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In the Physical, Suffering, and Something Else

The point of this post is the “Something Else.”  Let me know if you see it.

If you ask “Why do we suffer?” you might as well ask, “Why not?” because suffering is inherent to the core experience of living, like making things warmer is inherent in being hot: that’s what heat means. Living makes us part of the physical, which means we can either act or be acted upon.

Once we are part of the physical, it’s like we jump into an infinite torrent of other physical entities, where we all react and act with each other. Before we get too complicated, let us look at the importance of the one physical entity we call water:

Water does something unique. As a molecule, it is made up of two atoms hydrogen, one atom oxygen, and when many of these molecules freeze, they don’t lock in closer to each other like a bunch of friends collapsing in a clumsy game of Twister. Instead, water molecules form a homogenous, crystalline structure: picture a human pyramid. So when water freezes, it expands.

Expansion is a fairly unique reaction to freezing. Most liquids’ molecules actually pile up, all smashing together in a tighter space, creating a denser material. However, the expanded water means it is lighter, which means it floats. Ice floats.

Since water is physical, it acts a certain way when it freezes. It’s affected. Then, as we know, it can affect us. Think, for example, of icebergs.

Suppose, however, that water was like most other liquids, suppose water contracts when it freezes. What would happen? Imagine a water planet. Night falls and temperatures drop, the water on the surface of ponds lakes, and oceans freezes. Since it contracts, it gets denser and therefore sinks to the bottom of the ponds, lakes, and oceans. Liquid replaces the sunken ice at the surface of the ponds, lakes, and oceans, then, it freezes and sinks. Pretty soon, by dawn, there is an ice layer at the bottom of all bodies of water.

sunshine

What happens with the sun? It warms the top of the waters first. In order for it to melt the ice at the bottom, it has to warm through all the rest of the water layer above the ice. Effectively, if water contracted when it froze, Earth would be an ice planet. Life on Earth as we know it would not exist.

As a liquid, water molecules might have formed crystalline pyramids and floated like icebergs, or they might have smashed together and sunk, but the structure of the water molecule means ice forms pyramids.

Being physical allows water to react. And it only reacts one way at any given moment, meaning, water cannot expand and contract at the same time. It cannot do both, and, by the way, because it just so happens that it expands, we live.

Suffering: we suffer, because we feel. We feel because we are alive. We are in the physical, we can act and be acted upon. However, it would be a shame if we only thought of suffering. Just as it would be a shame to only think of icebergs and disasters like the Titanic when we think of the effects of ice, it would be a shame to only remember suffering when we think of life.

Because we live, we can act, we can feel, we can love and experience joy. The infinite torrent of all physical things makes flowers, music, and mountains. It makes our hands, faces, even our brains, and because we can act, we can also be still.

Witness and an actor, you are alive.

In Case You Don’t Know Me This Well…

…because if you know me well, you know this already.

Many times over the years, I have been asked how I do everything one might expect to be part of taking care of a home and being mother to 7 children.

Well, the truth is, and one I began to admit to a while back, is that I can’t do all of it…

…so I don’t.

That pretty much sums it up!

The Marriage Debate

If you know me, you know I’ve thought very much about this over the years. It’s always been a discovery for me because speaking about this honestly is constantly opening up new doors and windows to real people, to whom marriage and the right to marry, really matters.  I hope that I’ve taken My Prayer (in previous post, just scroll down) to heart more and more as I’ve pondered marriage in general, and, specifically, same-sex marriage.

I’ve never been able to agree that Equal Treatment compels the legalisation of same-sex marriage. I do believe that the courts and judges who’ve done so are mistaken. I tend to trust that those nations’ courts who’ve decided against ordering its legalisation were rational and without prejudice. Many of them went on to adopt ssm by legislature, though, so we can reasonably say that the judicial decision was not a matter of the culture being unable to accept same-sex couples. Only one nation, Brazil, has compelled the legalisation of same-sex marriage through the courts.

However, I do think that there should be protections for gay couples. Yet even with same-sex marriage, we will eventually encounter the basic differences which demonstrate that Equal Treatment cannot apply universally. I’ve written a fictional dialogue between a lawyer and a judge to illustrate. It’s not in legal language, but I believe it does capture the spirit and merit of my argument. Here goes:

Judge: Can you give me any rational basis to not legalize same-sex marriage?

Lawyer: Yes, Your Honor.

Judge: Please, do tell, and let the record show that we’ve already shown that fertility has not been a legal requirement for marriage.

Lawyer: Duly noted, Your Honor. Fertility has indeed never been a requirement for couples to marry in the states. The requirements, however, come on the other end. For example: a man and woman marry, the wife bears a child, one abandons the relationship. Who is legally responsible for the welfare of their child? They both are.
Let’s review this scenario. Did they have a fertility test when they married? No. Let’s suppose that the woman had never previously been able to have children and believes she was infertile. Let’s say the man even had a vasectomy.
Nothing in the story changes. They marry, the wife bears a child. One of them abandons their family. Who is responsible for their child? They both are. This responsibility is implicit at the moment of marriage. The husband is always presumed to be the father.

Judge: You have not shown how same-sex marriage changes this, counselor.

Lawyer: Indeed. Here’s the new story: a woman marries a woman. One wife bears a child, one wife abandons the relationship. Are they both responsible for this child? We can assume that at least, the woman who bears the child is responsible. How, then, is her wife responsible? How can the wife be responsible for a child that she has not rational basis of anticipating at marriage as a result of their union? The only way the spouse carries responsibility of parenthood through marriage is if we apply the natural basis of heterosexual partners to the homosexual couple.

Judge: And? Equal Treatment requires us to do so.

Lawyer: Equal Treatment requires us to apply the law when no injury can be shown by doing so. Yet, in this case, we are compelling a person to be responsible without a rational basis for that responsibility.

Judge: Yet there are same-sex couples who want to assume this responsibility.

Lawyer: Yes, Your Honor, and there are those who do not.

Judge: As with heterosexual couples, counsellor. How are the two different?

Lawyer: The heterosexual couple has assumed the responsibility at marriage because them procreating together is a rational expectation of their union. They must assume this, they cannot choose. If a child results from their union, they are responsible, whether they want the child or not. This is the nature of heterosexual unions that any civil society recognizes.

Judge: And the same-sex couple?

Lawyer: The same-sex couple, to have a child together, must choose at the time of adoption. They cannot assume such responsibility at marriage, for there is no rational basis for expecting a child to result from their union. They may choose or not choose to seek to adopt a child, while a heterosexual couple cannot choose whether to be parents of their child.

Judge: So if we apply presumed paternity equally to heterosexual and same-sex couples, we are assigning responsibility to those who must not have it. If we remove presumed paternity from marriage altogether, we are removing responsibility from those who must assume it.

Lawyer: Exactly, your Honor.

I live in France and it happens to be one of the countries who heard the arguments for gay marriage, but upheld the ban.  Francois Hollande ran his presidential campaign on many promises, including gay marriage, and it was passed not long after his election. So I think it can be said that there are many rational, compassionate people who desire the ability for same-sex couples to legally unite, even marry, but who also recognize the significantly different nature of heterosexual unions.  It’s just part of being human.

Today the Supreme Court of the United States hears oral arguments regarding same-sex marriage. I hope that the representatives will be sharp and smart, that the decisions will be compassionate, and made in wisdom and foresight. Most importantly, I hope and pray that people will continue to treat each other better and always try to be excellent to each other.

My Prayer

Last week I noticed something interesting.

One day, I’d been listening to almost all the sayings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament of the Bible. Every saying was something I’d heard before, but listening to all in a matter of a few hours gave me a perspective I had not before seen.

I recommend this!

What I saw starts with the second great commandment, “Love thy neighbor as yourself.” This principle is also shared and taught by a wide range of belief systems and is often referred to as The Golden Rule. It has been around a very long time, though not always in practice, of course. The contrast was found in Christ’s command to His disciples, when He told them, “Love one another, even as I have loved you, love one another.”

Even as I have loved you…I keep thinking about this, trying to allow this to fully sink in. Something tells me I could spend a lifetime doing so. First I imagine myself feeling its warmth on my face, through my skin, to muscle, and through bone, in my mind, my heart, my every word. My actions, my habits, my thoughts, my gestures…what if they were all a prayer seeking this principle? What if all that I am were a supplication to God to help me love as Christ loves?

I imagine this and I remember something I said last year. It was my fantasy, I described, to be a beam of energy traveling forwards and backwards in time, through dimensions, across the universe, all over the planet, to observe and experience. And, CLICK.  I believe that if my life were this prayer, I would be as close as possible to the beaming, seeing, universe-knowing energy.

Truly, the structure of all matter in the universe is not based on components, but on relationships. Such relationships are repeated over and over, across space and time, and they result in amazing forces, both brutal and delicate. Yet they all come down to how one energy relates to another energy. So, how am I relating?  How am I loving?

theshortest

Committing myself to this would probably reveal some painful answers to those questions. But that’s part of the package, isn’t it? Aspiring exposes failure. However, the failure is there with or without the aspiration. One step to another, inspiration and revelation will come in aspiration.

So, this my aspiration, to know Christ’s love, to live it. “Be excellent to each other;” in my heart, I know this is better than the Golden Rule. And it’s my prayer.

America is a Christian Nation Founded on Christian Principles

This is true.

However, it may not be true in the way you think it to be true, or in the way you’ve been told it is true.

The American people, by and large, have been and are made up by a vast majority of individuals who identify as Christians. This may change, but for now, this is true.

The United States was founded on Christian principles. While on the earth, Jesus of Nazareth defined an egalitarian outlook that built and still resonates in American law. He came for everyone. He taught us how to treat each other:

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Jesus affirmed the Golden Rule when he listed the Two Great Commandments, the First being to “love God,” the Second, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Yet, Christ went further when he counseled his disciples,

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Not only are we to love each other as we’d want them to love us, but if we are to be disciples of Jesus, we are to love each other as He loves us. So we are not to treat one another based on some personal standard, but on the unchanging and divine standard established by Jesus Christ.

Jesus did not seek this crown nor any other political authority.
Jesus did not seek this crown nor any other political authority.

Let’s look at our Founding Documents then, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence establishes the basis of the revolt against Great Britain, laying down our God-given legacy which has been trampled upon and denied:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”

Self-evident truths are ones in which no proof is given, they are openly stated as an accepted premise to what follows, and in this case, they are the basis of the American contract: all men are created equal. The Constitution takes these rights under assumption as it sets up a structure of balanced powers poised to protect the individual from the tyranny of the state and the aggression of other nations. The Constitution defends our God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

That is our faith, rooted in a Christian philosophy of egalitarianism. However, you do not have to be Christian to believe this Christian principle. You can share it, whatever your other beliefs or affiliations. This is the shared faith of the United States. We take, by faith, and despite all empirical and concrete evidence to the contrary, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

This is where Christianity resides on our Founding: an egalitarian treatment of each other, based on a faith in our equality.

Does this make America a theocracy?

Before we answer that, let us test the idea of a Christian political theocracy against Christ’s own words. To Pilate, Jesus said,

This is the only crown that Jesus accepted.
This is the only crown that Jesus accepted.

“My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” (John 18:36)

Jesus did not say His kingdom is some new state of liberated Jews, he did not stake claim to what was Caesar’s, he spoke of the kingdom of God existing in the now regardless of any physical form of captivity. Jesus came to wear a crown of thorns, not Caesar’s. In other words, if you venture to claim that Jesus mandated a creation of a Christian political state, He explicitly denied it. Using Christ’s New Testament teachings to build a Christian theocracy would be an oxymoron.

So, America is generally Christian because most Americans affiliate with Christianity, and America is based on Christian principles of egalitarianism which anyone of any faith can appreciate, but America is not, and was not, and was never intended to be, a theocracy.

Thank God for that.

The Mockingjay Sings

There’s a beautiful parallel between love and hate, and war and peace in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Near the end of the third book, Mockingjay, Gale tells Peeta that he knows how Katniss will choose between the two of them, if all three of them survive: she will choose the one she cannot live without the most. Katniss overhears and receives this as perhaps an all-too-accurate accusation of her motives, but then again, she can see through Gale’s warrior eyes and it does feel true through them.

Katniss has survived for six years with Gale hunting at her side, both fighting for life under the oppression of the Capitol, and this has made him her best friend. However, once Katniss starts to understand Peeta, her perspective expands.  Gale’s friendship reveals itself as more of an alliance, where they are joined because of a common enemy and common pain, while Peeta’s alliance to her reveals itself more as friendship motivated by his love for her.

Later when the fighting is ending, when she is reaching for death in her physical and spiritual agony, when nothing good to live for seems to be possibly attainable or even visible, when the external world tempts to no joy nor can threaten any worse pain, Katniss sings. It’s as if all deliberation, contriving, and motive has vanished, and she produces what remains in her soul, and it is song. And in singing, Katniss lives.

Yet it takes time for Katniss to emerge from her internal world, and it is Peeta who signals purpose with those primroses. Peeta reveals how Katniss might go and carry Prim’s memory along with her while turning away from the abyss President Snow’s rose represents to her. Peeta “sings” life, too, and because he can, they can both keep going together.

Peeta knew, as Gale did, that we should not live as slaves, without freedom, but he saw further still, knowing that we should live as creators, and for love.

In describing this trilogy, Suzanne Collins wanted to expose war’s effects of adolescence to youth. I believe she succeeds, yet this matured perspective is nuanced in underlining the necessity of war while still driving home the essence of peace: peace is being able to live for something more than war. Once the war is over, if they are ever going to afford a lasting peace, people must learn to live for more than fighting, for more than retribution, power, even more than justice.

There must be singing.

It is perfect that the Mockingjay is beautiful for more than a call to resistance and battle, that the bird is compelled to glorious creation of its own. Mockingjays sing, and sing together. Katniss discovers that there is more in her soul than fight. And she chooses to live for more than war, like anyone who truly hates war must choose, if they want to live without it.