The Joy of Non-Attachment

Neal Crosbie tries not to take himself too seriously. I am an irritation, then, in that I see things revealed in his work that reflect the struggle to bring love into the world.

Which I take very seriously.

The challenge is to moderate our natural instincts, with the cerebral cortex being the tool that brings discipline. It’s a struggle because our bodies are designed to enjoy animalistic behavior. It’s a war because the spirits that preceded us don’t want to cede the stage of evolution to us.

And why should they? Evolution is about competition, and they serve a purpose is resisting our rise to dominance.

In the Native American tradition, the coyote is the most pitiful of the animal gods, getting his way only by tricking his betters. Trickery is a way of transforming situations, and so through his weakness, eventually coyote becomes the most influential of the gods.

As climate change withers the ecosystem that supported them, how is this supposed to happen? Animal gods have fewer bodies to manipulate, and so less means for reorganizing spirit.

A possible answer was proposed in some of Neal’s recent work. Compelled by a dream, I bought this one two weeks ago (sorry for this drab image; the color is vivid in the original):

CoyoteTransform

What struck me is the shadowing of Coyoteman’s color fields in the abstract construct on the right. I read this as a soul shadow. In this image, the color sprays emanate most obviously from the soul shadow. It’s not clear whether they are being assimilated, projected or expelled. That a transformation is being undertaken is suggested more strongly by the two elements on the right: the Buddhist circle of completion and the “greater vehicle” of Mahayana practice.

In conversation on Sunday, Neal explained that he is completely worn out upon returning home from the Art Walk. He has many deep conversations, his booth and eclectic art serving as a magnet. His joy is infectious. When I tried to suggest that he was engaged in spiritual service, he became hostile – and more so when I illustrated my point with Christian scripture.

But trickery is amusing. It provides us a release from tragedy. Contrast this with Siddhartha, who sought to conquer pain through asceticism. What’s the attraction in self renunciation? Joy has qualities that make it the more potent tool to achieve non-attachment

.I see this, then, as coyote’s essential contribution: through absurdity to guide us away from suffering into the harbor of joy. While the construction of that harbor is a weighty matter, I wouldn’t denigrate the guide. In fact, I wouldn’t want more to serve for any purpose than to shelter the spirits he inspires – not least because they inspire by their creativity.

Is Neal’s art then a method for implementing coyote’s transformation? I believe so.

Abandoned

The leading residents of the camp call it “transitional housing.” Established on the site of an abandoned smelter, the concrete foundations of the demolished buildings are ideal for motor homes. A discard pile looms over the camp, an acre of tailings piled thirty feet high that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is scheduled to remove in a couple of years. That’s going to involve heavy equipment, and many of vehicles are situated so as to interfere with the work.

The regulations for official motor home camps prohibit vehicles more than ten years old. As I walked amidst them, I say those rusted and lying low on deflated tires. I doubt that some of them can be moved, even if a place could be found to hook them up to services.

Cher, the first of the residents, parked her motor home ten years ago. At the time, the owners were still local residents, but unpaid property taxes have put the land into the hands of the EPA. Once the pile is removed – extending the salt marsh owned by the Nature Conservancy – the lot will revert to state and local ownership.

It seems an ideal site for a homeless camp. A corrugation plant sits just adjacent, and the sewage treatment plant is across the street. City officials find the inhabitants unpleasant, and of course many of them have criminal histories. They’ve found reasons to disallow garbage collection on site, and trash has piled up over the years, creating a serious public health hazard.

I’ve been going out there with the local churches, standing watch as residents are fed lunch and sift through the clothing and food. Unfortunately, the foremost of the organizers had concluded that the camp needed to be cleared. He also had some theological disputes with me, and asked me to stop attending.

But I went out two weeks ago looking for Cher. I had contacted the sociology department at the University, suggesting that her experience would be valuable to those seeking to provide alternatives for our growing homeless population. She wasn’t there that week, and I was busy with other matters last week.

Yesterday morning, my thoughts turned to her again, but I waited until after lunch to visit. When I arrived, she was standing out on the sidewalk talking with a man who had pitched his tent just outside the lot. I sat down with her, and she poured out her troubles to me.

She had gone up to meet her man when he came out of prison, but he acted as though he didn’t know her. They had planned to move into a shared living arrangement, but after his probation appointment on Monday, he disappeared. Cher contacted the office, and they said that he was fine, but wouldn’t be seeing her again.

I told her about the university contact, but it became clear that she had more pressing matters. She felt that God had abandoned the camp, and wanted to move her vehicle out to Las Vegas where her granddaughter lived. She needed to repair the lights. It seemed clear that she needed a phone, but the last time she had signed up for one, it never showed up in the mail. I offered to drive her out to find the free phone kiosk. We bounced from the 99-cent store to Wal-Mart, and were headed out to a third location when she spotted the pop-up tent outside the Goodwill.

Unfortunately, the system said that she already had a phone, and would only allow her a SIM card. Hoping either that we could buy a cheap T-Mobile device at Wal-Mart or find a spare at the camp, she accepted their offer. Wal-Mart didn’t have any T-Mobile devices, so I dropped her off, promising that I would try to find something and drop it off to her Thanksgiving morning.

During our wanderings, we talked about Revelation. She had never read the book, so I summarized it for her. Regarding her situation, what seemed important is this: love came to Adam and Eve 7000 years ago, and the selfish personalities that had dominion over the earth for the prior billions of years know that they have lost the battle. That means that they have nothing to lose, and they have set out to make the end as painful as possible. It’s upon the poor that the burden falls most heavily.

As she gathered her purse, Cher thanked me, sharing that she was in a much better place than before I came by. It was almost alarming, being told that she refused to get out of bed when her daughter reported that I wasn’t with the service crew. But she needed to eat, and found herself pulled to the curb just before I showed up.

She is shifting her hopes to me, and I know that I can’t respond. It appears that a phone will run at least $200, and who knows how much it will take to get her vehicle road-worthy. Her social security check arrives on the 3rd, but even now she’s eating noodles.

And through her I see millions more.

Last time I saw her, I told her that I just wanted her to see herself as God sees her – as a bright light shining in the darkness. She shared that she had meditated on that yesterday morning. I shared the story of Peter on the water, and she admitted that she didn’t have much faith in herself, either – time and again she had sabotaged herself.

I don’t know that she can be rescued in this life, but as I drove away, a passage from Revelation came to me. It comes in the chapters that describe the suffering brought to humanity by tyrannical government, and the loving response of the Lamb. Chapter 14 ends:

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

Would that have any meaning to her, this abandoned American citizen, hoping that someone from among God’s saints will provide for her? When the body is abandoned, what strength is there in a promise of salvation for the soul? I have confronted that recently, I was moved to reject spiritual compromise. But while not rich, I have physical security and comfort. She has been without for ten years. What does that do to a soul? Can she still feel God’s hand reaching down to her?

Am Misbehaving

Teri Gross, interviewing a young female actor/writer/director tonight on Fresh Air, had an uncomfortable dialog concerning male role-models that have now been revealed as sexual predators. The discussion focused on the challenges of not saying “the wrong thing,” with “the wrong thing” never being elucidated. Presumably it would be something that could be interpreted as hateful of men in general, or dismissive of the human depth and value of the work of some of the men involved, or offensive to men that they might want to work with on future projects.

So they preferred to say nothing.

This contrasted with the All Things Considered interview of women from lineage of three generations that have worked in Hollywood since 1960. They spoke frankly about the problem of sexual harassment and what it takes to avoid degradation. They had direct experience, and so had a specific human story to tell.

In both contexts, their attraction to Hollywood was explained as a reaching for the opportunity to create dreams. Remember that these are successful creators, so they have not hit the wall that causes most workers to hate their jobs after they turn forty. That wall is the gate that narrows when the cost of providing opportunities to all qualified people exceeds the available resources. When opportunities for professional growth thin out, what characterizes those that stay the course?

I would hazard that it’s not just the opportunity to create dreams for others, it’s the link between their work and the expression of their own fantasies. The more powerful those fantasies are, the greater the commitment to their craft.

Perhaps the most disturbing experience I have had in church is being told by a pastor that I was not welcome because when I meditated on the cross, everybody in the congregation felt that they were being sexually harassed. To love someone is to affirm their personality – and if they find more joy in sex than in compassion, they will channel the energy that way.

Couple this to the desire of a director or producer to associate and control beautiful people – the people that we love to watch on the screen – and the adoration that we tender to our media figures is going to amplify their worst habits. The more we adore them, the worse their conduct will become.

The problem is related to the problem Jesus faced with his disciples. The disciples believed that they needed Jesus to tell them what to do, just as consumers of entertainment believe that they need someone to give them dreams. Jesus complained of the “little faith” of his followers because they didn’t believe in themselves. He died, was buried, rose and ascended to convince them that they should cast off their doubts and love others.

Rather than fixing our gaze on that story – the true and heroic testimony of the redeeming power available to all that choose to love – we choose to fill our dreams with fantasies that can’t possibly be made true. In seeking to entertain, Hollywood doesn’t create dreams, it creates illusions. Those that suckle on its teat shouldn’t be surprised when those illusions are pierced, unmasking the self-serving motives of all those that peddle illusion – and exemplified by those that have clawed their way to the top.

Our government is also riven by corruption – politicians don’t have the power to solve our problems, so they peddle illusions. And we are disappointed in our relationships, because we operate under the illusion that someone else can change our soul when that is work that only we can do in collaboration with God.

We’re not going to end exploitation by shaming people, or throwing them in jail. There will always  be replacements.  We’re only going to solve the problem by recognizing illusionists when they appear in our lives, and putting them off with “That’s all very nice, Donald, but I need to pray for a friend before I go visit them.”

Virgin Shield

Roy Moore, Republican candidate for the Senate seat vacated in Alabama by Jeff Sessions, is under attack for his conduct towards underage girls while working in the district attorney’s office during his 20’s and 30’s. In responding to the accusations, Moore appears to be taking the advice of Steve Bannon, who led Trump around the Access Hollywood (“Grab ’em by the pussy”) debacle. Bannon advised to deny everything and double down.

Moore’s supporters have done their best. On the political level, they charge that the revelation of these claims only four weeks before the election reeks of political manipulation by the Democrats and liberal media (the charges were given national airing by the Washington Post). Others note that the acts, even if committed, have expired under the statute of limitations, and so have no bearing on the election.

Before the scandal, Moore achieved notoriety for his defense of Biblical principles. He was removed as a sitting judge for refusing to honor a court order requiring the removal of a Ten Commandments display he had installed. Appointed later to the Alabama Supreme Court, he was removed again for refusing to enforce the US Supreme Court decision upholding same-sex marriage.

So the political arguments have been supplemented by theological arguments. Co-religionists have implored voters to show Moore Christian forgiveness. Others have compared his suffering to that of Christ on the cross.

But the ugliest justification is that the Virgin Mary was only fourteen when she was married to Joseph, and so there is Biblical foundation for older men to pursue young girls.

There is so much wrong with these arguments. Forgiveness is wonderful, but that does not extend to empowering those that do wrong. Women also suffer persecution, and to suggest that Moore is being persecuted is like unto a suggestion that Herod is persecuted.

But the one that hurts the most is the parallel drawn to the relationship between Mary and Joseph. That relationship was not considered unusual in the era – in fact, the principle concern of the parents of an adolescent girl was to ensure that she was established safely in marriage to a decent man. Moore was not married to his victims.

But neither was the Holy Spirit. I’ve heard this issue raised before at a non-denominational Christmas service. The preacher attacked the whole idea of the immaculate conception, stating that “God doesn’t molest little girls.” Trevor Noah took this to its ultimate conclusion on Monday night, observing that the parallel offered by Moore’s supporters seemed to suggest that Moore was seeking to conceive a Messiah, giving new meaning to the idea of a “Second Coming.”

This upsets me because I don’t see Mary as a passive vessel. When women are allowed to choose, beautiful consequences result. The angel Gabri-el proposed a solution to the problems that beset Mary’s tribe, and by extension the whole of humanity. Mary’s humble response was “Here am I.”

Events during Jesus’s ministry emphasize this message. Presented with the paradox of the life in paradise of a woman widowed successively to seven brothers, Jesus observed that in that age everyone will make their own decisions about marriage. When Margaret complained that Mary was not helping with housework, Jesus encouraged Margaret to take also “the better part.” Finally, when a woman appears to anoint him with oil before the crucifixion – as were the kings by the high priest – Jesus rebukes the charge of hypocrisy (“the oil could have been used for the poor”) with the simple statement “She has done a beautiful thing for me.”

That Mary made the decision to bear Jesus when she was only fourteen may seem strange by our standards, but it was her choice. Moore didn’t share that choice with his victims. Mary’s choice carried with it the possibility of prosecution under the law of her day. Safe from criminal prosecution, Moore would do well to learn from her courage and humility, ask personally for forgiveness, and bear the consequences in the court of public opinion.

Foreign Commercial Policy

As with others, I have been concerned to see the shrinking of the State Department under the Trump Administration. The President of the American Foreign Service Association, Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, has penned an editorial (to be published in the December issue of Foreign Service Journal) that summarizes the self-inflicted wounds on our ability to conduct foreign policy, and demands that we ask “Why?”

I see two reasons. The first, and lesser, is Trump’s preference for the military option in foreign policy. I believe this is rooted in two realities: American has by far the most powerful military in the world. Trump is a man of simple judgment, and so doesn’t need to reason much beyond that. Furthermore, he is undisputed commander-in-chief of the military, which is why he has so many generals in his cabinet. They are bound to do what he commands them to do. What more could a narcissistic megalomaniac want?

Constitutionally, the president’s control of the military is constrained only by the requirement that Congress declare war. Unfortunately, since 9/11 the military has been operating on a global remit to wage war against terrorism, which under the rubrik of “state sponsored terrorism” can be interpreted to mean almost any hostile act.

The second reason to destroy the State Department is more insidious. Trump doesn’t reveal his tax returns because they document his participation and profiteering in money laundering, often in collaboration with leaders from other nations. Trump’s motive is to clear the barriers to such conduct, barriers maintained in large part by investigators hosted and supported by our foreign service.

As CEO of Exxon, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson bragged that Exxon was a supra-national power. He thumbed his nose at American sanctions against Russia, and undercut repatriation agreements intended to ensure that African dictators allocated for public benefit a portion of resource extraction profits.

Trump and Tillerson are both united in their intention to minimize political interference in the ability of US business to profit overseas. My sense is that they look at Iranian resurgence – led by the corrupt Revolutionary Guard – and increasing Chinese hegemony on the international stage – led by the corrupt People’s Army – as evidence that American power can be sustained only if military and commercial policy are fully aligned.

Tillerson is gutting the State Department to create conditions under which that alignment can be established. In part, that is a rational response to global realities, but it has the undeniable side-effect of supporting the construction of a global kleptocracy. For Trump, that is the compelling motivation.

Exhaustion

So, here I am again, woken at 3 AM in the morning by the narcissists that run the company that employs me. They’ve tied my compensation to acquiescence to their industrial ambitions, and won’t take “no” for an answer.

When my boss told me two months ago that he wanted me out of the company, I memorialized the conversation, and ended up in a scrum that included the owner and the HR manager. Offered control of the agenda, I chose compensation as the topic. At one point, I asked the owner whether he could characterize the value that I brought to the company. He stammered, and then admitted, “Well, perhaps I know more about other parts of the company that I know about your area.”

He has no idea what my contribution is worth, and interprets his ability over nine years to avoid that understanding not as a testament to my value and virtue, but as a reason to ignore them. In fact, my boss is his fair-haired child, a man that the owner sees as driven and strong enough to ensure success in the competitive world of commerce.

To clarify the emotional context that drove my concerns, I shared that my father had passed two years ago, and that I had been living in proximity to my mother in Westlake Village until rent increases had forced me to move away. The owner interrupted me, stating that others had come to him with family issues to demand higher pay, and he had the same response for me: my family issues were my problem. He had a “family” of more than a hundred employees to consider.

To demonstrate his sacrifice, he tendered a letter of offer for his business. He said that he didn’t really need it any more, and I was tempted to tear the envelope in two. My family is eight billion people. The mind that I occupy took three billion years to create, and will survive long after the sun has annihilated the earth and with it all material evidence of human accomplishment.

Our mind is worth more than his company. It is worth more than all the businesses in the world. There is no price sufficient to purchase a billet of entry. The qualifications for entry are the compassion, tenderness, and awe that guide those responsible enough to walk in the temple of the Most High without corrupting his Creation.

Those aren’t typical in those unable to recognize and honor virtue when they see it. I shouldn’t have to think twice about being close enough to support my mother. I shouldn’t have to think twice about flying out to Texas to support the survivors of our most recent mass shooting. If they recognized that, the executive team at my company would be bending over backwards to garner the benefits of awareness among those that receive my love that “I work at Advanced Motion Controls in Camarillo, California.”

Rock of Egos

NASA’s New Horizons probe is flying through the Kuiper Belt (home of the Solar System’s comets) and about to survey a large rock. The rock is named “(486958) 2014 MU69“, which would sound nice when tweeted from R2D2, but is a terror for newscasters.

So NASA is running a contest to select a name to attach to the rock for their PR campaign. Recommendations include “Mjolnir” (Thor’s hammer) and certain mythical cities in the heavens.

My suggestion is “Ziggy Froid.”

The rationale? In honor of David Bowie, of “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Because “Ziggy” is a diminutive of “Siegfried” and “Sigmund” which ties in to the Norse mythology of the Arctic Circle through Wagner’s series of Ring operas. And because “Froid” – French for “cold” – is a near-homonym of “Freud,” evoking my sense that it’s crazy to attach names of power to the first rock that we happen to encounter in the Kuiper Belt.

Though there’s no purpose served, you can visit the contest site and vote for my entry.