The Oracle Institute
Issue #7

June 11, 2010

Note From the President
Laura George

The carefully selected theme of this newsletter is “Love of Books.” In a related section of our current release, The Love: Of the Fifth Spiritual Paradigm, we have a chapter entitled Love of Learning, where we address essentially the same topic – one that is all too worrisome to those who care about education and the never-ending process of growth. Particularly on the heels of the Texas textbook scandal (demoting our favorite founding father Thomas Jefferson to secondary status while elevating the likes of Phyllis Schlafly) and the recent loss of so many print news organizations, we at Oracle Press feel that good print media is in jeopardy. [See: Vanity Fair Article]

So today, we honor that knowledge which is permanently recorded for our collective posterity. And while we are sensitive to the need to reduce the destruction of our forests for all paper products, we nevertheless ask our readers to ponder the significance of the loss of print media. Consider this adapted exchange between two book lovers in the classic Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen:

“He has got lovely books.”

“Does he lend them?””

“We had a friend, Hopworth. He’d got a book from Denys and didn't return it. Denys was furious. I said to Denys, ‘You wouldn't lose a friend for the sake of a book.’ He said, ‘No, but he has, hasn't he?’"

We also wish to congratulate our new author, Valerie Tarico, on the upcoming release of her book Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light, which Oracle Press is proud to be releasing in September. Trusting Doubt is described at the end of our newsletter and already is available for pre-order at AtlasBooks, Amazon, and through our website. Valerie is an accomplished author and journalist who writes for The Huffington Post. Currently, she is on a six-month world tour with her husband and two daughters. Her essay on the importance of the well-written word and charitable book giving to under-educated regions of the world is our feature article this month.

We welcome Valerie to The Oracle Institute and wish her much success in sharing her thoughts and observations with the widest possible audience.

[Postscript: Ironically, we also wish to thank Valerie for pushing our Luddite staff into the 21st Century. Soon, Oracle Press will start to publish e-books!]

Food for Thought

"How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book."
Henry David Thoreau
(1817 – 1862)

"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed,
and some few to be chewed and digested."
Francis Bacon
(1561 – 1626)

"I find television to be very educating.
Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book."
Groucho Marx
(1890 – 1977)

From the Editor's Desk
Dave Roberts

Synchronicity struck again as I searched for a theme for this issue of the Omnibus. The only thing I could think about at the time was books. We had just published two and had started working on two more by our new author, Valerie Tarico. How was I to break free from my monomaniacal concentration on books?

As it turned out, I didn't have to. First I saw a television news item about a terrific program in my local school district, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, NC. Called "Books to Botswana," it began as a special effort to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the local symphony orchestra's in-school educational program. With assistance from the non-profit African Library Project, the symphony and school system developed a plan to send 1,000 books per school to children's libraries in Botswana. The orchestra also gave small-ensemble performances and a full concert of world music entitled "Many People, One World" for the county's fourth and fifth graders. Hanesbrands, Inc., packed and shipped the books.

A few days later, I read a series of "Missives" that Valerie sent while traveling abroad with her family. One of them was called "Worshipping the Written Word," and it eloquently described the growing importance of literacy throughout the world at the same time that suitable books to create a love of reading in children are sadly lacking in many places.

There was our theme. Valerie's piece would keynote an issue about books and the love of learning. We hope you like it and will respond by helping to spread that love wherever you can.

An Excerpt from The Love
"The Fellowship of Books"

By Edgar Guest
(1881 – 1959)

I care not who the man may be,
Nor how his tasks may fret him,
Nor where he fares, nor how his cares
And troubles may beset him,
If books have won the Love of him,
Whatever fortune hands him,
He'll always own, when he's alone,
A friend who understands him.

Though other friends may come and go,
And some may stoop to treason,
His books remain, through loss or gain,
And season after season
The faithful friends for every mood,
His joy and sorrow sharing,
For old time's sake, they'll lighter make
The burdens he is bearing.

Oh, he has counsel at his side,
And wisdom for his duty,
And laughter gay for hours of play,
And tenderness and beauty,
And fellowship divinely rare,
True friends who never doubt him,
Unchanging Love, and God above,
Who keeps good books about him.

 

The Fellowship of Books by Edgar Guest.
From When Day is Done, 1921

Guest Article
Worshipping the Written Word;

By Valerie Tarico, Ph.D.

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."
– Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)

 

The ability to read was sacred in my family; being a Tarico meant being a reader. I remember sulking when my parents bribed my younger sister, Kathy, with candy to get her through her first easy readers – where was my candy? I read constantly if picture books were provided, which they were. Mom took us to the library weekly and came home with a box of picture books; thirty years later she would maintain the same ritual with Kathy's sons, whom she was raising. When I was in high school, my father suffered retinal hemorrhaging that left him with only blurry peripheral vision, 20/200 in one eye and 20/500 in the other. He was stoic, but until he got a brightly lit magnifying glass that allowed him to scan a few lines at a time, he was lost – lost to the point that he actually instituted Days with Daddy on Saturdays with his five kids. Later, he got books on cassette from the Library for the Blind. The player let you speed them up, and over time he learned to listen at a speed that must have been close to his previous reading rate. To the rest of us it sounded like Alvin and the Chipmunks. But it also sounded like life-as-normal.

For poor people around the world, reading is seen as the means to a better life, a ticket into the 21st Century, a way to join the global economy.  One of the core measures of a country's economic development is its literacy rate. Literacy is taken as a measure of economic opportunity or gender and racial equality. For example, my travel guide to South India, The Lonely Planet, lists ten indicators of India's well-being:  population, GDP growth, inflation, unemployment, population growth, IT revenues, proportion of females to males, life expectancy, and literacy rate (in this case, it's 53.7% for women and 75.3% for men; 29.6% for Adivasis, meaning marginalized tribal groups). 

The numbers say a lot about opportunity, at least on the down side.  It's hard to imagine anything but poverty or disempowerment for the 25% of men or 46% of women or 70% of tribals who can't read.  But what, really is the upside for those who can?  What if, for example, there's nothing worth reading? What if there aren't any boxes of books to bring home from the library?

In two weeks of travel around Tamil Nadu, I saw only two bookstores that were targeted at Indians rather than travelers.  Cell phones are ubiquitous, and televisions sound from the open doorways of one-room houses, but on this trip so far I have yet to see an Indian in public with a book.  I watch for books, because they are conspicuously absent in so many places.  In San Juan, a number of years ago, I stopped into a library and asked to see the children's section.  Thirty or forty shabby paperbacks sat on top of a bookcase. In the local bookstore, almost empty shelves held just a scattering of books by regional authors. 

Around the world, even the developing world, beautiful imported books, including children's books, can be found in major cities.  But most people have no access to such luxuries.  John Wood, author of Leaving Microsoft to Save the World, is founder of Room to Read, a charity that partners with small communities to build and stock children's libraries.  He describes the school in rural Nepal that inspired his work.  On a spontaneous visit to a highland village, he was shown the school's library, an empty room with a locked cabinet:  "My heart sank as the school's treasure trove was revealed. A Danielle Steel romance with a couple locked in passionate and semi-clothed embrace on the front cover. A thick Umberto Eco novel, written in Italian. The Lonely Planet Guide to Mongolia. And what children's library would be complete without Finnegan's Wake?" 

John's experience in that Nepali school illustrates the three core problems with reading materials for literate children – and, I think, for millions of literate adults around the world:

  1. The variety available is in no way sufficient to sustain an interest in reading through childhood and beyond.  Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, Outliers, talks about the "10,000 hours" effect.  Getting good at anything, he says, takes practice – more than we ever imagine.  He talks about thousands of hours the Beetles spent playing covers in German bars.  He talks about elite athletes and musicians.  Over dinner last week, we speculated about whether Brynn (age fifteen) and Marley (age thirteen) had hit the 10,000 hour mark. If you count being read-to, they are astonishingly close. The problem is, 10,000 hours of reading requires 10,000 hours of interesting reading materials.
  2. The grammar and vocabulary often are inaccessible for beginning or intermediate readers, especially if they are in a second language.  To get interested and stay interested in reading, you have to get lost in it.  My undergraduate degree is in Spanish.  I graduated with "A's," but after four years of study and travel to both Spain and Latin America, reading in Spanish was and still is a conscious, intentional process. It takes focus and effort to extract the narrative from the newspaper, and I can only image how much nuance I miss. As a young adult studying in Madrid, I made myself read those papers, but even then if I wanted to read for enjoyment, I had to buy novels written for young adults. Luckily, a graduated array of materials was available in local bookshops and I could choose what fit. Back when Marley started sounding out her first Bob books at age four or five, I promised her that someday reading would be just like hearing:  she would see letters on a page and the words would simply jump into her mind. She hit that point with Dr. Seuss a few months later – and Phillip Pullman in seventh grade. How many literate people ever have the opportunity or reason to hit that point?
  3. It is hard to argue that the contents are anything that makes people wiser, more virtuous, or better equipped to deal with our increasingly complex world.  Let me elaborate this third point, because I think in the end it is a far bigger challenge than the other two. The first two problems exclude people from a high quality of literacy (rather than simply a high rate). The third says, even if they can read effortlessly, what is the point?

Reading is a conduit for information, just like movies, arts, and the spoken word, no more, no less.  We elevate reading as a member of the education trinity, first of the three "r's":  reading, writing, and as they say here in India, maths [as opposed to the original American "readin', ritin', and 'rithmetic"].  That is because we assume reading is a means of obtaining important information about the world around us – historical information, social perspective, scientific findings, practical how-to's for day-to-day living. But that isn't necessarily the case.

In fact, there may be situations where literacy makes people worse off.  At an individual level, women with eating disorders often find that a part of their recovery is not reading women's magazines and pop culture rags, which perpetuate for them an impossible body image. The challenge comes because these magazines, with their demeaning cover images, are virtually the only material sold in grocery lines and drug stores. They are, ironically, the only reading material available in many doctors' offices. To not read them requires keeping your eyes focused on the chewing gum display or the fellow patient at the counter signing away her medical privacy. 

At a societal level, it has been suggested that religious fundamentalism has followed literacy around the world.  Helen Keller said, "The highest result of education is tolerance."  But if these sociologists are right, literacy has actually reduced tolerance, lending its support to a more rigid form of faith based on book worship.  Consider: As a set of oral traditions and rituals, religion has room to shift with the culture in which it exists.  But a perfect Koran or Bible is far less flexible. In a situation where few words are written, the written word is precious and powerful. Appallingly, it is the goal of many Christian missionaries to put that perfect Bible into the hands of literate people who have little access to any other reading materials

This is a time honored practice in Christianity. During the Irish potato famine in the 19th Century, teenage girls who had been orphaned were shipped to Australia to serve as servants and brides for the predominantly male (ex-convict) population there. Each girl's possessions were dictated by contract and packed into a small wooden box. The list prescribed a few dresses, toiletries, a Bible, and a book of prayer (which varied, depending on whether the girl was Catholic or Protestant). In the 20th Century, an Evangelical organization called the Summer Institute of Linguistics identified tribal people with unwritten languages and then sent missionaries to codify their languages and translate the Bible. This work continues today.

The rise of the Taliban may rest in part on a similar missionary strategy that combines literacy and ignorance. When the Soviet and American forces stopped using Afghanistan as their boxing ring, they went home and took their nonmilitary resources with them, including resources for schools. Who stepped into the void? Iran and Saudi Arabia. Generously they built schools, schools called madrassas that taught only Koran, and only to boys. Watching the results play out around the world, I can't help but be reminded of another quote from Mark Twain: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

    It is not just poor or marginally educated people that overrate the written word. All of us have to remind ourselves from time to time that just because something is in print it doesn't make it real, or just because something was written a long time ago doesn't make it particularly insightful. We have a bias to deify the words of our ancestors, forgetting the human process that wrestled them into existence.  Americans speak of the constitution, for example, as if it were beyond question. Many Christians literally worship the Bible – giving it attributes of Divinity such as perfection and timelessness. In Afghanistan the Taliban outlawed recycled paper on the grounds that it might contain some small fragment of a paper that once had been part of a Koran.

So, imagine a situation where Bibles or Korans (perhaps with a counterbalance of pop culture schlock and ads) are literally the only written texts around.  Imagine, too, that schools are virtually all in the hands of sectarian interests, and that most other printing presses are in the hands of the vast multinational multicorporate sales force: PepsiCo (the written word tells me) is working to ensure that local people have free flowing natural water for future generations – not, as I had mistakenly thought – to ensure that drinking water requires plastic bottles and fossil fuel transportation and produces profits in New York. Indian people actually are white, not brown, (it's right there in print) and Ponds lightening cream can help to reveal the naturally fair color that is being hidden by that ugly dark surface layer of skin. Jesus saves; I read it on the front of an auto-rickshaw – one of the ones that didn't have beautiful Arabic writing and a beautiful scimitar printed on the back.

I oversimplify, as always. But the reality that hits home in Tamil Nadu and even in Kerala (where the literacy rate tops 90%) is that literacy isn't worth much if the vistas it opens up are a wasteland of Middle Eastern tribalism and Western gluttony. The ability to read, poorly or well, is a pipeline, constricted or free-flowing. Either way, a pipe is only as valuable as the stuff being pumped through it.  Some contain black gold. Others contain sewage. 

What is the solution? It cannot be to recreate the North American or European system in which billions of trees become leather bound classics, Tom Clancy thrillers, glamour magazines, and tabloids – or even self help books, scientific journals, poetry, and nuggets of timeless wisdom from Valerie Tarico. Our planetary life support system cannot afford it. In the ten years between the last two census counts, India's population increased by 20%. The tree cover, as you might suspect, did not. The native forests are mostly gone to farmland and badlands – and to dusty groves of Australian eucalyptus planted by people in need of quick growing firewood.

So what is the next step? I think we have to begin by asking questions about content before we ask questions about technology. What if the reality-based community took "books," including the next generation of communications technology, as seriously as the Gideons do?  (I found Gideon Bibles in Fiji, Australia, Singapore, and India in the last six weeks – in short, in every country we have passed through). What is the collection of writings we would want in every hotel room or around the world? What information would we want to give the people of Haiti (instead of solar-powered Bibles like the ones that were sent after the recent earthquake)?  What would it mean to be as devoted to education as the Saudis or Jesuits have been? What if we, rather than the Wahabis, had rushed into Afghanistan with books and curriculum plans when the Cold War ended?

A young American, Neil Mellen, was enrolled in the Virginia Military Institute when he made national news by refusing to pray to a god that he, an atheist, didn't believe in. Neil is very clear about his values.  After graduating, he joined the Peace Corps and like John Wood of Room to Read began building libraries for children by soliciting used books from family and friends. John's passion has become a full time endeavor, an international NGO with programs across Asia and Africa. Neil's has stayed personal. After returning to the U.S., he founded Habele, a small nonprofit that pays secondary school tuition for students living on Micronesia's outer islands.  The best schools he can find within reach – and he pays for them – are Christian schools that sell Neil's kids a supernaturalism he doesn't believe in. Neil is very clear about his priorities. Why doesn't he have other options? 

* * * * *

Valerie Tarico graduated from Wheaton College, a bastion of evangelical education. She then earned a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Iowa and completed postdoctoral studies at the University of Washington. Her first book, Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light, examines her early evangelical beliefs through the lens of her psychological training and life experience. Her second book, Deas: And Other Imaginings, is a children's book with ten original folktales. Both books are being published this fall by Oracle Press and are available for pre-order on Amazon: www.TheOracleInstitute/books.org.

Currently, Dr. Tarico writes for The Huffington Post and ExChristian.net, with an emphasis on helping others through the very personal and difficult process of expanding their spirituality beyond fundamentalist Christian doctrine. She also hosts a television series on "Moral Politics" in her hometown of Seattle, Washington. More broadly, Dr. Tarico is committed to promoting interfaith dialogue and the shared values which link all humanity. She speaks to churches and secular groups on moral development, the psychology of belief, and wisdom convergence. She also manages www.WisdomCommons.org, an interactive library of stories, poems, quotations, and essays about character virtues that are universally shared amongst all secular, religious, and wisdom traditions.

The Quarterly Mandala
Henry Reed

Another contributing author to The Love

 

* * * * *

Henry Reed, Ph.D., divides his time between being a goat rancher and an independent scholar of psychology. His watercolor paintings have been shown at the Virginia Beach Center for the Arts, and he now leads people on home-based dream quests and paints watercolor mandalas for them as a channel of prayer and support. Henry is the founder of Creative Spirit Studios, a collaborative of lightworkers with a virtual headquarters at www.CreativeSpirit.net. His specialty is cultivating the creative spirit in others. His most recent projects include creating a national "Intuitive Heart Discovery Group," and the development of the webzine Intuitive-Connections Network, located at www.Intuitive-Connections.net.

Meditation, Music, and More
Tom Hansen

Another contributing author to The Love

We are all learners and teachers. By learning to heal our past, by expressing love in our present situation, and by envisioning a new world of peace and equality, we become the teachers and creators of that new world. What an exciting adventure awaits us as we humans learn to live with earth and with each other in a totally new and loving way. I hope this idea is conveyed by the last two verses of my song, This New World, printed below.

This New World

We can make a difference, no doubt about it
Our prayers, thoughts, and dreams bring a new world
Critical mass now, enough hearts together
Finding our way to light within us
This new world is here right now, just feel it

No more illusions, no more confusion
About who we really are, let's get real now
We all come from one place, awareness of oneness
Whatever we call our Creator
Nobody ever left out, in the new world

You can hear and download this song free at:
www.remembering-peace.info

The Oracle Recommends:
 
  1. We collectively ponder the meaning of “religious freedom” as contained in The Oracle Institute mission statement. On June 10, 2010, the Grayson County Board of Supervisors denied – on religious grounds – Oracle’s application to build a spiritual retreat center.

  2. You ensure that your library contains all four books published by Oracle Press:

    • The Truth: About the Five Primary Religions
    • The Love: Of the Fifth Spiritual Paradigm
    • Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light
    • Deas: And Other Imaginings
    • And Ray Bradbury's classic: Fahrenheit 451
  3. You attend Oracle's next series of classes on Astrology which are being taught by world-renowned astrologer June Collier in Independence, Virginia.
    For more information: www.TheOracleInstitute.org/current-class
  4. You watch this video, which is a clever twist on the concept of a palindrome (text which reads the same backwards as forward). The text in this video actually reads the opposite backwards as forward. It was created by a 20-year old and won an award from AARP in their "U @ 50" contest:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42E2fAWM6rA
  5. And don't miss "Jessica's Affirmations" – the best children's video we've seen this year: http://www.buzzfeed.com/awesomer/jessicas-daily-affirmation

Our Upcoming Release:

Trusting Doubt:
A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light

Most Christians earnestly strive to worship God and follow the example of Christ. But a belief that the Bible is literally true can put them in the odd position of defending falsehood, bigotry, and even violence. Is the Good Book even "good," given its historical inaccuracies, scientific impossibilities, and moral contradictions? Trusting Doubt offers alternative explanations that are compatible with contemporary Christianity and provide a harmonious path to God based on logic and love.

Raised and educated in an evangelical environment, author Valerie Tarico speaks as a former "insider." As such, she has identified the myriad issues that eroded her identity as a born-again believer and finally convinced her to trust her own doubt. Tarico holds a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Iowa, and she is a journalist for the Huffington Post and exChristian.net, where she writes about moral development, the psychology of belief, and wisdom convergence.

The Love: Of the Fifth Spiritual Paradigm

*Hover below for more Authors or click Here for full list
Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben on Love of Earth
Madeleine L'Engle and Susan McElroy on Love of Animals
Barbara Hand Clow and David Suzuki on Love of Family
Maya Angelou and Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar on Love of Community
Sharon Olds and Oriah Mountain Dreamer on Romantic Love
Mahatma Gandhi and Chris Mercogliano on Love of Learning
Alex Grey and Patrick Bernard on Love of the Arts
Stephen Dunn and Henry Reed on Love of Self
Aung San Suu Kyi and Andrew Cohen on Love of Freedom
Brian McLaren and Barbro Karlen on Unconditional Love
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rumi on Love of God

As Laurel explains, "We must learn to love our brothers and sisters on the Earth Plane before we may join with God in the Ethereal Plane. It is that simple." The Love will be released for Valentine’s Day and will make a perfect gift.

Contact & Donations

Thank you for your ongoing interest in The Oracle Institute. We hope you enjoy this newsletter and will join us at our upcoming events. As a 501(c)(3) educational charity, we are always looking for talent, expertise, and resources that can help us promote Truth, Love, and Light. So if you would like to help or make a donation, please contact us: www.TheOracleInstitute.org

Copyright 2010 The Oracle Institute

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