Where Am I?

Where Am I?

Detours in Life

Pentecost 17-18


We all have gotten caught in that detour of community in which we are the odd man out.  Sometimes it is because we are more mature than others.  Sometimes it is because we are not contributing to gossip and sometimes, well sometimes it is because people can be mean.  When we are on the receiving end of being cast out, thrown into a detour of social mayhem, we often feel not only discluded and left out but as if we were on a different planet or perhaps, an alien.


My cat is a rescue pet, adopted from a shelter and much loved by the family.  That does not change the fact that she may be an alien.  The word alien can mean many different things but seriously, my cat fits most of those definitions. 


An alien is an entity that is extrinsic to things.  Extrinsic is a word we seldom hear used but it really is a delightful word.  Basically it means “coming from the outside of something”.  Having spent the first several years of her life as a feral cat, she meets that definition.  Feral refers to something living is a wild state.  Wild in animals is considered “untamed” or acting outside the social boundaries of domestication.  Some of our political candidates would qualify as feral with that definition!


Usually a feral cat is a cat that has in its heritage the lineage of a domesticated cat but, for a variety of reasons, has not lived in a domesticated setting.  The problem of stray animals can be attributed to one thing – Animals living according to natural instincts, breeding at will.  While everyone loves a cute kitten or sleepy puppy, the world cannot provide enough homes for these animals.  They live on the streets, homeless and often abandoned. 


Life is sometimes described in harsh clichés and one of this is “It’s a dog eat dog world.”  If you are a small kitten in that “dog eat dog” environment, you learn to fight for every single thing you need to stay alive.  My cat came to us distrusting of our other pets but we have made progress in the past years.  She accepts us marginally and we have come to accept her.


One of those things begging acceptance is her distrust of her next meal.  Having used feeder bowls for our pets, it has been quite the change to not be able to have food available at all times.  Cats are usually very good at eating only when hungry.  This particular cat, however, gorges herself whenever food is available.  She still has the memories of those days of hunger and makes good use of food when possible.  Of course, her stomach only holds so much and some comes back up. 


We all have things we don’t trust in our lives.  Past living leaves its mark and earning trust and having faith is hard.  Often what we need to trust is ourselves.  We allow the extrinsic aspects of life inside; we allow our basic goodness to become altered and uncultivated our belief in ourselves.


My cat’s propensity to eat everything whenever possible is not why I think she is an alien.  Quite honestly, she probably feels we are the aliens.  Remember, an alien is something or someone who is not in their originating habitat.  Conception is the body’s way of having faith in the future.  It is the continuance of life itself and yet, once we are self-sufficient, we tend to not take care of that life and the life of others.


Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”  What did you do yesterday for someone or something else (i.e., a pet or other animal)?  We seldom see aliens portrayed as helping each other.  The aliens of Dr. Who are a well-trained army but when one falls down, the others just walk right over them.  The aliens of countless other science fiction programs are similar. 


In the political world, aliens are portrayed as wanting to go to a new country and usurp all the resources for themselves.  Much like my cat, they are seen as gorging on all available jobs, housing, and amenities which leaves nothing for the natives of the area.  Candidates and politicians are constantly reminding us that the world cannot sustain everything in it and yet, somehow life does go on.


Aliens are portrayed as unsocial beings that simply are there – staring at the rest of us, saying very little.  We had been the roommates of this particular cat for almost three years before we heard her purr.  Purring is one of those great mysteries that cats like to maintain since the how and why of the vocalization is still one of the great unknowns.  We assume it is a sign of pleasure and I will confess to being troubled that this cat that had many creature comforts never purred.  Then one day she purred and anxiously looked around.  It was at that moment I realized her homeless lifestyle had relied on her silence and purring would have given away her hiding places.


Our pets are a reflection of ourselves and how we live.  My cat is an alien because she never knew affection in her early years.  It might have taken my cat the alien a few years to trust us enough to purr but one thing she did from the day we adopted her was to care for others.  Whenever anyone is ill, that cat is sitting on the floor or bed right near them.  Her compassion has always been evident, even if it is sometimes annoying.


Many of us go through our daily schedule like aliens.  We never reach out to help others, fearful that by giving we might lose something.  The truth is we only gain when we give of ourselves.  You are just one person, I know.  You cannot solve all the world’s problems; I know.  Edward Everett Hale knew this as well when he wrote:  “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do.” 


Don’t be an alien today, simply going through the world without making a positive impact on it. You can do something positive for another.  You might just discover a whole tribe of other aliens out there, ready to accept you and let you join.  Life throws us detours and so do our fellow human beings.  When that happens, we need to carry one and do a kindness for another, not pass along the negativity.  IF nothing else, doing a kindness for another will make you feel better and included.  A detour of kindness is a great detour.   It might just also be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself.

What’s In a Myth?

What’s In a Myth?

Pentecost 170

For the past five-plus months we have discussed the mythologies of mankind.  For many people, these myths are simply stories, fantastical stories that today have provided plot lines for many comic books, young adult and graphic novels, television programs, and movies.  For many of these legends, their importance died as did the ancient cultures that believed in them.

For African tales, however, these stories live today.  Since some might say most religions have their beginnings in myths, one could argue that many of the myths of early mankind are still alive in one form or another today.  Some things in use today have a beginning in myths and yet, we would never suspect that.  Labyrinths are found at many religious institutions and castles, considered to be both part of beautiful garden landscapes but also wonderful meditative devices.  Have you heard the Greek myth about the king of Crete who called for the construction of a labyrinth?  The king wanted to hide a monster and it was believed that that very nature of a labyrinth would prove ideal for this.  Of course, in true mythological form, the monster to be hidden had been born of the Queen, and was just one of several layers to the story.

We recently learned about the three Mayan calendars and how, with the Long Count calendar which had predicted the end of the world in 2012, the world would reset and begin a new cycle.  A similar cycle was written about by Socrates, although he called it the “Cyclic Uproar.”  Some have defined mythology as prehistoric mankind’s way of explaining creation.  Others claim it to be allegorical stories used to educate and maintain one’s culture.  A large group of psychologists and sociologists have posited that mythology is more like a group dream with archetypal symbols which are used to interpret and explain the inner-most urges of mankind.  There are those that believe mythology is a vehicle of the mind and subconscious and still others believe it to be the primary communication between mankind and the world of spirits and gods.

In his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Joseph Campbell offers a different perspective about the purpose of mythology.  The book is well worth the read and I would do it a disservice to try and summarize it in a simple paragraph so I will not even try.  The book was first published in 1949 and is said to have greatly impacted certain psychological fields.  Basically, Campbell believes that we need a hero and myths provide us with one.

The world definitely needs heroes and heroines.  The 1984 song originally heard in the movie “Footloose” but more recently in the “Shrek” cartoon films, asks some pretty interesting questions.  “Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?  Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds? … Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need.”  The song, written by Jim Steinman and Dean Pitchford might just have the answer to why, what, and who the world’s myths are.

Joseph Campbell defined a hero as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”  Tennis star Arthur Ashe, in whose memory an award is given for exceptional bravery once said that “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.  It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

Firemen and law enforcement officials are often seen as heroes because they are daily called upon to put their lives on the line for others.  Yet, history bears witness to the fact that often it is the ordinary man who is the lasting hero.  Mythologies are full of the supernatural hero or the tyrant monster who requires violence in a semi-heroic sense.  The world’s history tells a different story.  In 1954 an ordinary woman became tired of the injustice of society requiring her to sit at the back of the bus.  She sat down, peacefully and quietly, closer to the driver than anyone of her ethnicity usually did.  In doing so, Rosa Parks was arrested and began a civil rights movement that continues today.

American Nathaniel Hawthorne stated:  “The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one’s self a fool; the truest heroism is to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and when it be obeyed.”  Most of us know what is right and what is wrong.  When we see someone being bullied, we know it is wrong.  Speaking up to stop the bullying, however, is not such a clear path.

So, what is in a myth?  Any good story has five basic elements – characters, setting, plots, conflict and resolution.  Today you wrote a myth, your myth.  You are the main character in your life, your myth.  The setting varies from work, to home to various other settings.  The plot will vary from day to day but each chapter or plot will have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Sometimes the exposition or discussion of the plot is a bit muddied and many find clarity of it in their dreams, others in simple retrospective meditation.  What is not hard to identify is the conflict and yet, often the visible conflict is really just a symbol of a deeper struggle.

In storytelling and writing, the conflict is the point of the plot and who the characters are often determines how they resolve the problem.  Everything builds to the climax, that one cliff-hanger of the story just before everything is resolved that holds our attention and gives the most drama.  For many people, life is all about the climax.  They would rather live their life in the throes of drama than in everyday living.  Resolution is great but life after resolution can seem dull, mundane, ordinary.  Many people today believe “ordinary” is a curse and they do everything they can to avoid the adjective being attached to them.

I love a good climatic scene as well as the next person but it doesn’t end the book.  It doesn’t resolve the problem.  It doesn’t guarantee the “happily ever after” that we all seek in life.  We need, as we write our own mythologies, to remember that all those people who lived in the climax usually ended up dying before resolution could be achieved.  It may seem anti-climactic but the answer to the title question is a very simple… good, evil, and a hero who knows the difference between the two.  What happens when you don’t do the right thing makes for a great story but do we really want to live a life like that?

Recently someone teased me about my reading romance novels.  They said in a surprised voice “You read romance novels?”  I replied I did.  “But you seem so smart!”  I thanked them for the compliment and then asked if they were always depressed or just having a bad day.  “Whatever do you mean?”  Then I told them I read the romance genre because I liked the HEA as it’s called, the Happily Ever After.  “Isn’t that the point of life?” I asked.

Yesterday someone served food to a homeless person and someone else gave refugees clothing and blankets.  Because of the aid received and charitable works of many, Sierra Leone today declared itself free of the deadly Ebola virus. If you need a hero or a good myth, just look around.  Better yet, life so that you see one every time you look in the mirror.