Friday, January 29, 2016

I am a Dream. You too?



      “Was it a dream, or did it really happen?”  I know I’ve often asked that question of myself numerous times.  And we know people who might have asked us, “Pinch me, so I know it’s not a dream.”  Dreams are strange things; they can delight or terrify us, and there’s almost nothing we can do, consciously, to affect the outcome.  We awaken asking “What did that mean?” Or, “I hadn’t thought of THAT person for years! Why was he in my dream?” Or, “I never thought SHE was evil!” We wonder about the classic “falling” dreams, or those that place us in EXTREMELY embarrassing situations.
       I’m no expert in dream interpretation, to be sure. I struggle to understand my own (if I can remember them!). I do recall from my college/seminary training something about Freud’s argument that dreams are really wish-fulfillment, or the sub-conscious working through things that had been left un-resolved during the day. I remember, too, some of Alfred Adler’s work; the important thing about dreams was the point at which one woke up, as that indicated the place where discomfort took over big time. (That one never made much sense to me.) And the theory that probably had the most lasting impact on me was from Carl Jung’s work. While there’s certainly more to his thinking than this, the part that has stuck was his idea that the people that populate our dreams are reflections of some aspect of who WE are. In other words, that disagreeable childhood friend does NOT represent HIM, but the disagreeable part of ME that is reflected in him.
       Jung’s theory may have had some influence on Alan Watts, a western writer on eastern traditions from the 1960’s. I remember reading many of his books in the mid- to late- 1970’s, and while I don’t recall the precise book (and I’ve not been able to find the actual reference), Watts wrote and spoke about dreams in relation to God.  NOT that dreams necessarily reveal God’s will (another dream theory with ancient roots!), but that God was doing the actual dreaming.  What I remember (although he may not have written exactly this — memory’s a tricky thing!) was a passage in which he suggested that we were living a dream of God, in which God was playing all of the roles.  While that’s not a particularly orthodox view of the Divine in any tradition, I find it rather engaging — and enlightening — to consider.
       When working with a Jungian therapist, one’s dreams are significant pieces in the psychotherapeutic work.  We need to root out WHY those strange people (reflecting our inner strengths/weaknesses/anxieties) are appearing in our dreams.  Then, with the help of the therapist, we can move forward towards wholeness. In a similar way, I sometimes like to think, working with Watts’ suggestion (or, at least, my version of his suggestion), that the ACTUAL people I encounter on a daily basis are a part of the same divine dream I am occupying. There is a lot of challenge there! There is an implication that my treatment of the other indicates how near (or not) I am to godliness.  But part of Watts’ idea (and this I DO remember clearly) is that the Divine “dream” represents God’s interest in learning new things.*
      So, what if, by extension, we were to lead our daily lives in a way that we believed that all the folks we encounter — even those disgusting ones in the comment lines following on-line articles, or political candidates, or wildlife-refuge-occupying-militants — were as much a part of a Divine dream as we are? Would we see them simply as another obstacle on our way to a blissful life? Or might we see them, and deal with them, in a way that reflects OUR interest in learning more about their fears and hopes, prodding us to new levels of understanding and, thus, compassionate behavior?
Blessings,
Gary
* In searching for the precise reference to the book I was trying to remember, I ran across a LOT of YouTube videos that suggested that God’s “dream” might be a possible reaction to God’s being bored. Okay, that’s not particularly orthodox either!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Meeting's cancelled! . . . ?

 

    Whether we are students, faculty, staff, employees, supervisors, parents, whatever. . . . this announcement:  "Meeting cancelled" creates  . . . well, usually,  "Glee!" As for myself, I've told many people that I am rarely upset when I get that blessed email or phone call (cue the choir:  "Ahhhhhh!"):  "Meeting cancelled".  (That's me in my Jean Luc Picard persona, above, except I don't look as good in red.)
      Whence cometh our glee with a cancelled meeting?  "Well, I don't have to make the presentation I hadn't really prepared?" or "I'm so GLAD I don't have to sit in another gathering with HIM (HER)!" or "That's great!  Now I can work on things of (greater?) importance." or "I REALLY HATE that room; it's always too hot/cold!" or, "Great, now I can go to the gym!", or the classic "We're meeting because it was "Last Friday's useless meeting".
      Useless?  I guess it may have to do with our ideas of "utility".
      A week or so ago, I was in a meeting (!) where the subject came up about the importance people placed on "action."  (This was in reference to a larger, very diverse, group that seemed to differentiate between "talking" and "acting".)  A wise member in that gathering pointed out, or suggested, two things:  (1) most of us AT that meeting spent most of our professional lives "talking"; and (2) "talking" (or being in conversation with others) WAS an "action" -- especially if we were inspiring or encouraging others who may differ from us, to change their behaviors/actions/relationships.
      As a corollary, I have often thought that, at various trainings/meetings/gatherings of people at the University of Denver, we 
should take every opportunity to know WHO is in the room (or around the table) and what brought them there.   Who are the students?  What's their major?  What's their PASSION (maybe, given the context, that's different than their major)? Who are the faculty/staff? Why are THEY there? Which unit do they represent? Why have they chosen to be a part of the conversation?
      I noted above that I am rarely upset when I hear that a meeting has been cancelled (and for the reasons I suggested). I, like many, have a LOT of meetings.  There are many demands upon me that are "important". Yet, in my wiser moments . . . and in our increasingly dis-humanly-connected world, I have to wonder whether or not ANY opportunity to connect, to hear another's story (or even "place" in the organization), isn't the most important thing we can do?
      Yes, "business" (busy-ness?) might be better concluded outside of "meetings." But there is definitely something valuable about meeting -- seeing another human being face-to-face. We have the opportunity, then, for real encounters; we can connect; in 
Martin Buber's classic phrase, there can occur an "I-Thou" moment.
     I can't imagine that i will ever say "Darn it!" when I hear that a meeting has been cancelled. But I would like to think that I may step back for a moment and wonder:  "What won't I learn?" or, more importantly. "What opportunities for human connection might I be missing?" 

Blessings,

Gary

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Wish Book


     Several weeks ago, several of us went to the History Colorado museum in Denver to see the "Toys of the 50's, 60's and 70's" (if you haven't seen it, go now!). For some of us (the parents), it was a bit of a trip down Memory Lane. We compared notes about which of the toys we had, or weren't allowed to have. We shared our various jealousies about our friends who had a larger collection of matchbox cars or horse dolls.  We marveled at the shift from cardboard and metal to plastic. Of course, the kids (aged 4-12) were fascinated. Many things, like the "Cootie" game seemed "SO BORING". Other things -- not necessarily a toy -- like a Princess Dial Phone were extreme curiosities.
      The exhibits had more than toys, as I just implied. There were "living rooms" with furniture from the various decades (that's where the phone could be found -- in the 80's room), and commercials playing on period televisions (commercials mostly about toys, of course).  In one room, however, there was something that REALLY took me back:  a Sears Roebuck "Wish Book"!  I was not alone (in our little group) remembering when, in early fall of each year, that catalog would arrive in the mail (preceded, or soon followed by, Montgomery Ward's counterpart).  I would sit down with those books, flipping quickly past the front pages--which were mostly dolls, until I got to the "boy toys".  I would go back and forth between the catalogs, making my "wish list" from the "wish books", noting for my parents, which page each item could be found, and the corresponding price.  What was GREAT about those books is that they showed me things I "needed" that I never knew even existed!  I had no idea that my life could be made SO MUCH BETTER because of the things on those pages! No surprise, now, that. Most of us know that advertisers want to create a need that their product will fill. And, for a pre-teen boy, their efforts were pretty successful.
       I found myself recalling this catalog-mania the other day as I was listening to a conversation in which one of the discussants referred to the current "spiritual but not religious" phenomenon as a sort of catalog approach to satisfying the inner life.  As the world has "gotten smaller", I think, and we are more likely to be cheek-by-jowl with someone of a different religious background than we were when I was reading the Sears Roebuck catalog, the options for spiritual belief and practice have multiplied. Coupled with other distractions (not necessarily of a religious sort), many of us have lost touch with some of the deep waters of our own traditions, and have found substitutes in others. Yet I wonder how well such a "catalog" approach really "works" -- in the long run? (And, of course, maybe I'm simply musing about how well it would work for me?)
     In the conversation I mentioned, one of the points that the discussant put forward is that such a "pick-and-choose" religiosity often retains no (or little) grounding, and/or little community accountability. We can easily pick the bits and pieces that make us "happy" and ignore (or turn the page past) those bits that challenge us -- either challenge our preconceptions/prejudices, or challenge us to take some meaningful action.  I suppose it's much the same as our options to read/listen/watch ONLY the news outlets that will support our already-held positions; the internet and cable are virtual "Wish Books".
     I still look at catalogs -- the old saying is often true that "the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys". And they still make me wish for things I don't really need. But I'm becoming less enamored with the offerings of other religious traditions, not because I doubt their validity for their adherents, but because I realize that I can go deeper within my own to find a consistency and resonance I won't probably won't find elsewhere.  Probably our own sacred texts and traditions can become the best "Wish Books" we'd need -- if we actually knew them!

Blessings,

Gary

Friday, January 8, 2016

Ooopsy! Freudian slip?


      According to psychology.about.com, “A Freudian slip is a verbal or memory mistake that is believed to be linked to the unconscious mind. These slips supposedly reveal the real secret thoughts and feelings that people hold. Typical examples include an individual calling his or her spouse by an ex's name, saying the wrong word or even misinterpreting a written or spoken word.” Most of us who've studied almost ANY psychology have heard of these, and have encountered them. I would hazard a guess that I'm not alone in having even "slipped" occasionally myself.
      I have to wonder, however, when we "
slip", how often we apologize by saying something like,"You misunderstood me" or "I'm sorry you took it that way"?  Of course, then our "slip" and any misunderstanding or damage it caused was the OTHER person's fault, not ours.  Even a more generous "I mis-spoke" can hide what we're really thinking, what our brain actually had in mind (pardon the pun) before the mouth was engaged.  Reading the news of the presidential campaigning reveals ALL SORTS of examples of these kinds of things -- some of them occurring when the candidate assumed s/he was in a "friendly crowd" and could get away with a "slip", others, perhaps, intentional, but then covered up.
       That kind of political rhetoric (or slip-up) aside, I've seen some other "oopsies" that are less public, but perhaps more troubling.  I've been with well-meaning people, people with whom I agree on almost everything (except, perhaps, their choice of sports franchises) and I've heard some pretty disturbing things come out of their mouths.  When I "call them on it", they back-pedal, often saying something like "I don't know where that came from!"  Perhaps a classic Freudian slip.
       Where this seems to happen most often in my world is around questions of religion (and/or ethnicity related to religion). I recently was in conversation with someone who "slipped" and said "ISIS" instead of "Islam".  The conversation had nothing whatsoever to do with the current situation; it was simply about religion.  When I challenged my conversation partner, the "
I don't know where that came from!" line was the response. I know this person! S/he does NOT equate Islam with those terrorists who claim to be members of that religious tradition. Was it a "Freudian slip", or the result of so much reporting that simplifies global/religious complexities?
       I 
wrote some weeks back about young people, especially Muslims, who hear or read, very little that is GOOD about their traditions in the mainstream media.  I pointed out, based on others' thoughtful analysis, that these young people become easier "pickings" for radical recruiters. But I'm also beginning to wonder if the reporting we hear is beginning to change OUR ways of thinking -- not necessarily intentionally, but simply through repetition.  Certainly advertisers work based on that theory.   But I worry that we aren't spending enough time self-policing what we hear/read so that we know when we're beginning to cross the line into "stereotypical thinking".  Thinking that may come out in very hurtful ways.
       I doubt I have any "brilliant" solution, but, just as we are counseled to look at what we eat when we are trying to live a healthy lifestyle, it may make sense for us to examine what we readily, and voluntarily, "consume" when it comes to news. We certainly can't stick our heads in the sand, but we can encounter the news with discernment and humanity.  And we can pay close attention to our "oopses" and what they might mean.

Blessings,

Gary

Friday, January 1, 2016

Have an arbitrary New Year!



    This past Wednesday, driving home from a day on the Arkansas River (no, I didn't catch anything!), one of my fishing companions mentioned that he had been reading some article that referred to some dates in the past as C.E. and/or B.C.E., and he was curious what that meant, and when it had come into use.  I explained, briefly, that the abbreviations meant "Common Era" and "Before the Common Era" respectively, and that they translated to "A.D." and "B.C." (or Anno Domini - the "Year of our Lord" and "Before Christ" respectively).  They have become used more frequently in the last twenty-five to thirty years, as our world has "shrunk" and not everyone calculates time based on the birth-year of Jesus.*  (Doing a bit of research since Wednesday, I learned that "C.E." can be found as early as 1708 in English.  There's a lot more to it; the Wikipedia article is pretty good!)
     As we continued our conversation, I noted that a lot of our dating is pretty arbitrary, and that, of course, lots of different cultures/religions around the world have their own "New Year's" celebration.  Western Christianity begins its liturgical year on the First Sunday of Advent, approximately four weeks before Christmas.  Eastern Christianity, on the other hand, starts its liturgical year on September 1, while celebrating New Years on a date mid-January, based on the Julian Calendar.  Today (January 1st) marks the beginning of the celebration of Gantan-sai in Japan, a 7-day New Year's observance. But THAT has only been the case since 1873, when the Japanese adopted the Gregorian calendar and shifted their "New Year's Day" away from the Lunar New Year (still observed by many Asian cultures).  To complicate things even further, there are 
FOUR Jewish new years, the most familiar being Rosh Hashanah in September/October.  Other religious/cultural traditions start their new year based on a lunar cycle, or the birth of a leader.
       Given the diversity of those observances, it is very useful to have a common calendar, if for no other reason than to facilitate business dealings world-wide.  The same can be said (and they're certainly related) for a common clock -- good old Greenwich Mean Time being the counterpart to the Gregorian Calendar.  But even with the clock, (somewhat) arbitrary decisions are made.  Aside from the American fascination with arguing about Daylight Savings Time, other countries keep their entire population on one time-zone.  That of course, in the case of 
China (operating on Beijing Time), makes for very interesting work days in the far west of the country.
       So, I guess, time is relative -- and not in the way that Einstein meant it.  And I wonder how much of the rest of our lives can be seen as equally relative?  Food for thought, i suppose.  But, on this day, the New Year's Day, I'm glad we have something in COMMON over which there is little, if any, conflict. May we start 2016 reflecting on that which we hold in common and praying that those things which divide us -- many of which are pretty arbitrary -- lose their contentious qualities.
      A peaceful new year to you all!
   
Blessings,

Gary

And, of course, the birthdate of Jesus is open for debate, most scholars believing that Jesus was born in 4 BC (or BCE)!.  That is, he was born before he was born. And, let's not even get into the whole question of December 25!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Let there be light!



        Today, December 22, 2015, the days begin to get a little longer in the northern hemisphere, or, maybe, more accurately, the amount of daylight increases gradually. For six months, we've been descending into darkness. We've changed our clocks to manage that . . . . somehow. For folks who are depressed, or who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, this is a pretty challenging time of year. It's also equally challenging for many who've lost loved ones in the last year, or who have spouses/partners serving overseas in the military; they will be missed at holiday celebrations. And then there's the news, international and national. Whether it is terrorist attacks in Paris or Colorado Springs, a refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, our incredibly contentious presidential campaign, or its accompanying deplorable religious/ethnic overtones, our media (including social media) does a great job of feeding us depressing news.
        The nice thing, however, that the winter solstice teaches us is that the longest night (last night!) is the longest night (well, at least for a year - then wecan learn the lesson over again).  The darkness will decrease. Or, put another way, the light will increase. And, at least here in Colorado (and the majority of the northern hemisphere), the light was never gone.  It's just that we seem to have a tendency to focus on the increasing darkness.
        I wonder if, as the light increases, we might make an exercise of recognizing all of those good things that surround us, but that we take for granted.  The Multifaith Calendar (print version)* that I use daily orients its art around a theme.  The theme for 2016 is "Gratitude".  In the introduction to the calendar, I find:

Most of us in the western world live in the land of plenty -- the land of milk and honey -- overflowing with resources, freedom, opportunities, and beauty.  it is a smorgasbord of delights. . . . On a daily basis, if we listen to constant talkes of woe and suffering (which are never ending in the media) we can lose sight of all we truly have to be grateful for in our lives.

But . . .

Ears to hear your favorite music, feet to dance, eyes to see the beauty of the sunset, hands to hold, people to cry and light with, a roof over your head, work to make us think, freedom to believe what you want. These are just some of the great graitutdes we all share.

      
 Winter Solstice resolution time? New Year's resolution time? How about:  "Reject those who would play upon your fears that the darkness will continue; that we live lives of scarcity; that we need live in fear of the other." Instead, "Hold to the good in all. Accept and promote the hope of increasing light. Say "thank you" to someone or Someone multiple times daily."
       Let there be light!

Blessings,

Friday, December 11, 2015

What you read may be hazardous . . .


   One of the responses to the recent tragedy in San Bernadino, California, was a now-almost-expected backlash against Muslims/Islam.  The most bloviated, bigoted, ignorant, abhorrent version has come out of the mouth of one of the presidential candidates (email me if you want to know how I really feel).  But there have been less publicized, although no less horrible examples.  That acknowledged, there has been at least one rather clever response to the claims that Islam is, at root, a violent religion. Reported on social media, and then picked up, and reported on, by the Washington Post was the experiment in Holland where folks on the street were read violent, disturbing, sexist or "outmoded" passages of a "scripture."  The experiment showed that the vast majority of those queried attributed the selections to the Quran.  The underlying problem, of course, is that the passages were from the Bible.  The Post reflected that "The point made in the video is that our personal biases and surface judgements can cloud how we understand something we are unfamiliar with".
       Unrelated, at least at root, another national publication, Christianity Today, recently published the results of a survey on what might happen if people read the Bible frequently, and unmediated by an outside "authority".  Their findings, and the title of the article, was "Frequent Bible Reading Can Turn You Liberal".*  For readers of this newsletter who are unfamiliar with Christianity Today, it does NOT have the reputation of being a "liberal" Christian publication.  I suspect that there were some within the organization who were leery of publishing the results!
       I am not, at all, trumpeting the results of CT's survey; despite THEIR title, not all of the results of "frequent Bible reading" led to "liberal" results (or results with which I might agree).  But the results do show a couple of things about which we, at an academic institution, might take note.  First is the emphasis that many of us (especially in the humanities) place on the reading of primary texts.  That is, it is much more important to read Dante's Inferno, or Pride and Prejudice (without the Vampires), or the Bible than it is to read secondary literature on those books.  But second -- for better or worse, depending on your point of view -- is that interpretive voices, like FOX News/MSNBC, or televangelists, OR popular faculty, can obscure (at the most), or tilt (at the most generous), how those texts are read today.
      As an Episcopal priest, one whose theology is based on a "three-legged stool" of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, I clearly support the value of bringing historical analysis as well as current thinking to the reading of Scripture.  But the base is the "reading of Scripture".  We all need to know our sacred texts; we need to know what they say.  We cannot simply not read selected, limited, texts, nor excise bits with which we disagree (a tendency, for example, of both liberal AND conservative Christians). We cannot ban books because they are problematic to our current sensibilities.  We have to be aware of what they say, or what they might have said to their original audiences. And we have to grapple with them in our current context (that's the "Reason" part of the afore-mentioned "three-legged stool").
       Only then, I would assert, with a sound grounding in our sacred texts, can we start to speak about "liberal", "outdated", "conservative", or other convenient labels that might dismiss a dissenter.  Our task as educators, and/or as people of deep faith, is to equip others with all of the tools necessary to make meaning in this complex world. Maybe then we can do a little bit to decrease the amount of time prime-time news or Facebook spend on religiously-attributed violence, or those who would use tragedies for financial/political advantage.

Blessings,

Gary

*The full text of the Christianity Today article is available here, BUT one needs a subscription to read it all.  An analysis by another "publication", with pointers to other articles/surveys can be found here.