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Spiritual Currents

Dwayne Eutsey

BIO: Who am I? Well, that happens to be one of life’s most vexing spiritual questions, isn’t it? Great philosophers have grappled with it throughout the ages with mixed results, so who am I to think I can answer it here? Ok, for simplicity’s sake, let’s just say I’m a local writer interested in spiritual issues. I live in Easton with my life partner Amy and our three children. We are members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton.

“Spiritual Currents” is a regular column that promotes and explores the Mid-Shore’s deep spiritual diversity—with “spirituality” broadly defined as our search for enduring meaning in life. This ongoing quest can unfold within religious traditions and without them, within our relationships and in solitude.

If you would like to share a local event or a personal story that reflects this journey on the Shore, please contact me here (put “Spiritual Currents” as the subject line).

The Spiritual Path of Karate

By Dwayne Eutsey

If you lived on the Shore during the ‘70s, you probably recall some of the hokey TV commercials that used to air on DC stations like Channel 20 or Channel 5. One that I loved showed Jhoon Rhee, a Grand Master in tae kwan do, performing amazing martial arts feats in slow motion while his cheesy musical jingo encouraged us to “Call USA-1000, Jhoon Rhee means might for right.”

At the end a little Asian girl would confidently say, “Nobody bothers me,” followed by an even younger Asian boy who would proclaim, “Nobody bodders me, either” before giving us a wink.

I remember wanting so badly to call USA-1000 so that I could learn to leap in the air and kick without wearing a shirt like Jhoon Rhee did. The martial arts, after all, were very cool at the time. They seemed to be everywhere in pop culture. There was the popular weekly TV show “Kung Fu,” Bruce Lee flicks were playing in movie theaters, and Top 40 radio informed us that “Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting” and that those cats were fast as lightning.

Martial arts were even reflected in our toys. Topping the Christmas list of every boy I knew in elementary school was the GI Joe action figure with kung-fu grip.

Unfortunately for me, however, Jhoon Rhee taught his ancient Eastern discipline in the far-away and exotic land of Arlington, Virginia and, as far as I knew, there were no local martial arts schools ( “dojos”) on the Shore at the time.

A Buddhist Wizard of Oz

By Dwayne Eutsey

Suppose I were to give you the following clues and asked you to name the story they describe:

  • A young and somewhat naïve individual follows a path on a strange journey to a colorful place where special information they need can be found.
  • At separate points along the way, the young person encounters and befriends three peculiar characters (one of them a talking animal) who each agrees to join the person on their journey to the colorful place.
  • When the four characters arrive at their ultimate destination, the young person discovers that the information they thought they were seeking wasn’t really what they were expecting to find.

You’d be correct if you said these clues resemble the basic plot of The Wizard of Oz, but that’s not the story I have in mind. The one I’m thinking of is Journey to the West, a classic folk novel from China.

Written in the 1590s, Journey to the West follows the legendary quest (based loosely on an actual journey) of Tripitaka, a young Buddhist monk from China who makes a long and difficult trip to retrieve sacred Buddhist scriptures from India. Along the way, he meets the magical Monkey King (who is as recognizable in Chinese culture as Mickey Mouse is in ours); the loutish Pigsy; and the strong and ever-patient Sandy.

Lent: A Time for Deepening Our Lives as the Days Grow Longer

By Dwayne Eutsey

I had every intention of writing a column last week about Lent in time for it to be published here on Ash Wednesday, the day this traditional Christian observance begins.

Ironically, though, I wasn’t able to write the column because I found myself too busy juggling work deadlines, family issues, and getting sucked into the distracting time-drains on TV and the Internet.

I say ironically because the fact that I couldn’t write something about Lent because my life was too hectic and unfocused is why this time of introspection is so important for everyone, regardless of your spiritual world view.

Maybe it’s because the winter doldrums have frozen me in a monotonous combination of cold weather, cabin fever, and shoveling endless snow, but I find myself functioning on automatic pilot a lot lately…just dully going through the motions.

I’m ready to shake off the ice and sing a lively version of “Here Comes the Sun.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZtQh5EIgWQ

Apparently, that’s not far from the original meaning of “Lent.” According to the BBC, the word is derived from the old English word for “lengthen” and refers to how the days begin to lengthen during this time of year as spring approaches. The site also defines the religious Lenten observance as:

Remembering Black History on the Shore

By Dwayne Eutsey

With all the snow we’ve had to dig out from lately, it’s easy to forget that February is Black History Month. http://www.history.com/content/blackhistory

This observance originally began as Negro History Week in 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson, the largely self-educated son of former slaves who went on to receive a PhD from Harvard, wanted to establish a time for remembering and celebrating the significant contributions African Americans have made to our national history.

Woodson initially set this observance during the second week in February because two major figures in African American history were born during that week: Frederick Douglass, the former slave and outspoken abolitionist who escaped from Talbot County, was born on February 14; Abraham Lincoln, the president who signed the Emancipation Proclamation ending chattel slavery in the United States, was born February 12.

The week became a month-long observance in 1976 and is also known as African American Heritage Month. In addition to Frederick Douglass, the Eastern Shore has made a few other noteworthy contributions to that heritage.

There is Harriet Tubman, of course. Growing up in Dorchester County back in the ‘70s, I remember learning a lot about how she bravely helped hundreds of slaves escape from the Shore through the Underground Railroad. http://www.midshorelife.com/content/harriet-tubman%E2%80%99s-legacy-lives

However, one piece of history I didn’t learn much about when I was school kid on the Shore was the important role Cambridge played in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Maybe that history was too recent and too raw for teachers to make sense of and to teach at the time, but I don’t remember learning anything about it in school. I did overhear, occasionally, vague references adults made about that time, and I even remember when I was almost 4 years old that my grandfather made me scrunch down in the backseat of his car as he drove me and my mom through a riot-torn section of Cambridge.

Howard Zinn’s Undying Faith in Democracy

By Dwayne Eutsey

Someone I admired very much, activist historian Howard Zinn, died recently at age 87.

Howard ZinnYou may know Zinn from a book he wrote in 1980 called A People’s History of the United States. With over 1 million copies sold since its publication, this landmark (and controversial) volume retells American history from the point of view of “common people” often not included in our official historical narrative—Native Americans, slaves, workers, the poor, women, pacifists, anarchists, unionizers.

Last month, the History Channel broadcast “The People Speak”, a documentary co-produced, incidentally, by Easton native Chris Moore and his friend, actor Matt Damon. With Zinn narrating, the film featured the likes of Morgan Freeman, Marisa Tormei, and Bruce Springsteen reading and singing words from the original letters, songs, diaries, and speeches that Zinn used to write A People’s History and other works. (http://www.history.com/content/people-speak)

Coming from a working-class background myself, I am forever in debt to Zinn for showing me how this often marginalized group is actually an integral strand among many other strands that together make up our national history. His inclusive view of American identity is true to our country’s unofficial motto, E pluribus unum: “Out of many, one.”

A Serious Man Ponders "Why Me?"

By Dwayne Eutsey

Like many people, I’ve been dismayed by the devastating earthquake in Haiti recently.

The rising death toll (possibly in the hundreds of thousands), the heart-wrenching suffering, the inability to get medical aid and food supplies to the homeless survivors in a fast and effective way…It’s all been depressing, frustrating, and overwhelming.

As overpowering as the news coverage of this disaster can be, though, unless you know someone affected by the suffering there, it’s easy enough in our media-driven culture to tune out the bad news and tune into something more pleasant.

It’s like Rev. Jim, a character on the classic ‘70s sitcom Taxi, once wryly observed, “You know the really great thing about television? If something important happens anywhere in the world, night or day…you can always change the channel.” Or to update it for our times: surf the web, pop in a DVD, etc.

The Magic of Winter?

By Dwayne Eutsey

(This column is adapted from a lay sermon I delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton on Sunday, December 27, 2009).

I’m not a big fan of winter. In fact, I can be downright Scrooge-like when it comes to this time of year.

What little there may be to like about winter is lost to me among my sore back from shoveling an endless layer of snow; driving on dangerously icy roads with the tires of other vehicles spitting and splattering that brown salty glop all over my car; paying those crushingly high heating bills; suffering through colds and flues, numb fingers and toes, and the never-ending sniffly, snotty noses.

With all that going on, is it any wonder I cringe when I hear those sappy songs about winter that we hear around this time? Songs like:

When it snows, ain't it thrilling,

Though your nose gets a chilling

We'll frolic and play, the Eskimo way,

Walking in a winter wonderland.

Especially as I dug out after the recent big snow storm, all I can say to that winterist propaganda is: Bah humbug!

When I think it about it, though, maybe like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol I’ve allowed myself to become so consumed by the cold, dark, and dreary aspects of this season that I have forgotten the magical light of the season that’s shining all around me.

Shining a Candle on the Miracle of Our Wonderful Life

By Dwayne Eutsey

Although I’m something of a cynic when it comes to over-sentimentalized movies, I can’t help but be a fan of that corny but heartfelt holiday flick, It’s a Wonderful Life.

There’s just something uplifting about the story of how the beleaguered George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart with homespun American hope and defiant scrappiness) triumphs over Old Man Potter’s warped and self-centered view of life.

If you’ve seen the movie as many times as I have, you can probably recite from memory when George, after his father’s death, tells the banker/slumlord Mr. Potter why his father’s savings and loan sought to help give ordinary working people a decent life:

“Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about...they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him.”

Although it’s nice to fantasize about living in such a world shaped by George Bailey’s economic idealism, unfortunately, evidence increasingly suggests that more and more of us are struggling just to hang on in grim financial Pottersvilles.

According to Elizabeth Warren, Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the banking bailouts:

“Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can't make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street.”

Celebrate Gratitude in Tough Times

 By Dwayne Eutsey

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about making gratitude a more active, integral part of my daily life.

Thanksgiving is a great ti,e for everyone in the community to share food and music and celebrate the many things we have to be thankful for. Even though times are tough, there is still much to be grateful about.

Now, a moment of confession. As much as I believe all this talk about thankfulness, I have to admit that grousing about life’s sucky situations can sometimes be a lot easier for me (and maybe even more satisfying) than expressing gratefulness. In fact, trying to be thankful during particularly difficult times can even seem annoyingly superficial to me at times, like I’m avoiding harsh reality.

However, according to the results of a study done earlier this decade, the daily practice of gratitude can apparently not only help you better face reality; it can actually improve your reality as well.

Thanksgiving: A Lesson in Gratitude and Hospitality

 By Dwayne Eutsey

Every year around this time when I was a kid, I remember learning in school about the origin of this month’s big holiday.

As we made pilgrim hats and Indian headbands out of construction paper, the teacher told us the familiar story of how the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians celebrated the first Thanksgiving together in 1621. It’s a nice story about the Indians teaching the pilgrims how to plant their first crops in the New World and the pilgrims inviting the Indians over for a feast to thank them and God for the harvest.

However, as with many of our national myths, the story we were taught in school is greatly embellished. In fact, beyond two brief accounts written by pilgrims Edward Winslow and William Bradford we know very little about what happened during this event. There was a harvest feast in Plymouth and Indians were there, but a lot of the rest is open to interpretation.

http://www.pilgrimhall.org/1stthnks.htm

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