Defiantly Hopeful

merry-crisis

In the face of a world in crisis, I dare to care. In the face of materialism, consumerism, and me me me – ism, I recognize that I am because you are, that without you and you and you – plant animal mineral macro micro organism human- I would not exist. That we are all part of a brilliant multi hued tapestry, that we all add to the warp and weave and woof, that we all have a fierce light.

In the face of irony, cynicism, jadedness and despair, I choose hope. In the face of narrow empiricism, the confining corridors of quantification, of dogma of any stripe-rational, political, spiritual or religious, I choose to light a match to the fuse of possibility, and blow up all boxes, sending the church of reason, the church of ideology, the church of churchiness, into the air, with a deep and satisfying boooooom, so that emptied of their arrogance, these churches might offer us freedom, not more walls, love, not more hate, understanding, not more separation.

In the face of hatred, anger and fear, I choose love, compassion, and celebration. If I can’t party in your revolution, don’t put me on the guest list.

In the face of my own vulnerabilities and limitations, I choose to go easy on myself. I am not perfect, I am human, and that is a wonderful thing. My stumblings and fumblings make me real. I am simply doing my best.

In the face of my ego, which is always feeling either smalled or bigged, I smile gently and give it a little pat on the head, a kick in the butt, a nudge in the ribs and say,”hey we’re doing fine, we’re doing just fine. Get up off the ground, get down off of your pedestal and stand in the place of the real, neither inflated, nor deflated, just be yourself. That’s good enough.”

In the face of a sunny day, I cry out,”thank you! Thank you for this amazing world, thank you for 14 billion years of hard joyous miraculous work to get us to the point where we can really appreciate this magnificence. I’m going to stop pissing in my own pool and start truly loving this incredulous place, from the bottom of my toes to the tip of my tongue, gonna celebrate this one precious life, this next precious breath, this precious precious moment. To hell with the nay sayers and doomsdayers, the cynics and the pisspots, I will blow up the gates of the gatekeepers and storm the citadels of the power brokers with pure, unadulterated Love. Nothing-not anything- will stand in my way, not even myself. It’s the least I can do to say, thank you, thank you, thank you for the wondrous wonder of creative creation. And in case no one has told you this today, Universe: you rock!”

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What is a Spiritual Progressive?

Fierce Light Visionary Van Jones speaking at the founding conference of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.

WHAT IS A SPIRITUAL PROGRESSIVE?

The Network of Spiritual Progressives, co-chaired by Rabbi Michael Lerner, Dr. Cornel West, and Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister seeks to promote a spiritual progressive agenda. Below is their explanation of what a spiritual progressive politics is:

We in the NSP (Network of Spiritual Progressives) use the word “spiritual” to include all those whose deepest values lead them to challenge the ethos of selfishness and materialism that has led people into a frantic search for money and power and away from a life that places love, kindness, generosity, peace, non-violence, social justice, awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation, thanksgiving, humility and joy at the center of our lives.

So we include in our meaning of “spiritual” all dimensions of life that cannot fit into a scientistic or narrowly empiricist frame. We reject the notion that all that is real or all that can be known is that which can be subject to emprirical justifiction or can be measured. On the contrary, we know that love, kindngess, generosity, awe and wonder, art, ethics, and music are just some of the obvious parts of life that cannot be understood or adequately captured by scientism and which we value. We call those aspects spiritual. So it’s easy to understand that someone can be spiritual and yet not be particularly interested in most existing conceptions of God or religion. Of course, there are many others, including some of the founders and leaders of the NSP (but not by any means all of them) who do find their spiritual nourishment in their relationship to God or their religious tradition, and they too are part of our community.

But there is a huge problem when social change movements stay away from anything that calls itself spiritual.

We believe that many of the secular movements that exist in the world today actually have deep spiritual underpinnings, but often they are themselves unaware of those foundations, unable or unwilling to articulate them and sometimes even holding a knee-jerk antagonism to explicit spiritual or religious language. This antagonism limits their effectiveness, though it derives from legitimate anger at the way that the language of spirituality and religion has been sometimes used to justify war, oppression, sexism, racism, homophobia, ecological indifference, or insensitivity to the suffering of the poor and the homeless of the world.

Solidarity means that we affirm our responsibility towards each other within our families, within our nation, and within our spiritual/religious community–and also beyond the narrow boundaries of ethnicity, religion, and geography.

We affirm the obligation to actively resist injustice and refuse to take part in it even when we can’t prove that our resistance will produce change. In solidarity with the oppressed, we wish to see the democratization of economic and political institutions and a redistribution of wealth so that all people can share equally and sustainably in the benefits of the planet.

At the same time, we will challenge the lack of a spiritual dimension in the agendas of our allies in progressive social change movements. That gap has allowed the Right to present itself as the force that cares about spiritual issues. And the Left’s failure to address spirituality has led many to believe their hunger for a larger framework of meaning and purpose must be separated from their involvement with social transformation.

Social change activity gets focused on a narrow political agenda that lacks the depth that can inspire sustained commitment or nourishing involvement. Imagine an international group of people who would see themselves as allies to each other in advancing this way of thinking, people who are unashamedly utopian and willing to fight for their highest ideals, yet unashamedly humble in knowing that we don’t know all that we need to know to do the healing that needs to be done.

Imagine that this group would help each other in our individual as well as group activities, affirming what is good and brainstorming with us about how to create a movement that gives equal priority to our inner lives and to social justice, that takes loving and caring as serious goals for social healing, and that rejects the utilitarian and materialistic assumptions of the contemporary world and actively fosters awe and wonder in its participants. Imagine that you could be part of creating that.

Industrial Strength Spirituality

GUY DIXON
From Friday’s Globe and Mail
May 14, 2009 at 4:34 PM EDT

If rockers were the cultural gurus of the sixties, and techies like Steve Jobs and Nicholas Negroponte were the nineties’ watered-down version, documentary filmmakers may very well be emerging as the new prognosticators of where we’re headed.

Velcrow Ripper, the 45-year-old filmmaker with the part-punk, part-New Age pseudonym who lives on the Toronto Islands, is a clear example. His widely praised 2004 documentary Scared Sacred, a tour of war-devastated lands, was intended to be less a documentary and more of a meditative piece and call to arms.

And so is his second film in a planned trilogy – Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action. The new film takes Scared Sacred a step further by trying to get at the motivation for activism, examining how inward-focused spirituality can compel people to act outwardly, protesting against injustice and environmental degradation.

While filming Scared Sacred, Ripper found that what got people through horrific, wartime tragedy was a sense of personal meaning. “I witnessed it firsthand. Those who had a sense of meaning, whatever it was that gave them that, were the ones who survived. Those without any meaning were the ones who gave up,” he says.

“One of those sources of meaning was to take action, to actually try to stop what had happened to them from happening to anybody else. And I began to realize that the relationship between sources of meaning – a depth of understanding in one’s inner life – and taking action to create change is a really harmonious thing. The spirit and the action, they go together really well. In fact, they are meant to go together.”

This kind of talk has made Ripper the doc community’s version of a star. He gives lectures and conducts workshops to share his vision of spiritually conscious activism. Still, he rejects the idea that Fierce Light simply preaches to the choir. Instead, he deliberately lets emotions run high in the film to move audiences – even if not everyone agrees with its political assumptions.

“The theme of Fierce Light is about coming from the heart, as well as the head. It’s going to be unsatisfying if you go to it looking for facts, facts, facts. The reason I did that is because the film is about soul force … what I call almost an industrial-strength spirituality.”

Yet Fierce Light doesn’t aim for a kind of Chicken Soup for the Soul self-help airiness, nor does it reach transcendence like the 1979 documentary masterpiece Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy. Fierce Light never strays from its street-level, activist core.

The filmmaker grew up on British Columbia’s idyllic Sunshine Coast and was raised in the Baha’i faith, which is based on the spiritual unity of all religions.

But even that was too confining for him. As a young punk rocker, he felt torn between spirituality and activism. At a hippie gathering, surrounded by kids called Feather and Crystal, someone gave him the nickname Velcrow, with an added “w” to lend a measure of mystique. (Velcrow’s friends know him as Crow.)

“As I went along, it became clear in many activist circles that you had to stay in the closet as a spiritual person,” Ripper says. “Spirituality wasn’t something that was part of the picture. There had been a real rejection of religion because of fundamentalism and the human-rights abuses done in the name of religion.”

However, something new is afoot, his films argue, and that’s what Ripper is becoming a figurehead for: It’s the interest, building for years now, among those on the left – an acknowledgment that spirituality seems to be at the heart of activism.

As Ripper adds: “My Facebook profile has a quote from Antony Hegarty, the New York musician, that says, ‘Hope and sincerity are the new punk.’”

Shambhala Sun On Fierce Light

Fierce Light: An Interview with Filmmaker Velcrow Ripper
By Elena Johnson

What do the American civil rights movement, an exiled monk’s return visit to Vietnam, and a community of people trying to save an urban farm in L.A. have in common? According to Canadian documentary film-maker Velcrow Ripper, they are all examples of what he calls spiritual activism, and they are just a few of the inspiring stories featured in his latest film, Fierce Light.

“Spiritual activism,” Ripper explains in a recent phone interview from his Toronto home, “comes from the heart. It’s beyond polarity. It’s coming from a place of compassion, of hope. It’s based on what we are for, rather than what we are against. It’s what Ghandi called soul force, and what Martin Luther King called love in action.”

He says, “I wanted to find that hope in the world, to interview the people that were doing that work – activism with a spiritual basis, a sense of interconnectedness.”

Fierce Light includes interviews with former civil rights movement leader John Lewis, exiled Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Dalit lawyer/activist Leela Kumari, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, eco-philosopher and Buddhism scholar Joanna Macy, and actor/eco-activist Daryl Hannah, among others.

The film also documents several political actions in progress, such as the movement to save the largest urban farm in North America from impending demolition, the yearly protest at the controversial U.S. military training institution once known as the School of the Americas, and the efforts of a group of two thousand Hyderabad Dalits to resist violence and oppression, as well as Thich Nhat Hanh’s second return visit to Vietnam after 40 years of exile.

I first heard about Fierce Light during the Vancouver International Film Festival in October, and decided to attend the world premiere. The film went on to garner the NFB Most Popular Canadian Documentary Award and a Special Mention for the Nonfiction Feature Film Award at the festival, and has now been screened at several international film festivals. It will be released to theatres in May.

Ripper feels that in making the film he was tapping into a zeitgeist. In fact, he says that spiritual activism has been called the largest political movement in history. During his research for the film, he interviewed Paul Hawkins, author of Blessed Unrest, a book that examines hope within the worldwide movement for social and environmental change. Hawkins calls spiritual activism “the movement of movements” and describes it as “humanity’s immune response to a world in crisis.” He has compiled a list of organizations engaged in some form of spiritual activism, and his total is now well over a million.
Ripper is no newcomer to documentary film-making or to world travel. He has directed or done sound work for 28 other films, and made his first documentary, Iran: the Crisis, in 1979 at the age of 16. His recent films are characterized by a narrative style and by his deeply personal approach – engaging with a question that concerns him, and seeking the answer.
“The term ‘fierce light’,” he explains, “plays with the collision between seeming opposites. The title is like a Zen koan that I slowly unpack… Where is the fierceness, within the light?”

Ripper used to describe himself as a Sufi-Buddhist-Bahai-punk-rocker, but says he’ll never belong to one particular tradition. However, his most consistent teacher is Zen Buddhist Roshi Enkyo O’Hara, based in New York city, and he says his life is deeply informed by Buddhism.

I ask him if Buddhist principles such as non-harm and compassion are common characteristics of the movements profiled in Fierce Light. While he describes the film as “inter-spiritual” in scope, he acknowledges that compassion and non-violence are clearly at the heart of the political actions in the film.

“The American civil rights movement is a profound example of this – standing up with love in your heart, and protesting violence with non-violence. The powers that be didn’t know how to deal with this. The idea of responding to love and non-violence with violence was very unsettling.

“Another central concept,” he says, “is the idea of interconnection – or interbeing – which is similar to the Ubuntu theology that Desmond Tutu speaks about.”

Tutu, a Nobel Laureate and a former leader in South Africa’s struggle against Apartheid, says that Ubuntu means that one person’s humanness is intertwined with another person’s humanness. “What dehumanizes you,” he explains in the film, “inexorably dehumanizes me. And what elevates you, elevates me.”

Ripper also traveled with Thich Nhat Hanh and members of his sangha on their second return-trip to Vietnam. Their intent was to conduct a series of healing ceremonies to heal the wounds of war and to offer teachings and retreats. I’m curious about the effect this experience had on Ripper.

“Thich Nhat Hanh is such an embodiment of fierce light,” he says. “He is the most peaceful and gentle man you’ll ever meet. And yet he is fierce – he has a sword that will cut through ignorance and illusion, and that’s what he’s here to do. His style of Buddhism is completely connected to humanity and the earth; it’s not about transcendence. He’s the person who really coined the term ‘engaged Buddhism.’”

Ripper also notes that this experience influenced his style of filming. He says that, for him, cinematography always involves being in the moment, trying to connect to the beauty that’s around him, and trying to pass that on to others through the film itself. But when he was filming the monks and nuns, he says, he was especially aware of being focused on the present and on walking mindfully, for example, rather than rushing from shot to shot.

“There’s actually a quality of documentary film-making that requires stepping into the present,” he says, “and letting go of preconceptions – allowing images to unfold, without clinging or grasping. It’s very much like a Buddhist approach.”

When I saw Fierce Light, I was particularly struck by a motif that recurs throughout the film: a person with their eyes closed, as if in meditation, opens their eyes and smiles widely. When I ask Ripper about the intention behind this, he explains, “All over the world, almost everywhere I went, I asked people – strangers – to close their eyes, and when they opened them to look straight at the camera and imagine that they were looking at the most beautiful thing they could ever imagine. These people, in the film, they’re looking out at the audience with this love in their eyes.” His intention, he says, was for the audience to feel they were being looked upon with love.

“But this action, of the eyes opening, can be interpreted differently by each person who sees the film,” he admits. He says it could be interpreted as a call to action – to get up off the meditation cushion and put your beliefs into practice. It could also be felt as the opposite – to take some time out from your activism and sit down on the cushion.

“We need that deep inner knowing,” he explains. “We need that meditative centre. That’s what gives us the strength and the soul to deal with the world in crisis. But we also need to be active and get out in the world and make the change.”
He says he hopes the film itself can provide an experience of awakening for people. “I hope that it breaks people’s hearts open, but in a way that opens us to change, a way that gives us a sense of hope, possibility and inspiration, as well as a sense of urgency.”
Ripper’s current favourite quote is “Hope and sincerity are the new punk.” That’s from Antony Haggard, lead singer of New York City band Antony and the Johnsons.
“It’s not so uncool anymore to be sincere and hopeful,” says Ripper. “The days of post-modern irony – the snark effect of the 90s – that’s withering.”
He adds, “This is going to be more than a movement. I think it’s the leading edge of a global shift in consciousness.”
* * *
Fierce Light will be released to theatres this month and to DVD in September. For more information, see http://www.fiercelight.org.

THE FIERCE LIGHT TRAILER

Please share this far and wide – click on the video, go to youtube and choose “share”. Help spread the Fierce Light.

IN THE THEATRES ACROSS CANADA STARTING MAY 15TH!!

FIERCE LIGHT: WHEN SPIRIT MEETS ACTION

From the Director of Scared Sacred & The Producer of The Corporation

A Feature Documentary award winning filmmaker Velcrow Ripper

“A SPIRITUAL KALEIDOSCOPE OF HOPE AND JOY. UPLIFTING!” ~ Green Muze Magazine

“HUGELY ENGAGING AND VISUALLY DELIGHTFUL.” ~ Toronto Sun

“A POETIC CALL TO HEARTFELT ACTION.” ~ Common Ground

IN THEATRES ACROSS CANADA MAY 15!!!

Please spread this trailer, along with this note, far and wide, and help us fill the theatres May 15!!!

At the Cumberland in Toronto, The AMC Forum in Montreal and Fifth Avenue Cinema’s in Vancouver, Canada.

FOR MORE INFO GO TO:

http://www.fiercelight.org

“ACHINGLY BEAUTIFUL.” ~ NewCityFIlm, Chicago

“INTENSE AND INSPIRING.” ~ Examiner National

“RAW, HONEST AND COMPELLING.” ~ CJSF Radio

“Fierce Light” is a feature documentary that captures the exciting movement of Spiritual Activism that is exploding around the planet, and the powerful personalities that are igniting it.

Acclaimed filmmaker Velcrow Ripper (Scared Sacred) takes an insightful look at change motivated by love, featuring interviews with spiritual activists Thich Nhat Hanh, Desmond Tutu, Daryl Hannah, Julia Butterfly Hill, and more.

“COURAGEOUS …. POTENT … AUTHENTIC.” ~ Enlightennext Magazine

“INCREDIBLY MOVING! A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE IN ITSELF!” ~Vancouver International Film Festival

“A TOUCHING PORTRAIT OF THE POWER OF
RIGHTEOUSNESS AND LOVE…” -New Orleans Times-Picayune
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