Monday, June 25, 2007

When Christians Torture

The Torture Of St. Victor was created by an unknown painter in 1490.
O to be delivered
from the rational
into the realm of
pure song...
---Theodore Roethke
Remember these teachings, remember the clear light, the pure bright shining white light of your own nature. It is deathless.
---The Tibetan Book Of The Dead
The healthy person doesn't torture others. Generally, it's the tortured who turn into torturers.
---C.G. Jung
I've never been comfortable with the notion of the United States as a Christian nation. Even as a child, I wondered what trusting in God was doing printed on all our money. Was it supposed to be a reminder not to get too involved in the things of this earth? If so, I'm not sure that strategy has worked.
I knew no Pagans, Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus in the 1940s, but Jews were among our neighbors and family friends. A classroom assignment in the second grade in which we were supposed to write a paragraph about our family's Christmas celebration and then read it aloud reduced a Jewish friend to tears when it was his turn. He read, "In my family we have no Christmas. We have no Christmas tree. There is no Santa Claus or presents." And he put his head down on his desk and cried. That's a long time for me to remember that essay. Obviously it changed me forever.
In the 1950s during the "Red Scare" and McCarthy's era, I remember distinctly when "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. We said the pledge in school everyday, and at first nobody could get it right. The teachers finally said we didn't have to say the new thing if we didn't want to, but just be silent during the time others might say it. I still don't say it.
So it's been quite a stretch for someone as old as me and so often described as a kid who always was thinking about things to get my head around the policies my government has evolved the last quarter century. Bush described his foreign policy at first as a Crusade. He quickly was shut up, not so much because it didn't describe the spiritual nature of Globalization, as his family saw it, but because the term obviously brought back some memories for followers of Islam...and after all, some of those guys are clients.
When the first photographs from Abu Ghraib came out, I thought sure the White House game was up...and I said so. I remembered a couple of photos from Viet Nam that lost us that war, or whatever it was. But the years and months and deaths have dragged on since then. Aren't Americans affected anymore? And what of the Republican "Christian base?" How do they theologize treatment of "detainees?" Do they think about it? Do they pray for them? Do they forgive? Do they love?
As I've written before, we have a new priest at The Church of the Good Shepherd. Bill Carroll and his family have been with us a year now, and so I'm glad to let him know he's not "new" to me anymore but instead a wonderful leader and accepted easily as my personal priest. His wife Tracey is a priest too, although understandably she ministers as Mother more to their 2 children than to us right now.
Both share strong academic backgrounds and Bill clearly is a biblical scholar and Anglican historian. Sometimes his sermons reflect a prior career of lecturing to theology students...which is fine with me. Perhaps there's some of that in the message he delivered yesterday. He used as his text a line from Psalm 63, which we had chanted earlier in the service, and spent most of the sermon differentiating between an idol and an ikon. That's an important distinction to make in one's worship, in whatever religion, but why am I writing to you about it this morning?
It's because at the end, he suddenly made a connection between idolatry and the frame of mind it must take to torture someone that I find stunning. And of course it's because Christians worship Christ who was tortured to death.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The US: One Big Drug Store

The family that protests together...: Richard, Dana, Ilona demonstrating against a nuclear dump they want to build down the road apiece. (Photo by Loraine McCosker)
In a single cry
the pheasant has swallowed
the fields of spring.
The real miracle is not to walk on water or thin air but to walk on the earth!
---Thich Nhat Hanh
Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn.
---Charlie Parker
I went to my dentist for the semi-annual checkup yesterday, and noticed a new product in the little bag of stuff they give you afterwards. I wisecracked to the receptionist that Listerine must be sending my doctor and his family on a cruise somewhere. She was quick to reply he never takes anything from companies except the free samples. I was happy to hear that.
Whereupon I gave her an earful about my family doctor's office. I said I hadn't been in there even once in the past 2 years (and I go maybe 3 times a year---they want to get all they can out of my insurance company) when there wasn't a drug salesperson pushing pills. These people are particularly sickening, as they try to get from the reception window into the back area to unload their suitcases full of drugs and bribe the doctors. The payoffs are free dinners, trips, and various toys to be strewn all over the place with big long names of pills on them. Undoubtedly they hope some patients will steal the toys to take home and spread the word. Free advertising. The dinners are gigantic feasts, and receptionists are encouraged to have to doctor invite all their friends if they want to. This is done in brazen broad daylight in front of a room of patients, waiting hour after hour to get that prescription.
I was in there last week, for a sprained foot I wanted X-rayed, and the drug lady was suggesting perhaps the doctors would like a new restaurant this time. Maybe one in Columbus or Parkersburg, a finer one, a richer one. The receptionist said she'd ask. "And oh!" the pusher said, "did you notice my new outfit?" She did a little swirl in front of the window. "It's color coordinated with our featured capsule!" I couldn't believe my ears. "See? The same colors as (she named the drug). Even the waistband is the color of the little separating line." I felt nauseated, and nearly stood up and let her have it. This is our health system in action, and I'm about to go in an office for treatment that will pay for this woman's salary, costume, and a doctor's free vacation courtesy of pharmaceuticals.
Maybe 20 years ago or more doctors started giving us free samples of drugs they were prescribing. I appreciated that because sometimes I was sick with flu or something, and just felt like going back to bed rather than a drug store to get medication. But since then, the practice has become obscene. Is this the free market the people in power tell us is a new religion solving the world's problems? If so, I want out! I'll gather roots and herbs in the woods before I'll take any more of this horror show. Have a look at TruthOut's article on the mess from Monday afternoon~~~
Prescription Drugs: Where's the Free Market?
By Dean Baker
t r u t h o u t Columnist
Monday 04 June 2007
For the last several years The New York Times has run articles almost every week exposing abuses by the prescription drug industry. (It had two last weekend Doctor Says Drug Maker Tried to Quash His Criticism of Avandia and After Sanctions, Doctors Get Drug Company Pay.) The stories usually document indirect payoffs to doctors for prescribing drugs, such as exorbitant speaker fees, expense-paid trips to industry-sponsored seminars at resort locations, or excessive fees for participating in clinical trials. In some cases the articles document outright kickbacks, as when the NYT reported that doctors who administer an anemia drug in their office could receive tens of thousands of dollars annually in rebates from the manufacturer.
The abuses also affect the research that is used to establish a drug's safety and effectiveness. There have been many incidents in which drug companies have concealed evidence that their drugs may not be more effective than cheaper alternatives. In some cases, they have concealed evidence of negative side effects from the public and the Food and Drug Administration. And, there is the problem that drug companies often pay researchers to sign their names to articles touting the benefits of their drugs, which the researchers did not write.
Such abuses should not be surprising to anyone who appreciates the value of a competitive market. The root cause of all of these problems is government-granted patent monopolies that allow the pharmaceutical industry to sell drugs at prices that can exceed the cost of production by a factor of a hundred, or more. Last fall, Wal-Mart began selling hundreds of generic drugs for $4 per prescription. The vast majority of brand drugs could also be profitably sold for $4 per prescription, if it were not for the patent monopoly granted by the government.
As a result of patent monopolies, drug companies can sell drugs for hundreds of dollars that cost them a few dollars to manufacture. This situation invites the sort of corruption that NYT documents regularly in its pages.
Drug patents do serve a purpose: they provide an incentive to the industry to develop new drugs. However, there are other ways in which this research can be financed. The federal government already spends nearly $30 billion a year on biomedical research conducted through the National Institutes of Health. By doubling this amount, it could probably replace the research conducted by the pharmaceutical industry, most of which currently goes to develop copycat drugs (another problem of the patent system).
As another possible alternative, Nobel Laureate Joe Stiglitz has suggested a prize system, in which the government would buy out patents at prices determined by their usefulness. The patents would then be placed in the public domain so that all new drugs could be sold as generics.
The United States spends almost $240 billion a year on prescription drugs, which comes to $800 per person. The cost of prescription drugs are a major burden to millions of low and moderate income households as well as to the government itself, which now picks up much of the tab through Medicare and Medicaid. In addition, hundreds of millions of people in the developing world are denied access to prescription drugs because they cannot afford to pay patent-protected drug prices.
The time has long passed when we should be seriously considering alternatives to patent financed research for prescription drugs. However, the power of the pharmaceutical industry has largely kept any such discussion off the political agenda.
A recent article in The Nation triggered a debate in the blogosphere as to whether the methodology of mainstream economics prevents it from considering important issues. In the case of patent financing of prescription drug research, there are no methodological issues at stake. Economists could use the exact same models that show the losses from trade barriers on shoes and shirts to quantify the much larger economic harm from patent monopolies on prescription drugs.
Unfortunately, the political force behind protection for prescription drugs is much greater than the political force behind protection for shoes and shirts. Therefore, we can look forward to reading many more articles in the NYT about abuses in the prescription drug industry.
Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer ( He also has a blog, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues. You can find it at the American Prospect's web site.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Divine Feminine

Offering of Fruits to Moon Goddess, 1757
Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (b. 1727, Venezia, d. 1804, Venezia)
There is not a petal of a flower or a blade of grass that does not configure the Way.
Everyone wishes to have truth on his side, but not everyone wishes to be on the side of truth.
---Richard Whately
There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the infinite passion of life.
---Federico Fellini
I have to be very careful here. Here I am offering up an article about a (The?) feminine perspective, and all the quotations up there are by guys. Is it a (The?) male perspective to explain things and solve problems, as those gentlemen are attempting? Women often respond by telling me what's wrong with my thinking and ignoring my solutions.
And of course there is a thin line between reporting and advocacy. I've had a whole life of trouble through advocating things, albeit worthwhile. Civil rights, anti-nukes, peace, organics, education and citizenship, cleaning up fraud and corruption, anti-consumerism. But of all the movements I tried to support, the feminine one has been the trickiest around which to maintain objectivity.
So I'm going to try just to report something here that I think may be significant and of interest having to do with what some call a particularly feminine outlook. Actually Cathy Holt is going to report it, so I'm hoping to get pretty much off the hook. I've subscribed to Cathy's occasional newsletter almost from the first day I got onto the Internet. Originally she wrote about natural foods and the alternative lifestyle, but from the vantage point of someone still struggling in the mainstream. That appealed to me because I try to do that. But a couple years ago, she decided to involve herself in an experimental community of people in North Carolina, who want off the grid and out of the rat race. As far as I know, there she has stayed...and while she doesn't write much about the struggles of such attempts, it seems to be going OK.
This article is a bit different, as she reports on a workshop she attended. Since most of the people who read what I send out---or at least skim through the ones with intriguing titles (before hitting delete)---have an interest in what direction the species seems to be headed, I'm hoping Cathy's effort will be helpful and inspiring toward hope!
EARTH & US: Sacred Activism
The Divine Feminine came to Asheville in the form of Jim Garrison and Andrew Harvey of Wisdom University. They electrified hundreds at a weekend workshop on Sacred Activism. Garrison is a theologian and philosopher, author of six books, and a proponent of the emerging "Wisdom Culture." Harvey is a Rumi scholar, worshipper of the Divine Feminine, and author of numerous books including The Direct Path.
"Wisdom is always collective," said Garrison. "Why is it that after billions of years, our species has brought all life to the brink of extinction?" This ability to destroy the world was seen as something only God could do, previously to our times. He reminded us of other times of collapse in history, when many thought that the end of the world had come. For example, in 14th century Europe, the plague killed one-quarter of Europe's population. The medieval order collapsed along with monarchy. However, in 1380, two councilmen from Florence reformed the educational system. Teaching children "civic humanism" may have been the spark that ignited the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment. At moments of great duress, the feminine wisdom takes hold, Garrison believes, adding, "We are in one of those moments now."
All the movements of the sixties and seventies have now produced a body of some 60 million people which Garrison calls "the new moral majority." Quoting Dr. Paul Rahe (another professor at Wisdom University), Garrison says that Conservatives are now about 24% of the populace (and dropping), Moderns about 50%, and Cultural Creatives are about 26% and rising. Their values:
* Personal development, spiritual growth
* Environmental protection
* Community
* Social justice
Genocide is at the basis of the power of the U.S. empire. The U.S. has broken treaties and international laws under Bush; the world community now sees the U.S. as a rogue nation. It’s up to our generation to change that, by realizing our power and using it to create social change arising from collective vision and reverence for the Earth.
Andrew Harvey, who was raised in India, first experienced the divine feminine there. "Rumi is a force of the great birth in the midst of apocalypse," he said. "Unless we transform our consciousness on every level, we'll die and take most of nature with us." He believes that our false self is showing up as fundamentalism, ecological crisis, trashy mass media, techno-addiction ("the cement garden"), insane busy-ness, and psychotic denial. The Divine Mother offers transformative wisdom now, leading to the fusion of the mystic's passion for the divine and the activist's passion for justice. "The shadow of the mystic is being without doing; the shadow of the activist is acting from indignation, demonizing the opponent, and addiction to doing," Harvey declared. "The dynamic, passionate fire of love in action will transform the Earth into a garden!"
Quoting Rumi ("the voice of the birth of mystic truth"):
The tender words we said to one another
Are stored in the secret heart of heaven.
When the world is consumed with fire,
They will descend like rain
And the world will grow green with our love.
Harvey spoke of Rumi's luminous vision of creation: "each thing filled with wisdom and beauty." The profoundest courtesy of soul is due every creation, which we must respect and cherish with deep tenderness. Harvey, who is a great lover of cats, is fond of pointing out that Rumi's cat died shortly after he did, and was buried along with him.
Real birth and transformation, Harvey said, isn't all light. It's a scary process and can only arise from the death of the false self. This is the dark night of the soul which every mystic experiences, followed by the resurrection, the liberation into the power of alignment with divine compassion. "Just as soil must be broken in order to grow food, abscesses must be pierced to heal, trees are cut to build a house, and wheat is ground on the millstone, so must we purify ourselves and abandon all arrogance, burn our egos to ash, and receive the bliss of limitless existence." Such transformation comes not from intellect, but from the sacred fire.
"Passion burns down every branch of exhaustion."
– Rumi.
"Let divine passion derange and possess you," Harvey exhorted. "Marry the human nothing with the divine everything."
Harvey led us to examine our shadow and its seven aspects of fear: fear of suffering; of looking weak & emotional; of trusting our deep instincts; of overwhelming guilt; of causing pain to others (and losing their approval); of powerlessness, helplessness; and of awakening to full power and total responsibility.
The activist often has a Messiah complex, "I have to do it all." Activists may demonize their opponents, self-righteously projecting evil onto others. They may mistake stress and burnout for glory and authenticity; they may depreciate ordinary life, preferring heroics; and they may be ungrounded in spirit. Mystics, on the other hand, may be addicted to transcendent bliss, escaping from the real, believing "I need do nothing but love." They may deny the reality of evil, and even lack compassion for the suffering of others.
Owning the shadow gives us wisdom to see our "opponents" as a manifestation of ourselves. "Knowing our own darkness is the best way of dealing with the darknesses of other people," Harvey asserted. He listed seven practices to help the activist find balance.
1. Spiritual practices: "Cool" practices of meditation, mindful breathing and walking, calming and peaceful focus on the Divine; "warm" practices to keep the heart compassionate, from Christian mysticism and Mahayana Buddhism; sacred body practices to strengthen and ground oneself, such as yoga and Tai Chi.
2. Surrender the fruits of action (non-attachment). This clears the ego out of the way and prevents discouragement when results are poor. The greatest power is in surrendering to divine intention. This was true of both Jesus and Gandhi.
3. Recognize evil, face it in oneself and in society. Evil is the conscious enjoyment of destructive power. So much human intelligence has been focused on cruelty to one another.
4. Transform anger into fierce wisdom energy. This is not demonizing others, not suppressing or repressing outrage, but transforming it into wisdom and compassion. Allow anger to arise, imagine it flows out the belly and into Kali's mouth, where she breathes it into herself to transmute. She saves the pure gold and streams it back to us as fierce wisdom with compassion.
5. Do shadow work. This means seeing the other as oneself reflected, leading to heart-broken tender compassion for all beings. "Shadow work is the ultimate form of protection." We can each claim the parts of ourselves that are like George Bush, and send healing energy to those parts. "The way out of hell is to find a child of the enemy and raise him with total love."
6. Create networks of grace. Don't wait for governments and corporations to change, but network with people everywhere. Realize you can't do it alone, and that synergy, mutual sharing of insights and resources, is the only way.
7. Challenge escapist and burnt out activism. There is great joy in inspiring, uplifting and energizing people, unleashing the energy of the creative force. When we are joyful, others can't help wanting to join us.
He closed with a powerful story from the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa. An elderly black woman offered her love to the white man who had killed her children. When asked how that was possible, she simply said, "Jesus gave me the strength."
Cathy Holt
Stop the words now.
Open the window in the center of your chest
And let the spirits fly in and out.
- Rumi