Saturday, June 23, 2007

Words of a Christian Martyr

I just finished watching the 2003 documentary Bonhoeffer. It details the life of German theologian and pacifist Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was hanged by the Nazis in 1945 for his role in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Earlier in my life, when I had flirted with attending seminary to become a Presbyterian minister, I read some of Bonhoeffer's works. His words spoke to me then as much as they speak to me now. And though the inspiration for his steadfast beliefs in peace, love and goodness spring forth from A Christian perspective, I still appreciate the clarity of his call to believers of all faiths and philosophies.

Here are some of his thoughts for you to chew on, pray about, contemplate or meditate on.
  • To understand reality is not the same as to know about outward events. It is to perceive the essential nature of things. The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential. But on the other hand, knowledge of an apparently trivial detail quite often makes it possible to see into the depth of things. And so the wise man will seek to acquire the best possible knowledge about events, but always without becoming dependent upon this knowledge.
  • The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.
  • The followers of Christ have been called to peace. . . . And they must not only have peace but also make it. And to that end they renounce all violence and tumult. In the cause of Christ nothing is to be gained by such methods. . . . His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break
    it off. They renounce hatred and wrong. In so doing they over-come evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate.
  • Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.
  • Our enemies are those who harbor hostility against us, not those against whom we cherish hostility… As a Christian I am called to treat my enemy as a brother and to meet hostility with love. My behavior is thus determined not by the way others treat me, but by the treatment I receive from Jesus.
  • Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as ourselves.
  • Earthly possessions dazzle our eyes and delude us into thinking that they can provide security and freedom from anxiety. Yet all the time they are the very source of anxiety.

Die Gedanken Sind Frei

Over the past decade, I have been on many a front line protesting our military incursions in Iraq & Afghanistan. While many Americans applaud the efforts of war protesters, there are many who castigate us for exercising our constitutional right of free speech. One of the arguments many of this ilk have tried to shove down our throats is that we are only entitled to our freedoms -- including the right of speech that we are criticized for using -- because of the bravery and dedication of American soldiers who have fought wars to ensure these freedoms are our birthright.

There's only one problem with this sentiment -- it isn't correct. It is patently and categorically false.

More often than not, wars are waged for economic or geopolitical purposes. While the rhetoric employed is often bathed in patriotic or nationalist prose, few wars have ever been fought solely for the sake of personal or collective freedom.

As the following German folk song clearly indicates, the ultimate freedom is possessed by as all.
Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erraten,
sie fliegen vorbei wie nächtliche Schatten.
Kein Mensch kann sie wissen, kein Jäger erschießen
mit Pulver und Blei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Ich denke was ich will und was mich beglücket,
doch alles in der Still', und wie es sich schicket.
Mein Wunsch, mein Begehren kann niemand verwehren,
es bleibet dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Und sperrt man mich ein im finsteren Kerker,
das alles sind rein vergebliche Werke.
Denn meine Gedanken zerreißen die Schranken
und Mauern entzwei, die Gedanken sind frei!

Drum will ich auf immer den Sorgen entsagen
und will mich auch nimmer mit Grillen mehr plagen.
Man kann ja im Herzen stets lachen und scherzen
und denken dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Ich liebe den Wein, mein Mädchen vor allen,
sie tut mir allein am besten gefallen.
Ich bin nicht alleine bei meinem Glas Weine,
mein Mädchen dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Dust in the Wind

The other day my wife was watching a program on VH1 concerning someone's compilation of the 100 most popular rock ballads. Somewhere in the top ten -- I don't remember where as I wasn't paying close attention -- was the song Dust in the Wind by the group Kansas.

Commentator after commentator talked about how this particular song was sad and melancholy. One fellow made it sound like he felt like crying every time he heard the song.

Personally, I've always found it to be a beautiful song! If Taoists had anthems, I'm sure this would be one of them.

I suppose how one views the song is tied up in a person's view of dust. If you think of dust as unimportant specks of debris that get in your eyes and tends to make everything dirty, then I can certainly understand how you might interpret a song of this nature as being a bit of a downer.

In your mind's eye, the lyricist is telling you that you are as unimportant as dust.

On the other hand, if you view dust as being as important as any other thing in this life, then dust in the wind is sheer poetry. The message of the lyric is that, no matter how large or small a thing is, it is all part of the one reality, the Tao.
Same old song
Just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do
Crumbles to the ground
Though we refuse to see

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Life in the Wake

Who hasn't stood at the edge of a lake or river and thrown a large rock into the water. It lands with a kerplunk on the surface and kicks up a splash. It also causes a ripple that begins at the epicenter of the water's displacement and moves beyond in all directions.

Life is a lot like the rock and the water. Every action -- proactive or reactive -- that is wrought by humankind or Mother Nature causes a ripple effect. It affects not only what is in the immediate area but things that seem separated by vast distances or time.

This is the point that confounds humanity again and again. Because our frame of reference viz-a-viz the universe is so small, we continuously fail to recognize the complete arc of the ripple that emanates from our own epicenters. We fail to recognize the cause and effect of our every action.

In present society, there's a great debate over the existence and causes of a phenomena called Global Warming. Some people discount its existence entirely. Others accept its presence, but believe it is part of the natural cycle of atmospheric conditions and that humans have had little effect on its occurrence. Still others believe it is the direct result of human tendencies to think short-term instead of long-term.

Regardless of where one falls on this continuum -- I fall in the human activity-induced camp -- I would hope that we could all agree that something has caused our atmosphere and climate to change somewhat to some significant degree. It is the result of a ripple from where somewhere or some time.

The film It's a Wonderful Life deals with this same premise. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), facing a personal and professional crisis, wishes he had never been born and contemplates suicide. An angel provides him with a glimpse of what his sleepy little town would have been like without his life lived.

In dramatic and not so dramatic ways, the town of "Bedford Falls" doesn't look anything like he expects. Of course, since this IS a movie, it illustrates ONLY the positive aspects of his life and how -- had it not been lived -- many negatives now exist. In actuality, were any of us to get to view how our communities and loved ones dealt with a life sans us, there would be a great mixture of both positives and negatives!

In essence, each and every thought we think or breath we take influences the actions, behaviors and consciousness of the entire universe. We can't escape it! And this goes to the heart of why Taoists believe we aren't genuinely independent actors and that we are all part of one reality.

As we go, so goes the world.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Siphoning Gas!

For the third time in less than two months, gas has been siphoned from our truck leaving our gas gage on empty. The first time it happened I chalked it up to youthful pranksters. I didn't think much of it, but it's happened twice more. After the second such theft, my wife and I bought a locking gas cap; it turned out not to make ANY difference at all!

After the first incident, we've phoned the Aberdeen Police Department to report these thefts and the local police response has been negligible. Both times we've been assigned a case number and nothing else.

I realize we have a small police force and there are bigger fish to fry, but I was rather dumbfounded that the police wouldn't stop by to do something as small as dust the gas cap for prints. What if they catch a gas thief in the coming weeks? If they had fingerprints from numerous other such thefts, wouldn't they be able to match up the thief with a lot of crimes and thereby strengthen their case?

I suppose I'm more than a little irritated because, during the week of the port protests, I seemed to pick up a police tail every time I left my home. It seemed like within two or three blocks I'd find an Aberdeen police cruiser following me around town to such exciting destinations like the grocery store or the bank!

So how is it that the police had time for me when I wasn't doing ANYTHING illegal -- unless you consider free speech to be a criminal offense -- yet, when I'm the victim of a bona fide crime, they can't be bothered?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

I find it ironic that, though we live in a world predominated by roundness, cycles and circles, most westerners view life in a linear fashion with definable beginnings and endings. The primary reasons for this apparent contradiction are borne in the fact that western civilized society is characterized by two dominant perspectives: Judeo-Christian belief and rationalism.

In terms of the former, the very conception of life is viewed in terms of the God story as told through the Christian Bible. The first 3 words of this work are "In the beginning" and the last installment -- Revelations -- describe the "end times". Consequently, in no uncertain terms, Christians are fixated on the concepts of first and last or beginning and end.

Yet, as we gaze out into the world in which we live, we don't find this dichotomy afoot at all. Far from being characterized as fixed points along a straight continuum, the natural processes of life are bound into never ending cycles.

Consider for a moment the roundness of our universe. All of the planets that make up our solar system are round. Each rotates in a circle on its axis and each rotates in a circle around the largest star, the sun.

Beyond this roundness is the cyclical aspect of nature. The four seasons form a circle. Each day is a circle. The life process itself is representative of a circle. Everywhere we look there are circles and yet we construct belief systems, philosophies and ideologies that run counter to nature.

For me, this represents one of the chief reasons that humankind tends to feel estranged from the world. Every other aspect of reality operates within this natural rhythm of life, while we vainly try to operate in a manner that is counterintuitive and at odds with everything else. It's no wonder so many of us feel alienated, isolated and stressed.

For centuries Taoism has been locked away inside the Far East. Slowly, as more and more people look for avenues outside the Judeo-Christian perspective, people from all walk of life are turning to Taoist philosophy to come to a better understanding of humankind's place in the overall scheme of things.

Taoists do not see the world in a counterintuitive fashion. We recognize and celebrate the cyclical nature of all things and it is our purpose to try as best we can to move with and in the stream of life to flow with all creation.