Sunday, September 30, 2007

Teaching or Infomercial?

This morning I sat through yet another alleged spiritual teaching at the church where I play every Sunday. I will withhold the name of the speaker because I don't wish to create any kind of negative vibe with respect to the church, its attendees or my band-mates. Suffice it to say that today's speaker is a bigwig in the New Thought movement.

Let me start by saying that some of the concepts I generally hear espoused in this "prosperity" church are benign enough. The idea that there can be positive transformation in individuals and in society based upon raising consciousness through study, developing compassion, creativity, love, forgiveness and kindness makes good sense to me. I embrace progress, ethical behavior and generally spreading the good vibe in every possible way. But some of the ideas I hear strike me as overly simplistic; some lean heavily on what I call god-dependence; and some of the talk (especially today's "word") is downright insulting.

Today I was told that "I don't know who I am" because I'm an atheist. I'm supposed to be depressed, cynical and poverty stricken because I don't believe in a supreme being who knows all and sees all. Well, sorry; I'm neither sad nor poor nor ungrateful nor unethical. I simply don't have the evidence I would need to believe that there is some "it" out there to whom I must be devoted. I could be wrong, but I feel fine taking my chances by trying my best to behave ethically and to cultivate in myself the qualities that I feel will promote the greater good for myself and others.

Our evangelist proclaimed that every child comes into the world "with god" and it is only our society and educational system that drums godliness out of our progeny. That is exactly the opposite of what I observe and believe. Children come into the world without the need for some imaginary being that requires their obeisance in order for them to lead happy and prosperous lives. The prevalence of religion in our culture, along with depression, anxiety, poverty and misery should be proof enough that "giving it up" to some supreme being is no panacea. In fact, just the opposite may well be true. When people get strong enough in themselves to know that their happiness does NOT depend on anyone or anything outside of themselves they do not need to praise jesus or allah or any other "supreme" being.

The opening line of the advertising for this speaker reads:

No need to work hard, just be spiritually smart!

Let me get this straight: I just attend your seminar, buy your books and/or CDs, follow the 21 day plan and, bingo! all will be well? Talk about magical thinking. My experience as a sentient being tells me that progress in ANY area of my life requires work, hard work. It doesn't have to be unpleasant, though the task of, say, working through one's psychological terrain can certainly put one through some interesting emotional states. For example, becoming a competent musician requires many, many hours of focused work. I can't think of a single endeavor that is worth pursuing that doesn't involve hard work no matter how "spiritually smart" one becomes. I'm not sure what that phrase is even supposed to mean, even after hearing the "teaching" this morning.

The people I've met at this church seem to be pleasant, intelligent, peace-loving, good-humored folk. They really appreciate our music and that feels really good to me. They've been treated to some great musical performances, including today's gospel choir which killed, and they seem to know when it IS really good. The minister often speaks in ways that resonate well with me, though I do have issues with "christ consciousness" as a positive state of mind. In short, I like this gig; it doesn't really pay enough to do it if I didn't enjoy the experience.

But I just don't get how otherwise seemingly intelligent people can listen to some of the stuff we heard today and not see it as pandering and, yes, demeaning. That's a strong word, I realize. There was no hard sell today, like there was from the idiot who spoke the previous week (I can't waste pixels on that dude). But it was clear to me from the start that the underlying goal of the "teaching" was to get as many congregants as possible to attend the afternoon workshop. I'm sure some good might come from the things this person has to say. She certainly has a "motivational" personality and some of that energy might rub off on attendees. There may be some good advice on how to change one's habits in her seminar. I just wish I didn't have to hear how I'm god's favorite child and how devotion to him/her/it will be my salvation. I already possess the internal wherewithal to do the WORK I need to do to keep moving in the right direction.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Book Report: Michael Chabon

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I'm adding Michael Chabon's name to my list of reasons to be proud of my Jewish heritage. I just finished reading his The Yiddish Policeman's Union, a truly wonderful literary novel. The book is one part thriller, one part ironic love story and two parts Yiddish lesson. The book is Jewish, however, in the same way that Joyce's books are Irish - you don't have to be "in" to get it but some of the meaning (and especially the humor) is deeply cultural.

I heard yesterday that my other favorite Jewish novelist, Philip Roth, has published a new book. Between reading that and catching up with some of Chabon's earlier work, I'm going to be one busy man.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hidden Agenda

There's a song on a lovely new CD by singer/songwriter Alain Quinn called Hidden Agenda. I listened to it today and it got me thinking...(always dangerous, I know). The protagonist of the song protests the "deep dark secrets" that are part of her lover's "little power trip". She claims "I know what you're thinking"; that his "dirty lies...gonna wear me out."

Yeah, we've all been in THIS movie at one time or another. When we are in the throes of love or passion (not the same thing, BTW), our projections onto another person can make it very tricky to observe the reality of what is transpiring in the relationship we create between us. Needless to say, it feels terrible to have been duped by the psychological games another might play on us. But I think the real hidden agenda is the one we hide from ourselves.

It is only in farsighted retrospect that I have come to begin to understand the part my unconscious desires and strategies have played in the relationships that have shaped my adult life. While I was in the middle of "it", whatever it was, I was almost entirely unaware of the powerful, murky tides that were tossing me around. This was most true when I was "sure" that I was 100% in command of my faculties. It has generally been so much easier to see, analyze and (of course) judge the actions of the other person.

The real truth is that we humans have precious little awareness of the deep forces that move us to behave the ways we do. So much so that, as far as I can figure, the main work that we must do to get healthy is to shine the light of consciousness into these figurative mental/emotional corners. To paraphrase Carl Jung, we must endeavor to make the unconscious conscious. This is the only way we can ever hope to free ourselves from the ravages of repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

This task is not solely an intellectual pursuit. The unconscious mind is a complex labyrinth; it is layered, subtle, violent, spiritual, unreasonable... These parts of ourselves are impossible to grab onto once and for all. Things keep changing; the soul's longings change over time and with experience. And it is entirely too easy to get suckered into believing that "this time will be different". Pete Townsend got it wrong: we WILL get fooled again - if we choose to stay in the dark.

The first task is to acknowledge that this IS our primary task - to seek to know ourselves. Damn Dr. Phil and his ilk. Changing behavior is NOT a matter of willpower or being "sensible" or accepting Jesus or whatever the panacea du jour might be. The work is INNER work; it is difficult and scary and slow. But it must be done.

When I become aware that my unconscious is filled with hidden agendas - all operating simultaneously and on various levels - I can begin to stop blaming others for how they are harming me. I can start to see how I set up situations that cause certain things to happen (again and again); I am able to observe how I collude with others in creating unhealthy outcomes. From this awareness flows compassion, kindness, forgiveness and the kind of peace that comes from letting go of the need to judge others.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Apple Holiday

So it's Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. There's some kind of irony in this holiday coming so close on the heels of the 9/11 anniversary, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Something about the U.S.'s unwavering support of Israel and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, mixed up with being a secular humanist stuck in my Jewish body...

Despite having given up on religion, many of us secularized Jews still do our habitual rituals around the holidays. My sister says it's a "tribal" thing and I think there is something to that explanation. But I do find some of the knee-jerk stuff around the holidays rather irksome. Sitting through a seder just makes my skin crawl nowadays, for instance. I also have a strong aversion for hypocrisy, which seems to underlie my Jewish holiday despondence.

It's not all gloom and doom, though. My kids, who are half-Jewish (or semi-Semites, as I like to say), have nicknamed the holidays according to the foods served. So Passover is the matzoh and charoseth holiday, the latter substance being a melange of apples, nuts and wine pulverized in a blender and used to symbolize the mortar used by our enslaved forbears to build the Egyptian cities. There's never been any outward discussion of matzoh balls' symbolic meaning as bricks, but I do think that would work, considering how they sometimes feel in one's stomach. Chanukah is the latkes holiday, of course. And R.H. is the apple and honey holiday.

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I have a Jewish friend who has a big problem with non-observant "cultural-only" Jews. She calls them "lox and bagels Jews". I suppose I understand her point of view, but there are so many different ways to be Jewish, it seems. The Orthodox don't even recognize those outside their sects as Jews; they are as insular as the most ardent fundamentalists of any faith (though I have yet to hear of a Hasidic suicide bomber). For me, a little tolerance mixed in with one's beliefs (whatever they happen to be) adds considerable credibility to the individuals who practice it.

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And if pride in sharing a heritage with the likes of Albert Einstein, Itzhak Perlman, Philip Roth and Sandy Koufax makes me culturally Jewish, then OK, pass the bagels, please.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Megon McDonough video

I am proud to be a part of a series of recent projects with the incredible Megon McDonough, which includes a CD, a DVD and a live show called Her Way. The full DVD of the show, which we recorded six weeks ago, is not available yet, but you can see clips of the show here. There are even some shots of the bass player (that would be me).