Archive for November, 2012

Some Collected thoughts from Abraham Lincoln…

November 26, 2012 - 8:59 am 23 Comments

Some Collected Thoughts of Abraham Lincoln

It is not, “Can any of us imagine better?” but, “Can we all do better?”


The fight must go on. The cause of civil liberty must not be surrendered at the end of one, or even one hundred defeats.


The ballot box is stronger than the bullet.

These capitalists generally act harmoniously, and in full concert, to fleece the people.

On the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any one plan or system, I can only say that it is the most important subject that we, as a people, can be engaged in…

There is no law stronger than the public sentiment where it is to be enforced. Free speech and discussion, and immunity from the whip seem to be implied by the guarantee to each state from a republican form of government.

No man is good enough to govern another without the other’s consent.

Politicians are a set of people who have interests aside from the interests of the people and who, to say the most of them are, taken on mass, at least one step removed from honest men.

Our government rests on public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion can change the government practically as such.


I am for the people of the whole nation doing just as they please in all matters which concern the whole nation; … And for each individual to do as he chooses in all matters which concern nobody else.


Any people anywhere being so inclined and having the power , have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and then form a new one that suits them better. This is a most sacred right– a right which we hope and believe will eventually liberate the world. Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people?

Is there any equal hope in the world?

[As labor is our common burden, so the effort of some to shift their equal and fair share of the burden onto the shoulders of others is the great and durable curse of the human race.]

“[No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who have toiled their way up from poverty, none less inclined to take or to touch anything they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they possess to others who will use it to close the door of advancement against people like they are, and then affix new obstacles and disabilities and burdens upon them until all those liberties so hard earned and hard won shall be lost.”]

Carl Sandburg, on this speech: Lincoln considered the basic point of the American political and economic system to be based on the common man. … This passage is his roughhewn sketch of American society, placing the farmer and the free laborer as the living and controlling element in a government of the people.

Upon the subjects of which I have treated, I have spoken as I thought…. So soon as I discover my opinions to be erroneous, I shall be ready to renounce them.

There is just one way to bring up a child in the way he should go, and that is to travel that way yourself.


Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.

Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition … I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed by my fellowmen, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.


“Give to him that is needy” is the Christian rule of charity; but “Take from him that is needy” is the rule of slavery.

Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them.

When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.


When the white man governs himself, that is self-government; but when he governs himself and another man, that is more than self-government – that is despotism.


In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free…


He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help.


Whatever you are, be a good one.

Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?


Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.

I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.


The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise to the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.


It is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels worthy of himself.

I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal his will to others, on a point so connected to my duty, it might be supposed that he would reveal it directly to me…. These are not, however, the days of miracles….

I must study the plain, physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible, and learn what appears to be wise and right.


I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.


I don’t know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know who his grandson will be.

The probability that we shall fail in the struggle should not deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.

No client ever had money enough to bribe my conscience, or to stop its utterance against wrong and oppression. My conscience is my own, my creator’s, not man’s.

The authors of that notable instrument [the Declaration of Independence] intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what respects they did consider all men created equal-equal with “certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This they said and this they meant.

I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me.

We should be too big to take offense and too noble to give it.

How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?

Four; calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

There’s no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war. Except its ending.

Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.

It often requires more courage to dare to do right than to fear to do wrong.

With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.


I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about the social and political equality of the white and black races. I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes.

I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and that by religious men, who are equally certain that they represent the divine will.

Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.

Reflections on Lincoln and Leadership

November 26, 2012 - 8:57 am 8 Comments

Reflections on Lincoln, Ethics, and Leadership

The Rev. Peter E. Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

When appraising the quality of leadership, and the impact one life can have on a culture and a country, Abraham Lincoln is often rated at or near the top of the list of presidents whose impact reached the deepest and has lasted the longest…. Many historians who have evaluated the importance and the elusive quality of greatness in a president will rank him highly…

Usually among the top three…. (others? FDR, Jefferson or Washington…)

And often cited as the highest example of consistent morality, our finest leader, and the most trusted and beloved of our presidents…

Yet, for all this acclaim, once I have read various biographies of him that exist, there was, in those interior moments flashes of greatness stood along side profound doubt; decisive actions next to frozen silences, enormous zeal that straddled both deep depression and aching loss…

He was a man of contrasts; he possessed a strong clear conscience, and mustered up confident convictions while living out a life of sleepless torment, and lasting loneliness…

Listen, then, to the words of his biographer, Carl Sandburg when he addressed the members of Congress as he describes Lincoln’s character:

“Not often in the story of mankind does someone arrive on earth,

who is both steel and velvet, who is as hard as a rock and as soft

as drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of

terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect.

Here and there, across the centuries, come reports of people alleged to

have these contrasts. Abraham Lincoln is an approach, if not the perfect realization, of this character.

2 Since our school days, we have been given the outlines of Lincoln’s life story… Born in a log cabin in 1809, , the “rail-splitter” and as someone fond of “wrassling”; the young man who, by candlelight, became the self taught, determined lawyer. The nation knew him as “honest Abe,” and for me, as I have reacquainted myself with his life, and the depth of his character, his life provides me with a cogent yet disheartening contrast to what is allowed to pass for national leadership and for the qualities of active conscience today.

He was one of the first Presidents to be given the political name, Republican… Which was defined quite different than it is today… In Lincoln’s day, Republican meant having the best interests and goals of the whole Republic, and for which it stands, foremost in one’s decision-making…

There has never been a trauma so grave, so systemic, or so proportionally catastrophic for an entire nation as the American Civil War.

Neither the Great Depression, W.W.II, Vietnam or as I see it today, the the political opportunism and the obviously disastrous bankrupting price we are paying to fight against terrorism today!

However, what might be the same, is the realization that throughout the saga of human history, when a people or a nation faces a crisis, a leader emerges… and if guided by virtue, and supported by the people, and when motives and values are clearly understood, he/she can lead their society towards its relief and betterment…. It is also tragically true that certain forms of disastrous leadership comes about to fill critical vacuums in the sociopolitical consciousness, and then through moral lapse, corporate corruption, and intellectual collapse, can worsen what had been within redemption!



The 1850’s were just such a time in our American history and in our cultural awareness. What the Congress had failed to do, and what the previous president would not do, roiled and boiled itself over into a national crisis of vision and values, setting the stage for a nationwide turmoil.

The seething social cauldron of that era, was brimming with racial and ethnic prejudice, socioeconomic injustice, liaise faire greed, and a collective sense of alienation from the workplace to the neighborhood …

All that was coming to a roiling boil and that threatened to scald every citizen in its searing common guilt and its accompanying acceptance of ineffective moral teachings and gratuitous sensationalism and violence.

Into this storm, into this tempest, walked a humble giant, a man of an active, simple, and ever present faith whose priority for governance were to uphold the public trust. He sought to favor those institutional values that emphasized unity and that emancipated all the bound and gagged individuals from the previous national and institutional infamy and ignorance.

The fraternal bloodbath that was our Civil War was a direct result of a nation unwilling to face its own systemic ills, unwilling to correct the sins of complicity with status and class and the insidious collusion with financial corruptions. In what might be termed a last noble, a last ditch effort, Lincoln’s leadership sought to restore our national dignity, and the trust of the people in the direction and moral substance of its leadership.

In this central and compelling way, we can say that Abraham Lincoln’s task and importance was not in his ability to lead the fighting, not to defeat the South, not even to abolish slavery… His importance and his lasting impact was in his ability to repair the national soul.


This enormous task was placed squarely, and onerously on his shoulders- the burden was immense- it was a price and a preparation that he carried until his last sigh- until the last smoldering torch of hate and proud ignorance, or as Walt Whitman so poignantly stated it, ” My Captain, My captain… The captain of the ship, its port now safely reached, lay dead upon its decks.”

Being candid, the connection between the Lincoln and our liberal religious ideals is neither clear or precise, but we claim him, and many of those who wrote to him, and about him as an ongoing expression of those ideals and values that are closely aligned with our U-U expressions of what matters most in society and in life…

Concerning issues such as governmental reform, individual rights, religious tolerance, Lincoln clearly stated his Universalist outlook:

With charity for all, and malice towards none

This statement from his Second Inaugural Address epitomizes both the man and his sense of service to his country and towards healing its character and soul. It was a foundational, guiding value that emphasizes autonomy and acceptance of various ways of belief, and differing approaches to life. Lincoln was raised a “frontier Baptist”. Mary Todd, his wife, was an Episcopalian, and while at the White House, they attended a Presbyterian church. In his memoirs, we read this benevolent benediction at the end of a letter he wrote urging support for the Union cause. Lincoln wrote:

Blessed be all the churches, and Blessed be God, who in the midst of our trial, gives us the churches.”

Clearly, this is the statement of a religious diplomat and a forgiving and tolerant man! All through his public life, first as a Congressman, later as a Senator, and lastly as President, he corresponded widely with our Unitarian religious leaders. Among those whom he met we list Channing, Parker, Emerson, and Walt Whitman. …


When he first met Channing, it was recorded that they spoke about their mutual firm Abolitionist stance. With Theodore Parker, they proclaimed their vehement opposition to slavery and any abuse of human rights as a national disgrace and as a flagrant disregard of the Gospel! Each time, before leaving, he urged the two preachers to take these sentiments back to their congregations and to reinforce its indomitable truth!

Emerson, on the other hand, had quite a different relationship with Lincoln, and as I dare say, Emerson often had differences with most of the religion and religious commentaries of his day. As he records in his Journals, Emerson was, at first, critical of Lincoln’s motive and magnanimous ideas…

He wondered to himself about this politician… He disliked his conservatism and reticence concerning the need to met out justice and punishment to those people whom Emerson believed truly deserved it, but then again, Emerson rarely understood politics, and there was no love-lost for the whole American political scene. Later, during the war, we read a more conciliatory view of the now President Lincoln:

He was a frank, sincere, and well-meaning man, who impressed me more than I had originally thought or hoped. He possessed a lawyer’s habit of mind-

Good, clear statements of fact, combined with a boyish sense of cheerfulness. He looks at you with great satisfaction, enjoying the telling of his own stories, and showing all of his teeth when he laughed


Well, that was about as close to a compliment as anything the often ascerbic Emerson ever wrote about anybody! However, there is one last entry into his Journal, at the very height of the War, that goes like this:

“He exerts the enormous power of the continent in every hour, in every conversation, in every act. He thinks and decides under pressure, and is forced to see the vast bearings of the measures he adopts, yet cannot carry a grace beyond his very own, a dignity whereby he drops all pretension and tricks and arrives at a simplicity, which is the perfection of manners.”


Any critique, then, by Emerson would be summarized as “he was too good” for the job of Presidency! Some rebuke! If only we could say that of our mediocre and often banal political leaders today! Remember Lincoln’s moral advice to young lawyers? He declared be honest, or be gone!

And most importantly, “Remember, when legal rights collide with moral rights, we are to defer to higher laws!”

However, it falls to our American poet-philosopher, Walt Whitman, to express the heights of admiration with a rare intensity that rooted itself in an impassioned respect for his national leadership….(remembering that Whitman volunteered as a nurse during the Civil War…)

The pages of our American literature texts are decorated with his tributes and desolation… We remember them in the poems of My Captain, When Lilacs Bloomed, by Ontario’s Blue Shore, and This Dust…… From these last two, listen to a few poignant lines of how country and self are connected:

I see the flashing [spirit] that this America is, you and me

Its power and its weapons, its testimony are you and me

Its crimes, thefts, defections, are you and me

Its congress is you and me,

The officers and the armies are you and me

Its endless gestations of new states are you and me

The war, so bloody and grim,

That I henceforth forget are you and me

Natural and artificial are you and me

Freedom, language, poems, employment are you and me



And then these words… upon visiting Lincoln’s grave in 1888:

This dust… This dust was once the man, gentle, plain,

just and resolute, under whose cautious hand, against the foulest crime in history known to any land or age, did save

the Union of these states


Such inspired sentiments go beyond what the mundane category of mere media notoriety or that simple hero-worship could contain. The answer to his greatness resonates to a universal, soulful call that affirms the supreme worth and essential dignity of a live given to selfless service, and mostly, simply the rightness of a man for his times…

Without much doubt, it was his example that lives on for each of us- his faith, his wit, his conscience, and his perseverance beyond present difficulties and challenges that made his indelible mark in our country.

Carl Sandburg, summarized Lincoln’s religious perspective this way:

“[He blended a simple, rational, but definitive morality with

an almost mystical devotion and persistent hope for the Union

and for all humanity.”]


And maybe it was the man himself who stated his beliefs best when he observed and proclaimed:

[” Our reliance cannot be on our battlements, our armies, or our navies,

but in the love of liberty that God has implanted in us. Our defense is found

in the spirit which has primed liberty as the lasting heritage of all humanity

in every land.”




Some last thoughts and speculations…

It would be interesting to place a man of Lincoln’s stature in today’s world just to see how he would react. Would his sincerity be sorely tested by the mass media? Would all the political back-scratching and pork-barreling

selfishness offend him? Would the Middle East for him become the new civil war, or would his concern be focussed primarily on domestic issues, caring for his own people?

I would venture to say that he would remain true to his guiding principles, despite how severely tested, derided, or unpopular they appeared. At the root of his response to both global and domestic problems would be his lasting concern for human rights and for justice.

I, for one, yearn for such moral courage and leadership for our times. Lincoln’s example bears urgent testimony for the power of conviction. I feel that it is the core of his greatness.  I say: May we all learn from him, and then …. decide to go out, and do likewise….!



Selected Reading: The Religious Beliefs of Abraham Lincoln- his own words

“[I do not see that I am anymore astray- through perhaps in a different direction- than many others whose point of view differ widely from each other in the sectarian denominations. They all claim to be Christian… yet they differ and discuss these questionable subjects without settling on any mutual satisfaction among themselves.

I doubt the possibility, or propriety, of settling the religion of Jesus by confining it to man-made creeds and dogmas. It was the spirit in his life that he had stressed and taught, if I read it aright. From Jesus’ example taught to me by my mother’s lips, these words and ideals have been a fixed moral precept with me. ” When I do good, I feel good, That is my religion.” I cannot without reservations assent to complicated creeds and catechisms. If there is a church that truly espouses the Savior’s emphasis on love… Then that is a church I would gladly unite with.”]

What Lincoln is saying here is a commonly held belief by those who ascribe to an outlook has been called an Ethical Christianity, which like Jefferson’s Bible, did not care for or even include the metaphysical or the speculative. Living as Jesus did, is sufficient  or the goal of the personal life.

Opening Words:

There is so much concern these days for what side God is on… As if God could take sides… Lincoln said that It is a better question to ask ourselves if the our concern for our actions should be, whether or not its motives attest to acting as if we were on God’s side!

In one of his last memoirs and journal entries, he stated… “I tremble, and I am brought to my knees by the my belief that God is just.”


There is a story about President Lincoln and General Hooker, who replaced General Burnsides as commander of the Union forces. Hooker had set out at once to establish a reputation for himself as the general who took action! Accordingly, Hooker’s first dispatch to the President bore this inscription: Headquarters in the saddle!

Lincoln noticed the heading on Hooker’s dispatch, but was not impressed. Said the President to one of his cabinet members: The trouble with Hooker is that he’s often got his headquarters where his hindquarters should be!….

Closing Words:

“Citizens, we cannot escape history. You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.

We of this congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. …

The fiery trial through which we must pass will light us or will down us in either honor or dishonor to the latest generation.”

Excerpt from The Left Hand of God         By Rabbi Michael Lerner, Ph.D.

If you intend to read a contemporary book on our cultural and political dilemma, or read a commentary on the political and moral crisis in our country,  this is the one… If you want to read only one book on the changes, shifts, and new paradigms necessary for progressive thought to reclaim American consciousness and social awareness, then it is this latest book by Rabbi Michael Lerner….

He spoke of how the religious Right has taken over the moral and cultural dialogue in this country because we religious liberals and other progressive but secular minded people have been so unwilling to learn and use religious metaphors. The use or employ spiritual ideals in the cause of forwarding our more inclusive and compassionate approach to politics and life. This abdication of engagement by the Left or the Democrats, The Greens, and other groups on the progressive spectrum, this tension and suspicion associated with the teachings and principles of Western religious thought, set the stage conveniently and enthusiastically for the evangelical and conservative groups to walk in, fill the vacuum of our absence with their points of view of promised security, pious leadership and so we invited them steal the cultural show! Now, it is our time, our turn, our Kairos, to reinvest, re-engage, and reclaim some moral high ground and in doing so, move the social discussion and political agenda towards justice for all…

Rabbi Lerner writes: “[One of the greatest failings of the Left has been its refusal to acknowledge that the greater number of its members are motivated, directly or indirectly, by love, by caring, by generosity, and other spiritually based values. Human beings have a need for lives of loving connection and for a sense of some higher purpose for their lives other than accumulating money, status or power. The good news is that American politics can be fundamentally transformed if we can create spiritual Left; A Left that embraces hope and builds intentional spiritual communities based on spiritual values of equity and peace; those values espoused by the left Hand of God where the guiding ideals of peace, social and economic justice, ecological sanity, caring human relationships, and cross-cultural respect among humans will work to transcend the tribal concerns for race, class, gender, national boundaries, economic plunder. That will work, and that will uplift the spirit of openheartedness and allows good will and generosity to prevail.”]


An Introduction to Native American Spirituality

November 19, 2012 - 10:10 am 45 Comments


An Introduction To Native American Spirituality

The Kailo Interfaith Community

November 18, 2012

The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

Much has been said about the plight of the Native Americans in this country. The ethical dirty laundry list is long, and there seems to be no real incentive to correct it governmentally or even socially because to rebalance the scales will require a deep adjustment to our standard of living so that the poor and destitute on government reservations are provided and cared for with respect and dignity.

These indignities, however, do not stop at the body, they are also of the soul… Our culture has done a wholesale hatchet job on the Native American way of life that includes their way of worship, celebration, healing and community. (Theft of the Spirit and scalping taught by whites!)

So today, as part of this introduction to the Native American way of spirituality, I will explore and try to explain some of the foundational ways that can lead to a greater appreciation of their faith, daily life, and principles of community.

As you know, Native Americans span the Americas, and are found at its extremes, and their culture is a part of every indigenous landscape. From the Inuits near the North Pole, to the native people who inhabit Teirra del Fuergo at the tip of South America.


The Native Americans have established their culture and their legacy for us to learn and to know. Instead of reinforcing the travesty of layering or imposing European and Anglo-Saxon religious and cultural ways on them, maybe this generation of North Americans can accept, respect, even cherish the insights their way of life has for us.

A brief geography: The two largest nations of Indian culture in the Northeast were the Algonquin and the Iroquois. Their tribal boundaries extended South to the Carolinas, West to Ohio, and North to Newfoundland. From the Algonquins, are derived many smaller tribes, and they are connected linguistically and ritually. The classic stories of James Fennimore Cooper, the immortal poem of Longfellow, Hiawatha, were accurate portrayals of Algonquin and Iroquois rituals and names. You can easily see, that the name of rivers, and other geographical places of our region still honor that heritage.

The most universal, cross-cultural trans-tribal way of worship that is found in Native American religion are found in the many forms of sacred dance. According to a particular theme, each dance or ritual would be tailored or designed so that the dance became the embodied vehicle that moves the dancer toward receiving guidance- whether that was for prayers for a good crop, a healing, to prepare for war, bury the dead, or to bless a child or a marriage. … Through sacred gesture and movement, they transformed their tribal homes into a holy dance hall- a place for lasting inspiration and community building. Compare that to the European heritage of a pious and passive worship style, and its negation of the body, and you can see the vast differences in belief & practice that has been so difficult to comprehend.

One of the most influential people who directed the worship life of the Indian peoples was the Shaman. Differing from priests who attended to the rituals exclusively, the Shaman was a blend of medicine man or woman, who as a mystic, spiritual advisor, and sainted one whose office was next only to the chief’s in importance. As a piece of comparative religion, the shaman occupies a similar place to the Jewish Tzaddick, the Sufi saint, the African witch doctor, and the Hindu must- someone who is slightly crazy for God; someone who maintains a separate reality; someone who appears foolish, naive, out of touch but in fact, they are responding to another more spiritual basis for their life other than what the general culture accepts.

According to Native Indian tradition, the shaman was the carrier of transformative power, and has the ability to change situations and conditions of health, fortune, and even environmental conditions. They were the interpreter of dreams, mystical symbols, and messages from the other world. Shamans were experientially self-selected -ordained by their childhood events or significant life experiences. Often, the future shaman is revealed by having an unusual birth, visions, seizures, having dramatic healing abilities, or had accurate prophetic dreams. If this continues into puberty, the elders selected these children and place them under the tutelage of experienced shamans who teach them how to control or harness their special gifts. Then they are then initiated and instructed into how to attain altered states, deeper connections to nature, and to gain sacred access to the inner realms of the body and soul….

Other than my own uninvited childhood shamanic experiences, my experiences with shamanism come by way of a Bolivian mystic and the Amazon basin. He taught me about the need to validate another kind of reasoning- our intuitive, gut, and empathetic attunements or our human connections to all other forms of life: human, animal, plants, and to come to know that even the poisonous in nature will respond positively! (mosquitos and gnats; Appasanka… Sophia…)

Personal experiences  during Sweat Lodge; pipe ceremonies; Soul retrievals…

If one had to choose a one word definition for Native American religion, it would have to be life…. It was practiced and understood through agriculture as a natural teacher; the seasons of life and cycles instructed when to do what and in what way would be best for the whole tribe. Life, in all of its daily rhythms, was to be highly regarded and deeply revered. It was celebrated throughout all its rich and diverse textures, layers, colors, patterns, warps and weave.

When I lived in Arizona, I witnessed how the Navaho and Hopi displayed their faith in their rugs and blankets. Life and spirit was infused and displayed in every act and this connection compromises the whole of life, and it is the Spirit that gives life its meaning. Separation of life into distinct parts, routines, or creating the secular, and the selfish apart from what is holy is to isolate the value and diminish the importance of one’s religious life. In Native American religion this division was unknown.

The various names given to God among the Indians reveals another insightful consideration for us. It depicts their understanding and their intimacy with the Divine and the inspired aspects of life. Among the Algonquin, the name given to God was Orenda; for the Iroquois, it was Mantious; Among the Sioux, it was Tanka or more commonly, Tankshiela. These words share a universal definition: Cosmic Grandfather.

According to the Delaware Indians,” It is the great Spirit that dwells above the clouds, and is over all; His eyes are the Sun, his breathe is the wind, and his mind is beyond knowing.” According to the various traditions, this Grandfather is accompanied by the earth and all of its life forms called the Great Grandmother, Nokomis, or Mother Nature. Together, in harmony and balance, they rule the worlds above, and below, the worlds within and without.

As I read much of the available literature about Indian spirituality, there is a panoply of Native American spirits which constitute an extended family that included everything that lives on earth. Their names for various natural phenomena became part of their relational Theology: The majestic Thunderbird in prayer became Brother Thunder Spirit, the rushing, rippling river became Sister Flowing Stream, and so on… Much like how St. Francis regarded nature, the Native Americans befriended and adopted themselves into the entire family of life.

In an attempt to authentically explain the Native American folk soul, I will read a few words from the great Lakota Sioux holy man, waskaska wokan, Black Elk. Recorded and translated in 1932, his words represent generations of wisdom derived from the vision quest and the insights he received during his lifetime:


“[My life is the story of a mighty vision given to a man too weak to use it all; a vision of a holy tree that should have flourished in a people’s heart, of a people’s dream that died in the bloody snow at Wounded Knee….

But if the vision is true and mighty, it might come real yet, for such visions are of the spirit and only in the darkness of the human mind and heart are they ever lost.

I will now make a pipe offering… I offer that the four winds are but one power, and I will send forth its smoke and my voice:

Heya Hey, Heya, Hey, Heya Hey!

I am a Lakota Sioux of the Ogalla band. My father, and my father’s father and his father’s father all share my name. I am the fourth Black Elk. We have all been medicine men, cousins to Crazy Horse’s clan. When I was 13, I learned what all the fighting was about…Up, by the river’s fork, the white men found a yellow metal which they worship and it makes them crazy. They wanted to build a road to the river, but my people did not want a road because it would scare the bison away… The whites say they only want a little of the land, but my people knew better… And now, and now…

Look around, you can see what has happened!

A Lakota holy man dreamed about what would happen to us, all of us… That a strange race would come, and weave a web around us, put us out of our villages, onto little gray square houses, on barren land, where we would starve physically and spiritually. He died of sorrow soon after his dream- Sometimes dreams are wiser than the waking self. …

Later, I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and all round below me was the sacred hoop of the world…. I saw more than I could say, or tell, for I was now seeing in the sacred manner, all the things of the Spirit… That all must learn to live together, like one being.

And I saw the hoop of my people as being just one hoop of the many; and from the center of all the hoops, grows a sacred tree, whose branches connected and sheltered all of us as children of 1 mother, and 1 father, and I saw this as holy.

… When the singing stopped, I walked quickly toward my home in the distance. When I got there my father and mother were bending over a sick boy, who was me. Then I sat up, and I was sad. My father and mother did not seem to know that I had gone far away.

Later, I was ready to dance in the sacred manner… I thought of all my ancestors who have left us now, and I could not hold back my tears… I cried with my whole heart.” As I began to dance, I remembered the sacred tree in my vision. I had been shown all the beauty of the creation, living in a grand circle of peace.

Maybe, this is the land of my vision where all my people go… Then as the whole group began to dance, some fell down, some wailed, some lay dead in a vision… I danced with my eyes closed and feelings arose from my legs and were in my heart now…

But there was no fear… Just a growing sense of hope and happiness. I had experienced another vision. The spotted eagle was dancing above me, and I could hear his song. From out of my people’s pain, may we all learn to live….]”

Invitation to the chant and the dance…..

Heya Hey Hey, Heya, Hey Hay, Hey Ho Nah, Heya Hey, Hey….

Song and dance of the Eagle…..

Wearing my long wing feathers as I fly 3X;

I circle around, I circle around, the boundaries of the earth….

Opening Words:

Grandmother Earth, Hear me! The 2 leggeds, the 4 leggeds, the winged, and all that lives and moves upon you, are Your children. Within the Council of all Beings, we shall be as relatives, just as everything that lives is related to you,

oh Mother…. Ah Ho….

The is an old Cherokee teaching that comes down to us as a dialogue between a young boy and his grandfather that concerns our motives and intentions in life. “A fight is going on inside of me,” he said to the little boy. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is an evil wolf- he is hot with anger, envy, greed, and filled with pride and selfishness.

The other wolf is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, filled with humility, kindness,  faith and truth.

This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every person, too. The grandson thought about this for a moment, and then he asked his grandfather this question: “Which wolf will win?” The Cherokee elder replied simply,

” The one that you feed.”

Body Prayer/Meditation:

The one that you feed… While that message is clear enough- what you give your attention, love, and energy to is what will most likely grow in power and importance in your life, there is a similar Native American teaching that speaks to this personal imperative to watch over our feelings, and to become aware of what ideas, emotions, and actions we will allow to grow within us…  “Does it grow corn for us in our hearts?”  does the idea or the feeling, the attitude or the desire one has or that one wants to plant and grow, will it grow in a way that nourishes and nurtures yourself and others? Will those feelings you have bear fruit? What will you allow to grow within your heart and what will be the result of letting it grow?

Please sit, lie, or stand comfortably… Stretch out of make yourself quiet and receptive… Breath as slowly and as deeply as you can…

So i ask you now to reflect on an attitude, outlook, feeling or relationship your currently hold tightly as it has a certain meaning for you…

Now see that feeling or relationship as a seed… Visualize how you, the planter, will care for that seed and guide its growth through your feelings and actions… Place on the fertile soil of your heart… Plant the seed… Take six silent long breaths… Water the seed… 6 breaths… See the seed emerge from the unseen depths of your being, see how the young plant takes shape, has color…. six breaths… Watch as it grows strong with your resolve and attention, see how it will be formed by your thoughts and the feelings you give to it… Now that it is full grown, look at it completely… Look at the roots, the stalk, the leaves, and see if it has or will soon have fruit or food…       We are farmers of the heart, Gardeners of the soul…

Reading: On Being An American The Rev. Matthew Fox, Ph.D.

To be an American, does not mean wrapping one’s up tightly in red, white, and blue in order to accept the paranoia of our empire building across the West. Rather, to be an American means that I listen with my heart to the history of this land, and the legacy of its people.

It means that I can make common song and dance into common prayer and worship, with all those who have preceded me on this holy ground we call Mother Earth. It means that I willingly take responsibility to give birth and rebirth to the genius and the silence that has come out of the pain and suffering of the Native American spirit. Together, we will forge a new vision of a world worth living for, for our descendants, seven generations from now. Mother Earth will not survive without this kind of bonding, interaction, this kind of new reality. The Indian soul that lives in all of us must be called forth again. On spite of genocide, it still lives. Their wisdom will not go away, and that is the American version of the Gospel, or the Good News!

Adapted from a statement found in Creation Magazine          January 1987

Reflection:  Dialogue on Life and Death

There is a story from the Iroquois that comes down to us as a conversation between a young boy and his grandfather about the deathlessness of life.

It was a sunlight November day, crisp with the gusts of wind that would swirl the leaves that had fallen, scattering them all across the forest floor. Seeing the activity of the leaf and wind, and then looking up at the tall oaks and strong maples now bare, the little boy asked his wise old grandfather, ” Why do the leaves have to fall?  His grandfather answered him in this way:

“When the leaves fall, Mother Earth rests. The world of the Grandmother goes to sleep, resting until spring returns again. The leaves remind us of nature’s bounty and beauty, and they speak to us of God- the Creator/Father Spirit and his infinite care for us. The leaves are also food for Mother Earth- when the leaves fall and die, they turn into good, rich soil for us to plant our corn and beans in come next spring. We are reminded that nature teaches that there is no death, just change. The seasons are to be accepted as part of our great grandfather’s plan. We need not mourn the leaves or the people who fall and die and are no more. There is no fear, when the heart learns to accept and understand. Our understanding comes when we learn to see, not with our eyes, but with our hearts. Then we can better appreciate what Mother Earth offers us, and out of our gratitude, we learn how to practice rightful living, give respect, and offer love.


Elder’s Meditation of the Day – November 4

“The honor of the people lies in the moccasin tracks of the woman. Walk the good road…. Be dutiful, respectful, gentle and modest my daughter… Be strong with the warm, strong heart of the earth. No people goes down until their women are weak and dishonored, or dead upon the ground. Be strong and sing the strength of the Great Powers within you, all around you.”

–Village Wise Man, SIOUX

The Elders say the Native American women will lead the healing among the tribes. We need to especially pray for our women, and ask the Creator to bless them and give them strength. Inside them are the powers of love and strength given by the Moon and the Earth. When everyone else gives up, it is the women who sings the songs of strength. She is the backbone of the people. So, to our women we say, sing your songs of strength; pray for your special powers; keep our people strong; be respectful, gentle and modest.

Oh, Great One, bless our women. Make them strong today.

Closing Words:

From the Pawnee tribe and popularized in modern song:

” May the long time Sun shine upon you, All love surround you,

and the pure light within you, guide your way on”…. Ah Ho….

Life as A Practical Mystic by Barbara Harris Whitfield

November 10, 2012 - 4:48 pm 1 Comment

Practical Mystics:

Celebrate our connectedness to Divine Energy.

Find peace and joy in our daily life.

Honor and love ourselves and the earth equally.

Celebrate our connectedness to our inner life.

Care and protect our True Self/Child Within.

Treat our physical body as sacred.

Enjoy being in our bodies.

Thrive on direct experience.

Experience reverence in infinite variety.

Are passionate and faithful in all of our relationships.

Are at our most powerful in compassionate service.

Have healthy boundaries and limits, yet…

Enjoy and thrive on boundlessness and unity.

A Mystic is someone who relates to the universe in direct experiential communion, through the soul, or the “Child Within.” There is a direct knowledge of reality, and most of our journey leads to this reality. If we can apply this relationship every day in our personal life, we will likely feel the presence of “Grace.”

Our journey of psycho-spiritual growth may peak in the experience of this communion. The challenge is to keep our feet firmly planted, to live in both worlds, and bring the attributes of spirit here while at the same time, functioning here, taking acare of ourselves, paying the bills.

To achieve this balance, we can live by our own inner laws rather than outer pressures, to operate in this world, but not be of it.

The above caharacteristics reflect my own experience and that of people I have known and assisted on their journey.





















For Election Day: How would Jesus Vote? or Jesus for President!

November 6, 2012 - 2:19 pm 14 Comments

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Jesus for President 2012

Posted: 11/06/2012  8:41 am
 It was way back in 2004 that the spark for the “Jesus for President” campaign was born — by a bunch of post-evangelical Christians trying to figure out how to engage the political circus that happens every every years.  It started as a little Bible study looking at the politics of Jesus and the social dimensions of the Gospels.  Four years later, in 2008, Jesus for President became a book (“Jesus for President”) and a national tour.

In the summer of 2008, we travelled through nearly every state in the U.S. in a bus that ran off waste veggie oil, hosting packed out rallies in different cities each night.  It was a conscious decision not to have a fancy tour bus like the candidates but to sport an old diesel school bus converted to run off veggie oil we gathered along the way.  After all, we wanted to practice what we were preaching. Like Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.”  So our freedom ride smelled like French fries.  Jesus for President 2008 made the news — from Fox News, to Al Jazeera, to a headline story on CNN.

Jesus for President.  Amish for Homeland Security.  We had some good ideas for serious change in America.

As Christians, we became convinced that the issues — things like immigration and health care, and the growing disparity between the rich and the poor — matter to God.  We see more than 2,000 verses in Scripture that talk about how we care for the poor and marginalized.  And too much of the Christianity we grew up with was so heavenly minded that it was no earthly good.  So the issues matter to us.

But we were, and still are, political refugees in post-religious-right America.  No party feels like home.  No candidate seems to value the things we see Jesus talking about in the Sermon on the Mount.  Federal budget cuts have begun to look like the anti-thesis of the beatitudes where Jesus blesses the poor and hungry rather than the rich and wealthy.  You get the sense that if Mary proclaimed her famous “Magnificat” in Luke’s Gospel today — where “God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty” — she’d be accused of promoting class warfare. As one theologian said, “Our money says in God we trust … but our economy looks like the seven deadly sins.”  What would America look like if Jesus were in charge?

There just isn’t much talk in the debates about caring for the poor and loving enemies, the stuff Jesus was on fire about. It’s hard to imagine a candidate with a consistent ethic of life, a candidate who is pro-life from the womb to the tomb.  Many of us have grown tired of death, and share a faith that speaks of resurrection and proclaims the triumph of life over death and love over hatred.  We want life — fewer abortions, an end to the death penalty, hospitality to immigrants, an end to extreme poverty,  fewer bombs and wars and other ugly things.

Is it asking too much to hope that every person could have “this day their daily bread” rather than the current economic patterns that ensure that masses of people live in poverty so that a handful of people could live as they wish?

So here we are — in 2012.  This new bloc of vote-eligible Christians still does not have a home. They are political misfits, setting records in polls for dissatisfaction with politicians.  The Tea Party just didn’t feel right — something about it seemed harsh, or  racist, or weird. Many of us liked their zeal but not their politics.  Then there is Cornel West’s “democratic socialism,” which makes sense to some of us. But there just has to be more. We are pretty sure the average third party candidate doesn’t stand a chance until campaign finance reform is front and center, and we figure Nader must be tired of losing.  Many folks have dropped out altogether; some have even put out new books on the old idea of Christian anarchism, evoking the traditional philosophy that Christians should NOT participate in the political systems of this world — encouraging folks NOT to vote at all.

But we’ve got something a little different in mind.

We are convinced that we have to engage, rather than disengage. After all, Jesus spent a lot of time talking about the real stuff of his world — day laborers and unjust judges, widows and orphans, strangers and immigrants, abused women and exploited workers, redistribution of wealth and reconciliation with enemies.  So the real question is not “do we engage?” but “how do we engage?”

We need a new political imagination.

So we think it’s time to declare once again in 2012: “Jesus for President.”

It was the early Christians who were jailed and executed for insurrection, charged with this in the New Testament:  “These people who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here. … They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus!” (Acts 17:6-7)

In a world where pledging allegiance to Rome meant declaring, “Caesar is Lord,” substituting Jesus for Caesar offered a new political orientation. Every time the early Christians proclaimed, “Jesus is Lord,” they were also saying “Caesar is not.”  It was deeply and subversively political.  It was just as strange to say “Jesus is my Lord” 2,000 years ago as it would be to declare him Commander in Chief today.  It was an invitation to a new political imagination centered around the person, teaching and peculiar politics of Christ.  This political orientation invites every political leader and worldly power to conform to the norms of the upside-down Kingdom of God where the poor are blessed, the last come first, the hungry are filled, and the mighty are cast down from their thrones. It means aligning ourselves with the prophets who speak of beating our weapons into farm tools, rather than conforming to the patterns of violence and the business of war.

When Jesus spoke of the “Kingdom” of God he used the word “Empire” — and the empire he spoke about was not just something we hope for when we die.  It was something we are to bring “on earth as it is in heaven.”  It was about bringing God’s reign to earth.

Joining the politics of Jesus is about joining God’s redemptive plan to save the world. It is about allegiance, hope and a new Kingdom.

So we are indeed hopeful people in 2012, but not because we have found a candidate that fulfills our deepest hopes — but because we have learned how to hope differently. Our hope does not lie in Romney or Obama, or even America.  As the old hymn goes: Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus. All other ground is sinking sand.  And there is a lot of sinking sand these days.

We are tired of empty rhetoric and stale debates.  We want a pro-life politic that looks like Mother Teresa.  We want a radical new way of doing business that does not have 5 percent of the world owning half the world’s stuff.  We have the audacity to believe that America can do better than spending $20,000 every second on militarism, as the country goes broke.

We want a new dream; the old American dream is bankrupt.

And we have found a new dream — a new dream for America, and a new dream for the world.  A new empire is breaking into this troubled world.  It’s not just about who sits in an office, but how every moment, every action, even the super-small and non-governmental ones, makes redemptive love present.  Every person is an actor on this stage.

So, we may vote on Nov.6.  But we will also vote today and tomorrow and the next day.  We are convinced that change is not confined to one day every four years.  Change happens every day.  We vote with our lives. And we are convinced that voting for a new president may be little more than damage control. For Presidents and Caesars do not save the world.   But there is a God who can…

Enough donkeys and elephant.  Long live the Lamb.

Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw are the authors of ‘Jesus for President,’ which Publisher’s Weekly has declared “the must-read election-year book for American Christians.”  Haw’s newest book, ‘From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart,’ and Claiborne’s ‘Red Letter Revolution’ both release next month.