Friday, December 28, 2012

The Mayan's name is "Cliff"

      Today (Dec. 28), in the western Christian calendar, is known as the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  It commemorates a horrific incident recounted in the gospel of Matthew (2.1-18). Shortly after the birth of Jesus, magi (or astrologers or wise men) came from "the East" to Jerusalem.  They inquired of King Herod where the "child who has been born king of the Jews" might be found.  They had seen "his star" and wanted to come pay him homage.  This was news to Herod, and, Matthew records, "he was frightened".  He found out from his visitors the exact time of the star's appearance, and discerned where and when this "newborn king" had arrived on the scene.  Ultimately, Herod felt that this child-king was so threatening that he sent his soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all of the children two years old or younger, hoping, thereby, to take care of the upstart.  (It didn't happen.)
       The gospel-writer Matthew is clearly referencing another massacre of the innocents:  those Israelites in Egypt who were put to the sword by Pharaoh, who was worried ("frightened" perhaps?) by the increasing number of Israelite males in his land (Exodus 1.8-16).  So, his instructions to the Israelite midwives:  "kill all the boys; let the girls live". Matthew also quotes the prophet Jeremiah (31.15) who claims that Rachel is "weeping for her children . . . because they are no more".  While this is not necessarily a reference to the massacre of innocents (rather to the destruction of the northern tribes of Israel), it is clearly a reference to a violent end for those whom God would have preferred by spared. A violent end brought about by those (Pharaoh or the Assyrians) who wielded power over the weaker (Israel).
      The difference between the assault by the Assyrians and that by both Pharaoh and Herod is that the Assyrians were looking to expand their control, while Pharaoh and Herod were looking to maintain theirs.  The latter, in other words, were afraid that their grip on what they perceived as "reality" was being threatened.*  And that threat needed to be exterminated (or perhaps minimized).  Extermination or minimization required violent means.
      It is not hard for us, in these last few months, to recall violence inflicted on the innocent. Whether theater-goers in Aurora, Sikh worshippers in Wisconsin, or kindergartners in Connecticut, none of those victims deserved the fate that became theirs.  Despite what wacko preachers might say, those deaths were NOT what God would have wanted, regardless of their (the preachers') claim of the so-called moral laxity of America.  And, I doubt that it is sufficient to attribute all of those shooters' actions to "mental illness".  Whether "moral laxity" or "mental illness" -- both serve to distance the shooters' action from the rest of us:  "WE are moral!  WE are mentally sound!  There's something wrong with THEM!"
      No, we are all broken in some ways.  We are all afraid of something -- like Pharaoh and Herod.  We are all trying to maintain, and/or expand, our power (thank, Nietzsche!).  The problem (as I see it) is that some of us have not progressed any further than Pharaoh, Shalmaneser or Herod in thinking that violence is the way to resolve the so-called "problem".  Whether it's political power or perceived impotence in dealing with personal problems, we've been taught that violence -- physical violence -- is the only solution.  Or that more weapons will solve the problem.
      Those who "taught" and (apparently) believed that the world was coming to an end based on the Mayan calendar had bought into this belief.  And, I would maintain, that those who are hyping the catastrophe of the "fiscal cliff" are doing the same.  The violence perpetrated by the latter certainly isn't as graphic or destructive, but it plays on the fears of the American public.  And, in so doing, it tries to motivate an electorate in one direction or the other -- probably with the hoped-for end result of returning one (or the other) prognosticator of doom to office.
      I would hope (call me a "cock-eyed optimist)" that in 2013, given all we've seen and experienced in the last year, we might have a different vision for the future.  A vision in which those who purvey violent/vengeful movies or video games might lose their audience (can't Tanantino make a point without a lot of blood?).  A vision in which fear is trumped by hope and justice.
      A vision in which the so-called"fiscal cliff" is seen as being a manipulative, and power-grabbing and fear-baiting, as the Mayan apocalypse.
      I believe in hope.  Join me in protecting the innocents.

Hopeful for the New Year,

Chaplain Gary

*This may be true for the Assyrians as well, but the point isn't as clear.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The End Is . . . . . Hmmmm?

      I was never sure when, on 12/21/12, the world was supposed to end.  So, I thought I'd better hedge my bets and send this out anyway so that folks who've come to expect something on Friday afternoons weren't disappointed.  Of course, if you're reading this on Saturday the 22nd or later, then the expected (by some) cataclysm passed you by.  Given all of the worry (hype?) about the Mayan calendar over the last many months, the cynical among us might think that there was a commercial tie-in.  All I could find, however, in searches on "Mayan Calendar" and "economics" was that the calendar predicted our economic collapse (many doomsday sites!).  That, and that canned goods have been flying off the shelves in Russia, making Russian grocers happy.  But assuming we're all still here, the only possible explanation is that someone was wrong about the Mayan calendar/prediction.
      I, for one, don't think the Mayans were wrong; they simply weren't predicting the end of the world.  The best analysis I've heard about their calendar is that the Mayans understood history or the cosmos functioning in a cyclical manner.  And, that all that was going to happen today, is that one cycle would end, and another begin.  Kind of like our current sense of whatever happens every year at midnight December 31/January 1, or when the odometer in a car starts over at 00000000.  Or, as I've experienced at milestone birthdays:  the next day I still put on my pants one leg at a time.  So . . . who was wrong?  I trust I don't have to answer that!
      This has, however, given me reason to think again about our fascination with end-of-the-world, apocalyptic predictions.  We can easily recall Mr. Harold Camping's prediction that everything would come crashing to a close on May 21st (and then October 21st), 2011. Thousands of folks believed him and sold everything in advance of their being spirited (raptured) away from the earth just in time to avoid a global catastrophe.  He backed away from his predictions after they failed to happen, saying that he'd miscalculated.  In other words, he was wrong.  And he was wrong, I would say, because he probably wanted to believe he was right!
     And so it has ever been.  For whatever reasons (and I'm sure there are good psychological reasons), we want to believe we are right, and we will often bend whatever evidence we have to support our position.  One of the main themes that runs through the biblical material -- both in the Hebrew scriptures as well as the New Testament -- is that there seems to be a constant battle between "false prophets" and those God actually appoints.  (This website will give you ALL the examples you'd want to see, as well as the "motives" of the false prophets).  Those false prophets were "successful" in that they told people what they wanted to hear; they confirmed their listeners desire to be "right".
      But, not only do we want to be right (I mean, who wakes up in the morning saying to themselves, "It's my goal to be wrong today!"), we also want things to be better than they, perhaps, are.  It's not surprising then, that many of the folks who want a cataclysmic end believe that they'll be rewarded for their endurance of hardships, while their (earthly) oppressors will get their just desserts.  In other words, they want their own "darkness" to turn to light.  And so the false prophets find a ready audience for their pronouncements.
      Don't we all want our darkness to turn to light? And, as this day of (so-called) Mayan doom occurs on the Winter Solstice, there must be something more than a coincidence.  Just as there must be more than a coincidence that so many religious traditions have some sort of "light" oriented holiday at this time of year (Yule, Hanukkah, Christmas, Yalda).   It is the time (at least in the northern hemisphere) where we need some affirmation that the days will get longer and warmer.  We need affirmation that the world will re-awaken and continue to feed and sustain us.  In short, we want hope.
      Unfortunately, the "hope" I see in the purveyors both of doom, and of easy (passive, otherworldly) success, is a hope of disengagement with reality.  It isn't a hope that seeks to create a better future.  All past predictions of cataclysmic endings have proven false; I would assume that all future ones will as well.  Our hope, then, in this "darkness" (however defined or experienced) is to enter into reality, and apply ourselves to the task of increasing light, warmth, joy, justice and peace to those around us.
Blessings of the season,

Chaplain Gary

Friday, December 14, 2012


     I am a sucker for hints at organizing, or simplifying, my life and surroundings.  My Myers-Briggs profile (yes, I'm a "J") and my astrological sign (Virgo) confirm it!  So, earlier this week, when I walked past a table upon which was a copy of the (April 2012) Real Simple magazine that promised an article entitled "The Organized Home Office", I simply had to pick it up!  I quickly flipped to page 100, and found a picture of delightfully neat-and-tidy workspace.  So I started reading, and learned, that to have a "really simple organized home office", I needed:
  • Bedford small desk ($468 from Pottery Barn)
  • Logan Pharmacy table lamp ($210 from
  • Modular flip-out bins ($14 from the Container Store)
  • Drafting chair ($288 from schoolhouse
  • Fabric for the bulletin board ($196/yard from
Figuring that the bulletin board would need a couple of yards of fabric, my nifty, simple, organized office would run $1,372!  And that's just for the desk, chair and bulletin board. Another $650 (plus upholstery fabric at $200/yd) would get a vintage, reupholstered, side chair!  Now the office is complete!
      In an interview sometime back, I heard these kinds of magazines described as "house porn".  I had an idea I knew what the interviewer meant, but, now that I've seen it, I know what it is.  This little office space barely took up one-half of one wall.  I haven't had the time (nor energy) to compare Real Simple's home office with something similar from Ikea or Target, but I would imagine that something just as serviceable could be had for less than one-third that price (or even less, with a trip to a Thrift Store, a little elbow grease and creativity) . My cinder-block and board bookshelves from my college days did just fine holding my books (and I could organize them any way I wanted!), and were dirt cheap.    So I got to wondering about how we equate simplifying with spending more money?
       When I was in college, I was part of a traveling singing group that would help raise money for the school.  In concerts, the nine of us would pass around the responsibility for introducing upcoming songs, and, if one of us would start "waxing eloquent", someone else would start making "kissing" noises, the meaning of which was "wrap it up NOW!"  The kissing noises were reminders of our mantra:  "KISS:  Keep it short, stupid."  (Another interpretation, equally apt, was "Keep it simple, stupid.")
       The underlying message is that more -- whether words or stuff -- is not necessarily better.  Or, addressing the message of Real Simple's article, spending more money won't necessarily make you more organized!  In this season where "conspicuous consumption" is everywhere encouraged ("You wouldn't want your loved ones to think you didn't care would you?  So remember us 'when you care to send the very best.'") . . . . in this season, I guess taking a step back might be the better way to simplify.  And I'll have to stop indulging my belief (hope?) that others have a quick, simple, fix to my issues!
       Oh, any comment on the picture above would be . . . too much.

Chaplain Gary

Friday, December 7, 2012

Uncommon Sense

     I remember an conversation with one of my professors early in my graduate school tenure. I don't remember the context at all, just his statement "I don't believe in 'common sense'." Such a statement may not raise eyebrows among academics now (or perhaps even then), but, almost twenty-five years ago, I was a little taken aback.  He went on to point out that there are all sorts of assumptions in the word "common", e.g., who is it makes up the "commons". For example, what may be "common sense" for Australian aboriginal males may be seen as absolute rubbish for Japanese females, and vice-versa.  This doesn't deny that one group might not be able to understand the other, but their "common" experiences may not always overlap. Over time, his argument took hold in me, and now I'm pretty suspicious of the use of that phrase, or others like it.
     So, yesterday, as I was biking home, I was listening to an interview with the two incoming leaders of Colorado's House of Representatives.  Given that the control of the government in Colorado is now in the hands of a single party, there was all sorts of talk about the direction of legislation in the coming session.  One item struck me:  Colorado has several amendments to its constitution regarding the state's finances.  And these all seem to work at cross-purposes, creating a Gordian Knot we're having difficulty untying.
     What is clear to most, however, is that more money needs to come into Colorado's coffers; the question is the source.  The Democratic (presumptive) Speaker of the House kept referring to the money that would come in as "revenues".  The Republican Minority Leader chimed in, "Let's call these what they are:  'taxes'".  And I began to muse on the power of those two words, and why each leader would use them.  My suspicion is that they were both trying to appeal to a "common" sense that would help them advance their own particular agenda:  "revenue" doesn't sound as scary as "taxes"!
     Two different views of what we might hold as "common".  Perspectives that result from all sorts of other motives, beliefs and experiences.  And the language used will continue to heighten division.  Maybe that's the way it has been, and ever will be.  "Common Sense" can be used to motivate folks to action; Thomas Paine certainly thought so!
      On the other hand, I'm constantly amazed at how the great religions, at their core, provideuncommon sense.  In a polytheistic world, Islam's insistence on one God was absolutely uncommon.  In a world that worshipped power, Christianity's suffering savior was pretty uncommon.  To a world that wants to avoid suffering, the Buddha's assertion that recognizing that all life is suffering to be the first step to peace is highly uncommon.  Yet these religions have survived, and thrived, in spite of their uncommon assertions, probably because we all, at some point, recognize their truth.  And we find some hope in their uncommon nature when surrounded by a very common world.

Chaplain Gary