30 March 2014


(Dust in the Wind, performed by the band Kansas; lyrics by
band member Kerry Livgren.  1977 on album Point of Know Return)

It is the fourth Sunday in the Christian season of Lent.  It began formally on a day called "Ash Wednesday."  As a symbol of that day, in many Christian communities, the faithful were marked on the forehead with blessed ashes as the priest said, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

At the time of commital in the liturgy for The Burial of the Dead (Episcopal Book of Common Prayer), the priest makes the sign of the cross, with dirt or sand, on the coffin or urn saying, "...earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

It was very early this morning, when I awoke rather completely.  This is to say, I came to conscious awareness fully and totally at about 4:45am.  I had no overt thoughts or concerns.  I simply got up, washed my face, nudged our still sleeping dog awake, and we both quietly padded downstairs.  Coffee started, glass of lemon water consumed and sweatshirt donned, I took Duchess for her first foray outside.  For a change, I beat her to the punch (she usually wakes me up), and she was still somewhat confused by this shift in routine...to the point that, when we came back inside, she consumed her morning arthritis chew medication and headed directly back upstairs for more sleep.  I did not follow.

My typical morning routine includes about an hour of quiet contemplative prayer/meditation.  Today was different.  I did sink into my usual chair in our area dedicated to quiet reflection (called by us the "prayer area" or "reading room").  Today was different because of where I went...into nowhere.  This is scary stuff when I am totally with my day.  I do, oft times, reflect on emptiness.  Though the daily landscape of life does seem crowded and tightly packed, the physics, cosmology and psycho-spirituality of true reality has vast space.  From sub-atomic to the expanse of interstellar space, there is a lot of emptiness.  Nothing is truly "solid."

If one pauses to consider what constitutes the human body, it is the same chemistry that makes up all that surrounds us...just assembled in a particular pattern that makes us who we are.  Essentially (and I mean this word literally) the protons, electrons, neutrons and quarks that constitute our bodies are the fabric of all matter.  When we were conceived, that matter assembled in a wondrous process.  When the body ceases corporeal life, it does, in fact, return to elemental form (we go to great lengths to cheat this process, but it is inexorable). 

This morning, I got to witness to the space between...that place we call "nothing."  Actually, it is reality, but it is literally "no thing."  It is, however, rich with consciousness and has an immutability about it.  It simply is.  I am not sure how long I was there, but a thought did come to me at some point,  "Am I dead?"  No.  Then, "Did I fall asleep?"  No.  Then, "Did I go somewhere?"  Not in body.  The fresh, hot coffee with which I had settled down was fairly cool.  It was still dark, but that was shifting.  I sat in a deep place of peace...a kind of peace that I have not known.  The best way to express it is simply, "Everything is good...everything."

I made a fresh cup of coffee and noted that it was almost 6:30am.  I opened the sliding glass door to our lanai and stepped into the cool, slightly crisp air of the pre-dawn morning.  The building across from us was visible only as a shadow.  The pond between us reflected a starry sky but was, otherwise dark.  No avian friends moving about and only the sound of some crickets broke the silence.  I sat cloaked in the cool, dark place...simply sat and allowed the thoughts to drift across the "mind stage."  I greeted each one but did not engage them.  What eventually came to me was something I had only yesterday read on a Facebook post from a friend, "There are only two days when we do nothing:  yesterday and tomorrow..."  They were words of the Dalai Lama.  Jesus spoke almost identical words.  

From that passing thought came the reality:  We live in the space in between....the Eternal Now.  Yesterday is done.  There is no thing we can do to change it in any way.  Tomorrow contains no thing.  It has not been born.  We are Now.  Every new moment becomes Now.  This breath...this heartbeat...this instant.  

I looked up from observing that thought and saw the uniqueness of the moment.  Our lanai faces west.  Dawn was breaking behind me.  The sky was still an indigo hue and stars still visible.  But, to my wonderment, the windows of the building across the pond reflected the turquoise/aquamarine hue of the dawning eastern sky...like a wavy strip under the western indigo sky.  Within moments, that scene shifted.  It would never be that experience again.  Perhaps it would be similar on another day...but never again like this moment.  I was awake to that one experience.  Even my description is now only a memory...over which I have no control...only descriptors.  It is already no thing.

As the dawn became daylight, I shifted out of my chair and headed to the kitchen for a third time since arising.  It was just about 7:00am.  Duchess met me at the foot of the stairs...time for another quick trip outside and then a cup of coffee for my wife.  The new day was now formally underway.

This day, however, I seem to notice more...appreciate the seemingly endless textures and colors more at the moment of impact...see people a bit more as fellow sojourners and not as objects.  Dust in the wind...holy and sacred dust.

Love and Blessings...


13 March 2014

My Struggle (Sort Of)

I have said this before, but it doesn't hurt to put it in print again.  I am not easy to classify on the political spectrum. That landscape is littered with ideological pitfalls and is much too complex to at all easily "pigeonhole" someone on any part of it.  Having heard the rather constant outcry of, "traditional values," or "my values," as applied to one part or another of that spectrum, I think it might be safe to say that values cannot be encapsulated in a particular ideological genre.

I have been "out in the field" of public life most of the last 40 years of my life...either as a military specialist, a graduate student, or a parish priest.  Folks who have gotten to know me really well tend to speak of me as a "moderate," a "centrist," or "somewhat progressive."  This is still fairly confining.  About some things (mostly theological), I have long been considered more on the "conservative" side of the spectrum.  About social and justice issues, I have often been characterized as being more on the "liberal" part of the spectrum.  For me, in person, it really depends on the area being discussed.  I am not going to unpack the nearly innumerable issues that impact our culture.  I don't like labels...which is why I have enclosed them in quotes above.  In general, such labels are judgments from those who look at others, see a difference from themselves, and then apply a label to either castigate the other or exonerate themselves.

When I was in the 8th grade (1963/64 school year), our social studies teacher had us read widely in other ideologies besides that of American democracy.  We read that too.  We had to read and memorize portions of the Declaration of Independence and be conversant with the U.S. Constitution.  On the other hand, no one in our school batted an eye to see me (or any other student), reading Mein Kampf on a bench in the common area prior to the morning home room bell ringing (even though we were only18 years from World War II).  It didn't cause the least stir to see someone reading De Kommunistische Manifest during lunch hour (even though the witch hunt for a communist under any rock by Sen. Joseph McCarthy was still quite fresh from the late 1950s).

Looking over what our current education system generally requires of students for social studies, civics and world history, I am not surprised if there might be those reading this that have not heard of the two texts I cited above...in their original language (both German).  Nor, would I be surprised if the authors would be readily known.  Folks older than 50 might know; and, if so, have you reviewed any of that in light of the kinds of conversation and rhetoric being slung around the airwaves and in print these days?

One other question:  Would it surprise anyone to realize that, in 1860, being a Republican (then a newly formed party) was considered being a radical liberal; while being a Democrat in that day was to be considered quite conservative?  Polarities reverse with time...and with some degree of regularity within the context of ideologies.  It was only after a coalition that called itself the Nazi Party came together did Mein Kampf  become a manifesto.  Before that (it was published in 1925), it was simply another autobiography from a frustrated artist/politico wannabe.

In a similar fashion, De Kommunistische Manifest (published in 1848) was originally written to address the growing separation of workers from industry owners and the attendant low wages paid for almost unendurable working conditions.  It was about the industrial situations in Europe...especially in Germany and England.  It was hardly a blip in sociological terms until after the Russian Revolution in 1917...when the Manifesto was totally twisted in its meaning to produce what we have historically known as Communism.

The publications?

  • Mein Kampf (My Struggle), by Adolf Hitler, 1925
  • De Kommunistiche Manifest (The Communist Manifesto), by Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, 1848.
To label someone either a Socialist or a Nazi within the context of American political rhetoric is at the very best totally inaccurate and otherwise incredibly abusive.  It reflects naivete on the part of the person doing the labeling regarding both American socio-political ideology and respect accorded to seeing through different developmental filters (see my last blog post).  It also indicates a lack of any intellectual depth on what the labeling terms really mean.   (signifcant note:  Communism and Socialism are very different in ideological grounding.  They cannot be interchanged)

Why am I "all up" about what I have said thus far?  I was sitting on the veranda of our neighborhood Starbucks late this morning (Thursday, 13 March), after having visited a gastroenterologist and purchasing our weekly groceries.  I was dipping into various news venues via the app Flipboard, and I landed on two articles about the same person.  That got my attention a bit, so I followed up.  The two articles each quoted one Ben Carson, who had been a speaker at the recent Republican CPAC gathering.  Here is the quote that got my attention:

"Americans are living in a gestapo age,” Carson said, “I mean, very much like Nazi Germany –and I know you’re not supposed to say Nazi Germany but I don’t care about political correctness – you know, you had a government using its tools to intimidate the population.... We now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe, and it’s because of the p.c. police, it’s because of politicians, it’s because of news – all of these things are combining to stifle people’s conversation.”
I am not sure why this conversation happened, but generally, Ben Carson limits this kind of talk to simply calling all (lumped together) liberals "Nazi."

My invitation to Dr. Carson (he has been a neurosurgeon, and I have no idea regarding his current professional status), would be to read chapter 6 of Hitler's, Mein Kampf, and still be able to say the words quoted above.  The title of that chapter is, "War Propoganda."  In that chapter, Hitler reflects that the way to get a large group of people to follow an ideology is to speak to the least intelligent element of the population. Raising them to an emotional frenzy will incite otherwise civil people to react emotionally and become part of the movement (I call that "whipping up a frenzy").  What I have just said is a summary statement of the chapter.  It is more complicated than that.

My point is three-fold:

  • It isn't about intellectual capacity, when it comes to rhetoric.  It is the emotional quotient of the general population.  Our culture (specifically) is in a place where our angst is easily punched into frantic states both quickly and over the most, otherwise, mundane issues.  We have come a great distance in technology and information sciences, but we seem to have "dumbed down" a bit when it comes to our emotional balance and capacity to step back from issues...applying some reflective thought and background research.  If Dr. Carson had actually read Mein Kampf, my sense is he would not have been so ready to call names in a public news forum.
  • We, as a culture, seem to have misplaced our understanding of the framework of American Democracy.  Given the regular abuse in the use of the Constitution in spoken and printed formats, my growing sense is that civics courses have not been taught (or at least attended) for quite some time.  All but one of my jr/sr high school history/social studies/civics teachers are dead, but I am sure they would be shaking their heads in shear disbelief regarding what media journalists, pundits and politicians have been doing to the founding documents...not to mention Facebook, and the other social media platforms.
  • We have moved from a more localized conversation, that required person-to-person interaction and accountability, to a social media platform that moves information globally literally within seconds (how long did it take to produce nearly 2 million retweets of Ellen DeGeneres' selfie group photo at the Academy Awards?).  The technology that creates instant communication continues to develop quite rapidly.  We, as a society, have not moved nearly that fast in either adapting to it or adopting parameters of both integrity and accountability in what we share.
I don't pretend to have a solution.  I am working on a blog post the comes from a reflection on the Gospel of John.  Perhaps it might shed some further light.  I am hopeful that, at some future point, we will grow both emotionally and intellectually in ways that will create a civil platform for discourse; invite integrity in relationships; and be less quick to judge those who think or act differently.  This won't be easy, because we have developed some unfortunate habits. 

Maybe we can simply start by no longer calling each other names.

Love and Blessings,


10 March 2014

Why Do This?

("Peace Train"... music and lyrics by Cat Stevens)

Mato Tipi (also known as "Devil's Tower")
Wyoming...Sacred Site and National Historic
Landmark.  Photo, F.Mann, 06/09/08
I began writing blog posts in June 2008.  During that summer, I was on sabbatical leave and doing a special project among the Lakota people.  I wrote several journal articles each week, which were shared with my parishioners at St. Andrew's, my family and close friends.  These writings do not appear on this blog site, but they are collected in a manuscript.  It was really my first effort at generating a running conversation...both within myself and with a larger community.

I have written innumerable articles for newsletters, The Living Church, The Anglican Digest and other publications on request...all of those over an active career spanning 34 years.  Those articles were moments of either teaching, sharing information, providing an opinion, or stating my position on various and sundry issues of the time.  If gathered together, I suspect a good historian or writer of biographies could put something together that could be called a timeline or running commentary about my growth as a person and development as a priest.  They would certainly reflect the emotion and intellectual investment of the moment.

Blogging is different.  Whether one writes daily or sporadically (as I do), a blog post tends to be more of a running commentary within the context of one's vocation/profession, a flow of life events, or an engagement with the issues that confront us daily.  

I started officially blogging in 2009.  It is when this series began, if you "walked it back" to the first posting.  I originally set this up as part of a plan to have clergy staff be more accessible to our congregation at St. Andrew's, Kansas City, MO, where I was Rector (the senior priest on staff).  It did not replace newsletter articles but supplemented them with more personal insights into daily life and how the Church might address its environment through its theological and pastoral presence.  Since I am chiefly a pastoral leader (a capable administrator as well, but I always saw that has secondary to liturgical, didactic and pastoral care specialties), writing a blog was an exciting experiment.  It seemed to work well.  The parish got on Facebook, and we were up-to-date in Kansas City (to borrow a song of yesteryear).

Then, I retired on 30 June 2011.  I no longer had the responsibility of parochial oversight, direction and leadership.  My role as one who speaks for the Church ceased.  For the first time in over three decades, I could speak solely for myself.  It was like making a pilgrimage to the top of a sacred mountain.  If you have never done that, it is a transforming experience.  My Lakota mentors continually tell me to do such pilgrimages "in a sacred manner"... pray one's way into and through the journey.  When I was doing the project with Celtic cultural/spiritual research (summer of 2000), my mentors in Scotland, Wales and Ireland would tell me nearly the same thing, "Go there in a holy way."

All life is sacred, but we often forget that in the complexities of the human community.  We are product driven and task oriented.  Pilgrimmage isn't in that vocabulary.  Life in the parish is often like that...with language that includes words like "goals and objectives," or "mission strategy."  I am a trained and certified consultant for the Episcopal Church, and that is the language we use in working with parish clergy and lay leadership.  

I will always be a Priest and still function in a variety of ways.  Retirement means that I fly under a different flag.  It is one that gives me more freedom to speak truth as it emerges from deep within...from that place that engages the Sacred and allows each day to be a pilgrimage...even if it is a trip upstairs to my study, or a jaunt to the grocery store, a walk on the beach, or engaging my vocational craft for a congregation.  I no longer need to identify as "liberal" or "conservative;" "high church" or "low church;" or with any particular "school" of theological discipline.  What this does for me is to allow me to see the sacred in even the most mundane of daily routines.  I get to pause and reflect on those moments...and to actually be able to say something about it.  AND, the judgments of those who choose to read don't affect my position or my income.  I have got to say, that is damn liberating.

In saying that, I also acknowledge that a lot of folks who commit themselves to print tend to ignore what has been termed as "responsible journalism."  Yes, I am truly aware of the constitutional guarantee of  "freedom of speech."  That is not the issue here.  What I am all about is bearing in mind...and in print...the moral and ethical responsibility to conduct myself with civility in both action and discourse.  An opinion is one thing.  Going on a rant or being a "troll" is something else entirely.  I am responsible for my conduct in print as much as I am as a person walking down a public street.  Hiding behind anonymity, or screaming blue language in print is not civil discourse.  It is, as I experience it, abusive and immature.

Thus far, in five years of blogging, I have not experienced abusive responses.  There are those who disagree with whatever I have said, and that is perfectly fine.  When one commits thoughts, ideas or elements of self in print, there will always be folks at variance.  We are each seeing life through a series of filters.  Here are mine:
  • family of origin (parents, sibling, relatives)
  • friends (the growing up group with whom I hung out, played and learned)
  • educators (teachers, professors, mentors...from pre-school through graduate school and further studies)
  • military (my six years in the U.S. Navy...submarine corps, additional duties and reserves)
  • vocational (life as a priest and the six parishes in which I worked; my colleagues and diocesan structures)
  • marriage (family of origin two;  wife, children and the daily experiences and journey of being a spouse and parent)
  • retirement (a new life and new opportunities)
These seven filters have shaped my ego self in such ways that my worldview is articulated through those filters.  Most of that happens unconsciously.  It is simply there.  However, there is also the deeper, and more authentic, self that is not fettered by filters but sees the world in a reality that isn't biased by filters.  It is available to us, but there is risk involved and, often, pain to be experienced.  Someone recently said to me, "the rainbow represents hope and promise; but you cannot see a rainbow without there being rain, which means a storm."  

I blog, because it holds me to a personal standard of internal honesty.  I am first of all accountable to myself and the authenticity of what goes from my mind/heart onto the printed page.  I am on a pilgrimage that leads to transformation...getting to know the "me" that God knows.  It is a journey of hope and of healing.  If what I write can be useful to just one person who reads it, then the resonance is worth the risk.  What you get in print from me is as transparent as I can be in the given moment.  Certainly, I am still affected by the seven filters cited above.  It seems to be getting less and less...because the attendant neuroses that go with all filters (fear, anxiety, prejudice...pre-judgment...anger) seem to manifest themselves less often.  

I write this blog, because the sacred and the secular are of one piece.  The holy is walking within our common experiences and journeys.  My work these days, it seems, is to collapse duality.  First to be at one with my self...then to experience being at one with what is around me.  It is quite a ride.

Thanks for stopping in.  I hope that your experience will be genuine.

Love and blessings!


01 March 2014

The Edge of the Volcano

Note:  I have referred to Archy and Mehitabel in another, much earlier, blog.  They are the characters created by Don Marquis in 1916 for this daily column in the New York Evening Sun.  Archy is a cockroach, and Mehitabel is an alley cat.  Several books were published; the one with which I am most familiar is "The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel," published in 1940.

Archy the cockroach is a frustrated journalist who continually tries to type columns but cannot hit the shift key.  His good friend and "straight person" is Mehitabel, an alley cat.  In a 1927 column, Don Marquis' alter ego (Archy) writes a column entitled, "The Lesson of the Moth" (written in small case letters, of course).  Archy reflects with Mehitabel on why a moth would try so hard to immolate himself by flying into a light bulb or a flame.  There is a short philosophical discussion on what drives a person to end a life in a single moment of being happy or experiencing beauty.  In the end, the moth flies into a cigar lighter flame and is burned to a cinder.  Archy reflects, "i do not agree with him myself i would rather have half the happiness and twice the longevity."  In the next breath, however, he opines, "but at the same time i wish there was something i wanted as badly as he wanted to fry himself."

I am not quite sure why Archy and Mehitabel crossed my inner stage during this morning's contemplative time.  It has been that kind of week.  Marked by unusual conversations, revelations and insights, I have definitely been experiencing a process of further growth.  I have been both truly blessed and lovingly challenged in those conversations, e-mail exchanges and moments of deep reflection.

During one conversation, with a good friend over coffee, we did reflect on what drives a person to believe that a cause is worthy of strapping a bomb to his/her body and exploding it in a crowded marketplace filled with innocent folks.  Or, what was the internal disposition of a WW II Japanese fighter pilot who was willing to fly his plane into the side of a warship...hoping that his action would sink said vessel?  This led to a reflection on the general historical reality of human sacrifice for the sake of either appeasing a deity or furthering an ideology.  Yep, it's been that kind of week.

When something is bigger than we are...that is, more powerful, stronger, and threatening our way of life in a given moment...the "fail safe" or "fall back" position is to grasp for whatever is necessary to appease that threat or discharge it.  The title of this blog post, "The Edge of the Volcano," is one large threat that, historically has been met with trying to appease the "riled deity" by offering an appealing human sacrifice.  While the idea of human sacrifice for the sake of appeasement seems barbaric to us now; I want to submit that it does happen.  It just isn't so blatant.

Going to extremes is part of our current cultural milieu.  If something seems good, then a whole lot of it should be better.  A good meal should, of course, be substantial (e.g. did you know that the average American restaurant dinner plate is 1.5 times larger than almost anywhere else in the world?).  Going to extremes does, in fact, call for sacrifice.  We, like Mehitabel, gleefully hoist ourselves with our own petard.

When is sacrifice either righteous or needful?

I have a friend who lives in another southeasten state.  We graduated from college together.  We were, and are, good friends.  As the years have passed, we each have gone separate directions...diverged, as it were, into different ideological circles.  My friend recently expressed deepening concern over the events in the Ukraine...most especially the Russian troop movements that have now, it seems, encroached on Ukrainian territory in the Crimea region.  My friend opined that our response is probably laughable insomuch as we have announced a plan for reduction in active military personnel strength in the coming year.  We have also chosen to respond to Russia via strong words with cautionary rhetoric.

I get this.  I have a military background (my friend does not, btw) and know what goes into being on the front line...even in a cold war.  For my friend, more is better.  BUT, whose "more" is it.  Like trying to appease a perceived volcanic deity, it is someone else's son or daughter who gets taken to the edge of the volcano and thrust into the molten pit...so that the rest of us might continue to live within the comfort of our own lifestyle...at least as we perceive it.  We then call this "patriotism."  What we currently call patriotism is not the seminal definition.

Sorry folks, but I am not a politician, nor do I place much energy (or ultimate value) on ideologies.  Ultimately, sacrifice is a reflection of values.  If our values do not include, a) the sanctity of human life; b) the conviction that all of us carry the Imago Dei (the fullness of God); and, c) we contain the capacity for all things needful, sacrifice becomes a banal act of the ego at worst, or an act of prejudice/bigotry at the very best.  There is very little in between.

An action on my part that is willing to sacrifice even the momentary reputation of another person...so that I might appear better...is not very far from the same drive that made it necessary to offer the blood of human sacrifice on an altar to insure a good harvest.  No, I am not either overstating or being histrionic.  It is the same part of our being that initiates either of these actions.  It is simply a matter of degree.  And, like anything we call "sin," both incur the same ultimate damage...the expenditure of another for the sake of our self.

We are approaching the Christian season of Lent.  It begins with Ash Wednesday, on 5 March.  Another of my friends (living a bit closer to me, but also in southeast) recently suggested an alternative to the traditional "Lenten sacrifice."  It is traditional, in this season to give something up...ultimately to sacrifice something for the betterment of our interiority.  The focus is on cleaning up and renewing our interior life.  My friend suggested that, rather than doing what is traditional, how about focusing on what is external to us...taking on a discipline of giving away and engaging the world in new ways.

I think this is a great idea.  HOWEVER, I am keenly aware that doing something outwardly can, in some cases, be like strapping a bomb (petard) to ourselves and detonating it with the idea that it will surely help those in the vicinity of the explosion.    To wit, if we do not have our internal being balanced between banal acts of ego and the loving-kindness of the True Self (our soul), any exterior action will likely turn out to feel like the inquisition or a force-feeding to those to whom we are intending to reach out in altruistic care.

1.  Any sacrifice begins with (essentially) killing one's own ego.  This death isn't total, because we need the ego to engage the world.  But the ego is way too big...excessively big.  It is why we are in the political and socio-economic trouble we currently experience.  It is a factor of the human condition in general.  Only if sacrifice starts here will any true good ever be accomplished.  This is a process, mind you, not a single moment action.

2.  From where does our passion arise?  If it is in our true nature, then such passion is a vocation and related to divine love.  Any sacrifice from that place of being will bear ultimate good...no matter where it leads.  If it arises from an emotional reaction to a "cause," most likely it will lead to pain.  That pain will initially be at someone else's expense, but will assuredly boomerang, and we will ultimately have to own it.  BTW, moths don't generally fly into flames until they have completed their life-cycle and produced the next generation (a science moment here).

3.  Ideologies are simply constructs (you knew I would come back to this).  We have a cultural "filing cabinet" in which we try to label and place people and their thoughts/actions.  It varies from culture to culture and even from generation to generation.   Currently, we have a complex system of religious and political  labels that some are trying desperately to combine into a single way of categorizing our culture.  This is particularly dangerous, because it creates a duality (or a plurality) in which there are only good or bad; right or wrong; etc.  The insidious end to such is a clash in which one side tries to annihilate (sacrifice) the other for the sake of the perceived well-being of the ultimate "winner."  One doesn't have to fight a civil war for this to happen.  We are pretty much engaged in such a context in this country...fueled largely by big money and media.  Folks, it isn't that simple.  Most of us are not on that playing field...and that is exactly what it is.  I have experienced being sacrificed for the comfort level of others.  It is an insidious game.  It is time to wake up from this.

Perhaps the clarion of this Lenten season could be the synthesis of our loving of self in a healthy, balanced way and loving our neighbor...regardless of ideology or place in life.  What a shift that would make!

Love and blessings...