Remove Our Craving for Controversy

We live in a world where controversy sells. But most of us work in a business that aims to solve problems. And yet, many of us relax with entertainment designed around conflict. We watch sports, and we watch so-called reality television, and we watch news channels that hype every social and political conflict. We are being conditioned to crave controversy. Many social media apps are built on a model to increase clicks by prompting us to become voyeurs of interpersonal relationship strife.

Peace and harmony should sell, but like Pavlov’s dogs, we are being trained to seek out more and more controversy. At the core of our being, we are at peace and find happiness. Jesus’ sermon on the mount teaches ways to escape interpersonal conflict. Those who have mastered the art of escaping conflict find life refreshing. For example, when at sea and caught up in a hurricane, the only place to find peace one must dive deep.

Likewise, we must dive deep because the world is full of people agitating our thoughts for their popularity ratings. We must shut off the input and still our thoughts. We must breathe slowly and deliberately to steady our physical systems. If controversy is what they are selling, we must stop being consumers. Breaking the cycle will be like a drug addict going through withdrawals. But once we are free, life becomes refreshing. Our essential nature is peace and happiness, but if our awareness remains in the whirlwind, we will lose sight of what is true.


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To Love and Live Free

I went to an opera this past weekend for the first time at age sixty-two. The story was as old as time. The subject presented was one of love and freedom. As we were leaving the house, my wife explained the opera’s synopsis to my son, and he replied that it sounded like a hallmark TV show. When my wife told me of that conversation, it made me smile. My mind immediately thought of the many women on that same rainy Saturday demonstrating at the Lincoln Memorial not far from the Kennedy Center opera house for the right to live free and not be criminalized for terminating their pregnancy. The opera I saw is titled Carmen, who lost her life because she chose to love and live free.

On a spiritual level, I deeply relate to this story. Whether religious or secular, human cultures do a great job transmitting values from one generation to the next. However, I find them very judgmental when a violation of its boundaries happens. The maintenance of these boundaries is the lifeblood and identity of that culture. Every member and generation in that culture must translate those values and borders.

Sometimes we reinterpret the cultural values and visualize new possibilities. Today we possess a global consciousness, and our technology provides an awareness of cultures outside of our birth culture. Today the gatekeepers in our religious and secular societies are working overtime to keep us inside our borders. If you are not old-school, you probably have membership in multiple cultures, and if you are like me, each culture has gatekeepers trying to pull us back into the fold. And one of their favorite strategies is to have you guard the borders to prove your loyalty.

At the opera’s end, Carmen is killed by one of her lovers. Spiritual transcendence is always about dying at one level to get to a new level. Freedom never comes without death. My original religious culture retells the story of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, and my new culture teaches us to see reality through a new lens. As one of the teachers in this nondual movement loves to quote: “Matter is not what you see, it is a way of seeing”

My spirituality also reflects the insights found in the culture of science and scientist, who may not see themselves as a culture. However, science has its dogmas, based on science but still dogmas. Quantum entanglement is faster than light communication, also known as prayer, and has always been a function operating in my life. However, I now see that there are no walls between what some call God, other people, and myself. I am beginning to understand and live in a reality where the very substance of life is the same for God, all humans, and everything in the universe.

Spiritual transcendence makes possible freedoms at new levels. As we remove separations walled by our old cultural beliefs, new possibilities bubble forth. As we change the way we interpret life, a new reality emerges, kind of like being born again. The Washing National Opera (WNO) has a close relationship with the Ambassador community in the DC area. Most of these good women and men would be considered gatekeepers of their international community. The WNO was also hosting a gala to coincide with the two-year restart of opera performances after pandemic restrictions. The audience was full of embassy staffers, and I hope their takeaway from the story of Carmen was a little more nuanced than my son’s comparison to a Hallmark TV show.

Transcending one’s culture is an evolutionary process. Human spiritual development will continue, and new human cultures will rise and fall. New interpretations of truths will find their way to the light. New boundaries will replace the old ways of seeing, and those that were once criminals will live in new freedoms. To love and live free is a human story, played out every day in every human life.

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Maturing Our National Identity

As the new American story emerges, it is evident that its citizens’ identity is maturing. Personally, my American identity is not the same as when I chose to serve in the US Air Force forty years ago. I remembered the stories my father and uncles told me, and I still enlisted. As an African American male, I, like my father and uncles, have pride along with a love-hate relationship with our country.

As this country includes contributions and trauma from its minority cultures, my relationship with America is changing for the better. Some citizens resist this inclusion of minority community experiences in our school’s history programs.  However, I believe resistance is futile, and America’s cultural identity is maturing.

I used to be a member of the conservative Christian culture, and many of us have traded up for spiritual communities that are more inclusive, showing that change is possible. My mother’s brother was stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi, twenty years before I was station there in 1978, and our stories are different. My father’s brother James enlisted in a segregated US Army. My father enlisted a few years later, and integration was the law, and their stories were very different.

As our nation’s historical timelines include experiences from all cultures, the identity of our citizenship matures. I did not live in the 1950s, but after seeing the Hidden Figures story, my love for American culture went up a notch. We all want to embrace excellence, and we are motivated to act accordingly. The African American children of today need the historical context of their ancestral contributions to this nation. I have no doubt white children will respond with pride, just like I did to historical information, primarily about white people’s contribution to our country.

The more complete our understanding is, the more inclusive our culture will become. Many of our citizens remain segregated in pockets of partial information living in fear of things we do not understand. As my social consciousness expanded, I am still in awe that I once embraced such a  black and white, pollyannish view of the world and America. I saw a meme and agreed that I also learned more about Black history in 2020 than I did over the last sixty years.

I can honestly say I have more love and compassion for this country because I know what people experienced before me. When we include the trauma and contributions of all cultures on our American timeline of history, we get to see a rich context of this grand experiment. Each generation forges a new identity. While some may resist, America is maturing. In some years, our identity leaps in its development. As we look back over 2020, many of us can see how much we have grown up during the pandemic. Happy Birthday, America!

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