Good News: Cancer Free and Back on the Road!


Michael scar

My surgery (splenectomy) on February 3rd went really, really well. It was scheduled to last four hours but only took two. The spleen and tumor were removed, I lost very little blood, and only needed to stay in the hospital three days. I'm home now (where we're housesitting) and am feeling stronger and have less pain every day.

On Thursday my oncologist shared with me the good news that all the tests they've run indicate that I am now cancer free. I'm scheduled to have a CT scan done in early June and be tested again in November.

Connie and I are thrilled beyond words. To tell the truth, I'm still somewhat in shock. Given the size of the tumor, I think all of us, including my doctor, assumed that there was still active cancer in there. But the tests and biopsy were definitive: no lymphoma, just a huge mass of necrotic tissue (dead cells). The six rounds of R-CHOP chemotherapy (every other week in October and November) apparently did the job.

Connie and I will be hitting the road again on March 1st. Thanks to the generosity of others, we are scheduled to stay in a dozen really beautiful retreat locations all over the United States this year:

March 2-18: Nevada City, California
March 22 - April 5: Vail, Colorado
April 7-9: Cincinnati, Ohio
April 13-26: Scarsdale, New York
April 28 - May 13: Woodsfield, Ohio
May 20 - June 16: Luddington, Michigan
June 18 - July 20: Canandaigua, New York
July 21 - August 5: Madison, Wisconsin
August 1-9: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
August 10 - September 3: Durango, Colorado
October 18 - November 30: Prouts Neck, Maine
December 1 - December 31: Waynesville, North Carolina

While we will be doing some speaking (within a 2-hour radius of these locations), we expect to mostly work on creative projects this year, such as developing educational curricula and online courses, and writing another book.

Those wishing to help further our work can do so here. Your support is greatly appreciated!

And if you've not already done so, do check out our podcasts here. As you can see and hear, even in the midst of dealing with cancer these last five and a half months, we've been having entirely too much fun!

Co-evolutionary blessings,

~ Michael

[Posted February 13, 2010]


The Salvation of Religion: From Beliefs to Knowledge


Michael's arms upraised at dusk

Much has been written and countless discussions have ensued in recent years about the seemingly inevitable decline of Christianity and rise of secularism in America in the 21st century, which is along the lines of what happened in Europe in the mid 20th century. (See here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

Thinking and speaking of God in traditional ways (thereby using mostly biblical metaphors) has cost all forms of traditional faith in the western world both relevance and credibility. Indeed, I'd go so far as to suggest...

  • The primary cause of the Church’s decline in size and influence in Europe, and now also in America, is this: valuing the Bible as the only scripture while failing to see that today's science, interpreted meaningfully and mythically, reveals God's nature, God’s ways, and God’s guidance in many ways far more accurately than anything the biblical writers could have accessed millennia ago.

Historically, developmentally, we get the answers we are ready to hear. Long before it was possible for any people to have scientifically informed answers to life’s biggest questions, religious traditions provided subjectively useful answers—that is, responses that not only helped make sense of the world but also provided consistent access to life’s most cherished and important felt-experiences, including three of the most empowering: trust, gratitude, and inspiration. Often these answers helped people in particular places develop cultures that worked for their time and place, as well as some answers that, through the test of time and cross-cultural experience, seem to be fairly universal. For example:


Atheists Promote Bible Reading?!


Finger pointing to the moon

Fifty thousand people a day read atheist science blogger PZ Myers' posts on his blog, Pharyngula. You know we're living in an odd world when Myers and other vocal atheists are encouraging people to read their Bibles. "There's no surer way to make an atheist than to get someone to actually read scripture," says Myers. This is so, he and others claim, not only because of how unrealistic and uninspiring a mythic-biblical view of creation is compared to an evidential-evolutionary understanding, but also, especially, because of the horrific, terrorist-like way that the Bible portrays God (e.g., see Richard Dawkins' potent January 25 editorial in The Washington Post, "Haiti and the hypocrisy of Christian theology".)

Genesis 6 and 7, for example, tell of God planning and executing the slaughter by painful asphyxiation (drowning) of billions of innocent animals and millions of children and their parents in Noah's flood. Deuteronomy 3:2-6 and 7:1-2 has God commanding the ethnic cleansing of 15 to 20 million inhabitants of Canaan, including women and children. And the Book of Revelation envisions God in the future, with Jesus' assistance, brutally torturing countless animals and human beings of all ages, including children and infants.

A central message of the Hebrew scriptures, what Christians call the Old Testament, is Obey the Lord or die. The New Testament version is Believe in Jesus or fry. Either way: "Do what I tell you to do or you'll be stoned to death", or "Believe what I tell you to believe or you'll be tortured forever," are not messages most of us would expect to hear from someone who truly loves us. Atheists know this, and they also know that many believers will realize it too if they carefully read their Bibles.

Imagine someone inviting you to learn about "the greatest king who ever lived."


The Fundamentalist Backlash Against Avatar


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The following is a guest post written by my friend and colleague, Jon Cleland Host:

Yesterday the emotionally powerful and visually stunning movie Avatar surpassed Titanic as the highest grossing movie of all time.  For many people of any faith or none, it’s just a great movie, and that’s fine.  From a spiritual standpoint, many moderate and liberal Christians find the movie completely in step with their Christianity.  However, with its lush forests and noble aliens (the Na’Vi) it has, like Harry Potter, been the target of a vitriolic backlash by fundamentalist Christians.  By the way, for those six people in the country who haven’t seen it yet, the main plotline is that a big scary corporation is mining unobtainium from the land of the Na’Vi, who, being a  primitive tribe, are unable to stop them.  The Na’Vi have a spirituality based on the (scientifically verified) web of life, on a moon (not our moon) where this takes place.  A former marine is assigned to infiltrate their tribe to learn how to destroy them, but after doing so, decides to defend them instead.

The most common charge against Avatar by fundamentalist Christians is that non-Christian religions are evil by definition, and that charge is so religiously bigoted that it requires no refutation, and deserves no discussion.  Other charges are that the natural god of Pantheism is undeserving of veneration because nature can be cruel, and that only Christianity offers hope.  Each of these should be examined, along with the basics of the conflicting worldviews presented.  The objection that Avatar is a re-hashing of the “white savior” story is heard sometimes from the left, but in Avatar the antagonist is killed by a native woman (who then rescues Sully), and the battle is finally won not by Sully and the Na’Vi (who are heading for defeat), but by Eywa herself.

A common objection against Avatar’s naturalistic, pantheistic worldview—where the divine infuses all of the natural world, and there is no Heaven or Hell—is that nature is, at it’s core, all about suffering and death.  While it is true that the real natural world contains a lot of suffering and death, this ignores the beauty and joy that is just as real in the natural world.  Our universe, which includes all of us humans, is endlessly creative and glorious. Our universe has evolved love, joy, beauty, wonder and communion as much as it has evolved pain, death, suffering, and cruelty.


Avatar Transforming: Its Power, Its Message, Its Possibilities


Avatar poster

The following is a guest blog post written by Tom Atlee of The Co-Intelligence Institute. It is also posted on his Posterous website HERE. Tom is the author of The Tao of Demorcracy and the recently published, Reflections on Evolutionary Activism: Essays, Poems, and Prayers From an Emerging Field of Sacred Social Change (which I highly recommend).

"Embrace the movie—surely the most vivid and convincing creation of a fantasy world ever seen." —Richard Corliss, Time Magazine

"Avatar asks us to see that everything is connected, all human beings to each other, and us to the Earth. And....to appreciate this miracle of the world that we have right here."  — James Cameron, Avatar director

"[The movie's] parallels with history and current events are obvious enough, but they're beside the point." -- Amy Biancolli, Houston Chronicle

I was blown away by James Cameron's new movie Avatar.  It immersed me in a thoroughly compelling world, imagined and crafted with a depth of detail that utterly amazed me.  It conveyed multiple profound, challenging messages via an archetypal story designed for mass appeal.  I am not at all surprised it is suddenly the highest grossing movie of all time, beating Cameron's previous allegorical blockbuster, Titanic.

The impact of this movie made me wonder how we might enhance Avatar's transformational power -- a question I'll get to in a moment.  First I want to address a few points about its reception. I couldn't believe most of the reviews I read.


Evolutionary Spirituality: Coming Home to Reality


Flower

The present moment is highly overrated. From an evolutionary perspective, the past and the future are where it's at. Any aardvark, antelope, cat, or cockroach can effortlessly reside in the present moment. Only human beings can engage deeply with the past and consciously co-create the future. By doing so, by looking outward with aims of bettering our world, big or small, we also walk a path that leads to inner fulfillment.


Satan's Letter to Pat Robertson


Pat Robertson

By now everyone has heard about Pat Robertson's infamous blaming of the recent devastating earthquake on Haiti's "pact with the devil." What you may not have heard about yet, however, was Satan's response. The following letter to the editor was sent to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune by Lily Coyle.

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on Earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll. You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best,

Satan


Cancer Update (Jan 16): Surgery Needed


Hoar frost

I had a CAT scan and PET scan done on Tuesday and Connie and I met with my oncologist on Thursday. The tests showed no aggressive lymphoma anymore, which is really good news! But since there is still a fairly large mass of dead cells in my spleen (which may or may not include a less aggressive form of cancer), I'm going to have my spleen surgically removed in the next few weeks. If the biopsy of the spleen shows no cancer, I'll simply need to be tested every six months for the next few years. If the biopsy shows active cancer cells, I'll undergo a stem cell transplant next month, which is where they take bone marrow out of me, freeze it, give me a few days of high dose chemotherapy (more powerful than what I've already had), and then put the bone marrow back in me. This is apparently curative in 60-70% of cases like mine. But, again, I may not need this if the biopsy of the spleen doesn't show any live cancer.

Connie and I see this as the best scenario we could have reasonably hoped for. I will, of course, miss my spleen, but I'm told that many have lived decades without one.

The good news is that it seems increasingly likely that I'll be alive and productive throughout this year and, with any luck, a whole lot longer.

Trusting time and grateful the gifts of life and death...

~ Michael

PS. Please become a "Friend of Michael and Connie"

Also, check out Connie's and my recent PODCASTS


Best 2009 Blog Posts and Interviews


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One of the delightful challenges that Connie and I face in our Great Story-telling ministry is trying to speak meaningfully to a wide variety of religious and non-religous groups. What follows are what I and others consider to be my best blog posts written in 2009, and the best interviews with me or us. (To see a similar list for posts written in 2007-2008, click HERE.)

FOR THE RELIGIOUS

In our first 8 years of teaching and preaching evolution together, we have been invited to present sermons, seminars, evening programs, or multiday workshops in more than 700 churches, convents, monasteries, and spiritual centers across the continent, including liberal and conservative Roman Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Unitarian Universalist, Unity, Religious Science, Quaker, Mennonite, Jewish, and Buddhist groups. Here are 2009 posts of mine that the devoutly religious, as well as the nominally religious, tend to find inspiring, provocative, or both:


Human-Bacteria Symbosis: Are We Organisms or Living Ecosystems?


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NOTE: The following, from SeedMagazine.com, is one of the most insightful and amazing things I've read in years. I can't recommend it too highly. Once you read it, you'll never think of yourself or your world in quite the same way again!

THE DEEP SYMBIOSIS BETWEEN BACTERIA AND THEIR HUMAN HOSTS IS FORCING SCIENTISTS TO ASK: ARE WE ORGANISMS OR LIVING ECOSYSTEMS?

As soon as we are born, bacteria move in. They stake claims in our digestive and respiratory tracts, our teeth, our skin. They establish increasingly complex communities, like a forest that gradually takes over a clearing. By the time we’re a few years old, these communities have matured, and we carry them with us, more or less, for our entire lives. Our bodies harbor 100 trillion bacterial cells, outnumbering our human cells 10 to one. It’s easy to ignore this astonishing fact. Bacteria are tiny in comparison to human cells; they contribute just a few pounds to our weight and are invisible to us.

It’s also been easy for science to overlook their role in our bodies and our health. Researchers have largely concerned themselves with bacteria’s negative role as pathogens: The devastating effects of a handful of infectious organisms have always seemed more urgent than what has been considered a benign and relatively unimportant relationship with “good” bacteria. In the intestine, the bacterial hub of the body that teems with trillions of microbes, they have traditionally been called “commensal” organisms — literally, eating at the same table. The moniker suggests that while we’ve known for decades that gut bacteria help digestion and prevent infections, they are little more than ever-present dinner guests.

But there’s a growing consensus among scientists that the relationship between us and our microbes is much more of a two-way street. With new technologies that allow scientists to better identify and study the organisms that live in and on us, we’ve become aware that bacteria, though tiny, are powerful chemical factories that fundamentally affect how the human body functions. They are not simply random squatters, but organized communities that evolve with us and are passed down from generation to generation. Through research that has blurred the boundary between medical and environmental microbiology, we’re beginning to understand that because the human body constitutes their environment, these microbial communities have been forced to adapt to changes in our diets, health, and lifestyle choices. Yet they, in turn, are also part of our environments, and our bodies have adapted to them. Our dinner guests, it seems, have shaped the very path of human evolution.

In October, researchers in several countries launched the International Human Microbiome Consortium, an effort to characterize the role of microbes in the human body. Just over a year ago, the National Institutes of Health also launched its own Human Microbiome Project. These new efforts represent a formal recognition of bacteria’s far-reaching influence, including their contributions to human health and certain illnesses. “This could be the basis of a whole new way of looking at disease,” said microbiologist Margaret McFall-Ngai at the 108th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston last June. But the emerging science of human-microbe symbiosis has an even greater implication. “Human beings are not really individuals; they’re communities of organisms,” says McFall-Ngai. It’s not just that our bodies serve as a habitat for other organisms; it’s also that we function with them as a collective. As the profound interrelationship between humans and microbes becomes more apparent, the distinction between host and hosted has become both less clear and less important — together we operate as a constantly evolving man-microbe kibbutz. Which raises a startling implication: If being Homo sapiens through and through implied a certain authority over our corporeal selves, we are now forced to relinquish some of that control to our inner-dwelling microbes. Ironically, the human ingenuity that drives us to understand more about ourselves is revealing that we’re much less “human” than we once thought.

To find a biological answer to the question “Who are we?” we might look to the human genome...

[Click HERE to read the rest of the article.]