In Light of Pentecost

Today is Pentacost Sunday. I celebrated twice, first with the Earth Holder Sangha, online, from home. The topic was "Being a Lotus in Today's Sea of Fire." Our facilitator, George, referenced an early book by Thich Nhat Hanh called _Lotus in a Sea of Fire_, and asked, "Can we be that lotus - one that is fresh, beautiful and strong, amidst today's raging seas of hatred, tribalism, greed and indifference?"

The lotus flower referred to is from the Lotus Sutra, referring to a flower rising up from the fire, much as it rises from the mud. The mud and the muck is just as much a part of the lotus as is the bloom itself. It's beauty and strength comes from the muck. One of the Plum Village nuns shortened the saying to No Mud, No Lotus, for Thich Nhat Hanh's, calligraphy. The metaphorical flower that stays fresh, cool and beautiful in the fire, does so by zen practice, compassion, mindfulness, meditation, and keeping centered. He brought up a quote by Justice Ginsburg arguing with Justice Thomas, that his argument had more heat than light. Essentially, by modeling these practices, being the light, much compassion can be generated to alleviate day to day pain, suffering, and indignities, and inspire others to learn to alleviate the suffering of our broken world. Our earth is literally and figuratively on fire. George envisioned us as lotus flowers with little solar panels in the center, offering light, and I imagine, cooling relief.

Next, Kimberly and I attended the Pentacost service at Holy Faith Episcopal Church, a truly multicultural church with a bilingual service that we drive thirty minutes, or more, to attend. Father Francisco's sermon reminded us that the church was born in the fire. Much like today, the church was born during a declining empire, with pain and suffering for most. If we do the actual work of the church, that is feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the incarcerated, welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick, and clothing the poor, we too, can walk through the fire. Inspire rather than preach. Be the light and ANSWER the call. "The fire next time," kept going through my head, reminding me that we are most likely in the proverbial "fire next time." I am reminded time and again that my liberation is bound with the other oppressed, and that I must continue be anti-racist and work against white ideology, that sin with particular meaning and unhealed history, in this country.

The service did end with a hymn that I loathe. "They will know us by our love." I think that's the title. I have had it as an ear worm throughout the day. I do not like to consider myself Christian, because of how much petty meanness, pain, and suffering have been caused by those in the church today, all the way back to the crusades, and further, I am sure. When I see lights, like my seminary professors, and Francisco, Gene Robinson, and the womxn of Black Lives Matter, Aisha Mason, and Anthony Manousos, my Unitarian Universalist activist brethren and my wife, whose lights have been lit by those who have gone before, I can step back, and place them in the continuum of those who have thirsted for justice.

How does one shine a light on for others in the midst of a world of Racism, Nationalism, Homophobia, Transphobia, Ableism, phobias of the poor and the different, and finally, a Climate Emergency. Answer the call, and care for your spirit first. It's both/and, not either/or. In order not to not burn out, the Zen practices will help allay the inevitable suffering that goes along with my passion for making a small difference. How do you take care of your spirit, and are you?

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 1

Rainer Maria Rilke

Breath, you invisible poem!
Pure, continuous exchange
with all that is, flow and counter-flow
where rhythmically I come to be.

Each time a single wave occurs
in a sea I discover I am.
You, innermost of oceans,
you, infinitude of space.

How many far places were once
within me. Some winds
are like my own child.

When I breathe them now, do they know me again?
Air, you silken surround,
completion and seed of my words.

What if?

Hubble Captures Gallery of Ultra-Bright Galaxies

What if we are simply acting as parasites fighting with each other to devour the earth? What if our galaxies are like mitochondria, the power houses of cells? Thus, in the metaphor, we, are solar system, is contained within a cell. We are intimately connected with each other, so much so that our actions and decisions reverberate out affecting every one else, as everyone else's affects us. Still, we continue to duke it out as if subjugating or rejecting or killing those of another group is not killing us, and the organism that serves as host. What does it take to see the larger picture that we are so infinitesimally small in the larger universe, that the divisions we perpetuate are ludicrously petty. Would we treat one another better then? Would tribalism, nativism, nationalism, racism, sexism, fill-in-the-blank-ism ad infinitum, cease?

What if we dedicated ourselves to the betterment of all of our solar system, our galaxy, knowing that to be the only way to ensure our own survival. What would we lose? What would we have to give up? Could we find less destructive ways to create, build, feed, house, clothe, and deal with waste, that would be good for each occupant and the earth as well? There are so many pieces of the puzzle that the entire planet population could be occupied. We would not leave space junk, or litter on Mt. Everest, symbolic of our Western use abuse and discard ethos, recycling all that we use.

So, too, What if there was a change in consciousness about our effect on everyone and everything else on the planet, a mindfulness, if you will. Would it make a difference? Would we as a human race then change for the better?

The Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi: My Past and Present, or, Spiritual Self-care for Today

Tree and Bell at Deer Park Monastery

When I arrived at seminary, I brought two documents with me, the anonymous, Norman, Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, and Thich Nhat Hanh's Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. Those two were what I modeled my life by, imperfectly, reflecting the kind of Christianity I wanted to keep, and the Buddhist precepts that best reflected my aspirations as to how I wanted to relate to the world.

My goal was to delve deeper into Buddhism, once I finished seminary. In the interim, the seminary library helped me keep my my sanity by having a large selection of Thich Nhat Hanh books. After graduating, my Unitarian Universalist tendency to question meant discerning whether Thich Nhat Hanh's tradition of Zen Buddhism was right for me. After looking at numerous other traditions, his Plum Village tradition appealed most in its profound reverence for the Earth, the primary focus on Peace, and that being queer was not a deal breaker.

Coming across a "Buddist Mantra based on the prayer of St. Francis" several weeks ago, I was inspired to craft my own Both/And prayer using phrases familiar to the Plum Village tradition. In these troubling times, I hope this might be useful to others, with the reminders for self-care.

Note: I need to add that UU Rev. Erik Wikstrom wrote a book called Simply Pray. It was a good manual on writing our own UU prayers. I rewrote the prayer of St. Francis to give it Buddhist language but keeping the structure, after I saw someone's version. I did not give Rev. Wikstrom credit, but it's where I saw it done first, or was encouraged to do it first. I had also collected various versions of the Our Father before that, trying to find something different, but had not thought to write one myself. The oldest translation of the prayer from the original French, which is out of copyright, served as the foundation.

Dear Thay, Dear Sangha, Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Taking refuge in the three jewels,

May I be an instrument of peace,

Where there is hatred, may I water the seeds of love and compassion, sowing metta.

Where there is offense, may I practice Beginning Anew.

Where there is discord, conscious breathing and walking,

Where there is error, mindfulness, to remind myself delusions and enlightenment inter-are.

Where there is doubt, return happily in the present moment.

Where there is despair, touch Mother Earth, remembering that so as seeds endure birth and death in each moment, so do I.

Where there is darkness, may I awaken to the light of my true nature.

Let me not seek so much

to be consoled, as to soothe strong emotions the way a mother soothes her child,

to be understood, as to realize the Dharma, Sangha, and Buddha are the way to understanding,

to be loved, as to cultivate a true love, a boundless love,

for I vow

to meet all sentient beings with kindness and compassion,

to meet suffering with patience and love,

to delve into the deeply into the teachings of the Buddha,

and to know in the very depth of my cells, the interconnectedness of all.

Left-Wing Credentials

I have a lot of pet peeves, I know. I’m also aware that often times the things that peeve us do so because they remind us of something we don’t like about ourselves.

One of my pet peeves is that every time there is a story about a conservative who has had a change of heart because of personal experience — whether it’s someone who initially opposed Obamacare until they got sick, or someone who was trans/homophobic until they learned their child is trans/gay — every time there is a story like that, a lefty inevitably snarks about how the person should have known better in the first place.

My question is: Do you really think that you are an *inherently* better person? That if you had grown up in a conservative environment, been taught by your parents and teachers/clergy and everyone around you that there is only one way to be, gender/orientation-wise, and that big govt was not to be trusted… are you certain that despite all that you would have inherently known in your heart a better path? Because I’m not at all certain what I would be like if I’d grown up under different circumstances and had different experiences. True, there were times when I was taught hate and either immediately rejected it or eventually did, but I always had counter examples from which to draw. I’m not saying that there are no people in existence who would always reject exclusion and self-interest. But I question whether the majority of us on the left would have the same values had we been enculturated differently.

From my perspective, this idea that some folks are inherently “good” while others are inferior sounds a lot like the Calvinist theology I was taught in middle school and which so many lefties vociferously reject. From a Buddhist perspective, which is echoed in the UU 7th principle and backed by science, people are the result of a complex combination of a great number of things, including genetics, enculturation, and individual experiences. Even if you were born with a greater tendency towards empathy and altruism, that is the result of genetics - a gift from your parents and ancestors before them - not something that you “earned” yourself. And if you were taught to value diversity, that too was a gift from your community around you. Or if you learned from personal experience — whether because you’re a person of color, LGBTQ, religious minority, or have a disability — that it hurts to be discriminated against so you vowed not to do it to others, that was due to your personal experience. It is no different for the conservative mom who learned to respect trans people only after the personal experience of having a trans son. She just gained that personal experience later in life. And isn’t it wonderful that she was able to change? Because we know that countless other parents would instead disown their children.

Obviously, I don’t know anyone else’s heart except my own (and even then we often deceive ourselves). Maybe the folks who disparage people who didn’t “see the light” earlier truly are inherently superior and would have held the “correct” positions no matter what circumstances they grew up in. Maybe the snarky comments only bother me because I’m not as certain about my own goodness. Otoh, maybe people make snarky comments because the people who’ve had a change of heart later in life remind them of what they easily could have been like under different circumstances.

Anthropomorphization and Objectification

Image from

    I grew up in San Francisco in the neighborhood of Parkside, one block away from the city park. There was a small copse of trees and bushes there that together created a private space, if one was small enough to crawl into the center. And there, sitting on the cool earth against a tree trunk in the filtered sun, I could hear the birds and insects and, I thought, I could hear the trees. Talking to each other, joyfully. And taken all together – the sun, the earth, the chirps and buzzes and especially the trees - I heard God telling me that I was part of and connected to all. Loved.

When I was nine, my Buddhist parents sent me to West Portal Lutheran school, where I was taught, among other things, that God was NOT in the sunlight and the trees, and that humans were special, separate from the rest of creation.

By age 16 I had rejected Christianity, in favor of the rational reductionist materialism of science, which taught me to look at things objectively; not subjectively. To distance oneself mentally and emotionally from the world we observe. Rational people do not anthropomorphize animals and inanimate objects. That is, rational people don't attribute human qualities to things, like our “superstitious” ancestors used to do.

So trees cannot be joyful, let alone talk to each other. They are just … things that are useful to us, as wood to build new things, as lungs for the planet exchanging CO2 for oxygen, or as prettiness to look at. Trees are objects; we are subjects. Subjects have inherent worth – worth in and of ourselves. Objects only have worth if they are useful to subjects.

Science has given us so much – and even that is an anthropomorphized thought – so it's not my intent to disparage science. But over time, following the rational, objective approach, the world seemed less magical, less loving to me. What I've found is that, if one thinks of trees as objects whose worth is dependent upon their being useful to us, then it becomes easier to think that way about (non-human) animals. And if one thinks of animals as objects whose worth is dependent upon their use to us, then it becomes easier to think that way about fellow humans. The circle of who has worth gets ever smaller. The distance between us, ever greater. This type of thinking justified slavery both then and now. It is what allows people – usually men but increasingly women too – to rate other people on whether or not they are “do-able.” It's why this society cares so little for those who are aged and/or disabled, who are of “no use.” It's what allows people to write open letters to the mayor complaining about having to see people on the street who are not “contributing to society.” And it is why I get anxious when people ask me “what do you do?” – a very common question – yet I worry, am I being useful enough?

So much of our society actively trains us to objectify others, creating deeply ingrained ways of thinking, of which we may not even be aware. It requires active resistance on our part to counter it, to balance it by training our minds otherwise. So I decided, if I'm going to err on one side or the other, instead of treating subjects like objects, I'd rather treat objects like subjects. I'd rather anthropomoprhize trees than objectify humans. (Incidentally, scientists have recently discovered that trees do indeed talk to each other and support each other.) I'd rather strive to enlarge the circle of who has worth, and recognize our kinship with all things.

The other day I was at East Bay Meditation Center and in the context of talking about mindfulness our teacher, Mushim, mentioned thanking the tea cup for holding the tea. Faint alarm bells about anthropomorphization rang but they were drowned out by a louder, deeper joy welling up in me. To thank the teacup is to be grateful, to not take it for granted. As an object, its existence barely registers on my consciousness, except when things go wrong, like if it breaks or is dirty. Otherwise, it's just a conveyance for the tea, which I drink also without much notice, thinking instead of my next task. I've done that with tea, and honestly, I know I've done that with people. As a subject, whom we thank, the cup has my attention and has inherent worth. I/we are fully present to the moment, between the self, the tea cup, and the tea.

Awe in Response to Beauty

A friend posted this video on Facebook this morning and one of his friends explained that it was created by a Russian missile gone awry.  (Soyuz-u vehicle Oct 15, 2009)  Watching it, two things came to mind:

1.  Wednesday evening I attended the second in a three-week course on Process Theology at UUSF, taught by Rev John Buehrens.  At one point, Rev. Buehrens explained how Alfred Whitehead felt that Western philosophy with its emphasis on "Truth" had veered too intellectual, and thus Whitehead tried to bring us back by focusing on aesthetics, our sense of awe in response to encountering Beauty.  The thing that engenders humilty and recognition that there is something bigger than us.

2.  Years ago I was talking with a young man sitting next to me on an airplane, and he said that nothing human-made was beautiful, that he only recognized beauty in "natural" things.  I asked him whether he'd ever seen the view of Los Angeles (which we were flying into) at night from the top of Mulholland Drive.  He repeated more adamantly that nothing human-made could ever be beautiful.  And I wondered how strong one's ideology had to be in order to not see beauty in the view from Mulholland Drive at night.

You can't get more human-made than a missile.  All metal and electronics and explosives, its very purpose is ugly, to kill.  If you asked me before I saw this video whether a missile could ever be beautiful, I probably would have said 'No.'  Yet here is this mesmerizingly beautiful video.  (Which is not to say that it might not also have created some real ugliness at the same time.)  And I am watching the video via a laptop connected to the internet.  More human-made metal, plastic, and electronics.  And it's still beautiful.

One of the main points that I see in process theology (or process thought) is that humans are not separate from the rest of existence.  We are part of the interdependent web, impacting it and being impacted by it, no different than any other part.  Together - all the parts of the web together - we co-create reality.   So if nature creates beauty, then how can humans who are an integral part of nature not also create beauty?  (And ugliness and everything in between.)  To claim otherwise is to set humans apart from nature.  It's to claim a special, exalted place, even if we claim that all we do is ugly and harmful.   Ironically, true humility recognizes both the "good" and "bad", both the beauty and the ugliness.

Water Interconnection

Kat Liu

When we turn on a faucet, clean water comes to us almost miraculously, and just as conveniently dirty water gets taken away.  But not without effects that we usually don't see.  This meditation is intended to help us see them.

For the purposes of this meditation, fill a large bowl with water. Use a cup to pour water over hands as you recite the words in italics. Conversely, if you're doing this solo, you can just turn on the faucet, let the water flow over your hands, then turn it off.


Water flows over these hands.
May I use them skillfully
to preserve our precious planet.

- Thich Nhat Hanh


The water that has run over your hands came from a faucet.  Picture it flowing from a faucet into the bowl (or over your hands).

Follow the flow backwards, up, through the pipes in your home.

Follow the sound of running water through pipes out of your home, underground, to the water lines outside.

Follow the flow, back, along the waterlines as they run for miles under ground.

Maybe the water was treated before it came to you, adding fluoride and chlorine.  Maybe not.  Where did the water come from?

Perhaps it came from a local reservoir, a lake, collecting rain as it fell on a watershed.  Picture the rain, individual droplets hitting the ground, rolling along the surface, meeting each other and coalescing into rivulets, running downward together, and collecting into a common place. 

Perhaps it came from an aquifer, underground water flowing through and filtered by porous rock.  Picture the raindrops this time not rolling on the surface but rather sinking into the soil. Sinking deep, further down, past the dirt, past the sand, geting purer as it sinks, leaving particulates behind, seeping into the rock, where is stays held like a giant sponge.

Perhaps it came from a river, flowing from a mountain to the sea.  Follow the river up, against the current, up, into one of its tributaries, the stream of water getting smaller, clearer.  Follow the flow backwards, up into the mountain, to the drip, drip, drip, of melting ice and snow.

Perhaps your water came from a mixture of these sources, blending together on its way to your home.

What happens to the places where life-giving water has been diverted?  More water for you means less water somewhere else, especially in times of drought, which is increasing with climate change.

Consider the affects less water could have on the plants and animals along the river, or along the lake. 

Picture people living near the river who depend on the plants and animals.  What effect does it have on them?

What other activities use and impact your water supply?  Farming, manufacturing, and fossil fuel extraction all require water.  Often those activities take water away from people, or pollute water so that it isn't safe to use.

Bring your mind back to where you are now, in your home, with faucets that bring clean water and drains that take away dirty water.

Now follow the water that has gone down the drain. 

That water flows out of your house through a different set of pipes.

Waste water from your house is joined by that from all the houses around you, creating a foetid underground river.

All that sewage flows to a treatment plant.  Do you know where yours is?  Usually, these plants are in poorer neighborhoods.  Communities of color. 

Imagine the people living near the treatment facility.  What is it like for them?  Around many of the older facilities, the smell of sewage hangs in the air.  Flies gather. 

After treatment, the water is released into a river or ocean.  Is it clean?  How does it affect the temperture?  What effect does that have on the wildlife there?

The water in the oceans evaporates with the sun and wind. Humidity forming over oceans. Lifted into the air as clouds and traversing over land.  To fall as rain or snow.  And the water cycle starts over again.

But it takes energy to divert water away from where it naturally falls, and energy to treat waste water. The more water we use, the more energy we use and potentially contribute to climate change. 

Which changes the rainfall paterns upon which we've gorwn to depend.  Such that rain falls in different places - drought and flood.

Bring your mind back to where you are now.

Know that all that you have seen and more is connected to the water that pours out of the faucet when you turn the knob.

Meditation on Food

Kat Liu

We all need to eat, but how many of us think about where our food comes from, before it was placed on our plate or in our hands?  How often do we think about all that went into the food in front of us?  For this exercise, you will need some food to contemplate.

In fall
it is mushrooms
gathered in dampness
under the pines;
in spring
I have known the taste of the lamb
full of milk
and spring grass;
it is beans green and yellow
and lettuce and basil
from my friend’s garden -
how calmly,
as though it were an ordinary thing,
we eat the blessed earth.

- Mary Oliver


Look at the food in front of you.  The entire world is in this food (as it is in you). 

If it is plant-based - fruit, vegetable, and/or grain - it started as a seed in soil.  Imagine the seed sprouting, sending a tender shoot up towards the sun.  While it's doing this, the tiny new plant draws energy stored in the seed by its parent. And its parent came from its parent, and so on, and so on. 

Once the shoot reaches sunlight, it receives energy from our sun and CO2 from our air to make more plant cells and grow.  It sends roots into the soil, drawing up water, nitrogen, and other essential nutrients.  The water ultimately came from rain or snowmelt, from clouds in the sky.  

So all four elements are in the plant(s) that became your food.  The fire of sun, air, water, and earth.  

If your food contains meat, egg, dairy, and/or honey, it was produced by an animal who grew by eating plants fed by the sun, air, water, and earth, as well as drinking water and breathing air itself.  We animals cannot store the sun's energy ourselves, but when we eat plants (or when we eat animals that ate plants) we are extracting the energy that the plants stored in their bodies.  We are extracting the energy of the sun.  Also, the nutrients they drew from the earth.

So all four elements are in any meat, egg, dairy, and/or honey that became your food.  The fire of sun, air, water, and earth.  

But let's go back to the growing of the plants (and/or animals) that became your food. Likely, they did not grow in the wild but were instead farmed.  That means people planted the seeds that became the plants that either directly or indirectly became your food.  People pulled away the weeds so that the plants could get enough nutrients and air, and made sure there was enough water.  When the time was right, people harvested your food.  So their work is in your food.  They are part of your food.

And the people did not get there by themselves.  They had parents who birthed and nurtured them.  And the parents had parents.  Imagine them, going back generations. So all the ancestors of the farmers who grew your food are part of your food as well. 

And the farmers had teachers and other people who influenced them.  Siblings.  Lovers.  Friends (both human and other animals).  They are all part of the farmer(s) and thus part of the food.

So all the people who grew your food and their ancestors and anyone who influenced thhem are in your food.  Imagine it.  

You may have purchased the food directly from the farmer who grew it, but more likely it was transported over long distances by ships, trains, and trucks.  Imagine your food traveling to get to you. The people who did their part to bring the food closer to you are part of this food as well.  As are their ancestors and all the beings who influenced them.  

As is the fossil fuel that was likely expended to power the ships, trains, and trucks.  Imagine the oil deep underground, and the people who worked to bring it to the surface and to refine it so that it can be burned to power the vehicles that carried your food to you.  Even if you bought your food directly from the farmer who grew it, very likely you both used fossil fuels to reach each other.  

So the plants and animals that lived millions of years ago and whose bodies then became oil, coal, or gas are also in your food. As well as all the people who worked to make the fuel available and the people who drove the vehicles and everyone who influenced them... all in your food.  

Unless you grind your own flour and process your own sugar and salt, etc, there are other people - likely working in factories - who processed some part of your food for you.  And someone - likely working in factories - put the pocessed food in packaging.  And someone else - likely working in factories - made the materials that were used to package the food that was processed.  Can you see it?  How the whole world is part of your food, and of you?

Once the food was packaged, it was shipped to the stores, where more humans stock shelves and ring cash registers and mop floors.  All of them created by their parents, ancestors, loved ones... All of them contibuting to your food.

And finally, someone cooked your food.  It might have been you.  It might not.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people whose labor created the simple occasion of your food at this moment. Imagine them. Imagine them as part of you.  

And all of them too were nourished and grew from food that they have eaten, both plants and animals.  Just like the plants (and possibly animals) on your plate.  These once living beings who became your food, their energy stored within their bodies will become your energy and body.  Every plant and animal you ever ate, and every plant and animal ever eaten by the people who helped create you are part of you.

And ultimately, we are all made up of the same sun fire, rain water, air, and earth.  All of us inter-connected.  All of us part of Mother Earth.

Teach Your Children

Attributed to Chief Seattle

Teach your children what we have taught our children,

that the Earth is our mother.

Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the children of the Earth.

If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.

This we know:

the Earth does not belong to us -

we belong to the Earth.

This we know:

All things are connected like the blood which unites one family.

All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the Earth -

befalls the children of the Earth.

We did not weave the web of life - 

We are merely a strand in it.

Whatever we do to the web,

we do to ourselves.


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