Time Stand Still – More Than Just a Rush Documentary

Last night, I trekked over to the Dallas suburb of Frisco to take in “Time Stand Still”, a documentary about the last tour of the band Rush. Between the physical ailments of guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart, this past tour is likely the band’s last one. The footage to the documentary not only took in the band’s point of view, but also that of their tour management, the people that work behind the scenes for the band, the fans who come to the concerts, and that of some of their contemporaries. The entire show will come out on DVD later this month, and I will purchase a physical copy so I can watch again and again. But there was certainly a lot to process throughout the entire documentary.

Just about everyone is aware that I am a Grateful Dead fanatic. Literally, I have several gigs of music and concert video of the Grateful Dead and the many incarnations that have come about. The Dead have been a constant backdrop to many writing sessions. Their music inspires me to write my feelings, forge my thoughts against the anvil of the world around me. But I also have nearly as much Rush music and videos in my collection as well.

Where the Grateful Dead were a link to the past, Rush has always been a link to the present. This trio has always been a part of my musical lexicon. And much like the day that Jerry Garcia passed away, the closing of this last touring chapter of Rush is just as difficult to process. Peart’s lyrics have always played a huge part within my concept of spirituality. Not because I got spiritual essence from the lyrics, but because he eloquently stated a lot of what I feel. For instance, “Tai Shan”:

Clouds surrounded the summit
The wind blew strong and cold
Among the silent temples
And the writing carved in gold
Somewhere in my instincts
The primitive took hold
I stood at the top of the mountain
And China sang to me
In the peaceful haze of harvest time
A song of eternity

I have never experienced climbing to the summit of Tai Shan. But I have experienced that moment of calm and serenity looking down into the valley between the mountains in Glacier National Park. The misty clouds were above and below me. And standing there, on the side of a narrow road on a near cliff face, my fear of heights was overcome by how peaceful everything felt. If I could be a bird of some sort, this would be the valley that I gravitated to. And I could definitely feel the primitive aspect of myself as a human being coming forth. The feeling that the world around me was completely connected to me, and I to that same environment. Yes, to me that connectedness is not only an aspect of the sacred, it is also an aspect of the primal – instincts that we, as the human race, have taken the time to purge from our instinctive nature. Suppressing it deeper, so that we can feel separated from Nature rather than a primal aspect of it. The song Tai Shan did not help me to realize this. Study, meditation, and time brought me there. Joanna van der Hoeven deserves far more credit for assisting me in getting to that realization through her writings than Peart’s lyrics for this song. Peart only formulated what I had been thinking into a string of cogent words and utilized them in a song to describe his experience of ascending the 7,000 steps.

But this is what Rush has meant to me. Intelligent lyrics coupled to excellent musicianship. And as I watched the DVD, I listened to what everyone was describing about this band, as the trio marched towards their final concert date in Los Angeles. It was readily apparent that these people were also touched by their experiences with the band, particularly through the concerts that the band played. Many of the people were describing the number of times that they have been to a Rush concert. Fifty, Eighty, Ninety, One-hundred and eleven. And I felt envy for them. I have never seen the band live in person. But that does not lessen my connection to their music. That does not make me any less of a fan of their music. But seeing how these fans connected to one another through their concert experiences, I could see the invisible strands that tied them together as a community.

Yes, concert going fans made a community among themselves. They even created their own convention – Rushcon – which meets at one concert per year. These folks made the Los Angeles concert. After the show was over, you could see the emotions in their eyes. Something that they loved was coming to a close. And they were all going to need their own time to process. But their connections to one another had not changed. In fact, it had grown stronger. They had shared experiences of something that was not going to change. Something they could share between one another. I have seen that look before at the close of OBOD East Coast and Gulf Coast Gatherings.

Imbolc Retreat 2015 – photo by Amanda Godwin

Shared experience is a wondrous thing. I saw that after Shauna Aura Knight’s workshops at Pantheacon earlier this year. People walked out of the room knowing that they just experienced a wonderful, touching and compelling moment. Forged together, those shared experiences make people stronger. It links and binds them together as one. I enjoy most of my rituals alone. My shared experience is between myself and the Gods. I have attended a few of the Denton CUUPs public rituals, as well as one of the Imbolc Retreats that are graciously offered by the Hearthstone Grove (ADF). The connection that each of these groups have with their members is incredible to watch and experience. It is even more amazing to be a part of their rituals. Anyone out there nodding their head as they read this, understands what I am talking about. I am quite sure that anyone that has attended a Rush or Grateful Dead or Dead & Company concert show will be nodding their understanding as well.

Music brings us together. We sing, play musical instruments, and dance around campfires into the night. It is no different than a concert setting. Well, except for the fire. That’s never a good idea in an indoor arena setting. Every Rush song has its own energy, its own feel, or if you prefer – its own vibe. And if you pardon my over-stretching of the concept, each song can literally be considered a mini-ritual. “Red Sector A” has its own energy and feel. Compared to the very politically charged and angst-filled song “The Trees”, the energy is quicker, the feel is more akin to a run than it is to defiantly standing with a raised fist aimed at the corporate machine.

I entered into the theater, thinking that I would see something closer to a DVD. What I was treated to was an exploration of Rush – the band, their road crew, their fans, and their music. At the end, the entire showing was exactly what it should have been – a gift from the band to their fans. A piece of who Geddy, Alex and Neil are, seen through the lens of their perspective; and just who their fans are. The band and their management left the door open for the occasional live performance, or even the occasional recording. But there was a definitive moment of closure at the end. It had the feel of a “last goodbye” from the band. Lighthearted, uplifting, starkly open and honest; “Time Stand Still” is a tender hug and kiss from the band to the fans who buy their albums, fill the concert venues, and purchase the related books, poster and other materials.


Book Review: Creating Change Through Humanism

cover_final_web2Earlier this morning, I reviewed a book on interfaith dialogue – Celebrating Planet Earth. It was a delightful read on how people from diverse backgrounds and points of view can come together for a discussion, and locate common ground.  “Creating Change Through Humanism” by Roy Speckhardt, which I was reading at the same time – is nothing of the sort. However, before I get any further, let me make this one statement: the intended audience for this book is most assuredly not me. I am a very religious Pagan. Mr. Speckhardt is a very anti-theist individual. We will approach topics from a very different point of view.

Anti-theist. Not Atheist. No, this book is definitely geared towards the individual who does not have a spiritual or religious bend to their nature. Furthermore, this book BARELY addresses the idea of creating change – unless that change is to drop whatever “superstitions and imaginary beliefs” you may have to embrace the anti-theist point of view. Outside of that, there’s some nods towards aiming towards a political recourse to effect change, but the author spends the other 99.5% of the book railing against the concepts of theology and religious belief.

Some of the credit for this shift in thinking is due to those we’re less inclined to thank. We’ve seen Religious Right leaders like Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed in the ’90’s, followed by right-wing politicos like Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum, and the anti-intellectual George W. Bush, followed by new creationist/intelligent design advocates like Ken Ham and Sarah Palin, followed by tea partiers like Rand Paul and Michelle Bachmann. Each of these people, by shoving their extreme beliefs in our faces at every turn, made a contribution to galvanizing our struggle for a more humanistic view.  (p. xi)

In this quote from the introduction, I notice that the author tends to lean towards holding up more extreme elements as the primary examples of the “enemy of the cause”. The reality is that most Christians (his primary target here) are not really like this particular loud, cartoonish examples. Each would believe that they are a leading element of ALL of Christianity but are really leaders of more radical, far louder, far smaller groupings of individuals who twist their own theology to accommodate their own personal hatred. Interestingly enough, the author also engages in an insult by referring to former President George W. Bush as an “anti-intellectualist” in order to add another glossy coat to his own thinly disguised point. Let’s be clear — these “pillars” that the author holds up as examples, are the same people that would have no compunction towards having me swinging from the end of a rope draped over a high tree branch. So I have no real interest in defending these particular people. However…this type of attack does nothing to bolster one’s argument — particularly when trying to hold yourself and your cause up as a shining example of “something better”.

The large majority of the book is a treatise on why Humanism and Anti-theism are what society should choose – complete with more thinly veiled insults and attacks against the Christian belief system in much the same manner. And that’s a shame. There are elements of Humanist thought that could be excellent vessels towards creating a more tolerant, and understanding society. In the end, the author chooses to utilize the book as an attack vehicle and as an odd Chick-like tract evangelizing his particular brand of non-belief. The title is certainly misleading in this regard. A real shame….

Rating:  one-half (reluctant) star out of five

Book Review: Celebrating Planet Earth

Celebrating Planet EarthI am a big fan of causes that cross faith lines. After all, we all live on this massive floating rock in space, there has to be something that we can all agree on — aside from killing one another in pointless battles over whose religion is right/wrong. The human race can certainly agree that pointless actions such as this are certainly the “vogue” moment in time. No, setting the sarcasm to the side, I have just finished an interesting title from Moon Books – Celebrating Planet Earth, a Pagan/Christian Conversation: First Steps in Interfaith Dialogue. Unlike many interfaith dialogue titles that I have come across, the point of this book is not to solve a problem and provide a conclusion that sets the steps towards a solution. Rather, the point – as I discerned it – was to seek that rarest of positions: common ground. And to achieve this, the individuals who are involved start by discussing the negative perceptions that each area of belief has towards the other. There’s no debate. There’s a lengthy discussion of how negative perceptions come about, an honest acknowledgement of where differences are, and an offering of where common ground can be achieved. Once this is established, a discussion of how each side of the discussion sees the environment is made.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this – for me – was that this took place in the physical sense. The event started as a face-to-face meeting/discussion between Druids and Christians in Somerset, UK. Then, the event was widened considerably to include more Pagans into the conversation. I certainly wish that I had been included in a discussion like this. As a book read, it was a very interesting, and compelling discussion. I can only imagine how dynamic it was when it happened in person!

I’m quite a bit biased when I say that this is definitely something to pick up and read. The topic – the natural aspect of this planet we all inhabit – is one that is near and dear to my own heart and beliefs. The idea – an interfaith conversation between Pagans and Christians in order to find common ground – is a concept that I have been championing for many years. Plus, there’s no debate held here. Each side acknowledges and understands that we have a role as a caretaker of our environment. Its the first steps of a dialogue – a conversation. And if I may be so bold to say – its not only rather ambitious, but also spot-on!

Rating: Five enthusiastic stars out of five!

Book Review – Druidry and Meditation (Nimue Brown)

19251333Druidry and Meditation — Nimue Brown
Published 2012 by John Hunt Publishing/Moon Books
ISBN: 1780990286
ISBN13: 9781780990286

I meditate. Quite frequently, in fact. Its my way of finding my center when life tosses me an unexpected curve ball. Its my way of de-stressing after 45 minutes to an hour or more in traffic. Its my way of connecting to the world around me. Its my way of communing with the Gods and the Spirits of the Land. Meditation is a useful tool for me.

I also follow a personal Spiritual Path of Druidry. So Nimue’s book was of interest to me. I was not sure what I was expecting. A self-help book? A how-to on Druidry? A how-to on Meditation? What I found was a very useful tome on how to approach meditative techniques from a perspective of Druidry.As Nimue points out several times in the book, Meditation techniques are different for each individual. For instance, I do my very best meditations when I am walking in the forest. Not sitting, but actively moving. For others, sitting in the classic lotus position works best. And so on. But taking a Nature-based approach requires some fine tuning of the mind, and the attitude prior to starting. Nimue presents a wonderful approach to the inner Sacred Grove, as well as a splendid chapter on facilitating group ritual – which requires a far different mindset and approach. She also adds some wonderful little exercises in the book that I think are wonderful starting points for those interested in meditation techniques, but unsure of how to start.

Review: Talking to Spirits

The first time I ever heard of an “Unverified Personal Gnosis” or UPG, I was responding to a post on John Beckett‘s blog. After a little back and forth, I realized I needed to get to know a bit more about the term, as well as the underlying definitions – especially since it seemed to apply directly to me. Some short searching on Amazon’s website turned up the title: “Talking to the Spirits: Personal Gnosis in Pagan Religion” by Kenaz Filan & Raven Kaldera. The price was affordable as a Kindle book, so I downloaded it. And it sat on my reader for nearly a year before I finally started reading it.

The first two chapters satisfied my desire to understand the definitions surrounding the area of Personal Gnosis, as well as showcasing some of the differences between Verified and Unverified PG. But shortly after this, the book took a massive turn into the area of overkill. Concepts were presented which revolve around the area of VPG and UPG, particularly in trying to determine what was “real” and “correct” concerning the area of verification. Adding to this was the endless parade of material from other people on the various topics. I’m quite sure that this works for other folks, but for me it was quite the distraction. In fact, the material did nothing to answer questions, and only raised the question of why the authors had chosen to write the book this way. Until I came to the very last chapter of the book.

The Rocky Road to Intrafaith Dialogue” was honestly the meat that I needed to get. One particular passage has now been added to my little book of quotes:

Discussion involves an exchange of ideas and discourse about their ramifications. It may get intense, even heated at times, but this is fine so long as everyone remains respectful and the questions focus on ideas rather than individuals. Smiling, nodding, and saying “Everyone’s truths are true for them, and every belief is just as good as every other belief” is not interfaith discussion. Rather, it is a way of avoiding questions about the substance and foundation of your beliefs and about the level of your commitment. Instead of sparking conversation, it shuts it down or reduces it to polite superficialities.

This one little passage has me rethinking a particular part of the way I approach discussions about my beliefs with others. That the focus could be narrowed or widened as necessary. And its statements like this – throughout the book – which had me reading at a pace far slower than I am accustomed to. It took me nearly two months to finish reading this book. I kept putting it down, and thinking about what had just been presented to me.

If you are looking for a book that will not only challenge the way you think about beliefs of others, as well as challenge the way you approach discussing that particular touchy area of individual life – this is definitely the book for you. If you are wanting to find out more about the concept of Personal Gnosis, as well as understanding the differences between verified and unverified PG — this is definitely a good starting point. While others may appreciate the infusion of other perspectives from various individuals – I thought the book would have been far better without these interspersed throughout the chapters. Instead, I would have preferred these to have been confined to an Addendum of some sort, but that’s my personal preference.

Review: Paganism 101: An Introduction to Paganism by 101 Pagans

Paganism 101: An Introduction to Paganism by 101 Pagans
Paganism 101: An Introduction to Paganism by 101 Pagans by Trevor Greenfield

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodness, but it took me a really long time to finish this particular book! But, that was not because the material was boring or uninteresting. Yes, this book is an Introduction to Paganism. Yes, I have been a Pagan for nearly a quarter of a century now. But that does not mean that material like this would be something I could not learn from. And learn I did. Written from many different perspectives, the book covers the realm of what Paganism is about, and what Pagans do (in general). Extremely accessible for both the newcomer and the old-hand, the information in here starts with various authors covering the topics – and then other Pagans from various Paths chiming in with their thoughts. The material is not only thoughtful, but also thought-provoking. For me, it helped me to clarify some of the manner of approaching the inevitable question: “What is Paganism?” In the past, I have always recommended Margot Adler’s tome “Drawing Down the Moon” as an introduction for newcomers. That does not change in my mind, but “Paganism 101” will be handed over with that as well, with the directive that “Paganism 101” should be the starting point – and Adler’s book the immediate follow-on. If you are curious about what Paganism is about, and are looking for a way to see which of the many Paths might be interesting and/or appropriate for you – this is where you should start!

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Review: Journeys of the Soul

Journeys of the Soul by Philip Carr-Gomm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A combination of a biography on OBOD founder Ross Nichols – along with some of his writings, correspondence, and travel diaries that he wrote during his lifetime. Honestly, when I finished this book, I felt that I not only knew more about a man who died shortly after I was born – but that my world is far more enriched by both his contributions and my reading about him. There were a few instances were it was mentioned that Nichols could be considered as “not fun” in comparison to some of the more eccentric contemporaries of his time, but I found the opposite to be true. Nichols certainly sounded like the kind of individual I would enjoy sitting around his kitchen table, drinking some tea and discussing any topic that came to mind over the course of an evening. Or taking a stroll through the woods, discussing some of the more obtuse philosophies of Life. I started this book knowing some vague aspects of who Nichols was – I finished this book with a far greater understanding and appreciation of who he is.

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