When it is no longer the Bread of Life

bad breadI’ve often had people challenge me when I tell them that I can’t eat gluten. I’ve suffered through their derision and can see the contempt in their eyes as if I’m making it up or I’m a mindless fool jumping on the latest bandwagon of kooks who have challenged the health of many of the common foods that people have been consuming for years. From a logical perspective I get it, I really do. Beyond bread being a powerful metaphor for life, people have been consuming bread throughout the ages, and it never seemed to bother them (unless it was tainted with something, like poisonous rye that was an impetus for the Salem witch trials, or crazy King George) . Why now? Why me? Well, I know that I can’t tolerate gluten, or soy, or a host of other things. I’ve been tested. I have definitive proof…and it isn’t just the tests…it is what happens to me when I eat these foods, and even more importantly what happened when I stopped eating them. I had forgotten what it was like to feel good.

What begs the question is this: Could it be that the foods our forebears ate 50 years ago are not the same as the foods we eat today? And if not, why not? There will be plenty of discussion to be had over what those reasons may be, from genetically altered foods, chemicals in the soil, over processing, preservatives, poor eating habits etc., But I don’t think there is any argument as to whether there are major problems with today’s food stuffs, and if you don’t think there are any problems with foodstuffs of today then just stop reading, because no amount of science would convince you otherwise. I will avoid you as clearly as you avoid factual information. So let me be clear, just because we can’t decide, or know, or prove the exact cause of why modern foods are making us ill, doesn’t mean that the IBS and a host of other diseases that affects the masses are figments of our imagination. While the intentions of those in the food business may be good ones (and you know what they say about good intentions) we have messed with our food supply so much over the last few decades in the name of progress and improvement that I’m beginning to wonder if the food manufactured today is really food at all, the key word being manufactured. When natural foods are cross pollinated and genetically spliced and diced and when the list of ingredients in packaged food contains words that usually find their home in a chemistry class, then it’s just not really food in my book. I will always find it troubling to think we can do a better job at nature than God does. (As an aside, I am not a believer in the creation science movement, predestination, anti-science or a hippy. I do stand with those who acknowledge the reality of climate change.) Moreover, I am simply saying that as humans, we are limited in our ability to not only fully comprehend our natural world, we also lack the capacity to clearly understand the impact of our behavior on it and our future.

This is not a diatribe against science or using our big brains to make the job of sustaining life better. It is simply a strong suggestion that when we mess with mother nature, so aptly defined as a woman whom history has proven we just don’t fully understand, we can’t even begin to take in the full scope of the consequences of our actions. It is one thing to use our big brains to build better equipment to harvest or produce food, It is more than hubris to believe that we can do a better job than God can at the actual function of nature. Doesn’t the story of Genesis lay that out? We had easy, convenience, and perfection in the Garden and we wanted to venture on our own. I am OK with that, I think it is a blessing of evolution to strike out on our own. It is crossing the line, though, when we think we can change nature without consequences. Humanity has always struggled with the naked truth (pun intended).

I’ve waited a long time to publish this blog, mostly because I think the true meaning of what I’m saying will go right over people’s heads. Let me repeat, I am not anti-science. I know the desire of many scientists is to make life better for people. But I also see a growing tendency to avoid the consequences of the choices science makes, even when unintended. Avoiding culpability doesn’t make the problem go away, we can’t mitigate the damage without accepting responsibility first. Scientific advancement without careful consideration and appreciation of the impact it has on the future of the planet and my poor digestive system is just not acceptable any more. To be continued…

Angels in Disguise

holy spiritIn a world where so much goes wrong, it can be easy to wonder where all the heavenly help has gone. You know, you hear all those stories of mystical beings springing out of nowhere to save the day, never to be found again to be thanked, but I wonder…is that the exception for angelic behavior, or the rule? I know Jesus inferred many times that heralded help may not always be what it appears, wolves in sheep’s clothing, thieves in the night. So how do we know? Is it a good standard to escape the pain and difficulty that are almost essential to mastering the game of life? Is it logical to surmise that when things go our way, heaven is behind us and when they don’t we are being punished or plagued by a demon? I say unequivocally, no it isn’t logical…but then again neither is God. That isn’t to say that God can’t behave logically. God just isn’t defined by it. Logic is a human invention to help make sense of life and discover truth. It will never be a primary tool to uncover and understand the divine.

So then, it’s complicated. If heaven is beyond and not limited by our comprehension, how do we know when help is near…and more importantly when it’s not, and we are just being duped into deeper and deeper illusion? That’s when I rely on the teachings of Jesus. I truly believe in the realm of angels, because Jesus did. And while I may not understand all that entails, I do understand Jesus when he described the different kinds of people who would follow his words.  The parable of the sower in Matthew 13 is a perfect description of those who abide by his teachings: there are those who are more shallow and the words never take hold, those who don’t hold them deep enough and forget the minute things get rough, those whose would use them for their own thorny purpose and choke the life out the message, and finally, those who let them deep into the soul and nurture them till they bear fruit. I always pray that I am of the latter, but time and humility will tell.

That’s how I feel about angels. I am aware that I need a lot of help if I am to nurture this seed of faith that I’ve been given. In hindsight, though, my personal magical moments hardly ever consisted of being swooped up and saved by a heavenly messenger, rather it usually meant knowing I could survive the pain of heaven peeling away the darkness and replacing it something brighter and more pure, whatever the situation. Angels don’t make our lives easier, they help us make it better, and that sometimes means harder. They direct us down a better road, often the least traveled or obvious. They help us defy and ascend logic by demanding faith in that which we cannot yet see, but have been told to be real. Their presence is with us all the time, yet because of free will, requires our permission to assist in sowing the sacred soil of the soul.  The fruit of which, is to extend an angelic hand to someone else, not necessarily to save, but to serve.

My New Best Friend

malala_yousafzai_1374126230_1374126242Sometimes it is so simple to speak the truth, but dangerous nevertheless.  This young girl is my hero, and proof that the Universe has more in store for her.  We could all learn a thing or two from her about simple truth and moral courage.  Kind of makes our government look foolish…No?  When a young woman like this will take a bullet for the right to be educated, and the powers that be don’t even tap into the truth that free education and information can bring it is easy to feel hopeless, but Malala is living proof that perhaps truth and goodness can prevail.  Watch this link from The Daily Show:

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Shadow Masters

plato-cavePlato, in his allegory of the cave, gives a perfect illustration of how we can become captive by illusions.   As a result of believing the shadows on the wall to be true reality, the world becomes a fabrication, like the old tale of the Emperor’s invisible clothes.   Like the fundamental assumptions that society believes often without question or in many instances fails to even notice, the world’s illusions seem to have snuck up on us slowly, so much so that it appears that we have lost the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is simply a shadow on the wall.  What is most frightening, though, is the level of ferocity (even violence) with which we as individuals and as a society have chosen to hold on to illusions, rather than recognize, grieve, and surrender the deceptions we believed and then move upward and outward into the light.

It may appear to be the greatest of arrogance for me to tell you that you’ve been staring at shadows your whole life.  So I won’t say it.  Of course if your life is not hunky dory then you’ll have to draw your own conclusions as to the reason why, and let me suggest that the list begins with the primary source…yourself.   The only claim of expertise made here will be from what I’ve learned as a fellow observer, one with the added vantage point of standing in the middle.  Not only is there an equidistant view from where I stand, if I’ve been lulled into believing in shadows, the chances are pretty good that others have been lulled into believing them too.  So if you see room for improvement in your life, then take a chance and read on.  I won’t even attempt to tell you what illusions you may be staring at in shadow form.  The starting point is to simply admit that you may have them.  It will be your job to figure out what those shadows are.  And let me tell you that when you do that, the chains dissolve away.  There is no trick to escape, no enormous locks; it all centers on personal choice.  Those first few steps in relative darkness are the hardest because it demands that you have faith in something that isn’t known yet.  It’s after you take those first steps and go outside that you will understand the difference; the light makes it impossible to transfer one shadow for another, they are lost forever.  But take heed to this warning: the process of escape usually really sucks.  The pain is a necessary part, but like a painkiller I’ll try to dull it a bit.  If you were able to accept the challenge and let go of all the rules you live by and live in cosmic anarchy for a while, then you’re already 10 steps ahead of everyone else.

One of the rules that I’ve adopted (post cleaning my own cosmic closet) is that things are not always what they appear to be, so making rigid judgments about any given situation doesn’t even factor into the movie in my head; when I have done so in the past, the result is most often catastrophic.   Most people are aware on some level that what they see is often colored by who they are and what has happened to them thus far in life.  What trips me up most often is not that things are something other than what they appear to be, but that I hold on to the judgments that I create about them (often rigidly) even in the face of knowing better.  A shadow is a shadow, regardless of how articulate or insightful modern commentary is in trying to justify the truth of its existence.  Real change happens in the heart.  Any person can say they believe in something over and over, but if their heart isn’t willing to follow along, especially in terms of their behavior, then the chains will never be let loose making it impossible to move out of the darkness.

As an observer, besides using my native good judgment in determining at any given time when I’m living in the land of illusion, there is also a process I use taken from the rules of Evidence in the American Judicial System.  One of the most basic rules of evidence is that only evidence that is relevant may be permitted, that is only that material which has the tendency to help prove the truth of the issue at hand.  The most obvious relevant evidence would be something like a murder weapon or an eye witness to a crime.  Even when evidence is relevant, though, it may still be excluded if the value of the evidence is outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues or misleading the jury.  Other forms of evidence like hearsay: a statement made outside of the courtroom but is offered in court to prove the truth of the matter asserted; or character evidence: using a person’s character to prove that person acted in conformity to that character, may not be allowed because of the risk of unfair prejudice. The bottom line is that the rules of evidence are very restrictive because those who decide the case whether it be the judge or a jury deserve the kind of evidence that best leads to the truth.

Unfortunately, this kind of filtering isn’t necessarily applied when it comes to dispelling many of the illusions our culture lives by today.  Look at how most of us receive information, especially from television.  It is common to utilize deeply biased and second and third hand information to inform the public about an issue.  It is also more and more common to attack someone’s character as a means of uncovering “the truth,” or to diminish the validity of their perspective.  It appears that the means by which we prove the truth in our lives would never hold muster in a court room.  Is it because the truth by which we live is less important than the truth that will prove us guilty or innocent?

There are three things that I have found helpful in destroying the illusions that pop up in my life: 1) coming to terms with the judgments of my heart, 2) steering away from that kind of evidence that distracts me from the truth and 3) refusing to engage in “king of the hill” behavior, meaning defending with such vigor those judgments/illusions I have that truth is forced to take the back seat to winning the argument.  Have you ever had an argument with someone and fought to the death even though you knew full well that you were wrong?  Just wanting to be right never got me anywhere, whereas shifting my thinking from a win/lose mentality to an exploration of what new information I may gain, has usually gotten me everywhere.  Take a moment to listen to your innate good judgment and see if there is truth in what others are saying.  Feeling super defensive is a sure sign that it is a crucial time to listen.  Ego thrives on illusion.  I’ve also learned, the hard way, that truth never prevails when the impetus to present an idea is rooted in fear (even if the fear is as simple as not wanting to lose the upper hand).

Although chances are also great that the other person doesn’t know what they are talking about either and are also just trying to win, when you remove the competitive element either the wind will completely blow out of the conversation (being there is nothing left for the other person to conquer) or you will find out the other person is really trying to make a point.  There may even be the not so rare occasion when they weren’t listening to you anyway and just like to hear themselves talk.  Even in these situations discovery may happen.   The focus should not be on the other person, but on what your heart tells you in response to them.  Face it change is hard…in Plato’s allegory, there were plenty of people who wanted to kill the messenger, the one who escaped the chains and wanted to share his expanded frame of reference.  We often shoot down new information if it requires us to shift beyond what we believe at any given point.  Holding onto shadows may be easier, but then one must accept the kind of darkness that will forever shield one from true illumination.  Faith in light beyond the darkness is the only escape.

Native Good Judgement

10026_CommonSenseThe phrase “common sense” means native good judgment and is derived from the Greek koinē aesthēsis which refers to the total perception of the five senses.  If you have senses, then those of you who read this have, potentially anyway, as much common sense as anybody else.  The problem lies in the execution.  Like any other gift, native good judgment must be exercised. Over my lifetime, my mother and father constantly challenged me and my siblings to use good common sense, and it’s never been easy considering the world we live in.  I never forgot those simple edicts that came from my parents: “If you eat all that Halloween candy, you will get sick”; “If you wait until the last-minute to study, you probably won’t really understand the material and not do well on the test”; “If you treat your siblings like crap, crap is what you will get in return.”; “The most important lessons always contain some form of difficulty.”  Those pearls of wisdom created a strong base for much of my decision-making as an adult, (that and scoring the 97th percentile in an aptitude test measuring common sense…which I’ve bragged about before).  Common sense should also never be confused with intelligence-it is not the same thing.  Some of the most intelligent people I know actually seem to be lacking in common sense.  Like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, they really should give diplomas for that kind of smarts.  The scarecrow discovered that the only way to increase the wisdom of one’s native good judgment is not by always doing what one is told, but by figuring it out on ones own and actually taking personal responsibility for those choices that go awry.

Taking personal responsibility for the choices one makes and developing common sense are intimately connected.   Unfortunately one can’t develop without the other.   Based on what I observe in the world at large, be it politics or religion, common sense is on hiatus.  It has simply left the building.  And that is the root of much my of my anger and sadness about the world today.

While in college, I had the chance to study and to meet Lawrence Kohlberg, a professor at Harvard University who was well-known for his theory of moral development.  In his theory, there are three levels of moral development with two stages within each level.  Kohlberg also maintained that individuals could only progress through these stages one at a time, in order, without jumping any stage.  The first level, termed “pre-conventional” is generally found in elementary school age children.  At stage 1, (ages 1-5) children behave according to socially acceptable norms created by an authority figure.  Obedience is compelled by threat of punishment.  At stage 2, (ages 5-10) right behavior means acting in one’s own interest, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”  The next level, “conventional,” is where most of society lies.  Beginning with stage 3 (ages 8-16) right choices are based on being a “good boy/girl or doing what will gain the approval of important others such as parents, teachers or friends.  Stage 4 (ages 16 and above and if they reach it, where most adults remain) is defined by abiding the law and fulfilling one’s obligation of duty.  In this stage, leaders are assumed to be right and individuals adopt social rules without considering the underlying ethical principles involved.  People who break rules, deserved to be punished.

What I found most disturbing was Kohlberg’s conclusion that only about 20-25% of today’s adults (most in their late twenties) ever reach the last level of moral development, labeled “post-conventional.”   In stage 5, people do recognize the underlying moral principles served by laws, and if a law no longer serves a good purpose, they actively work to change it through legal and democratic means.  Respect for the law and a sense of obligation to live by the rules is still important, but an individual uses only legally acceptable means to make changes.   Less than 1% of adults ever make a stage 6 moral decision.  Kohlberg believed, theoretically, that civil disobedience was often how a stage 6 moral decision distinguished itself.  In this instance, breaking a law in defense of an individual right can be justified.  Martin Luther King, for example, argued that laws are only valid insofar as they are grounded in justice, and that a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws and accept whatever consequences may come.

It is the kind of strength of conscience that defines Kohlberg’s sixth level that led me to conclude that developing one’s native good judgment is a necessary step in reaching the latter stages of moral development.  It is by exercising and honing one’s native good judgment that acts as a moral compass in not only determining what rules we are going to live by, but gives an individual the internal fortitude and certainty to actually live by them.

In the Judeo/Christian tradition, we are taught that human beings are created in the image of God so the obvious conclusion is that we should have a great deal of faith in our native good judgment.  If we are going to continue to evolve as human beings it doesn’t make sense to think that by questioning cultural rules we would encourage anarchy, rather, it should encourage just the exact opposite.  It is often through questioning that truth itself becomes clearer and that clarity will ultimately shed light on what rules are working in each individual life.  Of course any challenge to these rules most likely leads to conflict but, it was and still is from this kind of vantage point that I make most decisions to co-direct my destiny.

As I mentioned before, exercising the senses to develop that inherent native good judgment is a must.  Lack of use weakens our ability to use them and leaves one vulnerable to outside influences.  Of course, there are many reasons that all of us have, at times, chosen to disregard what we know to be true, subjecting ourselves to a whole other set of unhealthy rules.  Catholic school taught me that they were the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth.  There are a host of others, to be sure, but these seven are as good as any.  Knowing what rules serve a higher purpose doesn’t mean that I was always capable of listening to that inner voice and adhering to them—which is normal because sometimes the best way to learn is by making mistakes.  Note the distinction between discovering what rules are good to follow and actually choosing to follow them; it is very important.  Obviously, the proof is in what kind of choices we have made in our lives thus far and the people who influence us on a daily basis.  However, the more adept we become at using native good judgment, the more difficult it becomes to fall prey to those deadly sins.

It would be inaccurate to assume that “proof” of using native good judgment will always result in being labeled “good” by society.  In thinking of my own childhood a little poem comes to mind: “When I was good, I was very, very good and when I was bad I was clueless.”  The ditty needed changing because sometimes challenging the rules means embracing the willingness to accept judgment as being bad.  Being labeled “naughty” by some of my teachers perhaps was the inevitable result of not behaving as little girls should, meaning I always spoke my mind and never stopped barraging teachers with questions about things that were difficult to wrap my young brain around.  Mind you, I never wanted to be bad; being arbitrary just didn’t come naturally.  All I wanted to know, if I was expected to act a certain way, was the reason why.  Perhaps one of the results of questioning the validity of the rules we follow is to turn up the volume on those innate sensibilities.  So, what does this all mean in practical terms?  Stay tuned…

Love and Logic

candy dishSo how can we be sure if love is present and is what propels us forward?   Where do we go to find out what it really is so that we can begin the process of harnessing it?  There are volumes of literature, music, psychology, philosophy and theology that have tried to depict what love really is.  What more could I possibly say about love that would amount to a major discovery?  Are there any new ways to talk about the true nature of love?  Well, based on humanity’s past observations and experiences of love, we should be able to understand a few things about what it is and what it is not.   So I offer another kind of construct or tool that may offer us a unique perspective.

Let’s start with a short discussion about love via logic and mathematics. During law-school, I was re-introduced to Boolean logic as a research tool.  When searching for cases on West Law or Lexis, my classmates and I would use Boolean language which reduces words, mostly connectors like “and” and “or” to symbols. (search engines like “Google” and “Yahoo” also use this tool)  George Boole, an Irish school teacher of the mid-nineteenth century, reduced logical statements to simple arithmetic by inventing an artificial language which reduced ordinary language to its barest form.  It introduced symbols for complete sentences and for the conjunctions that connect them such as “or,” “and,” and “If/then.”   It uses different symbols for the logical subject and the logical predicate of a sentence and it has symbols for classes, members of classes, and the relationships of class membership and class inclusion.  A picture description of this would be a Venn diagram. It also differs from classical logic and its assumptions regarding the existence of the things referred to in its universal statements. The statement “All A’s are B’s” is rendered in modern logic to mean, “If anything is an A, then it is a B.”   When applying this kind of logic to the word love (A), we cannot assume that A exists, but once we do prove it does it will be the standard for everything that flows from it.  So if we can prove that A exists and know what A is, we will know if anything else, B or C for example (let’s call them given expressions), fit into the class.

I’ve already suggested that love exists beyond the human plane making it virtually impossible to “prove” in a definitive sense.  I can say emphatically, however, that love is endemic to all people.  Perhaps that is proof enough of its existence.  Having studied world religions, there are some universal qualities that give even further clarity to what love is.  Using these universal qualities (some of which will be laid out in a moment) helps to define “A”.  We should be able to exclude or include other classes, some of which, according to my research have been incorrectly applied.  How do we go about the process of inclusion/exclusion?  What follows was my first step in harnessing the power of love.

When teaching a science and religion class, I, with the help of our math teacher, used symbolic language and resulting truth tables to determine whether two statements were logically equivalent or not.  When something is A, when would it be B as well?  The reason for this approach is because when you begin speaking about love, especially to a group of individuals in the throes of hormones, not only is it hard to be objective, it’s almost impossible to break away from all the cultural baggage that they already associate with love.  Most students could not get out of the rut of interpreting or defining love merely by their physical senses, especially in a sexual or romantic sense.  While senses are important in understanding the effect love has on humanity, love is not an effect or expression, because they are unique to each individual.  But because effect and expression, or “the results” of love are what we observe, it is understandable why we have so often tried to define in love in this way.

By using a language that is, by nature, devoid of subjectivity, it’s easy to avoid defining love just as an effect or expression and see it from a different angle.  Using a truth table can tell you the conditions for which a conjunction (two statements joined by the word “and”) and dis junction (two statements joined by the word “or”) would be considered true or false from a logical perspective.  My concern was to help students apply this simple logic to qualitative statements and not only determine whether or not they were logically equivalent but also if they were true.  Not to infer that this particular approach reduces love to a mere logical process, but if we begin with universal definitions of love, then any expression (B), or effect (C) of love (A) should, logically, flow from that definer. This seemed to be one approach to help clean up the past conclusions we have made about love.  For demonstration purposes let me use two of my favorite authorities on love: Jesus and Shakespeare.

Initially, students were provided with quotes from Shakespeare and Jesus that defined aspects of love: “A rose by any other name…”, “love is patient, kind…”, “love has no room for fear…”, “love is not love which alters when it alteration finds…”, and a host of others too numerous to list.  After discussion about these statements and their validity, we listed those traits as being in the class of “A.”  We then posited conditional statements:  If “A” then “B” or “C” to see if the statements were logically equivalent.

The conditional statement I always liked to use, and which was certainly apropos to high school students, went like this: “If you love me then you will have sex with me.”  Students set up tables that included converting the statement “If you have sex with me then you love me”, adding negation “If you don’t love me then you won’t have sex with me” and what is called the contrapositive, “If you don’t have sex with me then you don’t love me,” which interesting enough, should be true (or false) when the original statement is true (or false).   The crushing blow for this particular phrase (to the students I taught anyway) was that in every word or phrase we use to define love (love is patient, love is kind, etc.) sex was never used.  So, if sex were in class “C,” it wasn’t a logical equivalent of “A.”  In fact, we discovered by our truth tables that (I admit this may have been manipulative on my part) sex, which inherently focuses on the pleasure of the individual, can actually oppose love (in its purest sense of course).  Besides generating many loud discussions by many students, they were also challenged to view love differently.

Love, like a constant in math (k), is an immutable force in the face of which an individual expression is of small consequence.  The Bhagava-gītā, states that love is indestructible and eternally existing, its constitution never changes.  So let us not define ourselves by how we express love to each other, but rather allow love to define who we can be as individuals.  The result, my friends, is heaven.  Any time I start to judge someone else’s expression of love, I remember that love is a lot bigger than I am.

Let me go even further.  Even if we can find some universal qualities to better understand the nature of love, as far as individual experience of love goes, it is as unique as a snow-flake.  Love as experienced by me is always different from how it is experienced by someone else, even if the difference is only subtle.  That is not to say that love is a personal invention.  As an individual, though, I am a unique accumulation of millions of observations and experiences so accordingly, my expressions of love will be unique to my journey.  Here is my challenge: the more we each discover about the true nature of love independently, and share it, the broader our understanding of love’s true nature will be.  The result is like a spectrum of colors, the likes of which has never been seen before.  Mind you, this kind of discovery is a process of trial and error; most of us will be burned a few times.  Despite the painful risks the rewards have to be worth it.  Whenever I feel defeated, I just try and image what modern life would be like had we not harnessed the power of fire.