Challenging Belief

Challenging Belief

2019.8.10-11

 

I am taking part in several challenges this month and today they have come together because of a television program I viewed. The program “Expedition Unknown” is currently discussing new findings regarding the archaeological discoveries known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The 14,000 fragments of cloth tell the story of a deity and the followers of such. Known today simply as God, belief in this deity led the charge for monotheism, the one deity referenced by the three Abrahamic faiths as “Elohim Shophtim Ba-arets”. The name means “the God who judges in (on) the Earth.

 

I am not particularly fond of this name and the reason for my displeasure 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. I should note that some of those fragments that comprise the scrolls contain the earliest writings of the Psalms, and other writings that comprise the Bible such as the book of Genesis and Leviticus, as well as other stories and writings never seen before being found in caves in Qumran.

 

My problem is that this name 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. Another word for this deity is “El Nekamoth” or “the God who avenges”. Obviously 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, especially in light of current events and killings.

 

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? 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. Although a bit complicated, this is a concept I actually can understand and feel it makes the naming of a deity based upon an avenging demeanor more palatable.

 

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 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.”

 

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. There is another name for the deity of those scrolls – El Nose, the God who forgives. This is definitely a belief I hope we all practice.

 

The Fear in Our Living

The Fear in Our Living

2019.08.06.

 

We live in troubling times.  I wish I could tell you this is a quote from some book written in medieval times but actually, it is a thought from almost every age of humankind.  I recently saw a post on Facebook that stated:  “Monsters are real and they look like everyday people.  They look like us.”

 

“We have this need for some larger-than-life creature.”  It may seem a bit ironic that one of the leading authors of a book on a giant, human-like mythological creature that may be real is actually an expert on much smaller animals.  Robert Michael Pyle studies moths and butterflies and writes about them but in 1995 he also penned a book about the supposed primate known, among other names, as Yeti, Bigfoot, or Sasquatch.

 

The giants in the American Indian folklore are as varied as the different tribes themselves.  It is important to remember that although they are grouped together much like the term European, the designation of American Indian applies to many tribes, most of which are now extinct.  Many millions of Americans over the past two hundred years could and should claim American Indian ancestry.  The story of Bigfoot is the story of their ancestral mythical creature.

 

The Bigfoot phenomenon is proof that there is a real place for mythologies in the present day.  The past several years saw people viewing a popular television program, “Finding Bigfoot” which aired on the Animal Planet network as well as being replayed via internet formats.  A group of four traveled the world, speaking and exploring the myths about a large, here-to-fore undocumented bipedal primate thought to be a link between the great apes and Homo sapiens.   One member of this group was a female naturalist and botanist but the other three were educated men in other disciplines.  To date, the three men have yet to convince their female scientist companion of the existence of the myth known as Bigfoot although she has dedicated several years of her life to searching for something she claims not to believe exists.

 

Even the more popular terms are modern additions to the myth.   A photograph allegedly taken by Eric Shipton was published with Shipton describing the footprint as one from a Yeti, a mythological creature much like a giant snowman said to inhabit the mountains of Nepal.  Several years another set of footprints was photographed in California and published in a local newspaper.  This time the animal was described as “Bigfoot” and a legend dating back to the earliest settlers in North America had been reborn.  The interest in such photographs is proof of the opening quote of today’s post.

 

The Lummi tribe called their giant ape/man mythological character Ts’emekwes and the descriptions of the character’s preferred diet and activities varied within the tribal culture.   Children were warned of the stiyaha or kwi-kwiyai who were said to roam at night and steal children.  There were also stories of the skoocooms, a giant race which lived on Mount St. Helens and were cannibalistic.  The skoocooms were given supernatural powers and status.  A Canadian reporter also reported on such stories and he used a term from the Halkomalem and named the creature “sasq’ets” or Sasquatch.   Rather than to be feared, though, some tribes translated this name to mean “benign-faced one.”

 

Mythologies of such giant creatures can be found on six of the seven continents and if mankind had been able to survive on Antarctica for thousands of years, there would probably be some from there as well.  We do seem to need to believe in something larger than life, as our mythologies bear witness.  What if there was proof of these creatures?  What if they really did exist and perhaps still do?

 

The Paiute Indians, an American Indian tribe from the regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains also had folklore of such a character.  Their legends tell of a tribe of red-haired giants called Sai’i.  After one such giant gave birth to a disfigured child who was shunned by the tribe, The Paiute believed the Great Spirit of All made their land and living conditions barren and desolate as punishment.  Enemies were then able to conquer the tribe and kill all but two – Paiute and his wife and their skin turned brown from living in such harsh conditions. 

 

In 1911 miners working Nevada’s Lovelock Cave discussed not the guano or bat droppings for which they were searching but bones they claimed were from giants.  Nearby reddish hair was found and many believed the remains were those of the Sai’i or Si-Te-Cah as they were also called.  However, some like Adrienne Mayor in her book “Legends of the First Americans” believe these bones and others found nearby are simply untrained eyes not realizing what they are seeing.   A tall man could have bones that would seem large and hair pigment is not stable and often changes color based upon the conditions in which it is found.  Even black hair can turn reddish or orange given the right mineral composition in the soil in which it is found.

 

What the mythologies of the world tell us is that mankind needs to believe in something. In ‘The Magic of Thinking Big”, David Schwartz writes:  “Believe it can be done. When you believe something can be done, really believe, your mind will find the ways to do it. Believing a solution paves the way to solution.”   

 

Maybe you believe in the yeti or Sasquatch and maybe you believe in the disproof of them.  We create giants in our own minds every day – those problems that seem insurmountable or the dreams that seem impossible.  The only Bigfoot that matters is that one foot that takes a big step towards progress, towards peace, a step taken with hope.  The dawn of a new day requires us to take a step forward.  If we believe in ourselves, that step will have purpose and accomplishment.  The longest journey really does begin with a single step.

 

The best thing to believe in is you.  Let yourself be your creature to believe in today.  Walk away from fear and into your bright future, a future in which you believe you can do anything.  The reality is you can do whatever you set your mind to doing.  Turn your fears into lessons and steps toward success.  We are the solution to our own fear and I do not mean we combat it by entering into warfare with others.  We do it by realizing our own potential.  The only true enemy is our fear.  Believe in yourself.  You are amazing!

The Panorama of Fear

The Panorama of Fear

Creating a Legacy

2019.08.05

 

“We and all creation reflect the image and nature of God the Divine Artist. Creativity, the ability to make or think new things, is of God’s essence. Creativity reflects God.”  These words of Br. Luke Ditewig sounded so wonderful to me the first time I heard them.  It was during a sermon and I was an impressionable teen-ager.  Suddenly from the pew behind me I heard a very gruff whisper.  “Oh yeah?  Then how do you explain heavy metal music?”  The elderly gentleman’s wife saw my shoulders move as I tried to stifle my chuckle.  After the service she turned to her husband and gave his shoulder a marvelously targeted punch:  “Maybe heavy metal music is what God sounds like when he’s mad,” she replied and then winked at me.

 

Recently a young child was asked how God sounded when mad.  I remember being told as a child that thunder was just the angels playing ball or perhaps yelling at each other.  I expected this child to say something similar.  Instead, with a great deal of confidence, this child loudly proclaimed that the sound of gunfire was the sound of an angry God. 

 

Every day we all create our life and our legacy.  It is up to us to have opinions and act upon them.  We have brains and we, hopefully, think so we are going to have an opinion.  IT is also up to us to make sure that those opinions and actions are creating a positive future, though, and that does not always happen.  We have stopped the dialogue of creativity and have become critics instead.

 

We are all critics.  Seriously.  If we are to be honest, we really are all critics.  Everyone knows what they like and what they do not like.  We also all want to matter.  All lives do matter; it is not a new concept.  However, history seems to have forgotten how to record and address the critics.  Instead we have tried to sweep them under the carpet.  History tells us that people are not so easily silenced.  The creative arts are also evidence of this.  It may seem that the artist owes his/her audience something delightful but the truth is…What the artist owes the world is an honest reflection of the moment in time they are capturing.

 

Any creative work is a dialogue between the artist and the audience member and no two audience members are going to hear the exact same dialogue.  Criticism is also dialogue and an important form of feedback that the artist should not ignore.  First, if someone takes the time to critique you, they are honoring the time you spent creating.  Negative critiques do not seem like a compliment but they are.  They also offer a chance to evaluate your work.  Not every critic is going to understand your intent or perhaps the meaning of your work.  Not every critique needs to be followed but they should be given respect and heard.

 

The language one uses in response to criticism is vitally important. Never engage in an argument. Instead, turn the exchange into a discussion about how to resolve the differences or what was unclear.  Most create because we have a burning need inside to let that creativity out.  However, we do need the audience, the viewer, that person who listens to what we are trying to say in whatever form we are creating.

 

“The Critic as Artist” is an essay by Oscar Wilde, containing the most extensive statements of his aesthetic philosophy. A dialogue in two parts, it is by far the longest one included in his collection of essays titled Intentions published in May 1891. “The Critic as Artist” is a significantly revised version of articles that first appeared in the July and September issues of The Nineteenth Century, originally entitled “The True Function and Value of Criticism.” The essay is a conversation between its leading voice Gilbert and Ernest, who suggests ideas for Gilbert to reject. 

 

Through the title, Wilde explores the fact that even a critic is an artist and the critique is in itself a creative art form.  The essay champions contemplative life to the life of action. According to Gilbert, scientific principle of heredity shows we are never less free, never have more illusions than when we try to act with some conscious aim in mind. Critical contemplation is guided by conscious aesthetic sense as well as by the soul.

 

The soul is wiser than we are, writes Wilde, it is the concentrated racial experience revealed by the imagination. Criticism is above reason, sincerity and fairness; it is necessarily subjective. It is increasingly more to criticism than to creation that future belongs as its subject matter and the need to impose form on chaos constantly increases. It is criticism rather than emotional sympathies, abstract ethics or commercial advantages that would make us cosmopolitan and serve as the basis of peace.

 

“Critics don’t help you at all, they are not better than a randomly-picked person,” says Dr. Pascal Wallisch, a psychologist at New York University.  A 2017 study by Wallisch and perception researcher Jake Alden Whritner found that our taste in movies is highly idiosyncratic — they’re peculiar to an individual. Their paper, entitled ‘Strikingly Low Agreement in the Appraisal of Motion Pictures’, also revealed that our preferences are often at odds with those of film critics.  Wallisch and Whritner gave almost 3000 people a list of over 200 popular films — major motion pictures released from 1985 to 2004 (including some in the Star Wars series). The data was collected over 10 years (2005-2015) via an online survey where participants were asked to rate every film they had seen and give each movie a star rating on a scale of 0 to 4 stars.

 

The scientists compared everyone’s scores with everyone else’s in a pairwise manner, compared people to 29 professional film critics (like Roger Ebert) and compared individual scores from those groups with aggregated sources of reviews, including Rotten Tomatoes and the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).  As reported earlier this year in Forbes, “Prior to our research, what was shown is that critics agree highly, but no-one’s ever looked at how critics correlate with regular people,” says Wallisch. “What was relatively unusual is that the average rating between critics and movie-goers was so different. This is the only research that actually shows scientifically that critics and people don’t agree.”

 

In a 2014 New York Times article James Parker answered that age-old question “Should we respond to our critics?”  Parker’s answer was succinct and to the point.  “No. … Getting a bad review is no longer an elite experience. We’ve all been trolled, oafed, flambéed in some thread somewhere.”  He continues:  “Sometimes you are the pigeon,” Claude Chabrol said, “and sometimes you are the statue.” Wonderful, Gitane-flavored words. But we are not statues — we are not made of stone. Anointed with guano, do we not feel it? And right now everybody feels it. Getting a bad review is no longer an elite experience. Writers and non-writers, mandarins and proles, we’ve all been trolled, oafed, flambéed in some thread somewhere, at the bottom of some page. Scroll down, scroll down, take that Orphic trip into the underworld of the comments section, and there they are — the people who really object to you. Their indignation, their vituperation, is astonishing. It seems to predate you somehow, as if they have known and despised you in several former existences. You read their words and your body twitches with malign electricity. You must get out of this place immediately, run toward the light. Let the dead bury their dead. And don’t look back — because if you do, like Orpheus, you’ll lose what you love the most.”

 

The critique is a reflection of the moment in which it was given, nothing more.  In his memoir, “Prince Charming,” the great poet Christopher Logue, in mellow old age, speaks of diving into “a chocolate-liqueur box filled with dated clippings of every review that my books, plays or radio programs had received since 1953.” It is there that he made a discovery: “How differently they read now. At the time, oh, the complaining: That fellow failed to praise me for this, this fellow blamed me for that. . . .”   Now, Logue has a different perspective: “How fair-minded their words appeared, how sensible their suggestions for my improvement.”

 

This blog is a creative work and, like all other creative works, merely a reflection of the moment in which it was written.   Today, August 5, 2019, is a reflection of thirty-six hours of death, the death of innocent people, creative souls in their own right.  It has been thirty-six hours of sorrow and disbelief, a panorama painted with blood and fear, based upon hatred.   I do not know what lessons we will learn from these events of El Paso and Dayton.  Later this week we celebrate the second anniversary of a similar event in Charlottesville.  It would seem we have learned little and yet…  Dialogues have been created and our legacy from these events is one of continued effort. 

 

All the minutes we live and survive are creative efforts.  To honor those who died and to give faith to all still living means we must carry on and have hope.  Acceptance, faith, and hope are the steppingstones of the past that lead to a productive future.  We and we alone will create the legacy of today.  I pray it is one of joy and generosity and kindness to all. 

Half, Whole, or Just Disjointed?

Half, Whole, or Just Disjointed?

04.29-30.2019

Easter 2019

 

Is the state of gaining knowledge a synonym for being live?  A comment I hear from time to time is “You talk quite a bit about “living” and “everyday living”.  Isn’t philosophy or the study of philosophy just … living?”  Another comment asks how I can discuss religion as if one size fits all.  Both are great questions.

 

Aristotle considered philosophy not a study of the parts of reality but a study of reality itself.  For example, the parts of reality might be the study of math or music, politics or history.  Reality is the existence and properties of things, their changes, causalities, and possibilities; reality is about the time and space of the here and now.  He called this “first philosophy” metaphysics as previously discussed based upon the Greek words “meta” meaning beyond and “physica” meaning physical.

 

The question implies that we gain knowledge just by being alive, by … being.  Those struggling to find food and shelter in the aftermath of earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, etc. often find themselves in a struggling state of being.  We learn a great deal from such survivors and marvel at their tenacity and resiliency.  Certainly they are giving life their every bit of effort.  By doing so, are they also gaining knowledge?  Those participating in riots or who create mass shootings are also putting energy and effort into their behavior but do we really think they are “learning” just by their doing?  Perhaps a better question is what are we learning in the aftermath of such events?  We must gain knowledge if we are to prevent them from becoming as commonplace as they currently are.

 

Aristotle maintained that there are five “predictables”, five common ways that we discuss a subject or object.  We can define the object very specifically [Aristotle referred to this as the species]  or we can discuss it in general terms [the genus].  We can notate what distinguishes it from other objects [the differentia], what makes it unique or special [propia], or we can discuss it by discussing things that are not like it [accidentals].  Philosophy instructor Dr. Maxwell Taylor illustrates Aristotle’s Predictables with one of my most favorite musical instruments and shapes – the lowly triangle.   For instance, a triangle is specifically a three-sided figure or in general terms, a shape.  It is different from other shapes by its number of sides and its properties are varied in that the sides can be of differing lengths.  Perhaps the easiest way to describe a triangle is by comparing it to shapes it is not like, starting with the fact that it is not a rectangle, square, diamond, or rhombus.

 

The definition of something is that which makes it what it is.  Aristotle called this “horos” which means definition.  Porphyry called it “eidos” which means forms and Boethius called it “species” to imply an object’s specific essence.  Both the survivors in Nepal and the protestors in Baltimore are living but their manner of form of living is very different.  Still, both groups are living and that fact would be classified under the “genus”, that part of the two groups that, although very different, they share in common. 

 

The genus is the general things found in common with other things that are otherwise different.  Perhaps an easier illustration or analogy is that flowers would be the genus and roses, daffodils, tulips, and lilies would be the species.  Not all species are the same, however.  Some roses are climbing vines while others are bushes.  Some flowers have specific number of petals while others have fewer or greater number of petals.  This would be the differentia.   

 

Things can become a bit involved, however, when we start discussing the “propia” or properties of an object.  The general population in Nepal is not accustomed to great wealth or lavish luxuries but the current conditions in which they are living are very different from those of some of the protestors in Baltimore, residents of the area who also live in abject poverty and sometimes deplorable conditions.  The destruction of businesses in Baltimore will leave some of the area’s residents homeless, although not homeless like the survivors in Nepal.

 

It is easier to use our analogy of the triangle; the properties are easier to explain.  We’ve already mentioned that a triangle’s form or definition is a three-sided object.  The genus would be that it is a shape.  The differentia or differences between triangles is determined by the angles within the three-sided shape.  Where the three lines of a triangle meet, angles are formed.  Those angles differentiate one triangle from another.  The specific angles are the properties of the triangle and there are six different types of triangles but do not make the object any more or less a triangle.

 

As I have noted before, triangles are one of my most favorite shapes and also musical instruments.  The tone of the instrument can be affected by the type of metal used which affects the number of vibrations, the number of overtones and the sound that reaches your ears.  The type of beater or mallet used also affects the tone as does the manner in which the triangle is hung or held.  Most musical triangles are equilateral triangles, having three equal sides, although they come in varying shapes.  Almost all musical triangles have the same basic pitch and skill in playing is determined by physical dexterity in handled in the beater as well as knowledge of acoustics.  None of those things change the type of triangle being played or its general properties or its basic definition.

 

In addition to the equilateral triangle with three equal sides, there are five other types of triangles.  An acute triangle is one with an angle less than ninety degrees.  A right triangle, fittingly enough, contains a right angle or an angle of exactly ninety degrees while an obtuse triangle has an angle greater than ninety degrees but less than one hundred and eighty degrees.  An isosceles triangle has two sides which are equal while a scalene triangle has no sides of equal length.  These are all properties of a triangle but there is still yet another way we might describe or refer to a triangle.

 

Imagine if you will a page of triangles.  The can be of varying types and sizes, some alike while others are different colors.  I might ask you how many are isosceles triangles or how many are acute triangles.  Either one of those questions would be answered by using something specific to the triangle or its classifications.  What if I asked how many were black triangles or red or yellow?  That response has nothing whatsoever to do with any specific aspect of the triangle but rather its color.  Other things have those same colors – a box of crayons, a row of pants or sweaters, or even the flag of the state of Maryland, a flag proudly displayed on the law enforcement vehicles burned and overturned by the protestors in Baltimore.  The fact that same of the triangles were red, black, or yellow has nothing to do with the definition of a triangle; it is simply another or accidental part of their description.

 

How can we apply these “Predictables” in our own philosophy of being, in our own living?  Certainly all of mankind shares some things in commons.  First of all, we are all mammals… but so are cows and dogs and cats.  Man is known as “homo sapiens” or “wise being”.  We have two genders present at birth, although that is being challenged in both life and the court systems around the world.  We also have different ethnicities and races, often noted with adjectives denoting one’s skin color.  Some use these latter descriptive types to denote value or worth or even potential.  In some countries, cows are more revered than women; people are discriminated against or profiles based upon their skin color or even eye shape.

 

The study of philosophy gives us an argument for being.  With it, hopefully, we can learn that existence is living and living means potential.  A triangle is no less a triangle simply because it has three equal sides or no equal sides.  A green triangle is just as much a triangle as a red triangle.  Lives matter – black, brown, red, or white.  You may consider someone damaged or different but it does not change the fact that they are alive, they have value, they matter.  Each and every human being, as with all life, deserves respect.  What may seem out of place to you fits perfectly for someone else.

 

The value of living is reason enough for us to give it our very best efforts, to give all of mankind our very best efforts.   Aristotle noted: “The value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.” 

 

Are We Real?

Are We Real?

04.22.2019

Easter 2019

 

Are We Real?

04.22.2019

Easter 2019

 

American author and artist James Thurber once stated:  “Philosophy offers the rather cold consolation that perhaps we and our planet do not actually exist; religion presents the contradictory and scarcely more comforting thought that we exist but that we cannot hope to get anywhere until we cease to exist. Alcohol, in attempting to resolve the contradiction, produces vivid patterns of Truth which vanish like snow in the morning sun and cannot be recalled; the revelations of poetry are as wonderful as a comet in the skies, and as mysterious. Love, which was once believed to contain the Answer, we now know to be nothing more than an inherited behavior pattern.”

 

Thurber would probably not be pleased that I am considering him a philosopher.  Born in Ohio and raised in both Virginia and Ohio, Thurber had a rather typical early twentieth century American boy’s childhood.  Not so typical was an injury he suffered as a child when an arrow of his brother’s resulted in Thurber being blinded in one eye.  He worked as a journalist in Ohio after attending but not graduating Ohio State University and then moved to New York City where he obtained a position on the staff of ”The New Yorker” magazine.  Thurber become known for his cartoons of animals and his drawings of dogs soon had their own career on pages of periodicals, newspapers and books, often watching strong-willed women and seemingly weak men.

 

Thurber once remarked “The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people–that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.”  Many enjoyed both his drawings and his books, of which there were more than just a few.  Often people saw themselves on the pages of Thurber’s drawings; always they saw their neighbors.  Few took offense, though, knowing that Thurber was pointing his pen not only at them but also himself.

 

“There but for the grace of God go I” is an idiom attributed to Anglican priest James Bradford.  It is also a paraphrase of the scripture found in the New Testament, I Corinthians 15:10.  That the quote in English form is also attributed to a Roman Catholic priest is no surprise and quite fitting given Bradford’s life.  Ordained an Anglican priest shortly before the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor took the throne as reigning monarch of England, he was later imprisoned and hung for his beliefs.  Bradford preached of the connectivity of mankind and saw himself in the face of the lowest of it.  Mostly, Bradford saw each man has a reflection of another except for perhaps life’s circumstances.  He advocated spreading good will not judgment.

 

However you might define reality, we are real.  If you doubt that, get a hammer and bring it down intensely upon your finger.  I really doubt you will question the pain experienced.  Life is transitory but the travails we experience are very real to us.  “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”  Elie Wiesel was referring to events leading up to World War II specifically but his words ring true for everyday living.

 

We are not only real, we are connected one to another.  A couple of years ago after a natural disaster, Face Book began running a streamer at the top of personal pages giving ways people could contribute to charities helping the victims of the earthquakes in Nepal.  Some people have protested this, good people with no motive for malice.  “Wouldn’t it be better to help people in our own country?” was a common response people posted on their own pages.  “Why do we have to see this ticker about giving to Nepal?”  The unspoken meaning here is let the Nepalese help themselves while we help our neighbors.

 

That is a great thought except for one thing – Nepal was a country in dire straits even before the earthquake.  The victim of countless regimes whose only purpose was personal greed, these “live and let live” people were in abject poverty before nature took its revenge on them.  How can someone with nothing have their lives and homes literally upturned by seismic events then pull wealth out of their empty pockets to “help themselves”?

 

Every country has its poor, its disenfranchised societies.  For many, these populations are simply uneducated, sometimes on purpose based upon gender, and/or the wrong ethnicity, again the victims of deliberate discrimination.  Sometimes these populations suffer from illnesses that are not fully understood or greatly feared.   No one country has enough money given to completely render all needed assistance to these groups.

 

Tragedy is forever with us.  The tragedies in Sri Lanka this past weekend are evidence of that.  With the complexities of weather systems and the natural disasters we face, mankind has decided to up the ante and make staying alive even harder.  People are being led by fanatical zealots as well as greedy politicians to kill themselves and take with them, hundreds of innocent victims.

 

Reality may be a word that means different things to different people and sadly, many feel they are invisible and that their lives do not matter.  Another thing all countries share is that somewhere today someone will take their own life.  In spite of a number of terminal illnesses, accidents, and crimes that will result in death, people will feel their own personal situation has no meaning and is just a riddle too hard to contemplate resolution except by death.  TO not give others a chance to live must surely be among the most heinous of crimes.  People are dying simply because they were engaged in living.

 

Einstein might have been correct when he said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”  I prefer to believe that human stupidity is reversible, though.  Another in common is countries where children and adults wear socks is that, at some point, one will end up with a mismatched sock.  Seeming to defeat the laws of physics, one sock will magically disappear.  Once during an epic spring cleaning, my spouse and children put all their mismatched socks into bags.  The final count was an even one hundred pairless socks.  Of course, once the socks were all laid out, pairs were found or someone remembered the puppy tearing a sock up, etc.

 

Just as our socks were real, the mystery of the disappearance of their matches had resolution.  For an hour, said spouse and kids enjoyed making up stories about the disappearances.  Their imaginations took flight and they did indeed come up with delightful tales.  In fact, I think at least still imagines at least two socks are orbiting the earth as I type today!  The reality was far less exciting and entertaining but resolution was found.  We did not find all the socks but those that remained single became adorable little snowman figures (comment here and I’ll send you the instructions for this craft!).

 

James Thurber felt that love was simply an inherited behavior pattern but I would differ with that sentiment.  Love for ourselves and one another might just be the answer the world needs to exist.  Surely it is the one way we can prove we are real, we are alive. 

 

Man is real.  We have solutions if we but have faith that we can find them.  It will not be easy but then, most things seldom are.  Pain cannot be seen or even quantified on a scale with weights and balances and yet, pain is all too real for those experiencing.  We should not share in another’s blame or guilt but we can and should offer to help.  Life is hard but it is not impossible.  All we need to do is believe in ourselves.  Perhaps that is the hardest problem philosophy has to solve.  Today I hope you smile more than you cry and, when you pass another, your eyes are opened to not only see that other person but also your own value.  We are real.

 

 

 

 

 

A Relevant, Relatable Life

A Relevant, Relatable Life

Day 20

Lent 2019

 

Not having been there at the time the Beatitudes were originally said, I do not know for sure why they were ever spoken.  However, I think it safe to surmise that they were felt to be pertinent and important for the audience to hear.  While they were uttered almost two thousand years ago, I do think they are still relatable.  Today, I am reposting a guest post, written by a college student several years ago.  In it this student explains why the Beatitudes are just as pertinent today as when they were first spoken.  Life was messy then.  Life is messy now, regardless of who we are, just as it was when I first posted this and when the Beatitudes were written.

 

“Sometimes I just can’t relate to the Bible. To be clear, I like the Bible. The stories are engaging, scandalous, and funny (well, if you can decipher 1st century humor), with good morals and memorable characters. So while I do like the Bible, I don’t always feel like I can relate to it. I have little in common with the authors: kings and prophets sent to inspire the masses with divine intervention when things got rough. I don’t know about you, but I’m no prophet.

 

“So while I do like the Bible, often when I read it I do so as though I would read a novel about Afghanistan or an article about outer space: an interesting story about a different world that I will never see. The story may be real, but it is very far away, the people are not like me, and the surroundings are not familiar—while I may have sympathy, I cannot have empathy. It is like a news report that I read, murmur a judgment on, and discard, already forgotten, as I move on to the next. However, in today’s passage from Psalm 44, the saints and martyrs with whom I have nothing in common are gone. In their place is a scared, lonely, confused individual, someone who is struggling to understand why God is so silent while they are suffering. This is a very human passage written by a very vulnerable human. This is a passage I can relate to.

 

“Lent is a funny time, but it is necessary. We spend so much of our lives pretending that everything’s okay, masking our pain and confusion, thinking that everyone else seems to have life figured out, so we should, too. However, I believe that it is in being truly vulnerable that we find our greatest strength. It is in letting others see just how scared, lonely, and confused we really are that we allow them to do the same. Once we let each other in behind the walls of confidence and brave faces only then can we truly begin to build each other up, to rely on each other. If you get a chance these next 40 days of Lent, be vulnerable. It’s scary, and uncomfortable, and takes far more faith than you would imagine. It’s what Lent is all about. Be vulnerable. After all, isn’t that something we can all relate to?”

 

Often in our daily living we try to pretend we are not vulnerable.  It is that very vulnerability, though, that makes us relatable and relevant to one another.  Nobody has a perfect life because… well, no one is perfect.  We all go through our daily chores and interests stumbling at times.  Like I said in the introduction today, life is messy.  It always has been and probably will be forever.

 

I think the Beatitudes are pertinent because they are words we can all relate to and understand.  They speak of misery, of pain, of unfulfilled goals and yet, within each of those things, there is hope and a reason to forge ahead through life’s messes.  Few of us are kings or queens and even fewer prophets and yet, we all get scared, lonely, discouraged.  By keeping our faith and focus on living a generous and compassionate life, we can find the strength to carry on with our living and discover success.  More on the treasure hunt of life in the next post.  Until then, be vulnerable.  It helps us relate one to another and live the best we can.  It is something we all find relatable.

 

From Victim to Victorious

From Victim to Victorious
Day 19
Lent 2019

Often to invading armies, the residents of the lands to be occupied are portrayed as potential enemies. They almost always are deemed to be threats to the continued existence of whatever regime has ordered the attack. The Romans probably had little idea of who they were conquering when they invaded Britain and Ireland. The Celtic and Druid culture centered on their pagan gods and goddesses and magic was an integral part of their beliefs, a magic that the Romans believed came not from good but evil. The Romans destroyed the Celtic and Druids’ religious sites and when Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, many Britons converted.

It was to this culture that a child named Patrick was born. He was born a Roman citizen to parents Conchessa and Calpurnius. The Roman Empire extended from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean and his home was not near Rome but in the Roman British lands. As a young teen he was kidnapped and forced into child labor by pirates. The life was hard and unfair – the makings for a deep need to extract violence as payback. The exact location is disputed but we know he was an aristocrat, his family second-generation Christians. Patrick was well educated. One fateful day he and his father’s servants were taken prisoner and his life changed dramatically. In an instant he went from living a life of luxury to that of servitude and despair.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom.” The first Beatitude seems contradictory and, let’s face it, a bit defeatist. Do I have to be in dire straits to win the prize? Certainly the millions who purchase lottery tickets might argue with that reasoning since seldom do any win. I know of no other human living or deceased whose life portrays this Beatitude better than that of Patrick, the saint whose day was celebrated earlier this month.

It is said that Patrick believed “If I have any worth, it is to live my life, so as to teach these peoples, even though some of them still look down on me.” His life is often celebrated worldwide with the wearing of green, symbolic of the country from which the pirates who enslaved him sailed and the country to which he returned to share his faith and spirituality.

Patrick wrote that he saw his escape in a dream and he did indeed escape and return to his family. He did remain in Britain, however. He would return to minister to the Irish and to share his creed for living. His life remains shrouded in mystery with many things attributed to him, including the banishment of all snakes from Ireland. What is known is that in the midst of his troubles and captivity, Patrick found solace in his beliefs and faith. “I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me: God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s host to secure me against snares of devils, against temptations of vices, against inclinations of nature, against everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.”

You might argue that someone with such conviction was never truly “poor in spirit” and I would understand that interpretation. I would offer, nonetheless, that there were days in which Patrick sorely felt downtrodden and exhausted and in that, his physical spirit did indeed seem poor. We need to recognize that we all have those days. We also need to recognize that other people have them, too.

Patrick of Ireland, as St Patrick is often known, serves to represent to me a living testament of how, although we might be victims of another’s cause, we alone control the effect it has on us. The man known as Saint Patrick, in whose honor many have celebrated with parades and parties, wanted us all to find strength in our faith and beliefs, not mugs of beer. We truly inherit the kingdom when we live with assurance and generosity to all. We also make our own environment by how we react with positivity. We all are victims, at one time or another, of something beyond our control. With conviction, though, we can write a life story that, like Patrick’s, will be victorious, not just for ourselves but for others. When terror strikes the world, it challenges our sense of security.