Tag Archives: religion

Everything is more complicated than it seems at first


I had the day off from work on Monday and was off doing things both Sunday and Monday that required real-world presence, so I didn’t get online at all those two days. Which gave me a fortunate and welcome breather from the partisan, ideologized, social media shitstorm that is now our national reaction to any major event. I was still aware enough that along with the tragedy in Orlando there was another, unrelated, arrest in Southern California, and that the Lieutenant Governor of Texas had said something that seemed outrageously upsetting as well.

So I was all prepared Tuesday morning to post something about how I stood with people who celebrate love and diversity, against those like the Orlando ISIL groupie, Southern California extremist and Texas Lieutenant Governor who oppose it.

Before I posted, I thought to look up the latest on James Wesley Howell, the man arrested in Santa Monica on Sunday on his way to a West Hollywood pride celebration with a car-full of guns and explosives. I learned that current indications are that he had a history of dating men and women, his social media indicated no animosity to the gay community, and he had not, as early coverage indicated, stated to police that he planned to do something at the Pride event.

Now, homeboy was rolling into town from Indiana with a prior gun-related charge, some heavy-duty weapons in his car, and explosives that were primed in a way that police can’t fathom there’s some innocent explanation for. So he was clearly a danger in some fashion, and there’s probably more to be revealed here. But one thing he is not, by currently-available evidence, is the kind of Christian/Conservative home-grown terrorist I had originally pictured.

With Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, I unfortunately didn’t look further into the story before posting. And I should have. His post Sunday morning of a Bible verse about sowing what one reaps turned out to have nothing to do with Orlando. It was something that had been pre-programmed days before to post at 7 AM that morning, oblivious to any news item. As soon as the unfortunate timing became apparent, it was removed, and his office released a statement of outrage and shock at the shooting, and a new verse was posted offering comfort in times of trouble.

When things like the Orlando tragedy happen, I can get very reactive (actually mostly numb with grief, with a sprinkle of outraged and reactive). And one can easily understand why, based on the last two decades of American public life, I could have thought that a self-righteous official was using the tragedy to moralize at the Gay community’s expense instead of sympathize. You don’t have to dig very far into coverage to find people doing just that. But Lt. Governor Patrick was doing no such thing, and I should have looked before I leaped.

The motive for the shooting itself is turning out to be equally complicated. Once I heard the confirmation that the shooter had pledge support to ISIL in his 911 call, the shooting arranged itself immediately into a narrative about Islamic Fundamentalist-inspired terror in my head, with a generous heaping of homophobia on the side. In fact, there is an emerging body of evidence that indicates the shooter may have been gay, or at least struggling with his sexuality in some fashion. You’ll also find stories indicating that he mentioned three different inspirations inspirations in his 911 call, two of which (ISIL and a Syrian suicide bomber) are actually enemies of each other. And, while he had no particular interest in religion for much of his life, he did have a history of domestic abuse, possible shooting threats as a youth, and quarrels with a coworker during which he spouted invective against all kinds of social groups.

So it may well be that this was an extremely angry and troubled man who glommed on to a pastiche of Islamic radicalism to justify his lashing out at the world, rather than a religious fanatic whose fanaticism led him to violence. And that the animus toward the gay community may have been, much more primarily than religiously inspired, inspired by an internalized homophobia. Or not. Much more will be revealed here too. What we can say is that the real picture may turn out to be much more complicated than the initial picture that I, and many other, people formed.

All of this is a reminder to me that major events are almost always more complicated than they seem at first. Whatever our prejudices, Left or Right, Secular or Religious, may be, the real story is unlikely to be something that fits neatly into them. And so I continue, a little more humble than before.

And I still stand with people who celebrate love and diversity. Because what else can get us through such a complicated world?

A Brief Bibliography of my Spiritual Evolution: Part 2


You may have tuned in recently for part one of my overview of ten books that were key to the development of my spirituality throughout my life. If not, go catch up!

Okay, ready? Last week’s installment covered five books that took me from childhood through my late 20s. We’ll pick up below with five more that take us from there to (roughly) now.

BBimageThe Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous– I first encountered this book at the age of 29, by which point addictive behaviors of various stripes had made my life completely unmanageable. Up until then, I had perused spirituality in an intellectual way. What I lacked was what this book provided, and I could no longer do without: a practical, step-by-step (all puns intended) guide to how to put spiritual principles in to practice in everyday living. Yes the language is a little outdated now (it first came out in 1935). But the common-sense and extremely low-dogma approach to spirituality is as relevant as ever. Over the years, I have heard Christian fundamentalists dismiss its concept of choosing a Higher Power of your own understanding as being too wishy-washy, and Atheist fundamentalists dismiss it as being Christian propaganda. Anything that can stay in a sensible middle of both extremes must be on to something!

televsionaryThe Televisionary Oracle– Some of you may be familiar with Rob Brezsny from his irreverent, fiercely intelligent, and radically freedom-insistent Free Will Astrology column. You may not realize that he’s also written a novel. Or is it a New Age self-help book? Bizarrely presented memoir? Whichever, when I came across this book in the wake of separating from my first wife in my early 30s, it was deeply welcome. It was like having a dear friend to help talk a newly-single, emotionally-raw me through the process of re-discovering who I was. A dear friend who was also crazy, and sexy, and able to pull together multiple threads of the metaphysical concepts I’d spent years reading about. This book also really helped me connect to the idea of the Divine Feminine. I’d heard it before, of course, but reading this book really got me feeling God as a She, which totally changed my connection to Her.

artistswayThe Artist’s Way– If the Big Book helped show me how to practically apply spiritual principles to my life, The Artists’ Way did something similar to the most important part of my life, my creativity. This was also after my divorce, as I was finally getting back to writing, after years away from it. Julia Cameron’s credo in this book is that, “God is an artist. So are we. And we can cooperate with each other. Our creative dreams and longings do come from a divine source, not from the human ego.” But this idea is then put into action through a twelve-week course of daily exercises that allow the reader to re-connect to their creativity, and connect their creativity to their spirituality, in a thoroughly non-denominational way that draws from multiple sources. I’ve been through it twice, and each time it’s turbo-charged my creative process, and led me in new directions. I haven’t worked through it in ten years at this point, so it may be time to do it again…

cosmicCosmic Trigger 1: The Final Secret of the Illuminati– Running in parallel to my lifelong interest in spirituality has been an equally lifelong interest in the paranormal and conspiracy theories. As a kid, I literally kept files of clippings and photocopies of articles on unexplained phenomenon- I recall UFOs, ghosts, ESP, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and several other topics each having their own file. I’m pretty sure Chris Carter owes me some kind of copyright infringement settlement. But what I’m actually here to talk about is how writer/philosopher/maverick Robert Anton Wilson spent his life tuned in to the intersection of conspiracy theories, the paranormal, mysticism, science and religion. And from that, he produced (among many other things) this delightful volume that asserts nothing, implies everything, and encourages the reader to keep an open mind. I’m basically the perfect target audience for this book, and upon reading it in my mid-30s, the paranoia that is the birthright of Gen-Xers like myself somehow turned to profound amusement, and I’ve never looked at things in quite the same way again.

hookedHooked: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume– This book is actually a collection of essays that addresses the unrest without (consumer culture, capitalist excess, environmental degradation) and links it to the unrest within (addictions, greed, spiritual dissatisfaction). It turns out that Buddhism has been keyed in to this essential human difficulty in experiencing “enough” the whole time, and the voices collected in this volume have a lot to say about possible ways forward through our modern dilemma. Reading this as I approached 40 really helped me see where my decades-long interest in Buddhism could directly speak to both my internal unrest and the unrest of the world whose future I increasingly fear for. In a dark age, it’s important to remember that there are deeper forces in the world, and there’s a chance that our karma may be in the process of working itself out.

And that’s the ten books that have most influenced my spiritual development (so far). I would love to hear some of yours!












A Brief Bibliography of my Spiritual Evolution: Part 1


For about as long as I can remember (and therefore probably longer) I have always been intensely interested in Religion and Spirituality. Having been raised in a completely areligious household- not anti-religious, not hostile in any way, more like the subject just didn’t exist in the world at all- it was left to me to sort out for myself what my spirituality was. Me being me, books played a key role in this process. Here’s the first part of a list of ten that were pivotal in the development of my spiritual beliefs throughout my life.

childrensbibleThe Children’s Bible– Given the aforementioned  areligious household, I can’t imagine who even gave this to me. It’s possible I asked for it myself! This was a tome of shortened versions of Old and New Testament passages written for a children’s reading level. besides being beautifully illustrated, it had an admirable willingness to not sanitize adult details, like Absalom’s donkey getting him hung from a tree. I later had an obsession with biblical prophecy, took a Bible correspondence course, was in Bible studies groups in various churches in teens and twenties, have read through the whole thing several times, sometimes taking notes the whole way through, and have perused more books on the history and meaning of Judaism and Christianity than you can shake a library at. But this book retains a special place in my heart as my first foray into the area.


zenfleshbonesZen Flesh, Zen Bones– This collection of Zen stories, anecdotes and Koans (short riddles meant to prompt moments of enlightenment) was one of my first introductions to Buddhism. I remember at the time (I can’t place it exactly, but it would have been late teens) feeling that Buddhist philosophy intuitively felt right, and fit with my experience of the world. I went on from there to more intensive study, being parts of mediation groups at various times, and checking out Daoism and Hinduism too. And I still feel instinctively drawn to and in-sync with Buddhism to this day!



what_religion_is_in_the_words_of_swami_vivekananda_idj245What Religion Is– After teaching English in Japan following college, my future ex-wife and I went back-packing around Asia for several months. This remains one of the grander adventures of my life. On the more mundane side, travel means a lot of long distance hauls on trains and buses. One of the things that really helped pass the time in India was the cheap paperbacks available from vendors at every train station. I had previously heard of Swami Vivekananda, one of the key figures in popularizing Eastern Religions in the West, so I eagerly picked up this book, an expanded version of his remarks to the Parliament of the World’s Religions at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. His central premise, that the world’s various religions are at heart one, and are different adaptations to bring the message to different people’s at different times, has been tremendously influential for me ever since. In subsequent study of the scriptures of Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, etc., I have found that, sure enough, once you delve underneath the framework of specific historical and cultural context, the central message of what life is, how to live it, and how to treat each other has an astonishing underlying unity.


gatjThe Gospel According to Jesus– I have heard it said that it’s very hard to understand a box from inside the box. Nowhere is this more true than with our cultural “boxes”. What Jesus taught is so sunk in to (and so inconsistently practiced by) Western culture that it’s easy to lose sight of how revolutionary his message actually was. And is. In this slim volume, Stephen Mitchell takes advantage of the best of recent historical scholarship and comparisons with spiritual traditions from around the world to re-present the teachings of Jesus. Having started with the Bible, and then diving into Eastern Religion, reading this in my mid-20s brought Jesus back to me and gave me a renewed love for him and his message.


krishnaThe Book of Life– In my late 20s, I was working in Hong Kong. It was a highly charged, and in many ways, very dark period of my life. I was, selfishly and ill-advisedly, living apart from my future ex-wife, working ridiculous hours at an international trading company, and spiraling down into various addictions. This collection of daily meditations from Krishnamurti provided me with glimmers of hope during this difficult period. Krishnamurti himself is a very interesting figure- in childhood he was identified by the heads of Theosophy as the coming “World Teacher” who would unveil their message to the world. In his 20s, he had a profound spiritual experience that eventually led him to repudiate Theosophy, and his identified role, and announced: “I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path. … This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. I am not concerned whether you pay attention to what I say or not. I want to do a certain thing in the world and I am going to do it with unwavering concentration. I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies.” Of course, it’s not that easy to get out of being a messenger once you’ve been tapped, and he did go on to become a spiritual teacher of sorts, one whose compassionate and unflinching message of radical spiritual liberation helped get me through a very dark time.