announcement: prapañca

So this year I am getting involved in a new project, once the hectic first couple of months of the new year settle down (after seminars, classes, conferences, vacation). It’s a project I’m feeling extremely optimistic about, one that touches on a topic near and dear to my heart, and one that I hope will be of value to the larger Buddhist community.

Along with the help of some friends, we’re launching Prapañca, a quarterly, online Buddhist journal featuring both original reporting and opinion pieces on a wide variety of Buddhist topics, but also fiction, poetry, and the arts. The co-founders/editors and I are passionate not only about bringing a wide diversity of Buddhist voices to our future readers, we’re also passionate about creating a venue for writers of Buddhist fiction and poetry to showcase their work.

The journal is set to go live in June of 2010. I recognize that a more than three-month lag between announcement and launch is a near eternity in Internet time, but I wanted to make this announcement now as a way to solicit contributions. We’re taking this project seriously, which means that we want to create something of real value, something of substance, and that means we want to give folks plenty of time to write their hearts out before the official launch.

Please check out the submission guidelines here and contact us with any questions, with your ideas, with your feedback, with offers of help. We’re all ears!

And of course there will be occasional updates leading up to the launch. We’ve set up a Twitter account and Facebook page for just this reason. Feel free to follow, become a fan, etc., etc., and stay tuned for further announcements.

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Brit Hume: part two

In my last post on this issue, my overall point was two-fold: (1) there are real differences between Buddhism and Christianity that aren’t being discussed in the Brit Hume kerfuffle; and (2) that Brit Hume exposes a deeper religious double-standard in our country that may be the better target of our discontent. In this post, I’d like to talk about a related but separate issue, that is, how the mainstream media represented Buddhists in their response to Brit Hume’s comment.

Brit Hume: part one

I’ve wavered back and forth quite a bit about whether or not I wanted to weigh in on the whole Brit Hume thinks Tiger Woods should be a Christian thing. But I think there are a couple of points in all of this that are worth bringing into the spotlight, so, albeit a little late, here goes.

First, some disclaimers.

For starters, I think Marcus is right. Our outrage is no doubt better served by protesting actual atrocities committed against Buddhists the world over rather than the vacuous comments of one talking head on a network not generally known for being particularly fair or balanced. Moreover, I think that we’re right in spending our energies on real human suffering, such as that in Haiti right now, and that, in the grand schemes of things, Pat Robertson deserves far more ire than Mr. Hume.

But I also think that some of the commenters on Marcus’ post are, at least partly, also right. This was something of interest to us here in the States, and it is worth talking about to the extent that, to borrow a phrase, media matters (it is the message, after all). So, while I respect the fact that we should all be doing Other Things right now, I’m going to talk about some of the buried messages in this little event, take it as a teaching moment, a way to shed some light on how the media operates, and what it has to tell us about the state of religion and religious discourse in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

the problem with now

I hate it when I’m right.

Way back in 2005, before anyone thought we’d elect an African American to the highest office in the land, folks were convinced that Hillary Rodham Clinton would the forty-fourth president. And I said then, in a glib, off-hand post, that that was a terrible idea.

The reason I thought Hillary Clinton in 2008 was a terrible idea was not because I have anything against the woman. I’m fairly ambivalent about her as a politician, truth be told. The reason I thought it was a terrible idea was actually because I have a fair amount of respect for her. I knew that whoever got elected in 2008 would be inheriting a political and economic mess of gargantuan proportions. I was short on specifics in that post, but I talked about the economic mess, about two wars, about global crises, and, most importantly, how the spin doctors and talking heads in the media are so wrapped up in the Now that they have no sense of history or causality. Americans in general are so consumed with the present that they blithely ignore how it is that we got into this mess in the first place, and they seem to want to pin all their hopes, all their fears, all their blame on whomever happens to be sitting in the Oval Office regardless of who’s fault this disaster actually is.

dear future self

Dear Future Self,

I’m writing to you from the end of 2009. For Christmas this year, someone gave you Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs. I haven’t finished reading it, yet, but let me say this up front: I love it. I have a feeling it’s something I’ll come back to time and again. But, last night, reading a couple of essays about childhood here in the 21st century (a.k.a, The Future), I detected the familiar stench of the bitter old man, just beneath the surface.

You may remember the bitter old man. Many years ago now I wrote about him when he popped up in an article on Wired.com. Those there dark days, to be sure. A couple of weeks ago, I thought I saw bitter old man’s snarky female cousin in an essay by Barbara Ehrenreich (more on that later). So perhaps I’m just overly sensitive. To be sure, whereas Mr. Chabon (rightfully) laments the loss of what he dubs the wilderness of childhood and the move from sterile, minimalist Lego blocs to recreations of George Lucas’ memory, there are real gems in here, too. There is the acknowledgement that not all hope is lost, that children, as they always have, will find new avenues of creativity and imagination; they will transcend the crap of mainstream media.

anecdotes and evidence

“The well-known quip in social scientific circles, “the plural of anecdote is not data,” should caution non-social scientists against generalizing about North American Buddhists based on minimal, unsystematic, or no actual fieldwork. In my mind, insistence on empirical grounding would be the most significant social scientific contribution to an interdisciplinary field of study on this this topic, especially when dealing with questions about Buddhist identity and organizational dynamics.”