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How can “they” believe THAT?

Almost twenty years ago, Jim Carrey starred in the critically acclaimed film, The Truman Show, written by Andrew Niccol. I loved the thought-provoking premise, and I find even more applications now than I did then.

In case you missed it, here’s a summary: A corporation adopts infant Truman Burbank in order to use him as the star of a TV reality show watched 24/7 throughout the world. Truman, unaware of the fact that everyone he knows and every situation of his life is programmed on an isolated island, is just beginning to question his reality. Ed Harris plays the show’s director, Christof, who goes to any length to keep Truman ignorant of reality, which would ruin the show’s success.

Christof’s statement towards the end of the film really struck me: “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.” Well, sure. Why question it? We’re secure in it. And, if we become aware of life outside ours, it’s easy to blame “outsiders” for problems and it’s comfortable to believe “our” way is better than “theirs.” Hasn’t that been a successful political, religious, economic, and social tactic throughout history? Think about it!

What I loved about the show in 1998 was how it exemplified those who accepted without question, for example, advertisers’ sales pitches that our value lies in the “stuff” we have. Or how we are slow to become aware of our ingrained prejudices and stereotypes of whatever kind. Or how we accept our religious stories, all written before discoveries in cosmology, quantum physics, and even evolution. It’s challenging to move beyond the reality in which we grew up and/or to understand those who live outside it!

By now you have probably guessed why I find The Truman Show’s imaginary premise especially applicable today. In the U.S., at least, we seem to be captive within the world presented by various media. Echo chambers thrive in social media. Listening to “the other side” can be judged disloyalty to “our” side. Those who live in “the other reality” actually do threaten ours, and thus it is easy to fear them and even think them evil. This seems true regardless of which “show” one currently stars in. Christof spoke truth when he said that we accept the reality of the world with which we are presented. We barely notice, or we excuse, its exaggerations or errors.

Even with willingness to be empathetic, many are ignorant of other cultures. When I read Hillbilly Elegy (which I highly recommend), I was stunned to realize that here was a world about which I knew just about nothing. How easy, then, to judge those who act — and vote — from it. I had to consider that, given the same circumstances of education, culture, and heritage, would I have been any different?

It’s no secret that some news choices can reinforce our prejudgments and make exaggerated statements about our chosen “team” (think Breitbart, FOX, MSNBC, Daily Kos). Ditto for social media. Both sides can perceive the other as spiritually and morally degenerate, a threat to American values, and conspiring to defeat what they hold dear. Because we came from a dualistic, either-or mindset (us and them, good and bad, true and false, etc.), we have been programmed to accept one and reject the other.

At least we are aware of the biases some stations and papers will present and that other news and opinions will be absent, refuted, and judged “fake.” What about sources we watch such as local news, that present biased news and opinions without indicating their source? Because of mergers and acquisitions, massive corporations dominate the U.S. media landscape and control what we see, hear and read. In many cases, these companies control everything from initial production to final distribution.

When one or two entities own local news channels and demand that they air slanted news and opinion pieces, we might have no warning. How is our reality altered when, for example, a newscast has a daily series on Terrorism Threats? Who gives balanced statistics of where our deaths and dangers really come from? The emphasis on what is not a major threat both increases fears and neglects genuine concerns. No wonder fortunes are spent preventing problems that either don’t exist or are minor, causing money needed for real concerns to be not available. Perhaps we are called to write or call and make our viewpoints known.

I periodically receive emails marked something like “You won’t believe this.” I usually don’t, and I  check with one or more of the sites created to monitor factual accuracy and debunk rumors. These three are reliable: FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com, and snopes.com. (I then return this information to the sender and the other receivers.)

The Truman Show spoiler alert: Truman begins to notice and to question inconsistencies. He begins to doubt the validity of his environment. He becomes aware that his life’s package is somehow incomplete. He risks his life to resolve his growing discomfort — and in the end he literally pokes a hole through his fake sky-dome and exits beyond it. There he is united with his true love, whose campaign to “Free Truman” was not in vain.

As I see it, the moral of The Truman Show for those who care about ecospirituality is this: Like Truman, we are exiting, or have exited, the world and consciousness in which many of us grew up. We feel called to live in a world, a universe, that is intrinsically interconnected, in which everything and everyone deserves respect. We all came from the same stardust; we all share it within us. Because the world, and each of us, is constantly evolving, we are becoming new each moment. We can create a future where people — starting with ourselves — are accurately informed, discerning, and contributing to a win-win future where all life is mutually enhancing and the accepted goal is the greater good of all creation.

Speaking with those who — because they live in another show — reject the threats to all life from climate change, nuclear proliferation, violence, pollution, poverty, inequality, trafficking, species extinction, etc., can be very challenging. We can do it better if we try to understand the “show” in which each of us “stars” and listen to others with respect and patience.

Good law schools “demand that [students] imaginatively and sympathetically reconstruct the best argument on the other side,” I read recently in TIME (July 24, 2017, Heather Gerken, dean of Yale Law School). “Lawyers learn to see the world as their opponents do ….” We should fight for what we believe, but “it’s crucial to recognize the best in the other side and the worst in your own.”

Trying to understand the “reality show” that defines opponents and informs their fears and judgments might not always, or immediately, be effective, but it is the most successful method to date.

I welcome your suggestions/ stories of how to escape, or help others to escape from, faulty or incomplete reality shows.

Do You Know Where You Live?

Inventions like GPS and Google Earth help us to know where we are. Settle for those, however, and you know only a partial answer to the question: Do you know where you live?

But first, a simple quiz.

1. What do you call this?

2. What do you call this?

If your answers were not sunrise or sunset, congratulations! You can probably skip to the end.* For the others:

Unlike those who flatly rejected what scientists Aristarchus of Samos, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Galileo Galilei had discovered, we’d probably all answer this question correctly:       Does the Sun circle the Earth each day?

We KNOW that it does not, but misleading “evidence” still prevents our integrating that knowledge. In spite of knowing better, most people think of themselves on a flat Earth with the Sun doing the traveling. Not too surprising, actually. That’s what it looks like.

Many of us can thank Brian Swimme for an experience that helps us FEEL ourselves part of a huge planet rotating a full rotation each 24 hours while also whirling around the Sun. In Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, pp. 26 – 30, Swimme suggests we try an experience in the evening. Since I can look east to Lake Michigan, it was easier for me to try it in the morning. Here’s what I did:

When the night sky began to lighten, I went to the beach and consciously rooted myself in the sand on which I sat. I gradually expanded that realization to my neighborhood, city, state, country, hemisphere, the entire planet; and inward to Earth’s atmosphere, crust, mantle, and core. How immense! By then it was not too challenging to imagine myself part of the whole.


As Swimme recommends in Hidden Heart, I found Venus which, he explains, is “65 million miles from the Sun, about a third closer than the Earth, which is 93 million miles from the Sun. [All the planets] are moving in a single plane around the Sun.” While numbers aren’t essential, do remember that Venus is one third closer to the Sun.


In addition to the importance of depth perception for this experiment, it is also important to envision how huge the Sun is — its volume is  approximately a million times the size of Earth.

Keeping those relationships in mind, I pictured the gigantic Sun NOT MOVING below the horizon. (It does move slightly, but not around us.) As the first sliver of the Sun appeared and slowly became larger, I FELT that I was tipping toward it. I FELT the urge to grab the ground. This was a very new — and disorienting — experience!

However, that’s not the only way we are moving. Brother Sun is powerfully whirling our Earth and the other planets around it by its gravitational power. If the Sun lost this pull, we would “sail off into deep space.” Wow!

In my experience, once FELT, never forgotten. Life goes on and I no longer lose my balance concentrating on this. But I am always deepening my consciousness of moving east, especially when I look at the lake. I always note where East is when I go someplace new because I need to know which way Earth and I are traveling in the bigger picture.

The Solar System, however, is not the last word about where we are. Our Solar System is a speck within the Milky Way Galaxy, which is but one of billions of galaxies in our universe. I think our consciousnesses need to evolve before we can comprehend the full extent of where we are — and how united we are on our precious planet. We can each contribute to that evolution!

Next time you look out at the stars — which, with a little imagination, we can do during the day — stop for a moment to consider the reality of where you really are! When I do, it challenges me to reject the dated concept of heaven as “above,” and to consider what Jesus meant when he spoke in Aramaic about heaven. According to visioncraft.org/aramaic/intro.htm, “D’bwashmaya conjures the images of light, sound, and vibration spreading out and pervading all. In essence, then, ‘heaven’ is conceived not so much as a place but as a dimension of reality that is present everywhere.” And that challenges me to deepen my conception of the divine – all because I know where I live!

* To date, we do not have universal terms to replace “sunrise” and “sunset” because too few live in the reality of where they are. Please share (in comments) updated language that works for you. Thanks!

 

Where Did You Come From?

For me, a fast answer could be “Chicago.” A better truth requires the love story of my parents —  and the love story of each of their parents, and the love story …. Stories within stories, all embedded in mystery!

Do you ever wish you had asked your grandparents more questions, or listened more carefully  to the stories of their lives? Our own stories make little sense untethered from the stories of our parents and ancestors — all the way back.

Because so many people spend time and money tracing their ancestry, at least 100 genealogy sites exist. Seekers are proud to trace ancestors back centuries, usually the farther back the better. This image (from http://gcbias.org/ 2013/11/11) traces males in red and females in blue. I googled “How many ancestors can one trace?” but the genetic complications were too overwhelming to summarize here.

Still, we know we had to have a beginning. Shakespeare, through King Lear, assures us that Nothing can come of nothing; Julie Andrews, playing Maria in The Sound of Music, reminded us of that in her beloved song, “Something Good.”

In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson begins his Introduction with a splendid travelogue detailing our beginnings. The following excerpt follows his section on atoms:

But the fact that you have atoms and that they assemble in such a willing manner is only part of what got you here. To be here now, alive in the twenty-first century and smart enough to know it, you also had to be the beneficiary of an extraordinary string of biological good fortune.

After some information on species, he continues:

Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely — make that miraculously — fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result — eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly — in you.

But wait! There’s more! How amazing it is that planet Earth hosts life at all! One or more life-giving planets besides ours might eventually be discovered, but consider how rare it/they will be in this universe of billions of galaxies, each with billions of suns!

In our lifetimes, scientists have learned how, after our universe began, stars formed,  died and exploded material that formed into new stars until one resulted in our galaxy, our solar system, our planet, us. Scientists recently detected light from the oldest space dust, galaxy A2744_YD4. (C.f. image at right.) It began its journey 13.2 billion years ago, when the universe was only 600 million years old!

Curt Stager, in Your Atomic Self: The Invisible Elements That Connect You to Everything Else in the Universe, gives us this poetic account:

To look into the night sky is to survey distant gardens in which the elements of life are ripening, and your body is a composite harvest from these cosmic fields. Throughout history, people have spoken of the earth as our mother and the sun as our father … In an atomic sense, however, it would be more accurate to think of the earth and the sun as our siblings, because they both formed from the same star debris as the elements of life within us. Earth is indeed a kind of surrogate mother to us in that our bodies are derived from it, but we exist today only because our true celestial star mothers died long ago.  

If one has a pulse, this information results in wordless awe and reverence for the profound mystery of all being and the spirit within it.

No less a scientist than Albert Einstein wrote many profound things about this. Among them:

Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.

Einstein believed the following:

The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness.

One last quote, from Ilia Delio in a recent National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report:

Teilhard de Chardin … thought that we must reinvent ourselves religiously, and he set about his life’s work toward this goal. We have yet to realize, however, a new synthesis between science and religion, a type of religion that is at home in an unfinished universe.

I think co-creating that synthesis is at the heart of ecospirituality. One starts with “Where did I come from?”  and continues the love story with “What does it mean to reinvent myself religiously?” No doubt the life, death, life motif so evident throughout the universe story and at this liturgical season provides an important clue.