Ellen Davis: Bible Scholars Have Ignored the Bible’s Agrarian Concerns

Perhaps care of the land doesn’t strike you as one of the major themes of the Bible. There’s a new article by Yonat Shimron on ReligionNews.com which describes one scholar’s effort to change that:

agricultureYet despite the traditional cast, Davis is leading a quiet revolution. For the past 20 years, she has been at the vanguard of theologians studying the biblical understanding of care for the land.

Her groundbreaking book, “Scripture, Culture and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible,” is considered a classic, and she travels widely to speak at churches and conferences about the role of agriculture and the ethics of land use in the Bible.

Her work makes the case that Christian theologians have for too long focused narrowly on the spiritual component of Scripture and in the process have overlooked the Bible’s material concerns.

Speaking to some 30 church members as part of a Sunday morning Creation Care series at the Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church in nearby Chapel Hill, she focused on Genesis 1. She read aloud from the Bible and pointed out that God blesses nonhuman creatures first.

“It is not all about us,” said Davis, 63. “God is establishing a genuine relationship with creatures of sea and sky.”

Read the whole article.

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Asian Architects Gather to Discuss Twin Themes of Spirituality and City

The important relationship between spirituality and architecture is affirmed by a recent article by Dr. Jiba Raj Pokharel writes in The Himalayan Times:

kathmandu-durbar-squareNepali architecture has suffered a lot in the past by engaging in this kind of a futile imitation. Our ancestors built palaces in neoclassical architecture by abandoning our own traditional palace architecture which can still be glaringly seen in the three Durbar Squares of Nepal.

Had we continued with indigenous architecture, we would have more than forty Durbar squares instead of three main Durbar squares we have at present. One can imagine what would be

the architectural ambience like with forty Durbar squares when three of them have created something of a marvel in the architectural arena.

RajbirajIt is not only in the case of architecture but we have similarly stumbled in city planning. We had our own city designing heritage whereby different castes would have different city templates allocated to them. For example, Maneswore, the capital of the Licchavis, was designed in Swastik style. We continued this practice till the middle of the twentieth century by designing Rajbiraj in the Prastara style. But we again fumbled in the following years. We deviated from the classical designing in the planning of the following cities. As a result, the modern Nepali cities lack image and identity as they are devoid of notable landmarks, nodes, districts, edges and pathways like the old cities.

This is however not the problem of Nepal alone. The other Asian countries also have fallen victim to this architectural and planning malady.

So the Asian architects have gathered in Nepal to deliberate focusing on the twin themes of spirituality and city image building. Often such conferences end in hobnobbing followed by lunches and dinners but it is expected that something fruitful will emerge out of this architectural bonhomie and brotherhood to guide the whole of Asia towards the creation of a better vision for built environment in future — a vision which enables to move forward duly looking back like the mythic bird of Ghana, the Sankofa.

Read the whole article.

At the leading edge of Asian architecture: a rejection of the modernist style in favor of a marriage of indigenous spirituality and city image. If the gathering is indicative of a larger movement, it suggests a more vibrant and holistic and culturally distinctive future in Nepal and other Asian countries.

Ram Dass on Unconditional Love (and a Teaching on Postmodernism)

The power of unconditional love is truly amazing. If you’ve ever been pulled over by a state trooper, you’ll be struck by this tale from spiritual guru Ram Dass:

pulled-overSo I started out on the New York thruway. I was just galumphing along in such a high state that I was hanging out with various forms of the Divine. I was doing my mantra, which I usually am doing one way or another, to remember that this isn’t the only game in town. So I’m holding onto the steering wheel and I’m keeping enough consciousness to keep the car on the road. At another part I’m singing to Krishna, who is blue, is radiant, plays the flute, is the seducer of the Beloved, all of whom we are, back into the merging with God, back into the formless. I am in ecstasy hanging out with blue Krishna, driving along the New York freeway, when I noticed in my rear view mirror a blue flashing light.

Now, there is enough of me down, so I knew it was a state trooper. I pulled over the car, and this man got out of the car and he came up to the window. I opened the window and he said, “may I see your license and registration?” I was in such a state that when I looked at him, I saw that it was Krishna who had come to give me darshan. How would Krishna come in 1970? Why not as a state trooper? Christ came as a carpenter.

Unfortunately, this piece was posted on Facebook with a graphic saying “Everybody is the Guru”. This is not the point of Dass, unless I am mistaken and I don’t think I am! His point is that everybody is the divine being, the Krishna or the Christ. A guru is a teacher who, regardless of whether he is regarded as divine by others, leads people to enlightenment or divinity.

Read the whole thing.

Dass is a guru, a wonderful writer and enlightened soul, and his story is splendidly more illuminative of divine truths than the average person’s. Unfortunately, Dass’s writing was advertised on Facebook with the meme “Everyone is the Guru”

It’s not the best in spiritual teaching that claims “Everyone is the Guru”, to say the least. It’s a fallacy, or better yet it’s a meme which is part of the postmodern pulverizing of value hierarchies. In terms of Integral Theory, it’s the Green meme. But pulverize the distinction between gurus and everyone else and you obscure the light which leads to the realization that “Everyone is Divine”. That is tragic whenever it happens in postmodern thinking, which is not at the front line of consciousness.

On the other hand, the message that unconditional love can transform one’s encounter with a state trooper into a blissful mystical union is gorgeous.

Hairpin: Interview with a Postmodern Pagan

In the first of a series of interviews with people who are professionally religious, a general-interest women’s website talks to a pagan clergyman, 29-year-old Brian. Brian leads a pagan church in Nashville, Tennessee.

A selection of questions and answers from the interview:

Could you tell me more about what you believe specifically?

norse6My cosmology is based on ancient Northern European religion, and my source material is mythology and epic poetry written about and by the ancient pre-Christian Northern Europeans. I’ve always been a history buff, which is part of why this appeals to me. And within this particular brand of paganism, people often think of the Viking aesthetic, macho men going out looting and pillaging. But in the source text, from an anthropological view, you’ll find a really complete society.

I do tend to worship male gods, but I’m a cisgender male, and I identify as such. Therefore I tend to resonate more with gods than goddess or gods with more fluid gender indenties.

What gods are you talking about?

Recently, Odin has decided to rear his head in my life. I started off working with the god Thor, and as I’ve gotten older, Odin has started to appear more. I also work with Freyja and Frigga, a little bit with Idunna, and the god Tyr.

What do you mean when you say you work with them?

I pray to them, I offer them time, I meditate on them. When I say that I work with a god, I mean that I engage in a practice of reciprocal gift-giving. I develop and maintain a relationship with my god by giving gifts to them and thanking for the gifts they give to me.

That’s a really nice, simple way of putting it. Do you feel that you also atone for yourself to them? Is there an analogue to Judeo-Christian punishment and repentance within paganism?

With paganism being so varied, there’s no set code of ethics. Most pagans tend to believe that people know what the right thing is. They don’t need a father figure to say, “Don’t kill people, and don’t steal.”

Most pagans believe in a variation of the Hindu belief in karma, and the variation comes from the fact that pagans tend to believe that what you do will come back to you not in the next life but in this one.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

I do believe in an afterlife, and I also espouse the idea that I have not been there so I can’t really know. Within paganism, you find a concept that your soul prepares itself for its next incarnation after you die, that you are reincarnated because you have learned certain lessons and still have more to learn, but that’s an extreme generalization. My personal view includes Asgard, Helheim, and all the various afterlife aspects found in Norse myth.

What’s something that you believe that could apply to anyone?

I really try to accept people for who they are. I very much believe in an individual’s decision to lead their lives for themselves and find meaning however they want, and that process is a beautiful thing. That’s one of the reasons I became a minister, was to help people find what gives meaning to their lives.

And this is true for any religion, but I should say that it’s very difficult for a single individual to be representative of paganism as a whole, because our faith structure is a postmodern one. Paganism—neo-paganism—only really broke on the scene in the ‘50s when England repealed its anti-witchcraft laws. So, fairly uniquely, paganism has always been defined by ease of access to information, which led us to emphasize diversity over orthodoxy, and promote tolerance, and acceptance of people walking their own paths.

Read the whole interview.

Brian’s observation that the faith structure of “paganism as a whole” is a postmodern one is pretty accurate description for neo-paganism. The pagans he is talking about aren’t indigenous people in Africa or Australia but the new pagans in America many of which are fleeing Christianity. The fact that the core meaning of the religion boils down to “I really try to accept people for who they are” is also pretty important for the consciousness of postmodernism in general.

Postmodern people don’t have to be pagan to have an ethos of accepting people’s individual self-expression. Postmodern people generally do, except of course when they are rejecting people who are fundamentalist or traditional or capitalistic or conservative or sexist or intolerant in their beliefs.

Paganism may or may not be a growing spirituality or religion in circa 2013, but my belief is that the growth of postmodernism has probably already peaked, give or take a few percentage points. I may be wrong. Paganism per se is not at the front line of consciousness, but is a spiritual expression that may already be waning, at least in its postmodern expression.

A more integral paganism is a topic that we will be visiting on Spirituality Post. What comes post-postmodern paganism? Basically I will argue that what is coming does away with the religious relativism of the postmoderns and recognizes a spiritual and cultural and social evolution through a spiral of development which requires attention to the health of the spiral as a whole. That’s too hard a pill for postmoderns to swallow unless they go through a conversion experience that leaves them adrift from postmodernism and the currents that swept them into the sea of relativity and hyper-sensitivity. Post-postmodernism is integral and evolutionary, broadly speaking. It is a subject of great interest to me, and I look forward to exploring it with you over time.

Filmmakers go biblical in a possibly unprecedented wave of new films

RNS-BIBLE-FILMSMoviegoers are about to encounter more movies with religious themes than I can remember in my lifetime. Upcoming adaptations include Resurrection, Noah, Exodus, Gods And Kings, Pontius Pilate, The Redemption of Cain, Mary Mother of Christ, Son of God, and Left Behind.

Blame or credit Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which earned over $60 million in worldwide box office receipts.

“We have learned that there is more to unite us than to divide us,” a megachurch pastor said to Religion News Service. He has previously hosted a religious film festival.

A. Larry Ross is quoted by RNS saying, “filmmakers are the new high priests of our culture.”

And the high priests are learning to market their films by going to the lower priests for help, encouraging religious hierarchy leadership and well-known pastors and preachers to endorse their movies. They want to avoid boycotts and encourage churches to screen their movies.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I’m reserving judgment. It’s always possible the filmmakers could strike the perfect sweet spot in which artistic merit and popular culture and evolving consciousness meet in synergy.

But then again Nicholas Cage is starring in Left Behind? (Groan.)


Photo: Diogo Morgado plays Jesus in “Son of God”. For use with RNS-BIBLE-FILMS, transmitted on October 22, 2013, Photo courtesy Lightworkers Media.

Weighing In on Oprah Winfrey’s “What is an Atheist?” Debate

Quite a bit of ink has spilled on the topic of defining atheism lately thanks to a show in which Oprah Winfrey denied that her guest was an atheist in her book. Here’s how ReligionNews.com describes the controversy:

Earlier this month (Oct. 13) Winfrey, 59, hosted Nyad on “Super Soul Sunday,” her weekly talk program on cable’s Oprah Winfrey Network. Nyad, 64, recently completed a 53-hour solo swim from Cuba to Florida.

During the hourlong segment, Nyad declared herself an atheist. She then explained, “I can stand at the beach’s edge with the most devout Christian, Jew, Buddhist, go on down the line, and weep with the beauty of this universe and be moved by all of humanity. All the billions of people who have lived before us, who have loved and hurt and suffered. So to me, my definition of God is humanity and is the love of humanity.”

Long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad attends Day 1 of ‘Swim For Relief’ benefiting Hurricane Sandy Recovery at Herald Square on October 8, 2013 in New York City.

“Well, I don’t call you an atheist then,” Winfrey said. “I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery, then that is what God is. That is what God is. It’s not a bearded guy in the sky.”

Read the whole article.

oprah-ep501-own-sss-diana-nyad-3-365x240Oprah Winfrey got it wrong before she got it right. Nyad said she sensed the beauty of the universe and felt love for humanity, not that she felt awe and wonder and mystery. Oprah mis-heard her somewhat. These are qualitatively different things and Nyad never said she felt the universe was mysterious, nor that she felt awe before it or even wonder. She sensed its beauty and felt love, and that was all she said.

But Oprah may have got something very important right. In her book, someone who feels mystery and awe before the universe is responding to God. She was showing the common ground she shared with the professed atheist, and catching the atheist in the common belief that just because they reject a certain false notion of god (an old man in the sky) that they truly reject God.

There are a lot of atheists who profess to not believe in God who actually disbelieve in the sort of god that believers disbelieve in. And many of them want to elevate nature to godhood in which case they are actually pantheists. Others want to elevate human love to godhood in which case they are humanists.

Nyad was clearly a pantheistic humanist, not a theist. If Oprah had really wanted to express her common ground with the swimmer she might have asked if she felt awe and wonder and mystery about the world or human love, and if so was she at all curious about what that awe and wonder and mystery might be pointing. If Nyad answered “Yes! I feel awe and mystery!” then she would be on the same path as many theists or panentheists, but she would not yet be at the station in which belief emerges out of mere questioning and wrestles with doubt instead of apathy.

I don’t think it’s worth spilling much more ink on the subject at this time. Truly only Oprah and Nyad could say what they really meant and if they properly understood each other, and the rest of the attention is curious.

The End of Spirituality?

One look at Google Trends for “spirituality” ought to raise eyebrows of anyone who believes that spirituality is an increasingly popular phenomenon, or some sort of cure for the illness of secularism, or some sort of replacement for religion.

google-trends-spirituality

Since March 2004, to June of 2013, interest in “spirituality” as a search time has declined by over 70 percentage points. For every hundred or so web searches nine years ago, only thirty people searched on the topic over the summer. Pick other timeframes and you’ll still find an enormous loss of 40 percentage points in less than a decade.

If there were a CEO of Spirituality, she or he would have been fired long ago. If there were a public relations firm responsible for promoting spirituality, its contract would have been terminated.  But who do you hold accountable for such a precipitous decline in interest in the topic?

Not only is it hard to point fingers to find a responsible party, it is equally difficult to explain how it happened. Did some sort of bubble burst caused by media fads or the alignment of planetary forces or a spate of bestselling books? Did the intellectual apogee of spirituality occur with the first Matrix movie? Seriously though, what’s up with the precipitous numbers and how much ought we care?

There’s a play on words in the title of this new blog. Spirituality Post is not merely a blog with posts about spiritual topics. It is an inquiry into the possibility that we are entering a Post-Spiritual World, an exploration of what the contemporary spiritual landscape looks like, and a constructive vision of a new way of being in the world which might transcend the dichotomy between spiritual and non-spiritual.

I have several hypotheses which I believe may help to explain the decline of interest in spirituality and the rise of a new ethos. This blog will tell all. Here is the first hypothesis: the belief that there is spirituality distinct from religion became infused (or infected if you’re inclined to judge negatively) with postmodern relativism, ultimately leading to the quintessential message: Everything is Spiritual.

Whether you are inclined to think the slogan Everything is Spiritual is deeply profound “non-dual” wisdom or the banal logical conclusion of the death of the truly spiritual, it’s hard to deny that it’s easy to get people excited about Something but it’s next-to-impossible to get them excited about Everything. How long can that level of enthusiasm last? Is it even possible for the average person to orient his or her ultimate concern in life to Everything or is that the exclusive province of rare mystics?

The End of Spirituality could be on the horizon, but if so it need not fade into a breed of secularism. If contemporary spiritual and religious leaders adapt to the transformed landscape, there is reason to believe that Post-Spiritual is only a rejection of certain vacuous forms of spirituality and the beginning of something new and hopeful.

Follow Spirituality Post to discover yourself with a view at the front-line of Life, Culture, Society, Spirit.