clearly true, at certain times. However, I maintain that we also need 'endarkenment' to become aware. Why? Because so much of it exists. On the physical level, it has been estimated that over 90% of the Universe is dark, and most matter 'out there' is dark matter. On the psycho-spiritual level, every mythology begins with darkness:


  1. Genesis – The earth was without form, and it was void of light. Eventually, God's Spirit hovered over the roiling dark chaos and out came light.
  2. Taoism – The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1 says all that is came from darkness, using the image of the dark womb.
  3. Greeks 1 Erebos, or darkness, was the child of Chaos, and from them came light and form. In some myths, Erebos marries Nyx (Night) and they populate the world, in other myths, Erebos is a part of Hades, the Underworld where the dead reside.

Based on the raw data of our day to day existence, darkness is as necessary and normal to the Universe as is light. If the Cosmos comes with so much darkness, and all mythologies make darkness the foundation of light and life, then we need to rethink our use of the word, enlightenment. For my approach is 'phenomenological' – that is, we must begin our examination of reality with the basic phenomena (events, experiences, observable incidents) that exist rather than begin with our ideas or theories about how it ought to be. Of course it is good to imagine how our human world could be someday, and the need to work for change. However, we must begin with 'what is'. This approach is especially important if we do not believe in Original Sin, that is, if we see the Nature as being perfect as it stands, not having been modified or ruined by a a human, alien or evil spirit.


Many humans prefer to develop theories of life based on personal experiences rather than the existence of ALL of the raw phenomena of daily life. Hence, a man's terrifying experiences of night, chaos, darkness and all that goes with these phenomena cause him to assume these aspects of existence to be bad. Based on that assumption, he develops a metaphysics or religion of light and order. On one level it makes total sense. Humans want stability, pleasure and happiness, so feeling secure and content are the beginning points and aim of existence. But do those elements alone make a beneficial spiritual system?


Try to imagine a child developing a philosophy of life based on what giveS him pleasure in school. Depending on the student, the enjoyable experiences would form the basis, structure and goal of his metaphysical or philosophical system. He would call algebra and grammar evil, while physical education and recess might be called the good. Most of us recognize that such an approach to a life would be utterly ridiculous. My algebra teacher used to remind me daily that sometimes the uncomfortable and difficult experiences (phenomena) of school were normal and necessary for long term gains. I didn't believe him then. I do now.


But sometimes as adults, our religious and spiritual ideas and systems work just that way. We view pain, disease, suffering, fragmentation and dark emotional experiences like worry, fear and sadness as bad. We view security, wholeness, health and order as good. We call the emotions of peace, joy and happiness good. With those unquestioned assumptions of what the good ought to be, we proceed to find a scapegoat for the unpleasant stuff – usually finding some form of Satan and/or the selfish human Ego to be the problem and obstacle blocking us from the good. That is, we blame a Malevolent Spirit and/or humans for the painful stuff, while the God or Gods are the source of all good stuff. From that assumption, we see the aim of existence as a continuous struggle to extricate ourselves from all dark, chaotic, bad situations and 'negative' feelings. Many resort to deciding that there must have been a good world in the beginning that went sour, and that there is a good world coming in the end which will put an end to all suffering. In the meantime, sandwiched between the beginning and end, we try to do all that we can to escape, avoid and villainize the darkness.


EN-HUMANMENT


The only problem is that this view never works!


Occasionally we have periods where all goes well as we have periods where all goes smoothly and we are 'in the light of God'. But inevitably we run into a period where life fall apart and we are assailed by anger, fear, resentment, worry and grief. This is true of all human beings, even those who teach that you do not have to suffer. I suppose they could be right, but I have never yet that avoided suffering altogether. Every mystic I have known reacts to pain to some degree - when they stub their toe, or feel outrage at an act of injustice, or become violent against those they accuse of using violence. Why? Because we are made to have those feelings. Lions tackle, strangle, eviscerate and devour Gazelles. Cats eat mice and meteors slam into planets. The sun will one day burn out and all life on this planet will disappear forever. Einstein's biggest disappointment was that the Universe wasn't absolutely stable and predictible. The Cosmos is filled with disintegration as well as integration, darkness as well as light. So if we begin with the phenomena of existence, life includes not just enlightenment, but also experiences of darkness and disintegration


EN-HUMANMENT


It seems to me that we are here to become aware through light and darkness, both. I think we are here to conceive of and develop mature souls. I call it 'En-Humanment'. That is a new word as far as I know. By en-Humanment, I mean that we arrive on this planet with a body, soul and spirit. Those elements are not mingled or formed when we arrive. The aim of life is to experience all that goes on in this earthly classroom in order to combine body, soul and spirit into something we might call a Human. I capitalize the word intentionally, implying that we begin as humans, and become Human as body, soul and spirit move through daily life and congeal into some essence which we cannot see with the ordinary physical human eye. The earth is truly Mother Earth in that She is a womb for embryonic souls being coceived via all events in this life, the good, the bad and the ugly. Through a kind of Spiritual Isometrics, we meet resistance in many forms and increase strength. That is the way the physical body develops, and I think it is the way the soul body evolves.


INVISIBLE SOULS AND BECOMING HUMAN


This invisible state of the forming soul is illustrated beautifully by Charles Dickens in his 1843 classic, A Christmas Carol. Miserly old Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Bob Marley, who had died seven years earlier. Marely, like Scrooge, had been an avaricious and self centered human being. Scrooge notices that the pale specter of Marley is wrapped in locks and chains. The following conversation ensues:


``You are fettered,'' said Scrooge, trembling. ``Tell me why?''


``I wear the chain I forged in life,'' replied the Ghost. ``I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?''


Scrooge trembled more and more.


``Or would you know,'' pursued the Ghost, ``the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!''


Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.


Though not visible to the human eye, the state of soul which accompanies us beyond this physical incarnation is being formed moment by moment through our attitudes and choices. We are either becoming more, or less, en-Humaned. A similar kind of idea is explored by C.S. Lewis in his wonderful work of fantasy, The Great Divorce, about a group of tourists from Hell taking a bus trip to Heaven.


THE THREE PARTS OF EN-HUMANIZING


Every religion recognizes humans as being curiously constructed of various ingredients not quite stirred together and cooked yet. These include the physical body which I see as a kind of playing field where the game of making a Human takes place.The human spirit is the rational part, or mind that strives for unity, wholism, health and continual joy. Finally, soul is the illogical, insane, fragmented, dark part of us that leads us into thoughts of fear, anxiety and pathology.


SPIRITUAL GYMNASIUMS OVER HOSPITALS


Spirit is compelled to light, joy, peace, compassion and dreams of world peace. Soul is compelled to darkness, turmoil, terror and nightmares. Spirit pulls us straight into the heavens, soul plunges us into the meandering dark depths. We all know both realms of experience. But modern psychology minimizes the necessary work of soul by telling us that we are disordered as bi-polar, manic-depressive, schizophrenic, having multiple personalities and a host of other disparaging terms that often cause more harm than help. We don't need so much to 'cure' these dualities as see their psychic function in making us into Humans. We need to shift our primary focus away from curing unnecessary conflicts, to caring for necessary spiritual isometrics that make us into Humans. Our spiritual churches and psychiatric centers need to resemble gymnasiums rather than hospitals where we treat sick people. Clearly there is room for both metaphors, for sometimes we break spiritual bones and need cures, but the emphasis ought to be on training rather than illness.


We all have bodies that wake up some mornings feeling great! and other mornings feeling like crap. Each of us has an insane person living in us, our own personal Mr Hyde to accompany our socially acceptable Dr Jekyl. Robert Louis Stevenson understood human nature; the book became a classic because we are all, to some extent, both characters. You will find some form of this interactive dichotomy in all classic stories, ancient and modern (Bilbo's shire-self and ring-self in the Hobbit; Darth Vader and others struggling with the two sides of the Force, etc.).


Some will deny this saying, "Oh no, not me, I am a nice person, love my family, work hard each day, pray and love my neighbor; no, not me." I once knew a woman like this, and she was a nice woman. But after she died, her family cleaned out the back of her closet and found several dozen novels about serial rapists and killers. She had read them all, and hid them in her closet. Not even her husband knew she had them. Does this imply that she secretly liked rape and murder? Heavens no! But it does imply that her soul, like all souls, had a dark side that had to be fed and recognized. But like many, she closeted her dark soul, kept it hidden down in the sub-consciousness of her being. I think she resisted the en-Humanizing process.


Not until we recognize and face these soulful phenomena can we become truly Human. One of the reasons the 12 Step movement is so powerful is that addicts who are on the verge of death are literally forced to engage their dark shadows if they want to go on living. Those who seriously practice the 12 steps evolve into a Humanity they would have never imagined. However, people who are more 'normal' are more likely to hide their dark selves in some version of a closet. That is why Jesus hung out with the drunks and whores, and chastised the religious moralists. The sinner's darkness was exposed and out in the open. They had a chance to become Human if they could engage in the process of transmuting darkness into Humanness. This is illustrated beautifully in a story from the Gospel of John where a prominent Jewish clergyman named Nicodemus seeks Jesus out in secret, in the dark of night so he won’t be caught by his morally pure Rabbinic associates. In a very famous passage, usually misquoted as referring to immoral sinners, Jesus says to the socially virtuous Nicodemus, "Men love darkness rather than light because their works are evil." Jesus shocked this socially good man, telling him that his closeting of dark and evil fantasies, feelings and imaginings was not virtuous, but tantamount to a love affair with darkness. That is why confession is so powerful. When our 'dirty little secrets' spill out, we join the human race and become more Human, and humane.


So it seems to me that the goal of life is to become a Human, a complete and mature Being, through endarkenment as well as enlightenment. All the phenomena of life, from egoistic hubris to philanthropic giving are soul-making incidents. Our moments of failure and fragmentation are as normal and necessary as our moments of success and integration. Our pathologies of darkness are as necessary as our path into the light. We are here to become en-Humaned, to become fully Human. Life and death, war and peace, good and evil and all opposites work toward this end. Just as there are two poles on a car battery, negative and positive charges in an atom and two prongs on an electrical cord, so we cannot achieve en-Humanment without these opposites, spirit and soul working through the body.


"Don't you know the soul must travel through eighty-four thousand births in order to become a man?" Professor Shankar (Naga Baba), A River Sutra, Gita Mehta, p.281


[1] In Greek mythology, Erebus (pronounced /ɛrəbəs/) or Erebos (Ancient Greek: ρεβος, English translation: "deep blackness/darkness or shadow") was the son of a primordial god, Chaos, and represented the personification of darkness and shadow, which filled in all the corners and crannies of the world. He was the offspring of Chaos alone. He was Nyx's (Night) Lover and fathered her children, Aether and Hemera, according to Hesiod (c. 700 BC). According to Hyginus (c. AD 1), he was the father of Geras.

According to some later legends, Erebus was part of Hades, the underworld. It was where the dead had to pass immediately after dying. After Charon ferried them across the river Acheron, they entered Tartarus, the underworld proper. Erebus was often used as a synonym for Hades, the Greek god of the underworld.

The word is probably from Proto-Indo-European language, *h1regwos, cognate to Old Norse røkkr, Gothic riqisSanskrit rajaniTamil Eravu "night", Tocharian orkäm "darkness". A loan from Semitic, c.f. Hebrewerebh and Akkadian erebuMartin Bernal, has not found acceptance. "night", "sunset, evening" (hence, "darkness"), as suggested by "darkness".

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Time to Be Impatient

WAITING FOR THE SUN: A Time to Be Impatient

Do You Suffer From Alfy Singer Syndrome?

December is the month where we are waiting for the sun to return. One of my favorite songs is by The Doors, Waiting for the Sun. Jim Morrison mournfully sings:

Waiting for the sun…Waiting for the sun…
Waiting.... waiting.... waiting.... waiting....
Waiting.... waiting.... waiting.... waiting....
Waiting for you to - come along
Waiting for you to - hear my song
Waiting for you to - come along
Waiting for you to - tell me what went wrong

Recently, I have discovered that I am an unhealthy 'Waiter.' I am often unconsciously waiting for the sun - waiting for things to line up, or postponing enjoyment until the good outweighs or eradicates the bad. I am reminded of Woody Allen's role as Alvy Singer, the neurotic romantic in the movie Annie Hall. There is an interaction between Alvy (Woody Allen) and his ex-girlfriend Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) at an outdoor restaurant. Annie suggests they go somewhere and have some fun. Alvy morosely declines:

Annie Hall: "Alvy, you're incapable of enjoying life, you know that."
Alvy Singer: "I can't enjoy anything unless everybody is. If one guy is starving someplace, that puts a crimp in my evening."

ALVY SINGER SYNDROME

I think I have spent too much time suffering from A.S.S., the Alvy Singer Syndrome. Like Woody Allen's character, I have too often seen the world through the lens of ubiquitous suffering, omnipresent annoyances and the moments of darkness, "If one guy is starving someplace, that puts a crimp in my evening." The problem is that there is always some guy starving someplace!

And lest someone gloats over their superior optimism, consider our chronic obsession with waiting to solve Global Warming, to elect the right President, achieve the right body size or health, find the perfect church or job, purchase the latest fashions and construct the 'ideal' relationship. Our days can be ruined by stressing over recycling, bicycling, nuclear weapons, terrorism, and not having that Spring fresh feeling all day long. I am all for taking care of our bodies, solving international problems and caring for the planet, however, sometimes we are unconsciously spending all of our time waiting for the sun and focusing on that one guy starving someplace.

DARKNESS AND BEAUTY CO-EXIST

After the death of my son last July, my psychic journey took me a long way from the sun. I was in the dark Winter of grief. Everything was being viewed through the lens of my little boy being shot in the chest and dying in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. I have never known such darkness.

About four months after Jason's death, I was walking along the shores of Puget Sound, praying, crying and waiting for the sun. I glanced up and saw a stick-legged Heron gliding high above the water. He tilted his wings downward to slow his flight and regally settled onto the bouncing bough of a tall Douglas Fir. The setting sun was radiating a pinkish-orange hue along the horizon behind the bird. My heart spontaneously swelled with joy for this surprising moment of Beauty. Immediately I thought, "I can't enjoy this, my son is dead." I have spent much of my life thinking thoughts like that. But that day, something happened; I call it Soul-making. Something shifted. I don't know whether it was from my own subconscious, God or Jason's voice, but I heard an inaudible whisper, "When the Beauty is there, enjoy it fully. When it leaves, deal with the darkness. Both are always present, always."

DANGER OF WAITING TO BE WHOLE

I realized that I would never be 'whole' enough. Postponing experiences of Beauty could not wait on the salvation of my soul, the economy, or the earth. I often miss the Beauty right in front of me, or feel guilty for enjoying it. How often are we waiting for the sun?

Waiting for someone or thing to come along
Waiting for someone to hear our song
Waiting for someone to tell me what went wrong
Waiting…waiting…waiting…waiting

STOP WAITING - PRACTICE SEEING THE BEAUTY: Viva Viagra!

When December arrived, I was compelled to designate the month as a time to stop waiting and to practice finding the Beauty, or to locate some Benefit in every thing, especially those things that are hard for me to find beautiful. For example, I really dislike television commercials. I do not like people interrupting my program, increasing the volume, screaming at me while jangly music plays over their inane babble, telling me what I lack and what I need while implying that I am stupid, unsuccessful and uncool without their product. I really get irritated! I understand why Elvis Presley once shot his television set.

But over the past two weeks I have consistently taken a breath, gone contrary to my first cynical impulse and sought to find the Beauty in each commercial. I really hate the Viagra, Erectile Dysfunction advertisements. Whenever those middle age guys start singing Viva Viagra like they are at Church Camp, smiling like an impotent man would never smile, and jumping on their motorcycles to roar off and have sex with their wives before the drugs wear off – I go a little nuts.

But now when I see that commercial, I think of actual men out there who have really benefited from these pharmaceutical love potions. After a few seconds of imagining some poor impotent fellow receiving help from that very commercial, I actually begin to see through the commercial and find the Good. The results have been fascinating as compassion and gratefulness replace annoyance and cynicism. I may actually continue the practice beyond December because it feels much better to seek the sun than wait for it to always come to me.

As we move back toward the sun this December, remember, "When the Beauty is there, enjoy it fully. When it leaves, deal with the darkness. Both are always present, always."


Monday, October 27, 2008

SHOULD WE CRITIQUE RELIGIONS?

I was recently invited by a friend to consider taking part in a discussion group that "examines, in a scholarly manner, diverse aspects of the world's religions. Caveats include no attempt to argue the superiority, inferiority, correctness, or incorrectness of any religion(s)." While tempted to join in if they allowed me, I had to decline. Here is why:

-------------------------

I don't think I would be a very good participant in this group. In my estimation, good scholarship requires not only comparison, but critical evaluations with a view to choosing a more correct and superior idea as a course to follow and apply. I always remember what G.K. Chesterton said, "Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid."

One of the most scholarly and idea-changing books I have read recently is The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success by agnostic Rodney Stark, former University of Washington sociologist. He argues brilliantly from the evidence that the title 'Dark Ages' was largely a smear campaign by Voltaire and a few other adamant anti-religionists. They were 'enlightened' and the religionists were 'in the dark.' Stark provides overwhelming evidence that the advent and gradual evolution of the Christian religious methodology and spiritual principles brought on the modern era, including technological advances, democratic freedoms and capitalist economics. Eastern religions in particular so identify with Nature that they could not and cannot harness natural phenomena to serve humankind while simultaneously worshipping the Natural Forces as Divine. They have since adopted Western ideas, but ideologically could not have discovered them. Another internationally recognized sociologist, Peter Berger, said something similar in his classic book, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, "In Genesis, with man being made in the image of God, you have the seeds of modern democracy." According to a growing number of scholarly sociologists, psychologists and historians, Christianity appears to be superior in certain ways. This is not to say that one religion or culture is superior or more correct in all areas, but that superiority and correctness are not ipso facto bad qualities. Thomas Cahill does something similar in his series of books on various cultures and their superior ideas.

It constantly puzzles me that people who argue superior political or economic ideas and policies are afraid to argue superior religious ideas. What makes religion sacrosanct? The same person who has a bumper sticker that reads, OBAMA/BIDEN 2008, makes fun of the intolerant fundie whose bumper sticker reads JESUS SAVES. Frankly, while one could and should argue with either bumper sticker, each has the right to 'close his mouth' on what he feels to be the most solid idea with regard to matters of politics and/or religion. It seems we have become obsessed with being 'being polite', politically and religiously 'correct' and appropriately 'multi-cultural'. Lewis Carroll saw this 'politeness' trend decades ago when he wrote Alice in Wonderland. After the Dodo set up a race course and the participants ran and ran, the Dodo randomly declared the race over. Someone asked, "Who won?" "At last the Dodo said, ‘everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’ ‘But who is to give the prizes?’ quite a chorus of voices asked."

We seem to live in an age where everybody wins and there is no one to give out prizes. It seems to me that we have made feeling good a virtue over the universals of Truth, Right and Beauty. I see that as the bane of the New Age and much so called 'liberalism,' and God knows that conservatives exude their fair share of poison. The reason I moved out of the evangelical camp was because people strongly critiqued and challenged my religious ideas; I fought them ferociously, and gradually saw they were Right. I do realize this is a complicated subject and has many other angles that I haven't addressed, but the bottom line is that I think we need to cease being afraid to critique as we compare - and ideally with a spirit of respect. If I were in that group, based on their criteria, I would be a trouble maker. Nuf from me...
I was recently invited by a friend to consider taking part in a discussion group that "examines, in a scholarly manner, diverse aspects of the world's religions. Caveats include no attempt to argue the superiority, inferiority, correctness, or incorrectness of any religion(s)." While tempted to join in if they allowed me, I had to decline. Here is why:

-------------------------

I don't think I would be a very good participant in this group. In my estimation, good scholarship requires not only comparison, but critical evaluations with a view to choosing a more correct and superior idea as a course to follow and apply. I always remember what G.K. Chesterton said, "Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." “Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.”

One of the most scholarly and idea-changing books I have read recently is The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success by agnostic Rodney Stark, former University of Washington sociologist. He argues brilliantly from the evidence that the title 'Dark Ages' was largely a smear campaign by Voltaire and a few other adamant anti-religionists. They were 'enlightened' and the religionists were 'in the dark.' Stark provides overwhelming evidence that the advent and gradual evolution of the Christian religious methodology and spiritual principles brought on the modern era, including technological advances, democratic freedoms and capitalist economics. Eastern religions in particular so identify with Nature that they could not and cannot harness natural phenomena to serve humankind while simultaneously worshipping the Natural Forces as Divine. They have since adopted Western ideas, but ideologically could not have discovered them. Another internationally recognized sociologist, Peter Berger, said something similar in his classic book, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, "In Genesis, with man being made in the image of God, you have the seeds of modern democracy." According to a growing number of scholarly sociologists, psychologists and historians, Christianity appears to be superior in certain ways. This is not to say that one religion or culture is superior or more correct in all areas, but that superiority and correctness are not ipso facto bad qualities. Thomas Cahill does something similar in his series of books on various cultures and their superior ideas.

It constantly puzzles me that people who argue superior political or economic ideas and policies are afraid to argue superior religious ideas. What makes religion sacrosanct? The same person who has a bumper sticker that reads, OBAMA/BIDEN 2008, makes fun of the intolerant fundie whose bumper sticker reads JESUS SAVES. Frankly, while one could and should argue with either bumper sticker, each has the right to 'close his mouth' on what he feels to be the most solid idea with regard to matters of politics and/or religion. It seems we have become obsessed with being 'being polite', politically and religiously 'correct' and appropriately 'multi-cultural'. Lewis Carroll saw this 'politeness' trend decades ago when he wrote Alice in Wonderland. After the Dodo set up a race course and the participants ran and ran, the Dodo randomly declared the race over. Someone asked, "Who won?" "At last the Dodo said, ‘everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’ ‘But who is to give the prizes?’ quite a chorus of voices asked."

We seem to live in an age where everybody wins and there is no one to give out prizes. It seems to me that we have made feeling good a virtue over the universals of Truth, Right and Beauty. I see that as the bane of the New Age and much so called 'liberalism,' and God knows that conservatives exude their fair share of poison. The reason I moved out of the evangelical camp was because people strongly critiqued and challenged my religious ideas; I fought them ferociously, and gradually saw they were Right. I do realize this is a complicated subject and has many other angles that I haven't addressed, but the bottom line is that I think we need to cease being afraid to critique as we compare - and ideally with a spirit of respect. If I were in that group, based on their criteria, I would be a trouble maker. Nuf from me...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

OBAMA OR McCAIN: Does God Have a Favorite?

“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right” Abraham Lincoln
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Recently, a group of non-traditional spiritually-minded friends met for lunch. We discussed metaphysics and spiritual growth. Then the conversation turned to politics and the upcoming election. Even though this group would be considered very progressive by most standards, some clear differences emerged in the discussion. Many were Democrats, but there were a few Republicans and Independents as well. The conversation became quite heated and passionate, as political chats often do. Afterward, one of my friends asked me privately, “How can we say it is all One when even those of us in this spiritual community cannot agree on a President?”

I think some of our spiritual communities put undue emphasis on, and misunderstand the idea of 'The One.' We sometimes forget that ‘The Many’ are as critical and eternal as ‘The One’. All religions have some notion of Plurality within Unity. Greek Polytheists established Zeus as The One Leader. Both Hinduism and Christianity agree that there is One Ultimate God (JHWH) or Power (Brahman), yet each speaks of a Trinity within the One. Islam and Judaism are most adamant in their Monotheism, yet each has a plurality of names and qualities of the One God; and each refers to the One as We or Us. Soul-making on this planet requires Multiplicity in Unity. It is the nature of the Cosmos and the human mind.

Furthermore, the Many always contains opposing sides. That is Reality. We can speak of one football game, yet there are two teams comprised of dozens of clashing players. We speak of owning a car, yet it has a motor and drive shaft to propel it forward as well as brakes to stop it. The One always contains the Many which is comprised of opposites.

As nauseated as it might make you feel, it is not inaccurate to say that ‘God’ or Reality is both Republican and Democrat. These archetypal opposites drive soulful evolution; Love and Hate, Life and Death, Male and Female, War and Peace, Negative and Positive, Illness and Disease, Youth and Old Age, Fear and Courage, etc..

We humans are co-creative players in this terrestrial game of soul-making. The Universe has cast each of us into his/her role with a certain amount of destiny involved. Some of us have more ‘liberal’ propensities and others more ‘conservative’ predilections, though each of these reductionist labels is abysmally simplistic, stereotypical and inadequate.

Debate and conflict are prevalent within humanity; life has always evolved materially and soulfully through the clashes of opposites as much as through cooperation. One Hindu comedian put it like this, “God routinely has a nervous breakdown and each fragment gets to do therapy to put God back together again.”

One of my respected friends at the lunch table became very animated about her political views, unafraid of stating her position brilliantly. A couple of others intelligently and strongly disagreed with her. I personally found the honesty from both sides refreshing. Neither was concerned about politically correctness...each said what they really thought and felt. Some at the table held McCain to be the incarnation of war mongering evil, while others felt Obama to be an inept wolf in sheep's clothing. Only time will tell. The conscious participant learned a lot about his/her self. He/she was looking in a mirror. The peacemaker found herself becoming a warrior for her position, the warrior found himself uncharacteristically advocating for tranquility. Each was challenged to see if they were teachable, or simply debating from a position of limited information, more motivated by ideological prejudice than reasoned fairness. This is soul stuff to the conscious person. The election itself is secondary to these character revelations and psychic rearrangements.

These two candidates will be distant memories in a few decades, but the souls forged in each of us by playing the game will last forever. I am not suggesting nonchalance or quietism. Life on this planet matters. Choose an informed position, listen to the other side fairly, play hard with both reason and heart, and play to win! But play with respect – God is the other team too.

Monday, September 22, 2008

So, How's it Going?

The other day, a very good friend asked me via email to honestly tell her 'how it was going.' She was referring to the recent death and loss of my son in Afghanistan. I asked her if she really wanted an honest reply - she said she did. I replied - she suggested that I post it. Here it is:

-----------------------------
"Smile!" a stranger recently exhorted me on the street. "It can't be that bad." To which my only response was: "How do you know?" by Louis Bayard, The Washington Post

I just packed up the makeshift memorial that had formed at the bottom of the stairs for Jason. It was like his voice and some inner voice said it was time to stop walking by this altar - 'let it go dad,' it kept saying. It was hard to do, but was clearly right. I packed away letters, pictures, medals, articles of clothing, etc. and wept anew with each item and memory. Sometimes now it feels like I am sleepwalking through the aftermath of a disaster, a little numb, worn to near apathy with grief, unsure how to proceed, punctuated with moments of appreciation and clarity. Something inside feels worn thin, victimized, raped by God and left without a reason. This poem came the other morning:

SOMETHING NEW

I prayed, and nothing happened –
Jesus did not appear,
no ‘peace that passeth understanding,’
not even a numinous chill…

I watched a teacher on TV, from the East
telling me all the religions were the same,
that the truth would set me free,
and on and ona ndon ananda ndon and on
until his droll chant ceased -
- he wanted money for his book -
I felt no truth, no peace, and then
he faulted my consciousness.

Then I felt…yes, felt:

My chest was a cavity
filled with a thousand swirling wraiths,
nondescript, terrifying in their discordant flurry,
not asking me to pray, but to enter…

I breached the mood, through my throat,
down a windpipe raw with grief –
into a claustrophobic corridor, met by
a monstrous yelping dog
nearly chasing me back to my prayers
and the chanting master. I moved past,
and there,

Across the dark cavern I saw the source,
a single shimmering wraith
held an urn aloft with a
five fingered song, and two soft eyes
brownish-black, somehow familiar…

There were no words,
but by his glance, the cavern, or my mind
lengthened, and a million fathers stood around me,
and a million mothers, wives, children and
others too…

And that brown-eyed specter nodded at the horde,
saying nothing, making it clear that my hollowness
was not from his absence,
but from the presence of the empty multitude
as lost, as sad, as confused as me.

I turned back to the wraith, a wry smile,
also very familiar, had replaced the dark eyes,
and then slowly faded from my sight,
I think I saw a last wave, or maybe a salute.

I returned
through the dim voiceless passageway.
I felt no sweet resolution, no truth,
none of the peace I had hoped for.

But there was a slight comfort,
a solace in the necessity of my ignorance,
the brilliance of hopelessness
in order that love
might crack the angry chrysalis,
giving birth to something…new.

end/Michael/9/20/2008


I have been reading biographies the past weeks - just finished Lincoln's Melancholy which is a psycho-biography from a point of view that is very much in the Depth Psychological tradition (specifically Archetypal Psychology). This book views melancholy as it was seen before we adopted the medical creedo of 'mental health' - that is, before the statistical psychologists, labeling psychiatrists and light-obsessed self help experts got hold of it in the 1860s and into the modern era. People actually used to see the 'miracle of melancholia' as a necessary, albeit potentially destructive and fatal force of character, which fashioned one for his/her destiny. Remember, this is back when people routinely lost children, wives, husbands, etc from something as 'minor' as a toothache, influenza, child birth or a simple infected wound. This is when Keats died of TB.

Lincoln's story sent me to the Civil War hero Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson's biography by Byron Farwell. I found this nugget last night from that story; after Jackson's first wife Ellie died in childbirth, losing the baby too, in a state of numb devastation he wrote in his journal,

"Objects to be effected by Ellie's death: to eradicate ambition, to eradicate resentment and to produce humility."

Wow, that really hit home. I have had the same thoughts and feelings. I was refreshed to see a godly man who saw the negative feelings which came from seemingly senseless and horrific tragedies as a means to shaping character. These forces are always chiseling away, often against my own thoughts, desires and will. Divine Violation is what it sometimes feels like...the unsolicited ransacking of a secure fortress by the Holy Spirit, my best defenses demolished and occupied by a foreign invader. I have surrendered for the most part...the fortress of my soul is being rebuilt with serious modifications. It reminds me of what Jesus said, "...the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it." Matthew 11:12

I also just read about George Frideric Handel, the 18th century composer. He found himself a fallen man in his mid 50s. By 1741 he had suffered several failed operas as well as poor health. He was in a state of financial poverty, physical illness and what we would likely call today, 'clinical depression.' Living in a run-down house in a poverty stricken part of London, he waited to be thrown into debtor's prison or to die.

On Aug. 22, 1741, through the fog of depression, as if seized by some divine agency, Handel received a libretto based on the life of Jesus as well a synchronous invitation to compose a work for a charity benefit performance. He felt a surge of creative energy. During a 24-day period, he worked non-stop and completed "Messiah," his greatest work. It was his own personal crucifixion and descent into Hades, his residence in melancholia, that produced his greatest and best known work.

This does not mean to me that such depression, despair and melancholy will necessarily make you rich, famous and 'Oprah-worthy' - but that invisible operations are always going on at the soul level during such times. Many, perhaps most people will not see the tangible fruit of their dark descents, but we may be helped to know that it is not just mental illness with no purpose.

So, how is it going? It depends on the day, or night, or moment in question. But I trust that a cosmos which can turn such chaos into order over and over at the physical level, does the same at the psycho-spiritual level.

OPENING RODINS HAND OF GOD

Rivulets line the vale of skin,
life claws like a felt moth
through tendon and flesh chrysalis.

From shards of marble, proportion -
out of divine metacarpal, symmetry -
chaos unveils curves, wrist to elbow,
shoulder to waist beauty tumbles
from the deep cup of feminine.

The palm of God's infinite vase
hands me a pretty flower,
gem petaled warmth pulled to my face,
pulsing with the fragrance of repose.
Breath makes a slight ripple in stone
and my eye, sharp as a diamond chisel
burrows beneath the long slow kiss.

I hear the flame buried in her belly,
gather the side long glance, lick the
shivers echoing from finger tips
and meld with what I know to be
the face of my eternal love.

end/Michael

DREAMS

The arrogant charge of Icarus,
or the footfall of wordless Spring,
these are the images of nighttime
through the advent of myriad dreams.

And some fade like cinders,
turning to ashes as I wake,
while others leave little flowers
which I relish through the day.

End/Michael - 4/25/07

GROWING A SOUL

"Symptoms are deaths solemn ambassadors, deserving honor for their place, and life mirrored in its symptoms sees there its death and remembers soul.” ~ James Hillman


Soul does not come in this body
like a stick of gum wrapped in foil,
neither immortal nor full.

Soul becomes,
like clouds gathering
or metal shavings around a magnet,
little bits around an irksome center.

This decaying vessel
is the core for soul-making;
hungry
helpless, wailing toward a eulogy.

Each symptom shifts the gaze,
interrupts my well crafted haunt,
to the end
where it belongs.

A palpitation, the lingering cough,
a darkening mole on my arm –
could this be my last malady?

I stroll the lawn, granite stories,
a life lived between a few years:
1891 - 1985
eternity is the hyphen,

Furrowed brows etched by fear,
heavy lives grown down, always
shrinking, wilting, breathless…

What is left? The Invisibles, undying
guardians that chiseled soul on those
sleepless nights, in bothersome thoughts.

What proceeds? The smoothed edge
more supple than the adolescent breast,
softer than the full wet kiss; Psyche soars.

Pay attention. The gods wield the mallet
at the crucifixions, absent at the risings,
curious only about the nascent wings...

the end/Michael/9-17-06

ALTAR OF SLEEP

The Dream enters unbidden,
like a priest with his sacrificial knife,
or the Oracle with her sacred sign.

And here I lie,
a mute lamb on the altar of sleep,
or a humble supplicant
at the mercy of the Dream.

end/Michael

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Poem: Something New

I prayed, and nothing happened –
Jesus did not appear,
no ‘peace that passeth understanding,’
not even a numinous chill…

I watched a teacher on TV, from the East
telling me all the religions were the same,
that the truth would set me free,
and on and ona ndon ananda ndon and on
until his droll chant ceased -
- he asked for money -
there was no truth, no peace
and he blamed me.

Then I felt…

My chest was a cavity
filled with a thousand swirling wraiths,
nondescript, terrifying in their discordant flurry,
not asking me to pray, but to enter…

I breached the mood, through my throat,
down a windpipe raw with grief –
into a claustrophobic corridor, met by
a monstrous yelping dog
nearly chasing me back to my prayers
and the chanting master. I moved past,
and there,

Across the dark cavern I saw the source,
a single shimmering wraith
held an urn aloft with a
five fingered song, and two soft eyes
brownish-black, somehow familiar…

There were no words,
but by his glance the cavern, or my mind
lengthened, and a million fathers stood around me,
and a million mothers, wives, children and
others too…

And that brown-eyed specter nodded at the horde,
saying nothing, making it clear that my hollowness
was not from his absence,
but from the presence of the empty multitude
as lost, as sad, as confused as me.

I turned back to the wraith, a wry smile,
also very familiar had replaced the dark eyes,
and slowly faded from my sight.

I returned back through the dim passageway
of groans. I felt no sweet resolution, no truth,
none of the peace I had hoped for.

But there was a slight comfort,
a solace in the necessity of my ignorance,
the brilliance of hopelessness
in order that love
might crack the angry chrysalis,
giving birth to something…new.

end/Michael Bogar/9/20/2008