Kleshas and Tanhas

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When the Cloud Bursts

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I realized there’s no reason for me to live on the East Coast after my Winter Break. If my interests alone could determine where I’d reside, I would be somewhere along the Pacific Ocean. Yet, as I drank in the 70 degree weather on New Year’s Day, I felt a pull back home. Home exists somewhere between Virginia and Pennsylvania. If our personal entities could be categorized into body, heart, soul, and mind, college has easily captured my mind and body. Heart seems like it will always reside with my family. And soul; I could not figure out where my soul was when I looked out over the ocean as the sun set.

I had an unexpected encounter in the West with something I have placed into my mind and heart; the homeless. It’s quite a luxury when you can devote certain energies to different activities in your life. I hadn’t realized that I assumed my vacation would lead me away from any scenarios that seemed to exist in my college life. My college life, as I said, consists of my mind and body. Through community service, heart finds its way into my personhood. Apparently heart has also found a way out of it as well. Via selfishness.

The several-hour plane ride to vacation-land is boring. Why? Well, our minds are not entertained as thoroughly as we please. And in this momentary lapse of our mind’s functioning, we lose any responsibilities we had hoped to rid as we embarked on our self-indulgent vacation. The jetlag -an indicator of how far you’re willing to escape your duties- dulls us to the point where on entering the new airport, we encounter a sense of adventure. Even among all the pavement, architecture, and pre-existing community, we prepare ourselves to conquer our novel surroundings.

 

Immediately after exam week, I found myself in San Diego as if my work had earned me the right to kick back and relax. And kick back and relax I did; even to the point where I found other people making decisions for me –an oddity for the college student!

 

The sun sets on the West Coast with the same color I witness on the East.

As if I knew something about the homeless, I noticed that San Diego’s distinguishing characteristic was that its homeless were pushed to the water. My dream home would exist on the beach, so why not California? And as I jocularly thought where I’d place my million dollar home, I stumbled upon the homeless. I hate to admit it, but my first (internal) reaction was, “What? I thought I left this back home!”

 

Maybe Philadelphia does a better job of keeping its scenic sights (limited in comparison to San Diego’s –the Pacific is a winner take all!) free from the reach of the homeless. But as soon as I saw rag-tagged camouflage and trash bags, my vacation-illusion snapped. As I handed loose change from my pocket to distanced eyes, Philadelphia flooded my soul.

 

Mercy Neighborhood Ministries

To and from Mercy Neighborhood Ministries I encounter some display of economic evolution. Where do the employees of $7.25 and welfare checks live? When I saw an individual pushing a shopping cart, my soul took me back to the West; my mind painted a beautiful image of the beach; my heart felt the familiarity of my family; my body warmed by the omnipresent, perfect sun.

 

When I recognized the familiar faces as I walked through MNM’s doors, I experienced the same inner tumult from having my vacation-cloud burst. No one here had a vacation. The employees of MNM sure as hell worked hard for a well-deserved vacation. Where did they take it? What kept me from falling into a state of complete guilt were the new faces. That’s where my soul is. The potential. The growth. New faces meant new relationships, new stories. I found myself playing the same Rummy card game from San Diego with Mr. Lee. I still lose, whether I am playing on the East or West Coast.

Written by Jack Viere

January 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm

The Subtlety of Racism’s Pressure

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It’s been too long since my last post.
Something along the lines of San Diego, Winter Break, and the restart of the second semester is to blame.

There’s pressure on what my first post should revolve around; I had several ideas floating around. If there was ever the question why I write, it’s because I write better than I speak.  And nothing triggers my need to speak more than something controversial. Hence, I feel college has been a good fit thus far.

One of my new classes this semester is titled Race and Racism. To say that this class instills heated debates would be to jump the gun; not everyone feels a sense of urgency, or existence for that matter, of the pressing issue at hand: racism. Or at least that’s my perception. Maybe it has something to do with a unilateral student population from the East Coast, the Tri-state region especially. A like-minded people will never argue over anything more than minuscule details.

If anything, I feel that some of my earlier reflections portray my adaption – my integration – into a new lifestyle. This urbanized university living was no surprise to me. In fact, I ran to this idealized environment; history has always depicted specific regions as suitable for universities. The Northeast speaks for itself, boasting those Ivy League institutions of American antiquity. (This isn’t to ignore other universities from that same era, but let’s face it: they’ve been there for awhile and they seem to be doing something right if they’ve retained their prestige.) On a personal note, I felt like the Southern boy headed to the Big City for an education; whatever era that derives from best…

Here I am; writing the contrasts between home and, well, home. (That transition of the baby bird leaving the nest is still playing out to its fullest.) Community service in North Philadelphia makes me want to say things. And when the Tri-state student population is familiar to these findings I see so profound and foreign, the first thing off my tongue might not sound as polished and intriguing as my writing (hopefully) strives to accomplish.

So, what sparked my mind to the point where I had to write? Ah, Race and Racism.

I have never really cared too much about other people’s perceptions of me. For the first time, that has changed. Slightly. Speaking out against the majority in the classroom setting is enjoyable from time to time. You become the catalyst of the conversation; the limelight tastes so sweet. Sometimes your words formulate the opinions of others. (I’m not too sure about that, but anyone who’s been in class knows to steer away from the individual who is adamant about the topic at hand unless you have an equally valid point and wish to defend it wholeheartedly.)

Well, just my luck. The seemingly homogeneous majority of my class (if not everyone – oh, the persecution) must think I am a racist. Arguing about the basis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s justification civil disobedience is a dangerous choice of action. If you don’t know what that concept is, realize that arguing against a venerated (black) man two days after his distinguished holiday is a sure shot for being put on the short list.

I could re-open the discussion, but my initial point I want to make about the debate is that regardless of what I said, I was somewhat shocked that people would take such a fundamental pillar of civil disobedience for granted. Yes, the idea came from the Great and Might MLK Jr. who made incredible strides for the civil rights movement. But hold up. King was arguing for breaking the law. This caught my attention. Whether any of the points I was trying to make about how history does not justify legal wrongs from the past were right or wrong, it was bothersome to see that people would take words from a prolific man at face value.

West Roosevelt Boulevard, Philadelphia

This acceptance of history as the self-declared right is harmful, especially towards today’s racism. How? How is it that accepting MLK’s words at face value harmful? Well, for starters, no one was taking into account the historical context. Breaking the law is wrong. And I agree that King’s argument for when and how to break the law was right in the  1960s and was much needed. But when it was taken out of context and applied to other, non-historically-related contexts by some of my classmates, people began to realize that the justification for civil disobedience was not capable of being universally followed.

That being said, my argument is that this assumption that my classmates were initially making (or at least that’s what it seemed to me as I was standing alone apparently against MLK Jr.) cripples certain people’s views about today’s racism.

Is it nonexistent? No! Of course not! We’re not colorblind! Then how are we to ignore the 1 in every 15 black male who finds himself incarcerated? Why do we turn away from the idea that it’s difficult (for me) to find a middle-class African-American individual back home in the South while here, in Philadelphia, that’s been the way for awhile.

What I am trying to get at is that people like to say that they are 1) not racist, 2) not color blind, and 3) think they understand racism’s harms. (Writing this doesn’t say that I do-hence I am taking the class!) But I fear that if we talk about petty issues of affirmative action and employment issues and ignore the fact that certain socio-economic classes exist in certain areas, and not elsewhere, then we have yet to realize the harm we do to ourselves. We’re not talking about the same racism. The racism I see now, as of coming to Philadelphia, is that there is a gap between the prominent blacks and everyone else of color.  Those that are prominent lead the rally call to prove to those who think they care that blacks succeed in higher realms of employment consequently drowning out the unheard voices of the other socio-economic classes that are more likely to be subjected to discrimination. Especially in the realm of employment opportunities for those who work blue-collared jobs (and below,) no one wants to hear that there are still injustices that result from racial biases. (Facts, like the one above, do suggest that there is an issue at hand. Suggesting that there isn’t a problem is to be colorblind.)

In conclusion, even if my claims about life in Virginia seem exaggerated for effect (which could go unchecked since people seem to take things at face value,) my intent is that if one were to say that there is no racial tension, this will lead him to be passive and noneffective in his discussions or actions taken against racism. Another way of putting it is in closing your eyes, whatever you are shielding your eyes against still exists whether you accept it or not. So in nodding to MLK Jr.’s writings as the final solution that has still be enacted out by everyone is harmful. My classmates already proved that the circumstances of the 60s cannot be applied in every instance.

Thanks to my English course, I learned about an ancient philosopher named Boethius. “One of Boethius’s key ideas was that there is a great God who designs a far better plan for human beings than they could possibly design for themselves…according to Boethius, we should then not resist or fight against the troubles that come our way, but cheerfully accept the, trusting that in the end things will work out for the best.

So whether atrocities are committed against blacks (and other races, especially Hispanics) or not, are we to ignore the 1 in 15 and accept Boethius’s idea? It seems like quite a few of us do as we chide over Obama’s State of the Union Address…

A Lesson in Thanksgiving

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Clouds are gathering as the sky turns grey. There’s a storm arising. Dukes, princesses, lords and ladies join in the King’s Great Hall. Queen Barbara announces the festivities for the next Holy Day from her throne. The fire crackles with Let’s Make a Deal, hosted by Wayne Brady. The jousting would interfere with the archery contest. So Queen Barbara puts it to her court: “Do we celebrate the feast on Tuesday as initially planned, or

Wednesday, a more convenient time for Lady Caroline?” Lightning crashes heavily outside the windowpane. The wind howls menacingly. Lady Gladys speaks: “Wednesday would be fine.” The hall goes silent; her words echoing off the high rafters. I, as Jack the Jester, am at a loss of words to make light of what she just said. Tuesday was the originally set date; the distance between the dukedoms and earldoms are too far away for such a sudden change in plans to take smoothly. “But my son, the Prince of SomewherenotPhiladelphia is coming for Tuesday!” says Princessa de le Philadelphia Nord. Hell is in the air; it has seeped through the castle’s foundations. We are on the brink of an outbreak of total war.

Palanquin!

Don’t EVER screw with the elderly’s schedule! I have learned that lesson from waiting tables for an older patronage. This past week at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries, I relived the reasons why you do not upset their calendar. Aye, the lords and ladies are typically more irritated by change as social conventions and stereotypes suggest. But when more fairly judged, I came to realize that many of these folks do not have their own means of transportation to get to and from MNM. Quite a few of them are rolled in on palanquins carried by loyal knights. Arriving from all parts of Ciudad Philadelphia, some of the lords and ladies come from their own manors while others come from townships (nursing homes) where there exists an even more regimented schedule.

Jack the Jester might not have his own mount, but he does have his own two feet and an abled body. What is something to be thankful for this holiday? Freedom! Maybe not so much in the William Wallace sense, but more along the lines of just being able to walk where I want when I want to. Incredibly simplified, yes, but you cannot access everywhere in a wheeled (palanquin) chair, especially in Philadelphia. Even if the most abled-body knight were to attempt traversing le vias and les rues of the city, he would not make it far in the cobblestone streets. So that would be number one on the list for what I am thankful for this upcoming holiday, the freedom of mobility that my body gives.

Two would be the freedom from a regimented schedule I had no control over. Aye, Jack the Jester attends classes at set time intervals, yet Jack the Jester is trying to learn a more profitable trade to earn a more decent living. Though a fool, he understands well enough that education is his only shot of making it in the feudal world of the 21st century. I make the conscientious effort every day to work on a little something Jack the Jester calls self-improvement. While the lords and ladies of MNM have the wonderful opportunity to also partake in this self-improvement in the Great Hall, I couldn’t say what their home and other activities would have to offer. Maybe they do return to Mansfield Park. Maybe they don’t. But if they don’t have any means of transportation, save for the wheeled palanquins, I can’t reckon they get around to as many things as they would like to. Number two on the list for what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving is the array of choices I have been given.

Jack the Jester

 

While the two blessings above seem to derive from me contrasting my haves to their have-nots, everyone can be thankful for family. Broken families, divided families, whole families, young families-all families. While I could say that my number three was family, (which I am most-definitely grateful for!) would have no direct correlation to my experiences at MNM. What I have witnessed there is they joy on Princess Virginia’s face when her daughter and granddaughter walk into the Great Hall. It has been said one can see people’s face light up when they’re ecstatic. I’ve seen more than that when family members visit the earls and duchesses at MNM. In Princess Virginia’s case, her face not only glows, her speech becomes angelic. (She, I have guessed, has suffered from a stroke and can communicate through atypical sounds.) While she can sound happy when my service learning partner suggests Philadelphia as a state in a game of listing states and their capitals, that happiness doesn’t even fall on the chart of her joy when her offspring waltzed in unexpectedly. So, my third truth to be thankful for this week is that everyone comes from somewhere; a mother and a father. While the list of complications and issues between family members that I listed above differs for each family, people don’t spring out of holes in the ground!

A Little Dialogue

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I responded to a post titled Bad Arguments for Atheism: Philosophy is Useless on the blog called Students for Christianity. There are two points I think the author was making in his response: Don’t presuppose that Philosophy and Theology are compatible, and just because Philosophy is the basis for everything, it somehow remains irrelevant to the compatibility between the two fields.

My initial reply was:

Nice to hear this as I am currently undecided-humanities, planning on double majoring in philosophy and theology.
I’d agree with the comment above that “philosophers don’t truly examine the whole realm of knowledge.”
That’s the beauty of seeing both theology and philosophy as compatible and interrelated!

To which he replied: (bold: the points I was answering/replying to.)

Jack, it’s a tragic philosophical start to already believe that theology and philosophy are compatible. I’m not specifically saying they aren’t here, but you never want to start with a conclusion and then try to find arguments for it. That’s a brilliant way to create fallacies both inside and outside of philosophy. You can say they are interrelated, because necessarily philosophy stands at the fundamentals of anything, so its interrelated with everything but this is, practically speaking, irrelevant. They are two different studies that may or may not be compatible. Go to your studies and engage in critical thought on what you learn, formulate opinions over reason and never dogmatically hold them true. The best kind of dogmas are the ones we never hold, but eliminate by proving them true. But as mentioned earlier, if you start with a belief you’re more likely to fall into fallacy so hold no assumptions outright if ever possible (which I’m quite certain it always is!). It’s much harder to change your mind once made up, so whenever possible leave it open.

To which I replied:

I think that compatible might be a stretch if its meaning is to be taken as synonymous. I could’ve had some better diction there; maybe complimentary was more appropriate. My point, via analogy now, is that you take a religious powerhouse thinker like St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas. One was heavily influenced by Plato, the other Aristotle respectively. As a student, I can say that I studied one or the other. But to be influenced means that they (the saints) somehow took on the general concepts, ideas, or structures from the philosophers and synthesized/based/related them to their topics.

What I initially meant by compatible was that there’s a trait of mutualism between the two separate fields of study; they give and take from each other. Why does Western philosophy seem so teleological while Eastern philosophy appears cyclical? It’s quite a stretch, but in general, the concepts of Heaven, Purgatory, and Earth are vertically linear depicted in Dante’s Inferno (a great example of that synthesis between philosophy and theology.) Samsara, simply portrayed in Siva Nataraj artwork, implicates our live(s) are a continuous cycle until we achieve moksha. In general, we get the West thinking like l while the East is like O
At this, I’d say the average person subconsciously processes information in either way depending on his/her culture and what religious background effected his/her environment.

I don’t understand how philosophy can be irrelevant in this argument if it’s “interrelated with everything.” I understand that my point appeared to be presupposing that ALL things related to the vast fields of Philosophy and Theology are all one in the same thing. That wasn’t what I intended. What I do see in many situations is many a parallel between Christian morals that can be seen as a result of philosophies, or philosophies resulting from Christianity (it doesn’t matter which way.) The parallels are not always the same. I am not arguing that A B and C are all the same when it comes to Philosophy and Theology. But, there are many shared qualities that I FIND TO BE SUFFICIENT ENOUGH TO BELIEVE THAT A RELATIONSHIP EXISTS BETWEEN PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY. There is quite of giving and taking both ways.

Written by Jack Viere

November 17, 2011 at 12:37 pm

A Sense of Community

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Noah Levine really hits home the significance of community in spiritual circles in his Against the Stream. “Both inner and outer spiritual rebellion are relational experiences. The revolution cannot take place in isolation.” (Levine, 80.) While more moderately faithful may find the terms rebellion and revolution nonreligious, maybe even irreverent, I find that in this specific instance, his use of such irregular diction stresses a point of emphasis. Spirituality is in itself a rebellion. Metaphysics can be seen as an attempted empirical explanation of the unseen, rationality we possess. (But really, who can pull that out of their brain prima facie?) But believing in the unseen, nontangible stuff that quite a few people believe in could not succeed if there were no communities. Being radical takes a toll on you. You need a support group.

While in Western circles, the Catholic Church can be seen as the initial model of spiritual communities, I find this Buddhist point of view capable of tying down some loose strings many nonbelievers (and believers in some instances) may have with communal religion. Levine holds that communities must consist of believers “of both more and less wisdom and compassion than ourselves.” (ibid.) I think for many, those of us in, or having been through any higher education, understand the significance of those who possess more wisdom than us. They are our teachers. They hold the keys to knowledge. Their past experiences have led them (or not) to become more compassionate towards others.

But what about those who have less wisdom and compassion than us? This still might be easy to answer; they can teach us as well if we choose to respond “with understanding and friendliness.” (Levine, 81.) And in the instance of those with less compassion, which I find somewhat more difficult to answer the above question, friendliness really becomes difficult to embody.

Yet, when the going gets tough, such as it does when someone is being a jerk, Levine points out: “community allows us to put into practice wisdom and compassion toward all beings-even the annoying members of the revolution.” (ibid.) I find this the point of emphasis in Levine’s point on community. Personally, I have taken it for granted that my “community also serves as a teacher by challenging us in the places where we get stuck.” (ibid.)

This would be one of those loose strings I mentioned. I don’t think people, myself definitely included, would be able to make the hard right without some sort of support system. What makes spiritual communities stronger and more dedicated is the interlinkage of faith. And in some instances, which I have found while participating in other religious practices that are not of my own faith, you still share that same faith in something unseen (most of the time) that cannot be explained in plain rhetoric.

Believe in the believers!

Written by Jack Viere

November 13, 2011 at 4:49 pm

College: The Not Winner-Take-All Means of Life’s Happiness

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It would be to state the obvious if I was to say that there were other means of education. Individuals that don’t have the financial means, the time, or the commitment for a traditional college education somehow make it in the world without a degree. Maybe the times are a-changing. Maybe the workforce is demanding a “well-rounded” college graduate. But when I look around at the members of Mercy Neighborhood, I see individuals on the other side. The other side of what…I would say, they have made it to other side of life’s biggest time commitment (and challenge as of late.) They have led lives pursuing careers, occupations, marital and familial roles-all of which have equal worth.

I get the sense that not every single individual at Mercy was a traditional, four-year university graduate. The language, diction, and topics of choice have formulated my assumptions (as unfair and maybe even degrading as that might seem-even though that is clearly not my intention) on who has passed a college English 101 course on proper grammar. I mention this because I myself receive a little bit of judgment for the usage of y’all and it really happens to be an interesting topic within itself; linguistics, accents, and vocabulary. And I would argue from my personal experience that these three qualities cannot be the only means to qualify someone as educated.

But I digress; I could be completely wrong with my ill-based assumptions. Yet, getting back to my point, the members at MNM all share a proud sentiment of accomplishment, if not victory. While some may very well be college graduates, retired doctors or lawyers, or the cliché war veteran we too often overlook, I find that certain persons were mothers or fathers, householders, and mentors. No positions that require a degree. But my point happens to focus around the fact that all these older members at MNM are on the “other side.” They worked, they loved, they lived. And in my opinion, when certain peoples are retired, on the other side, or great-grandparents, their education doesn’t seem to rank so high in their accomplishments.

Maybe that’s due to their focus on family, the greater joy in life. I’ve had the honor to hear stories of children and their children’s children (making the speaker a great-grandparent!) and there is a tangible pride that comes with that feat. And by that I mean the pictures, birth stories, and further accomplishments of their offspring all branching from that one individual that sits across from me. I presume that it’s my own, newly found fascination for the elderly. But when you read of kings and queens of old, their family crests bore great significance when their family expanded across the world’s map. While I may only be sitting in a cafeteria before we go off to work on puzzles or bingo, I believe that the value placed on family still remains to this day. I sit amongst the kings and queens of old from several generations past.

Written by Jack Viere

November 5, 2011 at 6:26 pm