What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

Pentecost 8

Mythologies or folklore? Stories or fables? There are many names given to the tales told in times past. Some bear great meaning while others were mere conveniences. Two days ago we discussed the Irish mythological character Bran. There is also an English myth about a man named Bran who had a large cauldron which gave eternal life to those who partook of it. The English Bran became known as Urien. Before that name change, though, the English bran reportedly invade Ireland in a story akin to those told about the English legendary figure King Arthur.

The word myth comes from the Greek “mythos” which meant word, talk, or story. The tribes of North America had many such terms. The Chinook called these stories ik!anam; the Kwatkiutl, nayam; another tribe, spektakl and still another, adaox. Alaskan tribes told adaork tales. Every culture has had a word for what we call mythologies. For most cultures, there were oral traditions passed from one generation to the next. Luckily for us, some were actually transcribed and we have records of these written beliefs. Cultures vanish as mankind dies but the stories told remain.

Some historians point out that following generations simply repeat and elaborate on past tales. However, too many similar legends arose in contrasting parts of the world to believe they are merely coincidences. We have no real proof of the earliest beginnings of myths but it is logical to assume that all of mankind felt the need to create such myths about creation and life. There are indeed many similarities among known myths, so many that some believe they all originated from a common point.

The names of gods and goddesses appear in many forms. Even the simplest of names, “A” can be two different gods. The god Marduk actually has over fifty names; Ra, 75, Allah, 99 or 400 depending on your definition of a name, Odin over 200 and the goddess Shiva over 1000 names. In some cases it is a matter of the type of transcription used. Chinese for example can either be Pinyin or Wade-Giles when translating into English. Even the names we know can be leading. Lancelot is a central character in the English Arthurian tales and yet his name is French.

The purpose of this blog is to start a conversation, to get us thinking outside of our daily, humdrum boxes and to think expansively and as humanitarians. The first step in being humanitarian is to recognize our commonalities. Myths are a great example of this. The similarities, the very reasons we have them, and the likeness within the stories remind us that no matter our location, eye shape, skin color, or socio-economic circumstances, we are all the same creature at our basic core.

The last two posts were rather long so today’s post will be much briefer. The questions posed are not any easier, though. How do you see your neighbor? Do you recognize what you have in common or do you only see what is different? There is an ancient children’s rhyme that references the concept of a name and words. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt them.” Words may not break bones but they can break a person’s soul.

The power of Odin was not diminished when the Romans renamed him as Mercury. The English respelled it as Wodan and the German Wuotan but the basic god remained the same. We may not think a person’s feeling change when we call them a less attractive name but it can. We are not gods and goddesses. Our power often comes from our interactions with others. How did you treat those around you today?

The mythologies existed as histories and patterns of living. They also served as directions for behavior. It is hard to change our behavior and even harder to not go along with the crowd. We are worth the effect, though and so are our neighbors, those people with whom we share our planet and world. As henry Cloud noted: “We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.” We are simple people; we are neither gods nor goddesses. We are an influence to those we encounter, just be our being. People may see our faces and hear what we say but it is how we treat them and make them that can make us a legend in their lives and our own.

The Spirit of Spirits

The Spirit of Spirits

Pentecost 7

The word Pentecost has nothing to do with religion or spirits or even spirituality. As I have mentioned before, I use the Christian calendar as an organizational tool. It is not a subliminal message at all. I will again make note that I do not believe there is a huge divide between spirituality and religion, though. Pentecost means “fifty” and falls fifty days after another Christian holiday, hence the reason for the naming as such.

I think spending time on the mythologies of our world serves two purposes. First, it is our history. Yes, I said OUR history. To try to separate the history of one culture from another is not wise, in my humble opinion. The world is a vast combination of water and land but the characteristics of mankind traveled quickly and cultures shows signs of intermingling. It was once thought that the culture known as the American Indian traveled across glaciers from Northern Asia to Alaska and Canada before settling in all parts of North, Central, and South America. Similarities between ancient Viking lifestyle and stories and those of the earliest of North American Indians were thought to be just coincidences until DNA testing of descendants of the early Algonquian Nation tribes revealed the two cultures had indeed intermingled in the early first and second centuries.

The mythologies of the Bronze Age man laid the foundation for our belief systems today. These are not simple fictionalized stories with which people were entertained. These were the outlines for how mankind lived, worked, and interacted with the internal and external spirit of all living things. In some ways we have come very far but in other ways, we are still in the infancy of interacting one with another. If you doubt this, just remember more mass graves are being found every day, evidence of the misuse of spiritual belief, religious zeal, and available weaponry.

Learning about such things, though is just the first step. At this point I am inserting an article I co-authored which first ran on the website, www.episcopalcafe.com.

During my Education for Ministry (EfM) journey, the subject of the “Spirituality versus Religion” meme was discussed. In examining this, I was reminded of a parish I attended. The parish had a thriving youth program. Older adults congregated at the church as if it was a social club but it was lacking in something for young adults often called millenials and/or Generation “Y”. They said that “millenials” did not attend church but, after much persistence, they finally began a new young adult class. It was suggested the class take over the “prime” classroom and have a coffeehouse theme. Metal chairs and long tables were relegated to storage closets, replaced by upholstered chairs, lamps, a rug from the attic, etc. The posters and mailers announcing the class were loved by the millenials and deemed “garish” by vestry members, who stood outside the classroom, counting the people who came. One week later, they stood outside that same door, awaiting the Bishop and insisting the class stay to “account” for the change in the décor. When the Bishop arrived, he asked to see the room and then smiled: “I think John the Baptist would feel right at home here” he said.

The millenials of today and Generation “Y” live and breathe in part according to meme theory. Many theologians blame it for the decline in their effectiveness. What is “meme theory” and from where did it originate? According to Wikipedia, a go-to reference for all millenials, a meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” The word is an abbreviation of the word memetic, a theory of mental evolution based upon the work of Charles Darwin, coined by British evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins. Opposing the religious culture, which most assuredly could be said to be based upon a meme, the term has become the battle cry of atheists who ironically, in their attempt to be different, have formed their own communion.

The coffeehouse feel was on target in developing the spirituality of the young adult meeting room and created an environment that drew people in and allowed for a “safe” exchange of ideas. They had cappuccino mix for the coffee pot, tea, hot cocoa, doughnuts and communion. Class “lessons” included a scientific flowchart for the Summary of the Law. Sadly that vision was blinded by the status quo. The class became more “conventional, more religious” and within three months no one was present. Once enrollment numbered fifty-five; it became zero.

What we can learn from this is that we must address spirituality if we want to engage our young adults, our future. They know more of Ziglar’s pump parable than Jesus’ lost coin parable. We have got to have the vision to allow the former in order to discuss the latter. Today’s young adult is not content with following blindly but wants to engage his/her spirit – fully and completely. We exactly is this “spirituality versus religion” concept?

Spiritual Healer Nancy Kern explains it this way: “Spirituality is a direct experience of God, by whatever name: Source, Spirit, the Light, All That Is, Allah, Shiva, Jesus. Religion is learned, passed on through families and cultural institutions, including churches. Religion is built around form, characterized by dogma, ritual and social interaction. Religious organizations are built around spiritual values, and also encompass politics, fund-raising and identity built on beliefs and practices.

“Spirituality involves a direct experience of grace through a bodily knowing; no intermediary is required, no particular beliefs are necessary. The ego cannot manage spiritual experiences or make them happen. Spiritual experiences range from beautiful to frightening, and may contradict religious and scientific beliefs. Both religion and spirituality can involve prayer, contemplation and/or meditation. Both can be positive forces of healing from emotional and physical distress. Spirituality can be encouraged through sensitivity to nature and the cultivation of awareness, gratitude and loving kindness. Religion can encourage and foster spirituality, but does not necessarily do so.”

Kern adds: “Mysticism is spiritual. Mystics from all religious backgrounds see connection between traditions rather than separation. This is because mystics cultivate direct experience of oneness with all of creation. Creativity is innately spiritual. All people are innately spiritual. Religion must be learned. Spirituality is a formless realm of limitless possibilities. Religion limits possibilities through beliefs and taboos. Spirituality may contradict or reinforce religious teachings. Although beliefs in Hell begin as religious teachings, when internalized, they become spiritual fears.”

If we continue to make enemies of spirituality and religion, then we are looking at the future with very poor vision. Today’s young adults live passionately and want a passionate faith. Religion should be a living entity that embraces and uses their spirituality. We must let faith breathe, embracing that which emboldens our spirit to receive the Holy Spirit.

 

The things written about in this article are important, I believe, and applicable to all denominations, religious systems, and spiritual practices. My co-author and I, though we grew up in the same location, are examples of different believers working together. I am a professional musician and conductor, writer, graphic artist, community family values educator and child advocate, a lifelong Episcopalian who has served as Girls Friendly leader, EYC advisor, church school director/teacher, ECW officer, church musician, EfM graduate, and member of the Order of Daughters of the King. I host this blog, n2myhead. My co-author is a professional artist and writer, former midwife, licensed massage therapist, Cranial Sacral Therapist, Flower Essence Practitioner, trained in Buddhist meditation, Native American shamanism, Akashic Field therapy, guided imagery and counseling. She can be reached at her website.

I hope this blog is a conversation. I do not claim to be an expert on any of the topics I discuss. I am a traveler, exploring different aspects of life in an attempt to learn how to better live and to live in a respectful, peaceful, productive manner. I eagerly look forward to your comments. They are the spirit that drives me. These conversations are the purpose for this blog. Some of my conversations are within my own head, hence the title of this blog. The conversations we have with ourselves can be the most productive. They are the spirit that leads us on to our future.

Tomorrow we will continue to discuss both mythologies of the past but also those we are writing today. As we live, we compose our own life story, create our own present and future, portray the beliefs we hold dear. I do not believe that our beliefs are limiting and I completely believe that religion has possibilities for a brighter future. Religion affords an outline for living but such only has value when it includes respect for all living things. A religion that allows hatred is not, in my opinion, a religion but a systematic living of fear.

The spirit of life is alive and so our present-day myths must, as mentioned in the article, be free to breathe. In his book “The Miracle of Mindfulness”, Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” Unfortunately, many people have used spirituality and religion as a basis for garnering power. Writer Jose N. Harris explains the danger of such. ““There is beauty in truth, even if it’s painful. Those who lie, twist life so that it looks tasty to the lazy, brilliant to the ignorant, and powerful to the weak. But lies only strengthen our defects. They don’t teach anything, help anything, fix anything or cure anything. Nor do they develop one’s character, one’s mind, one’s heart or one’s soul.”

The importance we can learn from ancient mythologies is where we have been, what we feared, and what we overcame. Moving forward takes courage and it take a hardy spirit. As the poet e. e. cummings wrote, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” That is the real purpose of our ancient mythologies – celebrating the human spirit. We have potential as long as we breathe and respect our own spirit.

Lessons from Bran

Lessons from Bran

Pentecost 6

We all know bran as being the outer layer of grain generally used for our morning cereal. It is often used to refer to any outer layer of a grain including rice. The health benefits for mankind from bran marry those that bran offers to the grain itself. The outer layers of a grain serve to provide it nutrients since they contain high levels of protein and necessary nutrition for the plant. For humans, bran affords a highly concentrated source of dietary fiber.

Bran is also the name of an Irishman famous in Irish mythology. According to legend, Bran decided to visit the “Happy Outerworld”, a mythological place the Irish believed to be the home of all immortals. These immortals were collectively known as the Sidhe. The Happy Outerworld consisted of two land, the Isle of Joy and the Isle of Women. Spoiler Alert: Women do not receive gentle treatment in this myth!

Fairy tales are usually stories with a purpose but stories that have a happy ending. After all, no one wants to learn a lesson that will ultimately end badly for them. The mythologies of ancient mankind were more than just lessons, they were life itself. The topics of these myths centered on the very living each person did and experienced. They dealt with things like birth and death and what came after death. They wove stories about the beginnings of mankind and their world. Drawing from cultural wisdom, a myth is the collective universal narrative or man and woman.

These myths are not just stories to be told around a campfire or fodder for the movie industry. They serve just as real a purpose today as they did when first told many centuries ago. Their original purpose to explain and answer life itself transitioned into myths being a compass for future generations. Much like the twentieth century book and movie “the Wizard of Oz”, the Irish legend of Bran spoke of home and finding one’s way back home.

Bran held a great feast, so the story goes. Going outside for some air after such a large meal, he hears a faint pleasant melody that lulls him to sleep. When he awakes, he sees a branch from an apple tree in full blossom has been placed next to him. He shows the branch to his friends and they are suddenly joined by a woman wearing unusual clothing. Bran decides she must be one of the Sidhe, an immortal. The woman tells of her homeland from whence the apple branch came and promises the men they will no longer suffer illness or death if they travel there.

Bran and thirty of his companions set sail and meet Manannan mac Lir, a sea god who rode on the waves in a horse-drawn chariot. The sea god tells them how to get to the Isle of Women but tells them first they will reach the Isle of Joy. Upon reaching this island, groups of laughing people wave from the shore, not answering any questions with anything other than laughter. One of Bran’s traveling companions remains on the Isle of Joy while the others set sail for the Isle of Women.

The Isle of Women offered the Irishmen peace and happiness and they remained for over a year. Soon, however, one of the men became homesick and convinced the others to set sail for Ireland. The women bid them farewell and suggested they return to pick up their friend from the Isle of Joy. They promised the men smooth sailing but warned them to never actually set foot on Irish soil again. Within two days the men could see the Irish coastline and waved to the people who gathered on the shore as they approached. Bran called out his name and said he and his friends had been traveling for over a year. The people called back that they had heard stories of a man named Bran but he had lived hundreds of years earlier.

As they neared the shore, Nechtan, the man who had become homesick, jumped onto the shore. AS he ran up the beach, his body turned to dust. This, realized Bran and the other men, fulfilled the prophecy of the women. The men turned their boat around and headed for the open sea and were never again seen. In seeking idle joy, Bran realized he had lost the most important thing – his home.

There are obvious parallels to the story of the Irishman Bran and the story of the Christian creation myth of Adam and Eve. Although not mentioned by specific type, most people believing the Biblical account of Adam and Eve believe the Tree of Knowledge, the one tree they were forbidden to partake the fruit of, was an apple tree. Perhaps because the branch in the story of Bran was an apple branch, it carried over to the Biblical account. Both were searching for something greater than their home and both discovered their search took them away from their home forever.

Myths of religion served to give people hope. Myths such as the one about the Irish Bran often serve to remind us sometimes what we have at home are enough for a good life. Other myths are told in the hopes that great leaders will learn and arise to lead into a better future. The hero or heroine of a myth serves as a good role model for children as they grow into adulthood. Myths remind us that while we are a diverse race, we share many things in common.

In his novel “You Can’t Go Home Again”, American author Thomas Wolfe wrote: “ Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen. The voice of forest water in the night, a woman’s laughter in the dark, the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of midday in hot meadows, the delicate web of children’s voices in bright air–these things will never change. The glitter of sunlight on roughened water, the glory of the stars, the innocence of morning, the smell of the sea in harbors, the feathery blur and smoky buddings of young boughs, and something there that comes and goes and never can be captured, the thorn of spring, the sharp and tongueless cry–these things will always be the same. “All things belonging to the earth will never change–the leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the trees whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of lovers long since buried in the earth–all things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth–these things will always be the same, for they come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts forever. Only the earth endures, but it endures forever. The tarantula, the adder, and the asp will also never change. Pain and death will always be the same. But under the pavements trembling like a pulse, under the buildings trembling like a cry, under the waste of time, under the hoof of the beast above the broken bones of cities, there will be something growing like a flower, something bursting from the earth again, forever deathless, faithful, coming into life again like April.” I think Bran would have agreed.

Luck of the Irish

Luck of the Irish

Pentecost 5

Yesterday we discussed the discrimination towards women and the female Scottish warrior who victoriously led her troops in a charge that rebuked the advancement of the Roman Army into Scotland which in turn prevented their attempting to invade Ireland. However, Ireland was invaded, according to Irish mythology.

The ancient lands of the island we know as Ireland were supposedly invaded a series of times. Each invasion resulted in a new leader. The Tuatha De Danaan invaders were a race of godlike people, skilled in magic, led by the king Daghda or “the Good God”. Daghda was famous for having a very large cauldron and an equally large club. Legend claims that the cauldron would feed all, regardless of the number present. The club was noted for both taking lives and bringing the dead back to life.

Daghda was an unusual god in that while his followers respected his skills in magic and other occult arts, they also endued him with humor. He was often portrayed wearing a tunic that barely reached the bottom of his gluteus maximus and he was well-known for his comic behavior. The Irish are known for being a culture that enjoys having fun; perhaps Daghda was the beginning of this.

It is said that one day while out for a walk, Daghda came upon the goddess Morrigan. She was the patron spirit of both war and fertility and legend held she could change herself into the shape of a raven. As a raven she was said to visit battlefields and often affect the outcome of the fighting. Daghda and Morrigan agreed on a truce and Morrigan promised to protect the Tuatha De Danaan forever.

Another legend tells of an upcoming battle between the Tuatha De Danaan and their opponents the Fomhoire. The outcome would determine who would control Ireland. Fearing his men were not prepared for the battle Daghda asked for a truce. The Fomhoire promised but then threatened his life unless he ate an enormous bowl of porridge. Daghda licked the bowl clean and fell asleep amid the laughter of the Fomhoire. The Irish god of love was Daghda’s son Angus who would become famous for helping others in their love life.

These early legend or mythologies bear little resemblance to those of classical times. The emphasis on these ancient Irish legends centered more on how the gods and goddesses helped the average man in his daily life. They were not so much an answer to the eternal question of Who am I? but more a path for the question How do I live? However, it is in Ireland that the real reasons for such stories still exist. Children are still warned of the banshee, a terrifying woman who lives amongst the faeries or a pooka, a shape-changer in order to encourage them to behave. Modern life is evident in Ireland but the culture continues on with the same mythologies being told in the evening at family homes and in the local pubs.

Artifacts have been found in Great Britain that date back to the Stone Age but the earliest of such found in Ireland are from the Mesolithic time period. It was not until the Christian missionary known as Saint Patrick that Irish history became written so much has been lost or changed with each retelling. The legends serve today the same purpose they did when they first were begun. They unite the people and carry the culture from one day to the next.

Our own spiritualities and religious choices provide the same for us in this modern world. Our same basic questions and needs have remained unchanged throughout the history of mankind. We need to continue the search for answers because it gives us reason to continue our living. One legend maintains that the Creator needed laughter in the world so He/She made the Irish race. They carry on today as their earliest gods were portrayed – generous of spirit, brave in battle, and always willing to help another.

All too soon mankind would weave the stories of the gods that waged war upon mankind and the punishments for man . We should remember, though, that the earliest mythology told of a benevolent, generous god named Daghda, who entertained as well as protected. This Irish phrase not only sums up Ireland today, it tells of the spirits the earliest mythologies disclosed: “Deep peace of the running waves to you. Deep peace of the flowing air to you. Deep peace of the smiling stars to you. Deep peace of the quiet earth to you. Deep peace of the watching shepherds to you. Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.”

Spirit of Forgiveness

Spirit of Forgiveness

Pentecost 4

As mankind learned how to understand the nature that surrounded him/her, it became possible to live in one place. There was no longer a need to travel when local water supplies were exhausted. There was no longer a need to travel to find weather suitable for living and finding food sources. Food being a basic human need, the gods and goddesses associated with such are evident in every culture throughout the history of mankind. Also present are the fertility gods, not only to represent the desire for fertile plants which would result in plentiful harvests but also for healthy families. After all, a healthy family is the most basic need for one’s future.

The past week in the television world has been full of the news of a very popular and some might term fertile family. The stars of a television reality program entitled “19 Kids & Counting”, James ‘Jim Bob” and Michelle Duggar were known for being the parents of nineteen children. They were also equally known for their conservative Christian views and their international mission work in places like Central America and Nepal.

What is not as well-known is the fact that, in a demographic like conservative Christians, the program’s title was in error. Jim and Michelle Duggar would have been considered to have had twenty-one kids since they lost two during pregnancy. The program began airing under the title “14 Kids & Counting” and continued through their last miscarriage, the birth of their four grandchildren (two more are expected this year), and the wedding of three of their children.

The mention I make of their being a parent to twenty-one children is not just me being nit-picking. It is the core of the debate in this country regarding abortion rights. The moment when life begins has been the subject of many of the world’s religions and the mythologies of the planet. The Duggars were always on the side of the anti-abortion proponents which believe that a life is begun at the very moment of conception. It is confusing, therefore, that they consider themselves the parents of only nineteen children.

Although very closely aligned to the Southern Baptist denomination, Jim Duggar had his own independent church which first started meeting in his own home. This was a common practice when the colonists first lived in the United States. The recognized national religion was the Anglican faith of the English colonists but there were also Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Lutherans. The Roman Catholics set about building places of worship but the other groups often met in someone’s home. Later, as the land was explored, the Anglican community had family chapels which served entire neighborhoods. The area of Maryland known as the Eastern Shore was populated with Chapel Churches, those informal meetings for worship that were under the jurisdiction of one parish that served a large geographical area. The Duggar following soon outgrew the Duggar home, though, and another building was found. In fact, real estate became Jim and Michelle Duggar’s livelihood and today remains their primary occupation.

Also a concept which dates back throughout time is the role of women in the life of man. Recently a couple celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary. I had been present at their wedding and remember it well, not so much for the actual wedding or how my friends looked but for the sermon preached. It was the first time I had heard the Baptist belief that the man in the “brains” of the family and the woman the “heart”. In the sermon preached that day the pastor explained how the man is to make all the decisions since the female of the species if weak and not as intelligent. What struck me that day was how similar the Baptist and Roman Catholic thinking about women were. Two denominations which are often at polar ends on every subject were parallel in their discrimination of women.

The recent fracas regarding the Duggar family concerns a belief they hold which is very similar to the female belief I just mentioned. I should note that there are also other religions and denominations which believe similarly. The Duggars believe that men are very visual creatures and as such are tempted by the female form. Although they do not believe women should be leaders or ministers in an official capacity due to their lack of ability, they somehow believe women are completely accountable for the sexual desires of the men who they might pass on the street. Women are apparently responsible for the sexual morals of every man, known to them or a complete stranger. It is for this reason they are to dress modestly. This is also the reason Islam required women to be fully or partially covered and why, for many years, both the Roman and Anglican churches believed women should cover their heads when in worship. It is the reason behind a nun’s habit.

In 2006 a television production company and studio, Harpo, was sent an anonymous letter regarding the Duggar family. They forwarded the letter which mentioned a criminal infraction of the law to the appropriate authorities in the hometown of the Duggar family. A police report was begun and an investigation followed. No action, however, was taken as the statute of limitations, the time for prosecuting, had passed. Earlier this year, with no apparent reason given other than a blind attempt to uncover such gossip, a magazine filed paperwork under the Information Act asking to see any and all police reports regarding this family. The freedom of the press guaranteed by the US Constitution enabled such a request to be filled and the magazine received a copy of said police report. The police report was initiated in 2006 regarding incidents which allegedly occurred in 2002. It should be mentioned that they first news of such events came from the perpetrator himself, the Duggar’s oldest child and son.

IN the police report the parents of this child, Jim and Michelle Duggar, made note of the corrective actions they themselves undertook towards their son. It was a heartbreaking time for them. They lived their religion as best they could and yet, their son had committed grievous acts, sins, against his neighbors, some of whom were his own female siblings while he himself was a child – at least, to most of us he would have been a child.

The laws in Arkansas regarding marriage are not the laws in most of the United States. They are reminiscent of another time and place and are very similar in age requirements of the laws in many third world nations. There are also other southern states with similar laws. These laws maintain a very young age for marriage, even though in every other aspect these children would still be considered children. Because of the laws in his native Arkansas, the oldest Duggar child would have been eligible to marry at the time he committed these acts. For many, that would have made him an adult in such matters.

There are many other issues involved in discussing this case. While the family believes that men cannot control their sexual desires, one does wonder if a man seeing a sleeping female can then accuse the female of being enticing while sleeping. Also the age of the offender must be considered. In every town there are kids of that same age “making out”, exchanging innocent kisses and exploratory touches behind the baseball bleachers, under the boardwalk on the beach, while walking home from a local school event or at the movies. Are these kids simply being curious or are they hardened sexual offenders?

The Roman Church began limiting women in their role in life when a female leader of Scots held back the world’s strongest army and prevented any Roman presence in Scotland. Although the two countries and cultures have a long-standing battle from their shared Gaelic roots, it was this Scottish female who prevented the Romans from even attempting to touch foot on the island nation of Ireland. Scripture began to emphasize Eve’s role in the ejection of Adam and Eve from their Garden of Eden home. The allure of the female became to root of all sin and the reason for discomfort during childbirth. It may seem like all fertility gods were female but the truth is that the Egyptians had a male fertility god known as Min in the fourth millennium BCE. They at least believed that mankind was responsible for his/her feelings, not just the female of the species.

The Duggar television program has been removed from the airways and whether or not it returns remains to be seen. What can be seen is a lack of attention to detail and the last twelve or thirteen years of the offender’s life. What is not seen is a spirit of forgiveness. I completely agree that the parents did not according to law or common sense in their reactions to their son’s misdeeds. Nowhere is made mention of any help for the victims of these misdeeds. Did anyone care about them? If they needed nothing, then one must question how severe the misdeed were.

I do not believe the police report was complete and deeply regret the witch hunt this magazine undertook in a misuse of the freedom of the press. Said report was last week ordered destroyed by a sitting judge. While this is highly uncommon in an ongoing case, the statute of limitations made such an action possible and some would claim even advisable. After all, paperwork that has no purpose has no need to be kept, even if only for gossip mongers to use.

I do not believe women are the root of all evil. The parent of sons myself, I held them as accountable for their actions as I held myself or my daughters. If men are the “brains” of a the world, then why are they not being held to a higher standard of accountability? You cannot expect to be both boss and servant, guys. If you are smart enough to interpret scripture, then you can interpret a recipe or how to operate a vacuum. Science has proven that bearing a child does not give a woman hidden insight into why that baby is crying. Experience and a will to accomplish does, though.

The most troubling aspect for me of this Duggar incident is not whether or not they overstayed their time on reality television. I think the term reality TV is a misnomer and a lie. No one acts on camera the same as they do off camera. Leaders from every country in the world have been caught with open microphones and prove that statement. It is not even the Duggar family belief system that enabled them to think the actions of their son were not completely his fault since as a male he is at the mercy of how women present themselves. It is not the lack of follow-up for these actions nor the also lack of follow-up actions of the local authorities and legal system.

The only person who has made a statement in this case is the perpetrator. He admitted his actions at the time, two years before proposing to his wife, and now before the media and in resigning his position as a Washington, D.C. lobbyist for such conservative Christian views. He confessed before man and his deity and asked for forgiveness. In a nation of countless religions and spiritualities based upon the concept of forgiveness, this young adult who has led an exemplary life since the time of these misdeeds, this young man has found a nation of bullies and little of any forgiveness except from his wife.

This lack of so-called religious response is the most troubling to me. It was not just the Emperor Marcus Aurelius showing clemency to the vanquished after his success against tribes that defined forgiveness. Almost every religion and spiritual belief system includes forgiveness. In the Judaic belief, if one sincerely confesses his/her sin to another, that person must forgive. In the Christian faith the messiah Jesus Christ speaks of showing forgiveness one to another. In Islam, forgiveness is encouraged between believers because Allah forgives. Forgiveness is one of the six cardinal virtues in Hindu and the Bhai faith states: “Love the creatures for the sake of God and not for themselves.”

I personally like the Hawaiian practice of Hoʻoponopono, which is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, combined with prayer. The were no ancient gods or goddesses of forgiveness and yet, early man did forgive. Not always and that is why we had wars but wars really solved nothing. Today we still have wars and they are still creating more chaos than providing resolutions.

The real tragedy for me is that the television network which aired the Duggar family has lost a chance to be who they claim to be – The Learning Channel. I personally am not that sad to let the Duggar clan go back to their own lives, out of the spotlight and without benefit of cameras or microphones. What I think we now need is a series on how to forgive. Clearly we need lesson in that. We also need to believe in reconciliation and rehabilitation. When we forgive others, we help ourselves. That is the premise for every religion and spiritual system that practices forgiveness. Those that don’t practice forgiveness wither away. Our future depends on our ability to reconcile our past with our present in preparing for a future. The spirit of forgiveness is a walk forward, not a cold stone statue but a living, breathing ability to believe in tomorrow.

Winds of Faith

Winds of Faith

Pentecost 3

The religious season of Pentecost began when a group gathered and felt a strong wind. To many of us living in what we term the “modern world”, believing that a breeze could be evidence of faith might seem strange. All too often when someone speaks of religious matters, others characterize their speech as merely hot air. For the earliest of man, though, nature was evidence of life and meteorological events, signs from their Creator.

In his book “Hear the Wind Sing”, Haruki Murakami references this. “For example, the wind has its reasons. We just don’t notice as we go about our lives. But then, at some point, we are made to notice. The wind envelops you with a certain purpose in mind, and it rocks you. The wind knows everything that’s inside you. And not just the wind. Everything, including a stone. They all know us very well. From top to bottom. It only occurs to us at certain times. And all we can do is go with those things. As we take them in, we survive, and deepen.”
At some point, man noticed patterns in nature and questioned their existence. This led to questions of our own existence. “It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers.” Patrick Rothfuss recognized the importance of questions but for early mankind, such questions needed answers.

Stories were told in an attempt to answer such questions, stories that connected man and woman with nature. As these stories were shared, they found audiences and in the retelling, gained adjectives and adverbs, descriptive phrases which helped to clarify but also expanded the tales. The earliest of these stories are lost in antiquity but archaeological evidence does remain that gives testament to their being.

Robert Guisepi is a historian interested in the Stone Age, the time of Paleolithic Man (and Woman). In 2000 he wrote: “The Stone Age is a prehistoric cultural stage, or level of human development, characterized by the creation and use of stone tools.”  It is believed that early mankind developed the ability to make and use tools somewhere between 600,000 and 700,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of such prehistoric tools dates back to the Pleistocene Age. Man became a food gatherer and hunter and assumed responsibility for his extended life.

These are important events because, according to various creation stories or myths, man was given the earth and all he/she needed. Images engraved on the wall at Trois-Freres in France depict hunting scenes which dates to 38,000 to 8000 BCE. Another artifact is the Chariot of the Sun, found when a bog in Denmark was drained. It is thought to represent the Sun God who would travel across the sky in a chariot. Early man/woman needed an answer as to how the sun moved from sunrise to sunset. This was one answer.

As the hunt became a part of everyday living, the existing mankind felt a need to connect with the animals being hunted. Shaman, medicine men, and spiritual/religious leaders would dress as animals and dance around. Since the female bore the children who were the future, fertility goddesses were female and were celebrated to ensure the next generation being present and healthy.

Agriculture was also important and Neolithic Man added such gods to the mythologies being told and worshipped. A clay statue found in Szegvar, Hungary dates back to 5000 BCE and portrays a man with a farming tool. Another prominent deity of the Stone Age was a bird goddess. She took her place among the hunting rituals from the Ice Age and the world of mythology became firmly planted in the history of man. Soon, the Bronze Age would see even greater strides in human development and a very important male sky god would lead the way for the mythologies of the Greeks and Romans known today.

In his “Hobbit”, J. R. R. Tolkien wrote: ““Voiceless it cries, Wingless flutters, Toothless bites, Mouthless mutters.” One could take his words and apply them to the earliest question of man – Who am I? It may seem silly to us that man ever believed in some of these mythologies but to them, they were answers. They provided a reason for being and a start to answering the eternal question all mankind asks: “who am I?”

How we live is based upon how we believe. The mythologies of yesterday are the story lines of today’s movies. Raking in millions of dollars and euros, etc., they tell of an interest that man still has for these gods and goddesses. Most would disclaim believing in them and yet, we still read them and watch their portrayal on the big and small screen and stage.

Is there a sky god who dominates our lives or is it just the theory of popularity and whatever is fashionable at the moment? Do we still dress ourselves up to connect with our world and perceived needs? Our lives are light years away from those of the earliest Ice Age citizen and yet, we have much in common with them. All too often we feel caught in the storms of life. Just as our ancient ancestors did, we seek understanding and reasons for such. Hopefully, we can learn about them and us as we study these mythologies of our history. The future can be scary and life is often challenging and requiring courage. Jeff Bezos advises to “Lean into the wind”. We should, as we go through our daily living, remember the words of Winston Churchill: “Kites rise highest against the wind – not with it.”
 

Spirit of Freedom

Spirit of Freedom

Pentecost 2

The human spirit is fairly simple in its design and in its living. While there are myriads of complex systems within the body that houses the spirit, history has proven that our basic core desires are the same regardless of the location, period, or economic factors of the person.

Perhaps that is why the mythologies of antiquity hold our attention. They unite us in asking and providing answers to the basic questions mankind has always had. Paramount are the common threads that weave the lives of us all into the history of the world. The struggles and the victories repeat throughout time just as the fables and stories are repeated in different colors with different and yet the same basic stories.

The stories of our histories are not just myths, tales with a shred of truth that have been elaborated and exaggerated. Some are painfully honest and bear witness to the conflicts life presents. Today in the United States of America many will pause to pay homage to those who died fighting for others. Just as the spirit of Pentecost came for all, so the victory of freedom for one becomes a victory for many.

The American philosophy about basic freedom being for all was eloquently presented by Thomas Jefferson: “To preserve the freedom of the human mind then and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will, and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement.” Thirteen colonies dared to risk everything for the spirit of freedom which was the spirit of human dignity. They dared to engage one of the world’s most powerful nations for this cause, knowing that the struggle was worth everything for without such freedoms and dignity, life would be worthless.

I realize that some of you will be reading this in countries without such freedoms. You still have your heroes, though; you have in your own history those who have fought for your rights. Today as we in the USA honor our own heroes who have passed, I hope you will honor your own. “While there’s nothing one of us can do to bring back those loved ones, we can celebrate who they were, how they lived their lives, and remember how their lives were lost, in a struggle dedicated to the eternal truth of freedom and the human spirit,” stated former US Statesman Donald Rumsfeld.

We look very different; we speak very differently; we even eat different foods. We all still live and in our living, share basic needs and desires. Whether one’s hair is blonde or black, one’s skin is yellow or brown, one’s height is tall or short….We all feel and strive to improve. Kahlil Gibran once said “Love is the only freedom in the world because it so elevates the spirit that the laws of humanity and the phenomena of nature do not alter its course.”

Today I invite you to tell the stories of your own heroes. Tomorrow we will jump into the stories of the Ice Age and the heroes and gods of which they speak. As Joseph Campbell described, “I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive. “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Today, as we honor those who have died, let us live by telling their stories.

Pull up a comfortable stool or chair and gather a few friends or family. Today is for remembering our past and recognizing that it is the road on which we will walk our future. We owe so much to those who have come before us. Their sacrifices, their struggles, and their examples are all glorious lessons from which we can learn and be proud.

Spirit of Living

Spirit of Living

Pentecost 1

[Easter 50]

It is an often told story in one culture. They were a group united by their beliefs. Living under persecution, they had finally escaped and were fleeing to a new land. Without the organization of their normal lifestyle, though, chaos was beginning to erupt and human wants was overshadowing religious living. In the midst of their journey to find a new home, their unlikely leader says he talked to their deity. Moreover, he claims the deity gave him ten rules for living, answers to remind them of the questions that were threatening their very existence: Who are we? Why are we doing this? Is one better than another? These ten rules were seen as commandments and the day to celebrate their being given from their god was called Shavuot from an ancient word in their dialect meaning “to listen”.

Centuries later from the first story came another often repeated tale, a similar story of culture and beliefs. A group representing all of mankind, different races, genders, ages, and at different levels of believing are gathered together in one place. Suddenly a wind is felt to blow through the gathering. They believe it is the spirit of the one they knew as a teacher, a prophet, a friend, and for one, a son. He had been captured and tortured and then left to die in a public venue. There was danger in their simply being together but they needed each other to move on in their grief. They felt not just the movement of air in their wind but the spirit of love of which their teacher and friend had spoken. It was as if he was still with them, giving them comfort and strength, guiding them in their future walks of life. Moving forward fifty days earlier had seemed impossible as they watched him die but this wind, this spirit gave them strength and courage on this, the fiftieth day, this Pentecost after his death.

If you are Jewish or Christian, the above stories are very familiar to you. If you are not, they are merely historic myths, cultural tales told to children to explain their history, their faith, and their ways of living. Every religion has such tales. Today we think of the twelve god and goddesses of the Greek tales who sat on Mount Olympus as bedtime stories. For the ancient Greeks, they were as real as the news of today.

The writer Joseph Campbell once claimed “Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths.” The mythologies of mankind are the collected stories of groups of people. Their veracity has been the subject of debates for as long as there has been mankind. Campbell explains: “Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.”

During this period of Pentecost we will explore the mythologies of mankind. From the earliest dating back to the Ice Age to more current ones, man/woman is still writing them. For many a myth is a story of someone else’s life and faith. For some, a myth is just a fairy tale but, like most fairy tales, they do have a basis in faith. Philosophy began with asking a simple question. Myths begin with the purpose of answering that and other questions. Joseph Campbell saw mythological stories as one way of exploring the potential of humanity and the human experience of living.

Storytelling began most likely the first time two or more gathered together to explain the day’s events. Throughout time, storytelling has gathered people together and provided them with a sense of unity. The myths of antiquity did much the same thing. We may read them and marvel at their imaginative spirit but to those who heard them, they were a scrapbook of their culture.

We will explore many myths during the next few months, almost two hundred of them. Some will seem amazing and many have been made into books and movies. Others will seem ridiculous and outlandish and may test our ability to show respect for that which we do not believe. Myths are like the flowers that grow uninvited at times. What might be a weed to one person is seen as natural beauty to another. I ask that you join this trip into the stories of our histories, the myths of man, and that you remember that they deserve the same respect we want for our own beliefs and stories of faith.

Some cultures believe their religion is only for a chosen few and most have guidelines for determining who is a “believer” and who is not. Until one hears and believes, all are non-believers. Once believing, though, one must still show respect for others. The beauty of Pentecost and the ancient Hebrew Shavuot is that we are asked to listen and be open to the spirit of living.

It is through storytelling, the sharing of myths, that we preserved the histories of mankind and developed a sense of community. Today we have e-books, television programs, and movies but the purpose is still the same. We tell stories to be connected. The threads of the many cultures of man and woman are like the threads of our own DNA, interwoven and different and yet, very much the same.

Listen to the world today as you go through your living. Look at the many colors of mankind and revel in its diversity. We will find the true meaning of life when we fully live it. I hope you will join me on this journey through time as we vacation among the mythologies of the world. They can serve the same purpose today for us as they did many centuries ago for their first listeners. I agree with Joseph Campbell: ““Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry; it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words, beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told. … We save the world by being alive ourselves.”

Superstition, Supposition, and Sparkle

Superstition, Supposition, and Sparkle

Easter 49

Philosophy has been studied, debated, argued, and discounted then believed for over two and a half thousand years. During the upcoming season of Pentecost we will delve into the earliest stories of man, the mythologies that have shaped the world we know, the world we fear, and the lives we lead.

The twentieth century saw not only world wars but also great advances in science. For years, science had depended upon the discoveries and truths of Isaac Newton. The twentieth century had barely be born when a German Jewish physicist introduced scientific theories that were incompatible with the accepted knowledge based upon Newton’s ideas. Hume and Locke had introduced thinking that mankind had just accepted certain scientific principles as truth without being able to prove them. Einstein challenged scholars in mathematics and the sciences as well as the field of philosophy.

Einstein challenged both the knowledge and how it had been learned. “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.” Accepting Newton’s science as certainty had led the world into the Industrial Revolution. For Einstein to suggest and then prove much of it incorrect asked not only what knowledge had been gained but just exactly what knowledge itself was. Einstein, the genius who had never excelled at school seemed to discount all earlier ways of acquiring knowledge: “Only daring speculation can lead us further, and not accumulation of facts.”

Karl Popper was another Austrian and he spent a great deal of his life as a professor of logic and scientific method in England. Popper realized that, although some theories seemed to work, they were still simply products of the human mind and as such, were subject to being incorrect. “Science is perhaps the only human activity in which errors are systematically criticized and, in time, corrected.” Popper encouraged advancements; they might not could prove everything but some things could be disproven. “All we can do is search for the falsity content of our best theory.”

Benjamin Franklin once said: “I didn’t fail the test; I just found one hundred ways to do it wrong.” The history of philosophy has been a series of advances and failures but it should never be discounted because of those failures. Mahatma Gandhi often spoke of the wisdom found in failure: “My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”

Perhaps one of the greatest contributions Americans made to twentieth century philosophy was their attitude about failure. After immigrating to the USA, Einstein was quoted as saying “Failure is success in progress.” Other Americans have agreed. American automobile maker and magnate Henry Ford defined failure as “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Ancient philosophers believed that in answering their questions, they would duscover the secrets to success. What we have learned since then is that there is much more that we do not know than was ever imagined. We have also come to the realization that not everything will ever be fully known since much will never be scientifically proven.

The real quest now is not only the continuation of gaining knowledge but is acquiring patience and respect for all as well. We need to continue to strive for success without experiencing a fear of failure that binds our living. We need to realize that true success comes from living in kindness and effort, not in trying to make everything the same. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

In the past forty-nine days we have skimmed the very top of the wave that is philosophy, the wave of the quest for knowledge that has allowed man to advance and enter the twenty-first century with creature comforts here on earth on in space. Philosophy has propelled man forward and, at times, been the basis for governments and nations. Its value, though, remains not in what we know but in what is left to learn.

Tomorrow is Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter. The French Voltaire one said: “Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them.” We have spent the last forty-nine days learning how we learn. During Pentecost we will delve into our earliest stories of life and see where our questions first arose. The stories of our cultures, the stories woven around the earliest of beliefs of creation are the mythologies of mankind. We will delve into these during the season of Pentecost and connect our past to our present.

Often discounted as the ramblings of heathens, the mythologies of mankind are simply the histories of cultures. The method of deliver, storytelling, had many benefits for early man and continues to provide a path of literacy for us in the modern world. We will revisit some of the earliest myths of man and continue to the more modern ones. A most recent mythological parable is the book entitled “Jabbok” by Kee Sloan. Sloan, an Alabama bishop in the Episcopal Church describes the story he peened: “It’s funny to think about what a book might accomplish. It’s a story, a blend of fact and fiction, about the relationship between an old man who’s lost his faith and a young boy who grows up to answer a call to ordained ministry. It’s a story about hope restored and the struggle of being honest in our faith.”

All mythologies contain elements of faith, whether they are religious faiths, spiritual faiths, or simple basic faiths in living. They tell our story, our dreams, our failures, and our hopes. Like Sloan’s book, they blend truth and fiction, and sometimes fantasy, as we continue to explore the world in which we live. AS writer Brandon Sanderson explains: ““The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”  I hope you will join me as we explore the stories of the world, the myths of man and his being, during the days Pentecost. Who knows what we will learn, what stories might give us renewed life and cause to sparkle in our being?

It’s Only Logical

It’s only logical

Easter 48

One of the most iconic television programs of the twentieth century was “Star Trek”. The franchise was so popular is inspired a movie series and remakes. The main crew of the series was a representation of several of the more prominent ethnicities found on earth in the twentieth century although the movie took place several centuries later in outer space. Without hesitation, I have no problem is saying the most memorable character was Mr. Spock, the half-human, half-alien who often illustrated with one sentence, decades of mankind’s shortcomings and philosophies based upon unerring logic.

Aristotle has proposed a system of logic but by the nineteenth century logic was thought to be laws that governed thought. Aristotle saw learning as one of three things: theoretical, practical, or productive. Logic was the reasoning we used to prove the truth of our learning. One of his more famous examples illustrated this using what he termed a “syllogism”. A syllogism was the assumption derived from two statements, called the extremes and a connecting or unifying statement which linked the two extremes called the middle. Two extreme statements are “All men are mortal.” and “All Athenians are men.” The middle statement would be “Therefore all Athenians are mortal.

In the late nineteenth century, however, a German philosopher challenged this way of defining logic by pointing out that logic itself is objective. Gottlob Frege maintained that logic was independent of human thinking. Logical truths were objective truths and they existed whether or not we believed them. Frege’s thinking proved that mathematics was logical and that we do not prove it so much as we discover it. This led to Bertrand Russell turning to linguistic philosophy and the philosophical analysis of language.

Frege led to the world in learning that truth always existed. Certain facts remained whether we believed them as truth or not. “Insufficient facts always invite danger. Change is the essential process of all existence.” Words spoken by the fictitious purely logical character Mr. Spock summed up the findings of philosophy.

Russell’s analytical philosophy led to the beginnings of Logical Positivism. This field of study proposed that the true meaning of a statement could be determined by asking “What do we have to do to establish the truth or falsehood of this statement?” According to Russell, “the method consists in an attempt to build a bridge between the world of sense and the world of science. The sense of reality is vital in logic.” Ludwig Wittgenstein followed Russell and maintained “the meaning of a word is its use in language.”

Philosophy continued in the twentieth century as a field of disagreements and different avenues followed. It became prominent in its influence upon governments as well as in the everyday living of mankind. At the center, it remained the quest for more knowledge. Soren Kierkegaard, a prominent twentieth century philosopher, explained the difficulties in philosophy. “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. … The supreme paradox of all thought is the attempt to discover something that thought cannot think.”

In the twentieth century philosophy again turned to examining that which could only be experienced. “I exist, and all that is not “I” is mere phenomenon dissolving into phenomenal connections”, stated Edmund Husserl. Husserl developed the field of philosophy known as Phenomenology, a field which concentrated only on that which was personally experienced. Unlike existentialists who sought to discover life through the meaning of their own existence, Husserl asked “What is the meaning of Being?”

Interestingly enough it was a Nazi philosopher, forbidden after World War II to teach for six years, that perhaps gives us the greatest connection back to the ancient philosophers and the reason for philosophy itself. Martin Heidegger, though of some Jewish descent, joined the Nazi party and became the first National Socialist rector of the University of Freiburg. It was this disqualification and punishment after the war ended, based upon his activities in the Nazi party, that led many to discount him as a great thinker. Such action challenged the purpose for the study of philosophy.

Wittgenstein had stated that he felt one shortcoming of philosophy was its dependence on what he called “picture theory of meaning”. He used the analogy of a blank canvas and a landscape scene. Although very different, the blank canvas can be made into an accurate representation of the landscape through the use of paints (and talent). Words derived their meaning from their usage. This has certainly been proven in our modern times. The word “sick” once only referred to illness; not it is a compliment and means very fashionably good.

For me, these advancements in philosophy give heart to the quest of world peace and solving many of the problems of mankind. Mr. Spock once said “Without followers, evil cannot spread.” Certainly we must defend ourselves against annihilation but perhaps our greatest weapons are not those that harm but those that can teach and improve. The German, Jewish Nazi Heidegger banned for a time, said a remarkable summation of the philosophy begun centuries earlier, the first question man sought to answer: “Man alone of all beings, when addressed by the voice of Being, experiences the marvel of all marvels: that what-is is.” After all, it is only logical.