Stories, Questions, and Mysteries

Stories, Questions, and Mysteries

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Zen Practice.

In 1986 I joined the Zen Group of Western Australia. This meant meditating with the group as close to weekly as possible, making a Zen retreat or Sesshin almost yearly and the daily practice of Zazen (meditation).
This has been my spiritual practice my Way or Tau since then. My first teacher was the respected and remarkable Robert Aitken Roshi who came from the Diamond Sangha in Honolulu to assist Zen students and incipient teachers in Australia.
John Tarrant Roshi from California also returned to his native Australia to lead Sesshins here on several occasions which I attended. 
Ross Bolleter, musician, composer and music teacher was authorized to teach in 1992 by John Tarrant, and received transmission from Robert Aitken and John Tarrant in 1997. He has taught extensively in Australia and New Zealand and has successors in both places.
When I moved to NSW in 2001 Ross was still my teacher and I had telephone Docksan (Interview with the teacher) fairly regularly.
This year I visited my teacher Ross in Perth and he recommended I contact the Sydney Zen Group and teacher Gillian Coote. 

I visited and meditated with the Sydney group at their place in Annandale.
Then I enrolled for the spring Sesshin this month at their retreat center Gorrick's Run on the McDonald River out from  Wiseman's Ferry. The Sydney people led by architect Tony Coote built the meditation hall, teacher's residence, kitchen, dormitory toilets and shower block over thirty years.

On the opening evening I said that I was both excited by the opening world of Sesshin while also apprehensive of the pain and frustration which accompanies intensive growth work. And thus it panned out, though I felt held and supported by the members of the Sangha (group[) and the practices which structure the Sesshin day such as chanting, meal rituals, walking meditation and visiting the teacher. It is strange how so much which happens in silence has such effect.
I am grateful to the group of fellow students and  to Gillian Coote and Maggie Gluek for the strength and authenticity of their teaching and their cutting away of non essentials so that there was just one focus point.
Sydneh Harbour stone Buddha in Paddock.
Zendo Meditation Hall
Spring Sesshin 2017

Sunday, 28 May 2017

John Warhurst on Church reform

John is an intelligent and credible Political Scientist. Here I wish to further the discussion he invites about reforming the Catholic Church in Australia. The approach needs to be radical and systemic.

An organization like a good building needs to have a form which supports and enhances its function. From follows function. So what is the function of the Catholic Church? What kind of form does it need and need to fund to progress the message of Christ? What do the members of the organization need to advance their spiritual lives? What form do reformist Catholics need to embrace to do what? And if there is something wrong it is a good idea not to make changes without adequate diagnosis.
A couple of observations or questions from one who has worked with organizational structures and cultures for several decades.
Anyone ever thought of asking a bishop if he says his prayers? What has been the effect in a secular world of the vacuum where genuinely spiritual matters ought have had primacy? And no I do not mean dogmatic, or scripture study, or moral reflections. Certainly not prayers of petition. I mean sharing and learning from the great tried and true spiritual traditions many of which surround Australia in our Asian setting.
What would happen if the structure gave first place to The New Testament and those best able to support it and leave the bureaucratic structure to managers? Does ordination confer any special administrative skills? So the bishop could be the dogmatic/spiritual/prayerful leaders of an area and with a lay management system.

Why do Australian Catholics imagine in their widest dreams that the the Hierarchic cadre which have mismanaged can have some remarkable change of hearts, skills and investments in their egos to now turn around and exercise leadership reform? They have had the blueprint from Vatican ii for years and been tardy or reactive.
Why, especially when the Pope has invited Catholics to experiment with change not try a few things? E.g. invite divorced people to come to communion, if a priest wants to get married let him announce his intentions and see if the community still want him as their pastor and on and on. The Pope knows enough about organizations and the Vatican not expect change from the center. He knows as organizational experts know that much change comes from the periphery.
And finally, I find it remarkable that Catholics, now that the Royal Commission has put the hierarchy and provincials in the stocks in the village square and shamed them that the laity throw stuff of their own. Some form of distancing? The laity  have been slavishly obedient, colluded with bad decisions,(administrative, managerial, financial, political, cultural and educational) seen their leaders punished by quisling informers to Rome. They have winged to one another but supine in their confrontation of the offending cleric who was the more appropriate target of their complaint, since the formation of the colony. Few have ever walked out of an offensive sermon. It was not just the clergy, but teachers, coppers, parents, lawyers and judges who managed the cover ups of abuses. No, if the laity wish to operate with integrity they must acknowledge their complicity, their collusion in corrupting the body which needs reform. That would put them on a more humble footing with the clerics they now want to change and leadership in the acknowledgment of the sinfulness of us all.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Still missing some points? Catholic reform?
This is a fairly long speech. It is from an expert, however there are two problems which I address in my response.
OK Francis Sullivan knows more than most about this matter and has had to be a front man conduit for so much criminal dysfunction. Corruptio optimi;pessimum. He makes sense in this speech and his blueprint for the future looks good. However the question is are there now any or enough people of initiative, who have not already left the in the church, to do anything about the mess. Most it seems have given away so much power for so long in childlike dependency on the clergy and hierarchy that they will be unable manage or work around the authorities appointed in the last few years by reactionary Vatican officials.
One serious omission in this and other ecclesiastical matters is spirituality. Most of what was said or taught bout prayer followed the same dependency dynamic as you would expect from a bovine; sheep and shepherd leadership. The spiritual development of the person was about faith, morals and dogma. None of this is necessarily spiritual. Australia sits in Asia which has several rich spiritual traditions of meditation and spiritual development. Learning from these might be a way to reform from the inside out.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Vale George Madaus.

George Madaus died on December 18 2016 aged 82. His career and works are better described than I could manage in an article to which I linked on Facebook.
George, though internationally famous as a researcher and publisher in the area of testing and evaluation was a wonderfully approachable and helpful mentor. 
Would that I had met him at a time in my life when I was less troubled, leaving the Jesuits after 20 years therein and suffering major culture shock. I was far from the well balanced grad student
When I arrived in Boston in August 1972, just as Nixon was declaring he knew nothing about Watergate, I knew no one and was at a loss to make sense of my chosen university and its structures. Somehow George got a message to me that I should contact him. He invited me to his home in Needham. He had a remarkable knowledge of Irish and Australian folk music, but wanted to know more. 
The family dog "Broccoli" was an endless source of merriment for George as Broccoli seemed to defy all known learning theory. George enjoyed collecting and passing on jokes. He always had one at the ready. 
He introduced me to the Centre for Field Research and Services to Schools. He was responsible for my getting a job there teaching a course in Foundations of Education for 400 students more than I could have imagined.
Though only a year older than me he seemed older as an elder at Boston College and was a major figure on the campus. He knew almost everyone and was respected by them. 
During a summer vacation I had a job driving a school buss for a children's summer camp. George lent me his car for the summer enabling me to get to and from work and other places.
George engaged a luthier to help him make a hurdy gurdy and invited me to tag along  as I worked building a dulcimer in his basement.
When I told him I was leaving the Jesuits he urged me to enroll immediately in the doctoral programme. He knew I had to eat, get clothed and get a roof over my head and what better meal ticket than a doctorate. He used say, "A few dollars and a PhD will get you a cup of coffee." As part of the entry into the doctoral programme I had to sit an exam in the Millers Analogy test. I was not happy with my mark. When I told George he told me he too had received that mark.
Knowing my gra for Irish music and lifestyle he helped me get a fellowship in Dublin in the Education Research Centre at St Pat's Drumcondra. This was several good things rolled into one. A job in Ireland which after America was bliss. It was an opportunity to work on a landmark international education research study into standardized testing where, as tests were introduced into the Irish system it was possible to pre-test, test and then test the effects on the nation. And I could travel around the country chasing the music and drinking Guiness. George put me up at his own apartment in Howth until I got some accommodation; my own first living space.
By this time George was working  in Ireland full time. 
George and Tom Kellegan the director of the Research Centre were busy setting up the study we were working on. It was complex with six funding bodies in Ireland and the USA. Schools had to be chosen across the country. Some existed in name only some had moved address. It was like looking for several needles in several haystacks using medieval maps. Staff had to be hired for field work. As well a large repository had to be found for the monumental stacks of tests to be stored after completion, return and correction. This turned out to be All Hallows College, a disused diocesan seminary where several  priests who went to the Bathurst Diocese were trained. I had worked with them in Australia. It was strange seeing pictures of these chaps as young men along the cloister walls as we lugged bundles of tests in and out of the ghostly building. 
I was learning to be an employee. I was a slow learner and a bolshie one as well.
George and I clashed as did others in these days getting the research structured and running. Despite my brashness and probably a feeling that the hand he had offered to feed me was being bitten George hung in there and we still shared jokes and Irish music. He took up the concertina.
He loved working songs like "School days over come on then John" Luke Kelly's version. Or "Fiddler's Green" a fisherman's end of days song. These were worlds away from his professorial seat, but he loved their humanness.  
Dear George is probably the most internationally renowned person I have known, though not greatly known outside his field or America or Ireland. 
Just one final George story. Danny Burke (not his real name) was born in Bandon Co Cork he had studied with the Holy Ghost Fathers to go to the African Mission. He left the order and came to America to find a job in construction work.  Somehow he was working on George's house doing some renovations. George convinced him that a degree was a better meal ticket than labouring. When I met Danny he had completed a bachelor's degree, a masters and was finishing his doctorate. George inspired him, got him going and kept an eye on him and his career in education internationally. George saw what that young lad could not see at the time and showed him the way.
There are several ironies about learning. One is that when the student is ready the teacher arises. Another is that you have to begin where the learner is in themselves. On reflection I experienced and leaned both with George.
George was a significant person in my life. Would that I had been a more gracious student and protegee. None the less I am in part what he made me.