Boycotts

There is not much more insulting than being told how to think. So why, you might ask, have I not blocked emails from MoveOn.org?

Recently, Guido Barilla, chairman of the Barilla group, a leading Italian pasta manufacturer, stated that he would never use a gay couple in his company’s advertisements. He said he desired to present a traditional family. He also said “If gays like our pasta and our advertising, they’ll eat it, if they don’t they’ll buy another brand”. Here is a family owned company, selling a product steeped in tradition, that wants to project a traditional family image.

I’ll start with saying I prefer Anna pasta. I wouldn’t be buying Barilla anyway. But if I would buy pasta based on my feelings for the company’s management rather than its taste I would start buying Barilla. He’s not homophobic, and said so in the interview. He just has an image he wants to project and a product he’s proud of.

Some people buy food based on their feelings for the company, taste comes second. Go figure. I can’t taste opinions.

Guido figured that other people were as enlightened as he is. Silly man. He’s actually in favor of gay marriage, which is illegal in Italy. The knee jerk reactions were predictable. Even in articles that ran his comments in their entirety, commenters ignored his words and created ones of their own.

And then I received an email from MoveOn.org. A “Beth Allen” said, among other things, “Yesterday, Barilla Pasta President Guido Barilla made it clear how he felt about families like mine by saying that he’d never show gay families in advertisements for Barilla. He said that gays “can go eat someone else’s pasta” if they didn’t like his message.” which is only mildly twisting Guido’s words, and then she said asked me to not to actually boycott Barilla pasta, but to sign a petition saying I would boycott Barilla pasta. Yes, there is a difference.

Mr. Barilla is a businessman. He doesn’t care about petitions nearly as much as he cares about sales. If I already didn’t buy his pasta he won’t miss me. If I was a loyal customer and suddenly stopped buying his products, he will notice. If some moron who doesn’t understand marketing starts an anti-Barilla campaign, just as many, if not more, people will start buying Barilla pasta to counteract the protestors. Just ask the folks at Chik-Fil-A who are still trying to restock after the last anti boycott.

A group of nasty people calling themselves Muslims have promoted anti Muslim sentiment around the world. A group of nasty people calling themselves Christians have built a good deal of anti- Christian feelings. A group of nasty people calling themselves gay are starting to tarnish the tolerance of gays in America. Just because I’m not gay doesn’t make me a homophobe. It also doesn’t make me a racist or a member of the Westboro group. Calling me these things does not increase my belief that you’re someone whose views I share.

Sorry folks, but Barilla won’t be having commercials with black families in them. It’s an Italian product trading on a traditional Italian image. That doesn’t make them racist. The NAACP is not calling for a boycott of their products. In those nice cozy Italian kitchen scenes, there won’t be anyone in a wheelchair. That does not suggest a prejudice against the handicapped. The lack of a scene of pasta at passover doesn’t make them anti-Semitic. There also won’t be any single parent families, because it is a traditional family image they’re projecting.

You may be black, or handicapped, or Jewish, or single, or gay, and still seek the warmth embodied in the scenes in these commercials, and know that just because your family wasn’t cast in the commercial, the manufacturer is not saying that your family isn’t a “real” family.  They’re suggesting that eating their pasta will make you more like these people, just like every other advertiser is trying to make you think that by using their product, you’ll be like that people in their commercials. Not straight or Italian, but happy and together.

The majority of gay people I know want to be seen as normal, they don’t want to stand out. They have quiet, peaceful lives, and most people don’t even know what their sexual preferences are. They don’t go on and on about how wonderful it is to be gay, anymore than I go on and on about how wonderful it is to be straight.

We need to get back to the idea of tolerance, live and let live. Extremist groups are working against that idea.

Last words from the mount

The last portion of the Sermon on the mount deals with perspective.

Jesus starts in Matthew five with pointing out the good in his listeners, and explaining that his message was new, he was not destroying the law, but enhancing it. In Matthew six he speaks of the individuals relationship with God, emphasizing that the relationship is personal, not private. In Matthew seven he speaks about that perspective, God will judge, it is not our duty on Earth to be judges of the relationship anyone else has with God.

He begins “7 Judge not, that ye be not judged.For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again“. For something that is stunningly clear to me, this may be one of the most misused verses in the Bible. What constitutes sin is between you and God, I may not approve of your actions, but it is not up to me to condemn them.

Continuing this lesson, he says “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye“. This takes two applications of understanding. We are not to look upon the failings of others until we have no failings of our own is the first part. The second part comes from understanding that once we have overcome our failings, we will not be judging others. That mote in your brother’s eye requires a different approach than you thought it did.

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” is a reminder to not force your knowledge on others. It is a waste of energy to share precious things with those that cannot appreciate them.

Verses seven through twelve advise that seeking God’s help will result in receiving God’s help. While many people tend to interpret these verses along the lines of “Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” and I have actually seen Priests say “God will give you your heart’s desire”, meaning Earthly possessions. Your heart’s desire should be knowledge, a greater understanding of life.

Jesus goes forward with a parable about entering heaven, “13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” which I see as a reminder. You’ve been given control of your path, don’t lose your way.

Next is a reminder to be aware. “15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them“. Be critical of those that promise a shortcut to heaven. Cast out those that are dishonest. That you continue to read my analysis would indicate that you have evaluated my logic, if you haven’t, please do so. Do not be gullible and accept someone’s word without checking the facts for yourself.

And then we get to the key. The summation of all the lessons, and the consequences of failing to understand. “21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity“. Your relationship with God is not about your actions. It is about your soul. The key is to know God. You do not marry a person you do not know, why would you expect to spend eternity with someone you do not know. He continues with the analogy of the foundation of a house, “24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. Your foundation is your relationship with God. It isn’t a once a week hobby, it is a lifetime of understanding. You may not be “good” every day. But you know what good is and you work towards it. This is understanding. Constantly striving to be better. 

The sermon ends. “28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:29 For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

He spoke as the Son of God, not someone repeating what they had read. He spoke with authority that was recognized on hearing. By his fruits they knew him.

Frietjes

Frites and sauces

Friets and sauces

One often overlooked national dish of Belgium is friet, affectionately called “frietjes” (little friets). Off hand I can’t think of a dish from another culture that has an affectionate diminutive. They are traditionally served in a cone, and the sauce of choice in Belgium is mayonnaise.

You know them as “french fries”, the French call them “pomme frites” (from the French for potato, pomme de terre, but literally apple fries). They are properly double fried to give a crispy exterior, and friet houses (Friethuis/Frietkot/Frituur) are everywhere, from stand alone shops to window service street side.

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A frituur in Belgium

Frieten Vending machine, cooks Frietjes on the spot

Frieten Vending machine, cooks Frietjes on the spot

It is surprisingly difficult to find proper friet in America. Even Belgian restaurants don’t always get it right, as I found the first few times Lieve and I visited “authentic” Belgian restaurants in attempts to familiarize me with the food. Fortunately, we found a real friet huis, through an odd accident. After a Thomas Dolby concert in the village, a friend of a friend suggested friet.

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A Belgian friet huis in Manhattan

Pommes Frites is unique in America. So unique that in a conversation about friet at the Jersey Shore, a stranger mentioned the shop as the only place she had found proper friet. So the other night, when we found ourselves at an event in SoHo with Tired Pony at an Apple store, We stopped for friet before the performance. There was something poetic about “Pommes Frites” and the employee minions at the Apple store being so fried they couldn’t mike the backup singers.

real choices

real choices

I recommend the wasabi mayo, Lieve had the dill lemon. The large size is more than adequate, the double is a feast of carbohydrates. This is a one man operation, the line often extending into the street. There is a very small seating area in the back, with holes in the tables to hold the cones. The cook is amazing, taking all the orders verbally, nothing is written down as he keeps several detailed orders in his head while preparing them.

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Emboldened by this mix of cultures, Belgian friet, eclectic NYC sauces, Oriental chef, I drove to the parking garage, cone in one hand, steering wheel in the other. The only thing I really like about Manhattan is the driving environment, it is the pinnacle of evolution. The weak links have been cleared from the playing field.

Despite my primal distaste for all things Apple, the “Meet the Musicians” program is a very nice project. An intimate question and answer portion followed by a short performance. This one will be released as a podcast eventually, I may update after the publication to comment on the editing. To give you an idea of the intimacy, Gary Lightbody held the door for Lieve when she entered.

Gary waiting for the previous speaker to finish

Gary waiting for the previous speaker to finish

The previous speaker was no lightweight, Robert Reich, discussing his new film. And yes, he really is that short in person. The band wasn’t as large as they were last we saw them, maybe due to the limited space, and after an hour sound check, in which I heard the roadie state specifically about the backup singers that “it’s easier to turn it down than to turn it up”, the backing vocals were still inaudible. Nonetheless it was a great Q&A session and a wonderful performance.

Peter Buck in a classically uninvolved pose

Peter Buck in a classically uninvolved pose

Michael Stipe was spotted backstage, as well as a throng of hangers on that showed up at the end, but the crowd was very earthy. Well, earthy for an Apple store in SoHo. The new album will be released next Tuesday, 1 October, and sounds just as nice as the first.

Update:

The pocast is available (free) here. In the audience views, that’s Lieve and I in the lower right corner, second row center stage.

Peace Valley

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I used to go to Peace Valley park for guided walks. A ranger would explain what was happening in the woods at that point in time and why. A friend heard I was going on these walks and introduced me to the Peace Valley Winery, a pleasant little winery just outside the park. I rather liked their “Spring Fling”, a Spring wine with a touch of woodruff. In a stunning sign that I am no longer in tune with the seasons, I thought it would be nice to take Lieve for a visit to the winery and a walk in the woods. It hadn’t crossed my mind that Spring wine wouldn’t be available on the Autumnal Equinox.

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Wine tasting with Susan Gross

We had the good fortune of finding Susan Gross behind the tasting counter. Susan founded the vineyard in 1968, and we have several mutual friends and acquaintances. There was a fair amount of laughter about “the good old days”. Susan had been mentored by Dr. Konstantin Frank, and the story of their meeting is in many ways the story of American vinifera wine making. Dr. Frank initially rebuffed her, but when she strongly stated her credentials and her German heritage, he warmed to her, eventually considering her his star student.

You will hear me say from time to time that winemakers are lazy. It is a self depreciating comment. Winemakers harness natural processes, and whenever possible let nature do the hard work. Susan feels that she very well may have lost her business long ago, when an abundance of Fredonia had given her more root stock to graft than she could keep up with, and more fruit than she could market. She decided to open the vineyard to a “pick your own grapes” day, and housewives from the area picked a few hundred pounds of grapes, leaving her with just a few tons more than she could use. At the end of the day, an elderly Korean man showed up, and carrying as many grapes as he could said “Why do you grow Korean grapes?”. Apparently, American scientists studying China had introduced Concord grapes, and they had flourished and worked their way though the peninsula, picking up local names. There had been an influx of Korean immigrants in the area, looking for a taste of home. The next day, the entire congregation of the man’s church showed up with buckets, and the local Korean influence has caused Susan to now grow Korean vegetables in her garden. This is what makes winemakers successful, working with the local environment in every way.

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The Autumnal equinox

After packing half a case of wine into the car, Lieve and I proceeded to the park, and actually found some leaves that had turned, although we will have to return in a few weeks when the colours are more vibrant. It was very peaceful, now with a paved jogging trail around the lake, and a number of cyclists who have no idea of riding etiquette. I hadn’t brought any drumsticks, so they will never learn the importance of announcing yourself when approaching pedestrians from behind.

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Off the beaten path

Sometimes I forget that even in my solitude, I’m staying on the beaten path. It was rejuvenating to walk in the woods.

Friends

If you are my friend, we have a serious relationship. In my life I haven’t had many friends. I’ve had a lot of acquaintances, and thousands of people who know me, Thanks to Face Book, many of these people are now called friends, I prefer the terminology of LinkedIn, “connections”. There have been far too many misunderstandings over friends. I’ve friended many people who I would not normally socialize with, and when they finally push the envelope too far with personal insults, I “defriend” them, with some minor degree of remorse. On one occasion, a “friend” was providing information about me to an actual enemy. The wanker would twist the information into attacks on someone who is actually a friend, so I had to block the friend, who was then pissed off at me. That she could not recognize that being a friend involves not selling out your friends friends was when I realized how perverted the word friend had become.

It is my idea that we should spend as much energy reaching out to people as we do shutting people out. I don’t think it’s an even trade, it seems so much easier to hurt people than to comfort people. Reduce it to language, how many times this week have you said “F*** you”, and how many times have you said “I’m sorry”?

Apologies require strength. Insults require anger.

It seems that relationships have become meaningless. Devotion and loyalty are words in films. I once dated a woman, she was much younger than I, and there were many things I found attractive about her. One day I told her I loved her, and she said “I love you too, in my own way”. Another woman I had known was much more clear, “This isn’t love, this is fun. I like you a lot, but I don’t love you”. I appreciated the second woman’s honesty, and in fact felt much closer to her. “I love you in my own way” was more like a slap in the face. “I’ll call it love, but it obviously isn’t” would have been more accurate.

Love is a powerful emotion. It engenders devotion, loyalty, even sacrifice. It involves sharing, a shedding of ego, the ability to be one. There is nothing bad about love, and if you think there is, you’re not in love.

I loved Emma, and she loved me. We had our differences (she voted for Obama) and different ways of dealing with things. We learned from each other, I altered myself, she altered herself, we grew together. She trusted me to be able to fix anything, and although I couldn’t fix her cancer, she didn’t lose faith in me. I comforted her and helped her through her final year, rarely leaving her side. We laughed together, even on her last night, and I held her when she said “I just can’t fight anymore”. She said it honestly, not crying or angry, she didn’t say “goodbye”, she just relaxed in my arms with our hands locked together. The nurses came in on their rounds, or maybe I screamed when she stopped breathing. They took her vitals and called her time, never asking me to let go of her. Later I couldn’t, rigor mortis had set in and I had to pry her fingers from mine.

I never want to do that again, but I would like to think that Lieve would hold me and comfort me when my time is up. A gentle, peaceful passing is all I care to receive from what is left of my life, the other things are less important. Not that I’m in a rush, I’d just like that to look forward to.

I try (and often fail) to extend friendship to everyone, My threshold for betrayal is admittedly low, but I do have the ability to forgive, often more than once. I don’t expect people to be perfect, but I do expect people to better themselves. Oddly, most attempts seem to bring out the worst rather than the best. In all honesty, I would have no trouble living as a hermit, perhaps that would be better for everyone.

Self defense

Every now and then, the debate over self defense starts up. In America we got fired up over the Trayvon Martin vs George Zimmerman case,

The Zimmerman/Martin case had two great issues that kept it in the news (because dozens of people in a country of 300 million are shot everyday). First, the two were of different races, and racial tensions are always headline grabbers. Second, there were no surviving witnesses other than the shooter, so the news media didn’t have to do the job of reporting reality, they were free to speculate.

In the end, a mixed race jury heard all the evidence and found George Zimmerman not guilty by reason of self defense. There are a number of important points there. The jury heard the evidence of Zimmerman’s activities that night. The fact that he has since proven himself to be a wanker had no bearing on his actions with Trayvon. The “stand your ground” law, which provides that you do not need to run away but may instead use deadly force to repel an attack has in fact been used successfully by black Floridians, disproportionately to the occurrences. The jury was made up entirely of women, who one would instinctively believe to be sympathetic to the victim, yet they saw enough evidence to believe that Zimmerman, who was advised by police to stay in his car, was indeed attacked.

Following this case, there was an uproar over another Florida case in which a woman was sentenced to twenty years in prison and hadn’t actually injured anyone. In this case, the “victim” was arguing with his wife, and said “If I can’t have you nobody can”. She pushed past him, possibly negating the seriousness of his threat, but when she got to her car she had forgotten her keys. Rather than continuing her escape on foot, she took a handgun and returned to the house, where she fired two “warning shots” in the direction of her husband and children. Under Florida law she was charged with assault with a firearm, which carries a mandatory twenty year sentence. The prosecutor offered her a plea deal in which she would serve three years, but she insisted she had done nothing wrong. The jury required twelve minutes to determine that she had indeed done something wrong, and the judge had no choice but to sentence her to spend twenty years in prison.

I don’t know if her attorney had counseled her to reject the plea deal, or if it was her idea. It is my opinion that prison is for people who cannot acknowledge their mistakes, and insisting she had done nothing wrong was a mistake worth seventeen years. A cynical person would say that failing to shoot her husband to death, leaving no contradicting witnesses, was her twenty year mistake. The prosecutor had offered the idea that firing towards her children was a three year mistake.

In a more recent case, every element of a self defense shooting with a racial component took place, but it has flown beneath the radar for the most part. possibly because the shooter has acknowledged his error.

Jonathan A. Ferrell, a former college football star, was driving home at 0230 when he had a serious one car accident. No need to jump to conclusions here, although this is the time of day that most accidents take place as the bars empty, Jonathan was working two jobs and may have been coming home after a long day. Apparently he didn’t have a cell phone, or perhaps the area was rural enough to have no signal. He walked a half mile to a neighborhood and started knocking on doors for help.

This is where I suggest that you give the benefit of doubt to the homeowner. It’s 0230, you’re asleep. Someone is “knocking” on your door, loud enough to wake you. At 0230 everyone is the same color, and this is a big man (ex football player), injured and probably a little frantic. He’s probably banging pretty loudly, and you’re a little scared. You dial 911.

The police arrive. Happy to see help arrive Jonathon runs towards them. They shout “stop”, but he either doesn’t hear them (over the sirens) or it never occurred to him that he was seen as a danger. Or maybe he was intoxicated and his judgement was flawed. The police attempt to tase him, but for some reason fail. Could have been equipment failure or a miss. Jonathon continues to approach.

Officer Randall Kerrick, a twenty seven year old who had only been on the force for two years, felt threatened, possibly because he believed Jonathan had not responded to being tased, or because Jonathan was a big man who continued to advance on armed officers after being ordered to stop, Kerrick opened fire. Kerrick emptied his pistol, either because he failed to stop Jonathan (of the twelve rounds fired, two missed entirely) or out of panic. It is not unusual for a frightened person to empty their weapon, often continuing to pull the trigger on an empty pistol aimed at a dead target.

Kerrick was charged with Manslaughter later in the day. He surrendered to authorities immediately, and the (black) Chief of police stated that Kerrick  “was shaken up, he’s devastated”. Jonathan’s mother has said she forgives Kerrick but hopes he is removed from the police department. Everyone seems to be handling the tragedy rationally, with the exception of the NAACP.

Defining what is and what is not self defense is not just an American problem. Tony Martin may be the most famous case, but self defense is essentially illegal in the UK. Recently in Nice, France, a sixty seven year old man was beaten and robbed with a shotgun. When he shot at the robbers, killing one, he was charged with murder. He was ineligible for Manslaughter, because the thieves had gotten away. Like when you’re playing tag, and touch home base, they were “free”. The brother of the slain thug said “After all, the old man had insurance”.

The value of self defense can only be judged by the survivor, I worked with a Detective Sargent for several years who heartily endorsed the practice of “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six”.

The radical element

Radicalism goes in and out of style, but regardless of the virtues of the cause, it tends to appeal to our basest instincts.

We can complain that Muslims in general do not denounce the actions of their radical elements, but I haven’t seen many Christians denouncing the “Westboro Baptist Church” (on the other hand, when a Christian even identifies his religion he’s accused of shoving his religion down your throat). The Occupy Wall Street crowd looked like fun, a generation or two removed from the American protest heydays of the sixties, but their lack of direction soon frustrated people looking for something to protest against. A number of “Occupy” websites have been co-opted by “Anti- Zionist” and “Pro Palestinian” fronts for Al-Qaeda looking to just generally disrupt society. Anarchy isn’t that appealing in practice, somebody has to make breakfast. Only history will decide if it’s the TEA party or the Obama sheeple that will carry the name “American Taliban”, but at least their violence is only carried out in living rooms across America.

Greenpeace, which bills itself today as “The leading independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful direct action and creative communication”, still remains a popular magnet for well meaning fools. “Direct Action” has been redefined from it’s origin as a euphemism for assassination into a tough sounding synonym for civil disobedience. Despite the fact that the original members of the terrorist group Action Directe have been working their way through life prison sentences since 1987, their name has some appeal to pseudo revolutionary poseurs.

As much as Greenpeace would like to be bad boys, they still come in crying when they scrape their knees. Most recently, after attempting to board a Russian drilling rig in the Barents Sea, they were arrested by the Russian Coast Guard. Yes, some people see attempting to board a sovereign vessel on the high seas as piracy. You will notice a media soft spot for these little rascals in the article linked above, the fact that their arrests were predicated by an assault on Russian property isn’t mentioned until the third paragraph. The whining of these practitioners of “Direct Action” continues in the portrayal of the coast guard as being members of the FSB, wearing balaclavas. Anyone not wearing a balaclava at sea inside the arctic circle is risking reprisal by mother nature, not mother Russia. As testament to their “harsh treatment”, the members of Greenpeace complained of being held in the galley. “Harsh” treatment would be being lashed to the mast in below freezing temperatures, I’m guessing it was relatively warm in the Galley.

Not to go over the top with insensitivity, but complaining that they were “held at gunpoint”? What tools would you expect a branch of the military to use in arresting pirates? On Greenpeace’s behalf, they have stated they think they were victims of an overreaction, “The word ‘Peace’ was written on the side of our boat in large letters”. Maybe if the Coast Guard would print “Вы под арестом” on their rifle barrels the trespassers would have taken it better.

Greenpeace is not the only whining revolutionaries. During the protests in both the Middle East and New York City, police have used tear gas. This has been decried as “inhumane”. Interesting thing about tear gas, if you leave the area where it is being used, it doesn’t bother you. Much more humane than the method it replaced, cracking skulls with billy clubs.

As much fun as it looks like, revolution is best left to the professionals. The police have more tools at their disposal, and can always go a step farther than you can. It’s a serious game, and there’s no crying allowed.

Still on the mount

Never wanting to leave a story unfinished, I’ve decided to continue with the “Sermon on the Mount”. I really want to get this out there because these are the fundamental teachings of Christianity, and most Christians don’t understand or even know them.

In the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus continues the lesson. He says “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven“. Do you hear that televangelists? Prayer is between the individual and God, it isn’t a performance piece.

He continues to reinforce the lesson, saying that attracting the attention of men will not attract the attention of God. The seventh verse, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking“, says you should be mindful of your words, reciting words is not a prayer. It is simply chanting.

This is where people become confused. Verses nine through fifteen are commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer”, or by those used to reciting words without meaning, the first two words of the prayer, “Our Father”. The important part is the first verse, “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name“. After this manner. He does not say “Use these words”, he has just said “Use not vain repetitions”. Understanding means understanding every word, not just “getting the gist of it”.

Then again in verses sixteen through eighteen he reinforces the lesson of not making your prayers for public recognition. It would occur to me that this must be a very important lesson, for him to repeat it three times in succession. He gives an analogy in verses nineteen through twenty one, “19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” You can see this as still pounding in the lesson. Most likely because he was attempting to reach people who had practiced the opposite all of their lives.

Now he builds into the next lesson. “22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” To bring this into my own “language”, I would reference “Rockman” from “The Point”. You see what you want to see. If you see darkness in people, that is all you will see, and if the darkness is inside you, everything will be dark.

And then, the focal point of this section. “24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Do not misunderstand. This has been the theme from the start of the chapter. He says you cannot serve both. You have to make one or the other your priority. In doing so, the following verses come naturally.

If you have decided to serve God, your life on Earth is secondary. God knows what you need and will provide it. Verses twenty five through thirty three explain the difference between what you need and what you may want. Finishing with “34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Do not worry about tomorrow, there is enough to deal with today.

You may not be here tomorrow anyway.

Suppression by expression

It is possible to suppress ideas by talking over them. If you tell the lie often enough, not only is the lie believed but the truth is forgotten. This is rarely recognized as censorship, but the result is the same. Magazines routinely “tailor” covers for their audience, in doing so they can bring a story to light, or hide an unpopular story.

time-covers

After the recent shooting on a Navy base in Washington, DC, the CNN anchor said she had never heard of a shooting at a military base. Faced with the overwhelming public response that only four years ago an Army doctor killed the same number of people and injured thirty more, CNN is now saying she had meant “in Washington”. In her defense, President Obama has declared the Ft. Hood shootings “Workplace violence”, even though the shooter insisted all the way through his trial and sentencing that he had done it to prevent those soldiers from going to Afghanistan where they would fight Al-Qaeda. Because it was workplace violence, the victims do not receive benefits for injuries suffered at the hands of the enemy, or receive purple hearts, and the story that there is no terrorism in America can stay intact. Yet for some reason we still need to intercept all domestic communications.

There are several issues with the Navy yard shooting, and while I will center my thoughts on that event, I will bounce around (as I always do) to related subjects.

As with any tragedy, the news media went into overdrive. Honestly folks, if you ever run into Wolf Blitzer, let him ask you a question and respond with “What the F*** does that have to do with anything?”. I get the impression that he is usually mining for misinformation. My favorite Wolf question from this event was “There are reports that the shooter was wearing a black shirt and black pants. Can you tell me what that indicates?” How about “he doesn’t have any white pets?”

The immediate speculation was that the shooter had an AR-15. This would be speculation by people who were in other states, as an AR-15 looks nothing like the Remington 870 shotgun (the weapon Joe Biden said should be in every home) the shooter actually used. Nonetheless, this tragedy will be used to promote gun control, specifically banning “assault rifles”.

The shooter was identified as a Muslim, when in fact he was a Buddhist. He was identified as a terrorist targeting whites, when in fact he was mentally ill and chose his targets at random, killing at least three blacks and an Oriental. Nonetheless, once started the rumor will continue, with conspiracy theorists linking to the early reports rather than the later corrections.

For some reason, anti gun groups have been clamoring that the incident disproves a statement made frequently by the NRA, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. I guess they don’t think the police are “good guys”. What this all does prove is the facts just don’t matter to these people.

Diane Feinstein has made the tactic of swearing to falsehoods her career. Among her more fantastic claims is “PTSD is a symptom of the Iraq war”, followed with “all veterans have PTSD”, therefore “all veterans should be denied gun permits”. Where to start? The story fits her narrative because if PTSD is a symptom of the Iraq war, then PTSD is Bush’s fault. Not only is this a statement of incredible ignorance and denial (PTSD has been seen since people started throwing rocks at each other, we called it “Battle fatigue”and “Shell shock”), it also excuses her own PTSD, suffered when she witnessed the shooting of George Moscone. If she has PTSD, and it is evidence to deny a gun permit, she would have to stop carrying that Glock 19 she has a permit for (and would like to ban citizens from owning).  But only veterans have PTSD, not only that, all veterans have PTSD. Oh the horrors those supply clerks in Kansas have seen…

Manipulating the media only works when you control all of the media, so Senator Feinstein would like the government to define who is and is not a journalist. If you are not a journalist, the first amendment doesn’t apply to you. Let me flesh that out. The right to free speech means that you may speak your opinion with impunity. The entire concept of a “shield law” is that some people are allowed impunity and others are not. Senator Feinstein would like to limit the people who it applies to even further than it is already limited.

I don’t mind so much that journalism has been reduced to coverage of who’s on “Dancing with the stars”. I am concerned by the prospect of no other information being available.

Wine

This isn’t really about wine, but uses wine as a metaphor. The references to wine are accurate, but I’m coming right out and telling you there is a subtext!

I enjoy wine, I always have. In high school, when everyone else was bringing beer to parties, I brought wine. Not cheap wine, although I probably wouldn’t drink it today, but relatively nice wines.

I had spent some years of my youth in California, had visited numerous wineries, and had some appreciation for wines well before I reached legal drinking age. I was perfectly capable of getting drunk, but preferred Jack Daniels on those occasions.

To me, wine represents the complexities of life. I am not as deeply involved as I once was, but I can still tell the grape, style and usually the region of origin with just a taste. I can tell the country of origin of the oak that was used, and sometimes I can recognize the forest the oak came from. I take wine seriously, But I don’t take drinking wine seriously.

When I worked at a winery, I was often asked “What’s the best wine”. The answer is “Whatever you enjoy”. Is broccoli better than carrots? It’s a matter of individual taste. I would find out what wines they liked, and would suggest wines for them to try based on their preferences. If they had no preferences, I would guide them through a tasting, and suggest wines that we made, and also wines they could find near home, based on their responses. To me, it wasn’t about selling a bottle, it was about developing an interest in wines. In the long term, the customer trusts your recommendations and buys more wine. If you just take a snob approach ad sell the customer something they don’t enjoy, they will be unlikely to return and try something else.

It’s about enjoying a food, not taking the proper medicine.

Personally, I enjoy wines from the Saint Émilion region. That is not to say I only drink Merlot, and in fact most domestic Merlot is incredibly bland to me. My favorite Pinot Noirs are from Oregon, not Burgundy, but my favorite Chardonnays are from Burgundy. Montrachets, and specifically Puligny Montrachet, is my measure of Chardonnay. I enjoy Rose wines, not white Zinfindel which has been processed beyond recognition, but damn near any other red grape fermented off the skin is worth trying. In sparking wines I prefer the Blanc de Noirs style, and if it isn’t produced in the classic méthode champenoise you will see the smile fade from my face after the first toast. Not that I don’t like Prosecco, it’s just not at the top of my list.

So having read that you would think me a wine snob. No, I just know what I like. I would never presume to know what you like, or to judge you by your preferences. I might make a judgement based on your snobbery.

Emma loved French wines, particularly Chateau Margaux. It wasn’t the wine, it was the history she loved. It took years for her to accept that a screw cap did not indicate the quality of the wine in the bottle. Coca cola applies a billion screw caps every day, have you ever seen one leak? Cheap corks leak all the time, and wine stored improperly will dry out even a good cork.

I loved making wine. I participated in every aspect, from harvesting grapes to bottling. When we produced sparkling wine I pushed carpel tunnel syndrome while riddling. The process, followed properly, is peaceful, and that sense of peace is somehow conveyed to the wine. Maybe that’s just an extension of my belief that love is the most important ingredient in food, but I can’t recall drinking good wine produced by a harried vintner.

 

 

Growing up

Last week I spent some time with a group from high school. Some of them had known each other since grade school, I had only spent my last two years there, and I was asked more than once “Where did you grow up?”. The answer that came to mind first was “Who said I grew up?” but the one I vocalized was “America”.

I was born in a hospital in Corsicana TX, my parents lived in Trinidad (1), in a company community serving the power station of Texas Power and Light, for whom my father was a chemist. I have several distinct memories of these years. My parents other son was born while we lived there, on reflection I realize that I could tell the that he wasn’t of this world. Many years later he told me the community no longer existed and had been flooded. A check of Google satellite shows that the homes are gone but the island is still there.

In another year we moved to Dallas TX, my father taking a job with Beckman Instruments. At first we lived in an apartment(2), where I managed to experience all the childhood diseases, among my memories are house calls by the doctor for my chicken pox. Then we moved to a house on Flaxley Dr.(3) not far from my maternal grandparents. Loads of memories from there, Kindergarten, first grade, half of second. Getting in trouble doing kid stuff, family, friends and church. Oddly, when you click on that link, it brings you to the exact house. one of those trees I had planted as a pecan from my paternal grandparents farm.

Christmas of 1966 we moved to Walnut Creek, CA,(4) the first of many moves caused by my father’s rise through his company. We lived in the shadow of Mt. Diablo, in an odd little community of British ex pats. Some of my friends parents still observed afternoon tea. We lived there for eight months. The most interesting eight months possible, including the “Summer of Love“, visiting relatives first tourist stop was the Haight.

In August we moved to what is now Tustin CA,(5) but was actually an unincorporated area at the time. Because of that, I ended up going to two different elementary schools, neither of which still exist. In fact, looking at Google Earth, the house I lived in has changed so much it may have been demolished and rebuilt. My parents divorced while we lived there, I had my first kiss, took piano lessons, leared saxophone and started on drums. After the divorce my mother and I, along with the alien, moved to an apartment(6) and I started junior high, then Mom got married and we moved to Ventura CA on Halloween. At first we lived in an apartment(7) just two blocks from the beach. I attended the same junior high as Kevin Costner. Mom and her new husband bought a house in Saticoy the summer before ninth grade, and for a few months we lived in a different apartment(8) in the keys, but Saticoy(9) was still in an area where I was bussed to the same junior high. I ended up at a different high school than my beach friends, oddly so had Kevin Costner. When I look at the google satellite of Saticoy it’s kind of sad, most of those neighborhoods were orange groves when I lived there, they were a great place to party.

My sister was born while I lived there, but my step father was getting to be more than I could handle, so I moved in with my father in Murray Hill, NJ.(10) I liked the east coast accent on girls, so even though I had a driver’s license in California but was too young in New Jersey, I’d get to drinking age first in New Jersey. This is the way a kid’s mind works, measuring benefits that never occur to their parents. I experienced all the “first” that young people experience during those years. I formed friendships that have lasted through now. After graduation, my father moved to Perth Amboy(11). I pretty much stayed in the house in Murray Hill, which hadn’t yet sold, and then one snowy morning decided to move back to California. I left the next day.

When I arrived in Ventura, where my mother had moved to a condominium, I lived with her(12) for a few months before getting an apartment(13) on “The Avenue”. This was far from the nicest section of town, a welfare housing project was across the street, but we had wonderful old hippie neighbors on our side of the street. After I was assaulted we decided to move anyway, this time to El Rio,(14) for an exceptionally earthy experience. We had a cute little house on a deep property with two other houses. I drove a converted mail truck, friends from New Jersey could visit safely.

Me and my van in El Rio

Me and my van in El Rio

My mom had moved to Las Vegas with her husband and my sister, things weren’t working out for them so Cindy and I found a larger place(15), just a few houses down from where I had first lived in the keys. It was nice being so close to the beach again, I finally decided to start college, and things looked stable for a few minutes. Then one day Cindy called me and said “I’m pregnant, I’m going home (Pennsylvania). My aunt has already arranged airline tickets, I’m leaving day after tomorrow”. I’m an old fashioned kind of guy, the idea of my child being born and living three thousand miles away was not an option, so I hooked up with a friend who was also moving East and we dragged our stuff across the country.

When I first arrived we lived with Cindy’s mother(16) until we could afford a little place(17) in Bloomsburg. College wasn’t going to happen, I found a decent job for the area and we saved enough to buy a little house overlooking the river(18). Bloomsburg is rural enough that there are no street views available on Google satellite. After a couple of years Cindy was pregnant again, and as nice as my job was, there was no way to support a family of four with a new house on it. The best choice available was the military, so I enlisted in the Air Force.

Basic Training was in San Antomio TX(19), and Technical school was at Lowry AFB(20) in CO. Cindy decided to rent out the house and join me in Colorado, so we rented a place in Aurora(21) while I finished school. We received our orders, and a couple of us ended up stationed at Offutt AFB, SAC HQ. We arrived at Offutt in time for our second child to be born there, after we had moved out of temporary quarters(22) and into base housing(23).

My story takes a fork here, there is the official version and the classified version. You’ll be getting the official version, with a bit of the other to kick it off. I was approached with an opportunity that would involve a little travel and no uniforms. I would receive an honorable discharge but it would be recorded that I lost my security clearance.

Cindy and I moved off base(24) to a nice house in a neighborhood that was rebuilding. Then we moved to Dallas TX, living with my aunts (first one(25), then the other(26)) until we determined we would stay in the Dallas area after our third child was born. We moved into an apartment complex(27), where Cindy was able to take the position of manager after a few months, and we moved into the management apartment(28). There are few things worse than moving your entire household one hundred yards. I worked for the City of Dallas, and spent a lot of time away from home. Cindy got bored and decided to have an affair with one of the tenants, so I moved in with a coworker(29) (who happened to be female, but we had separate bedrooms) while Cindy and I figured out what we were going to do. It appeared it was going to take a while, so my coworker and I decided to rent a nicer condo(30).

I got another call from Cindy. She was taking the kids to live in Pennsylvania, her aunt had already purchased the airline tickets. Certain things never change, I helped pack everything and moved up to Pennsylvania with her. We lived with her mother at first(31), until we were able to find a place in town(32). At that point, she basically said “Thanks for the ride and all your money and credit, you can go now”. That was over twenty five years ago, I’ve gotten over it, but for some reason she’s still angry. I moved into a long term hotel (33), but there was nothing to work out, so I followed a coworker to Wildwood NJ where there were plentiful summer jobs. I took an apartment(34) and stayed the summer, then moved to Bryn Mawr PA with the woman who had been a coworker, became a girlfriend, and later became my wife. She was living in the dorms of Combs College of Music, and for a while I assumed a female persona so I could live there(35). After a few months I found an apartment(36) in Lansdowne PA, and I took a job at the SPCA and then the police department. After a few years Paula became pregnant, so we moved to another apartment in the building (37) (I hadn’t learned the lesson in Dallas, now I had a piano) and then about a year later we took an apartment(38) in Aldan. Paula wasn’t crazy about the neighbors, so we ended up moving again, this time to a house(39) in Prospect Park.

Paula and I were decreasingly happy with each other, so I moved to an apartment(40) in nearby Wilmington DE just off the shore of the Delaware river. I met a woman from Bensalem PA and rented an apartment(41) there. We eventually moved in together (42), and found yet another apartment (43) before we broke up. I shared an apartment in Warminster, PA (44) before moving in with an old friend in Lansdowne (45). When my friend realized that we were just friend and I was not going to marry her, I moved to South Philadelphia (46).

Shortly after that I met Emma. I moved to her apartment(47) in Crum Lynne, PA where we lived for a few years, until an unfortunate incident which caused us to move back to South Philly, first living with her brother (48) and then to an apartment on Tenth and Wolf(49).

That was supposed to be it, but Emma died. I had intended to finish my days in that apartment, but then I met Lieve, and moved to Princeton(50). A couple of things made us decide that we wanted to have a place we could call “ours”, with no ghosts of our pasts, so we currently live next door to the Governor(51). It’s a nice place, he doesn’t invite us to any parties, but we can sit in the yard and listen to the music. Eventually, we’ll move again, Belgium is certainly in our future, and as long as I can keep the number of my addresses lower than the number of my years. I’m comfortable.

Home is where you wear your hat.

Is education over rated?

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. Jaden Pinkett Smith shared his views on education recently. As a well educated and successful young man, his views are certainly worth considering by his peers, that is to say, all the other fourteen years olds with a net worth of eight million dollars who intend to live with their parents for the next thirty years. In other words, he could save his discussion for dinner.

He also stated that he would like to be “emancipated” for his fifteenth birthday (not legal). Again, not because he wants to leave home, because “everything at home is free”. Apparently his education has not provided him with the common definition of emancipation.

I have some level of admiration for Jaden’s father, Will Smith, and I choose to believe that Will is letting Jaden make an ass of himself as part of a larger lesson. Millions of parents are no doubt thankful to Will, for all the conversations they will have with their children which begin with “I don’t need to go to school, Jaden Smith said it’s mind control”.

After every election, I hear from the winning party how their members are better educated. Defined as “Well they voted for the winning (and therefore intellectually superior) candidate”, that statement is true. That’s not my definition of education, but then I’m not a politician. Somehow, Republicans were better educated in 2004, and Democrats were better educated in 2008. Yet the Democrats blame the Bush administration as being “anti-education”, so how did they become better educated during his terms?

By now you’ve figured out that it all depends on your definition of education. If you agree with me, you’re well educated, if you disagree you’re the product of inbreeding.

“Formal education” should be teaching students how to think. Unfortunately, the process has become bogged down in a results oriented society, and the measure of “education” became test results. How to think took second place to what to think. If you can pass the tests, you are deemed educated, when all you have done is memorize a list of test answers.

At the same time, these “educated” people are unable to actually “think”. Their education became less meaningful. Jobs that were previously performed by high school graduates now require a bachelors degree. “Experience” has been refined to mean “Have you done precisely these functions in the past” rather than “have you demonstrated flexibility in learning variations of your training?”. We have become, in many ways, a society of robots. A degree certifies that you invested money in a school, and attended classes. It does not indicate that you actually learned anything.

So in some ways, I agree with Jaden. Schools are not doing their jobs of educating people. But dropping out is not the answer. A little bit of knowledge is better than no knowledge at all.

Part of thinking is knowing that you do not know everything. Jaden has failed there. He is not alone. Knowing that nobody knows everything, that you should evaluate and compare information, as well as knowing how to evaluate information, is the basis of actually thinking. As I said earlier, education no longer teaches thinking, it teaches memorizing. So in the sense that we still believe that accomplishment of higher education creates higher intelligence, formal education is indeed over rated.

The truly educated never “graduate”. Education never ends, survival requires adaptation, which requires constant learning.

Burnout

At one point, it was very convenient to throw a “Cup o’ soup”, an apple, and a piece of cheese in my briefcase everyday for lunch. After about a year of that I noticed I couldn’t tell the difference between the ramen in the cup o’ soup and the styrofoam cup itself.

Burnout can occur in any activity. Ideally, you move on to something else. In a worst case, there are no alternatives and depression takes hold. The ” traumatic stress” in post traumatic stress disorder can be the stress of inescapable burnout.

In my life, I have had the opportunity to turn the page. I know how to pace myself both physically and emotionally. In the case of natural disaster victims, there are no choices. The same can apply to the volunteers helping at disasters. Some can pace themselves, some burnout and step away, and some are so invested that they cannot step away.

The victims of superstorm Sandy are still dealing with the effects of the storm, which occurred 29 October 2012, over eight months ago.

bridge

The Mantoloking bridge

Mantoloking was one of the locations where the bay met the ocean, eliminating the island and everything on it. The flooding was widespread, most of the island submerged for days.

033371-storm

When the water receded, the cleanup began. First were the volunteers just bringing in food. In some locations broken gas lines caused fires, and entire neighborhoods burned. Keep in mind, it was the beginning of November in the Northeast, sleeping in a tent in the backyard (if the backyard doesn’t have someone elses house in it) was out of the question.

Find a place in this story and try and imagine it. Your home is gone. Your street is gone. Your employer is gone. Everything you own is gone. You’re a volunteer and the lines of needy are unending. You need to get back to your own home which suffered some damage even though you live fifty miles from the shore. You need to get back to your job, but the victims are still hungry, homeless, and seemingly infinite.

Give it a few months, It’s January in New Jersey. The Red Cross has finished its emergency mission and moved on. Local volunteers are exhausted, the strong ones are still coming on the weekends. The carpet baggers have been through, scamming those with insurance out of their settlements. It’s cold and desolate, and the things that usually get you through this time of year are somewhere in the Atlantic. Depending on where you had lived, you are now in either a deserted neighborhood plagued by looters, a temporary shelter because your house was destroyed, or in a temporary shelter because you have not yet been allowed to return to your neighborhood. Merry Christmas.

Two months later now. February. You’ve been allowed to return to your neighborhood, to find your home A) one of the isolated surviving structures, filled with moldy furniture and clothing, several inches of mud in your living room, and all of your electronics destroyed, B) Damaged but repairable, but all of your possessions are gone or destroyed, C) Damaged beyond repair, or D) Missing. Either way, you still owe your property taxes for the year. Depending on your home loan and insurance, you may have to elevate your home to rebuild and receive flood insurance. Elevating a home is expensive and there are only a few contractors who can do it. There are several con artists who will take your money, and if you’re lucky they’ll run. If you’re not lucky they’ll start the work and destroy what was left of your home.

Two more months. April. You haven’t been able to work since Halloween, but your taxes are due. The weather is getting better, you’re thinking about the tourist season, and if there will be any tourists. The motels are packed with workers rebuilding the businesses, where are the tourists and seasonal workers going to stay? It’s been six months since the storm, the volunteers are thinning out, getting on with their lives. In the rest of he world their are other natural disasters, you fade from public memory. The politicians who had been praised for quick responses during the emergency are now being blamed for not draining the ocean.

Five vacant lots to the beach, five blocks wide.

Eight vacant lots to the beach, five blocks wide.

June arrives. The boardwalk has been rebuilt (not in your neighborhood, but at the amusement piers), but most of the beaches can’t open. Many of the damaged homes were rental properties, and the hotels are still full of construction workers, so there is little overnight tourism, and the weather isn’t the very best it could be. The complaints are starting to increase, a snowball effect that slows everything. Most of the residential streets still aren’t clear, and even the main roads are still detoured. A line of hurricanes in Oklahoma last month have erased the effects of Sandy from the public mind as they race to assist those victims. Still, houses on your block are mere piles of rubble, and the wait for building permits from an overwhelmed inspection office is months long.

August, the height of tourist season. You’re at the end of the block, because the five houses closer to the beach have finally been removed. The street ends next door, even though it used to run another hundred yard to intersect with another street, which was last seen last fall. A couple of other houses have been finished, standing out starkly on the moonscape that was once your neighborhood. Because your street is now a cul-de-sac, it is blocked off at the main road. The volunteers are gone, although sometimes on the weekends people come through to clean up a lot. The police still patrol constantly as looters still search for anything of value. You’re paying property taxes on a property that you can neither inhabit nor sell.

Mid September. After a lackluster tourist season, a fire breaks out on the boardwalk. Fifty four businesses that were barely breaking even are destroyed. Several blocks of boardwalk burn, and the progress of the fire is slowed by tearing out sections of new boardwalk.

Seaside Heights boardwalk, 12 September 2013

Seaside Heights boardwalk, 12 September 2013

Do you throw in the towel? If you have one?

Not if this is your home.

You weather it out. The people stand together, pick up the pieces, and continue to rebuild. The residents from the shore, the volunteers from all over the state, and the friends of these people are a family. Family doesn’t give up.

This last week a former New Jersey resident brought his friends from Iowa and Ohio, met up with friends from High School, and made new friends rebuilding houses and clearing lots at the shore. We saw desperation and burnout, and the joy that fresh faces bring.

We are family. Not because of our parents or our homes, but because of our spirits. The team that met forty years ago in New Providence brought hope to Ortley Beach, a commodity much more precious than hammers and nails. Our payment was far more valuable than the lodging and meals that were graciously provided. Our payment was the joy that we brought and shared with the people of Ortley Beach.

There’s still work to be done, come on down and join the family.

Enemies

It’s comfortable to live in a black and white world, but even with that there are shades of grey that provide definition. We tend to see good and bad, friend and enemy, liberal and conservative as opposites, like black and white. In our hearts we know differently.

I tend away from favorites. Last week a friend asked what my favorite Beatles song was, I had no answer. I can’t say my favorite food or wine or beer, it depends on the moment. I try to appreciate all the facets of the things I enjoy, and by looking at life in that manner, I often find facets that are positive in things I don’t generally like.

The fifth chapter of Matthew illustrates this point. Matthew is my favorite book of the Bible, and this is one of my favorite chapters, because it contains so many of my favorite verses. It is part of what is commonly referred to as “The sermon on the mount” (along with chapters six and seven). I’m going to work from this chapter today, not in linear order but by cross referencing the verses.

I want to start near the end, the summation of this lesson, verses 43 and 44, what I believe is the center of Christ’s teachings. “43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

In these verses, it is clearly stated “That was then, this is now”, “Love everyone”, and “What matters is not who loves you, but who you love”.

Reinforcing this is verse 45, “45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

From this I take that our Earthly existence is as equals. The sun shines and the rain falls on all of us. Illnesses and disasters are not punishments from God, “Good fortune” is not his reward. These things are only elements of life, how we deal with them will be the measure by which God judges us after this life.

The remaining verses of the chapter explain once again the logic of the lesson, “46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Two translations here. “Publicans” were the tax collectors, “Perfect” is taken to mean “Complete”. Other Biblical translations use different words in those places, this is the King James Version, which I always use to remain consistent throughout my writing.

The chapter had started by addressing the crowd, and identifying them as special. Not as a crowd, but as individuals, various shades of grey. The verses (two through eleven) that begin with “Blessed are the…” are in this section.

The next section (verses twelve through sixteen) speaks his message, starting with “12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” In simplest terms, your reward is not on Earth, but in heaven. He also states that the message is to be shared, by remaining true to the virtues of the lesson “15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

Then, he separates the Old Testament from the New. Not by destroying the old, but by fulfilling the prophecies of a new teacher. “17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” This is important to reflect upon. Many people reject the Bible because they say it contradicts itself. Jesus is merely fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament, refining the message for a “modern” audience.

The next part includes what I interpret as the quality of mercy, “19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Failing to be “perfect” may not mean failure to enter heaven. But it should not be considered a good thing to see how much you can get away with.

This is followed by several verses giving thought to the concepts of responsibility, forgiveness, and shades of grey. Some of the most misunderstood verses are these “31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” The example here is about the responsibility of the male. When you cast away someone who has not done you harm, their reaction is your responsibility.

He finishes with a message about charity. “42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” I justify my lack of absolute adherence to this teaching by saying “I can only give so much”, but the message is we are not to determine need, but give when asked. Today, we are so overwhelmed by need that we can pick and choose to whom we give, That should not prevent us from giving freely. You will be taken advantage of, your charity will be abused, but God isn’t interested in that. In the final measure, you will be judged by your charity. Those that abused your charity will be judged for their actions. Taken with verses 31 and 32, abusing charity prevents those with need from receiving charity.

If you interpret the Bible with love in your heart, it is easy to see the love in the messages. If you do not have love within you, you will not understand, you will interpret the verses to suit your desires. This is the message of earlier verses, “23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.” Read that as a parable, you do not know the number of your days, or when you may face judgement.

You are not expected to be without flaw, you are expected to do your best despite your flaws.

Jersey Strong

Lieve was saying as we were getting ready this morning how she didn’t understand the phrase “Noun” Strong. America Strong, Jersey Strong, it just didn’t sound right. I explained that the noun is taken as an adjective, replacing “very” or “extremely”.

I dropped her off at work and headed to Ortley Beach, near Seaside Heights, NJ. I’ve been there most of the week with some friends from High School, rebuilding some of the damage from Superstorm Sandy. Yeah, that big storm last year. Had I not known how bad it had been, I would have thought nothing had been done.

Seaside Heights

Seaside Heights

When I was in High School, Seaside Heights was where we went at the shore (the beach for the rest of the world). I never liked roller coasters, and I had thought this one was too rickety thirty eight years ago, but it held together while the pier it had been on was destroyed.

These shore points are actually on a barrier island, at some points during the storm the ocean met the bay behind the island, the island just disappeared. My friend ran a marina that no longer exists. Everything is gone. Including his job. Homes were picked up and carried away. Sand washed over everything, and the high water line at one person’s house that we were working on was at my eye level. Residents were not allowed to return to their homes for months, often discovering that their home no longer existed, or was a pile of rubble. As the highway crews came through to demolish homes that were in the street, some folks were surprised to return a second time to find their house missing. It had moved far enough to block traffic and had been destroyed between visits.

The boardwalk in Seaside heights was rebuilt and opened on Memorial day, seven months after the storm, but the neighborhoods are still a disaster. In many cases these properties are second homes or income property, and with the economy in the shape it is, repairs were not high on the list of priorities. A lot of people, however, lived at the shore, either because it was where they made their living (for the ten weeks of tourist season every year), or because they had retired to the shore. We’re not talking about well off people, we’re talking about people who were just clinging on before the storm.

We’ve made some great friends. While we were working on one project we met a woman from down the block, Carolina, who said her husband, Cosimo, could use a little help. These two are in their seventies and were rebuilding by themselves.

before

Before

Cosimo was going to rebuild the front of his house by himself. We weren’t going to let that happen. By the end of the next day we had completed the walls, and installed windows that my friend Tim (more on Tim later) had brought from Iowa.

after

After

We got to know Cosimo and Carolina, and tomorrow we’ll be finishing up the roof. We were able to help with some of the red tape and get their electrical inspection completed. The Mayor came by to visit, and when we found out that today (Thursday 12 September) is their fiftieth wedding anniversary the Mayor arranged for them to have dinner at a nice restaurant in town.

Cosimo and Carolina

Cosimo and Carolina with electrical inspection

This mission was organized by my friend Tim Sickel. Tim lost everything in Hurricane Andrew, and has spent his life helping people rebuild after disasters ever since. He put together a group to rebuild in Joplin MO a few years ago, and I was able to get a friend I have in Joplin to meet and work with his group. Tim knows that we are all one big family, and although once in a blue moon people fail to appreciate his kindness (he was sued by the family of a child he had rescued from drowning, because he had broken the boy’s ribs when giving CPR) but usually kindness is met with kindness. Carolina made a wonderful lunch for all of us one day.

The 11 September volunteers with Cosimo, Carolina, and the Mayor

The 11 September volunteers with Cosimo, Carolina, and the Mayor

Today while we were working on a house we noticed the smell of smoke and heard some fire engines. Then we heard some more fire engines, Then we noticed a smokey haze everywhere.

Smoke from Seaside Heights

Smoke from Seaside Heights

A fire had started in an ice cream shop on the south end of the boardwalk. The wind was blowing North at about thirty Mph. The freshly rebuilt boardwalk and at least twenty buildings are still on fire as I write this, four hours later. When I picked up Lieve, she could smell the smoke on my clothes.

Seaside Heights boardwalk, 12 September 2013

Seaside Heights boardwalk, 12 September 2013

The latest reports have the fire at ten alarms. Portions of the boardwalk were torn out to create fire breaks, but the wind just carries embers down the street. With all the debris and building materials in the area, this has the capability of going catastrophic.

I’ll be going down with Lieve in the morning, she was able to sell the idea of  a day off for volunteering to her director, who is a strong supporter of the “Jersey Strong” campaign. We will continue to rebuild from the last disaster while the current disaster is being assessed.

Seaside Heights survived “Snookie” and “MTV’s Jersey Shore”, it survived Superstorm Sandy and it will survive this horrific fire. That’s what Jersey Strong means.

The life of this author

When I was working on my first book, my wife made a T shirt for me. On the front is a quill, on the back “Writer at work” is written in red letters. Being married to a graphic artist is filled with such things. I wear the shirt when I am not writing, attempting to share the idea that a large part of writing takes place away from the keyboard. As I think about it, a large part of my time at the keyboard is not putting words together, but doing research and confirming sources.

Some of my best poetry came to me when I was mowing the lawn. Complex plots occur while I’m in the shower. Watching the network news or a cardinal in the garden have similar, often annoying, results (Rascal sets the birds into warning mode), as my blood pressure rises and my mind clears. Noticing the ironies and inconsistencies in society are hard things to miss, my problems stem from realizing that there is no cure, I survive by knowing there isn’t supposed to be.

My full time job is “House husband”, one of my more enjoyable vocations. I’m not a huge fan of the vacuum cleaner, but I actually enjoy doing the laundry, and cooking is pure joy (The other day I made falafel stuffed peppers, and falafel patties with guacamole for dinner, and banana bread). Shopping is dangerous, I always want to try new recipes or ingredients, usually successfully, always a learning experience. Caring for the cats is interesting, their microcosm of society always a curious blend of passive aggressive behaviors.

I spend my days wondering how people can be so mean to each other. Maybe not so much how as why. I know how. I’ve known people who couldn’t learn from their own mistakes, usually because they can’t admit to their own mistakes. I used to think such people were stupid, or masochists. Now it occurs to me that such people are the catalysts for the rest of us to do better. I no longer pity the wankers, I’m thankful for them.

When my grandfather was very young, shotgun shells used black powder, prior to the popular use of smokeless powder, or “cordite”. As kids, they would open shotgun shells, place the powder in their hand, and ignite it. The powder would flash, like an old time camera flash. Black powder essentially explodes, leaving little residue. When the first kid with a cordite shell tried igniting the powder, it just burned. Right into the kid’s hand. My grandfather said other kids tried it (I suspect not too many), but seeing the first one was enough for him. He would tell that story when talking about learning from your own mistakes. He had gone one better, learning from other people’s mistakes.

There are some people, however, who learn from their mistakes, but what they learn is the wrong lesson. Every new technology manages to be turned into a weapon, positive ideas are used to mask evil, pain motivates as much if not more than love. So we just have to speak louder. I honestly believe there are more of us than them, so why allow them any time in the spotlight?

So I’ve spent much of my life learning. That’s what a writer does. I made plenty of mistakes of my own, and I spent a lot of time listening and reading. I assembled a huge inventory of stories, with a lesson inside each. I’ve tried to guide others with the lessons within their own lives. When someone asked the other night “How long have you been writing?”, I said “Three years”. In reality, I’ve always been writing.

The God of Politics

I’ve recently completed  series on religions, examining spirituality, and I realized there was  God I had left out.

Who is more dangerous, the leader who sends people into a war, or the bully who thinks he can just launch a few missiles? Has lobbing a few missiles ever resolved an issue, other than displaying  the impotency of the leader launching them? Isn’t that what we vilify Iran and North Korea for?

Our present Demigod started out as a demagog (that sounded so poetic I just had to use it). Having built his castle by appealing to common prejudices, he found that not only did he believe he was a God, so did his followers. He could do no wrong in their eyes, even when his dog rated an extra aircraft to Maine. Of course there were people on the plane, that doesn’t alter the fact that were it not for the dog, there would have been one aircraft. This during the “crippling sequester”, which has left servicemen on the front lines without hot meals. Oh, that’s not budget cuts, that’s due to the reduction in troops. Really? Never happened before.

linc

He’s done really well appealing to the lowest common denominator. Class warfare worked really well, until it became evident he was more interested in the war than the solution. Feeding racial tensions was a winner, but it wasn’t as easy a sell when the victims were white. “If I had a son, he’d kill a stranger out of boredom” didn’t go over in middle America. Fortunately for him, that “lowest common denominator” also has the memory of a goldfish.

A comedian I once knew would respond to hecklers with “Go ahead and walk out, I already got your money!”. Our current President appears to be at the point he is saying the same to us. It doesn’t matter if he can convince us that the United States should intervene where the United Nations will not. It doesn’t matter if Congress votes against military action. He’s under the impression he can do it anyway, and what are you going to do about it?

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In the web of lies, a petition was created to “Stop Assad”. Signers number in the dozens. “Syrians are killing Syrians. Click here to support President Obama’s plan to send Americans to kill Syrians, so Syrians can kill Americans”. Despite overwhelming rejection of his plan to get involved in another war, the President continues to press his case. Remember when the President of the United States’ “case” was the interests of the American people?

Consider this. Last summer, the military changed it’s rules about women in combat. Last month, congressman Charles Rangel began his campaign to reinstate the draft. Anyone having trouble with the math? After two unpopular wars and consistent degradation of the military spirit, and facing a war in which public support is at an all time low, little Susie will have the opportunity to be the first one on her block to come home in a box.

A recent statement by Vladimir Putin, suggesting a diplomatic response, has received the following comment: “So is it possible, that the threat of retaliation from our President, for the use of chemical weapons was actually used as a ruse to prompt the Russians into engaging the Syrians into defusing their chemical weapons stockpile? …if so, well played President Obama!” The apologists never give up. Diplomacy was never part of Obama’s strategy, he opened with threats and was backed into a corner when his bluff was called.

Last night, President Obama spoke to the nation, promising there would be no American boots in Syria, despite the fact there already are. I’m sure some people believed him. He was late taking the stage, gathering public opinion up to the last minute, and he appeared to be relieved to have some breathing room. Perhaps his most foolish statement was when he said “We have to take action, that’s what makes America different”. Any Cowboy stereotypes need to be reinforced? I thought what made us different was our following procedure, staying within international law. Right now the only stereotype he’s representing is poseur, all hat and no cattle.

With time perhaps we’ll locate the truth. Credible reports are stating to come in that the entire chemical attack was staged. Motive? I can think of three possibilities. 1) Assad used WMDs using untraceable sources to hide his involvement. 2) Rebels used WMDs against their own people to cross Obama’s red line and get the support of America. 3) Rebels possessed WMDs and accidentally contaminated themselves.

Actually, I support invading Syria. An invasion force led in person by Barack Obama, waving a flag, followed by all the congresspeople who voted for intervention.

After that, maybe the UN could do its job of enforcing the Geneva Protocols, as they have for almost one hundred years.

My 11 September story

I live in the Northeast, the events of 11 September 2001 hit very close to home. I knew people who died, I know people who survived, thankfully I was one hundred miles away.

I finished High school in Northern New Jersey, and would take the train into Manhattan often. The World Trade Centers were new then, I did the touristy thing and walked on the rooftops, I took my mother there when she visited from California, I ate and drank at “Windows on the World” a couple of times. Emma’s first husband (who was a good deal older than she) had been a steelworker, and had worked on the construction of the towers. That is the past.

On the morning of 11 September 2001 I was living in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I had stopped driving due to a pesky exacerbation of multiple sclerosis and took the train into Philadelphia each day. My office was in the Philadelphia version of twin towers, “Liberty Place” a matched pair of seventy story buildings.

I was doing some research at my desk when I noticed a crowd down the hall. There were monitors on “junction floors” where you would have to change elevators, and the crowd was silently watching one of the monitors. I walked down to see the initial reports on CNN of a plane striking one of the twin towers.

My friend Brandt was there, he said “they’re not sure if it was an accident”. I knew enough about flight paths and altitudes to know that it wasn’t. Moments later the second plane impacted. I looked at Brandt and said “Still not sure?”. My pager was beeping and my phone was ringing. The fax machine at the FAA office in the airport had failed. Things were happening too fast to consider repair, and my manager wanted to know if I had a spare to send with a technician to the airport. I told him he could have mine.

I was making arrangements with the technician, Anonxai, when we were interrupted by our manager who told us the city was being evacuated and it would be quicker to pick up the machine at the branch due to the traffic. I was a little bummed out, because I was hoping Anonxai would be able to drop me off at home, which was near the airport. A third plane had crashed in Washington DC, early reports were fuzzy about the exact target. I remember saying to my manager “Remember this name, Osama bin Laden. I’m getting out of here.”

I decided to call my mother in California, she was up and watching the news. My buildings were nothing like the World Trade Centers, but I wanted to let her know that I was okay. While we were talking the first tower collapsed. I will never forget the sound of her voice, the hollowness. “Now there’s only one World Trade Center” she said. She has pictures of us standing together atop a building that no longer existed.

I got to the train station and it was packed. Amtrak had already shut down, and it was pretty clear the regional lines would be following before the next train was scheduled. The subway was still running so I took it out to Upper Darby, where I could catch a trolley to Sharon Hill. While I was on the trolley the driver received a message to leave the car at the Sharon Hill station, all rail service was being suspended. From Sharon Hill I was able to catch a bus home. The trip took about three hours, normally it took forty five minutes on the train.

Emma and I watched the news, saw the people trapped in Manhattan, the videos of the people jumping from the towers before they collapsed, some hand in hand. We heard about the fourth plane, that story wasn’t sorted out for days.

All air traffic had been grounded before the first tower had collapsed, before Anonxai reached the airport. Several co workers had been at a conference and had been in the air returning home. They were scattered around the country, one landed in Pittsburgh, and rented a car to finish the trip. Others were stuck for days or took Amtrak before air traffic was restored.

We had about one hundred employees in the towers, four didn’t make it out. My friend Ed decided to get coffee at the last minute, before getting on the elevator. The first plane hit, and he decided to get out. My friend Carl, who was always late, had an interview on the 102nd floor at 0900. He was on the Path train when the first plane hit.

In the two days after the attacks, there were no aircraft flying, and the first few planes were surprising. Odd how quickly we became used to the silence. A friend was in the Caribbean, and apparently his flight back was manned by the military rather than stewardesses. His descriptions of inflight services were funny. Two years later, Emma and I lived on 10th street in South Philly, which was the flight path for a formation of A-10’s flying over the Army Navy game. I found Emma under the bed.

In the years since I have found myself at the Pentagon, and the memorial in Shanksville PA for flight 93. I finally visited Manhattan in 2009, and have been back a few times, but I’m just not ready to see the memorials at the site of the towers yet.

My American Dream

I saw on the news the other morning a story about two young men in Texas. I was writing as I listened to it, so I didn’t look up to see the story at first, but I always like to see video from Texas so I took a break and watched.

The two young men had seen a woman in a car, and she mouthed the words “Help Me”. They thought something looked suspicious so they called 911 and kept the car in sight until the police could arrive. The woman had been kidnapped at gunpoint, and was rescued by the police. The driver of the car she was in is in custody.

I thought it was a nice story of two responsible teenagers, and some beautiful footage of Texas, then they showed the two friends, and you could tell they were quite good friends by their body language. One was white, the other black. In rural Texas. Stuff your stereotypes about Texans, wankers of America.

I was driving down to the shore later, and passed through Lakewood, New Jersey. A quiet little town along route 9, medium income from the looks of it. I stopped for gas, civilians are not allowed to pump gas in New Jersey so the station owner, a friendly Pakistani gentleman filled the tank. As I drove on I noticed that there was a very large Hasidim presence. It was Rosh Hashana, and there were cute kids in their black suits and hats, due to the holiday they were everywhere. There were other people around to, Whites, Hispanics, Blacks going in and out of the little strip malls, a huge synagog across the corner from a Catholic hospital. Everyone just getting on with life.

I know there are plenty of wankers out there, there are plenty who think hate is funny, spreading their hate with joy. There is hate in every corner of  the world, a great deal of uninformed prejudice. Miserable people who can only share their misery, who spew hatred without thought, but are the first to take offense at anything. I think of the words of Aunt Em in the Wizard of Oz when it comes to them, “Almira Gulch, for twenty-three years I’ve been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now…well, being a Christian woman, I can’t say it!”

The rest of us are just getting on with life.

National Public Radio posts stories on Facebook, with a link back to their website. It’s typically the case that the comments on the Facebook posts are by people who didn’t click the link and read the article, they’ve made up the article for themselves from the headline. On the National Public Radio site, while there is a standard deviation, most comments are intelligent and thoughtful, and conversations result in one or both parties learning something new. I tend to look at the differences the same article can generate as directly related to the media in which they are seen. The Facebook crowd by and large can’t handle more than a headline, those that can handle reading the entire story speak on the National Public Radio site.

Those wankers who can only handle the headline, and not always understand it, are not the majority. They are the loudest. They stand out because they’re wankers. It’s the only thing even remotely interesting about them.

The rest of us are much more boring. People getting along with each other just doesn’t sell papers. So the news media presents this view of America as a bunch of wankers. Being isolated as they are from society, I’m sure the media types really believe that it is a representative sample of America. And the wankers watching are reaffirmed that it is they who are normal. Thus, Honey Boo Boo.

There will always be racism, it is human to be wary of differences. This is an evolutionary trait, sickly and deformed infants were killed, and their genes went with them. Today they get a cable series. But the enlightened human learns that they don’t need to kill the tribe next door because they wear funny hats. Morgan Freeman has said, “The best way to end racism is to stop talking about it”. Not talking about it doesn’t end racism, but it does end racists.

I think we’re doing a lot better than the media lets on. The wankers will see what they want to see, instead of what is really happening, so why talk about them? This dream is coming true.

Religions, Chapter five “What is God”

The previous chapters, Religions, Islam, Eastern Religions, and “Others”, may be viewed by clicking those links.

Having reviewed the major religions of the world, we have (I hope) seen the similarities at their cores. Most common is a belief, or faith, in a higher being, “God” or “Gods”. These God concepts may differ in manifestation, but one commonality is love, God’s benevolent love of mankind, and the teaching that we should love each other, and love ourselves.

So why do differences in religion generate so much hatred?

Most people are raised in a religion, and taught its ways through childhood. Whether they agree with the religion or not, they accept these teaching as “fact” (with the exception of Atheism, which I’ll get to later). Anyone challenging those facts, directly or indirectly, is challenging their childhood. You’ve probably known people who have abandoned their faith, but still defend it. So it’s not difficult to understand how people who don’t understand the nonviolent nature of their faith will kill to defend it.

Every religion I have studied tells its followers to share their religion. If you live life as a Buddhist, you share your values with others. No religion that I have studied advocates in their sacred teachings to force others to convert to that religion. This is where organized religions slip away from their roots. Catholics have had forced conversions, Muslims have chosen to kill non believers, Jehovah’s Witnesses have bored many people nearly to death, but the actual scriptures of these religions teach respect for other beliefs.

It is the human element, the ego, that chooses to interpret ancient texts to justify actions rather than be a guide to actions. It is the charismatic element, religious leaders, who guide the uninformed away from the path laid out by the foundations of a religion. If a belief system is based on faith, how does forcing someone to accept it allow for free will? No God says “believe in me or die”, but many say “believe in me or I will not be there for you when you die”. Only the weak minded will believe by force, and it is the weak minded who attempt to convert by force.

One of my favorite moments in the television program “Seinfeld” is when one character, an Atheist, is in a relationship with a Christian. When she challenges the Christian with “Why aren’t you angry with me?” he nonchalantly replies “What do I care? You’re the one going to hell”.

Atheists, by and large, seek justification for their refusal to believe in God. They routinely (not always, I have known more enlightened Atheists) will practice their belief by insulting the faith of Theists as lacking in intelligence. “Faith” has a meaning. It does not mean “proven”, it means “believed”. My wife is an Atheist, and her motto is “I’ll do my thing, you do yours”, I try to take a similar approach with her. What do I care, she’s the one going to hell.

Most Atheists will insist that Atheism is not a religion. It most certainly is. It is faith that God does not exist. A negative (God does not exist) cannot be proven, so it is faith. Atheists tend to be rebelling against a particular religion (quite obvious when you see them react to being identified as a religion), most often because they are rebelling against authority, they didn’t like being told how to behave, Nonetheless, they accepted the teachings of that religion, and confused “religion” with “God”, so in rejecting that religion they believe they have rejected all God, and with it all religions. An Agnostic, on the other hand, has examined his spirituality, and finding no “proof” of a God chooses to question its existence. They neither proclaim that God exists, nor deny its existence. Atheists are as susceptible as Theists to not understanding their religion.

Monotheistic religions tend to refer to God as “He”, and the majority of religions have a human explanation of what God is. What other explanation could humans have? With Christianity, people will describe God as a man in a long robe with a flowing white beard. I suppose, having lived for eternity one’s beard might grow quite long, but did it go white when he was sixty, or sixty million? My description of God comes from Genesis 1:2 “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”. That’s it. God created us in the image of its soul, not of its body. The being that created the universe most likely does not have a corporeal form, much less two legs, two arms and genitalia. Being capable of creating the universe would put God apart from time, it would not age or breath oxygen. God’s being is beyond our ability to comprehend, in fact some religions teach that actually seeing God would cause death. Religion is about knowing God, but we are confined by what we can imagine. God said to Moses “I am”, no further description can be put into words. But words are all we have.

Knowing all this, people still try to define God. People attempt to poke holes in different beliefs because the adjectives used thousands of years ago don’t fit our level of understanding. Religion is our interpretation of descriptions given by people who had just developed a written language. The stories had been passed through the generations verbally prior to that after humans developed the ability to speak. And we expect an in depth description of the process of creation, the being that accomplished it, and a complete history of the world? There are no dinosaurs in the Bible because they are not relevant to the subject.

Holy texts contain the elements germane to the faith. The Qur’an describes the life of Mohammed, and very clearly states that it is not a pattern to be replicated. The Old Testament speaks to the people of the Iron Age, the New Testament proclaims itself as NEW, in several passages Jesus says “that was then, this is now” (in Aramaic).

Each of us has a personal relationship with God. I believe that is far more important than the religion we belong to, and it is only important to the individual, and the God in which they believe. Beyond that, we can share our beliefs, but we can never expect anyone to feel the way that we do.

I think that wraps up this series, next Sunday will be a spiritual topic not directly related to this set. And I’ll probably write an article on the “religion of politics” at some point, but that will be a secular piece.

Charity

Charity is something of a buzz word. “Oh, it’s for charity”, is an excuse for just about everything. There is a story of a man who started in an office, and put a cup on his desk with a sign reading “Give to the children of Israel”. All the other employees wanted to start things off friendly and would walk up to his desk and put some coins in the cup when introducing themselves. He would always smile and say “Pleased to meet you, I’m Nathan”. Later that week building services came in with his name plaque. Nathan Israel.

Typically we support charities because they serve a cause that touches our lives. When I was young I contributed to the Arthritis Foundation, because my grandmother had suffered her last years with arthritis, When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, I not only contributed but also was involved in fundraising for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. When Emma was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer I became involved in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and also contributed to the American Cancer Society, because they helped us so much. Now we also contribute to Musicians on Call, a group which provides live music in hospital rooms. In a sense, although I have been very generous through the years, it was all self serving.

I donate to the causes of friends and their children, but there are some charities to which I will not donate. United Way has had a very poor record of getting donations to their executives instead of the needy. I don’t donate money to the Red Cross because they won’t take my blood. I don’t donate to Greenpeace or the Sierra Club because they are political organizations and not environmental groups. PETA hides it’s agenda from it’s members so it’s out. Other than that, I’ll help anywhere I can.

I have friends and family who are involved in long term charitable projects, my father travels to areas without clean water and installs reverse osmosis units. His group has provided Haiti with more clean water than they had before the 2010 earthquake, others have traveled the world building orphanages. One friend lost his home in Hurricane Andrew, and has since invested thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars into rebuilding projects after disasters here in the States. I’ll be working with him and a group from our High School at the Jersey Shore next week, repairing damage left from Sandy.

I mention these things because I often forget the charitable impulse in others. I see the press releases about how much money Bill and Melinda Gates have given to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or Oprah Winfrey to the Oprah Winfrey Foundations, and I have the same feeling as when Annette Funicello started the Annette Funicello Research Fund. Why create a charity to accomplish the same goals other charities are already tackling? Why create another bureaucracy with high paid executives instead of using existing infrastructure and putting more funds into the hands of the people who need it? Is it merely a tax dodge or publicity vehicle?

I realize the desire for a legacy, having things named for you in recognition, but when the only things you do are for your own name, I just don’t get it. My grandfather endowed a scholarship, and named it for his parents, but it was inconsequential to his total charity work. Something about seeking recognition for your good deeds tarnishes them in some way. It doesn’t even occur to me to take tax deductions for my charities, it doesn’t amount to much anyway, but to issue press releases seems overly self serving.

I’m sure the Gates, Oprah, and Annette have done good work, but isn’t that supposed to be the point? I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel moved to donate to a charity just because it has someone’s name on it, particularly when that person is in the news for buying a $38,000 handbag.

I don’t need to “feel good” about celebrities for their charitable works. It is good to know that they do something, but I just want them to do their day jobs. Most people give of themselves, it is neither special nor newsworthy.

Who do you trust?

I don’t know how other people choose what to believe. Most of us go with our gut feelings, but some of us have better trained guts than others. Some people choose to believe things despite hard facts to the contrary. Telling a delusional person that they are delusional is pointless, just remember that by rule of mathematics, half the population has a below average intelligence level, and have another glass of wine.

I have been blessed (or cursed) with a strong sense of observation and memory. I have a good sense of people, I feel their vibe. Sometimes I’m wrong, but usually I’m right, and the weight I apply to the decision is based on the importance of the decision. In addition to those skills, I have this handy little guide for evaluating information:

First evaluate the source,

A – Reliable: No doubt of authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency; has a history of complete reliability
B – Usually Reliable: Minor doubt about authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency; has a history of valid information most of the time
C – Fairly Reliable: Doubt of authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency but has provided valid information in the past
D – Not Usually Reliable: Significant doubt about authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency but has provided valid information in the past
E – Unreliable: Lacking in authenticity, trustworthiness, and competency; history of invalid information
F – Cannot Be Judged: No basis exists for evaluating the reliability of the source

Then evaluate the content,

1 – Confirmed: Confirmed by other independent sources; logical in itself; Consistent with other information on the subject
2 – Probably True: Not confirmed; logical in itself; consistent with other information on the subject
3 – Possibly True: Not confirmed; reasonably logical in itself; agrees with some other information on the subject
4 – Doubtfully True: Not confirmed; possible but not logical; no other information on the subject
5 – Improbable: Not confirmed; not logical in itself; contradicted by other information on the subject
6 – Cannot Be Judged: No basis exists for evaluating the validity of the information

Some of you might be familiar with that system. You evaluate the source, then you evaluate the information, and you have a metric to compare data. Obviously, A1 is almost blind trust, E5 is useful only in knowing the information is false, F6 is between C3 and D4, and there are thirty six permutations. It’s a basic thing that some of us do subconsciously, but it works so well it’s been codified into intelligence agencies.

In a world where we are swamped with information, being able to know what is “true” is a valuable asset. In a world with opinions driving the course of society, it is invaluable. This is one of the reasons I enjoy having a wife who constantly questions me, I am reminded to evaluate my opinions and their sources daily.

I find it frustrating that the general view has moved from trust to belief. One symptom of this is the “accreditation” given to Jenny McCarthy, by her placement as a co-host on “The View”. To me, this just furthers my appraisal of The View, and opinions produced by it, as E5. But millions of viewers will adopt the “I saw it on TV” attitude and believe. Jenny has a child with autism who received childhood vaccinations. In the 80’s a preliminary report linked autism to vaccines. That link has since been refuted. But Jenny continues her crusade against vaccines.

When I was in the Air Force, the preliminary study made headlines. NBC ran an “investigative report” on the subject. A Staff Sergeant I worked with said to me “If you love your kids, you’ll watch this program”, to which, after I restrained myself from punching him in the face, I replied “Never question my love for my kids, I’ll read the study“. I did, all my kids received their vaccinations. Since then Measles epidemics have run rampant, causing thousands of deaths every year. Mumps have gone epidemic. God only knows how many birth defects can be traced to exposure to Rubella.  Other children, with even less intelligent parents, have been left at risk of Diphtheria, Pertussis, Hepatitis, Polio, Tetanus, and Pneumococus. Evolution at work.

When the “Global Warming” furor began, I gave it a C3. When Al Gore got involved it became an E3. After going over the data it moved to E4. Now, there is adequate data to confirm it at E5, and in fact, false. Nonetheless, egos have continued to refuse they were wrong, and a large percentage of people believe it to be true. My mother told me not to argue with crazy people, so I have removed myself from most arguments on the subject.

I do not seek marital advice from people who have not had successful marriages, but some people will trust a friend, regardless of their actual experience. Presently the President of the United States enjoys almost messianic, and certainly maniacal, immunity from his history. I can understand forgetting the man made a cornerstone of his campaign transparency, and now runs the most secretive administration in history. Heck, 2007 is ancient history, right? People who really remember ancient history agree that Obama is worse than Nixon. Nixon, that horrible guy that everyone can remember, or at least claims to. Selective memory, that cognitive dissonance that allows people to forget what Obama said six weeks ago, but “remember” to hate the previous vice president runs rampant.

We live in a society led by individuals who have earned a D rating at best. They are driven by information that rates a 4 or worse, and have demonstrated opinions with a value of 5 routinely. When they make decisions that can be corrected at the next election cycle, I try not to get upset. When they drive us toward a World War, I feel the need to become more vocal.

Although I have used the term “acceptable losses” in the past, there are no acceptable losses prior to entering a war. Zero is the acceptable number, best achieved by staying out of the war.

Watch out now, take care
Beware of greedy leaders
They take you where you should not go
While Weeping Atlas Cedars
They just want to grow, grow and grow
Beware of darkness (beware of darkness)

Squids on the barbie

The recent revival of a story about calamari had Lieve a little uneasy about squid. She is pressing her vegetarian leanings to eat fish, and it had taken a bit to convince her that squid are fish, but pork? So I started buying whole squid so she would know they are real.

Raw whole squid

Raw whole squid

Squid are really interesting creatures, my first experiment had been cutting them into rings and frying them, but I wanted to try something more unusual. It occurred to me that grilling whole squid might be nice, and I set to work on a recipe. This one didn’t go as planned, but was still nice. I had intended to complement the squid, and ended up burying it. For that reason I’m not presenting this as a recipe but as a method, the measurements still need to be adjusted.

I made a filling with eggplant, portabello mushroom, cubanelle pepper, feta cheese, cilantro, capers, kalamata olives, and grated ginger. I precooked the eggplant, not being sure how it would catch up with the rest of the stuffing on the grill. This was very good, and I have a little left over that I’ll probably stuff pablano peppers with. After separating the bodies from the tentacles, I dredged the bodies in a mix of white flour, corn meal, and garam masala.

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Dredging the squid

I used too much garam masala for Lieve, but the spice level was just right for me. Next, I stuffed the squid with the filling. Lesson learned ~ squid contracts when cooked, don’t over stuff the bodies unless you want stuffing in your grill. After that I ran them through the flour mixture again to keep the exterior spiced.

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Stuffing the squid

Ready for the grill

Ready for the grill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then out to the grill. Unfortunately, the Labor Day weather did not allow the wonderful cook out I had planned and cooked side dishes for, but we did have a few hours of clear weather that allowed me to drag the grill into the driveway.

Chasing the sunshine

Chasing the sunshine

Et voila

Et voila

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every flavor was present except squid. Next time around I think I’ll use an oil rather than flour. I’ll also buy fresh squid at the fish market where I can get larger and heavier squid.

The side dishes, a spinach dip and felafel stuffed peppers, worked well, and Lieve’s Rhubarb and Ginger crumble was wonderful.

So the squid dish wasn’t a complete success, but it wasn’t a failure. It was tasty and nutritious, I learned from the experience, and it was fun to experiment. It didn’t turn out how I expected, but from the experience I have ideas on how to make it turn out the way I want next time. It took ten years to get my chili perfect, this isn’t nearly as complicated.

If you use foods you already enjoy, and combine them in unique ways, it feeds your growth as a chef. When you fail, it can be a learning experience, when you succeed, it can be beautiful.

Limited response

I am not currently employed. When I have applied for jobs, and been interviewed, I have heard the phrase “Well, if you can do what you say you can…” and tried not to take much insult. It would never occur to me to say I could do something that I couldn’t. I’d like to keep a job more than a few days. It would never occur to me to lie to people and expect them to trust me again. I am, I’ve been told, “Weird”.

Why would it be odd to suspect an average person to make unrealistic claims, when it is commonplace for the President to do so? In 2007, Senator Barack Obama stated “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”, although he had changed his mind shortly after the next shiny object entered his field of vision. By 2011, just two years after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for diverting soldiers from Iraq to Afghanistan, he stated quite clearly that the rules didn’t apply to him, and bombed Libya.

Then he decided to “draw a red line” over the use of chemical weapons. Just ninety years late, chemical weapons were banned as part of the Geneva Protocols in 1925. America is not the judicial or correctional arm of the UN, the President’s threat of a military response was out of line. War crimes are not prosecuted during a hot war, and they are prosecuted by bringing the criminal to justice, not by killing civilians. Even Assad knew this, but apparently not Obama. Assad also knew that Obama could not act on his own, he would need the approval of congress. It’s so sad when a foreign dictator knows more about your constitution than a “Constitutional Scholar”.

After realizing that almost no one was supporting his unilateral threats, the President decided to “allow” congress to vote on whether we should commit the lives of our children to a war with no sides.

We’ve gotten used to the idea of “push button wars”, but the futility of such actions hasn’t sunk in. There is no such thing as a “Limited war”, unless you want to surrender before beginning.

Diplomacy works when both sides of the table take each other seriously. No one is taking the President of the United States, and by extension the entire United States of America, seriously any more. We might have been successful in ending the war in Syria with an embargo, but it’s unlikely we can pull that off now. How safe are our soldiers enforcing a blockade when the Syrians believe we won’t respond if attacked?

I was born in Texas, and over the years have spent about a fifth of my life there. Every state has it’s “State Police” or “Highway Patrol”, in Texas we have the Texas Rangers. The Texas Rangers aren’t just police who work for the state. They are like the Marines. If you’re a bad guy, you don’t want to even see a Ranger.

The Ranger’s motto comes from an incident in Dallas TX in 1896. A riot had started so the Rangers were called in. They sent Captain Bill McDonald, and his pistol. When asked why they were only sending one man, the response was “there’s only one riot”. Other stories of Rangers facing down crowds include a Ranger on the steps of a courthouse, facing a mob. From the mob came a shout “He’s only got six bullets!” to which the ranger replied “I guess I can only shoot the first six up front”. The mob inverted, as no one wanted to be in front.

So far this year there have been thirty one homicides in Trenton NJ. About the number for Philadelphia PA in January, but per capita a higher rate. The governor wants to send in the State Police. The problem is that the bad guys in Trenton don’t take the police seriously, in fact two of the homicides were police officers. The police officers I have known in the Northeast are either afraid to shoot because they don’t want to be sued, or trigger happy, shooting people when they reach for their wallets. We need the Texas Rangers.

If we want to be taken seriously as a “superpower” we need a President with the soul of a Texas Ranger. All ours has is the mouth of an impotent bully.

Obituaries

I hope that after I shuffle off this mortal coil, someone writes an obituary about me as elegant as this one.

Yvonne Bleiman transitioned from her mortal body on August 20, 2013, after suffering from severe injuries after being struck by car as she was crossing the street with a friend. She left us while experiencing unconditional love from those closest to her and while embracing all those forms of religion, spiritualism, and mysticism that will support her on her journey and assist her continued watchfulness over her family and friends.  Yvonne arrived in Princeton with her husband, Junius “Jay” Bleiman and her daughter, Rebecca Anne, in 1966 after living in Athens, Greece.  The most important part of her will always be here with us, while the molecules and atoms of her existence will be buried alongside her adoring husband, Jay, at West Point where they had met in 1959 one fateful night at the officer’s club where she was serving as a military nurse/officer.   Like the bird, the heron, which she admired and was  inspired by her through her interest in Native American mythology, she too was the essence of a free spirit.  A true artist, she had the ability to accomplish things in ways that others may not, and possessed a  confidence in her uniqueness. She was gifted with the physical, mental, and emotional powers of balance and adaptability, self-reliance and determination, and was not easily swayed by the opinions of others.  She trusted her own instincts and, in the end and forever, symbolized transformation and a peace within the changing.   We will miss the grace and beauty that only she could have brought to the world and taken with her to the hereafter.  Her daughter, Rebecca, her grandchildren, Olivia and Jay, and her brothers, “Skip” and Bob Nelson of Seattle and her partner Greg Moore will continue to celebrate her life and greet her in all they see – trees, flowers, birds, butterflies clouds, animals – and in everything else that is beautiful, special, and vulnerable.   Yvonne was not one to believe in obituary’s and when reflecting on how she wanted when her final journey arrived, she shared with her daughter to let all of you to know that “it was fun!”. 
A small memorial tribute will be held on September 15th.  Donations can be made to the Rock Brook School 109 Orchard St. Skillman, NY 08558 where Yvonne had been a teacher for many years.
I find odd the line that says she “was not one to believe in obituary’s (sic)”. If she didn’t care for obituaries, why write one, even one as beautiful as this?
When Emma died, I wrote her obituary from my heart within hours. She had not wanted a ceremony or memorial so I did not hold one. She initially only wanted me to keep her ashes in a box, I published the obituary in her blog, you can see the entire month’s activity here, this is what I wrote the day she died:
My friend, confidant, lover, cooking teacher, music student and wife died this morning at 6 AM.  She was sleeping peacefully and holding my hand when she stopped breathing. She had a very rough night, I was glad that we were in the hospital rather than at home. Her pain medications were being updated on an hourly basis. Her kidneys had failed along with her liver, the pressure from the swelling made her feel the need to urinate but her bladder was empty. At about five she looked at me and said “I can’t fight anymore” and she closed her eyes. I held her hand as she lay sleeping, telling her that the time apart would seem to her like an instant from the perspective of eternity. I quoted Bible verses and reminded her of God’s promise. At about six she stopped breathing. I kissed her and called the nurses, there was no pulse. I was able to stay with her as I tried to call friends and family, due to the hour and the holiday weekend I mostly spoke to answering machines. I held her hand the entire time, when it came time to wash her rigor mortis had set in, her hand stiff and curled around mine. I washed her, gently caressing the body that had once been so full of life, now just an empty container. I stroked her hair and kissed her face and neck, then helped place her body into the bag and onto the gurney. I watched as she was rolled away and packed her things, including the plant she had received just two days earlier.  This afternoon I stopped at the funeral home and realized how little I know about her family, I had no idea of everyone’s name that would go in the obituary, and decided that a generic “well loved by her many friends and family” would be the best route. I picked out an urn, actually only narrowed it down to three, I’ll have to go back with her cousin to make the final choice.  I grabbed a sandwich and now realize that I haven’t slept  in a while. I have a lot to do this evening, but I know it will all be there tomorrow. She is still alive in all of our memories. She is still alive in God’s loving arms. She made me a better person,  and I must honor her by being the best person I can be until we are reunited.
I would be happy if someone could convince me they feel strongly about me now. I lived with a woman once who was fairly abrasive, but whenever she spoke to her father she made sure she told him that she loved him. She never told me she loved me because she didn’t, but it was important to her that everyone knew where they stood with her. For that reason, I did love her.I really don’t need those kind words when I’m no longer around to hear them, to appreciate them, to reciprocate them. It’s a nice thought that people will say nice things once I’m gone, but part of my saying nice (and not so nice) things now is that I would like them to be reciprocated. I feel the same way about tears. If you have shared your emotions with me in life, there is nothing to cry about. If you haven’t, there is no point in crying when I’m gone.Please do not keep my body alive so long that my organs would be useless to others. I would like whatever organs I have that may be useful to others to be donated, and what is no longer needed to be cremated. The cremains I would like scattered, as far and wide as possible. Anyone is welcome to take a portion and spread them someplace you feel is meaningful, and perhaps my cousin will take anything that is left and release it into the gulf stream at about thirty thousand feet.

If there is to be a ceremony, I would like it to open with a traditional version of the hymn Jerusalem, and close with the cover by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Any other music should be inspired by that range. Any and all religious expressions are appropriate, my friends follow God in a wide spectrum of manifestations. And I quite seriously request NO CHEAP BOOZE! Remember me with the beverages we have shared, great wines and beers, and properly made martinis.

I would like to be remembered as one who fixed things. I have dedicated my being to making things work, whether they be mechanical or organic. Faced with the frustration of some things just not being repairable, I have tried to be stoic and graceful. I have asked little more from life than a faithful companion.

I’m not suggesting that my last day here is imminent, but it is certainly unavoidable and unpredictable. I am increasingly aware of the limited nature of my future, and felt the need to share my wishes.
Peace

Religions, Chapter four, “Other”

The previous chapters focusing on Christianity, Islam, and Eastern Religions, can be accessed by clicking those links.

rel_pie

There should be nothing taken from my choice to address the various religions by size. Spirituality is not a democracy, there is nothing to be judged by the members of adherents about the validity of any system. I don’t like the title “others”, it somehow degrades the remaining religions. I go back to my own Christian beliefs, and Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20,For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” from which I interpret that a “Church” is when at least two people gather. I see this scripture as anti-charismatic, validating the individual rather than the organization.

For this grouping I have included the sectors of the above graph “Non-religious” (which includes several religions, and in doing so, cultural bias), “Primal- Indigenous”, “Other”, Sikhism, and Judaism. One of the first surprises when I started researching this series was the relative size of various religions, I would have never have guessed there are so few Jews.

I’m going to approach this group in reverse order, starting with the smallest sector.

Judaism is more familiar in the Western world than many other religions, and by familiar I do not mean understood. With around fourteen million followers, Judaism is the smallest of the recognized unique religions. Within Judaism there are three distinct “movements” (Orthodox, Conservative, and the Reform/liberal/progressive movements) and like other religions variants within those branches.

Judaism is not simply Christianity without Christ, The Tanakh (Jewish Bible) is broken down into three sections, the Torah, (the five books of Moses), the Nevi’im (book of prophets), and the K’tuvim (book of writings). There are difference between the Tanakh and the Christian Old Testament, as well as different books in each. For the most part, Jews and Christians celebrate the same God, but don’t really agree on much of the last two thousand years.

Sikhism, while having more followers than Judaism, is hardly known at all, at least in the United States. Sikhs wear turbans, and are often assumed to be Islamic (more ignorance, Arabs don’t wear turbans). Sikhism was founded in what is now India in the sixteenth century, and is a monotheistic religion that sees a coexistence with spiritual and secular worlds. This translates to a fundamental Sikh teaching, deeds are more important than rituals.

Some interesting Sikh traditions are a prohibition on consuming ritualistically killed meat (the exact opposite of Judaism and Islam), and a prohibition against “blind spirituality”, or participating in rituals such as pilgrimages and purification. It is easy to see Sikhism as a rebellion against the structure of Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism.

Other contains all the religions that do not fit in other categories but are still considered religions. This is murky territory. Certainly within this group are such diverse beliefs as Baha’i, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Rastafarianism, and Scientology, but also other religions that appear to be a part of a larger group but have emphatically denied any bond, such as Unitarian-Universalism, and Shinto. Wicca and Paganism are included in this group.

Essentially, to be part of “Other”, there is a belief system and an organized church, but in fact several religions in this category don’t fit that definition. When we get to “Non-religious” I’ll explore this cultural bias a little deeper.

Primal- Indigenous, religions are generally “tribal” religions, practiced by small communities in Africa, the Americas, and Island nations. Why these are separated from “Other” is outside my understanding. Every major religion began in a tribe,

What I have found interesting is the similarities in traditions. There are stories in several Indigenous religions that mirror stories in major religions. Stories of sinful cities destroyed by God, stories of a great flood, stories of exodus.

Non-religious is the most poorly labeled group, in that half of the people in it identified themselves as “theistic”. While the group includes Agnostics, who profess to have no proof of God and thus no faith or religion, and Atheists, who deny the existence of God, I can testify to the fact that there are no Atheists in foxholes. I have seen the most adamant Atheists search for a higher power when faced with calamity.

Every Atheist I have known developed their beliefs as a reaction to a religion, typically Catholic, and they couldn’t live within the structure of the religion. As the religions they are rebelling against are typically authoritarian, they are under the belief that God is the church, so in leaving the church that they have no faith in, they believe they are leaving God. I have asked a couple of Atheists to participate in the discussion, but they have not responded. If and when they do, I would like to write an entire article on Atheism.

This is where we need to discuss “What is a religion?”. Is a religion a building? From a Christian point of view, no. In Matthew 16:18 Christ says “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The “Church” is the leader. And when he later says in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” he is saying that any two may be a church. The phrase “The Church” strikes me the same way as when people refer to New York as “The City”. There are many.

So a religion is a set of principles. Not a church, and not a building, not a deity.

I would then say the half who said they are “theistic” believe in a higher power, and are therefore a religion. I would say Agnosticism, when followed as a way of life, with moral underpinnings, is a religion. I would even say that Atheism is a religion, because to believe that something is not God, you have to have faith, faith in yourself, alone in the universe, but faith nonetheless.

Is a religion a system of beliefs? To this I would say yes. Most of the Eastern religions are simply systems of beliefs. Common among all religions is a belief in the sanctity of life. Even the Aztecs and Mayan, who performed human sacrifices, were sacrificing something they felt was precious, the purest gift they could give to God.

However you express your faith, it is you, a human being, expressing it. Be it an all powerful god, or many gods working together, or no God. As humans we like to help other people see what we see, especially when it’s a good thing, so we share our beliefs. The problem occurs when people don’t want to hear anyone’s beliefs but their own, or when people insist on sharing beliefs that you’re just not interested in.

As annoying as Christians can be with their proselytizing, when they won’t go away remind them of Matthew 10:14 “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.”

Next week, I’d like to summarize these similarities and point out the radical elements that take the headlines away from peaceful followers, or I may choose to write about proselytizing by different religions I haven’t decided on the focus yet.  See you then.