PEDIATRIC RELIGION – Marilyn Armstrong

When my first husband and I were getting married, he was something vaguely Protestant, though no one in his family knew what. They never attended church and while they were wild about Christmas, it was a very non-Christian version of it.

I’m not even sure they were Christian, but they weren’t anything else, either. I think it’s possible on the paternal side of the family, they might have been Jewish several generations back, then drifted into Christianity because they weren’t Jewish enough to hang with it.

Thus when my granddaughter was hitting eight or nine and Passover/Easter was approaching, I asked Kaity what Easter was about. She had never heard of Jesus or Christianity — or for that matter, Judaism.  She was sure that Easter was about baskets of sweets. She didn’t love chocolate (who doesn’t love chocolate?) — but always preferred the hard-boiled eggs. Funny kid.

In a Jewish family, religion comes through mom, but in Christianity, it devolves from dad. In theory, she could have swung either way.

Owen was Jewish because he had a Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem. In Israel, it was the natural thing to do.

Here, in a very Christian valley with dozens of churches and not a single synagogue, it made more sense to find her a Protestant niche. Later, if life took her into “choices of religion,” she could make up her own mind.

I didn’t feel, without any backup, that I could raise her as a Jew. I don’t practice Judaism. I like Jewish food, Jewish people, and deeply appreciate Jewish law and how far ahead most of most kind of law it is (and was).

I studied in Yeshiva in Jerusalem because I needed to know more, but I knew I would never be Orthodox. This was a big disappointment to my teachers who thought my interest and intellectual involvement preceded a religious commitment. They didn’t “get”(most people don’t) that I love learning for its own sake, but it doesn’t presage any follow-up.

A couple of “studies” have evolved from “learning” to hobbies. Photography. History. Literature. Ecology. Music. Some kinds of art. Technology. Other stuff.

Thus I knew a lot ABOUT Judaism, but not much about how to actually “be” a Jew. I also know a lot about Christianity, because I studied that too and even converted to it, though I practice it to the exact same degree that I practice Judaism — which is to say, I don’t.

Happy birthday at 15!

I am religiously non-dogmatic. I am pretty sure I believe in something, but I don’t know what. Not nothing, though.

Meanwhile, Garry and I felt some pediatric religion was necessary. I didn’t expect Kaitlin to make religion her life, but I thought she needed to know that Christ was not a chocolate bunny and Judaism is a religion, not a bad word you call someone.

You can’t make a choice if you don’t know anything.

To my great relief, she is happily practicing nothing, considers herself vaguely protestant — and prefers eggs to chocolate.

HERESY OR HILARITY? by Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Heretic

We are lucky to be living in a time when heresy is a personal, private issue rather than a constitutional one.

When Garry and I got married, we married in his Lutheran church because my husband still believes that stuff. I never believed it. When you are raised sort-of Jewish, you generally don’t believe that stuff. I was a lot clearer about what I didn’t believe than what I did believe … but Garry wanted a church wedding.

I wanted to get the mayor (who was a friend) to marry us on the steps of city hall. Invite our whole world. Get a lot of pizza for dinner then grab the next flight to Ireland.

While we were discussing the service — who was supposed to do what and when — they said I had to kneel.

I said, “My people don’t do kneeling.” Everyone cracked up.

But that’s the thing. MY people don’t kneel. I didn’t mind the ceremony because Garry wanted it, but kneeling? Not only do Jews not kneel but if I had to get to the floor they’d have needed a grappling hook to get me back up. It was a narrow skirt and I was wearing heels. Down I could get because there would be gravity working for me, but up? Wearing heels and a snug white dress?

In another time and place, my attitude would have landed me in a dark, damp dungeon. Followed by having my head lopped off. I sure hope they kept the axe sharp.

This being “modern times,” I didn’t die for my religious preferences or for wearing a snug dress and heels.

Times change. This is a change of which I definitely approve.

A LIVELY NEW SIN FOR A TIRED OLD WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

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 (conveniently?) forgotten:


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

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

Starting from the top, we find Lust.

Lust isn’t really about sex, indiscriminate or otherwise. 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, possibly obsessive desire. Narcissism falls under the category of lust. Lust can involve the intense, overpowering desire for money, food, fame, power, or sex. I’m sure there are more, too.

In Dante’s Purgatorio, the penitent walks in flames to purge himself of lustful thoughts and feelings. Those who already have too much yet must have more.

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 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. Again, like lust, it the need to “gobble the world.” To consume beyond your needs.

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 is often interpreted as selfishness, to essentially put your 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 our problems. Probably gluttonous could be a good description of our world.

Then there is Greed.

You can’t go wrong with greed. For thousands of years, greed has been on everybody’s “most popular sin” list. Especially apt for the wealthy. It is not merely a sin, but the single most motivating of all sins. In recent years, it has lost its evil connotations and been enshrined as a wonderful goal to which we should aspire. So much for deadly, eh?

Greed rules the “bottom line.” It is idolized, enshrined, and canonized by corporate America. We don’t even think of it as a sin. Yet it’s one of the seven deadlies. Amazing how time changes everything.

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 the 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. Or maybe greed and wrath working together.

According to Gordon Gecko, “Greed is good.” So don’t worry. If Hollywood promotes it, it must be okay.

Sloth is almost charming compared to its companions.

Sloth (Latin, acedia) can entail a variety of 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 and considering the state of our state, wrath might indeed be the cause for much of what ails America.

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, of course, ranting on social media.

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

Moving on, let’s talk briefly of 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 that it causes you to 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 real downfall for many of the smart set. If there’s a sin to which I can’t quite get away from, it’s pride. It pops up in so many ways. Believing yourself to be more intelligent, knowledgeable, in control of your life? Pride, my friends. Because you aren’t. You just think you are. You’ll find out. Time will show you your error.

Believing you are fully in control of your fate (yeah, right!), Pride is the sweetest sin, the most comfortable and cozy sin. It is the beloved sin of the educated and sophisticated. Certainly, it is 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 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.

Pride is the source of all the other sins. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, as well as an excessive admiration of one’s self — especially in not holding oneself in a proper position toward God.

What could I possibly add to this prestigious list?

Allow me to suggest Willful Ignorance as a possibility. That would be a determined blindness to facts, reality, and knowledge. Willful Ignorance fits comfortably with Wrath, Envy, Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, Greed, and Pride.

I don’t know if it would be an improvement, but so many people are already there, we might as well have a sin for it.

ABUSE AND FORGIVENESS – Marilyn Armstrong

All religions have some good points, even ones with which you don’t quite always agree.

Personally, I am very fond of the Christian concept of “forgiveness.” It is not “I forgive you, let’s go hang out.” It is closer to “God forgives you, now please go away and never come back.”

You can forgive someone and not want anything to do with them. It took me the better part of a lifetime to figure out that my version of “forgive” and the Christian concept of “forgiveness” were not the same thing. Actually, they were not even close.

Forgiveness is about handing over your burden of pain and anger to your more powerful entity or whatever you want to call it.

It’s a brilliant concept. Dumping the burden, whether you throw it into the air to be absorbed into the never-ending universe or write it into your computer’s hard drive, it doesn’t matter. Whatever gives you your freedom, do it.

Forgiveness works because it’s a process. When you understand it, it gives you a place to start and a finish that includes freedom from anger and hate. Forgiveness matters. Not just religiously, but personally. If you never let go of the pain, anger or hurt, you can’t grow. You dry up.

After all these years, I wonder how so many smart people do such incredibly stupid things even when we (they) know better. Women marrying vicious men and staying with them long years after anyone — EVERYONE — can see they are in a hopeless, dangerous situation. Ditto men with women who are awful for them and make their lives into a hell. These are choices people make. Voluntarily. It isn’t always oppression or victimization. It can also be bad personal choices. Shame and pride keep people stuck in terrible situations.

Abuse is a huge issue in my world. If I can’t understand the bad choices people make when choosing mates, how can it be that parents abuse their children? Rape them? Beat them? Torment them? And sometimes kill them?

It turns the meaning of life upside down and inside out. Where is faith to be found in this horror? I can’t answer it because faith has always eluded me. The depravity of which people are capable is literally beyond my ability to contemplate. Torture? Intentional slaughter of an entire people? Abusing a child or dog to death?

Where is God in this?

The issue of abuse was important, to me because I was abused. The more I learn about it, the more people I discover who were also abused. It is not all that rare after all. Many people were abused as children and a lifetime later, still can’t talk about it.

I don’t mean can’t talk about it much. Can’t talk about it at all. I was able to get people to talk to me, at least a bit. To the extent, they could admit something happened. The sense of shame, anger, and horror which clings to victims is hard to understand given that victimization was unsought, unwanted, and terrifying.

Yet there it is. We are shamed by the evil others committed on us.

What makes it so much more difficult is that people whose lives were untouched by abuse don’t believe it happened. Their disbelief intensifies the shame. Not only do “regular” people disbelieve us, but judges, lawyers, police officers, teachers and other family members refuse to accept it. Nor has anyone a solution to fix it. Taking kids away and handing them to a stepfamily isn’t an answer. So many of these “temporary placements” are worse than the places from which the kids came.

It’s a problem we spend a lot of time talking about — and little effort solving. It’s a weird world in which we live.

A TINY, MONSTROUS FANGED HEAD – Marilyn Armstrong

Being Jewish is a religion, but for many of us, it isn’t only a religion. In fact, for a lot for us, Judaism isn’t religious at all, but rather a commitment to a lifestyle. It entails a wide range of ethical and moral beliefs.

One of the things it includes — if you are of my generation — is a lingering belief that all non-Jews are secretly your enemy, no matter what they say to your face. This remains true even when you are married to a Christian and got married in a Christian church. And your kids don’t even consider themselves Jewish. Somewhere inside, some little piece of you is screaming “Remember the Inquisition and the Holocaust.”

It’s an angry and frightened little voice, always alarmed and ready to grab the Torah (like I own a real Torah, right?) and run for the caves.

My kids don’t have this voice in their heads or this fear because I did not bathe them in the blood of our tortured ancestors or the piles of corpses from the Holocaust. I didn’t push this on them because I thought it was time to let it go and move on.

My mother was an atheist. She did not believe in God or gods. Her bonds to Judaism were entirely ethnic and tribal. So are mine … but ethnicity and a fondness for our cuisine isn’t something one can always pass along.

Regardless, Judaism is a religion. When you are ethnically Jewish but practice no aspect of the religion, what do you pass to your children other than recipes and a totally irrational fear of non-Jews.

Your ethical and moral commitments can stand on their own. They don’t need a religious attachment. They ought to be a part of the mental armament of any sane person. Religious or not, you ought to know the difference between right and wrong.

I didn’t pass this on to my kid or grandchild because I thought it was time to end the terror and move on to a different world.

These days, though, I wonder if maybe I was precipitous. Just because I thought the danger ended, it reared up its monstrous little fanged head again. And suddenly, safety is not so safe.

Maybe it’s about more than recipes for matzoh balls. Hatred appears to live a lot longer than I imagined possible.

GOD HAS A PLAN – Marilyn Armstrong

I was still trying to figure out if John Oliver was really going off the air, or it was the end of this season, or we’d just missed the final few minutes of his piece because we have a stupid DVR that clips the final few minutes. Instead, the Sports News Final came on.

It was retribution for Bruins fans. They lost. Bigly. All five games. So I left it on until finally one player admitted that the other team “played better than us,” and no amount of analysis was going to change that. This was the hour that I spend trying to find all the missed typos in new posts and that usually  takes me about an hour.

Garry goes off to bed because he has a DVR in there with all his favorite old westerns on it … plus a bunch of 1930s and 1940s black and white movies he loves which I don’t love nearly as much. He watches with the headset on and he is finally happy. No one is going to ask him to do ANYTHING. He has found true peace.

At some undetermined point, the Bruins concluded their apologies to all their fans and it being late Sunday night, a preacher came on television to announce that God has a plan.

For everything. Every single thing.

March Equinox Sunrise

Everything you think. Every illness, every idea, every mistake. Everything. Effectively humans have no control over their lives because it’s all part of God’s huge, gigantic, amazing plan that covers everything, everywhere forever, amen and probably the Bruins will win next year.

After a while, the harangue got a bit intense and I had to turn it off. I was getting ready to yell back at the television and ask about cancer and pain and death and Donald J. Trump, but I have found that yelling at the TV isn’t nearly as effective as I want it to be.

I gave the dogs their final biscuit and went into the bedroom. I made Garry remove his headphones and told him that God has a plan.

“Okay,” he said. “What brought this on?”

“The Bruins lost five to nothing and then there was a preacher and he was shouting how God knows every idiotic idea in your head, every ridiculous thing that might happen to you or me or anyone, so no matter how painful or scary life is, IT IS ALL PART OF GOD’s PLAN.”

“What were you WATCHING?’ he asked me. He then pointed out that on television they were singing Shall We Gather At The River with the ultimate intention of hanging someone.

I pointed out that this too was part of God’s plan and Garry said I should stop watching that stuff because it was ruining his viewing experience.

So, I wrote this instead. By the way — they hanged the guy. Not to worry because it was all part of God’s plan. I know because they told me. On television. So it must be true.

How The Universe Began ~ The Dogon View – Tish Farrell

This is absolutely brilliant! Too good not to reblog!

Tish Farrell

Dogon10_072 (549x375)

The Dogon people of the Bandiagara Plateau in Mali, West Africa have an extraordinarily complex cosmology that informs every aspect of their socio-sacred lives. First communicated  by Dogon elders to French anthropologist, Marcel Griaule, in the 1930s, it reveals, in particular, some astonishing conceptions relating to the star Sirius and of its smaller orbiting star now known to be a white dwarf and referred to by astronomers as Sirius B. The circumstances of how the Dogon may or may not have known about this invisible star companion have been hotly debated in recent years, and I’m not going into it here.  Instead, here is my very simplified version – or at least as far as I have grasped it – of how the universe began. Apologies to the Dogon for any error in my understanding:

Of the Cosmic Egg and Pale Fox 

In the beginning, so the Dogon people…

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