Jesus, Jazz, and Buddhism
Ecumenical Spirituality for an Ecological Civilization
A Workshop with Jay McDaniel at Holy Names University's
Sophia Center in Culture and Spirituality
Friday Night, February 21, 2014
Saturday, February 22, 2014
Welcome to our Friday evening conversation and Saturday workshop. I am excited to be at Holy Names University and to be a part of the School of Earth, Art, and Spirit. In our time together I want to introduce you to a way of thinking about the world and life that emphasizes kindness, creativity, and connectedness, all understood as aspects of an ecumenical spirituality that can be internalized and practiced from many different points of view.
The way of thinking is called Process Philosophy, and it is indebted to the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. If you want a quick overview of its core ideas, see Twenty Key Ideas in Process Thinking. You can learn more about process philosophy by exploring Jesus, Jazz, and Buddhism and by exploring a complementary website called Process Philosophy and the Culture of Possibility. These will give you a sense of its wide range.
Getting Started: Many Worlds
Process Philosophy has many similarities to Buddhism and to traditional Chinese thinking. Thus it forms a bridge between East and West. Accordingly, one of the purposes of this website is to foster cross-cultural communication between Chinese and Americans; that's why some of the articles are translated into Chinese. Here's an example of the kind of collaboration that has developed: A Bejeweled World by Songhe Wang (China) and Patricia Adams Farmer (Ecuador). And here's one written by a Chinese process thinkers, a young graduate student, on what process philosophy means to him: Why Process in China?
For my part, I find process philosophy helpful as a way of helping me make sense of many different worlds in which I participate. You can learn about some of them by clicking on these pages:
· Friends in Mainland China
· Hearing the Call and Challenge of Islam
· Guidance from a Zen Master
· Friendship with a Rabbi
· Loving Dogs and Rivers
· An ongoing love affair with Jesus
In its own way, as combined with many other factors, process philosophy can help us develop wide minds and opened hearts -- Fat Souls, if you will -- who help build Transition Communities? Process philosophy is but a means to the end of this greater hope. See World Maps for World Loyalty and Five Foundations for New Civilization.
What is a Transition Community?
It is a community that is making a transition into a post-petroleum world. At its best it is creative, compassionate, participatory, fair, ecologically wise, delighted by diversity, and spiritually satisfying, with no one left behind. It thus embodies a localized version of what the Chinese call Ecological Civilizations. I myself am helping create a global network of educators called Ecological Civilization International.
What is a Fat Soul?
It is a soul that is in the process of becoming open-hearted, open-minded, receptive to complexity, open to enriching tensions, individual but not individualistic, and filled with personal integrity. These are, as it were, the six characteristics of a truly wide mind and heart, the six characteristics of a fat soul. My own experience is that many people in the world want to become fat souls in their ways, and I suspect that most of us in the workshop do, too. I will be showing some digital stories illustrative of various ways of being a fat soul. I have included two on this page as examples.
Can Religions Help Nurture Fat Souls and Transition Communities?
I think so. We need interfaith chaplains with multi-religious hearts. I draw inspiration, not only from process philosophy and the emergence of schools that help create interfaith chaplains, but also from the interfaith work of the Pluralism Project at Harvard. They speak of seventeen world religions that are part of the context in the United States.
Can Philosophy Help Nurture Fat Souls and Transitions Towns?
Again, I think so. I draw upon the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. If you would like to learn about it in more detail, outside this workshop, I encourage you to turn to an online course I offer called What is Process Thought? I am drawn to process thought as a way of linking science, art, spirituality and aesthetics into a worldview that embraces the interconnectedness of things and recognizes the intrinsic value of life. It also offers a unique way of thinking about God that I find helpful and persuasive.
Can the Arts Help Nurture Fat Souls and Transition Towns?
Of course. Here I learn from many artists, including one of my favorite community arts activists and novelists: Ann Goldbard: The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists and the Future. I teach a course called Art and Spirit in which I use her work. It is called Art, Spirit, and the Engaged Citizen
Art is important, among other reasons, because it reminds us of the role beauty plays in human life. In process philosophy beauty is itself the goal of life, and love and wisdom are themselves forms of beauty. See Trust in Beauty and Replanting Yourself in Beauty.
Can Science help nurture Fat Would and Transition Towns?
Of course, especially if it is infused with the idea that the universe is an unfolding not only of matter in motion but of feeling. We can be helped by the emergence of Big History and the Universe Story and by the powerful witness of Thomas Berry. If you are wondering how process philosophy links up with the Universe Story and Thomas Berry, see Linking Thomas Berry and Process Philosophy.
How might these different strands of wisdom -- religious, artistic, philosophical, and cosmological -- come together?
They already do in the philosophy of Whitehead. And they already do in places like this: that is, in Schools for Earth, Art, and Spirit. Indeed, they suggest a certain kind of education, too, that emphasizes creativity and multiple forms of intelligence.
But of course education alone cannot do it. If we are to become whole as human beings and help bring about transition communities however we can, we need to think an alternative to mechanistic approaches to life, practice an alternative, and become an alternative, each in our own way. My own path has involved a blending of insights from Christianity and Buddhism, especially Zen. I am a good example of an emerging phenomenon in our time: spiritual blending. This can be done responsibly and irresponsibly: Can a Christian be a Buddhist, Too? From Christianity I learn things I don't really get from Buddhism, and form Buddhism I learn things I don't really get from Christianity.
What about Jazz? What does it offer?
For me, music is crucial. It offers an auditory way of experiencing the sacred and also an invitation to reflect on life's deeper meanings. In this I am not alone. Here I'm not alone, either. See A Theology of Miles Davis. The spiritual life in general as an ongoing act of improvisation.
But it's really not just jazz that plays a role. It is all kinds of music. Try some classical, or some rock, or some country, or some hip-hop. Music is what life sounds like, and sometimes, if we listen closely, it is what God sounds like. too. Here, give Etta James a try. Or Dolly Parton. Or the Everly Brothers. Or Chris Mosley. Or John Legend. Or the Beatles. Or Mozart.
Where does God come in?
Those of us influenced by Whitehead see God -- the Life in whose heart all lives unfold -- as improvising, too. The future is not predetermined, not even for God. We evolve with God, and God with us, in a universe story of which we are a part. See Whitehead’s Understanding of God. Amid it all we can trust in the availability of fresh possibilities, which is another name for faith. And we can trust that we are somehow embraced by a great compassion who is both more than us and within us, and within all else, too. The image is of a womb like love in which we are always already embraced: panentheism. With Rabbi Bradley Artson we can say God Almighty? No Way. And with him we can also say God All-loving? All Ways.