Browsing the blog archives for March, 2011

Pimp’s Ho’s and Other Paradigm Shifters!

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

“Are you a Pimp or Ho?” It is an arresting question. But you instantly get the message. It is the question of the movie Ghetto Physics: Will the Real Pimps and Ho’s Please Stand Up! It is an invitation to a paradigm shift about the lenses we experience life through.

Up front the movie declares that we’ll be looking at our own face in the mirror, viewing our own role in the power plays of life. Cornel West says, “You’ll get pimped if you’re naïve” about life’s realities. In the world of this movie the world is our ghetto? Or is it?

Audiences jump into the conversation. Will Arntz – director of the movie along with E. Raymond Brown – and I recently spoke with an audience about their reactions to Ghetto Physics. Mostly they resonated with the question of whether we are each a pimp or ho – in the worldview of the movie we are each both, because there is one in every relationship. That is, if you are stuck in the paradigm of pimps who want the ho’s to believe that he or she cannot change their circumstance. Or if your relationships are all about who is pimping or ho’ing. I get the point but that’s not always the way it is.

I was unprepared for so many in the audience zeroing in on the spiritual questions raised by Ghetto Physics. Probably not surprising given that Will Arntz is the acclaimed director of What the Bleep Do You Know?  –  a remarkable movie exploring the spiritual connection between quantum physics and consciousness.

Ghetto Physics

The audience was hungry to explore whether there is a new way of being that reflects the values of Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” or what Ishmael Tetteh calls, “the reality within you.” I believe there is a new way to be human, to become fully alive. There are pathways that help us to navigate that big truth. They each invite transformation. 

Ghetto Physics only touches on this being a “time of transformation” because it is a “time of crisis” brought on by the pimping which it claims is found in academia, religious institutions, government and corporate life. E. Raymond Brown tells a student that “there are always options” but that it a copout for what transformation means. Ghetto Physics does not engage in the spiritual pathways of discovering a new way to be human. It only alludes to them but then takes a pass. But that is not the purpose of the movie.

It does use powerful imagery, humor and the hip-hop language of pimps and ho’s to suggest two things.  First, If you’re going to live in the global ghetto of pimp’s and ho’s know that you are not just a ho but that you can pimp as well.  Second, this is not the only game in town; it is not the only paradigm. There is another option – to rise to the spiritual journey. This is the sequel to Ghetto Physics that I’m waiting for!

In our conversation with the audience Will Arntz and I discovered a deep hunger for meaning, purpose and living a life of value. The film will likewise engage you. At the very least you’ll come away asking about the paradigm and lenses through which you choose to live.

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Are You In or Out With God?

Robert V. Taylor

This blog was first posted on the the Darkwood Brew site where I am a guest blogger.  Visit their site to find this and other guest blogs of mine for their series on Galatians

I was at the altar rail looking at the bread resting in my palm. I’d heard the words, “The Body of Christ. The bread of heaven.” Did this bread offer any hope to the people of Libya or Japan?  Did it include them? If not then what was I doing there?  Surely there are no outsider’s in the embrace of the Holy? Surely there is not a litmus test for being “In” or “Out” with the Holy?

The Libyan and Japanese people, along with international relief workers, fighter pilots and peacemakers had not been mentioned in church by name. They were very present in my heart as I went to receive communion.

As I ate the bread of life I imagined the Holy bandaging the wounded, feeding the afflicted, encouraging the dispirited and begging for mercy.  “Look! I am one of these.  I am a Japanese survivor; I am a Libyan resister; I am a fearful pilot or frightened henchman of Qaddafi. I am you whose heart is cracked open by what is happening. I am you and I am each one of them.”

As I sat in my pew, my palms open in meditation I thought of bread, breath and life.  The word “spirituality” means, “breath of life.”  If the “bread of heaven” in my stomach is the bread of life then surely it is the breath life for all? 

Is this what Paul is getting at when he says to the Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one.” Or is it all dependent on the qualifying words he add, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus”?

Paul was proposing a radical idea – all previously accepted divisions were of no importance for the new Christian religion emerging out of Judaism. All those in the known world of his time were included. That is, if they believed. The evolving story of humankind’s relationship with the Holy is only ever understood in the context of the history and culture of that time. That is also true for how we approach Paul’s letter written two thousand years ago. Paul’s qualifier is clear. It is what it is.

Would Paul include that qualifier if he was writing today?  Would he rejoice or squirm at the way in which its exclusivist tone is used to declare the supremacy of one religious path over another?

I wonder what Paul would say about those who have claimed that the tsunami and unfolding disaster in Japan is the work of God answering the prayers of Christians? Paul may be a stumbling block to many people of faith but his own life journey reveals a person whose heart was cracked open to new possibilities about the Holy; a person who was willing to let go of his old ingrained religious assumptions of who was “In” or “Out.”

So who does the bread of life feed?  Is the breath of life rationed? Are you in or out with the Holy?  As the bread rested in the palm of my hand on Sunday I remembered the Gerald Manley-Hopkins poem about the Christ who, “plays in then thousand places. Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his” to be discovered everywhere.  I swear that bread is about communion.  A communion of discovering the Holy who existed before religion revealed in the disguises of many. And each lovely in limbs and eyes.

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Robert V. Taylor is a speaker, author, blogger and Chair of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation in New York.  He is honored to be a guest blogger for the Darkwood Brew series on Galatians. Visit him at or

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God causes the disaster in Japan! Really?

Robert V. Taylor

The earthquake, tsunami, human devastation and nuclear crisis in Japan are God answering prayer.  Really? This bizarre interpretation is being circulated on YouTube by Pamela who says “I am so overjoyed” that God answers prayers directly. Is this pure craziness? It is the antithesis of compassion and spirituality. 

I find this this view to be highly offensive.  The video in question has been strongly rejected by many Americans. Sadly it is not an oddity. It reflects a certain religious perspective given voice to most prominently by Jerry Falwell who said on CNN that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were God’s judgment on America. He identified gays, feminists and abortion as the provoker’s of “God’s wrath.”  Falwell said the attacks were because “God had been driven out of” American schools.  Or Pat Robertson who called the Haitian earthquake “a blessing” (FOX News). Or John Hagee who proclaimed on TV that New Orleans got what it deserved for its sins.

The YouTube video celebrates prayers offered on Ash Wednesday by some Christians to “open the eyes of atheists all over the world” and that a few days later “God literally shook the country of Japan saying – ‘Hey look! I’m here!’” The YouTube messenger – who calls herself Pamela but whose real name is believed to be Tamar Boehm – believes this reveals “Such an amazing God…I’m so encouraged.” Chritainity Today says Evangelical author Steven Keillor is not alone among those making the case for a God of judgment.

I understand the Holy and the spiritual to be about one primary invitation – the journey to love and compassion.  In that grounding we enter into the stories of others and discover with new eyes our oneness as people.  As our empathy for one another grows we do not celebrate calamities, we rediscover our shared humanity. Instead of judgment our compassion invites us to reach across whatever may divide us.  

The spiritual path is one of becoming both fully alive and fully human.  It is about more than being the authentic unique person and voice that each of us is.  We are only fully human and alive in the context of other people.  We are not here to judge but to discover that we are made for compassion and love.

Japan - Tsunami

So where does the vengeful, destructive God who delights in carnage come from?  For Falwell, Robertson, Keillor and the YouTube messenger they take refuge in a strand of theology found in a small part of the Hebrew Scriptures – proof texts like this from the prophet Amos: “When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?”

Taking such texts out of contexts is always dangerous business.  It doesn’t equate with the Rabbi Jesus who says that love is the only commandment to aspire to. 

My heart goes out to the people of Japan living through their still unfolding crisis.  My heart is with those from many spiritual traditions – or none at all – who are on the ground representing many countries as relief workers.  I’ll stand with those who are praying and giving financially to disaster relief efforts.  

Pamela does stop with Japan in her video.  She says the destruction there is just a taste of what God will do in America – “I can’t imagine…how vengeful he’s going to be on America.”  

The expectant glee of such hatred is hard for me to fathom.  I’ll cast my lot with all of those – the religious, spiritual and anyone else – who understands that the sacred is discovered in every person.  With those who work for the inclusion of all.  Surely this is where compassion and love are revealed?  I don’t know about you but it’s there that I find reason to celebrate?

Your voice of compassion, love and hope is needed!

Add your voice – post your comments or reactions below!

Join the conversation with Robert’s video’s Repairing the World and Opening Your Heart

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Hate Talk or Life-Giving Talk?

Robert V. Taylor

We are bombarded with people “talking” at us!  There is another way to experience talking that unleashes, invites, and empowers a fuller way of living.  In We Really Need to Talk: Steps to Better Communication (Sorin Books 2010), Paul Donoghue and Mary Siegel offer such a path. 

RVT:  I came away from reading your book deeply moved by your belief that how we talk with one another is transformative.

PD & MS:  We can talk in a way that truly connects us to others.  To do so we have to be honest and clear, sensitive and respectful to the person we are talking to.  By communicating in this way, we come to know ourselves—our real feelings, our true needs, our honest perceptions.  We also allow ourselves to be known and to be understood and ultimately to be loved.  Francis Bacon wrote, “Writing maketh the exact man.”  Well, speaking honestly and respectfully makes the responsible, loving man or woman. 

We really need to talk

RVT:  We’ve each experienced the despair and pain of unproductive communication.  You offer such practical steps in creating productive communication.  Is this a path to living life more fully?

PD & MS:  Life is rich and meaningful when it is filled with trusting relationships.  Distrust, suspicion, fear, rage, and loneliness are the consequences of unhealthy relationships.  So living fully means that we interact with others in a way that promotes trust, that nurtures as well is nurturing and provides a sense of well being and hope.

RVT:  For many people communication is tied up with the public persona they have created or the role they play in various relationships.  Are you suggesting that we can navigate through these realities while becoming more authentic about who we are when we talk?

PD & MS:  Definitely.  But you point to a significant hindrance to speaking honestly, that is role-playing.  All of us have roles: parent, son, daughter, male, female professional, boss, etc.  Too often we allow the role to distort and to limit our ability to be authentic.  A guy can’t share his feelings, a priest can’t get angry, a lady can’t be forceful in her expression, doctors and lawyers have to use professional jargon, a teacher or parent has to know all the answers.  Yet, roles can free us to be more of ourselves: tender and responsible as a parent, helpful as a professional, protective as a cop.  But we have to define the role that we have, not let it define us. 


Mary Siegal

RVT:  I’m struck by your belief that more fulfilling relationships–in our personal, family, workplace and community conversation–are possible as we try on the new skills you suggest.  It sounds like a new way of imagining ourselves in each of these spheres of our lives.

PD & MS:  That’s right.  A doctor who thinks she has to have all the answers and can never be wrong needs to learn to listen rather than to pontificate.  And that means forming new images of herself.  She needs to picture herself more humbly connecting with her patients demonstrating compassion and willing to admit to not knowing.  The woman playing the all available volunteer, friend and mom might need to start imagining herself saying, “No” to another request for her time.  She has to picture herself stating her personal needs to those whose needs she has consistently been attentive.

In order to communicate in a new and more authentic fashion, we need to be able to picture ourselves speaking differently.  We cannot do what we can’t picture and we can’t be who we can’t imagine.  Imaging, like any skill, takes practice.

Paul Donoghue

RVT:Your book celebrates our humanity becoming alive in unexpected ways through reimagining communication.  Your work is like a blessing which invites people to take new steps with expectancy.  PD & MS:  Thank you, Robert, for seeing our work as a blessing as well as a guide and a challenge.  We are convinced that people want to be more alive, more fulfilled, happier.  But all of us get stuck in bad habits of communication that deform the way in which we interact and that keep us from real energizing contact with others., even those closest to us.  We can grow to expect more of ourselves as we learn to be more authentic and more free in the way that we express ourselves and as we learn to listen, really listen, to the people in our lives. 

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Read my earlier blog conversation with Mary and Paul about their book Are You Really Listening? –  Listen? Stop Just Hearing

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Westboro Baptist – Gas in the Hatred?

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

I know about Westboro Baptist Church.  I’ve been picketed by them twice for being gay.  The New York Times is correct – the Supreme Court ruling protecting their freedom of speech is a good decision. Maggie Phelps of Westboro may believe that the Court’s decision gives them an “international megaphone” for hatred. But there’s no gas in the hatred.

In an 8 – 1 ruling the Supreme Court on Wednesday protected one of the most cherished American rights of freedom of speech. Their “God hates fags” message is a violent assault. My first reaction was to feel outrage at the ruling. Yet I would not have the court rule differently. If Westboro’s freedom of speech were curtailed so might yours or mine be. Would you or I want that possibility?

In 1998 Fred Phelps and his family, who comprise the membership of this tiny church in Topeka, Kansas, picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard. Matthew was tortured, beaten to death and strung up on a fence in Wyoming for being gay. As the Billings Gazette reports, it was their first taste of serious media attention for their homophobic venom.  

Matthew Shepard

Westboro has escalated its protests, picketing the funerals of hundreds of US soldiers killed in combat.  This public intrusion on grieving families is motivated by their belief God is judging America for being too inclusive of LGBT people. The lack of compassion and respect for the dead and the grieving is beyond comprehension. No wonder the American Legion provides motorcycle brigades to shield grieving families from the church’s picket signs.

When Westboro protested my leadership as an openly gay leader their website was replete with cartoon images of me burning in hell fornicating with animals. Each time they protested, the congregation I served was filled to capacity with those who came to express a different spiritual perspective of oneness and inclusion.

Media attention garnered for Westboro at each of those protests might have led you to believe that the Phelps family church spoke on behalf of a vast constituency. In reality the media coverage shone a light on hatred that led people to say, “They do not speak for me.”  Free speech should always be illuminated by the light of day. Even the most noxious free speech helps to clarify our thinking.

Westboro picketers

Westboro picketers

I still believe that the humanity of those like the Westboro picketers is to be honored. Hating those who hate only imprisons the hater, no matter the “righteousness” of the issue.  When I’m silent about the exclusion or denigration of another person or myself I give power to the hatred and exclusion. When I intentionally practice compassion as a way of life, I join with you and others in creating a different narrative of the human story.   

As a teenager in South Africa I was astounded to discover that the framework of apartheid was a theological for justifying the hatred, violence and degradation of people based on race. The vast resources deployed to enforce that view were no match for the spirituality of compassion, oneness and inclusion that people like Desmond Tutu invited people into. 

Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu

Hatred was not conquered by silencing it. The voices of hope refused to be silent. Those who claimed the free speech of a fuller vision of what it means to be human were on the winning side.

So it will be with the Phelps family church message. Free speech invites us to consider our values. It invites us to consider what it means to be part of the human family and who this family includes. It is up to us to be proactive free speech missionaries pointing to a richer, more just vision of how we all belong together.

There is no gas is the Westboro hatred. To be defined by what we hate is to live in a prison. When my free speech and actions find delight in those who are different I am reminded that we all want the same thing – to be loved, happy and honored for who we are. That is high octane fuel that propels us to speak and act on behalf of our oneness. 

Conflict, even conflicted feelings about the Supreme Court ruling, invites us to work for the well-being of all. That is the real meaning of peace. 

I am hopeful because of the Court’s ruling. The real question is how we will nurture speech and actions that are about the extraordinary value of every human being. What does it mean for you to be a vocal voice of hope?

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Exclusion in the Name of God? View Robert’s You Tube conversation by clicking here

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