A Bit of a Rant, or Maybe a Sermon

I’ve received several responses to my post-election comments, and I want to follow up a bit.

I made those observations — which I truly believe — with full knowledge that there is a certain portion of my readership that either does not wish to find political engagement in my writings, or holds to the belief that self discovery and self realization are basis for any meaningful political change.

To the first, I must say that all our decisions and actions are political. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the word, “political.” I go back to my basic premises in life: We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and some part of our moral responsibility on earth is to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted” until such time as there are no more afflicted.

Since the history of human affairs has given ample indication that there will never be such a time, we must continue to challenge those around us who would draw the lines of their human concerns at the boundaries of the own lives, consciousness, or front yards, and demand that they see the power their actions have for good and ill. Simply put, we cannot opt out of political decision-making, even if we choose to ignore the political process.

If this seems too engaged and too far from the spiritual for some, I would counsel that the gospel of social justice and liberation theology are vehicles of spiritual development as well. If this seems too Christian to some, I would direct people to the boddhisatva path. It is one of the great failings of New Age thinking that self-transcendence has ratchetted down into self-realization, which has, in turn, ratchetted down to self-fulfillment. We do ourselves no honor when we disregard our fundamental responsibility of service to our fellow humans.

This is a long spiral, but it is worth following. There was a great cultural (and spiritual) struggle in the sixties between those who believed that social justice was the precondition for individual freedom and growth, and those who believed that individual freedom and growth were the precondition for social justice. The latter group won out when Ronald Reagan came up with the marvelously impactful idea of “trickle down” economics, which applies to spiritual economics as well: If I do good for myself it will trickle down to those around me, and they will benefit.

What a great way to avoid direct involvement in the difficulties of the world around us, and what a perfect fit with the belief that we must realize ourselves first before we can help others. Ignoring the very real possibility that we best realize ourselves BY helping others, this mindset took strong root in a culture long steeped in individualism and personal initiative.

By the late eighties it was the cultural law of the land, and the predicate of helping others after we had realized ourselves was dropped completely. Self realization became the goal; self-fulfillment became the desired end; and the promotion of means of self-fulfillment became the hollow reed of ostensible service to humankind. Ratchetted up again, it became the spiritual belief that we must accept what is with spiritual indifference and magnanimity and assist others in their own quest for self-fulfillment — a pyramid scheme of self-referential spirituality.

Meanwhile, the streets of the world run with blood and the hungry go unfed. And those mechanisms that use the political process watch gleefully as the best among us spend our spiritual energies studying ourselves while the politically savvy build a world where everything goes into their lunchbaskets while the situations for those in the streets only gets worse.

We must find a way to reverse this. And that is one of the reasons I am so committed to the Native way of seeing life. I hold strongly to the belief that we are all part of the drum, and when the drumhead is struck in one place, it reverberates through us all. I also hold firmly to the belief that service to others is our highest calling. Anything less constitutes a failure to pay our spiritual rent on earth. To be given the miraculous gift of life is to be given something so precious that it can never be repaid, even though we cannot give a name or a face to the mystery that bestowed this gift upon us. So we must express our gratitude with service here on earth.

Now I am sure that some of you are either glazed over or plugging your ears at this point. It is, indeed, a bit of a diatribe. But it is not unwarranted. In fact, it addresses the second group of disappointed readers who see my political leanings as a misdirection of spiritual energies away from self-realization and self-transcendence: We dare not turn our eyes inward when we live in a world where ideologies are at war, because individual human beings eventually get crushed in such a world. We must not let individuals get crushed while we happily sit in the lotus position or practice five rules for living the perfect life.

Ideologies too easily lose their human face. This is what happened with the Islamic fundamentalists, and it is happening with our own fundamentalists, who now control our government. Small fry like you or me may think this is about freedom, but it is about ideology. This is a holy war, and our government has decided to fight it on those terms. Consequently, it is a clash of ideologies — belief systems if you will — and such clashes take place in the skies far above the heads of ordinary folk. We simply accept what falls out of the skies upon us.

Understand this — our country has decided to engage in a holy war, and things will fall out of the sky on us, at least metaphorically if not physically. One of the reasons I have written so much about the need for people to find their relationship to God in their own hearts is because mass spiritual movements brook no compromise. They divide the world into those who join them and those who don’t. Disagreement becomes apostasy or heresy, and heretics do not tend to do well under any religious system. When your political system takes on the trappings of religious fervor, dissent becomes political heresy, and it will be discouraged, monitored, and ultimately squashed.

So, to get back to the initial issue: why I am writing in a more political vein in some of these entries. All our actions and inactions are political,and all the moreso these days. What I see is a need to for each of us to become aware of the political implications of our own choices in our lives, and not to blithely and naively assume that politics does not impact us or that our actions do not have political implications.

Those of us who care about the spiritual life must be very concerned about what is currently being done in the name of God and belief and religion. We cannot let the spiritual quest be co-opted by those who would carry on that quest with a sword.

These are, indeed, tough times. And we do need to report for duty. What that means will vary according to our gifts and circumstances. But, at minimum, it means standing up for compassion and caring, and fighting for those as fundamental, inviolable spiritual values.

I have no interest in a sharp-toothed God. And I will speak out against those who would try to make me serve one.

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The January Dagger

I just want to assure everyone that I haven’t disappeared . . .Well, in a way I have. We’ve been going through what I call the “January dagger” here in northern Minnesota. The temperature has been consistently below zero, hitting in the 20 to 30 below range on most nights, and creeping up toward single digits below on most days. Such temperatures do something slightly strange to one’s priorities and mental balance. It’s not that they are unbearable, so much as that they make most activities subject to question. And that includes everything from going to town or walking to the mailbox. It’s simply easier to stay inside. In my case, this means staying in to write.

My wife, Louise, was gone to Washington D.C. for several weeks. My son, Nik (his new spelling), has been off to New York on a school trip. I’ve been left alone with Sadie, our ravenous though loveable yellow lab, Sid and Sallie, our two rather odd cats, and my own slightly askew brain that has been getting no stimulation from the outside world. This has had the predictable benefit of increasing my imaginative power, which has resulted in a subsequent increase in writing productivity. I more readily “become” the writing project, much as one “becomes” a novel he or she is reading. It’s a great feeling, though it has an effect on my psychic equilibrium. I sometimes find that the Judith Gap in Montana (through which the Nez Perce are currently traveling in my narrative) and the travails they are experiencing are more real to me than my own daily affairs. When a phone call or a meeting or even a casual encounter with someone occurs, I bring the same intensity of imaginative focus to that moment as I bringing to bear on the inner world I am inhabiting all the rest of the time. As a result, my responses are out of proportion and my social behavior is somewhat suspect. My friends put up with it — though, they, too, are experiencing the January dagger, and it is making them strange in their own particular ways.

Anyway, I’ve received a number of interesting emails that ask some interesting questions. I’ll be responding to several of them here in this forum as soon as I feel like moving my imaginative focus away from the Nez Perce. Right now, I’m enjoying this not-too-common experience of having my imaginative life be stronger than my external life, and that imaginative life has me living in 1877. It’s a long way back to this seat here in 2004 cryogenized northern Minnesota. I’ll make a visit soon, and you’ll be the first to know.

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