Begin the New Year with New Hope and New Vision

Dear Friends:

See the Fox Institute's   informational brochure...

See the Fox Institute's informational brochure...

With the age of Trump fast approaching, many people are waking up and asking: "What can I do to put my values forward?  How can I make a difference?  How can I offer alternative values from the dominant messages that are going to be coming at us through media and political spin?"  

Clearly our new University project called Fox Institute for Creation Spirituality offers many opportunities not only for students and staff but also for faculty and alums of previous creation spirituality programs to make a difference in a deep but positive way.  Empowerment beckons us all and what better long range investment than an alternative educational vision that embodies soul, body and body politic with values of justice, passion, creativity and compassion? 

So we invite you to do some soul searching yourself and ask how you can contribute to the Fox Institute.  By volunteering perhaps?  By promoting the school on line and every way you can?  By seeking financial support or contributing to this 5013c non profit?  By encouraging grass roots efforts?  By spreading the word to potential students and faculty and to past grads? 

Be an actor!  Take your anger or your grief or both and put them to work in the Via Creativa and the Via Transformativa!  Time to move beyond grief to action.  Let FICS be your choice of conscience.


Matthew Fox & the FICS team

Leonard Cohen: A Thank You to a Spiritual Giant


It is Thanksgiving Day and I have set aside some meditation time to be with the late Leonard Cohen who died seventeen days ago at the age of 82, leaving us one last gift, an album called 'You Want It Darker' which came out last month. I received this album in the mail from my sister-in-law who, with the support of my brother, has endured years of physical darkness in the form of severe fibromyalgia which leaves her bedridden for most of the day. With her surprise gift of the CD was a brief note, "A gift for you: No words...I am just so sad...sending you his last songs to us. Much Love, Jean." Jean was a deep fan of Lenny Cohen as was I, and as are many.

Cohen's last words for us offer a substantive closure to the other songs he gifted us over the decades. I heard my first Leonard Cohen song in the summer of 1969 when I was walking on the beach in Biarritz, France with a friend who was on a break from studying theology in Germany. I was in the south of France renting a room on a Basque farm, where I was committed to writing the first draft of my doctoral thesis. It was dusk and we were approaching a pier that jutted out into the waters of Biarritz beach; surfers had packed up their surfboards (I learned to surf on that beach one sunny afternoon) and my friend sang Lenny's song "Suzanna" for me. I had no idea what all the lyrics meant--mystery was built into Lenny's poetry--but I felt more than I understood and I was particularly struck by the lines about Jesus walking on the waters as a sailor. Living near the ocean for the six months I was in the Pays Basque and visiting the sea daily, I just felt spoken to by Cohen's words and imagery. And this deep resonance has been part and parcel of every encounter I have had since with Cohen's poetry and song.

A few years ago Lenny Cohen drove me to do something I have never done in my life. I was booked for a flight from my town of Oakland, California to Phoenix for a family reunion, but at the last minute I heard Lenny was in Las Vegas for a concert. I canceled my straight flight to Phoenix and boarded a plane for one night in Las Vegas just to hear Lenny in concert, then went on the next day to join my family. Though my cheap seats were way up at the top of the large concert hall, I was profoundly moved--"a religious experience" I told a friend later. 

Lenny had that kind of effect on a lot of people--Jews, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics. He spoke to so many of us. How? Why? What did he bring to the spiritual search of our time?

First of all, he was a man on a search. He often plugged in to his Jewish roots whether by lyrics (David's poetry and the psalms and other Jewish stories recovered in "Hallelujah" are prime examples) or by actions (blessing the crowd in a concert in Israel, where first he praised the peace-makers of both Palestine and Israel and then ended the evening with a Jewish priestly blessing--after all he was a "Cohen" and of the Jewish priestly lineage as well as son in law of a rabbi). He also went out of his way to undergo Buddhist teachings and practices, living as he did for several fruitful years as a serious monk in a Buddhist monastery at Mount Baldy, California. He attributed a lull in his battle with depression to his Buddhist practice.

But he also invokes Jesus on many occasions including in this, his final album, when he refers to how "it seemed the better way/when first I heard him speak/But now it's much too late/To turn the other cheek." After complaining that "I wonder what it meant/At first he touched on love/But then he touched on death," he ends his poem with a Eucharistic symbol: a call to "lift this glass of blood/Try to say the grace" ("It Seemed the Better Way"). Or, in the same collection, Lenny confesses to having seen him "change the water into wine" and back again; and he calls for a treaty "between your love and mine" and how "we were broken then, but now we're borderline."
So the first observation I make about Cohen is that he is a deep ecumenist. That is, he draws on at least three major spiritual traditions: the Jewish into which he was born; the Buddhist which he studied and practiced seriously; and the Christ path. His religious sources are of a post-modern kind, he belongs to many communities at once and is learning from them and incorporating them all in an interfaith offering right up to the end, right up to his last album.

But a second dimension to Cohen's music is his raw honesty. Whether he is talking about human love and/or sexual experience, or the struggles of faith and survival and aging he is blunt and direct. In his ode to Janis Joplin, with whom he interacted while living in the Chelsea Hotel, he is both respectful of her life decisions and her death induced by drugs and her bravery and the "sweet little sound" of her music but he is also blunt about the sex they shared on his unmade bed. There is nothing hidden about the revelations of life experience from Cohen--he names it for what it is and unapologetically so. Life experiences for him open doors of revelation.

His raw honesty is true of his struggles with belief as well and here Lenny speaks to so many believers or wanna-be believers today--his is a very humble and uncertain faith. Part agnostic, part yearning, part feeling, part drawing on sources of tradition, part not--like so many others walking the earth today. For example, in his song "It Seemed the Better Way," he tells us about Jesus' teaching that it "sounded like the truth/seemed the better way/sounded like the truth/But it's not the truth today." How history and culture and life itself have resisted Jesus' teaching or set it in a context that renders it less than truthful or has seemed to move beyond it. He speaks of having "given up/ On the me and you" and how he is not alone but has traveled with others who are in the same boat (Traveling Light).

Or in his poem "Steer your way" found in the same CD, he begins by acknowledging how vapid have become religious archetypes and stories: "Steer your way through the ruins/of the Altar and the Mall/ Steer your way through the fables/ of Creation and The Fall." He warns us that the truth of our fathers may have gone stale, not only are the altars in ruins but also: "Steer your heart past the Truth/you believed in yesterday/Such as Fundamental Goodness/and the Wisdom of the Way" and he admits that atheism is an option: "Steer your way through the pain....that has blinded every View/ And please don't make me go there, /tho' there be a God or not." He does not want to argue about God's existence. The pain of the world that has "smashed the Cosmic Model" renders the argument of atheism more valid. Surely he is responding to the Holocaust (among other evils) in making this point. And just as he mocks the malls in the start of this poem, so he elaborates on the religion of consumerism when he pronounces that "As he died to make men holy,/ let us die to make things cheap." But he offers a remedy as well: to "say the Mea Culpa which/you've probably forgot...." 

Cohen wrestles with the ambiguity of faith in still another poem where he sings of leaving a younger lover. The strength it takes to let go is a spiritual trial, so much so that "They ought to give my heart a medal/For letting go of you/ When I turned my back on the devil/Turned my back on the angel too." Devils and angels play together in Cohen's mind and imagination and choosing--as in all of ours. 

Another theme that Cohen is blunt about is his growing old and his preparing to exit this life. His health was not good in his last years as he battled with cancer and his back was acting up so badly that his son had to help him finish this last album of songs. Lenny profusely praised his son, who became the producer of his last album. 

But the album is in many ways a leave-taking. The theme is everywhere: "I'm leaving the table/I'm out of the game....Little by little/We're cutting the cord" (Leaving the Table). And again, "I'm traveling light/ It's au revoir/ My once so bright/My fallen star/....Goodnight goodnight/My fallen star/....I'm running late/ They'll close the bar/ I used to play/ one mean guitar." Memories arising around his guitar remind him of his past even as his life is moving on. 

And he speaks of immense darkness, the leave taking of loved ones on a cosmic scale. His depiction of the Dark Night of the Soul is for real. "If the sun would lose its light/ And we lived an endless night.... If no leaves were on the tree/ And no water in the sea/ And the break of day/ Had nothing to reveal....That's how broken I would be/ What my life would seem to me/ If I didn't have your love/ To make it real" (If I Didn't Have Your Love). Whose love is he talking about? A friend? A lover? God? All of the above? He lays the dark night at the feet of God, it seems built in to things. "There's a lullaby for suffering/ And a paradox to blame/ But it's written in the scriptures/ And it's not some idle claim/ You want it darker/ We kill the flame." Human history seems to prefer the dark. "Magnified and sanctified Be Thy Holy Name/ Vilified and crucified/ In the human frame/ A million candles burning/ For the love that never came/ You want it darker/ We kill the flame." And of course there is a particular prominence to this message since this song is the title song of the album (You Want It Darker).

As a spiritual theologian I am completely taken by Cohen's honest and searing search for truth, for healing, for right action, for justice, for beauty, for wisdom to be derived from a variety of spiritual traditions. And I am moved by his commitment to work on himself and his honest striving. It is the very humility of his findings that speaks, I think, to the spiritual struggle of our time when in this post-modern world we are at a loss for words to express the depths of the darkness and the light that breaks through sometimes. How busy we are, consciously or unconsciously, to find a new meaning to faith and our lives, and a new faith to create building on the truths of the past and adapting them to our bitter times. We search for community.

It is not just the passing of Leonard Cohen that touches our hearts but the timing of it. He died the day before the presidential election of 2016 that plunged many into a soul-searching and a dark night and a need to hear again the voices of the poor, the outcast, the dark corners of the souls of those who feel so unlistened-to that they clapped and cheered for a man who spoke ultimately to the resentment embedded in hearts and minds left behind by an economic system that works for only a few. 

"You Want It Darker" speaks to the darkness of our times--as did so much of Cohen's work. His words do not cover up the truth--they lay it bare; they are not the least bit sentimental or sugar-coated. They speak to the utter depths of many. They offer no instant satisfaction or redemption. They are the words and songs of a genuine seeker, a man on a hunt, who is "traveling light." A mystic and prophet of the first order. 

May his travels continue for all of us to whom he spoke so directly and deeply yet so often mysteriously. Thank you, Leonard Cohen, for the gift you leave with us. And your last words, "Here I am, I'm ready Lord," spoken three times in response to the coming darkness. Your message is one of Hope. Not cheap hope; not fast-food hope. Something more real and more pressing than that. His friend and fellow artist Judy Collins wrote that he offered us "songs for the spirit when our spirits were strained to the breaking point." 

Yes, he was an honest troubadour about the very real via negativa. But he never abandoned the beauty of life either--"there is perfume everywhere," he sang. He is after all the author of the tribute to broken, cold, imperfect but ever present "Hallelujah's" and he praises love making as being a moment of the "Holy Dove" being present in every breath. He reached always for an authentic via positiva and he invited us into the same arena.

The great psychologist Otto Rank defined the artist as someone who wants to leave behind a gift. Lenny Cohen's gifts he leaves behind are generous and multiple and will continue to feed the spiritually hungry for generations to come. 

Thank you, Lenny, on this Thanksgiving 2016.

A Thanksgiving Post with Prayers for Standing Rock

Reposting with gratitude from my friend, Mexican prophet and poet Rafael Jesús González:

Even as we prepare Thanksgiving dinner and sit and say grace, the indigenous people who, as myth would have it, were present at the start of the tradition, are embattled at Standing Rock defending their land, protecting the water, the Earth itself.

Standing Rock

 Por el camino rojo y el amarillo,
 el camino negro y el blanco
venimos, nos reunimos
porque el agua es la vida y sagrada
tal como es la tierra que nos da nacer
y guarda los huesos de nuestros ancestros.
Nos reunimos con rezos y resolución,
con flores y cantos;
los que las tenemos llevamos plumas,
nuestros aretes de oro, collares de jade
para enfrentar los perros, los garrotes,
el gas lacrimógeno, prisión.
Aquí estamos para defender a la Tierra.

© Rafael Jesús González 2016

Standing Rock

By the red road & the yellow,
the black road & the white
we come, we gather
because water is life & sacred
as is the land that births us
& holds the bones of our forebears.
We gather with prayers & resolve,
with flowers & songs;
we who have them wear feathers,
our gold earrings, our collars of jade
to face the dogs & the clubs,
the tear gas & bullets, prison.
We are here to defend the Earth.

 © Rafael Jesús González 2016

Let us be mindful that in our giving thanks we must also dedicate ourselves to restorative justice and healing knowing that gratitude for what we enjoy at the expense and suffering of our brothers and sisters is blasphemous and unacceptable.

The times are urgent and our brothers and sisters on the front-lines defending the water, the very Earth, standing in peace and prayer are being mercilessly attacked. It is a battle ground amid clouds of tear gas, showered by water cannons in temperatures below zero,

A young woman's arm was destroyed by a concussion grenade

and hundreds are being injured and hospitalized, some have been killed.

The URGENCY is great. Please call the following and protest:

Be thankful for life and the gifts of the Earth who bears it, be committed to its defense and work for restorative justice without which there can be no peace.

        bless - Rafael


Tom Hayden: A Warrior for Justice, RIP

I considered Tom Hayden a friend and a colleague. We did not get together often but we collaborated on a number of occasions, I teaching with him in a class he offered on deep ecology years ago at a community college in Santa Monica; he lecturing at my university.

When I was stepping down as president of my University of Creation Spirituality, I invited him to take over as president. He took the invitation very seriously and came up to Oakland for us to interview him and he to interview us. Unfortunately he turned the invitation down after serious deliberation, citing his need to remain free from institutional demands in order to maintain his true vocation as an activist and researcher.

We shared books we and others wrote. He was both an activist and a true intellectual because he was a relentless asker of questions. His scholarship was always directed, as is the Irish way, toward behavior and action.

When he joined the civil rights movement in the south as a young man he was beaten in Mississippi and arrested in Georgia and in jail began writing his famous "Port Huron Statement" which urged a more progressive political agenda and activism.

Tom once told me how he first got involved in the civil rights movement. As a young man growing up near Detroit, he fell in love with a woman who lived in the south. He followed her south and lo and behold! There was this thing going on, the civil rights movement. He joined in. He got arrested. His girl friend moved on. But he stayed to fight for racial justice. That is how his political career was born. And his vocation as an activist for justice remained true for the rest of his life.

He was a man of integrity who managed to swing between action and research. One long time friend and ally, Larry Bensky, commenting on Hayden's diverse career within politics and outside it, said: "He always wanted to be where the action was. He was such an unusual person, who basically lived his politics....He knew that in order to effectuate any social change it is essential to engage the system. [But] he never forgot his principles and was always true to his instincts to help those that needed help in society."[1]

To me Tom was an incarnation of the "preferential option for the poor" principles that were birthed following the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Catholic Church. I think he saw it that way too as he took his church seriously and especially its call to justice that birthed the liberation theology movement following on the Council.

I remember once visiting his home in Santa Monica and on his kitchen table were spread out several books by the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff (he and I were both silenced by the Vatican and in the same year which I chose to visit him in Brazil) and some of my own along with copious pages of notes taken from said books.

Tom was not just an activist but a student, even a scholar, of pressing topics of our day including issues of the environment, economics, media, religion, and their common gathering place, politics. He was a lover of liberation theology and he was proud of the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church.

Regarding the church, he remained loyal to it if not always a practitioner thereof (three divorces did not exactly fit the bill for Catholic purity). I recall when I chose to join the Episcopal Church after being expelled from the Dominican Order after 34 years and with the intention of working with young people to reinvent forms of worship, he disagreed with my decision...but this did not diminish our respect for one another's callings.

In fact I often wondered afterwards if the revelations of the truly dark side of the church structure, including the cover up of the pedophile clergy abuse by the hierarchy, did not affect him later. We had talked about my research on the sinister relationship between Pope John Paul II and the CIA machinations to destroy liberation theology in Latin America and he pushed me for footnotes and back up. I included such documentation in my book The Pope's War which I tried to get to him, but I do not know if I was ever successful in that as he was hard to get hold of in more recent years.

Though he was a champion of clear thinking and hard pushing to change our political and economic structures, I think he may have underestimated the radical need for religion to reinvent itself. He did not seem so interested in that particular struggle as he was in the many others that he championed. Deep down his Irish Catholicism stayed with him a long time.

Our most recent correspondence was in 2015 around the pope's encyclical on the Environment and he wrote me these words:

Praise be back to you matt...i thought how much you contributed to the final encyclical over so many years of struggle as the herald of the message, and all i learned from you. For me it goes all the way back to the National Partnership on Religion and Environment -- remember that in the 90s? I met those same people in sacramento at a bishops meeting i attended on the encyclical. Takes a lifetime to get the work done, step by step. The most important thing for me about the pope is the content of the encyclical itself including the structure of its thought. I've urged people to actually read it and not "pontificate" about it. I wrote the Calif legis resolution endorsing it and urging all public agencies to study and discuss it. Definitely has had an impact in the run up to paris! We'll see. On Serra, i figured that was a trade off to get oscar romero canonized over the insane and hateful opposition of the salvadoran right. I am not sure i have all your prolific stuff, but definitely want to read. Here are some of mine which you might not have -- much love. Pope Francis Calls for Climate Justice - Tom Hayden

Hayden's mind was voracious and though a family man and an activist and a state senator and a husband to Jane Fonda and then to his current wife, actress Barbara Williams, he always found time to study and to gather his own thoughts and to write. He wrote twenty books, which is pretty amazing for an activist. And they were books of substance which also named his broad interests and concerns. Among them were the following: The Lost Gospel of the Earth: A Call for Renewing Nature, Spirit and Politics; Irish Hunger: Personal Reflections on the Legacy of the Famine; Inside the Irish: In Search of the Soul of Irish America; Street Wars: Gangs and the Future of Violence; Ending the War in Iraq; The Whole World Was Watching: The Streets of Chicago: 1968; The Zapatista Reader.

One can see in this partial list his broad interests in social justice and healing--his book on gangs was especially striking to me because in writing it he befriended gang and ex-gang members in the Los Angeles area especially, a work of courage as well as deep insight and importance.

Fellow anti-war activist David Harris said that Hayden had the "best analytical mind of anyone....He could assess a situation clearly, completely and right on the mark." Black activist Bobby Seale, who went to trial along with Hayden and six others for inciting the riots in the Chicago Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, said of Hayden: He was "really a great guy, a great organizer, a great writer"... Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin "had their antics, but Tom was more serious....He understood the problem of exploitation, he understood the plight of African Americans. He understood, the way I did, that the framework of government needed to be more progressive. He was someone we could count on."[2]

We will miss Tom Hayden. I often read his newsletter, to which he was contributing even during the last year of his sickness; it was striking for its common sense and clarity about complicated moral and political issues (and Tom always saw political issues as moral ones). One could always disagree with Tom on specifics but one always had to take his arguments seriously for they were well thought out, reasonably argued, consistent to his basic philosophy, and appealing to the heart as well as head.

Tom was a warrior--warrior for justice of all stripes, a warrior for the deep values that are to be found in the core of both the Jewish and Christian Bibles. Justice mattered to him.

The great fourteenth-century Dominican mystic and activist Meister Eckhart said the following: "For the just person as such to act justly is to live; indeed, justice is his life, his being alive, his being, insofar as he is just." Justice was Tom's life. And work. And passion. His being and his being alive. It was his spirituality. We are all better for it. Yes, he will be missed, this voice of reason and of caring and of action and passion on behalf of justice.

Truly, here was a man who "fought the good fight" his entire life long with all of his gifts of intellect and caring. Thank you, Tom. May you rest in peace and may your work and person continue to inspire us and future generations.


[1] Cited in Evan Sernoffsky and Steve Rubenstein, "Tom Hayden: Student activist became longtime state legislator," San Francisco Chronicle, Oct 25, 2016, A-8.

[2] Ibid.

REBLOGGING: News from Standing Rock

I am proud to say that the author of this post, Phila Hoopes, works closely with Dennis and myself and others involved with creation spirituality.  She drove from her Baltimore home to Standing Rock, ND, last week to bear witness to the work going on at the Oceti Sakowin support camp and has just filed this important story, among others, on her blog

Spread the word--and the prayers--please.  Mainstream media is, as usual, not doing its job (any more than it did its job at the three presidential debates when not one question was asked about climate change or the environment).

Standing Rock – Setting Stories Aside,
Seeking News

There is a time when human-interest stories of strong and gentle people preparing for winter in a remote resistance camp fade before a heart-stopping demonstration of raw communal courage, made in the face of overwhelming militarized force. A demonstration documented only on social media; the most important history of our time is being made far away from the mainstream news cameras.

That’s what happened yesterday. My accustomed middle-class routine was setting in; I’d intended to spend the day blogging about the amazing people I met at Standing Rock. But upon seeing a stark, terse warning in a NoDAPL group’s feed, I spent the day frantically scouring Facebook for the latest news, trying desperately to find out what was happening and get the news to someone – anyone – who could give it the mainstream media coverage it deserves.

Urgent. Tell frontlines on all channels. Confirmed: Around 50 police vehicles on the way to front lines with 5 trailers full of atvs.
Estimates from
30 police suvs
5-6 flare beds full of atvs (5 atvs per trailer)
4-5 unmarked suvs
4-5 Cop cars probably from various jurisdictions
5-6 sand colors humvees/mraps
Get get word to frontlines
Seen 45 miles east of bismarck around 10:45
So total 60 vehicles plus 30 atvs
Plus forensic van

It was another reminder – if reminders were needed – that Oceti Sakowin is not a rainbow social gathering, much as it seemed like one, with people of all races, genders, and creeds present and pitching in harmoniously. The camp is very genuinely a strong and oppressed nation’s last stand in defense of its land and water, its people and ultimately all peoples, human and otherwise, who occupy the watersheds of the continent’s great heartland rivers and Oglala aquifer.


Unarmed Water Protectors Stand Bravely Against Big Oil's Illegal Advance

On this Labor Day all people with a conscience and with love and interest in preserving the planet and its sacred waters should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Dakota people, who are being bullied once again by federal agencies and the Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners oil company bent on ramming the Dakota Access Pipeline across their lands. 

The $3.8B, 1200-mile pipeline, which violates both historic treaties and federal law, is slated to transport nearly 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the Bakken oil fields, crossing the underground aquifer of the Great Sioux Reservation and the Missouri River, and threatening the water supply of millions of people, both Indian and non-Indian.   

In an ongoing effort to stop the pipeline - deemed "unlawful" by the local sheriff and Energy Transfer - thousands of unarmed water protectors have assembled in peaceful prayer camps, in the largest gathering of tribes in more than 100 years. They are joined by environmental attorneys; activists representing movements and churches including Black Lives Matter; Amnesty International; the Anglican Church of Canada and the U.S.-based Episcopal Church; pagans of several traditions; and celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio, Rosario Dawson, and Shailene Woodley.  Politicians including Bernie Sanders and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., have spoken up in support from Washington, D.C.

The Standing Rock Nation filed papers challenging the Army Corps of Engineers' permits for the DAPL on September 2, and the fate of the pipeline is now up to a federal judge who will rule on its legality on September 9. Nevertheless, on September 4, in a premature "fait accompli" action described as "psychological warfare," mercenaries employed by Energy Transfer attacked unarmed men, women and children of the Lakota tribes while bulldozing their sacred burial grounds and ceremonial sites. Ecologist/activist Linda Black Elk described the scene in a public Facebook post:

In a recent survey of the area, the tribe (had) found many incredibly sacred sites, including burial sites, directly in the path of the proposed pipeline. The tribe had never been allowed to survey these areas before, so they hadn't been able to document these sites.

Today, barely 24 hours after those papers were filed, Dakota Access used bulldozers to destroy those sites. It was absolute destruction. They literally bulldozed the ancestors right out of the ground, along with destroying tipi rings and cairns. They did all of this while assaulting peaceful resistors using vicious dogs, tear gas, and pepper spray. 

There's only one conclusion: they are attempting to provoke us to violence. They learned exactly how to hurt us the most and then they threw it all in our faces. They were smiling and laughing the whole time...evil grins on their faces as their dogs tore in to peaceful water protectors. It is one of the saddest and most shocking things I have ever seen. Please tell the world what is happening. 

Meanwhile, President Obama - who visited the Standing Rock Reservation in June, 2014 with promises of federal help - has been silent in the face of this injustice, despite a video plea from the youth of the tribe and a rebuke from the U.N. Permanent Council calling on the U.S. government to "comply with the provisions recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ensure the right of the Sioux to participate in decision-making, considering that the construction of this pipeline will affect their rights, lives and territory.". 

When will these atrocities stop?  When will a sense of the sacred--the sacred waters and earth, the human rights of all people, the sacredness of ancestral lands -- return to our value system to supplant the idolatrous faux sacred bottom line of corporations?  We are talking about rank idol worship here and it has profound consequences for the future of Mother Earth and all her children.  Let us stand with the Dakota people in this holy struggle.   "All our relations."   All are sacred.

The Standing Rock Sioux Nation asks those who feel called to support to write to their legislators and the Obama Administration . A more comprehensive list of ways to help is posted on a number of Facebook pages. For ways to take direct nonviolent action, see

An Evening With A Saint

Yesterday I was with a saint.  Sister Abegail Nteleto from South Africa came to the Bay Area for a book signing, and since she and I shared a common publisher, North Atlantic Books, I was invited to dialog with her at a local bookstore, where she spoke of her memoir and I of the new version of my autobiography (updated after 18 years).

Abegail’s book is called Empty Hands: One Woman’s Journey to Save Children Orphaned by AIDS in South Africa and though short, is a powerful and must read book.  It is an adventure story—but a true one, non-fiction indeed—about this courageous and amazing woman whose mother died when she was young and whose older siblings moved away and left her as a child with her alcoholic father.  She was caring for the cattle at the age of six and, being a girl, was forbidden by custom and her father to seek an education.  But she was hungry for an education and at the age of 14 broke with her father and started school.  Her dream was to become a nurse but she did not graduate from high school until she was 29 years old.

Her accomplishments, once she became a nurse in her fifties, are legion—and the obstacles of poverty and racism and more that she overcame.  Adopting more children than one can count, sleeping in two rooms with twenty-something kids, kids traumatized by parents who died of AIDS, resistance from the government and more.  But she was steadfast.  She got very little sleep, developed a spiritual practice of meditating at 3AM in the morning while the kids slept, learning to receive, to let go, to forgive, to practice “empty hands.”

My response to her book was to cite Thomas Aquinas who said the greatest miracle of all is a virtuous life!  Hers has been a virtuous life (she is now in her eighties).  The Dalai Lama, among others, has recognized this by bestowing on her a special honor called the “Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award.”  So I told her and the people gathered that Abegail is a Miracle.  She has a new name now—Sister Miracle.  She smiled in her humble but strong and knowing way.

Read her book.  Know her story.  Do what she did in your own way and in response to your own calling to serve those around you .  Visit YouTube—Kulungile Care Centre.  Drink in her book, Empty Hands, and be grateful that we share the earth with a soul so sturdy and real.

An afterthought…

Joanna Macy cancelled an engagement to join us yesterday evening and I was thinking this morning how many women saints I have been blessed to know and work with in my life: Abegail, Joanna, Dorothy Stang, Sr Jose Hobday, M. C. Richards, Mary Ford Grabowski, Sr. Joan Chittister, Anita Roddick, Debra Martin,  my own mother and many more.

It is a good time for women to rise.

U.N. Postscript to Serra Canonization

Doctrine of Discovery-related Papal Bulls require redress

After the struggle by many Indigenous rights organizations and their allies to halt the canonizaton of Junipero Serra last year, and the disappointment of seeing the Spanish conquistadors’ missionizer-in-chief made a saint despite his brutal and genocidal tacticsthis news from the U.N. came as a welcome surprise:

As the result of a comprehensive shadow report by the Apache-Nde-Nnee Working Group submitted to the UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) resulted in the CERD Committee recognizing the Doctrine of Discovery, the Holy See’s Inter Caetera and related Papal Bulls are within the legal scope of racial discrimination under International Law and therefore require redress.

More and more it strikes me that the Serra canonization fiasco is having an ironic, unintended and positive effect. Thanks to the perseverance of the native tribes in wake of the Serra canonization, the truth is getting out and getting out in ever fuller ways.  Education is happening at many levels!

Learn more about the struggle against the canonization of Junipero Serra here:

REBLOG: A Review of Spotlight by Norbert Krapf

I saw the movie Spotlight recently and was deeply moved by its powerful acting and authentic storytelling: how a courageous team of reporters and editors at the Boston Globe exposed the Catholic Church's coverup of widespread pedophilia among its priests. Highly recommended! The following review by Indiana poet laureate Norbert Krapf, author of Catholic Boy Blues, expresses the profound effect of this film on the survivors of priestly abuse, and their loved ones. Reblogging with his permission....


A Review by Norbert Krapf

Finally, despite multiple medical procedures and family obligations, I got to see the impressive, powerful, and moving film “Spotlight.” The acting is excellent, so is the script and every other aspect of it, but what’s most impressive is the uncompromising truth-telling.

If you are a survivor, have a sibling or relative or friend who is a survivor, you must see this film. If you can’t believe that the Church stonewalled it and in effect betrayed survivors and its own ideals and moral, ethical, and religious principles all over again, you must see this film. I was reminded, over and over, what an ugly betrayal the cover-up was and still is. I was reminded of how I felt the sting, the outrage, the hurt, the filthy putdown of what it felt like to have the church hierarchy negate me and my fellow survivors over and over in parish and diocese and archdiocese in city after city through its denials and secret “deals.”

My fellow survivors, if you go to see this powerful and uncompromising film, do not go by yourself. I sobbed uncontrollably, repeatedly. Go with someone who cares for you, loves you, someone you love, because it will be torture to see it by yourself. Go with someone who supports you. In the company of someone who understands what you went through back then and had to go through all over again because of this later betrayal, which complicated your early pain exponentially, you will better be able to appreciate what a great service the whole team that put this film together has given us all.

This is art that serves humanity. This is truth that had to out. If we cannot face the truth, we cannot help our children. This film helps us face the truth, as hard as that may be. There is still much work to be done on this. I am eternally grateful to anyone who had anything to do with making and bringing this film out for us all to experience. This film is about the betrayal by the Catholic Church of its young victim-survivors, but child abuse and its cover-up are NOT limited to the Catholic Church, and are not limited to the United States. They are world-wide problems. I say BRAVO! to the “Spotlight” team.

May my “Catholic Boy Blues” collection of poems and the prose memoir “Shrinking the Monster” forthcoming from In Extenso Press, an imprint of ACTA Publications of Chicago, also the new publisher of the poetry collection, play their small part in speaking out against child abuse and the harm it does to us, our children, our grandchildren, and our descendants. As a survivor, I give thanks for “Spotlight” and I encourage you to see it. I hope Pope Francis has seen it, because it should help him take action; it must have made this good-hearted Pope cry.

© 2015 Norbert Krapf

Toward a more than literal and more than rational and more than capitalist Christmas!

Some people complain that there exists a “war on Christmas.”  I propose that there are three wars on Christmas going on in our time: There is the war of chosen ignorance and fundamentalist literalism that seeks to make of every Christmas story a literal truth (such folks are seeking the star of Bethlehem and all the rest by pouring over historical astronomical manuscripts)--and this destroys Christmas for many thinking people; there is the war of rationalists who, in their eagerness to prove the fundamentalists all wrong are busy deconstructing the Christmas narratives but with little or no appreciation of the profound panoply and in fact rich banquet of archetypes and meaning and poetry and art that are embedded in the Christmas stories and no effort whatsoever at reconstruction; and the third war comes from consumer capitalism which, like a great river that is flooding seeks out weak spots to fill and rushes into the vacuums left by the hard line literalists and the hard line rationalists to fill it with an orgy of spending frenzy that appeals to the basest instincts of greed, competition, avarice, gluttony and more silliness that keeps us all distracted from the deeper meanings of the Christmas season.  These are the three wars on Christmas being waged in our time. What is ironic to me is that the fundamentalists on the right and the fundamentalists on the left are in bed together—whether they admit it or not—insofar as both suffer from severe reductionism.  They both are literalists—this is what they have in common for one wants to throw the baby Jesus out with the bath (the rationalists); and the other wants to wallow in the literal waters with the baby Jesus.  Both are stuck in a literal past and both ignore the expansive and cosmic message that the Christmas stories are telling us: Stories about the coming of the Cosmic Christ (or Buddha Nature if you prefer; or Image of God if you prefer that).  Stories that are mythical in size and scope.  Stories that are more-than-anthropocentric.  Stories and the archetypes that accompany them that blast through the narcissism of our species including its preoccupation with guilt, shame, self-destruction, power, control and death wishes.  Stories that are so big that only artists can tell them.  Stories that go beyond the left brain and water and wash the intuitive brain where, as Einstein teaches, values come from.  Stories that are mystical and not merely intellectual.  Stories that live, not stories that slumber in academic anal retentive  obsessions and ego-driven power games of deconstructing.

What are some of these stories the Christmas brings alive for us?  (I stress the “some” because I will only deal with a limited number of them in this short essay.)  

  • One is the basic story of Who/Where the Divine is to be found.  A key name in the Christmas story is the word “Emmanuel.”  Biblical scholars have concluded that “Emmanuel” is the oldest name for God in the Bible and what it means is “God-with-us.”  Notice what it does not mean: Not God over us; God above us; God outside us; God judging us; God as nobodaddy in the sky; God as Patriarch par excellence; God as Judge; God as Condemner; God as mathematician in the sky; God as power-over.  None of these.  Rather God-with-us, God among us, God in our midst.  More a panentheistic God than a theistic God.  A theistic God is a God outside us, God as object.  A panentheistic God is us in God and God in us.  God among us therefore, God in our midst.
  • Another basic message from the Christmas story is the primacy of the anawim, those without a voice, those who are the forgotten ones in society.  That is the meaning of the angels appearing to the shepherds with good news to tell the whole world.  The shepherds were very much at the bottom of the cultural totem pole in Israel in the first century.  They lived among sheep, smelled like them, were not educated or literate, etc.  They are the first one, one might say the chosen ones, to hear good news about “Peace to the world.”
  • The anawim are also the children.  Then as now, children are often without a voice and are subject to adultism and the projections and projects of the adults whether their versions of societal institutions from education to economics to religion to politics.  Children are often victimized by the agendas of the adults.  But in the Christmas story we are told that Divinity is not afraid of childhood but actually chooses to young and a child and to be vulnerable and dependent as happens with children everywhere.  Christmas challenges adultism in all its forms.  It awakens adults to their capacity for participating in the evil of endangering the young.  It also shows the best way of dealing with children: Mother Mary and Father Joseph care for their young baby as every healthy and loving couple do.
  • The Christmas story also warns of the darkness to come in the life of Jesus, the price he will one day pay in taking on the Empire of the day, when it tells us that Herod, the Roman Empire’s representative in Israel, is out to murder this “savior” and puts out a decree that all new born male babies should be murdered.  And the flight to Egypt is the response to that.  Literalists want to think this journey was for real; rationalists want to throw out the whole story.  But the meaning is clear and is deeper than any effort to commit reductionism: Every son or daughter of God (and that is each of us) will awaken powers that are threatened by the message of peace (and therefore justice) preached by people of good will.  Christmas warns us that it will not be an easy task to live out one’s Divine incarnation.
  • There lies another profound teaching from the Christmas stories: Incarnation.  Literally, the taking on of flesh.  By whom?  By Divinity.  God is so in love with humanity and the Earth that God becomes one of us, light embodied, flesh, very much “God-among-us,” very much a lover and user of Earth and her many gifts to humans.  It follows that flesh is holy, flesh is sanctified, all of our chakras (including number two, our sexuality) are incorporated into the sacredness of Divinity.  None of us need regret any longer our incarnation, our fleshiness, our sexuality or the sacred flesh of Mother Earth that welcomes us and nourishes us.
  • There is a powerful affirmation of the four-legged ones and the role they play in divine revelation in these stories.  Not only are the sheep present when the shepherds hear the news from the cosmic beings, the angels; but they are also there at the manger where the Divine baby is placed--see Isaiah 1.1 which talks of how “Israel has not known me but the ox and donkey have known me.”  In other words the non-two-legged ones can be much closer to God than humans.  They bless us; we learn from them; we are not here just to use them.  That is a profound and necessary message in a time of eco-awakening such as ours.  It strikes at the heart of speciesism, the narcissistic notion that our species alone is the “people of God.”
  • The baby Jesus was born in a manger, his parents were poor, no room in the inn.  But the Cosmic Christ is born there also.  In poverty; in exile; like immigrants; excluded from the hotels and motels.  All this is a teaching also of the preferential option for the poor that the Scriptures announce and that we still have to learn and practice.  It challenges all those who stand by while strangers and those in exile suffer immeasurably trying to survive.  It is a story about justice and justice-making.
  • Christmas day is not so much a Birthday Party for the baby Jesus in the year 2015—an exercise in nostalgia certainly--so much as it is a Birthday Party for the Christ in all of us, the Buddha Nature in all of us, the Image of God in all of us yearning to Come Alive and Be Born finally, throwing off the shackles of history and fear and lack of self-worth to take on the dignity and the responsibility of being grown-ups; of being God-like; of being compassionate; of being fully alive.
  • There are many reminders of the Cosmic dimension to our lives in the Christmas story.  The star of Bethlehem is one such reminder: the heavens themselves, the cosmos, is part of the birth of each of us and part of the incarnation of each of us.  It is revelatory and can point the way to the Divine.  Science tells us that it took not just stars but supernovas and galaxies and the birth of atoms and the life, death and resurrection of multiple beings in the sky and the preparation of the earth including fine-tuning the atmosphere, for each of us to be born to this amazingly rich and beautiful and unique planet.
  • The story of the magi searching for this star reminds us that cosmology moves us beyond sectarianism and living in our comfortable boxes of religion or ethnicity or race or class for the magi were not Jews but seekers from other cultures seeking the same goal: A savior or teacher or Messiah who will remind all of us what life is truly about in its depths.
  • Wherever there are angels there is the cosmos represented for angels are cosmic beings not restricted to our planet or to human endeavors alone.  Angels accompany all creativity and certainly all new creation.  There prominence in these stories then beginning with Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and culminating with the appearance to the shepherds are part of the necessary messaging that as humans wake up to their own dignity, to their incarnation and marrying of the Divine and the human, all of creation is eager to accompany us and to praise with us.  But in the meantime we need the angels and need to call on them for their inspiration (a “muse” is another word for an angel) and guidance as we try to find our way as a species on an endangered planet.  Angels are allies, cosmic allies, eager to assist us.
  • Light and Darkness.  Christmas time is of course solstice time which in the northern hemisphere corresponds to the darkest time of the year.  So many cultures have honored this special, dark time of the year with pyramids and monuments (think New Grange in Ireland or Stonehenge or the pyramids of the Yucatan peninsula) made by intellectual genius and serious manual labor to get people to connect psyche and cosmos, honoring the dark but inviting in the light also.  In this context the “light of Christ” and the light of all of us is invited to shine not just one day a year but every day of the year, any one of which can be very dark.  Especially in the dark times is the light of Christmas to be remembered.  And darkness is the most appropriate time for the birth of the Divine.  It is a time of stillness and of quiet and from there the Christ is born.
  • The tradition of the Christmas tree, borrowed from ancient so-called “pagan” practices, is still another reminder of our interdependence as humans with the more-than-human peoples.  Not only animals but the tree people are honored at Christmas—and for good reason.  It is the ancestors of the trees after all that first emerged from the waters of the oceans and learned to defy gravity and built circulatory systems that later evolved to become our blood systems.  It was the tree people, so many millions of years older than ourselves, that taught us how to stand erect.  And proud.  And stately.  Our lighting of the tree, our decorating of the tree, our inviting a tree into our homes for a few weeks is such an invitation to move beyond our narcissism as a species and learn anew how blessed we are by so many beings that are more than human.

These are just some of the lessons of Christmas.  These archetypes do what all archetypes do: They wake us up.  Christmas is a time of wake-up.  

Recently I read a well-intentioned article about teaching children about religion that was published in a progressive Christian magazine.  But it offered a sad and scary teaching when the author wrote that stories about Jesus are “sometimes the truth and sometimes myth.”  Shame, shame!  There looms a dangerous dualism here.  Adults ought to know by now that myths are truths; they carry truths that are too big for just factoids to carry.  It would be a disaster to attempt to purge all religion of its myths.  As psychologist Rollo May points out, myths are the basis of all morality.  There is an unnecessary dualism here between "truth" and "myths."

The stories of the Nativity need not be factual but mythically they are immensely powerful.  The artists who composed them knew what they were doing--they catch the deep imagination and yearnings of the human heart for justice for the poor and in doing so offer what is in many ways the essence of the Christ path--that Good News will come to the poorest (the shepherds) and the four-legged ones (ox and sheep) will be in a privileged place and that Divinity is young--a child--not just an old, bearded fellow.  And that we are cosmic beings born of a cosmos that has loved us and we will find no peace without remarrying our psyches to the cosmos.  The Gospel writers were NOT members of academic seminars: They were ARTISTS and they wove together powerful teachings and stories from the Hebrew Bible and elsewhere including their own hearts and imaginations to create powerful works of art.  It was the Jesus event that aroused this creativity and breakthrough thinking in them.  It is an insult to throw out their brilliant mosaics based solely on a modern perspective of "facts only."  Do not underestimate the power of myth and story to move minds and hearts and thereby create metanoia or transformation.

We do not need a literalism from the left.  We and our children will be the poorer for it.  Academia, for all its accomplishments, like the quest for the historical Jesus and all its accomplishments, carries a great shadow side as well.  One that needs some uplifting regarding the deeper, archetypal, mythical and therefore truly BIG stories of our religious lineage.  

Are any of the lessons I have outlined here been truly heeded, lived out, celebrated, achieved by the human race in the past 2000 years?  Isn’t it time we begin?  Isn’t it time Christmas arrives, the Cosmic Christ arrives, finally?


A Renewed Plea Against Serra Canonization as Pope Francis Visit Nears

As the Pope's visit to the U.S. approaches, Native American activists in California and beyond are working harder than ever to raise awareness and stop the canonization‬ of Junipero Serra. I am sharing the latest letter from Toypurina Carac, originator of the MoveOn petition against the canonization; see the excellent article that she shares below, and if you haven't signed the petition yet, please do. ____________________________________________

Dear Supporters,

As our delivery date draws near, I am sharing a brief article written by a Professor friend in Southern California and Descendant of Mission Natives.

The Great Vatican Fraud by J. Cordero, PhD

The Vatican’s justification for canonizing Junipero Serra rests in great part upon Serra’s accomplishments. In the absence of a second miracle required for sainthood, Pope Francis counted Serra’s life’s work as a sufficient substitute. According to Pope Francis, Serra’s primary achievement was in founding the California missions where he served as a missionary and as Father President. In fact, Pope Francis praised Serra for being the “great evangelizer of the West in the United States.” From the Vatican’s perspective, then, the canonization of Junipero Serra relies heavily upon the assumption that the missionaries in California were, as Zephryn Engelhardt declared, “eminently successful,” especially in achieving their primary objective—the conversion of the California Indians.

In reality, however, Serra and the Spanish missionaries failed to achieve that goal. Based on the Spanish records kept by the missionaries themselves, less than five percent of all baptized California Indians voluntarily converted (i.e., genuinely converted as opposed to simply having been baptized) to Christianity, and the vast majority of converts held a syncretistic faith comprised of both native and Catholic beliefs. On the other hand, nearly eighty percent of all baptized natives died prematurely. In other words, five of every one hundred baptized Indians was genuinely converted, while eighty of every one hundred died an untimely death. The high death rates for Indians did not result primarily from epidemic diseases as is commonly reported. Instead, the austere living and working conditions at the missions contributed to rates of death that grossly exceeded birth rates and that consequently led to the near destruction of native populations in a manner more severe than in Baja California.

Thus, in their evangelistic efforts the Spanish missionaries fared poorly, which means that Pope Francis has merely substituted one failure for another and that the primary basis for Serra’s canonization is fraudulent.

Jonathan Cordero (Ohlone/Chumash) Assistant Professor of Sociology, California Lutheran University Chairperson of the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone

Dr. Cordero will be joining a group of us next month at U.C. Berkeley to discuss the campaign to stop the canonization of Serra. It would be great if we could celebrate victory!

I need to issue an apology and correction from last week: Vinnie Rotondaro writes for the National Catholic Reporter, not the Register. I have linked his amazing article below. Our NPR interview with George Lavender is scheduled to air on Friday, 9/18/15. Our German Radio interview with Kerstin Zilm will also air sometime soon!

Our final delivery date will be this week and we are finalizing our media release. You will be the first to know when and where we are delivering the petition! Please stay connected to and our Kizh Nation Facebook page for updates. As of now, we are short 120 names on the petition to have reached our goal of 10,000.

We wish to extend a warm "Mahalo" and Aloha to supporters in Hawaii who oppose the canonization of Serra, as it is an insult to Father Damien of Molokai.

We thank you all, for your help in signing and sharing our petition to Pope Francis. This canonization is in direct conflict with his rhetoric, so we hope he will abandon it, before it is too late for this to tarnish his legacy of mercy, compassion and progress.

In solidarity, Toypurina Carac

Some Thoughts on the Refugee Crisis in Europe and the Middle East

The news is full every day of the disturbing pictures and harrowing stories of the hundreds of thousands of refugees bent on fleeing the awful wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, children and others drowning in make-shift boats, families hiking for hundreds and thousands of miles, fences erected and much more.  Much of the crisis was generated by the invasion of Iraq thirteen years ago by an American government claiming its justification as a response to 9/11, even though Iraq was not involved with 9/11. Germany seems to be stepping up mightily in offering asylum for at least 800,000 persons and a number of other countries are also reaching out to assist the dispossessed.  Others, not so much.  Within countries there is considerable debate concerning the loss of one’s culture, the dilution of one’s cultural identity, etc.  It is not an easy time for responsible citizens and governments to make sound decisions.  But it is such a crisis that tests the moral fiber of a people.  I have heard from my brother, now living in Iceland with his Icelandic wife, that there is much discussion and debate in the streets and cafes, etc. about the best course of action.

But in the United States I hear practically no debate and no discussion from our politicians or government employees or media.  The silence is deafening. It is as if this is “something happening over there” and not something that affects us all.  Yet because we are all humans it does affect us all and because our government did actually play a fundamental role in making the crisis happen, having created the vacuum in Iraq from our ill-fated invasion there, it is our concern.  America made ISIS possible.  

What can America do?  How many openings can we create for refugees from the middle eastern wars?  These are questions far more pertinent than How many times Donald Trump can make wild headlines for example.  Why are we not asking these questions?

The bigger question I see unfolding is that of reptilian brain (war) vs. mammal brain (compassion and kinship).  There is no question that humankind is in a profound struggle with itself about exactly this issue: Will we continue to choose the domination of the reptilian brain (example: as a species we are spending $58 per second on war and weapons)?  Or will we opt for a more dominant role for our mammal brains—which are the brain of kinship, community and compassion?   We see Europe facing that very choice at this time. One prays they do not flunk the test. Is America ready for the same challenge?  If not, why not?  

If humanity is to survive our very evolution must be marked by a choice on behalf of our mammal brains at the expense of our reptilian brains.  If we don’t evolve, we will not survive.  The present crisis is, as they say, a profound opportunity.  An occasion for growing up, for growing more fully human.  Let us not flunk this opportunity.

The Emerging Truth about Junipero Serra and the California Missions

Matthew Fox Reviews A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions, by Elias Castillo The saga of unholy injustice detailed in A Cross of Thorns left me feeling kicked in the gut, with my sense of moral outrage boiling over. Yet it is presented in subdued and sober terms, with fact after fact and story after story, building a sure case against the canonizing of Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra. The author, Elias Castillo, a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, tells the truth of the fabled and now postcard-like missions of California, a truth that has often been hidden away in libraries containing correspondence and comments from the days of the mission founding while a myth of benign relationships with the Native Peoples has been promulgated instead.

In this book Father Junipero Sera, called by some the “Father of California,” is exposed in damning detail as the father of a system, the mission system, that systematically destroyed the culture of the indigenous peoples of California that had lived at peace with the earth and more or less at peace with themselves over millennia until the Spanish arrived. With Castillo’s new research in hand, it makes all the more scandalous the current effort, supported by two Opus Dei archbishops and the Knights of Columbus, to canonize this sadistic person who is a poster boy for colonization and for racism. Why, Why, Why is Pope Francis going ahead with this canonization? Who profits from it?

There are those who say, “Don’t judge an eighteenth-century person by twenty-first century standards.” Well, when that person is being proposed by the Pope himself as a saint and therefore a model for twenty-first century people to emulate, why wouldn’t we have the right to judge? For example, should we be imitating Serra’s penchant for beating and scourging himself both in private and in the pulpit as a glorious spiritual exercise? In his own day in fact, one member of his congregation in Mexico was so turned on by Serra’s self-flagellations that when Serra bared his chest and beat himself in the pulpit the parishioner stormed the lectern and seized the chains out of the zealous friar’s hands and thrashed himself so hard declaring “I am a sinner” that he died on the spot! Now there is a saint to be imitated, right?

Furthermore, as is clear from the author’s impeccable research, Serra was out of the loop even in his own time. For example, he preaches that the earth is the center of the universe and the sun moves around the earth—150 years after Copernicus proved otherwise! In addition, Europeans who visited his missions complained in his time that they were shocked by the treatment of the Indians.   Even fellow Franciscans of his time were embarrassed and ashamed of what he was doing. Also, the governor generals contemporary with his time complained of his death camps otherwise known as “missions” and often overrode his decisions. Decades after the governor forbade beating Indians Serra was still insisting on it in his missions.

The whitewash on Serra has been going on long enough. The facts are now out there including interviews with descendants of those who were colonized by him. Where are the Franciscans who are standing up to be heard today about this monstrous effort to canonize a Colonizer and a man who himself whipped, and ordered whipped, thousands of Indians, and whose entire theology was about getting people to heaven no matter what the cost? Surely these sons of Saint Francis have a stake in seeking an apology from the Native Peoples and letting Serra lie in his grave, don’t they? Surely they don’t want to support a lie about Serra’s holiness – do they?

Thanks be to God, our age is waking up to the evils of racism. The confederate flag is at last being removed from Southern statehouses and government buildings, after the massacre of nine people in a black church by a 21-year-old assassin whose web pages and costumes celebrated that flag. America is agreeing that the confederate flag is a symbol of all that is evil in our national history of slavery, Jim Crow, and racism in its many incarnations right up to 2015.

But the missions are the same to Native Americans of California. They are symbols of slavery and of racism just as is the confederate flag. Castillo establishes this without a doubt:

  • The thousands of Indians who were herded into the missions did not come voluntarily but were treated as slaves insofar as they were paid nothing;
  • They were free labor for decades in the building up of the missions and their lands and vineyards and cattle raising;
  • They were not allowed to return to their villages (if they tried to they were whipped and often tortured, some locked into braces in the hot sun and left without water for days);
  • They were cut off from their religion and culture and families;
  • They were forced to attend daily mass even though it was in Latin of which they understood not a word and were to kneel for up to four hours during the Mass;
  • The men were separated from the women;
  • They were often starved and close to starving, etc., etc.

Far from the mythology still reigning, the Indians and Catholics did not get along well. Why else would over 1000 neophytes try to escape from fifteen missions between 1769 and 1817—especially knowing that if caught severe penalties ensued? The author lists the numbers from each mission in compiling these statistics. In 1832 the Mexican assembly called for an end to what it called back then “the detestable system of the missions” and so many Indians fled from the missions that the “neophytes” or baptized Christians plunged in number from 30,000 to 5,000 between 1834 and 1843. This does not sound like happy campers wanting to stick around. The fact that the missions were labeled “detestable” in 1832 silences those today who say piously, “but we can’t judge the missions by twenty-first century standards.”

Castillo devotes one chapter to “Rebellion” since many Native people rose up and resisted their own enslavement. After one such rebellion at the San Diego mission the military commander asked the conquered rebel Indians why they rose up. The answer was recorded thus: “They wanted to kill the fathers and soldiers in order to live as they did before.” On receiving news of the uprising and the number of persons killed Serra responded: “Thank God that that ground has now been watered (with blood): Now, certainly we will achieve the conversion of the Dieguenos.” Strange talk indeed for a saint! (173)

The coastal Indian numbers were estimated at 300,000 when the Spanish arrived in 1769; they were 16,624 in 120 years later. (p. 200) Is that not genocide? While some of that happened after the gold rush in 1849, it began with the mission system that Serra founded. The missions, like the monasteries of the late middle ages (which St Francis had reacted against in starting his order), became vast properties where tens of thousands of head of cattle, sheep, and goats made the friars rich beyond measure. Yet, “there is no full accounting of the wealth amassed by the missions during their peak period, from the end of the eighteenth century through the early 1800s.” (194)

In August, 1833 the Mexican government secularized the missions and all their lands, making them the property of the Mexican government and stripping the Franciscans of their authority over them, though allowing the chapels to continue as places for Mass. At San Gabriel the leading friar “flew into a rage” and ordered the destruction of all the buildings and livestock with the result that tens of thousands of carcasses of cattle, sheep and goats littered the field. While he tried to destroy the vineyards as well, the Indians assigned to do it refused.

So decimated was the population of the Indians in the missions that the head Friar from 1815-1819, Mariano Payeras, wrote that history will record that the priests “baptized them, administered the sacraments to them, and buried them” and he worried about how to shelter the friars “from slander and sarcasm…for all time.” (154)   The diet forced on the mission Indians resulted in stunted and much smaller bodies as is indicted by comparing human bones at mission Indian burial sites to those not so enslaved. (155) It seems that most of the concern of the Franciscan superiors was not about the plight of the Indians but about the depletion in free labor for the missions and what history would say about the Franciscans. Well, with this book, history has indeed spoken. And it is not pretty.

For any Franciscan today to stand by idly while the pope canonizes Serra is at least as immoral an act as was the work of their sadistic forefathers. Survivors of the missions were interviewed in the late nineteenth century and “all agreed that the friars and mission life was cruel and oppressive.” (151) On July 21, 1797, a group of Indians who escaped were interviewed by the military commander who captured them on why they escaped. Here are some of their testimonies as recorded by the commander:

  • After his wife and daughter died, on five separate occasions Father Danti ordered him whipped because he was crying. For these reasons he fled.
  • He fled because his wife and one child had died, no other reason that that.
  • His motive for fleeing was that his brother had died on the other shore, and when he cried for him at the mission they whipped him.
  • He left because his mother, two brothers and three nephews died all of hunger. So that he would not also die of hunger, he fled. (152f)

This does not strike me as twenty-first century values foisted onto eighteenth-century reality. In fact, visitors to the missions in their own time were shocked by what they saw—even Friar Antonio de la Conception Horra who was assigned to head Mission Sanguel in 1798 was shocked and complained that the missions failed to teach the Indians the Spanish language. He wrote the Viceroy of Mexico: “The manner in which the Indians are treated is by far more cruel than anything I have ever read about. For any reason however insignificant it may be, they are severely and cruelly whipped, placed in shackles, or put in stocks for days on end without receiving even a drop of water.” (141) Another friar in 1797 reported why Indians were fleeing the Mission San Francisco. “It is due to the terrible suffering they experienced from punishments and work,” he wrote the governor. An investigating presidio commander wrote: “Generally the treatment given the Indians is very harsh. At San Francisco, it even reached the point of cruelty.” (142)

Diseases, starvation, filthy and crowded living conditions, cruelty and torture--but also depression killed the mission Indians. “Some may have simply willed themselves to die, unable to stand the terrible stress….Nearly half of the missions populations died each year” and to make up for such losses the friars hunted further and further to find tribes from which they could seek a new and free labor force for their plantations. (139) As Castillo puts it: “Much of California including land that was far from the coast, would be turned into a huge and profitable farming area—the legacy of the missions, albeit at a tragic cost to California’s Indians….Newly-arrived settlers were faced with twenty-one missions that were in actuality giant agribusinesses that controlled the best lands with a large pool of free manpower.” (131)

French Naval Captain Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de Laperouse, sailed into Monterey Bay on September 14, 1786. He was the first outsider to visit the missions, arriving seventeen years after the first founding. He was “appalled at the treatment of the Indians by the Franciscan friars.” And he makes explicit the slave-like conditions of the Indians “whose state at present scarcely differs from that of the Negro inhabitants of our colonies.” (110) In addition “The color of these Indians, which is that of the negroes; the house of the Missionaries…the cattle, the horses—everything in short—brought to our recollection a plantation at Santo Domingo or any other West Indian island”-- in addition to “the noise of the whip.” (109f) The alcaldes or neophytes the friars choose to carry out the priests' commands, he notes, “are like the overseers of a slave plantation: passive beings, blind performers of the will of their superiors (friars)” whose main job is to “maintain order and the appearance of attention” during church services. (112) They also beat any Indian, no matter what age or sex, who violated mission rules. The floggings ranged from ten lashes up to fifty which could prove fatal. Women were not whipped in public but were taken away to be whipped so their cries would not arouse the men to rebellion. (113) When Indians killed a priest who was especially cruel in his whipping they were caught and sentenced to fifty daily lashes each for nine days and to life sentences of hard labor. (114)

Serra established nine missions before he died and the Indians “were little more than forced labor. This permitted the missions to thrive economically, and allowed the friars to profit personally for the sale of tallow, hides, horns, wine and brandy” which they sold to foreign merchant ships. “For the Indians it signified the beginning of brutal suffering and cultural genocide. Most died within two years, with their faith, customs, and way of life torn from them.” (98)

The Spanish Visitor General wrote to Serra’s close friend Friar Palou that they should “not teach the Indians how to write; for I have enough experiences that such major instruction perverts and hastens their ruination.” (129) This too followed the methods of the slavery plantations where reading and writing were forbidden. Castillo comments that this policy endorsed by Serra “proved catastrophic for the Indians when they began abandoning the missions in the 1830s.” (129)   One Scottish visitor, Hugo Reid, was so appalled at the widespread ignorance of Spanish among the mission Indians that he remarked: “Not one word of Spanish did they understand. They had no more idea that they were worshiping God than an unborn child has of astronomy.” (128)

We thus see that “Saint” Serra set up a sado-masochistic series of death camps, perhaps echoing his own masochistic spirituality. He was anti-intellectual, anti-science, ignorant of Indian culture and history and languages, paternalistic, racist, a white supremacist. In addition, Serra was an inquisitor before he ever came to the California area having been employed as an inquisitor in the mountain villages of Mexico on his own urging.

Nothing explains Pope Francis’ willingness to canonize Serra. In his recent encyclical the Pope laments how “the disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal….It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions…When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best,” (145, 146) He calls for a “preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.” (158) Then why, pray tell, is he so hell-bent on canonizing Junipero Serra and crucifying the Natives of California still another time? Why doesn’t he sit down with the Indians whom he calls one’s “principal dialogue partners” and learn the real history of the California missions and the price the Native Americans are paying this day in terms of soul wounds and depression, alcoholism and addictions for what the sins of the fathers foisted upon them 200 years ago by Serra and his brother friars?

And why doesn’t he apologize in full for the “Discovery Doctrine” papal bulls of the fifteenth century popes who laid the legal groundwork for the slavery and mission attacks on the indigenous peoples of Africa and the Americas? In the “Requerimiento” document of 1513, derived from those papal bulls and read to indigenous people under the Spanish Empire (but in Spanish which they did not understand), all are instructed that the Pope is appointed by God to “govern the world” and that Saint Peter was acknowledged in his time as “Lord and King, and the superior of the universe” who was appointed to be “in charge of the human race” and that such recognition “will continue until the end of the world.” (215)

Elias Castillo offers us a different reading of history and Spanish imperialism and the religious sins that accompanied it. Sins that haunt the souls of Native Peoples to this day—and sins that ought to cry out to us all for healing. How can the healing happen without the truth? How can anyone even think of canonizing Serra after these revelations?


Why the Missions of Friar Serra are equivalent to the Confederate flag among Native Americans in California

The nation is embarked on a review of its soul vis-à-vis racism and white supremacy since the horrible attack on nine members of a black church in Charleston.  As well it should be.  But there is another act of white supremacy that needs the attention of all and especially Catholics. It was with very sad hearts that we who respect the Native American peoples learned of Pope Francis’ decision to canonize Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784) during the papal visit to the United States in Fall, 2015.

Serra is the Franciscan missionary who oversaw the colonial system of missions in California.  The news of his prospective canonization is sad for what it says about Church ignorance—after all these hundreds of years—of Native American accomplishments; it is also sad for what it reminds us about the history of Christian missionizing. A Native American from California recently wrote me that “by virtue of this canonization of a conqueror, the pope has declared war on Native Peoples, globally.”

As America is waking up to the pain that the Confederate Flag represents especially to Black Southerners, it must also wake up to the fact that the missions are not pretty postcard places nicely painted in white.  They were places of enforced labor and whippings where white supremacy ruled against indigenous peoples in the name of church and empire.  What the Confederate Flag means to the South is what the California missions mean to the indigenous peoples there.  Ask their descendants!  Read three-time Pulitzer prize-winning author Elias Castillo’s, A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions to get the true story.

Serra is Colonizer-in-Chief; he is a racist; he is a white supremacist.  Why canonize him in 2015?  Native peoples are furious and for very good reason.  Among the California tribes alone who have objected are the following: the Xolon Salinan Tribe; the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel;  Cupeno; Miwok; Cahuilla; Kizh Gabrieleno; Pomo; Ohlone; Kumeyeaa; Chumash.  I am told that many casino tribes object also but do not want to be named lest their pious Catholic gamblers would no longer frequent their casinos.  It is appalling that in 2015 so-called theologians on the East coast, all white, do not bother to bring in Native Americans from California to tell the truth of what Serra & Co. did to their ancestors and the price they have paid for centuries for this abuse in the name of Empire and Church.

It is particularly sad that the first American pope ever, one who has caught the attention of millions for his efforts to cleanse the church of its sins and society of its “narcissism” and social and economic inequities, and who has actively sought the perspectives of the faithful, would be so blind to the history of indigenous peoples on two continents, and deaf to the protests of indigenous and non-indigenous Christians alike.  And it is sad that as many nations and peoples applaud the pope’s encyclical on Eco-theology and Climate Change that still another stake would be driven into the indigenous legacy of respect for nature that is so central to their spiritual tradition and to the survival of the planet as we know it today.

This is a severe blow to the hopes of people looking to a reformed papacy and a reforming pope.  Granted, Pope Francis is only human like the rest of us and humans err—as he says, he himself is a sinner.  And this decision is a grave sin indeed.

Serra’s theology was retrograde even in his own day and by standards even of his own time—saying nothing of today.  How remarkable it is that Pope Francis is on the cusp of canonizing Archbishop Romero of El Salvador who stood up to the extreme right-wing militias of his country to stand on the behalf of the poor, and is thereby choosing to rehabilitate liberation theology -- but the same Pope is tone deaf to the colonial and “enslavement” theology that motivated Serra.

What was Serra’s theology?  When Serra left Spain for the Americas while in his mid-thirties, he mused about his parents “preparing themselves for that happy death which of all the things of life is our principal concern.”  Unfortunately that was his driving ideology as a missionary to the Indians as well.  In January, 1780, thirty-two years after arriving in the Americas, Serra writes about how to treat two Indian leaders who had rebelled against the missions, and displays his already familiar theology:

“I would not feel sorry no matter what punishment they gave them, if they would commute it to prison for life, or in the stocks every day, since then it would be easier for them to die well.  Do you think it possible that if they kept them prisoners for a time, and by means of interpreters explained to them about the life to come and its eternal duration, and if we prayed to God for them—might we not persuade them to repent and win them over to a better life?  You could impress on them that the only reason they were still alive is because of our affection for them, and the trouble we took to save their lives.”

This is language of the oppressor writ large.  Serra urged his friars to baptize the Indians in prison and give them crucifixes and rosaries and dress them in tunics of white cotton cloth “in which they would die and be buried,” thus preparing them it seems for “eternal life.”  Actually, their lives were saved not by Serra but by the military governor who commuted their death sentence to hard labor.

According to Spanish law, every mission was to be temporary and within ten years of its founding each was to be handed over to Christian Indians who were also to take over as  governors of the land and mission.  But Serra (who never really learned the native peoples’ languages) objected that the Indians were incompetent to govern themselves and needed to be supervised and punished by the friars…even though the Indians had dwelt on the land for thousands of years and knew far more about raising crops indigenous to the land than did the Spaniards, and also had developed a culture based on sharing and co-operation, not power-over.

Serra also objected to being denied his practice of whipping the Indians.  Wanting to continue this practice, he wrote to the military governor Felipe de Neve that there “may have been some inequalities and excesses on the part of some fathers and that we are all exposed to err in that regard.”

Nevertheless the end apparently justifies the means because, as he puts it “when we came there, we did not find even a single Christian, that we have engendered them all in Christ, that we, every one of us, came here for the single purpose of doing them good and for their eternal salvation, and I feel sure that everyone knows that we love them.”

Really? Whipping people; taking their land; forbidding their rituals; ending their languages; locking them up in colonial church properties from which they were forbidden to leave and visit relatives and friends; destroying their culture and subsistence by hunting and gathering; introducing diseases; and bringing in soldiers who frequently raped the native women; all in the name of the Spanish “king and lord” and for the sake of the Empire—this is loving them?   This is “engendering them all in Christ?”  This is not love.  Nor is it justice.  It is colonialism writ large.  And with God and Jesus and Imperial Christianity legitimizing it.

Also, Serra himself was big on beating his body with whips and piercings.  Maybe his masochism rendered his sadism less of an issue:  “Love others as you love yourself” as someone said.  But why endorse such a person’s theology and spirituality at this time? Why, Why, Why canonize someone in 2015 who stands for such bad theology and bad intercultural values, utterly lacking the respect and humility that lie at the foundation of  interfaith?

This canonization is a scandal.  People should be flooding the Vatican with letters of objection.  It is not Pope Francis at his best.  It is not Christianity at its best; it conjures up the worst shadows (of which there are so many) in the history of the Imperial Church, a church many hoped we had left behind. With the teachings of Vatican II and the powerful teachings and witness of Archbishop Romero in the 1980s, surely we have come farther than this!

This disastrous decision puts wind in the sails of those who have learned nothing from the dark days of colonialism in the name of God and Empire, at a time when indigenous peoples around the world are facing the destruction of their lands and cultures at the hands of corporate and government militia.  The system Serra set up was paternalism at its worst: it treated native peoples as helpless children, and reinforced an other-worldly religion.

One Franciscan historian comments on Serra and the epidemics that the Europeans introduced to the indigenous peoples: “Death might wreak havoc among his hard-won neophytes, but he found consolation in his sorrow, for he had prepared them for a future life which, his religious convictions assured him, was worth infinitely more than the life they were leaving and the pain of parting.”  At a mission in Santa Clara there was a great epidemic in May 1777 but Serra’s companion friar Palou writes of how “the fathers were able to perform a great many baptisms by simply going through the villages.  In this way they succeeded in sending a great many children (who died almost as soon as they were baptized) to heaven.”

It seems that Serra and his companion friars never wavered in their compulsion to reduce Christianity to a promise of life-after-death.  Too bad that they missed their Master’s teaching of love and life fully lived here and now, the promise of the kingdom/queendom of God on earth, a place where justice flowed like a river and the prophet pictured it.   One critical commentator summarizes Serra’s mission this way:  “Clearly, if sainthood means self sacrificing devotion to harvesting pagan souls for the kingdom of god in heaven, then Junipero Serra deserves to become a saint.”

If not, one asks anew: WHY is the pope making so profound a mistake?  Why create a patron saint for colonizers and racists in the year 2015?  Why not instead take the occasion of his visit to the United States to do an about-face and canonize those thousands of native peoples who died at the hands of misguided, badly theologically trained, servants of the Empire?

Indeed, why not get on one’s knees in humble confession and ask the Native Peoples for forgiveness?

The Pope’s New Encyclical vs. the Canonization of Serra

The pope's new encyclical, wise as it is about climate change, completely contradicts the misguided effort to canonize Serra a saint.  Here are his words with my response in brackets:

number 145:  "The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal.  The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.  [Was not Serra's mission system a device to replace one ancient culture with another imperial one?  Didn't it contribute to the disappearance of a culture?  Why canonize him then?]

  1. “In this sense, it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions.  They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.”  [Where then is the dialog with these communities and “principal dialogue partners” regarding the canonization of Serra happening?]

“For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest here, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.  When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best”. [Then why canonize someone who made it a policy to take them from their land and had no respect for how they lived on the land and cared for it for centuries before the Europeans invaded?]

“Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.”  [Before the mining companies pressured them to abandon their homelands and degrade their culture the church did the same--why canonize the man, Serra, who symbolizes this very act of degrading a culture in the name of a foreign ideology?  He who is a “colonizer-in-chief”?]

  1. “The principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.....It demands before all else an appreciation of immense dignity of the poor in the light of our deepest convictions as believers.”  [Then why ignore the agonizing and loud cries of the indigenous poor AGAINST the canonization of Serra?]

If you share these feelings of grief and outrage at the upcoming canonization of Junipero Serra, let your voice be heard! Please sign this petition…and spread the word so others can do so also. Thank you.


[1] Junipero Serra, letter to Francesch Serra, Cadiz, 20 August 1749, Antonine Tibesar, O.F.M., ed, Writings of Junipero Serra (Washington, DC: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1955) vol. 1, p. 5.

[2] Serra, letter to Fermin de Lasuen, Monterey, 12 January 1780, Ibid., vol 3, p. 424f.

[3] Francis Florian Guest, O.F.M., “Cultural Perspectives on California Mission Life, “ Southern California Quarterly, Historical Society of Southern California, Spring 1983, p. 31.

[4] Serra, letter to governor Neve, Monterey, 7 January 1780, Writings of Junipero Serra, vol. 3, pp. 413-15.

[5] Finbar Kenneally, O.F.M. and Mathias Kiemen, O.F.M., Introduction to Writings of Junipero Serra, op. cit., vol. 4, p. xvi.

[6] Francisco Palou, Life of Junipero Serra, C. S. Williams, transl. (Pasadena: G. W. James, 1913), p. 213.

[7] Daniel Fogel, Junipero Serra, the Vatican, and Enslavement Theology (San Francisco: ISM Press, 1988), p. 81. The author does an excellent job of presenting the facts and realities of the Serra story from primary sources and I am indebted to him for the citations presented in this article.


Matthew Fox is a theologian and Episcopal priest who was a Dominican friar for 34 years. He was expelled from the order by Cardinal Ratzinger for, among other things, "working too closely with Native Americans" and supporting women’s, gay, and indigenous rights.  His 32 books have been translated into 58 languages and include Letters to Pope Francis, Original Blessing, A Spirituality Named Compassion, The Reinvention of Work, The Pope's War and most recently Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time. Connect with him at his website (, Facebook page ( and Twitter feed (@FCSCreationSpir).


Heads on Fire Reactions to Gay Marriage SCOTUS Decision

The Supreme Court has spoken—and quite eloquently—about the right of all Americans to marry whom they love.  Implications abound well beyond the American border.  Remember that last month the Irish citizenry, so long captured by a Catholic theocracy, voted overwhelmingly for the right of all Irish to marry whom they love.  Over 80% of young adults in the US favor gay marriage so that might tell us something of the future.  It seems something is afoot—and it is setting the hair of some very vocal Christians on fire. Self-proclaimed Christians living in the past, people now with their heads on fire, are providing perpetual fodder for late night humorists.  Here are a few raging firestorms: Presidential candidate Rick Santorum promises he “will not honor any decision which will force us to violate our clear, biblical understanding.”  (What is so clear a Biblical understanding since the same book that condemns homosexuality also condemns eating shrimp and proposes stoning adulterers?)  Bobby Jindal, another self-appointed theologian and presidential candidate shares his wisdom: “The Supreme Court can’t overrule God.  This ruling paves the way for an all-out assault on religious freedom of Christians.”  Comments Bill Maher: “they’re’ such drama queens, aren’t they?”  He addresses these concerned ones and says: “You do realize that this is not mandatory.  You don’t have to have sex with another man—it’s just an option now.”

Of course the spokespeople for religiously institutionalized homophobia are also incensed.  Bishop Thomas J. Tabi of Providence, Rhode Island assures us that homosexual marriage derives “from the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the church of God.”  The US Catholic bishops rushed to the podium also.  They tell us that for the government to declare that two people of the same sex “constitute a marriage” is “profoundly immoral and unjust” and that the decision constitutes a “tragic error” that endangers the “common good” and “especially that of children.”  This comes from a group that has a bit of a moral monkey on its back when it comes to endangering children seeing as it could not protect them from pedophile priests and hierarchical cover up of the same over decades.

Does it really think that anyone is listening any more to its hypocritical rants about sexual morality aimed at a sexual minority that is, in fact, well represented (though fully closeted) among its ranks?  Has it learned nothing from the Irish vote on homosexual marriage?

Of course presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, also a clergyman representing his brand of Christianity, has taken up the microphone.  It is “like repealing the law of gravity” he assures us.  The Supreme Court is “an imperial court” like the British crown of old and “we must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”  To the barricades!  Where is Paul Revere when we need him?

But isn’t that the task of the Supreme Court?  To “resist the tyranny of the majority” against the minority?  Where was Huckabee when Citizens United  and the Hobby Lobby decisions told us that corporations are persons and that corporations have a conscience?

Speaking of Citizens United, Supreme Court justice Antonio Scalia chimes in of course. After this decision, the Supreme Court itself, he tells us, is “a threat to American democracy.”  (Maybe, if he has a conscience, he should quit then.)  And Citizens United, which he enthusiastically supported and that defined “money is speech” and that opened the gates to billionaires dictating our legislators and judges is NOT a threat to American democracy?  Scalia has a large family, lots of very Catholic kids.  I have often wondered: What if one of them was gay?  What would it be like being a gay son or daughter of Justice Scalia?  Send prayers his or her way, please.  And fast.  And furious.  Maybe there should be a fund-raising app to support the gay or lesbian daughter of Justice Scalia.

Supreme Court chief Justice John Roberts embarrasses himself by saying that the decision had nothing to do with the constitution.  Last time I looked the constitution 1) established the Supreme Court and its rules and 2) talks somewhat unambiguously about how “all men (and presumably women) are created equal” and this means protecting the rights of the minorities and isn’t that what this decision was about?

Of course presidential candidate Ted Cruz deserves his day in the sun also.  He calls the Supreme Court “lawless” and calls out its “naked and shameless judicial activism.”  Again, no mention of the judicial activism of removing voter abuse laws from the southern states of the confederacy or naming Citizens United the law of the land.  Cruz’ fellow Texan politician (now out of a job) Tom Delay warned that if the Supreme Court ruled as it has “all hell is going to break loose.”

Well, I suppose a lot depends on how and who defines hell.  For our cultural comics, this hair-on-fire reaction is pure heaven, solid gold, endless nights of good humor.  For people stuck in tired dogmas and ancient doctrines based on no-science, this moment may indeed feel like hell.

What do I say?  I say:  “Let the Homophones huff and puff.  Love is the law of the land.  Now there is a smart judicial decision that assures love can happen for all the country’s citizens, even those who constitute a sexual minority.”

Science has spoken on the utter naturalness of homosexual love for a minority of human beings and of at least 464 other species.  This is why psychological science has for decades thrown out the silly talk of gays as “sick” or “disordered” (papal talk much favored by the opus-dei loving Pope Benedict XVI).  Let those with their heads in the sands—archbishops and politicians and presidential candidates and Supreme Court judges and all—repeat the religious exercise that was the Galileo affair of 500 years ago.  It is their right to choose to live in the past.  Let the religiously sick wrap themselves in chains of doctrine based on nothing Jesus ever preached or taught if they want to.

In the Fall Pope Francis is coming to America.  He has recently released an encyclical on global warming and the moral imperative for caring for the Earth and he has addressed it to all people of good will since, dah!, climate and the Earth are all of our concerns.  He is calling a second gathering of a Synod on the Family this Fall as well.  At the first there was a mild effort to lift some of the opprobrium the church commits against homosexuals, supported by his happy statement, “Who am I to Judge?” when asked about gay priests which seemed to hint at a slight thawing of Catholic homophobic dogma.  But the backlash from Neanderthal hierarchy was fierce.  Will he roll over and play dead, repeating ad nauseam the silly arguments against homosexuality that derive from bad interpretations of scripture and of course from the ridiculous teachings of sex (better no sex) from St Augustine in the fourth century?  Will he be able to move beyond the chains of tired and mistaken dogma?

I doubt it frankly.  I think the institutional church is crashing on the rocks of sexual issues just as an Irish poet early in the twentieth century predicted it would.  We shall see.  I wish Pope Francis well and pray for him to move on from condemnations of birth control and homosexuality and women’s rights that are so embedded in the rigid Catholic codex.  But I am not holding my breath.

The handwriting is on the wall, however.  With ever growing numbers of young adults rejecting homophobia, there are going to be fewer and fewer practicing Christians in churches that endorse it.  Was it 95 parishes that the diocese of New York shut down this past year?  Better start looking for more after this overcharged response to a court decision based on justice, common sense and today’s science.

Let everyone not wrapped in tired and disproven doctrines about sex rid themselves of anti-scientific dogmas and be free.  The law of grace, not of fear, can now blow freely.  Let us all celebrate—including those who care deeply about heterosexual marriage.  Now you have a whole new community trying to do what you so dearly say you desire: Keep marriage an alive institution.  Why not choose to help homosexuals be the best lovers and best married couples they can be—that would be a religious—or at least spiritual--commitment worth pursuing.


The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long,  But It Bends Toward Justice

I was among the many people profoundly moved by President Barack Obama's quoting the prophetic words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., amidst jubilant celebrations that marriage equality is now the law of the land. My Bible says "God is love"--not that God is exclusively heterosexual love.  SCOTUS, lo and behold!, has got it right this time and many thinking people the world over will celebrate this expansion of love that is being acknowledged around the planet.

The love that is celebrated in gay marriage is society’s love, not just that of man to man or woman to woman. We all profit from faithful love whether such joy be lived out in heterosexual or homosexual contexts. Indeed, rather than “threatening” heterosexual marriage, I would predict that gay marriage will help resuscitate a dying institution because it is bringing joy back and gratitude for love from a segment of the population that has been denied it for so long. All marriage will prosper from gay marriage.

So let us all rejoice that notions of God is Love; and Justice Matters; and Nature is God’s Doing are happening in a fresh way in the United States. And let us move on to other topics of pressing and genuine moral concern such as the fate of the Earth.

Warrior Basketball as a Spiritual Experience

I confess that I have rarely been attracted to professional basketball—more excited by football frankly.  But lately, and perhaps because I am older now (in my 75th year), and because my local team, the Golden State Warriors, are the best team in the NBA, I am allured to watching them.  That and because their play at times resembles a ballet or an art form as much as a competitive sport.  It can border on the sublime. Their number one player, Steph Curry, voted Most Valuable Player (MVP) by sport writers and broadcasters for the year 2015 in the team’s amazing run of winning 67 games, is an artist with the basketball—not only with his dribbling and behind-the-back passes and in his jump shots from way behind the three-point line, and his often soft lay ups that float high above seven-foot defenders at one time and are off the board at another time, but in the quiet way in which he sets the tone for the rest of the team and leads them and feeds them the ball regularly often with breathtaking passes.  As well as his apparently very contented family life that features his two-year old child who likes to break into news conferences following games thereby stealing the spotlight from her father.

Much goes on in sports and one of the wonders is lessons of getting along, lessons of a common task, therefore of team work and community building.  Regardless of personality differences or role differences or differences in builds and physical stats and positions, a good team learns to get along together to get to a common goal.  That is what community is about—cum-munio—share a common task.  Team work happens and it happens constantly with the Warriors as sometimes Steph or some nights Klay Thompson or some nights Andre Iguadola stand out.  No room for envy within the team itself, rather they learn to think for the whole and play for the good of the whole and rejoice when one player is standing out one night: That’s what teamwork or community is all about.  “Collective unselfishness” is how one person described the current Warrior team.  Several star players actually sat on the bench to make room for other players to emerge this year and did so apparently with very little resentment.

The team comes before the individual—and in a narcissistic culture like ours has become, such modeling is rare.  But the Warriors team did indeed model it this year and perhaps no one more than Iguadola who won the “Most Valuable Player” award for the finals championship games coming off the bench to play fierce defense and important offense.  Interviewed about his award, he said, ‘its an honor to win the MP.  But for me, it’s not about that.  It’s about getting guys to buy in.”  And that means buying in to the team as a whole.  Character matters and they have their healthy share of the big “C.”  This shows a capacity for taming the ego that most spiritual traditions promote.

For some time I have been speaking about meditation as being a powerful way to calm the reptilian brain—and it is--for reptiles are accomplished at solitude more than at bonding and meditation puts humans in touch with the solitude (or monk) in each one of us.  So to meditate is to calm that reptilian brain and this is a very important task in our time.

But now, after watching the Warriors, I am convinced that we have another way to calm the reptilian brain (or is it just another form of meditation?).  Sports too can help calm and redirect the reptilian brain.  Sports too can be a meditation.  Why am I so sure of this?  Because the reptilian brain wants to win—it’s win/lose with a crocodile.  Athletes want to win too—that is why they practice so hard and sacrifice much to get to their common goal, a goal usually defined as winning.  But what makes the reptilian brain in sports different from the reptilian brain in war for example (or often in business), is that in sports there are 1) a spatial parameter (the ball court) and 2) a temporal parameter (the game is only 48 minutes long as such) and 3) referees and 4) a beginning and an end.   And if one loses, well, “it’s only a game.”  That is where the excitement derives: Will the reptilian brain win or lose tonight?  Which team’s reptilian brain will triumph?  Sports exercise the reptilian brain—but safely and within parameters.  And if one wins, the larger tribe, the followers of the team, go bananas and rejoice and express themselves in irrational ways that are exactly what one needs after suffering through the daily grind of work and bill payments and children’s sicknesses and all the rest that life offers on a daily and sometimes humdrum basis.

When done well, sport addresses the critical question of How Do We Tame the Reptilian Brain?  For when we can calm the reptilian brain, our mammal brain, the brain of compassion, can begin to assert itself.  The former is 420 million years old, the latter is 210 million years old.

Sport can be a medicine for our hyper-active reptilian brains.  Why do I say this?  First, because the reptile in us sees life as win/lose, one winner takes all.  One does not readily compromise with a crocodile.  What does sport do with this desire embedded in all of us to be Number One?  It plays with it.  It lets it run its course, but according to a limited parameter (think: Soccer field, basketball court, football field) and with referees or umpires to keep the “players” on track.  What this does is to allow the reptilian brain to “do its thing” but within parameters and lucid rules that all are subjected too.  Playing with the reptilian brain is not the same as making war with the reptilian brain.  In fact, it is medicine for the war compulsion.

Sports then are more than merely a “distraction” and a re-focusing of one’s energy and attention for a specific time period.  They are also a recharging of the reptilian brain but also a keeping it within bounds.  In this way, as in meditation, the reptilian brain finds its outlet not in beating up on others or conquering others but in re-learning how much of life is merely “a game” and one can lose one day and survive to start over the next.

There is a certain “high” when one’s home team wins; it puts wind in one’s sales for the rest of the day; it awakens optimism and even hope, that victory (that elusive archetype) is some times possible and even something that can happen close to home.  Furthermore, the joy and optimism gets shared when others in one’s tribe also take delight at the results.  Here too community is engendered, the community of hope and joy that pleases not only team mates but the larger tribe.  Surely this is a better use of the reptilian brain than is war?

Of course, only one team wins and ultimately only one team wins a championship—that is the definition of championship after all.  But others live on to play another day, or another season as the case may be.  And hope runs eternal (as it did in Oakland since this was the first championship for their team in forty long, draught-fill years).  And we praise those who win the day, especially if they have done it with grace and good sportsmanship.  The tribe grows larger through praise and respect for excellent play.

One cannot take delight at basketball without marveling at the athletic grace and endurance and wakefulness and fierce warriorhood that the game requires.  Such grace does not come easily but through plenty of blood, sweat, tears, workouts, hours of practice and lots of discipline.  One sees all that in the results, “by their fruits you will know them,” as one spiritual teaching once said.  This is a special gift that came our way this season from the Warriors, a gift of grace, of the artistic genius it takes to steer a ball into a hoop and to hustle down the floor and to find the open player ready to receive a well-directed pass as well as defending a hoop by severe fierceness and perfectly timed leaping and reaching.  Watching such aestheticism and athleticism together can move one to tears.

There is also an intergenerational sharing that can take place in sports.  One’s playing days are over usually about in one’s mid-thirties and there is lots more living and watching to do.  So it’s exciting to see another generation of young adults put themselves through the rites of passage that it takes to be proficient in the sport and to show up with the same kind of energy and alertness and grace and beauty to play the game with gusto.  Thus one generation cheers on another; and both generations profit from this mutual exchange, one providing the play, the other the encouragement (and the coaching and managing and ownership also).  Sports can generate intergenerational sharing and joy and understanding.

In the grand order of things, one can easily conclude that winning (or not winning) a basketball game is of no great consequence.  But wait!  Maybe it is.  Just because leading a graceful and generous and fierce life is something we all are called to do.  It does not hurt to see one particular profession, gathering five people on a gym floor for 48 minutes over a period of several months a year, strive to do exactly that: To apply the human gifts of the athletic and the aesthetic into a 48 minute event that one spends months and years preparing for.  Such an event is archetypal, it is a mini-pattern of our lives that, granted, are the big game but that require mini-games that condense the dance of beauty and grace, effort and stamina, perseverance and community teamwork, into a ritual reminding us of our better selves, our most beautiful and community-oriented and generous and warrior selves, our reptilian brains put to the service of community and excellence here to delight and spread joy that others can participate in deeply.  The reptilian brain feeds the mammal brain in sport insofar as when there is a victory there are lots of hugs to go around.  Affection is felt and friendships are made and a sense of community is expanded.

Yes, basketball is a ritual and it crosses the line between so-called “secular” and “religious” rituals.  Spirituality links the two at times.

Another spiritual dimension to Warriors basketball (and indeed to most sport) is the role that beauty plays—the beauty of a long three pointer, the beauty of a leaping rebound, the beauty of a fast lay up or a rapid pass to the one open player cross court and more.  Beauty is very much a spiritual term—in the Middle Ages many were the mystics who called God “Beauty” and celebrated how humans are “participants in the Divine Beauty.”

Sports address two primary chakras it seems to me.  The first, because it conjures up tribal consciousness—people root “for the home team” and assert themselves in the most whimsical and loud and irrational ways.  They raise the roof in appreciation of a good shot or a defensive stop or the seizing of a championship.  They become friends to others who share their “tribal status” of this or that particular team.  This too can be a great thing for again it is playing with the tribal notion that “we are the only ones” and expands the tribe to include strangers.

Of course this is nonsense but by playing with it instead of claiming its literal truth sports allow us to be ourselves, to pay attention to the tribalism from which we all emerge.  When one tribe wins and another loses, there is glee in one camp and sadness in the other.  But ultimately one learns that “it is only a game” and people do move on.   The first chakra is about not falling into tribalism as such even while we do recognize our specific tribes but in the context of a greeter whole—that of the universe itself.  The key to the first chakra is vibration and it is no coincidence that much of the cheering elicited in a basketball game is very much of a mantra kind—“Defense, Defense, Defense” or ‘Warriors, Warriors, Warriors,” goes the crowd—the mantra evokes vibratory power which engenders togetherness.  Group mantras feed not only group tribal feelings but the soul itself.  The lower chakras are fed and nourished by such mantras.  Lessons are learned and relearned about the role the tribe plays in our lives and always has for member of our species.

Another chakra awakened by Sports is the seventh chakra which, when healthy, is about our light energy climaxing in the back of our heads and extending out to other light beings to link up with them in shared community whether these beings be ancestors or angels or others on a path of light and fitness.  But the shadow side to the seventh chakra is Envy which also recognizes the light in other beings but instead of celebrating it chooses to shoot it down or go to war with it.  Sports awaken the seventh chakra: One recognizes the talent and light in one’s opponents (even while paying attention to their weaknesses to exploit) while seeking to defeat them.  But again, one plays at this, it is temporary, and limits are set by abiding rules that forbid an actual destruction of one’s opponent.  In this way one learns to strive to accomplish one’s best and most excellent gifts and while there is competition with others, the competition is not the last word.  Envy does not rule (envy being the great shadow of the seventh chakra).  Playing superlatively does rule.

The ritual of basketball (like the ritual that other sports are) has its altars for focusing points. “Ancient as the workbench is the altar” writes one poet and pastor.  An altar is an archetype of a focusing point, there lies its power: it gets us to focus and thus brings about meditation.  What sports have is usually not an altar but two altars: That is where the competition lies: Which altar, attracting which team, will prevail?  The altar in the basketball court is obviously the hoop: That is the focus of all that goes on: Get the ball into the hoop; prevent the other team from getting to the hoop.  (In hockey the altar is a net, as in soccer; in football it is the goal line or, lacking that, the goal posts; in baseball it is the home plate but three ‘minor altars’ precede it).  Everything is done for the sake of the hoop—but there are two so each team is engaged in a struggle both offensively and defensively to get to the hoop or to prevent the other team from getting to their hoop.  Getting to the altar is an adventure, a struggle.  It takes warrior energy and excellence and skill and craft and endurance to achieve access to the altar.  Above all, it takes focus.

Ordinarily an altar represents the axis mundi or center of the universe but since in sports that center tends to be binary, it is as if each team is fighting for its own universe.  And this the cheering fans, the supportive community, sense also: It is our altar and our universe vs “their altar” and “their universe.”  A mini-pageant ensues of one tribe vs. another.  There is a satisfaction in “winning” by getting to one’s altar more frequently than the others; and there is a sadness in defeat.  But still, life goes on.  (Though in some ancient ceremonial sports the losers were sometimes sacrificed if they lost.  Thus the altar dimension to the ritual of sport was taken more literally, the altar being the place where a sacrifice is enacted.)  The struggle and the injuries that happen on the court are part of today’s sacrifice at the altar of the hoop.  It is less final than those ancient sacrificial focal points.

So sport conjures up profound archetypes among the participants and those who cheer them on.  More than ego is involved—the psyche and cosmos (symbolized by an altar or two) are at work, a struggle to engage psyche and cosmos is happening. Players offer their gifts and sacrifice much on the field and in preparation in their training and excellence to conquer, to give the reptilian brain the achievement it yearns for.  Lessons of victory and defeat are learned.  Mighty chakras are engaged.  Excellence is called for.

Is sport a mere “secular” ritual?  Or can it have more important and lasting consequences?  This depends on how we look at it.  If sport is just a “business,” then most likely it is thoroughly secularized.  But if it accomplishes some or most of the other dimensions I have named in this article, then it is very possible that the feelings of achievement and glory and the memories of beauty and artful playing, are “more than secular.”  They join the realms of awe and gratitude and beauty where the soul feeds and grows and nourishes itself and others and that the mystics call the “Via Positiva.”  Joy is aroused for many in the community. There is an intergenerational accomplishment as well since elders, who themselves may have participated in such games as young men and women, acknowledge and appreciate excellence when they see it played out by a new generation.  They cheer them on, as does Steph Curry’s father who was a professional basketball player himself.  There is a kind of ‘sacred tradition’ that is handed on from generation to generation.

Is there a shadow side to professional sports? Of course there is as there is to anything humans embark on.  Among its shadow side can be addiction, couchpotatoitis (when so much work needs doing in our culture and passion needs to come alive in compassion), hero worship that becomes an excuse for not taking on one’s own responsibilities, projection of one’s own greatness onto others, vicarious living via TV, capitalist greed, power trips and ego-trips, banishing the poor and working classes from watching live games, etc. etc.  So a “caveat” is in order, a warning to stay alert.

On the bright side, a championship run is a taste and hint of Joy and community and diversity and respect for excellence and hard work and achievement and beauty and grace that ought not be forgotten.  It is an eschatological occasion, meaning a taste of a better and fuller future.  The year 2015 for the Warriors was such an eschatological moment that led to joy for many, joy at being human yet still excelling, joy at being a team and community, joy at beauty and excellence and the marriage of art/aesthetics with athleticism, the joy of a job well done.  Thanks, Team.

Some people pontificate against the “secular” world but I am not one who is at home with a stark  separation between the so-called “secular” and the Sacred. On the contrary, in a healthy society much of what some call “secular” can be very sacred.  Grace is grace and nature can be grace.  Thus humans who do their work gracefully—and this includes those with a vocation to basketball or other sport—arouse a sense of the sacred by the splendor of their work and of course they share it with the rest of us.  This is true of our work and it is true of our sports.  If basketball can bring the sacred and the secular together—and it can—then basketball has its place among us and for good reasons.

But still, it is just a game—that is its appeal and that is its essence.  But it is a game with consequences, sometimes to the wallet but more importantly consequences for the soul.

Tip ball anyone?



Matthew Fox is a spiritual theologian and author of 32 books on spirituality and culture that have been translated into 58 languages.  The books include Original Blessing, The Reinvention of Work, A Spirituality Named Compassion, The Hidden Spirituality of Men, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Time.  He is an Episcopal priest and resides in Oakland, California where he enjoys, among other things, Warrior basketball.

Tracing the First Mystical Women's Movement: a Beguine Pilgrimage

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 10.02.56 PM this past May, I sent out an invitation to join the “Spirit of the Beguines” Pilgrimage and Retreat this September where I will be lecturing and enjoying visiting five different Beguinages in Belgium.  If you are thinking of joining the Pilgrimage – now is the time to sign up; Registration closes July 20.

You Are Invited......

This September I am joining Susan Coppage Evans on a Pilgrimage to Belgium to study the Beguines. Susan has an intuition that the Beguine movement, which was the women's movement of the Middle Ages, holds some promise and insight for our times too.  I think she is on to something.  This movement was all about 1) community and 2) service.  It was not about religious authority and vow-control therefore (and for this reason it was opposed by the papacy of the time and much of the status quo) but about living authentic lives of learning, service and mutual sharing.

Today lots of groups, the "new monastics" and others, are looking to life-styles that are not just market-driven but also are not religion-bound.  Places--spaces--where learning and soul-growth happens along with service toward and with others.  Do the Beguines hold some keys to this kind of movement?  Join us on the pilgrimage, learn more about them, enter their morphic field, and decide for yourself.

 In the following article, Susan explains more about the Beguines and the passion behind the pilgrimage. Retreat attendance needs to be confirmed in June and the cost increases on June 1st – so let us know son  if you are thinking about joining us!




Imagining and Creating New Communities: The Beguines did it in the Middle Ages, Can’t we now?

Our Beguine ancestors seem to say, “Yes, we did it over a thousand years ago – before all the conveniences of communication that you have today.  We found ways to live authentic, meaningful and helpful lives in community. We were not limited by our time or culture.  We made a difference and the world still needs that. Learn how you can best nourish and be nourished in community. Dream it, imagine it, and work with others to create it.”

In March of 2013, my focus was intensely on the retreat and pilgrimage to Hildegard’s Rhineland that I was leading. As the retreat came to a close, I began shifting my focus to traveling through the nearby region with my husband.  When I looked at the map and our loosely planned itinerary, which only required that we return the car in Amsterdam, I realized that our path took us right through the areas most densely populated with communities of Beguines during the Middle Ages. 

I learned about the Beguines initially through teachings by Matthew Fox and then through the writings of other spiritual writers. Something about these creative and courageous women grabbed my attention and once they had my attention they grabbed my heart.  So as my husband and I wound our way from Bingen, Germany through Belgium and up to Amsterdam, we stopped at Beguinages – many of which are now protected as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

beguinessewing.jpg.w300h191Women who were called Beguines began forming unique communities around 1200 AD. Prior to the formation of these communities, opportunities afforded women were to marry or to take vows to the Church. But during the time of the crusades, when many women were left to care for land, families and communities while men were off fighting, a new independence emerged. This independence coupled with the practical, compassionate spirituality practiced by newly formed groups like the Franciscans and Dominicans and the traditions of the traveling troubadour, gave women the courage and inspiration to live independently and with purpose.

 Beguine communities varied in their formation. Many were houses shared by a handful of women; others were large communities with nearly 1000 members. Beguines came from all backgrounds. Wealthier Beguines lived alone in their own homes within the community and provided support for houses that hosted numerous poorer Beguines in dormitory living. Beguine communities often included children – orphans and child prostitutes that were taken in, supported, protected and educated.  Beguines were not nuns but they lived according to their own Beguine community rules and they were free to leave and marry. At their peak, there were nearly a million Beguines and they prospered for hundreds of years, the last Beguine died in Belgium in April 2013.

 Some refer to the Beguines as the first women’s movement. Certainly, they were courageous in stepping out of traditional roles which resulted in persecution and violence. Beguine communities formed during a very fertile time in history.  As societies moved from a barter economy to a coin economy, Beguines participated in the economy. They played a significant role in the textile industry, producing lace and other materials. And as royalty realized that their wealth increased with an educated populous, Beguines were employed to teach literacy.

 The driving force behind the Beguine movement was an experiential spirituality that embodied the compassion of Christ and sought both to live in contemplation and in compassionate service.  Far from the hierarchical religion of the day, Beguines lived a spiritual life that was both humbling and empowering in its experience of unity with God. God was experienced as much as Mother as Father and as much as Mystery as Known.

 There is much to learn from the Beguines, both in their spirituality and service as well as in their courage and creativity. Personally, I am attracted to the Beguines as models of discernment and innovation. I am curious as to what forms of community need to be birthed in my time and culture. I read about and witness the dwindling of church attendance. I watch with interest as new movements develop like the New Monastics, on-line spiritual communities and “virtual monasteries”. I visit Co-Housing communities and read about New Urbanism.

 When my husband and I walked the cobblestone paths in Belgium’s Beguinages, I recognized the brick architecture from my youth. The Beguinages reminded me of the row-homes of Baltimore. Now, my imagination wanders and I imagine a community of neighbors, like the Beguines who choose to live in support of one another and of our wider community. I imagine as my husband and I enter retirement there might yet be a different type of community that sustains us and fosters (puts to work) our talents and gifts.  I imagine that sweet spot that the Beguines fostered: a community of spiritual friends that is steeped in solitude and togetherness, action and non-action, organization and freedom, study and activity.

beguine facultyclub.jpg.w300h197

 This September I am returning to the Beguinages of Belgium with colleagues including Matthew Fox and a small group of pilgrims to study the Beguines and to be like the Beguines in their “experiential” approach. We will visit the cobblestones of five Beguinages; we will immerse ourselves in the emotional, spiritual and physical environment of the Beguines and see what emerges for each participant. Just as the Beguinages were all independent and developed according those who lived amongst them, so will the retreat foster and support the percolation of individual ideas and inspirations.  It will be an interfaith, inter-denominational gathering encouraging each participant to lean into the wisdom and courage needed to support communities – new and old.

 Yes, there has been a lot of planning to bring forth this retreat but there has also been a sense of following - a “yes” to the calling forth.   There has been amazing synchronicities amongst newly met colleagues. It feels as if this pilgrimage is blessed by our Beguine ancestors who seem to say, “Yes, we did it over a thousand years ago – before all the conveniences of communication that you have today.  We found ways to live authentic, meaningful and helpful lives in community. We were not limited by our time or culture.  We made a difference and the world still needs that. Learn how you can best nourish and be nourished in community. Dream it, imagine it, and work with others to create it.”

 If you want to drink deep of the Beguine movement and have it influence your communities- those already birthed and those yet to be birthed, join us in September.   Register by the end of this month to be one of the 28 people, including teachers, on the retreat.   Registration information and a detailed itinerary can be found on my website:

Susan Coppage Evans, D.Min Graduate of University of Creation Spirituality Founder of Creation Spirituality Communities Retreat Leader through WholeHearted, Inc.


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.

The Cosmic Mass: A New Generation

(Reblogged with permission from Inquire Within) The Cosmic Mass began as an intergenerational co-creation between Matthew Fox and a group of visionary young people from Sheffield, England. Now, as it continues its resurgence as a monthly event in Oakland, CA and environs, Matthew Fox's co-creation is being carried on in a new generation.

In this Podcast Dr. Fox and the current director of the Oakland TCM, Skylar Wilson, join Darren Main on the online radio show Inquire Within to talk about Creation Spirituality and the next generation of The Cosmic Mass.