What’s in your wallet?

I am well aware that I do not fit in to the definition of “normal,” the larger question of my sanity remains unresolved.

With a last name of Cash, I have always had an interest in currency. I keep coins and notes from various places in my wallet (European style with built in coin purse), as time has passed and the collection has become more diverse, I have adopted the rationale that when someone someday finds my body, they will be perplexed, it will be my final joke. An inventory this morning reveals;

A 100 Ruble note ($1.69 USD)

A 10 Euro and 5 Euro note ($11.43 and $5.71 USD)

A 1000 (old) Peso note ($0.05 USD)

And in coins;

A Susan B Anthony and “Gold” US Dollar

A 2£ coin

A 100 (old) Peso coin

A Canadian dollar

One French Franc circa 1970

A 2€ coin

An East Caribbean dollar

A two Drachma coin

One each one, two, five, and ten Ruble coins

A Septa subway token

 

Certainly the wallet of a traveler, perhaps a time traveler? Three passports, a couple of visas, don’t even know my real name? Well, most folks don’t, and I’m not entirely certain.

 

 

My days are scattered, this morning I am contemplating the relationship of Tachyons to Dark Matter, whether politically correct revisions at Disneyland foretell mankind’s loss of humor, why two regenerations of The Master are more troubling than multiple regenerations of The Doctor interacting on Doctor Who, whether my younger friends parents were listening to my favorite music when they conceived my friends, and if my new earplugs should be teal or pink. I settled on pink.

Folks will think these are hearing aids, when in fact they are the opposite

 

I had a friend around the turn of the century (this one), when I was working as a technician, and we often said our lives were like having seventeen video screens on at once. Recently I saw a meme about brain injury which used the same analogy, right down to the number seventeen. Maybe that’s why I am weathering recovery so well, I was already like this. I have recently discovered my inner ear is a rather precise barometer, one more thing on my mind as I verify my impression with the readout on my phone.

When I was very young, we had a willow tree in our front yard. In addition to learning one “lesson of the willow,” that it is better to bend rather than to break, I also learned that a willow switch stings more than a belt. Everything has a purpose or two, not all bring wisdom in the same way. In learning the second lesson of the willow, I learned third, that I should not take off with a friend to the ice cream parlor a mile away at five years old. What kind of teacher provides a single lesson? That is lesson number four. It’s an unending cycle, which can be traced back to a willow tree.

I live in a forest, surrounded by teachers and lessons. I remember just about all of them, and their connections form a beautiful matrix upon which hangs the curtain of reality, Maya. I have found that if you don’t recognize the curtain, you can’t look behind it. There is something about having widely disparate bits of information randomly connecting in your mind that either gives you innovative ideas or drives you insane. The trick is recognizing which has taken place. I try to keep an open mind on the subject, it is an exceptionally tight rope.

 

 

Society demands binary responses, so my way of thinking often frustrates others. My ability to determine which ideas are “good” and which are “bad” gets confused as the definitions of good and bad take on a life of their own. I consider ideas that some people would not, either because the idea had not occurred or they immediately dismissed it. I am starting to question why I don’t immediately dismiss ideas, and am only mildly concerned I have found no reasons to do so.

There is a good deal of waviness in my thinking of late, as long as I stay out of trouble I can believe I am still making rational decisions, but I see it in my writing, this article in particular, but also several that I wrote following the TBI.

 

 

 

 

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God the Father

Father’s day is celebrated around the world, in various ways and with various spellings. The relationship each of us have with our own father is unique, for many reasons. We each define who our father is, what his duties as a father are, and how well he fulfills those duties. Some people spend time reflecting on their own responsibilities as children, and factor themselves into the equation. This all falls under the umbrella of understanding our father, fatherhood, and ourselves. Considering that at least one quarter of Americans have sought Mental Health assistance and folks most in need of help never seek it, I believe it is safe to say in general we do not know the participants in the father/child relationship well enough to make many judgements.

I know my children do not think I am a good father. I know many of the reasons why they think so, and the level of maturity they possessed when they made the decision, as well as the level of maturity I had hoped would reverse the impression. They haven’t gotten there yet, so I can only assume the situation is permanent. My relationship with my own father has changed a number of times over the years, which may indicate I am more flexible than my children (my impression), that they are emotionally damaged (a strong possibility), or maybe I am not a good father (always worth considering). The most definite pieces of information are they do not know me, and have made no attempt to know me, yet they harbor strong feelings about who I am (provided by their mother).

So earlier this week, when a dear friend made a statement about God, portraying it in a “paternal” image, in conjunction with the approaching holiday, my thoughts drifted to children and their illusions about fathers. The statement had been in the context of gun control, and he had said “every time it works, God smiles.” My God supports free will rather than denying it, so I don’t see God smiling in such an instance, and I started to wonder what made our perceptions about God so different.

The first thought was that the all powerful creator of the universe really doesn’t give a damn if you buy a gun or go bowling. Then I realized I was thinking of my God. I realized we all have different Gods, everyone sitting in the pew at church believes in a different God, because despite the holy texts, we each have to read and understand what we have read. We carry a banner (“Christian” in my case) but we have different beliefs, in some cases radically different. From what I’ve read, God wants us to live our lives according to his directions, and when we die we get to find out if we correctly interpreted the directions and how to follow them. Not before.

Some religions clearly don’t hold this view. Some people misunderstand their religion, and believe they are supposed to enforce God’s directions on Earth, even when the texts clearly state otherwise. Some people are just doing whatever they want, and waving a banner because it gives them a sense of authority. Problems arise from confusing terms, which inhibit communication. “God” is a concept, so when I say “God” it means the being that I imagine God to be, when Benjamin Netanyahu says “God” it means the being he imagines God to be, and when the leader of Daesh says “God” it means the being he imagines God to be. My theological mind argues we are all speaking of the same God, my psychological mind knows we are speaking about three different Gods, because we believe they are different, having in our minds created God and the differences between the Gods. We all believe God is greatest, if we speak Arabic we say Allahu Akbar.

I can be fairly annoying in arguments, because I tend to coach my opponents to make better arguments, I see all the sides.

I believe a part of my vision of God is based on my view of what a father should be, and my impression of myself as a father makes me believe I am doing it right. My children are each successful in their chosen fields. They are strong willed and independent. They don’t always do the things I would want them to do, but guess what? I didn’t do everything they wanted me to do. That doesn’t make them “bad children” any more than it makes me a “bad father,”  but they have placed themselves in judgement of my activities (which had nothing to do with them, particularly the ones that took place before they were born), so you might see how I can compare the relationship to that of God and Humans. They don’t know who I am now, how could they know anything about who I was then?

I consider the Christian Bible to be God’s word. I am fully aware the words themselves were written by human beings, and translated several times to accommodate various languages and ages. The Aramaic of 30 B.C. is unrecognizable to Arabs today, the English of 1611 would be unintelligible to an English subject today, Modern English is largely unintelligible to Americans. Many thoughts are ascribed to God in the Bible, they represent the message of the moment, not different Gods. The messages of the Old Testament are different from the messages of the New Testament. I suspect the punishment for arguing the order in which to prioritize its words would be similar to the punishment I meted out to my children when they brought up things I had said prior to their existence, it has nothing to do with the discussion at hand.

My beliefs have led me to understand God placed us on Earth to learn. Learning means making mistakes, and learning from them. There are sects which believe intent is an equal failure,  it may be, but I believe overcoming desire is the extenuating circumstance God will consider when it makes judgement. Jimmy Carter thought it was a sin to lust in your heart, but I believe acting on that lust is the sin God prohibited. Denying the opportunity prevents the sinner from making the decision to act. Allowing the opportunity gives the sinner the ability to redeem their heart. The same holds true in the gun analogy, Omar Mateen may have hated gay people, or just Americans, but had we prevented him from purchasing the guns, would it have pleased God? Would it not want Omar to have the opportunity to decide not to pull the trigger? Is it sad because you responded to Omar’s decision by arguing over his motives and methods rather than reaching out to his victims?

So on Father’s Day, which in America is celebrated on Sunday, considered to be “The Lord’s Day” by most Christians, get to know your father. Your father on Earth, and your father in Heaven. They both spent a good deal of effort on telling you who they are, but have no control over how you interpreted what they told you.

Get it right this time. It really is for your own good.

Social Therapy

The therapies I have participated in since my accident have attempted to bring me back to a functional state. I was never merely functional, but they need a target.

Occupational Therapy has been trying to get my elbow and wrist to function in ways conducive to performing in an occupation. My mind is a bit fuzzy (more on that later) but I do not recall being asked which occupation I should be prepared for. My last position was in a warehouse, preparing shipments of fifty pound boxes of cosmetics. Prior to that I have done many things, both as vocations and avocations. Presently I can write, but I have never made much money writing (You could buy my book if you want to help). As much praise as I receive for my progress, I am nowhere near ready to pick and ship boxes heavier than three pounds. The other day one of the therapists was saying how well I am doing, I can touch my shoulder. I told her I really wanted my arms to match, and she asked what I could do. I wasn’t in the mood to show off, but I took my left arm, extended it to perfectly straight in front of me, lifted my arm straight up, brought my palm to the back of my head, and rotated my wrist clockwise and then counterclockwise, ending each twist with the back of my hand on the back of my head. These movements were based on the extrapolated extremes of the exercises I had been doing for my right arm.

Apparently this was not the goal they had in mind, as none of the therapists could reproduce the movement.

My Physical Therapy has been trying to get me to walk smoothly, without falling. I am not progressing quite as well here, I’ve always been a little wobbly and my gait can best be described as a controlled fall. I make them nervous, they keep thinking I’ll fall, but I saw there was a wall there and managed to bounce off of it. My days of ballet, or even expressive dance, are no doubt behind me. Yoga is still on my list, I can see it as a life long physical therapy project. If I’m lucky I will find a way for medicaid to pay for it.

My Cognitive therapy is as broken as I am. I have my first evaluation next week, and my comprehensive evaluation has yet to be scheduled. Parts of my brain are healing, enough that I am aware that things are missing. The entire months of December and January are now a mystery, and November and February are not as clear as they should be. In the interim I am taking the Lumosity training, and after a month my scores are as high as the fifty seventh percentile. I am well aware my mental acuity was previously in the ninety ninth percentile for some tasks, never below the ninetieth. There are languages in which I once could speak fluently and no longer can count to ten. I know what belongs in the kitchen but can’t think of how to put it together into an interesting meal. Emotionally, I am vacant, yet for some reason I feel an attraction to a woman who I had the police remove from my house last year.

My vision issues are slowly being narrowed down to the correct ophthalmologist, and my hearing tests have resulted in a “well that’s unusual” response from my doctors.

The most satisfying therapy I have tried has been “Social Therapy.” Spending time doing the things I am accustomed to, with people I am accustomed to. I hope I am progressing well, but my friends are not therapists, they may not be telling me about my failures.

I started out slowly, catching my friend’s “British Invasion” show, a chronological performance of the music of the 60s and 70s. They even had actors doing introductory skits, the opening had a great twist on “Who’s on First” substituting The Guess Who, The Who, and Yes as the acts of a concert.

Sam and I had a nice evening discovering garlic fries and I shot some video for the band. It was a good “first night out,” not too crowded or loud, and loads of memory laden music.

The next week we returned to see  my friend Buddy Cash play with his band and a couple of the guys from the band Squeeze. Buddy always packs the house, it was a busy and loud night, but it was great to see everyone again. Squeeze covered a lot of Led Zeppelin, which was an odd turn but interesting. With Buddy and two former bassists from Squeeze there was a plethora of bass players, unfortunately I didn’t shoot any video that night.

A few days later I met some friends from school I had not seen in decades.

Blake, Mike, and Kati

Blake, Mike, and Kati

My friend Michael Montgomery is a magician, he lives magic, always prepared for an illusion. It was amazing to watch him seamlessly flow from conversation to magic. Kati (Karena Walker) is a yoga teacher and singing bowl practitioner.  I attended a healing circle Kati and another yoga teacher put together a few months ago (although in my mind it is presently a fact and not a memory), it was exceptionally soothing. We had not all been together in nearly forty years, we met at Michael’s house, met his wife Paula, and had a wonderful evening rekindling memories. This is something I must do again, I carried a smile for days.

Tonight I’ll be seeing another friend, Ritchie DeCarlo, play with one of his bands, The Prussia Kings, at a club not far from Sam’s house (fortuitous planning). Ritchie’s musical directions are always interesting, and the club carries Chimay Premiere, so the evening is promising.

My friend Tribbee returns from Scotland this week, the Vernal Equinox arrives with Sunday,  April brings the Punk Rock Flea Market and Record Store Day. All of these things engage and stimulate my brain, providing much needed social therapy.

The road ahead is long and mysterious, much like my journey with multiple sclerosis I have no idea what to expect. I do know, at least I feel, I must regain my memories, exercise my brain, regain my mental acuity. I may appear to have recovered from the accident, but there remains a long, largely invisible, recovery ahead. Sam has said being with me is like being with my twin bother, we look the same and have similar characteristics, but we are not the same person.

I really want to be me again.

Perception

Our perceptions, the way in which we understand things, shape the things we see. I see myself as a rock and roll type of guy with a punker edge, and carry the attitude through many aspects of my life. As the years have gone by and my hair has thinned I no longer have the beautiful flowing locks of my youth, but in my mind I still see the young man I was, and I have difficulty understanding why he is pushing a walker in his Doc Martens. I suspect most of us have delusions about ourselves to some degree, yet we tend to forget we have even more mistaken impressions about other people.

God is good to me, it shows me my faults by displaying them in other people. I see the behavior and realize it exists within myself, allowing me to forgive myself as human, forgiving the others while still correcting the behavior in myself.

Recently a friend died. I met her forty years ago, and the subtle lessons she taught me back then served me through my life. You know a lesson is valuable when you find yourself sharing it with others, I have shared Connie’s lessons repeatedly, and her most meaningful lesson she repeated from beyond.

Connie and I were seventeen years old, taking “Introduction to Psychology” at New Providence High School. The teacher was Coach Furey, a young teacher with longish hair and a beard. He wanted to be “the cool teacher” and allowed us to have a coffee pot in the room because first period was early even for him. The coffee debacle contained a lesson of its own, as a section of the class became “the coffee klatch;” there were others as the young teacher stumbled through the year, but my favorite was when we discussed dreams.

Connie didn’t walk, for many in the class she was the first experience with a peer in a wheelchair. Someone asked her how she saw herself in dreams, whether in a wheelchair or walking. A level of tension was evident, even forty years ago referring to someone’s abilities was considered taboo.

Connie displayed no discomfort at the questions, answering calmly and honestly. She had never walked, she did not miss walking or picture herself walking. The wheelchair was not part of her any more than our school desks were part of us. Her vision in dreams included the movement she was accustomed to, and on the occasions she saw herself in dreams she was floating, moving without making contact with the ground.

This was a powerful lesson in perception, one that has been borne out by research. People do not miss what they have not experienced, their life is all they know. Ask a twin what it is like to have a twin, and they might ask you what it is like to not have a twin. Some examples of our misconceptions about our own perceptions can be found in the wonderful book by Daniel Gilbert, “Stumbling on Happiness,” and throughout the writings of Oliver Sacks, whose book “Seeing Voices” details his experiences at Gallaudet.

One of the more demonstrative communities to address the issue of insulated perceptions is the Deaf. Suggesting a person suffers from deafness may result in an argument, as he tries to convince you that you suffer from hearing. A growing movement within the community sees deafness as a defining element of belonging to their culture. Other groups, born differently, follow the same logic. This is how God made you, it does not need to be “fixed.”

Reflect upon this. Consider the definition of “normal,” as Merriam Webster states “usual or ordinary : not strange,” and “according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle.” Now consider the definition found in Urban Dictionary, “A word made up by this corrupt society so they could single out and attack those who are different.” The Urban Dictionary definition is directly implied by the definition in Merriam Webster, “not strange.” I find some comfort in being called “weird,” which I suppose is weird in itself. Many people wish to be accepted by society, being told they are not normal sets them apart; human beings have a long history of xenophobia, parents have killed children with minor deformities. The stigma of being different can be a life or death matter.

A few weeks ago Connie made a generous donation to my own GoFundMe website, and had written a very touching response to the thank you note I sent to her. A few years ago she had participated in “The Ice Bucket Challenge,” using ice and not water so her power chair would not “short out and blow up” as she put it.

 

 

Connie developed a sore on her leg which became infected, she went to the hospital and had a fatal heart attack the next morning. I found the reactions to Connie’s death mildly disturbing, as people said things such as “Now she is walking” and “she will be perfect.”

Connie was always perfect. It is those of us who judge others by our own standards who are less than perfect. It takes a person like Connie to reveal my own imperfections, as she did so gently, with no malice.

 

 

Unknown Territory

A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind

A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind

 

I have been writing in this blog for almost three years, daily at first, slowing to a more random pace, trying to settle on no less than once a week. Three hundred and eighty articles in and I am on target. I’ve covered topics from Quantum Physics through Astrophysics, Cosmology through the End of the World, Religions, Politics, a little Sex, and a good helping of Music. In short, the things I think about. This last year has been increasingly personal, and this article may wander into the most personal dimension, not the thoughts in my mind but the matrix of my mind itself.

I have always had a strong memory, recalling the quantity and quality of the events I have witnessed with speed and precision. I have been told I possess a keen intellect, absorbing and analyzing information, then communicating said information in easily understandable terms to any audience. I tell you these things because I remember them, not because I am aware of their presence now. I am reticent to comment on the world today, as I am not secure my analysis stands on the same foundations I have relied upon in the past.

Imagine the way you think. The complex layers of a memory, the data from all of your senses wrapped in your intellectual perception connecting every fraction of a second. I have been told a human may only experience one sensation at a time, one sound, smell, touch, emotion. The brain switches between inputs so rapidly it appears all these things are happening simultaneously, yet even more is taking place outside of awareness. We possess filters, our vision shifts our perception of colors to believe light is white; try on some tinted lenses and see for yourself. We can hear a melody through static, separating out what we want to hear; the same can be true with words in a conversation, consider a single political speech as heard by one thousand different voters, each hearing what they want to hear. We have each had enough tactile experience to know physical sensations are relative. Emotions exist in a dimension of their own, no adjectives are adequate. Tuned by all these factors our memories reside not only in the instant they were formed but also in the moment they are recalled. A word describes this, it is originally Sanskrit. The word is māyā (माया), and in a sense we refer to as “poetic” it has multiple meanings, most commonly considered to be “The illusion of reality” in the sense reality is an illusion. It is “that which exists, but is constantly changing and thus is spiritually unreal”, and the “power or the principle that conceals the true character of spiritual reality.”

With this fabulous brain creating reality from our sensory inputs, it can be difficult to determine if one of the inputs is faulty, and often difficult to explain. Verbally explaining a vision issue to an ophthalmologist is near impossible, you don’t speak their language; twice in my life I have had to resort to visual aids, a smear on the lenses of the first, using my hands to represent my eyes to the second, and this because I had diagnosed the problem and needed them to confirm and treat it. They had been pursuing (and ruling out) a different diagnosis, and were not on the path to the problem with my vision. How do you determine if the fault is in your brain? The stimuli has passed through several filters, are you certain the processor is to blame? Are you likely to ever suspect the processor, as it creates the filters and references you use to judge reality?

So I find myself today. I know one of the functions which takes place in my brain is malfunctioning. I don’t know if this is affecting other functions, or if those are malfunctioning on their own, or if everything is fine outside of one malfunctioning segment.

I have always been an emotional person. I feel deeply, I am passionate both verbally and physically. When I got out of the hospital last month, once I started remembering things, I found myself surrounded by reminders of Emma. My grief was overwhelming, I cried so much I would leave the room so I could scream in the pain which was tearing me to shreds. Then I stopped. I didn’t feel anything. I felt no passion or desire for Sam, and although I knew I should have some level of emotion directed towards the woman who leapt from open relationship partner to full time caregiver while waiting for the ambulance, even the apparent emptiness of my soul only troubled me on an intellectual level. Nothing affected me, I used to cry over commercials, dance to rhythms of the road, laugh at inappropriate moments,  and suddenly I was flat.

I do not think it requires a leap of logic to suspect the remainder of your mental facilities when one function of the brain isn’t working properly following a concussion, and I don’t remember much of the week following the accident. This just seems to be a reasonable precaution, along with avoiding heavy machinery.

I am not sure in which way or ways I should approach the question; how to elicit an answer (tests), how to measure and interpret any results. My mind is a carnival, every barking dog and stick of candy floss an important part of the tapestry, which is the gold thread and which the brass ring?

Lacking any formal training, and allowing any lapses in judgement, it appears I will need to reconcile every item I find, taking inventory of what holds me together, should I care for that revealed or not. I should enlist assistance for the task, and a brief perusal of psychiatrists who accept Medicaid produced zero results within the state. I feel rather strongly no shortcuts should be taken, the blossoming questions rise as a cloud from a bonfire off in the field, drifting across the moonlight as it paints the faces awaiting the carnival’s fireworks display.

And I can’t tell if this prose is an elegant indication of wellness, or an abstruse intimation of infirmity.

 

 

I will be waiting a few more weeks for cognitive therapy, it seems odd to me there are so few therapists available, the need appears overwhelming. So many unconscious sufferers wandering aimlessly. I joined Luminosity at the suggestion of my neurosurgeon, at least I will be exercising my neural net, keeping blood and electrons flowing. The other practice I have been applying in trying to find my emotional base has been following “inspirational” web pages, reassuring thoughts and mantras usually presented as memes. The greatest power I realize from these memes is the recognition I am not alone, someone else has produced the same thoughts I am pondering.

 

"Soul Speaking" Inspirational page

Soul Speaking” Inspirational page

 

The eventual remedy lays in memory, remembering who I am, verifying the memory represents reality, and living the life of the man who not only has been this person in the past, but is this person today. Social therapy, spending time with people who know me, can only provide the strength to separate the music from the static, provide reminders of laughter and passions. When I find I can dance to the music I have uncovered, there will be reason to believe I am on the right path toward experiencing passions again. I can acknowledge the possibilities are endless, opening my mind to the breadth of the spectrum, but only one wavelength belongs to me. I think it is just about 400 nano meters.

 

 

It’s a wonderful carnival, I’m staying all night.

 

My New Year

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2015 ends

 

As years go 2015 was certainly a mix.

There were several ups and or downs on several fronts; as with any year simply immeasurable as a whole. It was a year. As someone who lives with their heart on their sleeve, my love life has been a tumultuous fiery carnival, which is normally an overall “Good” observation.

Wonderful lessons learned; the wife who broke my heart ended up being a decent human being, the woman who came after her proved that to be true by being less than decent, and the woman who came after her proved just how lousy human beings can be by stealing two thousand dollars. Good thing she only stole money and not my heart. The carnival provides perspective.

Near the end of the year, no longer interested in “relationships,” with their expectations and impossible to meet prejudices (“you’re just like…”), but still desiring companionship, I looked into an alternative to traditional couplings. Winter was on it’s way, there would be parties and social events, and days snowed in around the fireplace. No point in missing an opportunity to share joy.

I found a woman on line who fit my desired parameters. She appears to know not only what she wants, but also who she is. She grasps the frailty of relationships and seeks the companionship of a kindred spirit. She is sharp, and despite my opinion of myself there are moments I am not sure if I meet her criteria. It’s early, I’m still not certain. We have found peace with each other, a comfort of mind that presents itself at the physical level, and oddly enough some of the things we both desired no longer appear quite as important. As I prepared to write this, and about her for the first time, we discussed our “relationship” and my writing. It’s still early, neither of us are certain, but we are happy to have laid this foundation.

Enough about how we met and who we are, her name is Sam, for Samantha, and we had a wonderful evening New Year’s Eve, Then we came home to meet my neighbors for the midnight celebration. Then the new year began.

Blair had left her glasses, so I headed upstairs to return them. No one is quite sure what happened next, but Sam found me at the bottom of my steps in a pool of blood, wearing Blair’s glasses and holding mine.

My entry, three steps down, stone floor

My entry, three steps down, stone floor

 

From all accounts this was horrible. I remember nothing, but Sam says I was asking her to help me to bed. The first memory I have is in imaging at the hospital, being asked about my body piercings. Docs were able to remove the Tragus, I somehow took out the Dydoe. Somehow. Shattered right Ulna and Radius at elbow, shattered right orbit, subdural and subarachnoid bleeds, related blood loss.

I spent five days in the hospital (the Flemish word “ziekenhuis” kept floating through my head) as doctors decided what could be rebuilt. Elbow surgery was postponed while waiting for parts, when they arrived I had healed enough to not need all of them. Oddly, Sam and I had attended the same “Elbow” concert a few years earlier, unbeknownst to each other at the time. There was no cranial surgery, my eyes appear to have found the same plane but my new phrase is “It’s early.” I had no seizures, completing the anti-seizure meds the other day (seven day protocol) and aced my cognitive test by naming animals (took a walk through the zoo in my mind). I still can’t move my right arm usefully (post op splint) and my teeth feel like strangers in my jaw, the “bump” on my head has shrunken to egg size with only a line of dried blood and I can move around the house. Now doctors of no less than five disciplines would like to see me over the next few weeks, I am available for house calls…

Sam has been with me the entire time, far more than I could ask of someone who has known me so briefly. Her presence in the hospital was critical to my recovery, her cooking once home has lifted  my spirits above the pain my body is experiencing. This began when she rode in the ambulance with me to Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital (Dr. House long gone, I was shortly transferred to the trauma center at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital). I don’t recall our early conversations, but she has said I seemed to do better when she was there. Did I mention my appreciation of her perception?

Blair and Malcolm visited me in the hospital, on their way to Germany and to visit Tribbee in Scotland.

Throughout all this I have missed quite a bit. My ex-wife had been visiting from Belgium, we had been scheduled to see each other 2 January. Sam helped me contact everyone to explain my absence. My brain is still a touch fuzzy, I am not entirely certain of who I have spoken with, or what I have said. Sam helped me get settled at home, finding clothes that fit over the splint and wrapping it so I could shower, even taking me on an outing to her place. I may be unemployed, it will be difficult to work for a while, but prospects look encouraging.

My New Year?

It’s early…

Whose God?

I’ve seen a number of discussions about God lately, not so much intentionally about God as about the nature of gods, inspired in part by Professor Larycia Hawkins of Wheaton College. Professor Hawkins had decided to wear a hijab to show solidarity with Muslims, and stated Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

As you might imagine, there has been quite an uproar over the suggestion that the God of the Christian Bible is also known as Allah. If he’s the same guy, why are the religions so different? Well, let us look at that question. Start with why do you think God, Allah, or any supreme being is male? You are trying to define the creator of the universe in human terms because they are the terms you are capable of understanding. For my part, when I refer to God I avoid gender specific pronouns, preferring “it” over “him” or “her.” This practice is the first step in incorporating the concept that God is in no way human.

One of the more troubling (to me) arguments to come out of these discussions suggests members of a religion in some way possess ownership of their God. This does not appear to be distant from the concept of my car owning me.

To answer the initial question, are these worshiped entities the same, very little investigation is required. Looking back a couple of millennia before Christ, Abraham makes his mark as a prophet. From Abraham comes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, three different approaches to the same prophecies, commonly referred to as “The Abrahamic Religions.” The same God, called by different names as time passed and languages changed. As those religions developed, “God” was attributed with different qualities, the manner of worship acquired different rituals. God didn’t change, the way humans interpreted God changed. Islam is simply the latest developmental spur of the Abrahamic tradition, in which Jesus is merely a prophet, as is Mohammad; the Quran being the inspired message of God to Muslims.

The evolution from Abraham gives us Judaism, Jesus appears and is rejected as the son of God by the Jews but accepted as the Messiah by those who create Christianity, Mohammad comes along and delivers the Quran rejecting Jesus’s status as Son of God, creating Islam. God did not change, just who is believed to have delivered his latest instructions. Being most recent, the Muslim believes his religion to be most evolved, thus the correct or “true” religion. Christians may counter their religion is still evolving, Protestantism produces new denominations routinely, but the core of Christianity, Christ, dates the religion as beginning with his birth. Each of the Abrahamic religions believe they are the one and true religion, leading the followers of each religion to believe the followers of the other religions are at best misguided and at worst following a different God, perhaps even an evil God. Some take it a step further denouncing other beliefs as not being religions at all.

As I stated earlier, we as humans define God using the measurements we are capable of understanding. God is seen as a fatherly, therefore male, figure. He must be very old, so he would have grey hair, and he would carry a staff to assist in walking. Even if you are one of those who believe the religious texts date the universe at six thousand years old, God would be well beyond the aging process of humans. Yet no one ever depicts it as a young being, creating the universe is thought to be the work of a mature being. Do you think its hair turned grey at the age of forty, or forty million? The question may already be in your mind, how is the dimension of time traveled by a being who created the universe and time along with it? As humans we travel about seventy years, yet God has traveled at very least billions of years, with some of those being before the current measure of years existed, does it appear older today than at the origin of the universe?

As humans, we cannot pretend to understand the details of what God is physically, much less its motives. The best we can do is to interpret God’s intentions for us, and every religion on Earth teaches we should love each other. If you honestly believe a religion teaches otherwise, tell me how long you practiced that religion before saying anything else, don’t tell me what you have heard about a religion you have not been involved with. Religions are different because they were created by different humans, each believing they understand God better than anyone else.

So I believe the answer to the question “Do we believe in the same God?” is quite obviously “yes,” but not in the way most people mean when they ask the question. I believe the answer remains “yes” regardless of the religions being compared, well beyond the Abrahamic religions, because God is not the rituals we follow in worship, or what we eat or wear.

God is Love.

If you do not believe God is Love, then you do believe in a different God than I do, you might want to check with your religious leaders to see if you believe in the same God they believe in.

Us and Them

 

Let me start with a simple question. After 9/11, when you all met Osama bin Laden, who said “I guess he’s right, let’s give him what he wants.”? Anyone? If anyone wants to contact me through the comments but does not want their name published, I will update this, but my thoughts are no one was convinced of his position by his ability to kill three thousand people.

So when we blow up a village chasing a terrorist, how many of the relatives of the dead or injured villagers do you think are going to congratulate us on a job well done? Far more likely, they will hate us and support further terrorism against us.

This is not a war with fronts and battle lines with soldiers lined up shooting at each other. This is a war where all those things we thought only happened to other people can happen to us, are happening to us. That is the lesson. We are all other people in the eyes of other people, if you see “us” as humanity, it was never happening to others, it has always been happening to us, we are doing it to ourselves. When we turn away refugees because they happen to be of the same religion professed by terrorists, we have have lost sight of that which makes us different from the terrorists.

I’m not saying I don’t want terrorists eliminated. As far as I am concerned they have violated their contract with humanity and invoked the most prejudicial Golden Rule, but killing innocent people has never won anyone any friends. This is a war of intelligence, and although as a former member of the intelligence community I made jokes about the oxymoron of military intelligence I can say in all seriousness we are woefully unarmed as a species. A terrorist is far less likely to spend two years being processed as a refugee in order to enter America than he would be to simply walk across the border with the other illegal immigrants.

If you are not familiar with the term “Daesh” please become so. It is a pejorative term in Arabic for those terrorists who no one can agree on a name for. IS, ISIL, ISIS, Those bloodthirsty motherfuckers, whatever, they don’t like Daesh. Kind of like when Bush 41 referred to Saddam Hussien as “Saddem” a word meaning “shoe shine boy.” This is one of your weapons, perhaps your only weapon, the ability to deny the terrorists access to your terror. Very much as when dealing with animals, show no fear. You should certainly take prudent precautions, but should the feces strike the oscillating rotary device, laugh in their faces.

 

Remember that stuff about turning the other cheek? Which part did you think was negotiable? Here is your biblical lesson for today. The punishment for any transgression was once death. There was no measure, only one response to bad behavior. God spoke to Moses, providing the concept of measure; an eye for an eye, then Jesus brought us to the next level, teaching that our Earthly existence was of little importance. As a species we are not moving in the right direction, death for any transgression seems to be returning to popularity, when we should be ready to move to a level beyond turning the other cheek. Look into your soul, are you prepared to evolve towards Homo Sapiens Supra, or are you among those left behind, as Homo Sapiens Sapiens left Homo sapiens neanderthalensis behind?

I do not make these statements based only on Daesh and the responses to their war on everyone. You had to realize they were just plain old crazy when even Al Qaeda rejected them as “too extreme,” they are not representative of any religion, or any thought process for that matter. Extreme is becoming normal, tolerance is increasingly vilified as weak or even subversive. Tolerance is not the goal of extremists, obliteration of opposing viewpoints is their goal. Turn that around as well, those who seek to obliterate opposing points of view are terrorists. This applies not only to Daesh and Al Qaeda, it applies to anyone who seeks to silence (and at its most severe, destroy) anyone in disagreement.

In the same sense all Muslims are not terrorists, all white people are not racists, and all racists are not white. You might think after a century and a half of racial awareness in America we would make some progress. We did, now we have slid back down from the mountaintop. “Students,” more appropriately “professional activists,” have started a wave of protests at universities across America, using the arguments of their grandparents against the reality their grandparents forged. Demanding, among other things, a return to segregation, a group of privileged students calling themselves the “Black Justice League” occupied offices at Princeton University. “Jim Crow” is invoked in some twisted argument for a “blacks only” space. In the Twilight Zone episode in my mind, these children are slapped into unconsciousness by their grandparents over Thanksgiving dinner, and wake up to face actual racism, so they might understand the words they are using.

We have seen tolerance and sensitivity turned upside down. Rather than seeking knowledge, the “prize” today appears to be offense. Free Yoga classes for disabled students have ended due to complaints of “cultural appropriation.”  Following this line of reasoning, it would be inappropriate to learn a language other than that of your nation of birth, listening to music from other cultures would be banned. How do these practices bring us together as a species?

They do not. They splinter us, until we are seven billion distinct cultures, churches of self, paranoid of the knowledge other churches even exist. A recent Pew Research poll found forty percent of Millennials support censorship under certain circumstances (no one seems to be in favor of censoring themselves, regardless of how offensive I might find them). Suppressing the expression of unpopular ideas does not make them go away, and as Larry Flynt said, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like, it protects speech you don’t like.” More golden rule stuff here, give my thoughts the respect you seek for your own, you don’t need to agree or even listen, but allow my words to exist if you expect me to allow yours to exist.

The United States of America is an idea. An idea forged from the oppression of our founders. The rights specified in our constitution were not theories, they are rights which had been denied. Denying those rights today is anti-American and unpatriotic, regardless of the number of flags on your pick up truck. I don’t care if we lead the world or if we just follow along, but if we continue to move backwards, against our principles, we deserve to be left behind with the terrorists by people more civilized than us.

Faces in the crowd

Good morning, today is my birthday. I’m spending the weekend relaxing in the mountains, so on Friday evening I was talking with a friend and not watching any news. I woke to the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

As of now one hundred and twenty nine people are listed as dead, with another ninety nine of the three hundred fifty two wounded in “very serious condition.”

One hundred and twenty nine families will have an empty seat at the table. Lovers will lay down in empty beds, children will live their lives without a parent, parents will bury their children. One hundred twenty nine times over, for now, this time. The day before, forty three died and two hundred thirty nine were wounded in a suicide bomb attack in Beirut, one hundred forty seven were killed and seventy nine wounded in an attack on Garissa University in Kenya. Brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and friends lost forever.

Every face in the crowd is loved by someone, the eyes which once lit up when that face entered the room are now filled with tears.

On Saturday morning, my circles of friends checked to see if they were intact. Most were. Not all. I haven’t heard from Beirut yet, Baba had a way of knowing where his next restaurant should be blown up.

Luis Felipe Zschoche

Luis Felipe Zschoche

Luis Felipe was in Paris to complete an album with his band Captain Americano. He decided to catch the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Bataclan with his girlfriend. They are now faces in the crowd.

It is not a good day to be a Muslim.

I knew a woman who grew up in Germany during the second world war. She was a child, she did not know any Jews, she lived on a farm and knew there was a war going on. She had no idea about the holocaust taking place. Years later, in America, she was just another German, a NAZI, a Jew killer in the eyes of anyone who heard her heavy accent.

In America during the war we “interned” people of Japanese descent, American citizens were sent to what were essentially prisoner of war camps inside America.

As a society, I do not believe we have matured much since then. After the 11 September attacks anti-Muslim prejudices were so out of hand that Sikhs, who have nothing in common with Islam but happen to wear turbans (unlike actual Arabs or Muslims) were the target of hate crimes.

I do not expect people to be able to differentiate between peaceful Muslims and ISIS terrorists when they cannot tell a Sikh from a Muslim.

It is time to make some tough decisions, and in order to make intelligent decisions you must be armed with facts. Hear that well extremist friends. Be more intelligent than your adversary.

We are indeed at war, our my opponent is hate. So look deep inside yourself, which side are you on? It does not matter if you are Muslim or Christian; if your motivation to action is hate, you are on the same side, and you are not on my side of this battle.

My God tells me to love everyone. I return to Matthew 5:43-45; “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 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; 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.

If you choose to feed hate, it grows just like any other organism. One friend stated it quite well; “Let us not get polarized and divisive. Extremist organizations thrive and recruit from divisive societies. Let us not cast blame on an entire community because of the actions of a minority. People killing people are not fueled by differences of race or religion. Those are just the excuse for a deeper seeded evil fueled by extremism. So let’s not provide the soil on which those seeds of extremism can thrive and flourish.”

Do not mistake my intentions. The individuals who are responsible for the destruction of lives and families should be hunted down and eliminated like the cancer they are. Feeding that cancer by attacking innocents is counterproductive.

My time here on Earth nears its end, but my time with God has only begun. I will NOT spend eternity reconciling hate, that task is to be completed here. Besides, I hear they have a pretty good band in heaven, they just got another guitarist.

Socially unconscious

The Holidays are upon us. You know, the Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, and the biggest of all, Santa Claus Day. But something is wrong…

Imagine the horror of the orthodox consumer, sipping his five dollar cup of flavored hot water in the temple of bucks to the stars, out of a simple red cup!

star2015

 

This may be the greatest blow pseudo Christianity has ever suffered. In the midst of the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the most amazing suggestion was made to soothe the pseudo Christian who feels Santa Claus Day has been ignored by the Church of Consumerism. “Why not find the holiday spirit by buying a cup of Starbucks Coffee for a homeless person?”

“Let them eat cake” seemed so cliche.

These Holidays just cause so much stress, the decision of which offense to celebrate can be the hardest. One chain of shopping malls has eschewed traditional Christmas designs, hoping not to offend any consumers during the Santa Claus Day shopping season.

image (4)

Warm and cuddly memories Inc.

 

I actually prefer the idea of a photo of the grandchildren and Santa on the deck of the Starship Enterprise. Why confuse Christmas with Santa Claus Day? The celebration of consumerism can be enjoyed by members of any faith, particularly because those glaring symbols of Christianity like pine trees and snowflakes have been removed.

In other parts of the world, the two holidays are separate, Santa Claus Day being celebrated on 6 December, the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Even that holiday is having trouble not offending anyone. Somehow being tolerant of minorities implies to some people they should be intolerant of the majority, thus this week’s title.

Being socially unconscious has become a national pastime of sorts. People focus on an issue and nothing else matters, least of all any meaningful conversation on the topic. One friend, for whom I maintain a level of respect, is often reduced to sound bites in a discussion, responding with slogans rather than thoughts. I wonder if he feels the same frustration I do, he is clearly banging his head against a wall, expecting meaningless phrases to express his thoughts on complex issues. On the other hand, he is a Buddhist, and firmly believes in the power of chanting.

I was recently invited to take part in a drum circle. Images of a communal moment piqued my curiosity. It seemed a perfect way to spend the evening, I have always been a percussionist, drumming is the simplest form of communication, we still express pleasure with applause. With visions of Richard Feynman in my head I drove down to Maryland.

What a disappointment. It had escaped me that people celebrating the simplest form of communication might not be capable of any higher forms. They had replaced the communal spirituality with the ritual, there was no heart, just props. Although not included in the conversations of other participants, I did overhear them. The pettiness among these “free spirits” was astounding. How did they expect to experience any sense of community when they were so wrapped up in themselves? This was, of course, one experience, one circle, I’m sure there must be some folks who actually get the rhythm going. I’ll try again some day, somewhere else.

The entire experience left me feeling much as I did when a friend of my first wife spent an evening insulting our lifestyle back in the eighties. She was a vegan, a fairly new at the time offshoot of vegetarianism. Any interaction with animals was, to her, abuse. She went on for over an hour telling us how horrible we were for eating meat and cheese, in her thigh high leather boots. She knew what to say, but not what to do. It never occurred to her she was wearing nearly half a cow’s hide.

The most depressing thing lately, the thing which nags at me to leave this world behind, is the open, ignorant hypocrisy displayed by the majority of people, paired with the exhausted acceptance by the remainder. Does no one see this is the theme in several high profile issues?

Black Lives Matter. So much so the Black Lives Matter organization is comfortable calling for the deaths of Police Officers. And no one bats an eye.

Gay people should have the right to marry. And you should attend the wedding and bring a gift, regardless of your personal feelings. Unless you’re Muslim, in which case we do not want to offend you.

Abortion is Murder. Agreed, but if murder is a bad thing killing abortionists is not the answer. Perhaps you feel killing can be justified, which means you have something in common with the abortionist.

The puppets chanting the global warming mantra are perhaps the most disheartening. All the empirical evidence disproves every prediction they have made, yet they are so locked into their beliefs they can’t see they are being used. They make claims using disproven theories claiming to embrace science while working full force against science. They exist as puppets of an elite group attempting to manipulate the economy, and accuse their detractors of being puppets of an elite group attempting to manipulate the economy.

Don’t even get me started on the occupy crowd.

There have always been, and there should always be, fringe groups. But they’re supposed to be the fringe, not the main stream.

Recently I read an article with the title “Even Cities That Can’t Go Car Free Should Have To.” That about sums it up. Even if you can’t, you have to. Coexistence be damned, let’s just force people to do what we want. But who are “we?”

“We,” more often than not, are a group of spoiled children. Why do you think Donald Trump is doing so well in the polls? Have you watched an eight year old boy lately? “I’m the best, he’s the worst, I can do anything, he can’t do a thing.” This is the peak in America today, the finest example of what it means to be an American, the person who should represent us to the world.

I am tired. I truly wish to know what others are thinking, yet far too often it turns out they aren’t thinking at all.

 

 

 

 

 

Suicide notes

 

 

 

Suicide notes are the final statement, last words for someone who doesn’t believe anyone is listening. They are the message someone wants to share which sums up their life (as viewed through the depression which has led them to end that life). They can be filled with blame or despair, or they can simply be an explanation of a rational decision (Yes, it is my belief suicide can be a reasonable choice). I’ve read a few suicide notes, some celebrities, some acquaintances, and of them several have been quite rational.

When I say suicide can be a reasonable choice, I am not speaking about euthanasia for the terminally or chronically ill. I am speaking of circumstances in which the reasonable expectation of a satisfying and productive life have been removed. And no, I’m not suggesting a permanent solution for a temporary problem, I’m saying it is indeed possible to be trapped in a meaningless life, the problem is permanent.

As a chronically clinically depressed person, I can identify with the suicidal. I’ve certainly considered the act. I’ve been honest enough to admit it and been placed under observation. If there is a doctor out there who can explain how being incarcerated in a hospital room with no contact is supposed to return the will to live, I’m listening. It just teaches you to lie when asked if you’re going to hurt yourself. I did not, in fact, wish to kill myself, I just had no desire to live. I refer to it as “passively suicidal,” I still look both ways before crossing the street. My decisions about my life are no one’s concern, no one’s responsibility, until I decide I no longer wish to suffer. Then everyone has an opinion, usually an uninformed opinion. Speaking for myself, you do not know how I feel, you are not me. You have not survived over two dozen years with my case of Multiple Sclerosis, you have not watched my wife die, you have not watched the collapse of my dreams from my vantage point. I keep these things in mind about you when considering your choices, please extend the same courtesy to me.

A couple of noteworthy authors come to mind, and while they were active participants in ending their lives, they had given the act a good deal of thought and just ran out of reasons to stay alive. Ernest Hemingway’s note, written after months of illness, expresses many of my current feelings. He was disappointed with his legacy, and disgusted with the poseurs of the world.  His summation was (of course) classic Hemingway, “But here’s the beauty part. Forty, fifty years from now, when all the wanna-be Hemingways are old and fat and their chin-fuzz is fried to bristle and their huevos are dried up like figs in a dusty street… But they still want to do it all like Hemingway…They’ll have to eat a shotgun too.”

Hunter S. Thompson wrote a note I can identify with, even though I don’t care for football. Titled “Football Season is Over;” No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun – for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax – This won’t hurt.

It doesn’t have to hurt. It’s all a matter of removing the central nervous system from equation, understanding the life process and how to interrupt it.

So here I am, a birthday looming on the horizon (only seven years past fifty), glory days in the past, and a series of disappointments in everyday life. I had made every effort to be out of this country before the election cycle began, but here I am, faced with two absolutely scary prospects as presidential candidates, and a populace torn over which sociopath to rabidly support. I had really hoped to avoid this. There’s a television at work, and I have to concentrate on not laughing out loud at the news in front of my co-workers. They actually take this stuff seriously, which highlights just how out of touch with reality the majority of people are. I find myself unable to relate to people, lots of people, the overwhelming majority of people. There are so many more issues, but this is not my suicide note.

Suicide is ostracized, making life difficult for those left behind, if they care what other people think. The fact is, all life ends. It is random, you could be hit by a falling aircraft while eating dinner. Your friend was not going to live forever, so it doesn’t matter if it was suicide or cancer that took him. Actually it does. Suicide is an act of ownership, taking responsibility for ending a life no longer worth living. It is not cowardly or an escape, it is an act of control, a conscious choice of path.

All of my religious influences have been strongly opposed to suicide. “Life is a gift from God, suicide is throwing away that gift, an insult to God.” We each have our own vision of our judgement day (Emma’s was cartoonish), I see it as an acknowledgement of my life to my creator. You can visualize it as a straightforward exchange across a desk (or a child begging for mercy, depending upon your temperament), but the conversation is taking place every moment, at the end we just make contact and I find out if my beliefs are correct (or not). Perhaps such a responsible point of view is unusual. This could very well be why suicide is so misunderstood, people who live their lives never actually taking responsibility for anything, judging those who have taken responsibility and faced the consequences.

You don’t know how it feels. Even if you have walked along the edge, it was your edge, you don’t know this one. Carry that lesson forward, apply it to all of your judgements.

 

 

What matters

Life.

91

These cells happen to contain all the information required to build a human being. From these few cells will grow all the facilities required, blood, bones, intellect. Can you see that person in your mind? What sex is it? What color is it? Because even though such information exists within these cells, right now they look exactly the same as eight cells from a chicken embryo. Don’t get me wrong, chicken lives matter too.

All life matters. I am unable to connect my world to that of the Snail Darter, but I hate to say goodbye, even though I am fully aware species come and go, our own debut just a few hundred thousand years past. Homo Sapiens Sapiens will pass, perhaps evolving towards another species, perhaps simply disappearing. The rock we inhabit will last longer than we will, rocks don’t die, despite all the pleas to save the Earth, the Earth doesn’t need you. The Earth doesn’t care any more than Mars or Pluto cares, rocks lack consciousness.

You may frame your compassion for life with a variety of points of view. The Hindu philosophy, Ahimsa, is “do no harm” to any living creature. This quality of compassion is reserved for humans, who may decide in which ways to provide stewardship for the Earth. The overwhelming majority of living creatures are not allowed such choices, to survive requires ending the life of whatever is available to provide nutrition.

This is “The Break.” The separation of “Man” from “Nature.” Nature simply is. Man has the ability to be what he wishes. Man has the ability to dream of a better world, to step beyond immediate personal needs and act as a member of a society.

Those eight cells up top, will they become a world leader or a serial killer? As grand as the capacity to hold up his fellow man may be, Man also has the capacity to hold down his peers. He is a complex organism, intellect, compassion, and survival, all wrestling for dominance. Each of us maintaining our own balance, holding to faith we all pursue the same goals. We do not.

Are there “essential human values” shared by all humans? Just one; self preservation. We may hold up construction of our monuments to progress for decades as we argue the impact to the environment, then spread depleted uranium throughout our battlefields. In the name of “the Right to Life,” we may murder physicians. We may choose to kill in the name of an all powerful God who we believe does not have the power to inflict his will on our neighbors. All that is just the work of individuals, put us in a crowd and we can really get rowdy.

An unruly mob chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Death to Cops” burns its own neighborhood. It has never occurred there may be Black Cops? Much of our view of the world is formed by our immediate environment, those we routinely defer to as “enlightened” are thought to have a broader view. The people in the mob either know no black cops, or they see the black cops they know as either “not black” because they are cops or “not cops” because they are black.

Such myopia is not limited to some “lesser” segment of society. A friend, who holds a couple of Ph.D.s, several Master’s degrees, and lives in Arizona, stated this morning “English is already the official national language so that is moot and frankly stupid.” Other than remind her America has no official language I did not engage in conversation. Intellect is measured in many ways, an outright denial of the reality existing just a few meters outside the gates of your ivory tower puts you in the category of people my mother told me not to argue with. It certainly damages the credibility of anything else you have to say. This is the problem of dealing with the myopic. They did not reach their point of view by being open minded, they reached it through isolation. Logic other than their own is “frankly stupid.” A sense of elitism is unavoidable.

That elitism runs through all segments of society, the idea “I know better than you.”  It runs through the terrorist who destroys the infidels for their own good, it runs through the politicians who manipulate society to their own ends.

Some people have a genuine desire to improve the world, such as Margaret Sangar, a nurse in the early twentieth century who sought to heal the social and economic problems of the world. She saw a solution in reducing the birthrate, and founded Planned Parenthood, reducing the numbers of poor and uneducated by simply not allowing them to reproduce. A tough sell, but it was after all for our own good. The sales pitch has been modified through the years, “empowering women” was not her aim when she wrote “No woman shall have the legal right to bear a child” or “Birth control clinics shall be permitted to function as services of city, county, or state health departments.” Her idea of birth control was control by the state. She aligned herself with the eugenics movement, Adolf Hitler’s pursuit of a “Master Race,” and the KKK. An uninformed person would not be aware of this, as she knew as far back as 1922. “We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities.  The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” As of 2010, seventy nine percent of Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinics are in minority neighborhoods. Because black lives matter to Planned Parenthood.

A person in the spotlight who has been called the “Smartest Woman on the Planet” has heaped praise on Margaret Sangar, saying she is “in awe” of her. I would presume she knows what she is talking about and is not uninformed. Perhaps she is testing her audience, probing to see just how uninformed and pliable they are. The reaction might have been different had she said “I’m in awe of Adolf Hitler” because most people know who he was. I understand you can tell a great deal about a person by the people they admire.

About two thousand years ago, Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis (Juvenal) wrote “Two things only the people anxiously desirebread and circuses.” Over the years we have chosen to forget the meaning of “circuses” in this context, back then the wild animals ate the slaves for our entertainment. Not terribly different from MSNBC or FOX news, our present day circuses. Not much has changed at all. An observant alien race might not notice the passage of time.

When we choose to say “Life Matters,” we separate ourselves from the animals. When we qualify the statement, “Black Lives Matter,” “My Friend’s Lives Matter,” or even “Human Lives Matter,” we dilute our commitment to life.

 

 

 

 

Why I no longer support Anonymous

Maybe I don’t need any words of explanation at all, just the following image.

 

anonymous

 

This is what makes having friends of various political slants so challenging. I was exceptionally offended by this image, comparing those who gave their lives for their country to a group of criminals, in fact in the accompanying text the hackers of Anonymous were lionized as “true heroes,” the men and women who died in Vietnam were described as being “duped into going,” and lacking “the courage to stand against it.”

I knew people whose names are on that wall. I knew people whose names are on other walls. There is no comparison to people whose pictures are on the Post Office wall, although I’ve known a few of them as well.

 

250px-EdwardleehowardWantedPoster

 

I even have a copy of Lee’s poster, which at one time I had dreamed of getting autographed. Unfortunately he outlived his usefulness and was “retired” by the SVR. No one trusts a traitor. Except “Anonymous,” a misguided group of clueless idealists who believe anything that contradicts authority represents “truth.” One truth is “loose lips sink ships,” ships containing human beings. Another truth is “In order to be an idealist, you must have an idea.”

I suppose the big picture, the reason behind no longer supporting Anonymous or many of the plethora of anarchist groups out there, is because they are not anarchists. The definition “absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal” has been discarded (maybe because it was written by those in authority?), replaced by an ultra authoritarian philosophy. “Defy the current authority and do precisely what I say” has become the anarchists creed.

If one truly believes in personal freedom, how can they take this view? If one truly believes in freedom of expression, allowing the existence of other points of view would appear to be the the very first commandment. As it is, I face routine discrimination from my anarchist friends, racial slurs and negative stereotypes are applied to me daily. “Racial slurs?” Yep, hate to tell you this folks, but if you truly believed in ending racism you could start by not calling me a “middle aged white guy” in the same tone of voice the people you rail against say “nigger.” Don’t imply I have anything in common with my classmate Andy Fastow while complaining that all police officers judge all black people in the same way. Has it never occurred to you that in making such statements you are revealing you judge people based on a single characteristic, which is what you are complaining police officers and people such as myself do? Am I not your friend because I am different from others of my caste? I’m like these people because I am a middle aged white guy (and of course we are all precisely the same), but we should never judge the black kid hiding in the shadows as being like the other criminals hiding in the shadows? Doesn’t your brain hurt from shifting between forward and reverse without a clutch?

The hypocrisies of Anonymous and 0ther anarchist groups who attempt to align themselves with “The Left” appears to me more egregious than the hypocrisies of alleged “Religious” and “Patriotic” groups that attempt to align themselves with “The Right.” Don’t get me wrong, they all are extremists calling for individuals to participate in a nonexistent “main stream.” The far right groups just don’t camouflage their intents with a false garb of freedom. The extreme right comes right out and says “You should not be allowed to do this,” the extreme left says “You should not be allowed to think this (and I know you already do think this)” while holding banners reading “Freedom” and “Tolerance.”

One person said looters are not protestors, and should be shot on sight. I said I was in partial agreement (still hanging onto the trial by jury concept). The anarchist pops into the conversation with “blah blah blah and so should you idiots!” Thank you, I will take your comment as seriously as you have expressed it.

Freedom requires more than lip service. It requires action, and sometimes blood. Nathan Hale understood this, Edward Snowden does not. Ed, you might want to consider why you feel a country with one of the worst human rights records is a good choice in which to take asylum. You have successfully leapt from the frying pan to the fire. Brilliant display of your superior insights.

As we have seen repeatedly, some people jump on the protest band wagon because they want to raise hell. In doing so, they degrade the effect of a protest movement. It takes time, Watts was in ’65, Boston in 76, and a new generation has allowed peaceful protests to be subverted in Ferguson MO and Baltimore MD in the last year. One lesson I learned fairly early is “The conversation is over when the shooting begins.” The same holds true for burning your neighborhood. If we are going to have a conversation that improves society, we can start as soon as you stop hurting people to get my attention. You have my attention, and all I can see is a rowdy mob bent on destruction. Which ideals are you standing for?

 

Passion is not a substitute for intelligence, neither are the two mutually exclusive. Struggles can only be resolved by integrating the two.

 

 

 

 

 

Life

I have not written in a month. A great deal has been happening, much of it beautiful, all of it fascinating. Someone else was making plans, I was living.

Today, 1 April, is the sixteenth anniversary of my wedding to Emma. So much has taken place since then, meeting her family, moving to South Philadelphia, discovering the mysteries of pancreatic cancer. Emma now watches over me from an urn on the shelf, having witnessed the five years of my life since her departure in relative silence. I would so like to hear her opinions.

After Emma left I retired, focusing on a life of writing, letting go of the stress of the world in which we had lived. You know me, the dreamer. I wrote a book, kept a daily blog going, learned a new language, and gained a score of pounds as I discovered Belgian beers.

New stresses were waiting around the corner. C’est la vie. This is, after all, where Emma wanted me to be, alive, doing what she could not. My retirement savings were designed for a solitary life in South Philadelphia, after watching them evaporate I find myself back in the workforce, writing less and less often, and once again single.

Today is also an intermediate step in the marriage I entered after Emma moved on. The divorce papers are being delivered, with which my current wife and I will attempt to convince the State of New Jersey to end our marriage. These are melancholy times, I do not have ill feelings towards my wife, in fact in many ways I still love her, but time and space never quite placed us on the same plane. It’s so much easier when your ex is the object of disgust, divorcing someone you love is counter intuitive.

Emma steps in to help again. I loved her, but I moved on. So again, I move on.

I had largely lost the desire to live alone, that has not changed. Other people have come into my life, one of them quite a bright star at the moment. I would like for that to develop into a relationship which would rival mine with Emma, but I have learned that promises are not always fulfilled. I have also learned that tomorrow is not even promised, so today is all I have. And today is far more interesting than I had expected it to be.

Which brings us to today, April Fool’s Day.

Emma and I were both the others third spouse. She had been widowed twice, we entered quoting Oscar Wilde, “Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” This being each of our third, April Fools day seemed a natural. She was supposed to out live me.

My friend used to love “practical jokes,” yet they were neither, usually just rude and crass. This was sad, because John was such a warm and loving family man and trusted friend. One year when he was at lunch I placed a “While you were out” note on his desk, saying a witness wanted him to call, the name was “Coati Mundi.” There was a phone number, that of the small mammal house at the Philadelphia Zoo. I happened to know the person who would answer the phone and hear him say “Hello, this is Detective Murphy, may I speak with Coati Mundi?”

Coatimundi, native to Brazil

Coatimundi, native to Brazil

 

They both laughed about it later. That’s what life is about. Being able to laugh about it later. Make it easier by laughing today. What purpose is served by any other action?

 

Laugh.

 

 

Hearts and Minds

I am not your typical Christian, if there is such a creature. I’ve read the Bible a few times, the New Testament several, from which I believe I understand what God expects of me.

There are some parts which may be more significant than others, I shed tears when I get to Acts 5:30 “30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.

Jesus’ words are the most important part, and his most profound and simple message is expressed in “The Sermon on the Mount,” recounted in the various gospels, of which I prefer the writing of Matthew. In Matthew’s fifth chapter, verse 17, Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (emphasis mine).” He makes several examples of a “that was then, this is now” nature, culminating with my favorite verses; “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;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.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.” Matthew finishes with Jesus’ final instructions in his 28th cahpter “19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

This is the call to proselytize, the foundation of mission work. Note that Jesus told the disciples to “teach,” not belittle the beliefs held by others, or torture them into submission. One definition of “proselytize” is “to advocate or promote (a belief or course of action).

Obviously, some people misunderstand Jesus’ gentle ways, missing the message 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.

You can capture hearts with love, and minds with knowledge, but when you simply attack someone’s beliefs you should expect them to be defensive. If in your attack you misrepresent their beliefs, it’s time to go home. You lose. Think how you would respond to the same behavior. Offer the truth, and if you are turned away, turn away.

Presently the Muslim culture has been hijacked by terrorists, who distort their religion to justify acts of hatred and violence. So far the terrorists have been successful in convincing the Western world they represent Islam, routinely murdering any Muslims who dared to disagree. This is the forced conversion, from Islam to Al Qaeda, that results in resentment, and the eventual overthrow from within. Eventual.

Fearing the terrorists’ and their brand of Islam, Christian missions in the Arab word have flourished. This is not in response to Jesus’ call to teach, but true “Islamophobia.” Islam is not the problem, terrorism is. The two are different. Proselytizing as a political weapon is not what Jesus had in mind.

Recently I came across an article claiming pedophilia is a cornerstone of Islam. No, not any more than it is a cornerstone of Christianity. There are events in the Quran that could be called child molestation if they happened today, fortunately the Old Testament doesn’t mention ages in all that “begetting.”

Luke gives the most details about Jesus’ mother (Mary), from which it has been calculated she was 14 at the time of Jesus’ birth, and may have married Joseph at age 12. Judged in the same light as Islam, Christianity would include a cornerstone of child molestation.

We simply cannot judge a civilization of two thousand years ago by the standards of today. Are there Muslim pedophiles? No doubt in direct proportion to the number of Christian pedophiles. Oh, you’ve been in the same cave with the Pope? Pedophilia has more to do with power than sex. It is not an “American” problem, it is a “Human” problem.

When our missionaries attempt to convert Muslims by spreading lies about their religion, they are no different than the terrorists. Hearts and Minds follow attractive examples, Jesus (to me) is the best example of how to live. His message appeals to one third of the world’s population, he didn’t touch that many souls by lying to them.

Spreading lies and distortions are hate mongering. Anyone doing so in the name of any religion has missed the teachings of their religion. I’m pretty sure God doesn’t like that, and there is no avoiding his judgement. Our lives in this world are finite, choosing to live those lives opposed to God has consequences that last for eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

What if?

John Greenleaf Whittier, in his poem Maud Miller, gave us this simple lesson;

 

God pity them both! and pity us all,

Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

The poem is a study in irony; the dreams, based on false impressions, incited by a chance meeting and lamented for a lifetime. I know the perils of this story, yet I still embrace my dreams.

For me, “What if?” is a lovely place. “What if she is the one to open her heart to me?” is not answered by sitting in the dark. The possibilities must be explored. Risks must be taken. Finding the answer to be “no” is not a failure. Never knowing is the failure, the answer might have been yes had only the question been asked.

I was speaking with a friend the other day and commented “You don’t hear ‘yes’ as many times as I have without hearing ‘no’ quite a few times.”

“What if?” is often faced with fear, the antithesis of my hopeful outlook. The question is usually completed with a negative outcome, “What if the plane crashes?” “What if I spill wine on the white carpet?” “What if my family doesn’t accept my choices?”. “What if?” is a toss of the coin, an admission the future is unknown, so why not envision a positive outcome? If the bad thing happens, it will happen. There will be no choice other than to deal with it. Worrying about it now will not alter the outcome, why throw good moments away in anticipation of bad moments?

In his poem My Psalm Whittier writes;

No longer forward nor behind

I look in hope or fear;

But, grateful, take the good I find,

the best of now and here

My usual response to negative “What if?”s is “What if the cat turns into a dragon and eats your family?” in an attempt to point out the futility of anticipating negative outcomes. Don’t tell me anything can happen if you’re not willing to accept the fact anything can happen. A positive outcome is just as likely as a negative outcome.

Far too many phrases have become meaningless from overuse. “What if?”, a useful consideration when preparing a course of action, has become the impediment of action, the “You’ll shoot your eye out” of the emotional realm.

Meaningless phrases was actually my idea for this article, the degradation of meaning and its impact on communication. You know me, I get sidetracked from time to time.

I was struck earlier this week by the false bravado of “I’ve got your six,” often expressed as “I’ve got your back.” As someone who has covered others six and depended on those covering my six I find the misuse of this term offensive. Sure, there was that time in Dallas I had to remind an officer he was covering my back and I would appreciate him allowing me to handle what stood before us, nothing is more discomforting than turning to your backup and seeing the muzzle of his weapon aimed through you, but what I am referring to is the thoughtless, careless misuse of “I’ve got your back,” using the phrase with the sincerity of “Have a nice day.” Don’t suggest I can depend on you unless I can actually depend on you, coming up short on backup is far more serious than finding you left your wallet at home.

Taking a break from “military” jargon, “I’ll think about it” is not supposed to mean “I would prefer to keep your hopes up, but the answer is no.” I’m not certain why so very many people believe deception is healthy in a relationship. The little white lie is in no way synonymous with la petite mort. True communication requires honesty, so few people are capable of accepting negative responses that it has become preferential to avoid the truth. I lived with a woman who repeatedly lied to me because she “didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” I never figured out how she thought I would feel when I eventually discovered not only the truth, but that she had been lying to me. As might have been expected, she was long gone by the time the truth came out. This has happened too many times for it to be an aberration, unless I just seek out women like her. I can blame myself for being forgiving, she continued to toy with my affections for months.

One more military phrase. “Copy” means “I acknowledge your transmission.” It does not mean “yes.” It is not a response to a question outside “Did you hear me?” Another non response is “I don’t know.” When did this become an acceptable answer? Saying “I’m sorry, you mispronounced ‘I’ll find out and get back to you ASAP,’ that is what you meant isn’t it?” doesn’t seem to help.

Presently I am faced with some major decisions, and without a clear view of the possibilities before me I am faced with simply throwing my fate to the wind. I’m okay with this.

What if I live happily ever after?

There’s at least one Golden Ticket still laying about, maybe I should just keep it.

On Pens and Machine guns

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I am Charlie

As most of my readers are American, they have probably never heard of Charlie Hebdo prior to the mass murder that took place on 7 January at the magazine’s Paris office. It is not the type of publication that would be popular with most Americans, or for that matter, most people. I am not Charlie, nonetheless Je me tiens avec Charlie. Free expression is an alleged cornerstone of American and other free societies, I often find myself defending the rights of people I would never shake hands with. My heroes have been the Marquis de Sade and Larry Flynt, not for what they published, but for their ability to be published at all. One of my favorite quotes of Larry is “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, it will protect all of you.” We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have suffered to insure our rights.

Charlie Hebdo is a rather adolescent publication, perhaps satirical, perhaps simply another incarnation of the insult humor of Don Rickels. The humor often is more of a “I can’t believe you said that” reaction, or “That’s really going to piss off the X,” where X equals any group. Charlie Hebdo didn’t single out Islam, they poked everyone, Islam just rose to the top of the list of favorite targets by lacking any sense of humor. In America we give the same honor to North Korea.

The Charlie Hebdo attack contains some interesting points many will miss. The first Police officer on the scene, Ahmed Merabet, was from an Algerian family (Algeria being a formerly French territory). He happened to be Muslim. After being wounded by the terrorists he begged for his life and was then shot to death. Obviously not all Muslims are terrorists, but Ahmed’s brother makes the point that terrorists are not Muslims at all. Al-Qaeda and ISIS may wrap themselves in Islam, but if you truly believe in an all powerful God, what use does your God have with your machine gun? Can’t God take care of its issues without assistance?

This is not a religion

This is not a religion

This may be the catalyst for separating terrorists from Muslims, even though Magritte’s surrealism was lost on this artist. My prayers continue.

Another point to consider is the response to the murders. One French newspaper ran the headline “12 morts, 66 millions blessés,” as this was an attack on France. The terrorists were hunted down and killed in days. This was also an attack on the arts community, which has come out strongly supporting freedom of expression (no real surprise) with the pencil versus the machine gun theme.

“Artist” is a vague description, after years of being described as an artist I have accepted the title, but I still maintain everyone is an artist in their own media. Many of my fellow artists take the title more seriously than I take them, one illustrator commenting “Are there ideals worth dying for? Certainly. But does blood need to be shed? I think not,” demonstrating why his chosen media is pictures rather than words. This is a tough one for my generally mild mannered colleagues, dying involves spilling blood. We can celebrate the brave martyrs who stand up to the terrorists, but please do not claim to be willing to die for your beliefs if you are going to whine about scraping your knees. Do me a favor, stand behind me, not beside me. Just because the pen is mightier than the sword we are not guaranteed to survive every battle.

Free expression is the essence of free society. Each and every one of us has the right to say whatever we feel. The celebration of that right is allowing it to those who offend us. It is not an expression of free speech to tell someone to shut up, free speech is the recognition you can respond to any statement with a statement of your own. You don’t need to kill them, nor they you, due to a disagreement. This is often referred to as civilized behavior.

This is where we draw yet another lesson from the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The attack on free expression is an attack on free society, and the attack is not just being waged by radical Muslims. One of the beauties of free speech is its ability to highlight the sensitive and the obscene. Every time one group speaks of the annihilation of their opponents they expose themselves as intolerant to the degree of being uncivilized. Certain elements attempt to shut down speech they find offensive, which in itself is the greatest offense. Charlie Hebdo probably could not have been published in America, where tolerance is defined as being intolerant of offensive views. Maybe it is because I am a writer, a musician, a communicator, an educator, one of my strongest beliefs has always been “silence is death.” By surrendering our basic rights in the name of “political correctness” we have failed to nourish the practice of critical thought and debate, leaving violence as the only response for the simple minded.

Remember the words of Larry Flynt, and apply them to the poem by Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the free thinkers
and I did not speak out
because I was not a free thinker.
Then they came for the Cartoonists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Cartoonist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

54adfbdacf62d.image

A Day for Danny

One question often asked is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I have come to the conclusion that things in and of themselves are neither good or bad. They simply happen, the measure of the person they affect lies in their reaction. Matthew 5:45 states this well, “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.

We can all be crushed by circumstances beyond our control, rising above our personal pain is what makes us good people. If you have never been tested, you are only potentially a good (or bad) person. One person who is currently being tested is Dan Scimeca, retired Chief of Police from Manasquan New Jersey, and husband of a High School friend of mine, Colleen (Walker) Scimeca. Not that he has not had other tests in life, and proven himself thoroughly, but as “Q” says to Captain Picard in the final episode of Star Trek; The Next Generation, the trial never ends.

Colleen has worked for years raising funds for ALS, being involved with the Valentine Plunge each year. In an amazing twist of irony, Dan was diagnosed with ALS earlier this year. They are both weathering this storm with grace.

Yesterday was a day of that rare event, Karma making itself obvious. Over eight hundred of Colleen and Dan’s friends gathered to raise funds for Dan and others who have ALS, packing Leggetts Sand Bar for “A Day for Danny.” It was quite amazing, the building was overflowing, and despite the great music from Ronnie and The Engineers, far too crowded to dance, or even move through the room. A small group of Colleen’s High School friends managed to stake claim to a table outside, driving in from as far away as Iowa. That’s me in the lower left corner.

 

The gang from NPHS, almost forty years in the making

The gang from NPHS, almost forty years in the making

Yes, we had fun, we always do. We are also comfortable supporting friends in need, there is a charitable streak that runs through this group, championed by Tim Sickel (who is not pictured because he took the above photograph).

I don’t know what the final tally for funds raised is, a low estimate would be $40,000, a drop in the bucket when it comes to the special needs of a family dealing with ALS. The love shared is immeasurable, just a wonderful thing to witness.

Your financial situation has nothing to do with your charitable contributions. You may not have money to share, but you have a heart to love others with. If all you can do is smile then do that. Helping a stranger find something in the grocery store doesn’t cost anything, kind words are free, why not share them?

We are all human, we have more in common with each other than we have differences. We are family, lifting up a fallen brother will never cause you to fall.

 

 

 

 

 

Save

Control

As a young person I accepted the common opinion I was a master of the universe. Not only could I do anything I wanted, I could do it well. I loved the stress that crushed other people, stress was like amphetamines for me, it made me sharper and more focused.

As the story goes, “Speed Kills.” I’ve lost my taste for stress. I’ve become a softer, more gentle person. Sometimes I miss the razor’s edge, but the benefits of slowing down and accepting my place in the universe more than balance the loss.

relax_nothing-is-under-control

 

When Emma was ill, I recognized that my ability to bend reality to my desires was an illusion. I took some solace in not being responsible for everyone’s happiness, I never believed I was a God, but when I could not repair the person I cared most about I suddenly felt as if I could repair nothing. For a while I could not, but that was just the depression talking.

Accepting that we have no real control is not easy. We think we make decisions, but in reality our best laid plans are as effective as a pinball choosing its own course. The difference is that a pinball does not regret its path. It bounces from bumper to bumper without a care. We beat ourselves up, knowing that if we had not stopped for coffee we would have not been on the road when the dog ran across in front of us. The point is, we didn’t know the dog existed when we stopped for coffee, we were happy that we were running early and could still get to work on time.

We do the best we can with the information we have, with the person that we happen to be, at the point in time we make the decision. I recently listened to an audiobook, “Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division,” written and read by Peter Hook, the bass player for Joy Division. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Joy Division was a rock band from Manchester England. Ian Curtis, the lead singer, was a brilliant artist, who happened to have epilepsy along with the other pressures of being a brilliant artist. On the eve of their American tour, Ian committed suicide. There are many reasons Ian may have had to commit suicide, but the fact is he did it on his own. It really can not be blamed on any other person, but there are several people who feel guilty about it. You can hear in Peter’s voice the questions that are still rolling around in his mind, several times he says “We should have done this differently.” But he was not the fifty eight year old man he is now when those decisions were being made. He was a twenty four year old kid on the brink of rock stardom. In one well reasoned passage, he ponders how touring America would have affected Ian, concluding that they were all doing what they were supposed to be doing as talented performers in the creative experience. They weren’t doctors or psychologists, they were band mates holding each other together.

There is a line in the song “Held In The Arms Of Your Words” by the band Tired Pony, “every mistake that we’ve made is at peace cause it lead us both here” which describes how I have come to look at the past. Should I have married my first wife? If I hadn’t, three beautiful human beings would not have been born, if I wouldn’t have followed her back to the Pennsylvania where she dumped me with nothing, I wouldn’t have been in Bloomsburg where my second wife happened to be spending the summer, and followed her back to Philadelphia, and my youngest child would never have been born. Not being in Philadelphia I would have never met Emma, and that journey led me to where I am now. None of that would have happened if I had said “No, I’m staying in California” to my first wife. All the wonderful and horrible experiences would be replaced by other wonderful and horrible experiences.

This year I’ve lost a few friends and family, I don’t hear comments about how sad it is they left so young very much anymore. Mortality is less of a surprise, and most of us have realized greatness does not come from climbing Everest, it comes from climbing out of bed every morning. It comes from smiling in the midst of adversity. It comes from acknowledging we are not the best or worst at whatever we’re doing, we’re just trying to be the best we are capable of being.

Life is finite. We don’t know how much time we have, but we should know there is not enough time to regret things we have done without malice. We cannot change the past, we can only learn from it, and if there are to be regrets, they should be when we do not learn.

 

 

 

 

A difference of opinion

 

The Ichthys is a symbol in Christianity, from the Koine Greek word for fish, based on Matthew 4:18-19:

18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

During the time of persecution by the Roman Empire, the Ichthys was a symbol used to mark meeting places, and even as a “salute”, to covertly distinguish friends from persecutors. If you recall the television program “The Prisoner,” you might recognize the symbol.

The Ichthys salutation

The Ichthys salutation modified to mean “I’ll be seeing you”

 

In the last few decades, the symbol has been re-popularized, initially as a bumper sticker or medallion quietly acknowledging Christianity. Not willing to let a private expression of faith go without an argument, several groups decided to mock the Ichthys, creating their own variants.

 

Evolution of the Ichthys

Evolution of the Ichthys

If you know so little about both Christianity and evolution you believe the two are in conflict with each other, you might find some of the more aggressive variants (none of which are shown here) as expressing something you consider to be “truth.” The truth is, by displaying a “Darwin Fish” you have expressed your general ignorance and arrogance. Christ had nothing to do with creation. That was his father, God, who gave the people sixteen centuries before Christ a story of the creation of Earth they could understand. There is no rational reason to believe that the creation story in Genesis reflects the actual or complete mechanics of the creation of the universe, but it does follow the path that scientists believe took place. Some people might feel that lends some veracity to the story. Other would prefer to pick apart the story for what is left out. If you think Genesis is a science book, you missed the point, regardless of your religious beliefs.

In a recent conversation about arrogance, one contributor displayed both his arrogance and ignorance as he attempted to preserve his point of view with something that no doubt sounded wise and noble to him by saying “it should also be noted that respecting someone’s right to have a belief in something is a given. But it in no way means that the belief itself, especially one that is considered to be the cause of much damage and suffering, should be respected. Indeed, it becomes one’s duty to hold it up for ridicule and scorn.”

I can respect someone I don’t agree with, but when you feel it is your duty to ridicule and scorn someone’s beliefs, you are not in any way respecting the person, their right to have the belief, or the belief. Trying to sugar coat your arrogance only makes you appear more arrogant, as if the foolish Christian can not see through your self deceit. Very little elicits more pity than a fool who genuinely believes he is wise.

If you choose not to believe the Judea-Christian beliefs, so be it. You are not alone, roughly two thirds of he world’s population is neither Jewish or Christian. However, very few people actually believe there is no God. If you wish to express the superiority of your views that no God exists, even claiming them to be backed by science, you might want to consider the meaning of both “Atheism” and “science.” To say you believe there is no deity, none at all, because you have no empirical evidence of its existence, indicates faith. You believe in something you can not prove. Were you to have any understanding of science you would know that the absence of empirical evidence of something does not imply the actual absence of that thing’s existence. There is no empirical evidence of the existence of electrons, yet we are all certain they exist. Intellectual honesty would require a thoughtful person who does not believe in a deity to accept the possibility that a deity might exist. Such an intellectually honest person would call themselves an Agnostic.

If you call yourself a Christian, there are rational discussions to be had about your beliefs, such as “why you think you are in a position to judge other people.” If you call yourself a Muslim there are rational discussions to be had, such as “why do you believe you should kill people who do not share your faith.” If you call yourself an Atheist there are rational discussion to be had, such as”Why do you have faith in something that can not be proven (there is no God) yet feel you can judge others who have faith in something that can not be proven (there is a God).”

We all have differences of opinion, and if we are secure in our opinions can discuss them without insulting other people’s opinions. People who feel they can simply shout down any opinion that is contrary to theirs lack security in their beliefs, whether they be the Westboro Baptist Church, the Taliban, or Atheists. They are all equally annoying to those of us who have explored our spirituality and can express our beliefs rationally.

Secure in our beliefs, most of us can take a joke. I might even put this medallion on my car.

car-emblem-sticker-fish-n-and-chips-darwin-fish_350314693843

 

 

Influences

Our relationship with God is based on a number of influences. Some shape our vision of what God is, some shape our vision of how to treat God. Some of these influences are from organized religions, some from the practitioners of those religions. Those practitioners can be our family, friends, or members of religions who proselytize either directly or subtly.

Although some religions believe children are born into them, most notably Islam, the majority of religions teach a personal relationship with God to some degree. I rather like the Amish practice of sending young people into the untamed world so they can decide if remaining Amish is for them. George Carlin spoke of a change in Catholic doctrine in the sixties that taught kids to ask questions, and he noted they failed to provide answers. My own religious mentor, Dr. Colton, taught us not only to ask questions, but how to evaluate answers. I searched for quite a while before finding my place in God’s plan, and then Dr. Colton hit me with another statement that pushed me away from Christianity for a few years when I was nearly forty. The fact I keep coming back tells me something about the truth I see in God.

What we choose to believe is influenced by our maturity in how we believe anything. I once worked in a corporation that made some major errors. When I pointed them out to my manager, he said “Those people make a lot more money than we do, they know what they’re doing.” As it turns out, they did. They were shredding the company to make it appear more profitable on paper so they could sell it. They sailed into the sunset and I was left behind with the new angry owners. The new owners fired my former manager, I like to think they had no tolerance for blind faith.

 Søren Kierkegaard is seen by many to be the father of existentialism. He was highly critical of organized religion, but not of God. He criticized blind faith. He said;

“God is not like a human being; it is not important for God to have visible evidence so that he can see if his cause has been victorious or not; he sees in secret just as well. Moreover, it is so far from being the case that you should help God to learn anew that it is rather he who will help you to learn anew, so that you are weaned from the worldly point of view that insists on visible evidence”

Belief in God requires a “Leap of Faith” according to Kierkegaard, “religious belief is a personal, passionate affirmation of the will rather than a conclusion of the intellect. It involves embracing that which is not simply indemonstrable from reason’s impartial spectator perspective but also absurd. Faith is not a one-time event, however, but a passionate attitude requiring constant renewal. In virtue of our sinful nature, faith is not something we can achieve on our own but requires God’s grace. It is only through faith that we fulfill our key task in life of becoming our authentic selves.”

Blind faith is meaningless. If you choose to know God, you will find faith. If you choose to follow blindly, you are unlikely to meet God on your path.

I’m not sure what the conquistadors thought they were accomplishing with “forced conversions”, what amazes me is that five hundred years later Muslims are still doing it. Nonetheless, if we can see what is wrong with attempting to force beliefs, we can avoid it in our own lives.

The devil in the details

During a conversation about religions, one person said “the differences are only very small details.” That is often very true, and some details are insignificant in the big picture. Some are not. We are, as members of related denominations, more alike than different, but there are reasons behind some of the differences. This is where the deceptions occur which are used to attack faith.

I have a friend, I’ll call him “Mark”, who is agnostic. He was raised in a religious family, but when he had questions he received unsatisfactory answers. He paid attention in church, but found the information confusing, even contradictory. Given only bits and pieces of scripture reinforced his impression the Bible was self contradicting. So he gave up, still believing in the existence of a creator, but unwilling to believe a book full of contradictions.

The Bible is not the story of the events of a weekend. It is the history covering several thousand years. As history develops, ways of explaining and interpreting it change, the very language in which it is recorded changes. Over the course of a decade, Mark repeated several times the Bible was self contradicting, yet at no point could he produce any contradictions. I believe he perceived them, he just couldn’t pin them down.

Another friend recently said “very little in the Bible is concrete.” As evidence he offered “Depending on the religion, there are several different organizations of what the 10 commandments consist of.” This is remarkably similar to Mark’s point of view. In fact, the differences in “The ten commandments” are based on the way they are presented. In the twentieth chapter of Exodus, Moses receives the stone tablets, which no longer exist. The commandments are not numbered, or separated five per tablet, in fact one interpretation is they were two copies of the commandments, one on each tablet, as is common in legal contracts. The way in which the they are presented is narrative, so various denominations have punctuated them differently, all coming out with ten commandments, although the number and contents of each individual commandment does not always remain the same. Then in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy Moses retells the story to a younger generation. There are differences in the phrasing, but the essential commandments remain the same. But this is only the beginning.

The choice of a Sabbath is based on theology. At the time the commandments were given, they were given to the Jews, who honor the Sabbath as the seventh day, based on creation as recorded in Genesis. Christians began to celebrate the first day, “the Lord’s day,” as the Sabbath in the second century, as Christianity became independent of Judaism.

Various translations differ on “Thou shall not kill.” The Hebrew words “לא תרצח (lo tirtzach)” are alternately translated as “Thou shall not kill” and “Thou shall not murder”. There are many examples of accepted killing and self defense in the Bible, it seems clear the commandment addresses unjustified killing, but there remain people who choose to see this as a contradiction.

This one came up in my research and presents the reason I keep looking deeper. German Theologian Albrect Alt has suggested “Thou shall not steal” was originally intended against stealing people, as in kidnapping or slavery. The Talmudic interpretation is “Thou shall not kidnap.”

In what is part of the first or second commandment (depending on your numbering) “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” has been stretched to extremes. The Catholic Church claims that images and statues representing holy figures are not worshiped. Protestants claim that images of Jesus are of the man and not of the Son of God, and Protestant crucifixes are bare of Christ’s form. Jews won’t even spell the word “God”, and Muslims have elevated the prophet Mohammed to a Godlike state in that any representation of him is viewed as veneration.

In the 3500 years that have passed since the time of Moses, tens of billions of people have considered the words of the Bible, people who have spoken thousands of languages. The words are far less important than the message, and that message continues to be shared. There will be those who choose to see contradictions, or manipulate interpretations to fit their desires.

If I say I am averse to lying, and acknowledge I have lied in my life, does that represent a contradiction? Does it suggest everything I say is a lie, or that I have struggled with the circumstances of life and regret my transgressions? There are many ways to interpret words, and much of what we believe comes from within. When it come to eternity, it makes sense to carefully examine the totality of a belief system, rather than discarding everything based on differences in punctuation.

The Death Penalty

In our system of justice, punishment is supposed to have a rehabilitative effect, and also a deterrent effect . “Justice” is not supposed to equal “vengeance”.

As penalties ascend, eventually the ultimate punishment a society is willing to inflict is reached. In America, we occasionally kill people when they’ve done terribly offensive things, at this point it is reserved almost exclusively as a penalty for aggravated murders, which causes some confusion amongst the “eye for an eye” crowd.

The problems with the death penalty are legion, beginning with the misunderstanding of its purpose. If you believe that killing someone is a way to stake out the high moral ground, indicating that killing people is wrong, you may miss the finer points of this article. Do not be distressed, I believe that the death penalty is the only resort left in some instances. I see the problems, and have no clue what a reasonable solution might be.

We do not want to see ourselves as barbarians, so we have always sought means of execution that are humane. The Guillotine was not only quick and efficient, it was humane. Hanging, performed properly, is humane, in that the neck is broken immediately, releasing the deceased from any sensation. Lethal injection is perhaps the most humane form of death possible, with the caveat “If performed properly.” Here we run into a problem. Lethal injection requires a physician, who took as his first oath “Primum non nocere” (doctors prefer Latin so you won’t know what they are saying) meaning “First, do no harm.” The contradiction of goals should be clear to anyone. Drug manufacturers who make the drugs traditionally used for lethal injection refuse to supply the drugs because they are opposed to the death penalty. Who really believes that a corporate sponsorship of an execution is a good idea?

This last week, the result of performing a medical procedure without medical advice came to its obvious conclusion. A man who had failed to kill a young woman by shooting her and then buried her alive was scheduled to be executed, and after the injection he lingered until his heart failed forty three minute after the injection. The State of Oklahoma was as clumsy as Clayton Lockett had been when he murdered Stephanie Neiman.

Clayton Lockett was not the poster boy for leniency. I don’t know how long his victim suffered, but that is not the point. Neither is the point that some people are found innocent after they are executed. My point is that despite a declining trend, over 16,000 people were murdered in America during the last year for wich the CDC has data. The odd execution is a meaningless deterrent, yet the odd botched execution stops us in our tracks, resulting in Charles Warner’s execution being suspended. Charles Warner was scheduled to be executed next, he had been convicted of raping and murdering an 11-month-old child two years earlier. On autopsy Warner’s 11 month-old victim was found to have a six-inch skull fracture (on an 11 month-old child, picture that), a broken jaw, three broken ribs, bruised lungs and a lacerated liver and spleen. Again, no poster boy for leniency.

Any single argument is inadequate. People like Lockett and Warner need to be removed from society. Nothing within our concepts of humanity will allow us to give them what most of us feel they deserve. Incarceration for life is in many ways an inhumane form of punishment, and the possibility exists they could kill other prisoners or guards, or even escape. Surgically or chemically altering their minds violates every standard of humanity. The death penalty is morally reprehensible to a large portion of society. No punishment will ever return the victims, but how do we protect society from the perpetrators?

Reasonable dating of historical events places Moses’ existence at around 1500BC. At that time, the law was brutal, the idea of “an eye for an eye” was a quantum leap in jurisprudence. 1500 years later Jesus taught “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Many of us can not seem to accept that in the intervening 2000 years not everyone has evolved, but that is the way the world works. Some of us have developed ethically, and some never will.

The challenge we face as a society is how to do the dirty work that evolution has failed to do, without falling into the pit with the animals.

 

 

 

Easter Sunday

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The birth of the Easter Bunny

On the odd chance you are from some far away, heathen culture, say England perhaps, I’ll be sharing the story of Easter today.

Matthew tells the story like this, in his twenty eight chapter:

 “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,13 Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.14 And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
If you are just coming in to the story, in the previous chapter Jesus had been put to death, and sealed in the sepulchre, so finding him walking down to Galilee was rather amazing. The “other Mary” is Jesus’ mother. There are no eggs or hares in the story (or bells, which is a European version of the egg story, in which bells fly from Rome to deliver Easter eggs).
Easter Bells

Easter Bells

This is the story as told in the Bible. A recent survey of English schoolchildren found over one in four (25%) believe Aesop’s Tortoise and Hare are featured in the story. That’s pretty good, because over four in ten English schoolchildren (40%) are not Christian, which means more than  one in three non-Christians (13% 0f the total children, assuming that 100% of the Christians got the question right) are aware Aesop didn’t write the Bible. How much do you know about other religions? If you are a Christian, were you aware that Jesus’ mother was so unimportant after giving birth to him she is referred to only as “the other Mary”? How much of your own religion do you believe only because you have heard about it?
Easter is the most celebrated of Christian holidays, in that more Christians recognize the holy significance of their savior rising from the dead than his birth. Consider that. Easter is a celebration of life, life following death. Eggs represent life, so they have become intertwined with this holiday. A final parable if you will.
The product of a mixed marriage, rabbits and bells

The product of a mixed marriage, rabbits and bells

If you search the internet for “Easter”, the first page of results is unlikely to refer to the Bible at all. You will find references to favorite candies and how many calories they contain, egg hunts, and I came across one story about PETA protesting the use of eggs at the White House. A lot of stories, but somehow the guy who came back from the dead didn’t make the news.
Toady is Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate Life in the message from a man who died and returned. Perhaps we can honor his last wish, one so important he crossed the void to deliver it in person, “observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Observe (in the sense of “analyze” and “discover”) your religion, read your holy book. Maybe you will find the things you took issue with are not even in there. Maybe you will find new reasons to follow more closely.In the spirit of Christ rising from the grave, bring your faith back to life today.

One in a million

The meanings of words change over time. It was once considered an honor to be called “special”, now the word has been connected to the “intellectually disabled”, and calling someone “special” can be interpreted as an insult. Most often by someone who is intellectually disabled.

“One in a million” is one of those phrases that makes something sound unique, and it still does, but the other day I realized that unique group is fairly large, seven thousand people in the world. I noticed when a news report mentioned a disease was rare, affecting only seven thousand people in the world, and the math happened in my head immediately. “They mean it affects one person in a million”.

Seven thousand people. Fewer than the population of Wasilla, Alaska, a few more than Buharkent, Turkey. My mind wanders to thinking of those towns as mini United Nations, each person representing one million of the planet’s populace. Or every person who had this rare disease living in the same town.

We are all microcosms of larger systems, but we are not those systems. In the study of fractals, we take a set (in this illustration the infamous Mandelbrot Set) that in display is replicating self similar patterns. The patterns appear the same regardless of scale, yet any highlighted section may appear radically different from the remainder of the image. In other terms, the design is made up of itself.

 

 

The Mandelbrot set

The Mandelbrot set

 

Just because I am a Christian does not mean I am identical to other Christians. The same is true with other sets I belong to, gun advocates, conservatives, musicians, widowers,  people with multiple sclerosis, veterans, vegetarians. The very concept of diversity suggests we are different from each other, and those differences are special.

You may remember Dan Cathy, the owner of the fast food chain “Chik-fil-A”. Dan is a conservative Christian, who incorporates his beliefs into his business. His stores are not open on Sunday, and on their website they explain the policy in this way; “Restaurant employees should have an opportunity to rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so.” (emphasis mine). Chik-fil-A sees operating a business as a social responsibility, and although they may not be the healthiest choice, they do make efforts towards sustainability and humane treatment of the animals used, and avoid antibiotic use in the chickens.

Chik-fil-A has been successful, passing Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in sales last year. The Cathy family has always shared their wealth, both by supplying food in times of need and by giving to various charitable foundations. One of these contributions caused some headlines a few years ago. Due to contributions to groups that promote traditional families, Chik-fil-A was portrayed as “anti-gay”.

This is a theme I will return to. The world is not black and white. It is possible to be for one thing without being against another. It is possible to be against something without hating it. The decision to donate money to charities that promote traditional families is light years away from a gay kristallnacht.

The response from some LGBT groups was to boycott Chik-fil-A. Fair enough. The response from other groups, primarily the LGBTQ factions, was to attempt to ban Chik-fil-A from being able to conduct business. The perfectly natural response to the LGBTQ groups by an overwhelming number of Americans from a wide spectrum of backgrounds was to counter protest, giving Chik-fil-A the most profitable days of its history.

Since then, Dan Cathy has decided he handled the situation improperly. He hasn’t changed his views on gay marriage, but he has decided not to pick a fight in the middle of Main street. He still contributes to “pro-family” causes, but has chosen charities that are more subtle in their approach. People on the fringes of both sides of the argument are not satisfied, but they were never going to be satisfied. In what those of us in the middle can only laugh off as irony, both the intolerant LGBTQ folks and the intolerant “Christians” were simply “born that way.” Filled with hatred for anything different from themselves.

The LGBTQ side is upset because Chik-fil-A still contributes to an athletic association which doesn’t allow transgendered athletes. The “Christian” side is upset because they feel Chik-fil-A flip-flopped, selling out its principles. Both sides itching for a fight, promising to never eat in one of their shops again. In online fora, where I have entered conversations suggesting Chik-fil-A has not flip-flopped, I have been attacked as “anti-Christian” and queer, as well as other things I won’t repeat. In fora in which I have suggested Chik-fil-A has done nothing other than donate to less than neutral organizations I have been called a bigot, homophobe, and a member of the KKK, along with some rather base suggestions for sexual practices which I am fairly sure exceed the limits of possibility. These people just want to fight, the “Christians” are not what I would recognize as Christians, and the LGBTQ representatives are most likely cranky straight kids who just want to vent their angst.

In the middle is the rest of us. We buy food because we like the way it tastes, or how convenient it is, not because we support the charities the owner of the store supports. I won’t be stopping by a Chik-fil-A anytime soon, because damn near everything they serve has chicken in it, and I’m a vegetarian. But I might buy some fries if there’s another boycott by either side, because they’re not boycotting Chik-fil-A’s principles, they’re boycotting the owner of Chik-fil-A’s  right to spend his money however he wants. They’re boycotting the right to free speech. They’re boycotting diversity.

Just because someone else is a Christian, or a vegetarian, or whatever, doesn’t mean I agree with everything they say and do. Our differences prevent us from being boring, and allow us to build beautiful things. At the simplest levels, we are all the same, and our likenesses allow us to build those beautiful things together.

 

 

 

Blessings

The fifth chapter of Matthew begins with “The Blessings”, or “Beatitudes”.

“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

 

We are blessed as we develop our relationship with God. It is not easy, and as I often say “If it was easy everyone would do it”. The path is available to everyone, and in these scriptures Jesus offers the reassurance of his understanding. He does not say “Follow me and all will be well”, but rather “You will be persecuted and hated, it has always been that way, at the end of the journey is peace.”

I know enough about trends and statistics to understand our current path may not be an indicator of calamity. It appeared we were improving, treating each other with greater respect, allowing that we are all equal under the skin, yet in the last twenty or so years evil has taken a lead again, driving the course of human behavior away from civility. This is not the end of the struggle. We may turn things around, there will be ups and downs on the graph of humanity. Satan is often referred to as “the deceiver”, it leads you to believe you have lost and might as well give up.

A few weeks ago in Southwest Philadelphia, at Bartram High School, a school with a terrible history of violence, a conflict resolution specialist who had been assigned to the school to reduce violence was knocked unconscious by a student. Alphonso Stevenson is still receiving medical treatment for multiple skull fractures, and the young man who attacked him is still roaming the halls of Bartram High (despite having been expelled). The school did not close, the conflict resolution specialists did not throw their hands in the air and give up (although the last principal quit after two weeks).

The struggle does not end next week, or next year, or even next century. The struggle is eternal. Some days we win a little, some days we lose a little, and when our part on Earth is done we will be judged. Did we hunger and thirst for righteousness? Were we merciful? Were we pure of heart? Words will be meaningless, God sees all, it sees our actions, and it sees our hearts. We might fool everyone, including ourselves, but God will know the truth.

Knowing not when I will stand spirit to spirit before God, I do my best to be a peacemaker, because I know the warrior within is searching for a way to get out. There is a lot of bad to make up for, so I keep trying to tip the balance. The reward is not Earthbound, there is no sense in seeking applause for our efforts.

My choice of music today acknowledges the tight rope many of us walk.

 

 

Love

A common refrain by atheists is “If God is so loving, why do bad things happen?”

It is similar to the insolent child, who says “If you really loved me…”

Defining “love” is the domain of the lover, the one giving love. Love can take many forms, and most parents understand “love” does not mean providing everything the loved one desires. For many people, love means supporting, caring, and providing a positive example. The love we give is not always what the person we give our love to desires in the immediate sense, but inspired by our love we sometimes do things that makes our loved ones better people, capable of expressing love of their own some day.

God expects us to grow. Growth requires challenges. So bad things happen, innocent people suffer, and we are given the opportunity to show our love to people who sometimes may only deserve it because they are our brothers and sisters, fellow children of God. If we are the one suffering, we learn to accept love, which I am discovering is much more difficult for most folks than I had thought.

Simply giving people what they want is not love. It may bring peace to the moment, but it does not bring peace to life. We know simply giving a child candy will stop them from crying, but on several levels it is not the healthy solution.

Our loving God does not condemn souls to hell, they condemn themselves. God is always willing to accept the repentant soul. This is what we call unconditional love. It is not allowing the pain to continue in the name of love, but allowing the pain to end. At one point in my life, my relationship with my mother required that I break contact with her. It was not healthy for either of us to simply gloss over our conflicts, and after a fair amount of soul searching I determined that the best way I could display my love would be to avoid arguments, and the only way to avoid arguments was to break contact. This lasted for several years, and eventually we found each other again. We both grew, and had we argued all those years we probably would have said things we would regret which would have caused more damage than we could repair. I remained in touch with her other son, but eventually that relationship became so painful I had to remove him from my life completely. I’m not certain I could ever forgive the things he has done, but then he is not asking for forgiveness so I have been spared that dilemma.

Unconditional love is difficult. We are not God. We expect something in return for our efforts and sacrifices. I lived with a woman during the eighties who had been hurt so often she could no longer love, and though I did love her, she didn’t want to hear the word. At the time, the Tina Turner song “What’s Love Got to do With It?” was popular, and LuAnn was fond of the line “What’s love but a second hand emotion?” I hope she healed, and found a way to love, because it isn’t a second hand emotion. Loving someone is not dependent on the return of love, but the lack of a two way relationship can be exhausting. I gave up on LuAnn back then, but the experience helped me in understanding other wounded souls. In return, God has placed plenty of wounded souls in my path, some more lovable than others.

I have not been the best teacher, but in my defense I have not been the only voice teaching. There are people I have loved that have learned to hate, but rather than give up I just move on to the next case. Because unlike any material wealth with which we have been blessed, the capacity to love is endless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hate in the name of love

It might have been during the “Political Correctness” phase that American society found itself losing tolerance for all things not sanctioned by the arbitrary gods of popularity. We seemed to be doing fairly well breaking away from prejudices based on stereotypes, and then bigotry made a comeback in some twisted vision of being intolerant of intolerance. We went from being proud of ourselves to being disdainful of everything outside our selves.

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There seems a race to be the first identify and denounce anyone who doesn’t share the acceptable views. It is not even an analog approach, in which acceptance is based on a percentage of shared ideas. Zero tolerance became the buzz word for the thought police, any variation means being labeled an outcast.

Who behaves like this? Insecure, shallow fools. But the very point of this article is to avoid hatred, so don’t get me wrong. I love insecure shallow fools. I’ve even been married to a few. I love dogs, I just don’t like being snarled at.

Maybe it is just too much to ask people to be better than that which they despise. Jesus tried and for his efforts was nailed to a tree.

A bill recently introduced in Tennessee, HR 1547, is titled ” The Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act”. Apparently, the fact it is from Tennessee automatically makes it racist and homophobic. An article published on “The New Civil Rights Movement” website carries the headline “Tennessee Passes Bill Allowing LGBT Students To Be Bullied In The Name Of ‘Religious Freedom’.”

Okay, there are hack writers of every stripe, and fanning the flames of prejudice is always a money making proposition. What makes this article so astounding is the link to the actual bill within the hate speech. The bill actually empowers LGBT students in their rights to free speech in the schools, but the article implies allowing any speech without prejudice is allowing bullying.

The extrapolation of the effects of the bill continues with “At a basic level, a student could merely write “God” on a chemistry test as the answer to a question asking to where water comes from.” Why yes, a student could write that today. He would be wrong. The summary of the bill states “This bill requires an LEA (Local Education Authority) to treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject.” which means that the expression of a viewpoint is allowed, not judged as correct, and only on otherwise permissible subjects, science (with the exception of AGW) is not about opinions. That’s just not good enough for the muckraker who wrote this, or the drooling hordes who chimed in with their learned views. “Bartdrom” commented “Congratulation to the people of Tennessee. You have now set the new standard, lowered the bar, for civility, intellect, and education of your young. Now states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas have a new low to aim for. Until then, they’ll be able to say: “Yes, we’re backward 3rd world states too, to whom education, reason, tolerance and civility are largely eschewed …but at least we aren’t Tennessee.”.” No, no prejudice or intolerance there.

I’m not suggesting that so called liberals are the only source of intolerance, there are closed minded people of every creed. It is the hypocrisy that astounds me. One friend uses the sarcastic phrase “Kill all fanatics”, and is joined with a chorus of fanatics who cannot see the sarcasm. I suppose it is to be expected, seeing yourself is a trait associated with critical thinking, not angry mobs.

So I try. I try not to treat all of Islam based the acts of the Taliban. I try not treat all LGBT people based on the acts of queer nation. I try not treat all Christians based the acts of the Westboro Baptist Church. I try not to treat all liberals based the acts of a few uneducated children. But then, I’m one of those Christian Conservative Republicans from Texas, so my opinion doesn’t count anyway.

Every belief system teaches to treat others with the respect you wish to receive. That does not mean treat others the way they treat you, it means prove you are worthy of the treatment you desire by treating others in that fashion. Don’t damage your cause by acting in the way the people you don’t like act. Or the way you think they act. Or the way you think they acted one hundred years ago. If we all tried to be better than the people we don’t agree with rather than the same as them, the world would pretty much have to be a better place.

 

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Equality

The field of equality (yes, it’s something of a business) was a cottage industry for most of human history. It has had ups and downs, but stripped down to its basics it appears in the teachings of most major religions.

In America, slavery was abolished in 1863, and during the following one hundred years, the definition of slavery continued to be examined. Without equal rights, slavery is only watered down. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 demonstrated there was still room for improvement in the laws and practices in America, and while it was not a complete solution, it at least pointed out some of the remaining problems.

The issues that slow human progress are typically rooted in ignorance. Both the lack of intelligence among the masses and the ability of those in power to manipulate that lack of intelligence. Well meaning movements have been perverted, and programs that interfere with equal rights have prospered due to clever marketing. I face the frustration of the situation with the attitude of Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”, You want utopia? You can’t handle utopia.  I have no doubt we’ll get there, but it will be a slow laborious journey.

In America, we fumbled “Equal Rights” into “Equality”. It seems like such a subtle difference, but it isn’t.

All men are created equal sounds very nice, the actual phrase is just a little more complex “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“. We know we are not equal. I am tall, others are short. “Equality” refers to the rights, in this case “negative rights” provided by the government. Negative rights are sometimes called preventative rights, a right which restrains the power of authorities. The right to free speech is the right to not be prosecuted for your speech, thus it is a negative right.

By confusing (or allowing confusion about) the meaning of equality, the quest for equal rights is hampered. Nothing hurts sympathy for a good cause as much as bad representation. Well, one thing. Bad implementation. Affirmative action, the process of discriminating against qualified applicants in order to balance employee diversity, is still discrimination. White people who can’t get a job are not feeling racial harmony when a less qualified black applicant gets the job, they feel justified in their bigotry against black people. Forcing accommodation of minority groups ensures continued resentment.

Not all discrimination is equal. Ask your Jewish friends how they feel about every mass murder being compared to the holocaust, ask a black person over fifty how they feel about every fringe group comparing their “struggle” to the civil rights movement. The Equal Rights Amendment, designed to protect the rights of women, was written in 1923. It was introduced to congress in every session until it passed in 1972. It has failed to be ratified, and has been reintroduced since reaching its ratification deadline. As the amendment addresses the rights of a specific group rather than humans in general, it has little chance of ever being ratified, as the argument it is redundant at this point in time is valid. We don’t each need an amendment for our group in order to be equal.

We can pass volumes of laws, but true equality cannot be legislated. It comes from within, it is determined in the immediate reaction to another. Can we accept someone who is different as having equal rights? It requires a change within ourselves, as we cannot be expected to see others until we can see ourselves. Am I to accept the repugnant as beautiful? That would depend on whether I see myself as beautiful or repugnant. When we are able to appreciate the balance brought by diversity, we will be far more willing to embrace it than we do now, the ability to see the beauty in the differences rather than conformance to a standard.

Equality is horrifying. A universe occupied by perfectly equal elements has no growth. A lack of growth is equivalent to death, or perhaps I have not evolved to the point I can appreciate it. I often envision the afterlife as a state of entropy, so perhaps that is the direction in which I am traveling.

In his 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron”, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. investigated a society based on legally enforced equality. Strong people had to wear weights to slow them. Intelligent people wore earphones that produced disturbing noises to protect them from coherent thoughts. The beautiful were forced to wear masks. The story is thought provoking (as long as we take our earphones off) and has been produced as a feature length film which strays wildly from the original, and a short film which is more faithful. The audiobook, below, is only twelve minutes long, I highly recommend it as a starting point in exploring the various productions. If anyone knows how I can obtain a copy of the 2006 short film please let me know.

We can do better than we are doing now, but I do not believe we are currently on the path to that better future.

The Bible

When you hear “The Bible”, what comes to mind? A big book with a jewel encrusted gold cover that is open on the table on an alter with a man wearing robes and speaking in Latin? The 5 X 7 book with a worn leather cover your grandfather carries to church each week? That pristine dust cover on your bookshelf with a binding that has never been stressed?

Regardless of your beliefs, the idea included Christianity. The Christian Bible holds an unregistered trademark on the title, although the word is derived from the Greek “biblion” which translates to “scroll” or “paper”. By the second century Jewish groups had stared calling “Bible” books “holy”, and as Christianity grew and overwhelmed its Jewish roots “The Holy Bible” came to mean the sixty six books of the Protestant Christan Bible, broken into two sections named “The old testament” and “The new testament”. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s bible consists of eighty-one books.

The Old Testament contains, at minimum, the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible divided into thirty-nine books and ordered differently from the Hebrew Bible, and the Catholic Church and Eastern Christian churches also hold certain deuterocanonical books and passages to be part of the Old Testament. The New Testament, contains twenty-seven books, the four Canonical gospels, Acts of the Apostles, twenty-one Epistles or letters, and the Book of Revelation.

Christians include the Hebrew Bible within the Old Testament, it is the history leading to the New Testament, not the core beliefs of Christianity.

As the Bible spread throughout the world, it was translated into all the languages of mankind, and with the passage of time re-translated as those languages changed. For better or worse, these translations are referred to as “versions”, as the differences in translation can be seen as a difference in interpretation. For believers in Christianity, it is taken that translators have been divinely inspired, so that the meaning remains as intended. This is not always true, versions have been written to fit the interpretations of the translator, most notably “The New World Translation” (NWT) written by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which varies from the commonly accepted meanings and omits and replaces so much information that it is not accepted as a valid translation by most biblical scholars.

In the Book of Revelation, near the very end, chapter 22 verses 18 and 19, it is said “18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book”.

I own two Bibles, the Revised Standard Version, given to me on my eighth Christmas, and my grandfather’s King James Version (complete with his margin notes and bookmarks). In writing articles for these blog entries I use BibleGateway.com, which has more than one hundred and eighty versions in over seventy languages for cross referencing scripture, when I quote or link to scripture I always use the King James Version (KJV) for consistency.

With all these resources available, two things about mankind’s relationship with the Bible irk me on a nearly daily basis. The first is non-believers misquoting and mis-interpreting scripture. Often I can easily forgive ignorance of a subject, but if you have chosen not to believe, at least know what it is you don’t believe in. The second is believers misquoting and mis-interpreting scripture. If you have chosen to believe, shouldn’t you know what you believe in? As Fred Phelps is discovering this week, spreading your own variant of God’s word is not spreading God’s word.

I’ve said it thousands of times, and will certainly say it thousands more, it is not a difficult book to read. It is shorter than some Stephen King novels, and there is a version written in a language you will understand. That’s what “divinely inspired” means to me, God wants you to read his word and is doing everything possible to make it accessible. “The Word on the street” version translates Genesis 1:1-3 “First off, nothing. No light, no time, no substance, no matter. Second off, God starts it all up and WHAP! Stuff everywhere! The cosmos in chaos: no shape, no form, no function– just darkness … total. And floating above it all, God’s Holy Spirit, ready to play. Day one: Then God’s voice booms out, ‘Lights!’ and, from nowhere, light floods the skies and ‘night’ is swept off the scene”.

It’s easy.

Redemption

Redemption is a very appealing concept to most people, it infers rising above one’s current state, acceptance despite failure. Recognizing the difficulty most humans have with forgiving each other, Luke relates three parables about redemption, focusing on the joy of the redeemer rather than the redeemed. I believe this is an attempt to say “You might not quite understand this, but God still loves you”.

The first parable, “The parable of the lost sheep”, appears in both Luke and Matthew.  In this parable, a shepherd with one hundred sheep loses one,  and leaves the other ninety nine while he searches for the missing sheep. When he finds it he is filled with joy.

In case one might think there was something special about that individual sheep, Luke follows with the parable of the lost coin,  in which the subject sheep are replaced with coins, ten pieces of silver, of which one is lost.

Luke completes the series with the most popular parable, “The prodigal son“, possibly because it is more complete in its explanation, and possibly because while many of us might not own one hundred sheep or even ten pieces of silver, we can all understand the concept of a stray child.

“Prodigal” does not refer “Prodigy”, its meaning translates to “wasteful” in modern English. The prodigal son is the younger of two, and requests his inheritance while his father is still alive. In a world in which actions had deeper meanings, asking your parent to just go ahead and give you your inheritance is similar to saying “You’re dead to me”. Back when words had deeper meanings, that was as severe an insult as you might hear.

The elder son stayed with the father and family, working the land, and the younger son took his inheritance to a foreign land, where he wasted his money on “riotous” living.  Some translations mention prostitutes. After he had spent all he had, the land fell on hard times and famine, keeping in mind this is a parable, it is possible to translate this to mean the younger son himself was the source of “wealth” in his self imposed exile.  The young son found himself working as a swineherd (remembering the Jewish aversion to pork, this is an incredibly low position) and envying the pigs their food. He decides to return home and repent to his father, asking only that he be allowed to work for him, because his father’s servants had never gone hungry. But his father saw him approaching.

The father ran to him, embraced him, and clothed him in a fine robe and sandals, and called for a feast to celebrate his son’s return, killing the fatted calf for the feast. And here, the most important verse.

24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found”.

Take this point. When the son requested his inheritance, not only had he removed his father’s presence from his life, he had ended his own life in his father’s eyes. This was not an issue of the father’s anger, but of the grace the father displayed by letting the son go.

The older son wasn’t quite as understanding, and upon returning from the fields refused to enter the feast, so that his father had to invite him in, and the son was still reluctant to enter, “29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf”.

Humorous aside. While checking various translations, one read “You never gave me a goat to party with friends”. Just places a strange image in the mind.

The father responds to the elder son that he (the son) is always with him (the father), and all the father has is the son’s, going on to reprise “32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found”.

The idea that the “righteous” might be jealous of those that strayed and returned is also reflected in Matthew, chapter 20, verses 1-16, in which a man promises to pay workers to harvest grapes, and as the day passes he hires more workers, offering higher wages. At the end of the day those that had worked the longest received the least, and those workers who had worked all day complained, but the man responded “did I not pay you what I promised?”.

Heaven is all the reward waiting. There are no first class suites, no steerage compartments, and our father is happy to bring us on board anytime before the boat sails. None of us are more valuable to him than any other, our works are either good or they are not, we either enter heaven, or we do not. “Purgatory” is not a Christian concept, and seeing that the idea predates Christ its absence from the New Testament is telling.

Life is purgatory. Be the best you are capable of, your time here is fleeting and without schedule.