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Its raining today in Sandwich where I live. Snowing some other places. I don’t know if its raining in Newtown Connecticut but it should be. It would befit the mood in a town that has had its gun culture turn on it in a horrific way. If that sounds harsh it is meant to. Newtown is emblematic of our country. A few people in most towns own guns that are designed to be effective killing machines. Designed to kill not rabid dogs or pheasants – designed to kill people. These guns must be taken out of the hands of anyone other than our military and police. No private citizen should have weapons of war. These weapons facilitate mass murder. Ownership of them must be controlled.
In Newtown attempts to control such weapons were blocked. A New York Times article, ran with this headline: “In Town at Ease With Its Firearms, Tightening Gun Rules Was Resisted.” The sound of rapid gunfire was heard in town causing concern. The mother of the mass murderer (shooter is far too delicate a term for this individual) collected high powered guns and took her kids to a shooting range. She was part of the town’s gun culture. The easy access to automatic, high powered guns facilitated this mass murder. Nothing that has that effect should be legal.
Those who advocate guns because they are protective miss the fact that guns in our towns and homes too often fall into the hands of the insane or malevolent. That is what happened in Newtown. Rather than give every school Principal a Bushmaster, we must work to get such weapons out of our homes and off the streets.
I have read arguments against control of automatic, high powered guns saying the second amendment is in place to ensure that the citizens of this country must be armed in case the government becomes tyrannical . As if an armed citizenry could over throw a government with the armaments at this one’s disposal. Not possible. Not the way to control tyranny anyway. A silly, frivolous argument.
In Newtown the police and town leadership has tried to institute regulations over guns. They have been blocked by gun advocates. The sound of gun fire – rapid gunfire is heard regularly in Newtown. People shoot propane tanks and cans of explosives to have the fun of blowing stuff up. This is not healthy behavior and must be outlawed and the weapons of war taken off the street. Any existing or new regulations must be enforced and enforced for real. Any weapon that has no use except to efficiently kill people by the dozens – these weapons must be taken out of the hands of citizens. Immediately.
James Carroll quoted Wilfred Owen’s poem in his column in today’s Boston Globe.
Parable of the Old Man and the Young
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
A week after writing this, Owen was dead on the battlefield of World War I.
Carroll’s column in the Globe today tells of Robert Gates’ (Secretary of Defense) speech in which he takes responsibility for the lives of the young in his charge: “I feel personally responsible for each and every one of you, as if you were my own sons and daughters.” Carroll says that the speech is extraordinary “for its frank acknowledgement that America’s elders have consistently failed the nation’s sons and daughters in sending them off to war.” Gates says that our war efforts since Vietnam have been perfectly wrong. (Many would include Vietnam in America’s record of getting it wrong.)
By all means read Carroll’s column and read Gate’s speech. They are direction signs for our military in this century. But I wonder if Carroll understood Gates’ speech or was he using it to make a separate point, one not found in the speech. I think what Gates decries is not the strategy of sending our young to war but the tactics used once we do. He “takes responsibility” for the young solders he was speaking to at the very tail end of the speech. I wonder if he deeply feels the responsibility he expressed. Or was he saying what he felt he must say on such an occasion in such a speech. I hope he reads James Carroll’s column today and reflects on what the story of Abraham and Isaac implies. Maybe he’ll read Wilfred Owen’s poem too — I doubt it but one can hope.
This is a holiday season because we have always feared the darkness. Not so much now with electricity and enlightenment. Yet still we fear death because it is the dying of the light and might be painful. Today marks the longest night and shortest day. We no longer believe that our ceremonies and rituals are needed to ensure the rebirth of the light on earth, but what do we believe about death? James Carroll wrote a good column today in the Globe “Religion, science, and the solstice.” He concludes that knowledge is holy. But what of our knowledge of the soul and its rebirth after death? Is — as Carroll writes — today’s darkness tomorrow’s” light, or is it just more darkness?
Is our lack of knowledge proof that no rebirth is possible? I don’t think so. Yet we are in the dark about this in the same way as our ancestors were in the dark about the cycles of the earth thousands of years ago. I have faith in the economy of the universe — that nothing is wasted and that our essence has a future. Whether my consciousness survives remains for me to see (a contradiction — yes this is a contradiction and paradox). None of the proofs of the immortality of the human soul seem to work for me. And I observe no rituals to ensure its progress after death. Maybe I should seek some potent rituals designed for this purpose. Or maybe I should simply live my life knowing that I will eventually experience death and transfiguration — a process not to be feared because it is inevitable. As Baha’is chant — in the end “We will all verily abide by the will of God.”
What do you think? Do you fear that the light, once extinguished will not be reborn?
The human condition is a frail one. We have difficulty separating reality from the phantoms of dreams and nightmares. There is an article in today’s Boston Globe about a man who strangled his sweetheart and wife of 40 years while he dreamed that intruders were attacking the couple in their camper. He was found not guilty because he was having a nightmare and was acting automatically, as if under a spell. Under the control of something he could not resist. I past times he would have been thought to be possessed by the devil.
Tragic, ironic beyond what anyone on earth could possibly bear, this story highlights our fragile grasp of reality. You see they had camped in a strange place and their sleep was disturbed by cars racing nearby. They where fearful. Frightened. Sleeping uneasily, he had a nightmare of the worst kind — the kind that doesn’t feature unreality but reality — it was a dream that seemed real. They were being attacked. So he defended himself — by strangling his beloved wife. Sad beyond comprehension.
Of course maybe this fellow is a master of deception and murdered his wife purposefully covering it with a bizarre story and getting away with an atrocity. But I don’t believe that. I think this is human nature biting once again.
I hope that we can guard against occurrences like this. How? By being aware of both our surroundings and our feelings. By thinking past the dark and the fear. By having faith in our destiny. This is my belief and hope but I’m not sure it will always work. In any case I continue to try not to be afraid of anything…..
I saw this magnificent hawk in my backyard the other day. It had just killed a gray squirrel and was eating it. (You can just see it under the hawk) From my upstairs window I got some shots. It left after a short while only to return again. Seemed to be listening for me but not sure I was there. Of course in my excitement I forgot the importance of shutter speed — I had it set too low as well as ISO. But the photos are okish and I will do better next time — damn it!
This one shows the hawk leaving the first time, squirrel in tow. It did return — so I guess it didn’t mind posing for photos!
Of course its been almost a week and I still have not seen another squirrel in the back yard. No hawks either!
I have long admired a song lyric by Van Morrision:
I Forgot That Love Existed
I forgot that love existed troubled in my mind.
Heartache after heartache, worried all the time.
I forgot that love existed
Then I saw the light
Everyone around me make everything alright.
Oh, oh Socrates and Plato they
Praised it to the skies.
Anyone who’s ever loved
Everyone who’s ever tried.
If my heart could do my thinking
And my head begin to feel
I would look upon the world anew
And know what’s truly real
Simple but effective methinks.
I just heard about Joseph Chilton Pearce who writes books like “The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Pearce believes that the brain is assisted by the heart in its function. That one of the centers of brain activity is the heart. I haven’t read the book but will. Thanks to Brian Taraz of the Talisman9 Bahai discussion group for letting us know about Pearce and his book.
I have felt the power of a heart full of the Holy Spirit — years ago
I was hugged by Mr. Khadem, a Bahai Holy Man (I was 18 or 19 at the time) when we ran into each other unexpectedly — I was friendly with his sons over a summer at Greenacre Bahai school so he was glad to see me.
When he hugged me I felt a very powerful charge of energy — like an electric shock w/o the pain. The surge of energy felt like it came from his heart.
Marzieh Gail, a Baha writer and also a very devout Baha’i person used to speak about the power of love. She would open her arms and face someone and say ‘feel it?’ And the other person would feel a jolt of something strong yet gentle.
But I have wondered about the meaning of this power. I attended a meeting a number of years ago and the speaker was a self absorbed self proclaimed motivational type that I didn’t respect. He was selling himself as a problem solver in a manner much like snake oil salesmen of legend. But…..I felt the same power from 20 feet away.
So… I think this is what Baha’ullah, the prophet of the Bahai Faith, refers to when we he says we have access to a power that if turned to good intentions is good — bad intentions — is bad. Its just that — another human capability that we can use. But this one is apparently just being discovered by science.
I think this power of the heart is one of the most misused of them all. Demagogue’s and evangelists use it as do prophets and true healers. It means we need to be careful. If we let our heart do our thinking we need to keep an eye on ourselves and check any decisions made in that state — with our brain/mind.
Some thinkers are saying that there is no mind — only brain and the other systems that support it — heart and metabolism, breath and circulation. But the ‘only’ here is missing the point. Brain, heart, body, experience etc, etc, — these make up the mind/soul. That’s clear to me anyway. The question then is not does the soul exist — of course it does — its the human spirit that differentiates us from the animals who share the animal spirit with us. For me the only meaningful question re: the soul is — is the soul immortal.
I think the only answer that makes any sense is something between ‘I don’t know’ and ‘maybe.’ We know we are alive now in this moment; we don’t know what the next moment will bring. Do we?
Is faith a belief in something inexplicable? Or a conviction based on knowledge?
The Bahai writings call faith ‘conscious knowledge’ followed up with goodly deeds. How such knowledge gets into ones consciousness is an important question. The Bahai teachings do involve acceptance of some things as fact that can’t be easily proven. Like most religions Bahai has its dogma. But not quite on the level of, say Christianity that usually (depending on the sect) requires belief in the miracles of virgin birth and resurrection, for starters. In Bahai the dogma that stands out for me is the requirement to believe that the Faith’s founder — Bahaullah — was the perfect mirror of all the perfections of God, that he was infallible, was always in touch with God and that meeting him was the same as meeting God. Quite a bit of faith/knowledge is required to have this much faith.
So whether it’s resurrection or infallibility, faith for most people requires a ‘leap.’
But must Faith always involve a leap? Emerson wrote that he believed in miracles because he could move his arm. To him everyday living was a miracle. Emerson didn’t believe in the miracles of the Bible but did think that every breath was a miracle — he had faith in life.
Religion usually requires faith of it believers. In fact belief in religion is synonymous with faith in most respects.
I’ve been learning about the Unitarian/Universalism religion and so far have learned that while the followers of this religion may have differing views from each other, many believe as Emerson did that the true miracles are the ones that occur each day in everyone’s life.
I think this is a helpful idea — one worth meditating on. It proves itself everyday and doesn’t cause anyone to suspend rational thinking. Yet its transcendent and uplifting.
The book that Reverend Cindy (of Westford’s First Parish Church) loaned me to read — “A Chosen Faith” by John Buehrens and Forrest Church — refers to Pascal’s wager regarding religion. Its a wager I’ve thought a lot about. Its mentioned in the Bahai writings (without referencing Pascal if I remember correctly) that I was brought up reading — and the idea has been stuck inside me for 50 years now.
Pascal said — look — why not believe in God and a life after death — be one of the faithful. If you are wrong when you die you’ve lost nothing — you simply turn to dust like everyone else. But if you are correct you reap the rewards of the faithful.
Who wouldn’t accept a bet where you have nothing to lose and everything to gain — just by professing a little faith.
The rub here is that this doesn’t seem to be how faith works. Professing belief and really having faith must be too different things. Rather that hedging one’s bets why not start with the miracle of the present moment and work from there?
Joseph Campbell said years ago that “eternity has nothing to do with time.” And I think faith has nothing to do with leaps or hedging one’s bets. I think it has much more to do with the quality of our moment in time.
What do you think faith is? I’d love to hear from you on the subject!
P.S. I forgot to mention something I feel is important — Gandhi described faith as putting one’s foot on the first rung of a ladder when you don’t know where it is leading. It seems to me that this definition of faith applies to faith of many kinds — and to the human condition — most of us travel on a journey unsure of where it is leading. Is that true of you?
Photo: Salt Box Farm, Westford Massachusetts
Bill Morton’s comment on my last blog is gratefully received because it re-introduced me to Wendell Berry, who in Bill’s words might be a “modern-day Thoreau.”
Wendell is a poet and farmer who believes:
“There is no time in history, since white occupation began in America, that any sane and thoughtful person would want to go back to, because that history so far has been unsatisfactory. It has been unsatisfactory for the simple reason that we haven’t produced stable communities well adapted to their places.”
This is a sweeping, unmitigated statement, but it also has the ring of truth to it. Global warming, world hunger and war start at home.
Berry is issuing a challenge to all the towns and cities of America. Can we come together and plan our destiny or will we continue to have it thrust upon us?
We tell each other that business is war, and business is so important — it produces the life blood of the family and community after all — money. So business must come first. Business and death come first. Death to our enemies, business for our money.
If our community includes Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, rich and not so, how can we come together and plan a stable community?
Yet we must. At some point we must do this.
What would a stable community include? Lots of things I guess and among these would be a farm.
Here’s a link to an interview with Wendell Berry that Bill posted in his comment.
Here’s a Berry poem that pin points one of our most vexing problems:
“In this World
The hill pasture, an open place among the trees,
tilts into the valley. The clovers and tall grasses
are in bloom. Along the foot of the hill
dark floodwater moves down the river.
The sun sets. Ahead of nightfall the birds sing.
I have climbed up to water the horses
and now sit and rest, high on the hillside,
letting the day gather and pass. Below me
cattle graze out across the wide fields of the bottomlands,
slow and preoccupied as stars. In this world
men are making plans, wearing themselves out,
spending their lives, in order to kill each other.”
Featured comment: hgebeaux writes: “I read this post and I feel so sad. The question – “can we come together” – in my view is answered “NO.” Man so such a selfish and self-centered and basically evil creature that no amount of coming together is possible.” See his comments for more…
I suggest that we tend to our own backyard. Gandhi taught, “be the change we wish to see in the world.”
My wife’s Aunt passed away at 94 on Friday. She was making eggplant parmesan on New Year’s day and she had a stoke. It was a very serious stroke so she never recovered. Some in the family said she died then — doing what she loved for her family.
One of the first things my wife told me about when we were just getting to know each other was about her role models – her two Aunts who were widows and traveled the world together, fought a lot but loved each other. They are very Italian, she told me, and very sweet and tough. Smart too. They don’t take BS from anyone, she said. When they travel they take two of each article of clothing they need — ‘wear one and wash one’ they said. They used to travel to Africa and Poland and Russia. It was almost thirty years ago that my wife to be told me that.
Tomorrow we are going to Brooklyn so we can comfort my In-laws (father-in-law is a younger brother) and attend services. We will see the other Aunt too and try to be of some small comfort but that will be hard.
This passing will change the network in my wife’s family. Her Aunt was a point of family love and rememberance. Without her some family members might forget that they love each other. But she will not be forgotten. She was a wise and loving Mother, Wife, Grandmom and Aunt of a kind that has become more precious than ever — because her kind seems to be in short supply.
I spent some time today printing photographs to bring to Brooklyn. The one above is my favorite.