December 11, 2023: A Thank You to Norman Lear, a Bearer of Light
Humans are called to be bearers of Light. Norman Lear, well-respected television writer and producer, who left us this past week at the age of 101, was a light-bearer. He was a prophet in the sense that Rabbi Heschel talks about a prophet—one who interferes. His way of spreading light and bringing important social topics to the spotlight was through comedy. One time Matthew received an invitation from Norman to have lunch with him. Much of their conversation was about Hildegard of Bingen, whom Norman’s wife loved. Matthew found him to be “alive and lively, curious and intelligent, creative and a great conversationist.”
December 12, 2023: The Moral Imagination & Holiness of Norman Lear
Like all prophets, Norman Lear was a champion of moral imagination. Matthew tells us that four signs of holiness for our times include: Joy, Justice, Generosity and Courage. Norman Lear exhibited all four of these characteristics. When it comes to Joy, Lear was committed to making people laugh. He was capable of generating laughter even around difficult and divisive topics. As a bomber pilot who flew 57 missions over Nazi Germany in WWII, Lear fought fascism. Later he did so as a creator of comedy. Interviewed last year at the age of 100, he expressed his concern that America had elected an Archie Bunker as its 45th president. As for Courage, Lear had to fight networks and censors and many other entrenched and privileged forces to get his message on air. Thank you, Norman Lear, for your extraordinary life of holiness.
December 13, 2023: The Role of Art in Healing, Love & Justice-Making
All art is meant to heal, to awaken, to tell the truth, and to bring people together. In contrast, today some politicians are busy turning the theme of “waking up” into a negative thing they call “woke.” This is especially ironic since these same politicians love to brag about how religious or “Christian” they are—when Jesus himself urges people to “stay awake,” as does St. Paul. In that spirit, Hildegard of Bingen tells us to “awaken from our dullness and arise vigorously toward justice.” Many people recognize the powerful role that art plays in waking people up and spreading truth in human hearts.
December 14, 2023: Creation, Liberation, & Supporting of Artists in Depression Times
Recently Heather Cox Richardson shared a powerful story of the role art played in the darkest times of the deep depression in America.* Inspired by the art movement in Mexico in the 1920’s, advisors to FDR proposed that the government could hire artists to “paint murals depicting the social ideals of the new administration and contemporary life on the walls of public buildings.” The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was born December 8, 1933 and when it ended four months later, 3,749 artists had produced more than 15,000 paintings, sculptures and public murals—and were paid by the government to do so. A society that supports artists is a healing society.
December 15, 2023: WPA, Good Work, and Artists
The Works Progress Administration, created by FDR during the bleakest days of the Great Depression—when over 20 million Americans were unemployed, accomplished a lot. It put 8.5 million Americans to work—many of them unskilled laborers—building 4,000 schools, repairing or building 650,000 miles of roads, 75,000 new bridges, 8,000 parks, 800 new airports, and 125,000 public buildings. Many of these are still in use today. It also planted 24 million trees to safeguard topsoil during the Dust Bowl. The WPA arts program cost only $27 million of the total $11 billion dollars budgeted to WPA work programs, and led to the creation of the National Foundation of the Arts. It also employed women and black Americans. Meaningful work brought self-respect back to many.
December 16, 2023: Science Speaks: Earth’s Rarity in the Universe
The Earth is rare, special, and endangered. Brazilian physicists Marcelo Gleiser writes, “Astronomers have discovered more than 5,000 confirmed exoplanets, very few of which resemble Earth.” Another 10,000 suspected exoplanets await examination in the new field of “comparative planetology.” Only 3% of stars are yellow dwarfs like our Sun, therefore the exoplanets that orbit around other types of stars exhibit properties that do not resemble Earth at all. “The diversity of exoplanetary systems is absolutely staggering.”
* Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American.
Banner Image: A life class for adults at the Brooklyn Museum, under the auspices of the New York City WPA Art Project, 1935. Photo by the Archives of American Art. Wikimedia Commons.
Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality
Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology): the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.
“Original Blessing makes available to the Christian world and to the human community a radical cure for all dark and derogatory views of the natural world wherever these may have originated.” –Thomas Berry, author, The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; co-author, The Universe Story
Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet
Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow. Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Living in Sin
The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time
Thomas Aquinas said, “To live well is to work well,” and in this bold call for the revitalization of daily work, Fox shares his vision of a world where our personal and professional lives are celebrated in harmony–a world where the self is not sacrificed for a job but is sanctified by authentic “soul work.”
“Fox approaches the level of poetry in describing the reciprocity that must be present between one’s inner and outer work…[A]n important road map to social change.” ~~ National Catholic Reporter