Examining Assumptions, Part II

I shared in the last blog post that I was examining two assumptions:

  1. You must work hard, suffer even, for “real” progress in health, understanding or enlightenment.
  2. There is an afterlife.

IMG_4411The first assumption is re-enforced every time I get a prescription for antibiotics: you must take every pill even long after you are feeling better. It is the idea of counseling or therapy: you must work through every issue–there are no shortcuts. I have “done the work” in my life. No liquid diet fasts for me. Just exercise and lots-of-work diets.

Then Michael Pollan shared that in the clinical trials treating depressed cancer patients with psychedelic medicines experienced real measurable improvement 80% of the time. This is well beyond the 30% rates of anti-depressants and without the considerable side effects of drugs like Prozac. Only terminal cancer patients were allowed in the studies so it is impossible to know how long the benefits might have lasted or if later side effects might appear. Still, it is remarkable for its potential.

Rather than making me want to take a guided trip, I found it encouraging with regards to my reliance on acupuncture to resolve my chronic pain. I do not understand how acupuncture works but it is dealing with the underlying causes and it manages energy. To me though, it seems relatively easy compared to other therapies, especially ones that require me to relive childhood trauma. Reconsidering my assumption around the requirements of a lasting cure helped me put my faith in the possibility of good to great outcomes from acupuncture.

It also helped me look at the role prayer plays in my healing. I’ve been shy about asking for prayer. I’ve always said I believe the creator of the universe can miraculously heal people if S/He chooses and I pray for this kind of healing for others, and yet I’m reluctant to ask for it for myself. I consider myself one of the undeserving, or that I can only ask after I’ve tried to make every other remedy work. I’m ready to revise my assumptions regarding spiritual healing.

What about the afterlife? Michael Pollan and Ezra Klein both called themselves materialists and as such they believe our brains generate consciousness, thus our selves cease when our body dies. Pollan admitted that some scientists suggest consciousness exists outside of our selves and therefore, it might be possible that subject’s in the clinical trials really did experience mystical or spiritual epiphanies. As a person of faith I do not have much trouble reconciling this.

IMG_4409My qualms about the afterlife is the American Christian culture’s complete fixation with it to the exclusion of asking “how should we live today?” I have been reading Rob Bell‘s What is the Bible? as a kind of devotional. And his chapter on the Good Samaritan rocked my world in a number of ways. And one of those is that when the lawyer asks Jesus, how do we get eternal life? He wasn’t asking about the afterlife. We have somehow twisted “eternal life” from the abundant life God’s people should be experiencing every day while we live here now in relationship with the Divine, to a cushy deal after we die. So much of our faith experience is now simplified to “accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior” and then going back to a judgey, non-loving attitude about our neighbor.

At the suggestion of my friend Rebekah I listened to the Liturgists podcast interview with Rob Bell, when Michael Gungor and the other podcast host who goes by Science Mike ask questions about this book. I’m listening to an intelligent and uplifting conversation when I realize that this men are part of a growing club of people tossed out of Club Evangelical for questioning assumptions about our faith. And yet the gospels are stories after story of Jesus asking and answering questions, sometimes with more questions. These three and others also tossed out are postmodernists, whereas, the older, grayer leaders of the E. movement, such as it is today, are traditionalists or modernists. Don’t question the relatively recent constructs of what it means to be born again and who God loves and doesn’t love or risk being ostracized.

I am realizing that I believe in a consciousness outside of myself and God, and I believe that my soul or conscious goes on in some way beyond death; however, it doesn’t matter so much to me anymore. It pales in importance to the prime directive which is to be a vessel for God’s love in the world–to be living the abundant, spirit-filled life that God offers me. I’m so far from that right now and I’d rather get after that and let the after death question take care of itself.


Growth as a Boredom Buster

20170403_153300 (1)

I doubt anyone would call artist and writer Julia Couzens’ life dull. She is an art critic for the Sacramento Bee, and a productive fine artist. She recently gave a presentation as part of the Centennial Lecture Series at the Sacramento City College Art Department. Her first slide said:

It’s the journey, not the destination.

Questions live longer than answers.

Sometimes the back side is the piece.

She also distributed the “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth” by Bruce Mau. This manifesto, she said, is the secret of life. It certainly is the key to understanding her creative life. In the subsequent slides she showed us her work. “I like chaos. I like dissonance.” Her work shows 3. Process is more important than outcome and 4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child). 

I was able to participate in this lecture series because I enrolled in a Collage/Assemblage studio art class at Sacramento City College. It has been terrific for opening up both sides of my brain to more creativity.  I recommend all leaders find a creative expression that helps them to be more intuitive and get back in touch with something you enjoy doing.

This weekend I caught up with my major professor now retired from USC. John Odell is taking voice lessons and sings in two vocal groups. He is finding great pleasure in this creative expression. Don’t wait until retirement to make time for this in your leadership life.

I am realizing that much of my redesign at 49 has evolved into finding the space for a creative life–writing, doing art, or taking naps. And in so doing I am approaching all of my work challenges more creatively. Taking the class this semester has helped me be much more intentional. Listening to Side Hustle School podcast has helped motivate me to work towards it every day.

Last week I listened to Rob Bell’s podcast “The Importance of Boredom” but I don’t think he really meant boredom. What he was really talking about is making time to unplug and allow creative thought. I am finding since I started the class that I am less interested in watching movies or television shows and more interested in creating my own stuff. And it is anything but boring because you inevitably grow and change when you create.

One last thought, I looked up a few of Julia Couzen’s reviews in the Sacramento Bee’s Arts & Theater and loved her review of the Diebenkorn and Matisse show at SFMOMA (March 23, 2017). It is is a beautiful example of Mou’s Manifesto #23. Stand on someone’s shoulders. You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better. 

A Shot of Much Needed Leadership Inspiration


You may not have noticed, but I went dark for a few weeks. I fell into a deep funk after the election. Once the outrage subsided I found my motivation at a very low ebb. I gave myself permission to retreat. I am coming out it now and one of the contributing factors was witnessing my friend Mai Vang’s swearing in to the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Mai invited her family and friends to attend and about 100 people filled the boardroom to support her on this momentous occasion. Four people actually shared in administering the oath: her high school teacher and mentor, a parent from the district who inspires her, a Burbank High School student, and an elder from her Hmong community.

It was so moving to hear Mai repeat the oath to defend the US constitution and the constitution of the State of California. Here was evidence that our democracy can still function beautifully.

Mai speaking after taking the oath flanked by her grandparents.

This is Mai’s story. Her family was part of the wave of immigrants from Laos that came to the US after the Vietnam War. Mai is the oldest of 16 children and she worked hard to learn English while retaining the Hmong language to be able to respect her elders as that culture teaches. At the same time she didn’t want to remain in poverty, so she studied hard and accepted help from Ms. Crowder who helped to coach her to earn the grades to get into college and a Buck Fellowship. Mai went on to University of San Francisco and then UCLA to earn two master’s degrees. She could be earning larger salaries working in public health. She chose to return to Sacramento to organize her community. She is staff to a Sacramento City Councilmember and now a member of the school board representing a part of the school district that is challenged by low income and fewer opportunities.

As she took the oath my eyes teared up. Here is proof that if you work hard and participate in our democracy you can take a seat at the table. I only wish there were more Mai’s from her community running for office. More young people from all walks of life stepping up to leadership.

Rob Bell in Episode 122 of his RobCast “We need to talk about politics…” (October 16, 2016) He explains why politics needs to reclaimed as a good thing. The origin of the word of politics Greek is “politicos” and means citizens. It is essentially a good word and determines how we arrange our common life together. There is something sacred and holy about our shared life together. As a poli-sci nerd I don’t need to be convinced by Rob Bell that policy is also important.

We have to pay attention to actual policy to cut through the clouds of opinion in a post-truth world. We need to talk about the nuts and bolts of how things get done.

If you don’t step up, people and corporations who do not care about our common good take advantage of your cynicism or disaffection. This is OUR common good. Be part of the solution not part of the problem. But don’t kid yourself into thinking that doing nothing is anything other than being part of the problem.

Mai Vang is willing to commit a large amount of time to learn the issues facing the Sacramento City Unified School District and help to adopt policies that result in better outcomes for all students. I am digging into local housing policy to find ways to dramatically reduce people experiencing homelessness.

What are you willing to do?




I Need to Lament Right Now

rob-bellI started listening to Rob Bell’s podcast during my newscation since the election. The Lamentations mini series from May is just right for right now.

The book of Lamentations is 5 poems in the middle of the Bible that express the human experience. It was written after the devastation of Jerusalem about 500 BC.  As Rob Bell explains “When you suffer, literal language often fails you.” Lamentation poems use images to express what they are feeling.

Here are a few Bell statements from the first of five episodes:

“Lamentations is naming what is wrong–naming the pain and giving expression to the injustice.”

“If you are lamenting you are still alive. You are still in the game.”

“To lament is to refuse to be silent. Rip open your rib cage and let it out. To expose and name whatever is out of order in God’s world.”

In the US we live in a culture that denies reality. We invest in plastic surgery to deny time and aging. We keep quiet when we should blow the roof off this thing. Lamenting may disrupt things because to lament is to feel your full humanity.

In all of the people of the book faiths there are people who teach extreme quietism, that is we need not do anything but pray because God/Allah is in control. And you could interpret Lamentations as a way to pray through your anger. I respectfully disagree. Prayer is essential. And public lamentation is also important to give expression to the suffering at a societal level. This is why I support the Black Lives Matter movement, and I am spending my time and money to participate in the Women’s March on Washington to affirm women’s power.

And if you are a Christian who celebrates Advent, consider this modern Lamentation-like devotional.

A Dose of Much Needed Hope

Rob Bell's Everything is Spiritual
Rob Bell’s special white board for Everything is Spiritual with Rob seated for after performance Q&A.

You all lived through this past November and December (2015), so I do not need to tell you that a bunch of shit was going down. Between mass shootings, everyday violence against poor and colored people, and hate toward Muslims and refugees, it was a bleak holiday season.

I bought the tickets to Everything is Spiritual a performance by Rob Bell months earlier, so the timing was serendipitous.

If you are not familiar with Rob Bell’s work. He was a pastor of a postmodern church in Michigan breaking all kinds of new ground in how he communicated the gospel, when he started down a different path. At first it seemed like he was going on a parallel path, but his theology eventually broke from the Evangelical mainstream and for some fundamentalist Christians he is a heretic. Ultimately, his writing books like Love Wins led him to quit his pastoral job to move to Laguna Beach and focus on creating stuff. He is also part of the Oprah entourage, appearing on Super Soul Sunday on OWN.

I appreciate Rob Bell’s blog and podcast. I had seen an earlier version of Everything is Spiritual on YouTube, so when I read that he was taping it one evening in a Santa Monica theater, I thought it would make a fun adventure for my daughter and me.

The taping will be made into a movie within a few months so please wait and watch the better quality, more advanced-in-his-thinking version when it comes out. I will give you a sneak peek.

Rob Bell, like great comedians, has a unique way of seeing the world and is very smart and articulate. He created this presentation to help people make sense of our world. He does not answer all questions (even with the concluding Q&A); instead, he presents a framework for continuing the exploration.

He begins at the beginning of the universe an estimated 13.8 billion years ago when a big bang set off a creation process that resulted in the world as we know it. If you stand at this beginning point and look forward you begin to see that creation is moving toward greater complexity, depth and unity. However, if you look at the creation from today and look backward, you may see the world as fundamentalists do, that is, the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Rob Bell’s presentation gave me a much needed shot of hope because it reminded me that God’s love is pulling the whole of creation forward. S/he invites us to join in the creation. We have to ignore the “resistance” and persist in joyful creation: An epiphany* for the New Year.

*Some Christians celebrate the Epiphany on January 6 when tradition says the three wise men came to worship baby Jesus.



Donald Trump and Spiral Dynamics

What does Joel Osteen have in common with Donald Trump?
What does Joel Osteen have in common with Donald Trump?
What does Donald Trump have in common with Joel Osteen?
What does Donald Trump have in common with Joel Osteen?

One of the inspirations for starting this blog was the teaching I received from Rob Bell and Richard Rohr on spiral dynamics. I was so intrigued by this concept I dug out other books I had read, such as Real Power by Janet O. Hagberg. I ordered Transformations of Consciousness by Wilber, Engler and Brown and intended to read it. My first posts were going to be my synthesis of these ideas and its usefulness as a tool for leaders.

Then life intervened and a few people who are important to me did not react very positively when I shared the new ideas I was mulling over. It could just as easily have been my poor presentation, but it shook my enthusiasm.

I set this project aside and got busy with other projects. And then Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United States and his popularity completely mystified me. WTF?

I hoped he would flame out with each new absurd pronouncement. He got away with his ridiculous statements about Mexicans with a few canceled contracts. Then surely his criticisms of John McCain would self-destruct his campaign. Instead his popularity went up. WTF?

Then I witnessed the Trump phenomenon up close while I was bicycling across Iowa with RAGBRAI. In spite of his criticisms of John Kerry’s bicycle riding proclivities, his campaign sent a Trump bus and volunteers to dog the route each of the 7 days. This inspired two extreme reactions. Either his campaign bus got cheers and a thumbs up or jeers and the finger. No one was indifferent. It was impossible to tell the numerical balance without spending a lot of time near the bus. (I had a visceral negative reaction.) I realized then that I had to spend some time figuring out how anyone could be enthusiastic about his candidacy. My teammate Barb had the same idea and she pedaled hard to catch up with a woman who cheered only to learn that this woman also loved Sarah Palin. Barb drifted away wondering WTF?

This led me back to the theory of spiral dynamics and a possible explanation.

It is dangerous to explain spiral dynamics in a nutshell; however, this is a blog and not a 323 page book, so I will attempt to do it justice. First, it assumes that there are levels or stages of consciousness and that people grow in their consciousness through life experience and especially through suffering. Similar levels of emotional maturity have been developed by various psychologists. It is not a perfect lens but it offers insight. (If the word consciousness makes you buggy then think spiritual and emotional maturity.)

Rob Bell and Richard Rohr presented spiral dynamics in two tiers and with several levels on each tier. They assigned them names, numbers and colors. The first level begins the kind of chaos–emotional and social–frequently associated with toddlers, addicts and sociopaths. The focus is on the individual in level one. Hopefully you quickly mature or recover to the second level with a community focus. People in level two are strongly identified with their tribe and relate to God with mystical or magical thinking. They do not see themselves as able to set goals and go out and accomplish them and the setbacks they experience feel random and like the gods must be angry.

Level three is sometimes called “power” and this is because level three people again regain their individualistic outlook. They learn they can harness their personal power and accomplish goals they set and sometimes lead others. If you stay in this level you can become very egotistical. You also can call forth level two people who aspire to be more like the level three leader. When Rob Bell presented level three he used Joel Osteen as an example of a level three religious leader calling forth level two people (in a benign way).

My best explanation for Donald Trump’s popularity in the presidential race is that he is a level three leader and there are a lot of level two people who find him inspiring. (Either that or it is the natural human fascination with car crashes and train wrecks.)

Which leads me to question, how many level two people are there? Well 43,500 people attend Joel Osteen’s church each week in Houston.  A lot apparently.

There are more levels and the point of Rob and Richard’s seminar was to help people understand it and inspire them to lead from the Second Tier.

Level four is a community-outlook again. The movement from individual to community to individual to community is what gives the upward progression of consciousness its spiral twist. Level four has traditional, hierarchical values. The evangelical church in America today is very level four with its male-dominated leadership.

Level five is individual-focused and values technology and modern analytical ways of thinking about the world. It is also where most atheists reside. As a political scientist I could see a parallel with the traditional level four (greatest generation) winning World War II only to be overtaken by the technocratic McNamara’s of the world running the Vietnam War using statistics.

Level six is once again community oriented and post-modern. Many millennials living on the coasts have matured into a society with this as the predominant consciousness. Everyone has a story and everyone’s story matter–yours as much as mine.

The next level is in a second tier and requires a jump in consciousness. While it changes back to an individual focus again it is with the ability to see all of the levels with compassion. In the first tier, lower level people looked ahead with fear at the others and higher level people looked back with disdain. The second tier people know that we have the ability as humans to be tribal and can be called forth to honor others’ stories or to acts of compassion.

There are additional levels in Tier Two but it becomes vague since so few people achieve it. Think Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi.  Rob and Richard hope that more people will aspire to raise their consciousness, especially leaders, so we can cope with the unique challenges that lie ahead.

There is a lot more to unpack in spiral dynamics and I will return to the topic. Meanwhile, for me, it is the best explanation of the Donald Trump phenomenon. And my puzzlement and sometimes disdain is a signal that I have not evolved to Tier Two yet.

The journey continues.

PS. I do not recommend Transformations of Consciousness as it is much too technical tomb of psychology. I will keep looking for a better explanation of spiral dynamics.