Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Mother-in-Law’s funeral

I guess as one gets older, the more inevitable it is that the frequency of attending funerals increases. Except in my case, it seems to be the frequency of not attending funerals of those important to me.

Last year I was able to be present at my mother’s funeral, but I was unable to attend my father’s funeral a few years earlier. Two years ago My father-in-law passed away, and due to failure of communications, we didn’t learn of his death until several weeks after the funeral. Last year a very dear aunt died, and I was fortunate to be able to attend.

A little over a month ago, another favourite aunt died, but due to another migraine, and distance, I was unable to attend the funeral. Fortunately, I was able to watch the service via a live link over the Internet – a very common practice here these days due to tendency of Kiwis to scatter widely.

Then in the late hours of Sunday (or possibly early hours of Monday NZ time), my mother-in-law passed away. We learnt the news mid Monday morning. The funeral was held at 1:00 pm Japan time or 4:00 pm NZ time on Tueday – less than 10 hours ago as I write this. Neither my wife nor I could attend.

When you live at the end of the world that is Aotearoa New Zealand, it’s is an unfortunate fact of life that the rest of the world is a long, long way away. While there’s plenty of flights in and out of the country, direct flights to any specific city in the world are few and far between, and even using a series of connecting flights can extend a journey out to several days.

Take for for example a trip from our home town to the city where my mother-in-law’s funeral was held. My wife could have started her journey on Monday afternoon by flying to Auckland, but she would have been stranded there until Thursday, as that is when the next flight to Japan leaves. By the time she cleared customs, it would be too late to catch a flight or bullet train that evening, so it wouldn’t be until mid morning on Friday that she arrived at her family’s home town – three days after the funeral!

A frantic search for less direct routes proved fruitless as no option could get my wife home any earlier than Thursday regardless of the seating class. So another funeral missed.

We’re not doing too well in the Funeral attendance stakes. Let’s hope there’s no one keeping tabs. I would hope that there’ll be more than my own children present at mine.

I nearly made a terrible faux pas today. Had I not caught myself mid-sentence, I think I would have been “persona non grata” for a very long time. Sometimes humour does not transfer well from one culture to another.

After my mother’s cremation, we returned to the home my mother and sister shared, and as we tend to do in the warm months, we removed our ties etc and sat out on the terrace under the shade cloth and each opened a bottle of beer. My three siblings and I had just sat down at a table, and I was in the process of taking the first sip gulp (funerals are thirsty work) when one of my brothers quipped “You know… we’re orphans now!”

The next moment I was snorting beer out my nose as I and the other two siblings collapsed in laughter. Today I found myself saying the same thing, but I managed to stop myself just before “orphan”, and redirect it to a suggestion of what we might have for tea (Kiwi-speak for dinner or evening meal). Whew! Saved by the skin of my teeth. That’s humour that would be close to unforgivable as far as my wife is concerned, whether it was said yesterday or in 5 years time, bless her wonderful heart 🙂

Whose funeral will I miss next? While I’d be happy to miss my own, age, migraines and distance, means I’m probably going to miss many more.

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Lloyd Geering: on God

For me, God referred to the mystery of life that could not be grasped by the human mind. But more recently I have come to realize that God does not name a reality in the cosmos at all. Rather it is a humanly created idea. It belongs to the human thought-world. It is a word by which we have tried to make sense of the physical world we live in.

This idea of God has a long history, which the remarkable scholar and former nun Karen Armstrong has written up as “The History of God”. God is an idea that has played an extremely important role in our evolving culture. It supplied an ultimate point of reference. It was the idea of God as creator and unifier of the universe that led to the rise of modern science, when mediaeval theologians tried to discover what they called ‘the ways of God’ by conducting experiments. It was they who laid the foundations of today’s empirical science.

But we also associated with this idea of God the values of love, compassion, honesty, and truth, because we find these make such moral demands upon us that they clearly transcend us. And though the idea of God had its beginning in our mythological past, it remains a useful word to refer to our highest values. As the New Testament asserts, “God is love”.

Lloyd Geering, 21st May 2017 sermon at the Community of Saint Luke Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand


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Lloyd Geering: on meaning

Before we can enter profitably into discussion with one another on any particular subject, it is important to ensure that we are all using our words in much the same way. Words are not the fixed objects which people often imagine them to be. Many words change their meaning over a period of time. Even at one particular time a word may possess not just one meaning, but in fact hold together a whole family of meanings. One meaning may be intended in one place but at a later stage another meaning implied. Because words sometimes depend upon their context for their exact meaning, even the speaker himself may be misled, not realizing that the new verbal context has given the word a slightly different meaning from what it had in an earlier context. This ambiguity in the very nature of the verbal language with which we communicate means that the value of our discussion or debate may be greatly reduced if, unknowingly, we are using one or more of the key words in different ways. Where difference of opinion rests solely on the different uses of words, it is called a merely verbal argument.

Some verbal battles can be avoided at the outset if we simply take more care with our use of words. But they are not so easy to avoid wherever it is a question of that small number of basic words in the language, which by their very fundamental nature are either difficult or impossible to define in terms of others less basic. One such word, for example, is the basic term ‘God’ and the problem to which we have been referring often causes the modern debate between atheist and theist to be fruitless, for there is little use in discussing whether God exists until there is some agreement about the precise meaning to be given to the word.

Lloyd Geering, Resurrection: A Symbol of Hope


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AN OLD INDIAN FABLE RE-IMAGINED — Bill Peddie’s website

It really doesn’t matter what tradition(s) you adhere to, wisdom can be gained from many other traditions. Here’s an old Indian fable retold by a fellow Kiwi to illustrate the point:

I want to tell you a story that might at first seem rather strange. I am rather hoping it will start to mean something when you think about it. Once there was a young fellow who was a bit confused about how his life was working out. It really started to worry him – so […]

via AN OLD INDIAN FABLE RE-IMAGINED — Bill Peddie’s website


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It sooths me

At times when I sense a migraine is on its way, I often find comfort in music. I’m not sure if it has any effect on the course of an attack, but it keeps me in the presence. By this I mean that my awareness of self does not disappear.

While migraine pain can be debilitating, other effects of an attack can create a surreal sensation where I feel I am no longer within my body, have no conscious control over it, and can only observe a shell which may or may not be able act human-like. It’s being aware of no feelings or emotions. No pain, although I am aware that the shell trembles with pain. No happiness nor sadness nor fear nor joy. Nothing. I’m not even aware of of sensations of light, sound or touch, although the shell reacts in fear or pain to them. The shell even responds to words spoken to it by others. But I, the observer, do not hear the words, only know that the shell is being spoken to, and it slowly, reluctantly tries to make an effort to respond. I’m aware that the shell is confused and disorientated. I feel no pity or compassion, no empathy at all towards the shell. I’m merely a detached and numb observer compelled by some force to hover nearby and observe, while mists of darkness come and go.

In all my 68 years I have never experienced a bad or frightening dream nor a nightmare. Apparently everyone gets them occasionally, or so I’m told. But then, I have no memory of any dreams since my mid teens, certainly not since I finished secondary school. I mentioned this fact when I was undergoing counselling for pain management, and after I had attempted to describe how I sometimes experience the “out of body” described above. The counsellor made the comment that those experiences must be more terrifying than any nightmare.

That puzzled me then as it still does today, as I’m not aware of any emotion at all during these episodes, and at lucid moments like now, I am, at best, ambivalent. I have no feeling or emotion about what happens to me during an attack. I feel no more about the attacks than I do about the fact that some ponds are deeper than others. I’m certainly not conscious of any fear or trepidation about an inevitable attack. Migraines come and go, just as night-times come and go.

While I don’t have dreams I have momentary glimpses that are very dreamlike (from what I remember of dreams), but they have turned out to be actual moments during a severe migraine attack, where the darkness momentarily lifts. For example I remember one dream-like set of scenes where there’s a moment of watching a person walking down a street knowing it’s important for them to be somewhere but not knowing where that is. There’s a flash where a person is sitting on a flower bed with people milling around, and another very short scene where bright lights come and go and a person is wanting to escape. There’s also a picture of a smart phone login screen, and a visually blank scene where somebody or somebodies are asking a person for a name (possibly that person’s name) but the questioning is relentless, not giving the person an opportunity to formulate an answer, let alone give it. There’s a recollection of a breeze and of bells ringing. There’s an awareness of something pressing all around an arm and another where wires are being attached to a torso. These were all actual events during one attack where apparently I was picked up by the police in a somewhat disorientated and confused state and taken to the hospital in a nearby city.

I’m not sure if music really keeps me in the present and out of the fugue-like state, but I can say that as long as I can hear the music, I am aware of the emotions that music can evoke. No, that’s not quite right. I feel the emotions. And I want to hold onto them. Here’s two very different pieces of music that are typical of what keeps the surrealism at bay during the early stages of a migraine attack. They might surprise you.



I find gentle soothing music, tends to draw me into that surreal state, but if I get past the window where that state might take hold, and a more typical migraine evolves, then such music played very softly does help provide some relief from the incessantly throbbing headache.


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Lloyd Geering: on spirits

[T]he ancients, knowing nothing about vaporisation, drew an absolute line between solids and liquids on the one hand and what we call gases on the other. The name they gave to what we call gas was spiritus (Latin), pneuma (Greek) or ruach and neshama (Hebrew). In each case the word could mean air, breath or wind. The ancients thought of the wind as the breath of God.

So when the Hebrews offered their account of the world’s origin, they said the powerful wind (ruach) of God fluttered over the waters. And when they told of the origin of humankind, they said that God made humans out of the dust of the earth, breathed his gentle breath (neshama) into them and they became living persons. Further, it was as obvious to ancients as it is to us that the best way of distinguishing between a living person and a corpse is to look for breath— for a living person breathes. Breath was believed to be the very essence of what constitutes a living human being, and thus the very principle of life. But for the ancients breath, air and wind were all the same. When a man dies, said Ecclesiastes, “the dust returns to the earth and the breath returns to God”. When Jesus died on the cross, according to Luke, he said, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit (pneuma)” and, “having said this he breathed his last”. Of course we are used to hearing the word ‘spirit’ in one place and ‘breath’ in the other, but in the Greek original the same word, pneuma, is used. Similarly in the King James Version (still nearer to the medieval world-view than we are) Matthew reports that “Jesus cried with a loud voice and gave up the ghost (pneuma)”.

During the transition to the modern world people continued to speak about spirit without realising that they were no longer talking about something originally conceived to be as tangible as the air we breathe. Christians continued to speak of God as spirit and referred to what they called the power of the Holy Spirit. Preachers continued to expound the story of Jesus and Nicodemus in John’s Gospel (where being born again of the spirit is described in terms of the blowing of the wind), but failed to draw attention to the fact that in this story the same word is sometimes translated ‘wind’ and sometimes ‘spirit’.

Only slowly has it dawned upon us that in talking about spirit we are talking about something far less substantial than wind or the air that we breathe. Indeed, spirit has no substance at all. It has become a purely abstract term that has no external referent. It continues in usage as a frozen metaphor from a now obsolete worldview, and its only possible meaning is a metaphorical or symbolic one. Conservative Christians continue to speak about the Holy Spirit, the power of the spirit and so on, as if it were an oozy something that operates like the wind. Without being wholly aware of the fact, they live in the medieval world for religious purposes and return to the modern world for the mundane business of daily living.

Lloyd Geering, Reimagining God: The Faith Journey of a Modern Heretic


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Lloyd Geering: on the trinity

There is an apocryphal yet instructive story of a famous theologian who had just delivered a lecture on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. A student jumped to his feet to thank the professor, excitedly exclaiming that at last he felt he really understood the doctrine. His theological teacher surprised him by heaving a sigh of despair and saying: “If you understand it as clearly as that, then you have misunderstood it and I shall have to start all over again.”

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To speak today of God as three persons readily leads to a mental picture of a heavenly trio (a divine committee!), one which has even been portrayed visually in art. Such a view of God (and it is widespread in popular Christianity) deserves the condemnation which Muhammad heaped upon it. He called Christians polytheists, who had sadly regressed from the pure monotheism of Judaism which he himself felt called to reaffirm.

Lloyd Geering, February 28, 1987 issue of the New Zealand Listener

The full article from which the above quotes were taken can be read at Sir Lloyd Geering: Rethinking the trinity


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WordPress categories and tags

Fascinating! The categories and tags I attach to a post seem to make little difference to the number of views each one receives. Nor is the distribution of countries from where the views originate affected by tags. With two exceptions.

If I include New Zealand, NZ or Aotearoa, I see a large increase in the number of views from, you guessed it, Aotearoa New Zealand. That’s only to be expected, as I guess many people (myself included) will have among their search tags, the name of their country. On the rare occasions where I have used a country specific tag, I see an increase of viewers from that country.

But there’s one group of tags that, on first glance, one would not think of as being country specific, but if one thinks about it, becomes understandable considering the amount of argument and discussion it causes in one country in particular.

The United States of America is supposedly a shining example of freedom and the rest of the world pales in comparison. In fact, America is well down the list no matter what kind of freedom one measures (perhaps with the exception of the right to bear arms). It’s a myth that most Americans seem to believe is true, but whether or not it may have been true at some point in the past, it most certainly has not been true for several decades.

The categories and tags I have in mind are not directly related to freedom, except in one sense. When you listen to American’s talk about freedom it’s almost exclusively along the lines of freedom to or freedom of. Very seldom is freedom from discussed much, whereas in NZ, it’s discussed as much as the other sorts of freedoms.

There is one hot topic in America that’s bandied about both as a freedom of and as a freedom from,  and that is (if you haven’t already guessed it) religion.  Any time I include a category or tag pertaining to religion, the number of views from America (and only America) increases markedly. So much so, that it’s very tempting to add a religion themed tag just to maintain a high number of visitors.

Yep, any religion themed tag (and I include atheism here, as without religion, it’s sort of irrelevant), brings around 10 times as many views from America than posts without religion themed tags, but views from other nations remain much the same. Kind of makes you wonder what goes on in the mind of many Americans!