Monday, December 18, 2006

Gnoscast the Gnostic Podcast Episode 5

GnosCast: The Gnostic Podcast

Illuminating the Da Vinci Code Seminar 2

Our Stories of Stories: The Nature of Sacred Stories

What stories do we tell about stories, and what do they tell about us?

Stories, and particularly, sacred stories shape our lives. Yet we also shape them. This seminar considered their nature and our relationship to them

Recorded: Sept. 19, 2006

Friday, December 15, 2006

Happy Birthday Philip K. Dick!

His birthday is Saturday the 16th, but why not start early?

Kindred in Spirit

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Mountain Climbing Club: a parable

There is a mountain climbing club at the base of an imposing mountain. The members take pride in their knowledge of mountains, climbing, techniques, gear. They spend evenings in debate over which is the best method for going up a cliff face or a crevasse. They are often well-versed in the climbing exploits of famous and relatively unknown expeditions, and are capable of providing detailed criticisms of them. Those who attend the club as guests, spread the word far and wide that it is the best place to learn about mountain climbing. There is no place remotely like it.

An individual from a distant country hears of this wonderful club, and makes considerable effort to journey to it. There aren't any mountain climbing clubs near his home, there being few mountains worthy of such enterprises in the region. Yet there is the innate desire to climb, to scale to the peak, to pit himself against such a task. He knows he will find all he needs at this club, fellows to learn from and scale mountains with.

When he reaches the club, the first evening of discussions make his head spin. The members know so much, and it is impossible for him to tell where to begin. He stays as a guest for some time, and begins to learn in bits and pieces, things slowly making sense. He begins to ask questions, and finds that the members are quite fond of certain kinds of questions, but don't seem to hear others. But he is learning so much, he doesn't mind such a small eccentricity among foreigners.

He expects that the members use the mountain towering over the club to practice on. Yet no one offers to take him with them. He doesn't hear anyone talking about going. Never sees anyone prepare to go. In fact, he never hears anyone talk about or see them prepare for any expeditions. This strikes him as being odd, but is one of the question areas where the members don't seem to hear out of some polite embarrassment for him. And not wanting to be a fool, he stops asking. He knows that there must be some way that these are arranged, and if he waits he will see it. But he never does.

Gradually he begins to make an acquaintance with one of the servants. Something clearly not done. But he plans on using his status as a foreigner to explain it if anyone learns of it. And so, over time, the servants being well trained in propriety, by kindness and attention he finally gets to speaking terms with one of the servers. At first the servant also does not hear much that he asks out of the same polite embarrassment. But slowly, by way of asking surreptitiously about particular members, he learns that none are planning expeditions.

After puzzling over this for some time, the servant shares a bit of back room gossip, that the members are to extend membership to him. Flabbergasted, he replies that he has yet to set foot on a mountain. The surprised servant says that none of the members have ever done such a thing. Not believing this, he goes directly to members and insists that they respond when he asks them to go on an expedition he is forming. They all decline, shocked at his behavior. And, he is quickly “asked” to leave.

Many explanations are offered for such strange behavior and outright rudeness from someone they were considering making a member. His status as a foreigner is considered, as is the possibility of sudden insanity, but the explanation that settles in is that the poor man never understood what mountain climbing was all about.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

GnosCast The Gnostic Podcast #4

GnosCast: The Gnostic Podcast

Episode 4 - Illuminating the Da Vinci Code Seminar 1

Stories Untold & Half-told: The Surprising Power of a Story

Uncovering the larger issues buried in the Novel & Phenomena

The least interesting position to have on a topic is to be either for it or against it. In this seminar we began to look beyond the easy answers to see why this story has such strong reactions and polarized sentiments.

Questions were asked on many topics related to the DVC and to Gnosticism in general.

Recorded: Sept. 12, 2006

Friday, December 08, 2006

Who's Your Coreligionist?

A profound lesson from the Society of Friends.

Best if read in order.

Who's Your Coreligionist?

Beyond Majority Rule

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Requiem in Pace my Canine Buddy

His condition worsened quickly. He started to stagger a bit. He did try to eat, but it all came back up. He needed me to hold his head up to sleep Sunday night, and in the morning he wasn't able to hold water down.

We took him in late Monday morning. He had always been a dog that preferred being outside, and he showed interest in the world outside the car windows, so I held him up so he could see. At the clinic he was happy to see some other dogs. And when I let him out of the car he wanted to walk around and sniff. It was a sunny day, and he had been stuck inside for weeks by the cold except when he had to go out. Walking in the sunshine invigorated him for a little while, he enjoyed it while his energy lasted. Then we went inside.

The only regret that I have about the only other dog that I had adopted and had a close relationship with, was that I did not stay with her through the end. This was many many years ago, I was just a teenager. And, when given a choice by the veterinarian, I opted to wait in another room. Yet, I took her body home to bury.

That was one of the points when I became aware of our strange contemporary relationship with death. One of the experiences that lead to years of consideration and study of thanatology. Those years lead to a very Gnostic view, before I discovered Gnosticism and recognized it as my path.

This week, I did the opposite of those many years ago. I stayed with him through the end, then when he was gone, there was an outworn form.

It is still very difficult. I walk several times a day past the door where I let him in and out, or would go out to play, or just peek out the window to check on him. When I am thinking about something else, the thought often intrudes to check on him, or let him in. We grow together when we live together. We become family, regardless of species. I did not call him my dog or my pet, I called him my buddy. And though we did not chose each other to begin with, we chose each other over time, and that is the meaning of family.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Quick Update

It has been difficult to spend time on the net of late, so I thought I'd put up a brief update. I had an infection in my back that required a procedure and then packing the day before my surgery. The surgery on my sinus went well, but started 4 hours late, and ended with my having a reaction to something and staying until 1 AM.

When I got home my dog, was having trouble breathing. I'm currently sleeping on the couch to be able to take care of him. It is probably cancer in his lungs. So, I've had a kind of pet hospice set up while I've been recovering myself. He was doing so poorly that I had planned on taking him in Wednesday to be euthanized. But, Thursday he was doing much better, and even eating again. Now, he has stopped and will probably not make it through next week.

My elderly mother came down with bronchitis, so I've been doing what I can for her in addition to the rest. And my aunt who is receiving hospice care took a turn for the worst.

On top of it all, I've been getting the Gnostic Calendar ready to ship. Already delayed due to my seminars in September and illness since then, I've been working on it when I can to take care of finishing touches, printing color-balances, and so forth. The first batch will ship early Monday. I honestly don't know if there will be a 2008 Gnostic Calendar, so if you are interested, I'd suggest getting one this year.

The GnosCast podcasts have been on hiatus, due to illness and recovery. However, this Sunday, Advent Sunday, I plan on celebrating the first service in a number of weeks. And, plan on getting the podcasts up and running again.

I am applying to graduate school to go ahead and get a PhD in Psychology. The school that I originally wanted to attend, but didn't because it wouldn't lead to licensure as a therapist, still offers the program I should have enrolled in long ago. The PsyD. Program is one I just never cared for, and it will be good to get back to more serious research. There is also the hope of survival through student loans.

The last development I'll share is this: after waiting for the Gnosis Institute tax ID number for quite some time, we did some digging and found out that the paperwork had been lost. We are resubmitting and hopefully it won't go missing this time.

Well, that is all that I have time for right now. The future is uncertain. Big changes need to occur as the course of this past year is untenable. With fewer sinus infections, and some resources through student loans, maybe the direct route forward will be open.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The 2007 Gnostic Calendar is Here!

It's back!
The second year of the first Calendar specifically for Gnostics!
The calendar features the Liturgical Calendar of the Ecclesia Gnostica: the Sundays and Holy days/holidays of the year; with the liturgical color of the day in the upper right hand corner. This year's themes include: Abraxas, Philip K. Dick, the Logos, Philemon, Mary of Magdala, the Holy Sophia, the Ship of Light, the Templars, the Apostle Thomas, and more.

Printed on high-quality thick and durable acid-free paper, the Gnostic Calendar sells for only slightly more than you'd pay for a non-generic calendar at a retail outlet.

Learn more and order your copy at

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Another Kind of Reality Thinking Through Us

We had to share some of the responsibility in the matter as through we, through our deeds of omission, where the accomplices we were fighting. Only by understanding how we were all a part, however opposite, of the same terrible contemporary medal could we defeat those dark forces with the true understanding of their nature and origin which was vital if they were to be over come in a manner to make us all free to embark on a way of peace that would not lead to a repetition of the vengeful past.

I had a feeling that even our capacity for thinking our own thoughts shrank into painfully humble proportions compared with another kind of reality that was, as it were, thinking through us. The typically French “As I think, so I am” seemed to me so much less true, and so static as to be petrified, after the Arabian axiom that as a man dreamt, so he was.

Yet even these reservations about human self-capacity for thinking were trivial against my conviction that we were utterly incapable of inventing the content of symbols, however much we helped to shape and express them, in the limited means available to us in our own little ration of reality. I was somehow convinced that issuing straight out of our deepest nature, like starlight out of the night, the material for symbols, whether we liked it or not was inflicted on us as a spur to a widening vision of ourselves. I had never seen so clearly as during this kind of war in which I was engaged how symbolism infected not only the human spirit and imagination, not only expressed something of itself in words, poetry, art, and religion, but when all these and other sources failed it, as our seemed to have done, how it compelled human beings to act it out in blind, ritualistic behaviour.

- Sir Laurens van der Post writing of his considerations during World War II in Jung and the Story of our Time (p 26)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Gnosticism is a genesis

Beneath the complexity, the tortuousness of the Gnostic myths lies hidden this obvious truth: we are all premature births.

I believe that the whole of the Gnostics' ulterior attitude to man, society, the human race, and the mechanism of the cosmos, is founded on this primary vision (one could even say this imago) of the origin of man, forever scarred by his inherent immaturity. We are chrysalids snatched prematurely from our protective cocoons. Besides, the very term Gnosticism—gnosis—is very close, in Greek, to genesis, which means birth and origin. Gnosticism is, in essence, a genesis, it restores to man his true birth, and overcomes his genetic and mental immaturity.

- Jacques Lacarrière, The Gnostics (p 35)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thread by thread

I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.
- Leo Tolstoy

Thursday, November 02, 2006

National Novel Writing Month

This came along right when I was considering writing some fiction again after quite a few years. Tens of thousands of people sign up to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. How cool/capricious/insane is that?

Line 1: "She had always been a dreamer, and it was terrifying."

Day 1: 1844/50000 words (Slightly ahead of quota, but lead probably won't last through tomorrow.)

Writing something just for fun (and possibly profit)—not quite priceless, but keen. ;)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Getting a Large Chunk of Life Back, (I hope)

One of the large banes of my existence have been frequent and long lasting infections in my sinus. They come at least two times a year and last for at least a month. It is sometimes hard to function at all physically when I have these. Simple tasks can become monumental. Projects have to be abandoned for the duration. They are the major reason for the closing of the Gnostic Shop. They have kept chapel related remodeling and construction at a near stand-still. They make it difficult to conduct serious mental work. Things get put on hold and I just want them to go away, but it always takes weeks and weeks. I am in week four of the current one.

I even took my last job at what can only be described as a corporate cult in order to get this taken care of. The initial consultation I had indicated another source of the problem. It was wrong. They continued. A more potentially serious problem was found, which then became my focus. Yet the sinus thing kept going. And as I look back it has indirectly exacerbated the other.

So, sick to death of being sick to death for months out of the year. I went in and kept pushing until I got the missing piece of information that put the puzzle of symptoms together and convinced the Doctor to do the surgery. I am going in November Ninth for out-patient surgery to clear out a sinus. I truly hope this will clear up a major reoccurring difficulty, a major bane of my existence. Because, there will be plenty left, but I will be able to at least work on the others without more than a month-long illness striking me down at any time.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The 2007 Gnostic Calendar Coming Soon

The 2007 Gnostic Calendar will be available for ordering in November.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

From Experience to Ontology

The first frame is getting hit in the back of the head by something unseen, in case that is unclear.

Approaches to Gnosticism - 2: The Search for Authenticity in Gnostic Practice

The online abstract debates about sacramental forms, and the arguments that are best described as “the Reformation on replay” that get aimed at long established forms, are really about the basic underlying question of authenticity. In looking at this, I'll try a more narrative approach.

Authenticity in Gnosticism is something that interests all who identify as Gnostics. “What is Gnosticism?” And, “what is Gnostic?” Are questions that, frankly, we as Gnostics haven't explored adequately. And, as the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reminds us in a humorous way—the questions are much more important than the answers.

Well over a decade ago, after studying Gnosticism voraciously for years, I received a very sure calling to “Gnostic ministry.” What popped into my mind after that had sunk in for a moment was the very important question—“how?” How does one go about ministering in a way that is Gnostic?

I share this because I have gone through the same process that many have. You recognize that you are a Gnostic, and then... now what? This is a bigger issue if you feel a vocation to ministry. At the time, I had no idea that there were any practicing Gnostics. And much later, when I read an odd account of the Ecclesia Gnostica I assumed as many do today, that something that looked Catholic “couldn't be Gnostic.” Where does this attitude come from? The formation of the shadow projection on Christianity through a dualistic story of Orthodox vs. Gnostic.

“Christianity” in the modern mind is usually a gravely polarized thing. This points to a psychological state more than an actual one, in that “Christianity” in actuality is a hopelessly diverse category, while “Christianity” in most considerations is a thoroughly 'known' and describable thing. It comes down to unconsciously identifying with, or unconsciously rejecting identification with. To use Jung's description, it either becomes a part of one's ego complex or one's shadow complex. The stereotype (if not more of an archetype) of Christianity in the West is Roman Catholicism.

This gets further complicated with issues of “Authority.” We are accustomed to think of authority in only a negative sense, that is, of having it imposed by force. We have also become accustomed to assuming that “Hierarchy” is synonymous with this improper use of power. This is why the lottery-style service described by Ireneus is such a compelling story, it seems to remove all hierarchy leading to a radical equality. (This misconstrues the real radical equality that Gnostics prize that is a deeper equality of potentiality regardless of form, that fits within the framework of a hierarchy of achievement.)

This leaves us with a common pattern of where to look to for authenticity in Gnostic practice, one that will not consider what is not rejected out of hand for unconscious identity-reasons, or what is in the personal or collective shadow complex. The last place many look for authentic Gnostic practice is to historical hierarchical Christianity. I and others have been attacked for daring to do so, as if this contemporary mind-set is the only possible and “one true” one.

When I attended my first Ecclesia Gnostica service, it was two or three years after I received my vocation, and it never entered my mind that this might be an authentic Gnostic practice. I actually went for the talk on the Templars, and brought a few friends along to hear as well. I was initially disappointed that it was going to be a full religious service, embarrassed in front of my friends to some extent. Yet, in spite of all of my preconceptions, ideas, and expectations, the Eucharist service effected me deeply.

I didn't learn the history of the Ecclesia Gnostica, with its ties back to the Gnostic Restoration of the nineteenth century, for years to come. But, I came to understand that we as modern Gnostics are heirs not just of a few fragmentary texts, but also of a highly developed, and richly symbolic, living religious tradition—historical Christianity. Taken out of the context of dogma and literalism, these practices had been developed over centuries as a way of preserving the Canon of the Mass as an experience. With the layers of symbolism being added and refined over a millennia as a means of reaching that psycho-spiritual experience.
In seeing this I was aided with a strong background in Depth Psychology. And the experience of having sought effective symbolic ritual practice for years previously in different settings, including creative eclectic neo-Paganism. In this highly developed symbolic form I found a depth that had been missing before.

In many ways I won a lottery in having an opportunity to experience and then participate in the oldest living Gnostic church on the continent. Being able to learn from and go through formation in a tradition that in specific ways went back decades, in particular ways, into the Nineteenth Century, in ritual form, for almost a millennium; and, in essence, back to the Classical Gnostics and to the ministry of Christ.

Most are not so lucky. They have go through many attempts, and find their way through many ideas, to find something that will “work” on any level. There is no completely original “Gnostic only” form of practice today. What we have that works, works because it is based upon something that worked before. But this is the way it has always been. The ancient Gnostics practiced sacramental mysteries, and in the texts we have no distinction is made between “Gnostic” forms and any other form of these practices. Some waste time looking for an authentic specifically “Gnostic” hammer, others pick of any hammer and build a chapel for services devoted to Gnosis.

Perhaps it is all but impossible for modern minds to tease out the differences between ancient individual striving and modern individualism. But it is our individual striving and succeeding that matter, and what helps with that is what is of most value to us.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Your Scholarship Can Win Cash & Prize Award

Remember, Remember
The Fifth of November...

One of the ways the Gnosis Institute will be encouraging scholarly work in the field, and work on Institute projects, is through Awards that include actual money. As we only have two basic memberships to work with, the amounts will be small to begin with, but I'm throwing in a special award version of the 2007 Gnostic Wall Calendar.

So, brush off those papers, or polish them up, or write a new one! The criteria are that the work has to meet the standards of scholarship: use and note references, track assumptions, be explicit about arguments, etc. It also has to fit into one of the project areas of the Gnosis Institute, of which there are many. If you have a question on that, just ask.

The award for best submission for October will win $50 and an award version of the 2007 Gnostic Wall Calendar. As the Institute grows, the wider variety of awards that are listed at the site (and more) will be granted, and the amounts will be increased.

The contest will be void if there are fewer than two entries that are considered to be up to standards. In that case, the contest will be extended for another month. The award will be made by vote of all Gnosis Institute Community members. Submission for publication to the Gnosis Institute grants the Institute perpetual rights to publish the work electronically without consideration or remuneration, and, in print for a standard post-sales percentage as set by the board of directors.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Approaches to Gnosticism - 1: Contexts for Understanding Gnostic Texts

We understand everything in a context. The problem is not that we do this, but that it is so often a context that we are unconscious of having. Instead of seeing it for what it is, we generally think of it as the “neutral” or “one true” framework for understanding something.

This has been very apparent in online discussions of Gnosticism, yet it is a difficult concept to get across. What follows are the standard approaches to Gnosticism looked at from the contexts through which they approach Gnostic texts. These patterns are typical and as such risk being stereotypical.

The top three are the top three approaches that seem to be favored by those online who self-identify as Gnostics (with connections to the historical tradition). The contemporary approach is largely Protestant in form: the individual approaches the texts by themselves, through their understanding of religion from the current religious and cultural contexts. The most common of these within this largely Protestant approach are Protestant in nature. This leads to a type of “Sola Scriptura Gnostica” approach, a severe limiting of meaning to scriptures identified as Gnostic understood through standard theological reasoning.

The idiosyncratic approach can lead to wild eclecticism and to orthodoxies of one. We will be looking at this in different contexts to show the difference between idiosyncratically approaching Gnosticism and personally approaching Gnosticism.

The Polemical approach, when it isn't simply name-calling, is a repeat of ancient arguments that were based upon ancient propaganda only slightly modified, if at all, for contemporary use.

The academic approach also includes an understanding of religion from the current religious and cultural contexts. These are presented as models and definitions of religion that are based upon Protestant understandings of Religion. This is the standard “beliefs & practices” model of religion, and the definitions of religion as involving “supernatural beings.”

The Depth Psychological approach was the first that recognized Gnosticism beyond the beliefs & practices model. Seeing the Gnostic texts not as abstract theological treatises or as guides to winning a salvation game. The Depth Psychological approach grounds Gnosticism within the human being, not just human ideas.

So, what's a Gnostic to do? The approach I am familiar with, and originally assumed other Gnostics used, combines the elements of the Depth Psychological and Academic approaches. It rejects the model of religion as beliefs and practices, or as an external or abstract thing. But as something with real inner Psycho-spiritual transformative effects on human beings. This gives us more than a few fragmentary texts understood from a Protestant perspective: a few ideas that are identifiable as “Gnostic” from the texts, understood in a modern religious context. But rather, a rich tradition of Gnosis in which we can use the ancient Gnostic texts as guides, mirrors, and community.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Gnosticism isn't Ideas, Theories, or Personal Preferences

This is something I feel obligated to write even though it will have no effect on almost all of the self-identified Gnostics of the moment. Yet, there are those, perhaps, who can join in seeing what I am discussing: those very few who are not dualists about everything, for whom the real is a consideration.

The online forms in use at the moment do not bring people into a community. Oh, you get to encounter on some level people who identify with the same things you identify with, with people who are interested in the same things you are interested in. But that isn't community. In many ways it is vanity. There are connections, there can be a lessening of the loneliness that is a part of being on a real path. But in regards to the aloneness, there isn't much.

You can successfully opine and proclaim, and then tune in to those who agree with your opinions and proclamations. It is a medium where we are all not only our own publishers but also the only judges of our own work. We can successfully misunderstand one another for months if not years, be happily oblivious to the nature of our assumptions, dismiss or ignore all real critiques—and not even notice. It happens more often than not.

In that environment it comes down to marketing. Which in turn comes down to sales, and recruiting, and all the other things I loathe about what passes for religion.

Don't get me wrong, this has nothing to do with the forms you may or may not choose to use on your path. This has never been an ecclesiastical vs. street preacher debate, or any other kind of idea-dualism. It is something so much more fundamental, that I won't be able to explain it to most of those who read this.

My great disappointment with online “Gnosticism” is that it is primarily concerned with ideas and theories brought in from other contexts that are used to create abstract doctrines and dogmas. The only difference I see is that the doctrines and dogmas might be more of a negative or proscriptive form rather than of a positive or prescriptive form. That is why I don't see much that I recognize as Gnostic online. It isn't that their ideas aren't the same as mine, but the entire approach and understanding of Gnosticism isn't Gnostic at all. The approaches and understands are often easily identifiable from a specific mainstream tradition. Notice, please, that I did not say forms, but approaches and understandings.

There are many who equate Gnosticism with an aesthetic style: it is Gnostic if it has Gnostic elements—if it is “painted” Gnostic. This runs the gambit from needing everything to somehow “look Gnostic” to simply sprinkling terminology into what they would be, (and will be) doing under a different name if they didn't identify with Gnosticism at the moment. And so we see the endless repeat of cradle creeds recast to use Gnostic elements, and the insistence that “Gnostic” equals rebel. Both ignore the sage advice to not put your trust in the rulers or rebels of the world.

I find that I don't even know how to begin to talk to someone for whom Gnosticism is just a theory in their head. They, obviously, don't realize that there is a distinction. The discussions, if they can be said to begin, go nowhere. If Gnosticism is inside your head, then you are quite right to be certain that you are right in your understanding of it. But, I don't care about Gnosticism in your head or in mine except as it might be an incomplete or dim understanding of what is real.

It isn't that I haven't ever been in love with ideas, or suffered greatly from the delusion that my ideas matter greatly. I have. One of the flashes of impersonal wisdom I had fairly early on was the understanding that I wouldn't find what I was seeking through that method, but that I had to go through it and exhaust it to truly realize it. I know of no other way to work with the limitations of our methods than by gaining that exhaustive gnosis of them, except, perhaps, through community.

I know that there are more than will ever admit to it that have never gotten over the “I can do it all by myself” stage that begins in toddler-hood to a greater or lesser degree. The “anxiety of influence” shapes more than we can imagine. But it isn't the only alternative to slavishly being someone's disciple. We can come together in community, learn from one another, and help each other. Another way of describing this is as a “school,” as in a school of art, or literature, of thought. But that is a description of the result, not of the process. It is the result of influence, not the kind that proscribes or stifles, but the kind that challenges, that evokes, that requires one to measure up against the external, and against the eternal.

Minor schools and schools long forgotten are those that were insular. They measured themselves only against one another, a mere happenstance and moment in history. These are the fads that grow and fade. The schools that we still look to are more, they are not insular, they do not measure themselves against one another—they measure themselves against the ages with the aid of one another.

I yearn for this challenge. The Gnosis Institute has that selfish goal, to present that challenge that will make our work more than a fad, to do the hard work of measuring up outside of our beliefs and ideas, outside of a small circle, outside of our time and place. For this is not the best of times or places for serious work, but it is far from being the worst as well. We live in a dim age that seems bent on becoming a darker one. Yet our lives are as important and as precious as those of any other time and place. We may be obliged to try to change things on a larger scale than we can effect, but ultimately success or failure on that scale isn't the point. Providing a place where we can live our lives towards their potential is all we can ever hope for as human beings. And that doesn't require a perfect world, or even a supportive one—but it does require a community. A community that extends through the ages, but also a community that can respond to us, that can help us see what we would miss on our own, that can challenge our complacency, that can show us that there is much more to strive for.

We can have this, but we must rise up out of the unmarked graves that history would bury us under. We must rise up out of the currents and ideas that we simply take for granted, or just want to believe. There is more, there is so much more. Gnosticism holds a key to that, if you are willing to engage with it beyond the safety of ideas and theories, beyond the comfort of personal preferences. “Rise up and stand upright, you who where once brought low.”

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Hard Lesson to Learn: You Can't Help Everyone

“Hitler! C'mon, I'll buy you a lemonade!” Max Rothman in the movie Max.

The film Max is quite an interesting study on many levels, but the one that stands out is the hardest one for some people—you can't help everyone.

John Cusack masterly plays the role of Max Rothman, an art dealer who had been a gifted painter before loosing his right arm in the Great War. He takes compassionate interest in a pathetic corporal, a fellow veteran and struggling painter. He takes pity on him, aids him, and tries to mentor him in developing his art. The pathetic corporal is named Adolf Hitler.

Although we know the destiny of one of the characters in broad terms, that simply gives it the character of a Greek Tragedy—fate will be fulfilled. What makes the movie worth watching is that the struggles of the characters with art, with compassion, and with their losses are so engaging.

That would be enough to recommend it to a thoughtful audience, yet it may also help to show in a more complex and real way (the real that only art can convey) that you can't help everyone. That is not to say that you should not try, or that groups should be written off for some reason. That, and anything akin to it, is utter nonsense. But many who find themselves in a helping role seem unable to comprehend that no matter what you may wish, hope for, or work towards, in the end the person you are trying to help is always another person. They may actively choose the very fate you are trying to help them avoid. They may want nothing more than to live out the tragedy you see unfolding before them. It is never an easy lesson to learn, and failure to learn it can mean the end of the career or even of the life of the one trying to help.

There will, no doubt, be Pollyanna types who will want to disagree on theoretical grounds. It doesn't fit in with their notions of how humans are; or more precisely, their wishes. Yet we can hold hope, real unwavering faith in the divine spark in someone else, and still be aware of that terrible force of which Gnostics have always sought to become free—fate or destiny. Like our ancient forebears we need to avoid being new age Pollyannas and be instead the ultimate realists, the true pragmatists. It is dangerous out there, and this can be a very hard lesson indeed.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Five Critiques of Online “Gnosticism”

There has been much that has disturbed me about online “Gnosticism,” and much more that has disappointed me. I have considered ceasing to participate, as others have done, and have changed how and to what extent that I do. I've also had to wonder whether the well has been poisoned so that it may be extremely difficult to accomplish serious work as a Gnostic and have it be accepted as such. I also wonder how much of a barrier my wearing my collar is, metaphorically speaking. There is a long and ancient tradition of priests engaged in serious academic work. Lest we forget (or never know), that is where the enlightenment came from: even though its proponents ridiculed religion uniformly. The modern imagination is a very poor thing, it knows only the few framing or over-arching stories that have been pounded into it by advertising and polemics. Being able to judge as opposed to pre-judge is rare.

I also don't really recognize most of what goes on under the title of Gnosticism as being particularly Gnostic, if Gnostic at all. There are the idiosemantic users of the word, those who essentially invent their own meaning. But even if you take away those, there isn't much I identify with as a Gnostic. Fortunately, there are some gems. Some of that is the nature of online communication, but how much?

So, as I ponder these things, I'll lay out my own critiques in response to Jordan's.

1) Where's the Beef? The meaty chunks of simmering insight that come from Gnosis? In the absence of that, where is the careful work that continually checks to see if we have imprisoned ourselves in one false cosmos or another? Commenting on current events and responding to one another is a part of a vibrant community, but it can also lead to vacuity. And no vacuity seems worse than blog vacuity at times. I'll admit to it myself, in case you think I'm unaware of a celebrity interview snip not far below this article. Sure, it touches on Gnosticism, yet I can't help considering it a low point of this blog. The other low points come from responding to posts, which make me wonder about the whole vibrant community thing. That, and in a vibrant Gnostic community, one would expect more gems than there are.

It may be that if we actually supported good writing we would get it. It is also hard to disentangle issues of the mediums used: blogs, forums, and such.

2) Where's the conversation? Chatting doesn't in and of itself lead to much. It is the deep conversations that enrich us all. Conversation in the largest sense. Conversations that might begin as speaking together or as correspondence, or might be with the works of those long past, and might grow into books or works of art. The great Conversation of the Ages is so hard to hear now, that at times it seems silent. How can we raise our conversations to a point where we might converse on that scale, if we don't converse at all? (Some of this is a result of the forms of communication, but how much?)

3) What's with all the labels, groupings, and team-identifications? Gnosticism is what connects many otherwise divergent approaches to religion. That isn't easy to understand, and there will never be a mathematical formula, nor a quick and slick definition for it, because it concerns Gnosis. It would be like sculpting a sonnet: an indirect representation at best. The adding of an adjective seems to be the adding of a form that is more or less a religious form to this. The approach of focusing more on the adjective than on the noun seems part of an odd movement to turn Gnosticism into just another religion, with handed down or institutional: beliefs, authorities, and identities. It gives me a sensation like ice spiders crawling down my back. Going hand in hand with this is the tendency to see Gnosticism as being centered around personalities. There are strong personalities and very gifted individuals involved, but it isn't about them.

4) Where's the commitment and support? If this your spiritual journey, why treat it like a hobby? If you seek liberation for real, then it isn't just a weekend thing, or something you do so long as you don't have to put in an hour of work or a dollar of support. This comes down to the seriousness of being on your spiritual path. The real measure we are measured against is not our ideas, it is reality. It is troubling to see how many individuals seek to change or control everything so that they can avoid being transformed. We get them all the time in our churches.

Gnostic churches and projects don't take a lot of money to support, but they do take some. Many spend so many times more on their pets, on things they never use, on entertainment, or on the snack machine—than on what might support them and others on their spiritual path. If you've had money in your pocket and haven't donated at least five dollars in the past month, why not? Unless you are in the same category as me, that represents a lot less than the ten percent many manage to give in mainstream churches. No one is asking for ten percent or any bundle you can't afford, but sticking your change in a jar for a few months then donating that money is more than almost everyone does. You may be poor, but face it, if you live in the privileged parts of the world, you probably dispose of disposable income to some extent. Why almost none of this ever goes to support Gnostic services, projects, or churches is very perplexing. Who do you think pays for everything?

It isn't just about money either, even if you don't have money on the very small scale we are talking about, you often have time. Donate some time to perform whatever work or tasks need to be done. They aren't all wonderful or interesting tasks, and the reason I know is because I do them. Getting any help with anything can be impossible, and it isn't like we can hire help.

5) Where's the focus on Gnosis? If anything besides apathy seals the decline of modern Gnosticism, it will be the ideas people have lodged in their minds about it. Arguments over people's ideas of the forms that Gnosticism should take are only made the more ridiculous by the fact that these are theoretical arguments. The only “should” that really matters in Gnosticism, is Gnosis. Without keeping a focus on it, the rest is meaningless. Your theories can never interfere with my experience of the Eucharist. Nor can your theories alter the experiences I had in my ordination, and as a result of it. Just as no theories or ideas I or anyone else may have can remove your experiences. If we can see our Gnosis reflected in the tradition, and can use the tradition as a foundation, guide, and touchstone for our work, we have a deeper kinship than any theory or set of ideas can grant us. Without Gnosis and the mirror of tradition, there is no Gnosticism. There may be Gnostics, but there is no Gnosticism.

The vision I have tried to articulate and am working on bringing into actuality is the Gnosis Institute. Yet that will not address all of the above, particularly 3 and 4. The problem I see is people deciding that Gnosticism is too inconvenient if it requires work, commitment, and support, when they can decide another label will work better for them, or none at all. But it isn't about labels, or being a member of a group, or identifying with something—it is about reality. We can do much more than opine and argue, we can study, research, and seek to know what we can of the truth; for it is the truth that will set us free.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Encyclopedia Gnostica

The open wiki format for online resources has major issues, beginning with the reliability of the information. Even if it has taken form with the intended group considerations, anyone can veto those considerations and change the information for their own ends. That is to say that the Wikipedia format assumes that those involved intend for the end result to be an encyclopedia. When any individual or, as is happening more often, program can veto the purpose of the site itself, the situation is like that of a leaking ship. Either more and more bailing is required as more holes are put in the hull, or one can patch the hull.

After many disappointments with Wikipedia, and the endless spam attacks at the effort at the PTG, the need for something else has been apparent. The Gnosis Institute will be offering the Encyclopedia Gnostica, an encyclopedia in wiki format that isn't open to the world to modify, but is an open and growing resource. There aren't many entries at the moment, it will take work to write and reference the articles. It is a beginning.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tori Amos Interview Snip

SIMON: Anyone looking through your previous albums, and looking though the track listing on this collection, you talked about the fact your father was sort of disappointed with the way you’d turned out from a spiritual point of view, but spiritual language comes through almost everything that you do.

TORI: mmm (agreeing)

SIMON: So what kind of spiritual person are you, if any kind of spiritual person?

TORI: Well, I mean…

SIMON: I can’t imagine that you would fit any kind of label particularly.

TORI: Well, I really tried to get my Dad to read the Gnostic Gospels. You know as a place as a bridge, a place for us to kind of meet at the round table, and he said “As far as I’m concerned, If it’s not in the Bible, then it doesn’t exist,” and I said “Yes, but Dad, let me take you back to a time when you put together my anthology, and you edited out some of the most important tracks, I think, of my career. So Crucify, God they weren’t on there, so why couldn’t then a man of the church edit out certain things Jesus said that he didn’t agree with? Stands to reason, doesn’t it?” Well the conversation ended there, and I guess having read the Gnostic Gospels now, and growing up in the church as I did, I could see that maybe Jesus’ Christianity was very, very different, how he saw women, to me he was the first Christian feminist, umm and that Christianity is not what I was brought up with.

SIMON: Yeah I was right, it doesn’t fit any label, but it’s, it’s the way you see it. What does your Dad think?

TORI: Well I think that now my Dad, he’s getting older now, and it does trouble him that women aren’t looked at as worthy of being disciples. Where are the women prophets? I mean if we have Emily Dickinson, if we have Jane Austen, if we have all these poets and now in my time Joni Mitchell, if we have all these people, Sylvia Plath, where are they? They were there, they existed. So, when I began to read the Gnostic Gospels in my twenties, and I was able to see that yes they were there, umm it made me see that this Christianity that my family had been so committed to edited out what I thought was a huge part of, well I’m a woman, my place in the religion, so as I woman I felt we were edited out.

Read it all at

Yes, I admit I annoyed co-workers and also customers in years past with Tori Amos albums on endless replay. Yet her quest reflected so many of ours in a very deep way. Who knew we were reading the same things as well?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Sad State of News Reports

What disturbed me the most, and still does, about news reports of Pope Benedict's comments and the reaction among Muslims, is that in none of the reports was there any mention of context. The first few reports failed to even mention that he was quoting someone else, making it seem like he had just gone crazy. By the second day, the reports uniformly contained the information that it was a quote, and a very old one. Yet, there was no mention of the context, that is, the way in which the quote was used. This is the sort of thing that drives me towards the deep end, and makes me think that my considerations on the current Dim Age are actually understated instead of exaggerated.

Why is this important? Well, if the words are not your own, then the only thing connecting them to you is why you are quoting them. The fact is, given the news reports, there was no way of determining whether Pope Benedict was agreeing with the quote, the main view, or using it as an example of previous misunderstandings. In the later context he may even have been using the quote in order to vehemently disagree with it, there was no way of knowing. However, everyone seemed to know. They didn't seem to need that information, or think it relevant enough to include in their news reports.

The same attitude is prevalent across the board in our reporting and presenting. It drives me up the wall when I see someone interviewed who clearly just contradicted what they said not five minutes ago, and the interviewer doesn't seem to even notice let alone think it worth mentioning, or, *gasp* bringing it up and asking about it.

How much damage was done, and will be done in the end? It is hard to say. There were reports of indiscriminant fire-bombings of churches for one. There was a increase in the perception of an irreconcilable divide between religions and cultures for another. And in the end, we will never know.

The actual context of the quote, should you be one of the few who may consider that important, was in arguing against the spread of religion by violence. An argument against holy war, almost started or deepened another one. If that information had been included the reports would not have been so sensational, nor as dangerous. They may have just been considered unwise, or an incomplete picture. Who knows? We never will. Nor will we know the next time.

The Gnosis Foundation

In a comment JP suggested having a general Gnostic fund of some sort. This is already in the plans, though not in the works. The Gnosis Foundation is intended to be such a fund, one that can provide direct support in ways that are outside the purview of the Gnosis Institute. The notion is to be able to award grants to aid in starting up services and aiding with expenses for an initial period, providing some general grants by application, aiding with emergencies, and providing scholarships for travel expenses related to education and services.

The reason this is “in the plans not in the works” is that it takes money to give money. When the Institute is up and running, we can start the Gnosis Foundation as an Institute project or a set of related projects, though it may need to become a separate legal entity. The money and governance will be kept separate. There will be a great deal of consideration and work required to set up the governance and dispersal of such funds. And yes, the amounts will probably be small. But this is something that a great deal of thought has gone into, the need has been seen, and there is a solution on the horizon.

I will write more on this later, but I wanted to let people know that it was in the plans, and get some initial reactions.

Monday, September 18, 2006

How Long Will I be Able to do This?

This is an ever more recurring question for me these days. Approaching these seminars I found out how many jobs I do and how much time it all takes. None of them pay. Only one has ever broken even, and that was the Gnostic Calendar. Yet considering the months of work that went into it, breaking even is not a sustainable condition. Everything else that I do costs a lot. It costs in materials, and it costs in time—or what some call opportunity costs. You could be doing something else, maybe something that pays you money for hard and skilled work, but you can't because you are doing something you have to pay to do.

So far there have been four donations online, and I appreciate every one of them. They will actually allow me to continue one more month. Keeping the Internet connection and buying port for mass. I also deeply appreciate the few who have donated personally, those donations coved the majority of the cost of a few chairs for the chapel. It was a priority, I saw a great deal on an odd number, I borrowed more money for the rest. Now a few people can sit comfortably through services.

GnosCast takes time to produce. It requires recording equipment, a lot of space on my antiquated computer, and lot of time to edit. The longer ones require a great deal more time, and after recording the last one very late at night and sounding like it, I realized that I need to spend even more time to not have the sound of them be such a barrier to listening to them. So, I haven't completed the next one.

The seminars I am currently doing took thousands of hours to prepare. The publicity art and layout took a very long time. Sending out notices, hanging up fliers, sneaking bookmarks into books at stores that don't let you hang up fliers. Then there is scheduling the space, the papers and inks, producing brochures and handouts, producing overhead transparencies to use, and so on. Being prepared enough to let the audience guide the discussion is no small task either, and that is in addition to examining the material and conducting research to come to unique conclusions and put them into a new form that might be conveyed more readily. Donations so far? None. There wasn't a very large attendance either. Fortunately, those who did attend came with questions and comments and it turned out quite well. But, I think you get the point.

So, the next time you wonder “why isn't there a Gnostic church in my area?” Or, whatever happened to that cool effort? You will know. It honestly doesn't take much to help. If enough people do voluntary subscriptions to GnosCast, I can keep my Internet connection and keep the meditations and homilies going. If more do, I can keep the longer ones going and do so regularly. If you don't, I loose my connection and it stops. The same happens if there are no church services. Homilies are delivered at the end of them, and they are a part of producing those. Do you need to sit in the chapel to support services there? If enough people support seminars they will continue to happen. I will be able to continue to try to reach folks locally and in other areas. If enough people support them, I can even make the materials and recordings available to everyone and not have to sell them. Do you need to be there to support them?

The Gnosis Institute is a way to be able to support serious and scholarly work, and a way to work together on important projects. It is something new, something we need. And it isn't in competition with anything that is currently going on or planned. It is the sort of approach that we need to keep Gnosticism from devolving into just another religion in the modern world, or from being perceived as such. And it is so much more. We are entering a Dim Age if not a dark one. We must preserve and expand the light. The Renaissance really began centuries before, with a reawakening to the interiority of the human being. This occurred at the time Gnostic thought moved into Western Europe and gained adherents in the form of the Cathars. The religious reforms of the period can already be traced to a large degree to Cathar influence, as can the troubadour tradition and its vast cultural influence. And, perhaps, the roots of the Renaissance can be traced more directly to them as well. These things can have larger effects than we can imagine. But only if they occur.

That is the answer to the question that I was asked last Sunday, and was asked again today in a different form. What is my biggest concern? How long I will be able to do this. Where do I get the money to do this? I don't. I am being helped through by someone almost as poor as I am, someone who lives on social security, and that cannot continue for much longer. I may be able to extend this long loss, this slide towards homelessness, with school loans. But, that isn't a solution, just a stop-gap, and really another sacrifice to get the Gnosis Institute going as well as I can for what time remains to me. That is the bare truth.

Perhaps I will be able to get to that stop-gap measure, and then get from there to the next. That is the plan. And perhaps the person with the least will be able to continue funding Institutes, podcasts, seminars, and church services. It has happened so far, but for how long I can't say.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Gnosis: It's Not What You Think

Gnosis is not what you think. It is not an idea, not a doctrine. It is not objective. It is not definable. It is not found inside of rigid limits, nor outside of all considerations. It is not yours. It is not ours. It is something attained, and is a quickening of what we already have. It is a knowledge that you are, not a knowledge that you have.

If you are looking for a label, Gnosis is not it. If you are seeking a path with answers, Gnosis is not it. If you are looking for a path that fits you, Gnosis is not it. If you are seeking what is real beyond yourself and your ideas, then you may already be on the path of Gnosis.

We do not seek to propagate any set of beliefs or doctrines, nor to spread one set of teachings or one perspective. We seek to follow the injunction from the Gospel of Thomas: “If you see what is before your face, there is nothing that will not be revealed to you.” We seek to know what is real, and to follow that beyond our current notions, ideas, and understandings. We stand apart in that we do not prejudge the real to exclude what is called the spiritual. We do not exclude what has always been a part of human experience, what has always been a part of human culture. For to do that would be to veer from the path of Gnosis towards mere ideas.

Gnosis is not what you think. And it is not something you will understand quickly. It is something you will come to know, and grow in that knowing. You may know someone to a large extent after a few years, but you cannot know someone entirely in the span of a lifetime. If you think you have hold of it, you have not. It is in the living, in the growing—it is never complete.

Scriptures tell us that the truth shall make us free. In Greek, the word for “truth” is “un-hidden.” The un-hidden, the unveiled, the examined shall set us free. This requires discipline and commitment, training and work. It requires an allegiance to the real that is higher than the allegiance to the ideal.

How seriously do you take your spiritual path? How committed are you to your liberation? Will you join us?

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Next Seminar: Exit the Matrix

Exit The Matrix

I thought I had better get the graphic done so I can advertise the next seminar at the fast approaching one.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Ultimate Da Vinci Code Absurdity?

According to Avdat blog this Curriculum describes the Da Vinci Code as a modern Gnostic Gospel.

Yes, I'm still holding onto the possibility that it may be a joke. Please let it be a joke.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


The intent for last Sunday and for this week is discernment. It is the most weighty task appointed to us, and yet it is so often bypassed. After all, why discern when you already think you know?

Many years ago I had a dream in which I was in a “School for the Blind” at first I understood this as being such in the conventional sense, a school for people whose physical apparatus of vision was not functioning. However, as the dream unfolded it was revealed that the people in the school were capable of visual perception, they simply did not use it—because they already 'knew' where everything was, and so they did not bother to look. This 'knowledge' was obviously faulty and incomplete, yet that did not cause them to open their eyes. And the school existed to teach them how to cope with this willing blindness.

Discernment is the ability to see what is really there. To discern the differences and similarities. To make subtle distinctions, and to see connections. Without it, you have merely your ideas imposed upon all that you see. You are blind, because you already 'know' what you would see—if you looked.

Yet we cannot accomplish much in the actual world around us without discernment. We may want to act in service of a greater good, but without discerning to a very high degree how this might be done, we may actually accomplish the opposite. The “best intentions” and all of that. Without it, things can seem simple indeed. Do good. Achieve Gnosis. Live a Good life. With it, things get much more complex. What is the good? What is good in a given situation? Is what you achieved Gnosis? How much can you determine from an experience of Gnosis? These are the sorts of questions that get the asker handed a cup of hemlock on occasion.

You know someone is merely trying to persuade you when they try to take the discernment process away from you. The point of democracy is to have as many people making discernments as possible, yet in practice the point is to take away the discernment and present a simple choice that isn't a choice at all. Instead of being able to seriously and publicly consider if these means are the best way of reaching an end, or if that end is the best way of achieving a goal—we are given dualistic good vs. evil choices. It comes down to a simple claim repeated endlessly, “you are either for us completely and unreservedly, or you are against us and are simply evil.”

As Gnostics we cannot put our “Faith in someone else's faith,” as famously phrased by William James. Nor can we allow others to do our discerning for us. This is a key difference between Gnostic and Creedal expressions of religion. In the Creedal strategy, the discerning has already been done, or will be done by someone else. Things have been discerned, and will be discerned in distant times and places for you. In the Gnostic perspective, this simply cannot be done.

This need to always be discerning is what ties Gnosticism so closely to Philosophy. A definition of Philosophy that would hold up to scrutiny would be one that focused on discernment. Otherwise, Philosophy is a vast expanse of fields whose connections are easier to perceive than to describe. But the process of discernment brings them together into a set of skills, methods, practices, and conventions.

But as mentioned before with the hemlock reference, discernment is often a very unpopular thing. It frightens many people, especially the powers that be. After all, if you are discerning then you will not be merely subservient to authority, nor will you always side with “your team” against all challenges or considerations. In short, it makes you an individual, and there is something deeply disturbing to many about that.

There is also false discernment, mere labeling for the purpose of saying that it is “for us or against us” or “good or evil.” Or the rhetorical device of trying to re-frame everything so that conclusions are predetermined in that same “good or evil” manner. This is the “black and white” thinking that is given as a hallmark of the abusive and manipulative groups that are often referred to as cults. It is a means of control not a way of discerning. The truly scary part is that this has become the norm in so many areas, including our politics.

This is not to say that we cannot be guided or aided in our discernment—but it must remain our own. Discerning is not a simple thing, and it can depend upon knowledge, skill, and wisdom. Deciding that you 'know' something you don't understand is the path of the willfully blind. Often, a great deal of work is involved to be able to comprehend and begin the process of discernment. And so the difference is whether one is guided through a discernment process or is given the result. This can be seen as the difference between educating and indoctrinating, for example.

We must always be engaged in the process of discernment. A process with many subtleties and refinements. A process with many misapplications and false starts. Yet a process that is intrinsic to following the path of Gnosis.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Gnosis Institute Education

A more detailed look at one of the Threefold mission areas of the Gnosis Institute. The Graduate School will be a regionally accredited academic institution. That means that not only will the Institute be able to award degrees, but they will have meaning in the academic world. We are currently taking the necessary steps towards this, but are only in the initial stages. It will be a long process as this is something we will have to grow as well. But not only can we do it, we are doing it. Want to help?

It is Always the Time for Philosophy

“Socrates neither set out benches for his students, nor sat on a platform, nor set hours for his lectures. He was philosophizing all the time—while he was joking, while he was drinking, while he was soldiering, whenever he met you on the street, and at the end when he was in prison and drinking the poison. He was the first to show that all your life, all the time, in everything you do, whatever you are doing, is the time for philosophy.”

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Interview by Gnostic Journalist Derick Varn

The interview that I did with Derick Varn is now available at The Green Triangle. It was begun right after Holy Week (hence the feeling like I had aged a decade comment).

An Interview with Fr. Troy Pierce by C. Derick Varn.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

This Night Your Soul is Required of You

I am just back from a week's vacation. Not the usual sort of vacation that I hear about other people sometimes taking, but as close as I seem to get to taking one: sleeping on a distant couch, preferably the kind that folds out into a bed. This time it was a relatively nearby distant couch, one in a time-share in Park City, almost 30 miles outside of Salt Lake. Thanks to the Internet trading of my aunt and uncle for the opportunity in general. And, in particular, my ability to detach myself from my weekday activities to drive my mother there and stay. As nice as it was to spend some time in a resort town, and to get away from the narrow horizons that normally present themselves to me in my day to day life, the greatest part of the trip was much more precious—time.

In the Lectionary readings of a few weeks ago, we read the version of the parable of the Rich Fool that is found in the Gospel of Thomas. It is a short, simple, and stark story. A man is prosperous, well off, in the black. He makes some plans on how to use his current wealth to make even more money. Right after planning this, he dies. I like the archaic phrasing from the King James Version. “But God said to him, Fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.”

There are different interpretations of the “moral” of this parable. However, being a parable, it is a symbol in story form. It cannot be encapsulated in any single “moral.” That is why I like the simplicity of the version found in Thomas, it lacks the interpretation that is found in Luke. This lets you approach it again and again for the first time. The only thing missing from English interpretations of this parable from the Coptic of Thomas is the compelling poetry of the phrase, “this night thy soul shall be required of thee.”

One of the “morals” given to this parable is that the rich man was foolish for keeping the wealth and not giving it to the poor. Presumably, that would have been a wiser investment in that interpretation, giving him eternal dividends in the afterlife. I addressed this type of thinking in my article on “Treasures in Heaven” so I won't go into it here, except to mention that it strikes me as the weakest of the possible spins to put on this parable. Turning it all into some postmortem investment scheme. Some way to get “more bang for your buck,” or some such nonsense.

No, there are many other reasons why the man in the parable is a fool. The one I'll touch on here is a simple one, so simple that it's profundity escapes us until it is too late. One of the ways in which the rich fool misplaces value is to value his wealth to the exclusion of what was so much more precious—time. No amount of wealth could purchase him one more sunrise. It was that night that his soul was required of him. That very literal deadline could not be moved back one day, or hour, or minute more.

No matter what his plans where, he could not have carried them out. Even if he had planned to go and give all that he had to the poor the next day, it wouldn't have happened. Nothing on the other side of that night would ever matter to him the way that night would. For nothing beyond that night would ever be, even though he could not know that. Yet he spent those few precious remaining minutes planning on how to use the abundance that he had acquired only for the purpose of acquiring more the next season, which, presumably, he would also only use to acquire still more after that.

In every consideration of the parable, the man is a fool because he values the wrong things, he doesn't recognize what is truly valuable. He lacks Gnosis, and so goes about doing what seems best for him in the world like life were merely a game. He doesn't experience it directly in the story, he makes plans, laying out a strategy for the game. There is no fault found with his strategy, it is never intimated that his plans wouldn't work. He will simply never get to implement them. The game ends and he is no longer the playing piece in his future plans, but a soul. No longer a prosperous man doing what seems wise, but a fool.

It is amazing how often we put off doing things. How much time we spend making plans that will not even be attempted. How much we refuse to simply allow ourselves to be ourselves until this or until that, or, because of this or because of that. And so our strategy becomes to not live our life as we would truly want to do so at the only time that we will have to do so—a strategy guaranteed to loose. For the only time that we can have is right now. The only place were we can live is here, now.

Trading away a day now for a future day may be a poor bargain in other ways. Scientists have found that subjective time really does pass by faster the older you get, making our real mid-life two decades earlier than the stereotypical one. Yet this is the time we trade most readily, perhaps because it does seem so abundant. But, one day does not equal one day, even if one lives through both of them. And, as the parable points out, one may not.

What does this have to do with a vacation? The precious time I referred to, was time spent with my dear aunt, my other mother. She is dying of cancer. Her objective time is limited by that fact, her subjective time is limited by the toll this takes on her, the need to rest and sleep more and more.

Yet I had an hour with her in an art gallery, really looking at paintings. I had a half hour with her walking along a small stream. I had hours with her talking about the things that matter most in life. The difficulties of this way of life prevented me from spending my recent birthday with her like I had wanted to do. It was the birthday present that I wanted most. And I not only didn't get to see her that day, but wasn't able to see her afterwards, until we were all together in Park City. And so, I like to think that I was not a fool after all. For the same circumstances that made for barriers, made for this opportunity. And while I don't have money, I do have some precious time.

Few know even vaguely how much time they have left, or how quickly it will seem to pass. My own time to accomplish things seems so very limited. Yet even then, the temptation is to wait, to make plans, to do other things first. And so, another gift my aunt has given me is the recognition of the preciousness of time. The time in which we can feel alive, experience, be souls rather than a role or a game piece, is more precious than rubies. The man in the parable is a fool because only at the very end of his life was his soul required of him. Our souls are required of us not as a discontinuity of our lives, but as the living out of them. Not in the future, but now. This night. This day.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Book Sale

If you happen to be studying Information Technology, Networking, Programming, Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, Data Mining, Advanced Mathematics, or Law, and are interested in getting a good deal on some good used books, let me know. I will be placing sections of my library on sale at Amazon in the next few weeks.

Sorry, but most of what will be of interest to those who read this, are the sort of thing that would go in a Gnosis Institute library and will not be going on sale.

The Duty to Excellence

I normally don't put much stock in beliefs, but I do believe something that I don't think I can back up with anything but conviction: that we have a duty to excellence. It isn't a dreary duty, but a joyful one. It is an honor to be able to pursue something beyond, something more. It is the fulfillment of our being.

Carl Jung observed in his essay “The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man” that while we are the realization of more than all of the previous generations could have hoped for, we are also their greatest disappointment.

We have such riches available to us, riches of which countless ages before us could not even dream. Access to all forms of art, music, literature, and vast libraries of scholarship and primary works, are all so readily available to us. As Isaac Newton phrased it, we all stand on the shoulders of giants, or we can if we choose to do so. We can stand on their shoulders to try to reach that little bit more, or we can sit at their feet and listen, or take up a conversation with them. No human generation before us has been blessed with such abundance.

It is not enough to be exposed to it. The way some people behave you would think them like the film in a camera that needed only to be exposed to one thing and then another. Exposure may be a noble effort, but who is it that is being exposed? These treasures do not call out merely for our attention, they call out for us to rise to meet them. To become a person who listens to the music that reveals the arc of another's flight of soul. To become a person who can see through the surface of the painting that lets us see how the painter saw with much more than our eyes. To become a person who can collaborate in bringing something greater into ourselves, our lives, our world.

This is also true of more rational enterprises. We have access to so much more data than we can manage to make sense from. We have more powerful analytical tools than ever before. Yet reason and logic are often most foreign in the arenas that matter the most to us. Public debates are often simply attempts to repeat memorable phrases. To spread ideas like viruses, rather than like rational beings. To make converts, not conversations. As the challenges grow, we recoil from having to bear them. It is, after all, unfair that we should face such difficulties. But it is also unfair that we should have such abundance.

The retreat into a simpler world, an imaginary one, has been underway for a very long time. Some see it as something akin to a religious exodus into an imaginary promised land. While others see it as an exodus into progress: of society, of technology, or of humans, in some abstract way. And lastly, some yearn for the imaginary justification of destruction. There is a reason why these are the persistent dreams through the ages—we all yearn for this. And there is a reason we all yearn for this—we won't get it.

Real change is difficult. It doesn't come as expected. It doesn't demand that we give up the burden of ourselves as easy sacrifices, but that we live up to ourselves. It is the most difficult task we can engage in. The task of truly living our own lives. And when it comes to the end of our lives, that is what will matter, not the comforts or the things that were merely “good enough” but that excellence that we may achieve, that realization of our potential, that rising up to meet what is best and most important in life. Carl Jung called this process Individuation, the process of truly becoming an individual.

Perhaps it comes down to the question of how much of our lives will we really live? Or will we really live much of our own lives at all? How far will we rise to the challenge of our greatness? How many souls will we rise towards and allow to touch ours, and how deeply? How many minds? How many hearts? How much beauty will we be ready to perceive? How much truth? And when the time comes, did we try to bear the responsibility of being the wonder that each of us is? Did we rise up to truly meet life? I think that will be what matters when we may look back in final hours, before we turn to look ahead.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Comment Moderation

I have enabled comment moderation to avoid feeling forced to reply to ad hominem, or personal, attacks. These are not replies about content, but about me--they exist merely to disparage me as an individual.

My previous policy was to try to show these for what they are in an attempt to discourage their usage in general. Such attempts might seem unkind in a narrow context, one that doesn't consider the larger context, the intent, the predicament it places me in, and most importantly, the nature of that to which I was responding.

Such situations are never pleasant for me, it is not the level of conversation and interaction that I seek to have. I no longer want to feel forced into it, and frankly, of late I have felt like I have been a dupe of being baited into responding to a personal attack, only to have that response characterized as a personal attack.

Also, as I am in the process of making standards an expected part of our discussions and work, and taking this work to the next level, I find taking time to respond in any way to such attacks is counter-productive, even attempts to do so in an instructive manner. They end up being a denial-of-service attack on the discussion.

And so, personal attacks to which I would feel forced to respond are all I will be rejecting in the way of comments. Hopefully, stating this policy clearly will make future rejections unnecessary. So, if you must attack, at least put your attacks separately from your other comments, so I can still post those.

The Story of Sophia & Apologists

“In the beginning was the deed.” -Goethe, Faust: Part One
Something I had thought about including in my homily for the Assumption of the Holy Sophia, yet, as most often happens, forgot entirely while giving the homily, was a response to a odd characterization of Gnosticism in regards to Sophia.

On the radio program “Speaking of Faith,” New Testaments Scholar Luke Timothy Johnson (a person fated for such a profession from birth, it would seem) appeared to debunk the Da Vinci code. He did have some interesting perspectives, but was definitely an apologist.

In attempting to paint Gnostics as the opposite of viewing women as equals, he followed the usual tactic of picking out the apologist's favorite passage from the Gospel of Thomas. Looking on the bright side, it probably means that at least one apologist read the entire Gospel of Thomas, since the passage is the last one. (Was it my imagination, or did I really hear a collective squeal of glee from apologists when one of them found that passage?) Of course, we cannot assume that more than one has read it, for if those who hold it up as misogynistic had read the rest of Thomas, they would have either realized that their literalistic interpretation of the last passage was wrong, or they would be actively deceiving people.

However, the odd continuation of this otherwise unremarkable attempt at reversing the evidence, was Johnson's contrasting of attitudes towards women between those in Gnosticism and orthodox Christianity. He made the claim that the inferior role ascribed to women in orthodox Christianity was merely cultural, and therefore changeable. Whereas, he claims, the role of women in Gnosticism was both somehow not only inferior but also ontologically based and unchangeable due to the figure of Sophia. While I agree with the first point, the second, even if it made sense, has no basis and is pure polemics.

He uses a Selective Sample fallacy, limiting his argument to scriptural writings from New Testament times. He did this because he had to leave out the real basis for his argument, the ontological inferiority of women that is present in the story of Adam and Eve.

The only similarity in the stories is that in the story of Sophia, she is described as making an error. In attempting to move towards the light, she mistakes a reflection for the light. We can see a parallel in the notion of the Cloud of Unknowing, or the Dark Night of the Soul, in that the closer you are too the light, the darker it can seem; the closer you approach, the thicker the cloud. This does not make Sophia, or Wisdom, a fool as some have claimed. Nor is she somehow a dim point in the light for making an error in the story.

Gnostics have never held her in the poor regard that others hold Eve in for being deceived. In contrast, Sophia is praised. Perhaps not for the error, but praised in general. In what seems to be Johnson's ontological notion, she is the Most Holy Sophia. She is not regarded as somehow an example of the inferiority of women.

Perhaps the key to this understanding comes from Goethe's Faust, wherein Faust reconsiders the phrase “In the beginning was the word,” rewriting it as, “In the beginning was the deed.” In Gnostic mythology, the deed is the beginning, whether the story begins with Sophia or before, or is one in which Sophia does not play a role. The movement of the divine is towards expression, and also limitation; towards engagement which always means the giving up of the potential for the actual.

Perfection can only exist as an abstraction. Once form is given, perfection is not possible. Therefore everything done is imperfect. To act, to engage in a deed: includes a flaw, an error. That is the nature of action, of giving one form to the undifferentiated potential.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Living Philosophy Program at the Gnosis Institute

Philosophy (Philo-Sophia) is the love of Wisdom. In honor of the celebration of the Assumption of the Holy Sophia, here is some information on the Living Philosophy program. Philosophy is one of the pillars of the Institute, informing every area, and it is only fitting that the Institute take the lead in the development of a degree program in the practice of Philosophy.

Jung observed that "philosophy is no longer a way of life as it was in antiquity; it has turned into an exclusively intellectual and academic affair." The Gnosis Institute will strive to reverse this course with a focus on Living Philosophy.

The Living Philosophy Program will be a different Philosophy program, one that is focused on using philosophy as a vital tool for living. The Philosophy Programs in Academia might more accurately be referred to as “philosophology,” or the study of philosophy, rather than the practice of philosophy. The American Philosophical Practitioners Association compares the difference to that of studying paintings and actually painting. While the study of paintings is an important part of an artist's education, it would be very strange to think that it was the whole of it.

The Gnosis Institute will not attempt to out-do large universities in the standard model of academic philosophy education, instead the Living Philosophy Program is focused on the practice of philosophy in our lives. Training professional Philosophy practitioners for such roles as: Philosophical Counseling, Philosophical Consulting, and Philosophical Analysis on many levels. Seeking guidance from a Philosophy practitioner as an individual, and as an organization is often a better fit than seeking guidance from the current standard sources.

The most important task of this program, however, is to train philosophers to engage in public discourse. In a world where a fallacy is most often given as an argument, and an insult as a conclusion, we need engaged public philosophers more than ever.

Team Identity versus Community

“Save us from the slavery of small aims and of the narrow life.”
--The service to the MH Sophia of the Ecclesia Gnostica

It is an oft repeated pattern that perhaps is inevitable that those who identify themselves as Gnostics will seek to come together across the vastness that most often separates us and feel the joy of making such contacts. However, the other thing that seems to be taken as an inevitability is that the primary concern is always with marketing a particular Gnostic church or identity group. If this had happened in only a few circumstances it might not be worth mentioning. But it is much more than that, it seems inexorably tied into the common understanding of the world.

A seemingly simply Gnostic project to serve the community gets branded. And those who find that surprising are considered reactionary. What seems like working together simply as Gnostics ends up being more like socializing outside of a private club most are unwelcome in. Attempts to aid on a personal level are taken for granted as being motivated by organizational goals or politics. And the lack of an organization becomes the un-brand brand. This seems much more like a fundamental part of our consumer oriented culture brought into a Gnostic context, than mere incidents.

What this leads to is a general consumer mentality applied to even what should be most resistant to such things. Making things like market share and popularity poor substitutes for more stringent standards. So that, even facts and conclusions become matters resting upon persuasion and popularity, without a foundation upon which they might be examined, questioned, and refined.

For some of us this current incarnation of an Internet Gnostic community is not the first one we have witnessed. Without some structure with broader standards in which to discuss things, discussion may cease as soon as it is inconvenient. Pronouncements go unquestioned, along with the methods and assumptions implicit and explicit. And work that seeks to be beyond marketing fades and is replaced by marketing.

Even under circumstance where there are foundations or structures: persuasion is an element, camps or schools of thought form, and marketing occurs. Anyone the least familiar with academia will be familiar with this. In the absence of foundation and structure, there is only persuasion, camps, and marketing. This is a way to market share or even market dominance, but it is not a way to liberation.

I have taken flak, and no doubt will take more, for not being satisfied with this state of affairs. Yet I yearn for more very deeply. Standards and structures by which we can come together to see and question what we think we know, and where we think we are, comprises an essential work required for there to be a future of Gnosticism in our culture.

For, ultimately, the most stringent standards we must face are not those of scholarship, logical argumentation, or scientific research. The standards we must, each of us, face are those of the cosmos itself. If we even risk setting ourselves up within a comfortable realm where we will not be truly challenged by others, the real challenge will only grow more difficult.

The Gnosis Institute will strive to be a place with a foundation, structure, and standards that will take us forward. I have learned from experience that there doesn't seem to be any way of even being a Gnostic community without them.

While there is much that could be found disappointing in this, we must simply learn and continue. If we do not expect more of each other, and give each other opportunities to move beyond the otherwise seemingly inevitable patterns, then our own failure of imagination is as apparent as any.

The Gnostic Seminary at the Gnosis Institute

As first publicly announced to the Internet Gnostic community last year, having been in the planning stages for more than six years prior to that, the Stephanus Seminary, or Ministry Preparation program, will be the lead academic program of the Gnosis Institute. It being proposed as the first educational program of the Institute for many reasons, the most important being the need for such a program.

The program takes the view that students are serious about preparation for active engaged Gnostic ministry, and are not simply seeking the fastest track to ordination. Gnostic ministry is a difficult task in the best of circumstances, one that many set out to devote their lives to, and a very few succeed in actually living out. Rather than focus on ordination, we focus on serious preparation for ministry that is academic, both broad and deep, and practice oriented. With the limitations of distance, the lack of personal contact and experience central to Gnosis, being overcome to the extent possible via residential conferences. Temporary learning communities that will allow us to grow our vital Gnostic community beyond the limitations of where we reside.

This allows for the best of both worlds, professional level preparation through an academic institution, in conjunction with formation and specific training within an ecclesiastical context. Although some may try to make this into a false dilemma, turning it into an exclusive choice, no such dualism exists.

The model followed is that of an open academic not-denominational seminary, such as Harvard Divinity School or Union Theological Seminary, but Gnostic in focus and designed to prepare for active spiritual ministry. This may be considered in contrast to the model of a seminary as a church institution for formation to the priesthood within a single denomination, like a Roman Catholic or Lutheran seminary. The strictly denominational model of seminary has been on the decline for quite some time, with most seminaries representing more than a single denomination, or being open and used by more than one. The open academic not-denominational model only represents a small percentage of seminaries, these usually having grown from denominational ones.

While they vary to a great extent, every church has a formation program. A process of becoming and learning that leads to ordination. Due to the limitations of distance, and the immediacy and inexpressibility of Gnosis, Apostolic Gnostic churches in general do not have distance formation programs, with only recent years seeing some limited occurrences. Formation has been considered something that occurs in-person. It is in this and broader contexts that the Stephanus Seminary at the Gnosis Institute is designed to operate.

The vision of the program is that of an open professional seminary that will essentially serve in the areas of formation that are academic and general. This has the additional benefit of bringing together students from different churches and traditions to be able to have a sense of going through the process together. There are few enough of us, and in any given formation program there are fewer still. These ties will continue to connect the Gnostic community long after students graduate.

The benefit to church formation programs is that they no longer need to be in the business of being a school: either trying to do it all with few resources, or doing much less; but can instead focus on the more personal aspects of formation, and aspects of practice. Additionally, the program is modular, both to adapt to the individual ministry for which it is preparation, and to adapt to the different focuses of Gnostic churches and traditions—to be able to serve all those seeking serious preparation for Gnostic ministry.

The Stephanus Seminary at the Gnosis Institute is an open professional Gnostic seminary. This will allow those seeking preparation for ministry to do so, regardless of the form of that ministry. The Gnosis Institute will be open to all, with ordination between candidate and church, as always.

Students are advised that some churches require other academic programs, ones that are contained within their organization. Students who seek ordination are advised to consult with their ecclesiatical body if they seek to use this program as a part of their formation process. However, graduates of such denominational academic programs will still want to enter this program. Benefiting from its modular nature so as to focus more on the areas that were not previously covered.

Additionally, the Gnosis Institute will offer three other allied programs: Developing Psyche & Spirit, Gnostic Studies, and Living Philosophy. More information on the educational programs of the Institute will follow.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Approaching the Da Vinci Code

It is with more than a little trepidation that I approach my upcoming seminar Illuminating the Da Vinci Code. My motives for doing so are suspected by many. Although, I truly hope it is far too late for anyone to try to jump on the coat-tails of the usual reactions and responses, and we can only pray that they will fade away sooner rather than later, the ability to imagine another approach seems largely absent.

There does seem to be some grand failure in imagination, a cultural short-circuit. Rather than using it as a tool to give form or to explore possibilities—most seem held captive by their imagination. They imagine only one thing, one perspective, one possibility: and then mistake that for reality. This is the world on spin-cycle, with imagination used as a filter for the world putting a spin on everything, so that imagination is used to reduce the possibilities we see—to tell only one story repeatedly.

Perhaps that is the mechanism of the modern dualism we see everywhere in our culture. The world and the people in it are complex, yet that is oddly missing from our public considerations. The ability to imagine the other as self fades, while the captivity to the imagination in a dualism of self vs other grows.

Yet, we are fish in the sea of our culture. We cannot see the currents directly, and often we forget there is water at all. But, at times, something large moves along the current, revealing not only the current, but reminding us again that we are in a particular sea.

The Da Vinci Code is something we are all probably tired of hearing about—but in a particular way. In the way that has become the standard way of approaching everything. In the way that ends conversation, turning it into a false debate where only one side is heard. We should all be tired of that. We shouldn't stand for it anymore.

I will be standing up against easy answers and modern dualism. And yes, I will be doing it in considering the Da Vinci Code phenomenon. Because in illuminating it we illuminate ourselves—we see something of the deeper currents and the nature of our particular sea. I hope you will be able to join me, either in person or in spirit.