Friday, December 19, 2008

Life is What Happens...

It's only been since my daughter Alex was born that I really began realizing that I needed to pay more attention to the passage of life.

I embarrassingly admit that during my 20's I was a self absorbed idiot. I had children in my 20's. Self absorption and parenting do not mesh well.
In my early 30's I was fighting my way out of a bad marriage. With shame I admit that there are spaces of time during the period of my divorce where I have no recall at all of what my children were doing.

When Eric and I decided to have Alex, I had already experienced for a few years, a happy and solid relationship and stability for the first time in my life. I seemed to "grow up" immensely in a very short time.

When Alex came along, I had matured enough and gained just enough wisdom to realize that this was my last shot. I was getting a beautiful opportunity to finally pay attention.

I've stayed home with Alex for four years now and although it is a difficult thing at times to be a constant companion to a toddler, it is also the most wonderful thing in the world. I relish the moments with her, realizing that each moment that passes is a moment I won't get back. I cherish this opportunity to be present and aware as a parent.
Sometimes I look at my three older children and wonder who they are. Of course, I know they're my children, but I feel that I missed out on so much of their lives. It's horrible, I know.

So fact the majority of my life that was spent raising my older children was also spent in a raging war of a relationship. I was constantly upset, there was always fighting and I spent so much precious time trying everything in my power to make someone love me who wasn't capable of love. I spent thousands of hours trying to keep a marriage from falling apart that
should have never been together in the first place. And in the meantime, my children grew.

Now I look at them and wonder. I wonder at how they survived me.

My fifteen year old son gave flowers to a girl for the first time today. He spent his own money and carried them to school in a vase for her. I drove him to the store and waited in the car while he went in to buy them. Sitting in the car, I had a lump in my throat.

This boy also bought a big Hershey's Kiss and put it in a gift bag and then filled the rest of the bag with caramel Hershey's Kisses because his girl had said that caramel Kisses were her favorite.

My son listened to his girlfriend and then bought her a gift he knew she'd like. Then he went the extra mile and threw in some roses.

How did this dopey little boy that used to wear bowls on his head, turn into this young man who listens to girls and makes grand gestures?

I am a schmo for not having paid more attention to how he arrived here.

My attempt at redemption is to try with all my heart to pay attention now. I'm not a great emotional communicator and it has always been difficult for me to be overtly gushy. But I'm trying really hard to be much better about showing them I love them and about spending more time paying attention to the daily stuff their lives are made of.

My kids and I talk and we laugh. I think Ben thinks I'm a little goofy and Abby finds me downright embarrassing. Charli knows I love her but we still seem to struggle a little. She unfortunately had the longest exposure to the toxic waste that was my marriage to her father. I suffer much guilt when I see her struggle emotionally over things.

Alex...well...Alex is the product of a terribly happy healthy relationship. She tells me she loves me a hundred times a day. She reads my emotions and knows how to respond. She remembers everything I tell her and we tell and re-tell the story of her birthday to each other all of the time. She tells me happily that "daddy cried because he was SOOOOO happy!"

I vow to myself and to all of my children that the rest of my life as their mother will be spent paying attention. The people I love the most are the music of my life. Everything else is just background noise.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Making the Case for "Happy Holidays"

Because you will dismiss me immediately if I simply offer up that the best reason for keeping “Christ” out of Christmas is because the story of Christ is a fabricated tale related to the world in an over-translated book which contains so many contradictions and conflicting stories that it has yet to be completely deciphered or made sense of by any human being to the point of being agreed upon by anyone, let’s take that off the table and get down to the empirical evidence.

If Christ actually existed, his actual date of birth is not known. According to the description in the Bible (and one would think that the birth date of the Savior of the World might be an important one) most historians believe that his birth probably occurred in September, approximately six months after Passover. Almost all historians agree on is that it is very unlikely that Jesus was born in December, since the Bible states that the shepherds tended their sheep in the fields on that night. This is quite unlikely to have happened during a cold Judean winter. So, then…why is “Christ”mas on December 25th?

The answer is pagan in origin. (Whoopee!) In ancient Babylon, the feast of the Son of Isis (Goddess of Nature) was celebrated on December 25th. Rowdy partying, gluttonous eating and drinking and the exchanging of gifts were traditions of this feast. (Sound familiar?)

In Rome, the Winter Solstice was celebrated years before the supposed birth of Christ. The Romans called their winter holiday Saturnalia, honoring Saturn, the God of Agriculture. In January, they observed the Kalends of January, which represented the triumph of life over death. This whole season was called Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. The festival season included much merrymaking. It is in ancient Rome that the tradition of the Mummers was born. The Mummers were groups of costumed singers and dancers who traveled from neighbor’s house to neighbor’s house singing and entertaining their neighbors. From this, the Christmas tradition of caroling was born. (Hmmm….yet many church groups get together and do this today. Infidels! Heretics!)

In northern Europe, several other traditions that are now considered part of Christian worship began long before the participants had ever heard of Christ. The pagans of northern Europe celebrated their own Winter Solstice, known as Yule. Yule was symbolic of the pagan Sun God, Mithras, being born and was observed on the shortest day of the year. As the Sun God grew and matured, the days became longer and warmer. It was customary to light a candle to encourage Mithras, and the sun, to reappear next year. (Somehow Christians turned Yule into a log covered in chocolate frosting. Weird.)

Huge Yule logs were burned in honor of the sun. The word Yule itself means “wheel,” the wheel being a pagan symbol for the sun. The Mistletoe was considered a sacred plant and the custom of kissing under the mistletoe began as a fertility ritual. Hollyberries were thought to be a food of the gods. (Mistletoe and holly…any of this ringing any silver bells in your head?)

The tree is the one symbol that unites almost all the northern European winter solstices. Live evergreen trees were often brought into homes during the harsh winters as a reminder to inhabitants that soon their crops would grow again. Evergreen boughs were sometimes carried as totems of good luck and were often present at weddings, representing fertility. The Druids used the tree as a religious symbol, holding their sacred ceremonies while surrounding and worshipping huge trees.

In 350, Pope Julius I declared that Christ’s birth would be celebrated on December 25th. There is little doubt that he was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans (who remained a majority at that time) to convert to Christianity. The new religion went down a bit easier, knowing that their feasts would not be taken away from them.

Christmas (Christ-Mass) as we know it today, most historians agree, began in Germany, though Catholics and Lutherans still disagree about which church celebrated it first. The earliest record of an evergreen being decorated in a Christian celebration was in 1521 in the Alsace region of Germany. A prominent Lutheran minister of the day cried blasphemy: “Better that they should look to the true tree of life, Christ.” So, one of the very core symbols of the Christianized (yes…I just made that a word) version of Christmas was originally thought of as being blasphemous.

I checked out a few Christian websites to find out what they tout as being the origins of this holiday. Most acknowledged in some part its pagan origins, but glossed over that unimportant part of history and stated things like this: “For today's Christian, the origin of Christmas is, and should be, the birth of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Bible. Nothing more and nothing less.”
Ah. “Today’s Christian”. So let’s wipe out history and start over to accommodate today’s Christians. Sounds right.

The author of one Christian website actually had the nerve to write this: “The Christmas holiday we celebrate today is indicative of Christianity's willingness to absorb the world's customs and traditions, and forget its simple roots in the historical reality of Jesus Christ. Christmas should be nothing more than a simple, yet wonderful reminder of Christ's humble beginning as a human child in this world.”

Oh. So, you wonderful souls are so flexible and accommodating that you willingly absorbed the world’s existing traditions, twisted them into your own fairytale, called them your own and then insisted that it is your holiday and that those who dare try take the “Christ” out of Christmas seek to destroy the spiritual foundation of Christianity.

Christian, please.

This wasn’t your holiday to begin with. You shamelessly stole it and now you try to hold the very people you stole it from (“pagans”), hostage by claiming we are trying to take from you something that was never yours in the first place.

Get off our backs and let us eat, drink and be merry and celebrate this holiday however we see fit. Mine is going to be celebrated with a few presents, some killer homemade Mexican food and some frozen margaritas. I may even walk around with some mistletoe sticking out of my bra. Who knows? We’ll see how the day goes.

One thing you can be sure of though. If I see you, I’ll certainly be wishing you the very happiest of holidays.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Creed of Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899)

I am not alone. I haven't been for quite some time. This makes me happy.

"To love justice, to long for the right, to love mercy, to pity the suffering, to assist the weak,

to forget wrongs and remember benefits -- to love the truth, to be sincere, to utter honest words, to love liberty, to wage relentless war against slavery in all its forms, to love wife and child and friend, to make a happy home, to love the beautiful in art, in nature,

to cultivate the mind, to be familiar with the mighty thoughts that genius has expressed,

the noble deeds of all the world, to cultivate courage and cheerfulness, to make others happy,

to fill life with the splendor of generous acts, the warmth of loving words, to discard error,

to destroy prejudice, to receive new truths with gladness, to cultivate hope, to see the calm beyond the storm, the dawn beyond the night, to do the best that can be done and then

to be resigned -- this is the religion of reason, the creed of science.

This satisfies the heart and brain."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Broken Compass, Part I

Someone questioned my husband yesterday about his religious beliefs. Then they questioned him about mine.

Eric identifies himself as Agnostic and seems to have no real clear-cut reasons or rationale for his choice not to attach himself to a religious sect. From what I gather from our conversations, his main reason for declaring himself Agnostic is that he just cannot accept that any one religious sect can be “right”. It’s far too exclusionary for him. He continues to abide by the “live and let live” policy when dealing with religion.

When Eric related to me what he told the person who inquired as to my religious beliefs, I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t there to answer for myself. I identify myself as an Atheist. I, however, have very clear-cut and specific reasons why I identify myself as such. I’m not concerned in the least that religion is exclusionary. My problem with it is that it is dangerous and that the more people who willingly and unquestionably follow prophets, popes, evangelists, etc. the greater the danger our world faces.

The person who questioned Eric asked him something that I’ve been asked before and it makes me laugh each time the question is posed: “If you don’t go to church or subscribe to any faith, what moral guide do you have by which to teach your children?”

Many people, especially “Christians”, believe they somehow have the corner market on morality or “values” because of their religious beliefs. I say with no reservation whatsoever that those people are full of shit.

Quite the opposite is true. I have read the Bible…Old & New Testament. They are in no way compasses for behavior that we today would consider “moral”. Sure, in the New Testament, Jesus attempts to throw out his father’s wrath & vengeance laced exhortations by teaching a doctrine of love and tolerance. But, take a closer look.

At several points in the New Testament, Jesus endorses the law of the Old Testament in its entirety: “For truly, I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:18-20

The apostles go right along with this sentiment. (For one example, Timothy 3:16-17) Sure, the “Golden Rule” is a lovely moral precept, but incredibly unoriginal. Long before the supposed time of Jesus, texts related almost identical teachings of Buddha, Confucius, Epictetus, Zoroaster, etc. (Many of them much more eloquent in espousing the importance of unconditional and self-transcending love…and without all of obscene violence found throughout the Bible.)

So, we’ve lightly touched upon the fact that God and Jesus are in agreement…Jesus just had a bit more of a tender touch. Now…about using their words as a guide for “values” and “morality”…

I have had Christians tell me that the Inquisition was a perversion of the “true” spirit of Christianity. Hmmm. Really? Maybe those people who joyously burned heretics alive for five centuries just couldn’t muddle through and get a clear reading of the self-contradictory teachings of the Bible. (One might rationally think that the one and only word of God would be clear enough to leave little room for interpretation. After all, one’s fate in the hereafter depends upon one’s obedience to its doctrine, no?)

I, like many people, have at least a certain amount of respect and admiration for the words and teachings of people like Martin Luther King, Jr. (A Christian) Many Christians hold him up as an example of the “goodness” their religion inspires. Interestingly, Martin Luther King, Jr. acquired his passion for non-violent protest from reading the writings of Mohandas K. Gandhi. (A Hindu) He even traveled to India in the 1950’s to learn the principles of non-violent protest from the disciples of Gandhi. So Hinduism (some would even, probably rightly, credit Jainism) was the “moral” compass by which the great Christian MLKJ led his followers. Had he used the Bible as his guideline for loving his neighbor, things might have been different: “God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…” – 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9

Whoa. Repaying “with affliction those who afflict you” is not the moral code by which I teach MY children.

I’m currently reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln. As I mentioned previously in one of my blogs, I find it so interesting that the people of that time were very much the same as the people today. The issues are different now, but people’s beliefs and responses remain the same.
In the mid to late 1800’s, an internal war within the United States raged over the issue of slavery. Many Northern states either wanted to abolish it completely or at minimum, pass laws to keep it from ever moving beyond the Southern states, hoping that it would naturally come to an end on its own at some point. The Southerners who had kept slaves for years, believed it was not only Constitutional (even though the Constitution never directly addressed slavery) to own slaves, but that it was their God given right to own them. They used the Bible to support their beliefs. “As for your male and female slaves whom you may have; you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and your families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession forever; you may make slaves of them, but over your brethren the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another, with harshness.” – Leviticus 25:44-46

Quite clearly, the Almighty Creator of the Universe expects us to keep slaves, right? In Exodus, he does clarify that we are not to beat our slaves so severely that we injure their teeth or eyes. (Exodus 21)

Had Abraham Lincoln used the Bible as his moral compass in forming social policy, who knows how long slavery would have continued? As it was, the evil that was slavery had to be killed with the point of a bayonet right alongside many a “good” Christian.

Lincoln recognized the fact that slaves were human beings like himself and that they were entitled to the Constitutional rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He understood that it was morally wrong, evil in fact, to buy and sell human beings as property, and he did not need the Bible to know it was so.

Had the Bible been the only guide used in answering that question, slavery would still exist today. “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ…” – Ephesians 6:5

And just to clarify, there is no place in the New Testament where Jesus refutes the practice of slavery.

Even many Christians who don’t agree that the Bible is to be translated literally and who believe that the stories contained within its covers should be viewed as examples or parables or whatever, typically abide by the belief that the Ten Commandments alone establish a sound moral code.

Okie dokie. Let’s look at that.

The first four commandments have nothing at all to do with providing a moral code of any sort. They merely forbid any practice of non-Judeo-Christian faith, most religious art, the uttering of phrases like, “goddammit”, and all work done on Sunday. All of these are forbidden and the penalty for doing them is death. (By the way, the Bible appears not to offer any flexibility on the obedience to the Commandments, nor the penalties for disobedience.)

Five through nine do address morality, but all of these, honoring your parents, murder, adultery, theft, lying…are found in almost every culture, religion and religious text since the beginning of recorded history. The Bible certainly didn’t offer up anything new with these concepts. Scientists have proven that “moral” emotions like repulsion to murder or cruelty precede any exposure to religious texts. Our ape cousins are more attached to their own family members and tend to be intolerant of murder and thievery. Chimpanzees demonstrate the disdain for deception and sexual betrayal. To the best of my knowledge, none of them have read the Bible.

Then there is commandment ten. The coveting of a man’s servants and livestock, etc. This is really important to chisel into stone?

To credit the Jains once again, they summed up morality and far outdid the Bible’s Ten Commandments in one sentence: “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture or kill any creature or living being.” Can you imagine what our world would be like today if this were the main concept by which the masses of Christians lived their lives?! Christians around the world and throughout history have been abusing, enslaving, tormenting, oppressing, torturing and killing in the name of God. All of those acts are prohibited by the principles of Jainism. How then could you make a claim that the Bible offers the clearest moral guideline known to the world? (As if the acts of violence condoned in the Bible don’t spell that out enough for you.)

I know that you Christians have quick and ready answers and bookmarked pages in your Bibles that will directly contradict what I am saying. In doing so, you help prove my point. If two or ten or twenty or two hundred people can pick up the same book and find scriptures to support their side of a cause, then what kind of moral compass is the Bible? The same Bible that preaches loving thy neighbor also talks about an eye for an eye. The same Bible that condemns lying with another man condones selling one’s daughter into sexual slavery. I can go on and on, ad nauseam, quoting scriptures that directly contradict each other. Then of course, there are the hundreds of scriptures that condone animal sacrifice, murder, and so on.

If you believe the Bible, so be it. If you believe that your translation is the only correct one, you’re an egomaniac with a God complex. If you believe the Bible is to be taken literally, you’re a danger to yourself and others. If you believe that you can cherry pick which scriptures apply to you and which ones don’t, you’re delusional.

Please refrain from questioning me as to how I can possibly raise my children without a “moral” guide such as religion. Religion as a “moral” compass is complete rubbish. So many people who have met my children tell me how well behaved, kind and helpful they are. Strangers in restaurants have stopped me to tell me how polite and well mannered they are. Wow. Children who have been raised without the “benefit” of a “moral” compass, the children of a confirmed Atheist.
A compass with no true North, is no compass at all.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Another Reason to Hate Christmas

I set up the freakin’ Christmas tree on Tuesday night. By myself.

This year since we have a big ‘ol wood burning fireplace (nice feature for a house in a state that never gets snow) I thought I’d jazz it up with my Santa and some evergreen boughs and some little white lights. So I went to the box to retrieve the little white lights. I opened it and nearly passed out.

Every year when it’s time to take the lights down, I take a square of cardboard and tape one end of the light strand to the cardboard. Then I very neatly wind the strand around the cardboard and when the strand is completely wound, I tuck the plug into the wires to store them for next year.

Last year right before Christmas, I was in a car wreck. Right before said wreck, I had helped my husband unpack all of the lights to string in the tree in our front yard. I neatly laid them out on the lawn, changing out burned out bulbs, and testing each strand. I walked around and around the tree holding the lights while he stood on a ladder and wound the tree. It went fantastically well as the lights had been kept so nice and tidy.

After my wreck, I was heavily medicated for a couple of months. I have at best, a sketchy memory of Christmas and its goings on. I have NO memory of the lights coming out of the tree. Apparently, I was not involved in this task because I discovered those lights on Tuesday when I opened the box they’d been stored in since last year.

The lights had been rolled up into a coil like you would wind up an extension cord. You know…using your hand and your elbow so you could make a loop. This method is not a good one for little white Christmas lights. One must wrap each strand separately, ensuring that the wires do not get tangled. Ergo, the cardboard squares.

Upon finding this massive rolled up mess of lights, I very calmly walked into the house and inquired of my dear husband as to why the lights were stored in such a fashion.
His rather terse response was that he didn’t remember and that he must have been busy. Then he asked in an even more terse voice, “What do you want from me?!”

Oh my freaking hell. I want you to use the goddamn cardboard squares!!

I sat in front of him on the floor and spent the next fifteen minutes unsnarling a strand of lights from the green wiry mass. Then I went and lit up stupid Santa and the stupid evergreen boughs and made the stupid fireplace look like a stupid winter wonderland.

I’m throwing away the rest of the lights and buying new ones the day after Christmas when they go on sale for a dollar a box. And so help him, if my husband ever puts away the lights like that again, he’ll have to be heavily medicated for a couple of months.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The End is Near

The election is over (hallelujah!) and I’m in some sort of end of the year-post election-can’t believe another year is almost over, sort of brain funk.

To top it off, it’s Christmas and well, bah humbug. If you’ve been reading my blogs for long, you know how I feel about Christmas. It makes me yearn for a vodka I.V. for about 25 straight days.

Although the economic crisis hasn’t directly affected our daily pocketbook, it certainly has affected us. Our retirement account has been slashed in half and certain things in our life have changed or been postponed indefinitely because of it. I’m bummed to say the least. We know many people who have either lost their jobs, can’t find a job, are having their homes foreclosed on, etc. Again, those of you who know me also know that I’m not about watching my fellow man suffer. I hurt for them and although I feel very fortunate that my family seems to be doing economically okay, I feel a shade of blue for those who are worse off than we are.

With each passing year, the clock seems to be ticking louder and louder and faster and faster. It’s letting me know that my youth is over and that the time for screwing off is over. My children are growing up, my hair is turning gray and certain music is beginning to sound really really loud. Damn it all to hell.

I still haven’t mastered the ability to only read one thing at once. I’m currently reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln titled With Malice Toward None and State of Denial by Bob Woodward. In between those, I’m reading the Newsweeks and Time magazines that show up in my mailbox as well as my daily hour or so of Internet news. It’s information overload. However, ask me the real difference between the Sunni’s, the Shiites, the Kurds….go ahead. I can’t tell you. My mind is a sieve. I can tell you useless information by the ass load but I can’t seem to hold on to the things I WANT to hold on to. It’s a bitch. It really is.

Okay…so there are some the reasons I’m in the dumper. Now on to some reasons I’m feeling a bit more positive.

Thanksgiving is over! I single-handedly (minus one casserole…thanks, Karie!) cooked Thanksgiving dinner for 24 people. I have two burns on my arms (that are starting to scab over nicely, thank you) to show for it. As I produced giant bowls full of potatoes, creamed corn, green beans, cranberries and giant pans full of hot rolls, visions of serving at a homeless shelter flashed through my mind. Body after body lining up to fill a plate. I think I took about five minutes to eat and then started the cleaning process. I think everyone enjoyed the meal although Eric was kind enough to say that he hated the gravy (maybe the teetotaler in him tasted the Southern Comfort in it?!) Anyway,…I consider it a success because I survived. It only took four vodka and lemonades, but I did it!

Eric’s family reunion is over! It took place the two days following Thanksgiving and it completely wore me out. The first night we were up ‘til almost 2 a.m. Cosmic Bowling, and then had to get up at 6:00 a.m. to get ready to head to a park for the second day of activities. Between the bowling on Friday and the football throwing on Saturday, I completely tweaked my bum shoulder. It was popping and snapping and aching like a son of a bitch. I ended up having to medicate for the first time in a few weeks. Anyway, I digress. The reunion is over. I think most everyone was happy except those who will never be happy about anything, so I consider it a success. Everyone is out of my house and it is clean again, so I am happy. Isn’t that the most important thing after all?!

I quizzed Eric last night. I asked him if he had ever reached a point in our relationship where he had begun to plot my death. He replied in the negative and I responded likewise. So far, the worst I’ve done is stick my tongue out a few times behind his back. This is good! In my previous life, I had the perfect murder all worked out. I was working on exactly how to get my hands on a wood chipper when I finally realized that a divorce attorney might even be a better solution to my problem. As this year comes to a close, I am feeling a deep gratitude that I had the good sense to let Eric into my life. He is my hero and I relish the thought of spending the rest of our days together. No wood chippers or divorce attorneys required, thank you.

In general, I’m just grateful to be alive and kicking. It’s been a year since my car crash and I still have little tiny internal panic attacks in the car sometimes, but overall I’m doing great. I don’t know if I’ll ever have full use of my arm…my surgeon said he hoped for 85%, but it works well enough to get most of what I need done. And sure, my hip will never run a marathon, but who in the hell wants to do that anyway?! As long as I can still bust a move to some good 80’s dance mix, I’ll be just fine.

I have tons and tons to be grateful for and I lose sight of those things sometimes. How very UNgrateful of me. The weight of the world bears down hard sometimes but I forget that that the burden is not mine to carry alone. I need to remember to let my attitude of gratitude be more evident to those around me.

Sounds like a pretty good resolution for the new year. Well, that and losing ten pounds….