Believe

Christmas/Hanukkah 2019

Believe

12.27.2019

 

Today is the third day of Christmas, a time for three French hens according to the song “Twelve Days of Christmas”. It is also the sixth day of Hanukkah. We have no true diary of the feelings of the Maccabees as they rebuilt their temple but one can imagine that as the sun was setting on day six, anxiety about the oil that lit their lamp which provided light so construction could continue began to rise. What we do know is that on the sixth day of Hanukkah there was a belief that the third day of Christmas contradicts, at least according to the song.

 

The oldest breed of fowl in France is the Crèvecoeurs. It is not a breed one could rely on for food. That needs to be understood before we continue. Although they are quite rare, Crèvecoeurs are primarily used as show birds and make quite the fashion statement with their unique crests. They are black birds and a rich dark green coloring can be found on the crests, hackles, and tail feathers of the roosters. By the nineteenth century, however, there were also black and white variegated versions of the breed.

 

Today we will continue to get news of politicians posturing, much like the French hens would do, about the upcoming or lack thereof impeachment proceedings of the current sitting President of the United States. Much like a gift of fowl that seems to enjoy posturing rather than being productive, these politicians are strutting about and crowing with little thought of actually doing their appointed jobs.

 

Today more than four times the number of children remains isolated from their parents in detentions camps on the USA-Mexican border than were the number of Jewish captives in 1943 on this same date. These children are within USA borders illegally but is that a reason to deny them basic human rights, especially during a season which proclaims love and happiness? Or is this just more posturing without swift resolution or productivity?

 

The miracle that Hanukkah celebrates includes action. One cannot simply light candles, say or sing the accompanying prayer, spin the dreidel, eat any won gelt, and then go to sleep. One is expected to continue building a temple – a life based upon family and community action. Sadly those in Washington, DC who were elected by a large conservative Christian coalition seemed to have forgotten the message of Christmas. They are celebrating the birth of one child by incarcerating many others.

 

It becomes an issue of what we believe and how we live that belief. Today is also the third day of Kwanza, a celebration primarily of the African-American community but open to all. It is not historic, having its roots in the twentieth century but its message transcends time and races. Kwanza celebrates one’s cultural and ethnic heritage without specifying denomination or religion. It is perhaps what all holidays should represent – peace, pride, love, joy, and happiness in a communal setting.

 

The importance of having something to believe in is profound. What we believe controls our behavior. Our beliefs control all our decisions and influence what we think. They often influence the quality of our thoughts and determine our actions. We translate the world as we see it through the filters of our beliefs. Whatever we may identify with spiritually, including not identifying with any one group, affects everything we think, do, and say. Those who believe only in themselves and their own superiority consequently become their own deity.

 

  1. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur defined the American as an immigrant who has become the exact opposite of his own European past. “The changes that came when the immigrant came across the sea eliminated all of the prejudices and the habit of kowtowing that he had learned in Europe”… or so Crevecoeur believed. He was born December 31, 1735, to a family of minor nobility in Normandy. In 1755 he migrated to New France in North America. There, he served in the French and Indian War as a cartographer in the French Colonial Militia, rising to the rank of lieutenant. Following the British defeat of the French Army in 1759, he moved to the Province of New York, where he took out citizenship, adopted the English-American name of John Hector St. John, and in 1770 married an American woman, Mehitable Tippe.

 

Becoming famous for his books on being an American farmer, Crevecoeur later returned to France so he could inherit his father’s lands and it was in France that he later died. Crovecoeur found himself in America after serving in the French Militia which was on the losing side of a major war at the time so perhaps his beliefs and statements are understandable. Certainly in his native country, he would have been imprisoned as being one of the enemy but in America he became a citizen. Sadly, those opportunities are no longer believed in today.

 

Though the breed of the three French Hens given supposedly on the third day of Christmas share the same name, they were not related to the family of St John de Crevecoeur. The family name translates as “broken hearted” and one can only imagine why the name was given to this breed of fowl. Was it because it was believed they would give plentiful eggs or was their strutting around deemed important and yet disheartening?

 

On this third day of Christmas and Kwanza and sixth day of Hanukkah, we have a choice. Do we believe in the goodness and hope of mankind and enact effective policies to create a better tomorrow or do we believe that posturing is all that really counts? The day before the French hens, the song celebrates turtle doves, known as a symbol of love. The day after the third day, the fourth day of Christmas, mentions four calling birds. Perhaps on this third day we are to stop strutting about and prepare for a calling to beliefs that would encourage effective behavior and action. The future will be determined by what we believe. There is no one else who can meet the task of building a better tomorrow than each of us. Perhaps the real miracle of any belief is that we act upon hope and a belief in tomorrow.

Connecting Advent and Christmas

Connecting Advent and Christmas

Advent 2019

2019.12.23

 

Not posting to pay my respects to those killed in gun violence has resulted in very few posts these last six months, I am sad to report. The loss of life is tragic. The failure to prevent such is inexcusable. In the past thirty days the following gun-related incidents occurred:

 

Incident Date State City Or County Address # Killed # Injured
December 22, 2019 Maryland Baltimore 225 Park Ave 0 7
December 22, 2019 Minnesota Minneapolis (Spring Lake Park) 8407 Plaza Blvd NE 1 7
December 22, 2019 Illinois Chicago 5700 block of S May St 0 13
December 21, 2019 Mississippi Waynesboro Turner St 1 6
December 20, 2019 Alabama Tuskegee 2900 block of Davison St 2 2
December 18, 2019 Texas San Antonio 2418 SW Military Dr 0 4
December 17, 2019 Montana Great Falls 1701 10th Ave S 4 1
December 15, 2019 Georgia Columbus 600 block of 32nd St 1 4
December 14, 2019 California Ivanhoe 15700 block of Paradise Ave 0 4
December 12, 2019 Missouri Saint Louis 9900 block of Lewis and Clark Blvd 1 3
December 10, 2019 New Jersey Jersey City 223 Martin Luther King Dr 6 3
December 8, 2019 Texas Desoto 200 block of W Wintergreen Rd 2 3
December 8, 2019 Louisiana New Orleans 3801 Washington Ave 1 4
December 6, 2019 Florida Pensacola 280 Taylor Rd 4 8
December 4, 2019 Alabama Montgomery 500 Eastdale Rd S 2 2
December 1, 2019 Louisiana Cotton Valley 116 Hawthorne Loop 2 3
December 1, 2019 Louisiana New Orleans 2000 block of N Dorgenois St 2 2
December 1, 2019 Illinois Aurora 700 block of S 5th St 1 4
December 1, 2019 Michigan Kalamazoo 6300 block of Proctor St 1 3
December 1, 2019 Louisiana New Orleans 700 block of Canal St 0 12
November 30, 2019 Arkansas Hensley 6500 block of E Sardis Rd 0 5
November 29, 2019 Texas Amarillo 2650 Dumas Dr 0 7
November 27, 2019 New York Bronx E 153rd St and Courtlandt Ave 0 5
November 25, 2019 Florida Brownsville NW 29th Ave and 44th St 2 2
November 24, 2019 Alabama Birmingham 7 15th St W 1 4

 

For the past five years we have explored the connections we have with others. We’ve woven stories, explored through literature, exchanged recipes, and traveled the world seeking sacred places and artifacts. Advent is a time of preparation but it seems to have been a time this year of obliteration.

 

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”  The spiritualist Rumi gave us our challenge. However, I am not so concerned with you changing your views on gun ownership as I am about you finding value within yourself. We are all uniquely made individuals and we all have value. We each bring to the world special talents. Yes, women generally are the ones who bear children but men also bring unique abilities. Historically, though, men got all the attention.

 

In his book “Make the Most of You”, Patrick Lindsay quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.” Lindsay mentions that there are three actions we all can participate in: leave everything better than how we found it; wear our scars proudly; unleash our own song. In this series, I want you to plant thoughts that will help you blossom. I want you to sing and sing your own individual song as it becomes harmonious with the rest of mankind.

 

Being an individual in this world is not easy. One of my favorite philosophers of the twentieth century was not a philosopher at all. She was an actress, the late and magnificently great Katharine Hepburn. “We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.”

 

Colombian writer and reporter Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in his book “Love in the Time of Cholera” explains what we must realize in order to grow a better version of ourselves. We have to understand that “human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

 

Too many people go through life believing they are not good enough. Our journey is valuable and everyone’s presence on the planet is a gift. What we accomplish, though, is ours to make happen. Whether one works at home or on a global platform, is highly educated or has learned of living from life, we all have value. Every life matters. Life itself is a previous gift given to everyone, if they are lucky.

 

The Beatitudes are eight blessings recounted by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. Each is a proverb-like proclamation, without narrative. Four of the blessings also appear in the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke, followed by four woes which mirror the blessings. In a fourth century translation of the Bible, known as the Vulgate, each of the verses contained within what we call the “beatitudes” begins with the word “beati” which translates as happiness or blessed. Many use this group of scriptures to decry religion since they address groups normally isolated or rejected.

 

The Beatitudes show us that everything is good in its own way. The quiet have time to learn. Those that grieve had something or someone of value they loved. Those who seek righteousness will find it. We all have value. We all are good enough when we seek life in all its glory. Religion is not about separating and judging. It is, quite simply, about acceptance and embracing life – all of it, the good and the bad.

 

Oscar Wilde once said “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” We often look for the meaning of life and our purpose in exotic, extravagant, external environs. We really should just look in the mirror. None of us is perfect and none of us is a Supreme Being. To honor your own uniqueness does not mean to equate yourself with being a deity or with being egotistical or selfish. It does mean living according to your faith and celebrating life – the life within all of us.

 

You, like all of us, have much to offer and the world is waiting for it. Turn your back on doubt today. It serves no purpose. Focus on the positive and let your self-worth be the seed you plant to day in growing a better you and a better world. You are good enough to be the start of a better future for us all. You are a gift to the world. Celebrate yourself and find joy in living, please. Our world is waiting to celebrate you.

 

 

 

Challenging Belief

Challenging Belief

2019.8.10-11

 

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

 

I am not particularly fond of this name and the reason for my displeasure is not really the name but rather the context in which it is used. You see, it appears in the Book of Psalms and references faith in the deity judging one’s enemies. Because one is considered faithful, it is assumed that one’s enemies are not and will be judged and punished accordingly. I should note that some of those fragments that comprise the scrolls contain the earliest writings of the Psalms, and other writings that comprise the Bible such as the book of Genesis and Leviticus, as well as other stories and writings never seen before being found in caves in Qumran.

 

My problem is that this name seems to imply a deity that shows favoritism. What if I am the one in error and not my enemies? Being faithful does not make me perfect; it makes me a believer. Another word for this deity is “El Nekamoth” or “the God who avenges”. Obviously I am not bloodthirsty and so seeking vengeance on someone is not a hobby of mine. I believe that I have enough to do trying to live my own life and I really don’t try to live others for them. These two names do raise some interesting questions, however, and I think we should give them consideration, especially in light of current events and killings.

 

What exactly falls under the prevue of “justice”, the purpose for judging someone? How do we define “avenge” and is it something best left to the spirit(s) or should we attempt such? Is there a difference between seeking revenge and avenging? The website “diffen.com” clarifies the issue for avenge and revenge by stating “Avenge is a verb. To avenge is to punish a wrongdoing with the intent of seeing justice done. Revenge can be used as a noun or a verb. It is more personal, less concerned with justice and more about retaliation by inflicting harm.”

 

Once synonymous, the two words today have different meanings. Avenge today implies the process of obtaining justice while revenge is a more personal active physical deed, almost always involving pain or harm for the purpose of retaliatory recompense for real or imagined damages. In the usage of these two names, the deity is expected to protect the faithful by avenging ill will and/or wrong doings, thereby carrying acts of revenge to assuage the injured party or parties. Such beliefs allowed the people to bear the hardships brought upon them by their faith and I fully understand that. I just have a problem with a deity being both a god of love and revenge. For some, revenge is not only pleasurable, it is a form of love.

 

In an article for the Association of Psychological Science, Eric Jaffe wrote: “A few years ago a group of Swiss researchers scanned the brains of people who had been wronged during an economic exchange game. These people had trusted their partners to split a pot of money with them, only to find that the partners had chosen to keep the loot for themselves. The researchers then gave the people a chance to punish their greedy partners, and, for a full minute as the victims contemplated revenge, the activity in their brains was recorded. The decision caused a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain known to process rewards (in previous work, the caudate has delighted in cocaine and nicotine use). The findings, published in a 2004 issue of “Science”, gave physiological confirmation to what the scorned have been saying for years: Revenge is sweet.

 

“A person who has been cheated is [left] in a bad situation—with bad feelings,” said study co-author Ernst Fehr, director of the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. “The person would feel even worse if the cheater does not get her or his just punishment. Theory and experimental evidence shows that cooperation among strangers is greatly enhanced by altruistic punishment,” Fehr said. “Cooperation among strangers breaks down in experiments if altruistic punishment is ruled out. Cooperation flourishes if punishment of defectors is possible.”

 

In other words, the possibility of justice being meted out in the form of retaliatory punishment encourages cooperation because it instills an expectation of fairness. Although a bit complicated, this is a concept I actually can understand and feel it makes the naming of a deity based upon an avenging demeanor more palatable.

 

There are also two other similar names used for this deity of these three monotheistic religions. They are “Jehovah Hashopet or “the Lord the Judge” and Jehovah El Gemuwal, “the Lord God of Recompense.” I freely admit I like recompense better than revenge. Recompense implies fairness in compensation while revenge denotes punishment and pain to me.

 

I wonder if my conundrum, the enigma of whether I want my deity to be an avenging deity or a compensating deity, was felt by those early believers. Perhaps it depends on how recently one feels to have been wronged or the extent to which one felt wronged. As of this date, I have not found a name for this deity that translates into “God of Fairness”. Maybe the key is in how one defines what is right and what is wrong. But then, the context comes into play and we should consider that what is right for one might not be right for another yet not necessarily be wrong enough for the need of revenge or recompense.

 

In early 2001, a research team led by Cheryl Kaiser of Michigan State surveyed people for their belief in a just world by seeing how much they agreed with statements like “I feel that people get what they deserve.” Sadly, the events of September of that year changed the minds of many and more and more people wanted revenge for the bombings and murders of almost three thousand innocent victims from over eighty countries.

 

Michael McCullough, author of “Beyond Revenge: “The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct” states:   “You have to have some way of maintaining relationships, even though it’s inevitable some will harm your interests, given enough time.” Revenge began as an altruistic punishment but, McCullough and his research team believe, a secondary system of human interaction has evolved. The act of forgiveness is a system “that enables people to suppress the desire for revenge and signal their willingness to continue on, even though someone has harmed their interests, assuming the person will refrain from doing so again in the future.”

 

My problem with revenge is that it is not an answer that permanently solves anything. It may begin with an attempt to right a perceived wrong but it just invites payback which requires more revenge which invites more payback, etc., etc., etc. I like forgiveness as a practice for human interaction much, much better. There is another name for the deity of those scrolls – El Nose, the God who forgives. This is definitely a belief I hope we all practice.

 

The Concept of Rest

The Concept of Rest

 

As I write this, it has been over 30 days since my last post.  In the process of researching the Psalms, the topic of this series, I came upon the concept of ‘selah”.  We will discuss this more in greater depth but basically selah is another term for the word “rest”.  So, in the spirit of good research, I took a rest from this blog.

 

Tonight I will post another article, this time a video of sorts.  The basic outline for the rest of this series will be a short video each day instead of just prose and then a longer article on Sunday.  I am excited about this design change and hope to get your feedback on it.

 

Thank you and now, on this proverbial day of rest for many, I bid you “Good rest!”

To Live

To Live

06.10-12.2019

Season of Spirituality 2019

 

A life of sanctity; a life of purpose; a life of intent.

Daily living attempted but is the time well spent?

To be blessed and have it reflected in the pathways one went

Rejecting the evil and the venom they often vent.

The wicked only lead the world into descent

Their anger proving nothing good, just to torment.

The crowds become flavored with their malcontent;

Yet goodness will be seen in its ascent.

Those who serve compassion will see their efforts augment.

It is our choice to reinvent,

Our duty to live a life we profess to represent.

And when our time on earth is spent,

It will be that which we did which will us represent.

 

[Loosely based upon Psalms 1-3]

 

What, When, Where but Mostly…Why?

What, When, Where but Mostly…Why?

05/07-08/2019

Easter 2019

 

In 2015 my series for Easter centered around philosophy.  This is a reposting of one of those posts.  I continue to be amazed at the people who feel philosophy and religion having nothing in common.  Then again, I am amazed at those who think spirituality and religion are polar opposites.  I received this question during that 2015 series and it is one that has been repeated throughout the past four years:   “I would describe this blog as a collection of different ways to think about theology so, as a believer yourself, what does philosophy have to do with theology?

 

In that first posting I wrote “What we think is based upon what we know.”  Today, four years wiser (hopefully!), I would “what we believe or hope to become true.”    First one has to establish what it is that we think we know.   Hegel once defined or described philosophy as “the study of its own history”.  I think this blog is a study of sorts of our history.  So, to me, discussing philosophy is something I do in one form or another every day in this blog.

 

As you know I divide these articles into series and, for organizational purposes, I divide the series based upon the Christian church calendar of the Episcopal Church.  Before making that decision, I studied various calendars.  After all, a calendar is merely an organizational tool, a way to divide the days in a year.  A year is a broader tool for organizing our lives, decades for organizing years, centuries for keeping track of decades, etc.  By using such organizational tools, I know when to write about certain things, the perspective to use in my approach and also how to locate what I have already written or learned, of remembering when I not only wrote about something but learned something.

 

Such an organizational tool has been utilized for centuries by mankind.  It is the reason we have different divisions of study such as theology and philosophy.  Theology was one way of answering the question “Where did we come from?”  Before long, in mankind’s quest to determine the meaning of life which is metaphysics, branches of philosophy led to questioning the nature of gained knowledge, the study of which is called epistemology. 

 

Epistemology asked questions much like the reader mentioned earlier.  How is knowledge justified?  What are the sources of knowledge?  How do we know what we know?  Rationalism believed that pure reason was the most reliable source of knowledge while empiricism maintained that experience was.  Skepticism purported doubts about various states of knowledge based upon external world skepticism (How can there be a world outside our own minds?) and what is called “other minds skepticism” (We have no proof of other minds other than our own.).  It also led to solipsism which stated “Only I exist”.

 

Logic or the study in an abstract form of the principles of reasoning was introduced and used to deduce and induce.  Deduction assumed certain truths without justification and then draws conclusions based upon those generally accepted premises.  Induction arrived at conclusions based upon certain premises and then employed hypotheses that could be proven after speculation.

 

Ethics came into being, that field of philosophy concerned with human actions, intent, and responsibilities.  Ethics involved not just knowledge but deciding what was right and what was wrong.  Amidst all the great philosophers is one man who is seldom thought of by the general populous as a philosopher.  That man’s name is Jesus of Nazareth.

 

Many people study Plato and Socrates, Aristotle and Descartes, Fichte and Schelling…. The list is plentiful.  These philosophers agreed and then disagreed with each other, though since they occupied different periods in history, not unilaterally.  All sought to explain life and the man known as Jesus of Nazareth explained mankind’s relationship with life.

 

In discussing last year the various types and sects of spirituality and religion, we found certain common truths.  The rule for living one with another often called the Golden Rule is found in eastern spiritualties as well as the Old and New Testaments.  I don’t think one can have any discussions about theology that do not include philosophy.  The” Why?” that religion seeks to answer is part of the greater “Why?” that philosophy seeks to determine.

 

I know a great many people in various religions and I don’t think I know just one person in any one religion or belief system.  I make that statement not because these people are confused about what they believe.  Most are adamant about what they believe.  I make such a statement because of the overlapping of beliefs that exist in various religions.  For example, most people in being generous and charitable to those in need.   Yet, none of those people all believe exactly the same thing in exactly the same way.  Our beliefs are as individual as we are and I don’t think that is necessarily wrong.

 

Where we do go wrong is when we believe a form of solipsism that says not “Only I exist” but rather “Only my thinking can exist”. We cannot seek respect and then fail to respect others.  We cannot believe only one group or gender deserves life, education, or basic human rights.  Man is a varied animals with different colors of mane, eyes, skin; different shapes of eyes; different lengths of body, noses, arms and legs.  What we look like is about as important to our classification and right to live as the various colors of a rose.  The hues of a rose are beautiful and interesting but they do not change the fact that it is a rose.  Philosophy reminds us to think, to question.  I hope that through this blog I encourage you to live.

 

Hope Floats Us All

Hope Floats Us All

Day 39 – Palm Sunday*

Lent 2019

 

I remember reading a biography of a military strategist.  “The outcome [of a particular military campaign] was inevitable.  There was no hope at all of a victory.”  I stopped and reread the previous several pages because I thought I must have missed something.  I had expected this man to be on the side that ultimately won but here he was saying that this major battle was doomed for failure.  I actually reread the pages three times and finally on the fourth time, read them aloud.  I had missed nothing and so I continued forward.  Then I read the last sentence of the chapter.  “Fortunately, the leaders were better at encouraging their men then in military rational.  They had hope and their hope won the battle, a battle that, on paper, was never theirs to win.  Hope that day was the best strategy.”

 

As I remarked yesterday, I do not presume to know what was in the speaker’s mind when he uttered the words we now call the Beatitudes.  I do think their purpose and his intention was to offer hope.  The goodness offered within the text speaks of the expectation of not great times but also the optimism those times can ultimately create.

 

Hope is not the same as optimism.  Optimism is a feeling that sees the good and its approach is quite positive.  Hope is an emotion that often arises in the midst of turmoil, of despair, of grief.  Hope is a choice.  We can choose fear or we can choose hope.

 

Barbara Fredrickson describes hope this way.  “Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future.  This is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to build a better future.”

 

Psychologist C. S. Snyder, in his book “The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here” defined hope as a “motivational construct” that allows one to believe in positive outcomes, conceive of goals, develop strategies, and muster the motivation to implement them.  While not actively studied until the last twentieth century, it has become apparent that we need hope not only in times of chaos and turmoil but all the time.

 

I believe the Beatitudes to be a commentary of life.  We all will face despair, grief, will feel meek, will hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We also, hopefully, will strive to be peacemakers, be merciful, and pure in heart.  At some point in our lives, we all feel the thorns of persecution.  Hope is the antidote to all of those negative feelings and the motivation for the positive ones.   Perhaps poet Emily Dickinson describes it best:  “Hope is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

*In case you are wondering how Lent can have forty days and Palm Sunday means there are still seven days left in Lent, yet I am at day 39…. In this counting, because many readers are of different faiths, I count each day straightforward.  In the “forty” days of Lent, Sundays are not included in the count.