Meditation Idea: 8/20 Draft

NOTE: Following is a Meditation that I may give at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples.

The sermon that Rev. Yielbonzie Charles Johnson offered on August 3rd was very thought-provoking. He recommended cultivating “intimate direct action” by traveling “Four Roads to Intimacy.” The first road is to move away from self-deception and “know yourself better than anyone else.” The second is to utilize “solitude.” The third is to establish strong “kinship,” or a sense of community. The fourth is to then experience “intimacy,” or “the uncircumscribed engagement in the world,” without fear.

Webster’s defines “intimate” as “belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature.” An intimate conversation therefore is one that comes from your deepest nature.

How many intimate friends do you have with whom you discuss highly personal matters, your joys and your troubles, at least weekly?

As I see it, intimacy involves “speaking from the heart.” What does “to speak from the heart” mean to you? [Allow for answers from the congregation; respond to those comments.]

I googled “speaking from the heart” and the top result said “Ask yourself: is what you’re saying coming from your analytical mind or your intuitive heart?” and “Know that speaking from the heart doesn’t mean getting carried away by your emotions.”

I think of speaking from the heart as a blend of speaking from the gut and speaking from the mind. After all, the heart is in between the gut and the heart.

But an intimate conversation involves more than speaking. It also involves being a good listener.

What does being a good listener mean to you? [Allow for answers from the congregation; respond to those comments.]

Also, to my mind, I am not a particularly good listener when I immediately respond to someone with something like, “I hear you. The same thing happened to me,” and then proceed to talk about myself. I find that kind of response to be far too common.

We have good reasons for being reserved, for not being more transparent. I don’t fully understand those reasons. I’m trying to better understand them. One factor seems to be that what we say might be used against us. Teachers and bosses punish us for saying what they don’t want to hear. Partly for that reason, we learn to be guarded and it becomes a habit. That is understandable.

Howard Thurman, however, affirmed Gandhi’s maxim, “Speak the truth, without fear and without exception” and wrote, “Be simply, directly truthful, whatever may be the cost.” I don’t know if I could ever live up to that standard. I would, however, like to move in that direction.

Most conversations strike me as a series of monologues, telling stories, gossiping, superficial chit-chat, or intellectual discourse. They rarely involving speaking and listening from the heart.

So let me ask again, How many intimate friends do you have with whom you discuss highly personal matters at least weekly?

How many of those friends belong to Fellowship Church?

If we want to grow a strong sense of community, as recommended by Rev. Johnson, do we need to nurture more intimacy with one another? If so, how might we do that, either during the social hour or at other times during the week?

Maybe, if we make more of a conscious effort, we can practice more fully what Dr. Thurman preached.


Brandon Visits SF

Allyne ParkBrandon Faloona, my soul mate from Seattle, visited San Francisco for 48 hours last weekend and slept on my couch. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The most rewarding moments were our quiet times alone, when we engaged in rich dialog. As I’ve said before, he’s the best listener I know. There are many understandable reasons why most people (or so it seems) are so reluctant to speak from the heart and interact openly and mutually. I’m constantly trying to better understand and accept those reasons. Nevertheless, it is refreshing when I experience greater authenticity.

The fact that Brandon possesses a high degree of emotional intelligence and is very astute in his observations of others’ behavior and social conditions helps to enrich our time together. In particular, I appreciated his forgiving me for some mistakes I made in what I wrote about his father, Gerry, in my autobiography. His comments helped me see my residual bitterness about a conflict with Gerry that led to some passages being too curt. If there is another edition, I’ll try to correct those mistakes.

Brandon’s visit has had a particular enduring impact. While he was here, he encouraged me to think more about my retirement plan. Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” I lived my life according to that principle. Partly out of an ego-driven desire to be recognized as a great man, and partly out of a commitment to community service, I have not concentrated on making money. And whether from good karma or good luck, I fell into ownership of a taxi medallion, which provides me with some security. Brandon’s comments, however, have led me to realize that if I were disabled, that medallion would not provide me with enough income to make ends meet. So I’m researching retirement accounts. Indications are that I will have to drive taxi at least ten hours more each week than I had expected, which means I’ll have less time to write and travel. Hopefully, I’ll find time to write another book, my manifesto, which is tentatively titled Changing the System with Love and Power.

Otherwise, highlights of Brandon’s visit included visiting Allyne Park at Green and Gough where we used to play when we lived together and Brandon was three (see group photo of our household), walking by the six-bedroom, split-level apartment where we lived, hanging out in North Beach, hearing some great blues at The Saloon, and going around the corner to a new gallery, The Emerald Tablet, on Fresno Alley.

DSC02163After we arrived, we learned that the gallery was hosting an 80th birthday party for the esteemed Beat poet, Diane di Prima. When I wished her a happy birthday and referred to a 1968 poetry reading with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Thom Gunn, herself, and others that I co-organized, she said, “Oh yes. I remember that. It was the only time I ever read with Thom.” She then signed for me a copy of a poem that was distributed that day as a memento for her birthday. The poem reads:

The Phoenix is
as gold is

She heads for
the sky

like a grown child
leaving Mother

leaves the warm ash


Later Brandon helped me produced a one-minute video of our time in North Beach, which I uploaded to YouTube at:

And here are some photos I took:

DSC02159 DSC02153 DSC02146 At My Window

Comment on MSC Transformative Practice Survey

Photo by Willie Davis

Photo by Willie Davis

This fall the Movement Strategy Center (MSC) plans to release a report, tentatively titled “Love with Power,” on organizations that are bringing “transformative practices” into their work. I await this report with great interest.

As described in “Tell Us!! Does Your Organization Do Transformative Practice?,” MSC is inviting individuals to complete a three-question survey about their interest and/or efforts with regard to bringing “individual transformative practices, such as meditation, martial arts, gardening, and spiritual practice” into their organizing.

Particularly encouraging is that the survey explores interest in eventually sharing “peer exchange/case studies on how other organizations are actually doing it.” If MSC discovers and shares user-friendly tools that can be easily replicated (without extensive training), this project could help spread (rapidly) the use of methods that nurture personal and collective development rooted in mutual support among peers.

The survey opens with a very helpful definition: “Collective practice is intentional and continuously repeated action undertaken as a group to cultivate new ways of being and thinking in that group and beyond it.” The phrase “intentional and continuously repeated action” hits the nail on the head.

“New ways” strikes me as too ambiguous, however. Some phrase such as “more compassionate” would work better, it seems. “New” is not necessarily an improvement.

As I discuss in “A Meditation on Deep Community,” I believe that if activists really get in touch with their compassion, they will naturally strive to correct root causes by changing national policies. Then we can turn this nation into a compassionate community.

I applaud MSC for helping us move in that direction.

My Robin Williams Story

Like maybe half of San Francisco, I have my own Robin Williams story. In 1996, after watching the Independence Day movie at the Coronet Theater on Geary Blvd. Steven Shults, Richard Gross, and I went to the Toy Boat Dessert Cafe on Clement Street. The store featured Double Rainbow ice cream and displayed on its walls children’s toys for sale. While waiting to be served, Williams got in line behind us. Steven had seen him at an event the night before and struck up a brief exchange with Williams about it. After Richard, Steven, and I sat down at a table to eat our desserts, Williams joined us and engaged in conversation for several minutes. He often came to the cafe to buy toys for his children. He was remarkably unpretentious and warm. After a few minutes, Richard said, “I’m sorry but I have to ask you this. How much of being famous is great and how much is a drag?” Williams immediately replied, “90% is great and 10% is a drag.” I figure the 10% finally got to him. May one of the greatest San Franciscans ever rest in peace.

WilliamsFor an excellent local article about Williams, see “Robin Williams’ heart never strayed far from San Francisco” by Peter Hartlaub, Leah Garchik and David Lewis

Transform Workshop Evaluation

I just offered the following responses to a survey from The Center for Spiritual and Social Transformation concerning their four  Transform: Spirituality and Social Change sessions that were held last month.

1. How did you hear about the Transform workshop? Please be specific.

2. What were you hoping to gain from the course?
I was primarily looking for opportunities to engage in dialog with peers who respect one another as equals about how we might develop user-friendly, easily replicated tools to support one another in our spiritual growth and help build a national movement to impact national policy – that is, practice what we preach.

3. How well did the course meet these hopes/expectations?
Not at all. I found the first two sessions to be too top-heavy with lectures. They were more like a “class” than an interactive, problem-solving “workshop.” They were too much in the head and not enough from the heart. During the first two classes, when I posed a question and offered a comment, I felt that Liza did not respond to what I said. During the breaks, I engaged in dialog with others about statements they made with which I resonated, but no one did the same with me. As people walked around during breaks, I experienced little eye contact. There was no email dialog during the week. When I emailed one participant about another event and told her, “I’m particularly interested in user-friendly methods that activists could use to support one another in that work — methods that could be easily replicated and spread. AA is a suggestive example. If you have thoughts or experience along that line, I’d like to hear them,” I received no reply. So, all in all, I concluded that I was unlikely to find an opportunity to collaborate on my pressing concern through the class and decided not to sacrifice more income by participating during work hours. So I did not go to the third or fourth class.

4. Evaluate the following statements.
The instructor presented the material in an engaging and accessible way. Agree
The course material was helpful. Agree
The discussion was helpful. Agree
The course helped me in my work. Agree
The course helped clarify my vocation. Agree
I made valuable connections with other course participants. Disagree

5. How was the course most helpful to you?
It reassured me that there are others who want to work on their spiritual growth and are willing to acknowledge their weaknesses and mistakes in order to do so.

6. What could have strengthened your experience?
A more practical focus on developing and sharing tools that could be used to build a national movement committed to turning our nation into a compassionate community.

7. What kinds of workshops would you like to see in the future?
Workshops that facilitate speaking from the heart with peers who respect one another as equals and explore how we might develop user-friendly, easily replicated tools to support one another in our spiritual growth and help build a national movement to impact national policy – that is, practice what we preach.

8. What class formats would work best for you in the future?
Half-day on the weekend
Full-day retreat

Fellowship Church: “Intimate Direct Action”

Charles JohnsonRev. Yielbonzie Charles Johnson, a semi-retired Unitarian Universalist minister currently engaged in doctoral work on “The Transformation of Shame” at the Graduate Theological Union, presented the August 3 sermon at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. He opened with a quote from Vincent Van Gogh letter to his brother Theo:

…It is better to be high-spirited, even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent. It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love, is well done.

Johnson then riffed on the tension between “the one and the many” and urged the parishioners to “love many things” rather than allowing others to impose a single perspective on oneself, or trying to do the same to others.

He recounted how when Dr. Howard Thurman served as Dean of Chapel at Howard University in Washington, DC (from 1932 to 1944 before leaving to co-found Fellowship Church in San Francisco) students told him that they were expecting a “Moses” but that he seemed to be a “mystic.” Thurman replied, “Just remember. The inside and the outside are one.”

Johnson declared that our calling is to avoid “false guides” and “groupthink,” and “live a genuine life.” But, he asked, “How can you know if it is genuine? How do we seek a genuine life?” His response was to recommend “intimate direct action” by the following “Four Roads to Intimacy”:

The first road, he said, is to move away from “self-veiling,” or self-deception. Remove your masks, your social roles, and “know yourself better than anyone else.”

The second road is to aid the process of self-knowledge by utilizing “solitude” and introspection. One advantage of marriage, he said, is that it can “protect solitude.”

The third road is to establish strong “kinship,” or a sense of community. “We were made for belonging,” Johnson affirmed.

The fourth road is to experience “intimacy” or “the uncircumscribed engagement in the world,” without fear.

With this approach, he asserted, in his conclusion, we can resist the pressure from “the system” to impose “oneness.” We can “love many things,” knowing that others will say, “well done.”

I resonated strongly with Johnson’s sermon. It touched directly on what has become a major concern of mine: the need for deeper human connections. I would have welcomed more suggestions about how to achieve that goal.

On the back page, the program for the day included:

• The average attendance for July was 24 and average receipts each Sunday were $741.
• The next film to be shown in the Second Sunday Social Justice Film Series will be on Sunday August 10 after the social hour. We will be watching a chapter from Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone’s widely acclaimed, 13-part Untold History of the United States. We hope you can join us.
• The program closed with a verse from Rumi:

Search, no matter what situation you are in.
O thirsty one, search for water constantly.
Finally, the time will come when you will reach the spring.

Birthday Reflections 2014

Many thanks to the more than twenty individuals who participated in the July 26 Open House celebration of my 70th birthday and the release of My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography, as well as the many more who were unable to attend and sent me good wishes.

DSC02109Early on, prior to opening the first box of books, Rev. Glenda Hope offered a prayer of thanksgiving, while I hoped there were no major glitches in the manufacture of the books. There were none.

During the course of the day, most of the well-wishers took a book, along with a note explaining the kind of feedback I’m seeking at this time, and we primarily socialized informally, while occasionally looking at photos from my seven-month sojourn through the Dominican Republic, Arizona, and Lake Tahoe. The spread from Whole Foods Catering was largely scarfed up, as were my homemade split pea soup and sweet potato casserole (with pineapple juice and vanilla).

On three occasions, however, we engaged more formally in three exercises designed to elicit a deeper exchange than what normally occurs at such gatherings. My suggestion that we ask one individual twenty questions in order to get to know that individual more fully was modified to five questions, and seemed to elicit some valuable interaction. A “soul session” that involved people “speaking from the heart” and passing a “talking stone” to recognize the next speaker also led to some interesting conversation. And when some of the participants elaborated on “if you knew me ______” by filling in the blank, some informative personal information was shared. (I had learned that exercise at a Generation Waking Up event, but Phyllis Sakahara told us about a 2010 MTV reality-television show called If You Really Knew Me  that helped nurture empathy in high schools with that approach.)

I felt those three experiments were successful and helped enrich the entire event.

The “if you knew me” exercise made me realize more clearly that a major reason I wrote my autobiography is that I wanted to make it available to anyone who wants to know me more fully.

Late the next night David Marshall, a Berrett-Koehler Publishers (BK) vice-president who participated in the party, offered the following feedback on the book:

I’ve read enough of your book today to know that I recommend that you publish it to a wider audience sometime in the next twelve months, but I believe it needs a fair amount of manuscript shaping. It’s a great read, but the BIG IDEA of the book gets lost in the current structure. …If the goal is for the reader to know everything about you, then all the information you have included in this first version is relevant, but if the goal is to inspire your readers to search and find deep community in their own lives, then I think some of your chapters are extraneous….

Meanwhile, I would like you to consider [self-] publishing the next edition of your book as an Open Book Editions title. This would officially bring you into the BK author community, you will be invited to join the BK Authors Cooperative, which is a wonderful writers community, and as an OBE author, you would be qualified to attend our annual BK Authors Retreat, which I know you would love….

With that approach, BK would help promote the self-published book and if it did well, consider publishing it as one of their forty or so annual titles.

After reflecting on David’s comments, my current inclination is to seek co-authors for another, more focused book. The working title is What We Want: A Commitment to Compassion. The idea is that the co-authors would collectively write the opening chapter, a declaration, and individually write chapters elaborating on why they affirm that declaration. The declaration might invite readers to endorse the declaration, commit to certain initial actions, and pledge to participate in one or more larger projects if and when enough participation is elicited to launch those projects. My current draft of the declaration begins, “Chances are, you want what most people want. We want to:…”

But first I’ll wait for more feedback on My Search for Deep Community.

Among the many wonderful gifts I received at the party was an essay, “In Memoriam: Bob Dylan’s Modern Times” by Stephen Hazan Arnoff in the Spring 2007 Zeek. (Unfortunately I don’t remember who gave it to me; was it you, Dan Brook?) To see a slightly different online version, click here.

That essay’s analysis of Dylan’s work is relevant to the recent charges that Dylan plagiarizes. The piece argues that, as with Dylan, “a creative act in the ancient and medieval world was not an act of invention ex nihilio, but an act of re-imagination.” Dylan’s own comment on the charge of plagiarism was, “Those motherfuckers can go to hell.”

On a different point, the essay begins with a telling comment on apocalyptic thinking:

When Mikhal Gilmore of Rolling Stone asked Bob Dylan about the significance of the release of his album Love and Theft on September 11, 2001, Dylan offered a metaphor capturing the essence of his artistic vision: “I mean, you’re talking to a person that feels like he’s walking around in the ruins of Pompeii all the time. It’s always been that way for one reason or another.”

That quote reflects a stanza from the album:

They say times are hard, if you don’t believe it
You can just follow your nose
It don’t bother me – times are hard everywhere
We’ll just have to see how it goes

It’s no easy task to maintain a Zen-like detachment and avoid being seduced by the latest cable-news feeding frenzy focused on the latest manufactured crisis. For me, it helps to remember the more than 100,000 people who die prematurely every day due to economic oppression. Staying focused on the big picture and not being distracted by particular crises is difficult. But in the long run, facing reality is important.

In the meantime, I can only do what I can do (while taking care of myself).

Fragmentation: Fellowship Church, July 27

Kathryn BentonThe theme of the July 27 worship service at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples was fragmentation.

Following the opening piano prelude by Dr. Carl Blake, the Gathering of Community began with Expressing a Sense of Awe, during which Dr. Kathryn Benton affirmed, “All that is given us is our life. It is more than enough.”

The congregation then sang, “We Celebrate the Web of Life.”

We celebrate the web of life, its magnitude we sing,
For we can see divinity in every living thing.

A fragment of the perfect whole in cactus and in quail,
As much in tiny barnacle as in the great blue whale.

Of ancient dreams we are the sum, our bones link stone to star,
And bind our future worlds to come with worlds that were and are.

Respect the water, land, and air which gave all creatures birth,
Protect the lives of all that share the glory of the earth.

Then the Invoking the Presence involved a responsive reading, “From the Fragmented World,” which affirms:

From the fragmented world of our everyday lives we gather together to search of wholeness.

By many cares and preoccupations, by diverse and selfish aims are we separated from one another and divided within ourselves.

Yet we know that no branch is utterly severed from the Tree of Life that sustains us all.

We cherish our oneness with those around us and the countless generations that have gone before us.

We would hold fast to all of good we inherit even as we would leave behind us the outworn and the false.

We would escape from bondage to the ideas of our own day and from the delusions of our fancy.

Let us labor in hope for the dawning of a new day without hatred, violence, and injustice.

Let us nurture the growth in our own lives of the love that has shone in the lives of the greatest of men and women, the rays of whose lamps still illumine our way.

In this spirit we gather,
In this spirit we pray.

Practicing the Presence began with a meditation offered by Dr. Dorsey Blake, followed by the congregation singing, “Let There Be Light.”

Let there be light, let there be understanding,
Let all the nations gather, let them be face to face.

Open our lips, open our minds to ponder,
Open the door of concord opening into grace.

Perish the sword, perish the angry judgment,
Perish the bombs and hunger, perish the fight for gain.

Let there be light, open our hearts to wonder,
Perish the way of terror, hallow the world God made.

Rev. Elizabeth Olson then offered a prayer that included: “Listen within for the truth to emerge. Let us have the ears to hear. May we inspire and infuse one another with the Spirit.”

Resting in the Presence opened with Dr. Carl Blake playing an adagio Music Meditation by Marcello-Bach, following by The Word on fragmentation and wholeness that was presented by Dr. Benton. She spoke of the tension between the particular and the universal, between the parts and the whole. She then cited examples and described how labels are oppressive and contribute to fragmentation, as we are reduced to particular roles as we move through the course of life. This compartmentalization results in fragmented realms, as we “cease to be a coherent whole.”

But when we relate to others as whole persons, it is the space between us, our relationships, that enables us to act. She then quoted from Howard Thurman about the value of “binding community,” which enables us to see pain as “joy becoming.” With this attitude, we are “never static or complete” and experience a “constant unfolding.” With this grounding, “we cannot tolerate injustice,” and “we are part of the single rhythm, the single pulse.”

Courtney Brown facilitated the Offering Our Gifts, which included Announcements by Bryan Caston and various members of the congregation, and the welcoming of visitors.

Sending Forth began with the congregation singing “We Laugh, We Cry.”

We laugh, we cry, we live, we die;
we dance, we sing our song.
We need to feel there’s something here
to which we can belong.

We need to feel the freedom
just to have some time alone.
But most of all we need close friends
we can call our very own.

And we believe in life,
and in the strength of love;
and we have found a need
to be together.

We have our hearts to give,
we have our thoughts to receive;
and we believe that sharing
is an answer.

4. We seek elusive answers to
the questions of this life.
We seek to put an end to all
the waste of human strife.

We search for truth, equality,
and blessed peace of mind.
And then, we come together here
to make sense of what we find.

And we believe in life,
and in the strength of love;
and we have found a joy
being together.

And in our search of peace,
maybe we’ll finally see:
even to question truly
is an answer.

After which Dr. Benton offered the blessing and Dr. Carl Blake closed with a piano postlude.

Belva Davis Promotes Fellowship Church

DSC02012During the Announcements period of the July 20 service, long-term attendee, illustrious and now-retired TV news personality Belva Davis proposed a “Social Media Project” as a way to increase attendance at the historic Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. Following the service she distributed a one-page statement that elaborated on her proposal.

Commenting “we are fortunate in so many ways,” she declared:

We have two world class ministers who write and preach timely, visionary and compassionate sermons.

We have a congregation sprinkled with artistically talented individuals.

Finally, we are blessed with the legacy and brilliance of Howard Thurman.

Given this foundation, she suggested:

I thought if each of us who attend on Sundays posted a short note on our Facebook page, or tweeted a message about what impressed us about that week’s service or a Thurman quote and provided a link to the Fellowship website or Facebook page maybe a few people might respond by visiting a service. There is no dogma here, no religiosity intended.

Belva’s initiative comes in the wake of the leadership provided by new Board Chair Bryan Caston, who has helped the church turn a corner and exhibit an invigorated spirit.

DSC02009You can stay in touch with Belva by “liking” her Facebook page and sending a Friend request to Belva Davis.

For more information about Fellowship Church see my prior posts, Fellowship Church: July 6, 2014 and A Meditation on Deep Community