Zen Talk: Spill The Cup of Your Life So That the Beauty Runs Out

We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled.
The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over
and let the beautiful stuff out.
– Ray Bradbury

Now, I know that Ray Bradbury is no Zen Master, but this quote had a nice Zen-y essence, and I thought it would be appropriate to share it on Zen Talk day. Plus, I really like it.

We can each imagine ourselves as a vessel – a cup, if you will – and over the course of our lifetimes, we are constantly being filled with things: ideas, both good and bad, friendships and relationships, notions, concepts, experiences, sites, sounds, smells, tastes and everything else you can imagine.

Some of those things are good and some are bad. Some need to be shared and others do not – or at least, sharing them in just the right way is what’s important.

This quote reminds us to tip ourselves over – to spill out all of the things that have filled us up in the most beautiful way possible, whether to influence others for the better, to teach them things from our lives and experiences or just to inspire them or fill them with awe. Coming from such a talented writer as Ray Bradbury, I can see how this quote made sense to him. He was a man who tipped himself often and let much beauty come out.

What do you think of this quote?

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Nicholas Cage Makes One of His Worst Movies Yet with “Bangkok Dangerous”

Holy crap, it was so bad. The acting throughout was pathetic and worthless. The attempts at symbolism were nauseating and over the top, slammed in my face like being kicked in the nuts. The directing was deplorable with scene after scene included surely because the directors (shame on Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang) thought it would be cool (the pointless shoot out in the room with the water bottles? WTF!?) – and what was with the stupid lighting choices in the climax. And what a ridiculous attempt at a love story.

Usually my reviews don’t go into these kinds of commentaries, but each of these elements (directing, symbolism, etc.) was so blatantly and obnoxiously noticeable that I couldn’t help but point them out.

In short, it was deplorable. It was reprehensible. It was bad. My dad likes to watch action movies when he walks on his treadmill, and he mentioned to me that he had this one in his queue. This review just reminded me to call him and warn him off of this one. If he tries this he’ll never want to get back on the treadmill again.

2 Chocolate Salty Balls – because no man should have fewer.

Potential Sequels: Peking Putrid, Singapore Stupid, Kuala Lumpur Retarded

If you either don’t believe me and want to see for yourself or love shitty movies, get your own copy of Bangkok Dangerous.

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An Open Letter to Sarah Palin about Her Fundamentalist Christian Beliefs

Before you is a letter from someone I know and respect whose work is all about helping fundamentalist Christians who have chosen to leave their abusive and delusional religions do so in a safe and psychologically sound way. As the author of this letter has written, “Marlene Winell is a Bay Area psychologist who specializes in recovery from fundamentalist religion. She is author of Leaving the Fold:  A guide for former fundamentalists and others leaving their religion. She is the daughter of Assemblies of God missionaries. A longer article about Sarah Palin’s religion is on Dr. Winell’s website:  http://www.marlenewinell.net.”

Please feel free to leave any comments at the bottom of this letter and reproduce the letter in its entirety elsewhere on the internet (so long as you provide Dr. Winell as the author). If you would like to read an interview that I once conducted with Dr. Winell, please click HERE.

An open letter to Sarah Palin, from Marlene Winell, Ph.D.

Dear Sarah,

As a former fundamentalist, I’d like to call you on what you are doing.

This is not about disrespecting your private beliefs.  But you have a huge conflict of interest here by running for office and you can’t have it both ways (see Jesus’ words in John 2:15).

You have not been honest about the most important thing about you:  the fact that you are a born-again, literal Bible-believing, fundamentalist Christian.   Voters need to know you are not merely a “Christian” – a follower of Christ’s teachings.

Most people who have never been entrenched in the subculture of fundamentalist Christianity may not understand what this really means, but I do. Like you, I was raised in the Assemblies of God and I was a zealous part of the Jesus Movement.  Like you, my life was consumed with seeking God’s will for my life and awaiting the imminent return of Jesus.  It’s clear to me that you want to do the Lord’s will; you’ve said and done things like a true believer would. You are on a mission from God. If that is not true, then I challenge you to deny it.

Former fundamentalists like me know that your worldview is so encompassing, authoritarian, and powerful that it defines who you think you are, the way you view the world, history, other people, the future, and your place in the world.  It defines you far more than hockey mom, wife, woman, hunter, governor, or VP candidate.

You believe that every bit of the Bible is God’s perfect word.  You have a supernatural view of reality where Satan is a real entity and where good and evil beings are engaged in “spiritual warfare” (Ephesians 6:12).   Like Queen Esther, you believe that God has “called” and “anointed” you to lead America.  This is why you have accepted blessing for office through the “laying on of hands” and prayer to protect you from witchcraft.

So what does this mean for governing?  What could Americans expect with you at the helm?

You cannot affirm basic human decency or capability, because according to your dogma, we are sinful, weak, and dependant on God. And so, your decisions would not be based on expert advice or even your own reasoning, but on your gut-level, intuitive interpretation of God’s will.

This would allow you to do anything and claim you were led by God.

Your thinking necessarily is black or white.  People and policies are either good or bad.  After all, Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me” (Matt. 12:30).  Under your leadership, diplomacy and cultural nuance would be less important than not blinking.  In a spiritual war, you don’t negotiate with the devil.

Regarding social policy, as a believer in individual salvation, you would emphasize individual morality and responsibility, not a community approach with structural solutions.  You would be judgmental and controlling of personal choices regarding sex, reproduction, and library books instead of addressing global warming, torture, poverty, and war.  Your belief in eternal hell-fire, your deference to a literal Bible despite its cruelties and vengeful god, and your indoctrination to disbelieve your own compassionate instincts, are likely to leave you numb at your moral core.  You might recall the verse, “If a man will not work he shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).  However, faith-based initiatives would be okay because they would use caring to evangelize.

How about science?  As it has in your governorship, your interpretation of the Bible would trump scientific scholarship and findings.  You would deny the human role in global warming because God is in control.  More importantly, you would not make the environment a priority because you do not expect the earth to last.

International affairs?  Since your subculture has identified the establishment of Israel in 1948 as the beginning of the end, you would see war, epidemics, climate change, and natural disasters, all as hopeful signs of Jesus’ return.  You would be a staunch supporter of Israel and deeply suspicious of countries like Russia identified with the antichrist in the end times literature.  (You have publicly said that you expect Jesus to return in your lifetime and that it guides you every day.)

The Christian fundamentalism that has shaped your thinking teaches that working for peace is unbiblical and wrong because peace is not humanly possible without the return of Jesus (1 Thess. 5:2,3).  Conflict, even outright war is inevitable, for Jesus came not to bring peace but a sword (Matt: 10:34-37).  Like millions of fundamentalist Christians, you may actually find joy in global crises because these things portend His return (Luke 21:28).

But all of this certainty and fantasy in today’s complex world is dangerous, Sarah.  There was a time when all of humanity thought the world was flat.  Today, the stakes for such massive error are much higher.

So we want to know, Sarah, Warrior Princess for God —  How dare you presume to take responsibility for our country and our planet when you, in your own mind, do not consider this home?   I mean home for the long haul, not just until your rescue arrives from space.  How dare you look forward to Christ’s return, leaving your public office empty like a scene from the movie, Left Behind?

What if you are completely wrong and you wreak havoc instead with your policies?  If you deny global warming, brand people and countries “evil,” support war, and neglect global issues, you can create the apocalypse you are expecting.  And as it gets worse and worse, and you look up for redemption, you just may not see it.  What then?  In that moment, you and all who have shared your delusion may have the most horrifying realization imaginable.   And it will be too late.  Too late to avoid destruction and too late to apologize to all the people who tried to turn the tide and needed you on board.

And you, John McCain, how dare you endanger all of us for the sake of your politics?  How dare you choose a partner who is all symbol and no substance, preying on the fears of millions of Americans?   Shame on both of you.

Leave this beautiful, fragile earth to us, the unbelievers in your fantasy.  It’s the only heaven we have and you have no right to make it a hell.

Sincerely,
Marlene

Marlene Winell, Ph.D.
October 21, 2008

Press Release – October 21, 2008
Contact:  mwinell@gmail.com

If you would like to read an interview that I once conducted with Dr. Winell, please click HERE.

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Kyle Stops Believing in God in South Park Episode 506, “Cartmanland”

This is an excellent South Park episode for someone like myself who loves when the show discusses religion.

When Kyle gets hemorrhoids and Cartman inherits a million dollars with which to purchase his very own amusement park, Kyle can’t believe that God would allow such a thing to happen. The question is, Why do bad things happen to good people (and good things to bad people)?

Thus, Kyle stops believing in God and renounces his Jewish faith.

As a response, Mr. and Mrs. Broflovski read the book of Job to him (a book of the Bible) – though they do not finish it. The book of Job is about lots of awful things happening to a good person, who continues worshiping God. The lesson of the story is, God can be just or unjust and we have no way of knowing why life is the way it is because the universe works in mysterious ways. Because of all that, we should never stop believing in or worshiping God.

Well, that sentiment may have held back in the day, but now that’s really frustrating and when Kyle calls the story stupid, South Park is lending credibility to a child’s natural tendency to waver in his belief when such terrible things occur.

So we get the Bible, religion and God all throughout this whole episode. There’s so much more, too. In synagogue, Kyle refers to God as Jehovah, the anglicized form of His name in the Bible. Pay attention to what he says about what’s important to him.

Did you like this episode? What did you think about the portrayal of Kyle’s religion? Do you like the book of Job? Has something ever happened in your life that caused you to question God’s existence (or maybe just hate Him)? Share with us!

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Read some Fun with the Bible posts and learn more cool things about the Bible.

Zen Talk: Parker and Stone’s Alan Watts Animation Teaches of the Middle Ground and Banishing Black and White

Before seeing these videos, I wasn’t aware of Watts or his work, but I must admit that, despite accusations by other scholars of eastern religions, Buddhism and Zen that Watts fetishized and oversimplified Zen for the sake of sharing its philosophy, I really enjoy these mini lectures and the accompanying videos.

As I said Friday, I’m going to be talking about the video I posted then; to watch this video before reading the article, click HERE.

This video begins by telling us about the presumption that there are two types of people: prickly, practical ones, and gooey, sentimental ones. The world, Watts explains, is often perceived in a polarized fashion. We see one thing as black and the other as white, one thing as good and the other as bad, one thing as prickly and the other as gooey. It’s just a fact of our thinking that we pair and perceive in opposites. But, Watts tells us, the world is not so dichotomous. No person is entirely one thing, whether prickly or gooey.

Interestingly, psychology and personality studies reveal something similar. As friends and acquaintances characterize one another, researchers have found that people are often described in opposing ways. Moreover, when individuals try to characterize themselves as one thing, they find that they can also, at times, act in an opposing manner. People are not uni-characterizable, to use a term that doesn’t exist. They are complex, acting one way in certain situations and opposite ways in others.

Using his Zen predilections, Watts makes us realize that the world is not so easily divided into blacks and whites, but must be understood as gooey prickliness, and prickly goo. Now, it is often fetishized about Zen and Buddhism that there is no belief in good and evil or other similar dichotomies, but this is untrue. However, Watts doesn’t say that this is so and we can hardly accuse him of oversimplifying what he hasn’t. Rather, he is making a point about the nature of life and people in an attempt to break down our insistence on characterizing other people along such strict lines, and insisting that we are unable to relate to them.

What did you get out of Watts’ lecture and the accompanying video? Did you like it? Do you think it oversimplifies or does it make you think? What about?

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To read about “Cherokee Hair Tampons,” and the fetishization of eastern thought, click HERE.

Batman – Nolan’s Dark Knight, with Bale, Ledger and Caine, is Nothing Short of Sensational

I don’t applaud at the end of movies, and I never will. But if any movie ever made me want to it was Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Truly, it was incredible.

Heath Ledger and the Joker

Let me start with Heath Ledger as that seems to be all anyone can talk about. That’s why I’ll make it brief and get onto other things since you all already know how good he is. His performance is unrivaled. Simply unrivaled. What’s more, I’m certainly not the first person to say that he deserves an Oscar. I could drone on, but it’s really that simple when it comes to Ledger so I’m not going to dwell.

I will say that I love the way the concept of Joker was written, which really had very little to do with Ledger, I’d imagine. That is, Nolan’s Joker truly embodied the chaos and anarchy that the character was meant to. Unlike Nicholson’s Joker whose history we are given, this Joker knows no history and the twisted words out of his mouth about himself make that all the more apparent. This Joker, in spirit, is the ultimate opposite of what Batman is and by very virtue of that fact the character itself may render all future Batman villains in this series somewhat disappointing. How could any be as twisted, maniacal or disturbing. That, with Ledger conveying these elements: unbeatable.

The Cast

No actor fell short in this film. Christian Bale’s character wasn’t nearly as tormented as in Batman Begins and so in a certain sense we get less out of him than before. Nonetheless, his performance was nothing to scoff at. He still made a great Bruce Wayne and an excellent Batman – though sometimes the deep pitch of his voice while playing the Dark Knight made understanding him a little hard.

Maggie Gyllenhaal was, I dare say, better than Katie Holmes, who, already having taken the crazy-plunge by the start of Batman Begins, wasn’t the wonderful girl I fantasized about during Dawson’s Creek. This Rachel wasn’t as hell-bent on saving Gotham, but she did have a spark – a life – that made her a great addition to the movie.

My feelings about Aaron Eckhart are mixed (potential spoiler alert – this paragraph only). I think he’s a great actor and entertaining fella to watch on screen. As Harvey Dent trying to be Gotham’s new hero D.A. he was compelling and believable – like the good guy many of us imagined him to be in Thank You For Smoking. I will say that by the end of the film, something about his performance was not adding up for me. Disappointing since as many people know by the previews, the third installment of this Batman series will most likely have Aaron Eckhart playing our villain (or at least one of them).

As a Film

The movie itself, actors aside – script, plot, themes, action – was sensational. Yes, the actors made it what it was, but Christopher Nolan deserves a hat off for this one. In true Batman spirit it was dark as could reasonably be done. Moreover, as absolutely twisted as it was and as much as we were visually privy to, Nolan never made us watch the few things that would have been unnecessary to show and only good for shock value (well, not only, but close). The discretion he exercised as a writer/director should be lauded. Finally, I was shocked by at least two facts that I didn’t see coming at all, and was so caught up that the plot twists were surprises to me as well – I love that when I’m watching a movie.

And yet with all this the movie was not simply great acting amidst exciting action sequences. It was food for thought. Mostly thanks to the dialogue written for Joker, the film intimately explored ideas as simple as right and wrong while also probing our hearts about human nature. We are made to practically plead with the film to reaffirm or restore our sense of human decency and it reminds us, without making us feel as though it’s trying to, that we are allowed to hope for better, brighter things. Concepts like the rule of law, anarchy, justice and more are also woven throughout the movie. Not once, though, are we made to sit through a director’s attempt at jamming anything down our throats. All of this is skillfully and seamlessly interlaced through dialogue, action, and plot, leaving you at the end to digest a whole lot more than what you thought you were getting for the price of admission (in some sense the opposite of the feeling you had when The Happening ended).

The Audience

I have never in my life seen a crowd like this. Applause before previews, when it began, periodically throughout and of course at the end. There was a huge line waiting to get in before the movie, but thanks to my sick girlfriend, we were able to bypass the whole thing and be the first ones in the theater. This, naturally, resulted in a threat on my life by the man first in line who had probably been there two hours ahead of time (we arrived thirty minutes before the start of the movie), and though I understand his disposition, I have a tough time believing that, as the second person in the theater, I picked the precise seat before him that he had so desperately waited to get.

There was not an empty seat in the house – and this at a theater that had midnight, three a.m. and six a.m. showings, and then all day right until ours. Fortunately I had my favorite seat in the house – dead center in the middle of the theater, both up and down, left and right. It really couldn’t have worked out better … for me.

Words to Leave You With

To conclude succinctly, this movie exceeded my expectations, and considering that they were so high, this was nearly impossible to do. When I expect great things from a movie, I rarely get them, a sad fact which resulted in my movie philosophy of no expectations but a hope for entertainment. This film, however, shattered the highest expectations I may ever have had for a movie. I thought it was over twice – and would have been wholly satisfied had it been – and was twice given another slew of great action, dialogue and entertainment. And so much more.

For a truly spectacular film, I award my first full 10 Chocolate Salty Balls. Someone tell Nolan – he’ll be thrilled.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this film in a comment below. Get your copy of The Dark Knight. You won’t regret it.

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