Dialoguing on Human Values with Leonardo Boff

This past weekend, I was honored to be co-keynote with the esteemed liberation theologian from Brazil, Leonardo Boff, at the Sixth Worldwide Meeting on Human Values in Monterrey, Mexico. A total of 6,000 people in attendance, with 90,000 people from 90 countries watching online (including prisoners in jails).wpid-att00002.jpeg Dr. Boff and I were the first speakers of the three-day event: he spoke first, addressing the question of the poor and in particular the poor Earth and the way it is being treated and underrepresented in the UN and capitalism in general.

I followed, speaking on "Reinventing Education and the YELLAWE project" (they translated my book "The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human" into Spanish for the occasion). I spoke about values and education: how Einstein warned that values come from intuition and not intellect, and that our society and its education, which he "abhors," leaves intuition out.

For me, I said, intuition is the right brain; it is mysticism and the basis of creativity. Thus the role of art as meditation in our model of education in the Master's and Doctoral programs I developed and led for thirty years. To illustrate the impact of this approach, I shared the story of two of our adult students: Sister Dorothy Stang who was martryed in the Amazon for defending the peasants and the rain forest; and Bernard Amadei who started "Engineers Without Borders" due to having "gotten his soul back" from taking our classes.

Extending that impact, I told how these programs were the basis for the YELLAWE program that I boiled down for our inner city teenagers. I stressed the "ten C's" of the YELLAWE program and spoke to them all, including Cosmology, Contemplation, Creativity, Chaos, Compassion, Community, Courage, Critical Thinking, Ceremony and Character Development. I showed slides of the YELLAWE program in Oaxxa, Mexico, and stressed how indigenous peoples, who are powerfully present in the Mexican peoples still, taught their young not by forcing them to sit in desks seven hours a day, but mostly by way of ceremony, which of course includes the body and all the chakras.

I was delighted by the reception we received! After Dr. Boff and I spoke, there was an hour in which he and I sat together and took a series of excellent questions chosen from a fish bowl, with three minutes for each of us to respond to each question.

While I don't recall all of the questions we were asked, one of more provocative was: Is the Catholic Church losing ground in Latin America? Dr. Boff agreed that yes, it was. I added that institutionalized religion in general was losing ground but that spirituality was the future more than religion.

Watch the live-streamed recordings of Dr. Boff's and my talks (and more) on the conference archive site.

Beyond Gun Control: Other Issues Raised by the Unspeakable Events at Newtown

Like everyone else, the president included, the Unspeakable, that is to say, evil acts of murdering twenty children and six of their defenders has left me speechless. Evil does that. Awe does that. As poet Adrianne Rich put it, "Language cannot do everything--chalk it on the walls where the dead poets lie in their mausoleums." But we do communicate in words, and after the shock wears down a bit, one struggles for understanding and for learning from this horrible event. Politicians are beginning to talk again about gun regulation vs NRA and especially regarding automatic weapons, which are the weapons the killer used on his mother and all the kids. And that conversation is long overdue.

But I want to talk about something else. If you look at all the perpetrators of this kind of violence, whether in Aurora or Happy Valley or Virginia Tech or Tucson or Newtown, what they all have in common is this: They were all young men. What is it about young men that makes them so prone to such violence?

I recall once being at a gathering and sitting with Malidoma Some, the spiritual teacher from West Africa, when a young man got up and started raving and ranting at everyone in the room. Malidoma leaned over and said to me: "See what happens when young men do not have rites of passage."

Malidoma should know, for if you are familiar with his story, in a nutshell it is this: He was kidnapped as a boy from his tribal village and taken many miles away to a Jesuit seminary where other boys who had also been kidnapped were being taught. He received a fine education but at the age of sixteen he threw one of the Jesuits out a second story window. Conclusion? He didn't have a "vocation" to be a Jesuit. He left and walked home, a very long hike through jungles.

When he arrived he was very angry--not just at the Jesuits but at his tribe, who never came to rescue him. Two years of anger and hostility in the tribe passed and finally the elders came to him and said: "You are impossible to live with. You are full of rage. This year you will take the rite of passage you missed with the thirteen year olds." So, at the belated age of 18, he took that rite of passage which was quite severe; of the sixty-five youths who went into the jungle with five elders, four or five did not survive it.

But Malidoma did survive it, and it not only made him a man who could deal with his rage, but also gave him his vocation, how he was to be an active and contributing member of his community or tribe. Much of Malidoma's teaching is about the value of a rite of passage, especially for boys. And what happens when rites of passage are absent.

Part of a rite of passage is leaving one's home, one's mother and one's father, as it presages becoming a mother or father one day. It also includes incorporating one's own capacity for motherhood internally, instead of projecting it on to women in one's life.

It is of significance, I believe, that Adam Lanza shot his mother first. This woman who did so much for him, who even home schooled him as a sophomore, who taught him how to use weapons (in what seems like a clumsy but well-meaning way to appeal to his 'masculinity') was the first to receive his full frontal rage. All the adults whom he shot at the school were women--the principal, the psychologist, the teachers. And they all bravely stood up to him to defend the children.

Education has become very womanly in our culture. In California today, 84% of teachers are women. Where are the men? Men are less and less drawn to teaching because the pay is so modest, but also because as youngsters they rarely see men as teachers and educators (see The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do by Peg Tyre).

The effort to define educational success by exams serves girls better than boys, who more often than not learn by doing and by bodily action rather than by sitting in desks seven hours a day and, if fidgety, being diagnosed with a "disease" and often given drugs for it.

Boys are two times more likely to be "diagnosed" with so-called "attention deficit disorder" than are girls. And four and a half times more likely to be expelled from school. Fifty-eight percent of college graduates in America last year were women and only 42% were men, and the gap keeps growing. Four times more teenage boys commit suicide than teen-age girls.

There is an underlying issue to consider here. The late and great E.F. Schumacher wrote that the number one purpose of education, the bottom line so to speak, is about values. How comfortable is our education system with talking about Values? If we are not talking about values, then we are presupposing that the consumer-driven, "get to the top" value system of our culture is reasonable and sustainable and healthy and indeed what life is all about.

Many people complain that in a pluralistic society and education you cannot talk about values because religious differences (or the difference of having no religion) arise. But I have laid out a value system in my book called The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human, that I have tested in public schools and that has been appreciated by Muslims and Christians, Jews and atheists. I call it the "10 C's" and I think it takes us beyond religious differences and into a deep conversation about shared values.

I offer the list here: Cosmology (and ecology); Creativity; Contemplation (calming the reptilian brain); Compassion; Chaos; Critical thinking; Courage; Community; Ceremony and celebration; Character development.

Among the questions we need to talk about are these:

  • What constitutes healthy manhood?
  • When is a boy a man?
  • What is the meaning and meanings of being a man?
  • Is carrying a gun manliness?
  • Is power over others manliness?
  • Is being number one manliness?
  • Is angry revenge manliness?

Our culture and its promotional industries offer their answers to these questions, but I have tried to address the deeper and more archetypal meanings of masculinity in my book, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors for Awakening the Sacred Masculine.

We need to be teaching such matters in our so-called school system. We are rarely doing so.

I am not just talking about teachers when I talk about education. I once sat at the headquarters of WASC, the body that accredits all the schools including universities of Western United States, and listened to the head honcho tell me: "If you had $5,000,000, your new school would be on a fast track for accreditation. We just did that for a fundamentalist college that had five million in cash."

I said to myself, "So if Hitler walked in the room with five million dollars in his pocket his school would be accredited on the spot?" No values whatsoever. None but the values of the "market place," of consumer capitalism. Shame, shame, shame.

Education needs reinventing from the inside out. Who accredits our so-called accrediting bodies? And what values are discussed and/or taken for granted there? Are any of the "10 C's" in the mix? And if not, why not? I was struck at that meeting that the head honcho never asked a single question about the content of our education, that is, about values.

And so, while reflection on this horrible event continues, I recommend not only a discussion about gun regulations but one much deeper. Our schools are failing us in so many ways. Our families and religions (whose rites of passage have become quite wimpy) are failing us also.

We need to consider the multiple ways in which youngsters learn, especially boys, and quit cutting money for the arts and sports. We need to address:

  • Rites of passage
  • Creativity as being at least as important as exam preparation and testing
  • Values, including the values our educational system itself is committed to (is the Great Unspoken Value to make us all Consumers in a consumer-driven economic system?)
  • What manhood (and womanhood) means.

To do these things is not only to create violence prevention; it is also to create a new society. One that puts community before competition and values of justice and sustainability before those of materialism and its very narrow version of success. One that honors stillness and our capacity for contemplation and not just racing to the top in competition. One that values Creativity over memorizing answers to tests.

Become a Beacon of Peace in the world – Join Matthew Fox for the Summer of Peace

Dear Friend of Creation Spirituality, One of the world's most beloved creation-centered medieval mystics, Francis of Assisi, offered the prayer that untold numbers have echoed -

Make me an instrument of Thy peace.

But how do you do that? How do you become an instrument of peace?

Gandhi opened a doorway to the big picture in his urging to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

But in addition to this encouragement, we also need the practical steps and actions we each can take to create peace within ourselves and in the world. So what are those steps?

No one can say what those steps and actions are for you. Only you can know that. But if you want to learn hundreds of insights, ideas, possibilities and practices that can help you create more peace in your life and in the world, I invite you to join me for the Summer of Peace 2012.

I’m a featured speaker in this free 3-month series of live and online events that will empower you (and thousands of others in this growing, global movement!) to create peace from the inside out.

Get all the details here:

I will be joining  inspiring peace leaders including Arun Gandhi, Alice Walker, Jack Kornfield, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, James O’Dea, Belvie Rooks,  international peace activist Azim Khamisa, Civil Rights activist Bernard Lafayette and many others.

I invite you to join with me, and these remarkable peace pioneers,  in midwifing the birth of a new human consciousness rooted in the principles of peace, compassion, and equality for all.

The Summer of Peace is a must-have experience, if you want to…

  • Experience inner peace and the physical, emotional and spiritual ease that blossoms from that harmony.
  • Create harmonious relationships with your family, friends, coworkers and community members.
  • Discover new ways of communicating that create deeper trust, love and intimacy in all your relationships.
  • Learn how to forgive people who have harmed you in the past.
  • Learn how to forgive yourself for harm you have inflicted on others.
  • Heal painful wounds within yourself, family, community and nation.
  • Make a commitment to peace and to become a beacon of peace in the world.
  • ...And so much more!

Featuring more than 80 of the world’s leading peacemakers, the Summer of Peace is your opportunity to  discover the actions that YOU will take to be the change you wish to see in the world.

You can listen to the Summer of Peace calls from the comfort of your home or office, and the live calls are completely free.

Please join me. Make a commitment to a world of peace and sign up for the Summer of Peace now:

Yours truly,

Matthew Fox

P.S. During the Summer of Peace, you’ll also find out about community actions and local projects you can get involved in. Together, we’re birthing a new human consciousness--rooted in peace, justice and equality for all living beings!

Join me here:

Education vs. Incarceration: A Solution

(Offered by Professor Pitt, president of DLF and Dr. Matthew Fox, president of FCS)


Dirty Lenz Films (DLF), a for profit media production company that has produced the trilogy “Hip Hop Dynasty” and Friends of Creation Spirituality (FCS), a non-profit with a 23 year track record in California that has sponsored cutting edge education programs for adults, have teamed up to provide a solution to the high rates of educational failures and drop outs among our at-risk youth in America. It is well documented that where education fails, incarceration is the usual result. Consider that it takes $30,000 per year to house a prisoner in jail; and $5000 a year to educate a youth. Consider too that souls are often lost in prison and often redeemed in learning. In the state of California currently, 60% of high school youth are not graduating from high school. In cities like Baltimore and St. Petersburg, Florida, 75% of black youth are not graduating from high school.

Does this mean the young people in our inner cities are stupid? Or is the way and form in which we are doing education stupid? We at DLF and FCS believe the latter names the situation correctly and we have an analysis of how to correct it and a plan to implement that medicine. The key is that the media has so saturated the mind set of young people with negative images and symbols of themselves that the very term “education” is a negative one. So negative in fact that Oprah, who tried to bring money to the ghetto for education, gave up and started programs in African villages instead. She reported that there was no interest in education in American inner cities.

The key is that the message being sold our young people via MTV, rap songs that make the radio, movies and billboards with symbols of themselves saturating their neighborhoods and presents a warped warrior’s handbook. It teaches young people to fight but not to reflect. It taps into the reptilian brain but ignores the mammal brain where compassion is learned. It results in a treadmill to jail, the new form of slavery. The school system, even if it were doing an excellent job, would not be enough to combat the media’s influence since the young people leave school and encounter “what’s cool” among their peers and as defined by the media. What is currently cool is a warped message of what it means to be an adult. MTV is the children’s fathers and even parents attempting to steer their kids straight often have their values muted and poisoned by the prevalence of the warped warrior message machine driven by the media and its corporate backers.

We at DLF and FCS have another goal entirely: To offer a healthy warrior handbook: One that sponsors the following values: inner peace, tranquility, love, power, strength, honor, majesty and respect.

1. Toward a Healthy Warrior Handbook

How do we accomplish the task of permeating the pop culture with a message of an authentic warrior handbook? The strategy is twofold. First, we create a media blitz that tells a new story: That it is cool to develop your capacities for inner peace, tranquility, love, power, strength, honor, majesty and respect.

The media blitz will create a symbol of a new kind of African American hero, a Professor Pitt, who is a healthy warrior who has done his inner work (martial arts) and outer work (acquired skills of making movies and creating contemporary stories whose underlying premise is value based) and is bringing this to the community. Already a film trilogy of Kung Fu meets Hip Hop has been produced by Pitt; in addition, a comic book series of seven books is being written; a DVD has been produced; and CDs exist and will be promoted.

A media blitz is being designed that will go to the following cities: New York; Atlanta; Oakland and Bay Area; Chicago; Los Angeles and Dallas (possibly). This media blitz will include billboards and posters in inner city neighborhoods where the kids go to and from school; radio spots; t-shirts; ads on CBS afternoon programs that reach mothers who are watching soap operas and 60 Minutes and, in the evening, David Letterman. The ads tell of the movie that is coming soon and of the Awe Project, a new kind of education that is coming soon. Questions will be raised in kids’ (and their parents’) minds: “Who is this Professor? Who is Pitt?” This is how pop culture works. You create a buzz and curiosity and new image or symbol and reinvent what is “cool” for kids. We re-invent hip-hop with positive messages about the healthy warrior handbook. The media is clearly been interested only in negative messages. That is why we do our own media blitz, not relying on the current guardians of the media. Eventually, when the media sees that a positive message also sells, they will come on board. Instead of images of pimps, negative rappers and dope dealers, we fill the void with a black super hero who—believe it or not is not a cop--named Professor Pitt.

In addition, we continue to produce television programs on P-I-double-TV, a kind of “hip hop Sesame Street for Adults” which interviews healthy and positive and cutting edge hip hop artists that offer healthy role models and messages for the youth. This will be the first ever hip hop culture television show covering all aspects of the culture. We will walk this program into PBS to make it a regular program.

2. Reinvention of Education

The second leg to the strategy concerns education itself. Education as we know it today does not sell in ghettos. But we are talking about launching a new form of education (that in fact is more ancient than what we have in many respects), and one that respects the inherent creativity and curiosity of the youth. This form of education is called “The A.W.E. Project” (Ancestral Wisdom Education). The Program has been spelled out as the YELLAWE project (Youth and Elder Learning Laboratory for Ancestral Wisdom Education) in the book authored by Dr. Matthew Fox, The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human, and is based on his thirty year experience of providing alternative forms of pedagogy with adults. A pedagogy that was deeply transformative for peoples’ lives and that worked! Now we want to distill that pedagogy for the youth. Accompanying the book is the DVD by Professor Pitt putting to 10 rap/videos the “10 C’s of Education” that Fox speaks of as needed to balance the “3 R’s” of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.

A renowned scientist said recently to Dr. Fox: “Kids today don’t need to learn facts in school. The facts are immediately available on their i-pods and computers. They need to learn experience. And Yes, we do have to reinvent education fast.” We believe that by reinventing education in the inner city and on Indian reservations, we will hasten that day when education is re-formed everywhere.

These 10 C’s—so neglected in current education and so appealing to young people-- are the following: Cosmology and Ecology (our place in the universe and our role in safeguarding the health of this planet); Contemplation or Meditation (one can learn to calm the reptilian brain through “martial arts” and drumming, chanting and other forms of meditation); Chaos (how to integrate and get along with chaos in our lives); Creativity (inner city kids are very well endowed with creativity yet studies show that arts are mostly ignored in today’s curricula); Compassion (we all have it in us); Community (moving beyond the ego to serve a greater tribe); Courage (all leaders wrestle down fear); Critical Consciousness (our ability to judge and critique); Chakra and Character Development (strengthening our capacities for self-empowerment and respect for self and others); Ceremony (all indigenous peoples have recognized the importance of ceremony for keeping community alive and for teaching the young the big stories and value stories that matter, especially rites of passage at adolescence).

The overarching goal of the YELLAWE program is to position disengaged at-risk high school youth in the public school system (and beyond) to become healthy and productive adults through wisdom-based academic support and enrichment activities, as well as the provision of job skills development, apprenticeship opportunities and entrepreneurial / micro-enterprise formation activities. We will begin in Oakland with a model of the program and move out to other cities.

With these two basic elements, Entertainment (and penetration of pop culture through film, cd’s, radio, comic books, advertising) and Education we have a non-violent revolution that one might call Edutainment. It is using the post-modern language that young people are born into today in our culture to excite learning.

The Educational component will begin with an after school program (3-6PM Mon-Thurs) whose curriculum looks like this: --30 minutes: healing arts (a grounding exercise that gets inner discipline going through bodily action learning to meditate and calm down) --40 minutes: help with homework (tutors provided) --30 minutes: teaching of important and often neglected topics such as: The New Cosmology: Our place in the Universe (already the authors of the important book, “The View From the Center of the Universe” have volunteered to join our faculty to help teach this); the wonders of our bodies; Heroes and Sheroes and Models to learn from (this may range from ancient African leaders to Malcolm X, Howard Thurman, Dr. King, Gandhi and Dorothy Day); starting your own business. --90 minutes: Creativity! The youth will learn to make video films; or to rap; or create theater or ceremony based on the content of the teaching. That is key: That substance replace mere feelings of anger or chaos or depression.

There will be apprenticeships available and internship opportunities, for example in working at one of two theaters that FCS operates or has access to in downtown Oakland; or in starting a business such as a café; or in learning to grow urban gardens; or in how to produce comic books; or how to do a TV show or make film. Students will be paid from $10 to $20 per afternoon for attending YELLAWE so that they can have some pocket money but also so that they begin to feel the relationship between learning and earning.

There is a strategy behind this after-school program: To make learning so fun and meaningful that the students themselves, who return to regular school classes the next morning, become the viruses to change the school system. “Hey, learning can be fun! I am making a movie. Listen to my new rap about the universe,” etc. The word gets out that learning is fun. Then the motivation is there to go deeper.

We are confident that this program will soon lead to a demand for charter schools that follow the model and, eventually, to the public schools themselves.

Adults will not be neglected (Elders, after all are mentioned in the title of YELLAWE along with youth.) Parents, whose interest will be piqued by the excitement of their kids, will have an opportunity to participate in their own version of YELLAWE and of course staff and teachers will be trained as well. Clergy and prisoners released from jail will also be invited. No doubt the media blitz will attract many inquiring adults to investigate and study with us. We anticipate a fully accredited bachelor completion program and a master’s degree and a doctor of ministry degree in YELLAWE education. Already we have heard from elders on Indian reservations and from indigenous leaders in Hawaii of their keen interest in working to bring YELLAWE principles to transforming education among their communities. A new job market will open up—one that appeals to creative and caring teachers and artists. We will be filling a void created by cut backs in art instruction in the public school system due to No Child Left Behind laws.

In Oakland, the YELLAWE program will be housed in Historic Sweet’s Ballroom (HSB) – a very unique venue with an amazing history of hosting great bands and singers including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey and others from its beginnings in 1924. HSB will helps sustain YELLAWE by providing a venue for convening fundraising events to ensure the fiscal survival of partner community-based organizations which offer vital basic, supportive and specialized services to at-risk populations. HSB will also contribute to building community through offering an ideal space for ceremony and renewal of ritual.

3. Building Community through Ritual

African spiritual teacher Melidoma Some says that “there is no community without ritual.” For this reason FCS has been actively engaged in deconstructing and reconstructing Western forms of ritual for nine years. The “Cosmic Masses” which began in Oakland and are now occurring all over North America (Burning Man has invited FCS to bring the Cosmic Mass to the desert in summer, 2007). The Cosmic Mass reinvigorates ancient Western ritual by deconstructing the forms of worship inherited from the modern era and utilizing post-modern language such as electronic music, images, dj, vj, rap, dance and live music. In addition, Sweets Ballroom has been and will be a venue for rituals ranging from Native American ceremonies and pow-wows to Tibetan Buddhist chanting and horn playing and more. The ballroom is ideally suited for a variety of ritual making including possible hip-hop Sundays.

Through Edutainment we will create a trend, but a trend with substance. We will make a true warrior’s handbook cool. Even education will become cool. The media blitz scheduled for December starts the wave and begins the tsunami.

Now it is time to invite financial warriors to join us at the table, people who are as committed to helping the young save themselves as we are. We have the program, the talent, the vision. We need people with money to join us, to step up to the plate and make their contribution to this much-needed project. We know you are there and that you care and we offer an opportunity to co-partner with us.