Welcome to the Reading Alcove ~ A Place on the Window Seat

This is the official blog of Victoria Adams, a published author.  It has been established as the contact point between the readers and the author and as a “window seat” where we can talk about the books and subjects that we find of interest.  The primary interests here are Caregiving Backstage (because I am one), Humanities for the Unbound Mind (because I love all related subjects), and Natural Science from the Observation Deck (because I am an amateur Natural Scientist whose heroes spend a lot of time thinking). It is the type of place where you can imagine grabbing a cup of tea, a comfy thing to sit or sprawl on and a warm place in the sun (or a quiet place to listen to the rain).  It is a place where we will explore the world of the word together.

Courtesy WANA Commons, Rebecca Burray

Courtesy WANA Commons, Rebecca Burray

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Voting ~ and what it means to you

This is NOT a blog about who to vote for. I do NOT expect to change people’s minds on whether or not they should vote for any specific candidate. What I DO wish to accomplish is to provide food for thought. If there are races in which you feel compelled to withhold your vote, I want you to find the ones you can commit to. Somewhere, there is a race that you can research, that you can determine a choice, I don’t care if it is the local dog-catcher. It’s a long term plan, people. But if we don’t start now…

I have been wanting to write a blog about voting for some time now. Problem is, the history of voting might require something of a tome and that is not what blogs are for. The best way to say what I feel is important is to choose some aspect of that history and go from there. I chose the movie Suffragette as a starting point for a number of reasons that will become clear.

Suffragette

According to the Washington Post, the movie is based on some of the historical elements of the struggle British women faced in and about 1912-1913. Definitions are in order, a Suffragette is a member of the suffrage movement that advocated action, often involving violence of some kind. A Suffragist was a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and they advocated using the political and social system to achieve their goal. Although the Suffragettes brought much needed attention to the issue, it was the latter organization that finally won the vote for British women in 1918. The Union’s membership included men who were of the opinion that it was far past time to involve the other half of humanity in the process of governing the people. Why?

In the early 1900s a woman in British society rarely had the barest of rights. Her employer controlled her from the time she began work (usually in her teens) until she died. It was not uncommon for these men to demand personal service as well as that required in the factory. A woman had no right of consent over her children. Should her husband dismiss her, their children were his to do with as he pleased, including surrendering them for adoption. Many women were abused. They had no avenue of regress. On the other side of the coin, persons who hold the right to define government have difficulty equating those who don’t as equals: whether the difference is gender, or race. Women were, in large part, merely possessions; whatever made them think they had the cognitive ability to vote?

It was not until August 18, 1920, that the United States followed Britain by ratifying the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. This was a long battle that became a more organized effort as early as 1848 when women’s suffrage was organized at the national level by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucrecia Mott. Included in their platform (as it was in Britain) was the right to better opportunities for women in education and employment. This was no light undertaking. Women, and men, died to support the effort. Some in prison, some in riots or protests. Some women were simply beaten by the men in their lives.

After a great deal of sacrifice, the movement began to have success at the state level as Alaska (Territory), Arizona, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington all established suffrage for women between 1910 and 1918.

Another long battle ensued in the United States over the voting rights of blacks. It was not until the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the right to vote was secured by law. There are still legal battles that include practices such as gerrymandering, various levels of testing, and onerous forms of identification. Voting is not a settled matter in this country; those who wish to take responsibility for the selection of the government and the manner in which they govern still have a fight.

Why is this all so terribly important? There are many forms of the thought that a people deserves the government they receive. In some ways this is not true. Once a ruling class is established, the fee to join the club is usually beyond the common person and, therefore, not as easily changed by those with vision. However, there is a piece of the puzzle that does fall within the control of every-day folk. It starts at the local level.

The people we see in power today did not start there. In most cases, their career started at the local level as a council-person, a mayor, a local representative, a state elected official. Rarely does a candidate come out of the clear blue with no public service background. The way to change the available choices is to begin at that level where you can have a personal connection with the individual and truly assess what they can contribute to the community as a whole. It comes from watching how they handle what is happening in your community and how they represent the interests of those that depend on them.

I sincerely want people to vote their conscience – really. But I also want them involved. If you don’t like the way your preferred party selects candidates: be part of the change. If you are frustrated with the choices: think about being one yourself, or banding with others to encourage someone you think would be a good choice. Become involved in your destiny; participate in the process that impacts your life. Too many people have given too much for the privilege; don’t throw it away.

I have attached a document with a link to the voting information for voting and elections in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This is for your convenience so you can look up who is running in your state for what. Don’t go with the Facebook version of the campaign, research those that interest you. Make an effort to be a contributing member in the process.

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The God Box ~ Part the Sixth (and Last)

So, now we have reached the turning point. The end of one journey, and the beginning of the forever journey. The day I threw all the boxes away.

It was while I was active in the Adventist Church that I began to further widen my reading base. I have to admit, there were some authors I avoided because they were caustic, and adversarial, without clear, and logical arguments supporting their assertions. Calling me an idiot for my beliefs will get you nowhere. Telling me why you don’t believe might get my attention. I explored those who believed differently, or not at all. I read their bibliographies, and thought about the reasons they chose the paths they did. I had developed, at least in my opinion, the spiritual maturity to determine if the steam held any substance for my own journey.

I also discovered that the writings of other faiths, and devotional paths, had much to say about the same topics with which Christians wrestled. Some arrived at similar conclusions, even if the source of focus, or worship, was different. The similarities were eye-opening. So much argument, even hatred in the world, when there were so many fundamental points that we all agreed on.

How humans define something they call God has a great deal to do with culture. In the West, where individuality is the purported standard, we tend to find comfort in a God (or Goddess) that is much like ourselves. In the East, deity is represented with interpretive natural forces, animals with specific powers, creatures molded from the attributes of animals, and symbols familiar to the culture. But I still saw a box: a box of human perception. Allegory may be well and good, and it does help us build on what knowledge we possess, but it is still allegory. It is only representative of the real thing.

If I wanted to ever have a sense of the real thing, then maybe all the boxes had to go. How else could I find a way to separate the metaphor from the object defined?

Then something magical happened. I met a man who took my amateur interest in science to a new level. With a background in philosophy, mathematics, medical sciences, and physics, he gave me the key to my own, special space. With his mentorship, I was able to understand, at least at a layman’s level, some of the magic of the universe. I learned how stars were formed, how galaxies worked, how the smallest bits of carbon-based life worked. I found quantum physics, and I grew in wonder.

I have always held that it is not necessary for a Creator to hang around to guide every atom of the universe through its life cycle. A really great Creator would set the whole thing in motion and, with a few simple rules, let it all find its highest, and best purpose. This was a God that needed no box, could not be contained in any one universe, and did not pursue His/Her/Its creation with a petty and unrelenting vengeance.

This was a God I could worship.

I have continued on this journey, this quest to find my place in a beautiful, sometimes violent, sometimes gentle, but always passionate universe. I never cease to find wonder. Wherever there is destruction, new life emerges. Wherever there is an end, a new beginning springs forth. It is a universe that is forever redefining and re-applying the most simple, most basic rules.

I had no wish to walk away from my faith because so much simply made no sense. Nor was I willing to bend scripture into some complex origami project to make it all work. I don’t want a God stuffed into a box. A being that thinks, and acts like the humans around me. What sort of God would that be?

I spent my whole life looking for a bigger box. Then, I realized, I could throw them all away.

Did I give up on prayer? No. What I found was that prayer became a conversation between myself, and something much greater than me. Prayer isn’t a Christmas list, or a gripe session. I do not mean that prayer is cosmic chitchat. There were times when I felt that everything in me would break if I could not find an answer. But when prayer becomes an ongoing conversation, it’s like walking through the day-to-day with an old, and familiar friend. You tend to be a bit more honest, even with yourself. And sometimes, once you are at peace enough to see all of the pieces, and not just the ones you want to see, the answer does become clear. It may not be what you wanted, but you come to understand why a certain path is the right way to go. Is that guidance? I believe it is.

Such a path has also taught me more patience. It’s not always evident, I’m sure, but more than once, when I was unduly held up, took a wrong turn, or couldn’t find what I was looking for, some instance presented itself that told me I needed to be where I was, when I was there. It might be meeting someone I would have missed. It might be avoiding some catastrophe, such as a major accident. It isn’t because I’m special, or particularly blessed. It’s because I have learned to listen to the still, small voice, at least most of the time—especially when it nags. It means I have learned to be open to possibilities. We find the most fulfillment when we work within the rules of the universe that is our home.

The point is that the creation we call the universe does have a course. I don’t think it wants a plan. I think the simple rules on which this creation is built provide it with all the variety it needs or requires. I feel we can find our space within it if we choose to.

Want to solve world hunger? Get up off your knees, and feed the hungry. Want to solve the problems of the incarcerated? Find out why, or what happened, and actively pursue preventative, and restorative plans. Want to end hatred? Start in yourself. Put aside the fear, and learn to know, and respect others. Will we eliminate hatred, wars, abuse? Probably not. That, however, is not an excuse. We are each responsible for what we contribute to the world, not what someone else takes from it.

It’s a very big universe out there, and Whoever, or Whatever, started it all is neither small nor petty. Sometimes boxes are comfortable and they help us grow in relative safety. There comes a time, for some, when the boxes must be thrown away.

Opened_Red_Gift_Box_PNG_Clipart_Image

The rest of the story:

The God Box ~Part the First
The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth

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The God Box ~ Part the Fifth

Gift 2

The saga continues. While living in southern California, I was introduced into another evangelical congregation. I name this church organization because I still admire much about it. After cautiously investigating the core beliefs, I determined to learn more. Eventually, I became a functioning member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. They should not be confused with Latter Day Saints or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their fundamental beliefs are very similar to mainstream Pentecostal beliefs, though there are differences. They do believe that the rules still apply, and that when God says keep the Sabbath, He means keep it. You know, just like you aren’t supposed to steal and covet and murder and such.

Adventists love to study. They have the second largest educational system in the world, and their students consistently score higher than the average population. They are also religiously zealous about health, both in the area of medical research, and in strict adherence to dietary laws. Some members are vegetarian, some not, but all follow some form of Biblically supported diet. Anywhere in the world they go, they first build a clinic, and a school. They have one of the largest disaster relief organizations in the world. First, they meet the basic needs of the people, then they build the church. This was an approach that resonated with me.

I grew comfortable enough that I became a speaker in the organization, and was sought after as a teacher in adult classes. I enjoyed my relationship with a group of honest, still-seeking individuals. Even those who were absolutely sold on one aspect of their faith or another. I still find it amusing that many pages of thought-provoking text were written on such topics as whether or not fermented wine was used in, say, the Song of Solomon. As much as I loved these people, I could not imagine the poet expressing a thought like, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth— for your love is more delightful than [grape juice].”

This organization also has a wide base of scientifically-astute people. Research in the medical field is something that a number of people are aware of (such as Loma Linda University), but there are those in other scientific areas, as well. It was through an Adventist minister that I met my late husband, who was a brilliant research scientist. These people take learning and exploration seriously. There was only this one little problem: there was still an element of control.

Some members buried themselves in church-affiliated reading material. They had little time for anything else. As in all organizations, there was an underlying “them and us” attitude. It never affected the hand outreached to teach or to heal, but there was still this need to belong to something with homogeneity.

I was, again, baptized. (By now I was beginning to feel like an Easter egg). In this instance, the pastor was very clear to the witnesses that this was a reaffirmation, a sign of commitment, and support for my then spouse. He was being baptized for the first time that day. I thought the pastor did a lovely job of clarifying the issue. Before we left the building one of our friends approached me and welcomed me “into the family.” But I thought I was a member of the family. I was speaking from the pulpit, teaching adult classes in biblical studies and aspects of theology and philosophy. Why did I need a bath to join “the family?”

Trapped in another box. A nice box with quite a bit of room, but a box nonetheless. I was still constricted by what others felt was, or was not, good and right. It was respectable to explore the universe, but one had boundaries. Predefined roles, if you will. We were still a group of bungling Homo sapiens writing a script for a sovereign deity that could create universes.

It was a cushy box, but it had to go.

One more installment, folks!

The God Box ~ Part the First
The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

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Review ~ Is it something that we’ve left behind…

The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. By Wade Davis. $16

This was a book that has been on my “someday” list for quite some time. Written by an anthropologist, this group of lectures is structured using a wealth of information Dr. Davis has accumulated over a lifetime of travels to distant corners of the globe. His travels have been funded by such organizations as the National Geographic Society and the Harvard Botanical Museum. Don’t let the term “lectures” scare you off. Davis is a story-teller.

The presentation of this book genuinely touches me for a number of reasons. Davis does not attempt to throw away our technological advances. He does not suggest that we should return to some simpler time to unlearn the advances of the last several centuries. What he does call on us to do is respect the past, and to learn from its wisdom.

hokulea_sunrise_02_12

The voyages of the Hokule’a

[photo credit from the Hawaiian Voyaging Traditions page]

Long before we had compasses, GPS, and automated navigation systems, the Polynesians settled the South Pacific reaches under the guidance of Wayfinders. They were highly esteemed navigators. In Hawaii, the ancient practices are being recaptured. Hawaii’s Hokule’a has sailed since 1975 and has made its way all over the South Pacific using the same navigation methods that settled the area – finding the way. The ancient explores worked with their environment and learned the currents and the winds. They learned which birds flew how far from land. How to read the clouds and the paths of the fish. How to feel the very waves. In the ancient tradition, Wayfinders did not sail to find land; they called the land up from the sea.

Davis covers other ancient cultures, some of which have only recently been introduced to modern life. Each culture discussed in this book has found a time-honored way to live within the ecosystem that was home. Each culture has found a way of give and take with limited resources. Each honors the earth on which we live as the source of life and a treasure to be preserved.

I was taken by the story of the Penan of Borneo. On a visit to Canada to gain support against the clear cutting of their ancestral forest, they were exposed to the homeless of cities in British Columbia. To people who lived in a culture that would be considered impoverished by almost any Western standard, they could not understand why the inhabitants did not share. Their culture was built on the concept that everything must be shared – always. How, then, could there be homeless, hungry, people? Sharing is how the entire community learned to survive.

Davis was part of the expedition to research the growing and use of coca in South America. In the tribal areas, coca is a central part of the culture. It is also a source of protein to a people who have few other sources. Used in the manner developed in ancient rituals, they do not get addicted. The wide spread use of the plant for a number of applications is what gave modern governments the leverage to “take care” of the poor, drugged, Indians. It was the modern perversion of the plant that has caused so much heartache in modern society – not the former highly ritualized use developed through centuries of cultural stability.

From the Amazon to the Arctic, from Borneo to Australia and the South Pacific, Davis tells the story of ancient peoples and their time-honed methods of surviving in their home. He also tells the story of the impact of modern intrusion. His thesis is not that we should abandon our hard-won knowledge; what he does suggest is that we incorporate the wisdom of older cultures into our application of that technology. These cultures, the ones that survived, understood that it is a cycle. In order to receive from earth, we must return to earth. It is critical that we protect our heritage and re-learn the lessons we thought so trivial.

It’s a small book, and well worth the read. You may find yourself far more committed to preserving the life support system on our tiny piece of rock, hanging in a vast universe with no friends in sight. For me, Davis grasps the sentiment of my poem and asks that we not stop learning; but that we protect our heritage and preserve its wisdom in the process.

Is it something that we’ve left behind,
Or something that we’ve yet to find,
That keeps each one forever hoping,
To reach that thing for which we’re groping?

© 1988

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It is time – past time.

I can’t feel your pain.
I’ve tried, I even thought I knew
How you felt.
Scared
Alone
With nowhere to go,
No safe place to know,
It would all be fine.

I can’t feel your pain.
I’ve tried, by reaching back,
All those years,
When I was abused,
Bullied,
Stalked,
Manipulated,
Frightened, and alone.

I can’t feel your pain.
I’ve been tired,
I’ve been hungry,
Depressed,
Trapped;
Even, yes, even
Had my life threatened.
But I always found a way,
A way to live another day.

Perhaps I understand,
In some small way,
How deep the ache,
How sore
Your soul.
But now I see,
It never goes away.
For you it’s every day.

The air you breathe,
The ground you walk,
Is filled with hate,
And fear,
And terror.
Barely in the shadows,
But growing ever stronger,
Reaching for us all.

As hard as I try,
It seems no more
Than Insult,
to your
Torn,
and battered
Heart,
to say,
I feel your pain.

Perhaps, as small
As it may be,
My voice can help,
My life can show,
That hate
is never,
ever,
ever,
the answer.
For the love of all
Creation has provided,
It is time.

It is time to end the pain.
It is time to be there
For the black,
For the Muslim,
For the gay,
For the PEOPLE,
Of our earth.
One person at a time.

I will do my best.
I will share.
I will talk.
I will try to reach
Minds,
And hearts.
And I will hope.
I will not say,
I feel your pain.
But I will be here.
I will hold you.
And one day, together,
We will find the dawn.

Sunrise 3

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The God Box ~ Part the Fourth

I was getting far more serious in my search for a shape to my faith. As part of my degree, I attended a few introductory classes in Old and New Testament studies. These classes were designed, and taught, within the evangelical theological structure. I found the material interesting, but much of it was no deeper than many Sunday School lesson plans. What I did find was an aroused interest in digging further. Was learning my true faith?

Gift 2

Initially, my quest for a congregation of seekers led me to a small, non-affiliated church in the upper desert of California. The study groups were attended by serious explorers, and questions were not viewed as doubt. The pastor was a man who taught rather than preached. It was a refreshing experience.

It was the kind of church that knew it did not have all the answers, and the members felt seeking was an act of worship. When I approached the pastor with a conflict between my own convictions and the lesson assigned to my 6th grade Sunday School class, he was understanding. He gave me the freedom to arrive at a focus point that expressed the desired theme, but did not force me into a personal conflict. The instance that started this arrangement occurred one spring when I realized I was teaching the story of Easter a full month before Passover.

Most Christian churches never visit the disconnect between Easter and Passover, partly because there is shamefully little attention paid to the underlying history of our celebrations. Once a holiday becomes Christian, it always has been from the beginning of time. Easter is a good example. I go into detail here because it is symptomatic of the attitudes that drove me from institutional religion.

The “delivered word” is that Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. But it’s not. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. It is a holiday derived from ancient, spring fertility rites. The symbolism is still there. Easter bunnies, because they go forth and multiply, eggs as the symbol of birth, and feasts with all kinds of spring bounty. Even ham. Have you ever wondered how ham came to be served on a holiday celebrating the resurrection of the Lamb of God? A man who considered pigs unclean animals?

In contrast, we have the celebration of Passover. An observance that celebrates the release from captivity, and a reminder of the mighty power of God. If we are, indeed, celebrating the resurrection of the ultimate sacrifice—God’s Passover Lamb—well, shouldn’t that occur on the third day after the crucifixion? Shouldn’t the two observances at least superficially relate to each other?

I was not prepared to teach a fertility rite of spring. I wished to focus on the celebration of the central theme of Christianity: the risen Lamb of God. My understanding pastor told me to teach it as I saw it. Even with all the Easter festivities going on throughout the church, he freed me to find a path to the message I wanted to give.

I was again lulled into a comfortable box that allowed me some latitude for my need to study and learn. It gave me a forum to share my faith as a teacher. There were Bible studies where I could express my thoughts and not feel out of place. But as the church grew, things changed, and the nature of the communion I enjoyed with that church changed with it. By that time, though, I had already begun to make the connections that led me to my next spiritual encounter.

This series began a bit ago, so here are links to the other articles.

The God Box ~ Part the First
The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

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The Art of Subtle Communication

Something different today, primarily because I promised a dear friend of mine, Stacy J. Garrett, to support her project, “The Door.” Stacy has an amazing talent to draw her audience into the magic she sees through her camera lens. The Door is a project that shows us the hidden world, the one we forget as we grow older; even though we may need it even more.

Door

Stacy has created a game as part of her fundraiser. A scavenger hunt, if you will, where words are tucked away on various blogs which, once found, may lead you to the password that unlocks a secret door on her website. You can also find the location of the other clues for this week’s contest there.

As for my part, the clue is fairly obvious within this bit of prose, but here’s another hint; the whole piece can help you figure out what mischief she’s up to this week.

Recent fanfare on social media has led me to ponder a bit on the art of communication. More specifically, how we communicate when we think that saying things plainly will not be, well, fully communicated. When plain speech does not penetrate the white noise, we resort to methods that can be effective, or total disasters. This, of course, was part of the fanfare. As it happens, I suffer from a rather dry sense of humor. I find it soothing, and it works a bit like a code. Not everyone “gets it,” so they leave you alone. This is sad, however, because being able to get your point across without executing a direct hit, so to speak, can have a more lasting effect. Let’s start with a couple definitions.

Sarcasm: the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny. (remember the funny part)

Satire: the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

Ah, there it is, in order to expose and criticize people’s, um, well, you get the picture. I call this form of communication an art for a very good reason. In most of human history, speaking to power required subterfuge; it required things like the plays of Voltaire, the traveling minstrels of the middle ages, the stereo-typical parts that any audience would recognize, saying things no one dared to say “in plain text.”

One excellent example of the development of this art form was the Commedia dell’arte, or the full name translated from the Italian: Comedy of the craft of improvisation. The characters of the commedia were fixed characters, roles every audience would know and recognize. However, the actors would improvise freely within that character. Some of the players became so famous in their ability to move within the role, that they became the representation of that role.

One of the favorites, if you will, was a joker of sorts. A fellow that seemed to always be derailing the plans of his master, falling in love with his master’s maid, and making a general mess of things. But, while everyone was laughing at his antics, he delivered solid satire on the people, places, and foibles of the world he lived in.

This is the art, the ability to draw people out so that, while they are laughing, something of import slips into the thinking side of the brain. The art of delivering food for thought to an audience laughing, perhaps, because they do not want to accept that the actor is truly serious, whatever his, or her, expression or attitude.

For a taste of some masters at the art try a few of these:

A Modest Proposal, Jonathon Swift
The Lottery, Susan Jackson
Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis
Candide, Voltaire
Tartuffe, Moliere

Go visit Stacy – you’ll be glad you did.

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