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Review: Bob Doto – Sitting with Spirits


Somewhere in August I agreed to receive the ebook Sitting with Spirits by Bob Doto, a featured Speakeasy selection and write a review. But 2020 has been weird in all kinds of ways, and the Covid-crisis has given me a writers block that stopped me from writing anything at all for most of the year, so while I instantly have read most of the book it took me a while to get myself to compose a review.

‘Sitting with Spirits’ is a short book (138 pages) about ‘spirit work’ from a Christian perspective. The book itself not that long, but it seems to be part of a bigger work ‘longer work exploring liminal, shadowy, and magical entry points into the Christ tradition.’ that it probably interesting too. Even with the short length it’s a fascinating read with a lot of stuff to wrestle with, which made it even harder to write a review.

I’ll be honest: The book is like I already said absolutely fascinating, very deep, thoroughly written and yet frustrating at the same time. Doto has some things in his worldview that I don’t agree with (about spirits and afterlife for example), but he also says a lot of interesting things that make a lot of sense, sometimes far away from the actual topic of his book. Indeed sometimes the side-remarks about completely unrelated topics are the deepest parts.
The part about spiritual commodification and ‘Old-Timey Holy Ghost Spirituality’excerpted on Mike Morrells blog for example is in itself worth reading, and certainly something to ponder and wrestle with… He surely says a lot of things that need to be said!

It’s also interesting to read read a book written from an actual spiritist point of view (not just animist, which I am much more familiar and comfortable with) that still identifies as Christian. (Even though it’s a very open-minded progressive form of Christianity that borrows from a lot of other traditions too, and probably the same can be said about his way of engaging ‘espiritismo’ in the book.) It’s the first book as such that I’ve read after only seeing warnings against spiritism being evil and worse all my life, and now my introduction to it is in many ways (certainly not only in name) thoroughly Christian, and very much bible-based. Much more bible-based than a lot of Christian writing I’ve read throughout the years even.
I have indeed been warned about spiritism from a young age in Christian books as a warning. You know the stuff: it’s demonic, the spirits that show up are always devils, and so on. (That and the secular ‘it’s all nonsense, cold reading and theatre’, which is rather boring) I am still wondering about that too by the way, what Doto would said about the prohibitions against consulting the dead, and about how he would exegete the medium of Endor story for example, which at a serious read defies every simplistic ‘all those things are demons in disguise’ theory anyway.

Yes, I hesitate to ascribe every spiritual encounter to demons of the gaps explanations but that still doesn’t mean I agree with Doto’s views of life after death, in which if I understand well -I might be wrong though- we (and other beings) become mostly spirits that wander around here, and might give guidance to those who come after us. He gives a thorough explanation of spiritism, the spirit-filled worldview, and on how to engage the spiritual world, complete with historical and biblical data that are very consistent.

On the other hand, that isn’t the only topic he engages at all: like I already mentioned the book is full of deep explorations of spiritual, religious and psychological themes that make a lot of sense, and at times Doto seems to have more insight in core aspects of Christianity than a lot of more ‘orthodox’ Christians in many traditions do, as well as a much deeper view of spirituality than a lot of ‘spiritual’ modern types. His definition of ‘spiritual’ for example doesn’t only go deeper than wishy-washy modern ‘spiritual not religious’ types, but is a good and very biblical reminder for Christians too:

To Paul, whether a person was spiritual or not was entirely dependent on a person’s relationship to the Spirit of God, what he and his comrades called “the Holy Spirit,” as it was specifically promised by Jesus Christ. Whether or not you meditated had nothing to do with it. (…) Far from being either a statement of belief regarding a person’s outlook on life or a choice one makes to become more peaceful and calm, to be a spiritual person meant you were in direct communion with the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus Christ, as gifted by God.

So the book did several things to me: it was an introduction to a worldview alien to me, it reminded me of basic Christian and other truths that are often watered-down nowadays, and provided interesting interpretations of the bible. Some of his advice is very solid, and in other areas he goes where I wouldn’t go. And even there he’s careful, nuanced, and not falling into a trap of giving methods in a book for things that take years of practice.

So on the one hand there is deep stuff, good reminders, and paradigm-stretching information. On the other hand, there still are things that I have no place for in my worldview, and even things that seem quite dangerous to me as a small o orthodox Christian. Even though I think he is much closer to describing the invisible world than most Christians, even Charismatic Christians who believe in the spiritual world, often get. (Or maybe especially Charismatics, sometimes those who engage in spiritual warfare are extremely weird and creepy to be honest.)

So while I certainly don’t agree with everything I will say it’s an interesting read, and a good introduction to a spiritist worldview -from a more postmodern and open but definitely Christian POV though- anyone who wants to expand their world and explore other paradigms, and pick up a lot of wisdom along the way.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook free through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Lessons from Thule: A description of Thulene and Badener society


The Beckman, 1974 (picture: wikipedia)

Like I said in my last post I’ve been rereading Thea Beckmans Thule trilogy recently. There are several interesting ideas in the books that are worth blogging about, which is problematic since they are only available in Dutch. So in this post I will try to summarise the most important details of the intriguing worldbuilding of the trilogy as a reference for further posts in this series.

In a way the books are built around a simple post-apocalyptic reboot of humanity, in which some cultures have learnt from ‘the Great Catastrophe’ (nuclear world warIII), and others haven’t a thousand years later: The Thulenes have a nonviolent culture based on respect for life and the leadership of women, while their opponents the Badeners are a dystopian mix of the negative aspects of European cultures of the last few centuries that isn’t actually that unrealistic.

See also:

The land of Thule
The land of Thule is a temperate-climate Greenland in a world where the North pole has moved to Japan and the South pole to South America. It is inhabited by people of mixed race, mostly descendants of Danish colonists and Inuit from before the Great Catastrophe. The capital is Gothab. The language is Thulene, which isn’t used in the books, but is the place and person names are a good indication that it falls something in between Inuit languages and Scandinavian too. People on the coast often known some Kanadene as a second language, descended from English and still mutually intelligible with the languages of the Merikans and Brits.

Thule: General culture:
Thule has a simple and rather low-tech culture, depending on horses and windmills. No-one is poor and no-one except for the royal Konega-family is rich. Communities share most of their stuff: houses, boats and horses belong to the whole community, but people do have personal property too. They also use silver money, but part of the wages is paid in various stuff. Children in school don’t just learn theory but also how to build houses and other practical stuff, and most people make furniture themselves.

He (Kilian) would have to search for a job, because his academic degrees were worthless here in this country. Thulenes had a completely different education than children in the Badener Empire. Here they were taught carpentry, sailing, cooking, shipbuilding, and all kinds of practical matters. And what were his skills? Nothing like that… (THP p.262)

Frederiksborg is an important university city. 80% of the university population is female, since men are rather rare in higher jobs. Thulenes have printing presses and colour print. Gunpowder is known but normally only used for fireworks or mining. Fire-arms are unknown orand later considered taboo. The only weapon used is a kind of stun-gun with little poisoned arrows, or the thorns of which the poison comes, that make an animal or human fall unconscious for a while. Men with weapons are seen as extremely indecent, except in the case of woodsmen. The idea of men fighting is shameful, almost obscene.

Important areas are the Capital Gothab on the West coast, the Holtak-district where the vases vases with gold-dust are made in the middle, and Kulus in the East. The Mining districts are in the North, where winters are still cold. Gold is exported to Kanada for wheat, and most trade with other countries is barter.
The population runs in the millions, but no-one has ever counted how much Thulenes there are, since people are not registered. They only have first names, except for the women descending from the ‘Mother of the Motherland’ Sigrid Helgadottir who are called ‘Dottir’ and are considered some kind of nobility. Most of the dottirs seem to be connected to trade.

Thule: Nature
Thulenes live very close to nature, and feel like themselves are a part of nature. Destruction of nature is punishable. Hunting is generally forbidden, and for every tree that is cut down a new sapling must be planted. Killing an animal is seen as murder almost as much as killing a human. The Thulenes import wild animals from Kanada for the balance of nature, and have a very diverse wildlife with deer, 4 species of bears (it’s implied that ice bears have survived too in the North, and adapted to a more temperate climate), wolves, foxes, moose, and much more. The people are friendly to animals, even predators and are in return rarely attacked by them and often treated as friends by animals.

I don’t understand, Kilian thought. This wilderness is full of devouring beasts, but this morning a wolf only woke me up and then ran away from me. And I seem to have slept in the arms of a bear, which didn’t do me any harm either. Shouldn’t people feer them at all?
No, he answered his own question. Not if the bear thought you were a Thulene. (THP p. 226)

Marine mammals are also friends of the Thulenes, and orcas even know the difference between the Thulene language of friendly humans and the Badener language of enemies who want to kill them. Elvira knows to ward off an orca that wants to attack the lifeboat after her ship has sunk by talking to it in Thulene, although it tries to attack people speaking Badeners.

Meat is eaten though, but only from old animals that have lived a happy life, which makes all meat extremely chewy. Birds are never eaten or killed. Eating fish is less of a taboo than eating meat, but in the dolphin season fish is left for dolphins and humans and not fished by people.
Poaching and destruction of nature get punished harshly with a mark in the face. (see later)

Thule: Gender roles
Thule is clearly a matriarchy: women are leaders in every aspect of society, they held most jobs with power, and they are seen as the more responsible sex. Men are seen as not to be trusted with power, which is connected to the stories about the Great Catastrophe, when the world was almost destroyed by men. Apart from that the society of Thule is not only very friendly but also egalitarian. There are hardly any class distinctions and people of all classes mingle with each other.

Men were nice, strong, often friendly creatures that could do the heavy work, that could plough the land, cut down trees, carry heavy loads and build houses, but couldn’t be trusted with something as sensitive as governing a country. They were too rude for that, too headstrong and selfish… Am I rude and selfish? Christian wondered. Was my father Rajo? (KOMA p.20)

This is also reflected in the political system: Thule is ruled by the Konega with the Council of Women, which consists of all district leaders and sometimes family members of the Konega, but traditionally no men. A small reform at the end of the first book tried to balance the inequality between the sexes by giving the men in the Konega-family a place in the Council of women too. In the third book, 50 years later that means 3 men and 26 women. Other cultures close to Thule like the Kanadenes and the Baffinlanders seem to also be female-led by the way.

Thule: Relationships and Marriage
monogamous marriage based on love seems to be the norm, but with reversal of traditional gender patterns: Christian at the beginning of the first book for example is horrified by the idea that he, as a Konega-son, might have to ask a woman himself instead of her asking him. Apart from that it seems that relationships are both rather relaxed and serious at the same time and based on friendship and intimacy.
Intercultural relationships and marriages, even with Badeners, are not seen as a problem at all if the character of the outsider has proven to be good.

Nanora had told her friends of the weaver mill enthusiastically about the young sailor who was so nice, had such a sweet face, cared so much about his mother and behaved so well. It wasn’t true at all that all of the Badeners were fiddling around with your body, that they were intrusive and brutal and thought that all girls just had to do whatever they liked. Erich was completely different: modest and careful. He left the initiative to his girlfriend, as it should be, and waited quietly until it was time for more intimate caresses. Really, Badeners were okay if you got to know them. (THP p 307)

Women get only a few children, because they have more things to do with their life than being a mother. (I suppose contraception is implied but not named because it is a childrens’ book after all. Nothing is said about sex explicitly.) Girls are sometimes valued above boys, although in theory boys are loved equally. People are very relaxed about nudity and young people are very playful and relaxed about their bodies in general. (Compared to the prudish Badeners) Prostitution is unknown, and harassment of women or violence within a relationship is a strong taboo.

The one exception to people being free to choose their own partner is the succession law for the Konega-family: a Konega-son can traditionally only marry a woman from the ‘dottir’ families, because of the supposed genetic superiority of the family line of Sigrid Helgadottir. This rather eugenic practice is called out as such by Christian, as he struggles with his love for the non-dottir girl Thura, and this law also gets a reform at the end of the first book for Christian and Thura.

Thule: Religion
Thulenes have a rather non-religious reverence for mother Earth, which is mostly just seen as the planet herself. They are not offended when Badeners describe it like that either. There are no priests or religious services, only small open temples in which people can sit in silence. These temples typically have a place on which one or more vases (if possible Holtak-vases made with gold-clay) with flowers are put express thankfulness.

Thule: Political system
Thulenes have a monarchy led by a Konega. The first Konega was Sigrid Helga-dottir, who came from Yselan (Iceland), and the Icelandic matronym ‘dottir’ became a kind of clan name for her female descendants, which were seen as women of great intelligence and intuition. Only a dottir can be a Konega. Thura becomes the first non-dottir Konega-mother, and her daughter Ferika-dottir then became the successor of Christians mother Armina-dottir.

The Council of Women consists of the leaders of all districts of Thule, and is in Gothab with the Konega half of the year and in their own district the rest of the year. District leaders, as well as region and city leaders are chosen democratically by men and women, based on their competence and skills, and always female.

Thule: Punishment system
The last intriguing part of Thulene society is their unique system of punishment. Thulenes never use violence (their worst weapon is a stun gun) and they don’t take away someone’ Continue reading

Available now for streaming and download: “We are civilised!?” (the 2019 RPM challenge album)


I am happy to announce the new Bram Cools album ‘We are civilised!?’, a collection of new folksongs, weird rattling rock-ballads, abstract electronic instrumentals, a few notes of crappy grunge-lofi and a completely misguided attempt at folk-electro that almost ended up like disco-pop. Maybe there are even a few seconds in which I do sound poppy.
civilisedfinal
Maybe I’m exagerrating with that last sentence. But check it for yourself. You can stream and download it here on noisetrade, as well as on here my own wix-site. And tell me what you think about it if you like it, or share it with people who might like it.
For more background: In an impulsive moment I decided to take the RPM challenge this year, which means to record a complete album of at least 10 songs or 35 minutes of music within the month of February. I’ve did this once before, in 2007 when I recorded a weird liturgical concept album in more styles than I knew I could play, based partly on old Christian liturgical texts in different styles. The electronic ‘Kyrie’ that features on various collections including ‘I am the Belgian Christian lo-fi scene’ originates there for example.
So now there’s ‘We are civilised!?’, a brandnew collection of music that was born in exactly one month. This year I had no real concept to start with, and thus not that much coherence. But I started with some instrumental tracks (both guitar-based and electronic) and wrote a lot of lyrics, and I’ve put them together. I also added a few older songs that I never managed to finish and record before. (Note that without them I would already have 35 min and 10 minutes) And then the bad luck kicked in when my recording console died so some instrumentals never received their lyrics, and some songs that were written on guitar never got recorded before the end of the month. (They might resurface later though)
Find the other albums on my bandcamp and the experimental feed on soundcloud if you like to hear something else.
That’s all for now.
Peace and love to all of you!
Bram Cools

2019, a new year of blogging


Hi reader of my humble ‘Brambonius in English’ blog,

2018 was by far the least productive year when it comes to me blogging here since I started blogging here. It was also a terrible year, for myself and for the world.

I hope 2019 will be better.

It has to.

And even if it isn’t, I will still need to find a new way to navigate Reality and our weird realities.

I do have some unfinished blogposts in my head and on my laptop that I hope to finish and post. Stuff about God, dating, Disney princesses and love, lobsters and the reversal of humanism, the great postmodern betrayal of the progressive follow-up to the emerging church, and more everyday stuff like that. There are lots of important things that I might need to say. Although I’m not that sure anymore that the internet is always the best place to share your thoughts. But I’ll see what I can do; and I’m certainly not going to abandon this blog!

What I do need is new directions though.

So I’ll try to reduce screentime and online time in this new year. I’ll try to read more physical books, and listen to CD’s again (burned CD’s from legally downloaded bandcamp mp3’s even, yes I’m oldfashioned) and LP’s. To play more music. I need to get out in nature more.

More creativity and less unneeded input like those draining social media feeds. Drawing, writing, music, maybe other things. But no more online-feed-trances that lead to nothing except being drained!

I also need more prayer and meditation, more alignment with God and with Reality, because I’ve been sucked into fake realities and stories that aren’t mine way too much recently. More Truth, Beauty and Goodness. This world is starving for it but the media and online universe clearly can’t provide it, only vaccinate me against it.

Both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ on the internet (and in real life) have become extremely toxic sometimes. So I need to ground myself outside of the online thoughtfields, away from toxic group spirits and creepy fake normalities and destructive nonsense that’s been taken for granted as common sense while it makes no sense at all.

Truth, Beauty and Goodness
Light, Justice and Mercy
Faith, Love and Hope
but the greatest of all of these
remains Love

Have a blessed 2019!!

Bram

Interesting stuff, weird creationist edition (May 2018)


And we’re back with a renamed version of the ‘interesting stuff elsewhere’ posts, May 2018 edition. I’ve dropped the ‘elsewhere’ part so I can include my own space, and I might be a bit late. But like someone once said, in some cases it’s better to be late than pregnant…

The picture is the hand of Campanula climbing over the  quay wall in the port of Antwerp. You can make up your own story about that…

Interesting stuff here:
I wrote a post about hell for the renewed synchroblog: The problem of those unable to Love, or the question of hell as a reality and I reflected on the scary incel-movement: Sexual entitlement, Involuntary celibacy, porn and losing your humanity

One of my songs is included in The Co-Op Communique Volume 4, a free compilation, which is a very interesting project that I might blog about myself later. Go and check which one it is, and check out the other 54 (!) songs, some of which are quite good.

I didn’t post my recipe for thistle soup yet. I might later.

A new plant for me that I saw here in Antwerp, Polycarpon tetraphyllum, kransmuur in Dutch and four-leaved allseed in English, new species in this part of Europe.

Stuff elsewhere:

The extraordinary life and death of the world’s oldest known spider 43 years, and killed by a parasite before it could reach old age

Is Capitalism Itself a New God That’s Devouring the Planet? written from a chaos magick paradigm but very interesting nonetheless. It’s on ultraculture, so watch out for people trying to sell you a chaos magick course.

The Paradox of Progressive Political Theology on experimental theology

A Scientist Sat Through an Entire Flat-Earther Convention. Here’s What He Learned. The Flat Earth society is fascinating and terrifying, and might be a subject for a later blogpost here too. This is a very interesting inside view of the movement.

Jean-Paul Sartre’s bad mescaline trip led to the philosopher being followed by imaginary crabs for years. This one makes one ask weird questions about tulpas and the opening of the sixth sense for astral creatures and such.

The price of public shaming in the Internet age

Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study

A debate over plant consciousness is forcing us to confront the limitations of the human mind

A fasinating series on creationism and ostriches on the natural historian:
Consider the Ostrich: Job 39 and God’s Commentary on His Creation
Consider the Ostrich—Comparing Theistic Models of Biological Origins
The Prelapsarian Ostrich: Paradise Lost or Portrait of a Good Creation?
Consider the Ostrich: Literal-Day Creationists Unsure about the Ostrich’s Created Condition

The Dark Side of Young Earth Creationism, Jack Chick like cartoon tract that might be a bit over the top but makes some interesting point about the current batch of proponents of YEC like Ken Ham.

One of my favourite Franco-Belgian comics has finally been translated into English last year: Yoko Tsuno: The Titans The original French version and Dutch translation are from 1978, so better late than…

Consider the Ostrich: Literal-Day Creationists Unsure about the Ostrich’s Created Condition

Some interesting stuff elsewhere, Orthodox fairy edition (april 2018)


And we’re back at blogging here, and also back with a reboot of my monthly collection of interesting stuff I’ve read elsewhere on the web.It’s either a complete coincidence or a humourous plot of the Divine that there are so much Orthodox fairies in this collection, but it looked like a cool title.
Note that these are things that I’ve read recently, but not necessarily things that were published recently. I don’t subscribe to our societies slavery to the endless new.

(Picture is a random medieval miniature of Mary punching Satan.)

Here are the links:

Christ in fairyland at Copious flowers (featuring among others David Bentley Hart and C.S. Lewis)
The Psychic Jesus – Part One: Introduction looks like a beginning of a very interesting series at the God of Green Hope
Fairy Spirits and the Lamb of God – Part 1 and part 2 from Michael King at the Kings of Eden representing the more fringe Charismatic side
, some Orthodox Tolkienologie from A Kimel
Do You ever Think About Being A Hobbit , some more Orthodox Tolkienology but with less difficult words from Father Freeman

Side effects may include atheism by Elizabeth Ester on her side effects of mood stabilizers.
The Church I Dreamed Of, Against Christian Idol Worship by Kwon Jeong-saeng, written in Korea in the nineties, but very relevant and confronting nonetheless
The gift of not knowing by Chad Holtz
Opposite Sex Friendship — a few thoughts by Heather Goodman, one of the best posts I’ve read on the subject over the years.
St. Benedict and the prosperity gospel, Carl McColman the Catholic mystic reflecting on Hillsong and the prosperity gospel

When Pop Culture Sells Dangerous Myths About Romance

Purity Culture Can Ruin the Sex Life of Christian Couples: A Therapist’s Perspective is the affirmation that the term ‘purity culture’ can describe something quite toxic in the US that is completely unlike any of the purity teachings I’ve encountered in my life in evangelical Belgium. (see my post A purity culture I don’t know…)

Desert Island economics (featuring Ayn Rand and Karl Marx) at existential comics
How Iowa flattened literature

And finally: an application form from the website of the illuminati where you can join them, provided that you’re not a robot. Sounds legit.

peace

Bram

 

The sexist umbrella that makes no sense at all


The subtitle of this blog is ‘My book of the damned’, because I sometimes touch on subjects that are completely off the radar for most people, even though they might be rather interesting or important.

Today we have the opposite, instead of saving something from the realm of damned and shining light on something interesting that is ignored by the mainstream I’ll shine some light on something that should be banished to far beyond the realm of the damned because it’s both harmful and stupid.

I’m speaking of the so-called ‘umbrella of protection’ diagram here, which seems to be used in certain ‘Christian” environments to explain how the order of the family is supposed to be. According to someone in my facebook list it’s even used in Flemish churches, although I’ve never encountered it myself luckily.

Just look at it for some seconds. Think about how umbrellas work. This is not how umbrellas work. Not even my little ponyland or Utopia are there laws of physics and logic that could be bended to make an umbrella work like this. No matter how you twist the whole thing, all umbrellas except the biggest one will always be redundant.

Now I know that a bad metaphor does not necessarily make an idea invalid,  and neither does a bad explanation of it.  So I know that I have to say something about the ideas behind the whole thing. But I can be rather short.

If the idea that the man is the mediator of God for the wife, and the wife is the mediator of God (through the man?) for the children, then the basics of Christianity are denied here. And the basics of protestantism too (the priesthood of all believers. Making the man a priest for all of his household members has some very weird theological implications outside of Christianity (like nullifying the idea that Christ brings is the one who connects us to God for women and children). And it’s as nonsensical as the ‘all men are leaders, all women are followers’ trope. No, most men are not leaders (and some women are). If everyone is a leader the word doesn’t even have any meaning anymore. And even though they are a minority, the bible certainly has a lot of women leaders and a lot of men who are not leaders.

If this is solely about protection then even psalm 23 doesn’t make sense in this worldview, and is only for me. Women should pray ‘my man is my shepherd, mediating the Lord for me’, while children should say ‘my mother is my shepherd, mediating my father who is mediating the Lord for me’. This is pure nonsense. God will protect anyone, and needs no authority over us to do so.

Hagar in the Desert

Think for example of Abraham, one of the most notorious figures in the history of religion, and certainly a man of God even though not always the best example in family relationships. When his wife Sarah kicks out his pregnant second wife Hagar the angels protect her, even though she just lost her ‘male umbrella’ according to this umbrella paradigm. Later the same thing happens with her son Ishmael when he’s 13. (Picture Gheorghe Tattarescu, 1870, Romania, I doubt angels actually look like that though)  God can protect any of us well enough without having any ‘umbrella’ of any authority over us. And for sure, we should protect the ones we love, but the whole hierarchy chain of the umbrella theory is very cramped and weird.

Where does it come from? It appears that this scheme comes from some bloke called Bill Gothard, who’s also leader of a homeschool movement and seems to be a rather weird cult leader (A FB-friend of me has been hurt and traumatised severely by his influence when growing up). His institute has even turned the theory and other rather weird authoritarian things in very cute but rather brainwashing songs for children and as you see from that link and the comments, more people have been very much hurt, damaged and traumatised by his approach.That alone should be enough to just discard the whole thing, and watch out for his influence in Evangelicalism. Here’s a good introduction to the story of Gothard (although not a super readable website) for those who want to dig deeper, and the afore-linked homeschool anonymous site has interesting stuff too.

To add a layer of irony, this whole Authoritarianism-gone-wrong stuff thwatchmanat is so pervasive in American Christianity is partly a Chinese import. Like the creepy extreme shepherding movement, Gothard is influenced by Watchman Nees ‘Authority and submission’ paradigm, which puts extreme emphasis on absolute submission.  (sample chapter from Nee here) Watchman Nee as a Chinese Christian was influenced by his culture -as anyone is- and imported a bit of Confucius here when it comes to the role of authority and hierarchy, which was taken to an unbalanced extreme.  For those who like to check for themselves: Here’s the whole reasoning behind the theory of ‘umbrella protection’ which is very clearly influenced by Nee if you’re familiar with his way of thinking.

But let’s go back to the diagram and look at it as it is drawn.  if we just open our eyes, the diagram itself cannot hide the truth that all of this is plain nonsense and the truth is still plain and open for anyone with eyes to see. The only ‘umbrella’ we need is the protection of God Himself. No other umbrella under it would ever do anything at all and they are all useless and unneeded…

Yes, we all are a blessing to each other, and we all help each other, but we’re all under the same umbrella together. It’s a basic Christian truth God is available to all of us through Christ.

peace

Bram

The friendship is the benefits (on Christian egalitarianism and cross-gender friendships)


I haven’t been blogging much lately apart from last weekend, but I seem to be full of thoughts that need out, and I’m trying to rely less on Facebook than I used to do -battling an addiction and winning?-, so I might return to blogging here more.

I’ll start with saying that I’m not following everything that’s going on in the US or in US Christianity, but I’ve been following a bit of the situation with the megachurch of Willow Creek from here. and the possible sexual misconduct of Bill Hybels -a man who always seemed rather respectable to me by the way- .  I am by no way qualified to say something about that situation, but the legendary blogger Andrew Jones has a good overview here with some important questions at the Tall Skinny Kiwi blog. (glad to see him blogging again by the way!)

One of the links that Andrew has collected in his post is a very interesting analysis of Dan Brennan here. Dan is one of the biggest experts in this age on Christianity and cross-gender friendships in the world as far as I know, at least in the English-speaking world. (See all my posts about his book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions’ here) HE has some interesting observations about a certain kind of ‘anxious’ egalitarianism that he sees as quite pervasive in certain American circles:

I was in for a big surprise when I started to go public about my friendships with women a little over ten years ago. I thought evangelical egalitarians would enthusiastically see all the benefits of intentional spiritual friendships out in the open. It was quite a jolt to me when I began to run into skeptical egalitarians.

To say I encountered spiritual anxiety among these unconvinced Christians would be an understatement. It was not that they were opposed to cross-sex friendships. They had plenty of opposite-sex friends.

What, then, were they anxious about? It soon became clear to me: my intention to practice dyadic opposite-sex friendships before a watching world. They were highly anxious in men and women sharing authentic power and risk in one-on-one relationships with no one else around. Friendship was not foundational to any Willow Creek model. It was not even up there on the high priority list.

Again, note here I can’t comment on whether this is actually true for certain circles, and my goal here is not to point my finger to certain groups that are on another continent from me, but to find out what the most Christlike way of living and interacting is, and which examples should be emulated and which examples are lacking. And what we can learn from that, either by seeing what we should do, or what we shouldn’t do.

Let’s first say that I certainly am an egalitarian and strongly believe that cross-gender friendships are a healthy thing, for several reasons. When it comes to the reasons that some Christians want to hear first, the ones derived from the bible and the Christian tradition, both more or less have the same foundation:  Jesus who broke all rules of gender segregation that his culture had is an important one to start with. Think of the Samaritan woman at the well, the story of Mary & Martha, and as I pointed out in my last post Mary Magdalene in the garden-. Paul speaking of ‘no male and female in Christ’ is another one. And just the idea of calling each other brother and sister is also a quite powerful -that’s not just a metaphor, people-. Every person is our brother and sister, and needs to be treated as such, with the same love and respect we would treat an actual sibling. (Yes, looking at our sisters as sex objects would be creepy and evil if looked at it that way.)

I also am naturally inclined by my personality type to friend women as easily as men, and any person who will tell me than male-female friendships are impossible is more or less doing something like telling Mr. beaver of Narnia that animals cannot talk.

I’d also say people who are unable to have equal cross-sex friendships are missing something in their humanity, and that New Testament Christianity quite easily leads to the conclusion that all people of all genders should be treated as friends. And that looking at people as sexual objects, either as a prey in our fantasy or as a temptation that we should get away from at all costs is, is a serious disregard of the humanity of our sister.

(Note that I’m speaking as a straight male here but that you can fill in whatever gender  or sex you are that fits for yourself and whom you’re attracted to. It’s applicable to all genders and sexual orientations)

I’m not the only one who has picked up on Dan’s important observations. The internetmonk blog also extensively quotes his blogpost in a post called “Friends without benefits“. Chaplain Mike ends his post with the following points:

In our sexualized society, it is easy to understand why some people might want to erect strong, rule-based boundaries about cross-sex relationships. I have news for you. Those boundaries haven’t stopped or even slowed down immoral behavior, and if I read Paul correctly, trying to control sin by implementing law only exacerbates the problem (Romans 7).

I believe God calls us to maturity and wisdom in all of our relationships. I have long been “egalitarian” in my theological position (I’d rather say I believe in full partnership and mutuality between men and women). But this article has caused me to question a huge blindspot in egalitarian teaching and practice. We have not truly learned to welcome each other, live with each other, and serve one another as true brothers and sisters until we can learn to be friends. Without benefits.

Very important points again, although I have some quibbles with his title. I’d say that the friendship itself is enough of a benefit, not? I already don’t like the expression of just friendship’. There is something very wrong if there’s an actual friendship going on and you call it being ‘just’ friends, a if being friends is not something worth celebrating in this superficial lonely culture… So as my own title here says, I’d say that ‘the friendship is the benefits’!

In a world where people of the other sex (or any sex you find attractive) are so often reduced to a commodity to satisfy your lustful thoughts actually seeing people as humans like us made in Gods image, and treating them as friends, and sisters and brothers of equal value as we have ourselves might be a revolutionary way of living. But in the end it’s just a very logical application of ‘love your neighbour’.

Not dehumanising people into sex objects -to abuse or run away from as a temptation- and just being friends with them are two extremely basic ways of loving your fellow human I would say… And that’s the core of the question. When we grow on our spiritual Path with Christ -who friended all kinds of women including prostitutes, which were never referred to as sex objects of either category by Him, but as fellow human beings in need of love- we should  be able to go much deeper than that. Just being brothers and sisters is the beginning, like learning the ABC when there are whole libraries to read, and all of us will add our own book to them.

peace

Bram

See also on this blog:
Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, and the Risen Jesus
Jesus against the sexism of his time: Martha and Mary
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’
On nudity in game of thrones, and some American bloke again…(the ‘bloke’ being John Piper)
On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism?
‘Male christianity’ vs Mother Teresa
A Christian reaction to porn that doesn’t dehumanise the objectified further?
sexual dominoes vs the fruits of the Spirit
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Meditating on sexy models

Zen dragons and false pictures of reality…


Let’s start with a little Japanese Zen parable that I stumbled upon, and that I like a lot for some reason:

In China there wKunisada_II_The_Dragonas a man named Seiko; he loved dragons. All his scrolls were of dragons. He designed his house like a dragon-house and he had many figures of dragons. So a real dragon thought, “If I appear in his house he will be very pleased.” So one day the dragon appeared in his room, and he was very scared of him, and almost drew his sword to cut him. The real dragon said, “Oh, my!” and he hurriedly escaped from the room.
“Don’t be like Seiko!” – Dogen Zenji (1200-1253)       (source)

Why do I like this little parable so much?
Because it is a very good description of a human tendency to avoid Reality and run away in our own selfmade pictures, systems of thought and descriptions of reality of it, as if they are the real thing. And then live as if this is the real thing. This applies to all kinds of stuff: God, the natural world, human relationships, and so on…
We make our interpretation the real thing, until it leads its own life, and in the end our own version will be more important than the actual thing, the ‘dragon’ in our parable, and we might get rather disturbed if a real dragon would show up, like our friend Seiko did.

This doesn’t mean that we as humans live without our ‘scrolls of dragons’. We humans interpret and describe the world in language and systems of thought, and without this mediation we cannot see the world. That is a natural and necessary thing, but the danger is always there that our mental interpretations run away from us and from reality, and form a world on their own, unhindered by reality itself.

One version of this is scientism, where our modern scientific observations and interpretations of reality (and the consensus about them that we have at this present moment) become all there is, with nothing else. We squeeze all of reality into one interpretation of what can be observed with our 5 senses and our instruments, and then equate that with Reality. I’ve never understood how people could ever fall for such a thing, but it remains a popular outlook on the world, probably because it makes our world seem more controllable, and the uncontrollable forces like gods and devils are eradicated by just ignoring them…

It can gen more serious than that though: when the ‘dragon’ in question is God, the Creator of Reality and Ground of being ‘him’self, this becomes conceptual idolatry. Instead of believing in God and putting our trust in the Creator, we end up following a construct of our own making. Instead of making connection to the God behind all constructs, we end up worshipping a selfmade deity only existing in our head, since we think we can completely describe God, and that God is nothing but what we describe with our theological language.
None of our descriptions will even describe a natural thing for 100% though, let alone God.

The religious side of making our own dragons can get dark. When I posted this parable on facebook one of my friends noted that this is what Americans do with Christ. And I can see her point in these days of Trump I am afraid, any religion that could go along with Trumpism is opposite to what I read in the gospels and all of the New Testament, about humbleness, enemy-love, rejection of Mammon and power, and so on…

(There also might be the danger that a picture of God living in an enormous thoughtfield becomes a more potent entity and behaves like an egregore or ‘godform’, and this might be the case for Murikan Jeebus, the tribal war god that is completely unlike Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Incarnated Son of God in almost every important detail except some cosmetic ones, but that is another story. It is the same with the supposed Allah of IS who wants most people dead by the way; who is a blasphemy compared to how the Muslim tradition and scriptures envision the God of Abraham and Creator.)

It’s also quite important in more mundane relationships by the way. If instead of letting people be who they are we make our own set of expectations for them, we will only have a friendship or even marriage with an illusion, not with a person. See also my post Do you love your wife or a picture in your head? for more about that idea. The weird thing is that even Christians seem to fall for this habit of making ideals and then trying to conform people to them.

(Which is the opposite of Platonism btw. Platonic ideals are a priori and can only be discovered, while these constructs are a posteriori and completely made up by us humans.)

So what is my point here?

I do think that it’s very important to learn to see what really is there. To not just follow the finger pointing to the moon, but look at the actual moon. And to let it be the moon without expecting it to be cheese or an alien base from the time before time.
It is very important to let reality be, and to interact with what is really there, not with illusions. To cultivate ‘first sight’, as it is called in Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books. In the words of the kelda of the Mac Nac feegle clan, who speaks almost normal English here:

‘First sight is when you can see what’s really there, not what you heid tells you ought to be there. […] Second sight is dull sight, it’s seeing only what you expect to see.’
(The Wee Free Men, P. 132)

Think also of the words of Jesus in the sermon on the Mount:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)

How we do that depends on the subject or object, but a radical honesty with ourselves is always the beginning, and an openness to being wrong. But I don’t have all the answers here, and am only learning myself while stumbling along the way. I just know that this is extremely important, if we want to get anywhere at all.

What do you people think?

peace

Bram

 

 

New Bram Cools release: “Safe happy Christian music for the conservative middleclass” (the lost album)


Allow me to use my blog once more to do a musical announcement:

Available now Saturday:

“Safe happy Christian music for the conservative middleclass” (the lost album)

safe

Next Saturday, the first day of July, the Bram Cools album ‘Safe Happy Christian Music for the conservative middleclass’ will be released through my  bandcamp page. It will a ‘choose your own price’ release, and if enough people ask me for it I might make some kind of physical CD-R release too.

More about the album
Don’t be fooled by the title, ‘Safe Happy Christian Music for the Conservative Middleclass’ is not only a rough collection of weird lo-fi folk songs that often go in unexpected musical directions, it is also a a bit of a spiritual concept album that is designed to make people uncomfortable at times. (It even makes me uncomfortable 7 years later, and that’s not because of the musical errors and out-of-tune moments.)
While the music is inspired by the words of Christ and the New Testament, so you can be certain there’s nothing safe or middleclass about actual Christianity. If you take these things seriously seriously you’ll end up closer to nonviolent anticapitalist green anarchism than to a cage of safety, Mammon and the quiet desperation of adulting under peer pressure of those with shiny toys and life-sucking jobs…

As said before it’s not really a new album, but an older project that only got finished now. ‘Sell everything you have and give it to the poor‘ was meant as its first single together with ‘Stephen, they’re gonna stone you to death’ 7 years ago, but the album never came… It grew out of a set of songs songs that I started writing at the moment that my band the contemporary Christian Muzak collective (CCMC) was falling apart, almost 10 years ago. Mandolin and melodica are very prominently present on the album, but apart from that I do switch instruments all of the time, and the role of electronica if present is generally rather small.
Most of these songs were almost completely recorded but never finished when life happened and prevented them to be completely finished, and so they took a long sabbatical on my harddisk instead of being released ‘soon’ as I promised 7 years ago. Musically there still is the pre-cyberluddism approach of playing a lot of instruments myself rather than programming them as I did on later albums, which gives a more folk and at moments even rock feeling, and there is a lot of experimentation going on which sometimes gives a noise-feel. While most of these songs have just been hiding on the computer, a few of them have been played live, and the sing-along classic ‘sell everything you have and give it to the poor’ fastly became a concert favourite.

The playlist will be:

1. Ouverture 02:07
A slightly Sufjanesque semi-instrumental ‘ouverture’ in 5/8 on mandolin and melodica, which sets the atmosphere for the more folky parts of the album. Probably one of the more safe and happy pieces on the album, even though it’s written in an uneven meter and minor key. (Hear an older mix of it on soundcloud)

2. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor 04:4
This undoubtedly is the ‘hit’ of the album. Based on a very minimalist chord scheme derived from traditional American folk music, this proves to be a live hit and sing-along, even though the lyrics are rather controversial, and much more Christian than safe or middleclass. This arrangement is based on mandolin, percussion and sometimes a heavily distorted slide guitar, and it still echoes the CCMC atmosphere.

3. Gentiles 03:28
This is an older song that has been online in different versions for years, probably both weird and unique and yet typical for the older Bram Cools indiefolk style, with the typical melodica, and a heavily distorted small African drum and stuff like that. Also a protest song about how religion often misses the point. (older mix on soundcloud)

4. You were hungry 02:43
Here we depart from the folk for a rather freaky experimental kind of lo-fi noise that was originally just built on endless layers of delay on vocals and some claps. For later version the original has been sampled and re-arranged, and spiced up with some electronics. The music is meant to be uncomfortable as a support of the lyrics, which are taken straight from Jesus’ words about social justice, care for the least and judgment… Very safe and middleclass…
I hope to be able to play this live one day with an actual theremin…  (older mix on spundcloud)

5. No more lilies in the field 04:47
With this song we’re back to folk music of the more psychedelic kind and to the first actual guitar song. Different layers of percussion, folk instruments or reversed sounds come an go in a song structure that doesn’t really follow a verse-chorus-verse pattern. To stay in harmony with the other songs it’s alos a protest song against commercialisation and Americanisation of religion. (lyrics video on youtube)

6. Don’t kiss me 03:27
This was the first song of the album to be ready, and thus it ended up on my compilation album ‘I am the Belgian Christian lo-fi scene’ as a very new song 7 years ago. A song about love (or the absense of it), and again an indie-folk song. The mandolin is back, and so is the 5/8 meter. If the album were an actual LP this one would close the A-side. (‘I am the Belgian Christian lo-fi scene’ version on bandcamp)

7. Stephen, they’re gonna stone you to death 03:3
The B-side of the LP (also the B-side of the ‘sell everything’ single) starts with a distorted slide-guitar, and then everything goes weird, but in a very slowed-down and relaxed way. There is a guitar-noise feel, but the mandolin and melodica are back and bring a weird drumcomputer that has been stretched beyond recognition. Just like the ‘ouverture’ this is a semi-instrumental but in a completely different way. This song does have a text somewhere the end if you can understand it through all the distortion, and it’s about getting stoned, and not in the druggy way. (‘sell everything’ single version of bandcamp)

8. Coming soon 04:10
Something of the guitarnoise stays, and in comes a voice in the desert screaming about the end of time. The percussion is back at full force, and something sounds a bit mid-Eastern maybe. The song is about struggling with Christian ideas about the end-times.

9. Swords into plowshares 04:39
The mandolin is back for a more folky song about a world without war or weapons that still is rather experimental.

10.Poverty nor richess 05:12
And with this the weirdness is really back in full force. What could go wrong with only 2 chords and a bible-verse, and an arrangement of acoustic guitar, piano, melodica, percussion and vocals, one could ask. Well, apart from the content of the bible-verse from proverbs that maybe isn’t quite middleclass, the chords are not usually used together and form some kind of C-altered scale together. And then there is that manic shamanic-sounding background-vocal, and those free-jazz chaos parts. Ah and the percussion is an actual shamans frame drum. I don’t think I would dare (or even be able) to even make such a song anymore, but it’s certainly interesting to listen again.

11.Drummers and drumcomputers (psychedelic folk mix) 03:13
This is another live-favourite that has had a lot of different version, and finally we have jumped from heavy theology to a protest song about the downsides of our technological society. This should have become the first recorded version, but it evolved a bit before it was finished and lost the electronic beat that featured the demo-versions and some live-versions. This also has some nice harmonica bits played by Bram Beels that were recorded in Sweden! (very crappy live webcam version with beat and guitar here on youtube)

12.Love and mistakes 03:31
And with this song we close the B-side of the LP, and we finally get rid of sarcasm, the harsh demands of reality and the clash betwee and our world and anything that makes sense, to find rest in Love with this soft song erupting in a quiet post-rock like instrumental part. Surely, it’s still a bit rough, lo-fi and unconventional still, but only those who hate grace and forgiveness will be uncomfortable with this one…

It isn’t the closing song if you download the whole album btw, there are 2 bonus tracks for those who download the whole album. The first one is the poppy fun protest song that should be well-known to older fans, and the second one, called ‘new moon’, is a rather extatic improvisation with the mandolin/melodica/percussion instrumentation.

So check my bandcamp Saturday if you want more!

enjoy

Bram