Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Fearless Dialogues

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“In [theologian Howard] Thurman’s oft-quoted baccalaureate speech ‘The Sound of the Genuine,’ he describes an encounter between Jesus and a demon-possessed man. Though the man was sequestered to a living death of rattling his chains in a graveyard on the outskirts of town, Jesus posed two dignity-altering questions that struck the man’s inward center: ‘ “Who are you? What is your name?” and for a moment his tilted mind righted itself and he said, “That’s it! I don’t know. There are legions of me and they riot in my streets. If I only knew, then I would be whole.” ‘

“By inquiring of the grave-dweller’s name, Jesus bestowed upon him dignity and personhood. Scripture further tells us that after driving out the demons, Jesus sent the once-possessed man back home to face those who had marginalized him. Not only was he commissioned to serve as a credible messenger of the healer who welcomed him as a child of God; the once-possessed man was tasked to love those who attempted to destroy him.

“Radical in every right, Jesus said to the disinherited, ‘Love your enemy.’ In outlining the taxonomy of hatred, Thurman explains that contact without fellowship leads to unsympathetic understanding, and finally to an active functioning of ill will. To disrupt the breeding of hate, Jesus advocated love. ‘The first step toward such love is a common sharing of a sense of mutual worth and value.’ Jesus understood that while the underprivileged remain in constant contact with many who can threaten their well-being, there exists chance opportunities when foes find themselves at arm’s length and on common ground. The Samaritan, the tax collector, the Roman soldier, even Pilate himself, stood on different ideological and cultural grounds than Jesus. But through dignifying words and compassionate actions Jesus forged pathways to mutual discovery with unlikely partners. Through this example, Jesus modeled for the oppressed an unwillingness to have his inward center tainted by hate and a refusal to have his soul disfigured by evil opposition.”

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In Search of a Prophet

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Born in 1883 in Lebanon, Kahlil Gibran was a Renaissance man -- an author, illustrator, poet, essayist, novelist, prophet, visionary, and spiritual adventurer. His most famous work is a series of prose poems titled The Prophet (1923). It has been translated into more than forty languages and has sold more than one hundred million copies. Sections of it were used in a 2015 animated film.

Paul-Gordon Chandler, an Episcopal priest, interfaith advocate, and social entrepreneur sees this book not as a biography but "a type of pilgrimage into and through Kahlil's own spiritual journey." Each chapter explores one of the creative works of this prolific genius and sheds light on different aspects of his spiritual quest: The Sacred Valley, The Heretic, The Lover, The Madman, The Tempest, The Prophet, The Son of Man, The Wanderer, A Man for Our Times. Themes covered include being an immigrant, traveling, espousing an interfaith perspective, musing on Jesus, and staying open to the manifold mysteries of life.

Here is a sampler of quotes from the book:

"The things which the child loves remains in the domain of the heart until old age. The most beautiful thing in life is that our souls remain hovering over the places where we once enjoyed ourselves. I am one of those who remember those places regardless of time and place.""The soul is mightier than space, stronger than time, deeper than the sea, and higher than the stars.""To wake at dawn with winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
to rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
to return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart
and a song of praise upon your lips."
— from The Prophet"Your neighbor is your other self dwelling behind a wall. In understanding, all walls shall fall down."
— from Jesus the Son of Man"My friend, you and I shall remain strangers unto life,
And unto one another, and each unto himself,
Until the day when you shall speak and I shall listen
Deeming your own voice my own voice;
And when I shall stand before you
Thinking myself standing before a mirror."
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The Reunited States of America

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In a 2014 Pew Research poll, seven out of ten Americans blamed our problems on the inability of elected officials to act effectively. When asked which of our society's moral virtues have declined most "respect for others" scored highest. These polls reveal the vast and widespread disappointment and cynicism brought on by the partisan divide and Washington gridlock.

In this wise and incredibly relevant resource, Mark Gerzon, president of Mediators Foundation, presents his vision of citizenship based on connections rather than division, bridges rather than walls, and using common ground as a gateway to political action. With many years of experience in cross-partisan work, collaborative governance, and "a new patriotism," this multi-talented activist has proven to be a gifted scout surveying the land ahead of us and bringing back to camp fresh ideas on transpartisanship.

Gerzon agrees with Albert Einstein who once noted: "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity," and so he believes we can make the most of this crisis period for American democracy. He suggests we throw out simplistic knee-jerk explanations of where we are and set aside our notions of control, adversarial talk, and blaming the other party for the sad state of affairs in the country. He challenges us to find a safe place for dialogue and to work together with others in a search for common ground.

The author has high regard for openness and sees it as a solid and substantive virtue in all conversations about hot-button issues such as immigration, health care, debt reduction, abortion, gun policy, and education reform. Gerzon laments the fact that most schools have dropped civics courses and as a result, youth are often lacking in knowledge regarding creative governance. This can result in them becoming easy prey to spin and half-truths.

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The Reunited States of America

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"Fittingly, Living Room Conversations is a state-of-the-art method for individuals and organizations to bring both sides of the political spectrum together to discuss issues of interest in a comfortable environment. No facilitator is needed; the living room conversation simply needs guests and hosts to honor their six basic rules of discourse, which are remarkably similar to what the member of Congress adopted.

Living Room Conversation Ground Rules

"BE CURIOUS AND OPEN TO LEARNING
Listen to and be open to hearing all points of view. Maintain an attitude of exploration and learning. Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking.

"SHOW RESPECT AND SUSPEND JUDGMENT
Human beings tend to judge one another; do you best not to. Setting judgments aside will better enable you to learn from others and help them feel respected and appreciated.

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Jazz and the Spirit of Democracy

I’m listening to John Coltrane’s "Love Supreme" as I write this. It makes me think of St. John Coltrane Church in San Francisco. I live in Arkansas, but I think I am a member of the church, at least in spirit. I like the whole idea that people might sing along, clap, and dance to Coltrane’s "Love Supreme" on Sunday mornings, understanding it as a spiritual practice in its own right. As they dance they are putting on the mind of Coltrane and entering into Coltrane-consciousness; and many think of it as a kind of Christ-consciousness: open, free, celebratory, loving. Makes sense to me. I think Christ can be in Coltrane and Coltrane in Christ. Isn’t everything interconnected?

But let’s be honest. Not all Americans want to put on the mind of Christ or Coltrane. We are a religiously diverse nation, and the very language of jazz will speak to some but not all. But given that America is the birthplace of jazz, might it be possible that each of us, and perhaps even all of us, could put on the mind of jazz for the sake of practicing democracy, even if it’s not Coltrane’s variety?

Please don’t worry if you don’t like jazz. My wife doesn’t either. She teasingly says that every time she hears a jazz solo it makes her want to slap somebody. In her words: "You can’t sing along; the chords are dissonant; and it goes on and on forever without ever coming to an end." I tell her that we need not go to jazz bars on Saturday nights lest we end up in jail on Sunday mornings. I say to her: "It is enough to enjoy the idea of jazz."

I want to say this to you, too. Admittedly, I am a jazz enthusiast and in my more extravagant moments I entertain the idea that it might be good for everybody to listen to improvisational jazz at least once a day for twenty minutes, even if only as a kind of ascetical practice. Here is my argument.

Listening to jazz on daily basis could help widen our sense of harmony so that we can better appreciate the many voices of our world, some of which are very different from our own.It could help us become more tolerant of ambiguity so that we would not always want to divide the world into tightly-knit compartments.It could help us become open to surprise so that we don’t feel we had to control everything.

One of America’s leading jazz critics, Gary Giddings, says that jazz musicians have two goals: "Creating music that keeps listeners wondering what’s next, and finding a novel context within which to explore old truths." I think the world would be a better place if we didn’t always have to know what comes next.

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