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Rumilluminations January 2013
By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Tue, January 01 2013 - 8:21 am

January 31, 2013                                     Madison, IN

How to approach this subject without turning people off before I even get into it?  I am sick of it!

The same sentence has been intermittently running through my head ever since the Newtown massacre:  I don't wanna trade my 1st Amendment rights for your 2d Amendment rights.

Because that is what this whole "gun fight" comes down to.

We the citizens don't want a "police state" because the presence of firearms has a chilling effect on the populace.

Who feels that he really has freedom of speech with someone around who is packing a gun?

We accept the presence of an occasional policeperson because she has been trained (at least in theory) to behave in a professional manner which respects certain rights of the unarmed citizen.

We accept the presence of more such professionals in special venues.  If at any time these professionals behave in an inhumane or inappropriate way, we believe that this is the exception rather than the rule.

If a random person is carrying a gun, he or she is not carrying a similar guarantee of good intent or good training in our minds.

That person may feel perfectly legitimate and within his rights.

But I guarantee you, the rest of us will feel our rights to life, liberty, and freedom of speech threatened with that person and his gun in our presence.

Imagine any public gathering in which potential conflict could occur.  Now imagine people in that crowd becoming conscious that one among them carries a gun.

Instantly attention focuses on that person.  He assumes a disproportionate importance in the crowd.  I believe that that is exactly what a gun-toting person wants, and this desire for power and attention beyond the common run is not benign.

That is why we don't want a police state or a populace trying to conduct its business with a military presence.

Try to live our lives with a constant presence of armed citizens?  Become used to the sight of armed men and women at the grocery store or picking up children from school?

Sounds like the Old West or a gang-ridden neighborhood to me.

And as for someone who says she keeps such firearms at home?

A meaningless reassurance.  There are no guards (armed or unarmed) at her door to make sure those guns stay grounded at home!


January 28, 2013                                   Madison, IN

Today is a gray day.  Rhymes with heydey.  Hayday?  Time of harvest?  That certainly would be prime.

But no, more than one online dictionary says maybe variation of heyda, from an exclamation of pleasure, hey.  Which may be why people to this day say hey to attract someone's attention, even if it is considered inconsiderate and vulgar and oftentimes is not expressive of pleasure.  Kind of like how I feel about gray days.

Another online dictionary suggests it is taken from high day.  One's highest peak of wellitude?  Or noon?

When I try to think of what was my heyday, nothing comes to mind.  There is no time that I could think, yes!  This is the very, very, best of my life!  Maybe equal to, but not best.

Kind of like a gray day.  Is there any noon?

Exclamations of pleasure, sure.  Haydays, (as in making hay while the sun shines) many.

High noons?  Lots of bright ones in New Mexico!

But a real heyday?  Nah.

Maybe that is yet to come!


January 27, 2013                                  Madison, IN

I'm getting the message from U.S. Federal Government expenditure graph wedges that Social Security is an entitlement.

It is kind of exciting.  I'm entitled!  That must mean I have some kind of title.

I know I'm not anything glorious like a Lady or a Dame.  No Earl has wed me.  No queen has passed a fairy godmother wand (or whatever the feminine equivalent of a sword is) over my head and tapped me on the shoulders.

My yearly entitlement income is barely enough to feed and shelter me, if that.  No car or carriage would be affordable by me if I weren't part of a couple the other member of which, unentitled, works hard for a living.

Since I became aware of "Ms" that has been my only title.  Does the fact that I'm now entitled mean I should be Enms or Nms?

As far as I can tell, my entitlement has earned me the right to be considered "one of the 47%."  I'm afraid that number isn't low enough to represent anything wonderful.

Still, I feel the glow and the weight of privilege about my head and shoulders.  I am so lucky to be entitled!

If I weren't, I guess I would have to feel lucky if I were honored by the position of old serving-maid to one of some other smaller percentage of citizens.

Or have they all run off to be citizens of another country so they don't have to help keep me and my ilk in the poverty to which, evidently spoiled rotten, we have become accustomed?

January 26, 2013                                  Madison, IN

When I bundle up and walk to the library in temperatures in the teens, the birds don't really act like they are minding it.  There seem to be just as many robins and cardinals in the garden as usual.

Walking to the river this evening I saw a heron flying upstream along its edge.  Since the cold weather I haven't seen herons standing in the water as they do when it is milder, but they evidently live year-round all over the United States if there is a body of water around that contains fish.

I enjoy my system of adjusting my clothing to the weather.  We are not lovers of long winters, but I would miss not having any winter at all.  I was thoroughly sick of my summer clothes when Fall came, and I wore my mid-temperature clothes later in the year than I ever remember doing before.

That's okay.  Autumn and Spring really are my favorite seasons now.

But will I really get to resort to my warmest inner layer for only a week or two this year?  There is something so luxurious about having one of my three viscose/wool/nylon/cashmere/angora sweaters that I bought super cheap a few years ago next to my skin that I almost longed for highs of below thirty degrees before they finally arrived this month.

And flannel is one of my favorite fabrics.  How would I survive winter without flannel-lined jeans?  And how would I survive not having cold enough to require flannel-lined jeans?

Driving up the hill on Highway 421 today, we enjoyed the icycles on the cliffs that in warmer wet weather would be runoff waterfalls.  (Er, or at least I did!)

Some people fantasize about a land of eternal summer, but not me.  Key West is a wonderful place to visit but I can't imagine living there year round.

Give me a little winter, even if some days it is too cold to smile! 

January 25, 2013                                  Madison, IN

"They don't write well, but they are very visually sophisticated.": my educator sister decades ago.

"They don't listen."  My educator sister a decade ago (actually, this time quoting another educator about another generation).

Now?  The young seem to my partner and I very visually oriented.  Bam, bam, bam - their eyes take in the screen and their fingers are lightning-quick at texting.  They know what's what in the virtual world.

Presumably they can hear, too, if the number of people using the cell-phone not to text, but to actually converse while driving is an indication.

Law enforcement tells us doing this is like driving drunk.  Can any generation really listen and see at the same time?

Our assumption is that these biological functions stay the same over time - it is just a matter of individual attunement and DNA that determines whether a person is a musician or a designer of interiors.

But are these abilities static?  There are indications that our sense of smell has atrophied a good deal over the centuries.  Valuable information is no longer accessible to us - we have delegated our smelling assignments to dogs.

As taste in loud music has rendered us relatively deaf and virtual reality does not usually require listening skills are they becoming less important for survival?

Tell me if the latest games do require sharp ears or aural verbal comprehension!  I've never seen a game in which sound was anything but background noise or a response for an action taken (a signal of doom or a resounding banging reward.)

Oh - except for a bird identification game sent me by my daughter - not, I think, on the top 100 game faves of the young.

Tell me if I'm wrong.  Tell me listening isn't going out of style.

Tell me I'm an old fogey.

I might even listen - if I'm not on Facebook at the time! 

January 24, 2013                                 Madison, IN

How do you measure wealth?  What does (would) it take to make you feel rich?

I just read a definition of wealth applicable across the divide of centuries that makes me realize why I couldn't care less about possessing great billion-dollar wealth.  (Find it in Plutocrats by Chrystia Freeland - it might surprise you!)  It also makes me realize just how powerful these plutocrats are.

Having said that, great wealth to Attila the Hun isn't great wealth to me.

Would you trade circumstances with Alexander the Great?

I asked my partner if there was some period of history he would rather have experienced than this, and he replied, "Well, indoor plumbing would really be important.  I think I would want that."

Amen.  And since we don't have a housekeeper to do it, I think I'll go clean ours right now!


January 23, 2013                                Madison, IN

For almost my whole life, I felt great if my family could pay the bills.  We might not have extra money, but we always paid the bills.

When I was in my fifties, I heard this financial advice:  "It is when you are in your thirties and forties that you can put away money that will really grow for you."

Oops!  Too late!

Now that I am in my sixties, I'm told that people need $200,000 for their retirement.


In the last decade or two, we individual citizens have been getting the message that we are irresponsible if we have been living pay check to pay check.  We should have enough to get by for at least six months or a year in case our income goes bye-bye.

Now we hear that unless the Federal debt ceiling is raised, the government, responsible to and for hundreds of millions of people, won't be able to pay its bills in three months.

Talk about a crazy irrational double standard!

January 22, 2013                              Madison, IN

Heard on TV this morning:  "... trouble with the dress code is it is not uniformly enforced."

I was amused by the pun, but not by my immediate recognition of the generalization of the problem.

No Uniform Code is ever uniformly enforced, no matter how well-intentioned the creators.

And that is not amusing.

I never did like the idea of dress codes (especially uniforms!) and now I have a rationalization for my antipathy.

Maybe we shouldn't even try to treat people with the efficient speed of a standardized assembly line.


January 21, 2013                                     Madison, IN

We hear all the time that music is the universal language.

I don't think so.  How foreign are Chinese and Japanese tonal systems to the western ear, and vice versa?

Even in pop culture, people who enjoy rap are not so very likely to enjoy folk or rock.  Remember the raging controversy between electric and acoustical guitar fans?

No, I think cute is the universal language.

A cute baby animal elicits coos from all but the most hardened of any culture!

January 20, 2013                               Madison, IN

Today we went on a walk along the Ohio River.  It is as high as we have seen it in the almost nine months we have been here.

The cement area people park while they are taking their boats in and out of the river is completely under water.

The big cylindrical rusty iron storage(?) tanks are showing their height.  For the first time I see that the top of one is above the level of the walkway and railing, the other below.  I never noticed that before.  I grouped them together in my mind, I guess, and the top one pulled the other one up with it, optically speaking.

I am told that most winters the river rises to cover Vaughn Street, which is inland from the walls, walkway, benches and lawn of the river park, so the flooding isn't more than a little exciting now.

The geese swimming around over the grounds we were walking not that long ago, the mockingbird silent and irritably spooking a sparrow, the big barges taking much longer than usual to make their way upstream, the prospect of seeing those century-old cylindrical structures disappear completely under water for a while - just exciting enough.


January 19, 2013                                Madison, IN

This very early morning I was lying in bed thinking about taking a hike up the hills to the north.

I found myself beset with a feeling of discontent about the prospect not only, I realized, because there is nowhere up there I really want to go.  Part of my malaise was that there was nowhere else to go from up there.

In Valparaiso a northward walk (admittedly, a very long walk) could get me to a train to Chicago.  (In my youth a short stroll would have gotten me on a train to Chicago.)

Admittedly, I never went to Chicago for the day in my most recent Valparaiso years, but I always felt that if I was willing to spend the money, I could.

Here, it came home to me this morning, I can't.  No train.  Nor is there a cross-country bus that comes through town.  The river, in the past a great resource for transportation for the public, has nothing now but expensive cruises.

Although that is supposed to change in Spring, the bridge across the Ohio River is still non-negotiable by anything but a motorized vehicle.

"I'm trapped."  The sentence actually crossed my mind.

Why did I feel that way?  It certainly was not logical or true.

Thinking back, though, I realized that every place I have lived had a way out via public transportation, until now.

"People don't need it," you say.  "They have their cars."

But think of the difference.  The car is like a dependent.  Without money you can only go until the gas tank runs out.  If it is your family car, taking off in it is stealing if it is not in your name.  Anyway, someone is probably using it to get to work.  A car is something else to deal with - a big piece of baggage, in a way.

With public transportation you could get a ticket out of town - far out of town - for one tenth the cost of six months' automobile insurance, no reservation required.

Hop on, hop off.

No wonder citizens of small towns don't feel that freedom any anymore.

They haven't got it.

January 18, 2013                                 Madison, IN

Some people view intelligence as a continuum.

Oh, like say compassion?  Try to apply that to a member of a gang or ruthless family.

Some people view intelligence as relative.

Ha, ha, for many people all their relatives are less intelligent!

Others think intelligence is gene-linked - as in, "Tight jeans tend to reduce oxygen levels in the brain - of the viewer!"  (I admit I made that up - I think.)

This category will obviously overlap with the view of intelligence as relative:  "She got all the recessives in the family!"

My definition of intelligence is "random interest."

And unfortunately, like our most basic sexual feelings, not completely under our conscious control.

January 16, 2013                                  Madison, IN

Lance Armstrong paraphrased:  In every man's life there comes a point when he says, "Enough is enough" and he has to come clean.

Oh?  Is that so?

How about changing that to:  There comes a point in every person's life when he has to decide whether or not he is going to do what is right.  Is he going to sacrifice his values to succeed in his ambitions?

I hate the assumption that Armstrong makes that everyone would make the decision he made to do something not only illegal but unfair.

It is a good exercise in compassion for us to believe that everyone else has no real choice, but for one to put oneself in that category is lacking in character.

Not to mention that judging everyone else by himself might be slanderous to them!

I wonder how many people dropped out of bicycle racing when they saw what had to be done in order to win.

And how Lance Armstrong was touted for his scientific approach to cycling physics that helped him and his team win!  What  a crock that was!

Want some real competition, folks?  How about, instead of living vicariously, we get the exercise of our favorite sport by going local?  Maybe in our own home towns a win will really mean something.

January 15, 2013                                   Madison, IN

For the last week or so, I have been charmed by the local fogs.

For part of almost every day, a mist has been hanging high or low over the Ohio River, sometimes lifting, sometimes settling.

One day when I went out, the trees on the higher hills across the river looked as if they were cloud-grounded only.  You could see why someone might imagine an island in the sky.

What looks like a dark cloud whisping through the white fog turns out to be the shadowed hills beyond.  Their details are obscured by the mist.

Barges going through the whiteness now have technological eyes, I'm told, radar or somesuch that helps them keep up their speed in weather that would have slowed them down a century ago.  We still do hear their horns occasionally, though.  (Is that why those soundmakers are called horns?  They are the weapons of individual menace and right-of-way?  (I know the answer to that - not - but still....)

Mists that shroud the downtown might not be visible from those who dwell at the top of the hills to the north of us.  Those folks discover them on their way down the winding roads and must slow down considerably.  It makes for a scary drive for those not used to humidity.

We below, on the other hand, can see (by not seeing!) exactly what would have to deal with if we try to ascend.

Hmm.  Sounds like a real-life clue that height might not always provide greater visibility.  (Wonder if that truth translates to society.)

Ha, ha!  Reminds me of the one time I was at the top of the Empire State Building and could see nothing but white!  They might as well have had those windows papered with blank newsprint.

So far today it looks clear out there, but more clouds and precipitation are in the forecast.

Good!  I may see something new in the way of atypical water - not transparent at all, and so little translucent it might as well be chalk.


January 13, 2013                                    Madison, IN

Any really big problem is probably a complicated problem, the solution of which involves many different elements.

Whether we are talking about global warming or unnecessary deaths, we will have to adapt many actions to improve our situation.

It is kind of odd that the dialogue (if you can call it that) about gun control has outgunned (heh) every other issue in our national dialogue, when really it should be more easily resolved than, say, the problem of global warming.

How?  Well, theoretically at least, the position between two poles (and anti-any-gun and pro-every-gun are the two extremes here) is somewhere in the middle.

Compromise, (the new C-word to these extremists) is the solution, and should be possible.

Mother Nature, on the other hand, doesn't compromise.  She doesn't care.

People!  Don't be like the weather.

Be like humans -able to hear and able to respond.

I don't wanna trade my First Amendment rights for your Second Amendment rights.

January 12, 2013                                    Madison, IN

Why are doubters, Agnostics, unbelievers and Athiests always depicted as flying up in the face of God to deny his existence?

If God is an all-knowing all-loving Being he either doesn't care or already knew all your feelings and motives, so he would hardly be surprised.

I don't think doubting God is the symptom of the sin of pride.  I, for one, think that if God does not exist that leaves me smaller and more vulnerable in the vast universe.  If I believe in a God, especially a personal God, that raises me in importance in the grand scheme of things.  I count.

Leaving the faith in a God forces a person out of the realm of "It's all for the best" and casts him into the realm of probability and chance.  No wonder the Bible describes this separate-from-God state as the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

No, separation from God is its own punishment.  So why does the religious community get so angry and offended when someone refuses to believe?

I think religions, parents and society's mainstream get angry not because nonbelievers are setting themselves in opposition to God, but because the individual is denying the authority of their erstwhile religions, and their parents.

How dare we disagree with Them?

January 11, 2013                                   Madison, IN

The other day I learned from reading The Atlantic that the expression I used to think was "tow the line" was really supposed to be "toe the line."

Now I honestly don't remember the context in which my father used the phrase, but I heard it as "tow the line" - an extremely onerous occupation.

Evidently "toe the line" is properly used to express the necessity of observing certain standards of behavior; it is speculated by a few Internet sources (including Wikipedia) as originating from a custom in the navy of sailors having to line up for duty.

It has been argued by one party that if he, his father and his grandfather, all used it in the sense of "tow" that it also should be considered correct usage.

I'll second that, and what's more, "disrespect" anyone who says otherwise!

But even if I have to admit ignorance, I will be happy to let go of this heavy cable I have been towing and trade it for delicately placing my toes along a two-dimensional line, whether painted or planked, imaginary or real!

I can just imagine one old nineteenth-century sailor who works the sails joking sardonically with his pal about the class of sailors required to line up for some higher form of duty:  "Yeah, big deal, they have to toe the line.  So do we!  We tow the bleeding line, well enough!"

And if I write a woefully anachronistic slangy dialogue, no wonder.  After all, for lo these many decades I have been towing the line, not toeing it!

January 10, 2013                                 Madison, IN

Since Joe Scarborough of Morning Joe is an ex-representative of Congress and he is a Republican, does that mean he gives his congressional pension back to the government?  He evidently has a well-paying job which provides plenty of income without that particular entitlement!

If he doesn't give it back to the government, then he should shut up about unnecessary government spending.

And Warren Buffet, admirable as he is, might be a little more admirable if he gave money to the government, too.

January 9, 2013                                   Madison, IN

One thing I've been wondering:  with all the well-publicized intentional fatal poisonings in the news in the last few decades, why don't we run more complete toxicology tests when someone dies?

I don't know how many times I've heard an interviewed doctor say, "You don't expect to find something like arsenic."

Well, why not?

We make a big deal about people killed by obvious means like bullets;  how about those killed by stealth?

Centuries ago Venetian women were almost casually poisoning their husbands and the authorities only found out about it because the Catholic Church gave them a heads-up about a wave of identical confessions from widows (one good argument for the existence of the confessional!)

How many people are murdered each year by poison, and how often do their killers get away with it?

I suspect expense is the reason for not investigating every death more fully, but how much would it cost to run a more complete panel of blood tests when someone dies?

Right now I will try to find out the answer, and let you know if I learn anything helpful.  Maybe your Internet skills are better than mine; you could find out the facts!

Well, as usual doing a little research opens up broader issues.

Was I wondering about the cost of bloodwork as part of an autopsy?

Forget it!  In the U.S. before 1970 almost 50% of hospital deaths were autopsied.  Today, according to (quoting the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics) it is more like 5%.

I don't know about statistics for death outside the hospital setting.  They may even be worse.

When the police say the reality is nothing like CSI, they aren't kidding.  It is just the reverse.  Less is done now than was done routinely forty years ago.

We seem to care less.

Scary!  I think we should lobby more for the right of the deceaseds' loved ones to have more, rather than less, information about how their family member or friend died.

The cost of an autopsy is now, on average, $1275.  The range is between $100 - $7500.  Sometimes the family ends up paying for it!  Insurance companies, seemingly, do not.

Did the coroners who dealt with Urooj Khan's death in Chicago not know that he had just won the lottery and maybe they should do more tests in case of foul play?

It is common wisdom that the death penalty does not act as a deterrent for murder.  I'm willing to bet, though, than an increased probability of detection does.  At least, in cases that involve stealth.


January 8, 2013                                    Madison, IN

Yay!  We all have more reasons to be happy that we haven't won the lottery!

The sad stories we hear about how winners say the lottery changed their lives - for the worst - are now supplemented by other tales.

The National Acadamy of Sciences has published the results of seven studies that show that the rich lie, cheat, and steal more than the not-so-rich.  So, you didn't win the lottery?  Great!  You can claim the richness of virtue.  (Unless you are too poor and have to resort to crime to get by.  Moderation, it would seem, really is the happiest way to go.)

Urooj Khan, a winner of $425,000 via the lottery last July, died of cyanide poisoning the very next day.  The lottery check was cashed in August.  The reporting of this story is so full of unanswered questions that it boggles the mind.  I can hardly wait until the next bit of information comes out.  Unfortunately, like all murders, it is a sad story.

Just take a wild guess in what city this occurred.

(No, really?  Who woulda thunk it?)

I guess I won't give you the answer here and deprive you the pleasure of seeing if you were correct.

As for gambling on the lottery, I am sometimes tempted to stop buying tickets.

"After all," I say to my partner "we're probably happier as we are."

He snorts and says with a wolfish grin, "I'll take my chances!"

Well okay.  I'm not really against buying an occasional chance at wealth (or at least prosperity.)

It's one sure way never to be a loser!

January 7, 2013                                     Madison, IN

Today I'm confused about salt.  All my adult life I have been told that the amount of salt we get naturally in our food is plenty.  (What about deer and salt licks? I wondered.  Oh, presumably they are just being self-indulgent.  They like the taste!  Novelty!)

At home we undersalted, figuring that if someone at the table wanted more salt, they could add it.

Sometimes when I go to restaurants I find the food practically inedible.  It is too salty.

The other day I read an article which stated that a teaspoon a day of salt is probably not enough for good health.

Maybe it is my catechism training in the Lutheran Church, but I stop and ask, "What does this mean?"

So I did a little research on salt and equivalencies and I think it means (because 1 t salt = 1/3 oz = 9.45 grams = 9,450 mg) that this article is maintaining that our bare minimum daily volume of salt should be almost four times what it is stated on most packaging should be our maximum - 2400 mg.

This kind of discrepancy makes paying attention to the medical and nutritionist professions scary.

Are my calculations wrong?  How much salt do I really take in during one day?

Well, let me see.  Counting my cafe con leche (cow and almond) and a half cup or so of soy milk I drink for a dash of estrogen in the morning, I had probably 300 of mg of salt so far today.

Yes!  I had cereal!  Not one bit of salt in 1/4 cup (dry) mixture of rolled and steel-cut oats plus almonds, prunes, cranberries, and only 3 mg of salt in 1 T ground flaxseed.

So I am in a quandry.  Should I be eating more salt?

Do the nutritional articles I read make a difference in my thinking even when I am not sure of what they are saying?

Hell, yes!  Yesterday afternoon I bought my first back of chips in weeks!  Low salt, but still - I reckon I packed in a possibly life-saving dose of ... er, oh.  225 mg counting the salt in my avocado and salsa dip.  (Interesting factoid - the word salsa is related to the Latin word "sal" which means salt.)

"Low salt" and "lightly salted" indicate about as much salt as I can take.

Makes me worry about the health of my skepticism, let alone my body! 

January 6, 2013                                     Madison, IN

Okay, okay I'm not quite done yet.

I like to celebrate Epiphany because this is when the gift-giving of the wise men is celebrated, so I can still give gifts on this day and be in season.

Some people think that the wise men actually arrived at the stable on the 25th.  That makes sense to me.  If there was no room in any inn around then maybe the folks who took in Mary and Joseph took in some rich guys, too.  All just a fortuitous incident.

Maybe the wise men didn't go see Herod on their return trip because they didn't feel that they had found the Savior at all.

Maybe Mary and Joseph and Jesus' disciples gave the incident the interpretation they wanted to give it.  Maybe the story of Jesus is a family myth.  Maybe Jesus, suffering from a deprived childhood (although the idea that the family was very poor seems suspect) got the delusion that he was really a prince (of Heaven if nowhere else!)

"What gives?", you say.  "You've spent twelve days extolling Christmas and now, on Epiphany, you are going to take it away?"

Not at all!   If you love belief, you will cling to it, and I don't consider "cling" a pejorative or patronizing word.  Light clings to fire, in the metaphor of the I Ching.  In the physical world, clinging to a cliff means avoidance of falling - the smart thing to do.

The gift I am offering is a different perspective on the Christmas story - a perhaps meagre that you don't have to accept.

At any rate, our culture has evolved from Pagan Saturnalia to Merry Christmas to Secular Xmas!  What a wonderful persistent holiday observation!

My Christmas song is done.  Happy New Year! 

January 5, 2013                                     Madison, IN

Last but not least, the twelfth day of Christmas offers danger and intrigue.

When the wise men went through Herod's realm on their search for the new savior, they obtained an audience with the king himself, who pretended interest in the new king of all.

Herod really wanted to kill him, and the wise men probably unconsciously divined this, because their dreams (oops!  maybe it was another angel) warned them to bypass the king on their return trip.  Jesus' parents spirited him out of the country, thus ensuring the failure of Herod's plan to kill him.

The deadly peril Jesus escaped is made clear by the slaughter of the innocents, the 20-odd infants Herod killed so that no toddler threat to his throne might escape and supposedly do him harm in a couple of decades.

According to Wikipedia this horrific deed was originally commemorated on Epiphany, which celebrates the wise men and their gifts.  Some say it never happened at all, but evidently historians report that Herod the Great was perfectly capable of such perfidy.  He supposedly killed one or more of his own sons.

Intrigue and horror enough, I would think, to be a perfect contrasting background for a story about the babe who was supposed to be the savior of the world!

The only thing the Christmas story makes no mention of, even by implication, is human food.  Maybe it is meant to supply feasts for human thought!

If you folks are anything like us, though, you haven't stopped feasting since Christmas Eve, and will find another excuse to eat well tomorrow - the Feast of Epiphany!


January 4, 2013                                     Madison, IN

For the 11th day of Xmas, I'll celebrate music!

The Christmas story brings the heavenly hosts in the sky above, singing and praising God.

I'd be willing to bet that this is one of our favorite parts of the story judging by the fact that almost every church has its musicians and its choir, located at a higher level than the congregation in the balcony or in seating raised a few feet above that of its audience.

Some of the greatest composers of all time gave their highest energies to sacred music.

Although I am listing it next-to-last, music is not least in my heart.  Even more than the reading of the Christmas story (after all, I can read it to myself!) I miss the music and the carols.

Well, you say, go to Church!  Then you can hear it all.

My answer is, "What! And be a 'false sheep within the fold?'"

No, I love a community that offers the caroling without the preaching.  Santa Fe, New Mexico has its carols sung by random groupings of people around fires on the farolito walk on Christmas Eve.  Big cities offer concerts and carols galore, some of which encourage singing along.

Even a small community like Madison, Indiana probably has such secular access to beautiful Christmas music;  I just haven't found it yet!

This Eleventh day of Christmas, my gift to you is a paean to music! 

January 3, 2013                                      Madison, IN

The Christmas story has one element conspicuous by its absence compared with modern-day stories, and that is sex.  The very absence of this element in the traditional story is not unlike any birth:  the suspense, danger, and domesticity of birth is a far cry from the origin of the baby - which we all know is sex.

The relationship of Mary and Joseph is not ambiguous in the story we read to children.  They are husband and wife, or at least betrothed -quite bindingly "promised".

So why do I bring up this adult theme in a story read to children and attractive to them?  In my theory, the sexual element and mystery has to be there as a hook for the adults.

And never fear - someone somewhere made sure sex enters the picture by its very absence.  There was no sex at all, they maintained.  Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit and informed of the fact by an angel.  No sex at all!

Well, right.  Don't be cynical about my skepticism re this.  Preterition was an oratorical device long before the birth of Christ!


January 2, 2013                                       Madison, IN

On this Ninth Day Day of Xmas I would like to celebrate the feeling of community inspired by any unifying spiritual story.

From disparate lands and different economic backgrounds and even separate species, individuals can be drawn together into a community for the sake of the common good.

We may not even speak the same language, but peace can reign in small spaces - and the hope of a permanent ideal peace for all can at least be imagined.

Some malefactors seem to feel that their names will pass down in history as the result of the havoc they wreak, and that may be true.

But the names of Jesus, Buddha and Confucius are recognized by more people than those other unmentionable names in history that wreaked war and havoc.

Even the infamy of the last century will pale beside the love and hope that are given to us by the names celebrated in the folklore of our big religious movements.  After all, these names have been remembered, not for centuries, but for millenia!

January 1, 2013                                       Madison, IN

Happy Eighth Day of Xmas!  and Happy New Year!

So the crotchety old man with the cane has limped into not oblivion but the realm of retrospection, and now we have the baby new year:

The secular and spiritual symbol of new beginnings.

Everybody loves a baby, whether they will admit it or not.  In school we read a story by Bret Harte in which a foundling baby inspires the transformation of a careless, primitive mining town into a nurturing, warm haven.

In the Christmas story, the new savior is portrayed at his birth - the newest, freshest of babies.

According to the Gospel of St. Thomas there should have been two babies portrayed in the manger, and the holy couple would have been considered doubly a source of wonder and doubly blessed.

That would have corresponded perfectly with some speculation that the wise men were following the conjunction of two planets - Venus and Jupiter - which would have appeared as a particularly bright and steady star.

So today is the celebration of double new beginnings, baby twins and the new year.  (Too bad I didn't think to write this piece at the beginning of the century.  Then it could have been double double new beginnings!)

May the coming year be doubly inspired and doubly blessed for you and yours.

With double exclamation marks!!

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