In the emergent world – the one I call The Republic of Stories – we don’t have to shrink ourselves to the scale of widgets to interact with corporations and institutions, modeling our own ways of being on the machine logic of our inventions. At any moment, we can open the gates of perception and understanding. We can treat each other as whole beings. We can assess and consider the full price of our actions, then act accordingly.
That world already exists; it’s just that the way is sometimes blocked by those so loyal to Datastan’s values that they can’t imagine an alternative. It’s a matter of time before enough people bring the new reality into focus, and I am determined to put my energy on the fulcrum of paradigm shift. It’s amazing how much even a single exercise – allowing a piece of music to enter us fully – can help engage the tipping-point.
In Vancouver recently, I spoke at the Zero Waste Conference, a gathering of scientists, officials, academics, and activists devoted to eliminating waste. I was deeply impressed to encounter Michael Braungart for the first time. His talk was frank and amusing, calling into question many of the aims implicit in zero waste and other action focusing on environmental impact reduction. Braungart’s points sounded obvious once you heard them, generating mind-changing implications. For instance, he compared the goal of “zero emissions” to the reality of a tree, which emits helpful substances into the atmosphere and earth. He questioned sustainability as a value, suggesting that it sets the bar pretty low: “Would you want to answer a question about the quality of your marriage by saying, ‘It’s sustainable’?”
Recently, I had an experience of solidarity so precious it stands out as a significant moment of my life. And it wasn’t associated with victory. On the contrary, it was accompanied by virtually nothing but defeat. At a recent Working Class Studies conference, I heard from and sang with members of the Wisconsin Solidarity Singalong, an overlapping and unofficial group who have sung historic and updated protest songs in the Wisconsin State Capitol every weekday noon (so as not to disrupt official business) for over 600 days. Let me pause and ask: What would it take for you to protest every weekday noon for 600 working days – without ever being successful? How about if you were ticketed hundreds of times (the “conductor” of the singers had personally received 140 tickets), harassed, punched in the face, sent to trial? This is in the context of spectators being “tossed from the chambers for things like taking a picture, displaying a sign, reading a newspaper or wearing a hat.”
What happens to freedom of speech when you can’t put tape over your mouth to express protest at not being allowed to sing? What happens to you as a result of this commitment? I think the answer is your life changes – and the world around you changes, on an almost invisible yet vitally important scale.
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.
I’m a bad Jew,” a friend said, grinning ear to ear and then biting into a bacon-egg-and-cheese bagel sandwich. Even looking back on the Jewish gangsters of the 1920′s, socialist Jews of the 1930′s, hippies of the ’60′s and punks of the ’80′s, seldom has being a “bad Jew” seemed so trendy.
Time and time again, American Jews simultaneously act and critique their own actions, rigidly adhere to ancient precepts and then question them. As a community, we create the counter thesis to our own tradition through rebellion, with the rebellion itself long since becoming a tradition. The problem is that “bad Jews” don’t always play their part so well. Some don’t rebel against particular Jewish traditions or approaches to theology. Instead, they actively adhere to American Jewish cultural traditions — bagels and lox on the weekends, self-effacing humor, and political activism — while still claiming that they are somehow devious. How rebellious can conformity be?
True rebelliousness has been partially relegated to literature, where a set of young Jewish giants is replacing a generation of retiring ones. But how long can Jonathan Safran Foer‘s brilliant, if incessant, references to his sex life be considered truly rebellious? Are we losing our tradition of losing our tradition?