True Spirituality and Bypassing Spirituality

The Spiritual Bypass, part 2

True Spirituality

Robert Augustus Masters’ book, Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters cautions about ways that spirituality can become a way of hiding from ourselves, denying parts of who we are, avoiding acknowledging and coming to grips with what is painful. He’s not arguing against spirituality. Rather, his point is that various forms of faux spirituality preclude authentic spirituality. True spirituality enters into our pain rather than bypassing around it. The road in, as opposed to the road around, can be quite messy and seem not at all spiritual, but the path of liberation requires going in. Masters describes it this way:
"Life after spiritual bypassing is a committed apprenticeship to What Really Matters. Every situation is part of the curriculum and practicum, offering the same fundamental opportunity to deepen our awakening, especially when we release our experience from any obligation to make us feel better or more secure. In so doing we can still the mind and ground the body, breaking open to what we were born to do and be. Spiritual bypassing is worth outgrowing. All we have to do is stop turning away from our pain and consciously enter it. This means an end to disembodied living, an end to spiritualized dissociation, an end to emotional illiteracy and relational immaturity. As we commit ourselves to a full-blooded awakening rooted in the cultivation of intimacy with all that we are, we find a willingness to bring what ever we have kept in the dark out into the open. And from this newfound openness we emerge with the gifts of our hard work: firsthand wisdom that benefits one and all. Authentic spiritual life is the opportunity of a lifetime. It is a constant dying into a deeper life. Emerging from our own ashes becomes no big deal; it’s just the way things are. Here the ten thousand sorrows and the ten thousand joys intermingle in unparalleled song, and we are the infinite music that goes on, in the one moment that is all moments." (Spiritual Bypassing, 176-77)
The practices and insights of spiritual wisdom can be liberating. But they can also become stuck places -- ways of avoiding directly coming to terms with the pain in our lives that needs confronting.

First I’ll mention some spiritual-sounding slogans that I don’t say, and then, in a segment called, “But I don’t mean…” I’ll go through a longer list of things that I often have said and caution against misusing those points in a “spiritual bypass” around what we need to face.

Things I Don’t Say

“Everything happens for a reason. There’s no such thing as coincidence.”

I don’t say this because I do believe there are such things as coincidences. I’d agree that everything has a cause, but many things happen without any particular purpose.

It’s true that there’s almost always something that can be learned from any experience. It’s a good practice to reflect on things that happen to us, whether pleasant or unpleasant, and see what lesson may be discerned. But that doesn’t mean that the experience happened for the purpose of giving us that lesson.

Some one who says “things happen for a reason,” might be expressing what I would call a sense of grace. Cultivating the sense of the grace of the world and of life is a wonderful aspect of spirituality connecting us to the all the unearned, undeserved conditions that support our life. Life FEELS more wonderful when we simply notice that it IS wonderful, and we didn’t have to do anything to make it so.

It’s also true that we can choose to make meaning of something that is a coincidence. On New Year’s Day every year, LoraKim and I shuffle a deck of animal cards and draw a left-hand companion and a right-hand companion for the year ahead. My animal spirit guides for 2018 are the antelope (which, according to the book which accompanied the deck, represents action) and the weasel (stealth). The pure coincidence of the cards produces a message: be active, but maybe look for ways behind the scenes to make things happen. That’s a good message and worth taking to heart, howsoever random was its generation. LoraKim’s animal totems for 2018, by the way, are the dove and the porcupine. I’ll let you ask her what she understands that to mean. Choosing to make meaning of certain coincidences can be a good spiritual practice, a practice of reflecting on messages that we didn’t ourselves generate – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t coincidence.

To say that “things happen for a reason” seems awfully ego-centric. Suppose you got stuck in a terrible traffic gridlock and missed your appointment, but because you missed that appointment, something else happened to you, and it was really great. I would resist the temptation to say that the reason for the traffic jam was to give you this really great other thing. What about all the other 500 cars? Did they all have to suffer just so you could have this great thing? The world doesn’t revolve around any one of us that way. (I suppose you might imagine that every single other person stuck in that traffic jam also found that the delay somehow turned into a good thing for them – but that’s too much of a stretch for me.)

“You create your own reality.”

I don’t say this either, and for similar reasons. It's awfully self-centered to imagine that you have that much control.

I think connecting with people – love, and friendships, empathy and relationship – is at the center of a good life. In order for that to happen, we have to have a shared reality. If we’re each wholly making up our own reality – as though we’ve all selected a different virtual reality game to play – we can’t connect with each other. A self-made reality is very lonely.

Also: the world couldn’t teach us its important lessons if we decided everything for ourselves.

The slogan that we create our own reality often leads to self-blame when reality doesn’t work out well. Such a path of guilt and shame leads away, not toward, true self-accountability. We’re responsible for how we respond to conditions, and what we’ve done in the past often has some influence on what conditions are now, but a large part of those conditions never were under your control.

NEXT: Some things that I do say -- but could be misused as spiritual bypasses

* * *
This is part 2 of "The Spiritual Bypass"
See also
Part 1: We're Here to Help Each Other Get Unstuck

The extemporaneous version:


We're Here to Help Each Other Get Unstuck

The Spiritual Bypass, part 1

On Feb 16, I was leading one of the sessions at our monthly "Friday Faith Development" evening. I shared with the group this story by Jessica York from the UUA "Tapestry of Faith" curriculum (adapted, abridged). It's about the First Unitarian Society of Chicago in 1948, and how the function of congregations is to change us:
In 1948, most congregations in the United States were segregated by the color -- either by policy or by custom. The First Unitarian Society of Chicago (1USC) was one of these congregations. Although their church was located in a neighborhood with many African Americans, only whites could join, according both to custom and the written bylaws of the church.

The day came that many members began to believe that if they really wanted to live their values and principles, they needed to take action against racism. The minister, the Reverend Leslie Pennington, was ready for this day and ready to take action. So was James Luther Adams, a well-known and respected liberal theologian and social ethicist. Adams taught at the Meadville Lombard Theological School, right across the street from the First Unitarian Society of Chicago. And he was a member of 1USC's Board of Directors.

Reverend Pennington and James Luther Adams joined with others to propose a change in the church's bylaws to desegregate the church. They saw this as a way to put their love into action.

But in 1948, anything about skin color or racism was controversial. Even those who supported equality and civil liberties for African Americans sometimes believed in a separate, but equal policy.

When the congregation's Board considered the desegregation proposal, most of them supported it. However, one member of the Board objected. "Your new program is making desegregation into a creed," he said. "You are asking everyone in our church to say they believe desegregating, or inviting, even recruiting people of color to attend church here, is a good way to tackle racism. What if some members don't believe this?"

Respectful debate ensued at the First Unitarian Society of Chicago. Both sides felt, in their hearts, that they were right. The debate went on in the Board of Directors' meeting until the early hours of the morning. Everyone was exhausted and frustrated. Finally, James Luther Adams asked the person who had voiced the strongest objection, "What do you say is the purpose of this church?"

Silence settled over the room. Everyone wanted to hear how this question would be answered. The Board member who opposed opening the church to people of color finally replied. "Okay, Jim. The purpose of this church is to get hold of people like me and change them."

The First Unitarian Society of Chicago successfully desegregated.
I believe that the good of congregational life is that it changes us. The purpose of our being here is to get hold of one another and change us. When I say this, it might arouse a shadow of suspicion – that I have some agenda for what I want you changed into. But when I say “change,” I mean, “unstuck.” Each of us gets stuck in different ways, stuck on different sticking points. And what any of us will find ourselves becoming if we get unstuck is unpredictable and likely to be quite different from what anyone else becomes. The only agenda is for you to come into the fullness of your uniqueness. I don’t know what that will look like – though I usually can recognize it once it happens. Like the next painting or music that will blow you away: you have no idea in advance what it will be, but you know it when it happens.

Spiritual practices are helping us get unstuck, whatever stuckness we may be having. Each week I suggest a “Practice of the Week.” (Over 150 practices have been described so far -- see the index of practices HERE.) Some of them are in the “Might be your thing,” category – gardening, yoga, quilting, martial arts, cooking, etc. There aren’t all for everybody, but one of them might be perfect for you to jump into and make into a spiritual practice.

Then there are “occasional” or “worth a try” spiritual practices. Try them at least once, and some of them are good for coming back to every once in a while. Make a home altar, create and use as needed a playlist of your most uplifting songs, list three good things that happened to you in the last 24 hours and reflect on your role in making them happen, fast, empathize, simplify. These are some sample things worth doing every once in a while.

The third category is “slogans to live by.” These are mottos to repeat to yourself and to call to mind to give yourself guidance as you face the various situations of your day: be generous, smile, say yes, identify your emotions, claim desire, stop blaming, be curious, be grateful, take breaks, etc.

As we develop our spiritual resources for becoming more joyful and more compassionate, we develop certain habits of thought – and those are often tremendously helpful. Especially at first. Here’s the thing though: The very insights that might help us get unstuck can themselves turn into sticking points.

Some spiritual idea or other can become an excuse for staying stuck. It can become a device for disconnecting from a part of ourselves. It can be a tool for trying repress or excise our pain, shame, anger, frustration, moral outrage, or fear.

When that happens, it’s called “taking the spiritual bypass.” It means using the ideal of calm, equanimous, centered, inner peace to avoid confronting the fact that you hurt, or are angry, or are scared. It means employing spiritual tools and teachings to deny and repress our real pain.

We all do it. I do it. Probably even the Dalai Lama, and Thich Nhat Hanh – whoever your model of spiritual serenity might be – also take the spiritual bypass sometimes. In the following posts, I'll describe some of the common ways the spirituality undercuts itself by bypassing real issues of hurt, outrage, or frustrutaion.

* * *
This is part 1 of "The Spiritual Bypass"
See also:
Part 2: True Spirituality and Bypassing Spirituality
A parody of "spirituality":

The extemporaneous version:


Thelma and the Existential Dreads

Love and Desire, part 3

Thelma, age 70, declares herself “hopelessly, tragically in love.” But it doesn’t look like love to her psychiatrist, Dr. Irvin Yalom -- or, if it is, it is “monstrously out of balance – it contained no pleasure at all, her life wholly a torment.”

Eight years before, Thelma had had, she said, “a love affair” of 27 days. The affair had been with Thelma’s former therapist – so, that’s problematic. The former therapist, Matthew, knowing the relationship was wrong, broke it off after the 27 days that Thelma describes as the most blissful of her life.

Since then, for eight years, Thelma has obsessed about Matthew – she hardly thinks of anything else. She re-lives over and over every memory from their time together. “My life is being lived eight years ago,” she says.

Yalom reflects:
“Her love obsession was powerful and tenacious, having dominated eight years of her life. Still, the roots of the obsession seemed extraordinarily friable. A little effort, a little ingenuity should suffice to yank the whole weed out. And then? Underneath obsession, what would I find? Would I discover the brutal facts of human experience that the enchantment concealed? Then I might really learn something about the function of love....So far it was apparent that Thelma’s love for Matthew was, in reality, something else – perhaps an escape, a shield against aging and isolation. There was little of Matthew in it, nor – if love is a caring, giving, need-free relationship – much love.”
Yalom goes on to note that
“a love obsession drains life of its reality, obliterating new experience, both good and bad.”
For Thelma, however,
“the obsession contained infinitely more vitality than her lived experience.”
How is Thelma to be understood in terms of the four existential dreads:

Aloneness: During the 27 days of the affair, aloneness had dissolved into merger and fusion. Thelma described it as
“an out-of-the-body experience....I had no weight. It was as though I wasn’t there, or at least the part of me that hurts and pulls me down. I just stopped thinking and worrying about me. I became a we.”
But in the eight years since the affair ended, the obsession has only painfully exacerbated her feeling of being alone.

Meaninglessness: the obsession gives her life a twisted sort of meaning while cutting her off from all other avenues of meaning.

Responsibility for one’s freedom: this is the one that Yalom comes to believe Thelma is most terrified of. Thelma has surrendered her power to Matthew
“in an effort to deny her own freedom and her responsibility for the constitution of her own life....It is extraordinarily hard, even terrifying, to own the insight that you and only you construct your own life design.”
Thelma’s psychic strategy is to accept the price of aloneness and highly attenuated meaning in order to escape the terror of responsibility for herself.

The remaining existential dread, death, is also playing a key role, Yalom thinks:
“I felt strongly that Thelma’s fear of aging and death fueled her obsession. One of the reasons she wanted to merge in love, and be obliterated by it, was to escape the terror of facing obliteration by death."
This synopsis of Thelma's case affords a glimpse into some of the complications of this business of being human.

Last week I said, Pay attention. Notice. We will be able to attend just so far as we care, so far as we love – love this life, love this world, love each other our fellow travelers. We need a lot of help to do that. We need friends, and sometimes counselors, who can help us notice – notice the very things we most hide from ourselves. We’d rather hide from ourselves our dread of death, of freedom, of aloneness, of meaninglessness. But those are the very things to which we most need to pay attention if we are to emerge at last into a way of being that truly loves this life, loves this world, and loves our fellow travelers. Attention to these dreads also takes us into the paradoxes of a full life of fullest love.

Dwelling continuously on death, we come to genuinely apprehend the wonder and miracle of this brief life.

Grasping that we are responsible and blameworthy for everything, we learn to stop constructing self-blame as a shield against responsibilities right here and now.

Beholding the ineradicability of our aloneness, we open more and more to others.

Falling willingly into the abyss of absence of permanent meaning, we are able to create ever-evolving, ever-richer temporary meanings.

Expressing passions even as we let go of passions, we regard every day as both Valentine’s Day and the beginning of Lent. Celebrating resurrection of life and hope and salvation while seeing it as all a giant practical joke, we find that every day is both Easter and April Fool's Day.

* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "Love and Desire"
See also
Part 1: The Wobbly Middle Path of Love
Part 2: Falling in Love? Or Standing in Love?


Falling in Love? Or Standing in Love?

Love and Desire, part 2

Too much aloneness destroys a person. At the other end, not enough aloneness can dissolve us. This happens when the need for connection drives us to become so connected that individuality is lost. Autonomy dissolves and personal boundaries become permeable and unclear.

One form of this is called enmeshment. In enmeshed families, one person’s emotions become the whole family’s emotions – one member’s anxiety or depression is taken on by other family members. A couple over-involved in each other’s lives can become like one person, rather than a relationship of two distinct people. This isn’t loving too much – rather, it’s a misdirection of the drive which could have been steered into love, but instead was steered into something unhealthy.

Another misdirection of the drive for love is obsession. Technical enmeshment takes a while to form, but an obsession can arise quite quickly. What we call “falling in love” has a certain obsessiveness to it – and that’s OK as kickstarter for a relationship. At the beginning stage of a romantic relationship, it feels ecstatic: we are awash in a truly intoxicating cocktail of neurotransmitters, like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin – hormones, like testosterone, and estrogen – pheromones, and natural amphetamines like phenylethylamine. Our love object appears to us to embody all our hopes and dreams, fulfill our every need. That’s one delusion.

Another delusion is that this will never end. But that level of production of those chemicals is not sustainable. Usually in about six months to a year those hormones, pheromones, amphetamines and neurotransmitters begin to ebb. If the relationship continues it becomes more settled, sustained by a trust that grew strong enough to withstand the subsiding of the initial obsessive, delusive euphoria. This kind of temporary obsession can be a nice place to visit, but you can’t live there.

Irvin Yalom says that “therapy and a state of love-merger are incompatible” because the fusion of this stage eliminates the self-awareness necessary to make progress in therapy. He writes:
“Beware the powerful exclusive attachment to another. It is not, as people sometimes think, evidence of the purity of the love. Such encapsulated, exclusive love – feeding on itself, neither giving to nor caring about others – is destined to cave in on itself. Love is not just a passion spark between two people. There is infinite difference between falling in love and standing in love. Rather, love is a way of being, a ‘giving to,’ not a ‘falling for’ – a mode of relating at large, not an act limited to a single person.” (Love's Executioner)
Standing in love is that middle path I was talking about. On the aloneness scale, our individuality occupies the middle ground between on the one hand being isolated, and on the on the other hand being dissolved into the other – merged, fused, enmeshed.

On the meaning scale, we inhabit a world between on the one hand the meaninglessness in which nothing matters, nothing is important, and, on the other hand the meaninglessness of having no choice because everything is dictated. We stand in a context of meaning and values that gives us purpose and direction – yet also leaves us free to creatively engage with what we value. It isn’t love itself that goes awry, but our attempt to get to love -- to steer those middle paths between too much aloneness and not enough, between an absence of meaning and overly rigid meaning -- can go off track.

None of us is perfectly balanced. We are, at best, wobbly tight-rope walkers – now leaning too far one way, then over-correcting and leaning to far the other way. Back and forth, we wobble our way through life – and that’s how it must be, for only by wobbling too far on one side can we learn that that isn’t balanced, and begin to feel the need to correct.

Dr. Yalom’s patients show us some significant derailings. The fortunate among us are spared from the extremes his case studies illustrate, but all of us wrestle with the same imbalances in some form. There is something of ourselves to recognize in each of his case studies. Yalom’s patients also illustrate ways that the other two existential dreads – death (of ourselves and of loved ones), and responsibility for our freedom – are always in the mix as we wobble along.

Take Thelma, for example . . . NEXT: The Case of Thelma

* * *
This is part 2 of 3 of "Love and Desire"
See also
Part 1: The Wobbly Middle Path of Love
Part 3: Thelma and the Existential Dreads


The Wobbly Middle Path of Love

Love and Desire, part 1

Our annual celebration of romantic love, Valentine's Day, is on February 14 -- which, this year, is also the beginning of Lent. So: Paradox. Valentine’s Day is, we might say, about indulging certain passions, and Lent is about giving up certain passions, so, if you observe those annual events, you might want to give some forethought as to how you’re going to negotiate that.

By the way, years in which Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day are co-incident, which happens on average about every 30 years, are also years in which Easter and April Fools Day are on the same day – so I’m warning you now that you might want to be on the look-out for pranks involving eggs. Or those yellow marshmallow chicks.

Where was I? Oh, yes: Love. In last week’s last thrilling episode, we were looking at whether it’s true that “all you need is love.” Particularly, when it comes to being a good and moral person, is love all you need? I said that when deciding what to do, we take in the details of the situation, the reasons present in the case. When those details – the reasons present in the case -- are seen in the light of love, including love for ourselves, then we are guided to respond in compassion and care. We heard from philosopher Jonathan Dancy urging: "Look again, as hard as one can, at the reasons present in the case." That is: Pay attention. Notice. And I said: We will be able to attend just so far as we care, so far as we love – love this life, love this world, love each other, our fellow travelers.

Today, I’m here to add: it can get complicated. I will resist saying that love goes awry. But it's certainly true that our need and desire to love and to be loved can lead us into territory that isn’t love. I’m going to draw here on some work by the psychotherapist Irvin Yalom. Adam Kent (Music Director and CUUC) and I were discussing that the theme for February would be love, and it was he who suggested Yalom’s book, Love’s Executioner.

In the Prologue Yalom lays out the four existential dreads: death, responsibility for our freedom, aloneness and meaninglessness:
“I have found that four givens are particularly relevant to psychotherapy: the inevitability of death of each of us and for those we love; the freedom to make our lives as we will; our ultimate aloneness; and, finally, the absence of any obvious meaning or sense to life.”
Love – relationships of care and intimacy – at their best, pull us out of our aloneness and into a context of meaning – the meaning that relationship affords our lives. So I’m going to focus first on aloneness and meaning – and toward the end indicate how the dreads of death and freedom also get into the mix.

What’s best – healthiest and most vital – when it comes to aloneness and meaninglessness -- is a middle ground: not isolated and cut-off, but also not so dissolved in others that we lose our individuality. For meaning, we need value and purpose that guide what we do, but not so much guidance that everything is dictated, that we lose the freedom of creative engagement. We need room for surprise, and for growth, as we dynamically work out how to embody our values and purposes.

Love, at its best, negotiates a wobbly middle path in response to the existential dreads of aloneness and meaninglessness. Whether love takes the form of eros, romantic and erotic love, or philia, the love of friends, or storge, the love of parent for child and child for parent, or agape, a spiritual, universal love, or loving all beings, or hospitality to the stranger – the need is for the connection and meaning that we only find and make in relationship with others. We learn who we are by seeing ourselves in other people’s eyes. We become who we are through our relationships. Our lives have meaning by meaning something TO someone else.

There can be too much aloneness, and there can also be not enough aloneness. The extreme of too much aloneness is evident in the torture of solitary confinement. It is such a deprivation of deep human need that it often drives prisoner’s mad. Human beings are such social creatures.
Without the benefit of another person to "bounce off of," the mind decays. In solitary, prisoners experience anxiety, panic attacks, depression, emotional flatness, mood swings, hopelessness, lethargy, anger and rage, poor impulse control, deep paranoia, cognitive disturbances such as short attention span, poor concentration and memory, confused thought processes, disorientation, perceptual distortions such as hypersensitivity to noises and smells, distortions of sensation (e.g. walls closing in), hallucinations, hearing voices. Self-mutilation and cutting and suicide attempts are common. We really need connection.

And with too much aloneness, we also get meaninglessness. Meaning – the reality that we inhabit – is collaboratively created, and without others to collaborate with, we start to lose reality itself.

NEXT: The problem with not enough aloneness.

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "Love and Desire"
See also
Part 2: Falling in Love? Or Standing in Love?
Part 3: Thelma and the Existential Dreads


Moral Particularism and Love

All You Need is Love, part 3

Moral principles cannot be absolute. Generally, lying and breaking promises are wrong – the moral ideal is to avoid those as much as possible. But if you’re a gentile homeowner in Holland in the early 1940s, and you have a family of Jews hiding in your attic, when Nazi stormtroopers come around asking questions, it’s time to lie. And, as in Eleanor’s example, when your Mom has just been rushed to the ER, it’s time to break your promise to see a movie with a friend at that time.

Sometimes principles conflict with each other – the principle of protecting life or supporting one’s mother in her time of need might conflict with the principles of not lying and not breaking promises. Conflicting principles can’t both be absolute.

Could the principles be ranked in order of importance so that only one principle, ranked at the top, is truly absolute? If that one is satisfied, then you move to the second, and if that is satisfied, on down to the third, and so on. When principles conflict, you follow the one that is higher ranked.

The problem with this approach is that it supposes that satisfying a principle is all-or-nothing. But principles tend to be variably satisfiable. There’s a difference between being saying something slightly misleading and telling a bald-faced whopper. We might protect life a little bit, or we might protect it a lot. So if a given action would violate the top-ranked principle a little bit, but not doing that action would violate the second-ranked principle a lot, then maybe it’s the second principle that should govern in that case. Once we admit that possibility, then it’s useless to try rank-ordering the principles.

Can we have principles without making them absolute or rank-ordering them? Some philosophers take this approach, seeing moral principles as contributory rather than absolute. For example, in deciding what to say, contributory principles might be “Is it true?” “Is it necessary?” and “Is it kind?” One might take the position that any two of the three is sufficient. If it is necessary and kind, then it need not be true. If it is necessary and true, then it need not be kind. If it is kind and true, then it need not be necessary. Each of the principles contributes, but none is absolute, and they aren’t ranked. The moral task is to balance the contributions of various principles that apply to the given situation.

At this point, are they really principles? Chidi says, “Principles aren’t principles when you pick and choose when you’re going to follow them.” But is "pick and choose" any different from "balance the contributions of various principles"?

“Pick and choose” sounds capricious. And now I think we’re getting to what’s really at stake. We don’t like to think of ourselves as unprincipled because we think of “unprincipled” as capricious or self-serving or both.

Love is the answer to both those. Love is the emotion that manifests as care for others, and a steady commitment to care. Caprice is what happens when we haven’t found our way to, or have lost our way from, our commitments of care. Self-serving is being negligent about appropriate care of others’ concerns and needs – it’s a failure of love.

What we mostly do, and that love attunes us to do better, is take in the details of the situation. Various details provide reasons for doing this or that. When those details are seen in the light of love -- including love for ourselves – then we are guided to respond in compassion and care. Every situation is full of reasons – that is, details relevant for discerning how to respond. We need to attend to reasons, but maybe don’t need principles.

What we know about human behavior is that by and large, in fact, we don’t follow principles. Nor does talking about principles and declaring allegiance to them, studies find, make people act better. It doesn’t stiffen up waning resolve – just as studying ethics doesn’t make people more ethical. As philosopher of moral particularism, Jonathan Dancy, writes:
“There is only one real way to stop oneself distorting things in one’s own favor, and that is to look again, as hard as one can, at the reasons present in the case, and see if really one is so different from others that what would be required of them is not required of oneself. This method is not infallible, I know; but then neither was the appeal to principle.” (Jonathan Dancy, "Moral Particularism", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 Edition).)
Look again, as hard as one can, at the reasons present in the case. Pay attention. Notice.

But what is the energy that we need for attending to the details of what is going on? We will be able to attend just so far as we care, so far as we love – love this life, love this world, love each other, our fellow travelers. Love is the fuel of caring attention, and it is caring attention, not moral principles, that guides us in discerning what to do. As we love more, we pay attention more, notice more, and thus more fuller respond – bringing more of who we are to more of what the world needs.

All you need is love. In "The Good Place," the four characters trying to become better people by studying ethics actually do gradually become better people – but they do it, you will notice if you get a chance to see the show – through their commitment to each other, through their burgeoning capacity to love. All you need is love. All you need is love indeed.

* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "All You Need is Love"
See also
Part 1: Is Love All You Need . . . to be Moral?
Part 2: A Time to Lie


A Time to Lie

All You Need is Love, part 2

Principles aren't principles . . .
Although ethics professors aren't any more ethical than any other professors, perhaps a life of learning in any field is apt to make us better people. Indeed, most of us feel that learning is, in itself, a component of a good life. The characters in "The Good Place," seeking to become better people, might just as well have taken up the study of economics or chemistry. They happen to have chosen moral philosophy, and I guess that’ll work as well anything. Just trying to learn IS becoming better.

But my question is: Who would want to watch that?

Yet, people are watching. "The Good Place" is way popular. Its rotten tomatoes rating for season 1 was 91% -- and for season 2 was 100%, based on 35 reviews. This flabbergasts me. How can philosophy be popular? “The Big Bang Theory” is also a very popular sitcom, but – spoiler alert – it's not about astro-physics. "The Good Place," by contrast, actually is about moral philosophy. One critic wrote that "moral philosophy is the beating heart of the program" and that the show "made philosophy seem cool." Another wrote that "The Good Place stands out for dramatizing actual ethics classes onscreen, without watering down the concepts being described." Real live philosophers are celebrating “the show's largely accurate popularization of their line of work.”

Has philosophy become popular? Kind of, but only if it’s funny. Look, your brain, like mine, is a mish-mash of competing, contradictory ideas, concepts, values, beliefs. Cognitive dissonance sometimes surfaces, but whenever we can keep it out of mind, we do. Becoming conscious of cognitive dissonance feels icky -- to be avoided if possible. But a philosopher is somebody who goes looking for dissonance. Philosophers concoct all manner of bizarre, unrealistic hypothetical examples just for the purpose of inducing dissonance.

Example: Suppose either 5 people had to die or 1 person had to die. Which would be better? Clearly, it would be better for 1 person to die than for 5, right? OK, so – and this scenario is mentioned in one of the episodes of "The Good Place" -- suppose you have five people who are dying of different organ failures. One of them needs a heart transplant, another needs a liver transplant, another needs two kidneys, another needs lungs, and another needs pancreas and intestines. Would it be OK to kill one healthy person, harvest his organs and distribute them among the five? No! But wait -- better one person die than five.

See? The philosopher’s job is to induce cognitive dissonance -- which is uncomfortable -- but if it’s also funny – as it is in "The Good Place" – then we can tolerate it.

At the beginning of chapter 24, Chidi, who was an ethics professor in life, and has been serving as the ethics tutor for Eleanor, Tahani, and Jason, declares himself a Kantian. He has talked about Kant, more or less sympathetically, in many of the episodes, but without committing himself unequivocally. Now, as our heroes are about have to go through a room of demons to get where they need to go, and will have to hide their true identities in order to get through, they will need to lie. Chidi says:
“I hate this. I hate lying. It’s not permissible. I can’t do this….Kant says that lying is always wrong, and I follow that maxim….Principles aren’t principles when you pick and choose when you’re going to follow them.”
Later on, when our heroes have arrived at the cocktail party in Hell and are trying to last it out without being discovered, Chidi comes to Eleanor:
CHIDI: Those bro demons over there think I’m some kind of great torturer. They want my advice on how to torture some one. Help me.

ELEANOR: You know the answer, dude. Lie your ass off.

CHIDI: No! Lies have consequences. I will have contributed to someone’s eternal torture because I disobeyed a basic Kantian principle. I’m going to be sick, and I don’t want to go back to the bathroom because they put mirrors in the toilet, and that makes you really confront what you’re doing!

ELEANOR: OK, OK. Sit down. Take a breath. Rub your lucky bookmark. Hear me out. What if lying is ethical in this situation? What if certain actions aren’t universally good or bad? Like Jonathan Dancy says.

CHIDI: Jonathan Dancy? Are you talking about moral particularism? We never even covered that. You read on your own?

ELEANOR: You think just because I’m a straight hottie, I can’t read philosophy for fun? Look. Moral particularism says there are no fixed rules that work in every situation. Like, let’s say you promised your friend you’d go to the movies. But then your mom suddenly gets rushed to the ER. Your boy Kant would say never break a promise. Go see “Chronicles of Riddick.” Doesn’t matter if your mom gets lonely and steels a bucket of Vicodin from the nurse’s closet.

CHIDI: Real example?

ELEANOR: Yep! But, a moral particularist like me – I’m one now – I just decided – would say there’s no absolute rule. You have to choose your actions based on the particular situation and right now we are in a pretty bonkers situation.

CHIDI: I don’t think I can change what I believe just like that!

ELEANOR: And I didn’t think I would ever be at a cocktail party in literal Hell, lecturing my teacher-slash-ex-lover about moral particularism, but life throws you curveballs, bro!
And life does throw us curveballs. We get that there’s something noble about the principled stand – that, as Chidi says, “principles aren’t principles when you pick and choose when you’re going to follow them.” But Immanuel Kant was just wrong. Moral principles cannot be absolute.

NEXT: Why -- or at least how -- principles cannot be absolute

* * *
This is part 2 of 3 of "All You Need is Love"
See also
Part 1: Is Love All You Need...to Be Moral
Part 3: Moral Particularism and Love


Is Love All You Need . . . to be Moral?

All You Need is Love, part 1

Planting a Seed. Philosopher Jonathan Dancy is a champion of an approach to ethics called "moral particularism." Here's the opening paragraph of Dancy's article about moral particularism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
“Moral Particularism, at its most trenchant, is the claim that there are no defensible moral principles, that moral thought does not consist in the application of moral principles to cases, and that the morally perfect person should not be conceived as the person of principle. There are more cautious versions, however. The strongest defensible version, perhaps, holds that though there may be some moral principles, still the rationality of moral thought and judgement in no way depends on a suitable provision of such things; and the perfectly moral judge would need far more than a grasp on an appropriate range of principles and the ability to apply them. Moral principles are at best crutches that a morally sensitive person would not require, and indeed the use of such crutches might even lead us into moral error.” (Jonathan Dancy, "Moral Particularism," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. In 2010, Professor Dancy appeared on Craig Ferguson's show. CLICK HERE, and jump to 27:30.)
The Question. Having, I hope, planted the seed of this idea, "moral particularism," I ask that you move that idea to the back of your mind. We'll come back to it. I now turn to this question: Is it true that "all you need is love"?

The Beatles sang it, so it must be true, right? Perhaps not. They also sang, “I am the walrus,” “nothing is real,” “happiness is a warm gun,” and “we all live in a yellow submarine” – and arguably each of those claims is false. Still. "All you need is love" might be true.

I’m not so much interested in the point that you need other things like food, water, and shelter. The answer to that, I think, is that love -- that is, relationships of mutuality and care -- is the best way to ensure food, water, shelter. So through love you also get those other things. I want to look at the question not in terms of biological needs, but as an ethical question. Is love all you need as your guide for how to act? Or do you also -- or instead -- need moral principles to act rightly in the world?

We face ethical decisions:
Do I speak up, or remain quiet?
When is it time to put Mom in a nursing home – or time to "let go" of a child?
Am I prioritizing my time in a way that most benefits myself and others in the long run?
Is the comfort I get from bumping up the thermostat a couple degrees, or the enjoyment of eating meat worth the damage to the planet?
Does it really matter if my coffee is or isn’t fair trade, or if my shirt was or wasn’t made in a sweat shop, or if some product was or wasn’t tested on animals?

Whenever you choose to do, or not do, anything, there’s the question of whether that choice is the right one.

As we confront the issue of how we live our lives, we like to think we have moral principles that guide us. We imagine ourselves to be principled people. We would hate to be accused of being unprincipled. To live by principle seems an admirable thing. Moral principles keep you on the righteous straight and narrow irrespective of how you might feel about it. They don’t depend on your emotions. You don’t have to love your neighbor to know you shouldn’t steal from her. But on the other hand, if you do love your neighbor, do you need principles? That’s the philosophical question I want to look at today.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a philosophy professor, so I'm happy to see that philosophy is enjoying some pop culture attention these days. And the pop culture example I’m going to talk about also happens to illustrate this issue of whether we need moral principles.

To begin. A couple weeks ago, I was Skyping with my son, John -- age 35, lives in DC. He said, “Have you seen this show, 'The Good Place'?

I said, “I’ve heard of it.”

He said, “Oh, Dad, you gotta watch this. This is the show for you. It’s got moral philosophers in it. You are this show's target audience.”

So in the last couple weeks, I streamed, “The Good Place” – all 26 half-hour chapters of the show’s two seasons. It’s about four people in the afterlife who are trying to become better people by studying ethics. Really. I'm not kidding. That’s actually what it’s about. They talk about Kant, Sartre, utilitarianism, Kierkegaard, John Rawls. They mention names and ideas of people you’d have to be a total philosophy nerd to have ever heard of: Philippa Foot, Jonathan Dancy, Tim Scanlon.

I love the concept, though I have to admit to you up front that, in fact, the premise is wrong. Studying ethics – moral philosophy – has no connection to being a better person. Studies of actual ethics professors show that they are not more likely to be courteous, more likely to vote, more likely to give to charities, more likely to be vegetarian, or less likely to slip into conferences without paying the conference dues than any other academic. In fact, ethics books were more likely to go missing from academic libraries when compared to other philosophy books matched in age and popularity.

That noted, the show's protagonists do confront moral dilemmas, and it's nice to see sitcom characters employing the vocabulary of moral philosophy as they wrestle with what to do.

NEXT: Lessons from "The Good Place"

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "All You Need is Love"
See also
Part 2: A Time to Lie
Part 3: Moral Particularism and Love


Local Food Waste Recycling

Reduce Waste, part 3

Parts 1 and 2 in this 3-part series talked about four different worldviews. The view that sees the world as our lover -- and the view that sees the world as our very self -- can provide us a grounding in joy, allowing us to respond in care to protect the Earth. Environmentalism can then be something we want to do, something that feels good – not just some duty we’re brow-beating ourselves into. With that in mind, let's turn to some facts about the waste situation.

Each year Americans throw away enough edible food to solve the problem of food insecurity in the US -- and 50 million American experience food insecurity each year. Only one third of the waste in the United States is recycled or composted.

Achieving zero waste would reduce the US’s greenhouse gas emissions by almost 40 percent. Is this possible? And would it feel joyful to care for the Earth and all its inhabitants, human and otherwise, by reducing waste, walking with a lighter step – just because the Earth and its inhabitants are ourselves?

There are five different kinds of responses to waste.

Prevention is the best – the most caring. This is avoiding generating waste products in the first place. Prevention of waste involves using less material in design and manufacture, keepings products for longer, and using less hazardous materials. Sometimes – when it feels joyful to do so – it can involve not acquiring products.

The worst option, at the other end of the scale, is disposal. Dumping or incineration of waste without energy recovery are not sustainable. Landfills are the most common form of waste disposal and the final disposal option. Disposal requires considerable pre-treatment or the waste, and this also uses energy. Some estimates suggest that 50 percent of what goes into a landfill essentially never degrades. The landfill itself facilitates some biodegrading, but then reaches a point where it’s preserving what’s in there. The key paradigm shift is to think of it not as garbage but as a resource.

In between prevention of waste and disposal are a range of alternatives. Reusing is good. Reusing what might otherwise become waste typically requires collection but relatively little or no processing. It involves checking, cleaning, repairing, and/or refurbishing. Making donations to -- and many of your purchases from -- places like Good Will or Salvation Army stores is a way to boost reuse.

Not quite as optimal as re-using is recycling. The process requires collecting, sorting, and processing recyclable substance into raw material and then remanufacturing that raw materials into new products.

Next best after reusing and recycling is energy recovery. Recovery of energy would usually be incineration that makes use of the heat. This is not great because it’s not efficient, and often generates pollution, though it’s still better than flat disposal.

So I just want you to know that continuum. Whether you do anything with it, just be aware:
Prevention -- Reuse -- Recycling -- Recovery -- Disposal

In particular, locally, one great thing that’s starting to happen is food scrap recycling. Our environmental practices social justice team has been doing great work. The leaders Janet Bear and Charlie McNally have educated me about this, and I’m so thankful for the wonderful attention they’ve been giving to the project of helping CUUC become an official green sanctuary.

One year ago, Scarsdale began a food scrap recycling program. It’s not just for compostables but also egg shells, bones – any food scraps. No pet waste or yard waste, though. To participate in this program, if you live in Scarsdale, you collect your food scraps in a countertop pail. You’re likely to fill that pail 3-4 times a week, so it’s handy to have a larger bin to transfer the scraps to when the pail fills up. When the bin gets full, you take it down to the drop-off location: 110 Secor Road, Scarsdale, open from 8 to 3, Monday through Saturday. Cool.

These food scraps will be turned into nutrients usefully returned to the Earth to help plants grow – plants that sequester carbon. Otherwise, food scraps go to either a landfill or incinerator and the resource is lost. In landfills, scraps create methane, which has about 30 times the heat-trapping power of CO2. The compost that Scarsdale is creating from food scraps will also help reduce soil erosion, and lower the need for using as much water, pesticide, and fertilizer. Does that feel joyful?

It's in Scarsdale, and if you’re there you can start that right away. Scarsdale’s was the first food scrap recycling program in the county, and for it they got the 2017 Westchester County Earth Day Award. Our Green Team – which is easier to say than “Environmental Practices Social Justice Team” -- is also working on encouraging White Plains to also create food scrap recycling facility. Is that not awesome? Go team!

Perhaps you are thinking, "Running my food scraps down to some center every week or so is one more chore I don’t have time to do!" I understand. I’m not asking you to do what isn’t joyful for you. But it might be joyful – and if, for you, it is – there’s a really fun, pretty simple thing you can do. Having a world-view that sees the world – the Earth and all its beings, human and otherwise – as lover, or as self – can be a key part of that joy.

San Francisco has a goal of zero waste by 2020. They’ve got two more years. As of 2014, San Francisco was still sending 400,000 tons a year still going to landfill. The idea of living in a way that has zero waste just feels really good. My heart loves that, quite independent of what my head knows about the facts and science of global warming and pollution. And San Francisco is moving toward getting there.

And if San Francisco does it, maybe eventually Westchester can. Zero waste. Wow. Part of what feels so good about that it’s a collective enterprise. None of us can make Westchester a zero waste county by ourselves. That’s what’s so joyful about the concept. It brings us together.

But gratitude cannot wait until it happens. Gratitude is where it begins, and gratitude will be with us every step along the way. I conclude with these words of Joanna Macy:
“We have received an inestimable gift. To be alive in this beautiful self-organizing universe – to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it – is a wonder beyond words. And it is, moreover, an extraordinary privilege to be accorded a human life, to possess this self-reflexive consciousness, which brings awareness of our own actions and the ability to make choices. It lets us choose to take part in the healing of our world.”
And in my worldview, the healing of our world is the healing of ourselves.

* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of Reduce Waste
See also
Part 1: "We Are Our World Knowing Itself"
Part 2: What's Your Worldview


What's Your Worldview?

Reduce Waste, part 2

The previous post included a description of the world-view, "World as Battleground." The second world-view is:

2. The World as Trap

In this worldview, our spiritual objective
“is not to engage in struggle and vanquish a foe, but to disentangle ourselves and escape from this messy world . . . to extricate ourselves and ascend to a higher, supra-phenomenal plane.”
Not in some future life, but in this life, the objective is to escape the trap, to live with contempt for the material plane, prizing only the rarefied life of mind and spirit, aloof from the world of strife and desire. This view engenders a love-hate relationship with matter – for aversion inflames craving, and the craving inflames aversion. Wherever we see people vigorously denouncing something and then being caught at doing that very thing – whether it’s extramarital relationships, or eating fatty foods – we are seeing the playing out of a love-hate relationship that comes from seeing the world as a trap.

I have seen people be attracted to Buddhism out of a feeling that the world is a trap, and a hope meditation will take them to a place removed from worldly entanglements. I tell them that the Buddha taught detachment from ego, not detachment from the world. And that even with ego, he taught being present to it, seeing it clearly for what it is, not suppressing it or ignoring it. For people who see the world as a trap, social justice may still be a concern, but their approach is to get themselves detached and then help others detach -- escape the trap of the material world.

3. The World as Lover

This view beholds the world as an intimate and gratifying partner. With training, one can bring to every phenomenon the beauty and sweetness of primal erotic play. Since lovers are impelled toward union and oneness, this view can then segue into:

4. The World as Self

In the Western tradition there is more talk of merging self with God rather than with the world, but the import is about the same. When Hildegard of Bingen experienced unity with the divine, she gave the experience these words:
“I am the breeze that nurtures all things green....I am the rain coming from the dew that causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life.”
In riding a bicycle or driving a car we can quickly come to feel the vehicle as an extension of our own bodies. In the same way, the whole world is an extension of your own body. Yes, sometimes it does things you don’t want it to and can’t control, but the same is true of your joints and organs (increasingly so as the years go by). Truly, everything in the world is your joints and organs, sinews and bones, glands, skin, and hair. And brain and mind.
“We are our world knowing itself. We can relinquish our separateness. We can come home again – and participate in our world in a richer, more responsible and poignantly beautiful way than before in our infancy.” (Joanna Macy)
If you see the world in the first view – as a battle-ground, or a proving ground – then your moral thinking will emphasize individual courage, strength, taking responsibility. Those are good things. But just telling people to be that way doesn’t help us actually be that way. A moral code that sees self-improvement as solitary and nonrelational won’t work. It doesn’t stick. Our growth and change require the nurture we get in relationships and loving attachments.

We don’t get to resilience by ourselves. And when we are held in a network of relationships – providing both support and accountability – then we become able to adopt the third view: we can see the world itself as lover. And from there we might even see the world as our very self, the fourth view.

From this place of joy and gratitude, then we are able to sustain care for the Earth. I am going to talk about reducing waste – but if it isn’t fun, if it isn’t joyful, I’m just wasting my breath. And the waste I hope to reduce begins with reducing the waste of my breath. A joyless call to self-sacrifice and duty is not what any of us need to hear.

So I spent this time describing the four different world-views because I think we are attracted to numbers 3 and 4 – world as lover and world as self. But most of us probably waffle a bit. Sometimes the world does seem like a battle-ground or proving ground: everything is a test, and I am constantly being judged – sometimes well, sometimes poorly. Moving the needle on those judgments, including my self-judgments, more toward the positive end is the primary aim toward which my energy needs to be directed. When my self-judgments and others' judgments of me are predominantly positive, that's affirming, but it still isn't joyful. It’s still a life that’s all about the judgment.

And of course, the world of judgment is never always positive. And then the second view looks attractive: world as trap. This view recommends retreat from the world -- the realm where I’m never good enough. This worldview promises a refuge in sublime detachment.

So we waffle around amidst the world-views, and I find it helpful to name them: to notice how they work. The simple act of identifying “world as lover” as a world-view helps me feel the joy of that view, helps me live into it more consistently. Identifying “world as self” as a world-view helps me stay in it.

We also need relationships with others in a mutually supportive social context that nurtures the understanding of the world as lover – or as self. With that context, I’m now ready to take in some factual information about waste reduction. Grounded in joy, we can respond in care, and it’s what we want to do, what feels good – not just some duty we’re brow-beating ourselves into.

Are you ready?

Next: Some facts of the matter about waste and how to reduce it

* * *
This is part 2 of 3 of "Reduce Waste"
See also
Part 1: "We Are Our World Knowing Itself"


"We Are Our World Knowing Itself"

Reduce Waste, part 1

Joanna Macy, World as Lover, World as Self, writes:
Throughout, at each step, it is evident that action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the Earth, the Earth heals us. No need to wait. As we care enough to take risks, we loosen the grip of ego and begin to come home to our true nature. For, in the co-arising nature of things, the world itself, if we are bold to love it, acts through us.

The way we define and delimit the self is arbitrary. We can place it between our ears and have it looking out from our eyes, or we can widen it to include the air we breathe, or at other moments, we can cast its boundaries farther to include the oxygen-giving trees and plankton, our external lungs, and beyond them the web of life in which they are sustained.

I used to think that I ended with my skin, that everything within the skin was me and everything outside the skin was not. But now you’ve read these words, and the concepts they represent are reaching your cortex, so “the process” that is me now extends as far as you.

And where, for that matter, did this process begin? I certainly can trace it to my teachers, some of whom I never met, and to my husband and children, who give me courage and support to do the work I do, and to the plant and animal beings who sustain my body.

What I am, as systems theorists have helped me see, is a “flow-through.” I am a flow-through of matter, energy, and information, which is transformed in turn by my own experiences and intentions.

To experience the world as an extended self and its story as our own extended story involves no surrender or eclipse of our individuality. The liver, leg, and lung that are “mine” are highly distinct from each other, thank goodness, and each has a distinctive role to play. The larger selfness we discover today is not an undifferentiated unity.

Nowadays, yearning to reclaim a sense of wholeness, some of us tend to disparage that movement of separation from nature, but it brought great gains for which we can be grateful. The distanced and observing eye brought us tools of science, and a priceless view of the vast, orderly intricacy of our world. The recognition of our individuality brought us trial by jury and the Bill of Rights.

Now, harvesting these gains, we are ready to return. Having gained distance and sophistication of perception, we can turn and recognize who we have been all along. Now it can dawn on us: we are our world knowing itself. We can relinquish our separateness. We can come home again – and participate in our world in a richer, more responsible and poignantly beautiful way than before.
Have you ever heard of Jordan Peterson? Some people, apparently, are saying he's the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now. Apparently his youtube videos have attracted over 40 million views. I'd never heard of Jordan Peterson until I read about him in an op-ed piece on Friday. (David Brooks, "The Jordan Peterson Moment," NYTimes, 2018 Jan 25)

In his videos, according to the column I read, Jordan Peterson:
“analyzes classic and biblical texts, he eviscerates identity politics and political correctness and, most important, he delivers stern fatherly lectures to young men on how to be honorable, upright and self-disciplined — how to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives. . . . Peterson gives them a chance to be strong. He inspires their idealism by telling them that life is hard. His worldview begins with the belief that life is essentially a series of ruthless dominance competitions. The strong get the spoils and the weak become meek, defeated, unknown and unloved. . . . Don’t be fooled by the na├»ve optimism of progressive ideology. Life is about remorseless struggle and pain.” (Brooks)
I mention this because I want to talk about different world-views, and that's a very clear illustration of one of the four world-views that Joanna Macy delineated -- four sets of basic assumptions we can make about our relationship to our world. Those assumptions are crucial to our attitude about the Earth, climate change, pollution, and waste reduction.

Joanna Macy begins with the crucial question: “In the face of what is happening, how do we avoid feeling overwhelmed and just giving up?” “Giving up” might look like giving up on taking responsibility for standing strong – or giving up might look more like turning to the many diversions and distractions of our disjointed, frenetic, consumer society – and maybe there’s not so much difference between those two ways of giving up. Whatever giving up looks like, the appropriate response is indicated by one’s world view. Here are the basic types of worldview, according to Joanna Macy:

1. The World as Battlefield

This is Jordan Peterson's worldview. Good and evil are pitted against each other, and the forces of light battle the forces of darkness. The Zoroastrians and the Manicheans developed that story line. People for whom this story is the context for making meaning of their lives, will be oriented toward “courage, summoning up the blood, using the fiery energies of anger, aversion, and militancy.” This worldview is good for building confidence – it’s a story that reassures you that you are on the right side, and your side will eventually win.

A variation is the model of the world as a proving ground, a kind of moral gymnasium for showing your strength and virtue at the snares and temptations of the world. You are only here so that the mettle of your immortal soul may be tested prior to admittance to some other realm.

If you resonate with Macy's words -- "We are our world knowing itself. We can relinquish our separateness. We can come home again" -- then you probably don't have the "World as Battlefield" view.

Next: Worldviews #2, #3, and #4

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "Reduce Waste"
See also:
Part 2: What's Your Worldview?


Challenges of Hospitality

Hospitality and Race, part 2

The work of radical hospitality is to do all we can to learn “What does this guest need?” For whites, this would include reading books by black authors, seeking out essays by black writers about their experience and understanding.

This isn’t about abandoning your own needs, erasing yourself for the sake of others. Putting the question “What does this guest need?” at the center of your life includes treating yourself as one such guest. It’s not always clear to us what our own needs are – as opposed to our passing impulses. And it turns out that developing those skills of attuning to other people’s needs also helps us better attune to our own needs. It’s about caring for everybody – and caring for self counts as part of caring for everybody.

It isn’t about reciprocity. It might not be reciprocal – but hospitality isn’t about reciprocity. Hospitality is a gift – and a gift isn’t a gift if you have to have something in return.

Hospitality across cultural and racial lines is our vital challenge. For the white folks, carrying out hospitality requires keeping in mind the enormous privileges whiteness has conferred. In the book Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry – one of this year’s Common Read books for Unitarian Universalists – Rev. Adam Robersmith, a Unitarian Universalist who identifies as ‘of multiracial heritage’ writes:
“When is there ministry to ask people to meet me where I am as a person of color? To ask you to see me for what I am and meet me there?”
Given the history of accommodation in this country, it’s the less powerful who have had to accommodate the more powerful. Those of us more privileged are the ones positioned to meet others where they are – and not demand or expect reciprocity.

The idea that whiteness is better permeates our culture. The superiority of whiteness gets into the heads and messes with the minds of white people, black people, and all people. When the African American activist and scholar Cornel West addressed the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly a couple years ago, I was in the audience. Aside from the fact that he mentioned Richard Rorty, the philosophy professor unknown, I’m sure, to the vast majority of the people in the hall, but who was my mentor – so that was a thrill -- the part of Cornel West’s talk that most stayed with me was when he said:
“I've got a lot of vanilla brothers and sisters that walk with me and say, Brother West, Brother West, you know, I'm not a racist any longer. Grandma's got work to do, but I've transcended that. And I say to them, 'I'm a Jesus-loving, free, black man, and I've tried to be so for 55 years, and I'm 62 now, and when I look in the depths of my soul I see white supremacy because I grew up in America. And if there's white supremacy in me, my hunch is you've got some work to do too.'"
When Cornel West, activist for racial justice, said he had white supremacy in him, he didn’t mean that he supported Richard Spencer, David Duke, or the KKK. He just meant that the idea that whiteness is better infects even him – and infects everyone who grew up in this culture.

Let me ask: Does that ring true to your experience? In what ways have you received the message, whether you are white or not, that it’s better to be white? How do you handle that? The division hurts us all.

Martin Luther King, Jr said no one is free until we are all free. And as LoraKim said last week,
“We all are trapped. Our work for freedom is undoing the core oppression for our co-liberation.”
So let me also ask: Does that ring true? Whether you have been the "beneficiary" of racial prejudice or not, have you felt the hurt? Have you felt the pain of the divide created between us by awareness that some of us are systematically granted privileges denied to others?

Even the most privileged of us have sometimes felt like the outsider, like we didn’t belong. That gives us a basis for beginning to imagine what it would be like for that experience to be a much more pervasive feature of life. Can you get in touch with such a memory – a time when you were an outsider?

The challenge of hospitality is steepest when there are cultural differences – when the words and gestures that would make you feel welcome aren’t the ones that work for the other person’s culture. What is your experience with that? When have cultural differences posed particular challenges for you in feeling welcome, and in being welcoming? Indeed, what does being welcomed really mean to you? How do you know when you’re welcome, and when you’ve succeeded at truly welcoming someone else?

The work of radical hospitality is the work of wholeness -- for each of us, for all of us.

* * *
This is part 2 of 2 of "Hospitality and Race"
See also
Part 1: The Circle of Hospitality