Why I'm here

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"We're all here because we're not all there." So said a friend of mine, quoting his wise grandma, at a 12-Step meeting.

Step Two says, "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." Which has two direct implications: (1) we're crazy, and (2) there was a time in our past when we weren't.

I know about craziness. I saw it on a regular basis growing up, and mostly attributed it to my father, who used to drink a fifth of Scotch a day. His liver, obviously, was prodigious. (In later years he tried switching to wine and would typically drink one and a half gallons a day.) Family life -- my "familiar" life -- was crazy.

Every child thinks his family is normal (until he finds out it's not). And as John Bradshaw notes, the alcoholic "star" of a family affects the attitudes and even world views of the others in it. Everyone tries to compensate, in one way or another, to try to allow the family to survive.

My particular form of craziness manifested itself in several ways, the most obvious of which were as a superachiever and as a peacemaker. The superachiever part had its upside, especially during my school years, and landed me a very prestigious job. And the peacemaker side had its benefits, too: as I've previously mentioned, many people even thought I was a priest. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me.

These traits also had their downsides. The superachiever part of me couldn't tolerate anything that I perceived as a flaw, in particular anything that would make people fail to respect me. Thus, I was closeted as a gay man for years. The peacemaker couldn't tolerate conflict, and so I would avoid it at all costs in my personal relations. People would do things that I would feel angry about, but I would never say how I felt because that would upset them. Instead, I stuffed my anger. Or they would do things that frightened me, and rather than confront them, I would avoid them.

Eventually, of course, all these feelings would surface, and then those around me would be bewildered. Whatever happened to our "nice" friend? What set him off? Is he nuts?

He was. My efforts to manipulate situations so that I could find peace of mind are described (no surprise) in the book Alcoholics Anonymous:

The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.

What usually happens? The show doesn't come off very well. He begins to think life doesn't treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?

I still try to play the Little Director on occasion, but when I do, I usually recognize (often after being reminded by friends) that I am doing it. And then I can step back and let people live their own lives, while focusing on mine.

That works a lot better for me. I can stop stepping on people's toes (or, alternatively, constantly looking out for toes I might be stepping on) and instead take purposeful steps. The unhealthy people in my life, disturbed by this new behavior, have largely drifted away. Other people and things I have had to say goodbye to, in order to make room for what might come along next. And while I might miss them for a time, I am invariably surprised at what eventually arrives, courtesy of God, the Universe, karma -- whatever you might call it.

And so I keep coming back to my fellows in recovery, the people who are all here because we're not all there. I am being restored to sanity. This has allowed me to pursue my creative side, including my writing (and thanks for reading, by the way) and my musical. I leave in a few hours for New York City to continue along that path.

The other day, I suggested to a friend who was struggling that he write a Gratitude List. I've found it's a lot healthier to focus on the good things we have than on what we lack. Here's a start on mine right now:

Being cared for
Close friends
Having the necessities (food, clothing, shelter)

What are you grateful for in your life?

Does Jesus hate Muslims?

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This week I ran across "Happiness in This World", a blog by Alex Lickerman, that described one of my character defects so well, I'll simply point you to it. It's amazing how well he described the "Good Guy Contract," also known as the "Mr. Nice Guy Syndrome" or "people pleasing." I recall that, in my case, I once complained to my boss that I had a six-month backlog of projects and no staff to help me. I thought this might prod him into at least getting me a part-time assistant. Instead, he replied, "You have to learn to say no to people." It took me a long time, but I finally learned. What I didn't realize is that I was making other people angry -- even the ones I said yes to!

As Alex Lickerman describes his moment of revelation about the Good Guy Contract:

I understood not only what it was but why I kept signing it: my self-esteem, which I'd previously believed to be built on things solely internal, was in fact entirely dependent on something external -- the good will of others. The Good Guy Contract was simple: I would agree to be nice to you, to advise you, to sacrifice for you, to care about you -- and in return you would agree to believe that I was wise, compassionate, excellent as a human being in every way, and finally and most importantly, you would like me.
He goes on to offer concrete examples of people pleasing, and suggestions on how to stop. An excellent read.

I'm on vacation, so this week I'm turning the blog over to a commentary by one of my brothers. My blog is intended for people of all faiths, so interfaith relations are a continuing theme. He lives in the United States and writes from a Christian perspective. The title of this week's entry is his, and I hope you find his thoughts interesting.


America is getting to be a scary place these days. Reports are coming in from all over the country of anti-Muslim demonstrations and hate crimes (although one searches in vain for mention of these incidents in most of the mainstream media). However, one in particular that did catch my ear was in a Keith Olbermann segment which reported that a mob outside a mosque in Bridgeport, Connecticut, shouted, among other things, "Jesus hates Muslims" at the worshippers attending services there.

As a Christian I find this both offensive and ludicrous, but apparently it is becoming a mantra of the so-called "Conservative Christian" movement. So I wondered, what did Jesus actually say about interfaith relations? After all, he was a Jew in a world where most cultures were still pagan and religious affiliation determined, in many cases, your nationality and how you related to those "others" outside your religion even more strongly than in our "enlightened, secular" culture (sarcasm intended).

Perhaps surprisingly, Jesus had very little to say directly about what to do and not do in these situations. In fact Jesus had little use for "laws" of behavior, preferring to speak in parables and letting the listener "get it" (or not). However, at one point he was asked a direct question on this matter and chose to give a very clear response. The story is recounted in Matthew 22:35-40:

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus said unto him, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Prior to this episode the Sadducees and Pharisees have been trying to trick Jesus into making seditious statements against Rome and he has been deflecting their questions. Here, however, the question is so direct and has such a compelling answer that he simply gives it to them with both barrels. And within these two statements are the core of Christianity: Put God first (and by implication lay down your own desires/hatreds/fears in deference to God) and by doing this you will be able to Love your neighbor as yourself (and yes there is a reason for this order).

Needless to say I see little (OK, none) of Jesus' teaching in someone who shouts "Jesus hates Muslims". There is someone who hates Muslims there, but it is not Jesus.

Instead Jesus commands us to love our neighbors, and that "neighbor" covers quite an expansive notion (see Paul A. Keim's commentary, "And the Third Is Like unto It",for a bit more on this). But these hate-filled "Christians" object that Muslims are not "our neighbors", they are our enemies. Even so, Jesus has some famous words to say on that subject:
"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." (Luke 6:27-28)
Now let me make it very clear that I do not consider Muslims in general to be "enemies", 99+% of them are decent human beings trying to make a good life for their families just like most other Americans. However, even if you think of all Muslims as "enemies", Jesus is quite clear what he expects. Certainly this is a hard teaching to follow and contrary to the most basic instincts of human nature, but clearly it is what Jesus expects of his followers.

So Christians have a choice: To follow the actual teachings of Jesus, which is hard, or give in to the hatred and revenge which lies at the dark core of human nature, which is easy.

America is getting to be a scary place these days. I am scared for what my country is becoming.

War and peace

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Summer is drawing to a close, and I'm feeling lazy.

Let's try that again. It's the dog days of August, and I'm relaxing and enjoying the end of the summer vacation season.

Better? What's the difference?

The difference is the language I use to describe myself. When I call myself lazy, I'm putting myself down. When I call the exact same behavior relaxing, I'm building myself up. Relaxation is a form of self-care; laziness is not.

How to tell the difference? There isn't any, really. It's all about how the ego perceives the world. My actions remain the same.

I cannot be happy when I attach my emotional state to my judgements, nor can I be when I attach it to the judgements of others. They might perceive me as lazy, relaxed or both. It doesn't matter. As a good friend of mine used to tell me, "happiness is an inside job."

And so the news this weekend in the United States is focused on a hate rally in Washington that drew close to 100,000 people. Populist demagoguery has always had an appeal to a certain segment of Americans, the never-ending war of "us against them", and in one sense it's good news that so few people showed up.

But the news coverage was wall-to-wall, especially in the media owned by Rupert Murdoch, who has become fabulously wealthy as a bottom-feeder. The rally was led by one of his employees, Glenn Beck, a man of small ideas. Frankly, if I'm looking for a nutty professor, I'll take Jerry Lewis.

The book "Alcoholics Anonymous" well describes the blame-others personality:

He is like the retired business man who lolls in the Florida sunshine in the winter complain­ing of the sad state of the nation; the minister who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would only behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up.

I try to give as little mental space as possible to these types. All demagogues with a megaphone are, of course, potentially dangerous. But many other dangers also lurk in the world. It's easy to see the world as a dangerous place.

It's much harder to look past the appearance of danger to the underlying reality. Yes, a lunatic might kill me; I perceive that as a danger. I take reasonable precautions against such a possibility. If I see a car weaving toward me, I back away from the curb. But that won't prevent the car from lurching forward and hitting me. What can I say of the driver? Perhaps he's drunk. Perhaps he wants to kill me. Perhaps he has had a heart attack and has lost control of the wheel. The motivation is unimportant; the result is the same.

And the underlying reality of every situation is that, yes, eventually I will die. As another close friend once told me, "John, we are all going to die. The question for you is, what do you want to do between now and then?"

It's often said that we are given only today, that 24 hours is a manageable chunk of time. In the 12-Step programs, this approach is summarized in the slogan One Day at a Time. When I focus on the present, my worries about the future and my regrets about the past don't loom so large. They become manageable.

So the real questions are: 1) What do I want to do before I die? and 2) What do I want to do today?

And this is where the fear of laziness kicks in. In his book "Healing the Shame That Binds You", John Bradshaw notes that family-based shame leads us to become "human doings" rather than "human beings" -- always on the run, always busy. Well, I don't have to accomplish anything today. Relaxing can be just fine. So to rephrase those questions: 1) Who do I want to be before I die? and 2) Who do I want to be today?

Those questions fit me to a T. Today, I want to be someone who uses his anger like fuel in an engine -- not to lash out at others, but as a source of power. The engine is my creativity, currently focused on my writing (doing that now) and my musical (help needed and welcomed). And which direction to drive? That's the answer to the question about who I want to be before I die -- the creator of a musical.

The purpose of these plans is to be of service to others, in particular, to carry the message that recovery from addiction is possible. I've discussed these goals and projects extensively with people I trust. I believe that these reflect a higher purpose for my life. By giving little attention to the bottom-feeders who would claim my attention, I can practice Step Three: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God." Again, the AA Big Book describes the result:

Estab­lished on such a footing we became less and less inter­ested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life. As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became conscious of His pres­ence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow, or the hereafter.
The references to God might seem too overtly religious, especially to the agnostics and atheists among us. The phrase "God as we understood God" is intended to temper that, to be inclusive of all religions, but my experience is that a belief in a specific god or gods is not necessary to recovery. All that is really needed as a starting point is an open mind.

That's where I started on this path, nearly two decades ago. I still have fears of today, tomorrow and the hereafter. But I also have faith that the world is a safe, welcoming place. And so long as my faith is ever-so-slightly deeper than my fears, I am able to move forward.

May you find the same peace of mind today.

The heart of bigotry

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I'm writing this week's entry from my Ground Zero Condo. Well, not really.

I don't live in my World Trade Center condo any more. And it wasn't a condominium, it was a rental. And it wasn't in the World Trade Center, it was about 200 steps away. But you get the idea.

It was close, really close, just like the Ground Zero Mosque, which wouldn't be a mosque at all and wouldn't be at the World Trade Center site in New York. This hasn't stopped the haters from mounting a populist campaign against it.

These people dress up their hatred with sympathy for the victims of the attack on the towers, in which 3,000 people died. They conveniently omit the fact that it wasn't just Christian Americans who were killed; in fact a number of Muslims (and even -- horrors!!! -- unbelievers) died as well. They conveniently omit the fact that the families of the dead are divided on the issue. They conveniently omit the fact that people from outside New York -- from around the United States, or for that matter from around the world -- were deeply affected by the attacks. Would they tell Muslims not to build anywhere in the United States? They already do.

The bad news is that the populist hate-mongering has worked so far, with a large majority of Americans telling the builders to go elsewhere. The good news is that two important politicians (the president of the United States and the mayor of New York City) have bucked the easy populist route and defended the Muslims' right to build wherever they choose, as promised by the United States Constitution.

I have a personal stake in the matter beyond my former residence in the shadow of the towers. My ancestors fled religious persecution in Europe. They were told that they were free to worship as they chose -- so long as it was elsewhere. They chose America before the United States was born.

In America today, the voices of reason are starting to be heard. People do, occasionally, change their minds when confronted with the truth. But many times, people will just dig in deeper when confronted with facts, unwilling to admit they were wrong.

So I'm loath to tick off the facts:

  • The developers don't plan a mosque, but rather a community center whose facilities include a prayer room. (If you find a chapel in a YMCA, does that make the Y into a church? Hardly.)
  • The community center wouldn't be at Ground Zero. (In fact, you can't even see Ground Zero from the site.)
Enough. You get the idea, if you're in the reality-based world. For a compassionate, factual analysis of the situation, I highly recommend the essay by Dick Cavett.

One of the saddest aspects to this debate is the verbal cruelty directed at the imam involved, Feisal Abdul Rauf. I wish I knew him personally, because his reputation precedes him; he is a man of deep humanitarian values. I needn't fear for the imam, because he is a man of faith, a faith that transcends the pettiness of today, but still it's frightening to see him confronting the buzzsaw of hatred ginned up by the likes of Newt Gingrich, whose political life has been built on exploiting issues that tug at people's lowest passions.

One of Newt Gingrich's basest contributions to the hate-fest has been the notion that the United States should permit the community center when Saudi Arabia permits a synagogue in Mecca. Think about it: He is advocating that the United States use Saudi Arabia as its example of religious tolerance. Even Newt Gingrich, however, has apparently had enough and is starting to distance himself. Hate has a way of getting out of control.

As I mentioned at the outset, I used to live practically next door to the Trade Center, and I passed through its hallways at least twice a day. En route I would sometimes stop to buy fruit from a vendor on the street, a sweet man named Mohammed whom I enjoyed talking with even when I didn't want any fruit. One day I saw Mohammed entering my high-rise building, which surprised me because I knew he couldn't afford to live there. The next time I saw him I mentioned his visit, and he explained that his spiritual leader lived in my building and he went for guidance regularly.

After the horrors of Sept. 11, I feared for his safety, as there were several people burned by jet fuel who were standing next to the towers, and he was that close. I learned second-hand that when Mohammed heard the news that extremists had perpetrated the crime in the name of his religion, Islam, he lost his mind and was committed to a hospital. Another victim whose story won't be told by today's anti-Muslim bigots.

Which brings me back to the title of this week's post. It's an allusion to Ground Zero, but also to the human heart. When I feel disturbed by the bigotry of others, it's time to examine my own heart.

I don't like bigotry. I've been confronted with more than enough of it in my lifetime, and I have confronted bigots as well, often with nasty names and put-downs, other times with facts. And guess what? Facts don't work against hate.

Discrimination is built into the human mind. Much of it is innocuous -- I prefer pink over green. I categorize. It's a survival mechanism. The problem arises when discrimination combines with the herd instinct to single out scapegoats. It's older than the Bible. And just as strong as ever.

So what does work against hate, in my experience? Love. Passionate, irrational, all-encompassing, dangerous, radical love. Hard as it might seem, I pray for Newt Gingrich and his fellow travelers. I pray that the veil of hatred be lifted from their eyes. I pray that God's love soften their hearts. And I pray for myself as well, that I realize I'm in the same boat as them, and that the veil of hatred be lifted from my own eyes, and that God's love soften my own heart.

Rumi and the killer cat

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While I was attending Gay Games last week, a soccer buddy pointed me to an interesting post on Elephant Journal titled, "I'm a Buddhist, but my cat is a serial killer".

Poor Joslyn Hamilton. She appears to be a thoughtful, caring person, at least as she comes across on her blog, "An Outside Eye". She's a former yoga teacher, now a freelance writer, who describes herself as "practicing ferocious self-care".

Her post on Elephant Journal is, as she later described it, "somewhat tongue-in-cheek", and makes for a good read. Her choice of career is a challenging one, especially in these times; her knack for good writing will stand her in good stead, I trust. I certainly wouldn't want that as my meal ticket!

Nor would I want "look what the cat dragged home" as my meal ticket -- in the case of Joslyn Hamilton, a steady stream of small birds. Apparently sharing that view, she tried a variety of tactics to stop having dead birds on her kitchen floor, to no avail. I'll let you read her post to see what they were, but she even tried belling the cat. No deal.

I certainly empathize with her problem. And since I'd been looking for real-world examples (outside my own world, which I'm pretty sure is real) of the spiritual axiom I wrote about two weeks ago, I was happy to be presented with one. (Ah, Schadenfreude.) That axiom states, "Every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us."

And Joslyn Hamilton was disturbed. Very disturbed. Hysterically, freaking-out disturbed, as she put it.

The surface cause of this disturbance seems to have been the confrontation with blood and death. I am with her 100% on this one -- I can't stand the sight of blood. Once my dog got into a fight and had a nasty gash on his snout that required stitches. Took him to the vet, where the assistant asked if I'd hold him while they did the operation. Fine, I said. Two seconds later, the vet looked at me and said, "I don't think you're up for this. You'd better go outside and sit down." Which I promptly did, so as to avoid fainting in his office. (One reason I never became a doctor despite my high scores in science.)

Death in the abstract is relatively easy to deal with -- we become inured to it every day, from the bland reports of far-away catastrophes to the closer but still unreal obituaries in our local media. The reality of death can be shocking and deeply unnerving. Dealing with death is, I think, one of the principal reasons for the world's religions.

But then our blogger went a layer deeper, as highlighted by the title of her post. She's a Buddhist -- a recent follower, learning the way -- and her cat is a serial killer.

Not a term I would have chosen, and as she noted, partly tongue-in-cheek. Her blog makes clear that she thinks of Buddhists as peaceful, mindful people, and that she thinks of herself that way, too. Certainly not as serial killers. As she puts it, "I am an aspiring Buddhist with my own path and so have an obligation to protect life whenever possible (or, at least, convenient)." She also ties this in to her choice of food, rather defensively saying, "And although I do eat meat, I am educated on my sources and am prone to long chats with the vendors at the farmers market about just how nicely they treat their chickens pre-rotisserie."

And this, as several of her commenters pointed out, seems to be the heart of the problem. She admits that hunting is in the cat's nature, and nothing she does seems to be able to stop it. The Serenity Prayer tells us to "accept the things I cannot change", yet she finds her cat's behavior unacceptable. Why?

It's clear she's uncomfortable eating birds. In the "pre-rotisserie" post above, she describes how she had been a vegetarian for eight years, and even after that she still avoided chickens, only recently starting to eat them.

So did she see her cat as challenging that? Perhaps her Higher Power was sending her a message?

I certainly believe that Higher Power, the Universal Good, God, our Better Nature, however you want to think of him/her/it/them, sends us concrete messages, and sometimes we have the perceptiveness to hear or see them. Only Joslyn Hamilton can tell us if this was the case with her.

And many of the commenters at Elephant Journal rushed to judgement -- offering advice on dealing with cats (or dogs), what to eat (or not), and on and on. In a follow-up post, she blasted those commenters.

"I seem to be a magnet for angry vegans, although the article had almost nothing to do with my eating habits. Somehow, many of the readers took a story about my kitty's hunting skills and decided to apply it to my personal ethics as a conscious meat-eater."
A bit defensive, are we? Another Tenth Step opportunity?

A few commenters on the original article, however, looked at it from a different point of view:

"It's unclear why you believe yourself to be morally responsible for the actions of your cat." (She responded by saying she wasn't sufficiently clear in her original article; she was examining her own moral dilemma of what to do with the dying animal, not taking responsibility for the cat.)

"We can't take these things personally. All we can do is work with our own minds. By the way, Tibetan Buddhists & Zen practitioners eat meat. I like Joslyn's exploration & sensitivity around this issue. Isn't everything inevitably about being CONSCIOUS & LOVING?"
Amen. My takeaway from this is a lovely Rumi poem that she cited in her follow-up.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, and even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.

From "The Essential Rumi", translation by Coleman Barks

To think big, think small

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Greetings from the Gay Games in Köln, Germany.

It's my second Gay Games and my second visit to this city, known as Colonia (The Colony) in Roman days and as Cologne (pronounced like "Colonia") in French. I haven't been wearing my medals much, but on Saturday, I went hog wild and wore all three -- one bronze, one silver and one for participation. I wore that last one on top.

I've been asked in the past if I prefer being a participant or an observer. For most of my life, I've been a professional observer, and much of this blog deals with that. It's easy for me to observe, to judge and to criticize. And hard for me to join in, as I saw once again at the parties during the week. I rarely knew more than one or two people and felt uncomfortable most of the time.

Fortunately, I've learned that a good life is not about being comfortable. In fact, comfort is often a sign of trouble. It's a sign of lack of challenge, lack of balance.

So I came to Köln to compete, yes, but also to participate. The motto of the Games is Participation, Inclusion and Personal Best. No mention of medals. Yet the competitive side of me would have been pissed to walk away empty handed. (Probably why they give out the participation medals in the first place, come to think about it.)

No mention of observing, either. Yes, the media are here, as are the marketers. I had a brief chat one night with one of the marketing folks, telling him what a welcoming place Köln is and how well organized the Games were. He gave me a pin of the Dom, the cathedral that was the only building left standing in the central city after World War II. Carpet bombing razed the rest.

I write this week about participation because some of you might have concluded from my previous entries that I oppose taking action about things that bother me. Not so. I simply find it counterproductive to take solo actions about distant matters that I cannot affect. Far better is to act locally, and preferably in concert with others. Thus, participation this week in the Gay Games.

As at my first Games, I was deeply moved by the sight of thousands upon thousands of gay/lesbian/bi/trans people gathering together for positive action. I didn't count, but I'm told there were competitions in three dozen sports, in addition to a large number of cultural events. And parties, as I've mentioned. Never forget the parties.

There were some spiritual events as well (though I believe the entire week was a spiritual event). I went to the Antoniter City Kirche (Anthonites' City Church), which has had gay-oriented services for several years now, and attended a service in German in the morning and one in English in the evening. I must admit that I preferred the sermon in German, most of which I didn't understand, to the one in English, which quoted heavily from Freddy Mercury (including the lyrics of "We Are the Champions"!).

Ah, well, I know how hard it is to write a weekly sermon. By that, I mean this blog. I don't literally write sermons, though for some reason many people assume I'm a priest. If I am one, I must have the world's smallest flock!

In any event, local action -- usually selfish local action -- can blossom into something effective when others join in. Bill Wilson wanted to stop drinking, but found he couldn't do so on his own -- he needed others to join him. Linus Torvalds wanted to replicate the Unix computer operating system without paying the steep fees to the licensors; he was able to create something rudimentary on his own, but only when he published his work and invited others to join him did Linux come into existence. And the lonely struggle of Tom Waddell to have his fellow gay athletes come out of the closet eventually led to the first small Gay Games in San Francisco in 1982. Twenty-eight years later, the Games have grown tenfold.

Not all local actions lead to global movements, of course. Bill Wilson offered these insights:

In the societies which failed to leave a bright mark in the annals of the world, there was always a false or boastful sense of history, always a mistaken or inadequate purpose and always the presumption of an infinite, a glorious and an exclusive destiny.

In the societies that left their mark of goodness on time, the sense of history was not a matter for pride or for glory; it was the substance of the learning of the experience of the past. In the purpose of such a society there was always truth and constancy, but never a supposition that the society had apprehended all of the truth -- or the superior truth. And in the sense of destiny there was no conceit, no supposition that a society or nation or culture would last forever and go on to greater glories. But there was always a sense of duty to be fulfilled, whatever destiny the society might be assigned by providence for the betterment of the world.

If your goal is to solve the world's problems, the best place to start is your own back yard. What are your challenges today? Don't think for a moment that you're alone in facing them. How can you reach out to others with the same problem? How can you join forces locally? Right thinking and right actions are good in and of themselves. If they actually result in change, more power to you.

If you're looking to win a gold medal, first get a medal for participation.

The dark and the light

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I have a visceral dislike for Dick Cheney. I think there are many people in this world who do evil inadvertently, or occasionally, but very few who actively promote it. I think Dick Cheney is one of the latter. His playbook seems to be "1984," George Orwell's classic dystopian nightmare. Trumping up endless wars against vague opponents as an excuse to spy on his fellow countrymen -- sound familiar? Perhaps he doesn't really pray to Satan, I don't know. Perhaps oil doesn't really run in his veins -- who can say?

I can say that I've never met the man. And that I'm powerless over him and his actions -- past, present or future. And that he has a daughter who's a lesbian mom who apparently doesn't detest him. That's a good thing. The point is that nobody's all good or all bad, even Dick Cheney. And when I see the bad in someone else, it's invariably a reflection of something I fear in myself. What could that be? Certainly I haven't abused high office. But I have kept secrets (I was in the closet for years, for instance) and I have spied on others or tried to control them.

So when I say I don't like these characteristics in others, I'm really saying I don't like them in myself. It's a form of the spiritual axiom -- whether you think of it as karma, the Golden Rule, or even "what goes around, comes around".

I mention this because of some feedback I received from a spiritual leader I respect, who commented on the subtitle of this blog: Solving the World's Problems. It's tongue in cheek, sure -- it was almost "Solving ALL the World's Problems" -- but it's also serious in the sense that to solve the world's problems, each of us must look within.

The feedback I received was: "Solving the world's problems is, I do believe, the purview of only one Man... ;-)"

The writer meant Jesus, or perhaps more precisely Jesus Christ. But this blog focuses on spirituality, not religion. (The difference, I've been told: "Religion is for people who are afraid of going to Hell; spirituality is for people who've already been there.") I was raised in a Christian culture, but I have found spiritual teachings to be remarkably consistent across religions and philosophies. Two from Jesus particularly resonate with me: Turn the other cheek, and Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Crucial aspects of the Golden Rule are that it is active, not passive, and positive, not negative. In other words, it is not enough simply to refrain from harming others because I fear the consequences. And turning it around, if I feel that someone has harmed me, it is not my job to retaliate. Instead, I need to turn the other cheek -- and to go further. If I desire a better life for myself, the Golden Rule tells me I must act to make a better life for others.

For me, an appropriate response to anger is to shift my focus. So long as I stare at what I perceive to be the agent arousing my anger (Dick Cheney), I am unable to see the reality of the situation (my fears about my own inadequacy). I can't do anything about Dick Cheney, but I can reduce my petroleum consumption. Only by shifting my focus am I able not only to turn the other cheek, but also to try to do something good in the world.

So my prayer list this week includes the Cheney family. This helps me overcome my selfish anger, which is always (when I trace it back) based on selfish fear.

But my list must, of necessity, go further. I pray for my neighbors in need, including Thomas, a 16-month-old boy in intensive care. And I pray for my neighbors in joy, including Daniel, who is celebrating his birthday. And I pray for my neighbors doing good in the world, including all those participating in the Gay Games this week.

And I'm going further: visiting Thomas in the hospital and consoling his parents, sharing a celebratory meal with Daniel, and going to Cologne to participate in the Gay Games this week.

I invite you to share what you're doing to help others this week.

Birds of a feather

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I've been in the "word business" for a long time, both as a writer and an editor. One of the great things about writing a blog is the immediate feedback, which can be both gratifying and alarming.

Another good thing is the ability to make changes quickly. In the broadcast world, once a word is out there, it's out there. Same in print, though periodicals have a tradition of publishing corrections, and textbooks sometimes insert a page of errata. For a blog, though, no problem. (In fact, the temptation is to correct something without noting the original error, a habit that can lead to sloppiness.)

But perhaps the best aspect of the blog, from my perspective, is the ability to involve the reader in the process of creation. So here's a challenge for you this week, Dear Reader.

A friend recently emailed me a copy of "The Bird Cage," a heartwarming story which I hadn't seen before and which I reproduce below. (While it is set in a specifically Protestant Christian context, I hope it resonates more widely.) I decided to try to track down the author, without success.

One remarkable aspect of this story is its consistency. The versions I found on the Internet, using Google, were remarkably similar. In fact, the only major change I noted was the removal of the period before "He opened the door" in the last paragraph -- a change that makes the sentence ungrammatical and clunky, in my opinion. The version sent to me also has a typo in the first sentence, where
"man" became "mqn."

The earliest version I could find through Google was from late 2000. Unfortunately, there wasn't much to the Web before that, and ditto for search engines. The version I found was essentially identical to the version I received lo these many years later.

It was posted as part of a collection of inspirational notes, poems, and the like by a person who identified himself or herself only as "Chris" and used the email address ccr417@aol.com, an address that no longer functions. (417 might be an area code, in which case Chris was from the Ozarks in Missouri.) Chris's father was recovering from cancer, and Chris posted the story on an email list called MOL-CANCER, the MOL standing for Medicine Online, the Web site that hosted the list. So far as I can tell, the list -- or at least its archive -- terminated on Dec. 31, 2000.

I know this posting is the oldest that Google has, because Google allows you to narrow searches by date. And I suspect it was the first posting on the Net, because many of the subsequent postings conflate it with the MOL posting that followed, which was titled, "Isn't It Funny?" (Another possibility is that the conflating began at Grandma's House, a site that no longer exists.)

So there you have it. Readers? I'd like to know a little more about Chris, Chris's father, the cancer, and their lives after the posting. And a little more about where Chris found the story. Here it is:

The Bird Cage

There once was a man named George Thomas, a pastor in a small New England

One Easter Sunday morning he came to the Church carrying a rusty, bent,
old bird cage, and set it by the pulpit. Several eyebrows were raised and,
as if in response, Pastor Thomas began to speak.

"I was walking through town yesterday when I saw a young boy coming toward
me swinging this bird cage. On the bottom of the cage were three little
wild birds, shivering with cold and fright. I stopped the lad and asked,

"What you got there son?"

"Just some old birds," came the reply.

"What are you gonna do with them?" I asked.

"Take 'em home and have fun with 'em," he answered. I'm gonna tease 'em
and pull out their feathers to make 'em fight. I'm gonna have a real good

"But you'll get tired of those birds sooner or later. What will you do

"Oh, I got some cats," said the little boy. "They like birds. I'll take
'em to them."

The pastor was silent for a moment. "How much do you want for those birds,

"Huh??!!! Why, you don't want them birds, mister. They're just plain old
field birds. They don't sing - they ain't even pretty!"

"How much?" the pastor asked again.

The boy sized up the pastor as if he were crazy and said, "$10?"

The pastor reached in his pocket and took out a ten dollar bill. He placed
it in the boy's hand. In a flash, the boy was gone.

The pastor picked up the cage and gently carried it to the end of the
alley where there was a tree and a grassy spot.

Setting the cage down, he opened the door, and by softly tapping the bars
persuaded the birds out, setting them free.

Well, that explained the empty bird cage on the pulpit, and then the
pastor began to tell this story.

One day Satan and Jesus were having a conversation. Satan had just come
from the Garden of Eden, and he was gloating and boasting.

"Yes, sir, I just caught the world full of people down there. Set me a
trap, used bait I knew they couldn't resist. Got 'em all!"

"What are you going to do with them?" Jesus asked.

Satan replied, "Oh, I'm gonna have fun! I'm gonna teach them how to marry
and divorce each other, how to hate and abuse each other, now to drink and
smoke and curse. I'm gonna teach them how to invent guns and bombs and
kill each other. I'm really gonna have fun!"

"And what will you do when you get done with them?" Jesus asked.

"Oh, I'll kill 'em," Satan glared proudly.

"How much do you want for them?" Jesus asked.

"Oh, you don't want those people. They ain't no good. Why, you'll take
them and they'll just hate you. They'll spit on you, curse you and kill
you!! You don't want those people!!"

"How much?" He asked again.

Satan looked at Jesus and sneered, "All your tears, and all your blood."

Jesus said, "DONE!" Then He paid the price.

The pastor picked up the cage. He opened the door and then he walked from
the pulpit.

Take care of them. Now. Please.

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Ah, memories.

Well, I promised to let you know in two weeks about praying for those I resent, so here's my report.

This notion was first introduced to me when I first started following the path of those who had taken "certain steps" in recovering from alcoholism. Those steps, as described in the book "Alcoholics Anonymous," are now widely known as the Twelve Steps, and a variety of Twelve Step programs has been the result. (Some would call it an industry, though if it is, it sure doesn't support many people financially.)

I recommend the approach for the truly desperate who feel they have tried pretty much everything else without success. It's not an easy path to follow! But it has bettered the lives of many.

Like most people I've met on this path, I was full of resentment against others when I began. As I described in my posting two weeks ago, their actions seemed entirely wrong, their motives suspect.

Fortunately, people with more experience along the path offered to help guide me. Even more fortunately, I was desperate enough to listen. If I wanted to recover, I had to set aside my arrogance, at least temporarily.

So when I was ready to hear, someone suggested that I pray for those I resent. I went along. My first prayers were quite simple: "God, give them what they deserve." I did not mean that in a favorable sense.

After a few days of this, I found that my resentment had changed into something else, as had my prayer. Now it was, "God, take care of them." And while I often meant that in the Mafia sense, I didn't always. After two solid weeks, I was able to pray for God to remove my resentment and guide them on their own paths.

I was, to say the least, shocked at the effectiveness of this approach. The basic literature of Alcoholics Anonymous puts it well when describing Step Eleven: "It has been well said that 'almost the only scoffers at prayer are those who never tried it enough.'" I decided to keep trying it.

Soon enough, I recognized several things: (1) my resentment didn't hurt them, (2) it did hurt me, (3) I was giving my resentments a lot of room in my head, (4) I needed to allocate more room to the good things in life.

So this week my prayer list includes:
  • People using the Twelve Steps to recover
  • People still suffering
  • Those who have helped me along the way
  • Those who I think have tried to hinder me
This is a continuing process, and not one that has happened overnight. One of my good friends told me early on, "I wish you a long and slow recovery." I resented that, too -- or at least I was deeply confused by it. Now I'm grateful for his good wishes.

One good result of this two-week process is that I get sick of my resentments. That allows me to set them aside and focus on my own life. And when I am able to do that, I find I have more than enough to do -- like writing this blog -- and the resentment fades from memory.

Now what was my topic this week?

We've got the St. Louis blues

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This week's word is "blues".

As in the blues, the musical style, and also the mood. My dictionary tells me the term comes from the phrase "blue devils," a phrase denoting the DTs, or delirium tremens, which is characteristic of severe alcoholism. (I doubt that Duke University plays up that angle when referring to its basketball team!)

In 1914, W.C. Handy wrote "The St. Louis Blues", which became a standard. St. Louis is now known for its blues, so much so that its ice hockey team is named the Blues.

A few years back, I was fortunate to visit that city, where I enjoyed the lush music and hung out with some bright people, including Larry Levin, publisher of the St. Louis Jewish Light. He recently wrote a thought-provoking piece titled "Can Jews Engender Anti-Semitism?"

He starts off by recounting the time that George Soros said certain policies by the U.S. and Israeli governments had contributed to a rise in anti-Semitism in Europe. George Soros was rebuked by Abraham Foxman, who accused him of "blaming the victim."

I think George Soros is wrong, not because he blamed the victim, but because he assumed that anti-Semitism is caused by others' actions.

Our internal state does not depend on events in the outside world. Think of two poor single mothers in India with six children. One might bemoan her poverty; she has the blues. The other might celebrate her children; she is happy. And their positions might reverse tomorrow. Emotions flow like waves. This Too Shall Pass.

Now consider the anti-Semite, whose thought process regarding Jews is based on emotion and stereotype. Interest rates go up -- it's the greedy Jews' fault. Interest rates go down -- it's the manipulative Jews trying to stimulate the economy so they can line their own pockets. Unemployment up? Greedy Jews, firing my buddies. Unemployment down? Manipulative Jews, trying to lull my buddies into a false sense of security.

In short, any set of external facts can be used to justify a bias. And these biases are not limited to a particular culture. Anybody can "play the (blank) card" -- fill in your own blank. I was raised to identify myself as an American WASP -- White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. That's three cards: the race card, the ethnicity card, the religion card. (Four if you count the nationality card.) I have been privileged to live in a number of American cities and in France, where there are nearly as many Jews as Protestants. I felt like a zoo specimen. Let me recount a dialogue with one Roman Catholic friend ...

Friend: I've never met a Protestant before! What do you call the places where you worship?

Me: I'm confused, what do you mean?

Friend: You know, Jews have synagogues, Sikhs have temples. What are yours?

Me: Churches.

Friend (guffawing): No, really, what do you call them?

You can't make this stuff up. I noticed a strong anti-Muslim cultural bias in France and a weaker anti-black one, mostly directed at African blacks as opposed to American ones. I later realized that this was a broad-based discrimination against anyone from the former French Empire -- it applied to Vietnamese as well, and Haitians, but not to blacks from, say, Jamaica. Nearly all the whites from the former empire are Muslims from North Africa, and the discrimination is intense.

I met a number of Muslims whom I counted as friends. By and large, they did not distinguish between Israelis and Jews (a confusion fostered by Israel, as evidenced by the oft-repeated allegation that any anti-Israeli statement is anti-Semitic). And so when Israel adopted any policy that these French Muslims found offensive, their reaction wasn't to condemn Israel, but rather to condemn Jews -- exactly as George Soros observed.

Such discrimination is human nature -- we categorize our experiences. Intrinsically, this is neither good nor bad. If we put our hand in a flame, we may decide that "all flames burn" and resolve to avoid that behavior. We can make the same resolution without getting burned ourselves by learning from others. Similarly, if we are mugged by a gang of young blacks, we may decide "all young blacks are muggers" and resolve to avoid them. We might even make the same decision based on what we hear from others.

I am responsible for my actions and their consequences, but I cannot control how others react. Some people may find them enlightening, others horrifying. 

Some people may find a particular Jew's action inspirational, even to the extent that they want to convert to Judaism. Other people may find the same action appalling, even to the extent that they feel a rise in anti-Semitic feelings.

So those feelings are independent of the act itself. Our spiritual and emotional equilibrium need not depend on any events in the outside world.

And so that's my answer to Larry Levin's perceptive question. Can Jews engender anti-Semitism? No. Jews can no more engender anti-Semitism than Missourians can engender the blues.

Does that leave me helpless and hopeless? Not at all. I can do my part to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding. It can be as simple as communal prayer, as original as contemporary art, as pragmatic as buying and wearing a T-shirt.

Here are some people on my prayer list this week:
George Soros
Abraham Foxman
people who feel superior to anti-Semites

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  • ceciltthn: 子どもたちの最大の安全で簡単なが確保可能にする赤ちゃんの車の座席のために行く,エルメス 2013新作|エルメス ガーデンパーティ|エルメス 財布 メンズ|エルメス ケリー|エルメス フールトゥ。 また、ガイドラインと機能それぞれオファーを見つけるために、各赤ん坊のカー·シートのためのマニュアルを読んでみてください。 車のシートのサイズは、一般的にあなたの赤ちゃんがどのように大規模に依存し​​ます:これは、製造元とfunction.4)サイズによってそれぞれの赤ちゃんのカーシートを比較する上で、より良いアイデアを与えるだろう。 コミュニティ組織は、サービスの需要に対処するために苦労している、と278107人に背を向けることを余儀なくされていることを社会サービスレポートの残念なことに、オーストラリア·カウンシル read more