The Lark Ascending

Lark Sparrow Adult
Lark Sparrow
(c) Byron Stone, Macaulay Library
Texas, June 28,2020

There is nothing more charming than a Lark Sparrow. Always nattily dressed, cheerfully singing, and wearing their heart on their (proverbial in this case) sleeve. They pass through Gran’s yard for a few days in spring on their way northeast and fall on their way southwest. They are said to be year-round inhabitants in California, but not my experience. This year we ended up with a large flock for a couple weeks. This I think was due to unseen forces.

Their breeding grounds were lashed by the recent terrible winter storms. I assume a check of the winds, humidity, temperatures, air pressure, etc all unseen, told them not to advance. As a result the few passers through each day quickly became a bustling throng eager to move on, but willing to wait rather than die. A pandemic pause is something the SO’s parents (and my cats!) are still going through. The Netherlands is being hit with a third wave of the unseen virus made visible by Covid. Plans to return have been shelved again to “end of summer, maybe Sept.”

I think Le Pere just really wants to go biking in the mountains this summer. But I know there are solid business reasons to stay and the SO values having his folks around. I really hope they will be there in the summer when I’m back. I look forward to having folks around again, even if they aren’t per se mine. And a job. And a life. Someday. But for today …. I’m focused the unseen forces in the garage. The mice. So far I’ve relocated 9 of them to natural accommodations. A 10th eluded me last night. The Have-a-Heart was sprung, but no mouse was captured.

Currently saving Futurama episodes for the post papal Easter mass period. I’m calling it the Leela-ster Day Marathon.

My first attempt at using the H-a-H overnight was a bit of disaster. I didn’t think about the garage getting cold. But it does get quite cold. Or about the cage being metal. Or about a small mammal with non-furry paws having no way to keep warm. It was grim. Tiny red paws gripping the cage side, eyes open. I felt awful. But being a person of science and faith. I put her in the early morning sun and reminded Jesus he was the Lord of the Resurrection and this was his season. Also, that the whole reason I used the H-a-H was to save mice lives.

Anyway, about a minute later, she began to jerk tortuously back to life. So I carefully placed her cold body in some warm leaf litter so she could raise her temperature up slowly, and eventually, cryogenic hypothermia worn off …. she ran into the underbrush. I’ve been releasing the rest of her family in the same spot nightly hoping they can reform their little colony somewhere cozy. FYI, I don’t ask for resurrections often, just for small animals that die suddenly. But you’d be surprised the number of times Jesus hollers back. I guess he likes doing the dramatic stuff, but so few people ask? I dunno.

I’m going to circle back now to the Tibetan singing bowl I bought last week now. It arrived. It has great sound quality. I plan to use it as part of my meditation practice. But I think I really need to explain that it is not a bowl, not Tibetan, and doesn’t sing. Tibetans use tingsha or flutes or even (what you’d call a dinner) hand bell in their Buddhist practices. Singing bowls don’t exist in Tibet. There are standing bells, which are used by Buddhists in Japan, Korean, China and other places, but again, not in Tibet.

Best Quality Bell & Dorje Set Buddhist Ritual Items image 0
Bell and Dorje. The only kind of bell you’ll find in Tibet

So how did “Tibetan singing bowls” come to be called so? And sold in dharma shops? Well, back in the 1980s a percussionist musician realised he could play the rims of standing bells. So he worked on creating tuned bells. Then the New Age movement decided they could use a tuned bell for each chakra and claim it was tuning or cleansing the chakras. But even if sound is healing (and it is), who is going to pay for a newly invented service (or a set of bells)? Nobody. So they had to attach their modern practices to some ancient, exotic, remote culture that no one could really check up on. Like, Tibet. Ca-ching.

Today, the “TSB” nomenclature for such items is so firmly rooted in Western minds that it would be difficult to change the wording. It’s what people ask for at dharma shops, even if what they mean is an Asian standing bell. The customer is never wrong, right? America is a melting pot. American Buddhists do Buddhism their own way. And that’s ok. But the effect of all this appropriation and melting is that now we have TBS. And how do you un-ring the bell? Is it even right to try and un-entangle it?

Strangely, at this point, Tibetan art imitating is American life. Tibetan exile communities in Nepal or other Himalayan areas are making these “Tibetan singing bowls” as a means of income. You can find bowls covered in Tibetan mantras and versions with the Tibetan Medicine Buddha, or other Tibetan artworks. It’s weird, but I get it. They are using the westerners to make money, who used them first to make money. As for the dharma? I guess it’s what the practitioner makes of it in the end.

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Tune up that Lyre. The 25th National Poetry Month starts April 1.

So, why am I bringing this up? I think it’s important to understand there is a difference between melting pot of ideas and co-opting of a culture – in this case Tibetan – for purposes of re-branding and monetizing something that has nothing to do with that culture. People say where’s the harm. But I think the latter does huge harm. Tibetan people are fighting, have been fighting for 70 years, to keep their religion and culture and language alive. And you may well say, it’s just a name and Tibetans are making money too. Okay. I hear you.

Suppose NY state declared May a month where they’d talk about WWII, and the Holocaust, and how fascism is bad. That’d be good, right? And they’d call it Nazi History Month. It’s just a name, right? You’d certainly be talking about Nazis, right? I’m guessing everyone, except Nazis, would be angry and upset. That people would demand a change of name. People of Jewish heritage, descendants of Holocaust survivors, and WWII vets and their kids, would take to the streets in protest. And rightly so.

You’d think this example could never happen in the US but it already has, and as recently as 2010 in Virginia. Today, 7 states have Confederate History Month. Not Civil War History Month. Not Southern History Month. Confederate History Month. And let’s not forget Confederate Memorial Day is a legal state holiday in many southern states. These months/days and their names are asserting white supremacy, not about meaningfully exploring the lessons people might learn from the Civil War.

Japanese Massage: What Are Shiatsu And Anma Exactly?
Shiatsu a genuine type of Asian massage. It was a profession limited to the blind early on, as it was one of the few ways they could earn a living.

So, these things. These words, names, language, they matter. Lots of cultural and political ideas are unseen things, we’re almost blind to them, but they really matter. When we accept ideas, sight unseen. They can have dire consequences. Think back to when you first heard the breaking news: “There’s an active shooter situation in Georgia at some massage parlours.” Did you think in your mind, “Oh of course, the shooter is a white woman and the masseuses at the parlours are South American men”?

No, of course you didn’t. You’re probably laughing at the very idea. But that’s the point. American culture is ingrained sexist and racist, that to most of us it’s laughable that the shooter would be imagined as anything but a white male and the workers anything but women of color. And that’s not our fault. The US was founded by White men with property to preserve the power of White men with property. We still live with the racism and sexism of two centuries and more of their ingrained ideas, enshrined in law that mis-shapes our culture today, still.

Even today in political discourse, we have the pejorative of the “Nanny state.” Any state embracing the 51% of the female population, and 51% workers who value caring for the young, old, poor, disabled, refugees, and think govt should provide sick leave, family leaves, child care, help society as a whole and not just white men, is a nanny state thinker. Many white male politicians prefer a “Bully state.” The only people that matter, whose needs should be catered to, are men, the healthy, rich, and the white.

These are from the CDC last April. When only “approved” data was allowed to be seen.

If you think I’m wrong, review your recent pandemic history. The former administration and its adherents openly said they were okay with elderly people dying to save the economy. And they were clearly ok with people of color, and those who had pre-existing conditions, dying (not their voters, drag on the economy). The above chart is from a year ago. It’s per 10K, not the more typical 100k. Because the previous administration felt that hid more of the truth. Age >84 in 100k would have been a whopping 400. And this is not the worst surge. They were still in the future.

When we look at a case like the Georgia shootings, already a shooting in the distant past to many, we often get a news bite which then becomes about a political theatre battle about gun rights. We aren’t asked to look at the all the unseen influences that led to the outcome, 10 dead. These are smoke and mirrored away, so the we don’t ever bring to conscious mind those influences. Because if they came to mind, the public might have to demand change. And the people in charge, still mostly men of the bully state mindset who profit, would rather things stay as they are.

I’m going to walk you through some unseen things about the tragedy in Georgia. I’ll tell you what I think. You can make up your mind what you think. I’ve been thinking about these Asian-American women’s murders since they happened them. I think the reporting, nationally really let these women down. Because it didn’t confront the realities that created the circumstances that led to the crimes. That part was all swept away in a banner of “Asian-American hate crimes.” Like the TSB story, there was more to it than that.

Carey smiling on the red carpet
Drew Carey. Yes, he’s a Buddhist. Didn’t see that, did you?

The murderer was born a white male in the southern state of Georgia. He’s born into a culture of white male supremacy. He is by virtue of no more than that at the “top” of the geopolitical establishment’s cultural heap. He is raised in a Southern Baptist Church, again, that’s the go-to religion of the geopolitical establishment. He grows up in that church. He eventually chooses to join himself.

The SBC maintains that it is not racist or sexist. The reality is different. For a white SBC to reject with words but condone with actions makes its both racist and sexist. The SBC agreed this year that racism is bad, but rejected Critical Race Theory So, “racism is a bad thing, but we have no intention of losing any of our white supremacist leaning, tithe-paying members” is the gist. The SBC has always rejected women in important roles, but especially as preachers. So, “we’re not sexist, but women are not equal.” If you missed Beth Moore’s very public departure this year, have a read.

As an extremely conservative church, sex outside marriage is a sin, abortion is a sin, teaching sex education causes young people to engage in fornication, science is the enemy of God, psychology is mumbo jumbo liberal Satanism, and non-Christians (the non-white world) will burn in hell without Jesus. Hmm, so, if you’re a young white man, tormented by your inability to non-sinfully express your totally normal sexual desires, who has been raised to think of himself as the top of the cultural and religious and political heap, with women and other races of lower or no value and non-Christians as burn-in-hell material? Well, what could go wrong?

Peter Coyote at Durell Vineyard, Sonoma, April 2019.jpg
Peter Coyote. Not just a Buddhist, an ordained Zen priest.

It’d honestly be pretty hard for anyone in this situation not to develop a sexual addiction leading to a psychotic break. Which of course, he does. He frequents the massage palours to vent for his sexual frustrations with women of color, in this case Asian. He understands his actions are “sinful.” He has shame and guilt over his sexual “sin.” All this is a problem. So, he goes for counseling, not to a qualified person that could help him, to his church. Sadly, a person with a sex addiction isn’t cured by a dose of Jesus.

Being more in the anti-science camp, I doubt very much his SBC councilor suggested he go into real, science-based, licensed psychotherapy. Being a white Christian male it’s okay to have a sexual sin problem, but a genuine psychological problem? Oh no. That’d be impossible. I’d like to think, if he’d been agreeable to real help from a real doctor and short of cash that medicaid would have been a safety net. But Georgia has rejected expanded medicaid. Thrown up obstacles to using it. So I do hold the state responsible there.

On the other hand, this white man could afford a gun. Definite proof he at least had the cost of a gun, that could have been spent instead on psychotherapy. Had he wanted to. Had his church counseled and encouraged him to do. He could have paid over the phone. Professional mobile mental health therapy is available through online. Confidential sex addiction therapy was available, 24/7. But, as is common, the white man didn’t want to own his problem. And because the state of Georgia encourages white men not to own their problems, but to buy a gun and “solve” their problems. The next step was clearly buy a gun.

Tina Turner 50th Anniversary Tour.jpg
Tina Turner, yes, a Buddhist.

The Republican state of Georgia has, apparently, zero real gun laws. What a surprise. If there had been a background check, a 5-day wait, and then 2 days of mandatory in classroom gun and range training classes, maybe he’d have been stopped from buying a gun, or coolled off and made a different decision. Maybe someone would have realised this man had a problem. But, ya’ know, white men and guns. White men want white men to be able to get guns like they get beer. On demand. Buy today, execute your “problems” tomorrow.

Now, I want to say here that had the man been a Scripture-reading Christian, he might have used his new gun to shoot his genitalia off. I kid you not. Jesus said, “If your eye offends you pluck it out.” Jesus was big on you, owning your problems, and stopping yourself. Jesus doesn’t let you project your sinfulness onto others and then off them as expiation or propitiation. (Sorry, getting near Easter, these big theological words just come to mind.)

Alternatively, if this man had truly been bent on doing the right thing, he might have committed suicide. End of his problem. But, apparently he deemed the suicide of his “saved” white male Christian self as far worse than execution of 8 Asian-American woman (mostly Korean-American), who he probably assumed to be Buddhists (even though only 6% are. 70% of Korean-Americans are Christians, 60% are Protestant evangelical bent, 23% are unaffiliated). And I want to be really clear here, he shot these women in the head – execution style. Because he viewed them as criminals.

George Meredith - Wikipedia
George Meredith, author of The Lark Ascending, Diana of the Crossways, and The Egoist.

So to nutshell, rejecting actual, available therapy to work through his Christianity-induced sexual addiction, he buys a gun, and to “save” himself from his own sinfulness, he executes innocent people he deems worthless — women, of color, non-Christians, who were in his mind going to burn in hell anyways — for tempting him, the white man, and corrupting his Christian virtue. Sigh. Eye roll. This is where you end up you don’t examine your religious, political, community culture for unseen forces. These bred in the bone underlying assumptions can result in epic tragedy.

And I think it’s worth pointing out too, that this young white man executed women who were two and three times his age. At some level, I think he was trying to kill his mother. These women were in effect substitutes for her. She’s the one that raised him in the church. She’s the one that, in his mind, loaded him down with the sexual guilt and frustration. I don’t think he was consciously lying when he said he was just killing women, not Asian-American women. His hate crime was against women first, Asians second or incidentally.

And so let’s talk about the women. These were loving mothers who had children, spouses, and meaningful lives. I imagine they would have liked better and/or better paying jobs. You don’t see massage parlors full of older men waiting for young female clients. Because men have job opportunities. They make better money at better jobs. They aren’t being trafficked for sex. Pushed in to occasional prostitution for a little extra cash for their family during a pandemic, in a tough economy.

Practice Solidarity to Stop Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans
Solidarity, stop Asian-American, Pacific Islander hate.

The state of Georgia could require all massage parlours to be staffed only by fully qualified masseuses who went to school and got licensed. I’m guessing they won’t. Because white men like cheap massages (and cheap sex) from Asian ladies. Minimum wage in the Peach state is $5.25. It could expand medicaid like a normal state, to help all people not just those with addictions or in crisis. It could make better gun laws. It could work with the SBC churches to establish parameters for personal counseling beyond which they could refer out to professionals.

I’m sure none of this will happen soon, in white-Republican conservative Christian Georgia. These aren’t vote getting policies. They won’t bring in large donations from White male GOP donors. Which is why more women, especially women of color, need to run for every office, every election, as Dems. It’s the only way change happens. Women of all colors and backgrounds need to be seen, heard, and able to make decisions about their own lives. Again, this runs counter to everything white male conservative SBC Georgia stands for. But is has to happen. And not just in Georgia.

Ok, so, I realise this was probably more than you wanted on the Friday before Palm Sunday, before the start of Holy Week. But I think it’s important to understand, unseen forces can hold us down or lift us up. We can’t change those forces till we make them visible somehow. But once visible, there is hope. We can change those forces. We can make a better world for everyone. We can make a world where the unseen forces are built to help us all ascend.

Take an English countryside break. George Meredith wrote the poem. RVW made it sing.

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