The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future is non-fiction. One of its two main parts features 28 short chapters (most no more than a page or two) exploring emergent knowledge from many realms including commerce, anthropology, social science, medicine, spirituality, cognitive science, art, public policy, and others. Each chapter highlights stories, research, and emerging developments that point to a specific public interest in cultivating empathy, imagination, and community through artistic and cultural creativity. The Wave is speculative fiction: not utopian, because everything in it is doable, but a glimpse of this possible world that I hope will spark other social imaginations.
It all comes down to this: no matter how you parse it – art, politics, spirit, planet; body, mind, heart, and soul – the realms that are reckoned separate in the official version of our current reality are in truth a unity, and recognizing that is the path to wholeness. When we violate – ignore, deny, falsify – the absolute indivisibility of our lives, we pay a crushing price. Daring to live into wholeness doesn’t guarantee happiness, of course. But it does confer freedom, the kind that comes from within and radiates in all directions. As Isaiah Berlin said, “Everything is what it is: liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience.” Our specific birthright is freedom in the service of compassion. And wholeness is our aspiration, just as the seed aspires to sprout.
I have been thinking hard about this lately, as friends share with me the work of artists whose approach is embedded with this knowledge as beads are laid into the wax and wood base of a Huichol mask. And even more as I observe political work that is simultaneously spiritual work and simultaneously art work and the three are braided so closely that it is impossible to pass a hair’s-breadth between them. For instance:
It’s been one of those times when the pace of events — both interior and exterior — accelerates almost beyond reckoning. Granted, these days I get much of my news from “The Daily Show,” but still: Inauguration! Republican vote-rigging! Somalia! Egypt! I had a birthday with all the attendant thrill and agony, met a bunch of deadlines, and – big news for me – finished my book revisions and sent manuscripts to the kind people who agreed to read them and consider blurbing. (You’ll be hearing more about these spring releases very soon.)
My blog philosophy is to wait till I have something to say rather than adhering to a preset schedule. Usually I have something to say once a week or so, but I couldn’t rouse myself to add to the tidal wave of words engulfing the blogosphere this month. Mostly my reasons have been personal. I’ve been at that familiar stage for a writer: the writing is done. I think it’s good (and response from early readers suggests that I could be right). But that doesn’t mean everyone else will think so. Once again, I find myself putting forward ideas that are sure to gore someone’s sacred ox. Once again, I have granted myself the freedom to mix categories, cross boundaries, suggest possibilities that not everyone may welcome. I took some heart from Nassim Taleb’s point in Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder that writers can be antifragile to criticism: “[I]f you really want people to read a book, tell them it is ‘overrated,’” he writes, “with a sense of outrage.” Of course, I hope everyone loves my new work, but whatever may come, I’m almost ready to say, “Bring it on.”
All this hope, anticipation, and effort is a little decentering, though. As always, my antidote is music. The last few weeks I’ve been listening obsessively to Roy Buchanan, infusing my system with Vitamin G (that’s for guitar), drinking in music’s magical powers to activate body, mind, heart, and soul. So if you’re a little glad to see me back in the blogosphere, thank Roy. I do.
Left to right: Richard Rohr, attendees dancing, Brian McLaren. Credit: Wild Goose Festival Website (www.wildgoosefestival.org).
I have been watching, with rapt envy, the many blog posts, articles, photos and videos filling the virtual airwaves since the Wild Goose Festival closed its second year this past June. A conglomerate of issues (scheduling, funding, timing) kept me from attending but next year it is already locked in on my calendar.
The Wild Goose Festival launched last year, after five years in the planning and making of it, with over 1,000 attendees camping out in Shakori Hills, NC, for an event meant to intersect faith, justice, art, and music in a very particular way. While there are great teachers from all faith traditions (predominantly Christian but increasingly more persons from other faith traditions and no faith tradition are joining the conversation) who present in their own faith areas of expertise the festival is also an organic grassroots experience where speakers step down off their stages and into the crowds for community discussions on the subject matter. It is a live thing, this festival, not just entertaining but engaging and creating in each moment of the community experience.
On Saturday, April 21, Sacred Snapshots, a day-long Sampler for the Spirit, will invite participants to experience the divine, celebrate spiritual practices from a range of religions and traditions at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.) Whether exploring religion in pop culture, engaging 12-step spirituality, or experiencing Hindu ritual, attendees will create a multi-religious, multicultural and international community for one day. Rumi wrote that “there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” and at Sacred Snapshots, you will have the chance to try at least a dozen.
I still sometimes dance in the car while waiting at a red light. However, back in the day, when I had less sense than I have now, I would throw the car in park, jump out and dance in the street. When Whitney Houston sang “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, the joy, the exuberance, the hope, the possibility was too much to contain inside the car. The imperative: turn the volume up, put the car in park, jump out and dance. Celebrate life.
When she sang the “Star Spangled Banner” at a Super Bowl, this unashamed, unapologetic peacenik who at the time was completely disgusted by the first Iraq War, who then and now is suspicious of cheap, political patriotism, who hates with a perfect hatred the flag-waving jingoistic aspects of war – any war – got goose bumps. Her voice reverberated across the globe. My children and I stood up in the living room and cheered. To paraphrase Marvin Gaye: she made me want to holler and throw up both my hands. Peace theory IS patriotism. I was reminded of my patriotic duty.
Then, when we went to see “The Preacher’s Wife”, the movie with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, the entire sound track, especially her rendering of “Joy to the World” compelled us to go to the record store when the movie was over. The imperative: go to the music store. Go directly to the music store. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
Sometimes even an atheist needs a community soup kitchen.
This winter, I will probably need one, and so will many many of my fellow Americans. This winter, when the thin veil of November leaves has finally come down in Chicago, the sand is banked on the beaches against the lake shore wind and the dark comes early, I will be happy for a bowl of soup and a place to eat it where I feel welcome.
Like so many this year, for me the recession is grinding down hard, and the things that held me together are beginning to fray, just a little and at the edges, but still, the possibility of coming unraveled hangs over all endeavors while the nights get colder.
Like the people occupying parks the whole country over, I am running out of faith in governments and institutions to provide a little grace and shelter while we all wait out the economic troubles we’ve got to endure.
My cousin Marcia wrote to me the other day. I’ve been one of her anchors of hope amidst a lot of despair about the world situation. When she wrote this time though, I too was cranky. “Change we can believe in my tush!” Then, a few hours later, our shop was filled with Think Peace Workshop kids and their parents making scarves for children in Africa. The energy was simply amazing. And then this morning I was writing checks to some of the organizations we support and ran across this video from the Mosaic Project. Now, I don’t feel so cranky. Maybe this will lift your spirits too. There are amazing people and organizations working with children to make their world and ours a much better place. Read more if you’d like to know more about The Mosaic Project and Think Peace Workshop. And, if this kind of post makes you happy, let me know and I’ll tell you about other people and organizations doing wonderful things. If you’d rather just be cranky….. I’ll understand!
Perhaps I have been hiding under a rock – maybe a good strategy, considering – but until today I was blissfully ignorant of the existence of The Westboro Baptist Church and its history of picketing rock concerts and a wide variety of funerals. Upcoming events include the funerals of the Arizona shooting victims and of Elizabeth Edwards. Members of the church are also infamous for picketing at the funerals of soldiers whose deaths they consider evidence of god’s wrath. Although the name of their website is http://www.godhatesfags.com/ it seems their god hates just about unconditionally, and hell is either overcapacity or infinitely expandable. Dante’s nine circles could never suffice for all the people the WBC believes the almighty has consigned to eternal damnation.
I tried to go to their website, just as I recently tried to visit Sarah Palin’s, to read for myself contents reported by the media. In both cases, my computer could not connect, although connection to other sites was no problem. I wondered at first (in paranoid Luddite fashion) if somehow those websites can screen people like me who want to spy on their activities or at any rate decry them. Then it occurred to me that maybe those sites are so trafficked that there is an impassible jam. Either explanation disturbs me.
My husband, who is a news junkie, just walked in and told me he had never heard of The Westboro Baptist Church, either. Unaffiliated with any recognized Baptist conference or association, the WBC was founded by Fred Phelps in 1955. According the Wikipedia entry, its modest membership (71 in 2007) consists mostly of Phelps’ family. Since 1991 the church has been actively involved in the anti-gay rights movement. Now clearly they have become experts at exploiting the media and attaching themselves to anyone with celebrity, including Lady Gaga whom they likened to “The Beast Obama.”
Lady Gaga counseled her fans not to engage with the picketers. In Arizona people will assemble not as counter-protesters exactly but as human shields for the mourners. Meanwhile Arizona lawmakers are drafting emergency legislation to prohibit protests at or near funeral sites.
In my childhood, I wanted to know everything about everything, which I called “being a polymath”, because polymath was such an impressive word. I read omnivorously, and remembered almost all of what I had read. I was the star of my high school’s Reach For the Top team (short version: a Canadian high school Jeopardy). I knew all the songs on the top 30, every week, and could identify them from the first notes, to the amazement of my parents to whom all rock and roll sounded pretty much the same. Two long-remembered dreams from my childhood encapsulate this obsession. In the first, the happy dream, aliens come to destroy Earth (I was a big science fiction fan) but moved to pity, they choose one person at random and ask one question. If the question is answered correctly, Earth will be spared; if incorrectly, ZAP! They choose me; I know the answer. Everyone is awed and grateful. In the other dream, I go off to summer camp for two weeks, and when I come back I get a copy of the current top thirty. I look at it in disbelief. I don’t know any of the songs on it. I don’t even know any of the groups. I am in utter despair.
One of these dreams has come true, and – here’s a hint – it’s not the one with the aliens. I still read music reviews occasionally, and they’re about albums I don’t know by bands of which I’ve never heard. Even when they explain that the lead singer used to be in this important other band, I still don’t know him. Sometimes out of this vast ocean of ignorance there’ll emerge a familiar island, a new album by Paul Simon, or the Rolling Stones. But the waters of oblivion are rising, the islands are becoming fewer, and there are more and more column inches of reviews waving between them.