Humanity Lost

Humanity Lost

June 18, 2018

Pentecost 2018


It was a Friday when Frederick Lewis Donaldson said the following in a sermon given at Westminster Abbey in London, England:  “The seven social sins are…wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; commerce without morality; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice; politics without principle.” 


Most of us freely admit to being human and by that, we imply that we are not perfect.  Mistakes are going to be made and while we are better at forgiving our own than those of others, we do allow the possibility for their being made.  What about when society makes them?  How forgiving are we when it is a collective sin?  Do we still extend a sense of humanity to such?


 “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten how to belong to each other.”  These words from Mother Teresa might very well be the key to making this ordinary time extraordinary.  How we think of ourselves is reflected in how we treat others.  Truthfully, though, there is no “them” and “us”.  There is only “we”.


Recently a group of people identifying themselves as being patriotic to their own cultures and homelands came together for an experiment.    You can watch the results here and they are far more compelling than anything I could write.



Two Fon Myths

Two Fon Mythologies

Pentecost 146-147

#146 – He Face/She Face

One of the greatest debates in al times has been whether or not the supreme deity known as God has a male persona or a female person.  The Fon culture of Dahomey, Benin, resolved that problem with their mythologies, especially the legend of the Rainbow Serpent.

Benin, once known as Dahomey, is a country in West Africa.  It is a present-day democracy with a healthy society from civic perspectives.  However, economically the area is underdeveloped with a great deal of corruption.  Historically Benin was part of Africa’s Slave Coast.  Natives were taken captive and transported to foreign lands.  They lost their freedom and most if not all lost the most basic of all human rights and dignities but they managed to retain their myths and early religions, the most notable being voodoo.

The Fon believed in a creator god named Mawu-Lisa, a spirit with two faces.  Mawu was a female deity whose eyes were thought to be the moon.  The other face belonged to Lisa, a male entity whose eyes were the sun.  Not surprisingly, Mawu was the ruler of the night while Lisa ruled the day.  Mawu had a serpent named Aido-Hwedo who assisted her in creating the world.  The serpent was described as a rainbow serpent and was also a female-male being.  The myths told that one-half of Aido-Hwedo lived in the sky while the other half lived in the sea and provided defense for the world.  The Fon culture attributed the curves of the earth and various topographical features to the movements of the Rainbow Serpent as it traversed the world with Mawu in its mouth creating more things.

Once the creation of the world was complete, legend tells that Mawu realized she had created too much.  The earth could not sustain the world of everything.  Mawu’s answer was to have Aido-Hwedo coil up and provide a base for the planet and give it support.  In keeping with the scientific fact that snakes are cold-blooded creatures, Mawu created an ice-cold sea at the bottom of the world as a home for her Rainbow Serpent.  The Fon believed that earthquakes were simply Aido-Hwedo getting comfortable.

Perhaps such a colorful and fanciful myth seems a bit too far-fetched for you but if you give it a chance, there really is a great deal to which we could relate.  Every human being shares some traits that are considered either typically male and/or female.  I can certainly relate to Mawu realizing at the end of the day that she had too much stuff.

Maybe we really should acknowledge that we all also have at least two faces.  Another thing common in the thousand or so cultures found on the African continent is the use of masks.  Many are colorful and most are exquisitely carved intricate works of art.  In truth we all wear masks every day.  I think one of the things I like best about African mythology is the exploration it offers one into self-exploration.  I doubt I ever get myself a pet snake, even a stuffed rainbow-colored toy snake.  However, after rereading this story I will hopefully be more aware that the mask I wear, the face I present to the world is one of truth and authenticity.

#147 – The Monkey’s Pride

Today someone forwarded me a video about a monkey petting a puppy.  The love between the species was adorable and certainly a lesson for us all.  It reminded me of the Fon myth from Benin about the monkey that wanted to be a man…and almost made it.

The female-male creator god Mawu-Lisa gave birth to seven children who became among other things, the gods of earth, thunder, sea, iron and war.  Mawu then created people and later, animals.  Once created, the animals would knead the clay so she could create more animals.

The monkey’s five fingers made him especially suited for the task of preparing the clay and he quickly earned Mawu’s favor.  She promised him he could work among the men rather than the animals and walk erect once creation was complete.  The monkey became so excited that he walked around all the other animals boasting instead of working.  This earned him Mawu’s anger and so he remained an animal forever.

I don’t need to remind you that we all have sometimes let our ego get in our way.  The lesson of this myth is also found in the Book of Proverbs, chapter 16, verse 19: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Button, Button

Button, Button
Epiphany 8

If you have ever attended a symphony orchestra concert, you have probably noticed how well the various sections of instruments work together – the woodwinds, the brass, the strings, and the percussion. The orchestras of today largely owe their instrumentation to Beethoven. His compositions, along with those of Mendelssohn, set forth which instruments would be needed and how many.

Baroque orchestras numbered around thirty musicians, with two flutes, two oboes, and two bassoons in the woodwind section; two horns and two trumpets in the brass section; a timpanist and harpsichordist in the percussion section; and a full complement of strings, usually ten violins divided into first and second parts, followed by six violas, four cellos, two basses and one theorbo, a bass lute. The classical orchestra expanded with the introduction of clarinets, the English horn, the double bassoon, the harp, and expanded brass and percussion sections and generally numbered eighty or more.

As more composers wrote for more instruments, these were also included and the orchestras of the romantic area often numbered near one hundred musicians. Modern orchestras are now between seventy-five and one hundred with extra musicians often being hired for particular concerts or compositions. Always, though, at the helm was the conductor, holding everyone’s attention and making sure they were a cohesive, together unit.

Staying together is often a challenge for both large corporations and the single individual. We’ve all had those days where it seems like fate is trying to get to us, to make us come unglued. The importance of keeping things together is that it allows us to carry on, to accomplish things, to achieve our bright ideas.

Each section of the orchestra has a leader. The first trombonist, for example, is generally considered the leader of the low brass section. The first chair trumpet is the leader of all of the brass players while the principal violinist or concertmaster is not only the leader of the string section but is second in command to the conductor. This hierarchy has existed for centuries and helps hold the orchestra together.

Mankind has utilized many things throughout the passing of time to help stay together and on track. Maps, navigational instruments, and communication tools are just a few. Personally, though, things have not really advanced that much. Individuals are still utilizing one of the things our caveman ancestors used to keeps things together – the lowly and often overlooked button.

Buttons are a treasure for an archaeologist to unearth. They often tell not only the story of the fashion of the day but the lifestyles of an area and, sometimes, what was going through the minds of those in the area. The earliest buttons were most likely of shells. Early clam shells have been found and it is assumed that fibers or even animal muscle tissue were woven together into a loop which then was wrapped around the button to hold an animal skin on the body. This allowed for hunting in colder weather and perhaps protection from the sun or inclement weather. Buttons dating back to the Bronze Age have been found and have really changed little throughout time, with only the addition of holes for easier application. However, many feel that the buttons first used was more ornamentation than utilization. To quote Ian McNeill: “The button, in fact, was originally used more as an ornament than as a fastening, the earliest known being found at Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley. It is made of a curved shell and about 5000 years old.”

The presence of buttons often is a sign of a civilization but sometimes it also heralds what is wrong with a period of history. The USS Monitor was the first iron-clad ship built for the Union Army during the War Between the States, a turbulent time in the history of the United States of America. Recently a pilot’s jacket recovered from the wreckage of the USS Monitor will be on display at the ship’s memorial center in Virginia. The USS Monitor was the first ship to have a revolving gun turret and was built to respond to the Confederate Army’s seizing of another large ship, the Merrimack, which was renamed the USS Virginia. Commissioned in early 1862, the Monitor sunk during a heavy storm in December of 1862.

The recovered pilot’s coat was discovered ten years ago. Monitor Center director David Krop explains the significance of this display and the finding of the coat and the accompanying cache of buttons found with it. “We’ve found all kinds of buttons inside the turret—some made of wood, some of glass, some of bone, some of rubber, some even mother-of-pearl. Clearly the sailors were just tearing their clothes off before jumping into the water—and doing it so fiercely that their buttons were popping off. This coat was left behind by one of those sailors—and it gives you a very real, very personal connection to the story of those men and this ship during its chaotic end.”

Buttons are a living history lesson and when unearthed from the past, often provide a link to the men and women who wore them. We will never know whose bright idea it was to utilize them, whether as decoration or as a clasp, but the epiphanies we are able to perceive when we locate them from the past are never-ending. Whether used to advertise a product or candidate or simply to keep a shirt from coming open, buttons help organize us, help keep us together. Their place in culture has been used to help designate and commemorate and yet, they are often overlooked and underappreciated.

Today we will all go through our lives using various things to help organize those lives and to help us keep things together. Not every button looks the same; in fact, their uniqueness often determines their value. From the first Button Makers Guild in 1250 to the present, buttons have served several purposes. The button has become the conductor of our garments, much like that orchestra conductor keeps everyone on the same beat, with the button not only keeping our clothes on our bodies but also providing decoration and cultural significance.

I hope that, as we walk through our lives, we will all see the various purposes our experiences offer us – both the good and the bad. I hope we will see the uniqueness in each other and rather than fear it, embrace it. Perhaps like the lowly button, we can use those distinctive qualities to hold life together instead of letting it be an excuse to cause discord.

Easter Forty – Five

Easter Forty-Five
June 3, 2014

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Recipe included – It’s Tuesday!

[This is a guest article I wrote for Episcopal Café, originally published May 26, 2014. I would love to have you comment!]

Throughout history, people intermingled in the marketplace. Such a marketplace was even the setting for one of Jesus’ parables (Matthew 11:16-19). Mankind has seldom lived in isolation but rather in a communal, mixed gathering, dependent upon his fellow man for life’s necessities. One fear of man is based upon his need to see himself in others. Man’s greatest downfall is in not seeing the image in the mirror clearly, not recognizing the marketplace reflection. This continues today.

The drum circle was open to the public, meeting every Sunday afternoon. All ages, all stages of musical ability, all types of apparel, and all types of ethnicities followed the rhythm of their souls. Some invented melodies and others accompanied on quiet stringed instruments. Tribal drums harmonized with marching snare-less drums as children ran back and forth and pets lay in the shade. The timbre of different drum skins echoed throughout the park as others left and more came. It was a market place of music, reflecting the heartbeats of centuries of gatherings of people, different and yet united in spirit.

Then one day someone brought a different drum. Instead of a skin or plastic head across the top, it was a wooden box with a hole in it. The player sat as usual and began to drum quietly, picking up the beat of the others. Slowly, one by one, they stopped and the self-appointed leader strolled over. “Where is your other drum?” he asked. “You need to either bring a drum with a head on it or stay home.” The player began to explain that, just as the others were vibrating the skin of an animal (or modern-day facsimile), the tree from which his drum had been made also represented life. He was asked to leave.

They had been talking, “mingling” for over an hour, easily conversing and comparing pet stories. Then one reached for a cup of tea and the cross around her neck became evident. Her companion quickly left, remarking that she was unaware the woman was “one of those crazy Christians”. Although they had been discussing Plato and the development of cultures based upon morals, she had no wish to discuss morals with someone who wore a sign of a religion around her neck, apparently feeling her sari to represent something other than her Brahma Kumaris spiritual heritage.

The marketplaces of today may look different than those of ancient times but the cultural diversity still exists. We are still one community dependent upon each other. The djembe drum, the tribal drum most often found in drum circles, was used throughout African cultures as a song of peace. The playing of the djembe is a celebration of life and a way for people, all people, to come together. The cajon, the wooden box drum, originated in Peru as the instrument of African slaves forbidden to have any expression publicly. Separated from their culture and djembes, the slaves used what they could to express themselves. The union of the djembe and cajon that day in the drum circle was a reunion of culture, recognition of the joy of the human soul that could not be suppressed and yet, no one saw the reflection.

The young woman at the community function did indeed wear a cross. On it was inscribed “mind, body, soul”, recognition of how she wanted to live her faith. The Raja Yoga meditation of Brahma Kumaris, a form of meditative spirituality that teaches the soul is good, redefines the self as a soul and enables a direct connection and relationship with the Supreme Source of purest energy and highest consciousness. They had so much in common yet fear fogged their vision.

The drummer did return to the drum circle and the cajon was accepted. The drum circle’s purpose was the celebration of life and slowly, harmony reigned. The two women found themselves again together at the buffet, joined by an older woman. The Christian asked about the spirituality and applauded its beginnings as a feminist movement. The other girl listened, realizing there was only respect, not absolutism.

“My country is the world and my religion is to do good.” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. We should live so that others see our religion in us. Everyone we encounter is a doubting Thomas. We all make instant impressions of those we pass or with whom we converse. We need to let them see our faith just as Thomas saw the scars of Jesus.

One day our mirror will see not preconceptions but the reality of the marketplace. We are one in the spirit of life. We are one in life. Just as the drum cannot play without the player, we cannot exist without the marketplace community, united in the spirit of mind, body, and soul.

Lazy Lasagna:
One box radiatori or ricchioli pasta or your favorite textured pasta
1 jar, large size, of your favorite prepared spaghetti sauce*
1 container ricotta cheese
Grated parmesan cheese
*I make my own and freeze. Recipe will follow on another day.

Prepare the pasta and drain. Layer the pasta, cheese, and sauce in that order in a casserole dish, topping with the parmesan cheese, and bake at 350 degrees-F for thirty minutes.
Great with a green salad!