• Loving the work you do

    Image by Jurrian Persyn (

    There has been a lot of talk about a recent article in Slate which is a rather harsh critique of the "Do what you love" idea about work. There is a great critique of this article at the Unexpected Mogul that I encourage you to read. But here is my critique, which is from a slightly different angle.

    For the author of the original article, the "do what you love" mantra is said by elites completely oblivious to the realities of most people's lives, and it devalues workers and their work.  A choice quote from the article:

    "In ignoring most work and reclassifying the rest as love, DWYL may be the most elegant anti-worker ideology around. Why should workers assemble and assert their class interests if there’s no such thing as work?"

    I do know that many people who use this mantra are completely blind to their privilege.  However, there is another way to look at this, which I'm going to outline here. It is the idea that in fact, "doing what you love" could be the most radical, empowering idea about work that every single person should be able to embrace.

    I think I need to have a little preamble before I dive into why I think this could be so radical. First, I have privilege, privilege I hope that I am not blind to. I know that my ability to pursue work that I love (which  I pretty much have for my entire  life) is totally based on the fact that I grew up with educated parents, went to good schools, and got  into a good college I could attend without having to work or take out loans. My father was an independent business owner for …


  • 2013 to 2014... and my interwebs

    (Image by Patrick Barry)

    The Year

    It's been a year. A lot happened to me this year, most of it good. I cemented my move to the country by moving to Healdsburg, CA, renting a house with Ruth on a sprawling ranch a few miles southeast of town. I hurt my knee while I was hauling wood up the stairs in my Cazadero house (where I had lived from October 2012 to Feb 2013), and it has been nagging me all year. Given that 2014 is the year I finally get health insurance again (thanks, Obama!) I'll be having that looked at. My health has improved since I moved to the country, and I have moved from being a gluten-free vegan by necessity, to being a gluten-free-pretty-much-omnivore. Big improvement in my quality of life.

    Spiritually, it's been a strange year. Since I moved from Oakland in October of 2012, I haven't had a church home, or spiritual community. It's been a mixed bag. Although I am very eclectic in the spiritual realm, I do like having a centering community to call home, and I miss First Congo. Also, it is an incredibly hard act to follow - where else am I going to find such a truly diverse, passionate, queer-friendly, eclectic bunch? But I have spent time exploring, and reading and expanding my ideas, which has been fun. My work with the amazing Joellyn Monahan has been an important anchor in my meandering spiritual path. I spent some time in 2013 discerning whether to move full-time into teaching contemplative practice, but it turned out that wasn't the right direction. In 2014, I'm taking a course with the pagan teacher T. Thorn Coyle, on the goddess Brigid. I'm looking forward to something a little different!

    I still help nonprofits build websites …


  • What kind of culture do we really want?

    If you aren't a fan of Ani Difranco, or don't follow pop-culture (especially left-leaning pop culture) closely, you might have missed the brou-ha-ha around her now cancelled retreat in Louisiana, you can read about it here. The short version is: a promoter asked her to run a retreat in Louisiana, and it turns out it was at the site of an old plantation. People (not sure how many were her fans) got really upset, and she cancelled the event.

    What I'm trying to examine here is how this all played out, and what it tells me about the emergence of what I think is pretty troubling: racism-shaming. (New term, coined by moi. There is also homophobia-shaming, classism-shaming, etc.) There was no question that there was little or no consideration (by Ani's promoter, and/or Ani herself) about the location of the event. Her subsequent actions were also ~~lame~~ less than ideal. But I don't think those mistakes deserved the vitriol directed at her. (Just a note, I basically like her music, but I would not consider myself a fan. Never been to a concert, and wouldn't plan to go to one.)

    Now first, let me start by saying this not about people with real clear racist intent. I'm not even talking about Paula Deen. I'm talking about people who have already shown themselves to be, in some senses at least, allies. I'm talking about people who we want to be allies, and whose perspectives, points of view and position makes them seem like clear allies. I'm talking about people who care.

    Shame is a powerful emotion. When you feel shamed, how do you react? I completely shut down. I get defensive. I can't listen. I get scared. Being shamed by people I respect and love is even worse. And, it …


  • Life as Practice #7: Great Faith, Great Doubt, Great Determination

    In 2005 (or 2006 - I don't quite remember) I went to a retreat/conference for UU Buddhists. It was a wonderful gathering. John Daido Loori, who was the Abbot of the Zen Mountain Monastery, gave a talk in which he described this triad, or three legs to the stool of practice: great faith, great doubt, and great determination.

    Being the Buddhist/Christian hybrid that I am, I think of these three a little differently than he did. And I would argue that these three are critical to a truly spiritual life, whatever one's particular tradition.

    For faith, I'll just let Abraham Joshua Heschel speak for me:

    Faith is sensitiveness to what transcends nature, knowledge, and will, awareness of the ultimate, alertness to the holy dimension of all reality... To have faith is not to infer the beyond from the wretched here, but to perceive the wonder that is here and to be stirred by the desire to integrate the self into the holy order of living. It is not a deduction but an intuition, not a form of knowledge, of being convinced without proof, but the attitude of mind toward ideas whose scope is wider than its own capacity to grasp.

    Faith is not some one-dimensional wholesale adoption of someone else's truth. That isn't really faith, that's delusion. Faith is also a practice and a process. It changes over time, and over a lifetime.

    So why is doubt important? Doubt is something to notice, to pay attention to, and sometimes to wrestle with. We doubt our practice will lead to joy. We doubt God is listening. We doubt things will change. We doubt our own abilities. Doubt is not only OK, but necessary, because without doubt, we'd not progress, we'd not find the holes to fall into, then crawl out …

  • Life as Practice #6: The Power of the Word/s - Lectio Divina

    Language is one of the things that makes human beings human. Science has shown that the acquisition of language shapes the development of the early brain. Basically, our thoughts are shaped by language - the way we think is shaped by the words we learn and use.

    For most spiritual traditions, there are sacred texts - texts which tell stories, proscribe behavior, and explain philosophy and theology. For some traditions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, these texts are central to belief and practice. On the other hand, many Buddhists have a devoted practice without ever having read the Dhammapada (I didn't read it until more than 15 years into my own practice.)

    Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the theology of the Bal Shem Tov which describes one thread of Jewish philosophy of sacred text:

    When God created heaven and earth He created also a light, the infinite light, the marvelous light that is absolute, ever warming, penetrating, eternal. But because of the failure of creation and the decline of goodness in the world, God hid that eternal light. Where did He hide it? He hid it in the words of the Torah.

    But then there are the modern complexities around sacred text in a Christian context. Peter Gomes says in his wonderful book "The Good Book":

    What can be believed about the Bible? What do we need to know about the Bible? Can the Bible survive the efforts to interpret and understand it? Can we? Is it wrong to ask critical questions of the Bible? How do we reconcile the parts we understand and perhaps dislike, with the parts we do not understand but which may be salutary? When we speak of the authority of scripture, as certain Protestant traditions delight in doing, does that mean that we suspend all of those …


  • Life as Practice #5: Flirting With Despair

    Despair is a common emotion, and a very familiar one to me. It's one of those strong ones - the ones that carry you away, in this case, downward into a place that feels impossible to get out of. Despair is an emotion that saps your energy and strength, and makes everything seem completely impossible.

    Despair sometimes comes because of grief and loss. Sometimes it comes because we really are in a place of desperation - our life feels somehow unlivable. And sometimes, it just comes, for no good reason at all it seems, to visit with us.

    The good news is that suffering because of despair is unnecessary. Yeah, I know - especially if you feel despair, that sentence seems completely... well, completely unbelievable. And there are many times when I would agree. But I do know differently.

    Despair comes from the belief that nothing we can do will change how we feel, or the situation we're in.

    First, we can't just change how we feel by force of will. That's not how it works. How it works is that instead of plunging in, and being despair, we need to know the despair, and accept it for what it is. Don't try to change it, or put it away, or fight it. Let it be what it is. Oddly, that is when the despair can shift.

    There is always something we can do to change our situation, even though it might seem impossible. Sometimes, that thing is just to learn to be with the situation. Learn to not be averse to it, to not want it to change, also accept it for what it is. And sometimes, we need to change the situation - but getting distance from our despair is a necessary step.

    And getting distance from despair requires practice - the practice …


  • Piety

    I've been thinking about the concept of "piety" lately. What is piety, and what is it to me?

    I don't think of myself as a pious Christian. That is because I don't do many of the things that I imagine most pious Christians do. Piety is, I think, a concept familiar to those of us who are "People of the Book" (that is, Jews, Christians, and Muslims) than those (of us) who are Buddhist.

    And also, I thought of piety as empty - an attention to ritual or observance that lead to a "holier than thou" sort of perspective, but was empty of meaning.

    Then I started to read Abraham Joshua Heschel:

    Piety gives rise to reverence, which sees the “dignity of every human being” and “the spiritual value which even inanimate things inalienably possess.” Exploitation and domination are utterly foreign to genuine piety, and possession of things leads only to loneliness.

    He speaks so eloquently of the deepness of a genuinely pious life. The ways in which it opens us to the divine, shapes us, and helps us tap into meaning. And I began to re-arrange my concept of piety, to open it up to be more expansive.

    Is piety simply a way of living where we are really just paying attention? I've often translated the concept from 1 Thessalonians 5:17, "pray without ceasing", to mean that I pay attention to the present moment, and listen for God's voice in it. Is being pious, which for some mean very specific observances, just that? And how do I bring that to my life, as someone who does not have that framework of observance?

    At least, for now, perhaps I'll be reframing my ideas about piety, thanks to Heschel. I'll probably have more to say about what I've learned from him …


  • Interlude

    The great Way is not difficult for those who are have no preferences.
    Let go of wanting and avoiding, and everything will be perfectly clear.
    But make the slightest distinction and heaven and earth are set infintely apart.

    If you want truth, don't be for or against anything.
    The idea of good and evil is the primary disease of the mind.
    If you don't grasp the deeper meaning, you trouble your minds complacency.
    The infinite is perfect and lacks nothing.
    But because you select and reject, you can't perceive the true nature of existence.

    5th Zen Patriarch

    I am an opinionated sort, as you've probably noticed. But an interesting thing is happening to me. I'm getting tired of talking about why things or people, or situations, are wrong. I'm becoming weary of my preferences. My own opinions ring hollow to myself right now. Not that I think I'm wrong, but just that I'm ready to let go of the need to be right.

    I do know that being attached to being right is a dangerous thing. It can be like being a bull in a china shop - things might get broken. I've been attached to being right for most of my life - certainly all of my adult life, so some things have certainly gotten broken. Whether it be about how long to boil an egg, or how to build a website, or about what we should do about climate change, I have opinions on everything, and I have been very attached to the rightness of those opinions. Letting go of that attachment feels really scary. Will I stop caring about injustice? Will I be unable to make decisions? I somehow deeply know that neither of those things will happen. But the fear is there anyway.

    I know that for the …


  • The Michigan Mishegoss

    [caption id="attachment_275" align="alignright" width="300"]Music Festival Photo by zenia:[/caption]

    I went to the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. Twice, even. Once in 1987, and again in 1990. I had a great time. That's where I learned to almost like Tofu scramble. I went with friends, and had a lot of fun, both at the festival, and on the road trips there. And it was pretty special - a place where one got to just be the "womyn"-loving person you were, bare-breasted and all. Oh, and the music was really great.

    The festival was formed in the cauldron of thelesbian separatist movement, and retains one of that movement's more problematic features: the policy of only allowing "womyn-born-womyn" to attend. What exactly does that phrase mean, anyway? Well, is quite exclusionary. For one, it excludes transwomen. It also excludes anyone who is born a woman, but might identify as anything except a woman. It also excludes anyone who is intersex.

    I was too young to be deeply involved in the lesbian separatist movement - it was reaching its conclusion in the Lesbian Sex Wars of the early 80s about when I was coming out. But one of the hallmarks of that movement was, frankly, transphobia. One of the seminal books of the time was Jan Raymond's "The Transsexual Empire". It might have a few interesting nuggets to think about, but largely it is a transphobic screed, and is considered by some to be hate speech. (I wouldn't go so far as to say that, but it is extremely hard to argue that it is not quite transphobic.)

    Now, you know that I have a somewhat complex relationship with this issue. But not complex enough to not know clear transphobia when I see it. And Michigan's …


  • Right Speech, Prophetic Speech, Political Speech

    One of the really cool things about refusing to cede priority to either Christianity or Buddhism in my heart is that I get to draw from both equally deeply. They are, of course, completely different in so many ways, but they do have interesting similarities. For me, though, what's of a lot of interest is how they both inform how my life takes shape. I'm thinking a lot right now about the Buddhist concept of "Right Speech" and the Judeo-christian prophetic tradition.

    "Right Speech" is part of the Buddha's 8-fold path as the way to end suffering. Right Speech is alongside Right Action, and Right Livelihood, as guidance for ethical behavior. Right Speech means to speak with kindness, and when it is necessary. To refrain from falsehood and deceitful speech, refrain from slanderous and malicious speech, refrain from harsh and offending speech, and refrain from idle chatter, or gossip.

    The Prophetic tradition, is that tradition, embodied in prophets like Isaiah and Amos, to Jesus and the disciples, on up to modern-day prophets like Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Those that speak truth to power. Here's Isaiah 1:21-23:

    ^21^ How the faithful city
    has become a whore!
    She that was full of justice,
    righteousness lodged in her—
    but now murderers!
    ^22^ Your silver has become dross,
    your wine is mixed with water.
    ^23^ Your princes are rebels
    and companions of thieves.
    Everyone loves a bribe
    and runs after gifts.
    They do not defend the orphan,
    and the widow’s cause does not come before them.

    You might say that's harsh. And it is. But I would still argue that it is Right Speech. It is necessary. Saying the real truth when fighting for justice requires some bite, sometimes.

    Fast forward to the present time. People on all sides of many …