Thursday, December 12, 2013

An Open Letter to Family and Friends

(It's that time of year again.  Although I'm taking some time to remember Christmas Carols on the autoharp and looking forward to spending some time with family and friends, I also want to make it perfectly clear that I believe this season's celebration is fundamentally flawed by the pervasive Mammon worship that increasingly characterizes our society today.   So, once again, I'm sharing this open letter to family and friends to announce my non-compliance with the ritual of gift giving. -- Brother Lefty} 

"Civilization, in the real sense of the term, consists not in the multiplication, but in the deliberate and voluntary reduction of wants. This alone promotes real happiness and contentment, and increases the capacity for service."
---Mahatma Gandhi

It is my firm opinion that Europe today represents not the spirit of God or Christianity but the spirit of Satan. And Satan’s successes are the greatest when he appears with the name of God on his lips. Europe is today only nominally Christian. It is really worshipping Mammon. `It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom.’ Thus really spoke Jesus Christ.
---Mahatma Gandhi

I was appalled -- but not all that surprised -- to see that Christmas decorations had become part of the Halloween displays at CVS this year.  Early birds and worms come to mind.  "The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out" quickly follows. (But, I digress...sort of....)

The Mad Dash really begins on Black Friday as crowds of people stream into stores.  Sometimes pushing and shoving, sometimes actually punching each other out, people race to grab the very latest toys that the gears of Rapacious Capitalism have ground out -- almost invariably through the outright exploitation of other human beings and the destruction of the delicate biosphere that sustains Life on this planet.  What in the world does this all have to do with the birth of Jesus Christ, with His gospel of Love, Compassion, and Service to the "least among us?"  What do our family rituals of wrapping, then ripping paper and ribbons and bows off more stuff, creating more landfill material in the process, have to do with Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Humankind?

Even as a child, what I experienced during the Christmas season, the rampant commercialism and worship of mammon made no sense to me. Sixty plus years later, it still doesn't.

So, although this isn't the first time I've attempted to transform my relationship to the materialism of Christmas, I'm now ready to announce that I won't be giving or accepting any gifts this year from family and friends this year.  It's clear to me: We all have way too much stuff already.  This fact is not unrelated to Global Warming, Poverty and Warfare.

So, instead of exhanging gifts, I will be making modest donations to two local non-profits that I believe serve the Spirit of Christmas -- each day of the year.  One, Nolumbeka Project, aims to proclaim the true history, and honor the spiritual and cultural legacy of New England's Native Americans. The other, the Stone Soup Cafe operates a unique once a week community meal in Greenfield.  I invite you to consider similar donations.  (If you have already bought me something, I apologize for not getting to this letter sooner.  I  suggest either returning it -- or giving it to someone who is in real need.)

Although not specifically Christian (the Stone Soup Cafe emerges from the Zen Peacemaker Order. Nolumbeka Project honors Native American Spirituality), both these groups are grounded in an understanding that Life is Essentially Spiritual and that there is a deep need for a widespread Healing into Love.  That's what Jesus lived for, what he died for. 

Our survival as a species -- and the survival of many other species on this planet -- depends on a revolution of heart and mind, a transformation of the widespread, and mostly unconscious, greed and speed that propels us toward some semblance of Armageddon, individually and collectively.  None of us really need all this stuff we've been programmed to desire.  It will never bring us lasting happiness or peace of mind.  We've been bamboozled.

I believe that any meaningful celebration of the Birth of Christ needs to start with opening our hearts and minds to the true situation we find ourselves in today.  Unless we deeply examine --and then alter --our habits of consumption, Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Humanity aren't possible.  

My Humble Take on the Real Deal

I believe that the movement for peace, economic democracy and social justice is a Spiritual Quest. No mean feat, what is called for is a True Revolution of the Heart and Mind--and it starts with each of us.

This revolution has to be Peaceful. The Hippies (and Jesus and Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King, et al) had it right. It really is all about Peace and Love. Besides being a total drag, violence just doesn't work. It keeps our wheels spinning in fear, anger and pain. Who needs that?

Besides some hard work, I think the Revolution also calls for dancing, plenty of laughter, and some sitting around just doing nothing. (Some folks call it meditation.)

As Stephen Gaskin, proclaimed years ago:

"We're out to raise Hell--in the Bodhisattvic* sense."

Doesn't that sound like some serious fun?

(*The Bodhisattva Vow is a set of commitments made in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. It basically says I vow to get my act together and figure it out well enough to really help out--and I ain't gonna stop until everybody is covered.

I've found that doesn't necessarily have to happen in that order. It's best to try to help out even before you have it all together! Like right now.)

-----Brother Lefty Smith, Founding S.O.B*