Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Necropolis, by Michel Weatheall; a book preview

Scheduled for release early 2016, I have had to opportunity to preview Necropolis, the final installment of The Symbiot Series.

~ ~ ~

Woven throughout this entire literary piece are the stories of characters forgotten about from the original novella, The Symbiot. Written as three separate pieces, following 6 story lines set in 3 different ages, Necropolis is intricate storytelling!

The first piece tells the story of the fall and demise of the ancient Egyptian man-god, Pharaoh Nyarlathotep. 

The second brings us back to the characters we left in the previous book, ten years later. The promises hinted at in TheHunt: Symbiosys, do not disappoint and come to fruition in Necropolis, with full blown Lovecraftian-mythos monsters! 

It's Modern Tech versus forgotten aeons-old evil, with a reminiscent flavouring similar to Grandma Death's fictitious book (Donnie Darko, 2001)!

~ ~ ~

It has been a decade since The Hunt and the Gibbons' children are humanity's last hope!

The conclusion of The Symbiot Series spans three millennia - from Pharaoh Nyarlathotep's genesis and demise, to the discovery of the derelict Japanese Destroyer, the Yamayuki, to the world shattering rising of R'lyeh!

The world is at its end!
R'lyeh has risen!
Cthulhu's high priest has awaken!
Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fhtagn!

Monday, August 31, 2015

"The Uncontrolling Love of God", by Thomas Jay Oord: Review & Commentary

(By Guest Blogger/Writer - Michel Weatherall)

I will begin this book review with a spoiler.
Sometimes we hold onto something so tightly, we cannot ever let it go. We become blind and forget we are even desperately clinging onto it. These are blind Sacred Cows.
I believe many religious traditions are guilty of this and thus struggle with the theological problem of pain, suffering, and evil.

The answer is simple but heretical.
God cannot be both omnibenevolent and omnipotent.

Either God is All-Powerful, but not All-Loving...
or God is All-Loving, but not All-Powerful.
You cannot have it both ways. ("Almighty" and "Omnipotence" are not synonymous. "Divine love preconditions God's almightiness". Pages 188-191).

I personally have come to this conclusion several years ago. I opt with the latter: God's Love trumps God's power. Let me tell you, it isn't a popular position. And not having the theological clout makes this a difficult position to hold.

Thomas Jay Oord sees this clearly.
He expertly juggles herculean theological challenges that - although any serious amature theologian may not know their proper terms or nomenclatures - should most definitely recognize and identify. Christian or not, these challenges are the undertow of our reality, one way or the other, with serious practical implications. They are important questions and should not be disregarded or relegated to the realm of speculative contemplation. 

Personally, I approach these issues from a perspective of 'God' akin to something like the Hindu concept of the Brahman, or the Taoist's Tao, but I still hold onto the Christian belief of God being - not loving - but Love itself. (And in chapter 4, pg. 83, he systematically lists the 'types' of Providence-beliefs, including mine (pg. 94-95). And just in case, my gentle reader, you're curious, my views of God's providence falls somewhere between points 4-5 (God is Essencially Kenotic - God Sustains as an Impersonal Force). My point being, we all begin from a certain paradigm and this book is written with that understanding.)

An old ex-pastor friend of mine used to tell me that I had to be careful how I chose to write about some of the theological concerns and issues I often address. He said, I often had interesting and valid points that certain religious groups would do well to hear and listen to, but the risk was to avoid putting it in such a way as to turn them away.

My friend was right. But sometimes I think there is value in being up front and honest; in thinning out the herd; in weeding out the garden; separating the chaff from the wheat.

This is a book many religious groups would benefit well to study.
Thomas Jay Oord has balls the size of church-bells with some of the theological issues he addresses in this new book. He doesn't shy away or attempt to sidestep some of the most difficult theological challenges there are, but rather embraces them and faces them head-on. No doubletalk, no Christianese, no churchtalk. In fact, he chastises some of these less than satisfactory and submissive answers. This is not a watered down selective theology made to look pretty.

The existence of evil. Free Will vs. Determinism. Libertarian Freedom. A non-all-controlling God. Regularists vs. Necessitarians. Natural Law. Euthyphro's dilemma. Evolutionary Emergence. Divine Kenosis, divine impassibility & mutability, and the list goes on!
This is no light of fluffy read.
I have given his previous book, "The Nature of Love: A Theology" a great review, but my one complaint was that he needed to significantly expand on his concept of Essential Kenosis. This book promises to do just that.

Ultimately, in my humble opinion, this book is a sequel to "The Nature of Love: A Theology". In my review of "The Nature of Love: A Theology" the only real criticism I found was that Thomas Jay Oord's revolutionary concept of "Essencial Kenosis" needed more fleshing out.

In "The Uncontrolling Love of God" he does exactly this, not only going into significantly more detail and exposition, but also summerizing and exploring popular and currently held beliefs and theories that have attempted to address these difficult issues, and ultimately come up short or have failed.

I am an adherent to "Essential Kenosis", have come to these self-same conclusions myself. However, in "The Uncontrolling Love of God", I feel that the author needed to better explain how "Essencial Kenosis" addresses random harmful (genuinely evil) acts.

"Essential Kenosis" adequately explains the existence of pain and suffering in our world while maintaining God's inculpability and inability to intervene when dealing with individuals of free-will or agency. But once "Essential Kenosis" launches into issues of non-agency, or the inanimate, or aggregates, or 'laws of nature', it becomes less than crystal clear.

I admit, part of the fault may fall upon the reader (myself) for I have not given this particular issue thorough thought or exploration. It is definitely something I personally need to better address. But let's be clear here: I am not the one proposing "Essential Kenosis" (even though I edorse it). The burden of onus lied upon the author, Thomas Jay Oord, and I'm not convinced he followed this through thoroughly enough. Maybe this could be material for a new book? (Essential Kenosis, part 3?)

This becomes more problematic and convoluted as he attempts to address the issue of Miracles. Although the section pertaining to divine miracles is detailed, I will do the injustice of simplifying it (it is still worth the read) in saying I feel as if he is dancing and weaving around the problem of divine miracles by redefining it; possibly becoming fixated on 'hammering a round peg into a square hole'. He is attempting to force the Christian criterion of Miracles into "Essential Kenosis" where I am not sure it fits. I think a simple point of its beauty is missed: Essential Kenosis does not have to be exclusively Christian.

There is a near insurmountable challenge present when dealing with Christian Miracles: It is nearly always accepted as God intervening.  The author offers a new paradigm to consider. When free-willed agents (us) interact with God's uncoercive desires and will, this collaborative effort leads to a future closer to God's will or hope for the universe - what we might call the Kingdom of God (not the Heaven of the Afterlife); that maybe, this paradise-like world is within the natural scope of the 'laws of nature'; it is not supernatural, but simply natural; a simply unrealized potential. 

Although I am not a fan of approaching theories based exclusively upon the biblical witness, Thomas Jay Oord goes far beyond this method, building upon observation and evidence from Science, Philosophy and Theology. This book is thoroughly grounded.

"The Uncontrolling Love of God" belongs on any religious, spiritual, or theologian's bookshelf. This is a must read!

Five stars!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Friday, August 21, 2015

"The Hunt: Symbiosys", by Michel Weatherall: Book Preview

Due for release October 2nd, 2015!

Following immediately on the heels of The Symbiot, its events segue directly into "The Hunt: Symbiosys".

File:Emergency response team RCMP 7108-002.jpg

Barely eclipsing global extinction, the Gibbons' couple are forced to flee and hide from clandestine forces intent on their eradication.

Centering between Montreal and Tokyo, this sequel introduces an unimaginable new world threat!

A slow burning intercontinental chess match quickly escalates into its fast paced and violent conclusion!

This book drops delicious hints of the advent of Lovecraftian-mythos monsters! Foreshadowing a hidden but impending doom, this entire sequel is haunted by an unnameable undertow which promises to reach fruition in this trilogy's upcoming conclusion, Necropolis.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Delusion of Social Media

I know a fair amount of people who live their lives as if they were on a TV show. Believing that somewhere "out there" there is an audience who laughs when they laugh, cries when they cry and cheers them on when they're about to accomplish great things. And why shouldn't we believe this?! For the vast majority, a large part of our education has been through television or TV itself.

Unfortunately, this is a delusion. It simply isn't true. But even more unfortunate is the fact that today, with the advent of Social Media, it can be true... at least to a certain extent.

I know people who will post pics of what they had for lunch today. Their life has an audience now, I'm just not sure that audience really cares that much.

So what is Social Media?  I'm not looking for a legalistic definition. I'm sure you are more than capable of googling the question yourself.

Ultimately, it is a tool, and like any tool, it is neither good or bad. You can use it, or abuse it, or be abused by it.
I know may people and friends who like to count the amount of "Friends" they have on Facebook. Some of them even believe they're really friends. They're not friends. Do an experiment. Post a story that you're in trouble and you need a friend to lend you $ 1,000.00. See how many show up.

Now, Social Media (let me stick with Facebook as it is the largest) is customizable. Like I said, it is a tool. You can create a private small room of close friends to socialize in.

I don't believe Social Media is socializing. It is an interactive forum of sharing information of a social nature. It is the same confusion between knowledge and data. There is a difference.

I believe many people think that a good analogy for Facebook is a group of people socializing in a room. Some close friends and family, some acquaintances, and some strangers. I think that's a bad analogy.

It's more like being in a massive convention hall or auditorium or stadium with many, many more people. You travel and drift through the crowds, surrounded by your immediate circle of family and "Friends", but ultimately you are in a sea of people.

But there's an even better analogy, albeit a bit more desolate and bleak.

Thousands of people standing around the edge of the Grand Canyon, all shouting and screaming their inconsequential stories into the abyss. 

Let's face it, when you post anything on Facebook, you're not sending private messages to your family and friends directly; you're communicating into that great abyss that is cyberspace.

And yes, you can chat and send private messages, but this belongs in the realm of phone calls, talking, texting (maybe) and emails. This is true communicating and possibly socializing. No, Facebook doesn't have to be like this. As I said earlier, it is a tool, to be used or abused.

Another favourite of mine is Twitter. Like Facebook, Twitter too is a tool, but not really a social outlet.

My twitter account gets a few new followers everyday!
At first is feels great!... until you realize they aren't really interested in you or what you have to say. They're interested in using you to build up what they perceive to be their audience.

It is sort of like going out to your local pub on Friday night because it's Lady's Night, only to arrive at the bar filled with men in an awkward silence.

Now, there are people out there that understand what these medias truly are and see the opportunity and advantage they can be. My point isn't that Social Media is bad. Like I said, a hammer is a tool. Whether you use it to build a home to nurture a loving family in or for murder is on you. My point is that many people are delusional as to what exactly it is and isn't.

They abuse it. They are abused by it. They become addicted to it, ironically, at the cost of their real lives.


And finally, there's Blogger and/or Wordpress.
Although these clearly are not Social Media, it is still important to identify them for what they are. 

More or less, they're a soapbox. 

A Soapbox is defined as "a thing that provides an opportunity for someone to air their views publicly", often about politics or religion. 

The problem with having your own soapbox is that everyone on the internet can have a soapbox. You end up with a great many individuals shouting into the void thinking their thoughts, views, opinions and whatnot are important and listened to. 

I suspect sometimes, there are simply too many people shouting.

So let's recap:

Facebook = yelling into the Grand Canyon
Twitter = Lady's Night
Blogger/Wordpress = Soapbox.

So, at the end of the day, I suppose this post puts me into the category of hypocrite, doesn't it? Because here I am preaching on my soapbox. 

What does Social Media put you?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Abandon, by Tim Timberlake: Commentary & Review

Abandon, by Tim Timberlake is basically an expansive sermon on Jacob (Israel). This entire book teaches and hinges on one particular study (interpretation) of Genesis 25-50.

Although it doesn't specifically avoid heavier or more theologically challenging issues, it is safe to say it focuses on, and is geared towards, newer Christians entering fully into Christianity. 

On first impressions the book seems to tackle the basic meat and potatoes of Christianity. But upon delving deeper, I am concerned this Christian pastor-author is inadvertently pushing Churchianity rather than Christianity. 

"... you pray when you can and read the Bible when you can. You even go to church if there isn't a big game on or you aren't too tired from a late Saturday night out." pg. 50
"...begin to look for the healthy stuff like communal worship and prayer." pg 60
Why is communal worship (read in, Church as a verb) assumed to be "healthy stuff"? Reading the bible and going to Church every Sunday are examples of being obedient to God? I am not theologically convinced of that.
"Do you have a church you call home? If not, it's time you found one!" pg 117

I am concerned this pastor-author may even be throwing in a light seasoning of Prosperity Gospel
"Disobedience in any area produces curses, and cursed cause us to fail. On the flip side of that, when we adhere to the things God instructs us to do, it produces blessings.
"When you really grasp this truth and start believing this, it will lead you to the abundance that both you and God desire for your life." pg. 39-40
What is being taught here is that bad things will befall you if you do not follow God's will and good things will be reaped upon you if you are obedient. Ultimately, this may not be a Prosperity Gospel but it is definitely the teaching of the Carrot and the Stick.  
"One night I asked him why God would allow this to happen to him, a person who clearly was following the will of God in every way. My father made clear to me that the throat cancer was not from God, but rather from the enemy..." pg. 80
It isn't important here whether I agree or not with this point of view. If we are going to abide by bible or Christian theology, then at least let's not be subjective. Lines like this concern me for I am not convinced they are theologically sound. The bible states, "...for He caused His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Matthew 5:45 (NIV). Clearly, not all bad things that befall us is the work of the devil. 
"We ask God, "God, just exactly when will the new job come through? The soul mate be found? The child conceived? The money made?"" pg. 82
Again, like a Prosperity Gospel, the author is assuming these good and desired things are coming. Maybe the answer is the new job is not coming through; the soul mate's not to be found; there is no child; the money's not to be made. Tim's 'theology' makes God into some sort of Cosmic ATM. It is poor theology. (However, to be fair to Tim Timberlake, he does warn against this very thing on page 89).


On a different tangent, there are certain assumptions taken in this book that not only do I not agree with; not only do I think are erroneous teachings, but also feel are somewhat degrading and insulting to other faiths. 
"Every single one of us - without the benefit of God on our side - will disregard our gifts and act rashly and without discernment..." pg. 66
I rather like Master Hua-Ching Ni's (Taoist teacher and priest) perspective on this:
"Excessively religious people may think those people had no God, but I don't see it that way. I think that these were spiritually self-responsible people who did not rely on external authority to make themselves behave correctly." Huan-Ching Ni, "Entering the Tao", pg. 21
The point here, being that some people need either the carrot (a promised spiritual reward - which would make them spiritual hedonists) or the stick (a threatened punishment), or both, in order to act morally and civilly.

Tim Timberlake furthers this erroneous position by making assumptions that what would be a good, level-headed, and grounded friend (see the example on pg. 151) must be a "godly friend". 

"Now I never saw my dad do any wrong. He never yelled, never smoke, never drank. He was the epitome of being Christ-like..." pg. 79
I mean no disrespect for his late father, but again, I am not convinced this is an example of being the epitome of Christ-like. We have prime examples of Jesus yelling in the cleansing of the temple (Mark 11:5-19, 27-33, Matthew 21: 12-17, 23-27, Luke 19:45-48, 20: 1-8, and John 2: 13-16), and Jesus had been accused of gluttony and being a drunkard (Luke 7: 34). Now, the accusation doesn't make him a glutton or a drunkard, but it does more than suggest that he drank. 
So, can we honesty say that never yelling, never smoking, and never drinking are the epitome of being Christ-likeness? I think not. 


There seems to be a proficiency of toting some vague, non-specific, half-answers.
"God doesn't then punish us in these moments, but instead lets the natural repercussions of our disobedience happen. To avoid this altogether, we would be well off listening to God, following His rules..." pg. 56
My fear and concern with statements like this one is what does it mean "following His rules"; or is that to be interpreted and dictated to us?
"The best thing we can possibly do in this instance is allow God to illuminate and address the unseen." pg. 148
Far too general. Far too vague.

However, in the latter half of this book he does come through with some good solid direction. I particularly liked pg. 112-113 where Tim breaks down 6 types of thought processes that are counter-productive or even toxic. 


In summery, I feel this book's target audience would be new (possibly spiritually immature) Christians entering the church, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. My concern is that this pastor may be indoctrinating them into something not so spiritually healthy.

Not an overly lengthy book, and cleverly spaced out and stretched to meet its 175 page count, maybe he should have allowed himself more room. To be fair, maybe Tim didn't allow himself enough pages to properly expand on several points and better clarified certain ambiguities. Maybe the flags of concern I'm seeing are better cleared up in person?

It strikes me that this book might be used as part of a course or teaching at his Christian Faith Center in Creedmoor, North Carolina. Maybe that is exactly what this little book is.
An accessory for a biblical study or church course. 

But as a stand alone volume, I found it lacking.

Two our of five stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Data, Knowledge, Wisdom and the Death of Literature.

Five years ago I posted an article about what effects this internet age is inflicting upon mentor-protege relationships, entitled Mentors, Proteges, and Printers. This same theme was alluded to in My Enduring Path to Mindfulness (from a martial artist point of view).

Recently, (March of 2015) I published my first work of fiction. The Symbiot. (It is available in both hard copy (print) and Kindle). Is is the first in what will be either a trilogy or four-part piece.

The second novel, The Hunt: Symbiosys, is written but due for release in the Fall of 2015. 
(This is preliminary cover art - more conceptual than anything else. If you're an artist and would like to summit artwork, please, I would be more than grateful!)

The third book (Necropolis) I am in the middle of writing. 
The series takes place in a Lovecraftian world, and without giving away any spoilers, Cthulhu makes and appearance in the third... sort of.

Now, I figured I had better do some of my homework, and in my meandering about, I stumbled across the fact the Cthulhu has a "Son" and "Daughter". (The words son and daughter might not be the best terms to use... maybe "spawn of" might be better as they are anything but human or human-like).

I googled Ghatanothoa and Cthylla only to discover that both appear in "Out of the Aeons" (by H.P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald, 1933) and "The Transition of Titus Crow" (by Brian Lumbly, 1975), both books of which I have in my library and have read. But I didn't remember these monsters.

Now, in all fairness, I discovered Lovecraft at the end of High School and the early days of Collage. I went on a reading blitz and voraciously devoured anything and everything I could lay my hands on that was Lovecraft.... It is a great deal of material. Maybe I just missed it. Maybe it was one of those days on the bus I kept nodding off to sleep... who can say for certain? (Maybe it was because this was all 28 years ago!)

But I digress. Last night I pulled out my Arkham House printed edition of "The Horror in the Museum" (1970) - which is where you would find "Out of the Aeons".

The most obvious thing dawned on me when I read "Out of the Aeons". There is a beautiful art is the telling of a story. It is not simply a series of 'facts' or statements. It is a craft. It is truly the realm of the wordsmith; the weaving of a narrative. There is a pace, a theme, a flavour! There is not only an art to writing and telling a story, there is also an art, a pleasure, a pace, if you will - in reading a story... and I think that art is dying or dead.

The wikipedia google search for "Out of the Aeons" lays out - spoilers and all - of the entire short story. It basically butchers it. It was an annotated version of its Cole's Notes. The craft of these two writers (as well as yourself as the reader) was killed. The suspense, the tension, the feel is gone. Is this what the youth of today see & read? Are they missing the beautiful subtle nuances in favour of simple data? It knowledge being mistaken for its experience?

Sadly, I think so. Is the art of reading dying?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Symbiot, Now on Kindle!

The Symbiota novella by Michel Weatherall, is now available on Kindle!

Find it here! 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Symbiot - a book review

One man's musical passion leads on a temporal hunt through a Lovecraftian world on a collision course with extinction!

This novella is reminiscent of Guy de Maupassant's The Horla.

One reader offers the following synopsis:

"Devoted music enthusiast and accomplished pianist, Lorne S. Gibbons, is longing for a unique musical piece beyond contemporary understanding. Lorne discovers Erich Zann, whom played the viola at a highly advanced level. Alongside his wife, Marie Gibbons, and her parents Henri and Veronica L. Francois, Lorne travels to England to explore this undiscovered universe of musical theory. Nadia de LaFountaine, Erich Zann’s granddaughter, joins Lorne in understanding and reconstructing Erich’s music.
 "One horrific night, Lorne realizes the grim truth regarding the music as an evil entity is unleashed which threatens all existing life on Earth. As a crescendo of unknowable forces prepare to wipe out anyone in their way, Lorne and Veronica begin a race against complete annihilation. Meanwhile, they must discover what has become of their loved ones. With little reinforcements, Lorne and Veronica have to fight against the god-aspiring creature to avoid further bloodshed.  However, when godly power collides with humanity, the results are devastating."

This is the first novella published by Michel Weatherall through Broken Keys Publishing.

Available in printed editions at

Michel Weatherall: Author

and in ebook format at

Amazon, and

It is the first of three with its sequel, The Hunt: Symbiosys, due for release Summer-Fall 2015.

Its conclusion, Necropolis, available sometime in 2016.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Review and Commentary on "We Will be Landing Shortly", by Mike Hamel

This book was a good and easy read. Not easy in the sense of its topic matter being 'light and fluffy', but easy in the sense of it being broken down into easily managed chapters, each being somewhere between 3-5 pages long.

What I also enjoyed was that - although there is an overarching theme - each chapter felt like Mike Hamel's mental meanderings; his thoughts, musings, and experiences of life. Ultimately, his wisdom.

"In the end I would be content if what was said of Solomon... could be said of me:
"Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people... The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. (Ecclesiastes 12:9-10)", pg 143

I believe - at least to this humble reader - he accomplished this goal.

As for the subject matter itself, it is anything but light or fluffy.
Mike Hamel approaches difficult, challenging, and potentially faith-breaking issues humbly, openly, honestly, and unassumingly. There is no agenda to sell. There is no argument to win, nor position to defend.
A man after my own heart, he is simply seeking out answers, and possibly even to learn to ask the correct questions!

He ponders upon horrifically difficult and unpleasant issues such as our own interpretations of God's handiwork, and an All Powerful and Loving God that will fail in His attempts at universal salvation, or a God who is self-serving and vindictive enough to need eternal conscious torment.

He ponders fundamentalists and the fundamentalist mindset.
He believes theology reveals more about its authors then its subject.
He struggles with whether we each have a specific and detailed purpose.
What Christianity would look like and function without a Heaven of the Afterlife (an issue I've referred to as Christian Spiritual Hedonism), and questions why the God of the Old Testament and New Testament don't look alike. (Yet another issue I've struggled with and come to terms with) - again, what if these stories tell us more about the people writing them rather than God himself - progressive revelation - and why evangelicals are so challenged by this answer.

He is bothered by the genocide of Canaan (and correctly labels it as such) and the unspoken implication of Abraham so dedicately willing to murder his son, Isaac, for God's approval.

He identifies the strength and value, as well as the limitations of metaphor and anthropomorphism in Scripture.
These are only some of the topics questioned and pondered about.

I think - for the majority - there are only two responses or reactions to the brutally difficult issues and challenges brought to light in this book.

To some, they choose to remain comfortable in their denial; refusing to accept these numerous inconsistencies and contradictions even exist.

To many others, they feel they must abandon their faith altogether, resorting to Agnosticism or Atheism.

But woven throughout this book is a 'way', a method, a worldview - if I were to be so bold - that refuses either of these extremes.

Cleverly woven throughout this book, his wisdom paints a picture - not of what we should or should not believe, but about a good, healthy, and reliable methodology we might employ on this journey.

Understanding that metaphors are culture-centric and flexible.
"Only the minting of new metaphors can keep theology from being reduced to archaeology" pg. 160
Understanding and accepting that imagination and make-believe are two different things.
"God is the ultimate imaginary friend. This doesn't mean he is unreal, only that we have to use our imaginations to picture him since he is immaterial". pg. 188
There are also a few great lessons regarding better understanding our own beliefs - regardless of what they are.
"Are [star] constellations real?" Stars are real; constellations are simply the names we assign to patterns of celestial luminaries. Constellations have "implied" not "intrinsic" reality. They are not native to the universe but exist only in the human mind. However, when enough people see the same shapes in the night sky, the constellations enter the collective consciousness and become as established as the stars themselves."The same thing happens in the firmament of divine revelations. Individual verses are linked in connect-the-dot fashion to form doctrines, which are then coerced into systematic theologies. A way of seeing truth becomes the truth itself." pg. 161

"Arranging information into comprehensible form is what the human mind does. The essence of intelligence is to discern patterns and to extrapolate their effects upon us. The error comes in assuming our mental picture is the truth rather than a metaphor for what lies beyond our reach" pg 162

"Remember doing connect-the-dots pictures as a kid? Think of facts as the dots, faith as the lines drawn to connect them and the completed image as a worldview.
What happens when human knowledge explodes and new facts come to light?  You can ignore them because they don't fit into your current picture or you can expand your paradigm accordingly. You don't necessarily have to give up your core to increase your circumference.
Of course if you're convinced all truth is square you will reject the facts that are beyond your boxs regardless of whether they're real or not. But what is real? "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away". pg 194-195
I think there is a simple yet profound wisdom here. Not just for biblical interpretation and not just for Christians, but for all people.
We all have a Belief-System we follow and adhere to (Regardless whether you can name or label it).
Atheists, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Scientists. Our choices, our beliefs are the lines that connect-the-dots. The dots might be facts, but the lines we choose to connect them with are not necessarily, and we would do wise to remember that.

Many practicing Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals, and Christian Fundamentalists might balk at Mike Hamel and relegate him into the inconsequential realms of the fallen faith or a spiritual seeker.
So who does this book speak to?

He answers this question early on in his book by saying:
"Some of my experiences and observations may help you with your journey. On the other hand, my queries and quibbling have been known to trip people up, so be careful. My aim isn't to confuse but to face confusion and grapple with things that don't make sense... 
""In the act of tearing something apart, you lose its meaning". But deconstruction life can also lead to a clearer perspective of it. The slippery slope of questioning assumptions and dogmas doesn't only run downwards.
"To a cautious hiker, the thrill of getting close to the cliff may not seem worth the peril. To a compulsive climber like me, the challenge is irresistible" pg. 2
I believe our society is in a spiritual flux, a segue of sorts; in the middle of a transition. With the numbers in traditional institutional religions dropping; with the decline of institutional religion, you can't believe what the pessimists say.

Yes, it may mean the death of religion (is that really such a bad thing?), but I believe there is a rise in non-institutional spirituality; not a shift towards Scientism/Atheism. A move away from what ultimately must be man-made religiosity, and towards the more all-encompassing and compassionate solace of spirituality.

By its very nature it is difficult to define and clearly categorize, but it is alive and well. I think it is to these  people - and to those who are transitioning away from the more ridged institutional religions - that this book reaches out and speaks to.

I think "We Will be Landing Shortly" inadvertently sends a message:
"You are not alone".

He is a voice for a large number of people (and growing larger). He does not struggle and questions alone. He has a great amount of company "out there", in what many institutional religions might call a 'spiritual wilderness'.

Mike Hamel has rekindled my faith in faith, and my belief in a God without boundaries!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Meditation and Clear Mind of Jung-Joong-Dong

Seiza, in Japanese, literally means "proper sitting".

To sit seiza-style, one must first be kneeling on the floor, folding their legs underneath their thighs, while resting the buttocks on the heels. The ankles are turned outwards as the tops of the feet are lowered so that, in a slight "V" shape, the tops of the feet are flat on the floor and big toes sometimes are overlapped, and the buttocks are finally lowered all the way down.

Stepping into and out of seiza is mindfully performed.

A seiza-bench allows one to sit in the seiza position but slightly elevated so as not to have your weight rest upon your lower legs or calfs.

Many seiza benches will be on a slight incline. This allows your hips to rotate forward allowing abdomen to be more "open" to allow for better and fuller breathing.

Often a pillow can be used beneath your knees.

Sit with your back straight, preferably with no back support to lean against. Your spine is straight like a young bamboo shoot reaching towards the blue sky, and your arms fall from the shoulders like leaves heavy with rain.

You can imagine a string or chain connected to the crown of your head and your spine hanging straight down from you head as well.

Do not slouch for it affects and inhibits your breathing.

If comfortable, cup one hand and lay it in the palm of your other hand so that the ends of your thumbs meet. In Japanese this is called mokuto, or reflection; looking inwards.

In the mokuto position the hands embrace the unseen vase. This vase represents your body; the vase's emptiness represents the emptiness of mushin.

If your hands cannot sit in this position comfortably, open palms, face-up on the knees is preferable. 

~ ~ ~

Mushin in Japanese means "no mind". In Chinese it is We Xin.

When you do something, you have to concentrate to do it the first time, and maybe even the fourth or tenth time, but eventually you can perform the activity without thought; the same way you would dial a telephone number you've used hundreds of times. The ultimate goal is not to have to concentrate to be able to perform the task with "no mind". This is how the mind is cleared and readied for Clear Mind. This is mushin.
The difference between mushin and mindlessness is that in mindlessness the mind is active and wandering - it is not clear, quiet, and still.

The unseen vase (and thus your body and mind) is empty but full of potential, like the central hub of a wheel and emptiness of a vase, as Lao Tzu speaks of in the Tao Teh Ching, verse 11.

~ ~ ~

The tip of your tongue is lightly pressed against the front roof of your mouth This will avoid drooling.

Once sitting you should stay still. Do not indulge small irritants or itches. you can use small itches to practice and remind yourself of impermanence. All things pass. All states change.

You will remember that you have forgotten the last itch. You only remember it now because of the itch you currently suffer. Do not itch it. Do not move. Remain sitting and calm, knowing it not only will pass, but it is no inconsequential that it will pass from you memory.

~ ~ ~

Breath through you nose and exhale through you nose. Remember to inhale and breath with your belly, like a baby, not through your chest.

Focus on your breath. This will be your anchor. There are numerous ways to do this. You will have to find what's easiest and most comfortable for yourself.

When I inhale (remember, breath like a baby) I pay attention to the dry air passing through my nostrils. you can say it to yourself: "Dry".

When I exhale, I pay attention to the warm moist air sensation in my nostrils and say "moist".

Your breathing becomes a pattern. Dry - moist - dry - moist.

If your mind begins to wander you can return to your breath; dry - moist - dry - moist.

When, over time, you become comfortable with this anchor, you may use it to become increasingly more aware of the instantaneous and perpetual nature of the Now. The Now is eternal yet fleeting.

When breathing there are not only two steps - dry (inhale) and moist (exhale). There is an instantaneous moment when you've stopped inhaling yet haven't begun to exhale yet. This is the Peak.

There is also an instant when you've emptied your lungs but haven't began to inhale yet. (Don't confuse this with holding your breath). This is the Valley.

As much as I'd like to tell you to say in you mind,
Dry Peak, Moist Valley, you really shouldn't.

Although it is true that the Peak falls between the Dry and the Moist, and that the Valley separates the Moist from the Dry, if you say them, their instant moment has already pasted. At best saying "peak" and "valley" are only an echo of the memory.
So too is the nature of the Perpetual Now.

Dry - (peak) - Moist - (valley)
This becomes your wandering mind's anchor.

~ ~ ~

The eventual 'goal' is to 'achieve' Clear Mind (the first fruits).
It should not be strived for. This should not be the mental focus of your practice. Discipline is needed but it is simply the discipline of your practice.
There will be no teacher to remind you. There will be no disciplinarian or authority figure to punish or reward you. There should be no punishment or reward, just as there shouldn't be a goal strived for. Just the discipline of your continued practice.

Slowly, in time, Clear Mind will manifest. Although there is no formula and each individual experience will be different, it could be expected to begin in short lucid moments. Often not while meditating.

In time, these occurrences may become more frequent or may be longer lived; stretching into hours or possibly days.

(Although I do believe we all have the potential to 'achieve' a state of being perpetually lucid - always in Clear Mind - I'm not sure how easily this is achieved).

Once this state becomes more and more within our grasps, we reap their benefits.

~ ~ ~

Most believe that in order to make a decision we need to pass through three steps. We need to contemplate (think about or process) the issue or problem at hand. Then we make a decision one way or the other. And finally we put that decision into action.

This is incorrect. This is inherently flawed right from the start. To contemplate successfully requires Clear Mind. Without Clear Mind we cannot truly contemplate.

The first step in this procedure is meditation. We do not meditate on the issue or problem at hand. We simply already have the practice of meditation in place; hopefully having lucid moment of Clear Mind and during these isolated moments, only then do we begin practicing contemplate.

At this point it should become clear what course of action (or inaction) we need. The final step becomes appropriate resolution.

Now, it's fine to say these things and hope to achieve them, but in practical day-to-day life we must make numerous decisions all the time. We will often not have the luxury to wait for Clear Mind.
I am not advocating indecision or procrastination. But we must be aware that our decision-making ability is compromised and inherently flawed without Clear Mind.
We must still make decisions - big or small - but with intent and hope.

This is why I meditate. This is what I believe Jung-Joong-Dong of Jungshin Sooyang is and this is why I practice it.

~ ~ ~

What I find more interesting and encouraging is that Jung-Joong-Dong of Jungshin Sooyang finds its origins in the Martial Arts of Traditional Taekwon-do, as taught by General Choi.

However, to 'practice' Jung-Joong-Dong of Jungshin Sooyang one does not need to practice the Martial Art itself. It is simply a way of life; a way of viewing the world. It is the lens in which we choose to see through.
With this in mind, the symbolism of the colours of the Taekwon-do belts still maintain their values and symbolism.

The mokuto position of the hands and significance of the unseen vase is an emptying and readiness to move forward; a willingness to learn and grow; and abandonment of the ego. (White)

Sitting on the ground, we rest our knees and feet upon the fertile earth (Yellow), with your back straight - yet flexible like a young bamboo shoot (Green) we reach up for the blue sky (Blue).

The eventual and lucid moments of Clear Mind are the first fruits (Red), and eventually and finally, a fullness, a fearlessness (Solace) and immunity to darkness (Black).