Posted by Frederic Brussat on May 3, 2018

James H. Cone, The Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Seminary in New York, died April 28 in Manhattan at the age of 79. Here is his obituary in The New York Times. He was widely respected as the founder of black liberation theology. Cone wrote: "Black theology is an understanding of the Gospel which sees justice for the poor as the very heart of what the Christian Gospel is about and the very heart of what God is doing in this world."

During his decades at Union, this theologian, teacher, and author focused on black liberation theology and liberation theologies of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. His most recent book The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011) won the Grawemeyer Award in Religion. With prophetic edge, he offers an incisive critique of this form of terrorism against blacks and the appalling silence of Christian communities. All his books reveal the flinty and profound prophetic edge to Cone's theology.

Dr. Cone's funeral will be at Riverside Church in New York City at 11 a.m. on Monday, May 7, 2018. It will be livestreamed for those unable to attend.

Many of Dr. Cone's students have paid tribute to him on social media. This one is from Micah Bucey, now a minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City:

"Your legacy will live on in the continuing work ...

Posted by Frederic Brussat on March 19, 2018

In Buddhism, trees have long been appreciated as spiritual teachers and companions. After all, Gautama Siddhartha was enlightened while sitting under a Bodhi tree. In Thailand, forest monks perform tree ordination ceremonies as a way to declare trees sacred and to preserve forests. They hang signs on their vast trunks to remind others that "to harm the forest is to harm life."

In Quartz, Ephrat Livini describes the spiritual practice of "forest bathing."

Posted by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat on February 7, 2018

There used to be a time when information junkies like us could read a book, watch a movie, or a TV show and the next day share all about the storyline with family, friends, or colleagues. In a fascinating article in The Atlantic by Julie Beck, "Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read and the Movies and TV Shows We Watch," we learn from Faria Sana, an assistant professor of psychology at Athabasca University in Canada: "Memory generally has a very intrinsic limitation. It's essentially a bottleneck."

We are living in a complicated media world. It doesn't matter whether you read a book quickly or slowly, watch TV series over time or binge watch them in one night, we are going to forget most of what they are about. All of us have a "forgetting curve" which is steepest after the first 24 hours following our experience of a media event or our learning of something new. In Beck's clever explanation: "For many, the experience of consuming culture is like filling up a bathtub, soaking in it, and then watching the water run down the drain. It might leave a film in the tub, but the rest is gone."

In this age of smart phones and fast Internet connections

Posted by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat on January 25, 2018

Writer Ursula Le Guin died on January 22, 2018; she was 88. She believed that the imagination is "the single most useful tool humankind possesses." She certainly proved that to be true, turning the free exercise of her imagination into a spiritual practice.

Immensely creative and prolific, Le Guin wrote ...

Posted by Frederic Brussat on January 11, 2018

The Minneapolis Institute of Art has received a $750,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and will use the money to create The Center for Empathy and the Visual Arts, or CEVA for short.

Can art penetrate the walls that separate us and make us kinder? The Institute is teaming up with science-of-emotions pundit Dacher Keltner and his research team at the Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory in a five-year project that will convene philosophers, writers, artists, thought leaders, and others to research ways that museums can foster empathy, compassion, and awe. For example, museum visitors can have their empathy levels measured upon entering and leaving exhibits to see how experiencing art has affected them.

Kaywin Feldman, Director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, said the goal of CEVA is "to spark and nurture empathy through the visual arts so museums can contribute even more toward building a just and harmonious society." The project will explore the use of art spaces as portals to provoking empathy, compassion, and emotional literacy.

We've long noticed how art can change our feelings about others and open up new horizons. When looking at a painting or a drawing, we make it a spiritual practice to step into a picture to see how we might feel in that setting. Reflecting on art, we know, is a good empathy practice, and we look forward to hearing how Keltner and company's research encourages that approach.

Posted by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat on January 2, 2018

In its December 22 - December 29, 2017 print issue, The Week sums up the odd mixture of trends, events, and cultural phenomena of the last year as seen through a potpourri of polls. Here are some of the findings:

  • 59% of Americans say we're at the lowest point in our country's history that they can remember. (American Psychological Association)
  • 63% say concerns about the nation's future are a major source of stress in their lives. (American Psychological Association)
  • 70% say the nation's political divide is at least as big as during the Vietnam war. (Washington Post/University of Maryland)
  • 39% think this lack of unity is the new normal. (Washington Post/University of Maryland)
  • 79% think that if the Founding Fathers were alive today, they'd be disappointed with the U.S. (Fox News)
  • 73% are concerned that North Korea will launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. or its allies. (Investor's Business Daily/TIPP)
  • 76% are worried the U.S. will become involved in a major war in the next three years. (NBC News/Survey Monkey)
  • 38% are less likely to attend events that draw large crowds because of their fear of terrorism. (Gallup)
  • 46% are afraid to travel overseas for the same reason. (Gallup)

Here are some of the ways Americans seek to relax:

  • 55% snack two to three times a day and 24% admit they reach for the cookies when they need to de-stress. (Mintel)
  • 73% engage in epic binge-watching sessions, staying glued to the screen for three hours or more. (Deloitte)

Our modest suggestion: Use spiritual practices to deal with difficult times and your fears.

Posted by Frederic Brussat on December 21, 2017

This eye-opening article was first published by the Wellcome Trust in MosaicScience.com.

Falls kill more than 32,000 Americans every year. The figure leaps to 420,000 when putting a global focus on this peril. Nearly three times as many people die in the U.S. after falling as are murdered by firearms.

Where do falls happen? Mostly in ordinary places such as shower stalls, supermarket aisles, and stairways. Scientists are advising elders to learn how to fall in order to minimize injury. There are more courses now on maintaining balance and "transferring" (moving from one state to another such as from walking to stopping). In addition, more attention is being paid to people's fear of falling and to resistance to using assistive tools like canes due to concern about appearing to have a disability. Tips for lessening the impact of a fall include: protect your head, roll rather than fall straight back or forward, and use your hands to break the fall while protecting your hips.

Posted by Frederic Brussat on November 27, 2017

In the tale of Don Quixote de la Mancha, sixteenth century Spanish writer Don Miguel de Cervantes challenges us to see that our most difficult and scary battle is within. That is the conclusion of Scott Horton in a 2007 post on “Browsings,” the blog of Harper’s magazine, which we recently came across while browsing the Internet. It seems remarkably timely. Cervantes notes:

"Since we expect a Christian reward, we must suit our actions to the rules of Christianity. In giants we must kill pride and arrogance. But our greatest foes, and whom we must chiefly combat, are within. Envy we must overcome by generosity and nobleness of spirit; anger, by a reposed and quiet mind; riot and drowsiness, by vigilance and temperance; lasciviousness, by our inviolable fidelity to the mistresses of our thoughts; and sloth, by our indefatigable peregrinations through the universe"

Horton concludes: “Our world and the human condition is immiserated by those who seek always to find the dividing lines between peoples and cultures, who see ultimate virtue in homogeneity and who embrace a creed of intolerance. How much better is humankind served by those who seek to find the golden cord that ties and unites us, that has been a source of inspiration throughout human history."

During these times of divisiveness, it is salutary to seek what unites us. It doesn’t seem at all quixotic to practice the virtues that animated Don Quixote!

Posted by Frederic Brussat on November 20, 2017

In an article appearing on the Greater Good website, Summer Allen reports on a research suggesting that our generosity might not only be shaped by the helper's high but also by our trust in the institutions governing our society — courts, police, schools, religious communities or political parties.

Yale University researchers used online games . . .

Posted by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat on October 6, 2017

In this fascinating article by Elizabeth Svoboda on Greater Good Magazine's website, she takes a brisk look at the reasons why it is so hard for us to change people's minds. Deeply held beliefs are not easily set aside; the brain is a stay-at-home kind of organ. Pre-existing beliefs took a long time to stabilize and grow, and they keep us anchored in the world. We are tribal people, and we worry about the dire effects from disloyalty to our peers. Finally, inertia can overtake those who want to update their beliefs.

What to do? "Productive exchange is more likely when there's a mutal foundation of respect and friendship," so sharing first about personal issues helps. Ask open-ended questions. Svoboda observes: "The less you try to force a particular set of views on someone, the freer they'll feel to reflect honestly what they think — and maybe even revise their thinking down the line."

To sum up, whether discussing political, personal, or spiritual matters, go slow and proceed with caution while talking about deeply cherished beliefs. Watch out for falling rocks. And remember, you never know what lies around the next bend.

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About This Blog

Spiritual literacy is the ability to read the signs written in the texts of our own experiences. It is recommended and practiced in all the world's religions. Whether viewed as a gift from God or a skill to be cultivated, this facility enables us to discern and decipher a world full of meaning. More