Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Spirits Of Mount Kinabalu

The concept of sacred places is another subject that fascinates me. Therefore, I have been following stories about the recent earthquake and aftershocks surrounding the East Malaysian state of Sabah's Mount Kinabalu.

According to Dr. Benedict Topin, the executive secretary of the Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association, the souls of locals "journey upwards towards our creator in the sky, Kinohiringan. But we are not perfect," he adds, "so our souls rest on the peak of Kinabalu and await for emancipation. It is like our purgatory." According to local lore Kinohiringan created the universe together with his wife Umusumundu, an earth deity.

That sacredness was desecrated recently by four tourists who had scaled the mountain's heights and stripped down to have naked pictures of themselves taken. They were jailed and fined for their misbehavior (actually for breaking local customs and laws).

But locals felt there was a link between the desecration and the earthquake. So sacrifices to appease an angry deity were in order. Read all about that at this link.

There is, one must admit, a fine line between religion and superstition, and often that line is indistinct.

It is easy laugh off stories such as this one as just so much primitive thinking. But I'm reminded of something C. S. Lewis wrote which I've slightly paraphrased: In Science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Religion we find the poem itself. 

Somewhere therein lies the truth of the matter.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Movie Satan Didn't Want Made

(Just a little note to say that I have been so busy working long hours six days a week that my blogging efforts have suffered. I'm fine and my desire to offer my thoughts hasn't waned, but sometimes life gets in the way. Hopefully things will settled down soon.)

I'm fascinated by the concept of curses. Easy to dismiss but hard to ignore because sometimes bad luck seems to run in chains.

The subject of this post is an old Christian evangelistic movie dating back to the seventies called The Burning Hell which allegedly had a bit of curse back of it.

Although I never saw the movie, it had an impact on my childhood for I heard much about it. My best friend and next door neighbor witnessed a showing of it at his church and he recounted the movie to me almost scene by scene. It played in churches around my area but somehow I never managed to see it.

Now of course I am no longer a fundamentalist Christian, nor a believer in a personal devil. Satan serves as the archetype of evil in my thinking. Yes, I sometimes find myself personalizing the concept in my talking in writing. But I don't think of the matter now as I did in my youth.

Nevertheless a little article I read in the newspaper preserves its makers idea that somehow the Prince of Darkness took time out to attempt to prevent this movie being made.

The movies producer and director, the late Ron Ormond, suffered a nasty fall down some steps on the first night of shooting as he attempted to inspect the set. "While walking down I slipped, but it felt more like I was pushed," Ormond describes the incident, which makes me think of scenes from television series The Haunting.

A moth also seeming attempted to put out a 3200 Kelvin light that was being used during filming. While it was noted that ordinarily contact with such a light would kill a bird instantly, the moth was untroubled.
There was also a severed camera motor wire which delayed filming for several hours.

And as the sound track was being mixed, a fiery explosion caused delays in that aspect of the film's production.

These are just some of the "hundred constant happenings that plagued the crew and cast of The Burning Hell.
Some might just say mere coincidences. Believers will have no trouble accepting the producer's version of this curse. Personally, I think the world would not have been worse off had this film never been made. By all accounts I've heard it is hideous.

Satan has gotten bad press before and should be used to it. It would seem to me he did quite enough back in Eden to make his presence felt.

But seriously, bad luck does seem to have been at play in Ormond's film. However, as always, it remains to be interpreted in the mind of the individual.

Interestingly enough, Ormond didn't start making Christian films until late in his life, after surviving an airplane crash.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

To Control The World

Life is hard. No doubt about it. Sometimes scary. It's a high-speed, many-looped roller coaster ride. There are mountains and valleys - high ones and low, long ones, respectively.

Who wouldn't want an edge to get through it all?

Our scientific materialist friends often accuse us spiritual-minded folks of needing a crutch and an invisible friend (or friends). "Whatever gets you through the night," they say.

However, I suspect the materialists are no less prone to find ways of imposing order or attempting to gain control of this thing called life. That is why they hate mystery and imponderables (not in the sense of things beyond our current ability to understand, but rather that perhaps there are things beyond human comprehension that will never be fully understood).

It seems to me that sometimes the universe just doesn't make good sense. I would go further and suggest that scientists have as poor a record of prognosticating the future as do the religious prophets. That isn't meant as a knock against science, but rather a statement of my distrust of using a single system of thought to attempt to control or impose order on the future.

Perhaps the universe isn't some inert collection of matter acted upon by "the laws of nature." Perhaps mind is the ultimate reality and creation an ongoing process.

Emerson offered that a "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Well, yes; true freethinking is more freewheeling than it is often credited with being.

This is a rather humbling insight for me and has dissuaded me from further attempts to construct a rigid worldview that might seem to allow me to exercise control over things.

As a child of the cosmos I must content myself, I believe, to "go with the flow" and recognize the limits of my ability to understand fully. I seek approaches rather than rigid systems. I recognize the power of illusion. I may believe but shouldn't pretend to know.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Witch In The Tree

Yes, you see her there ... if you use your imagination.

Well, you can now only see her in old photos because the once popular Pebble Beach, California landmark attraction is no more, having been felled by a storm in 1964.

Pareidolia, they call it, when a person sees something with the mind's eye which isn't really there. I mean, after all, witches don't really look like the popular conception of them, as for example, the wicked witch of the West in the movie the Wizard of Oz - do they?

But I do believe in witches. I haven't found a definitive history of witches, I don't think one exists. But as surely as folk wisdom and folk magic exist, so do witches. They were the "cunning folk" of old.

I think witches have gotten a lot of bad press in the movies and in fiction, in no small part because of the way Christianity has handled the subject.

Our imagination has surely run wild on this topic down through the centuries, but I suspect there is more to this than is commonly thought. And I think magic is poorly understood and too quickly dismissed as bunkum. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Two Mysteries

That is the title to a profound poem written by Mary Mapes Dodge, author of children's literature and editor of the children's magazine St. Nicholas.

How heartily do those of us who feel we have glimpsed within our breasts a promise of something beyond this life mortal veil sense that life does have ultimate meaning.

But believing is not knowing. We feel we are faced with two profound mysteries: What is death? and what is life?

Dodge's poem was inspired by an item in the New York Tribune concerning a scene at a wake for the young nephew of poet Walt Whitman.

As the beloved youth lay in his coffin, close by in a great chair, Whitman was holding a young girl in his lap. The girl could not quite comprehend the scene of death before her but looked questioningly into Whitman's face.

"You don't know what it is, do you, my dear?" the poet said. After a pause he added, "We don't either."

How true. And how challenging the words Mary Mapes Dodge wrote:

We know not what it is, dear, this sleep so deep and still;
The folded hands, the awful calm, the cheek so pale and chill;
The lids that will not lift again, though we may call and call.
The strange, white solitude of peace that settles over all.

We know not what it means, dear, this desolate heart-pain;
This dread to take our daily way, and walk in it again;
We know not to what other sphere the loved who leave us go,
Nor why we're left to wonder still, nor why we do not know.

But this we know: Our loved and dead, if they should come this day--
Should come and ask us “What is life?" not one of us could say.
Life is a mystery as deep as ever death can be;
Yet, O, how dear it is to us, this life we live and see

Then might they say--these vanished ones--and blessed is the thought,
"So death is sweet to us, beloved! though we may show you naught;
We may not to the quick reveal the mystery of death--
Ye cannot tell us, if ye would, the mystery of breath."

The child who enters life comes not with knowledge or intent,
So those who enter death must go as little children sent.
Nothing is known. But I believe that God is overhead;
And as life is to the living, so death is to the dead.

I don't know. I honestly don't know. But I do know I could not bring myself to look into the face of a grieving person and offer that this life is it and has no meaning beyond just marking time. The honest answer is that we are faced with two great mysteries.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Are There Guardian Angels?

As I was standing in line at the grocery store Friday awaiting my turn, I noticed the latest issue of Reader's Digest in the magazine rack. The RD makes good bedtime reading for me. The short stories and articles are just the thing for me to read until I'm drowsy and ready to turn in for real.

I couldn't help noticing an item in the section Your True Stories in 100 Words. It was submitted by Grace Napier of Greeley, Colorado, who feels she has a guardian angel watching over.

Guardian angels is a subject I once ridiculed. That was due to my then rigid literalist mindset, as well an ignorance of the imaginal realm. Now I'm more inclined to listen to those who have stories to tell.

Grace Napier relates that she was on her way to work and exiting her yard when "a firm hand restrained my right shoulder, shoving me left." This took her on a longer route "where traffic was not moving."

That sounds bad, but Grace later learned that there had been a fatal traffic accident along the route she had originally planned to take. "I would have been that accident," she writes, crediting her guardian angel with saving her life.

I would assume Napier is a Christian and that worldview is what gives form to her story.

If my credulity is longer strained by such stories, it is because I have given serious consideration to the times in my own life when I sensed a guiding force. I think also of the warnings unheeded that I lived to regret.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Where My Wild Things Are

My imagination has always run wild. Still does. I've unleashed it again. There was time - a brief time - when I attempted to straight jacket it, but I finally figured out I must be true to myself.

And my true self is a bit of a mystic; a person who finds enchantment and divinity everywhere, in everything.

Every now and then I allow myself to journey back in time; back to a more innocent, relatively uncomplicated time in my life; back to when the world was as I found it, and not as authority figures told me it is or should be.

An important book from my childhood (and there were many, I might add, as I've always been an avid reader) was Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are. That award winning children's book came to my attention not long after it was written and found acclaim.

The subject of the book, a little boy named Max, was naughty and sent to bed without supper, where, according to book, "a forest grew and grew," until it resembled in my child's mind the scenery from the Tarzan movies my big brother and I loved. He made an ocean voyage, arriving at an island "where the wild things are" and promptly was crowned king.

As with most kids, attention spans are short and Max soon grew tired and wanted to travel back to his home. Which he did, arriving to find his supper waiting for him. It was still warm. Oh, and his room looked again like his room.

What a great story!

But it fueled my imagination. I took many mystic voyages in the privacy and security of my bedroom growing up.

I no longer do that ... exactly. What I do find happening more and more is that I dream of the old house where I was a child. These dreams or "voyages" are so realistic and detailed. I dream things I had long forgotten - at least in my active mind.

The monsters in Max's imaginative journey were a bit different from the monsters that haunted my childhood bedroom.

One, in particular, came out routinely after dark - any time a loud car or piercing siren went by the busy street a half block away. I would lie still, not moving a muscle and trying not to breath. Once it quieted down again the monster, a little black creature with a head shaped on the diagonal, just like Gumby's, would return to his home in the boxes of stuff my mother stored under my bed.

Obviously I was never made king of my beasts. I wasn't quite as rowdy and defiant as Max.

Later, my third grade teacher introduced me to Sendak's wonderful book. It meshed with my psyche right away. I got my mom to buy me my own copy. I read it often in my ninth and tenth years. Then slowly I forgot about it ... for a while. I was busy falling in love with other books and other stories.

In all these years I've never gone back to reread it, never saw any of the animated shorts or the movie based on it. But I never forget the experience of falling in love with it, either. I never forgot how I thought of myself as a toned-down version of Max.

I'm a dreamer, too. I believe there are monsters in life that need to be dealt with. I hid from them as a young child. Now I try to face my monsters head-on. Scary stuff, that.

I learn more about myself in my dreams. I have to work my way through the labyrinth of symbols, and a keep a very loose and open mind about it. Lots of blanks remain to be filled in. Perhaps there will always be those nagging blanks, but through careful, thoughtful analysis, I have filled in many of them.

How much my dreams spill over into reality is anybody's guess. But I think that is true for most of us, if we allow ourselves to look there. It takes a lot of work. I believe dream journals are good to keep, although my memory for dreams is such that the important things stick like glue.

My lady friend often marvels at how intricate and detailed my dreams are. She says she rarely dreams, or at least rarely recalls them. But I think the dream world is a place we have to truly desire to visit in order to get real results. However,only when I allow my filter to shut off am I able to experience the fullness of what is inside my true self.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Three Graves Foretold

I've always been impressed that of the countless brave soldiers who have defended our great country in its various wars, although all must realize there exists the possibility of not returning home alive, a great many receive premonitions they in fact will not.

At first I though that in honor of Memorial Day I would provide some stories from my vast collection of such. But how to whittle the many down to a few that would fit a single blog post and still do justice to the stories?

Instead I have decided to quote an amazingly startling story of soldiery presentiment dating back to the Civil War. It is from a chapter in the old book by the brave and oft-wounded Union officer Newton Martin Curtis, From Bull Run to Chancellorsville: The Story of the Sixteenth New York Infantry Together with Personal Reminiscences:

After landing at the head of York River, the regiment marched a short distance, and stacked arms. After supper was over, the members of Company F were engaged in general conversation when Edwin R. Bishop, a lighthearted and fun-provoking man, rose from the ground and interrupted the conversation by saying, "Boys, if I should fall in the next battle, as I now believe I shall, I wish you would bury me under this tree, where I indicate by these lines." He then proceeded to mark with a pioneer's spade the outlines of a grave.
Immediately Corporal George J. Love, a very sedate man, rose and picking up the spade which Bishop had used, said, "I would like you to dig my grave beside Bishop's, but please dig it with more regularity than his crooked lines indicate; I am the son of a sexton and have helped to dig many." He then proceeded to draw a parallelogram, dropped the spade, and sat down. Then Peter G. Ploof, a lad of twenty, much beloved for bis boyish, winsome ways, picked up the spade, and said "If I fall, dig my grave here beside Love's, and do it as we dig graves at home. Please follow the lines I make for you." He drew the lines of the coffin used in those days, wider at the shoulders and tapering toward the head and foot. Conversation was resumed, and no further attention was paid to the incident.
At three o'clock the next morning, May 7th, Companies F and G were ordered out to the picket line, where, at 9 A.M., they met the advancing lines of General J. B. Hood's brigade, of Whiting's division. These companies could not stay the progress of the overwhelming force brought against them, but they made a manful resistance until the artillery was brought up and made ready for action; they were then ordered back, with 17 per cent. of their number among the killed and wounded. Three members of Company F were killed,—Bishop, Love and Ploof, and their comrades, in paying them the martial honors due the gallant dead, gave to each the resting place he had selected on the night before the battle. Beside them were buried Mummery, Seabury and Waymouth, of Company G.
Interestingly, later in his book Curtis gives his own personal premonition:

I had no fear of death in battle, for before I was mustered into service, I had a presentiment that I should not be killed in the army, but would have my eyesight injured ... In my last battle, I lost the sight of my left eye by the fragment of a shell. Although, in two battles, I was advised by surgeons on the field that I was mortally wounded, I was nevertheless at no time shaken in my belief that I should survive the war.

On this Memorial Day I remember those brave souls who didn't make it back home, especially those who knew they wouldn't yet bravely fought on.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Little Man Under The Table

If you've been a reader of my blog for very long you must be aware that I have a fondness for the offbeat and Fortean experiences. I'm more an idealist than a materialist; more Jungian than Freudian. I believe in the primacy of mind over matter. Please keep that in mind when you read posts like this one.

My mother's last remaining brother died last year. There was a story about Uncle Harry that I remember from my youth. It fascinated me then, especially when I was a young child. ON Saturday I asked my mom to tell me about it all over again - just to make sure I had remembered it accurately. (Really there isn't that much to it.) It goes like this:

As was common in the depression years of the 1930s and early 1940s, my mother's parents had a small home that was cramped with children. My Uncle Harry slept on a rollaway bed in the kitchen because there weren't enough bedrooms and sleeping spaces in the rest of the house.

One morning, after he had awoke - and he always maintained he was fully awake when this happened - he happened to look at the kitchen table and noticed a small man standing underneath, leaning on one of the table legs. He was dressed in plain clothes and was doing nothing other than leaning. He looked away and looked back and the man was gone.

Okay, so far it's still easy enough to dismiss that as a child's overactive imagination, or maybe, despite his protestations, Harry was not fully awake that morning.

But I learned that this happened in the same house my mother lived in when she and her friend Winkie saw a little man outdoors who, upon being sighted, ducked behind some rocks. Long time readers might remember the post I did about that one, and I tried to dismiss that as my mom's young mind being highly impressed (as I knew it was) by her childhood visit to a local tourist attract (Lookout Mountain's famous Rock City), which is highly decorated with gnomes that were imported from Germany. All this occurred in Hixson, Tennessee, which was quite rural back in the 30s.

My mom is immovable about what she says she saw. And was again Saturday when I discussed this with her. In my whole life she never wavered in the details of her story (or Harry's, which I never had the chance to ask him about because he lived out of state).

Believe it or not, there is a vast amount of accounts of people who claim to have seen fairies and little people of all kinds. It might be easy to dismiss this stuff as lies, delusions, or the product of those who are overly fantasy-prone.

But there is another alternative. That would be to recognize a reality beyond the common or "normal" reality. Before you dismiss me as a crackpot, I would highly recommend a book that has helped me along as I've tried to make sense of the strange and uncanny in my life and in the lives of others I know personally. That books is Daimonic Reality: A field Guide to the Otherworld, by Patrick Harpur. I highly recommend Harpur's book, unless your mind is bolted tight in Western literalism and materialism. I would also recommend that Jung be consulted about archetypes. Those are some good starting places.

Most of you know my background of having been raised by my parents in the Christian Pentecostal tradition. I came from a world of visions, angels, and intense demonology. I know folks who claim to have seen angels and demons. Again, one doesn't have to restrict oneself to the Pentecostal tradition to find accounts of people who have encountered otherworldly beings.

Is there a way to make sense of Fortean experiences without resorting to mental illness as an explanation? I think there is. Sometimes we just need to expand our thinking. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Moses On A Twenty Dollar Bill?

At a time when Christianity is apparently on the wane here in the United States, an online petition by Women On 20s is pushing for a woman to replace President Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill, and a poll of Americans interested in the question named Harriet Tubman, a Christian mystic, the most popular choice.

Tubman beat out Eleanor Roosevelt, her closest competition, 118,328 votes to 111,227.

Tubman was an interesting lady. Best known for her humanitarian efforts and active abolitionism as a conductor for the Underground Railroad. She became known as a "Moses" of her people.

Since a head injury in her youth (being hit in the head by a metal weight), she had suffered with headaches, epilepsy and fainting spells. She also experienced visions and dreams which she felt came from God. It was her feeling that she actually left her body during her fainting spells and spent time among the spirits in the spirit world.

When a slave, Harriet Tubman began to pray that God would change the heart of her owner, Edward Brodess, and make him a Christian:

I prayed all night long for my master, till the first of March; and all the time he was bringing people to look at me, and trying to sell me. I changed my prayer. First of March I began to pray, "Oh Lord, if you ain't never going to change that man's hear, kill him, Lord, and take him out of the way."

Much to her shock and later regret, Brodess died a week after she changed her prayer.

Click this link to read an online article dealing with a possible visionary premonition of hers concerning the death of abolitionist John Brown.

Rosemary Sadlier, in her biography of Tubman, Harriet Tubman: Freedom Seeker, Freedom Leader, concluded that Tubman's spirituality "combined African spirituality with her interpretation of Christianity." No biographer I've found ignores Tubman's deep religious faith as it influenced her life's work.

Wanna know something weird? Before I saw this story in the news I had already began researching the dreams and visions of Tubman. I don't know why I had began to do this, but it provided me with source material for this post.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Dream Of Tragedy

The year was 1952. Mrs. Bessie Smith of Baltimore, Maryland was at her job as cook at a local restaurant. That restaurant being located beside the local fire station. Back at her home her husband slept with their three young sons, their daughter, and another youth who was staying with them.

As Smith approached her house after her shift ended it became difficult for her to make her way down the hill to her home. The fire equipment and gathering crowd slowed her approach.

Eight months previously Bessie Smith dreamed her children had burned to death. Then seven months later she dreamed her children burned to death on the third floor of the family home. The next day there was a fire in the home which stemmed from a faulty chimney.

Her dream made such an impression as a harbinger of doom that the Smiths had all the stoves removed except for those on the first floor of their three story abode. They had the landlord make repairs on the faulty chimney.

Now, as she came home from work, she found out how true her premonitions had been. 

Her husband Armond had tried to rescue the children. The youngest, their nine-month-old daughter was carried out by her father badly burned. She later died at the hospital. Brave Armond went back in after the others but never made it out. He and two of his sons were found burned to death on the third floor, the children firmly held in their father's arms.

The other son and another girl who was staying with the family managed to escape by climbing out onto the roof and being pulled to safety by a neighbor.

The cause of the fire was undetermined at the time, but fire fighters said it started on the first floor.

I read the newspaper account of this sad story and immediately thought Bessie Smith's dreams might not have been so much prophetic as the result of her legitimate fears, perhaps because of previous problems. But both dreams came before the nonfatal fire which prompted the chimney repairs and stove removals.

As one who has experienced premonitions in my own life, I have no problem with seeing this as a precognitive dream. Especially noticeable was Smith's dream having the children dying on the third floor.

The whole story is sad. And sadder still it is that the Smiths acted on the dreams and were still unable to avoid tragedy.

The newspaper account I used in writing this post can be found here.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Please Send Me Purple Pansies"

"If I should crack up, please send me purple pansies, as I like them best."

Those were the words of now mostly forgotten pioneer female aviator Ruth Alexander as she was at the Lindbergh Field in San Diego and spoke with reporters during a plane check. She was making a cross-country flight headed for Newark, N. J.

In my great interest in premonitions of impending death, her story is now added to my collection.

Greater interest in another female aviator, Amelia Earhart, whose even greater aerial accomplishments as well as her disappearance in 1937, eclipsed the tragedy of Alexander's last flight.

Now if the above seemingly offhand remark to reporters were all the evidence of premonition there was it could easily be dismissed a poor joke. But there is more.

Newspapers at the time reported she had left notes for her parents as well as her new husband. These clearly indicated a sense of doom.

To her parents she requested a simple funeral should she die. But to her husband she wrote:

Life is strange, honey. If I have preceded you do not grieve for me, but be content as I am content. Finish your work down here and make me proud of you, as I ever will be at your side. And when you come I will welcome you. Always I will love and wait for you. And, sweetheart, keep my pretty wedding ring always with you, Ruth.

The crash which took Alexander's life was horrific, with wreckage scattered hundreds of feet from her mangled body, one of the plane's wings and its motor. The papers reported that several struts and braces were wrapped around the body. The plane's gas tank had apparently exploded causing the crash.

Hope for the best prepare for the worst, I suppose. Sometimes you have feelings you just can't shake. That was the case with Alexander, I believe.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Devil In Material Form

I hate drugs. My life has not been unaffected by them. I've been a supervisor of workers in my career for thirty years now. I could write a book about the things I've seen and how many people have worked for me over the years and have failed, have had their lives come completely unraveled because of drugs: the Devil in material form.

My closest friend in the whole world has been devastated because all three of her sons have been enslaved by drugs. Rehab hasn't broken the hold; prison didn't deter them for long. Reasoning doesn't help the hard-core addict. Shaming doesn't help. Tough love doesn't seem to work. Even begging and crying leaves the addict unaffected ... at least for long.

The devil of drug addiction makes zombies. Addiction kills ambition, destroys character, steals pride and leaves the addict wasted but looking and caring only for the next fix.

There is a story that goes with the above picture. Another one of my friends showed it to me and it made such a visceral impression on me that I asked her if she would email me a copy for my blog. She agreed.

You see, my friend's son had a baby, a beautiful baby boy, with an addict. He now has custody of his baby boy because the mom is out of control. Well, right now she's sitting in jail. Not for drugs. Because of drugs. She got involved in burglary and was caught with stolen property. Druggies do that to help supply their habit.

My friend's son went to the mother's apartment (from which she is about to be evicted) in order to get the baby bed. He was so disgusted by what he saw he took a picture. The above picture. That is the bedside table between the mother's bed and the baby's, where she indulged in her addiction right beside her sleeping baby.

Why would anyone live that way? Why would anyone throw away their family, friends, even their own lives? Is this not demonic possession? Are illicit drugs not the great Satan of today's youth?

I hate drugs because I have seen up close what they do to people. I've seen drug deaths ... up close. I've lost friends, people I went to school with, neighbors, coworkers. I've watched close friends suffer through their children's addictions. Is anything more hellish?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Native American Version Of The 23rd Psalm

As with many folks who live in the southeastern United States, Cherokee blood runs through my family's veins.

My older brother always took especial pride in this heritage, so much so that he regularly purchased magazines devoted to the American Indian. These I would read on the weekends I would spend in his bedroom (which I was allowed to do) when he spent nights away from home.

Always of interest to me was the spiritual outlook of Native Americans, I should have written outlooks, because there are many variations. Common is the view that there is a Great Spirit and that earth is our Mother. I like that. And my forebears, the Cherokees, held a monotheistic animism. I find that interesting as well.

I saved an old newspaper clipping which gives an "Indian" paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm, attributed to Warren Small Bear. I rather like this as well. It seems to me the closer we are to nature, the easier it is to believe in the Great Spirit.

The Great Spirit watches over me in the day and in the night. He understands my needs. In my lodge there is no crying for good. It is good to feel the green grass beneath my feet. The waters of many streams are cool when I am thirsty. He takes away my fears while I sleep. My moccasins walk the path of soft drums when council fires have burned low.

When I come near the shadow of the valley of the long sleep, my spirit will be strong and my heart will soar as the eagle. The Great Spirit has walked with me many days. When my sorrows cause me to sleep, I wake and find them gone. When my enemies would come against me, he makes them my friends. He pours the oils of his love over me until I am completely covered.

I desire only to live in peace with all men. Surely someday I will find that land where our lodges will never have to be moved, and that will be my dwelling place forever. Amen. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Careful there!

In the May 2015 issue of Guideposts there is an article by Robert Lesslie, M.D. titled Miracles in the ER, based on his book by the same name. However, in the front of the magazine where the contents are listed the subtitle of Lesslie's article is "A doctor's experience with the unexplainable." I certainly feel that is a mistake.

When I post a story as I did last time about answered prayer, I don't mean to offer that as proof. And I don't think articles like Lesslie's equal proof. I'm quite certain I would differ with the theology of Dr. Lesslie, as well as the Mayhews. But I do believe in the Divine, in miracles, in the value of prayer. These stories do serve as powerful reminders for me that there is more to life than the mundane - at least, as I understand things.

Having said that, I'm not troubled by the fact that nonbelievers will dismiss these events as natural - even if peculiar - happenings. Nothing in this life in truly unexplainable; unexplained at the time maybe, but not  unexplainable. No one knows all there is to know and no one ever will.

We all have our worldviews, and we interpret the various data accordingly. My reasons for adopting a spiritual worldview are several, but most of all are personal. I can't and don't expect everyone to follow me. I write to express my own views, and if others disagree that is absolutely fine.

Of course I recognize I may be wrong in my spiritual worldview. Maybe there is no God and no miraculous interventions. If I'm wrong, so be it. I may be wrong about lots of things in life. That is the nature of having a finite mind. But when people speak with absolute certainty, that is the sign of a closed mind.

Personally, I don't believe in the unexplainable. I believe in a Supreme Mind or Logos that orders existence.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Prayer Answered!

Scott Mayhew of Saratoga Springs Utah was in a real pickle. He was home alone, out in his garage working on his SUV when suddenly the vehicle became unstable and fell on him.

Crushed beneath the weight, with broken ribs and other internal injuries, Mayhew somehow managed to call out for help - for over an hour, but to no avail.

Miles away, Nicole, Scott's wife, was at work. She says had a gut feeling, experienced a spirit warning her to go home and check on her husband. She knew she must go check on her husband. By heeding her instinct she was able to save her husband's life.

Prayer answered! I do believe such things are possible. I have a real problem with the idea of prayer as imploring an old man in the sky to grant our wishes. Yet I can't help feeling that prayer somehow serves as a method of tapping into the Divine Source.

I can't explain such things. Nevertheless, theory will never trump the experience of these things - and I have experienced them in my own life. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Word About Crude Representations

My maternal grandmother had been a nurse when she was a younger woman. She gave birth to my mother when she was thirty-three years old and quit nursing in order to raise her new daughter and her second husband's three boys.

A story I always got a kick out of hearing Mom relate was when, as a child, she heard her mother talk about the male and female hormones which everyone have in their bodies, which give us our distinguishing features. Being a child, my mom came up with a rather novel if crude way of picturing hormones.

That is, she pictured miniature penises and testicles as male hormones and the female genitalia, of course, were the female hormones and these both coursed through the bloodstream and human system.

Now it never occurred to my mom to doubt all these little genitalia all humans have. After all, her mom was a nurse and knew about such things and certainly wouldn't deceive her.

I'm sure some of her little friends might have doubted such a picture. Others, no doubt, might have accepted it as perhaps not that far-fetched. (Remember, I'm talking about kids back in the old pre-internet, pre-information glut days.)

So what I see there is a crude depiction of reality. My mother hadn't nailed the exact truth, but she did have a vivid way of picturing it. I'm not sure how a preteen in that day might have grasped it better in a simple manner.

Sometimes those of us who are interested in the deeper reality we call God fall into the habit of picturing or talking about God in simplistic, even crude ways. Those who oppose the God concept do so also, I'm sure not in part because it makes the subject easier to dismiss out of hand.

So the old white haired and bearded guy in the sky is a crude representation. It is easy for God-believers to anthropomorphize God. We sometimes use metaphors like God as mother, father or friend which can be stretched to the point of absurdity.

Now in truth my mom at 8 or 10 didn't realize she was making a crude representation. It was the best her child's mind could conjure. Some God believers are also unwittingly crude in their representations of the divine. Right idea, wrong details.

At best I think the finite mind cannot begin to grasp the infinite.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Modern Miracles

I am reading the article Miracles That Stunned Doctors in the April Reader's Digest. Interesting stuff there.

These aren't miracles in the Humean sense but rather the types of things that while obviously not contrary to the laws of nature, are still so strikingly unlikely it causes those of us who hold a spiritual worldview to pause and see the divine.

Personally, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of God working against the system. For the same reason I find evolutionary theory more credible than direct creation.

As for the types of miracles recorded in the above articles, many doctors will say "meh."

Others, such as Matt Linam, MD at Arkansas Children's Hospital, who oversaw the "miraculous" recovery from a brain-eating amoebae of 12 year-old Kali Hardig, might say "Number one, it was God's grace." As he did.

The Humean miracles I was brought up to believe in led me directly to the idea of a very capricious God. It leads directly to the "why do bad things happen to good people" conundrum.

But now I think of life as a spiritual experience. As such, if one looks for them, if one is open to them, there are lots of examples of divine activity to be found. At least that's the way I think about the matter now.
I'm increasingly becoming convinced there is a divine element in life. I believe that divine element can be connected to, and life much enriched when it is connected to. I seek to develop my intuitive sense and I search for synchronicities (and I find them).

It seems to me that life itself is a miracle, or if not then an inexplicable cosmic accident. Therefore I believe in the Logos. And I believe in miracles.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Back...At Last! (Hopefully)

Sometimes life's ills seemingly come out of nowhere. Other times you realize you are courting a fall. For example, here I sit typing away on an old computer and - get this - as one of the dwindling number of folks who still use dial-up internet. Should I have been surprised when one day without any warning my computer crashed? Probably not, but was anyhow.

At about the same time that foul episode occurred I began to get extremely busy on my job. My time for coaxing my computer back to life was limited. Slowly I managed to get back online. But there was so much I wasn't able to do, including reading some of my email.

Before the crash I used Google Chrome as my web browser, but now with my computer barely limping along, I wasn't unable with my outdated Internet Explorer to reinstall it. That meant that my blog was off limits, as with a great many other web sites.

I continued using what little spare time I could find to work on this thing. I'm not very talented with computing. I thought it was probably time to get a new computer, but guess what? It is getting increasingly difficult to find new computers with old-fashioned dial-up modems, and in fact, I wasn't able to locate one around town (but again I haven't had much time to look).

Okay, I thought, maybe it is time to go modern with my internet service. But the problem remained that I haven't been able to schedule a non-holiday day off in order to have someone come out and hook me up.

So I continued to limp along and work on things here and there. Then suddenly today I started to get someplace. And now look: here I am ... back from blogging death. (Of course if I suddenly turn up missing again you should suspect my computer problems have returned.) But for now, and until I get off 11 hour days, six days a week, I'm going to try to make do with what I've got. My blogging time is still limited.

It's great to be back. I've missed everyone. Thanks to my cyber friend Zoe for checking on me and reporting back here what had happened. All my contact info was lost in the crash, so my cyber friends were out of reach for me.

For a while there I had a backlog of sorts of themes I wanted to blog about. But the frustration eventually settled in and I just concentrated on work and life, my sick computer getting a little attention here and there. I'm off blogging stride now but eager to get back to business. I'm hoping there are still folks here interested in reading me again.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why I Love Joni Eareckson Tada

I've never met her. Never communicated with her in any way. But as a young man I read her eponymous book detailing how her young, athletic life was redirected after a terrible diving accident.

She was left a quadriplegic, but rather than allowing that to defeat her she reinvented herself. Today she's a well-known author, radio host, and spokesperson for the disability community. She also has been waging a courageous battle against breast cancer.

Her story gripped me. It made me uncomfortable. How much she accomplished from what would be to most of us an almost unmanageable situation!

But it wasn't always so. During her early rehabilitation depression often got the better of her, even to the point of leading her to ask friends to help her commit suicide. Her faith in God was severely challenged.

But slowly she grew in grace. She learned to paint, holding a paint brush between her teeth. While I had allowed so much less than that brave lady has gone through shipwreck my faith, she somehow got it all together and has been an effective spokesperson for religious belief in the face of tragedy.

Yes, it made me very uncomfortable, and really always has, that by comparison I have lived a charmed life and have achieved so little of lasting value compared to what Joni has accomplished with all she has to work through.

Frankly her theology is not my theology. As I understand from her writings, she is somewhat a Calvinist. She contributed a chapter to John Piper's book Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. On her Joni and Friends website she has often tackled the problem of suffering, as for example in this piece on How can God permit Cancer?

But she is a champion of hope. She writes:

Let me explain. Lamentations chapter 3:32-33 says, “Though God brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” Did you catch that? Did you read it? Yes, he brings grief, but it doesn’t give him joy in doing it. Yes, he permits painful circumstances, but it doesn't make Him happy, watching us squirm! I like how Dr. John Piper explains it. He says that because God's ways are so much higher than ours; He has the capacity to look at cancer through two lenses: a narrow lens and a wide-angle one. When God looks at a disease through a narrow lens, he sees the heartbreak for what it is; it is awful! God feels the sting in his chest when your doctor says, "You have cancer."

However, when God looks at your condition through his wide-angle lens, he sees it in relation to everything leading up to it, as well as flowing out from it. How your battle will strengthen your faith; how your battle will make you more prayerful; how this cancer will inspire you to encourage others … make you empathetic toward those who hurt; draw you, your family, and friends closer together. And best of all, God delights in how a battle against disease will give you a platform to share your story, and so much more. These things are God's wide-angle view of disease and disability. He sees this grand mosaic stretching into eternity, and it is this mosaic with all its parts, both good and bad, light and dark, that includes his wonderful plan for you.

She has written often on this theme, as in her book When God Weeps. Hers is not a sadistic God, not one who vindictively sends thunderbolts crashing down on his children, but as she wrote in another of her books, The God I Love, “Sometimes God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”

It is sometimes difficult to make sense of those who believe so strongly in God's sovereignty and what role that plays on the problem of evil and suffering. But conservative Christians like Joni believe that we live in a fallen world. Things aren't as they should be, as they started out to be before sin entered, and how they will be again someday.

So I think the following probably best sums up Joni Eareckson Tada's thinking on the matter when discussing her diving accident:

So... who caused my diving accident? I could ask, "Was it God's fault?" and be assured that although He's sovereign, no, it was not His fault. I could ask, "Well then, was my accident a direct attack from the devil?" and yes, maybe it was. Or, I could press further and say that it was not the direct assault of either the devil or God, but simply the consequence of living in a fallen world fraught with dangers (like a shifting sandbar in the shallow water of the Chesapeake Bay).

And again as she also wrote:

Finally, does God ordain? Permit? Plan? Allow? You know the verb is not so much the important thing as the noun: God — He is the noun — and God is love.

Does that answer satisfy me? Not exactly. That's not the way I think about it. But maybe my heart isn't exactly right.

This much I do know. Joni's story has moved me ever since I first encountered it so many years ago. She and her ministry has been a presence in my life ever since. Whatever I could say about the problem of suffering and God, it could never carry the weight her thoughts do, because she speaks from the depths of suffering.

I love Joni Eareckson Tada because she is a messenger of hope with the credentials to back up her message. I love her because she demonstrates one is never defeated unless one accepts defeat. I love her because she exemplifies how one life can make a difference, even under the most trying circumstances. I love her because she is and always has been an inspiration to me.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Consider The Mighty Oak

Max Muller, the nineteenth century philologist and orientalist, delivered lectures in 1891 on the subject of Anthropological Religion. Obviously these lectures are dated now, but he used the oak tree as a symbol of the history of the human attempt to come to grips with the concept of a higher power. I still find that symbol helpful.

Muller said:

I should go so far as to say that the history of religion is the best proof of religion just as the growth of the oak-tree is the best proof of the oak-tree. There may be excrescences there may be dead leaves there may be broken branches but the oak-tree is there once for all whether in the sacred groves of Germany or at Dodona or in the Himalayan forests. It is there not by our own will but by itself or by a Higher Will. There may be corruptions there may be antiquated formulas there may be sacred writings flung to the wind but religion is there once for all in all its various representations. You can as little sweep away the oak-tree with its millions of seeds from the face of the earth as you can eradicate religion, true religion, from the human heart.

Some think there will be a day when religion will have run its course in the hearts of humans. But I doubt it, just a Muller did.

Our ideas about God have evolved over the millennia and will continue to evolve in the centuries ahead.

I believe God has hardwired into the human mind the impulse to seek him. To quote Muller again:

There will be and can be no rest till we admit, what cannot be denied, that there is in man a third faculty, which I call simply the faculty of apprehending the Infinite, not only in religion, but in all things; a power independent of sense and reason, a power in a certain sense contradicted by sense and reason; but yet, I suppose, a very real power, if we see how it has held its own from the beginning of the world — how neither sense nor reason has been able to overcome it, while it alone is able to overcome both reason and sense.

Yes, the growth of the oak tree is the proof of the oak tree. 

Leaping Into The Not Fully Known

I worry about those religious folks who think they have it all figured out. If God exists he is much a mystery. I can believe, even in the midst of my doubts. In fact, my favorite religious believers are those whose faith is tempered (not hampered) by doubt. They are less likely to become nuts about it. They are also more inclined to believe that life has purpose and that if that is true we should be trying to make a difference, to be a force for good in this world.

The recent passing of two people of faith has fueled my imagination. One was aid-worker Kayla Mueller, who I wrote a post on the other day. She was an "unwavering" believer in God who actually put her faith into action.

Andrew Shepherd, a friend of Mueller's, said:

Mueller was unwavering in her faith, Shepherd said, but he learned that she struggled with the concept of organized religion and dogma.

"She saw God in a bigger sense than that," said Shepherd, now a pastor in Portland, Ore. "God was something that you met in the world. I think she was the authentic seeker. She was still trying to figure out who God was all of the time."

That certainly works for me and my vision of faith. God is bigger than the narrow-mindedness of some of his followers.

The other person is New York Times journalist who, according to this item in The Washington Post, had a "messy relationship" with faith:

Am I, underneath all things, just a really wonderful, giving person? Or is there a force greater than myself that is leading me to act in ways that are altruistic and not self-interested and lead to the greater good?

That’s sort of as far as I’ve gotten with the higher-power thing. I’m kind of a pirate, kind of a thug. I’ve done terrible things, and yet I’m for the most part able to be a decent person. … I think something else is working on me.

What a great thought about God: that force that influences us towards the good.

Religious faith isn't a blind leap into the dark. It is a hopeful leap into the not fully understood.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Do We Own Them?

Gun-toting atheist Craig Stephen Hicks stands accused of shooting to death three young Muslims in North Carolina.

Hey, that's what atheists do, right?


I'm very aware of the rush by religious believers to tie Hicks' atheism to his motivation.

I'm also well aware that atheists are often guilty of using the same tactic.

Should extremists within the respective religious and non-religious worldviews serve as examples of logic carried to conclusion? Do we own the extremists in our chosen view?

Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins asked:

How could any decent person NOT condemn the vile murder of three young US Muslims in Chapel Hill?

Let's all agree.

Can we also agree that extremism is not an argument against a particular worldview?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Poppy God

Discussions about God often take a nasty turn. Nonbelievers often get the feeling (not at all unjustly, unfortunately) that believers are trying to force their ideas on them. Believers are sometimes troubled by the feeling that nonbelievers are trying to take their belief away from them (that happens, too).

It just isn't important for me to try convert anyone to belief in God. It is enough for me that after years and years of struggling with the matter, I feel I have come to terms with it. At least for myself.

Do I ignore the difficulties of belief in God? No. The problem of suffering, for example, still weighs on me. It's just that I am more moved by the wondrousness of the cosmos and human existence.

On the other hand, it seems to me the atheistic viewpoint takes the absurd unlikeliness of the cosmos emerging by chance alone too lightly. They can't find a Supreme Intelligence behind it all because they rule out the possibility of such to begin with.

That is their privilege, of course, and I think everyone should have the right to think for themselves about it.

As I was reading Professor of History and Religious Studies Jeffrey Burton Russell's short book A History of Heaven, the following passage jumped out at me because it so speaks for the way I think:

We do not understand the poppy by plucking and dissecting it, but by being embraced by it, by its poppiness, and through it by God, who has brought it forth from himself. Though we cannot know the divine essence, God shows us his energeia, his manifested nature in the cosmos, through all that comes from him. Every creature is a theophany, a manifestation of God.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Eyes Of Kayla Mueller

I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.

The quote above is from the late ISIS captive Kayla Mueller. She found God in suffering. More than just a dry theological question, for Kayla suffering was a spur to act out her faith.

You see, faith is more about action than sitting back and talking about one's convictions. As I've come around to what I feel is a more mature belief in God, it is important for me to focus on what all believers in God have in common - or perhaps I should say should have in common. That is, the desire to do the right, the godly, thing.

I live in the so-called Bible Belt of the United States. Where I live the name of Jesus is on just about everyone's lips. It pains me to say the majority of these folks I know live very unlike their alleged savior. Do they never notice that Jesus spent more time defending the poor and helping the suffering than he spent preaching about correct belief?

Nonbelievers are sometimes content to use suffering as a reason not to believe. Yet in what other way are all humans bound together if not in suffering? Not all of us love; not all love nature; not all of us seek God in organized religion - but all of us suffer. The hands that attempt to relieve suffering are the very hands of God.

We know a whole lot more about how Kayla Mueller lived than how she died. But that's okay, because for all of us the way we live is what will be remembered more than the way we die.

God bless the memory of Kayla Mueller

Monday, February 9, 2015

God's Racket

While searching online reports of the subject of my last post, I noted the following comment from a skeptical reader in the comments section:

That's quite the racket God has going for him. All the praise and none of the blame.

I had to wonder if that commentor is aware of the long history of believers in God asking an anguished, "Why, God?" The Jewish and Christian scriptures are full of such examples.

From time immemorial there has been a tension between God's providence and human freedom. The original answer, I suppose, was that the gods are as capricious as humans.

If the view is entertained that humans are in a sense co-creators with God because of human freedom, perhaps some of the sting of the intellectual problem of evil and suffering is soothed. At least it would mean that God isn't just dishing out goods and evils according to some highly detailed "master plan."

Does that get God "off the hook" and relieve him of blame?

I suppose it is better to ask whether God should or should not have created a world with freedom of the will in the first place. Was it better to create or not create? Which brings to my mind a further question: Can the finite mind presume to answer that question?

My thinking along these lines is very much skeletal. My confession: The problem of evil and suffering has always been a problem and stumbling block for me.

My personal understanding of the Logos behind the Comos is still evolving and developing.

To proclaim God as mysterious is not a cop-out. It is an admission of finite ignorance.

Perhaps no greater damage has been done to the cause of theology than that of humans speaking authoritatively about that which they so poorly understand.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


The word miracle gets tossed around way too freely and thoughtlessly in this God-believer's opinion. I do believe in miracles if by that is meant concrete examples of the divine touching the mundane in order to make an impression. Too many personal experiences for me not to believe. Oh, not the Charlton Heston playing Moses and parting the Red Sea in grand fashion like in the movie The Ten Commandments type of miracle - but some things just seem too coincidental to be mere coincidence. That's what I mean by miraculous.

Take this story about 14-year-old John Smith, who was rescued from the bone-chilling waters of Lake St. Louise after more than fifteen minutes of submersion.

Doctors said he had no heartbeat for 45 minutes and called in his mom for her to say good-bye. Dr. Nancy Bauer said "He was gone; I've never felt someone so cold in my life." But instead of saying bye John's mom started to pray. And shortly thereafter, according to Dr. Bauer, his heart was beating again, giving her a case of the goosebumps.

And now John Smith is heading home! He feels the only explanation is God and that God wanted him to live.

Okay, this isn't the first or only time a person submerged in icy water is revived without brain damage. Not a miracle you think? But the timing - right after a mother's heartfelt prayer - surely is "miraculous" enough that some take it as a sign.

I once told the story on my previous blog of how my late older brother was diagnosed with leukemia as an infant, way before I was born. My parents were crushed and began at once to pray for his life. The next day the astounded doctors told my parents there was obviously a mistake and my brother didn't have leukemia and a death sentence.

At the time I related that, as a pantheist, I was inclined to write it off as a simple misdiagnosis. Perhaps it was. Perhaps not. But one thing is for sure, my parents didn't think it was a mistake. They felt God had answered their prayers. Either way - mistake or miracle - the impression made lasted a lifetime, and neither doubted the value of prayer thereafter.

As I wrote earlier, too many personal experiences have convinced me that God is in the details. The experiences of others impress me as well. For a time I allowed myself to forget. Life itself is a miracle and is filled with miracles, I believe, if we have a heart to understand.

Don't Overestimate Matter

Atheist Conor Faughnan responded to an article written by a Catholic which implied that British atheist Stephen Fry's recent outburst against his (Fry's) conception of God was misguided. You can read Faughnan's piece by clicking this link.

If there is one reason I have concluded in my own mind that God-belief is to be preferred over atheism it is this: the atheists are asking a whole lot of matter; more than seems reasonable to my way of thinking.

Fry's outburst (I provided a link to this in my last post) drew from the problem of suffering. His Catholic critic suggested (correctly in my opinion) that matter can't produce a moral law - which one would need in order to attempt to characterize God as immoral.

I'll get to Faughnan's response to that shortly, but first I want to look at an atheist cliche that always seems to get trotted out when morality is discussed between believers and nonbelievers.

Faughnan writes:

Atheism does imply that there is no supernatural policeman watching your life and listening to your thoughts.

Neither punishment nor reward awaits after death. For me, that says that an atheist acting in a moral manner actually has a purer motive in doing so than someone who expects a pay-off for it.

Do atheists not teach their children to respect the authority of the police and rule of law? Do they not warn their children that flaunting the law brings severe consequences, even prison? And if they do, are they then guilty of teaching their children a less pure motive for being a law abiding citizen?

Is avoiding fines, public censure and prison merely payoffs? For that matter, does not the atheist slogan "be good for goodness' sake" become a payoff if the act of doing good produces the warm fuzzies?

I'm just suggesting the atheist cliche about religious morality is a misrepresentation of theistic morality.

But more to my point, Faughan closes his piece with the following thought:

He should not underestimate matter; given that over 13.5 billion years it could form generations of stars, light and heavier elements, organic chemistry, simple and then complex life, and eventually sentient beings capable of morality, love and philosophy.

As I suggested, that's asking a lot of matter.

How does matter do all that? Atheism represents the view that the cosmos - amazing and unlikely as it is - is, when all is said and done, a colossal oddball coincidence.

The spiritual worldview inclines to belief that mind has primacy over matter. That is, morality, love and philosophy are not produced by matter, but rather objectively exist and then are discovered by sentient beings.

If the human mind is itself a coincidence, can it be said that morality and love even exist at all? That is, do they have an objective meaning or is it all semantics? Does truth exist or is a multitude of perceptions and opinions all there is?