Noah & Margo

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was in the days, in the early morning of time, when kids didn’t listen to their parents and generally stayed out with the family horse well past curfew.

In the evenings, after the hummingbird races in heaven, God would look down at the earth and start to get a headache. People were picking too much food and hoarding it. Some went hungry while others watched their stockpiles rot because they hadn’t invented preservatives. And God knew that when humans did get around to inventing preservatives, they’d cause cancer.

By now, most of the politicians and magistrates were on the take. Even when they did get caught, these powerful crooks would retire rich and earn even more money by publishing memoirs commemorating their decadence.

Not much was going right. One gender of humankind was bossing the other around for no rational reason, so God was toying with two ideas.

The first idea was to change all the hormones over night. This would reverse the aggressiveness in one gender and put the shoe on the other foot for a while.

The second idea was to change the languages between the sexes. Instead of bossing each other around, they’d have to work hard at communicating to overcome the loneliness. In the end though, God decided to wipe the slate clean and start a new human race.

On the morning when God was about to open flood gate number five to the big dam to wash the earth clean before starting a new humanity, God saw a black man named Ham walking down the road. An ostrich was strolling along behind him. Black people were God’s favorite color. To God, variety was the spice of life. But along with everything else that humanity had messed up, it had been decided by a small town council, up in Northern Mesopotamia, that yellow people were going to be the preferred color. From then on, the blacks, the reds and the whites were thought of as “inferior.” The more God thought about it, the more angry God became.

Right when God was about to reach for the lever to the dam, this Ham fellow started God laughing. He had on a pair of weird sun glasses with strings looping down and going behind his head (as if it would catch them if they fell). He had a shirt that looked like it had been used as a paint rag and his baggy shorts were made of feathers which perfectly matched the ostrich walking behind him.

God was laughing so much at Ham’s creative apparel that God decided a bit of this craziness must be carried over into the next try at humanity. Some of these humans were really good sports, despite their mistakes, so God stopped Ham and asked a few questions.

In no time, God found out that Ham came from a nice family. His dad was a black man named Noah and his mom, who was red, was named Margo. God remembered having a few walks with this young couple who were in their late five hundreds – the prime of their life. In addition to their son Ham, who had tried out for the priesthood but had flunked the dress code, there was Shem, an accountant and Japheth, a jazz musician.

With the incredible luck that only the Creator could have, Noah and Margo’s three boys and their wives had put off having children until they were in their two hundreds when their mortgages would be paid off. They were the only family clan in the human race without young children. The Almighty knew little ones would not be able to handle what was coming.

Right then and there, God decided to save Margo, Noah and their sons and daughter-in-laws so that there would be a few people with a little imagination – preventing the next batch of
humans from turning out like the ones before. And God felt good about the decision.

When Noah was told to start building a cargo ship in the middle of the desert, instead of laughing he said, “Why not!”

You see, in Noah’s high school yearbook, most people scribbled things like, “Good luck – you’ll need it.” His class voted him “The person most likely not to succeed.” He barely passed his courses and the only thing he was ever interested in was wood shop.

“Have I got a project for you” God said, but the worst part of it for Noah was telling his wife Margo. So he didn’t. He just started in on it.

“What are you building now, honey, a 450 cubit long wooden patio?” she asked.

Within thirty seconds after Noah’s answer, Margo’s face went pale, then transformed to an absence of color only later to return to red.

Just her luck. Her husband was asking her and the kids to pack up and move again. Another one of his harebrained schemes to go to the new world and seek his fortune. This time, it is supposed to be the end of the world and everyone is doomed.

Margo began to laugh, not at her husband’s latest project nor her son Ham, who was coming up the driveway. She was laughing at the collection of animals trailing behind him. Not only were her husband and sons building a boat in the middle of nowhere, they were collecting animals for the trip. Of course Ham had a great time being in charge of animal gathering. She knew he was all thumbs, when it came to carpentry, but he was taking some pride in meticulously gathering two of every species he could find.

Margo somehow forgot about the circumstances and counted her blessings. She realized that this was probably the funniest thing the earth ever witnessed and it was her privilege to be entertained right in her own back yard. “Thank goodness I didn’t marry that boring fellow who was going to invent collecting postage stamps” she thought.

Margo pitched in with her husband, sons and daughter-in-laws and passed her time trying to make the inside of the boat livable. She figured that if the water never came, they would at least have a nice summer house.

The neighbors had became a problem. They bribed their friends at the courthouse to rezone the neighborhood prohibiting arks. “It’ll lower the value of the property” they argued. It wasn’t long before their friends stopped coming by. All this talk about the end of the world and a flood was getting a little fanatic. And with his obsession with boat building, Noah had really let down his bowling team. His absence made them short-handed so the team came in last in the league.

Early one evening, when Margo and Noah were sitting on their back porch in the shadow of their nearly finished boat, Margo said, “Suppose you’re wrong? Maybe you misunderstood what God said. You know, I can’t even send you to the store to get a simple list of groceries without you coming back with the wrong things. Maybe God said that WE are going to be destroyed and everyone else is going to be saved.”

Noah looked at his wife – she always was a worrier. He paused, with a concerned look on his face but finally said, “Nah! . . . But even so, it sure has been fun building this boat. Did you see the stained glass window I put in on the upper level today? I think it’s a nice touch but I’ve got to figure out what to do about the rest room facilities.”

The days passed quickly and the clan busily prepared dried food for the boat. They gathered grains for the animals that were accumulating in their back yard. Despite all the problems they were having with the neighbors, the animals were the best behaved.

The lambs were napping with the lions. The giraffes didn’t seem to mind the monkeys climbing up their necks. Sure there were some household spats about someone being allowed to take along more than others on the trip. These family arguments were nothing, however, compared to the abuse they had to take from the townspeople.

The police were serving summons daily for disturbing the peace. The family was considered so weird for their boat building and animal gathering that the neighborhood children were prohibited from playing near the property. There were even casual tunics for sale which said: “Vacation on Noah’s Desert Love Boat: No Seasickness Guaranteed!”

On the afternoon they finished piling the sacks of grain into the boat, Charlotte, Japheth’s wife, was up on top of the boat nailing down the last roofing shingle when she felt a few drops of rain. Noah was over in the orchard picking a few limes for dinner.

Suddenly God came up to him and said, “Noah, this is it! Plan on having dinner on the boat tonight and have Ham get all those animals on board. Oh yea, don’t forget the ostriches. I would hate to have to figure out the design on those again.”

That afternoon, everyone got on board and thought Noah was only testing the suitability of the living quarters. At the most, they thought they were having a picnic inside the new house boat. After the storm, they would all go back home and play a few games of pinochle.

The rain kept coming down and the back yard turned to mud. They had to shut the door to keep from getting wet. After they closed themselves in and lit a few candles, Noah said, “This is it!” in his most authoritative voice.

For a minute, everyone almost believed that this funny talk about the end of the world was true. Perhaps Noah had done all this boat building and animal gathering for something other than a summer lark.

An elephant whinnied and one of the parakeets landed on Margo’s shoulder. Shem, who was up on the next level looking out of the partially opened stained glass window, called down and said, “Holy Mackerel! There’s about two hundred people slopping through the mud coming toward the boat. Better lock that door, dad!”

Right after they slipped the bolt tight, the knocking began. Just to have the last laugh, Noah climbed up to the window and yelled out into the rain, “Thought I didn’t know what I was doing, eh? Well the word they’ll invent for my expertise is ‘archeologist.’” Nobody outside laughed, so Noah shut the window.

To try to take their minds off the knocking and the sounds of angry voices, they all went around and checked to see if the pitch was keeping the boat watertight. It sounded like chaos outside. Because of the darkness and the rain coming down in torrents, little could be seen through that upper window.

The first five hours of the trip were a lark. Everyone was congratulating Noah for his foresight. Ham fed the animals and talked about their distinguishing marks. The rest of the clan eventually managed to begin a few hands of cards when Ham called out from the animal section, “Oh no! I’ve got two female Amadillians. They’ll become extinct.”

Everyone tried their best to cheer him up. Margo’s joke got their minds back to the cards. She said, with as much seriousness in her voice as she could muster, “And its too bad the snakes can’t multiply.”

“Why can’t the snakes multiply?” Ham said falling for it.

“Because,” Margo continued, “they are only adders.”

All went fine for the first evening but when it was time for bed, things started going down hill. No one had figured out how to assign the chores of the houseboat. It became overwhelmingly obvious that someone had to clean the animal stalls. Later that night, you never saw a more grouchy, tired and unsociable group of relatives in your life. By the next morning, none of the people or animals had managed to get a wink of sleep and everyone was at each other’s throats.

The food wasn’t right. Things were damp and musty. No matter what you put into your mouth, it all tasted like elephant trunk or birds’ wings. Probably the only thing that kept Margo, Noah and their sons and their daughter-in-laws alive was their hatred. As they heard the rain relentlessly pound on the roof over the top deck, each of them secretly planned ways to get even with their in-laws for taking a favorite spot, stealing their dessert or snoring.

After several days of this, they were all so exhausted that they looked at each other through bloodshot eyes. In fact, they all got a little punchy and stayed that way for the next several weeks. They told jokes to pass the time. In no time, they began to laugh at anything. Even comments like “pass the salt” would start a round of laughter. They would tell themselves, if they could survive this, they could make it through anything.

From sitting in their cramped quarters, constantly hearing the complaining neighs, chirps and roars of the animals, they spent a lot of time asking themselves philosophical questions. “What are humans that God is mindful of us?” Noah asked out loud one evening as he was getting nudged by a horse’s hoof while scraping parrot droppings off his toga.

A lot of things transpired during these weeks of deplorable conditions. Poems were composed. The bag pipes were invented. Shem’s wife Rachel came up with the concept of ice cream but unfortunately she forgot it before she wrote it down. Noah discovered that a few mosquitoes had gotten into the boat and everyone was depressed about it except the birds. Everyone experienced transactional analysis, mid-life crisis and self-actualization.

As the weeks went by, everyone had several significant emotional experiences. There was enlightenment. There were petty feuds. Weeks transpired when one refused to talk with another. There were crying jags and laughing fits. Everyone got religion and lost it several times. In the end, though, there was cooperation because there was no choice.
Stories. They all took turns telling stories. Out of their weariness came beautiful tales of ages long ago when unicorns romped on the hills and when the children of Queens and Kings unconsciously played with village folk as a matter of course.

Suddenly, in the dead of the night and after weeks of this, there was a loud scraping sound on the bottom of the boat.

Everyone jumped out of their hammocks. It seemed that the rain had stopped and their craft had rubbed against land.

“Land” someone said.

“October 10th and the rain stopped and it’s my birthday!”

Margo announced from the corner as she looked at the calendar she had drawn on the wall.

“No it’s not” said Wendy, her daughter-in-law. “Don’t you remember? You forgot to mark the weekends and I told you about it but you never listen to me. Your calendar is way off.”

And with that, Margo and Wendy got into one of the most physical fights yet seen in time. It took all four men to pull them away from each other. You see, when they hit land, it riled everyone up and they were not prepared to even hope.

Noah stuck his head out of the window and saw that there was nothing but water, except for one little piece of land. “Must be the top of a mountain” he called down to the others.
After each person had taken their turn looking at the small island of earth, they decided that good times must be coming.

They celebrated by going out on the roof of the boat. Wendy and Margo hugged one another. For the first time in weeks, it was not raining so they all danced like children. They didn’t know what to do with the fresh air and the only animals allowed on the deck were the birds. The doves went through the window and flew around for a while. Finding no place to land, other than the boat, they came back inside.

Life got better for everyone, now that the rain had stopped. There was the outside roof of the boat and a chance for sunbathing. The doves flew away one afternoon and were presumed drowned after a week. To everyone’s surprise, though, they finally came back.

One day, when everyone had slept in, one of the doves, which had been away for several days, flew in the opened hatch and landed on Noah’s face. Most everyone had experienced, one time or another, waking up with difficulty in breathing because an animal was sleeping on their face. To everyone’s amazement, this dove had a branch in its beak.

Everyone rushed to the roof. It was too good to believe. There was land all around them. Most of it was mud, but it was beautiful mud with beautiful muddy trees and muddy bushes and muddy mountains.

On Noah’s six-hundredth and first birthday, and no one dared to dispute Margo’s calendar, everyone jumped off the boat and had the longest and funniest mud war in the history of civilization. Even the animals stumbled out and rolled around and frolicked in the mud. It was quite a sight. For weeks these humans and animals had been cooped up in that wooden crate and you could not tell one from the other. Everyone was covered with mud and stunk to high heaven. Everyone was smiling. “Land ho!”

In a few hours, they all settled down on top of a hill about a thousand cubits from their boat. The animals tottered off in different directions, wandering just far enough to graze. Most of the animals were sick of the junk food the people had been feeding them. Everyone was too grateful to speak. It was a profound moment.

It was also a sad moment. All they had was each other and that rotting, dilapidated boat. Nothing remained in their former houseboat that didn’t smell like the elephant house at the zoo.

This was the moment that God picked to show up and greet the disembarked passengers. As God came up the hill to where they all were sitting, Noah called out, “Nice to see You, . . . and by the way, thanks! We’re glad You didn’t leave us behind.”

God smiled and started to talk about how this sort of thing was never going to happen again. About how they are all going to have children – which was no surprise to them. And God talked about how they were to start over being vegetarians because the earth needed every living being to reproduce – not to mention eating meat was bad for them.

And just to do something really special, God pointed up at the sky. In doing so, God waved a hand across and created this bright colored cloth or ribbon up in the air. It was beautiful. Here they were, sopping wet with mud and gray and surrounded by earth tones and God was painting colors in the sky.

“Wow!” Margo said. “How did You do that?”

God said, “It’s called a rainbow. I’m going to hang one of those out in the sky after every rain storm as a reminder that this won’t happen again.”

In a way, it gave Noah a nice warm feeling to see the rainbow up there. In another way, it made him a little uneasy. If God needed that rainbow as a reminder, suppose God didn’t happen to look in the right direction or had something else in mind and forgot. What if everyone would be finished off again? But from the look on God’s face, Noah knew he was wrong to worry.

That evening after the stickball game that God had organized, God sat with them around the campfire and gave them a whole list of suggestions on how to start their new society.

“You’re going to have to skip the rule, for a while, about not marrying your cousins. You haven’t got any choice about that” God pointed out. “You’re charged with a new beginning of humanity.

Learn from the wrongs of the past. Do the best you can. Make life fun. Make life fair.”

“And oh yea,” God continued, “happy birthday Noah . . . six hundred and one, I believe.” And with that, God started everybody singing happy birthday to Noah.

In a few minutes, things settled down and became even more reflective. Noah looked at God and said: “How are we going to start over? We’ve lost everything.”

God looked at him and said, “No you haven’t. You still have everything you need.”

Noah was about to start an argument with God about that one, and so was everyone else, but God just stood there and smiled with God’s unique knowing look. And because God was so beautiful and so mighty and wonderful all at the same time, they decided they shouldn’t get into a tiff about that one. After all, they were standing on land.

A little later, God was going for a walk down on the plain with the animals but Noah kept thin king about their situation. “Everything we need?” Noah mumbled to himself. “God calls this everything? I’d like to know how God thinks I can make a go at things without any hardware stores. And I’d like to know how we’re supposed to have vacations if we don’t even have careers. And the pension plan – what’s going to happen to us when we are in our 900s?”

But then Noah looked over at Margo, sitting nearby. She had a smile on her face because she was watching her boy Shem rolling down the hill, with his wife Rachel, like a couple of kids. She was thinking about children. Noah saw the sparkle in her eyes and delight in her smile. He saw the pink tones of the far off sunset were reflected in the softness of her face.

Noah remembered that just before the flood, they had celebrated their 586th wedding anniversary. He still remembered his awkward proposal for marriage when he was fifteen – or was it Margo who had proposed? It had been some life, so far. They had a lot of history with each other. The kids were only one hundred years old but they’d grow up one of these days. And somehow reading her husband’s mind, Margo scooted over next to him and settled back into his arms. They watched the sun go down, knowing that it would return on the next morning. It probably would never rain that much again.

“I think God is right about that” Noah said almost unconsciously.

“Right about what, Noah?” asked Margo as she continued to watch the kids from within Noah’s arms.

“About having everything we need” he answered as he slowly stroked her hair. She relaxed against him as he continued. “It took me six hundred years but I’ve finally realized what’s most important in life.

It’s not the job or the bowling team (but never tell anyone I said that). It’s not the flood or the ark. It’s not even about surviving.” And with gentleness, he looked in Margo’s eyes and slowly said, “It’s about making life more fun and fair for you. Being with you is all that matters.”

God happened to be walking near – just below the hill where they sat. God smiled. For once, at least some of them, had finally gotten the point of it all.

And it was evening. And it was morning. And life started up again.

TTL

Moonset

Back at the end of the 20th century when the human genome was sequenced and mapped, genetic and biological scientists had made amazing gains in understanding human life. They came to master elements of human growth and death through the DNA sequencing. This enabled us to dramatically increase our knowledge of the human longevity.

By 2030, medical science could implant a small biometric device that counts down how much time remains for a person to live. The device was composed of miniature DNA biofeedback transducers that are attached to the skin’s surface but connected to the subdural cellular DNA material of the body’s central nervous system. These plasma diodes provided a tiny digital readout on a skin-like mesh, showing the date when the individual will expire.

The medical research teams, that first configured them, called them “TTLs.” They derived the name from the computer term TTL meaning “Time To Live.” It was the hop limit on our computer mechanisms that measured the lifespan of data on our devices. The inventors initially thought the term would soon change but for some reason, it stuck.

Today, with TTLs, no fortune tellers or spiritual guides are needed. The embedded biometric chip indicates the exact date we will expire. You’ve got, say, exactly 17 years and 14 days left to live. For your sibling, it might be only 8 years and 27 days. Your time remaining shows on the digital readout on your skin’s surface at your clavicle (hidden just under your neckline).

~

By 2035, a TTL marketing plan rolled out and with it came an enormous uproar. The influential people from organized religious circles decried it a fraud. They did so until several of them, in their dying moments, created death-bed videos, admitting they were wrong.

At this point, a few entrepreneurs begin marketing software which was said to hack past the human biological countdown mechanism. In their product launch, they “guaranteed” an extended warranty on the lifespan limits, amounting to an additional five or more years of life. While these surgical implants initially cost above 3.2 million dollars for insertion, these life-extenders, when added to the TTL implants, would add years to life and modify the digital end dates. But these biological extender implants were cost prohibitive and were kept from the public knowledge. Most people could only watch and wait out the count-down on their TTL digital readings.

Within several months of the introduction of the TTL life-extender devices, the FTC exposed the fraud. These “life-extension” add-ons were only a programming modification of the logarithm of the TTL biometers, temporarily replacing the true expiration date for a later one.

After all the hoaxes and con artists were prosecuted, most people slowly began to adjust to the reality of knowing the true brevity of their lives.

~

Initially TTLs were a boom for the life insurance industry. Their sales soared or dipped according to the number of years remaining on people’s TTLs. Eventually, though, people stopped purchasing life insurance altogether and the industry collapsed.

Yet people are reluctant in accepting the inevitability of their death. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross correctly suggested in her 1969 landmark book On Death and Dying.

Most people tend to avoid looking at their TTL readout. It is only when their TTL date enters the last decade of their life span that they actively make some changes their lives.

As expected, many quit their careers and ventured into entirely new fields. Currently, on all corporate resignation forms there are check boxes to indicate “Approaching TTL Date” under the reason for quitting.

In their final decade, some divest themselves of unneeded wealth while others gamble their life’s savings away, just to see how much they can accumulate.

Some abuse drugs and alcohol and venture into dangerous experimental nihilistic lifestyles. Many self-medicate and prematurely die of liver failure. To whatever extent that people shorten their lives through neglect, their TTL is a constant and fixed date.

Many flock to religious institutions and groups, seeking meaning for their lives as they near life’s end. After all, NOW is the only meaningful event or tangible commodity that seems to matter. Most of the population is exclusively focused on who they are with and the quality of their relationships. Medical offices frequently have Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” as part of their standard office Mosaic® playlist.

In the last TTL decades, some engage in risk-taking. Some try skydiving, scuba diving or mountain climbing while others try to brave public speaking. Comedy clubs find that their ‘Open Mike’ sessions have hundreds signed up well in advance. One club in San Diego calls itself “I’m Dying Up Here” and broadcasts live performances.

With the deployment of TTLs, the travel industry has skyrocketed. Thousands seem to be fulfilling their ‘bucket list’ as they travel around the world. There is considerably less worry about traveling to suspected terrorist-affiliated countries. If your TTL still shows a number of years remaining, you book your travel, knowing that it won’t be during this coming trip that you expire.

~

TTL specialists typically give Ted talks about achieving excellence in focusing on the present moment. They’ll frequently admonish their audiences to direct compassion toward people in need – particularly those who struggle in coping with their coming endpoint.

News reports have turned from what a particular national leader is threatening other to more positive stories. The focus is more on the things the TTL people are doing in society to make a difference for the better. Awards and honorariums change to TTL behavior which brings society new methodologies of physical, social or spiritual healing. Award nominations are no longer based on box office revenues or the numbers of previous popular nominations.

For recent years, “TTL Specialists” have appeared on talk shows explaining their theories about overcoming the drawbacks of death. Doctoral theses, accompanying books and programs have proliferated on the subjects like “Managing Our Endpoint.” New social science fields teach why we should no longer be anxious or striving. Doing so, it is said, robs us of energy and focus on the being present with the remaining life that is before us. Those who used to say “have a blessed day” more commonly say “have a precious present.”

Faith-based organizations have migrated to new leadership of the laity. Almost as if they are ad-hoc gatherings of passengers on a sinking ship, organized religion has become characterized by open sharing sessions instead of liturgy and fixed readings. Life stories and philosophical learnings are regularly shared, giving speaking priority to those with quickly approaching TTL dates.

Out of those faith-based gatherings have emerged groups who called themselves “Visitors.” These are TTL-mindful people who simply visit people. They come to be with those in prison or they eat their lunches at the soup kitchens with the homeless and indigent. Members of “Visitor” groups share how they have divested themselves of their excess resources, sharing with the needy and compassionately treat others like brothers and sisters.

Young adults, with several decades remaining until their TTL date, stop aggressively competing in the office for the manager positions. Instead, they personally try to become the technical support and customer service center for all of their colleagues as well as their clients. They intentionally try to empower their colleagues around them by sharing their own talents and knowledge to help them excel in what they do. They display marvelous levels of creativity and innovation – just for the joy of it.

~

The TTL readout on our clavicle bone has been the start of new social consciousness that is transforming our society. The social change has begun because it is unmistakably clear that we can’t take things, money or power with us beyond our own TTL date.

For the most part, those within the final decade of their end date, tend to be uninterested in how much money or power or social influence they have. Instead, they tend to use their energy and resources in trying to make life somehow better for those who suffer. They spontaneously grab a hammer and nails and join the neighborhood kids in building a treehouse. They create a website for the folks in Brentwood who are trying to save the Coral Trees. They transport some wheelchair-bound seniors across the street from their rest home on Ocean Boulevard so they can see the exquisite Palisades Park view of the ocean. They buy them an ice cream cone when taking them to the Prominade.

~

In time, societies benefitting from the TTL readouts will continue to evolve. Segments of society will become known as the ‘Places of Paradise.’ They will be countries and cultures known by the current generations as the most favorable places in which to dwell. That is because no matter what is going on in the world, the people who are most conscious of their time to live will be more fully living in the present. They, and the communities they create, will be considered the most elevated humans ever to inhabit the earth.

Near large shopping centers, unneeded automobiles and previews of the available homes are on display. Anyone needing transportation or shelter is able to access these regional auction centers which distribute homes and cars donated by those with expiring TTLs. Homelessness has largely disappeared. Automobile and home prices have plunged.

In proximity to the auction centers are also so-called “Final Word Studios.” The studios are be staffed by volunteer camera crews and set designers to help people record their final parting words before their death. One franchise calling itself “Finally” has as many locations as McDonalds or Starbucks. These studios work with soon-to-expire people who want to create a final last-words video for their family, friends and posterity.

A person nearing their TTL date are able to sit down and work with the studio crew on creating their final video. People can say their last words from their favorite mountain top view, in the comfort of their own home or with almost any background set of props they can imagine.

They can write and choreograph the scene as they imagine but producers and writers are available to help with them with their script. Volunteer actors and actresses are also on hand to add to the production. They can do a final monologue or soliloquy. They can narrate pictures from their own family scrap books. They can read their poetry or curse at their Ex. They can get out whatever it is they wish to express, knowing that this is what they are leaving as their sign post of their life’s experiences. The only stipulation is that at the time of the taping, their TTL reading must be within the final few weeks before their expiration date.

~

This author’s TTL device now shows only hours remaining. So I simply wish you a precious present, hoping you live your remaining time with the fullest mindfulness of the incredible beauty that resides within you and those around you. Know that as your remaining time transpires, all that you are and have been has been part of the height of humankind’s universal beauty and celestial nobility. Good job.

… Philip Siddons

Your Way

It was 12:50 and church had gone over again. Michael pulled into Burger King. He was starving and with church letting out late, he
had to throw something down the hatch before he quickly changed into his jeans. He had to get back to church to help. A few of the guys were putting together a wooden Noah’s ark for the children’s nursery.

“One of these days God ought to do that again with the flooding” Michael said out loud to himself as he pulled into the restaurant’s drive through lane. He had just seen a lot of people in casual clothing coming out of the Blockbuster
Video store across the street.

“It’s clear they never darken a church door” he muttered as he waited in line with the others in the drive through lane. “They live like there is no God and if they ever really knew they’re going to be coming up short on judgment day, they’d be
shakin’ in their boots, dying to get into church – but it’ll be too late.”

What Michael didn’t know, when he was about to place his order, was that the voice coming out of the intercom would be God’s. That’s right, the Almighty was sitting inside with
the earphone and mike, taking orders. God had never done that work before but was giving it a try, . . . actually helping out one of the workers who had gone home ill a little earlier.

“May I take your order” Michael heard through the intercom, surprised that the voice wasn’t as crackly and artificial as usual.

“Yes, I’d like a double cheeseburger and an Adventure Cappuccino . . . and make it quick. I’ve got to hurry to get back to church” Michael said, surprised that he told this minimum-wage person why he was in a rush.

“Admirable” said the intercom attendant with some warmth. “Since this is Burger King, we’ll treat you like a king and you’ll have it your way, of course.”

“Yea, that would be the day” Michael said with scorn, . . . clueless about what was soon to come. “The day I have it my way,” he added, “this whole town would be cleaned up and you’d be able to walk the street and never worry about being attacked by the hoodlums and the ungodly.”

“Sounds like you’d get lots of votes if you were running in the next election” the voice cheerfully said through the speaker system.

“You know what I would do if I really had it my way?” Michael continued. “I wouldn’t pray for three atheist Supreme Court Justices to die, like Pat Robertson suggested. I’d get the whole job done at once. I’d send everyone, who feels they’re too busy to show up at church, right to hell, . . just like that. If these Godless-liberals want to drive our country to hell in a hand basket, let’s ship’em there permanently and save them the work of dragging the rest of us there.”

“That’s a pretty tall order” God said through the intercom with seriousness. Is that what you really want?”

“Sure,” said Michael. I’d send them all there, . . . ‘like a thief in the night.’ Throw ‘em all in the infernal region and flame broil them over the open fire ‘my way’” Michael concluded, proud of his tying in the restaurant’s advertising rhetoric.

“All right, it’s your call” the voice said. “And one thing further, do you want fries with that?”

“No,” Michael responded. “I’m trying to stay healthy” he said with a smile on his face. “Your body is a temple, you know!”

“Yes, . . so it’s said” God responded with a touch of sadness. “Please drive around.”

When Michael came up to the window, there was only his bag of food and no cashier. He called into the window and no one was in sight. He waited another couple of moments and called again, even beeping his horn. Finally, in exasperation, he just took his food and drove off.

As he passed by the restaurant, he noticed that no one was in it. The food in the bag felt hot but there wasn’t a soul in the entire place. Neither was there anyone on the street or across the way in front of the Blockbuster Video store. He was
the only one driving on the street.

It felt a bit eerie. Sure it was Sunday but there were a lot of people out and about just minutes before so he turned on his radio. Nothing was coming out of his radio except the sound of someone humming a tune.

He pushed the button to switch to this favorite Christian
station but it was the same thing, . . . someone humming a tune.

“What the hell is going on around here?” Michael said half to the radio, half to the deserted street in front of him.

“Well that’s just the point, Michael” the voice said to him from his car radio speakers. The voice he heard was the same one he had just heard from the drive through intercom. Michael slammed on the brakes and came to an abrupt stop in the middle of an intersection. It didn’t even matter because there were no cars anywhere in sight!

“What’s just the point?” Michael nervously said, wondering if he was having a breakdown or a sudden bout of insanity.

“What the hell, that is going on, is just what you ordered” God said from the radio. “You’ve just sent seven billion people to hell. They’re all gone but you’ve got a couple of problems with
that order.”

By now, Michael realized to Whom he had been speaking and took courage. “You mean You took care of all those unchurched heathens for me, just like that?” he
asked with some pride.

“Yes” God answered back through the radio. “But since there isn’t a literal place called “Hell” I brought them over into my place, just to get them out of your way. “And by the way, the only people who are left in your life are the two hundred or so who go to your church. There’s nobody left where you work. I’ve got most of your relatives. Have you noticed that your wife and kids have been bored to death with your church? So enjoy the quiet and the simplicity” God concluded.

Michael’s radio made a pop and a sputter sound and was silent. He saw a car coming toward him from the opposite direction. It was Hal Linden and his wife Brenda from church. He looked as bewildered, as Michael felt, as their two cars slowly stopped so they could talk.

“I can’t believe it” Hal said. “It’s the rapture or something and everyone’s gone. Maybe this is it” he concluded with wide-eyed excitement.

Michael looked at him and responded, “If it is, how come we are left here?” In the prolonged silence that followed, neither of them could speak.

Michael continued home. His neighborhood was virtually empty. It was as if a bomb had dropped and sucked every living thing away.

Michael’s radio snapped on and God asked one more question. “By the way, Michael, what’s a hand basket?”

Hierarchical Thinking and The Myth of Redemptive Violence

April 13, 2011

Where did we get the idea that some people have more worth than others? The “we” in that sentence means you and me. For some reasons, you and I seem to believe that some people deserve more than others while others, conversely, deserve less.

Living in America, we acan’t excape the power of of capitalism over our thinking. Those who work harder and are more creative and innovative deserve rewards for their efforts beyond the medioachre. So we have “self-made men” who have “picked themselves up by their bootstraps and made something of themselves.” The assumption, here, is that those who haven’t received rewards for their efforts are medioachre, lazzy and less productive. “People who have made bad choices” in the words of one political executive in our region.

A close companion (and perhaps lover) to this simplistic, self-satisfied, judgmental and completely compassionless outlook on life of the mythic “American Dream” is Soocial Darwinism. This philosohy was brought to us in the mid 20th centry by Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner. Darwin’s insight in biological evolution through adaptation of species who were judged as more fit for their changing environment came to be applied to sociological points of view. The poor and the disadvantaged came to be judged as mal-adapters, unmotivated, lazy. The rich and prosperious came to be judged as better adapters, more evolved in society. Better.

So in various societies, particularly in the US, there are those who believe that there isn’t enough to go around and that it is up to the more evolved to preserve what they have, protecting their things from those who haven’t adapted and propered as well as they have. The other group of people seem to be those who believe that there are enough goods and services in the planet for all to not only survive but thrive. Karl Marx knew of this dicatomy in societies and warned that if the few affluent dictators with power and wealth oppressed the masses, there would be revolutions.

Unfortunately, accompanying this class warfare, there is the myth of redemptive violence. I quote a large section of Walter Wink, The Powers That Be because I believe you find it to be profound.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

The story that the rulers of domination societies told each other and their subordinates is what we today might call the Myth of Redemptive Violence. It enshrines the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world.

“The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience unto-death.

This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today. I myself first became aware of it, oddly enough, by watching children’s cartoon shows. When my children were small, we let them log an unconscionable amount of television, and I became fascinated with the mythic structure of cartoons. This was in the 1960s, when the “death of God” theologians were being feted on talk shows, and secular humanity’s tolerance for religious myth and mystery were touted as having been exhausted. I distinctly remember hearing God’s death being announced on the morning news, and then seeing, in a cartoon show moments later, Hercules descending from heaven to earth, an incarnate god doing good to mortals. I began to examine the structure of other cartoons, and found the same pattern repeated endlessly: an indestructi­ble hero is doggedly opposed to an irreformable and. equally indestructible villain. Nothing can kill the hero, though for the first three-quarters of the comic strip or TV show he (rarely she) suffers grievously and appears hopelessly doomed, until, miraculously, the hero breaks free, vanquishes the villain, and restores order until the next episode. Nothing finally destroys the villain or prevents his or her reappearance, whether the villain is soundly trounced, jailed, drowned, or shot into outer space.

Thankfully, not all children’s programs feature explicit violence. But the vast majority perpetuate the mythic pattern of redemptive violence in all its brutality. Examples would include the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the X-Men, Transformers, the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Ice Man, the Superman family, Captain America, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Batman and Robin, Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, and Tom and Jerry (plus the Power Rangers, where real people act out cartoon characters). A variation on the classic theme is provided by hu­morous antiheroes, whose bumbling incompetence guarantees their victory despite themselves (Underdog, Super Chicken). Then there is a more recent twist, where an evil or failed indi­vidual is transformed by a technological accident into a mon­strous creature who—amazingly—does good (Spider-Man, The Hulk and She-Hulk, Ghost Rider). It is almost as if people no longer believe that heroes of sterling character can be produced by our society, and that goodness can transpire only by a freak of technology (such as electrocution or radioactive poisoning). In all these shows, however, the mythic structure is rigidly ad­hered to, no matter how cleverly or originally it is re-presented.

Few cartoons have run longer or been more influential than Popeye and Bluto. In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a scream­ing and kicking Olive Oil, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oil, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth. Transformed by this gracious infusion of power, he easily demolishes the villain and rescues his beloved. The format never varies. Neither party ever gains any insight or learns from these encounters. They never sit down and discuss their differences. Repeated defeats do not teach Bluto to honor Olive Oil’s humanity and repeated pummelings do not teach Popeye to swallow his spinach before the fight.

Something about this mythic structure rang familiar. Suddenly I remembered: this cartoon pattern mirrored one of the oldest continually enacted myths in the world, the Babylonian creation story (the Enuma Elish) from around 1250 B.C.E. The merely finds evil already present and perpetuates it. Our origins are divine, to be sure, since we are made from a god, but from the blood of an assassinated god. We are the outcome of deicide.

Human beings are thus naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence. Order must continually be imposed upon us from on high: men over women, masters over slaves, priests over laity, aristocrats over peasants, rulers over people. Unquestioning obedience is the highest virtue, and order the highest religious value. Nor are we created to subdue the earth and have dominion over it as God’s regents; we exist but to serve as slaves of the gods and of their earthly regents. The tasks of humanity are to till the soil, to produce foods for sacrifice to the gods (represented by the king and the priestly caste), to build the sacred city Babylon, and to fight and, if necessary, die in the king’s wars.

Later, Marduk was fused with Tammuz, a god of vegetation whose death and resuscitation was enacted in the humiliation and revival of Marduk, an element that is preserved in cartoon shows by the initial defeat of the “good guy” and his eventual victory over evil, as it were, out of the very jaws of death. The only detail in our modern rendition that is different is that the enemy has generally ceased to be female.

As Marduk’s representative on earth, the king’s task is to subdue all those enemies who threaten the tranquility that he has established on behalf of the god. The whole cosmos is a state, and the god rules through the king. Politics arises within the divine sphere itself. Salvation is politics: the masses identify with the god of order against the god of chaos, and offer them­selves up for the Holy War that imposes order and rule on the peoples round about.

Walter Wink, The Powers That BeA Theology for a New Millennium, ISBN: 0-385-48752-5 (Galilee/Doubleday; New York; 1998) Pages 44-48.

That said, the folks who influence us from the Buddhist outlook on things, suggest that the first place of discerning mindfulness happens in our heads. Here are a few questions:

  1. What groups of people do we judge to be of less worth than us?
  2. What gives us (you and me) our worth?
  3. If our circumstances (yours or mine) changed because of war, disease, natural disasters or our own ineptitude, would our worth change in any way?
  4. Isn’t the worth we attribute to ourselves or others actually a value we have in our head?
  5. Who taught us that value system?
  6. What is the value system of your faith expression?
  7. What is the value system of the people who have and do nurture your life, somehow impacting on your current lifestyle, beliefs and activity?

Only you have answers for those seven questions. But here’s one last question for your consideration.

Life is pretty short. When you come to the end of your gig in, as Ira Glass terms it, “This American Life,” what affect will your existence had on people where you’ve been?

Try wrestling with these questions. We’d benefit from hearing from you because we are all in this together for what seems to be a very short time. We are open to learning.

Worst Practices

Joseph still hasn’t shown up.

“Of course” says the pageant director flippantly. “Gabriel? Where’s Gabriel?” she calls to the back of the church over her shoulder. “Gabriel” she musically calls again as if she’s calling her child for only the second time for dinner.

“Oh” Gabriel says from the back of the church as he stumbles hurriedly down the aisle.

“I was showing her how to keep her ribbon on” he explains with more earnestness than the task would normally command.

The director comically tilts her head sideways and says “Ya? . . . ya?” as if to mock him for his failure to be up with the other angels who are, at this point, rolling on the stage floor with the shepherds who are supposed to be asleep on the hillside but have somehow missed their morning dose of Ritalin.®

As speakers number 4 and 5 rapidly mumble through their lines, it’s clear that once again, nobody in the church will hear anyone say anything from the front. The fact is, they’ll be cute and it won’t matter. It’s the doing of the pageant that makes Christmas.

Joseph is still not here and a couple of the angels are missing in action. How many had to show for the original nativity scene? Did God have to have a last minute rehearsal and sit them all down, barking out, “Now during this scene, you can’t talk to the person next to you. And don’t pick your nose. And if see any Gameboys® I’m going to take them away from you and you won’t get them back. So take that back to your parents or you’ll never see it again.”

The director rattles through the order of events once again, obviously confident that their photographic little minds will methodologically and nimbly string the coming sequences of pageant segments together with the precision of Microsoft’s latest video editing program.

The mid-teen Joseph slowly waltzes down the aisle. “Joseph is finally here” the director says with some relief. “We’re glad you made it” she says, softening even more. Perhaps her real life experience of the male absence or unreliability has taught her to work with what she’s got.

Suppose the original Joseph hadn’t shown up and Mary would have to go through the birth alone in the stable? Who would have wiped off the cow drool ? Would she have screamed at the weird little drummer boy to go practice anywhere but in the stable – “like go play in the DMZ of the West Bank or something!” she could have blurted out.

OK, so no little drummer preadolescent or any a-rump-pa-pa-dums in the original production. They should really make this last minute pageant rehearsal THE pageant. Most of the parents are here anyway and the director’s expectation that this production will be anything other than what it is now (only without her prompting everything and everyone across and off the stage at the right time) is the most spectacular act of faith in the history of Christendom. “Come see a faith that can move mountains” the bulletin board outside of the church should say. People ought to get out of their beds and come here to see the futility of this rehearsal.

The children are herded back to the Sunday School classrooms to change. We expect more of the same to happen only back out of sight. But we know that with the addition of costumes, the in-the-wings nervousness of their peers and a sanctuary packed with their family clan and a host of unknown adults grinning, the volume of their spoken lines will dive down to zero, the prompters’ shouted whispers will be even more embarrassing and the pauses before the hoped-for movements of groups of bathrobed or haloed children will seem painfully strained.

So when central characters didn’t enter stage right in the original production, what did the Almighty do? Whisper little prompts in their hearts? Did Joseph suddenly snap to attention out of a distracted moment and say “Oh yea” after hearing an inner prompt just before lurching over to stand by his wife who had creatively used the cow’s manger for a cradle?

How much stage whispering did the Cosmic Producer of this first nativity have to do to remind Joe and Mary that these overworked and rambunctious contracted sheepherders are supposed to be crashing their barn encampment in the middle of the night and just after the baby finally got to sleep?

“Mary, stop breast-feeding – there’s a bunch of guys coming in here!” Joe probably said.

And later on, not long after their boy would ace His bar mitzvah at the temple and be offered an internship as the youngest teaching assistant in the history of the temple’s education department – why did Joseph disappear?

Did all the pressures of being the parent of a miracle worker itinerary charismatic religious guru and countercultural icon drive him to drink?

Maybe Joe had a gambling problem and when the young Jesus started turning angry bully’s thrown rocks into birds before they hit their victim, Joe started making bets. “I bet you my boy can out-argue a member of the Supreme Court” he’d wager and win several hundred shekels. Maybe Joe, one day, got a little cocky and bet the whole wad and lost to some pretty heavy hitters and ended up at the bottom of Lake Galilee wearing clay overshoes.

Whatever happened to Joe must have been a major embarrassment to the Apostolic Fathers for them not to even mention him after a certain point. Maybe Joe got Alzheimer’s and the gospel writers couldn’t figure out why Jesus, Who could raise the dead, couldn’t or wouldn’t bring clarity of mind to His mom’s husband.

But with all the botched lines, absences, miscues and frankly inappropriate behaviors, there was a first nativity scene with inattentive and clueless characters.

“You work with what you’ve got” the Almighty must have mumbled to Self after every scene in the Messiah’s life.

Just before the pageant starts, the Reverend comes to the podium and announces to the congregants that “whoever has come in a blue Ford with a license plate that starts with NAZ has left their lights on.”

This brings predictable and comfortable laughter among the assembly. With all of our life’s struggles and our obvious failure to be the next Dali Lama of our own faith expression, church is the one place where we can forget to turn off our car lights. Perhaps all of life is like one large Christmas pageant through which we stumble, forgetful of our parts or relevance to some unknown overriding theme.

The pastor flees the podium, just after expressing gratitude to all the children and the beleaguered director for what they are about to present.

As narrator number 1 begins to mumble through her hurried description of the scene (with the Gameboy® in his bathrobe pocket), I think I hear something. It’s a voice but is it behind me? Perhaps a child speaking to their parent?

No, it’s internal. It’s within me. It’s like a quiet thought that suddenly comes to you like an almost forgotten matter that comes to you in a special and spiritually profound moment.

And the voice within me says, as if it’s my  clue to the meaning of my life today and forever,  “ . . . and don’t pick your nose.”

The Mystery of the Healer’s Cloisonné

In the fifteenth century during the reign of Jingtai in the Ming Dynasty, there was a powerful sorcerer named Ling. He lived alone in the mountains and generally spent little time with the
villagers to keep his powers hidden. He would travel into the village only to purchase food and supplies but while being friendly to those he met, few knew much about him other than knowing him as a quiet old man from the hills.

It was rumored once, that a band of thieves had followed the old man up into the hills to rob him but mysteriously, they were never seen in that region again. In truth, Ling was mindful of the rogues in pursuit of him and turned himself into a tiger and put an end to their intended treachery.

One of Ling’s favorite pastimes was to disguise himself as a pauper and make his way, unknown, into the village. Because of his extraordinary powers, he would be able to join in public gatherings unnoticed. Because of his mastery of the art of disguises, Ling could even engage in conversations and become familiar with individuals and their circumstances.

One day, Ling came across the town healer, a  woman who had trained in the arts of physical healing. He saw that she regularly worked with the village folk, binding their wounds and applying her medicines. Ling was impressed by the young woman’s compassion for those whom she ministered and wondered how he could quietly aid her in her efforts.

He first thought that he would give her wealth. He thought that if she could build a healing facility, renown in the region for its work of healing, she would accomplish much. He next reasoned that the young healer would do well to have a cadre of disciples, followers who would enable her to provide healing for more people.

In the end, though, Ling saw that the young woman was so motivated with compassion for those she healed that he felt she needed none of these things. He decided that he would simply give her a charm that would only enhance the magic she already possessed.

Since Ling secretly had access to almost infinite amounts of wealth, he hired the very Emperor’s copper smith and the Empress’ personal artisan to fashion a small cloisonné bead
to embody his magic. The one possessing the cloisonné would be able to place their hand on another person and understand the cause of their inner pain, feeling the malaise of the inner tissue and the tension of the bodily torrents that caused
the patient’s discomfort. It took the artisans almost a year to create the intricate cloisonné but when it was completed, the sorcerer was pleased.

When Ling had imparted his sorcery to the tiny multi-colored orb, he enveloped himself in the disguise of a poor beggar and made his way into the village to meet the healer. He approached her and asked if she would treat his infirmed ankle for the old sorcerer suffered from arthritis.

Overlooking the beggar’s poverty, she immediately bathed his arthritic angle and wrapped it in a cloth with soothing salve. She next, very patiently, showed him how to exercise his ankle in ways that would keep it more agile.

“I have not money with me to give you,” Ling said in his crackly voice. “But I wish to give you this small orb” he said, removing his hand from his cloak and handing her the piece. “It will give
you, and whoever possesses it, an increase of awareness of your patient’s ailments. Use this power to heal and you will find blessing. But if you use it for personal gain, it will bring you sorrow. The choice will always be yours. When the time comes, pass it on to only those who are wise enough to use it for healing.”

Ling bowed to the young healer and left her presence, not to return to that village again.

The young healer found that when she had the orb in her possession, she was able to sense the inner pain in her patient’s limbs. To her amazement, she was able to see what inwardly troubled their minds. This intimate knowledge
enabled her to bring powerful healing to all who sought her healing skills. Hundreds came to this healer because of her mastery in understanding their aches and pains. But the young healer never forgot the strange man in rags who had given her the magic orb.

Through the months and years, this village healer became renowned for her healing powers but she remembered the words of the aged beggar. She regularly shunned praise and quietly went about, using her healing arts in ways that did not bring attention to her. All who knew her, loved her and she lived out her years with grace and reverence for those she served.

When the healer had become advanced in years and knew that her energies would soon not allow her to work as much as she had, she knew it was time to pass the small cloisonné orb on to another healer. She knew there was no other healer in the village and at first, became quite worried that the powerful cloisonné would be lost or fall into the hands of unscrupulous individuals. She was afraid that it would be used by some to manipulate others because of the knowledge it
gives the bearer of another’s need.

The now aged healer decided to seek the beggar who had
given her the cloisonné so many years ago. Through time, she had come to realize that the man must have been a powerful sorcerer. Not knowing if he was alive or dead, she went off into the hills in search of him, hoping he could help her pass the small orb on to a worthy individual.

Once up in the hill country, the healer came across a small cottage near the edge of the forest. It was a humble but well-cared-for thatched roof dwelling and obviously enjoyed by its owners. After she knocked on the door, the door opened and she found that the little one room home was empty except for a chair and a table with writing parchment upon it.

Feeling that no one was there or was likely to come back, the old healer sat down and began writing her story of the cloisonné and how she came upon it. She wrote of its powers and spoke of her hope that it would find its way into the hands of only those who truly wanted to bring healing and health to others.

As the aged healer finished her chronicles of the small but powerful orb, she looked over to the fireplace in the room which she had not noticed when she had entered hours before. To her astonishment, there was a fire gently burning,
emitting warmth to the small cottage, yet there seemed to be no one around.

Fearing that she may have been intruding on someone’s home, she stood to leave but jumped back with a cry when she saw there was the old man in a chair, smiling. It was the same man she had met years ago who had given her the orb.

“I’m sorry to frighten you” said Ling with a warm smile, “but I didn’t want to disturb you in your journaling.

“Thank you for the use of this cloisonné” she said gratefully. I didn’t know if you were still alive so I wanted to tell its story and then pass it on before my time on earth had come to an end.”

The old wizard slowly stood from his chair in the corner of the room and suddenly the healer found that the small cottage had disappeared and they were standing in the midst of the forest. The cloisonné and her completed parchment were in her hand.

As the two figures walked out of the forest and into the village, she spoke of the many individuals she had healed and of her gratitude for the orb’s enhancement of her healing arts.
When it was time for Ling to go on his separate way, he bid farewell to the aged healer, assuring her that she would find the next bearer of the orb. In the next village, she found another young healer and shared with him the story of the orb
and entrusted it to him.

And so it has gone through the many generations of this cloisonné that you now hold in your hand. This small orb was passed on and used by those of us whose life is that of being a healer. Because we have cherished its power to enhance
one’s perception and because all of us have respected the blessing it bestows on its owner, for the last ten generations we have made sure it would only come to the hands of those
committed, in their heart, to heal.

This cloisonné has come to you. It is given to you because you walk the path of the heart. With all of our blessings, each embodied in the accompanying blessing beads, we convey to you the best of our hopes and dreams. May this small orb, and its accompanying beads of blessings, bring you the peace you deserve as you birth your little one. In all that you do in your healing works ahead and all that your child will become, we know that the world will experience extraordinary healing. The world is already better for your presence.

United Express

Welcome aboard United Express, owned and operated by a  spun-off subsidiary called Chautauqua Airlines and the Republic of China.

Our United Express flights are designed for the efficient delivery of you and the hundreds of other United’s frequently
stranded passengers. You will be pleased to know that our high standards require us, by law, to get you within 700 miles of your intended destination within the mandated four-day deadline before providing alternate transportation through another, more reliable, airline.

We are also proud to use these Express flights for training our new pilots and flight attendants – some of whom will successfully graduate and move on to better paying careers
with other airlines. Our motto Is: “You’re in God’s hands so don’t worry!”

Once we reach cruising altitude, in about two hours, the captain will turn off the seatbelt and non-smoking signs. Both signs are backwardly illuminated by the same light bulb. That’s why they’re both either on or off. If your signs never go off, you won’t be allowed to smoke and you must keep your
seatbelt on for the entire flight.

United Express prides itself on its progressive stance opposing the supposed “medical experts” who deny the health benefits of smoking. For those of you whose no smoking and seatbelt lights do eventually turn off, at that time you may feel free to get up and limp around the cabin until the blood begins to circulate in your lower extremities. Because of the narrowness of the aisle, please restrict thoroughfare to one person at a time, yielding to flight attendants and the emergency medical personnel who are also suffering from motion discomfort.

The captain would like to remind you that anyone caught by our potty surveillance cameras, in the act of dismantling the lavatory smoke detectors, will be immediately bound and gagged and stowed in the unpressurized luggage compartment. Perpetrators will be sentenced to three consecutive life prison terms in the Republic of China.
Those caught tempering with the overhead electrical fans, lights or chair armrests will have their electrical tool boxes confiscated by Federal Marshals, identifiable by their single
earphone with the pale tan spiraling wire (trailing from their ear). Dismantlers will be handcuffed for the remainder of the trip with a hood over their head and then executed upon
landing.

In our final descent, once the captain has turned on the no smoking and seatbelt lights, you have five seconds to comply before a series of aerial barrel rolls and abrupt assents.
This flight is part of a Cleveland air show (which is detailed in the fine print on the back flap of your luggage folder). For an English translation of these stipulations, please call our toll-free automated customer service line in Bombay.

Meanwhile, sit back, try to stretch your feet out (as fully as they’ll extend) and enjoy your flight with us. But don’t dismantle any of the other electrical devices on this aircraft
under penalty of Federal Law!

How Connected Do We Need To Be?

It is 2005. It’s been a technologicalogical year so far. I taught a class for the Religious Studies Department of the State University of New York at Buffalo on Paul’s strange first letter to the Corinthians. I’ve been able to experiment with the use of their relatively new online course software called CourseInfo.® 1 It has a quiz generator which the students loved because they could take the tests at home without leaving the squalor of their meager abodes. With virtually all the time in the world to take the quizzes, they could look up any answer in their class notes or the web-stored lectures.

Actually, the quizzes have served as a forced
review of the class material, achieving my original
goal: that they never sit in a church and hear a talk on 1st Corinthians and not be aware of the historical, religious, cultural and linguistic things prompting Paul to write such a diverse and difficult response to their problems. If their ministers ever fail to do their homework before their Sunday presentations on Corinthians, they’ll know it.

Yet many of these students won’t because
churches, by in large, aren’t making that connection with the 20’s age group. The clergy and the staunch leaders of the denominational franchises may get their second chance when these young adults return for the wedding and baptism certifications.

It’s odd to me that some people spend their
lifetime having nothing at all to do with a local
church and yet be hell-bent-to-leather to make sure they participate in two church rituals – baptism and a wedding in a church building. It’s almost like they have to have these two good luck charms in order to move ahead several squares on their Americana board game of life.

But when the pager on my hip starts to vibrate, it reminds me that I have succumbed to the lure of yet another gadget. This time, it’s the Motorola “Talkabout”® pager. Perhaps their Marketing department wanted to create an image of a 1  made by Blackboard.com.© “walkabout” in the Australian “outback.” . . . Tie me kangaroo
down sport, . . . whatever.

My last pager stopped functioning and the
service provider suggested I subscribe to paging and email services with the cell phone I already own. This, I figured, would dictate that I have to leave the phone on all the time to get pages. The attractive young woman behind the counter suggested I also purchase a vibrating cell phone battery so the whole phone can vibrate.

What they fail to realize is that cell phones are
too big to be pagers. Can you imagine carrying around a beeper the size of a banana and have it suddenly begin vibrating in your pocket or purse? Good grief, you could get arrested or something. Perhaps I could use it in an audition for the cast of Ally McBeal.

“Excuse me but I think there is a phone over
on your desk that is having a seizure.”

This little technological wonder looks like a
miniature computer from a kid’s gum ball machine
with a keyboard small enough to be operated by a
touch typist eight inches tall. It is the width and
thickness of the palm of your hand. The little screen displays the telephone number of the individual paging you if the caller chose option number one but it can do more.

Those calling my pager number can also choose option two, allowing them to leave a  voicemail message. When a voice message is left, the display indicates a voice message is waiting, prompting me to dial the number on the nearest phone and listen to the message.

Option number three of this paging service
connects the caller with a live operator who will type whatever the caller dictates and that message appears on the pager screen.

“Pick up eggs on your way home.”

“I am sorry I missed the class quiz on line but my computer isn’t working and I couldn’t get on one at the school library because my car wouldn’t start.”

Imagine standing in line, looking down at
your pager and it says, “My divorce lawyer has
documented all of your shenanigans and we’ll see you in court.”

You look up and respond to the person behind
the counter, “I’d like a cheeseburger, a fries,
chocolate milkshake and several aspirin please.”

There is even an internet address assigned to
this device so people can type a note directly to my pager from their computer. Since I can read these messages anywhere I am, I’ve also instructed my Outlook Express© email software on our computer to forward all received communications to my pager. Since the pager uses wireless and internet technology, I can actually type a response to the text messages sent to the pager and there isn’t a cost-per minute fee.

But with this much accessibility, I wonder
just who I think I am? The Almighty? There are not
that many people who need my immediate attention. Maybe I’m having a midlife crisis?
Someday, into the not too distant future when they add the live video function, are we going to have to rent a small locker into which to put these things to get a little privacy? Someday, will we be surprised to see Leno or Letterman trying to have a video conversation with us from our pocket when we reach for change to pay the paper carrier? “Are you truly happy with your cellular carrier?” one of them might say.

Perhaps it’s our loneliness that prompts us to
want to be so accessible in our cellular and internet connectedness. Frankly, I would like it if God would send me a digital message once in a while.

“Nice going on how you handled that road-raged jerk of a driver” God might type to me.

“Buy Lucent Technologies stock – now!” God might advise.

“Missed you in worship services yesterday” I’d be
reminded.

“Stop everything and go back and apologize. She was right and you completely missed the most important thing. I don’t know why I ask her to stay with you.”

Maybe it’s fear. Perhaps we’re hoping someone will send us the one little encouragement or bit of information that will come at just the right time.
Maybe the Almighty has been sending messages
we’ve ignored. Missed any messages lately?

With today’s much more powerful cell phones and wireless palm devices, we are now able to be so connected that we can be in touch with anyone and everyone at any time, do business anywhere. But has you noticed that, in the process, we run
the risk of never being in touch with ourselves? In the overall seduction, we can easily forget that our primary connection to life is through our own
interiority – the experiencing of our own body and all our senses, including the mind, which allow us to touch and be touched by the world, and to act
appropriately in response to it. . . .

“With all this talk about connectivity, what about connectivity to ourselves? Are we becoming so
connected to everybody else that we are never where we actually are? We are at the beach on the cell phone, so are we there?” (See John Kabat-Zinn, p.152=153. Coming To Our Senses, Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness, (New York: Hyperion, 2005) ISBN: 0-7868-6756-6.

Holiday Safe Cooking Tips For Guys

Without a doubt, one of the most misquoted bits of advice in Western society is “The way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach.” This phrase has been so frequently misquoted that you’re probably more familiar with its tangled version about the stomach being a way to a man’s heart.

Actually, the truth about a woman’s stomach being the most efficient path to a her heart is so powerful that it has been intentionally distorted as a protective measure by women. This is so that men would not take undue advantage of the power of cooking for romance.

This power is nowhere more convincingly illustrated by the fact that after decades, my wife is still with me – solely because I feed her eggs every morning for breakfast. The occasional occurrence of egg shells I’ve left in her food prove it.

Imagine sitting down for a cozy breakfast with your life’s partner with a pleasant conversation beginning about the coming day’s tasks. As you both sip coffee together and eat your eggs, you’re in the midst of explaining another one of your harebrained schemes of how you’re going to make your office more efficient and save them thousands of dollars and how they’ll finally come to their senses and promote you to CEO for your brilliance.

Suddenly, there’s a startled look on your wife’s face. Her eyes quickly look down at her plate and her face immediately contorts into a twisted look of horror and disbelief. She starts to choke and suddenly slides her chair back, her eyes suddenly flashing in disbelief at you as if you’ve poisoned her and she is just realizing that all of these years of trust have been in vein. She starts to choke, stumbling over toward the kitchen sink, gagging and coughing until her airway clears.

“Another egg shell?” you confidently suggest, trying to minimize the incident with an amused air of spousal casualness.

“I’m sorry” she says as she catches her breath, somehow convinced that her shocked and choking response is somehow inappropriate as she discretely reaches into her mouth and picks out the egg shell.

She gasps, “This egg shell is the size of a car fender!” But you know she usually exaggerates because it’s less than an inch wide.

The fact that she apologizes, as she is catching her breath, shows that she feels she is the only woman married to a guy who would cook her eggs and give her coffee in the morning and that she has somehow failed in showing due appreciation for such heroic guy behavior.

Actually, it’s not the eggs, it’s the food which is offered to her which magically beats a path straight to her heart through her stomach. Despite the carelessness I have with missing the egg shells, the fact that I feed her eggs keeps her hooked on me. That’s why the ancient wisdom of the stomach being the direct pathway to a woman’s heart has been intentionally distorted for women’s self-protection.

But this holiday, you can keep your wife in love with you AND not cause her to choke on missed egg shells. Here’s how.

Step One
Set up a dinner place on the edge of the sink with your wife’s house plant fertilizer bottle under the edge of it, just to give the plate a 15 degree angle dipping toward the sink (see photo below.)

Place your 5 inch mixing bowl (for beating the eggs) in the sink beneath the overhanging dinner plate.

Step Two
As you go to break the eggs you are preparing for breakfast, crack each egg against the inside of the sink and then gently separate the egg over the plate, dropping the egg’s yoke and white on the dinner plate. (Here is where the 15 degree angle is helpful: the egg slides toward the sink but not into the mixing bowl below. It just stays on the plate.
(See picture below.)

Step Three
Here is where you carefully examine the plate for any signs of egg shells. In this picture, if you look closely, you can see the egg shell I almost inadvertently missed before tipping the plate upwardly (to 45 degrees) to dump the egg contents into the mixing bowl. (Notice the missed egg shell.)

Carefully following this procedure will almost guarantee that you will not leave egg shells in your breakfast. And let’s face it, guys – even though our wives sometimes engage in less than romantic responses to our offerings of food, we would rather help them avoid the choking behavior if we can. It’s a matter of appropriately using the power of the food-offered-to-women act with the best technique that brings the best results.

It’s the holidays without choking episodes that will be the most memorable in your marriage!

Coming of Age

On a day not long after the knights of the Round Table flourished, there was an aging wizard and his young apprentice walking through a meadow on the edge of a village. It was Spring and the hood of the cloak of the tall wizard was thrown back, revealing his long gray hair and even longer white beard. At a glance, his beard could have been mistaken for a sash for it flowed down his chest, and comically around his left hip, across the small of his back and its end was tucked into the front right pocket of his cloak. His face was bronze and with his bushy white eyebrows, he looked as if he had walked through many ages.

His apprentice was a young woman of twenty with long hair, black as a raven, which flowed gracefully over and down her shoulders. Her cloak matched that of the old wizard’s, gray with silver and reddish lines woven through it.

“Tell me Galadriel,” said the wizard, his name was Ondag, “have you been able to achieve the disappearance spell lately?”

“No but I think I’m as close to it as I’ve ever been” she said looking at him with a smile and a sparkle in her eyes.

Ondag paused in the meadow and looked into Galadriel’s young and beaming face. His own face was a weathered sea of wrinkles and gaiety. Looking intently into her eyes, as a gentle wind began to toss her hair, he continued: “Yes, I think you are close to having that one” and with that, he swept his arm ahead, slightly bowing, saying: “perhaps this field?”

Galadriel turned her head slightly at an angle, as if pausing in a conversation to reflect, looking at the field of heather and gorse, and exhaled evenly, quietly repeating the spell: “lamma ta farleo uhmdello rah.” But immediately the meadow turned completely red and the nearby houses red as well. Everything became surreal.

The wizard chuckled and uttered: “lamma la farleo uhmdello fah” and the field vanished and the two appeared to be standing in thin air, near the houses of the village.

Galadriel slowly tapped her fingers into her head in self disappointment but Ondag put his arm around her shoulder and gently said in his cheerful way: “Those who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed. Try it backwards.” So she perked up and as she swept her outstretched hand back toward her chest, she said, “sheendo triumph” and the field was instantly as before. They both laughed and walked on, approaching the village of thatched roofed homes and other buildings.

Nearing the first house, they saw a woman carrying a sack going into her home. From within the home came a young voice. “Mother, where is my dinner?” To which the woman responded as she began to open the door, “Why don’t you get it yourself.”

Next, without going in, the woman quietly closed the door and sat down on a nearby bench against the house with her bag. She just stared vaguely in the direction of the village.

Ondag and Galadriel, as if they had the same thoughts, stopped in their tracks in hearing the words. Fortunately they both were not in the line of the woman’s vision and when her tall young son came out the door, he did not notice their presence either.

The young man said, “I can’t understand why you’re so irritable, mother. All I asked for was my dinner.”

Ondag turned Galadriel and himself aside when he saw her coming forth with a comment. Further away, Galadriel said, “With insensitivity like that, it would be a wonder the boy ever found happiness.”

“I agree,” said the old wizard, “but which one do you judge as insensitive?”

“Well of course the woman cares nothing for her son or she would not have snapped at him so. She may have had a difficult day but the fellow did deserve a better answer, . . . didn’t he?” Galadriel asked in earnest.

Ondag looked over at the house with curiosity in his eyes.“Let me show you a spell I haven’t tried for years” he said. Next, he held both of his hands before him, as if holding an invisible object and uttered the words. “holio  metra summa quinnos.”

At first Galadriel saw the young man walk backward into the house. His speech was rippling and meaningless, also backward. The woman stood up from the bench, went to the door and after an indistinguishable utterance, closed it and walked backwards away from the house with her bag as she had come.

The sun swept over their heads like a shooting star. Nights and days flashed by speedily and all scenery before them became blurring, filled with random humming and whirring.

Finally Ondag uttered, “Stop!” and the scene stopped. The houses were different. They seemed to be in another part of town. With somewhat different clothing, unknown people were walking about in the village.

Suddenly a cart loaded with hay was coming toward them but Ondag did not move, even after Galadriel tried to tug him away. The cart went right through him. They were as ghosts, invisible.

“Where are we?” asked Galadriel after collecting herself. “Is this a vision spell or a dream spell?”

Ondag responded, “Neither. This is a time change spell, taking us back into the past and we don’t exist in it. At least you are not born yet and I’m living, in this time frame, in another country. I could go there if I looked over my shoulder but I will stay with you. This is thirty years ago.” Pausing to point to someone approaching them, he continued, “Do you see that woman in the blue shawl?”

Almost skipping down the street was a younger version of the woman who had, only moments before the spell, just returned to her home and son. “Yes, and she seems happy” Galadriel said. “Why is she so happy now, compared to how serious she is, I mean, how she seems to be in the future?”

“You shall see” said Ondag and they followed her down the street.

The young woman entered a home and there to greet her was a handsome young man, only a few years her senior. They embraced.

“This is her husband” Ondag said. But the couple could neither hear him nor see the two wizards.

Ondag and Galadriel listened to the couples’ talk. He spoke of his work at the local jousting fields. He told of the latest combat practice trials and the newest war ponies. The woman spoke of the village and would ask her husband for permission to buy this or that. And so the conversation went for some time.

“They seem happy enough” Galadriel said, looking at Ondag with a questioning look.

“Have you stopped to wonder why she has to ask permission so often?” Ondag replied. But without pausing for an answer, Ondag snapped his fingers and the scene began to change as it had before.

Just when everything, again, seemed to be in a blur and whir, he again said “stop!”

It was a different home this time. The couple had aged ten years and they were in the midst of entertaining a houseful of people. They were apparently workers and families from his jousting club. Some of those in attendance were eating, others were arm wrestling or filling beer steins – most all of them salubrious from the vintage.

In one bedroom were two sleeping children. A boy about four and a girl about six.

“Theirs?” Galadriel asked.

“Yes” Ondag replied. It was well into the evening and the woman stood at one corner of the table, picking up dirty dishes, ignored by her husband. Further down the table he was laughing at a story that wasn’t funny, told by one of his superiors from work sitting across the table.

Ondag snapped his fingers several times now, causing scenes of the woman’s life to appear with six to twelve months elapsing each time. There were glimpses of vacation travels of the family. They were seen in cathedrals, fairs, market places and the jousting arena. But Galadriel noticed a growing distance between the woman and her husband. She saw that talk came more freely between the woman and her children than with her husband.

As various scenes passed before them, the children grew older, as did their parents. Whether by chance or circumstance, the husband was more and more absent. The woman’s facial expressions were more often downcast and there were more occurrences of her being alone than with her husband.

Ondag snapped his fingers once more and waited for an indeterminable number of moments as things changed. During the change, Galadriel commented with concern, “She seems to have grown increasingly sad. Their marriage has been disappearing.”

Ondag, also moved, added, “Yes, she was a wife and mother but she lost some of herself in it all. Because while he thought she should be in charge of the house, he never seemed to understand that she should be able to be in charge of herself.”

Time stopped at Ondag’s command. They found themselves within the house they first saw earlier that day. It was modestly but pleasantly furnished, only in the middle of the main room was a pile of dusty bags and other items showing a return from a journey. Laying in the corner of the room was the young man Galadriel had first seen coming out of the door asking for dinner.

“Where’s the husband and the daughter?” Galadriel asked, looking around from room to room.

Ondag said, “The woman lives with her daughter, who is cleaning homes to earn bread. Her husband left two years ago and has not been seen since. Perhaps I skipped over too much, too quickly, but alas, the woman must struggle to earn her living.

Her son, here, has just returned from a holiday. The woman has had difficulty making ends meet but still manages on her meager earnings.”

“Where does she work?” Galadriel asked the old wizard.

“I thought I saw her working for the town healer. She washes his bottles and does his bookkeeping” Ondag summarized.

“How lonely and tired she must feel” Galadriel said but with distraction she looked out the window and said,

“Look there. She is returning home with a sack on her shoulder.”

The woman was turning in from the street, obviously tired from the day’s work. But the young man, also seeing this, got up and went to the nearby window. He called out, “Mother, where is my dinner?”

“Well the nerve of him,” cried Galadriel. “He is of age” she continued. “He ought to…”

“That is where you are mistaken” interrupted Ondag, who stroked his beard as he kept his eyes on the scene.

The woman’s voice was heard at the door, “Why don’t you get it yourself” she said with the days fatigue in her voice. And as the young man went out to voice his complaint, Ondag spoke again.

“He is not of age nor is his sister. But you can now see the scene was not as you first judged.”

Galadriel, with an unsettled look, said, “Yes, but I suppose I should have guessed that. But when, Ondag, will her children come of age? Though she is a strong woman, she most certainly could benefit from more support and understanding by her children.”

Ondag responded, “The scenes of what is to come are unknown. I have neither the power nor the desire to know the future. There was only one Wizard, around Whom time is measured, Who knew the future. But from the past, I have found time to yield patterns to one’s coming of age.

At that moment the young man was beginning to walk away down the street, while the woman again sat wearily beside her home. Tears were in her eyes.

“The pattern is seen,” Ondag continued, “when a young one looks away from self and looks eye to eye with parents from a distance.”

“You do not mean that when one grows as tall as one’s parents and leaves the home, do you?” asked Galadriel.

Ondag, for the second time that day, put his arm on Galadriel’s shoulder and said, “Only when children cease to make their own needs central, can they look away from themselves. At the point when they can look at their parents as other equal adults (with needs of their own), that is when they have come of age. It is then that they can make any place in their sojourn their home.”

As Ondag finished, Galadriel’s face became jubilant and radiant – the likes of which Ondag had not before seen in her. He again looked deep into her eyes and saw that she had grasped his words.

Galadriel and Ondag were distracted by the return of the young man to the house. He was rushing past them and awkwardly brushed by, apologizing to them without his eyes meeting their faces. He turned to the side of the house, where his mother was still sitting and without saying a word, slowly took the sack from her hand and sat beside her. He put his arm around her and  pensively looked at the ground before them.

As minutes passed, they talked. Smiles appeared on their faces and they even began to laugh. In a few moments he stood to his feet and started toward the door carrying her sack. As the door opened he said, “What do you want me to make for dinner?” And with that, Ondag and Galadriel walked on their way.

At the far end of the town, the wizards choose different paths. From having been apprentice and mentor for five years, they now parted as friends, eye to eye, from a distance. For on that day two had come of age – a young woman and a young man and in doing so, the future held magic for them and for all who would be close to them.