A Street Filled With Spirits of the Long-Term Dead

By Larry Moffitt

It’s morning rush in the spirit-filled streets of Seoul, at the corner of overpriced hotel and shoe repair guy. In the corner coffee shop the cup is held close in both hands, fingers of hot, steamed aroma gently massage my face. I pause to solemnize the moment before taking the first sip. No other taste of coffee the rest of that day will be its equal. My early-hour grogginess and that very first slurp run toward each other in slow motion across a meadow, jump into each other’s arms and tumble as one into the waving wheat as the violins reach a crescendo.

People who want to live to be a hundred and ten never eat chocolate-filled croissants, but I heard on the bedside radio that today is National Self-Sabotage Day. I’m always good for a holiday. People have written whole chapters in cookbooks about the natural harmony of coffee and chocolate. You would instantly trust the intentions of a country that had a steaming cup of hot coffee and a chocolate-filled croissant on its national flag. That would be a nation that knows peace.

At a back table of the coffee shop by the window, my attention is drawn to something unusual outside and I briefly touch the glass because I want to assure myself that at least something, the window, is tangible and real. I am watching spirits plod along. Spirits usually know they have died when they naturally cross over. These folks I am watching may not have gotten the memo. They appear to be earthbound spirits, marooned between here and there, and for about twenty seconds I can see them. There are hundreds of them walking along, still going to work, as they must have done for decades during their lives.

They look less distinct to me than the living. They are dull and slightly faded. The living walking past the window, and the dead, pass among and through each other without noticing. As a group, the spirits look less hopeful or expectant than the living commuters. The spirits look as though they have exhausted their to-do lists. There is nothing new to accomplish, no new appointments or meetings, no calls left to return. Not a one of them looks content. A few are obviously anxious. Perhaps they know something is amiss, but what?

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Religion, Sci-Fi and the Age of Disposable Human Bodies

By Ronald Brown

As I stood by one of the burning gats on the bank of the sacred Ganges River, I couldn’t help but contemplate the Hindu approach to death.

Christians, Jews, and Muslims view the death of the body as the end of our earthly existence. The individual then goes on to either heaven or hell if he or she is religious, or we simply cease to exist if we do not subscribe to one or the other of the major world religions. For Hindus, on the other hand, one body is disposed of and the person takes on another to continue his or her spiritual voyage.

As I watched one worn-out garment after another being consumed by flames, I couldn’t help but think of challenges disposable human bodies will pose for Christians in the future.

Unfortunately, the only serious discussion I found of this topic was not by religious thinkers but rather in serious Sci-Fi literature such as Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 novel, Childhood’s End. Transcendent evolution is also a theme in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a film co-written by Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick.  I contend religious leaders must begin to confront this urgent question.

The time has come for humans to ponder their post-body existence and the freedom this will result in.

For too long religions have not only venerated the human body but idolized it. At the dawn of the 21st century, humans are slowly ending their millennia-long romance with physical bodies and are surging into the brave new bodiless world. The profound influence material bodies have exerted on human religions is coming to an end. Before the age of embodied humans is relegated to the trashcan of human history, I chronicle in this article the impact of material bodies on religions.

The body in world religions

Judaism, Christianity and Islam place great emphasis on the human body.

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Oscar-Winning Films that Address Racism

By Kathy Winings

Three very different films released in 2018 address racism from unique perspectives. Two are based on real events and the third is an adaptation of a James Baldwin novel. Each film also won at least one Oscar at February’s Academy Awards.

Set in the early 1970s, “If Beale Street Could Talk” is a quintessential Baldwin story about poverty, race, family, and love. The film is directed by Barry Jenkins, director of the 2017 Best Picture Oscar winner, “Moonlight.” Regina King received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her strong portrayal of the mother of the story’s young heroine, Tish.

Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephen James) are a young black couple living in Harlem who fall in love and find themselves expecting their first baby. But Baldwin’s complex story doesn’t end there. At a time when a young couple awaiting their first child should be excited and anxiously preparing for the birth, the realities of one’s identity mars that anticipation.

As fate would have it, Fonny is wrongly arrested for the alleged rape of a young Puerto Rican woman. A white policeman known for his racist attitudes makes the arrest. While Fonny is lingering in jail awaiting trial, Tish, her mother and sister try to fight for Fonny’s freedom but it is an uphill battle. For one, the Puerto Rican woman who was brutally raped is not to be found. Second, the one witness, a young African American who can verify that Fonny was nowhere near where the scene of the rape, is also arrested on questionable charges. As a result, Fonny remains in prison while hoping for a quick resolution of his case — a fairly standard experience for black men in Harlem of that time.

Baldwin was gifted in portraying the challenges of the American working class black family struggling to survive, economically and emotionally, recognizing how tenuous life could be when you were black and fighting a system bent on ensuring you did not succeed. It is clear that fighting racism and racist attitudes is an uphill battle for Tish and Fonny. Young black men knew if they were arrested for crimes they did not commit, they could linger in prison for years with some even dying there at worst or learning destructive lifestyles at best. The longer Fonny is incarcerated, the more he begins to accept the inevitable. Tish, though, is relentless.

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Mother and Child Reunion

By Thomas Schuhmann

Mother and Child Reunion” is my favorite song by Paul Simon.

My grandmother’s maiden name was also Simon. Her parents owned a restaurant in Veitshöchheim, near Wuerzburg, which has a public park with lakes and waterworks, filled with hundreds of allegorical sandstone sculptures, an enchanted place for a child to roam about. My grandmother took me there when she visited her sister.

I loved to feed the fish in the pond of the Hofgarten which were majestic carp swimming lazily about in the sunshine. In the middle of the pond was a statue of a winged horse. The carps and Pegasus, the quietness of the place, the Main river nearby, the swans: it gave me a feeling what the “mother and child reunion” could be about.

I had become a follower of my grandmother and accompanied her to our church named “The Holy Family” where she prayed the rosary in October and where she attended Mother Mary again in the month of May for devotions. I listened to the old women whispering the rosary, murmuring the holy words, in a room with a side altar. Mother Mary’s statue stood there, immaculate, holding a rosary, candles burning in front of her, the smell of wax. I read much later that the Irish poet Seamus Heaney went through a similar experience, the Catholic experience, just as Bruce Springsteen did.

The lower Franconian version of Catholicism was a religion of sadness, of somber words, mysterious details, the value of suffering was constantly stressed, the confession, the holy communion, the church songs stemming mostly from the baroque era. I developed my first Top Ten by waiting for certain songs to appear again and again each Sunday. My favorite was “O Lamb of God, innocent”:

O Lamb of God, most stainless!
Who on the Cross didst languish,
Patient through all Thy sorrows.
Though mocked amid Thine anguish;
Our sins Thou bearest for us,
Else had despair reigned o’er us:
Have mercy upon us, O Jesu!
Grant us Thy peace today, O Jesu!

The King of the world, despised! I couldn’t get this paradox into my head, but singing it made these words become one with my soul and filled me with the longing to follow the misunderstood, rejected, lonely person of Jesus Christ.

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Aquarian Angst: Woodstock at 50

By David Eaton

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival.

Flashing back to that “summer of love,” I’m reminded of two iconic before-and-after photos: one depicting a sea of humanity reveling in the music of their idols on Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York, the other revealing the horrible mess of mud and refuse left behind.

Juxtaposed, these two images are emblematic of a generation that grew up on rock and roll, loved to get high, party hard, and indulge in “free love,” often with reckless abandon. Living the Bohemian lifestyle of carefree license, unfettered by “traditional values,” became the fantasy of an entire generation — and music was at the vortex of that counterculture revolution.

The Woodstock generation waxed poetic about peace, love and universal brotherhood, and music was deemed a leading force ushering in a utopian era in which greed, selfishness and all manner of “plastic” values would be expunged. John Lennon and Yoko Ono implored us to “give peace a chance.” The hopes and dreams of an Aquarian Age, a time when “love would steer the stars,” and “we’ll study war no more” would become a reality — or so we thought.

Our love of music became a quasi-religion. “Make love, not war” was our credo, sex and drugs our sacraments, and rock ‘n roll was the music that accompanied the liturgy. In spite of our New Age optimism about making the planet a better place for our children and “getting back to the garden,” the spirit of rebellion and defiance was pervasive, and the music of the era reflected that rebelliousness.

In retrospect, Woodstock may have been more of a moment rather than a movement. As that “after” photo might suggest, the Woodstock generation has been rather messy in the ensuing decades with regard to love, life and its pursuit of happiness.

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Deep History

By Ronald Brown

“Deep history” is the deeply-rooted impulse that drives a nation, shapes the identities of peoples, and determines its present activities and future goals.

For many nations, some mythical past shaped this impulse while for new nations it is still being created. Here, I apply “deep history” to mean those primal characteristics of a people that defy the tumult of the centuries, remain immutable to individual leadership, and determine the destiny of a people.

This theory slowly evolved during my five years of university study in Jerusalem (1971-76), many visits thereafter, and most recently, my trip to the Holy Land last August.

Examples of deep history

The challenges of nationalism, socialism, communism, and Western-style separation of church and state have done little to undermine the fundamental and deeply-rooted Muslim belief that the goal of the religion is to create an Islamic state. The current global crusade to defeat so-called “Islamist ideology” is fated to failure. Muslim dedication to an Islamic state is as deeply-rooted in the faith and resistant to the vicissitudes of history as the resurrection of Jesus is in Christianity.

Western colonial expansion into North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, the 1924 abolition of the caliphate, and 1948 Jewish occupation of Palestine resulted in a rebirth of Islamic deep history. The Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and al-Qaida rejected Western nationalism, socialism, communism, secularism, and separation of church and state to reunite the shattered body of the Islamic umma and restore the caliphate.

China likewise is permeated with the idea that the Confucian social, economic and political order is universally applicable, and that its destiny is to spread this model worldwide. Even during the “Century of Humiliation,” when it was at the mercy of Western imperial powers, China remained firm in the belief of its divine destiny.

Political scientist Francis Fukuyama greeted the fall of Soviet Marxism in his 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man. The Soviet Empire would finally join the rest of the planet in embracing parliamentary democracy, capitalism, and the rule of law. But by 2000, Russian deep history reared its head from the rubble of the collapsed Soviet Empire and Vladimir Putin resumed Russia’s imperial march as the Third Rome.

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“Welcome to Marwen”: The Remaking of a Life

By Kathy Winings

In April 2000, just across the Hudson River from UTS’s Barrytown campus, a terrible assault took place outside a bar in Kingston, New York, an historic city that served as New York’s first capital.

Mark Hogancamp, an artist and showroom designer, was beaten almost to death by five young men using just their fists and feet. While drinking, Hogancamp had let slip that in the privacy of his own home, he was a cross-dresser. Taking exception to that, the thugs waited outside the bar and attacked him.

Suffering extensive brain damage, Hogancamp spent over 40 days in the hospital, including nine in a coma, healing and relearning how to walk, talk, eat, and trying to live a normal life.

Fortunately for him, Hogancamp awoke with no memory of the attack — but he also lost memory of his past life. It meant he had to find a way to deal with his constant anger and depression — all of which resulted from his traumatic brain injury. Thus was born the tiny village of Marwencol.

Built out of plywood scraps and other materials he found lying around, Hogancamp created an imaginary Belgian village and populated it with Barbie dolls and World War II action figures. Daily life was built around World War II narratives that he created, featuring the women as a band of heroes led by one American solider — Captain Hogie — going head to head with five Nazi soldiers in these different scenarios.

Marwencol became Hogancamp’s therapy on a daily basis. It also became a way for him to find a new career. As he played out his stories through posing the dolls in Marwencol, Hogancamp began to photograph them, ultimately coming to the public’s attention and establishing his career through gallery exhibitions that showcased his unique photographs.

This is the background story for director Robert Zemeckis’ new film, “Welcome to Marwen,” starring Steve Carell as Hogancamp and Leslie Mann as his neighbor, Nicol, who becomes his good friend as well as the inspiration for one of his female soldiers in Marwencol.

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Unificationist Reflections on ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

By Laurent Ladouce

Bohemian Rhapsody” — the all-time highest-grossing music biographical film in just two months since release, a huge success in Korea, and a 2019 Oscar nominee for Best Picture — has prompted me as a Unificationist to reflect on the life of singer-songwriter Freddie Mercury (1946-91).

Directed by Bryan Singer, the movie focuses on a critical period of Mercury’s life, 1970-85 (portrayed on screen by Rami Malek). We watch movies with various glasses, and among Unificationists, each of us may see “Bohemian Rhapsody” very differently.

Rather than comment in the light of the Principle, I focus in this review on a few themes from the biopic to shed light on several aspects of our teaching.

The film, for example, depicts an artist imitating the three blessings, then trying to separate from his antichrist demons. In a sense, “Bohemian Rhapsody” features Adam, Eve and the Archangel in a garden. Their behavior is quite reminiscent of our teaching on the Fall, but reveals other dimensions of sexual disorder than the typical kind of adultery. The movie helps us understand what kingship and a coronation entail.

This film also causes us to reflect on notions such as symbol, image and substance. It helps us understand the path to becoming a false idol, to becoming an iconic figure, and leaves the door open to the path of substantializing true love.

Creation, fall and redemption of an idol

“Bohemian Rhapsody” depicts the growth and ascension of one of the greatest voices in rock music (the Rock God, according to Britain’s OnePoll), and how the stage persona of Freddie Mercury was created gradually, mostly by himself, so that he became idolized by millions. In this ascent, Mercury was driven by the power of an absolute narcissism, which brought him to the summit.

We then see his spiritual and physical fall, and descent into hell. The narcissistic idol is transformed into a puppet driven into hell by sexual passion, until a ridiculous man is disguised as a king enjoying evil joy in the kingdom of loneliness.

The film ends with the consequences of his physical fall and early steps toward what can be seen as a form of human redemption. The person who has suffered so much because of sin begins the suffering course of redeeming his mistakes.

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Religions that Thrive and Religions that Die

By Ronald Brown

Jacques Marion is one of those first generation Unificationists who, he told me, “dropped everything” when he met Reverend Moon and set off to spread the teachings and vision of Unificationism to the world.

He described his years as a missionary in Russia and Africa and the enthusiastic welcome the movement is receiving there. He concluded that it was in times of turmoil and trouble that people are most open to new and often radical solutions. Russia and Africa were in such states when he was there and largely remain so until today.

My conversation with Jacques and other Unificationist missionaries evoked major questions regarding how religions take root, thrive or die.

Why did Buddhism thrive in China, Korea, Japan, and South Asia, while it all but disappeared in its Indian homeland? Why did the Russians adopt Greek and not Roman Christianity, or even Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism as their national religion? Why is Evangelical Christianity sweeping the USA while mainline Christian churches are at best lingering?

In Paris this past summer, I decided to explore how Catholicism became and remains the dominant religion of France. My experience there led me to reflect on how Unificationism might fare in Africa.

The Thermes de Cluny: The latest in modern technology

In the early centuries after Christ, the Gauls swept out of the forests of northern Europe, eliminating all traces of Roman civilization in front of them. They sacked Rome in 387 B.C. but mighty Rome was not so easily humbled. Rome drove them out and back into their primeval forests. Finally, between 58 and 51 B.C. Julius Caesar conquered the barbaric Gauls and founded the city of Lutetia along the banks of the Seine River among the local Gallic tribe of the Parisii.

Little remains of the Roman town of Lutetia except for the underground ruins of the Roman Northern Baths beneath the ruins of the medieval Monastery of Cluny. Of all that remains of the ancient Roman bathhouse the most impressive and insightful was a massive marble bathtub dating from the 2nd century. According to the sign, the tub was made in Rome and brought to Lutetia to serve the ruling elite in the gigantic domed bathhouse.

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