Wednesday, March 9, 2011

5 Questions with Matthew Fox, author of "Christian Mystics"


What inspired you to write this book?

If religion is going to have something to say to the younger generations it must shed much of its top-heavy churchiness and ask: What is necessary to take from the burning building of the church? What is really useful and important?

I think one of the most important contributions healthy religion can make is to turn out spiritual people--mystics (lovers of life) and prophets (defenders of the beauty of life). Jung says it is "to the mystics that we owe what is most beautiful in life." We all need nourishment and challenge and I think these mystics do that.

Which quote in the book really made an impact on you?

To be honest, they all do. But surely Dorothee Soelle's comment seems especially powerful for those who are watching the demise of the Roman Catholic church as we know it at this time and the hijacking of the Protestant tradition by fundamentalists or just plain boredom when she writes: every day I am afraid/that he died in vain/because he is buried in our churches/because we have betrayed his revolution/in our obedience to authority/and our fear of it.....

Which mystic touched you the most?

That's a bit like asking a parent: "Which child do you love the most?" I'm afraid. Meister Eckhart is one I have lived with the longest and deepest having written two books on him and having taught him for many years. But also, among pre-modern mystics, I have lived very long with Thomas Aquinas and my book on him, "Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality," is one of the few in-depth studies of his mystical-prophetic teachings. Also Hildegard of Bingen, whom I have written two books on speaks loudly today to so many who seek a green spirituality. Twentieth century includes Thomas Berry and Fr Bede Griffiths and Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and more.

How can Christian Mysticism help out the world today?

First, this book is not just for Christians by any means. Mysticism is a common language based on experience of the Divine so what is in these pages people from other traditions can draw nourishment from I know (just as Christians or Jews can get excited on reading Rumi or Hafiz or the Tao te Ching, etc.)

The Dali Lama says the number one obstacle to interfaith is a bad relationship to one's own faith tradition and many Christians do not know their own mystical/prophetic tradition so this book hopefully can 1) awaken Christians to the treasure we hold that is so much deeper than "Jesus saves" or "obey the church" and 2) to have a deeper relationship to their spiritual lineage--the result would be far better relationships with other religions and more sharing in terms of social action and contemplative prayer. Thus peace might prevail more readily in the world and between religions.

Hopefully this book can challenge Christians and others to grow up spiritually and to renew religion the only way it has ever been renewed--by returning to the Source, by tasting the Spirit and by putting experience first. Then courage will rise, fear will not take over our hearts, and justice and compassion can replace empires as that which oversees the human heart and human relationships. We might actually create a global spirituality where the "celebration of life" is put before all else. And we might get over couchpotatoitis and make a difference in our world.

What new books are on the horizon for you?

In six weeks or so my book on the Roman Catholic Church called "The Pope's War: How Ratzinger's Secret Crusade Imperiled the Church and What Can Be Saved" is coming out. The last part of the book is about pushing the restart button on Christianity--that is the good news in the meltdown of the church that is happening before our eyes due in part but not totally to the scandal of pedophile priests and the hierarchical cover-up. I also deal of course with the condemnations of over 92 theologians, the support of extreme right wing groups like opus dei and legion of Christ and communion and liberation that have so dominated the present and past papacy. And the condemnation of liberation theology, probably the most Christ-like movement of the past 300 years.

Christianity can start all over for the 21st century and needs to offer a much simpler and more profound religion to the younger generation. This book on Christian Mystics speaks to the issue of "What to take from the burning building" because it reminds us of the depths of our heritage and how we are all called to be mystics and prophets.

Speaking personally, while writing the pope book I got so depressed by the subject matter that I had to interrupt the writing of the book to find some personal nourishment and the book on Christian Mystics provided that for me.

Monday, March 7, 2011

5 questions with Carolyn Kaufman, author of Writer's Guide to Psychology


What was the inspiration behind this book?

When I was getting my graduate degree in psychology, I realized that there was sometimes a big discrepancy between the way psychology was portrayed in the media and in how real psychology works. Though there are a few books that talk about the problem, they're geared toward people in psychology, so they don't explain how to correct the misconceptions.

To me, it seemed that to begin correcting misconceptions, we needed to focus on the people who create the media -- writers! So I wanted to create a fun, accessible, affordable guide to help writers begin to get their psych right. Since the book has been published, though, I've heard that people in psychology and people who are just interested in media misconceptions and/or psychology are also really enjoying it!

What aspect of psychology is often difficult for many to write?

I think the hardest thing is that there are just so many popular misconceptions that people don't realize are in fact inaccurate, so we tend to pass them on without realizing the information is wrong.

Besides that, I often hear writers saying they have trouble putting their characters through grueling experiences. They feel bad, or guilty about it. I encourage writers not to be afraid to dig into the darker sides of themselves to find the strength to put their characters through tough situations -- that's how our characters grow and change!

What part of this book was most interesting to write?

Since I had not personally worked in a psychiatric hospital, I really enjoyed meeting with people who have worked in those settings, and in getting tours of public and private hospitals. I learned a lot, and put all the fascinating details into Chapter 12, "Emergencies in Psychotherapy."

What are some of the positive compliments you've gotten on the book?

Wow, I've been so fortunate. People seem to be finding the book a great read in general, but I've also had lots of writers tell me they're finding the information really useful for their stories -- both those who write fiction and those who write nonfiction. I've really appreciated hearing that my experience as not just a psychologist but also as a writer has come through. That is, I'm not just an "expert" who decided to help writers out -- I'm a writer too, and I really have a sense of the kinds of details writers need to know for their stories. And of course, it's always wonderful to hear that people think your writing itself is top quality!

What's next for you?

I'd like to write another book about psychology for writers -- but this time, about psychology to help the writer personally deal with common issues like writer's block, insecurity, and procrastination. As with The Writer's Guide to Psychology, this book will be firmly grounded in research. I'm also working on queries for my novel-length fiction -- it's probably no surprise that my fiction contains lots of psychology!

5 Questions with Melissa Milgom, author of Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy


What's the book all about for those who don't know?

Still Life is a chronicle of my 7-year journey among taxidermists and my quest to understand what drives them to duplicate what nature has already created. (This was as true in the 1700s when taxidermist preserved animals for the royal cabinets of kings as it is today at leading natural history museums.) In Still Life, I tagged along with a three-generation firm who has lovingly preserved creatures for the American Museum of Natural History’s dioramas for 50 years; Emily Mayer, the wickedly funny English sculptor who prepares animal replicas for art star Damien Hirst’s most provocative works; and Ken Walker, a Smithsonian taxidermist and bear trapper from Alberta who recreates extinct species using DNA research and ancient cave paintings for reference. In the end, the book is about obsession, their absurd drive to get it right.

How did this book come about?

I grew up a mile from Schwendemans Taxidermy Studio, the father and son firm that has worked with the American Museum of Natural History for fifty years. One day in 1994 after a safari gone awry, I wandered into their workshop with its stuffed owls, antelope heads, snake skeletons, and strange tools. I found the place completely engrossing and wanted to know more about this intriguing art form that thrives despite its fringe reputation.

What was the most shocking thing you came across while researching for the book?

Before Still Life, I thought taxidermists were kind of creepy, like Norman Bates in Psycho whose hobby was “stuffing things.” But the truth is far more complicating and more fascinating. Over the years I’ve come to understand what compels people to preserve dead animals: the answer turns out to be far different than what I expected when I first immersed myself in the taxidermy world: an absurd—almost fanatical—love of animals and the beauty of organic forms.

What did you learn from the process of putting the book together?

I had no idea how much I’d have to learn about the history of natural science. All of the great museums began as collections of dried specimens. Charles Darwin himself took taxidermy lessons; otherwise he never would have been unqualified to work as naturalist aboard the Beagle. I love the historical stuff, but I also wanted to understand what drives taxidermists today and that took time and patience because they don’t trust journalists, and, it turns out, for good reason.

What's next for you?

My new book idea is a true story of a magnificent obsession; it has plenty of impassioned characters, some wild uncanny stuff, but, sadly, no animals.