Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Are We Still Crucifying Jesus?

Previously published on Associated Content / Yahoo Contributor Network November 5, 2008

His name is intoned from mountaintops, whispered through folded hands in pews of a church. People fall to their knees when they hear his name or raise their arms as they sing his praises in their weekly visits to his father's home.

Follow these people home, however, and you might find some of them abusing their children, spitting at their gay neighbor, stealing from their local grocer, sleeping with a married co-worker, or cheating on their taxes. They don't see a correlation between following Jesus and acting counter to the way Jesus taught us to live. They've discovered that by making excuses to explain their behavior, they can convince themselves to believe their own lies.

I watch them from my window, trying not to pass judgment, trying not to wince in pain. I raise my eyes and see the clouds of deception form question marks in the sky. Does anything make sense to anyone anymore? Sadly, I sometimes see myself reflected in the glass, my perceptions distorted and formed by the people I've loved and trusted, my actions at times contradicting my beliefs.

While I am in no position to defend people who love Jesus but who act in accordance to a belief system that runs counter to the way Jesus taught, I find it difficult to trust things I once believed to be true. I am, after all, one of them. The world as I know it changes every day. My perceptions cloud reality. Reality, I realize, is also deceptive.

Growing up Catholic I was at a vulnerable stage in my development when the Church decided St. Christopher was no longer a saint. Eating meat on Friday - once a sin for Catholics - now became a sin only during Lent. My observations of these events left me confused. I was curious, but because I was reserved and quiet, I never vocalized my concerns - I was too timid, too afraid to speak without fear of looking stupid.

I admired people who stood up for themselves, however, people who were unafraid to voice in public their questions or opinions. One boy I think about from time to time serves as an example of someone who never allowed his questions to die unasked. He was in my sixth grade class and his authoritative demeanor, even at that age, commanded attention. Quite vocal and very inquisitive, he was also the smartest boy in the class.

In a school filled with Catholic students, Bill wanted to know how the world became populated if only Adam and Eve were the origins of us all. Our religion teacher told Bill that it was not up to us to question God. And that's when Bill Fenner stopped time. "I wasn't asking God," he told her, "I was asking you."

I was so impressed with Bill, I don't remember what happened next. My mind stirred and whirled. I came up with hundreds of questions of my own, many of which concerned spirituality, religion, and Jesus Christ.

More than half a century has passed since the day Bill Fenner opened my mind. For more than half a century I have read the words of Jesus repeated in a variety of circumstances. And after all this time, after all this research, I've come to the conclusion that if Jesus were standing before me this minute, he would wonder why we are still driving nails into his outstretched arms and why we are still expecting him to carry the same cross he tried to unburden us from so many centuries ago.

While what I am about to say may sound blasphemous to some people and shocking to others, I will say it anyway: I believe Jesus would be appalled at the way our world praises and honors him today.

I'm not talking about the words people use to describe him or the way they discredit him. I'm talking about the contradictions that abound when they discuss him. I'm talking about priests and other people in positions of authority who use their authority to shred into pieces innocent lives "in the name of God."

I'm talking about countries that construct religious wars to "honor" their God. How did the words, "Holy War," ever appear together in the same sentence? "Holy War" should be an oxymoron.

I think about him often, the man who lived thousands of years ago and thousands of miles away from where I grew up, the man from an ocean and a continent away who grew up in a region of the world where wars are commonplace. This man has mystified and intrigued me - and others like me - my entire life.

Because I believe our spirits live on after we die, I'm sure Jesus Christ is fully aware of what has transpired since his earthly departure. I wonder if he thinks we understand "the way" he showed us or if we are acting counter to "the way."

His message was simple. He was "the way" - he was the how-to-be of all how-to-be's. The WAY he was - was the message he died to deliver. His death signaled that life is only temporary, that what awaits us after this life is an eternity of abundance and love.

I look at "the way" we treat our neighbors and I wonder if Jesus was referring only to lepers or was he perhaps referring to everybody, including people we might consider to be outcasts, when he asked us to treat others the way we want to be treated.

What about atheists and agnostics who are kind, loving people who perform extraordinary acts for people and animals but who either don't believe in God or aren't sure of His existence? How is it that these neighbors are condemned to hell by certain Bible-preaching religious groups?

Gay members of our communities, women, African Americans, the elderly, Jews, Irish, all groups that have been ostracized by people around the globe are, because of their differences, equally condemnable by various religions. Does anybody else wonder how Jesus and other spiritual teachers would react to today's treatment of human beings in general?

Do we not share the same planet, the same resources? If life existed on other planets, members of those planets would look upon us as Earthlings and group us together as one. Wasn't that how Jesus saw us - one people sharing one God? How have we allowed our beliefs to become so self-serving we have denied our consciences? Do we allow others to think for us because the burden of thinking for ourselves is too great? Might we risk being held responsible for acting on our beliefs if we followed our hearts and not somebody else's ignorance?

I once asked a member of a religious organization that relied upon its elders to guide and instruct its people to tell me her belief about abortion in a variety of circumstances. Every question I asked was met by, "I would have to consult the elders."

I wasn't concerned about her church's beliefs. I was more interested in learning about her personal beliefs. "What would you do if you were raped by a family member and became pregnant?" I wanted to know. I wouldn't have judged her answer. I was really just curious.

Again, she didn't know. Again, she said she had to ask her elders. In my truest Bill Fenner voice, I finally said, "I'm not asking your elders what they believe; I'm asking you."

Somehow I don't think she ever formed her own opinions or gave them much thought. She relied upon the elders to form them for her. And that is what scares me. When people ignore their own beliefs and rely instead upon the whims of others, they set themselves up for becoming victims of adopted belief systems that sometimes make no sense to them. They don't believe what they are learning or hearing, but they adapt because they justify their behavior by placing responsibility on (blaming) the elders. They form a group mentality because life is so much easier when you allow others to think for you.

Group mentality may have contributed to the crucifixion of Jesus, the genocide of Jews, and so many atrocities in our history. I imagine at least one person witnessing the murder of Jesus knew that crucifying Jesus was wrong. I imagine at least one person following Hitler's commands knew that killing somebody just because he was a Jew (and in other instances with other leaders, a Christian, or a member of other groups ostracized by "leaders") was wrong. But they acted like I did when I was in the sixth grade - they said and did nothing.

I wonder about us Earthlings. I wonder how we would react today if Jesus reappeared. If another spirit in the same light as Jesus came upon this earth to teach and live his same message today, would we recognize him?

More likely, we would place him on a stage, pay him handsomely, idolize him and no matter how often or how assuredly he told us his reason for being here, we would eventually, if not immediately, ignore his message and honor the man (or woman), so we could place him on a pedestal. Maybe some of us would grasp the meaning of the message and live the way we were shown. More likely though, we would expect displays of miracles.

We are a world that idolizes people who do nothing more than show up on a stage or on television, who buy expensive clothes, who own several mansions and acres upon acres of property. Some of them are worthy of our admiration; they recognize that their true worth comes from that place within, that place where God resides.

Others care only about their image, the way they look to other people. They pose for the camera as they spend exorbitant amounts of money on frivolities, knowing, and not caring, that one piece of jewelry could feed one family for a week. Rich and poor alike, though, were shown by Jesus "the way" to enter into that kingdom, the kingdom within. In the end it won't matter what we own. What will matter is how we treated others.

I am still left with so many questions. What if all religions are the wrong religions? What if we're not supposed to belong to any religion, because by belonging to one or the other, we are being divisive? But what if belonging to a church allows us to belong to a community of caring individuals and we can display our love and affection for others by being in that community? What if there is only one religion, a religion not yet formed, a religion with no name?

Jesus is still carrying the cross. Every day we add to the weight of it by condemning our fellow human beings, by criticizing them, and in many instances, crucifying them because they don't meet our standards of perfection. By crucifying them, we are crucifying Jesus again and again. What we do to them, we do to him, and to his father who sent him.

It's time to put the hammer down and take a good look at the world around us. We share one planet and yet we divide it - not in sections, but in layers, one atop the other - and we put ourselves in the most superior of all positions.

THE WAY to God was THE WAY Jesus lived. He gave us an example of how we were to live our lives if we wanted to find true love, joy, peace, and abundance.

The man with a message soon became the very thing he admonished people for revering, an idol. I think a lot of people still misconstrue and distort his message. Does Jesus want us to honor and praise him?

I don't think he does. I believe he wants us to recognize and honor the God within us and to ACT like Jesus acted when he lived on this planet. I believe he showed us THE WAY to be, because he was THE WAY. The kingdom of God is filled with love, forgiveness, compassion, hope, wisdom, and truth. It resides within us. Jesus (and many prophets) paved a path to that kingdom and showed us the way to enter the source of love within us, THE WAY to God, to the God within us. THE WAY then and now is through forgiveness and through treating each other respectfully and lovingly.

Maybe when we stop crucifying him, he will return.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Philosophy of Common Sense

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts, but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties. ~ Francis Bacon

The ability to perceive, understand, and judge situations is believed to be a sign of common sense. But how common is common sense? And why do some beliefs diverge widely from those that belong to others?

I discuss my views on common sense in the following post, previously titled, Snopes Verifies This is True: Common Sense is Dead, which was published on Associated Content / Yahoo Contributor Network in 2010:

An unmarked grave with an invisible headstone sits in the grounds around every government hall and in the back yards of many citizens. The name on the headstone, if you could read it, says, "Common Sense."

Yes, Folks, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but common sense is dead. Its absence is palpable, most especially in the emails I receive.

Without fail, nearly every single authentic-looking email I receive that spews forth hatred for some government official or some religion or some whatever, proves to be false, partially false, or mostly false when verified on Snopes.com. If only the person who sent it had researched the email before sending it to everybody in his or her address book. Even the truth in supposedly "true" emails has been taken out of context, distorted in a perverted fashion, and spread like a virus.

Sadly, people send ridiculous emails every day. Even more sadly, too many people believe everything they read in these emails, especially when what they read supports their already demented belief that the lie is the truth. Whether they were raised by people who slammed their beliefs into their children or whether they have become part of a group of people who don’t allow theses poor spirits to think for themselves, the followers among us adopt whatever belief system they feel they have to believe because they dare not think for themselves.

Informed readers who care about truth, on the other hand, verify the authenticity of the information they receive. They question everything. But they are also not so obtuse that they close their minds to possibilities. 

I am one of those people who is suspicious of every hate-filled email I receive. I corroborate everything, especially when the hatred spewing forth from the email reaches out from my computer, grabs me by my throat, and knocks me senseless.

So should I feel relieved when the person who sent the incendiary email posts a link that verifies its "authenticity"? Should I be grateful that I don't have to verify the accuracy myself? How refreshing.

But wait…was the email sender expecting me to NOT read the link he or she provided? Because when I read the linked text, I find a complete contradiction to the hateful, demeaning, and inappropriate comments that were supposed to support the link in the email.

To be honest, I am weary from the hatred and weary from the lies. I have even gone so far as to beg people to PLEASE STOP filling my email box with hateful diatribes put forth by hate mongers who circulate their pathetic pleas around the planet as they scream for recognition with morsels of truth the author has meticulously fabricated into lies.

And people fall for it. Why?

Because manipulating a lie into appearing as truth is so easy.

Here is an example: suppose I tell you that President Obama was "caught" worshipping at a mosque. I could then tell you that he refuses to worship in the religion YOU would prefer he practiced. Now I’ll use what I just told you to embellish what I'm about to tell you next, and I will craftily pull video segments of Obama's statements, interweave them with actual video footage unrelated to Obama, his philosophy, or his religion, plop in a few unconnected statements of my own, and I will have you believing that President Obama idolizes, emulates, and loves Adolf Hitler.

Pay attention to what I just wrote. Because if you were a manipulator of the truth, you would take the last seven words from the last paragraph, pull it out of context, weave in some Hitlerian statements, and circulate this "truth" through your own emails. Within minutes, people will be drawing Hitlerian mustaches on President Obama and circulating the asinine falsehood across America and around the world. 

Photo and video manipulation has the ability to alter our perceptions, and if we haven’t learned to think for ourselves, we do ourselves a disservice if we believe everything we read or hear, because we haven’t yet learned the art of common sense. 

Add lack of common sense to manipulative practices and you can see how manipulation works. THAT is why some people believe everything they read. THAT is why they blindly follow hate-mongers who want them to believe what the hate-mongers believe. Hate-mongers don't want people thinking for themselves. They want people thinking what they think, and they know that if they're persistent and persuasive enough, they'll have you believing that they are the voices of God and that God speaks through them.

Charles Manson, Jim Jones, and others like them, were gods to their followers, because those "leaders" appealed to their followers' sensibilities (notice I didn't say common sense).

Spreading lies is easy. Spreading the truth is sometimes impossible, because people have already adopted their own belief systems. Another fact is that most people are followers. If the group of people with whom you surround yourself is a die-hard Democrat bunch, NOBODY will convince you that ANY Republican is worthy of your vote. The same works the other way around.

And when we get emails that support our beliefs, we say, "yeah, that's right," without checking the source, because why should we bother? We’ve just found proof that we are right. Most of us don’t care about the truth. We just want somebody in our corner, even if we find ourselves backed up against a wall.

I once read a book entitled, The Death of Common Sense, by Philip K. Howard. I highly recommend reading that book if you believe that our world is beginning to border on the absurd and that common sense, like Elvis, “has left the building." While the book is more about government bureaucratic idiocy, it speaks to the lack of common sense across the spectrum of life itself.

The more emails I receive that concern spreading hateful demeaning lies, the more I believe that common sense truly is dead.

So what do you think? Are you willing to challenge the emails you receive by checking their validity, or will you continue to believe the lies that spread like a virus from your eyes to your brain?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Justice vs. Vengeance

If you or a loved one has ever been a victim of violence, you are probably already aware that our “justice” system is anything but just. You may have even given some thought to retaliation. Vigilantism, after all, just might be the most exacting (just) form of revenge and possibly the most appropriate response to some of the more heinous crimes committed against ourselves and our loved ones.

Capital punishment has been a controversial subject since before the term, “capital punishment,” was created. Saved for such offenses as murder, rape, theft, espionage, and a host of other crimes, proponents for capital punishment consider it to be the best consequence for the perpetrator. 

However, isn’t capital punishment similar to public stoning or lynching? What’s the difference between throwing a stone and flipping a switch? And with the discovery of DNA’s accuracy in identifying perpetrators, many “criminals,” previously unjustly accused, were sent to death row or worse – executed. How many deceased criminals were wrongly executed? The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, “estimate that if all death-sentenced defendants remained under sentence of death indefinitely at least 4.1% would be exonerated. We conclude that this is a conservative estimate of the proportion of false conviction among death sentences in the United States.”

Maybe family members of victims should decide the punishment, but aren’t families of victims more likely to react emotionally when making their decisions? Before DNA evidence, we depended on blood type and finger prints and we executed prisoners based on that archaic system of “reliable evidence.” Today DNA proves that the blood or body fluids belong to the perpetrator, usually with 99% accuracy, but are we convinced that the evidence wasn’t planted? Even if you don’t watch many crime shows, you know that convictions have taken placed based on evidence that was either wrongly handled or completely fabricated.

And what about future scientific evidence? We don’t even know yet what might prove or disprove crimes in the future. Supposed your child was raped and murdered by a convicted felon who had just been released from prison and that you were given the ability to impose your own punishment. You decide to sentence the perpetrator to death.

Twenty years later, evidence surfaces to prove that the person you sent to death row was not involved in your child’s rape and murder at all. Furthermore, he was proven to not have any involvement in the previous crime for which he had been incarcerated. Without anyone’s knowledge, except for the person who bamboozled him, the man who was sentenced to death, the man who owned his own business, the man who hired his killer, with no knowledge whatsoever about the deranged psychopath’s propensities, decided to give the poor man a chance, but then was set up by this disgruntled employee who sought revenge due to reasons no sane person would ever understand – the employer forgot to refresh a new hand sanitizer dispenser. How would you feel if you discovered that you put the wrong person to death?

Incarceration is costly and our court systems are sending people to prison who have committed crimes that don’t deserve death sentences or even life sentences, while criminals who commit worse crimes run free because either they have money or they have connections.

Until and unless we know with certainty about a crime that has taken place, we should reserve justice for the final bow and let Karma take over. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Philosophical Debate on Minimum Wage

Until recently I was a die-hard advocate for raising the minimum wage – until I saw a post on Facebook that altered my beliefs. That’s the nice thing about having an open mind – you allow others to explain their beliefs and you can either adopt them or refute them. 

In this case, I had to agree with the sender of a message who asked why a high school student should make as much as a military man or woman who gave 8 years of his or her life serving our country and now had to raise a family making the same income as a person serving up hamburgers.

My son is a United States Marine who will soon be looking for a job when he leaves the service. While I don’t expect him to be working at a fast food restaurant, I also know that the job market is unreliable at best. Should he expect to be making the salary he was making in the Marines? On the other hand, does he have to start from scratch? Can he support his family with the current minimum wage in Illinois? 

$8.25 x 40 hours per week = $330/week. Multiplied by 52 weeks, a minimum wage salary would equal $17,160 per year or $1,430 per month. 

But don’t forgot to take out taxes. Let’s subtract 25%. That leaves $1,072.50. Minus child leaves him $1,029.60 per month. The National Association of Realtors states that the average monthly payment for a 30-year mortgage at 4% is $1,061. A minimum wage job has just put my son in the red. Now he can’t afford a car to get back and forth to work when he finds a job – if he finds a job – nor will he be able to pay for gas, make his car payments, pay his phone bill, medical expenses, auto and housing insurance, mortgage, rent, or utilities, such as gas, electricity, or water. 

So how does a minimum wage employee handle life without food, clothing, heat, electricity, or water? What kind of home, with all its related expenses, can anyone on minimum wage hope to find with an income of only $1,029.60 a month?

And does a high school student deserve to make the same amount of money as a man who sacrificed his life in service to our country? 

Maybe we need to rethink minimum wage and not so narrowly define it. What if the wage we received depended on age and experience? But if minimum wage was age- and experience-dependent, what would prevent an employer, who was trying to save money, from hiring only high school students?

In 1950, the minimum wage was raised to $.75 per hour. An average house cost $8,450, about 11,200 times the hourly minimum wage. Compare minimum wage today – $8.75 per hour (Illinois) and the median sale price of a home in December 2013, $270,200, and you find an amazing disparity – the price of a home in 2013 is 30,000 times the hourly minimum wage.  

Who determines the cost of a house, the price of gas, or the value of a product? On the gas issue, according to Business Insider, “The general rule, according to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), is that about two-thirds of your cost of gas at the pump is determined by crude oil cost. The rest is a combination of taxes, refining, distribution and marketing. These are ultimately just some of the 11 factors we determined influence gas prices.” Also included in the list are these factors: geopolitics, The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) production, non-OPEC production, emerging market demand, our individual states, exchange rates, the weather, speculation, and hedging.  (May 8, 2012.)

As many of us have already suspected, gas prices fluctuate arbitrarily. According to that same article, Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Commissioner Bart Chilton, in discussing the staggering 2008 barrel price change from $147 in June that year to about $30 in December, states that the disparity was, “almost certainly caused by spectators.” He goes on to say, "There was no justification for such a price swing based upon the fundamentals of supply and demand. The only good explanation is what many researchers and prominent economists and others have said about the link to excessive speculation." Read more HERE.

In the mid-to-late part of last century a rule of thumb for what to charge for a product was to take the cost of producing the product, combine the cost with the value of time spent building or creating the product (per hour cost), and then sell the item at a 200% profit. Eventually people started increasing the sales of their items to realize a 400% profit. Today, people charge thousands of percentages above what it costs to produce their products. But how are consumers supposed to purchase those products with wages that stagnate? How can inflation keep up? 

It can’t. The cost of living rises every day, but income remains sadly stable and increases only slightly – if at all.

As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the only thing that could save us from the clutches of poverty is a world-wide ban on greed, one of the seven deadly sins. Unfortunately, we seem to be committing all seven of those sins these days, including lust, gluttony, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. 

So what’s the answer? We certainly can’t eradicate greed. Greed is too attractive a desire for any of us to expect that we will all suddenly become more spiritually aware of the roles we play on this Earth. But here’s a place we can start – what we need is more compassion, integrity, honesty, empathy, and fairness. Until we learn to respect and honor each other, the gap will widen between those who have and those who have not, many rich people will continue to berate the poor, and minimum wage will pay for nothing more than a spot in Tent City. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why Doesn’t Somebody Do Something About That? Maybe That Somebody is YOU!

(previously published on Yahoo Contributor Network as, “I Wish Somebody Would Do Something About That!”)
"Why doesn't somebody do something about that?"

Every time I have cared about an issue, I've asked that question. Maybe you've asked that question yourself.

But the time to stop asking that question is NOW!

And NOW is also the time to stop asking similar questions - ones that require YOU to be the answer. Want to know what I'm talking about? Read on.

When two children died from auto accidents on a dark corner in a very busy intersection near my home one year, I heard everybody asking, "How many kids have to die before they install a street light here?"

What a stupid question! When you ask that question, are you expecting an answer? Was somebody trying to build a memorial garden of flowers on that corner?

I was very vocal about my position on the idiocy of the "powers that be" and complained loudly that I wished somebody would do something about the ongoing problem. And when the third child died at that intersection, I vowed to put a stop to the question I kept hearing everybody ask, because my response to, "How many kids have to die before they install a street light here?" was zero - STOP asking that question!

And then it occurred to me: If SOMEBODY could do something about the issue, I could be that somebody. Of course I had no idea how to get a light installed at that intersection, so I made several phone calls to a couple of political figures in the area, one of whom completely ignored me (until he saw everybody else offering help - only then did I have his full support), and another one who decided immediately to join me in the battle to find out how I could initiate the process.

When I heard that a traffic light had already been discussed and would eventually be put in, I was appalled to find out that nobody knew WHEN the light would be installed. Because of all the "red tape" apparently stuck in a black hole somewhere, how would I (how could I) expedite the process? Would circulating a petition help?

"It might, but you would need several hundred signatures." Not a problem.

I incorporated the help of my children and their friends and we circulated, circulated, circulated pages and pages of petitions. We took our cause to local gas stations and convenience stores, most of which agreed to carry and promote the petitions. I also asked various businesses to offer the petitions to their customers. Not many business owners cared about the issue though, so very few businesses agreed to carry them.

Despite the difficulties, before I knew it, without my calling anybody, the media became involved. I was interviewed by radio stations and newspapers alike, all asking for more information. By the time it was over, I had far more signatures than I needed.

Satisfied that I had done "my part," I thought the problem was solved and that the light would be installed.

Little did I know that the installation of a light at that particular intersection would require the approval of so many government agencies. From the state to the county to the city to the township and even to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), everybody involved in each corner of that intersection had to approve the installation of the light. With so much focus being brought to light (pun intended), though - due in part to the attention the petition garnered - the traffic light finally appeared, and I was grateful for being a part of the process.

Prior to the traffic light incident, I had been strongly affected by the Adam Walsh story. My children were all at vulnerable ages (baby, toddler, teenager - then again, isn't every child vulnerable?) when John and Reve Walsh's son disappeared and I wanted to prepare my children for the possibility of being abducted by a stranger or hurt by somebody who was supposed to love them.

So I wrote You Are The Boss of Your Body, a book for 2-8 year olds that was written with the intention of empowering children to stand up for themselves. At the time I wrote it, I wanted to make a profit from the sales of the book. Now, as a result of my concern that not everybody would be able to afford it, I give it away (in PDF format). If you would like a free copy, please read, Child Abuse Prevention Book - A Free Downloadable Book for Children Ages 2-8
to find out how to get your free copy.

My newest wish that somebody would "do something about that" involves children being bullied. I despise anybody who uses his or her position of power to humiliate, degrade, and destroy the spirit of a child or even of an adult. I'm not yet sure what role I want to play in that arena, though I have written an article about it, Socializing, Peer Pressure, and Bullying: At Lunch, on the Bus, During Recess: Raising Confident Children and Managing Bullies, but I know I will play some role in helping children overcome the trauma associated with bullying, even if my only participation is to write more articles about the subject, because bullying is a subject about which I care very deeply.

After the traffic light incident, I recognized that if I felt strongly enough about an issue to say, "I wish somebody would do something about that," I could either do something about it myself or stop complaining about it.

If you feel so strongly about an issue that you find yourself saying, "Somebody should do something about that," BE that somebody. You may not know how to initiate the process, but if you investigate, you can figure it out. At the very least, you can help even in small ways.

I'd like to leave you with one last thought: Please stop asking how many people have to die before an issue gets resolved. Questions beg to be answered.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How to Discover Who You Are Based on Movies and Stories that Impact You

Previously published on Yahoo Contributor Network March 29, 2011

No story ever has impressed me as profoundly as Hans Christian Andersen's, The Little Match Girl. One time, while I was reading this story to my three youngest children who, at the time, were 6, 4.5, and 3, I sobbed so convulsively that I had to hand the book over to my six-year-old to finish reading.

It didn't occur to me until years later why that story has always affected me so profoundly. Here was a little girl just trying to live, doing her best every single day just to make it to the end of one day and into the next. No matter how hard she tried, though, no matter how many hours she devoted to the task of selling those matches so she could stay alive, she never did enough. It just was never enough.

On that particular day, after raising my children with absolutely no support whatsoever (child support wouldn't kick in until several months later when the judge ordered it), I was the only one financially responsible to care for my children.

The mid-80s hit us hard and living off $100 a week proved to be impossible. But I kept lighting those matches and lighting those matches and lighting those matches...never giving up, even when my fingers became scorched with pain.

Along with The Little Match Girl, another story touches my soul deeply. My all-time-favorite movie, the movie that will forever remain my favorite movie, is the movie entitled, It's a Wonderful Life.

I know exactly why this movie is my favorite. The writing world, the world in which I felt I belonged, seemed always to be somewhere other than in my world. No matter how hard I tried to get into that world (pre-Internet), I couldn't. I didn't have an agent, I didn't have anything published, and I didn't belong to the Writer's Guild. Roadblocks appeared with every step I took.

Like Jimmy Stewart's character, George, every attempt I made toward reaching my goal was thwarted by one event after another after another. If I set aside a time to write, a child needed my attention or an unforeseen event occurred that forced me to push aside my dream so that I could attend to more immediate matters. And with children, illness and unexpected circumstances are numerous and consistent.

Years later, I still can't seem to break down the barriers that prevent me from making the kind of money that would allow me to support myself without financial aid from various sources.* Whether it's asthma attacks, cancer, back pain, caring for children, or just my own distracted brain - something prevents me from devoting my time to writing.

And yet, like the scene in It's a Wonderful Life, where George is standing in front of his Christmas tree before all of his friends and family, exhilarated as they show their support for him, I know I am already successful - for so many reasons.

I always wanted children and I was blessed with an abundance of them in the form of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I also understand that success isn't measured by how many people have read my work, but by how many people need me and love me.

More than that, the true measure of success - for me - is how many people I love and support. And they are many.

I will always choke up when I read The Little Match Girl and when I watch It's A Wonderful Life. And I will always work toward my goal no matter how old I become. Until they write on my headstone (even though I will be cremated),** "She finally gave up" - I will never give up, and I hope, that in some way, my words will live beyond my life.

So what movies tug at your heart? What stories impact you? Pay attention to the way you respond to them. You might learn something about yourself that will explain your actions and thoughts.

*I am now retired.

**Instead of cremation, I have decided to donate my body to science.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Spiritual Living Without Religion

Throughout my life, I have been attacked – yes, attacked – by people trying to force their religions on me. 

It happened the first time on Halloween when my friend, Kathie, and I, who were probably around 11 years old, were trick-or-treating. We knocked on the door of a woman who lived probably five blocks away from our homes. Though we were suspicious of her invitation into her home, we were also TOO respectful of older people, so when the woman invited us inside, we reluctantly followed her into her living room prison.

For two hours she lectured us on Jehovah and then admonished us for our evil actions (trick-or-treating) on Halloween. We were angry that we had been bullied into spending two hours listening to a fanatic force-feed us her rigid views on religion. Trick or treat? Definitely trick. 

Our parents were infuriated that we had come home so late. We couldn't tell our parents exactly where her house was located, but we avoided her entire block forever after that day. 

The second time I was pressured into listening to a "witness" ramble on and on – during a time when I had no escape whatsoever – was when I was hospitalized for three weeks with an asthma attack and an upper respiratory infection. I could barely breathe, let alone talk, when the woman in the bed next to mine inundated me with questions: "Have you been saved? Have you chosen Jesus as your personal savior?" She played religious music continuously and unrelentingly asked me questions I was unable to answer as she droned on and on about sin and salvation, evil and Armageddon. 

After several days I wrote a note to the doctors begging them to either find me another room or find one for her, because I felt that the stress of having to listen to her incessant ramblings was contributing to the length of my illness.

From door knocks to street handouts, unsolicited advice finds its way into my ears and into my hands where it is promptly disposed of. And I despise – repeat despise – being browbeat into listening to one-sided conversations that are actually coercive conversion tactics.

However, I enjoy learning about various beliefs when I invite people into my home for spiritual discussions. Organized religion is just not for me, not because of all of the taunting I've been subjected to over the years – but because I have yet to find a religion that includes EVERYONE and EVERY FAITH. 

I can’t understand why religions are so divisive. Is one religion really better than another? Don't we all hope to be united with the ONE we call God (or whatever we call the Spirit that unites us all)? We are all ONE people on ONE planet in ONE solar system.

I've seen devoted people who are comforted by their religion, but many of those people live lives void of any spiritual meaning, living contradictions –  Christians bashing Christians because they're different somehow (gay, black, whatever), for instance.

We learn in our religion classes that we have Free Will. With that free will, we make our own choices. We should neither judge our fellow man (or woman) nor expect or force others to believe what we believe. 

Yes, I am not religious, but I am spiritual. I believe, on my deepest level that we all KNOW we are spiritually aware of our connectedness to the Great Spirit, God, or any of the other names we call the Supreme Being, and that we KNOW God resides within us, that God is everywhere, and that God is the consciousness and the loving spirit that permeates all of us and connects us with each other.

And yet, I've known atheists – people who didn't believe in God at all – and they were beautiful souls who treated their neighbors with dignity, respect, and love. They are as worthy of sharing this planet as is anybody else.

Some people, deeply enmeshed in their religion, crucify those of different faiths and judge them for being black or gay or Jewish or Polish or (name a different ethnic or religious group). I myself have been criticized by people who call themselves Christians because they judge me for not going to church. 

Some ignorant religious people and those who call themselves leaders believe their religion is the best religion and that everyone else is going to Hell. Some Christians believe that if you don't believe in Christ or if you don't believe in exactly what they believe in, you will never go to Heaven. I find it hard to believe that half the planet is going to Hell, though I must admit, many of the actions taking place by corrupt politicians and people who abuse their authority have me wondering about the future of this planet.

Belonging to a religion means following ceremonies, practicing your faith, and worshipping a Supreme Being. To be spiritual is to recognize your spirituality and act according to your conscience. You can be both spiritual and religious or you can be spiritual or religious. Being spiritual also means abiding by the Golden Rule: treating others as you would want to be treated.

When you are spiritually aware and conscientious, you know that you are living your life with a clean conscience, void of judgment. You are aware that others are different and you accept them as being part of our planet.

When you are spiritually corrupt, you judge others and crucify them for being different. You are no better than those who crucified Jesus, and you may find yourself on that final judgment day in a glass house where, on the other side, is a reflection of you casting stones upon yourself.

Only that in you which is me can hear what I'm saying. ~ Baba Ram Dass

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Power of Prayer

Previously published on Yahoo Contributor Network August 5, 2008.

Spoken aloud or through thought alone, prayer has been credited with everything from bringing about miraculous recoveries to finding lost keys.

Whether kneeling or standing, sitting or reclining, those who deliver fervent, passionate prayers on behalf of loved ones, on behalf of someone unknown, or even on behalf of the person praying assume the existence of a God or of a Higher Power. But prayer is not just a bunch of words strung together. "Prayers not felt by us are seldom heard by God (Philip Henry)."

Through deep, heart-felt consistent prayer, and focused concentration, we anticipate a spiritual connection or communion with The One who answers prayers. A devout and earnest petition with expectations of an answer requires belief in prayer's power and trust that an answer, though it may not always result in what we expect, will be forthcoming.

We pray for a variety of reasons: to give praise or thanks or to make a plea. Sometimes we just want our suffering to end. And we wonder why, even after we ask, and even if we believe, we still don't get the answer we expected.

Prayers for a child to overcome cancer and prayers for a sick relative or friend go seemingly unheeded. Does that mean that prayer doesn't work?

Prayer circles abound and miracles occur, but despite our prayers, despite our belief, despite our petitions, loved ones die and loved ones become terminally ill. Things are "meant to be," we hear. But what about: "...whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" (Matthew 21:22)?

On July 27, 1981, a little boy named Adam Walsh, disappeared in a shopping center. His parents' frantic search continued past hours and days to weeks and months. Their pleas for Adam's recovery were joined with prayers from others who heard about Adam's disappearance. His lifeless body was eventually found. Were their prayers unanswered or was a "grander scheme," beyond our limited human comprehension of life and death at work?

As a result of Adam's death, John Walsh, his father, decided to save other parents from the same pain and anguish he and his wife experienced. Today, America's Most Wanted (author revision – the show ended October 12, 2012) has helped to recover nearly sixty missing children and missing persons, and has captured over one thousand fugitives. God's answer was probably not the answer John expected. But through John Walsh's actions America's Most Wanted has saved many people from suffering the Walsh's torment.

At the end of his life, Jesus prayed in Gethsemane to avoid suffering his own torment, if possible. If he was meant to suffer, however, he wanted to abide by God's will. Tortured by his enemies and betrayed by his friends, in the final moments of his life, in his final prayer, Christ asked God to forgive his enemies. "But I say unto you, love your enemies...and pray for them..." (Matthew 5:44)

Forgiveness heals. It lifts the burden of resentment and frees the mind to experience the power of prayer. According to Buddha, "Those who are free of resentful thoughts surely find peace."

For those who believe in prayer's benefits, the power of prayer lies in its value: "The value of consistent prayer is not that He will hear us, but that we will hear Him." (William McGill)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why We Marry, Have Children, or Own Pets

Previously published April 22, 2010 on the Yahoo Contributor Network.

If anybody had asked me, before I had my oldest daughter, why I wanted children, I might have said it was because I wanted somebody to love me. But I hadn't really thought through the question.

If you ask somebody, "Why do you want children?" or "Why do you want to get married?" or "Why do you want a pet?" many people respond with, "I don't know," or "I just do."

After giving the question some serious consideration, I have come up with my own opinion about why people want children, spouses, or pets.

Let's begin with animals. When you consider the relationship between people and their pets, you discover that pet owners take care of their animals and assume responsibility for them. They take them to the vet, clean out their litter boxes, take them for walks, hold them, pet them, and generally do everything possible to maintain their pet's comfort.

But what do pets do for their owners?

Pets lick their human's faces and sometimes act excited when the pet owner comes home after having been gone all day. Sometimes they amaze their owners by playing games, performing tricks, and following directions.

Still, what is it pet owners GET from their pets? Undying affection? Attention?

Now look at it from a parent's perspective. Mom or Dad brings home an infant. They feed the infant, bathe the infant, clothe the infant, and take the infant to the doctor's office.

What does the infant DO for the parents?

After a while, the infant smiles. Eventually the baby laughs and later shows excitement when Mommy or Daddy arrives home, but other than giving parents that sense of pride because they belong to Mommy and Daddy, what's the payoff?

When you find somebody with whom you want to share your life, are you thinking of what your future spouse can do for you or are you considering how you can best express your love for him or her? The way you answer that last question identifies you as being either selfish or selfless.

And it is that selfless type of love that provides the answer to my question and the most benefits for a loving relationship.

Does HAVING children and pets and BEING married GIVE something more than a sense of belonging?

After some deep thought about this subject, here's what I found: Wanting spouses, children, or pets has more to do with what people GIVE to their spouses, children, or pets than what they GET from their spouses, children, or pets. Having babies, falling in love, or wanting pets in our lives is not a matter of GETTING LOVE; it's a matter of GIVING LOVE - and also a matter of NURTURING another human being or an animal.

That desire to give and to nurture may be intrinsic in our DNA. When finding a spouse, are we really looking for somebody to love us, or are we looking for somebody we can love? Are we really looking for affection FROM somebody or are we looking for affection we can show TO somebody?

Maybe our desire to get married or to have children or pets is not because we want those people or animals to love us but because we want to express the love we were born to share.

Does any purer example exist to prove that giving in itself is its own reward?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Philosophical Debate on Racism

Black people have been complaining about racism for years. White people say blacks are being ridiculous. As a white person who has been listening to these complaints for decades, I’d like to put an end to the argument right now – racism IS alive today! Need evidence? Think of Ferguson, Missouri. Think of the recent bus incident from students at the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE). 

WHY is racism still so rampant, though? At one time, Americans hated the Japanese. Another time, they hated the Irish, even though the Irish were white. Polish taunts were common. And let’s not forget the Native Americans whose land the white people stole from beneath them. I honestly don’t understand how anyone can hate another human being for no reason whatsoever.

After Martin Luther King, Jr., so valiantly tried to end this unethical behavior back in the 60s, after the tragic ending of the life of the teenage boy, Emmett Till, who merely whistled at a white woman, here we are, 50 years later, still dealing with something so incomprehensible to me that I wonder if I’ll ever see an end to racism.

Sadly, I doubt it. For reasons that remain unknown to me, we have put aside our hatred of the Japanese and the Irish and the Polish and the Native Americans, but we still have a seething hatred for black people. But ask any white person outright if she or he hates black people and you’ll hear, “No, I have friends who are black.” 

Really? Sneak into a room filled with only white people and you can hear racial slurs and almost see the ugly virus that spreads throughout that room. Add a black person to the room and all the white people put a veil over their hatred and prejudice, so they can pretend it doesn’t exist. But WHY does it exist in the first place? Do we carry over the guilt and shame left over from our predecessors who ignorantly brought black people from Africa as slaves, because they thought they were stupid? And why did they think they were stupid – because they didn’t speak the same language? Maybe the real target of our hatred is our ancestors.

Why a Philosophy Blog?

Aesthetics, beliefs, ethics, logic, perceptions, spirituality, truth, wisdom – all parts of a branch of study known as philosophy – and all are fascinating subjects for those of us who enjoy engaging in deep and meaningful conversations with people who care about people and who crave understanding. As a blogger who writes numerous blogs devoted to myriad topics, one area that has no home among my blogs is the subject of philosophy. Though philosophical thought permeates many of my blogs, I felt that my philosophical musings needed a place of their own to rest. 

And that’s how Philosophical Musings and Insights was born. In future blogs, I will discuss my thoughts on everything from controversial subjects, such as religion and politics, to problems philosophers have been trying to solve since humans walked the Earth – the way we define love, sorrow, compassion, hate, prejudice, and ideologies of all kinds. I hope you will join me in these discussions. Otherwise I’ll be standing on my own platform merely looking into a mirror.