Monday, June 21, 2010

The Dance of Inanna

Inanna danced into the minds of the Sumerian people. It was harvest time: Inanna's time. The fruitfulness of the year was celebrated by the princes of the land and even the slaves and servants joined in the party. The dance lasted, sometimes, for weeks depending on how much grace Inanna bestowed on her people. She is the goddess of fertility, sex, and ... warfare. She is the goddess of the fever; of the dance.

You know what dance I am talking about? That dance that goes on in your heart and mind between your passions and your reasoning. Inanna is the goddess who stirs your body when you see someone beautiful of the opposite sex. Inanna is the goddess who drives you to just one more drink and everything will be better. Inanna is the goddess who stirs the fever of war, the propaganda, and the passion to fight.

The sister of Inanna in Sumerian/Mesopotamian mythology is Ereshkigal. Ereshkigal is the goddess of the aftermath. While Inanna is the goddess of the fruitful harvest, Ereshkigal is the goddess of the barren fields of winter. Inanna is the goddess of passionate, secret, and illegitimate sex; Ereshkigal is the goddess of guilt in the aftermath. Inanna is the goddess of life and Ereshkigal was relegated to the goddess of the afterlife or underworld.

Yet Inanna was not happy being just the goddess of the college party of life; she wanted more. She went to the underworld to confront her sister who suspected she was up to something. At each gate of the underworld, in order to pass, Inanna was forced to give up some of her jewelry and clothes which was her power until finally she confronted her sister to conquer her but found her drive to control had stripped her of all her power and her sister easily overpowered her. In the myth with Inanna gone the world became fruitless. No crops, no children, no parties. The other gods saw the problem and pleaded with Ereshkigal to release her sister which she agreed to by requiring someone to take her place. While all Inanna's friends mourned for her she found her husband simply reading under a tree and she sent him to the underworld in her place. Yet six months of the year she pines for him and so we have the fall and winter months of unfruitfulness.

While ancient myths are not true they do convey some truths. Guilt and barrenness will follow the mindless caving in to your passions as sure as fall and winter follow summer. The inability of your reason to stop you passion will not only hurt you but hurt those you love.

Too often today we look for remedies for the hangover instead of stopping the drinking; we look for counselors who will tell us to ignore the guilt instead of seeking repentance for the sin and STOPPING the action. We all dance the dance of Inanna. The question is who will lead, who is the stronger: your reason and self discipline or your passion and weaknesses? Your dance, your decision.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pain and Suffering II

Pain should be considered a POSITIVE thing while suffering should be considered a NEGATIVE thing.

"Pain tells you that you are still alive" yells a Marine buddy of mine, when I complain about my knee. "Pain tells you there is something wrong" says my chiropractic friend, "You don't want to kill the pain, you want to find the source and fix it." CS Lewis tells us that pain is God's megaphone to stop and pay attention to him. So pain is a positive thing when it tells you that you are alive, it gives you a barometer of something wrong that needs to be fixed, and pain tells you to slow down and focus on the important stuff.

Suffering, on the other hand, is a result of injustice, inaction, and just plain SIN in people's lives. Suffering happens as a result of poor/bad choices by people. A few men choose to fly an airplane into a building and people suffer. Choosing alcohol or gambling over responsibility causes suffering in addiction and broken relationships. We all suffer because of OUR bad choices and because of the bad choices of others.

Pain of the heart is good. It promotes growth and maturity when a teenage crush crumbles. It shows compassion and even spurs to action when the pain is caused by the suffering of others. It shows a healthy conscious when pain of the heart is a result of guilt in a wrong you have done.
Suffering of the heart is bad. Suffering of the heart is the damage that the heart experiences in abuse and causes a person to be closed and cold.

My six knees surgeries caused me to walk funny. After a few years of walking funny I developed hip problems and experience a sharp click every time I lift my leg to put on pants. The knee, the walking funny, the hip issue all have now (35 years after my first surgery) led to a bulge on my lower spine which makes me change the way I sleep and how much I lift. Is this pain or suffering?

It's pain because the knee surgeries forced me to leave basketball and focus on other things and those other things put me where I am now.

It's suffering because as a 15 year old in the hospital I didn't deserve what happened to me.

It's pain because as a 50 year old I know I have never been innocent.

It's suffering because I know if I really wanted to work at my rehab I probably could have prevented a few of the surgeries and had less pain now.

It's pain because my heart was broken because I lost something every Indiana farm boy dreams of doing: playing basketball. BUT that broken heart lead to me being a more compassionate and less prideful person.

Pain and suffering go hand in hand and it is hard to separate the two. In YOUR mind and through YOUR pain seek what you can learn, how you can grow, and what you can change. If you do this you can turn suffering into pain, pain into growth, and growth into character.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Pain and Suffering

Pain is a part of my life. It is kind of like that unwanted relative that sticks around for so long that you have learned to live with them. This has caused me to wax philosophical about the concept of pain. I remember many times Pain has caught up with me when I was bent over working and attempted to straighten up; Pain stuck one of its claws into my lower back squeezed. I remember being dumped by a girl in High School and every time that girl walked into the same classroom Pain rapped another claw around my heart and squeezed.

There have been many quotes about suffering and pain and many stories to follow them up so let me try to glean a little philosophical wisdom and place them into bite sized chunks for you to swallow.

Pain originally was related to criminal punishment. It is from the French "peine" or Latin "poena" both of which stand for penalty paid with "torment, hardship, of suffering". The Greek "poine" includes a sense of atonement, payment or compensation. In the early 1900's it was distorted to someone "being a pain" which is someone irritating or annoying. By the 1930's it had been more localized as someone being a "pain in the neck" or a "pain in the butt" AND by 1950's there were drugs described as "pain-killers". So by that time the thought grew that pain was no longer positive (punishment or payment for something you did wrong) it was negative (something everybody had, an annoyance that had to be killed).

Suffering, on the other hand, was something that you had to endure without any moral cause as to why. You could suffer because of a wrong you committed or suffer from something you had nothing to do with. Suffer from Latin means to "bear, endure, carry or put up with" Late 13th century we find writing that translates suffer as "tolerate, or allow" as in the biblical "suffer the little children to come to me."

So much for WHAT is pain and suffering. Now to the more difficult WHY of pain and suffering. WHY does my knee constantly hurt? Because I had six surgeries on it? Because I sinned in High School right before my first surgery? Because God doesn't like basketball and wanted me to quit? Because of Adam and Eve's original sin that was born in me? Because the guy who passed the basketball to me hated me and wanted my knee to buckle? Because God had a better plan for me than being a basketball star? Because my tennis shoe manufacturer skimped on quality control and caused my knee to buckle? Because God wanted to teach me a lesson? Because God wanted to test my patience or curb my ego? Because God didn't like the girl I was dating (the one that dumped me in the story above after my first surgery)? Because Satan made me do it so I would be angry at God? Because there were little demons on the court that caused the buckling? Because my doctors messed up and so now I am still in pain? Because I like pain? Because pain is random and it was my turn?

Which of these is true? The answer is "yes" and more on that next time.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Al Capone

Al was a used-furniture salesman from New York who was born to Italian immigrants in 1899 and moved to Chicago along with his wife in 1923. His cousin's husband was having problems with a few rowdy neighborhood twentysomethings and asked Al for help after repeated attempt to control them. Al, a devout Roman Catholic, calmly went to these men and shot at least 5 of them dead. His cousin's husband didn't have problems with them anymore. This Italian philosopher said, "you can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone."

As a young and fresh new supervisor I sought to befriend all my employees and make my department the best run and most fun place to work in the company. In my OCD way I kept a notebook where I would track the name of the spouse and children of each of my employees and any home issues they were dealing with so that when I went and talked to them I could ask: "How's your wife Jean doing? I remember you said her mom passed away." or "How's little Johnny doing in school?" When there were family emergencies I would allow them to leave early or come in late. I would sit with them on breaks and, together, we would walk back to the department just a few minutes late. This all worked great for about six weeks.

After six weeks I found a surprising amount of family emergencies happening. After six weeks the fifteen minute break was now almost a half hour. After six weeks my fellow supervisors came up to me and told me I had to do something about my department. At first I argued that we were not getting behind and we were getting our work done AND getting it done in less time than other departments AND my people were enjoying their jobs more than the employees in the other departments. That excuse worked until about eight weeks.

At eight weeks began to gently nudge my employees out of the break room. I began to say: "This is the third time your mom has died this month? I don't think I can let you leave early." This didn't stop the flow of undisciplined workers running my department. So I pulled out my gun and shot a few of them.

At a department meeting where I pulled out my 45 and placed it on the table in front of them, I laid down the rules. "I am no longer your friend, I am your boss. I apologize to you that I let it get this far but it is time to crack down on the long breaks, long lunches and absences." Then I picked up the 45 and explained what would happen if they didn't follow the company rules. It took a few shots and one firing for them to know I was serious about our new relationship but after a while I could put my 45 back in my desk drawer.

Why do we do that? Why do we seek to push against the rules until we find the place where someone gets hurt? Why do we take advantage of each other until our relationship breaks? Some crazy psychobabblers will tell you that the problem is not the breaking of the rules but it is the rules themselves. If we didn't have rules then there would be no pain in breaking them. Even an uneducated used-furniture salesman/gangster knew better than that. Now obviously we can go too far, and have, but the balance between vinegar and the honey, kind words and a gun, is what we are looking for. You cannot have one without the other. Honey and kind words alone will lead to anarchy. Vinegar and a gun alone will lead to totalitarianism. BALANCE is what we need to vote for. And as Al said in another famous quote: "Vote early and vote often!"

The GOOD, the BAD, and the UGLY truth

"There is no good or bad," said an acquaintance of mine "There is only actions and non-actions."

"Are you serious?" I asked incredulously. He seemed like such a smart guy.

"Absolutely! You either act or don't act. There is not good or bad involved because what I think is good you may think is bad and vice versa. So all we are left with is actions."

Instead of answering him I simply slapped him across the face - pretty hard. You can guess his reaction.

"So was that a GOOD action or a BAD one?" I asked

"You don't just go around HITTIN' people!" he angrily exclaimed.

I held up my finger in his face and said, "YOU told me there was no good or bad and now you are making a moral judgment that I'm not supposed to hit people?"

He went away, I never saw him again, and I might have to re-evaluate my belief in slap therapy. There IS good and bad so the question is how do you know GOOD from BAD? Let me give you a few hints:
- If it is quick and done "without thinking" then it is probably bad.
- If it is done in secret, it is probably bad.
- If you wouldn't tell your mom about it, it is probably bad.
- If the hurt helps you grow it might be good.
- If the hurt caused anger, resentment, and deep-seated garbage; then it probably is bad. But it may not be the hurt that is bad, it may just be your reaction to the hurt.
- If your "friends" are only friends when the pull you down then they are bad.
- If your "friends" challenge you to be better they're good.
- Thinking ONLY of self is bad.
- Thinking mainly of others is good.
- Considering the world is so lucky to have you around that it should pay you for just breathing: bad.
- Considering yourself indebted to others: good.

Is the major decision you have to make a good one or a bad one? You must do three things to know: Pray then ask good friends what they think; pray while spending time reading the Bible and it will become clearer; Pray while feeing out your heart, what is your heart telling you? if these three agree, go for it. If only two agree keep searching. If you are out of time and you must decide when they don't agree don't do it. I cannot imagine a real scenario where you have to decide and a delay for prayer and decision making will cause harm.

Expose yourself to the good and not the bad. Make good decisions and don't be swayed into bad ones. At the end of your life you will look back and have a sense of joy and peace and that is the goal isn't it?