Entries from July 2009 ↓

A question of service

Gary Phillips asked me to suggest some things to say to 30 or so gathered young people about the question of service.

Some famous psychologist was once asked what he would do if brought the most psychotic patient he had ever treated. He said he would take him to find somebody worse off. Anne Wilson Schaef says the central lie of our contemporary culture is the lie of powerlessness. We all have power to do something. Gandhi said, “It doesn’t matter what you do. It matters that you do it.” Service is also about forming an alliance or a partnership, not coming from a position of big power to offer service to someone with less power. We should always look over at those we seek to serve, never down. Because good service is perfected in the heart and the mind of the servant, offering more than it requires, we should approach it as a gift, never a chore. Despite the hungers of our ego, it is always more fun to serve than to be served, although there are times when both can be a blast. Always do it out of a sense of fun, never make it a chore.  Blessings on the 30 or so gathered. Kiss them all.

Synchronicity Points To The Right Path


I’m working on yet another book, but I’m painfully aware there are already many wonderful books in the world.

 Let me tell you a story about two of those wonderful books, and something that happened to me and my true love, Gabriele, just this afternoon. We sat on Folly Beach near Charleston, SC and read. She read from Sue Monk Kidd’s “Dance Of The Dissident Daughter,” and I read from Jack Kornfield’s “A Path With Heart.”

For the 11 months we have been in love, I have been talking with her about the concept of nothingness or nonexistence, that fact that when you get to the core of the matter, life is an illusion that plays out in divine consciousness and none of us really exist separate from that which basically flows out of the nothingness at the center of the universe.

She has always told me, as only a lover girl can, that makes absolutely makes no sense.

So today, we’re sitting on the beach reading and I come across this passage in Kornfield’s book, and I read it to her, “You live in a illusion and the appearance of things. There is a reality, but you do not know this. When you understand this, you will see that you are nothing, and being nothing you are everything. And that is all.”

Kornfield was quoting a Tibetan teacher, Kalu Rinpoche.

She looked at me as she often does when we speak of nonexistence, then returned to her book. Seconds later she said, “Oh my God.”

She read to me from page 28 of Kidd’s book, “The feminist theologian, Carol P. Christ, states that a woman’s awakening begins with an ‘experience of nothingness.’ It comes as she experiences emptiness, self-negation, disillusionment, a deep-felt recognition of the limitations placed on women’s lives, especially her own.”

While these are radically different views of nothingness, they do have something in common. Both the Tibetan teacher in Kornfield’s book and the feminist theologian in Kidd’s book are dealing with limitation once recognized that leads to oneness with everything. Gabriele still casts a sidelong glance at it, as though it might be snake oil or some concoction of my traveling medicine show, but it is striking to me that we would both be sitting on a beach reading about nothingness.

And here is something even a tad more freaky.

About four years ago, Sue Monk Kidd lead a writing workshop in Charleston. I was waiting on the workshop to start and wrote in my journal, “Jung says synchronicity is a sign you are on the right path.” I have had many synchronistic happenings in my life, and I often think about this Jung idea. Sue Monk Kidd stood up and opened her talk by saying, “Jung says synchronicity is a sign you are on the right path.”

Folks, if I’m lying I’m dying. I turned to the woman sitting next to me and said, “You have got to read what I just wrote in my journal.” She did and smiled and scooted just a little ways away from me.

So, maybe I shouldn’t write another book, but this one keeps knocking at my door, begging me to say to you, “Life will be better if we figure out our connections to each other and everything else.”

Economic Tremors Not All Bad

Here is my first column in The Greenville Journal


In 1985, the stock market crashed. The value of the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 500 points in a single day. People felt very panicky and a fairly serious recession followed.

The day after the crash I was in Annie Lee Epley’s office. Annie Lee ran the local branch of Asheville Federal Savings and Loan, the company that held the mortgage on my home. It was also the company with whom I kept my checking and savings accounts in Marion, N.C.

I loved Annie Lee because she had helped me survive one of my business failures in 1981 and ’82, during which I had gone ten weeks without a pay check and our company had piled up $60,000 in debt.

This was her reaction to the stock market crash. “The value of those companies has not changed. They have the same number of employees they had yesterday, the same cash, the same factories and equipment, the same trucks and company cars. Things may get bad for a while, but this country has a good economic system. We will be all right.”

Nobody knows less about money, economics, and what works in these systems than I. Well, maybe a bunch of fourth graders know less, but don’t put me up against your smarter fifth graders.

So rather than offering up my ignorance, let me must ask you to consider Annie Lee’s reaction to the 1985 crash, and also consider some questions that I genuinely can’t answer.

When the stock market loses a third of its value, where does the money go? In the exchange of stocks, is there not always a winner and a loser? What do the winners do with that money when they take it out of the market?

Is the rough ride we are experiencing right now more than a pulling back in consumer spending and the collapse of certain credit instruments? Could it also be a fundamental realignment in cultural values? Could it be we are healing from our national obsession with buying any dad gum object off the shelf of a big box store? Are Americans saying with our lack of spending that we are tired of being defined by our spending?

Almost everything I know about anything I know from listening to National Public Radio, and NPR has yet to explain to me what has happened to our economy, except this: massive foreclosures have led to a virtual freeze in lending, which has led to a serious downturn in stock prices, which has convinced most of us that we should cut spending, which has cost lots of jobs in just the past few weeks.

But NPR hints at another idea, this idea of a basic shift in cultural values, that we are not going to buy cars from either domestic or foreign companies until they prove their ability to run on alternative fuels or use less fuel. We are going to buy products that come to market through fair trade. We are going to recycle, reuse, and reduce consumption, even if it cuts into the profits of major retailers. Of course, these trends are not universal or even popular among a majority of Americans. These practices would only have to be used by ten or twelve percent to rock the world’s economies and change everything. And the examples I gave are only the tip of the iceberg. Doubtless many of you can think of dozens of other examples of how this recession is a shift in values and not just an economic adjustment. The earth is shifting under our feet.

It can’t be all bad. Let me know what you think.