This past summer I had a visit from a seventy five year old Dominican from Chicago who is a fine man and a good priest and he said to me: "If you visit any church in Chicago today, you will find no one who is under forty years of age." This strikes me as an important sociological statement. Is the younger generation uninterested in heart work? Or might they be so far ahead of the guardians of our ecclesial institutions that they are utterly bored at worship?
At our Techno Cosmic Masses, we are exploring answers to these questions and what we are learning' is that the young, what I call the first, post modern generation, are indeed gifted with ways to awaken us all at worship. By working with the young at making worship work again, a kind of intergenerational wisdom happens. The result is that many people show up, both young and not so, young (30% are in their twenties or their teens). And many people feel moved deeply, by the experience.
Transformation happens. Transformation is possible. Hope happens. Beauty flows. Fun occurs. Memory is unleashed and tapped into. The ancestors return. Boundaries melt. Boredom ceases. Creativity breaks out. Depression disappears, Empowerment takes place. Community comes to pass.
African Spiritual teacher Melidoma Soma says that there is no community without ritual. If ritual is dead or boring so boring that no young people show up then community does not have a chance. Where there is lively ritual, community can happen. It is our experience in celebrating the Techno Cosmic Mass that community happens in the very creating of Liturgy. Liturgy becomes again a "work of the people" which is the etymological meaning of the word in Greek. The variety of artists and artisans who "show up" for the event is very impressive carpenters and electricians, builders and designers, altar makers and DJ's, dancers and singers, musicians and poets, rappers and drummers, media makers and video specialists, there is work for all. And their work in turn blesses the greater community who share in it.
The modern age deprived us of both ritual and community It deprived, us of the latter by giving us a view of the universe as static, inert, atomized, competitive. Atoms were understood to be impenetrable billiard ball like objects that constituted all matter and that fought in competition for space., Rugged individualism not community became the law of nature. We were also, deprived of lively ritual because the modern age was so into texts that we were taught to read prayer and read music at worship but were deprived of hearing the heart and mind at its creative best.
This post modern era. can change all that. First, the new cosmology is profoundly community centered because it is about our common interdependence. Even atoms, we, now are told, link up to form assemblages that guarantee their continued existence. And ritual too can be reinvented with the powerful new languages of this postmodern time electronic music and trance dancing (which resembles so much premodern dance of indigenous worshippers), rap and multi media. Why not use these creative inventions to bring the sacred back? To bring joy and cosmology alive in our times? If we don't do this in ritual, where will we do it? And when?
In the previous issue of this "Original Blessing" newsletter, physicist Brian Swimme was interviewed and he made the point that humanity can change very rapidly and that the Techno Cosmic Mass, which he had recently attended, has the potential to assist that transformation. He is of course correct. The ancient peoples told the BIG* stories to the young ones through ritual. This is still the case today. The Big Stories we have to share stories of our shared origin and how we got here and where "here" is and its timeline, stories of our shared grief and pain and of our shared awe and wonder all these can happen anew in revitalized ritual. The fact that trance dancing is at the heart of this ritual is of utmost importance. In many African languages the word for "dance" is the same as the word for "breathe," And as we all know the word for breath is the same as the word for spirit in Hebrew.. To dance is also to return us to our origins since we all expressed ourselves early in our careers while still in the womb by stretching our limbs, i.e. by dancing. Dancing brings the mystic child alive and gets the breath and ruah flowing what could be more important in a society as cynical as ours?
This Mass also mixes the old and the, new, the pagan, the Christian, the Jewish and more, the tragic and the hopeful. It is fun but it is also very serious. Time and again people who attend comment on the grief aspect of the Mass that occurs at the Via Negativa They say things like, "I grieve alone in my room but no one has ever invited me to grieve with a group before. It is so powerful."
St. Thomas Aquinas puts the renewal of worship at the same level as the struggle for social justice and the struggle for the common welfare, He says it takes magnanimity and courage to do all these things. He is right. Certain ecclesial guardians of the ancestral powers feel the forms we have are just fine even if no one shows up; at the other extreme we have new agers who want to throw the past out entirely. In the middle there is the Techno Cosmic Mass movement wherein we are deconstructing and reconstructing the worship of our ancestors with the able leadership of the first postmodern generation. Fortunately, there are some religious figures like the Episcopal Bishop of California, Bishop Swing, who get it and are supportive of this important work. Those involved in the Techno Mass are committed to exploring how the revolution in technologies so prevalent in our time can contribute to bringing alive a sense of the sacred. It is good work. Come and join us. Then start it in your own community. I cannot imagine our species can survive without ritual centers alive in every city.Read more about Matthew Fox at www.matthewfox.org
I don't think the issue in priestly pedophilia is celibacy as such. There are successful celibates in the Western church and in Eastern monastic communities. It is a pity that good priests and monks are being tainted by the abuse of some -- and cover-up of that abuse by hierarchy. It is true that celibacy can serve as a candle of allurement to a moth who has unresolved sexual issues.
It appears that a high percentage (one psychologist has told me 100%) of pedophiles were themselves sexually abused as children. When that happens there is often one of two reactions as one reaches puberty: Either an acting out that results in great libertinism or a closing up that registers as a kind of virginal life style. Clearly, a promise of celibacy would appeal to the latter type as it seems to "solve the problem" of one's sexual dysfunction lending it high social status as a priest. What is even more clear, however, is that this 'hiding away' from one's sexuality only lasts so long and then it bursts out as violence to the next generation.
I believe that the deeper scandal being exposed by priestly pedophilia, however, concerns centuries of negative teaching about sexuality by the church and the misuse of celibacy as a political device to keep a clique in authoritarian power. This alone explains the incessant cover ups by Cardinal Law and other hierarchy over the years.
"A mistake about creation results in a mistake about God" St. Thomas Aquinas warned seven centuries ago. The church has been involved and is still involved in false teaching about sexuality. Consider how these priests who were acting out their sexual violence on innocent youth were also, in the name of Catholic dogma, preaching in the pulpit and advising in the confessional that 1) it is wrong to practice birth control even at a time when the human population is swamping the rest of creation and 2) it is wrong to use condoms even at a time when people are dying world-over from AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and 3) that all masturbation is a "serious sin" and 4) that homosexuality is a "disorder" and that all homosexuals must abstain from sex - i.e. be celibate even when these priests, with their vows or promises, were not and 5) women do not have the 'equipment' to be ordained priests.
What all this amounts to is a substitution for the God of healthy sexuality (a God of creation) with man-made rules that enforce an authoritarian and patriarchal system of hierarchy that covers up the serious offenses of its all-male caste members in the name of secrecy and not rocking the boat. Protecting the perpetrator proves to be a higher priority than protecting innocent youth. Everything gets sacrificed to perpetuating the all-male club. (Theologians also get sacrificed to this voracious god of secrecy.) And of course it is verboten to even discuss opening the club up to married clergy for fear of tainting the closed system.
Early in the twentieth century a Celtic poet wrote a poem entitled "Pater Noster" in which the dominant image was the church as a great sailing vessel that sailed successfully through wild hurricanes and ferocious storms over nineteen centuries but then - in the twentieth century - crashed into a rock, splintered, and sank. The rock's name was 'Sex.'
The revelations of sexual misconduct are the chicken coming home to roost for the Roman Catholic church. You cannot teach falsely about creation, i.e. sexuality, and rightly about other forms of power. That is why the credibility of this organization and its 'infallible' hierarchy will never recover from these revelations. Nor need they. The church is being demythologized. The spiritual revolution that Jesus set loose needs ecclesial structures to play a lesser, not a greater, role in the future when humankind must travel more lightly and must put spirituality ahead of religion and orthopractice ahead of orthodoxies.
The late Cardinal Bernadin of Chicago used to speak about the "seamless garment" of Catholic morality. One implication of a 'seamless garment' is that when one thread unravels the whole garment does the same. We are currently witnessing the unraveling of the Roman Catholic church particularly as regards its secrecy and male-dominated clubbiness which means of course the repression of the feminine.
To understand this clubbiness and male-domination one must grasp the role that Opus Dei plays in the current papacy. Indeed, Cardinal Law is a card carrying member of Opus Dei and its poster child for the North American church. Opus Dei is a secretive organization spawned in Franco's fascist Spain and rehabilitated by the current pope who has put it under his wing and appointed bishops and cardinals especially in Latin America and North America from its ranks. Even the pope's press secretary is Opus Dei. This organization's commitment to secrecy and male-brotherhood combined with serious banking interests in Europe has set the tone for the secret "boys club" mentality that we now see has been busy covering up priestly pedophilia while it also expels theologians from the priesthood. It also explains the embarrassingly low caliber of appointment of bishops and cardinals during the current Vatican regime. The sole criteria for selection have been right-wing ideology and unquestioning obedience. The German mafia who run the Vatican today are in bed with Opus Dei who run the episcopacy. Those looking to understand the scandal of hierarchical silence about pedophiliac priests might do well to research the role of Opus Dei in this papacy, the most corrupt papacy since the Borgias.
Opus Dei has no need for theologians, only ideologues. Their theology is all made up and it centers around unquestioned obedience to the 'leader'. This is why the condemnation of theologians and expulsion from their religious orders has become such a common practice during this papacy serving, as it did, a larger purpose of spreading fear into the ranks of potential theologians. When theologians are expelled or threatened, ideology takes over. It is amazing indeed how the press has treated the Vatican as a Teflon papacy over the years of John Paul II and how uncurious it has been about the role of Opus Dei in the decision-making levels of the Roman Catholic Church and the attitude it has spawned of "protect the institution at all costs." In light of the revelations now flowing from the injured "faithful" of the church at the grass roots, history will not be so forgiving. Nor, hopefully, will the laity ever again be so na∩ve or so in denial.
Copyright © 2002 University of Creation Spirituality. All rights reserved. Read more about Matthew Fox at www.matthewfox.org
Any discussion of right livelihood has to address the following question: Is the work we are doing good for the Earth and its inhabitants now and for seven generations into the future?
Much of our work today would flunk that test. The despoiling of the Earth's health by laying waste to forests, soil, waters, other species, ozone, diversity of plants - all this spells disaster for our species and most of the others with whom we share this amazing home we call Earth. Likewise, the despoiling of souls that goes on in many of our work places does not bode well for a sustainable future. Furthermore, the gap between the haves and have-nots has never been greater, and unemployment is a species-wide disgrace at a time when so much good work needs doing.
What is our work doing to the world? What is it doing to our souls? How can we make things better?
To make work into right livelihood, we must pay attention to just who we are as a species - our strengths and our weaknesses - for it all displays itself in our work. Consider, for example, that today's science is teaching us that each human has been given three brains: a reptilian brain, a mammalian brain, and an intellectual/creative brain.
The reptilian brain, what I call our crocodile brain, is by far the oldest. Crocodiles are win/lose creatures. The crocodile brain gives us our action/response quickness and operates our sexuality and our respiratory system as well. The worst expression of crocodile brain on the planet today has to be the global corporate consciousness that is willing to swallow whole the future of planet and citizens alike in a win/lose scenario of corporate profit taking. This happens because our ancient crocodile brain is so closely linked to our most recent and most powerful intellectual/creative brain. This brain, so new on the planet, distinguishes us from other creatures. It is the reason our mothers suffered so in bringing us into the world: our brain is too big for the birth canal. This brain can choose to serve the heart or it can choose to serve greed and rapaciousness. With this brain we can create symphonies or we can create gas ovens to make our evil impulses more efficient.
What to do? It is time to tame the crocodile brain. Curiously, in the West, we have myths of killing the crocodile, such as St. George or St. Martin de Tours slaying the dragon. In the East there is a tradition of honoring the dragon, dancing with it, and giving it its due. Dancing with the dragon means befriending the reptilian brain, learning to pet it. This is done by ritual and also by meditation practices. Meditation teaches us to be at home with solitude, and solitude is a reptilian thing - reptiles like being alone, they do not bond. Every human has to learn to be at home with solitude, and this is learned by meditation practices. The gift of compassion
Our second task is to couple the intellectual/creative brain more with the mammal brain than the reptile brain. Why the mammal brain? This brain is our brain for bonding. Mammals bond; reptiles do not. Mammals have breasts and uteruses; interestingly, the Hebrew word for compassion comes from the word for womb. Mammals introduced compassion to the planet. But of a limited kind. Dian Fossey, who lived among gorillas, never observed gorillas showing compassion to any non-gorilla. The same holds for Jane Goodall, who lived among chimpanzees. She found that chimpanzee compassion was limited to the chimpanzee nation alone.
We humans, who are part chimpanzee and mammal, are here to broaden the practice of compassion on this planet. Does this not explain why so many of our spiritual leaders - from Isaiah to Jesus, from Buddha to Lao Tzu, from Gandhi to Black Elk, from Chief Seattle to Martin Luther King, from Dorothy Day to Mother Theresa - were instructing us in one thing: How to be compassionate?
To be compassionate is to live out the truth of our interdependence. Compassion is not about feeling sorry for another. It is about so identifying with others that their joy is my joy and their pain is my pain, and consequently we do something about both. Compassion therefore leads to celebration on the one hand and to relieving pain and suffering on the other. "Compassion means justice," Meister Eckhart said six centuries ago, and he was right.
There will be no compassion if we cannot tame the reptilian brain. There will only be more win/lose energy, more greed and violence. Gandhi and King are examples of people who, in their nonviolent strategy, committed themselves to recycling the hatred of reptilian brain into love and awareness.
(The political monkey business that went on recently in Florida was less monkey than it was crocodile energy. The high voltage of win/lose energy being released there in the shadow of the Everglades with its morphic resonance of reptilian energy, seemed a very logical place for a political crocodile game to play itself out. And crocodiles they were, all over CNN and network TV.)
How do humans tame their crocodile brains? Meditation is probably the most effective way. Two stories have come my way recently, both having to do with the workplace.
Prison is the place where we generally dump the "losers" in the high-stakes game of win/lose capitalism; the prison-industrial complex is growing like no other industry these days. Two years ago, I learned about something remarkable happening at the biggest youth prison in America, one located outside of Los Angeles. The place had been a hell hole for years, with 600 prisoners in their late teens driven by gang violence within the prison and without. In desperation, I am told, the warden invited three Buddhist monks to teach the prisoners to meditate. At the time, 99 percent of the prisoners were Baptist or Roman Catholic (meaning probably Black or Hispanic) and they didn't know what a Buddhist monk was or what meditation meant. Gradually, however, they settled down to the experience and the energy of the entire place changed from being violent, us-versus-them, and win/lose to being a place of human respect. What did this change in a workplace cost? Probably three bowls of rice daily for the Buddhist monks teaching meditation.
Meditation calms the reptilian brain, turning the crocodile into a kind of pet within us. Don't underestimate the power of meditation.
I know a professor of engineering at a major US university who was despairing of academia's pathologies until he entered our university and got in touch with his own "right brain" through exposure to spiritual traditions and practices. Now he is organizing a conference for engineers in which they can rediscover their connection to mysticism, awe, and aesthetics. He has also chosen to go to tribes in the Amazon to help them construct wells powered by solar energy.
So we can change even our most violent work places, called prisons, into humane places of existence through a practice called meditation. This practice calms the killer instincts in us and allows our more compassionate, communitarian, and bonding selves to emerge.
What if this kind of change in the work world were to spread to businesses, academia, politics, economic institutions, utilities, religions - in short to wherever humans work?
Such training ought to begin in grade schools. Education ought to acknowledge that we have three brains, not just an intellectual one. It ought to make room for creativity, and the essence of education ought to be the proper disciplining and releasing of our creative brains. Compassion begins in the heart with bonding (the mammal brain), but compassion extends to all beings with the help of the uniquely human intellectual/creative brain.
Instead, in all the political posturing I have listened to about education, there seems to be one criteria: Who can promise the most exams for our kids. Exams do not train the mind for creativity. Education will not be renewed by more exams but by more focus on that which is uniquely human - our capacity for creativity. The crocodile brain, among other factors, is holding us back from our creativity. We must tame it to get to both compassion and creativity. Education for life
We have to speak about education when we speak about right livelihood because educated people are destroying the Earth. Thomas Berry says most of the destruction of the planet is being accomplished by people with PhDs. Mahatma Gandhi, when his dream of freedom for his country was achieved, responded to the question, "What do you fear most?" with this answer: "The cold hearts of the educated citizens."
Has contemporary, post-modern academia made any strides in educating the cold heart and warming and melting it since Gandhi spoke these words over 50 years ago? I am afraid not. The crocodile brain is alive and well in most of academia - uncriticized and unchecked. The education industry seems incapable of critiquing itself. It needs alternative models.
This is why we started a new university in downtown Oakland five years ago, one that is committed to bringing "universe" back to university (i.e., cosmology as the center of the university) and bringing creativity alive in the students. Our doctor of ministry program focuses on bringing spirituality to the workplace. The 370 students who have joined the program in less than three years all feel a common lack in their previous training. Whether they are engineers, business people, scientists, mental health workers, therapists, clergy, or artists, all are seeking spiritual practice and training. The most radical and indispensable way to achieve right livelihood is to change the way we train people for work. In our culture we call that education.
It is not enough to find peace. One must also make peace, and this cannot be done without justice. Spiritual practice and ethics must go together. The purpose of meditation is not to make the slavemaster more efficient, but to set in motion strategies and alliances of equality.
Right livelihood came home to me in Salina, Kansas, this past year, where I was visiting the Land Institute directed by farmer Wes Jackson. What I love so much about Wes Jackson is that behind that Methodist farmer's smile and sweet drawl there lies a wily, radical, and committed prophet of a farmer. He believes that we have been doing farming wrong for 10,000 years. Instead of turning the soil over every year and thereby inviting erosion and loss of soil, he is demonstrating that we could be farming by imitating the prairie, which creates soil rather than destroying it.
Wes' critique of his own livelihood gives me - and I hope the rest of us - permission to critique ours in an equally radical manner. I ask: Have we been doing education wrong for 10,000 years? Have we been doing religion wrong for 10,000 years? Have we been doing business wrong for 10,000 years? How about journalism and the media? In short, have we been doing work wrong for a long, long time?
Isn't it time to wake up? Time is running out. Our species will not survive if we do not commit to sustainability in its many forms - not only solar-driven energy sources but also solar-driven (as distinct from reptilian-driven) consciousness. We need to learn to breathe in and out the gift of healthy sunlight (which is literally the air we breathe) and not take it for granted. We need to ground ourselves, connecting to the Earth from which we come and to which we shall all return.
The despoiling of the Earth is not only ecocide; it is also suicide. The distractions we are fed daily by advertisers do not substitute for laying out an agenda of needed work as distinct from work that feeds greed and unsustainable consumerism. As Gandhi warned us, "there is enough for everyone's need, not for everyone's greed." Right livelihood begins with need. It ends with celebration.
Matthew Fox is founder and president of the University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland, California www.creationspirituality.com, co-chair of the Naropa University master's program in creation spirituality, and author of several books, including The Reinvention of Work.Read more about Matthew Fox at www.matthewfox.org