goingplaceslivinglife

Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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I’m Confused

Please forgive me before I say something that might offend you, but I am really concerned. Unlike you, who was raised in your Christian faith, I have only been attending church for the last eight years since I have been married to Graham. I am not a Christian, as you know, but Graham feels the desire to attend a church service and as long as I am respected, I will attend with him. I believe in God but I do not feel I need to be in a certain building listening to a regular series of words to connect with that Higher Power. I go to church with my husband out of my love for him and I do enjoy the thoughts and prayers that are expressed and getting to know that community.

However, I also believe I listen more than most people.  It is new to me, not a rote recitation. I listen. I think about what I hear.  And I recognize the root of much of what I hear in the Jewish tradition. After all, that’s where Jesus got it.pay attention

I have, admittedly, been attending what some would consider “liberal” churches. After all, I probably would not have been respected for my nontraditional belief system at any other. So, I also admit that my learning about Christianity is from that viewpoint. I have attended church almost every Sunday, sang in the choir until our move to Oregon, and participated in many book discussion and Bible study groups. In fact, the organizers usually ask me first and then invite Graham, knowing my participation will lead to pretty lively discussion. And, I guess, that is also a hallmark of a liberal church-discussion, not acceptance without any questioning as a mark of faith.

So, since I question, here are some of mine to my conservative Christian friends:

1. I have been hearing for 8 years that Jesus reached out to all the disenfranchised. Why are you so disdainful of the homeless and the hungry? Why do you say they deserve the hardship they have?  Why do you lump them into the same group as the people you complain are taking advantage of the system? And if I misunderstand you, what have you personally done to help? Saying you understand they are lost and need help and acting on that statement are two different things.compassion

2. I have been hearing for 8 years that Jesus caused quite a ruckus in the Temple smashing the tables of the money lenders. If we understand that they were taking advantage of the rules in place, the system, to charge ridiculously high fees just because they had somehow been given an exclusive place of commerce and if we follow the teaching that they were doing wrong, why are you supportive of the billionaires that continue to have huge earnings while paying their bottom line workers low wages? What is the difference? Why are you still shopping in those stores and not helping in the campaign to raise the minimum wage so people working two to three part time jobs can actually afford to live?money-cross3. I have been hearing for 8 years that Jesus urged people to simply follow two commandments: to love God with all your heart, mind and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself. So, I don’t believe you need to be a church goer to love God; however, I do believe you should not be spouting “I love God” without walking the walk. And that means acting out the second commandment.  Maybe you don’t love yourself so well?  For example, if you are still eating processed foods, you don’t love yourself well, because you are contributing to health problems.  If you don’t verify facts before repeating emotional support for statements issued by sources at one end of the political spectrum, you don’t love yourself well because you are not trying to improve your education.  So, maybe clean up your self-love and then you will have the energy, health and ability to think about how you really can love others.

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4. I have always heard the Ten Commandments. Christians got that from us, but the Christian Bible changes them a bit compared to the Torah. (Nothing like rearrangement of the original source to point out to literalists that their viewpoint is not accurate.)  So you holler “Thou shall not kill!”  and call a zygote a person in argument against abortion. But you are comfortable with the death penalty, despite known miscarriages of justice.  You also care nothing for that baby, once born, if it happens to be born into a family with stressed intellectual, financial and emotional situations.  How can you reconcile your concern for the unborn but not for the living?pro life anti

5. I have been hearing for 8 years that my attendance in church means that I am searching. Maybe I am, but not for what you may imagine. So many people are waiting for me to get baptized, to be “saved.” You will continue to wait. I do not see a better way there, merely another way. What I search for is the sign of humanity in the people I meet everywhere. Some are there at church. Some I meet in other places and they never set foot in church. I have met others who practice other religions and some that are disenfranchised because of people’s behavior so disdain a relationship with any church. Searching will be lifelong. When I stop trying to seek knowledge, I will be part of the walking dead.Soul-Searching_art

So, back to my point. I am confused. Some of the people I have met in the churches I have attended with my husband are wonderful people, reaching out to others, and I am proud to consider them my friends. And there are others, too too many others, in all kinds of churches and temples, and mosques, who are full of righteous indignation that their way is the ONLY “right” way. Your pathway confuses me because you seem not to practice what you preach, nor walk the walk you talk.faith-meets-world-cover

If love is the way, act it. Don’t tell me you’re beating me up for my own good. No thanks.

 


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The Next Stage

Death. So final. At least from this perspective.

Why are so many people afraid of dying?Life-is-pleasant.-Death-is-peaceful-quotes

Judaism does not particularly get into an Afterlife, so it leaves it open to personal interpretation. The strong message is to do good deeds while living. In fact, there are 613 mitzvot that are required by texts in the Torah. That is the Old Testament for you Christians, so if you are really good Bible thumpers (literal followers, take heed) these are for you, too. Death may simply be a cessation of life, or there may be a Heaven, or there may be a rebirth.

Christianity, on the other hand, promises you Everlasting Life.  There is some teaching that good deeds are not important but there is also a bunch of good deeds that are needed to be done by a good Christian and even an admonition that without good deeds, faith is dead.  However, for the believer, death should not be feared.

The promise of eternal life refers to the soul and that is a commonality in most religions as well as New Age concepts.  Other religions also have concepts of reward or rebirth. Basically….this stage where we are now is only that, a stage…a short visit in the continuing growth of our soul.affirmation447

So, back to the basic question. Why are people so afraid of dying?

A huge change. Not knowing what will happen. Not knowing how it will feel. Sort of like me moving from West Virginia to Oregon…..well, almost Heaven to a beautiful place.

I subscribe to a daily email that is a very positive word from The Universe and want to share today’s email with you:

The top 10 things dead people want to tell living people are:

1. They’re not dead.
2. They’re sorry for any pain they caused.
3. There’s no such thing as a devil or hell.
4. They were ready to go when they went.
5. You’re not ready.
6. They finally understand what they were missing.
7. Nothing can prepare you for the beauty of the moment you arrive.
8. Don’t try to understand this now, but life is exceedingly fair.
9. Your pets are as crazy, brilliant and loving, here, as they were there.
10. Life really is all about love, but not just loving those who love you…

They also wanted you to know that they really do show up as orbs in some of your photos,  but so does water. Quite a talkative bunch.

Interesting to consider.Tattoo-Love-Life-For-Eternity


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But I’m Really Worried About You

Those were the words a very earnest and polite 14-year-old said to me. I was living in Nashville, the Buckle of the Bible Belt.  I had been sitting in the hallway of the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University where Sam was in rehearsal for the Nashville Boy Choir. It was a marvelous choir experience.  The director, Hazel Summerfield, had an amazing way with the boys, ranging in age from 8-years-old to voice change.

She had formed another group called the Young Men’s Choir for those adolescent boys who were going through those awkward singing years. That is how I overheard a conversation between two of the 14-year-olds, waiting for their rehearsal to begin when the younger boys finished.

They were in discussion about the Reformation. (I was a bit surprised 14-year-olds knew about that, but then realized my own awareness of it came later. It had not been part of my Jewish education.)  What really caught my attention was when one boy said to the other “And what is a real shame is they don’t even know they are not really Christian!”Christian-Car

The other guy immediately told him that his reasoning was limited (I’m giving you the cleaned up version of what he actually said) and after chiding myself to be careful, I gently asked the speaker to explain. He said that the ONLY people who were true Christians were members of his church. After further questioning I determined there were about 50 members of that church’s congregation.  When I suggested it was a bit egocentric to think only those 50 people out of the billions on earth who worship a High Power were the right ones, he said they were, and he was particularly worried about me.Worldwide_percentage_of_Adherents_by_Religion

It reminded me of another conversation I had had with a man who was second in charge of a place I worked, again in Nashville. (That place was a challenged environment because of the management and I refer to it as the “Hell Hole of Vanderbilt” which is the nicest way I can describe the experience.)  The work day was structured so that everyone ate lunch at the same time  except for me, as I was needed to cover the phones. They ate in a room right behind my desk and I could overhear the conversation. Once this boss said something that made the table go silent. He said his church was the only one in Nashville where the members where Christian because the name of the church was the “Christian Church.” Other churches are Baptist or Methodist or whatever and their members are not Christian.  No one said anything to him, shocked.

One day that man came into work looking exhausted. His wife had recently given birth to their second child so I asked if the baby had kept him up. No, he said, it was something church related that was bothering him. It seemed, he was slow at first to tell me but then eager to get it off his chest, that there were several members of his congregation who had been active and they had come forward when the news came out that new Sunday School staff was needed. He just was not sure they were right for the job.

He was a bit slow to admit to me that his concerns were because the people who offered to help were gay. I asked him what the issue was. His answer was simply “You know.”  I didn’t let him off the hook. “No, I said, I don’t know your church. What is your concern?” He was afraid they would teach the “wrong” things. I asked if the church had a Sunday School curriculum. Yes. I asked if it involved getting naked and touching each other. Of course not! So?  He walked into his office and shut the door.bigotry-sign

But it wasn’t over yet. About a week later he came into work once again  dragging his tail. Once again I asked if the baby had kept him awake and once again he said no, it was still the “other thing”.  I didn’t have to say anything; merely raised my eyebrows.

He said he and his wife were in bed, the lights were out and she was already asleep. He was just drifting off when he heard a voice, very clearly. “Love your brother!” He sat up, very much awake and heart pounding. The voice came again “Love your brother!”

That was it. No other communication. It took him hours to fall back to sleep.

I asked him what he thought it meant and he said “I don’t know.”

I asked him if he was an idiot.  He slammed his office door again.love your neighbor

What is clear to me with both the adolescent and this middle aged guy is that the fundamentalist church has such a narrow definition of love and acceptance that they would rather cut themselves off from mankind then realize we are all one family of God.

They are highly incensed that the fundamentalists in the Muslim world are killing others who don’t believe the way they do. They do not want to admit their church history includes the Crusades, the Inquisition and more, each time resulting in many many murders where people did not accept their practice.

Seriously, people, this can’t be healthy. Hating in the name of love is sick. Killing in the name of God is sick.

Denying that there are other ways to reaching the Spirit does not make it not real. So many pathways. Some are healthier than others. Some are way healthier than the narrow fundamentalist way.UFO rel;igion

 

 


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Happy New Year

Ah….you think I’m a bit early. Others are counting down the shopping days left before Christmas (I know YOU don’t get thinking  about it until December 20) and here I am saying Happy New Year. What gives?

Well, it’s one of those religious things. This evening started the Jewish year  5775. Rosh Hashana translates to “head of the year” and it begins the ten days of awe. This is a solemn and serious time.  It is a chance for introspection and self analysis. It is the time to think through the events and choices of the past year, to think through the results of your decisions….or lack of them.

It is also the time to get right, not only with the Lord, but with the people in your life. You know, the ones you hurt either by doing or saying something that was unwise or chosen for dumb reasons, and the ones you hurt by NOT saying something wise or not doing something helpful.introspection-9682

It is, essentially, time for confession. A time for penitence. Only then can you have absolution.  Or not. See, in the practice of the Jewish faith ACTS are more important than words.  Especially empty words read because they are in a prayer book but read without your heart involved.

I used to tease my nonJewish friends I would share a secret with them, and I’ll do that right now with you.  It is traditional to think that on this day God opens the Book of Life. In this monster book are pages and pages and pages, one for each person now or ever living.  On YOUR page are written all your hopes and dreams, all your deeds (good and bad) and God’s plan for you.book of life

These next ten days, until Yom Kippur ends with the first star on the night of October 4, each of us can petition God to inscribe in the Book a good plan for the coming year. But you have to earn it. These ten days gives you time to put some thought into who you have been and who you want to be. To think about about your relationships with people, both dear and near, and the ones you pass everyday in your life without knowing their names. To honor that there is a Higher Power, something much bigger than you.

tashlikTomorrow afternoon there is  traditionally an action called Tashlik.  It is the ritualistic and symbolic action of casting off sins.  Traditionally done at a moving body of water, bread is ripped into small pieces, each symbolizing a sin or problem in the past year. The bread is then thrown on to the waters to flow out to the sea or, more realistically, to be eaten by the fish and ducks.   I was not brought up very religious so I can not tell you the prayers and what they mean. I can just tell you that if you think through this past year, and go through it slowly, truly thinking of the things you know did not work well and what your role was in causing that to turn out that way, you will be well on your way to a better year next year.

L’shanah Tova…..and may you be inscribed for a good year!

 


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Fundamentalism is a Problem

Every religion has its super conservative side. The group believes strongly that THIS IS THE WORD OF GOD, WRITTEN BY GOD, AND MUST BE FOLLOWED EXACTLY.  My religion has people who feel this way and so does yours.word of God

Every religion has its super conservative side.   This group denies that others who practice the same religion are members of that religion BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT FOLLOWING THE RULES RIGHT.  My religion has people who feel this way and so does yours.funda2

Every religion has its super conservative side.  Other members of the religion often explain to outsiders that that fundamentalist group is not really an indication of the religion.  My religion has people who feel this way and so does yours.

Every religion has its super conservative side.  Including yours.

If you believe yours is the only right way to God, you may be a fundamentalist.funda4

If you believe that others are doomed to Hell, even if their religion does not have that belief, you may be a fundamentalist.

If you believe that this country needs to put God in every governmental agency and activity, you may be a fundamentalist. And if you think it is the atheists that are the ones who are uncomfortable, you are apparently forgetting there are other religions, so you may be a fundamentalist.Separation1.002

Every religion has its super conservative side. They don’t want anything to be different, ever.  They don’t want anyone to believe differently, ever.

Every religion has its super conservative side. They think women are not as important as men. They think women distract them so want their attire to cover up. They do not accept any responsibility for controlling their hormones. They want to control the women though.Israel Enforcing Modesty

Every religion has killed people for not believing their way. Even yours.  My religion has done this, claiming it is their God-give right and so has yours.

So tell me why you are so horrified that ISIS is acting the way they are?  They are just following the model our religions established.  If it was okay for you, why not them?

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Truly, it is horrific behavior meant to tyrannize us. No question about it. It was tyranny each time in history any religion killed people who did not believe their way. I do not condone it. I just want you to understand there are people in this country who are not Muslims who feel this way also. You probably know one or two.


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I Hate You I Want You Dead

This morning, as I scan my Facebook feed I see so much hate.

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Watching the news videos of the situation in Ferguson, Missouri reminded me of the riots following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in 1968. Not much has seemed to change for people who feel powerless. And now the police are armed with military surplus, the better to control this kind of protest. Has there been unlawful behavior? Yes. Has there been inappropriate response by the police for peaceful activity? Yes. Is there something very fishy about the the issue that caused all this protest? Oh yes. And until the police come forward with the truth, there will be continued anger that will be displayed in a way that will cause additional turmoil.

Posted_Japanese_American_Exclusion_OrderThen I read an essay declaring that all Islam is evil and the writer will be boycotting all businesses owned by any Muslim and will be encouraging all others to do the same. While I am horrified by the ISIS activity and am angry about the way Islamic street protests in Europe and the US have targeted synagogues and churches, I am also deeply concerned by this kind of one-size-fits-all declaration of hate. It is the same emotion that hated all Native Americans and worked to kill them and then drive them to reservations, the same emotion that rounded up American-born citizens of Japanese heritage and put them in detention centers during WWII, it is the same emotion that restricted Jews from admission to universities and country clubs, it is the same emotion that holds Latinos and African Americans and all poor people as undeserving of equal opportunity.

mental-health1

While Robin Williams’ death caused most people to realize we just can’t really understand the depth of despair that drives someone to suicide and we need to help people with emotional illness more, some people have attacked his daughter’s Twitter account with hateful words. While I personally, even in very stressful times, seem to be able to believe in my pathway through it all into a calmer place, I understand not everyone has that level of certainty. Why add to the turmoil?  What gives you the right to make someone who is already in pain feel worse? 

So much hate. So much “mine is the only right way” attitude. That is not be a way to healing. That is the way to more divisiveness.

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I have a COEXIST bumper sticker….have had it for years. While not all people are deserving of a hand in friendship, most people respond well to an attitude of acceptance and tolerance. I welcome hearing your views, but can really only listen best if the strong emotions you may feel are explained calmly. If you feel strongly that your way of thinking about something is correct and want to convince others, present it in logical steps so others can understand your rationale. You may not get any more believers but you will have communicated, not just ranted.

And stop choosing to hate…..we all have much more in common than the minor differences that seem to be more apparent. Look for those commonalities to rediscover your own humanity. And, really, in a world where so much is beyond our individual control, the ONLY thing you have 100% control over is your attitude.  And realize, if you choose the path of hate and support restricting civil rights to others here in the US, you are on the pathway to a kind of right wing totalitarian society, similar to what allowed Hitler to grow in power. Is that what you truly want? your ACTIONS show YOUR choice.attitude wordle


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Hindu Temple Visit

An optional tour one evening in Jaipur, enjoyed by about half the SmarTours group, was to the Birla Hindu temple built a few years ago by a well-to-d0 family.nancyb Designed to show how Hinduism encompasses both Islam and Buddhism with their symbolic rooflines, the white marble structure is surrounded with a white plaza. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi, Arvind told us the ceremony we would witness takes place after sundown.DSCF6463 It usually takes about 10 minutes and includes a chant that is repeated several times. Arvind did warn us that the chanting could go on for a half hour or even longer, but it was a short ceremony after all.

He told us that symbolically he leaves his troubles outside on the steps leading up to the entrance, to be picked up again upon exiting. He told us that the chanting makes him feel very calm.

Arvind made sure we were positioned at the very front of the open room. People filed in behind us and what happened next was interesting.  As soon as the curtains opened and the ceremony began, the crowd pushed forward, as if eager to be as close as possible.

source: Lisa Garmat after the ceremony and people left the temple, from outside

source: Lisa Garmat after the ceremony and people left the temple, from outside

The ceremony actually began when the curtains were still closed. The priests sounded a conch shell, and the tones reminded my of the shofar blown in a Jewish Temple at the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipur. The curtains opened and before us were two statutes of Vishnu and Lakshmi, beautifully dressed in bright colors. The chanting began, one priest ringing some bells, as done in the Episcopal mass to draw attention to an important  prayer, and the other priest slowly making a circular motion with a candelabra. Candles are lit in Christianity and Judaism as well.

In a few minutes, the chanting ended, the curtains remained open. The crowd circled around behind the curtained area to receive a blessing from the priests in the form of a spicy sweet mixture to eat, one more symbolic similarity to Christianity.nancya

Once again, we are more alike than different. Love one another.


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Holy Cow! Well, Maybe Revered would Be a Better Word

source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

With respect for all life a central theme in Hindusim, the cow has achieved a special status in Indian society.  The beginnings of this practice is not clear but generally, with cows providing milk that nurtures, they are known as “the mother of civilization.”  DSCF6296

Even in days when sacrifices to the gods included oxen and bulls, lactating cows were always protected. Now, the role of the cow providing, milk, butter and dung for fires continues to maintain the taboo of harming the animals. Arvind described how the cow patties are collected early each morning and combined with straw to be shaped for fuel.  We saw stacks drying as we drove from Agra to Jaipur.DSCF6300

Cows that wander in large cities are typically past the ability to give milk and have been abandoned.  They spread trash by foraging for food

source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

and cause significant snarls with traffic.traffic

Efforts are being made to move stray cows from the streets of Delhi into more suburban or rural locations, but their presence was almost  everywhere on our trip.


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What’s Your Karma?

Over the eons that man has been on the earth, there always has been some craving for making sense of the wonderment that is the earth,  all it offers, and our own role on it.  There are so, so many interpretations of a Higher Power, by whatever name. My own sense of questioning came early but it probably developed more in the time I have been married to Graham, attending church with him.  In listening to the Christian interpretation of God, in participating in numerous book and study groups, I can see there is more in common than different. What fools we mortals be, fighting over the “right” way.religious-symbols_2

Visiting India brought me a closer view of several Eastern religions than ever before (and also learn not to react to the immediate gut reaction to the swastika.) Since Karma is a huge part of both Hindusim and Buddishm, I will try to give you a very very cursory explanation. I brought home books on Buddhism and Hinduism that were recommended by two of the guides and am learning a lot.  I’ll describe our visit to a Hindu Temple in another post and how I recognized some symbols in common with Christianity and Judaism.

Identified as one of the world’s oldest religions, Hinduism was developing in India about the same time as we estimate Abraham was knocking over the idols and developing the concept of monotheism that later developed into Judaism and off-shot Christianity and Islam.  So, it is similar in that it predates written records and the beliefs have only been codified thousands of years after development of an ethical system.

The main concept of Hindusim is that our beliefs determine our thoughts and attitudes about life, which in turn direct our actions. By our actions, we create our destiny.  

It is reasonable to enjoy life and all it offers. There is clear evidence in the development of the Kama Sutra that Hindus have no sexual hangups, but recognize that sex is part of life. Arvind shared that in the early adult years it is encouraged to build a good life, providing well for your family.

This phase changes once the children are married and then it is time to prepare for the spiritual part of life. All the actions done up to this point and through the remainder of this lifetime will determine how the soul will be reborn in the next lifetime.

Hinduism is not the only religion that believes in rebirth of the soul.  Although some religions do not adhere to this simple outlook, most faiths ask us to believe that we are more than mortal flesh and blood. If you are religious, you believe profoundly that your soul connects you to God.  You also have some concept that the struggle of the soul, whether it is cast down and troubled or joyous and raised in triumph, is the life of spirit. And it seems to me that in Christianity, there is hope that if your life here has been troubled, that there is a spiritual reward awaiting you.

I’ve always casually considered karma to simply be payback, what goes around comes around. A person who does bad things will eventually have bad things happen to them.  In Hinduism karma is a Sanskrit word that means “deeds”.  Your deeds in this lifetime may not have a result in this lifetime, but it may accrue and not be until the next lifetime that your karma plays out. You may, if you are truly bad, come back as a lower lifeform, and have little chance of ever evolving into a higher lifeform in future lives.4743690099_karma_xlarge

The purpose of life in Hinduism is to minimize bad karma in order to enjoy better fortune in this life and achieve a better rebirth in the next. The ultimate spiritual goal is to achieve release (moksha) from the cycle of samsara altogether. It may take hundreds or thousands of rebirths to get rid of all of one’s accumulated karma and achieve moksha. The person who has become liberated (attained moksha) creates no more new karma during the present lifetime and is not reborn after death.

There is no proof for karma and this cycle of rebirth. There is also no proof against it. Same can be said for any religious belief, even yours. We tend to go on faith, all of us. Be find….work on YOUR karma.