Quote of the Day: Michael McGhee

A concern for the inner life – we might call it spirituality – is merely narcissistic, however, unless it is essentially forensic and exploratory, a searching out and overcoming of the forces that betray us into exploitation and violence, and the discovery and sustaining of a perspective that transcends and recoils from those forces.

Michael McGhee, writing in “Humanism needs spirituality”

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.

Quote of the Day: Deepak Chopra

Deepak Chopra, writing on Huffington Post in “What Would God Think of the God Particle? Part 1″, says that the Higgs boson doesn’t say anything about life, evolution, or consciousness.

[T]here is reason to assume that the Higgs isn’t one of a kind but the opening wedge to an entire class of so-called scalar particles. One optimistic view of the results observed so far holds that the discovery will lead to new developments in particle physics. These would open up a finer level of the quantum domain and thus bring physics closer to its holy grail, a Theory of Everything, a grandiose-sounding, particle-based view of the cosmos.

The more pessimistic overview,( but as its proponents claim more realistic,) states that the LHC results have not given any evidence of the existence of other particles that would be needed to continue our understanding of the physics beyond the Higgs, to what is expected to be the next theoretical development, dubbed supersymmetry. As such, there’s a major snag in attempts to ultimately develop a Theory of Everything. Even leaving arguments related to theories of physics aside, such a theory, as envisaged, doesn’t say anything and in fact cannot say anything about life, evolution and the phenomena of mind and awareness. It is not even clear how gravity, the last of the four forces of nature described by general relativity, will fit into the Standard Model – at this point, a great deal of current theory, including the widely touted superstring theory, is interesting speculation.

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.

Deconstructed Too Many Times?

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Some days I feel like I’ve been deconstructed one too many times. I don’t think that’s really the truth, but it feels good to say, as if I could sum up my inner life in a sound bite that could simultaneously win sympathy from friends and strangers and even influence the current of the times. But I am not really deconstructed at all.

Closer to the center of my truth is the reality that I am starting a new weblog in the wake of surviving a “nervous breakdown” which has disconcerted and confused me. My old ways of relating to life, the universe, and everything are in abeyance and I do not yet know what will replace them. It was a severe meltdown, and I trust that I have grown in ways that are unanticipated and exciting.

Spirituality Post, this new blog you are reading, is an opportunity to renew myself in whatever form that takes. I need a new reason to get out of bed in the morning. I need to new method of discourse for engaging my colleagues and friends in the Integral/Evolutionary Spirituality movement. I need a new face to present to the public.

Continue reading “Deconstructed Too Many Times?” »

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.

What’s Your Spiritual Point-of-View? (Part 1)

food-network-star-recap1

If you’re a fan of Food Network Star, then you are familiar with the premise. Talented chefs compete for an opportunity to win their own TV series on the Food Network. To get there they have to convince a panel of judges that they have what it takes to become a star. And to do that, they need to have a POV.

From the get-go every contestant is quizzed about their Point-of-View, their distinctive theme or message or style that they want to convey. It has to be something not too complicated, memorable, and easy to convey in sound bites. It needs to give them a way of connecting with their audience that is visceral. It needs to give them star power. And it’s not an easy achievement for everyone.

Some contestants know who they are in a couple of words. There’s the “pie man” for instance or the “culinary sinner”. Sometimes they have to try on a couple of different brand identities until they find one that they are entirely comfortable with. And then there are those failed contestants who never convinced the judges that they really have a POV.

POV translates beyond cooking shows to any endeavor in which we need to communicate who we are to someone in a few words or when words just won’t do. Every aspect of our self-presentation from voice to clothing to the actions we do in front of others can be scrutinized according to our POV.

So do you know your “spiritual POV”?

I’m not asking to be pedantic. Having trouble finding and expressing one’s spiritual POV is not merely a problem with the packaging, but with the package. We are what we do and how we communicate; self and deed and word are tightly interlinked. If we don’t have a strong spiritual POV then our spiritual path is likely mired in the swamplands or never really gelled into something over which we took ownership. Having a POV is part of what knowing your Unique Self is all about.

Let’s say you are going to an activity of a spiritual nature as you sometimes do and a friend of a friend asks where you are going and why. How would your friend describe you? “He’s going to church. He’s gone there since he was a kid. His whole family is Methodist.” or: “He’s off to a meeting with that theosophy collective down by the university. I think that’s where he’s going this week, it’s hard to keep up.” or: “She takes a walk in the arboretum every day at this time. It’s her meditative practice she’s been doing for years. I’ve gone with her and it’s a lovely experience…”

Perhaps you reject the notion that you have to have a spiritual POV or that it needs to be strong or unary. I would counter-propose that you already have a spiritual POV whether you know it or not and your self-awareness would be off-base if you were not aware of what it was and how others perceived you, and if you were communicating in sync with others.

So before the next installment of this series of posts on Spiritual POV, ask yourself: What is my distinctive way of relating to spirituality? And how do I sum that up in just a few words?