Category Archives: Homelessness

Can a Monk be in a Funk?

Well, yes! A lot of people would not think that. They project an idealized spiritual world and it is mostly an illusion and too many monks lap it up. I mean that when you “give up everything” you begin to want to be admired for that! And so you can’t afford to show the weakness and fragility and the emotional quicksand that stalks us all–even “holy” people. Well, ok, if a monk can be in a funk, so can anyone else, and sometimes that is the only honest feeling to have. No sugar-coated “hopefulness,” just trying to keep your feet on the ground of the Real. Always, always aim for that; whether it be comfortable or not, whether it be painful or not, whether it be dark or light….it is this which is the true Holy Ground. Staretz Silouan heard the “Lord’s voice” speak to him: Keep your mind in hell and despair not. Indeed. In our time and in our situation, not bad advice. The important thing is to let the Consuming Fire of the Divine Reality cleanse us of all illusions. Truly it will happen. The Divine Light, then, will be that by which we see everything.

And now for a few stories from the “funk vortex” all around us and within us:

  1. Recently I saw a story in the Washington Post about an exhibit at the Library of Congress about that famous World War II American leader, General George Patton. That he was a remarkable military leader and a genius at orchestrating tank attacks is without question and widely known. But something that is not known by many is the fact that Patton also wrote poetry voluminously. Frankly it’s all lousy, but it does reveal him more than his façade of military splendor. Here is a poem written at the end of World War I when he was a young colonel still learning his trade as it were:

We can but hope that e’re we drown

‘Neath treacle floods of grace

The tuneless horns of mighty Mars

Once more shall rouse the Race

When such times come, Oh! God of War

Grant that we pass midst strife

Knowing once more the whitehot joy

Of taking human life.


Patton loved war. He loved the battlefield of human carnage. He felt depressed when WW I ended and also at the end of WW II. If you saw this in a movie, you would consider this a caricature. But, unfortunately, we do not have a movie here. And here is the biggest mistake you might make: you might consider him an anomaly, a bizarre exception, a uniquely distorted heart, etc. I don’t think so. This darkness is hidden in the human heart and it manifests itself over and over, again and again, in the distant past, in the recent past, in our own very “advanced” modern era, wherever you look…. There is something in our hearts that loves war, loves killing and brutalizing and conquering. That’s the real reason we have wars. The myth of Cain and Abel begins this story; but more importantly we see that even religion is involved in this urge and a pretext for killing.

Americans have this fantasy of being righteous and just and in pursuit of the good and the true. We lie to ourselves over and over. We killed Native Americans as a form of genocide among many others. We have participated in the brutalization and the killing of all kinds of people down to this very day in the drone killings approved by both Republicans and Democrats. As the radical Black leader, Stokely Carmichael used to say: Violence is as American as apple pie.

Then again don’t make up the story of primitive people being pure victims. There is plenty of evidence that prehistoric and historic indigenous inhabitants of the Americas committed wars and slaughtered people and brutalized many. So what I am trying to point out is that there is no innocence in this regard, and it is an illusion if you try to disassociate yourself from this history as if these were merely abberrations in our history. Better to be like Gandhi, start with your own heart and find the roots of nonviolence there by facing the dynamic of violence that haunts our nature. Individually we may not be as distorted as Patton, but trust me, the love of killing is part of the fabric of our nationhood because violence is lodged deep in the human heart. Amazing that this man is lionized as a military hero! (And here we might reference that marvelous trilogy of scholarly analysis by Richard Slotkin of the American infatuation with the myth of violence. This explains our love of guns!)


  1. Religion is really very tiresome. I did not say “God.” I said “religion.” Any religion. The word “God” refers to that Ultimate Reality which is the ground of all that is and truly the only Real. Religion refers to what we human beings do about all that, and it has a tendency to become very unreal. And it can become a real source of the “funk.” It can become paradoxically an obfuscation of the Ultimate Reality because it is imprisoned in its own illusions–illusions in “religious garb and religious language.”

For a starter, for too many people “religion” and “God” are inseparable–they think that when you say God you inevitably are “talking religion,” and when you say religion, you are most often talking about God. Not true. I have met people who do not use the word “religion” much but are deeply and truly “religious” and “spiritual” in the deepest and truest sense of the word. Abhishiktananda mentions somewhere that when he met some Quakers in India early in his sojourn there he was shocked–he said that they “didn’t believe in any of the things you’re supposed to believe in” but were more Christian than anyone else he had ever met. Religion can become simply another way to expand one’s ego identity; it can easily become a vehicle for all one’s crazy fears, paranoia, violence, greed, even lust. God has nothing to do with this (or “enlightenment” for that matter), but the words of religion and spirituality can multiply and take over one’s discourse. (The Pharisees in the Gospel are one portrayal of this reality, but let’s not put the problem “back there”–it is our current church situation as well.)

Religion can also become very tiresome when it seems to lose touch with the realities people experience. Religious language especially begins to lose its power to grasp the heart when our leaders wallow in platitudes and banalities and retreat to ready-made formulas. A recent example is this:


This is a short article which I found in the National Catholic Reporter. Written by Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island, it addresses some issues that he had seen addressed in an earlier issue. The key issue, as the Bishop sees it, is that young people are unhappy with the Church and voting with their feet by walking away from it in large numbers. Bishop Tobin thinks he has it all figured out, and it’s summed up in the title of the piece: “Let’s Be Honest, It’s a Lack of Faith.” Really?! The lameness of this is beyond description. I won’t go into a detailed analysis of how bad this article is; let everyone discover what they can in it. When I first read it I got depressed–this is after all the church I belong to. The sad thing is that there is a certain truth in what he is trying to express, but his focus is all wrong and superficial and filled with religious phrases that he learned in seminary, the repeating of which made him a good institutional figurehead. As I have often written in different ways, I don’t believe that the Church (or monasticism for that matter) should be worried about young people or anyone else. Church people who get all wrapped up about this start resorting to all kinds of “gimmicks” in order to appeal to young people (the “liberal” approach) or attribute “sinfulness” that keeps people from coming to the Church (the “conservative” approach). What’s important is that the Church (and monasticism) be truly and starkly real, speak the Gospel in its naked power uncompromisingly, teach the mystical truth of our identity in God and not just a “membership” in the Church, etc., etc. If we had that, we wouldn’t be worried about who is or isn’t “in” the Church.

But the Church speaks mostly in a most compromised and muted way about all these things. It often comes across as simply protecting its institutional skin. At other times the Church seems allied with the forces of darkness and lies and pure institutional egoism disguised by an ecclesiology of “the holiness of the Church.” Recently Pope Francis apologized to Rwanda for the participation of Catholic leaders in Rwanda in the incredible massacres of thousands of people by one tribe versus another. The Catholic priests and nuns were members of one tribe that felt it had been greatly wronged and went on a killing binge. The apology is good but also very weak because it doesn’t get at the root of the problem: Catholic Christianity did not penetrate and challenge the cultural and tribal/national identity of these people, so that tribal identity was primary not the shared humanity they had with all other people. This kind of thing happens all the time and all over the place. It was so true of the “Christianization” of Europe which actually was totally shallow, no matter the grand cathedrals and the “pageants of faith.” And we see this of course in our own American situation. A small example: Amazing to me that Congressman Paul Ryan, a member of the Catholic Church, is not condemned from all the Catholic pulpits–here is a man who wants to destroy Medicare and Social Security and make life miserable for millions of poor people. Another congressman, who happened to vote for a bill that had funding for abortion clinics is told by his bishop that he cannot receive communion at a Catholic Mass. Another example: Still amazing to me that the American bishops never once condemned the various American wars in the Middle East, nor the continued use of drone killings, etc.

Ok, they occasionally issue vaguely worded documents that somehow manage to sputter out something real. No matter. Actually if any of the bishops actually did say anything prophetic, they might not be believed because they have been seen in various kinds of deceptions and subterfuge. Note the New York Archdiocese: it is fighting “tooth and nail,” lobbying very hard against a bill in the New York legislature that would extend the statute of limitations for child abuse victimization, so that those who were abused as children decades ago can come out now and sue the Church for compensation for all the pain they have experienced. The fact that the bishops are against this is interesting. They want to say that they are sorry for all that abuse by priests, but then their main thrust is to protect the institutional church from feeling “any” pain as a result of this. Maybe it’s things like that that can cause “a lack of faith.” I think the Church has a long way to go in this regard. I wouldn’t blame anyone from walking away from this Church.


  1. Speaking of Church language, here is a humorous but cogent representation of a certain kind of “Jesus” that may seem a caricature but I think he is more prevalent than you think. This was written by Derek Penwell and I saw it on Huffington Post:
  • ”Love your friends, bless those who bless you … and screw everybody else.”
  • “If you had the faith of this mustard seed … you wouldn’t need all that fancy ‘affordable health care.’”
  • “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? I mean, look at all these liberals, and their un-Christian ‘caring for widows, orphans, and the stranger.’ Why can’t they care about Christian stuff, like the 2nd amendment or school prayer?”
  • “Go, sell all you have and give it to the richest one percent.”
  • “Blessed are those who hate immigrants in my name, for they shall inherit all the jobs white people don’t want to do.”
  • “Follow me and I will make you fishers of … people who look just like you.”
  • “Give unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and give unto God only what you can’t hide on your 1040.”
  • “Let the little children come to me … unless they’re in Head Start or need help with school lunches, then cast them out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of their tiny little teeth.”
  • “Go ye therefore into all the world … and make sure everybody hates Muslims. Because obviously.”
  • “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery, but I say to you … unless she’s a lot younger, prettier (like a model or whatever), and you’ve had enough foresight to sign a prenup.’”
  • “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you … what the hell? They’ve got it coming.’”
  • ”You have heard it said that healthcare should be a right for everyone, but I say to you, ‘If you can store up for yourselves another new Benz, even though it comes from money meant for poor people’s chemotherapy, then you should totally do it.’”
  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven … but if you have a suitably large investment portfolio, that definitely won’t hurt.”
  • “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (Marginalia—“This only applies to People of Color and women in abusive relationships.”)
  • “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but I say to you … just kidding. That’s for suckers!”
  • “And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all straight, cisgender, middle class white guys unto myself.”
  • “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep … except refugees. They definitely do not count.”
  • “So therefore , none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Wait. Actually, he did say that, but he probably shouldn’t have.)


  1. At this time of year, around Eastertime, I am overcome with the hegemony of the Easter Bunny! This character dominates our cultural sense of Easter; his presence is ubiquitous.  Down with the Easter Bunny! Does anyone have a good recipe for rabbit stew?


  1. So lately we have had all this talk about a new health insurance plan, “Trumpcare” if you will, and it got defeated. Progressives should not get too jubilant about this because it was actually only the really, really bad defeating the really bad. The people who actually were responsible for breaking Trumpcare did so because they want to destroy the whole social structure that is a safety net for the physical well-being of people: Medicare, Social Security, etc. Trumpcare, in their eyes, was only a tiny step in that direction and they were expecting a lot more from him. Stay tuned for “tax reform”… will be a doozy!

With all this hullabaloo about health insurance, there is an amazing shortage of analysis that gets at the root problem: this insane American compulsion to put every aspect of our lives in the “free market.” Health insurance and health care “for profit” is a serious distortion of what is at stake. There is not another developed industrial country that deals with the well-being of its people as simply another consumer product, a commodity, by which someone can make money. On the contrary, all this should be considered a God-given right for every person no matter their economic status. Obama had an opportunity to challenge the prevailing view but passed on it, preferring to tweak the system and make it a “kinder and gentler” for profit system. It’s helping some people; it’s hurting a lot of people. But these folks today are out to destroy the whole thing.

Here is an interesting little op-ed piece from the New York Times by a person coming from Finland and reflecting on our health insurance system:


  1. Speaking of the “free market,” (actually there is no such thing but an illusion perpetrated by the upper class that controls all the levers to manipulate the economy), there is this very, very interesting reflection by an Indian economist on our whole economic and social perspective. Lynn Parramore writes about this in Alternet in an essay with the title, “Have We Been Denying Our Human Nature For Four Hundred Years”:


Here are a few relevant quotes:

“Rajani Kanth, a political economist, social thinker, and poet, goes beyond any of these for the answer. In his view, what’s throwing most of us off kilter— whether we think of ourselves as left or right, capitalist or socialist—was birthed 400 years ago during the period of the Enlightenment. It’s a set of assumptions, a particular way of looking at the world that pushed out previous modes of existence, many quite ancient and time-tested, and eventually rose to dominate the world in its Anglo-American form.

We’re taught to think of the Enlightenment as the blessed end to the Dark Ages, a splendid blossoming of human reason. But what if instead of bringing us to a better world, some of this period’s key ideas ended up producing something even darker?

Kanth argues that this framework, which he calls Eurocentric modernism, is collapsing, and unless we understand why and how it has distorted our reality, we might just end up burnt to a crisp as this misanthropic Death Star starts to bulge and blaze in its dying throes.

Kanth’s latest book, Farewell to Modernism: On Human Devolution in the Twenty-First Century, tells the history of a set of bad ideas. He first caught the scent that something was off as an economics student in India, wondering why, despite his mastery of the mathematics and technology of the discipline, the logic always escaped him. Then one day he had an epiphany: the whole thing was “cockeyed from start to finish.” To his amazement, his best teachers agreed. “Then why are we studying economics?” demanded the pupil. “To protect ourselves from the lies of economists,” replied the great economist Joan Robinson.

Kanth realized that people are not at all like Adam Smith’s homo economicus, a narrowly self-interested agent trucking and bartering through life. Smith had turned the human race — a species capable of wondrous caring, creativity, and conviviality — into a nasty horde of instinctive materialists: a society of hustlers.”

“Using his training in history and cultural theory, Kanth dedicated himself to investigating how this way of thinking took hold of us and how it delivered a society which is essentially asocial — one in which everybody sees everybody else as a means to their own private ends. Eurocentric modernism, he argues, consigned us to an endless and exhausting Hobbesian competition. For every expansion of the market, we found our social space shrunk and our natural environment spoiled. For every benefit we received, there came a new way to pit us against each other. Have the costs become too high?”


“Kanth thinks what we’d much prefer is to live in what he calls a ‘social economy of affections,’ or, put more simply, a moral economy. He points out that the simple societies Europeans were so moved by when they first began to study them, conjuring images of the ‘noble savage,’ tended toward cooperation, not competition. They emphasized feeling and mutual affection. Karl Marx got his idea of communism from looking at the early anthropological studies of simple societies, where he was inspired by the way humans tended to relate to each other. Today we are taught to believe that society doesn’t owe us a living, says Kanth. “Well, in simple societies they felt the exact opposite. Everybody owed everybody else.  There were mutual ties. People didn’t rely on a social contract that you can break. Instead, they had a social compact. You can’t break it. You’re born with it, and you’re delighted to be part of it because it nurtures you. That’s very different from a Hobbesian notion that we’re all out to zap each other.”


And so the essay goes. I am sure that you can find some criticisms of his ideas, but the basic thrust of this is without doubt truly valid. I think that Robert Bellah wrote in this vein in his monumental book, Habits of the Heart, years ago, and Merton anticipated Kanth’s analysis in his own social criticism. In some ways, the economic model for society would best be found in a monastery when it is authentically lived out, as Merton pointed out even in his last speech in Asia–but also as he pointed out this requires more than a change in ideas, but a radical change in heart, in consciousness, “a conversion of heart” as Benedict pointed out.


  1. I am eager to get out into the wilderness once more, the true sacrament of the Real! But, alas, my usual places of camping are under 10 feet of snow at present. I usually head out to the mountains in June but this year may be a bit hard for that. Well, anyway, a few positive words in conclusion from some of my fellow wilderness enthusiasts:


“I suspect the real glories of Yosemite belong to the backpackers, the trudgers and trekkers, those who finish a strenuous climb and wait for their psyches to catch up, suffer a thunderstorm on an alpine fell, and most of all, let the night spirits seep into their sleep. The real glories of Yosemite belong to those who are comfortable with being uncomfortable, who know it’s all right to be afraid, to be cold, wet, tired, and hungry, to be euphoric and, on occasion, ecstatic.

                                                                                    Ann Zwinger

“Most of all, I was awed, very early and indelibly…. The universe was neither hostile nor friendly, simply indifferent to my small, freezing-handed, steam-breathing figure in the white waste. You do not feel that mystery in city canyons or on suburban lawns. What you feel is the specious persuasiveness of human control, human management and organization and rearrangement. You do not know who the ultimate Authority is. Out in the public lands, where the nearest neighbor may be ten miles away and the stars are closer than the nearest town, you do.”

                                                                    Wallace Stegner



“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.”

                                                                  John Muir







Time to touch base with a number of brief items. So here goes:

*Not too long ago I wrote about the wilderness, hiking, the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail, and the new movie Wild. The other day there was a nice reflective piece in the New York Times, of all places, on this topic. A father and his daughter, inspired by that movie, doing the PCT in segments. Here is the link to that:


I had to smile when the author said that the PCT seems a bit more crowded now, what with quite a few hikers inspired by the movie wanting to do the Trail. It seems that more people are in need of the “therapy” that the wilderness provides. The inner pain that Cheryl carried, more burdensome than her oversized backpack, is shared by more people than you might think. She had tried to anesthetize the pain with sex and drugs, but it was only the “wilderness therapy” that helped her with self-healing. As the author of the article mentions, however, it is not wise to take up the “Big One” like Cheryl did if you have not hiked before! Fortunately it worked out well for her. In any case, I think the Trail can handle this slight uptick in hikers–again as the author points out, more people have climbed Everest than have done the PCT! Climbing Everest became a bit of a sham because you had all those wealthy people paying Sherpas to haul their gear up the mountain and paying big money for mountain guides to take them to the top. With the recent devastation in Nepal that may change for a while. On the PCT you have to carry your own gear!

**Speaking of wilderness, a scientific study appeared recently confirming a long-held view that primitive hunter-gatherer groupings were more, how shall we say it, “mellow.” Here is the link to a story about that study:

They were more egalitarian, with men and women sharing more of life’s burdens and rewards and in general they were less prone to the problems we see in later developments. When human beings start developing agriculture, about 10,000 years ago–but that varied in different places, urbanization followed and then came hierarchy, women start getting pushed into subservient roles, warfare for conquest unfolds, the notion of property and wealth as personal enhancement explodes, as a result you have the division of society into the “poor” and the “wealthy,” the “powerful” or rulers, and the rest, etc., etc. It is interesting how the Bible as a whole, and even in its earliest strata, frowns upon this development and kind of yearns for the days before there were cities and kings. That’s why shepherds play an important role in the various accounts. Of course the shepherds are not the pure hunter-gatherer types, but neither are they the structured agriculturalists who develop into urban human beings. They are nomads, free to roam the land, a kind of half-way point between these two poles. I remember Merton pointing this out somewhere years ago. In any case, there is no point in overly romanticizing these hunter-gatherers–I am sure their humanity had its foibles too–but they do point out to us that our way of life is not written in stone or “must be” like this. Certainly there is no “going back”–the Paleo Diet people notwithstanding!!–but we might want to ponder what these people have to teach us. The folks who painted those marvelous cave-paintings had a connection to nature that we no longer have. Perhaps it is a longing for this that drives some of us into the wilderness, hiking and camping and climbing, etc. Perhaps…..


***The political season is upon us….as if it ever goes away. So the Presidential candidates are all lining up for a run and they will be spending tons of money in trying to fool the American people, who are quite easy to fool but it still takes money. I have made a vow this time round not to comment anymore on this upcoming election cycle. It is all so depressing and discouraging that I won’t waste a minute’s notice. I think the system is beyond repair. I have my favorites, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, but one is not running and the other has about as much chance as Ralph Nader did; but these two, though not perfect, are the only ones saying things that need to be said. The rest of them run the gamut from crazy to frauds and “magicians”–magicians make it look like they are doing one thing while they are actually doing something else which you then see only in a way that the magician wants you to see. Enough said!

****Recently I commented on another piece in the New York Times, a powerful account of the awful suicide rate among young people on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It was a heart-rending account and further documentation of what we have done to the Native Americans. This particular piece was commented on in two lengthy letters of note that are also worth reading:


*****Chris Hedges, my favorite social commentator, surprised me–he has become a radical vegetarian. And here is a link to his “Apologia,” an explanation not only of why he changed but the most passionate and intense presentation of vegetarianism that I have ever read.


Those of us who are meat eaters–but even those who take milk, cheese, eggs, fish, etc–need to read what he says and face that reality. We may respectfully disagree with this or that point, but on the whole your next burger and even your next glass of milk will not quite taste the same after you read his account. So I am going to write this as a kind of dialogue with the challenge he throws out.

First of all, Catholic monasticism, the tradition I come from, has been mostly vegetarian in the past–not the radical kind of vegetarianism that Chris advocates but a more moderate one, allowing milk, eggs, cheese, even at times fish. However, at a certain point, a lot of monasteries dropped the vegetarian requirement–especially the Benedictine ones. Meat became a regular thing. (This was another lamentable thing that was called “renewal” after Vatican II, a modernization of religious life to attract young people!) Some of the strictly contemplative groups still practice moderate vegetarianism, but the rationale for it is often lost in a kind of murky spirituality and asceticism. Its positive values are not enough appreciated. So what Chris is saying is needed by monks also and can be a very serious challenge to them, though again I am not saying that he has an unassailable position. But he will make you look at what you eat in a new way and perhaps see some connections there that you had not seen and perhaps disturb your complacency about your participation in the brutalization of life on our planet.

Way back when, in one of the earliest blog postings, I wrote about an economics professor who brought out a cup of coffee to his class and asked them “What do you see?” He was trying to get his students to see all the effort it took to make that coffee grow, all the labor to bring it to market and sell it–the economic connections in every product. I thought it was a marvelous moment to bring up the larger and deeper connections. Indeed, what do you see? Do you see the hardship of the poor bean picker, do you see the sun making the bean grow, do you see all the connections? And so here Chris is asking us to really, really see what we are eating and what it connects us to.

Modern industrial agriculture brutalizes animals, no doubt about that. The farm is simply another factory where the animals are simply raw materials to make profits with. This is not your Plains Indian hunting down his buffalo and making use of the whole animal to support his family and tribe and giving thanks to the Great Spirit for providing this boon of food and clothing. In modern industrial farming it is all for profit, and even if you are a moderate vegetarian I don’t think you want to see how your eggs and milk got to you(there are some real exceptions where some people run “free range” chickens and just pick up the eggs, but these are a very small minority of producers).

I have no problem with what Chris says about modern industrial farming–I think it is as bad as he saw it and as he portrays it. I wonder, however, if this brutalization of animals is a cause or a symptom, does it lead to the brutalization of other human beings or is it simply another instantiation of a deep inner disorder? I think Chris raises a valid and important issue.

Where I do have a problem with what he is saying is his implication that the taking of life for food is wrong and evil in itself. Thus the proposal of radical vegetarianism. I think this is a denial of how nature is constituted, how we are made.   Living things depend on taking in other living things as food–we cannot take in inert, lifeless matter, like rocks and sand, and live. Radical vegetarians propose that we restrict ourselves to plants, vegetables, fruits, nuts. But these are living things also, and what is the rationale that allows you to take their lives? Merely because they are the lowest forms of life? So we are allowed to kill some forms of life but not another? Seems a bit arbitrary–where and why do you draw the line? Nature itself does not seem to draw any such line. When you are eating your vegetables it doesn’t feel like you have killed any life, but you have. What matters really is how and in what spirit you take in this life as food. Jesus seems to have been involved in the catching of fish and the feeding of people with fish, a fairly advanced form of life at that.

The so-called “grace before meals,” so little practiced anymore in our secular society, is a tiny remnant of an ancient attitude that realized that the life it was ingesting was a gift and a connection to all other life. We should not “pray grace” before meals perfunctorily and in an absurd hurry because it does connect us to our ancient ancestors who did those marvelous cave paintings of the ancient animals and who ate animals with a certain spiritual consciousness that seems strange to us.

Now let me be clear, there is no “nice” way of eating another animal. When a mountain lion takes down a deer, or a coyote gets a hold of a marmot, it is not a “nice” picture, but that is the natural world. Once when I was out in the wilderness I saw an eagle swoop down and grab a bunny rabbit in its talons. What an incredible sight, but that bunny was going to be food for a whole nest for a few days. So it is. But we are spiritual beings also, with a certain spiritual consciousness and so we need to bring our religious awareness to this mysterious order of reality and not just feed our belly or worse, just make these animals as instruments of profit. By the way, the hunting of animals for trophies and “fun” is, I believe, an outrage. I have heard hunters claim that they are merely “reliving” the ancient ways of our ancestors, but that is a lie.

Enough for now! I thank Chris Hedges for his profound reflections and his defense of radical vegetarianism. It is not a quack view or quirky; it demands a respectful hearing; and we have much to learn from it and much to ponder about all the connections.


******Governments (globally) give fossil fuel companies $5.3 TRILLION in subsidies EVERY YEAR–more than the world spends on health care. Big Oil gets $10 million dollars from taxpayers every minute. This is a new estimate by the International Monetary Fund (hardly a radical organization!) and reported by Truthdigg.


*******We live in a world and in an age when so many people want to send “messages.” I am primarily referring to the “messages” on tee shirts and sweat shirts, etc.–but of course we could refer to a lot of other stuff also! All kinds of sayings on our clothing! Mostly I ignore it all, but the other day I saw a young person with this quote and it caught my eye: To thine own self be true. This is, of course, from Shakespeare, so that in itself made me smile. Not often do you see that. But it made me ponder anew the power and significance of that little line. It means a lot more than just: Be Yourself. It means(among other things): Stop lying to yourself–that’s a lot more than just “Be Yourself.”  Yeah, lying to other people is no good, but what’s really, really important in the spiritual life is to begin to stop lying to yourself. Then, and only then, do you BEGIN to “be yourself.” You might say the beginning of the spiritual life is the realization that one is somehow lying to oneself and one wants to change. And believe me, to stop lying to oneself is a mighty, mighty work that will take a lifetime. So it takes a lifetime to “be yourself.” Hope that young person realizes that!



























The Homeless Christ

In the past few months there have been several news stories about this piece of sculpture by the Canadian sculptor, Timothy Schmalz.  The title of this work of art is “The Homeless Jesus,” and it depicts a figure lying on a park bench all wrapped in a cloak or blanket of sorts, all covered, even the head, so you can’t tell who the figure is except that the feet are partially sticking out and you can see the marks of crucified legs, the nail-scarred feet.  You can see the photo of this sculpture in the news stories that I link to below.

As you can well imagine this work of religious art shook up a lot of people.  This is not a depiction of Jesus like on the holy cards, Easter Greetings, Hollywood movies, etc.  This is not a Jesus that the “Gospel of prosperity” people can even begin to recognize.  Not even the baroque Crucified Christ found in many Catholic Churches disturbs as much as this vision—for the baroque image is often surrounded by a plethora of gold and decorations and seems strangely “removed” and distant from peoples’ everyday struggles and suffering.  This is the Homeless One we see every day.  In fact Schmalz was inspired by seeing a homeless person sleeping on a park bench.  A subtle but important point is that there is enough room on the park bench for you to sit down next to it.  It is not “enshrined” on some altar.


Schmalz offered the sculpture to two Catholic cathedrals: St. Michael’s in Toronto and St. Patrick’s in New York City.  Both churches turned it down because it was “unsuitable.”  Indeed!  This is not the image of Jesus that fits their “comfort zone” perhaps!  The sculpture finally found its place in front of Regis College, the Jesuit theologate associated with the University of Toronto.    And Pope Francis apparently has blessed an image of this sculpture.  But there is even more to this story.  Somehow a small Episcopal church in North Carolina acquired a replica of this sculpture as a gift and the pastor put it in front of his church, and that has caused a bit of a controversy.  The church is St. Alban’s in Davidson, a very upscale parish in a small college town, Davidson College, a very liberal parish from all indications.  But the image is a bit too much for some of the parishioners.  One of them called it “creepy” and “macabre.”  Another was just patronizing saying that “it reminds us of those who are not as fortunate as we are.”  Truly!  I hope it does more than that!

Here are the links to two news stories and images of the sculpture:


Now I would like to share some reflections that this sculpture invites us to.  Like any true work of art, it can take us in several different directions and touch us at several different levels of our heart and mind—seemingly all at the same time also!


  1. It feels embarrassing to say this because it is so obvious but the sculpture is a radical indictment of the inhumanity of a socioeconomic system that allows this kind of homelessness.  We live in a world that has almost become numb to such human degradation and cruelty.  Whether it be war and famine or being driven out as a refugee, whether it be financial disaster, or whether it be even personal failing and personal weakness, whatever be the cause, no society can be said to be just and humane and civilized that allows such human suffering.  And the solution is of course not the proverbial soup kitchen or overnight shelter—these are merely there to keep someone alive for the moment—but the solution lies in a real and deep revising of our great social priorities and our own way of life.
  2. Now all this is on the socioeconomic level, but there is naturally the underlying foundation for all this which is religious and spiritual.  Many churches favor and encourage “acts of charity”—like the soup kitchen, etc—but few address the actual problem that causes such an attack on the children of God.  And if they do it usually is in some bland generic form like “greed.”  All the large religious institutions are not known for their prophetic voice!  So one thinks of some of the Old Testament prophets and their sharp words, their call for a kind of “deconstruction” of the social structures that oppressed the poor.  Of course the solution lies much deeper even than that.  One has to turn to the Gospels to even begin to get there.  Consider the parable that Jesus tells about Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31):

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores……”

The parable points to “chasms” that we create in the way we view our fellow human beings—the chasm of a kind of “duality” as Abhishiktananda would put it, where we and “our brother” are two, not one—and the social consequences of that are disastrous.  And this “chasm” that we put between ourselves and our brother is the very same chasm that we then put between ourselves and God.  We live within this delusion of “twoness” with really bad consequences.  This is at the heart of the Gospel message.


  1.  But now that we have entered the spiritual and religious significance of this sculpture, let us push even further.  It is clear that the homeless one is of special significance with regard to the Reality of God.  Of course this kind of suffering draws the infinite mercy and compassion of God into special attendance as it were.  But there is more to this.  The homeless one is also a special manifestation of that Ultimate Reality we call God.  The great paradox and mystery is that when we truly see this homeless one we see something of that Ultimate Mystery or we see “into it,” or into its depths.  Thus there are people who deliberately and voluntarily take on this state of being homeless, take on this burden.  Because in it they are immersed in the manifestation of the Divine Mystery. They embrace a true homelessness, physical and/or psychological/spiritual because they are One with the One who is Absolute Homelessness because nothing can be that limitation for the Absolute Reality which is called “home.”  They embrace their namelessness because they are one with the Absolutely Nameless One.  Jesus called him “Father,” “abba,” but this is only an indication of intimate relationality, of infinite closeness.  But there is no name for this Reality.  It is beyond all Names and all limitations, all homes, because in effect this Reality is “all in all.”  Their heart cries out for this Reality and only this Reality.  There is no other home for them but homelessness.  In some cultures, like India, the homeless one is culturally supported in a sense because he has a recognizable “place” within the social cosmos.  This is of course the profound reality of sannyasa.  In Old Russia there was the phenomenon of The Pilgrim.  Then there are people who are simply thrown into this homelessness not out of choice, but then they find within it that Reality which makes them not want to leave it; they find not dereliction but blessedness.  It is as if within homelessness they discover their true home–examples would be the Western saints, Benedict Joseph Labre or Alexius of Rome.  There is one other religious paradigm of chosen homelessness that we need to look at: in ancient Syria, at the beginnings of Christianity.


  1.  In early Christianity, in Syria, about the 2nd Century, there arose a vision of being a disciple of Christ that made homelessness a norm, not an exception.  It was a radical Christianity to say the least.  Radical in its asceticism; radical in its demands for being a “true Christian.”  Baptism was an extremely profound moment, and from that moment when you came out of the water (like in the initiation into sannyasa) you became a homeless wandering monk.  We will have to ponder this Syriac Christianity at some point later, but for now let us just focus on this point.  Baptism meant a kind of uprooting at various levels of your being.  By the way, its radical nature meant that for all practical purposes many put off being baptized until they felt they were “ready” to take this step.  To be sure, when you were baptized you did not simply go home and pick up your life as before.  Gabriele Winkler, a scholar of early Christianity, puts it this way(after having quoted a poem by Tagore to illustrate a similar sentiment):  “In the Gospel Jesus invites those who have this great power of love to stake all they have, and having staked their last penny, to stake themselves—here we find ourselves at the heart of early Syrian asceticism.  The ‘game of undoing’ finds its equivalent in Jesus’ challenge to become utterly uprooted and newly grounded.  Such radical poverty means: 1. Uprootedness from any comfort, let alone wealth; 2. Uprootedness from past origins and present ties; 3. Uprootedness from whatever could be considered as home or familiar surroundings; 4. Uprootedness from the essence of the ‘I’.  These four conditions are particularly emphasized in Luke”(which comes from Syria).  In both Luke 9:58 and Matthew 8:20 we find those overly familiar words to whose radical nature we have become numb: “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”  A would-be disciple has just told Jesus that he will follow him, and Jesus basically tells him that this will entail utter homelessness.  We hear no more of that would-be disciple.


  1. Consider this then.  What does “home” mean?  What does it mean to be “at home,” or to “have a home.”  It is an “address” of some kind, a part of an identity-making mechanism that is constantly churning:  I am this…I am that….  And multiplied a thousand times with statements and actions that society will recognize and approve.  Having a home means one has some handle on this process, one is in control, one is thoroughly integrated in the mechanisms of society.   To be homeless is then to be “lost” in a sense.  To be homeless is also to be nameless.  You really become almost invisible to the larger society—unless of course you are culturally “marked” as homeless and given that as your identity.   The sculpture of the homeless one is almost without identity—we cannot even see his face; there is just the lump of a covered body, with the scarred feet sticking out.  The only credentials the Homeless One has are the marks of the Crucifixion.  It is striking that this Ultimate Reality which we call God would choose that as his only identity among us.  We need to see that.


  1.  But, furthermore, “home” means a “comfort zone” of sorts.  This seems to be a basic human need.    It’s a very deep satisfaction that we seek, but ultimately it is a satisfaction we never quite reach—and some expend much money and much effort to reach that “comfort zone” in the illusion that lavish houses, power and praise, possessions, etc. will produce that “comfort zone” of being.  The great fact and the great paradox is that at the core of our being we are truly and profoundly homeless in the sense that nothing of that which is out there—wealth, power, sex, possessions, credentials, etc.—nothing will render our self as being “at home” within itself as this limited isolated self always feeling desire for this or that. (Buddhism speaks eloquently about that.)  Our true home is the Reality of God, the Ultimate Mystery, the Absolute Reality.  The Great Paradox and the Great Mystery is that the Christ who manifests this Absolute Reality has identified himself with the homeless ones to the extent that they and he are not “two” but “one” (“Whatsoever you do to the least… do to me.”) And this sacrament of non-duality invites us to discover and to plunge into the true and profound homelessness of our own hearts and to accept it because it is His Homelessness which is out paradoxical abode.  And then we discover our true namelessness because it is also His Namelessness.   Oneness beyond oneness.   Only the truly homeless will ever be at home in this cosmos.  Only the nameless one will really know who he/she truly is.