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Toby Johnson's books:
YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned
from Joseph Campbell: The
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:
Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods
THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers
THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell
IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD: A Mystical Journey
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Articles and Excerpts:
Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
EnlightenmentYou're Not A Wave
Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
How many lifetimes in an ego?
Emptiness & Religious Ideas
Experiencing experiencing experiencing
Going into the Light
Meditations for a Funeral
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
What Anatman means
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
Cutting edge realization
The Myth of the Wanderer
Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss
What the Vows Really Mean
Manifesting from the Subtle Realms
The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse
The est Training and Personal Intention
Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven
Out & About with Brewer & Berg
Episode One: Searching for a New Mythology
By Michael Brewer and Thomas Alan Berg
Word+Image and Brewberg Productions, DVD, 85 minutes, $19.00
Authors' website: brewberg.com
Available from Amazon.com for purchase or streaming
Out & About with Brewer & Berg: A multidimensional travelogue
Also available for Kindle and ebooks.
Reviewed by Toby Johnson
A new way of producing and publishing the information that used to be limited to books is now beginning to appear. It’s in the form of the television show on DVD or videotape.
Joseph Kramer’s EroSpirit has been producing high quality lectures and programs for video in the area of spirituality and sexuality for some years now (Fire on the Mountain: An Intimate Guide to Male Erotic Massage is perhaps Kramer’s classic masterpiece). Last year Bruce Grether produced Mindful Masturbation for Men on DVD in that same area of enlightened sexuality. These “television programs” for private, individual viewing take advantage of the visual nature of sexuality. Needless to say, sex books benefit from ample illustration. And a visual presentation about sex is an excellent way to convey material about spiritual meaning, a “gimmick” to get viewers to open their minds and receive more information than they were expecting.
This reviewer’s “wise old man” Joseph Campbell used to tell stories about his travels in India. One I especially resonated with was about visiting the “erotic temple” at Konorak near the holy city of Puri. The outside of the temple is decorated with images of people in all sorts of sexual positions. Campbell told how he asked several different people in the crowd what was the meaning and purpose of the erotic imagery. A Brahmin priest told him the sexual images were to keep demons out of the sacred interior because they would be distracted by the porn and stay outside. An expert on Indian history explained how the images manifested the Tantric period of Hindu religious evolution. Well, that was interesting, Campbell said. But the best answer came from a very old yogin who apparently lived on the grounds of the Temple; his answer was “What else would you put on a temple?”
Out & About with Brewer & Berg — Searching for a New Mythology by Michael Brewer and Thomas Alan Berg is another example of the television program as personal production and as a medium of information exchange about spiritual matters. The “gimmick” here is not sex—though there is talk about sex and beauty in the program; the gimmick is the travelogue, the same gimmick Joseph Campbell was using to tell his innocent little joke about the natural sexual content of religion and spirituality.
There’s a joke in our culture about having to sit through “other people’s home movies,” but the reality is that most of us really do enjoy hearing about our friends’ travels; we enjoy hearing about exotic places; we enjoy seeing sights of the wide, wide world that’s just too big for any of us to get to go everywhere. The travelogue is one of the ways we live vicariously as world travelers and, indeed, as sense organs of the Earth itself. We human beings are how the Earth gets to perceive the “colorful, fluid, infinitely various and bewildering phenomenal spectacle” (to use Campbell’s words) that is life on Earth.
I quote liberally here from Joseph Campbell because Brewer and Berg do so also in this first of what they plan to be a series of travelogues communicating wisdom about gay and lesbian consciousness. The set-up of the video is that these two old friends (from San Francisco ’70s) travel from Switzerland (where Brewer now lives with his husband) through Italy and back. Along the way they share the sights they see and they talk candidly about their spiritual lives as gay men as they immerse themselves in Italian and Catholic history—with all its complicated, confused, and ambivalent layers of homosexuality.
They start their journey appropriately at the home of Carl Jung on Lake Zurich and so establish a context for their spiritual quest: searching for a new mythology that subsumes Jung’s vision that the old religions represent symbolic clues to the nature of consciousness. Religion is to culture what dreams are to the individual: clues to what’s going on at the deepest levels of reality.
Both Brewer and Berg were inspired back in the late ’80s by Campbell’s interviews with Bill Moyers (PBS’s “The Power of Myth”) in which he presented that kind of all-inclusive, Jungian vision of human religious consciousness. From Campbell, they learned that the spiritual life is a “hero’s journey,” and so one of the ways of experiencing it, investigating it, and communicating it is through the journey.
The video is entertaining and visually interesting just for the sights of Italy. The two go to Rome first and visit the Roman Forum (and the adjacent Coliseum) and the Vatican—talk about different ideas about homosexuality! They discover marvelously homoerotic art in St. Peter’s and question what was really going on in the life of Jesus and the Apostles. Then they head north toward Florence, along the way stopping at Niki de St. Phalle’s Tarot Park, an amazing garden of mosaic sculptures inspired by Antonio Gaudi portraying the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck—here’s a sight most of us have probably missed even if we’re well-traveled in Europe. Their visit next to Pisa gets them talking about the importance of having a good foundation.
Finally they arrive in Florence and climb up to the top of the Duomo, the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, and visit the Uffizi Museum and the Gallery dell' Accademia and its most famous piece of art, Michaelangelo’s David. In an amazing manifestation of the very creative techniques they have been discussing, they meet a stunning a young man outside the gallery who looks almost exactly like the statue come to life in flesh and blood. (And in the Jungian universe, coincidences are always significant.)
Michael and Tom are delightful fellows. They’re modern gay men with a playful sense of humor and appreciation of gay irony. They are fun to talk with, fun to travel with. In the course of the hour and a half travelogue they share quotes and comments from many more modern spiritual guides beyond just Jung and Campbell (and they mark the gay ones with a little rainbow flag!) and they successfully communicate their message that gay identity has important spiritual resonances and implications.
The video is a little fast and jumpy—perhaps appealing to the “MTV generation” with all the fast cuts and spinning pans and flashing captions. One might complain that whichever of the travelers did the editing got carried away with the special effects panel in their computer’s video-editing application. Maybe next episode they’ll slow down just a little and let us see more of what they’re seeing. And I certainly look forward to a next episode. The teaser at the end tells us they’re going to Greece next. Maybe the homosexuality won’t be so ambivalent in that culture’s history!
This is a wonderful contribution to the discussion of gay spirituality, a new medium for conveying important and needed insights, likely to reach people the printed word no longer reaches. Out & About with Brewer & Berg is a philosophical travelogue of Europe with two zany guys in an amazing documentary of their vision quest in search of a new mythology that includes gay and lesbian consciousness. This is a delightful adventure, innovatively filmed (with European sights I'd never seen before) with lots of Joseph Campbell's appealing wisdom. I totally concur with the provocative worldview Brewer & Berg proclaim.
So, in light of that story about the old yogin at Konorak, if we’d asked Joe Campbell about the appropriateness of a travel video to frame an exploration of gayness in the grand scheme of things, he’d likely have answered, laughing, “What else but a travelogue would you put on the outside of a hero’s journey?” It’s always about the journey, isn’t it?
Reviewed by Toby Johnson, author of The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell, Gay Spirituality, Getting Life in Perspective and other novels and books
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness.
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They
YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth
of the Great Secret III tells the story of Johnson's learning the
real nature of religion and myth and discovering the spiritual
qualities of gay male consciousness.
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