Be a Light

Be a Light

Advent 11

Year in Review 2017

 

 

Hanukah began on December 12th and it will continue until December 20th.  It is a Jewish holiday that commemorates one small bit of oil burning as a light for eight days.  I saw a Facebook meme that explained it this way:  Imagine your cell phone battery had only thirty minutes of charge left and yet it somehow lasted for eight days. 

 

What a difference two letters can make.  When it comes to kindness, those two letters make all the difference.  Knowledge is wisdom, intelligence, learned matter.  Knowledge is good but unless it is put to use, it really is little nothing more than curiosity answered.  Add the letters to the word “knowledge”, and all of a sudden you have the easiest way in the world to show what you know.

 

By putting an “a” and a “c” before the word “knowledge’, we create a new word and a great way to show kindness.  The word “acknowledge” comes from fifteenth and sixteenth century words from both France and England, words that mean “recognize” or “understand” or “accord”.  Let’s start with the accord variation first.

 

All too often, particularly in the political world, it is felt that one must be in complete accord or agreement with someone in order to acknowledge them.  It really is a very cowardly way to live.  We can acknowledge someone and understand that they are not us and do things different without undermining our own lives.  No one is exactly like you or me.  When we acknowledge that fact, then we are free to show kindness, especially to those who are different.  Their beliefs only threaten us when we live fearfully and without confidence in our own beliefs.

 

The understand facet of this word is similar in its application.  To acknowledge someone having a different opinion and fully grasping their opinion means we understand them.  It also is showing them great kindness because it is allowing them a dignity, much like what we referenced in our conversation yesterday about respect.

 

The easiest and most cost effective way of showing kindness to someone is to recognize them.  I don’t mean call them by name but treat them as if they have value. After all, we all have value in our own special way.  Regardless of which creation myth you believe, we are all wondrously made.  Recognize them and then follow up with behavior that reflects that recognition and you will be showing someone great kindness.  It can be as easy as a hand raised in greeting or a joyful “Hello!”

 

In 1865 the American Civil War, officially known as the War Between the States, was drawing to an end.  The states that had seceded were rejoining and the Colonies were once again a viable democracy.  France had sided with the Confederacy and lent them aid but ties to the Union also still existed.  France had been involved with the colonies almost since their inception, sometimes as an ally and sometimes as an enemy.  However, for almost one hundred years, France had assisted the colonies, both those northern and those in the southern part of the country. 

 

It was because of this connection that historian Edouard De Laboulaye suggested France create a statue and give to the United States.  The commission for such was awarded to sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi.  France would create and gift the sculpture to the U.S.A. and it would build the pedestal upon which the statue would stand, furthering acknowledging the partnership and friendship between the two nations. 

 

A need for fundraising delayed the start of the massive project until one year before the US/s centennial celebrations.  The finished statue was delivered and dedicated in October, 1886, ten years after the nation’s centennial.  The inscription, the winning sonnet in a fundraising contest of 1883, was penned by Emma Lazarus:  ““Give me your tired, your poor; Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.   Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.  I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

This inscription acknowledges each and every immigrant that passes through Ellis Island and serves as a welcome to the thousands of others that arrive in other ports across the country.  The Statue of Liberty, as the statue became known, operated as a lighthouse for almost fifty years, sending its beacon of light emanating from Lady Liberty’s torch out into the night, giving safe passage and welcoming all in acknowledgement of their presence.

 

My challenge for you this day is to wave hello to someone.  Acknowledge their presence.  Nothing complicated in that, is there?  And if you cannot raise your arm to wave then nod and smile.  By doing so, you will be showing kindness to that other person, regardless of their station in life or bank account or position of authority.  Person to person, you will be welcoming them just as the Statue of Liberty has welcomed millions throughout the years.

 

Sometimes the greatest gift we can give someone is to recognize their existence.  We don’t have to want to emulate them or believe just as they do.  Acknowledgement simply means we recognize their presence.  To acknowledge someone is to show kindness of thought and presence and it costs us nothing to give.  Remember your challenge for this day is to simply wave a greeting to someone or nod your head in a friendly manner towards another person.

 

The holidays of this season all involve celebrations with candles.  In this the darkest time of the planet, the period with the shortest amount of natural light, it is very important that we be the light for another.   No one is truly invisible and when we acknowledge another, we are giving them value and worth, being a spotlight that illuminates their presence.  It is a simple gift that will mean everything to someone.

 

 

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Intention and Disconnect

Intention and Disconnect

Advent  6

Year in Review 2017

 

One cannot approach the concept of grace either objectively or subjectively without including the religious community.  Indeed, many do not even attempt to define the concept of grace outside of a religious and theological construct.  I have asked you to consider it a form of living but today we will discuss it not as an inevitable part of one’s spirit of living but as it relates to organized religion and its followers.  Why?  Because, in my humble opinion, often the religions of the world have become stumbling blocks to grace.  I firmly believe our purpose in living is to cherish – each other, nature, all things connected to life.  Many times, the religious communities are the very institutions that define grace and yet, sometimes, they are its worst enemies.

 

Beyond Intractability was developed and is still maintained by the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. The missions of the Consortium and, more specifically, the Beyond Intractability project reflect the convergence of two long-standing streams of work. The first is an exploitation of the unique abilities of Web-based information systems to speed the flow of conflict-related information among those working in the field and the general public. The second is an investigation of strategies for more constructively addressing intractable conflict problems — those difficult situations which lie at the frontier of the field.

 

Here is a quote from the Beyond Intractability website:  “At the dawn of the twenty-first century, a casual glance at world affairs would suggest that religion is at the core of much of the strife around the globe.  Often, religion is a contentious issue. Where eternal salvation is at stake, compromise can be difficult at or even sinful. Religion is also important because, as a central part of many individuals’ identity, any threat to one’s beliefs is a threat to one’s very being. This is a primary motivation for ethno-religious nationalists.  … However, the relationship between religion and conflict is, in fact, a complex one. Religiously-motivated peace builders have played important roles in addressing many conflicts around the world.

 

“Although not necessarily so, there are some aspects of religion that make it susceptible to being a latent source of conflict. All religions have their accepted dogma, or articles of belief, that followers must accept without question. This can lead to inflexibility and intolerance in the face of other beliefs. After all, if it is the word of God, how can one compromise it? At the same time, scripture and dogma are often vague and open to interpretation. Therefore, conflict can arise over whose interpretation is the correct one, a conflict that ultimately cannot be solved because there is no arbiter. The winner generally is the interpretation that attracts the most followers. However, those followers must also be motivated to action. Although, almost invariably, the majority of any faith hold moderate views, they are often more complacent, whereas extremists are motivated to bring their interpretation of God’s will to fruition.  Religious extremists can contribute to conflict escalation. They see radical measures as necessary to fulfilling God’s wishes. Fundamentalists of any religion tend to take a Manichean view of the world. If the world is a struggle between good and evil, it is hard to justify compromising with the devil. Any sign of moderation can be decried as selling out, more importantly, of abandoning God’s will.”

 

Manichean may be a word unfamiliar to you but its meaning is how many people view the world and try to live their lives.  Manichean comes from the word Mani, which is the name of an apostle who lived in Mesopotamia in the time frame of 240 ACE, who taught a universal religion based on what we now call dualism. If you believe in the Manichean idea of dualism, you tend to look at things as having two sides that are opposed. To Manicheans, life can be divided neatly between good or evil, light or dark, or love and hate.

 

In other words, in an attempt to live their doctrines of peace and love, people tend to think with a narrow field and view the world as either black or white.  Human beings are complex creatures and no one is one-dimensional.  In other words, no one person is all anything.  In our intention to live a doctrine of love and peace, we allow our subjective narrowness to trip us up.

 

To be certain, some things are either right or wrong.  You cannot murder someone halfway.  A person is either killed or alive.  However, the quality of life then comes into question and such is often what leads people to commit suicide.  Rather than offer grace, their expectations, based upon their belief system, suffocates any grace they might find.

 

So should we assume religion is the problem and not the answer?  Absolutely not!  Religions tend to connect us and remind us of that which we are deep inside.  They are, I believe, most necessary to life.  Religions offer us ways to show, recognize, and live grace.  Life is hard but grace makes it not only possible but worthwhile. 

 

Quoting David Smock, the Beyond Intractability website offers one solution to consider in finding grace amid all this conflict and discord.  “Religion is inherently conflictual, but this is not necessarily so. Therefore, in part, the solution is to promote a heightened awareness of the positive peace building and reconciliatory role religion has played in many conflict situations. More generally, fighting ignorance can go a long way. Interfaith dialogue would be beneficial at all levels of religious hierarchies and across all segments of religious communities. Where silence and misunderstanding are all too common, learning about other religions would be a powerful step forward. Being educated about other religions does not mean conversion but may facilitate understanding and respect for other faiths.”

 

We all have intentions and the faith-based communities of the world are no different.  However, when need to give closer attention to our efforts and revitalize them every day.  Grace might very well be the key to world peace and it certainly makes each of our lives better.  Rather than being the problem, grace is the answer.

 

Recently, I had a family member pass away.  I requested my religious leader to hold a fifteen minute prayer service as requiem for this person’s passing in order to honor their life.  It would have been that last thing I could do to cherish this person’s living almost a century on this planet.  For the past four months, this religious leader has been too busy to find fifteen minutes.  Clearly he does not cherish my membership in his religious community.  Someone else less determined might take his actions to be a condemnation of their living as well.  We hear of suicides and wonder why.  Usually it is something as simple as a person not feeling cherished, not having had grace extended, and seeing nothing in their future.

 

This religious leader has been so busy doing his charitable works that he forgot charity truly begins at home.  It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  This proverb or aphorism is thought to have originated with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote somewhere around 1150 ACE “L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs” (Hell is full of good wishes and desires).  Life seldom goes according to plan but we still need to have intentions with follow through.  Otherwise, all we are left with is a disconnect and that not only might alter someone else’s life, it usually has an effect on ours as well.  Grace is a simple act of kindness that shows the recipient he/she is cherished.  Life is precious and worth at least fifteen minutes of our time.

 

 

 

 

Location, Location, Location

Location, Location, Location

Detours in Life

Pentecost 35-36

 

Campers are on the road, hotel rooms are booked to capacity, and cities across an arc cutting through the mid-section of the USA are preparing for the total eclipse of the sun today beginning at 1715 hours GMT.  That is during mid-morning coffee break time for the west coast and at the just after the noon hour for east coast residents.

 

For the 1,200,000 people living in the 70-mile-wide (113-km-wide), 2,500-mile-long (4,000-km-long) zone life will be chaotic, if it already isn’t.   The last time the USA witnessed such an event stretching from coast to coast was in 1918.  The last total solar eclipse able to be seen in the USA occurred in 1979.  The fact that this one is happening during one of the busiest vacation months of the year is fueling the desire for families to travel to a spot in the viewing zone.  An estimated seven and a half million people will witness this total solar eclipse in person.

 

A predictive map issued on Sunday by Weather Decision Technologies Inc. shows clear skies in the West, clouds in Nebraska and northwest Missouri, and partly cloudy conditions farther east.  Regardless of the weather, all observers must wear specially designed eyewear to avoid damage to their eyes.  For wildlife, it will seem as though there was a very short day.  As the shadows on the ground increase and the sky appears to be experiencing a very early sunset, birds will go to their roosts in the trees to settle down to sleep.

 

For a brief two minutes on Monday, there will be a safe time to view the eclipse with the naked eye but the timing is to critical to risk it.  During the totality or blackout, only the aura of the sun will be visible, the corona or atmosphere of the sun surrounding the circumference of the moon.  Please, do not attempt to see this without protective eyewear.  It is simply too risky.

 

It will be possible to capture the eclipse on one’s iPhone or tablet but these also will require special filters so as to not damage some or all of the pixels of the screen.  Various websites can provide directions on how to do this.  NASA Sun and Space or @NASASun will provide a great viewing for Twitter followers and other outlets will have live feeds.

 

Where will you be when this eclipse occurs?  What effect do you think it will have?  The myths surrounding eclipse are plentiful and date back to the earliest of times.  In Italy it is believed that flowers planted during a solar eclipse will grow brighter and more plentiful that flowers planted at other times.  In parts of India, it is believed that food prepared during an eclipse will be poisoned.  In ancient Greece, it was believed that an eclipse was a sign of the gods’ anger.  In some ancient cultures, pots and pans were banged to ward off the evil spirits believed to cause the blackout.

 

Today we know that the path of celestial bodies is what causes eclipses.  Except for damage from looking at today’s event without protective eyewear, it should not poison any food, cause miscarriages, or even give positive assistance to horticulture.

 

Today we have the location of wisdom, scientific fact, and history to allow us to have a better understanding and detour from these ancient and incorrect myths about eclipses.  Today we know that when our minds and brains are in a location of wisdom we will see the big picture correctly.  Today our perspective comes from a location that has led to better understanding.

 

Ursus Wehrli once said “I like to turn things upside down, to watch pictures and situations from another perspective.”  One simple way to view a total solar eclipse requires nothing more than a salad colander and some space.  If you can resist the temptation to look up, you can place the colander upside on the ground or concrete and watch it instead of the sky.  The pinholes will illustrate what the sky is experiencing.

 

This eclipse will last less than three hours today but for that time, many will come together.  Denis Waitley reminds us that “You must look within for value but must look beyond for perspective.”  I hope that today we will look beyond the skies and envision a world that can come together for peace.  I hope that during those three hours in which our lives are taking a detour to experience this total eclipse we can celebrate each other – the value within and the potential beyond.

Stretch

Stretch

Detours in Life

Pentecost 33

 

“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences.  So they really don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.  The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

 

Steve Jobs said the above quote and while I do not know the exact setting in which it was said, I do know the multiple settings to which it could apply.  In fact, they all can be summarized in one word – life.  Tomorrow the earth will undergo a total eclipse of the sun.  For some, it will be a spiritual event and for others, a most frightening one which will bring to remind all sorts of superstitions.  How one figuratively views this eclipse will be determined by their living and so, this week, we will discuss detours and perspective.

 

A solar eclipse occurs when the earth’s moon passes between the sun and the earth.   This results in the moon fully or partially blocking the sun.  On August 21st, a total eclipse will occur, meaning the disk of the sun will be completely blocked and fully obscured by the moon.  Such an event is called a syzygy, the alignment of three celestial bodies in a straight line configuration. 

 

One important thing to remember about syzygy is that it occurs between opposing things.  ON Monday, August 21st, the primary celestial body of the daylight hours known as the sun will be aligned with the primary celestial body of the nighttime, the moon and both of these will be in alignment with the planet earth.  The sky on the earth will grow a little dark as the moon obscures the sun but not everyone’s perspective will be the same and it will still be obviously daylight hours.

 

Goreville, Illinois is a small town but it is there that the eclipse will last the longest.  The totality of the sun in Goreville will take about two and one half minutes.  The just fewer than two thousand people who call Goreville home will undoubtedly be sharing their view with many others but people across the United States will experience the eclipse in their own fashion. 

 

I am currently in an area with a great view for watching the solar eclipse this year and people have stood in line for hours to obtain a pair of safety glasses for doing just that.  It is most important that no one attempt to view a solar eclipse without proper protective eye protection.  Serious damage can occur to your eyes unless you take the proper precautions.  Many people are eager to experience what they consider a once-in-a-lifetime event – a solar eclipse.

 

Again, perspective is an important element in an eclipse.  First, solar eclipses are not rare.  They actually occur about every eighteen months.  According to Joe Rao, writing for space.com, “It is a popular misconception that the phenomenon of a total eclipse of the sun is a rare occurrence.  Quite the contrary.  Approximately once every 18 months (on average) a total solar eclipse is visible from some place on the Earth’s surface.  That’s two totalities for every three years.  But how often is a total solar eclipse visible from a specific location on Earth? That’s another story altogether. “

 

It is estimated with great accuracy that a viewing station will experience a total solar eclipse once every three hundred and sixty to three hundred and seventy-five years.  That is once every three-and-a-half life times.    However, because there are different types of eclipses, a viewing station will probably experience an eclipse once every twelve to eighteen months.

 

What if we took a detour from our normal everyday living to align ourselves with something opposite, or something we might never had imagines doing?  What type of syzygy could that create?  Would the result be chaos or could we possibly find peace?

 

For approximately an hour on August 21st, people will come together to experience a solar eclipse.  Regardless of color, race, creed, religion, socioeconomic level or musical taste, we will all experience the same thing, although with different perspectives.  For that brief time we will stretch our imaginations and be amazed at the brief moment of peace that the darkening can create,  all the result of syzygy.  If we but stretch our belief in the possible, we might just realize we can have a broader understanding of the human experience.  We might just stretch into finding better designs for our future living.

 

 

Barcelona Benediction

Barcelona Benediction

Detours in Life

Pentecost 32

 

Over two decades ago I moved to another part of the country that was heavily populated.  As is the case with large metropolitan areas, several of the major thoroughfares were under construction.  Detours were in place as roadways were rehabbed, refurbished, and retooled for the increasing number of cars and trucks that traveled them daily.  For ten years we followed the detour signs until the detours became more familiar than the actual interstate highway.

 

The mayhem and chaos of terrorist attacks have once again taken over the international news.  The scenes of crowds running, people being sheltered in place, and the all-too-familiar wail of emergency responders replaced the sounds of a busy city this week in Barcelona, Spain.

 

As is my habit, this blog went dark out of respect for the double-digit number of victims killed and the greater number physically injured.  Such events make even the strongest of us want to hide in our houses and crawl under the covers.  This is not the time for silence, however.  It is a time for action.

 

The Barcelona attack on Thursday was not an isolated event.  Wednesday night a house exploded killing one person in the Spanish town of Alcanar and injuring the firefighters and police who responded to the call.  Thursday a white van careened onto a crowded pedestrian mall in Barcelona with the afore-mentioned casualties.  Spanish Police on Friday shot and killed five people wearing fake bomb belts who staged a car attack in a seaside resort in Spain’s Catalonia region hours.  Authorities said the back-to-back vehicle attacks — as well as the explosion earlier this week elsewhere in Catalonia— were connected and the work of a large terrorist group.

 

Today crowds chanted “No tinc por” meaning “I’m not afraid” in Plaça de Catalunya, Barcelona following the minute silence observed for the victims of the attack in the city.  This is not the time to cower, believing our silence will not only save us but prevent future attacks.  We need to respect freedom of speech and we can without condoning violence.

 

Last weekend a rally was held in Charlottesville, Virginia, the home of the US President Thomas Jefferson.  The result was bedlam and the death of three people, one attending a protest rally to the original white supremacist/nep-Nazi rally and the other two law enforcement answering the call to assist in trying to resolve chaos.  The events Charlottesville were neither sad nor tragic; they were failure. The so-called supremacists did not act supreme in any way. The other side did not show love for all – emphasize – all. We cannot say we are better if we do not act it. We cannot claim love for all mankind if we only mean we love those we like.   At the end of the day, Charlottesville was a lesson in identifying none of us are supreme, right, or seeing the “other” person as equal. It was a mirror reflecting misguided energy.

 

Instead of traveling to march, we need to walk… walk across town to feed the poor, help the homeless, tutor a child, donate to your community, hold the door and smile at a stranger. The best way to support your vision of and for humanity is to be humane.  Instead of spending money on training camps for future terrorists, we should spend money on feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, discovering cures for the illnesses that affect all people.

 

Nature cannot exist apart from its many segments. The sun dries up the rain as it creates new life. Animals need plants; water needs the soil for filtration. We all have a purpose, not a place.   We failed in Charlottesville.  The terrorists failed in Spain.   No death should be a battle cry. It should become a motivation for us all to be better, to use the life we have to live humanely. We are, after all, human – all of us.  What will we choose – chaos or community?

 

William Faulkner believed as those in Barcelona did today that our best respect for those who have perished is to speak up.  “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”

 

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

Detours in Life

Pentecost 30

 

Some of the hardest detours we travel are those that require us to rethink what we thought we knew.  This past weekend, three people died because of feelings about the subject of race.  The topic of race is a social force and anyone claiming it isn’t has been living deep down at the bottom of the ocean. 

 

For centuries the human race has debated the divisions of, the identification for, and the correlation between the various races, their impact on intelligence, physical potential, genetics, and disease.  It cannot be denied that certain cultures are prone to specific illnesses while others seem to have no susceptibility at all.  This should not be interpreted as a weakness, though.  It is simply a characteristic of a great many things.  Genetics has proven that certain cultures – i.e., races – have a particular connection to various healthcare concerns.  This does not mean there is a correlation to potential or intelligence.

 

Throughout history the body of humans inhabiting this planet has been organized into racial groups, sometimes as few as three and other times as many as fifty.  In 1998, the American Anthropological Association issued the following statement on race:  “The idea of race has always carried more meanings than mere physical differences; indeed, physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them.”

 

Race is not a biological fact and it has no true scientific importance as a means of division.  It should not be used to segregate or discriminate.  This may be a new detour in your thinking but it is fact, based upon pure scientific data, not greed, fear, nor baseless rhetoric.

 

In 2002 the American Anthropological Association published a paper remarking on the social foundations of race: “Although racial categories are legitimate subjects of empirical sociological investigation, it is important to recognize the danger of contributing to the popular concept of race as biological.”    Please take a moment and reread that last sentence.  Race is not a biological fact.

 

The completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 had as its purpose a way to better understand genetic components of disease.  A detailed map of humankind’s DNA sequence was constructed which allowed exploration of the various genetic differences across our vast planet.  Their findings were a huge detour from what many of us believed and/or have been taught.  We all are genetically 99.9 percent alike.

 

Within our specific DNA there are six billion bases of DNA with a .1 percent difference representing six million locations that differ between two individuals.  Most of these differences are “neutral” which means they do not change the function of any genes.

 

Before your eyes glaze over, take a minute to think.  A genome is nothing more than the genetic material of something, the complete set of the DNA that an organism has.  In humans, the nuclear genome comprises approximately 3.2 billion nucleotides of DNA, including genes and chromosomes.  So while having six million different sounds like a like, it actually is less than .1 percent.  Imagine having one hundred pieces of tiny chocolate candy like M & M’s on a plate.  Would you really argue if someone took just one?  Of course you wouldn’t because the amount left is much greater and overrides that one piece.

 

Race is a social construct, a way of organizing people by culture and yes, sometimes by skin color.  However, race itself is misleading.  Those deemed Caucasian are of European descent while the term actually comes from the Middle East and referred to people from the Caucus Region, a mountain range in Turkey and Russia.  Asian is a racial term to signify people of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian descent but Russia is also on the Asian continent.  There are many natives of Bermuda which, technically as a former English colony would make them of European descent and yet, these people appear African because they are descended from slaves.  If we assume most people from Bermuda are African, what do the descendants of the British pirates do?  There would then be Caucasian-skinned Africans which is contradictory to the racial separation itself.

 

Racial designation is not a biological fact and will always be misleading because the human race did not remain living in just one place.  Such descriptions and their resulting divisions are a social construct, a harmful collective construct.  Certainly people should take pride in their ethnicity and the culture of their ancestors.  However, this pride should not seek to silence or harm others. 

 

There is no biological division of the races.  We are human beings.  Hatred based upon race is much ado about nothing.  We are all part of the human race and it is time we started treating each other with humanity and respect.

 

 

Detour of Thought – Right or Wrong?

A Detour of Thought – Right or Wrong

Detours in Life

Pentecost 11

 

Recently a world summit ended regarding global concern and action for the environment.  If you do not remember it, don’t worry.  It seems like there are such global meeting of world leaders rather frequently, whether it be about the weather, the economy, etc. 

 

I am always surprised that much is spent on participation in these functions and yet, few enact real changes in living.  Most end up with leaders explaining their views on everything from each other to themselves to the supreme being of those choosing.  It seems like their comments reflect a detour from the gathering’s purpose to one of personal concern and no, I do not mean personal conviction. Each leader speaks with the authority of a deity, secure in the rightness of their position, firmnly against any detour of thinking.

 

Two years ago during Pentecost we discussed various names of deities, particularly the many names for “God”.  The name for the one deity which led the charge for monotheism, the one deity referenced by the three Abrahamic faiths, was “Elohim Shophtim Ba-arets”.  It means “the God who judges in (on) the Earth” and, if I am to be completely honest, I must admit, as I did two years ago, that it is not one of my more well-liked names.

 

The reason for my displeasure with this name 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.

 

My problem is that is 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.  We also discussed two years ago another word that went together with “Elohim Shophtim Ba-arets”.  As you guess, I have a bit of a problem with it as well.  It is “El Nekamoth” or “the God who avenges”.

 

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.

 

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?  When we face feeling of wanting revenge, something that always seems to be lurking behind the scenes at global meetings, are we to take a detour of thinking and instead avenge?

 

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.  That I actually can understand and feel it makes the naming of a deity based upon an avenging demeanor more palatable.  Cooperation is a positive action, often requiring a detour of thought as well since it can include compromise.

 

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 would rather have a world leader that seeks justice for all, not just promotion of themselves.  This, in my humble opinion, would involve recompense rather than revenge.

 

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.”  Forgiveness requires a detour in our thinking.

 

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 but it is a most difficult detour to elect to take.  I would be remiss if I failed to mention one more word for a deity – El Nose, the God who forgives. 

 

Today someone will most likely cut you off in traffic, whether it be foot traffic or vehicular.  Someone will not be truthful and someone else will do their job in such a way that making you angry seems to be part of their job description.  In short, today will be imperfect and normal in its problems.  Will you stand up and pontificate just as many of those world leaders seem to do with little purpose except to be full of one’s self or will you detour your emotions toward a more active and effective reconciliation of the issue?  It is said that revenge is sweet but it often does not make for a long lasting resolution.  Forgiveness is in short supply in today’s world and yet, it is the best detour we could ever take.