Saturday, September 25, 2010

Two Early-in-the-day Occurrences

First, I discovered what purports to be the “Dalai Lama’s Millenium [sic] Practice” as I surfed the internet.  I haven’t been able to verify that these are indeed the words of the Dalai Lama, though I have found the same “practices” on several websites.  Regardless of their authenticity, these suggestions would certainly improve each of our lives:

1. Spend 5 minutes at the beginning of each day remembering we all want the same things (to be happy and be loved) and we are all connected to one another.

2. Spend 5 minutes breathing in, cherishing yourself; and, breathing out cherishing others. If you think about people you have difficulty cherishing, extend your cherishing to them anyway.

3. During the day extend that attitude to everyone you meet. Practice cherishing the "simplest" person (clerks, attendants, etc.), as well as the "important" people in your life; cherish the people you love and the people you dislike.

4. Continue this practice no matter what happens or what anyone does to you. These thoughts are very simple, inspiring and helpful. The practice of cherishing can be taken very deep if done wordlessly, allowing yourself to feel the love and appreciation that already exists in your heart.

As I thought about these words, it seemed to me that they could have just as easily come from a Christian as from a Tibetan Buddhist, raising several questions in my mind.    If one is seeking truth and seeking to live by the teachings of Jesus, but is not a “Christian” in the sense that one accepts orthodox Christian belief, does that mean one is condemned to an eternity apart from God?  How could a God of love condemn to eternal damnation one who lives according to the teachings of Jesus without subscribing to Christian theology?  At this point in my journey of faith, I cannot subscribe to the belief that only those who say that they “accept Jesus as their personal savior” are acceptable to God, and if that position is the wrong one, I pray that God will open my heart to see the truth.  Right now, I believe that this is the conclusion to which God has led me.

Later in the morning, I had a discussion with a fellow musician about the music of the American composer, Stephen Foster.  I had been playing one of his songs and commented that it was unfortunate that so many of the lyrics of Foster songs are racist.  My companion told me that they were not racist because the terms used to refer to black Americans in these songs were terms of endearment that were not meant by the users of them as terms of disdain, racial hatred, or contempt, and that such terms were part of the common language of the day.

This position astounded me.  My perception is that when terms are used to refer to another ethnic group, and the members of that ethnic group find them offensive, such terms are racist.  Terms like “darkie,” sentiments like those expressed in songs like “Massa’s in the cold, cold ground,” and the use of pseudo-slave dialect while appearing in black-face minstrel shows are for me patently racist because they perpetuate a belief in the racial superiority of one group, treat members of another ethnic group as something less than fully human, and glorify a past characterized by the ownership of one group of people by another.

Our conversation brought home to me the great racial divide that still exists in our country.  For those of us who were born and raised in the South and whose families have deep roots in the South the work of ending for all time the racism that has permeated our culture for so long is a long, slow battle.  I am deeply disturbed that, after so many years, there are those who still hold the philosophy used to justify the practice of slavery, and that such persons believe that black Americans are overly sensitive about the language that is used to describe them.

I pray that all our eyes will be opened to the deep scar that still blights our country and that we will allow God to end the discriminatory practices that divide us along lines of race, national origin, wealth, gender, and sexual orientation.  With God’s help, perhaps one day we will become one people.

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