Do not ask me where I am going …

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But do not ask me where I am going,
As I travel in this limitless world,
Where every step I take is my home.
– Dōgen


Japanese poet Dōgen Zenji (1200-1253), Kyoto, founder of Soto Zen in Japan

Japanese poet Dōgen Zenji (1200-1253), Kyoto, founder of Soto Zen in Japan

One of the great lessons in life – something that if we preserver we come to gracefully accept – is impermanence. This is a lesson Dōgen learned early in life. He lost both parents when he was a child.

When Dōgen decided to become a monk he join the Tendai Tradition and was ordained in it.  With his strong questioning intellect, he became dissatisfied with Tendai. He left Japan for China to learn what he felt would be a more authentic Buddhism. After two years study Dōgen returned to Japan where he founded Soto Zen.

To what shall
I liken the world?
Moonlight, reflected
In dewdrops,
Shaken from a crane’s bill.

516zhdcq5glDōgen was a prolific essayist and poet, his works much valued because of the esteem in which he was held as a religious leader of consequence, a creative thinker and refined literary mind. His work reflects his effort to express the inexpressible.  That is something he does with excuisite grace as you can see from the poems included here. The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master includes some of Dōgen’s poetry and essays. It is a gentle book filled with peace, a nice vacation from trying times.

Fifty-four years lighting up the sky.
A quivering leap smashes a billion worlds.
Hah!
Entire body looks for nothing.
Living, I plunge into Yellow Springs.

Dōgen Zenji’s death poem


51ylkyldh7lThe recommended read for this week is Poems That Make Grown Men Cry: 100 Men on the Words That Move Them compiled by the father and son team, Anthony Holden and Ben Holden. I have to thank my good friend Linda F. for this recommendation. A moving book and a unique perspective. This is a poetry anthology in which 100 men from diverse backgrounds share the poems that they can’t read without being moved to tears and they tell us why.  The poems and poets featured span the centuries and the world. Definitely worthy of our time.

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The Intersection of Justice, Equity and the Transforming Power of Love

Rev. Benjamin Meyers, Minister, Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo

Rev. Benjamin Meyers, Minister, Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo

Some thoughts from  Rev. Ben …

John Scalzi is a Straight White Man who has a website called Whatever … I’m staring at the asphalt wondering what’s buried underneath.
A member of our congregation sent me the link to this site after I told him I was going to preach this sermon on “Intersectionality and the Transforming Power of Love.”  In his tagline to describe the content of his site John Scalzi says he’s been “Taunting the tauntable since 1998.”

I want to share something from his entry from May 12, 2014 in which he uses a very intriguing way to talk about white male privilege…(I know, this has the possibility of sounding like a turn-off, tune-out the minister topic, but bear with me…this is good…)

John Scalzi writes:

“I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,” to which they/we/I usually react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is an incorrect word to use for straight white men, it’s just that it’s not their word. So, when confronted with the concept of “privilege,” they/we/I usually fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.

So, the challenge, says John, is: how to get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it?”

Here goes…

The difficulty for us, especially for those of us with lower degrees of difficulty in the real world, is how to see these differences more clearly and not shy away from bridging the gaps between us, and others?

How do we see beyond our blindness of privilege, and reach beyond the buffers of blessings of our given lives and learn to stand in solidarity with others facing degrees of difficulty we are only beginning to truly see and feel and understand? How do we use the gifts of OUR lives to aid others caught in the oppressions of the real world? How do we make a difference in this very different world we now find ourselves?

The great human rights advocate, Grace Lee Boggs, said,

“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.”

But is the world getting more connected or more fragmented? Facebook, in conjunction with the University of Milan …announced that there were only 4.74 “degrees of separation” among its …users…. That contrasts with the famous ‘six degrees of separation’ that Yale researcher Stanley Milgram found back in the 1960s. Social media, we are led to believe, are bringing people closer together.

A study published in the American Sociological Review found [that many] Americans say they have no one they can talk to about important matters. Imagine, not having a single confidante you may safely turn to in times of critical need … or just if you need basic information. It confirms the thesis of Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, that we’re becoming more socially isolated, even as the world gets more wired.

In fact, the phrase “online community” may be an oxymoron, like “Jumbo Shrimp” or “Unbiased Opinion.” … Researchers at the University of Wisconsin put teenage girls in stressful situations, like solving mental arithmetic problems, meanwhile measuring the girls’ levels of cortisol, a bio-marker for stress, and oxytocin, a hormone associated with feelings of well-being and trust. During the test, the teens were permitted either to text their mothers, or to call mom on the phone. It turned out that the phone conversation, and the soothing tone of mother’s voice, lowered stress levels in the girls. Texting had no such effect.

The study confirms my own unbiased…prejudices. Call me retro, but I still prefer chatting with a real live person on the telephone, rather than interacting with a voice-mail robot or typing in two dimensions while living in the multi-dimensional world of relationship. The world has gained in efficiency and cost-savings, but lost a dimension that’s warm and comforting and connected. This is not to say that there’s expediency and benefit in texting short messages and sending information, electronically. It’s just that these are not always the right tools to use if what we’re needing is connection.

It appears that we need an human presence—the shelter of each other—to feel whole—and to know the fullness of living beyond the bubble of preferred comfort levels. There’s no digital substitute for a hug, a handshake, a smile or a word of encouragement.

This is one role that religious communities play in our culture, as well as civic organizations and, of course, bowling leagues. And clearly, merely attending a church, mosque or synagogue doesn’t automatically mean you feel known and accepted and connected. You still have to do the work of building caring bonds.

It is still true that in order to HAVE a friend, you have to BE a friend; but my point is that meaningful relationships and spiritual growth are possible in congregations and similar affinity groups in a way that cyberspace just won’t allow.

How much of the vulgarity of American culture is due to the fact that we’ve become a nation of strangers? How much of the incivility in our politics can be traced to the breakdown of respectful person-to-person communication? How do we learn these skills if they are not applied in our daily lives? The good news is that the cure for this malady is readily available. Through everyday acts of kindness, and by reaching out to others in a spirit of unity and cooperation, we can begin to re-weave the fraying fabric of community.

Indeed, the mathematical algorithms that measure “degrees of separation” across the planet show that when we reach outside our personal comfort zone, for example to encounter someone from a different race, a different religion, or a different political viewpoint, our actions have a multiplier effect.

One person who breaks through the proverbial chasms of privilege and prejudice can lower the level of estrangement in ways unseen or unfelt. This is how we weave the invisible fabric of our connectedness. But perhaps you didn’t need a university study or a mathematical analysis to tell you what the world’s religions have affirmed for centuries. The best way to bring our world closer together—to lower the degrees of separation and oppression and to level the playing field of the real world—is to build real bridges between our divisions.

Adam Gopnick, a writer for the New Yorker magazine who covered the massive marches and demonstrations—the largest in the history of this country which occurred just weeks ago says:

“Community is the only cure for catastrophe. Action is the only antidote to anger.”

By practicing the core values of faith and principles, we continue to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, turning strangers into friends and enemies into learning partners, one by one by one.

We must remember the haunting and prophetic words of the Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller, speaking of the rise of Nazism in Germany,

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—/Because I was not a Socialist./Then they came for the Trade Unionists, / and I did not speak out—/Because I was not a Trade Unionist./ Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—/Because I was not a Jew./Then they came for me—/and there was no one left to speak for me.”

If we want hope to survive in this world today…then EVERY day we’ve got to build the bridges and do the dance that keeps hope alive.

Let us rise beyond the places where we are and Pray, Stand, Walk, Work, Move, March, Teach, Reach, and SING ON, together.

Let us dare to Hope, and by our actions, help hope survive.

Amen. Blessed Be. Salaam and Shalom!

– Ben Meyers

© 2017, sermon and photograph, Rev. Benjamin Walker Meyers, Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo, California

half-done things, a poem

fullsizerender-19the peace of the blue dawn
writes its script across the days
in a never-ending poem
……….[telling the story
of my love for half-done things
the bud before the bloom,
the fiction roughly outlined,
the crescent moon in saffron hue,
the child with all his promise

© 2017, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

TWO NEW PROMISING BEAT BOOKS: “The Cambridge Companion to the Beats” & “First Thought: Conversations with Allen Ginsberg”

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This no doubt feels like an event for many people. It certainly seems so to me. I already have my pre-orders in. According to the Amazon blurb:

The Cambridge Companion to the Beats offers an in-depth overview of one of the most innovative and popular literary periods in America, the Beat era. The Beats were a literary and cultural phenomenon originating in New York City in the 1940s that reached worldwide significance. Although its most well-known figures are Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs, the Beat movement radiates out to encompass a rich diversity of figures and texts that merit further study. Consummate innovators, the Beats had a profound effect not only on the direction of American literature, but also on models of socio-political critique that would become more widespread in the 1960s and beyond. Bringing together the most influential Beat scholars writing today, this Companion provides a comprehensive exploration of the Beat movement, asking critical questions about its associated figures and arguing for their importance to postwar American letters.

&

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Amazon on First Thought: Conversations with Alan Ginzberg

“The way to point to the existence of the universe is to see one thing directly and clearly and describe it. . . . If you see something as a symbol of something else, then you don’t experience the object itself, but you’re always referring it to something else in your mind. It’s like making out with one person and thinking about another.” —Ginsberg speaking to his writing class at Naropa Institute, 1985

With “Howl” Allen Ginsberg became the voice of the Beat Generation. It was a voice heard in some of the best-known poetry of our time—but also in Ginsberg’s eloquent and extensive commentary on literature, consciousness, and politics, as well as his own work. Much of what he had to say, he said in interviews, and many of the best of these are collected for the first time in this book. Here we encounter Ginsberg elaborating on how speech, as much as writing and reading, and even poetry, is an act of art.

Testifying before a Senate subcommittee on LSD in 1966; gently pressing an emotionally broken Ezra Pound in a Venice pensione in 1967; taking questions in a U.C. Davis dormitory lobby after a visit to Vacaville State Prison in 1974; speaking at length on poetics, and in detail about his “Blake Visions,” with his father Louis (also a poet); engaging William Burroughs and Norman Mailer during a writing class: Ginsberg speaks with remarkable candor, insight, and erudition about reading and writing, music and fame, literary friendships and influences, and, of course, the culture (or counterculture) and politics of his generation. Revealing, enlightening, and often just plain entertaining, Allen Ginsberg in conversation is the quintessential twentieth-century American poet as we have never before encountered him: fully present, in pitch-perfect detail.