Build a Shelter of Light and Air..

I ran across this phrase, and it fascinates me:

shelter light and air

It is fascinating to me because of its Simplicity and Truth. And that Simplicity and Truth is found not only in the images or recollections which the phrase gives rise to in our imaginations or memories; it is the clean nature of the statement itself.

Build a shelter of light and air

Stated in the imperative, it is like a command that has been waiting to be spoken. It is a place which I am perceived to be ready for now- by whom?- and being invited to enter. But first- the imperative- there is work to be done, assembly to be undertaken.

The first task, for me, is disassociation from those things- things, stuff, material- that I have allowed to define me and, in the process, bend me. Because that is what stuff does, it bends the shape of the Image of God, the humanity in us, into the shape of whatever shiny baubles attract us. I have learned to feel my way in the dark with my wallet. I breathe in the smog of others’ desires for me to have the satisfaction that only they can sell to me. I am vulnerable and I have been injured, over and over, because I have traded too many times the security I was born with- the security of community with others- for the individual and illusory safety of bank account numbers and one more gadget.

I have forgotten so much about sharing. But I have remembered enough to know that holding my hands outward, toward others, is eminently more rewarding than holding them clenched and thrust within my pockets. I want to make room for the Image of God to be growing again, through the presence of others, and not stunted any longer through the weight of all my stuff. So it begins there.

The second task is to “let there be light.” Yes, that Light. The Light that comes not from the sun, and certainly not from any incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs; I want more of the Light the ancient rabbis called First Understanding. I want the Light of more Knowledge, yes, but even more than that, I want the Light of Appreciation and Acceptance of what I already do know. I want to spend less and less time criticizing, evaluating, deciding, and then second-guessing, than I do in feeling passionately about and cultivating the facts, ideas, and opinions that are already in me and that I know to be valuable. I want to continue moving from whatever is dark in me, toward that which is Light, and awaits me.

And then, to breathe. I want to breathe through walls which separate me from the pulse of the world around me. I want the Air, the lightness of being which surrounds us all, to be the only barrier between myself and others. I do not want to fight for air behind musty walls of tradition, or within stale spaces of ancient standards. I no longer want to gasp for air within the stench of dogmatic death.

I want to feel the ruach, the breath of God, always blowing against me, always being drawn into my being. I want to feel led by the Spirit into open spaces, and not pushed by the status quo against the brick walls of fear built by others.

I want to build a structure of Light and Air with others, for others, because of others, and live there, too.

That is the only structure, a structure of Understanding and Freedom, that will withstand the onslaught of those who live, instead, in forts, ready to fight and die for the beliefs they cherish and store within dark, thick, impermeable walls. It is the Structure of Light and of Air in which I will live and toward which I am moving.

I beg you to come along. We will need each other, to help each other disassemble, unpack, and even tear down some of what we thought, by ourselves, was precious. We will need each other to remind the other that the Light is sometimes uncomfortable but always illuminating, and that the Air is often harsh and cold, even as it is life-giving and clean.

We will build a structure of Light and of Air and we will say, “Welcome” to all who come nearby.

from Miranda’s blog, “My Brother Is Dead”

“I know, I know. I’m a depressed bitch. But I bring this up only to help. Because the thing I’m coming to realize, the thing that’s really amazing, is not that we all have our crosses to bear. It’s that we’re able to bear them. The world is so much more horrible than we ever could have guessed at age 5, 15, 25, but what makes us as humans so miraculous, so capable, so strong, is that we can handle the horror. We can deal with the very thing we’re terrified of. That which doesn’t kill us, we can live with. I’m not sure how, except that it has to do with evolution, religion, and anti-depressants.
“And hope. Our capacity for suffering may be outweighed only by our capacity to imagine what it’s like not to suffer.”

Go. Read the rest of it here.

Christmas will be on a Tuesday this year..

aluminum xmastree2

It’s always on the same day of the week as my birthday, which was two days ago, a Tuesday. I discovered that “same day” fact at some point in seventh or eighth grade study hall, after I had (no doubt) broken all available pencil leads drawing cartoons of various teachers, gone to the restroom several times, and finished reading whatever James Bond book was in my possession that day.

Be that as it may, and all that is to say, the Christmas spending orgy is about to commence. Jesus will, again, be honored best this year by pushing our Gross National Product through the retail roof! Walmart, Target, and L.L.Bean will again become the hallmarks of American holiness as millions prove their love for baby Jesus by spending, spending, spending themselves into a January nightmare.

But what are a few more 29.9% maxxxed out credit cards compared to the half hour of joy to be experienced by children of all ages as they tear through carefully wrapped gift packages before finally settling down to watch the Christmas Edition of “The Price is Right?” After all, isn’t that exactly what was set in motion by God in that Bethlehem stable 2000 years ago- the right to keep and bear arms full of plastic things molded in China and cloth things sewn in various parts of the Pacific and Caribbean rims?

I notice you can get a jump on Christmas tinsel-spending by jumping on the Halloween lighting bandwagon currently being driven into our collective consciousness by the Chinese-American Plastics Consortium (motto: “Americans Will Buy Anything We Tell Them To!”). There are more orange-colored lights hanging on doorways this year than last year and, barring natural disasters, there are probably less this year than there will be next year. By that time, the Halloween light trend-setters will be needing to replace their antiquated sets from 2006 and this great new niche in the Useless Stuff marketplace will have taken on a full life of its own!

halloween lightset

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and this year he’s wearing a wool/polyester blend with genuine baby seal trim from Abercombie and Fitch. And you can demonstrate your own holiday spirit this year with a matching outfit- only 495.oo! (hat, boots, and other accessories, extra) Self-indulge yourself this Christmas with 2007’s versions of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; you’ll be glad, for all of ten minutes, that you did!

Or….

logoLeafy3

Go to Kiva.org. Find a small business person somewhere in the third world and help them get the amazingly small loan they need to expand their business. Dream for him or her. Hope for their families. Then lend as little as 25 bucks to them in the name of someone on your Christmas list, instead of buying that someone a tie or bauble for their already too-heavy charm bracelet.

Baby Jesus will smile.

 

September 11

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A Prayer

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection:
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is lead forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action–
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father,                                                                                   let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore, Photo by James Nachtway, September 11, 2001

(This entire entry lifted, in gratitude, from this always elegant blog)

God Damn Dog Fighting

(That’s a prayer, by the way..)

It looks like Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick will feel the revulsion of the NFL for his off-the-field pastime of dog fighting, as Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to announce Vick’s suspension this week for the 07-08 season.

Hopefully, Nike and other members of Vick’s endorsement gravy train will follow suit.

Any doubts about what the NFL is doing to Vick? This should eliminate any thoughts of “unfairness” someone might still be harboring:

dogfighting

That’s what a human fingerprint looks like, gouged into a pit bull’s face. If it’s nauseating, that’s my point. It is meant to be.

It is almost unfathomable at times what humans are capable of doing to animals. Dog fighting, cock fighting, exotic animal hunting, and even rattlesnake round ups are systemic manifestations of the religiously chauvinistic attitude that humans are at top of the food chain and, therefore, “have dominion..over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1: 28) That single biblical phrase, twisted in the minds of men who measure their virility by the blood they can cause to flow from other living beings, or by the neglect they have institutionalized under the agenda of economic development, puts us- this generation- directly in the path of what has been called the Sixth Great Extinction.

440 million years ago, 85% of marine animals were wiped out in the First Great Extinction. 367 million years ago, many fish and 70% of marine invertebrates met their doom. 245 million years ago, 95% of all animal species died. 208 million years ago, another extinction of sea animals primarily, but also some land animals took place. And 65 million years ago, 3/4 of all species, including the dinosaurs, were eliminated.

All of these five great extinctions occurred because of volcanic eruptions, meteorite strikes, and changing climates. This sixth great extinction is one we are able to witness and one which we are largely the cause of. (Statistics from Earth Policy Institute)

It is estimated that 10 million species inhabit the earth with humans. And each year, 1000s of these species, including microrganisms, are lost forever. Deforestation, mining, urbanization, and ocean pollution and over harvesting are the primary reasons.

How do the attitudes and actions of Michael Vick fit into this dismal picture?

Perfectly.

As long as our human and predominate worldview is one which regards everything outside of ourselves as, well, outside of ourselves, then the abuse and death of pit bulls behind barns in the Virginia countryside, as well as the poaching deaths of Mountain Gorillas in the Congo, will continue. As long we crush our natural empathetic response to other living beings, with the mechanistic attitude that we’re in control of the toolbox, then it will continue to be easy to regard other species as things– in our way, expendable, toys for our amusement, even trash.

Imagine the outcome of a democratic vote by the world’s species on which species should be next in line for extinction?

Amen

 

 

 

Nuclear Weapons..First Strike

America pulled the nuclear trigger first, lest we forget. On August 6, 1945, sixty-two years ago today, the mushroom cloud under which everyone on earth since that day has lived, first rose. Personally, I think that it is truly the day above all days that lives in infamy, but I know there other opinions and that’s not what I’m here to write about anyway. If you’d like to know more about the specifics, here’s a thorough and interesting link to historical information about this event: Atomic Anniversaries.

As a new pastor in the town I live in now, I began visiting church members soon after arriving here four years ago. One of my standard questions of people over 80 or so, concerns their lives during World War Two. I’ve found that most former service men and women who were at one time reluctant to talk about that part of their lives, are ready and anxious to now. Unfortunately, not many people ask them anymore.

I asked Bill (a pseudonym) about his memories of that war, once I knew he was a Navy veteran of the War. He didn’t answer. After a few seconds, I realized he couldn’t answer. Men are reluctant sometimes to display their emotions to other men, and it is particularly hard for men of that age. I said, “It’s something people like me need to hear, Bill.”

That’s a practiced response. First of all, it’s true; the stories of those soldiers do need to be heard. Secondly, I didn’t want to stop what I knew Bill wanted to say, by saying something stupid and destructive like, “It’s OK if you don’t want to talk about it.” That’s insulting. It would have been, in effect, my saying to Bill that he was making me uncomfortable, now let’s go and talk about football scores or anything that will keep me from hearing the lump in your throat. Third, these old veterans want someone who will listen. They are all- all of them- dragging around 60 year old chains of unspoken memories and, as they get older, those chains have gotten heavier. Our ears and our hearts, sincerely open, can be cutting torches.

Bill began, finally, after a cough or two and a tightening of his jaw, “I was in Hiroshima the day after. I was part of a detail to assess the damage and take pictures.

“It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

And then he stopped talking and began to cry. And I let him. I cried with him, in fact, for whatever the memories were that were being made fresh again.

“I’m sorry,” he said several times.

“You aren’t allowed to apologize for being human around me,” I told him. After a minute or two, Bill started talking again, and kept talking for almost half of an hour. He described bodies, melted into bed frames. He told about chasing dogs and rats away from bodies and parts of bodies. He told of screams coming from everywhere and that his Japanese translator told him that many of those screams were people pleading to be killed.

When Bill was finished he was very composed. It was like the calm one feels after throwing up, and that’s exactly what Bill had just done. He was drained but relieved; exhausted but calm. Bill’s wife had brought him a glass of water and he sat now with his head tilted back against his chair.

“Do you think we should have done it?” I asked finally.

He shook his head. ‘No.’

208-N-43888<br /> War and Conflict #1242<br /> A dense column of smoke rises more than 60,000 feet into the air over the Japanese port of Nagasaki, the result of an atomic bomb, the second ever used in warfare, dropped on the industrial center August 8, 1945, from a U.S. B-29 Superfortress.

(U.S.Government Archives, Hiroshima)

Being Creative..

                    center for contemporary art afghanistan

This picture makes my heart soar. It is a group of young Afghani women who are organizing the Center for Contemporary Art in their country. It is one of those Shouts to world from an unexpected place that there is more to say, more to see, and more to be from people who want, and are taking the chance, to get those things.

There is just something magnificent about the colors against the sand and dried mud background; there is something revealing about the colors that have been simmering and now have a place to boil over; there is something gorgeous about these young women’s souls.

A New Earth..A New Worldview

This newest and most detailed photograph of Earth, part of a series released by NASA and described in the post of August 1 directly below, or here, begs for additional commentary.

earthNASA2

And first among that commentary is this, another photograph of Earth taken in 1970 by Voyager I from an area within the rings of Saturn. Called “a pale, blue dot” by Carl Sagan, the photograph became well-known because of the late astronomer’s eloquent words about it. I do not attempt to equal, let alone surpass Sagan’s words; but the two photographs, placed together, offer us all a unique vision of place and perspective, and they demand deep, reflective,sometimes even uncomfortable thinking from each of us.

blue dot nasa jpl voyager

The Voyager photo must be highlighted, in order that we can even see the Earth from that distant perspective. But it is there, brilliant in its greens and blues, and accented always by the gray and white clouds of evaporated water hovering in its atmosphere, as can be seen so precisely in the newest NASA photos.

Before we could see pictures like these, beginning just fifty years ago, most humans could easily believe in the centered and seemingly supreme nature of our place in the universe. Ancient creation stories were explanations, shared through generations of families, bands, and tribes, of human origins, and all of them included references to that centrality and supremacy. Humans had the need, and still do, of making sense of themselves in the context of the environment in which they live. This skill of language, which preserves knowledge through time, makes us different from all others of the Earth’s species.

Most of us, whether we subscribe to them in faith or not, are aware of one, or maybe two creation stories. But at one time there were as many stories of human beginnings as there were the number of family tribes from which they arose. It was natural, even truthful, that the boundaries and contexts of those stories would be the natural boundaries and the environmental and cultural contexts of those who developed and transmitted them to others.

Among one tribe in India, the explanation was this: Lord Brahma the Creator, living in an emptiness filled with death and hunger, said one day, “Let me have a Self.” That Self began to grow, as large as two people embracing, and Brahma willed that a separation occur. Thus, male and female, husband and wife, was given explanation. She, ashamed of having sex with someone who had been part of her, hid her Self in the form of a cow. He, in turn, became a bull. And thus, the speciation of Earth began.

Among the descendents of those first tribes of Asian people who populated one of the Hawaiian islands, the origin story involved a rendezvous between the deep and dark caverns of the island (male) and moonless nights (female). Of that geological and meteorological union was born the coral reefs, from which all manner of sea life was subsequently born. As the ocean lapped onto the land, other animals were born- animals of the land. Finally, on the dawn of one extraordinary day, La’ila’i, a woman, and Ki’i, a man, and Kane, a god were born. It was through the three of them that all human life began.

I wonder how how stories of Creation would have emerged if those ancient peoples had had even an inkling of what we know today about the boundaries and contexts of our environment, within the context of a vast and ever expanding universe? Certainly they would not have been defined by the geographical features of the places in which the thinkers and storytellers found themselves. And certainly those stories would have all been much grander in size and scope.

Each of those Creation stories became a part of each tribes worldview. It was one element of their consciousness which helped explain to them how the world worked and how they were to function and regard themselves within that world and within their tribe. We can, only because of the new information we have gathered technologically, be amazed, even aghast, at the narrowness of those stories. It was a narrowness, which later gave rise, as human populations grew and coalesced in more urban settings and as tribes began having more frequent contact with other tribes, into nationalism, chauvinism, racism, and even patriotism.

Those ancient worldviews served their purpose in tribal contexts. But when they became institutionalized in the identity of nations, they became dangerous. And they still are. 20,000 years after Paleolithic Man first scratched pictures which would eventually evolve into language,on the walls of caves in southwestern France, we (humans) are on the brink of nuclear holocaust and human suicide.

It may be time for a more universal,less parochial, less nationalistic, more humane and shared worldview- one which encompasses not only our particular human tribe, but other tribes, other species, even the Earth itself, in the context of an always expanding, always creating universe.

How do we begin? We begin exactly as our ancient ancestors did as they sat around campfires at night and wondered, Why?, and How?, and Who? We can hold in our hands now the pictures of the Mother from whose womb we are born, and of her place. That is a place to begin anew.

And many of us acknowledge, too, the breath of the Father surrounding the Mother and all else that is. It will be incumbent upon those of who do recognize that Father, to allow that Father to be as large as he really is, and not limit his imagination and activity by the size of our own knowledge or, worse, by the worldviews of ancient peoples who were only beginning to know him.

The New Story, the New Worldview begins whenever we choose, as individuals, for it to begin. None of us alive today will hear its completion. We can only plant the seeds for its eventual fruition and hope, and pray, that there will be others in distant futures who will live and flourish within that story in ways that do not perpetuate the human suffering and fear that our worldviews have.

(Here is my former entry on Carl Sagan: A Pale Blue Dot)

Good Memes..for a Good World

 

The word “meme” was coined about fifteen years ago to help us understand the transmission of cultural ideas through societies and through time. It sounds similar to the word “gene” and that’s on purpose. Genes are, of course, those tiniest of information carriers within our DNA, which transmit specific biological information onto subsequent generations. Memes act in similar ways to genes, although the actual “thing” that they are, is not as easily identified. Some examples of cultural ideas and actions, passed on widely through space and time, will be helpful:

 

Shaking hands when meeting someone new

Singing “Happy Birthday” for someone’s birth anniversary

Bowing one’s head in prayer

Particular hairstyles

Shoes

The story of Santa Claus

All of these things feel right and normal to some people, perhaps most people. But there was a first time for each of them. They are ideas that are not instinctual, like eating or reproducing, but learned. How and why some things are learned, accepted, and shared agreeably with others who also accept them, are what the study of memes is about. We can view memes with some objectivity, instead of merely accepting them as tradition. Thus, we can also affect the transmission of new ones. The Advertising industry has understood this for quite a long time without having a specific word for what it was they were passing on into society, through time. “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette _______” can be completed by everyone over 45, but no one under 40. It’s a meme that has run its course.

Some memes, on the other hand, are huge (compared to the story of Santa Claus anyway).

Democracy is one, Charity is another. And, like cigarette advertising, there are some huge memes that have run their course, too, and we must do what we can to help eliminate them before they kill us all. Specifically, I’m talking about all the cultural excuses we maintain that separate from other humans. Stereotyping memes continue to be passed on, despite the total lack of any basis for them, we now know, within our genes. Stereotyping- being suspicious of others because of physical or cultural differences- is a cultural artifact that continues to cause people to go to war, die, and live in fear. It’s an artifact that remains from ancient days when it was impossible to communicate, see, or know about people of other races or nationalities. We were afraid of the unknown and acted according.

The communication methodologies we have available today, from printed matter to television to the Internet, have gone a long way in helping all humans to begin to see similarities and relatedness within our species. It’s hard to hate someone whose eyes you have looked into, or who you know loves their children as much as you love yours.

We have the means here on the Internet, to help spread new memes that say we are much more like each other than unlike. These are the kinds of memes than will one day, when as many people believe them as today believe in shaking hands, cause more and more peace and understanding to happen. Here are three sites whose builders are committed to doing that. Tell others about them and help change your grandchildren’s world:

http://www.6billionothers.org

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http://100percenthuman.org (comes with music)

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http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_the_clash (comes with music)

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