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.

Craig Groeschel’s Message to Men in “Fight”: A Misfire

Craig-GroeschelThe front line for megachurch Christianity is not feminism, but a call to renew masculinity. This seems to be a current theme, in recent decades surfacing as the Promise Keepers movement and more recently with pastors who bring a pro-man message and say that if the men in their congregations are real men then they are living in tune with authentic Christian spirituality.

Today Jonathan Merritt posts a new interview with one of America’s leading mega-church pastors and book author, Craig Groeschel. The topic is Groeschel’s call to arms in Fight: Winning the Battles That Matter Most (currently ranked #3 in Christian Living/Men’s Issues on Amazon) which challenges men to “man up.”

An excerpt from the interview:

JM: When you look at the portrayals of men in Hollywood and pop culture, we are inundated with these images of tough-skinned, violent, “manly men.” What are you seeing that is causing you to be concerned that men in America are becoming too passive?

CG: I think we see extremes portrayed in media. There is everything from the tough guy that just goes out and does everything wrong because he wants to, and then there is also a real passive portrayal of men who are unfaithful to their wives and are not involved in the lives of their children. I think both extremes are extraordinarily dangerous.

In society, I think one of the biggest problems we see is that men now–maybe because of the role models or maybe because of a number of factors–walk away rather than stay in when things get difficult. We see this in our churches whenever a marriage gets tough. Rather than staying and fighting for the marriage, it just seems like people give up rather than helping their children do the right thing and being involved in their lives. They say, “Well, I’ll let my wife handle that part.” So men may be fighting battles, but they are fighting the wrong battles. They are fighting for themselves and fighting for things that don’t matter. I look at the fight and really help to try to inspire men to try to reengage in the right battles and fight when they matter the most.

JM: Can you talk about some of those specific circumstances where you are inviting men to fight back? You aren’t referring to the battlefield, but is it the home, the workspace–what are some more specifics of those?

CG: The last thing I would want to do is say to guys to go pick fights. That is not what we care called to do. In the book, I really look at three specific areas that make men weak. We talk about lust, entitlement and pride. I think those big problems are causing guys to disengage from the real battles.

If you ask to really pick one of the most important ones, I think that we really need to fight for our marriages when approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce. We are treating it like marriage is a contract rather than a covenant. We really need to fight for our marriages. I also really believe that we need to fight for our children for them to be able to live strong in a world that is leading them astray.

Another thing is that a lot of people don’t think about, is issues of purity. A lot of men will just say, well we are men and we always have to look at women or be lustful, whatever. It is not that big of a deal. It really is a big deal. I believe we should fight for purity.

I also think that in a world that we deal with lust and talk about pride, lust is our “want it”, entitlement is “deserve it”, pride is “I can handle it.”

A lot of guys are getting ahead of themselves by pursuing material things and getting in massive financial bondage.I think we need to fight for financial freedom so that we can be generous and use our resources to help others.

JM: Craig, as you are sharing this message, how are men responding to it?

CG: The thing I know about men is that when you tell a guy what he is not, he is going to believe it. When you tell him what he can’t do, he will believe it. Even in the church world, the difference between a Mother’s Day sermon and a Father’s Day sermon is always funny to me. Mother’s Day, we tell mothers how great they are and Father’s Day we tell them how pathetic they are. That does not work with us because if we don’t feel like we can win, we don’t want to play. So, what I am trying to do in this book is really help and see that you are created with a heart of a warrior.

I want to tell men, “There is divine potential in you. You have, by the power of God, the ability to stand up and fight.” That resonates with men. It is almost like when someone you respect says, “I believe in you.” Then you better believe in yourself. I am trying to help and see that God believes in them even though our enemy specializes in making strong men weak. Our God specializes in making weak men strong. That resonates deeply with the heart of men. I am thrilled to see them responding well already even the book has barely been out.

See more.

As a long time participant in the Robert Bly-influenced men’s movement, I am sympathetic to Groeschel’s work. Men’s healing work is deep and an integral part of the deep love work which brings men and women together. The title of his book seems perhaps sensationalistic, which consequently could lead women or gay men to confuse his message as literally encouraging men to be strong by fighting with weakness or those who they feel embody weakness. I haven’t read the book, so I am cautious in this pre-review.

The front line of the men’s movement is not well described as a plea for men o take up arms. When Craig tells men where is “divine potential” within them and that this means they have a “warrior heart” and have “the ability to stand up and fight”, this is groan-producing. The divine potential in men could lead to a fight, but it could also lead to surrender or diplomacy.

Men’s work is best when it is integrative, incorporating the warrior heart with the sovereign heart and the lover heart and the magic-worker’s heart. Men who are victims have to learn how to stand up and fight; men who are perpetrators or oppressors need to learn how to stand down. All men need to get out of the trap of thinking of their identity as strictly a victim or strictly privileged, and then forge a new identity according to reality. Based on the interview with Merritt alone, it seems as if Groeschel’s message has a bullet or two of truth in its barrel but the shot he takes is unfortunately a misfire.

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.

Internet service helps manage the mourning process

shiva-connect-for-spirituality-postA new website functions like a wedding registry, but for Jewish mourners. “The aim of the website is to avoid duplication and consolidate the many facets of Jewish mourning,” says an article on RNS.

No talk of expanding the service to cater to folks outside the Hebrew tradition, but can it be long in the offering? The ritual are fewer and different, but with enough marketing drive from funeral homes it’s probably inevitable.

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.

Jonathan Merritt: Mark Driscoll is not one to credibly call for peaceful talk

In response to a new book by fiesty Calvinist cleric Mark Driscoll, Jonathan Merritt suggests the author may be a hypocrite or at least self-contradictory for urging an end to harsh language among Christians in online exchanges. One anecdote Merritt uses to build his case against Driscoll-as-peacemaker:

In A Call to Resurgence, Driscoll resurrects this tweet but he softens the language, stating that the President “placed his hand on a Bible he may not entirely believe.” Driscoll goes on to say, “Obama then took his place as the leader of a nation whose money says, ‘In God We Trust’ without even the courtesy of a punch line to let us know it’s a joke.”

Not exactly the kind of rhetoric that builds bridges and transcends tribalism.

Read more.

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.

Lady Gaga Undresses The Burqa: A Step On The Path Of A World Artist

gagaOmid Safi has written a heartfelt editorial for Religion News Service explaining why Lady Gaga’s new song which uses the traditional Muslim burqa — women’s scarf and body covering — is in poor taste. It’s hardly the first time the performer has been accused of poor taste, but in this instance she is being accused of violating the sacred.

Here are some of the lyrics to “Burqa”:

I’m not a wandering slave, 
I am a woman of choice
My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face
You watch, you fancy me cause there’s always one man to love
But in the bedroom the size of them’s more than enough 

Safi writes:

But let us not, for one minute, confuse all the #Burqaswag references among her fan (“little monsters”, as she affectionately calls them) as something in any way emancipatory, or actually about the women who choose to wear burqa (or niqab) or are even forced to wear one by dominant patriarchal cultures around them. Gaga’s Burqa outfits (and song, if it is indeed hers) does nothing to share the already existing full humanity of Muslim women, or others who wear (by choice, custom, or force) the burqa.   It is merely appropriation of some one else’s clothing by an unimaginably wealthy, white, elite North American woman without in any way altering the reality of the lives of women on whose behalf it pretends to speak.

Later he quotes approvingly Suheir Hammad, a Palestinian-American Muslim poet, in the context of Lady Gaga’s song (noting that Hammad was not describing Gaga):

Don’t build around me your fetish, fantasy,
Your lustful profanity to cage me in, clip my wings.
Don’t wanna be your exotic.

Your lovin’ of my beauty
ain’t more than funky fornication, plain pink perversion
In fact, nasty necrophilia.
Because my beauty is dead to you…

Please, don’t don’t accuse Lady Gaga of necrophilia. We just don’t know what she’s capable of doing next.

I have a certain sympathy with artists who push boundaries of propriety even to the point where they are accused of breaking rules, being insensitive to the feelings of others, or engaging in sensationalism. There is no written rulebook for the agent provocateur, and each artist has a unique style. And then there are successful exploitations of a cultural opening and unsuccessful forays.

Did Lady Gage misfire? Is her Burqua song so offensive she ought to be criticized for Orientalizing all women who wear the Burqua, harming them in some way? Ought her effort to call attention to the potential for exploitation and oppression in Muslim culture be ridiculed as not “in any way emancipatory”?

The issues are complex and yet what does your heart say? Mine does not go on the offensive against an artist who knows how to use the power of her bully pulpit to shift the tide of public opinion — especially the opinion of youth — in emancipatory ways. Perhaps her flirtation with the Burqua song will be short-lived, a mere exploitation of a sensitive issue, an experiment in testing the boundaries of what is acceptable to say about Islamic tradition in a song. Even so I would not criticize her for trying, nor would I attack anyone such as Safi or Hammad if they are turned off by it. They are also entitled to their reactions.

At Think Progress, Alyssa Rosenberg doesn’t care much for Burqua and uses its opportunity to just say that Lady Gaga isn’t a very good artist:

There’s no question that as an advocate, Lady Gaga’s done enormous good in raising the profile of issues like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, marriage equality, and Russia’s anti-gay laws. I just wish that her songs were as nuanced and effective as her political work can be. Using your power in service of others is a generous act. Speaking for others in your music in a way that doesn’t recognize the difference between elevating their voices and subsuming them, is less noble, and less musically effective.

So you see here’s the crux of where I disagree with this strand of thought in art criticism: Safi and Rosenberg think Gaga is “subsuming” those who are different from her rather than “elevating their voices”. They have an either/or worldview: you’re either lifting THEM up, or you’re stomping on THEM. However, Gaga seems to be both identifying with the other as well as differentiating herself from them clearly by putting her lyrics into her own unique style. Safi’s and Rosenberg’s views are more Green, Gaga’s and mine are more Integral.

To think that you can’t sing about being “born this way” unless you are yourself that way is the worst sort of handcuffing of artists, a denial of the non-dual or causal self in the name of the subtle self or gross self. To think that an artist isn’t allowed her own voice because she’s a “wealthy, white, elite North American woman” is its own sort of unfortunate discrimination. Sometimes Gaga’s lyrics become bland and sappy when they fly too high above the particular, it is true, but when you’re doing work on the frothy edge of popular culture some of that is inevitable.

What I hope is that Lady Gaga will not stop at Burqua, but will continue to take up a truly prophetic calling to use pop music as a vehicle for shifting the cultural views of women throughout the world in more liberating directions, including those Muslim women who are forced to wear garments that violate them. If she keeps going she may not make every critic happy, especially the Green ones, but she will have demonstrated that she is a World Artist capable of delivering a mix of entertainment with enlightenment to audiences across the globe while changing millions of lives in the process.

“Moon Reflection” By Mattar Bin Lahej Depicts Phases Of The Spiritual Life

 

The-Dubai-Mall-Moon-Reflection-Exhibition

An artist from Dubai has created a unique art piece for The Dubai Mall which is associated with Ramadan.

Spiritual development is the primary theme of the work, with phases of the moon connected to the spiritual journey, according to an interview with the artist on GulfNews.com:

“The idea behind the ‘Moon Reflection’ can be linked to a typical Muslim’s life during Ramadan. The circles emphasise the moon and the letters inside indicate what a person does during Ramadan. In Ramadan, people always try to clear themselves from any sins by reading the Quran and so the different phases of the moon – changing shape from small to big then back small again – indicate that [spiritual] movement,” he added.

Bin Lahej also pointed out that the reason he made the first phases of the moon in silver and bronze and the last phase in gold is because “gold is the achievement or reward from God and it also marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid.”

Bin Lahej describes the purpose of his work as integrative:

“Art is about getting people integrated and not reaching out only to specific people. My target is to reach everyone and I like my work to speak for itself.”

Read the whole article.