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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

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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

FAMILY VIOLENCE: AN ANCIENT ENEMY

Family Violence: An Ancient Enemy

Among ancient people, intimate partner violence occurred for reasons similar to many rationalizations that modern humans provide: jealousy, anger, food, mating privileges and so forth. The most obvious reasoning that intimate partner violence occurred among ancient humans is the physiological rule: that is to say, the larger an animal, or more physically imposing partner/group member would have been more likely to use force or inflict violence upon another smaller one (essentially bullying). After all, which smaller ancient individual dare challenge the larger attacker?

Tuning in to any nature channel, such as National Geographic, we can see the physiological rule of violence play out in the animal kingdom as day-to-day business: the silverback gorilla, or the alpha wolf imposing their wills and sizes upon others. Here, too, intra-group violence occurs for many of those same reasons given by modern humans: challenge to mating privileges, territorial disputes, food, threats to immediate family, etc.
But rules are meant to be broken, often by those we least expect.

This physiological rule is also countered by nature itself, an opposing force of smaller size, such as we find in the snake – whose various venoms can easily subdue or kill a being one-hundred times its size. This is natures answer to predation (bullying). An even smaller, similar situation is provided us by the ignorant mosquito – who, in conjunction with the many viruses and diseases it carries, such as malaria – kills billions without any thought of malevolence.

In humans, we have developed two of the most potent forces against the physiological rule. The first is the brain itself – the most advanced brain we have known among creatures of the Earth. The second force being the social group itself: the norms of civilization. We primarily came to understand that it was wrong to obtain things we wanted, whether for psychological satisfaction, or biological urges, through unjustified force. We have the greatest treasure of higher intellect and greater reasoning ability over all the creatures in the animal kingdom, though like them, we have not been able to irradicate intimate partner violence (family violence) from our cultures.

Families are the cornerstone to any great society. Currently, however, there exists a sad social problem of violence within families. One fairly recent study of families shared that 74% of children younger than five were hit or slapped by their parents (n1). A 2004 study of sexual abuse of children showed a drastic decline in reported cases toward the end of last century, though the remaining 89,500 cases occurring every year, is 89,500 cases too many involving this type of violence (n2).
In 2005, the National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS) produced a number of reported instances of intimate partner violence at 690,100 cases (in America), (n3). Of those figures, 16.2% of the victims were males. Obviously, males committed the remaining 83.8% of instances – another likely example of the physiological rule of violence at play in modern humans.

Can it be anymore obvious- that no matter how we define family violence, wether as emotional, physical, sexual, or instrumental – modern humanity relies too heavily upon it. Violence is outdated software, so to speak, as it is assumed we have moved beyond instinctive reactions and drives as primary motivators in behavior. Humans can develop machines to analyze planetary bodies in deep space; we can construct telescopes to see millions of years into the prehistory of our universe; we cure disease, yet we cannot seem to irradicate the most ancient of our behaviors which is violence among families.

If there’s nothing else you do in life, if you reject voting, if you do not volunteer in your community, or do not give to any charities, or fail to pay sufficient taxes, there is one thing you should honestly do to create a better world and that is to reject violence. This can be taught by example – through the power of diplomacy, leadership, and empathy. By failing to perpetuate violence, we can finally evolve into the civilization I see we can become. Reject violence, that is our first step for a better tomorrow.

Lean more about family violence at teachyoung.org, or through researching any of the references below.

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(N)otes:
1. Gallup Organization. Disciplining Children In America: A Gallup Report. Princeton, NJ. (1995)
2. Catalano, S. Criminal Investigation, 2004. Washington, D.C. (2005)
3. TeachYoung.org

Our Social Imperative

Our Social Imperative

I WAS NOT ALIVE DURING THE SIXTIES; a turbulent time for the minority of America. The seeds of social equality in America were sewn over a hundred years earlier, and it was during the middle of the 20th-Century when we began to harvest fruits of our sacrifices, when our solidarity began to be felt by justices of The United States Supreme Court (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954; Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 1960; Boynton v. Virginia, 1960), and in the actions of leadership (Civil Rights Act of 1964).

This period began with such great potential.

Again, I wasn’t alive then, but I have immersed myself in the light of that period: I’ve read Malcolm X’s biography, read Doctor King’s letters from his days as a political prisoner, and watched documentaries of gunfire, riots, and bigotry mar this otherwise great period. I am a fragment of that generation, a generation that came out of the ashes, tears, and triumphs of the civil rights era. I am proud of that fact.

So you might understand it was no accident that I cried during Obama’s initial inauguration. Inside, my soul sang loudly that old Sam Cooke tune about being born by the river… but I was crying happy tears. I felt energized, that finally, as a minority, I witnessed the energy behind grand historic progress, that I had a small taste of that harvest that Doctor King dreamt about. I am proud of that, also.

image: allposters.com

image: allposters.com

I believe, as a nation, we need more moments like that. Moments that prove we are at our best when we work together and acknowledge that personal progress is in fact, correlated to the progress of our neighbors.

As cultural beings, we set aside special days and months to remind us that true success, our true strength is inextricably bound to how well we treat and celebrate others. Nearly every American holiday, does not exist for us to celebrate individuals, they aren’t there to remind us of the fleeting benefits of individual success. Nearly every holiday exists to remind us of the importance of loving other people and celebrating the bonds of our shared humanity. Most major religious tenets or ethics are based on the same idea: celebration of caring for other people.

It remains my hope, that as we journey through 2016, anticipating another grand inauguration, that when we are able, we give a helping hand to people who need it; that along our way, we donate a talent or skill we may possess to make someone’s life easier – if only for a few moments a week. In celebration of this special month stop by and check on your parents and grandparents; promote the value of what it means to have been a part of their lives. We can never forget how far we’ve come. Participate in your community, be nice to people, and you will enjoy a great, productive year.

References
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Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Ks. 347 U. S 483 (1954)
Boynton v. Virginia, 364 U.S. 454 (1960) Racial segregation in all public transportation illegal under the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887.
Civil Rights Act of 1964
Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339 (1960) Electoral districts drawn to disenfranchise blacks violated the Equal Protection Clause

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