This four-part series about religion in the Bay Area started when an overly smiley guy handed me a yellow pamphlet with a personality quiz on it. Turns out he was a Scientologist, and this was a way to rope people in to their cult offices near Market Street. So, in Dilettante #27, for the job, I took the bait.
Funnily enough, I had just served cocktails (in my second supplemental-journalism job) to a man who claimed to be a book agent who had been in the room when L. Ron Hubbard presented Dianetics as a sci-fi story to his definitely sci-fi book editor.
“Not sure this religion in the book is all that great,” the editor supposedly said something like. “The public would never fall for something that stupid in real life.”
“Oh yeah, watch this,” said L. Ron Hubbard, and stormed out of the room.
That’s all the industry gossip I ever got from my waiting tables career, besides one time when Scully and Mulder’s boss on the “X-Files” asked me what the soup was that day and I nearly peed myself.
“They’ve caught me,” I thought, heart pounding, then “oh this is real life, oh gosh it’s him” – all while my body cheerfully said “potato mushroom” and scooted on by, just in case.
Dilettante #25, a Berkeley Psychic Institute exposition, was my first big dip into the New Age scene. Twenty years later, I retain no such snarky record-store-clerk posturing toward spirituality. We all evolve and catch more empathy and soften a little, right?
No quarrel with the psychics and witches of the East Bay or the woods of northern California — theosophy, spiritualism, occult gnosticism, Taoism, and any other not-a-religion where you have to think for yourself and seek out knowledge is much better than what the mainstream’s got going on with the Big Three Abrahamics.
Any “introductory” event is going to be broad strokes. Any path toward spirituality that doesn’t exploit or negatively interfere with anyone else’s experience is the right one.
And I hear it’s one of the best schools of its kind. But this event was still kind of weird.
Dilettante #26, or “House of God,” was moving and powerful, but also kind of a death march but only because of my feelings about four-on-the-floor techno music and how it evokes a sensation of being stomped on or hammered into place.
Originator and religious scholar Matthew Fox is one of the world’s current prophets and should be listened to. Check out his Wiki. Way before the rave I covered 20 years ago this week, his first book Matthew Fox, Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality (Santa Fe: Bear and Company) came out in 1983. Creation Spirituality is a thing Fox has been refining ever since.
Amazingly, Fox has written 35 books that have been translated into 68 languages and have sold millions of copies. He wrote A Way to God: The Creation Spirituality Journey of Thomas Merton (who apparently Matthew Fox’s own religious antics take after).
And he wrote 95 Theses, or Articles of Faith, which he nailed to a church door in Wittenburg in 2005 in defense of a kinder, gentler Christianity. Fox is a boss and he gets things done: Religion could use more people like him, who know how to throw a good party.
Tackling the offices of known and professed Satan worshipper and assumer of the Number of the Beast in Dilettante #27 was as creepy as you could imagine. I studied cults in college and upon entry into that stuffy cubicle farm I knew I was in a definite sales scheme.
Like the red hat brownshirts these days, this experience of mine 20 years ago this week would’ve been funny if it wasn’t such a window into the easy exploitation of soft-brained authoritarians who seek to externalize their locus of control.
Anyways, support Oakland local hilarious performer / ringmaster and actual grandchild of L. Ron Hubbard, Jamie DeWolf.
Best of all, twenty years ago for my job I got to go to the Church of Saint John Coltrane for Dilettante #28. The legendary San Francisco church in the “Harlem of the West” neighborhood had faced eviction in 2016 but then found a new home in much the same neighborhood, sharing a space with Saint Cyprian’s Episcopal at the corner of Turk and Lyon, but one that gets less foot traffic. They’re worried their congregation is dwindling. So, make it a Sunday stop when you’re in San Francisco.
Coverage in a 2007 New York Times article interviews the founders and gets the story behind the church. My column just told what it was like to go to the service one day in 1998. But since sacred jazz music is involved, the 30-minute 1996 documentary might be the better way to experience the Church of Saint John Coltrane non-IRL. Or hey, here are more videos of Coltrane church services compiled by OpenCulture.
Check out the killer merch on their site — excuse me, pray clothes — and if you’d like to pray in person, Saint Cyprian’s Episcopal Church (2097 Turk St.) holds its own services at 10:10am on Sundays, followed by St. John Coltrane’s worship service at noon.
This is the 25th-28th entry in my “twenty years ago this week” project from when I was a nightlife columnist at the Bay Guardian, once the country’s largest family-owned weekly newspaper. These “Dilettante” clips, compiled on my portfolio page, create a serial portrait of San Francisco culture at the turn of the century (1997-2001).
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Bonus: Check out the 12 principles of John Coltrane Church’s Creation Spirituality
1)The universe is fundamentally a blessing. Our relationship with the Universe fills us with awe.
2) In Creation, God is both immanent and transcendent. This is panentheism which is not theism (God out there) and not atheism (no God anywhere). We experience that the Divine is in all things & all things are in the Divine.
3) God is as much Mother as Father, as much Child as Parent, as much God in mystery as the God in history, as much beyond all words and images as in all forms and beings. We are liberated from the need to cling to God in one form or one literal name.
4) In our lives, it is through the work of spiritual practice that we find our deep and true selves. Through the arts of meditation and silence we cultivate a clarity of mind and move beyond fear into compassion and community.
5) Our inner work can be understood as a four-fold journey involving: – awe, delight, amazement (known as the Via Positiva) – uncertainty, darkness, suffering, letting go (Via Negativa) – birthing, creativity, passion (Via Creativa) – justice, healing, celebration (Via Transformativa) We weave through these paths like a spiral danced, not a ladder climbed.
6) Every one of us is a mystic. We can enter the mystical as much through beauty (Via Positiva) as through contemplation and suffering (Via Negativa). We are born full of wonder and can recover it at any age.
7) Every one of us is an artist. Whatever the expression of our creativity, it is our prayer and praise (Via Creativa).
8) Every one of us is a prophet. Our prophetic work is to interfere with all forms of injustice and that which interrupts authentic life (Via Transformativa).
9) Diversity is the nature of the Universe. We rejoice in and courageously honor the rich diversity within the Cosmos and expressed among individuals and across multiple cultures, religions and ancestral traditions.
10) The basic work of God is compassion and we, who are all original blessings and sons and daughters of the Divine, are called to compassion. We acknowledge our shared interdependence; we rejoice at one another’s joys and grieve at one another’s sorrows and labor to heal the causes of those sorrows.
11) There are many wells of faith and knowledge drawing from one underground river of Divine wisdom. The practice of honoring, learning and celebrating the wisdom collected from these wells is Deep Ecumenism. We respect and embrace the wisdom and oneness that arises from the diverse wells of all the sacred traditions of the world.
12) Ecological justice is essential for the sustainability of life on Earth. Ecology is the local expression of cosmology and so we commit to live in light of this value: to pass on the beauty and health of Creation to future generations.