go directly to discussion
this reading group guide is not
a 'literary' one. it encourages you to to reflect on your own experiences
and values, using the words and pictures of becoming me as a focus
for contemplation. my hope is that the inclusive language and interfaith
message of becoming me will help you and your friends reflect on
our common hopes and fascinating differences in a heartfelt way. i wish
you a profound and playful adventure. -- marty
how to use this guide
1. try beginning your discussion with a meditation,
prayer, or a period of silence to quiet the mind.
2. first talk about how to have a discussion
in an open-hearted, open-minded way. consider going around the circle
in turn, so that everyone is encouraged to speak. you might want to have
one person be the moderator or timekeeper.
3. give each person a chance to read becoming me
aloud. after each reading, pause to notice what you're feeling. try
playing with the tone of voice and see how this affects the meaning and
impact of the story.
4. now move on to the questions below. these are organized
into topics that loosely follow the structure of becoming me. you
can choose one question from each section.
who is telling this story?
does god just
want to have fun?
next to godliness?
who are you really?
aggression come from?
is anywhere better
how can art express the spiritual?
what's love got to do with it?
who is telling this story?
a. becoming me begins with the curious first
line "once upon a time, i was". most people consider this
to be the voice of god, but does it match your understanding of god? what
is the tone of voice? is it masculine or feminine? how old
would you say god is? what does god feel? what does god want?
do you like this way of characterizing divine will?
b. the nature of god can be understood in different
ways, even within the same religion. what is your understanding
of god? is god formed, like a divine being, or formless,
like a field of energy? do you believe that god is completely above
human affairs (transcendent) or part and parcel of life on earth (immanent)?
what does becoming me suggest?
c. many of our beliefs about
god are shaped not by religious texts or sermons but by our own life experiences.
how has your understanding of divinity changed during your life?
how have particular experiences, such as bereavement, illness,
or even a miraculous moment, changed your values and your understanding
just want to have fun?
a. many people consider
"religion" to be serious and solemn, but "play" to
be frivolous or childish. becoming me suggests that by adopting
the attitude of a child at play we become like god ("...then we
play together, you and i.") what role does play have in
your life? how do you enter a "state of play"?
do you consider play to be something irresponsible or sinful? could
your daily life be enhanced by adopting a playful spirit? compare
this to christ's statement "you must become like a child to enter the
kingdom of heaven."
b. in hinduism,
all of creation is seen as the play of god, a process called lila.
henricus suso, a 14th century dominican monk, said "all creatures are
god in god." becoming me puts these two ideas together,
suggesting that universe is is really just god playing with different
forms of god. ("i liked to make myself into different shapes.")
how do you feel about this idea? does this demean or enhance
the purpose of life? is god just having fun?
is creativity next to
a. the original title for becoming me was
"the big birth". look through becoming me to see how birth
is used as a metaphor for the process of creation. although
we rarely discuss it, giving birth and becoming a parent can be one of
life's most powerful spiritual experiences. here is a good chance
to reflect on your birthing experiences and share them with your friends.
what was your experience of giving birth? was it a spiritual experience
for you? how did it feel for you to make "someone else"? what
was it like to become a father? how did your relationship to life change?
many artists speak of the creative process as being like childbirth.
what do you think? where else in life can we find the metaphor
of giving birth?
b. becoming me suggests that one reason for the
creation of the world is god's need for "someone else". compare
this with the jewish mystical idea that the reason for creation is that
"god wished to behold god". when do you feel an aching need for
an other? when do you feel the need to be "seen"? have
you ever felt a loneliness of cosmic proportions? have you ever
felt lost? have you ever felt found?
what's life all about?
a. one purpose of a creation story is to give us a sense
of why we are here and what life is for. do you believe we are here
for a reason? do you have a "philosophy of life"? how
does this affect what you do each day? where does this belief come
from? what experiences have shaped your beliefs? does
becoming me give an answer to this question?
b. living in a multicultural community can challenge
us to question our own beliefs. for example, the bible gives one
understanding of creation, but there are also hindu creation stories,
buddhist creation stories, native american creation stories, etc.
becoming me has been called a"multicultural creation story".
what does that mean? what is the creation story that informs your
cultural background? how can we reconcile different stories of
creation? does this challenge their authenticity?
c. the materialist worldview suggests that the universe
is made only of matter. is this your experience? do you
believe in the soul? if so, where is it? why can't science
find it in a microscope? have you ever had an experience that doesn't
quite fit in with "reality"?
what is enlightenment?
a. according to becoming
me, god's deepest wish for us is that we find god ("i like it
best when you discover me.") many people feel that they have
experienced divinity in a peak experience, a moment when we feel bigger
than ourselves, aware of infinity and eternity or filled with compassion.
sometimes these happen spontaneously, and sometimes they are triggered
by prayer, meditation, being in nature, experiencing art, physical exertion,
taking psychedelics, making love, giving birth, grieving. have
you ever had a "peak" experience? how did you feel during this
experience? how did you feel afterward? how did your perspective
on life change?
who are you really?
a. becoming me suggests that the question "who
am i?" is the beginning of our spiritual quest ("every so often, you
wonder who you are"). in a similar vein, mythologist joseph
campbell says that the spiritual path begins with a "call to adventure",
an awakening that might take the form of an accident, a dream, a crisis,
or a coincidence. have you ever experienced a call to adventure,
a life experience that forced you to wonder who you really are? how
did you deal with it?
b. becoming me suggests that if we look deep
enough within, we discover a divine presence or awareness as our original
identity. in other words, by looking for you, within you, you discover
that you are really god. buddhism talks about finding your "original
face before you were born". is this the same as christ's teaching
"the kingdom of god is within you"? what does this mean for you?
what are the implications for the way we live?
c. becoming me suggests that though we long to
be reunited with god, god actually enjoys being us. this is one
of the most unusual and provocative ideas in becoming me, giving
it a playful, paradoxical feeling. it implies that "who you are"
depends on your point-of-view: are you an individual, searching
for god, or are you god, having the unique and wonderful experience of
d. many religions embrace the idea that god has incarnated
as a special being ("avatar"), such as christ or krishna, in
order to help or save humanity. but becoming me suggests
that every single aspect of life, including you, is a divine incarnation,
a process of divine becoming. do you believe that all of existence
is divine, or that god is only expressed as an avatar? if everything
in creation is divine, how should we treat it? another version
of this question is the famous zen buddhist koan: "does a
dog have buddha-nature?" what do you think?
where does aggression
a. compare the double-page picture of "life" in the
middle of becoming me to the double-page picture of "war" near
the end. what has changed in the landscape? how did you
feel when you first saw the picture of war and desolation? there
are many people in our communities who have been directly affected by
war-having been in combat, lost a loved one, or been made refugees—but
there is rarely a time for them to tell their stories and discuss how
they make sense of their experiences. here is a good opportunity
for you and your friends to share personal stories of war and how it has
touched your lives.
b. becoming me seems to give a very clear reason
why human beings become aggressive and destructive. what is this
reason? does it make sense to you? what do you think is the root
cause of war? is aggression a part of the human condition?
anywhere better than here?
paths suggest that being here, in the world, is just a preparation for
being in a heaven or afterlife. others suggest that here is a world
of illusion and suffering, but there is a place, or an experience, that
is beyond suffering. becoming me suggests that though we
may yearn to be "up there", god actually wants to be "down here".
how do you feel about this? do you have a craving to be "released"
from this world? or do you have a desire to be more fully in this
world, to be more fully alive? what do you believe happens after
death? have you ever had a near-death experience? have you
ever felt the presence of someone who died? what was this like?
why might we want to be "up there" if god wants to be "down here"?
how can art express the
a. how would you paint a picture to express the infinite
and eternal? now look through the illustrations in becoming me,
and see how painter chris gilvan-cartwright tried to convey a sense of
"everything". does he succeed? how much of the meaning and impact
of becoming me is conveyed by the pictures?
b. now look at the big picture at the end of becoming
me, a huge painting that chris originally called "everything".
if you look closely, you'll see that many of the other pictures
in becoming me are taken from this big one. what does this
suggest about the relationship of each part of creation to the whole?
what is it like to feel "connected to everything"? have
you ever glimpsed the "big picture"? how did this experience
affect your life?
c. consider pieces of art
that give you a spiritual feeling. how does the artist manage to
suggest something spiritual? what is it in the artwork that gives
you a spiritual feeling? try sharing with your group a poem, painting,
or piece of music that gives you the "tingle factor".
what's love got to do with it?
a. becoming me suggests that we live in a universe
of love and that we are always held in love, or loved by god, even when
we forget god or do things that are "wrong". this implies that
divine love somehow embraces both the good and bad of human
behavior. do you agree?
b. becoming me implies that the ultimate expression
of love is when we recognize others as our self, for all beings are ultimately
one. many of us get a taste of this love when we fall in
love romantically, or when we have a child. but is it possible
to extend this sense of love even further? can we think of our
neighbors as people for whom we would do anything? can we extend
this feeling to strangers? can we extend it to our enemies?
do you believe this would be appropriate? how would you practice
c. the dalai lama, in his nobel prize acceptance speech,
said, "i pray for all of us, oppressor and friend, that together we succeed
in building a better world through human understanding and love, and that
in doing so we may reduce the pain and suffering of all sentient beings."
similarly, pope john paul ii, in his easter 2004 message, said
"may the temptation to seek revenge give way to the courage to forgive;
may the culture of life and love render vain the logic of death; may trust
once more give breath to the lives of peoples." but the beatles
said it most succinctly: "all you need is love." how do
you feel about this? is love a sufficient force to solve the problems
of the world? how would we do it?
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