Saturday, May 14, 2022

Making Peace In the Moment We Are Alive

        It is a custom to offer reflections of gratitude for a Buddhist teacher on the 100 day commemoration of their death. May 1 marked this continuation for the Most Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, or Thay (teacher), and this is my belated offering of gratitude. 

Sunday, May 8, 2022

A Spectrum of Trust

        For years now, we’ve been discussing different aspects how to manage broken relationships, especially relationships strained by the increasing polarization of American society. More and more people speak with me about feelings of isolation and loneliness. Even before the pandemic, more than 40% of Americans reported feeling that their relationships weren’t meaningful, and 20% said that they “rarely or never feel close to people”. (https://www.welcomingpath.com/2019/09/loneliness-listening-and-gift-of.html )

Sunday, May 1, 2022

May Day, Unions, and Economic Justice

I grew up in a working class family, with a father who worked in a factory my whole life. Most of those years, he worked second shift, which was great in the summer. We were able to go to the school lot and play some version of baseball several times a week. It was a pick-up game if enough people were available, using ghost runners if we were short. And if only a few of us were there, it would be fly-knocker or hot-box. Other days, we were out in the community, maybe mowing grass together for folks who couldn't manage their lawns or picking up groceries. During the school year, I mainly saw him on the weekends, except for those nights I managed to stay up late, and we'd catch the late news or reruns of M*A*S*H*. 

In our home, there was never a question of the dignity and importance of manual labor. My dad considered other careers, but the factory had better pay and benefits than the options available to him after university, so he stayed at the factory. I grew up understanding that his work wasn’t less important than the work he might have done if he had chosen a different career path. There was also never a question about the importance of labor rights and union organizing. Even though my dad worked at a non-union factory, he always emphasized that the benefits he enjoyed were also because of the power of unions. 

        At the heart of all of this were some very basic principles. I couldn’t put them into words as a child, but I could give a short list now: 

  •  a healthy economy cannot be separated from equity and equality; 
  • everyone should have access to a safe, stable, and healthy economic and social life; 
  • discrimination and disparities are signs of social sickness; 
  • the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain should always be protected and prioritized;
  • all work and workers should be treated with dignity and gratitude.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Part of the Difference

 “We’re With You”

In the late 1990s, Holly and I taught English classes during the summer semesters at a small university outside of St. Petersburg, Russia. One year, a professor joined our classes, to brush up on conversational English. Over those weeks, made longer by the famous White Nights, we had the delight of getting to know Vladimir a little more. We traded stories, and he shared books with us by his wife, who translated Russian poetry into English, and vice versa. We went mushroom hunting with his family in the grand forests north of the city, where I learned there are mosquitos that can bite through denim. But the most memorable time we spent with Vladimir was during a visit in March 2000 when he took us on a guided tour of St. Petersburg and shared stories of his youth during the siege of Leningrad during World War II. 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Hinduism & the Possibility of Pluralism

I gave these reflections as part of a lecture series on demythologizing religion, with an emphasis on learning to live together in healthy, compassionate, wise, and joyful ways. 

    When I spoke about Buddhism last week, I could speak from the perspective of someone who has personally benefitted from Buddhist teachings and practices and is an active member of a Buddhist community. In other words, I have a lived context for what I was sharing and accountability for mistakes and misunderstandings. It’s important to me to acknowledge that this is not the case when it comes to speaking about Hindu traditions. I have not formally studied Hinduism for a couple of decades and I don’t currently have any personal connections with Hindu communities or practitioners. When it comes to these reflections, I want to be a courteous guest. 

Friday, March 18, 2022

Buddhism & Nonattachment to Views

I gave these reflections as part of a lecture series on demythologizing religion, with an emphasis on learning to live together in healthy, compassionate, wise, and joyful ways. My particular interest has been in how many (mis)use a faith tradition in order to protect abusive and oppressive systems of thinking and acting. As I’ve noted before, “If an institution can’t survive without tolerating or protecting abuse, then it should not survive.” 

~~~

    Buddhism has long enjoyed a reputation, at least in the West, for being one of the more flexible and tolerant religions. There are good reasons for that, and my focus today is on one of those strengths. But it is also important to point out that Buddhism has been subject to the same limitations as any other cultural or religious system, including fundamentalist violence. Buddhist societies have struggled with war, economic injustice, patriarchal and gender violence, racism, and genocide. 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Less About, More Through: Reflections on Black History Month

    I don’t remember the exact words he used, but something I learned from my father was the link between history and current events. If you want to understand the world, to be able to read current events with insight, take the time to understand the history. This sounds so obvious, but it is a necessary reminder in a society that has struggled to learn how to remember and tell its history in a meaningful, truthful, and transformative way. No where is this more obvious in the US experience then in its observance of Black History Month.