Sunday, January 23, 2022

Confessions After Listening To The Conspirituality Podcast


[According to their own description, what is the Conspirituality podcast:

“A weekly study of converging right-wing conspiracy theories and faux-progressive wellness utopianism. At best, the conspirituality movement attacks public health efforts in times of crisis. At worst, it fronts and recruits for the fever-dream of QAnon. As the alt-right and New Age horseshoe toward each other in a blur of disinformation, clear discourse and good intentions get smothered. Charismatic influencers exploit their followers by co-opting conspiracy theories on a spectrum of intensity ranging from vaccines to child trafficking. In the process, spiritual beliefs that have nurtured creativity and meaning are transforming into memes of a quickly-globalizing paranoia. Conspirituality Podcast attempts to bring understanding to this landscape. A journalist, a cult researcher, and a philosophical skeptic discuss the stories, cognitive dissonances, and cultic dynamics tearing through the yoga, wellness, and new spirituality worlds. Mainstream outlets have noticed the problem. We crowd-source, research, analyze, and dream answers to it.”]


The following attempt at an epic poem comes in response to the mentally shattering experiences I had while listening to the Conspiritualiy podcast, explained above. Though I am now several episodes into my re-acquaintance with this excellent podcast (which started but was abandoned right after 1-6-21), the shaking shock first occurred with episode #86: “Charles Eisenstein, New Age Q.” 

This callout & takedown on Charles Eisenstein was so needed & done with clarity & compassion. 

Eisenstein seems to have some ideas adjacent to thought that I had previously found helpful, such as Zerzan, Sahlins, Daniel Quinn, Graeber, etc, but it is actually something else entirely. Heck, we all like good origin stories.

Just as I have seen Russell Brand completely derailed in the last couple years, as the podcast shows, Eisenstein has fallen into the Q-friendly anti-vax bromance of the too white influencer world. 

Friends, just because we sometimes feel the grumbles of spirit deep within, just because our intuition sometimes feels like a direct line to the divine, let's all always be willing to take a deep breath, to take a step back, to vet our visions with fellow travelers of good conscience. There is no magic pill!

Now as I write, I am listening to podcaster Matthew Remski deconstruct a white slam poet, & I feel a little too seen, perhaps a little bit shamed, but I want to confess this before I confess more, I have been writing poetry stuff like that for 30 years. But I certainly don’t share the Instagram-influencer, well-funded, self-help vibe of the person that Remski exposes.

Since we are all vulnerable, broken, in need of sustenance at this interval of pandemic fatigue &  social unrest, I certainly understand the underlying cravings that prompt people to seek these curated “peak experiences,” pricey they might be. Why not let them do their thing, like you with your books, records, & unquenchable live music habit? 

Beneath it all, I see something vapid & probably worse, the platforming of people who appear to expect their spiritual bypassing to protect them from Covid. The insidious intersection of this drift --from the apparently harmless hobbies of the hot-rich-professionals to something sickening & harmful in its oblivious proximity to the far-right conspiracy crowd. 

I know I need to develop & maintain a personal spiritual practice, communal connections with friends & comrades, & a direct tap to whatever source offers compassion, engaged activism but also detachment, radical empathy, & unconditional love. 

It’s been more than 18 months since I left a job as a rural Presbyterian pastor. Deconstructing from Christianity has been difficult enough, but now I realize that I never properly deconstructed from two decades of neopaganism & new age stuff that immediately preceded my reconversion to Christianity some 13 years ago. Perhaps it’s my jam to move from spiritual bypassing to spiritual bypassing. 

“Trust your feelings” - Obi Wan Kenobi

you are sitting in morning meditation
grateful for the time to breathe but 
fully present to the stinking thinking 
constant thoughts that chase 
your mindfulness deep into the 
nagging annoying unhealthy parts 
of your mind 
you are lost in the 
presence of the 
ever present one 
to keep look look looking 
for what you will never find

you remember the long car ride 
where you could not pay attention
you could not get out 
you had to listen to what seemed 
like days but was probably only 
hours or minutes of a lilting lecture 
about an advanced race of human-like 
extraterrestrials called the Anunnaki 
from Nibiru who are the missing link 
to humanity & our true evolution
but this didn’t end with the long car ride

you remember being handed books
blogs videos & more by one of the 
world’s leading proponents of a
global counter-cultural movement 
that combines New World Order conspiracy 
the truther movement & anti-globalization
with an extraterrestrial conspiracy subculture

you remember the marijuana-induced
freakouts about the light beings that 
lived outside your realm or the real
you recall the deep long listens to 
TOOL albums or Bill Hicks standups or
late sleepless nights listening 
to DIY DVDs you had ordered about
the supposed real story behind 9-11

you even published your own
pro-conspiracy rants in a 
legitimate publication & if you are
completely honest you are still very 
concerned about the deaths
of Martin Luther King 
Thomas Merton
Paul Wellstone to
name just a few

admit it
you have tarried in every variety
of treehugger apocalyptic
accelerationist catastrophist 
green pessimism that you could find

you don’t like modern medicine
you gobble garlic & honey 
whenever you have a cold 
you were anti-vax until this virus
what else do I need to confess

you remember that time 
more than twenty years ago
the student complained that 
you might be a gay lush witch
the letters that were written to the dean
the wording so desperate
the tone so mean

how many doors or portals were
passed through just looking for the real you
from cradle Christian to eclectic pagan
drifting down the theological cafeteria line
a plate heaping with delicacies that 
were once only accessible to royals

yet the alienation & anxiety & addiction
that fueled ever-yet more intense searches
or purges or puck-like urges something
deep down in your bones lacked 
sufficient purchase to keep you on one path
how many days or years did you stay 
you have always had a hard time with math

how many times 
were you sure 
that you saw
god when really 
that was just the moment
when the drugs finally kicked in 

you put your hands in some soil
declared that you were home
even moved into a dome
built by an old man named Owl
but the 13 years there proved for you
something finally unsatisfying or foul

when the contract was signed 
a tenant was evicted which 
you rationalized mainly because 
you learned they were shitting 
in the creek you were not the meek
to inherit this parcel of earth you
just had the downpayment asked

never explained to the seller
a local farmer who had been there
for years what all your dreams
were of decadent festivals on the back 40
when the techno sounds allegedly
carried to the next town over 
every time you tried to park too
many cars on this tight gravel road
named after pumpkins not solar toads

you bought land from somebody
who bought land from somebody
who bought land back then
when they just took the land
had slaves work the land 
it just wasn’t that long ago &
you know what you know

every book you read about 
why the hippies failed was
only part of the story because
some of those hippies were still there
yet within yourself you turned
a blind eye to the rural gentrification
that hip white people with bank 
& gas in the tank can come take
it’s optional if they even give thanks

a fine line between sustainability 
or trashing the land a fine line
between permaculture & a
permanent outpost for 
another version of white culture
don’t pretend it is not true
as you watch the vulture feast on
the remains of a mantra that 
you borrowed from the east 

you are not descended from ascended masters
you are not a shaman or a priest 
you are not part of anything
but a broken lineage
of screaming protest 
on the counterculture sidelines

of what used to be the 
antiauthoritarian left &
yet lest we forget 
from a disillusioned 
middle class
point of view 

you are nothing but 
poet bum or rubber tramp with 
a mortgage & a pension 
& a Subaru covered in stickers
so you can stand out in any 
traffic jam or parking lot
let me make a list of my 
own limits & imperfections 

the hyper-privileged online
self-appointed prophets
are talking about 
cages for the unvaccinated 
& government conspiracies
& you cannot help but wonder

if he ever worried about the 
government cages that 
already exist for the poor
the black & brown 
the unemployed & the addicted 
or about the military industrial 
war machine
the out of control copaganda
always already aimed at 
communities of color

they are not really
preaching bodily autonomy 
about a poke when they constantly
make an insult out of the word woke

they ran from yoga class to fitness class
to get your meal prep package off the porch
the first world cliches of every meme or joke

they are not autonomous just white
just a new age automaton of bodies
preaching narcissism from the digital 
glorification of blonde & toned & beach-ready
boutique experiences for the spiritually alone  
who must travel to Mexico or other exotic 
locations they learned about on Instagram
while staring into the abyss of their iPhones

you were almost them
admit it 
confess it
say it
own it
before your sobriety or conversion you 
were drunk on climate catastrophe insanities 
dropout escapist post-utopian fantasies
these peak experiences of 
fire festival fever dreams
tripping them dipping 
then into exotic visions in 
a capsule or some fungus 
then the angels 
climbed out of your anus or your navel to
spin you back 
into that magical caravan tent
where you were some kind of 
magical imaginary king
no just take me to the shop 
where I can buy
some more imported hippy bling 

all the feathers & facepaint & feeling your
feelings when the medicine will do
what the medicine will do
but no amount of psilocybin MDMA LSD
the medicine is not you
that was just a cloud not the face
of an old testament prophet in a cloud

remember what they keep teaching you
in those darn twelve step classes
you are not your thoughts
you are not your feelings
it takes a special kind of private
perfect privilege to constantly promote
every minor epiphany to the level
of substack scripture for your subscription base
because you have convinced them
that you are part of the anointed 
carefully called & chosen truth-tellers
when you are just as imperfect as anyone else
crawling around for joy 
pebbles on the ground
of a cave 
just grateful to be breathing
inside your hairless meat costume
of accidental consciousness on this
blue green ball of great mysteries

to be clear 
these people are driving me crazy 
because like them 
I have too much free time
I too have been drunk on
every passing spiritual fashion 
of woo woo
doo doo 
on my shoe shoe 
to share with
you & my crew phew 
to be clear now eww

if I had not had the Conspirituality podcast hosts
to do a close deconstructive reading of 
the latest Eisenstein animated video 
I too might have been swept away again
shared it favorably on my page 
& then what or
what then

because you see 
like many millions of others
I watched the video for the Coronation 
in the spring of 2020 when my intuition tweaked
my feelings were felt like oceans of mountains
of volcanoes of hurricanes of feelings everything

off the charts my dreams & sleep like downloads
from god the whole thing was real for sure

this was earth’s moment 
to wake up 
to shut up 
to shut down 
all the shit 
that is killing us &

yet within a few months 
find us finally living in 
the long-awaited 
without child-slavery 
or sex-trafficking
or anything else the highly selective moral compass
of hip white bloggers have deemed really bad this week

why did I order all of his books that day &
from an independent store even 
& not Amazon either
had to wait more than a week for them to arrive
started to read them 
never finished them 
now listening 
to this podcast almost two years later 
I am so glad
I never read them 
now I just moved them to 
the box to take to the used bookstore

because damn this is just some diluted John Zerzan
some warmed up leftovers from Hakim Bey
perhaps a sprinkle of David Graeber but only if 
David Graeber were merely just a smarter version of Joe Rogan 
& spiced generously with a word you stole from Thich Nhat Hanh
may he rest in peace & power

I am sorry I bought your books Charles Eisenstein but
I am not sorry I listened to Conspirituality the other day

now back to 2020 please
keep this clear because 
of the murders of 
Ahmaud Arbery
Breonna Taylor 
& George Floyd 
something snapped 
this pandemic thread
in my sabbath head
that it was really only 
just about the climate
just about
you know the wildfires 
extreme ice storms 
the rising polluted sea waters 
& not about the police the cops
who are militarized to the nines
an occupying army for the rich
& not about the poison of the 
prisons in Mississippi where 
the inmates might accidentally
eat a rat that got cooked 
in the cornbread that day

there are more choices between
climat-denier & covid-denier
there are more choices
you can still be a nonviolent anarchist
& not be coerced by some Twitter troll
to apologize for voting for Democrats
to defeat Trump & his citizens army
of red hats like brown shirts with blue flags
declaring fealty to a family name
even though in your regional municipality
he is far from defeated but holding
almost every 
county city or state 
government hostage all set 
to giving more civil rights 
to unborn zygotes than
to women 
or queers   
if this is our zeitgeist it is actually
much worse than my worst fears 

so there is not a manual on 
how to follow empathy or solidarity 
or compassion or clarity
or courage into the daily drama 

the beautiful but broken barrage
especially when without church or cadre
you do not have a coherent entourage
with whom to climb the barricades

so you are constantly blogging 
tweeting posting praying playing
now whether I am consulting 

Situationists or Surrealists or Socrates
Buddha or Bonhoeffer or Boxcar Bertha
Jesus Christ or Jack Kerouac or James Cone

we need a forever discerning eye
of fellow travelers & friends 
with ears to the ground with a forward
glance to see past the bend in
this winding dangerous switchback road
that surely looks like our collective end

you bounce from spiritual bypassing 
to spiritual bypassing
guru generalists who are really
narcissists don’t care 

they just take the dare
to steal from whatever source is there
that makes them feel of course
to be fair 

there is no perfect perpetuity 
not even that elusive imperfect perfection
not prepackaged poetic tradition
not a thing to calm intrinsic sedition

just because we have made a 
temporary pact with the social
refusing to push it all off the cliff
refusal to murder neighbors in 
the light of day

does not necessarily mean we
have somehow made peace
with the managers with the
planners who themselves don’t
have a plan except their 

escape pods
all these temporary nods to a 
noble egalitarianism are not to
be taken seriously until 
the hostages have been freed

yet some goodness or gratitude
are the total sum of these vast
spiritual travels & incessant dabbling
just don’t claim authenticity that
is not mine or a rigid doctrine 
not validated by love or reality 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

From liberalism to liberation - MLK Sunday Sermon

My topic this morning is: “From liberalism to liberation in the light and life of MLK.” 

In my remarks today, I refrain from a litany regarding the backlash against King’s dreams or accomplishments in our world today, especially in the attack on voting rights. While that is something we ignore at our peril, instead we will look more closely today at King’s genuine legacy and some of the hopeful signs, that it lives on. That is: “From liberalism to liberation in the light and life of MLK.” 

In these last few months, I have loved my time of learning more about Unitarian Universalism, as I have been attending these Sunday at 10am Zooms with y’all and reading extensively about the UU tradition on my own. A mixed denominational marriage that emerged in the 1960s, UUs are part of the same tradition of 20th century liberal theology that gave us the genius of Martin Luther King Jr. 

I fear folks today may not fully grasp the deep theological tradition of liberalism that inspired intellectuals in the 20th century, but I propose that some of the same streams that led to this UU denomination, also helped make the unique modernity of Martin King. When I say “liberal” this morning, I am thinking of this intellectual tradition, and it is not how most understand the term “liberal” today. 

In his autobiography, which was really a compilation of his words provided by Clayborne Carson, King discusses the importance of intellectual growth and academic theology during his years at Morehouse, Crozer, and Boston University. In addition to a grounding in Greek philosophy, King wrestled with modern philosophers like Hegel, Nietzsche, and Marx. 

King was indebted to his contemporaries in liberal Protestant theology—Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr and Howard Thurman. Mohandas Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau—perhaps his greatest influences—they come from far outside his Baptist upbringing. 

While he was a teenage undergrad at Morehouse, he talked about shaking off the shackles of fundamentalism. For him, religion had to be completely compatible with modern thinking, including science. Surely, someone, with more depth than I will provide today, has traced King’s particularly robust small l-liberalism. 

Yet, when I went looking this last week, much of what I stumbled across was conservative evangelicals today, using King’s progressive views, to dismiss him as a heretic, as not a real disciple of Jesus. As for me, someone who has recently left organized Christianity, Christians telling other Christians that they are not real Christians is one of my profoundest pet peeves.

When I look back at these college papers that have drawn so much interest from his hardcore naysayers, I see King’s expansive mind and interest in a religion that pairs with reality. 

Topics that tickled King’s critics included things like a paper he wrote on the influence of Greco-Roman mystery religions, that’s right paganism, on the formation of Christianity. While the overlapping themes and stories between Christianity and many pagan mystery religions are well-documented, this topic tends to make orthodox Christians uncomfortable, thus their frequent defensiveness about these findings. 

King, on the other hand, argues, “To discuss Christianity without mentioning other religions would be like discussing the greatness of the Atlantic Ocean without the slightest mention of the many tributaries that keep it flowing.” Of course, this metaphor subordinates other faiths, but gives them credibility; today, we might say that interfaith and interspirituality are the real ocean.

But the essay by young King that was the real bombshell to truly bother today’s fundamentalists is where King questions the virgin birth, the divinity of human Jesus, and the bodily resurrection, all in one brief essay. In short, King did not feel he needed the Apostles Creed to end up a powerful Baptist preacher. The biblical teachings and selfless sacrifices of the historical Jesus were more than enough to inspire and fire-up King. 

As to God, King was far from an atheist, but had a vast and cosmic consciousness when it comes to the creator of the universe. A King quote with profound resonance, speaks to this cosmic understanding: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

In 2020, a preacher wrote that Covid really helped him finally understand this idea of Kingian cosmic interconnection: “My own welfare can only be found in the welfare of my most vulnerable neighbor. Prophets have been saying this for millennia. Now I see it, and there is no un-seeing it. . . . None of us is safe until ALL of us are safe.” 

A queer writer from the 20th century, Arthur Evans, drew his inspiration more from Walt Whitman than from Martin King, but he also leaned into this universal place of cosmic creativity. Evans wrote, “Here is where we find the font of the magic of life, for that font is people themselves when self-integrated, flowing with expressive creativity, and connected in body and spirit to each other and the cosmos.” 

“Here the boundaries of the self expand, and its windows open outward to the goodness and beauty of the whole, which it takes in with exuberance.” 

Aren’t there echoes of these cosmic ideas in our seventh principle as UUs?  “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

For King that goodness was always expressed as love, as unconditional, universal, agape love. And its roots are in a religion infused with liberalism and universalism. But its practical social application for King was always more radical, than just liberalism, it always led society to a vision of complete human and cosmic liberation.
King’s idealism did not protect him from identifying collective evil in the world, which he named as racism, materialism, and militarism. King named his radical antidote to these awful realities: the Beloved Community. The Beloved Community, maybe you have heard this phrase, which originated with Josiah Royce. 

According to the King Center, “Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit. . . . ”
“In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.”

By the end of his career which was cut short by an assassin’s bullet, King had turned his practical social justice work away from the primary struggles of racial integration and voting rights and focused on the structural changes needed for economic reform and ending the Vietnam war. Both of these radical movements --promoting peace and ending poverty-- that captivated the late King, also raised the ongoing ire of the conservative establishment and law enforcement profession, including the FBI, and its paranoid fear of strong black leaders, which meant constant surveillance of King and extended to the war against groups like the Black Panthers.

King was ahead of his time to advocate for what he called a “guaranteed national income.” The conversation has returned in our world as “universal basic income.” During a pandemic, the need for this kind of immediate relief and sustainable security is amplified. 

King said in one of his last great speeches, “Where Do We Go From Here”: “The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning [their] life are in [their] own hands, when [they have] the assurance that [their] income is stable and certain . . .” King was right. 

Today, more than ever, we are realizing that we were made for many pursuits, more than only wage labor. Economic security for the most vulnerable is everyone’s responsibility. 

As we recall, King’s last marches were in Memphis, Tennessee, as part of a labor strike by sanitation workers. Today we are inundated with stories about a labor shortage, which is really just a living wage shortage, a humane-and-democratic-workplace shortage. 

Last October got called Striketober, as we saw one of the most significant waves in labor activism of this century. During Striketober as many as 100,000 workers participated in or prepared for a strike, at places like Kellogs, McDonalds, Nabisco, and John Deere. Recently, baristas in Buffalo won the vote for the first unionized Starbucks in the United States. The Amazon workers in Besemer, Alabama are going to get another shot at their unionization vote. 

Just as the liberal theologian King questioned the strictness of doctrine, the human liberationist King brought heaven to earth in the form of a radical beloved community. In his last speech in Memphis. the day before his death, King preached this:

“It's all right to talk about ‘long white robes over yonder,’ in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It's all right to talk about ‘streets flowing with milk and honey,’ but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day.”

“It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee.” The new Cookeville, even, right? 

Just as the arc of King’s activism career from Montgomery in 1955 to Memphis in 1968 followed from liberal philosophy to liberationist prophecy, I believe his legacy would move forward with today’s struggles for gender equality and queer liberation, for environmental sustainability and combating climate change, for an end to mass incarceration and the death penalty and for long lasting radical reform of our law enforcement professions. 

As a national denomination, Unitarian Universalists are at the center of these movements, because we are standing on the side of love. We are at the center of these movements because our seven principles require it. 

Were I to make a thorough scan of the Justice and Inclusion links on the UU Association national website, these would read like a primer on Kingian values and visionary practices for the 21st century. 

With all the hard work of this congregation, especially in our work to support those incarcerated at the Putnam County Jail, we are walking our talk so that one day, together, the dream will be fulfilled and the Beloved Community will be our reality. And we won’t just wait for one day, but we will see that some dreams are realized in the now, today. May it be so.