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#1721 - Thursday, March 4, 2004 - Editor: Jerry   Nondual Highlights Home Page:    


Saturday, 03/06/04
Spirituality in rap music

With help from The Tennessean's A. Tacuma Roeback, we looked for hip-hop lyrics on values and spirituality. Here are some excerpts:

Tupac Shakur on relationships

Keep Ya Head Up, 1993

I know they like to beat ya down a lot

When you come around the block brothas clown a lot

But please don't cry, dry your eyes, never let up

Forgive but don't forget, girl keep your head up

And when he tells you, 'You ain't nuttin' don't believe him

And if he can't learn to love you, you should leave him…

So will the real men get up?

I know you're fed up ladies, but keep your head up

Lauryn Hill on aspirations

Every Ghetto, Every City, 1998

I was just a little girl

Skinny legs, a press and curl

My mother always thought I'd be a star

But way before my record deal,

The streets that nurtured Lauryn Hill

Made sure that I'd never go too far

Every ghetto, every city and suburban place I've been

Make me recall my days in the New Jerusalem

Slick Rick on parents

Hey Young World, 1988

This rap here, it may cause concern

It's broad and deep, why don't you listen and learn?

Love mean happiness that once was strong

But due to society ... even that's turned wrong

Times have changed ... and it's cool to look bummy

and be a dumb dummy and disrespect your mummy

Have you forgotten ... who put you on this Earth?

Who brought you up right ... and who loved you since your birth?

…Don't admire thieves, hey they don't admire you

Their time's limited, hard rocks too

So listen, be strong, scream whoopee-doo

Go for yours, cause dreams come true

And you'll make your mommy proud, so proud of you too

Ice Cube on life and death

Dead Homiez, 1990

Another homie got murdered… on a shakedown

And his mother is at the funeral, havin' a nervous breakdown

Two shots hit him in the face when they blasted

A framed picture and a closed casket

A single file line about 50 cars long

All drivin' slow with they lights on

He got a lot of flowers and a big wreath

What good is that when you're six feet deep?

I look at that (expletive) and gotta think to myself

And thank God for my health

'Cause nobody really ever know

When it's gonna be they family on the front row

So I take everything slow, go with the flow

And shut my (expletive) mouth if I don't know (Word!)

'Cause that's what Pops told me

But I wish he could have said my dead homiez

Ed O.G. & Da Bulldogs on parenting

Be a Father To Your Child (1991)

You see, I hate when a brother makes a child and then denies it

Thinking that money is the answer so he buys it

A whole bunch of gifts and a lot of presents

It's not the presents, it's your presence and essence

Of being there and showing the baby that you care

Stop sittin' like a chair and having your baby wonder where you are

Or who you are - fool, you are his daddy

Don't act like you ain't cause that really makes me mad, G.

To see a mother and a baby suffer

I've had enough of brothers who don't love the

Fact that a baby brings joy into your life

You could still be called daddy if the mother's not your wife

Don't be scared, be prepared 'cause love is gonna getcha

It will always be your child even if she ain't witcha

So don't front on your child when it's your own

'Cause if you front now, then you'll regret it when it's grown

Be a father to your child

Kanye West on Jesus

Jesus Walks (2004)

We rappers are role models

We rap, we don't think

I ain't here to argue about his facial features

Or here to convert atheists into believers

I'm just trying to say the way school need teachers

The way Kathie Lee needed Regis

That's the way we all need Jesus

So here go my single, dog, radio needs this

They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus

That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes

But if I talk about God my record won't get played/Huh?

Common, featuring Cee-Lo

Gaining One's Definition (G.O.D.) (1997)

I fight, with myself in the ring of doubt and fear

The rain ain't gone, but I can still see clear

As a child, given religion with no answer to why

Just told to believe in Jesus cuz for me he did die

Curiosity killed the catechism

Understanding and wisdom became the rhythm that I played to

And became a slave to master self

A rich man is one with knowledge, happiness and his health

My mind had dealt with the books of Zen, Tao

The lessons

Koran and the Bible, to me they all vital

And got truth within 'em

gotta read them boys

You just can't skim 'em

Scarface on prayer and heaven

Heaven (2002)

Listen to different scriptures, they teach on God

And if you ain't never met him, don't speak on God

I'm serious about religion, just this ain't no song…

I pray for everybody, hopin' that they hear that voice

The one that paralyzes you from head down, boy

When you're aware of your surroundings, yet you still can't move

Water shootin' outta your eyes when you hear this dude

And the voice is much louder, than the voice that you thought was the voice of the Holy Spirit

Who changed your life, when you hear it?

And the next morn', you wake up and the world look lighter

The grass greener, and the sun brighter

I know the feelin' first hand, I witnessed the sights/When I allowed the Lord to come in my life...''

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five on poverty, hopelessness

The Message (1982)

Broken glass everywhere

People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don't care

I can't take the smell, I can't take the noise

Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice

Rats in the front room, roaches in the back

Junkie's in the alley with a baseball bat

I tried to get away, but I couldn't get far

Cause the man with the tow-truck repossessed my car

Don't push me, cause I'm close to the edge

I'm trying not to lose my head

It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder

How I keep from going under

Posted on Sat, Mar. 06, 2004

The epiphanies of Pi
Yann Martel's novel of a boy and a tiger is really a story of faith over belief

The Kansas City Star
Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi. Photo by Danielle Schaub



You're stranded in a lifeboat in the Pacific with a 450-pound Bengal tiger, and the only thing that stands between you and this ravenous beast is …faith.

So how long would you last?

That's the foundation, basically, of Yann Martel's novel, Life of Pi. Except that a word such as “basically” really has no place in a discussion of this book. Yes, Martel's hero, a 16-year-old boy from India whose full name is Piscine Molitor Patel, must try to survive the tiger long enough to make landfall.

Yes, there is some plot buildup: The boy ends up in this predicament because his family has decided to move from India to Canada. Their ship sinks, killing his parents, brother, all the crew, and most of the animals his father has kept in the zoo the family owned in India.

But in addition to its tense premise, Life of Pi is a deeply mapped search for meaning, for religion that does more than force conformity, for true “faith” as opposed to mere “belief.”

What's the difference between those two words? That question is one of several Yann Martel considered in a phone interview with The Star. The author, who usually makes his home in Montreal, is in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, as writer in residence at the public library. Taking a break from his labors over some short stories, he discussed Life of Pi, the current selection of the FYI Book Club.

Q. Your main character is nicknamed Pi, which is also a numeral that can be expressed finitely as 3.14. In truth, though, pi is infinite; not even computers can calculate it to the final digit. Did you choose this as a name to designate tension between Pi's mortal life and spirituality?

A. Yeah. More specifically, pi in mathematics is an irrational number, meaning…(that) it goes on forever – 3.1415927 etc. with no discernable pattern. I thought it was interesting how an irrational number is used all the time in mathematics to make sense of things.…religion is also like that. It's something vaguely non-rational, but it helps make sense of our universe, of who we are and where we are going.

In your academic training, you studied philosophy, not religion.

Everyone should study philosophy; it would make everyone a more critical citizen. I liked the critical method…but at one point academia tired me. I didn't find the academic approach that congenial; I thought it was too cerebral at one point. I started to hunger for different experiences.

The author's note that begins the book mentions such hunger. Were you hungry for things that philosophy could not contain?

Yes. Philosophy is rooted in, perhaps, emotional experience, like if you study ethics, you'll study ethical dilemmas – nonetheless, the mechanism you deal with is by and large an intellectual mechanism. What I like about religion is that it's a holistic experience; it addresses your intellect, your emotions, your identity. That is thrilling and very satisfying, to have something that addresses you as a whole human being rather than one part of you. And by the way, when I speak of religion, I mean in the broadest sense of the word; I don't necessarily mean Christianity or Islam or Buddhism or Judaism. I mean them all.

There seems to be a great deal of religious interest in the States right now. Is this cyclical?

I don't know if it's cyclical. The United States has always been a very religious country – “in God we trust.” I think what's becoming more apparent in recent years is a more vocal fundamentalism …which is a pity, because that is a problem for everyone – people who are nonreligious and people who are religious. Fundamentalism, I think, has relatively little to do with religion.

There is an idea that infused me in writing this book, and that is the difference between faith and belief. When you have a belief, you cling, you hold onto something. American fundamentalists cling to certain notions as to what it means to be Christian – that you cannot be gay, that you must be pro laissez faire capitalism. They exclude groups. But someone who has faith lets go. And when you let go, you don't judge as much. You trust that somehow things will make sense. You must make as much effort as you can to understand, but ultimately, it's not for you to decide. Fundamentalists (are) the ones who just recently are behind the opposition to gay marriage. (It is) sanctified bigotry.

What is so nourishing to the soul about letting go?

Life is a process of letting go: Letting go of your youth, letting go of your ambitions, eventually letting go of your life. And when you let go, you acknowledge there are things greater to you. Reason wants to understand why, why, why; the incomprehensible is deeply unsatisfying to science and reason and materialism. With letting go, you realize you cannot understand everything. For example, acts of injustice: A 14-year-old-girl gets kidnapped, raped and buried alive. It's an appalling story. Someone whose modus operandi is strictly based in materialism and reason will be completely defeated by a tragedy like that. Someone who has a greater capacity to let go can put that into greater context and say, “Well, I don't understand why this has to happen, but perhaps in a way I don't understand, it is part of a greater plan.” To be able to let go gives you many things: It gives you peace, and …more empathy.

But it isn't easy.

It's very hard to let go. My background is completely nonreligious. My parents never went to church …but when I was in India the second time, I saw religion in a new way. Rather than just seeing the negative stuff…I saw the positive side: The great perspective it gives you, the fact that your whole being is addressed, the fact that your imagination is stimulated.

You've said you saw suffering in India, but also joy.

It's a place where many people live with great material misery. Yet you never feel that alienation that everyone is familiar with in the West. In the West, materially poor people sometimes have nothing because they're poor not only in matter but also in spirit. In India, even when people are poor in matter, they seem to have some sort of spiritual equipment to deal with that. So in India…(I started to) look at religion.

Initially, with Life of Pi, I thought I'd have a character who was religious, just to see what it would be like to have faith.…I had to study it, to read about it, but you can't just read about something; you have to open your heart to it. Bit by bit, I started taking it seriously – not only intellectually but in a deeper way. Now I've switched 180 degrees from thinking religion was absolutely stupid, for people who are ill-educated or bigoted, to thinking that it's the most beautiful, subtle thing that the human mind can wrap itself around, or try to.

Pi practices, simultaneously, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Would you consider yourself, at this point, pan-religious?

No, not really. I didn't want Pi to practice only one religion because I was afraid that whoever didn't belong to that religion would dismiss him. (But) I think every religion can make you understand ultimate reality, just like every language can express what needs to be expressed.…In every serious religion – every one that has the critical mass of text and experience and history through the centuries – there is a sense of Presence, and I mean Presence with a capital P. If you read the Qur'an, if you rub shoulders with Muslims, if you go to Hindu temples and see Hindu pilgrimages and Hindu practices, there is that same feeling of plumbing the depths that Christianity plumbs.

Pluralism is the only way I can react to the fact that there are so many different religions, each of which claims to have a map for the universe and an understanding of how the universe operates. It just doesn't seem in the spirit of Christ, for example, to turn to 1 billion Hindus and say, “You're all wrong, and you will rot in hell.” In fact, Christ met “the other,” whether it was the Samaritan other, the sexual other – he met women a lot, Roman centurions, tax collectors. He always met the other that others would not want to meet – and he was condemned for that.

How we work all that out theologically…I don't know. But that's how this idea of letting go (comes in). So, getting back to whether I am pan-religious, not really…Normally I go to Catholic Mass. Now why Catholic? In Quebec, where normally I live, there's a Catholic church on every street corner. But when I am in India, I love going to temples, and I love going to mosques. Each has an appeal to me. In each one I feel a sense of Presence.

To reach John Mark Eberhart, books editor, call (816) 234-4772 or send e-mail to: [email protected].

The Yann Martel file

Born: June 25, 1963, in Salamanca, Spain, to Canadian parents

Permanent residence: Montreal, but at this time he is writer in residence at the public library in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Education: Bachelor's degree in philosophy, University of Trent, Peterborough, Ontario, 1986

Family: “I have a brother, and I have a girlfriend – a partner; I guess that's the common parlance now.”

Next book: A revision or “tidying up” of the pieces in The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, his first book from 1993. He also has ideas for a new novel, as yet not begun.

– John Mark Eberhart/The Star


Seraphim Joseph Sigrist
Live Journal:

Rumpsringa For The Amish, But What For Us?


This time a little thought to share beginning from an interesting post
by canticle about the Amish and how they allow their young people a
period of absolute freedom, which they call rumpsringa, in which they
can drink and smoke and party and finally 85% of them choose to settle
back down for good within the Amish spiritual world. My first thought
was the analogy of the periods of freedom which Japanese society
grants, in early childhood and university years and in productive
adulthood when drinking and therefore socially allowed to say almost
anything, within the context of a very rigid social and cultural
system. Or I think of V.S.Naipaul's Among the Believers in which he
shows how Islamic society depends on an outside non Islamic world to
relieve its pressures...for booze, for modern medical service etc. But
then I considered our society ,the general American society and it
seems to me that many American never have a period of freedom, a
rumpsringa , from the culture which produces our television programing
and considering that, is obviously not very rich or free in any sense
of broadness of possiblity.

This leads me to think about something Alex Bodrov wrote about Russian
spiritual culture today and which applies to us also I

Alexei Bodrov is rector of an Institute of advanced spiritual and
cultural studies in Moscow called St Andrews, it goes back to the "Open
University" founded by Fr Alexander Men and I am remembering inexactly
an old brochure...however the simple point he made was that the Russian
Orthodox spiritual world today is diverse and one reason is that among
the many returning to faith are those who come to the Orthodox Church
looking for a principle of "Order" in a world which their personal
experience perhaps of broken families and so on, and societal
experience in our time in Russia, a world which seems chaotic. Perhaps
for some in Russia and here too the very word "Orthodox" seems to
promise a world of Order. This has problems because the Church is not
made up of only one kind of person, not just for the one who is looking
for order, but at the same time we must accept these brothers and
sisters as having equal place and having a part to play also. I am
paraphrasing from memory, but the same of course has been said by many
people and is true it seems to me. So in America too, and not only in
Christianity but in Judaism or Sufism or Buddhism etc we find people
looking for forms to order the life which seems out of control and for
an outside, a rumpsringa really, to the culture they find insufficient.

Certainly a look at our television shows this insufficiency, or
listening to the talk of people around us which shows really a culture
in some ways narrower and more impovrished, although apparantly
universal and all embracing and socially full of enlightenment, than
the Amish, can lead us to wish to get outside of this all...

We need also to consider however that in the end all human structure
and sets of thought are limited and taken in themselves as a reliance
or a complete world are unsatisfying. Reactionary acceptance of a
spiritual form will give one a different life style from the others but
will leave one risking to be in mauvais fois(using the French to take
Sartre's use of the terms) bad faith in relation to God whose
continually new creation of things, whose breaking of forms with his
wind and through the winds of time, we must then fear... and we risk
then to hide from God like Adam and Eve in the garden , hide in
observance, just as another hides in libertineism adopted for the same
intent of getting outside of the culture which has not been enough...

St Paul discusses in Galatians this problem of the moving away from
freedom to the necessities of order or the equally barren necessity of
continual revolution...

These thoughts have gone far enough, but perhaps we touch together here
places which we can identify...

We hear the voice Adam heard, and I hear again thinking about the Amish
and on from there, asking "Where are you?" The voice is gentle as a
rustle in the reeds but reverberates like rolling thunder when we do
not quench it by turning our attention...

we realize that the Amish having gone past the pizza parlor and the
nail salon and the home theatre store (as I did this morning just next
to my dentist), are maybe not so quaint to go back for the most part to
the farm... and that many Americans have never been outside our poor
culture... poor while imagining itself rich and open and boundlessly
free but in fact so very poor and narrow ... but yet...

and yet also maybe when one is free it is not so poor , it is like a
few pieces of bread and fish on a plate , enough if taken under the
open sky...and surely this is enough from me, but these things
determine a great deal around and in our lives dont they? welcoming as
always all your thought,

+Seraphim Joseph Sigrist.

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Jerry Katz
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