I’LL BELIEVE IN YOU IF YOU’LL BELIEVE IN ME

I noticed I have about an equal number of religious and atheist friends. That probably means I’m doing something right. If you get right down to it, I believe in you. And me. I believe in human intelligence. I believe we each have the right to exercise our intelligence as we see fit.

I am not an atheist, but I’m not religious, either. You can not prove there is no god. Nor can you can prove there is a god. I will defend to the death your right to believe whatever you choose. It is your right to believe, disbelieve, question, argue. It’s my right too.

I draw the line at anyone telling me what I should believe.

Steeple and skyI dislike dogma. Religion by itself is not a problem. It’s the systems, the rules, the dogma that messes up the world. Dogma is a way to categorize everything, to put it all in boxes. If it doesn’t fit in a box, a properly dogmatic believer will beat, pummel, pound, and torture a person or concept until it fits.

I don’t want to be in a box.

Atheism is a leap of faith as is every religion. And it is a religion. My mother was an atheist, or so she declared herself. She wasn’t really an atheist, in my opinion. She hated god, felt betrayed by god. She felt that if there was a god, he wasn’t worthy of her faith.

No one can prove the existence or non-existence of god. Personally, I think we’d all be better off if everyone would stop trying to prove it one way or the other. No one is going to be convinced by anyone else’s proof. Why not let everyone be as irrational as he or she wants? Maybe if we let others do their thing, they in turn will be let us be crazy in our own ways.

It has to start somewhere. Why don’t we take the first step?

I’m sure this makes me the ultimate fence sitter. So be it. I actually believe in everyone’s right to freedom. It’s the last vestige of my optimistic hope for humanity, the last non-cynical piece of me.

It’s fun to debate god, no god, religion, no religion, faith, no faith. Whatever. Big ideas, complicated concepts. It’s particularly fun when you’re stoned. But. No one is going to be converted to your point of view, no matter how well-constructed your arguments may be. It’s intellectual exercise. It makes great after dinner conversation, but that’s all it is.

When the last cookies have been eaten, the last wine drunk, then it’s time to pack up the arguments and go home – each to our own beliefs. That’s the way it should be.

ALL THE ANSWERS YOU’LL EVER NEED

We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means. Why bad stuff happens. Whether or not a malevolent deity has it in for us. It’s normal to wonder if the reason you are sick, broke or miserable is the result of something you did or failed to do. To accept the total randomness of events is rough.

Like you, I’ve put a good bit of thought into how come my life keeps falling apart. I know I’m not perfect, but come on! It’s not like I ripped off everyone’s retirement money or slaughtered thousands of people because I think they are ethnically inferior. Whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things.

I was pondering this stuff when I was a teenager, which is why I studied it in college and kept exploring it through the decades since. One day, I woke up and realized I knew the Truth. All had been revealed.

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I Don’t Know Anything. Neither Do You.

Suddenly random happenstance is as meaningful as anything else. What a relief to realize I don’t need an explanation. Stuff happens. I spent years — decades — thinking in circles, but now I am perfectly content displaying my lack of knowledge for all the world to see (and admire).

Just like when I was 12. I’ve been considering founding a church. I could enlist a lot of followers. My church  would require no beliefs. It would need no contributions of time or money. It wouldn’t even require that you show up, unless you happened to feel like it. There would be no rules to follow, no standards to live up to. No angry deity to get pissed off if you behave badly. It would ideally suit the modern lifestyle, don’t you think?

Faith and Proof

Faith is not proof. Faith is opinion in fancy clothing.

You can believe what you want, but you can’t know any more than I do. You take the same leap of faith believing in God or declaring yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no proof and for which you can never have proof.

If believing in a loving God makes your world feel rational, that’s good. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ll have backed a winner. If believing there is no God, and science is the path to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re  making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.

As for me, I don’t know. Really. I don’t know and what makes me smarter than you is I know I don’t know.

Tempus Fugit is a frog.

Tempus Fugit is a frog.

Accepting that one knows nothing is a big step, so the next issue to tackle is how can you can cash in on your new understanding. What’s the point in knowing the meaning of life unless you can awe people with your brilliance?

No one will be dazzled unless you know the right words. Terminology is important.

Big words (4 or more syllables) when used in an appropriate setting, can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds indicating their admiration.

Employing big words enhances your likelihood of getting a management position.

You can write important books.Have a blog like me. Big words can take you a long way if you are skilled at deploying them.

Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.

Epistemology

Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? 

I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything. Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)

Phenomenology

On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. Except the same reasoning can prove there is no God. This is the joy of phenomenology.

Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.

In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.

Becoming a Fount of Wisdom

You can now explain anything. Everything. You can prove things based on something a couple of friends said years ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Although others may fault your logic, in the world of academics, everyone disbelieves everyone else unless they are citing them as a source, so you might as well stick your oar in the water.

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There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself making it hard to dispute. Not to worry. The only one who is ever fully convinced by faith is the one who holds it. Nor does it really matter how many people believe or disbelieve it.

Having more believers or followers doesn’t transform faith into fact.

If it did, we could achieve some really nifty things. Like, say we all believe in magic and therefore, it exists. Cool.

Thanks for reading. I hope I’ve clarified everything. If not, feel free to have your people call my people. We’ll talk.

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LEDA DOES THE SWAN

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The happy couple.

Back in my bright college days, I was for the first 2 years, a music major. When my fellow wannabe musicians hung out on the quad on warm sunny days, we would plan projects that were going to make us famous. Symphonies were planned. Great achievements as conductors and composers were spun as glorious dreams, although I don’t know that my class actually produced anyone who really hit the big time. Medium time seems to be as good as we got.

But my dream, my great project, was a full musical comedy based on the story of Leda and the Swan. I thought Broadway because in those days, there were no computer generated graphics to make the impossible real on-screen. Now, I think perhaps Hollywood would be the correct venue for this masterpiece.

In the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces, or rapes Leda. Which is never made entirely clear, but I vote for seduction since I have a lot of trouble visualizing getting raped by a swan. Even as Zeus, swans are not agile except in the water and their lack of hands and arms would seem to make rape difficult.

Regardless, Leda becomes pregnant by Zeus as swan. She bears Helen and Polydeuces, both children of Zeus in his swan modality. Simultaneously (I’d like to know how she manages this) she gives birth to Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her human husband Tyndareus, King of Sparta.

In the myth, Leda is able to convince her parents and husband her extra pregnancy was not the result of a lover. No, no! Honest to gods, really, no kidding, it was Zeus who did it. Not merely was it Zeus –not some guy — but he was in the form of a swan!

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Hey, Zeus? Is that you?

My favorite scene would be the first act closer. In a highly emotional musical extravaganza, Leda pours out her distress in a heart-rending lyric soprano rich with passion. She explains — to hubby, mom and dad —  it really truly was Zeus.

Leda: Even in the form of a swan, I knew it was Zeus. And you all know how much I love birds and feathers, right? I mean … what girl could resist such a gorgeous bird who is, after all, top God in the Pantheon? No kidding. I wouldn’t lie to you.

Tyndareus, King of Sparta: I want to believe you, but I’m having a few problems with this.

Leda: Trust me, dear. It was Zeus. He was disguised as a swan. You know how clever he can be.

Later, we all get to see the central event, Leda’s experience. In a carefully choreographed dream sequence, Leda relives the heady romance of the seduction. I’m assuming it was seduction rather than rape. I mean, how big was that swan anyhow? And, uh, some of the technical aspects of the experience make for interesting mental meanderings. How, exactly, did … well … Never mind. This is a G-rated site. Suffice to say it would make a heck of a scene. Now that CGI has come of age, with some well done special effects? Wow. This could have the audience on its feet!

There’s more. Depending on which version of the story you read, Leda either give birth to babies … or lays eggs. Lays eggs? Really?

Zeus and Leda?

Zeus and Leda?

Eggs open up a whole new world of possibilities. If she lays eggs, does she have to sit on them until they hatch? As Queen of Sparta, can she order her court attendants to sit on the eggs while she performs her royal duties?

Does she build a nest? In the palace? Do the hatchlings feel a compelling urge to dive into lakes and ponds? Are they born knowing how to swim? Or more to the point, paddle? Do they have webbed feet? How do they feel about feathers?

I no long feel up to writing a musical comedy, but I freely offer this amazing concept to anyone who feels inclined to flush it out. I think it might just launch more than one career. You think?

Weekly Writing Challenge: Dialogue – Land Mine

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“Good morning,” I said. It was going to be a hot, sticky day. I noticed the top of the Dutch door was open. I closed it.

“How are you feeling?” I ask.

“Okay.” He doesn’t sound okay. He sounds angry. I sigh. Our emotional landscape is strewn with land mines.

“Got anything planned today?” I phrase my question carefully, presenting it in my most dulcet tones … almost flutey.

“Not really.”

He continues to putter at the sink. The anger seems to come from nowhere, settling solidly between us, heavy and sodden.

“I hate to bother you, but could you keep the doors closed when the air conditioning is on? You know, electric bill and stuff.”

Our electric bill the previous month had exceeded our car payment. I didn’t say it, but I must have thought it too loudly. And stepped right on that land mine. Boom. Blew my foot right off.

“All you ever do is criticize me. You don’t appreciate the stuff I do!”

Whatever I might say would just make it worse. He isn’t angry with me. He’s angry with an irrational universe which has saddled him with me. He’s poorly equipped to play the supporting role in a medical melodrama. No natural aptitude for care-giving. Unhappy playing sensitive helpmate to a sickly wife. Nor am I good at being a sickly wife. It’s a boring role.

We wind up locked together in the angry dance. We don’t know the steps and are forever treading on each others’ toes. We don’t care for the melody either, but we have to keep dancing. Tough assignment.

This must be why they put that insidious “for better and worse, in sickness and in health” clause in marriage vows. The “better and health” parts are easy, but the “worse and sickness” section can prove a serious test of a relationship. Life plays cruel jokes.

Pity we never get to see our future until it’s too late to do anything about it. If ever there was such a time.

Fall will come. And cooler weather.

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Write About Dogs

My favorite cartoon – by George Booth – was originally published in The New Yorker. It shows a man sitting in front of a typewriter. Dogs are everywhere A woman, presumably his wife, watches from the doorway. The caption reads “Write about dogs.”

My home is full of dogs. Anyone who comes to visit must compete with the dogs for the comfortable chairs and the best spots on the sofa. (Come to think of it, we have to fight them for the best seats too.) That’s the way it is. The dogs are family.

If we have guests who are old, frail or allergic, we do our best to accommodate their needs. We put the most rambunctious, smelly, and hairy dogs out of the way if we can, but that depends on the weather. Basically, if you don’t like dogs, you’ve come to the wrong house. People who don’t like dogs are not frequent visitors.

That’s fine with me. I prefer the company of most dogs to most people. There are lots of reasons to prefer dogs. But the two big ones are love and honesty.

Dogs love you completely, totally, and without reservation. They don’t care about your social status or education, whether you are young or old, ugly or beautiful, rich or poor. They love you completely.

Your dog will never betray or abandon you.

Dogs are terrible liars. Not that they don’t try. Every dog will do his or her best to convince each human to give them treats. Your dog will tell you she needs a biscuit now or will collapse from hunger. This is not particularly convincing when the canine in question is a beefy pooch who has obviously never missed a meal. Eternally optimistic, all dogs figure it’s worth a shot. It’s a dog thing. You never know when a biscuit might fall your way.

When the performance our furry kids put on in hopes of getting a tasteless dry biscuit is especially hilarious, we relax the rules and give them a little something. After all, they don’t have hands and can’t grab one for themselves. Now and again, they need to get lucky because they’re cute and we love them.

Dogs lie, but their lies are simple and transparent. There’s no malice in them. They just want a biscuit. If they don’t get one, they love you anyway.

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When it comes to love, dogs are the best. They “get” love and think you are wonderful. They think you are wonderful every day of their lives. When they are dying, the last thing they will do is look at you with love in their eyes, wag their tail one final time and try to give you a kiss.

I have spent my life lurching between my quest for God and an equally ardent quest for the best dog food at the most reasonable price. When times have been hard and we’ve had to choose between food for us and food for our furry children, the fur kids always win.

Our dogs do not suffer from angst. They don’t worry unless supper runs late or biscuits are forgotten in the bustle of a day’s activities. If such a catastrophe should occur, they know exactly where to present their grievances and apply for redress.

Dogs live close to their deities. They hang out with their gods on the sofa. They get biscuits from them in the morning and evening. If life is circumscribed and a bit confined, it is nonetheless good.

Sometimes one of their gods gets angry and yells at them. That might make them unhappy for a few minutes, but the gods of their world don’t stay angry. Our dogs have kindly and loving gods who are inclined to scratch them behind the ears and talk to them in soft voices.

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We are gods to our dogs and as such, we set laws for them to live by. Don’t poop or pee in the house.

Do not chew things not given to you for chewing, especially not anything containing batteries. Don’t jump on old people or babies. Don’t growl at delivery people. Don’t stay up late barking. Abide by the law and all will be well.

When rules are clear and understood by all, life runs smoothly.

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The human side of the contract is more complicated. It’s harder being god than dog.

We pledge to care for them all the days of their lives. We keep them healthy. We love and nurture them. We feed them properly, make sure they get exercise – though they don’t get enough of it and neither do we. We keep them warm and dry in winter, cool and dry in summer.

If we force them to go outside to do their business, it is because they are, after all, dogs.

Every evening, for at least a little while, their gods climb down from heaven to play on the floor.

Our dogs don’t fret about the future. They live in a joyful present. When their time comes, we will make sure they pass gently out of this world. We promise to keep them as free from suffering as is within our power.

That is our solemn contract. We live up to that pledge because we really are gods to our fur children and must never let them down. Pets teach you a lot about the divine contract.

I’m not sweet

I can’t help it. I’m not. Sweet, I mean. Stuff about angels and how every cloud has a silver lining makes me ill. I want to scream and throw things. It makes me very angry.

I think it’s a big fat pack of lies. My life has not been sweet. I’ve had fun. I’ve had some wonderful times, great moments and I expect there will yet be some more. I’ve got a wonderful husband. Some fabulous friends. But overall, life has been hard. Angels have been noticeable only by their absence. Rain clouds have contained rain and lots of it. Usually lightning, too.

The up side of all of this is I have learned to go on with life, even in the rain and discovered that remarkably, I can survive even when I’m wet. I can cope with problems without an angel to lend a magical hand.

The thing about all of this stuff about super sweet angels watching over me is … it makes me feel bad. It doesn’t give me hope. I figure there must be something wrong with me because apparently everyone else sees angels and silver linings where I see obstacles to overcome and storms coming.

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I’m not an atheist, but I don’t believe God spends much time watching over me. I figure He? She? They? are pretty busy. I was given brains and the ability to work through difficulties, to survive. I use my intelligence to come up with creative solutions to problems. I look inward to find strength and I don’t expect a supernatural rescue squad.

Does this mean I’m cynical? Maybe. Probably. I think it makes me down-to-earth. Realistic. I’m not constantly looking for help. I’m not expecting the cavalry to come charging over the hill to save me. I don’t expect bail outs. I hold myself responsible for myself, my mistakes, my life.

Would I appreciate unexpected assistance from a divine source? A few big cash windfalls? Yes, of course I would.

I just don’t plan on it.

Daily Prompt: Leave em’ laughing!

There’s no viable alternative to laughter. Drugs, booze, even chocolate … all are nothing in the face of the black comedy of our lives. True there is something to be said for laughing while drinking and eating chocolate, but not all of us can treat our bodies that way and live to tell the tale, so we have to settle for humor.

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When our lives are in shambles, when all around us is falling apart, the brave tell jokes. When the laughter dies down, we take a deep breath, tell another one … and laugh some more. The more horrific the situation, the more devastating the problems, the more catastrophic the impending calamity, the funnier it is. We do not laugh at tragedy.  We laugh at life. We laugh at ourselves.

Laughter is not about happy times. Jokes are full of pain and sorrow. They are the defense we’ve been given to push back the darkness and despair. Use it freely. It’s the best medication on earth.

The difference between tragedy and comedy is how you look at it. Laughter is the universal cure for the griefs of life.

What can you do? If the light at the end of the tunnel is indeed the headlight of an oncoming train? Heard any good ones lately?

Laughing at the craziness, insanity, ludicrousness, the utter absurdity of my life — and the demented world in which I live it — is my first line of defense against despair. Take away laughter, strip away my sense of humor and I’m a goner.

I hope I’ve left you laughing!

How sweetly they sing …

From Wild for Wildlife and Nature.

Our fur kids like to sing along with “Amazing Grace.” And it seems so appropriate for them!

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Hey, God … How about a few answers?

Heresy … or is it blasphemy? I always get the two confused. Maybe this is both.

Whatever it is, I really would like a few answers. I know I’m not a model human. Not in any sense of the term, but certainly not in the religious sense. Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist … the four religions about which I actually know something … I don’t quite fit into any of them. Mind you, I’m not so bad, either. There are plenty a whole lot worse than me.

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While me and mine struggle along, barely keeping our heads above the water, evil-doers of a very high magnitude are thriving their asses off out in the Big Bad World. In fact, there are a whole lot of really awful people doing well, living, as far as I can tell, happy, healthy, and productive lives.

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Is it possible that somewhere beneath the shiny exterior they are deep in existential torment? Maybe, but I’m betting not. In my admittedly limited experience, rotten people are not introspective. They do what they do and they don’t spend a lot of time feeling bad about it. In fact, they don’t spend any time at all feeling bad about it. Maybe if something happens to upset the smooth flow of their expensive lives, they pause and ponder … but I’m not convinced. They probably do something even worse and move on.

So how come they have a “get out of jail free” card and people like me, whose sins are of the ordinary, run-of-the-mill kind, wind up with the world falling down around our ears, wondering how we’ll ever dig our way out from under the rock pile that covers us?  To say that it doesn’t seem fair does not begin to address the issue.

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Like millions of humans throughout the ages and stages of human development, why evil thrives and so often, good people live desperate, miserable lives simply doesn’t make sense. I’ve given every effort to cultivating Christian acceptance, Jewish Nihilism, Existential cynicism, Asian acceptance of unknown Karma … and it still doesn’t work for me.

If there is a God and He, She, It, or They is or are just and good and this Deity loves us, cares for us, wants us to be happy … it doesn’t make sense. Telling me it is not mine to understand because I am a mere human and only God can know God’s reasons seems a thin excuse. I couldn’t pawn that one off on my son when he was 7, and it doesn’t fly well now either.

So I have to ask another question that won’t get an answer: Do we … do I myself … seriously believe God involves Himself in our day-to-day activities? Regardless of incarnation, Jesus, Buddha, Holy Spirit … whatever. You think he’s right there keeping an ever watchful eye on us, ready to stretch out a hand to us? What about Katrina? The Japanese Tsunami? The Holocaust? The massacre of the Native Americans? The hundreds of years of slavery for Black and other peoples? The current enslavement of women in so many parts of the world? What’s God’s position on this? Is he really more concerned whether or not a woman has an abortion than he is about the death of thousands and the enslavement of millions?

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I know the nature of faith is it defies logic and requires a leap. I thought I’d made the leap, but I think maybe I didn’t after all. I’m still standing at the chasm and every fiber of my intelligence assures me this leap will leave me shattered on the rocks below. I guess I’m not going to make it to wherever the faithful get to go when their miserable lives finally draw to a close.

I’ve had several close encounters with at least some shadow of the God or Gods who rule us. I know my life … my existence … has been twice returned to me. I’m not ungrateful, but I’m baffled. It appears I’m going to remain baffled. I’m not going to get the answers to my questions because no one has the answers. Frankly, if I think too long on this, it makes me crazy! I can’t believe and yet, I believe. Stuck forever on the cusp of questions without answers.

Or, as Tom Lehrer so eloquently said it, “Soon we’ll all be sliding down that razor blade of life …” Ouch.

Daily Prompt: Pat on the Back and a Big Attaboy

When I married Garry, it was my third marriage, his first. It wasn’t because he hadn’t had relationships. More than enough of them. Just never married anyone. So, there we were. Me at 43 and he at 48 years old. Really getting married. Wow. We had a not-so-small advantage in that we had been friends and lovers for more than 25 years, but married? I never thought he would marry anyone and certainly not me.

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Scene: Epiphany Lutheran Church, Garry’s home church in Hempstead, New York. His brother was singing as were two of my friends. A bagpiper was there to pipe the guests in, open the ceremonies, and pipe us on our way.

Twenty-three years have passed and old maxims don’t apply. Both we old dogs have learned a whole lot of new tricks. Garry — the fussy bachelor — has turned into a great husband and a true pal. He shops, launders, if beaten with a stick, even cooks a bit sometimes. All the things I can’t manage, he takes care of … including me.

But more than any tasks or work he may do, he has become my rock. As my health has continued to decline (against all odds … I’d have thought I’d hit bottom already, but apparently not) … he is there. Always. Dropping whatever he might have wanted to do to take care of me.

Photo: Debbie Stone

Photo: Debbie Stone

How do you say thank you for that? Are there enough words? I don’t think so, so I’m not going to try. Not only did I never suspect a man so wrapped up in his work could transform into a great husband (he was always a great date and friend … it was the husband part with which he had no experience), I’ll bet he didn’t think he could do it either!

You’re my better half, so much better than I ever dared hope. Baby, you’ve done it. You’re the best.

Related articles

Jewish Jokes

My father was not a really nice guy, but he was a salesman and spent a lot of time on the road. Consequently, he had an enormous repertoire of jokes. Some I can’t repeat, not because they are dirty, but because they were mostly in Yiddish and they don’t translate, but others are universal.

That’s the thing about ethnic humor. It really isn’t “Jewish” or “Italian” or any other group. It is human. From group to group, there is often more truth in the jokes we tell about ourselves than in any other form of communication.

Mea Shearim in 2006 — Photograph by Ahron de Leeuw

The Nature of the Jewish Husband-Wife Relationship

So one day, a surveyor comes to the home of an Orthodox couple and asks if it would be alright if he asked a few questions about male and female roles in the household.

“Sure, why not?” says the Lady of the House.

“My first question is,” says the surveyor, “Which of you is in charge of making the important decisions about your family or do you split them up?”

“Oh,” says the wife. “We are very traditional. I do the unimportant decisions and he takes care of the really important ones.”

“What unimportant decisions do you make?”

“I decide how we will pay the bills, where to send the children to school, whether or not we need to move to a different neighborhood, how we will handle our healthcare, what we will eat, making sure the children learn about God and attend to their religious duties. That sort of thing,” she explains.

The surveyor is puzzled. “So what,” he asks, “are the important things your husband handles?”

The wife smiles. “He decides what relationship God has with mankind, how we achieve peace on earth, and the nature of righteousness.”

Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee — Israel Ministry of Tourism

Judaism and Jews

Twelve Jews are stranded on a desert island. They are there many years. When finally a ship comes by and they are rescued, the rescuers are surprised to discover that there are 13 synagogues on the island.

The ship’s captain is puzzled. “I can understand,” he says, “why you might have 12 synagogues, but what’s with thirteenth?”

Replies everyone in concert “That’s the one nobody goes to.”

(Note: Whether or not you find this funny depends on your ethnicity.)

Dead Sea – Israel Ministry of Tourism

An Israeli Joke

An Israeli man who studied in Texas gets an email from his old school mate saying that he’s going to visit Israel and can they get together?

Avi is delighted and prepares to show his country to his Texan friend. But while he’s giving his friend  “the tour,” every time he shows something to his friend, the friend says that his father owns, or has built something bigger and better in Texas.

He shows him the Old City in Jerusalem and his friend says “why we’ve got ghost towns on our ranch bigger than that.” When looking at the Sea of Galilee, the Texan comments that “there are puddles bigger than that on our ranch.”

Finally, in near desperation, Avi takes his pal to the Dead Sea.

“You see that?” he says, pointing at the body of water.

“Yup,” says the Texan.

“My father killed it,” says Avi.

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And then she said …

I have a very dear friend who is going through the most terrible time of her life, yet her Christian faith has never wavered. She once told me you could sum up Christianity in a sentence.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Christ died,” she answered, “so we would be nice to each other, even before morning coffee.” Then she smiled, and took a sip from her cup.

Be kind to everyone. Even when you don’t feel like it. Maybe especially then.

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Everything In a Nutshell

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...

I like discussing ideas. History, philosophy, religion, the meaning of life are great because there are no right or wrong answers. You can discuss and argue for all eternity without ever running low on arguments.

Not everyone is an enthusiastic participant in these debates, so I do more writing and less talking these days. After more than 50 years, I now hold the same opinions I held when I was 12.

Bottom line, I don’t know anything for sure. And I’m okay with that.

About God

You can believe what you want, but you don’t know any more than I do. We all make a leap of faith when we choose to believe in God — or decide we are atheists.

There is no proof that would stand up in any court. A lack of proof is just what it sounds like: nothing. It’s a guess. Lack of contradictory proof doesn’t prove anything.  Pointing out how many people believe something is not proof either. Nor can you disprove anything by showing how many people don’t believe it. Nothing remains nothing, no matter how you present it.

  1. There is no proof God exists.
  2. There is no proof God doesn’t exist.
  3. Faith is not proof. It is opinion dressed in fancy clothing.

The arguments have gone on for thousands of years and may continue for thousands more. Unless a deity drops by and offers up indisputable evidence, it will never end.

Epistemology

Epistemology addresses these questions:

  1. What is knowledge?
  2. How is knowledge acquired?
  3. To what extent can we know a given subject or entity?

Much of the debate in this field involves analyzing the nature of knowledge, how it relates to ideas like truth, belief and justice. One view says there is little or no real knowledge. It’s known as skepticism a view with which I identify. I call it “keeping an open mind.”

Classical Definition of Kno

Classical Definition of Knowledge

Epistemology is called “the theory of knowledge” and pops up in arguments about God’s existence. So what exactly, is an epistemological study?

It’s a study of study, the study of studying. In other words:

  1. Epistemology doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a noise one scholar makes to impress another.
  2. Epistemology is all-inclusive. So much so that is has no meaning. Anything that means everything means nothing.

Moreover, anything which promises to do (or be) everything cannot do anything well. This includes people, electronic gadgets, and kitchen appliances.

Phenomenology

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from a first-person viewpoint. The main point of any experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something with an implied intent to gain knowledge.

Phenomenology is human experience. What happened, will happen or is currently happening as experienced by people. Phenomenology is a primary approach to proving the existence of God. If you believe in God, then phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. That we exist is proof. However, you can use the same reasoning to prove there is no God. Philosophical concepts are double-edged.

You can actually use phenomenology to prove anything at all, that all things are one thing, all things are God, you are God, I am God. So is my little dog. I am fond of this approach because all you need to prove anything are a few people to testify they’ve experienced something. Voilà, proof.

  1. You can use your experiences and everybody else’s to prove whatever you want.
  2. Whether or not anyone will agree with you is something else.

You can prove anything. Literally. Anyone and everyone is a source, evidence, proof. It doesn’t matter how vague, flimsy or undependable your sources. You can make a case based on something a couple of friends said a long time ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. You will very likely discover the academic community is underwhelmed by your evidence, but in academia, no one believes anyone else’s research conclusions anyhow. You’ll be in good company.

UU church door

Faith Versus Fact

  1. No matter what you believe, it doesn’t mean it’s true.
  2. It does not matter how many people believe or disbelieve the same thing. Having a lot of people agreeing with you doesn’t transform faith into fact.

Not only is faith not proof, even facts may not be proof because one man’s fact is another man’s theoretical construct. We’ll leave that conversation for another day. If you believe in God, reject God, or are convinced Aliens walk among us, believing doesn’t make it so, no matter how loudly or often you repeat it.

I spent half a century to circle back to where I began, except now I have a great title for my life’s work:

An Epistemological Analysis of Life Based on Half a Century of Phenomenological Research

by Marilyn Armstrong 

I’ll let you know when it comes out in hard-copy. In the meantime, feel free to imagine the contents. Remember: You are your own evidence.

Daily Prompt: In Good Faith – Letting Go

Watching my old wedding video left me thinking about how I wound up here. I don’t mean “here” in a geographical sense. How did that bright-eyed young-looking woman become this creaking old thing fighting to keep moving under her own power?

Who is this person?

She doesn’t look or act like me. I can vouch for this because I used to be her, but now I am not at all sure who I am or whose body this is. While I slept, someone slipped in an imposter body. I would jump right on the imposter theory except being me is not something any sane person would want. If I had a say in the matter, I would be healthier, wealthier and younger. Someone else, but keep the brain.

Life changes, sometimes in a split second, or slowly over many years.

Summer's end. September sunrise.

Remember Christopher Reeve? One minute, he was a big, handsome, strapping movie star. A dreadful split second later, he was someone else.

My down hill slide occurred at the pace at which bones and joints calcify, briskly enough to realize what was happening, but with enough time to be thoroughly frightened.

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.

Turns out, mind over matter only takes you so far. Seven years ago, I began to have trouble walking. My balance became erratic. I lost sensation in my feet and miscellaneous reflexes disappeared. I went to doctors, orthopedic hot shots. All of them said I need a new spinal fusion, the old one having fallen apart over the long years. Diagnosis: Horrible spine. Solution: New fusion in which I get screwed together using metal rods. After surgery, I would be in even more pain than now, but my spine would be stable. Say what? This surgery would be the 21st century version of the surgery I had in 1967.

I said no. God can choose, because I wouldn’t.

I believe in miracles, but don’t count on them. I’ve never been clear who He is, but I’m reasonably sure there is a Higher Power who has never deserted me. I’ve survived more than once when I was supposed to be dead. As little as I believe in dogma, I believe prayers are answered, though the answer is not always what we want. I figure God is busy. In the great scheme of things, my problems are tiny, but we are all little children at heart and want Father to fix it. He knows. He forgives. Or so I hope. Meanwhile, I took my case to the top spine guy in Boston, the Supreme Court of spinal care. And got my miracle.

He said I did not need the surgery and it wouldn’t solve any of the problems I had. He was annoyed with his colleagues’ scare tactics. Laugh or cry? I did both. With a few words, tons of rocks fell from my shoulders. I’d been living on the edge of the razor. Now I heard: “Your back has 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?

Was that the sounds of angels singing?

We all know we will die, but it takes a personal encounter to make it real. A close friends dies; you feel the brush of the Dark Angel’s wings across your own soul. From that moment, death is no abstraction. Maybe you’ll live a long time. Maybe you’ll outlive your whole generation, but the end will come. If you have faith in something beyond yourself, time becomes your treasure. You stop focusing on the future because this is the future. You’re glad to be alive when so many peers are gone. Every dawn is a miracle for which you are grateful.

Faith in something bigger than oneself helps get you through. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to do for yourself, but it makes surviving the bad stuff easier. It doesn’t make you young again nor stop your joints from aching. It won’t make you immortal, but it gives you a larger context in which to see your problems. As for me, I said that I would let God choose. He chose. I’m good with that.

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Mother’s Day, As It Began — Julia Ward Howe

The modern commercialized celebration of gifts, flowers and candy, bears little resemblance to Julia Ward Howe‘s original idea. Here is the Proclamation that explains, in her own powerful words, the goals of the original Mother’s Day in the United States

English: Portrait drawing of poet, anti-slavel...

Portrait drawing of poet, antislavery activist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe.

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Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means

Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

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To all mothers and children of mothers, wishes of strength, peace and hope for this Mother’s Day.

Prompts for the Promptless – Ep. 11 – Remake! — Leda and the Swan, Take 2

For more than 50 years, I have been nurturing this idea and I have to thank you for giving me an opportunity to tell the world.

Back in my bright college days, I was for the first 2 years, a music major. When my fellow wannabe musicians hung out on the quad on warm sunny days, we would plan projects that were going to make us famous. Symphonies were planned. Great achievements as conductors and composers were spun as glorious dreams, although I don’t know that my class actually produced anyone who really hit the big time. Medium time seems to be as good as we got.

But my dream, my great project, was a full musical comedy based on the story of Leda and the Swan. I thought Broadway because in those days, there were no computer generated graphics to make the impossible real on-screen. Now, I think perhaps Hollywood would be the correct venue for this masterpiece.

In the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces, or rapes Leda. Which is never made entirely clear, but I vote for seduction since I have a lot of trouble visualizing rape by a swan. I mean, even as Zeus … swans are not agile except on water. They have trouble with take offs being rather heavy-bodied. Moreover, the lack of hands and arms seems to make rape a rather difficult to manage business. Regardless, Leda becomes pregnant from the experience. She bears Helen and Polydeuces, both children of Zeus. Simultaneously (and I’d like to know how she managed this), she also gives birth to Castor and Clytemnestra who are the offspring of her human husband Tyndareus, King of Sparta.

In the myth, Leda is able to convince her parents and husband that despite all  logic or reason, her extraneous pregnancy was not the result of a lover or promiscuous sexual behavior. No, no! Honest to gods (we are in a polytheistic world, remember), really, no kidding, it was Zeus who did it. Not merely was it Zeus, not some guy, but he was in the form of a swan!

I figured there were a couple of potential show-stopping moments with high comedic potential embedded in this.

The first … and perhaps my favorite scene … would have to be the first act closer. In this highly emotional musical extravaganza, Leda pours out her distress in a heart-rending lyric soprano rich with passion. In it, she explains that it really truly was Zeus.

Leda: Even in the form of a swan, I knew it was Zeus. And you all know how much I love birds and feathers, right? I mean … what girl could resist such a gorgeous bird who is, after all, the top God in the Pantheon? No kidding. I wouldn’t lie to you.

Tyndareus, King of Sparta: I want to believe you, but I’m having a few problems with this.

Leda: Trust me, dear. It was Zeus. As a swan. You know how clever he can be.

Later, we all get to see the central event, Leda’s experience. In the carefully choreographed dream sequence, Leda relives the heady romance of the seduction. I’m assuming it was seduction rather than rape. I mean, how big was that swan anyhow? And, uh, some of the technical aspects of the experience make for interesting mental meanderings. How, exactly, did … well … this is a G-rated site, so I won’t get too specific. Suffice to say it would make one heck of a scene on stage. Even better, now that CGI has come of age, with some well done special effects?

Wow, this could have the audience on its feet! I can hear the applause from here. I see the royalties rolling in. I ought to add that depending on which version of the story you read, Leda either gave birth to babies … or eggs.

Eggs open up a whole new set of possibilities. If she birthed eggs, did she have to sit on them until they hatched? As Queen of Sparta, could she order her court attendants sit on the eggs in her place while she performed her royal duties? Did she build a nest? In the palace? Did the issue of this union feel a lifelong need to dive into lakes and ponds? Were they born knowing how to swim?

Zeus?

Zeus?

Inquiring minds want to know! Details, details. Please?

I’m a bit long in the tooth now for writing a full musical comedy, but I freely offer this incredible concept to anyone who feels inclined to flush it out. I think it might just launch more than one career. You think?

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