Gareth Higgins has found a striking way to announce “Sense memory matters! I’ll use all fifty United States to prove it!” His latest book is an ambitious undertaking, but his longtime work as film critic and co-host of the excellent The Film Talk podcast serve him perfectly here. To understand the modality of his approach, a paragraph near the book’s end is helpful:
I’m obsessed with movies… my ego mingles with the ids on screen. My real life dreams are shaped by the fictional ones I’ve seen. Like Jeff Daniels in The Purple Rose of Cairo, I sometimes imagine that God is the writer of whatever film I happen to be watching. But I know, at the end of the day, that I am just an ordinary person. And the movies that don’t like ordinary won’t let me in. They will always ultimately betray me, unless I can continue to learn appropriate boundaries between my life and the movie world. I’d rather be the real me than the movie me, anyway. I’m sure Harrison Ford (an actor, a carpenter) feels the same way. Perhaps that’s why he lives in Wyoming and is making tables instead of in Brentwood having them waited upon.
The full title of the book is Cinematic States: Stories We Tell, The American Dreamlife, And How To Understand Everything (Mostly, But Not Really, But Sort Of) (Burnside Books, 2013). Such verbiage, comedic really, is an example of the author’s disarming tone. He is generous throughout, his opinions moldable and still evolving. But Higgins isn’t only revealing to the reader his take on his most impressionable, impressionistic American films, he’s also connecting how such stories arrive from regional mythology and/or national meta-narrative – what those used to be; what those are. A Northern Irishman from Belfast, Higgins notes that he first visited U.S. soil in 1993 before moving to North Carolina (also becoming a citizen) in recent years. His European origins allow an ample amount of critical distance to see these American characters, the cinemascapes they inhabit, and insights into the deepest source of their conflicts.
For instance, Higgins makes good work early on the state of Arkansas (the book is construed alphabetically). He chooses to exhibit Thelma and Louise (1991) and Slingblade (1996). It’s a colorful dive on these few pages (most states contain 3-5 pages of content). He gives insight and additional denouements for these rich, somewhat unresolved, films.
The forces of the South wind blow people back from whence they came—Karl is going back to jail, Thelma and Louise are going to die. We may be left with a sour taste because they seem to imply that the rejection of patriarchy can only end with the destruction of its opponents. Karl’s choice to kill a man so he can be returned to the only place where he feels he knows himself breaks the moral spine of an otherwise perfect film… I suppose the American myth upon which these stories are built reminds us that at least these three—Thelma, Louise, and Karl—submit to inevitability on their own terms.
Life in the information age, we learn more each day, is desperate for curation. Such is the strength of this book. States, for generations to come, will best be understood as a bold, ultra-encyclopedia of folklore. Divorce, if possible, notions of “movie star,” “Hollywood,” and “multiplex theater” from the concept: “America’s Best Stories.” Are these not what we have with Gone With the Wind (1936), Field of Dreams (1989), and Forrest Gump (1994) (each featured in the book)? What Higgins gives us is fresh angle on our deepest, often most challenging, American narratives. What are these? Which do we agree are true? False?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through theSpeakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
Few memories/ideas/faves from year that was.
Seeing William Shatner, THE SHAT, in his one man show coming through Nashville on January 12. Saw with beloved friend Joel Dark, who years before, we’d died laughing to repeat plays of Shat’s You’ll Have Time (You’re Gonna Die) spoken word song. Coincidentally, Ben Folds recorded this and the rest of that album, Has Been, for Shat here in the Music City in 2003. (You’re Gonna Die song) There’s really no one like him, and I don’t think we could have made him up.
The Foals’ Holy Fire record is my pick for best rock album of 2013. The Oxford, England, band released it in February. There’s a tight, focused pathos at work, from the creepy/driving “Prelude” all the way to the lush end-confessional “Moon”. Yes, they lean towards danceablility, which will frustrate rock purists. But they are in a zone throughout this record, total there-ness. Check out Inhaler track.
I wrote and performed a one-man play in May, Solomon, performing it at Bongo Java’s After Hours Theatre three nights (and a couple more times later in summer). He was on a brief tour from the afterlife, and had a few things to clear up – the hundreds of wives, daddy issues, the “idolatery.” It was a pleasure to play him. He came to me as a mix of Shakespeare, Christopher Hitchens, and John Cleese. Super thankful for support of many people to ‘go for it’ in doing this – including Gareth Higgins, David Maddox, Brian Ammons, Claire Armbruster, Ken Locke, and Alison McCommons. A clip from one of Bongo nites.
If you can gin up the nerve, run the RC Cola/Moon Pie 10 miler in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, in the second or so Saturday of June. I did it this past year. It is raced mainly by Nashvillians who drive out to this tiny town, about 1,000 in number, which must match the town population. The sun is just rising at the 7.00 a.m. start, and the humidity is visible. But the experience is through wild, sparse, and beautiful country. Enchanting country backroads. The RC cola at the finish is a lot better after first tasting heat exhaustion.
I’d never done a “boot camp” before, and I stumbled across Inferno Fitness online. Joannes Williams is a marvelous instructor and business woman. The downtown location is just open after the Antioch location has been in place for a few years. I did the camp for the better part of both July and August three times a week at dawn. Highly recommended. I hope to go back in 2014. http://infernonashville.com/
If you’ve wondered if there is any reason to keep going along the Christianity trajectory – as I have very constantly – then the Wild Goose Festival is for you. This was my third year to participate. The community of original voices is unmatched; the friends you will make from all over the country most stellar; and the feel – that a new wind is blowing – is pure hope. See if you can make it in 2014. The dates are June 26 through 29.
The best movie I saw in 2013 was in September when I went with friend Andy Harding to see Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Featuring actors Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, Louis C.K., and (wait for it) The Diceman (he is amazing). Burned a hole right through me. Funny, sad, prophetic, voraciously aware.
In October marvelous things happened in quick succession. Thom Yorke’s Atoms for Peace show played in Nashville (War Memorial Auditorium) on Thursday the 3rd. I still can’t believe it happened. Time there with David Dark, Todd Greene, Andrew and Lindsey Krinks, and many others was most remarkable. I traveled the next day to visit Trappist monastery, Gethsemani, in rural Kentucky (and anyone can make a 3 or 5 day retreat). A memory: as I did so, I listened to George Winston’s 2013 album, which is all harmonica solos. The beauty of that drive, with that soundtrack, is emblazoned on mi hart. Days later I was in New York City to see friend Ryan Taylor. This included our attendance of show of epic electronic performer, Bonobo, as he (with collaborators) amazed a sold out crowd at Terminal 5. Bonobo’s North Borders album was a pillar of my 2013. Here’s a track, “Antenna”.
Want to confuse everyone? Throw a “Beer & Hymn Sing.” Actually, it was pretty sweet. Maybe confusion isn’t the worst thing. Modeled after pub culture in places like London, Belfast, and Dublin, here in twang-town, I was pleased that, once assembled, it seemed to run itself. One friend said to me later: “You need to understand, Geoff, Nashville is full of former Church of Christers – with nowhere to sing.” Hahaha. In fact, coincidentally, my pop was in town on that day, November 1, and though one prone to avoid draught hauses, he rather enjoyed himself. To accomplish the Sing, me and friends from Downtown Presbyterian rented out Mad Donna’s (in East Nashville). All sorts of folks showed. It was “All Saints Day” on the church calendar. Anyone was welcome. A little girl came and did an Irish jig at one point. Talk about the spirit moving. We had a capacity crowd for much of the the 2.5 hours. With a few breaks, we crooned 100+ year old songs – all a cappella. The love for this activity surfaced again on the steps of the downtown church (DPC) for Christmas carols on December 7, even in sub-zero temperatures (estimate). The next official Beer & Hymns is set for Friday, January 17, 2014, again at Mad Donna’s (7.30 p.m.).
For years I have loved the Moth Podcast, which is a live storytelling event where people show up and tell stories on a theme. It is so. Cutting. Edge. Hahaha. Okay, it’s actually about as primal as man-at-campfire-ghost-story. When friend Cary Gibson said there was something like this now happening in Nashville, related to Belfast, N. Irish friend Padraig O’Tuama, I was pleased to learn of it. What Lipscomb professor (and part time jail chaplain) Michael McCray does each month to assemble 9 storytellers around a theme – is exceedingly special. Called Tenx9 Nashville, there have been four months (four shows) total, each taking place at the venerable Café Coco (their back room). Thanks, Michael for believing in this event and for inviting me and many others to participate. More is coming in 2014. Their website is here. My three stories from 2013 are captured elsewhere on this website.
Happy 2013/Happy New Year.
By Kurt Johnson & David Robert Ord
Namaste Publishing, 2012
First, are you familiar with this book’s publisher, Namaste? Based from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, the publishing house keeps a small, select roster, releasing 2-3 titles annually. They also keep a giant in the building. It was Namaste, via founder Constance Kellough, who brought Eckhart Tolle to the world in 1997 with The Power of Now. That title went on to sell six million copies in 33 languages. In 2008, Oprah Winfrey hosted Tolle for a 10-episode television series viewed by 35 million. Tolle has followed The Power of Now with six additional books and related products. He remains one of the most sought after spiritual teachers in the world, sharing company (and occasional appearances) with the Dalai Lama.
So, if you are Namaste Publishing and you want to go big on a title (and by the countless blurbs in several of the book’s front pages, and on the back jacket, it seems they do) what do you got? Where is the monster hook? With The Coming Interspiritual Age (TCIA), Namaste has done it. Here please find: Tolle-level grandeur. They’ve given us a brilliant 14 billion-year planetary (occasionally interplanetary) ride captained by authors Johnson and Ord. Both are scholars with professional religious experience (Ord is also on staff at Namaste as editorial director). At over 400 pages, TCIA is a profound study of human spirituality that is at once accessible, brisk, rigorous, and exhilarating.
In beginning such a review, my spell check stayed unhappy with both the words “interspiritual” and “interspirituality.” I took this as a sign with where to start talking. The authors explain interspiritual as the idea that “the entire religious experience of our species has [in fact] been a single experience unfolding through many lines and branches, together empowering our species for higher evolution.” Interspiritual was coined in 1999 by Roman Catholic lay monk Brother Wayne Teasdale (1945-2004). Teasdale was a pioneer of interfaith theory and considered an expert in the area by his life’s end. Here is a signature Teasdale quote referenced throughout TCIA:
The real religion of humankind can be said to be spirituality itself, because mystical spirituality is the origin of all the world religions. If this is so, we might also say that interspirituality—the sharing of ultimate experiences across traditions—is the religion of the third millennium. Interspirituality is the foundation that can prepare the way for a planet-wide enlightened culture, and a continuing community among the religions that is substantial, vital, and creative. (The Mystic Heart by Wayne Teasdale, New World Library Press, 1999).
The Coming Interspiritual Age has grand ambitions. The book is up for re-framing Earth history, holding the tension between science and religion, and newly explaining how 100 billion or so of us have ever lived, want to more fully live, and may, in fact, soon be able to live. This is done not by reviewing interfaith discourse(s), but through scientific and religious epochal exploration.
The authors understand that the influence of the origins of human identity are profound. They address this issue early and often – how might we process that much of the world now, not to mention across time, has used religion (not science) to explain human identity? They shift to recent times to review forces of scientific discovery, pointing toward patterns and processes for answers of what a coming age should entail. In one case, they note major world religions are now increasingly comfortable with evolution as an explanation of human origins – that there is a traceable pattern of acceptance in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam with between 30 and 40 percent of adherents accepting the theory. There is a continued interest across similar identity questions leading to what process can be deduced from this pattern? How can such a process be better understood, and modeled?
Author Kurt Johnson, Ph.D., has a professional background that includes time as an Anglican monk. He has completed doctoral studies in evolutionary biology and ecology and now works primarily in comparative religious studies. He resides in Brooklyn, New York.
TCIA examines, across many chapters representing the bulk of the book, the Magic-Mythic age, into the rise of the God-Kings, onto the Renaissance and Enlightenment. The book arrives at our present time, ripe with scientific knowledge, but in terms of spirituality, comfortable and even hungry for – wait for it – trappings of the Magic-Mythic age again. The authors point to the hubbub of the Mayan December 21, 2012 date as an indicator of the public’s thirst for prophecy and fulfillment. Further, they note the unsurpassed popularity of morally conscious fantasies such as Star Wars and the Harry Potter series. It is a wonder that our scientific knowledge doesn’t appear to have the same sort of narrative satisfaction as these spiritually-minded films.
“Seldom do terrorists act in the name of consciousness religions,” write Johnson and Ord. The book projects history to arrive where religious identification is ultimately immaterial. The authors explain that we are moving, albeit slowly, from “hot religions” to “cool.” This is to say that, across the globe, dooming one another in the name of “our one true god/no-you-are-going-to-Hell” is on the decrease. A conscionable life-givingness, a generosity, an embodied compassion, all are becoming persuasive and soon, pervasive. Territory formerly occupied by religious creeds is falling to the unstoppability of a conscionable spirituality filled with deeds. That is to say that in the eyes of Johnson and Ord creeds are losing their level of influence. The more that such a spirituality be born – the more consciousness across our planet. The more consciousness, the more one-ness. This One-ness is our endgame according to the book. This is the great interspiritual hallmark meant to gird the Third Millenium.
It seems impossible to come to this book without one’s own personal background coloring the experience of the contents. For me, as one identified (if reservedly) as a Christian (I am a member in the Presbyterian Church USA), I was thrilled with this book’s desire for total redemption of and ultra-connection among all peoples. The emphasis on deeds over creeds makes great sense to me, and the book fleshes out early… it’s the institutions that provide the creeds. For example:
Almost everything wrong with the world is the result of the way the institutional space is misaligned or out of control. When was the last time your bank did you a favor? What was your opinion of the “no questions asked” multi-trillion dollar bailout of the financial industry? When you examine social structures anywhere in the world, the most obvious disconnect is between the needs and wants of the “I” and “We” that built the institutional space, and the way the institutional space behaves toward us.
(Such a passage is an example of the book’s ability to humanely editorialize more philosophical points.) But to continue the idea of Christianity and TCIA, was Jesus an advocate of interspirituality? I believe so. I see Christ pointing – always – to this experience and truth: God is Love. Love for You. Love for All. I see the early church and apostles carrying this out, while wrestling with how to keep the institutional Judaic laws (creeds). It was an emerging conversation then, messy and too often culturally influenced. Meanwhile, we do not see from Christ the exclusion of other faiths and traditions. If you could be with him, you could Be. With. Him. It was a deeds experience. The only strong teaching we have from Jesus on religion was his calling out of the Judaic Scribes and Pharisees – their abuse of the power they held in their positions. Meanwhile, a generation or more later, tasked with capturing his version of Christ’s life, John, that most mystic of Christ’s disciples, up in years, opens his gospel account with, to my mind, an interspiritual account of reality. I hope you are familiar with his words beginning John 1, culminating with the declaration the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
I commend The Coming Interspiritual Age to those with the following interests:
Anyone with a love of futurism, no matter what religious disposition. Anthropology majors and those (including me) who wish they’d been. Historians. Those who enjoy the occasionally-expressed science-minded side of Fr. Richard Rohr (who is a featured blurb on the back cover), Joseph Campbell fans (which makes me think of Bill Moyers, who also deserves this company). Stephen Hawking fans with an interest in religion. Readers of Brian McLaren’s most “meta” works will be delighted. If you are familiar with any of the community Tami Simon and Sounds True keeps (thinking of Mirabai Starr first, and there are others), this is a great extension (and gentle amalgamation) of the values of that group. Also, Krista Tippett, and her similarly bold cadre of thinkers, dreamers, and doers.
Order The Coming Interspiritual Age here and other fine e-tailers and retailers.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
Understood to be ancient Israel’s wisest and wealthiest king, Solomon appears in Nashville during a brief holiday from the afterlife, where he has been for roughly the last 3,000 years.
Hear royal reflections on the palace, women, God, country, Temple-building, granted wishes, and beyond. As the writer of the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, he is known for keen observational skills. Also, according to recent decree, he will publicly examine his own famous meaninglessness, submit heretofore lost royal receipts, and clarify errors regarding a prior relationship with the Queen of Sheba.
A one man play. Bongo Java is located at 2007 Belmont Boulevard, Nashville, Tennessee, 37212. The theatre is located through the front door and up the stairs. Parking can typically be found on the sides of Belmont Boulevard or other nearby streets. Please give a few extra minutes to find your way in. As there are multiple events at the theatre per evening, it is important for a sharp 7.00 start time. After the show, several restaurants are immediately nearby – including P.M., Chago, Blvd., and of course the mighty Bongo Java cafe itself.
TICKETS are $10 each (no additional fees) and can be purchased below: