Cellphone Quiet Time

Communications technology has become overwhelming and dysfunctional. Our barrage of e-mails, text messages, and phone calls is making us too distracted to think clearly, deeply, and effectively to function from day to day. I think it’s time for us to call for official cellphone quiet times each day: 2 hours each morning and 2 hours each afternoon. We need undistracted time for a good portion of each day—or we are deluding ourselves about getting anything done well.

A couple of recent New York Times articles talk about the implications of digital communications overload:

Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price


First Steps to Digital Detox

Recently took a hike up a mountain that required a climb of about 2900 feet in 3.5 miles. There were beautiful fields of wild flowers along the way. At the top, about 40 people were sitting around, enjoying the view, eating lunch—and checking their cellphones! You would think an exhausting and beautiful climb like that would clear away all need for digital noise. It seemed pathetic that people would feel the need to check for messages on their day off out in the wilderness. People of all ages were doing this. Some sort of social anxiety drives this. Or is it a form of addiction?

What do you think?

© Brother Greg 6/9/10

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Jesus Camp

This is a strong documentary about the indoctrination of a group of Midwestern kids into hardcore, right-wing, Pentecostal Christian fundamentalism. You see them go to a summer camp, where they get encouraged to become pretty militant about their beliefs, including a battle cry for ending abortion. There’s anti-Creationism. There’s a huge show of support for George Bush, because he’s Christian. There’s Christian rock music. There’s a clever, effective use of sound and communication techniques. It’s pretty sickening, if you haven’t seen this sort of thing before, and nauseatingly familiar if you have. It’s quite a lot like seeing the development of a cult, only it’s seen as a slice of middle America.

I’m not sure what my response is to this movie. It’s worth seeing, to see just how fundamentalists/evangelicals work. It’s frightening, if what’s shown in this movie is truly widespread. A bunch of kids are being brainwashed into believing the world was created by God in 6 days, that belief in Jesus is our only possible protection from an afterlife in hell, that Jesus is going to come again soon and end the world as we know it, that the Bible is all that’s worth reading, and that women shouldn’t have the right to choose regarding abortion. Really awful stuff.

Frankly, my first response isn’t much. A kind of numbness. I’ve heard this stuff before. It doesn’t seem so menacing. It’s like Mormon boys wearing white shirts and dark pants during a sort of religious walkabout, pedaling around on their bicycles as they make their pitch on Mormonism from door to door. It’s like Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s even a bit like all the Ecoheads with clipboards trying to snag money on Hawthorne Boulevard here in Portland. They’re all scary, they’re all familiar, they’re all even boring in their militancy.

This was a 2006 documentary filmed by Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady.

© Brother Greg 6/5/10

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Meat With Flag

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God Teaser #4

God Teaser # 4

Often pointed out, but with a different implication.
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Mark Rothko and Spirituality

Mark Rothko’s later paintings: To me, the most spiritual thing about Mark Rothko is the development of his later art, the paintings he is most famous for—the rectangles of translucent colors floating over a background of a single color or two. Every time I look at them, I get a sense of meditation. I get the impression he thought of them somewhat that way, even as spiritual expression.

Ottmann’s tiny book, The Essential Mark Rothko, outlines the biography of a Jewish boy born in Russia, whose family moved to Portland, Oregon. His father died when Mark was quite young. He grew up in poverty. He was very bright—got into Yale University, which he left when it became unaffordable. He wanted to get into theater more than art, at first, but later became enthralled with painting. He had minimal instruction in technique; he was mostly self-taught. He moved to New York, which his where his artistic career took off. He started doing paintings of people and things like subway scenes. He later got interested in mythology and did a bunch of mythologic paintings. Most of his early work seems easily forgettable, to me. It wasn’t until he was in his 40s that he began doing his wonderful floating rectangles, which he continued to do for the rest of his life. Bright colors gradually gave way to dark colors, to blacks on grays toward the end. Meanwhile, he got married, divorced, and married again. He had kids. People say he was charming and that he could be generous, but it sounds like he was also a huge control freak and could be a real pain in the ass. Like most artists I’ve read about, he doesn’t sound like someone I would have liked to be around. He suffered a great deal from depression. During the last year of his life, he wasn’t getting along with his wife, and they separated. He ended his life by slashing his arms and letting the blood flow out.

One of his last big projects was painting panels for a chapel in Houston, Texas, now known as the Rothko Chapel. It sounds like Rothko had a great deal of spiritual feeling, although it’s not clear to me what this meant for him. I get most of the sense of it from looking at his paintings.

Can a painting evoke spiritual experience? Apart from Rothko’s paintings, art works that have especially overwhelmed me with their spiritual depictions include several sculptures by the Italian Renaissance artist Bernini: The Ecstasy of St. Theresa, Apollo and Daphne, and the Rape of Persephone. These are full of horror, pain, and ecstasy.
• St. Theresa lies down in sprawled ecstasy, facing a little angel boy who gazes at her with a smile that looks both cruel and compassionate. He has just stabbed her with an arrow.
• Apollo watches with horror as the woman he has been chasing starts turning into a tree.
• Persephone’s face shows terror and a strange sensual excitement as the male god captures her and drags her off to his underworld kingdom.
Rothko’s spirituality, if that’s what it was he was showing in his paintings, is also a dark meditation. His canvases gradually became darker and darker as his life went on. Many people like to think of spiritual experience as warm and uplifting, but what Rothko portrayed seems to me also a very valid depiction of spiritual experience.

Klaus Ottmann. The Essential Mark Rothko. New York: The Wonderland Press/Harry N. Abrams Inc. 2003.

What do you think?

© Brother Greg 6/4/10
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God Teaser # 3

The illusion of control may be all you need!

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Homeostasis and Spiritual Experience

NYC Stonehenge

Homeostasis and Spiritual Experience

© Brother Greg 6/2/10

The concept of homeostasis is that your body tries to stay the same. If the temperature outside gets hot, your body sweats to maintain the same internal temperature. When you try not to eat food in order to lose weight, your body cries out for something to eat, because it doesn’t really want to lose weight. That’s why it’s so hard to diet. Psychologically, also, you may want to change yourself, but something inside fights hard not to allow this. Change is upsetting. It’s threatening. And so it’s difficult.

On the other hand, many of us really do want to lose weight and change our personalities somewhat. There’s a big part of us that really does want to change. Where does this come from? Is it just rational? Losing weight is good for our health and mobility. Trying to change a negative disposition to a positive one may make for a happier, more productive life. There are benefits to change; so why do we fight it?

Some of our resistance to change is helpful, of course. If we don’t get the urge to eat, we can starve to death. If we don’t keep in mind our basic needs throughout the day, we can make any number of harmful, even dangerous decisions. Homeostasis has much to do with reminding ourselves that we are who we are – that we are persons whose individuality persists from day to day.

While some spiritual experiences can be pleasant and uplifting, others are known to be disruptive and terrifying. After all, to truly encounter something other than yourself can be disorienting. And so homeostasis exerts itself here, too. We may say we want spiritual experience, but do we, really?

What do you think?

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God Teaser # 2

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