Poem: Honor

We come to honor our father,
(Husband, grandfather),
In this memorial.

We honor his years of youth,
Sewing the harvest of his adult years,
Courting and marrying
Our mother (grandmother),
And pursuing the education
Which would be the cornerstone
Of our family.

We honor his young adult years
In which studies and career
Corresponded with bearing
His two sons, and brining his
Family back to California.

We honor the travels and explorations
Of the world with our
Trips to close and far
Destinations from the Sierras
To Japan and Europe.

We honor the faith
That he held
With simple understanding
And admiration
For guidance
And comfort.

We honor his willingness
To provide for our youthful years
Educations, experiences,
Adventures, and misdeeds,
Always with acceptance
And forgiveness when his
Prodigal sons returned
With another layer of life experiences.

We honor his love
Of family and desire
To find us wherever
We settled ourselves
In the world.

We honor the freedom
That he gave us and
Our mother to pursue
Dreams to see other places,
Meet diverse people,
And learn to love
Nature, whether along
A river, ski slope, or
Mountain garden.

We honor his need
For opinion,
Whether we agreed
Or ranted with and
Against him.
And his pursuit
Of voicing his positions,
Personally and
In the public forum.

We honor his ability
To include all people
On a personal level,
Seeking ways to help
Them weather the adversity
Of need, for shelter,
Transportation, material comfort,
And spiritual connection.

We honor his elder years,
Filled with memories,
Reiteration, physical compromise,
Unrelenting drive for continuity,
Which slowly descended
To simple pleasures
Of a meal, a smile,
A handshake,
Before the inevitable nap.

We honor his assent
To allows other to care
For him in his waning
Years, always perking up
Momentarily to kind gestures,
Gentle touch, a moment
Of presence,
In which time became timeless.

For this honor,
We pass on the visible
Evidence of a good life
To the ocean which surrounds
The places that he called home
For nearly 90 years.

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Farm Life: Stimulus

During the past year, we have received various forms of economic stimulus funds. Some of these came in the form of federal bank deposits, and for those of us who work in health care, our paychecks were heftier as we worked extra shifts to help out with caring for those in the hospital with COVID-19.

With these funds came various rational as to what we should do with the money. Some were compensated for lost wages as businesses closed their doors, temporarily or for good. Some were provided a way to stay home to reduce social contact that risked spreading the virus. Now we are encouraged to spend the funds to stimulate the emerging economy as business increase production, re-open, and start up in the void left by other businesses that closed down.

Being low on consumerism, pretty self-sufficient, and not needing a whole lot of stuff, what do with do with our Covid-19 funds?

We have a few remodeling projects on the long-range plans… but our builder is overwhelmed with fixing up places and building new homes for city folks who have been buying up country properties this past year. We have assured him that we would rather wait until his crew can do our jobs thoughtfully, rather than be rushed in the quality control department. We have indulged in the yard art department, and picked up some extra books along the way. We are supporting our local art/culture establishments with donations for streaming plays, concerts, ballet, and virtual museum tours.

But, for the most part, we are stimulating our economy as we usually do.

March is wood cutting season. Before the sap start running, and trees fill with the water and nutrients for growth, we want to cut next year’s wood heating supply. And, our local handyman could use some cash flow right now, as farming is a business when you make a lot of money for a short time when you harvest your crop or send your livestock to the sale. Most farmers have at least one or two other jobs/businesses. March is too early for doing outdoor construction and painting that balance the budget.

So, two Sundays ago, I call up my handyman ask if his crew is available. I tell him that I have marked (I.e. painted red X’s) on three oak trees that are shading the greenhouse in Winter, and give him permission to take out any other trees that are in the fall zone. Block up and split the wood. Leave it there and I will haul it up to the wood shed over the summer. The wood splitter is by the driveway.

The next day two of the trees are down. By mid-week, all the trees are down and blocked up. By Monday next, there are piles of split wood. He calls me up, tells me the hours they worked and gives me a total. He is coming our way the next day and asks if I can write a check and leave it on the front seat of the old truck. You, bet.

Now, when was the last time you called someone one up, asked them to do a week’s work for you, did not need a written estimate or contract, trusted your equipment to be used and returned, got a call with the bill, and just left the payment on the seat of the truck?

Welcome to country life, where the economy runs on one’s word. I also left an old chainsaw that needed some work on the floor boards of the tractor and told him that the crew could have it for free so they could take care of some other wood cutting jobs for other folks.

Now that’s stimulating.

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Farm Life: Spring is in the Air, and Winter 2020-21 Fog in August Wrap-Up

Spring, a time of renewal, beginnings, blooms, thawing out. In our part of the Appalachian Mountains, Spring arrived quickly, with 20F’s giving way to 70F’s in a few days. Now frost and sun dance, with days gaining in length. Time to review the 2020 Fog in August forecast with our actual observations.

To recap, last August, we had 7 days without fog, 9 days with light fog, 9 days with medium fog, 5 days with dense fog, and 1 day of rain. By the ole-timey tradition, that should equal 23 snow storms during the winter.

From October 20, 2020 to March 20, 2021, we had 13 days of rain, 12 day with snow flurries (< 1”), 2 light snows (1” – 4”), 1 moderate snow (4”- 8”), and 2 heaven snows (>8”). That makes for 17 snow storms. Add the rainy days, 30 storms with precipitation.

As we have seen over the past few years, we have had plenty of wet days over the winter, but more warm days than cold days. I’ll leave that for conjecture and debate around the fire pit between now and August 2021.

On the other hand, to be able to get out to start cleaning up the flower beds in March is a plus. Here you see bloodroot sunning itself along with a yard-art chicken and daffodils on the other side of this garden space (I let the actual chickens out to clean up the insects with are also enjoy a bit of warm weather).

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Dept. of Alternative Facts: Empathy, part 7, Comprehend

To comprehend: (v) to listen to, consider, and understand the position of another person

If you thought that I was done talking about empathy, forgiveness, and the “Left Behind” movies, indulge me a little longer in order to comprehend what I am getting at…

Three Christians get together of a weekend in one’s cabin the woods. They spend the days outside hiking, gathering firewood, cleaning up for Spring garden planting. In the cool evenings, they decide to binge-watch the “Left Behind” movies, as a blast-from-them-past lark. Between movies, over a pint of beer, they chat about what they saw, and reminisce about those seminars they attended 20 years ago when the movies first came out. They have three different experiences of their movie watching. Why?

Let’s begin with understanding their beliefs, and how this affects their experience. As they are all Christians, they hold in common some core assumptions: God exists; God became human through Jesus; Jesus taught and healed people: Jesus died and resurrected three days later. Other theological points are likely to take them in lively discussion directions. Part of this divergence is that they have different assumptions about how to read and interpret scripture.

One of them comes with an assumption that scripture should be interpreted as a literary form. He sees scripture as narrative, poetry, history, and prophetic genres. The movies fall into the style of prophetic stories. As literature, the purpose is to present to the reader truths about life and society which transcend time and place in order for someone to recognize trends. Thus, the major and minor prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, the book of Revelation, Frankenstein, and the Hunger Games are all talking about dystopian times because of the failures of people. For this Christian, the movies are a warning about forgetting to do the right thing, thereby bringing on an apocalyptic series of events.

The second friend assumes that scripture should be read from a contextual perspective. Prophetic texts must be understood in the context of the time they were written, by the specific author’s involvement in those events, and the audience to whom the texts were written. Revising the meaning to fit another time results in errors of interpretation. Jesus’, Peter’s and Paul’s comments about being ready at all times were given to followers of the Way at a time when the Jewish or Roman leaders might arrest and imprison them on any day. John’s Revelation was written during the reign of Nero, and to seven churches in Asia Minor (now Turkey). Given the oppression of the followers of the Way, John could not state directly about the dangers of the Roman leaders, so he spoke in symbolic language of four horsemen, ten nations, a woman with twelve stars, etc. For this Christian, the movies are taking selected verses out of context and applying them to events 2000 years later, as if John would have known about the Moral Majority and Jerry Falwell, and spoken English with an American dialect.

The third Christian assumes that scripture should be read literally. God directly inspired the writers. What they wrote is correct. The transcriptions and translations are correct. What we need to do is accept what is written and see how it applies to our lives and society. For him, the various verses which are quoted by the characters in the movie are accurate, and portray how those prophecies will be fulfilled today.

Three different starting assumptions. Three different belief systems. Three different interpretations of the same scriptures and the movies.

Their conversation turns to discussing the facts which they each see as relevant to support their belief systems. At some point the concept of the Sign of the Beast, 666, comes up.

The literary Christian says within the genre of prophetic literature, especially in western literature in which good-versus-evil is played out, symbols of an evil character often emerge. He might even point out that the “Left Behind” movies came out about the same time as the “Matrix” movies. In many ways each series parallels the other. Each were produced in a trilogy fashion. Each had a good characters and bad characters. Those characters were caught in a series of end-times events. 666 in John’s Revelation, the “Left Behind” movies, and the sunglasses/suit and tie image of Mr. Smith are mere literary symbols.

The contextual Christian would point out that 666 is a numerology calculation of Emperor Nero’s name. Furthermore, he would point out that for decades contemporary Christians have been trying to assign 666 to some current figure, especially in political leadership. Ronald Wilson Reagan has six letters in each of his names, 666. Conora (as in the belief that emerged in 202O that the corona virus, mask wearing, and now vaccine taking are Signs of the Beast, yes, I read it on the Internet) has 6 letters in its name, and if you assign numbers of each letter, (A=1, C=3, N=14, O=15, R=18, 3+15+14+15+18+1 = 66) 6 and 66! Thus, the practice of looking for 666 keeps finding contemporary targets, erroneously. 666 is being taken out of context of the scriptures and historical times.

The literal Christians might concede that we others might have jumped-the-gun on assigning who is the Anti-Christ and what 666 means, but as in the movies, once the Rapture occurs, left behind Christians will know who that person is and what that number means. For Christians will not have that mark, but followers of the Beast will.

Three different assumptions lead to developing three different sets of facts.

So far the friends have been discussing the movies is rather heady ways. But, stories and movies are inherently emotional experiences. Sound tracks are designed to evoke certain feelings. We can think of music from Jaws, Star Wars, and Left Behind which bring caution to dread. We can think of different musical themes which offer hope.

The literary Christian talks about the flow of the emotions as the characters go about their home and work routines, families arguing and disappointing each other, a pilot flying a plane, a news report filming a report on agriculture in the desert… then the trauma of millions of people suddenly disappearing… the lament of non-end-times believing Christians realizing that they missed the prophecies thereby being left behind… the joy of confessing Jesus as Savior… the dread of seeing a world leader emerging and controlling political, economic, and agricultural processes… He would relate this back to now narratives use emotions to guid the story.

The contextual Christian talks about finding the movies gripping in the intensity of the emotions, but again missing the point that the movies are taking the scriptural references out of context.

The literal Christian talks about how exhilarated he feels that the message of the End Times as been presented in a format that people relate to today (movies). Few Christians, let alone unsaved masses, are going to read the Bible. For the thousands of chapters and verses, they are unlikely to find those that warn them about a thief in the night. He is thrilled.

Three different assumptions, sets of facts, emotional experiences of the same weekend. Who is right? Well, as a friend in high school said when we had such debates… “It’s up for interpretation”.

This discussion begs a question: which set of assumptions is true?

Literary, or Contextual, or Literal?

My conclusion is that the “or” should be replaced by “and”.

Literary, and Contextual, and Literal.

My reasoning is that each set of assumptions has it merits and omissions. The literary Christians recognizes that most storylines in western literature can be found in the thousands of stories illustrated in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures (including many which are exist outside the canon of the Bible). But, these are just stories, are they any more true that Greek drama, Ovid’s poems, or Shakespeare’s plays (which certainly have plenty of inaccurate passages, historically)?

The contextual Christian places scriptures in their historical place, offering rich appreciation when contemporary writings and a archaeological evidence help us understand how the writers of the texts lived. But, such academic understand is not lived experience, and rarely provide guidance for our daily lives and relationships.

The literal Christian accepts that words matter. Thus, when we read scripture, especially if we have access to discussion about what the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Green words meant, we can drive deeply into how the writers used words to guide understanding. But, as my essays have been discussing, when applied to strictly to contemporary events, one is easily misled into believing that current events and people are referred to by those words (I.e. QAnon, Oath Keepers, Sovereign Citizens movements, etc).

If these three friends just take their position, draw lines in the sand, and cross their arms, the weekend is likely to become contentious. But, if they share their positions, listening to each other, reflect on their areas of agreement, and possibly acknowledge the “and” in their discourse, they could have a robust conversation and acceptance of the complexity of life.

Image further, if they went beyond the single assumption that I have outlined here, and started acknowledging other assumptions, sets of facts and data, and range of emotions, they might be more verbose that I have been through this series of posts! We would have to save such rambunctious exchange for Pentecost rather than Lent.

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Dept. of Alternative Facts: Empathy, part 6, Mercy

mercy: (n) to show compassion, and offer forgiveness, to someone who has offended or wronged you

I started this series on empathy, with an assertion that for God to become human in the person of Jesus, they would experience life as we humans do. I have outlined three forms of experience, for which we can easily find examples of Jesus experiencing throughout the Christian gospel scriptures.

Jesus certainly felt emotions. As a child he was curious enough to wander off to the synagogue to engage with the elders. Jesus possessed knowledge about the Hebrew scriptures and prophecies which he claimed that he came not to eliminate, but to fulfill. He left the crowds, whether to cross lakes or spend time in the desert to contemplate. He held beliefs about healing. He acted with passion to raise the dead and challenge the money changers and merchants who set up in the temple. Sounds pretty human to me.

And, he forgave sins. He displayed mercy.

Jesus had empathy for the many different people whom he encountered. He could comprehend how they felt, what the knew, and what they believed. And, he could use this understanding to ask questions, to provoke people to set aside their own experiences to connect with someone else.

When someone could empathize with someone else, they might become the Good Samaritan. They might become fishers-of-men. They might go out without the least provision and enter a town and find a sympathetic family to stay with in order to bring the message of The Way to new communities. They might kneel down to wash someone else’s feet.

Mercy occurs when we have authority and right to judge others. But, we instead empathize with them, try to understand their human experiences, not to justify wrong actions, but to forgive them for those offenses.

“Forgive my sins, as I forgive those who have sinned against me”. Mercy.

Let us return to the question that originated this series of posts. If you remember the guest editorial in the local news paper asked “how do evangelical Christians get their reputation back after supporting the most debauched president in history?”. I responded with a letter-to-the editor about forgiveness.

If evangelical Christians have supported a godless leader, they can recognize this, repent, and not continue to support him, the ideas he promoted, and actions that he encouraged. Of course, we can bear the burden of their sin with the continued chaos of our social, civil, and governmental relationships.

So far, the reports that I have heard, at least a hard-core group of evangelical Christians believe that they are right and Mr. Trump is/was acting according to God’s plan. How can we empathize with each other.

Let’s start with the experience of watching a series of movies, titled, “Left Behind” which were released around 2000 to 2005. While writing this set of posts, I recalled the movies and binge-watched them one weekend while The Mrs. was off visiting her family.

The basic plot line is based on the evangelical Christian interpretation of various texts in the Christian scriptures, such as Jesus’ comments about the Kingdom of Heaven coming soon, or Paul’s calls to vigilance for the return of Jesus, and of course John’s book of Revelation. These are generally grouped under the concept of End Times theology and prophecies.

Should I sit down with an evangelical Christian friend to watch one of these movies, we would probably have different emotional responses, profess different facts and data regarding scriptural interpretation and prophecies, and hold different beliefs about “end times”. As I cannot force empathy or mercy out of someone else, I must offer them instead.

If my friend seems to be trilled with these movies and voice enthusiasm for the Rapture coming, I might understand that he has a “bring it on” attitude about Jesus’ Second Coming. And, if I listen to his recitation of scriptures, which he sees as facts and data attesting to the Apocalypse, Tribulation, Millennium, and eventual destruction of the Anti-Christ, I might understand his source for this knowledge. And, if I allow him to connect-the-dots in contemporary historical events, I might understand what assumptions he is making.

I might might have different emotional response to the movie, see different facts and data which do not support a historical claim that now-is-the-time, and hold different assumptions about the course of history. But, through empathy I can set aside my experience, briefly, to understand why supporting Mr. Trump and attacking the US Capital building seems like a good idea.

I do not have to agree with my friend to forgive him. Forgiveness could mean being loyal and remaining his friends even with our different experience of these movies or other events. Forgiveness could be engaging in conversations, allowing him to talk about his experiences, and hopefully being able to share that my experiences are different. Forgiveness, might mean deciding, hopefully mutually, to leave certain topics at the door, and focusing on our common interests and areas of agreement (what else are sports, music and ballet for anyway?). Forgiveness could mean cleaning up what we consider to be a mess, when my friend believes the mess was justified. Forgiveness could be allowing my friend to express how annoying I can be at times.

Jesus did not walk away when the crowds just seem to want his healing power. He did not walkaway after hours and days of teaching when the crowds were hungry. He did not walk away when Peter put his foot in his mouth, again and again. He did not walk away when his people allowed the Roman government to kill him. He did not walk away when he was put in the tomb under guard. He did not walk away when his disciples hid in a room upstairs. He did not walk away when Thomas asked for evidence. He did not walk away when Saul stood by, approving of Stephen’s stoning. He did not walk away when the Jewish leaders did not listen to Paul, Peter, or the other disciples. No, he proclaimed that the Kingdom of Heaven is here.

Let us be merciful, empathizing with each other, forgiving, and accepting the forgiveness from others. Or, maybe I’m just wrong anyway.

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Dept. of Alternative Facts: Empathy, part 5, Synergy

synergy: (n) the interaction between two or more factors such that each works more efficiently that the individual parts alone

To review, we now have three elements for empathy: emotions, knowledge, and beliefs. While I have split these off for the sake of discussion, each of them is occurring with any activity we participate in and each influences the others. The synergy of these interactions results in what we call experience. Whether we are doing something mundane, such as washing the dishes, or something novel, such as reaching the summit of a hike over looking the New River Gorge, we are experiencing some level of emotion (boring dishes or exilerating hike), using knowledge to accomplish the task (how much soap & hot water to apply or how to avoid falling off the rock cliff), and expressing a belief that this task is valuable (such as a clean and orderly kitchen or the beauty of a vista).

The interaction of these three elements I call curiosity, contemplation, and passion.

Curiosity is the link between emotions and knowledge. We learn better when we are enjoying ourselves, laughing, and excited about the material. We do not learn well when we are annoyed, anxious, or angry.

Remember a favorite teacher. Most likely you had a good time in that class and you learned a lot. Contrast with the Charlie Brown‘s teacher who goes “Wah-wah-wah”. Boredom does not make for learning.

Similarly, when we learn something, whether how to spell and write, how a physic experiment works, or how to turn an opponent into an ally we feels desirable emotions from excitement to relief. Our confidence is boosted by both the learned knowledge/skill and the emotion. Conversely, when we fail at learning, we are likely to feel frustrated and discouraged.

From my observation of evangelical Christians, as both emotions are knowledge are suspect, curiosity “killed the cat”. Enjoying oneself suggests that a good time will lead to a downfall. We once saw a church sign that read: “Sin usually began as fun”. This position puts evangelical Christians in a bind. If they are having a good time, curious, and learning, where is the threshold between good and evil?

At the same time, even in evangelical Christian worship services, emotion and knowledge are prime elements. What is the praise band doing other than evoking emotions of joy and exhilaration? What is the minister doing in his teaching, other than imparting knowledge? We will have to curve over to belief to answer the question about that threshold between good and evil.

Paul certainly evokes emotion and knowledge, illustrating that both have good and evil ways. He talks about his fervent approach to his mission to eliminate The Way, then transforming this fervency to teaching Gentile communities of God Followers about The Way. Every city that Paul went to, he tried to teach. First, he taught about Jesus in the synagogues, then in the secular stoa and forums. If the Jews would not learn, the philosophers and curious might.

Contemplation is the link between knowledge and belief. If one has only knowledge, facts and data, without beliefs, one has only meaningless information. If one has beliefs, no matter how strongly held, but no facts and data which support those beliefs, one just has wishful thinking.

I could be able to spell (well actually not), create a vaccine for the next Covid variant, build a bridge, buy BitCoin at $19, or possess any other type of knowledge, but without some purpose why bother? If I spell fantastically, but write without belief that what I say has meaning, who cares? I could save lots of lives with my vaccine, but if life is meaningless anyway, am I just adding days to this or that persons existence? If my bridge is a bridge-to-nowhere, who is going to pass over the river, valley, or road below? I could make a fortune selling my BitCoin for $50,000, but if I have no meaningful reasons for possessing such profits, whom am I benefitting (right Scrooge?)?

I might believe in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, the Deep State, or spiritual vortexes in Sedona, Arizona. But, eventually I will figure out that Mom is the Tooth Fairy, wanting to pay me off for my misery of loosing baby teeth. Or, I Saw Santa Kissing Mommy by the Christmas tree, and Dad’s the one putting the presents out at the same time. No omniscient gift-giver is out to reward my simple morality and punish my inevitable mis-deeds. Q is in the queue of some Internet hack from… who knows, San Francisco, Beijing, Moscow, the Vatican? Hey, don’t question vortexes, hexes, voodoo, and snake handlers!

If we contemplate, we ask why our knowledge has value, and we ask what evidence we have to support our beliefs. This increases the strength of both our knowledge and beliefs. We can coordinate our knowledge with our assumptions. We can address facts and data which both support and question our assumptions.

A difficulty that I have with debating with evangelical Christians is that they reverse facts and assumptions. I believe that much of this comes from their literal interpretation of Biblical texts and belief that God directly inspired those who wrote the texts (and no mistakes slipped in with copying texts and interpreting from one language to another… or as one evangelical Christian told me once, with a straight face, “If the King James Bible was good for Jesus, it’s good for me”). They assert their beliefs as facts (e.g. the six days of creation were six days) and dismiss my facts as assumptions (i.e. interpreting the 3 Oxford commas, the Second Amendment should read “A well regulated militia… shall not be infringed”, as Madison would have understood the sentence structure 200 years ago). Such a debate is not even a discussion.

Passion is the link between belief and emotion. When we pursue our beliefs, whether religious rituals or healthy meals, we do so with passion. When we talk with people about our beliefs, our passion of emotion is usually what they pay attention to.

When we have a heightened emotional experience, we believe that this is good and desirable. It is likely to lead to developing and reinforcing a belief system. Conversely, when life does not support our beliefs, or we act in a way that violates our moral codes, we feel anxiety, despair, rage. Emotions can establish beliefs; and beliefs can evoke emotions.

On January 6th, when thousands of Trump supports marched over to the Capital building, and some entered the building by force, we should all agree that they had a fervent emotional experiencing going on. Maybe elation about believing they were going to destroy the Deep State and turn the election results around. Maybe fear that if they did not act on their beliefs that Congress was about the commit an evil act, which they could valiantly stop with their USA, Don’t Tread on Me, Confederate Battle, and Jesus Loves You flags. This was not just a mosh-pit at a Death Metal concert. These were people with strong beliefs and intense emotions.

On January 6th, members of Congress, the press, and those of us watching the live-feed news streams felt a different set of emotions and held a range of different beliefs about the election.

One event, multiple beliefs, multiple emotions. Passion.

Synergy occurs when we combine emotions, knowledge and beliefs through curiosity, contemplation and passion. The cycle can go either direction and start at any point.

We engage in a task. We recognize an emotion. Our curiosity might lead us to recognize what we are learning, or our passion might direct us to recognize what beliefs we are acting upon.

We engage in a task. We tell ourselves that we believe that this is the right task to do. We might contemplate what knowledge and skills allow us to do this task. Or, we might follow our passion to experience the emotions that we associate with that task.

We engage in a task. We might start with the knowledge of how to accomplish this task successfully. Our curiosity might allow us to feel the happiness and pride of our confidence. Or, our contemplation might guide us to recognize the underlying beliefs that we have about why this task is important.

With these ideas in mind, we should return to our original quest: to understand how empathy may foster forgiveness and reconciliation.

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Dept. of Alternative Facts: Empathy, part 4, Belief

belief: (n) a strongly held set of conclusions about some phenomenon which can neither be proven nor refuted based on information; assumptions which provide meaning and purpose to someone

Beliefs, faith and values, are our course of meaning, purpose, and moral codes of right and wrong actions. Unlike facts and data, which should be verifiable by experimentation and experiences, beliefs are based on assumptions. If we start with a seed, which germinates into a plant, which produces food, we will draw different conclusions if we have an assumption that God created the universe, and therefore earth, to provide for us (e.g. food), versus if we have an assumption that life evolved through a series of spontaneous events based on physics and biology, such that living species developed together to become each other’s food sources (e.g. plants for us, our decaying bodies for bacteria). Ultimately, beliefs cannot be verified, but accepted. This is the realm of faith.

Faith was very much part of my childhood, but mostly in the way of “trust me, I’m right” and “Faith of our Fathers” (i.e. the Founding Fathers knew what they were doing). I was supposed to accept faith without question. Doubt was to be left up to Thomas, who was cast as just about as bad as Judas.

Faith should be the pearl of the evangelical Christian’s oyster. The beautiful result of beliefs. But, 400 years of protesting what they considered corrupted faith of the Catholic leaders, from Popes having armies to pedophile-priests, and the assault on Christian beliefs from the Enlightenment philosophers (have you ever looked at Jefferson’s Bible to see how much he cut out as questionable by his determination), has left the evangelical Christians skittish about faith.

They either proclaim it as a chip on their shoulder which they dare you nock off to bait you into an argument which they plan to win. Or, they sheepishly apologize for imposing their belief systems, while simultaneously promoting legislation of Christian values (before Muslims impose Sharia Law)

This brings up the concept of moral codes: what is right an wrong. Simply stated a right action is one which in consistent with one’s beliefs. A wrong action is one which is not consistent with one’s beliefs.

Here is the dilemma for the evangelical Christian, specifically Christian Nationalists. They hold contradictory beliefs. They believe in the right to life, which I have no issue with personally; and, they believe in personal liberty, free will in theological terms. The first belief supports their opposition to abortion, yet they also believe that killing people is justified such as in the executions of people, or shooting threatening people (like teenagers who happen to be black, wearing a hoodie, toting a bag of Skittles) to stand their ground. The second belief supports their call to freedom of worship for them, while they try to restrict other faiths from doing the same (banning Muslims from coming here, deporting Catholics back to Central American countries…).

I suspect that some of this dilemma traces back to the early church. Followers of Jesus, The Way, were persecuted and rejected by their heritage of Jewish tradition. From the stoning of Stephen, Saul’s rounding up of followers of The Way, to the Jewish rejection of Paul’s teaching at synagogues throughout the Roman empire, the early church was rejected for their faith in Jesus’ resurrection and New Covenant.

Moreover, the early church leaders were suspect by the Roman authorities. They did not like social unrest within their territories. They tossed Jesus to the crowds to let them throw him under the chariot. They arrested Paul and would have done the same, expect that he was a Roman citizen and claimed rights of due process through the Roman courts. But, eventually corrupt emperors killed/martyred many of the early church leaders.

This fear of rejection from other Christians and the state fuel the fear which I earlier wrote about.

How do we empathize with someone who holds different beliefs from us, even within the large range of beliefs of Christians. As I stated earlier, we are not going to be able to determine that our position or their position are ultimately true. What we can do is allow each other to present our positions. We must accept that our faith is base on assumptions, and we can profess what those assumptions are. We can look for how those assumptions guide us to various conclusions. Rather than beating each other with Bibles or petri-dishes, we can listen and understand.

Through this process we may begin to revise our beliefs. We may have some good points. They might have some good points. We may find common ideas and ideals. We may see that our differing moral codes are based on different assumptions. We may accept that we cannot agree on certain points.

If we empathize with each other’s beliefs, maybe God’s love, through our love for each other, might smooth off some of the rough edges of each of us. Those rough edges are usually what annoy us about each other. (full disclosure, the above statements are based on the assumptions that God exists, love is a requirement for empathy and forgiveness, and we may all be wrong anyway).

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Dept. of Alternative Facts: Empathy, part 3, Knowledge

knowledge: (n) acquired information

Knowledge is the realm of facts and data. Information. Learning. Researching. Studying. With this knowledge we can develop theories and hypothesis. We can set up experiments. Look at results. Validate or negate conclusions.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, by definition, God is omniscient. Therefore, if God is all-knowing. God has all the facts and data. No Junk Science there.

Before about the 17th century, the Church was the source of knowledge in western culture. It controlled education and universities. Theology, history, and natural philosophy were filtered through Christian traditions. Since the 18th century Enlightenment, science has diverged in layer after layer of disciplines. Supporting orthodoxy no longer was the purpose of study and investigation. 

Growing up with a father who strongly identified with his Christian beliefs and nuclear engineer education, I was caught between young-earth dating systems of around 6,000 years, and radioisotopes which dated creation back billions of years… often in the same paragraph. As you can imagine from reading my posts, at a young age, I figured out how to get that pendulum swinging by asking alternating questions from Biblical references to physics.

The evangelical Christian community has had issues with science for over 150 years. As scientific disciplines pursued discoveries which contradicted theological positions, the church divided into what I observe as those who accepted that some phenomenon were mysteries outside the rules of science, and those who started from the theological perspective then selected scientific data which supported that position (usually ignoring data which did not support their position). This continues today with Young Earth and Biblical Literalists (e.g. God created the universe in exactly six 24-hour days, about 6000 years ago if you line up the stated ages give in various Hebrew and Christian genealogies). Thus, my observation is that evangelicals either try to cram selected data into their pre-existing belief systems or just ignore or reject data they do not like, mostly by demonizing scientists.

And what have the Republican talking-heads (Fox News to Rush Limbuagh and his various mutations) been saying about science for 40 years? “Junk science”. Whatever does not fit with their beliefs about free enterprise, unlimited wealth, resource extraction, employment figures, pandemic numbers, they just reject, neglect, and ridicule. 

They will quote the number of people on various entitlement programs, suggesting if not outright saying they are black-welfare-queens, but neglect to tell you that most of those benefitting from government programs are white (including all those suburbanites who enjoys roads, public utilities, education, and parks). 

They quote how many babies are aborted, suggesting that these are mostly black women who sell themselves sexually in one form or another, but neglect to tell you that regions of the country with white Christians teens who make abstinence pledges have the highest rates of pre-marital pregnancies. 

They quote how increasing wages and regulations are putting companies into bankruptcy, while neglecting to mention how profits are extracted out of those companies and debts are shielded by bankruptcy schemes. They quote how much the stock market are risen, while neglecting to mention how this has little to do with actually providing companies with additional working capital after the IPO is done.

Trump again epitomized political disdain for science. The press (vilified as “liberal media” for decades by the talking-heads, and “fake news” by Trump) has tallied thousands of lies that Trump put forward over not only the past four years, but for decades before. Data does not lie. Lies are not data. Trump’s advisor and point-talker, Kellyanne Conway, could not have said it better early on when she coined the term “alternative facts”, which of course I have been parodying with this Dept. of Alternative Facts series (which I plant to keep up, as the Democrats do not get a hall pass).

So back to our question, how to empathizes with our evangelical friends on a knowledge level? When we have different conclusions, we need to step back from the conclusions to ask for the facts and data that inform those conclusions. This is tricky, as our impulse might be to contradict whatever they put forward. But, again, listening can help us understand what information they are accepting. And, if invited, we can present our data. The purpose here is not to make judgments, but to understand how different data sets can support different conclusions. We must also be willing to incorporate data that they present, which we did not have before.

NPR aired a report on Christian Nationalist churches recently. In an interview with one pastor who has been preaching about the Deep State, stolen election, and Onward Christian Soldiers siege of the Capital, his comments started with a reiteration that these ideas were facts, to an acknowledgement that he and his parishioners were afraid that secularism had taken over the government, to a confession that these assertions were beliefs that he had without direct evidence to support them. His compromise was to state that they “could be” true.

As I have stated recently, agreeing is not our objective with forgiveness. Being engaged is what will allow us to step back from our conclusions to put our facts and data on the table. When we are humble, we can acknowledge that part of being human is to only have so much information. When we empathize with someone else, we might learn from each other. If we each gain some knowledge, we can understand each other’s conclusions better.

Damn tree of knowledge. God forgot to mention that we would have to eat all the fruit to gain all the knowledge. With our limited capacity to digest facts and data, that sounds like a stomach ache.

“Human knowledge had become too great for the human mind.

All that remained was the scientific specialist, who knew ‘more and more about less and less,’ and the philosophical speculator, who knew less and less about more and more.”

-Will Durant, Preface to the 2nd Edition, The Story of Philosophy, 1933

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Dept. of Alternative Facts: Empathy, part 2, Emotion

emotion: (n) a subjective experience in response to other people or events; feelings; neural activity in the limbic system

Emotions are highly personal experiences for which we give words that congregate around ideas of energizing and calming, desirable and undesirable feelings. Excitement and anxiety, versus relaxation and boredom have a lot in common neurologically. One Christian likes “Onward Christian Soldiers”, another “Awesome God”, most like “Amazing Grace”. 

The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are full of references to God and Jesus experiencing various emotions. God delighted in creation, but by the Flood was frustrated and disgusted with how humans had messed up his creation. Jesus voiced gratitude at Mary washing his feet, exhaustion from the crowds wanting to be healed, and terror at his impending death. 

As stoic as my family and early church experiences may have appeared, we did not escape emotions. We mostly pretended that they did not exist, or at best did not matter. “Happiness is for happenings. Joy is for Jesus” (whatever that meant, though I suspect that it had something to do with avoiding greed and sex).

Emotions are a dilemma for the evangelical Christian. Emotions are the realm of temptation and impulsive decisions, the Devil’s playground, the slippery-slope to sin and back-sliding. Emotions are also the passion of the worship service. The Amen pew. The raised hands. The praise band. The alter-call. 

The emotional range that I recall from my youth was mostly fear. Guilt for sinning. Guilt for thinking about sinning. Guilt for the inevitability that I would think about sinning. Fear of hell and damnation. While singing “Amazing Grace”, the emotional energy was mostly about that Wretch Like Me.

What has the Republic Party been preaching for at least 50 years, then epitomized by Trump: the politics of fear. Blacks were about to overrun our cities, drain our coffers, steal our (white) men or women, take our jobs, move into our neighborhoods, kill unborn babies, and maybe shout “Hallelujah, Amen” in the middle of the sermons. Scientists and professors were going to teach our children that they evolved from bacteria to fish to monkeys to humans, the world will end in a fiery desert of global warming (when Armageddon and Hell should be its fiery end). Communist (aka socialist {aka Democrats}) are fomenting rebellion of the masses and tech companies in order to prevent owners from amassing as much wealth as possible and make workers/employees slaves.

For all the talk about joy and love, what I mostly observed from evangelical Christians is an emotion of fear and distress.

Can we tap into this emotional experience for reconciliation?

I have spent a career listening to people who live in an emotional world of fear. What I have found is that they want to talk, to voice their fears, give them words, and be allowed to fear. Rather than trying to convince people that their fears are unwarranted or unreal, listening, empathizing to the nature of their fear is more useful. Once the fear has a name, we can then have a discussion about that fear. When we understand the source of the fear, we can begin to recognize why people act to control or eliminate that source.

Let us also recognize that many political parties, caucuses, PAC’s, SuperPAC’s, think-thanks, foundations, etc. attempt to gain and control followers by fear. They have no interest in reducing this phenomenon. But, an individual, when approached as an individual, has the potential to contemplate and put personal experience into words and ideas. Individuals within a group are not the group.

When individuals begin to recognize their fears, and the actions which those fears lead to (executing people on death row, hoarding guns to protect themselves and their families from thieves and rapist, building walls around their homes/neighborhoods/nation, separating immigrant children and parents to teach them that we do not want them coming here…), they have a chance to repent. Forgiveness 3.0 can become forgiveness 2.0.

Before we can address knowledge and beliefs, we must address emotions… or, as I have experienced, being in the counseling business, when I am unable to verify whether the stories that someone tells me are accurate, I should address the distress which the person expresses through their narrative. This can be the beginning of connection, healing, and reconciliation.

When Jesus healed people, he saw their demons, those obsessive emotions which trapped them in disruptive behavior in the eyes of their community. He connected with those fears and cast them out. He forgave the the sins which bound them, and instructed them to no longer sin. His empathy for their emotional distress allowed them to heal. But, connecting with the possessed person was not sufficient. They had to change their thinking and have faith.

Thus, we next move on to knowledge as a means of empathy and restoring relationship.

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Dept. of Alternative Facts: Empathy, part 1

empathy: (n) the ability to comprehend how someone else feels, knows, and believes about some phenomena

Some of my regular readers responded to my recent post about forgiveness (regarding evangelical Christians supporting Trump’s term in office) with puzzlement about how to approach the idea of reconciliation and unity.

So far the general response of people whom I know in the evangelic community, they appear to be leaning toward forgiveness 1.0: forgive and forget. They are emphasizing the forget aspect of the concept by not saying anything about Trump’s departure, Impeachment Trial (other than it is irrelevant because he is already out of office), and the Inauguration Ceremony and evening celebration.

Other seem to be contemplating forgiveness 2.0: repentant-sin-no-more. I am hearing comments about “those people going to far” (e.g. marching its one thing, breaking into the Capitol building went to far; 2A rights allow me to have hunting rifles, but hunting for Pelosi and Pence with zip-ties and nooses is stepping over the line). But they are evading responsibility of repentance by suggesting that “those people” are the ones who need to repent (reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s play, “Lady Windermere’s Fan”, when one characters say “No–what consoles one nowadays is not repentance, but pleasure. Repentance is quite out of date. And besides, if a woman really repents, she has to go to a bad dressmaker, otherwise no one believes in her.”)

Thus, my conclusion if we want unity and reconciliation, we are left with forgiveness 3.0: bearing the burden of someone else’s sin.

To understand this, we must consider empathy.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s put this in the Christian tradition context. If we take the premise that people are made in God’s image, and then God becoming human was the divine act of empathy.

But what is the human experience? I will assert that emotions, knowledge, and beliefs are human experiences (other than sensory processing of sights, sounds, touch, taste, and scents). By becoming human, Jesus experienced these. Can we touch the divine and empathize with someone who experiences these differently from us.

To step back for a bit of person history, let me clarify my connection with the evangelical Christian community. For the first 20 years of my life, this was the faith community in which I was reared. You could say I had an insider track. I saw plenty of Crusades for Christ revivals, Basic Youth Conflict seminars, and listened to early Christian Rock music…

For the past 40 years of my adult life, I have been on the outside of this movement. I’ve watched the Moral Majority, National Right to Life, Promise Keepers, and Focus on the Family proclaim that Christians had an right and obligation to get involved in politics (with implied, if not outright stated, that the USA is a Christian Nation under siege of everything non-Christian from humanists to secularists to Jews to Muslims and probable a band of Monkeys… wait, that was a 60’s TV band). Thus, while I might claim that I have some degree of understanding of the evangelics experience of life, I do this as an observer at this time.

But, back to the discussion.

Over my next few posts, I will explore each of these three concepts, as abstract ideas, conjectures on divine connection to being human, regarding the evangelical Christian world-view, and regarding forgiveness and reconciliation.

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