Is spirituality adaptive or maladaptive for the human species? I posed the question on the Humanistic Paganism site and discussion is ongoing. Give it a look and add your thoughts.
Nov. 16, 2013: I officiated a civic tree-blessing ceremony on the bayou. We had a real-live fire dancer and Big Chief David Montana led us in singing “Indian Red.” Still can’t believe this really happened. It seems remarkable that someone like me, without any relevant credential, would be invited to do something like this. Many thanks to Jared Zeller et al for pulling this together. And thanks to Michael Homan for taking these photos.
Continue reading Tree Blessing
A year ago I set myself a project, an experiment, a journey, a spiritual quest. I wanted to discover, uncover, delineate and define my religion. I wanted to deepen, strengthen, and integrate everything in my life. I wanted to live with greater intention.
And I wanted it all to happen on a one-year schedule. It sounds pretty silly when I put it like that. But sometimes we need silly conceits to prop up our most serious ambitions.
So anyhow, the year has gone round again. Here we are back at the equinox. The planet keeps revolving around the sun. Our journey is not finished. Not yet.
With my family, I celebrated all the seasonal holidays or sabbats known as the Wheel of the Year.
- The Autumnal Equinox
- The Day of the Dead & Hallowe’en & Samhain, etc.
- The Winter Solstice
- The Vernal Equinox
- May Day
- The Summer Solstice
- And here we are again
I’ve just read back through what I posted here since the last autumnal equinox. I aimed to post with less frequency but greater depth. And I did that, at least for a while. For the first six months, anyhow. I probably would have done better to break some of those massive posts down into sections and post them in serial fashion. But whatever.
It might seem I lost focus over the summer months. I did indeed get distracted by our travels, and the ROX party, and Persephone’s new school, and Isaac. I wrote about those things, but didn’t explicitly integrate them into the narrative of my quest. It would have required a little more effort to make those connections, and I didn’t make that effort. I got lazy.
But there’s more to it. A key piece of the puzzle, for me, was the question of theology. I published an essay on how my thoughts were evolving, but that was extremely tentative and exploratory. I continued to think and work on that over the summer, but I didn’t write about it. The time did not seem ripe, and my thoughts were far from clear.
Finally, a couple weeks ago, things crystallized somewhat. It was not a soul-shattering epiphany. It was more like a few ideas quietly clicking into place. Yet the ramifications are profound, at least on a personal level. I’m now prepared to make a basic statement of belief and identity.
While I’d like to articulate those thoughts, I’m not sure this site is the best venue. I’ve poured my heart out here for the last eight and half years. I think it’s time for a break. I suspect that if I stop writing here, I will be able to funnel that energy into writing something else, somewhere else, and I have some vague ideas about that. I think I’d like to write fiction for a while.
Every year is divided into a light half and a dark half. From now until the vernal equinox, the nights will be longer than the days. Right now we are losing one minute and 47 seconds of light each day. Over the last twelve months, I found I enjoyed the light half of the year more, but that the dark half was more productive. That dark half begins again now, with the autumnal equinox. Glenys Livingstone writes about the autumnal equinox as a time for “stepping into the creative power of the abyss.” So it felt last year. So again this year. New beginnings require old endings. I feel the need to step into the dark awhile, and harvest dreams.
Watching The Theologians this weekend reminded me: I finished work on another movie earlier this summer and never wrote about it. It’s a five minute animated version of the Old Testament.
Believe it or not, this took me five years to complete. If I’d cleared my desk and worked on nothing else it probably would have taken a month but of course I have other responsibilities. In fact this lay untouched for years at a time. So it felt really good to get this one done.
The script and voiceover are by that notorious maverick bible scholar, Dr. Michael Homan, author of The Bible for Dummies and chief dude over at BibleDudes.com. He also does more traditional scholarly work, primarily debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
In that vein, I’m sure Dr. Homan would shudder at my terminology. I refer to the “Old Testament” so Christians like my aunt will key in immediately. However that term is not really accurate. After all, the text is also sacred to the Jews, and I imagine they don’t appreciate calling it the Old Testament. But you have to admit the Old/New distinction was some brilliant marketing on the part of the early Christians — to say nothing of changing the order of the books.
Anyhow, the correct title of this movie is The Bible Dudes’ Like Way Cool Tanak Summary Movie Thingie.
This one’s got a lot of academic in-jokes that are over my untutored head, but if you watch carefully you’ll see me in one brief scene, along with Xy and Persephone who are particularly adorable.
I also provided vocals for the theme song. Please don’t hold that against me.
Michael said he values this movie mostly as a sort of elaborate snapshot, a time capsule if you will, capturing the essence of a circle of friends at a particular moment. A number of Bloomingtonians have described the first season of ROX same way.
It’s great to have creative friends.
BART, you probably haven’t read about this [forwarded message: Why Did Jesus Fold the Napkin?] ––––– you are so brilliant, and I understand how your mind was to reject Jesus, but He is the only way to salvation, He is the only God who died on the cross for our sins–––statues of buddah, baal and Hinduisms and islam and everything else is NOT the way to anything===go back to reading the Bible and before each reading ask God to help you understand. In these last days, you want to be prepared for heaven and the final judgement–––I am so serious, I really hope you understand that I love you and Christy and Persephone––––wouldn’t be much of an aunt if I didn’t at least tell you how important you are.
What’s in an Acronym
I work at an HBCU. That acronym is not recognized by my spellchecker, nor was it in my vocabulary until I came to work here. It stands for “Historically Black College or University,” a term which requires even more unpacking.
In a nutshell, the story is this. Once upon a time in America, people of color had virtually no educational opportunities. Even after slavery was abolished, institutions of learning were for white people only, and remained so for generations, especially in the American South. And so eventually HBCUs were established, and over a hundred are still operating today.
Like me, most Americans don’t know about HBCUs, their role in our history, or their continued relevance. To understand this, you have to come to terms with certain painful aspects of our history, which seem to be subject to a peculiar and selective cultural amnesia. Sometimes we’d rather forget about slavery and its legacy. Or perhaps we’d like to pretend that’s all well behind us, old dead history of purely academic interest. Such a view relegates HBCUs to the status of relics, anachronisms, survivals of a bygone age. The truth is that while we’ve made progress we are still living that history, and racial disparities are still significant. HBCUs still have a role to play. I’ve been learning about all this, and more, on the job.
I work in faculty development. It’s part of my job to think and grow together with the people who are actually in the classroom teaching.
One avenue to that end is our Fall Faculty Book Club, which has been running for several years now. This time around, we are reading How Black Colleges Empower Black Students, an anthology edited by Frank Hale Jr. The response has been phenomenal. We had so many faculty wanting to participate that we had to split into two groups.
As I read through the very first essay, “HBCUs in the Old South and the New South,” by Samuel DuBois Cook, I learned a lot. I did not know, for example, that HBCUs were at the forefront of the movement toward diversity and inclusion. Most modern educational institutions now embrace these values — or at least pay them lip service. But in the Old South, this was a radical commitment that went against the grain of the dominant culture, and there were consequences. I’ll cite just one instance: The state of Georgia cut off funding to Atlanta University because they had accepted some white students. Read that again if you have to. Atlanta University had been established as an HBCU, and the idea that white students would be attending classes and rubbing elbows with Black students was unacceptable to the establishment. The university administration held their ground and lost state funding. This was in 1885. The university survives to this day, in the form of Clark Atlanta, but it could not have been easy. This is a dramatic illustration of a general principle. HBCUs have always been inclusive and multiracial, long before the contemporary notion of diversity became popular.
The religious themes in this essay were also striking. These are by no means incidental, as the very first HBCUs were private institutions founded by religious groups. As Dr. Cook notes at the outset,
It was neither accidental nor an experience of minor and fleeting importance and relevance that virtually all of the educational institutions founded to educate freedmen were church-related. Indeed, the church-relatedness of their origin was of overwhelming and enduring significance, meaning, and value. Involved were a theological worldview, formal commitment to the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and a belief — however insufficient — that ex-slaves and their descendants were human persons endowed by God with intrinsic dignity, value, and worth and were equal in God’s sight.
Furthermore, Dr. Cook refers to the founding and operation of these institutions as “sacred work.” He writes of teaching as a “sacred commitment,” a “divine art and enterprise.” That language gave me pause.
I work at an institution which is not only “church-related” but which was founded by a saint, now canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. The cornerstone of the oldest building here, dedicated in 1932 and built with Indiana limestone, bears this inscription:
God’s greatest work on earth is man.
Man’s master art is the leading of man to God.
Teaching is surely one of those arts that can lead “man to God.” I’ll leave aside my reservations about theological doctrine for the moment, though they are many. As I read Dr. Cook’s essay, I realized that one doesn’t have to be Catholic to participate in this “sacred work.” One doesn’t even have to be Christian. One doesn’t even have to be a theist.
So, in a very real way, I might assert that my job is my religion. Or at least a part of it.
As I mentioned, interest in this book was so high we had to split into two discussion groups, with my boss facilitating one while I took the other. We had our first meeting on Monday.
In aiming to foster a good discussion, I drew upon a key lesson from last year’s book club selection, The Heart of Higher Education by Parker Palmer and Arthur Zajonc: Start with a story.
We began by going around the table, introducing ourselves, and telling a bit of our story. “Tell us how you got here,” I said. “Tell us the story of why you are here, both on this campus generally and in this particular room. Tell us how you came to be at this HBCU, and also why you wanted to be here reading this book about HBCUs.”
I began with my own story, in order to model the sort of openness I wanted to hear from the others. I won’t repeat that in detail here, as I’ve written about all this before: How my grandfather was a Klansman, how I went to high school with Klansmen. Despite growing up north of the Mason-Dixon line, I grew up in a virtually monocultural suburb where Black people were rarely seen. My point was that the very notion of an HBCU was completely off my radar. I never heard of such a thing until I was searching for a job back in ’99.
Though I’ve picked up some bits and pieces over the past twelve years, I never got a formal orientation to HBCUs, what they represent, and what it means to work at one. Furthermore, my department is responsible for orienting new faculty each year. So by reading this book, I’m hoping to deepen my understanding, to finally get that orientation, and learn how to orient others.
Around the Table
As we went around the table, a couple interesting things happened. First, people really did open up. The stories people told were heartfelt, candid, and emotional. Second, I experienced a sense of humility and honor and interconnection and respect that seemed quite profound — and I’m certain I was not alone in this. I felt some intangible essence reflected back to me from the face of each participant.
I was reminded that dialog can be a spiritual practice.
On my door to my office I have posted a copy of the Tree of Contemplative Practices. After the meeting was over, I consulted it.
Sure enough, listed under relational practices one finds dialog, deep listening, and storytelling.
How does it work? Just off the cuff, my impression is that when you really open up to dialog you become part of something bigger than yourself. Sitting in that room, listening to my colleagues and co-workers, we became more than just ten individuals around a table. Some sense of shared purpose and identity began to emerge, however tenuous, however briefly. Most every spiritual path seems to acknowledge the idea of being a part of a larger whole.
We had that sense of expanded context doubly Monday, as we experienced a communion of sorts with one another, and also felt our sense of shared mission within the larger scope of history.
Context is everything.
Tangents & Foonotes: In the process of writing this I discovered the Spirituality & Practice website, which appears to be a great resource. For example, check out the section on listening as a spiritual practice, and make sure to use the listed links for related quotations, books, films, art and much, much more.
I am trying to keep these posts under a thousand words. Trying, and failing.
Sometimes it’s tough working with faculty. They have the summer off, and lots of them take extended vacations. Then they come back raving about what a fantastic time they had. Which is great, except sometimes I start to get a little jealous. So I thought I’d take a moment to remind myself of some fun things I’ve done recently.
Friday night, Xy & P were away on a “camping” trip, and so I was left to fend for myself. It was raining but I didn’t let that stop me. I rode my bike to the New Orleans Museum of Art. They do special stuff on Friday nights. The goings-on are typically cool enough that I don’t even wince at the heading “Where Y’Art?” Last time there we saw Quintron. On this particular night was the opening of the new exhibition, The Elegant Image: Bronzes from the Indian Subcontinent in the Siddharth K. Bhansali Collection. In celebration, they had live music by Guy Beck. I did a double-take. I recognized that name. I once checked out his album of sacred ragas from the New Orleans Public Library. I didn’t realize he’s a local. There were also Indian women in colorful saris striking dramatic poses on the steps in the atrium. I got there just in time for an exhibit walk-through led by Lisa Rotondo-McCord (who happens to be married to the guy who once occupied my office). I’ve never done one of these before, and despite being slightly damp from the rain, I enjoyed it immensely. The bronzes are mostly figurines from Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions, including some of the oldest Jain bronzes in existence. Highly recommended.
Also the piece hanging in the atrium right now, Thalassa by Swoon, is worth a visit.
Saturday afternoon I made a run deep into Lakeview to visit the hardware store. It’s a shame that after six years we still don’t have a hardware store in Mid-City, but I digress. I had P with me, and on the way back home she pointed out a brick house and observed that, “Some house are made out of bricks.” Sure nuff, I said, and pointed to the large brick building across the street, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. One thing led to another, and we ended up at the 10 AM worship service the next morning. At least one friend expressed surprise at this turn of events. It’s crucially important to me that my daughter have a full and well-rounded sense of her society, and the church is clearly a part of our society. I also treasure curiosity and want to do whatever I can to nurture that. As for the experience itself, it was mostly over her head, as she’s too young to sing from the hymnal or read the liturgy or understand the scripture. The highlight for her was getting to put a couple quarters in the offering plate. For my part I’ve got say, they have some nice stained glass there, but I was unprepared for the rampant anti-Baalism of the sermon. We slipped out during the Eucharist.
Project Conversion is still getting into my head. I came across a phrase there one night, a phrase that stuck with me: the spiritual rogue. It got stuck in my head, and the next morning I came back to the site and looked for it and couldn’t find it and thought I’d dreamed it. But it was there, all right, buried in an offhand comment. A week later it’s still with me.
Before going further I suppose I need to clarify what the s-word means to me. Spirit, spiritual, spirituality. I know people have many different ideas and emotions about this. The very word may become an obstacle because it conjures so many negative associations. Yet at the core, I think of spirituality as encompassing three main things which few would deny: meaning, values, purpose. (Props to Arthur Zajonc.) Forget about all the other baggage (religion, dogma, mystical experiences, prayer, ritual, tradition, church, incense, afterlife, divinity) for a moment. When I think of the spiritual aspect of life, I’m thinking about meaning, values, and purpose. If there’s a better word for this, I don’t know what it is, though I’m certainly open to suggestions.
So back to this phrase, the spiritual rogue. It resonates with a double meaning. The first image in my mind is that of a socially independent “drifter” type who has a sensitivity to spiritual issues. But then there’s also the idea of a person whose spirituality is sort of rugged and individualistic.
And, surprise surprise, I kind of see myself in both of these images. I’ve been a spiritual rogue for most of my life — all my adult life, in fact. There’s nothing particularly unique about that. I suspect it’s a quintessential modern American experience. We are a nation of spiritual rogues. Or at least, there are a lot of us out here. It stands to reason that there are two other camps: those in true spiritual communities, and the spiritually dead. Off the cuff, I’d guess the dead outnumber the rest of us. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But as many as one-third of Americans say they’re “spiritual but not religious,” and that seems like a pretty substantial chunk.
“Spiritual but not religious” is so well-worn it’s become almost cliché, at least in my mind. But now that I think of it, isn’t it the same thing? Maybe so. Sometimes a fresh turn of phrase makes a difference.
I’ve considered spiritual matters of paramount importance for as long as I can remember. Yet for the better part of my life I’ve been out here on my own, not a part of any formal community or school of thought. I’ve been a rogue wanderer so long I’m not sure I can be anything else. But what does this rogue spirituality mean for my family, for my daughter who is only three years old? Can a lone wolf be a good dad? And thinking about these things makes me realize something that is kind of hard for me to admit: namely, that I have been longing for spiritual community.
I should make clear that I don’t desire a label or an -ism just for the sake of social respectability. But since the birth of my daughter I’ve found myself stretching and growing in ways that surprise me. I want what’s best for her, of course, but it’s more than that. I also have been redefining what’s best for me. The idea of being part of an explicitly religious community remains waaay outside my comfort zone. And yet community is important to me. I’m very active in my community, but it’s all so damn fragmented. We are always looking at pieces and never the whole. Ritual and tradition have great power to make meaning of life, though many of the big secular ones in our society leave me cold, or worse. It would be nice to be able to celebrate holidays that truly reflect the values we cherish. There’s a strength in numbers, too, which might provide a little buffer against those who see the world differently. That might make it a little easier to walk our path from day to day.
These are questions I’d be wrestling with, regardless, but it’s eerie how the recent Project Conversion postings have resonated with me, ripened certain thoughts, and provoked me to seek greater clarity. I’m afraid it’s all still rather incoherent. Clearly this is a work in progress. But these are things I have been thinking about, and I’d rather make mention of them in half-baked form than leave them out entirely.
For the past six months or so I’ve been following the fascinating spiritual adventures of Andrew Bowen at Project Conversion. The concept is simple to grasp: He converts to a new religion each month, and he writes about it. Anyone who knows me well will understand why this sort of public art/life/video matrix is so compelling to me personally. A certain superficiality would seem to be implicit in the very parameters of the project, but Andrew really puts his heart into it, and pours his heart out in his writings, chronicling the joys and sorrows of his experience. The result is both more profound and more moving than one might expect. I’ve been slowly drawn in, despite the goofy clip-art. If you’re at all interested, this would be a good time to join the “congregation.” June has shaped up to be a sort of break for reflection, and next month he’ll be a Mormon.
I was most looking forward to June, because this month was the only one not designated as a recognizable religion. The schedule simply designated June as “Fringe,” which intrigued me. What could it mean? On June 1, Andrew revealed he planned to “spend some time with lesser-known faiths, sects, and organizations that hang…on the fringe of big, organized religion.” But things have shifted a little. Perhaps prompted in small part by a comment from your truly, it looks as if Andrew will be doing some exploration his own roots this month. Apparently he’s half Lumbee, which is a Native American tribe with which I’m entirely unfamiliar.
That led to a preliminary rumination on The Agony of Identity, in which Andrew posed some big questions.
Who [am I]? Where did I come from? What can I learn from my past? How will these answers influence my future? Am I a created being with some purpose or am I just… here?
He asked readers for our personal thoughts, and of course I relish any opportunity to think about such matters. What follows below merely expands on comments I left on the Project Conversion site.
For some reason, it’s easier for me to go in reverse order.
No, I don’t think I’m a created being, in the sense of being created by a higher being to some purpose, but it would be a mistake to say that means I have no purpose or that I’m “just here.” I believe we must all make a meaningful and purposeful life. I have no issue with people “just” being here, but in my experience we don’t have that luxury. A passive apathetic existence is not a moral option. We must actively engage with the world because we are a part of it.
I take a long view of the past. It’s not just where I grew up, personally, but where did humanity come from? I subscribe to evolution and believe humanity arose naturally without a guiding intelligence. Our history as a species is very interesting (at least to this member of the species) with so many diverse cultures over our planet. Unfortunately, I feel disconnected from my past, on an ethnic-cultural level. That’s part of coming from Germanic stock in wartime America, as the first half of the 20th century was not generally a time when German heritage was celebrated here. There were a couple global wars that kind of played a role in that. But it’s also part of a general pattern of immigrants assimilating into American culture. The last few generations of my ancestors considered this assimilation a marker of success, and indeed I enjoy many privileges in society. But I also feel a sense of sadness and loss and emptiness with regard to heritage and traditions from the Old World, specifically my Scandinavian and Slavic roots. That’s why it’s so fascinating to me to recover what pieces I can.
So much more to write and think about — but other responsibilities beckon. I thank Andrew Bowen for giving me pause to think on such things.
And if you have any thoughts on these matters by all means extend the conversation.
In addition to being my boss’ birthday, tomorrow is supposed to be Judgment Day according to Harold Camping. No, it’s not the end of the world. That’s coming in October.
Just for the record, I may as well make my own prediction: There will be no rapture tomorrow. However there will be plenty of discouraged and disillusioned people. I’m amazed how many have bought into Camping’s prediction. I feel sorry for these folks. They’ve been led astray.
Here’s the precise prediction from Camping’s website:
What will take place on May 21?
On May 21, 2011 two events will occur. These events could not be more opposite in nature, the one more wonderful than can be imagined; the other more horrific than can be imagined.
A great earthquake will occur the Bible describes it as “such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.” This earthquake will be so powerful it will throw open all graves. The remains of the all the believers who have ever lived will be instantly transformed into glorified spiritual bodies to be forever with God.
On the other hand the bodies of all unsaved people will be thrown out upon the ground to be shamed.
The inhabitants who survive this terrible earthquake will exist in a world of horror and chaos beyond description. Each day people will die until October 21, 2011 when God will completely destroy this earth and its surviving inhabitants.
That seems fantastical enough, and I don’t understand how people could really believe that. But a story on NPR takes it to the next level.
On May 21, “starting in the Pacific Rim at around the 6 p.m. local time hour, in each time zone, there will be a great earthquake, such as has never been in the history of the Earth,” [Kevin Brown] says.
So wait — we’re to expect this massive earthquake to happen time zone by time zone? Twenty-four earthquakes in little vertical slices of the planet from pole to pole? That just seems ludicrous on the face of it. I mean even if you accept the whole rapture premise — Why would God honor time zones?
I was curious to know if this was Kevin Brown’s own idea. Nope, turns out this comes from Camping himself.
Tina Dupuy interviewed Camping and wrote about it in the Atlantic, and she gets right to the heart of the silliness:
The Rapture is at 6 p.m. on May 21, 2011, where ever it’s 6 p.m. first, with the “fantastically big” world-ending event taking place on a time zone by time zone basis.
That means we can expect the Rapture to start when it hits 6 p.m. at the International Dateline at 180 Longitude — roughly the between Pago Pago, American Samoa, and Nuku’alofa, Tonga. We’ll know it’s Judgment Day because there will be an earthquake of previously unprecedented magnitude, Camping predicts.
So, according to these calculations, the Rapture will actually begin like a rolling brownout across the globe at 11 p.m. PST on Friday, May 20th. “Everyone will be weeping and wailing because they’ll know in a few hours it’ll come to their city,” said Camping.
So that’s 9PM tonight in our time zone. Might be a good time for a cocktail.
It’s easy to make jokes about the situation. I’ve been invited to a number of funny Facebook events like “Post Rapture Looting” and “Pre Rapture Orgy” and “Scare the Christians by Leaving Empty Shoes and Dry Ice Around.” Ha ha. But I also find this phenomenon troubling. I find it troubling there seem to be so many people who’ve fallen for this. I suppose it’s further evidence that it’s a big old world, and there are a certain percentage of rubes out there.
If you actually have the stomach to investigate Camping’s math, you can’t help but realize he’s a charlatan who will likely prosper no matter what happens. He’s like Donald Trump, in a way: a complete clown who’s playing the system by getting people worked up over sheer foolishness. That’s not to say either Camping or Trump are harmless. Quite the opposite. I hope no one is hurt by these shenanigans, but it wouldn’t surprise me if something ugly happens.
I suppose we’re all prone to apocalyptic end times paranoia. I just don’t see it coming like Camping predicts. I see it more like massive environmental degradation. For my daughter’s sake, I hope I’m wrong about that too.
Post Scriptum: For a good example of proper attribution for one of my photos, check out this Catholic News Agency story: Catholic scholar dismantles May 21 Judgment Day claims
I’m not quite in my right mind today, thanks to some cold medicine I took this morning. So this might be the perfect time to revisit The Good News Bible Hour #14.
The always-amazing Eric Spears (nee White) just excavated this video from his personal collection a few days ago, digitized it and posted it online. I believe this was produced in 1993, and I probably haven’t seen it for at least fifteen years.
Got a few minutes? Let’s watch this together.
I suppose it pretty much speaks for itself, but I can’t resist adding a few editorial comments.
The video consists entirely of an improvised performance by yours truly. However, Eric ran the camera and edited the program; he can also be heard lending a voice off-camera. Xy makes a brief appearance here in her “Mary Perkins” character.
The program aired on CATS (nee BCAT) and supposedly has garnered more complaints than any other video. I suspect that’s because people might think it’s a real televangelist sermon at first, though after watching for a few seconds it’s rapidly apparent that this is satire. That might make a viewer angry enough to call the station.
Of course, it’s also possible that some viewers simply couldn’t view this satire as anything other than an attack on Christianity itself. I can’t speculate on my frame of mind 18 years ago, but as I view this now I see it as a mockery of fundamentalism, which of course is a tendency that can emerge in any religion. I don’t see it as a mockery of Christianity or even religion in general.
Your mileage may vary.
By the way, you should definitely check out Eric’s Daisybrain blog.
I’m not much for resolutions but I do have some goals for this year.
- Finish ROX #96. Really need to wrap this one up. It’s been four years since our last episode. Where has the time gone?
- Prepare a presentation on “The Role of Blogs in the Rebuilding of New Orleans” for the AERA 2011 SIG IT. I mentioned this a couple months ago and I will be sharing my research as it progresses. Stay tuned.
- Complete the Wheel of the Year. I don’t mean just surviving the calendar year, though I aim to do that as well. Rather I’m talking about completing a series of celebrations which began last year at Lammas or maybe Beltane. I’m not really sure. I don’t remember what, if anything, we did for Midsummer. Anyway, I want to complete the cycle and see where that gets me.
Is that all? I’m sure there should be some other stuff listed here, like our annual hike of the Lafitte Corridor. But I like a short list.
The time has come … for destroying those who destroy the earth.
Revelation 11:18 (New International Version, ©1984)
Strange times we live in. Here’s a Christian pastor, C. Joshua Villines, who says we should take Christ out of Christmas. Compare that to noted Pagan, T. Thorne Coyle, who wishes we’d all put Christ back in Christmas. They both make interesting points. As far as I can tell these two essays were written independently within a few days of one another, but they make a wonderfully perplexing point-counterpoint.
Here’s a couple of choice quotes. See if you can tell who wrote which.
Christmas, at least how it is celebrated in the U.S. overculture, has become a sort of Frankenstein’s monster. The sewing together of old Pagan customs, Christian theology, and rampant consumerism has wrought a beast that is ugly, fearsome, noisy, and out of control. Christmas has so overtaken us, that even many Jews have upgraded what used to be a fairly minor holiday into a gift exchanging extravaganza. It is hard not to at least try to compete with the juggernaut that is Santa’s sleigh.
The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day is not, in fact, the “Christmas Season.” It has become the Christmas Shopping Season, but that is a very different animal. Identifying this time of year with Christmas has nothing to do with Christianity, Jesus, the Nativity or anything theological. Instead, advertisers and shopkeepers use the “Christmas Season” as an emotional lure to persuade people to buy more things they don’t really need. Even Christian fundamentalists realize this.
I don’t really have any wisdom of my own to add, except to note that it does seem evident that whatever “Christmas Season” there is seems to have shifted. Once upon a time we thought of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” which as any New Orleanian knows run from Christmas to Epiphany, aka Twelfth Night. In other words, the season started at Christmas. I found further evidence of this in some old recordings from my grandparents. They noted that in their childhood, a tree would be erected at home only on Christmas Eve, after they had gone to bed; they only saw the tree on Christmas morning. I assume the tree remained up for at least the twelve days if not longer. But today the run-up to Christmas is is so overwhelming that even many enthusiasts are thoroughly and completely sick of it by the time the 25th rolls around. This shift from a post-Christmas to a pre-Christmas season seems significant to me.
In yet another essay, the always fascinating Bron Taylor introduces a new phrase — new to me, at least — and one that resonates: The War on Solstice. Good stuff, and probably the best reflection of where my head is at now. Check it out.
Now we’re taking some time to visit family and friends for Christmas and other generalized festivity.
Just in case you’re wondering, I am healing up nicely from my recent surgery. And so, in the spirit of the hostilidays, I’d like to present this special and oh-so-appropriate video.
Cheers! I’m having an Old Horizontal as I type this. Do love me some barleywine, and it seems like the perfect thing for Xmas Eve.
It’s been almost two weeks since I got back from POD 2010, and I still haven’t managed to write about it.
But I find I can’t write about POD 2010 until I’ve addressed POD 2009.
POD stands for the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, and it’s pretty much the big conference for faculty developers.
POD 2009 was my first such conference, and it has proven to be a truly transformative moment for me. In retrospect, I’m tempted to call it a spiritual awakening. That seems funny, but I guess such things happen in funny ways. It was a subtle thing, but at that conference in Houston (of all places) I found myself drawn to sessions on religious literacy, contemplative pedagogy, integrative learning, transformative education and the like. Did I attend a single session on technology? If so, I don’t remember it.
No one could have been more surprised by these developments than me. After all, on the airplane flight there I was celebrating my apostoversary. What business did I have being interested in such matters? Some of my self-definitions were beginning to shift. I have even found myself saying that I went to POD 2009 as a technology specialist, but I returned as a faculty developer. Similarly, I was broadening my understanding of just what religion and spirituality could in fact be.
Of course this turn of events didn’t come out of nowhere. I was ready for it. In fact it was well underway, and I think it would have happened eventually, inevitably, even if the circumstances were different. (But how? Why? Tracing back the roots of this awakening, if I can call it that, is an indulgence which I have not yet fully plumbed. Surely the birth of my daughter played a role, but what else? I could go back decades, I’m sure.) It was a subtle thing, as I said, not the stuff of dramatic revelation, nor did it bear fruit rapidly. Looking back on what I wrote at the time, I can see the profundity of the experience was not immediately evident. It took some months to emerge.
Virginia Lee unintentionally kicked it up a notch back in February. She invited me to co-present (along with 30-odd others) at this year’s “Uncovering the Heart” session at POD 2010. I nurtured a suspicion that she had me confused with someone else, because I had absolutely no qualifications, but I jumped at the opportunity. I knew it would require me to stretch in new and interesting directions — and so it has. Much of my work over the last eight months has been oriented toward learning more about contemplative pedagogy and the other subjects I’ve mentioned.
But these developments have not just been professional. Indeed, the very essence of what I’m on about is the notion of integration and holism. We are all of us whole people; the systems and schemes that fragment our lives can have a dehumanizing effect. In the academy we have a moral responsibility to educate the whole student, body, mind and soul; to teach with our whole selves; to resist fragmentation when it is harmful. (I’m not so ideological as to deny the value of “fragmentation” entirely.) In the broadest context, we all have a responsibility to look after our whole selves, to attend all facets of existence in ourselves, in our families, in our communities.
I have multiple roles that I engage every day: artist, writer, father, husband, son, employee, faculty developer, friend, citizen, president of a small nonprofit, techno wizard, member of various civic organizations, self-made celebrity — the list goes on. Where and when do we have the opportunity to address all these roles, bar none? When are we most whole? I think that is the domain of religion and spirituality and philosophy. Of course there’s plenty of other stuff that falls under these headings, plenty of oppressive dehumanizing constructs which I don’t find helpful at all. Nevertheless, I am increasingly becoming comfortable with the idea that this is the domain where the biggest and deepest and most important questions are asked. It is this inquiry which I find endlessly fascinating, and inspiring, and rewarding, and relevant.
Perhaps attentive readers will have already noticed this burgeoning interest in my writings over the last year — or even longer.
I am rambling. But at I think I needed to clear this out before I could write about POD 2010 in St. Louis… which I will do… soon.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been fiddling with constructing my family tree on ancestry.com. (Thanks to my old high school friend Georgie for getting me hooked.) I managed to trace one line back as far as Torvild Ljøstad, my great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather (that’s 17 greats) who was born in 1370 in the Norwegian county of Aust-Agder, possibly at the site of present-day Vegårshei.
I take that with a grain of salt. The further back you go, obviously, the more chances for error. I haven’t double-checked every link in that lineage. Still it’s interesting to think about.
At the same time I was playing with that, I seemed to find myself making more trips to the local graveyards, which led me to contemplate the untimely demise of a young woman named Virginia. I even started actively searching for certain graves. And generally I have just been enjoying the cemeteries.
We also discovered the shrine to Santa Muerte — Saint Death.
Sheer coincidence? Perhaps. But this is, after all, the time of year associated with such matters. The Day of the Dead, All Souls Day, All Saints Day, Hallowe’en, Samhain — many names, many cultures, many traditions, but sharing a common theme of remembrance and reverence for ancestors, those who have come before, those who are no longer with us.
Fittingly, Persephone had the idea that she wanted to be a ghost princess. That led to a costume idea for the whole family.
We attended a Samhain ritual. It was focused on remembering ancestors, and it was quite beautiful — or at least I think it was. I was distracted by a certain toddler who was getting antsy. The “Samhain for Kids” celebration was fun, even though our girl was the only child there, but by the time the full grownup ritual was underway, well, it was just too much, too long, for a two-year old, and we were not familiar enough with the surroundings or the proceedings to really cope effectively as parents. I hope our daughter’s behavior was not too distracting to the other celebrants. It became more of a “learning experience” than a spiritual one for me. I wish I could have been more fully present, but in this case I guess you could say my descendant trumped my antecedents.
Nevertheless I got a good snippet of video from before the ritual began.
Here’s the moment I want to hold in my memory of that night: dancing barefoot on the grass with my wife and daughter dressed in ghostly white robes while a dead geisha played the drums by a bonfire. That was magical.
We cut out early and got back home in time to receive several troupes of trick or treaters. I was surprised by the number of kids making the rounds (under adult supervision) despite the big Saints game underway at the time. But the all the kids were home by the time the second half began, and that was a much more exciting half as it developed.
And so yesterday morning, on the Day of the Dead, Persephone and I visited the shrine of Sante Muerte.
When I posted about the shrine to the Mid-City discussion group, a neighbor reacted as follows:
I’m don’t really want to judge any religious beliefs but just so people know, the SANTA MUERTE (Holy Death) is considered almost devil worship by most of Mexico. It is used by most criminals in the narco trafficking, kidnapping, & underground Mexican world to legitimize their activities. It is why the country of Mexico has not recognized it as a legitimate faith. Like all religions or political idealogies, extremists can twist anything to legitimize their activities. Just thought people would want a little perspective. For Americans who don’t know better, in Mexico, it would be similiar to glorifying Islamic terrorists & their warped string of Islam…. I travel to Mexico a lot & enjoy studying the history & culture of the country. But I admit, the statues & shrines are pretty weird & cool.
I’m not sure what to think of that reaction. I do know that I misquoted the sign when I wrote about it the first time. It actually says, “Welcome! To the Shrine of La Sante Muerte and the Dead.” I had forgotten that last part, “and the Dead,” but it’s crucial. Clearly, whoever erected the shrine is thinking about the same thing as the Wiccans who devised the Samhain ritual we attended and the Catholics we saw at the cemetery whitewashing the family tomb.
We left three satsumas.
I wonder what Torvild Ljøstad would have made of it.
I recently noticed a small backyard shrine in my neighborhood.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first. I thought maybe it was related to Vodou or Santeria. Then, last weekend, I noticed the owner had put up a sign (English and Spanish) saying “Welcome to the Shrine of Santa Muerte.” The gate was open and you could go into the yard and visit the shrine.
The sign rang a bell. I seemed to remember reading about the Mexican government suppressing this religious expression sometime in the last year.
Sure enough, this Wikipedia article explains Santa Muerte is (maybe) a syncretism between Catholic Christianity and some indigenous Mesoamerican beliefs. Santa Muerte has been underground for a long time. Fascinating stuff.
Her day is November 1st, which is of course the Day of the Dead. If you care to pay your respects, perhaps you can visit the shrine in Mid-City and leave some cigarettes or fruit. I haven’t spoken to the owner and I really have no clue what’s appropriate beyond what I’ve inferred from reading online.
I’m not sure of the propriety of disclosing the exact location publicly. I’m thinking it’s probably alright, but I’ll err on the side of caution for now. If you really wanna know, contact me privately.
Even though I’ve never done yoga before, it’s something I’ve regarded positively for many years. Ironically enough, for years I’ve often urged Xy to try it out. I thought a yoga practice might help her with her migraines and general stress. (And she did take a single “mother & child” yoga class this summer.) I always believed it would be good for me too, but never made it a priority.
What finally lit a fire under me, besides the great deal, is all the work I’ve been doing with contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. Yoga keeps coming up. It’s in the books I’ve been reading, it was discussed at the conference I recently attended, and some actual yoga practice will be integrated into a session I’m co-presenting at an upcoming conference. I figured it was about time for me to check it out.
The session was great. I was the only student who actually showed up, so I got some nice one-on-one instruction from a woman named Karen. Perhaps I should mention that I’ve done some very basic breath meditation over the years, and my occasionally exercise regimens have mostly centered on strength training. I found this practice combined the meditative breathing and the physical exertion with which I’m familiar in a way that was totally new to me. I felt very clumsy trying to do these new things with my body, but clumsy in a good way. It was not particularly strenuous; actually I think it was very gentle, but I can still feel it in my muscles today.
At the end, when Karen asked how I felt, I burst out in a big, uncontrollable smile. I felt great. I think I got in touch with my belly chakra or something.
Strangely enough, later that morning I learned via Facebook that my mother (a thousand miles away in Indiana) also had her first yoga practice this week. That’s some synchronicity. But it gets even stranger.
My boss has done some yoga in the past, and she’s also a notorious ailurophile, so I mentioned the “cat pose” to her. She came back with some remark about “downward dog,” which is something we didn’t do in my class. I had never heard of it before, but the unusual phrase got my attention. A few minutes later, I checked my e-mail and found a message from Religion Dispatches, a website to which I subscribe, with the title “Is Downward Dog the Path to Hell?”
Reading the article by Andrea Jain led me to a post by Albert Mohler which asks the question, “Should Christians Practice Yoga?” It also led me to a talk by Mark Driscoll on the question “Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots?”
Driscoll equates yoga to “absolute paganism” and “demonism.” I found his assertions outrageous and wrong-headed, but also kind of funny. I have actually been quite interested in contemporary paganism lately, but I would not hesitate to describe Mom as a devout Christian. Who knew that we would have this in common?
In all seriousness, though, I find this strain of Christian thought pretty sad. It’s perfectly in line with other things I’ve read lately asserting that meditation is dangerous because it opens the door to demons. I’m sure my mother doesn’t subscribe to such a narrow view, and in any case, I hope she doesn’t let this ridiculous rhetoric discourage her. I think it’s wonderful that she’s practicing yoga, and I think its many benefits can be enjoyed without imperiling one’s Christian faith.
As the Jain article argues convincingly, yoga has become part of our Western cult of fitness: “Modern yoga is a reflection, not of ‘spooky’ Hindu gods or ‘demonic’ practices, but of our contemporary culture’s tendency to envelope physical fitness into the sacred routine of self-development.” I’d actually be interested in the connections to Hinduism, but I’m sure most American practitioners don’t get much into that.
I’m not worried about where yoga practice might lead, because I’m confident in my own ability to sort out right from wrong and to distinguish between what I truly embrace and what I reject. To quote Jain again, “One feature of consumer culture is that we increasingly have choices when it comes to the ideas and practices we adopt. We choose ideas and practices much like we choose commodities.” I used to find this sort of “shopping cart” mentality disturbing or repugnant, but I’m increasingly seeing it as one of the better aspects of our culture. There’s plenty to criticize about consumer culture, but if it empowers individuals to develop to their fullest potential then surely that’s positive.
Anyway, I am already looking forward to next week’s class.
Here’s a rarity — an academic book that is also a page-turner, at least for me. I couldn’t put it down. This is a broad survey of an emergent global phenomenon which might be called earth worship or nature spirituality or “dark green religion.” Bron Taylor defines religion broadly and looks a range of cultures and subcultures, from radical environmentalism to surfing to Disney films and many more. I was a bit disappointed that contemporary Paganism got such scant coverage — only about two and a half pages plus some scattered references. Perhaps that’s because Taylor seems preoccupied with folks who don’t explicitly consider themselves to be practicing “religion” in the most familiar sense of the word. The term “dark” in the title is supposed to connote a sense of potential peril, but according to the author that mostly seems to be in the eyes of Abrahamic practitioners. He hints early in the book that he might examine the potential dangers of ecofascism, but this is never really explored in depth. I suspect there may be a resonance between racism and “dark green religion,” especially in Europe, that bears a closer look. But I quibble. This is a good one which I recommend to anyone interested in ecology or religion.