Friday, August 22, 2014

Beginning ~ with laughter

Have you ever seen a picture of Jesus laughing?  Probably not, because we have inherited a distorted form of Christianity created by the Roman Church in the fourth century, which focuses exclusively on Jesus the "man of sorrows."  The image that has dominated our culture is that of a man being tortured to death on a cross.  But the original Christians didn't see Jesus as an historical man who "suffered for our sins."  They viewed Jesus as the mythical hero of a symbolic teaching story, which represents the spiritual journey leading to the experience of awakening they called "gnosis," or "knowing."
If you've never seen such a picture before (I've seen others, as well), now you've seen this one.  The picture above has nothing to do with this book, except that it's the reason I picked up the book in the first place.  I own a copy of this laughing Jesus, framed and everything.  So when I saw a book entitled The Laughing Jesus, of course I had to buy it.  My next confession is that the paragraph above is not the first in the book, but the second paragraph, following this quote from the Nag Hammadi Codex (*** as noted at the bottom of this post).
Wake up!  Rouse yourself from the collective coma you mistake for "real life."  See through the illusion of separateness and recognize that we are all essentially one.  Although we appear to be isolated individuals, in reality there is one awareness dreaming itself to be everyone and everything.  This is our shared essential nature.  The simple secret to enjoying this dream we call "life" is to wake up to oneness.  Because, knowing you are one with all, you will find yourself in love with all.  You will fall in love with living.  This is the message of the original Christian, who symbolised this awakened state with the enigmatic figure of "the laughing Jesus."
The Laughing Jesus: Religious Lies and Gnostic Wisdom ~ by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, 2005
What if the Old Testament is a work of fiction, Jesus never existed, and Muhammad was a mobster?  What if the Bible and the Qur'an are works of political propaganda created by Taliban-like fundamentalists to justify the sort of religious violence we are witnessing in the world today?  What if there is a big idea that could free us from the us-versus-them world created by religion and make it possible for us to truly love our neighbors — and even our enemies?  What if it is possible to awaken to a profound state of oneness and love, which the Gnostic Christians symbolized by the enigmatic figure of the laughing Jesus?
Maybe this book will help me discover for myself why the gnostic Jesus laughs.

*** See The Apocalypse of Peter, NHC (The Nag Hammadi Codex), The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, NHC, Robinson J. M., The Nag Hammadi Library (HarperCollins paperback 1978), 377, 365.

Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

TWOsday ~ Tao Te Ching and Te-Tao Ching

On TWOsdays, I plan to share TWO things, which will most probably always be books.  But the two things could possibly be two ideas or two of anything.  Today, it's TWO books.

Te-Tao Ching: A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-wang-tui Texts ~ by Lao Tzu, translated by Robert G. Henricks, 1989
Lao-tzu's Te-Tao Ching has been treasured for thousands of years for its poetic statement of life's most profound and elusive truths.  This new translation, based on the 1973 discovery of two copies of the manuscript more than five centuries older than any others known, corrects many defects of the later versions.  In his extensive commentary, Professor Henricks reevaluates traditional interpretations.
The Tao Te Ching: A New Translation with Commentary ~ by Ellen M. Chen, 1989
This incisive, illuminating translation of the Tao Te Ching treats these sacred writings as religious philosophy having as their central message the value of peace.  Refreshing and challenging, this is a landmark work for all those investigating Eastern religion and philosophy.
A couple of years ago, I bought myself five books for my birthday, and three of them were different translations of the Tao Te Ching.  When I needed to refer to one of the poems (chapters) of the Tao Te Ching the other day, I couldn't find a copy, even though I own 12 or 13 or 14 versions.  They must still be in boxes, not yet out on my bookshelves.  So today I bought these two (above), which are not among the translations I already have.  I'm excited to have them, and this evening I have already been reading the commentaries and notes by these translators.

Oh, some of you are wondering why I'd want ONE copy of this book, much less more than a dozen — plus two more today?  Okay, that's fair.  First, I taught religions of the world at Chattanooga State as an adjunct for about a decade.  (Adjunct means I taught one or two classes a semester while holding another job.  In other words, I wasn't a full-time professor.)  Second, I've been interested all my life in why people are drawn to life's numinous aspects.  (Synonyms of "numinous" are "spiritual, religious, divine, holy, sacred, mysterious, otherworldly, unearthly, transcendent.")  As I read or browsed through the sacred texts of various religions, I became fascinated by the thoughts of Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching.  Third, although I love Stephen Mitchell's translation, my favorite (so far) is probably Ursula K. Le Guin's take on this classic.  With these two new-to-me translations, I can continue to explore ancient Chinese thought about "the Tao" — which simply means "the Way."

(Umm, no, I can't tell you why one of these reverses Tao Te Ching and makes it Te-Tao Ching.  I'll have to read the book to find out.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

Beginning ~ how men gained control

When God Was a Woman ~ by Merlin Stone, 1976
"How did it actually happen?  How did men initially gain the control that now allows them to regulate the world in matters as vastly diverse as deciding which wars will be fought when to what time dinner should be served?"
From the dust jacket:
Here, archaeologically documented, is the story of the religion of the Goddess.  Known by many names — Astarte, Isis, Ishtar, among others — she reigned supreme in the Near and Middle East.  Beyond being worshipped for fertility, she was revered as the wise creator and the one source of universal order.  Under her, women's roles differed markedly from those in patriarchal Judeo-Christian cultures.  Women bought and sold property and traded in the marketplace, and the inheritance of title and property was passed from mother to daughter.  How did the change come about?  By documenting the wholesale rewriting of myth and religious dogmas, Merlin Stone details a most ancient conspiracy:  the patriarchal reimaging of the Goddess as a wanton, depraved figure. This is the portrait that laid the foundation for one of culture's greatest shams — the legend of Adam and fallen Eve.
In my quest to understand religions (I taught Religions of the World as an adjunct at Chattanooga State), this book may answer questions about why things were once so different.  This seems to be exploring the same sort of thing I read about in these books:

Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Library Loot ~ August 13-19

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker ~ by Jennifer Chiaverini, 2013, fiction (Washington, DC)
A friendship blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite.  Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.  In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world.

Keckley saved scraps from the dozens of gowns she made for Mrs. Lincoln, eventually piecing together a tribute known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt.  She also saved memories, which she fashioned into a book, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.  Upon its publication, Keckley’s memoir created a scandal that compelled Mary Todd Lincoln to sever all ties with her, but in the decades since, Keckley’s story has languished in the archives.  In this impeccably researched, engrossing novel, Chiaverini brings history to life in rich, moving style.
Learning to Walk in the Dark ~ by Barbara Brown Taylor, 2014, spirituality
Taylor provides readers a way to find spirituality in those times when we don’t have all the answers.  She has become increasingly uncomfortable with our tendency to associate all that is good with lightness and all that is evil and dangerous with darkness.  Doesn’t God work in the nighttime as well?  She asks us to put aside our fears and anxieties and to explore all that God has to teach us “in the dark.”  She argues that we need to move away from our “solar spirituality” and ease our way into appreciating “lunar spirituality” (since, like the moon, our experience of the light waxes and wanes).  Through darkness we find courage, we understand the world in new ways, and we feel God’s presence around us, guiding us through things seen and unseen.  Often, it is while we are in the dark that we grow the most.
Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? : The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell ~ by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, children's
In the 1830s, when a brave and curious girl named Elizabeth Blackwell was growing up, women were supposed to be wives and mothers.  Some women could be teachers or seamstresses, but career options were few.  Certainly no women were doctors.  But Elizabeth refused to accept the common beliefs that women weren’t smart enough to be doctors, or that they were too weak for such hard work.  And she would not take no for an answer.  Although she faced much opposition, she worked hard and finally — when she graduated from medical school and went on to have a brilliant career — proved her detractors wrong.  This inspiring story of the first female doctor shows how one strong-willed woman opened the doors for all the female doctors to come.  An NPR Best Book of 2013.
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages us to name books we checked out of the library.  Click here to see what others got this week.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Happiness balloons

During a seminar for 500 people, the facilitator got the people involved in a group activity.  He asked each person to write their name on a balloon with a marker.  The 500 balloons were collected and put in another room, and the participants were given five minutes to find the balloon with their name on it.  As they searched frantically for their own names, they collided with one other, pushed others around, and created utter chaos.  At the end of the five minutes, no one had found their own balloon.  No one.  The new instructions were for each person to randomly collect a balloon and give it to the person whose name was written on it.  Within minutes everyone had their own balloon.  This happens in our lives.  We look frantically for happiness, not knowing where it is.  Yet our happiness lies in the happiness of other people.  Give them their happiness, and you will find your own happiness.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sunday Salon ~ voting and reading

I voted this week, thus making me a full-fledged Missourian, I suppose.  No, not "today," kitty cat.  I voted on Tuesday.

Early yesterday morning, like at 6:30am, I opened the blinds to discover my world had shrunk.  Fog blocked my usual view of tall office buildings about a mile southeast of me, and I saw only as far as where my street curved left into the dense trees about a block away.  Would I fall off the edge of the world if I drove a tenth of a mile?  The thought made me smile.


Books keep arriving at my house.  Friday I went to the apartment of a new friend to talk and came home with the 622-page Volume One of A Course in Miracles.  I'll skim it before returning it, but there's no way I have time to read this book right now.  I'd rather finish reading St. Louis: Yesterday and Today by Betty Burnett, or When Children Ask About God by Harold S. Kushner, or The Gifts of Imperfection by BrenĂ© Brown, or Rich in Love by Josephine Humphreys, the paperback novel I found in one of the boxes I unpacked this week.

Whole: A Call to Unity in Our Fragmented World ~ by Sharon Watkins, 2014
In her hope-filled new book, Sharon Watkins, the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and moderator-elect of the National Council of Churches, shares her vision of how the good news of Jesus calls American Christians to unite around justice, mercy, and openness in the 21st century.
Sharon Watkins is the one who "preached to the President" at the National Prayer Service on January 21, 2009, on the day following the first inauguration of Barack Obama.  Donna, my friend who lives two floors below me in my apartment building, brought this book to dinner one evening.  She had received it in the mail earlier in the day, had already zipped through the whole thing, and knew I'd want to read it.  So far, I've read only the first of the six chapters.


My youngest grandchild started high school on the day my oldest great-grandchild started kindergarten.  One of my daughters pointed out that they both had an over-one-shoulder ponytail, and they were both happy to start school.

Bloggers gather in the Sunday Salon — at separate computers in different time zones — to talk about our lives and our reading.