Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

Detours in Life

Pentecost 30

 

Some of the hardest detours we travel are those that require us to rethink what we thought we knew.  This past weekend, three people died because of feelings about the subject of race.  The topic of race is a social force and anyone claiming it isn’t has been living deep down at the bottom of the ocean. 

 

For centuries the human race has debated the divisions of, the identification for, and the correlation between the various races, their impact on intelligence, physical potential, genetics, and disease.  It cannot be denied that certain cultures are prone to specific illnesses while others seem to have no susceptibility at all.  This should not be interpreted as a weakness, though.  It is simply a characteristic of a great many things.  Genetics has proven that certain cultures – i.e., races – have a particular connection to various healthcare concerns.  This does not mean there is a correlation to potential or intelligence.

 

Throughout history the body of humans inhabiting this planet has been organized into racial groups, sometimes as few as three and other times as many as fifty.  In 1998, the American Anthropological Association issued the following statement on race:  “The idea of race has always carried more meanings than mere physical differences; indeed, physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them.”

 

Race is not a biological fact and it has no true scientific importance as a means of division.  It should not be used to segregate or discriminate.  This may be a new detour in your thinking but it is fact, based upon pure scientific data, not greed, fear, nor baseless rhetoric.

 

In 2002 the American Anthropological Association published a paper remarking on the social foundations of race: “Although racial categories are legitimate subjects of empirical sociological investigation, it is important to recognize the danger of contributing to the popular concept of race as biological.”    Please take a moment and reread that last sentence.  Race is not a biological fact.

 

The completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 had as its purpose a way to better understand genetic components of disease.  A detailed map of humankind’s DNA sequence was constructed which allowed exploration of the various genetic differences across our vast planet.  Their findings were a huge detour from what many of us believed and/or have been taught.  We all are genetically 99.9 percent alike.

 

Within our specific DNA there are six billion bases of DNA with a .1 percent difference representing six million locations that differ between two individuals.  Most of these differences are “neutral” which means they do not change the function of any genes.

 

Before your eyes glaze over, take a minute to think.  A genome is nothing more than the genetic material of something, the complete set of the DNA that an organism has.  In humans, the nuclear genome comprises approximately 3.2 billion nucleotides of DNA, including genes and chromosomes.  So while having six million different sounds like a like, it actually is less than .1 percent.  Imagine having one hundred pieces of tiny chocolate candy like M & M’s on a plate.  Would you really argue if someone took just one?  Of course you wouldn’t because the amount left is much greater and overrides that one piece.

 

Race is a social construct, a way of organizing people by culture and yes, sometimes by skin color.  However, race itself is misleading.  Those deemed Caucasian are of European descent while the term actually comes from the Middle East and referred to people from the Caucus Region, a mountain range in Turkey and Russia.  Asian is a racial term to signify people of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian descent but Russia is also on the Asian continent.  There are many natives of Bermuda which, technically as a former English colony would make them of European descent and yet, these people appear African because they are descended from slaves.  If we assume most people from Bermuda are African, what do the descendants of the British pirates do?  There would then be Caucasian-skinned Africans which is contradictory to the racial separation itself.

 

Racial designation is not a biological fact and will always be misleading because the human race did not remain living in just one place.  Such descriptions and their resulting divisions are a social construct, a harmful collective construct.  Certainly people should take pride in their ethnicity and the culture of their ancestors.  However, this pride should not seek to silence or harm others. 

 

There is no biological division of the races.  We are human beings.  Hatred based upon race is much ado about nothing.  We are all part of the human race and it is time we started treating each other with humanity and respect.

 

 

Color Blind

Color Blind

Detours in Life

Pentecost 29

 

A friend on Facebook asked how in the world the American Civil Liberties Union could have sanctioned the white supremacist rally scheduled for August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am neither an attorney nor a member so I certainly and most definitely do not speak for the ACLU.  However, knowing their mission, I do think perhaps they felt it was an opportunity for the conveyance of civil liberties guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

 

The melee that became this event, the murderous action that resulted in injury to almost twenty people and the deaths of three was not civil.  It was, most definitely, an excuse to be everything except civil.  The right to free speech is not a guaranteed right to hate nor does it give one the right to inflict bodily harm or the spewing of insults.

 

Color is not a right. Color is a hue, shading that adds interest, not something designed to detract from one’s unalienable rights given by God/the Creator/Allah/ science and pertinent laws.  There are no scientific bases for discrimination and I will discuss that more in detail in tomorrow’s post.

 

Today I simply ask that you go about your daily living color blind.  If you cannot appreciate all colors, including those of the epidermis of mankind, then disregard all color.  Perhaps that will afford you the opportunity to appreciate diversity.  It is a most interesting and beautiful world because of that diversity.  I hope and pray that today you realize that.  Detour from your usual thinking and simply breathe in the diversity that the world has to offer.  Allow yourself the freedom to let others be just that – beautiful, different, and free.

We Need to learn

We Need to Learn

Detours in Life

Pentecost 28

 

Some difficult parenting moments?  The mother and grandmother thought for a moment and then spoke.  “My now grown daughter’s favorite animal is the bunny and I still remember trying to explain to her as a seven-year-old why the neighbors poisoned her two pet bunnies because we were biracial.  A few months later, coming home from church to find front door shattered because I put up a mezuzah on the inside casing of our front door, a gift from Jewish friends.   KKK neighbors ramming our old Dodge van and then sitting outside our house holding automatic assault rifles.”

 

The Rt. Ref Steven Charleston writes:  “We have seen those faces before, the ones at Charlottesville, the faces contorted by hate, the faces twisted into anger or frozen into ignorance. They were shouting. They were screaming for the pleasure of having someone to blame. We have seen those faces before at other times, on other streets, but the results are always the same. There is no compromise with this kind of hate. No appeasement or denial. Prejudice to this point is virulent and must be confronted head on. The faces at Charlottesville tell us why. They are images of what cruelty can become when it is left unchallenged, unnamed and under estimated.”

 

Color is not a right. Color is a hue, shading that adds interest, not detracts from one’s unalienable rights given by God and the law.   This was affirmed in the Declaration of Independence. Racism is the opposite of patriotism.  Whether it is called racism or terrorism, whether its cause is religious discrimination or racial discrimination, it accomplishes nothing and it based on even less. 

 

Someone once asked me if I believed in the Devil, a capitalized name.  I believe in evil.  The history of the world tells us it exists.  It can live in each of us if we allow it.  Life happens and we do not always like it.  We look for answers and sometimes, instead prefer to seek blame.

 

There is no basis for discrimination.  There is a great deal of evidence for the foundation of love and what it can accomplish.   Screaming hatred and spewing unfounded insults accomplishes nothing.  Positive action to improve the world does.  When will we ever learn this?

Answering the Call

Answering the Call

Detours in Life

Pentecost 27

 

I am not sure what they had originally planned for yesterday, Saturday, August 12th.  Maybe spending family time or simply doing chores at home.  One was a veteran law enforcement officer with more than two decades as a Virginia state trooper. The other was a pilot who transferred to the state police aviation unit last month and was one day away from his 41st birthday.

 

Both Virginia State Police troopers died Saturday when their police helicopter crashed and burned in Charlottesville, as they patrolled near the site of clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters.  State police identified the victims as pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, 40. Both men died at the scene.

 

Their helicopter was “assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation in Charlottesville,” according to a police statement.  The aircraft crashed in a wooded area near a residence just before 5 p.m. No one on the ground was injured, and officials are still investigating the cause of the crash.

 

Others had decided to spend their Saturday upholding the ideals of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.  A young paralegal from Green County, Virginia, Heather Heyer had decided to peacefully protest the white supremacists holding the rally.  She was run over twice by a car driven by a twenty-year-old man, James Alex Fields, from Ohio.  Nineteen others were injured and taken to area hospitals.

 

All of these people suffered a detour yesterday.  Three made a detour from the living to death while another made a terribly misguided choice that resulted in injury and death.    Sometimes these things happen – death and injury.  Hopefully, when they do, it is for a good cause.  Yesterday it was not for a good cause.  Hatred is never a good excuse for death. 

 

We should strive to detour away from hatred and yet, many see, to thrive on it. We need to realize that we alone are responsible for many of the detours in our lives.  When we answer the call to be kind and just, supporting equality and goodness, then we can detour away from hate and create a positive, effective world.

 

I have mentioned the names of these casualties because we need to remember they were people.  It really does not matter what “side” they were on or if you agree with them.  When one person dies, the fabric of humanity is weakened.  Each life matters.  Each death is a tragedy.  Tomorrow should be promised for us all.

Detour Around the Bullies

Detour Around the Bullies

Detours in Life

Pentecost 19

 

Physical appearance is often the most often-used excused for bullying.  Whether it is because of the color of one’s skin, the shapes of one’s eyes or height, weight, or disfigurement, appearance can affect a person’s life.  The old cliché “never judge a book by its cover” has failed to translate into our reactions to people.  We might prefer it to be otherwise but appearance does matter and it is the number one reason people are bullied.

 

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?  Most of us, after a certain age, start to see our parents or grandparents.  We realize that we have Grandma’s nose or Dad’s ears.  Perhaps we’ve always known about the family stature and delighted in either reaching it or passing it.  For some, their vocation is also a matter of family tradition.  There has been an on-going debate about what skills and talents might be genetic since man first realized inheritance applied to more than just land holdings and revenue.  No one has ever denied that we often inherit our appearance, though.

 

I had an acquaintance once that looked very much like her mother.  She was not very happy about this and I could understand why.  It is to be hoped that all parents nurture and support their children but the truth is that some people never really mature in their roles as parents.  In short, some people bear children without having a clue as to how to nurture them.  My acquaintance’s mother was not a supportive person to her daughter and often was a hindrance.

 

Having known this person for several decades and upon a chance meeting, I inquired about her mother.  I was being more polite than expressing any real interest but was very surprised nonetheless when my acquaintance smiled and said her mother was doing well, having outlived most of her contemporaries.  I asked if their relationship had improved.  My friend smiled and said that it had not.  She then casually said that while one might grow older, one did not always mature with age.

 

I had seen this acquaintance through several crying bouts when we were younger because of the pain and neglect of her mother so her offhanded remarks caught me by surprise and I told her so.  She replied that she still looked like her mother but now had accepted the resemblance.  “Just imagine,” she asked, “what the woman would have done if my looks were not proof I was her own child!”  While her mother’s behavior had not grown with age into a more loving relationship, my friend’s acceptance of her familiarity of physical appearance had brought her comfort.

 

All too often our value as a person is based upon anything and everything except who we are inside.  Regardless of which creation story you believe, we are uniquely made and individuals in our own right.  When we allow the behaviors of others to be the currency of our souls, we are denying our right to self-worth. 

 

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  Do you see what the bullies are screaming and taunting at you?  I hope you are looking into your mirror and seeing past your reflection.  Our true value is found not only in physical appearance but in our actions and our words, our compassion and treatment of others.  At some point we are all alone with ourselves. We should strive to get to know ourselves and then become a person we can like, a person we feel as value. 

 

It is not easy to stop hearing the words of a bully but it is necessary.  We need to be sure to detour around the negativity of bullies and be true to who and what we are.  We create our own currency.  No one else can do that.   No one else can be us.  When we allow someone else to deny us the right to be ourselves, we are abdicating our own presence and bankrupting our self-worth.  Remember the sage advice of Harvey Fierstein:  “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” 

Detour of Thought – Right or Wrong?

A Detour of Thought – Right or Wrong

Detours in Life

Pentecost 11

 

Recently a world summit ended regarding global concern and action for the environment.  If you do not remember it, don’t worry.  It seems like there are such global meeting of world leaders rather frequently, whether it be about the weather, the economy, etc. 

 

I am always surprised that much is spent on participation in these functions and yet, few enact real changes in living.  Most end up with leaders explaining their views on everything from each other to themselves to the supreme being of those choosing.  It seems like their comments reflect a detour from the gathering’s purpose to one of personal concern and no, I do not mean personal conviction. Each leader speaks with the authority of a deity, secure in the rightness of their position, firmnly against any detour of thinking.

 

Two years ago during Pentecost we discussed various names of deities, particularly the many names for “God”.  The name for the one deity which led the charge for monotheism, the one deity referenced by the three Abrahamic faiths, was “Elohim Shophtim Ba-arets”.  It means “the God who judges in (on) the Earth” and, if I am to be completely honest, I must admit, as I did two years ago, that it is not one of my more well-liked names.

 

The reason for my displeasure with this name is not really the name but rather the context in which it is used.  You see, it appears in the Book of Psalms and references faith in the deity judging one’s enemies.  Because one is considered faithful, it is assumed that one’s enemies are not and will be judged and punished accordingly.

 

My problem is that is seems to imply a deity that shows favoritism.  What if I am the one in error and not my enemies?  Being faithful does not make me perfect; it makes me a believer.  We also discussed two years ago another word that went together with “Elohim Shophtim Ba-arets”.  As you guess, I have a bit of a problem with it as well.  It is “El Nekamoth” or “the God who avenges”.

 

I am not bloodthirsty and so seeking vengeance on someone is not a hobby of mine.  I believe that I have enough to do trying to live my own life and I really don’t try to live others for them.  These two names do raise some interesting questions, however, and I think we should give them consideration.

 

What exactly falls under the prevue of “justice”, the purpose for judging someone?  How do we define “avenge” and is it something best left to the spirit(s) or should we attempt such?  Is there a difference between seeking revenge and avenging?  When we face feeling of wanting revenge, something that always seems to be lurking behind the scenes at global meetings, are we to take a detour of thinking and instead avenge?

 

The website “diffen.com” clarifies the issue for avenge and revenge by stating “Avenge is a verb. To avenge is to punish a wrongdoing with the intent of seeing justice done. Revenge can be used as a noun or a verb. It is more personal, less concerned with justice and more about retaliation by inflicting harm.”  Once synonymous, the two words today have different meanings.  Avenge today implies the process of obtaining justice while revenge is a more personal active physical deed, almost always involving pain or harm for the purpose of retaliatory recompense for real or imagined damages.

 

In the usage of these two names, the deity is expected to protect the faithful by avenging ill will and/or wrong doings, thereby carrying acts of revenge to assuage the injured party or parties.  Such beliefs allowed the people to bear the hardships brought upon them by their faith and I fully understand that.  I just have a problem with a deity being both a god of love and revenge.  For some, revenge is not only pleasurable, it is a form of love. 

 

In an article for the Association of Psychological Science, Eric Jaffe wrote:  “A few years ago a group of Swiss researchers scanned the brains of people who had been wronged during an economic exchange game. These people had trusted their partners to split a pot of money with them, only to find that the partners had chosen to keep the loot for themselves. The researchers then gave the people a chance to punish their greedy partners, and, for a full minute as the victims contemplated revenge, the activity in their brains was recorded. The decision caused a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain known to process rewards (in previous work, the caudate has delighted in cocaine and nicotine use). The findings, published in a 2004 issue of “Science”, gave physiological confirmation to what the scorned have been saying for years: Revenge is sweet.

 

“A person who has been cheated is [left] in a bad situation—with bad feelings,” said study co-author Ernst Fehr, director of the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. “The person would feel even worse if the cheater does not get her or his just punishment.  Theory and experimental evidence shows that cooperation among strangers is greatly enhanced by altruistic punishment,” Fehr said. “Cooperation among strangers breaks down in experiments if altruistic punishment is ruled out. Cooperation flourishes if punishment of defectors is possible.”

 

In other words, the possibility of justice being meted out in the form of retaliatory punishment encourages cooperation because it instills an expectation of fairness.  That I actually can understand and feel it makes the naming of a deity based upon an avenging demeanor more palatable.  Cooperation is a positive action, often requiring a detour of thought as well since it can include compromise.

 

There are also two other similar names used for this deity of these three monotheistic religions.  They are “Jehovah Hashopet or “the Lord the Judge” and Jehovah El Gemuwal, “the Lord God of Recompense.”  I freely admit I like recompense better than revenge.  Recompense implies fairness in compensation while revenge denotes punishment and pain to me.  I would rather have a world leader that seeks justice for all, not just promotion of themselves.  This, in my humble opinion, would involve recompense rather than revenge.

 

I wonder if my conundrum, the enigma of whether I want my deity to be an avenging deity or a compensating deity, was felt by those early believers.  Perhaps it depends on how recently one feels to have been wronged or the extent to which one felt wronged.  As of this date, I have not found a name for this deity that translates into “God of Fairness”.  Maybe the key is in how one defines what is right and what is wrong.  But then, the context comes into play and we should consider that what is right for one might not be right for another yet not necessarily be wrong enough for the need of revenge or recompense. 

 

In early 2001, a research team led by Cheryl Kaiser of Michigan State surveyed people for their belief in a just world by seeing how much they agreed with statements like “I feel that people get what they deserve.”  Sadly, the events of September of that year changed the minds of many and more and more people wanted revenge for the bombings and murders of almost three thousand innocent victims from over eighty countries.

 

Michael McCullough, author of “Beyond Revenge: “The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct” states:   “You have to have some way of maintaining relationships, even though it’s inevitable some will harm your interests, given enough time.”  Revenge began as an altruistic punishment but, McCullough and his research team believe, a secondary system of human interaction has evolved.  The act of forgiveness is a system “that enables people to suppress the desire for revenge and signal their willingness to continue on, even though someone has harmed their interests, assuming the person will refrain from doing so again in the future.”  Forgiveness requires a detour in our thinking.

 

My problem with revenge is that it is not an answer that permanently solves anything.  It may begin with an attempt to right a perceived wrong but it just invites payback which requires more revenge which invites more payback, etc., etc., etc.  I like forgiveness as a practice for human interaction much, much better but it is a most difficult detour to elect to take.  I would be remiss if I failed to mention one more word for a deity – El Nose, the God who forgives. 

 

Today someone will most likely cut you off in traffic, whether it be foot traffic or vehicular.  Someone will not be truthful and someone else will do their job in such a way that making you angry seems to be part of their job description.  In short, today will be imperfect and normal in its problems.  Will you stand up and pontificate just as many of those world leaders seem to do with little purpose except to be full of one’s self or will you detour your emotions toward a more active and effective reconciliation of the issue?  It is said that revenge is sweet but it often does not make for a long lasting resolution.  Forgiveness is in short supply in today’s world and yet, it is the best detour we could ever take. 

 

Acceptance and Denial

Acceptance and Denial

Lent 26-27

 

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?  Most of us, after a certain age, start to see our parents or grandparents.  We realize that we have Grandma’s nose or Dad’s ears.  Perhaps we’ve always known about the family stature and delighted in either reaching it or passing it.  For some, their vocation is also a matter of family tradition.  There has been an on-going debate about what skills and talents might be genetic since man first realized inheritance applied to more than just land holdings and revenue.

 

Recently one of my own progeny said they heard my words coming out of their mouth.  I should in complete honesty add that they did not seem overjoyed at this event but they did admit the wisdom of the words they’d had spoken to them as a child.  A parent has to take their compliments whenever and however they can!

 

I had an acquaintance once that looked very much like her mother.  She was not very happy about this and I could understand why.  It is to be hoped that all parents nurture and support their children but the truth is that some people never really mature in their roles as parents.  In short, some people bear children without having a clue as to how to nurture them.  My acquaintance’s mother was not a supportive person to her daughter and often was a hindrance.

 

Having known this person for several decades and upon a chance meeting, I inquired about her mother.  I was being more polite than expressing any real interest but was very surprised nonetheless when my acquaintance smiled and said her mother was doing well, having outlived most of her contemporaries.  I asked if their relationship had improved.  My friend smiled and said that it had not.  She then casually said that while one might grow older, one did not always mature with age.

 

I had seen this acquaintance through several crying bouts when we were younger because of the pain and neglect of her mother so her offhanded remarks caught me by surprise and I told her so.  She replied that she still looked like her mother but now had accepted the resemblance.  “Just imagine,” she asked, “what the woman would have done if my looks were not proof I was her own child!”  While her mother’s behavior had not grown with age into a more loving relationship, my friend’s acceptance of her familiarity of physical appearance had brought her comfort.

 

All too often our value as a person is based upon anything and everything except who we are inside.  Regardless of which creation story you believe, we are uniquely made and individuals in our own right.  When we allow the behaviors of others to be the currency of our souls, we are denying our right to self-worth. 

 

I hope this week you are looking into your mirror and seeing past your reflection.  Our true value is found not only in physical appearance but in our actions and our words, our compassion and treatment of others.  At some point we are all alone with ourselves. We should strive to get to know ourselves and then become a person we can like, a person we feel as value. 

 

The Beatitudes, the subject of our series this Lent are about acceptance.  When we recognize the cause and accept the effect, we are then able to move forward.  Sunday is, in many cultures, considered the first day of the week.  It offers new beginnings and hopes, the chance to fulfill our aspirations and meet our goals.  It is followed by Monday, arguably considered the most detested day of the week.  Sunday and Monday are two sides of one twenty-four hour period and our acceptance of their shared twelve hours either determines whether it is a Super Sunday or Manic Monday.

 

We create our own currency.  No one else can do that.   No one else can be us.  When we allow someone else to deny us the right to be ourselves, we are abdicating our own presence and bankrupting our self-worth.   “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”  Harvey Fierstein’s advice is pure gold.