Last Meal

On death row you celebrate your last night with your last dinner, your choice, your last craving to make at least your stomach happy before it stops craving anything at all. Many choose simple food: a hamburger, mac and cheese, ice cream. What might it be for you, my friend? Duckling Rouenaisse? A roast of unborn lamb? Washed down with Veuve Cliquot ’59 and old Armagnac? And how do you know, my friend, that you are not eating your last meal at this very table now? Chew slowly. Make sure you take in all the body and the blood – Bill Holm, Chain Letter of the Soul, Selected  

Life on Europa

A trio of skilled researchers have suggested that DNA-based life has been found on Jupiter’s moon Europa. “We can only conclude that based on this preliminary subjective data that some type of biological activity is at play on Europa.” ADDED: Ironically, another discovery of possible life on Saturn’s moon Titan was released just hours ago at New  

Six Simple Ideas

A nice little pitch-placed montage of pop scientists singing the praises of objectivity. I resonate with this thread. Science is a kind of poetry of shared reality. As Dawkins chirps, “science replaces private prejudices with publicly verifiable evidence.” World religion is fragmented into hundreds, perhaps thousands, of competing frameworks, with no central mediating idea. And while science can boast of central unifying tenets, it cannot address the depths of the human heart, the human spirit, the reality of hope (see Havel quote prior post). Maybe someday it will, but for now most of us embrace metaphysical metaphor to help make sense of mystery, death, and self. It is here: where objectivity meets mystery — where science meets spirituality — that our most important conversations are taking place. The world of religion can learn much from the scientific method, yet religion persists in trying to jam its clumsy superstitions into elegant, well-establish meta-patterns. Conversely, science, in its assumption that it can eventually objectify all reality, misses the fact that it hasn’t. Science would be well-served by integrating an engaged, conversational respect for the views of transcendence that currently fuel many of the planet’s greatest hopes and dreams. I’ve encountered a number of scientists who, while remaining atheistic or agnostic, have developed a healthy posture towards spirituality. Fact is, most scientists do maintain a sense of spirituality and/or faith. It’s a serious problem that the 5% militant extremes (on both sides) are often seen as the norm. As I mentioned here some years ago, physicist, astronomer, and atheist Marcelo Gleiser (Dartmouth) weighed in on the war between science and religion. He warns fellow scientists that they are becoming “as radical as the religious extremists, as inflexible and intolerant as the movements we seek to exterminate by our oh-so-crystal-clear-and-irresistibly-compelling rationalizations.” Gleiser admits that science cannot offer the humanly essential qualities of hope, peace, charity, and spirit. He concludes, “It is futile and naive to simply dismiss the need people have for spirituality… either science will teach us humility and respect for life or we will exterminate this most precious cosmic jewel. I am optimistic that scientists will teach people these lessons, instead of simply trying to rob them of their faith and offering nothing in return.” My public journal (aka blog) exists, in part, because of my desire to see greater consilience between science/technology and faith/spirituality. Numerous science/spirit resources can be found in the sidebar. What’s needed in today’s rapidly connecting global culture, especially religious culture, is a way towards understanding the nature of unhealthy bias – how it clouds our thinking. Philosopher/scientist Massimo Pigliucci (NYU) offers six simple ideas that can help us overcome this “meta-bias” — our “not wanting to be wrong.” – Divorce your belief from your self – Think of disagreements as collaborative, not adversarial – Visualize being wrong – Take the long view – Congratulate yourself on being objective, not on being right – If you can’t overcome your competitive instinct, re-direct it Until we “become fine with being wrong” we will continue to harbor survival techniques which force us to hold on to irrational meta-biases. I journal this more as a reminder to myself than anyone  

The Perception of Worth / The Consumption of Memory

Mentioned in my last post, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman’s 2010 TED Talk was among my favorites. In the context of behavioral economics, Kahneman takes us immediately to the heart of what it means to be human – to question and probe the very nature of self and memory and experience, ultimately revealing ‘economics’ in the larger picture of relationship, value/worth, and our questionable notions of perceived reality. Is the consumption of memory the consumption of reality? Considering spirituality, do we place more value in experiencing or remembering, and how do we define the differences? Are well-being and happiness synonymous? Are there really two selves at work here? You will find yourself challenged and asking questions you’ve probably never considered after viewing this must-watch TED Talk. ADDED: After you view the video, don’t miss this surprisingly thoughtful article from Norman Lear in today’s Washington Post religion section: “the ‘What’s it all about?’ question is the best conversation going. Just plain folks, unfortunately, can’t get into it, because the rabbis, the priests, the ministers, mullahs and the reverends — the professionals — have a corner on the subject… And so, the sectarian rivalry and sanctimonious bickering about moral superiority and spiritual infallibility that occurs among the professionals often assumes a greater importance than the religious experience  

Absolutely Convinced or Radically Uncertain?

Some thoughts this week on the slippery notion of ideological and religious certainty. Philosopher Philip Clayton, “The days are gone when we can just list the doctrines — mother church can decide and we can just sit there with those as a given.  Given is no longer a given. And I think there is an attitude of radical uncertainty and radical doubt. And rather than saying can we integrate doubt and faith, I want to speak of a faith which incorporates the radical doubt, which is the doubting miraculously finding faith within it.” Clayton articulates an important shift:  a faith not built upon persuasive propositions (if you’ve not heard a better argument, you’ve not talked to the right people) but upon wrestling with life’s mystery and paradox. Faith born of deep probing doubt. Faith that exists in harmony with doubt, not in opposition to it. Paul Fromont quotes existential psychologist Rollo May, “People who claim to be absolutely convinced that their stand is the only right one are dangerous. Such conviction is the essence not only dogmatism, but of its more destructive cousin, fanaticism. It blocks the user from learning new truth, and is a dead giveaway of unconscious doubt” Pretty obvious stuff, but so often lost in the passion of religious fervor: absolute certainty as a marker of toxic religion – a posture of certainty that snuffs out the small voice of creation – a rigidity of mental logic that that bounds and gags the transcendent freedoms of Spirit. May concludes, “The person with the courage to believe and at the same time to admit his doubts is flexible and open to new learning, and I’d add, open to new depths of meaning and new vantage points from which to gain new or different perspectives. Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt. To believe fully and at the same moment to have doubts is not at all a contradiction: [rather] it presupposes a greater respect for truth, an awareness that truth always goes beyond anything that can be said or done at any given moment” When discussing religion and spirituality, I prefer the word “confidence” over certainty. And sometimes “confidence” is too strong a word. Hope, however, is never too strong. A shared hope is always welcome in any community. Hope is a bridge between communities. Hope promotes inclusion and safety. Hope lives on, even in the face of death. Hope is the yeast of faith. As new generations accelerate and deepen the shift from institution-centric, lay-clergy models of religion to networked sharing and collaboration — what Duke theologian David Morgan calls an extended community of interpretation — theology will change, perhaps radically. And among the major changes will be the way we collectively re-imagine and re-envision our certainties, confidence, hope, and faith. As this collective re-imagining transforms religion from the inside-out, from the bottom-up, from expert to amateur… may it not coalesce into yet another static propositional confession. May doubt (the posture of honest uncertainty) remain authentic and always new – and not become a religion unto itself. May religion be continually redefined as (re)generative, inclusive, shared experience, offering a depth of freedom not found in ideas, but in what the best ideas always point to. Inertial. Pointing father. Pointing beyond the visible horizon. One of the 20th century’s greatest scientific thinkers, Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman, talks about faith, doubt, religion, and uncertainty in this engaging four-minute film. Time well spent. “I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that could be wrong… I don’t have to have an answer; I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things.” – R.  

Keats Tuesday (for Cynthia)

My dearest Girl, This moment I have set myself to copy some verses out fair. I cannot proceed with any degree of content. I must write you a line or two and see if that will assist in dismissing you from my Mind for ever so short a time. Upon my Soul I can think of nothing else “The time is passed when I had power to advise and warn you again[s]t the unpromising morning of my Life” My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist without you “I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again” my Life seems to stop there “I see no further. You have absorb’d me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving “I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you. I should be afraid to separate myself far from you. My sweet Fanny, will your heart never change? My love, will it? I have no limit now to my love” You note came in just here “I cannot be happier away from you ” ‘T is richer than an Argosy of Pearles. Do not threat me even in jest. I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion ” I have shudder’d at it ” I shudder no more ” I could be martyr’d for my Religion ” Love is my religion ” I could die for that ” I could die for you. My Creed is Love and you are its only tenet ” You have ravish’d me away by a Power I cannot resist: and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often “to reason against the reasons of my Love.” I can do that no more ” the pain would be too great ” My Love is selfish ” I cannot breathe without you. Yours for ever John  

Pranic Healing & Science

It’s one of my life’s profound joys to see something we call “spiritual” validated by scientific method. Over time, I think that many of the chasms separating science and religion will be bridged. Until then, it’s in our best interest that both disciplines maintain a respect for one another – realizing that the best practitioners in science and religion are both earnestly seeking truth, via different methods. Joie Jones holds a PhD in Physics from Brown and was a professor of Radiology at UC (updated 28 Dec 2012). Joie is a contemporary example of consilience between scientific method and ancient religious ideas. Holding numerous patents in medical instrumentation and radiology, one of Joie’s prime areas of study is the ancient practice of “pranic healing” – which finds its roots in both Chinese and East Indian religion and medicine. Joie has been researching pranic healing for twleve years and his results are nothing less than stunning. Moreover, his experimental results appear to be scientifically bulletproof and in process of peer review. A recent YouTube video documents Dr. Jones giving a summary lecture on his findings — nearly 900 separate experiments to-date. I urge you to spend a few minutes with Dr. Jones’ truly revolutionary work, revealing findings that, as he says, are “difficult to explain in terms of the standard scientific  

Easter Story

Conversations with friends often focus on philosophy, faith/belief, spirituality… and how these ideals can be put into a life practice that might make the world a better place. An artist friend (musician, writer, all-around creative type) e-mailed me this morning describing some major life changes – a kind of catharsis. He says, Continuing our conversation from your living room, I’ve decided to let go of the darkness I have been carrying around. I reached a new level of understanding last night, that what I have been embracing and hanging onto for so many years is killing me. I don’t know exactly how to put it into words. Through the negativity in my art I believe I have been poisoning other people as well. All of the cynicism, depression, negative introspection, failure… I used to like riling people up and getting a negative reaction, but that means nothing to me now. I’ve always had a problem accepting God / Christianity because of the goody-goody imagery and hypocrisy. It makes me feel kind of squirmy. But I think it’s time that I get past that and see it for what it really is. Which, of course, is also hard to put into words. I, too, have “always had a problem accepting God / Christianity” – and for more reasons than just its hypocrisy and shallowness. Religion paints with a broad brush of a few primary colors. It tends to pacify fears with superstitions. It seeks to nail down air-tight answers to questions many of us are no longer asking. It has a low tolerance for inquiry. It quickly becomes its own self-referencing sub-culture. But I love the Jesus story – the embodied perfection of humanity. I recognize all too well that the story could be fiction, but I live as if it were true – for it is the most compelling story I have ever known. I acknowledge and live with this intellectual tension, this uncertain but hopeful possibility. Religion rarely honors intellectual honesty. Most religious leaders and ideologies demand triumphal allegiance to one’s beliefs as if they were scientific fact. I refuse to pretend, or bow to my own (or anyone else’s) notions of “certainty.” Being convinced and being certain are not necessarily the same. So I walk arm-in-arm with you, my friend, in this journey. What few answers I have are saturated in the ideals of love – what are called the “fruits of the Spirit” in the NT . These innate, unalienable, universal ideals will survive every human invention. We are part of a greater story. Creation’s infinite, harmonious beauty is a reflection of this story, for those with eyes to  

Unnamed, complete, unanswerable

I would not have been a poet except that I have been in love alive in this mortal world, or an essayist except that I have been bewildered and afraid, or a storyteller had I not heard stories passing to me through the air, or a writer at all except I have been wakeful at night and words have come to me out of their deep caves needing to be remembered. But on the days I am lucky or blessed, I am silent. I go into the one body that two make in making marriage that for all our trying, all our deaf-and-dumb of speech, has no tongue. Or I give myself to gravity, light, and air and am carried back to solitary work in fields and woods, where my hands rest upon a world unnamed, complete, unanswerable, and final as our daily bread and meat. The way of love leads all ways to life beyond words, silent and secret. To serve that triumph I have done all the rest. Wendell Berry – from the poem 1994 HT: Writer’s