Friday, December 30, 2011

The Holiday Aftermath! Reflections

     A wind driven rain is beating against the windows behind me here in more commonly snowy, cold Milwaukee, WI. The temperature has been above 40 degrees for almost the whole month of December. I even have some pansies blooming at my back doorstep. Never do I remember such a thing.  What's going on? Some would say, "Global warming," I guess Our meteorologists tell us it is due to the position of the jet stream which is bringing us southerly warm breezes. However, it is chilly and damp, so here I sit bundled up in my kind of ratty Pottery Barn red afghan my son gave me several years ago for Christmas, getting over the Holiday viral cold that I inevitably get from one or both of my two grandsons when we visit them. I decided to put down some holiday reflections for your perusal and contemplate how things at this time of year have changed and also how things have stayed the same.
       I have a hot cup of Newuman's Own Organic coffee in my hands, made on our new Keurig brewing machine, a gift to my husband from our coffee loving son. Do you all know what a Keurig machine is and what K-cups are?. This has to be one of the most consumer driven moves to hit coffeedom in a long time. Of course we all know about the coffee shop on every corner--  Starbucks, Caribou, Gloria Jeans etc.Of course Starbucks has become the Kleenex of coffeeshops. There is an extensive history of coffeehouses demonstrating that they originated in Turkey. In those proprietorships, the purchase of coffee provided a nice excuse to socially gather and  be entertained by music and the arts,  and to discuss topics from the latest writings to politics Wikipedia has a very nice writeup on the history of coffeehouses; google it for more info. Current coffeeshops have become Internet hotspots and the social critiques now often occur on line and not directly face to face. I think also a large clientele just stops in on the way to work or play and takes a cup of Joe to go. However, now there is a move to do everything in the comfort of your home. The home has become a luxury cocoon. You must not spend part of your carbon footprint in driving to the coffee shop for a nice cup of gourmet coffee.
       So we move to the Keurig home brewer. This is a marvelous machine. You never have to touch the coffee flakes. They are packaged in a small plastic cup which you place in a little holder that the machine opens and presents to you. You can buy any number of famous brands, flavors, strengths, even teas, chais, hot cider or hot chocolate. The machine punctures the cup surface, bottom and top, and draws pressurized, heated water from a reservoir through beverage particles, and then emits your brewed beverage into your cup, all in less than 60 seconds, usually more like 20 seconds. I am really curious how this machine does this, but have been unable to find any drawing. I guess I will have to just accept the engineering inventiveness that is behind this machine. I suppose it is a well guarded industrial secret or something. There is something in me that says my carbon footprint is decadently enlarged by using just this little individual serving of beverage mix and by brewing just a single cup of the coffee. I know this must be true. And yet I love so much the wonderful and excellent flavors that are emitted from this machine. You can even do iced beverages. Just fill your tumbler with ice and brew some tea of any flavor and Voila! refreshing iced tea. You purchase special little K-cups that are intended for brewing iced beverages. They contain a little more beverage mix to account for the melting ice. It somehow seems so decadent and lazy to refuse to even use a teaspoon to put a dollop of instant coffee into a cup and use our instant boiling water tap that we had put into our house to draw a cup of hot water onto the flaked coffee. This takes the coffee experience one huge step further. After all instant Folgers does not have the same taste as a deep rich latte just as brewed down at the corner Starbucks.
      Well, the coffee brewer was my husband's gift. My gift was a home soda maker. My son and daughter in law know that I drink a lot of soda because they can monitor how much we drink when we visit at their home. This machine has a CO2 container and it carbonates the water with any flavor that you choose, and emits a beverage over your ice cubes. I am still to explore the ways to use this machine. Interestingly, I recall first visiting my parents in law in Israel in the 1970s when my mother in law placed just such a container on the table with which one could carbonate one's orange juice, or water, or any juice or beverage you wanted. This machine is quite a bit more technologically advanced but it is the same principle. You are still using a CO2 cartridge, the preparation of which must contribute to the carbon footprint. However, you are not using all that aluminum in the cans and needing to recycle it. I got several flavor packs and two plastic bottle receptacles to receive my carbonated beverage for drinking. Wow, another gadget. Our present day world never seems to be at a loss for a new gadget.
     Our Christmas morning was great. Somehow Christmas isn't Christmas without a small child or a few of them to come downstairs bright and early to appreciate the gifts left by Santa under the Christmas tree. Our younger single son and his girlfriend wanted to see the two nephews discover this wonderland also so when the 2 year old first began to talk to his stuffed animals in his crib, we were all awakened and sat around waiting. Then my daughter-in-law went and woke the 5 year old and brought them both down. (The 5 year old would have been quite angry had the 2 year old been allowed to participate in the wonder below the tree without his older brother.) So down the stairs came the two boys to the flashes of cameras. There were presents all over the place. And now there are kits you can purchase which enable you to carry the "Santa Claus myth" to an extreme of reality. There is a flaky material you add a little water to and you arrange this material in the shape of Santa's footprints on the tile as he would have emerged from the fireplace after dropping down the chimney. To top that off there is a jingle bell on a strip of red ribbon to stick into something as though it was torn from Santa's clothing or his pack. This item was stuck onto the wire fireplace curtain. So now enters my younger unmarried childless son. He sees a funny way to get his older brother. He says to his nephew, " Sam, what are you going to do with that jingle bell? It belongs to Santa, right? Sam, why don't you keep it until next year and then put it out for Santa when he comes next year. He can pick it up then." He eyes his older brother with a mischievous smile on his face. Sam thinks that is an excellent idea. Now my older son has to put away the jingle bell in a place he will remember, pull it out again and put it out for Santa next year, because Sam will  remember. There is no doubt, he will remember. Gotcha! Something inside me sees this whole subterfuge as carrying the Santa Claus myth too far. Some older kids might rightfully be a little resentful of their parents for maintaining the lie for so long and this just adds to that lie. Of course, the commercial market will sell anything they can for this Holiday. I just wonder where they put these kits in the store. As soon as a kid can read, he will start to figure out things much quicker.
     We were quite touched by the fact that our younger son brought his relatively new girlfriend to spend Christmas with us. He had traveled for his work until 1 week before Christmas and was concerned that he would leave his girlfriend again to join us for Christmas. I think he also wanted us to meet her. Meanwhile, she had never spent Christmas away from the family to which she is very close. She had agonized over whether to do this or not. She knew how much our younger son wanted it and why. And my son understood what a sacrifice it was for her. She had somewhat of a difficult time Christmas Eve which was when her family traditionally got together. But thanks to Skyp and I hope to some of our understanding she made it through. She is a sweetheart and we were glad to have her with us. I hope that the decision she made and my son's understanding of it imply that this relationship is developing into a deeper one.
     I, the former Christian mother, but wife to a Jew tried to make sure that her husband's religion and Holiday were not forgotten, as I have often done in the past. I always said that our two sons were terribly deprived: first Chanukah and its 8 days of lights and gelt (or little daily gifts) and then Christmas at my family home with huge loads of Christmas presents. December was hugely spoiling. So this Christmas I took along a Chanukiyah and made to light the candles the nights that we were at my son's home. I sat the two grandsons down to tell them the story about Judah Maccabee and his followers, the retaking of the Jerusalem Temple from the Seleucids, and the a lighting of the olive oil lamps to sanctify the Temple. The story goes that there appeared to be only a very small amount of oil left in the reservoir, not even enough to burn for one night, but somehow that oil miraculously lasted for 8 nights,  coincidentally the time it takes to press and process some fresh olive oil. I didn't even get through the first part of the story and my grandson, Sam, spoke up, " I know that story. Mr Halpern told it to us at school" (daycare). There is certainly evidence that tolerance and education are present in our school system. We did light the candles and I think those bright lights will shine in our grandson's memories. I want them to recall that they come from the Jewish tradition as well as the Christian, and maybe even a little of the Buddhist given my Spirit Mind Body Group bent.
     Well enough reflections. Times have changed. Gifts are more technological than ever. The comforts of home are still strong but they are different than they used to be. However, that warm feeling when our family gets together is still there.That has not changed. And so I reflect on Christmases past, on this past weekend and on our future. Here's to a future where those grandkids of ours will be free to use whatever old traditions they require and to establish whatever new traditions they need to bring warmth and love into their home, no matter what it looks like in years to come.

     From our house to your house in all 123 countries that have produced readers to this blog, no matter your spiritual tradition, I wish you well at this time of year. Seasons greetings! Enjoy your own special tradition and keep it special. Thank you for showing an interest in my humble writings.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Mystery Photo 14: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- Some interesting history!

     Yes you are correct! This is the entrance that most tourists use to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the old city of Jerusalem.
     This ancient church is a combination of chapels that were united under one roof over time. Originally on this site was reported to have been a Temple to Aphrodite possibly erected by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to try to blot out all commemoration of the site by Christians due to his hatred of Christianity as a religion. The first edifice built on this site for Christianity was built by Emperor Constantine in the 3rd century. It contained chapels that would mark the site of the Crucifixion (Golgotha), the site where Jesus body was taken down from the cross, where his body was prepared for burial, and also the site of the Garden Tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. There is also a site that supposedly contained the skull of Adam as that is the legendary site of the Resurrection. The Aedicule is the internal structure that houses the Place of Burial of Jesus and therefore of his Resurrection.
     The location of all of these Holy Sites in Christianity are contested by various denominations. So whether these are the exact sites or not is uncertain, though some archaeological evidence does seem to suggest this was the tomb. Others denominations celebrate the site of Golgotha to be elsewhere. However, it is clear that the outer walls of the Old City of Jerusalem have changed several times over the centuries. The current walls are Crusader walls and probably do enclose areas that were outside the city in the 1st century AD.
      There was fire which burned portions of the Church during the 7th century. The early Muslim rulers protected the church as a Christian site, but in the 11the century the Church was ordered to be completely destroyed by the Fatimid caliph Al Hakim. Reportedly the church was hacked to bedrock, although portions were preserved by the overlying rubble. Later in that same century, Christendom sent the Crusades to rescue the Christian sites in Jerusalem and Palestine and it was rebuilt.    
     There are intricate rules for who is responsible for various sections and chapels of the Church. The largest control belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Armenian Church. But also the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Coptic Church retain some responsibility and right to some altars and/or chapels inside. The roof, windows and doors are regarded as common ground. But frequent disagreements arise requiring the Israeli police to come in to break up fistfights or to keep the peace between these various Christian fractions.
      In 2002, a Coptic monk who was guarding his small section on the roof, moved his chair in order to seek out some shade. The Ethiopians took offense at this action, regarding it as a hostile act and started a fight. Eleven people were admitted to the hospital as a result of this fracas. In 2004, a Franciscan left a door open and the Orthodox church regarded this as disrespectful and started a brawl over this. Similarly as recently as 2008 the Israeli police were called to break up an altercation. As a result of the hot contestation of every action in and around the Church, there remains a ladder sitting on a ledge over this main door of the Church. The windows and sill are regarded as common ground and no one has responsibility for upkeep. Likewise all fractions are afraid to set foot on this ledge over the main door for fear of how some other faction may regard such an action, so a wooden ladder has sat there at least 150 years. It is visible in this photo of the entrance and is visible on every photo taken of this area since 1853.
       Ah, the interesting history that religion creates.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mystery Photo 14

Can you recognize this famous entrance to a famous church? I thought this is an appropriate Mystery Photo for the upcoming Christian Holiday Season. Not only is this a famous church in a famous city, but there is something about this facade that is unusual. Can you guess the unusual presence here and why it is here?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Painful Buddhist Lesson Learned! Lost Ring!

Buddhist monks at the Temple at Sarnath, India
  For the past 10 or 15 years I have been attending a weekly Spirit Mind Body Group which meets once a week for meditation and to study spirituality of all persuasions. We take turns reading or presenting something of spiritual interest or leading a discussion in the spiritual field. There is a strong Buddhist bent to this group both because several members are Buddhist and have studied Buddhist philosophy extensively and because we meet at and are often led by the local President of the Mindfulness Practice Center of Milwaukee. I have been keeping a blog of our weekly meetings of Spirit Mind Body Group. Through all of these avenues I have learned a little about Buddhist thought.  Though it is difficult if not impossible to contain Buddhist theory in a nutshell, let me at least try to give you an idea of how a recent occurrence in my life has clarified and strengthened these ideas for me. Then I will tell you about the occurrence and how I have so far survived it.
     The Four Noble Truths as put forth by the Buddha are as follows: 1) Life here on earth involves suffering. There is pain, illness, losses of things and people and finally of our own life. 2) The source of this suffering is due to clinging and attachment to things and ideas that are impermanent and are only in our lives for a short while and do not carry on into future lives. We must not become attached emotionally to impermanence. 3) There is a way to overcome and relieve this suffering. 4) The Eightfold path if practiced and perfected will enable the practitioner to learn the truth of existence and will allow the sufferer to attain nirvana and relief from the karmic cycle of existence and suffering. The Eightfold path includes the practice of wisdom described as Right View and Right Intention. It includes the practice of ethical conduct described in Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. Thirdly the path includes direction for mental development in the Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. In our Spirit Mind Body Group we have discussed this attachment to things and ideas as being very hard to let go of. Indeed it is human to have these attachments to things, to our lives, to our homes, to our cars, to our ideas, to our personalities, to our individual selves. These must be let go of to realize the truth of existence and to reach nirvana.

Hit Read on to find out what happened to me.