A Bi-Polar Holiday, Part Two

A Bi-Polar Holiday, part two

2018.12.08-12

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

The story of two people about to have a child traveling is not that unusual.  Thousands are doing just that south of the US border along Texas west to Arizona and California at this very minute, having left their homeland because of political unrest, threats of death, or lack of living conditions that make living sustainable.  Hopefully most are not about to give birth but some might be. 

 

Many would argue that what makes the Nativity Story important is that the child was the Son of God.  However, that very child grew up to become a man who made it his life’s work to preach that we all are sons and daughters of God.  He lived showing love to all, especially those disenfranchised by society.  You could honestly say that most if not all of his actions were everyday miracles. 

 

Those of the Christian faith put great stock in the Nativity Story, the story of Mary and Joseph who traveled a great distance, not in the easiest of circumstances, to be registered on the census rolls.  Without doing so, they would be without verification, a couple without a country so to speak.  There is some discrepancy within the Bible about this story, I should note. 

 

 The Gospel According to St Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph travelled from Galilee to Bethlehem because of a Roman census during the time Quirinius was governor of Syria. This census took place in the year 6 ACE, and the Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that this was the first such census that affected the Jews. A paradox in this passage comes from the fact that we also know that King Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, some 10 years before the census. Moreover, it is highly improbably that such a census would include Judea, since Herod was empowered to raise his own taxes and was not required to report on the population or wealth of his dominion.  

 

The Gospel According to St Matthew provides a different telling of this story and it suggests that Mary and Joseph did not travel from Galilee at all. Bethlehem was their home town, and the wise men found Jesus in a house, not a manger. The family fled to Egypt to avoid the Slaughter of the Innocents and returned to Judea after the death of Herod. But when Joseph heard that Herod’s son, Archelaus, had succeeded to the throne, he turned aside and went to Galilee and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, thus fulfilling the prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.

 

Like many myths, there is some truth, some storytelling embellishment, and some history in the Nativity Story.  At this time of the year when rather than experience joy, many feel depression, it is of great use to explore the reality of the time period.  In 2011 Justin Taylor wrote a very interesting article regarding the political scene of Galilee and Judea at the time of the birth of the baby Jesus.  He quotes historian R. T. France in his article. 

 

“The northern province of Galilee was decisively distinct—in history, political status, and culture—from the southern province of Judea which contained the holy city of Jerusalem.  Racially the area of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel had had, ever since the Assyrian conquest in the eighth century B.C., a more mixed population, within which more conservative Jewish areas (like Nazareth and Capernaum) stood in close proximity to largely pagan cities, of which in the first century the new Hellenistic centers of Tiberias and Sepphoris were the chief examples.  Geographically Galilee was separated from Judea by the non-Jewish territory of Samaria, and from Perea in the southeast by the Hellenistic settlements of Decapolis.

 

“Politically Galilee had been under separate administration from Judea during almost all its history since the tenth century B.C. (apart from a period of “reunification” under the Maccabees), and in the time of Jesus it was under a (supposedly) native Herodian prince, while Judea and Samaria had since A.D. 6 been under the direct rule of a Roman prefect.  Economically Galilee offered better agricultural and fishing resources than the more mountainous territory of Judea, making the wealth of some Galileans the envy of their southern neighbors. 

 

“Culturally Judeans despised their northern neighbors as country cousins, their lack of Jewish sophistication being compounded by their greater openness to Hellenistic influence.  Linguistically Galileans spoke a distinctive form of Aramaic whose slovenly consonants (they dropped their aitches!) were the butt of Judean humor.  Religiously the Judean opinion was that Galileans were lax in their observance of proper ritual, and the problem was exacerbated by the distance of Galilee from the temple and the theological leadership, which was focused in Jerusalem.”

 

Today many people are discriminated against because of their religion.  This was also true of the man we call Jesus.  According to R. T. France, “even an impeccably Jewish Galilean in first-century Jerusalem was not among his own people; he was as much a foreigner as an Irishman in London or a Texan in New York. His accent would immediately mark him out as “not one of us,” and all the communal prejudice of the supposedly superior culture of the capital city would stand against his claim to be heard even as a prophet, let alone as the “Messiah,” a title which, as everyone knew, belonged to Judea (cf. John 7:40-42).  The man for whom we celebrate his birth was very much a stranger among even his own people and at this time of the year, many feel exactly the same way. 

 

Mathematician Blaise Pascal believed “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it cannot be filled by any created thing.”  He believed that by surrendering ourselves we would gain everything.  Pascal saw the gridlock of ego as the world’s biggest problem.  It would be an everyday miracle and the solution to this holiday that seems to celebrate and yet cause depression if we would liberate ourselves from the gridlock of our own ego.

 

 

 

A verb, not a Noun

As a verb, not a noun

2018.11.20

Growing Community

I already mentioned in an earlier post that I think we need to update our definition of community.  Is a community the same as society?  Does it denote a commonality?  Has it evolved (maybe devolved) into merely a group of people communicating with each other?  I think the answer to all of these questions is no.  Certainly society is a part of community but I do not think the terms are synonyms for each other.  Today our communities are a diverse mix of cultures and beliefs rather than a melting pot of common traits.  I definitely believe our lack of listening, an integral part of communication, has led to the breakdown of community so no, we are not communicating with each other. 

Today a group of people living in one general area might be a conglomeration of strangers who simply share the same high rise or neighborhood.  It is not a community in the sense of being there to help one another or grow the area for the future.  All too often we have become a group of people who simply hare the same air.

Austin Kleon is a New York Times bestselling author of three books: Steal Like an Artist; Show Your Work!; and Newspaper Blackout. Kleon’s works focus on creativity in today’s world. He has spoken at organizations such as Pixar, Google, and TEDx, and at conferences such as The Economist’s Human Potential Summit and SXSW.  I think the answer to how we grow a community is best found in his blog entitled “We are verbs, not nouns.”

Kleon is not the first to use this quote which he did in his blog post of November 9th of this year.  In 2010 Stephen Fry in a 2010 radio interview quotes Oscar Wilde:  “Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it – that is your punishment, but if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”

Kleon quoted R. Buckminsters in his “I Seem to be a Verb”:  I live on earth at present, and I don’t know what I am.  I know that I am not a category.  I am not a thing – a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe.”

All of these have the key to how we create, grow, live, and sustain a community.  We do it.  We make it.  We live it.  We don’t worry about how to define the community or the people in it.  I tis something we actively engage in.  We live in the community by seeing all members of it and by doing for them what we would them to do for us.  When we engage in the building and growing of community we learn new and dimensions of the mind and heart.  We not only grow community, we grow ourselves.  We become much more than a label, a noun.  We become a verb, living, breathing life into everything we do.

I – not in team but in community

“I” – absent in TEAM; present in COMMUNITY

2018.11.15-17

Growing Community

 

Many of the rules for living in a community are faith-based so this post (which is being posted late due to illness – my apologies) is combining the week’s wrap-up and thoughts about faith.  This blog is spiritually based but can someone live and grow a community without spiritual or faith-based doctrines?  For the large number (and growing daily) of atheists in the world, the answer is a resounding “YES!”

 

In the Bible, the title of chapter 5 of 1 Timothy is “Rules for Living with Others”.  The chapter goes like this:  “Do not speak angrily to an older man, but plead with him as if he were your father. Treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, and younger women like sisters; always treat them in a pure way.  Take care of widows who are truly widows, but if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to do their duty to their own family and to repay their parents or grandparents. That pleases God. The true widow, who is all alone, puts her hope in God and continues to pray night and day for God’s help; but the widow who uses her life to please herself is really dead while she is alive. Tell the believers to do these things so that no one can criticize them.”  This passage from Timothy sounds like great advice but then it gets very specific about younger widows, giving extra honors to church leaders, and to criticize those who sin.  Suddenly this does not sound very loving but rather quite dictatorial.

 

I get the general drift of this passage and it sound advice.  Basically, we are to care for those who are alone, immature, or destitute.  The purpose of living is to care for others and put them first.  This goes along with the age-old axiom:  “There is no ‘I’ in TEAM.”  Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest football coaches of all times and certainly a practicing expert in the field of teamwork once said “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

 

It is true that there is no “I” in the word team but… there is in the word “community”.  So how do we recognize our own needs and reconcile them with practicing teamwork in our community?  This past week there was a great need in the USA for teamwork as the aftermath of a synagogue mass killing, the murder of two at a grocery store and wild fires seem to eat away at our piece of mind and our communities.  A community of faith was attacked because of their faith.  Two were killed in what was considered a racist act.  Nature and most likely human error has resulted in the devastation of hundreds of thousands of acres, entire towns reduced to ash, animals and human life lost.  In the light of such, it is hard to keep one’s faith.

 

Can a community exist without faith?  Frank Zindler, past president and current board member of American Atheists, when confronted with the question “Can an atheist commit a crime?” responded: “Absolutely not!  The behavior of Atheists is subject to the same rules of sociology, psychology, and neurophysiology that govern the behavior of all members of our species, religionists included. Moreover, despite protestations to the contrary, we may assert as a general rule that when religionists practice ethical behavior, it isn’t really due to their fear of hell-fire and damnation, nor is it due to their hopes of heaven. Ethical behavior – regardless of who the practitioner may be – results always from the same causes and is regulated by the same forces, and has nothing to do with the presence or absence of religious belief.”

 

Zindler speaks of the principle of “enlightened self-interest” as an excellent first approximation to an ethical principle which is both consistent with what we know of human nature and is relevant to the problems of life in a complex society.  Mankind is a social animal and whatever is good for the larger tribe is most often good for the individual.  Zindler feels atheists do not need the added emphasis of a list of ten rules to realize this.  He makes valid arguments and uses the science of botany and analogy to make valid points and yet … At the end of the day, very few lions share their meals with stranded fawn. 

 

The “I” in community is vital when we recognize our assets to the community.  Right now, people donating by text on their telephones are spending less than they might at a coffeehouse.  It might seem like a pittance but when combines, that ten dollars (USD) becomes the beginning of a new life for thousands.  Whether you donate because of your faith or because you realize that one day you might be the one in need really has little importance.  We act as a team and build a community together.  Helen Keller, a woman once thought of as being unable to do anything at all grew up to show the world what not only she could do as a world traveler and motivational speaker but also what each of us has the potential to do:  “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Creating Fear

Creating Fear

2018.10.31

The Creative Soul – Pentecost 2018

 

 

“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 that are real.  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 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.

 

In the past week, the United States has seen great tragedy.  The monster currently at foot is the monster of fear derived from a created hatred.  Words spoken without thorough thought as to how they could be perceived and the aftermath of these words having been heard and misinterpreted are in part responsible for creating such hatred.  We have created a bogeyman, a monster that exists not in fact but as a result of our own insecurities.  The ego might want quantity of followers but the world needs us to be sincere and in communion with each other.

 

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.  Believe in yourself.  You are amazing!  The world is waiting for us to create a better tomorrow.

Move It and Groove It

Move It and Groove It!

2018.09.10

The Creative Soul

 

Located on a part of real estate in New York City that either affords one a landscape of New Jersey or Manhattan, Naomi Goldberg Haas offers free dance classes to older adults.  The Founder of Dances for a Variable Population has two rules for the creativity of dance:  “Have fun and don’t do anything beyond your limits.”  Haas and her students offer the top three advantages of not only the movement of dance but also learning to appreciate personal beauty and one’s own body.

 

1.                   ‘You Recognize the Difference It Makes’.

 

Haas explained her philosophy of teaching dance: “There’s so much we can learn from dancing with each other. Also, by dance-making with each other, we gain an appreciation of our own body and beauty.”  Some students come for the exercise benefits. “Once you pass a certain age, you realize you have to be in a physical program,” Haas observed. “You recognize the difference it makes. On a larger social level, the lack of movement is killing us.”  DVP, which Haas founded in 2008, works with more than 45 senior centers and institutions. Movement Speaks, one of its programs, offers older adults and low-income communities free dance instruction.  They also perform a public show of an original work created by class participants.

 

2. ‘Touch Is Life-giving’

While dance has health benefits for the body and mind, Haas emphasized that her goal is to inspire participants to move creatively and feel empowered by that movement.  DVP classes also incorporate some partner work where people might briefly hold hands as they circle around each other on the floor. “Touch with someone else is life-giving,” Haas explained.  At the end of class, the dancers divided themselves into groups of four. Each participant would lead a few times, and then pass the torch to the next person, so everyone got a chance to create a movement and follow their partners.

 

3.    You Can Rediscover Dance

Students who had previously studied dance might find the class more doable than a class they would find in a traditional studio because DVP’s emphasis is on what you can do, not insisting that people attempt choreography that would be beyond their limits.  Karen Beja, a 59-year-old school psychologist, began dancing with the group about three years ago. “I did a lot of dance as a young adult and I stopped in my late 30s and I miss it,” she explained. “Naomi has given me back movement.”  In addition to keeping her mobile and flexible, Beja said, “It makes me feel joyful.”

 

Other advantages discovered by the class include the mental advantages of learning to improvise and memorize.  Traditional dances often included improvisation but then remembering desired combinations of steps exercises brain muscles as well as leg and foot muscles.  The diversity often found in the classes is also a huge social benefit.  Not only is there a difference in gender and age but in culture and ethnicities.  New relationships are made and friendships formed.  Social interaction is a necessary part of living and the connections made through classes that encourage one’s creativity are paramount to good health. 

 

UC-Berkley reported in 2014 that many studies have found dancing can improve balance, even in frail elderly people. Some have shown improvements in gait, walking speed, and reaction time, as well as cognitive and fine motor performance. Dance studies have included jazz, ballroom, tango, folk, and a series of slow, low-impact dance movements—though any kind of dancing would likely be beneficial.  Interestingly, according to a review in the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine in 2009, dancing may help people with Parkinson’s disease, which is characterized by rigid muscles, slowed movement, and impaired balance.

 

Dancing may also be good for your mood. It has been shown to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress and boost self-esteem, body image, coping ability, and overall sense of well-being, with the benefits lasting over time. In one study, it even helped control “emotional eating” in obese women who eat as a response to stress.  The authors of a meta-analysis of 27 studies on the effectiveness of dance movement therapy, published in Arts in Psychotherapy this year, concluded that dancing should be encouraged as part of treatment for people with depression and anxiety.

 

If you can move, you can dance and you should.  Let your creative spirit move and feel the benefits that dancing can bring to your life.  There are dancing apps, some specially designed for older people of the informed, to assist you in being creative with dance.  There’s no downside to incorporating dance into your regular physical activity routine, and it could help motivate you to get moving if you find other types of workouts, like treadmill walking or cycling, a little boring.  You will not only get creatyive, you might even get healthier!

 

My Neighbor’s Faith

My Neighbor’s Faith – A Collection of Essays on Diversity

2018.08.26

Literature and Life

 

We live in a diverse world.  That is a statement no one can refute.  It is a fact.  What is also true, sadly, is that many fear diversity.  Almost every single minute part of creation, of our world, is unique.  Diversity is not just a trendy term used about by politicians.  It is a fact.  No two snowflakes are exactly alike, no two roses, people, etc.  Recently I saw the word diversity explained this way:

Diversity means:

D – ifferent

I – ndividuals

V – aluing

E – achother

R – egardless of

S – kin

I – ntellect

T – alents or

Y – ears

 

Diversity leads to growth and a better world.  Instead, history has shown that it often leads to hatred and violence.  Writer and television executive Gene Roddenberry once said ““If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”

 

The featured book for today is “My Neighbor’s Faith: Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation”, edited by Jennifer Howe Peace, Or N. Rose, and Gregory Mobley.  The book is a collection of fifty-three essays, divided as one might a travelogue.  I think this is fitting since these essays invite us to embark on self-exploration in celebrating diversity and our neighbor.

 

Dr. Thomas Szasz, doctor of psychiatry wrote “The Myth of Mental Illness” and he had some strong words about diversity.  ““The plague of mankind is the fear and rejection of diversity: monotheism, monarchy, monogamy and, in our age, monomedicine. The belief that there is only one right way to live, only one right way to regulate religious, political, sexual, medical affairs is the root cause of the greatest threat to man: members of his own species, bent on ensuring his salvation, security, and sanity. ”

 

I have written about this book over the past four years of this blog and I still read it at least once a year.  It encourages me to continue to encounter a new neighbor, look with fresh eyes upon my own home and those of others,  to consider redrawing the maps of my comfort zone, unpacking and trying on new beliefs and new ways to live my treasured tenets of faith and living, to step across the lines of my comfort zone, to seek out fellow travelers, and do whatever I can to repair the brokenness in our world.

 

At a university commencement speech in June of 1963, then President of the US John F. Kennedy spoke his truths on diversity.  “If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

 

This series has been more for the writer than the reader and how reading can broaden one’s knowledge and talent.  I seriously encourage all to read this book, published in 2012.  Perhaps essays are not quite your cup of tea.  I still encourage you to read this book.  Albert Einstein once remarked:  “Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else.”

 

 

 

 

From Broken to Beauty

From Broken to Beauty

May 23, 2018

Pentecost 2018

 

Often we encounter people who think we are “broken” because we are not exactly like them.  We are different.  No two people are ever exactly alike and yet, we tend to spend a great deal of our life trying to be like each other.  Whether you believe in the happenstance of creation or you believe it to be the orderly work of a deity, one thing is quite true.  Our world, our planet, our universe is quite diverse.  The world does not have just one type of flower or tree, one vegetable, one type of protein, etc. 

 

People tend to fear that which is different and so, in an effort to protect themselves, they treat those who are different as if they were broken.  They bully; they battle; they belittle; they hurt.  Those of us who are different are left feeling broken and worse – we become ashamed of who and what we are.

 

Some of the world’s most beautiful buildings are those with stained glass windows.  The stained glass window would be nothing if it had not started out as broken.  Each window is made up of hundreds of broken pieces of glass made beautiful by an artist.  The times in our lives when we feel broken are just setting the stage for the beauty of living that is to come.

 

During Pentecost this year we will delve into ways to fill the broken places in our lives.  We need to incorporate the Japanese art of Kintsugi into our lives. Rather than disguising the breakage, Kintsugi restores the broken item incorporating the damage into the aesthetic of the restored item, making it part of the object’s history.  A piece of plain pottery suddenly glistened as lacquer and gold dust would be used to fill the broken crevices.   Pottery pieces of Kintsugi were said to have such value that some purposefully broke their pottery so as to have the repair work add value.

 

The world can be a risky place and none of us escapes without bruises and scars.  We need to value these as mementoes of our survival.  Just like the Kintsugi pottery or the stained glass window, our brokenness is the palette for our true beauty to be revealed.