Yes, I live. No, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth--it's just been one of those times that, when I've had time to write, I haven't had energy, and when energy, not time--. Anyway, here's a quick update on what's been going on with us.

Annual Review

I tend to suffer a bit from seasonal depression, which, I realize in my case stems not just from an absence of light AND the onset of the Christmas season—which usually combines to make the first weekend of December about my worst time—but also from the “annual review.” You know, it’s that assessment you tend to make knowing that another year has come to an end. Some years, it’s been pretty rough. Around this time of year we’ve had deaths, job losses, illness or other general unpleasantness, which, amplified by darkness and a mildly Scrooge-ish temperament makes for a rather hard time.

This year, I’m doing fairly well, partly because my new position as a manager keeps me sufficiently busy that I don’t have brooding time. Of course, the job has its drawbacks like any job, but I have to feel good about having gotten the promotion. We celebrated twenty years of wonderful marriage. My last remaining unmarried sibling, my brother Mike, got married to his long-time companion, Karen. My parents seem to be doing better than last year at this time, and some of the family stresses due to their unhealth seem to have eased. My sister and other brothers all have intact marriages, very good to decent jobs, good health, and no history of drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness, or imprisonment. I myself had and extensive battery of health tests and got a clean bill. So there’s very little to be gloomy about, at least in my personal life. On the other hand, the situation in the nation and the world generally sucks, so I guess there is at least balance.

Movies:

Since last time, we’ve seen two particularly good movies, one critically acclaimed, and one panned.

The one that everyone loved, including ourselves, was The Incredibles. Surprising, since superhero movies don’t tend to win critical good opinion, even successful ones like Spider-Man. But, truly, I thought The Incredibles was a truly flawless movie. It does one of my favorite things, which is first to say “what if,” and then ruthlessly apply logic and common sense to work out the ramifications. The plot is original: do-gooder super-heroes get sued out of business. Instead of persecuting them, the government puts them into a sort of witness relocation program on the condition they refrain from using super-powers. Mr. Incredible has settled uncomfortably into life as an insurance adjuster, married “Elasti-Girl” and is in the process of raising two also uncomfortable super-powered children. He’s been sneaking out to do bits of unauthorized heroics, so when he gets an offer from a super-secret government agency he’s easily tempted--.

Besides the wealth of ideas, the movie is visually beautiful in so many ways, some of the best of them being subtleties such as motion: Elasti-Girl stretching from rooftop to rooftop looks exactly right. Frozone moves like a speed-skater on his ice, instead of the “surfer” move that is the X-Men “Iceman” cliché. You look at it and say “Of course!” The tropical island where much of the action takes place is beautifully rendered and super-cool in the best James Bond fashion. I really could find only minimal quibbles and consider it a must-see if you care for super-heroics in the least.

The art-house film one would have expected the critics to love but they didn’t is Finding Neverland. It is a fictionalized account of the circumstances surrounding J.M. Barrie’s writing of his masterpiece Peter Pan. The timeline diverges quite a bit from actual facts, but the writers have made a very affecting story on a skeletal reality. Critics tended to say a thing such as that it was “too adult for children, and too childish for adults.” Instead, I would rather say that it was too sentimental for cynics. Since we are sentimentalists, we liked it, and there was not a dry eye among us at the end. If you can restrain yourself from chanting “I do believe in fairies” when Tinkerbell’s light begins to fade, perhaps it is not for you. Otherwise, see it if you can.

Thanksgiving

We had thought we were looking at a rather grim Thanksgiving. My brother David and his wife were visiting her side of the family, my father had succeeded in estranging my brother Harold’s wife by lashing out at her during my mother’s health crisis, and my sister Teresa has tended to be absent from family gatherings, either tending to her husband’s aged parents or on call for her cardiology practice. So it looked like it would be just Georgie and me trying to carry the burden of holiday cheer to the old homestead—heavy lifting for four, formerly the work of sixteen at times. So we were delighted to find that my father had actually apologized to Connie, such that she, Harold, and their three daughters arrived at the house like Scrooge at the Cratchits, bringing along food enough to turn our adequate meal into a feast. Teresa, having done dinner for her in-laws, appeared as well bringing her son and daughter. What could have been a pretty sad affair ended up suffused with a quiet joy. It was far better than I had hoped.

And so on:

We’ve moved fairly smoothly into the holiday season, although the week after Thanksgiving we both had the feeling our flu vaccines were earning their keep and stayed home from Sue Blom’s salon on the 3rd. We made our annual Christmas shopping trip to the Madison Farmer’s Market, and had lunch with Tracey Benton and Bill Bodden. Yay! Dottie Dumpling’s Dowry lives again, although in a somewhat unnervingly upscaled incarnation. The burgers are good as ever. Our fellow Burrahobbits Don and Rich threw their holiday party and a good time was had. Our friend Yehudit hosted Ashram on the eve of Hanukah, and we had an informative time talking about visions of the afterlife—if any. On the 11th, Bardic Dinner was held at Emory Churness’ home, theme British Cooking, and reading from P.G. Wodehouse—both food and readings were excellent.

On the 18th, there was MilwAPA Collation at our house, which was pleasantly festive time. Insertions for the distribution included orgiami cranes and candy canes. That evening there was a filksing back at Emory's where we had a good time also and sang some pagan Yuletide carols along with the usual filksongs.

On the 19th, we drove up to Wisconsin Dells for a post-wedding brunch hosted by my brother Mike and his new bride, Karen. They got married in the San Francisco area in the middle of October. We couldn't go because we had already comitted all our spendable cash to our anniversary party, and our parents aren't able to travel that far, so they decided to come here and host a reception for local friends and family. It was held at the Cheese Factory, which, despite the name, is a rather nice vegetarian restaurant, and the food was very good. Georgie surprised them with a cake, and a nice time was had. Karen Kubitscek is a psychologist, and she and Mike have been an item for a decade, so we were very ready to welcome her as a new sister.
The theme of this month’s Ashram was “praise and thanksgiving.” We discussed our various traditions of giving thanks to the powers that be, and the difficulty of maintaining a thankful mindset when things go bad, and if God even requires that of us. The question of whether or not God wants or needs our praise at all was also raised. We tended to agree that God’s creation might be praiseworthy intrinsically, and it was just good manners to be thankful for it, even if God is above our acknowledgements. We also felt it like that a just God would be forgiving if we weren’t “appropriately thankful” for wars and hurricanes--.
Ashram convened at the residence of Bob and Judy Seidl about 7:00PM. This month’s topic was “spiritual influences,” meaning chiefly persons who had helped shape your view of the spiritual life. Interestingly, most of the persons cited were relatives, often grandmothers, rather than clergy. My own thoughts included: Selena Fox, the first person I met who seemed to have true spiritual power, not to mention a truly saintly outlook; Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, for her series of “Messages from Michael,” books with their very elegant cosmology; and Georgie, who asks a lot of hard questions about things I had thought I knew the answers to.
The topic for the May Ashram was on religious education for young people: when should what ideas be taught, if at all.

Those attending the Ashram on the third thought that this outline was good enough that they wanted a copy and urged me to share it with those who did not make it as well, so here it is:

Ignatius Loyola said: “Give me a child until he is five
years old. Afterwards, you may do with him as you will, he will not turn from my teaching.”

I don't agree with Loyola that you can make a child that young flawless on docrine, but I do belive that habits of thought can be inculcated early. I also belive that certain subjects, such as damnation, if that is part of the religion's doctrine, are inappropriate for children.

Program for teaching Greg’s theoretical religion:

Appropriate topics for children from ages up to 6:
Values and attitudes, social responsibility. Examples:
“Our faith teaches us that—
Good people tell the truth and do not lie.
Good people work for what they want, and do not steal.
Good people work out their differences with others,
and do not fight them.
Good people are kind to others.

These ideas are shared by people not of our faith.

Bad things happen because they are caused
intentionally by people who want to do harm, by good
people who may be mistaken or careless, and by forces
outside human control, such as the weather.

All children are born with the equal gift of God’s
love, regardless of their race, wealth, ethnicity, or
the religion of their parents. What they do with this
gift is between them and God.”

Ages 7-13, topics include history of the faith and
articles of faith such as creation of the world, and
our sources of inspiration.

Thirteen and up may be permitted to discuss concepts
of sin, the question of evil, and damnation or
salvation. It must be impressed that, if damnation is
a tenet of the religion that only God may make this
judgment, and it is not for mortals to anticipate or
act upon any presumption of judgment. All people are
God’s creatures and His plan for those not of our
faith is not for us to know.

Confirmation in the faith comes only when the young
person is able to pass an oral exam similar to, but
perhaps not as rigid as, defending a thesis. The
person should know not only WHAT they believe, but be
able to explain WHY. (I admit I see problems here—not
passing your catcheism could be a major stigma--.)

I would welcome any other comments.

I've since had some from other friends: Judy Kader wrote that to the teachings for young children she would add:
*Everyone has good in them.
Respect the good in everyone.

*Also: stories from the faith. I think the stories about how the holidays came to be are great for kids, because they become hands on with the celebrations. For example: we (Jews) celebrate Sukkot because of how Jacob lived in the desert. We can look up from our sukkah and see the same stars that he saw. I belive this grounds a child in the continuation of the faith and the feeling that she/he is part of something bigger than him/herself.


"These ideas are shared by people not of our faith."

*Not only is this very important, but it is part of the Jewish faith to aknowledge that everyone is part of G-D, not just Jews, and everyone has a place in heaven. Every living person has the responsibility to keep the "seven Noahide laws" as they are called. (honor your mother and father, don't steal, don't envy, don't kill, ect.) One of the reasons that I can aknowledge the failings and hipocrysies of my faith is that occasionally it seems to get things right like this.

"Bad things happen because they are caused
intentionally by people who want to do harm, by good
people who may be mistaken or careless, and by forces
outside human control, such as the weather."

*I disagree with you on this one. At a very young age I don't belive that teaching about intentionally bad people is important. As they grow up they will realize this one on thier own. As they watch and read the news they will question other people's actions. But until they get old enough to question it on thier own, I would not go out of my way to teach them about bad people. This may be a knee jerk reaction to getting so much footage about Hitler and the death camps at a VERY young age. When children are under 5 I belive it is the duty of the adults around them to keep them away from hurtful people/situations/and knowledge. This doesn't mean that I wouldn't teach them to get out of situations they don't feel comfortable in, or to tell and adult about them. But all they have to know is thier own feelings about it. They were uncomfortable with that person or that situation, not about how "bad" that person is.

"All children are born with the equal gift of God’s
love, regardless of their race, wealth, ethnicity, or
the religion of their parents. What they do with this
gift is between them and God.”

*This one is a no brainer to me. I can't even imagine any other way. How could G-D be G-D if she didn't love everyone?

"Ages 7-13, topics include history of the faith and
articles of faith such as creation of the world, and
our sources of inspiration."

* Yeah. I agree, but I guess I am selective about this one, too. So many of our "sources for inspiration" in the Jewish faith tend to be martyrs. The story of Hannah and her seven sons is NOT something I think should be handed to a kid too young. Again, knee jerk. I got that one at around 7-8 and had nightmares about my mother having all her skin scraped off with a giant metal comb until she died. However, sources inspriation being the natural world that G-D gave us responsibility for I belive can start at an even earlier age, with simple walks in nature and observational questions that come up. The amazing inspiration of diversity on the planet.

"Thirteen and up may be permitted to discuss concepts
of sin, the question of evil, and damnation or
salvation. It must be impressed that, if damnation is
a tenet of the religion that only God may make this
judgment, and it is not for mortals to anticipate or
act upon any presumption of judgment. All people are
God’s creatures and His plan for those not of our
faith is not for us to know."

*Very much so. Also, for me, this is a good age to start impressing that Jews don't belive in confession of sin and absolution. You are forever guilty of every sin you have committed and the only way to rectify it is to do more mitzvot than sins. If you feel that you have done something very bad, you have to make amends for it and then, on top of that, do something good, to bring the scales back to the good end.

"Confirmation in the faith comes only when the young
person is able to pass an oral exam similar to, but
perhaps not as rigid as, defending a thesis. The
person should know not only WHAT they believe, but be
able to explain WHY. (I admit I see problems here—not
passing your catcheism could be a major stigma--.)"

* We talked about this one there. The more I think about it, the more I think its an ongoing thing. That at each age they could make a commitment to whatever they felt they wanted to. At 5 a child can make a commitment to being a sharing person. She/he could commit to helping people more, to loving G-D more, to trying harder to learn, ect. At 10 they can make different commitments. Maybe I see this one as not about a one time confirmation, but an ongoing commitment to what they belive in. Felixiblity and the ability to grow in our understanding and faith seem to be left out of the one time confirmation thing.
We met for Ashram at the residence of Tim Kosinski and Shelia Haberland, the topic to be "Separation of Church and State," with the subtopic of "What is a Cult?" The group was generally in agreement that separation is a good thing for both Church AND State, and that actions such as those taken by Bishop Burke of La Crosse to pressure Catholic legislators into toeing the Vatican party line would have the effect of marginalizing Catholic voters. On the other hand, we disagreed as to whether or not French authorities went too far in banning all religious symbolism including Muslim headscarves from public schools. As to cults, we had great fun pointing out the cultic aspects of sets and subsets of all religions, and rather wryly agreed that the difference between a cult and a "legitimate" religion was based upon time and success.
On the 5th, we met at Bob and Judy Seidl's house for the first Ashram of the New Year. The topic was, "what does it mean to make an oath?" We had an interesting time defining the concept of an "oath" as set apart from a "promise," a "contract," or one's "word of honor." We generally agreed that an "oath" involves calling upon a higher power of whatever nature to witness one's intention, and calling upon that power to punish you if you fail. (Even an oath such as "By my beard—" is a shorthand version of calling upon God to make your beard fall out if you fail of your oath.) We also discussed the general lack of oath usage in current American society (as opposed to the currently rampant cursing and profanity). We speculated that, like many things, the Puritans might have had something to do with it, with their very strong prohibitions against "taking the name of the Lord in vain," specifically, and swearing oaths generally. "Swearing" was of course not done in polite society in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and the gradual separation of church life from casual life that occurred from the 20's onward probably continued the process of taking oaths as such out of general usage except for formal occasions such as testifying in court, or taking public office.
The December Ashram finally got to the question of how religions deal help answer the questions of "Who am I?" and "What should I do when I grow up?" We had an interesting discussion on the varying traditions of religious identity. I flung my "bomb" by asking the question as to whether or not definitions of religious identity contribute to divisiveness and discrimination. It axiomatically creates an "us vs. them" situation, and if your religion teaches it is best to be what you are (and if not, why would you want to be one), therefore, everyone else is at best second-best. The other members greeted this sally in a sporting frame of mind, and although we agreed that the more enlightened practice of modern religions was more ecumenical, this was still an issue. We then considered the question of whether or not it was possible to define a spiritual belief system in terms of action towards others so that this problem would be less likely to arise. No satisfactory answer was arrived at although we considered that non-western systems like Taoism or Buddhism might come close. The final major point of discussion asked why more (American) people don't seem to be guided by religious guidelines in their choice of life path, and agreed that in these days, more people are affected by educational and economic opportunity.

Catching Up

Oct. 9th, 2003 12:50 pm
It’s been rather busy the last couple of weeks: let’s see.

On the 12th of September, I was depositing my paycheck at our credit union when I noticed a poster for sale of a 1997 Mercury Sable station wagon, good mileage and good price. The credit union occasionally has vehicles that have been ‘surrendered’ on a loan default, and this was a model we had been looking at as a possible replacement for my ’91 which now had 220,000 miles on it. I checked out the car and found it was an acceptable color, a nice teal green. (Georgie has the right to veto cars that are white or silver, as being unsafe for visibility in winter, or beige, as being boring.) I test drove it that Saturday morning, and found it good. We went in to the CU office on Monday and put down a payment to hold it while we shuffled funds to buy it. The ’91 was donated to charity. I would have felt bad giving or selling it to someone since I’m pretty sure whatever goes wrong with it next will be disastrously expensive if not dangerous, but the place we gave it to is an auto-mechanic training program, and they’ll take it apart an put it together again before they turn it loose on anyone else--. The wagon is very nice, and now I can do things like haul home a hunk of plywood from Menard’s again.

September 23rd was the Burrahobbits meeting, and we kept with the September Celtic theme, as the reading here was the Tain Bo Cualinge. We compared and contrasted a number of translations, including that of Lady Gregory, and the recent on by Thomas Kinsella. We also had cakes (including apple spice cupcakes by Georgie) to celebrate the eve of Bilbo’s birthday, which is of course Sept. 24, our reckoning.

September 29th is Michaelmas (the feast of St. Michael), and we got together for dinner at the residence of Tim Kozinski and Shelia Haberland for the annual dinner of lucky goose (it is lucky for you to eat goose on Michaelmas—not so lucky for the goose.) I brought wine and Georgie brought pies for dessert, both of which were well received. Tim prepared goose en croute as an appetizer, and the main dish of roast pork, both of which were excellent. The luck of the goose has stood by us well in the past, we shall see how effaceous it is this year. At any rate, we had a lovely dinner with good company.

October 4 was this month’s Bardic dinner—early this month due to other conflicts. Once a year we do a communal play reading instead of an individual reading, and this year’s play was the classic American comedy, “Arsenic and Old Lace.” We had great fun with the reading, despite the fact that many of us had to double roles. Georgie read Abby Brewster, Megan Barrowsby was Martha Brewster, I doubled the Brewster brothers Jonathan and Teddy, Bob Seidl read Mortimer Brewster, and Lily Sullivan was our Elaine. New York 30’s was the food theme, and we had standing rib roast will all the accouterments, with New York style cheesecake for dessert.

October 5, we drove to Spring Green for the closing performance of the season, “The Tempest.” It was a lovely day for a drive, and the gradually warming temperatures meant that with preparation we were able to endure the outdoor performance in comfort. This was an excellent production of Shakespeare’s last play, with some new ideas in it. Jonathan Gillard Daly was a very vigorous and worldly Prospero, much different from the withdrawn and mystical character frequently seen. He has learned to use his magic as a survival tool, instead of the monkish study which lost him his dukedom. If Daly’s performance had a flaw, it is in his lack of vocal variety. Prospero has a number of lengthy declamations, beginning with his exposition to Miranda in the second scene, and some of these got monotonous after a while. Most of the other characters were unremarkable, but both Ariel (Colleen Madden) and Caliban (Christopher Marshall) were scene-stealers in their own ways. Madden’s Ariel was subtly unhuman, not the flitting sprite commonly seen, and clever amplification of her good voice made her singing magic very effective. Caliban was a more human and more wretched creature, and seemed rather informed by the “Lord of the Rings” Gollum, with his emphasis on cringing and bootlicking rather than feral savagery.

October 6th was our 19th wedding anniversary. (It never seems to have been that long!) In the earlier part of the day we closed refinancing of our home mortgage so save ourselves a bit of money each month. In the evening we celebrated with dinner at Sanford, still Milwaukee’s finest restaurant. I had the seasonal mushroom special, which consisted of a mushroom and barley appetizer, tempura mushroom with broth, pheasant and wild mushroom “cobbler,” and “truffle” ice cream with spice cake. Georgie had the rabbit loin appetizer, followed by grilled elk, and tart cherry clafoutis for dessert. It was all wonderful! After dinner, we went to the Ashram meeting and found the topic of the night had been postponed by the low turnout, and just settled into an evening of chat.

October 7, we made time to run out to a movie, the first one in weeks. We chose to see “Secondhand Lions,” which we can heartily recommend. Robert Duvall and Michael Caine are fun to watch (although I don’t quite buy Caine as a Texan) and Hailey Joel Osment gives a fine performance as the boy fobbed off on his two eccentric and mysterious great-uncles. It is a very entertaining plot, enlivened by the old men’s reminiscences of their fabulous past which keeps it from being a mere sentimental story. Go and see it.
The monthly Ashram discussion group met at our house on the evening of the 8th. Besides generating topics for future discussions (and coming up with at least a year's worth), we revisited the philosophical question of whether or not there can be a just war. We took a moment to define "war" for the purposes of this discussion as armed conflict between "national groups" (which could include civil wars, or wars between different peoples in the same country). A number of differing opinions were expressed. Georgie's idea that, unfortunately, even a self-defensive war remains just for only about three days until someone does something unjustifiable and initiates a downward spiral of revenge and retribution, was well received.

As for myself, I have come to the conclusion that in today's world, there can be no just war. Particularly given the increasing globalization of economies, economic leverage, including trade sanctions, can be enormously powerful. The United Nations SHOULD be the primary moral force and diplomatic channel for dispute resolution, backed up by treaties and the World Courts. It's unfortunate that the United States, with its current insistence on use of force and resistance to World Court jurisdictions, is the primary stumbling block to this desirable progress.
This evening, the spitituality discussion group, or Ashram, will be meeting at the residence of Bob and Judy Seidl. This month's topic is to show and tell about books or writings that have influenced your spiritual life. I won't be able to attend because of a first read-through for "Forum," but Georgie will, and I'm sending her with my list, which is as follows:

Tao Te Ching: For the first passage, that is often paraphrased, “The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.” This is the first major religion that acknowledges that the Deity is nothing like an old man with a long white beard, and that it does not sit on someone’s shoulder like Jiminy Cricket telling us what to eat and not to eat, or whom to have sex with and who not.

Sayings of Confucius: Confucius has a lot to say to warriors and administrators. I particularly admire the portion that is translated as: “If you rule by example, the people will follow your example. If you rule by laws, the people will concentrate on staying out of jail.” The second part is certainly true. The first part is rarely tested.

Samurai Creed: In a very short document, it gives a very thorough analysis of how self-reliance and openness of mind can be applied to almost every situation, distaining reliance on material things. This would be a hard creed to live up to and few samurai ever actually did, but I still find it inspiring.

Messages from Michael: Too long to go into in detail, this text expounds a very elegant theory of the universe and our place in it that I find harmonious and aesthetically and spiritually pleasing. Whether or not the ideas were actually dictated by an ascended teacher or just synthesized from other sources by the writer, I have found many useful tools toward working out other people’s personality types and goals, and how to understand them.

That Hideous Strength: This book taught me a lot about the nature of evil: that much of it grows out of pride and spite, but chiefly selfishness, and that the greatest sin is cutting yourself off from the human race. Dehumanizing others permits all sorts of terrible behavior.

The Screwtape Letters: A lot more about the seductions of bad behavior and how we fall into it, but the chief inspiration found here was the idea that the Deity wants “lovers,” and not slaves or mere worshippers—that our goal is to rejoin with Deity of our own free will and because we want to, because we have become Godlike in our understanding of God, and that Deity desires this because it is renewed by our contribution. (This is also the ultimate conclusion of the “Michael” books, but I found the basic idea here first.)


All of these writings have helped shape who I am: I hope to be able to report on others' choices as well.

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