SC Music Archives impresses with ‘Pieces of the Past’
by Richie Begin
Like you and me, Rick McKee has some stuff in the garage he doesn’t quite know what to do with. Stuff like ’70s Santa Cruz folk singer Rin Eric’s never-heard 40-page cello concerto; the debut CD from Fetal Pigs in Brine, a local band with an almost memorable moniker; old Snail footage; early demos and first albums from the Doobies, Lacy J. Dalton, Larry Hosford, The Cool Jerks, Artichoke Brothers and Oogakookie; the original sheet music to “The Belle of Old Soquel,” and who can forget “Floating Down the San Lorenzo.”
There’s more: He’s got scraps of lyric, sheet music, T-shirts, buttons, backstage passes and cool sunglasses. Cassette demos, set lists and old memos. 33s, 45s, CDs and DVDs, 8-tracks, stacks and stacks of old wax and one or two Beta Max. He’s got posters, programs, publicity stills, a thousand business cards, First Night buttons, bumper stickers, tickets and a few sticky wickets. He’s got it all, and it’s going up on the wall.
He calls it the Santa Cruz Music Archives, and you can view it the entire month of December at The Attic. An opening reception is planned from 5-7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, featuring live music, no speeches and a lot of rubbernecking. It’s all actually pretty cool.
If you repair guitars, you get to know a lot of musicians and bands, and every player in town passed through McKee’s popular Pacific Avenue repair shop, The Guitar Works, in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. “I just starting collecting this stuff by chance,” says the musician, who himself is a blast from the past.
A vintage ukulele collector, fine guitarist and repairman, he still has a shop full of work for a loyal clientele that has followed him from storefront to garage-based business. There are 250 ukuleles in the house and 30 hung from the rafters in the garage above his pride and joy, a 1938 Pontiac Silver Streak Business Coupe. His wife Katie bought him a ukulele for Christmas a few seasons back, and after quickly getting the hang of it, he released 3 CDs under his alter egos: Ukulele Dick and Dick Dujour. He thought it’d be a cool idea to recreate note-for-note the sound of the Beatles’ so-called White Album. After putting together some choice players and producing and booking opening dates, The White Album Ensemble, now handled by the band itself, has taken on a life all its own. All the while, the stuff kept piling up in the garage.
“Before I knew it I had amassed quite a collection,” he says. “Vintage record collector Glen Howard brought over more and old sheet music; enthusiast Ross Gibson added to the pile. Tell you the truth, I don’t know what or how many pieces I got. I’ll find out as I put it up, but it’s in the thousands.”
It’s been an education as well as a labor of love. Who knew, for instance, that the immortal Ink Spots used to call The Brookdale Lodge home. “It’s true,” says McKee. “They recorded and toured nationally but were based out of Brookdale. Used to sing a song called ‘Beautiful Brookdale.’”
The collection, which will be on view over the holidays, will also feature videos and DVDs that will run continuously and music from a million unheard demos that the Attic will play all month long as background sounds in their Café.
McKee has more than just a mountain of memorabilia—he has a dream. “My dream was to perhaps have a home for all this memorabilia, a sort of vintage music café, where old and young musicians could hang out, drink coffee, perform, hobnob, learn from each other. So far no takers, but who knows, after people see this stuff, it might still happen.”
There’s a lot that might still happen in the ever-evolving Santa Cruz music scene, and there’s a lot that’s already happened. Good Times celebrates its 30th Anniversary in print this year. The Kuumbwa Jazz center celebrates 30 years of good jazz. This holiday season, drop by and see what 30 years-plus of good local music looks and sounds like.
The Santa Cruz Music Archives Collection is on display from Dec. 1-31, The Attic, Art Gallery and Tea House Café, 931 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, CA. The opening reception takes place from 5-7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2. For more information, call 460-1800.
If you're a jazz musician just starting out, you're hungry by definition and Dorough remembers the early days and kind dinner invites from friends who'd say, 'Hey Bob, why don't you come over for dinner and, by the way, can you sing a couple songs?"
There's a lot more on his plate now, for at 77, this soft-spoken Philadelphia pianist/vocalist/composer is more than a living room legend, he's a national jazz treasure.
With a career than spans a half a century, this remarkably facile jazz pianist with a hand-in-glove vocal style is the author of such sardonic standards as 'I'm Hip" (co-written with partner-in-crime Dave Frishberg - the definitive vocal version by Blossom Dearie) 'Devil May Care," 'Love Came on Stealthy Fingers"(recorded by Irene Kral) and many more. Accompanied by a crack Bay Area rhythm section of Bruce Forman-guitar, Scott Steed-bass and Vince Lateano-drums, he'll dig deep into his bag of precious jazz gems next Monday December 5th at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center.
Like his role-model Hoagy Carmichael before him, Dorough is the crème-del-la-crème of a small but very exclusive group of musicians-who-sing. 'That's different from singers who play ...I think," says Dorough. 'People like Jack Teagarten, Louis Armstrong, trombonist Trummy Young (from Jimmy Lunceford's Band) Joe Mooney, even Dizzy Gillespie, these were musicians who weren't afraid to sing a chorus or two. Hey, and don't forget Nat Cole, best singing pianist that ever was."
It's true, other singers have tackled this Arkansas native's material and done it remarkable justice but somehow, when you hear it, unadorned, straight from the source, with that unmistakable raspy but honeyed voice leavened with a hint of humor, the result has an ownership quality that makes everything else irrelevant. 'My style evolved in the '50s when I was recording singles," says Dorough. "I had the freedom then to try new songs. I think I learned more then about delivering the words."
He's still delivering. At 77, Bob Dorough feels and looks younger than you. Matter of fact, he's just hit his stride. Since 1997, Dorough has released Right on My Way Home with Joe Lovano and Christian McBride, a Live CD, Who's on First with Dave Frishberg and Too Much Coffee Man, all for Blue Note.
No other jazz artist alive can claim as diverse gallery of collaborators as Dorough.
Miles Davis, Art Garfunkel, Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, Mel Torme (Torme's 60s jazz crossover hit 'Coming Home Baby" was penned by Dorough) Sugar Ray Robinson (Dorough served as musical director as Robinson tapped danced across Europe) Maya Angelou, and Allen Ginsberg are just a few. However, nothing almost made Dorough a household name like his decade long tenure starting in 1973 as musical director of ABC television's hour long after school program 'Schoolhouse Rock." His audience has grown up a bit yet these days not a concert goes by that he isn't obliged to haul out'Conjunction Junction," 'My Hero Zero," and 'Three is a Magic Number." Dorough loves it as much as Boomers do and remembers how it all got started.
'A lead from an ad agency said someone was looking to make a phonograph record for a multiplication table. My bassist Ben Tucker said, 'Ask Bob! He can set multiplication tables to music!" We brought in several other people; Blossom Dearie, Jack Sheldon and more. The record became a series and we were in production 1973-1985. The recent revival has been a sort of second shot for me."
Revival is a word that somehow doesn't fit someone like Dorough who's never gone in or out of style. He's got a timelessness (think Fats Waller delivered by Bud Powell with a dash of Dizzy Gillespie for pizzazz) coupled with an infectious and laconic, spot-on delivery that's all his own. Sitting gleefully at the piano, ready to pounce, with his grayish hair tied in a ponytail, somehow managing to look optimistic and road-wise at the same time, his stage patter shot full of hipster repartee --words like 'cats" and 'dad" – Bob Dorough looks and sounds like someone who has reached that spot in life where doing what you like and what you were born to do have finally blended seamlessly into one swinging reality. If that aint hip…
Bob Dorough, 7PM Monday December 5th Tickets $20 advance/ $23 door. Kuumbwa Jazz Center 320-2 Cedar Street Santa Cruz, CA 95060 (831) 427-2227.
Can we talk?
We can? Good. Thank God.
First a story.
I have a friend.
He and his family are moving out of the area for a year on business and returning in the fall. I asked him to call and give me his new address and he did so last Tuesday morning. He called and said, "Hi, this is Gary. Do you have a fax?" I said, "Why yes, but aren't you going to give me your new address?" He said, "I am but I thought I'd fax it over. It's easier. That is unless you have e-mail and I could e-mail it to you in a jiffy." I allowed as though we do have e-mail here at my place of business and it would be a snap. However, I countered with a request that, when uttered, seemed to completely flummox my friend, the vice-president of a large company and a very smart and capable guy.
I said, why don't you just tell it to me.
After what seemed like three infinitely long seconds he said, "You mean now?" I said, "Yes, right now. I've got a pen and paper ready."
Again, a small silent pause. I could hear the whirring as his brain struggled to reset itself. Either he actually wasn't ready to give me the address or he didn't really want to interact with me, though he said he did. That, or what I was asking just didn't compute, to use a handy phrase, but he quickly recovered, "Yes, well, OK, I could do that I guess. Are you ready?" Trying hard to take the R2D2 out of my voice, I said, "I am ready… Gary… for transmission." He was gone a few minutes (see, I knew he didn't really have the address at hand to give) but then came back and gave me the address. I wrote it down and put it in my address book and it's still there in case I want to look it up.
This is a simple story for a complex age.
Allow me another story, this one, second-hand.
I have another friend, a woman. Again, capable, smart, modern almost to a fault and very, if you know the term, "plugged in" to the information highway. I mean she is "connected" like you wouldn't believe. She has a fax, a modem, e-mail, a couple of on-line servers, two lines into her home, a pager, mobile phone, and a headset she talks on while driving the hill. She constantly checks in, on-line with her career track search engine that searches the nation's job force 24 hours a day trolling for a similar job with higher pay in a more appropriately standardized city. She says she likes music and I believe her but she doesn't listen to it, not really. No time. Her husband divorced her. No time. Oh well.
I called her one day, I forget why, and in the middle of conversing, she started to sob. She started to pour out to me this sad story punctuated by long sighs and snuffling. I thought she was going to tell me her dog died, or her second husband divorced her or her Father was in the hospital. It was worse. Much worse.
Turns out she came home from work one evening after a grueling 3 hour commute, and her message machine was blinking to beat the band, at least 40 calls. As she walked in the door her pager went off and something inside her snapped. She flicked it off, strode with a purpose to her digital answering machine and hit the delete key with a satisfactory chirp. She flipped on her computer and had at least 50 e-mails. She wiped the slate clean without listening to one. Guilt called. She ignored its page.
Feeling better by the second, she unplugged the phone, did not switch on the TV and had a cool glass of water. Then she cried. She was suddenly very, very lonely and surprised at how much work it was to not call somebody to wantonly assuage her guilt. She attempted to ask herself why she was so restless, irritable and discontent at just being with herself. She lasted ten minutes then called me. I was home.
Pretending to Communicate
Two stories, two people, same existential problem.
In a world evolving at the speed of light, for that's how fast sound travels now, it's no longer what you communicate but how you communicate that matters and increasingly something is being lost in the transmission. People are talking but precious little is being conveyed or retained. It's being relayed, you understand, just not taken in. The reason: there’s just too much talking and not enough communication. The art has fallen out of fashion replaced with an imposter.
People are using communication tools to avoid really communicating. Talking to avoid intimacy? You got it, but it isn't really talking. It's simply communicating by machine or otherwise anonymously by proxy, with a promise that you'll talk later; hopefully, much later. Sounds like communication but it's really avoidance.
Tell me you haven’t done or contemplated this train of thought:
"Oh yes, I'll return your call but secretly I hope you won't be there for I have learned so well how to talk to machines that I would be hard pressed to talk to you if, by chance, you answered which I know you won't. You never do. You're probably gone or screening your calls or busy returning a call to someone else who's not home or screening their calls. You see, I'm not even actually prepared to get to the heart of the matter and I don't have the data you asked for anyway or an answer to your query.I don’t actually even want to talk to you for that would take up what precious little energy I possess. I am simply returning your call quickly to let you know how on top of it I am. Then, I'll screen your call back because I'm really not ready yet to proceed. I'll get back to you on this."
Yeah, right. Like about four or five times.
The phone company loves to charge me for calls but if they charged me for communication I’d be paying less than $5 a month. When this starts happening within your family or marriage it can have devastating results. I know married couples and whole families that rarely see each other and when they do have nothing to say. Either that or they don't know how to say the things they are longing to say because they are so used to saying talking in fifteen second info-bits. You know these people. They are always saying. "What's the bottom line," and "I can't talk now," or "Get to the point!"
To be fair, pagers and answering machines have made our lives easier and computers and the Internet have revolutionized the way in which we communicate. Used effectively they make life easier and increase vital links among us. Like everything else, they can be misused even abused.
Too Much Information, Not Enough Trust
There's just so much information and we share it so haphazardly with people we've never met that there's a constant danger of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, someone you've never met, but who, through several phone or e-mail messages, you've ostensibly "communicated" with several times now. You're friends, right? Wrong! But it feels like, because of the technological link you share, that you should be.
The internet, phone messaging, paging and e-mail make it possible to be "in contact" anonymously with more people than ever, yet you never really get to talk to them, never mind look them in the eyes or get a feel for how they strike you on a gut level. This kind of modern emotional numbing has its consequences in our everyday relationships. It's getting so that not knowing who to trust, we don't trust anybody. We'll e-mail them, page and re-page them, even contract business with them, keeping them at a safe distance, emotionally, but when it comes to actually meeting them, it's like, no, really, I'd rather not. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail, spring to mind.
Imagine being married to someone who is permanently emotionally shut down from dealing with hundreds of folks on the phone, trying to sell them something or being solicited, returning a hundred pages and e-mails, smiling that phony smile and forcing a false sense of friendliness. If you think it's hard to get this type of person to thaw out a bit over dinner or a movie, try asking them how their day was. You're lucky if they don't leave teeth marks or sob hysterically if you ask them to dry the dishes.
They've communicated too much but haven't had a meaningful conversation all day, maybe all week or all year. The art has simply fallen out of practice. All they can utter, now that they have their chance is, "I don’t wanna talk about it."
It's easy to grouse about stuff but harder to offer a solution. Surely, if you're not a part of the solution you're a part of the problem and the solution to not letting technology manage our lives is to take back the night by increasing awareness in our lives to just what and with who we are communicating and how we are doing or not doing it.
Give yourself this Five Minute Techno -Denial Quiz. Be honest. Even if you have to take a few items back to the store.
1. Do you pick up the phone when it rings or screen every call? Remember, it takes far more time and energy to screen a call than to pick up and say, "Hello, we're not interested at this time. Thanks for calling, goodbye."
2. If you come home to an unblinking answering machine or a clean e-mail box do you feel unloved or unpopular?
3. Is your mobile phone bill over $300 a month and you can't figure out who you've talked to and why?
4. Do your kids have pagers in elementary school? If so, get help immediately.
5. Is the first thing you say to your wife or husband at the end of the day, "Hello, Love" or is it, "Not now?"
6. If your kid says "Mom?" or "Dad?" then pauses, do you snap, "Spit it out, already!"
7. Did you see "You've Got Mail" more than once?
8. Do you sleep with your pager on?
9. Do you check your e-mail box in the middle of the night after you pee?
10. Before you pee?
11. Does you coffee table have more electronic apparatus catalogues than magazines?
12. Do you know the names of your children, the grade they are presently in, and the name of their homeroom teacher?
13. Do you have more than three phone service providers, over three bills monthly? Four?
14. Ever whispered, "I love you" but had it come out "May I help you?"
I could go on but there's the phone.
God, I don't want to answer it but, but, it might be someone who wants to network with me.
Richie Begin, is a writer/musician/ living in Santa Cruz, CA.
Try reaching him in person. (831) 464-1302
Go ahead, try.
richiebegin.com or email@example.com
Most weddings seem as if they're a roller coaster of emotions. Actually, it's more of a bell curve. There's anticipation, even fear and anxiety, laughter, tears, the bittersweet feelings of letting go fighting the urge to hold on. There's the old order giving way to the new. Traditions being upheld and subtly rewritten. There may even be some subterranean glee in the cutting of apron strings, coupled with the sudden realization that they are indeed cut.
Throw in a little jealousy, a dash of, envy, a few sad regrets and a bouquet full of of hope mixed with the ladle of love and you have a recipe for romance spiced with reality at a wedding ceremony and reception. It's no wonder many family members come away happy but emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.
Knowing this, it's a good idea to be aware of the emotional life of a wedding and just perhaps watch it instead of try to control it. Whether you're a bride or groom or parent or relative or a wedding party member it's sort of fun to know that the day will unfold despite everyone's fretting or best intentions to alter it's course. There are some definite emotional phases every ceremony and reception travel through. Knowing they’ll occur makes it easier. Love is messy, imperfect. A good wedding reception is imperfect. That's how it is. Deal with it. Have fun! Be emotional!
It's easier to see the phases in a wedding after it's over but they're divided roughly into anticipation, execution and relief and those three happen within each major ritual. Naturally, there's before and after but there's much that happens before, during and after, emotionally, that is. For instance, there's a sort of a seperation of sorts in the pre-ceremony phase. Women seem to be with women and men with, well, whoever's left, either the kids or other men, the bartender? It's as if everyone is a tiny bit nervous and seeks a little isolation to prepare.
For the wedding party, it's as if everyone suddenly goes into a modified anxiety role modeling the behavior of the bride her Mother. There's fussing and primping and wondering—some nail biting. It's a transference of sorts and it travels down the line from Mom to bride to best lady and her retinue and on into the fabric of the assembled. Only the priest seems unaffected. How did he get so serene?
Anxiety mixes with anticipation. Caterers are bustling, the band is finishing setting up, there's a questioning murmur among the guests. "Have you seen the bride?" "Is she here?" "How's he holding up?" "Where'd you park the car?" "Did you remember to snap your cummberbund?" "Think it'll rain?" "How much cash did you bring?" Late comers arrive already frazzled to join this sea of nervous optimism. Welcome.
It goes on like this until the organ music.
The Love Part
You can almost hear breaths being held and soft sniffling during the vows and you've surely heard the audible sigh of relief when the "I do's" are followed by the wedding kiss and the trip down the aisle. Cheers! Bravos! Certainly these are for the happy couple but also for an end to the suspense. Thank God there was no changes of heart or a retake of the altar scene from The Graduate. They're hitched! Yea!
Even the catering staff and band are glad that's out of the way and the party can begin in earnest. No wonder many head straight for the bar. Men are reunited with their wives and girlfriends. Perhaps they sat together during the ceremony were emotionally a thousand miles away. Kids go crazy a bit and ties are secretly loosened. Let's eat!
The ceremony isn't the only part with rituals. They continue into the afternoon or evening and while they are not so overtly religious they are still very much apparent.
Wedding dance, toasts, cake cutting, boquet and garter Father–Daughter Dance, group dancing, photos and testimonials all happen in sequence during the reception but here, although they have a specific order (usually mapped out and xeroxed by the wedding planner or Mother of the Bride) it's the way they're handled and not the timing that makes all the difference.
A good reception, like the ceremony before, has that emotional bell curve quality to it. The key to a fun reception, the responsibility for a fun reception lies surprisingly not with the wedding planner, Mother or Father of the Bride (their control over things is diminishing rapidly usually much to the consternation of Mom and the delight of Dad) and not with the bandleader or DJ, although a good bandleader can orchestrate from the stage since he has a microphone to steer events and people.
A fun and spontaneous reception is always made that way by the bride and the groom themselves. They set the tone. People look to them for cues. They are suddenly no longer their parent's children in a social setting and the more that they take control of their own wedding and the day's events the better it flows for all. This is their day, their chance to sieze this moment and savor it.
When in doubt the classy thing to do is demonstrate love and caring and communication by involving everyone and thanking everyone.
Many modern brides and grooms start out the reception not by having a quick toast but by thanking their guests for coming, talking a bit about how it all came together, acknowledging their parents and friends, telling the assembled about what will occur at the reception (toasts, dancing, cake, etc) describing the dinner or buffet, sharing their excitment about the music, thanking the person who officiated at the ceremony, acknowledging the kids, pointing out the little cameras at the tables, letting people know they'll be by to each table to say hello and in general setting people at ease about the day and letting them know that it is all going to work out just fine.
When this is done by a thankful bride and groom it is relaxing, communicative, empowering and a real responsive act of love. Sometimes you'll see the parents of the bride and groom staring slack-jawed as their son or daughter demonstrate their social adeptness and their independence. This is an emotional turning-point and done right can really relax an affair.
It's revealing that in this melting pot culture of ours with no specific ethnic or religious heritage that wedding receptions can sometimes be a quick study in dovetailing cultural traditions attempting, somewhat awkwardly, to overlay a cultural ritual with no precedent. Oh sure, there's cake cutting, boquet toss and garter snatch and some receptions will certainly defer to family heritage with ethnic or religious dancing but today, by in large, it's up to the bride and groom to set their own course.
We've all been to "The Family Wedding Reception" where it seems as if the bride and groom are just mannequins at an event that is pretty much being staged around but not for them by a large extended family. These events carry on an ancient tradition but somehow along the way the bride and groom (usually younger) don't get celebrated as much as assimilated.
These are the dull weddings where folks don't know what to do but get in line to eat. Things unfold awkwardly. There's no focus. It's not emotionally invigorating, it's draining.
After the Cake
There seems to be an emotional line of demarcation in today's modern wedding and it usually comes after dinner, after the Father-Daughter Dance has concluded and after guests have enjoyed a bit of dancing. It's the cutting of the cake.
A couple things get sliced at this pastry carving not the least of which is the many tiered wedding cake. The bride and groom may indulge in the cute but sometimes messy stuffing of wedding cake into each others' mouths while their friends and family gather around cheeering them on. What's interesting about this particular emotional ritual is that it seems to divide the old order from the new.
After the cutting of the cake, the party seems to take on a younger zeal. Coffee is served and many have waited patiently for caffeine and are more than glad for a cup. Symbolically, the cake cutting snips a few parental apron strings and ups the mood of the party a notch or two.
The bride and groom and their friends have been good, followed the rituals, enjoyed the dinner, acted all grown up and now they want to let their hair down. The band is ready. They've played quiet dinner music, the first dance ballad, the father/daughter heartwarmer, the obligitory swing set and now the drummer is itching to get funky, the bride and her soul sisters want to shake it loose a bit and the guys are dying to see that happen and get in the groove as well.
There sometimes is a sorting of sorts, maybe even a marked exodus of guests at this point. Getting dressed in formal attire, the drive to the church, the ceremony, perhaps a drive to the reception, parking, the dinner-— after all a wedding can be a long day. Many older or less-attatched guests feel they have expressed congratulations, dropped of the prezzie, had dinner, drinks, a few Big Band rhumbas and there's a long drive back to the hotel or house. Now the kids and the band are starting to funk up the place with disco hits and a love-train. It's either stay or go.
Mostly everyone stays around but it becomes subtley apparent that whatever emotional claims around decorum and tradition are now out the window and unbridled youth and celebration hold sway. What the heck, let's see what you got! This is the moment to cast inhibitions aside and party like it's 1949, or 79, or 89 or 99! Who cares! It's as if all the emotions and unexpressed desires of the day at last have a moment to become uncorked and everybody is sweating to the oldies and together finding their own particular level.
That Final Feeling
After the last encore has sounded, the drumroll has rolled, the garter flung, the boquet snatched, and the champagne glasses are being discreetly gathered up; there is a precious moment that lingers and should be indulged.
The dance floor is strewn with confetti or rice. Perhaps the bride and groom have not departed by limousine yet. Often, these days, the bride has changed from her wedding dress and reappeared in a disarming casual ensemble. At any rate, its over but it's not over. It's time to go but, to quote Gladys Knight, "Nobody wants to be the first to say goodbye."
The feeling that lingers at the best receptions is sort of a bittersweet but fond rememberence. It's a profound happiness mixed with a twinge of sadness for something has changed today. Parents realize they haven't lost a daughter or son after all. Friends are closer than they ever were. The band has become part of the family. The catering staff and servers seem more accessible.
It's as if the veil that seperates people behind their roles during the day has been lifted and everyone is back to being just themselves.
Emotionally, it's akin to a collective opening and a relaxing of roles.
The Father of the Bride can go back to being just Jim. The Bride is now just Jane. The Mother of the Bride is back to being Mom, and perhaps a bride herself with her groom, after their wedding. Remember? Good friends are closer. Family has expanded, love has grown.
There's pride in a job well done-— that family team spirit feeling of ... hey, we did it! We pulled it off! Great day! The roller coaster is back to the gate.
Then at long last reality. "Me? I thought you had the keys? Must be in your jacket. Where is your jacket by the way?"
Richie Begin, local musician and veteran of the South Bay wedding business for over 25 years, runs his own wedding entertainment service and performs (emotionally) at over 40 weddings a year with his band The Soul University.
Belief is a relationship with information, ideas, & concepts.
Reality, which I like to think as our best option; is information deduced by the current limits of science
and run through belief systems which are always and forever, rigorously willing to be modified.
Blind Belief has two parts. First, it is a confidence that the information one has is true and accurate. Second, it is a confidence that what one understands as right and good, or wrong and evil, is accurate. By its nature, belief’'s bias is that things would be much better if reality could be made to conform to the good ideas it has confidence in.
If you want to know what someone has faith in, observe what spirit (love, anger, fear, etc) they turn to and rely on for guidance when they feel threatened or unsure.
If you want to know their beliefs, ask them and they will tell you what their favorite ideas are. They will generally be the ones they think flatter them the most, the ones that justify their thinking best, or confirms their membership in a group that they feel does them credit.
Underlying belief is often the notion that: if you want something intensely enough, or if you can justify it strongly enough, you should not be denied. Because belief is a product of individualism it is always by its nature self interested and therefore selfish. One believes for the benefits and empowerment that participation in a belief promises.
Beliefs are understood and preferred over faith because they are rational, the product of education, may come from experts, the Bible, or traditionally accepted doctrine, or at least, are an expression of our desires. You can get your teeth into them, you know where you stand and you can take credit for them.
Faith is a relationship with spirit and spirits are little known or understood and so a relationship with spirit, let alone faith in one, is an obscure concept for most. The closest thing that spirit can commonly be compared with is emotions, which are ‘irrational’ (not of the mind) –they cannot be made to conform to group agreements and be regulated. The spirit of Love, for example, is more often misunderstood as a romantic infatuation - or religious excitement rather than as an expression of the Holy Spirit.
Spirits therefore seem dangerously unmanageable.
Bad spirits (tempers, hostility) seem to pop up and take control of people. Even love may appear as no more than a gateway to sexual foolishness. Therefore, it seems to most that everyone is better off if the whole business of spirit is suppressed or avoided.
Yet, because faith is honored and recommended in scriptures, those involved in religion feel compelled to identify something as Faith.
Therefore, Faith has been widely misunderstood as an absolute or unshakeable belief—a belief that one will uphold regardless of contrary information or direct experience. Faith is portrayed as a perfect desire to make a ‘divine’ idea or vision, a reality. However, even childrfen learn the difference between desire and reality.
Some people discard reality and preach faith. This is a mistake.
Because faith is not really a kind of belief, the concept is often misguided and is futile in practice. Yet, it is the only understanding possible without an awareness of Spirit or a relationship with Spirit.
People don't realize it but they practice faith all the time by aligning themselves with a spirit—good or bad—but they tend to move from one ‘spirit’ to another in an unconscious and haphazard way.
Building a consistent and conscious faith in the Right Spirit, is the key. But it is not easy. It requires discipline and the ability to learn to separate your Faith from your Beliefs, making sure that you don’t keep the former sealed inside the bubble of the latter.
Jesus explained the process directly and simply. He taught that you can forget the Ten Commandments—belief and reliance on 10 very good ideas—if you simply put your faith in Love and act in accord with that Holy Spirit on all occasions. You will then be and do good.
All of your actions will automatically conform to the ‘law’ and the intentions of all the Prophets. If you're human you'll surely mess up, but it's nice to have an ideal. Further, as Jesus taught the Pharisees on many occasions, if actions inspired by Love seem in conflict with ‘the law’ it is either the interpretation of the law or the law itself that is in error. Love is the spirit of God’s law and therefore superior to its letter.
Love is a verb, not an emotion. It takes work. Work to understand, work to enact.
Faith transcends belief—because it does not rely on an imperfect individual’s imperfect understanding, which is invariably an expression of self-interest. If one tries to personify their beliefs and insist that others recognize, honor and conform to their beliefs, no matter how noble, they will find themsleves unwittingly in the grip of the spirits of pride, self-righteousness and perhaps anger, as the Pharisees were.
They will do much more harm than good.
Any person who has faith that the right thing to do in all cases is to be and to act in an expression of love, will find it easy to join in work or play with any person or group of people of good will.
Any person who puts their faith in anger, pride, greed, self-righteousness or any other negative spirit as a way to deal with people and advance their own personal interests will find themselves continually wearing out their welcome. Any person who attempts to act rightly according to a system of beliefs will only find conflict with the many who do not share the same beliefs. From the kitchen to the bedroom to the corridors of political and judicial power to the ramparts in far-flug wars of merit and stupidity, this concept underpins and justifies every power struggle.
Faith is not a path to fulfilling self-interest. Faith is not a way to barter with God for personal favors. Faith in love is a way to have something good to give to others. Jesus was ‘the way’ and is an example of faith in God and love—yet he never got rich, was ridiculed the ‘experts,’ was run out of his home town, never had much of a family, and was finally disgraced, flogged and crucified by the legal and religious authorities of the day; while people like you and me stood by, did nothing and watched, transfixed.
A relationship with faith, a willingness to have our belief systems periodically examined and revised, allows one to become the loving hand of the Spirit working in this world. It is ‘the way’ to become the best that we can be. It is not the ‘price’ of getting our earthly needs or desires fulfilled.
The importance of faith is what it allows us to give, not get, and in the process of giving love, we become one with our Father... with God.*
*These capitalized or italicized terms: Faith, God, Father, Jesus, etc, are symbolic; not literal.
Just so we're clear. OK? Good.
The disciples were gathered around, absorbed in a discussion of Lao-Tzu's famous dictum:
Those who know do not say; Those who say do not know.
When the Master entered, they asked him what the words meant. Said the Master,
All of them knew. Then he said, "Put it into words."
You hear the word a lot these days. Spirituality. It’s everywhere in every publication, every new pop psychology book, every self-help seminar. Every psychiatrist’s coffee table is laden with New Age pamphlets on "Spiritual Regeneration, " "Spiritual Awareness," getting in touch with your Inner Child, past life regressions, ad infinitum.
There are "healers" around every corner, while churches and 12 Step groups are rife with folks talking about their "spiritual quests" sometimes even attempting to present themselves as "Spiritual Seekers." The Pink Jeeps are packed with seekers anxious to go on the "Vortex Tour" in Sedona, Arizona. Everybody's headed for a power point.
Who knows, just around the next bend you may run into John Redmond, sitting in a red rock box canyon waiting for a raven to reveal to him the next title of his Clestine Prophecy installment. Get a crystal ($20) buy a book ($20) Give Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Scott Peck or Pia Melody some more money to hear discouraging stuff about yourself, that after you work through, will reveal, through pain, your true nature. Hey, come back here! I thought you wanted to be a spiritual seeker? Hey!
New Age compendiums are filled with enticements to go on Vision Quests, attend Inner Child Seminars, complete Miracle Courses and wallet-worship the Pop authors that travel nationwide leading seminars, collecting money, and collecting more money from just plain ordinary imperfect folk who are seeking, seeking, desperately seeking... "Spirituality."
So Within Then Without
You'll hear folks claim that they are very "spiritual" people. You may, unfortunately have heard it issue from your own mouth. If you have you can be certain that you are careening far away from any "claim" you may stake as a spiritual person; for to claim spirituality is to have missed it by a mile.
What is Spirituality? To have the answer is to have misunderstood the question. Truth, wisdom, goodness, beauty, the fragrance of a rose—all of these resemble spirituality in that they are all intangible, ineffable realities. We may know them, but we can never grasp them with our hands, our words. There is no color, texture, they cannot be gauged in ounces or inches. Yet they are. We do not define them. They define us.
When we attempt to define spirituality we discover not its limitations but our own. We don't prove these realities they "prove" us. Life is not what we have or what we do but who we are and simply be-ing is a real activity. Spirituality is a way in which we "be."
The measure of a person can always be shown from the inside out. Kids sense this. They could care less about what you say. They're watching what you do. If you are an angry, self-centered, confused person they'll know it because you show it. If you are undefended and radiate love, even when you are being attacked, you don't need to talk about spirituality. The question, for you, for them, for all you meet, is moot.
True spirituality is a lot like health. We all have health, relative 'ease' or 'dis-ease,' but it's something we can't avoid having. Every human being is a spiritual being. There's negative spirituality and positive spirituality. Actually it's less a difference between dualities of positive and negative, black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. It's a question of whether your spirituality is leading you to isolation and self-destruction or life and light. The whole question sort of lightens up a bit when we realize that we don't have to be human beings trying to be spiritual and accept that we are already spiritual beings just stuck with being human.
The first myth that has to go is that spirituality has something to do with perfection. Spirituality has to do with the here and now, with the business of living humanly as one is, with the very real, very agonizing passions of the soul. Spirituality is mostly all about living with and accepting one's own imperfections.
As you might suppose, there is another story:
Some years ago, a lecturer was attempting to explain to a group the nature of spirituality and running into the same problem trying to use words to desribe what words cannot. Said one of the earnest participants, with a face full of intention, "What's it like?" "Can you give us a picture?" Momentarily stumped, the presenter sat for several minutes staring across the conference center lounge at the massive stone fireplace. The sun streamed in warming the stones with light. Suddenly, the stones themselves came into focus—perhaps he could use them for an image!
He wanted to convey somehow the triune nature of spiritual reality, being physical, mental, spiritual but which of the rocks should he use to make his point. Or should he use the rocks at all.
Suddenly, he saw not the rocks but the whole fireplace. "The mortar," he blurted out. "The grayish, concrete-stuff between the rocks. That's what it is. The spiritual, he tried to say, was not something but everything, not a specific stone of great beauty or anything specific, rather it was the thing that held everything together. He started to speak slowly, pensively, "Just as the mortar makes the chimney a chimney, allowing it to stand straight and tall, using all the rocks to support each other ,shaping it into a unified whole, the spiritual is what makes us wholly human. Without the spiritual, however physically strong we are, however mentally acute we are, however emotionally integrated or mature we may be, we are still not "all there."
Spirituality either touches all of one's life or it touches none of ones's life.
Perhaps, a spirituality that is ordinary, easily accessible, common as the image of a fireplace, is a friendlier, less quasi-religious way of understanding it. If your life, your experiences, your mistakes, your imperfections and the wisdom that comes from those is to be fashioned into the thing that is you, you're going to need some mortar, plain ordinary mortar. The kind you can get dirty with, something you can handle.
There's yet another saying: "Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who have already been there."
Storytelling and Spirituality
There was young lady who sought out an experienced priest at a retreat she was attending and proceeded to outline for him the behaviors that caused her so much suffering, especially those so prominent in the past year—a dawning area of insensitivity, a tendency to domination, in short, all the regular stuff. At a certain point after lengthy listening, the priest reached out and gently patted her hand and said, "My dear, what do you seek an explanation or forgiveness?"
Maybe it would help to consider a few of the things spirituality isn't.
Spirituality isn't therapy.
Like the story shows, therapy offers insight. Spirituality offers forgiveness. Therapy can offer release from addictive behaviors, stuck patterns of relating or ways of thinking. Spirituality releasesfor life.
Spirituality is seldom conveyed by preaching. It is arrived at by experience, the experience of making mistakes. Ever known someone who doesn't make mistakes, or lying to themselves, won't admit to it? Insufferable aren't they? Make enough mistakes and live to tell about them and you have a quality called wisdom, something once again conveyed best by storytelling.
Storytelling and spirituality go together well. Stories or parables are a good way to dispense spiritual wisdom since they're not from you but handed down to you by others, who've had similar experiences, mistakes and trials. If you hear a story from somebody about something spiritual you can rest assured that it was probably stolen. That's good. That's how wisdom stories are passed down.
After hearing stories from others and also hearing others tell your story, one starts to feel the differences between us melt away sensing somehow that there is only one great story, there always was and will be, and you're just discovering your unique, not special, part of it.
Spirituality vs. Religion
Maybe this is an issue for you. Maybe it isn't. Maybe you have your own support group but long for a more formalized community of faith. Or have a formalized community of faith and wish you just had someone to talk to about the loneliness in your soul. You can have it all. However, if you have an absolute rigid opinion on the topic, you might need to take a look at being a bit more undefended, since there's nothing really to defend. We should all strive to be open to what we don't understand. After all, there's so much more to learn after you know everything.
To attempt to define the difference between the religious and the spiritual is a slippery task.
Spirituality isn’t religion but all religions claim to be spiritual in nature. People who claim to be spiritual or religious may possibly sense there is a difference between them, but they can't put a finger on what it is. Viewing religion the spiritual see rigidity, viewing spirituality the religious see sloppiness. Religion connotes boundries, while spirituality's borders seem looser. The vocabulary of religion emphasizes the solid: the language of spirituality; the fluid. You must have heard the addage: "Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who have already been there."
Spirituality involves mystery not magic, giving up claims of perfection to thrive on the paradoxical nature of things as they are. If you love mystery, if you love paradox, if you can be open to seeing things in a new way you will access your essential spiritual nature far easier than those more rigid, those who "know."
Like a paradox, something that seems to contradict itself, spirituality isn't easy to explain. Another old saying goes, "If you see someone going up to Heaven by his own will, grab his leg and pull him down again." For an earthly spirituality may sound like a contradiction but it is far closer to the truth. Anyone who says they're spiritual, or acts like they've got it straight from the mouth of the Creator, you can be assured has something he or she may think is spirituality but is more akin to spiritual pride. Intolerance is the giveaway.
Another old spiritual addage goes, "All you need to know about God is that there is one, and you're not Him or Her."
Spiritus Contra Spiritum
The core paradox that underlies spirituality is the haunting sense of incompleteness, of somehow being unfinished that we all have living on this earth yet not a part of it altogether. Part human-part divine, man is necessarily caught in the middle. And that's not such a bad place to be for it predicates a motion toward God, towards Love. For to be human is to be incomplete; yet long for completion; to be uncertain and long for certainty; to be imperfect and long for perfection. All these yearnings remain necessarily unsatisfied precisely because we are perfectly human, which is to say humanly imperfect.
Confused? Good. Now were getting somewhere. If you thought an article on the nature of spirituality was going to answer more questions than it asks, well, you were wrong.
Speaking of which, the good news is that it's OK, even desired to be flawed, as long as you are aware of it, and can name it. The arch-enemy of spirituality is denial or self-deception in an attempt to reject the essential paradox of our human be-ing. Jean-Paul Sarte labeled this mauvaise foi, the "bad faith" of the attempt to flee what one cannot flee — to flee what one is.
True spirituality seems to be grounded on this sense of sharing of not our strengths but our weaknesses in an effort to turn and face our flawed selves. Flawedness is the first fact about humans and the unity that flows from acknowledging our flaws together brings paradoxically not despair but joy. For it is out of the depths of despair that we cry out for help, for help from God. The purest prayer is simply that: a calling out to God, by name, crying, "Help me!" God, as they say, enters through the spiritual wound and like Hemingway said, and he oughta know, "Sometimes we are strongest at our broken places."
The fact that God forgives and bestows his grace on the undeserving as well as the deserving creates a reality that knows that all of life is gratefulness. In other words, it's Thanksgiving every day.
The spiritual thirst is the thirst for God and unfortunately there is no shortcut, no quick fix. You cannot locate your divinity outside yourself, only within, paradoxically by reaching out. Spirituality is earned and must be strived for. Spirituality can never be attained only sought, but it requires an emotional and intellectual effort. Sorry.
Carl Jung, who did much to add to the story of spirituality in the modern era, observed that one of the worst things you can do to a person is to deny them their essential or legitimate suffering. The Jungian formulation spiritus contra spiritum describes this essentially fruitless quest for a substitute for true spirit, however, an ancient Sufi story uses the same metaphor of thirst to illustrate:
A certain person wished to see the blessed Messenger (Mohammed) in his dream but seemed incapable of seeing that vision. He therefore approached a noble saint, imploring his advice. The noble being, a friend of Allah said, "My son, on Friday evening you must eat a lot of salted fish before retiring and go to bed without drinking water. Then you will see."
The man followed the advice and spent the evening dreaming that he was drinking from streams, fountains and springs. In the morning he came running to the saint crying, "Master, I did not see the Messenger. but I was so thirsty that all I dreamed about was drinking from streams. I am still on fire with thirst!"
The saint then told him: "So, eating salted fish gave you such a thirst that you dreamed all night of nothing but water. Now you must feel such a thirst for Allah's Messenger and you will behold his blessed beauty."
Want spirituality? Want to live your life on a higher plane? The higher plane you seek isn’t out there, it's in here. Right here. But you gotta be really thirsty.
Interested in the subject?
The Spirituality of Imperfection, Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketchum. Bantam Books
The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James, Modern Library
The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell, New York, Doubleday
Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Carl Gustav Jung, Harvest Books
Ways of Imperfection, Simon Tugwell
Challenge to Christian Theology, Martin Burber
I-Thou, Martin Buber
John-Paul Sarte, Being and Nothingness
Anthony deMello, The Song of the Bird.
John Farina, "The Study of Spirituality: Some Problems and Opportunities" U.S. Catholic Historian, Winter 1989