Archive for April, 2007

My attention span is…hey, let’s go ride our bikes!

I have a small problem, in that I get easily distracted. If I’m reading a book and some factoid or concept piques my interest, I immediately want to switch to a different book where I can learn about it. This happens repeatedly. But it’s much worse when I buy a book and want to read it but want to finish what I’m reading already. For this reason, Karen Armstrong’s The Great Transformation represents a massive temptation for me at the moment. It’s sitting on my desk, waving at me, murmuring “read me…”

The book is about the Axial Age (900-200 BCE), the period when the great religious traditions (monotheism, philosophical rationalism, Confucianism and Taoism, and Hinduism and Buddhism) came into being. I’m looking forward to it (I sneaked a look at the introduction) because of the following quote:

In times of spiritual and social crisis, men and women have constantly turned back to [the Axial Age] for guidance. They may have interpreted the Axial discoveries differently, but they have never succeeded in going beyond them. Rabbinic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, for example, were all later-day flowerings of the original Axial Age…these three traditions all rediscovered the Axial vision and translated it marvelously into an idiom that spoke directly to the circumstances of their time.

….The prophets, mystics, philosophers and poets of the Axial Age were so advanced and their vision was so radical that later generations tended to dilute it. In the process, they often produced exactly the kind of religiosity that the Axial reformers wanted to get rid of. That, I believe, is what has happened in the modern world. The Axial sages have an important message for our time, but their insights will be surprising – even shocking – to many who consider themselves religious today.

I’ve gotta hurry up and finish Bruce Catton’s A Silence at Appomattox. The Civil War is always a worthy subject, but I’ve GOT to find out what she’s talking about. Stay tuned…

The Mothership Speaks

I’ve been meaning to post this for some time, but it’s been in sundry e-mails and I hadn’t gotten around to stitching them all into one. My mother and I had a short e-mail conversation about Easter and about religion in general, and I thought readers might appreciate (or at least find interesting!) her thoughts about why she and Dad raised us as they did. This is several e-mails, stitched into one, from that conversation:

I really didn’t remember much about Easter and presents when you kids were little. I remember hiding the eggs in the living room, since it usually was cold as kraut on Easter Sunday morning.

As far as raising you kids without religion, it wasn’t exactly on purpose. If you kids had ever expressed a desire to go to church, I certainly would have seen to it that you got there, like my own mother did. She and your granddad never attended either, except maybe Christmas Eve.

Your Granddad never would go to church because he said when he was a kid, his family went to church “every time they opened the doors!” They were apparently pretty obsessed with it.

I pretty much went because my friends did and for the social life. A minister in college said that was all right, to go for the social part. I suppose he reasoned that it might “take.”

The only time I think there might be a God is when I hear music like today. It was the piano recital of a CU doctoral student and it was fabulous! I’ve never heard the piano played like that! Maybe because there was no orchestra to distract from the piano. This pianist played 6 long, complicated, classical pieces without a note of music in front of him! I had the feeling he could have played indefinitely without music.

I really don’t believe there is a God up there who meddles in people’s lives. If there is, I’m sure going to have some questions for her.

Whatever else you may think of my mom’s thoughts, you’re probably thinking “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Word. 🙂

Spring

Especially in Minnesota, it’s so easy to understand why so many of the world’s religions have rites around spring. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if spring itself were the phenomenon that inspired the religious sense. Who doesn’t look at the buds on trees that were skeletons a week before and think “miracle!” You can just imagine crops growing where nothing grew two weeks before, and people standing around and knowing that this was nothing less than miraculous, even if the mechanisms that prompt it can be described.

Spring arrives here later than most of the country, so we’re just starting to get those remarkable tiny leaves that are so brilliantly green. Everywhere I look, which was so recently either brown or iced over, the green is taking over (except, of course, my lawn, which needs some major TLC if I don’t want to be known as “the gal who lives in the crackhouse on the corner”). This is the kind of thing that makes even a hardened agnostic think, “Go, God! Take State! Spring rules!”

Creation care

If it encourages people to take better care of the planet, I’m all in favor of justifying it Biblically. Here’s the latest spooky environmental news in which it appears that cell phones might be slowly ending the world as we know it: An article in The Independent (UK) says that beehives are collapsing and the bees disappearing in the US, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece – and cell phones might be the culprit. (Apparently they might be throwing off the bees’ navigational systems so that they can’t find their hives.) The West Coast in the US has lost 60 percent of its bee population, and the East Coast has lost 70 percent. The article says that people started noticing that beehives were collapsing abruptly last fall, and since bees pollinate crops, it’s a pretty big deal.

Easter in the house of the nonbeliever

 When I was a kid, I vaguely remember getting Good Friday off from school. I don’t think this lasted beyond first or second grade. I never had any idea why Good Friday was good, I was just glad to sleep in and go play instead of going to school. Since spring in Colorado is reasonably nice (compared to, say, Minnesota), I remember them as mostly lazy, warm days, when we had the Easter Bunny to look forward to on Sunday. Saturday was a day to dye eggs, and to get that vinegary dye on my fingers.

My parents didn’t stick to candy or eggs as Easter surprises. They hid eggs for my brother and me in the furniture in the living room, but not outside – we lived on five acres, there were a lot of critters scavenging, and an unfound egg might actually be an egg that had been absconded with. So we had our hunt on Sunday mornings before breakfast (we were too excited to wait) and then we got our special presents.

Easter was like a Christmas Lite, but it followed the same form – small presents first, then the Big Present at the end. I don’t remember what those gifts were like in some years, but most years, my dad gave each of us a new kite. Then we would go out to the pasture if the wind was strong enough – it often was – and try them out. They were usually those kites you get at the drugstore, thin plastic stretched over balsa wood, and they were usually the two-wing kind (with an eagle or a vulture on the plastic) rather than the four-sided classic shape, since the two-wing was easier to get off the ground. The tradition even survived a disastrous year when Dad had tried a special kite, a yellow inflatable thing that proved remarkably hard to get off the ground and nearly impossible to keep in the air.

That was Easter for us. And I don’t remember when I learned that Easter was actually a religious holiday. I think a lot of parents thought of us as little heathens for how little religious education we had, not that I lived in anything remotely resembling the Bible Belt. We just didn’t say grace before meals or go to vacation Bible school or go to church on Sundays, and a majority of people at that time did, so we stood out. Digression: I remember a woman who briefly babysat both of us (there was a gap between when we came home and when our parents got home, and they didn’t want us to be latchkey kids) and who was horrified to learn that we didn’t even know what “grace” was, never mind say it before lunch. I still remember the self-righteousness with which she said “in THIS house, we say grace.” The message was clear: My parents weren’t raising us the right way. I stopped liking her that day. Maybe I was in second grade, but I hadn’t fallen off the turnip truck the day before. The year before, maybe. 🙂

Anyway, I’m not even sure when I first heard the Resurrection story and connected it to Easter. I would guess it was in junior high. By that time, of course, the egg hunts had stopped, although we still got Easter candy and my mom always made a good dinner. Today, since Easter moves around, I’m often ambushed by it and only realize that it’s Easter when I see that the YWCA is closed on Sunday. (How do you tell when someone’s not especially religious? When they’re annoyed that the gym is closed this Sunday!)

Last year was actually the first time I ever went to church on Easter, I think. If there was another time, I don’t remember it. I went to a church where the pastor talked about the Resurrection in terms of new life and change instead of specifically the Bible’s account. He likened the period of death before the Resurrection to fear, and said to all of us, “Cast away those grave clothes. You don’t need them any more.” I really liked that message, and it was finally a meaning that I could relate to rather than simply a story about a man who came back to life.

To this day, though, when I think of Easter, I think of kites, not Christ.

Bronchitis.

Ugh. Can you believe? Well, this time the antibiotics should kill not only the bugs but everything around me.  I’ve noticed spiders dropping dead as I pass. But I will have an Easter post later today.

Question of the day:

I was having coffee with someone on Saturday and she asked how on earth we get from the resurrection of Jesus to Peeps. How does a time in the year, which was originally chosen to honor the death and rebirth of Jesus, become a holiday that includes candy and decorated eggs?

If you’re willing to believe Wikipedia, the Passover Seder service includes an egg as a symbol of new life. Persians painted eggs for their New Year celebration, which was on the spring equinox. I guess it’s not surprising that the egg, from which new life came all the time, would get associated with rebirth and the return of spring. It’s one of the strengths of all religion, that it can use simple ideas that everyone understands to explain concepts that are hard to even talk about, never mind understand. But it’s also one of the strengths of literature, and of art.

Anyway, happy Palm Sunday to the Christians; happy Passover to the Jews tomorrow; and happy whatever to the Muslims, since my research into whether there’s a Muslim holiday around this time has been ineffective.