Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Nation of Heretics, Part Two: Cafe and Camp

Yesterday I suggested that the findings of the new Pew Forum poll on religion in America offer those of us devoted to free spiritual inquiry a unique opportunity. The opportunity is to invite Americans into conversation with the wisdom teachings of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, Paganism, Native traditions, etc., plus parallel wisdom from science, art, and music, and in this way support the emergence of a truly global wisdom tradition that will serve seekers of all faiths and none.

Let me suggest three ways of doing this, two for adults, the third for teens.

For those adults with the necessary time, energy, desire, and finances, I would suggest enrolling in programs such as the Spiritual Path Institute’s two-year program in Interspirituality. I have been part of this venture since its founding and cannot recommend it too highly. You can check it out for yourself at

For those adults who cannot or have no interest in pursuing a formal education track, I would suggest we establish Wisdom Cafes around the country where people gather to read and discuss the teachings of the worlds Wisdom Traditions. My son and I have been testing this on a small scale throughout Tennessee over the past five years. Our last venture at Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville had 35 participants who came together for two hours each Wednesday evening for twelve consecutive weeks.

To take this to the next level would mean creating a website where people can download an ever-expanding data base of texts and question guided readings, an annual training seminar for people wishing to host Wisdom Cafes, and an annual gathering of Wisdom Café participants featuring some of the leading scholars on the books we study.

I would like to adapt the Wisdom Café idea for teens by creating a Wisdom Camp where high school kids could study Wisdom texts for college credit over the summer. The camp day would be divided in to three parts: mornings would be spent in study and conversation; afternoons would be spent in traditional camping activities featuring martial arts, Chi Gong, cooperative games, swimming, boating, etc; and evenings would be spent in contemplative practice sessions and socializing.

Preliminary investigations have shown how difficult it is to set up a camp from scratch, but there are several camps around the country that are in need of fresh concepts and content. If you know a camp looking to reinvent itself, put them in touch with me.

Obviously I am being quite general here, and avoiding all details. This is just an outreach essay to see if anyone is interested in helping with either project. As always money is the issue. The Café needs writers, web designers, and a marketing program. The camp needs curriculum specialists and, well, a camp. But if we are serious about the future of religion and spirituality, and if we want to take advantage of this unique moment in our nation’s spiritual evolution, we need to talk to like-minded people in our communities and see if we can put something like this together. I would be happy to speak with anyone with the interest and means to take the Café and Camp ideas to the next level.

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