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.