It’s much easier to know what’s wrong with the world than how to fix it. Or at least to think we know what’s wrong with the world. There’s no quick fix for the problem of how to discern what’s truly real, especially amid the bombardment of images and words that have given birth to the idea of fake news and alternative facts. Wisdom takes its time. Living in the present is best done with a reflective eye to the past. Looked at through the lens of how far we’ve come, then the current moment of confusion and challenge can be seen as an opportunity, not a catastrophe.
Silence, Martin Scorsese’s film from the novel by Shûsaku Endô, is about two young Jesuit priests, searching 17th century Japan in hopes of finding their mentor who, it is rumored, was tortured for his faith. Beneath this surface, it is about the question of finding meaning in life, and showing mercy on that path - to each other, to ourselves; the evolution of religion - as an oppressive power or a way of understanding the nature of life and the common good; and about the possibility of being transformed from within by love, even amid a swirl of noise and aggression that aims to terrorize all dissent. Scorsese was first made aware of the novel when promoting another film based on a story by a challenging spiritual seeker, The Last Temptation of Christ. That movie, released in 1988, was met with protest by folk whose experience of Christianity skewed toward repressing doubt, lest the recognition that someone else might think differently somehow pollute your own faith. But not all Christians felt that way - a helpful bishop, pronouncing The Last Temptation “Christologically correct" sent Scorsese a copy of Silence; for nearly thirty years now, he’s been trying to make it a movie. It’s an astonishing work, fully alive, a portrait of faith and love, willing to confront rage and terror, refusing anything other than the most disciplined path, taking seriously the question of just what life is. I imagine I will never forget it.
Because shaming, scapegoating, and aggression have become go-to modes of cultural exchange, I think we should declare those who ask for help to be the heroes of our time. The very request for help should be an occasion for rejoicing, for another human being is setting themselves free from the death-dealing oppression that says we are alone and must fend for ourselves. This is the gift of innocence battling with fear of the authorities. For when external authorities seem to threaten, the trick would then be to see this as an opportunity for liberating inner work.
Hi friends - happy to let you know that David Wilcox and I are leading two retreats in January - and you're invited. January 13th-15th in Hot Springs, NC. (joined by the illustrious Karen Moore), and January 28th/29th in Santa Monica, CA.
This past weekend I was at a brilliant wedding of beautiful friends, which on this occasion meant staying in a hotel. It seems like many hotel lobbies these days are like airport departure lounges - I counted five television screens, each playing a different "newsish" channel, the noise of the anchors competing with the Muzak coming from the reception desk. A fake gas shortage had been created by local panic buying, so the red strip across the bottom of one of the newsish channel screens read something like FEARFUL DRIVERS RUSH TO BUY GAS.
I had a wonderful time at Greenbelt, which after 44 years is on its third or fourth or umpteenth renewal - an amazing space for creativity, friendship, activism, and most of all, permission to be creative, friendly, and activist. We did a little contemplative talk show with guests Bill McKibben, Broderick Greer, and Nadia Bolz-Weber, and some good folk in the community asked for information on music and other things that were heard in the space.
Oliver Assayas creates feelings in his films that leave me likely to wonder if I'm actually in them, experiencing the narrative. He does this, for me, better than any director working today. CLOUDS OF SILSMARIA is as enigmatic as the title, most of it taking place in a part of Switzerland that seems to be the outcome of a dream Thomas Mann had after reading Tolkien.
In the aftermath of the attack in Orlando, if you are nearby and can offer direct support, I’m sure you’re already doing so. We don't have clarity on the motive, but we do know that the LGBTQ community has been targeted, and that there is already conversation suggesting a link to the tiny minority of radical Islamic fundamentalists who support the use of terror. If you’re like the rest of us, and not there but want to prevent such things from happening again, here are three suggestions:
Friends, yesterday the NC legislature passed what is being called "one of nation's most anti-LGBTQ bills." Many of the people behind this bill surely believe they are doing God's work. Part of the reason they continue to believe this is that untold millions of Christians who have changed their minds about LGBTQ people have not yet said so publicly. It can be scary to admit you've changed, especially when such change appears to threaten not just dearly held beliefs, but whole systems of meaning, community membership, and sometimes even careers.
Beloved character actor Stephen Tobolowsky (probably most recognizable as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day) is also a delightful raconteur, whose stories find the sweet spot between knockabout humor and pathos. Following his earlier Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party - one of the most entertaining expressions of watching someone else's home movie you're likely to find - The Primary Instinct is a recording of a recent live performance.