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Month: February 2017

Why Gay Wedding Cake Discrimination Makes Me Smile

Why Gay Wedding Cake Discrimination Makes Me Smile

Yet again this month (February 2017) I read in the news about another gay wedding cake discrimination lawsuit and a Supreme Court ruling about a florist who refused to serve a gay couple. At first, I thought this was disgusting, that people who simply love one another could be treated so badly. Then I paused and thought about this for a moment. And then I smiled.

I smiled a grin of victory and not discrimination. I wasn’t smiling for how these couples may have felt when a simple cake could become a flashpoint for polarized opinions. No. I smiled because if this is where we are now, if this is how bad things are at the moment with the gay community, then I’m okay with that.

As I am not a member of the gay community, I cannot know what it feels like to be faced with these challenges. I have lived in Hollywood and West Hollywood for decades, with gay neighbors and co-workers, so I am close enough of an outsider to have at least some empathy. And it is with this point of view that I considered how ‘Gay America’ has evolved over the last 30 or so years.

As a kid, calling someone of ‘homo’ was a school yard insult, not levied at anyone gay, but just as a stigma to call someone names. I later learned about wide spread discrimination that gay people have faced like the Stonewall Riots and pink triangles on homosexuals in Nazi labor camps. Then in the 1980’s, we all became aware of the horrible mystery disease that seemed to be taking the lives of gay men, which was given the name, AIDS.

As the virus spread, more and more gay men died of this horrible condition, which not only affected their loved ones and community, but also brought about a drain on the brilliant creative minds in the arts, academia, and other fields. Indirectly, at least, the AIDS epidemic was now affecting us all.

My neighbors in 1997, a gay couple, both had the syndrome and were not expected to survive much longer. Then a miracle, or at least a medical breakthrough occurred, with new drug combinations and treatments that slowed and even reversed the deadly nature of the disease. Their heath returned, their lives were spared and they returned to their normal activities. The death sentence seemed to be over. To this day, I know many people living with HIV who have no trace of the disease.

Things continued to get better and better: TV sitcoms featured openly gay characters, actors and musicians came out of the closet, fewer teens committed suicide and even politicians who are gay or lesbian became comfortable with their orientation without the threat of losing their jobs. And with the victory of the Marriage Equality ruling, gay couples could now get legally married in the United States.

Of course, there are those who push back against this progress, but the momentum is still moving forward. And this is the perspective that I have when I hear about wedding photographers, florists or bakeries who choose not to serve gay customers. I’m not making an argument for either camp, just recognizing where we are now, and how far we have come in this country.

Not so long ago, violence against gays was rampant and a modern day plague threatened to kill all gay men. Today, gay couples are going to their own weddings instead of their own funerals. And if a few florists and photographers haven’t caught up with the times, so be it. With all the horrible death and destruction in recent years, any difficulty finding the right baker for a gay wedding, is just, well, icing on the cake.

~Chris

American Dualism

American Dualism

The United States have become the divided states: Red vs. Blue.

This narrative usually comes about during national elections, as a color symbol for the Democrats vs. the Republicans. Unfortunately, with a so-called 2-party system (there are actually many more parties), dualism, or an ‘us versus them’ mentality naturally arises. We often hear of having to choose between the lesser of two evils for our presidential and other candidates.

The founding of America was based on the unity of different regional states. While each state has their own autonomy in most matters, which could be distinctly different from one another, there is also a binding force in the limited federal government that keeps everyone together as a nation that is stronger than the parts. The motto: e pluribus unum (one from many) speaks to this arrangement. This is also the central philosophy behind the yin-yang symbol of Taoism. In it, the dualism is an illusion, marked by the black and white halves, and unity is the underlying reality. Even the black part has a white dot, and the white, a black dot.

But, many times in our history, we have fallen away from that unity and have become divided: North vs. South, Rich vs. Poor, Black vs. White, Women vs. Men, and so on. And now there seems to be some real conflict between those who elected the current President and those who wanted someone else in office. These two factions seem to dislike each other and have been slinging insults at each other for months now.

I disagree with both sides, as taking sides is part of the problem to begin with. In sports, yes, there is fierce competition, loyalty for one team and hatred for another, and in the end, there can only be one champion. But these rivals all love the sport. They know the game cannot be played without an opponent so they need each other. They understand each other. Each side just want’s their group to win. Fine.

But in the current political climate, there is a genuine lack of understanding between the ‘reds’ and the ‘blues’. Sure, they support the candidate who best represents their interests, but they really don’t understand one another. Each ‘side’ can be right according to their own beliefs, and with a greater understanding of the others’ point of view, a consensus could arise.

A truly representative government should accurately represent everyone, taking all perspectives into account. No two sides can be mutually exclusive. We have to mutually inclusive. We don’t have to agree with each other on particular issues, but we do have to listen to one another. We have to see these two ‘opposites’ as illusions, and part of an interconnected whole, much like the two sides of a coin. You can’t have one side of the coin being right and the other one being wrong, in fact, you can’t have one without the other: there’s no such thing as a one-sided coin.

Often it is our differences, not our similarities, that provide our greatest strength.

As with religion, sexual orientation, or any other point of view, there can be unity in diversity. Each can bring something to the table that the other cannot, and that makes for a bigger, more inclusive meal that can feed everyone. That said, there are a lot of literally hungry people, millions of undernourished children living in poverty right here and now, here, in the richest country in the world. Maybe we could all agree on fixing that, and put aside whatever petty differences the reds and the blues are so bitter about. In the end, there are no reds and blues, we are all red, white and blue, Americans all, united for a greater purpose. Let’s try to remember that.

Has Science become the New ‘God’?

Has Science become the New ‘God’?

“You just don’t believe in Science.”

This quote is often heard, particularly regarding the validity of anthropogenic (man-made) climate change. This article will not participate with the climate debate at all, but it does bring up a point on how we view the authority of scientists, and whether science is something provable, or merely an opinion to which we can agree or disagree.

Infallibility

For centuries, the religious powers felt their viewpoint was incontestable or infallible, and that the fledgling discipline of scientific inquiry was blasphemous. We need only to look to Bruno (burned at the stake), Copernicus (who chose that his book be published only after he died) and Galileo (who spent his last 20 years under house arrest) – all astronomers who used scientific methods to prove that the sun, not the earth, was at the center of our planetary system.

Now, the tables have been reversed and it is “science” that cannot be questioned, and all religious beliefs are superstitious. But is there a difference? It seems as though the authority of the day has merely been shifted from one camp to the other. This change didn’t happen overnight, but brick by brick, the godly beliefs about the natural world have been torn down and logical, scientific explanations have taken their place. Thunder is no longer the anger of the gods and the earth is no longer the center of the universe. This is progress, based on observation, experimentation and replication, or, the scientific method.

Scientific Skepticism

One of the hallmarks of the scientific method is that any experiment must be replicated with the same results achieved before a theory or hypothesis can be proven. These working ideas must be subjected to a battery of objective tests that are beyond human opinion and wishful thinking. Unfortunately, some theories have crept into becoming pseudo-laws, especially the ones that are more difficult to prove.

The so-called Big Bang theory of the origin of the physical universe is one that seems to have taken on the status of a law. I have heard scientists say, “Before the Big Bang…” or “…just after the Big Bang,” and so on as if it were true. But even though it may be a widely accepted hypothesis, it has not at all been proven. In fact, it almost seems like a modern creation myth, particularly regarding the singularity that gets ‘blown up’ in the first place. We don’t know what this singularity may be, although it sounds much like the Chinese concept of the Tao, or undifferentiated whole. This ‘bang’ would require a huge amount of energy, yet we have no idea how or why it might have happened. To a certain way of thinking, it would take nothing short of a miracle for the Big Bang to exist, and this should make all scientists skeptical of the theory.

Scientific Conceit

The hubris many in the scientific community have about their assuredness regarding natural phenomena should worry everyone, not just scientists. It puts a limit on what is possible and builds a wall of protection around those who came up with these theories. But, with true scientific investigation, even the most deeply-held theories can fall apart. Professor Langley ‘proved’ with his aerodrome that heavier than air, powered flight was impossible. Just a few short years later, the Wright brothers proved otherwise.

Sometimes, it takes a small group of dedicated scientists to uproot an entrenched theory. In the 1980’s, two Australian medical researchers turned the scientific community on its head with their discovery that ulcers were caused by bacteria and not stress or spicy food. This went squarely against what had been deeply held beliefs about stomach acid and ulcer formation and they were publicly shamed for their crazy ideas. Years later, they would receive a Nobel Prize for their work and what we know about stomach ulcers has been completely changed.

Settled Science

It’s been said that more scientific advances are made at funerals than in the laboratory. This goes to show that some beliefs, including scientific beliefs, can become so defended that it takes the death of their founders and their followers before they can be challenged and replaced with newer scientific evidence.

Science was originally devised to remove superstition and opinion from the observation and explanation of natural phenomena. Experimentation, empirical evidence and reason were meant to prove the fact of something, which would no longer require someone to believe in it or have to take it on faith. Now we are often asked to believe in science just as we were required to believe in the Church centuries ago.

So, is the science ever settled? Probably not, although we may have working models that serve our current time just fine until better ones are discovered.

Is science infallible? No, although one could say that ‘Science’ is never wrong, yet scientists often can be.

Should we stop questioning things and just ‘believe in science’ and ‘take it on faith?’ Never.

~Chris

 

The Myth of Multitasking

The Myth of Multitasking

In our busy, hectic days, we have to juggle many things, sometimes several at once. This has given rise to the popular term, ‘multi-taksing’ and it seems we have to do this constantly to try to keep up. But as I observe others and look at myself in the process, I’m beginning to think that there is really no such thing; it is impossible to do more than one thing at a time, at least with any reasonable amount of present awareness.

The man who chases two rabbits, catches neither.
~Confucius

Semi-Tasking

We can only partially do more than one thing at a time, and not very well. What seems to be more likely, is that we are actually ‘semi-tasking’. We may be listening to a TV show in the background while doing the dishes and talking on the phone, but we are not hearing every word in either case. We may notice a pause in the conversation, to which we might reply, “Oh, that’s interesting…go on,” or something might capture our attention on the TV but we didn’t hear much of what was said beforehand.

The dishes are another matter, which mostly relies on muscle memory and not conscious attention. We know this from driving our cars when we take a familiar route and forget our exit, or, we pull in to the driveway and wonder how we got there. Daydreaming while doing something we have done hundreds of times doesn’t usually cause major problems, as our muscles have ‘recorded’ the action over and over and can get by on autopilot. Musicians playing a familiar piece will hardly make mistakes while their mind gets carried away, but if it’s a new piece, a loss of concentration will produce bad results.

This semi-tasking effect takes a toll on quality communication between people. Without full attention, especially regarding active listening, there are gaps in the conversation that are either ignored or filled in with something which is probably different that what was actually said. And the tasks themselves suffer because with a divided attention, something inevitably gets missed and that’s where mistakes are made. An obvious example is with texting on a cell phone while driving. With a tendency to zero in on the small device screen and participate in the texting conversation, driving mistakes are made and the results are often deadly. This practice is illegal in some states, but this writer feels it should be banned outright worldwide.

Present Moment Awareness

In many meditative practices, particularly mindfulness, the goal is to focus on simply what is. It could be your breathing, a mantra or a mental image and the point is to not allow the thought stream to get us off on a tangent. Since our minds work faster than our bodies or speech, we run the risk of ‘out-thinking’ ourselves and find ourselves making errors. In his book, “The Inner Game of Tennis,” Gallwey suggests mindfulness more than tennis technique. His students are told to say ‘bounce’ when the ball enters their side of the court, and say ‘hit’ when they hit the ball back. This is just enough concentration to keep the student from having too much time to think about the return, and usually produces better results.

Now What?

So if multitasking isn’t a thing, how do we get things done? Think of making dinner using the oven and a couple burners on the stove. You have to check on everything, pre-heat the oven, watch the pot when it boils over, turn the rice down to simmer, and so on. But even though all these things are cooking at once, you really only take care of one at a time, and shift to the next in rapid succession. Or, think of a receptionist at an office whohas to answer many incoming calls at once. She will speak with one, and tell the others to ‘hold please’ and get back with them. Yes, many calls are being fielded but really only one at a time.

So, when talking with someone, instead of nodding your head and saying “oh yes, right, um hum, interesting…” or something like that when you are really thinking of something else, just say, “hold that thought”, and then do the thing that needs your immediate attention, and jump right back in to the conversation with a “so where were we?” The interruption might not be totally appreciated by the other person, but it shows that you are indeed listening and that their thoughts are important. Ultimately this will make for better communication.

And, if you’re driving and you get a text, please pull over on the side of the road or get off at the next exit. Those few minutes ‘lost’ driving could prevent years of anguish lost to an injury to yourself or others.

Chris

The Rose Gives the Bees Honey: A Warning from Alchemy

The Rose Gives the Bees Honey: A Warning from Alchemy

An old and obscure Alchemical manuscript came with a specific warning for those who were about to read it:

Wisdom is as a flower from which the bee its honey makes and the spider poison, each according to its own nature.

This quote appears in Manly P. Hall’s “Secret Teachings of All Ages,” and serves as a stern warning for anyone delving into esoteric practices, and, actually, is a great reminder for all of us, no matter what power we are wielding. For it is not the thing itself that is good or bad, rather, it is what WE do with it that makes it either a constructive or a destructive force.

Notice in this harmless looking image, the beehives to the right and the spider webs on the left of the rose. This may also be a veiled reference to the to “left-hand path,” and the “right-hand path.” The caption above only mentions the bees and honey, leaving the spiders to be discovered by those who look more deeply into the image. Most old alchemical drawings would leave something out to prevent the untrained person from understanding the formula, thereby concealing it for only those who know how to read it.

This is a very valuable image to behold, along with the warning it contains. Almost anything, or any power that we can access, can be a force for good or a force for ill, depending on the intention and how it is used. Fire can heat our homes or burn them down. A sharp knife in the hands of a skilled surgeon can save a life, or in the hands of a thug, end a life. And, the power of money, which often is labeled “bad,” is the same power that can impoverish others through greed, or empower a community through compassion. This is also the difference between so-called “white” or “black” magic. The magic is neither white or black, it is the magician (and her intention) that makes it so.

Intelligence, which is often seen as mostly good, can be used to educate someone or to insult another. Physical strength in the form of a bully can be used to beat someone up, or in the hands of another, lift someone up. Our words – what we say and what we write – can brainwash a nation or inspire the world.

As the warning stated, even something like Wisdom, almost always considered “good,” is like the rose in that it can be used with good or evil intent. So try not to be so quick to judge something as being good or bad. For the most part all things which have power and influence can be used either way; it’s in how we use them that determines their quality and effect. Even being loving and caring can be used in a negative way, like if you spoil or coddle a child too much, he or she will then be unprepared to enter the world and manage on their own.

So ask yourself often, “Am I making honey with this, or am I making poison?” or “Am I being a bee or a spider in this situation?” If you honestly don’t know, ask for guidance that you become more bee-like and less spider-like in your personal or business relationships. For example, when you are about to confront someone, or if she says, “We need to talk,” take a moment first to conjure up the honey bee image and determine to do your part to make the situation more sweet, and not more poison than it already is.

Psychologically, it is also important to keep the warning in mind when you are dealing with your own issues and feelings. The things we say to ourselves about ourselves can be very poisonous indeed. Keep a watchful eye, and if you catch yourself spouting venom, change over to “bee-mode” and produce sweeter thoughts and images in your mind. Negative situations and relationships are rarely if ever solved by adding more negativity and poison.

Bees only know how to be bees, and spiders only know how to be spiders, and the rose is neutral. We have a choice to take what we have and use it either for making honey or making poison.

So, are you a bee or a spider?

Shiva the Destroyer: A Powerful Symbol for Change and Transformation

Shiva the Destroyer: A Powerful Symbol for Change and Transformation

Shiva is the third aspect of the Hindu Trimurti (or Trinity):

Brahma: The Creator of Life
Vishnu: The Sustainer of Life
Shiva: The Destroyer of Life

At face value, Shiva might seem to be an evil god, but this transformation is absolutely necessary to begin a new cycle of life. In many Western and Native traditions, there are only two: Father God, the creator, and, Mother Earth, the bearer of life. Actually, the Earth Mother is also the taker of live as well, as everything born must also at some point die. This taking of life by the Earth is often underplayed in many traditions but it is scientific fact.

Unfortunately, in Western traditions, death is seen as an evil force, or a ghastly figure as with the Grim Reaper. The Hindu perspective has a different viewpoint concerning death, namely that it is simply a part of life. Those of us in the West could benefit from seeing death as a god, a benevolent god, who is no less part of the process than the creative and sustaining aspects.

The imagery in Shiva is complex and very interesting, especially in the Nataraj, which is sometimes called the ‘dancing Shiva’. Everything within the ring of fire is in motion, from the hair representing the sacred Ganges River, to the drum beating the heart of the universe and the arm poised like an elephant’s trunk to plow through obstacles. The only static part is the foot which is stepping on the dwarf of ignorance at the bottom. This interplay of constant motion and unchanging stability reminds of the life and death cycle.

Psychologically, we can conjure up the power of Shiva when dealing with those parts of our life that need to be transformed, or destroyed.

Take a bad habit, for example. This habit was created at some point and by constant repetition, it has been sustained over time. Now that the habit no longer serves us, we can call upon the Destroyer to take it back to where it came from. Anything that has been crystalized, such as old beliefs or immature emotions and reactions, needs to be broken apart and rebuilt again in a new form, one that better suits your needs at this time.

This transformative power is also helpful when facing the inevitable changes that occur in life. Puberty is a prime example, as everyone must go through this change, whether we want to or not. We have been given life, nourishment to sustain living, and now, Shiva shows up to take the child away – or kill it off, symbolically – so that the adult can be ‘born’ in the body. The organism continues, but is now transformed.

Other life changes through different stages, such as leaving home, parenthood, the empty nest, retirement and old age could be faced more graciously with this Shiva energy. Through each transition, you are still you, but a transformed you, and you can’t go back.

By incorporating Shiva symbolism and honoring this destruction as a benevolent force, these changes can be better approached with acceptance instead of resistance. The things we want to change, and even the things we don’t, are all participating with this transformative energy as it is part of life, nature and the universe.

***

 

New Website 2017

New Website 2017

As I recognize 20 years of being on the Web, I thought it would be a good idea to re-boot my site and make it viewable on mobile devices. In 1997 I coded basic HTML by hand and now it is easier than ever to make robust websites. I have chosen to maintain the straightforward approach that the early sites reflected – minimal and functional.

January, 1997 Website

This new site will include all the things I’m involved with that I want to share. Some of my interests have spawned their own websites to cover the material in more detail. This one will be a sort of catch-all and a gateway to further explorations.

Thank you for clicking in and please check back for more articles, writings, pictures or just about anything else!

Chris Sheridan
Feb. 2017