So, you’ve found yourself here! What took you so long?! Welcome, welcome! Come on in!
Well, now you’ve made it here, I want you to feel like you’ve come home or, at least, you’re joining me on the Great Journey Home which is what this is really all about. I’m on a journey to explore answers to two questions: 1) How did we break? and 2) How do we heal?. I hope you can join me and just relax and learn or get involved and contribute to generating some collective answers to these questions. Together we can go further and further, deeper and deeper, forwards in return, knowing ever more about the unknowable.
I guess the ultimate question you have now will be ‘Why should I place my attention here?’ You might experience this question expressed in other ways like: “Who is this person and why should I go on a journey with him?” or “What the hell does ‘Agent of History’ even mean?” or “What is ‘Spiritual Materialism’ and why should I care?”. Well, here are some brief answers to those very questions…
My name is Joel Lazarus. I’m 44 years old and live in Bristol with my wife and three kids. I was born in London, lived in Tokyo for a few years, spent twelve years in Oxford, and have been in Bristol for over three years. I’ve worked a lot in higher education and have also worked as a secondary school teacher. Now I spend half my working time as a researcher at Bath University on a fantastic project called WorkFREE led by my dear friend, Neil Howard.
My first degree was in Japanese and Russian at Leeds Uni and, after graduating, I worked on financial trading floors in Tokyo and London for over four years. I then went to the School of Oriental and African Studies and then Oxford University to do Masters degrees in Development Studies before doing a PhD in Politics and International Relations at Oxford. For about a decade now I’ve been involved in a praxis of reimagining education within and far beyond the university.
But let me tell you a bit about the story beneath this story. It’s a story really of a seeker of knowledge, of truth, of love. My long journey through formal education has left me with a broad and deep understanding of the social sciences and, to a lesser extent, the humanities. I’m steeped in the tradition of ‘critical theory’ - theories that reveal and resist the violent, unjust intersecting systems of what I call the world-historical system of colonialism (capitalism, patriarchy, racism, etc); theories that seek to reimagine and rebuild our world as just and beautiful. And yet, though these theories are indispensable to helping human beings to become free, able to ‘read their own world and write their own history’, as Paolo Freire put it, I came to realise that they were only a secondary ingredient in the recipe for transformation.
Around five years ago I had my first spiritual experience and immediately realised the perils of the mind and the inability of the intellect to experience deeper truths concerning oneself and the Oneness of all Life. Since then, I have begun my journey of personal transformation. A large part of this has been working with others in the field of trauma - personal, collective, and integenerational (it always is!)
I need to share one more element of my life and self before we move on. It’s about being Jewish. I grew up in a loving family within a parochial suburban London Jewish culture. I rejected the Judaism I experienced and, to a very great extent, my Jewishness also, especially after my non-Jewish wife was not accepted into my family (but, don’t worry, that’s all sorted now!). About twelve years later, my dear friend and then neighbour, Nicholas Janni, helped me to recognise the truth that we are all here to learn who we are and, in my case, a big part of who I am and where I came from is my Jewish identity. He gave me two books on Kabbalah, the ancient tradition of Jewish mysticism, by Arthur Green and Jason Shulman which completely transformed my life.
The Judaism in these books introduced me to a non-dualist understanding of Life and of God as Oneness that allowed me to come home spiritually. At the same time, through my work in the trauma field, I have been able to encounter myself in the stream of my ancestors, restoring me to my Jewish self. So great is my restoration and transformation here that I am actually beginning to identify for the first time with my Hebrew name which is Yo’el. I have learned that Yo’el means ‘YHVH is El’. There are countless books written on both these names, but, for now, let’s translate this as ‘The unpronounceable name of the Divine is the God of Loving Onenes’. Wow! When I write this I feel an incredibly powerful energetic response in my body – a mystical experience that holds a truth more solid than the most seemingly irrefutable mathematical proof. So, this is what I feel I need to tell you about me. Feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org to ask anything else you need to know before you feel ready to embark on this journey with me. Feel free to tell me anything about you. Hineini! I am here. I am present to you. Now, to tell you, as succinctly as I possibly can what I mean by ‘Agent of History and ‘Spiritual Materialism’.
Why ‘Agent of History?’
‘The more radical the person is, the more he or she fully enters into reality so that, hoping to know it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.’ (Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970, p. 39)
If you feel frustrated, angry even, at the state of the world today then this might be a site for you. We are presently experiencing crises in all areas of human life: economic, political, social, ethical, spiritual, and, of course, ecological. Nothing new there except that these interlinked crises are, for the first time, taking global proportions. A crucial element of this global crisis lies in the depoliticisation of millions of people: so many people, exhausted and cowed by the relentlessness and irrelevance of their working lives, hollowed out by consumerism, numbed by a vacuous media, and sickened by a corrupt political and economic system, feel helpless to make changes or take action either in their own lives or for the sake of their community or society.
At the same time, however, millions of others are taking action. They are campaigning, protesting, changing their consumption habits, exploring alternative, non-monetised ways to come together as flourishing physical and virtual communities that support and sustain each other.
As the ecological crisis takes hold, as the economic crisis threatens to flare up with renewed ferosity, our leaders fiddle and flounder. The onus is on us to take action. But action must be grounded in understanding, strategy, dialogue, and wisdom. This is the idea of a praxis - a continual dynamic process of action and reflection - that has to underpin successful individual and collective action.
One crucial element of praxis is that it must be historical. We have to know our history and learn the lessons it teaches us - the lessons that took the deaths of so many millions of our brothers and sisters to be revealed to us. History does have a structure; society does have a structure, and we need to understand this.
It is only through learning about both our history and the structure of our current society that we as individuals can liberate ourselves; first, by winning our mental freedom and, second, by joining the collective struggle to win freedom for humanity. It is this process that allows one to stop being the passive flotsam and jetsam swept around by the waves of history and to become a freer human being - an agent of history.
Everyone can do this! This is NOT the preserve of an intellectual elite. Your life is too precious to passively resign your fate into the hands of ‘experts’. It doesn’t take a million books to do this, either, but it does take a commitment to open your mind and heart, challenge your preconceptions and prejudices, and look, listen, watch, read, think and FEEL!
I want to produce content to help you to do this. This does not mean that I’ve got it all worked out. In fact, I’m the one asking the questions! So, let’s join and be agents of history together!
What is ‘Spiritual Materialism?’
So, with Spiritual Materialism, I’m starting from the assertion that we as human beings are fundamentally broken – fractured and fragmented from ourselves, each other, from Nature – and that this brokenness causes us deep trauma. I’m also starting from the assertion that, deep beyond and beneath our painful brokenness, we were, are, and always will be whole, integrated, pure loving Oneness. So, the journey we need to take is a journey ultimately back home to our true selves, to Oneness - a journey of restoration. This is why the concept of ‘tikkun’ (restoration) or ‘tikkun olam’ (restoration of the world) – a concept deriving from the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah – is central to my work here. Another way of describing this journey is the restoration of matter with spirit, hence ‘Spiritual Materialism’.
The nature of our breaking concerns the nature of consciousness and how it has evolved into its most complex form through human evolution. Our brokenness is the consequence of our violence; our violence is an expression of our objectification. Objectification takes place when one sees others not as equal emanations of Life, but as objects; and our objectification derives from our experience of ourselves and our world as separation (a dualist ontology). In short, brokenness is separation. Conversely, our restoration occurs through loving reconnection that enables us slowly but surely to return home to our eternal true selves, to return to an experience of our world as Oneness.
The more we see each other’s and our own humanity, the closer we come home to experiencing Life as Oneness (a non-dualist ontology). So, restoration involves reawakening to ourselves as Oneness and, therefore, as divine beings who, through our consciousness, actually produce our reality, our world, moment to moment. This means our journey back home to Oneness involves us, as Owen Barfield put it, coming to ‘accept the burden of existential responsibility’ for our participation in the creation of a beautiful, loving, and just world.
So, the journey to construct a philosophy called ‘Spiritual Materialism’ is a journey to develop a unified framework that explores and comes up with answers to two questions: ‘How did we break?’ and ‘How can we heal?’ If all Life is One then there must be one unified framework of explanation. I’m not trying to explain everything, but I am trying to develop a framework you can apply to answer whatever question you have. I have a background and particular passion for education and since questions of restoration and transformation are ultimately education (i.e. we have to learn how to do it), I’m also developing a Spiritual Materialist philosophy and practice of education.
I’m building my Spiritual Materialist framework on four pillars or four layers, all conveniently beginning with ‘S’ - Spirituality, Science, Society, and Self. On this website, I’ll be having conversations with people with expertise in one or more of these pillars, asking them, and you, to help me build this Spiritual Materialist unified framework that can answer these two questions. If you want to read what I’ve written about Spiritual Materialism so far then click here.
So, what are we waiting for?! Let’s begin our journey home together. We’ve got a long of ground to cover, a lot of things to learn and unlearn, a lot of love to share, and so much restoring and transforming to get on with.
From here you can go and watch some of my videos or interviews, read some blog posts, read more about Spiritual Materialism, and, in due course, make your invaluable contribution to this journey by sharing your own wisdom.
I am totally open to engaging with and learning from you, so don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’d be delighted to hear from you.
Thank you so much for sharing this journey with me. It is, after all, our journey.
In love, solidarity, and gratitude, Joel