June 4, 2013

Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday Series

Posted in Experiences, Inspiring Stories, Philosophers, Science and Relgion, The Mystics, Theologians tagged , at 7:51 pm by tiffanyannbrown


It’s been nearly two years since I last wrote a post on this blog – hard to believe. Around the time I wrote my last post, I recall that Oprah was just getting ready to launch the first episode of her new self-help and spirituality series known as “Super Soul Sunday,” which premiered on the OWN Network back in October of 2011. At the time, I had been listening to her Soul Series podcast on iTunes and thinking about how neat it was that Oprah was giving some air time to such interesting and progressive thinkers as Eckhardt Tolle and Jill Bolte Taylor. But I didn’t realize how soon she would be taking everything so mainstream (and to her credit, for these are important topics).

As might be expected from any modern day media mogul, in approximately two years time, the original podcast has extended into an extremely popular TV series supported by a flashy web site that includes a blog and catalog of videos, which has also led to a strong social media following with nearly 50,000 followers on @SuperSoulSunday’s Twitter account and 119,000 likes on the Facebook page. She also has a great list of books that have been featured on the series, which you can explore in more detail here.

Super Soul Sunday FB

According to a recent press release about the series, Super Soul Sunday features exclusive interviews and all-new conversations with top thinkers, authors, filmmakers and spiritual leaders. Exploring themes and issues including happiness, personal fulfillment, wellness, spirituality and conscious living, Super Soul Sunday presents an array of perspectives on what it means to be alive in today’s world.

If you haven’t had the chance to check out the show yet, I highly recommend that you do. As of today Oprah has hosted dozens of speakers on her series, people I originally first heard about mainly through Tami Simon’s “Insights at the Edge” podcast and other non-traditional avenues like the Omega Institute and the Institute of Noetic Sciences. The discussions she hosts not only raise important questions and new ways of thinking about the world, but bring certain well-accomplished, lesser known, and thoroughly inspiring individuals to the forefront of mainstream dialogue.

November 16, 2010

Huston Smith: A National Treasure

Posted in Inspiring Stories, Philosophers, Science and Relgion, Theologians at 10:22 pm by tiffanyannbrown


Huston Smith is perhaps one of the wisest, most charming, and insightful men that the good world has ever had the pleasure of knowing. Now in his 90s and living in a Berkeley, California-based assisted living home, he is still married to his wife, Kendra, of nearly 70 years. Having grown up in rural China alongside of missionary parents, then quickly rising up the academic ranks while teaching at such schools as Washington University, M.I.T, Syracuse, and Berkeley, Smith is perhaps best known for his traipsing around the world to discover the unique varieties of religious experience while at the same bringing insight and understanding of such lesser-known traditions to the West. This man has literally seen and done it all.

I was first introduced to Huston Smith, as most college students were, when assigned to read one of his books, The World’s Religions (which sold over 2.5 million copies), during an “Introduction to World Religions” course in college.  Never before had I been presented with such a clear and colorful, concise and vividly written account of the world’s religions. As a result, I became completely captivated with this author, especially after watching portions of his five-part PBS special with Bill Moyers, and went on to read additional books of his including Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief, Beyond the Postmodern Mind: The Place of Meaning in a Global Civilization, and most recently Tales of Wonder: Adventures in Chasing the Divine. (For a full list of books he has written, click here to visit his Amazon.com page.) In Why Religion Matters, Smith argues that religion is humanity’s greatest asset because it provides us with aspiration, hope, and courage. In Beyond the Postmodern Mind, he distinguishes between the “traditional” worldview that placed God at the center of the universe; the “modern” view in which science ruled; and the “postmodern” view that doubts whether the universe makes sense at all. In Tales of Wonder, he documents his extraordinary travels around the globe that have taken him to some of the world’s holiest places, where he has practiced religion with many of the great spiritual leaders of our time.

From a May 2009 San Francisco Chronicle article entitled “Huston Smith: Rock Star of Religions,” below are some of the reasons why I find him so interesting:

His autobiography is a dizzying tour of a singular life. Smith was there when the 1945 U.N. charter was signed in San Francisco. He met Mother Teresa, interviewed Eleanor Roosevelt and invited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at Washington University in 1956. Seeking enlightenment, he took mescaline with Timothy Leary and peyote with an Indian shaman. He counts Saul Bellow, Aldous Huxley, Pete Seeger and the Dalai Lama among his legion of friends …  and late on the night before the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, he arrived unsuspectingly in Beijing for a conference on Chinese philosophy.

In addition to his books, Smith has (luckily) given many interviews and lectures. Being an ordained Methodist minister, I came across an interview on the United Methodist Church web site where he discusses his faith story. I found his answer to the question of why he has remained a Methodist after having been exposed to so many of the world’s religions interesting. He stated:

I’m often asked why have I stayed in the Methodist church when there are so many other denominations and even other religions which I have studied and venerate. I take my answer from his holiness, the Dalai Lama, whom I have had a very deep friendship with for 35 years and I heard him ask whether conversion to another religion was ever appropriate. He said, it’s better if you can stay within your own tradition because you are imprinted with its form, and its music, and its literature, and Christmas carols, and the like. However, if you’ve been bruised by your tradition, your religion, why then, it is a good idea to look into others and possibly converting. Well, I have never been bruised by my church. I disagree with some of the policies, but just as we can disagree with the policies of the current American administration and still be an American, well, it’s the same way with me.

The link to the full interview is available by clicking here.

In May of 2000, Smith lectured at Duke University on “Why Religion Matters” where he outlined some of the major ideas from his book. Though not told in the rapid, bullet-point fashion of most lectures and presentations given today, and not accented with any flashy graphics or visual representations, I promise that if you listen to this lecture you will not only find wisdom in his words, but such beauty in his expression of them. Smith was in his early 80s at the time; if we could all only aspire to be like him!

In looking back across Smith’s life, you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason that his life has not served a uniquely divine purpose given the coincidences of his interactions with famous cultural icons in American history combined with his presence and involvement at various key events. For a truly enjoyable read and a full outline of his life experiences and lessons to date, please check out the aptly named Tales of Wonder and feel free to share any thoughts here!

October 21, 2010

God in New York!

Posted in Philosophers, Theologians tagged , at 10:27 pm by tiffanyannbrown


A good friend recently introduced me to the American author, speaker, and Presbyterian pastor Timothy Keller who wrote the book The Reason for God: Belief in the Age of Skepticism and founded the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City where she used to attend (lucky girl!). As a result, I listened to a 2008 lecture he gave at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA regarding his book, which you can view here:

A very impressive and knowledgeable speaker, Keller lays out the reasons for believing vs. not believing in God, pointing out that the argument for God is better than the argument against God, supported by material from literary classics, philosophy, anthropology, and a multitude of other disciplines. He further mentions that the primary reasons for believing vs. not believing in God are either due to intellectual, personal, or social factors. For example, one might be drawn to a particular religion because they can identify with a certain group of friends who all subscribe to the same belief system, while another may have a personal experience that suddenly spins that person onto the path of belief vs. non-belief. Overall, it was very refreshing to hear this pastor speak, and I would highly recommend taking the time to pick up one of his books, or at the very least, listen to one of his lectures.

In a similar vein, there is also an Episcopal church out of Manhattan called Trinity Wall Street that has been putting on a National Theological Conference for the past 40 years.  In the year
2000, I remember sitting in on a live broadcast of their “God at 2000” conference, which was being shown at one of the auditoriums on the California State University, Chico State campus. I had intended to sit in and listen to just one speaker to obtain my “extra credit,” but ended up staying for the entire day to listen to all of the presentations! That year such captivating speakers as Karen Armstrong (a British author of numerous works on comparative religion, who first rose to prominence in 1993 with her highly successful A History of God and a former Roman Catholic nun); Marcus Borg (an American Biblical scholar and author); Diana Eck (Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard); Lawrence Kushner (a Jewish Rabbi based out of San Francisco); Hussein Nasr (Iranian University Professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, and a prominent Islamic philosopher); and Desmond Tutu (a South African activist and Christian cleric who rose to worldwide fame during the 1980s as an opponent of apartheid) gave speeches. Overall, it was very refreshing to witness such theological scholars come together to participate in an open dialogue, despite their obvious on-the-surface differences. To learn more about the Trinity Institute, its national conferences, and to view video clips of past speakers, click here.

In closing, just for fun … in case you’re not sure what faith you are, there is a resource that can tell you. Answer 20 questions about your concept of God, the afterlife, human nature, and more, and Belief-O-Matic™ will tell you what religion (if any) you practice … or ought to consider practicing. You might just be surprised!

Please click here to take the quiz.

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