Grace: Defining the Future

Grace: Defining the Future

2019.11.12

 

In the nineteenth century philosophy became something of a tongue twister at times. According to Arthur Schopenhauer, “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” Georg Hegel believed in what he called a “system” of philosophy but maintained that reality was a historical process, examples of changes in the Spirit as a whole. Ludwig Feuerbach believed almost the opposite of Hegel. He believed in no spiritual realm and felt reality was, in the end, immaterial.

 

Interestingly enough, these different viewpoints formed the basis for a huge shift in political thinking and laid the groundwork for the history of the twentieth century. A student of Hegel rejected an individualistic state of nature and believed that mankind’s life was social. Thus, human nature was an expression of labor and activity, all done for the benefit of mankind or, in the trendy term of the period, society. He expressed Hegel’s theories in terms of material rather than spiritual terms. History to this student was a series of class struggles and his vision for the future was to create a classless society. His name was Karl Marx.

 

Born to German Jewish parents who then converted to the Lutheran faith, Karl Marx believed “criticism of religion is the foundation of all criticism.” Marx wanted to make history a science and believed that in doing so the problems of the past could be alleviated. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

 

Throughout its history philosophy and religion have been together – as friends and as enemies. Since the beginning of philosophy was man’s quest to determine what life was, what the world was, and what mankind itself was, the various creation theories and/or myths that exist had to be considered, studied, and related. It is simply impossible to separate philosophy from belief and yet, for the most part, they seem to be at odds with each other.

 

For many, philosophy strives to explain an anguished existence in an irrational world. For others, philosophy seeks to prove what they believe through faith. I ask you to ponder this question for today: Is philosophy what we believe or is what we believe contradictory to the study of philosophy? For some, the study of philosophy is blasphemous. For others, it is a refreshing proof of their beliefs.

 

As you try to answer that question, I ask you to consider how you show grace rather than using how we live as the answer. Philosophy is the science of thinking but life is the art of doing and what we believe is evident in what we do. If I say I have love for my neighbor, based upon Christian beliefs, then I cannot hate those who are different. If I say my life is dedicated to Allah, then I must live the peace the Qur’an speaks of in my daily living. If I believe I am a child of persecuted children of Israel, how can I fail to have sympathy and empathy for others who are persecuted, even if they are of another faith?

 

In all of these examples and if you consider yourself to be a spiritualist, then what part does grace play? Karl Marx is famous for having said “Religion is the opium of the people.” Having absolute certainty in one’s knowledge might also be said to be addicting, even lead to the ego-driven state Marx so harshly wished mankind to avoid. We all believe in something. Does our manner of living and interacting with society bolster those beliefs and make them evident thereby defining us correctly, or do they seem at odds with our words, making a mockery of both our faith and our living?

 

In 1726, Daniel Defoe wrote in his book “The Political History of the Devil: “Things as certain as death and taxes can be more firmly believed.” In 1789, writing to a friend in France, Benjamin Franklin wrote, in giving an update on the newly formed country and US Constitution: “…nothing is certain except death and taxes.” All we can be truly certain of is what we are doing in the here and now.

 

There are many ways to define living and most of them do involve spiritual and/or religious beliefs. However, what really matters is that we have tried to live as we believe. Whatever our philosophy is, we need to make sure that it ascends to the primary core of our actions, that it is the reason behind those actions. Then our personal philosophy will be one we support and believe.

 

To quote Mahatma Gandhi: ““Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.” I propose to you that to whom and in what manner we show grace defines who we are. Thus grace and how we live it becomes our defining moment.

To Retreat, Remain, or Grow

To Retreat, Remain, or Grow

2019.10.21

I have affection for coffeehouses and the wave of humanity that comes ashore in them.   Although I usually order tea and not coffee, the throng of humanity found at a coffeehouse is delightful. Add children to that and you have a writer’s mall for thoughts and conversations. In short, at a recent visit, I found myself in a compositional heaven. A recent visit solidified my penchant for both coffeehouses and children.

I had just sat down when I noticed the table across from me. The grandparents were at what appeared to be their regular Bible Study/Social meeting and the young boy that had accompanied them was obviously a grandson. His delight at the large-sized orange juice his grandfather had ordered for him was heart-warming. “I’m gonna grow big and strong with this!” he exclaimed. His grandmother offered him a spoonful of her coffee upon his request and the expression on his face made everyone laugh. “That cannot be good for you.” He advised his grandmother. “You need to drink more orange juice.” [Somewhere the Minute Maid Company had just loss a great commercial idea.]

Introductions were made to the young lad as others joined their group. I was impressed with the “adult” way they introduced themselves to him. After all introductions were made, he then asked if he could repeat their names. It was clear no one expected him to do so but he did. Upon saying the name of the last person, his grandfather began to open their meeting. The young boy politely told the grandfather he was not finished talking. Chuckles were heard and the grandfather pointed out he had named everyone, correctly.

The young boy looked around the coffeehouse and then leaned over to his grandfather. “I just learned their names,” he explained. Now I need to ask them something.” The group seemed amenable so the grandfather sat back and encouraged his grandson to continue. The wide young person then looked at the first he had named and asked: “What are you?” The gentleman began to say he was s retired teacher when the boy interrupted him. “No, that is what you did. What are YOU?”

I recently attended a retreat and this week I found myself wondering something similar. That is the question I hope you ask yourself this week. What are you? In past series we delved into the question “Who are you?” in our attempt to improve and grow some self-love. This week we cannot improve our self-worth without knowing what we are. More importantly, what do you want to be?

Any good gardener knows there are various things that need to be done in the process of growing a garden. There is the cultivating and tilling of the soil, preparing the soil, nurturing the soil with water and perhaps fertilizer and plant food. The list might seem endless to a non-gardener but to those who believe in growing things, the list is simply a part of daily life. Essential to gardening, though, is knowing what one is planting.

I have stated here in past posts that I do not have a “green thumb”; that is to say, my talents do not include being a master gardener. The truth is that I can grow a nice garden, whether it is flowers or vegetables. What hinders my success in gardening is my lack of interest in learning about the plants themselves. I can bore you to no end about the difference between a xylophone and a marimba because I am interested in those things. The nutritional needs and their differences between a cauliflower and a bell pepper hold no interest for me at all. For one thing, I am allergic to bell peppers and mildly so to cauliflower. Ask me about tomatoes, though, and I am right there with answers. You see, I adore tomatoes.

Life cannot be lived just eating tomatoes, though. While they hold great nutritional value for our bodies, we do need other things. I have come to learn how to grow carrots and cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and kale, and attempt to grow beans, although pole beans and legumes are still at the “getting to know you” stage with my gardening skills. Corn and I have an on-again-off-again relationship and I have never attempted fruit trees although I do love to eat their bounty.

Clearly, if I had to grow my own food I could survive but I would have to alter my eating habits and pray for good health and weather. I rely a great deal on the convenience of shopping at local markets and stores. I can grow an avocado plant but cannot get it to bear fruit. Life for me without avocadoes is unthinkable and I am grateful for imports from other states and neighboring countries. The same is true for olives. I am something of a cheese-a-holic and yet, having a herd of cattle and goats would not yield me any cheese homemade. Again, I am grateful for those for whom making cheese is a talent they share.

When it comes to growing my soul, I also rely on others. I myself can only do so much based upon my skills and knowledge. I reference many things and listen to many people. Just as with an actual gardening, there needs to be some weeding out of the information we have available. Not everything is beneficial and unfortunately some people are more interested in creating followers than helping people grow. Albert Camus once wrote: “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” This past weekend I did just that. Past retreats included one in a beautiful country, wooded setting where no cell phones or electronic devices were allowed. Time was something measured jokingly with a ruler. It may sound funny but I took the time this time to be on a retreat to make sure that I did not remain, getting stuck in the whirlwind that our lives can become.   I agree with Anna White and this quote from her book “Mended: Thoughts on Life, Love, and Leaps of Faith” when she writes “I want my heart to be the thin place. I don’t want to board a plane to feel the kiss of heaven. I want to carry it with me wherever I go. My most recent retreat was actually a conference but the setting was so serene it felt more like a retreat for the soul than a taking care of business. Perhaps there is a lesson in that last statement as well.

 

I want my fragile, hurting heart, to recognize fleeting kairos, eternal moments as they pass. I want to be my own mountain and my own retreat.” Kairos is a Greek word dating back to antiquity and it refers to an opportune moment, that right and critical moment in time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a critical action.   Many times we are so busy reacting to the world that we fail to take the time to deliberate about our actions and what they represent. We are so busy being that we lose sight of what we are or would like to be.

My most recent retreat/conference was not a time of hearing but rather a time of listening. To be sure there were presentations and discussions but there were also times of meditating and truly hearing what all of creation was offering. The serene setting, fullness of life experienced, and the sharing of emotional, spiritual, and physical gifts provided encouragement to move forward, not just remain caught in the busyness of everyday living.

I hope this week you find your own sources of nurturing to help you grow in this endeavor we call living. Sometimes we must retreat from life to move forward in our living. Take a detour from your usual path and you might just find yourself.   More importantly, I hope you find and increase your self-worth and are then able to answer to the question: What am I?

To Walk with Kindness

To Walk with Kindness

2019.08.14-15

 

The greatest myths we encounter are those that influence our behavior the most. These are those myths that directly affect our psyche, our self-esteem, our attitudes about life and our neighbors. Sadly, many politicians and people with a microphone are busy weaving myths about those from whom they differ. Statistics are quoted that have no factual basis. Myths are woven about people who seem different and those different people became the enemy. Statues, temples, and even churches were erected in ancient times to protect people from the villains of myths. Churches were named after saints from whom believers sought protection.

 

“There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple. The philosophy is kindness.” The Dali Lama was not referring to mythology when he said those words but he could have been. Mankind erected temples to the deities created by the myths of the cultures on earth. The temples were evidence of our devotion, our faith. We must recognize that those temples and our modern churches are merely edifices. They hold no real power except that which our faith affords them. They offer no protection nor can they give us life. How we live is the only thing that can do that.

 

The best tool for living might very well be compassion for one’s neighbor. Although compassion is not readily available nor is there an excess of it, it is far easier to have compassion for another human being or animal than for ourselves. Here we encounter a myth. The myth is that it is selfish to have compassion for ourselves. In reality, we need to take care of ourselves. Certainly a parent cannot do this to the exclusion of providing for his or her children but being healthy for ourselves is also important. Living a healthy lifestyle is not a fad; it is a necessity for life.

 

There is a great deal of difference between practicing a healthy lifestyle and making it a priority and indulging in personal likes. Partaking of vitamin D and simple carbohydrates in a healthy portion is maintaining a balanced diet which will result in a fit human being. Eating a gallon of ice cream which contains those vitamin D and simple carbohydrate nutrients is indulgence.

 

All too often many of us have an internal voice that is overly critical and seldom, if ever, compassionate. Having the same compassion for yourself that you might have for a friend is not being indulgent or egotistical. It can be productive and inspiring. Criticism that is destructive has no place in a healthy lifestyle. It is not motivating nor should it be considered such. Helpful critiques, however, can lead to better outcomes. These include noticing what was good, even if the only good thing was that you tried. Give yourself credit for the little things and the big things will no longer be an issue.

 

We need to befriend ourselves. Most know the exercise on Facebook of responding to a friend request. How often do we send ourselves a friend request? Once sent and accepted, how often do we use our internal voice as a friend to ourselves? Very few people would tell a friend it was their fault that the plants in their garden died during a drought. Most who garden, though, expect themselves to be able to predict the weather, control the weather, and produce the most bountiful and beautiful gardens ever imagined. We seldom place impossible expectations on our friends and yet almost always place them on ourselves.

 

Dr. Kristin Neff from the University of Texas at Austin talks about the myths regarding compassion in her aptly titled book, “Compassion”.   She discusses the isolation that we often feel when confronted with our imperfect actions. “The important thing is to remember that we have a shared humanity. We all are flawed, we all make mistakes, we all have weaknesses.”

 

Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel has written a book about overcoming the imperfections we experience in life. Her book is titled “Bounce Back! 5 Keys to survive and thrive through life’s up and downs.” She offers this suggestion. “I want you to visualize this: You’re sitting on a plane and, as it begins to taxi, the flight attendant starts the safety review. You’re so used to this that you hardly hear what she’s saying. But I want you to pay attention to something she says that is very important: “Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs.” In order to be most present and compassionate with others, you must first practice loving-kindness and compassion with yourself. Go ahead. You deserve it.”

 

Currently it would seem that a religion of hatred has become popular. Most have heard the directive to love thy neighbor but suddenly it would seem that the “neighbor” has become the enemy. No one race is better than another and no one person deserves more compassion than another. We are all part of the fabric of mankind. Believe in the myth that allows compassion…for yourself and for others. It is a road which will lead to a healthier and more productive life for us all.

 

The Gift of Sight

The Gift of Sight

2019.07-09

 

It has been a troubling summer. A much anticipated summer festival in Gilroy, California, the Garlic Festival is a time of fun, frivolity, and food. It is held annually the last weekend in July and celebrates a much-maligned vegetable – the garlic. A very close relative of the onion, garlic is native to Central Asia and northeastern Iran, and has long been a common seasoning worldwide, with a history of several thousand years of human consumption and use. It was known to ancient Egyptians, and has been used both as a food flavoring and as a traditional medicine. This year was the fortieth anniversary of the three-day event and it ended in tragedy with three dead and thirteen injured in a mass shooting.

 

Much too soon after, the town of El Paso, Texas had a mass shooting. To date, twenty-two have died with over thirty injured. The deliberately planned execution of innocent people whose only crime was to be shopping the weekend before school was to begin in the area seemed incomprehensible. About the time most Americans were trying to make sense out of the senseless killings, another mass shooting occurred in Dayton, Ohio. This time there were two dozen injured and nine victims killed, including the shooter’s own sister.

 

It should be noted that the statistics of such shootings do not always tell the true story in that there are always unreported victims, generally called survivors. Those who escaped the carnage of such acts must live with the memories of them and somehow try to rebuild their lives, even if they suffered no physical wounds. Two students who survived the Parkland Florida school mass shooting have since committed suicide.

 

The aftermath of such incidents always brings up the question “Why?” Perhaps more importantly, there is the follow-up analysis of what could have been done differently to avoid such events. How in the future can we acquire the gift of sight to keep these tragedies from being repeated?

 

If you have an email account, you probably are aware of your spam folder. A Bayesian filter is used to decide which of your emails are rubbish and which are something you might want to read. Companies and advertisers invest quite heavily in copywriters who can bypass these filters and get there promotional material before your eyes. Based upon what you have deleted in the past and what you have opened and read, it is used to evaluate the header and content of email messages and determine whether or not it constitutes spam.

I wish we had such filters on our public speaking. When I was much younger, there was a popular saying: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” These three sentences were what one was to consider before speaking. If the answer to any of the three questions was no, then it was advised not to say whatever was about to be said. It is really good advice.

 

Decision theory states that one should use the same basic criteria with every action taken – risk, reward, consequences, certainty. We need to start applying that criteria to our public speaking, in addition to the above three sentences. Public speaking today has become the repetition of trending phrases so as to sound “current”. Little thought is given to the actual meaning, content, or possible consequences.

 

Quantifiable behavior tells us that we can expect specific outcomes when a particular behavior is encouraged. When those in the public eye resort to trendy catch phrases that inflame and incite fear rather than quote accurate and somewhat boring statistics, then it is expected people will use whatever measures at end to protect themselves.

 

Until we monitor what we say and apply decision theory to it, we cannot expect differing outcomes. We will continue to have rampart fear and the resulting shootings and deaths. Words have meaning and when we speak, we need to speak from a place of honesty and fact. We need to apply a Bayesian filter to ourselves before we open our mouths. We need to speak with forethought and decision, with the intention to accurately inform and not incite. Otherwise, the future will be very easy to predict because it will look like the past month with needless deaths and pain.

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. 

What Do We Believe?

What Do We Believe?

05.30.2019

Easter 2019

 

Advent 2014 this blog discussed over twenty-five various religions and spiritualties.  Of recent years there has been much debate regarding religion and spiritual beliefs.  Usually it is in the form of an opposing debate: religion versus spirituality.  I always find this such a debate a bit confusing because the religious explanation(s) of the universe are derived from the philosophies of various spiritualties.  Can one really separate religion from spirituality?

 

The country of India was the beginning of many religious traditions.  The early civilizations of India all contributed their own versions interwoven with their specific cultures but most shared similar basic concepts.  Today we know these as forms of Hinduism which believes in reincarnation.  The samsara spoke of the cycles of life – birth, life, death, and rebirth.  A person’s rebirth was based upon their living a good life and introduced moral philosophy as a basic part of religion.

 

Siddhartha Gautama was born in India during the sixth century BCE.  Better known by most of us as Buddha, he introduced the Four Noble Truths.  They included suffering, the origin of suffering, the end of suffering and the Eightfold Path to the end of suffering.  This Eightfold Path told one how to live a life of fulfillment and centered on the eight principles of right, mindfulness, right action, right intention, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, right speech, and right understanding.

 

Then a man known as Jesus of Nazareth was born and after living approximately thirty years began to spread his own version of philosophy around.  He claimed no great title or crown but neither did he seemed to be confused about life – its origins, its purposes, its ending.  He spoke of many of the same things Greek philosophers had wondered about and eastern spiritualties referenced.  Thus it is no surprise that the teachings of Christianity dominated the philosophical world in Europe through the first ten or more decades ACE.

 

Questioning was not forgotten, though.  The first noted Christian philosopher is considered to be Augustine of Hippo.  Augustine’s mother was a proud Christian but he himself at first followed Manichaeism, a Persian religion.  Intense and careful study of classical philosophy led him to his Christian beliefs, however.  He saw no divisiveness between his faith and philosophy and wrote “The City of God”.  In this book Augustine explained how one could live on an earthly place and also live in the heavenly world of what he called the kingdom of God, an idea he adapted from Plato.

 

While Augustine encouraged open thinking, he also warned against ego in one’s thinking.  “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”  All too often, we believe until it makes us uncomfortable or we believe only what we want to believe.

 

It is easy to believe in something that benefits us.  The true test comes when we believe in something that might not give us everything we think we want or should have.  “Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.”  Augustine encouraged learning but lamented that many people saw this as an outward exercise, desiring only to learn about things and others, not themselves.  “And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.”

 

Taking time to study one’s self or one’s life is tough.  It truly puts the test of learning through its paces.  After all, it is always much easier to see the dirt on another than on ourselves.  I remember hearing a friend remark on her recent weight gain.  Having been ill, she stayed inside recuperating.  She knew rationally that her medications could result in weight gain but really had not given it much thought, that is until she needed to dress for an outing with friends.  “I stood in front of the mirror every day, brushing my hair and teeth, putting on a robe, etc.  Yet, I never noticed I had gained weight until my “going-out” clothes did not fit when I put them on!”  From her perspective, the added weight was invisible until she had her eyes opened by a zipper that would not close.

 

Most of us know right from wrong.  We know it is wrong to drive faster than the posted speed limit but sometimes feel our reasons warrant the infraction.  Many people feel they can tell when they are inebriated.  Sadly, the statistics on deaths from drunk driving prove most people cannot tell accurately.  “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.”

Life is about growing and growth comes from knowledge.  Augustine himself explained life as a journey of hope. “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” We cannot allow anger in all its many forms such as grief and discomfort or fear keep us from taking courage to have hope and grow, learning with each day. After all, to quote Augustine, “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.”

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”  We cannot allow anger in all its many forms such as grief and discomfort or fear keep us from taking courage to have hope and grow, learning with each day.  After all, to quote Augustine, “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.”

 

So we are now at the debate mentioned in our opening paragraph.  Can there truly be a contest of “Religion versus Spirituality”?  Perhaps the true contest is in whether we choose to believe in anything other than ourselves.  What is our true motivation in life…To do that which is good and just or that which gains us the most profit here on earth?  What and why do we believe?