In the Valley of the Shadow of Death

In our internal arms race there is no end to fear. More weapons and more lethal weapons are an escalating response. It’s important to remember that there are other forms of power than killing power. The life and mission of a great Rhode Islander demonstrate another way.

Thirty years ago, Providence was home to a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Called Cambodia’s Ghandhi, the Venerable Maha Ghosananda lived and taught in a triple-decker on Hanover Street, near the Cranston Street Armory.

Displaced by the Southeast Asian War, Maha Ghosananda lived for a year in the Sakeo refugee camp on the Thai border. He ministered to Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge, and later to Khmer Rouge soldiers fleeing the Vietnamese. It was said that he was given an airplane ticket to safety, but he cashed it in and used it to print tracts on Lovingkindness, which he distributed to all in the camp, regardless of which side they were on. After leaving Sakeo, Maha Ghosananda traveled the world as one of the last surviving Cambodian Buddhist monks, arriving in Providence in 1980. Here he founded a temple that became the Khmer Buddhist Society, a center and heart of the community.

In 1992, Maha Ghosananda established the Dhammayietra Walk for Peace– an annual walk across Cambodia to minister to the suffering and bereaved survivors of the war. This was truly a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Peace was not securely established. Gun violence, for politics or robbery was a threat. Maha Ghosananda was a politically challenging figure and his teacher had been murdered by the Khmer Rouge. He was a target for assassination. In addition, the countryside was strewn with land mines. War still smoldered– one year two of the marchers, a monk and a nun, were killed in crossfire between government and Khmer Rouge forces.

But the Dhammayietra brought healing to people who had suffered the dismantling of their society, and seen the near-eradication of their religion.

Nonviolence is not for the faint of heart. When he lived in Providence, Maha Ghosananda was a close friend of the minister of First Unitarian Church, Tom Ahlburn. It was just before the first, or maybe the second Dhammayietra that Tom held a gathering I can only describe as an Irish wake. Tom told Maha Ghosananda stories and we sent our thoughts and hope to those marchers traversing a mined disaster zone in an uneasy peace.

Maha Ghosananda, in fact, outlived Tom Ahlburn. Maha Ghosananda led several walks across Cambodia. He spent his last days in Lowell, Massachusetts, and passed from this world in 2007.

I was blessed to meet him. He was a saint.

He taught me three words, Truthfulness, Forbearance and Gratitude. His message was Metta–Lovingkindness.

Today our country is feeling the shadow of death in the senseless violation of a school and the murder of children. Nonviolence is not an absence, but a radical response to violence. Pacifism is not passivity. Maha Ghosananda lived a life of activism and great courage. It comforts me to think of him in these times.

[Santidhammo Bhikkhu’s book, ‘Maha Ghosananda the Buddha of the Battlefields’ was used as a resource and aid to aging memory in writing this post.]

Blessed Samhain

As we sweep up leaves from Hurricane Sandy, and follow the news from New Jersey, New York, Haiti and the islands of the Caribbean, we come to the holiday of the scary and the sweet. Samhain, Halloween, All Saints Day, Dia de los Muertos are days of reflecting on mortality and celebrating life.

Starhawk, a very earthy priestess of engaged paganism, wrote these words in another stormy time– 2003, the first Halloween after the start of the Iraq War.

Much of our magic and our community work is about creating spaces of refuge from a harsh and often hostile world, safe places where people can heal and regenerate, renew our energies and learn new skills. In that work, we try to release guilt, rage, and frustration, and generally turn them into positive emotions.

Safety and refuge and healing are important aspects of spiritual community. But they are not the whole of spirituality. Feeling good is not the measure by which we should judge our spiritual work. Ritual is more than self-soothing activity.

Spirituality is also about challenge and disturbance, about pushing our edges and giving us the support we need to take great risks. The Goddess is not just a light, happy maiden or a nurturing mother. She is death as well as birth, dark as well as light, rage as well as compassion — and if we shy away from her fiercer embrace we undercut both her own power and our own growth.

There are times when it is inappropriate to feel wholly good. Now is one of them. As the saying goes, “If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.”

She reminds me of my minister, James Ford, who bids us go in peace, with a hint of unrest.

Starhawk’s entire essay is here. With more on BeliefNet here.

Blessings from Reclaiming Collective…

A year of beauty. A year of plenty.
A year of planting. A year of harvest.
A year of forests. A year of healing.
A year of vision. A year of passion.
A year of rebirth.

This year may we renew the earth.
This year may we renew the earth.

Let it begin with each step we take.
And let it begin with each change we make.
And let it begin with each chain we break.
And let it begin every time we awake.

This Samhain, on the knife’s edge of possible futures, remember that where there’s fear there’s power, and take the sweet with the scary.

Credit Where Credit is Due: The beautiful Celtic mandala is by the artist Nigel Pennick,found on Google Images through Wheel of Wonder– a Pagan blogspot.

Mormon Discipline and Radical American Nuns

A civil and fair-minded site for Mormons who want to discuss their religion, MormonThink.com, is at the center of a political controversy. From The Daily Beast…

David Twede, 47, a scientist, novelist, and fifth-generation Mormon, is managing editor of MormonThink.com, an online magazine produced largely by members of the Mormon Church that welcomes scholarly debate about the religion’s history from both critics and true believers.

A Mormon in good standing, Twede has never been disciplined by Latter Day Saints leadership. But it now appears his days as a Mormon may be numbered because of a series of articles he wrote this past week that were critical of Mitt Romney.

On Sunday, Twede says his bishop, stake president, and two church executives brought him into Florida Mormon church offices in Orlando and interrogated him for nearly an hour about his writings, telling him, “Cease and desist, Brother Twede.”

Mormon leaders have scheduled an excommunication “for apostasy” on Sept. 30. A spokesman for the church told The Daily Beast that the church would not be commenting for this story.

If David Twede wants some support, he should email the nuns…

A prominent U.S. Catholic nuns group said it was “stunned” that the Vatican reprimanded it for spending too much time on poverty and social justice concerns and not enough on abortion and gay marriage.

In a stinging report on Wednesday, the Vatican said the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had been “silent on the right to life” and had failed to make the “Biblical view of family life and human sexuality” a central plank in its agenda. It accused the group of promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

It also reprimanded American nuns for expressing positions on political issues that differed, at times, from views held by American bishops. Public disagreement with the bishops — “who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals” — is unacceptable, the report said.

It’s tough for believers when their church organizations become so politically entangled that they find themselves on the defensive for not voting or campaigning for the approved candidates.

Collusion between Church and State has gotten a lot of people killed, quite a few in our own New England, founded by exiles who were the wrong type of Christian. The Puritans did not take a lesson in the evils of intolerance, and went on to do stuff like hang Mary Dyer in Boston Common for the crime of Quakerism.

Mary Dyer was a tough case– continually defying the authorities and returning to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to support her faith. Religion is like that– uncompromising. Politics, on the other hand, is the art of the possible. Democracy depends on majority rule, tempered by laws that protect the individual. Rarely an uncompromising politician can do great good in the world. More often they just put up a front and make deals in the back room. Let them be what they are– they’re not spiritual leaders– they’re attention junkies who love power.

Separation of church and state is freedom’s best friend. Church and State are two great powers and the individual needs some space between them. Ask Roger Williams about that.

“But What Do You Do?”– Take Off the Hoods!

I just finished a biography of J.Frank Norris called ‘The Shooting Salvationist’ by David R. Stokes. Norris was America’s first megachurch media star in the 1920’s, but his reputation dimmed somewhat when he succumbed to compassion fatigue. Instead of counseling a troubled soul who came to his office he shot the man dead.

Texas in the 1920’s was Klan Kountry. Like many other politically connected men of ambition; Norris enjoyed a friendly relationship with the fraternal terrorist organization. They shared common enemies– Catholics and saloon owners, and the Klan never bothered anyone who mattered.

So, speaking of people who matter, why in the 21st Century am I ragging on Pat Robertson? He’s so old he’s almost cute, in an evil gnome kind of way.

Well, like the elderly Rupert Murdoch, he sits on top of a media empire. Pat Robertson’s 700 Club broadcasts it’s own version of the news across America and the world. If my informal survey of what’s on TV when I make nurse visits is any indicator, Christian Broadcasting Network has a large following, and they vote. That’s why politicians take Robertson seriously.

For the Left, he’s always good for an outrageous sound byte, like this explanation for the murderous attack on the Sikh Temple…

“What is it?” the TV preacher wondered. “Is it satanic? Is it some spiritual thing, people who are atheists, they hate God, they hate the expression of God? And they are angry with the world, angry with themselves, angry with society and they take it out on innocent people who are worshiping God.”

“And whether it’s a Sikh temple or a Baptist church or a Catholic church or a Muslim mosque, whatever it is, I just abhor this kind of violence, and it’s the the kind of thing that we should do something about,” he added. “But what do you do? Well, you talk about the love of God and hope it has some impact.”

Yes, we abhor this kind of thing…

Whether they burn crosses on your lawn or a pile of leaves it’s untidy and ruins the grass.

Whether they spray a swastika on a synagogue or a tagger’s initials it’s graffiti vandalism, how deplorable.

Whether it’s a terrorist symbol or a gauche fashion statement, a white hood is not something a minister should wear in church.

“But what do you do?” Robertson asks after blurring distinctions and making a false equivalence.

Any gathering, for worship, music or politics, could suffer a mass shooting, especially with guns so cheap and available. But this attack on the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin was carried out by a man who was active in hate groups and had his intentions tatooed all over his body. He was a crime waiting to happen.

It doesn’t let you off the hook if you wear you hood backwards and claim you don’t see.

Robertson is giving talking points to an audience of millions. Stuff happens. Atheists are terrible people so all crimes must be the fault of atheists. Or the devil. And what do you do anyway? Talk about the love of God. Don’t call out sin when some of your best friends might take offense. There’s nothing we can do about this poor old world. Let’s move on and unite against our real enemies, the feminists, gays, atheists.

Hey, a revolving enemies list is nothing new. J. Frank Norris got quite chummy with the Catholic Church in his later years when they found a common enemy in the Red Menace (that’s Communism, not the Republican Party.)

Are any of the megavangelists going to come out powerfully against hate, against prejudice, against the hostility to immigrants, to those who are different from the majority. Will Evangelicals confront the sad history of the Klan, enabled by too many Christian Churches? It wasn’t a question mark they burned, after all.

Fortunately, the secular law of the United States does recognize organized crime and will pursue this vicious murder of innocent people in their place of worship– will investigate the collaborators in the crime. Church members, and everyone who wants to exercise the right to peaceably assemble should be grateful that there is something we can do.

Filthy Lucre

Well, it took them long enough– but maybe the Church was waiting for Newscorpse to repent…

The Church of England has sold all shares in News Corporation held in its investment portfolios on ethical grounds, after a phone hacking scandal at the media empire’s UK operations.

The Church, which has three national investing bodies, sold the shares worth 1.9 million pounds ($2.97 million) after its Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) was not satisfied with the level of corporate governance reform at Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate following a year of dialogue.

“Last year’s phone hacking allegations raised some serious concerns amongst the Church’s investing bodies about our holding in News Corporation,” Andrew Brown, Secretary of the Church Commissioners said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Murdoch scandal isn’t totally old news, two more arrests today– a reporter and a police officer.

It’s been said that the remedy for speech is more speech. Letting one corporation build a media monopoly works against the free flow of information. That money corrupts so deeply is the real scandal.

If it turns out that News Corp stock loses value the Church will be thanking its voice of conscience, but that probably won’t happen. The Corp will just throw a few more reporters under the bus and polish their public image for the next marketing move.