Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Grief Revisited

In September, 1970, I was between college and graduate school.  I and two of my children were at my parents’ home in central Pennsylvania.  On the 12th, I was getting ready to go to my in-laws to pick up my wife and two of my four children and head toward Philadelphia.  As I was leaving, I saw a military car pull up in front of my parents’ house. Knowing my brother Denny was in the Service, I thought he had been given another award, as was his history.  I decided to stay to find out what it may be all about.  Two officers came to the door and my mother answered.  They inquired as to her name, and if Dennis John Bullock was her son.  She said she was and that he was.  The officer then said simply and directly, your son was killed yesterday in the South China Sea off the coast of Viet Nam.  My mother did what all mothers do.  She sank to the floor saying No! No! Oh No!  In the following days my parents, along with my two other brothers, grieved.  My parents being religious, began to find some comfort by acknowledging their son’s death was somehow the “mysterious” will of God.  I railed against that notion by pointing out that what killed “Denny” was the American paranoia of communist influence in Southeast Asia; the machinations of the military industrial complex, the decision of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a five inch shell that killed their son and my brother.  I was much younger then, my head filled with the protests of college during the 60s.  My so-called intellectual maturity was leaning more and more to liberal and progressive ideology.  What I said then, I still believe.  The aforementioned dynamics were true then, and still are – I was right.  However, for a number of years now I have come to know that I was, in fact, wrong.  I had failed to acknowledge my parents’ faith, for which even though more liberal, I hold deep value even now.  I am twelve years older than when my father died and two years older than when my mother died.  I was wrong.  It is one of my deepest regrets that over the years I never clearly indicated to my parents how much I have come to know they were right.  Life and death is a psychological and spiritual mystery and the most honest reality for me is the willingness to acknowledge that mystery by “leaving it up to God.”  The truth is, we don’t know, even as our hearts and minds want and need to “know.”  So if courageous and honest, we go again and again to that only place where deep in us we know we have always been.  The place where the fierce and radical love of God calls us and pulls us – sometimes kicking and screaming – to that place where we say with gratitude and wonder “your will be done.”

Sunday, August 17, 2014

On The Children at Our Border

I am a therapist.  I have degrees.  I am capable of assessing, evaluating, observing and even diagnosing persons. But most of what I have learned comes from the privilege of having people come to my office and sharing their hopes, dreams, doubts and fears. I listen, observe, support and diagnose. However, if I can’t identify with, empathize with and recognize that these courageous and wounded ones are also me and I them, then I cannot see in them my own journey and think and feel and believe even as they do, and I am only full of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

So it is with these courageous and wounded children who come to this land, though it be one of privilege and poverty. They are like the Israelite slaves stumbling out of and longing to flee the oppression of Egypt who are also like us:

“Then we cried unto the Lord – and the Lord heard our voice –
And brought us out of Egypt with an outstretched arm with great terror, signs and wonders –
And he brought us to this land – flowing in milk and honey – and he gave us this land”
                                                                                                                                                        Deut 26

We have all been given this land.  We are our mothers and fathers and their mothers and fathers.  Indeed we are all those who came here in small boats and large, stumbling and hoping for a new life.  We are all of them for 15 or more generations.  We are those who have looked to the horizon, smelled the land, seen the birds, and even glimpsed a great statue in New York Harbor, on which is inscribed:
“Give me your tired your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to be free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me
I lift my torch beside the golden door”

In addition to being a therapist, I am also a Christian.  Not a particularly good one, certainly not a pious one, but one whose heart and mind is stirred to compassion and heartache for all those who are oppressed, and as such, a listener to this man from Nazareth, who said:
“Let those children come to me
For unless you become as one of these
You cannot see the kingdom of God”
                                                                                                                                                        Luke 18

And again:
“Come to me, all you who labor and who are heavy laden
And I will give you rest”
                                                                                                                                                        Matthew 11

These are not simple platitudes for comfortable, air conditioned pews. These are a serious challenge to identify with the “gentle and lowly of heart.” We are all the inheritors of those before us and they were like us and we like them. On the shores of the Sea of Reeds (we call it the Red Sea); with the Pharaohs’ chariots hard on our heels (bigotry, racism, greed, manipulated laws and regulations), we are all threatened by our own self-importance, our material greed and our warped notions of love, and as the Israelites needed to be delivered from Egypt, we need to be delivered from the impoverished slavery of our “exceptionalism.”

Recently I heard a line from an old Black Slave Spiritual:

“I’m gonna put my foot in that water
And God’s gonna stir those waters
I’m gonna put my feet in that water
And God’s gonna trouble those waters”

For me, I am stirred by the plight of these little ones, and I hope, if necessary, our politics, our corporate/profit mentality, our shallow and superficial culture, and our personal agenda driven laws are “troubled” and that the result will be the deliverance of these who came to our land, and in that, we too may be delivered.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, November 22, 2011



The essence of Greek tragedy is the concept of HUBRIS or pride.  It is hubris that demonstrates to we humans, that the acclaimed and powerful, no matter how hard they try to do otherwise, have a fatal flaw.  A fatal flaw that brings them down.  So it should be no surprise that Penn State University has fallen from the pristine heights of moral probity to just another example of institutional "shucking and jiving" to maintain an image.

The image of PSU is, of course, a fine one.  Only PSU and Stanford graduate the highest percentage of athletes; the football record stands alone in bowl wins; 4 undefeated seasons and 2 national championships; and its coach holds the most wins ever in Division I; its research reputation in agriculture, its engineering school and its business school has recruiters streaming to its campus; PSU is one of only a handful of public universities that approach Public Ivy status.  Their plain uniforms with no stars on helmets, no names on jerseys, and black shoes all bask in the adulation of its fans.  "We Are Penn State" reeks of self aggrandizement and hubris.

There are those who grieve "the fall from grace" of PSU; others can barely hide their glee behind moral outrage, that borders on the sanctimonious.  I am one who also grieves as a PSU rabid fan for at least as many years as Joe Pa has been coach (I got married 22 years ago at 11:00 am on a Saturday morning and watched Penn State on television at 1:00 pm that same afternoon).  But why are we so shocked?  Child abuse is by all expert accounts, rampant and increasing, and we don't even have laws that require reporting to the police here in Pennsylvania except for certain professionals including therapists like myself.

Furthermore, why are we shocked when it is apparent when the goal of any self conscious institution is to survive?  Survival is largely dependent on PR and image, an open invitation to "cover up."  Cover ups are the unspoken and non documented goals of any institution.  We can talk about the decades of cover ups by the Catholic Church, or the cover ups of the US Military (most of whom are rightly called heroes), by releasing information that a former NFL player was killed in heroic action, only to discover he was killed by friendly fire.  Or, the scripted rescue of a West Virginia private from an insurgent capture, the government - national, state and local is rife with cover ups.  Insider trading tips, good ol' boy networks, money from God knows where, are only the tip of the cover ups that permeate institutions.  Political cover ups need not even be mentioned, they are so common.  "I never had anything to do with that woman."  Or, what about Lay, the CEO of Enron, or Bernie Madoff, or the Savings and Loan scandal.  Did they ruin lives?  Or Wall Street shenanigans covering up the real work of hedge fund manipulators.

Carl Jung, the great Swiss co founder of psychoanalysis said that we all have a persona -- or mask (persona is Latin for the masks worn by actors) that we wear before the world.  The problem, is that when we believe we are our own mask, then that is the fertile ground for neurosis, not to mention tragedy.  When institutions -- political, financial, athletic, military or religious, have as their goal, survival, it is easy to see why persons do not count -- only the institution.  In the case of PSU, the boys didn't count.  Boys from disadvantaged circumstances, needing guidance, nurture and love, and so hungry for that it made them an easy target for a father figure who was revered, admired and apparently wore a mask of caring deeply for them.  And if he did what the grand jury says (I'm saying if, because due process is not only a constitutional right, but is deeply embedded in our value system), he perpetrated a violent betrayal of trust that has the potential to impact one for life.  These boys, the most vulnerable ones, without power, are at the bottom of the hierarchical set up that defines our institutional driven culture.  The people in the institution do not matter.  Only the institution, and if the institutional image is threatened, it folds in on itself and circles the wagons, and does away with people, which is just a variation of keeping the image intact. 

Institutions are not going away, and I am not arguing for their demise.  They constitute the structure and fabric of our culture.  I am making the point that money and image driven value systems dominated by males who honor "winning is not everything, it is the only thing" or to paraphrase, "image is not everything, it is the only thing."  As for the boys, Jesus said, "even as you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto me."  I believe that what he meant was not just to be human, as we all are in our gifts and flaws all mixed together, but that he meant that to be truly human, one must be humanely human.  I also believe that humane humans remain a minority and a meaningful goal in life is to increase this number by insisting on becoming part of the minority.

Finally, I must point out that I am sad -- especially for those boys -- who's ability to trust may be permanently impaired.  But I am also sad and disappointed in myself.  I bought the lie.  People would ask, when they saw my Penn State enthusiasm, if I had attended college there.  I didn't.  Over the years, I had developed a "tongue in cheek" rationale for my Penn State cheerleading.  I usually said that PSU symbolically represents the classic clash of good and evil.  So the good guys, dressed in blue and white (the color of the sky) operating out of Happy Valley in the beautiful Nittany mountains of central Pennsylvania, my home region and coached by "Saint Joe Paterno" fought valiantly against the likes of the "Crimson Tide, " the "Boilermakers," the "Wolverines," the "Badgers," not to mention the "Cornhuskers."  I bought the image that I created.  I fell for it hook, line and sinker.  So I was stunned when it turned out I had been mistaken about who was good and who was evil in my metaphor of the great cosmic clash.  Perhaps my petty regional hubris was a flaw; not necessarily a fatal one, but one that reminds me that I should know better. 


Enantiodromia -- a term coined by Carl Jung, borrowing from the Greek, meaning simply -- anything pushed to its extreme becomes its opposite.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, November 24, 2008

A New Earth Commentary

A New Earth

by Eckhart Tolle

Commentary by Peter K Bullock, MDiv, MS

Premise 1

A new age, a new era, even a new species is arising

Premise 2

This new development is a result of a new “consciousness”

Premise 3

New consciousness = break with the ego defined as “self”

Premise 4

New consciousness (awareness) is that elusive sense that is not attached to the ego (which is, according to Tolle, at best a functional operation and at worst a “false self”)

Premise 5

New consciousness, or break with attachment to “ego” frees one from pain, anxiety, depression and the general malaise of neurosis of human suffering

Premise 6

The “I” that emerges with this new consciousness is transcendent and eternal

Premise 7

As such, these “enlightened” beings can envision and even help bring about a “New Earth”

Tolle’s book, published in 2005 and on bookshelves recently, is an interesting, thoughtful reflection on certain “spiritual” insights. I cannot help but think of “Quoheleth” the “preacher” (Ecclesiates in the OT) who said “there is nothing new under the sun” – (350 BCE).

For Example:

Sidarrtha Gautama (463 BCE)

The Buddha thought that life as perceived through our body and mind is an illusion and therefore pain and suffering and even happiness is an illusion and an illusion does not exist, ergo, no pain, etc

Jesus of Nazareth (AD 29-32)

The Kingdom of God is within you and is found by prioritizing its existence and finding it is a “Pearl of Great Price.” If found, it is freeing, transforming, and is, in effect, synonymous with salvation. Also, He said “I am come that you may have life and life abundantly.” I have never seen this pericope as pointing to either heaven or plenty, but in truth, a quality of life rather than a quantified life.

Paul (Circa 60 AD)

“Don’t let the world (ego) press you into it’s mold, but be transformed by having the mind of Christ in you.” “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ who lives in me.” If any be in Christ Jesus they are a new being.

C G Jung (Early 20th Century)

Jung, along with Freud, the delineator of the unconscious or psyche or soul. Inner transformation occurs only by an inner search to find, understand, or at least grasp some knowledge of “who am I really?” His great contribution concerns archetypes, unconscious constellations of meaningful drives and motivations all out of consciousness. The goal is to bring into consciousness through awareness. Two of these archetypes “anima” (female) and “animus” (male) Tolle refers to, but in a simplistic and stereotypical manner, and even reduces these feminine and masculine characteristics to a description of countries in terms of how women are seen and treated.

Juan Ramón Jiménez (1973)

Tolle’s construction I (the emerged new consciousness) am not I (the ego)

I am not I.

I am this one

Walking beside me whom I do not see,

Whom at times I manage to visit,

And at other times I forget.

The one who remains silent when I talk,

The one who forgives, sweet, when I hate,

The one who takes a walk when I am indoors,

The one who will remain standing when I die.

Without sounding too critical, my experience of “The New Earth” is that it is a rehash of ideas and concepts that are in fact ancient. To his credit, Tolle compiles these (sort of) with a readable, and I might add “easy” enough notions to make his book marketable. Actually, what he says is not refreshingly said, but I certainly would not deny him the right to say – or sell it. Gurus come and go. I have been temporarily fascinated by my share. There is only one of whom it is said “there is no shadow of turning” and He remains the same today and forever – and He is Love – and that is the last thing standing when all else has fallen.

Labels: , ,