Presence versus Presents

Presence versus Presents
Advent 25

The ratio would be written as 23:2. That means that there are one hundred and fifteen of one thing and ten of another or 115 to 10. Based upon just that knowledge, the average person would conclude that whatever exists twenty-three times for every two times of the other must be more important, right?

Recently the Jewish faith just celebrated Hanukkah. Christians will begin the celebration of Christmas today/tonight. For some it will be a one day event and for others, it will last twelve days, ending in the Feast of Epiphany. And so, this is the season for giving…and receiving. The words presents appears in the Christian holy book, the Bible, ten times. The word presence appears one hundred and fifteen with other references for present (over one hundred), presenting, presently, and presented.

The major discussion point for this blog or online magazine of sorts is how we live and how faith is incorporated into that living. Regardless of what your faith or belief system or spirituality is, it plays a major role in what you do, how you live, your manner of speech, etc. We cannot divorce ourselves from our beliefs and they are evident in everything we do. They are present in our lives, in our living, in our being. But are we aware of them? Do we acknowledge the presence of our faith in our presents to one another? Are the presents more important than the presence? If they are, why?

Several days ago best-selling author Elizabeth Berg, a St Paul, Minnesota native, posted an essay to her FaceBook page written by her ninety-four year old mother which has since been reprinted in various websites across the country. Berg’s mother had always dreamed of being a writer and her talent is very evident in her essay. The entire essay, entitled “From the Heart” by Marion Jeanne Loney Hoff, can be found at twincities.com but I want to include a small portion here: “The Grinch did not steal Christmas. I did — you did — merchants in basic (perhaps not entirely at fault) are the vacation thieves. Halloween goblins are still in evidence when the mad rush begins in the Christmas trees and decorations and Christmas cards. Christmas cards, which I loved to send and acquire, are getting sent through FaceBook, e mail, texting or punched out on a personal computer. Christmas dinner appears to be a great deal the exact same. Although for a bit of money you can have it all cooked for you — and in some places for a bit additional money delivered proper to your table. You arrived at your location of worship early so you could sit in your preferred pew. Now in lots of places there are empty pews. “

Throughout the ages, mankind has asked “Who am I? Why am I here?” Many Roman Catholics believe as Pope John Paul did in saying that the answer to those questions is the gift of yourself to your faith and your spouse. Kevin Aldrich wrote: “To fully find himself means to discover the ultimate truth, to find that truth to be good… and to be of maximal important and value to others.” Earlier this month, however, Pope Francis warned couples against substituting pet ownership for being parents. Abraham Lincoln once remarked: ““I don’t know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.” It would appear that we need to be very focused on what we do in order to enjoy who we are. On the other hand, can that be the very thing that is keeping us from being ourselves and achieving our potential?

In her book “The Girl Who Navigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”, Catherynne M. Valente penned: “Do not ruin today with mourning tomorrow.” All too often we are so busy think about the past or worrying about the future that we forget to live in the present. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote of the importance of being present in the moment. “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” Amit Ray echoed this: “IF you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”

The best gift we can give another, the best present we have to offer, is to be present. Our presence in a loving and kind presentation is what we all spend our lifetimes searching for and hoping to find. The toys, clothes, and books given and received are nice but the real gift is the gift of self.

We all have value. Gender, socio-economic status, religion aside, we all have value and we all have much to offer the world in which we live. From the seemingly lowest position to the highest, each rung of the ladder serves a purpose. Where would the top rung be without the lower ones? Nowhere. We all have things to improve but no one else can do that for us. We need to acknowledge the importance of our presence and be present.

During the time of celebrating, the hustle and bustle of holiday schedules, the anxiety that what you are doing just will not be good enough, stop and simply be present, please. Craig D. Lounsbrough wrote: “The past is irreparably land-locked, and the future has yet to land. Here we are, living out our lives on the precariously thin line which separates the two.” Take time to enjoy the moment you are living. Many of us often do not. Jennifer DeLucy explains it this way: “It occurred to me to look up and around at the stars in the clear sky, at the trees in the dark, at the half moon. I was missing them because I was caught in my head. I wasn’t living right now. I was thinking to the future, to the past. I wasn’t present. This is one of my greatest weaknesses, and one I have a greater realization of, only because I allowed some of my past to die so that my present could rush in to fill it.”

Perhaps you do not celebrate anything at this time of year. For you there is no miraculous oil burning eight days as in the Hanukkah story, no bring home of the Yule tree as the Druids did, no festivities surrounding the Winter Solstice, no child messiah born by immaculate conception and celebrated at Christmas. I do hope you will respect those who do celebrate and find it in your heart to give thanks for your life and yourself as well as your neighbors. I also hope you will celebrate this moment in time. This is our final day of Advent, our final day of learning about other religions so that we can prepare ourselves for living and respecting all. As Marion Hoff concluded in her Christmas essay I mentioned earlier: “Believe again of all the cultures in this wide world. They as well have their customs, their special holidays and traditions. May possibly they all be kept with the joy, peace and respect they deserve.” Remember, the best way to be present is also the best present we can give – the present of presence, of peace and respect. That is found only within each of us. We are life’s present and only we can be the best possible.

Sally Lunn Bread
This is one of my favorite and easiest bread recipes. During holiday time, I double the recipe and then divide the dough into thirds or fourths. We add food color and incorporate it well into the dough. Then the different colors are braided together so that the loaves look something like challah bread. I also was known to do this when kids were arguing. Working the dough not only occupies their hands, the process gives them time to discuss and work out their differences. After all, life is a process, a recipe which calls for combine experiences and incorporating into a successful living of the moment.
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup milk
3 tsp baking powder
½ cup shortening
½ tsp salt
¼ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine egg and milk and stir well. Cream shortening and sugar together. Alternating, add the flour mixture and the liquid mixture until all is incorporated. Place in a greased loaf pan or muffin tin and bake for thirty minutes in a 375-degree Fahrenheit oven. The basic recipe makes one loaf or twelve muffins but, as mention, I always make double….or triple!

Reason for Believing

The Point of Believing
Advent 24
Celebration Corn Soup

We have spent the last twenty-three days discussing different types of religion. Why do we have religion? Why do we believe? Does having a religious belief serve a purpose? The American Indian chief Seneca once said: ““Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.”

Throughout history, mankind has appeared to have been united, albeit in groupings, by religion. Sharing a common belief which was usually accompanied by specific rules for how one should live meant that believers of similar beliefs congregated together not only for worship but for living. As religious persecution became a tool used politically to obtain or restrain power, people of the same faith were herded together and kept isolated from others.

Being religious has been shown to have had physical benefits, though, in spite of such persecution and exile from native lands. Some of the religious edicts about living proved very beneficial. The rituals and regimens regarding food led to better physical health. Various studies have indicated that a strong religious belief is associated with good mental health, fewer suicides, greater perceived happiness, less harmful personal habits, and a reported greater sense of overall satisfaction with one’s life.

Life is full of unexpected and often unpleasant events. A strong religious belief seems to help someone overcome these events. Many religions see such events as testing and ways to gain greater insight and increase one’s personal self-worth as well as the path to greater understanding religiously. Additionally, most religions believe in an omnipotent deity and the comfort that brings leads to an acceptance and ability to move forward rather than be bogged down in depression or retreat to suicide.

All religions speak of life after death. This belief that physical life on earth is not all that awaits one has given believers a sense of empowerment to face their living because there will be more upon their physical death. It is reported that the actor Richard Dawkins was quoted as explaining one church official’s attitude towards death in this way: “When Cardinal Basil Hume told the Abbot of Ampleforth that he, The Cardinal, was dying, the abbot was delighted for him: ‘Congratulations! That’s brilliant news. I wish I was coming with you.’ ” While it is doubtful the quote references an actual true story, it does serve to illustrate the acceptance many religious people have regarding the inevitable death of their physical body and the belief that the spiritual soul will continue living. Such a conviction aids when a person faces the death of a loved one.

Everything we do causes brain activity but spiritual experiences have been scientifically proven to create positive neurological effects. Meditation has very powerful beneficial effects on the brain. Studies involving nuns resulted in a release of dopamine as they prayed and felt one with their deity and their world. Dopamine is part of the brain’s reward system. A loss of interest in spiritual or religious activities has also been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s though more study is needed to accurately determine why. However, it is important to remember that too much of anything is not good. Intense religious experiences have also been linked to various stages of psychosis.

The historical exile of many different religious groups across the planet throughout the world has led some religions to proclaim other belief systems to be considered sinful or evil. Sadly, religion has been used as a tool of death and destruction rather than the beneficial side mentioned earlier. As the global activity of the world increases intermingling and international commerce, it is believed religion will become more unifying as the elements of commonality are explored and recognized.

“We all do better when we work together. Our differences do matter, but our common humanity matters more.” Bill Clinton, former president of the United States of America, has spent the time since his terms in office traveling the globe trying to encourage this. Russian immigrant and science fiction author Vera Nazarian explains it this way. “A choir is made up of many voices, including yours and mine. If one by one all go silent then all that will be left are the soloists. Don’t let a loud few determine the nature of the sound. It makes for poor harmony and diminishes the song.” Religion is one way the internal soul sings, leading the physical body to live in harmony, hopefully, with all of creation.

Celebration Corn Soup
5 cups corn– frozen, canned, or fresh
5 cups milk (can be ½ half milk, ½ vegetable or chicken stock or even a white gravy)
2 Tblsp flour
2 Tblsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Place corn in a double boiler and 1 quart of the milk or milk mixture and cook over medium heat for twenty minutes. Make a white sauce with the some of the milk, using the flour and butter (Put butter in pan over medium heat and add flour to form a roux, and then slowly add the milk.) Puree the corn and milk mixture or strain and combine with the roux. Stir over medium heat, slowly adding the rest of the milk. If you like soup with texture, omit the puree step. For corn chowder, add potatoes and carrot. Chicken can also be added if meat is desired. For a corn soup with texture is to your taste, omit the pureeing.

Rationality – Religion

Rationality versus Religion
Advent 23
Tutti-Frutti Candy

Albert Einstein famously said “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.” Many will point to the battle in religion of good versus evil as benefitting mankind. Still, we must ask ourselves if the real battle isn’t science versus religion or rather, rational thinking versus religious beliefs?

It is in the nature of man to ask questions. What is this? How does it work? Can I receive any benefit from it? How do I preserve it? Why am I here? The answers for many of those questions are found in science and the rest are often sought in religion. Yesterday the last sentence asked if man, science, and religion can coexist. History shows us that they have always existed, in one form or another.

Walter Requadt once remarked that “Religion is the illusory attempt to find security and happiness in an inherently insecure and unhappy world.” Some see religion has a way to ensure the continued existence of the species of man. Because of the limitations of our planet and one’s environment, all living organisms are forced to compete for limited resources. The reality of evolution is that those organisms that are better equipped in handling their environment outlast those who are not. The basic horse cannot exist in the middle of the Sahara Dessert while the basic camel does so without effort.

While religions have differing and yet similar creation theories, stories, or myths, science claims life comes from the evolution of living organisms. What is life? This is a question for both science and religion. How it is defined in a religious context depends on the religion, the century, the religious sect to which one belongs. The definition even differs between the faithful of the same denomination. Science also has a hard time defining life. It is all around us and in us and yet, what really is life?

In exploring the universe and beyond, the National Aeronautical and Space Agency, NASA, needed to define life. How could they realize they had found it if they had no clear definition of what comprised a living organism. The evolution mentioned before is paramount to their definition. Those assuming that religion has not part, therefore, in this governmental defining of life would be surprised and incorrect, however.

The Hindu tradition has a folk story about an elephant and six men which is also retold in the Buddhist, Jain, and Sufi Muslim cultures. We’ve discussed it before in this blog, this online magazine about rationally applying beliefs and the spiritualities of man to daily living and interactions. The story was translated into English as a poem by John Godfrey Saxe. It illustrates the importance of perception and how perceptions and preconceived ideas can lead to misinterpretation and incorrect thinking.

Belief systems are based and developed using what we know or hold to be true. Rational though is also based upon what we know or consider to be possible. Often a person is considered to be irrational if his belief system extends beyond another person’s realm of possibilities. This leads to intolerance and, often, bloodshed. The scientist might want evidence for his belief system but the truth is that science is the art of creating new realities. Religion is the art of believing in greater realities. The religious person believes in scripture which the scientist might call superstition. However, the world of science is based upon the “what if” of the present world, creating stories that were, up to the point of their being proven, were superstitions living in the world of “what if?”

Science is vital to the continued existence of mankind but history has provided evidence that so is religion. Achieving happiness depends on our ability to accept and believe and religion has been instrumental in allowing man to do just that. So often the debate is religion versus rationality or science but perhaps the more honest description of the great debate of life is the internal struggle of man versus the world.

The Hindu story of the elephant and the six men teaches us that man only “sees” the culture in which he exists. Science is constantly trying to prove why that culture exists, what created its existence, and how to preserve it and improve upon it. A wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan, and a rope have very little in common. Half are created by man and half are creations that along with man have appeared on this earth, this part of a greater unknown universe of both religion and science. Taken separately, they each have a purpose but together, they seem to be just an unorganized grouping with purpose.

Science only expands its knowledge when preconceived notions and perceptions are proven to have greater potential than previously thought. The struggle of man is to accept his current situation, learn how to improve it, and live a better existence tomorrow. This requires knowledge from the past, the experience of today, and a belief in the superstition of a tomorrow. Religion gives man the impetus to find the purpose and application for the wall, the spear, the snake, the tree, the fan, and the rope. Science gives us the answer: the wall is the body of the elephant; the spear, the tusks; the snake, the trunk; the fan, the ear; the fan, the ear; the rope, the tail.

The NASA definition of life states: “Living things tend to be complex and highly organized. They have the ability to take in energy from the environment and transform it for growth and reproduction. Organisms tend toward homeostasis: an equilibrium of parameters that define their internal environment. Living creatures respond, and their stimulation fosters a reaction-like motion, recoil, and in advanced forms, learning. Life is reproductive, as some kind of copying is needed for evolution to take hold through a population’s mutation and natural selection. To grow and develop, living creatures need foremost to be consumers, since growth includes changing biomass, creating new individuals, and the shedding of waste.”

Saxe’s poem about the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Sufi Muslim story concludes with this moral: “So oft in theologic wars, The disputants, I ween, Rail on in utter ignorance Of what each other mean, And prate about an Elephant Not one of them has seen!” Religion gives us hope that there is something out there. Science defines what we find. How we live the religion and the science …..Perhaps that is the real vice versa.

Tutti-Frutti Candy
1 lb raisins
1 lb figs
¾ lb walnut meats
½ lb prunes
1 lb dates, destined
1.2 cup Confectioners’ sugar
Soak the prunes overnight; steam until soft and remove the stones or pits. Wash the figs and steam them twenty minutes. Wash the dates, having previously removed their stones or pits. Finely chop all the fruit and nuts. Dusting your working space with confectioners’ sugar, place fruits and nuts on the work space and blend. Using a rolling pin, spread or roll the mixture to a ¼-inch thickness. Cut, using cookie cutters or biscuit cutters or simply cut into squares. Pack in layers using wax paper to separate the layers. These make delightful, healthy gifts!

Filling the Void

A New Search
Advent 22
Baby Food Bundt Cake

Music is considered a universal language. It actually is considered an intergalactic language since music has been the language used on space probes to illustrate to any life forms that might be encountered that an intelligent species sent the probe from planet Earth. While there are differing tonalities which are quite evident and assist in indentifying the culture from which a folk song originated, all music shares some commonality – the musical tone.

A musical tone or note is identified by its pitch, a specific frequency measured in the number of cycles or vibrations per second. If you have ever attended a symphonic orchestra concert, you might have heard the musicians tuning their instruments to a specific tone before the concert. The tuning pitch is known as A’, the second note to the left of Middle C on a piano keyboard. It is also called A-440 because it has 440 cycles per second.

The ration of distance between two pitches is called an interval. Notes with a ratio of small numbers or integers are thought to sound good together and are considered consonant, although this is really a subjective determination. Those with a larger ratio are called dissonant and are not as pleasing to the human ear. A scale of twelve tones was developed as it was found to contain all seven of the basic consonant intervals while having more consonant intervals than dissonant intervals. In other words, it was very pleasing to the basic person.

However, as mentioned before, cultural identifying markers are found on the folk songs of different regions. Indonesian music employs what is known as an equal-spaced five tone scale called a gamelan slendro scale. Indian music uses a twenty-two scale known as a shruti scale and Arabic and Middle Eastern music uses a twenty-four tone scale. Even the music of the Western world used other scales. Debussy used a six tone scale known as the whole tone scale while other composers like Boulez and Ives used a quarter-tone scale. The Composer Hyugens, from the Netherlands, increased popularity of using a thirty-one equal-tempered scale. It is still all music, all using the same pitches based upon the same frequencies, just interpreted differently.

The so-called “new religions” of the world have done similar things to the ancient beliefs of man. Just as one can get bogged down in trying to find one universal definition for the word religion or theology, the designation for what a new religion is can be equally as daunting. Generally referred to as new religious movements, it is considered that a new religion must be of a more recent origin (which can mean anything after the fifteenth century) and have major differences from existing religions or spiritualities. However, just as all the various scales used in music are based upon the same basic pitches, there are some inescapable common themes in all religions. Thus, some new religions are those which had different interpretations and thus different creeds than the original religious sect from whence they came. Other new religions are belief systems similar to older ones but have resurfaced in new locations outside of their cultural beginning.

Like the more conventionally known religions, new religions vary in their types and forms of leadership, their concept of family, the role gender plays in the faith, their organization, and their definition of deities, if in fact any exist. Thus, some new religions are sometimes viewed as fusion religions and vice versa. While based upon beliefs that comprise Christianity, the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are classified by some as new religions. Even the Shaker Movement of the eighteenth to early twentieth century is considered a new religious movement by many.

A book published in the 1950’s written by L. Ron Hubbard led to the new religion of Scientology. Scientology encourages an improvement of human awareness and functioning so that secrets of the universe might be revealed. It incorporates the scientific process of bio-feedback in erasing one’s past negative experiences that cloud the psych and prevent future progress and success. The Rastafarian Movement is a new religion of the 1930’s originating in Ethiopia. It proclaimed Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia, as its prophet and preached that God would redeem all black people from oppression by white people. The history of Africa is paramount to this religion and it speaks of the unification of black families, torn apart by slavery and the colonization of Africa by other countries, as black people are said to return to Africa. Rastafarians live simply, using only herbal medicine, eating a vegetarian diet, and known by their trademark dreadlocks. Shinshukyo is another new religion which practices a fusion of rituals. A birth is marked by a Shinto ceremony and funerals are held in the Buddhist tradition. Shinshukyo refers more to the reemergence of religion rather than to specific belief systems and has been marked by the fanaticism of a few. Soju Gakkai is a new Japanese religion which incorporates the reading of the Buddhist Lotus Sutra but believes in more concrete benefits than just spiritual ones. Various Christian cults have also emerged as new religions but these also have fallen victim to the fanaticism of their leaders.

Rejecting the organized scales of twelve tones that Western and his native German composers had used for centuries, Arthur Schoenberg composed music using the same twelve tones of the musical scale but ignoring the accepted tonalities of the major and minor scales. By manipulating the twelve tones into seemingly random patterns, Schoenberg invented a new style of musical composition, the twelve-tone style. Wisely he used repetitive motifs or patterns, similar to the repeated themes found in the fugues first composed by Bach to teach scales to his students. This new type did not meet instant success, though. Much like the new religions of the world and even the older ones, it also met criticism and even persecution. Audiences were known to walk out of his performances. “The Rites of Springs”, now hailed as perhaps the most influential piece of the twentieth century and in all of music, was never heard in its entirety during its first performance because the audience left in disgust.

Whether or not all new religions will last as long as some of the others we have studied is a question for time. What is a certainty is that religion has been around as long as man has and so has science. Do the three coexist?

Baby Food Bundt Cake
Just as religion filled a void in the lives of man, a Minnesota man filled a void with…a void. He answered a request to make a kugelhopf pan, reminiscent of the ceramic cake pans used in Europe. Kugelhopf, also called Gugelhupf and many other named based upon the nationality, is a yeast cake formed in the shape of a torus which is a circular ring-shaped form. H. David Dalquist came up with an aluminum cake pan that would bake a cake into a ring shape. Rather than the traditional round cake that was solid all the way across, Dalquist’s cake form caused the cake to bake into a ring form. He named it after a German word for “bundled” since the batter was bundled around the empty void in the middle of the tube pan. However, that was also the name of a pro-Hitler ethnic group in Germany so he added a “t” to the name which went from “bund” to “bundt”, word that fittingly means…nothing.
2 cups self-rising flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
2 small jars of plum or banana baby food
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 cup pecans, finely chopped (optional)
3 eggs
Mix all ingredients except nuts in bowl until thick and creamy. Stir in nuts. Bake in a greased tube (Bundt) pan for one hour in a 350-degrees Fahrenheit oven.

Fusion: Old into New

Fusion: Old into New
Advent 21
Healthier Choco-Chip Cookies

The Latin word “fusio” came upon the scene in the sixteenth century. It meant something was melted, not so much to be destroyed but to be changed – a type of evolution if you will. Fusion religions are just that. And while you might not be able to name three fusion religions off the top of your head, you do know elements of them – mediums, zombies, black magic, séance, and the word that was made popular in the Ghostbusters films, ectoplasm.

Syncretism is a word similar to fusion but where fusion is the combination of things into a melting of something new, syncretism relies on combining seemingly opposite things. The conquests of Alexander the Great brought about a fusion of cultures which led to syncretism as the Roman Empire conquered and spread. One of the first philosophical and religious meltings in the Greco-Roman world became known as Gnosticism. The term Gnostic was used by English poet and philosopher Henry More but it came from an adjective meaning “pertaining to knowledge – gnostikos”, fist coined by Plato in describing the intellectual dimension of learning as compared to the practical use of learning. Gnosticism incorporated elements of Oriental mysticisms and spiritualities with some from Judaism, Christianity, and Greek religious concepts and was quite popular during the Hellenistic period of 300 BCE to 300 ACE.

An Iranian prophet called Mani, living in the third century, combined elements of Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism in creating a fusion religion named after him, Manichaeism. An Indian reformer known as Guru Nanak, living in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, combined Hinduism and Islam to create Sikhism. Attempts to create a syncretism of Protestant Christian faiths in the seventeenth century by Theologian George Calixtus resulted in the same disapproval by orthodox religions as previous fusion religions received – disapproval and negativity.

Some historians have argued that all religion is syncretistic and studying the histories of the major religions might just bear witness to this claim. After all, the Mesopotamian Code of Hammurabi is said to be the original Ten Commandments that is so important in the Jewish and Christian faiths. The Romans used Greek deities and later combined them with Celtic gods. As the Roman Army moved across Europe to the Atlantic Ocean, they not only gained territory, they combined their existing culture with that of the people they conquered. While syncretism was not a factor in the split of the Christian Church into the Roman and Eastern Orthodox faiths, it did become a factor in the Protestant Reformation. It is important, however, to note the differences between contextualization and syncretism. Contextualization is an interpretation of the religion into the culture whereas syncretism is a combining of different religions into a new one.

To this end, elements of Christianity were combined with mysticism to create a new type of Christian spiritualists who believe in the ability to contact the dead by holding séances, etc. in spite of passages from Deuteronomy and Luke which expressly forbid contact with the dead. Neo-Paganism is a fusion religion combining living with nature harmoniously with the worship of ancient gods and goddesses. The modern day religion of Wicca is one example of a Neo-Paganistic religion. Spiritualism is another old made new fusion religion. It has led to a new economical upswing in the paranormal industry and is sometimes seen more as a branch of science rather than religion. Condomble is a fusion of African religions such as Yoruba and Roman Catholic rituals which include animal sacrifices as the devout followers exchange offerings to the gods for security and eternal protection. Another fusion religion is the Hare Krishna movement, officially called the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Hara Krishna, made famous by musician celebrity Beatle George Harrison, believes the Hindu deity Krishna is a supreme manifestation of God, as was the Buddha and Rama. Today some Hindus will even worship at Krishna temples.

Some agree with Sigmund Freud in considering fusion religions are simply a matter of man’s life on earth, an evolution of cultures and faith. In his book: Civilization and Its Discontents”, Freud wrote: “Long ago he formed an ideal conception of omnipotence and omniscience which he embodied in his gods. Whatever seemed unattainable to his desires – or forbidden to him – he attributed to these gods. One may say, therefore, that these gods were the ideals of his culture. Now he has himself approached very near to realizing this ideal, he has nearly become a god himself. But only, it is true, in the way that ideals are usually realized in the general experience of humanity. Not completely; in some respects not at all, in others only by halves.”

Albert Einstein once said “What a sad era when it is easier to smash an atom than a prejudice.” Perhaps syncretism is the evolution of religious thought. Perhaps it is diversity of belief. Whatever and however one defines them, fusion religions have been around for quite a long time and evidently are here to stay. They, too, have given birth and some have evolved into completely new religions which we will next discuss. As actor John Wayne once said, “Tomorrow hopes we have learned something from yesterday.”

Healthier Choco-Chip Cookies

Let’s face it, cookies are not a health food item. However, you can healthier and still enjoy the occasional cookie. One way to make mealtime healthier is to make smarter choices. Instead of having a calorie and fat-ladened dessert, pick a fruit. Exchange pureed fruit for oils and/or butter in a favorite recipe and use spices and herbs instead of salt and sugar for flavoring. Skim evaporated milk makes a great substance for cream in many dishes and helps not only in counting calories but also in fighting high cholesterol.

Wet Ingredients:
3 large overripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ olive oil
Dry Ingredients:
2 cups oats
2/3 cup almond meal
1/3 c shredded coconut
1/3 cup raisins and/or chopped nuts
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
6 oz carob chips (chocolate chips may be substituted)

In one bowl combine all the wet ingredients and stir. In another bowl, mix all the dry ingredients. When fully incorporated add the wet ingredients to the dry. Using a large soup spoon, place one spoonful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for approximately twelve minutes. Cooking times will vary depending upon the oven.

Prayers of the Progeny

Progeny of the Abrahamic Religions
Advent 20
Triune Tuna Pasta

Prayers of the Progeny

We discussed the Abrahamic religions, those religions based upon a belief that their believers are descended from the scriptural character known as Abraham or Ibrahim. Just as a man has progeny, the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity have offspring. And, like a child to the parent, there are similar characteristics based upon a basic DNA of beliefs but also some variance in the different sects or versions of these three basic religions.

We will begin with Judaism as it was the first of the Abrahamic religions discussed earlier this week. (In case you are wondering the names of the three religions were placed in a hat and drawn to determine the order for discussion.) The Orthodox Jews are those who believe in God and follow the Torah as closely as possible in keeping the commandments. Technically, Orthodox Judaism is “the Judaism and the other offspring are known as branches or assemblies to which one may join. Conservative Judaism or Masorti Jew believe in the historical Jewish doctrine but believe the ways of living should be preserved but adapted to modern living and culture.

Reform Judaism includes both Liberal and Progressive Judaism. These Jewish followers are often considered to not be living according to the Halachah and their congregations are found to have different opinions and attitudes towards most things, including how they observe their faith. These Reformed Jews believe in God but hold very liberal beliefs, observe only a few of the traditional customs, and may have more informal meetings rather than the more solemn congregations in Orthodox temples. Viewpoints of both Conservative and Reformed Jews may also differ in the Divine origin of the Torah.

Messianic Jews reflect a Christian projection of accepting Jesus as the Messiah. They often have Jewish ethnicity in their ancestry but tend to hold different views about the ten lost tribes of Israel than those of Orthodox or even Reformed Jews. In response to this movement, the Ephraimites were established. They adopted Jewish and Old Testament rituals but altered them somewhat. Similar to this group are the Brit-Am. Brit-Am is a British Israeli group begun by Yair Davidiy. It sees Christianity as a tool for bringing the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel closer together. It encourages Jews to be Orthodox and keep the Law as well as supporting Christians to study the Bible, believe in God, and improve their “Israeli consciousness”.

There are three expansive categories of Islam. A Conservative Muslim believes that the Koran and the Hadith are to be followed and used for every hour and day. Liberals Muslims usually observe the five periods of daily prayers and study the Koran but might forego the traditional dress or women wearing veils or head coverings. The Innovative Muslims groups have created their own theology loosely based upon their own interpretations of the Koran. As with Judaism, Islam refers to more than just one’s religion; it is also a culture. The acronym SCHISM is used by the website “muslimhope.com” to explain the various cultural groupings of Muslims within Islam: “S – Successors, Shi’ites; C – Classic, Kharijites or Wahhabis; H – Human tradition, Sunnis; I – Inventors, Ghulat; S – Spiritual Mystics, Sufis; M – Modern Muslims.

The land of Jesus’ crucifiers gave birth to the Roman Catholic Church, based upon the travels and teachings of the successors of the apostles and the original disciples of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ. The Protestant movement, begun by the Anglicans and Lutherans, adapted the faith for the common man and the culture so that prayers were no longer only understood or said by the priests and bishops. The Eastern Orthodox Church split from the Roman Church due to political separation and has its own set of rituals and church calendar with varying differences. The Church of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, and the other groups such as the Anabaptists became Inventors of new rituals and changed some of the previous teachings, reverting in some instances to those not unlike to the Torah and Islam.

Christianity also has its spiritual mystics who had much in common with other mystical movements of the periods. Finally we have the modern Christian, the liberals and those who have a very lenient viewpoint of the need for organized worship. Christianity has the greatest number of followers but also of differing sects and denominations. Roughly forty percent of all Christians are considered Protestant.

On a May 1999 day on the island of Cypress, Helmut Schmidt, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1974-1982, delivered the following remarks at a conference organized by the Centre for World Dialogue. He referenced “one of the many lessons which the three holy books have in common, namely the fact that all three of them call for peace, or shalom in the Torah and salaam in the Qur’an. In the Jewish Torah (which Christians call the “Old Testament”) we read in Psalm 34: “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” In the Christian New Testament, we read in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called the children of God.” And the Qur’an in Sura 4 tells Muslims: “If they do not bother you and do not fight against you and if they offer peace to you, then God does not permit you to fight against them.” Chancellor Schmidt concluded “What you do not wish to be done to yourself, do not do to others.”

Triune Tuna Pasta
8 oz uncooked pasta such as penne or bowtie
1 can drained green beans, one bag frozen which has thawed or 2 cups fresh and diagonally sliced
3 tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove minced
1 can diced tomatoes or 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1/3 tsp Italian seasoning
1 large can tuna (usually 8-12 oz depending on brand but can use more or less as you prefer) packed in water, rinsed, drained and flaked
Chopped parsley for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook pasta according to directions on bag or box. If green beans are still frozen, use last ten minutes of cooking pasta and add beans to pasta. Drain both beans and pasta when cooked.
In large skillet heat 2 tsp olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and stir for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and seasonings and cook for approximately four to five minutes. Turn off heat. Add pasta and green beans, tuna, and remaining tsp of olive oil and toss gently. Garnish with parsley. [Onions, bell peppers and mushrooms can be added. Sauté with the garlic and cook until all are tender before adding the tomatoes, pasta, beans, and tuna.]

Conception of Christianity

Abraham’s Many Sons – Christianity
Advent 19
Thursday Two-Day Burgers

Father Abraham had many sons but ….We sometimes forget that Abraham was himself a son. The story of Abraham begins twenty-one generation before his birth. The setting is a land known as Eden, a Latin word defined as “paradise” from the Greek word “Ēdēn” and the Hebrew” Ēḏen” which most likely came from the Akkadian word “edinu” which was derived from the Sumerian word “eden” which is translated as “a plain or desert” but also most definitely a derivative of the Hebrew “ēḏen” which translates as “delight”. In the creation myth of Christianity, Eden was a locale created by a supreme deity called God for a man known as Adam and his helpmate, a female called Eve. Thus Adam became the first father or patriarch of the religion we know as Christianity.

In the Christian tradition, time was kept by the recording of the family. Thus, the story of Abraham begins with his great-great-great- great-great-great- great-great-great- great-great-great- great-great-great- great-great-great- great-great-great-grandfather, the man known only to us as Adam. We know through the stories and religious literature of the Abrahamic faiths that Adam had two sons who would later marry but there are no records of the families of their spouses. The story that begins with “In the beginning” lists a long line of patriarchs, male heads of their families and tribes through whom the religion and faith would be passed from generation to generation.

Jared or Melchizedek was sixth generation in the genealogy of Abraham and, according to the writings, was the second longest-living man in the time of the Bible. His son was Enoch who fathered Methuselah, eighth generation from Adam and the oldest living male mentioned in the stories of Christianity. Like many cultures, the Christian faith has not only a Creation Myth but also a Flood Myth and this occurs in the tenth generation of Adam with a grandson named Noah. The patriarchs between Noah and Abraham are less important and not much is known about them. The story, however, does not end with Father Abraham. It is just getting started. While it is at this point that Islam leaves the other two Abrahamic religions and Judaism and Christianity seem to still be parallel, it is at this juncture that interpretation becomes paramount in the differing religions.

Father Abraham’s two oldest sons, Ishmael and Israel, gave birth to their own tribes and religions. Jacob’s son Isaac, later known as Israel and twenty-second in generation from Adam, would become the father of twelve sons and be famous for being the father of Joseph. From Joseph to the thirty-fourth generation King David and thirty-fifth generation King Solomon and Nathan to Jesus, the man who would become the father of the reason for Christianity, the story becomes one of political power and humanity, or rather the lack thereof. The times were harsh and the living was often even harsher. Territory exchanged hands as emperors, pharaohs, and rulers conquered and were conquered. The religion that had given people a reason for living became the reason they were killed or enslaved. The value of human life became how much it could be bent and tortured as well as taxed.

It was at this time that the seventy-fifth generation grandson of Adam lived. His name was Joseph and he, in the custom of the time and culture, had become engaged to a young woman of a most devout family. The woman was named Mary and she went to him with an incredulous story. She had been visited by an angel who told her she would find herself pregnant with child. As proof, the angel told her that an older cousin, a woman who had tried unsuccessfully to bear children, was also pregnant. The cousin’s name is Elizabeth, a common name of the period and as such, somewhat muddies the story for many. [When wanting proof of religion, archaeologists are often stumped by the frequent use of common names. As with the ancient religions, even with modern technologies, sometimes the core is simply what one believes, what one has faith in being the truth.]

The child of Mary and Joseph has an impressive birth because it is not only occurring before evidence that Mary and Joseph had marital relations but because, having been told it is a child of God, it is born as the most common of all mankind – in a stable surrounded by animals. Joseph and Mary, proving their worth as taxpayers, have had to travel to Bethlehem, Joseph’s patriarchal land, to pay the tax on their heads. It is during the journey that the baby named Jesus is born. His birth is celebrated by Christians at Christmas. We know very little of Jesus’ childhood but as a man just turning thirty, details of his life become paramount to the religion and he is joined by a cousin, born of a woman named Elizabeth.

The cousin of Jesus is also not what one would expect from a man who is said to be a son of God. The cousin, known as John, is considered odd and dirty, even for a period in which personal hygiene is not of utmost importance for commoners. John travels as a beggar, wearing clothes made of camel hair and eating an organic diet of nuts and honey. He has a loud voice and seemingly little fear as he tells everyone of the coming messiah who will save them all. Life is hard, especially for the Jewish people but the coming promised one is nothing new. John’s story is different than what the rabbis are saying, though. John proclaims that the messiah is coming soon, like tomorrow! John preaches that all need to be ready, need to be prepared, need to become clean and to this end he starts baptizing people.

John the Baptist, as he becomes known, is considered crazy by the authorities and a nuisance but when his cousin, a more average looking man with a charismatic charm begins preaching a similar doctrine as John of love and charity with people having personal value and accountability, they take note. This cousin, a man called Jesus, is teaching people that they should make decisions for themselves and not rely on the king or emperor to tell them how to live, what to do, or which deity to worship. This man Jesus is clever, drawing multitudes and feeding the poor. He enlists the aid of twelve others and together, they are creating quite uproar. Politically and religiously, Jesus is walking a very independent path and yet, he has harmed no one, committed no actual crimes. Finally, two previous enemies come together to decide how best to resolve the “Jesus” issue. They interpret his teachings as being treason and so he is arrested, tried, and crucified. This man Jesus who seemed to have a silver tongue suddenly is quiet but promises to return. After all, his birth was something of a miracle so why shouldn’t his death be one as well?

Christians believe Jesus kept his word, both in being the son of God but in also returning. Their celebration of Easter commemorates his rising from his grave after three days. For Christians, the Messiah Jesus ascends to heaven fifty days later on the feast of Pentecost but is followed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, formerly known as the Holy Ghost. The first thirty-nine books of their Holy Bible are called the Old Testament and based upon Jewish religious literature. The last twenty-six books are called the New Testament and tell of Jesus’ life, his teachings, and how a Christian is to live the faith. The Roman government that crucified Jesus would become the setting for the largest seat of the Christian religion but….That is a story for tomorrow when we discuss the grandsons of Father Abraham.

Two-Day Burgers – Meatloaf Grilled
The U.S.A. is the largest predominantly Christian nation in the world and the only one created based upon religious freedoms and the right to worship, all derived from the beliefs of different Christian faiths. Therefore, it was a typically American dish that seemed most fitting – the meatloaf. Just as the religious freedoms guaranteed in the US Constitution covered various religious faiths, the typical meatloaf is comprised on different ground meats such as beef, pork, veal, and ground sausages. However, it can also be made with just one kind like ground beef or even ground turkey. The meatloaf can also be prepared in a loaf pan or on a baking sheet or even in a muffin tin. Use any basic meatloaf recipe you like. The trick is to make a double batch. One can be frozen for a later time and one is put in the refrigerator. What? Not eaten? Yes – put it in the fridge! Then the next day, remove and slice. After slicing place on a hot grill or griddle pan and grill until heated through. Then place on a bun or toasted bread and add condiments just like you would for any other burger.

This recipe is one from when my kids were little. Shhh, don’t tell them they were eating vegetables instead of just a really great burger!
3 lbs meat (I often used just ground beef but you can use the typical mixture of meats)
3/4 cup pureed vegetables (green beans, carrots, even beets work well). Left-overs are great for this and any excess pureed vegetables can be used as soup stock.
1 egg
½ cup ketchup
1 cup oats
Seasonings to taste (I use garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, basil, and lemon pepper)
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Sauté or grill sliced bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions to put on top of your burger for added taste and – bonus – extra vegetables!
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. I usually pre-beat the egg before adding but not always. Just make sure everything is well incorporated. You can alter the wet and dry ingredients to your own preference and add or subtract as needed. Bake at 350-degrees Fahrenheit for approximately forty minutes. Cooking time will be dependent on the size and shape of your loaf. Test doneness by using a meat thermometer or sticking a skewer into the thickest part. Remember, all meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160-degrees Fahrenheit.