El Gringoqueño

All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Category: Faith and Wisdom (page 2 of 4)

Translations: Christian-Speak to Science-Speak

Biological and language variations are constants of the human condition. As we walk this earth and congregate, language tends to change and evolve at the same time it holds onto pieces at its core. Language becomes a venue ripe for misunderstandings. In our complicated and segregated modern life, it is easy to live in a city with 7 million people, speak the same language and yet not understand our neighbor. There is an ever growing need to pay attention to the variations in language styles. The economy of speech creeps in to facilitate conversation between parties that share common experiences. Whether we are hanging out on the corner, working in a deli, or at a physics lab, we each easily dominate many language styles. Our days are full of examples of heteroglossia, and yet strangers meet and think they understand each other. Inevitably though, there is a "you people!" and "but you said!" Our expressions vary and our differences seem insurmountable.

I believe a handy translation would save us from unnecessary strife and aggression.

  1. Christian-speak: God has a plan for your life.

    Science-speak translation: Your unique set of circumstances including DNA, talents, upbringing, and environment, have the possibility of an optimal outcome. It is up to you to figure out for which optimal lifepath you are suited. All others are suboptimal although not necessarily wrong.

  2. Christian-speak: Accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior.

    Science-speak translation: The cosmos or universe or some first-cause event has yielded a sequence of steps all of which have lead to your existence. We don’t care why, it is irrelevant for the purposes of this problem set. What we do know is that all your ancestors, all past life has lead up to you since the beginning of time. Does that humble you in any way? Great! Now you need to open yourself and listen. Read #3 for further explanation.

  3. Christian-speak: Jesus died for your sins.

    Science-speak translation: I’m just saying, don’t let imprecision or uncertainty get in the way of living. Rather than scrape and claw at the multitudes of things that go wrong, are imprecise, or flawed in some way, just try to make what you have better. Make sure your general tendency is toward justice. It’s a sort of asymptotic function whose limit is perfection. Rather than focus on the impeccable (from the Latin, meaning without sin), just go ahead and round to a reasonable figure based on the task at hand.

    Look, we live in a world where there is no perfection. That is, like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, you can measure a particle’s momentum or position but the more precise you are about one, the less you know about the other. Life’s not perfect, get over it. You deal with what you have. So, with that said, imperfection is your natural state of being and death will come to you. Those are our boundary conditions. They contain the meat of the problem at hand, which is: How do you live the intervening space time.

    What about the rest? Well, the Prof said not to worry about them, because they don’t matter.

More translations to come, as I think of them. Perhaps a science-speak translation would be in order too, I dunno.

Star Trek: A Bunch of Superstitious Calvinists

Yeah, you heard me right. Oh sure, Picard and his lot are all: "Some people believe in a higher power, but we here in the 24th century believe in the power of our human compassion, will, and nobility."

Bah! I say to you, Jean-Luc Picard. Bah! I say to you, Gene Roddenberry. Bah! I say to you, Rick Berman.

Two words: Prime Directive.

If that’s not belief in God, I don’t know what is. And it’s not just any God, but a Puritanical micromanaging control freak who’s already decided everything that will ever be decided.

Who came up with that Prime Directive shit anyway? Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t help you because it might affect some future event in a way such that it will not transpire in the natural (read: pre-destined) fashion. WTF? Is the future Federation a bunch of cowering Calvinists with their pre-destination crap?

I mean, really people, how did this escape unanswered for so long? Star Trek fans will go long and hard for the Prime Directive, that it’s somehow pure, clean, unencumbered by our messy superstitions, organized religion, God.

Look how advanced we are in the future, they say. That future is something for which to strive.

I suppose we look to that Prime Directive as some sort of ideal simply because we’ve seen how self-interested intervention in the affairs of other nations has ripped them apart and fomented so much suffering. The twentieth century, for example, is littered with meddling gone bad. Vietnam, possibly the crucible in which the Prime Directive was formed, is perhaps the best reason for its creation.

Then there’s the model of Switzerland, the model of, "Well, if you were meant to live, you will live. If you were meant to die, you will die. I cannot interfere." This Prime Directive of neutrality has somehow been held up as the ideal of behavior. We hold inaction as the highest morality. Do nothing, speak nothing, hear nothing, and all will cruise along at His will.

Don’t you see how loony it all is, you bunch of superstitious Calvinist freaks? We were not put here to play our parts in God’s little Broadway production, thank you very much. We were put here for, and only for, to live, to choose, to learn, and to love.

The noblest of all possible courses of action is not to withdraw, back away, and let it all transpire by some unseen hand. No, our best hope is to act in the best way that we know how with the information we have at moment. If a stranger needs a hand, we help him and damn the supposed later consequences. We don’t know much, and we can’t rely on God to push it all along like some divine universal machine.

Life is messy. We make choices. We make mistakes. We fail. We succeed.

What sort of world or universe would accept us into its cradle where we impacted nothing, did nothing, took no stock of our surroundings, and did not act as if we were the masters of our destiny.

No, Star Trek people, the Prime Directive is NOT good and noble. The Prime Directive is at best a "Hope for good but do not interfere" and at worst, a retreat from the universe of flesh and blood.

You may as well have not existed.

So You Want to Live Forever, Huh?

Back in 1995, Laura and I were preparing to head to Spain, she for her doctoral research, me because I wanted to tag along. It was a period of uncertainty and I toyed with the idea of staying behind. I put out my resume and started a job hunt for something that paid well. I got a bite from a publishing company called Nano-thinc (IIRC) to be their web editor.

Things started out normally enough. They had an office on Geary Street right off the bay in San Francisco. Pleasantries were exchanged all around. I was to be interviewed by the owner, a large, loud, and agitated man. He had passion and he believed in something. It was clear. But what? I asked them about their company, what they did, what was their vision etc.

"We at Nano-thinc want to become the ZiffDavis publishing empire of nanotechnology (remember, this is 1995). We think that in 5 years nanotechnology will eliminate death, and as a side effect, all religion."

"Okay," I said, blinking. Did I miss the "Beware: Here Be Cult" sign on the way in? Well let’s have a little fun with this, hell what have I got to lose?

"So, you think think that eliminating death will destroy religion? Why the grudge against religion?"

"Religion is responsible for all the worlds ills. It has killed millions, caused untold despair. If we didn’t die, we wouldn’t need it any more." His tirade had gotten to a fever pitch. He liked talking about this, I thought, so I decided to give him a run for his money.

"But it’s not religion that causes hate and despair, it’s humanity’s inherent smallness and fear that brings that on. Let me ask you something: If you eliminate natural death from old age, disease, sickness, then what are you left with? Unnatural death? People will still die. It’s just that now, it’s going to be murder, accident, decapitation, whatever. As you increase lifespan, and eliminate natural death, you are only left with the assurance that when you go, and you WILL go, that it’s gonna be ugly."

"Yes, but," he blustered, "People won’t fear death any more, and as such they won’t need superstitions like religion. We will control everything and religion won’t be necessary any more."

I replied, "That’s assuming religion exists because of death – a logical fallacy. I think it exists because of life. So you live for 2000 years. What are you going to do with yourself? How are you going to live? We can barely eek out 75 years as it is, without getting bored, falling into despair, self destructive behavior, selfishness. You have to ask yourself, why do you want MORE life? What are you doing with this one? Religion attempts to answer these questions by helping us come up with a framework of service to our fellows. I grant that religion goes astray by claims that it SOLVES the riddle, but by and large it’s our petty fears that trip us up. It’s life that trips us up. Give us more, and we will cling to it with even more fervor, only to find that it ends just the same. Give us the illusion of longevity and we will spend our lives consumed with inaction and self-indulgence. Religion doesn’t help us with death, death is inevitable. Religion helps us with life. Nanotechnology will inevitably lead to a greater belief in God/presence/creator/something greater than ourselves."

"Well, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree," he blustered. It seemed to me that he had not examined his position sufficiently well.

"Good day," I said. Now that was fun. I’m gonna look this crackpot up in five years and see what he’s up to.

On Doubting Tomases

I’d like to lay it all out here.  Here it is in a nutshell, post Easter.  I’ve always been bugged by the whole scene in the Bible with Tomas the apostle, the poster-child of doubt and lack of faith.  I’ve always thought he got a bum rap.  My version would go like this:

"Dude, dude, we so totally saw Jesus today."

"What have you all been smoking.  And for Christ’s sake, take a bath, y’all smell."

"No, no, totally, Tom, we saw him, didn’t we Peter?"

"Yeah. And the girls saw him too."

"Hmm, okay.  Look, if it makes you feel better after having watched him be crucified and then locking yourselves in that room you call "the pad" for the last few weeks, that’s cool.  I’m glad you think you saw him or something."

"Aw, man, Tomas, thinks we’re lyin’.  He doesn’t BELIEVE.  He doesn’t believe.  He doesn’t believe."

"Now you’ve got too far, my brothers.  Look, whether he’s actually walking around or not is totally and in all ways irrelevant.  You all saw what he did.   You KNOW what he stood for.  He was the best.  We lived and studied and hung with him through thick and thin.  I KNOW who he is.  He’s right here.  I don’t need to see any bloody nail marks or spear wounds.  

I looked deep in my heart and I realized that I know him.  I know who he is.  I don’t need any more from him.  What more could I ask. 

You mistake my skepticism for lack of faith, but it’s not that.  It’s that I don’t really NEED anything more from him.  He already gave us everything.  He gave us purpose.  He showed us the way.  He died for us.  I know that man believed what he said – what he told us.  I know it.  I know him.  So don’t you assholes with your, ‘Oh, look Tomas doesn’t believe what his eyes don’t see,’ selves give me crap and ask for the Messiah to go around on your little puppet stings dancing through magic fairy dust for you to feel good about yourselves.  It is you who doubt.  It is you who look for magic signs and voices from the heavens and burning bushes.

Now, if I know Jesus, I know he just might oblige your puny minds with a heavy sigh.  ‘Oh, okay one more time for Peter’ and he’d wave his hand or something, but after, he probably ask you why you couldn’t be more like Tomas.  ‘Tomas didn’t make me do any miracles.  Tomas didn’t ask me to rise from the dead.  Y’all did, ’cause you needed it.’

Ah, to be Amish

What is it that Muslim’s fear so much?  Why do they wail and gnash their teeth so?  How come they can’t just go about their business, but must convince, kill, or convert the world when it conflicts with their truth?  First they are ignorant.  Second, they are just plain wrong.  Maybe that’s what they’re afraid of.

I know of a group that lives in what is alleged to be the most decadent nation on the planet, the US of A.  They live right smack in the middle of Satan’s den.  They live quiet ascetic lives the likes of which The Prophet would envy.  They shun our way.  They shun our materialism.  They shun technology.  They support each other and seem to live happy peaceful lives doing what they like.  For their way to exist, they don’t need to rail against the infidel.  They are comfortable in their own skin.

One the other hand when what you believe isn’t natural to you, when you have doubt, when you are fearful and craven, then everything is an attack against your foundation of belief.  Television is an attack.  Books are an attack.  Liberalism is an attack.  Politics is an attack.  Women are an attack.  They are attacking us.  They wish to tear us down, but quietly in places you don’t like to admit, your house is already in tatters.  Please, I pray to God, let them not see the poor condition of this place in which I dwell.  Perhaps if I tear out their eyeballs, they will not look upon me.  Then my state of shame will not be true.

Pay Attention, Islam

Perhaps Muslims could take a tip or two from the Amish.  Here we have a religious community that has sworn off most of America’s way of life.  They live amongst us, and have done so for hundreds of years.  We don’t bother them.  They don’t bomb us.  They farm, make furniture, clothes, trade with locals, and generally lead happy lives.  You do what you do, they say, and we’ll do what we do. 

That’s true belief.  That’s the comfort of knowing who you are, not basing your self identity on what others are doing.  Live and let live.

Of course, ALL the fundamental sects could take a lesson or two from the Amish.  I’ve not ever had an Amish person bother me on a Saturday morning with their literature.  I’ve never heard of an Amish suicide bomber.  I’ve never heard of a white supremacist Amish hate-monger.  They don’t appear on the 700 club.  They don’t make hateful statements against the victims of hurricane Katrina.  They don’t call for the destruction of the Infidel.  They don’t protest at the funerals of soldiers or the deaths of AIDs victims.

They just go about their business, doing God’s work as they see fit.  And here in America, we let them. 

And we’d let you *@*#&% Muslims go about your business too, if you’d just stop BLOWING SHIT UP AND MAKING A NUISANCE OF YOURSELVES.

Why can’t you be more Amish?

Into Each Life…

The big fat obnoxious drops started to fall slowly.  They landed with metallic thunks, like little bombletts, crashing and splashing on the exterior of my car.  They impacted noticeably, and I swear, for a second I thought it was hail.  These were 15 kiloton raindrops.   

At first they came in a halting fashion, as if unsure of their target, but soon I was in the mist of a rain of terror upon a civilian population.  I could barely see a few feet in front of the car, and traffic slowed to five miles per hour.  And my music – I couldn’t hear my music, lost as it was in the cacophony of the attack.

As I inched up to Calle Simón Madera, I hesitated, seeing that it was no longer the Calle Simón Madera, but El Río Simón Madera.  I made a decision to turn and attempt to ford it.  How bad could it be?

The water was half-way up the door on my little Ford Focus (or so it seemed).  I quickly followed a larger SUV in front of me, taking advantage of his wake to edge the water away.  It worked, until he decided to stop and slowly make a left turn.  Arrgghh, please oh please please, don’t stall, little car.  I don’t want to deal with this now.  I’m stupid, I admit it, but just don’t stall.  Mr. SUV made his turn and I continued on. 

I breathed a sigh of relief.  I never realized what that little car was capable of.  Now I know.

I sat down at my desk and began to work, when my cell phone rang.  Hmm, out of state area code.  Who could be calling me? It was my good friend Dave.

"Hey Dave, what’s up?"

"Nothin’ much, man, just thought I’d give you a call and touch base.  It’s been a while."

"That’s great.  It’s good to hear from you."  And there we were, chuckling and carrying on.  He mentioned that PowerBall was up to 220 million dollars.  We talked about the small risk of a  $1 investment with a $220 million payoff.  It just might make sense.

"Hey, Dave, what would you do if you won?  You’d take it in a lump sum, right, so that leaves you with about $100 million.  What do you do with your life?  Do you still play in the orchestra?  Do you buy the orchestra?  What in the world would you do with your life if money was irrelevant?"

"Nothing.  I’d probably watch a lot of TV," he chuckled.

"Play with the kids, take trips?  Hey, you could start a business.  Would you start a business?  Would you compose?  Would you start up a music foundation, or some sort of foundation for the arts?  Would you donate money to the orchestra?"  I was ratta-tat-tating him with a million questions.

"I’d buy a plane, take flying lessons, and travel around.  That’d be cool."

From there we moved on to other things, difficulties of running a business in Puerto Rico, poor economy, difficult market.  He asked me where I would go if I left Puerto Rico. 

"I’ve thought a lot about Colorado.  I’ve read the the tech industry is booming there."  I was also thinking about the cooler weather, cheaper cost of living, and outside recreation opportunities.  Colorado has seemed to me, from afar at least, to be a perfect blend of mid-western hospitality, urban sophistication, and culture.  Bah, but what do I know.  I’d have to try it out.

"Why do you stay in Puerto Rico, if it’s that bad?" he asked innocently.

"Well, it is bad, that’s for sure."  I paused, unsure of the words or what I was actually feeling. "It’s just that there have been opportunities here I have shaped me in ways that I never would have realized."  Serendipity is a word that comes to mind.  It’s not that suffering for suffering’s sake is a good thing, but sometimes you don’t know what you’re capable of.  Sometimes when life is comfortable, you don’t seek out those itchy contagions that cause you to scratch.  In the Midwest of the US, you can just blend in, carry on with your life, and if social activism isn’t your natural inclination, you can happily avoid it. 

In Puerto Rico, it’s in your face 24/7.  Between the projects, the despair of the fatherless youths, and the poor public education, problems abound.  They affect every strata of society, and unless you are among the super-wealthy, you’ve no way to avoid it.  So, you’ve got two choices, do nothing or do something.  Doing nothing takes more energy that it does in the US, of that I can assure you.  The flip-side is that doing something is a bit easier.  And doing something, opens up one of the possible ways that we as humans may grow.  I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for Puerto Rico.  I’ve a long way to go, and I am still not enchanted to be living here, but I know Puerto Rico, I know its culture, I know its problems, and I know its spirit, and I’m sure that this is where I’m supposed to be right now.  I’m also sure of one other thing.

I know what I’m capable of.

Baptism Ewww

I was wandering as I usually do.  I don’t mean to, it’s just that after such stressful weeks, going to church on Sunday is an opportunity to sit quietly with my family.  I’m not answering phone calls, programming, submitting proposals, configuring equipment, not having the TV on, toys, scrambling everything up into a mish mash.  No, I just get to be quiet and there’s no escape.  It’s nice.

As is usual with my church time, I am somewhat disconnected from the experiences of my fellow parishioners.  I know what it is to think differently, to be different, but I still enjoy the perspective and insights that such a burden provides. 

So I wander.  I wander into the minds of others, poking around, taking snapshots.  I was a mental tourist today in church.  The theme of today’s excursion?

Baptism.

My first stop on the mad dash trip was into the minds of those that are not now and have never been Church-goers, some of whom sprout a full plumage of disdain at the mere mention of religion. 

"Ewww.  I don’t believe in organized religion.  I think you’re all full of it, and you’re ruining America."

"Haha," I chuckled with my guest, "that is a distinct possibility."  We passed the time most enjoyably and when it was done and we had said our goodbyes and thank-you’s, I was reluctant to take my leave.  They are a good sort, a tad inflexible, but I don’t hold it against them.

My next stop was a little closer to home.  Familiarity breeds contempt, I said to myself, so let’s take a new look through fresh eyes.  I peered into the scene unfolding right in front of me.  There it was, the ritual, the pouring of the water, the snapshots, the frilly little outfit, everybody in their Sunday best, the priest anointing with oil, saying prayers, the parishioners mumbling their acclamations self-consciousnessly.

And there was the baby, oblivious to it all.

What is this magic that is being performed over me, the baby seemed to ask?  Is Baptism magic, divine magic brought to bear upon a young-ling in order that he may be good, that he may have salvation? 

Once the act was complete, the sigh of relief was almost palpable.  It was a sigh that this child is now protected with his aura of Christly force, that he is now brought into the fold, into the arms of God that the devil may not snatch him up and to do evil.

This is how many people see Baptism, a magic incantation and pouring and anointing.  But its true purpose has been forgotten.  I closed my eyes to remember, to journey back, to look with new eyes on an old scene.  My mind flashed over my own children.  I paused to remember how I held them when they were so tiny, how Laura and I (but mostly Laura) rushed to them when they would cry.  You are not alone in this world.  Just thought you should know. 

You see, we have forgotten.  We’ve buried Baptism so deeply in abstractions that we’ve forgotten its true spirit, its true meaning.  We’ve abstracted God to such a degree that we think he does stuff for us, that by chanting prayers and rubbing oil, we’ll all be saved or we’ll have something more than what we have now. 

What do you need anyway?

In my continuing philosophy of "things are no more than what they appear", I tell you this:  the rubbing of the oil is the touch, the gathered people are the presence, and the prayers are the solace of a soothing voice.  Tu estás acompañado, you are not alone, you are accompanied on your journey through your life. 

Have you ever heard stories of little babies of Christian families that have died soon after being born?  Priests and ministers are on call to Baptize these little souls so that they may take quick flight to a heavenly place without the stain of original sin.  Have you heard that?  Doesn’t that sound silly? 

It’s a lot of words that mask the true purpose of such an act, and it is this: little child, you are not alone in your death.  We love you, your people love you, you will not die alone in the cold.  We will be there until the end for we are a people with great empathy.  We love you.

Have you head of people in car crashes or other traumatic accidents where death is a mere step away.  There are some that have not lived a life in Christ, and in the last moments call for a Baptism or magic ritual.  Our response should not be magic.  Our response to such a person in need is nothing more and nothing less than to hold his hand so that he may know that he is not alone.  He may have been alone throughout his life, living selfishly, thinking little of others, but at the hour of his death, he is a child of creation, loved and lovable – as he has always been.

Baptism isn’t a religious exercise, folks.  Baptism is a communal gathering of souls who hold up an individual, weak and fragile, to let them know that they are supported by the hands of their fellows, that they are not alone, and that they will always be and have always been, supported by love.

Tell someone today, you are not alone, you will never be alone, and you have never been alone.

Okay now that I’ve straightened out the rhetoric, we just have to do it.  Okay?

Contemplations on the Breaking of the Bread

I wrote this after one of my Confirmation classes. I think it’s about the best contemplation on the Eucharist that I’ve ever heard, that is, I like it and it sums it up for me. I always try to look at the rituals of Catholism through the eyes of an outsider. Are they silly? Where did they come from? Why do we do them? What does it mean to believe? And what is belief? They may be silly, but there is a wisdom that can be grokked if you know how to get in there, separate yourself from your preconceptions, supersititions, magic, and just see and know a thing for what it is. Life isn’t any deeper than what we are. That is, it’s plenty deep enough, thank you. You just have to look and listen and ponder. It’s all there, the spirits, the magic, the flavor – all there right in front of you. It’s not weeping concrete stains in the shape of the Virgin Mary. It’s not miracle medical cures.

It may not even be eternal life in heaven.

And with that I begin my meandering through the true nature of the Holy Eucharist.

The next week we talked about spirits. First we talked about the spirit of a tomato? They all looked at me quizzically. Eh? Tomato? I explained where the tomato comes from, where it is grown, how it is cared for, who picks it, how it arrives at the supermarket etc. The tomato becomes more than what it would first appear. The tomato, the more you know about it, its journey, the more it becomes a symbol of something deeper, and the deeper you go, the more it becomes an icon – it actually becomes that thing it represents.

Take the beef cow for example. “Ew!” they all chorused. “We don’t want to know about our food being alive at some point.” They all shuddered, thinking about the slaughterhouse, the death of the cow as it arrives at their plate, all ground up and cooked. How can knowing the path of the cow make our enjoyment of the burger any better?

Ah, I said, but you miss out on a great opportunity to imbibe more than just a burger. Take, for example, my experience in the Basque Country of Spain. We lived near a rural community called Oiartzun in the north of Spain. In the town, the country folk each raised and slaughtered their own cow. They would raise the cow for a year or so, and then they would kill it. They fed their cow the best of things, alfalfa, cabbage, beets, turnips, the best of things. They would grow and cultivate an entire plot of land just for the cow.

We were visiting the Aristizabals house one Sunday afternoon. The family wanted to show off their prize cow. The mother, Maria de los Angeles, took us to the stall where the healthy looking young cow stood munching on some nice fresh greens. The cow raised her head and glanced our way, half-curious as to who were these intruders to her space. She couldn’t be bothered to turn around and give us her attention, head down munching on her lunch. Maria de los Angeles, anxious to show off her cow, grabbed a pitch fork and poked the cow, yelling, “Yeha yeha.” The cow did not budge an inch. She poked harder but the cow did not move.

Mikel, the father and cabinet maker, gently clucked to the cow and patted it on the rump. She turned as easily as if on a trivet. Beautiful she was, healthy strong, and big. Everyone in the family beamed with pride for their cow.

Some time later, we heard that Beltza had been slaughtered, the meat packed into two large freezers in the family’s farm house. Ekiñe, the youngest daughter, excitedly told us they had bought a new young calf. She laughed as she told us they had named it Beltza.

Later, during the Christmas season, Laura and I were invited over for a holiday season dinner, on the menu, Beltza. I knew her, I thought.

We shared with the Aristizabals the finest cut of meat from Beltza, a cut from which there was only enough for one meal. I remember that meal, the communion, the shared experience, the newness, the realness, the depth of experience, appreciation for the life that we had taken as well as the life that we were living, the sacrifice, the brotherhood, and community. Beef had never been more alive to me, on my taste buds, but more importantly in my heart.

I had used that story to illustrate to my class how knowing more about reality around you leads you to deeper satisfaction. Sometimes it’s not pleasant. Sometimes there is pain, even death, but by closing yourself off to it, you close yourself off to the richness of life, the beauty of living. Without awareness, consciousness, life becomes unseasoned and bland.

Me? Like the Pope? Not So Much

"Man, I am so sick of this love affair with the Pope. Sheesh, everyone wants to just bow down and worship this guy like he's done so much or something. What has he done?"

Laura, who is a fan of the Pope, answers, "He's reached out to other religions, healed some long suffering wounds inflicted long ago. He's reached out to the peoples all around the globe, and held firm on moral conviction."

"Yeah," I agreed, "He denounced apartheid, and it is said is partly responsible for its fall by applying political pressure. They like to give him partial credit for helping end communism in the world too with his intervention in Poland. So I guess he's stood up for equality and justice during his papacy."

"Yes," she agreed.

"So how come he doesn't foster equality in his own organization? Over fifty percent of his flock is considered a second class citizen. Women are excluded from virtually every facet of Church leadership, from local to national to international levels. Woman serve a subservient roll to priests, bishops, and are non-existent in the official Vatican power structure. The Pope pointed out the speck in his neighbor's eye, but failed to see the timber in his own. Now I can't necessarily blame him for all this, after all he's just following Church doctrine handed down to him for centuries, and he's human. In effect, he's just going with the flow, following the tried and the true. You can't blame someone for that, I guess. He implemented faithfully the tenants of the Catholic Church handed down for centuries."

Laura nodded, knowing I was setting her up for another round of ranting.

"Let's recap, shall we? Under the Pope we have the following issues:

  1. Falling western church population, with growth in Africa and other third world regions.
  2. Falling membership in the religious orders, 40,000 Jesuits 20 years ago has fallen to 20,000 today, all during the Pope John Paul's reign. Why? An increasing number of parishes no longer have full time priests. There is a critical shortage of ordained religious servants.
  3. Church closings throughout the western world: my hometown of St. Louis is currently going through some ugly infighting concerning assets, closings, and consolidation.
  4. Church sex scandals: one of the most horrific and damaging scandals to ever break anywhere anytime. You think the Spanish Inquisition was bad? Try inflicting the same torment on children and remaining quiet about for decades. How long has the Pope been Pope? - Long enough for him take some responsibility for sure. I didn't know or I wasn't involved have never been nor will they ever be excuses.

You name it, and the Church has stumbled on it or is doing it poorly. Don't blame the parishioners, blame the leadership. It's always the leadership's fault.

So if you were the board of directors of, hmmm, let's say, Hewlett Packard, and say Carly Fiorina had a strategy to increase profits over a 6-10 year period, and say she didn't increase them fast enough or lost a little bit of share. Well, you'd take a hard look at her, and you might fire her, right? Guess what? When you see your share fall, and when corporate scandal reigns, and the company does poorly, you fire management. A lot of the time, you hold them criminally responsible. And I don't know about you, but I've never heard a CEO claim that he was just doing what his predecessor was doing. 'Um, I thought using my personal secretary as a sexual perk was okay. I mean, hell, all the other CEO's did it. Lots of low interest personal loans to myself? Well, we've done that for decades.'

Well, guess what, Mr. CEO, the 1980's and the 1990's where great. Profits were up, people were getting rich. Hell, the board got rich on the stock. But Mr. CEO, it's the 2000's and we ain't in Kansas anymore. You have to be able to react. You have to be able to adapt to a changing landscape. You've got to make hard decisions. What the hell do we pay you for, huh?

So I say the same thing to the Pope. What the hell have you been doing over there in your walled city while the Roman Catholic Church has been falling apart? You've been issuing decrees on birth control, abortion, secularism and burying your head in the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality oblivious to the creaky rusty corrupt bucket of bolts that is shedding it's shit all over the road. You issue a memo, take a drive in your Pope-mobile, or make a trip to have throngs of poor Catholics in third world countries come in droves to weep and feint at the site of your holiness? Bah! You're an idiot, and you got the basic stuff wrong, very wrong. You've been denying half your flock the possibility of renewing the face of the Earth, simply because they don't have a penis. What kind of shit is that? I would have said, grow a pair, but at this point, it ain't gonna happen.

The Pope should've spent eighty percent of his time with the problem children of the worldwide Church, eighty percent of his time on the tough issues, eighty percent of the time going after the lost sheep. He can then spend twenty percent of the time tending to his flock of believers. Wasn't that Jesus's message? - The sheepherder, upon losing one of his flock leaves the rest to go and search for it. The prodigal son? Wasn't this the lesson? I understand the Pope is beloved by those that are with him, but what of the lost sheep, the disillusioned Catholics, those for whom this bloated bureaucracy has ceased to be relevant? It's easy to preach to those who love you. This Pope's challenge was to preach to those that had gone astray, the fallen away Catholics, the disillusioned, the angry, the hurt, and the lost.

Mr. Pope, I will grant that you've done more than your cowardly predecessors. You've perhaps done a satisfactory job these 27 years, but I don't expect a satisfactory job from "Jesus's representative on Earth." I expect an extraordinary job. Mr. Pope, this is one Catholic that won't miss you a bit. I wish we could have fired you a long time ago, but Pope for life is the way it goes. Ain't tenure a bitch? You can't fire the incompetent, and they hang on long after they've ceased to be even moderately productive. History seems to be whitewashing your papacy for political reasons (especially those shills at Fox News), but I know what you did not do. Shame on you for your inaction and blindness.

I'm a bit scared for who's coming next though. Might we go from bad to worse?

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Fundamentalism vs. New Age, Two Sides to the Same Coin

Fundamentalism: Freedom from distractions
New Age: Freedom from
restrictions

Each has a drawback:

Fundamentalism: Has restrictions to true choice
New Age: Loss
of direction to distractions

Let me explain. With fundamentalism, for example, Southern
Baptists or Shiite Muslims take great pains to separate men and
women, the temptations of the flesh. Rigorous precepts of
co-mingling, no alcohol, no dancing are enforced to allow men and
women to go on with their lives without distracting temptations of
the flesh. Fundamentalism has at its core a belief that the flesh is
VERY weak, and must be chained up, covered, locked down and put away.
The spirit soars in inverse proportion to how detained is the body.

This actually works pretty well, and isn’t necessarily a terrible
thing. After all, it still is an attempt at living a life of meaning
and usefulness, instead of a life mired in selfish desires and self
destructive behavior.

But Fundamentalism assumes weakness, and therefor never expects too much of
one.

Its drawback comes when those external restrictions are removed.
Without the enforcer, the jailer keeping your body locked up tight,
without the imposition of rules, without a learned internal
decision-making capacity, you can fall victim to excesses for which
you are not prepared. Think the “preacher’s son/daughter”
syndrome or “Catholic school girl.”

Secondly, fundamentalism has a spirit crushing affect on those
that fall ever so slightly outside its ordered confines. I’ve known
several Mormons, both active in the faith and fallen away from it,
and the commonality among them is the crushing expectation of the
community. This can cause them to raise to great heights, but can
just as easily drag them to deep lows. To get a divorce in the Mormon
faith is one of the most unforgivable transgressions. Pre-marital
sex? Drinking? Carousing? Men, failure to provide for your family?
The Mormon community exacts a heavy, many times, unspoken toll on
those not strong enough to keep the rules of faith.

New Age, on the other hand, is a recent phenomenon. It strives to
remove restrictions from the individual. It seeks to unlock your
hidden potential. Give up your petty fears, focus on the self, and
you shall be free. Your guilty heart holds you back. Your fears, your
past, your transgressions, your weaknesses, they all have one thing
in common – they conspire to drag you down, lock you up, keep you
miserable. That cannot be God’s plan for you. New Age strives to
unlock all the chains that bind.

It’s a lovely message for those that have been beaten down, for
those that feel that they have never been realized. It may be the
first time that some of them have felt any self-worth. Perhaps it was
a battered wife, an alcoholic, an abused child, or any of the variety
of broken souls that litter the earth. New Age religion offers these
people a way out, an offer of acceptance and non-judgment.

It really is a lovely message, but it has a fatal flaw as well.
Excessive focus on the self causes a loss of awareness of the other.
Take for example the author Richard Bach, of Jonathan Livingston
Seagull
fame. His recent explanation of his divorce is revealing
of the pitfalls of New Age thinking.

…Leslie and I are no longer married. Soul mates, to me,
don’t define themselves by legal marriage. There’s a learning
connection that exists between those two souls. Leslie and I had that
for the longest time, and then a couple of years ago, she had this
startling realization. She said, "Richard, we have different
goals!" I was yearning for my little adventures and looking
forward to writing more books. Leslie has worked all her life long,
and she wanted peace, she wanted to slow the pace, not complicate it,
not speed it up. Not money, not family, no other men or other women,
separated us. We wanted different futures. She was right for her. I
was right for me. Finally it came time for us to make a choice. We
could save the marriage and smother each other: "You can’t be
who you want to be." Or we could separate and save the love and
respect that we had for each other. We decided the marriage was the
less important. And now we’re living separate lives.

Do you see the same thing I see? Lack of passion? Lack of focus?
Lack of heart? Here’s someone who’s painted himself into a corner of
denial. Look, buddy, just admit you two screwed up. You couldn’t
compromise. You couldn’t make it work. Each was more in love with
their “self” than the “other”. Examine your
limitations. Learn from your failure. You’ve got to see where you’ve
screwed up. You’ll not learn from it if you don’t see your failures
in a cold clear light.

One would believe that New Age opens up an infinite variety of
experience, a limitless, endless array of choices all of which are
equal and none of which are right or wrong. They simply are. With
little framework to define a right path or a wrong path, people may
wander around without direction, without purpose, or perhaps the main
purpose being self-fulfillment. Like little ants wandering around
randomly looking for food, deep New Agers suddenly come upon a
morsel, and being so cut off from the other, do not even have the
capacity to communicate the message of what they have found. They are
content to let the colony discover the morsel for themselves, for how
could they be so arrogant as to assume this morsel is fit for anyone
else but themselves.

Without at least some level of rigor, decisions become bland,
tasteless, without risk, without price. A marriage ends because it
did. We chose not to be married, and it was the right choice for us.
We become so detached from each other, so free, that we may as well
just float away in our own little bubble, little known to the
universe, having never wanted to risk offending it with our failure.

I’ve always had a deep distrust for both extremes, that is,
fundamentalists scare me with their rigorous intolerance for
distractions and those that bring them, and New Agers scare me with
their aimless free floating lack of commitment. The truth must lie
somewhere in the middle, somewhere between crushing restrictions and
overwhelming relativism.

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