Friday, September 25, 2009

A Quaker Perspective on the Politics of Anger

What is happening to America? Why are we screaming at each other in town hall meetings? Why are some people saying that their state should secede from the United States of America? Why are some people accusing the President of plotting to kill their grandmothers? Why are those on the right accused of being fascists while those on the left are accused of being socialists? Have we gone insane?
There is a poison flowing through the body politic of America and it will kill our democracy unless each of us acts as an antidote. Those on the left accuse the right of being ignorant Neanderthals while those on the right accuse the left of being heathen communists. This kind of juvenile stereotyping threatens to tear the fabric of America apart.
Actually, the left and right have more in common then they would want to admit. Both sides are absolutist in their ideology and uncompromising in their politics. Each side believes that they possess absolute truth and each side refuses to compromise on its beliefs.
But the fact is that America is built upon compromise. Our great experiment in democracy is founded upon the belief that each issue has many sides and that the most workable solution comes from a compromise that blends together many disparate views. Compromise is the glue that holds America together.
But compromise is viewed as an evil by both the left and the right. Neither side is willing to give an inch on their absolutist beliefs. For them government is either good or evil. The rest of us just want a government that works for us.
What is particularly troubling in today’s political environment is the level of anger and even outright hatred that is being displayed. I have been trying to figure out the source of this anger and hatred for some time now. Some of this anger can be traced to old-fashioned racism but I think for many people it goes deeper than that. I would suggest that this anger is really a response to the fear of change. Fear is an emotion we don’t like in ourselves and anger is a way of covering up our fears with an emotion that makes us feel more powerful.
We live in a world where society, technology, the economy and demographics are rapidly changing and this change is deeply threatening to many people. This internal fear of change produces an anger response that is directed toward some outward target such as the President, health care reform or immigrants. We repress our fear by directing our anger toward something outside of ourselves.
If we want American democracy to survive, we need to grow up. We need to recognize and talk about our fears. We need to stop yelling at each other and learn to start listening to each other. We need to accept the reality of change and begin working together to find productive ways of dealing with change.
Change is inevitable. It’s the way God created the universe. God created change when He created time. If God did not want change, He would have created a static world where nothing ever changes. The more we resist change, the more we resist God’s unfolding plan for us. Rather than fear and reject change, we need to embrace it and make it work for our benefit. If the American experiment is going to grow and mature, we the people have to grow and mature. We have to put childish anger behind us and start working together as mature adults in order to deal successfully with the challenges that change presents to us.
For those of us who are Christians, we know that fear, anger and hatred are the opposites of our faith. As Christians, we know that labeling people as our enemies because they don’t agree with our politics is against everything Jesus taught us.
It’s time to stop the name-calling and to start having rational discussions about the issues before us. It’s time to turn away from those in the media who feed our anger and to start respecting each other as fellow human beings and fellow Americans.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Afghanistan: Make Jobs Not War

As we begin the process of ending the Iraq war, we must not get bogged down in a perpetual war in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there are those who profit from keeping America in a permanent state of war, but we the people must say no to endless war that drains the U.S. treasury and puts enormous stress on our troops who have to endure repeated deployments. History teaches us that those nations that rely solely on military force eventually fail.
Instead of spending hundreds of billions more on war, we need to support the Afghan people through the funding of a Jobs for Afghans program. These are poor people who are tired of war, and the ordinary Afghan is not our enemy. We need to bring hope to the Afghan people, not more war. As General Petraeus, General Karl Eikenberry, Vice President Joe Biden, and even Time Magazine have all indicated, seventy percent of the Taliban are men who fight only because the Taliban pays and they need the money to feed their families, since there are no other jobs. Give them jobs, and they will stop fighting.
General Petraeus has said that ”those who are simply fighting to support their families should be given an economic alternative.”
General Karl Eikenberry, former Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan has testified that: "Much of the enemy force is drawn from the ranks of unemployed men looking for wages to support their families."
We must urge Congress to work toward the creation of a Jobs for Afghans program. The basic elements of the program would include:
-- The passage of funding, which is the equivalent of a mere two months of military operations, for widespread cash-for-work projects which puts money directly into the hands of poor Afghans for day labor. These kinds of projects have already been successful and just need to be expanded. USAID launched a $3 million pilot project in January that points the way. More than 10,000 cash-strapped Afghans in the northern province of Balkh are taking spades in hand instead of rifles. Three main types of projects are underway, including the clearing of springs, the dredging and removal of silt from irrigation canals, and reforestation projects. Afghans will happily work for $10 a day at the hardest labor, as the country has 50 percent unemployment. The Taliban pays $8 per day, and is all too often the only job in town.
-- Giving priority to small, village-level projects like clearing canals and springs, clearing and digging new irrigation ditches, and improvement of basic dirt roads. These kinds of projects address critical problems in Afghanistan. Three quarters of the country has no access to safe drinking water, and the roads are in terrible condition.
-- Cash-for-work programs in Afghanistan are tried and proven. The opportunities for corruption are minimized, as it is easy to count heads at a worksite to see that money is being properly spent. They require little equipment besides hand-tools. Most importantly, it gives Afghans an alternative to joining the Taliban in order to feed their families, as General Petraeus and other military commanders have noted.
Congress should immediately fund the Jobs for Afghans program, which would create at least 500,000, cash-for-work, day labor jobs paying $10 per day, which is a good wage in Afghanistan. We need to fund this program for at least $4 billion this year, which is a fraction of what we spend on the military there in a year. Ask Congress to move this program forward as quickly as possible. We want the war in Afghanistan to wind down soon, for our troops to come home, and for peace and friendship to exist between the Afghan and the American people. We need an exit strategy from Afghanistan and this jobs program is a key component of that strategy.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Did God create Jesus as another god?

Did God create Jesus as another god, equal but separate from the Creator? Do I follow him because he is a god? No, I follow him because he showed us the way out of the darkness into the Light. Jesus, the man who was fully human, showed us the way to God.
His life and his death demonstrate what God wants from us—a willingness to surrender ourselves to the Light. The message of Jesus is not about how to get into heaven. It’s about how to live our lives in accordance with the Spirit. It’s about giving up (dying) to our egoistic selves and letting ourselves be used in the service of the Light. This is the real meaning of being born again. It’s not about a ticket to heaven. It’s about how to experience life at its fullest. It’s about giving up all the reasons that you can’t do what the Spirit is leading you to do. Jesus voluntarily let himself be used to manifest the triumph of the Spirit over a life lived in doubt and fear. This is the essence of true Christianity expressed by Quakerism: Let yourself be used by the Light regardless of the consequences. I follow Jesus, not because he is a god, but because his Light shows us the Way.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The True Source of Reality

Separating illusion from reality doesn’t usually happen all at once. What we experience as reality changes in different stages of consciousness. For those who decide to renounce the world completely, it’s possible to leap directly toward the goal. But even then there is no guarantee that perception has actually shifted.
A person may enter a monastery but if old perceptions get dragged through the door, the monastery holds the same traps as the material world: Ego.
Jesus wanted his disciples to come into union with God. Any other life was steeped in illusion. Ego keeps that illusion strong because “I, me, and mine” is so rooted in worldly affairs. The most worthwhile life is spent discovering your spiritual core and building your existence on it. If you do that, you will be first in the eyes of God even if you are last in the eyes of the world.
If you can perceive the light within, you will gain its fullness. But if you are blind to it, you will have none. The reality you find yourself in depends on you. The light is God’s reality, the dark is the absence of God.
Jesus wanted to share the unity he experienced with God, and therefore he often used the phrase abide in me. The parable of the grapevine elaborates on the point. Jesus declares that being cut off from God is sterile and fruitless. The sap that nourishes the vine and causes it to bear fruit is God, the source of life. By implication, the only life that escapes death is one that connects back to its ultimate source.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Thoughts on the Message of Jesus

I have been increasingly troubled by the fact that some Christians are such ardent supporters of war. I fear that too many Christians are stuck in the pre-Christian Old Testament era when an eye-for-an-eye was the prevailing morality. Jesus came to put that time behind us. His message is that the Kingdom is already here. He tells us that we can have the Kingdom right now if we truly love one another—if we could just trust Him and give up the idea of enemies. If we truly accept Jesus’ message, we can find peace within ourselves and amongst ourselves upon the earth today. The Kingdom is right before us, waiting for us to claim it. We must only take the leap of faith and love our enemies without demanding that they love us first. Of course, this is contrary to all human logic and this is what makes Jesus so profoundly radical. Human logic tells us that we must destroy our enemies before they can destroy us. But this path leads only to an endless cycle of violence. Instead, Jesus tells us to accept suffering without causing more suffering. He asks us to follow Him to the cross without striking back at those who would harm us. His message is that we do not have to wait to have peace on earth. He tells us that the Kingdom is already present amongst us. All we have to do is abandon our belief in enemies and trust in Him and the power of love and forgiveness. And this is why His message is so difficult to accept. The more we crush our enemies, the more we crush His presence in our lives.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Join with the Spirit and Act!

As a progressive and a peace activist, I often find it difficult to speak of the true source of my hope and what I believe to be the only true basis for lasting, peaceful, compassionate change in our society and the world. That source is divine spirituality. Call it what you will—God, Spirit, the Light, Christ, Allah, Brahman. I believe that we exist in a spiritual force field that guides us and works with our individual and collective consciousness to co-create the world in which we live. Spirit makes immanent our deepest and truest desires, when backed by co-creative action on our part. When we are grounded in love and compassion, our work will bear loving and compassionate results.

This is what I believe in a nutshell-- Good will ultimately prevail over evil in the long run. In fact, in a true spiritual sense, evil does not exist because evil is simply the absence of love. I firmly believe that love and compassion will prevail in the end.

But if we want to see the results of love and compassion in our lives and those of our children, we have to get working now. The forces arrayed against us are busy promoting war, conflict, greed and selfishness. But if we get working soon enough and in sufficient quantity for the good, our efforts will prevail. It may be a long time coming in human years, but very positive and lasting results are possible even in the short term if we pool our spiritual resources. The simple fact is that our common fate depends upon our collective spirit-led actions.

Since 9/11 we have been bombarded with constant messages of fear and hated, not love and compassion. Meister Echkart, the great mystic, said this; "It is a lie, any talk of God that does not comfort you." How much does war and hatred comfort you? The extreme fundamentalists of the world (both Christian and Muslim) have turned the God of Love into a God of War.

Now here is the problem today. The old energy based on fear and violence is fighting back with a vengeance. We are caught now in a huge clash for the energy and consciousness of humanity. The old guard senses that it is losing its hold on people. That is why its actions and pronouncements are so dramatic and hysterical. It fears its end is imminent without a frontal assault against the growing power of spirit-led action.

Here in America, in some ways, it appears the resurgence of old energy has been winning. But our people largely support compassionate societal arrangements and policies that support the common good. Large majorities support some form of universal health care; better environmental protection; a dependable, compassionate safety net for the less fortunate; effective regulation of business to protect the people; and the preservation and protection of our civil rights and liberties. A majority opposes the Iraq war and a hostile and aggressive foreign policy.

We don’t always see these Spirit-led policies being pursued because the old energy is strong and has a huge store of old energy power (money) behind it. We don’t have the old energy’s money, but we do have ourselves, our greater number and the ultimate power of Spirit behind us. Political organizers say the way to beat organized money is with organized people. Spirit says the same.

So we are facing the old energy making a determined last stand. It will not go quietly. It is desperate and terrified. It actually believes the loss of its power will lead to the end of the world, because for it, the old world based on fear, selfishness and violence will, in fact, end.

What we need to prevail is for enough of us who seek the good to get off the fence and get working. We all know the Edmond Burke quote: "The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

The opposite, of course, and the hope for our age is: all that is needed for good to triumph is for good people to do something.

When enough of us begin to work consistently, diligently and with compassionate hearts to seek the greatest good for the most people, we will prevail. Love cannot be stopped, for love is the ultimate power. But we have to work, we have to get involved. And, yes, that means getting involved in politics and in social activism. NOW!

The emergence of a better world can only be delayed by apathy and cynicism. We must join with the Spirit and act with the Spirit to create the emerging world of love and compassion that waits for us to claim it. This is what I believe and this is what I act upon.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Real Cause of the Financial Crisis

Much has been written and said about our current financial crisis but there has been little discussion of the real cause of the crisis, which is our massive debt. The sub-prime mortgage mess was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. Massive borrowing by the U.S. government to sustain its huge military empire has sucked the liquidity out of the credit markets and fear of a collapsing dollar is sending shock waves throughout the world markets. There are three broad aspects to our debt crisis.

First, in the current fiscal year, in addition to spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are spending massive amounts of money on “defense” projects that bear no relationship to the national security of the United States. It is virtually impossible to overstate the profligacy of what our government spends on the military. The Department of Defense’s expenditures for 2008 are larger than all the other nations’ military budgets combined. Our military spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history. Such expenditures are not only morally obscene, they are fiscally unsustainable. We are financing these huge military expenditures through massive borrowing from China and other nations. If you begin in 1789, at the moment the Constitution became the supreme law of the land, the debt accumulated by the federal government did not top $1 trillion until 1981. When George Bush became president in January 2001, it stood at $5.7 trillion. Since then, it has doubled to over $11 trillion!

Second, we continue to believe that we can compensate for the accelerating erosion of our manufacturing base and our loss of jobs to foreign countries through massive military spending. This is based on the mistaken belief that public policies focused on frequent wars, huge expenditures on weapons and munitions, and large standing armies can indefinitely sustain a wealthy capitalist economy. The opposite is actually true. It is often believed that wars and military spending increases are good for the economy. In fact, most economic models show that military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment, and ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment. Military spending is, in fact, a wasteful economic activity. America can no longer afford to operate on the flawed economic assumption that we can maintain a permanent war economy and treat military output as an ordinary economic product, even though it makes no contribution to either production or consumption.

Third, in our devotion to militarism (despite our limited resources), we are failing to invest in our social infrastructure and other requirements for the long-term health of our country. These are what economists call “opportunity costs,” things not done because we spent our money on something else. Our public education system is falling apart. We have failed to provide health care to all our citizens and neglected our aging infrastructure, which is rapidly deteriorating. Most important, we have lost our competitiveness as a manufacturer of civilian goods – an infinitely more efficient use of scarce resources than arms manufacturing.

History has demonstrated that it has always been the world’s leading lending country that has been the premier country in terms of political, diplomatic and cultural influence. Today we are no longer the world’s leading lending country. In fact, we are now the world’s biggest debtor country, and we are desperately trying to wield influence on the basis of military power alone. Continuing on this path of taking on more and more debt to finance our huge military machine will ultimately mean financial ruin for our nation.

Some of the damage done can never be rectified. There are, however, some steps that our country needs to take. These include quickly ending the war in Iraq, closing many of our over 800 military bases around the world that no longer play a role in our national security, cutting from the defense budget all projects that bear no relationship to the real national security needs of the United States, and ceasing to use the defense budget as a jobs program. If we do these things we have a chance of squeaking by. If we don’t, we face national insolvency and a long depression.

This economic crisis is teaching us a hard truth: in order to strengthen our country we must cut our military spending We must stop building smart bombs and start educating smart people. We must stop building hydrogen bombs and start building hydrogen-fueled cars. America will prosper again when we stop spending less on the military and more on the needs of our people.

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