Saturday, April 18, 2015

Are you "modern" or something else...?

This weeks blog was inspired by comments made  by Jeff Spencer in his message at the Niles Discovery Church 4.12.15

Suppose that you lived in a time and place with no radio, or TV... no newspapers or schools  or knowledge of modern scientific explanations... and this is a good picture of what historians call "the premodern time period".  The only sources of knowledge were tradition, what the religious leaders told, and "old wives tales".   In medieval Europe the church was the holder and interpreter of revealed knowledge; and was the primary authority source.  Many people on earth today still live in this way.

The arts, music, literature, and religious ideas of this period were created by and for the powerful and those who had access to education.

The so called "modern period" began with the ferment of ideas that grew out of the 'enlightenment". (1650-1950's)  ( Are you surprised that so called modern thinking began so early?)
This period was marked by a challenge to the absolute dominance of religious interpretation, a new appreciation  for  the power of questioning and observation, and from this the first growth of scientific problem solving.

Galileo looking outside the known universe
  The early scientific understanding gave rise to such ideas as the Sun centered solar system, gravity, a knowledge of microorganisms, a knowledge of chemical elements and chemical reactions.   Often, science and reason were applied in conjunction with each other.In other areas of  human thought  this was a period of intense interest in applying  reason or logic to develop understanding in literature, art, and music.

The Spirit of French Resistance

It is curious today, after the centuries of struggle to discover a better understanding of our universe, that there are those who seek to reject the methods of science and seek to return to belief rather than what is proven.  We still have conflicts between religious dogma and scientific 'proofs'.

The methods of science choose  a phenomenon to study- devise experiments to determine if something is supported by evidence - It can be said that science can not prove anything to be 'correct' - the best we can do is to not be able to disprove it... All scientific 'theories' are always open to future tests... This does not diminish the fact that such things as the "theory of gravity" and "the germ theory" have overwhelming evidence to support them.  Currently, there is also overwhelming evidence that we are  undergoing a time of intense climate change brought about by human effects on the atmosphere...and some refuse to consider what has been learned.

 The effect of historical period affects  much more than science - The visual arts and music have taken on the flavor of their time.  We can imagine the Gregorian chants of prehistorical Europe, the grand works of Beethoven and Dvorak in the modern period and the atonal music of Phillip Glass and John Cage as typically post-modern... in a sense we can say that Madonna and Michael Jackson are also Postmodern musician

During the "modern period"  intellectual authority moved away from the church, and  toward politics (governments, kings, etc.) and centers of secular learning.   Scholars, professors, scientists, philosophers, and artists took over as the primary sources of authority. At times, a religious perspective was included  into these modern authority sources, but the church no longer enjoyed the privileged power position it once held.  

"Perhaps we are too close to the issues of our time to see where we are going." 

The western cultural emphasis on reason and logic as the solution to all human issues ended due to several causes in the 20th century. Postmodenism had its roots in the recovery from the horrors of the second world war…  (starting in the late 1940'2 - 1950's); but also due to the growth of globalism, the end to colonialism, and a disillusionment with technology as a solution to all our 'problems'.  This is the time we live in now - and is is marked by quesioning previous approaches to knowing. Our time is noted for an openness to other sources of knowledge such as Eastern Thought, indigenous people's insights, meditation, intuition, relational, and spiritual...  There is often a cynicism in postmodernism - a rejection of what is past and didn't work - and a seeking for something that fits your  modern reality better... There may  still be a willingness to consider revelation, science, and reason... but in a more critical way.  Historical sources of authority sources and power are  being reexamined as they were not previously.

Some of the movements that embodied the ideas of early post modernism were the growth of Beatniks in the 1950s and later the Hippie movement in the 60's...challenges to the government contesting racial and sexual orientation policies, challenging our foreign policies, issues of collective rights v. individual rights, response to world terrorism, opposition to colonialism, struggle between the rights to life , liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and the right to oppress workers ... In terms of religion there has been the emergence of Progressive Christianity that emphasizes social policy based on the life of the pre-Easter Jesus and a connectedness with the concept of the ever present spirit of God...There is a premise in the new church that "questioning" can be more productive than "accepting outdated dogma"
Post modern art often challenges us to connect with the obvious in the new way - to see  what our brains are not used to seeing... If your first impulse is to reject this painting off hand - you are being asked a question..

Naturally there have been 'back lashes' to each of the challenges - the old South wants to protect their way of life; gun advocates want to be able to own, carry, and use their weapons without restrictions; the religious right wants to advocate their sexual policies on others, the Republican party wants to protect the interests of business to make profits.  This is the ferment that we are in today...

Europe after WW II

Some would like to go back to what they perceive as  simpler times ...but that can not happen - the genie will not - can not - return to his confinement.  Us humans, the world over, have one united future... The only future that can lead to survival is one based on cooperation and collectively opposing greed and corruption among those that want more than their share!



-or this...
Our best hope

Friday, April 10, 2015

Comfort food...

Humans all over the world have a special relationship with food sources that are central to their way of life.  When you think of the history of Irish people – it was around potatoes, Sioux Indians - around the buffalo, People of South China- rice, Mexicans -corn, Native Alaskan people – seals, Hawaiians – taro root, people of many countries including thee middle east, and America - wheat… Russia  -wheat,  buckwheat, or potato (depending on the region) of course we all add other foods when they are available.  Some traditional people developed complex food cultures adapting to a variety of foods – the Inca of Peru used potato, corn, squash, beans, peppers, and more.  Modern North Americans, with our bulging super markets, have a huge array of foods – but even us get most of our energy food from wheat, corn,  and potatoes.  (Notice that one thing not natural to our diet in processed sugar!)

Peruvian women tending their potato patch

There is a branch of Science that studies the relationship between our human food crops and the development of societies.  Its called Etnobiology… There are  sections in the national arboretum in Washington DC dedicated to Etnobiology

 My favorite  Etnobiology garden is in Oaxaca Mexico that has collected living plant varieties that have been closely related to the development  of the Mayan cultures.  Here are the earliest varieties of squash – before they were modified by human breeding. the original squash were so bitter that only the seeds were collected for roasting. Here is the original corn the perennial varieties of teosinte, which was crossed with varieties of wild corn to produce modern maize (corn).  They have also collected other indigenous vegetables like a myriad of pepper varieties, avocadoes, jicama, chocolate, a wealth of beans, nopales (cactus pads), pineapple, tomatoes, vanilla, chayote…all in their earliest pre human breeding stages…  and their modern forms.

My blooming fava bean plants

Every fall in my garden, before the fall rains, I go around and poke holes in the dry soil (no pre –preparation necessary) and randomly stick in Fava Bean seeds wherever there is an open space.  Favas are the most forgiving of all the vegetables – In N. California they can be grown during the winter months, being watered only by the rain.  They don't mind a little frost, they do best if they have a little space to spread… no stakes needed.  

Medieval farmer planing fava beans
The interesting thing about Favas is their history as a vegetable. It was widely grown in ancient times – both Europe and the Middle East –today they are widely growth in central and South America, Africa, and Asia – but curiously they have never caught on in North America. They were widely grown 6000 BC years ago.  An important food to the ancient Greeks and Romans In England they are called ‘Broad beans” And to top it off growing favas in your garden causes Nitrogen fixing bacteria in nodules of the fava roots to ‘fix’ nitrogen from the air into a form that adds to soil nitrogen available to other plans.  To learn more about fava beans go to>

Harvesting Fava beans

We owe a great debt of gratitude to our untold generations of ancestor gardeners who have started with small barely eatable wild p0lants – recognizing them as a usable food source and then practicing not natural selection but conscious selection of plants with desirable qualities – and saving seeds from these for the next years crop – Natural mutations crop up over time and beneficial traits can be recognized and added to the food crop gene pool.  

Varieties of Peruvian corn
Some plants like corn can be cross pollinated naturally by wind blown or insect carried pollen … over time humans learned to transfer pollen from a desirable plant to another plant so the same species with other desirable traits developing a plant with both desirable traits… It has been slow over many generations of trials – but we are the benefactors.  And it goes on… modern universities have plant studies departments that continue to develop new products – Like the tomato research at UC Davis
Peruvian potatoes
And organic home garden improvement…
And the good news is that now I can go into my supermarket and find foods developed by local people from the world over and enjoy them all!

I find it very disturbing that Monsanto is taking plant development in another direction. Developing varieties of seeds that promise high yield – but seed can not be collected from the crop for next year because of patent protection or the seed in not viable.   The so called Green revolution of 20 years ago was a false dream for many poor farmers who found that the seed was expensive and that growing it to get high yields meant adding expensive fertilizer to the ground – a sad betrayal of poor farmers world wide.  This process, which has always involved free sharing of information, now involves forming legal patents on new genetic products preventing others from using the knowledge to continue developing ever better plant products.

Development of modern corn
Now a new method genetic modification has emerged – loved and hated by proponents and opponents.  Many vastly misunderstand it.  If a segment of DNA can be removed from one seed variety that produces longer lasting sweetness in the corn (rather than normal conversion into starch) is an that improvement.  For a detailed examination of pros and cons visit this site…
 My preference would be that some of the applications are useful and legitimate – some are potentially changing the natural genome of plants on our planet with unknown consequences… The trick is to have the wisdom to know which uses to support and which to reject… I don't favor throwing the baby out with the bath… there is a hungry world out there that needs all the good nutritious food it can get…

 Isn't it a shame that supermarkets carry only a few of the many varieties?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Easter special: An open letter to members of the US Congress

US Senate in Chambers
To the honorable members of the United States Congress:

Several of your members frequently remind us that we are predominantly a Christian nation, (however, our founding fathers did insist on placed separation of church and state in the constitution); and that you make your decisions based on Christian values.  That is commendable and I thought it might be useful for you to have a simple listing of some of the quotes listed in the Bible made by Jesus, to guide you in your policy making:

I know many of you are sincere seekers of the best ways forward for our land and people.  So these suggestions are directed at those, in both parties, who appear to approach governing in response to 'some other agenda'.... whether that be preparing  for reelection, financial gain, or political pressure...

1.  Matthew 25:34-40:  “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 

Loaves and fishes - 
And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.

Mother Teresa giving support to the poor and sick of India
Just a reminder - it’s OK to raise taxes to pay for programs that help the poor and folks who find themselves with economic hardships. It is just what Jesus had in mind. What Jesus told us about feeding, clothing, and helping people is directly serving God’s plan.  It is your job to understand people born with different life potentials, different races and cultures, different orientations, different strengths and deficiencies…

2. Matthew 25:41-43 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;  for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;  I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’
I pass them everyday - and wonder - it this a scam or is this guy hungry... Sometimes I give money and sometimes I don't - I wish  could know who really needs help... Am I wrong to not just help everyone who asks...? What would Jesus do...
Whether you imagine hell metaphorically or karma, or  something else... Jesus makes it clear that he didn't look favorably on those who refused to help those less fortunate than themselves. I don’t understand why some of you politicians keep ignoring this in your decision making.  How can you turn a blind eye?  I think we know!! – someone has a financial interest and they offer some of you money to support their cause… Shame on you…

3.  Some of you congressional leaders are quick to promote warfare – and this isn’t the solution that Jesus enjoined us to follow “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

Who me? Are you talking to me?

Jesus Christ preached peace, love, and kindness to his followers, yet some of you are quick to blast the trumpets of war. Just examine recent policies and you will find those that follow the “myth of redemptive violence’ instead of seeking the way of peace…  It never seems to work out as intended. Who comes out a winner when we increase our budget for armaments?

 4.  Matthew 6:26:  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
Some of you politicians have been pretty scornful of people who need help from the U.S. government, with no thought to what serious conditions caused them to be in difficult circumstances.  The way of Jesus saying is that all should all be fed and cared for — regardless of the circumstances of their life, environment, genetic inheritance, orientation, or how hard we work — The massage of Jesus is that we have a responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters because they exist and God loves us all.  
This scripture isn't about protecting us from all harm - both the seed eaters and the predators will both be fed, and have a limited life time... To me its about accepting the natural order of things - learning to see myself as part of the natural ways of this world...
5. John 8:7:  So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”.
Republicans and Democrats alike, I read daily about how some of you have moral issues in your lives, indiscretions.  Haven't we all at times made mistakes in our lives?… It makes a huge difference in the legislative decisions you make for others if you look honestly at your own actions in the light of the admonition of Jesus.

 I dont think there is anything holy about being killed by a distorted  belief system like Isis - I think the deaths of these men can inspire us - but hopefully not to return violence for more violence.
6. Matthew 7:1-2 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.  For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”
You have to be kidding!! - in America? in the 21st century? - For church, of all institutions, to have such a message is despicable.  And look they quote the Bible to defend their positions. Jesus would have something to say about this!  (and look I'm judging - oh heck...)

This is a tough one for you leaders of our nation because you are in the business of making decisions and deciding what is best for us all. But there is a difference in making decisions and being judgmental. Jesus told you and me not to be judgmental towards our neighbors.  That includes making hurtful choices  in the ways we respond about LGBTs, single mothers, people of color, immigrants, non-Christians, poor people, etc. Some of you even twist the message of the Bible to support your own judgements… That isn’t what Jesus had in mind…

7.  Matthew 9:35  Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.

Jesus says "there is time for you all...")

Jesus provided free health care to everyone in need. I’m sure that you members of Congress, who read the Bible, are aware of the frequent references to the healings performed by Jesus (for which he asked no payment ) – so how can some of you oppose Health Care legislation?  That isn’t what Jesus advocates…

8.  Luke 6:41 “ Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?
Sometimes parables used exaggerations to make their point
Politicians, please look deeply at  your own life advantages, life style, family success rate, financial dealings, before challenging the life styles of others, their choice of marriage partner, (un)employment history, inability to pay… Have you ever tried setting aside your own judgement of what you think is another person’s failings to see them with more clarity? 

9. John 2:14-17 When the Passover Feast, celebrated each spring by the Jews, was about to take place, Jesus traveled up to Jerusalem. He found the Temple teeming with people selling cattle and sheep and doves. The loan sharks were also there in full strength.
What do you think ...?
Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right. He told the dove merchants, “Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!”
About the only record of Jesus getting really angry is when he found the Temple filled with bankers and vendors. He doesn’t just yell at them, He totally wrecks their businesses   and chases them out.   One can only imagine how Jesus would feel about Wall Street, the Koch brothers, the way our election system has become not so much about democracy but about money…  Stand back!

St. Frances of Assisi - An example of the power of meekness
10. Matthew 19:24 As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.”
Money isn’t everything, but I know that Congress is often called the Millionaires club” – But Jesus was very clear about income inequality, recent Supreme Court’s rulings, CEO’sd making obscene salaries, or legislating  for a long-overdue minimum wage hike.  You and I both know highly responsible rich people – money isn’t inherently bad – its how you get it and how you use it that matters…

...Have you ever felt tired and misused and really in need of rest...?

11. Matthew 11: 28 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus lived and worked among those who work day-to-day to scrape by, and he was telling them that they deserved their fair reward.  I just want to remind you congressional leaders that in the light of Jesus message it would be right to consider raising the minimum wage to keep up with the cost of living.

12.  Matthew 5  (ESV) Some of you are very quick to refer to the 10 Commandments from the Old Testament – and its good to also keep in mind the words of Jesus from his sermon given on a mountain side…
Jesus talking to the people on the mountain side - Russian icon

 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Blessed are the merciful