Friday, February 19, 2010

Tribal Notions

Basing his words on the writings of Baha'u'llah, founder of the Baha'i tradition in Iran, Wayne Teasdale reminds us that the forces of globalism are inevitably bringing the human family together, for good and for bad. He goes on to say that "the retrogressive forces of tribalism and narrow notions of culture and religion" react violently to "the coming together of the planet as one community." "The planet itself is our real nation, and we are all members of this larger society. The enlightened have to put the interests of humankind and the natural world before the interests of individual communities." (Wayne Teasdale [The Mystic Hours], New World Library, 2004)

In my own rather narrow experience, I am reminded that I routinely and habitually behave based on my own tribal upbringing, which is not limited to my blood family. We are reminded by the gospel writers, Mark, Matthew and Luke, to love our neighbors as ourselves. We know, of course, that this teaching in the Gospels is not limited to the neighbors on our block or fellow churchgoers or the elect of any group that we choose or we are chosen to be a part of.

I am further reminded in my limited experience of the tragedy of families torn apart by misunderstanding, jealousy, selfishness and pride. We hardly have to walk out our own door to know such misery. The sad truth is that we choose this misery in so many of our human relationships. For myself, I want to be reminded every day that I choose my happiness and I choose my misery. And though I am at times angry or sad or jealous, none of these traits of the human condition define who I am. We all have a choice. If I can't love and embrace my own family, how in God's name am I to love and embrace the rest of the world? I recall from the wisdom spoken from the podium a few Sundays ago, it is impossible to bless and judge at the same time. And so it is.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Masterpiece

I’ve given some thought to a confession I made over an early dinner yesterday. I’m not as nice as people think I am—or something like that. “I know,” said my dinner companion. Hmm, a moment of Merlot honesty on my part, an equally honest perfect martini moment on his part? I can only speak for myself. In truth, I’m a pretty decent guy. Terribly flawed, yes, but abiding by the so-called golden rule—the ethic of reciprocity—is relatively easy for me. Yes, I have plenty of opinions about myself, and about others.

Another dinner companion told me awhile back that I’m hard on myself, and as a consequence, hard on others. I won’t argue the point. Terribly flawed, yes I am. Do I wish you to be blessed? Do I want you to succeed—to succeed in the kindest, most generous sense of success? You bet! At my expense? No. I don’t want you to do to me what I wouldn’t do to you.

As I was preparing to leave Albuquerque early this morning to return to Santa Fe, the simple things of a morning wrapped a smile around my heart. Just as I hoped, a well-lit, inviting coffee house was situated on the right hand side as I made a left turn on to Central Avenue. Coffee and maple pecan scone in hand, as I exited to the street I realized that I could have used my Frequent Flyer card for bonus points toward a complimentary dessert some time soon. Another day, I thought. I was happy to be heading to the Interstate as daylight kept coming on. I was waiting until I was on the drive north to take my first sip of coffee with half and half.

At a traffic light, a group of early morning joggers from the University of New Mexico—all clad in dark shorts and gray t-shirts, accented with lime-green iridescent belts, dark beanie caps keeping their heads warm in temps hovering in the mid 30s—made their way across the street. Young, vigorous, some smiling as they moved easily across an already-busy intersection. I noticed that the two bringing up the rear were chatting. What a great way to begin the day.

Even when I turned the corner onto the feeder road at I-25, and my cup—resting in the opening in the console, tilted, the unsecured cap giving way and coffee spilling over my jeans and onto the floor mat—“dammit”—I had a great day going. I thought about the big woman with the big red hair who works as a checker at the grocery store I frequent. Because I’ve been the recipient of her bruising attitude toward the customer a few times now, I try to avoid her line. As life will have it at times, though, on Valentine’s Day she was the only choice as I walked toward the checkout stations. I witnessed her anger, frustration—I don’t know the source of this seeming testiness—as an elderly guy struggled with the debit card machine while trying to buy a bouquet of red roses for his valentine. He apologized for being so incompetent, which I guess disarmed her, threw her off balance. “Have a great Valentine’s Day,” she offered, as he walked away. At her instructions, I unloaded my own basket, “Sir, you can go ahead and empty your basket” I felt like a misbehaving child. What have we all done wrong to come under the scorn of this person whose business is customer service?

Yes, as I felt my drenched pant leg and imagined the coffee pooling among the grooves of my floor mat, I nodded to myself. This is going to be a good day. The traffic heading north on I-25 was brisk and intent at this early hour of the day. And the light coming from the east was, for the lack of a better word, breath-taking. I was not in a hurry, and I tried to stay out of the way of all the people who had somewhere to be at some certain time. Or so it seemed. For me, I just wanted to be. And oh my God, what a morning just to be. As I headed north, the light against the mountains and the low-hanging clouds took my breath away. I get to be here. I get to live this. How could I not be smiling? How could I not want everyone to feel just as blessed as I felt right then? If there’s really a way to paint the world with such a feeling, hand me a brush, please. Let me start work on my masterpiece.

My Masterpiece—Santa Fe, New Mexico (February 16, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

We Are One

Many years ago a wise, young office friend named Mark told me about a fellow choir member at his progressive Baptist church on the south side of downtown Houston. I suppose our conversation had been about faith and courage and triumph of the spirit. Mark’s friend at church had been battling cancer and her condition had deteriorated to a prognosis of “terminal”.

What remains clear to me after all these years is her reply when Mark asked her one night at choir practice how she was doing. “Oh, I’m good. My body’s not doing so well, but I’m good.” I may not have the words exact, but my heart understands the spirit of triumph given voice in a conversation that was in truth only hearsay to me.

I was reminded of this incident—now, just one year shy of a quarter century—as I read this morning from Wayne Teasdale’s collection of meditations, [The Mystic Hours]. “The body trembles, the tongue falters, the mind is weary. Forsaking them all, I pursue my purpose happily.”—Ashtavakra Gita. Teasdale adds, “As Hindu mysticism teaches, the true self is not the body nor the speech nor even the ordinary mind, but the observer of all three and the actor in us. The body wears out, speech fails, and the mind forgets, but the self is eternal.”

We just can't predict when and how even the simplest, most unintentional conversation marks us forever with its power for good, teaching us and connecting us, reminding us that we are one. And so it is.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

And so it is

In writing about the work of Dr. Sharif Abdullah, who “grew up in Camden, New Jersey, in poverty, unhealthy relationships, and gang warfare…,” and who has gone on to become an attorney, university professor, consultant, speaker, innovator and writer, working for change in our world in the absolute most positive sense of change and growing consciousness, Leela Vox Alexander closes with this statement: “His work is the bodhisattva vow in action, reminding us that none of us are free until all are free. When we recognize that we are related to more than our families, that we live beyond our city limits, that borders are illusive boundaries, the rewards will far outweigh the discomfort of facing our own human shadows.” (Science of Mind magazine, September 2009, p. 29)

Friday, February 5, 2010


"Some people go through life with little curiosity about what really matters: how to lead spiritually and humanly fulfilling and significant lives. They may get bogged down into a kind of petty curiosity about others, the kind of curiosity fueled by gossip, but not the true passionate curiosity that drives human creativity. Identifying our passions and following them, no matter what others say, can inspire our curiosity. This is a central task of life."
(from [The Mystic Hours], p. 163, Wayne Teasdale, 2004. Brother Wayne Teasdale was a Catholic lay monk, who combined the traditions of Christianity and Hinduism in the way of Christian Sannyasa. He was a scholar and teacher [Ph.D. in theology from Fordham University] who worked at building common ground among religions until his death at the age of 59 in 2004.)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Believe It

"A man's true wealth is the good he does in this world." (the prophet Muhammad)

Monday, February 1, 2010