How good are you at treasure hunting?
And today I mean: How good are you at spiritual treasure hunting?
All week, we’ve been raising the question: How can we see the world more clearly? Sometimes the answer is just around the corner or just a few clicks away online. Today’s two stories are about discovering a new urban temple rising just around the corner — and tracking cosmic lights through the Internet.
Both of those strange-sounding ideas came from ReadTheSpirit readers just like you.
First, Christine Gloss — who is both a reader and a contributor to ReadTheSpirit — alerted me via Email to a 35-foot-tall, Asian-looking temple rising in a somewhat down-on-its-luck corner of northwest Detroit. Christine knew that ReadTheSpirit Publisher John Hile and I have paid two visits over the years to the Burning Man festival in the remote deserts of Nevada — and she said that this neighborhood temple was designed by Burning Man’s most famous temple architect: David Best.
I could hardly believe that the creative crew from Black Rock City (the utopian community of thousands that springs up at the festival each year) was in our little corner of the world — a gritty rust-belt urban area that bears little resemblance to the pristine desert expanse where the crew normally works its wonders in raising huge temple structures.
Wow!! To think that a David Best temple was rising within half an hour of the ReadTheSpirit home office! To think that a David Best temple soon would be standing in the middle of a Detroit neighborhood sprinkled with enough abandoned homes in burned-out, broken-down ruins to give the impression that it’s a war zone.
Wow! A globally recognized artist was helping me and thousands of others who love Detroit to see this sad old neighborhood in a brand new way! Wow!
I drove to the site and found dozens of volunteers — some from California and the Black Rock Arts Foundation and some from metro Detroit — all sweating behind screw drivers, hammers, saws, drills and paint rollers.
The top photo today shows volunteers preparing to mount a portion of the temple’s decorative wooden exterior onto the basic framework of the temple’s lower chamber. The second photo (at right) is David Best directing the volunteers. The third photo is David’s sketch of the finished project.
I have interviewed David several times on the Playa, the vast expanse of white, dusty desert on which Burning Man rises — and on which David’s enormous wooden temples become the spiritual centers for thousands of pilgrims. When he saw me, he threw his arms around me — and, in this neighborhood where I would rarely find myself enjoying a sunny afternoon, I quickly felt right at home.
“The last time we talked was in a sand storm on the Playa!” he said. “You had a video camera and we tried to talk for an hour, didn’t we? An hour!”
“We did,” I said, “and the dust storm kept interrupting us. Nearly ruined the camera!”
Danielle Kaltz, who goes by the nickname “Doxie” and lives in Hamtramck, an enclave inside Detroit, was thrilled that I was there spreading the word a little further via ReadTheSpirit about this temple. She told me that an array of Detroit groups and volunteers raised $15,000 — and the Black Rock Arts Foundation, a Burning Man philanthropic arts foundation, matched that amount.
“So then we had the $30,000 to do this,” she said. “It’s all about transforming our ideas about the city and creating a place where people feel that they want to gather. We’re calling this temple — The Temple to the American Dream, because that’s what we all dream about isn’t it? Bridging our communities — black-and-white, city-and-suburban — putting the community back together again.”
Best nodded in agreement. “I’m not building a temple this year on the Playa. Others are working on that. We need this kind of thing in so many other places. After this one, we’re building a temple in Ireland in August and one in San Francisco next year.”
So, why Detroit?
Best said he came to Detroit because of Doxie and others here who did the hard work of “forming a non-profit, making the calls to get people involved, balancing the checkbooks, raising the money, building the community. See, people may look at the goofy, crazy things we do — like building these temples. But this really is about radical self reliance. We’ve got to encourage people to learn how to do these things, simple things like organizing ourselves, raising money, all of that — and finding more people who know how to do these things — and organizing ourselves to keep this going.”
David Best’s temples are famous partly because they are wide open to the public — and, at Burning Man, I have seen thousands move through his graceful chambers, awe-struck at the decorative wooden arches that are his trademark. People bring memorials to friends they have lost. They pray. They leave notes. They hug. They cry.
Any clergyperson I’ve met in decades of writing about religion would be envious of the powerful spiritual response that David’s temples evoke at Burning Man. Then, on the Playa each year, his temples are burned on the final night along with all the memorial pieces pilgrims have tucked inside. David uses special high-tech sheeting beneath the entire complex so that even the ashes leave no trace on the desert.
But, in Detroit — David and Doxie and the entire crew are introducing an innovation: This David Best temple will not burn. That’s their affirmation. Rather, this temple in Detroit will remain wide open for as many years as the community takes care of the painted wooden structure.
It’s a challenge to Doxie and her friends to maintain a community there.
And, more importantly, it’s a sign of how pragmatic this process of transforming our vision of the world can be — as basic as learning to form a non-profit, learning to make calls, learning to build, learning to welcome the world … and … and envisioning new symbols like this half-crazy, half-beautiful wooden temple celebrating American dreams in the midst of urban blight.
(If you live in Michigan — or are visiting the state — the temple is located on a side street (Redford Street) one block west of Lahser and north of Grand River. If you’re using a GPS or MapQuest, this address will get you there: 17363 Redford Street, Detroit, Michigan.)
This is how this renewal of vision can work!
OUR SECOND STORY TODAY is about raising our eyes into the larger cosmos — and, in this case, deep into the vast recesses of the Internet, as well.
Reader Joyce Middleton sent us this second Email — a note that sent me off on the trail of a Powerpoint slide show of the planet Earth, taken from orbit supposedly by NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams.
Joyce received a copy of this Powerpoint slide show from a friend in one of those endless chain Emails. The final slide in the series includes a message that urges people to send it on to more folks around the Web. Joyce enjoyed the slides and chose to share them with us — knowing that our readers are interested in spiritual reflections on the natural world.
At first, I couldn’t determine where this slide show originated. Tracking such things is difficult in the ocean of the Internet. Back in March, we published a story about a chain Email of some inspirational Muslim images. I failed in trying to track down the origins of that set of images, despite a handful of encouraging Emails from readers since that story appeared.
But I was determined to turn up something in this new case. After all, today is a Solstice — which feels like an auspicious day to wrap up our week-long series about “seeing the world more clearly.”
And, I did find one point of origin for the slide show — posted on a multi-media “sharing” site a little less than a year ago. I’ve also found other versions, which seem to replicate themselves easily across the Web.
What’s fascinating as one tracks down something like this “Sunita Williams” slide show is that a sort of community — a patchwork quilt of little islands on the Web — becomes linked as places that this visual story has “touched down” and touched lives for a while.
For example, I found that — at least for a while — an elementary school science class in New England had posted a version of the Earth slides. Now, of course, school is out for the summer and the class’ Web page also seems to have turned out its lights for a while, as well.
In March, the slide show was posted on a site called Mediation Channel, apparently for the uplifting wonderment of the serious-minded folks who visit this site to learn more about “Mediation, Negotiation, Conflict Resolution and the Law.” There’s very serious stuff on this site — and the Webmaster there apparently, in mid March, thought it was time to simply sit back and reflect on the world from a fresh perspective.
Some political bloggers posted versions of the slide show. In fact, one of them I ran across seemed a little scary to me — peppered with conspiracy theories about science and politics. And I even spotted one place the slide show touched down among some people worried about the world actually coming to an end. Their interest in the slides seemed odd to me, because I find the slide show inspiring, not troubling at all.
And, soon — tracing links through the Web — I wound up visiting host sites based in other countries in languages I didn’t immediately recognize.
Curiously, some Web surfers commenting on the slide show seemed to be quite concerned about whether Sunita Williams herself actually took the photos and modified them to assemble the slide show — or whether the slide show really was developed by someone else from free NASA photos available online and her name was added to the title by a fan.
Tell us what you think — but, to me, that particular detail doesn’t really matter. I’m not terribly curious about whether Sunita herself made the slide show — or someone else put it together. I simply find the images a refreshing reflection on our tiny planet in the cosmos.
HERE IS one version of the slide show that you can sample. Most or our readers will see a rectangular slide-show “screen” appearing next in this story. If not — or if you want to download the whole full-screen version of the Powerpoint file, you can visit the host side, SlideShare. (There’s a link directly to SlideShare, below.)
PLEASE, tell us what you think! Some of our most popular stories involve readers’ notes, comments, ideas and reflections. Click on the “Comment” link at the end of this story. Or, you can Email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm directly.