Half, Whole, or Just Disjointed?

Half, Whole, or Just Disjointed?

04.29-30.2019

Easter 2019

 

Is the state of gaining knowledge a synonym for being live?  A comment I hear from time to time is “You talk quite a bit about “living” and “everyday living”.  Isn’t philosophy or the study of philosophy just … living?”  Another comment asks how I can discuss religion as if one size fits all.  Both are great questions.

 

Aristotle considered philosophy not a study of the parts of reality but a study of reality itself.  For example, the parts of reality might be the study of math or music, politics or history.  Reality is the existence and properties of things, their changes, causalities, and possibilities; reality is about the time and space of the here and now.  He called this “first philosophy” metaphysics as previously discussed based upon the Greek words “meta” meaning beyond and “physica” meaning physical.

 

The question implies that we gain knowledge just by being alive, by … being.  Those struggling to find food and shelter in the aftermath of earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, etc. often find themselves in a struggling state of being.  We learn a great deal from such survivors and marvel at their tenacity and resiliency.  Certainly they are giving life their every bit of effort.  By doing so, are they also gaining knowledge?  Those participating in riots or who create mass shootings are also putting energy and effort into their behavior but do we really think they are “learning” just by their doing?  Perhaps a better question is what are we learning in the aftermath of such events?  We must gain knowledge if we are to prevent them from becoming as commonplace as they currently are.

 

Aristotle maintained that there are five “predictables”, five common ways that we discuss a subject or object.  We can define the object very specifically [Aristotle referred to this as the species]  or we can discuss it in general terms [the genus].  We can notate what distinguishes it from other objects [the differentia], what makes it unique or special [propia], or we can discuss it by discussing things that are not like it [accidentals].  Philosophy instructor Dr. Maxwell Taylor illustrates Aristotle’s Predictables with one of my most favorite musical instruments and shapes – the lowly triangle.   For instance, a triangle is specifically a three-sided figure or in general terms, a shape.  It is different from other shapes by its number of sides and its properties are varied in that the sides can be of differing lengths.  Perhaps the easiest way to describe a triangle is by comparing it to shapes it is not like, starting with the fact that it is not a rectangle, square, diamond, or rhombus.

 

The definition of something is that which makes it what it is.  Aristotle called this “horos” which means definition.  Porphyry called it “eidos” which means forms and Boethius called it “species” to imply an object’s specific essence.  Both the survivors in Nepal and the protestors in Baltimore are living but their manner of form of living is very different.  Still, both groups are living and that fact would be classified under the “genus”, that part of the two groups that, although very different, they share in common. 

 

The genus is the general things found in common with other things that are otherwise different.  Perhaps an easier illustration or analogy is that flowers would be the genus and roses, daffodils, tulips, and lilies would be the species.  Not all species are the same, however.  Some roses are climbing vines while others are bushes.  Some flowers have specific number of petals while others have fewer or greater number of petals.  This would be the differentia.   

 

Things can become a bit involved, however, when we start discussing the “propia” or properties of an object.  The general population in Nepal is not accustomed to great wealth or lavish luxuries but the current conditions in which they are living are very different from those of some of the protestors in Baltimore, residents of the area who also live in abject poverty and sometimes deplorable conditions.  The destruction of businesses in Baltimore will leave some of the area’s residents homeless, although not homeless like the survivors in Nepal.

 

It is easier to use our analogy of the triangle; the properties are easier to explain.  We’ve already mentioned that a triangle’s form or definition is a three-sided object.  The genus would be that it is a shape.  The differentia or differences between triangles is determined by the angles within the three-sided shape.  Where the three lines of a triangle meet, angles are formed.  Those angles differentiate one triangle from another.  The specific angles are the properties of the triangle and there are six different types of triangles but do not make the object any more or less a triangle.

 

As I have noted before, triangles are one of my most favorite shapes and also musical instruments.  The tone of the instrument can be affected by the type of metal used which affects the number of vibrations, the number of overtones and the sound that reaches your ears.  The type of beater or mallet used also affects the tone as does the manner in which the triangle is hung or held.  Most musical triangles are equilateral triangles, having three equal sides, although they come in varying shapes.  Almost all musical triangles have the same basic pitch and skill in playing is determined by physical dexterity in handled in the beater as well as knowledge of acoustics.  None of those things change the type of triangle being played or its general properties or its basic definition.

 

In addition to the equilateral triangle with three equal sides, there are five other types of triangles.  An acute triangle is one with an angle less than ninety degrees.  A right triangle, fittingly enough, contains a right angle or an angle of exactly ninety degrees while an obtuse triangle has an angle greater than ninety degrees but less than one hundred and eighty degrees.  An isosceles triangle has two sides which are equal while a scalene triangle has no sides of equal length.  These are all properties of a triangle but there is still yet another way we might describe or refer to a triangle.

 

Imagine if you will a page of triangles.  The can be of varying types and sizes, some alike while others are different colors.  I might ask you how many are isosceles triangles or how many are acute triangles.  Either one of those questions would be answered by using something specific to the triangle or its classifications.  What if I asked how many were black triangles or red or yellow?  That response has nothing whatsoever to do with any specific aspect of the triangle but rather its color.  Other things have those same colors – a box of crayons, a row of pants or sweaters, or even the flag of the state of Maryland, a flag proudly displayed on the law enforcement vehicles burned and overturned by the protestors in Baltimore.  The fact that same of the triangles were red, black, or yellow has nothing to do with the definition of a triangle; it is simply another or accidental part of their description.

 

How can we apply these “Predictables” in our own philosophy of being, in our own living?  Certainly all of mankind shares some things in commons.  First of all, we are all mammals… but so are cows and dogs and cats.  Man is known as “homo sapiens” or “wise being”.  We have two genders present at birth, although that is being challenged in both life and the court systems around the world.  We also have different ethnicities and races, often noted with adjectives denoting one’s skin color.  Some use these latter descriptive types to denote value or worth or even potential.  In some countries, cows are more revered than women; people are discriminated against or profiles based upon their skin color or even eye shape.

 

The study of philosophy gives us an argument for being.  With it, hopefully, we can learn that existence is living and living means potential.  A triangle is no less a triangle simply because it has three equal sides or no equal sides.  A green triangle is just as much a triangle as a red triangle.  Lives matter – black, brown, red, or white.  You may consider someone damaged or different but it does not change the fact that they are alive, they have value, they matter.  Each and every human being, as with all life, deserves respect.  What may seem out of place to you fits perfectly for someone else.

 

The value of living is reason enough for us to give it our very best efforts, to give all of mankind our very best efforts.   Aristotle noted: “The value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.” 

 

Grace in Knowledge

Grace in Knowledge

Advent – 3

 

Mankind took the leap to discover knowledge at the dawn of man.  In the creation stories of the Torah and the Bible, it was curiosity that led to sin and evil.  For many belief systems, education is still a privilege granted only to a select few or group.  Grace was also a concept given to only a few.

 

As it gained momentum, the Christian Church, the Roman Church became the vessel for all learning.  Scholasticism became the method of teaching and it used strict dialectical reasoning to teach Christian theology and to interpret the ancient classical texts of learning.  Using Aristotle’s approach of determining knowledge through our senses proved too down-to-earth for church leaders who felt it took away from the mystery of faith.

 

Nicholas of Cusa proposed something he termed “learned ignorance”.  According to Nicholas who was also known as Nicolaus von Kues, all knowledge came from “the One”, “the Good’.  God, according to Nicholas came before that so it was impossible for a mere human to truly know God.  Nicholas believed that one should use reason to understand this ignorance and that we only knew of God what we could through the “learned ignorance”.

 

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus took exception with the Roman Catholic doctrine and felt one’s personal relationship with God was much more important that the doctrine of the Roman Church.  The knowledge of philosophy he saw as a hindrance to the basic human traits emphasized in scripture and preached by Jesus.

 

Knowledge had not been seen as evil by all belief systems, however.  Mohammed founded Islam and by the seventh century it had spread from Arabia to Asia and Africa and then to parts of Spain.  Rivaling the empire of Christian Europe, Islam entered into what is known as its “Golden Age” around 750 ACE.  This period lasted for more than five centuries as learning and discovery was encouraged in the field of math, sciences, and scholarship.  Major advances were made in astronomy, alchemy, medicine, and mathematics and Aristotle’s philosophy was smoothly integrated with Islamic tenets of faith.

 

The Islamic philosopher Avicenna proposed a “flying man” theory which married knowledge gained from our senses and reason.  He offered that a man flying blindfolded and floating in the air would still know he had a soul or self, even though his senses were not giving him any information.  According to Avicenna, one’s mind and body coexisted as distinct entities.  He also suggested that if this is true, then the mind or soul existed in a different realm than the body and did not die when the physical body did.

 

Not surprisingly, Avicenna’s theories were not accepted by all.  Al-Ghazali was an Islamic philosopher who felt such beliefs were contrary to the Qur’an.  The Iberian Islamic philosopher Averroes or Ibn Rushd disagreed.  He argued that the Qur’an presented metaphorical truths and that, instead of any incompatibility between religion and philosophy, philosophy could be used to interpret religion.  This way of thinking was similar to the paradoxes of Plato.  They also greatly influence Christian philosophy of the period.

 

The Crusaders in the eleventh century unlocked Europe to the knowledge of the Islamic world, though, and soon the influence of such spread throughout Europe, leading to the Renaissance and the losing of control over scholarship and knowledge previously held by the Roman Church.

 

Whether you believe in the ascension of a man who previously presented as a mere mortal or whether you fail to believe in any religion, one cannot deny basic principles of life and our living.  We all need air to breath.  Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy and then into carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere and creates the air we breathe.  The plants in my garden in one hemisphere are not the same plants I had when living in another.  Yet, they still follow the same basic processes in their growth, their blossoms or fruits, their harvest, their period of dormancy, and their value.

 

AS man delved further into knowledge, though, the question of grace had to be answered.  Do we live each day with grace or is it lived in dissension leading to the descent of knowledge?   What I do or do not do today affects my tomorrow.  The Hindu mystic Swami Vivekananda says “The will is not free; it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect, but there is something behind the will which is free.”  American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect.  Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”

 

Mankind has always been curious and that curiosity has fueled a quest for knowledge that continues today.   Regardless of the period of history or location on the planet or even in space, we are constantly learning as we live.  Living in the northwest part of the USA, young adult author Richelle Goodrich sums up our ascent into living and the subsequent knowledge gained from it this way:  “You are here to make a difference, to either improve the world or worsen it. And whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other.”  How we do that is determined by the grace we show and live to each other and to ourselves.  Grace might very well be the key to a brighter future oif we extend it to each other.

 

 

Energy

Energy

Pentecost 77

 

Nikola Tesla once said:  “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration.”  Centuries earlier Socrates had said “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”  Apparently, all we have to do to find world peace is to create it within ourselves.  Can it really be that simple?

 

Get a group of highly successful people together and you will discover that they see the world through the eyes of their interests.  Mathematicians believe “everything is numbers” as the opening of a popular television program called “Numb3rs” once said in its title sequence.  Artists claims that they “create” very little; they simple release that which was already inside the medium and give it a way out. 

 

Albert Einstein once spoke about his passion – energy.  “Everything is energy and that is all there is to it.  Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality.  It can be no other way.  This is not philosophy.  This is physics.”  Match the energy of peace to someone else with the same energy.  Match the energy of knowing where your next meal will come from and it will become your reality.  Match the energy of acceptance to the same energy in others and soon no one will be discriminated against. 

 

Could it really be that simple?  For instance, say someone is a diabetic.  Could their health problems become nothing if they simply stopped eating an unhealthy diet and reduced their unhealthy glucose levels?  Well, yeah, according to modern medicine.  That is exactly what someone with Type II Diabetes needs to do.   Is the answer to many people’s fear of becoming old and infirmed simply to keep moving?  The septuagenarians-p[us still running marathons would agree that it is.

 

When we spend our time in useless rants we should ask ourselves what energy it is that we are spreading.  When we waste our gift of gab in demeaning tirades that offer no real solutions or answers we are wasting energy.  When we post on Facebook those humble brags about how exhausted we are leading our busy lives full of employment, travel, and extravagant vacations, we could be clicking on several charity sites raising money to help find cures for real problems.

 

Please do not misunderstand.  We all get tired of traveling and even the best vacation will have its ups and downs.  Certainly there is nothing wrong discussing these things.  All too often, though, we post on Facebook to brag, not to discuss.  Political candidates do the same thing in countless speeches that offer no real solutions nor clearly state what they actually are going to accomplish if elected.  That type of energy is nothing but fog, designed to hide the real motive or energy which created it.

 

When we match our efforts – i.e., energy – with our goals, we can accomplish great things.  Nothing good ever came about without some good energy put into it.  We need to stop thinking about how to build image and start building life – not just for us but for our neighbors and yes, even our enemies.  Aristotle claimed “The energy of the mind is the essence of life.”   When we make the energy of our mind something positive, good must follow and the ordinary will become extraordinary.

 

 

Connection

Connection

Lent 44

 

“At the heart of virtue is knowledge of the good.”  This quote is from Timothy Sedgwick, Academic Dean for Academic Affairs and Vice President and the Clinton S. Quin Professor of Christian Ethics at Virginia Theological Seminary.  Actually Dr. Sedgwick is best known as an Episcopal ethicist, a fact of being that surprises many being.   Not that I mean he should not be known for his standing but that we have such things as ethicists and that they exist within a denomination.

 Try as I do to keep this blog open for all religions and spiritualties, at some point we must admit to our commonality and the search for that which is good.  To deny such would be, in my humble opinion, denying the existence of life itself.

 Life is lived in relationship to others.  No matter who you are, what you have, your profession, your status or lack thereof…All life is lived in relationship to others – people, places, things, and the whole of creation.  This is a concept also posited in Sedgwick’s book “The Christian Moral Life”.  One of the more interesting things he discusses, however, is not in the text of the book but in the very first footnote:  “The narrative understanding of ethics as a matter of setting, character, and plot has its origins in Aristotle’s “Poems”.

 If we take a moment to look back at the past forty days, give or take, of Lent, a story will unfold – the story of you.  Your life is a narrative, a series of events and your reaction to them.  At each moment of those past forty days, you asked and answered the questions “What do I do?”  “What will I purchase?”  “Where will I go?”  One question leads to another and the way in which we answer them becomes the narrative of the past forty days.

 These last few days of the Lenten season are some of the most painful in the story for which the Christian season of Lent exists.  To a visitor from another galaxy, it might seem strange to tell of the capture of their leader and prophet.  In some religions to even hint that such could happen to a deity or spiritual leader would be blasphemous.  The Christian faith narrative has the scene of a painful three-day-period which constitutes the end of Lent foretold and then lived. 

 This story gives us a powerful message, even for those not believing in the message of the story at all.  It signifies that life is painful and has recovery.  Why would this be important?  It is important because such is true for all of us – Buddhist, Agnostic, Atheist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Still-Deciding, Refuse-to-Decide, Spiritualist, etc., etc., etc.  If indeed life is lived in relationship to others, then there will be pain, disappointment, unpleasantness, and even betrayal. 

 We have, in these past weeks, imagines a garden, a garden of self.  Every garden has its pests.  Some arrive blown by the wind but others are intentional visitors.  They plunder the young bulbs out of the earth and disrupt the fragile seeds.  They expose what needs to stay buried and eat what can then never become part of our harvest.  Even the weather can invade our ideal setting of the garden.

 Life is much the same.  There are those people who seem to want only to destroy our tranquil souls and there are always the unexpected life events that, much like a sudden storm, can turn our lives upside down in an instant.

 It is how we connect to these people and events that determines our narrative.  How we connect to our living determines who we are, what self we have planted and nurtured in our being.  Loss can lead to greater understanding and appreciation if we allow ourselves to learn and grow from it.  In his book “The Moral Christian Life”, Sedgwick describes something he calls the Covenant of Hospitality.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  There are many variations of this saying which appears in Hebrews Chapter 13, verse 2.  It is sage wisdom and the very definition of who we are.  How we treat and connect to those who can seemingly do nothing for us speaks volumes as to whom we are as beings.

 The connections we make in our life are a mirror of our souls.  I am not just talking about the people we know or the charities we may support.  I am talking about the connections we have to our pets, our material possessions, and yes, even our dreams.

 Herman Melville wrote about such connections.  “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”

 John Lennon explained it a little differently.  “A dream you dream alone is only a dream.  A dream you dream together is reality.”  When we connect with the world and everything in it for positive results, then we are truly living the best self and life we can offer.  AS Lennon says, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  Someday I hope you’ll join us…and the world will live as one.”

 

 

I am – Who?

I am – Who?

Pentecost 100

An iconic American cartoon figure was short in stature but big on determination.  Known as Popeye the Sailor Man, this bow-legged man adventurer was not your typical hero.  He had squinty eyes and ate spinach.  He always got the girl but she wasn’t a supermodel; rather, she was tall, lankly, and had a name straight from the pantry shelves, Olive Oyl.  While he always seemed to have a pipe in his mouth, the viewing children never saw him actually light it up.  A true hero for the disenfranchised of the world, Popeye encouraged self-identification and fulfillment with his famous byline: “I ams what I am!”

Knowing “you who are” is as important as knowing who you want to be.  Too often, teenagers are asked what they want to be and then become locked in their first or second answer.  The life cycle of all of nature is an evolving process and yet we frequently discourage this in humans.   Identity is not a coat one puts on and then never changes.  It is a process, much like a hike in the woods or mountains.

Yesterday a hiker was rescued after having been lost since August 20th.  It was the hiker’s first time with this particular hiking team, having recently moved to the area.  The terrain in which the hiker became separated from the rest of the group is rugged.  Rescue parties were called in to search and they did, diligently.  Searchers were in the air, on horseback, and employed search and rescue dogs to try to find the missing 62-year-old hiker.  Described as a seasoned backpacker and quiet, friends still held out hope, hope which was realized when the injured but alive Miyuki Harwood was found.  In case you aren’t a familiar with Japanese names, yes, that is a feminine name.  Miyuki not only knew herself to be a veteran hiker and backpacker, she knew she was a survivor and survive she did.

Identity is not just a name on an identification card.  It is want we believe, what we do, how we dress, and how we treat others.  A little known, seldom-used name for the one deity of the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths we have been discussing this month is one of my favorites: “Elohim Nissi”, the Lord my banner.

Henri Nouwen wrote: “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

That last line of the above quote is a powerful statement: “Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”  It would be so simple of believing one was loved was the answer to the world’s problems, most of which have been caused by mankind, wouldn’t it?  The problem is that many people who are loved and considered important members of their family still commit heinous acts of violence.  Mental illness is certainly one qualifier that disproves this statement but not everyone who leaves their family is mentally ill.  Some are just trying to escape their living, trying to establish a new identity that they feel will give their life new purpose.

Aristotle believed that knowing one’s self was the first step to real knowledge.  While I am not a mathematician, I find most people can understand advanced geometry better than they understand their partner or even themselves.  Franciscan priest, former voluntary prisoner and recovered alcoholic, Brennan Manning ( a nom de plume) spent his entire life searching and creating his identity.  In his later years, Manning became an author and wrote “To ignore, repress, or dismiss our feelings is to fail to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit within our emotional life.”

We all are much more than our physical bodies.  We all have a spirit within us that propels us forward in our living.  “Ruach Hakkodesh”, the Holy Spirit, and “Ruach Elohim”, spirit of God, are two named used to identify the one deity of which we have spent an entire month discussing.  If you are curious as to why the Hebrew, the Jewish believers, had a name for something that is associated with Christianity…well, wait until tomorrow.  We will discuss that and ask if Christianity really has one god or is somewhat polytheistic.  For now, I will just ask you to remember that the first Christians were Jewish and spoke Hebrew-based dialects.

Throughout the mythologies of these three faiths are stories of survival and identity.  I recently served as a beta reader for a book published yesterday, the same day of Miyuki Harwood’s rescue.  The book is entitled “King David” and is written by another Japanese-American who struggled with identity, J. C. Parks.  It is a compelling biography of this man named David, the author to whom many of the psalms of Judaism and Christianity are attributed.  It is the story of identity, of faith, and of discovering a spirit to serve as one’s banner.

We all are influenced by product logos, the picture or phrase that identifies a particular product.  On websites, they are called “banners”, the eye-catching top of the page design that captures one’s attention and encourages the viewer to read or at least scan the rest of the page.  Logo comes from a Greek word, actually a series of Greek words that, contrary to popular belief, does not mean thinking but rather “imprint”.

What we see is imprinted upon our brain but, more importantly, how we act becomes imprinted upon people’s souls.  “Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.”  While considered one of the most popular children’s books ever written, certainly in the twentieth century, when J. K. Rowling penned that line in one of her Harry Potter books, she wrote what might be termed “gospel words”.

We each wear a logo, present a banner to the world every day.  Try as we might to escape, alter or change our identity, what we are in the moment is what we are to the world.  It is, however, not something that is cast in concrete or marble for all eternity.  We should allow ourselves to evolve, to grow.  We all make mistakes.  Brennan Manning, in all his travels and identities, learned a most valuable lesson:  “In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”

So who do you want to be?  I mean, really…deep down…inside.  Who are you today and how will who you are today help you become who you want to be tomorrow?  J. C. Parks went through several identities in becoming the accomplished author and minister he is today.  Like the subject of his latest book, so did King David.  We all have the potential to connect with our soul and the spirit that we allow to lead us.  We all can be the strong survivor like Miyuki Harwood.  Reach out today and let your light, perfect in its imperfectness, reflect your beliefs.  You are important.  You are the future, not only the future you but the future of the world.  Today, celebrate you by becoming a better version of yourself.

To Be or Not to …Exist?

To Be or Not to … Exist?

Pentecost 84

Imagine yourself at midnight on a dark road, away from civilization with only the sounds of the surrounding countryside to keep you company.  Suddenly, light seems to dart across the sky.  It is as if the newly discovered ability to create fire has been found by the nighttime sky.  Suddenly more and more fire streams across the sky.  Is it raining fire and if so, why has it fallen?  As quickly as the streaks of light appeared, they seem to vanish, falling into the oblivion of where the sky meets the earth.

If you were outside the past two nights in the northern hemisphere, you might just have seen the image I described.  Of course, you would have realized that what you were witnessing were the Persoid meteor showers.  The annual meteor shower performance is nothing new but this year the meteors were especially visible due to the new moon being present (or not) at the same time.  The absence of moonlight made the falling meteors appear even brighter than their normal which is so bright that in 2014 the National Space and Aeronautical Agency or NASA deemed the Persoid “Fireball Champion”.

What if mankind had not yet discovered meteors?  What would you have thought then, seeing those bright streaks of light seemingly fall to earth right before your very eyes?  It is easy to understand why our ancestors developed the mythologies they passed on to us, stories that told of angry gods and goddesses controlling the elements.

There were many similar names for the one deity of the Abrahamic mythologies that became the religions we know today of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity:  Elohim Bashamayim, God in Heaven; Jehovah El Elyon, Lord Most High; Jehovah Elohim, Lord God; Jehovah Elohim Ab, the Lord God of Your Forefathers; Jehovah Ha-Melech, The Lord, the King; Elohei Marom, God on High; Elohei Haelohim, the God of Gods; Jehovah Adon Kol Ha-arets, the Lord, the Lord of all the Earth; Jehovah Tsaba, the Lord of Hosts; Elohim Tsebaoth, God of Hosts; Eli Maelekhi, God my King.  All names that were to answer questions about the reality mankind was living each and every day.

The Greek Aristotle sought to explain reality and his views were widely accepted until a man named Isaac Newton began to offer his ideas.  The English writer Alexander Pope explained the impact and popularity of Isaac newton with this: “Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night;  God said, ‘Let Newton be!’ and all was light.”  Newton’s ideas were not all original, though.  One of his first laws about motion and the state of a body of matter, the reality of said body, was actually something first discovered by Galileo: : “Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.”

Galileo’s idea strongly opposed the beliefs of the Roman Church, beliefs which were based upon the mythologies that preceded the Church and gave reason for its being.  Those mythologies proclaimed God as the Creator of the earth and so the earth had to be the center of the universe so created.  What this deity had created was their planet, the land beneath their feet.  Their mythologies did not mention outer space or even gravity.  It was the nature of our creation that grounded us, literally and spiritually.

Newton proposed that the reality or state of each body of matter should be and could be described in terms of its position, its velocity, and its acceleration.  Once a person knew these things, Newton postulated the future could be predicted by forecasts of future positions and velocities.  Not only were Newton’s theories more simple than those of Aristotle, they left little room for the effects of a deity on such matter or bodies.  The early religions could find no place for their deity and many, as they had done with Galileo, rejected the science.  This rejection and rift between science and religion continues today.

The fact is that there is much we do not know, much that even our wonderful stories and legends of mortal and immortal deities and mankind has yet to explain.  I am fairly certain that I am alive.  I exist.  The nature of my existence is dependent upon my well-being – mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Like water in a pond, our bodies and minds can stagnate.  I may not be a doctor and I certainly am not Sir Isaac Newton but I do know that my body will stagnate if I fail to care for it and use it.  Muscles atrophy within ten days so if I take a vacation and sit in a chair for two weeks, I have reduced my ability to move.  Spiritually and religiously, we also need to exercise our beliefs.  Science, in my opinion, is not our enemy in doing this but can be a great help.

Once upon a time there was one state of matter – the solid matter which early mankind could see, touch, taste, feel, and hear.  Then there were two as man realized that water could move, air could move; we had a state of liquidity.  The idea of fluid matter gave rise to other ideas, seemingly unrelated and with the invention of a fulcrum or lever, even the heaviest rocks could be moved.  Mankind was on the move and had the ability to alter the solid state of his/her existing terrain.  Then we realized that some solid things or even those that were fluid could disappear, vanish into thin air.  We recognized a third state of matter – gas.  For centuries students were taught that there were three states of matter – solid, liquid, and gas.  The world revolved on its axis very well with these three states of matter and even the religious community embraced it.  The same early Christian Church that had excommunicated Galileo now used the three states as symbolic of their Holy Trinity, a concept of God in three – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Life continued, and consequentially, so did science.  A fourth state of matter was recognized, a state of super-heated gasses called plasma.  We enjoy our plasma screens for entertainment watching and even espouse their educational value in lecture halls but seldom realize their connection to unbelievable mythologies.  Plasma if foretold to our ancestors would have seemed as unbelievable as some of their myths seem to us today.

Don’t get ready to close this page quite yet.  The story of reality isn’t over because, just as life is continuing, so is science.  There is now a fifth state of matter, a fifth way we can exist, called the Bose-Einstein condensate.  First developed as a theory by two scientists in 1925, it took over seventy years to prove.  Just as gas is a state of matter that occurs when things are heated, a reality in which water for example turns to steam and then is dissipated into the atmosphere, the Bose-Einstein condensate is what happens when matter is made as cold as possible, taken down to the temperature known as absolute zero.  Molecules within steam move very fast and when taken to the opposite extreme, to the coldest possible, they have little or no energy at all. It is as if an ancient deity has frozen them for eternity.

If our beliefs are to have value, we need to understand their state of being.  The tenets of my faith are solid to me based upon my education, understand, and believing.  When I share them in the form of compassion, charity, and kindness to all, they become liquid, flowing over all I encounter.  Taking part in what we often term a “mission”, those tenets of faith become are energized and when combined with the work of others, are supercharged in helping an even greater and larger population.

However, and there is a big however, there is that pesky new fifth state of being – even for our belief systems.  That is that state of coldness, the state that we ourselves create when whatever name we call our deity or deities represents coldness.  Our beliefs become cold and reach an absolute zero stage when we alienate.  You have faith and live it or that faith will into a state of being with no energy whatsoever.  It really is that simple.  If our beliefs, our religions, and/or our spiritualities are to exist, we must give them life. It really is the only state of being for one’s faith.

Heavens to Hera

Heavens to Hera

Pentecost 44

The wife of Zeus is widely known to have been a beautiful woman. In true Greek mythological form, she was also his sister. As I have mentioned before, I will not be retelling the same stories you have most likely studied and read. The mythologies of ancient Greece speak to the very core of humanity and reproduction, marriage, death, and the world after death are all common elements found in the stories. I will not be spending a great deal to time on those aspects of the tales because for one thing, to do so would be to write a post of judgement and that is not the intent of anything posted on this site. Additionally, those things are still very much a part of life today in our twenty-first century and quite frankly, I don’t think anyone needs instruction on the problems associated with such.

For all her power and beauty, however, Hera did not lead a charmed life. That might be the very best thing we should all learn from her. All too often, advertisements promise us a perfect life if we just look a certain way, have hair of a certain color, bear no marks on our face, or wear the latest trends in fashion. The truth is that perfection is itself a myth. It exists in the realm of make-believe. Wearing the trendiest of clothing guarantees no one a perfect life and neither does having the world’s largest bank account.

Hera, depending on what myth you read, was either Zeus’ sibling or his twin. She was wooed openly by Zeus and rejected him so the king of the gods resorted to trickery and changed his form into that of a bird, most often described as being a cuckoo bird. She was known to be a jealous wife and gave birth to one of her children alone, cast out because the child Hephaistos was crippled. Here was also said to have assisted the Argonauts with their leader Jason being a favorite of hers. During the Trojan War, Hera is said to have helped the Greeks. And yet, there is no myth that tells of her being content, happy with her life, or living a “perfect life”.

Everyone’s life has its moments of transition. Usually these come in the form of what we view as failures. And in those times when we are feeling defeated, having failed to accomplish a goal, it is nearly impossible to see the moment as a stepping stone to something greater. The truth is that we learn more from our mistakes and failures than we do from our successes.

Several months ago I received a comment that stated simply: “You are making an assumption.” I agreed. The writer never really stated what assumption but, in my opinion, it didn’t matter. The truth is that we all live based upon assumptions. We assume we will live through the night and so we plan what clothes to wear on the morrow. We assume we will be hungry so, hopefully, we stock up on food supplies. However, sometimes those assumptions do not bear fruit; they are wrong. Our expectations fail short and go unrealized and we are required to proceed in spite of dismal feelings.

Greek writers Panos Mourdoukoutas and Michael Soupios wrote a delightful and very insightful book entitled “The Ten Golden Rules”. I will only discuss three today but really, take the time to read it. It is wonderful! The first three are pertinent to our discussion of living a perfect life because they speak to the impossibility of it. Instead, they encourage living a successful life and that success if not so much about professional business but rather personal living, good health, and building a community.

The first of their golden rules is to examine and engage in the process of living. Look at what you are doing and then make sure you are fully engaged in those activities. Develop a renewed sense of pleasure as recommended by Socrates and Plato and your life will become more pleasurable. The second rule echoes the teachings of Epictetus and advises worrying only about those things over which you have some control. Getting depressed about a ferry running aground halfway around the world does not make much sense. Feel free to pray for any victims. After all, we all need the best of ourselves every day in every way possible. However, losing sleep over such an event is not practical nor does it accomplish anything. Perhaps a better course of action would be to do what you can to ensure local ferries have responsible rules and regulations that are being followed and inspected. Thirdly, these two Greek writers encourage that which Aristotle felt to be very important – the development and treasuring of friendships. Man is a social animal and we should not disengage from one another.

Most of us want to live as perfect a life as possible because we think that ensures a better life after death, whether it is in the Elysian Fields of Greek mythology or in heaven of more common religions. Hera was considered the goddess of the heavens, the sky, and of marriage. Many believe if their marriage is successful, they will go to heaven. It is not coincidental that those connections are made and they indeed might very well trace back to Hera herself and her believers.

The point of trying to find a perfect life meant something different to the Greeks who believed and lived these myths, however. Today people try to “earn” their way to heaven by leading a perfect life; by living as a perfect individual. The point of being charitable is seen as a ticket to such a place. As Mourdoukoutas and Soupios explain: “That’s not the case for the ancient Greeks, however, who saw kindness through the lens of reason, emphasizing the positive effects acts of kindness have not just on the receiver of kindness but to the giver of kindness as well, not for the salvation of the soul in the afterlife, but in this life. Simply put, kindness tends to return to those who do kind deeds, as Aesop demonstrated in his colourful fable of a little mouse cutting the net to free the big lion. Aesop lived in the 6th century B.C. and acquired a great reputation in antiquity for the instruction he offered in his delightful tales. Despite the passage of many centuries, Aesop’s counsels have stood the test of time because in truth, they are timeless observations on the human condition; as relevant and meaningful today as they were 2,500 years ago.”

We read and study the mythologies of the world because they can still teach us and provide examples of human nature and its consequences.   Ask the owner of an old Victorian house if their house is perfect and they will probably laugh at you. As beautiful as they are, such houses are usually always needed updating and repairs. Strictly speaking, such houses are not perfect houses. Nonetheless, they may be perfect for their owners.

We may not have the ideal job but we can appreciate what about it makes is perfect for the moment. We need to realize what we need and not try to live someone else’s life. I am not the Perfect height of my mind’s eye but the height I am is not a bad height. I have had cousins who were much taller and despaired of finding clothes to fit them. I also have had shorter cousins with the same problems. I am an average height, of average appearance. I seldom have trouble finding clothes or shoes and neither am I hounded by the paparazzi seeking unauthorized pictures. My imperfect yet very ordinary appearance makes it easy to live. For me, that is ideal.

I personally am grateful I am not Hera or a Hera-like being. I would not like having to wonder if people liked me just for my status or beauty. Suddenly that face that looked to common is starting to sound pretty great! Find the beauty in yourself today and you will be taking steps to having a perfect time, living what is ideal for you. Remember the teachings of Aesop, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and yoyu will be living a life as glorious as that of any god or goddess.