‘Ye who enter here’

A month or so ago, Anne Rice- an author, and individual, I have long loved- asked, on her Facebook page, about whether or not people believe in Hell.  I didn’t respond at the time, since I wasn’t sure that stating the obvious was the type of feedback she was looking to find.  I don’t think she was looking to count my ‘no’, but rather that she was after input into the idea(s) about Hell- and if there are people out there who buy into that little nightmare of our mythology.

I sort of forgot about it, to be honest.  Although Anne has examined the ideas of Heaven and Hell, both in her Vampire Chronicles and the her more obviously-searching books about the youth of Jesus, I wasn’t sure where the question was sourced, and didn’t really feel like getting involved in a listing of the reasons why Hell makes me so angry.

If you’ve been following along with my discussion here about the Devil, then you’ll likely already be aware how I feel about his supposed abode.

While I love the richness of the mythology surrounding the concept, in the main it makes me mad as, well, Hell.  To the extent that it woke me up at 4ish this am (there’s that time again) and left me unable to get back to sleep in anything like a timely fashion.

I don’t get it.  I don’t get teaching about it- for the sole purpose of scaring people into ‘goodness’.  Teaching small children that such a place of eternal punishment lies waiting for them if they don’t behave according to particular interpretations of rules and regs that were millennia old before they were even sparkles in their parents’ eyes…

Eesh.

(Almost as bad as that little idea that we are born into this world in a state of sin.  Not quite as bad, but almost.)

And then, on her page a few weeks later, there was this.

Sigh.  Just when I think that there is progress being made in the RCC from the leadership all the way down…

Exorcism.  Seriously!?!?  I have to admit to being a little a little disappointed in Il Papa over his comments on the subject.

Last weekend, while out with some close friends for our annual Victoria Day Brunch (or annual ‘Roofie Breaks his Champagne Glass Brunch’ as was the case two years in a row- he managed to keep all the glassware on the table this year), on the patio of our fave French Bistro, the discussion turned to Frank (can we call you ‘Frank’, Your Holiness?) and the changes he is attempting to implement among the Party Faithful.

I am not Roman Catholic (to re-state that which should be obvious)- but I have studied a great deal about the history of the Institution- both ancient and recent- and Roofie, who was raised RC and teaches in the Catholic School Board, is always interested to hear my thoughts about things that are going down in the development of the doctrine and practices, such as they may be.

After touching on the recent elevations to sainthood (I have to admit that I have a real soft spot for John 23- that guy had some real chutzpah– Vatican II, his work with refugees during the Holocaust, and things like the removal of the word perfidious as a descriptor of the Jews from the Good Friday liturgy and the fact that he made a Confession, on behalf of the whole of the Church, for the centuries of the sin of anti-semitism… THAT’S my kind of Papa…), we talked about Frank and the politics of the role of Pope.

Frank is a demonstrable Voice for change- like those I’ve been prattling on about ’round here for the last while.  Small steps, perhaps.  But small is better than none.

So I was disappointed to hear that he’s still prattling on about the Devil.  And he doesn’t seem to be talking about him as a metaphor.

Again I say ‘Eeesh.’

As something of a counter-balance, I noticed this on the HuffPost religion page today.

S’truth.  Saul o’ Tarsus wouldn’t have had much at all to say about Hell.  As a construct, it didn’t hit high on the Concern-O-Meter of the earliest of them there Christians.

Although there were certainly myths in the Greek and Roman mythological traditions about complex levels and areas of the afterlife- places of pleasant fields and family vs. places you really don’t want to be caught, well, dead- for the Jews, and the belief-systems that influenced and informed the biblical worldview and mythology, Sheol was simply a place of housing ALL the dead- good, bad or middling.

By the period of the Second Temple, some of those Greek ideas started creeping into the mythology, so there were the first hints of divisions in the place of the afterlife- an area for the good, and one for the not-so-good- and suggestions that Sheol was the holding place for the wicked.

Around 200 BCE, as the Hebrew texts were translated into Greek (in Alexandria), the word Hades was used in place of Sheol, precipitating the overlap of the traditions even further.

Add to this the influence of Zoroastrian dualism and the development of apocalypticism and you had an evolving and rapidly-changing presentation of what the ‘life’ to come might offer us after we pass from this world.

There were also extra-canonical (in the Targums, mainly) mentions of Gehenna as the place of punishment of those who did evil while on earth.  Gehenna (remind me to tell you about an incident with a Ouija Board and a ‘spirit’ named ‘Gehe’- crazy teenagers, we were) was a physical, earthly place outside of Jerusalem where non-Israelites (and, sometimes, apostate Israelites) sacrificed children to Canaanite gods- like Ba’al and Moloch- generally in furnaces.

Eventually, this place of earthly sacrifice came to be re-envisioned as a place of punishment and spiritual purification of the dead.  In the Synoptic gospels, Jesus uses Gehenna as description of the opposite of life in the Kingdom.  English translations of the New Testament often don’t distinguish between the three- Sheol, Gehenna and Hell- meaning that interpreters without knowledge of the Greek texts often lump all three together.

As the mythology developed- from its many original sources and the imaginations of writers and visionaries- visual and literary conceptualizations of Hell became more specific.  As Jon M. Sweeney noted in his article, Dante Alighieri bears the primary responsibility for the shaping of our Western impression of the geography and theology of Hell.

How ironic is it that our collective conceptualization of a place that remains in use as a caution against proscribed behaviour was framed by an allegorical poem- however beautiful and rich in its imagery and language- written in the 14th century?

I’ve chatted before about the wonder that can be found when our stories are interpreted when their origins- as metaphor and allegory- are acknowledged and understood.  Dante illustrated the importance of the recognition and rejection of wrongdoing (as defined by his cultural and temporal context) as he traversed the Nine Circles of suffering- located within this planet of ours, echoing the Greek and Roman influences from which he drew his imagery.

The Inferno is one of my favourite works of literature.  Dante used folks familiar to his readers as examples of the misbehaviours he was declaiming- politicians, popes, enemies and friends- alongside characters from myth and history whose stories were well-known by an audience better-read than those these days tend to be.

The allegory retains its validity and poignancy seven centuries later.  Setting aside arguments regarding sin and punishment as dictated by doctrine or cultural mores- and its Christian centred theology (as would be expected from a man of his time), the place in the poem that most resonates with me, today anyway (since each reading brings new insight and appreciation to light), isn’t actually part of Hell-Proper at all.

After entering the Gate, but before traversing Acheron and meeting Charon, Dante encounters the Uncommitted- those who chose to do nothing– whether good or evil- in life and suffer eternal stagnation as a result.

I’m thinking that, were Dante’s vision an actual place, that vestibule would be pretty full up these days.

Those who pursue the banner of self-interest and apathy don’t even make it into HELL.  That’s a pretty potent statement.  And a lesson that has demonstrably not been learned, 700+ years later.

Although I enjoyed his article and his assertions that our Medieval conceptualizations of Hell as ‘useful in promoting crusades, colonizing and “conversions”‘ are well past their sell-by date,  I have to disagree with Sweeney’s last thought.

Re-imagining the afterlife isn’t the point.

As creative and mysterious and fantastical as our human imaginings about ‘afterlives’ might be, it’s long past time we stop being concerned with and focused on the rewards/punishments of a mythical next world and acknowledge that our lack of engagement in this one is a slippery slope that is contributing to the proliferation of wrongdoing in this world.  The one that we live in NOW.  The one that we will leave to the next generations.

If we’re on a highway to Hell- whether in this world or the next- it is most certainly one of our own making.  Expecting that ‘someone else’ is going to fix it abrogates responsibility to a treacherous degree.  And traitors, whose acts in life betrayed their human relationships- relationships with family and with community-  were housed in the 9th circle.

With Satan himself.

Since the Vestibule of the Uncommitted must have long ago become Standing Room Only, I vote for Circle #9 for the new home of those who remain stagnant and unwilling to participate in making this world a better place.

Allegorically speaking, of course.

Season ticket on a one way ride
Askin’ nothin’
Leave me be
Takin’ everythin’ in my stride
Don’t need reason
Don’t need rhyme
Ain’t nothin’ that I’d rather do

Bullies

Last week on Cosmos… Oh, how that show continues to amaze me. And this last episode spoke about concepts of immortality- and how the development of writing has allowed us to see into the hearts and minds of those who lived millennia before our time.

The stories remain. Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke of the Hero’s Journey- as undertaken by Gilgamesh as he searched for immortality.

The episode cleverly pointed to the existence of a Flood myth- one that predates the inspiration for Russell Crowe’s latest film by 1000 years- while continuing to explore the reality that to understand our planet and the cosmos as a whole we have to open our minds to its seeming vastness and our relative insignificance in the scale of space and time.

I love that show.

Anyhoo.

It got me thinking about my guy Gil- and called to mind this post that I wrote way back when I first was finding my voice here at colemining.

I wrote about him in the context of his initial character- the bullying leader, out for his own agenda- rather than the wise ruler he became as a result of his travel and discoveries.

Since today was the day that those running to lead this province as the next government were allowed to begin broadcasting their campaign ads, I thought that the topic of bullying and bullies could do with a little revisiting.

I haven’t had the television on today so I am able to live in hope (until I do catch a news report or a commercial) that this crop of political leaders will transcend the growing- and repulsive- trend toward attack ads as the norm.

Let’s keep it clean and on point, folks. There’s too much at stake for lowest common denominator mud-slinging and schoolyard name-calling.

We go to the polls on June 12. Make your voice heard, Ontario.

colemining

http://www.qacps.k12.md.us/mms/george/gilgameshpicture.jpg

Gilgamesh.  If there was ever a classic example of a  cautionary tale about leaders misusing their power to the detriment of the lives of the people, and the displeasure that this abuse caused the gods, the Epic of Gilgamesh is it.  A Number 1.  While there is a great deal going on in the myth, its warning against bullying tactics as a political ‘strategy’ is as important today as it was more than 4500 years ago.

The earliest extant version of the story dates to about 2100-2000 BCE, from the time of the Sumerian revival in Mesopotamia.  The Ancient Near East was a collection of City States, constantly battling for supremacy.  We have no precise dates for the historical King Gilgamesh (sometime between 2800 and 2500 BCE is likely), but he is mentioned in the Sumerian King List and tradition holds that he conquered the previous ruler to become king…

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Regarding goat rodeos and other suchlike things

 

I don’t know how I missed this.

Thankfully, in a meeting today, our management team brought this wonder to our collective attention.  The video was presented in the context of team-building- and a discussion of the employment of varied talents, brought together to create something almost beyond belief in its greatness.

It’s still blowing my mind.

Not just the undeniable beauty of the music that these sessions produced (you know I love great music) but because it is indicative of the overarching culture that drives my place of work.  And because it completely corresponds with the direction in which my brain has been running this week.

Bringing together disparate elements with individual strengths to create an incredible whole.  Yeah.  I like that.  A lot.

I also like the song a lot.  Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile (and Aoife O’Donovan on Here and Heaven) came together in 2011 and demonstrated that things like background and genre need mean nothing when there is a common goal.  That Bluegrass and Classical music speak to the same atavistic drives and desires and propensity for greatness and cooperation that we have as humans.

The two genres might generally appeal to different sorts of people, from different places and different circumstances, but the artists demonstrated that when the elements are brought together, the superficiality of some types of context can vanish in the face of the purity of what is produced.

As you might be aware, I’ve been saying that very thing about our stories and songs for quite some time hereabouts (have a run through the archives if you need a refresher).

A goat rodeo is a chaotic situation in which many things must all go right for it to all come together.  It is often used to describe corporate or bureaucratic circumstances, but, in this case, it refers to the perfect storm of challenges that is required to combine the elements of the styles of music.

(N.B.  It’s also, apparently, a real thing.  A rodeo.  But with goats.  Go figure.)

The term is often used negatively to describe an unmanageable event or circumstance.  The artists who participated in The Goat Rodeo Sessions have turned that definition on its head.  They prove that order– constructed through the work of many- can be used to overcome chaos- another specific point I’ve chatted about recently.

There’s a whole lot of chaos out there.  I can hardly bear to watch the news some days.  I could easily list off some of the more distressing manifestations of the chaos that is making headlines around the world today.  It would be a long list.

I’ve written posts about that sort of thing before.  Not being one to bury my head in the sand and deny the crazy, it’s hard to move past the day-to-day realities that demonstrate the desire- on the part of too many people- to act in ways that reflect the lowest common denominator amongst us human-type-beings.  Horrors and injustice and just plain bad behaviour clog the news feeds and contribute to the general malaise that seems unwilling to let loose its grip.

Exposure to direct evidence of the contrary- the highest heights of cooperation and collaboration- mitigates the pessimism.

Not long ago I threatened to talk about these guys.

I have to admit that I was more than a little awestruck waaaaaay back in the day when the Wilburys showed up.  Sure, there had been other examples of super-groups- it was the post-BandAid era, after all- but that particular combination of singer-songwriting majesty just blew me away.

Bob Dylan.  Roy Orbison.  Jeff Lynne.  George Harrison.  Tom Petty.

Handle With Care, while about the trials and tribulations of fame, spoke to the Wilbury ideal.  These five guys.  All HUGE musical presences with the exposure and the accolades rightly afforded by their decades of dedication to their craft.  You’d have to wonder- with some justification- how the egos all managed to fit in the same building, let alone studio.

But.  The project stemmed out of George’s desire to do an album with his ‘mates’.  Just him and some pals writing some tunes and contributing their own, inimitable, voices to some songs for the pure joy of doing so.

To add to the fun, they created pseudonyms and personae around the conceit of the Wilbury family- traveling musicians who were half-brothers stemming from a single, fictional, father.  Along with the fun, the stories, the harmonies and sense of togetherness, as the great songsters they are/were, they provided little bits of advice that remain timeless.

‘I’ve been uptight and made a mess
But I’ll clean it up myself, I guess’

Personal accountability- a pillar of individual success, but also one that contributes to the smooth functioning of groups and development of the product needing to be delivered.  It comes up as a theme in this one, too:

‘You can sit around and wait for the phone to ring (End of the Line)
Waiting for someone to tell you everything (End of the Line)
Sit around and wonder what tomorrow will bring (End of the Line)’

After Roy Orbison died of a heart attack, the Wilburys kept on Traveling.  The rocking chair- empty save for his guitar- and the brief close-up on the framed photo still speak to me about the importance of remembrance and recognition of lives touched while illustrating that the road doesn’t end when we lose the people we love.

I still get choked up when I watch that video.

As the years moved ever onward, we also lost George (admission here- he will always be my fave from the Fab 4).

‘I don’t see nothing new but I feel a lot of change
And I get the strangest feeling, as I’m
Heading for the light’

The joy of this song- finding a path after a time in darkness- is so very George.  Yet, the addition of Jeff’s distinctive harmonies and the combined guitars make it a Wilburys song.  Truly- bits and pieces of the best of some of the best of a generation of musical presences- what is more positive and concerted than that?

A concert is ‘a public performance of music’, but it also represents ‘agreement in design or plan’ and ‘union formed by mutual communication of opinion and views’.

Despite the individual and collective merits of each of their songs, as we head into the first long weekend of the summer (come on blue skies and rising temperatures!), this is the one that will be heading the playlist on the Shuffle Daemon.

In that short piece of goodness (mainly authored by Tom), each Wilbury is identifiable as an individual- but the concert of it all makes it one of my favourites of their joint composition.

(I really do like Jeff’s bit best, though)

‘Still the sun went down your way
Down from the blue into the gray
Where I stood I saw you walk away
You danced away’

I’ll be dancing my way into the weekend.  Spending it with friends and family and acknowledging that for all our individual strengths, we remain best together.

We can all be honourary Wilburys.  Let the concert begin.

Circular Motion

A few millennia ago, back when I was a first year undergrad at university, one of my housemates (he remains one of my very best peeps) and I shared a tradition on Saturday nights.  Before we headed out for whatever fun and trouble that might find us, we started things off- just the two of us, generally- with a little time spent with a beer or two and some of our favourite music.

We called it Celtic Hour.

Okay- it wasn’t actually a tradition originating in Antiquity.  But I have been feeling the weight of the years a little of late, so thinking back on old times involves more taxing of the brain than once was the case.  First year uni seems like a longlonglong time ago.

The ‘all grown up’ tasks at hand seem to be multiplying exponentially and that To-Do list is stubbornly refusing to get any shorter.  New stuff keeps adding itself to the bottom before the top-most items have come close to being completed.  I’m sure that there’s some sort of reasonable explanation for this, but I have really started to feel like it’s a function of the perversity of the universe right about now.

Add to that the fact that the temperatures refuse to rise and the sun is playing shy… there’s been a real dearth of energy in my general vicinity.

It’s hard, even with best intentions, to stay motivated when loose ends that need tying apparently multiply by the hour.

Anyhoo…

Celtic Hour.

Fletcher and I would pop on some tunes by those Scottish and Irish troubadours we so love, and have a wee sing-along.  Although the songs varied week-to-week, the one that kicked it off always remained the same.

As the first notes of the traditional folk song- She Moved Through the Fair– led into Jim’s beloved voice, we would take our seats and raise our glasses to the week past and the one ahead.  The lyric’s of Belfast Child evoke a terrible period in Ireland’s long history, while still offering up hope for return and rebuilding (and the flip-side of the single was Mandela Day– another great song that has seen a resurgence in the past while.  Talk about an incredible double bill.  How freakin great are Simple Minds?!).

Sure the arrest (and subsequent release) of Gerry Adams last week brings up its own share of unpleasant reminders and debates that continue to rage in certain circles (I’m not touching any of that, so don’t even go there please), but the real reason I was casting my mind back to the song- and its Celtic Hour memories- is because there’s this one line

‘Life goes on…’

It won’t stop popping into my head.

Seriously.

Jim seems to be permanently in situ dans my tête (how’s that for a random mixing of languages?  And please forgive the unintended allusion to a Céline tune.  Snuck in there, it did.).

Generally, at least as it’s heard in my skull, the repetition offers both reassurance and admonition.  Although the critical reproof has been on the ascendent as the myriad tasks aren’t completed as quickly as I’d like.  I’ve been very focused on them- but said focus has also had something of an overall debilitating effect as well.

I’m not sure I’ve been coping all that well, to be honest.  I’ve been putting up a pretty good front, but despite some overwhelmingly positive things happening in my life I’m still reeling and trying to find my footing in the Dad-less world.

Meaning has been a little bit harder to find, and exhaustion- mental and physical- is almost ever-present.

Then… on Sunday while sorting through things at Dad’s, amongst some other extremely cool things we had never seen before (like a circa 1895 stereoscope with lots of neato pictures- who knows where THAT came from), I found some of Dad’s business envelopes- from wayway back when he worked downtown, before the company headquarters moved outside of the city’s core.

I remember visiting Dad at work as a small child- on days off from school and such- and I knew that his building was in the same general vicinity in which I am spending my 9-5 hours these days.

But the address on the envelopes?  The VERY building.  Where I work now.

Yep.

Same building.

Do you have any idea how many office towers there are in this town?  I don’t.  Not exactly.  But there are a lot.

I’ve written before about synchronicity and connections.  I believe in these things as manifestations of the reality that we all go together– as human beings who share a planet and biological origin.

But that kind of blew me away.

I have to admit, odd moments of grief aside, that I’ve been riding something of a pretty substantial high at my new employment gig.  I honestly love going there in the morning.  As I’ve been getting to know the people I work with, I grow ever more impressed with their commitment and professionalism and sense of community- and fun.  This is a group of people- and a company- that is affecting positive change every single day.  I’m loving it.  Did I mention that?

It’s a place that Dad, with his incredible and developed sense of social justice and drive for equality and equity of opportunity, would have felt at home.  Turns out he would have been right comfortable in the building itself.  Seeing as he spent a whole lot of time there 30+ years ago.

Since Sunday, I’ve been feeling him close to me more than ever.  I have one of the envelopes on my work desk, now- as a kind of tangible manifestation of that feeling.

It’s like something has circled round again.  Two of us in the same place- if removed by a couple of decades.

There’s this other song…

(Speaking of Scottish music/musicians)…

You know I love Donovan.

Not only is the song about happiness- and how it runs in a circular motion– it is a round.  A form of music featuring at least two voices singing the same melody but beginning at different times- and fitting together in harmony.

Brilliant.

Since the sun actually deigned to make an appearance today, I took a long stroll home, through the park, after work, thinking about the counterpoints- those independent yet harmonious lines- that make up our lives.

There were people out and about- riding bikes and skateboards, walking dogs and children- enjoying the sunshine.  I saw a woman stretched on the grass on her stomach feeding a pigeon Sun Chips from her hand.  A young man sat on a picnic table playing his guitar.

I thought about my new place of employment and the opportunities it affords- which now include a connection to Dad- and the fact that one of my other housemates from first year uni works in the building across the street.  We’ve had a couple of quick lunchtime encounters to try to catch up on more years than I care to count, and there will be a better opportunity on a patio sometime soon.

When I got home and checked email there was a message from that wonderful Being who spoke so beautifully at Dad’s memorial.

I woke up this morning and was very much aware of your presence. So…. this is me following up. I trust that you are OK and that all is well with your new job. I also trust and hope that you are finding your way thru this grief process.”

I’ve been feeling Dad’s presence all week.  It seems that someone was also feeling mine.  Someone who has recently circled back into my life.

Life goes on.

In a circular motion.

And it can be pretty damn beautiful.

P.S- There’s one more song that kept running through my head as I finished this post:

The great Harry Chapin.  It’s a song from my camp days, and it’s the tune that is ending my evening.

“It seems like I’ve been here before, I can’t remember when
But I got this funny feelin’ that I’ll be back once again
There’s no straight lines make up my life and all my roads have bends
There’s no clear-cut beginnings and so far no dead-ends…”

Sleep well, WordPressWorld.

Much Ado About Nothing

So this topic has shown up in the news again. People are fighting it, people are agreeing with it… not enough else to be worried about, I guess.

Meanwhile, our municipal train wreck has finally derailed and upped stakes for rehab in Chicago. But not before we made The Daily Show, again.  And not before the damage may be irrevocable.

Still… hoping this latest is something that will permit change in my hometown.

Wishing you all a lovely weekend!

colemining

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really find this illustration particularly helpful in explaining why it’s SO FREAKIN COLD OUTSIDE.  And the typo is making me nuts, but I’m too chilly to search for another image.

Well there I was all hunkered down against the c-c-c-cold of the polar vortex- or whatever they’re calling it- getting ready to kill an evening watching some tv or something equally mindless.

Decided to check the WP Reader before turning off the laptop for the night and, what’s there?  A wee little goad by my friend OM- over there at Harsh Reality.

It’s one of the fun things he does- he gets conversations started.  I actually saw the linkabout the Baphomet statue earlier today.  I read the article, smiled a little and then forgot about it.

Jeepers.  People really don’t have larger concerns?

The constant negative back-and-forth between the atheist and…

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