Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Self appointed morality watchdogs not justified

When I look back on my blog posts, I am always sad at how irate, chastising and warning of divine retribution is the tone of many of them. Just think, though, that if I am shrill and often livid in my nagging how irate God, Jesus Christ, and the angels must be. If you need a refresher in being reminded that Jesus is not the peacenik stoned grooving “anything goes” guy, read any part of the Gospels where he speaks of the hypocrites, the vipers, and the false words of those around him. And, of course, the Old Testament provides much reminder of the wrathful God, who never changes: he is both loving and forgiving, but also perfect in his rendering of judgment, both at the end of one’s life, but also day to day in the course of knowing all that there is to know about each person’s thoughts and deeds. If I stood on the top of this building and screamed with a megaphone, “You are all in danger of not being saved and going to hell,” I would not be understating things.

Here is the problem. People have become consumed with a sexualized and idolatrous view of life, including of God and his will for how humans should live. As a result, even those who believe in Jesus Christ and have been born again in him do some very inconsistent things for being saved, due to the prurient and vicious, easily tempted, problem of human nature. Here is an exercise that I think all of you will find “relevant” and spiritually revealing.

Imagine that someone that you know, or a perfect stranger, has been secretly photographed while performing what one considers being an unchaste, adulterous, or fornicating activity. Would you look at the photograph? If you would, and you have, you are in grave danger of your soul, despite how often you proclaim Jesus Christ. Would you tell other people about the photograph and the acts? In other words, would you treat that information and visual as something to share with others? Worse, would you keep a copy for prurient and even sexual self gratification? What do you think any of the above does to the state of your soul in the eyes of God?

To obtain the answer, get out your Bible and read the four Gospels with a pad of paper and a pen or pencil next to you. Write down every time that Jesus chastises a person for a sexual act, including adultery. Are you having trouble finding any examples at all of Jesus expending even one word of chastisement regarding sexual misconduct or proclivities? Now, at the same time, write down how often Jesus condemns people for the words from their mouths, such as hypocrisy, false pride in their holiness, gossip and other problems of the tongue. Do you find that Jesus has provided plenty of examples of his irritation and condemnation? Would you feel comfortable bringing a sexually explicit photo that was secretly taken of someone to Jesus and telling him that you viewed the picture, kept a copy, told others about it, shared it with others, and found ways to harm the people in the photograph, and then insist that Jesus look at the photograph to see what an “adulterous sinner” is depicted there? Could you even bear to look in the eyes of Jesus with such a mission, and such a list of your own sins of pride and lack of charity? Did you perhaps think that God, and Jesus Christ, need spies to keep them abreast of the sexual doings of other people?

I do not understand how so many people that I know are totally obsessed with acts of intimacy between other people, especially adultery or homosexual acts, so that they involve themselves in the judging and propagating of this information, while at the same time think they have clean eyes, ears and hands in front of Jesus Christ. Do you remember what Jesus said about plucking out one’s eye if it leads on to sin? What kind of sin do the eyes lead one to commit? Looking at secretly taken intimate photographs of other people is one of them, just like being a voyeur (“peeping Tom”), or a pornography producer.

I know many of you will deny this, but I know that many of you value what St Paul says more than you value the totality of what Jesus said and did. So I invite you to do the same thing with all of the writings attributed to St Paul in the New Testament. Please write down for me (actually, for your own use, since I already know the answer) all of the times that St Paul condemns, chastises or even mentions a sexual impropriety. Then also list the number of times that St Paul condemns or warns against what is spoken, the deeds of the tongue, and no, he did not mean French kissing.

Where in the Bible, Old or New Testament, have any of you thought that you have the right to observe, judge, and propagate knowledge of other people’s sexual activities, whether “adulterous” or not, when you cannot show me Jesus 1) allocating any of his valuable ministry time on that subject and 2) Jesus praising those who ran to him or to others with tales of other sinners? I mean, I must have missed the part in the Gospel where Jesus offers a special place in heaven for the gossips that catch other people having nookie, who pass around scrolls depicting their acts and telling others about it, and then hurting the people who have been secretly spied upon? I have lots of Bibles and none of the translations seem to contain that part of the scripture. Am I missing some pages in my Bible? Just curious, because I have trouble finding the intimacy secret police and pornography producer reward section.

How ironic that many western Christians and seculars condemn the morality police of Islamic countries. Is that not funny when you think about it? The morality police are trying to enforce actual current behavior, not secretly spying on people for prurient purposes and star chambered judging of the intimates. And westerners do not mind flooding the media with visual pornography, exposing their children to increasingly sexualized images, yet if they “catch” someone “doing the dirty” they secretly photograph them and while proclaiming their righteousness on the one hand, get their “rocks off” through prurient possession, viewing and distribution of the material, or at least a good long gossiping description of it to equally self righteous people. It’s not too long ago that I blogged that this modern generation would care more about “what position” that Abraham and Sarah used to be intimate, rather than the miracle of her conception of Isaac. Those of you who are, as I am, disgusted at what I just wrote, please excuse me, for that is part of the great sadness of my life and the state of the world, that I have to dash people with cold water of such images to make them see how sick and depraved they have all become.

How happy people are when they “catch someone” being imprudent in intimacy, yet they often go the entire day without thinking once about fear of God. It is impossible not to think about someone else’s sex during the day (especially if you have electricity and hence TV, video, the Internet and other media), yet it is very possible and very common to never think once about God in a day.

You ought to be scared and you ought to be half wishing that you could have removed that eye of yours, rather than participated in the spreading of knowledge and visuals of someone else’s acts of intimacy, sinful or not.

One of the reasons that God is so protective of marriage and monogamous intimacy is because the focus is always on the bearing of children, children who need a stable home and to know who their parents are. How ironic that the abortion loving generation loves to sneak pictures of adultery or other sexual acts and then, hypocritically, cite scripture as their justification. As I pointed out, I would like to see where in the scripture God, or Jesus, spends any time condemning sinful intimacy itself, and encouraging vigilante and prurient monitoring of it as “justice” and “information gathering.” If you really understood the Bible the bulk of the concern is the spiritual harlot and the human adulterer who cheats on God. That is why the adulterer and harlot image is so predominate. God considers those believers who even dabble in idolatry (such as love of money) as being adulterers in their divine relationship with God. That is the kind of adultery that God knows humans will almost always lose their soul because of, not the nookie in the back of the car kind of adultery.

How many of you go to church, yet gossip and defame those you consider to be “sinners,” such as I described above in the photos of adultery example? How “in the model of Jesus Christ” is that?

How many of you go to church, yet receive daily briefings about activities and news that are provided by users of the secret and the occult?

How many of you go to church, yet believe that you are “privy” to “information” that makes you a participant in divine events (and thus a servant of false prophets?)

Woe, woe, woe, woe to this generation. I see no hope, really.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dragons, dinosaurs, science, faith and fiction

I've been meaning to post this quick piece of information for a while. Who would have thought that so much of my efforts to promote better understanding of God would involve having to teach so much about basic logic and science? I don't mind, but I mind how the schools and lack of genuine education (both secular and faith based) has let these past generations down.

Young people, I know many of you are fascinated by dragons. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I know that many of you must wonder why dragons are mentioned in many of the world's cultures, if they never existed. Then again, you must be confused why the dragon is an emblem of "good" in Chinese culture, while an emblem of "bad" in the Bible during the Apocalypse. The answer is really very simple and used to be taught in schools. I don't know what is taught in schools anymore instead of simple facts and explanations of human development.

People all around the world believed in dragons because that is what they thought the dinosaur bones that they found were the remains of: it really is as simple as that.

For tens of thousands of years humans, who are perfectly intelligent hunters, who captured and killed even large animals such as mammoths, and who had to fight off attacks in turn by large animals such as the saber toothed tiger and large bears, know very well what sized bones these large animals had when they were killed and skinned.

Thus when they found tremendously huge bones, including what look like wing bones, they had a realistic idea of what size and shape those animals must have been. Thus when they found dinosaur bones they pieced together in their mind what they must have looked like, and came up with images that are dragons. This is why dragons pop up in many cultures, especially those where many dinosaur bones were easily found since they were plentiful. And yes, is not China one of the best spots for finding dinosaur fossils? Imagine how plentiful dinosaur bones were, easily seen on the ground, back before humans just plowed them under, or ignored them.

Far from being ignorant, prehistoric and early humans "lived off the land" and thus had a really good idea of what animals lived around them, how they were constructed (as they butchered a carcass for food and clothing). So dragons were not just the imaginings of dumb primitive people. Nor were they some *insert here appropriate spacey music* some alien or magical beings. Duh! Every generation of ancient people found, in the course of their settlements, dinosaur bones, and marveled at their size and bizarre shapes. Thus they imagined mythical beasts, such as dragons.

This used to be taught in science class. *Sigh*

So the point is to understand that the simple, logical and sane answer is almost always the correct one, especially in an open and well ordered physical universe where it is so easy to observe how life "works" and how humans piece together the facts based on their experiences.

Dragons, therefore, are in a way an amalgamation of whatever the culture observed about dinosaur bones and passed on to their descendants, plus working the dragons into both myths and cultural symbolism. The Israelites, having a personal relationship with God, did not go for excessive animal symbolism, since they did not need to "imagine" the mystical: they were in tough with it. Therefore the dragon (remember, seen by them too only by the "remains" of demised ones, which were dinosaurs) came to be understood as symbolizing the defeated forces of Satan. When God spoke in symbolic terms to his prophets and people, he used the common animals of the time so they could understand the parables: lions, eagles, sheep, goats.

However, compare this to the Chinese. They had a keen interest in ancestors, and venerate the spirits of their ancestors. Thus when they found tremendous numbers of "dragon" remains (dinosaur bones), they worked the idea that these were very ancient and great flying animals into their own lineage. They logically concluded that the emperors and other royalty were descended, at least spiritually, from "dragons." This is also, of course, the origin for the belief in the phoenix. The Chinese observed various types of "dragon" or "phoenix" "remains" (different types of dinosaurs) and quite logically developed theories about what they were like and how they lived.

For example, they might have thought that dinosaur bones found near volcanoes indicated that they were born in flames (the phoenix), while other dinosaur bones that appeared to have wing structures were, of course, the remains of dragons.

It is important to remember that people who live off the land are very intelligent, observant, knowledgeable, and diligent about passing on their discoveries to the next generation. Humans all around the world, including prehistoric humans, do the best they can within a sane and factual world, which is what they lived in.

It is only later humans who delude themselves and cannot understand the difference between thought based on reality and totally crazy fantasies. This is because people are so separate now from reality that they think that "anything can happen" and "anything could have happened." Um, no, not exactly. There have been two billion years of life on this planet (starting with microbes) that have not been "anything goes" and "anything could have happened," but follow real, genuine, factual, not imaginary, prosaic, plodding life rules that really never change. For two billion years animals need: respiration (air exchange), fluids, food, shelter. I mean, duh. They all then reproduce and expire with their species related life spans. Some rot and some leave remains. They can be held, examined and measured, but only in recent years have people had the chemistry and tools to carbon date and otherwise determine history. Ancient people had to use their great powers of observation, their familiarity with predator and prey, and their ability to imagine what an entire animal might have looked like and how it lived, and what it's "purpose" might have been.

Israelites handled "purpose" quite well: all animals are created by God, but some are "clean" for humans and some are "unclean." That is why God's dialogue with humans focuses on the clean animals and how they symbolize, through their traits, parables that humans can understand, such as the loyal sheep contrasted to the stubborn goat.

If the Israelites were Amazonians, for example, perhaps goats and their stubbornness would not have been a useful analogy and God would have instead have compared unbelievers to monkeys, or crocodiles, (but of course they would be unclean, so perhaps God could have used clean but stubborn native animals for the comparison). You get my point, though.

Even scripture (by this I mean monotheistic Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam) is hugely practical and reality based. God does not invent mythical animals to explain things to humans; God uses what humans already observe through facts and what they believe based on those facts (such as dragons). Scripture was given to humans who were eminently practical: farmers, hunters and fishermen. Scripture was not given to humans who sit around the campfire making up stuff to tell spooky stories to each other. So people must stop thinking that scripture is "made up" if it seems to have "elements of mythology." Um, no, it is not "mythology." It is based on the real world as humans during that time knew it to be true and deduced as best as they could what they did not know.

For example, scripture recorders had no idea what stars really were (glowing balls of high temperature and pressure gas like the sun), yet stars are mentioned in the Bible in realistic, not mythological, ways and the context is always quite correct. Nothing in scripture is "mythological" or use of "made up" symbolism. Angels are real beings, not symbolic. Goats are real beings, used for milk, food, and fiber, and having certain personality traits they make a useful analogy and parable in scripture, but that is based on their factual and real existence, not modifying their "purpose" or "meaning" on earth.

So it is "OK" to "like dragons." I like them too. But I understand where they "come from," which is ancient humans' attempts to visualize the animals that "left behind" what we know to be dinosaur and other prehistoric animal bones. It's "OK" and even sane and appropriate to enjoy the Chinese symbolism of the dragon, and also to understand to what use the image of the dragon is used in the Bible. There is no conflict, no problem, no "hidden meaning," no "secret alien history," and no "loyalty test" involved in appreciating the intersection of facts and cultural or faith based perspectives that utilize those facts.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Use logic to discern torture "policy" "usefulness"

So we have former administration people defending the use of "extraordinary" methods, otherwise known as torture, because it "got results" and "saved American lives" because several key figures broke under torture and gave verifiable information.

Immediately, using the illogical that passes for logic in these modern times, some people who waffle on the issue will join the stout defenders of torture, saying, "Well, if it's proven to save lives then we have to condone it."

Well no, you don't. Here are the two errors in logic and how to properly discern your own morality on this issue.

1. Let's assume that apologists are right and "torture works" because it "saves American lives." All right, then let's start using it everywhere that American lives are at risk. For example, let's waterboard Americans who have addictions to alcohol and drugs. We can waterboard Americans who drink and drive until they "stop" and thus "save lives." We can waterboard everyone who purchases illegal drugs to get the names of their dealers and thus "save lives."

If it's so effective, let's use it where we are having many losses of lives, rather than just for one or two terrorist plots that may or may not have been serious or worked anyways.

2. If you measure the "good information" gotten from torture, and thus the plots stopped, how do you measure the other half of the cost/benefit analysis, which is how many new recruits and new plots are devised because people's hatred of America grows in response to torture and other abuses? What I am saying is that logic dictates that when you measure a benefit, such as "lives saved," just like in a spread sheet you have to deduct additional lives lost to get from the "gross" to the "net" lives saved. We'd have to know how many new terrorists, or recommitted terrorists (such as those who return to terrorism after release) do so because they are invigorated in their despising of the American methods of torture.

You see, it won't be that they are not used to even cruder methods, possibly, in their home country. It is the hypocrisy that earns additional loathing by terrorists. So don't be hypocrites, touting American sensibilities, and then defend torture, and expect terrorists to think, "Well, at least the Americans don't 'torture as bad' as some other countries might." No one thinks that; instead, they focus on the American hypocrisy.

Those are the two errors in logic in claiming that because torturing a handful of terrorists 'saved lives' because it gave 'good results' that it is therefore a free pass to torture with no consequences.

Hey, let's waterboard all corporate executives who have stolen and swindled money and hidden it. Seriously. I mean, that would give good results, no?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Modern "cleanliness" is not so clean

Believe me, I do not enjoy it when I am forced to assume a lecturing and somewhat preachy “school marmish” tone with my blog readers, but there we have it: it is often necessary. For those of you who are young or non-English native language readers, a “school marm” is what the female teacher in a one room school house used to be called back in the prairie and Western settlement days. It is slang for a woman teacher who has to keep a strict rein on her pupils, who are rowdy and undisciplined. So with that as a foreword and forewarning, here is the subject: how modern notions of “cleanliness” have contributed to destroying the planet’s health, has reduced rather than improved human health, and has resulted in unbalanced mental and emotional views about “cleanliness.”

This is mostly going to be a history and social lesson and rumination, but here is the theology link: The often quoted “cleanliness is next to godliness” is not a quotation from the Bible. In fact, the only cleanliness referred to in the Bible was related to 1) religious injunctions and strictures, 2) hospitality and 3) spiritual and soul cleanliness, not the vanity of the body. I’m going to return to this subject later on and describe how “cleanliness” “worked” in Biblical times, but first I need to give my mostly youthful and affluent readership a few rings on the clue phone about recent history of modern “cleanliness.”

Let us start with the primary concern (aka obsession) among westerners, which is “washing” by using water in either a bath or most modernly the shower. Baths have, in general, become passé and are often not even installed in modern structures, with the assumption being everyone either uses the shower or if they want to “soak,” they do so for recreation, social and erotic reasons in hot tubs, Jacuzzis and so forth. So to keep it simple let’s talk about showers in the modern vernacular, but understand that all bodily washing previous to the past several decades was conducted in a bath tub or other container.

Why is this? Well, my young and spoiled audience, until recently having water pumped into a house at all was a luxury, not something that one would squander in a running shower that goes right down the drain. Further, the fuel to heat the water was likewise scarce. For nearly two thousand years since Biblical times until pretty much the 1950’s, water and the fuel to heat it required often backbreaking work to prepare and was expensive for the average impoverished or marginally poor family. Now here’s the rub: just because for two thousand years people did not shower that does not mean they were “dirty,” “unclean” or “smelled bad.” That is one of the great delusions of this post-intellectual society where people have skewed and distorted notions regarding just about everything. So I’m going to tell you “what it was like” as recently as the 1950’s, when I was growing up.

There is an old expression “the Saturday night bath.” This came about from the reality that the average poor family did indeed have a bath only once a week. The water was pumped from outside the house and carried by many trips with the bucket into the central location (usually the kitchen), where a large tub was filled with the water, cold water. However, if this was to be a warm bath, each bucket of water was heated, using precious coal or cut firewood, before being added to the tub. Then each person in the family took turns in the tub, using the same water.

One of the housekeeper’s main chores was to keep the family with a good supply of soap, which was made by hand by each family. What is soap? Soap is a substance that facilitates cleaning. It is not an antiseptic, as so many crazy people think today, though it had a slight element of it. Here is how soap “works.” Soap is made up of a combination of three substances that do the following: one dissolves dirt, one is abrasive to scrub the dirt away, and one is slightly reactive in an astringent way, kind of a slight antiseptic but also to make the dirt bubble up somewhat as it is scraped away. Thus soap is made up of a fat (from either an animal or plant oil), an abrasive such as ashes or sand, and a reactive material such as lye. The fat dissolves the dirt and outer layer of skin, the abrasive sloughs it away, and the reactive material makes it easy to remove and is somewhat antiseptic. Now people did not know about germs and so forth but being farmers and animal hide tanners they knew about rot. That is how people over the years realized to use substances such as lye in soap, without realizing they were also destroying some germs.

So having a bath was a huge amount of work, with hauling the water, heating it up, and using preciously made soap, for most people who were until modern times poor and of the lower classes. Even when most homes had hot water bathrooms and bath tubs in the 1950s onward, poor people still maintained a high standard of cleanliness in between infrequent baths. Whoa, wait! Did you read that right or did I make a typo? Did I really mean to say these poor slobs maintained a “high” standard of cleanliness? Didn’t I mean that they were dirty bums? Nope, I meant what I said. How did people “stay clean” when they only had weekly baths? They were EXPECTED TO STAY CLEAN ON A ROUTINE DAILY BASIS. Even men who worked in the coal mines and so forth, or in the field, in dirty jobs, were expected to stay as clean as possible on a daily basis. How did they do that? It’s a wonderful invention called a washcloth and a bar of soap. For several thousand years humans kept themselves clean by using the hand water pump located outdoors or in modern times, brought inside via a sink through modern plumbing, to “wash up” using a bar of soap and a washcloth. Imagine that!

That is exactly how things worked in my household growing up, and that is how I maintain my body, for the most part, to this day. We had a bathtub and a warm water plumbing but my dad being born in 1903 and my mother being a war refugee kept themselves clean on a daily basis, and taught me to do the same, until one had the weekly, or if for reason more frequently, full bath. That’s one reason I have lots of wonderful washcloths, and not because I have psychic solidarity with former POW Senator John McCain who as a POW realized one’s one washcloth was one’s only and most treasured possession. People who were thrifty with resources (water and fuel) either to be thrifty, from necessity, or because to procure them meant back breaking work, learned how to maximize cleanliness while causing a small “footprint” on earth resources over a period of hundreds of years. I have persistently favored a bar of a good soap, washcloths, and a once or twice a week bath, PERIOD.

The exception to what I outlined above was that small children received daily baths (and think about it that usually was in the kitchen sink or in a basin.) I still remember very well the small white galvanized basin that as a baby I was put into and washed: not filling up the tub until I was older. The basin had a red rim and two holes, which fascinated me as a baby (the holes were for hanging the basin if needed). So babies were washed daily, even by the poor, since they were seated in a small basin that was easy to fill with warm water. They didn’t drown too many babies back then while “bathing them” either. Being thrifty is also being safe, in many cases. The other exception in the 1950’s was when more and more kids, even in poor neighborhoods, had sports activities and access to school showers. People today do not realize what a change that was in how things were. So my brother was expected to shower at school, if he could, when he was in sports. Our cheap mother would otherwise argue and begrudge him using the shower or the tub in the house. See, I can share this with you because as I’ve pointed out in previous blog postings, I’m old enough to have personally experienced and can witness to you how the older generations lived, how they thrived, and how they coped and made do.

So let’s look at this wonderfully “clean” generation. We have droughts everywhere and the cost of water is going up, but people think they are filthy and damned if they don’t have a lavish shower, where the water runs down the drain, every day. Do they use regular biodegradable bars of soap? Nope. They use “bath products,” which are filled with chemicals that damage the environment and also the skin. So rather than “keep it clean in between” on a daily basis as my generation did (except for the rich ones of course who always had what they wanted, LOL), these same young people who worry about one’s “carbon footprint” sneer at someone like me who “keeps it clean in between” and who does not take a daily shower.

The same is true of washing one’s hair. NO ONE washed their hair on a daily basis anywhere in the world, EVER, until the last fifty years or so. People understood that washing the hair strips it of its vital oils and makes the scalp unhealthy, rather than “clean.” This is the origin of the old saying “one hundred strokes” came from: women used to brush or comb their hair with one hundred strokes every night to stimulate the scalp and distribute the hair’s natural oil. (That, by the way, is what a bird does when it “preens” its feathers. The bird is grasping each feather in its beak or bill, squeezing until the oil glands exude oil, and then spreads the oil in an even coating over each feather. That is not just beauty treatment; that is survival necessity as birds must be waterproofed using their natural oil in order to survive). Women would wash their hair on the weekly ‘bath day’ and to keep it clean in between they would comb or brush their hair and scalp with one hundred strokes.

The downfall of soap came about through two causes. One is the desire to have beautiful fragrance at a cheap price, so instead of using genuinely natural scented flowers and herbs, modern “bath products” are packed with artificial chemicals and colors that look and smell “like” “natural” substances, but are not. Indeed people are just scratching the surface at realizing how packed with cancer and pollution causing chemical such “cleanliness” products are. The other is the obsession with germs and doing a “thorough” cleaning, which means packing cleansers with nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and other chemical compounds, rather than the good old formula of oil/lye and abrasive. All of this crap, along with the wasted water of daily showers and the heating energy uses, is squandered each and every day by millions of people who think they are somehow better people for it than their grandparents who kept themselves clean as needed, and not according to one’s overheated imagination.

I spoke up about this through my local Audubon society at a city council hearing when I was in high school (1969-1970 as I recall) when modern laundry detergents, packed with nitrogen and phosphorus, were causing the lakes to be destroyed via algae blooms. For forty years I have been warning that the “cleanliness” craze was helping to destroy the planet (while, ironically, no one wants to build latrines for the over one billion people in the world who still crap in the fields and the streets). People would read and drool over science fiction like “Dune,” while then having their daily shower packed with artificial chemicals that harm both the environment and the body’s health, rather than enhance it. People don’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom or handling raw food, but boy, they brag about their daily showers and their hair gels. They pay to go to fitness centers but they sneer at me for using a washcloth at the sink, as needed, and scrubbing, rather than standing like a rich moron under a shower and letting the water run down the drain.

For quite a while I have given up. I buy the lotions and bath potions in the dollar store because I like how the pretty bottles look, and artificial fragrance is all that the average person can get these days. I rub the hand creams packed with chemicals into my hands because frankly, my dears, I don’t give a rat’s ass anymore, since no one acts upon my warnings (except to make things worse, apparently) anyway. But that is one reason why I still buy and use Vaseline. No, not because like so many people I dream about anal sex. Vaseline is a natural product (from the petroleum process) that is great for skin care. My stepfather, bless his soul, used it for his aching muscles when he would work as a car mechanic, finding it helped far more than the chemical laden modern products. So people giggle at my washcloth as needed, my bars of soap, my Vaseline, my preference for a bath than a shower, while at the same time they are destroying the planet and making carbon and water “footprints” bigger than the clown shoes of Bozo the Clown.

So that takes us back to Biblical times. Jesus did not shower. Moses did not shower. Mary did not shower. Peter not only did not shower but he worked as a fisherman, and the gutting and cleaning of fish is one smelly job. The Prophet (PBUH) did not shower. Further, in the Qur’an you can read with great clarity what the spiritual philosophy behind the Bible scriptures is but that most moderns seem to miss. Washing was done in Biblical times primarily for 1) honoring God and 2) as hospitality. People washed to maintain their cleanliness before God, not because God was allocating bodily shower times. Thus the Bible contains instructions for the Israelites for RITUAL washing. Further, as everyone walked the “must wash” “bits” were the feet, and as hospitality, a host would provide such water and a basin and towels. This is why Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles, not because you were getting a glimpse of Biblical water hygiene. So here is where the Qur’an makes this clear for Bible readers who somehow miss that point. The Qur’an explains that worshippers are to wash their feet, their arms up to the elbows, and the face before worshipping God. The Qur’an then says that because God is not trying to make it difficult for people that if water cannot be found then sand can be used for the ritual cleaning. Again, it is impossible for the observant reader to miss that when the scriptures allude to washing it is only for ritual (worship of God) and hospitality reasons. The scriptures are not designed to remind a person to “keep it clean in between” since that’s just part of life and common sense is it not?

Further, what does God command when he wants a good odor in front of him? Not to squander the world’s water with prideful daily showers when they are not needed. No, God asks for sacrifice of incense at the incense altar when he wants a “good odor.” God has never sent a worshipper away for not bathing often enough or not smelling good. Sheesh!

I mention this because of the “cleanliness is next to godliness” old adage that has absolutely no Biblical or scriptural basis whatsoever. I mean, the scriptures do not tell people how often to go pee and poop since that is an “as needed” basis that has nothing to do with sanctity, does it not? But speaking of which, here is more scriptural history for you. During Biblical times people peed and pooped wherever it was convenient. It was often done in the fields since fertilizer came from both human and animal waste. People would “go” whenever and wherever they had to go. They did not have community locations or latrines, as logical as that may seem today, for the reason I just mentioned, that the fields were viewed as benefiting from whatever human or animal soil is placed there. But archeologists recently found evidence that one sect, centered in one village actually had a location outside of the village where people trekked to do their business. That was a great rarity and actually gave modern scientists realization that what seems like advancement in “cleanliness” actually caused a problem. Analysis of the soil along the path to the common latrine reveals that there was a higher evidence of harmful bacteria around that village on that path, rather than less. Why? Because people tracked the bacteria on their feet in the same places over a long period of time, allowing concentrations of bad stuff to build up rather than disperse naturally. Sanitation illness may have been HIGHER among the village that had the shared location to void outside of the village than the other Biblical villages where people just went, mostly in the fields, where it was convenient, and did not beat a path of bad germs.

This is another example of how modern people are too quick at thinking they are superior to “the old ways” and so much “cleaner.” I’m all for latrines and toilets (and again, why are over a billion people in the world not having their sewage concentrated and treated, if moderns are so interested in cleanliness). But think about that example, where without understanding the transmission of germs, that one sect’s village might have thought they had a great idea, which is everyone walk one path to a common place to poop, but instead made a germ highway that could not biodegrade, while the more primitive majority system of “going” in the fields when one needed to meant that nature could handle the biodegradation more thoroughly and without spreading and packing down germ pathways.

Before they were conquered by the whites the American Indians of the plains, the Lakota in particular, often had individuals who lived to their nineties in age and even their hundreds. Yet they did so without having daily showers and chemical laden cleansers. How did they do it? There are two keys. One is that the buffalo meat was incredibly healthy for them, along with the other natural foods that they ate. The other was that they remained active. People don’t “live longer” or are “cleaner” by having daily showers with huge carbon footprints laden with artificially scented and colored chemicals that then rush out the drain to pollute the environment, resist biodegrading and possibly cause cancers.

If I ever attend a Steelers game (which I have a lot of trouble imagining) I won’t mind at all waving my “terrible towel” except that, being mostly modest and authentic, it will be one of my “terrible washcloths.” Perhaps I could attach a hard milled bar of soap with a chain to the end of a stick and wave it as a medieval flail as my environmental and cleanliness message. Course a bar of soap, even as a flail, never hurt anyone, but a chemical filled plastic (pollutes and large footprint) pump containing a chemically filled “liquid soap” would probably do much more harm, as it most certainly does in reality. A bar of soap (for those of you who have forgotten what they look like) dissolves after use, is highly biodegradable, and comes in a waxed paper wrapper, which is also mostly harmless and biodegradable. But hey, why go with that when you can mock while using your daily high footprint plastic container and chemical biodegradable resistant goop that is flushed down the drain in order to strain the water purity even further than it already is? Who really “smells bad” in THAT case?

I hope that you have found this “helpful.”

Here's the reading from the Qur'an:

Surah 4:43 O you who believe! do not go near prayer when you are intoxicated until you know (well) what you say

[This is saying to not go to prayer while drunk but wait until one is sober. Alcohol is of course forbidden in general in Islam, but God here is specifically prohibiting approaching him in prayer while 'impaired.']

nor when you are under obligation to perform a bath

[This means that you must first perform any ritual washing]

-unless (you are) traveling on the road

[In which case one can pray as needed along the way and take the measures listed below]

-until you have washed yourselves; and if you are sick, or on a journey, or one of you come from the privy or you have touched the women, and you cannot find water,

betake yourselves to pure earth, then wipe your faces and your hands; surely Allah is Pardoning; Forgiving.

So this is not a list of times, places and methods to wash the body as one would take a modern shower, but rather it indicates the circumstances under which one must ritually wash before approaching God. So if you have ritually washed, but then before you arrive at the prayer place one of the above circumstances occur (such as going to the bathroom) and you are no longer near the water place, you can use pure earth (sand) to wash one's face and hands.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Western women would make Eve blush

So western commentators are "outraged" at how "women are treated by Islamic fundamentalists," and indeed, some of the abuses are abhorrent. However, at least they have an excuse of either ignorance of what the Qur'an really teaches, or cultural excess that has continued without moderation.

I suggest, though, that westerners shut their mouths and clean up their own situation. From what I see, many western women, enabled by men, do things that would make Eve blush and that Eve, mother of humanity, would never have considered doing (nor would have responded to if the devil had tempted her in those ways).

o Abortions, especially as it is more casual and with less thought than updating one's wardrobe or getting a new hair style.

o Women teachers who sexually prey on both boy and girl students.

o Women who abuse and murder their own children.

o Women who are neglectful in daycare centers.

o Women who enable their children to use drugs and/or alcohol.

o Women who allow or even encourage their children to have plastic surgery and other beauty "enhancement" treatments.

o Women who know about every diet on the planet but give their infants and toddler children soda pop and tons of fruit juice instead of milk, and then wonder why they are "fat," or have hyperactivity issues.

o Women who bring "lovers" and "boyfriends" into their home who then sexually abuse, beat and even kill their boy or girl children.

o Women who dress their little children like whores.

o Women, whether celebrities or in the community, by life style or as paid promoters, who role model sexualized behavior and demeanor so as to degrade the morality of the young who observe them in public.

o Women who raise their children ignorant of God, and worse, use them in occult or bizarre pagan beliefs, ruining those children's peace of mind for life.

o Women, teenagers and girl children who use the Internet and cell phone cameras to sexualize themselves or violate the privacy of others, and who thus promote a child pornography and visual rape mentality.

So before you get all worried about what the Taliban or fundamentalist Islamists are doing with their women and children, how about a little focus on one or all of those problems? Notice that in fundamentalist Islamic communities, no matter what else you think of them, they are not "struggling" with even ONE of the above issues. And you wonder why they don't want "western women 'values'" in their society? Even the most well meaning and virtuous western woman who tries to intervene in Muslim fundamentalist matters brings with her the taint of all that is happening above in the society at large. It is embarrassing and disgraceful at how low western society has fallen in these extreme matters (and I'm not talking about the age old issues of 'fooling around;' what I list above is the terrible destruction of the feminine as guardian of the young and overall bulwark against depravity and total loss of social anchorage).

Do we want to send the female Sunday school teacher who is accused of raping and murdering an eight year old neighbor to the east to role model "liberated female morality" to the Muslims? I didn't think so.

As Jesus stated, before removing the mote (a very small particle) out of the neighbor's eye, be sure to remove the beam (a huge piece of lumber) from your own eye.

Recent deaths in all faiths or no faiths

I hope that recent deaths of individuals who belong to the full spectrum of faiths (both those highly observant and not-so-observant) plus those who die of no faith and outright disbelieving is understood by all that as is repeatedly taught in the scripture (and through secular common sense) that "belonging to the right religion" is absolutely no "life insurance."

I continue to be astonished how people can claim to understand God, yet at the same time fall into the ancient pagan trap that if one "belongs" to the "right" faith that one is somehow "protected" from early death, mishap or sinful conduct. Never has any sort of guarantee been given to anyone of the monotheistic faiths, yet I am just amazed at how difficult it is to eradicate over the centuries that "belonging to the right club" mentality toward God. Genuine piety is worshipping and serving God without any delusion that somehow one is "buying" some sort of "insurance policy."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Important reflection about violence and St Paul

This is a reflection about St Paul that is particularly pertinent during the time when we commemorate the Lord’s suffering and death. Many sermons correctly point out, as the scripture relates, that while Jesus answered the questions of Pilate, he did not resist what would be his inevitable execution. Jesus himself explains that he could have summoned both earthly and heavenly forces to defend and free him, but as this is not his realm, but heaven is his true home and destination, he did not.

Well before the Passion and Crucifixion Jesus taught the Apostles, the disciples and all who attended his sermons and believed that his followers should turn the other cheek. Another time the Apostles wondered why Jesus did not send fire down upon a town that had rejected him. Jesus explained that he came to save souls, not to kill.

Now, you might at this time guess that I’m going to compare Jesus and what he taught to Saul, he who was the persecutor of Christians, before he was confronted by the resurrected Jesus, converted and became St. Paul. You would be wrong, as that is not where I am going with this reflection but, rather, to a far more important point. I am going to point out to you the dire, deadly consequences of not obeying Jesus in all matters.

Suppose that the Apostles and disciples listened to Jesus about passive resistance (to use a modern term) with one ear, but with the other ear succumbed to temptation to “fight back when attacked,” immediately after Jesus was crucified. That would be the attitude of modern society, not the Church, today. We have “enemy lists” and “preemptive strikes,” and we declare enemies of not only terrorists who are declared enemies but also those who “aid and harbor them.” Here is what would have happened.

Immediately after Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and ascended into heaven we had our first Christian martyr, Stephen, who was stoned as he forgave his murderers. A young man tended to the cloaks of the stoners and that was Saul. Saul then developed zeal, a murderous zeal, where he not only spied and reported on the disciples and their converts, those who Jesus and the Apostles had converted to Christianity, but he hunted them down in person in order to bring them to their deaths.

This, in fact, was what Saul was hastening to do on the road to Damascus, when the resurrected Jesus confronted him and threw him from his horse, blinding Saul with the light of his glorified body. But what if as soon as Stephen was stoned, the Apostles and other Christians had made “an enemies list?” What if they had recognized right away what a scourge Saul was to the early Christians, including themselves, and decided, as moderns glorify in real acts and in entertainment media, “take him out first?” What if the Christians had ignored Jesus in this one matter and had killed Saul?

If that thought terrifies you, it should.

Thank God on your hands and knees that the Apostles and disciples, and all the martyrs and early Christians, obeyed Jesus in all matters, most particularly in this one. If I want to give myself the horrors and make myself sick to my stomach, all I have to do is think of one stupid cowboy from modern times urging the Apostles after Stephen was killed to make an “enemies list” and conduct “preemptive strikes” in order to have a “justifiable defense” and “defend ourselves and our faith.”

If just one of the disciples had been of that mindset, to ignore Jesus in “just this one matter,” and had killed Saul before he became St. Paul, Christianity would not exist today.

It is not that St. Paul was so instrumental to the Christianity that I say this, though obviously he is the one who brought Christianity to the Gentiles and not only the Jews. It would be that through the action of one or a handful of people, those early Christians would have demonstrated their lack of worthiness and faithlessness to God, who had sent Jesus to be heard, believed and obeyed in ALL matters, not “most of them” with “exceptions cause it’s an emergency and ‘Jesus would understand.’” God would have allowed Christianity to die on the vine because disobeying Jesus within months of his resurrection would have indicated that the soil and the plants were not worthy.

When we say that God has a perfect plan, that is the truth, but the very people who say God has a perfect plan and seem to believe in God often think that they know better than God. This is the dire, extreme, and impossible to exaggerate peril of modern humans, both believers and non believers. While not a single one of the Apostles, disciples or early Christian converts, those of Jesus himself and the next few generations, were unfaithful to all that Jesus taught, including going to their death in non-resistance, can I say that about a single person living today? Do not people happily “cherry pick” what Jesus said and did, saying “Jesus would understand that these times are ‘different?’” People spy on each other’s supposed ‘transgressions,’ gossip, and target for malice those on their personal and clique “enemies list.” I know, for I have had a prominent place on the “enemy list” of those who supposedly believe in God and Jesus.

When I think of the people who have spied on me and thus misunderstood my actions, or inactions, and attributed judgmental “identities” to me (including the Harlot of Babylon, a crown I guess many Catholics have to bear), I think of how those people would have shot Saul right through the heart in “self defense,” thinking that “Jesus would understand.”

No, Jesus would not and does not “understand” such a mindset, and God will be severe in his judgment.

The next time you think that you have “secret knowledge” about who someone “really is” and whether they are “worthy in their faith or not,” imagine your hands on the trigger of a gun pointed at the head of Saul and you blowing his brains out in “self defense.”

Friday, April 10, 2009

A word to priests

On Good Friday we contemplate, among other things, how very alone the Lord was in his suffering.

While many attend services during the Easter celebration, and while many vibrant parishes exist year around, we know that there is a crisis of faith around the globe. In particular westernized countries have seen a drop in church attendance as people seem to start to feel that they "don't need" to go to church to "honor God" or to be 'spiritual,' that good intentions (and even total neutrality) are enough.

I am thinking with particular desire to comfort those priests who look out and see only a handful of parishioners at Mass.

I know that all of you know that there is never a "wasted" Mass, even if you are the only one celebrating Mass and the only person in attendance. I also know, better than you realize, though, how acutely saddening and distressing that it is to think about all those who jeopardize their salvation and, at the very least, their own spiritual comfort and reality, by no longer attending or valuing Mass. So I'd like you to think about the following.

When you celebrate Mass to a near empty church, imagine it filled with the people who would desperately want to attend Mass, if only it were available where they are, in oppressed, impoverished, or under-served parts of the world. Dedicate as personal intentions in your mind that each available seat is offered up for those people.

Also, think of those who would attend if only they believed. Likewise, have faith that if you also dedicate those empty seats as intentions for those of little or no faith, through the Holy Spirit it will do a powerful amount of good, and also be of great comfort to you.

It is my most frequent personal prayer intention, to pray on behalf of those who will not or cannot pray for themselves, and I find it a great comfort and know it to be efficacious (though results are frustratingly slow to see, I know). This is why I had the idea that if priests as personal intentions dedicate their "empty seats" to those who cannot be there or who are yet in denial and refuse to be there, each Mass, indeed, will be very full.

I hope that you have found this to be helpful. In Christ.

Understanding God: simple suggestion to be near to him

Many people feel that they are distant from God, or God is distant from them. This is a perfectly understandable problem and not new to humans, who have felt this throughout the generations, and God understands. However, it is particularly acute in these modern times. In a way it is ironic because never has there been more freely available printed information about God, and more people searching for "spirituality," yet, modern people feel distant from God in a way that, for example, the ancient Israelites of Biblical times did not.

The Israelites did not have the "advantage" of "lots of miracles" to bolster their faith either. Hundreds of years would often span the time between miracles by God's prophets or miraculous appearances by God. So what did the Israelites have that modern people seem to possess less and less of?

For one they were better informed and availed themselves of the very gifts of knowing him that God has given people. As I attended Good Friday services at the nearby cathedral I was sad, but not surprised, to observe something missing from the worshippers that used to be so basic in the years past, but seems totally forgotten today. This is by no means a criticism, as I delighted in seeing the faith and love of the Lord present in all who attended on this most solemn day. Rather, I am using what I observed to explain to people something who the older ones may have forgotten, and the middle aged and young people seem to most certainly not learned in their faith formation.

First, here is what I observed from virtually every person who came through the two doors within my line of vision. People would enter, dip their hand in the holy water font, and make the sign of the cross while simultaneously walking and scanning with their eyes for what seat they wanted in the pew.

Hmm. This is not a scolding but pointing out a missed golden opportunity to know God.

The part of the church that contains the altar is called the sanctuary. In the sanctuary God is physically present. No, I do not in this case mean the sacred host, which is the true body of Jesus Christ when consecrated. I mean God the Father. God, understanding that people will always have to strain somewhat to believe in his presence when they cannot see him, committed to all the faithful that he is present in the sanctuary of the temples of the ancient Israelites and also, obviously, by extension, in the sanctuary where an altar where sacrifice and appeal to him is made.

Now, before I cite scripture and make Biblical commentary on this subject, let me address the obvious "modern thinking" problem. Many moderns say, "But I thought God is everywhere." He is everywhere, but he understands that people, not God himself, have problem remembering that. So God solemnly and repeatedly committed through word and deed that people can be absolutely certain of his actual presence in the sanctuary of his houses of worship. Thus someone can have squishy faith or worse, great doubt, in God's overall presence in the world (perhaps thinking that God withholds himself from the day to day matters, both joys and woes, of the world) and upon entering any place of worship with an actual sanctuary, be absolutely assured that God is sitting right there.

Thus good Catholics are supposed to do this: entering the church through any of its doors, dip one's hand into the font and make the sign of the cross while facing the sanctuary. Furthermore, before removing one's eyes from the sanctuary area, genuflect, usually at the end of the first pew nearest to you. When you enter God's house you are supposed to acknowledge God's presence with eyes and gesture (both sign of the cross and genuflecting) where God has promised that he dwells, which is the sanctuary.

If most people entered the church for service and saw God with only a fraction of his glory visible to the eye in the sanctuary, I imagine most people would notice (though probably a stubborn few would still worry about which pew they will sit in and which neighbors are there). But that is not supposed to be the priority with the first few steps into the house of God where God has promised to be present in the sanctuary. Yes, I like to get a good seat and look around who else is there too. But I do so after genuflecting toward the altar upon my immediate entry. In fact, that is such an urgent priority that I sometimes do not avail myself of the holy water font, since my eyes are fixed on the sanctuary whenever I enter ANY church through ANY of the doors (front or the two sides), and I genuflect. Often I do so twice, and this is how people used to be and used to understand that GOD is there even before the celebration of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus. I do so upon entry and then again at the end of the pew that I am about to enter in order to take my seat.

When people don't do this it's not a "bad thing," it's a "sad thing," since they are no longer remembering that God has promised to be in the sanctuary of every church that believes in him and that offers sacrifice and worship. In the Orthodox churches, the sanctuary is an actual separate small room in the back where only the priest enters, consistent with how it used to be in the temples of the Israelites. Now that is symbolized by where the Torah resides.

All Catholics should:

1. Enter the door, dip their hand in the holy water font, and make the sign of the cross while facing the sanctuary. This is in honor of Jesus Christ.

2. Still facing the sanctuary, genuflect, usually at the end of the first pew if entering by the side doors or the last pew (either main aisle end). This is acknowledging God's actual presence in the sanctuary.

Even if you do nothing more than this you will feel a strengthening of your feeling of God's presence in your life. It takes nothing away from God "being everywhere," but you are taking him up on his offer to commit to each and every one of you that HE IS THERE in the sanctuary.

These are examples of God making himself seen in the sanctuary:

Luke 1:5, 9, 11-13
There was in the days of Herod the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

Now, as you read further you will see that this angel of the Lord identifies himself as Gabriel, but make note that Gabriel says: I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God (Luke 1:19).

Isaiah 6:1-4

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. [This is how you know that Isaiah is performing priestly duty in the sanctuary of the temple, since he says that God's celestial robe filled the whole temple's interior].
Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
And one cried unto another, and said Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house [temple] was filled with smoke.

These are two examples where God elects to deliver messages of redemption from within the sanctuary of the temple. God, of course, can appear whenever and wherever he wants, but nothing that God does is insignificant. God continues to demonstrate his closeness and presence in the sanctuary. It is particularly key that God, through Gabriel, announces the pregnancy and birth of the man who will make straight the way of the Lord, John the Baptist, in the sanctuary of the Temple. This is the bridge in understanding that even as God announces the man who would herald the coming of the Messiah and the New Covenant, that God "makes his seat and presence felt," so to speak, most especially within the sanctuary of his house.

Revelation 13:6

And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.

Why does St. John observe the beast during the Apocalypse, blaspheme God, the name of God, and all in heaven (answer is obvious) but also God's tabernacle (answer not so obvious)? The word "tabernacle" is very precise: it does not mean as people think today just a symbolic allusion to assemblies of people who worship God. The tabernacle (the Biblical word for sanctuary) means the tabernacle, otherwise scripture would not use that word. Thus even way in the future during the time of the Apocalypse the beast its self understands that God is committed to being physically present to his people in "his" (God's) tabernacle. This is how we know that God's promise to be present in his tabernacle, to strengthen the faith of those who enter his house of worship to sacrifice and petition, continues from the very beginning of faith history to the very end of the world.

You can read the history in the Bible about the early forms of tabernacle and God's promise to accompany Israel through the tabernacle. I wanted to draw your attention to the continuity of God's promise of actual presence in the sanctuary (even though, yes, he is everywhere at once) throughout the New Covenant and, ironically through the testimony of the beast and St. John's witness, all the way to the Apocalypse and the end of days.

So even though you cannot see God with your eyes, there he is, in the sanctuary of the churches of his faithful.

I hope that you have found this helpful. To know God is to love God, and if you remember that he keeps his promises you will know he is there in the sanctuary, and if you remember that at all times you will start to feel closer to him within your individual reality too.

Very pleased at Good Friday service

I attended service at the cathedral in the city nearby where I now reside and was very pleased with their celebration of Good Friday of the Lord's Passion. It was very well attended and beautifully done.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Music talk, "Laugh, Laugh" by Beau Brummels

As I've blogged before and people who've known me for a long time know, I was listening to pop radio even as a very small toddler and enjoy the songs of the 1950's very much. This song popped into my mind (the tune is awesome) as they sometimes do, so I thought I'd introduce you to this great oldie song. Just to be precise, this is a Beattle era song, hit the charts in 1965, but to me, it is an oldie, LOL.

I hate to say it but I told you so

Don't mind my preaching to you

I said "don't trust him", baby, now you know

You don't learn everything there is to know in school

Wouldn't believe me when I gave advice

I said that he was a tease

If you want help you better ask me nice

So be sincere, convince me with a "pretty please"

(Chorus)Laugh, Laugh, I thought I'd die

It seemed so funny to me,

Laugh, Laugh, you met a guy

who taught you how it feels to be

Lonely, oh so lonely

Don't think I'm being funny when I say

You got just what you deserve

I can't help feeling you found out today

You thought you were too good you had a lot of nerve

Won't say I'm sorry for the things I said

I'm glad he packed up to go

You kept on bragging he was yours instead

Found you don't know everything there is to know


Before I go I'd like to say one thing

Don't close your ears to me

Take my advice and you'll find out that being

Just another girl won't cause you misery

You say you can get any boy at your call

Don't be so smug or else

You'll find you can't get any boy at all

You'll wind up an old lady sitting on the shelf


Lonely, oh so lonely

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

It has been a while since I blogged regarding PTSD and other mental or emotion distresses. By the way, I prefer the term “distress” instead of “disorder” or “mental illness.” Many mental conditions are perfectly natural responses by the body and the mind to terrible circumstances, and thus I prefer that people do not think of them as “wrong wiring” or “mental imbalance.” PTSD, for those victims of trauma who suffer from it, are the body and the mind’s efforts to deal with something so radical and scarring that a painful set of symptoms occur, but that is not the same as being mentally disordered or biologically or mentally flawed.

I want to address myself to all PTSD sufferers but most especially to those in the military or law enforcement. I am thinking most especially of the Vietnam War veterans who suffer to this day, and now the Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans who must also deal with PTSD in such great numbers. I want to give you two tools to help you when you read this. One is a way to explain PTSD in a way that I believe is much more accurate an analogy or images than you’ve probably heard before. Military people can relate that you must “know the enemy before you can defeat him.” I think this analogy will help you to better understand exactly what PTSD is and how I recommend one can alleviate much of the distress, while never being, of course, able to deny or erase what happened, nor should you. The second tool I want to give to you is a way to work on the PTSD dreams and nightmares that I have found very helpful when I have given sufferers direction in these matters.

The best way to think of PTSD is that you are in the jaws of an alligator or a crocodile. Let’s say crocodile since it’s a global animal that everyone is familiar with. When one has PTSD one can think of one’s self as being firmly in the mouth grip of a crocodile, and each of the croc’s teeth has a hold on you. The crocodile represents the source of the PTSD (such as trauma during war service). In other words, there was nothing wrong with you before you had the trauma. Then something very real happened, where you are bitten by the croc and held in its mouth so you cannot pull free, and the teeth represent the types and severity of the psychological and emotional wounds you have received and the ongoing symptoms.

Now, this is how you can understand the prescription medications that you receive that may or may not help you. The prescription medications do not free you from the croc’s jaws; they only dull the pain so that you can function more gracefully and comfortably as if you were not feeling the pain of the bite. But of course despite what doctors say, the medications cannot erase the cause of the trauma as if it never happened, nor can it restore you to what you were before. This is where the analogy is helpful because each tooth mark leaves a scar, even if one was, using our analogy, completely free of the jaw’s grip.

When one “self medicates” through addictive substances, such as alcohol and drugs, or other addictive behaviors such as risky behavior, compulsive behavior, or other means of “escapism,” one is trying to do the same thing the doctors who prescribe do, which is dull the pain of being bitten by the traumatic event or events. But like the prescribed medications, self medication only attempts to dull the pain of being continually bitten.

So how do I recommend that a PTSD sufferer deal with PTSD, using this analogy? First of all, yes, be sure, of course, to stay on any medication that the doctor prescribes because you cannot work on any sort of remedy or cure if you are in pain and engaging in risky behavior due to the PTSD. Everyone knows that it is harder to heal something like a broken arm if you are in continual pain. So yes, if you have one or more prescriptions that ease your pain and symptoms, be sure to continue to faithfully take what a reputable and conscientious doctor prescribes.

However, I invite you to think about how one actually tackles the PTSD itself. Think of your status as being in the grip of the croc’s jaws and all its teeth. You cannot pull yourself out of the grip, so you are stuck. But are you? What if you had a set of pliers and pulled out the teeth one at a time?

Suppose one of your symptoms is having recurrent traumatic dreams and nightmares. Those dreams represent one of the teeth of the croc. In other words, if you are able to work on alleviating the stress of the dreams, and even reducing their occurrences, that would be as if you pulled out that tooth from the croc. This also helps you to understand why some in distress of PTSD have the bad dreams while others do not. That particular symptom of “tooth” just is not biting down as hard on some folks as it is on others. That is part of how each individual is unique, as is each trauma. You might be someone who was bitten and held by a small croc, with a trauma that, while painful and real, has a smaller “bite mark,” a smaller less severe pattern of symptoms. On the other hand, those who served in the Vietnam War, for example, I have noticed have all been bitten by a huge croc with many deep biting teeth. This is because Vietnam was “not just another war.” It was a shattering experience on so many levels and had few mitigating circumstances of comfort and many simultaneous types of trauma.

Just for one example, the United States had previously fought only open conflicts, never a guerilla war. So while there were vets traumatized by World War II and Korea, Vietnam was a warfare tactic that neither the military institution nor the individuals serving had any experience or preparation for. So being in a guerilla war is, again using that analogy, one tooth of the bite and holding of PTSD that those in other wars did not so much experience (except, for example, those who fought on the ground against dug in Japanese in World War II).

So the individual teeth of the croc are made up of two ways of looking at it: the symptoms that you feel and the reasons that trauma was received. An example of a “symptom tooth” is the bad dreams. An example of the “cause tooth” is being totally unprepared for a guerilla style of warfare.

Military folks who suffer from PTSD tend to be able to list their symptoms, so the “symptom teeth” will probably not be too difficult for you to recognize (though often people do not see how much they have changed until they are home and have difficulties). You’ve probably all had to list the symptoms in the doctor appointments and endless paperwork. But here is what I am suggesting. I have had some very good success at turning it a bit on its head, where instead of the one block being “PTSD” and all the symptoms hanging off of it, to be treated as a whole, try breaking the symptoms down into individual components that you might address one or two at a time. PTSD, like most mental distresses, is not something that one can tend to treat as a whole and people in the profession have become a bit too charmed with that idea, and then are disappointed when they cannot “cure” or alleviate PTSD. It’s not like getting rid of a cold or the flu. But that is a useful comparison so let’s explore it for a minute.

If you have a cold or the flu you have one cause (bacteria or a virus) and many possible symptoms (sneezing, sore throat, fever, runny nose, coughing, sore chest, body aches, nausea, fatigue, etc.) In general when one is dealing with physical illnesses, when the illness passes or is “cured,” all the symptoms go away, obviously, since you are no longer sick with that illness. People for a variety of reasons think of mental and emotional distress the same way: if you treat the overall “type of distress,” such as PTSD, then the symptoms should all together gradually improve. It’s perfectly natural that everyone tends to think of mental illnesses as being just like physical illnesses, except of the mind and nervous system instead of the body. Medical schools, scholars and insurance and medical reimburerses all tend to think that way. We fill out your form with your “diagnosis,” PTSD, list your symptoms as “proof” that you are indeed suffering from PTSD so you can be treated and the provider is reimbursed, and then the “treatment plan” for PTSD is developed, which is usually prescription medications with some group therapy. That is fine and that is the way the system is established, but I believe that it leads to slower, and often nil, results. I believe that in addition to the overall treatment of the overall condition of PTSD that each symptom should be separately addressed using non-prescription drug techniques of counseling, therapy and self help.

The way the medical system is established there is little access, and none of it reimbursable, to what I am suggesting. When I was an intern I was able to treat a number of patients via counseling only because since I was a “free body” (student interns are not paid). Thus while I was there during my nearly nine month internship I was able to provide “talking” treatment to patients who would not have otherwise received it. This is one reason I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about ways that those in distress, such as those with PTSD, and their families and friends, and church groups and others who donate services, can listen to some of my suggestions and try them in addition to their regular treatment. This is why I blog on these types of subjects and would like to be able to help through some future venue.

Suppose that you are a PTSD sufferer with a number of symptoms and you were able to eliminate or control one of those symptoms? I think that would be a relief if, for example, you are troubled by the symptom of bad dreams and you were able to mitigate that one symptom, even if the others remain. It tends to have a mutually beneficial and cascading effect anyways; if you improve one thing you become more at ease and more comforted and when you feel better in that one area you can deal with the other symptoms better, and perhaps address them too, one at a time. So I’m suggesting that while you, of course, continue your medical course of treatment, you draw up an action plan for addressing one of the symptoms as a targeted effort on it and it alone.

So here’s what you do. Make a list of your croc’s teeth. These are both “symptom” teeth and “cause” teeth. The idea of the “cause teeth” may be new to you, but it’s easy to understand once you start thinking about it that way. What made Vietnam so particularly unique and scarring? I gave one example, which is that it was a guerilla war rather than conventional conflict, which the military command and training gave no preparation for, and which shocked the combatants mightily. So while your symptom teeth list what you are suffering from now, your cause teeth list each thing that contributed to the shock, damage and scarring, and many of them will be cultural. I can speak with some experience and authority because I am only a few years younger than many Vietnam veterans, since I was a teenager during the height of the war. Further, my family had extensive World War II experience, in all the theaters, so I observed the differences as they were happening. So let me give you some help in thinking about what some of the “cause teeth” might be in your particular list.

O Being drafted for a war whose purpose was difficult to understand, as the USA was not being invaded, nor was there a clear cut enemy such as Japan (who had bombed Pearl Harbor) or Germany (with Nazi global domination clearly an objective).
O Culture shock, where Vietnam seemed very alien and uncomfortable compared to your upbringing, whereas Europe or even Japan (shipboard) in World War II was less jarring a transition.
O Exposure to vices, such as drugs and prostitution.
O Lack of training and preparation for guerilla warfare, which included devices of terror as booby traps.
O Hostility toward the military, including service men and women, by fellow citizens at home.
O Having a close buddy killed, particularly in a brutal way.
O Witnessing atrocities from either side.
O Inexperienced commanders and chains of command that resulted in errors and losses.
O Tactics and strategies that resulted in battles for which there seemed no point or overall plan.
O Being captured.

I could list more but I think you see my point. So let’s look at two examples of Vietnam veterans with PTSD. I’m just making these two up as examples so you can see that while everyone “shares” the PTSD experience, it is indeed unique to each person and must be treated accordingly.

Example One: Symptom teeth: bad dreams, startles easily, distressed by loud and sudden noises, emotionally withdrawn from loved ones. Cause teeth: many “close calls” in the battlefield, witnessed bad orders causing unnecessary loss of life, close buddy captured, and “social scene” that one was too young to handle.

Example Two: Symptom teeth: bad dreams, addictions (list each one), drawn to conflict and violence, suicidal thoughts. Cause teeth: lack of support from home, found gun was only response to guerilla and cultural violence, forced to give bad orders.

See, these are just with a few words two people that while they share the “PTSD Vietnam vet” label are obviously two very different people with very different experiences. Medicine, like all aspects of our sad culture and society today, try to lump people together into cookie cutter categories and treat them accordingly. PTSD, however, is if anything the example of how individual PTSD distress really is and how customized and unique to the individual that treatment must be.

What I would do if I was counseling one or a group of Vietnam vets with PTSD to apply the technique I’ve introduced them to today is to (and remember, this is in addition to all conventional medical treatment):
1. Draw up your list of symptom and cause teeth. Help each other out in thinking of items to put on the list, but only put them on the list if they really affect you individually.
2. Select one symptom tooth and one cause tooth that you want to specifically gain treatment for.
3. For the symptom tooth, your approach is to work on that one symptom as if it were an illness. For example, when one has a cold one might sneeze or have sore throat. Select “sneeze” or “sore throat” and act as if that is an individual standalone illness. You are going to cure yourself of “sneeze,” to use that example, rather than wait for the sneeze to go away when the cold goes away. Therefore you might select to stop or at least ease the “bad dreams” as if it were a standalone illness, rather than wait for them to go away, if ever, if the PTSD “goes away,” which it rarely does.
4. For the cause tooth you use a different approach, but with the same objective of wanting to cure or at least ease the one “illness” represented by the cause tooth.

Before I explain how to approach 4 in specific detail, let me make a broad point. Vietnam vets, understandably, tend to do one of two things. They either withdraw from talking about their experience, for all the obvious reasons, or they tend to read material or have conversations that validate and revalidate their own experiences. For example, they tend to view movies, read books, or have conversations that parallel and validate their own experiences. That is understandable and seems intuitive to do (as part of “you are not alone” therapy), but it often, as logically as it seems, hinders a cure to one or more symptoms. It tends to reinforce the “what’s done is done” and “it happened to all of us” and it “can’t be changed” mindset. Catharsis and validation of one’s own experience have actually been proven to be among the least effective of techniques used in self or professional therapy. All patients, and the society as a whole, loves “let it all out” and “catharsis,” for example, feeling it is “healthy,” but the literature in group therapy shows that while it gives temporary emotional satisfaction to the client or patient, catharsis is the least helpful of the dozen or so techniques used in therapy. I’m not saying to bottle it up, but I am saying to be more skeptical of one’s own human nature tendency to want to hear one’s own story told time after time, either by one’s self or others, without there being a targeted, curative purpose and technique behind its telling.

So suppose that the “cause symptom” that you select to address is the “lack of support from home.” Suppose that your own family had mixed feelings about your service, that you had few friends or buddies back home who could write and support you (younger readers: remember there was no cheap phone calls and this was way before the Internet and email, so traditional letter writing and spotty delivery was one’s only real contact with home, just like in World War II and Korea). And suppose that you were one of those service people who was actually spit on and protested against when you returned home. What if that was a “cause tooth” that aches you still today and contributes to your symptom teeth? How would you address it?

Well, like I said, a lot of people think that is water over the dam and can’t be fixed or undone. And it is true that we cannot go back in time and pretend things went otherwise. But there is an amazing amount of resilience and desire to heal in the human heart and brain, and there is “reprogramming” that one can do to fill in that deficit that was originally created by the lack of support for your service. For example, rather than revisiting through your own memories or the media how bad it was during those times, avoid reinforcement of the feelings of betrayal and abandonment. So do not indulge in “walks down memory lane” of the pain of that “cause tooth.” Here is what you do instead.

You create a “new history” for your brain and your heart in the here and now. For example, you could get a recommendation from someone about a current service member, say in Afghanistan or Iraq, who may not have any family or friends and you become his or her pen pal. In other words, you give today to someone that which you were deprived of. While it does not change time or events, you’ll be surprised at how as far as your brain and heart impulses are concerned, what happens today starts to converge back in time with what had happened to you in the past. In a way it is like you are the new service person today that you start to correspond with. By giving him or her in their need what you did not have, you actually start to put in your heart and memory “bank” what was empty before. Your brain, your heart, and eventually your symptoms will lessen being fueled by what had happened to you, with the lack of support and even hostility that you have received, and instead, the email that you write and receive today with a current service member will be like the support you yourself lacked and that you are now receiving.

It does not have to be, nor can it be, an “exact match.” These are different times where, thankfully, our service people are not being protested against and spat on by anti-war demonstrators. But being lonely and lacking support is universal in all times, and those feelings are the same everywhere. If you find that you can locate a service person who had little or no family or friends, you can make the difference both for him and her and, more importantly for pulling that cause tooth, yourself.

Here’s another idea. Become a self taught “loneliness expert” by reading literature about that condition and studying ways to alleviate it in others, whether military or not. There are two benefits of this kind of approach. One is to learn more about your own condition as you read about it, not in the Vietnam context, but as a general social condition. Rather than reinforcing what you and others experienced in Vietnam, you learn more about why it hurt and scarred by studying the general condition in all aspects of life. That is a lead in to the second benefit which is that it un-bottles the inwardness of the existing PTSD condition and redirects it outward in a productive way. Instead of recycling what has happened to you in your mind, you are now gathering new material in new contexts and could even go so far as to shift from that cause tooth being a scar of Vietnam to a new proactive activity, such as writing articles and blogging about abandonment, loneliness, lack of support, betrayal and ways to cope with them in general. Again, it is not denying what happened to you, but it is a mighty ability to rechannel what was a painful memory into a potentially pleasurable and rewarding here and now activity.

I could give more examples of how to address that particular “cause tooth,” but want to keep this article as an introduction to a technique to get you thinking in these new directions. Now let us discuss my ideas regarding the specific symptom tooth, “bad dreams.”

Remember how I said that humans and societies tend to want to lump things together into one cookie cutter category? Well, people tend to do it to themselves without realizing it. Suppose a Vietnam vet with PTSD is plagued by a particular dream about a specific trauma that he or she endured. They have these dreams “over and over” or at least regularly or, if not too severe, an occasional eruption of that dream. The reaction is, of course, to think “not again” and “it’s that bad dream again.” It is discouraging and thought of as being a repeat of a repeat.

That is an example of the distressed dreamer, quite understandably, tending to lump all of the occurrences of the dream into the same category, which is a repeat of an unpleasant phenomenon, a bad repeating bad dream. But no dream is exactly the same, even if you think that it is; there is always a subtle difference. So the first thing to do is, even though it is painful to have the dream, as soon as you awake think about one thing different about the dream than the last time that you had it and write it down. Keep a pad of paper and pen by your bed if necessary and as soon as you wake, train yourself to think, before pushing the bad dream from your mind, is there something different about this dream? Look for even subtle differences: longer or shorter in duration? Are there any differences in the setting of the dream, the characters in the dream, and the action of the dream, no matter how small?

For example, suppose that your dream normally involves someone, a buddy for example, being killed. The dream tends to reenact the actual event plus some pattern that your dream takes over and over. But suppose in the actual event your buddy was wearing a helmet, and most dreams show him that way, but one night you dream the same dream except that one time he is not wearing a helmet. Or suppose that it was a daytime attack and you accordingly dream of a daytime attack time each time, but one night you dream that it was nighttime. Or you may even have a shorter or longer version of the dream, or a really subtle difference such as the number of people standing around. Don’t rewrite the whole dream on your pad of paper but make a note each time you have “that dream” to identify just one thing about it that was different from the last time, even if you dreamed it while napping instead of while during your overnight sleep. But trust me, once you get used to observing you will notice at least one subtle, or even large, difference in the dream from one time to the next, even if you’ve automatically thought of it as that “repeat dream.”

Again, it’s beyond the scope of this article to right now to do dream interpretation and explain why the dream changes in even that small way. But it is almost not important to know a full out dream interpretation of the “meaning” of that change as it is to train yourself just to notice it and just to write it down. Here is why.

Dreams are, among other things, a self healing mechanism. Just as when you have a scratch or a cut and the body naturally knits together the skin and heals the injury, dreams, even very bad dreams, are trying to “fix you where it hurts.” That memory hurts you and rather than punishing you, your body is trying to “fix it” and its doctor’s office is your dream. That is why I made the point earlier that bad dreams are not something ‘broken’ or ‘flawed.’ Bad dreams are your body trying to fix what is hurting it, in that case, a specific memory of an experience that you had. I know it seems illogical at first, where you think, how does it fix me to revisit it over and over? But your mind is not trying to revisit it over and over; it is repeating an invitation over and over to go into the doctor’s office about this event. That is why responsible dream interpretation by credible and conservative therapists is a hugely powerful therapeutic tool, because dream interpretation “accepts” the invitation offered by your mind to heal the event that caused the PTSD pattern of dreaming.

Lacking any other input your subconscious mind offers up the invitation, through another reoccurrence of the bad dream, and while the dream looks the same at first glance each time, your subconscious mind is trying a different “dab of medicine” through the subtle change I’ve explained to you to watch for. The subconscious mind is enormously powerful and attempts to be helpful, even when it seems otherwise. But it is limited in how helpful it can be unless you make what it does to be recognized and thought about by you and therefore no longer unconscious but conscious. This is why you can gain benefit even by not knowing, since you have no dream interpreter available perhaps, the meaning of a particular change. Just by noticing the change and thinking about it for a minute or two and writing it down you have moved that unconscious dream “dab of medicine” from the unconscious to the conscious.

You know what it is like? Have you ever gone a long time without having a glass of orange juice or a fruit and then you have a craving? You don’t need to know “why,” which is that your body is alerting you to a vitamin C deficit. You just have the fruit or the glass of orange juice. Likewise you don’t really need to know why your dream always involved the buddy having a helmet on, but one time the dream occurs without the helmet. You just have to notice and record on your notepad that you noticed that this dream differed from previous versions because instead of having his helmet on this time he did not.

Now, I could interpret why your unconscious might try that “dab of medicine,” but if I start writing about the specifics and examples of dream interpretation this will be a long diversion from the point of this article. If readers are interested I’ll of course write more and explain how a responsible and conservative dream interpreter would recognize the healing attempt and meaning of the helmet motif changing, for example. But there is a lot of new information to absorb here and I’d like to keep it manageable. I sincerely hope that you have found this article useful and that this and further work will bring some real relief to those with PTSD and other distresses.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Biblical eagle

Lev 11:13

And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the osprey.

[This does not mean they are "bad" animals; it means that to consume them as food is strictly forbidden and doing so would result in being in a state of severe uncleanliness before God.]

Deut 32:11-12

As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings; So the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.

[Here the surety of faith and being led by the one true God is compared, in detail, to the care that the mother eagle gives to her young.]

Joel 9:26

They are passed away as the swift ships: as the eagle that hasteth to the prey.

Job 39: 27-29

Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high?

She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place.

From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off.

Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she.

[The Lord explains to Job to be humble and to realize that he doesn't command anything that is God's, such as the eagle.]

Habakkuk 1:8

Their horses are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat.

[This prophet warns that because of the iniquity of the Israelites against God that the Chaldeans will have great power to overthrow them, comparing their swiftness to that of the hungry eagle after prey.]

Matthew 24:27-31
For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles gather together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days, shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. and he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.