Photo by Patrick Coleman
I am a retired progressive United Methodist pastor. I grew up on a farm in southern Ohio, attended a small town Protestant church, graduated from a liberal arts university, and fell into a lifelong love with another man. My partner and I lived through the intense 1960’s, drugs and all, and the hippie commune movement of San Francisco in the 1970’s. In 1971, we began to meet teachers from India. We studied Advaita Vedanta in San Francisco and for three years in residence with Swami Dayananda Saraswati at the Arsha Vidya Pitham ashram in Pennsylvania. I have done many years of psychotherapy with the most awesome therapist, and received a Masters in Divinity degree from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, where I was also a part of a Sangha led by a student of Thich Nhat Hanh.
I love Bonnie Simmons' and Derk Richardson's music shows on KPFA.org, the nation’s oldest public radio station. I love to dance, but don’t have as much energy for it anymore. I love to sing, with Bonnie's show and at church where I have the lyrics :). Like all of us who are human, I have, every day, craziness's and neuroses, which Carl Jung said we all have as a result of “the avoidance of legitimate suffering,” from running away from some strong emotion inside us like sadness or fear or anger.
I love the author Anne Lamott, who shows us how we can be beautiful, spiritual beings in spite of our craziness. And I love the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron who teaches us self-kindness and tells us that self-denigration is the greatest barrier to our happiness and spiritual growth.
I have been formed by all this and by what we learn in living for this many years, and by experiencing many losses and profound grief. Like all of us, I have experienced much broken-heartedness and live with some sadness, but also joy, and hope, seeking and with profound gratitude, sometimes finding, that place where joy and sadness meet, and I feel held and complete. This is the human condition.
I am also politically progressive. In our country today, we are so polarized, sometimes even in our families. Critical issues like responding to the climate crisis, strengthening voting rights, and addressing systemic racial, gender, and economic inequality cannot wait for us to resolve this polarization. Yet I know that we all have so much in common just by being human living and struggling in this world. My belief is that we must be reaching out to each other across the divide between us.
I am trying to live my life as fully as I can for whatever time that I have. In 2001, when I made the decision to transfer from the Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry and to continue my seminary education at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, I had a conversation with my friend Denise Klein. I told her that what I was planning seemed crazy. I was giving up the best job that I had ever had, all the friends that I had made in Seattle, going 800 miles away from my partner Bry (from whom I was separated, but who I still loved intensely and whose fragile health was a great concern to me), spending $100,000 to attend a Christian seminary when I could not even say if I was really a Christian. I said to Denise, “This makes no sense, yet it is the only thing that makes sense to me.” And Denise said to me “There is an old Jewish saying, ‘When death comes to greet you, make sure he finds you living.’”
What do I mean when I say that the Buddha on 30th Avenue “has profoundly affected my life and my spiritual journey?” In this crazy, challenging world in which we live, we need to have help to center ourselves in a calm and trusting place. We always hope that, for a child, this help can come from a parent. For us adults, centering places can include being out in nature, with a family member or mentor, a faith community or support group, a "holy" book, prayer, a meditation practice, or an altar with symbols or “holy pictures.” Some of my centering places are the multiple “altars” of holy pictures and symbols in my home, even a “bed altar” on the back side of my bed that sleeps with me at night :). And then, in 2009, when I moved where I now live, I discovered a beautifully carved stone Buddha sitting on a huge slab of granite in front of a house on 30th Avenue, and this became one of my most cherished places to center myself. So I go there almost every day and am in prayer and reflection. I go there on good days and bad days, in happy times and hard times. I went there the day that my partner Bry left his body. I feel held there, and there I raise my prayers, beginning with the word “May...” for others, for this world, and for myself. I do not pray to the Buddha; I say that I pray with the Buddha. The Buddha creates that quiet space and helps me to find my way.
Finally, on my home page, I said that this website will be about my life and my spiritual journey. In this blog, I plan, while keeping my heart as open as I can, to write about that journey, and in that process, on a variety of subjects including grace, gratitude, vulnerability, self-kindness, loving ourselves in all our craziness, religion and spirituality, social justice issues, caring for our planet, being a gay, multi-faith Christian, my life with Bry, love and heart-ache, what it was like as a child and youth on the farm, my life here in Seattle, and a little creative writing. But, regardless of the subject, I will try to strive for compassion, open-heartedness, and authenticity. This is my welcome to all readers. John Cahall
Note: The carved stone image of the Buddha and the massive granite stone on which it rests were brought to 30th Avenue by my friend, artist and photographer Scott Aho. He also, at the time of the Celebration of Bry’s life, created the beautiful photograph of the Buddha on the Home page. For both of these, I will always be so grateful to him.