Monthly Archives: June 2016

IF YOU COULD, WOULD YOU LIVE FOREVER?

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THE LARGEST RELIGION IN EXISTENCE is Christianity, pushing 2-billion plus adherents.[1] It’s followers represent dozens of sects and denominations that actually disagree on more ideas than most care to keep track of. In a broad sense Christians share a few core beliefs, particularly that Yashua – a peasant Jew from Nazareth – was sent as Son of God to enlist believers in him and to atone for a sin that God’s first man was talked into.[2] It’s in belief of Yashua (Jesus is what the Romans called him) that humanity gains eternal life. Yashua died on a cross and raised himself from the dead after three days.

So much can be added to that short summary of what the core elements of Christianity are, so many arguments could be had, too. Christianity is a theologically complex religion and is somewhat irreconcilable with itself as well as historical knowledge. Equally complex and irreconcilable are the 27 holy books making up the New Testament.

As a simple exercise, ask yourself a few fundamental questions – that implicate a variety of religions aside from Christianity. Why is eternal life an idea that is offered in exchange for adhering or believing? What is so fascinating about eternal life that roughly half of the world, mostly industrialized areas, find such an exchange fruitful? What exactly are some of the implications of becoming immortal ? Would eternal life be a suitable situation for you? Have you thought about it?

Personally, despite my own beliefs, I would psychologically and spiritually grow weary of eternal existence. I can confidently state that without having any concept or taste of any afterlife. Let’s say I died tomorrow, came into some phantasmal form. I could imagine initially being sad, then being amused for awhile. Going everywhere I’ve never visited, learning things I hadn’t previously had the time for. Yet, as years would pass, I would witness the loss of other loved ones – some of whom might not be so lucky as to obtain immortality. I would be helpless as I watched my people deteriorate, become sick, or grow old and struggle.

There I would be, eternally struggling with such loss, never needing sleep, never resting, only suffering for millennia.

Well, I don’t want eternal life, I wouldn’t want that for you either. After all, to compartmentalize loss, to bury emotion, to replace grief with eternal life, is tantamount to adopting sociopathy. A sociopath lacks a conscience, is distant from humanity; I wouldn’t want to turn into that, to grow cold as the universe, as it, too, finally freezes all light from existence. That sounds so lonely, living forever in a cold expanse.

As with many firsts, a first kiss, the first bite of an ice cream sundae, a first soda or any other possible vice, eternal life will – much like those – appear awesome and grand initially; however, as we experience more and more of something it will either kill us or grow less tasteful and unsatisfying.

But, then again, what do I know, right? Actually, what is known is that we have around five or so decades together – if we’re fortunate. We have now , the present, to do kind acts, to cry together, to laugh, to share memories at gatherings and share moments of accomplishment. We have now.
As for me, when all this is gone, when precious light fades from the back of my eyelids, I want to go in peace, I want to rest well knowing that I will leave this world to you in slightly better condition than when I found it.

Notes
1. Goldwag, Arthur. (2007). ‘Isms and ‘Ologies: The 453 Basic Tenets You’ve only Pretended to Understand. Madison Park Press. New York

2. THE BOOK OF GENESIS, Old Testament

Image: public domain customization

LETTING GO: A RECIPE FOR THE FUTURE

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During the course of each of our lives we hear many things that cause us to listen. Some of these things are helpful, some disastrous, and between all that is conflicting advice. Take for instance, the concept of forgiveness. I have always been told by my elders to forgive people for their wrongs and accidental slights – no matter what these were. Few people have gone so far as to advise that, in addition to forgiveness, “to pray for them”, or “forgive, but don’t forget”. I’m sure I’m not alone in this confusing matter, so I’m going to briefly share what I think about it.

Forgiveness, at its very core, harbors the assumption that people will cross you, people will do you wrong, hurt you, use you, amongst all other manner of negative things. This means that forgiveness exists because people are capable of harm – directly or indirectly, and sometimes both ways.

Secondly, forgiveness assumes a therapeutic role – in that there is marginal benefit for victims and a vague notion that is to befall those unforgiving people. Resentment, negative expectations, deteriorated social relationships, spiritual stress, ailments, and sometimes deep-seated cultural morés, such as distrust in the “white-man” – or some such things – can be traced to unforgiveness.

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So, here I am, discussing forgiveness – an idea that most of my loved ones proclaim I should adopt, yet, they have such difficulty themselves with forgiveness. (This is not to say they are sociopaths.)

Perhaps the world I want to see doesn’t have forgiveness at all; a world where there are no people whose words trespass against anyone, and that acts are no longer harmful; eliminating all of those things that typically trigger the need for gifting or asking forgiveness. Of course, that’s not a reality; however, just as forgiveness does, we can also act upon our world in ways to preempt forgiveness: we can work to eliminate forgiveness. This idea may seem, at first glance, tricky, for us Indigenous people, having carried so much pain about the world in which our ancestors lived, a world near universally lost. But, if we can change our approach to how we are affected by others, we would do some real good for our next generation – freeing them from the weight of all that could have been.

😉

IN SERVICE OF PEOPLE, NOT GOD

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After this century began, I had the pleasure of reading an anthology of short-stories, stories that implicated the human role in the larger scheme of existence. Is human life an absurd situation, or is there any inherent purpose in life, at all? For a guy who, at the time, didn’t have any formal college education, the old dusty book posited interesting questions about how people behave in ways so that life has meaning. That struck me as very interesting! The book, published in 1963, is called The Existential Imagination.[1] Many copies of the book are still available via Amazon.com and for as little as a penny (shipping and handling, is extra).[2] Need I mention, I’ve owned three copies over the years?

There are many good stories in the book regarding issues unique to the human condition. I don’t necessarily have any favorite story because they are all good for very different reasons. I would like to share the plot from one of the stories, here, and hopefully it allows you to ponder about any philosophical or theological implications thereafter. Hopefully, you are curious enough to go buy a copy, then read the rest of the book yourself.

The story that I mean to share is called Saint Emmanuel The Good, Martyr. It is the longest story of the anthology at around 35-pages. It’s written in the form of a fictional memoir, a letter found by the true author. The letter is an account of an Italian woman, Angelita, who takes the reader through her life, beginning as a young girl who entered convent school – at her brothers bidding. She spends five years there – until at age 15 – before returning to her village, Valverde de Lucerna. There she introduces us to the true protagonist in her memoir: Don Manuel, the priest in her beloved village.

The Don is described as a healer, a saint, who chopped wood for the poor, the protector, and nourishment to the village. He is kind to all – favoring “the most unfortunate…especially those who rebelled” (102).
One of my favorite quotes came from this story. It’s great advice even if stemming from a work of fiction. It reads:

“We should concern ourselves less with what people are trying to tell us than with what they tell us without trying” – Don Manuel

Angelita, also wrote about a time when a man in the village sent his boy out into the woods in a heavy rainstorm to fetch a loosed calf. The Don, saw the boy wandering near the trees, so he went out in the heavy rain to inquire why the boy was out at such a dangerous time. The boy explained, his father sent him out for a lost calf, whereafter listening, the Don sends the boy home. He explained he would locate the calf and bring it home for him. Upon returning to the boys home (with the calf) the father went out to meet the Don, who was soaking wet. The man, Angelita wrote, was thoroughly ashamed of himself.

The story builds to denouement once Angelita’s brother, Lazarus, returns home from America. Lazarus was not Catholic, and further did not believe in God. However, Don Manuel and Lazarus spend so much time together that after Angelita’s mom died, Lazarus chose to take communion, thereby converting to Catholicism. The village rejoices, and because, Don Manuel, had yet again, performed a miracle!

Later in the evening, Angelita finds herself alone with her brother, to whom she asks, “What things did Don Manuel state to you, that caused this conversion?” She hugs him. Lazarus finally replied that he only did so for the people, not because he himself believed, nor to seek eternal life. The Don implored him to take up religious life so to set a good example for the people, by taking part in religious community life. But Lazarus explains solemnly, that he also asked the Don, why he seemed to ask that he live a lie, adding, “Do you, believe, Don Manuel?” The Don, looking out over the lake, silently wept. After a few moments, the Don said:

“The truth, Lazarus, is perhaps something so unbearable, so terrible, so deadly, that simple people could not live with it,” and, “I am put here to give life… to make [people] happy, to make them dream they are immortal – and not to destroy them. The important
thing is that they live sanely, in accord with eachother…with my truth they could not live at all…”, “…let them live…”, “with the illusion that all this has a purpose”
(120).

So, there were tough questions, indeed, utilizing deep human conflict, one that many people have grappled with over the millennia. I, too, have often looked to the stars, asked my elders, and sought the answer to the very questions this story outlines, namely, Is there a God, and what does that mean for us? If there is no God, what then? Is life a pointless marathon unto death? Maybe it’s not so bad that we are left to answer this question alone? The greater point is that it’s a wonderful journey trying to figure it out for yourself. As I believe Don Manuel would say: At times, you might feel sad, or liberated when pondering the meaning of existing only a short while. Life may seem very lonely in that view. Whatever answers you come to, I’m sure you will be fine when choosing to live for others; according to one priest, it is exactly the same as living for God.

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Notes:
1.Karl, Frederick R., and Leo Hamalian, eds. (1963). “The Existential Imagination.” First Premier Books/Fawcett. NY

2.https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B000GRFJYO/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1465370579&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_FMwebp_QL65&keywords=the+existential+imagination

3. Images, public domain, customizations

5 THINGS ABOUT LEADERSHIP

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ACCORDING TO A FEW EXPERTS, leadership is defined as, “the ability to get work done with and through others while winning their respect, confidence, loyalty, and willing cooperation” (Greer and Pkunkett, 2007:261). That definition implies quite a broad set of traits. A number of you might have all of these, and at the same time, not really grasp that leadership is part of your heritage, it’s in your veins.

Leadership is a consequence of complex interactions, whether psychological or social; and we all know history has created complex socio-psychological situations for Native People. The notion that leaders possess a specific set of traits traverses cultures. While all cultures do not share a universal idea of what every leader looks like, or acts like, there is a set of universal traits that all leaders do have. Let’s look at 5 of them, here.

Leaders are trustworthy. Leaders uphold a reputation for integrity, are less likely to be engaged in risky ventures, cheat, or conduct affairs that could place others in danger. Being trustworthy, that people trust your judgment is the first trait of a leader.

Secondly, Leaders act out of concern for others. Leaders are not loners, they are inherently part of a social group. So it is the people of the group who agree on leadership. It’s one thing to declare oneself a leader, and another when people treat you as one. If you are greedy, or otherwise unethical, people will see that. Leaders keep the greatest good in mind, rarely, if ever acting in self-interest. Think of the 19th Century leader, Chief Joseph.[1] Chief Joseph thought it best that his small tribe survive, instead of continually sending the dwindling men and boys to die fighting against the technologically advanced settlers ever moving westward into Nez Pierce country. Fighting was senseless by the late-1800’s. The millions of settlers weren’t going anywhere. Chief Joseph recognized that the numbers were clearly not on his side and so he acted on behalf of his people: advocating for a reserve. Acting out of concern for others, is primary, and must be in the heart of a leader.[2]

Thirdly, while leaders must be intelligent, not every intelligent person has the ability to explain things clearly . Thus, leaders must not only know the important issues at play, but need to also have the ability to clearly explain them to others. It’s through explaining and clarifying issues that consensus is developed. Consensus equals followers or disciples, and building a consensus is derived from the ability to explain important things clearly.

Leaders have to possess courage to proclaim a particular course of action. What’s the point shouting that there is such-and-such problem, trying to get people to listen without also providing the solution? Solutions don’t fall from the sky. Leaders will have taken the time to ponder about consequences. It will be from those variables that leaders must decide the most appropriate course of action. Otherwise, what you have is a clairvoyant. A clairvoyant is not concerned with outcomes, they simply report what’s going to happen next!

Finally, a leader will be scrutinized when things get tough. When water and food are scarce, or when buildings are burned down, the leader must have already developed in herself the determination and will to persist a course of action, but remain flexible enough to know when a change of direction is needed. Changing course can be both psychologically and socially difficult. Consider how Chief Joseph must have felt when he desired true freedom for his people, that he desired to fight on, but that his people were few and hungry. He had to inform his people – many of whom already knew – that it was in their best interest to settle, so that the Nez Pierce would live on- albeit on a reserve.

For sure, leadership is a social necessity. Leadership takes on unique shapes provided by the cultural and situational settings. For the Indigenous of America, leadership is part of their heritage. However, in movies and other popular media, Indigenous Americans are romanticized as as mostly Sioux-Indian males – sitting around a nighttime fire (inside a teepee) bickering about issues, perhaps passing a pipe while a drum beats into the night. On the contrary, most American Indigenous leadership hed councils in vastly different places. The Caddo Tribal leadership met in grass structures; and the Iroquois, in longhouses.

Notably, the Iroquois, or “People of the Longhouses”, (Kannonsionni ) are known broadly as the Six Nations (Haudenosaunee).The Six Nations include the Seneca, the Cayuga, the Oneida, the Mohawk, and Onandaga – and later, the Tuscarora. Today, this Six Nation Council is known as the Iroquois League.[3] Each of the Six Nations have representative leadership who are selected by the clan mothers of each Nation. These 56 chieftain leaders (Hoyenah) make up The Great Iroquois Council.[4] This ancient council is nearly 600-years old. According to the best contemporary archaeological evidence it is stated to have began around the year 1450.[5]

Throughout half a millennia we can trust that the clan mothers made sure that their selections to the Great Council possessed the 5 traits discussed here and that historically, there were undoubtedly difficult decisions made by these elected Hoyenah (chiefs). More difficult still, was that courses of action taken by the council had to be unanimous. Imagine the kind of leaders it takes to create unanimity? That’s the heritage in your veins. That’s the kind of leader you are.

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Notes:

1. Nez Pierce Chief, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chief_Joseph
2. “In 1885, Chief Joseph and his followers were allowed to return to the Pacific Northwest to settle on the reservation around Kooskia, Idaho. Instead, Joseph and others were taken to the Colville Indian Reservation far from both their homeland in the Wallowa Valley and the rest of their people in Idaho,” ibid.
3. http://www.bigorrin.org/iroquois_kids.htm
4. “The Grand Council of the Iroquois League is an assembly of 56 Hoyenah (chiefs) or Sachems, a number that has never changed. Today, the seats on the Council are distributed among the Six Nations as follows: 14 Onondaga, 10 Cayuga,  9 Oneida,  9 Mohawk,  8 Seneca,  6 Tuscarora”, ibid.
5. Dean Snow states, “the archaeological evidence does not support a date earlier than 1450,” ibid.
Greer, Charles, R. and W. Richard Plunkett. (2007). Supervisory Management, 11th Ed. Pearson/Prentice. Hall. Upper Saddle River, NJ. 07458
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