Spiritual Wealth

In the interests of full disclosure, I am not a Christian. But I do believe that there are a lot of important lessons to be learned from the Bible. I think there are lessons to be learned from many other sources as well. The trick is to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Unfortunately, the chaff often does not come from the philosophy itself, but from the way that philosophy gets twisted by others for their own benefit. Nothing makes me more angry than seeing people get taken advantage of. Nothing is so heartbreaking as seeing people preyed upon and then cast aside.

I may not be an expert on all things Christian, but I do know this: Jesus did not advise people to crave money. He never said that the way God shows favor is by making you rich in this life. He cast out the money lenders. He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.” (Matthew 19:24)

Basically, Jesus wasn’t about stuff. He wasn’t about accumulating riches. He wasn’t trying to show people how to game the system so that God would give them prizes.

He did not approve of greed. And he certainly never told anyone to go without groceries so that some creepy preacher could buy a private jet. Jesus would be horrified by the prosperity gospel.

Money is not the key to happiness in this life or any other. Whether you agree with him or not, does Trump seem particularly happy to you? He worships Mammon, and I wouldn’t want his life for anything. Golden toilets don’t make the going any easier.

Love, decency, kindness, generosity, the ability to learn and think critically… these things are priceless. Clamoring for stuff and money… that’s not your kingdom here on earth. It’s just a form of burial before death. If you learn nothing else in this life, let it be that.

Money Church

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Why Do Cities in India Change Their Names?

It’s got to be a royal pain in the behind to change the name of an entire city. Signs must be replaced. Government departments must be renamed. Not to mention all the business cards, letterhead, newspaper mastheads, maps… It must cost a fortune. And it’s confusing for those of us who can’t seem to keep up.

This name change thing happens in India quite a bit. Bombay is now Mumbai. Calcutta is now Kolkata. Benares is also Varanasi. Madras is Chennai.

It must be awfully strange to go to sleep in one city and wake up in another. Even stranger than getting married and suddenly having a new last name, or having to write a new year on things for the first couple weeks of January.

There are several reasons why name changes happen in India. In a lot of cases (Mumbai, for example), they are simply improving the spelling of a city whose name never really changed for the native people. Bombay is just an anglicized version of what the Brits heard the locals say. There’s a lot of arrogance surrounding colonialization, but the “we know better than you do what this place is called” takes the cake, as far as I’m concerned. (But then, not nearly enough American place names reflect the wishes of the Native Americans, so who are we to criticize?)

Adding another layer of complexity to the situation, there are 22 official languages in India, and 1652 spoken languages. Needless to say, all these people have different ways of pronouncing things, and different senses of history for each area.

From a political and religious standpoint, there’s also some pressure to change Islamic and Christian city names to their Hindu counterparts, as Hinduism comprises almost 80 percent of the population of India.

The thing I find most interesting is that a city’s name may “officially” change, but that does not necessarily mean that the locals or the press or the international community will adhere to that change. In some cases, it’s business as usual. Apparently it’s only a big deal if you make it one. Which makes me think of that old saying: “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Colonial India
The arrogant, and now largely inaccurate, colonial map of India.

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My Happy Easter Memory

Since I’m not a kid or a Christian, Easter tends to go by without my taking too much notice these days. Like Halloween, it’s kind of a non-holiday holiday for me. But when I was little, I absolutely loved coloring eggs. (Come to think of it, I’d probably still find that fun. Therapeutic, even. )

My mother would put fuzzy pussy willow sprigs in a vase, and we’d glue pastel ribbons onto the eggs and then hang the eggs from the sprigs, so it would sort of be like a spring Christmas tree, with just as many Pagan connotations. I wish we had taken pictures, but I don’t think there is one anywhere in my boxes of photos. It would have been in black and white anyway, so it would have lost much of its charm. I’ll just have to rely on my memories, as long as they last.

I have another amazing memory that always makes me smile at this time of year. One Easter morning I woke up and there was an Easter basket beside my bed. It was empty, except for a note. It was a little poem, along the lines of “roses are red, violets are blue…” and it gave me a clue as to where to go next. At that location, there was a chocolate egg or something, and another note with another clue sending me off on another tangent.

It was all really exciting. It led me throughout the house and yard, and took me ages to work out. At the end my basket was full of peeps and candy. But the best part about it was that my sister Andrea had done this for me. I recognized her handwriting.

It was clear that she put a great deal of effort into this. She’s 9 years older than me, so she must have been about 16 at the time. That made me feel really, really special. It’s that warm feeling that I remember most whenever I think about that day.

The funny thing about it is that Andrea doesn’t remember it at all. All that work, and all the joy it gave me, and it seems not to have remained in her memory banks. That always surprises me. And it kind of makes me sad, because I’d love to thank her, but when I’ve attempted to do so, I think it stressed her out that the memory is lost.

So these days I just smile to myself, and think, “Violets are blue, red is a rose, go to the place where we dry the clothes.”

Thanks, Andrea. I love you.

egg tree

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Mercy, Mercy Me, It’s Jubilee!

Did you know that Pope Francis announced a special Jubilee on the theme of mercy from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016? I didn’t. Probably because I’m not Catholic. (Truth be told, I’m not even Christian.)

Do you even know what a Jubilee is? Again, I didn’t. But it’s actually kind of a big deal. It’s discussed in the bible, in Leviticus 25:8-13. Historically, it’s a special year of remissions of sins, and a time when debts would be forgiven and people would be freed from slavery and prisons. It’s also a time when the land is to revert back to its original owners. (Watch out, major corporations!) It’s supposed to happen every 50 years.

I could sure use a jubilee. No doubt most of us could.

It never fails to amuse me when fundamentalists cherry pick the Bible. If all of it is incontrovertible truth, then I expect every one of you to write off all debts and give up your property to the peasants. Right now. That’s an order from on high.

shofar
[Image credit: shemitah-blood-moons.net

MY Reason for the Season

I’m not a Christian, but I do celebrate Christmas. I like the nostalgia of it. I like the Christmas lights that warm up a cold winter’s night. I like the music. I like the decorations. I like the food (perhaps a bit too much). I like to see how excited children get on Christmas morning. I just skip over the religious aspects of the holiday. For me it’s just about love and family and memories and a distraction from the winter chill. I don’t think that means I’m going to hell.

And before I get a bunch of angry comments from Christians to Athiests, let’s remember that the Christmas tree is a throwback from Paganism, and Jesus was a Jew whose birthday was most likely nowhere near the winter solstice, so people have been modifying this holiday to suit their needs, beliefs and desires for ages.

The other day I was going through a box of ornaments that I’ve collected over the years. Each one has a story. I remember where I was when I got them all. I have some that were made by my grandmother or my mother or my grand nephews. Some of them remind me of my travels. Others proclaim my heritage or the things that I hold dear. One looks like one of my dogs.

All these things make me smile. If that’s the only thing I get out of the holiday, then I’m getting quite a bit indeed. Sorry if that offends you.

ornaments
[Image credit: wallpaperstock.net]

Fifty Shades of Meh

The book Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James seems to have become a cultural phenomenon. So much so that they made a movie out of it. So I decided to read it to see what all the fuss was about.

What a disappointment.

First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, I do love erotica when it’s well written. I actually read a ton of it, mostly in short story form. But this book is not well written. Not at all.

I think this book’s popularity stems solely from the titillation factor. You’re reading something that many view as forbidden. You’re being scandalous. But ladies, I’m here to tell you there is much, MUCH, better stuff out there, and it’s free on dozens of websites. Yes, you’ll have to wade through about 10 miles of yuck to find it, during which time you’ll get a really strong sense of exactly what will turn you off, but once you find the type of thing that works for you, this book will make you laugh, it’s so amateur.

The most frustrating thing I encounter in bad writing is that the authors tend to make the same point over and over again. Have faith in your readers. They’ll get it without you having to beat them about the head and shoulders. This concept seems to be utterly lost on Ms. James. For example, she wants you to know that Anastasia feels uncomfortable and disconcerted around Christian, and she must point that out approximately 50 times in the first chapter alone. I wanted to scream.

She also uses an annoying literary device. It seems Anastasia has an “inner goddess” who pole vaults, does the merengue, peeks from behind couches, and covers her eyes in reaction to Anastasia’s latest actions or comments. She also has a subconscious, and it’s cruel, hostile and a downright bully. If my subconscious thought so little of me, I’d be in a straitjacket somewhere.

The reason erotica is better in short story form is that it requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief. You can only maintain that for so long. Christian may be fantastic in bed, but he’s also incapable if genuine intimacy, a stalker, a control freak, extremely moody, jealous, and easy to anger, likes to inflict pain, has major issues with commitment, and demands that everything be in writing. And we’re expected to believe, for the length of a novel, that Anastasia is madly in love with him.

Sorry, I don’t buy it. And I wouldn’t buy the book. The only redeeming factor in the entire read is that (spoiler alert!) she leaves him in the end. But there are sequels that I refuse to subject myself to, and based on the plot summaries in Wikipedia, I know that her rare moment of common sense doesn’t last. Lord knows why.

[Image credit: funnyand.com]
[Image credit: funnyand.com]

This Takes the Cake

Sometimes I can’t believe there’s still a need to write about this sh… uh… stuff, but here goes.

I just read the most appalling article about Christians who are to the right politically and their take on the State of Oregon’s fine on Sweet Cakes by Melissa when that business refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

Oh, where to begin.

I will quote the article in bold, and then respond to these quotes, one by ignorant one.

“Let’s help the Kleins through this hard time as they fight for religous freedom.”

Has anyone stopped the Kleins from going to church? No. Has anyone told the Kleins that they could no longer be Christians? No. Has anyone confiscated their Bibles? No. Has anyone told the Kleins that they cannot believe what they want to believe in any way, shape, or form? No.

If your belief system prohibits you from certain actions or behaviors, then it might be a good idea to avoid careers that call upon you to do certain things. If you are against abortion, you might not want to work in an abortion clinic. If you want to keep kosher, then don’t work in a non-kosher meat packing plant. If you don’t believe in selling crack to minors, then don’t become a drug dealer. These are choices everyone has the right to make.

You have a right to believe what you want to believe. What you have no right to do is use your job to cram your beliefs down the throats of others. Sorry. That’s the price you pay for living in a law-abiding, democratic society. You don’t have to like it.

“The Bible does tell us to expect persecution as Christians, and we should understand that when this happens it’s an attack on Christ, not on us.”

First of all, persecution is defined as a program to exterminate, drive away, or subjugate people based on their membership in a religious, ethnic, social or racial group. If anyone in this scenario was being persecuted it was the lesbian couple who was refused a wedding cake. They were refused because they were lesbians. And by doing this, the Kleins broke the anti-discrimination laws in the state of Oregon. There are consequences to breaking the law. The Kleins made a choice to break the law. The fact that they faced consequences for that choice does not mean they were persecuted. It means they were prosecuted. It means that they were required to obey the law that every other resident of that state is expected to obey.

And talk about persecution—the Kleins published the lesbian couple’s names and addresses on the internet for all to see, because they wanted them to be attacked, verbally, and physically. There was no other reason to do that. That’s why the size of the fine was so large. The couple got death threats. This caused them to almost lose their foster children, whom they were trying to adopt. That’s sick. Twisted. And frankly, it doesn’t sound particularly Christian to me.

“And keep exposing as a lie the secular left claim that gay marriage has nothing to do with you and won’t hurt you in any way.”

Expose away! Please, do explain to me how someone marrying the person that they love, regardless of whom that person may be, has anything at all to do with me. How will this hurt me, again? How is it even any of my business?

If you’re afraid that all these gay people, parading around their gayness by getting married, will influence your children to go all gay on you, you might want to ask yourself a question or two. Why would your child make the choice to be discriminated against and marginalized if it really is the “choice” you think it is? Why would your child be so easily persuaded to change his or her entire life forever, based on someone’s marriage? Has someone’s marriage ever changed the course of your entire life? Really?

Oh, and by the way, people on the left can be religious, too. I am. The phrase “secular left” is ignorant.

“This whole gay marriage movement isn’t even about gays. It’s a pretext to attack Christianity and everyone who freely practices it.”

Get over yourself. The world does not revolve around you. Thousands of people aren’t running off to marry someone of their own gender, a lifelong commitment, just so they can attack a religion. Nothing about their marriage is going to stop you from practicing your religion. If your religion is so easily threatened you may want to work on that and stop looking outward in paranoia.

“Gaystapo”

That term is used a couple times in the article. Even in the headline. I find it particularly interesting. It’s a play on words, referring back to the Gestapo, the secret police of Nazi Germany. In 1934, a division of the Gestapo was set up to target homosexuals, causing 100,000 men to be arrested. So implying that gay people are like the Gestapo is absurd.

If anyone should be compared to a Nazi, it’s someone who supports the Kleins in this debacle. The Nazis restricted all sorts of services to many groups, the Jews being the most commonly acknowledged. But along with the homosexuals mentioned above, they also persecuted communists, socialists, social democrats, trade union leaders, gypsies, Poles, Slavs, Asians, the disabled, Catholic and Lutheran clergy, people who were in resistance movements, Jehovah’s Witnesses, “asocials”, and repeat criminal offenders.

If the Kleins refused service to a Jew, how would you react? How about if they refused service to someone in a wheel chair? Would it be okay for them to refuse service to a priest?

Where does it end?

Yeah, okay. But, uh... you don't have that right. Not in America. Thank God.
Yeah, okay. But, uh… you don’t have that right. Not in America. Thank God.

The Other Side of the Story

I just had this psychedelic thought, and I’m not even smoking pot. Here it is: Stories are three-dimensional. They have sides. They have perspectives. They have angles. The conclusions you draw from them will be based on which direction you approach them from. You can’t see all sides at once.

I suppose I always thought of stories as words coming at me in a straight line. That’s probably why I’ve gone through life utterly confounded by the fact that not everyone learned the lessons that I was learning. “Did you not hear what I just heard?” Apparently not.

Biblical interpretation and controversy are prime examples of this. Fundamentalists think that the stories in the bible are flat and one-dimensional and therefore straightforward. They simply cannot understand why everyone does not view this book in the exact same way that they do. I find this kind of sad. Why would you want to crush this story, or any story, for that matter, down to an invariable smooth surface when it can be so beautiful and varied and ever-changing in your examination? Even if you are not a Christian (and I am not), this book has lessons, as do all the great stories of mankind.

From now on, I’m going to try to imagine stories coming toward me in varied, colorful, geometric shapes. Like unique little gifts floating on the air. I’m going to try to look at them from many sides to capture as much of their beauty as I can. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities, and will make the world a much more beautiful place for me. I’m excited!

[Image credit: origami.wonderhowto.com]
[Image credit: origami.wonderhowto.com]

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

Whether or not you believe that Jesus was the son of God, his mother apparently did. Can you imagine the pressure, raising the son of God? I mean, kids are a handful as it is, without them being divine.

How did Mary handle the terrible twos? How do you discipline God’s son? Did she and God debate parenting styles? Did God take an active part in his upbringing? Did he show up for his Bar Mitzvah?

Was Jesus informed of his parentage right away, or did Joseph, like other adoptive parents, wait until he was old enough to understand this news? Did strange and important people like the Magi keep showing up at his door throughout his life, or was he pretty much left alone to grow up?

And if he did know, how did he interact with the other kids in the school yard? Was he involved in sports? I suspect he wouldn’t have been the short stop. Did he play games? Did he always win? Did he always let everyone else win? Was he popular?

Most importantly, how did Mary prevent him from having a massive ego? I mean, if God were my honest to… uh, God… father, I’d have a hard time not feeling superior. “My dad’s holier than your dad.” How did he view the adults around him? Did he feel lonely and set apart?

The Bible doesn’t really go into detail about these things, and unanswered questions like these are why I struggled with Christianity as I grew up. I prefer to take what wisdom I can from all the religions I encounter and go from there. There is a great deal of knowledge all around you if you care to look for it.

Baby hand in father's palm

[Image credit: healthofchildren.com]

Jesus, Man…

In a recent chat with one of my blog friends I was reminded of this guy who used to walk hundreds of miles up and down the coast of Florida during my childhood. He wore a brown robe tied with twine, and sometimes wore sandals, but was often barefoot. And he dragged a HUGE heavy cross. He had long hair and always looked like he went weeks between baths. For all I know he covered other states, too. But I did see him in several parts of Florida over the years. We called him the Jesus Man.

I never spoke to the guy. We always assumed he was mentally ill. I mean, who does that? Sometimes he’d be walking in the pouring rain or the freezing cold or more often in the blistering heat. He was always alone.

I tried Googling him just now in hopes of attaching a picture. I didn’t find him, but what I did come across was rather eye-opening. There are several guys who do this. One has done it all over the world, apparently. And while their beliefs do not fall in line with mine, they don’t seem to be mentally ill. They’re just very, very dedicated to their evangelism. I certainly can’t fault these people for that. Their commitment to their cause is really impressive, to be honest.

I just hope that for the sake of these guys today, they are a little more PR savvy than the Jesus Man of my childhood was. He spent days and years and miles dragging a cross, and never spoke to anyone or got any publicity or seemed to further his cause in any way. Maybe people who were already Christians were heartened by seeing him, but I suspect no non-Christians were converted by observing this dirty, sweaty, grubby man grimly dragging a cross in the hot sun. Most of them probably thought the same thing I did: “Jesus, man, you’re crazy.”

At the risk of being relegated to hell, I have to say that there are lots of creative ways to get your point across. In this day and age it isn’t hard to reach a whole lot of people without half killing yourself in the process. Work smarter, not harder. There are also times when you’re simply beating your head against a brick wall. Continual wall beating is not dedication. It’s nutty. And I’m willing to bet Jesus would prefer you focus on his teachings rather than his martyrdom, but that’s just my non-Christian opinion. I suppose it depends on what kind of return you are seeking for your investment.

Cross

[Image credit: anniewald.com]