What is Truth?

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The endless arguments between people who believe ABC and those who believe XYZ  can get a bit confusing.  To be helpful I decided to list some of the most common foundations for these arguments.  The first part of this post is unprofessional and occasionally snarky, my take on the types of people who might rely on that particular foundation. It’s just to provide a few chuckles about a situation we’ve all been in–trapped by someone who is RIGHT, by-god, and don’t you forget it!

I heard it on the news, so it must be true!  These are the folks you see buying the Enquirer at the local grocery store.  Sometimes they don’t actually buy it, but you can be sure they are memorizing the headlines after they have unloaded their groceries on the conveyor belt.  Those of us who consider ourselves above such written garbage are confidently sneering internally and thanking god (the REAL one) that we know better than to believe such nonsense.  (But, seriously, wouldn’t it be a hoot if aliens had really taken over the US Government?)

Everybody knows that.  Some people know “Everybody,” who is a close relative of “Somebody,” only with multiple personality disorder. They are tuned into some vague matrix of information that provides them with infallible truth about “Everything,” which is a close cousin of “Nothing.”  When relying on this argument, they indicate that you are either pretty stupid, way out of the loop, not too popular, or a combination of all three.  None of us want to be unpopular, so the temptation to buy into those things that “everybody knows” is hard to resist.

My best friend told me.  She wouldn’t lie to me. This is a variant of “everybody knows that,” except it has much more clout, because this is first-hand information provided by someone who places truth at the top of the list.  Certainly that was also true of the friend’s best friend, who learned it from her aunt, who heard it from her best friend, who read it in the Enquirer.  Unfortunately by the time it filters down to you, it’s gone through the modern version of “Telephone,” which is called “Twitter.”  (Wouldn’t it be a hoot if the US Government used Twitter to keep us all updated on “Alternative Facts,” which is closely related to “Alternative Truth?”)

I know nothing about this subject, but can spit out insults that will curl your hair.  This person could rightfully be called a gladiator for the truth.  He lives in a very comfortable echo chamber and is not at all interested in moving.  Besides U-Haul doesn’t rent a moving van big enough to haul the mountains of theories (mostly listed under “conspiracy”) that this person holds dear, and will fight to the death to defend.  The Roman Emperors may have been extremely proud of the Colosseum, but they would die of envy over Facebook and Twitter.  The gladiator for the truth believes that any polite and rational discussion on any subject is a death ray pointed directly at him and everything he holds dear.  When facing a death ray, it is really hard to think clearly because the adrenaline is taking over your brain, so resorting to playground insults–upgraded to “X”–is the only option.  (Wouldn’t it be a hoot if there really was a death ray that the US Government could use to protect us from all our enemies?  A special type of death ray that would only obliterate our enemies, but not leave a scratch on us?) elegant-1769669_640God said…..  Now, I am going to rein in my snarky attitude and irreverence.  I try very hard not to be disrespectful of religious beliefs, unless they are clearly harmful.  The human tendency to be especially passionate about religion is not restricted to any one culture, and there are fanatics and rigid thinkers in all of them.  The most common argument seems to be between those who “believe” in science, and those who “believe” in literal interpretations of whatever scripture they think contains the truth.  Because this is an area that many of us struggle with, I want to share something I once read in a novel that made a lot of sense to me.

I do not remember the name of the book or the author, so I cannot give credit where it is due.  But this is the back story:  A young man is studying to be a rabbi, but he is experiencing a great deal of uncertainty and doubt.  He is particularly confused by the story of Creation, which he cannot reconcile with modern scientific “theory.”  He seeks the counsel of a learned Rabbi and this is (as best I remember it) what the Rabbi said:  “Torah is not meant to teach us what we can learn through our own God-given intelligence.  It is meant to teach us what our spiritual responsibilities are to that which is sacred–ourselves, each other, our world and God.”

I do not think there is ultimately any conflict between science and religion.  They are simply different languages by which we understand and communicate our experience of this world.

 

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 12/12/17
Inspired by daily prompt:  theory

How Are the Children?

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This sermon was given by Rev. Patrick O’Neil, at the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, New York, on January 21, 2015.  Sadly it is even more relevant today than ever.  I share it in honor and memory of all those lost lives in Newtown, in Las Vegas, in Orlando, in Texas and so many other places.  Whatever the actual age of the victims, they were somebody’s children.

Among the most accomplished and fabled tribes of Africa, no tribe was considered to have warriors more fearsome or more intelligent than the mighty Masai.  It is perhaps surprising then to learn that the traditional greeting between the Masai Warriors – Kasserian Ingera – means “And how are the Children?”

It is still the traditional greeting among the Masai, acknowledging the high value that the Masai always place on their children’s well being.  Even warriors with no children of their own would always give the traditional response – “All the Children are well.” Meaning, of course, that peace and safety prevail, that priorities of protecting the young and powerless are in place, that Masai society has not forgotten its reason for being, its proper function and responsibilities.  “All the Children are well” means that life is good.  It means that the daily struggles of existence, even among a poor people, do not preclude proper caring for its young people.

I wonder how it might affect our consciousness of our own children’s welfare if in our culture we took to greeting each other with this same daily question:  “And how are the Children?” I wonder if we heard that question and passed it along to each other a dozen times a day, if it would begin to make a difference in the reality of how children are thought of or cared for in this country.

I wonder if every adult among us, parent and non-parent alike, felt an equal weight for the daily care and protection of all the children in our town, in our state, in our country, could we truly say without any hesitation, “The children are well, yes, all the children are well.”  

What would it be like if the President began every press conference or every public appearance by answering the question:  “And how are the children, Mr. President?”  If every Governor of every state had to answer the same question at every press conference:  “And how are the children, Governor?  “Are they well?”  Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear their answers? What would it be like? I wonder…

What would be your answer?

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 11/6/17
Inspired by Daily Prompt: panacea

Please Take My Place!

 

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I do my civic duty by voting faithfully in all elections, even those small town ones where there is only one candidate for dogcatcher or cemetery commissioner.  I vote for that one person because, seriously, I admire anyone who is willing to stand up and make our town a better place by making sure dogs don’t mosey around and use my lawn to do their business, or more important make sure the dead stay buried.  (Anyone who lives in a small town knows that keeping control of the skeletons is a very important job.)

But, please don’t start talking to me about formal procedures.  Just hearing the phrase  “Robert’s Rules of Order,” makes me break out in hives and my heart rate accelerate to a dangerous level.  This caused a problem when I agreed to be president of my religious organization because now I have to run the board meetings.  I’m proud to say that I’ve learned to ask for a motion, a second and a vote on all the important issues, but I’m still pretty sure that Robert is turning in his grave.  (I’ll call the cemetery commissioner in the morning!)

Honest disclosure:  I do not often attend town meetings, committee hearings, local political conventions, and so on.  I admire people who do and feel appropriately guilty because I do not do so.  It’s on my list of things I should change about myself, but that list is so long that attending these meetings didn’t even make it to the top ten.

Back when my children were still in school, I did go to a very important town meeting about building a new middle school building and the taxes that would be necessary to fund it.  I probably would have weaseled out of that meeting too, but my 80+ year old mother said that by-god she was going because it involved her grandchildren’s future.  If I hadn’t driven her there, she probably would have walked the mile to the town hall and how would that have looked to all my nosy neighbors?

The best meeting that I attended, though, was way back when I first moved to town and was full of excitement about making myself an important resident, committed to the town’s well-being and willing to sacrifice my time and energy to help out.  I don’t remember the subject being discussed that night, but clearly it was of critical importance because it was well-attended and had to be held in a different building to accommodate the crowd.

The meeting was long and contentious, and people were starting to get cranky.  In the tradition of legalese and governmental obfuscation, the item being voted on was phrased in such a way that it was difficult to know which  way to vote.  Finally, one very exasperated old-timer stood up and yelled out:

“You mean if I’m for it, I vote agin it; and if I’m agin it, I vote for it?”

That about sums it up for me.

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 11/4/17
Inspired by Daily Prompt: proxy

Signs and Portents

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Shortly after my mother died, I was taking a walk in the early evening around the fields in back of my home.  I am fortunate to live in a beautiful location, with expansive Eastern views and uninterrupted skies.  On this particular night it was clear, the moon was in its first quarter and the light it shed did not obscure the Milky Way, spread like a ribbon across the sky.

I was sad and grieving–of course I was.  Despite the fact that my mother had lived 92 years and was, in the end, at peace with dying.  She suffered no pain or final illness.  There was nothing to put on her death certificate other than “old age.”  She had chosen several weeks before to stop eating.  It was her time.  She was ready.  We got to say our goodbyes and hold her hand.  That was surely her greatest gift to us–her quiet ability to know when it was time.  She had often said she did not want to give up driving, but when her reflexes and sight began to dwindle, she put the keys down and did not drive again.  She had said many times she hoped she would not have to go into a nursing home.  After several months of increasing illness and inability to live alone, it became inevitable.  There was never a word of recrimination, a hint of disappointment with her children who had made that decision for her.  She looked around, saw others who were worse off than she, graced them with her smile and kind words.  She was grateful for any visit, phone call, a drive in the countryside.

The weeks since her death had been consumed with the practical things that are necessary, the phone calls, the service at home, the decisions about her possessions.  I had written a eulogy, planned a memorial service with my brothers, tried to provide comfort to my family.  But I did not know how to exist in this world now empty of her physical presence.

Walking in that calm nighttime, digging into the depths of my shaky spiritual core, I admitted that even though I knew in some vague way she would always be with me, I surely could use some kind of sign.  Just at that moment, a shooting star flew across the sky. I have looked up into this night sky for 30 years and have seen numerous shooting stars. But on many nights I would stand outside in the dark, neck muscles aching in their support of my tilted head, hoping to be looking in the right direction at the right time, without any luck. On this particular night, I was not looking for them at all.

So was that a sign?  Or a coincidence?  Or just the random operation of the unfathomable universe?  The part of me that is rational and scientific says it was just the random operation of the universe and a coincidence that I was facing in the right direction at the right time.  But the part of me that has roots in the ancient ties to the natural world says something different.  It says that there are signs that we cannot read and places beyond our ability to imagine.  That there are many things so far beyond our comprehension that we can only gasp in wonder and acknowledge them with joy.

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 9/27/17
Inspired by Daily Prompt:  coincidence

Things I Want to Know – Definitions

 

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This is a companion piece to a recent post that poked fun at some of the things that drive me crazy about the loved ones with whom I share daily life.

I am back on the soapbox I have constructed over 30 years of being wife, mother and woman of the house. It may be technically impossible, but I have managed to create a soapbox with only one side.  That side would be MINE!

So, my dear ones, when you say the following, I think you must have a native language I do not know about. Either that or you revised the English dictionary and forgot to get me a copy for my birthday.

“A few minutes….”  This usually appears in a request such as “Can you come out to the garage and help me for a few minutes?” What I need to know is this. Should I just put on my boots and come out to the garage? Should I go the bathroom, put on my boots, and come out to the garage? Or, should I review my will, call the kids to tell them I love them, pack a small suitcase, go to the bathroom, put on my boots, and come out to the garage?

“On your way home….”  This is a phrase that proves your general understanding of directions and the roads that go between home, work, and the farm store is not up to GPS standards. It is a hard concept to construct in words.  Perhaps this map will help clarify.

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If you call me at work and ask if I would be willing to go to the farm store before I come home, you would probably get an affirmative answer. Admittedly it might include loud sighing or a snarky tone indicating that you have no idea how tired I am after a hard day at work.  Still, it’s likely that I would be willing to do it.  But when you start with “On your way home……,” I get an uneasy feeling that you’re trying to sweet talk me and hoping I don’t realize that the farm store is not, on any map of this universe, on my way home!

“Temporary…”  This is a word that can be applied to any length of time.  It means something different depending on the context. Life is temporary, for sure, but its span is hopefully a long one. Seasons are temporary, their length and character determined by where on the earth they are being marked.  When a doctor says the medical procedure she is about to do will cause temporary pain, well, we all know what that means!

I accept that the word temporary doesn’t need to be specified in most cases. I am fairly flexible in that regard.  But when you pile dirty rags, smelly solvents, and greasy tools on the kitchen counter and tell me it’s just temporary, I need a number!

 

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 9/16/17

Is There a Limit to Compassion?

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A recent post by Rabbi John Rosove encourages compassion as a response to the heartless statements and decisions being made by President Trump. I ache to agree completely and without hesitation.  Instead I find myself struggling with the very question that the Rabbi answered by recommending compassion–a struggle that has consumed me since last November.

One of the first public conversations I had following the election of Donald Trump was in a setting where I expected compassion.  If not compassion, at least a verbal exchange that did not mimic the vicious campaign that had just ended. Instead, I heard this:

“He’s a piece of s***!”

In no way am I advising or trying to influence anyone who has been or may be directly hurt or abused by the blatantly racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic negative rhetoric or actions that have occurred and are occurring still.  I am not completely immune or safe from some of the rhetoric and actions.  But I am lucky enough to benefit from insulating factors that at least to date have kept me an arms length from harm.  I do not assume that I have any moral high ground.

Abuse can occur through public actions, statements and decisions, or privately at the hands of someone who is supposed to love you.  People who are forced to struggle through the after-effects of abuse, whether it was public or private, must have to wrestle with the question of compassion; struggle with what their emotional response is going to be. Compassion is not a concept limited to a small group of people.

Christians speak of turning the other cheek.

The Dalai Lama said:  “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

The Prophet Micah told the Jewish people they must do justice and be merciful.

I recall a Torah study session in which I participated some years ago, when the portion of the week contained the story of the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34).  A woman who was a therapist working with sex offenders made this statement:  “I doubt that anyone wakes up one morning when he is 5 years old and says, ‘I think I’d like to be a sex offender when I grow up.'”  I doubt Donald Trump woke up one morning when he was 5 years old and decided he wanted to be what he has become, either.

Still …..  What does it mean to be compassionate–in general and in this specific instance? Why should I struggle to be compassionate toward someone who demonstrates so little compassion for anyone else?

A common argument is that compassion, like forgiveness, may be less for the benefit of the offender than the one who was offended. Perhaps, to paraphrase A.J. Muste,

“There is no way to compassion, compassion is the way.”

Perhaps …  But I’m still struggling.

 

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 9/7/17

Inspired by Daily Word Prompt: finite

 

Excuses & Rationalizations

 

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Today’s writing started out lighthearted, continuing in the line of my recent post on things my loved ones do that drive me a little crazy.  I’ll finish that post, maybe tomorrow or the next day.  I heard the decision of the Administration to end the DACA program and this prompted a need in me to write something much more serious.

I am willing to accept that there are almost always two sides to every coin, that most everyone can make at least a valid point or two in every disagreement. But the way that human societies grow and thrive is to recognize this and engage in respectful dialogue and decision making. Sadly, this does not seem at all possible in the current political climate that is running rampant and bulldozing the American Dream into rubble.

There are many more educated, experienced and eloquent people analyzing and commenting on the current state of our society. And thank goodness there are. I do not consider myself a savvy journalist, or any kind of intellectual wizard able to debate and educate or have any persuasive effect on anyone who doesn’t already agree with me.

This post will probably just serve as a venting process for me, and a confirmation for like-minded friends and readers. Perhaps this is also important. We all know the various ways we can try to improve our public life, and it is not my intent to say what is the best way for each of us. But I hope that somehow what I write serves as a bit of encouragement and support.

Recently I commented to someone near and dear to me that one of the problems I have with our current President is that he lies constantly, or misrepresents, or doesn’t know or understand critical issues, all of which are highly concerning. I am willing to engage in respectful discussion of politics, religion, educational philosophies, or any other area in which there are valid disagreements. But the response was this:  “Well, what do you think SHE would have been doing?” (I assume everyone knows who SHE refers to.)

Has this become the standard by which we judge the character and effectiveness of our leaders? It’s okay to lie, because somebody else would have done it too? It’s okay to be hateful, divisive, speak in a way that incites others to engage in violence, because, hey, other people do it? Are we going to come to a place in our communal lives when we just don’t expect our elected leaders to stand up, be counted and do what’s right? When we settle for mediocrity, ineffectiveness, blathering and nonsense?

A people can thrive through honest and thoughtful disagreement about policies and procedures, can endure many hardships, and make the necessary sacrifices that a democratic, national life demands. But when the person entrusted to be our common voice, the personal manifestation of our national hopes and dreams, speaks only to the worst of human nature, we may still survive, but we most certainly do not flourish.

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 9/5/17

Inspired by Daily Word Prompt:  elevate