The Butterfly Dreaming

Last night I had one of those dreams that involved dream places (and in some cases, places that were conflated from real places and other dream places). As the decades go by, and I occasionally revisit those dreamscapes (and dream situations), it has become harder to separate which were real memories and which were only fabricated in my sleeping mind.
Oh, sure, some are obvious. There are places I definitely know without doubt are dream locales, which, for whatever reasons, my dreaming consciousness chooses to see or use again. But in my waking memory, I have snatches of scenes, vivid and seemingly real, of places I have walked or driven through. But for which I cannot for the life of me recall where I would go to find them on the surface of the earth. Trails through the woods, hilltops, certain city streets and scenes, the interiors of certain houses or other buildings. I can see the details, but have no clue what directions I would take, nor from what starting point I would leave, in order to arrive there.
There is a bit of poignancy in remembering these unattainable islands, knowing that things happened there, real or imagined, of such import as to have imprinted them so clearly in my mind. And yet also knowing that I will, in all likelihood, never actually cast my eyes again upon these strange localities.
“There are places I’ll remember
 All my life…”
The twisting question is, whether I remember Reality or something Other Than. The butterfly dreaming.

© 2017 Chuck Puckett

Ignoring the Vengeful God

Many Christians insist that the teachings of Jesus require accepting the entirety of the Older Testament (ie, the Torah, Wisdom literature, the prophets, etc) in order to properly appreciate his new wisdom. Now, it is impossible to understand what Jesus taught without an awareness of the world (and religious underpinning) in which he lived. But it seems to me that in order to derive the available benefits, one need only read what Jesus said and ignore any supposed prior context.

Yes, I am of course aware of his “jot & tittle” comment, but basically every substantial commandment or suggestion that originated directly from Jesus flies in the face of the vengeful maniac who presided over the Older Testament. Buddhism is not Hinduism, though it has its roots there. Christianity is not Orthodox Judaism, though it grew out of it. Jesus, like Gautama Buddha, was an ethical and religious genius who was able to formulate a radically new morality while living in the midst of a millenia-old world view. Love thy neighbor. Turn the cheek. As ye care for the prisoners, so ye care for me.

I don’t need to reconcile Jehovah and Jesus. I’ve read most of the Older Testament. Taking that dark and vengeful “god” literally would be to willfully partake in the insanity his words and actions imply. The main takeaway, the truly positive idea, that came from Abraham and Moses (mainly the latter) is monotheism, and even that concept may have originated with the heretic Egyptian Akhenaten, a sort of “one-termer” pharaoh who, during his reign, forced the Egyptians to solely worship Aten, the sun. Oh, and I guess the codification of the Ten Pretty Obvious Commandments was another sort of breakthrough, though even those had their origins in previous Mesopotamian cultures. But then you have to also deal the 100 or so “minor” commandments in Exodus, not to mention the endless city ordinances in Leviticus.

No, I don’t care to reconcile YHWH with the red text in the New Testament. I have no problem whatsoever in reconciling Jesus and God, since there is no ontological reconciliation necessary: they are two completely separate entities. The latter, under the rubric of “I AM”, and depicted in the first several books of the Bible, is of course an embarrassing myth, but perhaps the best an unsophisticated tribe of nomads in 1000 BC (or so) could come up with. Like I said, their major theological leap was monotheism.

And what I mean about “YHWH as myth” is strictly the Older Testament depiction; I do not want to suggest that I deny a Creator, only that YHWH is a very flawed example. Every ancient description of The Creator/ Sustainer suffers from the mythological trappings of the specific cultures in which they occur. And all of those descriptions therefore obscure whatever transcendence must obtain to such an entity (if “entity” can be used to imply what is meant, which is problematic).

The genius moment that happened in the far mists of the past was when some human mind(s) made the leap to conclude that there was a beginning, and that something caused it. To anthropomorphize that cause, and imbue it with the powers of storm and lightning and fire and earthquakes, the most powerful forces imaginable, was the most natural next step. And certainly these attributes accrued to the chief god of the pantheons of all ancient religions.

And then someone (Moses?) made the reductionist conclusion that, given that power, a pantheon isn’t required: just make YHWH the sole mover, responsible for everything. Unfortunately, they maintained the anthropomorphism. And also unfortunately, that concept of monotheism never leapt from within the confines of the Hebrew tribes (I AM a god for your people; don’t pray to other peoples’ gods). Even Jesus  mainly constrained his teachings to Judah and Israel. It took Paul to combine Jesus’ message with various aspects of Greek philosophy and Mediterranean “god-men”, and thus liberate Chrsitianity unto the Gentiles. But Jesus and Paul were men, which is one up the reality ladder from myth.

I maintain my conviction that Jesus was in many ways a theological genius, meaning that he was able to create Brand New Ideas. Most creative people just sort of reorganize whatever exists. It’s the Newtons and the Einsteins and the Buddhas and the Jesuses who make the gigantic leaps ahead, conceptual leaps so huge they almost seem like they came out of nowhere.


© 2017 Chuck Puckett

The Thin Place

It is difficult to comprehend the extent to which there are two completely different Americas, existing side-by-side. It is like one of those science-fiction constructs, with two intermingling realities, separated not in time and space but by alternate perceptions so drastically and radically different that neither is even aware of the other’s existence, except in fleeting moments when they brush up against each other. Sort of like the Thin Place you read about in tales of the supernatural, that gossamer film between the real world and the world of Fairie. The inhabitants of the two worlds look on the same events, but see things the other would never recognize. If they spy a denizen of the alternate reality, it seems as if a shadow being is drifting by. A ghost at best, a dangerous threat at worst. The being in the other universe may speak, but the sounds, though they resemble English words, are difficult to hear, indistinct and they make no sense.

This difference in perception and conception does not mean, however, that both worlds are equally valid. Trump’s Press Conference of 16 February is a perfect example of this unequal regard. Before this split universe dichotomy had taken such a firm hold on our national consciousness, it would have been impossible to imagine that Trump’s behavior in that room would ever have been seen as remotely valid, much less admirable. But almost the whole of the Trumping universe perceived it as not only valid (and somehow comprehensible), but even praiseworthy.

There was a time when the incoherence and lack of focus he exhibited would have been perceived the same by every observer. But now we have a significant (a definite minority, but still significant) segment of the electorate who are vested in this maniac. Once they pulled the lever, they established a psychological investment that will find validation wherever and however they can. It will, I fear, be a long time before such a person can be pried away from their devotion and belief in Trump. The blatantly unconstitutional and even treasonous actions he has made his daily todo list either do not phase that loyalty, or else they do not understand that these actions are even improper, much less illegal in many cases. 

No, it’s very likely that only a terrible disaster, possibly even a deadly disaster, or the war that Bannon wants, or out and out criminal prosecutions at the highest level (a low probability event, given Sessions as Attorney General); only such a drastic event will dislodge those hypnotized by Trump’s so-called rhetoric. And perhaps even disasters of this magnitude will not be sufficient to push them back through the Thin Place. 

But when the jobs fail to materialize, that failure may be sufficient (although it will take time for this to sink in). If he succeeds in banning Muslims, the impact in our technical edge in the global marketplace may eventually be noticed. If millions of Latinos are deported, and somehow kept out, the sudden huge drop in the labor force, combined with a huge drop in contributions to the economy, will definitely be noticed. And if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, and no equivalent substitute is put in its place, there will be an outraged howl, raised from coast to coast, even among the hypnotized, so many of whom think “Obamacare” should be abolished, but don’t want anything to happen to the ACA.

The thing about the Thin Place is that it is thin. It doesn’t take much stark reality to punch through.


© 2017 Chuck Puckett

Never the New Normal

Is it just me, or does anyone else find themselves looking at “normal” life these days (and “normal” FB posts, and normal tweets and normal conversations) and think to themselves, “HOW CAN PEOPLE CARRY ON AS IF THINGS WERE NORMAL??! Don’t they realize WHAT’S AT STAKE HERE? Don’t they see WHAT’S GOING ON??!”

Look. I know I’m obsessed with this national catastrophe. And I realize that life goes on, oblah-di, oblah-dah. Hell, I’m in the middle of writing a musical, fer Chrissake, a Christmas musical, though I confess I wonder if there’s gonna be a place to stage it by then. And yes, being retired, maybe I have too many spare cycles to fixate on all of this. And yes, it does get wearying just trying to keep up with the Crazy Train to Trumpville.

But damn it, none of this is NORMAL! If I come across as a madman, please forgive me. If I seem irrationally perturbed, I understand the perception. But things are ricocheting out of control, and I feel like a ball on a billiard table in an earthquake, tossed from one outrageous event to the next, with no time to process it all.

I have always considered the abstract notion of “evil” as extremely problematic. Greed, yes. Hunger for power, of course. There’s no doubt may bad people are motivated by these bad motivations. But evil, as some abstract, other-worldly force…? That takes a leap into a metaphysical quagmire. I often contemplated whether Cheney might represent a possible real example of evil. But ultimately, I believe that was simply a naked attempt at power and money, combined with a stupid ideology.

But this? What is this, if it’s not real evil at work? In every “textbook” description of evil (and I think of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien as prime examples), the goal of evil is simply destruction. Dissolution. Chaos. It’s easy to recognize that kind of force at work in the Trump administration. Particularly given Steve Bannon’s public statements to that effect. And to hear Kelly Ann Conway distort perceptions so skillfully, and willfully, is to imagine the serpent whispering to Eve.

And if it’s not the evil goal of utter chaos, what is the end game? What do these people truly want? It seems to me that Trump is a mere tool, a pathetic megalomaniac, whose only agenda seems to be enrichment, aggrandizement and adulation. A man pitifully easy to manipulate in order to accomplish whatever goals are hidden behind the curtain. But wherefore the chaos? Wherefore the inward-directed destruction? Who benefits?

The only clear thing in this roiling shitstorm is the fact that the sheer volume of chaos will undoubtedly conceal the real goals very effectively. And it therefore behooves all those who resist and oppose to never falter from closer observation. Because eventually, the end game will be revealed.

Until then, we can never accept even an iota of this new world as even remotely “the new normal”.


© 2017 Chuck Puckett

Over the Rainbow

You know what’s hard these days? Obtaining any kind of perspective. The swamp that was not drained has instead managed to mire many of us in a deadly quicksand. Reach for a vine to pull yourself out, the vine turns out to be an anaconda.

It’s next to impossible to climb to the top of the jungle canopy and see any hopeful light. Everything is a gloomy pall, and behind every bush and thicket, it feels certain there lurks nothing but more pitfalls and predators.

But this constant depression is unhealthy. Unless we can at least envision an alternative to this current darkness, somewhere, sometime down the road, then we’ll never find the strength to pull ourselves out of the quicksand. We must at the very least keep the shining City On the Hill as a goal in mind.

Don’t confuse this notion with some sort of Pollyannaism. It’s going to be bad. It’s going to be awful. The effects of the losses and setbacks this nation is about to experience will be with us long after I have left this terrestrial vale, and our children will be dealing with it forever. Climate change alone will not recover from the deregulation and unconstrained excess that will be unleashed, and our offspring will certainly reap that whirlwind. Clean and healthy water, air, food and a host of common necessaries will be compromised, and only vigilant consumers will protect themselves. Education will be undermined even more than it currently is. The recent incredible advances in clean energy will be reversed, and the entire initiative scrapped. With Big Oil firmly in control, and nothing opposed, it’s katy bar the door. The party is ON, dudes! Grab it all now, it’s never gonna be easier.

The situation w.r.t. the intelligence community and the State Department is horrifying, and probably the greatest existential threat of all. Executive orders are, I think, all that is required when the FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. all report directly to the President. I don’t know what, if any, Congressional oversight applies in these areas, but I am pretty sure that we can expect essentially NO such oversight or interference from the current Congress. At least not until massive damage has already been done.

So, yes, it’s going to be terrible, awful, horrible. What effect will these changes have in our daily lives? That’s hard to say. At the very least, as wealth concentrates even more densely into an obscenely rich oligarchy at the tippy top, and no jobs of any consequence appear for the middle class, I expect greater economic hardship. Health care is about to take a nosedive, and that will certainly be felt in many households. But it will take time for the effects of deregulation to work their black magic on the environment, water and air. And if they actually succeed in privatizing Social Security and Medicare, it’s doubtful that those currently enjoying the benefits will be immediately affected, although new cohorts of retirees come flooding in every year, and they will certainly feel the pinch.

Whether the promised rollback and “restructuring” of intelligence agencies will affect the everyday American is a more subtle question. We can almost certainly expect even more Russian election (and commerce) hacking as our cyber protections are compromised. So the midterms could well be affected, as well as individual companies and industries

So how to best cope with the certainty of imminent darkness?

I am convinced that we must never lose sight of the goal, of the the world that will eventually replace this inevitable dystopia. What is upon us will be a passing storm. All things must pass, change is the only constant. But without a firm vision of the outcome we wish to take its place, it will be the easiest thing in the world to become hopelessly (the word is specific) mired in the Badness.

Yes, things will be irreversibly changed. Yes, those changes will not be pleasant, will even be dangerous. But then we will persevere and prevail and come through them. Unlike the apocalyptic view of the world favored by evangelicals, this will not happen because a Cosmic Judge descends from the heavens, and with lightning and cataclysm destroys the unrighteous and restores the kingdom of justice. It will happen because good people, with good intentions and a clear vision of hope, never failed to keep working for that vision.

And never failed, by all legitimate means, and at every step along the way, to oppose the Darkness.


© 2017 Chuck Puckett

The Telomeric Irony

[Reposted from 2011, a post that was lost when the Years Of Being blog was destroyed.]

Telomeres

The human telomere. A bit of material at the end of each chromosome. Some have likened a telomere to an aglet, that piece at the end of a shoelace that generally has a bit of plastic on it, making it easier to thread the holes when you lace up your shoes. And just as an aglet over time becomes somewhat frayed, and finally almost totally useless, the telomere sitting at the end of the chromosome “shoelace” gets a little shorter each time a cell divides. Until finally there is no telomere left. But whereas you can keep stuffing the frayed aglet into the eyelet of a shoe and lace it up one more time, when the telomere is consumed, the cell can no longer divide.

It’s “lifetime” is over. Kaput. Dead.

As you yourself will eventually be. Because when, say, the cells of the liver cease replicating, the liver is pretty much left with what it has at that time. And therefore it’s ability to repair itself becomes more and more compromised over time. No more new liver cells, and then when the old ones finally wear out, too bad. Just have to “do more with less”.

And so it goes with all the body’s organs and systems and bones and tissues. Over time, their ability to rejuvenate weakens and abates, and so the body gets less and less flexible and less and less adaptable. And weaker. And the hair grays. And the skin wrinkles.

You age.

And then you die. All because some arbitrary mechanism exists whereby DNA has a built in long-term self-destruct mechanism: the telomeres.

Among scientists who study such things, telomeres are the primary (and obvious) suspects as the agents of aging and death. Most of us consider aging and death pretty much as givens, like taxes. But unlike taxes, which are after all, a pure invention of the human mind, aging and death are inexorable. After all, we essentially have to agree, collectively, or be forced to agree, that such a thing as taxation will be enacted. Death stalks us whether we will or no. It is so ubiquitous, so universal, that the fact of its existence, its raison d’etre, is never questioned. We may substitute eternal spiritual afterlife as some sort of alternative. But the fact that we age and die? No, we fully expect that.

But why? I mean (without trying to be too tongue-in-cheek), what’s the benefit in death? Why should the primary replicative structure that subtends all life have a built-in mechanism that terminates that life after so many revolutions? A moment’s thought should reveal that there really is no particular, inherent, fundamental reason that even begins to make sense. If the telomeres did not get shorter on each replication, the world would be a very different place. Oh, death would still happen. Cut off the oxygen, slice off the head, drop the body off a cliff, death will occur. But not dying from old age, because there would be no old age.

Of course, one can argue that, without telomeres, without a built-in mechanism to kill an individual, then the species would have a much harder time adapting via natural selection. Only when individuals die off do they take their lousy genes with them. Telomeres are perfectly suited to enforce the mechanism of natural selection.

The problem is that this argument is itself a teleological argument. “Telos” is the Greek for “end”. Hence, telomeres are at the end of the chromosomes. A teleological argument is an argument that starts from the end, the “end justifying the beginning”. Natural selection may indeed require telomeres to operate. But need does not constitute cause. I need to make a car payment. That does not cause the money to appear in my back account. Natural selection is, at its root, a completely random process. Just because an animal in the desert would benefit from organs that conserve water will not produce a camel. But if a series of accidental mutations produces an animal that carries water bags in its humps, then natural selection will favor that animal in that environment, and thus we see more camels in the Sahara than hippopotami.

So the fact that natural selection itself “needs” telomeres is not a sufficent reason for them to exist. Furthermore, any mechanism that inherently kills the individual is not a good candiate for a trait that would likely be passed on. In fact, such a mechanism is absolutely counter to the existence of a particular individual. It is the opposite, as far as an individual is concerned.

And in any case, this is not a genetic trait that is “passed on”. It is an integral part of the genetic machine. It precedes and defines the generic machine. Oh, individuals may have longer or shorter telomeres (and the length itself seems to be an inherited genetic trait), but the basic fact of telomeres, and their operation, are part and parcel of the structure of the chromosome. Telomeric activity is inherent.

And here’s a cosmic comic thought: Telomeres may be the most powerful argument ever encountered for some sort of “intelligent design”. But definitely not in the “let’s make man in our image” style of argument usually proposed. It’s more “let’s create this random generation mechanism involving DNA and mutations, and let ‘er rip, and see what it produces. But let’s make sure the life forms that arise will automatically die off, so that evolution will be forced to take place.” It’s not so much God walking through the Garden as it is a monolith descending from the cosmos, ordering the mechanism that subtends life itself to include this automatic “cash in your chips” activity, just so natural selection will operate correctly.

That’s a very spooky form of intelligent design. In fact, it’s almost diabolical, at least from the individual’s perspective. From my perspective, that telomere just downright sucks.

So that’s one aspect of what I call the Telomeric Irony. The fact that telomeres exist at all is cosmic irony of the first degree. The only reason I will die a natural death is not even a defensible reason, unless I postulate a cosmic engineer who arranged it that way. Not exactly the sort of deity I am prone to worship.

But let’s get past the primary irony, the ontological irony implied by their mere existence. Let’s just take that as a given, since there’s not much to do about it, and no profit in bemoaning it. It was Death and Taxes before we knew about telomeres, it’s Death and Taxes now that we do know. So we die. Okay.

Because, really, I don’t think infinite, conscious life is a particularly inviting prospect. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way ready to cash it in, nor am I the despairing, despondent type. Far from it. I would run just as fast as I could away from that Far Country, I will not go quietly into that dark night. But face it: infinite life is an ego-crushing concept. Even heavenly, spiritual infinite life. My daughter once observed that the prospect of singing Hallelujahs forever was just unbelievably depressing. It’s that idea of our individual consciousness existing without end that is so numbingly oppressive. The idea that this internal monologue, the observer that is ME, would go on, commenting and assimilating and rearranging and THINKING without end, amen, that idea is just so overwhelming as to be horrific. How many times can you sing the Hallelujah Chorus, for God’s sake. Or for Whoever’s?

I think most of us, at an almost unconcious level, think in much more finite terms. “When we’ve been there, 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun”. So begins the final verse of Amazing Grace. “10,000 years.” Gosh, it seems so long. But what if it had said, “ten million years”. Or ten trillion. Or a google’s worth of years. That’s 1 followed by a 100 zeroes worth of years. Chew on that for a bit. Consider what that would really mean. Gad.

The second aspect of the Telomeric Irony is then this: why the hell were we given a mere three score and ten, on average? I mean, talk about arbitrary. Why not a couple of hundred, like a tortoise. Or even a thousand? After a thousand years, I think even the most creative soul that ever perceived and conceived would have exhausted all the possibilities. But seventy? Just seventy? I mean, most humans take five or six decades just to figure out how most of this crap really works. Then (to quote Dave Matthews), it’s “lights out, you up and die”. That is the really grating irony. Death is not that bad of a concept, it can even be deemed necessary, if for no other reason than to make room for everybody else. No, it’s the early exit that sucks. It’s just not commensurate with our consciousness, with the kinds of things we can conceive and invent and make and manipulate. This brief candle is probably the heart of greed and rapaciousness and gluttony and excess. Knowing you’re going to check out 3-4 decades from now doubtless motivates some personalities to start grabbing everthing in sight, and taste, touch, do, try, go: hurry, hurry, hurry!

It is especially pissy when juxtaposed against the thought that some architect put the damn telomeres in there in the first place. Hey, Grand Cosmic Designer! Yes, You. Why the heck didn’t you cut us some slack here? Seventy years might have seemed a decent choice in the Nelolithic when homo sapiens enjoyed 20 good years on average before saber teeth or bear claws or other cave dudes cut him down. Not such a good idea after the people start writing symphonies and invent literature and music and so forth. In fact, pretty much right after we managed to get enough spare time to look in the mirror and recognize that Self who is I, that was when the arbitrary time limit took on its truly tragic aspects.

Arthur C. Clark often wrote about the recurring theme that informed “Childhood’s End” and “2001: A Space Odyssesy”, the idea that humankind was on the cusp of the Next Great Step, symbolized by the enigmatic Star Child that appears at the end of the movie rendition of ”2001.” Perhaps this transition happens soon, perhaps it is happening now. Perhaps the 95% of our DNA currently classified as “junk”, since it does not seem to transcribe anything useful, will suddenly blossom into the Indigo Children of the near future, the Heroes, the Star Children. One can also consider oft-repeated fictional device of the Immortal, a person who, for whatever reasons, lives for millenia, watching the endless parade of history roll by, hiding his eternal nature from those who would be murderously envious. Perhaps there are individuals whose telomeres don’t slough off, and are therefore, for all intents and purposes, immortal.

Perhaps. And perhaps the Indigo Children, when they break out of their cocoons and morph into Destiny and Possibility, perhaps there will likewise be something in that genetic flowering that drastically lengthens those tender little telomeres, extends the neohuman lifetime and retains the vigor of youth. Or else they might interbreed with Immortals.

Because it would be a tragicomic pity to blossom into godlike consciousness and capabilities, and still be constrained to the three score and ten of your forefathers and mothers.


© 2011 Chuck Puckett

An English Way With Words

Most people, I believe, write some sort of poetry when they are very young. Over the years, this poetic impulse, for the majority, gradually shuts down, as the “real world” overtakes us. I’m one of those who, while not a published poet, continued to write poetry and songs all my life.

And I have a theory (surprise!) w.r.t. the writing of poetry in my native tongue, which is obviously English. Now, poetry is a universal impulse, written in all languages and by all cultures over the millenia. But it seems to me that poetry written in English, to a greater extent than other languages, benefits enormously from the very structure of our language. More than almost any other “common” modern language, the very genesis of English, amalgamated at the Battle of Hastings from the Anglo-Saxon and the invading French, contains ambiguities and overloaded meanings that I think are less prevalent in other, “purer” languages. And this birthmark, I think, also makes English extremely susceptible to continued expansion. Yes, in modern life, all languages accept and incorporate foreign words and phrases (many from English), but our language has had this predilection since it came into being. Perhaps in the same way that people who master at least one foreign language early in life have been shown to be much better at learning subsequent languages. Once the groundwork of an extra language has been laid, the brain seems more disposed to adding other kinds of words and syntax. Perhaps our cultural communication mechanism (ie, English), born in two worlds, is more prone to adding words from other worlds.

Furthermore, the mixed syntactical origins of English have led to (perhaps) awkward constructs in phrasing and sense. As an example, the auxiliary verbs are all over the map. The merging (actually, a sort of re-merging, Anglo-Saxon meeting back up with the Normans, who had taken a deep detour into Latinism) of our two main language DNA strands led to unusual pronunciations and syllabic stresses and spellings.

And for me, it is this resulting ambiguity and combination of soundings that has made English the perfect language for poetry. Phrases and lyrics can contain multitudes of overloaded meanings, like a hologram of intersecting intents. For myself, at least, that provides a power in English poetry that may not be readily available in other languages. Beautiful, transcendent images can be described in any language. But images that can lead to multiple emotional responses, even responses that may contradict each other, seem to me have a greater power to invoke that wordless wonder that the best poetry invokes.

At any rate, that is my theory. I wonder if there has ever been a scholarly or formal investigation in a similar vein? It’s likely. There is nothing truly new under the sun.

Relativity
My sunset is someone else’s sunrise
My evening is another person’s dawn
My morning ends another’s daylight
My sunrise stops another’s song.
My arrival’s another’s soul departure
My coming takes up another space
My going makes a space to enter
My leaving leaves one to take my place.
My future is all my children’s history
Tomorrows that they knew yesterday
My story builds on older stories
My past has always led me to today.
My stars shine down as others’ suns
My storms leave peace in others’ skies
My life takes only so much room
A room I see with only these, my eyes.

© 2016 Chuck Puckett

Random Aphorisms

Over the years, I’ve generated several aphorisms, which I will now share with you. You’re welcome.

  • I know you believe that you comprehend what you thought I meant, but I don’t think you realize that I don’t understand what I thought I said.
  • She’s about as private as phone booth.
  • If everything were true, life wouldn’t be any fun. If nothing were true, life wouldn’t be worth living.
  • When they can’t take it anymore, that’s when they get taken in.
  • Although one cannot discount the effects that accumulate from lifestyle, the mere accumulation of years inevitably overshadows all other mortal effects.
  • I’d rather be forearmed with knowledge than post-pummeled by ignorance.
  • It doesn’t matter at all about what was, it only matters about what is.
  • Literature, like Drama and almost all of History, happened mainly in the past. Therefore it should come as no surprise to learn that most of the people associated with it are dead.
  • Christmas Eve, for the hopeless mystic, is a time that, even after we have grown pragmatic and prosaic almost beyond redemption, holds the possibility of magic, poetry and miracle. The animals might very well talk. The snow might very well fall. The hard-hearted misers that have slowly engulfed our souls might very well melt away at the sound of an old carol, or a gentle offer to a stranger, or at a child’s innocence.
  • God is that which doesn’t mind being.
  • God is being becoming.
  • God is a nonchalant infinite regression.
  • Christmas is when everything seems possible, waiting for the Bishop’s Wife, waiting for the Miracle to occur on 34th Street, waiting for George to get Clarence his wings, waiting for the right jolly old elf. Waiting with a lump in your throat and your heart on your sleeve.
  • Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream and the like tried to make music that attempted to be the trip. The Grateful Dead played music that was grist for the trip.
  • The key to exercise is routine. When you get into it, it is hard to get out, but when you get out of it, it’s harder to get in.
  • It’s like pulling cultural teeth.
  • Never seek anything. Always expect everything.
  • In doing art, you must decide whether you want to communicate, or just talk to yourself.
  • The hardest thing is to move through and past one’s anger. Because anger, especially righteous anger, has the insidious quality of feeling so good. And while it has the seeming power to focus and motivate, inevitably it undermines and deforms the goals for which you strive.
  • You don’t want less than perfection to affect others’ perception‏.
  • More effort than it’s worth? Or worth a little more effort?
  • Some people wax oratorical. Others wane oratorical.
  • Of course life is a joke. But we don’t know the setup. And we never hear the punchline.
  • The Universe is implying more than we infer.

And finally, two of my very favorites:

  • The unexamined faith is not worth believing.
  • I don’t want to steal the show. I only want to borrow it for a while.

© 2016 Chuck Puckett

Fearing God

Like many of my posts, this one started as a Facebook thread. This one was generated by a short video in which British actor Stephen Fry gives frank and, to me, compelling reasons why he dismisses the God who underpins the Judeo-Christian religions, YHWH or Jehovah by name. I include a link to that video clip at the end of this post.

I am always struck by the straightforward correctness Fry provides here. Given the constraints of the question (“When you approach the Pearly Gates, how will you answer for your beliefs”, etc; that is, given the standard description of Jehovah as Creator of the Universe), then I must emphatically state that, “Yes, these thoughts resonate COMPLETELY with my personal views.”

But then, I utterly reject the Pearly Gates and the whole White-bearded Father myth, a story which in no way is an actual description of How the Universe Works. It has served well as an age-old excuse for male domination and suppression of women. Cloaked in the trappings of the modern Christian Church, it has continued in that function, and widened its rationalizations to include crusades, inquisitions, hierarchical dominance and a host of other human miseries. And there is no possibility that these myths represent any valid mechanism of how the Earth (much less the Universe) came into being, nor how the underlying mechanisms operate, or have ever operated. In short, the world was not created by an old man with poor vision, limited omniscience and a bad disposition.

Don’t get me wrong. On most alternate weekdays, I lean toward the idea of a Creator, of some sort. Creation ex nihilo, combined with purely random processes as an explanation for the Universe, is an idea that runs counter to my sensibilities and experience. What I suspect (without proof) is that Creation is a sort of cosmic joint enterprise, in which all sentient (and even non-sentient) beings cooperate. regardless of an individual’s awareness of their contribution. If you ever read “Stranger In a Strange Land”, this “mutual participation creation” is somewhat akin to “Thou Art God. I am God. We Are God.” With vague notions of quantum mechanics and Uncertainty Principles thrown in for good measure.

But my world view is a LOT more complicated than that, and impossible to detail (or even properly outline) in a single blog post. I have outlined various aspects at other times and other guises. Suffice it to say that, for me, ontology and teleology are vapid and stupid when weighed against Right Living. It’s not how we got here, nor where it all ends up, that is important. What is important is how we comport ourselves while we’re here. One of the best answers is to do as Jesus (and Buddha and Lao Tse) taught to do. And especially to Live Rightly without fear of the consequence if you do not. Dharma rather than Karma. Love is the central principle, the only one worth committing to.

The worst facet of the Edenic creation myth may well be the way Christian theology twisted the (fairly simple) story into a basis for the idea of Original Sin. But take a look at how the Genesis story goes. You will not find a single statement, or anything resembling it, that refers to Original Sin, neither there, nor anywhere in the Old or New Testament.

What Jesus brought to the game was of course redemptive, but not of or from Jehovah. His message was redemptive by explaining what it takes to live ones life in a way that transcends fear as the prime motivator, and instead substitutes the “greatest of these”: Love.

The Eden myth is as good as any for a Creation myth. And I do admit that it at least makes a stab at trying to explain the old philosophical conundrum of how a perfect God created an imperfect world. So the Creator makes an arbitrary rule, without clarification, and walks off. The WOMAN (note please, it is the WOMAN who is weak, and who receives our cultural blame for all time) listens to the SNAKE (so now the notion of evil was just back-walked a step; why is the snake is “bad”? No fair referring to Milton, he’s several millennia, or billenia, depending on your science, in the future). She listens to the snake, eats the fruit, seduces the man (oh, THAT was hard!) and now imperfection exists. And the capacity to recognize it (“Knowledge of Good & Evil”). Then the Creator comes strolling through the garden, discovers (GASP!) that the two mortals have fallen in the trap, and summarily kicks them out of Paradise.

It took St. Augustine to twist the whole episode into the notion of Original Sin, thus justifying Jesus’ innocent death as a sort of spiritual jujitsu, applying the Hebrew notion of lamb’s blood as atonement, and voila! The unblemished God-in-Man (Emmanuel), by his death and blood, suddenly blots the stain of Original Sin, which humanity has carried since Eden. Except (remember!) Augustine also concocted Original Sin. So he manages to solve a cosmic problem that he himself created. It’s a nice trick.

The Bible itself says nothing about Original Sin. In any case, using the Bible as a handbook for theology is not something I ever plan to do. I’ll use the New Testament “words in red” (I.e, Jesus’ words) as a very good handbook for ethics. There’s none better. But my whole point here has been that using the Bible to justify one’s world view, as a creation explanation or how the Creator of the Universe “works” is a non-starter for me. Give me something reasonable as “explanation”, we’re good. Tell me to get the answer from the Bible, we’re not even asking the same question.

Stephen Fry answers a question about God

© 2016 Chuck Puckett

The Indistinguishable Phusis

From my earliest forays into the spiritual (which formally began in high school, though I had been thinking on these matters since early adolescence), after I had started my survey of the world’s religions and their key figures, I had recognized that there was a strong similarity among all of them. A very strong resemblance in the case of Jesus and Gautama Buddha, but one also easily recognizable, for instance, in the sayings and actions of Lao Tzu, and Moses, and a host of others. From this, a working hypothesis emerged: that all these figures had, in some supreme MOMENT, apprehended the Godhead, the True Reality, the Truth Behind the Veil. For lack of a better phrase, they all experienced an overwhelming Religious Experience, in which, for one brief shining moment, they were at one with the wordless expanse and glory of the Infinite Being.

But, being finite (as we all are), the Infinite could not be “maintained”; they were forced to return to the Here & Now. And they were then required, by the power of their experience, to somehow relate that experience to their fellow human beings. But (and here’s the crux of the matter), they only had the symbols and myths and culture in which they lived to translate the Ineffable, the Wordless, the Beyond Description. And so, each key figure attempted to translate the essence of their experiences using the ideas and notions familiar to them and their listeners. Jesus spoke in parables that are steeped in Jewish culture and history. Siddhatha used the symbols and metaphors available in Hinduism. And so on.

The actual experience is, I believe, the same, and forever incapable of accurately transmitting to their listeners. The message that they deciphered from the experience, the way of life they all urged, is also fundamentally the same: we are One, Love unites, there are consequences for our actions, give aid to those who need it without regard to recompense. Reduce the Self and listen for that “small, still voice” that speaks “when your heart is strangely warmed.”

Some claim that, in the fullness of time, we will all come face to face with the Inevitable and experience this fullness individually and as a conglomerate whole. The religions that adhere to an “arrow of time” world view, wherein there is a Beginning, a Traversal, and an End to everything, are most likely to consider this apocalyptic notion. Whether the Veil is ever lifted, in our lifetime or ever, is debatable. Is there an End of Time, where all is resolved for eternity? “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.” Ask Horatio; I know not.

There does seem to me a slipping backwards at work in our present world, a tendency, in the face of a world that appears ever more terrifying, to relapse into fundamental literalism. Not just in Christianity, for there are similar trends in Hinduism, and of course the other religions “of the Book”. But I do believe that the overall arc of history is towards enlightenment and (if you will) a revelation. Towards unity among all peoples. Consider how the long story has evolved: from isolated tribes in prehistory to villages and cities, coalescing into small kingdoms and then larger kingdoms, then empires, ever ebbing and flowing, but always moving inexorably towards a global culture.

Now, thanks in part to technology, our interconnectedness is truly amazing. This blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc, are all examples of how that interconnectedness works. We all know, more and more frequently, what happens everywhere, all the time. This global neural network is staggering in its import. We have not yet learned how to manage such a maze, and the capability seems at times daunting. The arc of history may point toward a global village, but it does not guarantee it will ever exist.

It is easy to despair, hard to hope. But keeping our eyes on the prize makes it possible.

© 2016 Chuck Puckett