MattAndJojang's Blog

God. Life. Spirituality.

Archive for September 2012

An Illustrated Ode to Introverts

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Photo: Grant Snider

Written by MattAndJojang

September 29, 2012 at 8:11 am

A TED Talk By Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts

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Susan Cain, the author of the excellent Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, at TED 2012 – a fascinating and necessary manifesto for the importance of solitude in innovation and creativity.

Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

~ Susan Cain

Written by MattAndJojang

September 27, 2012 at 8:25 am

Charter for Compassion

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The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

~ Source:

Written by MattAndJojang

September 23, 2012 at 9:29 am

Just Because You Love Jesus Doesn’t Mean You Have to Disrespect the Buddha, Dishonor Muhammad or Disregard Moses

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Photo: Josh Kenzer/Flickr

On this 11th anniversary of 9/11, it’s a good day for us to look back and assess the damage.

The damage to buildings long been accounted for, and much has been rebuilt. The damage to the economy has also been debated and estimated — and replaced by new, greater, primarily self-inflicted economic wounds.

The damage to families is, of course, impossible to assess or quantify. It can only be mourned.

But there’s another impact of those attacks that is still too seldom tallied: how our religious communities have turned from their deepest teachings and values of peace and reconciliation, and have too often become possessed, we might say, by spirits of fear, revenge, isolation and hostility.

As a Christian, I’ve certainly seen it and felt it in the Christian community, expressed often in a sense that the more you love Jesus, the more inhospitable you’ll be toward other faiths. “Don’t let them build mosques or temples on our turf,” some say. “Don’t let them express their difference in dress or ritual,” others suggest. “Require them to conform to our holidays and cultural codes,” others demand.

This turn toward hostility has disturbed me, so a few years ago I began studying it more in earnest. My research led me to the underlying relationships among religious hostility, religious solidarity and religious identity. Today, the results of my research and reflection go public in a new book (“Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?“), and among many conclusions, one stands out — one that I hope my fellow Christians can hear and ponder.

To be a strong Christian does not mean you have to have a strong antipathy toward other faiths and their leaders.

To be hostile rather than hospitable, in fact, makes you a worse Christian, not a better one.

To be respectful, curious, humble, inquisitive and hospitable to people of other faiths makes you a better Christian — meaning a more Christ-like one. To love your neighbor means, at the very least, not to discriminate against him, not to dehumanize him, not to insult him or what he holds dear, not to act as if God made a mistake in giving him a place in this world.

Put more positively, to love your neighbor of another faith means to seek to understand her, to learn to see the world from her perspective, to stand with her, as it were, so that you can feel what she feels and maybe even come to understand why she loves what she loves.

In the book I recount a conversation I shared over lunch with an imam who became a good friend in the weeks after 9/11. We each shared what it was we loved about our religions and their founders. He went first, and then as I was sharing, he interrupted me. “I have never heard a Christian share what he loves about his faith,” he told me. “I have only heard my fellow Muslims tell me what Christians believe. It is so different to hear it from you.”

I knew what he meant.

What would happen if more of us, whatever our religious tradition, extracted ourselves from the vicious cycles of offense and revenge, hurt and resentment, misunderstanding and counter-misunderstanding, rumor and innuendo? One thing is certain: We would become more faithful to the vision of our founders, not less. May that be so.

~ Brian McLaren

Written by MattAndJojang

September 14, 2012 at 9:38 am

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on a Spanish Plaza

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This unexpected, public performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on a plaza in Spain is an absolute visual and aural feast.

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September 9, 2012 at 9:07 am

Why I Love Religion

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Photo: Flickr/ForrestP

I love religion.

I love the holy texts, the rituals, the art, the histories, the practices, the mystical teachings and the sacred spaces. I love religion, while very aware of its obvious dangers and limitations, because for the last 15 years religion has provided insight, intellectual growth, friendships and inspiration that continue to transform my life for the better.

We all know that religion can be harsh and divisive, and these destructive qualities need to be brought in the light and confronted. I often wish, though, that those who have been hurt by, or are unshakably critical of, religion could see and feel my experience. This wish is not based on any desire to convince or convert, but to present another possibility that may expand the conversation.

Although I grew up in a Conservative Jewish home with parents who encouraged us in Judaism, until the age of 37, I wanted little to do with religion. Religion seemed to be no more than a crutch for those who are too afraid to face life directly, or a backwards tradition that had nothing to do with modern life. And I could not imagine how any intelligent adult could possibly believe in some kind of super-being who created everything, gave us texts, and cares about us in some way. I firmly believed that if only humanity could get past these ridiculous superstitions the world would be a much better place.

All this changed in a moment when suddenly, unexpectedly, and from a normal state of awareness, my defenses were stripped away and I was given a glimpse of the spiritual realm. Such moments are very difficult to describe, and always lose their reality to the limitation of language — like reading about sex compared to having (great) sex. I can say, though, that what I experienced was beyond anything I could have conceived. In that moment I saw with microscopic clarity of vision, felt an unrestricted connection to others, and was surrounded by a loving embrace. And in that moment I received a message from a “voice” that spoke with endless compassion and wisdom. It said simply, “I love you, and you must change.” I cried for the first time that I could remember, and audibly answered, “yes”.

I now know this moment as grace — the spontaneous, unwarranted, self-revelation of spirit: God’s wake-up call.

No one could have been more shocked than I, and as much as I wondered if this was just a neurological malfunction or delusion, the experience started a process that changed me for the better. I began to see other people with more kindness and empathy, and for the first time felt that life has a purpose. And for this I was very grateful. It was no longer a question of whether God exists — because I now saw that God is more than an invention to settle our fears and explain natural phenomena — but an exploration of the nature of God as I experienced It; as something that is not in conflict with reason and science, but that actually enhances and clarifies existence.

In order to help understand this I started reading all kinds of spiritual books — mostly non-religious — and began to discover that my experience was by no means unique. Others had described similar encounters, and their description aligned almost exactly with mine, as though we were tourists who had visited the same lands. And I continued to have spontaneous mystical experiences, which encouraged me to continue my search.

I read holy books from many religions, and soon found wonderful writers who came from various traditions: Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, Thomas Merton, Adin Steinsaltz, Elie Wiesel, Chasidic Masters, the Dalai Lama, Rumi, and commentators on the Mahabharata and Upanishads, to name a few. These writers presented spiritual practices and teachings that were nothing like the simple image that I had carried about religion. These were not about dogma and claims of exclusive truth, but something much richer and more complex. These authors searched and struggled to understand the mystery of creation, to celebrate the beauty of life in all its pain, and to tell us of our obligations to others.

I began to explore religion in a new light, and went to Buddhist meditation retreats, Catholic Masses, Evangelical healings, various yogas, and Jewish prayer services. These all expanded my sense of what religion is and what it can be. Judaism called to me most strongly, not because I found it “better” or “truer”, but because it is the tradition in to which I was born, and it felt deeply familiar, even though I had never really known it.

I gradually discovered that religion is, in its essence, a compilation of experiences and teaching from those who have glimpsed the spiritual realm, have known of its transformative power, and have tried to communicate this to others so that we may be more fully alive. Religion is to the spirit what a gymnasium is to the body, and a school is to the mind. This does not mean that one needs religion to be spiritual — just as one does not need to go to a gym to be physically fit — and much of my spiritual practice is not specifically religious. But at its best religion sets out in a systematic way to help us nurture spirit and care for each other.

Of course religion has been hijacked for a variety of destructive reasons, and as I wrote earlier, this must be addressed directly. But much of the criticism of religion is simply not true. While religion is often pointed to as the cause of most wars, this is not statistically accurate. Greed and power are the cause of most wars. The vast majority of wars have not been overtly religious — unless one claims that Nationalism, Communism or Nazism are religions, in which case the definition of “religion” becomes so distorted as to be meaningless. And, statistically, most religious people are not fundamentalists, and most recognize the validity of other traditions. I encourage those who are totally opposed to religion to look at it realistically and with an open mind.

The need to praise and to give thanks to something greater than our selves is a basic human impulse, and when done with clear intention and with a supportive community elevates us and makes our lives happier and more effective. Without this we can descend in to lives devoted only to filling personal desires. Religion proclaims that there is more to reality that our normal perceptions can recognize, that life is sacred, that we must love each others, and that gratitude is the highest state of being. For this reason it deserves my love.

~ Rabbi Alan Lurie

Written by MattAndJojang

September 2, 2012 at 9:09 am

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