ANOTHER SIN FOR OUR NEW WORLD

I did a some quick, shallow research on the original seven big ones, known lovingly as “the seven deadly sins.” Here is a quick reminder for those who didn’t do Dante, or who have forgotten:

Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride.

istock-editorial-license

istock-editorial-license

The original sins are more than words. They are concepts.

Starting from the top, we find Lust. It isn’t merely having indiscriminate sex. Or doing it with people to whom you aren’t married. Or with sheep, for that matter. Lust is not just for horny teenagers, starlets, or white-collar men having a midlife crisis.

Lust is an intense desire. It is a general term for desire. Therefore lust could involve the intense desire of money, food, fame, power or sex. In Dante’s Purgatorio, the penitent walks in flames to purge himself of lustful thoughts and feelings. Perhaps ambition fits nicely into this category? Just a thought.

On this earthly plane, there’s a lot of lusting going on and sex is the least of it. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say sex is the best of it. Possibly the only piece of the “lust sinology” that’s fun and might do somebody some good.

So how about Gluttony, eh? If you think it means you eat too much, you’d be right, though eating is a just one of many gluttonous activities in which you can indulge.

Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, gluttony (Latin, gula) is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. Gluttony can be interpreted as selfishness; essentially placing concern with one’s own interests above the well-being or interests of others.

As far as I can tell, our whole society has been doing a lot of gulping … of natural resources, of fancy cars, houses, gadgets, widgets. We also eat too much, but in the overall scheme of things, food is the least of the problems.

Moving along, we get to a perennial favorite: Greed. You can’t go wrong with greed. For thousands of years, greed has been on the “most popular sin” list for most people. It’s probably the single most motivating of the sins, having lost its evil connotations and been enshrined as something wonderful to which we all ought to aspire. Greed rules the “bottom line.” It is idolized, enshrined, canonized by corporate America. It is not a sin, but a goal to which everything is in service. Yet it’s one of the seven deadly sins. What a world, eh?

Greed (Latin, avaritia), also known as avarice, cupidity or covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the church) is applied to a very excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions. (Like money and profit?) Scavenging, hoarding materials or objects, theft and robbery, especially by violence, trickery, or manipulation of authority are actions likely inspired by greed.

According to Gordon Gecko, “Greed is good.” Not to worry. If Hollywood promotes it, it must be good.

Sloth is charming. It hardly seems worthy of mention in such awe-inspiring company.

Sloth (Latin, acedia) can entail different vices. While sloth is sometimes defined as physical laziness, spiritual laziness is emphasized. Failing to develop spiritually is key to becoming guilty of sloth. In the Christian faith, sloth rejects grace and God. Sloth has also been defined as a failure to do things that one should do. By this definition, evil exists when good men fail to act.

Wrath is a big deal, the cause for much of what ails America these days.

Wrath (Latin, ira), also known as “rage”, may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Wrath, in its purest form, presents with self-destructiveness, violence, and hate that may provoke feuds that can go on for centuries. Wrath can persist long after the person who committed a grievous wrong is dead. Feelings of anger can manifest in different ways, including impatience, revenge, and self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or suicide. And ranting on social media.

We seem to be in the middle of an epidemic of wrath in the U.S. Politically and socially, we are an angry, hate-filled people. Scary stuff.

Ah Envy! The motivator of crime, the inciter of ambition.

Like greed and lust, Envy (Latin, invidia) is insatiable desire. It is similar to jealousy in display discontent towards someone’s traits, status, abilities, or rewards. The difference is that envy also desires the entity — the thing or person — and covets it. Envy can be directly related to the Ten Commandments, specifically, “Neither shall you desire… anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Stop staring at your neighbor’s ass.

Pride is the downfall of smart people. If there’s a sin to which I am devoted, it’s pride. It pops up in so many ways. Believing one is smarter than everyone else, that one is really in control of ones fate (yeah, right!). It is the sweetest of sins, the most comfortable sin, the beloved of the educated and sophisticated set. My personal favorite.

If it turns out a Judeo-Christian God is truly in charge, this sin guarantees I will not make it to heaven because that particularly wrathful deity was firmly again anyone’s pride but his own.

In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins. It is the source of all other sins. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, and failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, as well as excessive admiration of the one’s self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). 

What could I add to this prestigious list?

Allow me to suggest Willful Ignorance, a determined blindness to facts, reality, and knowledge. Willful Ignorance comfortably works in concert with Wrath, Envy, Lust, Pride to virtually define the modern era.

I have been offered the opportunity to become the President of the International Internet … sort of a virtual uber-President of Everything.

As a devotee of pride, I’m definitely qualified for this job. What could God possibly know about computers? They were not part of the original creation, so I’ll take the job.

Speaking of greed, this comes with a gigantic paycheck, right? And, sloth speaking here, I’ll have assistants to do all the real work, won’t I?

DON’T COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR’S ASS

So there we were in the car driving home on a lovely spring day . I was mentally shuffling that the heap of miscellaneous stuff that passed for my brain, trying to remember all ten of the commandments.

sunlight in new leaves Route 16

Why? Because I thought I should know them. They are supposedly the basis of all moral law, right? Why don’t I know them? Why aren’t they all on the tip of my tongue?

I found myself at a full stop around seven or eight, depending on how I divided the “How to behave to God” section which contains a lot of run-on sentences that could be interpreted as two or sometimes even three commandments but have — I suppose for convenience — been lumped into one.

Chestnut Street Magnolia

I ask Garry if he knows the ten commandments. He replies, with irritation, he has to pay attention to traffic. There wasn’t any traffic, except for the slow driver in front of us. I suppose Garry was trying to not ram him.

Finally, he admits he doesn’t know all of them either, at least not in order.

“A sad state of affairs,” I point out, “When two educated souls cannot recite the ten commandments.”

“There’s a lot of stuff about not making idols and coveting and all.”

“Yeah, and taking one day off each week.”

When I got home, I looked them up.

It turns out there are a bunch of “how to behave to God” commandments. Not all Christians — much less Jews — divide them up the same way. You can count as many as fifteen (à la Mel Brooks in “History of the World, Part I”) or as few as eight. It depends on how you look at them and punctuate the sentences.

Following are the Big Ten according to most Protestant sects, plus a second list containing my streamlined, easy-to-remember set.

Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17 NKJV)

  1. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments.
  3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
  6. “You shall not murder.
  7. “You shall not commit adultery.
  8. “You shall not steal.
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Heston-Charlton-Ten-Commandments

I’ve always wondered how come we need laws from God to know that murder is not okay. Aren’t we born knowing this? Don’t we know without being told that stealing is bad? That we should take care of our parents and show them respect? Do we really need laws to tell us?

Modernization is all the rage, so here’s my take on them. Not etched in stone. For the sake of today’s prompt, jealousy is mentioned once in the second commandment where it is good because it’s the Lord’s prerogative. In the tenth, it’s covetousness which is not good because jealousy is good for God, but not for us.

A Streamlined Top Ten

  1. I’m God. The One and Only. Don’t forget it, not for a moment.
  2. Idols are O-U-T.
  3. Don’t swear using God’s name. Maybe no swearing at all. I’m not sure.
  4. Take a break on the seventh day of your week. It doesn’t matter what day you choose because when I started making the world, there were no calendars. So take your pick, then stick to it. Everyone gets the same day off, including your family, guests, slaves, servants, and animals. No work. Got that?
  5. Respect your parents. Take care of them.
  6. Don’t murder anyone.
  7. Don’t cheat on your spouse.
  8. Don’t steal stuff.
  9. Don’t lie.
  10. Don’t envy other people’s stuff. You’ve got your own.

I’m just here to help.

DON’T FORGIVE, DON’T FORGET – HAND IT OFF

Christians have a handle on the forgiving thing. They understand there’s no “human” forgiveness involved. Your job is to recognize you can’t forgive and no one can really forget. So you say, “God? I give this burden to you. Apply your justice and take this bag of rocks off my back.” And voilà, he does.

spring woods

The important lesson — whether or not you buy into Christian theology — is you don’t have to like the person you “forgive.” You don’t have to invite him/her/them over to hang out or feed them a meal. Or even talk to them civilly.

You dump your pain, grief, obsessive reliving of whatever happened, into the lap of your higher power, Karma, or whatever you call it.

It works. You don’t have to sign up for the whole package to recognize a good concept when you see it.

Carrying around a ton of anger and pain kills you. It grinds you down, makes you obsess on injustice. Plan revenge — which most of us would never really actual execute.

The most important point is simple. The person at whom you are angry is not suffering. You are suffering. You are not beating him/her/them up. You’re beating on yourself. So not only were you wronged, but you’ve taken over their role by proxy and continue to hurt yourself.

People who’ve had abusive relationships (child, adult, both) are particularly prone to defining themselves by the worst stuff that ever happened to them. To the point where can’t remember anything good.

fuchsia and woods

You don’t need to forgive or forget. Recognize Karma, God, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, Chronos — something or someone greater than yourself. Hand off the pain, the anger, the hurt. You don’t know how much weight you’ve been hauling until you let it go.

Alternatively, you can hire a trained assassin and burn the bastard. That works too. Just don’t get caught.

I’VE GOT NOTHING AGAINST GOD

Some of us don’t have a news service per se running on our device, computer, tablet, telephone, whatever. I am one of those people. It took a long time for me to me to untether from the constant background chatter of news and breathless headlines. Especially difficult having a husband who was one of those guys who stood in front of the camera announcing the latest calamity, crises, act of God, murder-du-jour, scandal, whatever.

He too has largely detached from the constant barrage of what passes for news in 2015. Instead of rejecting all news, he has redefined it. Baseball is news. Movies, books, plays, and television shows are news. The rest is noise. When elections roll around, we begin to follow the political news. And we vote. Even in local elections.

Otherwise, news is one more way the world raises our blood pressure and ruins a good night’s sleep.

But wait! I pop in and out of Facebook, so that is my news. So in the spirit of the prompt of the day, here’s the third headline from my Facebook feed:

got nothing against God

I don’t think I have much to add to the sentiment. I didn’t post it myself, so don’t go weird on me. You asked, I delivered.

Take it for what it’s worth. Ponder it. Consider the underlying meaning. Whether or not it fits your idea of reality, your relationship with the religious element in the politics of the region in which you live.

Get back to me on that. My work here is finished.


Ripped from the Headlines

Click to whatever website you visit most frequently to get news. Find the third headline on the page. Make sure that headline is in your post.

DRINK THE KOOLAID: THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE

Jonestown_entrance_welcome

The story of the Jonestown Massacre is true. From it grew a saying everyone uses. “Drink the Kool-Aid” or “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” I wonder how many people who say it so casually, referring to products, buying into a corporate culture, or political philosophy, realize to what they are referring?

I’ve written this before, but this is a major revision and it bears repeating. It’s true. It happened. We need to make sure it never happens again.

Drink (or don’t drink) the Kool-aid

The popular expression “drink the Kool-Aid” has become a common verbal shorthand in American business and politics. Roughly translated, it means “to blindly follow or accept a set of beliefs.” At work, it means you endorse what your bosses tell you. In politics, it means you fully buy into the platform.

It carries a negative connotation, but not as negative as it ought.

Kool-Aid was the drink for children on summer afternoons in the 1950s. The saying is now just bland rhetoric, stripped of its context and thus the horror it ought to evoke.

The Peoples Temple

Jim Jones, cult leader and mass murderer, was a complex madman. A communist, occasional Methodist minister, he founded his own pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”

The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name supposedly refers to “the people of the world.” Jones called it a church, but it was a twisted version of a Marxist commune. At first, it combined with miscellaneous Christian references Jones used in his diatribes, er, sermons.

jim_jones

It was not a church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult requiring total personal commitment, financial support, and absolute obedience. The characteristics which define a cult.

Jones was the leader. A homicidal maniac, but he had positive qualities. Jones and his wife, Marceline, favored racial integration. They adopted kids from varying racial backgrounds and were the first white family in Indiana to adopt an African-American boy. They also adopted 3 Korean children, a Native American child, and a handful of white kids. They had one child of their own.

Jones called his adopted kids the “Rainbow Family.” He made a name for himself desegregating institutions in Indiana. Before you get all dewy-eyed, note that this climaxed in murdering these children.

The Peoples Temple expanded through the 1960s. Jones gradually abandoned Marxism. His preaching increasingly focused on impending nuclear apocalypse. He specified a date — July 15, 1967 — and suggested after the apocalypse, a socialist paradise would exist on Earth. Where would the new Eden be?

Jones decided on Redwood Valley, California. Before the expected Big Bang, he moved the Temple and its peoples there.

When the end-of-the-world deadline came and went, Jones abandoned his pretense of Christianity and he revealed himself as a madman using religion to lend legitimacy to his views. He announced “Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion must be brought to enlightenment — socialism.” Prophetic words in view of the fact that Jones was a drug addict .

As media attention increased, Jones worried the Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt religious status was in danger. He was paranoid about the U.S. intelligence community — with good reason.

Jonestown aerial view

In 1977, Jones moved the Temple and its people again. This was a major relocation. He took them out of the United States and resettled everyone in Guyana, a poor South American nation. He modestly named it “Jonestown.”

It was a bleak, inhospitable place. On 4000 acres of poor soil with limited access to fresh water, it was too small for the number of people it had to support. Jones optimistically figured “his” people could farm the new utopia. He had put together several million dollars before getting to Jonestown, but didn’t share it with his followers. He barely used any of the money at all, and lived in a small, bare-bones shack.

All Hell Breaks Loose

U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November of 1978. Rumors of peculiar goings-on were leaking out of Jonestown. Ryan decided to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses in Jonestown.

Jonestown headline Milwaukee

Ryan didn’t go alone. He took a contingent of media representatives including NBC News correspondent Don Harris and other reporters, plus relatives of Jonestown residents. During his visit, Congressman Ryan talked to more than a dozen Temple members, all of whom said they wanted to leave. Several of them passed a note saying: “Please help us get out of Jonestown” to news anchor Harris.

If the number of defectors seems low (there were more than 900 people in Jonestown), but the congressional party was unable to talk to most of the “fellowship.” It’s impossible to know how many might have wanted to leave.

Ryan began processing paperwork to repatriate Temple members to go back to the States. In the middle of this, Ryan was attacked by Don Sly, a knife-wielding Temple member. This would-be assassin was stopped before injuring Ryan. Eventually the entire Ryan party plus the group of Jonestown defectors drove to a nearby airstrip and boarded planes, intending to leave.

Jim Jones had other plans. He sent armed Temple members — his “Red Brigade,” after the Congressional party  These creepy “soldiers of the Temple” opened fire, killing Ryan, a Temple defector, 3 members of the media, and wounding 11 others. The survivors fled into the jungle.

jonestown massacre anniversary

When the murderers returned to Jonestown and reported their actions, Jones promptly started what he called a “White Night” meeting. He “invited” all Temple members. This wasn’t the first White Night. Jones had hosted previous White Night meetings in which he suggested U.S. intelligence agencies would soon attack Jonestown. He had even staged fake attacks to add a realism, though it’s hard to believe anyone was fooled by the play-acting.

Faced with this hypothetical invasion scenario, Jones told Temple members they could stay and fight imaginary invaders, or they could take off for the USSR. Another tempting alternative would be to run off into the Guyana jungles. Finally, they could commit mass suicide as an act of political protest.

On previous occasions Temple members had opted for suicide. Not satisfied, Jones had tested their commitment and gave them cups of liquid they were told contained poison. They were asked to drink it. Which they did. After a while, Jones told them the liquid wasn’t poison — but one day it would be.

Jonestown Koolaid

Indeed Jim Jones had been stockpiling cyanide and other drugs for years. On this final White Night, Jones was no longer testing his followers. It was time to kill them all.

(Don’t) Drink the Kool-Aid

After the airstrip murders outside Jonestown, Jim Jones ordered Temple members to create a fruity mix containing a cocktail of chemicals that included cyanide, diazepam (Valium), promethazine (Phenergan — a sedative), chloral hydrate (a sedative/hypnotic sometimes called “knockout drops”), and Flavor Aid — a grape-flavored powdered drink mix similar to Kool-Aid.

jonestown_massacre

Jones urged his followers to commit suicide to make a political point. What that point was supposed to be is a matter of considerable conjecture.  After some discussion, Temple member Christine Miller suggested flying Temple members to the USSR.

Jones was never interested in escape. There was only one answer he would accept. Death. Lots of it. He repeatedly pointed out Congressman Ryan was dead (and whose fault was that?) which would surely bring down the weight of American retribution. An audiotape of this meeting exists. It is as creepy as you’d expect.

30-years-jonestown

Then it was time for the detailed instructions which the followers followed. I will never understand why. Probably it means I’m not insane.

Jones insisted mothers squirt poison into the mouths of their children using syringes. As their children died, the mothers were dosed too, though they were allowed to drink from cups. Temple members wandered outside where eventually more than 900 lay dead, including more than 300 children. Only a handful of survived — primarily residents who happened to be away on errands when the mass suicide/massacre took place.

Jones, his wife, and various other members of the Temple left wills stating that their assets should go to the Communist Party of the USSR.

Jones did not drink poison. He died from a bullet to the head. It’s not clear if it was self-inflicted. Jones likely died last or nearly so. He may have preferred a gun to cyanide, having seen the horrendous effects of death by cyanide.

Why Kool-Aid?

In the wake of the tragedy at Jonestown, the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a popular term for blind (or not-so-blind) obedience. Temple members had apparently accepted their cups of poison without argument or objection. Various accounts say the beverage used at Jonestown was mostly Flavor Aid, sometimes “Flav-R-Aid”). It doesn’t matter, does it?

Kool-Aid was better-known than Flavor Aid. It was introduced in 1927 in powdered form, so when Americans thought of a powdered fruity drink mix (other than “Tang”), “Kool-Aid” sprang to mind.

Jonestown-Tomb-Flower

Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were at Jonestown, but the phrase “(don’t) drink the Kool-Aid” is popular lingo. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Does it help sell Kool-Aid?

I never touch the stuff.


 Deep Throat: The Blacklight Candelabra

I’ve written about Jonestown before, but given the state of politics today, not only in the US but around the world, it bears repeating. It’s a cautionary tale for our times, reminding us where fanaticism leads. Over the course of history, fanatics and those who blindly follow without questioning those who lead, have caused millions of deaths. Untold misery. Incalculable harm. It isn’t harmless. It isn’t “just blowing off steam.”

290 – OTHER AND COMPARATIVE RELIGIONS

THE DEWY DECIMAL SYSTEM – THE BLACKLIGHT CANDELABRA

In response to Bumblepuppies prompt on Blacklight Candelabra, I created a three 3-digit number. I visited this Dewey Decimal System website and found the subject which matched my number. I got lucky.


I cheated. A little bit. I used my address, which is three digits. And hit a bulls-eye. My favorite subject for mental meandering and an occasional rant.

Number 290 — Other & Comparative Religion

We waste a lot of time trying to figure out what life means. We don’t waste nearly enough time doing what we enjoy … which in my opinion, is the meaning — or at least the point — of life. Most people think religion has something to do with it. I was taught there are two ways to approach religion:

1) It’s a formalized set of beliefs to which a bunch of people adhere. (William James)

2) It’s the center of you, most “propriate” — central — to your “self.” (Orlo Strunk)

I’ve always gone with door number two wherein religion isn’t a set of beliefs, rules, and guidelines — no matter how many people claim to follow it. It isn’t what someone says at a pulpit on Saturday or Sunday. It’s how you live, what you are. If you are a miserable, mean-spirited bastard, I don’t care how often you attend church, synagogue, or mosque, you are the way you are. Your religion is you.

72-Glow-Snow-3-2_02

Most of us are essentially self worshippers. We may include others in our closest (most propriate) circle. A life mate, kids, pets, closest friends. Maybe dedication to an art — writing, painting, music. Or making money and accumulating stuff. Regardless, our inner core is our religion. It’s what gives life meaning.

Life is rarely what we want or expect. Never what we believe we deserve. So you gotta wonder if the reason you are sick, broke, or miserable is because you lack faith or failed to adhere to those Higher Laws. Yet if you look around, you’ll see many folks with faith aplenty whose lives are a train wreck. They explain it by saying “God has a plan.” I’m not going to argue if there’s a plan, but I question if said plan has anything to do with me.

I’ve put decades of thought into why my life keeps falling apart. I’m not perfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s small potatoes in the scheme of things. It’s hard for me to believe, even in my darkest moments, I’m so wicked The Big Guy has in for me. Personally.

One day, I realized I had my answer. Life is random. There is no meaning except what you give it. If you give nothing to life, life will give nothing back.

Whether what you put into your life is based on principles espoused by a “formal” religion” (per William James), or is what you hold in your heart (per Orlo Strunk), you know everything you need to know. Mostly, you know right from wrong because you were born knowing it. You know what you love, what you care about. You can now move about the cabin. Make your choices without expecting reward or punishment.

Life doesn’t make sense. Never has, never will. You don’t “do the right thing” because it will earn you a reward or a ticket to heaven. You do right because it’s right. Life will probably screw you over anyway, but not because you chose wrong. Merely because life is like that.

If believing in a loving God makes you feel good, believe it. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ve backed a winner. If believing there is no God floats your boat, go with that.  Whatever you do, I hope it makes you happy. Take your best shot. Whatever awaits at the end of the line, the one sure thing is today. Pity to waste it.

TRUST IN GOD, BUT TIE YOUR CAMEL

DAILY PROMPT: IN GOOD FAITH

I’ve come a long way since I originally wrote this. It’s interesting, like mental time travel. You get to see who you were “back then” versus who you are today.

Life changes. Change is the only constant in our world. Change can be good, but as we age, it tends to be … well … difficult.

72-FebSunrise_06

I broke my back when I was a kid. I was reconstructed when I was 19. For the next 35 years, I refused to pay any attention to my spine. I was not going to be disabled. Not me. It was mind over matter. But, it turns out, mind over matter only takes you so far.

I began to have trouble walking. My balance became erratic. I lost sensation in my feet and miscellaneous reflexes disappeared. I went to doctors. All of whom said I needed a new spinal fusion, the old one having fallen apart.

That explanation and solution made no sense to me. After surgery, I’d be in more pain. My spine would be stable, but spinal instability was not my problem. My problem was pain and stiffness with the accompanying limited mobility.

I believe in miracles because I’ve experienced a couple of them. Nonetheless, I don’t count on them. If you could count on them, they wouldn’t be miracles, now would they? In lieu of prayer, I took my case to the top spine guy in Boston.

He said I did not need surgery, nor would it solve the problems I was having. (See? I was right.) “Ignore my colleagues’ scare tactics,” he said. “Your back got you through this far. It’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise, and recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid.” Like fall off a horse? Lift heavy packages?

Since then, there has been so much more yet finally, I’m beginning to feel better. My back isn’t better. That’s not going to happen, but the rest of me is beginning to feel — younger.

Faith can help get you through times of trouble, but faith in what, exactly? Yourself? Your loved ones? Your friends? It need not be a deity (though I often think it would be nice to really believe that someone was watching out for me from on high), but faith in something, that there’s a future worth living. That’s a big part of getting through life-threatening stuff.

Faith is a tool, not an all-purpose band-aid. You don’t apply faith like a salve and it heals all ills. Contrary to popular mythology, it does not mean you don’t have to take care of yourself, nor will it make you young again, or stop your joints from aching. It won’t pay your mortgage or make you immortal, but it can offer you a context in which to see yourself and your problems, make you realize that you really do have something to live for. That is no small thing when the going gets very rough.

After a lot of intellectual dodging and weaving on the subject, I believe there is something, but I have no idea what. I don’t believe we have individual guardian angels looking out for us. It would be nice, but ridiculous. Nor I am not willing to commit to nothingness. To suggest I know the answers would be an extraordinary act of hubris. So I’ll let others duke it out on the details while I remain unaffiliated.

Meanwhile, whoever or whatever has helped me get this far, I’d very much appreciate it if that Force would stay with me.

IN SEARCH OF PEACE ON EARTH

The Same Auld Lang Syne, by Rich Paschall

Another year has begun and we can see it is indeed the same as days gone by.  The old days are not forgotten as old conflicts rage on and new ones have arisen.  If old acquaintances happen to be forgotten as one year passes into another, old hatred, old disputes, old border wars, old and new religious battles carry on as if they will forever be remembered.  Are these disagreements worth the killing of men, women and children standing on the other side?

In our neighborhood, just as in many around the world we conclude our year wishing “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”  It is on our greeting cards and in our songs.  It appears in Christmas stories and is heard from pulpits and lecterns around the world. The invocations I read to those assembled at noon mass at our church on Christmas Day included a call for world leaders to truly seek world peace.  For this intention I said to the congregation, “We pray to the Lord.”  They responded to my prayer by rote, as we have the same response to all our intentions, “Lord hear our prayer.”

The Lord may hear our prayer but I think He surely means for us to work at resolving the conflicts that plague the world.  I am not convinced many really heard the intention or remembered it by the time they hit the pavement an hour later.  Do we want a new beginning or will things continue in the same direction?  Our history for this sort of thing suggests the answer.

Sometimes our world leaders do indeed seem to be making strides for peace, but these strides often suffer reversals when conflicts begin anew as they predictably do.  While Presidents, prime ministers and even royalty call for peace, how many are actually plotting retaliations and wars behind the scenes?  In fact, we would all think our leaders were careless and irresponsible if they were not prepared to take up old battles at a moments notice, or begin new ones if need be.

Even the current Pope, revered for his concerns for the poor, has condemned ISIS and violent groups and urged the world not to be indifferent to the suffering they have caused.  If we are not to be indifferent, than what are we to do?  Is it a call for those facing conflict to continue the fight?  Is it a call for outsiders to join in?

There are no easy answers to ISIS, the Taliban, the war lords and terrorist groups. If there was I hope we would have employed them by now.  How about closer to home?  What of the racial profiling, police brutality, gun violence and large prison populations?  What of the street gangs and drug cartels?  What of organized crime and the violence they are willing to commit?  How many marches in the street will it take to rid us of the same old acquaintances we know through the oft-repeated scenes?  Will marches alone bring peace to our homeland?

The sad truth of starting each year with a call for peace on earth is we end the year needing to renew the call again.  Perhaps it would be best if old acquaintances could be forgotten so we could start with a new and clean slate.  However, there are those who can not let go of the hate.  They perpetuate the cultural divide.  They do not wish to give up the fight or extend a hand across the border or the battlefield.  Is this what we were taught?  Did we say “Peace on Earth” when we really meant “Don’t let our enemies get any peace?”  What messages are we really sending when we learn that the greeting card verses are more fiction than fact?

“Should old acquaintance be forgot and never be brought to mind?” Perhaps. And perhaps we need to start believing in the simple verses of seasonal songs and bring peace on earth. The answers to our problems are actually there in many of those simple holiday songs.  They have always been there.  It is contained in a four letter word we are afraid to use, especially when it comes to those we perceive as our enemies.  Do you know that word?  Love, as in Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself. They know on the streets we can not continue to live with the past wrongs, well some streets anyway.

Video: “It had to be said. Warning, Explicit Language”