Monday, May 28, 2012

Spirit! Salon (Edited)

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach (klauswulfenbach.outlander): I apologise for the delays, Damen und Herren. I should like to make a few announcements before introducing our speaker.

First - the Salon shall be taking a break after today until September, to make way for summer events and RFL.. I hope to see you all back in the autumn.

Second - for administrative reasons, we are having to change the group. The new group name is very similar to the old one, of course, the 'AEther Salon of New Babbage'. Bitte, join the new group and remove yourself from the old one when you can, and we shall update you on Salon events promptly.  It is, as always, open enrollment.

I should like to introduce the Jarl of Orcadia, who is of a democratic enough nature that he insists everyone call him by his first name. Otenth Paderborn participated in the formal organizing of both the Unitarian Universalist and Quaker groups in Second Life. He will attempt a brief survey of religious spaces in Second Life.

Otenth Håkon Paderborn: Good afternoon, and thank you all for coming.  As an editor, I fear I may be a bit word-heavy, but I have some slides to leaven things.  I will provide references and urls online later for those who wish to follow any particular rabbit-holes.

My very existence in Second Life owes itself to a colleague's description of a Unitarian Universalist church in SL, and my subsequent decision to investigate this virtual world.  Here's part of an essay I wrote for 2Life Magazine (a now-defunct magazine on Jewish life in SL) in May 2007:

“For most of the last twenty years I’ve been a Quaker, so I wanted to find out if there were any Quakers in SL. I couldn’t find any group, classified ad, or location that was clearly religious (since Quake players sometimes call themselves Quakers, too). Search, of course, both in SL and on the SL website, is sometimes unreliable in its results, so I tried on the web as well. I found Rik Riel’s blog, where he identified himself as a Quaker and a resident of SL. I sent him an IM, asking if he would join a group I created, 'Religious Society of Friends Quaker'.”

It is amazing how little some things change, is it not?  People found that group, without advertising. I found a sim called 'Quaker,' so I bought some land there and gave it to the group.  I built a simple meetinghouse and some benches, and people started hanging out and getting to know one another.  Eventually we began worshipping on a regular basis and outgrew that small plot of Mainland.  There's now a lovely architect-designed meetinghouse on Sea Turtle Island, and people still worship together, although the group has been through highs and lows of participation.

I've seen many buildings in Second Life based on religious structures, but which do not host religious activities.  I'll simply give a nod in their general direction with these slides of a large cathedral on the Grotesk sim (no longer in existence).  That building took up an entire sim.  I was flying quite some distance from it.

And this magnificent interpretation of Mont Saint-Michel, which houses a shopping mall.

There are also religious builds that are instructional in nature, such as the virtual Hajj.  As Krystina Derrickson says in “Second Life and the Sacred: Islamic Space in a Virtual World,” “Because they are designed after emotionally-charged real life sacred sites, such as Mecca, and because their designers instruct users to follow behavioral regulations typical of real life Islamic sacred spaces, the virtual spaces are interpreted as ambiguously sacred.”  This slide is the Al Andalus Mezquita.

Of more interest to me are the religious communities that exist in Second Life.  Here are some Unitarian Universalists sitting in their worship space in Lovelace, which used to be part of Caledon.  The UUs started out on a Mainland sim, Modesta, which was largely the effort of one man, Bizarre Berry.   Paderborn:  I conducted interviews and wrote an essay about the UUs in SL in February 2007, “Religious Reality in a Virtual World”  Back when people thought Second Life would be the 3-D web, the next big thing!  The UUs reorganized when Berry's so-called “real life” made him increasingly unavailable, and they moved to Lovelace, where they organized with a leadership group and bylaws.   They also at that time formed a residential community in the Mainland sim of Vigdorova.  Today, they own and occupy four sims called UUtopia, which combine worship, educational, and residential activities.  Unitarian Universalists are seemingly incapable of not using those cute "UU" substitutions.

The Anglican Cathedral of Second Life is another church with an active worship and activity schedule.
And likewise, the community of Mormons in Adam ondi Ahman.

Many, many groups have organized themselves in Second Life, from Jews to evangelical Christians to progressive Christians to Zen practioners to Tibetan Buddhists to Hindus to Wiccans.  I found quite a variety of origins in doing my research.  The two examples I'm familiar with began when people came into Second Life, and then wanted to get together with coreligionists.  But quite a few groups--and not only Christians--intentionally entered Second Life in order to educate or evangelize.  There's even a "Spirituality and Belief" section of the Second Life Destination Guide.

I have a few questions, and two more slides, to finish.  Paradox has always been a part of my religious understanding and experience: How is it that God feels both immanent and transcendent?  How is it that Julian of Norwich’s “all shall be well” rings so true, when things are patently not going well?  How is it that we are beings of earth filled with extravagantly expansive spirits?

Religion in SL is no different: In both Quaker and Unitarian Universalist worship services, how I can be sitting alone in front of a computer and yet feel a connection to other people through our avatars in SL?  When everything about our appearance is constructed and is in no way limited by our physical reality, why do so many people say they feel more like their real selves in SL?  How can a virtual environment provoke deep questions about what is real?

As this Salon was announced, and as I've prepared for it, I've heard several people say they're not interested in the topic, or wonder what relevance “religion” or “spirit” has to Second Life, or otherwise express skepticism.  Skepticism, or even, dare I say it of a virtual existence, scientific materialism, certainly seems to be a virtue of New Babbage.  But if I may be so bold, this image, which is no doubt familiar to many of you, is one answer to those questions.

(This was a memorial to New Babbage resident Greg Merryman, at the 2010 Relay for Life build.)

The essential element--the spirit, if you will--of Second Life is life itself.  You and I are Second Life; we are Second Life. We encompass not only prims, but death, and love--even that love and remembrance which endure beyond death.  And that, my friends, is why religion and spirituality are part of Second Life.

Mosseveno Tenk: For those that don't know, Greg Merryman died during build week of RFL 2 years ago.

Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): Now is the time for questions or comments: for me, or for each other!
Darlingmonster Ember: do you have a large collection of 'spirit build' photos?  That would be fun
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): I don't! I'm not actually much of a photobug in either life.
Darlingmonster Ember: awww. a flickr group might be nice then
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): But I do have a few older ones, like the Grotesk cathedral. I may put additional thoughts into a blog post, and point to some other photos.
Wildstar Beaumont: did anybody say photos ?
Jimmy Branagh: A photo trip would be noice. Oy dint know some of those places existed
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): Wildstar has some brilliant photos of a large cathedral from last year's Relay for Life, which now stands in Caledon Mayfair, I believe.
Wildstar Beaumont: I just did some photos of the Angligan Cathedral for the PP blog.  quite nice place

Elilka Sieyes: I was going to have many images of religious builds which resemble first life locations...have you encountered similar builds that are unique to second life, or which particularly exploit SL?
Darlingmonster Ember: aaaa, good question
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): The openness of the Quaker meetinghouse is one example.  And I once visited a build that interpreted the chakras three-dimensionally.  Has anyone else visited such places?
Solace Fairlady: That was at last years Burn event I think, I had a look round one there, anyway
Elilka Sieyes: ah.
Darlingmonster Ember: I have usually found at least one build at RFL each year that lifts my spirit
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): The one I visited was on the Mainland, years ago.
Satu Moreau: I visited some kind of church in SL yeaaaaars ago, but I don't even remember what kind it was
Linus Lacombe: I remember one RFL cathedral appearing on Designing Worlds
Darlingmonster Ember: ...sometimes more than one
Gabrielle Anatra (gabriell.anatra): I've seen a few of the Buddhist places in SL over the years.
Elina 'Holmes' (elina.koskinen): I've seen the Finnish SL users have their own lutheran church somewhere
Wildstar Beaumont: I used to love St. Patrick in Magellan Kinvara and the services there
Elina 'Holmes' (elina.koskinen): but it was a simple building :)
Darlingmonster Ember: there was a build made of light one year that was very intense
Nika Thought-werk (robotnika): ((I used to attend Catholic Mass in Second Life at a church sanctioned by the Vatican ... or so the priest said. I had no reason to doubt him))
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): It is interesting how much of Second Life building reflects what we know in our physical world--and not just in the Steamlands, but elsewhere also.
Elilka Sieyes: /me nods.
Mosseveno Tenk: i was kinda shocked by that. i expected soemthing more abstract.
Gabrielle Anatra (gabriell.anatra): /me nods
Wildstar Beaumont: I guess we like to build out dream places here and our dreams are still rooted in RL
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): Oh, and of course the UU worship space isn't at all traditional, but it still reflects a building that could physically exist.
Mudpie Mornington: just being in SL helped me unnerstand my Buddhism which I am Buddhist - like how we not real and yet are real in SL and same in First life!
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): I find it interesting that, just as outside of SL, there are people who use religious spaces as part of a community, and those who turn to those spaces for special events.  Marriages and handfastings.  Some of the older religious buildings that don't reflect a community have had an active life as rental locations
Linus Lacombe: And there are those of us who appreciate religious architecture and can find plenty in SL to satisfy our interests.
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): And of course, people who have active religious lives outside SL who chose not to bring that into SL.  I was surprised by the number of serious academic papers there are about religion in SL
Wildstar Beaumont: a few photos I took a couple of weeks ago :

Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): Does anyone else have a question, or a line of conversation to propose?
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach (klauswulfenbach.outlander): We have about 15 minutes left.  Herr Jarl, why don't I set out your gift and you can explain about that?  Purchase for L$0, bitte!
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): This is a THiNC book, which you can wear on the center HUD or rez, with turnable pages.  It is sepia photographs made by a friend of mine at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, of old tombstones.  Victorian cemeteries are bizarrely wonderful.
Solace Fairlady: Thank you your Serenity!
Kghia Gherardi: another excellent discussion
Linus Lacombe: As odd or creepy as it may sound to some, I find much peace in cemeteries. Often it is the location, or the silence, or the feeling of being part of history
Gabrielle Anatra (gabriell.anatra): I know that feeling.
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): I didn't even think to include a cemetery photo as a religious space!
Bookworm Hienrichs: We have a couple here in New Babbage, if anyone wants a field trip.
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): There is a cemetery in New Toulouse, and at least one in Caledon.
Mudpie Mornington: where to draw the line for what is a religious space!
Wildstar Beaumont: there are a few in Winterfell .. Miss Serra loves them
Satu Moreau: Heh, I think the one cemetary for me that's been really memorable aside from in New Babbage was the one put up in honor of all the Lindens the labs let off
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach (klauswulfenbach.outlander): Excellent question, M~ Mornington.
Darlingmonster Ember: good point M Moreau
Linus Lacombe: That which is sacred, has no one definition, and nearly any space can be sacred to someone.
Gabrielle Anatra (gabriell.anatra): Hm, I've seen that one. There are a few others there too.
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): I hinted in my talk that I think "religious" spaces are those that are used for that purpose, not simply anything that looks religious.  Which reflects a real-life disregard for canonical consecration of space!
Mudpie Mornington: Church of Elvis
 Members: 180
 Founder: Elvis Faust
 Open Enrollment
 Elvis sold his soul for rock and roll and died on the throne for our sins.
Linus Lacombe: oh dear
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): And I ignored SL phenomena such as the Church of Rosedale!
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach (klauswulfenbach.outlander): Ah, I remember when they were active.
Rhianon Jameson: Or the Church of SecondLientology!

Jimmy Branagh: Oy'd loike to applaud the Baron for the first season after takin' over this Salon and continuin' the tradition. Oy'd 'ave really missed these, meself.
Otenth Håkon Paderborn (otenth.paderborn): Thank you, everyone, and thank you, Herr Baron, for inviting me.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach (klauswulfenbach.outlander): Danke to all our brave and wonderful speakers this year.  As always, Herr Paderborn will be getting the full appreciation you've expressed by your donations to the tipjar.
Linus Lacombe: I suppose we can also give a few lindens to support the venue itself?
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach (klauswulfenbach.outlander): Your financial support of the Salon space is also appreciated!  Pay the signs around the sides, or the small airship out front.

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