Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Not to Be Missed!!

Yes, Karen Armstrong’s TED talk was an interesting intellectual presentation around religious issues. It didn’t, however, blow me away or move me out of my head into my heart. But if I could command people to listen to one of the TED presentations, it would be the one given by neuroanatomist Jill Taylor. It’s a talk that’s not to be missed, whether a person is interested in neurobiology or not. Not only does she do a better job of explaining how the two cognitive minds of the two sides of our brain present different views of our world, but she’s also one of the best teachers I’ve ever heard, engaging her listeners in a blend of information presentation, storytelling (she’s a dynamic storyteller, sharing the details of what it was like for her to have a stroke), and visuals. The audience present at the talk was laughing and learning throughout the talk. While my interest in brain science is next to nothing, I found myself engaged and reacting in the same way, even across the internet. The ramifications of her talk for all who deal with psychology and mental illness (all mental illness, not just those who work with people like her schizophrenic brother) and for those interested in spirituality (since she’s better at picturing and explaining the feelings and peace of the right hemisphere than any preacher, theologian, or spiritual teacher I’ve ever run across.) Ultimately, she begins to capture what it means to be human and the daily struggle each of us goes through between living as individuals and as part of a larger whole. As she concluded, I found myself with tears in my eyes, speechless, at both the journey through the experience of a stroke that she’d taken us on and especially what she’d learned from the experience.

Here's the talk for those of you who might have missed it:

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lent 2008

It's been a wonderful Lenten season. I've spent most of my devotional time trying to move away from the everyday information and knowledge world in which I usually work into the more simple, connected, peace filled world of mysticism and centering. There's been the poetry of Rumi, the inward, more gnostic focus of Deepak Chopra's The Third Jesus (which I'm about half way through, reading it in a leisurely way), visualization work and meditation, and my participation in a online discussion group focused on the Kybalion and the mystical elements that lie at the heart of all the major religions' spirituality. And my yoga classes during this six week period have turned out to be a great addition to the inward journey. Despite all the hectic, outward stuff that's been competing for my attention-- the D.Min. project, the extra church work during the Lenten season, the classes I'm taking and the ones I'm teaching, and the Second Life stuff for Mercy-- the season has felt like a liberating Lent.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Karen Armstrong on hijacking religion

I've just listened to Karen Armstrong's 2008 TED talk that discusses not only her new research project but also the ways in which religion has been hijacked in recent years. Interesting!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Back? To the Future?

On RevGalBlogPals, Mother Laura asks questions about both time travel and Lent after pointing out how we’re in a time of transition (both because of Daylight Savings Time and Holy week). Here are her questions and my answers:

1. If you could travel to any historical time period, which would it be, and why?
My first instinct was to pick a time period when I could see my parents and/or grandparents when they were younger to see how they became the people that I got to know, sort of like Marty McFly did in the Back to the Future films. I especially thought it might be fun to stop in on my father’s mother, Elide Venturini, when she was growing up in Poggio Rusco, Italy, to see what her life was really like then. But on further reflection, while it’s tempting to do such traveling, I’m not sure it’d be wise. People reveal what they want known about those times, so respecting their views of what occurred and their privacy about things they didn’t share may make more sense. Instead, since I've so enjoyed visiting the ruins of places like Ostia Antica, I might travel to some place in the ancient world—Egypt, Greece, or Rome (though only as long as I could travel there as an observer, not a participant).

2. What futuristic/science fiction development would you most like to see?

There are so many. I’d like to see a medical tricorder like the one they had in Star Trek that could pick out a problem and then fix it with a wave of the instrument, a transporter that could wisk us from one spot to another (so I could begin to satisfy my desire to see lots of places I’ve never been to), and a holodeck, where I could visit historical situations and experience various adventures and activities safely with none of the downsides of being there in real life. But even with all these things, I think we’d still be dealing with most of the same issues—war, disease (not from lack of ability to cure them but from lack of resources being made available to everyone), exploitation, and poverty. So if there was a futuristic development that would wake us all up to living an economy of sufficiency for all rather than the one of overabundance/ scarcity that we have today, I’d choose that.

3. Which do you enjoy more: remembering the past, or dreaming for the future?

I enjoy remembering the past and gaining new insights from my reflections on it but I like dreaming about the future even more. What will the lives of my kids be like when they’re my age? How will we deal ethically with developing technologies that give us so many new possibilities in health, communication, and exploration? How can we/will we deal with issues of global warming, AIDS, the growing economic divide, and discriminations of all kinds? I love both the abstract and the more “practical” dreaming that the future offers. But, though I love dreaming about the future, I probably wouldn’t want to travel into it if I was given the opportunity. Instead, when it comes to such a possibility, I find myself with Garth Brooks in his song “The Dance”:

And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go.
My life is better left to chance. I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance.

4. What do you find most memorable about this year's Lent?

A year from now, there probably won’t be much about this Lent that I’ll remember. While we’ve tried some new things in Lenten worship, because of the extra work around my DMin project and our family’s battles with flu and respiratory problems, there hasn’t been anything terribly unusual that would make Lent memorable this year.

5. How will you spend your time during this upcoming Holy Week? What part do you look forward to most?

Working, cleaning, working, cooking, working. Next Tuesday I’ve got a presentation on virtual worlds to give to the faculty of the college at which I teach, services to prepare for at church (starting with a Palm Sunday sermon for which I need some inspiration), and family and friends coming next weekend to share Easter and its festivities. While I love almost everything I’ll be doing during Holy Week, I’m also looking forward to Easter Monday when it’s all over and I can sit down and stare at a book or a TV show.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Reader, I...

I’ve just finished Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, a truly unusual book from its very first paragraph:

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, "No, I don't want to watch TV!" Raise your voice--they won't hear you otherwise--"I'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!" Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: "I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!" Or if you prefer, don't say anything; just hope they'll leave you alone."

While purportedly a novel in which two readers encounter parts of ten very different manuscripts, each written in a very different style— like Borges, like a pulp western, like Chekhov, and I’m sure given Calvino as the author, like lots of other authors I didn’t recognize— and each ending abruptly just as the reader becomes hooked in the story, If on a winter’s night actually seems like an archetype for a postmodern novel, being part short story, part philosophy, part novella, and part the reader reflecting on reading as the reader. Though I found myself losing interest in the individual manuscripts and eventually in the intertextual plot (if that’s the right word for the connecting storyline that’s not meant to be part of the story), the exploration of what it means to be reading—for example, the ways in which, no matter how much folks might try to overcome it, reading is a solitary activity; the relationship between a reader and a writer; how translations can change or lose the original author’s meaning—kept me reading if on a winter’s night through to the very end. All in all, I think If on a winter’s night a traveler might best be seen as the verbal equivalent of M.C. Escher’s Drawing Hand.

A Blessing

I've been enjoying a lot of poetry these days, especially the work of American poet Susan Kinsolving and the Celtic blessings of Irish poet John O'Donohue, whose work I first heard on Krista Tippett's radio show Speaking of Faith. O'Donohue's Beannacht seems perfect on a day like today when we're caught between winter and spring and on our way to a holy week of death and resurrection. Here it is:

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

(The picture is of Bardsey Island in northern Wales off the coast of Aberdaron. It's a spot that for centuries was the end of a long walking pilgrimage for many Celtic Christians and that is said to have hundreds of saints buried on it.)