Almost anyone in the United States can be elected president
Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States. He will be the 45th person to lead the country. His election represents a turning of the heart of this nation. Donald Trump embodies the dark side of America. Donald Trump exposes all that remains to be transformed by the vision of those who fashioned the constitution. In his speech and behavior Donald Trump has demonstrated himself to be intolerant of others, disrespectful of others, without compassion for the plight of others, and insensitive to activities that threaten the survival of the planet.
This failure to live out the vision that radiates from the founding principles of the nation has always been in the background, has always been a lingering, unresolved component of the American dream. Groups of people from its conception have been excluded from enjoying the privileges that prevailing laws and traditions have given to others, laws and traditions secured by persons with the most power, advantage, and prestige.
Persons native to this generous land whose pervious care and reverence for all that is present in the earth, these honorable persons were denied a place at the table they once set for the newcomers. Persons brought to this country against their will, persons upon whose backs the country was established, they too have been denied an equal opportunity to share in the benefits of their labors. And certain religious communities have been abused and assaulted because their beliefs did not conform to what was declared to be orthodox by a majority of patriots.
Differences in practice and appearance have always been a source of suspicion among residents of this nation. Yet the possibility of rising above these perceived threats to inclusive community has before been preserved. Because of their diverse heritage a recognition among Americans of common human dignity served to commend the effort to attain the provision that will ensure respectful coexistence for every individual. In spite of obvious failure, this inherent knowledge continued to perpetuate the aspiration for eventually achieving the equality for everyone endorsed by the vision emitting from the constitution. That has been true until now.
Before in political discourses this dark side of the heart of the nation has been kept from the forefront of national pursuits. Although it has always been a component of national identity this dark side of America has before been publicly condemned. Until now. With the election of Donald Trump to be president, the dark side has been brought to the front and center of public America. The precepts that compose the dark side are destined to become the dominant theme that will construct the national orientation of the United States for the next four years.
The election of Donald Trump was made possible by a resurgence of a white supremacist impulse previously relegated little influence in national elections. It was the content of the campaign of Donald Trump that inspired this racist, sectarian, and intolerant instinct within the American community to mobilize to set the agenda of the country for the coming years. Donald Trump proposes to accomplish pursuits that will benefit the motivation of white supremacy and help those persons who desire to promote it to achieve their objectives.
The speech and behavior of Donald Trump oppose the intention of the Institute to Honor Freedom of Conscience to nurture respectful relationship and create inclusive community among all members of the human family. Racist, sectarian, and intolerant impulses that dominate the attitude and actions of Donald Trump and those who support his proposals obstruct the pursuit of respectful relationship and inclusive community for everyone.
It is our commitment and purpose to prove these disruptive impulses are a corruption of what it means to be a human being–a corruption produced by feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, and the necessity to compete for personal survival.
The reason I am awake
I enjoy being on the farm, especially in autumn. After leaves fall spaces before dark and dense open to a broader view. It is as though what remains is the substance of the forest–the basic structure upon which all else depends. In the autumn one can see how foundational structures work together to compose the integrity of the naturally constructed forest system.
This week I walked several times along a survey pathway that has been cut through my tree farm. It defines the location where a proposed power line will be constructed through the forest. The result will be all the trees inside a 40′ wide strip across the farm will be destroyed. I have resisted this proceeding yet it appears I will be unsuccessful in my argument to have the power line diverted to follow another route, one that will take the power line around my property.
While in the woods I passed slowly along this course. I stood beside each larger tree and touched the tree with my open hand as I looked up to see it towering into the sky above. Some of the trees are almost three feet in diameter. Some are scarred by weather, having lost branches due to storms or been charred by lightening strikes. Others are crooked, seeming to surge and twist, appearing to have been driven by some unseen force. Then there are the many small trees in varying stages of development according to their individual innate prescriptions.
Most of the route that will be cleared for the power line passes through virgin forest–trees that have voluntarily grown up in this space, some of them present here for almost a hundred years. Here hardwood and evergreen trees grow together as they have been fashioned and distributed by the secret provisions of nature. No human involvement has intervened in this proceeding. This is sacred space, a special place provided to us by mystery.
For the next three nights that followed this experience I could not sleep. I was awake, not agitated or distraught, but just awake. And it was not the kind of awake that results from noise or pain. Rather I felt sustained by an energy I believe was transferred to me when I touched these trees. Because of it I did not need sleep to restore me. I do not know any other reason that would have caused this peculiar awareness of infused refreshment. Somehow in the experience of being among these trees and seeing them–not merely looking at them but actually seeing them–I was given a gift of revival.
The experience of being among trees may constitute a particular necessity for humans for which there is no substitute. The forest provides a calming of the impulses that animate human beings. The forest provides a way for the rhythms of human nature to be synchronized. Being inside a forest may be the only place where this depth of recreation can occur.
Those who continue to insist that the power line be constructed along this particular route see only a convenient solution to their problem of finding a way to provide electric energy to some machines. These persons do not see a provision for human recreation in the sacred space created by these trees. Sure, leaves and flowers will blossom forth in this forest no one will ever see. Trees will grow and die here, and no one will be there to witness it. The cycle of life will repeat itself here again and again as it has done for many times before us. Yet in the mysterious proceeding of the creative spirit these trees serve a purpose, one we are still in process of fully understanding.
And if the ambitions of people like those who plan to construct this power line continue to prevail, we may forever loose our chance to understand it.
On choosing a world to live in
Wonder characterizes the natural world. Its enriching beauty amazes us. The variety of pleasing elements is too plentiful for any one person to experience all of them during a lifetime. In every part of the earth humans can find abundant refreshment in the natural order. Yet many persons struggle to find comfort and joy. It is not the earth that is lacking, but the human management of it is lacking in encompassing vision and inclusive community. However regardless of what others choose to do each of us can sustain a vision of how we want to live in the earth.
At the local outdoor market here farmers and artisans each Saturday bring and display their products and creations. When I am in town I am usually there too. I enjoy casually strolling through the walkway passing the always interesting collections of goods on every side. I sometimes stop to purchase an item or two. This morning I had found some not so perfectly-appearing tomatoes that were discounted because they were not as aesthetically appealing as those larger and rounder. Yet these were good tomatoes, seeming to me to be as though they had endured common struggles of growing in the open garden and not so much protected as those gathered in the greenhouse.
After selecting my favorites I laid them on the scale. The attendant told me the price was $5. I gave the keeper a 20 dollar bill and he gave me change, three bills I assumed were all $5 each. Yet as I turned to go I realized only one of them was a five dollar bill. The other two were 20 dollar bills. The attendant had given me $45 in change and five dollars worth of tomatoes for the 20 dollar bill I gave to him.
All of you who have had much experience in purchasing in an outdoor market can recall a similar incident. You give payment for an item and the attendant because of distraction or attending to other customers gives you back more money than is due.
After this happened to me this morning I begin to think about the world we live in, not the wondrous world of nature but the world that humans live in. And I begin to wonder about how the consequences of living vary with the primarily two different perspectives that are possible for someone.
Each individual has a choice in every situation to live in respect for others–to treat them as we want them to treat us. This person will be aware that in the course of living their life other people also put forth energy in order to accomplish personal objectives. Perhaps they too strive to make contributions that will make life better for them or for members of their family or for their friends or for a cause which they have a strong desire to see prevail. If they were given more money than was due in exchange for a purchase then they would let the attendant know of it. This person would want to pay the requested price and return all extra money they had received.
Or each person has a choice to live for oneself. Living in this way prompts someone to take advantage of every opportunity to receive a personal benefit. They have specific objectives for themselves and in every exchange with others they work to ensure their interests are protected and advanced. They have no regard for the situation of others, what their desires are and what their circumstances may be. All that is considered is how will this transaction benefit me. If someone gave them more money than was due in exchange for a purchase then they would keep it. They would congratulate them self for being in the right place at the right time.
I wonder what the difference would be in the circumstance of an individual who made the choice to respect others and the circumstance of an individual who made the choice to live for oneself. Which one of these persons would be more content, more supported, more able to pursue their objectives?
In reality there is no way to know the answer. Arguments exist to favor both scenarios. And collective wisdom can be found to commend either choice. So no one can know for certain which choice will serve them better during their life in the earth.
However the choices do make a difference in the world we live in. Each choice has a different impact on the way people relate to each other. Each choice produces a different context for persons to maneuver. Setting personal preferences aside, the choice to respect others makes the life of others a bit easier while the choice to live for one self makes the life of someone else a bit more difficult.
So the question is not, Which of these two choices will serve you better during your life in the earth? The question is, What kind of world do you want to live in?
On forfeiting the chance to be human
Like so many other persons, I too wonder what happens to disconnect the witness of conscience that makes it possible for individuals to commit horrific brutalities toward other persons. The human conscience does not cease from functioning. It does not die. It does not retreat. So what allows individuals to harm and viciously take the life of another human who lives with them in the earth?
It is remarkably astonishing how differently individuals respond to the presence of other human beings.
Daniel Berrigan died recently at the age of 94. Most people in the United States and many in the international community know of him. He struggled with the circumstances that fashioned his life and with the sensations that filled his spirit and his heart. He was not isolated from suffering and pain and discomfort and disappointment. Yet he was mostly perplexed by the consequences of human choices that made life miserable for others. Through the entirety of his adult life he searched for ways to relieve their pain. Daniel resisted social practices that caused harm for others. He was jailed and ridiculed because he would not turn away from anything he could do to raise awareness of how any injustice hurt another person. He challenged these things not by causing others to suffer but by choosing to take actions that produced suffering for himself.
And there is the life example of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq. He too is deeply committed to bring change, yet he advocates violence, enormously extensive violence. Human life is incidental to him. He will have anyone abused and killed who does not conform to his concept of how persons should behave in the earth. Only those he can use to accomplish his objective are valuable to him, not because he cares for them but because they can be used as his instruments to inflict violence. Abu Bakr cites some profound prophetic directive to justify, to require his merciless slaughter of designated infidels. And there is no remorse, no grieving, no regret that he is responsible for destroying the human life he brings to an end. His actions are unconscionable.
Two specific individuals, Daniel and Abu Bakr, and two contrasting responses to the presence of other persons who live with them in the earth. Daniel valued human life by promoting behaviors consistent with the witness of human conscience. Abu Bakr acts in ways that completely contradict the dictates of conscience. So what happens to obstruct the witness of conscience in cases where individuals deliberately conspire to take human life away for others who are their neighbors in the earth? How can they look upon another person and violently assault them? How can an individual stand in the presence of another human being and attack them with the intention of destroying them? What component of human nature works to obstruct the conscience that witnesses of the mandate to treat others like you want them to treat you?
Is it possible the human conscience can be corrupted? Is it possible the human conscience can be coerced? What force has the capacity to override the persistent witness of the human conscience?
Maybe the human conscience can be obstructed by the force of self-aggrandizement that works to cause someone to want to be superior and in control. Maybe it happens because of an incentive to be applauded by the others, to be looked upon with admiration and fear. Whatever the reason, the human conscience becomes obstructed when someone decides to aspire to be something other than human. To reject the gift of mortality fundamentally moves an individual outside the realm of humanness. Being outside the realm of humanness disconnects the creature from the witness of conscience and they become something other than human. They become an alien, separate from the human community. And there they are in a desperate confused universe. And this loneliness makes them become the enemy of them self and anyone else who reminds them of how human they really are.
How are these kind of alien creatures to be treated by the human community? Can they be healed, recomposed? And if so by what means?
In some native communities where human life is viewed as sacred and to be cherished, when a member of the community acted in ways that violated this principle the others would separate themselves from the offender. Rather than violently retaliate and directly punish the guilty individual they would withhold support and resources normally made available to community members. This proceeding required the disrespectful individual to provide for them self, to seek and acquire all they needed to survive. In this way the offender would hopefully learn the importance of being in community, sharing in the work of sustaining their social functioning.
It was relatively easy to perform this detachment in primitive isolated communities. Dismissing the offending individual from the community was a simple proceeding. Once a person was identified as disrespecting the sacredness of human life that individual was banned from participating in community rituals and customs. They were excluded from sharing in the resources of the community. Providing basic necessities for being sustained was a product of the community working together, something extremely difficult for one person to accomplish. Therefore when someone was no longer welcome in the cmmunity that person was seriously at risk of no longer having the basic necessities for sustaining them self.
In our global society anyone with financial means can live quite comfortably while being independent from others. Certainly that individual relies upon the resourcefulness of others to produce food and other desirable provisions, yet these items are easily obtained in the market with no requirement to share in the work of accumulating them. Therefore it is difficult to separate someone guilty of offending human life from benefiting from the labors of the community. It is difficult to establish a provision that puts the offender seriously at risk of no longer having the basic necessities for sustaining them self.
The only possibility of accomplishing this objective is to remove the resources the guilty person depends upon. Withholding and divesting financial support from someone who disrespects human life would effectively separate that person from the benefit of being in community. Yet this action would require extensive coordination and mutual consent of all members of the global community. In a world where diverse and conflicting aspirations abound getting to this place is almost impossible to perceive. For some groups may hope to obtain an advantage by the savage behaviors of others.
Yet with concentrated effort, when the violence is so aggravated, when there is determination, it can be done. But who among the nations is not guilty of the offense of violating human life? Who among us is capable of condemning another while not condemning our self? This reality exists as the reason for our collective inability.
Yet even so the individual can choose to embrace the chance to be human by honoring the witness of conscience. Because being human is a good thing, not a thing to forfeit.
The knowledge of sexual fulfillment
The need for sexual expression is a fundamental characteristic of being human. All healthy individuals experience routine and often intense episodes of sexual desire and their corresponding longing for relief of sexual tension. Sexual expression constitutes a component of human nature that must be respected and affirmed in order for persons to live a balanced and fulfilled life in the earth.
Sexual tension can be relieved in several ways. Individuals can choose private behaviors that will manage episodes of sexual desire. Self pleasuring is a behavior that enables persons to respond to the need for sexual relief. Regardless of the environment and situation that describe the condition of an individual self pleasuring is always an option for successfully satisfying the need for sexual activity.
However sexual satisfaction is most beneficial when it can be achieved in the company of a partner. Being able to participate in sexual activities with someone else not only heightens the intensity of sexual feelings but also provides an additional degree of pleasure and relief. Therefore having a sexual relationship with a consenting partner enables the human creature to enjoy sexual activities that can be managed to match the frequency of the desire for sexual expression of each individual.
Having a sustainable sexual relationship with someone can provide a means of achieving satisfactory sexual relief but it cannot ensure that an individual will experience sexual fulfillment. Sexual fulfillment requires that sexual activity engage the entire human constitution. Merely having the experience of a physical sexual activity cannot provide the deeply satisfying relief that comes with achieving sexual fulfillment.
Sexual fulfillment requires that sexual activity involve the emotional and psychological dimensions of human being as well as the physical component. A comprehensive and enduring spiritual attraction to the partner redefines the meaning and purpose of a sexual act. When sacred love exists between two individuals sex becomes the ultimate expression for communicating adoration and devotion. Sex allows two persons to express their respect of and attraction to the other in the most personal and passionate way possible for humans to behave.
Better understood all sexual urges are prompted by a desire to achieve the comfort of contentment. For many persons the longing for the comfort of contentment can only be achieved in a soul relationship with someone else. This kind of relationship is more than a superficial attraction or a casual acquaintance. Being in a soul relationship means feeling the deep respect and intense adoration for the other that results in nurturing and preserving an exclusive connection with their spirit and their heart.
Nothing communicates this soul attraction as effectively, as comprehensively as sexual love. When an individual experiences this kind of sexual activity then they have the knowledge of sexual fulfillment. And sexual fulfillment has the capacity to produce the comfort of contentment. Indeed for some of us it is the only thing that has.
On placing blame
Never does it happen that anyone achieves all they aspire to. Because of the human capacity to imagine perfection no situation or condition can possibly measure up to what we are capable of envisioning. This predicament poses a specific dilemma for humans. The disappointment and frustration produced by the difference in what we experience and what we imagine cannot casually be dismissed. Each one of us must find a way to manage them.
Managing disappointment and frustration takes on many varied proceedings. Discerning observers who have accumulated a balanced perspective along their journeys are able to recognize that the combination of human imagination and finite limitation is responsible for our inescapable plight. This characteristic of human nature causes us to be forever bound in the arena of unfulfilled aspiration. There is simply no way for us to exist in the earth otherwise.
Yet for less accomplished persons, trying to recognize the construct which generates disappointment and frustration during our presence in the earth can be an elusive challenge. And as a result persons often look for someone to blame for their distress.
Persons with power have the ability to influence practices in societies that work to disenfranchise persons without a direct means of revising these repressive systems. Some societies have implemented a democratic process that provides for its citizens to express their preference for regulations and laws which will govern their collective association. Other societies rely on traditionally established patterns of government that provide little or no opportunity for individual members of the community to influence how authorities use their power. And independent persons sometimes use their power to create havoc within communities by targeting particular segments of the population.
Circumstance is the phenomenon produced when various unpredictable and uncontrollable forces work together to compose a specific condition from which humans cannot escape. Consequences determined by random events of both natural and human origin can justifiably be a reason for much human distress. So circumstances along with the unjust, self-seeking actions of persons with power are legitimate places to attach blame. These two sources represent the rightful causes of our disappointments and frustrations.
In any society, however, regardless of its governing principles, persons living within these communities can and often do identify other components to blame as the cause of their disappointments and frustrations, components that have no more affect on the application of power than they themselves. And by ignoring the influence of circumstance persons can easily point to a category of other creatures that coexist with them in the earth to blame for their distress.
Maybe the cause of their distress is some grouping of birds or animals that prevents persons from living as they prefer. Or more likely they identify the presence of some grouping of people who differ from them in some way as the reason for their unfulfilled condition. Either way they believe another grouping of creatures whose presence in the earth is of equal meaning as themselves is the reason for their disappointments and frustrations. So by disregarding both unjust applications of power and uncontrollable circumstances, some individuals choose to blame their distress on others, other living beings who are their neighbors in the earth.
Individuals choose to blame others for their distress because they have devised a thought process which makes them feel superior to these others. These persons believe they are privileged beings. They believe they are more important than others. They believe they have a preferred status. And in order to convince themselves of this merit they appeal to some historical event to explain their exceptional value.
Maybe their exceeding value arises from their ancestry, or from their clever accomplishments, or from their physical statue, or from their resident location, or from some other source. Any perceived notion can serve as the basis for a claim of the proof of their exceeding importance. And yet, no matter what source these persons appeal to to explain their superiority, the source will always fall either into the realm of circumstance or into the class of those persons who benefit from the unjust application of power.
For it is always the unjust application of power and the random character of circumstance that control our destiny. All we can do is recognize this certainty and direct our attention to these in order to rightly understand and effectively manage our disappointments and frustrations.
Pleasure or just entertainment
Finding refreshment during the journey through the earth is essential for the human creature. Living through the human experience exposes us not only to fulfilling achievements that enrich and bless our presence but also to dismaying situations that cause us sadness and distress. Early in our lives we discover we do not control what happens to us and around us. Incidents occur that cause us to loose relationships and forfeit behaviors that before had been valued components of our lives. Because of unpredictable conditions even our most carefully made plans will sometimes result in disappointment and frustration. Accumulating sorrows and grief eventually causes us to become anxious and tense. We need refreshment, re-creation, in order to continue functioning in the way we are fashioned to function.
Fortunately, there is a way for us to manage the distressing consequences of disappointment and sorrow. For every human appetite a corresponding avenue to pleasure is possible. Pleasure is the natural and sufficient antidote to human distress and depression. Pleasure brings refreshment to the human spirit and heart. Pleasure provides a way for the human creature to be re-created, made anew, enabled to re-engage life regardless of the circumstances that define our environment. In the most bleak and dangerous conditions refreshment enlivens the human spirit and heart and creates hope that the next moment may bring us closer to contentment and peace.
Finding pleasure is not as simple a proceeding as we might first suspect. While it is true that every human appetite provides a corresponding avenue for experiencing pleasure, simply by indulging in an appetite does not ensure that pleasure will be the accompanying benefit. Take for example the human appetite for hungering. Consuming food is a central and critical human appetite, yet how we obtain food is also critically important in order to receive the added benefit of pleasure. Gathering food items, preparing them according to personal preference, and serving them in a calming and casual environment, these conditions are necessary so that eating food can bring us pleasure. Yet often we are too busy to gather desired food items and we settle for what is convenient. And preparing food takes such time that we often settle for food that someone else has prepared. And in our haste to meet schedules and deadlines we often grab something fast and eat it while en route to accomplish what we consider a more important activity.
As you can easily recognize, not all actions and pursuits meant to provide pleasure actually accomplish this objective. Engaging in any one human appetite carries with it a measure of sacredness. For every appetite an element of reverence must be respected and preserved if the action is gong to be capable of bringing pleasure and with pleasure the refreshment we long for.
Because we do not routinely consider engaging in human appetites as sacred activities, we thereby miss the means of experiencing their accompanying pleasures. Our lack of pleasure causes us to slip easily into a pattern of living that replies upon other behaviors to bring us pleasure. However the result of these alternative activities is not authentic pleasure but a kind of synthetic pleasure.
Entertainment almost always becomes the vehicle that we depend upon to generate the experience of pleasure. When we do not intentionally work so that we find pleasure in conjunction with a human appetite we turn to something that is fun or challenging or eccentric or even scary and believe that the resulting feeling is one of pleasure. Yet because it is synthetic pleasure this feeling does not and cannot bring refreshment. So we tend to search for even more demanding and absurd activities to bring us the satisfying re-creative energy that only pleasure can provide.
So take a moment to reflect on the human appetites in which you engage. Do you recognize a sense of reverence when engaged in eating, or working, or sexual activity, or resting, or just breathing? Or do you reactively participate in things that can entertain you as a way to find pleasure and refreshment? Do you feel an emptiness and heaviness that cannot be consoled by anything you have tried?
By intentionally arranging for essential human appetites to be sacred activities you will experience pleasure and discover a re-creative energy that calms while at the same time energizes you in your journey through the earth.
On learning about trust
When I was young, toward the end of my high school years I instinctively requested entry into a fraternal organization to which my father and grandfather belonged. I based my decision to join this group not on principals that defined the lodge but solely on my deep respect for these two men who I so much admired. I believed if they belonged to the secret body that was all the persuasive testimony I needed to trust belonging to it would be a good thing for me too.
After a few years I no longer associated with the group, not because I was disappointed with their agendas but because I chose to invest my time in other pursuits. Yet the trust I initially had that prompted me to become involved with an organization frequented by my father and grandfather resulted in a profound and enduring lesson for me.
This lesson occurred during the initial initiation phase necessary for my entry. This occasion required my hands to be bound and that I wear a blindfold. After proceeding through a few nonthreatening procedures in the course of the provisions at one point I was suddenly pushed backwards. When I tried to maintain my balance by stepping back I discovered a strap was being held behind my ankles. This restriction prevented me from moving my feet and consequently I could not keep my balance. I began falling backward.
I do not remember any other events associated with my presence in this organization, yet I distinctively remember this moment. I remember falling and wondering what would happen to me. I had no alternative than to accept my uncertain condition. As I fell backward I knew I had no way to break the fall. I was going down. I recall not knowing anything about how this event would eventually end. I was afraid of being hurt.
And I recall another thing. I had put myself in the presence of this group. I had not resisted as they bound my hands and blindfolded me. Now this particular scenario was playing out, and I was totally at the mercy of their actions. I had two alternatives. Either I could become agitated and fight against being pushed backward, or I could trust that they would protect me. Somewhere in the fall I made a conscious decision to trust this process.
I was not injured. When I thought I was about to hit the floor I found myself cradled in a sheet that on each side was being stretched by many members to break my fall and lower me gently to the ground. I remember having had a dramatic feeling of being comforted, and this feeling has been brought to the forefront of my memory on many occasions since that incident.
For a reason I do not fully understand this event instilled in me an abiding sense of trust in the process of life and the human experiment. The combined wisdom that accumulated in this organization probably made this experience possible for me. Because of this incident I was caused to believe that no matter what would happen to me, I would be okay. Feeling I would be okay did not mean I would always be safe, or that I would achieve everything I hoped for. I knew that during my journey in the earth I could be injured, I could be pushed aside, I could be killed. Yet regardless of what would occur I believed there would be something more for me.
I realize now it was this feeling of trust in the life process and the human experiment that gave me the freedom to make choices I believed were right for me without being inhibited either by the expectations of others or by the fear of consequences. And I believe now it is this same trust that gives a person the freedom to choose to treat others the way they want to be treated regardless of what may appear to be in jeopardy. This trust may be the only thing that can create this kind of freedom.
I know I speak from a position of privilege. Yet I have traveled and worked in dangerous situations. I have learned about the difficult conditions many persons must endure. These persons might as well have their hands bound behind them; they might as well be blindfolded because they are at the mercy of the actions of others. Many struggle from moment to moment to find a way out of suffering and distress with little hope of having success. I am wondering if being able to trust the life process and the human experiment could bring to these desperate persons the freedom in spite of their dreary environment to make choices that would treat others the way they want to be treated.
Making a choice to treat others the way you want to be treated when you are threatened and suffering requires feeling a deep sense of contentment, one that perhaps might be created by knowing that no matter what happened something more will be waiting. I trust this freedom is possible for you.
A case for choosing change
The human predicament demands that persons make adjustments. As humans live through evolving time sequences knowledge and experience accumulate. The dynamic interaction of these factors produces changes in prevailing patterns that determine how societies function. And changes in societal patterns impact individuals present in the earth. Even in isolated settings where humans seek to nurture ascetic lives by deliberately repelling any alteration of knowledge and experience some changes must still occur because of natural phenomena that can neither be contained nor escaped.
Yet the human condition resists change. Change causes distress and anxiety for humans. Humans resent being forced to make adjustments to living patterns that have become comfortable and predictable. Therefore living in a cultural setting and environment that requires individuals to make changes in their behaviors creates a disrupting scenario that sometimes leads to depression and feelings of hopelessness.
So how did the preference for maintaining established behavioral patterns develop? Since change has always been necessary for human life to continue in the earth why are we not more accustomed to accommodate it? What causes individuals to prefer to continue behaving in established ways?
The reason may have something to do with the innate urge to survive. Being able to continue living is a predominant concern for most individuals. Wanting to stay alive may be the most important ambition of the human race. Making changes increases the risk of encountering danger and being exposed to influences that shorten the span of human life. And yet the aspiration to remain alive contradicts the reality that unending human life in the earth is not possible.
If unending human life is not the purpose of the human experience in the earth then what has caused the human preoccupation with anticipating a long life to become so important? What alternatives exist for human achievement that would surpass the natural urge to remain alive in the earth?
Incorporating personal discoveries made as we travel through the earth might be the purpose of the human journey. Rather than working to remain safe in previously inherited patterns of behavior, intentionally making changes that conform to new revelations would produce refreshment and invigorate individual experience. As humans develop both in physical statue and mental awareness, subjects that before held little relational value become significant features because new discoveries cause previously segregated concepts to become meaningfully associated. As a result this expanded comprehension provides a means to fulfill mysterious longings that before had been a source of distress because they were misunderstood and unsatisfied. Discovering a way to complete fractioned components present in the human spirit and heart often prompts persons to embrace changes that will acknowledge and affirm this newly encountered dimension of human existence.
Personal discoveries not only prompt internal restructuring of priorities and transform previously held ambitions, they also redesign how an individual engages the community and environment around them. Becoming aware of these new sensations can create a concern that surpasses the focus to remain alive in the earth. Responding to this awareness inspires one to search for and to facilitate ways of improving the condition of the human family and the future survival of the planet. Once engaged this quest becomes more important than the desire to remain safe and alive.
Violent confrontations and insufficient resources cause suffering and disruption for many persons in the world. And some indiscriminate actions of humans adversely affect the health of the earth by threatening the wellbeing of both animals and plants as well as by altering the composition of the atmosphere. Working both to identify the causes of these distresses and to reduce the influence of them produces an enduring purpose and sustaining reason for defining the presence of human life in the earth.
History demonstrates how passion associated with improving living conditions for members of the human family and protecting the natural world has often propelled individuals into unfamiliar and even dangerous settings. Risking injury and embracing suffering to challenge practices that produce distress for others and undermine the sustainability of the earth have been behaviors many persons have deliberately chosen. Their commitment to try to make a difference in the wellbeing of persons with whom they share the planet grew out of awareness generated by incorporating personal discoveries made in their journey in the earth.
Investing individual life to improve living conditions for the neighbor and the planet would never be possible unless change was deliberately chosen.
On conceding peace and reducing human suffering as much as possible
Maybe it should not have been such a surprise, that I would eventually be dismissed by the company of persons in the professional circles I chose to enter. When I was younger I was more reserve than my piers. Sure I had the same thoughts and urges they spoke of in locker rooms, yet these were only thoughts and urges to be managed, not acted out as some boldly bragged about doing. I was not going to undermine my health by smoking and drinking alcohol or using other drugs. I was not going to beat up on someone because I needed to be admired or made to feel important. I was not going to use another person for my personal gratification. I was not going to forfeit the chance to celebrate every physical and emotional human appetite within the context of a sacred exclusive companionship with a partner.
At the time I did not realize just how extensively my comprehension of respectful behavioral conduct differed from that of most other people. But as I grew older and became more informed of the choices of others, I discovered I lived in a very lonely reality. When I met the person with whom I wanted to spend my life in the earth I should not have been surprised that she would choose to sanctify a relationship with someone else. When I refused to direct an airstrike on a small vietnamese village of thatch roofed huts with women and children in the streets I should not have been surprised to learn that my supervisors did not value my judgement and afterward downgraded my performance report. When I refused to sacrifice my identity in a Clinical Pastoral Education course because of my belief that every person is an equally valued individual capable of making a unique contribution to the wellbeing of the community I should not have been surprised to be dismissed from the program. When I spoke out on behalf of soldiers who were troubled by the prospect of beginning a war with Iraq that their religious communities had declared unjust I should not have been surprised to eventually be dismissed from the active duty chaplain corps because of unsatisfactorily performing my duties as a military officer. When I stood alone in defense of my responsibility as a pastor in the military community I should not have been surprised that my wife of the time so much resented this stand that she could find consolation only by betraying our marriage relationship. When I came to the aid of a Christian Peacemaker Teams female teammate who was traumatized by her presence in Iraq I should not have been surprised that she would accuse me of sexual harassment and I would be forced to leave the organization. When the accusation of sexual harassment was reported to my ministerial commission I should not have been surprised to be dismissed by my religious community without any opportunity to meet with them and explain the circumstances wherein this charge originated.
Over time my options for continuing in the professional work I felt compelled to enter have been increasingly limited, and now they are completely eliminated. I understand at this point in my life after all that has happened that my perspective regarding respectful behavioral conduct in relationship with others is different than that of most other persons, being quite unusual and very rare.
And I have been caused to believe that if I could not be allowed to promote practices within the reach of my vocational arena that were designed to facilitate peaceful coexistence for humans in the earth then I can find no way to anticipate that any activities how ever well defined and passionately implemented will work to accomplish the objective of enabling humans to live together in peace. Whether because of distrust or the possibility of being deceived or feelings of needing to compete for survival or lack of self esteem, the constitution of human nature is sufficiently inherently depraved whereby no amount of enlightenment can transform it to succeed in creating a peaceful world community.
The best we can do is work to reduce the human experience of pain and suffering as much as possible.
On understanding what it means to be human
Recently it occurred to me that we tend to think more about what it feels like to be a woman or a man and never get to the place where we begin to understand what it is to be human in the earth. Unless we grow to the point of moving beyond the constructs imposed on us by culture and society of what it means to be male and female we will never understand the concept of what it means to be human. Only by knowing what it means to be human in the earth can we see each other as neighbors.
Positioning ourselves as women and men causes us to respond in categorical patterns based on self-serving interactions characterized by inequity and unbalanced sensitivities regarding the wellbeing of the other. We function as one individual who depends upon the behaviors of others for personal validation and security, one who perceives that vulnerability defines my standing and circumstance. Therefore finding a way to be gratified by relationship becomes the principal determination for engaging in interactions and associations.
We tend to live moment by moment calculating our relative distinctive situation thereby loosing ourselves in the thought, ‘How can I use this for my advantage, how can this interaction or association best serve me.’ Thus our concern for how the experience impacts the other is made to be inferior to our own desires and ambitions. This is the consequence of thinking more about what it feels like to be a woman or a man than thinking what it is like to be human in the earth.
I have used an opportunity to reflect on situations that have developed because of the orientation from which I entered into my adult life. Because of an internal and voluntary positioning of a pattern of behavior I believed would bring to me the most fulfillment, actions resulting from this foundation produced specific consequences, most of them unexpected and perplexing.
Soon after I recently began to look at my past experiences from the perspective of what I have felt like to be human in the earth, I had a vague perceptive recollection of an incident I encountered at a very young age. Although I cannot remember the exact details, I sensed with certainty being involved in a conversation in which I heard certain expressions and explanations that caused me without any doubt or the need for any further contemplation to expect a pattern of behavior from others associated with a particular event in the near future. Then when this anticipated event actually took place in time others did not respond to it in the way I had been caused to expect. The result was not like I had been conditioned to believe it would be, and I was confused and perplexed.
However my revelation was much more than that. I realized that this recognition was intended to be a significantly meaningful incident for me, a commentary as it were on how my life in the earth would be experienced. More than being an influence for or a description of how my life would unfold, this incident was meant to be an insight into a predetermined prescription of what would happen to me. In this instance it was as though the entirety of my earthly experience was compacted into a single moment and made to fit into the narrative of expectations and subsequent disappointments, the causes and effects of the decisions I made. And the feelings that resulted from this prescriptive formula were confusion and disappointment and anger.
So the disposition I fashioned in my youth with which I chose to engage life has produced this collection of feelings. They have all occurred often over the course of the broad range of my 70 years of living in the earth. And I now understand this combination of feelings was inevitable because of the orientation from which I made my choices. I was on a mission to preserve my identity–to be consistent with what I sensed about my purpose for being alive in the earth. Confusion and disappointment and anger is what it feels like for me to be human in the earth.
This discovery surprisingly has not produced more confusion and disappointment and anger. Rather it promotes for me a sense of beginning to understand what has happened. And this interestingly has brought a bit of relief for the anxiety that confusion and disappointment and anger create. Rather than continuing to struggle against these feelings I might now begin to be able to accept them as part of the reason I am human in the earth. Because I do not regret engaging life in the way I did, I am finding a reserve of power to acquiesce to the necessity of all that has come to pass.
Meeting you and wanting to share life in the earth with you was the beginning of this life-long drama. You too were immersed in a life-defining story, and we have emerged from this consequential scenario to know more clearly who we are. Looking back we both understand we were close, very close to being able to start a life together. Maybe there were too many differences in where we were coming from and what we were wanting, but somehow it slipped away. Too many assumptions maybe, there would be time, eventually we would recognize it was natural and right and fit for us. The lingering unending connection we share is because of the common struggle we have endured—believing in and imagining the fulfillment of a mutually satisfying dream to have a soul companion yet not being able to embrace it, not being able to move beyond the barrier created by our thoughts and actions which prevented us from being together. Only the tragedy of life in the earth was on our side.
My most formidable enemy along my journey was not encountered in Vietnam or Turkey or Palestine, even Iraq, or in the many other native and foreign locations I have visited. My most formidable enemy was found in the non-violent peace advocacy organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT); not in the field but in the office, and there in the constitutional disposition of two females who are old enough and obviously responsible enough to know better, one being the past director and the other a seasoned cleric.
I have mostly seen this deficiency in feelings of self worth in the field in young team members, or more accurately in spiritually immature team members regardless of their age, which shows itself in their excessive need for external validation. In the process of discussing proposals for constructing plans to accomplish the team mission some members can be observed to become less concerned with the success of the mission and more interested in promoting their own perspective. As a result their energy is spent not on helping to find a suitable method to do the team work but on defending their personal ambitions and maneuvering to secure an advantage.
When the others determine that a different approach will work best for accomplishing the mission these kind of individuals withdraw, appear to be defeated, sulk and complain that they are not being respected or they are being abused, even violated because their desired contribution is not chosen. These spiritually immature persons need the accommodation of the other team members in order to feel valuable and worthy as individuals.
Such is the result of spiritual immaturity: thinking more about what it feels like to be a woman or a man than thinking about what it means to be human in the earth.
In the case of my own encounters with the enemy, whether it was because of insecurity or feelings of inadequacy or just because they were female needing to prove to themselves and others they could wield power without accounting for either accountability or circumstance, these two women opted for orchestrated concession of privilege. So like Tom Fox, I am removed, no longer present there in CPT. I chose to join CPT and go to Iraq because of the experience of Tom Fox. He was killed by external opposition in Iraq; I was dismissed by internal sabotage in the home office.
But this is a personal account having limited impact. Consider another incidence, one playing out on an expansive scale. Twenty-five years ago the United States launched a military assault against Iraq arrogantly ignoring the almost unanimous counsel of the international community that this campaign would dangerously frustrate the historical complex drama at work in the Middle East. And this singular incident set in motion a series of disastrous events that are still unfolding, events that have not only resulted in the suffering and death of millions of innocent persons but also made the search for stability in the Middle East even more desperate. This situation was perpetuated by then President George Bush and a few of his forceful male compatriots acting on their thinking more about what it feels like to be a man than behaving in a way that thinking about what it means to be a human in the earth would dictate.
The enemy is not a mortal being. Nearsighted attitudes and misappropriated power resulting from thinking more about what it feels like to be a woman or a man, these are the adversaries to reckon with, adversaries that lurk in the recesses of spiritual immaturity that demands external validation in order to create feelings of importance and self worth. Thus these immature individuals use any means and possibilities of behavioral response in their power to preserve their perspective even if it means discounting fact and circumstance, and thereby betraying the concept of what being a neighbor means.
Unless persons move beyond thinking about what it feels like to be a woman or a man and understand what it means to be human in the earth there will never be a world community of peaceful neighbors.