Friday, September 23, 2016

Where have you been?

Marilyn from Phoenix called me. “Jeanette, where have you been? Start blogging again!” She informed me that it’s been six weeks since my last post and told me to begin again.

She seemed sincerely bereft so I offered, “You can read the posts in my blog index.”

“I’ve read every one of them.”

“I am impressed." But I didn't believe her. There are too many. "You couldn’t have!”

“I read every one of them, some of them several times.” As proof, she told me when I started the blog—2007. I was speechless. “They’re interesting, wonderful, illuminating, just wonderful. Why aren’t you writing more?”

After some stuttering, I listed the things that keep me busy. “Each post is an essay. It takes me a long time to write those, and I have so many other things to do.” Often a post I intend to dash off quickly turns into lengthy labor. I reminded her that I’m working on a memoir.
She asked me whether I was thinking of not doing any more blogging.  I confessed that I was.

“I hope I’m changing your mind.”

I said one thing keeping me from blogging is the political situation. I’m concerned that our beloved country will actually get Donald Trump as president. I asked how she would respond to some political posts.

“If they are connected with religion and spirituality.” But she liked “Hillary and Donald.”

What happens now I don’t know, but I decided to post this as a kind of pledge to Marilyn. Otherwise I might renege on my promise to continue blogging.

I’m trying to learn a new way of writing. My posts have been educational. They come from a teacher who is lecturing—sharing knowledge, drawing conclusions, and supporting those conclusions. In my memoir, by contrast, I’m trying to reveal insights through my own life story and trying to reach a less academic readership.

It’s even slower than writing essays, and delving into my own psyche springs surprises on me.

As I reflect on my past, I realize things about myself that I’d missed before—more revelations in my slow journey toward emotional maturity. Oh, the joys of growing up. Never-ending.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Hillary and Donald

Erase all the vitriol from Republicans, all the mindless bashing without substance, and we're left with a candidate who has no more flaws than almost all candidates for the office in history, including the greatest, such as Lincoln and FDR.  And we're left with credentials that may surpass those of any other candidate for the office in history.  

Hillary Clinton's tragic flaw is defensiveness; she is not naturally comfortable in the public eye but learned to be there for the sake of her work for people. She is not transparent.  It led to her few lies in public and her famous secretiveness, her refusal to disclose details, which makes her look slippery. That is a misunderstanding.  She only is too defensive, and she's not a good public speaker.  Her delivery sounds phony, insincere. I wish she had some of Bill's showmanship. 

But Hillary Clinton has the capacity to be an outstanding president.  I won't even begin to list her impressive accomplishments for the well-being of others, beginning with children and women, going on to other groups, and to the entire society.  One phrase sums her up well—a work horse, not a show horse.

Her opponent is a show horse, not a work horse. This is how I explain his popularity, otherwise inexplicable to me. He has name recognition, all that's necessary for uninformed voters. How else to explain support for such a man?
Oh, and he's fun to watch.  I often laugh at his adolescent remarks. I hope enough voters can grow up enough to make sure the man does not actually become president.  I dread the possibility.     In November, unfortunately after the election, Donald Trump is due to sit in a courtroom as a defendant in a civil trial accusing him of fraud.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Stephen Hawking's god

A recent PBS documentary on science, “Genius by Stephen Hawking” beckoned. Anything about genius and Stephen Hawking promised to be good. I hoped nothing would interrupt me when it was on TPT.

Hawking challenged volunteers to think like geniuses in finding answers to seemingly unanswerable questions. I expected to be intrigued. Volunteers saw plates suspended in the air and spinning. Magic?  No, it turned out to be magnets. We were to conclude that the laws of nature answer mysteries of the universe.

All mysteries? Some scientists thought so. Pierre-Simon LaPlace asserted: If we knew all facts of the universe, we would know everything that will happen in the future. He and others posited the clockwork universe of determinism, but I won’t get into that because I didn’t buy it and Hawking didn’t either.

In another puzzle that Hawking set up, a volunteer's head was wired up so that his brain was connected to a screen. When he moved his finger, something moved on the screen. A tiny moment before this change showed on the screen, electrical impulses indicated activity in his brain.

Conclusion? Hawking said that the brain made the decision to move his finger—not a thinking mind but a brain, that is, matter. In other words, we should believe that our decisions are determined by physical stuff, not by thought.
I saw clear signs of consciousness or thought operating in the demonstration, but Hawking and the volunteers never wondered what caused the brain activity before that brain activity caused bodily movement.

Hawking seemed intent on proving that no immaterial force exists. Apparently he is so mesmerized by the foolishness of belief in gods that he cannot grasp a more sophisticated concept of what is called “God.”

There were six episodes in the series shown in three evenings, two every evening. By the last evening I was bored. The admittedly ingenious scientific challenges Hawking set up for volunteers continued to engage their scientific minds.
But I'm no good at and not interested in solving math and science problems. I want to ponder the implications of scientific findings, the large questions of meaning. Hawking promised to address them, but I kept seeing promises broken.

He asked good questions: “Why are we here? Is free will an illusion? Can we take credit for our actions? How did the universe begin? How did life begin? Can we go backward in time?

To every question his answer was to show volunteers grappling with physical, scientific puzzles but never tackling the deeper issues. We saw evolution in process, how electrons befuddle experimenters, how old life is, where we fit in the universe, how unfathomably large it is, and more. We did not, however, see answers to ultimate questions posed in the experiments.

We did not see the origin of the universe demonstrated as Hawking had promised. One evening focused on life’s beginnings, purporting to show how we came to be. We saw amino acids + salt (sea water saw the first life forms) + glyceral + energy leading to life forms.
In all steps demonstrated that evening, the key ingredient was ENERGY—not a physical thing. Energy is non-material, therefore spiritual. Energy could be one synonym for “God,” but Hawking’s mind could not go there.

In another episode, blindfolded volunteers showed that the position of particles on the quantum level is unknowable. Hawking mentioned Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, but he did not mention the most enigmatic part of it—that the outcome of every quantum experiment depends on the experimenter, on the decision of a human mind. The word “consciousness” came up but not its significance, the point where science meets spiritual reality.

The task Hawking seemed to set for himself in planning this series was to prove that God does not exist. To accomplish this, he tried to take the mystery out of physical phenomena, but he did not succeed. Instead Hawking revealed that his god is science, and physical science delineates the boundaries of his genius.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Israel & Palestine—facts

News widely reported in the U.S. the past few days.
Two Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis in a Tel Aviv retail center. Israel reacted by banning Palestinians from visiting relatives in Israel, traveling to Jerusalem for Ramadan prayers or to Tel Aviv for travel out of the country. Since October Palestinian attacks have killed 33 Israelis.

News not reported in the US.
Since September 29, 2000,
Palestinians killed by Israelis—9,370 Palestinians, 2,112 of them children.
Israelis killed by Palestinians—1,224 Israelis,  133 of them children

More news not reported in the US:
Military aid from the U.S. going to Israel: $10.2 million per day!
Military aid from the U.S. going to Palestine:  0

Whenever Israel and Palestine are in the news I recommend
  If Americans Knew  or Jews for Justice for Palestinians or numerous other sites. I especially recommend this engaging video about Israeli atrocities in Palestine, which should be viewed by every American.

Apparently, many Jews in America disagree with the few rich Jews who keep Congress, the president, other politicians, and American media hostage to the one-sided view that Israel deserves unconditional support no matter what. Anyone who tells the truth is branded anti-Semitic. 

One day I was bored, too tired to read, and idly looking for entertainment on public television (I rarely watch commercial channels). I saw Risk Steves sympathetically listening to an Israeli man report an attack by Palestinian “terrorists” on settlers.  I could smell where this was going and didn’t keep watching to see whether we’d learn about the terrors committed by Israeli settlers who are stealing Palestinian land. I knew coverage of Israeli atrocities that provoke Palestinian “terrorism” was not forthcoming.

By the way, the government of Israel pays Israelis to settle on Palestinian land. Every once in a while the U.S. government protests but does nothing to stop the injustice. And the military dollars keep flowing.

When will this end?  When enough Americans get educated and pressure politicians to stop it.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter posts past

March 31, 2007
From a religious point of view, Easter is a more important Christian feast than Christmas, but it gets less attention because there’s less money to be made from Easter. So much for our supposedly Christian nation.

Like Christmas, Easter derives from pagan myth and ritual. The ancient religions surrounding the first Christians celebrated various saviors coming down from heaven and going back up to heaven.

A striking parallel to Easter is reported by church historian Henry Chadwick. He tells of the god Mithris, whose death was mourned on March 22 and resurrection celebrated on March 25.

The likeness of Good Friday and Easter to religious festivals of the pagans prompted them to accuse Christians of plagiarism. Besides the idea of dying and rising again in three days, Christians apparently borrowed ritual ideas.

My reporting this may give the impression that I have little respect for Holy Week and Easter. Wrong. I regard the Paschal mystery as a profound spiritual mystery, one centered on transformation, one that grows in meaning as I grow older.

But it doesn’t belong to Christians alone. Our tradition received appreciation of the link between dying and rising from both Judaism and paganism. Mythologist Joseph Campbell found thousands of transformation stories in myths of the world.

The word “paschal” is derived from the Hebrew word for the annual Passover celebration, when Jews commemorate their deliverance from Egypt. God brought death to Egyptian homes but passed over Hebrew homes on the night of their escape. They celebrate their break from bondage, the promise of a new home, and their birth as Yahweh’s people.

New Testament accounts say that Jesus was put to death on or around Passover, and so Christians and Jews celebrate the feast most important to them at the same time.

Pagan religious festivals honored several deities who died and rose in three days. The region where Christianity began teemed with death and resurrection stories prefiguring that of Christ.

Especially poignant is the story of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, who gifted humankind with fertile land and bountiful harvests. Persephone is playing in a field when she is abducted by Hades, god of the underworld and brother of Zeus, who is Persephone's father.

Heartbroken and mourning fiercely, Demeter learns what happened. She vows never again to let the earth be fruitful until her daughter is restored to her. Zeus relents, but Persephone has to spend part of the year above and part of the year below. When she arises every spring, the earth turns green again.

This mother/daughter story balances against the father/son story of Christianity as both portray the central figure dying and rising—both symbols of transformation. And the Eleusinian Mysteries, which commemorated Persephone’s rise, were celebrated for almost two thousand years, about as long as Christianity is old.

These mysteries had much in common with Holy Week mysteries. Initiation, fasting, and extensive preparation preceded them. There were processions, music, purifying with water, ritual eating and drinking, fire and light symbolism—all the elements of masterful Holy Week liturgies.

At the climax of the Eleusinian Mysteries, participants had a beatific vision that released them from the fear of death. They were transformed. Christians are urged to be transformed into new people, to die to our old selves and rise to new selves. But transformation from death to life permeates all of existence.

New shoots in spring arise out of dead vegetation left by winter. The end of a job opens the door to a new path in life. Births and deaths come together in uncanny ways. More than one family has seen new grandchildren arriving upon the passing of a grandparent.

The Paschal mystery tells us that beginnings and endings are joined in a mysterious way. John 12:24 states, “Unless a grain of wheat fall to the earth and dies it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies it produces much fruit.”

Understanding this soothes the pain of change. Every end’s sadness opens to a fresh beginning. Easter and other religious myths and rituals symbolize this holiness in all creation.

Good Friday, March 21, 2008

Last evening a performance of Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly reminded me of Good Friday's larger, deeper significance.

An American Navy officer marries a geisha girl in Nagasaki with the intention of soon leaving her. With steadfast faith she waits with their young son for his return. He returns with his American bride to take their son away from her.

She is Christ on the cross.

And Christ is Annemarie in Rwanda. Her son was born in the middle of the genocide. “My child was almost a skeleton because I didn’t have milk in my breasts. But that man, that rapist was with me. He kept raping me again and again. . . . we went through torture like no other person has gone through.” About her son, now 11, she says, “He is the only life I have. . . . If I didn’t have him, I don’t know what I would be.”

And Christ is the Shi’ite man in Baghdad kidnapped by Sunni militia, beheaded, and left on the street to terrorize others. And Christ is the Sunni victim of ethnic cleansing in Iraq.

And Christ is the people of Zimbabwe terrorized by their president Robert Mugabe. And the people of Uzbekistan terrorized by their president Islam Karimov.

And Christ is the families in New Orleans displaced by Hurricane Katrina and now sickened by formaldehyde fumes from their FEMA trailers.

Good Friday services that fail to remind people of the suffering Christ in the world today fail as Good Friday services.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


I AM    February 27, 2016

The 1st reading on the third Sunday in Lent is Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15. It contains the best definition/description/summary of God in the Judeo/Christian tradition—I AM. God also says in this passage, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” But the name of God for these patriarchs was El Shaddai, the Breasted God (Exodus 6:3).

Unfortunately, Bible translations commonly render El Shaddai  as "God Almighty," following early influential translations. But "God Almighty" subverts the original meaning, as shown by David Biale in a February 1982 article for the journaal, History of Religions.

The ordinary Hebrew word shad means “breast.” In ancient Akkad (north of Babylonia) shadu meant both “breast” and “mountain,” a link easily understood. The Egyptian word, shdi, meant “to suckle.” The ending –ai, an Ugaritic feminine ending, occurs in the name of Abraham’s wife—Sarai.

Biale adds that the term’s context in biblical texts supports the conclusion that El Shaddai should be translated “God, the Breasted One.” Genesis 49:25-26 asks that El Shaddai bring
blessings of the heavens above,
blessings of the abyss below,
blessings of breasts [shadayim] and womb [rehem]
blessings of fresh grain and blossoms,
blessings of the everlasting mountains,
delights of the eternal hills.
Mountains and hills follow breasts and womb, just one verse of seven in Genesis indicating that “God, the Breasted One” inhabits the Book of Genesis. She is the fertility Goddess, the One who generates and regenerates.

More evidence of the Goddess in the Bible comes from Phyllis Trible in God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. She tells us that the Hebrew word for "womb"—rehem—is metaphorically and grammatically linked to the Hebrew word for compassion or mercy. Womb metaphors saturate the scriptures, suffusing them with female images of the Holy One. Trible observes,
The entire process of birthing has been attributed to the deity. In various passages,
God conceives, is pregnant, writhes in labor pains, brings forth a child, and nurses it.
Translations often conceal the feminine power.

David Biale, who makes the case for Shaddai being the Goddess without ever using the word “Goddess,” concedes that for exilic and postexilic authors in later scriptures, the name meant a storm and war god. He considers it
understandable that the Septuagint and the Vulgate [two influential translations] should render Shaddai as the ‘Almighty.’
But Biale thinks that Shaddai as “remote, mysterious, and destructive” may have been adopted “because it so thoroughly contradicted the fertility interpretation.” In other words, to counter any hint of the Goddess.

The word Yahweh also is the product of sexism. Scholars think it derived from the verb “to be” and originally carried no gender bias. Scriptures write the name of God as YHWH, four consonants of the Hebrew name of God, because ancient Hebrew was written without vowels. Out of fearful reverence, the ancestors of the Jews avoided pronouncing the name and substituted Adonai, translated “Lord” in English. The original pronunciation of YHWH is lost. 

Today the name of God in the Old Testament is written and pronounced Yahweh. "The Lord,” a male individual, emerged from patriarchal pressure and the human inclination to personify God. But imagining Holiness as a lord subverts the meaning of the revelation in Exodus 3:14.

October 3, 2013
During the last half year I spent at the School of Theology I had gotten so fed up with HeHimHis God-talk that I started saying in classes, “God is not three guys in the sky.”  I didn’t know then and don’t know now how much this sank in to fellow classmates (I know professors fully understood the implications), but one day a man I assume was a seminarian handed me a little pamphlet entitled, “El Shaddai: A Feminine Aspect of God.” It was my introduction to a fascinating subject.

David Biale in “The God with Breasts” examines in more detail El Shaddai, the Goddess of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob invoked in the biblical books of Genesis and Exodus. He manages to do this without ever using the word “Goddess,” no doubt to gain entry to Christian minds, for whom “Goddess” is a dirty word.

El Shaddai was the Hebrew name of the Goddess worshipped around the globe in ancient times, which thought of what we call “God” as female. To people not conditioned as Christians, it seems entirely natural for the Creator to be imagined female rather than male. Bible translator Rodney Venberg learned this when he struggled to translate the Bible for people in Chad, Africa. For The Bible Translator, 35, he wrote:
To speak of God (Ifray) with such terms as “he” and “Father” was totally inconsistent with their grammar and went against their whole notion of the creation (after all had a man ever given birth to a child?).   
Phyllis Trible in God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality was the first to teach me that the Hebrew word for “mercy” is the word for “womb.” And David Biale elaborates. He finds that five of six Genesis passages invoke El Shaddai in fertility blessings, following the “be fruitful and multiply” pattern. In the exception, Genesis 43:14, “the author senses the association between rahamim (mercy) and rehem (womb).”  Genesis 49:25-26 asks that El Shaddai bring
the blessings of the heavens above,
the blessings of the abyss below,
the blessings of breasts [shadayim] and womb[rahem]
the blessings of fresh grain and blossoms,
the blessings of the everlasting mountains,
the delights of the eternal hills.
**As I research this, I find variant spellings of the Hebrew words.
Biale notes that this passage gives not only a fertility blessing but also a wordplay suggesting a meaning for the name El Shaddai.  In ancient Akkad (north of Babylonia) shadu meant both “breast” and “mountain,” a link easily understood. In fact, as Biale pointed out, we can easily see the association in the blessings quoted here, where mountains and hills follow breasts and womb. He informs us further that shdi meant “to suckle” in Egyptian.

But my Bibles, both NAB and RSV, translate this name of God as “The Almighty,” following the authors of biblical books after the Babylonian Exile who thought of Her as a storm and war god. The influential Septuagint and Vulgate translations used that treatment and it stuck. But how inappropriate! My Inclusive Bible translates the name El Shaddai as the Breasted One.

Readers of this blogpost, know that “The Almighty” in the first two books of the Bible really is El Shaddai, the Breasted One.

Just as what we call “God” is not 3 guys in the sky, it also is not a female individual. Once we understand the one, we understand the other. “Force” or “Infinity” or “Beauty” might be better names than either Father or Mother. This is certain—the ubiquitous and mandated “father” and “lord” diminish the idea of God. Once we get past the ingrained image of the male god, we may be ready to comprehend Karl Rahner’s statement that God is not an individual. God certainly is not a mere humanlike individual, more certainly not a specifically male individual.

Atheists would be less contemptuous of Christians if more of us understood this.

Funny facts about genderconfusion in Hebrew add piquancy to this topic.  The Hebrew words for womb, breast, and nipple are masculine and the Hebrew noun denoting the foreskin of a penis is feminine. Crazy and amusing, right? But not surprising to me because similar craziness exists in German.
It reinforces something I learned from Carl Jung: each of us has characteristics of both sexes in her or his makeup. And the Creator not only encompasses both genders but invented gender itself.

El Shaddei again, December 12, 2013
When I have a question about scripture, I ask Vincent Smiles, scripture professor at St. Ben’s/St.Johns. I asked Vincent if El is masculine and whether ancient Hebrew had any term for “Goddess.” He wrote,
Yes, El is masculine and the texts suggest a masculine god was envisaged.
I cannot find a Hebrew word for goddess, which is not to say there is no such word.
El Shaddai might mean ‘breasted god’ and have originally been a name of a female deity, but there is no clear evidence that Israel understood the word in that way. The Hebrew Bible uses it exclusively in the sense of a powerful ‘almighty god’ with no hint of feminine overtones, as far as I can tell.

All of this goes along with the fact that even when a distinctly feminine IMAGE of God is present in Hebrew texts, the pronouns and verbs (verbs are ‘gendered’ in Hebrew) are always masculine.
It all just makes clear the rock hard androcentrism of the culture and language of the Bible. The better news is in texts like Luke 15:8-10, the woman who images God in Jesus’ parable.
In my previous post on El Shaddai I quoted scholar David Biale, whose analysis in the journal History of Religions harmonizes with Vincent’s statementExamining the biblical passages in which El Shaddai appears, Biale makes the case for Shaddai being a goddess, but he never uses the word “goddess” because to Hebrew authors in later literature, the name meant a storm and war god.
For this reason he considers it “understandable that the Septuagint and the Vulgate [two influential translations] should render Shaddai as the ‘Almighty.’” 

 He thinks it possible that Shaddai as “remote, mysterious, and destructive” may have been adopted “because it so thoroughly contradicted the fertility interpretation.” He refers to El Shaddai “as a fertility god—a god with breasts” and writes that Israel must “return to the ‘breast’ of the true God. Apparently he understands well the malign influence of patriarchy because he writes about “a surreptitious sex change.”

Biale finds that five of six Genesis passages invoke El Shaddai in fertility blessings, following the “be fruitful and multiply” pattern.  You will find more of his analysis in my previous post, El Shaddai.

Scholars agree that Jewish ancestors, known as Hebrews or Israelites, brought the name of Shaddai with them when they moved to Canaan from Mesopotamia. In Exodus 6:3 God replaces the divine name El Shaddai with the name YHWH.

This tetragrammaton (four letters) was used because the Israelites avoided saying aloud the holy name out of “superstitious fear, according to Biale. We do not know what YHWH stands for because ancient Hebrew was written without vowels.
What we know is that the patriarchy deleted feminine imagery of the Divine. And we are still living with it.
The Israelites did what other patriarchal cultures did—turned feminine imagery of the Divine into male imagery.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Antonin Scalia

I confess that when I heard the news of Antonin Scalia’s death I said “Thank God!” fervently, sincerely, earnestly. I have nothing against the man.  He was a good man who did what he thought was right, and now he is happily in the spiritual realm.

It’s his family and friends who deserve our sympathy.  That’s always the case when someone dies. I don’t feel sorry for the deceased—they are happier on the other side than in this time/space realm on earth. I believe that to be the case no matter what kind of life they led.

I understand Scalia was a colorful, jolly, opera-loving, friendly man, but he led others to wreak terrific havoc on our political system. With his passing we have a chance of overturning the most destructive decisions coming out of the court in the past 30 years.

We can’t undo one disatrous decision of his—putting George W. Bush in the presidency in spite of the popular vote going to Al Gore. Scalia’s claim that he based decisions on originalism—following  the original intent of the text—does not wash with this decision. It’s a glaring inconsistency that he brushed off when confronted about it. By installing his choice in the presidency, Scalia and the justices he led violated the original intent of the Constitution.

Had Gore been president, the U.S. would not have started the disastrous Iraq War that expanded Sunni/Shia rivalry that eventually created ISIS. I hold Scalia partially responsible for the mess in the Middle East that the Obama administration has been trying to manage for 8 years.

Scalia led the ultra-conservative pack in the Supreme Court to unreasonable advocacy of corporation “rights” and gun “rights.” His decision, the inappropriately named Citizens United, is allowing Big Money to corrupt our democracy. It would more aptly be called Citizens Divided or Citizens Corrupted.

Antonin Scalia is eulogized as a giant in American jurisprudence. I don’t deny his outsized influence; I decry it. I hope the country can soon get past the shadow he threw over our political system.