Herd Mentality

Herd Mentality

Lent 35-36

 

Fear is a part of life.  After all, life is messy.  What we can take from the eight beatitudes is that fear can motivate; fear can inspire; fear can teach.  Benjamin Franklin once said “tell me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember.  Involves me and I learn.”  The Beatitudes say the same thing.  We fail to learn when we let fear become our compass.

 

Bertrand Russell believed “neither a man not a crowd not a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.”  Russell was the winner of the 1952 Nobel Prize for Literature for “recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he campoins humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.”

 

When we allow fear to guide us, then we fall into what is known as herd mentality.  Quoting Russell again – “collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”

 

Men and women are pack animals.  We live in social groups and this are conditioned to accept the direction of the herd as absolute and right.  If we fail to really think for ourselves and let fear push us, then we have given up a big part of our living and the direction it will take.

 

There is a lesson to be learned in all aspects of our life.  The Beatitudes offer the promise of this.  They encourage us to consider what we ourselves know to be true and not to follow the herd.  We must strive to avoid pack mentality as well.  The tendency for people to act together without a planned direction detracts from individual responsibility.  In time this restricts needed social change.

 

Life has many features.  Some of life’s aspects include grief, discord, insecurity, and accusation.  Others reflect truth, peace, fulfillment, and mercy.  So how do we learn from the positive and resist fearing the negative?  How do we let the Beatitudes teach us and dissuade us from herd mentality?  How do we take life’s varied events, both good and bad, and not give in to the resulting and natural fear that arises? 

 

The mega hit “I Was Born This Way”, written by Stefani Germanotta who also sings this track and is better known as Lady Gaga, along with Jeppe Laursen, Fernando Garibay, and Paul Blair, offers us some sage advice in answering these question.  “Give yourself prudence and love your friends.  In the religion of the insecure, … [You] must be  [yourself], respect [your] youth.  Don’t hide yourself in regret.  Just love yourself and you’re set.”

The Link Between Strength and Weakness

The Link Between Strength and Weakness

Pentecost 50

In 1957 a political leader from the USSR visited the USA. He was asked many questions by the press corps regarding his visit and the differences between the two countries. One question posed asked about the likelihood of a war between the two nations, an apt question since relations were very strained and characterized by the term “Cold War”. The Russian leader smiled and said there was no need for his countrymen to invade the Americans. He proclaimed that “apathy” would be the great downfall of the United States and afterwards, his country would simply pick up the pieces.

In 2003 another self-described enemy of the USA stated that downfall of the American people was eminent because the foundation of their country was “built upon straw”.   Eight years after this proclamation, on May 2, 2011, this radical leader who was responsible for the death of thousands of his own countrymen was killed. Vanity often precludes a fall and most times evidence of such vanity is seen in grandiose speeches. Does history bear the truth of the old adage “Pride goeth before a fall”? In any battle there is a victor and those who did not win. Is it possible to lose and win at the same time, to be both strong and weak simultaneously?

Millions are spent in currency as well as time on video games. Literature, whether in book format or graphic novel presentation, reflects the thirst mankind has always had for overcoming, surviving, and thriving in life. For some it is all about domination but others just enjoy the challenge of the fight, the journey from beginning to end. What is it about life that seems to require competition?

Pretend you are in the middle of a game. Before stands a city one hundred and ninety-six square miles large, all surrounded by a moat. The only entrance into the city, once you have defeated its protecting army in the outlaying fields, is across drawbridges. The bridges, though, are controlled from within the city and raised every evening to prevent intruders and marauders. Even if you could swim across the moat, you still have to scale the walls of the city, walls that are three hundred feet high, twenty-five feet thick, and are fifty-six miles long. Placed strategically along the wall are two hundred and fifty watch or guard towers that are four hundred and fifty feet high to allow for greater visibility of any unwanted guests. Once over the walls there is a great distance of nothing land, a no-man’s land that will need to be traversed before you reach the actual walls of the city, another tall, thick, wall that would require a ladder three hundred feet high to breach.

Sound impossible? Mere ego and avarice are not the weapons to use in winning the feat to capture this city. This was not a video game for Cyrus of Persia in 538 BC. It was a real life problem. Cyrus desperately wanted to capture the city of Babylon, the city I just described, and defeat Nebuchadnezzar. It seemed a ridiculous undertaking and yet, Cyrus used the best weapon in his arsenal – his brain. The Euphrates River flowed under the city and provided the necessary water for it. Cyrus had his men build trenches to reroute the waters by building a new river bed for the water to travel. Then he ordered his army to crawl through the old riverbed, breach the city from underneath, and overtake it. (This myth is mentioned in the religious writings known as the Book of Isaiah, chapter 44, verse 27.)

Cyrus had been encouraged by an ancient Greek myth, retold by Homer in the epic poem, “Iliad”. One of the central figures of the Trojan War, Achilles was a warrior said to be protected by the gods and goddesses. The child of a nymph and the king of the Ant People we talked about yesterday, the culture known as the Myrmidons, Achilles was said to have only one spot of weakness on his body, his heel. There are, as one might expect, differing stories as to how Achilles came to be so strong. Some believed ambrosia was spread all over his body and set afire. The one weak spot on his heel resulted from this process being interrupted. The more popular story is that his mother dipped him in the River Styx and held him by the heel, thus the only body part not to be protected. In the “Iliad”, Homer describes the strength of Achilles and the beauty of a woman named Helen.

As mythological tales go, Homer’s “Iliad” is a masterpiece. It employs characters that are indeed larger than life, mentions a few of the immortals of the culture, and illustrates the most common of human conditions and desires – love, strength, violence, beauty, and death. As a piece of literature it stands as a masterpiece.

Achilles was an Achaean, although his ethnicity was Myrmidon. The Achaeans arrived at a city known as Teuthrania, planning to overtake it. One man was sent to defend the city, a man known as Telephus and was wounded by Achilles. Now Achilles had spent some time with the centaur Chiron and one of the gifts from those teachings was the gift of healing. According to legend, after having been wounded, Telephus goes to Achilles and is healed. Now in our times, the story would probably be read that Telephus was taken captive and taken to Achilles since prisoners often are paraded in front of leaders to illustrate the worthiness of the troops. Regardless of how it came about, Telephus is healed and out of thankfulness, tells Achilles the location of the city of Troy.

Achilles went to Troy and magnificently fought. His death never appears in the “Iliad” and, in fact, the son of Achilles, Neoptolemus, inherits his father’s armor and fights in the final battle for Troy. All stories about the Trojan War exemplify the strength of Achilles. He was the strongest, smartest, bravest, fastest warrior at Troy. He spared no lives and supposedly killed hundreds or thousands of Trojans and their allies. His bloody reputation was guaranteed with each telling of his hiding inside a wooden horse of monumental statue, tall enough to hide an entire army. When the Trojans opened their gate to take the Trojan Horse inside, delighting in his beauty, Achilles jumps out, commences fighting and the rest of the actions make him immortal. In spite of such glory and great power, the myths claim Paris, another central figure of the Trojan War stories, the man who initiated them with the taking of the beautiful (and married to someone else) Helen, killed Achilles with a single arrow to his only weak spot, the ankle by which his mother had held him while dipping him into the River Styx.

There actually was a city called Troy which controlled all trade in and out of the Black Sea. This made the city very wealthy and very definitely not Greek. It actually suffered destruction multiple times and the one that occurred about the time of Homer’s epic poem was known as Troy Vlla, around the year 1190 BCE which corresponds nicely to Homer’s date of 1203 BCE. That Troy was destroyed by an earthquake. Other times the city of Troy was under siege by groups of allies, thirsty for its wealth and jealous of his trade power controlling the region. The Troy of the time about which Homer wrote, though is the Troy of our focus and that Troy was leveled by both an earthquake and tsunami. Interestingly enough, the Greek god of earthquakes and the sea was Poseidon and his symbol was a horse. Homer utilized a little bit of fact, a great deal of myth, and the inner desires and fears of man, those things we call strengths and weaknesses, to tell an awesome story still resonates today.

Something else that resonates is that we all have an Achilles heel – both literally and figuratively. The Achilles heel is a physical reflex involved in the action of the ankle. Figuratively it is a weakness that could potentially lead to our personal downfall. As humans, we tend to focus on our weaknesses and not our strengths. We ignore the fact that each relationship nurtures those strengths and weaknesses.

Chuck Gallozzi published a great piece at personal-development.com several years ago discussing how to recognizing one’s strengths while” managing one’s weaknesses”. I really like that terminology. All too often we see only our weaknesses and let that discourage us and stop us cold in our tracks. Gallozzi advised looking at “the big picture” and realizing that weakness is simply the absence of power. For me, it is important to ask what type of power one wants and if that is a beneficial type of power. Gallozzi also points out those weaknesses should not be considered our enemy; they serve a purpose. We relate to one another through our weaknesses. First, though we must identify and take an honest look at what our weaknesses are.

Gallozzi suggests that we should change what we can and not try to concentrate on overcoming but in gaining strength from the effort. Like the Serenity Prayer most of us know and can recite, the next step is to accept what we cannot effect change to and once, accepting those weakness, learn to make them a strength. Often those things we cannot change really are our identifying, unique features. The world would be a pretty dull place of everything was one color, if all people looked exactly alike, if we all ate the exact same thing for every meal every day of every year. That which someone may see as a weakness might be the very thing in your personal creation that makes you….you! Embrace your life and all that it encompasses – the good and the bad. What makes us weak to one gives us entry to understanding others. Once upon a time, we could not walk. Now we run through the day forgetting to stop and embrace our living. Take your weaknesses one step at a time but keep moving towards turning them into strengths. There will be no greater satisfaction.

Minions and Ant People

Minions and Ant People

Pentecost 49

Tomorrow we will delve into the efforts of Cyrus, a leader who believed and had been encouraged by an ancient Greek myth, retold by Homer in the epic poem, “Iliad”. One of the central figures of the “Iliad” and Trojan War, Achilles was a warrior said to be protected by the gods and goddesses. The child of a nymph and the king of the Ant People, Achilles was said to have only one spot of weakness on his body, his heel. There are, as one might expect, differing stories as to how Achilles came to be so strong. Some believed ambrosia was spread all over his body and set afire. The one weak spot on his heel resulted from this process being interrupted. The more popular story is that his mother dipped him in the River Styx and held him by the heel, thus the only body part not to be protected.

Tomorrow we will explore more about Achilles but today, let’s go back to his father, Peleus. Read that last paragraph again and you will catch that, yes, I did say he was the king of the Ant People. The Myrmidons were a culture dating back to 2000 BCE. They lived on Aegina, one of the Saronic Islands of Greece, located about seventeen miles from Athens. Two thirds of the island is taken up by a large volcano but the island was very important in Greek trade with Asia Minor.   However, two generations before Achilles the island culture suffered a great plague with most of its residents killed. King Aeacus, the grandfather of Achilles, supposed pleaded with Zeus the once again populate his island. As recorded in Ovid’s text “Metamorphoses”, Zeus agreed to the request stating that the Myrmidons would once again “number as ants on his sacred oak” and from the ants would spring the Myrmidons.

The Myrmidons were great rivals of the Athenians and became known for their skill in battle and fierce loyalty to their leaders. Achilles himself is described as the bravest of warriors and his men follow his orders without question in the “Iliad”. The name became synonymous with someone who was a faithful, able-bodied servant in pre-industrial Europe. It later was a term used to describe a hired fighter and is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a loyal follower, especially one who executes orders without question, protest, or pity – unquestioning followers.”

Today some would describe followers of various radical cults and religious zealots in similar terms. Others might claim the difference was that the Myrmidons fought to protect the homeland and commerce. As we have discussed in earlier posts, perspective is often the lens through which one might see black and another white.

You might be wondering what a Greek mythological hero has to do with a movie that was released in the United Kingdom a month ago and in the United States last night. “The Minions” is a film about minions which are described as being small, yellow creatures that look like talking pharmaceutical capsules. They are said to have evolved since the beginning of time from single-cells organisms to their present state, the purpose of which is to serve as hired fighters, as Myrmidons from which the name minion evolved.

IN the movie the minions exist to serve the world’s most despicable bosses (Yes, this movie is a prequel to the movie released several years ago, “Despicable Me”). The minions is our movie have faithfully served a dominating Tyrannosaurus Rex, a belligerent caveman, an Egyptian pharaoh, the mythological vampire Dracula, and the real-life French dictator Napoleon. However, our movie minions are a bit too good at their job and end up executing all their masters. They decide to retreat to Antarctica but are soon hired by a female villain known as Scarlet Hill who is after the crown and monarchy of England.

I won’t spoil the myth of our modern-day minions for you and I do realize that few attending the film will realize how it evolved from a mythological character known as Achilles. I am fairly certain that when imagining his poem, Homer never envisioned his army becoming yellow, talking capsules found on t-shirts, notebooks, and on the big screen.

Ideas are often like ants, and they can scurry about and become larger than life. The importance of directing our thoughts for good is easily seen. The minions in this movie began as minor characters in another flick but took on a life of their own and now are the stars of their own. Whatever we do today, we must be sure that it has purpose and consequences of good.

The ants we know today are the result of over one hundred and thirty million years of evolution. They live in social communities and can carry up to five thousand times their body weight. Interestingly enough, ants do not carry any diseases, although germs live on them just as they do on humans. While it may not sound too complimentary, to be called Ant People was really a good thing. With over ten thousand different species of ants, the Myrmidons were guaranteed success in continuing and protecting their culture.

Today we are all minions of one kind or another. Hopefully, you will protect the innocent and fight for the dignity of all. May your ideas evolve into joy and I hope the day brings you laughter and smiles. Revisit the work of Homer and reread the story of Achilles; he is our coming attraction for tomorrow.

It’s All in Your Mind

It’s All in Your Mind

Pentecost 46

The Greeks used their mythologies not only as an explanation for what they saw but also for what they experienced. Like most cultures with a strong oral tradition, these stories changed with each telling. However, the Greeks scribed their stories, assigning people to write them down. Thus, there were basic commonalities with their stories. Nevertheless, mankind being composed of humans, even with their mythologies recorded for posterity, there were variations. In other words, people gossiped about their deities.

There is a great deal of science involved in the basic act of gossip. People tend to join with others who believe the same version of gossip and some prefer not to associate with groups that disbelieve a certain aspect of gossip. For instance, those who call themselves pagans are included to tell stories about the deities of nature and feel they live a very basic and simple lifestyle that honors the very core of the essence of life. Others call such people witches and feel no shame in spreading stories about them. At one point, people thought to be witches were killed, simply based upon perception with little or no real evidence to justify their deaths.

First we should explore exactly what gossip is and quite honestly, that is not an easy thing to do. Gossip can be as innocent as casual conversation and as harmful as malicious rumors. Oddly enough, the word “gossip” comes from an ancient English word meaning Godparent or sponsor and is a combination of two words which meant God and sibling or relative. It’s original meaning warped into meaning a casual acquaintance and then in the nineteenth century to meaning idle talk.

Gossip was once a learning tool. It was a type of vocal newspaper and helped to unify people. Mankind began as primates who lived in clans and existed by living off the land. The ability to speak allowed for the exchange of ideas and for the growth of the speech centers in our brains that interpret language. Unlike many animals, the human body allows our windpipe to access our thorax and vocal chords. We are able to vocalize and sing with intention, unlike other animals.

It may not seem like it but the accomplishments of a toddler in learning language and how to vocalize and say specific words is actually a minor miracle. By age six, the average child knows almost thirteen thousand words and by age twenty-one, their vocabulary has increased to sixty thousand words. Some psychologists believe this evolution of language encouraged man to develop the ability to master the politics of social living. Not only do we speak to groups of people, we have learned how to interpret their nonverbal language, those signs that are indicative of feelings, emotions, and motives. These skills have allowed human tribes to exist and coexist rather than feel in direct competition and kill each other simply for being alive.

Gossip serves three very important functions in our world today. First it is a type of networking. There are social hierarchies in everyone’s life. Networking gives us a sense of belonging and expanding our community, our tribe. These connections lead to improved health, great wealth, and overall happiness. Gossip also becomes a key element in the world of influence, both in a negative sense and a positive sense. Political candidates utilize gossip to officially not say what they what known. Lastly, gossip creates social alliances as mentioned earlier. People will congregate with those who believe the same thing they do.

Gossip becomes an uncertain tool because societies are ever-changing. They are not stagnant but evolve daily. The problem is in defining exactly what gossip is and in determining whether or not you believe it to be true. In our world today of instant global access to words spoken sixty second after they are uttered, it might seem like everything would be truth. That would be wrong. There often is a huge difference between what gossip is and what fact is. Gossip may begin as fact but, like the mythologies of ancient times, the facts somehow get told and then retold with subtle variations that, after a time, can become the opposite of the truth. Some psychologists believe the intention for telling the story determines whether it is fact or gossip. Sometimes, though, life is just not that simple.

Psyche was a Greek goddess who was engaged in some casual conversation with her sisters. They asked her to describe her husband and when she admitted she had never actually seen him, they began telling her he was a monster. Psyche had never actually seen her husband, having once been a mortal princess and began to believe her sisters’ stories. That night she hid a knife and candle so as to see his face and be ready to kill him if he indeed was a monster. This is not the end of her story but really just the beginning for Psyche. Although she allowed her sisters’ gossip to sway her mind and influence her actions, she does eventually reconcile with her husband, the god of love known as Eros or Cupid.

The story of Psyche is said to be an allegory, a story with a deeper meaning that just the basic story. Her name in Greek means both butterfly and soul. Regardless of what is said about us, we can continue to live and transform our lives and explore our soul. Eleanor Roosevelt stated: “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” Live according to your beliefs, not idle gossip.

Myth of Being

Myth of Being

Pentecost 34

It was Plato who first used the word “mythologia”, a Greek word meaning the telling of story using imagines characters. Plato lived around the time 427-347 BCE. To first understand Greek mythology you must consider the land from whence it sprang.

Greece was surrounded by water and, at the same time, divided into regions by the mountains and broken coastline. Forced to adapt and live with the terrain of their homeland, sailing became a necessary part of life for the early Greeks. It also provided communication, both within the country and with others.

Greece was naturally broken into smaller areas by the terrain, mountainous and yet lush. The earliest families of what would become city-states within the country were featured in the works of such poets as Homer proudly proclaimed their connections to the gods and goddesses whose stories were told to explain the natural world and the existence of mankind. The city-states of Sparta, Mycenae, Thebes, Athens, and Corinth were just a few actual city-states mentioned in these myths.

The Greek artists told and illustrated their deities to show how the gods and goddesses often determined the outcome of the efforts of mankind. Universal themes such as love, hatred, jealousy, sorrow, pain, deceit, beauty, and destiny were all motives and influencing factors in these stories. Although some would later attempt to connect these Greek gods and goddesses to actual men and women who had once lived glorious lives that become divine in the telling, most historians agree that Plato was right in defining these stories as being based upon imagined characters rather than real human beings.

The earliest Roman mythology bears little resemblance to the Roman mythology studies today. Rome’s conquest of Greece in the second century BCE led to the final assimilation of the two cultures’ myths, something that had begun earlier with the trading between the two sea-faring empires. The Greeks had a far more expansive collection of mythologies and the Romans eagerly embraced them. The one exception was the myth of the god Aeneas. A Trojan by birth, Aeneas flees the city of Troy during the Greek takeover to found the city of Rome. From this point forward, Roman history begins for many.

The Greeks, as previously discussed, made their mythologies into art. The oral traditions were written down and became the basis for many stories. The descriptions of the gods and goddesses became the basis for many sculptures and frescoes. Honor was given to these deities and characters in the form of temples and architecture has relied on these early edifices ever since.

For many people, living on this planet is taken for granted.  In fact, most of us take the very fabric of our lives for granted. We go through daily motions of arising, getting dresses, eating, working, and perhaps the chance for some relaxation and/or recreation. In too many industrialized countries, food is wasted while many go hungry. Basic utilities are easy. We turn on a tap and water streams out a faucet. We flick a switch and electricity brings light into the room, often accompanied by air conditioning or heat. Fossil fuels are turned into fuel that flows from a pump into automobiles that require an expenditure of less than five hundred calories to fill. For most of us, these basic commodities are thought of only when it comes time to pay for them. Otherwise, we awake each morning simply expecting them, relying on them to go about our daily lives.

The early Greeks wanted to know where these utilities and food items came from and why were they given or available to man. Life for them was not a given and their expectations were based on the gift of life, not the acceptance of it as a given. The poet Hesiod created the first Greek family tree of the gods and goddesses of their oral traditions and once created, this tree of folk lore grew in the retelling. The Greeks organized their stories and this is one reason they have remained so popular.

It is a common beginning: Which came first – the chicken or the egg? One might ask the same of the Christian Holy Trinity and the Greek myths. Hesiod divided them into three main categories of section of the family tree of existence for the Greek myths. The primordial gods and goddesses, the most ancient of them, represented the basic elements of the universe: day, night, earth, sea, sky, etc. These ancient deities were embryonic is giving rise to the Titans. The Titans existed so that the Greek storytellers could explain the physical features of the elements such as mountains, oceans, rivers, and so forth. The Titans gave birth to the gods and goddesses of Olympus, the more familiar Greek characters many of us have grown up hearing and pretending to be.

Greek mythology had other groups of three – the Furies and the Fates being two such examples. As we continue to delve into the classical mythologies, we can see the beginnings of the Abrahamic stories of the Abrahamic faiths start to take shape. For some this proves that are simply stories and without basis. For others, it proves that mankind is a continuous family, regardless of locale, and that we are in fact truly all connected.

How Dare You?

How Dare You?

Pentecost 12

Recently I attended a wedding. It was held at a lovely church which dates back over one hundred and fifty years. As such it is on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 was part of a national effort to “coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archaeological resources.”   It is the US government’s official list of more than one million properties and is kept and compiled by the National Park Service as an agency within the Department of the Interior. There is financial incentive for owners to renovate historically such properties but this designation does not offer any guarantees or protection to the property.

It was not my first time in this church and I was reminded of visiting it at an earlier time with one of my children. That visit had occurred when the church was undergoing a massive renovation project on its interior, the first in its history. Like many older buildings, the church building we visited was a recent building, even at its age of over one hundred and fifty years. It had been constructed after the original church building on that site had burned down. Many historic buildings in the USA began life as wooden structures and so many have seen not only the ravages of time but also of fire.

During the earlier visit, we noticed the walls had been stripped of multiple layers of coats of paint. The basic walls exhibited a plaster type of covering with various cracks, some due to the plaster, some due to the humidity of the region, and some due to the settling of the building and the shifting of the soil beneath it over time. It was at that visit that a member of the church had remarked to my child: “I wished you could see it when it is finished. The walls are all ugly now.” My child looked at me and simply smiled but later remarked: “I liked the walls. I think it will be a shame when they cover them up. Right now those cracks represent the prayers and tears of the people, their fears and their lives.”

Fast forward to the present and last month when I attended a wedding at that same historic church. The renovation is not three years past its completion and the church did indeed look beautiful. As it happened, that same child was also an attendee at the wedding and he remarked that the church did look beautiful. He sounded a little sad, though, and said that now it just looked beautiful. “Before” he remarked, “it had character; now it has a perfection that makes me feel like I don’t belong. I could believe easier in an imperfect church.”

Beginning a new series is always very interesting. There are those readers and followers who take a bit of time to decide if they like the new theme and then there are those who miss the recipes and just want those. (A cookbook is forthcoming so take heart, food lovers!) Then there are those that insist this should be about one religion and are really not pleased with my discussing mythology, something they consider the religion of the heathen amongst us, stories retold by those who would rather believe in “ridiculous spirits” rather than in a religious deity. “How dare you?” was one such comment.

At this same wedding I attended, the officiating minister stood up to deliver his homily or sermon. Impressive in his clerical finery he began: “Mawwage… is what bwings is togwther today.” If you are a movie goer, you probably recognize this quote as being from the popular 1987 film “The Princess Bride”. Classified as a “frame story” or story within a story, the above quote is also from a wedding, a wedding in which the bride is tricked into marrying the groom or so she thinks. Deception and love are the basic foundations of the film which, in spite of how it sounds, is considered a cult comedy. Adapted from a novel of the same name written by William Goldstein in 1973, the movie is story as a grandfather reading a bedtime story to his grandson.

The mythologies we read and watch being portrayed in movies are also frame stories. They are stories within a story which in turn tell our story. In his sermon at the wedding I attended the minister told a story from his past. He mentioned a wedding he had attended, the wedding of a cousin. The cousin, nervous as most grooms are, mispronounced his pledge. Instead of saying “With this ring, I thee wed” the cousin said “With this Wing, I thee read.” Several months later, another cousin married and so this time, in order to avoid such a humorous mistake, the rector this time asked the groom to repeat “I pledge you my troth.” The same meaning and the same story being begun by two people madly in love was begin but with different words.

What all our mythologies and religions have in common is a basis of hope, that fantasy of finding reasons and in those reasons optimism for living another day. The mythologies may seem ridiculous at times and certainly larger than life but perhaps that is what was needed to capture the attention of their audiences. If all you have ever seen are stick figures on a wall, imagine how glorious a colorful dragon character must have seemed. If your village had been destroyed by fire from a lightning strike, how wonderful was the story and what hope that a god known as Odin (or Thor or any of his other multiple names) must have been.

Life is what brings us together. The characters in our myths are impressive but they, like the impressive clergyman character really were not the basis of the story; mankind was. This blog is a conversation, a conversation about peace and life and humanity. I write it with optimism for a better tomorrow, knowing that what we do today will color what we see tomorrow. Today is a reflection of our past and a foretelling of our future but we and we alone write the story. Life is strange at times and confusing but it is also glorious. Much like a Picasso, it is not perfect and there will be cracks and evidence of our living. But also like a Picasso, we sometimes need to ponder it before we see its beauty.

I really do enjoy your comments. Please keep them coming! As I have said before, please feel free to repost or retweet; just remember these are copyrighted and give me credit. To answer the title question: How dare I? I dare because I have hope and faith and joy in living and because I believe in happy endings. And in my belief system, the deity does, too.

Past or Present?

Past or Present?

Pentecost 10

Yesterday’s post focused on Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Ulster. There are many tales of this great Irish figure, one about his battles with a giant and another regarding the war between Ulster and Connaught. The war began with the men of Ulster becoming ill, supposedly the result of an ancient curse. Cu Chulainn, not being an Ulsterman, did not succumb and fought against the Connaught singlehandedly. The armies of Connaught were led by their queen, Medb, who Cu Chulainn allowed to escape once he’d defeated all her men. The battles had exhausted him to the point of death and so Cu Chulainn strapped himself upright to a large boulder and prepared to die. The war goddess Morrigan (from an earlier post) perched upon his shoulder in the form of a crow as the brave Irish hero drew his last breath.

The Ulster myths, of which there are roughly one hundred, are not just stories of the Irish culture but tell of the people themselves. Cu Chulainn supposedly allowed Queen Medb to escape because he refused to hit a woman. In his battle with the giant, Cu Chulainn, did as others had done and chopped off the giant’s head. However, unlike his predecessors who had then run away and let the giant to pick up his head and replace it, Cu Chulainn remained and offered his own. The giant refused and declared Cu Chulainn the bravest man to ever have lived.

The gallantry the Irish hero showed to the female queen bespeaks of centuries old wisdom respecting the female of the species. After all, it is the women of a culture that provide for its future generations. No one has ever lived that was not born of a woman. Ancient cultures recognized this and respected the vessel of the children. You might argue the wisdom of allowing a great leader to escape. You might even claim such an act discrimination since it is doubtful he’d have allowed a male king the same chance. What cannot be disputed, though, is that we are in fact all born from females.

The Irish tales interweave their heroes much like the cultures of earth are interwoven in its history. Two other Ulster tales center around women. Deirdre of the Sorrows tells the story of a young woman and her father, a storyteller to the king, attempts to control her life. Upon her birth, her father was told Deirdre would bring ruin to Ulster so the king had her raised by foster parents until she was of an age that he could marry her. Deirdre had other plans and dreamed of marrying a man of a certain description. Being told of a knight to the king who bore resemblance to her dreams, she met, fell in love, and then married the man known as Naoise. The couple then fled to Scotland. The King Conchobar learned of their marriage and offered the couple safe haven back in their homeland of Ulster. However, the king had lied and upon their return ordered Naoise killed by one of his knights named Eoghan. Deirdre’s punishment was to spend half a year with Conchobar and half with Eoghan. She refused and committed suicide by throwing herself from a chariot. Other Ulster tales also include stories of love, perhaps ill-suited or ill-chosen and the ultimate death of one or more of the couples.

Such stories as the Irish Ulster tales serve to strengthen the culture from whence they sprung but that also provide insight to the priorities of the people. The Irish have always valued loyalty above life and are known for fighting to the death. They have been a country divided for centuries both by regions and religion. These ancient tales also bear witness to an area divided between two factions. They also tell of the commonalities of both, regardless of the period or cause for the split beliefs.

Of particular interest to me is the story of Cu Chulainn and the giant. The Irish hero slayed the enemy but then remained. He did not fight and run but he fought for the cause and then remained behind to lead into the future. All too often armies have invaded, left hundred and sometimes thousands slain in their wake and then left. Any survivors have pitifully little with which to begin the rebuilding process.

If a cause is so great that one must take the life of another, is it not equally great enough to remain and rebuild? All too often monies are allocated for defense with none for the rebuilding or rehabilitation after the fighting ceases. This leaves the survivors still struggling, this time in a fight for their lives. It is not enough to eradicate a plague or an evil dictator. Those are important but that is only the present. We must take steps to carry the present into the future.

A common theme around election time revolves around taxes. In almost every nation in the world, people pay some sort of taxes and those people want to know they are getting their money’s worth from the taxes they pay. Everyone wants the best for themselves and there is never enough money to go around. The fact is most of us paying those taxes have the basic necessities for life. Certainly the lawmakers do. Too often such taxes are funding a luxurious lifestyle for lawmakers while their constituents are going hungry.

Life is not only about slaying giants and dragons. Life is also about slaying the unnecessary hungers in our lives, the desires that really serve no purpose except to make us look better than our neighbor. We need to fight the good fight that needs our attention but then we need to turn our energies towards the rebuilding process. When we stay to rebuild, to help another regain their life, then we are truly being heroic. It is not the big gun that makes one a great figure but the little daily humanitarian things we have can do that makes one legendary.

Lessons from Bran

Lessons from Bran

Pentecost 6

We all know bran as being the outer layer of grain generally used for our morning cereal. It is often used to refer to any outer layer of a grain including rice. The health benefits for mankind from bran marry those that bran offers to the grain itself. The outer layers of a grain serve to provide it nutrients since they contain high levels of protein and necessary nutrition for the plant. For humans, bran affords a highly concentrated source of dietary fiber.

Bran is also the name of an Irishman famous in Irish mythology. According to legend, Bran decided to visit the “Happy Outerworld”, a mythological place the Irish believed to be the home of all immortals. These immortals were collectively known as the Sidhe. The Happy Outerworld consisted of two land, the Isle of Joy and the Isle of Women. Spoiler Alert: Women do not receive gentle treatment in this myth!

Fairy tales are usually stories with a purpose but stories that have a happy ending. After all, no one wants to learn a lesson that will ultimately end badly for them. The mythologies of ancient mankind were more than just lessons, they were life itself. The topics of these myths centered on the very living each person did and experienced. They dealt with things like birth and death and what came after death. They wove stories about the beginnings of mankind and their world. Drawing from cultural wisdom, a myth is the collective universal narrative or man and woman.

These myths are not just stories to be told around a campfire or fodder for the movie industry. They serve just as real a purpose today as they did when first told many centuries ago. Their original purpose to explain and answer life itself transitioned into myths being a compass for future generations. Much like the twentieth century book and movie “the Wizard of Oz”, the Irish legend of Bran spoke of home and finding one’s way back home.

Bran held a great feast, so the story goes. Going outside for some air after such a large meal, he hears a faint pleasant melody that lulls him to sleep. When he awakes, he sees a branch from an apple tree in full blossom has been placed next to him. He shows the branch to his friends and they are suddenly joined by a woman wearing unusual clothing. Bran decides she must be one of the Sidhe, an immortal. The woman tells of her homeland from whence the apple branch came and promises the men they will no longer suffer illness or death if they travel there.

Bran and thirty of his companions set sail and meet Manannan mac Lir, a sea god who rode on the waves in a horse-drawn chariot. The sea god tells them how to get to the Isle of Women but tells them first they will reach the Isle of Joy. Upon reaching this island, groups of laughing people wave from the shore, not answering any questions with anything other than laughter. One of Bran’s traveling companions remains on the Isle of Joy while the others set sail for the Isle of Women.

The Isle of Women offered the Irishmen peace and happiness and they remained for over a year. Soon, however, one of the men became homesick and convinced the others to set sail for Ireland. The women bid them farewell and suggested they return to pick up their friend from the Isle of Joy. They promised the men smooth sailing but warned them to never actually set foot on Irish soil again. Within two days the men could see the Irish coastline and waved to the people who gathered on the shore as they approached. Bran called out his name and said he and his friends had been traveling for over a year. The people called back that they had heard stories of a man named Bran but he had lived hundreds of years earlier.

As they neared the shore, Nechtan, the man who had become homesick, jumped onto the shore. AS he ran up the beach, his body turned to dust. This, realized Bran and the other men, fulfilled the prophecy of the women. The men turned their boat around and headed for the open sea and were never again seen. In seeking idle joy, Bran realized he had lost the most important thing – his home.

There are obvious parallels to the story of the Irishman Bran and the story of the Christian creation myth of Adam and Eve. Although not mentioned by specific type, most people believing the Biblical account of Adam and Eve believe the Tree of Knowledge, the one tree they were forbidden to partake the fruit of, was an apple tree. Perhaps because the branch in the story of Bran was an apple branch, it carried over to the Biblical account. Both were searching for something greater than their home and both discovered their search took them away from their home forever.

Myths of religion served to give people hope. Myths such as the one about the Irish Bran often serve to remind us sometimes what we have at home are enough for a good life. Other myths are told in the hopes that great leaders will learn and arise to lead into a better future. The hero or heroine of a myth serves as a good role model for children as they grow into adulthood. Myths remind us that while we are a diverse race, we share many things in common.

In his novel “You Can’t Go Home Again”, American author Thomas Wolfe wrote: “ Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen. The voice of forest water in the night, a woman’s laughter in the dark, the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of midday in hot meadows, the delicate web of children’s voices in bright air–these things will never change. The glitter of sunlight on roughened water, the glory of the stars, the innocence of morning, the smell of the sea in harbors, the feathery blur and smoky buddings of young boughs, and something there that comes and goes and never can be captured, the thorn of spring, the sharp and tongueless cry–these things will always be the same. “All things belonging to the earth will never change–the leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the trees whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of lovers long since buried in the earth–all things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth–these things will always be the same, for they come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts forever. Only the earth endures, but it endures forever. The tarantula, the adder, and the asp will also never change. Pain and death will always be the same. But under the pavements trembling like a pulse, under the buildings trembling like a cry, under the waste of time, under the hoof of the beast above the broken bones of cities, there will be something growing like a flower, something bursting from the earth again, forever deathless, faithful, coming into life again like April.” I think Bran would have agreed.

Luck of the Irish

Luck of the Irish

Pentecost 5

Yesterday we discussed the discrimination towards women and the female Scottish warrior who victoriously led her troops in a charge that rebuked the advancement of the Roman Army into Scotland which in turn prevented their attempting to invade Ireland. However, Ireland was invaded, according to Irish mythology.

The ancient lands of the island we know as Ireland were supposedly invaded a series of times. Each invasion resulted in a new leader. The Tuatha De Danaan invaders were a race of godlike people, skilled in magic, led by the king Daghda or “the Good God”. Daghda was famous for having a very large cauldron and an equally large club. Legend claims that the cauldron would feed all, regardless of the number present. The club was noted for both taking lives and bringing the dead back to life.

Daghda was an unusual god in that while his followers respected his skills in magic and other occult arts, they also endued him with humor. He was often portrayed wearing a tunic that barely reached the bottom of his gluteus maximus and he was well-known for his comic behavior. The Irish are known for being a culture that enjoys having fun; perhaps Daghda was the beginning of this.

It is said that one day while out for a walk, Daghda came upon the goddess Morrigan. She was the patron spirit of both war and fertility and legend held she could change herself into the shape of a raven. As a raven she was said to visit battlefields and often affect the outcome of the fighting. Daghda and Morrigan agreed on a truce and Morrigan promised to protect the Tuatha De Danaan forever.

Another legend tells of an upcoming battle between the Tuatha De Danaan and their opponents the Fomhoire. The outcome would determine who would control Ireland. Fearing his men were not prepared for the battle Daghda asked for a truce. The Fomhoire promised but then threatened his life unless he ate an enormous bowl of porridge. Daghda licked the bowl clean and fell asleep amid the laughter of the Fomhoire. The Irish god of love was Daghda’s son Angus who would become famous for helping others in their love life.

These early legend or mythologies bear little resemblance to those of classical times. The emphasis on these ancient Irish legends centered more on how the gods and goddesses helped the average man in his daily life. They were not so much an answer to the eternal question of Who am I? but more a path for the question How do I live? However, it is in Ireland that the real reasons for such stories still exist. Children are still warned of the banshee, a terrifying woman who lives amongst the faeries or a pooka, a shape-changer in order to encourage them to behave. Modern life is evident in Ireland but the culture continues on with the same mythologies being told in the evening at family homes and in the local pubs.

Artifacts have been found in Great Britain that date back to the Stone Age but the earliest of such found in Ireland are from the Mesolithic time period. It was not until the Christian missionary known as Saint Patrick that Irish history became written so much has been lost or changed with each retelling. The legends serve today the same purpose they did when they first were begun. They unite the people and carry the culture from one day to the next.

Our own spiritualities and religious choices provide the same for us in this modern world. Our same basic questions and needs have remained unchanged throughout the history of mankind. We need to continue the search for answers because it gives us reason to continue our living. One legend maintains that the Creator needed laughter in the world so He/She made the Irish race. They carry on today as their earliest gods were portrayed – generous of spirit, brave in battle, and always willing to help another.

All too soon mankind would weave the stories of the gods that waged war upon mankind and the punishments for man . We should remember, though, that the earliest mythology told of a benevolent, generous god named Daghda, who entertained as well as protected. This Irish phrase not only sums up Ireland today, it tells of the spirits the earliest mythologies disclosed: “Deep peace of the running waves to you. Deep peace of the flowing air to you. Deep peace of the smiling stars to you. Deep peace of the quiet earth to you. Deep peace of the watching shepherds to you. Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.”

Spirit of Living

Spirit of Living

Pentecost 1

[Easter 50]

It is an often told story in one culture. They were a group united by their beliefs. Living under persecution, they had finally escaped and were fleeing to a new land. Without the organization of their normal lifestyle, though, chaos was beginning to erupt and human wants was overshadowing religious living. In the midst of their journey to find a new home, their unlikely leader says he talked to their deity. Moreover, he claims the deity gave him ten rules for living, answers to remind them of the questions that were threatening their very existence: Who are we? Why are we doing this? Is one better than another? These ten rules were seen as commandments and the day to celebrate their being given from their god was called Shavuot from an ancient word in their dialect meaning “to listen”.

Centuries later from the first story came another often repeated tale, a similar story of culture and beliefs. A group representing all of mankind, different races, genders, ages, and at different levels of believing are gathered together in one place. Suddenly a wind is felt to blow through the gathering. They believe it is the spirit of the one they knew as a teacher, a prophet, a friend, and for one, a son. He had been captured and tortured and then left to die in a public venue. There was danger in their simply being together but they needed each other to move on in their grief. They felt not just the movement of air in their wind but the spirit of love of which their teacher and friend had spoken. It was as if he was still with them, giving them comfort and strength, guiding them in their future walks of life. Moving forward fifty days earlier had seemed impossible as they watched him die but this wind, this spirit gave them strength and courage on this, the fiftieth day, this Pentecost after his death.

If you are Jewish or Christian, the above stories are very familiar to you. If you are not, they are merely historic myths, cultural tales told to children to explain their history, their faith, and their ways of living. Every religion has such tales. Today we think of the twelve god and goddesses of the Greek tales who sat on Mount Olympus as bedtime stories. For the ancient Greeks, they were as real as the news of today.

The writer Joseph Campbell once claimed “Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths.” The mythologies of mankind are the collected stories of groups of people. Their veracity has been the subject of debates for as long as there has been mankind. Campbell explains: “Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.”

During this period of Pentecost we will explore the mythologies of mankind. From the earliest dating back to the Ice Age to more current ones, man/woman is still writing them. For many a myth is a story of someone else’s life and faith. For some, a myth is just a fairy tale but, like most fairy tales, they do have a basis in faith. Philosophy began with asking a simple question. Myths begin with the purpose of answering that and other questions. Joseph Campbell saw mythological stories as one way of exploring the potential of humanity and the human experience of living.

Storytelling began most likely the first time two or more gathered together to explain the day’s events. Throughout time, storytelling has gathered people together and provided them with a sense of unity. The myths of antiquity did much the same thing. We may read them and marvel at their imaginative spirit but to those who heard them, they were a scrapbook of their culture.

We will explore many myths during the next few months, almost two hundred of them. Some will seem amazing and many have been made into books and movies. Others will seem ridiculous and outlandish and may test our ability to show respect for that which we do not believe. Myths are like the flowers that grow uninvited at times. What might be a weed to one person is seen as natural beauty to another. I ask that you join this trip into the stories of our histories, the myths of man, and that you remember that they deserve the same respect we want for our own beliefs and stories of faith.

Some cultures believe their religion is only for a chosen few and most have guidelines for determining who is a “believer” and who is not. Until one hears and believes, all are non-believers. Once believing, though, one must still show respect for others. The beauty of Pentecost and the ancient Hebrew Shavuot is that we are asked to listen and be open to the spirit of living.

It is through storytelling, the sharing of myths, that we preserved the histories of mankind and developed a sense of community. Today we have e-books, television programs, and movies but the purpose is still the same. We tell stories to be connected. The threads of the many cultures of man and woman are like the threads of our own DNA, interwoven and different and yet, very much the same.

Listen to the world today as you go through your living. Look at the many colors of mankind and revel in its diversity. We will find the true meaning of life when we fully live it. I hope you will join me on this journey through time as we vacation among the mythologies of the world. They can serve the same purpose today for us as they did many centuries ago for their first listeners. I agree with Joseph Campbell: ““Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry; it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words, beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told. … We save the world by being alive ourselves.”