Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Responding to Sandy

Today our thoughts are with the metropolis as Sandy's devastation becomes clear. The day after is always the hardest, I think - the adrenalin is gone, the insurance paperwork is out, and neighbors face the reality of work - normalcy - by Monday.

This is my least favorite day because it's when we turn our lives into dollars. How much will it cost? Who will pay? What amount can the government afford? Why rebuild [insert expensive thing] at all?

As always during emergencies, when things that we think are permanent or reliable are no longer so, communities solidify. I hope we can be that solid community for each other.

Over fifty reported deaths so far. Nurses carrying infants down nine floors in the dark. 80 destroyed homes. Landmarks and memories washed away.

Here in New Orleans we are enjoying a ridiculously beautiful week - cool winds, clear skies, and the smell of rarely-used fireplaces as everyone gets their costumes ready. How heavy can our hearts be for our neighbors whose suffering we have shared?

I encourage you to have interstate compassion. Continue to check online sources that carry your thoughts east to Gotham.

And whatever you do, do not let anyone reduce a person, a life, a community or a network of relationships, to a dollar amount. Compassion is realizing that everyone has has someone who they would move mountains for, and that moving mountains for each other is the business of a global community.

Monday, October 29, 2012


You know that I've been writing about the evolution of spirituality and meaning. Lots of statistics, lots of theological research, lots of reading colleagues. But I've been a bit lax with interviews. No more!

Today I'm restarting interviews. Here are some of the questions I want to ask:

What are some things and activities that are important to you?

What motivates you to do those things?

 If you could do more of something, what would it be?

What prevents you from doing that?

 What I say "God" you think...

When I say "Religion" you think...

I hope these topics will lead to long, open conversations about how people find meaning in their lives, where religion fits into people's thoughts, and the role different rituals play.

What would you ask?  Use comments to reply, or just facebook me. I'd love to hear from you, even if we can't have a coffee in person.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Prayer

I'm trying to pivot next week to some topics on money and humanity, which have been on my mind as Q and I figure out our budget. I was thinking of the prayer of St. Francis, but I prefer this similar prayer by Cesar Chavez. 

I like this one for two big reasons. For one, Chavez is someone we know. He worked near where we live, with people we know of. He is not an abstraction, a statue in a garden with little deer and birds around. He suffered in tangible ways, with tangible results.

Also, this Chavez prayer is more human somehow, I think. No mention of a heavenly lord or master. Dawkins could pray this, honestly, for the equality of persons, and the subjecthood of the planet.

Show me the suffering of the most miserable;
So I will know my people's plight.
Free me to pray for others;
For you are present in every person.
Help me take responsiblity for my own life;
So that I can feel free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others;
For in service there is true life.
Give me honesty and patience;
So that I can work with other workers.
Bring forth song and celebration;
So that the Spirit will be alive among us.
Let the Spirit fourish and grow;
So that we will never tire of the struggle.
Let us remember those who have died for justice;
For they have given us life.
Help us love even those who hate us;
So we can change the world.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Roots and Money

cities can isolate us from our context - the planet
This week I've been writing about our relationship with the planet with which we live. Specifically, I've tried to show that we need the planet, we are part of a big context, but, living as we do in houses and cities, we don't think this way automatically.  

That oversight will kill us - literally and spiritually. 

So why do we mess this up?

Let's get back to basics, to the root of the problem (the root like a radish, radical). The root problem is that it is easier to see the world as us/not us :: subject/object. We objectify other people, groups of people, animals, and everything that is outside us. We turn our surroundings into objects, things that are only valuable insofar as they are valuable to us

the drone fatality app
Strangely, we can do that collectively. When I fail to see the value of some thing, and you do, too, we support each other. That's how slavery happens, or nationalism. And that's what we as a species are doing as a planet. 

Humans are treating the planet like it's the Soviets in the 60s.  

And that's really dumb. It's dumber than the cold war. 

In the cold war we could say that this other group were people like us, not demons or strangers, and we could relate to them. In this case we are part of the planet. We are living things made from carbon. We are filled with bacteria. We are the planet as much as moss or lava or atmosphere. 

When we fail to relate to the planet, we fail to understand ourselves. 

What's the radical, root solution? 

It almost definitely has to do with $$MONEY$$. Money is how we turn subjects into objects, and objects into numbers. Money is how we measure the worth of things relative to ourselves. Money is the high that keeps us addicted to objectification - rewarding us when we objectify really really well.

The first step to being better at relating is understanding our personal relationship with money.

Do you know the point of your money? Do you know the source of your money?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Debunking People in 3 Steps

I'm on a bit of a three-step kick this week.

Anthropocentrism is the point-of-view in which people are made central. For example, a zoo is built around people, not animals - anthropocentric - whereas a game preserve is built around the animals, and people who want to see them are an afterthought.

Let's confront the facts of our world - people are not central to our planet, even less our universe. Quite the opposite. The planet is happy to buck us off like a bad cold.

But there's another side that calls for a balanced perspective on humanity's place in the universe. We are part of the planet, we will work to survive here, and we are unique organisms. This is what Thomas Berry might call the Ecozoic perspective - humans thinking of themselves in an intentional balance as part of a larger planet.

This is key to our spiritual life, and not just for our survival. Our connection with our planet is perhaps the most powerful relationship of love we can form. Any imagination of relationships of love must take into account the natural context. Can we talk about mideast peace without talking about natural resources? Can we discuss our imperative to feed the hungry without talking about the root causes of hunger?

I'm a visual learner, so here's 3 Images to help shape your perspective.

1) Abuse: This is the Yangtze River in China, a major global artery of fresh water. It turned red for as-yet-unknown reasons. Maybe a paper dye? Maybe a chemical runoff? What we do know is that it wasn't hard for me to find a picture for this category. Humans have been cavalier with our planet, which has bent to our wishes. Mountaintop blasting, ocean dead zones, ozone holes, and apocalyptic deforestation worldwide have led us to a point of no return. We got the planet into a mess, and if we are going to survive, we must appreciate the fact that we are part of a larger context of living things.

2) Recovery: I say that we might not survive, that the planet will kick us like a fever, and this is what I mean. This is Detroit, photo by Andrew Moore. You've seen Chernobyl images, surely.  The planet doesn't need us. If we die out the planet will continue spinning, weather will continue to form. Living things might still thrive, like they did for the millions of years before we started walking upright and collecting into towns. The planet will recover from us, that is a fact. By forming a balance with our natural context we aren't somehow saving the planet, we are saving ourselves by connecting with the planet.

3) Shape Up: I am proud that New Orleans is at the cutting edge of urban farming, and that vertical farms - buildings that grow large amounts of food in urban environments through hydroponics - are currently being built in Chicago and New York. The future of humanity rests in our ability to recognize that we are part of a planet much bigger than us. That's easy to forget in a city, where everything around you is man-made, and you might not see naturally occurring plants for months. Making the city more green exposes more people to our balance with the planet, and a city willing to devote itself to that cause is a city that understands. New Orleans is that city because we are falling of the edge. We know that our planet will spin us off if we don't embrace it with both arms.

Monday, October 22, 2012

3 Steps to Connecting

Beautiful skies, meteor showers, and cool temperatures help us think of the planet this time of the year. 

Now, with our human loved-ones, we connect by acting on our thougths. I thought of my friend today, so I called him and we met up. When my mom thinks of me she writes me an email. Neither my friend's hangout or my mom's email have a point other than to connect. Thought turned into action turned into connection.

How do we do that with the planet?

I love a good botanical garden - NYC
Well, first step, we think about the planet. We put ourselves into a mindset that helps us remember our planet - planting trees and gardens, visiting animals, getting out of the city, looking up at the sky. Habits like these are like going to book club, or keeping a birthday calendar - anything that reminds us to make room in our busy day-to-day for something else. We do that for our people-friends, why not our planet-friends?

Next, we have to engage in some action. I think of my friend and post something on facebook to them. Maybe I get my hands dirty in the garden, or go for a hike out of town or in a botanical garden. At the very least we can look up at the sky for a few minutes, or even admire some beautiful pictures while we're at work.

maybe not a good model for connection
At last, we form connections. I would do anything for my friend, and he helps me grow, too. Our connection is good. If we think about and act with our planet, we will develop a connection with the planet. And, frankly, if we don't have that we have a very limited life.

Our planet is our richest, boldest, most exciting friend. How can you facebook friend it?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Prayer

Video Edition! All these videos together will take you less than fifteen minutes to watch.

I'm thinking about our place in the world. I know some people who can help...

Carl Sagan on how our world doesn't need to conform to us:

Alan Watts on apples:

And Thomas Berry on the Cenezoic Era:
(remember that waves are the sound of the planet we are on spinning on an axis, and go to the bathroom.)

Friday, October 19, 2012

In the World

Everyone, it's a beautiful day here: clear blue sky, cool and breezy, low humidity (relatively), and I just bought bacon and new socks. So I will take this moment to say thank you, planet.

Thank you, Planet.

By randomly spinning a pattern around a star, your ball of stuff became predictable. Over time that predictable movement led to the development of liquid-state water, which in turn led to weather, geography, and life.

Our form of life has been cultivated with a particular tolerance to temperature. And, over untold centuries, we have borrowed colors like blue and green from our eyes, which evolved to admire clear skies, fat pigs, and green plants as signs of safety, ease and plenty. So today my body is full of joy.

Andy on Earth
These days our species' complexity has led us to create imaginary worlds that we communicate to each other, and that, too, led to our ease and pleasure. But we forget that our lives - our taste buds, our feelings, our colors, our communication and moral systems - are entirely due to your spinning goodness.

I hope that, today and tomorrow, we will not run from your gardens in shame, but connect with you more deeply.

Yours sincerely,

Andy on Earth.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

5 Things We Learned from Vatican II

I haven't been too topical lately, but there have been some rather interesting developments in Rome as the Pope celebrates the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, the sweeping reform of the Roman Catholic Church. In the meantime, the Pope is also calling together a "Year of Faith", whose impact and meaning has yet to be seen.

So in honor of the 50th of Vatican II, I want to nail down 5 things we have learned from Vatican II.

1) Do not run from reality. Vatican II is considered a pivotal point in the history of Christianity as a global church organization directly called the world - our present reality - "good", god-filled, and a source of spiritual health. Until that time, and into our own present, Christians have been at war with the present. But Vatican II responds that God exists in our world and that the final goals of humanity - salvation - are achieved using our world.  

In so doing Vatican II encouraged scientific research and condemned apocalyptic language that divides "chosen" or "believers" from the world. Anything that removes false divisions and encourages communication is aces for me. 

2) Churches are for People. Maybe the most existentially challenging aspect of the council was the idea that the church is an instution, and that it needs to be updated. The only comparable council in terms of scope and content was Trent, five centuries earlier, so for 20th century church authorities, every major question was more or less settled, and it was the people's job to accept and conform. Vatican I in the 19th century solidified this by formally claiming the pope to be infallible.

But the horror of WWII destroyed Europe's confidence in institutions. Church leaders (university theologians first) saw that they were not an institution separate from the world. This prompted a radical theological shift that asked basic questions about the nature and purpose of religious institutions, and led to the conclusion that religious institutions are for people. Christian churches are built and organized to facilitate people getting together with each other and God. 

3) Women are also People. Vatican II vastly improved the integration of women into the church organization, although it was (is) still wildly inadequate. Although women could not attend or vote in any formal session (only clergy were allowed), and were not the theological advisors to any attendees, they were there, in the vatican, as more than domestics. Married women and women religious (nuns) essentially had subcommittees that wrote some material for the sessions. 

Is that much? No. But now women are present in majority at major theological universities, and hold high-ranking positions within the hierarchy. Women still aren't voting members - clergy like bishops and cardinals.

4)  Globalization, not Colonization. Vatican II was still predominantly Italian, and then overwhelmingly European, but many non-caucasian bishops represented their non-European nations at the council. Now, religious liturgies are adapted to local customs, so that God can be present in the rituals for people who aren't Roman. 

This may seem small, again, but it paved the way for the general globalization of the Catholic church, a church in which European members (and European bishops) are now in the minority. Asian, Hispanic, and African leaders were all popular choices for pope after John Paul II, which might have led to an organization with very different priorities. 

5) Philosophy is not a Curse. Because the most satisfying reflections on WWII were coming from philosophers like Sartre, in contrast to the anemic responses of contemporary religious figures, the theologians present at the council were adept students of post-modern philosophy. At the council they asked big, whole-world questions that had never before been asked of a church organization. What is God? What is the nature of our relationship with God? What is Jesus? What does it mean to be saved by Jesus? These texts, then, read like a manual to re-build a car, bolt by bolt.

We, in turn, should not shy away from these questions in the new millennium. These days our church organizations are - again - not answering our needs. The sessions of Vatican II is a lesson that it is possible to ask big questions without being ostracized or labeled. The years since? Not so much. 

Let's rebuild our spiritual landscape with the same sense of futurism and openness of fifty years ago.