Author Archives: watchingthespaces

About watchingthespaces

I like to watch the spaces between the things that other people see, the overflowing gaps and the chock-full emptiness.

Community

This evening the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande will gather in a big festive celebration of the Eucharist at St. Andrew’s Church, Las Cruces. We will commend our coming work to God and give thanks for our common life. Then tomorrow and Friday delegates, alternates, visitors and guests, bishops and other clergy, will gather at the Convention Center to discuss the various issues that confront and enhance our community of faith. It will be a time to renew old friendships and forge new ones. There will be vendors there selling everything and anything liturgical, spiritual or religious you might want. There will be booths promoting various ministries of the Diocese and of parishes spreading the word about what is going on. There will be the giving of reports, discussions and votes, appointments and elections. It’s all rather grand, really.

But it’s more than grand. We are communal creatures. We need one another. Alone we mean nothing at all, but in community we relate, and in the relating we discover who we are, for who we are is always “who we are together,” I am me because of you. It’s not just that we are incomplete if we are alone, we are meaningless if we are truly alone. Now, community extends beyond the human species so that I can be alone in the sense of not having other humans around and I still have meaning, but the community of the human family is the most important element in the community of creation, and with other humans we gather intentionally. Feeling utterly alone is perhaps the most devastating of experiences a human can undergo.

The Christian concept of God is communal: Father, Son and Holy Spirit in perfect harmony. From this unconditional love spins creation itself. To not be in community is to deny the nature of our Source that permeates and conditions all existence. To be in community, be it ever so flawed, is to approach the mystery of the Ground of our being. It is to be on the journey back into the heart of God.

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The Wisdom of Rain

We’ve gotten .8 of an inch of rain in the last two days, thanks to the weather system that rolled off the coast in north-western Mexico several days ago. We had had about a week of dry weather following the previous storm. This fall’s rain is clearly controlled by Pacific storms.

Those who know are also saying that we have a 72% chance of a strong El Niño. Perhaps these storms are a result of this weather pattern.

El Niño occurs every how many years, not really cyclically, but repeatedly, alternating wet and dry winters in the Southwestern U.S. Increased weather instability around the globe seems to have made this one particularly worrisome.

Not denying the impact of human action to speed up the pace of change in the weather, we can also place these changes within the mega-cycles of weather on earth that produced the Ice Ages and times when temperate flowers flourished in the Arctic.

Then comes the big question: Who or what started it all?

I have often thought that wisdom always seeks the widest possible context for the question at hand.

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Christian Jihad

The concept is not really borrowed from Islam. It’s borrowed from the ancient Jewish traditions of conquering the Promised Land, and taken over into the early Church in the struggle against the persecutorial attitude of various Roman Caesars. I’m readying Origen right now, Greek-thinking doctor of the Church of the early 3rd century. During his lifetime the Roman Empire was declining into chaos, and within 200 years it had completely collapsed. But in his time there were still plenty of Christians thrown to the lions in the arenas—or worse. He wrote a treatise called “An Exhortation to Martyrdom.” In it he paints a picture of a church beset on every side by hostile forces. The only real way forward, says Origen, is our Lord’s way, who clung not to his own life, but gave witness to the power of God by his death and resurrection. He is reported to have counseled his own father to face martyrdom instead of denying the faith. It was hard to be a Christian in those days, and only those who were really dedicated did it. You just didn’t mess around.

And you don’t mess around with the bad guys in Central America these days, either. The flood of women and children fleeing violence in their home countries attests to their ways. A recent American reporter has said that in the major cities of Honduras a full 70% of the businesses pay a “war tax” to be able to stay out of the war. The pagan religion of money and power has driven these gangs to erect tottering, unstable and violent empires of greed in which extortion is the rite of worship. Those who would follow a path of peace are either dying or fleeing or “corrupting their faith” by staying and paying the bad guys ever-increasing amounts to stay away.

It is interesting to note that it seems to be that small businesses who label themselves Christian are being spared the worst of the persecution. You see taxis now who advertise that their owners are Christians in a bid for relief, and it seems to be working. Of course, I would imagine that if someone advertised as a Christian business and later it was found out to be hypocrisy they would get double punishment. It’s a funny, flip-side situation from Origen’s world, where identifying yourself as a Christian affords some protection rather than making you a target, but in both worlds, ancient and current, there is no viable middle ground. In ancient Rome and in Honduras it’s a matter of following the prince of violence or the Prince of Peace, and the Prince of Peace requires ballsy action.

How would the American church stand up under pressure? Would we punk out, or would we rise to the challenge of Christian jihad, and wage peace in a world of war?

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True Self

In today’s Non Sequitur comic strip a bunch of ducks are flying south. In the middle of the flock is a penguin flapping for all he’s worth on stubby flippers, barely keeping his pear-shaped body in the air. One duck says to another, “Now do you think he’s old enough to tell him he’s adopted?” Yes, it’s a funny take on the story of the ugly duckling, but much truth is captured here.

Yesterday the United States launched air strikes on ISIS strongholds in Syria. I believe that ISIS is a corruption of our truest selves. It is fear-driven and isolationist, both of which are toxic to human health. But sometimes we really do get convinced that our penguin flippers are duck wings, that migrating south for the winter will get us to climates that are more suited to us, and that pond weeds are better food than fish. The idea that by violence and terror they can take over the world and make it into the Kingdom of God on earth is a self-contradiction.

Perhaps it is the lesser of evils that there are greater forces standing in their way. I hate to think that bombing can bring in the Kingdom any more than random and brutal killings. But something had to be done or the rest of the world stands guilty of complicity by non-action as more and more good people are murdered. We must speak of the imago dei on larger terms than the individual. We must speak of it in terms of social systems and global economies as well.

Bombs, maybe—but what can we do to call forth the true self from the systems in which our own people and the people of the world live? That’s the only long-term solution.

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Spiritual vs. Religious

I get a lot of “I’m spiritual, but I have no use for organized religion.” I am fully cognizant of the ways that organized religion has beat people up, and as a professional religionists, these characteristics of my vocation are cause for great pain. On the other side, just jettisoning religion and creating something “spiritual” isn’t necessarily the answer.

Yesterday I participated in an interfaith “Blessing of the Water” on the banks of the Gila River. We shared prayers from various traditions, symbols and rites, and invented some as well. We blessed the water with water from a couple dozen places around the world, most known for the sacred nature of the water at those locations. We ended with a “Dance of Universal Peace,” which has Sufi roots. It was all very nice, very sweet, and in its own way, quite religious. But I wonder just how spiritual it was for people.

For example, afterwards we went to a site close by where the day before a friend of mine with ties to the First Nations Peoples had created a Water Medicine Wheel. It was a mandala on the ground made of two colors of corn meal, arranged on a circle with six equidistant points around its perimeter, oriented north-to-south. Rough-cut rose quartz crystals in water figured highly in the symbolism of the rite of creation, as well as offerings, and a series of dance-marches by concentric circles of people going in opposite directions around the center. I did not witness this ceremony, but someone else commented on “the energy” felt during it, and still lingering at the site.

Here’s where I have my concerns. “Feeling the energy” is hardly distinguishable from a Pentecostal preacher asking if you “feel the Spirit.” What if you don’t? Is your faith somehow lacking? Are you somehow blocking the flow? Is there something wrong with you? If so, then the other person is clearly more open, more spiritual or more advanced than you, and bingo, it’s no longer a spiritual exercise, it’s a battle of egos.

The spiritual is always and eternally a gift. It comes to all, and it has nothing to do with merit, achievement or perfection. Spirit will always put the ego in its proper place. Religious practice is how we express our desire for and our openness to Spirit, but it can never take its place. When religion is about ego it works backwards to its purpose—there is no way to force a gift. When the gift comes the more you say about it the more it sifts through your fingers like sand, for too often words serve the ego, not the Spirit. The mystical traditions of the world all claim that the closer you get to the heart of God the less you can say about it.

So I really have no idea how “spiritual” it was, for those for whom the ego was put in its place were probably the ones who spoke least about it. And here’s the rub—that’s no different than organized religion. New ritual is no guarantee of anything spiritual. Personally, I’d rather trust the ancient wisdom reflected in the spiritual traditions of the world.

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The Nature of the Sacred

There is a rumor going around that the current School District administration is out to break the teacher’s union. Union officials have been marginalized in their negotiations with the administration and accused of not having the employees’ best interest at heart.

A petition for decertification of the United Steelworker’s Union was filed last month in reference to Local 9424-3. The union hall 890 in Bayard is of “Salt of the Earth” fame is the site from which the strike against the Empire Zinc Company was launched in 1950, and is home to its successor, Local 9424-3.

The rise of unions in our country came on the heels of the industrialization of our economy in the 1800’s, in response to abusive management practices. They have been a voice for justice in the workplace over the years. But they have also overstepped their boundaries more than once. Jimmy Hoffa, Teamster’s union boss, was accused of numerous crimes and disappeared in 1975 to go live with Elvis somewhere, I suppose.

Are unions a thing of the past? Have laws replaced their function? Has the management environment of business in the United States risen to embrace equality, fairness and respect? Are unions a sacred cow that must be slaughtered for the good of the people or are they still the guides and marshals of the search for the holy grail of true justice in the workplace?

I’m sure the answer to that one cannot be given categorically, and neither can it be given about most sacred cows. If the cow stands in the way of the sacred for you it has become an idol, and one must follow the Buddhist admonition, “When you meet the Buddha on the road, slay him.” If, on the other hand, the cow is an icon of things beyond it that still draw you into the heart of the divine then it serves a great purpose, perhaps the greatest on earth.

Unions and sacred cows are always penultimate.

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Small Step, Big Hope

El Gallo Pinto Restaurant sold me some fine menudo the other day. The owner, Mr. Ortiz, was in the dining hall as I waited for my take-out order. We got to talking—it’s hard not to end up talking to Mr. Ortiz. The restaurant was celebrating it’s one-year anniversary and it was applying for a liquor license. I saw in yesterday’s paper that the town granted it to him, opening the path to final paperwork with the state and a new chapter in the history of this fine little eatery. In Silver City the eatery business offers stiff competition—we have some of the best restaurants in the southwest—but El Gallo Pinto is not just your run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant. For starters, they serve a mean menudo con patitas.

The little place illustrates an anomaly in our economy. Food service establishments and micro-breweries are not going the way of Walmart. Small, family owned businesses are making people a living in this sector. The big boys, Anheuser Busch and Chili’s have their niche, but it’s not this one, and more and more people are demanding a more personalized encounter with food and adult beverages. This is a small step, but it gives me big hope. If the small-scale economy could diversify in other ways as well there could be a more realistic future for the middle class again.

I would like to hope that the movement shows another, deeper trend. I would hope that we’re getting fed up with efficiency, tired of uniformity, and bored with quantity. Maybe we’re finding the strength to throw off the yoke of the tyranny of the bottom line, and reach for greater but less efficient goods.

Maybe we are realizing that we have sold our souls and need them back!

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